By the time Cora woke, the light outside seemed different through the windows. She rubbed her eyes and sat up to see him at the end of the couch, still reading on a tablet computer with his long legs outstretched to the tufted leather ottoman than was nearly as long as the enormous sofa.
“Hi. Was I out long?”
“Almost two hours.” He set aside the tablet. “How is your head? Any dizziness or nausea? Or weakness?”
Sitting up, Cora judged her headache to be a five out of ten and answered, “Not bad. Been searching concussion symptoms?”
“Subdural hematoma, actually. A few peer reviewed studies indicate a metallic taste in the mouth is a symptom.”
She laughed at his deadly serious expression. “I’m fine, thank you Dr. Google. Strange dreams though. Realistic ones.”
Eoghan sat forward, hands linked his between his knees, worry in his silvery gaze.
“I didn’t read about that symptom.”
Cora plowed her hands through her hair and winced when she touched her own bruises.
“I dreamed I was a witch — or a healer, I guess — in the seventeen hundreds. Helping a pirate.” She met his eyes again and her green ones flashed with amusement. “Eoghan Grant, you have a terrible habit of being around when I’m embarrassing myself most.”
“I’m glad to hear you don’t often fall from tall things,” he grinned, but she thought it strange that he watched her for a long, awkward moment, as if wanting to ask something and then deciding against it. “You must be starving. Marca made chowder and she’s damn good at it. And she ironed your clothes.” They sat in a neat pile on the ottoman.
“I’m famished. Thank you. Could I borrow a restroom, Eoghan?”
“Of course. There’s one down the hall near the kitchen.” But he was already helping her stand from the couch, a protective arm around her waist as she took her first steps with him into the hallway.
“Whoa,” she whispered. “This is a hallway?” The passage had to be twenty feet wide, the ceilings were at least twelve feet, the walls granite stone studded with beautiful paintings. “These are amazing.” She was almost certain they passed a Whistler on the left wall.
“Are they? I bought them from the prior owner. I guess I should get them appraised.” He delivered her to the restroom and Cora set down the clothes, turned to shut the door and found him still waiting outside it.
“Eoghan. I’m fine. Are you planning to wait out here in case I collapse?”
His silver eyes danced to the side and up in consideration of lying, then he nodded. “Yes.”
Cora rolled her eyes and shut the door, then spoke through it after a beat. “I’m fine. Go.” Alone, she tied her wild hair back into a semblance of a braid and put her clothes back on. It wasn’t like her to worry about appearances around men, and months spent sweating and itching in various jungles had cured her youthful vanity long ago. Yet after Africa, she just didn’t feel herself or think she knew who that should be. As for her physical self, her face was bruised across the right cheekbone and at her scalp, the hairline crusted with salt and blood, her eyes were shadowed. And why did she care, she wondered?
Eoghan Grant, her brain replied with a smirk in the mirror. He, in contrast, seemed so at ease with himself, both aloof and magnetic in a way she’d not encountered in a man before. Handsome and intense, and yet at moments, he seemed still to be the shy guy she’d met in Bowdoin Library years ago. And with the added fame, he was probably not single, Cora noted internally. Better luck tomorrow, coruja, she thought to herself, and headed out of the bathroom to the kitchen she’d glimpsed off the end of the hall.
It too was impressive, with a huge island and an eight-seater dining table beyond that, but the showstopper was the wall of glass facing east at the Atlantic. She saw Eoghan ladling soup from a slow cooker into two bowls and went to help him though her eyes kept straying to the sound.
“That’s incredible. It’s a patio, too?”
“Yes. If you’d like to eat outside, it’s warm enough in the sun.”
“How do you...” she trailed off when he unlatched a corner of the floor to ceiling window and folded it, accordion-style, into itself for a couple panels, then carried both their bowls outside to the iron and glass table. She followed and crossed to the wall of the patio elegantly constructed of wood and granite that seemed newer, though the same, as the house. It sat less than a story above the ground below, not enough to frighten her, then the lawn sloped away out to the rock and gravel beach where a small dock sheltered a shiny Chris craft. She loved how the view topped the hill so it revealed all of Sealport Sound, the old lighthouse, the cliffs and little islands that got larger now at low tide.
When she didn’t turn away from the view or come back to the table, Eoghan walked to her side to gaze out, then down at her profile.
“I think this is a more breathtaking view than I’ve ever seen,” she told him.
Cora looked up. He was looking at her, not the ocean.
“I look like I fell off a cliff,” she laughed.
“Still.” He said it in a low, warm voice, his silver gaze sweeping over her face, then he looked back to the coast.
Behind them, Marca grumbled, “If ya eat it outside it’ll just be as cold as yar about to be.”
Cora and Eoghan exchanged a laughing glance and headed back to the patio table, though Marca’s intuition was spot on as a biting wind began to blow. As they dug into the chowder, he started to ask her about her job — how it worked, what she planned to do here. Cora explained the role as investigator was somewhat removed, even dull.
“In the movies it’s painted to be more thrilling. Most of my job is just to hunt up clues, to look for examples of the same thing happening nearby or in the past, do statistical analysis and see whether we can prevent it from happening again.”
“So...you already know what’s wrong with them?”
She shrugged. “I trust the physicians have made the right diagnosis. They believe the boys have encephalopathy secondary to meningeal amoebiasis.”
“Wow. That’s a mouthful.”
“Actually, it’s a brainful. A brain full of amoebas,” Cora explained as she popped an oyster cracker in her mouth. “So they think.”
“Is that curable?”
Cora nodded, but averred, “In most cases. In this case, they aren’t responding to treatment.”
“Which could mean the doctors are wrong?”
“Maybe. Or it could be an unusual species of amoeba that doesn’t respond to current drugs. More likely, it’s a strain of amoeba we know...though I’ve yet to hear of a strain of amoeba that’s resistant to the antiparasitic drugs we use.”
“Is that like resistant bacteria? My mother had MRSA after a knee surgery.”
Cora nodded. “It’s similar in that the infection won’t respond to the drugs we have. It’s different in that MRSA is very prevalent, due to constant abuse of antibiotics, while amoebal infections are pretty rare. Especially in first-world settings. Amoebas thrive in watery sources, often stagnant or low-flow areas.”
“What can be done if the drugs don’t work? I mean, are there other ways to treat amoeba infections?”
Cora shook her head slowly. “Not really. I think there was virus discovered in Chile or somewhere that preys on amoebas — but it certainly isn’t a medicine.” Tipping her head in curiosity, she asked, “My turn. Tell me about your job, what do you —” but her question was interrupted by Marca, who walked out with a phone in hand.
“Doctor Flaherty is calling,” Marca said. “To check in.”
“Thank you,” Eoghan replied, holding out his hand. When his long fingers engulfed the small smartphone and he began to answer on her behalf, Cora rolled her eyes and snatched it away.
“Dr. Flaherty. I’m perfectly able to answer questions. I have no dizziness —”
“Currently,” Eoghan’s deeper voice intoned.
“And a mild headache. Doing fine, thank you.”
On the line, Flaherty paused before continuing, “Good. In that case, I want to confess that I called a colleague at the same hospital where those two boys are being treated. To be sure I was current on all the TBI literature.” Traumatic brain injury, Cora thought with a nod, though she was sure she didn’t have that serious of a concussion. “And when he put together that I was treating you, he conveyed that they’d been trying to reach you. It appears the prognosis for the young men has worsened and they would rather have your consult immediately rather than Monday.”
It was Friday. In fact, she had intended to visit the hospital later today or Saturday, if the infectious disease physician returned her call and could meet. It all seemed a little confusing suddenly.
“I...but it’s only Friday. I was intending to come in —”
“Well yes, Dr. Killigrew. But would it be so inconvenient to go in sooner?”
“No, no. I meant that I intended to go in today. Or tomorrow. Saturday. Or Friday, today — that is, if Dr. Erlanger was able to meet.” Eoghan started forward in concern when she pressed her slim fingers to her eyes as if getting dizzy again.
“Ah. Well, he has been trying to reach you. I realize you’ve been without a phone and incapacitated. Would you like me to relay that there was an accident, and you will try to reach out soon?”
“Yes. Thank you, Dr. Flaherty,” Cora said quietly as he ended the call. She pulled it from her ear and looked at it like an invasive species. Green eyes flickered up to Eoghan’s face, which was clearly worried about her. “I really hate these things. I can’t tell you how much I miss the moments in third world countries where they just didn’t work.”
Cora shook her head. “Nothing, really. I must just be tired and a little on edge. The status of the two boys is worse than originally thought. They were trying to reach me to visit with their physicians today. Could you drop me at my house so I can get over there sooner?”
Eoghan surmised that she expected to drive herself. “You’re not driving anywhere. I’ll take you wherever you need to go.”