Friday, June 22, 2007

Seventeen (continued)

Will led Diana to where Ikea and Tiffany had stored a jug of water and some snacks in the tall gramma grass. She sat down and he gave her cup after cup of water while she watched the renewed work on the track. Coyote pried a bolt loose so he could pull a section out of alignment, after sending Tiffany and Ikea to place spikes on the rails. "He knew, didn't he?"

Will nodded and handed her a tortilla.

"I guess I hurried for nothing."

"We weren't going to finish the job until we knew for sure." He wet a rag and tried to wipe the dust off her face. "I'm glad you're safe."

"I'm glad to be alive." She started to lift the tortilla to her mouth, then threw it away.

"What's the matter?"

She held out her hands, but Will couldn't see what the problem was. They had eaten with dirty hands before.

"It's blood."

Will poured water over her hands and scrubbed them with the rag. "Are you hurt?" He examined her hands but saw no evidence of injury. "What happened back there?"

"Too many things."

"Okay. You don't have to tell me now."

She lay down and rested her head in his lap with a sigh. Will caressed her tangled hair and ran a hand across her shoulder for the sheer pleasure of being able to touch her again. Then he drew back his hand in alarm. There was a gash in her blouse, and beneath it, an ugly cut, deep and oozing, its edges bruised purple. Frowning, he inspected as much of her shirt as he could from this angle, finding two more slashes, crusted with dried blood, and a hole that could have only come from a bullet. "Why didn't you tell me you were injured?"

Diana sat up. "I am?"

"You didn't know?" He examined her more carefully. "You've got at least three cuts on your back and it looks like a bullet nicked you, too." Will jumped to his feet. "We're going to camp. Can you walk? I can get a horse for you."

"I'm okay." Diana stood and waited while Will spoke to Coyote. Then he was back, his arm around her waist, guiding her up the path. She stumbled on the rocky incline until finally the ground leveled and Will picked her up and carried her the rest of the way, over her protests.

He laid her on his bedroll inside the empty foundation that he and Coyote were using as barracks.

"I'll go get some water and a few other things."

Diana closed her eyes, intending only to rest for a moment, only to lapse into a state of semi-consciousness populated by disturbing images she didn't have the energy to dispel. After what seemed a long time, she became aware of Will's calming presence beside her again. She felt him cut away her shirt, but didn't open her eyes. In her confused state, it seemed she could communicate without the need of speech, so while he bathed her wounds, she silently speculated about each one's origins. She was almost convinced Will could hear her thoughts as he cleaned the cuts and painted them with ointment, so she was confused when he told her to sit up so he could bandage her, and asked, "What happened?

She knew she needed to explain. If she couldn't get the words out alone with Will, there was no way she would be able to do it in front of everyone else. The longer she stayed silent, the harder it would be, until the silence would consume her and she would never be able to talk about that morning. “Everything happened.”

Will tied the ends of the bandage and sat back to examine his work. "It's not too tight, is it?"

Diana moved from side to side. "It'll be all right."

"Don't lay down yet." Will reached behind him and produced a bowl and spoon. "Eat this. You didn’t lose much blood. I think you're mostly just hungry. Did you have breakfast today?"

Diana looked inside the bowl. It contained a mixture of torn tortillas, dried fruit, piñones and honey. She scooped some of the sticky mass onto the spoon and brought it to her lips, but was surprised to find her hands were shaking. "I had breakfast," she said. "But I threw it up on the road."

"What else did you do today besides ride?"

"Stood guard."

"Doesn't sound strenuous. You must've done something besides ride two hours on an empty stomach to get yourself in this state."

Diana stopped chewing and let him hand her a cup of water. She held it in both hands to keep it steady as she drank. "We were betrayed." The words tumbled out— the bullets, the bomb, the fire, the crush and the killing at the exit, and finally the riders who had chased after her, shooting.

When she fell silent, Will asked the question she had been dreading. "Is Mother okay?"

"I don't know." She bowed her head in shame. "I tried to go to her, but one of Patton's lieutenants stopped me. She said I had to get out and come here right away."

Will’s voice was grim. "Militarily, it was the right thing to do."

"Then why does it feel like the biggest mistake of my life?"

Will eased her onto the pallet and lay down beside her. "Rest. When you wake up, you'll know what you did was right and you'll feel better." He kissed her bruised shoulder. "Promise me you'll always look out for yourself. I couldn’t stand to lose you."

He stayed close until her ragged breaths resolved into the deep regular rhythms of sleep, then he located a comb and began teasing the tangles from her hair. It was a soothing task and gave him time to sort Diana's words in his mind.

When her hair was finally smooth, he began braiding it into a single plait down her back, just as she liked it. He was tying the end with a leather cord when Coyote poked his head around a doorway. "Can I be next, Mister Hairdresser?"

Will waved a hand for silence. "Can't you see she's sleeping?"

Coyote walked over on silent feet. "Nice job.”

"I wore my hair long when we sheltered on the reservation. I got good at this sort of thing."

"I can't picture you in braids."

"Are you here for a reason, other than to give me a hard time?"

"I wanted to make sure your girl was okay. I also wanted to let you know the train will be along soon."

"Can't you blow it up without me?"

"If there's soldiers on it, we'll need your help with a gun. There could be survivors."

Will got to his feet with a sigh. He looked at Diana and wished he could be there when she awoke so he could tell her she was safe and he would never let her go into danger alone again. When would they know who had survived San Eusebio? Waiting and not knowing was hell.

"Come on," Coyote said. "The train might come early."

"You don't know?" Will followed him out of the building and together they started down the hill.

"What do you think I am, a radio? I never have any idea what they're going to tell me, or if they'll tell me anything at all. Bastards."


Palm Springs Savant said...

the great saga continues...with greatness I might add :-)

Alice Audrey said...

I remember this from before. As soon as I realized this was the book it came from, I wanted to read it.