“Dovie … you’re … you’re slipper was on the door knob.”
I tried to pry my eyes open. When I finally got them a little higher than half-mast I could see Paulie was really scared. “Hey … don’t look like that. I’m just getting my just desserts for swimming with the crawdads.”
“You sure that’s all it is? You … you wouldn’t …”
“Lie to you about it? No Paulie. If I could get up I would but I feel like cra … uh … crud. I hate to ask but … but do you think if I explained it you could …”
Before I could finish there was a banging on the kitchen door. I pushed Paulie up and out of the way and was fumbling in the nightstand for the Glock when I heard Aunt Frankie, “Yoohoooo, kids, let Aunt Frankie in. I wanna check on Dovie. Jude said she’s running a fever.”
Paulie ran off before I could stop him and I nearly slid onto the floor trying to get organized before the woman followed her voice inside. I was looking behind her when she snorted, “Rochelle ain’t here. Woman down the road decided it was a fine time to give birth to what ‘Chellie thinks is twins or a baby with two heads. Husband came and got her a couple of hours ago … and you’re lucky or she might have followed me up here just to have the pleasure of lecturing you about falling in streams and then being more concerned with ripping a strip off the boys than in changing into something dry.”
I croaked, “She’d have to stand in line and wait some. I’ve been telling myself that since last night.”
She laughed, but only half in sympathy, and said, “So long as you know you’re an idiot you won’t likely repeat the mistake. Now let’s see … girl, you’ve got a fever all right.”
I kept my mouth shut but it was a near thing. There was just something about Aunt Frankie that tried to draw the worst in me out. I figured it was a lot like praying for wisdom or patience … basically, be careful what you pray for because God will send some testing so you can learn what you are asking for. At some point I know I’ve asked for God’s help to control my mouth … and Aunt Frankie is likely what God sent to exercise that self-control muscle I’m supposed to have so it could get strong. After all, if I can learn to keep my mouth shut around Aunt Frankie then I am good to go for just about any other situation life might throw at me. “Yes ma’am,” was my only reply.
She sighed. “I’m gonna take the youngin’s down to the house and feed ‘em. You stay here and take two more of these pills and drink before you dry up like the springs do during a long drought. They’ll eat, help me do a few chores – bound to be more help than those rascals down there now – and then by the time Jude gets back I’ll have some things ready for him to bring up here.”
“You don’t need to do that Aunt Frankie. I’ll be up and around pretty soon and I’ve got several ideas that …”
She looked at me and it was like she was still trying to decide something. “I do believe Roe is correct, you get more like Malissa every day.” She shook her head to clear it. “I’m needing to clear some space and make room. Gonna put all the kids up in the attic and move things around a little bit to free up a bedroom. My sister Twilla is moving in as her husband Martin got drafted.”
“Dr …dr … drafted? They started a draft?!”
“Don’t make yourself sick over it girl. Martin got caught by the medical draft is all and that’s been going on since the T-virus got so bad. They’re losing their house to the lender anyway. Martin’s daddy had put them in that house right after they got married but Martin turned idiot a few years back and took all the money back out of the house in a second loan after paying the first one off to expand his practice right before they started implementing health care laws. You’d think a man with a college education would have more sense. Now he’s going off to play war and my poor sister gets left with nothing but trouble. Your uncle said I could have her out and she said she’d come when I asked. She’s gonna help look after Reynolds though he ain’t near so bad now that he is through the worst of that withdrawal syndrome. He still manages to take on something terrible though sometimes which by way of saying that is me saying I need to get back to the house to make sure he ain’t tearing it down; Wendalene lets him do whatever he wants and leaves everyone else to clean up the mess. You stay in bed and drink that water or I’ll bring Rochelle up here and I don’t reckon you want that.”
Paulie stuck his head in the door and his eyes were still big and worried. “Dovie? Maybe I should stay.”
“No, I need you to go with the others to keep an eye on them. Mind Aunt Frankie and help where she needs it. Sooner you go, sooner you and the others get fed.” I gave him a look and he knew I meant that he and the others needed to mind their p’s and q’s and behave extra well.”
Aunt Frankie rolled her eyes. “She ain’t dying you know. Sooner we get back to the house, sooner you’ll be coming back here when Jude gets in.” That moved them.
I fell back to sleep without expecting to and then woke up with cotton in my mouth … or what felt like cotton I was just that dry. Technically it was my tongue but it felt and tasted like a piece of old carpet. I rolled over and reached for the glass of water sitting on the nightstand only I brushed a hand instead and jumped almost off the bed.
I heard a snort. “You can move when you want to.”
“Jude,” I croaked.
“Here, sit up and drink.”
“I’m trying. Go away … wait, what are you doing back so early?”
He snorted. “Early? It’s midafternoon.”
“Mid … ?”
I tried to say more but couldn’t or I would have drowned. Jude had the glass up to my lips and wasn’t taking no for an answer.