The Brightest Night (Origin 3) - Page 147

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“It’s okay,” Nate repeated. “She hasn’t said a word to anyone.” He drew in a bigger breath. “I told you guys about her. She’s not like them.”

Movement to my left drew my gaze. Out from under a pew, a tiny body unfolded itself. It was a girl, a small one who couldn’t have been more than five or six. Her shirt was several sizes too big, nearly doubling for a dress over jeans. “Creamed corn.”

I blinked.

Nate sighed again.

The little girl crept closer, and I saw she clutched something in her arm. It wasn’t a doll or stuffed animal. It looked like a small blanket. “You gave us creamed corn.”

“I did.”

She lifted the blanket to her chin. “I like creamed corn.”

“I brought some more. It’s on the table.”

The little girl glanced at Nate, and when he nodded, she rushed past the cots to the table. One grubby little hand snaked out, snatching up a can.

“That’s green beans,” I told her, slowly walking over. The little girl didn’t run as I picked up the creamed corn. “Here you go.”

She dropped the can straight onto the floor and took the other can, holding it to her chest. Then she turned and raced toward Nate. I bent down, picking up the can, and when I rose, my heart about stopped.

And it definitely broke a little.

Kids all but piled out from underneath the pews, most of them not much older that the little girl. Some were older, closer to Nate’s age, their too-slim bodies having been bent into God knows what kind of contortions to fit under the benches. All of them were wary, their eyes bouncing around nervously like Nate’s had at the house, and not a single one of them looked all that well. They were too thin, too pale or gray, and too dirty, and there was too many of them. My gaze darted over the faces. There had to be … good God, there had to be almost twenty? Maybe more? Because some moved into smaller groups, shielding the youngest among them, so it was hard to count.

I wanted to cry.

The knot that had been in my throat had lodged itself in my chest as I glanced over them, but I kept my emotions locked down as I exhaled roughly. I focused on Nia. “Are you the one who’s hurt?”

She lifted a shoulder. “It’s just a scratch.”

“But scratches get infected,” Jamal said.

“Does that happen a lot?” I asked.

Nate glanced down at the little girl. “Sometimes. We mostly get lucky, though.”

Mostly. I swallowed. “I brought rubbing alcohol and peroxide. There’s some cotton swabs here and some ointment. Nate said you had bandages?” Clean ones, I wanted to add.

“We do.” Jamal answered as the others watched silently. “Is that aspirin or something?”

I nodded. “I think it’s ibuprofen. I thought you guys could use it.”

“Yeah.” Jamal stared at the bottle as if it were a hundred bucks sitting there. “We can.”

Nia started forward then, and I didn’t dare move as she picked up a bottle. “This is gonna hurt, isn’t it? I mean, it’ll fizz and burn.”

“Maybe a little, but I think that means it’s working.” Happy she was speaking to me, I decided to push my luck. “Can I see your hand?”

She glanced down at her hand and then slowly extended it toward me. She uncurled her fingers, revealing a thin, ragged slice across her palm.

“Is it bad?” asked Jamal.

The cut wasn’t deep or wide, but the skin was an angry red around the wound. “I don’t think it’s bad, but I’m not a doctor or anything. My mom was, though, and I remember once her mentioning when there’s an infection, you’ll see lines sort of streaking out from the wound. I don’t know if that’s always the case or not.” I looked up, wishing I had paid more attention when Mom had randomly talked about medical things.

“There’s no pus or anything coming out of it,” Jamal said. “I’ve been checking.”

“And I’ve been keeping it cleaned,” Nia said. “Trying to at least.”

“That has probably helped.”

Nate had walked over and unscrewed the lid off one of the bottles. “Let’s get this over with.”

Without further ado, he splashed some of the peroxide over the cut. Air hissed between Nia’s teeth as the liquid immediately fizzed. We left it like that for a few moments, and then she let me dab up the liquid with a cotton ball. Nate moved on to the alcohol, which may have been overkill, but I had no idea. I tried to asked questions while one of the other kids appeared with a pack of unopened gauze. How long had they been here? How old were they? Was anyone sick? All I got were noncommittal answers or shrugs, but as the other kids got closer, I saw that others had bruises on them. Some on the arms. Others along the jaws. A few had split lips.

Tags: Jennifer L. Armentrout Origin Romance