A Difficult Meeting.
Sheila met him by accident miles from anywhere, out on the Fell, where they were both working on university projects.
She was so intent in keeping away from him; not wanting them to be anywhere close to each other, that she became distracted trying to avoid him, and fell into a steep-sided little gully with a pond at the bottom.
Lesson one. Madame Fate didn’t always cooperate with what anyone wanted of her but had her own ideas on 'which lives' would go where; how? who would meet whom? and in what way. Today, she would bring two persons together in an initially difficult and trying way.
Sheila lost her balance as she looked back, checking where he was in relation to her after he’d come up closer to her than she’d expected. She overbalanced and fell, crying out, flailing her arms, trying to recover her balance, tumbling down the steep slope, landing in the water at the bottom, somehow, luckily, not contacting any of the larger slabs of rock on the slope.
The pond cushioned her landing or she may have been worse injured. As it was, she had a bruise, a cut on her head in the hair line, a bruised shoulder, and a painfully-twisted ankle, as well as other injuries she had yet to learn about.
She wasn’t going to be able to walk out of here.
Peter heard her cry out as she fell, and the high-pitched rattling of rocks following her down, and went to investigate as he knew he had to.
He saw her predicament immediately.
This was the girl that had been studiously avoiding him all week. He’d seen the sun glinting on her binoculars in the distance as she'd checked where he was, from time to time; paranoid about him; anxious to stay away from him. She had a problem with males. It wasn't his problem. Now, she had another one, and it might become his problem.
She was lying in a deep pool of clear water, face up, beginning to struggle and splutter; wet, unhappy, and injured—even if it was nothing more serious than her dignity—but at least she wasn’t drowning.
She would soon be even more unhappy when the cold from her soaking got through to her, if it hadn't already.
He didn’t hesitate, dropping his rucksack at the edge and jumping down after her, taking giant strides down the fine-shale slope, in a controlled way, unlike the way she'd done it. He was able to choose his path more carefully than she had, before he slowed himself by digging his feet in, and stepped onto the bigger rocks near the bottom.
She didn’t even notice him, so involved was she with evaluating her own pains; sorting herself out.
The stream was slow-flowing and deep where she was, fortunately, but not very wide. He waded out into it and reached down to take her arms as she looked up at him, wondering where he had come from and what had happened.
The water came to just above his knees. He got even more wet when she panicked, struggling against not only him, but everything else she didn’t like that was happening to her, bringing him to his knees in the water with her and soaking him too.
She was suddenly terrified of him, ready to fight him away, except she hurt, and needed his help.
“Let go of me!”
From the suddenly terrified look on her face as well as her protest, he realized she had a problem with men; any man; including him, even if she knew nothing about him.
He’d seen her at a distance a few times, always heading away from him, but he had his own work to do so he had ignored her.
She’d managed to keep clear of him until now.
He stepped back from her, leaving her to discover her own predicament and to decide what she wanted.
She tried to get to her feet but couldn’t, making things worse for herself, sending her head under-water again as she fell back, coming to the surface, spluttering.
He held back, and waited until she looked up into his face, ready to ask for his help, but she’d better do it quickly. The water was cold, even on his legs.
He spoke to her, trying not to emphasize the obvious.
“I think you need my help. I am not going to hurt you. From what I can see, you are already hurt enough, and you are wet, and shivering.” She was shivering uncontrollably. Her teeth were chattering, and her breath was coming out of her lungs noisily, as it also complained of the cold.
She didn’t like to be caught as she was, and did not need anyone’s help, certainly not his!
She had visions of her despoiled, naked body being left in a lonely place up here and never found again after a few rocks had been tumbled over her bruised and battered body, or she'd been dragged into that mine adit, assaulted, and left there.
Few people ever came up here. She'd heard the stories and read them in the papers about girls going missing.
Admittedly, that happened more often in the city in the middle of people, but this was isolated, she was alone, miles from anywhere, and there was no one to help her. He was male, and didn't count. He, was the problem.
She was scared of him. So scared, she could not function, which was a pity as she was really quite attractive.
He would have to let her wake up to her own problems, and spoke drily as he observed her. “If you didn’t already know it, you are not going to get any warmer or dryer sitting there. I also have no doubt that you hurt in several places. You are cut, bruised, and both cold and wet.”
An understatement of fact, but he was only stating the obvious.
“I have a relatively dry shirt and other fairly-dry clothing that I will exchange with you while I get you, and your own clothing dry.”
He was not sure how much of what he said was sinking in. Her cognitive functions; her mind, seem to have closed down in fear of him being close to her, as well as from the cold, but he couldn’t just walk away and leave her.
She gradually came around to see the sense in what he was saying as the cold ate into her, removing her more vehement objections to anything.
He'd told her he wouldn’t harm her, if she could believe him, and she thought she might have to trust him, but not very far. She had to, he was the only one here, and she couldn’t go anywhere without his help, but she would trust him only so far. She had dropped her only weapons, a trowel and scissors, up near the top of the slope.
She tried to stand, but let out a cry, floundering and falling back into the water again, almost pulling him with her as she grabbed at him in her pain, re-discovering her primary injury, sitting down again in the water.
After she’d sat there for another minute, trying again, unsuccessfully, to get to her feet, she looked up at him.
“I think I need your help.” She all but swore at him, admitting that weakness, but her antagonism to him helping her had receded as the cold bit deeper into her.
He stood over her, held her upper arms, and brought her to her feet. She was able to put her weight on only one foot, still not sure whether or not she could trust him.
Her shirt was clinging to her, and several of the buttons had come undone in her fall. He very nearly dropped her back into the water when he noticed more about her, suddenly at a disadvantage, but managed to hang onto her, holding her steady, and confirmed what he was learning. She was very beautiful in every way.
He hadn’t noticed that about her with her sitting in water up to her neck, her wet, short-cropped hair plastered across her forehead, scowling and swearing (politely). Her face showed the pain she was feeling.
This was no time for finesse or discussion. He firmly pulled her to him as his arm swept around and under her, picking her up as he would a small child and hugging her close to him.
She was stiff; her arms on his shoulders, pushing him away from her, trying to keep some space between them, making it hard for him to keep his balance.
“I can’t carry you like this. You have to come closer to me and hold me around my neck instead of pushing me away from you and putting me off balance, or you'll have us both in the water again.”
That made sense even to her. She tried to relax and do as he said, putting her arms around his neck, getting closer to him, feeling his warm breath flooding into her shirt, and down over her cold skin. She would put up with it until they got to the bank and he put her down.
At the edge of the water, he sat her on a rock until he was able to climb over the steep bank, and then he lifted her again to move her another couple of feet to put her in the full sun.
She was miserable, and still looked like a drowned rat, spluttering and coughing, getting rid of water; her wet hair, dripped down her face and neck.
Her clothes were unflattering to her. She was wearing a man’s shirt, much too big for her, and her shorts were for 'purpose', not for a fashion statement. She didn’t bother with make-up and didn’t need it.
She let out a cry at the pain from her foot when she tried once again to use it.
It would start to swell soon, so he’d better get that boot off. Apart from that injury, she seemed able to move the rest of her body without any obvious difficulty.
He lifted her up into his arms again, one arm under her and carried her farther along the edge of the water; not giving her chance to resist, sitting her on another broad slab of flat rock in the full sun and hot enough to fry and egg on, but the water from her shorts would cool it down.
Everything was wet; shirt, shorts; everything, and so was he now, thanks to her struggling and dragging him to his knees, and carrying her.
With her injury it would have taken her hours just to get to the road by herself, and she might not even have been able to make it that far before dark.
He felt sorry for her. She was tearful, scared, and shivering, and it would only get worse if he didn’t do something about it.
He took off her boots and socks as he talked to her; completely unlacing the one on her injured foot, explaining what he was doing and why, setting her boots where they would drain. He took a look at her ankle, feeling the warm sun on his back. She had no choice about anything now.
There was nothing broken, or she would have complained more when he’d picked her up, but she was bruised and scratched.
Her shirt was also torn at the shoulder and the buttons had pulled apart leaving her shirt gaping at the neck. There was just one button fastened now, revealing a broad expanse of pale skin above it and below it.
He was conscious that she was watching him closely all of the time; concerned, ready to fight him off. Probably as concerned about him, as about her injuries that would make it impossible for her to escape him.
He had to get her mind off that folly with him likely to be the only one up here for at least another week, if not all summer when the season ended, and the season had effectively ended. Even in busy times he had never seen anyone else up here with it being so far off the usual beaten track of tourists.
“Where do you hurt?” Her ankle didn’t look broken and she hadn’t complained too much when he’d touched it.
Water was still dripping down her face. She looked unhappy and pathetic.
He said nothing, but swept his hand over her hair, sending cold water running down her neck.
She spoke at last, with difficulty, and in a whisper through bluish lips trembling with cold and frustration.
“I don’t think anything’s broken. It’s just that I can’t put any weight on my foot.”
Her previous fear of him was subsiding, but not by much. She flexed her shoulders, winced, and touched at her shoulder where it was sore, and at her arm.