Monday, September 7, 2015

Chapter 23


There was a mosquito dive bombing her ear.   Emi knew she needed to wake up and kill it or she’d wind up with whelps all over her face.  But it was a struggle she didn’t win, at least not then. 

After some time had passed, Emi wasn’t sure how long as she never quite made it to full consciousness, she heard a quiet curse and she shuddered when a cool cloth was laid across her forehead. 

“Dad?  Is …is she sick?” 

“She needs fluids.  Go tell Benji …” 

Emi finally managed to croak out, “I ain’t seeing no doc and that’s final.” 

There was a moment of silence in the room then Nate told Bastian, “Help Benji pour those buckets of water into that tub in Arden’s old rooms then you two scram and finish your chores.” 

Emi heard feet thunder down the stairs and then almost choked as something was spooned into her mouth.  “Easy Emi.  It is just some water with a little lemon in it.” 

“Scurvy?” 

“I don’t think so, your teeth are surprisingly good – smart girl – but you’ve either got anemia or the closest thing to it so we’ll play this on the careful side.    Will you eat greens? 

Emi was finally able to crack one eye open which she glared at him with.  “Do I look stupido?  You get what you get and don’t make noise about it unless you want somebody bigger and faster to take it away.  ‘Sides, I survived mostly on greens before they showed that cooking killed the DV in most animals.” 

“Whoa there,” Nate told her as she tried to get up.  “Let me do the work for now.  The way you look you’ll wind up on your head instead of your feet.” 

Surprisingly Emi found that she was too weak to fight and couldn’t find a bone to care with that Nate was seeing her naked … again.  She’d picked her fate, now she’d just have to see where it led … to life or death. 

After wrapping her in a sheet Nate carried her down a once ornate staircase, through a living space empty of all furniture, and then toward the back of the house.  As he did so she noticed that the light was completely wrong and her sense of time was thrown further out of whack than it already was.  “How long was I out?” 

“Little over a day.  You were starting to worry me.  Don’t like worrying Chica.” 

Emi sighed.  “Dad used to say the same thing.  He didn’t like worrying either.  Always setting some watcher over me.  Now look, I’m the only one left and that’s probably my fault as well.” 

Nate knew that Emi wasn’t intentionally pulling at his heart strings, that it was a symptom of just how weak she was, and that worried him further as he knew from short acquaintance that she wasn’t the type to reveal too much.  “There are a lot of us that are the only one left.  Lost all of my bio family in second and third waves except for my sister and would have lost her if not for Kiko.  Lost my marriage and nearly lost my kids in the aftermath.” 

“Still have your in-laws.” 

“Ex in-laws.  And I don’t have them so much as I can’t get rid of the damn leeches.” 

“Because of the kids.”

“That and they’ve gotten used to what they could get from me.  But I ain’t salvaging for a while.  Got more than I can take care of by myself now.  If people knew what I had in the outbuildings around here there’d be trouble.” 

She shuddered as he lowered her into the lukewarm water but tried to cover it by observing, “Looks like you’ve already had trouble from what I remember of the stucco.” 

“Before my time.  The place had been taken over by smugglers for a while, or so the story goes.  Most of the bad ones have been cleaned out.” 

“Except around Denaud.” 

“Caught that did you?” 

“Er … you …you don’t have to do that,” she said uncomfortable as he began unbraiding her hair.” 

“Nope but I wanna see how long it is.” 

“Why?” 

“Just ‘cause.” 

Emi sighed.  “That’s the same answer my father gave every time I asked to cut my hair and he said no and I then asked why.” 

“More I hear about your father the more he sounds like a man of good sense.” 

“Well he was full of machismo that’s for sure.  I didn’t know what it was back then but he and Momma …”  Emi’s smile faded and she looked away. 

“My parents had a good marriage too.  Guess we were both lucky that way.  Sets a goal.” 

Emi turned back to look at him both confused and cautious but didn’t say anything negative.  Nate considered that a good enough start.  He’d tell her some other time that he was the youngest of twelve, his oldest sibling had been just over twenty-five years his senior. 

Nate went from unbraiding her hair to washing it.  Emi knew she should say something to stop him but instead almost dozed again.  When he started washing her other places she finally found some dignity.  “I can do that.” 

“Maybe.” 

“Then let me … or let me try … however you want to look at it.” 

“Aw, you’re no fun.” 

Emi gave him the look the comment deserved.  “If you wanted fun you should have picked one of the other girls.” 

“Didn’t want one of the other girls.  Buncha feather headed idiots.  The lot of them must have had protectors before or none of them would have lived, at least not around here.” 

Emi shrugged as she took the natural sponge from Nate, grateful he was backing off a bit.  “Didn’t get to know them much but Barb said a couple of them were salvageable whatever that means.” 

“Not our problem anymore.” 

Emi shrugged again and tried to turn so that Nate didn’t get quite the eye full that he was obviously hoping for.  This time he said and repeated, “Aw … you’re no fun.” 

They were both quiet after that, both of them intent on their own thoughts.  Finally Emi said, “I need some clothes.” 

“No you don’t.  You’re going back upstairs, I’m going to redress your arm, then you’re going back to bed.  I don’t even have to change the sheets, you didn’t sweat them out.” 

“Bossy,” Emi muttered but there was no heat in it which told Nate she at least had enough sense to know when a fight would garner her something and when it wouldn’t.  For her part, after having lived in a male dominated society her whole life, she simply recognized there were times it was just smarter to let them have their way regardless of the subject. 

Soon all was accomplished and Emi was ensconced in the large bed once again.  She had expected Nate to take off but instead he pulled up a chair.  “What?” she asked.  “I don’t need watching.  Do you think I’m going to get up and wander around in your business?” 

“No.  And don’t start fighting at this late date.  Even if you were able to get up and ‘wander around in my business’ that’s a right I gave you when I gave you my name.” 

Unsure what to make of that Emi just looked at Nate wondering what his game was.  Nate could see the distrust beginning to build and he sighed.  “Emi I know this is going to take some time but don’t do the one step forward, three steps back routine.  I had to deal with that with Gina and it got old real fast.” 

“Look Gringo ...”  Then Emi stopped and shook her head and tried to pull back on what for her felt like out of control emotions.  “I don’t even know what to say to you.  If you ain’t watching me to keep me out of your business then what is going on?” 

Seeing she was trying Nate relaxed a little and said, “I’m not watching you Emi, I’m watching over you.  There’s a difference.”  He could see that Emi was trying to figure out what he meant but he decided to show her so she’d see he was serious about their deal.  “Now, don’t take this the wrong way ‘cause your current state of undress makes me pretty happy, but you need some clothes.” 

“I have clothes if you’ll …” 

“You’ve got a few things true.  Kiko knows his salvage.” 

“Kiko is a pain in the butt and didn’t salvage nothing for me if that’s what you’re thinking.  He … well he might have but the gang lost everything.”  She explained the incident during the fire in more detail than he’d heard it to that point. 

“Then where did your stuff come from?” 

“Picked it up different places.  Most came from the militia camp.  Guy who dug the shrapnel out of my back …” 

“What?!” 

“Ow Gringo, not so loud.  My head feels like it is going to fall off and all your noise …” 

“Here, drink some more of this.  You’re still dehydrated.  And then tell me why some guy was digging shrapnel out of your back.” 

She did, ignoring that it was an order rather than a request, and explained how she’d been captured by a border patrol group when some of the people she was traveling with fell for a baited trap.  “The pack I was carrying at the time took most of the blow but during the explosion a strap gave way and … you know how things go.  The group’s medic triaged most of the injured but me he figured would live with only a little attention.  Makes me think they weren’t the ones that baited the trap.” 

“Hmmm.” 

“My clothes were pretty much trashed and he let me get a few things out of storage to keep the other men from …getting ideas.  Went into the holding pens for a while and got what else I needed there.” 

“Black market?” 

“Nope.  To the victor goes the spoils.  And get that look off your face.  Women can be worse than men when they get all bunched together in too small a space for too long.”  Emi smiled grimly when that sunk in and Nate gave a theatrical shudder.  “Exactly though you are trying to joke about it.  Some of the stuff in my pack I salvaged when Kiko would give me more than two inches of leash.  Boots I took off of a dead guy.  Those I wouldn’t mind getting shed of and if you have some old leather or something like that around I can …” 

“I can get you boots,” Nate said in a growl. 

“Why waste the money?  Trade these and …” 

“I said I can get you boots.” 

Emi saw that something was bothering Nate and she tried to puzzle it out.  “Gringo?  You mad ‘cause you think I’m gonna cost you money?  ‘Cause I don’t have to.  I know how to make do.” 

“No, I’m not …” He cursed which only confused her more. 

“I ain’t gonna take nothing you need for your kids.” 

“That’s … that’s …dammit, do you take me for a poor man?!  I can get you boots without breaking the bank.” 

“Huh?  My head must be hurting worse than even I know.  ‘Cause you know, I ain’t getting this.  Why you so mad?” 

“And stop talking like you haven’t got any education.  If you went to the school that Patricia taught at you …”  Nate winced. 

Emi snorted.  “That school was so not special.  My grandparents sent me there ‘cause I got into too much trouble in the public school where my brothers went when my oldest brother moved over to the high school.  The teachers kept trying to say I had ADD and needed medication even though none of the tests they gave me said it.  So Momma thought there’d be less temptation to misbehave at a different school.”  Emi couldn’t stop the laugh that gurgled up from her past, surprising both herself and Nate.  “My dad knew it wouldn’t work but decided to let my mom and both sets of grandparents give it a try when they presented the plan to him.  I heard him and mom talking about it.  I can still hear him say, ‘All girls’ school?  All of ‘em running around with hormones in the on position?  No outlet for it ‘cause they aren’t even allowed to play sports?  Yeah, that’s gonna work for our Noemi.  You better find her something to keep her busy when she gets home or she’s gonna drive us all crazy just like Twila did my parents when they tried it with her.’ ” 

“Who’s Twila?” 

“My dad’s older sister.  The one that rode me worse than anyone else in the family.  She said it is because she’d been there and barely lived to tell the tale … or something like that.”  Emi’s smile faded once again.  “Why am I telling you this?  Any of it?  It don’t matter no more if it even mattered then.  Stop making me talk to you.  You ain’t my Confessor.” 

Having lost his anger as fast as it had come over him Nate told her, “I’m not making you.  It might just be time.  You bleed off some of whatever you’ve been carrying around and it leaves more space for you to walk this new path.  And yes, that’s partly from my Seminary days so get rid of the face you’re giving me; but since I’ve experienced it myself in my own life I know it can be true.” 

Emi shrugged and there was no more talking and Nate backed off so she could go to sleep and escape the discomfort of her memories.

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