Chapter Twenty-Eight: Safe

By the time the police arrived, they were out of the way. They snuck through the trees under the cover of sirens and flashing lights, three shadows unnoticed in the commotion. None of them said a word until they had climbed back up to the rocky cliff overlooking the dam.

Aaron sank to the ground in utter exhaustion. The powerhouse was a beehive; half the police force had responded to the shutdown. But from here, it was just a swarm of motion and errant beams of light, and they still hadn’t restored power to the station.

Selena swung her black case to the ground and pulled a slim tablet out of the front pocket. She plugged a pair of earbuds into it and stuck one end in her ear. Molly paced instead—still too full of nervous energy to relax very much.

“Did they get him?” Aaron asked.

It was a few seconds before he got his answer. “He’s in custody,” Selena said. “Still unconscious….The operator’s recovered, and they’re interviewing him.”

“You think they’ll be able to keep him?” Molly’s voice was subdued. He remembered how he’d thought she was shy, when he first met her.

“Out of our hands,” Aaron said. “But if they charge him, I don’t think he coud break out just with his powers. I didn’t get the impression that he was strong enough to bend metal. More like… a little strong, a little tough, a little healing. Like he got a few different pieces of powers, but nothing exceptionally strong.”

“Maybe.” Molly frowned.

“Are they going to be able to get the plant back on?” Aaron said. “The virus you planted—”

You planted.”

“You wrote.”

She conceded with a shrug. “It won’t cause any lasting harm,” she said. “We may have some power flickers here and there, but they’ll have everything running again within the hour. It was more of a…forced restart.” She pulled the bud out of her ear and started winding up the cord. “We’d better go. The others have probably gotten to the hospital by now.”

The last thing Aaron wanted to do was get up and walk anywhere, but he took Molly’s offered hand and struggled to his feet. “Yeah, let’s get going,” he said. “I hope they made it there safe.”

* * * * *

Rain battered the windows of the car, drowning out the sounds of everything except the rhythm of Brennan’s heartbeat. Lucia anchored herself on it, focusing on the flow of blood. She kept feeding instructions to his body, keeping the clot in check, hurrying the production of more blood, tracking his heartbeat, his temperature. He’d been unconscious since they left the dam and his skin was freezing cold, even covered in a layer of spare clothes and the car heater on full blast. He was stretched across the backseat as far as the limited space allowed, his head and shoulders cradled in her lap.

Snatches of conversation reached her through the noise. “…still don’t have signal…so much…others are okay?…shortcut that way…call mom and dad…there, don’t miss the turn…How is he?”

Lucia blinked as she realized the question was for her. “Stable for now,” she said, “but we need to get them there fast. Have you gotten the hospital yet?”

“No, I still don’t have a good signal,” Ivy said, voice trembling. “But we’re close. Aren’t we?”

“Yeah, we’re close,” Carter said. “Try the phone again.”

Obediently, Ivy dialed the number into her phone again. And again. And on the third try, the call finally went through.

“9-1-1. How may I direct your call?”

“Hospital, please!” Ivy said. She stumbled over a convoluted explanation, with Carter throwing comments in as he drove.

Lucia drowned out their conversation, focusing instead on her efforts to keep Brennan stable. He grunted as the car hit a bump in the road, and his eyes flickered open. “Shh,” she said, before he could try to move or talk. “We’re almost there.”

He grimaced. “Can’t feel my legs,” he murmured.

“It’s okay,” Lucia said, although she was pretty sure it wasn’t. She tried not to let the sudden panic show. Had she made the clot too thick? Not thick enough? Was it just shock? She should have studied anatomy more. “It’s just me, trying to numb the pain. We’re almost there.”

He didn’t respond, but he relaxed just a little.

“They said someone’ll meet us,” Ivy said as she hung up. “We’re only about three minutes out. I’m going to call Mom.”

“Wait,” Carter said. “What are we going to tell them?”

“I don’t know, the truth?” Ivy said.

“No. We can’t,” Carter said. “Do you have any idea the trouble we’d be in? Ivy—”

“We’ll tell them it was an accident,” Lucia said. “Someone shooting off guns in the woods.”

“I’m telling the truth,” Ivy said. Her voice shook. “It was fine when y’all were just playing around, but I got kidnapped, and tied up and almost blown up, and now Brennan is dying—” She choked on the word, and wiped an arm across her face.

“He’s going to be okay, Ivy. I promise,” Carter said. “Everything’s—”

“If you say everything’s going to be okay, I’ll slap you,” she said.

“Ivy, just wait,” Lucia said. “Wait a couple of days at least. Let things calm down. Once this secret gets out, we can’t ever go back. Please, Ivy—”

“I’m not going to lie about this! It’s gone too far now!”

“Ivy, don’t,” Brennan said. His head shifted slightly in Lucia’s lap, and his gaze drifted toward her.

She met his eyes, tears streaming down her face. Her lip trembled as she tried to swallow them back.

  “Not yet, Ivy. Please.”

Ivy tore her eyes away from Brennan and stared at the window. After a second, she sniffled again and raised up her phone. Without looking at any of them, she dialed, curling up against the side of the car with the screen pressed against her ear.

“Mom?” she said, her voice a hoarse, quivering whisper. “There’s been…an accident.”

* * * * *

The trip into the emergency room was a blur. Lucia tried to keep up her contact with Brennan, even as the pair of paramedics maneuvered him out of the car onto a stretcher, even as they crowded past her to rush him through the hospital doors. She gripped his hand and kept pace, delivering a litany all the way inside.

“Breathing is a little fast but not obstructed. Measured his pulse at 89. Temperature’s 97 even, but he usually runs higher.”

The medic didn’t look at Lucia; she was busy checking Brennan’s breathing, his eyes, his pulse.

I just told you all that was fine.

“You’ll have to wait out here,” said some asshole in scrubs, blocking her from following. The gurney pulled through the door, breaking her last contact with his skin.

“Wait, I’m not—he needs me—”

2801The thread of her connection dissipated as the doors swung shut behind them. Lucia stood in the hallway, breathing too hard and bloody to the elbows, and felt… empty. Drained. Cut off from feeling anything at all.

Carter put  a hand on Lucia’s shoulder and she gripped it, just for the contact of her skin against his.  “He’ll be okay.” But she could feel his worry, his doubt, undercutting the reassurance. “He’ll be okay. You did good.”

“We’ll need someone to fill out these forms,” Scrubs continued.

“I can do it,” Ivy offered. Lucia was glad someone else was dong it. She couldn’t think any more, couldn’t move. The metallic smell of blood mingling with lemon-tinged bleach assaulted her. The lights burned too bright, and the clamor of voices and machines…all over an undercurrent of anxiety and pain and misery…

“Do you know his blood type?” Scrubs asked.

“A negative,” Ivy said. “Same as mine. I can donate—”

“Not unless you’re seventeen.”

“Lucia, tell him I’m seventeen.”

“She’s fourteen,” Carter said. “But I can give blood if he needs it.” He still had hold of Lucia’s shoulder, and she’d started to lean into his arm. Not because she needed to or anything. It just felt kind of nice.

She kept watching the doors, wishing she had some way to see through them, some way to follow Brennan and make sure he was safe.

“You look pale,” Carter said. Lucia didn’t understand the sudden crease of worry around his eyes. “Let’s go sit, get something to eat, maybe…wash up…” Blood smeared his cheek, right under his ear.

“Don’t worry about me. I’m fine,” Lucia said, even though the floor had started spinning under her. “As long as…” She had about a second more of dizziness before she realized she was losing her balance completely. “Oh, shit.”

“Lucia? Are you—” He lunged out to catched her, and somehow managed it even after her elbow slammed into his throat.

“Sorry,” she said, watching the lights spin.

“That’s okay. Just don’t do it again.”

“Sure, no problem.” Her fingertips had started going numb, and the spinning lights were dissolving into black. ”You smell really awful,” she said, and passed out.

* * * * *

Aaron rushed into the emergency room with Molly and Selena close on his heels. He scanned the room for a second before he spotted Ivy alone in the corner. She had a half-eaten candy bar in one hand and a clipboard in her lap, but she ignored them both, staring out into the room like she was dazed. It wasn’t until Aaron slid into the seat beside her and touched her arm that she noticed them at all.

“Ivy?”

She blinked. “Hi,” she said, voice breaking. “Sorry, I was… just…”

“Where are Lucia and Carter?”

“Um,” Ivy said. “Carter went to talk to the nurses because Lucia fainted.”

“Is she okay?” Aaron said. “Is she hurt?”

“I don’t know.” She laid her head back against the wall and closed her eyes. “Carter said she was probably just…I don’t know. I feel like I could faint, and I didn’t even do anything.” She screwed her face up like she was holding back tears, but a few escaped anyway.

“It’s not your fault, Ivy,” Molly said, reaching past him to squeeze her hand. “None of this is your fault. He’ll be okay.”

Ivy nodded, but it was a mechanical sort of nod, like she was just too tired to argue.

“I could patch into the camera in the OR,” Selena offered. Unlike the rest of them, she hadn’t sat down, choosing instead to lean against the wall. Her foot tapped restlessly against the tile. “If you want me to check—”

At the look on Ivy’s face, Aaron shook his head to cut her off. “Probably not the best way to help,” he said under his breath.

Selena settled back with a huff. “Well, we should do something.”

“You want to go get some food?” Molly said. “We could all use some.”

“Ugh. Fine,” she said. “Nobody better complain about what it is.” She hoisted her bag onto her shoulder and stalked off.

A minute after she left, Carter returned. He fell into the chair beside Molly, bonelessly, like he deflated. “Everyone okay?” he asked.

“Yeah,” Aaron said. “Are you?”

“I’ll be fine,” he said. “Where’s Selena?”

“She went to get some food.”

“Good. I’m starving.” Ivy dug an extra candy bar out of her pocket and passed it down to him. “Ivy, you’re a lifesaver,” he said, tearing a chunk off and shoving it in his mouth. “So what—” he glanced around the room and swallowed. “What happened?” he asked, in a whisper. “Did you get him?”

“We got him,” Aaron said.

“Aaron got him,” Molly said, frowning at her hands. She’d torn off the tape, but the skin was red and raw underneath, and starting to bruise around the knuckles. She’d insisted she wasn’t hurt, but every now and then she grimaced when she moved.

“It was an assist,” he said. “Let’s talk about it later, okay?” Like Carter, he was all too aware of the scattering of people in the room. “Worry about Brennan right now.”

Molly ran her fingers through her hair. “Do you think—” She halted suddenly, frowning, and dug into her pocket for her phone. She blinked at the screen. “Uh… I have to go,” she said, shoving it back into her jacket. “Dad’s wondering where I am, and I should probably go home before he starts a search party.”

“We’ll let you know when we hear something,” Aaron promised.

Molly flashed him a grateful smile. “Don’t forget to take care of yourself, too.”

“Sure. As soon as Selena gets back I’m going to stuff my face. I don’t even care what she brings.”

“Sounds good,” she said, pushing to her feet. “Bye Carter, Ivy.”

Ivy nodded without looking at her. Carter hurriedly swallowed a bite of candy bar and scrambled out of his seat. “Hey,” he said as she started to go. “Um. Thanks,” he said. “For coming.”

“Of course,” she said. They stood facing each other for an awkward moment. Carter made a move like he was going to hug her, then shake her hand, and turned it into a casual shrug instead. “Bye.”

“Bye,” Molly said, blushing, and headed for the door.

Carter sat down heavily and fumbled with his candy wrapper. Aaron settled back in his chair. Well, he should have expected that. To his surprise, he didn’t feel that bothered by it. Maybe the exhaustion he’d been fighting was starting to win.

“‘Scuse me, kids.”

Aaron opened his eyes to see a man in a sheriff’s uniform standing over them. “You with the boy who was shot?”

While Aaron just stared at him, trying to process the question, Carter stood smoothly, and said, “I was,” he said. “They didn’t see anything.”

“I’m going to have to ask you some questions.”

Aaron felt a surge of alarm. He’d seen his brother try to lie, and it wasn’t pretty. But Carter just nodded and said, “Sure. I don’t know how much it will help you. We didn’t see who fired it.”

“That’s all right. Just come with me.”

“Save me some food,” Carter said, and followed the sheriff down the hall.

Aaron gripped the arm of his chair. The momentary relief he’d felt vanished under a cloud of new anxiety. They’d beaten Leveille and saved Ivy, but Brennan was in critical condition and they had to coordinate a lot of lies to stay ahead of trouble.

* * * * *

Just outside the ER, Molly ran into Selena, fighting through the main door with two big bags of hamburgers. “Hey, are you leaving?” she said.

“Uh, yeah, my dad’s looking for me,” she said. “He gets nervous when it rains, so…”

“Oh. You’d better go, then,” Selena said. After a brief hesitation, she asked, “Um, are you sure you’re okay? He hit you pretty hard.”

Molly rubbed her chest. “I’ll have some nasty bruises, but nothing’s broken.”

“At least he didn’t hit you on the face,” she said, scowling.  “If I get a black eye I am skipping school.”

School. The word hit Molly with unexpected force. The whole concept of something as normal and boring as going to school seemed surreal. She didn’t want to even think about how she’d explain all of this to her father.

Selena frowned, and peered into the window, the dim reflection in the glass. Her cheekbone already showed signs of a really fantastic bruise.

“You shouldn’t,” Molly said.

“Huh?”

“Skip school. Just for a bruise.”

“You think it’s going to bruise, then?”

Molly shrugged, slouching into her jacket. “You can say I hit you, if you need an excuse.”

“I wouldn’t do that,” Selena said, in an uncharacteristically quiet voice.

“I was just saying you could.” Molly shrugged again, like it wasn’t a big deal.

Selena dropped her gaze; it traveled in a slow line from the window, across her feet, and to the opposite wall. “I know you think I’m kind of, well, shallow, and maybe sort of a, you know, but I—”

“You were there when they needed you,” Molly said. Selena looked back at her. “That’s all that matters,” Molly said. She shrugged, not sure what else to say. “I’d better go.”

“Yeah, okay. She pushed open the door with her hip.

As Molly started past her, she said, “Wait a second.” She opened one of the grease-stained paper bags, pulled out a foil-wrapped burger. “For the road.”

“Thanks.”

“See you tomorrow?”

“Yeah, I’ll be around,” Molly said. She stuck the burger in her pocket and stepped out the door, hunching her shoulders against the chill as she stepped into the rain.

* * * * *

Lucia was starting to feel like herself again, but it came with a healthy dose of embarrassment. “I’m really fine,” she told the nurse. “I just got a little light-headed.”

“Your blood sugar would beg to differ,” the nurse said, checking the IV taped to her arm. “Drink that juice.”

She almost refused, just to be obstinate. But the nurse gave her a look, so she downed a few gulps.

“Has this happened to you before?”

“Once or twice. Never passed out before. I guess I forgot to eat.”

“Well, as soon as your parents get here, we can get your paperwork done.”

“Sister,” Lucia said.

“What’s that?”

“Nothing.”

“Well, until then, you rest. Drink the juice.  There’s a sandwich here, too.” She tapped a styrofoam box on the table. A smashed, soggy sandwich waited inside, with a mushy slice of shiny, processed cheese and a single, sad piece of meat squished between two pieces of the cheapest white bread Lucia had ever seen.

“Is this turkey?” she asked. “I don’t eat meat!” But the nurse had already bustled out. So she tossed it back onto the table and leaned back against the bed. The juice might be good for her blood sugar, but it sloshed unhappily in her empty stomach. She shoved it next to the sandwich.

At least she still had her phone. Not much battery power, but hopefully she wouldn’t be back here too long. I’m OK, she texted Carter. Nurse holding me hostage til Sonia gets here. All OK?

After a minute that felt like eight, she got a reply.

Ok. Others made it.

That was a relief.

Sheriff’s here asking questions.

But that wasn’t. They hadn’t had time to come up with a good story, to get the details right, to make sure—

There was a knock at the door, and Lucia squeaked a panicked, “Yes?”

A second later it opened, and a man in a county sheriff’s uniform came through the door. “I know you’ve had a rough night,” he said, “but I need to ask you some questions. Are you feeling up to that?”

“Um…” Lucia cleared her throat. If there was any time to look weak and helpless, this was probably it. “I guess,” she said, making sure her voice shook as she said it.

It earned her a patronizing smile. “Now, I’ve already talked to your friend, but I’d like to hear your account. Can you tell me exactly what happened?”

Lucia told the story they’d decided on in the car. She didn’t have to pretend to be shaken, didn’t have to fake holding back tears. The sheriff just listened impassively while she stumbled over the lies. She hadn’t completely recovered from her collapse, so it took some extra effort to get a good read on him. She could sense a decent amount of sympathy from him, but it was clouded by doubt.

“Now, you say you were out in the woods? Where exactly?”

“I don’t know,” Lucia said. “We. Um… we kind of got lost.”

“What were you doing out there on a night like this?”

She shifted and looked away, feigning embarrassment. “You know, just… messing around.” She looked back quickly. “Nothing bad,” she added. “We were just bored.”

“Do you remember anything about the shooter? That would help us find him?”

“No,” she said. “It was dark. We didn’t even see anything, just heard the gunshots, and…I don’t think he saw us, either. I think they must have been shooting at an animal or something…” The sheriff still didn’t quite believe her. Maybe he thought they’d been doing something illegal—fair enough, since they had—or that she was scared to ID the shooter. Maybe her story hadn’t quite matched up to Carter’s. Well, nothing for it. Lucia reached for the too-sweet apple juice and took a long gulp. She set it back on the table, enough over the edge that it tumbled off as soon as she let go. The sheriff reached forward to catch it, and was kind enough to hand it back.

“Thanks,” she said, making sure her fingers touched his hand when she took it back. “We just want to put this behind us,” she said. The sheriff halted as she spoke, his eyes un-focusing while she pushed her power on him. “We don’t want a lot of attention, and we don’t need an investigation. There’s really nothing you can do.”

As she pulled away, he blinked. “Well,” he said. Slowly, like he’d lost his train of thought. He frowned a second, maybe confused by his own change of mind. “Thanks for your help, miss.” He adjusted his hat. “Let me know if you remember anything else.”

“Of course,” Lucia said, leaning back against the bed. She felt exhausted all over again. “I’m happy to help.”

He tipped his hat, still wearing that confused expression, mumbled, “Take care,” and turned and left.

Lucia sighed in relief. Hopefully, the influence would hang on long enough for him to put this case to rest and move on to the next one. It had taken a lot out of her, though. Her hands shook as she finished off the juice. She tossed the bottle across the room, narrowly missing the trashcan, and glanced at the sandwich. Chances were, she’d have to do that all over again when Brennan’s parents showed up. She grimaced at the sandwich, peeled off the single slice of meat, and ate the bread and cheese.

“Well,” she said to the empty room. “Someone better appreciate this. Because that was the single grossest thing I have ever eaten.” She closed the box, tossed it aside and laid back.  Her phone had finally died, so that was useless.

“I hope everyone else is okay,” she told the ceiling. “‘Cause I think I’m all tapped out.” She closed her eyes and, despite the bright lights, somehow fell asleep.

* * * * *

By the time Molly got home, it was past ten and the house was dark. She halted in the foyer, half-expecting someone to appear out of the shadows, lecture in hand. But even after she’d hung up Clarissa’s keys and snagged a glass of water, things stayed quiet.

So she went upstairs, threw off her jacket and tugged off her boots.

It almost seemed wrong, how familiar and ordinary her room was, she thought as she pried off her filthy clothes. It almost made everything else seem like it hadn’t really happened. But of course, she had the bruises to prove it had.

Molly plugged her phone in and left it lying on her bedside table, where she would hear it if it rang. Her eye caught on the note she’d left for her dad, untouched. What would happen, she wondered, if she gave it to him anyway? If she just told him everything? She picked it up, unfolding it slowly. So far keeping secrets hadn’t kept anyone safe.

“M?”

“Dad!” She whirled around, crumpling the paper behind her back.

“I heard you come in,” he said. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” she said. He’d see the scrapes and bruises in the morning, but not until she’d cleaned them up and come up with some decent excuses.

“Your message was kind of vague,” he said. “I thought you went to the game.”

“Yeah, we left early,” Molly said. The ball of paper felt heavy in her hand. “Someone at school got hurt. Accident in the woods. I had to drive Aaron to the hospital.”

“Is he okay?”

“I don’t know.”

Dad frowned. He hesitated for a long time. “Molly, if there’s something going on, you can tell me about it. You don’t have to keep secrets from me.”

But Clarissa was part of the secret now, and telling him meant telling her. Even if she could handle Dad’s reaction and all its repercussions, she had no way of knowing how Clarissa would react.

Molly crushed the little ball in her fist and then tossed it onto the bed. “It’s just… school drama,” she said, ignoring the knot in her stomach. “I’m really tired,” she said. “We can talk in the morning if you want.”

“All right. You look like you could use some rest. Night, M.”

“Night,” she said.

As soon as he left, Molly collapsed into the bed, hating that knot of guilt even more. She reached for the crumpled-up note and turned it over in her hands, thinking.  It’s okay, she told herself. It’s not like I can’t change my mind later. She tossed it into the corner, turned off the lamp and closed her eyes to sleep.

Most of her restlessness had given way to weariness, but worry gnawed at her, and she couldn’t stop playing the night over in her mind. She was lucky to be alive, lucky not to have been abducted, or caught by the police…and they were far from clear. But despite her anxiety, exhaustion had its way in the end, and she drifted off into a fitful, dream-plagued sleep.

Sometime in the night, her phone went off. She roused to the sound of it buzzing across the tabletop. Blearily, she grabbed it and blinked at the screen. Out of surgery, the text read. All clear.

Everyone was safe. Molly slid the phone back onto the nightstand, rolled over, and slept solidly until noon.

****

Sorry this one was late. It was scheduled (or so I thought) to go out this morning, but something went amiss. Anyway, here it is now! I’ll have one more chapter in this installment (Apr. 1, and I’m not even joking) and then I’ll be taking a short break before starting Part Two. 

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One thought on “Chapter Twenty-Eight: Safe

  1. I’m surprised how much the writing improved over the course of the 28 chapters. The flow and characterization is really improving, keep up the good work.

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