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Lily squirmed under the covers, pulling at them with her fingers and tossing to-and-fro. He’d touched her, and she could still feel the heat of his arm on her skin. How silly was that? She was thirsty again, but too tired to move. She wished Wyatt would ask her for a date. Did that make her a bad person? She was confused about that part in the Bible. It didn’t say anything about dating in there, only betrothal. Was dating wrong? She shook her head, rubbing her hair against the hospital pillow. She would ask the pastor on Sunday. Wait a minute, she was in the hospital, and she wouldn’t make it out for church. Suddenly, all the anguish and frustration she’d been feeling for months overcame her and she screamed. “I can’t take it anymore!”
All three people sleeping in the room jumped. “What’s going on?” Nan asked. She ran to Lily’s side because she was thrashing and screaming bloody-murder.
“Calm down, sugar, what’s wrong?”
“I can’t take it anymore, Nan. I can’t stay in one story long enough to enjoy it. I dreamed that Wyatt touched my arm, and I could feel it. But then I woke up in this hospital bed and realized it was all a dream.” She sobbed loudly.
“It was real.” Wyatt came to the side of the bed and touched her hand. “When I woke up you were in the bathroom. I helped you back to bed and got you a cup of water.”
Lily gasped. “It was real?”
“Yes it was. You need to get back in bed Lily. They’ll be coming to get you for surgery soon.” He brushed the hair out of her face.
“Okay.” She immediately snuggled under the blanket as if she hadn’t just screamed the house down.
A nurse ran into the room. “What’s going on?”
“She woke up screaming.” Wyatt said.
“That’s impossible. We have monitors on in the nurse’s station, and her vitals haven’t changed.”
“That must be why you didn’t come when she woke up earlier. I was going to come tell you but I was so tired it slipped my mind.”
“Yeah, it was so unexpected I didn’t even think about it.” Willie said. He was rubbing his eyes tiredly.
The nurse went over and took Lily’s vitals. “They haven’t changed. This woman is in a coma. She didn’t do any screaming. If you cause this kind of ruckus again I’ll have to ask you to leave.”
They exchanged questioning looks. Nan shrugged her shoulders and said to the nurse, “Could we talk to Dr. Wilkes, please?”
“Why haven’t they come for Lily yet? If her surgery is at six shouldn’t they be prepping her?” Willie asked.
“Her surgery is postponed until this afternoon.”
“Why? And why weren’t we informed?” Nan asked.
“I don’t have a clue. It was on my schedule when I clocked in an hour ago.”
“I wonder what’s up with that. Could we talk to Dr. Wilkes?” Wyatt asked.
Wyatt looked at his watch in irritation. He had to go to work; at least check-in and see how John Wayne was doing, but he didn’t want to leave before Lily went into surgery.
It was funny how his life had changed so dramatically in the last few hours. The day before yesterday Lily Tompkins had been the woman he’d had a crush on for years. Today she was in a hospital bed fighting for her life, and almost his girlfriend. He breathed in deeply at this thought. It was dangerous to fall in love with someone who may die, but he was powerless to fight the pull of attraction. She was so beautiful, and intelligent. He wanted to see the humor Nan had told him about. He loved her smile and yearned to hear more laughter like he’d heard when Willie was tickling her last night. Was that just last night? It seemed so long ago. The sound of Nan’s voice pulled him out of his thoughts.
“Hey, are you okay?” She touched him lightly on the shoulder.
“Yeah, I was just thinking about some things. I hate to leave, but I have to check in at work and make sure John Wayne is doing okay.”
“That’s my deputy, Brad Jones.”
Nan laughed softly. “Why do you call him John Wayne?”
“He loves old John Wayne movies and tries to copy his slow drawl and the way he walks. It’s hilarious. I called him that one day and it just stuck. He doesn’t seem to mind.”
“You go and check in. I’ll stay here with Lily. Willie has to leave for a bit too. I don’t know if you knew, but he has his own store over in Richfield. He calls it Shop and carry.”
“I didn’t know that. Is it a convenience store?”
“Yep, he carries everything from gas to bait.”
Wyatt laughed. “You seem to know an awful lot about it.”
“He’s my best friend’s brother and she talks about it all the time.”
“Oh, I see.”
“Sheriff, everybody knows I like Billy Barbour.”
“You may like looking at Billy Barbour, but you’re hung up on Willie Tompkins.” He whispered as he walked out the door. “Tell Lily I love her if she’s awake and they take her to surgery before I get back.”
Nan colored at his words but said, “I will sheriff.”
“What was that all about?” Willie asked when he finished talking to the nurse.
“Wyatt has to check in at work and he wanted me to give Lily a message if she wakes up and they take her to surgery before he gets back.”
“What was the message?”
“That he loves her.”
“Willie’s mouth dropped open and Nan laughed. “Oh come on. Don’t tell me it surprises you. The way he looks at her is proof enough.”
“It is, but it’s way soon to be telling her something like that.”
“She’s having surgery, Will. She may not come out of it, or worse.”
“What could be worse than dying?”
“Living as a vegetable would be so much worse. We’ve talked about it before and she said if something ever happened that she was comatose she didn’t want to be kept alive.”
“Did she put it in her will?”
“I don’t know. I don’t want to think about it right now. Let’s try to concentrate on good thoughts.”
“I agree. I have to go check in at the store. I’ll be back in an hour or so. Do you need anything?”
“I could use some real food, and a soda.”
“Your wish is my command.” He gave her a long look that was conveying something, she just wasn’t sure what.
“Thanks Willie, I appreciate it.”
“It’s no problem, Nan, you’re family.”
Nan’s heart sank. She must’ve imagined something into the look he’d given her that wasn’t there. She was just family. Oh well, there was always Billy Barbour. She needed to call and let him know she wasn’t opening up today. It wouldn’t be nice to let him show up and wait on her if she wasn’t going to be there. She looked at her watch. 6:35 a.m. Way too early to call his house. She would lie down and try to get some sleep. She pushed the recliner back and closed her eyes, but her mind was spinning a hundred miles an hour, to a time long ago:
“Hey Nathanielena, sit up in that chair.”
“Nobody calls me that ugly name.” Nan returned belligerently, trying to look cool while wiping spit from the corners of her mouth. She’d been sleeping off a buzz during the lunch hour and didn’t appreciate some powder waking her up.
“I just did.” Nan looked into defiant and determined gray eyes.
“Yeah, who are you?”
“I’m your worst nightmare, girl.”
“Pu-lease, don’t try that ancient line with me. Do you know who you’re messing with?”
“Yes I do. I’m talking to a messed up teenage girl whose dug in way too deep for her own good, and I’m gonna help her out of the hole she’s created.”
Nan made a noise of condescension. “Go on about your business, snob. I’m busy.” She laid her head back on the table.
Lily walked over and pounded the table, causing Nan’s head to slap it a couple times. “I said get up.”
Gasps were heard throughout the lunchroom. Nobody had ever talked to Nan that way. She was the biggest, meanest girl in school.
She stood up, towering over the pretty blonde girl. “I’m up, now what?”
“Come on, let’s go to the bathroom and get your face washed and your hair combed.”
“I know you’re playing, sugar. I’m not following you anywhere.”
“Yes you are.”
“Why would I do that?”
“Because you’re curious about a small white girl who has the guts to stand up to you and you want to know why she cares.”
Nan looked at her, giving her the most menacing look she could muster, but the petite blonde stood there with her arms crossed in a stubborn, belligerent pose, so she followed her.
“Lead the way, sugar.”
“I was right, wasn’t I?” Lily had smiled, turned and pulled Nan along with one arm hooked through hers.
“You got some guts, sugar, that’s all I’m saying.”
“I know I do. I get it from my dad.”
“Why haven’t I seen you around here?”
“I don’t know, especially since we shared the same teacher all through elementary, and most through middle school.”
“You’re just trying to yank my chain, aren’t you? No one wants anything to do with me. This is some kind of sadistic prank, isn’t it?”
“Nope, I want to be your friend. It’s that simple.”
“Why did you choose me? There are hundreds of kids in this school.”
“You need me.”
With those words, Nan almost burst into tears. The truth hit home and she swallowed convulsively to keep this strong girl from seeing her tears. She rushed ahead, slamming the girls’ bathroom door as hard as she could. It slammed against the wall, hitting the palms of Lily’s hands as she put them up to catch it.
When Lily entered, Nan spun around, got in her face and screamed, “I don’t need anybody!”
“Yes you do.” Lily didn’t raise her voice. She didn’t get angry. She walked up to Nan and hugged her. Nan tried to jerk away but the little blond was much stronger than she’d imagined.
“Let me go you crazy person!” Nan yelled, pushing at Lily’s arms. They were locked tight and not letting go.
“Why are you doing this?”
“Someone needs to love you Nan. Let it be me. I’ll be your friend forever, and you’ll always have someone to go to when you’re sad, and someone to celebrate with when you’re happy.”
“I’m never happy. Just leave me alone. Go find some other charity case to push your friendship on.”
“Nope, I was led to you and that’s where I’m stopping.”
The words sounded creepy, so she looked the smaller girl in the face. “What are you talking about?”
“I was walking out of the lunch room when I got the distinct impression that I should say something to you, offer you friendship.”
“Maybe you’re schizophrenic or something.”
“Why don’t you stop trying to seem so mean? You’re not, and I know it.”
“How do you know?”
“I see it in your eyes.”
“Are you some kind of mind reader, or something?” Nan asked in disgust.
“No, I don’t read minds.”
“What’s your deal then?”
“Why can’t you believe I just want to be your friend?”
“Why, no one else does.”
“I don’t think that’s true. I think people are afraid of you.”
“They better be.”
“Stop it. Your scare tactics don’t impress me.” Someone tried to come in the door and Lily ran over and stuck her sneaker up against it to keep it closed. “We’re having a private discussion in here. Come back later, or go to the other bathroom.”
Footsteps stomped down the hall and Lily returned her attention to Nan. “We are going to be friends, get used to the idea. My name is Lily Tompkins.” She reached out and grabbed one of Nan’s hands and shook it firmly. “Remember that name because it belongs to your best friend.”
“Has anyone ever told you you’re annoying?”
“My twin brother tells me that all the time, but I know he’d be lost without me.”
Nan shook her hand willingly and said, “I believe it. You already know my name.”
“Yep, I’ve known it since elementary and I’ve always remembered it because it’s so pretty.”
“You’re kidding me, right? Who would name their little girl Nathanielena?”
“Your parents did.”
“They must’ve hated me.”
“I think they loved you very much and wanted to give you an unusual name.”
“They accomplished their goal.”
“I like it, but I think I’ll call you Nan. Not because you told me to, but because I choose to. You’re beautiful, you know.”
“I don’t think so. The guys don’t, either.”
“The guys are probably scared of you.”
Nan laughed and they left the bathroom, arm-in-arm. They’d been friends ever since.
Nan lay in the chair, sleepless, tears streaming down her face. “Dear Lord, please don’t take my best friend.”