Authors: Colette Cabot
Tags: #Contemporary Romance
Kathy Mae awoke to the feel of clean sheets against her skin. There was silence all around her and the dim sound of voices in the distance. She blinked a couple of times to make sure that she was still alive. Her chest hurt; her head hurt; and she raised her arm to see an I-V tube. It was a hospital, she surmised. This she did not dream. Breathing quietly, Kathy Mae felt that everything was fine about her situation. She wiggled her toes and saw them move beneath the white blanket.
To her right she saw the closed wooden door and the light behind the small window within it. She saw the beeping lights on the equipment near the head of her bed. Then, when she turned to the left, she saw Mason sleeping in a chair. He had been waiting for her to awaken; now she would wait for him to do the same.
He stirred, obviously uncomfortable despite the pillow at his head and the straight chair which held up his feet, allowing him to assume an almost reclining position. As he tried to turn, Kathy Mae saw that his left hand was bandaged. He also had a cut on the other side of his face—one that might leave a scar on his already masculine jaw line.
She watched him silently, wondering what had happened. The last thing she could really remember was being pelted in a hailstorm and then a tree falling on her. Vague flashes of being in the library seemed more like a dream. The energy pouring from her to his sleeping body caused him to stir, as if she could wake him with her thoughts, as if he could feel that he was being watched. He smiled seeing the gaze of her large brown eyes.
“You're going to be okay, Kathy Mae,” he said, coming to her side and taking her hand.
“What happened?” she asked. “And how did you find me? Why did you come back?”
“We got hit by a huge tornado,” he said, stating the obvious. “I was on my way to Minnesota with the animals, and when I heard the news that it was headed right toward you, I unhitched my load and drove back as fast as I could. I was unable to do anything but think of you, Kathy Mae, and the horrible way we parted. It took a while for me to come to grips with the situation. I love you, and even if we were brother and sister—which we're not—I would still feel the same way about you. That's all that matters.”
“So, why didn't you see me on the road?” she asked. “I waved, but you were going so fast.”
“I don't know,” he said, “Maybe if you're not expecting to see something, you don't. It was so clear in my mind that you were back at your house. All I could think of was getting you out of there. I learned your place was completely destroyed, by the way. But, your aunt was safe in the basement. I made sure she got downstairs, and she told me that you were headed for town.”
“You won't believe what I've learned, Mason,” she said. “My mother has been taking money from Aunt Anna for years and cheating her by telling her it was to buy the house from her. She didn't even own the house to begin with. It was in my father's name, and since he died, it goes to me.”
“Well, it isn't worth much anymore,” said Mason. “More news. The tornado destroyed my house, too—with my dad and your mom inside. They were killed when the roof collapsed. I don't know why they didn't go into the basement. Maybe they didn't hear the siren.”
“So, neither of us have a home anymore,” she sighed. “Or parents. But, we have each other.”
He leaned his face toward hers and kissed it. Their lips met, and the powerful desires between them began again. Kathy Mae moved her arms around him then cringed with a sharp pain. They laughed, acknowledging that it would be a while before they could make love the way they wanted.
“Are you ready for some dinner?” they heard the nurse say, as she opened the door and entered with a tray. “If you can handle food, the doctor said you'd be able to go home today, as long as you take it easy for a while.”
“Food isn't the main thing on my mind right now,” replied Kathy Mae, “but if it'll get me out of here, I'll even eat the hospital Jell-O.”
“That is truly the nastiest stuff, isn't it?” agreed the nurse. “I don't know how they manage to ruin something as simple as Jell-O, but they do.”
Shortly after the meal, Mason helped her to get dressed, and they left together. They found themselves stranded without transportation and no home to go to anyway. His truck, he assumed was still parked near Borough, behind the tree that fell on Kathy Mae. He soon discovered through the Red Cross information network that neither the tree nor the truck were on that road. Everything surrounding the area of her house and the nearby town had been flattened. Unable to find a ride into Borough, they realized it was pointless to go there anyway. Only a few buildings were still standing, and they were badly damaged.
“My purse,” Kathy Mae suddenly exclaimed, “In all the commotion, it's gone. It had my first paycheck in it. I was on my way to open a bank account.”
“I would imagine the real estate business in Borough is going to suffer a setback,” said Mason. “You probably won't have a job for a while. The library suffered only minor damage, from what I could tell. They have set up a shelter there, I heard. We should probably go to it on the next shuttle. Your aunt is there, and most of the townspeople as well. It's the only place with working phone lines, and they have also brought a stockpile of food and water. That's where we need to go, at least temporarily.”
As they approached the town, the world around them looked like a scene from Armageddon. The roads were clear but on both sides of the highway trees and trash were piled high. They drove past places where barns used to be, and now it was as if the earth had cleansed them away. Electrical wires were down and crews labored to re-establish power lines. Red Cross trucks were everywhere helping the sick and the stranded. Even the National Guard had arrived with supplies and temporary shelters. They had constructed a temporary bridge to reconnect the roads. Yet, through it all, the sky was clear and brilliant, as if Mother Nature had thrown a tantrum, and it was all over. Cars, trucks, and furniture lay in piles like toys tossed aside.
Kathy Mae needed to rest and recuperate. Mason needed to search for his truck. He needed to deal with the insurance company and begin the process of having it replaced. It didn't seem that any of this would be easy with all the businesses crippled in the aftermath of such destruction.
“Mason, it’s like the prairie came back,” Kathy smiled, kissing him good-bye as he set out to take care of business.
She had read something about how the prairie needs occasional tornadoes to make sure that the land stays arid. They serve their purpose as a sudden release of energy. Without tornadoes, the book had said, the whole earth would be engulfed in a constant monster storm. The town would be rebuilt even better than before. People would recover and be stronger than before. It would be okay, she believed that.
Mason walked toward the area that had once been the road to Kathy Mae's house, leaving her in good hands at the library shelter. The road had been cleared, and he talked to some workmen that were out replacing telephone poles. One of them had seen a white pickup truck several miles away perched upon the remains of a trailer home. They could only hope that whoever had been inside had gotten out in time.
Locating the truck, Mason saw immediately that it could not be driven. It was totaled. Judging from the indentation on the roof, it looked as if a good-sized tree had smashed into it at some point during its three-mile flight through the tornado. He crawled over the remains of the trailer home and precariously reached inside to retrieve papers from the glove box. His neat little packet containing the title and his insurance information had remained intact. Although his cell phone was almost dead, he managed to get through on the 800 number and someone located in another city was able to file his claim.
“We will send a representative to assess the damage, Mr. Wheelwright,” he said. “But, that will just be a formality. We've all heard the news, and I'm positive this will be a total loss. We will be cutting you a check this afternoon, and you should be able to apply that toward the purchase of a vehicle of your choice.”
“Well, how'm I going to get the check, since I can't drive anywhere to get it?” he asked.
“I wasn't thinking, Mr. Wheelwright,” he said immediately. “I can just transfer the amount to your account. If you haven't changed banks, I still have the routing number.”
“I left a trailer on the highway between here and Minnesota,” he said. “It contains a herd of camels, and I need to get to it soon. I don't think there's anywhere in this town I can either buy or rent a new truck.”
Mason understood that the agent couldn't do much to help him under the circumstances. The money would be in his account within hours, but he didn't know how he would be able to spend it. The thought of thirsty, hungry camels preyed on his mind. Sure, camels could last without water for days—but these camels never had. They were going to be distressed and upset. He didn't like that situation. As he pondered this, a bright, shiny red super-cab pickup truck honked at him from the road.
“Are you Mason Wheelwright, by any chance?” yelled the man from his rolled-down window.
“I am,” he answered, walking toward the man.
“Well, I'm glad to meet you, Sir,” he said. “I am Phillip Buggerby, Kathy Mae's boss. We ran into her at the library shelter. I was lucky enough to buy up one of the last trucks left on the lot in Verona. Every available vehicle in all the towns around here have been snatched up by the time they opened for business this morning. I hear you need a ride to Minnesota.”
Mason beamed with happiness and climbed into the front seat.
“Actually, I didn't even get out of Missouri before I turned around and headed back toward Borough,” he said. “The trailer should be less than fifty miles from here. I was just thinking it might as well have been a thousand. My camels and I will be eternally grateful to you Mr. Buggerby.”
“Nooo,” he groaned. “Don't call me that. It's Phillip, please. You know, I hate that name so much, I wish I had changed it legally a long time ago. Maybe I will do that now that I will undoubtedly have some time on my hands.”
Phillip told him that although the office was gone, a real estate company could operate over the kitchen table. Most of the records were online, and the rest were retrievable, eventually, under the rubble. He had already procured an office space in the town of Nevada—where the hospital was located. Few real estate deals were likely in the town of Borough—not for quite a while. The Buggerby's own house had been destroyed, but Phillip was not concerned about that. The insurance would replace everything, and his wife wanted to redecorate anyway.
They drove past Mason's old homestead in Nevada, and he could see that the house had been flattened. The barn, however, looked to be in pretty good condition. He told Phillip that they could bring the camels back to the barn. In his mind, he was thinking that he and Kathy Mae could probably live in the barn until he could rebuild. It had a bathroom and electricity. And then he realized that he had just assumed they'd live together. He had already decided he was going to marry her, if she would agree.
Mason looked around; it was freeing to see the house gone. He would never have to worry about his father or her mother again. Some people might say that this was selfish, but he did not care. They were nothing to him but an unending burden, and it was only natural that he would feel glad to be rid of them.
He remembered the time that he was in a motel with his dad back in 1988. He was only five at the time, and they were traveling back from Jefferson City where his dad had to attend to some final matters regarding his mother's death in prison. It was the first road trip he had ever taken. His father left him in the motel for a few hours that turned into three days without food and water. The old man had gotten drunk and forgotten where he left him. Perhaps he even forgot he had a son at all. The manager had finally checked the room when he became worried about the rent and quickly turned him over to the police. They found Mr. Wheelwright, who insisted he had left the child with a relative, and recounted the whole incident as miscommunication. The police handed the child back to his custody, either believing his story or just not wanting to get involved.
When they arrived at the spot where Mason remembered leaving the trailer—it was not there. He was confused, worried, and frantic about the welfare of the animals.
“Maybe the tornado blew it away,” suggested Phillip. “ Or, maybe you are wrong about the location,” he said, before noticing the tire tracks in the dust and letting his voice trail off in reconsideration mode.