Updated: Dec 22, 2020
She had made a guy following her a block back.
“Lord, I pray for your protection now. Please, I can’t afford to lose these supplies. I have Sharlie with me…” She sped up her walk. The guy matched her step.
She was not quite at the halfway point, she had no idea where Eric would be or if the creep would even bug off if he was with her. What if he had a gun?
“O God, please...”
She dearly wished she had her revolver.
Knife or Taser? Knife or Taser?
She shook herself. She’d dealt with this before. She could deal with it again.
Taser. More immediately effective. Less chance of a miss…
She rounded a corner in an alley, jumped to the side and upholstered the taser. If he followed her in here, there was only one reason why.
“Please God, don’t let me miss.”
He ran in. She lashed out with the Taser but he dodged and she missed landing a direct blow to his chest. He screamed even as he fought her for the device, shoving her against the wall. She caught herself on some overfull garbage cans so she didn’t fall back against Sharlie. He grabbed for her sack but she fought to keep it.
“No! I need this.”
He spewed profanity back at her as Sharlie started to scream. The noise seemed to set the guy off further, his words becoming more vile. Siah wouldn’t have thought that was possible.
He came at her again. She dodged his fist, kneeing him in the groin before he punched her in the face. She lost her grip on the bag as she reeled back, her only thought now to try and not land on Sharlie. She fell on all fours. She tried to get up, but collapsed, her head swimming. He stalked towards.
He reared his leg back to kick her. Oh God, Sharlie!
A fist came out of nowhere and knocked the monster out cold.
She braced herself against the trash cans again and tried to reach for the Taser before whoever had knocked out the first attacker came at her.
The face that met hers was splotchy.
“Eric?” His face was splotchier than usual. What was he doing here? Right, he was supposed to meet her halfway.
“What do I do? Tell me what to do!”
“Gonna pass out. Sharlie, take care of her. And bag. I’ll be alright.”
She saw the fear on his face as she blacked out.
He had to get her out of here. What had she said, take care of Sharlie? Carefully maneuvering Siah over his knee he slid one arm strap after another off of her and slung Sharlie over his own shoulders. This was awkward.
He didn’t miss the fear on the kid’s face. He tried talking to her as he adjusted the straps to fit his shoulders.
“It’s ok. Your mom, she, she’ll be okay.”
The words sounded pathetic to his own ears. Yeah, he hadn’t been able to comfort Nathan much when they were little either.
He strapped Sharlie’s carrier to his back, gathered Siah and her stuff in his arms and picked her up. She was so limp. It was weird. Siah was always strong and capable, now she was just limp. He ran back to the apartment.
Carrying a woman in his arms for the first time was nothing like he’d fantasized.
Nathan felt his blood freeze when he saw Eric running up the street with Siah limp in his arms.
Forgetting his shoulder, he ran. Eric knelt and told him what had happened as he took Sharlie out of the back carrier. The kid had been holding it in, but as soon as he held her in his good arm, she sobbed into his shirt. Eric picked Siah back up and they carried both of them back to the apartment.
He opened the side door and put down her mattress from where he’d propped it up against the wall. She started coming to as Eric laid her down on it. He’d never felt more relieved than when she finally started talking.
“How long was I out?” She groaned.
“A few minutes.” Eric croaked. She put a hand to her face.
“How bad does it look?”
Sharlie reached out for her mom and he set her down. She grabbed onto Siah and held her tight. Siah hugged her close and stroked her hair.
“I’m okay baby. It’s okay, the boys are here.” She was using them for encouragement?
She turned her attention to them.
“I’ve got a headache but nothing life threatening.”
She held out her hands. What? She shook her hands at them.
“Get over here you two.”
He knelt down next to Eric and she took both their hands. “I’m okay boys, really.”
She gave them a squeeze and had them help her get up. She wanted to call her boss at the clinic. She was shaky as she sat down in the chair and dialed. They were both silent as they stayed at the ready on either side of her.
Nathan could hear the guy, Mason, freak after she explained what had happened. He only calmed when she assured him she and Sharlie had made it home and were no longer in danger.
“Siah don’t even consider coming back into work! Just rest.”
“Not a problem Mason. I’ll stay home.”
Her head had to be killing her.
“Okay, call me in two hours so I know that you’re okay. If I can’t answer just let it ring five times so I know it’s you.”
“Alright Mason. I will.” So this guy did safety checks too.
They helped her back to the mattress where she had them prop her up against the wall the same as they’d been doing for him. She rubbed Sharlie’s curly hair, assuring them she was okay, as she fell asleep.
They both watched her while she slept. Was that creepy? He wasn’t sure. He just wanted to make sure she was still breathing.
Before Doc he had never allowed himself to feel much. Now he welcomed the familiar burn in his soul; he hadn’t felt his rage in too long. His hands balled into fists.
If he ever found that thug, he would gut him alive.
Siah groaned as she woke up, feeling every bit like she’d just been mugged.
She felt Sharlie still curled up into her side as she opened her eyes slowly to see both boys staring at her. She was touched that they were so worried- and sorry she had worried them.
“How long was I out?”
“About an hour.”
It was still early but already dark out. She heard rain pounding the windows in sheets. The weather had turned.
“Eric, tell me you brought the bag of stuff I bought.”
“Yeah, its here.” He reached behind him and handed her the plastic bag. She heaved a sigh of relief.
“Oh good. I didn’t want to worry you when I came to earlier, but I was terrified you’d left it behind.”
She sat up slowly. Her head felt much clearer now, the pain feeling like nothing some aspirin wouldn’t take the edge off of. Opening the bag, she inspected the contents for damage and let out another relieved sigh. The vendors she had bought from had wrapped each item carefully and nothing had broken.
“Thank you Father.” She whispered.
She looked up at the boys.
“Eric, get the kettle going. Nathan, I need you to go wash up real quick, down to the waist.”
Both boys looked at each other sideways but wordlessly obeyed. She would’ve told Eric to do the same but he looked like he’d just bathed that morning so he should be good. She looked down at Sharlie curled up asleep there on the mattress with her. She wasn’t surprised the almost four year old was still asleep. Poor baby had been through a serious trauma today. If Eric hadn’t come when he had…
She stopped herself. She wouldn’t go there. She looked to where Eric was helping Nathan wash his head and face over the tub.
“Thank you Lord God for the boys.” Those two were truly a Godsend.
When they were done, she took the still steaming kettle from them and the sack to Nathans mats, had the boys take a seat, and began with the gift giving she had been praying over.
“Now I know this may be awkward for you boys, but I’ve wanted to give you these things for a while.”
They both had excellent poker faces. She really could not tell what they were thinking.
“Eric, this is for you.” She handed him the lumpy package wrapped in brown paper.
He seemed hesitant to take it from her, but she waited until he did. He looked up at her like he didn’t know what to do.
“Well open it!” He laid the package in his lap, taking his time undoing the twine . Would he be offended by them? Would he like them? Would he use them?
The suspense was killing her.
When he finally unwrapped her gift, she heard his breath catch. Was that good?
“They’re leather arm braces.” She blurted. “I wasn’t sure what size to get so I just bought the biggest set of lace up kind they had. They’re made of armor grade leather.” She took a breath from her ramble.
“I thought, I just thought, that maybe, you could use them.”
Duh, of course she was hoping he would use them. She was giving them to him.
Why was she so nervous-
“Th- thanks.” He didn’t look up as he stuttered the words. She heaved a sigh of relief.
“Well come on honey, try ‘em on.”
He shed his hoodie easily enough but as he got to rolling up the sleeves on his shirt- he hesitated. He still hadn’t made eye contact with her since he’d opened the gift. She’d seen him with his shirt off when she’d treated his injuries; even then he’d kept his shirt wrapped around his wrists before quickly slipping it back on. Finally he rolled up his sleeves- and she saw his wrists fully for the first time.
The scars were as bad as she’d thought. By themselves they told an obvious story. Made by a thick, heavy manacle, the chains had gouged deeply into his skin, forming scars that would never go away. But they could fade- with time.
She felt tears in her eyes. She took both of his wrists and kissed them before she laced him up just like she’d once laced up her little nephews for their boxing class.
Eric never moved.
Done, she had him flex and stretch his arms. They fit him perfectly- and if she did say so herself, they looked pretty darn cool on him too. He finally looked at her then, his own eyes shining. She rubbed his head a little. This time he didn’t shirk her off.
“Now Nathan, your turn.”
She pulled the small bottles and one tiny shot glass out of the sack, each individually wrapped in thick paper. She poured a few drops worth of the hot water from the still steaming kettle into the empty shot glass and measured out precise amounts of drops from each bottle, the room filling with the most wonderful aroma of essential oils.
At another time in her life, she had taken such luxury for granted. In the years since The Ruin, she had never dared treat herself to such a luxury, not when food had been so scarce for so long. But now, for the boys, she would splurge.
When she was done combining what she needed of the essential oils, she took one teaspoon of the olive oil, mixed it into the shot glass with the rest and poured some into her hand. Putting the tiny cup down next to her, she spread the moisture in her palms and reached for him. Nathan shrank back a bit and froze as she began to gently rub the mixture into his burned cheeks.
“This will help your skin to heal; to relieve some of the tightness and allow you to have a greater range of motion over the burned parts.”
The boy didn’t move as she carefully rubbed the essential oil into his face and neck. She had him unbutton his shirt and take it off so she could rub the mixture into the burned parts of his neck and shoulders also.
“This was why I wanted you to wash up first. The essential oils take time to absorb and they do their work best on warm, clean skin.”
She thought she saw him tearing up. Not wanting to embarrass the boy by drawing attention to it, she had him turn around to face the wall as she rubbed the rest of the mixture across the tight, shiny, melted skin of his back and shoulders, taking care around his bandage.
Familiar anger welled up in her at the sight.
Father, the man who did this got what he deserved. I’m angry about these scars; I can only imagine the rage the boys suppress around me and Sharlie. Lord Jesus, please heal them. Please show me what I can do for them.
She sniffed. She was not going to cry now and make the boys feel more awkward.
“Keep holding still, I’m almost finished.”
She rubbed the last of the aromatic mixture into his back, but had him hold his position while she poured five drops of the last bottle into her hand. Spreading it across her palms, she began massaging it into his scalp. Though she had been nothing but gentle, he actually yelped when she began.
“It’s okay sweetie. This is just to help your hair grow in healthier than it was before I cut it. Eric, now it’s your turn to get a dose of this on your head.”
“Yes, just the stuff for the scalp, you both need it.”
He knelt with his back to her just like Nathan had been as she began massaging the fragrant oil into his scalp.
“I can’t wait to see how ya’ll’s hair looks when it grows out.”
“What is this anyway?”
“Rosemary essential oil.”
When she finished with Eric’s head, she took a tiny, empty spray bottle out of the bag, put several drops from each bottle into it along with several drops of water.
“Now, Nathan, whenever I’m not around to rub this into you, you need to spray this over the burned parts of your skin.
“It would be best if you could rub a little oil on yourself first to help with absorption but if you can’t, just try to keep your shirt off until it absorbs as much into your skin as possible.”
“This’ll really help the burns?”
“Yes. I can see how tight your skin already is, but you’re still young enough that a steady routine of this will allow you to have a greater range of motion without discomfort. Once your bullet wound heals up, this same mixture will help that to heal with minimal scarring also.”
Siah collected the kettle and other supplies. “Hey, I’m going to go call Mason. Nathan, don’t put your shirt back on until the oils have soaked into your skin.”
Nathan kept his back turned, not moving until Siah had taken the stuff to go clean up. It wasn’t until he was sure she was out of the room that he finally wiped the tears.
He was done.
He was done trying to figure this woman out.
Eric was right; there was no figuring her out. Siah was completely different than anyone they had ever met.
As he’d watched her sleep after being knocked out, he had been in a seething rage, planning how to find that thug and enjoying the thought of what he would do to them in vivid detail- then when she’d come too her first thought was to go and massage him with fancy perfume oils- and he’d found himself shuddering under a tender touch. Seriously?
Why had she gone and spent so much money on stuff for them? Those kind of leather arm guards she’d bought Eric were expensive. They knew because they’d planned on stealing some. He didn’t know how much essential oils cost but he knew they were VERY expensive.
He vaguely remembered the last time he’d ever been given something- it was a pack of cheap crayons and a coloring book. It was as part of some kind of school give away. He was pretty sure it was for Christmas. He remembered being excited. He had loved that stupid pack of cheap crayons.
He hardly noticed when Eric helped him put his shirt back on. No one had ever personally given him and Eric anything. Not just because, certainly nothing expensive. Why had she? Why was she going to so much trouble for them? Making them feel welcome, covering for them, buying them gifts...
He was snapped out of his thoughts when Sharlie woke from where Siah had left her on the mattress.
“What smells so pretty?” She asked her voice laced in wonder.
Siah laughed and showed her the bottles, explaining they were, “… medicine for the boys’ hurts.” And that she was never to touch them without the boys’ permission. Sharlie walked over to the boys, with all the big eyed innocence her three and a half year old self could muster.
“Can I have some of your pretty oil too, please?” Siah giggled as the boys looked down at Sharlie, completely stupefied.
“Uh, okay.” Eric said.
Sharlie squealed and looked at her in triumph. Siah laughed as she diluted a drop of the lemon essential oil with two drops of water and rubbed it into Sharlie’s hair.
“Can I have drops on fox and wolf so they can smell pretty too?”
“Okay sweetie. They get drops too.”
She mixed two more drops of water to another drop of essential oil in the cup and rubbed it on fox and wolfs’ heads. That would likely last longer than the oil in her hair.
For a while they all just stared at the fire, enjoying the beautiful smells in the air.
It was Nathan who broke the comfortable silence. “Siah?”
“Yeah sweetie?” He paused and looked at her for a moment.
“How come you weren’t scared of us- when we first met.”
Well that came out of left field.
“I’ve already told you why.”
“I know what you told us, but that’s not all of it, is it?”
Siah looked in the eyes of the burned, battered boy in the sling. He was truly an old soul. One glance at his face told a story he could never hide. Maybe she should be a little more forthright about hers.
“No, it’s not sweetie.”
She turned her gaze back to the fire and sighed. She was so tired.
“You know how you didn’t shoot me when we first met?”
She didn’t shift her gaze but felt them nod.
“I had a brother who would have.” It had been a long time since she had thought of Ysidro. “He would’ve shot me and Sharlie dead and not blinked.”
She took a deep breath. She should tell the boys about her family. She knew the worst of their story. It was only right they know hers. She turned to where they were both still sitting by the wall facing her.
“You two are already better men than he ever was.”
She scuffed their half inch of hair and felt herself smirk though the pain.
“Come on, let’s eat. I’m starving.”
They ate a quiet dinner, everyone still enjoying the smell in the air. Between the smell of the stew and the essential oils permeating the room, Siah was having flashbacks to when she lived off of Chinese takeout in college. Had the boys ever had Chinese food? She would ask them some other time, right now she was beat. She winced at the thought.
She literally had been beat today.
Just once, she would like to get in a physical fight and not get knocked around, maybe even actually win. She managed a tired half smile at the kids.
“Hey, I’m gonna turn in early.”
She had Eric drag her mattress away from the wall and to its usual spot in front of the fire.
Sharlie was decidedly NOT tired, but Siah had her get ready for bed, reading her their books, so she could be ready for sleep when she was.
Then she pulled out the last item in the bag, her own new book. It was an Archeological study Bible. She’d been so thrilled at her find. It had been expensive but worth every penny. She opened the book to read but found it hard to focus on the small print. Man, her head was hurting. She turned; the boys were staring at her.
They could read…
“Eric, would you read to me, just until I fall asleep?”
“Here, this chapter of Matthew.” She pointed where the chapter began on the page. “this is where I left off before Holsun took my Bible.”
The big boy just looked at her for a moment before he began to read. At another time in the world, his voice could’ve easily earned him a living as a narrator.
By the time the Eric finished the chapter, Siah was sound asleep.
All that was in the Bible? Jesus sounded kinda- vindictive. When Siah fell asleep he took the thick book from Eric and began looking through it. That servant was a real jerk.
Sharlie cuddled with Siah for a few minutes before popping open her eyes and crawling off to where Eric sat cross legged next to him. She plopped herself into Eric’s lap, curling into him as if in a nest. Eric looked at him, panicked. He just shrugged at him and huffed as he put the book on the mantel and lay down backwards on his mats facing the fire and Siah.
He tried to ignore feeling passed over that Sharlie was cuddling with Eric and not him. He startled when Sharlie reached over and started petting his head. He was actually enjoying being petted by a little kid. He was going soft. He half smiled to himself. She probably only wanted some of the oil from his head on her hands.
They were all quiet as they watched the fire and enjoyed the fresh smell in the air, when Sharlie spoke very quietly.
“That man that hurt mama, and the man that tried to take me, they smelled the same.”
He and Eric looked at each other.
“What did they smell like?” he asked.
“Stinky. Like those people who come to mamas work and smoke and mama yells at them.”
The boys looked at each other. Not a lot of people smoked anymore. The similar smell couldn’t be a coincidence. The stuff for it, real or fake was just too expensive.
The three of them stared at the fire in silence as rain pattered across the windows in sheets.
Saturday morning Siah was still asleep when Nathan and Eric woke up. Eric leaned over and shook her, feeling sick at how her face had swollen in the night. She came too slowly, finally sitting up and taking a long look at the both of them.
If they ever found that thug…
They were shocked when she began to chuckle.
“Well don’t the three of us look a sight?”
It occurred to them what she meant. She was right. Siah had a bruise on each side of her face, a cut on her forehead, he and Nathans faces still bore bruises from being jumped and shot, Nathans arm was in a sling- and those were just the visible injuries.
They actually laughed a little as well.
“Sharlie’s the only one not injured.” Eric chuckled.
“Yeah, let’s keep it that way.” Siah groaned as she stretched.
“Hey Siah, I’ll just walk you to work okay?”
“That’s probably a good idea sweetie.” She was dizzier than she’d hoped she’d be.
Both armed as they left, they made plans that Eric would go to the clinic at noon, taking her some food so she could be spared the long walk for once and that she would call the apartment in the afternoon whenever she could leave so he could walk her home. Siah chafed at causing the boy to have to run around so much.
“I hate for you to have to run around so much sweetie.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“All right.” her head hurt too badly to bother arguing with him. Even if she wasn’t concussed like she thought, she was in too much pain to keep a decent eye out. Literally, she was worried her eye was going to swell worse than it was.
“So how’s your head?”
“A lot better. I’ve been taking the aspirins like you said and I think today that I might need only two.”
“Glad to hear it. Has Nathan still been taking his?”
“I’ve been relieved the aspirins been enough. I wouldn’t want to give him anything stronger if I could help it.”
He nodded. He was glad Siah wasn’t the type to push drugs. He knew plenty who would.
Finally the clinic was in sight.
“When you come to the clinic for lunch, meet me at the door behind the building.”
“Do I knock?”
“No need. I’ll know when you arrive and come out to meet you there.”
He raised an eyebrow but she didn’t elaborate as she hugged him. He tentatively put a hand on her back; he knew she expected him to hug back but- he just wasn’t ready for that.
He arrived a little before noon with a ceramic bowl of stew. He’d managed to bring it relatively unspilled by wrapping the lidded bowl in several towels and wrapping that weird looking bundle in several plastic bags.
It was weird, as soon as he walked into the tiny alleyway; Siah came out the backdoor and greeted him, like she’d known the exact second he would arrive. It wasn’t like this place had surveillance cameras. How had she known?
“Good news, Mason checked me out and he said that I don’t have a concussion, nothing is broken and the dizziness has mostly stopped.”
“Yeah that’s what I said, and there are few enough patients now that Mason says I should just go home whenever I’m done with the patients we still have.”
“Should I just wait here?”
“Na, it’ll take at least till three for me to finish up. Go home and chill out. Come for me then and meet me back here, or I could just leave and we could meet half-way-” what was she thinking?
Eric’s lifted brow indicted exactly what he was thinking.
“Yeah, chalk that up to the head injury. Forget I said that.”
“Will do.” He nodded. She asked about Sharlie and Nathan and ate quickly.
“Sharlie’s okay but a little clingy.”
She hadn’t reacted well when he’d left. He was really hoping she hadn’t cried like she’d looked to have been about to.
“I’m not surprised. Yesterday was terrifying for her. And Nathan?”
The boy shrugged.
“Nathans okay, he’s keeping Sharlie in while I’m out; keeping his gun ready. He’s worried that thug might come looking for you and Sharlie.”
“It’s possible but more likely he just moved on to another target when he finally came to. Did you get a good look at him? Despite that ridiculous ski mask he was wearing I’m sure I’d recognize the slob if I ever saw him again.”
“I think I would too, but no, I never saw more than you did.”
Something about the way he said the words struck her as odd. Not a lie, but perhaps he had a suspicion?
What was the boy thinking?
She took a bite and looked at his gun in the thigh holster she’d let him use.
“Eric, the gun you’re carrying is adequate but tell Nathan to put the cannon away with the rest of my stash and keep one of mine on him. In any close quarter altercation the smaller size will make for a faster draw.”
He just looked at her, his face more neutral than usual. “Okay.”
She smirked. His eyes gave him away. She was giving him permission to invade her stash. He was fist pumping on the inside and she knew it.
She finished her food and hugged him. He touched her back in return. The night she had told them her scar story and Nathan had hugged her, had been his huge first step- but Eric had only joined in out of awkwardness. He had yet to instigate a healthy touch.
Nathan gave her gentle hugs a light squeeze in return. He was clearly awkward, but he was trying. Eric only gave a slight touch in return, if that.
The boys making that swing for Sharlie showed just how far they had come. It was likely the first time they had ever shown affection, ever done something for someone else.
The boys were learning the simple act of giving and receiving healthy affection. Something’s something.
Lord Jesus, someday, please let him learn to hug back.
She released him and smirked as she gently cuffed his head. He gave a slight smirk as he ducked and headed out of the alley.
She raised a brow, when had he started copying her?