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And finally, drumroll please! The next chapter in The Voice In The Forest
Her hands shook, the tremors running through her muscles from her head to her toes followed by goosebumps rising across her skin.
“I’m sorry, should I stop and call a doctor for you?” he asked, pausing in his attempts to clean out her wound.
“No, I’m fine.” She took a deep, shaking breath and focused back on him, trying to block from her mind any thoughts about the shadows in the corners, and shoved her fear that they were about to reach out and touch her into her toes.
“Just cold, I think I was outside too long.” Her words were hollow and there was a tinny ring in her ears.
Henry nodded and the disapproval left his eyes, although the concern stayed while he went back to scrubbing at the dirt caked into her hand.
“After I finish up here, I’ll have someone bring food to your room and build a fire in the grate there. The dining room would be too cold.” He smiled up at her before focusing again on his work on her palm.
“Thank you.” She wasn’t sure what else there was to say, how she was supposed to handle the next however many minutes she would still be under his ministrations.
“You know,” he said, as he peeked up at her through his lashes and bit his lip for a second before focusing back on his task and letting the end of his statement hang in the air.
Maybe she was even more out of practice with being around people than she thought she was, because she would have sworn he was acting more strange than moving shadows.
“Well, I don’t mean to speak out of turn.” His voice was back to rigid and formal, gone was even the low level of concern he had allowed it to show before.
“Henry,” she said, and he popped his face up to meet her eyes, “Please stop thinking of me as an extension of my mother or Trent. And I didn’t even know my grandmother.”
There was a smile playing at the corner of his mouth but he narrowed it into a line and nodded gravely.
“If you want to make me more comfortable in this house, if you want to be of service to me,” she said, giving the words of service the heaviest dose of sarcasm she could, “I want you to please stop being so formal and just pretend we’re…”
She swallowed at the look on his face, expectant and heavy like what she said next would carry with it some greater import than she had ever intended when she started speaking.
“Just pretend we’re friends.”
His smile was immediate and lit up his entire face. It took her a moment to recover after he went back to focusing on her hand. The last time a good looking man had smiled at her so willingly and so without judgement was far too long ago. It distracted her so much she missed what he said.
“I’m sorry, I was thinking about something and missed what you said.” Her voice was small, and it didn’t matter that she tried not to sound like she was lost, she heard it in her own voice. Any small missteps like that around her mother and she would find herself talking about it forever in that place. The shadows in the corners weren’t scarier than going back.
“Oh,” he said, looking up at her with that smile again, “If we’re going to be friends then, the thing that helps me the most when I get cold down to the bone is to take a hot bath or hot shower.”
“That’s a good idea, thank you.” She nodded, pretending that it wasn’t weird to think about taking a shower after the coffin like cubby she had used for the last year.
“Good, I’ll have someone bring up everything you’ll need to your bathroom. Do you want to eat first or get warm?” He grabbed a bandage next to him and paused, cocking his head to the side as he gently turned her hand in his.
“What is it? Do I need stitches?” Please, no stitches she wanted to beg. Her mother would love it if she needed to get stitches her first day back. That was not a conversation she wanted to even try and have.
“No, you don’t need stitches, but I was just thinking that I’m going to have to take back my suggestion.”
Henry’s face fell, his brows tugging together in the middle and the corners of his mouth turning down, but it didn’t matter how apologetic he looked, she didn’t understand what he was sorry for.
“Take back?” Even admitting she didn’t know what he meant for something so insignificant made her throat dry.
“Your hand,” he said, taping the last part of her bandage. “You really shouldn’t get this wet. So I think we’ll just build a bigger fire for you. Does that sound okay?”
She thought about being all alone in a bathroom for long enough to take a bath, for long enough to wonder if the dark corners would elongate and move toward her.
“I think that sounds great, actually,” she said, smiling and pretending a chill wasn’t running down her spine just thinking about it.
“Perfect.” He straightened up, keeping a hold of her hand as he tucked the things he used to bandage her up back into their case.
“You’re all done, and I will have the fire the and food taken care of in no time.” He smiled at her and patted her hand.
She smiled back and bit her lip, staring down at their clasped hands wondering if she had missed something that required her to be the one to make the move of pulling her hand back. Was that something that needed to be done by the person whose hand was trapped now? Because she was pretty sure that a year ago he would have been the one to let go.
He stood there grinning until he followed her gaze and dropped her hand with an “Oh.”
Arabella stepped back from him and smiled more completely then.
“Thank you, Henry. I mean it. It’s nice to have a friend here. I am tired though, so I’m going to my room now.” She dipped her head and left the kitchen, refusing the urge to look back toward the corner with the shadow in it.
Passing through the doorway out of the kitchen, was like passing through an electrical storm. Not the feeling of being in the middle of a wide open space where lightning could strike at any second, but what happened directly after the storm was gone.
She managed to find her way to the main entryway, not that she could have given someone directions or found her back to the kitchen if she tried, but it seemed as if all the halls and rooms of the house led toward the front door. The house itself was trying to shove everyone out the door.
But she was here, and she had no where else to go, so the house was going to have to put up with her for a while yet.
Upstairs was less maze like than the first story, and it made her wonder what the floor plan actually was. What were the roof lines like that allowed for such a long straight series of hallways for the bedrooms and such a labyrinth on the main floor?
Idle curiosity, her mother would call it. And maybe it was, but it had been a long time since she was curious in a way that was harmless, it made her smile and made her look forward to a quiet night in her room.
Grabbing the doorknob to her room, it turned in her hand and a scream rose in her mouth.
I hope you find some great books and great authors you like, and I hope this latest chapter of The Voice In The Forest kept you wondering what is going to happen next. Remember, if you missed a chapter you can find all the past ones here on the blog. It’s all here for you whenever you want to go back and read them again.