Dark Ch. 06byValentineSatterlee©
Tammany hadn't been gone a full minute before there's a tap at the door.
"Who is it?" I call, not wanting to look at the door or deal with who's behind it.
I grab one of the threadbare towels Tammany had left by the basin and head to the door.
"Jolie! Are you...he brought you a tub?" Stacie rushes in through the door, past me, and dips a hand into the water. "Oh, it's warm," she smiles. "And a stove!"
"Help yourself," I laugh at her obvious enthusiasm. Bathing is a rarity, even for the orphans. There are a few standing tubs on one of the upper floors of the building, but it takes two people to operate one, and several buckets of warmed water. The attendants really don't care enough whether or not we are clean to bother with that kind of manpower. A few times a month the nurses come in and keep tubs warm and clean all day. Those who want a bath can take one, but there is no privacy and there is no time to enjoy the experience. All the lunatics must be bathed too, typically needing more than one nurse to get the job done, and they just don't have the time, energy, or patience to let us hand around in the basin all day. Not to mention having a stove in your own room is completely nonexistent.
Stacie strips in a hurry and sinks into the basin. "Oh yes," she practically moans as she sinks in to her shoulders. Her pretty blond hair hands over the side of the tub, not long enough to touch the water.
"So, have you been with him?" She just jumps right in.
"Stacie....no," I retort. "But I think he wants to."
"I would. Be with him, I mean."
"Well, think about it. Louis would leave you alone. I saw him get all close to you the other day, that's always how it starts. So that's a plus. And Tammany is Head of Wards, so he can do things for you no one else can. Like the tub, and the stove, and who knows what else. Walks outside, a better room...who knows. Plus, he's handsome."
I laugh, despite myself. "So why don't you give yourself to him, then?"
"I would, but he doesn't want me, he wants you."
I sit on the bed and think a moment about what Stacie said as she begins to bathe. Despite the fact that I didn't want to be involved with anyone for favors, said so many times that I would not, Stacie had a point. This was an opportunity for a better quality of life, one that cannot be provided for any other way. It was simple when you got right down to it.
I knew that if I thought about it long enough, I would become comfortable with the idea. The thing I couldn't get past though, was the blood.
"What are you thinking about?" Stacie asks. She is staring at me, and I realize I have been staring into space.
She smiles. "Yep. Me too."
Stacie finishes her bath and retreats to her own room, reiterating her point to me about lying with Tammany. It's a wasted effort, though. The decision's been made.
I pull on a shift from the dresser, a sheer, short dress typically worn on a girl much younger than myself, frilled and laced. It ties just below my ribcage with a cream colored silk ribbon, little fabric flowers adorning the ribbon's ends. My loose hair is curled more than usual from the humidity in my room left by the bath, and it falls onto and past my shoulders in pretty almost-ringlets. I take in a deep, calming breath and push silently past the door, out into the empty hallway. It is not yet lights out, but it is close, only half the hanging oil lamps are lit along the long hall.
I pad quietly on bare feet towards the common room, searching. Several of the girl's rooms have lights burning, but no one will notice me pass. I come upon the heavy double doors of the common room, and open one as quietly as I can.
It squeals upon its hinges, giving me away.
Vernon Gaier is crossing the room with an arm full of medications, probably having just come from the nursing station down the hall. If he is headed to the Lunatic's ward, that means he just got his nightly duties from Tammany, who must still be somewhere near the station. I head that way.
The hallway past the common room is dark, someone already extinguishing the lamps, and I can still smell the smoke in the air. Halfway down the hall is the station, but it is deserted when I get there. I turn back around, confused.
"Joleine," Tammany whispers, behind me. I startle and spin around, my hand to my chest.
Tammany laughs. "I'm sorry, I saw you coming." He takes my hand in his, continuing to smile. It's hard to see his handsome face in the darkness, but his touch helps.
"I...came to say thank you for the bath."
"You're very welcome, but you've told me already." He grins.
"Oh. Yes. Well. Stacie took one too."
"Wonderful." I can hear the grin in his voice. He is so calm, and I am so nervous. It's maddening.
"Can you...come back to my room?"
"I have to make rounds first, but yes. I can stop in and see you after that."
I nod, knowing full well he can't see me any better than I can see him. Tammany brings his hand up to the bottom of my chin, lifting my eyes to his, taking in the planes of my face. I stare up at him, having no idea what to say, how to get the point across that I am accepting him. He kisses my forehead and steps around me, and I follow him out across the commons.
I am sitting against my door when Tammany comes into view. He sees me from down the hall, grins, and tries to do his nightly duties without distraction. He methodically opens each girl's door, instructs lights out, and closes it again. Eight doorways are before mine, and three more after. He steps past me, says good night to Stacie, whose door is next to mine, Lacie, across the hall, and Gypsi, next to her.
Tammany then returns to me, scooping me into his arms off the stone floor. I wrap my arms about his neck, and rest my head upon his shoulder.
"Come in," I whisper.