Be Careful What You Wish For–Part 9

(previous)

Josie awoke in her own bed. When did I go to bed? was her first, disjointed thought. She remembered nothing of doing so. In fact, she remembered very little beyond Tim kissing her. She blushed a little at the memory of her response to him, how completely content she had been there in his arms.

Dr. Timothy Scott. She had to laugh a little at that. It seems I’ve come full circle, she thought to herself. She couldn’t deny that she once again found the man quite attractive, both physically and otherwise. The more I’ve worked with him and talked with him, the more attracted I’ve become.

She pondered her heart for a few minutes longer. So I’m attracted to him. That honestly means very little—I’ve been attracted to many men. Then she paused. But it’s not the same, not this time. There’s something more, something different.

Was the difference in how he saw her? She’d revealed more of her true self to him than she’d revealed to anyone, yet he seemed to like her all the more for her revelations. And he thinks I’m more than just a pretty face. Useful, he called me. Nobody’s ever called me that before. She rather liked the idea of being useful, of doing something good for the world.

Or was the difference in how she now saw him? Her view of him had shifted drastically, that was for certain. The calm, serious mindset she’d labeled boring now seemed a stable and comforting thing. The sense of humor and delight in life she’d thought missing were still there, just hidden beneath the heaviness of his profession. You know, I even like his height—it’s the perfect height for leaning against comfortably, or for kissing without giving me a neck cramp, she thought with another, deeper blush.

Both, she finally decided. But what now?

She was about to continue her deliberations when a ray of sunlight flashed in her eye and she blinked: there was sunlight pouring in through her window. It’s long past noon if the sun’s already on this side of the house, she thought. I must have slept for several hours. And while she could have easily slept until tomorrow, she pulled herself up and out of the cradling bed. I should get up and look in on the children. Thoughts of romance would have to wait until another time.

The upstairs was eerily still.

Josie glanced into the big bedroom. Maggie was curled up, asleep, beside Sandy, who was reading Treasure Island to himself. The twins were both awake, but from their focused expressions they were carrying on a mental conversation to the exclusion of the world around them. She closed the door again with a near-silent snick.

In Ellis’s room she found Sam ensconced by her cousin’s bed, munching on an apple. At Josie’s querying look she said, “He’s breathing on his own at least, and I’ve been able to keep the infection at bay, but that’s all I can say for the moment.”

“What does Timothy say?”

Her sister’s tired expression shifted to confused. “I don’t know—I haven’t seen him since this morning.”

Josie laughed a little. “He probably fell asleep like I did,” she said. “Heaven knows he’s pushed himself rather hard these past few days. Will you be okay here by yourself for a while longer?”

Sam stroked Ellis’s sandy hair from his pale face with a tender hand and nodded.

Hurrying across the hall, Josie found the door to Sandy’s room shut. She hesitated, hating to wake him, then knocked quietly.

There was no answer. Is he a sound sleeper? She didn’t know.

She knocked again, louder this time. “Hello?” she called through the door.

When there was still no sound from inside, she opened the door a crack. I’ll just peek in, make sure he’s okay, then let him sleep a while longer, she told herself.

But there was no one on the bed that she could see. She pushed the door a little wider, and saw him sprawled face first on the floor, unmoving.

Oh mercy, no! “Tim!” she cried, rushing to his side.

He stirred at her voice, gave a low moan, and tried to sit up.

“No, don’t move,” she ordered, throwing what strength she had left into the command. “Stay lying down until you’re more coherent.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he murmured, words coming out in a low rasp.

“What happened?”

“Syncope.”

“What?”

“I stood up too quickly and fainted. Think I hit my head on the way down.”

That would explain the blood trickling down his forehead, but not the unnatural hoarseness of his voice.

“How does your throat feel?” she asked soberly, dreading his answer.

“What does that have to do with fainting—” he began, than broke off, wincing. “Feels like someone’s taken a razor to the inside of it. Well, drat.” He twisted his head to look up at her and gave her a wan smile. “I’m so sorry, my dear. I didn’t mean to place even more responsibility on your beautiful shoulders, but it looks like my luck’s finally run out. Would you assist me to my bed?”

Josie helped him slowly sit upright. He swayed dizzily in her arms for a moment. Somehow she got him onto his bed without either of them collapsing. He lay back weakly as if worn out just from the effort of moving. She straightened, feeling rather unsteady herself.

“Just stay there a moment,” she told him, heading back across the hall, her thoughts spinning in frantic circles. Oh God, what do I do now? But even as she began to panic, her mind instead gave her answers: Mama should be home any day now. All you have to do is keep them alive until then. Samantha can keep watch over Ellis, and you can keep Tim quiet and resting, the same way you’ve Leaned on the kids all this time. You can do this.

Sam looked up with surprise at her unexpected reappearance.

“Timothy’s ill,” Josie stated calmly. “I need you to go tell Gran and Jeb, then come back here immediately. You’re in charge of Ellis until Mama gets home. Jeb needs to take care of the others. Don’t let Gran come upstairs. Last thing we need is for her to catch this as well.”

Without further explanation, she left.

In the doorway to Sandy’s room she paused. “I can do this,” she whispered aloud, even as she leaned up against the doorframe. But I’m so very, very tired. Everything that had occurred over the past week pressed down on her with a very physical weight. She could feel her body trembling and tears gathering behind her closed lids.

“Oh, please don’t fall apart again right now,” a rough voice said. Her eyes flew open to see Tim sitting up in bed, watching her with worry in his eyes but an unsteady smile on his lips. “Because I’m in no condition to deal with that at the moment.”

Despite her exhaustion and fears, she had to laugh as she sat back down on the edge of his bed. “Don’t want to miss the opportunity to kiss me again?” she somehow managed to tease with a fluttering of her lashes, and her heart.

“Darn straight I don’t, as such opportunities will likely be few and far between for me.” His tone wasn’t bitter or sad, merely stating what he saw as fact.

She opened her mouth to blurt out that he was wrong, that her feelings toward him had changed, and just barely caught herself in time. It’s not proper for me to admit such things to him directly, she reminded herself. Then with a wry internal laugh she admitted, Though the strictures of propriety have rarely stopped me before, and I do want him to know something of how I feel— She refused to mentally add the qualifier ‘just in case.’ But if I do speak now, I had better mean it with all my heart. No more playing games.

Taking a deep breath, she plunged ahead, informing him quietly, “You get better, and I’ll make sure you have ample opportunity to kiss me again. However, since a woman has the right to look good around a man she’s hoping to impress, I must insist they be times that don’t involve me red‑faced and bawling my eyes out.”

He collapsed against his pillows, mouth round in shock. Then he grabbed for her hand, rasping out, “Is that a promise, Josephine Black?”

“It is.”

“You’re not just saying that because I’m sick, are you?”

“No. I’m saying it because I mean it.” She looked down at their intertwined fingers. He had such strong, nicely shaped hands, and she liked the way hers fit with his. “You once told me that you were waiting for me to grow up,” she said. Then, still not meeting his eyes, she confessed, “I think I’ve done a lot of growing up these past few days.” I hope I’ve proven that to you.

His fingers tightened about hers. “If that’s not a good enough incentive to survive, I don’t know what is.”

Speaking brought on a convulsion of coughing, though, and then his body began to shake. Abruptly he dropped her hand. His face turned bilious; she grabbed for a wastebasket just in time.

“Gads,” he spat in between heaves. “I hate vomiting.”

As she handed him a cloth with which to wipe his mouth, Josie placed a hand to his brow. Hot. Far too hot. Her heart turned cold. Of the children, only Ellis had suffered with a high fever and vomiting like this. Oh please, don’t let him go through what Ellis went through, she prayed, even as he bent over the receptacle again.

Just under the sound of his retching, Josie could hear a loud commotion from below them, followed by the sound of footsteps racing up the stairs. She ran out into the hall just in time to be engulfed in her mother’s embrace.

“Oh, Mama,” she said, trying not to weep with relief.

Mama was nearly strangling her with her hug. “Jeb told us what has happened. I’m so proud of you, cariad,” she whispered fiercely in Josie’s ear.

Proud of me? Josie couldn’t remember the last time she’d heard her mother say that to her.

Louder Mama asked, “Who should I look to first?”

“Ellis,” Josie said without hesitation. “And then Tim. The other children are already out of danger.”

As she trailed her mother into Ellis’s room, she thought, Thank you Lord, for bringing Mama home. She’ll fix everything. Then it hit her: I don’t have to be the strong one anymore.

Papa’s voice behind her. “Josie? Are you okay?”

“I think I need to go to bed now,” she answered thickly. Or at least, that’s what she tried to say. The last thing she saw was her father’s worried face as she collapsed in his arms.