Sunset Embrace(3)

By: Sandra Brown

"You gonna puke?" Bubba asked.

"No." Luke swallowed hard. "I don't think," he said with less assurance.

"Go get Ma. Pa, too. He'll have to carry her back to the wagon. Can you find your way back?"

"'Course," Luke said scornfully.

"Then get goin'. She could still die, ya know." Luke cocked his head to one side and studied the young woman's pale face. "She's right fetchtn' to look at. You gonna touch her any more while I'm gone?"

"Get goin'!" Bubba yelled, facing his brother with a threatening stance.

Luke thrashed his way noisily through the trees until he could safely call back a taunt. "I'll know if you look at somethin' you ain't supposed to. And I'll tell Ma."

Bubba Langston picked up a pinecone and hurled it at his brother, younger by two years. It fell short of its mark and Luke scampered away. When he was out of sight, Bubba knelt down beside the girl. He gnawed his lower lip before looking at the dead baby once again. Then, using only the tips of his index finger and thumb, he lifted the hem of her skirt and moved it to cover up the baby.

Sweat beaded his forehead, but he felt better when he couldn't see the baby anymore. "Lady," he whispered softly. "Hey, lady, can you hear me?" Fearfully he nudged her shoulder. She moaned and tossed her head to one side, then back again.

He bad never seen such a head of hair on a person before. Even littered with twigs and leaves and damp with rain it was right pretty, curly and sort of wild looking. The color wasn't like any he had ever seen before either. Not quite red and not quite brown, but somewhere in between.

He took off the canteen suspended around his neck by a leather thong and uncapped it. "Lady, you want a drink?" Bravely, he pressed the metal spout to her flaccid lips and poured a small amount over them. Her tongue came out to lick up the moisture.

Bubba watched, fascinated, as her eyes fluttered open to gaze up at him vaguely. The girl saw a wide-eyed boy of about sixteen bending anxiously over her. His shock of hair was so light it was almost white. Was he an angel? Was she in heaven? If so, it was disappointingly like earth. The same sky, the same trees, the rain-laden forest. The same pain between her thighs. She wasn't dead yet! No, no, boy, go away. I want to die. She closed her eyes again and knew no more.

Afraid for the young woman's life, and feeling helpless, Bubba sank to the damp ground under the tree. His eyes never left her face until he heard the commotion of Ma and Pa pushing through the dense undergrowth in the full, lush bloom of early summer.

"What's all this Luke was blabbing about a girl, son?" Zeke Langston asked his eldest child.

"See, I told you, Ma, Pa," Luke said excitedly, pointing a finger. "There she be."

"Get out of my way, all of you, and let me see to this poor girl." Ma impatiently shoved the men aside and squatted down heavily beside the girl. First she brushed aside the damp hair clinging to the wan cheeks. "Right comely, ain't she? Wonder what in tarnation she's doing out here all alone."

"There's a babe, Ma."

Ma Langston looked up at Bubba, then at her husband, jerking her head in a silent signal that he distract the boys. When their backs were turned, Ma raised the dress to the girl's lap. She had seen worse, but this sight was grim enough. "Lord have mercy," she muttered. "Zeke, give me a hand here. You boys run on back to the wagon and tell Anabeth to Ex a pallet up proper. Get a good fire goin' and put a kettle to boilin'."

Disappointed that they were going to miss the most interesting part of the adventure, they objected in unison. "But Ma—"

"Git, I said." Rather than incur their mothers wrath, which both had felt at the other end of a strop, they shuffled off toward the wagon train that was taking Sunday off to rest.

"She's in a bad way, ain't she?" Zeke asked, crouching down beside his wife.

"Yep. First thing is to get the afterbirth out. She may die of the poison anyway."

Silently they worked over the unconscious girl, "What should I do with this, Ma?" Zeke asked. He had wrapped natures debris along with the dead infant in a knapsack and had bundled it tightly.

"Bury it. I doubt she'll be in any condition to visit a grave for several days. Mark the spot in case she wants to come back to see it."