Adam jumped, and coffee sloshed over the sides of his cup. “Lily, where are you?”
Eyes as black as the buttons on Miss Libby’s face peeked over the side of the bed. “I’m in trouble, aren’t I? I just wanted to see if Miss Libby was ready to come play with me is all. I sorry. Are you going to tattle-tale on me?”
He sat his cup on the tray beside him and patted the bed. “Can you come up here so I don’t have to twist my neck to see you? I won’t tell. Promise.”
She hoisted herself over the edge of the mattress and plopped beside him. It hurt like thunder when his leg bounced against the pillow propping it up, but it was a small price to pay for such attention.
“I thought you would be eating. Does your sister know where you are?”
One chubby finger covered his lips. “I’m ‘posed to be staying out of the way.”
He moved her finger. “You can stay out of the way in here with me. Now, are you going to take Miss Libby away, or can the three of us have a nice visit?”
She hunched her shoulders and giggled. “I’m not ‘posed to say so many words, or ask questions, or,” she gagged, “do like that when I have bad words. So I need to ask Miss Libby what to do so bad words don’t run out of my mouth and I can’t get smart ‘cuz I can’t ask questions. That’s why I need Miss Libby. But if you won’t tattle-tale, then I can ask you questions, can’t I?”
“Let’s make a deal.”
She hung her head. “That’s what Annie told me. I don’t like deals so I’ll just take Miss Libby with me to talk about it.”
“Will you come back and see me?”
“If Annie tells me to stay out of the way, I’ll come here. But Miss Libby will want to come and play again, I think. Is that okay?”
He patted her cheek. “That would be very okay. But now, why do you have such a frown? That makes your forehead all wrinkled, you know. What if it froze like that?”
She rubbed her forehead. “It wrinkles up when I’m thinking.”
“You must be thinking very, very hard.”
She nodded. “Want to know what I’m thinking?”
“Do you want to tell me?”
“It’s a question.”
He put his finger over his lips. “I won’t tell.”
“Why do you and Mr. Martin both have a blue circle around your black eyes? And when you smile there’s a little hole that gets in your cheek, just like his. Only he don’t smile very much. Ben smiles a lot but he don’t look like you when he smiles. My brother, Peter, he use to do things what made him look like my papa, only now Papa is dead and I think Peter got all deaded, too. Why do boys look like their papas? Are you Mr. Martin’s Papa? Only you gots a different name, don’t you? If Annie and Mr. Martin ever get babies will they have different names, too?”
Was it the questions, or the answers they begged to reveal that caused his chest to tighten. It hurt to breathe.”
“Oh, and you know what else? I sawed a picture of a pretty lady in Annie’s room, and she looks like Annie, don’t she? And she looks like Mr. Martin, too. Well, kind of she looks like Mr. Martin only he’s a boy.” She giggled through her fingers she clamped over her mouth. “Boys don’t look like girls do they?”
Please, Lord. I need help.
There was a knock on door, and Lily climbed over him and wiggled herself under the covers as close as she could get. “Don’t tell.”
“Come in, whoever you are.” It took more energy than he had to yell the invitation.
SueAnna stepped into the room and stopped at the foot of his bed. “It’s me, Mr. Covington. I’m so sorry to bother you but have you by any chance seen Lily?” She folded her hands across her stomach.
How he wished he could tell her no. If only he had told the little girl to leave before he allowed her to stay. Had others seen the likeness between him and Trey? Had they noticed but been too polite to remark. Had Hilda seen the resemblance? He’d never known her to withhold any opinion.
And then there was SueAnna herself. Standing in front of him, her dark eyes wide with question, her hands folded as though they were protecting something deep inside her. But Trey said they had never—
“Mr. Covington? Are you okay? Should I get Hilda?”
He nodded. “Please.” Then turned his head toward the small lump squished against his side. He couldn’t trust himself to utter one word, but prayed she’d understand.
“Lily? I see you, sweetheart. I think it’s time for you to say goodnight and come with me. We’ll tell Hilda that Mr. Covington would like to see her.”
“Is you mad?”
Adam shook his head and willed SueAnna to understand his unspoken meaning.
“No, I’m not mad. But you and I will do dishes for Miss Hilda.”
He mouthed his thank you, then closed his eyes and breathed a sigh of relief when the click of the door announced their departure. He needed Doc, and Hilda would summon him without a lot of questions.
How could this be happening? He chest tightened again and pain shot to his jaw. What was keeping Hilda? He swung his legs over the side of the bed, and groaned in the doing. If only he could get to the door he could yell for help. Had they forgotten him?
Oh, God. Please don’t let me die until I talk to Doc Thayer. Please.
“You do know you’re too ornery to die, don’t you?”
Adam blinked as he tried to focus on the blurry image bending over him. “That you, Fred? Wish you’d stop moving so I could get a good look.”
“You keeping company with another doctor I don’t know about? Fickle, that’s what.”
“Believe me, if there was anyone else in the country I’d have sent for them. You need a shave.”
Doc rubbed his chin. “And I suppose my having whiskers is the reason you decided you could pick up your bed and walk?”
“Is that what happened? It wasn’t my heart? You sure?” He tried to prop himself on his elbows but fell back with a moan. “I hurt everywhere.”
“Course you do. You falling on that broken leg drove them bones clear through your skin. You could still die, you know?”
“May be for the best if I did, Fred.” He clenched his teeth but even that made his head pound.
“Want me to take behind the barn and shoot you?”
“I suppose you think this is funny. How would you like to lay in this bed day after day. The most entertainment I’ve had is talking to a rag doll.”
Thayer leaned back in his chair and took off his glasses. “No, it isn’t funny. Wasn’t funny. And going to get worse.” He wiped his glasses with his bandana. “Want to know what your silly idea of walking is going to cost you?”
“More than you’re worth, I’ll guarantee you that.”
“Your life, if you’re not careful.”
“My what? And who will take the blame for that? You aim to tell people I killed myself if I up and die on you?”
Doc hooked his glasses behind his ears. “No, I intend to tell them that you were too hard-headed, decided to do what you’d been warned not to do, and you dying was the result. Then I’d let them each throw a handful of dirt on you and walk away.”
“You wouldn’t no more walk away than I can walk away.”
Fred squeezed his shoulder. “You’re right, my friend. But I’m going to say this only once because it’s more than I ever wanted to utter your direction. You ready to listen?”
Adam shrugged. “I have a choice?”
“Look at me. I’m telling you this straight. You’ve ruined any chance of you walking on that leg any time in the near future.”
“You mean you didn’t fix it?”
“Best I could. But, Adam, your may never walk on it again. You now have open wounds from the bones that pierced your skin. I’ve done everything I can. Now we pray you won’t get infection, or—”
“Or…what? Spit it out.”
“You get infection in that leg, and we may have to amputate.” He wiped his hands across his face.
“Cut my leg off? All because I tried to get help?”
“All because you weren’t patient enough to wait for help. So far you haven’t run fever, and that’s a good thing.”
“What do you mean so far?”
“Adam Covington, you’ve been laying here moaning and groaning for three days, that’s what I mean by so far. At least while you were unconscious, you were quiet. I’m telling you now, the only way we’ll save that leg is for you to do absolutely everything you’re told to do. You follow orders…to the letter. For now, we wait. Healing takes time, my good friend. And right now it’s obvious you have more time than good sense. Time, Adam. Only time will tell.”
He turned his head away from Doc and closed his eyes. “Go away. Leave me alone for awhile. Have Hilda make you some coffee or go for a walk…anything. Just leave me alone.”
“Hilda’s gone. But that little SueAnna gal is doing a right fine job. Ain’t a—”
“Then have her do it, but just leave. Now. I need to be alone.”
He waited until Doc’s footsteps echoed down the hall before he opened his eyes. This had to be a dream, or a nightmare. But no, everything was in place like it should be. The head of the bed on the east wall, flanked by two floor-to-ceiling windows. The familiar dark leather chair with its matching ottoman positioned in front of the fireplace on the north wall…
The door clicked open and soft footsteps approached the bed.
He closed his eyes again. “I thought I told you to leave me alone, Doc. Please.”
“I’m not Doc. Shh. Don’t tell.”
“Lily was so close her breath was hot against his ear.” Miss Libby and I talked it over and she said we needed to come and make you feel better. But you can’t see me ’til you open your eyes. Are you hiding? Sometimes when I want to hide, I close my eyes and pretend no one can see me.” Lily giggled “Miss Libby knows a lot of stuff. Do you want to hear what she knows?”
“Do you think she could tell me why I tried to get out of this bed when I had a bum leg?”
Lily held the doll close to her ear for a bit, then sat her on the pillow beside Adam’s head. “She says you got out of bed because you weren’t ‘bedient and…” she put the doll to her ear again “And she says you are hard-headed but she didn’t really say it. She heard Doc Thayer tell Mr. Martin but she thought you should know.”
Adam grinned but when footsteps and voices approached he put his fingers over his lips and Lily wiggled underneath the bed
Doc Thayer entered the room, followed by SueAnna and Trey. “Are you in pain? We heard you talking—”
“I though I told you to leave.” He waved his finger between SueAnna and Trey. “I suppose he has you outside the door just to spy.”
SueAnna plunked her hands on her hips. “I was looking for my little sister and thought she might have managed to sneak in here. That’s why I heard you talking and summoned for help. I understand you think we were too slow the last time.”
Well, this one had spunk. And he thought Hilda was the one to be reckoned with. “No, I haven’t seen your little sister. And for your information, I talk to myself when I need good company. Now would you all please leave me alone.”
SueAnna bit her bottom lip. “Of course, I don’t think she would want to bother you. She knows better, you know. Why, Lily wouldn’t even think of not being obedient. But just in case you do see her, would you please tell her that she has bread and butter waiting for her in the kitchen.” She turned to leave. “Oh, and you might tell her that Miss Libby is missing.”
The doll. Why hadn’t he thought of the doll. “Lily, you can come out now. They’re gone. But I’m afraid they saw Miss Libby. You better go to the kitchen.”
Lily took her doll and draped her over one arm. “Want to know what else Trey said?”
Yes, he did. But he wouldn’t ask this little one to reveal one more piece of information.
“No, I think you best not tell me any more right now. I’m very tired. But when you get to the kitchen, would you tell Doc Thayer to come see me in about half-an-hour?”
She stopped at the door. “I will. But I don’t really think you are trying to hide something. There wasn’t anything under the bed.”