Thom found us standing out there a few minutes later. “What do you think?” He asked quietly as he came up next to me and slid his free arm around my waist. I tugged him a little closer, to take some of the weight off of his ankle and onto me, and he obediently leaned against me.
“It looks like it’ll work?” Carolyn shrugged a little, sounding as unsure as I was. This was his area of expertise, not ours.
He nodded slightly. “The area below the clock tower would’ve been better, but the drainage isn’t great out there and it’s anyone’s guess whether that tower’s going to stay standing or not.”
“Oh! Oh, we didn’t tell you.” Carolyn looked at Thom and I, smiling. “When we went out to the Shakespeare garden the other day, we saw the clock tower was still standing.”
Thom frowned. “It was still standing the last time anyone saw it, it was just leaning at a thirty degree angle.”
“No, I mean straight up, ninety degrees from the ground.” She shook her head a little, still grinning. “It was pretty incredible. It looked pretty solid, but none of us have gone out to take another look. J.T. thought it must’ve been one of those last big earthquakes that shook it square—like maybe it was the ground that was crooked, not the tower.”
Thom and I exchanged a look and he shook his head a little. “This is better for now, anyhow,” he murmured, squinting out toward where Paul was herding the sheep with some help from Brandon, who was apparently learning the trade.
Good, at least it’ll give him something to do other than running around looking for something to do to help. “How long do you think it’s going to take?”
“Well, I didn’t really want to start until after we’d gotten the well dug, but since it’s been dry the past few days I was thinking that maybe I’d round up Rory and Davon and start marking where we want to run the heating tubes. If we get that done, we could start digging and getting things up inside of the next couple days.” He frowned a little. “I hate trusting the weather, but as long as it’s holding, we might as well take advantage.”
“I don’t like trusting it, either,” I admitted, then sighed and shrugged. “But we don’t have any way of reliably predicting it these days, right? Not that we could before this happened, but still.” I put my arm around his waist and squeezed gently, watching his face for traces of pain. He’d been regularly taking his pills since Jacqueline yelled at him about it, but that didn’t mean I trusted him entirely. He winced a little and looked down at me.
“Careful, I’ve got bruises there from getting tackled by your brother.”
I snorted softly even though my stomach did a complete 180 turn inside of my guts. That still didn’t feel right, still worried me. What the hell had happened while Matt was at that radio? It still didn’t make sense. If it had exploded in his face, it should have done more damage. Jacqueline and I had been trying to avoid talking about that, but every look she gave the both of us screamed it. She knew as well as I did that there was something more to that situation, something neither of us understood.
Drew had shown Kellin what happened, but if she had any insights based on her inspection of the ruined radio and burnt desk, she wasn’t sharing them yet. Probably because the problem with the wards had become all-consuming.
“The pills help with that, right?” I looked up at him, held his gaze for a moment until he smiled faintly and nodded.
“They help, yeah. But when you’re sticking your thumb right into the center of a bruise, Mar, they don’t help enough. It’s not like I’m numb and floating on a bed of clouds.”
Carolyn started to giggle. I choked on a laugh myself as I imagined Thom in a loincloth, stretched out on a puffy, cottony cloud surrounded by little cherubs. His abs contrasting with the baby fat chubbiness of those little Eros-like angels…
My face flamed and Thom shook me, looking between Carolyn and I. “Well…I’m glad that image gave you two a little fit of pleasure. Guess I’ve still got it.” He winked and me and I started to laugh, resisting the impulse to slap him in the stomach.
“Don’t be awful,” I told him.
“Only when you ask me to.” He squeezed me, then let go, leaning against his crutch. “I actually came out here to let you two know that Matt’s getting breakfast started. Chickens laid enough that there’ll be scrambies, I guess, and Tala said something about maybe frying up some of the smoked bacon, seeing how it turned out.”
Hot breakfast that isn’t oatmeal sounds amazing. “We’ll be right down to help.”
Thom nodded and stole a kiss from me before he started to limp back to the tents.
A gust of chilly wind blew past Carolyn and I as he headed back in. I shivered a little.
“He seems better,” she said.
I nodded. “He is better. Not one-hundred percent and not quite where I’d like him to be, but he’s much better.” I paused for a moment, then looked at her sidelong. “I’ll talk to J.T.”
She hugged me and nodded, tension draining from her body. “Thank you.”
I hugged her back, wishing and hoping that someday, I’d feel that same relief. Deep down, I knew that someday I would, but it was probably a very, very long time in coming.
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