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When the Captain Came Calling… Canto 29

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?”

“Well, I…”

“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?”

“Yes.”

“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?”

“Yes.” 

“Your baby?”

“Yes.”

“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.”

“Your brother?”

“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.”

“Replacement child?”

“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.

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When the Captain Came Calling… Canto 6

Canto Six – Bacon and Eggs

Mom had breakfast ready and on the table.  Eggs and bacon on stoneware plates, one for Val and one for Daddy Kyle.  She was a great cook and loved to stuff her small family with what she made.   That was probably the reason she was watching over a second pan-full of sizzling bacon.

“Your father isn’t ready yet?” asked Mom, left eyebrow raised.

“Oh, he had to change his pants again for some reason.”

“That man can find more excuses for dragging his feet than…”

“Mom?  Is something the matter with Daddy?”

“What do you mean?”

“Last night I thought he was crying in the machine shed.”

“Well, you know your Daddy Kyle.  He loves his machinery, and that big old combine is broken down again.”

“It shouldn’t be.  It’s only two years old.”

Mom looked at her with unreadable eyes.  Was she mad?  Sad?  What?

“He says he can fix it.  He says the problem is just mechanical and you know how handy he is with tools.”

“Sure.”  He did love that combine.  Maybe that was what made him sad.   He loved Valerie and he was always sad when she was sick too.

Valerie gobbled eggs and bacon.  It was good, but even better eaten fast so you could enjoy those bacon burps for the next half hour.

“You eat like you’re starving.  I wish I could eat like that, Val, and stay as thin as you do.”

“Mom, I’m only eleven.   I’m not supposed to be a fatty at my age.”

“I thought you were ten, dear.   Where does the time go?”

Valerie was still thinking about yesterday, the holiday Monday… and why did so many people have to feel sad?

“Do you know what makes Ray Zeffer so sad, Mom?”

“Ray Zeffer?  What brings that up?”

“He and Danny Murphy walked me all the way home last night from town.  He’s such a gentleman.  But he always seems sad.”

“Well, I would guess that losing your father the way he did, such a short time ago… well, it might have something to do with it.  I know his mother, Donna Zeffer, is sad a lot too.”

“Yeah, I suppose.”

“And there was a brother that died… older brother…  Bobby, I think.  His family has been through a lot.”

Valerie buttered a piece of toast and then sipped her milk from the mug that Grandpa Larry had given her years ago.  The mug had a big red heart on the side of it.

“I didn’t know about the brother.  Younger or older?”

“Definitely older.  More than ten years ago.”

“What was more than ten years ago?” asked Daddy Kyle as he came in to breakfast.

“Valerie was wondering about Ray Zeffer because he and the Murphy boy walked her home from town last night.  How long ago did Bobby Zeffer die, Kyle?”

“Oh, at least sixteen years ago.  But what’s this about boys walking Valerie home last night?”

Uh-oh.  Dad radar had picked up a boy-alert… a potential boyfriend/trouble/rock salt alert.

“Danny and Ray were just being gentlemen,” said Valerie.  “They wanted to make sure I got home safe.”

“And they didn’t have anything but your safety on their little minds?” Kyle asked with a skeptical smirk.

“I suppose now you want to shoot Ray?” asked Valerie.

“Who said anything about shooting Ray?” asked Mom.

“Dad did.  He wanted to shoot Pidney and Danny last night, and now he wants to shoot Ray!”

“Kyle!”  Mom’s scolding stare could wither flowers that were otherwise in full bloom.

“I was just kidding around!” said Daddy in a defensive voice that sounded a lot like a little boy who’d been caught pulling his sister’s hair.  “I wouldn’t really shoot anybody…  It’s a dad thing.”

“I’m sure it is,” said Mom.  “But let’s not joke about that anymore.”

“Yes, ma’am.”  He was thoroughly chastised, and Valerie marveled at how Mom could make him so instantly repentant, like a Baptist preacher preaching Hellfire or something.

“The bus is here, Princess,” said Daddy Kyle while peering out the window. And it really was.  Valerie had to hustle.  The old yellow bus driven by Milo Volker was waiting at the end of the Clarkes’ lane, and he wouldn’t linger if she didn’t show up fast.  Still, it made her grin to see the look of relief on her Daddy’s face as he realized the dangerous conversation was at an end.

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