I held the mangled frames and cracked-but-whole lenses up for Vida to see. In a rare moment of sympathy, she gave him a pat on the shoulder and said, “Yeah, she’s got them, Gran.”
The driver’s-side door finally came open with a scream of metal against metal. Liam rolled, trying to get his left foot out from where it was pinned under the mangled dashboard. All the while, he clutched his left arm against his side, trying to keep it from being jostled.
“Dammit, you stupid kid,” Cole said, emotions simmering just beneath the surface. His right hand twitched and jerked as he reached inside to help his brother. “Damn you—how hard is it to not get yourself killed on my watch?”
“Trying,” Liam said, between gritted teeth. “Christ, that hurts.”
“Give me your arm,” Cole said, “this is going to suck, but—”
“Are you doing it?” Chubs was asking, “make sure you’re in the proper position—”
I don’t know what was worse: the sound of Liam’s shoulder socket realigning, or his howl of pain that followed.
“We need to move,” Vida said, kicking the SUV’s back door open. “This piece of shit is totaled—we’ll have to get into the bed of the truck, but standing around here crying over each other is going to get us shot, and fast.”
“Glasses?” Chubs called, holding out his hand in what he must have thought was my direction. Vida took that hand and looped it through her arm, accepting the twisted wire frames from me. I stopped her, just for a second, to make sure that she really was okay. Banged-up, bruised, but not bleeding. What a goddamn miracle this was—
Clancy. I spun back around to face the truck, heart paralyzed for the instant it took to spot his dark outline through the truck’s back window. Shit. This is how we’d lose him. Chaos. Carelessness. I’d panicked—my mind had just blanked out with terror and I’d run. I hadn’t even thought to take the keys out of the ignition. If Cole hadn’t bound his legs, he’d be in the wind by now.
Be better than this, I thought, my nails digging into the palms of my hands. You have to be better than this. The adrenaline was slow to leave my system; I couldn’t keep from shaking, not entirely.
“You know, Grannie,” Vida’s voice drew my attention back toward them, “you have actually not sucked in this crisis.”
“I can’t see your face so I can’t tell how sincere that was....” Chubs said.
I slid the backpack fully onto my back, jogging around to where Cole was helping a limping Liam around the bodies of the downed soldiers, toward the truck. I couldn’t bring myself to look at them or assess what Cole had done in his moment of rage. Liam braced his bad arm against his chest. I slid my hand around the small of his back to help steady him—but, really, to reassure myself he was fine. Alive.
Liam tilted his head toward me and said, “Kiss me again.”
I did, soft and quick, right at the corner of his lips where there was a small white scar. Seeing my expression he added, “Saw my life flash before my eyes. Not enough kissing.”
Cole snorted, but his whole body was still tense with anger he couldn’t release. “Wow, kid. Unusually smooth for you.”
We lifted Liam onto the flatbed, laying him out next to Chubs, who was clutching the broken remains of his glasses over his heart.
“Oh, damn,” Liam said, seeing them. “I’m sorry, buddy.”
“Prescription,” he said in a low, mournful voice. “They were prescription lenses.”
Cole yanked the sheet of electric-blue tarp out from under his brother and spread it over them.
“What are you doing?” Vida demanded, already trying to sit up.
“Stay down and stay covered. We’re going to get as far as we can away from here and switch cars. Chances are they radioed this one in.”
“I would like to register the fact that this f**king sucks,” she said.
“Noted,” he said, shutting the gate.
I climbed back up behind the wheel again, soaking in the vibrations from the running engine. Clancy had finally gotten his hood up and off him, and even though I didn’t look over, I saw him watching me out of the corner of my eye. For the first time in weeks, the sullen irritation that had coated his every mood was gone, and he was...smiling. His gaze shifted away, over to Cole, who slammed his door shut hard enough to rock the whole vehicle. In his lap was what looked like a leather pouch, and a pistol that he must have taken off one of the soldiers. They both slid around as his hand continued to jerk, spasm, until he finally tucked it beneath his leg. The sight made my brain think Mason. Red. Fire. It plucked at loose threads at the back of my mind until I saw the pattern of how they were woven together.
The Reds at Thurmond had moved strangely; they lurched when others walked, jabbed when others waved. But I’d just assumed the awkward jerks were because of the restraints the PSFs kept them in.
But Mason...the kids in Nashville, they’d called him Twitch. Twitch, because of the way his whole body spasmed with its strange rhythm. I thought...I don’t know that I’d even really thought about why; I’d just assumed it had something to do with the way he was trained, the way the government had broken his mind trying to mold him into the perfect soldier.
All of them, all of the Reds—they all must have had some version of this physical tic. And if I was able to recognize it after only being around a few of them, then how could someone who had been there—to make suggestions for and contribute to and witness the training—miss the signs?