After two days of working non-stop and sleeping on the nursery roof, Boss Gage assigned me to water duty. He said he didn’t want my stink to contaminate the nursery before the consulate arrived for their inspection.
All day, through the heat and the sun, I hauled cart after cart full of water barrels between the river near the edge of the city and the nursery. Carting the water was heavy work, but the physicality of the job kept my mind from wandering. I found that I could lose myself in my work to prevent me from sobbing. But at night, when the work was done, my thoughts reverted back to pappy and I would find myself in tears as I fell asleep.
The consulate was supposed to be at the nursery in the afternoon. Boss Gage was on and pins and needles as he barked orders to all the workers in preparation for inspection. It’s not that the nursery wasn’t in decent shape, but everyone knew Gage wanted to join the consulate. If he were able to impress them during the inspection, his chances of moving up in the ranks of humans would improve.
The nursery without Boss Gage would be a better place, but the consulate would find another person to replace him. Knowing my luck, that person would turn out to be worse than Gage.
Sweat fell from my brow as I neared the river’s edge. The cart’s wheels squeaked as I park it as close to the river as I possibly could. I had to carry the water barrels from the side of the road and down a steep embankment to reach the flowing water.
It took over an hour to fill all the barrels and load them back onto the cart. The sun was hot, and I felt the beginnings of a heat stroke trying to take hold of me. It was a little after midday. My hair stuck to the sides of my face with sweat and grime.
I had s some spare time to wash up in the river before I returned to the nursery. Boss Gage would be mad if he found out, but the worst he could do was report to the consulate. At that point, I wouldn’t care if they cast me from the city.
Val should be back to work in two days. She had sent word through one of the workers that live in her apartment building that her leg was almost healed. I should have been elated that she was better and able to return to work, but I wasn’t.
With Val’s return, I would have no reason to stay at the nursery. I would have to return home. I was not ready to face the empty apartment. Not yet.
The water was cool against my skin. My undergarments clung to me as I waded out until the water reached my chest. Sinking under the flowing current, I let the water wash away the grime and stink of the past few days. My body was clean, but my clothes were a different story. I was hesitant to wash them in the river before leaving. They would have to sit in the sun for a while to dry and I didn’t have that much time.
After wringing out my hair and pulling my clothes back on, I grabbed the handle of the cart and started the trek back to the nursery. The day seemed to get hotter in the afternoon. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky that would offer a reprieve from the sun’s heat.
Even after the quick dip in the river, I still had the symptoms of an impending heat stroke. The lack of sweat in the heat worried me, but there was nothing I could do about it. My legs ached, and my heart beat quicker than it should as I neared the nursery.
Outside the doors of the nursery were a large group of people dressed in different shades of blue (the official color of the consulate robes). They had finally arrived for their inspection.
The cart’s wheels squeaked as I pulled it towards the side of the nursery where the water storage area was located. I was close to making it to the storage area when I started to feel dizzy. The world surrounding me spun and turned on end. I dropped the handle of the cart and the barrels of water spilled drenching the ground around me.
I fell and landed hard on my knees. Someone’s hands reached out and grabbed me. A man with chestnut hair and amber eyes called out to me as he pulled me up into his arms. His voice sounded familiar, but I couldn’t place it. My stomach churned, and nausea ran through me. I vomited a viscous yellow liquid, the taste of stomach acid in my mouth.
The man holding me didn’t flinch as he carried me inside the nursery with my vomit down the front of his robe. The nursery walls provided little relief for the heat eating away my insides. I felt like I would burst into flames at any moment.
The man holding me changed form right before my eyes. His hands became rough as he tore at my clothes. I pushed him away while silently screaming. My throat was raw, and words still would not come out.
I wanted nothing more than the heat to go away. His touch was like fire against my skin. I pushed and kicked at him as he used his strength against me. My clothes were gone, and my undergarments were the only thing covering my nakedness.
The smell of lavender and pine hit my nose and I was transported back to the night pappy died. I cried but no tears fell.
My eyes burned, and my body ached. I couldn’t push away the hands that held me. My strength failed, and my body stopped fighting against my assailant.
I fell limp in his arms as unconsciousness consumed me.
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