I wiped Gabriel’s sweaty forehead with a cool cloth as the doctor prepared to perform a life saving intervention. A portion of his intestines poked out from the gaping wound. I looked away. My old labrador once had his gut ripped open by a wild boar and my father was able to save his life. Gabriel was strong and passionate. He would survive. He had to.
“You will survive this, my love,” I said softly. “I love you.”
I took his hand and he squeezed it weakly. He was drifting away into unconsciousness, but the set of his jaw told me that he was determined to fight.
Jeremiah stood by us shifting uncomfortably. “That was mighty bad luck, Gabby, but you’ll pull through this. We gotta still do our hunting trip to The Ozarks.”
I swallowed past the lump in my throat and held Gabriel’s hand tighter.
“Do you have morphine?” I whispered to the doctor as he washed his hands.
He shook his head. “I save that for amputations. Hold him down. I need to clean that wound before infection sets in. Then I’ll stitch him up.”
Jeremiah and I held down my groaning, pleading husband as the doctor ruthlessly cleaned out the wound. My distress for his discomfort evolved into anger. Something was out to get me and those whom I loved and it needed to end, whatever it was. Exhausted and agonized, Gabriel finally fainted as the doctor placed his innards back where they belonged and stitched him up.
I wept quietly as I kept my eyes on my unconscious young husband.
“He’s gonna be just fine, Mary,” said Jeremiah.
“He will. Thank you. I suppose you should return to Sally before she thinks the worse.”
Jeremiah scoffed. “She already has. I’ll have to do some damage control when I get back home. I wish Gabriel a speedy recovery. I’ll visit when I can.”
“Thank you for being a good friend,” I said.
“Yeah. See ya.”
I ached everywhere as the doctor bandaged Gabriel up and got ready to leave. I would spend the next several hours wide awake waiting for Gabriel to wake up.
“He will be all right,” I said.
The doctor nodded, but refused to look me in the eye. “He’s young and we caught it not too long after he was trampled. Make sure the boy rests and don’t let him exert himself for a few weeks. Heaven forbid he gets ripped open again.”
“I will make sure that he rests.”
“Thank you. Good day, Mrs. Thomas.”
He opened the door and a soft breeze rustled Gabriel’s hair. A cheerful chorus of birds chirping brought my attention outside. It was only then that I realized we had been up all night and the sun had long since rose.
“Good day, Doctor.”
I sat next to Gabriel for the rest of the day drifting in and out of sleep. I prayed he wouldn’t wake up until the evening. I was all too aware of the need to sleep off pain. As the hours merged together and brought me back into the darkness of the night, I stood to light a candle. He breathed deeply, lying there like a handsome god subjected to a sleeping curse. Terrifying thoughts nagged at me that something would one day tear us apart. I refused to give in and started to wash up for the night to keep myself busy.
The next morning, I awoke to Gabriel’s struggle to awaken. I sat next to him holding his hand.
“I’m here,” I whispered. “Don’t push yourself. Rest if you need to.”
His eyelids fluttered open and I met his beautiful brown eyes. The corner of his mouth upturned into a weak smile.
“I’ll get you some water,” I said quickly.
I gently lifted his head and let him drink his fill before he was lost to me again. The day outside was brisk, but sunny. When I stood, stars filled my vision and I realized I hadn’t eaten in over a day. I kissed his damp forehead and decided it was best to step outside for just a little while.
I ventured to our apple tree behind the stable first to pick a few apples. The shiny red fruit always made me think of the first day Gabriel stepped into my life. I was wandering along the outskirts of hell and Gabriel appeared to me like an angel. I missed him so much. He was very far away from me at the moment and the only light in me was the light that was given to me from him. Taking a deep breath, I inhaled the fresh, spicy scents of autumn and reminded myself that the worst was over.
I finished the juicy red apple and made my way over to the stable. A petite, skirted figure emerged from the cornfield. I resisted the urge to roll my eyes and instead forced a smile.
“Why hello, Sally!” I called.
“False sincerity gets you nowhere, Mary Thomas!”
“What is the matter, Sally?”
She stopped roughly six feet away from me and crossed her arms. Trouble watched us, stretching his head over the top of the fence. I envied his oblivious disposition at that moment.
“You know exactly what is the matter! You willingly rode away into the night with my husband and now I have a bone to pick with you.”
“My husband lies on our bed healing from what could have been mortal wounds. I do not have time for your childish grousing today.”
“Excuse me?” she cried.
I stomped my foot. Despite her spoiled upbringing, she should have known better than to harass a wife longing for her husband to be well. They could accuse me of anything they wished to, but everyone knew how much I loved Gabriel. My heart sank at her lack of empathy and unending need to cause trouble.
“Why do you dislike me so much?” I asked, taking a step forward.
“Do not pretend for one second you are innocent. I have heard the stories.”
Sally stomped her foot this time. “If I ever catch Jeremiah alone with you again, I will see to it that both you and your so-called preacher husband are thrown out of this town.”
“You really know how to make a newcomer feel welcome, don’t you?”
Her jaw dropped as rage changed her cat-like eyes into monstrous green orbs.
“Get off my property. Now.”
With a high-pitched shriek, she spun around and fled back into the field of corn where she seems to sprout from like an evil little nymph. Jeremiah was in for a long life of misery if she didn’t die young. The chances of that were probably high considering that she would likely have her first child before the age of nineteen. Her life would be a long road of childbearing and hard work with little joy as a reprieve.
I bit my lip and started toward the fence where my horse waited. I knew better than to wish harm on someone else no matter how disagreeable they were. Sally was just young and ill-adjusted to being a child bride. There was no going back to the way thing used to be and she knew it. I could relate to that. Perhaps once she simmered down, I could speak with her. Still, her family held a great deal of influence over the town. Her father ran the mercantile and her mother played the piano at church. If Sally were to ever start a nasty rumour about me, it could hurt Gabriel’s chances at being a pastor.
I fed the horses their apples and led them into the field for the day. I held my stomach as despicable loneliness returned. I was still new to the ways of love and our temporary separation was very painful.
Trouble whinnied at me from the middle of the field. It was the tone he used when he wanted me to saddle him up and go for a ride. I shook my head at the silly animal.
“No ride today, Trouble. I’m sorry.”
I stepped back inside of the house and my heart fluttered at the sight of Gabriel looking at me.
“Thank God you are awake,” I breathed.
He threw me a weak smile. “How are you holding up?”
I sat next to him on the bed. “I cannot wait for you to feel better.”
“Time heals all wounds, Mary.”
He took my hand in his. The warmth from his grasp sent a beautiful wave of ease over me.
“Are you adjusting well to being a preacher’s wife? You’ve been cooped up lately.”
I rested my free hand gently on his chest. While I did not care very much for most of the strict folks at the church, I was willing to follow Gabriel wherever he went at any cost. That was what love did to people. It was why Gabriel travelled with me all the way to the Kansas border without any guarantee that he would win me over. He risked comfort, security, and rejection for the sake of protecting me on my journey.
“I have never been happier, Gabriel.”
He smiled and closed his eyes.
“I’ll take you on some adventures when I am well again,” he said.
“I will love that very much, but for now, rest easy and don’t push yourself.”
The beginnings of a rakish grin formed on his mouth before sleep stole him away from me again. My imagination ran wild with all the things he might do to me when he regained his strength. I fell asleep next to him. Rather than being tormented by vicious nightmares, I dreamed of the places we would go to when he healed.