“Come on, Steph!” Steph looked down at Gabe who was giving her a thumbs up, receiving an eye roll from her.
“Gabe, leave Steph be. She’s gotta do this at her own pace,” Charlotte said, to which Steph smiled. Charlotte was fun to hang out with, a bit surprising at times. Steph barely believed it when Charlotte assured her that it hadn’t been Gabe who had come up with the idea to go indoor rock climbing.
“Still surprised we went to an indoor climbing hall, the mountains are literally in our backyards!” Steph said with a chuckle as she grabbed onto a green climbing hold, placed one foot on a red one and the other on one that was blue. She hoisted herself up, tapped on top of the climbing wall and shot a triumphant look at Gabe.
“Nice job, Steph. Ryan better watch out.” When Charlotte let out an exasperated sigh Steph couldn’t help but laugh.
“I’m gonna kick his butt!”
The snort Steph let out at the memory echoed through the mine shaft, which painted a picture of how massively deep it was. When she looked up she let out a sigh. She hadn’t descended all that much yet, meaning she had still quite a bit to go. In an attempt to keep her thoughts from spiraling she started humming songs, which seemed to help a little bit, at least.
“What was it again that Ryan said? ‘Slow is steady, steady is fast?’ Something like that,” Steph muttered to herself as she lowered herself a little more again. She made sure she had good footing before giving the rope more slack each time.
Steph got startled as she felt her phone buzzing in her pocket, then took a deep breath and slowly exhaled through her mouth. With extreme caution Steph took a piton anchor from the side pocket of the backpack, where she’d put them for easy access, and jammed one into a crack in the rock wall in front of her. With another deep breath Steph tied the rope to it with a prusik knot, remembering how Ryan taught her how to tie it.
After making sure she was secure, she took off the glove on her right hand and carefully took out her phone, holding it with an iron grip. Ryan informed her that Pike had taken Alex to the station for questioning, but that he had to release her again later on.
“Fuck… What the hell happened?” Steph quickly messaged back, asking if Pike had said anything about why, or what he’d talked to Alex about. She nearly facepalmed herself when it showed that her message couldn’t be sent due to the lack of service. “Of course,” Steph groaned and carefully put her phone back into her pocket. She put the glove back onto her right hand, biting and tugging at it to make sure it was snug around her hand.
The thought kept her occupied, giving her a whole new perspective on the situation as a whole. A few things were now certain: Alex hadn’t ghosted her and she hadn’t been the last person to see Alex.
Even if her message managed to be sent, Steph realized it was extremely unlikely Pike would tell either of them anything about what he’d discussed with Alex. She highly doubted it was about Gabe, although she wasn’t sure what else it’d be about. They hadn’t discussed with anyone that they were looking into things on their own. The only person who knew something was Riley, but she knew that Riley wouldn’t tell anyone. It simply wasn’t like her, especially since she had also shared that she felt Typhon was hiding something.
Steph remembered when she learned about the disaster that had taken place in this old mine, she hadn’t been in Haven Springs for very long at the time. Then again, there were reminders of it everywhere. There was the statue near the park and all the memorabilia in The Black Lantern, it was hard, if not impossible to ignore.
Despite all that, Jed never seemed to like it when people talked about it, or more specifically when they talked about how he was a hero for saving the others. Then again, Steph could kind of understand how it was a double edged sword.
With extreme caution, Steph took the flashlight out of the backpack, using one hand only. She turned it on and pointed it down, its light illuminating some of the shaft around and below her. The bottom still wasn’t visible, sadly. However, Steph now could see the wooden beams and planks more clearly. She also saw a metal ladder bolted to the other side of the mine shaft’s wall, which gave her the idea to get herself to that side. It would make the descent a lot easier and probably a lot less scary, too. The only problem was getting to it.
The wooden support beams against the walls of the shaft didn’t offer much room to find a stable foothold, as the ridges weren’t very wide. First she made sure to put back the flashlight, so that both her hands were mostly free. Steph looked at the ladder and made an estimation of how far away it was, her best guess was her own height in length, give or take.
With a shuddery breath, Steph slowly and carefully moved her right foot to the left, then her left foot. She quickly glanced up to make sure the rope wasn’t getting constricted, luck was on her side this time. Again, she carefully slid her right foot a little more to the left, followed by the other. Steph kept doing this, checking on the rope above her after each step.
Her breathing was shaky, but relatively stable. The same couldn’t really be said about her heartbeat, it was beating fast, then slowed down a little and started beating faster again.
“For Alex,” Steph said to herself. She gritted her teeth and with a single nod she moved again. Little by little she got closer to the metal ladder on the other wall, it was now nearly in reach. Steph took another deep breath, checked on the rope again and continued going.
When she felt like she was close enough, Steph reached out her hand to grab onto the ladder, although carefully. The moment she felt her weight shift and her right foot nearly slipped she pulled back her arm, feeling her heart at the base of her throat.
“No need to rush, Steph. Take it slow, gotta be careful here.” She rested her forehead against the cool rock wall in front of her as she fixed her footing, offering herself a few moments to catch her breath and calm herself down a little. After all, she’d be useless to Alex if she got herself injured.
After two more careful steps she tried again, reaching out her arm to the ladder, this time she was able to wrap her gloved fingers around the cool metal. The moment she had a firm grasp on the ladder she let out a huge sigh of relief. Steph started to laugh as the nerves had built up to a point it had to come out one way or another.
Once Steph had gotten her breathing and heartbeat under control she continued her descent, her steps still very careful. Every time before she actually set a foot on a step, she carefully put some pressure on it to ensure it was stable. The last thing she wanted was to make the mistake of blindly continuing and have a step give out underneath her foot.
The air kept getting cooler as she got further down the mine shaft, despite it being late May. A shiver went through Steph’s body and despite her best efforts, she wasn’t quite able to ignore it. Her skin was covered in goosebumps, although she wasn’t sure those were just because of the temperature. The lower she got, the more her unease grew.
After a few minutes Steph decided to check on her progress again and took out the flashlight, with a click she turned it on and pointed it downwards. She wasn’t entirely certain, but she thought she could see the bottom. A rush of relief washed through her, which Steph stopped quite quickly. It wasn’t time to celebrate yet, she could do that once her feet were on solid ground again.
Just as she was putting the flashlight back into the backpack she felt the step underneath one of her feet bend. Her heartbeat accelerated in a record time, her breathing hitching in her throat as she attempted to hold on for dear life. The rope was taut, putting more tension on the rope around her waist and legs. She let out a gasp that echoed between the shaft’s walls, ringing in her ears.
Breathe, Gingrich. Fucking breathe, concentrate! She had her eyes squeezed shut and her knuckles were undoubtedly white from gripping onto the ladder with all the strength she had in her. She pulled herself up a little, taking her weight off her foot before moving her foot to the next step. With more caution than before she checked its sturdiness, not putting her entire weight on it until she was absolutely certain it would hold her.
Steph got deeper and deeper into the mine shaft and she was kind of amazed there was still quite some length of rope left, Ryan proved once again he knew what he was about when it came to this kind of stuff.
Despite the urge to grab the flashlight again to check on her progress, Steph kept herself from doing so. While holding on for dear life she sucked in a breath and carefully turned her head, glancing down over her shoulder. She was met by darkness, although she could make out some thin bars.
After Steph focused a bit more, she realized those must be minecart tracks. This time she didn’t make the same mistake as earlier; she did not allow to feel relieved. Gotta keep going until I’m actually down there. The fact that her body ached from the nearly constant tension didn’t help, but she did her best to ignore it. That was something for Steph to worry about later, maybe.
To keep herself going at a steady pace she started humming again, playing the song in her head. It was enough of a distraction to keep herself from worrying over the possible state she might find Alex in, but not enough to keep her from focusing on her careful descent.
When Steph couldn’t find the next step with her foot, she felt panic flood her body. Her breathing started to hitch and her hands got clammy, heart accelerating once again. “Fuck, fuck, fuck! Come on! Please!”
It took her quite a few moments to gather enough courage to look down again, to see if it was just one step that was missing. Her eyes widened as she saw the shaft opening to a bigger space, meaning she had reached the bottom of the mine shaft. She kind of lost control and recklessly jumped down, which of course had been a mistake. Due to the fact she was still attached to the rope and was wearing a loaded backpack on her back, gravity did its thing.
The rope jerked taut, digging into the fabric of her clothes and scathing her skin painfully. She fell down and landed on her back, her legs hitting the ground harder than they should have. The impact knocked the air out of her lungs and caused black spots to dance in her vision.
“Great job,” Steph muttered and let the back of her head rest against the top of the backpack underneath her. Even though she was lucky the backpack had broken her fall, she remembered the water bottles and flashlight being in there. “No, no, no…” With her heart still pounding, Steph attempted to sit up, which took a lot more effort than she expected.
Her legs ached, as if pins and needles were pricking into them all over. When the sensation slowly returned she was reminded of the rope tied around her upper legs and waist, which was burning as it dug into her skin through her clothing. Steph gave up on attempting to sit up temporarily and closed her eyes, trying to focus on steadying her breathing.
When she’d calmed down and her breathing had gone back to relatively normal, she tried again. When it didn’t quite work out as she had hoped, Steph decided to go for a different tactic. After taking off the leather gloves and checking her hands were alright, or okay enough to use, she started to undo the rope around her waist and legs. It was tricky, her hands hurt and her fingers ached from being so tense the whole time, it was hard to bend and curl them. It was as if the strength had seeped out of them. Only because she had no other choice, Steph took frequent short breaks, just to let her fingers rest for a little bit before continuing to untie the rope.
After some painstaking minutes, the end of the rope finally came loose and the rope slacked beneath and beside her. Steph allowed herself to celebrate by laying down against the cold ground, staring up and seeing a little bit of the early morning sky. She wondered how much time had passed and tried to grab her phone. This too took way longer than usual, but after about a minute or two, Steph finally had her phone in her hand. Pressing the button on the side to light up the screen did nothing, even after several attempts and holding the button pressed down for a longer duration didn’t do anything.
If anyone had seen her like this, they’d probably think she was losing her marbles. Steph was laughing, all the nerves releasing as she gave in to the defeat. “Well, now I definitely don’t have any service.”
The temptation to throw her phone was strong, but she didn’t give into it. There was a chance that her phone would still work, maybe it just needed to be plugged in. She managed to put the phone back into her pocket and sit up, albeit with a seemingly mountainous amount of effort.
Steph slid the shoulder straps off and grabbed the backpack, setting it down between her legs. The bottom didn’t feel wet, or even damp, which was a big surprise. She bit her lip as she unclasped the flap and pulled the cord, opening the bag. Miraculously the water bottles seemed to have survived, which had Steph extremely confused, but she figured to just be grateful and not worry about it much more.
She took out the flashlight and saw the glass had broken, which was far from ideal but not something that mattered too much. When Steph pressed the button and nothing happened, her heart sank. She could’ve just used the flashlight on her phone, if it weren’t unresponsive. Good thing I’m not night blind… She thought and let out a deep sigh.
The safety knife was still sheathed, the granola bars were squished but that didn’t mean they were inedible. The small emergency kit was still tightly packed together, the cord around it hadn’t come undone. All in all, Steph had been extremely lucky, so far. After taking a deep breath, she took one of the granola bars out and closed the bag again.
As she quickly unwrapped the granola bar and stuffed it in her mouth, she checked her legs for injuries. Steph was able to wiggle her toes, move her feet and bend her knees. She realized all too well how lucky she had been, it could’ve ended quite differently. All because she lost focus for a single second and let herself get over excited about reaching the bottom. I’m a disaster lesbian alright. Steph let out a snort and tried to stand, despite wobbling a little bit she was standing and managed to stay upright with too much effort. Her legs ached and the spots where the rope had been burned, but that was something Steph was willing to take if it meant that was the only injury she had.
After drinking some water, the headache that simmered calmed down quite a bit as well. She put the backpack onto her back again and wiped her hands down on the front of her jacket. Some of her fingers hurt more than others, with her left pinkie finger in particular. It felt like it was pounding, but she figured that was because of the amount of tension she’d put on it while descending. She figured it wasn’t that big of a deal and shrugged. And with that, Steph decided it was time to continue on.
She looked at the rope leading up into the shaft above her that she’d come from, the end laying on the ground in a puddle of rope that had been around her upper legs and waist. Steph hoped Ryan wouldn’t hate her for leaving the rope behind, as it just didn’t seem like a priority at the moment. If needed, she’d buy him new rope. What did concern her however was the blood on the ground, the smell of it quite strong. Steph checked herself once more, but didn’t find any on herself, externally at least. That’s when it hit her; if it wasn’t her blood and she could smell it, meaning it was fresh, it could only be Alex’s.
It was as if the walls were closing in on her, her throat felt incredibly tight and her chest hurt while a million thoughts shot through her mind all at once. She was completely out of it, and lost all control. Her breathing became erratic as her heart pounded in her chest at a pace that was worrisome to say the least. It was when she started hyperventilating that Steph realized she was having a panic attack.
Okay, I gotta breathe. Focus on my breathing… Steph squeezed her eyes shut as she bent over, setting her hands on her knees for support. As it took more effort to breathe in this position, it gradually slowed down, until it was manageable enough for her to continue.
With small, careful steps she walked ahead. Her eyes had adjusted to the dark enough that she could make out where the path led to. Steph walked with caution regardless, not looking to tempt fate after coming out of that fall nearly unscathed. She held her left hand against the wall as a way to guide her, ignoring the pain in her pinkie, until the wall suddenly gave way. Steph let out a frustrated groan as she regained her balance and looked at her left to find out the reason.
“Ah, of course. Figures.” Steph could barely make out the large opening, boarded up with wooden planks. After she peered through the gaps in between the planks, it was clear Alex wouldn’t have attempted to go in there.
Steph kept walking, only halting when she felt something semi-squishy underneath one of her boots. Her eyes widened and her heart skipped, her skin covered in goosebumps. I don’t even want to know. Without looking down she resumed walking ahead, feeling around with her hands and feet.
“Alex?” It was a desperate attempt, but Steph had to try. It didn’t surprise her all that much when there wasn’t a response, but she couldn’t deny feeling disappointed. It would have made this whole thing a lot easier.
She felt the wall on her left disappearing again and when she cleared her throat there was quite an echo. Steph closed her eyes and listened closely as she called for Alex again; no response. But she now knew the space she’d walked into was big, which was unsettling. It meant it would be tricky to navigate, as she had no clue where to go.
“Fuck!” she hissed and hunched down to take the backpack off her back. Despite it not working, Steph took out the flashlight. Carefully feeling around, she figured out where the batteries were. She opened the small compartment and touched the batteries. One of them clicked when she applied a little bit of pressure, which gave her a little bit of hope. She nervously sucked in a breath as she let her fingers close the compartment again and search for the power button. “Please, please work.” There was a flicker of light, illuminating the big space for a second. There’d been a tunnel to the left, that was all she could see before it became dark again. Before Steph had the opportunity to complain, the flashlight flickered once again. This time, it stayed on.
From sheer joy, Steph did a little dance as she got up again and put the backpack onto her back again. It was silly, but she couldn’t care even if she wanted to. This was a small victory and deserved to be celebrated. She was genuinely happy that she got the flashlight to work again, because she immediately noticed the rubble and debris everywhere.
After taking in the surroundings Steph continued to walk ahead, maneuvering around the debris carefully. To her right she saw a mechanical support beam and looked up at the ceiling, swallowing with effort. Please let this be stable enough to hold until I’m out…
When she pointed the flashlight to the left, yellow-ish machinery was being illuminated, to her best guess it had been an excavator of some sorts. There were a few safety helmets and pickaxes here and there, making the whole situation even more eerie. As Steph got further into the big open space, she saw more and more loose rocks and debris on the ground.
This must be where the blast happened. Steph bit her lip nervously as she kept walking forward, anxiety flaring up when she nearly tripped over something. Focus, damn it! She let out a heavy sigh at her own clumsiness and shook her head before continuing once again. As if that hadn’t been enough, she started coughing as the air got smoky. It smelled like fireworks, which confirmed that this was indeed where Typhon had set off the blast. Breathing became more difficult without inhaling the disgusting smoke, which was most likely filled with small particles of dirt.
She uselessly attempted to clear the air a little bit by waving her free hand from side to side in front of her, which didn’t help much. So Steph grabbed the bottom of her jacket and pressed it over her nose and mouth as she slowly walked further ahead.
Steph followed the path as it bent to the right, the amount of debris steadily increasing, along with the rate of her heartbeat. She kicked aside a barrel that was in her path, sending it rolling to the left until it hit some large rocks with a thud. There were more metal support beams to her right, as well as thick metal wiring pins sticking out of the walls and the rubble. She had to be careful of where she stepped in order to avoid requiring a tetanus shot once she and Alex got out of this place.
To her left there were big boulders that nearly blocked off the path, leading Steph a bit more to the right. When she pointed the flashlight up, she saw the tunnel continued on previously, now blocked by large chunks of rock. It was a dead end. Steph kept her flashlight pointed upwards, but moved it to the left as she took a few more steps forward. It was a sea of large rocks, smaller ones scattered all over, blocking yet another, although larger, tunnel. Whatever had happened here all those years ago, it wasn’t good.
Steph felt the unease in her body steadily growing more intense, skin covered in goosebumps. This place creeped her out on a level that couldn’t fit on a scale, her entire body literally screamed to get the hell out of here. But Steph had to continue on, she had to find Alex, going back alone simply wasn’t an option.
More and more rocks came into view as Steph lowered the flashlight, with a wooden plank or beam sticking out here and there. When a hand came into view Steph nearly dropped the flashlight, catching it just in time before it could fall onto the ground. Her heart was pounding so hard that she could hear it pulsating in her ears, chest aching painfully as her breathing accelerated at a record speed.
She squeezed her eyes shut and tumbled backwards, tripping over something. Steph managed to break her fall with her arm, scraping against something she couldn’t quite see. Her pinkie finger hurt so much she nearly let out a scream, tears springing into her eyes as she literally bit back the scream. With the flashlight firmly grasped in her right hand, Steph tried to calm herself down to get her breathing under control.
This entire experience so far likely took a few years off her life, the adrenaline was more intense than ever before, as well as the anxiety. It was honestly kind of surprising her heart hadn’t given out yet.
Once Steph regained her courage to open her eyes, her breathing had calmed down enough for her lungs not to ache. With a trembling hand Steph pointed the flashlight straight ahead, finding the hand once again that had come into view earlier. This time she didn’t flinch or panic, but lowered the flashlight, more of an arm coming into view. Steph swallowed the lump in her throat with quite a bit of effort, still moving the flashlight to illuminate more of the arm. When black hair came into view Steph could swear her heart stopped as tears welled up in her eyes. When she saw a pair of glasses, one of its lenses bearing a crack in them, she knew it was Alex.
“Alex!” Steph’s voice was hoarse as she scrambled to get up, making sure not to hit the flashlight against anything. To make it easier on herself, she took off the backpack and set it down, taking its weight off of her.
There was blood, quite a bit of it too. Steph could barely see anything as tears made her vision blurry, panic now settling in with the intensity of a hurricane.
“No, no, no! Alex!” There was no response, Alex’s eyes still closed and not even fluttering. “Chen! You better fucking wake up or—or I’ll— Fuck, I don’t know! Just—just please wake up!” Her voice was shrill as she spoke in between sobs, hands trembling and knees buckling underneath her.
As the phone rang, Steph lowered the music’s volume before she picked up the phone with the press of a button. “Hey there! You’re live on KRCT and I’m not alone in the universe! Who’s this?”
“ Hey, it’s Gabe.”
“ It’s everyone’s favorite bartender.” Steph smiled, it was so nice of Gabe to call. He had become her best friend and she really enjoyed hanging out with him. The fact that he called during his shift at The Black Lantern simply showed how good of a friend he was. “So, what are your resolutions and how many have you already broken?” she asked with a grin.
“Yeah… I was actually hoping to get your take on one of them.”
Steph was a little surprised by this, wondering why Gabe had called to the radio station instead of just calling her directly. “Great. Let me throw on a song and then call you,” she replied and already moved her hand to grab a record to put on when Gabe spoke again.
“ No, no, I meant—I called the show so I could talk to the psychic.”
Steph halted and blinked a few times, kind of taken aback by this. She never took Gabe for the kind of person to buy into this kind of stuff. “Oh…” She turned back to her previous position and wore a lopsided grin. “All right. What’s on your mind?”
“There’s…someone in my family who might be totally alone right now.. I’ve been thinking of reaching out to her.” There was a short pause and Steph could hear Gabe letting out a sigh. “The thing is, it’s been seven years. And all that time, I never got in touch.”
Steph instantly realized Gabe was talking about his sister. He had mentioned having a sister before, but Steph never paid it any mind. She didn’t want to push Gabe, as it had been obvious to her there was a reason for Gabe not going into detail.
“Maybe you weren’t ready yet. Maybe if you had, it wouldn’t have helped either of you.” Steph wasn’t sure what exactly had happened, but she knew it was painful for Gabe.
“No, look, the truth is I’m terrified of talking to her. I don’t know what she’s been through, I don’t even know if she’s okay. I’m freaking out that she hates me. And honestly I bet I could handle that if I knew it was coming. So I’m calling you to ask: What’s gonna happen if I contact her? What’s she gonna say?”
Steph took a step back and puffed up her cheeks, slowly letting the air escape through her lips again right after. This was quite a loaded question and she wondered what exactly had pushed Gabe to ask for advice on air, rather than asking her privately.
“You know I’m not actually psychic, right?” she asked with a chuckle.
“Shhh, don’t ruin it.”
“Okay, give me a second.” Steph took the D20 dice in her hand and rolled it around in her palm for a few moments. She closed her eyes and rolled it onto the desk in front of her. When she opened her eyes again, the number seventeen was facing her. “Guess what,” she said, “it’s looking bright.”
“Seriously?” Gabe asked, the surprise clearly audible in his voice.
What would be super good for Gabe? Steph thought, tossing with a few different ideas in her head. “You reach out, the two of you have a really tough conversation. You talk for two hours. She says all the things you were afraid she would.” Steph took a deep breath, exhaling slowly through her mouth before continuing: “Your absence really hurt. For years, she thought you didn’t want her in your life anymore.”
“This is supposed to be good?” Gabe asked her, to which Steph rolled her eyes playfully.
“When you hang up, you’re exhausted, emotionally raw, but you’re also grateful. Because now you know exactly what needs to be rebuilt, and you can roll up your sleeves and get started.
“You admit you screwed up, and you don’t try to rush anything. Gradually, she starts texting you back. Once a week, twice a week, first thing every morning.
“Until one day she sends you a screenshot of her phone history. It’s calls to Gabe all the way down. And you realize she’s saying she’s so happy you’re back in her life.”
“Thanks,” Gabe replied after a few moments of silence, legitimately sounding grateful.
“Thank you for calling,” Steph said with a smile. She looked through the window of the booth, into the record store, almost zoning out until Gabe spoke again. When he asked how the station was and if she was lonely, Steph thought for a few moments before answering. “Honestly, no. Things are pretty great.” She meant it, surprisingly. Steph didn’t feel lonely, she was at peace, which was nice. Really nice.
“Okay. Then I’ll see ya.”
Steph crouched down beside Alex and desperately tried to hold the flashlight steady as she inspected Alex’s injuries. At least Alex was breathing; her chest was slowly rising and falling at a steady pace.
There was a large bloodstain on the sweatshirt Alex was wearing, between her collarbone and shoulder. Steph illuminated Alex’s face without shining the light directly at her eyes, despite Alex’s eyes still being closed. She saw Alex’s bottom lip was split in the center, a trail of blood from her right nostril that led to the corner of her mouth. There was also blood on the bridge of Alex’s nose, on her forehead above her right eye and a lot of blood on her left temple and forehead. When Steph took a closer look she was able to distinguish a cut that had most likely caused the large amount of blood there. It trailed all the way down Alex’s cheek, jaw, the side of her throat and disappeared underneath the sweatshirt’s collar. There was also some blood that seemed to come from Alex’s left ear, although it was a very thin trail, meaning it was probably not too bad of an injury.
There was so much blood everywhere; on Alex’s arms, and multiple areas of the sweatshirt, although Steph couldn’t find any injuries there. Even on Alex’s jeans there was blood, the shoes also hadn’t been spared.
Steph took a few moments to take a few deep breaths in an attempt to calm herself, she needed as much of a clear mind as possible. Of course it was easier said than done, tears still spilled down and her nose was incredibly snotty.
“Ugh, gross,” Steph muttered, then let out a chuckle in response to herself. The situation was far from great and here she was, complaining about snot. “Get it together, Steph.”
The trembling in her hands wouldn’t stop, but that didn’t keep Steph from using them. She set down the flashlight and crawled back to where she had put down the backpack, grabbed it and made her way back to Alex.
First, she took off her jacket; ignoring the chills that went through her in response to the cool temperature. Steph folded it and extremely carefully put it underneath Alex’s head. Without using the flashlight she unclasped the backpack’s flap and pulled at the cord; untying it. After reaching down into the backpack she blindly searched with her hand, feeling around its contents. She took out a bottle of water, the tightly packed travel towel and the first aid kit.
Once she set the bag aside again, Steph took the cap off the water bottle and pressed the tightly packed travel towel against the opening, then flipped the bottle upside down for a few seconds. As the water soaked the towel, it unfolded. Steph put the cap back on the bottle and started carefully dabbing the wet cloth at the blood on Alex’s temple to clean the wound the best she could. It took a good minute or two, but finally most of the blood around the wound was now gone.
She placed the wet towel on top of the backpack and grabbed the first aid kit, untied the cord around it and rolled it open. Steph grabbed the flashlight again and pointed it at the kit, eyes darting from one end to the other. She took out the ointment to disinfect wounds with, a pair of packed, sterile gloves and a packet of gauze.
With extreme caution Steph went to work; she put the end of the flashlight in her mouth to keep her hands free and put on the gloves. Her left hand’s pinkie finger was discolored and throbbing, but she ignored the pain as Alex was more important right now. She opened the packet of gauze, took out said gauze and put some of the disinfecting ointment onto it. As gentle as she possibly could she pressed the gauze against the wound. As Alex flinched, so did Steph. But she also felt relieved that there was a reaction, meaning that Alex was just unconscious.
Once Steph cleaned the wound the best she could she tossed the used gauze towards the sea of rocks. After she put the bottle of ointment back in the pocket of the first aid kit, she took out another packet of gauze and some medical tape. Thank goodness there was a scissor in the kit to cut the tape with, which she used to cut off a few lengths of it. Both the scissor and roll of tape went back into the first aid kit, then she turned back to face Alex and applied the clean gauze to the wound. With careful precision she applied the tape to keep the gauze in place, making sure it didn’t touch Alex’s hair.
When Steph was done, she put everything back, tied the first aid kit the way it had been and put it next to the water bottle. With a deep breath Steph prepared herself as much as she possibly could, she had to try and get Alex back to consciousness. Steph had no idea what was going to happen, how Alex would respond, if Alex was even able to be verbal. It was absolutely terrifying.
“Hey Steph,” Gabe greeted as he walked up to her with a smile.
“Hey Gabe, you seem awfully cheerful. What’s up?” Steph asked with a quizzical grin. Gabe was always pretty goofy and cheerful, but this time it was different, somehow. She put down the records that she’d been putting in the display shelves and turned her body to face Gabe, offering him her full attention.
“So,” Gabe said with a grin, “you remember I asked you for advice about Alex, my sister?”
Steph nodded in confirmation, there was no way she’d forget something like that. “Yeah, like it was yesterday.”
Suddenly Gabe’s demeanor changed and Steph raised a brow in slight confusion, then realized Gabe was nervous. He was really nervous, his hands fidgeting and his eyes darting around, not focusing on anything for more than a second or two.
“Is it about her?” Steph asked, watching some of the nervousness lessen as Gabe looked at her with a smile and nodded. “So, it’s good news, yeah? Please, tell me!” Steph smiled excitedly at her friend, encouraging him without being too pushy.
“Yeah, it is.” Gabe rubbed his chin, clearly thinking about how he was gonna say whatever it was he had to share with Steph.
Steph patiently waited, offering Gabe all the time he needed. She shifted her weight onto her other foot and rested her arm on top of the records, leaning on them for support.
“Alex is coming to Haven Springs,” Gabe said, point blank.
“Holy shit, Gabe! That is awesome! You must be super excited.” Steph playfully punched Gabe in the shoulder, albeit gently. She was smiling from ear to ear, genuinely happy and excited for her friend. “Come here,” she said and pulled Gabe into a hug, which he accepted and hugged Steph in return.
“Thank you, Steph.” When Gabe let go of Steph, she did the same and took a step back. “I am really excited, but also nervous… What if things are… Well, awkward?”
Steph snorted as she shook her head, it was kind of amusing to see Gabe this nervous. It didn’t happen all that often. “Dude, listen. I’ll tell you that things will in fact be awkward, at least at first. It’s inevitable.” Steph didn’t need Gabe to use any words, as his expression was clear enough: ‘How is this supposed to help?’ Steph put a hand on Gabe’s shoulder and gave him an encouraging squeeze. “It’ll be okay, I’m sure. Otherwise she wouldn’t have agreed to come here, right?”
“I guess you’re right.”
“Damn right, I am!” Steph replied with a grin, to which Gabe rolled his eyes at her. “You know when she’ll be arriving?”
Gabe took out his phone, likely to check the calendar in there, tapped the screen a few times and then nodded. “Yeah, in about a month from now.”
Steph smiled as she watched Gabe, it was nice to see him so happy and excited. She was looking forward to meeting his sister, wondering if Alex was anything like Gabe or the complete opposite. She took the pile of records into her hands again, as he had to get back to work eventually. “Well, that gives you plenty of time to prepare.”