Canto Twenty-Nine – In the Arms of an Angel
When Valerie awoke, she was no longer on the ground. Someone was carrying her and she had someone’s jacket wrapped tightly around her bare body. Someone was gently, tenderly lowering her into a bed loaded with comforter and quilts.
“Be careful of her head, Ray,” said an older woman. Valerie vaguely became aware that a young man or boy was holding her, and lowering her onto soft bedding. “How did you ever find her in such a condition?” The woman was Patricia Zeffer, Ray’s Mom. Valerie looked groggily up into the face of her rescuer. It was Ray.
“I found her in the alley behind Martin’s Bar and Grill,” Ray said with deep concern in his voice. “She was just lying there, completely nude and unconscious. Did you call someone?”
“I am going to in a minute. I will call the hospital in Belle City for advice. Then I’ll call the poor dear’s parents. I just needed to get a look at what’s wrong with her.”
“She’s awake,” said Ray, smiling down at her as he pulled a quilt over her.
“Oh, my poor, sweet girl,” said Mrs. Zeffer, “whatever happened to you?”
“I… I’m not entirely sure.” Valerie’s voice was shaky and soft, almost too quiet to hear.
“Did you see if she was bleeding anywhere?” Mrs. Zeffer asked Ray.
“She had some bloody scratches on her shoulder and back, maybe from an animal.”
“Are you in pain, dear?”
“No… I mean, only where the cat clawed me. It stings.”
“Why were you in the alley naked? Did something terrible happen?” It was obvious from the look on her motherly face that Mrs. Zeffer wasn’t too sure she should be asking this question.
“I… I don’t know. I was with Mary Philips and Pidney Breslow. I’m afraid they may be hurt worse than I am.”
“They didn’t hurt you, did they?” asked Ray.
“Of course not. Someone else…”
“Do you know who?”
“Mom, you better call the sheriff too. They will need to find Pid and Mary and make sure they’re all right.”
“Yes, yes, of course.” Mrs. Zeffer hustled out of the bedroom headed for the phone downstairs.
“Ray, um… you found me naked?”
“I’m sorry,” said Ray. “I could see you needed help. I put my jacket on you. I… um… didn’t look too hard.”
“Ah… it’s okay. You saved me. You and Barky Bill.”
“The Martins’ dog? He fought off your attacker?”
“Well, yes… kinda. I think he killed my attacker.”
“He did? I didn’t see anybody lying there in the alley.”
“Well, you wouldn’t have. It was a cat. I think the dog ate him.”
“You were attacked by a cat? Come on, you have to tell me the whole story.”
Valerie did. She filled Ray in on everything he probably didn’t already know.
“Wow, that’s really messed up,” said Ray. “The witchdoctor wants you as a virgin to sacrifice to the volcano, but the cat wanted to eat you?”
“That’s how I understood it.”
“I’m glad the cat didn’t eat you.”
“You… ah… Ray… can I ask you something?”
“Yes, Val. I can’t promise I know the answer, but you may always ask.”
“Thanks… uh, Ray… you saw me naked in the alley?”
Ray blushed and looked away from Valerie’s face. “Yes, I’m sorry.”
“You don’t have to be sorry… but… um… am I the first girl you ever saw naked?”
“I know you never had any sisters…”
“No, I didn’t, but…”
“I mean, it’s okay if I’m your first.”
“You aren’t. Mary didn’t tell you about me, huh?”
“Well, yes, but… I mean, no… well… what was she supposed to tell me?”
“About why I need friends now? Why she thought I needed to be a Norwall Pirate?”
“About why you are so sad all the time?”
“No, not really.”
“Well, you see… um, I have a girlfriend already.”
“You do? And you’ve seen her naked?”
“Um, yeah. You see, she’s pregnant.”
“She is? Who is she?”
“Carla Sears from Belle City. She’s the prettiest girl in my class.”
“And she’s gonna have a baby?”
“So, you’re gonna get married, then?”
“No. Her parents won’t allow it. They blame me for the whole mess… and I suppose they’re right.”
“She’s going to have the baby all by herself?”
“Well, that’s one of the things they are talking about… I mean…” Ray’s eyes were filled with tears.
“You mean they might…?”
All Ray seemed to be able to do was nod.
“Oh.” Valerie’s eyes began to gush tears too. “I’m so… sorry… I mean…ah…”
She reached up and put her arms around Ray’s neck. When she did, the quilt and the jacket fell away, revealing her naked self to him. She was past mere embarrassment, but she held on. He cried against her neck.
As he struggled for control of his emotions, she knew they had to talk about something else. Anything else. The walls around them were painted a warm, sunny yellow.
“This room is very pretty. Is it your room?”
“No,” he said simply. “It was my brother Bobby’s room.”
“The one that died before I was born.” Ray had enough control to pick up the fallen jacket and put it back around the naked girl. “I never knew him.”
“That’s sad too.”
“Yeah. And hard. I was the replacement child for Mom and Dad.”
“They knew if they had another child, especially a boy, that he could be a hemophiliac too, just like Bobby. But they took the chance anyway. They were heartbroken by his death, and well…”
“So, they had you.”
“They did. And now I’m…”
“You would be a great dad, Ray… if they… um…
“Yeah… but they won’t.”
Valerie squeezed him tightly. She was beginning to see things in a way she never had before. Ray was worthy of love.