Updated: Sep 3, 2020
Approach wall from woods without being seen, sabotage generator, throw drugged meat over wall, when dogs quiet, jump wall and run to house -
“Boys, I want you to pack up all of your dirty laundry.”
His thoughts came to a jarring halt. What?
Doc had just come home for lunch and was setting the stew out into bowls.
“I need you two to put together all of your dirty laundry. There are industrial strength washing machines at the clinic and I’m going to go put a load on for us.”
Eric looked sideways at Nathan. That could not happen.
“We do our own laundry,” Eric put on his fiercest face as he cut her off, his voice cold as ice. “That is not something for you to worry about.”
Nathan looked from Eric to Siah. Eric was using the same voice he used whenever he wanted to scare someone. So far as he knew, he’d never talked like that to Siah-
Her lip started to tremble.
One glance at Eric told him he felt as panicked as him.
He was caught completely off guard when Siah burst out laughing.
“Oh sweetie,” still giggling, she reached up and patted his brother’s cheek.
“You’re so adorable when you try to be intimidating.”
She moved her hand to his shoulder.
“Now, pack your stinky clothes and sheets, I still have to load up mine and Sharlie’s.”
She set the steaming bowl on the coffee table and went down the hall.
Eric turned to him, looking as confused as he felt.
“Oh, do you boys need a bag?” she shouted from the back room.
“Uh, no, we’ve, uh, got one.” Eric called back.
Eric looked at him and shrugged. Apparently Siah was taking their laundry to the clinic.
He one handedly took all the sheets off the mats he’d been sleeping on while Eric gathered their dirty clothes he’d been stuffing into plastic bags in their backpacks.
Siah came out a minute later with a laundry bag over her shoulder.
He handed her theirs and looked to Eric to voice his thoughts.
“Are you sure it’s safe for you to take our laundry over there? What if someone sees it?”
“It’s safer for me to do laundry at the clinic than it is for you to do a suicide run to the only laundromat left in town. You’d be too easy a target. There is no need for you boys to feel embarrassed; I’m a doctor, I grew up with four brothers and a bunch of nephews. I’ve seen it all.”
He and Eric both shuffled their feet as he spoke.
“You’re sure you can get this done in one day? You’re always saying how busy the clinic is.”
“Yes I’m sure. We have big industrial sized washing machines that still work.
This will be the smallest load they see all day. I should have it done before end of day.”
“What if someone catches you? Won’t you get in trouble?”
“No, several of our staff recently moved away so the laundry’s been piling up for a while. Many of the patient’s families use the machines regularly. Even if I did get caught taking it out or putting it in, I’ll just play like it’s someone else’s.
Mason had decided enough was enough; he was going to do laundry.
Usually the laundry didn’t pile up like this but in the last week their last nurse and two of their volunteers had been able to move away. That left only him, Siah and two volunteers manning the clinic.
He was grateful beyond words Siah had stayed on after what happened to Sharlie.
She’d been tight lipped about where she’d been leaving her but he understood the need for secrecy. In this crowded place they never knew if someone was listening who might rat them out to Holsun- or if he didn’t have a well-placed bug somewhere; they’d found them before.
He’d been furious when he’d found out Holsun had come in and assaulted her the day she’d come back. He blood boiled at the image of Siah battered and bruised.
Ten days later and her face was still swollen. He shook himself, all that mattered was that little Sharlie was safe.
There were four washers and dryers in the laundry room and he was surprised to see all of them full and the dryers finished with their cycle.
Who else had been in here doing laundry?
Then it occurred to him, Siah had come down this hallway several times.
He had thought she was going to the bathroom across the hall.
Had she put in a load? If so why not tell him?
He could’ve helped, there was no need for her to do this kind of heavy work alone- he stopped short when he really took notice of the clothing.
Not wanting to embarrass Siah, he’d been stuffing it into opaque plastic laundry bags without really looking.
Now he had, and was surprised to see male clothing mixed in, in boys and men’s sizes. He checked the other machines. None held any other clothing.
He quickly put everything away.
Since the kidnapping attempt, she had been running off midday almost every day to where she had Sharlie stashed… it was almost mid-day now.
He had just finished putting the laundry into the last bag when Siah came running into the room. She took one look at the bags in his hands and looked panicked.
“Please don’t tell anyone.” She quietly pleaded.
“I won’t.” He whispered, handing her the bag.
“Go on home Siah.”
The Op Begins-
The morning after Siah came back with their laundry, Eric left right after Siah did.
They had decided early morning- when the streets were bare, would be the best time for him to carry out the various stages of the op. They needed to do this quickly and quietly.
Nathan was mobile enough now to handle the kid alone for a couple of hours.
They figured it wouldn’t take any longer than that per day for him to move the stashes to the rotten tree in the woods.
He put on his empty backpack and stopped at the kitchen window.
“You ready for this?”
They clapped hands and bumped each other’s good shoulders before Eric swung out the back window.
He stopped only briefly in the dim light to stuff his backpack with moss and leaves to give it bulk, then took off running to the first stash.
Retrieving the six stashes and relocating them would be time consuming but relatively easy. It was the long walk from each of them to the dead tree that held danger; he couldn’t afford to get caught.
He should be able to collect and stash one bag every morning over the next week and be back to the apartment before the kid noticed he was gone for too long.
They didn’t want Doc knowing about any of this.
For the next week, Eric left right after Doc did every morning, leaving Nathan with the kid- who thought he was out hunting- and went to each stash in the dull light of early morning. He would take the “deposit” to the dead tree, then come back to the apartment where he’d eat before taking the kid out with him to gather wood so Nathan could have a break- and make some calls.
When they came back, he made sure to put the kid on her bed.
She was usually pretty out of it by then and went to sleep easily.
The anonymous tips Nathan was giving the U.S. Marshals and state police should be enough to get some legal heat on Holsun.
It still baffled him how the Doc had a working phone.
Hardly anyone in these parts did anymore. He still hadn’t asked her about it.
She was just too exhausted for them to talk about more than basic essentials when she got back every day.
By the end of the week, the plan had worked perfectly. No one saw him.
No one suspected him. Not even the kid.
They grinned at the thought of Holsun panicking when he went to get his stashes, he was going to find his duffel bags considerably lighter, the only green being the ferns, leaves and moss Eric and swapped out the contents for.
The last stash collected, he decided to take a couple days off before he broke into Holsun’s house.
After Doc had come and gone for lunch and he’d taken the kid out in the afternoon, he left her with Nathan so he could really go hunting. He had been doing some hunting after he’d dropped off every stash but due to the limited time he hadn’t gotten more than small game every time.
His thoughts wandered to how comfortable Nathan was with the kid. It was weird.
He was glad Nathan had some distraction when he was laid up and he had to be gone but still- it weirded him out.
Eric had warned him yesterday not to get too attached. It wasn’t like they were staying, this was all temporary.
Nathan had been more silent than usual after that. He just didn’t want him to get hurt.
He shook himself. He wanted to get some big game before Doc came back.
At lunch, she had said she wasn’t as inundated at work anymore and that she might be able to come home a little early.
He didn’t want to risk not being home when she came in.
He stopped in his tracks. Home?
Had he just thought of that apartment as home?
He’d never thought of anyplace like that before. Ever.
The thought was stupid. They were doing all this to pay back Doc for taking care of Nathan- that was it. She was helping them, now they were helping her, it was a fair trade.
They couldn’t get comfortable. Doc was nice, that was it. They weren’t staying.
He managed to bag a small buck and was in the middle of field dressing it when he felt the weather change. A storm was coming. He needed to hurry.
He hoped Doc was able to get out early like she’d hoped.
If the dark of those clouds were any indication, it was gonna be bad.
Bunking with the Boys-
Siah ran home, taking a shorter route than usual. She knew she might be letting her guard down but she did not want to be out in this miserable freezing rain a minute longer than necessary. She could not afford to get sick.
She could only hope that any of Holsun’s men or petty criminals would feel the same way about being out in this weather and that no one would follow her.
She took a moment to thank God that she didn’t have Sharlie out with her in this weather and said a prayer of thanks that her girl was safe. She smiled at how Sharlie chattered away with her every time she came home about something Eric had shown her or something Nathan had told her. She was thoroughly enamored with the boys.
Another blast of freezing wind wiped the smile off her face as the temperature began to dip to dangerous levels.
It was always cold. She was as used to it as she would ever be.
Part of what made the weather so much more dangerous was that now cold meant dangerous cold. She missed real seasons. Ever since The Ruin began, winters lasted for 9 months out of the year and summers were not a real thing anymore. It was cold and wet most of the time, just more so during winter. But it never snowed. Ever.
“O Lord, I know the sun is still there but I miss seeing it.” She half cried.
Last year when it had become this cold she had just moved their mattress into the living room and she and Sharlie had just slept in front of the fire.
Now the boys were there though. She thought about just sticking to the small bedroom but when she finally arrived home, half frozen and barely able to clamber through the window, she knew that was not an option. In the small bedroom, there was actually frost forming on the wall around the window and she could feel the cold draft coming through the slats. She knew it would only get worse in the night.
It was going to be awkward but there was no help for it; she and Sharlie were going to have to bunk with the boys tonight.
She was halfway through changing into a dry set of clothes when the smell in the air registered with her; was that the smell of roasting meat?
It smelled like fresh barbeque!
She stumbled through the rest of redressing, her stomach growling at the amazing aroma.
Finally tugging on the second set of pajamas over her first, and throwing her favorite flannel over shirt on top of everything, she stumbled down the short hallway and into the living room where both boys looked at her owlishly.
“Do I smell Barbecue?”
“I killed a deer today and grilled the meat. The tough stuff is in the stew for later.”
She could only look at the oversized boy in front of her and felt her lip begin to tremble. She had never felt more grateful to have the boys here.
She wrapped her arms around him in a fierce hug. Sharlie came out of the bathroom just then and excitedly joined in on the hug.
Both boys were clearly awkward but hey, awkward was going to be the game for the night.
She told them of her plans over dinner. It did not escape her how they glanced at each other sideways. Neither protested, she hadn’t thought they would, but she was surprised how nervous they both seemed about it.
She would never have thought of either of them as the shy type.
She had Eric pull her mattress out to the bedroom and plunk it in front of the fire; so nice to have a young man around to do that kind of thing.
Nathan was still on the cushions and she and Eric would be sleeping in an L shape, her head to his toe. She was surprised at the boys’ awkwardness.
It was kind of cute.
Eric had built up the fire for the night so the room was nice and warm.
Sharlie thought it was a fun little adventure to be sleeping in a different room. Apparently she didn’t remember sleeping here last year.
After Siah redressed Nathans bandage and helped Eric clean up in the kitchen, she took Sharlie to go change clothes in the bathroom. The bedroom was just too freezing.
She took down her braid for the night and bemoaned that she really needed a haircut.
When they came out, she noticed both boys looked nervous, or maybe worried was the better word for it.
Her bedroom didn’t have a door. It wasn’t like they hadn’t seen her sleep before. She’d already changed into her nightclothes when she’d arrived home and that was also nothing they hadn’t seen before, so what were they thinking?
They couldn’t be thinking she would switch into something clingy.
She decided to come right out with it.
Settling Sharlie in with their book, she turned to the boys.
“All right, what’s up with you two?”
They looked at each other, clearly embarrassed.
“Out with it.” She ordered, crossing her arms.
“Well, it’s, just-” Eric hesitated. Nathan cut him off.
“We both snore.”
She quirked an eyebrow at the boy.
“Really bad. Especially Eric.”
He was lying. She was pleasantly surprised he was so bad at it.
But why lie about this? She decided to indulge him.
“Well don’t worry about it. So long as the sound is non-threatening, it won’t stop me from sleeping. So relax.”
She turned her attention back to Sharlie and read her their story, feeling the boys’ eyes on her as she read. A pang hit her. This must be something strange to them.
Had anyone ever read stories to them?
She could understand why they would feel awkward, but why were they so tense?
She finished the story, tucked Sharlie in and laid down, but relaxing was difficult with the boys being so tense around her. Why were they so worried?
Did they think she was going to try something with them?
Considering how they’d been living she supposed she wouldn’t blame them for that fear.
But somehow she suspected it was something more.
Father, please help them to relax.
Eventually Nathan wrapped the blanket around himself and Eric zipped himself completely into his sleeping bag. She was pretty sure he was asleep before his head hit the pillow. Poor boy. Between taking care of Sharlie, tending to Nathan and providing the creature comforts he was, he was really working.
She tucked her head into Sharlie’s hair as sleep took her.
Late in the night Siah woke up to a strange sound.
The fire was still going; its warm waves a welcome barrier against the cold.
What was that noise?
It was Nathan. He was violently thrashing around; slamming his fists against the wall, and making sounds as if he were in a fight. This was no mere nightmare; he was having a night terror!
He couldn’t keep thrashing like that; his wound was still fragile!
Bolting to him, she put her hand on his shoulder to try and shake him awake.
Then his fists turned from the wall to her and he punched her across the face.
He was still thrashing around.
Forget waking him up gently.
She reached out and slapped him across the face.
He jerked to a stop, his eyes now fully open. Her face must look as bad as it felt, the moment he saw her, he went from dazed to horrified. “Oh! Oh God, I am so sorry.
I am so, so sorry.”
She watched as the boy crumbled. She’d seen the blow coming and managed to dodge her head in time to only receive a glancing blow across her right temple.
Despite that, her head was throbbing and she could feel a trickle of blood going down her face where the skin was broken. It didn’t feel like she would need stitches though.
Was he crying?
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.”
The boy was sobbing he was so upset. She reached out and held him; he clung to her desperately. He cried into her shoulder for a long time.
She didn’t speak until he finally calmed a bit.
“How long have you been waking up like that?”
“Since I was burned.” He sobbed.
“I’m so sorry.”
He pulled away from her, obviously embarrassed at his sudden show of emotion.
She wasn’t letting him out of the hug so easily. The boy needed some healthy touch. She put a hand to his cheek and guided his gaze to hers.
“Nathan, this place, right here, right now, is a safe place. For all the times you couldn’t cry, it’s okay to just cry now. This is a safe place to shed tears. You are safe here.
You are safe here.”
That undid the kid and he finally, finally let himself cry.
The boy hadn’t even cried at being shot in the chest.
They stayed like that on the floor, her holding him while he cried, for hours.
She could feel that he wanted to speak of what had caused him to hit her, but he was too incoherent to understand. She calmly shushed him as she swayed and held him like she would a baby. As much as she wanted answers about the boys, she wouldn’t take advantage of Nathan in a moment of vulnerability.
When his sobs finally subsided, she pulled away from him, laying him back down on the mats. She’d been kneeling as she’d held him, now that he was back down on the mats; she sat cross-legged, allowing some blood to flow back into her limbs.
She tucked the old blanket over him.
“You’re okay, you’re safe here sweetie. You’re safe here.”
She silently caressed the boys’ melted, battered face until he finally fell asleep.
Only when he finally drifted off and she was sure she saw his chest rising and falling in a steady rhythm did she finally turn her attention to Eric. He was sitting up in his sleeping bag, propped up on one arm, just staring at her.
“You okay?” she whispered.
He just stared at her a moment before giving her the slightest of nods.
She gave the boy a wobbly smile and scooted to him. He seemed surprised when she put a hand on his shoulder. “Nathan will be alright.” She assured him.
“He needed this. For him, this was a release that he needed.”
She moved her hand from his shoulders to his head and gave him a light rub.
“He’s safe. You’re safe. You’re both safe. Now go back to sleep.”
He tentatively laid back down, still looking at her strangely.
She must look a sight; she could still feel the blood going down her face.
She put her hand back on his head and tucked the sleeping bag around him as rubbed his scarred cheeks until he finally relaxed and drifted off, although she was pretty sure he was faking.
She crawled back over to Nathan, laid hands and silently prayed over him, then came back and did the same over Eric.
She sat back on her heels and looked from one boy to the other.
This night reminded her that however vicious and hard these boys were, they were still scarred, battered children who had had no one to rely on except each other.
She put another branch on the fire and silently padded to the bathroom and cleaned herself up. The split on her skin was tiny, she was glad to see it had already stopped bleeding. Medical tape should do fine for it.
She used three pieces of medical tape on the split in her skin.
She still had to sleep on it and she did NOT want it reopening in the night.
She stopped and looked at herself when she was done.
Common sense and her throbbing head told her she should be mad about being punched in the face, but it wasn’t the first time she’d been punched in the face when trying to wake a boy.
She felt tears prick her eyes at the memories.
At least Nathan had been apologetic for it.
The way Nathan had looked at her as she’d caressed him to sleep, finally letting himself drink in her touch and partake of healthy affection, she knew, they had never known tenderness before.
Sleeping like this all side by side with the boys reminded her of camping out with her family when she was little; of bunking with her brothers and taking care of her nephews…
She had missed having boys around.
She took an aspirin out of the cabinet and paused to blow the stress out of her.
These last three weeks with the boys, while hectic and sometimes tense, had held a sense of completeness, of wholeness, that she hadn’t realized she’d been lacking.
She looked at each of the two brothers as she went back into the living room.
Sinking back down into the mattress, the simple truth occurred to her- throbbing head notwithstanding- she loved these boys.
Snuggling up next to Sharlie she realized they were good for her Huerita as well.
It was good for her to have healthy male relationships and she dared say, she was good for the boys too. Together, they felt compete, whole.
A thought formed in her mind, like the faintest whisper, yet, it grew in strength.
It was absurd- but- was it really?
“O God,” she whispered, “If this is from you, then give me the words.”
Eric had watched from his place on the floor in shock as the Doc had held his brother.
Nathan had never looked up at him as he’d sobbed into the Docs shoulder.
She just held him there, awkwardly, firmly and she never let go.
Nathan never cried. Ever. Not even when he had. Not even when he’d been shot.
The last time he’d cried was when he’d been burned.
What was happening to his brother? He had felt wetness on his own cheeks and brushed it away, shocked at his own tears.
What was happening to him?
Then she’d turned to him. She was bleeding from a gash in her face, and she’d seemed more worried about him.
She’d actually caressed his face as she put him to bed like some little kid.
And he’d let her.
‘He’s safe.’ She’d whispered. ‘You’re safe. You’re both safe. Now go back to sleep. It’s okay, it’s okay.’
Eventually he’d pretended to fall asleep.
He had never been more awake though than when she’d suddenly laid a gentle hand on his shoulder. When he’d gotten up enough guts to open his eyes a little she’d been kneeling over him, her eyes closed, a hand on his shoulder.
It had taken him nearly a full minute for him to realize she was praying over him.
He stayed awake, his mind spinning long after she’d fallen back asleep.