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6450 calories stared up at Robyn.
She adjusted the lid on the apple box to close it tight over the cheesecake and other food supplies. She let her gaze flow over the rest of the gear spread all over her apartment. Her pack, her skis, all of it gathered and ready to go for the annual trip with her brother to Granite Lake cabin.
A tight feeling of anxiety filled her as Tad made his announcement.
"I'm sorry, sis, but I have to take this request. Flying the climbing and research team to Mount Logan could end up being a regular booking. They're supposed to be working in Kluane National Park for the next five years, and if I can get on as their main pilot I'll be set." Tad reached out and slipped a loose strand of hair back behind his sister's ear. "I hate to cancel the trip on you--"
Robyn paced a few steps away before turning back to face him, her hands flowing smoothly as she spoke to her brother in American Sign Language. "I understand, Tad. You need to take the job. I'm still going to Granite."
"No way. You can't go by yourself."
"But that's different, Robyn."
"Don't be a jerk. I don't have a penis so I can't go backcountry alone?"
Tad raised his eyebrows. "It's not the lack of plumbing, sis, and you know it. I very seldom go bush alone and if I do meet anyone, it's not a big deal. I'm male, I'm strong and I'm not deaf. How do you plan on talking to strangers?"
Robyn threw a pillow his way before lifting her hands to sign at him. "I'll take some notepads. What are the chances of meeting anyone at Granite this time of year? We always go in February because no one else does. I'm packed, the food is packed, and I've got timeoff work from the bakery. You even booked a helicopter ride in for me with your buddy Shaun. I've never gotten to fly in before.
"And wait a minute, what's with that little dig saying you're strong? Last time I checked I out-skied, out-wrestled and out-gambled your sorry butt, big brother, don't give me that as an excuse."
Tad narrowed his gaze at her. "Stop being stubborn."
"What? Waste all those years of training? You told me once to stand up for myself and do what I need to do, in spite of not being able to hear. Are you saying that doesn't apply anymore?"
"Of course not--"
"Good, because I'd hate to call you a hypocrite. I need to go to Granite. I need to get out of the city for a while. I'll be a good little girl and take the satellite phone along. I can check in with you Tuesday."
Tad ran a hand through his hair before collapsing on the couch in resignation. "Fine, you win. But if you need anything you call me or you call Shaun and he'll fly you out. Understand, Robyn? You don't have to do the ski if you don't want."
Robyn caught a glimpse of herself in the hall mirror. Shades of brown reflected back at her. Shoulder-length brown hair, big brown eyes with golden flecks, skin that always seemed to have a light tan for some strange reason, even after living her whole life in the Yukon. Her solid body was more than capable of doing the ten-mile ski. She'd been completing it with the family since she was nine years old. Tad had skied it with her and knew she loved every minute of the trip. She counted to twenty.
"Tad, are you looking for pain? Because I can kick your butt if you need it."
"What did I say?"
Robyn stomped up to him and glared into his face. Tad was her brother by adoption, and he and his parents were all darker in colouring than her. His short black hair stood in ragged spikes from his manhandling and his dark eyes stared back at her with confusion. "I like the ski across the lake. I like going into Granite cabin. I'm thrilled you got me the helicopter ride, but only because I want to take the ice auger to leave at the cabin.
"So don't expect me to be some kind of baby because you can't go with me this time."
Tad grabbed her hands and pulled her in for a hug. He let her step back so she could read his lips. "I was a bit condescending, wasn't I?"
"Sorry. Hell, you've got a temper on you. Glad you didn't throw anything hard at me this time."
"I thought about it but my ice axe is already packed."
Tad watched as she tucked away a few more items, picked up her backpack and placed it beside the door. He tugged on her arm to get her attention.
"You do need some space, don't you? You seem really tense."
Robyn returned to her skis. She fiddled with the bindings for a bit before glancing back at Tad. "Yeah. Feels like the walls are closing in. I'll be okay if I can get some time away from the city."
"Robyn, there's something..." Tad hesitated, looking everywhere around the room except at her. He opened and closed his mouth a couple of times before shaking his head. "Never mind."
Robyn gave a heavy sigh. "Not again, Tad. You do this at least once a year. Whatever deep, dark secret you have I wish you'd spit it out. Or drop it and not get me curious. Are you gay?"
Tad sat back on his heels, his jaw dropping open. "Robyn!"
"Well, you seem to turn twenty shades of red every time you start this, I thought maybe it had to do with sex. I don't care if you are gay, you know. There's this great guy down at the bakery--"
"Thanks, but I'm not gay. It's nothing. Do you have your bear spray?"
Robyn blew her bangs off her face with a sudden snort and pointed to the pocket of her ski overalls. "Stupidest thing I've ever carried. I've never seen a bear, not once in all our trips."
"Someday you might be glad you have it, sis."
"But I could carry at least five more chocolate bars. That reminds me, you do realize if I gain weight this trip it's all your fault."
"We packed an entire Mocha Chocolate Cheesecake to eat this week. Now I'm going to have to suffer through and eat the whole damn thing myself." Robyn licked her lips and grinned at him.
The pilot pulled at her sleeve and pointed twice, left toward the lake and farther to the right behind the cabin.
Robyn shook her head and her fingers pointed to the left.
The helicopter banked to the left as he veered to change course. The surface snow around them stirred under the effects of the spinning props, and whiteness whirled away from the chopper until there was nothing but the solid snow base under the landing gear.
Robyn waited while the pilot trotted around to open her door. She helped unhook her skis from the landing blades while he removed the rest of her gear from the backseat and dropped it on the snow beside them. In under a minute she'd done a final check to be sure all her things were out, and giving the pilot a thumbs up, she crouched low and scrambled toward the shoreline. The wind buffeted her for a minute as the helicopter rose, lifting over the small hill to the north, returning to Haines Junction.
She looked around her and drew a long, slow breath, crisp air chilling the back of her throat. Not a cloud in the sky to block the blue. The mountains around her tall and snow covered. Beautiful and overpowering at the same time. The lake spread out before her, its large bay at her feet and the longer length of it stretching snakelike to the south to disappear around the bend of the mountain. A sense of home spread throughout her body.
Turning in a circle she noticed the cabin facing the lake had been fixed up since the last time she'd been out. Someone had repaired the front-porch supports and added a series of hooks along the north wall. Snow shovels and axes that had been buried under a good four feet of snow last February hung in plain sight, easy to access.
Continuing her visual scan, Robyn was surprised to see a new building a little ways down from the cabin. It was too small to be another sleeping area, and there shouldn't be a need for more storage here.
The temperature was warm for February, twenty-seven degrees, but the chill sank into her bones the longer she stood in one place. She trudged back through her footprints to ferry her gear to the cabin. The new building would be her treat to explore once she got set up for the night.
Soon her backpack rested on the low platform covering the back of the tiny one-room cabin. There was space for six sleeping bags to lie side by side, with an extra three-foot extension at their feet that was used as a bench. Robyn considered for a minute before placing her pack along the sidewall near the window. She doubted anyone else would show up at the cabin, but she'd better stake her claim just in case.
The second trip, she carried up the cardboard apple box filled with groceries. Because of the helicopter, the food this trip was different than her usual light dry goods. She had fresh fruit and veggies for at least four days, some nice French loaves, and the dreaded Mocha Chocolate Cheesecake. Flying in had some definite fringe benefits. She left the box on the small kitchen counter that ran along the left-hand wall up to the wood-burning stove. The cabin was so compact there was barely room left for a table and four chairs on the right side and a narrow bench beside the solid plank door.
Returning to the lake, she used the ice auger to cut a hole in the ice before carrying the tool up to the cabin and finding an empty hook to hang it on. Robyn grinned as she stared at it for a minute. She'd bought her contribution to the "leave it better than you found it" policy in a garage sale the previous summer for twenty bucks.
Lake trout for dinner. She could hardly wait.
But first she would check out the new addition to the area. Making her way through the knee-deep snow, she climbed up the last couple of steps that rose above the snow line, undid the locks and peeked in. There was a small open area with two windows and a snow-covered skylight overhead. Wood dowels lined the walls at head height with a low bench running around the wall space. Another door was set in the center of room.
Good heavens, was that a shower in the corner? Robyn walked to the enclosure in amazement. Someone had brought a shower stall up to Granite Lake and installed it in this small cabin. Her heart leapt for a second, wondering if her guess of what was in the other room was correct.
She hurried back, opened the central door and walked into the smell of cedar and wood smoke. In the corner was an old potbellied stove with river rocks piled all around it. Two levels of benches were built into the walls and a couple of large buckets graced the top of the stove.
A sauna. Someone had built a sauna.
She'd died and gone to heaven.
Tad was going to be pissed he'd missed this. But the real debate became whether she wanted get the fire going in here or if she should still go fishing for her dinner.
Robyn ran her hand over the smooth wood and breathed in the rich scent. Actually, it was an easy decision. She'd do both. Getting the fire going wasn't a big deal and she'd have time to fish before it warmed up properly.
The next hours passed quickly while Robyn set up her fishing line, laid out her camping mattress and bag, and got the two stoves going.
By six it was dark and Robyn lay flat on her back on one of the upper benches in the now-toasty sauna. She had enjoyed pan-fried trout for dinner along with a glass of merlot, and she was on the edge of feeling very, very good. Her frustrations were slipping away with the sweat pouring off her body.
This was roughing it.
She sat up, scooped some more of the melting snow from the pot on the stove and poured it with care over the hot rocks to build up the steam in the room. Noticing the pot was close to empty she slipped out into the annex and pulled on her boots. Propping open the outside door Robyn walked into the darkness with a bucket in either hand.
And slammed into something solid that hadn't been there before. Something tall and hard and covered in ... Gore-Tex?