Part 47

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47

Caitlin sat at the window, her hand a pale spider on the glass, her eyes scanning the lake and the gardens below. She sat so long without moving that I thought she'd fallen asleep, until she spoke. "What's the date, Nathan? It's September, isn't it?" She didn't look away from the window.

I admitted that I didn't know the exact date, but that, yes, it was September.

"The last time I was outside in daylight it was still winter. Now it's spring." She heaved a big sigh and turned her dark eyes on me. "I want to see the flowers."

I'll bring you any flowers you want. I'll fill your room with them – as long as I can keep you safe. I looked at the bin in the corner, which now held the remains of her birthday flowers. Mine had outlasted Jason's, but only by a day.

"I don't know if it's a good idea to leave the hospital yet," I hedged. "Maybe after you've been discharged – it can't be long."

"The gardens downstairs are still hospital grounds," she stated. "And I've seen at least two patients walking around in them. I think they were smoking."

"So you want to go downstairs and inhale lots of passive cigarette smoke?" That was the least of my concerns. I was worried about the difficulty of keeping her safe in the grounds, with their winding paths and spots where you were invisible to most eyes. "What if one of the smokers is actually one of your attackers waiting for a second chance?"

"Then I'll have to run them over," she said softly, her voice muffled. "Anyway, only one of them smoked and he's dead."

I lost interest in what she was saying, watching in fascination as she struggled out of the hospital gown and into her borrowed surgical scrubs. Her hands were paler than the rest of her skin between the dressings, but the dressings were far fewer than they'd initially been. Her back looked smooth, the curve of her shoulders down to her spine unmarred by any gauze now. There were scars, of course, but these were starting to fade. She let out a whimper as she pulled the V-necked shirt over her head. I tensed, waiting. I knew something must have hurt her, but she seemed determined not to ask for help.

I watched as she arched her back, pulling the pants on over the patch on her thigh where the stitches had been removed only yesterday. She whimpered a little more, then gritted her teeth and dragged the pants up to her waist.

She saw me watching, but didn't say anything until she'd finished. "You could have averted your eyes. It's considered polite."

"I could have, but you should have asked me for help," I returned, keeping my voice even. "If you'd wanted privacy, you could have changed in the bathroom, or closed the curtains around your bed." She wouldn't admit that she couldn't do either of those, I realised. Nor would she ask for help. I wished I'd done what any normal person would have and looked away, instead of waiting for her to stop and ask me for help. Then maybe I wouldn't have felt like such a pervert, watching an injured girl struggle to dress herself. I wanted to apologise.

Caitlin wasn't listening. She eyed the wheelchair outside her room, much further than she could walk unaided. She stood up carefully, clamping her mouth shut. She took a step, her face white from the effort, but her eyes spoke volumes about pain. My heart felt crushed like a Coke can – I could almost hear the sound of it crunching in her clenched fist. Don't do this to yourself, angel – it's painful to watch.

I gave in, standing up and moving to bar her way before she took another step. For a moment, she looked up at me, determined not to be cowed, but the pain was too much for her and she closed her eyes as she crumpled. I was ready; I had my arms around her, supporting her weight, before she could hit the floor. I lifted her and carried her back to where she'd been sitting on the edge of her bed.

"You don't need to fight me," I said softly. "I'm not here to hurt you. Save your energy so you can recover for when you do need to fight."

She was still pale, shaking where she sat. Even as she opened her eyes, they looked down and wouldn't meet mine.

I sank to a crouch in front of her on the floor. "If you don't recover, they win."

She stared at me. "I'm getting better."

I dropped my voice lower, aiming to be persuasive. "If you let me help you, you'll get better faster. And it won't hurt as much, either."

"I'm not asking for your help. You know I won't." Stubbornly, she pressed her lips together and looked away.

I can't charm her. Maybe I can shock it out of her. Not like I'll get anything any other way.

"Who helped you before, Caitlin? Who brought you food, water, medicine? Someone helped you survive." I kept my voice low, so only she could hear me.

She looked back at me, shocked, swallowing convulsively, before closing her eyes. Her voice was barely more than a whisper. "Someone who didn't wait for me to ask. Someone kind. Someone...I haven't talked about."

Stubborn little thing, I thought, jubilant that she told me more than anyone else and uneasy that she could remember so much. How much more has she remembered that I don't know? "It's polite to wait 'til you ask. But even if you're not going to ask, I'm still going to try to help you. I won't let them win."

Her eyes were still closed, so I couldn't tell what her reaction was. Yet my eyes never left her face.

"I want to go outside." Her voice surprised me. Something in her expression said I couldn't stop her.

"And how are you going to get there?" I asked.

She looked across the corridor. "I'm going to reach that wheelchair, then I'm going to use it to go down in the lift and outside."

"What if you fall again?" I asked her.

She bit her lip. "Then I'll crawl."

I believed her. But the mental image of her crawling commando-style across the floor was pretty damn funny.

"How will you push the wheelchair?" I struggled to keep a straight face.

She held out her hands, which shook slightly even as she tried to hold them still. "I can use my hands a little. It's downhill from the front entrance to the gardens, so that should be easy."

"How will you get back up the hill to the hospital?" I asked her.

She lifted her chin. "I'll wait until someone offers me a hand."

"What if no one else is out there to make the offer?"

She bit her lip again. "Then I'll wait for security to come looking for me."

At the thought of her waiting in the garden until security came looking for her, I laughed. I couldn't think of her doing anything more senseless when it came to her own safety – and Caitlin wasn't that stupid.

"Or you could ask me to come with you," I suggested as I lifted her from the bed and over to the wheelchair.

"Thank you," she said softly, looking down. Hesitantly, she placed her hands on the wheels and I held my breath. I didn't want her fragile fingers getting hurt all over again, struggling to handle a wheelchair. I couldn't keep up this show of indifference. If she went without me, I was damn well going to follow her to make sure she stayed safe.

Caitlin looked up at me, smiling impishly. "So, are you coming?"

My face lifted with a smile, taking my heart up with it. "Sure," I said. "The downhill path goes all the way through the garden to the lake. Someone's going to have to be there to fish you out."

She stared at me in disbelief.

"You'll see." I shrugged, starting to push her down the corridor to the lift.

I was bloody glad she couldn't see my face, because I couldn't keep the grin off it. She trusted me more than anyone else and she still wanted me around. 

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