Girl watched Bear disappear into the woods and felt terrible about hurting him. Clearly, she had touched a deep nerve. She waited for him to return, even sitting on the edge of the rocking chair for a time.
Finally, she sighed and went back into the cabin, fixing some breakfast for herself. Once done, she returned to the porch, settled on the rocking chair, and waited, knowing that there was nothing else she could do.
Something like an hour went by before Bear reappeared at the edge of the clearing, walking slowly, head swinging from side to side with his gait. When he got close, Girl jumped off the porch, ran over to him, and threw her hands around his neck. “Bear, I…”
They both stopped, waiting for the other to start speaking again, then both started again at once.
“Girl, I shouldn’t…”
“Oh, Bear, I never…”
They both stopped again, looked at each other, and burst out laughing.
Bear nodded, “After you.”
“Oh, Bear. I’m so sorry. I should never have asked about the clothes. And I’m sorry about whatever happened to you – and her – whoever she is. It’s none of my business, and I…”
Bear held up his paw. “It’s okay, Girl. I shouldn’t have been so sensitive. It was some time ago, and…well, I’ve never been able to talk about it to anyone, so it kinda never went away.” He heaved a deep sigh.
Girl smoothed her hand down his head and over his shoulder, then repeated the gesture. “Bear – I know you don’t know me, but if you want to talk, I’d like to listen.”
The two friends turned and walked slowly back towards the porch. “Have you eaten yet?” Bear asked.
She nodded. “Yes, while you were away. At least I don’t feel hollow as well as wretched. How about you?”
Bear nodded, “I figured that as long as I was out there, I’d help myself to some brunch.” He smacked his lips. “Lovely!”
They settled into their accustomed places and watched the light play with the shadows on the mountains for a time.
Bear looked at her and said, “You seem much better today. Your bruises are disappearing. You almost look human!”
She snorted, “Which is more than I can say for you!
“Oh shit! I’m sorry, Bear… I didn’t…”
But Bear was laughing. When he had stopped, he said “Well, it’s true enough. I don’t look very human!” He stopped and sighed, then was silent for a long time.
Finally, he swung his head towards her. “It was her or me.”
Girl looked startled. “I’m sorry?”
Bear dropped his head, “I said it was either her or me,”
Bear’s head came up quickly and he showed his teeth, It was the first time she had ever seen him angry. She drew back. An angry polar bear is an intimidating sight!
He breathed hard, then dropped his head again, “No, I mean I had to choose whether she lived, or I did. I chose her.”
Girl was silent in her turn, turning what he said over in her mind. “You…sacrificed yourself for her.”
“Or tried to. She survived at least.”
There were a thousand questions Girl wanted to ask. She asked none of them, just kept quiet, and started rocking again, staring out at the mountains, trying to be patient, and listen to what he would say, in his time, not hers.
When he didn’t say anything more, she sighed in her turn, and said, “You were right. I was escaping – from my…husband.” She spoke the last word with loathing. “He beat and belittled me for more than thirty years. And when I finally realized that if I stayed I would die, at least inside and possibly physically as well, I made a plan to escape.
“And I almost made it. Almost…” She stopped and looked away. Bear saw tears in her eyes.
“Somehow you got up here from…wherever, but he found you.” Bear made it a statement, not a question.
She nodded, and pain crossed her face. “It was…horrible. I thought he was going to kill me, right then and there. But he had other ideas. He was going to take me back, and teach me, he said, a real lesson. And I would never be able to run on him again. Or walk. Crawling would be more my speed, he said.” And she shivered. “I think he was planning on maiming me permanently.”
She paused, “Then he literally tossed me in the back of his pick-up, snapped the lid closed, and started driving back towards the border. I have no idea how he planned to get me through the border…but we didn’t get that far before I escaped. Again.
“I was being tossed around in the back and was already in great pain without all the extra bruises that I got from the ride. But I knew if he got me home…”
She stopped and swallowed hard, unable to continue.
“Somehow I managed to push up the cover that was keeping me in the flatbed, and jumped out of the back as he was driving. I figured I’d rather die that way than…whatever he had in store for me.
“I guess he didn’t notice. But I must have blacked out when I landed.”
She looked up. “The next thing I knew I was here…and safe.”
She got up, and slowly walked over to him, stopping just short. Then she leaned forward and put her hand on his head. “You. You saved me. You saved me from dying, but more than that, you saved me from…him.” She stretched up and kissed him on the side of the head.
“Thank you.” And she leaned her head against his and closed her eyes, tears running down her cheeks.
Bear reached his paw around and pulled her closer to him in a very gentle bear hug. “It was perhaps the second-best thing I’ve ever done. And I’m very glad to know that I helped.”
Bear sat quietly for a time, then pushed her gently away, and got up. “What we need is a rainbow. Come on!”
She scrambled up, then said, “Do I need to take anything?”
Bear stopped, “Right. I’m not used to thinking about human needs anymore. There’s an old canteen hanging in the store room, Rinse it out and fill it. We’ll be back before you need any lunch, but bring something to snack on.”
Girl hurried to the store room, found a round canteen with the cloth cover and screw top, took it into the kitchen, rinsed it out, then filled it, then slung it over her shoulder. She grabbed a bag, and shoveled in some nuts and raisins for an impromptu trail mix, and hurried outside.
“Okay, let’s go!” And Bear loped off towards the wood, away from the lake.
“Bear, not so fast! I only have two legs, not four!” But she was laughing as she said it.
Bear reared up on his hind legs and said, “I could beat you on two feet. C’mon!” And the two friends ran laughing into the woods.
There was barely a trail…or “bearly” a trail as Girl laughingly said…but Bear knew where he was going, so it didn’t matter. Eventually, they pushed through a final set of branches and emerged in a clearing overlooking a waterfall.
There was a constant, background hissing noise from the water hitting the rocks below. The spray from the fall made the glade seem foggy, with clouds of mist rolling through all the time. It made the air cool and the glade refreshing, and,…yes!…off to one side was a rainbow.
“There’s nearly always a rainbow somewhere here, as long as the sun’s shining,” said Bear. “I often come here when I want to think. Or when I’m feeling particularly lonely.”
He smiled at the Girl, “Or when I have company I want to impress. Like now.”
Girl walked over and ruffled his fur. “Thank you, Bear.”
She found a convenient rock and sat down, contemplating the glade, the mist, the rainbow…and her newest, but perhaps most important, friend.