Updated: Oct 24, 2020
The rest of the day went by smoothly enough; the kid was well behaved.
She seemed to like to just watch him doing- anything.
She just followed him everywhere, usually yapping on and on about whatever seemed to pop into her head. He only understood about half of what she said and didn’t bother trying to decipher the rest. If talking kept her happy, he could live with it.
Thank God she was able to use the bathroom by herself.
He looked at Nathan asleep on the mats. Maybe he shouldn’t be thinking about God so loosely. He didn’t know what was going on with Nathan, having weird dreams about what he could only guess was Jesus. Neither of them had ever been religious, but something was going on.
He just had no idea what. Had Doc done something to him when she’d prayed over him? He had to admit he felt- different since that first day he’d woken up here.
Maybe it was the same for Nathan.
After lunch he wanted to go gather wood.
Doc had said to take Sharlie with him so she could run around a little but something was bugging him. She limped. Why should she limp if she didn’t have to?
“Sharlie,” her little head perked up from her dolls. “We’re going to go get wood. Go get your shoes.”
Her little face lit up and she shambled down the hallway.
She came out a minute later and held the shoes out to him.
Oh yeah, he had to put them on her. She sat down as he knelt and laced her up in the blockish little black shoes. It reminded him of showing Nathan how to tie shoes when they were little. He lifted his eyes and looked at her.
This kid was probably too little for that.
The doc had said the shoes corrected the problem with her foot.
When they were outside and he’d set her down, he decided she would wear the shoes at all times until the problem was corrected and she wasn’t limping anymore.
Making himself useful like that would be how he’d repay the doc.
He really did owe her.
He led her to a large dead tree close to the complex he was sure he’d be able to find some reasonably dry wood in.
He broke some large branches off easily enough; pleased to see he was right about finding dry wood inside it.
He’d settled the kid a little way off were he could keep an eye on her.
She was watching a bug crawling on a flower while he tied branches and smaller sticks together. He was hefting them over his shoulder when they heard some scuffling noise behind them. The kid jerked in fear. She ran and grappled him around the leg with surprising strength.
This was new.
He looked up to see a deer off in the distance. It ran, but it reminded him he should go hunting after Doc came back tonight. It would be weird without Nathan but they needed the meat. He looked down at the kid who had a death grip on his calf.
Why was she crying?
Was she scared of deer? It hadn’t been that close.
“Hey, hey...” He didn’t really know how to comfort a little kid; Nathan could testify to that.
“Sharlie,” She looked up at him, tears in her eyes. He realized this was the first time he’d actually used her name- and now that he had her attention, he had no idea what to do.
Where the voice in his head came from, he didn’t know, but he put down the wood and slowly moved to pick her up. She clung to his neck and started to really cry.
“Don’t let him take me!” She begged. “Please don’t let him take me! Please!”
He tentatively put a hand on her back as he walked them a little farther into the trees. The last thing he wanted was anyone cutting through the woods to see him holding a little girl like this.
What was the kid going on about?
“Sharlie, I’m right here. You don’t have to be scared. No one’s going to take you.”
“Yeah. Yeah, I promise. No one’s ever going to take you when I’m around.”
Seriously, no one would be that stupid.
She looked at him for a moment before she gripped him around the neck again.
He recognized that face. He knew it well. He hated it. It was the face of fear.
She sniffled as she finally calmed down.
He pulled her off him a bit so he could look her in the face.
“Sharlie, has someone tried to take you before?”
She nodded miserably.
“A man tried to take me away.” She hiccupped. “I was at mama’s work, hiding in my closet, but he found me and he tried to take me away.”
“I tried to scream, like mama said, but he covered my mouth, like this.”
She covered her mouth sideways with her tiny hand.
“Then Mr. Mason hit him real hard and took me back to mama.”
Her lip started to tremble and tears came down her cheeks.
She was trying not to cry but was. He’d give the kid credit for trying to be tough.
Unbidden memories came rushing back to him. He shoved them back into their pit.
He pressed Sharlie back against his chest and just held her as she cried some more.
She just needed to get this out of her system.
So, someone had tried to kidnap her before; someone who had come way to close.
He recognized the name Mason as the boss he’d heard Doc talking to on the phone yesterday.
‘“Are you coming back at all?’” he’d asked. Was that why?
Sharlie had almost been kidnapped from her work?
If so, that would explain why Doc seemed so scared yesterday about taking the kid to work with her and why she was so relieved to have him of all people watch her.
His train of thought was interrupted when he realized the kid had fallen asleep on him. Great.
It was close enough to her nap time. Poking his head around the tree, he saw that they were still alone. Good. He held onto the kid with one hand as he bent and picked up the tied wood with the other, carrying both bundles with him back to the apartment.
He’d just come back and find the rest of what they’d need later.
Nathan opened his eyes easily this time. His throat didn’t feel so thick and it was easier to think. Turning his head was painful but he slowly took in the room around him.
It was a small room; the same one he’d woken up in earlier.
So that hadn’t been a hallucination.
A boarded-up window was next to him over his head on his left, a fireplace next to his head on his right. He recognized Eric’s sleeping bag rolled up against the wall directly across from him.
But where was Eric?
He really looked at the bandage over his chest this time. It was huge.
Was the hole in his chest really that big? His memory of what happened after being shot was hazy…
He heard a weird noise, like wood banging on wood. He’d heard it before, the last time he’d come to and told Eric about- about that vision. He heard his brothers’ familiar gait and saw Eric go down the hallway off to the side of him. Was that a little kid in his arms?
He remembered what Eric had told him when he’d woken up earlier.
Was that the Doc’s kid? Where was the Doc?
He waited until he heard him coming back down the hall before he called out.
Eric was at his side in a second.
His brother grasped his hand to his chest. “Hey, how you feeling?
“Like I got shot in the chest.” He groaned and licked dry lips. “At least I can think now.”
He looked at the hallway. He could see the open bathroom door but nothing more.
“You trading babysitting for my care?”
He huffed. “Something like that. Wait ‘til I tell you about the Doc. She’s even weirder than we thought.”
What his brother told him made Nathan wonder what was going on in that woman’s head.
They were both silent for a minute, each lost in their own thoughts.
“So after all that, she just left her kid with you?”
“I’m as surprised as you are. But I figure it’s a fair trade. If she wanted to rat us out, she could have told her boss that first day. Or come with Holsun and his men when she came at lunch to check on us. She was really relieved when I told her you’d come to. She hooked you up to this.” He gestured to the IV bag.
“She also replaced your sheets and the bandages and said so far so good."
“She say how long until I’ll be up?”
Eric’s face told him it wasn’t good news.
“She said it was going to be a long time; a month ‘til your mobile, two months until you’re able to walk around and three ‘til your 100%. That’s best-case scenario.”
That was NOT what he had wanted to hear. He blew out a breath.
“So what’s in this I.V.?”
“Just fluids. We’d managed to get you to take some broth while you were out yesterday, but she was really worried about you getting dehydrated.”
Eric waited before he spoke again. “I think someone tried to kidnap the kid.”
He explained what had just happened with Sharlie and what she had told him.
“Huh. So she was so spooked that leaving the kid with you just looked like the better option.”
“Yeah, she’s desperate.”
They talked for a while longer before Nathan stopped mid-sentence and stared at something behind him. Eric turned to see Sharlie in the doorway.
She had her blanket wrapped around her head and was holding the two stuffed animals to her chest just like when she woke up in the morning.
She seemed to be hiding behind them, like she was scared or something.
That annoyed him.
“Sharlie, come here.” She came to him and sat in front of him, keeping the blanket wrapped around her as if it were a shield. She never took her eyes off of Nathan.
“Sharlie, this is Nathan. Nathan, this is Sharlie.”
Nathan swallowed. “Uh, hi.”
Sharlie just looked at him.
He was finally awake. He’d been asleep for a looong time. His bandage was big. Way bigger than anything she’d ever had on. Mama had said his hurt was real, real bad. So bad that he wasn’t gonna be able to get out of bed for a long time. She didn’t want to scare him but she wasn’t sure what to say. If she scared him like she’d scared Eric, it might make his hurt worse. She gathered up her courage. She would just have to be very careful.
“Does your hurt still hurt bad?” she finally asked.
“Mama will be happy you’re awake. We prayed for you, so I knew you’d get better.
I’ll pray your hurt won’t hurt anymore.”
He looked at Eric like he was a little scared.
“It’s okay. Praying doesn’t hurt. I show you.”
She put fox into her lap and put her free hand on his. He moved real fast like he was scared, but he didn’t move again.
Wow. He was really scared.
“It’s okay. It’s okay.” She patted his hand and bowed her head to pray.
“Dear Jesus, please make Nathans hurts all better. Show him he doesn’t have to be scared anymore. In Jesus name, Amen.”
She kept her hand on his as she beamed up at him. She patted his hand like mama did. “It’s okay. Jesus will make your hurts better.”
Nathan just looked at her for a little while.
“Um,” he looked at Eric. “Thanks.”
She smiled at him. He would see she was nice and he didn’t have to be scared of her.
“Can you hold Fox and Wolf while I go potty?”
“Uh, yeah. Okay.”
She carefully stood and handed her treasures to him, placing them carefully on either side of him.
“It’s okay, they’re nice too.” She patted his arm then each of the stuffed animals on the head like they were real before heading to the bathroom.
When she was gone Nathan and Eric shared a telling look.
“You weren’t kidding.”
“Told you. Wait’ll you meet the mom.”
They talked for only a few minutes more before Nathan fell back asleep.
Eric took Sharlie out with him to go get more wood for the night. It was right after they got back into the apartment that Nathan woke up again asking if there was anything to eat. Eric took out the big cans of soup he’d been saving and heated them up over the fireplace like he’d seen Doc do. Fuel was valuable; at the auto shop he and Nathan usually just used propane cans. It was good to make the wood he’d collected do double duty.
Doc should be home soon anyway. This would just be dinner.
He was just finishing getting the fire going and the soup on to heat over the fireplace when Sharlie came up to him.
“Can we play while we wait for mama to come home?”
“Uh, yeah. Okay.”
They did the same, “play with toys” again. He was in the middle of tossing a plastic ring when he heard snickering and saw Nathan watching him. He narrowed his eyes. Neither of them laughed much, so he didn’t have it in him to really be mad, he must look ridiculous playing on the floor with a little girl...
“Hey Sharlie, how about you show Nathan how to play with your drawing pad?”
The kids face lit up. She picked up the pad, ran to Nathan and had him going for an hour.
Now it was his turn to snicker at his brother’s glare.
Payback was sweet.
Siah came into the window and stopped when she heard a strange voice.
Balancing on the sill, she listened for a second. The boy?
Nathan, his name was Nathan, she reminded herself.
She soundlessly stepped to the floor. She’d been thinking of him as, “the little one”, so long, she’d nearly forgotten his name.
She walked into the hall and poked her head into the living room.
Sure enough, there the boy was, propped up on pillows and talking as easy as could be. She just stood there, smiling until the boy noticed her and stopped mid sentence.
She could see his guard immediately go up.
Still, she couldn’t help her relieved smile.
Thank you Lord Jesus, thank you for letting the boy be safe.
She knelt on the floor next to him. “Hey sweetie, how you feeling?”
He flinched when she put a hand on his forehead, his gaze flickering to his brother.
It was sweet how he knew he could look to his big brother for assurance.
Eric must have nodded to him because despite his wary gaze, he held still as she felt his face and neck.
He was swollen from the bruises but cool to the touch.
“How do you feel?” she repeated.
“Like I got shot.” She chuckled, a snarky but adequate response.
“How do your ribs feel?”
That had to be an understatement.
“Any shortness of breath?”
He hesitated. “A little. I have a hard time taking a deep breath.”
She nodded. “I’m going to have you lay flat so I can feel your ribs.”
She had Eric let down the pillows propping the boy up.
She unbuttoned his shirt as his arm was still too damaged for the task.
He was clearly uncomfortable. Poor boy.
His bruised chest was so purple it was difficult to distinguish where one bruise ended and another began. She warmed her hands before asking him questions as she tenderly felt along each rib, taking care where she knew the breaks were.
She could feel no fluid buildup and the bruising had slightly improved.
She carefully lifted the dressing on the bullet wound, doing both a visual and scent check.
No smell of infection, thank God. She reared back and helped the boy up as Eric propped him back up to a 45 degree angle. When he was up and catching his breath, she caught his eye.
“Do you have any questions for me?”
“Who are you?”
“Dr. Isaiah Villalobos.”
“You’re really a doctor?”
“Yes I am.”
“Why are you helping us?”
“I don’t want you to die.”
It was so good to see some spark of life in him. She doubted the kid was any more talkative than his brother. He was just curious enough right now to ask questions.
“Why do you care?” He gave her a long hard glare.
She just knelt there and looked at the bruised and battered boy trying to look tough.
He seemed to be trying to intimidate her but it was just coming off as- kind of- cute.
For the sake of his pride she tried not to smile.
The brothers were so much alike, beneath their attempts at intimidation- they were children-violent, angry, suspicious, very capable children- but still children.
She couldn’t help her sudden chuckle as her face broke into a smile.
He would’ve fit into her family so well.
“Because I’m a Christian.”
He just looked at her for a minute and blinked.
She reached out and ruffled his hair.
“Oh honey, you’re so cute.”
The boy looked as if she’d just slapped him.
She chuckled as she shed her backpack and pulled out the new bandages she would redress his wounds with, as well as the real sling she’d snuck out of the clinic to replace the cloth one she’d made.
“Sweetie, I’m going to set your arm into a fresh sling, but I want you to try and use the bathroom first. It will take a while.”
The boy nodded slightly, as if numb. He was unsteady on his feet but with his brother’s help, he was able to regain a bit of dignity.
She watched the big and little brothers shamble to the bathroom together as Sharlie popped out. It was a sweet picture that brought back bittersweet memories.
Tears pricked her eyes. It had been so long since she’d had boys around…
Nathan was still in shock as Eric lifted him by his good arm and helped him to the bathroom.
“Did she just call me cute?” He asked when Eric had shut the door behind them.
“Yeah, she said the same thing to me too. Cept’ she called me ‘sweet’.”
Nathans shock only deepened. What was wrong with that woman?
“What happened to her face?”
“She was beat up when she came here this afternoon. She said there was a fight at the clinic and she was glad the kid wasn’t there.”
“You believe her?”
“About the fight? No.”
After the most humiliating bathroom experience of his life, Eric eased him back down onto the mats. He hated how tired just going to the bathroom had made him.
He was still huffing when Doc wordlessly took off the old dressing and replaced it with a fresh set and fit his arm into the new sling.
“Why are you living here?”
“In this apartment. Don’t doctors make good money?”
The doc glanced at him as she set his arm into the sling.
“I used to make good money here in Tinplate, but not since Holsun’s takeover.
Now I barely get by. I had to move here because I don’t want him knowing where I live.”
“Couldn’t you have moved somewhere nicer?”
“Yes, but then he might find me. He and his men live and work around the nicer areas. This part of town had utilities cut off and was abandoned a long time ago.
No one comes here and no one thinks to look for me here. ”
She put a hand up.
“Okay, and boys, both of you, my name is Siah, not Doc, call me Siah.”
The kid called her attention to her block tower across the room.
Who was she to correct him? He could call her whatever he wanted.
He rolled over angrily and his breath caught in his chest.
He cursed; he couldn’t even be angry like normal!
Suddenly she put a hand on him.
“Are you all right? I heard you catch your breath.”
“I’m fine.” He tried to seethe but it just came out as a wheeze.
She felt around his chest again before leaving her hand on his belly.
It felt so weird having a pretty lady touch him like this.
“Now I want you to breathe slowly into your belly.
Don’t use your chest; focus on using your belly to breathe.”
He held still and just looked at her as he did as he was told.
She looked him in the eyes and coached him until he had drawn breathe the way she wanted him to a few times.
“Your injuries are too delicate. You need to remember not to make any sudden movements.”
He hated that he felt better. Eric was right though, he was getting free medical treatment; he could suck it up.
He remembered the question Eric had wanted him to ask.
“So, Si-ah,” it felt so weird calling her that. She half smiled at him again.
That was even weirder.
“Were you ever in the army?”
She chuckled. “Uh, no.”
The boys exchanged a look.
“Then how do you know how to handle a gun like you do?” Eric asked.
“My grandfather was a police officer. He taught me how to handle a firearm.”
Behind them Sharlie toppled over her tower and Siah got after her to pick up the pieces before moving on to another toy.
They looked at each other. Her grandpa had been a cop?