So Derik talked to me, as he carried me, asking me questions, forcing me to answer in order to make sure I was still awake. After a while, I started feeling better, less drowsy, more attentive.
When I realized we had been walking for nearly half an hour, I raised my head from his shoulder.
“We’re almost there,” he said, and continued on as if the load was no burden.
I pressed my hand to his chest. “Wait.”
He stopped, “What is it now?” I could hear the irritation edging back into his voice.
“I – ” I almost didn’t go on. “I’d like to walk the rest of the way.”
He started to say something else but I looked him in the eye. “I see,” he sighed. “Alright. But let’s take this slowly… Put your arms around my neck.”
I did, and he squatted down so he could set the cloth sack on the ground, and I ended up sitting on his lap. But then he rose up and began to gently lower my feet. For a brief moment, as his hands came to my waist and my feet dangled bare inches from the earth, our faces nearly touched. He seemed as startled as I, and we remained close, staring at each other, even after my feet touched down. His eyes left mine, traveling down to my mouth. My heart was racing. I had never reacted this way to anyone before; scared and excited at the same time. From somewhere, light flashed in Derik’s eyes, almost seeming to reflect in them.
He blinked suddenly, and the spell was broken. He looked away. “Can you stand on your own?” he asked distantly.
“I – I think so,” I stammered, still a little startled by our exchange.
“Then go ahead and remove your arms.”
“Oh.” I hadn’t even realized I still had them around his neck. He barely touched me now, just enough to keep me steady. My legs were shaking, more from my reaction to his closeness than anything else though, I was sure. But I could stand.
He slowly took his hands away, “Good. The compound is just around the bend in the trees. Let’s go.” He picked up the bag, and I stopped him again.
“I’d like to carry it, please.”
“Alright,” he said, after briefly meeting my eyes. He handed it to me and began walking.
I followed. “You’re not even going to ask why?”
“I already know why, so there’s no reason to ask. It’s the same reason you wanted to walk the remainder of the way.” He didn’t even stop.
I didn’t have time to stand still, as he was gaining quite a head start. But I didn’t dare try to run and risk being carried the rest of the way. Derik must have realized this as well because he paused just long enough for me to catch up and kept his strides slow.
I was limping slightly, as the compound came into view, and almost stumbled before Derik steadied me.
“I won’t carry you, but are you too proud to let me help?” The irritation was full-blown now.
I became suddenly aware of the heaviness of the water and realized I was sweating profusely. I was out of breath. “I’m – fine ,” I managed. “But this – water is – pretty – heavy.”
“Let me carry it the rest of the way for you.” He gingerly took it from my hand, and I didn’t resist. “You’re bleeding again,” he said.
I placed my hand to my side. “How can you tell?” I asked since the bandages appeared to be as bloody as before.
“Can you make it back alright now?” he asked, without answering.
I blinked at the change of subject and took a few more deep breaths, “Yeah. I think so.”
So we headed on.
When we arrived, the doors opened immediately, and two armed men flanked us as we walked through. I didn’t recognize them. The doors were closed, and we heard the noises of the locks and barricades going into place. Compared to the brightness outside, the hall was too dark to make anything out.
Glenna rushed up from somewhere in that darkness. “Are you alright?” She placed a hand lightly upon my shoulder.
Though her hand added the barest of weight, it felt as though something very heavy was resting there. I took a shaky breath, “I’m fine…”
Behind me, Derik moved and spoke to someone, “Here, take these to the kitchen.” A man and woman walked away with the containers of water.
Glenna looked toward him. “She found the well?”
He nodded briefly, and a murmur went through the crowd I hadn’t noticed until that moment. I looked around for the first time, and my eyes were slowly adjusting. Nearly everyone had gathered. Merritt and Karroll smiled at me from the edge of the group, their smiles faltering as my attempt at one became more of a grimace.
“She’s bleeding,” said a nearby voice, matter-of-factly.
I looked up to see Nate’s eyes meet Derik’s. Glenna was the only one close enough to hear.
“What?” She looked at me more closely, a hand now on each shoulder, as she looked me over.
I was starting to shake, as it took more and more strength to stand. A hand reached out to gently support my lower back.
She looked at Derik. “What happened?”
“I’ll explain it all in private,” he replied, giving her a look I couldn’t quite decipher. “Let’s get Haylee to the infirmary first.” And he came to one side of me, his arm sliding around my waist. So it had been his hand supporting me.
“Come on, Haylee.” Glenna fell in at my other side.
As we moved, I could hear whispers spreading throughout the group but couldn’t make anything out. Then I heard another familiar voice. “Coming through. Excuse me! Let me through, please!” Gamut burst through the crowd. “Haylee! You had me so worried! What were you thinking? How could – are you alright?!” He turned to Derik. “Is she alright?” The worry on his face was evident now.
Though I couldn’t see Derik’s face, his voice made his irritation clear. “She’ll be fine. We’re taking her to the infirmary now. Glenna’s going to examine her. We’ll let you know, when she’s finished.” He sounded as though he spoke through clenched teeth.
Gamut stopped. “Uh, okay… I’ll see you soon, Haylee. Alright?” His eyes reflected the softness in his voice.
I nodded in reply, attempting to smile and once more failing.
Once we made it to the infirmary and the door was closed firmly, Glenna rushed to one of the medicine cabinets, and Derik led me to the examination table. He had to help me climb onto it, by gently lifting me up. I immediately rested my head back, and Derik leaned over me.
Cupping my cheek with one hand, he said, “Just rest for now. Okay?”
I nodded, as my eyelids fluttered.
His eyes searched my face briefly before he said, “Okay…” and moved away.
Glenna stood for a moment, looking back and forth between us, then approached me. The light in this room was better than in the hall. She glanced over me, searching, and said, “I was going to ask where the wound was, but now I see.” Her expression was one of worry. “What happened?” she asked Derik once more.
“Fix her up, then I’ll tell you.” He paced across the room.
Glenna just nodded. “Just help me sit her up then.”
I braced for the pain, as they propped me up, but it wasn’t as bad as it had been.
“Good. Now I can get these bandages off… and clean these…” She looked more closely and threw a quick glance toward Derik. Then she began cleaning my wounds. Now that more than stung, as the wounds were opened up a bit. She applied some sort of gel substance – an antiseptic, I assumed because I couldn’t see the bottle – and wrapped fresh bandages around my waist. “There you go,” she smiled. “Good as new.” She stroked my hair gently, and she and Derik helped me rest against the cushioned back. “Try to rest for a bit, alright? Then we’ll get you to bed.”
I let my eyelids droop. “Okay…” I said, quietly, and closed them completely.
“Derik? You need to tell me what happened now,” she said with authority.
I heard them walk across the room and start speaking but could make out only a few of the words they said.
“We told you she would never do that!” Glenna said, loudly.
“I know, I know, okay… Keep it down, alright?” Derik said, softly. I couldn’t make out anything else.
I must have fallen asleep, because at some point Glenna spoke loudly again in agitation, and Derik shushed her. Some time later, I awoke to the sensation of being moved. When I opened my eyes, Derik was carrying me across the room.
“We’ve set up a cot in here for you for a few nights. Glenna didn’t think we should move you far.” He sat me gently down on the bed. “I told her you were stronger than you looked. But I think it’s best you’re here, anyway.” He let Glenna pull a blanket over me and smiled. “I mean, we’ve gotta keep an eye on you somehow. Can’t let you sneak out for more water, now can we?” He was actually smiling at me? Wow… He smoothed a stray strand back from my face. “Now get some rest. I’ll check back in on you later.” He looked at me for a second longer, as if he were about to say something else, then got up and left the room.
Glenna stared speculatively at the closed door. As she turned back toward me, she murmured, “Maybe she was right…” She had smoothed her frown, by the time she sat down beside me. In her hands were a cup of water and a small medicine bottle. She sat the cup on the table beside me and measured some powder from the bottle, stirring it into the water. “Here, drink this. Though you need little help sleeping, this medicine is good for that and it prevents infection.” She handed me the cup, and I did as I was told.
When I was finished, her frown had returned. “What’s wrong?” I asked.
She looked slightly startled. “Wrong? Oh, dear, nothing. I suppose I was just lost in thought. Derik told me what happened out there. What you did was very brave. Though I agree with him, it was not altogether smart,” she added, as if scolding me. Then she smiled, “But it was very brave… I imagine the story has spread across the compound by now. One or two have extraordinary hearing, and one of those may or may not have a penchant for storytelling. I will not name names, as they say, but still…” She stood up from the cot. “I should allow you to rest now. Call if you need anything. I would not be surprised if a certain somebody stayed as close as possible, in case you do.” She opened the door, said, “Goodnight,” and closed it behind her.
The room was familiar to me now, and I could make out most of the shapes, even though the only light was from two candles near the door. I looked around the room for a few moments, taking in how alone I truly was. I had not been this alone in the building before. Not really, anyway. Most certainly not at night. Even though I had only been here for a short time, I was becoming used to all the people milling about. There was always someone around. After my encounter today, I felt somewhat alarmed being alone in the dark. I knew I was safe, but I couldn’t shake the monster-under-the-bed feeling. I felt like I was no more than five years old again. I was just grateful they didn’t keep clown pictures up around here. I cringed a little at the thought.
I could feel myself getting sleepy but some part of my mind was fighting it. When the door creaked open, I stiffened, afraid to move, but also afraid not to move. “Haylee?” a voice called in a whisper.
I frowned into the candlelight. “Gamut? Is that you?”
He came the rest of the way into the room, quietly closing the door behind him. “Hey,” he whispered, and came toward me. “How are you feeling?” He kneeled down on the floor beside my cot. “Do you feel like having company?”
I smiled with relief. “Yeah… That would be nice. After today, I don’t think I want to be alone right now.”
I saw a matching relief on his face, as he settled down on the floor. “Good. I’ll stay as long as you like…” He glanced down for a second, sheepishly. “Is it true what everyone’s been saying? I mean, I knew you didn’t lie about the well, but… the other stuff. Everyone’s seen the proof about the water, but did you really fight one of them?”
I raised my eyebrows. “Is that what they’re saying? I was just trying to get away… Derik did all the fighting, until I got in the way and let him escape,” I added, almost with disgust. “If it weren’t for Derik, I’d probably be dead right now…” The realization was just dawning on me. “No. That’s not true… I would be dead. I know it.” I was starting to shiver at the memory.
“Here.” Gamut tucked the blanket more tightly around my shoulders. “Derik’s been chewing out every guard on duty when you slipped out… He can’t believe not a single one of us spotted you. I guess they were all distracted by the commotion.” He shrugged and was silent a moment, before continuing. “I wanted to come, but he wouldn’t let me. He said it was better if he went alone. I should’ve insisted… Who is he to tell me what’s better? I’m the one with feelings for you – I’m sorry… I just wish I had been there to prevent this…” He gestured at me.
I frowned through my mental chill. “I think he was right to come alone,” I said. Was I defending Derik? “I mean, these wounds all happened before he got there… and he’s pretty fast, right? So… maybe he was just looking out for you, you know? Trying to keep you from possibly getting hurt, while getting to me as quickly as possible…”
“Yeah… maybe,” he replied, though his eyes looked guarded. “But I don’t need anyone looking out for me.”
I yawned and blinked my eyes rapidly, trying to stay awake.
“Oh, hey… you should get some sleep. Do you need me to go?” He started to rise.
“No!” I grabbed for his arm, but mine were securely pinned within the blanket. I wasn’t nearly capable enough to pull them free.
But he stopped. “Are you sure?” He smiled, when I nodded. “Okay,” he said, and settled back in. Then, a mischievous look crossed his face. “You’re really stuck in there, aren’t you?”
I frowned, not liking where this seemed to be going.
His smile broadened, as he rose up onto his knees. He leaned against the cot, staring down at my face.
“What exactly are you – ”
He moved faster than I would have given him credit for. Before I could finish my question, he had pressed his mouth to mine.
I balked. I didn’t have the energy to resist. Then again, if I had wanted to, I wouldn’t have had the energy to react in any way. Finally, he withdrew, and I lay there stunned. If my hands had been free, I would have touched my fingertips to my lips.
He laughed a little and sat back down. “I told you I couldn’t guarantee I wouldn’t kiss you again. You’re situation is just too hard to resist.” He paused, his smile faltering. “You – you’re not mad at me, are you?
My sleepiness began to overtake my shock. “I should be,” I said, trying to sound cross. Then I sighed. “But I think I’m too tired to be angry right now.” I yawned.
His smile returned. “Oh, good.” Then he settled back in. “I’ll stay here with you until you fall asleep,” he said. He laid his head down beside me, watching as I closed my eyes.
The medicine Glenna had given me began its work quickly then. I was asleep within moments.