Well, look at that. A deleted scene thing for Blank Mastermind. Who’d have thought.
Technically, I’m not even here right now. I’m on internet break for a week and I’m writing to you from the past. (-spooky greetings from Tuesday morning-) So I’ll take a while to respond to comments. But in the meantime, I have a couple of fun things scheduled to go up, this being one of them.
And hey, this one actually has a pre-planned title that fits really well and I’m happy with. -hallelujah chorus-
So. After the events of Blank Mastermind (go catch up if you haven’t read already because this has spoilers -shoos you-) and starring Wolfgang (as usual) and Liza.
It’s a leetle bit longer than usual. Eleven pages instead of my usual eight. And it really didn’t have enough tension to carry out a cliffhanger to the next week. But hey, you guys don’t mind, right?
My phone pinged in my pocket and I jumped, smacking my head on the underside of the Fernsby’s van. I swore quietly through my clenched teeth.
And I’d just managed to concentrate enough beyond the small space it was under here to actually get some fixing done . . .
“You okay?” Dallas’s muted voice came down.
“Yeah, yeah. Just . . . a text.” The words caught in my throat from the returning tightness in my lungs. I closed my eyes and took a slow breath, rubbing at my forehead a little. Probably best to give it a rest for a minute. “Hold on a sec, I’m coming back out.”
This used to be so relaxing. Just slipping in under an old car and working out any problems . . . maybe listening to music or talking with whoever was handing me tools. Yet another thing sacrificed to the idiotic aftereffects of the bomb.
Biting my tongue, I edged myself out sideways, back into the clear sunlight. I sat up, taking in a deep breath as I fumbled my phone out.
Dallas still sat on the cracked pavement next to me, pieces of gravel clinging to the edges of his green hoodie. He moved the squeaky handle of my toolbox and frowned at me in concern. “Are you sure you’re okay doing this, Wolf?”
“I’m fine,” I sighed, setting my phone in my lap and running my fingers through my hair. “It’s . . . it’s dumb. I just have to readjust to doing it a bit more.”
He twisted his mouth sideways and nodded, tapping a little wrench against the driveway as he looked away.
I flipped my phone open to see the text. Something from Liza. I frowned a little as I opened the message and read.
-hey, you said you wanted to get me out in the sun sometime. Tomorrow looks pretty sunny. Whaddya say?
She had to be kidding. She was still recovering from that weird . . . attachment surgery thing for her arm. Liza probably wasn’t even out of the hospital from that yet, was she? I’d visited her just the day before yesterday . . .
There was still stuff that needed to be done before she was good to head back out to doing things with friends. Let alone me.
This was ridiculous
I pushed to my feet. “Hey, give me a sec. I’m gonna call Liz really quick.”
Dallas looked up. “Is everything alright?”
“Yeah, fine. Just asking something.”
I punched in her number as I walked away a few yards, then put the phone to my ear. It buzzed quietly as it connected through to the other end. There was a click and Liza’s familiar accented drawl came over the line.
“Oh, you had to tell me an answer yourself, did you? ‘The Wolf’ doesn’t text anymore?” Her voice held an unmistakable tone of amusement.
“No, he’d just rather his friends explain themselves.” I stuck my free hand in my pocket. “Aren’t you still in the hospital?”
“Under duress.” Her voice held a note of strain.
“Liza, the surgery was less than a week ago. You should really just rest for a bit.”
She sputtered a laugh. “Says the man who broke out of the hospital less than a week after nearly being blown to smithereens.”
Of course that would come up. I blew out my breath and shook my head, finding myself fighting back a little bit of a smile. “Do as I say and not as I do.”
“Why do you have to have all the fun?” I heard her voice lower and guessed there was a nurse nearby. “You lads left me out last time. It’s stuffy in here, I feel fine, and Bad said he’d help boost me out. I was thinking you could be the getaway car . . .”
I raised an eyebrow, even though she couldn’t see. A smile pulled my mouth sideways. “Look, when I said we could go somewhere, I didn’t mean . . .”
“Oh bosh, Wolfy. I’m coming back. I need to get out for a bit. Just a drive, at least. Could you just show up tomorrow at one-thirty?”
I sighed and shook my head. Up until a few months ago, the entirety of our friendship existed outside the law. Of course at least the spirit of it was going to stay that way.
She sounds fine . . . what could one afternoon hurt?
“Alright. I’ll be there.”
I had a feeling Dallas and the Fernsbys wouldn’t be all in favor of my being involved in yet another hospital breakout, so I just said I was stopping by to visit Liza.
It actually was pretty nice and sunny. Comparatively warm for an October day, too. I parked the Mustang right near the entrance, but kept the engine running while I waited. I wasn’t sure exactly how much of a dramatic exit this was going to be.
A few minutes after one-thirty, someone in a too-big hoodie edged out through the door, keeping her hands in her pockets and her face hidden in the hood. No enraged doctors and nurses came chasing after.
I grinned as she turned towards me and I caught a glimpse of turquoise hair behind the hood.
Liza smiled back and saluted me as she sped her pace towards my car. She popped the door, still not taking her right hand out of her pocket, and slid into the passenger seat.
“On time for once, ey?”
“Hey, you were three minutes late,” I pointed out, backing the car up and looking over my shoulder. I elbowed her gently as we pulled back out onto the road. “Showoff. Of course you’d just slip out without anybody noticing.”
Liza pulled the hood back from her face and slipped her ponytail out over her shoulder. “I’ve always had more grace in escaping than you do,” she smirked. “That, and Bad had more time to perfect his plan this time. It made it easier that I wasn’t on crutches.”
I rolled my eyes. “Like I could have helped that. No Schoolhouse Rock serenades for the nurses?”
“If there were, I missed ‘em.” She laughed, leaning back in her seat. I caught the tightness of a wince in her expression.
I slowed the car as we came to a stoplight, glancing over at her. She was tough. But sometimes just a bit too tough to let on when she was actually hurting.
“How’s the new arm treating you?” I nodded to her right arm, still hidden in the folds of the huge hoodie she wore. The stoplight blinked green and I slowly started the car forward again, still keeping an eye on her.
“Well, it’s the best I’m getting. And it’s better than no arm by a long shot.” Liza pulled her hand out of her pocket and the glint of metal caught the sunlight.
Man, I knew there were scientific developments . . . I’d seen her prototypes and all . . . but this was incredibly life-like.
I blinked, having to check myself to keep from swerving the car. “Wow. That’s . . . that’s really cool.”
“It’s bloody heavy compared to the other one,” Liza let it rest in her lap for a few seconds, carefully flexing the fingers, then curling them into a weak fist. “It’ll take a bit of getting used to, that’s for sure. But hey,” she smiled again, “Better than no arm. I’ll install the gadgets later.”
I nodded and smiled a little. I rubbed my hands on the steering wheel as we got up to speed on the freeway, the trees, rocks and mountains blurring past.
“So . . . was there anywhere in particular you wanted to go?”
It was quiet for a minute. Liza rubbed at her new arm and watched out the windshield, twisting her mouth sideways thoughtfully.
I shifted in my seat. “I mean, I can just drive, if you want. We can listen to music and . . .”
“No, I was just thinking . . . Moab, maybe.” Her voice was quiet and she kept looking thoughtfully out at the road whizzing by underneath us. “I mean . . . we haven’t been there since . . . you know.” She coughed and swallowed, moving in her seat to glance over at me. “It might be nice to see how they’ve rebuilt things. After all that.”
The suggestion sent an involuntary jolt of cold through me, but I did my best to hide the wince.
Moab. Where . . . the bomb had gone off. Where my family and Eli had been killed.
I’d told myself again and again I was over it. It was in the past now. I’d moved on and the bomb didn’t still haunt my nightmares.
It was truer than it had been in years. But I was still having problems, as much as I tried to hide it.
I wasn’t blaming Charles, killing people or going on revenge rampages anymore, but I was still avoiding my former hometown as much as I had years ago. The image of the charred, blackened buildings . . . the smoke, the broken glass and the bodies . . . it all was still seared all too clearly into my memory.
That’s part of recovering though, isn’t it? Face up to the past. See the new beginnings and all. It doesn’t define me.
“Wolfy?” Liza’s voice broke in, making me jump.
I blinked, looking over at her. “Hmm?”
“You sort of zoned out for a second there.” One side of her mouth turned down in a half-frown. She fidgeted with the end of her ponytail, watching me, then looking down at her shoes. “We don’t have to . . . if . . . it’s that big of a deal. I just thought it might be . . . time, y’know?”
Silence for minute.
I rubbed my hands on the steering wheel and let out my breath. She was right. I couldn’t just take detours around my old home forever.
Liza didn’t look up, rubbing her pale, left hand over the metal, right one as she waited for my answer.
I swallowed and nodded as she glanced up again. “Yeah. I’ll . . . I mean . . . yeah, I’m good with it.” I ran a hand over my hair as I looked back out at the road. We were driving in the right direction for it. I just had to keep going straight instead of taking my usual turn-offs to avoid it.
Liza relaxed a little, offering me a bit of a smile. “Thanks.” She reached over and lightly punched my shoulder. “And it’ll be better with the both of us there together, hey?”
I chuckled dryly. “Slap me if I start crying.”
“You’ll do fine,” Liza assured, shaking her head. She uncurled the hand she’d just punched my shoulder with and reached down to squeeze my hand.
I took another deep breath as we passed a sign saying how close we were. There was a nice, long drive ahead of us.
I looked over at Liza. “You pick the music first. We’ve got a while to drive.”
She smiled as she grabbed her Proclaimers disc out of the glove compartment.
The road wound along the route I’d gone along so many times on my way home before. Landmarks and weirdly shaped rocks I didn’t even expect myself to remember.
It felt like I was driving back in time or something. My mind went ahead of me along the road to the old town and home I knew weren’t there anymore.
Liza’s quiet singing trailed off and she popped the disc out as we came closer.
The same old mountain peaks in the distance loomed overhead. The same old red rocks around us.
I took my foot off the gas as I reached the spot where I’d stopped before. The pileup of cars and the police barricade at the entrance of the town before. My breathing hitched in my throat.
“You okay, Wolfy?” Liza asked.
A car in back of me honked and I shook my head, getting back up to speed. “It’s fine. Just . . . yeah, I’m okay.”
Liza blinked a couple of times as we came around the last corner. There was the entrance to town.
A new “welcome to Moab” sign greeted us. Brightly painted, rebuilt buildings made up the main street, some of them still under construction. A new visitor center, with a sign claiming the new rebuilt town. The resilience of the community that was forged in the fire of the bomb.
I turned off to park by the side of the road, by the new visitor center. “I’m just . . . g-gonna park here, for right now,” I muttered, swallowing.
Liza nodded looking over at my hands. It was pretty obvious how hard they were shaking.
I stopped off, pulling the car into park, then leaning back in my seat. I ran my hands through my hair and closed my eyes for a second. Deep breath. In and out.
I was here. I was back and it felt . . . just so close to my old home. But it wasn’t.
I let out another breath along with a silent prayer.
The sound of the passenger door opening snapped my eyes back open. I looked over to see Liza slipping out, her prosthetic hand on the door. She met my gaze and shook her head a little. “You can still stay here if you want. I’m just gonna . . .”
“No, I’m coming.” I pulled out the keys, fumbled my grip onto my own door handle and popped it open, stepping out into the open air with her. She peeked at me over the convertible roof of the car and I forced a grin. “In this together, remember?”
I came around to her side. “Besides, you’re the one who’s supposed to be in the hospital . . .” A cold gust of wind ruffled both of our hair, blowing a strand of turquoise over Liza’s nose.
She smiled a little, sticking her metal hand back into her front hoodie pocket. “If you’re sure.”
We just stood there for a second before starting off together towards the rest of the town. It was a relatively quiet day for the businesses. Just a few people parked outside, chatting with each other or wandering the streets. A few cars puttering past.
Liza’s and my sneakers scuffed out an uneven beat along the smooth, new pavement.
The air I was breathing even smelled the same as I remembered. The way the sun peeked through the rocks and the mismatched buildings.
The last time I was here was when I met Liza. Both of us crawling past the cops and into the smoking remains of Moab . . . Empty streets filled with smoke and broken glass . . .
A rubbed a hand over my face and up through my hair, trying to keep my thoughts on the present. The overload of memories from just walking into town was almost making me lightheaded.
Liza shivered next to me and slowed her pace, hunching her shoulders under her too-big hoodie. Her blue eyes focused past me towards a building across the street.
I followed her gaze. The foundation of the old auto-body shop had stayed. That was where my dad had worked once. Where Eli had worked later. Where Eli died.
It was an auto body shop again. Different name, different front, but I recognized the spot.
We stopped, looking across the street at it. Liza watched it like it might jump over and bite her. Her eyes were wide and her lips pressed thinly together.
The nightmare she’d lived through in the ruins of that building. Climbing through and calling and calling for Eli. Looking. And finding his body. Finding him already dead.
I at least got to say goodbye to Peter.
I kept my hands in my pockets and watched my shoes.
A minute of the quiet town noises passed.
Liza cleared her throat a little and leaned against my jacket arm, her expression not as tight as it had been. “They . . . rebuilt it pretty nicely.” Her voice had a tired note in it. She looked up, “Don’t you think?”
I nodded. “Really nice.” I managed a half-smile back down at her. “At least it doesn’t have that awful green awning anymore.”
“Red works much better,” she agreed. She took a deep breath and let it out.
It was quiet for a bit longer, then Liza shoved off of my arm and upright again. “Well. Want to keep looking around? Maybe . . .” she trailed off, looking over in the direction of the side street curving off from the side of the shop.
The road going towards my old home.
My stomach twisted. I swallowed back the memories, keeping my eyes fixed on the row of rebuilt houses I could see beyond us.
I nodded my head slowly. “Yeah. It’s . . . only a few minutes walk. Just the end of cul-de-sac . . . up there.” I gestured vaguely in that direction.
Liza polished her sleeve over her new hand a little, then reached down to pluck at my sleeve, smiling encouragingly. “Allons-y, right?”
“Right.” I rubbed at my wrists before sticking my hands into my pockets and starting along with her down the street. My shaking fingers wrapped around my keys and I ran my knuckles along the jagged edge as I walked.
Just don’t crack. Don’t freak out. It’s just a walk through town.
And, surprisingly, I actually . . . held together.
The vivid, jaggedly black outlines I’d last seen on this street faded back in my mind this time instead of getting clearer. The houses weren’t all the same. But . . . they were there. They were rebuilt and people were living here again. Families like mine.
It hadn’t stayed a war zone like I remembered. The world had gone on turning with the Dankworth family gone. The town had reconstructed even without a bunch of crazy cowlicks living at the end of a cul-de-sac. And I managed to find a part of me that wasn’t repulsed by that idea.
A kid rode his bike down the street, his big sister jogging alongside him to make sure he didn’t fall over.
A hint of a smile pulled at my mouth. I remembered doing that with Ellie. Helping her ride her bike down this street. There’s just enough slope here to make it perfect for kids to ride . . .
Liza looped her arm into mine, tipping her head to see my face. “Well, it doesn’t look to me like you’re crying.”
I shrugged, pulling a hand out of my pocket and fidgeting with my jacket zipper. “Yeah, it’s actually . . . I think it’s helping, kind of.”
She smiled a little. “I’d say ‘I told you so’, but I know how that annoys you, so I won’t.”
“How kind.” I glanced down at her and nudged her shoulder, partly surprised by the unexpected hardness. “Your arm doing okay?”
Liza rubbed her hands together again. “Not bad, consideri-“ she cut off, biting her lip and stopping in her tracks.
I stopped with her, my brow furrowing.
She cursed quietly, rubbing at her prosthetic and closing her eyes in a wince. “Jinxed myself, I suppose.” Her voice was tight.
Oh great, what was I supposed to do now? Of course I had to go bumping her like that . . . I patted down my pockets, like I’d magically grow News’s medical supply in my own coat. “Where does it hurt? What can I do?”
“N-nothing,” she shook her head, curling over her arm. She forced a deep breath, cradling the prosthetic against her chest.
“Seriously, Liza.” I reached over to try and pull the hoodie off over her arm so I could see it. “Just tell me where it h-“
“Seriously, Wolfgang. Nowhere.” Liza took in a breath through her clenched teeth, closing her eyes. She pushed the rest of the way out of the hoodie, letting it crumple to the ground next to her, leaving her just in her ordinary black tank top. She rubbed at the white bandages wrapped on her shoulder where the new, metal limb connected. “Bloody phantom pain. My old arm hurts. The one that isn’t there anymore.”
I stared and ran a hand over my hair. That was a thing? Feeling pain in something that didn’t even exist anymore? Something that wasn’t connected to you?
“H-how . . .” I stammered. “How long does it last?”
“Not more than a minute, usually. Ugh . . .” she bit her lip harder. “I just . . . the docs said it’ll stop once my brain just . . . accepts the fact that it’s gone.”
“Here, can we help with that then?” I leaned over and took hold of her cold, metal hand, holding it up so she could see. “Look. New limb.”
Liza laughed tightly, awkwardly squeezing my hand back. “It’s okay, Wolfy. Just give it a little bit.” She kept holding onto her shoulder as she bent over to pick up the hoodie off the ground.
“You sure you don’t want to just go back to the car?”
“Keep walking, Doctor Dankworth. We didn’t come this far for nothing.” She slung her hoodie over her good shoulder and stuck her tongue out at me. “It’s going away already. I’m fine.”
I watched her carefully, but kept walking anyway, just a bit slower.
Another minute of walking and I could see the end of the road. The circular patch of pavement and the new houses built back up around it. I only saw the outlines before looking back down at my shoes, then over at Liza.
She still held her arm a little awkwardly, but was walking just fine. Pointing off to the left, she nodded. “Wasn’t that where it used to be?”
The darker memories rose up more than they had the whole time. Peter’s screaming . . . the fire flickering over the ruins of the house . . . all the smoke and the death and . . .
I stopped and closed my eyes, biting my tongue. I can’t I can’t . . .
I took in a slow breath through my nose. It smelled just like home used to smell in the fall. Leafy and damp. No acrid smoke scorched the air.
Liza’s hand rested on my arm.
I bit my tongue and opened my eyes. “It’s . . . to the right, actually.” I dragged my gaze back up.
It was a whole new house. Light blue, with shutters and a bright red front door. The wide windows opened to the front, just like they did before. Light glowed out through the curtains in the dusky light. A tricycle sat sideways in the yard, along with a few toy trucks. The same mountains in the back I’d always see out my bedroom window.
The clenching, tight feeling in my chest loosened as I soaked in all the details.
Some silhouettes from inside moved past the window and there was the muted, distant sound of laughter. A girl with a baby on her hip and a taller man.
A squeal and a tiny figure scampered after them.
Another family. Building and making a home just where I’d grown up.
Something still ached inside of me, but it didn’t hurt like I thought it would. It was actually sort of . . . happy. Peaceful, almost. It looked like a family Mom would bake cookies for and wish them good luck starting their family . . . welcome them to the neighborhood.
Mom probably would have liked another family moving into the house.
I felt something wet drip onto my cheek and bit my lip, swiping at it with my sleeve.
Liza shrugged back into her hoodie and elbowed me gently. “You don’t still want me to slap you, do you?”
I laughed a little and shook my head. “I’ll be okay.” I stood there for another minute with my hands in my pockets, then let out my breath. “I just . . . yeah. Thanks for making me come.”
She nodded, giving me a sideways smile. “Thanks for helping. With the phantom pains and all.”
Feeling pain for something that wasn’t there anymore. Wasn’t attached. Huh. Oddly appropriate.
I nodded. “And thanks for helping me with mine.”
I took her metal hand in mine and we started back down the sidewalk.
Awww, see I can write happy Wolfgang things. ❤ Sort of. ❤
Well, hope everybody liked that. Tell me your thoughts below and I’ll respond when I get back!