"Rise and shine!" My mother's voice trilled enthusiastically. I squinted my eyes at her, buried like a rabbit in my mounds of covers. She was already wearing her painting clothes, an apron, old faded t-shirt, and house slippers, along with the occasional stripe of color across her skin, where she had 'accidentally' bumped with her paintbrush. I got the feeling that she liked marking her self with color though, as some odd kind of war paint to get in the spirit.
"What time is it?" I asked, letting my head slump back against the conforming pillow to stare sleepily at the ceiling.
"It's 6 o'clock exactly. Your father is already ready to leave downstairs, so hurry up, kido."
I groaned, but rolled out of bed anyway, crawling across my floor in search of my duffel bag. Pulling out clothes I was willing to get dog drool on, I quickly changed, shuddering when the cold air hit my skin.
"Why is it so cold in here?" I complained loudly, so my mom would hear me down the hall. If she did, she didn't answer.
Downstairs the fire was going, and the heat felt wonderful. I spared a few minutes to stand by the fire while my dad whistled cheerfully from the kitchen.
"Want some oatmeal, Addie?" He called, poking his head around the cabinets. I shook my head mutely, and he shrugged indifferently before disappearing. "We leave in ten mintues!" He called, his voice mixed with the sound of spoon scrapping across bowl as he shoveled oatmeal in his open mouth.
I jumped to put on my shoes before we left, dreading the outside cold air.
When we arrived, the familiar place filled me with a cheerful light as I helped my father open and turn on doors and lights, greeting the dogs as we passed the chain link pens.
"Hey puppies." I cooed, letting my fingers drag across the metal links, even though dad had told me a thousand times not to do so. I couldn't see the harm though.
He was always nervous with me helping him at the training facility. Of course, he knew about my condition, even from a young age. When the doctors first suspected, they had me do all sorts of experiments, all sorts of activities. Having the inability to feel fear is rare, if the excitement and wonder of the doctors was any way to tell. When I was older, all sorts of researchers would contact me, asking for permission to do this, or that, wanting to test me for themselves. My parents turned them all down though, telling them I wasn't a lab rat. Still, my father was terrified for me at every turn. His fear, probably made up for the lack of mine.
Insiting that I help him train vicious dogs didn't do wonders for his heart, but I enjoyed it.
When I reached the last cage, the one that housed my favorite dog Bubbles, I quickly unlatched the hatch and let her out. The German Sheopard barked happily, triggering a chorus of jealous howls, and followed me up the stiars to my dads office. He was standing next to his desk, flipping through papers that looked dreadfully boring. When he saw me walk in, with Bubbles on my tail, he cast me a disapproving glance.
"That dog is useless because of you," He told me, returning his eyes to the crisp papers in front of him. I shrugged.
An hour later and the rest of the team was showing up, greeting me with surprised expressions and smiles. "Hey Addie," College student Jake called, a little too enthusiastically. My father cast the boy a dubious, warning glance that he ignored. I greeted him briefly, letting myself wonder if I was interested in him or not, like I always assessed when I came home, and found I still had no desire to get to know him any better, as always.
"Hey John?" An employee rounded the corner, smiled briefly in greeting at me, before returning to my father. "Have you seen Hayden today?"
"Who's Hayden?" I asked, kneeling down to give Bubbles attention. She rubbed enthusiastically against my hand, practically petting herself.
"New boy." Amy answered, joining the conversation, her head cocked in interest. "Hey Addie." She added, smiling at me. I returned the gesture. "What about Hayden? I haven't seen that boy in a couple days," She told the small group. They nodded in agreement.
"He hasn't called in sick, or reported his absences." My father informed them, worry spreading on his features like ice.
"Im sure he's fine. You know teenagers." Someone said, waving it off, and the others followed suit, as if all they needed was slight prompting to ignore the issue.
Later, I found myself emptying a large truck of supplies in the back, my arms feeling like rubber bands as the day progressed. Bubbles chewed absently at dog toy in the corner of the garage door, enjoying her freedom from regular doggy duties.
Most of the other dogs were in the back getting trained, which really, except for the younger ones who still needed basic training, were just games for them. Seeking out toys of theirs hidden throughout the building, simulating a drug bust. Most of their chew toys were made to smell like the major drugs the dogs were usually needed for, and as soon as the dogs were fully trained, they were sold to police stations across the state. Bubbles of course, was mine, and wouldn't ever be sold, which was why she was excused from training every once in a while, and why she came home most weekends, and was allowed to follow me around like a shadow during my days working at the facility. My dad, worried about me, would always have me doing the most boring things, but even so, I think it was comforting for him to know Bubbles was with me.
The training facility was cocooned up against a large ridge and an open meadow, that during the spring and summer was full of flowers and grass, and mud. Fun stuff. But during the winer, the silvery snow coated the entire expanse like white out, blotting and erasing all the life and color. Years ago, my father had fenced in the area as a sort of play yard for the dogs. It was huge, and all flat, so after I was done loading my share of boxes, I led Bubbles to the yard.
It was freezing, so after a few rounds of fetch I was calling my faithful puppy back. Only as she stood at the very edge of the fence, something changed. Bubbles was usually very obedient, and wasn't at all interested on what the outside of the fence held. But suddenly she was running back and forth like mad, trying to get out.
I jogged over to the far end, stumbling in deep powder as I approached. "Bubbles?" I called, hoping she would respond, but she continued to dig franticly near the base of the fence. "Hey! Stop that!" Snow flew back from where her paws scraped the surface, and suddenly she was out of sight. "Bubbles!" I yelled, but she didn't listen, even as she popped up on the other side of the fence, and disappeared into the snow covered trees.
When I got to the hole, I could see how Bubbles had escaped. It looked like someone had taken wire clippers to the fence, and cut a small opening. I shimmied my way through the gap, avoiding sharp edges from the metal, and began following Bubbles prints in the snow. Only her prints weren't the only ones pressed into the snow. Next to her small, doggy paw prints were massive, not so doggy prints that resembled the size of melons. They were huge, so why was Bubbles following them?
Obviously, she didn't seem afraid or defensive as she saw the animal, almost like friends, or how she greeted the other dogs. I continued to stumble through the snow, hands freezing and each breath creating alarming frosty puffs in front of me.
"Bubbles?" I called again, hoping she would return. It was almost dusk, and my dad would be looking for me soon, getting ready to leave. As the wind whipped through the valley, snow perched on trees fell in clumps, raining down on me. I was getting frustrated, snow and I did not mix, and Bubbles was no where in sight. Screaming her name again, I fell into a patch of snow and sunk down beside a tree.
Tired limbs rested limply in the snow as I contemplated turning back without her. Up ahead her paw prints disappeared around the bend of another grove of trees, washed away in soft powder. Letting out a groan I pushed myself into a sitting position, crawling through the deep snow until I could stand again, snow up to my waist as I battled another couple feet.
"Bubbles! I hate you, you damn dog!" She didn't answer, only the ghostly howl of wind reached through the stillness. I sighed and sunk into the snow again, my obvious tracks ruining the pure white, untouched blanket of powder.
And then suddenly, among the white trees and silver ground, was a pair of light grey eyes surrounded by thick rusty colored fur. I blinked at the animal, obviously the owner of the larger pair of paw prints, unsure if I was truly seeing it, or if I had imagined this beautiful mirage. He looked almost too clear, too perfectly picturesque weaved in between the trees, his head slightly dipped and eyes locked brilliantly with mine. It seemed like a picture from a National Graphic Magazine more than real life.
I didn't even hear it approach, but it looked alone. "Where's Bubbles?" I demanded, struggling to get up from the thick snow. "I know you lead her off somewhere." The wolf didn't reply, he didn't even move. His stillness was unnerving. Maybe I had imagined it.
"Are you the wolf who tried to eat me?" I paused, waiting for an answer. "Or the one who saved me?" I lurched forward a couple steps, falling into the deep snow again. He hadn't moved when I looked up. Frustrated, I chucked a handful of snow at it, but it simply closed its eyes against the offending cold powder. I lost my energy and sunk into the snow again, only then, when it seemed like I was docile, did the wolf approach.
I held my breath once I realized it was moving towards me, sudden excitement flowing through me. I could feel his power, his strength and warmth, see the ripple of lean muscle as it moved.
"You know," I started again, quieter this time, as it hovered above me. "You could easily kill me right now." I imagined his powerful, fur coated body lurching forward at my exposed neck, ripping apart the delicate flesh that made up me. The image wasn't even disturbing. I sighed. "You're being rather quiet."
His bright eyes glittered against the backdrop of his reddish fur. Such a beautiful, rich color compared to his icy eyes. He leaned forward and pressed his cold nose to my throat. I closed my eyes. Waited for the pain.
But only a shiver passed through me before he withdrew. I blinked my eyes open, his wolfy head inches from mine, studying me with a strange, clear intensity. Too clear for a wolf, for an animal. I wanted to reach my frozen arms up and submerge them in his thick coat, grab hold of his ruff and let him pull me deeper into the forest. Awareness of my strangeness seeped into my spine like the cold snow invading my clothes. Where was my fear, fright, terror? I wanted to ask him, to demand the answer from this wise and beautiful wolf sprit. Instead I quietly requested, "Find Bubbles." And with one last, flickering glance, he was gone, leaving as quietly as he had come.
Squeezing back through the clipped hole in the fence was slightly more difficult with frozen limbs. I shoved Bubbles in first, not at all pleased with her. "Go on, you dumb dog. Dads probably ripping out his hair by now." She slipped through and waited obediently on the other side. Kiss up.
Bubbles had mysteriously appeared only several minutes after the wolf left, looking guilty with her ears flattened and tail tucked between her hind legs. The rust colored animal though, had been no where in sight.
We raced back through the deep snow in the yard, Bubbles bounding like a rabbit so she didn't sink too far. The back garage door was still open, indicating my dad hadn't locked up the lower floor yet, and maybe hadn't even noticed my absence. I shut the door quietly, wincing as the loud screech from the door filled the warehouse like a wailing, broken doll. Bubbles whimpered at the noise.
"Oh stop complaining." I scolded in a whisper, as we crept up the stair well. "You are in serious trouble miss." She didn't answer.
I found my father in his office, distracted by some important phone call. He waved at me to be quiet as I walked in, and I slumped into his office chair to wait, as Bubbles curled up beneath my feet. It was strangely paranormal to be back inside, sitting dully in a boring, leather swivel chair, facing a blank wall, when only moments ago I had been outside, buried in snow, looking into the ghostly eyes of a wolf. Outside the small, compact window, as my dad finished up his last bit of business for the day, snow started drifting from the sky, slowly and continuously erasing the tracts, the proof, that the encounter had been real at all.
"Addison, the party sucked without you. No fun at all." Juliana complained through the phone, which was pressed between my shoulder and the shell of my ear as I helped with dinner. "I guess I'm just so used to you're craziness. Usually when we go to a party you manage to do something ridiculously stupid and dangerous, but super entertaining." She sighed dramatically, and I could hear her rolling over on her bed. I wondered if this was my cue to make a comment, but I wasn't really sure what to say to that. Thanks? It's a super rare, highly dangerous condition, all just for your amusement? She continued on without prompting, adding with a devious edge to her voice, "Luke was asking about you…" I frowned as I stirred the soup, picturing Luke, with his lurky qualities, wondering how drunk I would have to be to hook up with him. I doubted he would actually think like that—he was too nice—but the thought made it easier to dislike him. Jerk.
"Luke needs to get a life." I quickly changed the subject. "What kind of candy did you go as?" A rather lame question, that seemed to please Juliana immensely. She launched into a detailed, long, description of clothing that I was sure was less than a couple scraps of fabric. Not that I could really diss, I certainly had dressed worse for such events.
"Addison!" my mom called from the living room, where her and my dad sat together on the floor.
"I gotta go Jules, but I'll see you Monday night, alright?" She mumbled a quick goodbye, highly displeased, and we hung up .
"Yes…?" My slippers made soft scuttling noises against the floor as I rounded the bend in the kitchen. My mother held up two movies, with titles I couldn't see, and asked, "Which one?" Without really thinking, I pointed at the orange one, covered with lighthearted, colorful artwork. Probably a mom movie—artsy stuff, and she smiled triumphantly at my father, who slumped to the ground with a tortured groan.
"That was a terrible movie." My dad said, three hours later as the credits rolled, and I couldn't help but agree.
"It was not!" the supposed artist defended vehemently, slapping her husband lightly on the arm. I left before it got too out of hand, trudging up the stairs to call an ignored 'goodnight!'. My old bedroom door creaked as it closed, and I walked over to the window to rip off the curtains and peer outside. There was a fresh blanket of now bluish snow in the darkness of night, undisturbed and unblemished. And in the distance, barely heard over the chatter of my parents, was howling.
"Hey Mom!" I stomped up the stairs, passed my dads study, and barreled into my moms studio. She looked up dazedly, with blank eyes, and blinked as if returning from some other world.
"Yes?" She settled back onto her stool, and refocused on the easel in front of her.
"Have you seen my cell phone? I left it in the kitchen last night, and now its not there." I walked around the clutter of half finished paintings, paint covered tarps, and scattered bottles of paint. She certainly wasn't neat.
"Sorry, hun, I haven't seen it." Yeah right. Knowing her she probably hid it because she thought I needed to be freed from the 'demonic device'. I sighed, and glanced at her new canvas. It was blank, and she was holding a pencil in her hands. I gestured tiredly towards the easel.
"What are you painting next?" I asked, and then looked closer at the blank picture, only to find it not blank at all. A light sketch outline of something vaguely shined through in the low light of the early morning. I squinted at it, and stepped back.
"Hey, that's my wolf." I blurted, once the image became clear. Suddenly the inquiries about my mothers art no longer were in polite disinterest. "Where'd you get that?"
She looked at me in confusion. And as I stared on I became more and more certain that this was the reddish brown wolf I'd spoken to yesterday. The markings on the nose, the tiny scar above the eyes—just the shape of the snout and the intensity of the eyes. I'd never admired how talented of an artist she was until now.
"I got the image from Scott Tottes photography book, sweetheart." She gestured over to another half-hazardly placed stool. "Its over there."
I practically ran to the heavy, hard cover book, with a picture of my favorite wolf on the cover. Flipping through the first couple pages, all the faces of the wolves looked familiar, the silver fur with yellow eyes, the black with gold eyes, the white and grey, and most frequently, the red fur and silver eyes, gazing back with a quiet, feral intensity, as if he understood. As if he understood everything.
"Can I keep this mom?" I asked, running my fingers over the satin of the smooth pages, and she glanced up.
"Sure, hun, just give me the cover slip. Its my reference picture." She smiled as I handed it over to her, slightly mournfully, for it was the biggest picture of my wolf. "I didn't know you loved wolves so much sweetheart. Do you want this painting once I'm finished?"
I looked sharply at the beginnings of Red fur's face on the canvas and nodded. She'd never given me a painting before. "I'd love it, thanks mom."
"No problem. Your dads calling you, Addie. Ill see you tonight."
I nodded and dashed downstairs with my new treasure, tucking it under my arm as we hurried out the door.
"I didn't know you were so into wolves," My dad said, glancing at the book in my lap as we drove to the facility. I really wasn't that into wolves, I was just going through an interested phase, more like. I tended to obsess over certain things like this, after I had a particularly dangerous brush with death. Once, after I hopped into a strangers car at a party, and ended up escaping out a rest stop window as they tried to haul me across the state in their crappy van, I became unhealthily obsessed with America's Most Wanted, a tv show about criminals. And even before that, after attempting to drop onto a slope from the ski lift when we were snowboarding, I started becoming a fan girl of Shawn White, a famous snowboarder, complete with poster and all. Needless to say, I respectfully acknowledged my serious need for a therapist.
"Yeah, they're pretty cool." I said instead of divulging all my mishaps like I had been doing in my mind. I tended to keep my parents in the dark about most of my misdemeanors. They worried less and dragged me to the doctor less. "I was more interested in the photography though." I added as an after thought. "Were these pictures taken locally?"
My dad smiled. "Heck yeah they were. Scott's a old buddy of mine. He lives on the property next to ours." It made sense that I'd never seen the man. Up here in the mountains people owned huge plots of land, and the term 'neighbor' was used rather loosely, because the next house could be a couple miles away. "He's really into wolves. You should read some of his articles, if you like his pictures. He really knows his stuff about wolves." He gestured to the book. "And he's been following that pack up here for five years, studying the hierarchy and stuff. Its amazing."
"Wow," I said, furrowing my brows, and looking at the book, and my wolf, with a new light. "That is amazing."
When we reached the facility my dad pulled around into the rickety, crappily paved parking lot, if it could be called that. I liked to refer to it as the paved square, because only about seven cars could fit in it, and they're were no official parking spots.
"Hey, looks like Hayden's back today." My dad gestured to the green trailblazer, the kind of truck that goes off roading a lot, and by the looks of it, the owner used that aspect to his full advantage.
"Is that the new kid everyone was talking about yesterday?" I asked, shouldering my pack and following my dads back up the metal stairs to the door that led into the building. He chuckled darkly.
"I wouldn't call him a kid, really. The man's pretty big." Psh. I shrugged, and split off to free Bubbles from her confinements so she could rub it in the faces of all the other dogs. She barked happily, and eagerly pressed against the metal fences when I got there, and I unlatched it so she could spring free and run circles around me. It was colder outside today, even colder than the normal freezing, and the warehouse wasn't the most insolated place. Tugging my jacket closer around me I knelt and felt Bubbles, who was panting and drooling, but not shivering at all. My hand rested on her a moment longer, quieting her until she still. Her skin and fur still seemed warm.
"Canines have higher body temperatures than humans." A voice said behind me, and I glanced up to a see a man leaning against the dog pens. The barking and general doggy noises stilled into a suspended quiet that hung eerily in the room. It was almost like a solute, or the sudden quiet that occurs when a commander walks into a room full of reckroom soldiers.
"They still can get cold though. They've been here all night without the heat on." I stood and faced him, and felt like a rock had fallen on my head. Of course, it was one of the pizza place lunatics. This was the one I had bumped into, the one who'd grabbed my arm, the one with pretty eyes and smooth skin while still retaining an air complete man.
He remained motionless, his eyes taking in my realization with his flickering silver gaze. "They're not cold."
"How do you know, dog whisperer?" I roughly reattached Bubbles cage. "Did you ask them all?" A small smile twitched at his lips, as if I had said something mildly funny, and he pushed himself away from the wall. Standing at his full height, I could see why my father had called him 'pretty big'. He wasn't burly, exactly, with those disgusting basketball sized biceps, but he held an aura of authority around him that was hard to ignore. It was almost like your entire body wanted to listen to him. He was tall though, very tall, and well muscled, in the lean 'I don't work out to work out, I work out while doing my awesome daily activities' kind of way.
I snapped so Bubbles would follow me, and began walking upstairs to my dads office where I could complain about him in my entitled, bratty, daddy's little girl voice.
"Hey—Addison?" I paused and looked at him. He suddenly seemed less arrogant, less like an egotistical asshole and more of a pleading look echoed in his silver eyes. "Could you not tell you dad about my dumbass brothers? I really do need this job."
"Brothers?" I frowned, my mind flickering form the faces I'd seen. Although they mostly had dark hair, they didn't seem like brothers. He winced and ran a hand down his face.
"Friends, brothers, same thing." I raised an eyebrow skeptically. What was this, a cult?
I turned around and started walking back up the metal stairs, intent on ignoring his request. But his silence behind me screamed disappointed, and by the time I reached the top step, I couldn't handle it any longer. Without turning, and trying really hard to create a tone of nonchalance, I mumbled a quick, "Sure," before disappearing into my dad's office.
"He's cute, aint he?" Amy waggled her eyebrows suggestively, nudging me as she passed, washing her hands with a dish towel. I scowled and grumbled a grumpy 'no', which she laughed at before walking out of the kitchen area. Hayden was out with the dogs, who annoyingly listened to him better than anyone else. Damn him and his animal lover-ness.
I shuffled into the bathroom, my arms aching, one more than the other, as I riffled through the cabinet for the first aid kit. It was big, hardy one, being at a dog training facility and all. I'd never really gone to the hospital exactly for my bite, but I did drive to my dad's friends house, who used to be an ER surgeon, and was awesome at keeping secrets and stitching up spare flaps of flesh. Still though, with all this loading and unloading going on, the stitches couldn't be holding very well. They sure hurt like hell.
I dragged the pack out of the bathroom and down the hall into the storage room, where it was quiet and unlikely anyone would bother me. It was cold here, and I regretfully stripped off my jacket, and then mournfully, my long sleeved shirt. The bandaging, which I'd been neglecting, was a soiled brownish color. Ew. I unwrapped it, and examined the pinky flesh puckered between black thread. The stitches had torn slightly, which was why the bandage must have been so bloody, but not nearly enough to make me consider dashing back to old Franklin's house to patch me up again. At least it didn't seem infected. Besides, I'd sewn curtains before, how hard could this be?
There was a small sewing kit in the first aid supplies, and I pulled myself up on a nearby metal counter, threaded the needle, sterilized it and the thread, and sat with pointy sharp metal spike aimed at my arm for a solid minute. Shoot. This was an awkward angle. Maybe I should take an Advil or something for the pain.
One Advil later I returned to the counter. This was going to be disgusting. I slid the needle into the first little pucker of flesh, the weirdest part was how easily it slid through, and the second eeriest thing was the feeling of pulling thread through your skin. But shit, it hurt. I really hoped nobody walked i—
"Are you okay?" I nearly fell of the counter, ripping the thread from my flesh, but I was already tense and crippled with the stinging. Ouch, ouch, ouch. Not a good idea. I should have gone to Franklin, he at least had morphine. Morphine, morphine, morphine. What was I thinking, Advil? How stupid am I?
Hayden walked further in the room, stood beside me and stared at the needle in my hand and the black thread that was looped through my skin with not even a note of surprise.
"Need help?" He asked dully, and I nodded mutely, letting him take the needle. I swallowed, took a breath, and blinked. Hayden peered at my arm for a minute, holding the thread in one hand while he carefully examined the wound. "What happened?" He asked finally, and I was too preoccupied, my eyes following the needle, to notice how he didn't seem to really care what I said. It was almost like he already knew.
"I fell," He raised an eyebrow, but said nothing.
"You ready?" He gripped my arm lightly with one hand, holding my shoulder in place. God no.
He slid the needle under again, tugging it through with the deft kind of movements that suggested he had done this many times. I focused on his expression as he did this, and not on the wound on my arm. His eyebrows were puckered slightly in concentration but otherwise he seemed relaxed. The pain was swelling and pusleing with my breathing, with my heartbeat. I sucked air into my lungs and held it there. The sound of my heart pounding in my chest increased until it was a drum, louder than sirens and bells and—
"You should breath." He suggested without glancing at me, and I let out a gush of air and felt dizziness descend. Shit. Fog fell and tumbled through my head, tossing my balance away like a rotten apple core. My body pitched forward slightly until my head collided with his chest. He shifted slightly to keep me on the table, and I allowed myself to lean on him as he finished. Puncture, sting, tug, pull. The dizziness went away, and I could feel him finishing up—shorter stitches, towards the upper part of my arm.
"Are you done yet?" My voice was muffled against his shirt, and suddenly the thought struck that he wasn't wearing a jacket. I sat up, which seemed to surprise him. "Aren't you cold?" I asked, watching as he glanced briefly at me and then continued working. He was tying the knot now.
"No," Hayden answered, leaning forward to bite the thread. He set the needle on the counter and started riffling through the medic supplies.
I myself, was freezing, and it was clearly visible with goose bumps peppering my skin. "Not at all?" He poured rubbing alcohol on a clean cotton pad.
"Nope." He said, bringing the wad closer, looking me in the eyes. I eyed it warily, then glanced back up at him. "This is going to hurt—you ready?" I nodded and he pressed it against my flesh, watching my reaction. It did hurt. A lot. A sharp, hot, stinging kind of hurt. Almost itchy. Like my arm was on fire for a brief second. I winced and my body tensed.
Hayden smirked a bit and threw the padding in the trash, fishing out Neosporin and more gauze and bandaging. It occurred to me, as I watched him set these things on the counter next to me, and prepare to now dress the wound, that I really should be grateful. It would be hard wrapping it myself, or stitching myself up for that matter.
He began smearing a gentle layer of Neosporin on my arm, smoothing it across the entire area with the pads of his fingers. I watched for a moment, and admired his handiwork with the stitches too. Not bad actually, I could hardly tell the difference between Franklin's work and his own.
"Why do you need to put Neosporin if you disinfected it with alcohol?" I asked, as he wiped his hands and pressed the clean gauze over it. He glanced up and then reached for the bandaging.
"Rubbing alcohol's good for killing bacteria, but it'll dry you skin out. You don't need it exactly, it will just keep the skin around your bi-it, uh—wound—" he cleared his throat and I raised my eyebrows. What was he going to say? Bite? "it will keep it clean and hydrated, so there's less chance of tearing the skin." He finished wrapping my arm and taped the end with surgical tape, grabbing my shirt and jacket off the counter.
I slipped my long sleeved shirt over my undershirt—thank god I was wearing one—and then layered my jacket tenderly over, breathing out a relieved breath. Warmth.
"Thanks," I said, glancing at him as I slid off the counter feeling foolishly small compared to him, like a minnow next to a whale shark.
"No problem," he answered, frowning as he watched me ready myself to leave. An uncomfortable silence descended now that there was nothing to do or say, the kind of silence that filled the room like water turning to ice, thickening, solidifying.
I was about ready to just leave—bolt out the door before his silver eyes drilled holes in my skull, when suddenly he stiffened. His body went completely rigid, like he'd been turned to stone or ice. I almost expected Medusa to jump out from behind the and yell surprise! turning me into rock also.
"We need to go." His hand shot out and gripped mine hard in a death grip just as a sudden piercing fire alarm blared through my senses, leaving me momentarily stunned enough to let Hayden drag me out of the supply room. The shrieking was even louder in the main studio room, and finally the faintest smell of smoke entered my nose.
"What's going on?" I shouted above the noise. There was no smoke that I could see yet, but just as we rounded the corner we were hit with a blanket of thick, ashy fumes that immediately burned my eyes and lungs. Hayden pulled us down to a crouch as we continued to feel our way along the cold floor. A chorus of barking streamed through the halls and my mind snapped.
Bubbles. I had put her back in her pen right before lunch so she wouldn't beg for food that I would eventually give to her. And the other dogs too. They were all there.
"The dogs!" I shouted above the scream of the siren, coughing on thick smoke as I opened my mouth. It scraped against the lungs like sandpaper, something so thin and soft looking nearly throwing my body into convulsions.
Hayden had his hands over his ears, looking distressed but completely calm at the same time. He glanced back just in time to see me make a dash into the next room, where the dogs were. I wondered where the fire was, where those thick, bright flames were hiding. Where my dad was too. Probably outside, shouting, hustling people to safety—too preoccupied to worry about me yet.
I rounded the corner, followed the insistent, frightened barking. I was almost lost in this place—I'd been here so many times before, and yet everything was suddenly murky and disorienting. A sudden heat scaled my skin, and fire licked my pants as I dashed through the door and towards the dog pens. I covered my mouth with jacket sleve, pushed through the thick smoke that made everything blend into one solid grey block, and ran to the dog fences.
The chain links were hot to the touch. I ran to each one, flipping the latch and setting each dog free, their animal instincts telling them to run. Even Bubbles. They were drug dogs, not rescue dogs. I heaved another cough, and crouched down to the floor, looking out across the floor for the best way to get out. Fire held the opposite door hostage, eating away at the door frame. Beyond the hailing call of the fire alarm, I could hear a different kind of siren. Fire engines?
A sudden hulking shape darted through the blazing door frame, emerging in an explosion of flames. A figure masked in smoke, it seemed to consume him, suffocate him, and then Hayden lurched into view. His eyes were wild and crazed, vivid silver against burning orange flames.
"Are you crazy?" He yelled, yanking me up to my feet by the excess fabric of my oversized jacket. If I could feel fear, I would be more frightened of him than the fire. He coughed into his arm, and glared back at the unexitatable door. The only way out.
"We have to go up!" I shouted over the roar of the fire and crumbling building. For a fleeting moment I stared at the consuming fire and wondered how the hell this happened, how suddenly we were in a battlefield of fire and heat and smoke wondering how to escape when just moments before my only escape plan had been to avoid any awkward silence with Hayden.
He shook me out of my thoughts, and growled a rusty, "Where?" And I pointed a finger to the stairs in the corner, almost beginning to be touched by the flames.
In an instant he was on the move, like a bulldozer he dragged us through the heavy smoke and before I could blink we were up the stairs without my feet ever touching the steps. I slammed the door shut behind us to stop and smoke from following, it was less smoky up here, but still hard to breath. We were in the viewing room, four wall sized windows looked out on the training lot. No way down.
"We're gunna have to jump." I said aloud, needlessly. Hayden was already shattering a window with his bare elbow, and my mind flashed back to mere minutes ago when I'd asked him if he was cold. Now standing in a blazing inferno, the question seemed silly. He approached with the same intensity held in his eyes, but now with a cautious edge to his movements.
"I know. Its going to be okay. All we have to do I jump onto to that snow hill right there." He pointed out the window to a pile of snow that had slid off the roof and was a good ten feet deep bellow. His voice was calm and soothing, like he was trying to convince, like he thought I wouldn't understand or-realization dawned—like he thought I was scared. My mind laughed briefly. Any other person would be frightened out of their mind, hyperventilating, refusing to jump. He didn't know better.
But there was no time to play the terrified citizen. "Yeah. Let's go."
I walked over to the broken window and looked down, about to leap when a sudden explosion rocked the building. I thought of all my fathers hard work crumbling beneath us. Hayden was beside me, watching both me and the back door at the same time.
He gave me a long, measuring glance and held out his hand. "Shall we?" he asked, and I clasped my hand in his.
Hayden launched us farther away from the building than I ever could have with his powerful legs, and we hit the snow hard. I could leg bend unnaturally under, the cold and ice suddenly scraping against me. He fought his way immediately to stand, hauling me up with him. The fire engines sirens were louder outside, I could see them around the side of the building, could feel the spray of water as I ricocheted into the air. Loud noises rushed to fill my senses and I glanced at Hayden, who was a stranger just this afternoon, but it felt like one of those 24 hour period movies where the characters are forced to work together, and form this strange bond, and once the action or alien fighting is over, they don't know where they stand.
"Well shit." I said, to disturb the air