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Unforgiven : Chapter 1

 Unforgiven
 by Elizabeth Finn

Chapter One
Now
Her hand hurt like bloody hell. Bloody . . . not just a British expression. She was bloody. The towel that was likely dirty with dog shit and piss was doing little to slow the steady seep of blood from the gash on the side of her hand. The waiting room was quiet, but then, it was Savoy, Arkansas, on a Thursday night. A population of 3,500 or so odd folk didn’t much support a bustling emergency room, but seeing it was the only one for almost two hours in any direction also meant it was a well-visited establishment—apparently just not on Thursday nights. Didn’t mean she hadn’t been waiting for well over an hour. People were starting to stare. The blood had soaked through the towel enough that she was frightening the few other folk who sat in the waiting room. Blood was a horrifying thing after all. She could be fixin’ to bleed the plague all over them for all they knew.
“Bailey Trent.” The older woman standing at the door looked around the room, settling her gaze on a young man with a rag held to his forehead.
“I’m Bailey.” She held her hand up as she stood and approached the woman.
“Sorry, dear. Thought it was a man’s name.” She looked at Bailey with genial amusement.
“Get that a lot, but I got boobs and everything. . .” Her voice died away on a nervous chuckle. She never had been good at acting normal when she was nervous.
The woman smiled and almost burst into laughter as Bailey’s cheeks burned. “Ready?”
Of course she was ready. The blood was about two seconds away from dripping from the nearly saturated towel that was wound around her hand. Didn’t mean she was looking forward to it. “Yep.”
“Sorry for the wait. We only have two docs on staff tonight, and they’ve both been tied up. Traffic accident over near the big bend on Highway 45. A few casualties.”
“It’s no problem.”
They were walking slowly toward one of the small exam rooms, and Bailey’s heart was starting to flutter in nervousness. She didn’t enjoy hospitals, not that anyone did, and this trip likely meant sutures. That meant needles. She could do without those too. The moment they passed into the room, the nurse indicated a small table and chair, much like the one she used to sit in at grade school. There was a swivel stool on casters sitting near it.
“So, tell me what happened.”
“Dog food can lid. Just sliced clean into me.”
“Your tetanus up-to-date?”
“Good question, and I haven’t a clue.”
“That means no to me, dear. Let’s have a look, shall we?” The nurse slipped on a pair of latex gloves, and after she moved the swivel stool into place, she sat facing Bailey. She slowly unwrapped the towel from Bailey’s hand as Bailey winced. The moment the towel was pulled away, the laceration went from being barely discernable to a crimson line to a weeping gash running up the top of her hand from between her thumb and her first finger to nearly her wrist. “Well, well, now that’s how you do a cut, ’idn’t it?” She smiled tenderly at Bailey, and Bailey couldn’t help but smile back—one of the few smiles she’d had recently. The woman just had the odd gift of putting her at ease.
“Stitches?” Bailey could feel her face muscles scrunching at nothing more than the idea flitting through her mind.
“Not up to me. That’s for the doctor to say. But . . . I wouldn’t hold out much hope of getting away without any.” The lady had a southern drawl, as did most of the folk around their Ozark Mountain town. It was an odd mix of people for sure. A lot of people came to the area to vacation during the warm months, and still others migrated southward to their forested and hilly world in their retirement years. Then there were the locals. Nurse Lady sounded like a local, but Bailey didn’t recognize her. Course, Bailey had been local since she was five, and she’d adopted something of a southern twang herself, so who was she to complain. But the locals worried her. They knew things. They had memories; memories Bailey wished didn’t exist.
“Well, maybe they can just glue it closed—Band-Aids, you ’spose?”
The nurse just chuckled at her but didn’t respond. Bailey wasn’t holding much hope given the humoring response nurse lady had given her. She stood. “I’m Marie, by the way. Let’s get this rinsed up, so we can see what we got.”
Ten minutes later and Nurse Marie had flushed the slice, pulling back gently on one side of the laceration to open up the cut and rinse the deep flap of skin that was filleted open. That left Bailey cursing under her breath, but the woman took her f**k in stride. She wrapped it tightly with a thick patch of gauze and bandages.
“See, good as new. Don’t even think I need to see the doctor.” That
earned Bailey another chuckle.
When Marie stood, she smiled at Bailey again. “Doc’ll be in soon. They’re playin’ catch up, but I don’t ’spect it’ll be much longer now.”
Then Bailey was alone. She’d borrowed her coworker’s cell phone when the sweet gal had offered to drive her to the hospital. She’d called her mom, wondering the moment she heard the worry in her voice why she’d thought it was a good idea.
“What do you mean you cut your hand open?” Her mother’s voice had been shrill. She was just entirely too good at worrying about her. She was too damn old for the constant concern, but she had it whether she wanted it or not.
“It’s nothin’. Just gonna get a few stitches, and then I’ll be good to go.”
“Maybe I should come down there.”
“No. I’ll call when I’m done, and you can pick me up, but you don’t just need to sit with me. Try not to worry, all right? Please?” It was impossible. The woman would worry about Bailey until she was in her grave.
“Fine. But you call me as soon as you’re done.” The things that woman said that fell into the absolute duh pile were astounding.
“I know, Mom. You know, I’m twenty-seven. I actually can handle this.”
“I know. You’ve just been through so much, and I just . . . well, I worry is all.”
“I love ya, Mom. I’ll talk to ya in a while.” Bailey had disconnected quickly after that, and her sweet coworker had just eyed her. The look suggested she was starting to get concerned Bailey might make a mess in her car.
Now the fear of making a mess was gone, and she really was wondering why she was still here. Nurse Marie had stopped the bleeding; what more was there to do? She’d twiddle her thumbs if one weren’t wrapped up to the point of cutting the circulation off.
It had to have been a good thirty minutes later before she heard anything at all, and it was when she heard a flurry of movement outside her door that she straightened her posture and peeled her eyes from their place on the floor in front of her. She heard a man’s voice before the door had even been pushed open. “Sorry to keep you waiting. . . Ms. . . Ms. . .” All she could see of the man was the top of his head as he pushed the door open while scanning the chart in his hand, and when his eyes lit presumably on her name, he froze. His focus snapped up to her, and she took in the wide eyes before her brain even had a chance to register the face those eyes belonged to.
“Darren. . .”
He just stared. His mouth was open, his eyes still wide and shocked, and he held the door back, refusing to fully enter the room or let the door close behind him. But as she watched, feeling her heart start to hammer and her ears start to buzz, he regained his composure. He closed his mouth, letting his jaw clench tight. He took a step closer, allowing the door to slowly close behind him, and he finally pulled his glare from her to settle on a spot over her shoulder. He shook his head slightly as his nostrils flared.
“I’d heard. . .” He trailed off as he shook his head again.
Bailey was struggling to even breathe as she stared at his chest. The emotion boiling up inside her guts threatened to make her puke. She could feel the bile trying to get into her mouth, and the tears threatening her were owed as much to the panic she felt as the long-buried memories this man incited. This could not be happening. Luck was a bitch named Darren Cory with his dark, neatly trimmed hair and his equally dark eyes that said he hated her guts even though his words had been few.
“I didn’t realize you worked in the ER.” She could barely hear her own voice.
“Why would you? You’ve been gone for how long now?”
“Almost six years, but I’ve been back—”
“That was rhetorical. You can’t possibly think I care.”
She said nothing as he watched her. Of course she didn’t think he cared, but he had once.
He held his dark, harsh glare on her for an uncomfortable length of time. She was nearly ready to flee until the door was suddenly pushed open, and sweet Nurse Marie peaked in, “Doctor Cory, Doctor Sheehan says he’s caught up now. If you need him to take over here so you can leave for the evening, he can.” She waited patiently as Darren said nothing.
He looked back to Bailey for a moment, but she couldn’t seem to lift her gaze up from his chest. She didn’t need to see his eyes to know he was still glaring. When he turned back to Marie, his voice was far lighter than it had been when he’d spoken to Bailey, but then, he likely didn’t find Marie reprehensible. “Oh, that’s not necessary. I think I’ll enjoy torturing Ms. Trent.”

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