Updated: Sep 7, 2020
Chap 5 Feathers-
Doc had dragged the coffee table close to the fire and set him and the kid at it as she took the little jacket and goulashes off her.
She doled out the stew for them and he couldn’t help attack it.
He couldn’t remember the last time he’d eaten anything this good.
He didn’t know what kind of spices she’d put into the vegetable soup but it was amazing. When he finally stopped to take a breath he saw the kid was eating as hungrily as he was. Doc was looking at them both like she was trying not to laugh.
“You’re not gonna eat?”
“I’ll eat when you two finish up. I only have the two bowls.”
She served him seconds without asking and he ate it as fast as he had the first bowl. Even the kid took another half bowl before she said she was too full.
Doc took her bowl, filled it up again, then took his nearly empty bowl and filled it again without asking. Then she sat down to eat herself. There was enough that she was able to have seconds herself and there was still some left.
He felt bad that here he’d just eaten delicious food and Nathan was so out of it that he hadn’t even woken up.
“Hey.” Doc said, clamping a hand on his shoulder. “He’s doing well so far.
There’s enough left for him whenever he comes too. He won’t miss out.”
He looked away. How had she known what he was thinking?
She played a quick game with the kid, and then took her to the kitchen where he heard her rummage in the cabinets and put a pot on the propane burner.
What was she doing now? A minute later the kid ran out into the bathroom and he heard her clamber into the tub. What?
He got up and followed her. There she was, this scrawny kid, trying her hardest to push up the knob that controlled the drain plug. Seriously?
He leaned over, lifted her out of the tub with one hand and flipped the knob with his finger.
She looked at him with that strange wide eyed, open mouthed stare again.
Doc called her from the kitchen and she ran back.
Following her, he saw Doc lifting a large pot of boiling water off the burner, a couple of towels slung over one shoulder. She was telling the kid to stay back as she made her way to the bathroom. He picked the kid up and stepped into the living room.
She looked at him and half smiled.
Carefully pouring the boiling water into the tub, she handed him the big pot and then drew some cold water from the tap.
“Go fill that up with more water and get it boiling for you to take a bath later.”
She took the kid and shut the door and left him there in the hallway holding the still steaming pot. She expected him to take a bath?
He listened to the sound of splashing water for a minute.
It crossed his mind to bang on the door and tell her he didn’t need a bath but then he remembered he hadn’t bathed in at least a week.
He filled the pot and turned the heat back on as he waited.
Nathan was still out cold but his breathing was even.
The stew was still simmering over the fire.
He should go get more wood, and some more food, they’d just eaten most of hers.
The doc came out a little while later, dressed but with wet hair, the kid wrapped in a towel. Guiding her to the back bedroom, he lost sight of them when they rounded the corner of the small room.
He stayed where he was. “Hey Eric,” she called.
This lady was weird “Yeah?” He called back.
“If that waters a boiling, you go in now. There’s soap and shampoo in the tub and just use one of the washcloths and a fresh towel from under the sink.”
He didn’t argue as he went into the bathroom and shut the door.
Taking a bath in a real tub felt great. He actually let himself relax as his mind drifted over the day. He lifted his seared right hand to look at the place where the kid, Sharlie, had first touched him that morning. Both of his hands were grotesquely wrinkled and puckered. She hadn’t even flinched at him, didn’t seem scared of him at all.
More like in awe of him.
She was weird.
Just like her mom.
He only let himself soak for a few minutes before he started scrubbing and washing out his stringy hair. When he’d worked up a lather everywhere, he dunked himself down and used a plastic cup to rinse out his hair with the bucket of warm water he’d set aside.
Standing, he leaned over and picked up the pot of warm water and slowly poured it over himself.
Toweling himself off, he couldn’t believe how good it felt to be clean.
He chafed at the filth as he put his clothes back on, not the least of which was more blood than he would’ve thought. He was going to have to go get some of their things and bring them here. It chafed him worse than the filthy clothes to be admit to himself that he and Nathan were so dependent on the Doc, that they were really going to need to stay with her like he’d heard her tell the kid, but with Nathan down like he was, there was no other choice.
What he couldn’t get was why she was being so nice.
When he finally came out of the bathroom, he saw the Doc laying on the mattress in the back bedroom with the kid, reading a book to her.
He went into the living room. Nathan was still out of it.
Suddenly the doc was there beside him with what looked like a sewing supplies.
He hadn’t even heard her enter the room.
He needed to put his guard back up. He was way too relaxed.
She wordlessly knelt over his brother and began to cut bandages out of the sheets she had in the basket. She lifted the old dressings off, checking them as she did.
She seemed pleased by what she saw. He was just about to ask what that meant when she weirded him out even more than he already was by putting her nose right up to his brothers injury and sniffing it.
What- was- she doing?
She seemed to take stock of what she smelled, replaced the bandage and had him help turn Nathan onto his side so she could change the dressing over his exit wound.
Nathan moaned as he moved him but didn’t fully awaken, barely opening his eyes.
Doc made quick work of doing the same procedure here as at the other side and when she had him set Nathan back down, he passed back out immediately.
Doc just knelt there next to Nathan looking at him for a minute.
She was probably praying in her head.
She suddenly turned and looked up at him.
“Want some tea?”
He nodded and she brought out a small pot and a couple of mugs.
Setting the mugs next to the fire, she unhooked the big pot that still held a little stew, leaving it to balance on the spider thing. Hanging the small pot of water on the hook, she dumped the dry contents of one of the mugs into the pot and sat back as they waited for the water to boil. Though she seemed perfectly happy with the silence, he felt like he should say- something.
“Thanks for taking care of Nathan.” He blurted.
She turned to him and gave him a genuine, if not tired smile.
“Thank you for taking care of Sharlie and letting me get some sleep. I needed it.”
He ducked his head, suddenly uncomfortable.
She placed a hand on his shoulder. He froze.
“I mean it Eric.” He slowly turned to look at her.
“You gave her a great day, probably one of the best in her life. Thank you for that.”
Her simple smile as she said the words made him squirm a little.
She dropped her hand and her smile turned to worry as the water in the little pot began to boil.
“Tomorrow I have to take her back to work with me….”
He remembered how scared she was that morning about taking the kid to work with her. A thought crossed his mind as she poured him the tea. He ignored it.
The tea smelled like mint.
Grandpa had liked mint tea.
He took a sip.
It was nice.
The thought invaded his mind again, this time with as much force as the bullet that had invaded Nathans chest. What was going on with him?
“I could-” He blurted. The thought forced itself on him. “I could watch her- I figure I owe you…”
He didn’t know how exactly he’d expected her to react, but again- she took him by surprise.
He eyes grew wide as she reached out and grabbed him into a bear hug. It was all he could do not to spill his tea.
“Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” He couldn’t see her face as she hugged him. He was shocked when he realized his hoodie was becoming damp.
She was crying.
“Now tomorrow I’m going to go to work and you’ll stay home with Eric and help take care of Nathan.”
Her little face lit up with hope. “Eric play with me again?”
“If you ask nicely I’m sure he will, but he will also have to be taking care of Nathan while I’m not here since he’s still hurt sooo bad, so he will only be able to play with you sometimes. Understand?”
“And remember Sharlie, you need to be very nice to the boys; they’re scared of girls.”
Sharlie’s face became very serious.
“Mama, how come they scared of girls?”
She thought carefully as she slipped pajamas over Sharlie’s head.
She sat her down and looked her in the eye. She wanted the child to know just how serious this was.
“A long time ago, when they were little, a girl was very mean to them, so now, whenever they’re around girls, they get very scared. So you need to be extra nice to them, understand?”
Sharlie nodded solemnly.
“Now, let’s go to bed.”
They both came out to the bathroom and Siah called out for Eric that the bathroom was free.
Eric lay down in the same spot, with the same pillow and blanket he’d woken up in that morning and played the day’s events over in his head.
He hadn’t asked and she hadn’t volunteered, but he wondered what was going on at that clinic that made her relieved to the point of tears to have him watch her kid?
After he’d offered to watch the kid- Sharlie- and Doc had managed to pull herself together, they’d made some plans and she’d given him some instructions.
Tomorrow at dawn, before Doc left for work, he’d go to the auto shop and get his and Nathan’s stuff so Doc and the kid could use their own things again.
He would’ve gone now that it was dark, but Doc had said he should wait until dawn when the streets were nearly deserted of coyotes and wild dogs and the gangs/ addicts were all passing out from their nightly activities.
She had a point. With Nathan out, he needed to be more cautious.
He had less than his usual trouble falling asleep.
Maybe it was because of Doc, maybe because she seemed to actually care about his and Nathans well-being, but he actually found himself relaxing there on the floor.
Yeah, Doc Siah. That was her.
No question, he thought as he fell asleep; this was the weirdest day of his life.
Siah woke at dawn and found Eric already gone.
That didn’t worry her; he’d said he’d leave before it got light out.
Still, she waited anxiously for him to come back, praying the whole time that he wouldn’t meet with any trouble along the way.
Finally she felt the urge to check the back window.
There he was, in the bushes sporting a fresh hoodie and new pants, setting down an impressively large pack of stuff.
She was glad he’d had some fresh clothes to change into.
He pushed and she pulled the tightly wrapped packs in through the window, Eric coming in only when the last stuff was finally inside.
“How’d you make it through town with that much stuff?”
“Most of its bulky, not heavy and mostly I took the alleys.”
Siah looked around the floor and assessed what he’d brought.
There was the large backpack, a sleeping bag and two pillows all wrapped in plastic trash bags. And, was she mistaken or was that a bow and arrow set?
She picked up and fingered the bow. It was an impressive piece of equipment.
The kind used for hunting.
She held it out to him. “You know how to use this?”
“Yeah.” He looked defensive as she shifted her weight and looked at him.
“Just impressed boy. Where’d you learn how to hunt?”
He shrugged his massive shoulders. “Our grandfather taught us.”
She smiled at him.
This was the first he had ever mentioned family.
Despite his mumbled words, his tone indicated a fond memory.
“It was a good thing for him to teach you.”
She handed the bow to him and just looked at him, a half smile quirking her mouth. There was indeed more to this boy than what she’d seen.
Eric busied himself with unpacking his stuff where they’d been sleeping.
She knew she needed to hurry and leave but- this was a huge step for her.
Siah blew out a breath and put a hand on his arm.
“Eric.” He stopped and looked up at her.
“I’m leaving Sharlie with you today.”
He blinked at her. “Yeah.”
No doubt he was wondering why she was saying out loud what they had discussed at length last night. She took a deep inhale.
“You need to understand what a big deal this is for me.
I have never left Sharlie with anyone for a full day. Not ever. This will be a first.”
She put a hand on his shoulder.
“I’m trusting you with the most important thing in the world to me.”
Tears pricking her eyes. “Take care of my girl.”
She didn’t feel the need to threaten the overgrown boy.
She was talking to him as one protector to another.
This language, she knew, he would understand. He nodded solemnly.
Behind her she saw Sharlie poke her head around the door frame.
She went and scooped her little girl up, hugging her fiercely.
“I’m going to go to work now. Remember what we talked about last night?”
The little girl nodded.
“Good girl. I’ll try to be back for lunchtime and I will be back after work.
Be nice to Eric and don’t scare him or Nathan okay?”
“I love you lots.” She just held her for a moment. Please God, protect her.
She gave her a kiss and a hug and put her down. Perching herself on the windowsill, she gave Eric and Sharlie one last lingering look before hopping down and clamping the door shut behind her.
She half ran from the apartment complex, not bothering to hold back her tears.
“Please God, keep her safe.”
In her heart she knew she was doing the right thing. It didn’t mean it didn’t hurt.
Nathan came too slowly. What was that noise? He could hear Eric off in the background somewhere. His head felt like a dead weight and it hurt to breath.
Everything sounded hollow. His tongue felt thick. Where was he? His eyes felt like weights were on them. He was so tired. He could hardly move. He felt fabric under him, something soft, was he on sheets? The last thing he remembered was that thug- he’d shot him. That’s what happened, he’d been shot. He tried to look around but the pain in his chest told him not to. He was definitely inside a building. Not the auto shop; the smell was all wrong.
“God...” He groaned. He checked himself. That dream. Had that been real? He still felt the feathers on his skin- in the hole in his chest- feathers. That’s all he could think to describe this feeling as- like feathers brushing inside his chest.
“Eric.” His voice came out as little more than a croak.
He heard sudden pounding footsteps and something lighter, uneven, echoing.
“Nathan, Nathan can you hear me?”
It had been a long time since Eric had last used that panicked tone.
It was not a good sign.
“Where are we?” he barely managed to open his eyes. Eric looked scared.
“In a safe place bro. Don’t worry, we’re in a safe place.”
That was all he heard before the darkness came back over him.
Siah came home for lunch with a backpack loaded down with supplies, including some food and a bag of IV fluids she’d liberated from the clinic.
Eric was surprised at the amount of stuff she had with her, taking it off her shoulder even as he excitedly told her how Nathan had woken up for a minute and didn’t feel as hot anymore.
“Whoa! What happened to your face?” He couldn’t contain his shock.
She looked like she’d been in a fight! And lost. Bad.
“Shhhht!” she hissed as she took a sack out of the backpack.
“Is Sharlie asleep?”
“Yeah.” He said quietly. The doc had explained to him to have her take one nap before lunch and another during afternoon. Or one long two hour nap in the middle of the day, either way.
“Good.” She looked pensive for a moment, “A fight broke out in the clinic today. I got caught up in it. Made me glad Sharlie wasn’t there.”
She shook herself and her face went back to steel.
“Where’d you get the backpack?”
“There’s always some leftover stuff at the clinic, clothes, towel’s, that kind of thing. I noticed you didn’t bring back much in the way of clothes, so I brought you some that I thought might fit you both. But first things first, you unpack this stuff while I get this I.V. into your brother.”
Just that moment, Sharlie ran up and hugged her.
She held her as she bent and felt the Nathan’s face.
“The fevers broken! He’s healing.”
She heaved a sigh of relief as she hugged Sharlie and put her down.
“This is the best thing that could‘ve happened. His body fought off the infection by itself. Between that and this IV, he might just be okay.”
“How long until he’ll be able to be up?”
She breathed a humorless laugh.
“Not anytime soon. The truth is Eric, a lot of healing depends on the individual person; on how healthy they were before the trauma that landed them in my care. In your brothers’ case, he wasn’t in the best health even before the gunshot wound. Neither of you are. You both have extensive injuries that your bodies were already recovering from, you don’t sleep or eat well, those stresses combined with the trauma of a gunshot wound to the chest, and honestly, he’s looking at a long road to recovery. That’s best-case scenario.”
She gestured for him to help her change the sheets. Following Siah’s directions, Eric gently rolled Nathan first to one side, and then the other as Siah switched the sheets under him with fresh ones from the clinic. Done, she began hooking up the IV as Eric digested what she’d said.
“It’s just as well that you’re staying by his side Eric. He needs something familiar to anchor him so he can really get the rest he needs. Now that the sheets are changed and he’s hooked up to an I.V., he’s almost as well off as he would be at any hospital.”
Except in a hospital they would have given him an immediate transfusion of platelets to speed the healing process and make up for all the blood he’d lost. He was doing well and his pulse was steady, but was still far too pale for her taste. Sneaking out the IV fluids had been tricky, but manageable, but getting the blood had proven impossible. Mason kept the blood products under close guard.
She trusted Mason, he’d likely have helped and or lied for her if she told him about the boys, but she couldn’t risk his safety in case the clinic was bugged again. She shuddered to think what would happen to him if Holsun caught him helping her.
Looking at the boy on her mats, she understood why God had prompted her to go for the outdoor furniture mats with plastic coverings for them. The plastic had kept the mats clean and allowed the sheets and blankets on top of them to absorb all the blood. While they would have to be burned later, the sacrifice had been worth it. The mats were thick and stiff enough to hold up the boy’s weight with minimal risk of bedsores.
“I hate not being able to do anything.” Eric muttered.
“Holding his hand and telling him words of encouragement are no small things. People who have strong faith and emotional connections heal better from trauma than those who don’t. If you followed Jesus, I would tell you to be praying for him, since you’re not, I tell you to hold his hand. Encourage him.”
He looked at her as if gauging her. She reached up and put a hand on his tall shoulder.
“Even when he’s unconscious, be letting him know that he is in a safe place.”
They talked more about what to expect with Nathans healing processes as they ate a light lunch of the canned fish and some cooked rice she’d brought from the clinic.
“I can’t remember the last time I ate rice.”
“Yea. A rare treat.”
Sharlie clung to her the whole time, happily eating her food while sitting in her lap, then giving her a complete run down on how she had spent her day playing games and toys with Eric.
Siah nodded and listened to it all.
Thank you Lord. Though her face throbbed, the cost for her daughters and the boys’ safety had been worth it.
She hugged her little girl and began to leave. “I’ll be back after work. I love you lots.”
“I love you lots more!”
Siah reared her head back. Where had she learned that?
Nathan heard a woman’s voice trail off, then a dull thump. He waited until silence.
He felt an odd sensation in his arm. With effort he turned his head. Was that an IV in him?
“Eric.” He called, a bloom of pain igniting his chest. He barely recognized his own voice, it was so hoarse. He heard his brothers pounding footsteps.
“Eric, where are we?”
He looked up blearily as his brother took his hand. “We’re in a safe place.”
“Where are we?”
“You remember that doctor woman, the one we followed? We’re in her apartment.
After you were shot I dragged you here. She saved you.”
“Doctor woman?” he wracked his brain. It hurt to think.
“The black chick with the white kid?”
“Yeah, that’s her.”
He slowly exhaled. O God, his chest… he could still feel the feathers through the pain.
“Does she have scars?”
“Yeah,” he could hear the question in his brother’s voice.
“Her hands are scarred. She hasn’t told me how it happened.”
He was still uneasy because of the dream, or whatever it was.
“Eric, I need to tell you something.”
Man, this was gonna sound weird. But he had to say it out loud. He had to.
“You remember when we were little, how grandpa would tell us stories about dream visions?”
“I had one, while I was out.”
Eric blinked. Nathan had been shot and nearly died so maybe this wasn’t so weird.
“It was a vision. I can’t explain it. I really need to tell you about it, but don’t interrupt til I finish okay?”
“It was a man- a man with worse scars than us. Someone really did a number on him. He just came up and showed off his scars- like- like he was proud of them- there were a lot of them, all over him, like someone had slashed him all over. He even had a hole in his side and both of his wrists. He told me he was scarred because of how much- how much- he loved me.”
What on earth-?
He said, ‘I set the lonely in families. My daughter will show my trail. She will clothe you and guide you as a mother should. She will love you as I have loved her. Imitate her and show your scars proudly.’
When he said that, I got this picture in my head that, that this woman, was gonna make clothes for us, actually sew us stuff, and that that was gonna to be the sign that she was gonna- gonna- adopt- us.”
As his brother passed out from the exertion of speech, Eric could not have been more stunned.
Things had just gotten weirder.