“As if she’s just some blameless bystander here.”
“I said shut up!” Daniel bellowed the last two words at a deafening decibel.
Alex cringed. The dog whined, pulling its face inside and staring at its master.
“Easy,” Kevin said, maybe to the dog.
Daniel noticed her reaction.
“Are you okay?”
“Actually, on top of a lot of other uncomfortable injuries, I’ve got a splitting headache.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“You look like you’re going to crash – figuratively and literally. Want me to drive? You could try to get a nap.”
She thought about that for a minute. She’d always had to do things on her own, but that was okay, because then she knew they were done right. She didn’t have someone to take turns driving with, but that was also okay, because then she didn’t have to trust someone. Trust was a killer.
Still, she knew her limits. There was something so luxurious about the idea of being able to sleep and travel at the same time.
And she did trust Daniel not to hurt her, not to betray her. Knowing it could be a huge mistake, she still trusted him.
“Thank you,” she said. “That would be really nice. I’ll pull over at the next exit.”
The words sounded odd to her as they came out of her mouth. Like something someone would say on television, lines from one actor to another. But she supposed this was how normal human interactions generally sounded. She just didn’t have a lot of those in her life.
The silence was lovely for the two miles it took to get to the next exit. The peace made her even sleepier. Her eyelids were already doing the involuntary slow blink as she pulled off onto the dirt shoulder.
No one spoke while they made the exchange. Kevin’s head lolled back on his seat, eyes closed. Daniel touched her shoulder lightly as he passed her.
Tired as she was, she didn’t fall asleep immediately. At first she thought it was the weirdness of having the car moving beneath her; her body assumed from long habit that she would be the one at the wheel and knew sleep was not allowed. She peeked at Daniel a few times from under her hat, just as reassurance. He knew how to drive a car. It was okay to relax. Sure, the seat was uncomfortable, but not much worse than her usual nighttime setup. She’d taught herself to get rest where she could. But her head felt… too unrestrained. As soon as she realized this, she knew it was the gas mask she was missing. It had become part of her sleep ritual.
Understanding the problem helped. She pulled her baseball cap farther down over her sore face and told herself to relax. She’d strung no wires today. No poison gas threatened. Everything was okay, she promised herself.
It was dark when she woke up. She felt stiff, incredibly sore, and hungry. She also really had to pee. She wished she could have stayed asleep longer and thus avoided all of these unpleasant feelings, but the brothers were arguing again. She’d been out for a long time, she knew, so she couldn’t blame them for forgetting her, but she wished they hadn’t been arguing about her when she awakened.
“… but she isn’t pretty,” Kevin was saying as she began to surface.
“You don’t even know what she looks like,” Daniel replied angrily. “You mauled her face before you had a chance to introduce yourself.”
“It ain’t just about the face, kid. She’s built like a skinny ten-year-old boy.”
“You are the reason why women think all men are dogs. Also, the term is sylphid.”
“You read too many books.”
“You don’t read enough.”
“I call it how it is.”
“You have limited perception.”
“Hey, it’s okay,” Alex interrupted. There was no graceful way into this conversation, but she didn’t want to pretend to be asleep. “No offense taken.”
She pulled the hat off her face and wiped away the drool that had leaked from her damaged lip.
“Sorry,” Daniel muttered.
“Don’t worry about it. I needed to wake up.”
“No, I mean him.”
“Your brother’s low opinion of my charms is its own special kind of compliment.”
Daniel laughed. “Good point.”
Alex stretched, and then groaned. “Let me guess. When you pictured the Mad Scientist’s female partner, the mysterious Oleander, you saw a blonde, right?” She glanced at his face – suddenly rigid. “Yes, definitely a blonde. Large breasts, long tan legs, full lips, and huge blue doe eyes? Did I get it all? Or was there a French accent, too?”
Kevin didn’t respond. She glanced back at him; he stared out the window as if he weren’t listening to her.
“Got it in one.” She laughed.
“He was always a fan of the obvious,” Daniel said.
“I never saw one of those on the job,” Alex told Daniel. “I’m not saying such a creature wouldn’t have the brains necessary, but really, why spend decades buried in unglamorous research when there are so many other options?”
“I’ve seen girls like that on the job,” Kevin muttered.
“Sure, agents,” Alex allowed. “That’s a sexy job. Exciting. But trust me, lab coats really aren’t that figure-flattering, despite the slutty Halloween-costume version.”
Kevin went back to looking out the window.
“How are you feeling?” Daniel asked.