Part 56

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Blood and bare skin; sand and screaming; struggling and shots.

Oh God, Caitlin!

My sleep that night was plagued with nightmares about what she'd looked like when I found her, thinking she was dead. That they might get to her again while I wasn't there. I worried that she wouldn't survive the night without me.

I just couldn't help myself. My waking thought at dawn the next morning was, How is she? I have to see her. For weeks now, all I'd had to do was open my eyes and turn my head to see that she was okay, but now I didn't know and it drove me insane. I put it off for as long as I could, then had to drive over to her house.

I didn't have second thoughts until I knocked on her door, when I wondered how she'd react to my being there so early. Something told me she wouldn't be civil if I woke her up. I started to wish I'd waited.

Somewhere nearby, a child started to practise playing the piano. First the slow plunking as the little fingers learned a new tune, before the monotonous drill of finger exercises. The jerkily played scales jarred with the confusion in my head. Should I stay or should I go? I wasn't sure I could go. I'd sit on the steps and wait, until I saw she was safe.

I knocked again. "Caitlin, it's me. It's Nathan," I called, hoping she'd already be awake and hear me.

She took a while to reach the door and even longer to unlock it. When I reached to open it for her, she almost fell. I think she would have if I hadn't been there to stop her. As I tried to hold her up, I could feel her exhaustion. It was as if gravity pulled her to the ground harder than it did me.

Then I saw her face – it was positively haggard. I'd only been gone a night and I wished more than ever that I hadn't left. What if they'd managed to get to her while I was gone? She'd almost knocked herself out, falling out her own front door. She was no match for anyone who wanted to hurt her in this condition.

"What happened?" I burst out.

"I can't sleep," she mumbled, not looking at me. Even in my arms she was swaying and unsteady. "The nightmares didn't go away – all night. It got so bad that I woke up and was too scared to go back to sleep again. I tried to write them down, but that only made it worse. I just have to get used to sleeping alone...uh, in my own bed, and at home, again."

This is my fault. I should never have left. "Come on, I'll take you to bed and make sure you sleep this time."

She was too exhausted to refuse. Her arms wearily resting on my neck, I lifted her up. It felt like the most natural thing in the world to have her in my arms again, instead of one of the stranger things I've ever done. Nothing I do with Caitlin is normal, I reflected as I re-entered her house.

"Tell me where to go," I said softly.

She pointed vaguely. Her hand looked too heavy for her wrist to lift. "My room's down the hallway. On the left."

It was an old house with wide hallways, so I didn't have to walk sideways to keep her feet or head from hitting the walls. Shouldering my way into her room, I headed straight for the big bed. I laid Caitlin carefully on it.

She grabbed my hand as I tried to straighten up, pulling me close again. "Stay. Please," she said.

"Sure," I replied, freeing my hand and sitting cautiously on her desk chair.

I watched as she smiled and her eyes slowly shut, slipping back into sleep.

A blinking blue light attracted my attention and I turned toward the desk, where Alanna's old laptop sat. With a glance at Caitlin, I lifted the laptop lid and watched the screen light up, the blinding white of a Word document drawing my eyes.

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