November 17, 2010

Inherit My Heart Chapter Sixteen

Going to the zoo with Gavin was fun, Katrina decided. There were turtles under the bridge before you entered the actual gates and they spent two slices of bread coaxing them closer. They laughed as carp would swim up at the last second and steal the pieces of bread almost from the turtles' mouths.

The carp were successful most of the time. The turtles would gulp a mouthful of water and then look around as if to say, ‘where did it go?'. The turtles also had to compete with ducks for the bread, but the ducks were really uninterested as a whole, making a play for the bread merely to tease the turtles.

Katrina was happy. Gavin laughed out loud several times at the antics of the animals, and all felt right with her world. They finally decided to go into the actual zoo and leave the turtles, fish, and ducks to their own devices.

Although it was a school day, there was a myriad of children at the zoo. They saw several groups on field trips, the teachers and mothers harried in their efforts to keep the children together as the children clamored to see everything at once.

Katrina and Gavin wandered hand-in-hand from exhibit to exhibit. They couldn't decide which was more interesting to watch, the animals or the people watching the animals and had an animated discussion, punctuated with lots of laughter and bantering as the better points of each were reasoned.

While they were watching the new baby white rhino, a zoo keeper arrived in a small electric golf cart. He pulled a huge bucket of food from a specially-built wooden platform behind the driver’s seat, then unlocked the heavy padlock and entered the enclosure, closing the gate securely behind him.

He carried the bucket to their food trough and dumped it in. The mother rhino stayed between the attendant and her baby, watching him with what seemed to be a mixture of suspicion and warning. The keeper didn’t pay any attention to the rhinos, which seemed to be what the mama wanted.

The fellow went to the back of the enclosure and unlocked, then opened, a wooden door. Reaching inside, he picked up a pitchfork and a pair of gloves. Leaning the pitchfork handle against his chest, he put on the gloves, grabbed the pitchfork then stepped inside the door emerging moments later with the tool heaping with hay. He walked over to their trough, but dumped the hay on the ground beside it. He got four more forkfuls of hay before returning the gloves and pitchfork to the shed and locking it. He then left the enclosure, carefully locking the gate behind him.

Smiling at Gavin and Katrina, he got onto his little electric truck, and, with a soft hum of sound, drove off.

Katrina looked up at Gavin and smiled. "Those little truck things don't make much noise, do they?"

"No," he said with a grin. "I bet it's good for not scaring the animals like a gas-driven truck might do. They also fit the size of the paths, a helpful thing when the zoo is full of people and it’s feeding time. Plus they don't pollute the air." Taking her hand in his, Gavin and Katrina walked on, still chatting about the cute little truck.

They came to a crossing of the paths. Katrina stopped, reading the signpost in front of them. "What's next, the gorillas or the lions?"

Gavin consulted the self-guided tour map he had been given with their tickets.

"Let's go for the gorillas, then catch the alligators. That will lead us in the rear way to the lions without having to backtrack at all."

Katrina groaned with mock dismay. "I was afraid you'd say that. Just look at the hill we have to climb to reach the gorillas."

"Surely, my sweet, you're not so faint-hearted as all that? Besides, look at the hill we get to come back down after we’ve seen the lions. Come on, I'll race you to the top. I'll even give you a head start. Get ready; now, GO!"

Katrina, giggling like the school children they'd passed, began to run. Halfway up the hill, she heard Gavin shout something to her. Not quite understanding him, Katrina threw a glance over her shoulder. One of the little electric golf-cart trucks was almost upon her.

Instinctively, she threw herself to one side. The cart swerved in her direction instead of away from her, the side fender catching her leg. Katrina was thrown to the ground, gravel and dirt tearing at her hands and arms. Instead of stopping, the cart sped off up the path and out of sight. Katrina, the breath knocked from her, lay on the ground without moving, watching where the cart had disappeared. Gavin reached her within moments.

"Katrina! Are you all right?" Gently he lifted her, turning her over. She looked at him, her heart racing with terror. Her mouth was working but no sound came out. Gavin quickly and carefully checked her over.

Her hands and arms were stinging and Katrina saw they were skinned and bleeding slightly. One cheek ached; she tentatively touched her face. Her cheek was slick, it must be as scraped as her arms. Her gently questing fingers also located a bump quickly growing above her eye. Her pants were torn at the knees, and the skin there was also missing, the fresh wounds filled with dirt and gravel. She was shaking all over, but she felt no serious damage had been done.

"Hush, Little One. Don't try to talk right now. Stay right here and don't move, okay?" Gavin’s soothing voice came from somewhere above her head.

Wordlessly, Katrina nodded. Gavin ran up the trail and out of sight, following the path of the fleeing cart.

When he returned, he knelt by her side, his eyes looking into hers.

“Did…did you see where he went?” she asked, her voice merely a husky whisper.

Gavin shook his head. "Sorry, Honey, he’s nowhere in sight."

"Gavin?" Katrina's voice sounded weak and shaky, even to her own ears.

"Yes, Little One?"

"He looked straight at me and…and…he was grinning. Why? I don't understand. It almost seemed…I mean, he looked as if…well, he…was trying on purpose to…Gavin, did he mean to hurt me?"

Gavin looked steadily at her.

"I don't know, Kitten,” he finally said. His jaw was set and he looked angry. Was he mad at her? What had she done now?

“I’m sorry…” she began, but Gavin cut her off.

“Katrina, unless you arranged for the driver to run you over, you have nothing to be sorry for. I’m the one who should be apologizing, for failing to protect you.”

A crowd was forming around them. Gavin helped her to stand.

"Can you walk?" he asked, steadying her.

"I…I think so," she faltered.

Gavin slipped his arm around her waist as support, but before they could move, a zoo attendant came up to the group and the crowd opened, letting him in. With one look at Katrina, his face grew concerned. “What happened? Did you fall? Are you all right?”

Katrina nodded weakly. Gavin looked at the man carefully. Katrina watched as his eyes flicked over the photo on his zoo badge, as if checking to be sure it matched his face.

"Is there somewhere we can take her where she can lay down for a bit?" he asked

"Yes, Sir, just let me get a cart,” the attendant replied as he looked Katrina, his eyes sweeping up and down her. “She shouldn't be walking that far." Turning, he hurried back through the crowd.

Several people asked Gavin how they could help. Smiling disarmingly, he assured them everything would be fine. Slowly the crowd dispersed, leaving only one or two curious on-lookers watching them. The attendant returned with a cart which had a longer truck bed than the other ones they’d seen. Gavin and the worker, whose badge bore the name of John, helped Katrina onto the truck bed. Gavin sat beside her, his long legs taking up most of the length of the little flat bed, one arm wrapped protectively around Katrina’s shoulders.

John got in front, driving carefully away. Gavin tucked his free hand under Katrina's chin. He tilted her face up until he could see into her eyes. He smiled softly.

"Be brave, Kitten. We'll have you fixed up in no time."

Katrina gave a small, answering smile, and felt her lips quiver just a little bit. The look in his eyes caused her heart to wrench, however, and she suddenly wasn't sure if the lightheadedness she felt was from her tumble or his nearness. She gulped in a huge breath of air to steady herself.

Soon they were at the first aid station. Over Katrina’s protests, Gavin carefully lifted Katrina in his arms. John hurried ahead and opened the door. Gavin carried Katrina in and sat her on the edge of a cot. A nurse was inside the room. Giving Katrina a brief but thorough look-over, she walked to the cabinet and gathered her supplies.

While the nurse cleaned and dressed Katrina's injuries, Gavin retreated to the far end of the room. Another man entered, wearing a security-type of uniform. He arrived before the nurse was finished, going straight over to Gavin with only a glance at Katrina.

He spoke with Gavin in a low voice, apparently obtaining information from him and entering it onto a clipboard full of forms. Gavin answered just as quietly and Katrina could not hear their conversation. A few moments later, the guard left the room. Gavin walked over as the nurse finished Katrina's dressings. He smiled down at her.

"Well, Kitten," he said, "are you feeling better now?"

Katrina’s arms stung slightly from the scrubbing the nurse had had to give them to get the dirt and small rocks out of her arms. Her cheek and knees had fared no better. The goose egg-sized lump on her head was throbbing abominably and the evilly grinning face of the man in the cart was haunting her.

Close to tears, Katrina didn't want to cry in front of Gavin yet again. That was practically all she had done from the time she’d met him. Pinning a smile to her face, she answered him with a joke. It was her only defense against the threatening tears.

"It only hurts…when I laugh?" Her flip answer made him smile. Relieved to have sidestepped the tears, she was appalled at her trembling.

The nurse brought over a glass of water and two white tablets just then, interrupting them.

"Take these. You'll feel better," she told Katrina.

"What…are they?" Katrina was still not able to speak with a steady voice.

"Only Tylenol, I'm afraid." The nurse smiled apologetically. "I'm sorry I can't give you something more to help with the pain. We're not allowed anything stronger."

"That's all right," Katrina said, "I usually don't take medication of any kind, so they should be strong enough to help." She put the tablets in her mouth and drank the water.

The zoo worker, John, stepped back into the room. He looked at her anxiously and seemed relieved to find her looking better. He turned to Gavin.

"Sir," he said, "may I see you a moment, please?" Concern marked his face, and he seemed a bit agitated. Gavin nodded and turned to Katrina.

"Sit tight, Little One. I'll be right back." He followed John outside.

The nurse encouraged her to lie down on the cot while she waited. Katrina decided to take her advice, hoping the Tylenol would soon dull the ache in her head. Against her wish to stay awake, she was soon asleep in the warm comfort of the light blanket supplied by the nurse.