Clockwise, p.23
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       Clockwise, p.23

           Lee Strauss
 
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PITCH BLACKNESS. A rhythmic pulsing. Tandem shots of pain, slight at first like striking matches, growing steadily into fireworks. I heard Nate’s voice from a faraway place. Cas-ey, Casey! My lips had dried out, so my desire to screech “ouch” resembled something more like an injured wild animal.

  “Casey?’

  “Oh, my head,” I moaned. The throbbing intensified, and I fought the urge to retreat back into the darkness. My memory kicked in; the last image was of Nate fighting.

  “Nate?”

  “Yes, I’m here.”

  “Are you okay?” I asked.

  “You’re asking me if I’m okay? You’re the one who knocked herself out.”

  I tried to sit up, but my head revolted with a throbbing blast of pain. Plus, my arm really hurt. For the first time I saw the blood. It was on my skirt and in the hay.

  “Where’s it coming from?” I muttered.

  Nate was busy ripping off his shirt. Even in my dazed condition, I could tell he had a very nice thing going on with his chest. Still, I was a little fuzzy as to why Nate was ripping his shirt to shreds while I lay bleeding to death. He solved the puzzle by wrapping my left forearm tightly with a piece of his shirt.

  “Looks like you sliced it on the shovel when you fell.” His face darkened with concern. “You’ll need stitches. When was the last time you had a tetanus shot?”

  I couldn’t remember. Then Nate took a strip and gently wrapped it around my head. Blood was oozing from there, too.

  “Quite the goose egg you got there, Casey.”

  “Thanks. I’m going for a new look.”

  He smiled. “Any look looks good on you, but I should get you to the house. You need a doctor.”

  The pain that surged through my body when he lifted me into his arms confirmed that assessment, though I had to say, I didn’t mind the feeling of being carried by Nate. I had a mental image of him pounding the tar out of Robert Willingsworth.

  A thin jolt of fear stabbed me. “Where’s Robert?”

  “I knocked his lights out then tied him to a hitching post. We’ll deal with him later.”

  Nate managed to open the kitchen door of the Watson house with his fingers and carry me into the house without knocking my head on the doorframe. Working on the farm was making Nate strong! In the kitchen we were greeted by a handful of kids. Nate sat me in a chair.

  “Can you get Sara or your mother?” Nate said.

  Josephine, who was about thirteen, answered, “They’re not here. They took a carriage to take food to a neighbor. They left me in charge of the kids, said they’d only be gone a couple hours.”

  “Okay, Josephine,” said Nate “Where’s the ice?”

  “Uh, there’s no ice here, Nate.” I mumbled. “Eighteen hundreds remember?”

  “We have to get your arm stitched up.”

  “Who’s going to do that?”

  “Sara?”

  “Josephine just said they would be a while. Will I live until they get back?”

  “This sucks, Casey. I’m afraid it might get infected. That would be bad.”

  Very bad. “I guess you have to do it then.”

  “Me? I’m no doctor.”

  “And I don’t think I can let you do it without freezing it. I don’t like pain, and it already hurts like crazy.”

  Nate paced the kitchen, and then filled a pot with water. He started the fire in the stove. I think he scared the kids, because they took off.

  “Are you making tea?”

  “Very funny.”

  “I’m not joking.”

  “I’m boiling water so I can disinfect a needle.”

  “Do you have a sewing kit?”

  “I don’t, but someone around here must. It’s serious, Casey, you need stitches.”

  He was so intense and caring. It made me smile. Then laugh. Then cry. It hurt my head when I laughed. Pain and trauma induced giddiness overcame me.

  “Casey!”

  “I’m sorry, Nate. Come here.” I sounded like a drunkard. “Please.”

  Maybe I had a concussion. He was down on his knees in front of me in an instant. I wrapped my good arm around his neck. It’s not only that I wanted to hug him, though of course I did. It was that I felt a tunnel of bright light coming on.

  We were back at the school library, back in our normal clothes. Nate holding me in his arms, and me in need of a doctor, pronto. All around us were gasps from other students. I could hear them whisper, “What happened to her?”

  Nate didn’t pay them any attention. He carried me through the library, past all the turning heads, down the hall and to the nurse’s lounge. So embarrassing. We hadn’t had a chance to come up with the story. It looked like I'd gotten beat up, but in the library?

  “I fell,” I said, leaving it at that. The nurse gave me a cold press to put on my head, which I held in place with my good arm. She shook her head upon seeing my other arm.

  “I’m afraid you’re going to need a doctor for that.” She poured antiseptic on it and wrapped it in gauze. “Is there someone you can call to take you to the hospital?”

  “I’ll call my mom.” The nurse handed me a phone and I dialed. “Mom?” I said, when she answered. “Now don’t freak out, but I need a ride to the hospital.”

  “What happened?” she said, her voice noticeably higher. “I fell. It’s not that big of a deal, but I think I need a couple stitches.”

  “I’ll come right away, but I’m with a client about an hour and a half away. Is that okay?”

  “I’ll take you,” Nate said. Obviously, he could hear her. She was talking really loudly.

  “Mom, it’s okay. I have a friend who can take me.”

  “Yes, you should get there as soon as possible. I’ll meet you there.”

  Nate helped me to his car and buckled me in, as it was kind of hard for me to do it with one hand. I checked out my reflection in the vanity mirror on the back of the sun visor. My face was vampire pale, my eyes bloodshot from the hay and my hair sprung out like a wool mop. I was a horror.

  We arrived at the hospital parking lot. Nate cut the engine. “You fell off the outdoor bleachers at school.”

  Another story. Sounded good to me. Nate got out then opened my door and helped me. We checked in. I had my Social Security Card in my backpack, which I had sent Nate back to the library to retrieve, and waited in the lobby until a doctor could see me. The nurse called my name. Nate came with me like he was my boyfriend or something. He was acting very strange, possessive, yet trying really hard to stay distant.

  I yipped when the first needle went in my arm, but once the area was frozen, I was fine. Just an annoying tugging at my skin as the doctor stitched my wound. Mom stormed in just as we were checking out.

  “Casey! Oh my goodness. That looks like more than a couple of stitches to me.”

  Nate stepped back out of her way.

  “Yeah, there are six stitches. I fell off the bleachers.”

  Then to derail her from further scrutiny. “Mom, this is Nate. He drove me here.”

  Mom shifted her attention to him. “Thank you, Nate. It was really kind of you to go out of your way.”

  “I was glad to,” he said. “Well, I guess, Casey you’re in good hands now?”

  Mom jumped in, “Yes, let’s get you home.”

  I hated leaving Nate with such an informal good-bye, especially after all we'd just gone through. His shoulders slumped as he walked back to his car. He’d had enough of me and my freaky, trippy life. York University probably looked really good to him right about now. A pain jagged my heart, sharper than anything my physical body had experienced. On the ride home, my hand went to my neck, my fingers searching but not finding anything.

  “Oh no,” I groaned.

  “Honey, is something wrong. Do you need to go back to the hospital?”

  “No, I’m fine, it’s my necklace. The one Dad got me for my birthday. It’s gone.”

  “Oh no,” Mom said. “Did it fall off at the bleachers?”
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  More likely it broke off when I fell in the hay. Could this day get any worse? Mom helped me out of the car. Once inside, I made my way into the kitchen and sat down. Mom poured me some juice.

  “So that Nate? Who is he?”

  There was another question implied. Was that Nate someone special?

  “He’s just a guy from my school.” How’s that for a colossal understatement! “He was there when I fell, so he drove me to the doctor.”

  She sat down across from me. “You look really tired. You should go upstairs and rest. Are you hungry? I’ll bring you a sandwich.”

  “Okay, thanks.” I plopped backside on my bed, stared at the white speckled ceiling and heaved a heavy sigh. I thought about the Jones family, how cool it had been to meet them, and that quite possibly, some of them might still be alive, though it would be wrong for me to seek them out. Even if they remembered me, I wouldn’t have changed in over fifty years. I wondered how Rosa did with the delivery, if the baby was okay. Then I thought about Robert and how terrified I had been. I let myself dwell on what could have happened if Nate hadn’t been there to save me and shuddered.

  The thing was, he technically shouldn’t have been there with me. And even though Nate was the victor with Robert Willingsworth, another time he could be the one to get hurt. Even killed. I couldn’t risk that. He might be letting me go, but I had to let him go, too.

  CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

 
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