Melissa K. Beynon
I was floating in an otherworldly sea of warmth, almost touched by the white light hovering over me, when a small hand reached out and grabbed me away. The sea vanished, taking all warmth with it, leaving me shaking and coughing. Fire burned my throat, stung my eyes, and charred my lungs as an agonizing cold surrounded me. Opening my eyes only afforded me a blurry scene as I lay there gasping and shivering like a newborn, my arms and legs instinctively drawing closer to the rest of my body.
I wanted to cry like that babe, I was so confused. Where was I? What had happened? All my thoughts were flying like autumn leaves scattered on the wind. I couldnt catch them, couldnt stop them, and I knew something important was being lost. Then I saw a sight so wonderful, so calming, so reassuring that all my worries faded away.
A woman filled my vision; her golden eyes brimming with tears, short strawberry blond curls speckled with pure white snowflakes, and a thankful smile spreading across her pale pink lips. The faint scent of lilacs coming from her managed to reach me through the fire in my nose. I swallowed painfully, tears finally coming to my eyes, as I lifted one quaking and callused hand up to touch the face of an angel.
It never reached her. My hand was covered with blood from a slashed palm and split knuckles. Fear seized me and I looked to her for help.
Im here, she whispered and around her voice, I suddenly became aware of a low roar. Youll be all right.
I trusted her.
It was as simple as that - she said the words and I believe them. Even as I shook, I felt calmer. Danger lurked all around us, but she would see us to safety. She would heal this man who suffered beside her and explain everything. I nodded at her, and she helped me sit up. I dont think youve broken anything. At least, I hope you havent because I cant do anything about it now. She was squatting beside me on my left side, a huge leather and lambs wool jacket dwarfing her already petite size. Those big eyes of hers studied me.
Suddenly, I was completely taken unaware by a severe dose of nausea. Leaning forward between my spread legs, I heaved and gagged, clutching my stomach with my injured hand and clenching the other in a hard fist. Nothing came up, but she held my forehead and rubbed my back just the same. Gasping, shaking, and moaning with pain and confusion, I gave a cry of agony, retching nothingness again.
Finally, taking short breaths and squeezing my eyes closed, I leaned back and found that she was there to support me. Small but strong, she cradled me against her chest, the good side of my face resting on her padded shoulder. She whispered to me, but I couldnt listen over the concentration of regaining self-control. As I lifted my head, I could see that we were sitting in a snowdrift, white flakes pouring down and wind swirling around us.
I have to get you home, she said with finality. She was right, we couldnt very well stay here. Something was wrong with my face, my throat burned along with my lungs, and that cut on my palm looked deep. And I was freezing. Come on, help me get you up. I swayed away from her, bringing my legs up under me to stand and clutching her shoulder.
Nausea battered me, but I held tight to my equilibrium and to her as I braced my legs apart and stared at the snow-covered ground. I could do this. Looking up with determination, I was seized with such a bone-numbing awareness of danger that I nearly gave in to the beckoning darkness swirling around my vision.
Not twenty paces from where we stood was the cause of my suffering. A small plane was shoved against a sturdy oak, its nose crushed and glass shattered. The place where the left wing should have been was a jagged hole of fire. The pilots door hung open, flames smoldering on the seat and smoke billowing out into the night air.
I knew, without a doubt, I had nearly died tonight.
~ ~ ~
Leaning against her back, I tried to concentrate on her voice instead of succumbing to the warmth she was providing and the rocking motion of the horse under us. She had already said I needed to stay awake, that was why she kept talking. But the timbre of her voice was like the warm comfort of her jacket on my back and the feel of her sweater against my arms as I held onto her. She was soft, warm, and just the right size - like a little hot water bottle. She said she hoped I wasnt going into shock, and I redoubled my efforts to stay awake.
Her horse - an enormous creature, like a living tank - was walking us through a forest of bare maples and green pines abounding in whiteness. I couldnt see very far into the trees, the falling snow was relentless, but as far as I could tell we werent near anything. Snow and trees. Clomping hooves and mellow voice. Darkness and warmth.
Suddenly, she was shaking me, trying to twist around under the weight of me, and I realized I must have fallen asleep for part of our journey. Sitting back, my shaking renewed without her heat, I let her leave the horses back for snow-covered steps. Sparing a glance upward, I saw that we were in front of a log cabin with lights on inside and a big empty porch. I slowly slid off and held the patient animals back until I could stand straight on my own. She had opened the front door and come back to help me up the stairs.
Inside was all golden light and pulsating heat. Legs shaking from the effort of walking, I made it to a chair facing the stone fireplace that took up nearly an entire rough log wall. She draped a knitted blanket over me and I blinked slowly, snuggling into the warmth. Kneeling in front of me, she rubbed my thighs and then the backs of my hands. I have to tend to Murdock, but I need you to stay awake. Okay, buddy? Dont fall asleep.
I tried to give her a smile, but it didnt feel like I moved at all. My voice wasnt there so all I could do was nod at her and try to sit up straighter in the chair. That seemed to satisfy her, though, and she left after touching my cheek with her little warm fingers.
Her boots pounded the bare wood floor as she left, the door closing securely behind her. I stared at the flames leaping behind the protective screen. Orange, gold, and red crawling over seven doomed logs piled in a sturdy metal basket. They stretched and danced, consuming and heating. My eyelids were so heavy. My body so tired. I still shivered under that blanket beside the fire, but oh. . .
It would be so easy to give in.
Suddenly, the door slammed and she was beside me. My head lolled back and I watched her shrug out of her jacket and send a cowboy hat following it to the floor. Her smile was sympathetic and beautiful. She leaned over me. Come on into the bedroom. Youll be warmer there and more comfortable. It was a struggle to get up from that chair, but with her pulling on me and the promise of warmth just around the corner, I made it up. We had to pause three times on our little walk to stop everything from spinning out of control.
My left hand held the walls as we walked into a small, functional kitchen illuminated by a light over the sink then into a bedroom that radiated soft tranquillity. The only light in the room came from a pleasantly burning fireplace like the other, only smaller, casting strange shadows on the walls. Big pillows graced the thick bed piled with covers. It looked like the most comfortable place to rest a weary body. I gave a grateful moan as I fell into it.
Your skins still cold, she said, pulling the covers from under me and reaching for the buttons of my shirt, so I want to get you undressed and warmed up as fast as I can. I dont know if its hypothermia or shock. She spread the sides of my shirt open and was reaching for my wrist when I closed my eyes.
I must have fallen asleep or unconscious because I opened my eyes again to see her scowling at me and tapping my cheeks. Youve got to try and stay awake, she insisted. You could have a concussion and if you fall asleep. . . Well, just dont, okay? I nodded slightly, doubling my efforts to stay awake.
My upper half bare, she helped me out of my jeans. Sitting on the edge of the bed in my briefs, I sleepily watched her pull my work boots off and then my pants. I honestly didnt care that I, a full grown man, was sitting on her bed being undressed by her for perfectly platonic reasons. Tucking my hands under my arms as a wave of shivering washed over me, I wished I could just warm up.
There, she said, standing. Her smile wavered a bit as I looked at her. She swiped a hand over her face and I thought I caught a whisper about it being a shame I was hurt.
I wanted to say something, but a surge of nausea overtook me. She must have seen it coming as she quickly turned me to lay back on the pillows, my feet pointing toward the fireplace. Take it easy, she whispered. Youre all right. She caressed the side of my face. I closed my eyes.
When I opened them again, she was still leaning over me, but now she was wiping my face with a damp cloth and I could feel that my hand was bandaged. She was speaking loudly, telling me to wake up, and shaking me. When she noticed I was looking at her, she smiled. I was beginning to love those smiles. You have to stop doing that, okay? Youre going to drive me crazy. She mumbled something more about a broken cell phone.
As she put the cloth aside and adjusted the covers, I realized that she was under them with me. I could feel her warm skin touching mine; a smooth leg, an arm across my chest, her head now beside mine. She wore panties and some sort of tee-shirt thing. Her breasts were pressed to my bicep and chest. She was doing a fine job of warming my chilled skin. I know what youre thinking, she said, but I couldnt think of a faster way to get you warm. She grinned. Hope you dont mind.
I opened my mouth, tried to force words passed my lips. She tried to stop me, saying I should just rest and save words for tomorrow. My throat hurt, but I needed these words said tonight. Tha-thank you.
A smile. I couldnt resist the draw of her compassion. Moving to my side, I snuggled into the comfort of her arms, my head tucked under her chin.
I could stay like that forever.
~ ~ ~
The morning sun, muted and warm, slipped across the bed to bathe my face as my eyes blinked open. For a moment, I was enveloped in a sense of displacement. The rough planks above me, the log walls, the white curtains with tiny blue flowers - nothing looked familiar. Turning my head in an attempt to survey the rest of the room, I winced at a sudden pain from my forehead. Taking my right hand out from under the covers, I discovered that it and my head were bandaged. The area all around my right eye was extremely tender. What had happened to me?
A quiet sigh and soft hand brushing against my skin from waist to chest stilled my thoughts. Looking farther away from the window, I took a breath and instantly calmed. If I knew nothing else, I knew that scent. It was the smell of warmth and comfort. Every memory of last night centered on the woman who smelled like lilacs.
Looking at her as she slept on her side, facing me, I was struck by an unexplainable feeling. My good hand came up from the covers and touched her sleep-pinked cheek and the long lashes that rested on it. My fingers ran lightly through the wispy, curls hugging her head. She looked like an angel in this morning light. Sent straight from Heaven to save me.
She took a deep breath and slept on, rubbing her face against the pillow. Her little pink tongue peeked out to wet her full lips. I rolled to my side and lightly touched my forehead to hers, closing my eyes. Tucking my arms between us, I sighed. At that moment, all I wanted was to lie like that.
Suddenly, a buzzing rang in my ears, loud and demanding. I jerked away from her, which caused a bolt of searing pain to shoot through my head. My eyes tightly closed and my hand over the bandage on my head, I cursed soundlessly as she leaned over me to turn off the clock radios alarm. I felt her hand over mine as she encouraged, Take deep breaths and try to relax. Let the pain go away.
I gave a groan, but did as she instructed. Gradually, the stabbing pain gave way to a thudding, but tolerable, ache. I opened my eyes to see the concern ease from her face as she smiled. Good morning, she said, and I sighed in answer.
Your face looks both better and worse, she commented, sitting up and peering at me. Taking the bandage off, the surgical tape giving way easily, she continued. Bleeding stopped, but swelling and color are up. She surprised me by leaning in and kissing my forehead. She grinned. Thats the only way to check for a fever, according to my mother. And you dont have one.
She scooted off the bed and slipped into a long, blue terrycloth robe. I guess I should check your hand, too, she said, coming around to my side. Hand wounds absolutely terrify me. I work with my hands, you see, as a painter. Unwrapping what must have been at least a yard of gauze wrap, she revealed a bloodstained square of gauze against my palm. The hand holding mine shivered before she took a new square from the bedside table and threw the other away. The gash wasnt bleeding any longer, but was an angry red. Hopefully, it didnt need stitches. She squeezed a line of salve along the cut and gently pressed the gauze square over it. That finally done, she began wrapping the whole length of gauze back around my hand and wrist.
When she was finished, she took a deep breath of completion and cocked her head at me. Her cheeks were a little pale. I never told you my name, did I? She smiled, her golden eyes sparkling. Lauren Walker.
I swallowed painfully and then whispered, Its nice to meet you, Lauren, Im J And just like that, it was gone.
I felt a cold weight in my stomach, as though I had swallowed an iced chunk of lead. Lauren, her eyes widened at the sound of such shock in my voice, I cant remember.
~ ~ ~
I heard the teakettles whistle sound as I stared into the bathrooms mirror. Bright blue eyes fringed by long, dark lashes and accented by arching brows stared back at me. A straight nose centered the face, the bridge lightly dusted with. . .freckles? I peered a little closer and watched as the man bared his teeth like an angry dog. His mouth opened farther so I could see three silver fillings. The dark covering of at least a three-day-old beard textured the hard jaw and slightly cleft chin. It didnt look bad when accompanied by the well-groomed mustache. His hair was just a shade lighter than the mirrors mahogany frame.
Aside from the bruise and cut on my forehead, the man looking back at me wasnt at all bad looking.
Lauren stood on the other side of the door waiting for my call should I need help. I was still slightly dizzy if I moved too fast and physically drained, but wasnt about to stay in bed all day. Not alone anyway. I mentally kicked myself for that thought and pondered what Lauren had said a few minutes ago. I read somewhere that near asphyxiation and a blow to the head can cause amnesia. I could do nothing but agree with Laurens assessment, as there wasnt a doctor around to consult.
Speaking of doctors. . .
The wind howled outside the little window as I walked to the door and opened it. Lauren, do you have some way of contacting a doctor? She had already explained that we were on her island in the northwest end of a lake in South Dakota. The horse was her transportation to the edge of the island, over a small bridge, and around the lake to the small town of Tucker. She came up here to paint, shed explained, this time commissioned for six scenes of a Western American winter. I wondered if, like so many overworked people, I could envy her free artistic life.
She looked a little sheepish as she answered, Four days ago, when I was in town last, I slipped on some ice and found Id broken my cell phone. I left it with a friend who likes to tinker with things like that. I was going to get it back the next time I went down.
She helped me into the kitchen where I sat at the table while she poured us twin mugs of honey and lemon tea. Well start out for town as soon as we eat, if youd like. It ought to take us most of the day.
I dont think I could ride all that way feeling like this. Already I was leaning on my elbows on the table, contentedly sipping. Aside from temporary amnesia, I began, noting that the tea was helping my throat, Im probably not in need of immediate medical attention. Maybe waiting until tomorrow would be better. I looked up at her, remembering I was a guest. That okay?
If youre sure. Her face registered concern, maybe a little worry. I dont know if there are any treatments for amnesia, but I think weve got your cuts and bruises under control. She shrugged. Its really up to you when you feel ready to travel.
Tomorrow, I mumbled, feeling ready for a nap as blinking became a workout.
All right, then. She turned to the refrigerator. How would you feel about some scrambled eggs?
I shrugged and answered, Fine, I guess, while wondering if I even liked eggs.
Finders Keepers by Melissa K. Beynon, Part Two