Be Careful What You Wish For–Part 3

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Friday-Sunday, August 28-30
Days 2-4

 

The next few days progressed much as Tim had known they would. By Friday afternoon all five of Rob and Danica’s children were ensconced in the master bedroom. Maggie had her cot in one corner, the twins shared the bed, and Ellis, Sandy, and Tim had pallets on the floor.

He’d curtained off the upstairs hallway where the railing to the stairwell started. Jeb and Samantha hauled contaminated items downstairs to be soaked in hot, soapy water. Fresh linens, clothes, and meals were left outside the curtain for Tim or Josie to pick up.

Usually it was Josie. She continued to surprise him, whole-heartedly throwing herself into the role of nurse and substitute mother, comforting her cousins and calming their fears, coaxing beef broth and chicken soup down raw throats, and cleaning up what upset stomachs had rejected. Just as important as those things, she also kept them entertained.

Diphtheria’s deadliness came not from fever or diarrhea or vomiting, though those were sometimes present. Rather, it came from the thick membrane that formed about the tonsils, slowly extending into the airway, eventually suffocating the afflicted patient. Up until it became too difficult to breathe, Tim’s greatest challenge usually was keeping his younger patients quiet and resting.

Josie somehow managed. She procured several decks of playing cards and taught the boys Beggar My Neighbor and Snip Snap Snorem. When those simple games quickly lost their appeal, she taught them the basics of poker. Where a refined young lady such as herself had learned that particular game, Tim had no earthly clue, but her cousins loved it. They spent the entire weekend sitting in a circle throwing down cards, pushing marbles, stones, and occasionally silverware into the center as chips, and from time to time devolving into faux gunfights.

While the boys played and shot at each other, Josie sat with young Maggie and patiently taught her how to knit. The little girl was so excited to make her mama a present that she seemed to barely notice her shortness of breath and painfully swollen throat.

“I did consider that,” Josie told Tim when he quietly reminded her that everything must be disinfected upon leaving the room. “This is plain cotton yarn. Easiest thing in the world to boil clean.”

She startled him even more with her knowledge of medicinal plants and their uses.

After assisting him multiple times in sponging down the children’s throats with hydrochloric acid in an attempt to arrest the development of the membrane, she asked hesitantly, “Dr. Scott? Would it be acceptable for me to use a tincture of aloes and honey on their throats after this treatment? Both are good for soothing sores, and honey has significant antiseptic qualities . . .”

Her voice trailed off at his wide-eyed astonishment. “Rather out of character for me, is it?” she asked with a self-mocking smile. Then she explained, “This is the one area where Mama’s interests and mine overlap and so I’ve learned a fair bit from her on the subject of plants and medicine. I’ve a knack for growing things, you see.”

“Go ahead,” he told her, even as he tried to add this new information to his swiftly changing portrait of who Josie Black really was. “And please, if you have any other ideas, tell me! In this, I am willing to try any reasonable suggestion.”

“In that case, what of snakeroot? It has some excellent results when used for throat issues, and I know Mama has some dried roots stashed away in Gran’s medicine chest.”

“Snakeroot?” Tim was unfamiliar with that plant.

“Serpentaria.”

Serpentaria. That name he recognized, had read of it in an old treatise suggesting near-magical results when used to treat diphtheria. He closed his eyes briefly, trying to recall what exactly it had said. “A gargle,” he muttered. “Made from ‘a decoction of sumach berries, with serpentaria, and a little alum dissolved in it.’ ” Perhaps such a mixture will prove gentler on poor Ellis’s throat, since the acid I’m currently using seems to be ineffective other than to cause him more pain. Aloud he said, “Do it.”

But despite such moments of teamwork, after spending the past four days almost nonstop in her company, Tim began to suspect that Josie was displeased with him for some reason. She was polite in her words and prompt in her actions, but it was always ‘Dr. Scott’ this and ‘Dr. Scott’ that. Finally he could take no more.

“Doctor Scott? What would you like me to do next?”

“I’d like you to stop calling me Dr. Scott,” he informed her testily. “We’ve known each other for how many years? And you have never in all those years called me Dr. Scott. So when you do, all I can assume is that you are angry with me. If you must, call me Dr. Tim as your siblings and cousins do, but I’d prefer you to just call me by my name. We’re two adults working together; the least we can do is be on a first-name basis. If you don’t mind, that is,” he hurried to amend.

Her eyes widened and her face flushed rose, then she said with that beautiful smile of hers, “I don’t mind at all . . . Tim.”

 

Later that evening, while they sat on the floor in Sandy’s room eating a late supper together, Tim impulsively brought up the topic once again.

“Out of curiosity, were you actually upset with me when you kept calling me Dr. Scott?” he asked, not looking at her.

“Not at all.” She sounded confused. “I was merely trying to be respectful. Why did you think I was upset?”

He was silent for a moment, unsure if he really wanted to know the truth. A mental shrug and he plunged ahead. “The first time you ever called me Dr. Scott was Christmas Day. You’ve also been avoiding me since then.”

“Oh!” The word came out as almost a gasp. There was a long pause, long enough that he turned to look at her. She was staring down at her lap, cheeks and ears bright pink. Her eyes closed and she finally admitted in a low voice, “I wasn’t upset with you. I was ashamed of myself. You see, at Christmas, I was . . .” Her voice faded then she blurted out, “I was attempting make myself feel better by flirting with you, but I should have considered it might be extremely unkind of me to  . . . to use you in that way. I thought only of myself though, and I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?”

Her honesty startled him, and she sounded so down that he had to repress the urge to take her hand and offer comfort as he would have years ago. “Of course I forgive you.”

“Thank you,” she said quietly. “It’s bothered me tremendously ever since then, to know you had taken a dislike to me.”

Tim almost laughed out loud at that. “Taken a dislike to you? I would have thought it was obvious that I most definitely did not dislike you.”

“It’s obvious you think I’m an attractive female,” she informed him bluntly. “But being attracted to someone physically and disliking them immensely as a person are not always mutually exclusive feelings.”

He knew that, but he hadn’t expected her to be cognizant of that fact as well.

She continued in a sober, thoughtful voice, “I guess it takes a situation like this to put a lot of things into perspective, to show one what’s most important in life.”

“And what is most important?” he asked quietly.

“Family, of course,” was the prompt answer. “But also friendships.” She looked up at him then, gray eyes watery and long lashes rather damp. “You’ve been a friend to me for, well, forever it seems, but I’ve treated you rather poorly of late. Will you forgive me for that as well?”

This time he didn’t resist but took her hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze. “With all my heart.”

 

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