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Turbulence, p.9

Turbulence, page 9

 

Turbulence
 


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  The cabin, which was a small house by Dana’s standards, suddenly seemed extraordinarily tiny with the extra bodies. Now that their safety was assured, the formerly quiet group erupted into noisy conversation that seemed to make the walls reverberate.

  “That’s some storm,” Eddie said as he laid his socks over his tennis shoes to dry. “For a while there, I thought we weren’t going to make it.”

  “Me, too,” Pete confessed. “The rain is really coming down. I’m so glad we’re here and not stuck in the van.”

  “Or the plane,” Eddie said. “You must be a real ace of a pilot, Mr. Flynn.” The awe in his voice was unmistakable. “Where did you learn to fly like that?”

  “The Air Force. And call me Micky.”

  Eddie nodded. “You must have been a Top Gun.”

  “Sorry, kid. I flew cargo planes, not jets.”

  “Jets aren’t everything,” Eddie said, clearly loyal to his new hero. “Will you tell us what it was like? Being in the military, flying planes?”

  “Later,” Dana broke in. “After you’re dry.”

  Although they seemed disappointed by the delay, they didn’t argue. Instead the two teens hoisted their bags over their shoulders and disappeared through the kitchen.

  “Your fan club has two more members,” she observed as Micky stripped off his slicker.

  He shrugged, but the brief smile on his face belied his nonchalance. “It comes with the territory.”

  “I suppose so.” Firefighters, like pilots, collected their own share of young enthusiasts, but before she could comment further, another thump on the porch, much louder than the previous ones, startled her.

  “Jumpy, are we?” He grinned.

  “A little. At least we’re in here rather than out there. How hard would you say the wind is blowing?”

  “Fifty miles an hour. Give or take.”

  She thought of the rest of her Courage Bay colleagues and wondered if Nate had gotten back to town after delivering the baby. “If it’s bad here, I wonder what it’s like in Turning Point.”

  “Not much better, I’d guess. And like us, when the wind gets to these speeds, everyone hunkers down for the duration. No one goes anywhere for anything.”

  He fell silent and she already guessed at the reason. “Thinking of Sam?”

  “Yeah. I hope someone picked him up. I hate to think of him being stuck in my hangar all alone. If anything happens…”

  His concern was obvious, and Dana wanted to ease his mind and erase the wrinkle on his forehead. She patted his shoulder. “I’m sure Ruth sent someone after him. She’s probably used to worrying about her teenage boys and their friends, so she won’t let Sam fall through the cracks.”

  He sighed. “I know. She’ll see that he’s taken care of.”

  The wind’s howl grew louder and Dana shuddered. “When do you think the storm will pass?”

  “It’ll get worse before it gets better. We could see wind speeds of anywhere from seventy to over a hundred miles an hour. What’s outside is a breeze in comparison.”

  Some of her surprise must have shown on her face because he added, “Don’t worry. We’ll be as snug as a bug in a rug in this house. It was built to last.”

  The pride and confidence in his voice rang through loud and clear. She might take things like mud slides and earthquakes in stride, but not wind, so she mentally hung on to his assurances.

  “In the meantime,” he added, “we’d better get organized. I don’t know how long we’ll have electricity. I have a good supply of batteries, but to be safe, we’ll have to ration those.”

  “Food is first on the list.”

  “I’ll rustle up some grub,” he promised. “Do you need anything for these guys?”

  She glanced around the living room, where Josh and Will were resting. “A couple of pillows. I told Clay to take the bed in the other room. I hope you don’t mind.”

  He shook his head. “How about dry clothes?”

  “Everyone brought their own things,” she said as Pete and Eddie rejoined them. “They’re fine.”

  “Clothes for you,” he corrected. “You’re the one who’s soaked to the bone.”

  Now that he’d mentioned it, she realized her shirt and trousers were wet and she could feel her feet squish inside her boots.

  “And,” he added, “you should take care of your leg.”

  “As soon as I look after my patients.”

  “If you die of blood poisoning or tetanus, you won’t do us much good.”

  He’d turned her own words against her. “It takes a bit longer than twenty-four hours to succumb.”

  “You still should disinfect—”

  “Thanks for the advice, Dr. Flynn. I’ll get to it in a few minutes.”

  He shrugged. “Suit yourself. When you’re ready, though, help yourself to whatever you find in either bedroom. My sister, Courtney, won’t mind if you borrow her stuff, but she’s the shrimp of the family, so feel free to raid my dresser.”

  “Thanks.”

  “For now, there’s plenty of hot water if you want a shower.”

  A shower sounded heavenly, but she had too much to do before she tended to herself. With luck, the electricity wouldn’t go out for hours.

  While she removed her wet boots and socks, Micky addressed the group. “All right, guys. Listen up. No one goes outside for any reason unless I give the okay first. Period. I don’t intend on hunting anyone down in the storm because you thought the worst was over and decided to stretch your legs. Is that understood?”

  Dana doubted if his worry was warranted. Except for Eddie, everyone had suffered an injury of some sort, so she couldn’t imagine them straying all over the property on a lark. However, it didn’t hurt to lay down the rules.

  At their collective nods, he continued. “Stay in the inside rooms. When the wind gets worse, we’ll move into our safe room. If you want a shower, you have a two-minute time limit so there’s enough hot water to go around. Meanwhile, make yourselves at home. Enjoy the electricity while we have it.”

  “When can we eat?” Pete asked.

  Micky grinned. “Soon. Now, when the electricity goes, we won’t have water, so we need to fill as many buckets and pitchers as I can find. Eddie, since you’re the only other able-bodied fellow in this bunch, can you do that?”

  Eddie nodded. “Sure.”

  “I can help, too,” Pete said as he flexed his fingers and twisted his injured wrist.

  “Only after Dana gives you the official okay. Any questions?”

  The group fell quiet.

  “Then it’s settled. I’ll holler for y’all when lunch is served.”

  Clay and Will were comfortable, so Dana immobilized Pete’s wrist and gave him a sling. “It’s probably not broken, but better to be safe than sorry. If it’s only a sprain, you’ll have a head start on your recovery.”

  Josh’s injury was the opposite. He’d clearly torn something in his knee that she suspected only a surgeon could fix. She dug a pair of sharp scissors out of her kit and sent Pete after ice.

  “Do you have to cut my jeans?” the teenager asked again, as if she might have changed her mind.

  “I don’t know of any other way to slip them off,” she said kindly. “I can’t work on your knee otherwise and you can’t spend the next day or two in wet pants.”

  “They’ll dry soon.”

  She suspected that he wasn’t eager to undress in front of her. “Would you like Micky to help you when we get to that stage?”

  “Yeah,” he said as he avoided her gaze and a pink tinge crept across his face.

  Dana hid her smile at his discomfort and his obvious relief. “I’ll snip the seam so your mom can stitch it back together. Is that okay with you?”

  “Great.”

  The process took a lot longer than if she’d sliced through the fabric, but she’d promised. Eventually she exposed his knee and immobilized it once again with the bandages and splints she’d found in her case. “Keep the
ice on it for now,” she advised, placing the pack that Pete had supplied on Josh’s knee. “I’ll get Micky to give you a hand.”

  She wandered into the kitchen and found him dumping a container into a stock pot on the stove. It wasn’t unusual for her to see a man cooking—everyone at the fire station took turns. But it did feel odd to see Micky in a pair of athletic shorts and a T-shirt that stretched across well-defined shoulders. He had runners’ legs—long and muscular—and hard biceps. All of her colleagues in Courage Bay used the workout room at the station to stay in shape for the physical demands of their job, and she was used to seeing them in shorts and T-shirts. But somehow it felt different to see Micky in such a casual state.

  And her reaction to him was very different from her reaction to her colleagues. Whenever she stood within three feet of Micky, Dana could feel her spine tingle. And Micky had kissed her—a kiss with enough passion to knock her off her feet.

  “Is everything out there under control?” he asked.

  “More or less. What’s cooking, besides hot dogs?”

  “Frozen chili. My secret recipe.”

  “Let me guess. Five-alarm stuff, right?”

  “Is there any other kind? In case you’ve forgotten, you’re in—”

  She raised her hands. “I know. I’m in Texas. But I didn’t come to the kitchen to swap recipes. Josh has requested your presence.”

  At his raised eyebrow, she explained. “He can’t get his jeans off by himself and he isn’t wild about me doing the honors.”

  “Bashful, is he?”

  “He’s fourteen. What do you expect?”

  “Ah. I remember those days well.” He sighed dramatically. “Sort of like a pup growing into its feet.”

  Idly she wondered what he’d been like at that stage in his life. She couldn’t quite imagine him as gangly or bashful, although he must have been. She only saw him as he was now—early thirties, self-assured, handsome and all male.

  Her throat suddenly turned as dry as Death Valley.

  “Yeah, well, Josh needs a hand,” she said, directing her thoughts to something other than the man beside her. “I’ll watch the chili for you.” She edged herself next to the stove and grabbed the spoon out of his hand.

  Her skin tingled from the contact as if she’d been chopping jalapeño peppers. She let go, and the wooden spoon clattered to the stovetop, splattering the tomato base all over.

  “Damn,” she muttered. “Sorry for the mess. I’ll clean it up.”

  If he wondered why she’d suddenly turned into a klutz, he didn’t comment. Instead he tapped the rim of the stainless steel pot. “If you’re tempted to taste, then taste, but don’t add a thing. I’ll know if you do.”

  She responded to his warning with a “Yes, sir,” before she waved her hands at him in a shooing motion. “Go,” she ordered as she inhaled the spicy aroma. “Your culinary masterpiece is safe with me.”

  And even with a hurricane on the way, she felt completely safe with Micky.

  SAM STOOD BY THE WINDOW in the cafeteria just off the school’s gym and stared outside. It was getting darker and the trees were really bending. He and his friend, Luke Strecker, were betting on which tree would lose a branch first. He’d put his quarter on the elm right outside the window, since it had been struck by lightning last summer and part of the bark had blown off. Since the black scorch marks still showed, he was sure to win.

  Luke, on the other hand, had bet on the walnut tree across the street because it already had a dead branch. He’d gone to get a drink, but he’d agreed to take Sam’s word if something happened before he got back.

  Sam wasn’t really interested in the trees. He was watching for Micky and the trees gave him a good excuse to be waiting by the window.

  “What are you doing, Sam?” Luke’s mom moved in close beside him.

  “Watchin’ the trees. The wind’s really strong.”

  “Yes, it is.” She laid her hands on his shoulders. “And because I’m afraid the glass might break and hurt you, why don’t you go inside and play with the other kids? There are all sorts of board games—Monopoly, Sorry, Scrabble. If you prefer cards, I saw a few of your classmates playing Go Fish and Uno.”

  He stared longingly through the window. He was afraid if he stopped watching, Micky wouldn’t come at all. “I don’t know.”

  “Where’s your mom?”

  Sam hadn’t seen her since one of the sheriff’s deputies had dropped him off here a few hours ago. She’d yelled at him after the deputy had told her where he’d been, and then she’d gone to sit with the other ladies and told him to stay out of trouble.

  “Inside somewhere,” he said.

  “I see.” She paused. “Are you waiting for someone in particular?”

  He nodded. “Micky. He’ll be coming, you know. He promised.”

  “He may not get here before the storm,” she said gently. The wind’s mighty fierce. He may have had to stay in Alice. You wouldn’t want him trying to fly if it wasn’t safe, now, would you?”

  Sam hadn’t thought of that. Micky always preached at him about safety and taking risks. “No, ma’am. I surely wouldn’t.”

  “If he can fly, though, he will,” Mrs. Strecker said.

  Sam appreciated the way she didn’t try to talk him out of having faith in Micky. Luke was lucky to have a mom like her.

  “While you’re waiting,” she said, “why don’t you go and keep some of the other kids company? I know the younger ones need things to do so they don’t get frightened.”

  He thought a minute. He really would like to beat Susie Hathaway at Rummy, and he still owed Mr. Lofton a game of checkers.

  Sam rose. “Okay.”

  Mrs. Strecker patted his back. “Have fun.”

  Sam cast one more glance through the window and sent up a silent prayer, sure that God would hear it more clearly if it went through the window rather than the ceiling.

  Wherever Micky is, keep him safe.

  DANA STUCK A TEASPOON into the pot of chili for a sample. It didn’t look as if the concoction was anything special—just ordinary chili—but it had the right blend of seasonings and was spicy enough to give her taste buds a buzz. She would never have guessed that Micky could create something so delicious, but then, he was a man chock full of surprises. Appearances were deceiving.

  His attitude toward Sam was another surprise. She would never have guessed that a man who seemed to have a free and easy attitude with women would be so concerned about an eleven-year-old boy. She wondered what else she would discover about him over the next few hours.

  He sauntered in. “How’s lunch coming along?”

  “Fine,” she said. “What else can I do?”

  He grabbed the wooden spoon out of her hand. “Take care of yourself before you get pneumonia. And don’t forget to disinfect that cut.”

  With her charges comfortable for the moment, it was her turn now. “I will. Did any of the boys clean up?”

  He snorted. “They are boys. And not just any boys, but Boy Scouts. On top of that, they’re hardy—”

  She held up her hands. “Texas kids. Yes, I know. Forget I asked.”

  He grinned. “So the shower’s yours. If you need any help, I’m available.”

  “I think I can manage,” she said wryly.

  “Too bad.” His dejection might have been convincing if the twinkle in his eyes hadn’t ruined the effect. “Josh will give me a good reference, if you need one.”

  She laughed. “I’m sure he would. Your chili is good, by the way.”

  “Good?” He clutched his chest melodramatically. “Just good? I’ll have you know that I’ve won prizes for my chili.”

  Eddie suddenly appeared in the doorway. “Is the food ready yet?”

  “We’ll eat as soon as Dana cleans up,” Micky promised him before he faced her. “You’d better hurry because I don’t know how long I can hold off the hungry hordes.”

  “Give me five minutes.”

  He turned to
Eddie. “Which means twenty.”

  Eddie agreed. “You’d better save her a bowl.”

  “We’ll wait,” Micky decreed as he winked at the boy. “Maybe knowing that we’re gnawing on the furniture will help her to shift into high gear.”

  Eddie laughed. “I hope so.”

  Determined to prove them wrong, Dana hurried into the bedroom that his sister claimed as her own, and looked for something suitable to wear. Micky had been right. None of the clothes in the drawer or closet would fit. She slipped into Micky’s room, careful not to disturb Clay, and removed a pair of Micky’s sweat pants and a T-shirt sporting a faded Texas A&M logo from the dresser.

  After a trip to the bathroom to disinfect the gash on her leg, then shower and wash her hair, she slipped on his clothes.

  Immediately, his essence surrounded her, as if he were holding her in his arms the way he had at the side of the road. Wearing his things was almost as comforting as being held by him.

  She borrowed his comb and hoped that he wouldn’t mind. Deciding to skip the braid so her hair would dry on its own, she returned to the kitchen and found the group, including Clay, already seated and looking positively ravenous.

  “I wish I had a camera,” she commented. “You guys remind me of a bunch of wolves eyeing dinner.”

  “That’s ’cause we’re starving,” Eddie said.

  Micky glanced at his watch. “Seven minutes. I’m impressed.”

  “You should be.” She pointed to the pot in the middle of the table. “Dig in, guys.”

  No one needed a second urging. Micky ladled out generous helpings of his chili while Dana forked over hot dogs to those who wanted them. Micky didn’t have any buns and the bread in his freezer was a little dried out, but no one cared. Smothered in chili, the hot dogs filled empty stomachs, and that was all that mattered.

  By the time everyone had eaten their fill, the pots were empty and not a crumb remained in sight. If it weren’t for the wind’s howl, this would almost have seemed like one of Dana’s extended-family picnics.

  At least it did until a loud clap of thunder caught everyone’s attention and reminded them that the danger had not passed. “Take care of any last-minute personal business,” Micky said calmly, “then grab your gear and head for the game room.”

 
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