Authors: Bonnie Leon
Paul waited for her to continue.
Lily took a deep breath that sounded like a sigh. “He said he loved me.” Her full lips tensed into a hard line. “I believed him.” She tossed aside the flowers. “But the truth is, I was just a novelty to him—the Indian girl from Alaska.”
The spite in Lily’s voice surprised Paul. He was instantly angry at the man who’d hurt her. “You’re a lot more than that.”
She glanced at him, then without saying anything, she sidestepped down the bank.
“Don’t let someone like him decide who you are,” Paul said, following her down the embankment.
Lily sat on a log and stared at the creek. “I am just what he said—an Indian girl. I’m nothing special.” She looked up at Paul. “I’m not going to pretend to be something I’m not.”
“Good.” Paul sat on the downed tree, making sure to leave a couple of feet between the two of them. “Trying to be someone you’re not only causes more trouble.”
“Yeah, I figured that out. God created me. And I’ve decided not to argue with him about who I am.”
“Yeah, but I thought you wanted to see the world. Don’t give up on your dream. Sometimes it’s not easy to fit in, and maybe we’re not supposed to. But don’t abandon something just because it’s hard to do. When I came here, I didn’t know anything about living in the bush. I was completely out of place—a real cheechako.”
“You were.” Lily laughed. “We all wondered what in the world you were doing here.” Her eyes widened as if she realized she’d stepped into a forbidden subject. She quickly added, “I’m glad you stayed.”
Paul couldn’t tell her he had no choice. “I’m glad too.”
“I think that some people aren’t meant to leave home. God plants us where we belong. I’m not leaving again.” Lily braided her long black hair, then loosened the braid and combed her fingers through it. “I don’t mind living here. In fact, it feels good knowing where I’ll spend my life.”
“You plan to stay right here on the creek?”
“I doubt I’ll stay with Mom and Dad, but nearby. I’d like to marry someone who loves this area, have a family, and maybe even live up the creek further.” Her voice held no implication that she really thought it would happen.
Paul wondered why, then his thoughts wandered back to his home in California. Was he like Lily? Did he belong there instead of here? No. He was needed here, and he was doing something important. “I’m where I belong.”
“And you have Kate. She’ll never leave Alaska.”
“Yeah, can’t imagine anything chasing her out.” Apprehension pitched through Paul. Kate didn’t do anything in half measures. She’d give her all to Alaska. Maybe even her life.
ike matched Kate’s strides as she crossed the airfield. “You’re working too hard,” he said. “You just got back last night and now you’re off for another three days?” He shook his head. “You need some downtime.”
“I’m fine. I got plenty of sleep.”
“What, four hours?”
Kate didn’t answer. She’d barely managed that, but she wasn’t about to pass up the work.
“Let me take this one for you.”
“Thanks, but Paul’s counting on me.” And Kate needed to see him. The last time they’d been together everything had been fine. They’d had a good time together and fishing had been fun, and then all of a sudden he seemed to withdraw. Something was wrong. She knew it.
“I can take him.”
“True, but I’ve got supplies to drop off, and I need the money.” She glanced at him, not slowing her pace. “Everyone works hard this time of year—you know that.”
Mike grabbed her arm. “Wait a minute.”
Kate stopped, and stared at his hand. “What do you think you’re doing? Let go.” She planted her hands on her hips and fixed her eyes on him. “You’re acting like you own me.”
Mike’s eyes slid away. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to do that.” He shoved his hands into his jacket pocket and kicked at a stone with the toe of his boot. “I can drop a flight and go with you.”
“Mike, why are you pushing this?”
“I’m taking care of my . . . best friend.” His blue eyes pleaded with her.
Kate’s heart softened. She wished he’d find someone else to love. “Thanks . . . really, but I’ll be fine.”
“What’s wrong with spending a little time together? Just friends, flying buddies.” He looked at her straight on. “I miss you. And not like that, but I miss our friendship. Since you’ve been going around with Paul, we barely see each other.”
Kate knew she hadn’t made time for Mike. She felt badly, but her time was limited and her heart was with Paul. She didn’t know what to say. She pushed her fingers through her short hair to lift it off her face.
“So, a date just between friends?”
“A date?” Kate shook her head. “No. How can you even ask? How would you feel if your girl was out with another guy?”
Mike’s expression darkened. “She is.”
“Stop it! That’s not fair. True friends want what’s best for each other. And all you’re thinking about is yourself.” Kate stared at the ground.
Silence wedged itself between the two until Mike spoke up. “You’re right. I’m sorry. Really, I am. It’s just so hard. I can’t just stop loving you. And I do care about you, and I even like Paul, but I can’t help how I feel.”
“You’re going to have to . . . or we can’t be friends. Sorry, but I’ve got mail to deliver.” Kate walked to her plane. She knew Mike was watching her, but she didn’t dare glance back.
Once in the air, Kate replayed the scene with Mike. What was she going to do about him? He’d helped her get started up here. But he couldn’t keep acting this way.
Her mind turned to Paul and excitement prickled through her at the thought of seeing him. Everything between them was probably fine. Most likely he’d just been tired or moody. But the two of them had gotten serious about each other awfully fast. Maybe too fast for him.
There was a time when she’d believed Richard was the man of her dreams and then Mike. Could she trust her feelings? Even as she wondered about her emotions, her mind returned to Paul. Just the thought of him made her feel flushed. She loved him. She was certain of it.
Kate allowed her imagination to consider what life would be like as his wife. It wouldn’t all be bliss. She knew better than that. They were very different from one another. There’d be skirmishes and her being a pilot would cut into wifely responsibilities. Plus his being a doctor would keep him away a lot of the time. She wasn’t sure how they’d manage a family. Would he want her to stop flying? And was she willing to do that? Kate couldn’t imagine life without it.
When she set down on the sandbar, Paul was already on his way in the boat. Patrick dropped him off, waved, and then headed back up Bear Creek. Paul climbed in and pulled the door shut.
“Where we headed?” he asked, dropping a quick, almost impersonal kiss on her cheek before sliding into his seat. He smiled and briefly touched her hand.
Kate had expected more. “Ninilchik,” she said, unable to keep the hurt out of her voice. “Someone radioed in that there’ve been some cases of measles.”
“At least three. One’s a child in the village and he’s recovered. The other two are in the same family—the Gladwells. They’re nice people. They actually live outside town. They have an airstrip, so getting in and out will be easy.” She wished he’d reach over and give her a real kiss or at least clasp her hand.
Paul nodded, but he didn’t say anything. Instead, he kept his eyes focused outside. Silence wedged itself between them. Something
When she approached the village nestled on the shore of Cook Inlet, Mount Redoubt and Mount Iliamna stood on the opposite shore, making for a stunning skyline. She flew over a dark sandy beach. “One of these days we’ll have to go clamming again. I heard there are lots of them to be had here.”
“Sounds like fun,” Paul said, keeping his eyes on the town of Ninilchik.
Most of the trip, he’d been quiet. What had happened to their usual friendly banter? Kate wanted to ask him if he was upset about something, but didn’t dare, afraid of what he’d say.
Dropping above the treetops, Kate searched for the Gladwells’ place. When she spotted their cabin perched on the edge of a clearing, she circled the runway to make sure it was clear of debris, then landed on the grassy airstrip and shut down the engine.
She let Angel out for a short run, then closed the dog inside the plane. She and Paul headed toward the cabin. On the west side of the house stood a good-sized barn. A mare grazed in a pasture while her foal trotted around her, its tail in the air. Beyond the barn a large garden sprawled toward the forest.
“Nice place,” Paul said.
A tall, lanky man with a heavy beard and wearing a red flannel shirt stepped out of the barn. “Hello,” he called.
“Hi, Carl,” Kate said. “Good to see you.”
Taking long strides, he approached Kate and Paul.
“Carl, this is Paul Anderson, the doctor. Paul, this is Carl Gladwell.”
The two shook hands. “Thanks for coming,” Carl said, then turned toward the house and headed across the field. “My oldest boy Nate’s not too bad. He’s miserable, but nothing like Gordon.” His brow creased. “Gordon’s been real sick.”
“Everyone else all right?”
“Yeah. Me and my wife and little girl are fine so far. I’m worried about Annie, though. She’s just two.”
“I’ll check on her while I’m here.” Paul glanced at two dogs woofing and pulling on their leads. “You hear of any other cases in town aside from the one?”
“No. But since the boys got sick, we’ve been keeping to ourselves, so there might be some I haven’t heard about.” When they reached the house, Carl opened the door and stood aside while Paul and Kate stepped indoors. “You sure you wouldn’t rather wait outside?” Carl asked Kate. “Hate to see you get sick.”
“I had the measles when I was six. Worried my mother silly.”
Carl looked at Paul. “How about you? You have them?”
“I did, right along with my brothers and sisters.”
A woman with her hair twisted into a bun at the base of her neck closed an oven door, then straightened and faced her guests. “Hello,” she said, her voice hushed. Her face looked drawn and the skin beneath her eyes appeared bruised, revealing her lack of sleep.
“Hi, Emily,” Kate said. “Sorry to hear your boys are sick.”
She tucked a loose hair into place. “I’m so thankful you’ve come. I’m sure now that the doctor’s here everything will be fine.”
Carl introduced Emily to Paul. “I’ve been so afraid, Gordon’s been really sick,” she said and headed toward a doorway off the main room. “He’s back here.”
Paul and Kate followed her into a small bedroom. It was sparsely furnished with two single beds and one chest of drawers. A small window allowed in the morning sunlight. The boys were bundled beneath heavy quilts. The room felt stifling.
“This is Gordon,” Emily said, hovering over her son.
Paul moved to the boy’s bedside. “How you doing, Gordon?”
“Not so good,” the youngster mumbled.
Kate almost gasped at the sight of him. His face was swollen and blanketed with a red rash. He peered up at Paul through puffy eyes.
Paul sat on the edge of the bed and took a thermometer out of his bag and placed it under the boy’s tongue. “Keep your mouth closed.” Looking as miserable as any human being could, Gordon did as he was told. Paul took his pulse. His brow furrowed. “Let me have a look at you,” he said, his tone cheerful. He studied the youngster’s face more closely, then asked, “Can you sit up?”
Gordon pushed himself upright and rested against the wall. The effort seemed almost too much for him.
“That’s a good boy.” Paul lifted his pajama top, exposing more of the fiery rash. “You’ve got a good case, all right.” He gently lowered the boy’s pajama top, took the thermometer out of his mouth, and studied it briefly. “Running a pretty good temp there, champ.”
“What is it?” Emily asked.
“A hundred and five.”
Emily pressed a hand to her mouth. “I knew it was bad.”
Concern showed in his eyes, but using a casual tone, he said, “It’s not unusual for children to run high fevers, especially with the measles. We’ll get his temperature down and he’ll be fine.” He placed a stethoscope to Gordon’s chest and listened. “Can you take a deep breath for me?”
Gordon tried to breathe deeply, but a cough rumbled inside his chest. Paul left the stethoscope where it was and said, “Can you try again?” Gordon complied and this time managed without coughing. Paul moved the stethoscope. “Again.” He listened closely, then straightened. “I don’t hear any sounds of pneumonia.”
“Thank the Lord,” Emily said.
“Can you get a bowl of tepid water and a washcloth for me?” Paul removed the bedclothes.
“I’m cold,” Gordon whimpered.
“I know,” Paul said kindly. “It’s the fever.” He moved to the other bed and gave Nate the same exam as his brother. “You’re doing well.” He looked at Carl. “He the first to get sick?”
“Yeah. He’d been sick about four days when Gordon came down with it.”
“I’m feeling a lot better,” Nate said.
“I can see that.” Paul stood. “But I want you to stay in bed a few more days, all right?”
“A few more days?” Nate groaned.
“Sorry.” Paul grinned.
Emily returned with the water and washcloth. While explaining that bundling up the children when they are running a fever only increases their temperatures, Paul showed her how to give Gordon a sponge bath. “The water will cool his skin and bring down his fever.”
Gordon shivered, his skin prickling with gooseflesh.
“Once that temp’s down, you’ll feel a whole lot better,” Paul said. “Do you have aspirin?” he asked Emily.
Paul took a small bottle out of his bag and gave it to her. “Give him one or two every four to six hours. It will help with his discomfort and to control the fever. Make sure he rests, even when he’s feeling better. If that cough gets worse, radio the airfield and I’ll come out and have another look.” Paul glanced at the window. “It’s best to keep the room dark. Too much light is hard on the eyes.”
Emily nodded. “I’ll cover it right away.”
“He ought to start feeling better in a few days.”
“Thank you, Doctor.” Emily smiled shyly at Paul.
He closed his bag and headed to the front room.
“What do we do if Annie gets sick?” Carl asked. “She’s just two.”
Paul set the little girl on the kitchen table and gave her a quick exam. She smiled at him and tried to grab ahold of the stethoscope. “She seems fine.” Paul set her on the floor.
“And if she gets sick?” Carl watched her toddle out the door and onto the porch.
“The treatment’s the same, only decrease the aspirin to half a tablet. You can crush it in some jam to get her to take it. And watch the fever. If it spikes too high, it could cause a seizure.”
“A seizure?” Emily’s voice sounded panicked.
“It’s rare. I wouldn’t worry too much about it.”
Carl walked to a cupboard and took down a tin can. He removed the lid and fished out a couple of dollar bills. He handed them to Paul. “It’s not much—”
Paul pushed the money back at him. “I’m glad to come—no charge.”
Carl stuffed the money into Paul’s shirt pocket. “I pay my way.” He walked back into the kitchen. “Can I get you something to eat or drink before you head out?”
Paul rested his hand over his pocket. “I could use a glass of water.”
“Sure.” Carl looked at Kate. “You like some?”
“I’m fine. Thank you.”
Carl filled a glass from a hand pump in the sink. “How about we go out on the porch and sit?”
Kate lowered herself onto a chair made of hewn lumber and gratefully breathed in fresh air. She was glad to be free of the stuffy house.
Paul took a drink. “Measles are highly contagious. Likely there’ll be others in town who’ll get sick. I’d like to know if there are any more cases. Hate to have a measles epidemic out here.” Paul took another drink of water.