If I had to pick one moment where I was blissfully happy; It'd be this one.
Running down the interstate with the radio blaring as loud as my buzzing speakers will allow. Rachel and I have a system with this song. We absolutely have to sing along every time we hear it. I sing my heart out to the chorus, laying on a thick Southern drawl. She takes the verses, rapping along with her arms up and elbows crooked so that she looks "gansta" while she twitches and wiggles to the music. Normally I hate it when country songs have rap, but Jason Aldean gets a pass with Dirt Road Anthem. It's one of the few songs we can both get into.
I love my little sister, and her musical tastes have always been as eclectic as my own, but somehow they hardly ever overlap. This is our song.
We're on our way home from seeing some chick flick playing at the dollar movie, and we've been laughing the whole time, quoting the cheesy lines we just heard. We're both in high spirits.
As the last notes finish she turns down the volume. Rachel is the only person I have ever allowed to mess with my radio.
"Yeck!" She squeals, "School starts again on Monday," It's January, the last weekend of her Winter break.
"Hey, enjoy it while you can. The real world is not as fun as high school," I laugh at the face she makes.
"Is that why you wanna be a teacher? 'Cause you don't like the real world?" She gives me a wicked smile.
"Oh, hush your mouth," I wave my hand in her face to shush her, my eyes on the road.
"Hey!" She squeaks, slapping my hand away. Her tone shifts to one of excitement, "I turn eighteen this year!"
I giggle at her enthusiasm, "Not 'till October, but yeah I guess you do," The thought of Rachel as a legal adult is a laughable concept.
"So you know what I was thinking?" She taps her hands on the dashboard, in time to the upbeat song coming quietly through the radio.
"Oh, God, not one of your plans," Rachel has drug me along on more than one of her weird ideas. A ghost tour of the Springer Opera House comes to the forefront of my memory. Obviously we hadn't seen any ghosts, though she swore she'd felt a cold-spot.
"No, you have to do this one. It's a good one," She grins at me, her warm hazel eyes shining with excitement. Her eyes match the golden-blonde of her long, straight hair.
"Mkay, that depends on what it is," I try focusing on the traffic around us.
"For my birthday I want the two of us to get matching tattoos," She claps her hands. Rachel is only ever giddy and crazy when I'm around. Normally her demeanor is calm and down-to-Earth and she can get so shy around strangers, but something about the two of us together brings out her wild side. She gets me into so much trouble sometimes.
"I'm not getting any butterflies or flowers on me, Rae,"
"No duh, smarty," She huffs, "I haven't figured out what it's going to be yet, but I want us to get a sister tattoo," I shake my head. Knowing Rachel, she'll talk me into it by October.
"Jesus!" We shout in unison as some maniac in a red Explorer comes whooshing by, almost crashing into our lane.
"Someone's in a hurry," She laughs, but I'm still a bit shaken. That was a close one. Apparently Rachel thinks the look on my face is pretty priceless because she pulls out her phone and snaps a picture.
January. Was that only five months ago? Not even half a year ago and I can't think about that memory without feeling like it belongs to someone else. It wasn't long after that when my truck broke down. It gouged a hole into my college savings and set me back from re-enrolling in school, but I'd gotten it fixed. Rachel got buried in school and I'd thrown myself into working to recoup the money I'd spent on my truck. That night was the last time we'd really gotten to hang out.
My brain is wandering, still half-asleep. Was I dreaming about that night with my sister? It might have started out as one. I open my eyes, the sight of metal bars greeting me.
Everything hurts, and I feel a bit light-headed. I raise an arm to cradle my skull, and notice with a shock the absence of those horrible manacles. I look in awe down at my wrists.
I didn't bleed to death, apparently.
My wrecked wrists are throbbing but they are wrapped in blood-stained bandages. Someone here saved my life. I can't help but swallow back the question of why. Whatever reason the Unit wants me alive can't be good, so for the moment I won't think about that and I'll just be happy that I'm not dead. I run a hand through my hair just because I can. There's a sore goose-egg rising off the left side of my skull, and I can feel a bumpy scab over it. That's where DeSalvo hit me with a freaking baseball bat. That's also the source of the disgusting crust of dried blood going all down half my face and sticking in chunks in my sweaty hair.
I wouldn't call myself a "girly girl" but my skin is crawling at the level of filthiness that I've reached. How long have I been here?
I sit up and lean back against my cage. A dull clanking sound makes me look down to see that the manacles have been replaced by an almost matching cuff around my ankle attached to a heavy chain, padlocked to one of the bars of this stupid cage. Is the chain really necessary, guys? At least this time there aren't any spikes. The cuff does have the same creepy symbols carved into it, though. Fuck it, I'll worry about that later. What bothers me more is that at some point (probably when they were dragging my unconscious body out of the hotel parking lot) my flip flops fell off. Dang it, I'm barefoot. How did I not notice that earlier? I guess I was a little busy getting beaten up on by Melaina.
My throat is a desert and my lips are raw with dehydration. How long has it been since I drank anything? My dry tongue seems to take up my whole mouth. I try running it over my cracked lips but it does nothing to alleviate the discomfort. I can't worry about that, though. If the Unit plans on keeping me alive then they will have to bring me water soon, so there's no point focusing on it.
The heat in this room is oppressive, but judging by the sun leaking in through the no longer boarded windows I'd say it's early morning. Hell, it could be sunset though for all I know. The sun is up, and I'm alive to see it.
I look around the room. It's still pretty dismal, but it's much less creepy now that some light is getting in.
Shit. Standing perfectly still and quiet by the door is Adrian. He's just staring at me with those hooded dark eyes. God, that kid needs a bell around his neck or something. He keeps popping up unannounced and I'm getting kind of sick of it.
I want to ask what day it is. There are several things I want to ask him, actually, but instead I just stare him down. He just looks at me. I can't tell if he's giving me an angry look or if his face is just stuck like that, the corners of his mouth plunging downward, his eyebrows pulled together until a little wrinkle forms distastefully over his eyes. Either way, I don't like looking at him.
What makes it so particularly awful is that he looks so much like Markus. He has the same arrow-straight posture, the same narrow, wiry build, the same dark features contrasted sharply by pale skin. How did I not realize they were brothers from the first moment I saw Adrian standing on the firehouse doorstep?
Well, that question is easily answered. Because as much as Adrian looks like his big brother, he still looks nothing like Markus. His eyes hold no warmth, instead they glint coldly over dark circles. His pale skin looks sickly, like he never steps out into the Sun. The way he carries himself has none of Markus' quiet zen, instead Adrian always seems to look like he wants to punch something. I think the haircut also helps. Markus' shaggy, almost black hair is always just a little messy, it gets into his face and sticks out over his ears. It makes him look younger than he is, and softens the impact of his dark stare. Adrian's buzz-cut makes his face seem to be all sharp angles, makes his eyes jump out against his skin.
They are nothing alike, and it is some sick universal joke that they look so similar.
He's still staring me down. He doesn't move, doesn't even twitch. God, this kid is the living definition of creeptastic. If he would only walk over here I'd spit in his face just like I did to his momma. I wonder what the demons would do to me if I keep up that kind of behavior? Actually, it seems like they want me alive, so they can't really do too much worse than they've already done.
That's an interesting thought. It opens up some possibilities. I hold back a laugh. Let's see if Adrian has any of his brother's patience.
"In a CAVERN in a CANYON excavaaating for a mine!" I knew memorizing this thing would come in handy, "Lived a MINER FORTY-NINER and his daughter Clementine!"
"What are you doing?" Adrian recoils slightly, as if my mental imbalance could be contagious.
"Light she WAS and like a FAIRY! And her SHOOOES were number nine! Herring BOXES without TOPSES," It's not like I have anything better to do, "sandals were for Clementine!"
"Stop that," He looks shiftily around the room, as if unsure of what to do.
"Drove she DUCKLINGS to the WATER every MOOORNING just at NINE, hit her FOOT upon a SPLINTER, fell into the foaming brine!" I'm smiling so wide that the cut on my face is stinging, but I don't care, "Ruby LIPS above the WATER blowing BUUUBBLES soft and fine! But ALAS I am no SWIMMER so I lost my Clementine!" I have no idea why I'm yelling certain words, maybe just to add to Adrian's discomfort, but it's the most fun I've had in days.
"You stop that," He steps closer, halting halfway to my cage.
"Oh my DARLING, oh my DARLING, oh my DAAARLING Clementine! Thou art LOST and gone FOREVER dreadful SORRY Clementine!"
"Solorzano! The Hell is going on in there?" An angry voice from the hall.
"In a CHURCHYARD near the CANYON where the MYYYRTLE doth intwine! There grow ROSES and the POSIES fertilized by Clementine!" This really shouldn't be considered a kids song.
"I don't know! I think it's gone crazy!" Adrian reaches for his knife, and then seems to think better of it. He's staring at me, completely unsettled.
"Then the MINER forty-niner soon BEGAAAN to peak and pine! Thought he OUGHTA join his DAUGHTER now he's with his Clementine!" Thank God for obnoxious folk songs.
"Stop it," Adrian heads to the teacher's desk. There's a funny little bottle and a dirty old rag sitting there. Whatever, I've been chloroformed already. Bring it, Bitch.
"In my DREAMS she still doth HAUNT me, robed in GAAARMENTS soaked in BRINE!" Adrian fusses with the bottle, as if he knows he really shouldn't. Well, well, I think someone is under orders not to mess with the prisoner, "Then she RISES from the WATER and I KISS my Clementine!" Look at that, the song's over, I think it's time for an encore.
"Shut up, or I'll shut you up," He walks over, rag in hand. Come on, kid, make my day.
"In a CAVERN in a CANYON excavaaating for a MINE!" He shakes his head at me, fury splashed across his whole face. No wonder my little sisters used to bug me all the time; fucking with people can be fun, "Lived a MINER FORTY-NINER and his DAUGHTER Clementine!" My voice squeaks on the high notes, but that only makes this better.
There is a loud crashing sound down the hall. Adrian and I both jump at it. There are shouts and more banging. Now what could be going on? Adrian throws me a dirty look. I open my mouth to sing some more, to shout over the noise. Adrian makes a guttural sound and throws the rag down. He runs out of the room, knife in hand. That's right, go be a good little soldier and see what's going on. Leave this prisoner alone.
I laugh to myself and stretch my legs as best I can in my cramped cage. I can feel a trickle of blood running down my jawline. I must've reopened the cut on my face, but I don't care.
"Diana," I jerk around to see who in this God-forsaken place is actually calling me by my name.
"Tony!" I gasp. Never in my life have I been happier to see a dead person.
"Are you alright?" He comes rushing over, worry shining in his eyes.
"Iron bars, Tony, be careful," I warn him before he places his hands on my cage.
"Oh, God, what did they do?" He stares at me, looking near tears. I can still hear crashing noises in the hall, getting further away now, "Are you alright?" He just keeps staring. I know I'm quite a sight, but I wish he wouldn't stare.
"Yeah, I think they want me alive. Don't know why yet, though. You here to bust me out?" Please, please say yes.
"We're here to check on you. Joel's still working on how to get you loose," The fact that he has now called me by my name and Joel by his is a telling statement on how upset Tony is.
"Well, for now they want me in one piece. So tell Joel not to rush into anything half-cocked," Not that Joel ever would.
"One piece," His words come out flat, broken. His brown eyes take in my beaten state. I probably look like I went swimming in blood, my hair is matted with sweat and dust, my face is cut and bleeding.
"Hey, I'm still here, Tony. That's what matters, and it's looking like they plan on keeping me that way," I nod, and in doing so I feel a tickling trail of blood run down my neck from my sliced cheek.
"Diana," He whispers, still just staring at me.
"Tony, do not under any circumstances cry right now. Alright?" I give him a scolding look. I can barely hear the racket going on in the building, "Is that your doing?" I nod in the direction of the noise, trying to take his mind off of what I look like.
"Yeah, that's Frank and Calvin. They got a talent for distractions. You should see how quick Calvin can move; hardly anyone can get close enough to get him with iron, so we have a few minutes,"
"Maybe less than that. Don't you think they'll realize that this whole thing was a distraction?"
"You've got a point," He gets as close to the bars as he can without touching them and drops to his knees to look me in the eyes, "Are you okay?"
I reach one bandaged arm through the bars and take hold of his hand, "Hey, I could be a whole lot worse, so don't look at me like that, alright?"
"You are a good girl, Diana," He uses both hands to hold mine. I wonder if he had kids when he was alive. He'd be a good dad.
"Thanks, Tony. I miss you guys. You tell everyone that I miss them, okay? They've had a guard in here so I might not be able to telegraph, but I miss all of you and I promise that I'll still be here when ya'll come to bust me out,"
"I'll tell them," He nods, still barely holding back tears.
"Hey, none of that now. Get your war face on," I give him a goofy grimace.
"We've got to get you out of here," He squeezes my hand and then stands, looking around the room. He sees something on the floor by the door and runs over.
"I'm getting you out of here," He mutters, reaching down to pick something up. What is he looking at?
"Tony! What are you doing?" I won't argue with an escape plan, but I don't like the crazy look on his face. His hand makes contact with whatever it is, and his whole being shimmers out of sight. It's iron apparently.
"Tony!" I hiss, hoping that there's no one near enough to overhear me. He glimmers back, only to try to pick up the object again. And he's gone. I cross my arms in front of me, "Tony!" I hiss again, a little louder this time.
"The guard left a key over here," He stubbornly tries to pick it up again the second he re-materializes.
"Well, it ain't doin' you any good!" Hmm, I think I've spent a little too much time with Joel.
"I gotta do something!" He turns to me, looking desperate.
"You can, but there's nothing you can use around here to break open this cage, and you can't even touch the key, so calm down. You won't be any help if you go death-moment on me, so just keep your cool and listen!" That got his attention.
"What is it?" He comes walking back over, speaking in an undertone. There's no telling how long we have before someone comes checking in here.
"Look, this thing right here?" I point to my shackle, "This keeps me from making my shield or shooting off any energy. So I won't be able to help when ya'll are busting me out of here. Not unless we can get this off first. From what I can tell they've had one guard in the room with me and another in the hall outside. There were demons in the building yesterday when I woke up, but it seems like they're gone now, so I don't know what the deal is with that. It hasn't sounded like there's much foot traffic through the halls, but that's about all the information I've got. You tell that to Joel. You tell him what floor we're on and where in the building I am. If he doesn't have a schematic you draw one out for him, and don't forget any of the exits. You repeat this word-perfect, Tony, and you add any information you or Frank or Calvin can find out. Okay?" He nods at my hurried words, even managing a little smile at me.
"You stay brave here, alright?"
"Oh, you know I will," I grin, "And tell everyone I miss them. And Tony?" My voice crackles, and I'm not sure if it's the dehydration, "You can't tell Patrick how bad this is, alright?" Tony just shakes his head, "No, you can't let him know. I know I'm kinda wrecked, and if you tell him there's no telling what he'd do," God, that boy knows how to overreact with exquisitely little forward thinking.
"I'm telling Joel, though," He concedes. I nod gratefully.
"You gotta promise me one more thing, okay Tony?"
"Anything, Pony Girl,"
A little sigh rattles through my dry throat before I can get the words out, "You guys can't come back here again. Not until ya'll get me out,"
"I'm not leaving you alone here," He sounds offended.
"If you keep coming in here they might move me, and it might be somewhere even harder to break me out of."
He looks like he wants to argue, but he nods in submission to the look I'm giving him. Again, I reach my arm out of the cage to take his hand. I really don't want to say what I know I have to say.
"You need to go now, before they get back here. If they know that I talked to you they might think we've got a plan worked out and move me or worse,"
He squeezes my hand encouragingly, "Okay. You hold on, alright?"
"I promise," I nod and he vanishes, leaving me alone.
Not a moment too soon. I can hear footsteps racing in the hallway. Adrian comes sliding into the door, eyes open wide. I scoot in my cage, trying to find a comfortable position. It looks like I've got quite a wait ahead of me. I smile at Adrian.
"In a CAVERN in a CANYON excavaaating for a MINE!"