“You’re going to be okay, sweetie. I promise.”
“I’m sorry,” he sobs. “I didn’t mean to.”
“It’s not your fault.”
“You told me not to go into the water.”
“Seth, it’s okay. You’re not in trouble. We’ll get you fixed up.” I cup his sweet young face in my hand and smile at him, ignoring the fast beat of my heart.
Where are they?
“It hurts,” he cries again.
“Okay, focus on my voice. Seth, do you hear me?” He nods and sniffs. “Okay. I’m right here, Seth. You’re going to be okay.” I make my voice low and steady, willing him to just listen to me and not focus on the pain in his ankle. “Think about how happy Thor is going to be to see you tomorrow. You and Thor can get well together. He’ll need extra cuddles too, you know.”
“Yeah,” Seth mutters, and takes a deep breath.
“Yeah, so just think about how great it’ll be to hang out with Thor tomorrow.” I hear the roar of the ATVs approaching and thank the good Lord above that help is almost here.
“Your dad is almost here, buddy. Do you hear them?”
He nods and grimaces.
“Okay, you’re being really brave, Seth. I’m so proud of you.”
“Will you come with me to the hospital?”
“Of course,” I tell him firmly. “Do you think I’ll let you out of my sight? We’re in this together, kid.”
“Seth!” Zack calls from behind the bushes at the shoreline.
“Over here!” I call out, careful to keep Seth’s leg immobile. My arm is singing in protest at the icy water, but I ignore it and focus on Seth’s face.
“Seth!” Zack cries again as he sees us and runs straight into the water, not even caring that he’s in jeans and work boots. Josh follows and I’ve never seen such a welcome sight in all my life.
“What happened?” Zack asks as they approach.
“I fell. I was jumping even though Cara told me not to.” Seth starts to cry again, but I brush his hair off his forehead.
“Stop, Seth. It’s not your fault.” I look up into Zack’s and Josh’s concerned faces. “I’m holding the ankle elevated and in the cold water. Closest thing I had to ice.” I shrug. “I couldn’t lift him.”
“Excellent.” Zack nods. “Okay, Uncle Josh and I are going to get on either side of you and lift you to take you to the ATV, okay?”
“I’m not gonna lie, Son, it’s gonna hurt.”
“Okay.” Seth nods.
“What can I do?” I ask, and watch as the guys move to Seth’s sides.
“You can move out of my way,” Josh snaps as he squats next to me. Zack shoots him a hard look, but Josh ignores him. “What were you thinking, Cara? You know better than to leave the house without telling someone where you’re going.”
“I’m sorry,” I reply, shame washing through me.
“I begged her to come,” Seth interjects.
“Let me steady his ankle for you,” I say.
“Zack and I have this, Cara.”
Josh doesn’t spare me a glance as I do my best to scoot toward the bank. Seth cries out as I let go of his leg, but when I immediately reach back to grab it, Josh yells, “Back away!”
“Josh.” Zack’s voice is quiet. “Calm down.”
“Mom called the ambulance,” Josh says without acknowledging Zack’s comment.
“On three,” Zack mutters. “One, two, three.” They stand in unison, lifting the boy out of the water.
“I know, Son, I know,” Zack croons to him as they walk briskly to the shoreline and up the bank to the four-wheelers.
“Seth, think about Thor,” I remind him. “I’m so sorry, you guys,” I begin, but Zack cuts me off.
“Accidents happen, honey. We’ll get him patched up.”
They settle Seth on the back of one of the ATVs. Zack hops on and takes off toward the house.
Josh hops on the other one and glances back at me. “Get on.”
“Why are you so angry?” I ask as I swing my leg over and wrap my arms around his waist.
“Because you know better than this, Cara. You knew the creek was too high, you know to never venture out on your own without someone else knowing where you are. Fuck.” he shakes his head. “We could be pulling both your bodies out of the water two miles downstream, if we ever found you at all!”
He takes off at top speed toward the house, and I have to hold on tightly to him or fall off the back.
He comes to an abrupt stop in his driveway, right behind Zack and Seth. The ambulance is just pulling in.
“Good timing, boys.” Josh’s mom and dad meet us as well, worry etched in their faces.
“I’m okay,” Seth assures them.
“You’ll be fine,” his grandma agrees, and kisses his head.
“How bad?” Josh’s dad asks.
“It’s broken,” Josh confirms. “But he’ll be okay.”
Sam Waters and his partner jump out of the ambulance and approach us. “Hey, guys.”
“Hey, Sam.” I offer him a shaky smile.
“We have to stop meeting under these circumstances, beautiful.” He winks at me and I flush.
“Thanks for all you did when the tree fell.”
“That’s my job.” Sam unfastens the straps on the stretcher that they’ve pulled out of the back of the ambulance. “Ready, Seth?”
“It’s gonna hurt again, huh?”
“Yeah, it is, but only for a minute. We’ll get you to the hospital fast, okay?”
The guys lift Seth onto the stretcher, strap him in, and load him into the ambulance. Zack climbs in with Sam as Sam’s partner climbs behind the driver’s seat.
“Are you coming, Josh?” Sam asks before he pulls the doors closed.
“Josh”—I grab his arm—“what do you need me to do?”
“You’ve done enough.” He still doesn’t look me in the eye. “I have to go take care of my family.”
And you’re not a part of it.
His response is a slap to the face. He climbs into the ambulance and they race out of the driveway to the highway.
“Cara,” Nancy murmurs, and takes my hand in hers, but I just stand and numbly watch the ambulance drive away.