The Seventh Hour(12)

By: Tracey Ward


“I’m so sorry.”

“It’s fine.”

She looks up at me, her hand lowering slowly to her side. She doesn’t seem as concerned by her closeness as I am. She’s unaffected as she stares at me.

At least that’s familiar.

“Are you okay?” she asks.

I shrug. “I said it’s fine.”

“Yeah, you said your side is fine. I’m asking about you.”

“Same thing.”

“No, it’s not.”

“Yes, it is.”

“It’s not.”

“Is.”

“It’s not,” she insists sternly.

I grin down at her. “Is, times infinity.”

She laughs, the annoyance easily evaporating off her face. “What are you? Six years old?”

“If I was I wouldn’t have cared about stripping down in front of you.”

“You would have done it to annoy me.”

“You’re really squeamish about butts.”

“Normal people don’t like them rubbing up on their arm, weirdo.”

“It was clean.”

“I don’t care if it was unused, fresh off the shelf.”

“The butt shelf?”

“You’re such a strange guy, do you know that?”

I laugh. “I was a strange kid. You’re the one who hasn’t grown out of it.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Nipples.”

Her eyes go wide, her finger rising to my face in warning. “Don’t you dare.”

“Don’t what?” I ask innocently. “Don’t say the word nipple?”

“Stop that.”

“Flippy nipple.”

“Grayson!”

“Nipple dimple.”

“I hate you so hard.”

“I’ve got a million of ‘em.”

“I believe you,” she laughs. “I’ve heard about seven hundred thousand, you jerk. You know I hate that word.”

“I’ll stop,” I chuckle, the motion burning in my ribs. “For now.”

“You’re a saint.”

I smile down at my hands still holding my shirt. I’m anxious to put it on, to cover my body and all the things about me that have changed, because this moment right here with Karina is one of the best we’ve had in weeks. It’s small but somehow huge, like looking at an old picture suddenly come to life. One you would give anything to step inside of and live in forever.

“You really are, you know,” Karina tells me quietly. “Maybe not a saint, but you’re definitely a hero.”

And just like that, it’s gone.

When I look at her I’m fractured. I want to be the man she thinks she’s looking at. The one who saved a life, who risked his to do it, but I’m not. I’m a boy who sat shaking scared in a boat waiting for the tide to take him home, and if I’d had to expel one more ounce of effort than I did to ‘save’ that girl, I wouldn’t have. I would have saved myself. My pathetic, cowardly self.

I want to pull the curtain. I want to ask her to leave, to back up even a step. More than anything I want her to stop looking at me like that. Like I’m more somehow. Like I’m Easton.

The doctor knocks on the door before cracking it. “Are you ready, Grayson?”

I look away from Karina, clearing my throat. “Yeah. Yeah, I’m ready.”

Doctor Kanden smiles briefly at Karina. “Abby is with the girl next door. She could use a hand undressing her and getting her in warm clothes, if you don’t mind helping.”

“I don’t mind at all.” Karina kneels down to collect my wet clothes off the floor. “I’ll take both of their things down to the L and get them cleaned and dried.”

“You don’t have to do that,” I tell her, reaching out to stop her. “I can bring it down later.”

She pushes my hand away gently. “Don’t be stupid, Gray. I’m going back down to work anyway. I might as well take it with me now.”

There aren’t words for how weird I feel about Karina touching my wet underwear.

When she’s gone I feel myself slacken. I don’t know if I sigh or if the doctor is psychic, but she grins at me knowingly.

“Are you alright?” she asks.

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