It’s happened. The end of November showed up and I only got thirty thousand words down, that’s a far cry from the contest winning fifty thousand. Queue losing music and exit stage left.
Not to fear all you hundreds of people who show up every time I post a new chapter (I love all you by the way, give yourself a hug – it’s from me) I’ll be finishing up this badboy before Christmas. And you’ll get to watch as Cason and Sophie sort their things out. ;0)
In the mean time though, let’s share in a conciliatory hug and hang our heads low at losing at NaNoWriMo this year, but make big promises to be back with a vengeance next year. I’d also like to take a moment of this team hug to mention that I could have easily copy and pasted my third novel that I’m editing into the word counter and have won. Just saying!
Back to the story at hand. This thing is shaping up to have close to twenty chapters so starting on December 14th we will be starting what I call the Twelve Days of Christmas. Instead of me picking a random time to post chapters hither and tither, we’ll have 12 back to back days of this story culminating in a free ebook for folks to download at the end. Ye-up I’m gonna wrap it up and give it to you for Christmas. So be sure to tell your friends, this holiday season will be the only time I give this thing away (read: I’ll be going rogue and giving it away until my publishing team finds out and puts the kibosh on it).
On to Chapter 7!
Chapter 7 – Aftermath
It seemed like an eternity before the storm cleared and the Barney’s and their groggy furball left. Helen checked on her daughter again and decided to take her to the doctor first thing in the morning, with a half dose of Cason’s pain medication she was doing well. She busied herself with the dishes and leaving a message making her daughter’s doctor appointment, something she realized she hadn’t done in decades.
Her thoughts drifted to Cason who had seemed rattled when he’d left Sophie, darker even. She’d have to speak with Sophie about the way she treated him, especially now that he had saved her life. Helen, felt doubly indebted to him.
She wasn’t sure why he’d done it, why he’d driven out in the rain after her. She assumed he knew how dangerous it was and going out to get her home again. That was definitely it, but she couldn’t seem to shake the feeling that something had happened between the two that had pulled him out into the storm as well.
Both she and Cason agreed that Sophie’s ribs were just hairline fractures, most likely just two but an x-ray in the morning would confirm it. Cason had been absent from the house and the guests since leaving Sophie, which Helen mused was good. That meant he hadn’t heard Bart guffawing to his mother over how strong he was.
“Just carried her in like she was a twig! He looked like spartan god sweeping in here like that!” Helen remembered him saying.
He only quieted down after his mother said some stupid remark that he could do that too if he had a woman himself. Lucille might be an old friend of Helen’s but she was stuck in the dark ages when it came to her son.
Helen heard the garage door into the house close then and went to inspect. At the hallway, “Oh there you are.” She said to Cason as he came down the hall, “I was wondering where you’d gotten to.” She noted then that he was still in his clothes from earlier.
“I was emptying the lanterns and cleaning them up before putting them away.” He said then paused, “Is Soph OK?”
“Oh yes, she’s fine.” She said letting her concern for him crease her features, “But how are you Cason, are you alright?”
“I’m fine, Ms. Sparling. I just need a shower and will head to bed. Goodnight.” He said and slipped into his room.
“Goodnight.” She said from behind him, then went back to the kitchen to finish clean-up.
Something had definitely changed that night.
Early the next morning Cason was up before dawn and gone. His note said he’d had headed out to take care of Sophie’s car and to expect him to be gone all day. Helen picked it up off the counter, read it and placed it on the fridge out of the way. She started coffee brewing and called her daughter’s doctor and left another message. They’d be calling her back soon or she would be showing up on his doorstep that morning. She’d worked with the man for over thirty eight years, she knew those messages got forwarded to his home phone. He’d see her on a Sunday, that was for darned sure.
Dr.Lowe called a few moments later and arranged to see Sophie and Helen in an hour at his clinic down the road.
Helen was hanging up with him as Sophie appeared at the hall entrance. Groggy and puffy eyed.
“Oh good morning honey, how do you feel?”
Sophie squinted out the front window then back at her mother, “Did you get the license plate of the truck that hit me?”
Helen smiled at her daughter, “I think it was a tree from what I hear.”
Sophie grimaced back at her mother, “Is that coffee I smell?” she asked shuffling toward the kitchen.
“It is, and are those my pajamas?”
“Yeah. Something about putting my clothes on from last night just made me want to hurl.” She said pulling down a mug with her right hand.
“How’s that rib treating you this morning?”
“Mmmmm.” She said pouring a cup of the strong coffee. “It’s actually better, it’s a fine shade of purple under this wrap, kind of like my arm over here, she said lifting her sleeve. “But better. I’ll go see my doctor this week and have it checked out, but not much they can do for a rib break.”
“I’ve already called Dr. Lowe, we’ll see him in an hour at his clinic and we’ll get you all spiffed up today.”
Sophie turned to look at her mother over the ridge of her coffee mug. Through the steam she realized that her mother had huge dark circles under her eyes and looked as if she might lose it. Instead of arguing she just said, “Ok mom, if that’s what you’d like to do. That’ll be fine. Did you sleep at all last night? I recall taking up your entire bed.”
She smiled up at her daughter, “Yes honey, don’t worry about me. Now Cason on the other hand, I do want to talk with you about.”
Sophie looked toward the hall in the direction of his room then back at her mother, “Is he here?”
“No, he’s gone to take care of your car.”
Sophie closed her eyes, “Shit. I need to be taking care of that.” She said and put down her mug, “Mom can I borrow your car I need to—”
“You need to do nothing Sophie Anne Sparling. You need to go to the doctor, the rest can wait. Do you hear me?”
Sophie suddenly felt weak and pulling out the dining chair sat hard.
Helen was at her side startled, “Are you OK, honey?”
“Just… Just a little dizzy is all.” She said feeling the room right itself.
“Put your head between your knees and I’ll get you a glass of water. Coffee is no good for you right now.”
Sophie obeyed and after a glass of water and toast, changed into a spare set of clothes she kept at her mother’s house. Only she opted for a pair of her mother’s flats.
She remembered at the door, “You were going to talk to me about Cason?” she asked.
Helen just shook her head, “I forget, we can talk about it another time.”
Sophie let it go pausing at the door to the garage where her mother’s car was parked, “OK.” She said, “Now, we do this doctor thing then I need to use your phone and possibly your car for the rest of the day. I doubt my purse and everything in it survived the fire. Once I get credit cards and a new cell on order I need to go car shopping and—”
“Stop.” Her mother said holding up her hand, “Sit down before you fall down, Dr. Lowe can wait for a moment, you’re as white as a sheet.”
Sophie let her mother guide her into her room and with a groan as she sat on the edge of the bed, “I just thought of Philip Nigel… and work.”
“You’ll call in sick this week, Dr. Lowe will see to it that you have a doctor’s note.”
Sophie turned her head toward her mother and cracked an eye at her, “I feel like one of your strays.”
Helen smiled softly stroking her daughter’s straight hair and tucked a piece of it behind her ear, “No dear, you’ve just come home for a bit.” She said and waiting for a few moments added, “Now let’s get you to doctor Lowe’s.”
An hour later Sophie was treated to a flashback of her own as she stepped into her childhood doctor’s office, her mother at her side.
Doctor Lowe was just as she’d remembered him, only shorter – now that she was taller – and gray haired. He looked fit for his age and still had kind eyes behind wire rimmed glasses.
“Sophie! My, how much you’ve grown – just look at you.” He said beaming, then to her mother he gave her a warm smile and clasped hands with her, “Helen, so wonderful to see you again, just wish it were under different circumstances.”
They made small talk and were ushered into the first exam room, the entire clinic eerily quiet.
“I’ll let you change Sophie and I’ll be in in a bit, Helen you still remember where the gowns are?”
Helen smiled at him, “I might be retired but I’m not dead Martin.”
They shared a laugh before he shut the door and Helen went to the far stark white cabinet and pulled down a crisp cotton hospital gown decorated with the ubiquitous small pale green tri-dot pattern. “Did you see his hand?” Helen whispered to her daughter.” As she handed the gown to Sophie.
Sophie paused mid-way of removing her pants thinking of what her mother said then continued undressing, “His hand? No, what was wrong with it?”
“Not what was wrong with it, but what was missing.” She said with obvious concern.
“Like a finger?” Sophie said and winced trying to take her shirt off over her head.
“Should have used one of my button downs…” Helen said helping her daughter get her shirt over and off her head, “No, his ring finger. Did you notice it?”
Sophie looked askance at her mother while she slipped into the hospital gown, “No, is he not wearing his ring? Could mean that he just got a rash under it mom and took it off until it heals. Happens all the time.”
Helen shook her head and went to the door, “I’ll call him back, but look closely at it. It’s tanned over, he’s not been wearing it for some time Sophie.” She said exasperated, “It’s no wonder you’re still single, you don’t have an eye for these things!”
As her mother left, Sophie just felt mentally exhausted by the exchange. Though one thought at her mother’s mention of being single she remembered something hazy. Remembered Cason the night before, how he’d been there for her, but more than that. She remembered him putting his forehead to hers, the way that they had been bared to each other, raw and needing and he’d been there, all of him, not a single personal wall from her or him stood between them. All of it swooned to a deep twist in her gut and a tug at her heart.
“That’s new.” She said to herself.
There sitting in the doctor’s office she had one clear thought, she needed to see him again. Just see him. Just to see if that feeling returned or if it were just a moment and her old hate would come floating to the surface again.
Dr. Lowe came in and they made small talk as they moved through her general exam. Sophie did notice that Dr. Lowe had no wedding ring and that there was no sign of one being there for some time. Her mother on the other hand was extremely chatty and bubbly, to the point where Sophie noticed and started watching her.
“Now this head gash will heal nicely, Helen is this your work?”
Her mother tittered and smiling said, “Of course, I’ve done more than that over the years.”
“How can I forget?” He said warmly back to her, “You were the best, I was so sad to see you go.”
Sophie watched as her mother’s face turned pink, “Well, some of us think that retiring is a good thing.” She said at Sophie’s side. “Have you thought more on taking the leap?”
“Not much for me to retire to, sadly.” He said and turned Sophie’s chin this way and that.
“I thought you and your wife had made plans?”
“Mother…” Sophie said in warning.
“Oh no it’s okay Sophie, Your mother and I worked together for decades. You probably noticed my lack of ring… We separated years ago and the divorce was final two years back.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry Martin,” Helen said reaching across her daughter to touch Dr. Lowe’s arm.
Sophie snatched it into her own and and held it, “So, about this gash on my forehead?”
Dr. Lowe went on to explain that it would heal fine save for a small scar but they had an excellent plastic surgeon in the clinic that he could refer her to. After the inspection Sophie went down the hall to get the x-ray of her chest.
Back in the exam room waiting for the results to come in Sophie and her mother looked at each other.
“You want to tell me why you’re grilling Dr. Lowe mom? It’s kind of creepy.”
“Creepy? Your mother can’t inquire after the well being of her former employer? I worked with him for thirty years Sophie Anne.” She said and huffed in her chair looking toward the door.
“Mom you turned pink when he complimented your handiwork on my head wound.”
“Keep your voice down.” She said turning back to her daughter, “And why wouldn’t I? It’s a very prestigious thing to have your work complimented on by a man of his stature. He’s much better than I at wound dressing, that is for sure.”
Sophie watched her mother for a bit and when she turned even rosier shade of pink she exclaimed, “You have a crush on him!”
“Hush!” she said looking wild eyed at her, “I do not, Sophie Anne, that is such a crass thing to say.”
Sophie just laughed then stopped, wincing, “Oh, you are completely crushing on him mom. Ow.” She said putting her hand to her side.
“Serves you right.” She said as the door swung open.
Dr. Lowe was holding the old fashioned x-ray photo in his hand and flipping the switch to the light box on the front wall slipped it in.
“Looks like we have just one slight fracture on your right side, here.” He said pointing to the black and white chest x-ray. Sophie’s spine and ribs looking like they should.
“Slight?” Sophie asked, “Are you sure?”
“Yes, very. I’d go so far as to say it’s just a hairline fracture, you’ll heal nicely and quickly.”
“Are you sure? It feels like it’s jabbing into my lungs.” She asked incredulously. She didn’t want to say that she expected at least three horribly broken ribs stabbing her lungs.
“Well more than likely you’ve got some muscle and tissue damage from where the seatbelt went across your chest. That alone could very well be swelling and causing your rib discomfort.” He said, his tone fatherly and calm. In turn making her feel calm, something Dr. Lowe always did.
“OK.” Sophie said, “So, I’m fine, other than needing some plastic surgery.”
Dr. Lowe smiled and chuckled making her mother beam up at him, he gave Sophie’s knee a pat, “You’re right as rain kid, other than a hairline fracture to your rib and multiple abrasions. You’re one lucky champ. And you won’t need plastic surgery for that head wound, your mother did a great job.”
Sophie suddenly felt eight again and sarcastic, “OK. So does that mean I get a lollipop now?”
“You betcha!” he said and opening the door to go, said, “I’ll let you get your clothes back on and meet you in the lobby with it.”
“Martin, I’ll walk out with you.” Helen said leaving her daughter to change herself.
Sophie smiled as the door shut behind her mother, apparently, she thought, that a hairline fracture was not needed to assist putting a shirt on when there was Dr. Hottie to talk to.
As soon as the thought of Dr. Lowe as a hottie rolled into her mind Sophie dismissed it, “No.” She mumbled.
Alone, her thoughts went to Cason again. Where he was, what he was doing and if they had gotten her SUV out of the tree. It would be a miracle if her purse and cell phone survived, she’d have to wait and see.
Her mother was pink with delight when Sophie came out and met them in the empty waiting room.
“How much do I owe you?” Sophie asked as she approached them.
Dr. Lowe and her mother were startled out of their conversation at her question.
“Oh!” Dr. Lowe said and beamed handing Sophie a red sucker, “Here you go champ! Your mother and I were just saying that today’s visit was no charge. It was more of a social call.” He said and patted her back gently as they made their way to the door.
“Oh, that’s nice of you Dr. Lowe, but I have insurance we should probably—”
“There’s no need. Your mother and I go back a long way, I owe her a bundle.” He said and smiled at Helen.
Sophie interjected before it got weird, “Thank you Dr. Lowe. Mom? Shall we go?”
“Yes. It was good to see you Martin.” She said and went in for a hug as he stuck out his hand to say goodbye to her. Sophie watched uncomfortably as he pulled his hand back to give her a hug. Only Helen had stopped midway and tried switching to a handshake.
They laughed awkwardly and just settled for a handshake. Sophie waved and headed out the door before any farewell option could be made toward her.
They made it back to her mother’s sedan, the day a bright sunny and warm one, as if the storm the night before never happened. Her mother unlocked the car, “Don’t say a word.”
Sophie smiled and got in, “I didn’t say a thing!”
“I can see it on your face, not a word Sophie Anne Sparling.”
“Will it be weird if you’re Mrs. Lowe and I’m still Sparling?”
Sophie laughed and winced again, “Oh mom. That was painful.”
“Your rib? I should hope so child. With you tormenting me like this, you deserve it.” She sad playfully.
Sophie smiled as they set off down the road, “Oh stop, you’re enjoying every minute of it.”
“I am not!” she said and giggled as they turned off the main street.
“See!” Sophie said, “And not to mention you’re blushing. You have a crush on him, admit it.”
“I do not. That is absolutely ridiculous.”
“Well if not a crush, you’re happy he’s single. Did you find out why?”
“Sophie, I’ll not kiss and tell.”
Sophie squealed from the passenger seat, “You kissed—”
“That is not what I meant. I meant, oh you darned child, you’re getting my tongue all tied up and I can’t think straight.”
They’d made the short drive to their subdivision from town in good time. Helen turned the car into her subdivision as Sophie said, “I did that? You mean Dr. Lowe or Maaaaartin did that.”
“Now you’re just teasing me.” Helen said.
“Yes and you love it.” She said laughing, “Ow.”
As they approached the house Sophie stopped laughing. The blood drained out of her body instead and the world she’d experienced the night before came rushing back. She felt dizzy looking at the charred rubble of her SUV on the back of a flatbed tow truck in front of her mother’s house.
Reality flooded in and Sophie felt her protective shell shellac over her.
“My God.” Helen said as they pulled into the driveway and parked.
Sophie got out and stood on the driveway looking at the rubble. Only the metal remained and the popped and twisted rubber of the tires. Her body would have been in there had Cason not come after her.
Just a simple move of one man following her, saved her life. She felt a sudden wave of nausea swirl in her belly. If it hadn’t been for him it would be her mother identifying her mangled remains that day. Not sharing a laugh on the way home from the doctor’s office. The pain it would have rent on her mother sent her scurrying next to the garage where she emptied the contents of her stomach onto the side lawn.
Her mother came up behind her and put a hand on her back, “You alright honey?”
Sophie put a hand back, “I’m fine,” she wheezed, “Just give me a moment.”
The pain was blinding in her side and it’s only blessed side affect was the clarity of mind that it brought. She heard her mother talking with someone behind her. She waited until the heaving stopped then used the hose clean herself and the lawn off.
“Reality is a bitch isn’t she?”
“I’d say,” Sophie said quietly, “Cason, thank you for what you did.” She said and wiping her face and hands dry shielded her eyes to look at him.
He wore a fitted gray shirt and jeans, his eye’s had gotten even darker. As if old shadows renewed their haunt on his soul.
“Don’t thank me. I’m just glad your mom doesn’t have to identify your body today.”
Those weren’t the soothing words that Sophie needed to hear, instead she felt admonished.
“And that is why I’m thanking you.” She said coldly to him. She thought then that the night before had been a one off. He lied to her about her brother, but instead of a hero, he was still just an ass. “Where’s the tow truck driver, I’m sure he needs my insurance information.”
“You plan on getting that out of your purse? Because it’s a load of ash right now.”
Sophie stopped and turned back to him. She felt his proverbial knife jab, “Are you trying for Asshole of the Year, because if you are it’s working. I think they’ve got you at runner up.”
“Damn.” He said, “I was working for first place.”
“Keep it up.” She said and shaking her head she walked away finding the tow truck driver and her mother with a phone book on the front porch. Using her mother’s phone book she gave him her agent’s office number for him to call. Leaving them there she slipped in the house and stayed busy until she could get to her own home.
She called and dealt with the claims adjuster, the credit card companies, cell phone company, her locksmith to get into her home and arranged for a rental car to be dropped off at her mother’s home. Sophie was calling her work when the sun went down, saying to her supervisor’s voicemail that she’d be out Monday but back on Tuesday.
The rental was dropped off shortly after that and Sophie took another call from the claims department.
“Alright Ms. Sparling we have a claim number for you, you ready for it?”
“Hold on,” Sophie’s scratch paper was full. On the counter in the kitchen she dug through the opened mail and grabbed an envelope, “OK. Go.”
Sophie wrote the number down and thanked the woman before hanging up. She flipped the envelope over and saw that it was from the Army’s local liaison office. Sophie dug through the mail and found the letter that went with it. Her heart twisted when she read Ryan’s name.
It was an awards ceremony that was to honor the fallen soldiers in Ryan’s unit, including him, and the survivors who pulled them out, including Cason. It was the first she’d seen it, and it was dated a week prior.
“Mom,” Sophie said holding up the invite as her mother came out from her room, showered. A puzzle in her hand and her spectacles in the other. “What’s this?”
“Oh, I’m glad you’re still here Sophie.” She said joining Sophie where she stood at the dining table. “I thought you’d gone, would you like to have dinner with us? Is Cason still here?”
“I don’t know mom. What’s this?” she said reiterating, “Or rather when were you going to tell me?” The day was unraveling again, the threads of control siphoning through her palm.
“Ah, let’s see,” She said putting down her crossword book and taking up the invite, “Yes, oh.” She said and took her spectacles off and handed it back to her. Taking up her book she silently went to the living room and switched on the corner lamp and sat in her easy chair.
“Are we not going to talk about this?”
“There’s nothing to talk about.”
“Alright.” Sophie said and put the invite down and with the rental car keys in her hand and claim papers in the other she simply left and headed for her home. If there was anything Sophie did best of all, it was burying issues.
At the driveway she saw Cason. He stopped her and handed her a piece of paper with an address on it.
“This is where your rig is, if the claims guy needs another look at it before he classifies it as a total wreck. Just like your life.”
Sophie felt her lip sneer, “You know McPherson? I wonder why they’d even consider you for a military honor. Though, they weren’t specific in that invite, it could be the honor of being a complete dick head.”
Cason’s gaze matched hers.
Sophie gave him a wolfish grin then, “Two can play at this game you started McPherson. Just don’t get burned by your own rules.”
Cason watched as her rental disappeared down the street. He let his hammering heart slow down, she’d just reacted to him as he wanted. That’s what he wanted right? Her punishment, for her to cut him down to size? He need it, right?
He had to admit to himself that it was different now, now that she knew he’d not just left her brother to die. But there was still one detail he’d not told a soul, and it was that one that made him stiff arm her away.
Cason clenched his jaw against the tugging she created in his chest, he wasn’t so sure now how much longer he could keep it up.
In the house Cason spotted Mrs. Sparling in the corner doing her crossword, only she didn’t have her spectacles on.
“Everything OK?” he ventured as he toed off his boots.
She looked up and gave him a reassuring smile. “Everything is fine dear. It’s just that I knew I should have told Sophie about her brother’s – and your – awards ceremony. I just couldn’t find the right time to do it. It just seems that she whips in here and out of here like a whirlwind and I never have a moment with her.”
Cason nodded, “She’ll come around.” He reassured her, “But I still think you’ll have more time with her Mrs. Sparling the less I’m around.”
“Oh nonsense. I could have called her. It’s not that big of a deal, it’s just that with everything that’s happened I knew I should have called her the moment it arrived.”
“I see.” He said and walked over to the couch, “I know today has been a big day for you and I don’t want to add to it, but it’s now or never. I’ll be moving out soon. Half the reason she reacted the way she did is that she and I don’t get on. The less agitated she is, the better you two will be.” That and he needed to be farther from her.
Her eyes were suddenly bright with worry, “No Cason, you shouldn’t feel like you should go, I—”
He gave her a half smile, “Not to worry. It’s my own decision.”
“Oh. Well, it’s a lot to process.” She said then smiled apprehensively, “Probably best, you can’t stay here with a little old lady forever.” She said then added, “But, you can stay as long as you need to find a new place.”
“Thank you ma’am.” He said picking up the phone and going over to her, “I’ll plan to be out after the ceremony.”
Cason handed Helen the phone and said softly, “Call you daughter, talk to her about it. The ceremony, she needs to know why you didn’t tell her.”
She tentatively took the phone from him, “I’m not sure she wants to hear from me tonight.”
“She always willing to listen to you. Remember it’s me she can’t stand.” He turned and headed out of the room leaving her privacy to talk with her daughter. In the mean time, it was time to resume his home search.
He showered off the burnt grime from helping unload Sophie’s SUV. It had taken two tow trucks an army of chainsaws and a small flatbed crane to get it unhooked from the tree. He had listened to the men all day say how they couldn’t believe someone had lived from the wreck. He’d kept quiet on his part of the whole thing, just saying that it was his friend’s rig he was helping get out of the tree as a favor.
The hard climbing and physical labor had his hip pinching all day. He realized as he picked up the prescription bottle back in his room that his last pain pills had been given to Sophie. Cason grimaced as he prepared himself for a twisted sleepless night.