Caleb had been watching me closely the whole time. I beckoned him over. As he lifted himself onto the makeshift bed, I didn’t miss the way he winced as he lay on his back. I took the spare clothes I’d fished out from the bags and arranged them over the hole in the roof so that they covered it. Then I looked nervously at the wounds in Caleb’s chest and shoulders that hadn’t yet closed over. I crouched down on the seat over him, examining them more closely. I couldn’t fish these bullets out with my fingers, that was for sure. I’d have to use the only equipment I had—the tweezers I’d found. I grabbed my water bottle and washed the tweezers. I hovered more closely over Caleb. He inhaled sharply as I placed a hand on his chest and tried to steady my hands.
“I’m sorry if this hurts,” I whispered.
He grunted as I picked a wound and slid in the tweezers. His flesh made a horrid squelching sound as I closed around the bullet and lifted it out. Blood flowed, and I stemmed it with a towel. I didn’t know how clean it was, but we didn’t have many options.
I repeated the process with five more bullets—three wedged in his stomach, one in his shoulder, and one just beneath his neck. I had to ask him to roll over so I could reach his back. Most of them had closed over, but I managed to retrieve one that was stuck beneath his lower shoulder blade.
My eyes roamed the rest of his body. I was nervous that there were so many bullets I couldn’t get to without tearing through a layer of his flesh. I’d have to leave those bullets for Corrine to remove.
Corrine. My heartbeat quickened as I thought once again of returning home with Caleb.
I held the towel against the wounds I’d treated until the blood clotted and the wounds began to heal. His healing process seemed to have sped up. I guessed because of all that human blood he’d just consumed.
He sat up once I’d finished, examining his body.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“Yes… Thank you, Rose.”
I nodded, but I wished that he wouldn’t thank me. I owed him more than I could repay. He’d saved my life more than once, as well as the lives of my parents.
“Thank you, Caleb.”
He broke eye contact with me and pulled himself to the edge of the seat. He swung his legs off, his feet touching the vehicle’s floor.
“And now we continue by foot?” I asked.
I was feeling exhausted after the day’s events. The last thing I wanted was to spend another bumpy night clinging to Caleb’s back. But I knew we had to reach Mona, or Caleb would be no more. I swung my legs over the seat and sat next to him.
“You look tired,” he said, glancing down at me. “I suppose we can stay here for an hour. We don’t know how long it will take us to find another vehicle once we’re in Venezuela. And we don’t want you fainting from exhaustion.”
An hour. It didn’t seem like much. But it was better than nothing.
“And what about you?” I asked. “Don’t you need to rest too?”
He leaned back against his elbows. “I suppose I could rest for a short while.”
I looked over the makeshift bed. There was enough room for the two of us to lie comfortably. Though, recalling the way he’d kept his distance back in the hostel room, I wasn’t sure that he’d want to share a bed with me even for an hour. I looked around the vehicle. The back seats didn’t extend backward. And the front seats didn’t extend back much now that we’d created this bed.
I moved over to the far side of the blankets and lay down on my side, propping my head up with my elbow. I patted the space next to me. He eyed the spot I was touching for several moments before—to my surprise—he acquiesced. He lay down alongside me, though he turned his face away, his muscled back facing me. Reaching out, I traced his bumpy scars with the tips of my fingers.
Silence descended on the truck. We’d closed the windows to keep out the bugs, but I could hear the sounds of the rainforest through the fabric above us. The chirping of crickets, the croaking of frogs, the sighing of the wind against the trees.
“Caleb?” I whispered through the darkness.
I bit my lip.
I wanted to tell him how much I was looking forward to having him live with us in The Shade. And I wanted to tell him why. I wanted to tell him how hard it had been to have him leave me the way he had. How much I’d struggled with myself in his absence. How relieved I was to see him again, even in these desperate circumstances.
I wanted to tell him how much he’d come to mean to me.
But I didn’t know how he’d take it.
I wasn’t sure if now was the time.
“Nothing.” I let out a sigh and rolled over on my other side, my back facing his.
I should just go to sleep. I don’t have much time as it is.
I closed my eyes and tried to coax myself to sleep. But the truck was hot and stuffy. My breathing was heavy and sluggish. It didn’t help that we’d had to close all the windows.
Perhaps Caleb had sensed my discomfort, or perhaps it was just my imagination. Whatever the case, as I struggled to drift off, he reached around my waist and pulled me back against him. The coldness of his skin seeped through the fabric of my dress, cooling my hot back. His hand rested over my navel, his body spooned around mine, our legs intertwining. I placed a hand over his and nestled closer against his chest. I felt his cold breathing against the nape of my neck. He was like my own personal AC unit.