By Fern Driscoll
Chapter 9 It Was a Dark and Stormy Night
For disclaimers and contact information please see Chapter 1. Special disclaimer for Chapter 9: part of this was written on National Pun Day. Sorry, I couldn't help myself.
The dog has seldom been successful in pulling man up to its level of sagacity, but man has frequently dragged the dog down to his.
-- James Thurber~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The harsh white lights illuminating the Emergency Room entrance revealed two forlorn figures waiting on the wet sidewalk, just outside the automatic doors. One was in a wheelchair, and another, smaller form hovered beside it. As Kate pulled up, the undersized orderly assigned to escort Cam began to push the wheelchair in the direction of the car. Kate leapt out and ran around to the passenger door of the small two-seater.
"I can walk at least that far," Cam groused, "I have crutches."
"Sorry, ma'am, it's hospital procedure", answered the orderly, maneuvering the wheelchair as close as possible to the passenger side.
"Here, let me do this from here, I think it's going to be kind of tricky with the cast," Kate said, reaching down to offer Cam a hand.
Between the two of them, Cam was soon installed in the low-slung car, with her new crutches wedged into the trunk. As they pulled away, she pensively watched the hospital lights recede into the distance through the rain-spattered window.
"Nice place, but I'm getting kind of tired of living there," she said in a weary tone.
Kate glanced at her passenger. "I think the Doc said this cast was titanium or something, you know, indestructible. They'll have to blowtorch it off over at Great Mills Welding. So, you probably never have to set foot in St. Anne's again." She watched, covertly, to see if her joking had done anything to lighten Cam's somber mood.
Cam allowed a small grin to escape. "Well, at least they let me keep these lovely scrubs as a souvenir - seeing as I didn't have anything else to wear, very gracious of them."
A thought occurred to Kate, as they approached Leonardtown's main intersection. "Did you have any clothes or anything with you? I don't remember seeing a bag or suitcase or anything in your truck - other than that big purse thing."
Another rueful grin graced Cam's lips. "No, like they say, it was only supposed to be a 'three hour tour'." Seeing Kate's puzzled look, she added, "Gilligan's Island? Don't tell me you don't watch TV Land." Seeing Kate's still-puzzled look, she gave up - for the time being. "Anyway, I was planning on driving back to DC the same day, right after my interview."
"Well, I don't know if you feel like stopping, but there's a WalMart just a mile or so down the road, I think it's open all night. You could wait in the car and I could pick you up some things to wear, a couple of t-shirts, some…" Kate's narrative trailed off rather abruptly, as the two thoughts 'Cam' and 'underwear' collided in her brain.
Cam, with an appraising glance at her companion's attire, said, "Sounds good. But, no offense, I think I'd rather pick out a couple of things myself. I can get around ok on the crutches." She waited a moment for a response. Kate seemed suddenly preoccupied. "Kate? Kate!"
Kate reluctantly came back from a world occupied by a succession of Camerons, posing seductively in every type of undergarment her feverish imagination could conjure up. "Uh…yes? You want to stop?" she hazarded.
"Yes, if it's not too much trouble," Cam slowly enunciated.
Kate suddenly swerved the car across two lanes and made a last-minute right turn, causing her passenger to grab the dashboard and give her a look of alarm. "Almost missed the turn," she mumbled. "Sorry," she added, "I don't usually drive like a maniac. I guess you're still a little jumpy from the accident, huh?"
Cam cautiously loosened her hold on the dashboard, and leaned her head back wearily. Oh God, please let her be normal. Don't let this happen again, dammit. I start to fall for someone and then find out she's a wacko. So far, the story of my life.
"I really don't need this thing, but I have to admit, I've always wanted to try driving one." Cam was maneuvering a motorized cart through the maze of WalMart aisles, heading towards the distant 'Women's Apparel' sign. Kate, quickening her pace, tried to keep up. Geez, I didn't realize these things moved this fast. We're not careful here, she's gonna have another accident - Whoa!!" Cam had brought the cart to a sudden stop, executed a creditable three-point turn in the narrow aisle, and headed back towards a display they had just passed. Kate scrambled out of her way, then took off in pursuit of the manic shopper.
"Aha. Little Debbies. Let's see…swiss rolls, nutty bars, oh boy, cosmic brownies…" As Kate came within earshot, she could not only see the cart filling with an assortment of snack cakes, but also hear Cam's feverish enumeration as she tossed in each new prize. Kate hesitated for a moment, then hazarded, "Um, Hungry?"
After what seemed like several more hours to Kate, the two were finally unloading their numerous purchases at the checkout. Cam had, not surprisingly, found little to her liking in 'Women's Apparel', but had settled on a few pairs of shorts, a couple of coordinating t-shirts, and other necessaries. Kate had busied herself in the electronics department towards the end of the process, as Cam considered underthings. Now, seeing the purchases pass by on the checkout stand, she was briefly mesmerized once more.
Soon the two were on the road again, purchases tucked into the trunk. As Cam watched the garishly lit parking lot recede in the distance, the lights suddenly went dark.
"Hey, looks like we made it just in time - looks like they just closed," said Cam, turning back and glancing at Kate. Kate looked up into the rear-view mirror and saw only darkness.
"No, they stay open all night. I'd say we just lost power - I've kind of been expecting it with these winds." The wind had indeed picked up, and, with the unabated rain, was making it almost impossible to see. "Hope it's just here - but I have a feeling we'll be in the same boat at home." As they drove past darkened buildings and non-functioning intersection lights, Kate's prediction appeared true. Both women fell silent for a time, lost in their own thoughts.
"OK, here we are," Kate said, unnecessarily, as they pulled into the long driveway and parked near the back of the house. It was, indeed, dark, just as everything had been since they left Leonardtown. Kate jumped out, saying, "Stay put - I'll be right back with a flashlight," and disappeared into the laundry room door. A muffled commotion could be heard, and when she reappeared a few moments later, she was accompanied by two energetic black-furred companions.
"You remember Fred and Ethel -Ethel! No jump! Down! - she's just a little excited, she'll calm down in a minute." The dogs had perceived Cam's presence in the car, and were nosing their way in, as far as the front seat's confines would allow, to see who Kate had brought home to play with them. Ethel was attempting to climb into Cam's lap, but subsided at Kate's command, and contented herself with hovering just outside the car.
"Move, you two, and let her out," Kate had retrieved the crutches from the trunk and was attempting to steady Cam on the uneven ground, while at the same time hold the flashlight and keep the dogs at bay. This is not going to work. It would be a lot easier if I - "Listen Cam, it's only from here to there - she pointed to a dim doorway - but the path is kind of rough and there's a few steps, I think it might be easier if I just carry you." And, with an enthusiastic honor guard of the two dogs, Kate did just that, sweeping Cam up into her arms easily, and negotiating into the kitchen, where she gently placed her in an old armchair by the French doors.
Cam, dazed, looked around the dimly lit room, still clinging to Kate's shoulder. Kate peered down at her, a tiny crease appearing between her eyebrows. "You OK? I didn't hurt you or anything, did I?"
Cam looked up quickly at her companion's words. "Oh no, no, I'm just - a little overwhelmed still, I guess." Noticing she still held possessively to Kate's shoulder, she reluctantly let go, and allowed her attention to be diverted by the two black noses snuffling at her from the other side of the chair. Kate straightened, and headed back to the door. "I'll just get the stuff from the car. Ethel, no jump!" she admonished, and disappeared into the night.
Fred was momentarily torn as to where his duty lay. On the one hand, a stranger was in his kitchen. However, his human was not afraid of the stranger and in fact showed a strong liking for her. He concluded that it was safe for him to take up his sentry position at the door by which his human had exited. Ethel felt no such compunctions. While Fred took his responsibilities as guardian seriously, Ethel, had she stopped to think about it, would have viewed her role more as the gracious hostess. She would have preferred to climb into Cam's lap, but being the well-trained dog she was, she heeded her human's No Jump command and contented herself with placing her head, and her left paw, on Cam's lap, and gazing at her beseechingly.
When Kate returned, she found them thus, Ethel leaning against Cam's legs, her eyes closed as she enjoyed Cam's soft strokes to her head and ears. Ethel's eyes half opened and looked up at her owner with a dreamy expression. Yeah, Ethel, I know what you mean, thought Kate as she took in the scene.
An hour later, Cam could be found in the same chair, with her injured foot propped on a cushioned ottoman, and a small table nearby laden with a rather odd assortment of refreshments: a selection of her previously-purchased Little Debbies; the remains of a tuna sandwich; and a tall glass of iced tea. The kitchen scene was illuminated by several hurricane candles. Cam felt comfortably full, rested, and relatively pain-free after taking one of the pills given to her by Dr. Singh. She gazed out the French doors into the darkness, hoping to catch a glance of Kate, who had left her with her improvised meal and "gone out to see about getting the generator hooked up."
Kate, meanwhile, had wrestled the portable generator from its convenient storage spot in the corner of the garage, behind wheelbarrows, garden carts, and other more recently used detritus. Haven't used this thing since last winter - thought I'd have at least another few weeks before hurricane season. Well, let's see if it'll start. Wheeling the heavy machine to the front of the garage, just under the overhanging eaves, Kate fiddled with various components for a few moments, then, taking a deep breath, flipped the electric start switch. The generator sputtered, then settled into a steady roar. "Yes!" She took an imaginary jump shot towards the basketball hoop hung over the garage door, then returned to rummage for extension cords.
Soon, Kate had both of her beloved sump pumps and the well's electric water pump hooked up. She listened for a moment to the satisfying gurgle of water. OK, let's see what we need inside… refrigerator…freezer… water heater…that should do it for now. She activated the power transfer switch installed on the home's breaker box, then grabbed her flashlight for a last look around.
"Fred! Ethel! Inside!" Kate hollered to be heard above the storm. Fred soon appeared from the wooded edge of the back garden, but no Ethel. "Well, let's get you inside, at least" she said, ushering the sopping canine into the laundry room and giving him a quick drying off, before sticking her head in to check on Cam. The small blonde turned her head at Kate's approach, giving her a sleepy smile. "I feel so guilty just sitting around stuffing myself in this nice dry kitchen while you're out in that storm."
Kate took in the charming sight of Cam, in her new shorts and a fitted t-shirt, shocking pink cast propped up, her short hair disheveled, as she reclined in the oversized armchair.
"You're just fine right where you are, little lady, I wouldn't want to be responsible for you ruining another cast."
"Ooo, was that supposed to be John Wayne? Puh-leese, I think you better stick to your day job!" Cam teased, then paused, thinking Whatever that is - I still don't know what she does for a living. It doesn't seem like she works regular hours, anyway.
"Hey, I try," grinned Kate, "and it could be worse - if I hadn't gotten that generator going, you'd be eating about 5 pints of Ben and Gerry's from the freezer right about now, and I'd be in the basement bailing for all I'm worth."
Cam feigned a horror-stricken expression. "Oh no, not Ben and Gerry's, anything but that! Uh, do you really have some?" she added hopefully.
Kate gave a short laugh. "Just let me round up Ethel, and I'll let you know what the selections are. Fred here will keep you company."
Twenty minutes later, Kate had still not located the elusive Ethel. She had already passed through the stages of annoyance and anger, and arrived at worried. She stood at the edge of the woods bordering her back garden, playing the light back and forth across the dripping, windswept landscape. "Ethel!" she yelled again, her voice becoming hoarse. This time, she thought she heard a soft, high-pitched bark. Making her way towards the sound, she saw that it was indeed Ethel, standing just inside the shelter of the woods, under a large holly tree.
"Ethel, what's wrong with you! Now come on, let's go inside!" Though her tone was angry, Kate was heartily relieved to see the missing dog. Ethel, however, didn't budge, and again voiced a curious half-bark, half-whine, cocking her head at her owner. Kate fought her way through the undergrowth, intent on bodily dragging the canine inside, if that was what it took. As she got closer, however, Ethel ran further under the tree, crouched down, and picked up gently by the nape of its neck a small, sopping wet kitten.
Kate's thoughts drifted randomly, as she half-dozed on the family room couch. She had finally settled all her charges. The kitten, since Ethel refused to leave it, had now taken up residence in the laundry room, in a small basket lined with 'dog towels'. I guess I'll have dog and cat towels now, Kate reflected, I guess cats need washing and all, just like dogs. Kate had never had a cat, or a dog for that matter until acquiring Fred and Ethel a year and a half before. She was unsure in the ways of cat care, but did know at least that it required food, which she had provided in the form of a bowl of milk, and a cat box, which she improvised from a plastic tray and some potting soil. Have to do for tonight, anyway. Ethel had settled down next to the kitten's basket, and had been contentedly licking its coal black fur when Kate left them. Who knew? Ethel wants to be a mom. Well, this is as close as she's going to get.
Kate could hear occasional distant splashes from the large first floor bathroom. Once she had judged the water heated sufficiently, she suggested running a bath for Cam, a proposal that was gratefully received. After some debate, the two had improvised a covering consisting of a large trash bag secured by duct tape to protect the cast from getting wet, and then Kate had, suddenly shy, left Cam to proceed on her own. Now, as she drowsed, the faint splashing lulled her into a most pleasant dream…
Kate drifted effortlessly on her back in warm, buoyant water, looking up at a cerulean sky unsullied by clouds. A light breeze rippled the brilliant jade waters. Hearing a splash, she lazily turned over and gazed across the water. A glistening blond head emerged from the depths, blue-green eyes the color of the surrounding sea sparkling, gazing at her. The form emerged more fully, water cascading from sculpted shoulders, full, rounded breasts, and muscled abdomen. The woman paused to shake the water from her hair, then lowered herself back into the water and moved towards her with slow, seductive strokes. Reaching her, the woman stilled in the water, and, with a small smile, ran her hands up Kate's arms until they linked around her neck. Her lips parted, and she tilted her head up, as her hands urged Kate's head down. Their lips met…
Continued in Chapter 10
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