Stepping past the now inert wooden box, up to the stainless steel sink I watched Joseph turn on the taps. Keeping my eyes firmly away from my mitts, since acknowledging them only made them hurt more enthusiastically, I concentrated all my attention on the inside of Joseph’s left elbow while he sluiced water over my wounds.
If it weren’t for all the stinging the water would have felt nice. Its warmth helped to dispel the frigid echo of her hands on my heart.
Me (attempting to distract my mind): “You were going to make her a Resident, if she hadn’t attacked me, weren’t you.”
Joseph (absently): “Yes.”
Me (wincing): “But she attacked you first.”
Joseph (dryly): “I will admit that didn’t bode well. But I wanted to give her a chance at a different sort of existence.”
Me (cocking my head): “Why didn’t her attack work? On you I mean.”
Joseph (shrugging): “Does it matter?”
Me (wincing again): “Well yes, if you can teach the Residents what you did, it could help keep them safe.”
Joseph (glancing sideways at me): “It isn’t something I can teach them to do.”
Me (sensing the knotting off of that subject, I moved on): “Okay…But how was she able to hurt me? And I her?”
Joseph (sounding distracted again): “Both are excellent questions.”
Me (gritting my teeth while he worked a boulder out of my left palm): “Are you going to answer them?”
Joseph (releasing my hands): “Yes, but not tonight. Keep your hands under the water while I find the first aid kit.”
Resting my temple against the cabinet above the sink, I closed my eyes and obeyed…
Joseph startled me when he pulled my beleaguered appendages out from under the water and started drying them with a large piece of gauze. Seems I’ve acquired the new and useful skill of dozing off while standing up. Yet another talent which isn’t really résumé applicable.
Tipping my head back I struggled to shove away my exhaustion, while Joseph started to apply ointment from the kit he’d found.
Me (casting about for a new topic while he worked on me): “How did you know she was here tonight?”
Joseph (exasperated): “You think I don’t know when a Woman In White crosses into Nevermore? How did you know she was here? The message Mazy relayed stated her arrival wasn’t for a few more days.”
Me: “Radio. Sarah let me down. County probably changed dates without telling her. Crap!!!”
Joseph (pausing in his application of bandages): What?
Me (looking him in the eye and waving my hands): How am I going to explain these to Mr. Nelson?
So wholly occupied with the creation of at least a moderately plausible explanation for my current state I failed to notice when Joseph finished bandaging me up and started herding me towards the door. When I finally realized where we were heading (and the fact Joseph seemed inordinately amused by my highly improbable scenarios), I protested. He shouldn’t have to clean up the mess all by himself. When pointed out Mr. Nelson probably wouldn’t stay put forever, I was forced to concede the point.
Me (treading wearily to the end of the hallway): Sorry for ruining your offer of Residency.
Joseph (stepping a pace ahead and opening the outside door): The only apology owed is for underestimation of my skills.
Me (I started to apologize again until I saw the smile tugging at the corners of his mouth): Not pompous at all.
Joseph (chuckling at my dry tone, he then sobered): Even after striking me I might still have given her a chance if she’d shown any remorse for her actions. But her attack on you proved her transformation into a Woman In White was complete. By coming here tonight, you undoubtedly saved a few of the Residents from being stripped.
Taking the straw he offered me, I tried to use it to subdue the wiggling feeling of guilt inside.
Me (pausing just on the other side of the dumpster where I’d left Mr. Nelson and the Princess, using my quiet voice): Thank you for stopping her from…
Cutting off my gratitude Joseph placed a kiss on my forehead. Which warmed the very cockles of my heart.
Joseph (smiling): Your welcome.
Smiling in return, I murmured my goodbyes and walked around the dumpster.