Claire had just finished donning a clean field uniform and a new apron. Her previous uniform was beyond filthy and covered in every body fluid imaginable. She even took a minute for a quick sponge bath and to spray a wee bit of her favorite perfume behind her ears so she wasn’t so odiferous. Not that anyone cared. One became used to the smells of an army field hospital. Yet she felt better. Cleaner.
She walked over to the tent opening and was just preparing to report to duty when she heard bombs go off. These were closer than they’d ever experienced. The doctors and nurses on duty were rushing to the shelves near the tent opening, grabbing their helmets, and ran back to their patients to relocate them to safety. Claire was momentarily stunned, but soon enough she shook it off, grabbed a helmet and began helping transport patients to safety in the underground tunnels.
They had practiced these drills many times. It looked like chaos, but it was in fact a well-oiled machine. Doctors and orderlies moved the sickest. The nurses assisted those who could walk on their own. Supplies were already stored in the underground tunnels near the field hospital, so that valuable time wasn’t wasted in getting them. As patients were settled, the commanding officer called for complete quiet, lights out and the tunnel secured.
Claire felt her way to a spot on the wall to sit, furthest from the tunnel’s entrance. She felt safer deeper in the tunnel. Overhead, she heard the unmistakable sound of the whistle of a bomb heading for its intended target. She squeezed her eyes shut, preparing for the inevitable ground-shaking contact. She hated this part the most. The waiting. The part where you waited for the destruction to happen. The part where your life hangs in the balance.
The bomb hit close enough to the field hospital that the ground shook and rattled her teeth. She must have let out a frightened whimper (she truly tried to remain calm, but a person is only human in the face of death) because a warm hand found her arm, slid down it’s length and took her hand. She clung to the faceless stranger, not caring who she clung to.
Another round of shells landed even closer to the tunnel. She knew she should help calm the patients, but she was frozen in place, eaten up with fear. The hand that held hers pulled her closer. It released her hand and slid up across her shoulder, pulling her into the safety of another human being. The opposite hand reached over and took the abandoned hand, that shook no matter how much Claire tried to remain calm.
Another shell shook the earth and pieces of dirt and rubble began to fall from the ceiling. Their training had told them that they were safe in the tunnel. It was reinforced and would not cave in. Claire had seen that reinforcement with her own eyes, but that didn’t keep the fear from washing through her. Being buried alive was not something she relished.
The arm that surrounded her pulled her even closer and the slightest of whispers in her ear said, “Ye’re alright. Just breathe.” Claire knew three things about the person who held her. It was a man. He was strong. And he was a Scot.
In the deafening silence between shells, her brain ran through all the men on duty at the field hospital as well as the soldiers that were being treated there. She could NOT think of a single Scottish man. There was a Scottish nurse, Geillis, who was also her closest friend. He may have been a field medic, but she thought they had all left for the front this morning.
The next shell whistled over head and landed with a deafening explosion near the opposite entrance of the tunnel. As the ear-splitting roar echoed through the tunnel, her protector brought her head to his chest and held her there, squeezing her tight. She could hear the fast-paced beat of his heart, even through her helmet. As the bombing continued, she found herself concentrating on the beat of his heart and sought shelter there. She allowed her hands to surround him in a near hug, which aided her shaking hands in having something to grab onto.
As they clung to each other, bombs exploding overhead, he began to speak, barely a whisper.
“Ye’re doin’ fine. Just breathe. We’re okay. We’re in the safest place right now. I have ye. Ye know, ye are the nicest smelling thing I’ve had the pleasure of smelling for quite some time now. I’ve gotten so used to the filth of war that I’ve forgotten what “fresh” smells like. I smell the starch on ye’re apron, as if ye had just finished ironing it. I smell a freshly laundered uniform. But what I can’t get enough of is the wee scent of your perfume. I’ve not smelt perfume since before the war. It’s nice. Not too strong. It smells powdery with a hint of vanilla and something else I can’t pick out.”
“Blue Waltz,” Claire spoke in barely a whisper.
“I like it. I smell it best by ye’re wee ear. Here, just behind it.” He ran a finger behind her ear in the area where she had dabbed the smallest bit of her precious perfume (it was her last bottle, after all, so she used it sparingly). A shiver ran through her at the contact. His arms tightened around her.
“Are ye cold?”
“N-n-no,” Claire’s breath hitched out. “Just a bit ticklish.”
“Ah. Weel. I am, too, at that.” He shifted a bit so he could settle more comfortably against the rock wall of the tunnel. She thought to pull away, but he tightened his hold on her and she resigned herself to settling back against his chest. She felt safe there, despite the destruction going on all around them.
“Nay…dinna move. I like to smell ye’re perfume. I know I don’t know ye, but it puts my mind on something other than what’s going on above us.”
“What does it make you think of?” She was comforted by his voice. This would keep him talking in her ear.
He whispered closer to her ear, “I think of a man and his lass. They are dressed in their finest and dancing, cheek-to-cheek. She dabs her perfume behind her ear because she knows he likes to nuzzle there and whisper sweet nothings in her ear as they dance. He likes to sneak wee kisses behind her ear and breathe in her scent. He holds her as close as he dares just to get to that spot. If he gets really brave, he sneaks in another kiss on her neck and nips her just there with his teeth.” He runs a finger just over said spot on her neck. She shivers yet, again.
He runs his finger up to her cheek and cups her jaw. In the darkness, she can’t see anything, but she can almost hear his thoughts. She could hear his breathing quicken. She felt his muscles in his chest tense as he prepared to move his head closer to her. His cheek touched hers.
“Colonel, I believe we are clear,” a male voice in the tunnel interrupted. With that, Claire heard several rise from their places around the tunnel and prepare to exit. Yet another voice told them to wait in place until the all clear was given to move out of the tunnel.
He immediately pulled away and squeezed her arms. “I must go.”
Dazed, Claire leaned back against the wall of the tunnel and waited in the darkness. She let out the air that she didn’t realize she held and strained to hear the Scottish voice that was such a comfort to her, but she couldn’t make it out in all the movement. She had no idea who he was and had neglected to get his name. She hadn’t even realized that the shelling had stopped and silence reigned. She wasn’t sure which had rattled her most…the shelling or the Scot.
Ten minutes later, they were given the okay to move back. Someone lit the lamps and preparations were made to return to the field hospital tents. As Claire was helping soldiers return to their beds, she was constantly searching for the Scot. She tried to imagine what he would look like as she helped clear away rubble left behind from the bombing. All that she could envision was someone who was fit and strong. She didn’t know the color of his hair or how tall he was. She only knew his voice at a whisper.
With the flurry of activity of relocating their patients back to their beds, cleaning up and getting back to business as usual, Claire lost track of the soldiers that were in camp. It was only later that night, as she finally lay down on her bunk, exhausted, that she recalled his voice and the feel of his arms tight around her. She could listen to that voice all day.
If only she knew his name. She closed her eyes and dreamt of her protector.