Chapter 7 of Connection Concealed: Peppermint

JUNE 9th, 2061. Region 6 of the American desert, Arizona, North American Province, 02.45 local time.

“Turn your head to the light,” Lucas said.

She had joined Louise in the back seat and sat very close. Louise wanted to move away but couldn’t. They were cramped together next to the case of gear.

“Come on, let me see it,” Lucas tried again.

Outside, Woodward and Hobbs were tying up the car. Louise could hear their voices, tense and impatient. She couldn’t understand what they were saying.

Her ears were still ringing. The left side of her head was throbbing. Blood was trickling down her cheek. Louise kept wiping it away.

Lucas opened a pack of sterile gauze.

“I can do it myself,” Louise croaked. “Just give me the kit.”

“Doubt it,” Lucas replied calmly. “It’s too dark. And you would need a mirror.”

“I can do it in the front seat.”

Lucas handed Louise the sterile cloth. “I wouldn’t go outside if I were you.”

Louise took the gauze. “Why not?”

“Walk around in toxic rain with an open wound? You want this thing to get infected?” Lucas said with an incredulous expression.

Louise frowned, then immediately flinched. “Ouch.” Reflexively, she reached for her eyebrow, but knew better than to touch it again.

“Stop frowning!” Lucas chuckled. “It makes the cut open up again.”

Louise used the cloth to wipe more blood off of her cheek. “What are you going to do?” she asked, reluctantly.

Lucas rolled her eyes. “Disinfect it, of course. Then try to patch you up.”

Louise glanced out of the window, looking for Hobbs. She didn’t want him to see this.

“Come on, I just want to help you,” Lucas said impatiently.

“Fine, but be quick,” Louise muttered. “Please,” she added as she turned her head to give Lucas better access to the wound.

Lucas leaned closer and took a good look at the cut. She bit her lower lip in concentration. For a brief moment, Louise studied the lines of her mouth.

“I have to move your hair out of the way,” Lucas said quietly.

Louise pulled her eyes away from full lips and raised her arm before Lucas could touch her. “I’ll do it.”

One corner of Lucas’s mouth quirked up. “Fine.”

She grabbed the disinfectant spray from the kit. “This might hurt,” she warned.

When the cool jet of disinfectant hit Louise’s eyebrow, she winced, despite her resolve to stay perfectly still no matter what.

“One more time,” Lucas said softly. She straightened up and inspected the wound from a different angle. This gave Louise a clear view of her neck and collarbone.

Louise’s eyes were pulled to the delicate skin right in front of her nose. When Lucas moved up her arm, her green shirt shifted, making the neck line drop until…

“Ouch!” Louise screamed when more disinfectant spray caused a hot flash of pain to rip through her. She closed her eyes and gritted her teeth for a few seconds.

“Sorry,” Lucas said, grimacing.

Louise glared back at her.

Lucas held up some more sterile gauze, still in its wrapper. “Hold this against your eyebrow to stop the bleeding.”

Louise took the pad, fumbled with the plastic around it and did as she was told.

Lucas rummaged through the first aid kit. She held up a plastic box and squinted at the letters.

“I need glasses,” she mumbled. Louise wasn’t sure if Lucas was aware she had said it out loud.

But then Lucas met her gaze. “Do you still have glasses?”

Louise tilted her head to the side, keeping the gauze in place against the cut. “What do you mean?”

“Do people still wear glasses in your world? Or do you, I don’t know, have eye replacements or something?”

Louise snorted. “No! Bionic lenses.”

Lucas’s eyebrows shot up in understanding, her lips forming a silent ‘Oh.’ After a moment, she went back to sifting through the contents of the kit.

Louise watched her every move, thinking. She knew she should be avoiding talking to this woman, but something had triggered her curiosity.

“Why do you say ‘your world’?” she asked hesitantly.

Lucas looked up. “What?”

“You asked about glasses ‘in my world’. We live on the same planet, you know,” Louise said. She knew her comment sounded more snarky than she had intended it to. She didn’t do anything to take the sting out of it, though.

Lucas narrowed her eyes. “Funny you should say that.”

Louise met her stare head-on. “Why?”

Lucas pursed her lips as she thought for a second. “Because you’re the one treating us like we’re from a different planet,” she finally said.

Louise looked away, bringing up her free hand to keep the gauze in place. Her right arm was getting tired. She also needed a moment to think.

Lucas put some of the disinfectant spray on her hands, then ripped open a set of butterfly bandages. “These are the best I have,” she said quietly, waiting.

Louise reluctantly lowered her arm.

“Let me…” Lucas pushed herself up again, using her elbow for balance. Her face was now even closer to Louise’s than before. A hint of peppermint made its way up Louise’s nose.

When Lucas placed one side of the bandage near the cut, Louise tensed up.

“Sit still,” Lucas whispered. Her fingers brushed over sensitive skin.

Louise held her breath, overwhelmed by the unexpected intimacy of the moment.

“There. Let me do one more and you’re all set, “ Lucas said, grabbing another bandage.

Louise sat perfectly still, with her eyes closed, and waited for Lucas to apply the second strip.

“We’re human, you know. Not some faceless enemy,” Lucas said. Her breath tickled Louise’s cheek while she spoke.

Louise’s eyes snapped open.

Lucas stared at her with an intensity that gave Louise goosebumps.

The door behind Lucas was pulled open, startling hem both.

“What the fuck are you doing?” Hobbs snarled, sticking his head inside. His cap was soaked, rain drops were rolling down his neck.

Lucas inhaled deeply, making no attempt to hide her sudden irritation.

“Just taking care of your boss,” she drawled and started throwing things back into the kit.

Hobbs huffed. “She’s not my…”

Woodward interrupted him. “Get in the car!”

“I can’t. She’s back here,” Hobbs yelled back, straightening up.

“Sit behind the wheel!” Woodward screamed.

“What?” Hobbs replied, sounding stunned.

“You can’t drive a car, right?”

“Eh, no,” Hobbs stammered.

“Then sit!” Woodward repeated.

Lucas met Louise’s gaze, arching her eyebrow again, her eyes twinkling with amusement.

Louise couldn’t help it this time. She smiled back.

 


 

The heavy rain had started soon after Hobbs and Woodward had gotten back into the car. The thunderous assault of the water hitting the roof had been so loud, Louise had covered her ears. Luckily, in the last few minutes, things had calmed down a bit.

Louise peered out the window and into the dark, trying to see if there was any flooding around them. The arid soil of the desert didn’t absorb water easily. For now, most of the rain seemed to flow away to lower areas, though.

Hobbs was looking at her in the rearview mirror. He was sitting behind the wheel. Woodward was in the front passenger seat. Lucas was still seated next to Louise, the first aid kit in her lap. Nobody had said a word in the last 15 minutes.

Louise’s pain had faded to a dull throb. She quirked her intact eyebrow at Hobbs. He broke the eye contact, focusing on his hands resting on the wheel instead. Louise wondered why he kept staring at her.

Next to her, Lucas was drumming her fingers on her jeans while staring out of the window. When she exhaled loudly, Louise could smell the peppermint again. She tried to identify what other scents she could pick up. “Sandalwood?” she wondered.

“How much longer is this going to take?” Hobbs asked in a frustrated tone, interrupting Louise’s thoughts.

Lucas shifted in her seat, her knee bumping against Louise’s.

“No idea,” she said evenly.

“We’re losing valuable time,” Hobbs continued.

Lucas nodded slowly. “Yeah.”

Louise suddenly felt the need to speak up. “Will there be flooding down the road?” she asked no one in particular.

Woodward folded his arms. “Maybe,” he said, sounding tired. “Not if the storm keeps moving, though.”

Louise listened to the hammering on the roof. It seemed less intense than before. She took another peek outside, but couldn’t see a thing, honestly. It was too dark.

Lucas leaned forward, placing a hand on Woodward’s seat rest. “Rick,” she said, “Can we take route B? It’s a small detour but there should be less water.”

Woodward straightened up and pressed a button to wake up the screen of the console. “Good idea, should take us…”

“About 8 hours, I think. We could still make it by noon,” Lucas stated before he could even finish his sentence.

Hobbs squinted at the map. “How do you know? It doesn’t say that anywhere.”

Lucas sighed in annoyance. “I studied the routes before we left.” She sat back, her shoulder rubbing against Louise’s. Louise was starting to wonder if Lucas kept bumping into her on purpose, just to annoy her.

Hobbs started rolling up his uniform sleeves. The air conditioner was off to preserve the car’s battery and it was getting hot. Louise, again, worried about how long the battery of this car would last.

“You sure we have enough battery for a detour?” she asked.

Lucas gave her a skeptical look. “Of course.”

Louise pressed her lips together, not convinced.

“Don’t worry,” Lucas continued. “As soon as this heavy rain stops, we can get back on the road. We’ll be home before you know it.”

Louise stared out of the window again, deciding to ignore Lucas’s odd choice of words. They did make her long for her own home, though. She couldn’t wait to get back to her life. To her job. Her co-workers. Hell, even to Michelle. She smiled when she remembered her dream about Michelle.

“I think it’s calming down,” Woodward said, sounding hopeful.

Louise snapped out of her day dreaming. Hobbs ran his fingers over the row of buttons next to the steering wheel. “Let’s check for flooding again.”

Woodward pointed at a switch. “It’s that one.”

Hobbs flicked the switch to turn on the headlights. The area in front of the car lit up. Everyone moved to the edge of their seat to peer through the windshield.

“Still looks clear,” Lucas said, the relief in her voice obvious.

Louise nodded and swallowed the lump in her throat. They were going to be okay. She hadn’t allowed herself to believe it until now. She knew they had been in a dangerous situation. But it was over now. They were lucky.

Woodward clapped his hands together. “Great. Let’s untie the car.”

“What?!” Hobbs blurted out, “It’s still pouring out there!”

“Oh, it’ll stop soon enough,” Woodward replied, “Let’s not waste any more time.”

Lucas turned to Louise. “You stay inside. Keep that cut dry.”

“Come on,” Woodward said, “They’re waiting for us.” He opened the door and hopped out into the rain.

Hobbs looked at Louise in the rearview mirror, a confused expression on his face.

“Who’s waiting?” Louise asked, feeling as puzzled as Hobbs looked.

Lucas pulled at the door handle, replying as she climbed out of the car. “Our guys.”

Louise scrambled towards the open door. “What guys?!”

Lucas held up a hand, motioning for her to stay inside the car. “Just the guys from the boat.”

“What boat?!” Louise stammered.

Lucas just smiled and closed the door.

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