The Seventh Hour(11)By: Tracey Ward
I blink against the blur of water in my eyes, but she’s still there. Tangled in the sails, pinned to the wood by the rope, her brown skin vibrant in color and so unmistakably alive. Her long, chocolate hair is matted over her face, hiding her eyes, but I know she’s not dead. It’s like I can feel it. Feel her life in my gut where it burns and aches angrily, throbbing with the rhythm of my heartbeat.
I reach into the water as the waves begin to lift us both. I take hold of her arm stretched out over the beam and I pull, yanking on her so hard it would hurt if she was awake. Luckily she’s not and I’m able to lift her, pull her free of the debris, and toss her into the hull of my small boat before we’re separated by the cresting waves.
She lands in a heap at my feet as I grab onto the oars. I row with the last of my strength. With everything I have in strokes that make my side scream, that tear a roar from my throat until we break the current and the tide and the sea and crash into the smooth stone floor of the beach.
The minutes after the crash are a blur. I’ve only kept seconds. Snapshots of what happened captured in the flash of the lightning when the world was too real to ignore. I remember hitting the shore. I remember people rushing the boat. I remember Karina and the fishing crew and hands lifting me. I remember the cold. The hurt. The fear.
I remember the girl.
“You saved her,” Karina repeats proudly.
I look away. Her eyes are too big, too bright. They make my head hurt.
“I didn’t mean to,” I mumble, my cold lips slipping over each other numbly.
Karina laughs, the sound echoing off the walls of the nearly empty exam room.
I don’t laugh with her. I wasn’t joking.
Dr. Kanden strides into the room, her grandmotherly appearance at odds with her no-nonsense attitude. She offers me a neatly folded stack of clothes wrapped in twine. “Here. Fuller sent these up for you. I told him you were mobile and he said for you to get dressed and go guard the girl.”
I nod as I take the clothes from her.
“You can pull this curtain to change behind if you want,” she tells me briskly, already turning to leave the room, “but leave your shirt off for now. I want to take a look at your side when I come back. Check your ribs.”
She’s already looked at my head. She checked my appendages. All good, all functioning normally. The big concern is the hit I took in the side with the oar. It hurt to take deep breaths when she asked me to, something that made her purse her lips, but when I asked what was wrong she didn’t answer.
As the door closes behind the doctor my eyes dart to Karina’s, hoping she’ll take the hint.
She smiles at me, amused. “Do you want me to close my eyes? Turn my back and pretend I haven’t seen you naked a half dozen times since we were three?”
“I’m pretty sure the last time you saw me naked was when we were seven. A lot has changed since then.”
“Are you scared?”
“Terrified,” I deadpan.
I stand there dripping on the floor, waiting. Finally I reach for the curtain.
“Oh for—Fine.” Karina turns her back on me. “Is that better?”
I don’t answer. Instead I strip quickly, struggling to pull on the dry clothes over my wet skin. I get tangled and aggravated, but eventually I’m in fresh underwear and the dark pants of my uniform. I feel strange standing in a room alone with Karina and no shirt on. We’ve been swimming together a million times, this part of me she’s no stranger to, but this feels different. Everything is different.
“Are you decent?” she asks.
I run my hand through my hair slowly, letting it fall back into place. “Yeah, I’m good.”
She’s grinning when she turns but she shudders when she sees me. “Oh my God, Gray.” Her hand reaches out for my bare skin. “Your side.”
I look to where she’s nearly touching me, her fingertips stopped short of the purpling flesh over my right rib cage. She’s so close to me now that we’ve gone beyond awkward and spiraled into palm-sweating-what-the-fu—
“Does it hurt?” she asks.
I swallow hard. “It aches, yeah.”