Rubble rolled along the ground as dust was dislodged from the ceiling and settled into a cloud, slowly meandering towards the floor. It was pitch black in the basement, power to the lights had been disconnected. There was the musty odor of standing water somewhere. Something had spilled, but it hadn’t been long enough yet for the water to turn brackish and be a cesspool for bacteria and other disease ridden organisms. There was a rumbling sound in the background, a hint that while the earthquake was over for now, it could always come back in an aftershock, or with a vengeance.
Nick did not dare speak out, to do so would indicate that this had all happened and it wasn’t just a nightmare. Well, it was a nightmare, an earthquake larger and more forceful than he thought was possible. His father had recently been transferred to one of the company’s California branches and he had uprooted the entire family out of Kansas on a moment’s notice. Nick didn’t care for this as he had a lot of friends, lifelong friends that he had known since elementary school, that he was leaving behind. Sure, they would talk in Discord or on Twitter, share videos on TikTok and the like, but he was sure that as time went on, the videos would be less frequent, his friends would get busy and have less time to spend, he would slowly drift away from that world and be forced to navigate an entire new one without a clue as to who to trust or confide in.
Even now, he had started to become more and more introverted, spending more time studying his textbooks than talking with anyone at school. His parents had noticed of course, he had become recalcitrant and quiet at home as well, less interested in the things that had once made him extremely happy. They tried to cheer him up, even his 11 year old sister, Patricia, had put in an effort, but Nick had been turning inward and didn’t really see how his attitude was affecting his family.
First things first, however. Nick slowly reached out to make sure that it was safe for him to move around. Waving his arms around, he felt nothing, which helped to quell his fear. He had never felt claustrophobia before, but also had not been in the school’s basement right after a major earthquake. He wondered briefly if Californians were used to earthquakes like this all the time and were even now up in the classrooms laughing it off as just another one. He had heard that locals were strangely calm and cavalier about earthquakes, as if the ground shifting under your feet wasn’t absolutely terrifying. He couldn’t imagine how anyone would be able to think like that. Sure, Nick had grown up with the threat of tornadoes, but he was always scared of them, it wasn’t something that you just shrugged off.
He reached down and braced himself, slowly raising himself into a sitting position. He hadn’t felt anything when he reached up, but it couldn’t hurt to be careful. He didn’t want to bang his head against something and cause more damage. Once sitting, he started to check himself out. He could feel moisture on the right side of his head, touching it with his hand brought a sharp pain, he thought that it was probably blood running down his cheek from a cut, likely caused by his head hitting the ground. Looking around was pointless, everything looked exactly the same right now, black tables with black books on them, all lined up and facing a blackboard and the teacher’s black table where a black notebook kept the teacher’s notes as well as the list of students that should be in the class.
Nick shook his head. No, that wasn’t right. He was in the basement, he was exploring his new school and had wandered into one of the labs. There had been beakers and other equipment on long tables that were supported by cabinetry. There was a large amount of space between tables, to make sure that students would have plenty of room to work on their projects. Wait, Nick thought, was there crashing during the earthquake? There could be broken glass all over the place right now.
With this in mind, he took his time standing up. The important thing right now was to find the light switch and see if he would be able to see what he was doing. It would be a bad idea to stumble around blindly. He stumbled slowly towards where he thought a table would be, it would be nice to have something to brace himself and help him feel better about what was going on. He heard and felt the crunch of something under his foot, which startled him and caused him to involuntarily make another quick step forward. The additional step brought him to the desk, as his foot, knee, and eventually hands collided with the table. He was probably bruising himself, but now there was something that he could grip and feel, it made him feel a little bit relieved since he found something that he could lean on for now.
Nick tried to get a mental map of where he was, but was having trouble because he was still exploring the school. Did he turn left or right upon coming into the basement? How far had he walked before entering this lab? How many others did he enter before getting to this one? With everything that had happened, he found that his memory of the basement was very poor and he did not feel confident about finding the way out. He wasn’t sure which way to go and did not feel a breeze from any direction. The air suddenly felt stagnant and dense. If it was possible for air to feel like it was dying, this is what it felt like now. Nick found himself unconsciously holding his breath, he tried to breath normally, only to have it become a jittered, broken collection of breaths. He was panicking and didn’t know what to do next.
He moved slowly and cautiously to his right where he thought the door was, stumbling occasionally as his feet found something that was knocked to the floor. There were shards of glass, various metal contraptions, books of all sorts and occasional puddles of liquid. He hoped that there wasn’t anything caustic or giving off fumes which might be poisonous, but he knew it would be better to take his time so that he didn’t trip and fall. It took several minutes, but he eventually reached the door. A few seconds of searching found the door knob. He opened the door, prepared to face more blackness in the hallway. He wondered briefly if it would be safe to stay inside or to try and find a way out. He thought after the fact that it was pointless to have that thought as he was opening the door.
That was odd, once the door was open, he could kind of see the hallway. That would mean that there was light somewhere! He looked around and saw something waverly off to his left. It was enough light to see the hallway and to see that the light was apparently a flashlight being waved all over. Nick was so delighted to know that there was someone else nearby that he threw caution to the wind and started to run down the hallway. The sound of his shoes echoed loudly, which obviously alerted whoever was holding the flashlight as it swiveled towards him and shined directly in his eyes. After finally being able to see what was around him, Nick was now blinded. He tried to stop, ended up slipping and falling down. His feet apparently did not get the message as they continued forward and Nick landed hard on the concrete floor, landing on his right side. There was a pain in his shoulder and he thought that something might be broken, it was difficult to tell at this point as he was busy dealing with how much his eyes hurt from the light. He screamed out due to all the sources of pain.
“Who’s that? Who’s there?” came a panicky, terrified but distinctly female voice, “Don’t hurt me!”
It was only a second or two before the girl realized what she had done. “Ohmygodi’msosorry!”
Nick heard light footsteps quickly come closer and then stop a little bit from him. “Oh god, aren’t you the new kid?” The voice sounded, well, disappointed? Disgusted? No, not that. Resigned? When he dared open his eyes, he blearily looked up to see a shadowy figure with one hand on her hip and the other pointing the flashlight at his face again. It was impossible to find out who he was talking to. It was all he could do to shakenly say, “Yeah, who’re you?”
Instead of answering, the girl turned around and walked away again. Nick used his left arm to prop himself up. He didn’t feel safe using his right arm yet, it was still in pain and he didn’t know if it was just bruised or if it was something more serious. He got into a sitting position and then tried to stand up, gritting his teeth against the pain as he did so. The girl had gone back into a room that was two doors down from where Nick was, he walked over slowly and as soon as he got to the door he introduced himself, “Yeah, I’m Nick. Who are you again?”
“Chelsea,” came the response in a surly manner. Why did that name sound familiar? Nick hadn’t been at this school long, so he didn’t really know many people, but he was making friends. Frank and George were cool to talk with as they shared his interest with programming, so they could talk about things like SQL, XML and Python. It took him a while to remember her, but now he realized that she prided herself on being the best student in his Algebra II class. At least, until Nick came along. Math came easily to him as he could think logically and didn’t have to worry about the opinions of the problems, he just solved them. He also remembered that Chelsea was very athletic, something that Nick was not, so during P.E., she would frequently outperform him. She hadn’t openly taunted him yet, but the look on her face at the time was mocking as if she wanted to brag about how she beat a boy. Nevermind that the boy in question was kind of overweight and not used to exercising a lot.
“Chelsea, huh?” It was hard to see because she was sitting on one of the desks and the flashlight she had been using was next to her. It looked like she was holding her knees tightly in her arms.
Nick figured that this was likely due to the fact that once she found someone else here in the basement, she went from frightened to elated to disgusted once she found out who it was. He wasn’t exactly happy that the first person he found blinded him either, nor that he was potentially trapped in the basement with someone who so clearly hated him for just existing and would like nothing better than to grind him into dust. He felt heat rushing to his head and emotions start to overwhelm him, he might have said something that he would later regret if his arm didn’t take the opportunity to remind him that it was in pain. He checked it over, rubbing up and down, but couldn’t find anything broken. He could move the arm still, but it hurt if he raised it too high.Hopefully just bruised, but he would have to let the school nurse check him out, or have one of his parents take him to the hospital.
He looked over at Chelsea again and saw her shaking slightly, probably out of frustrated rage. He turned to leave and muttered something about leaving her alone. While he was at the door, he hadn’t actually taken a step when he heard her cry out, “Wait! Don’t go!”
Taken by surprise, he couldn’t help but to look back at Chelsea. Not that it would have helped much. The flashlight was shining in his direction, so he could only really make out her hip, thigh, and arm. There was some movement as she shifted her weight slightly(perhaps to wipe her eyes?) before she sniffled and repeated her plea, but quieter this time. Nick was transfixed, he had never seen Chelsea act like this, she was always giving off the impression that she felt she was better than everyone around her. To see her this vulnerable was shocking.
“Are you alright?” he asked.
“No, I’m not alright. Alright? I’m stuck in the basement, in the dark, with no one for the longest time. My clothes are ripped, I think there’s a cut on my leg, I was in the dark for, like, ever until I finally found this flashlight and then the first person I come across, someone who I thought would save me, is YOU!” She paused for a bit, rocking forward and backward before continuing, “I mean” sniff “how would you feel in my situation, huh? This is the worst earthquake I’ve ever experienced, I don’t even know what it’s like out there or how my family is doing, I’m super scared and worried and stressed and...”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Nick had to interrupt her or she would like just go on forever. “At least you had the flashlight, ok? I woke up in the dark and had to feel my way over here.”
She continued to rock back and forth. Was Nick getting used to the dark? He thought he could almost make out her face, but shortly after dismissed it as his imagination. Still, he didn’t know if there was anyone else in the basement right now, so he had to make the best of things.
“Alright, you said you think your leg was cut. Want me to take a look at it?” “No!” she yelled, her body tensing up. “No. It’s, uh, it’s...up high. Under my ...skirt.”
Nick blushed immediately and turned to the side. Under the skirt could mean pretty much anything. Did she mean to say leg? Was it actually the leg or something else? He couldn’t help himself thinking about it, while at the same time feeling bad that he was thinking about it. He really hoped that the light wasn’t shining on his face, it felt really warm at the moment.
“Um,” he stammered, “so, uh, uh, how did, uh, it, uh, get cut?” God, he sounded so stupid. Obviously, his hormones were having a say in what was going on, he really didn’t want Chelsea to see, that would be too embarrassing. On the other hand, he didn’t really talk to girls much, so he didn’t really know what to say to them. They had their own cliques and what not, he wasn’t much interested in gossip or clothes or….whatever it was that they talked about. He wasn’t really sure since most times that he remembered seeing girls talk to each other, it was in hushed tones with all of their heads really close together.
There was silence for a bit as Nick and Chelsea were inside of their own heads, mostly ignoring the signs that each was putting off physically. Neither one wanted to appear weak, but also didn’t want to appear unkind. Until someone else showed up, it was obvious that they only had each other.
“I don’t know,” she finally responded, “I was knocked to the ground and when I could get up, you know, when the shaking stopped, I felt blood on the inside of my legs. Maybe something bounced off the floor and cut me or something.”
Nick’s next comment was based solely on his knowledge of biology and less upon his lack of experience dealing with the opposite sex, “So...maybe, I mean, maybe it was, y’know, your, uh, time of the…”
“Jerk!” came the scathing retort. Chelsea got down from the desk she was sitting on, grabbed the flashlight and looked for something to throw. She found a thick textbook and flung it at the door as hard as she could. Nick had been warned and ducked behind the wall, but the book barely made it to the door, so he was safe regardless. After a bit, Chelsea added in a quieter voice, “No, this is different. You wouldn’t understand.”
Understatement of the year. Not knowing what else to say, he just stood there quietly, letting Chelsea decide what she wanted to do next. Best to not do anything than to do the wrong thing, he thought. He heard her walking back and forth inside the room for a bit, he thought that she must be super mad at him now. First he beat her at something she was proud of and now he was poking into something super private. He couldn’t believe that he could screw up any worse. As she continued pacing, he listened closer. Was she limping? It sounded kind of like every other step was just slightly faster and heavier than the other. She was probably in pain, likely due to whatever was going on with her leg. Nick was thinking about the cut on her leg and where she said it was. He started getting aroused again, and then felt embarrassed for getting aroused. It was all very confusing. His body was obviously responding to different things than his brain was and he didn’t know how to reconcile the conflicting feelings.
“Can you get us out of here?” came Chelsea’s voice from inside the room. Nick peeked inside, but ended up staring directly into the flashlight again. He winced and shut his eyes. “Sorry.” Chelsea apologized.
He looked again and noticed that the light was pointed at the ground. In the ambient light, he could see her legs and little else. There was a single line of blood slowly dripping down, with evidence that it has been wiped away before, patches of dried, smeared blood at various points. She probably doesn’t even feel it anymore, he thought.
“I don’t know,” he answered. “Given how dark it is down here, I would bet that the stairs have been blocked off, plus the power is probably out.”
“Do you think you can un-block it?”
“Not really, my arm is in pain. I don’t think I’ll be able to lift much.”
“Let me take a look at it. I just want to see how bad it is.”
Chelsea walked up and Nick could finally see her face. She was worried, even scared, obviously and it was not what he was expecting to see. Her voice gave off an entirely different vibe, as if she was acting the same as any other day, almost as if she wasn’t trapped in the basement with someone that she clearly despised. He reached out his left hand, which caused her to hesitate. “I can hold the flashlight for you if you want.”
She hesitated and gripped the flashlight even tighter in her left hand. It shook, but so slightly that you could barely notice. If Nick hadn’t seen her face, he might not have noticed the light vibrating either. It was apparent that she was doing everything she could to keep it together and not panic. “No, that’s fine. I only need one hand.”
She looked at his arm and shoulder, pulling up his sleeve. Nick felt a sting of pain from his arm and could not stop the hissing intake of breath which signalled his pain. In spite of this, Chelsea didn’t pause and quickly examined the arm. She even gripped it and squeezed, causing more pain and more hissing breaths. “I think it’s ok, it feels solid. You do have a pretty big bruise, but otherwise you seem to be fine.”
She looked up into his face and the naked fear in it was obvious once again. Nick must have shown somehow what he was seeing because she widened her eyes a little more and then turned to her right so he couldn’t see her emotions so nakedly on her face. Her chestnut brown hair looked kind of wild and covered in dust, probably due to the earthquake. She walked back to the table and grabbed a cloth that he couldn’t see before and stopped.
“Turn around, please.”
“I said, turn around. I’m going to clean up my cut and I don’t want you watching me.”
He obediently turned and let her know that he couldn’t see anything. However, having been in the dark for a bit now, he thought his hearing was getting better because he thought that he could hear the cloth rubbing against her skin, while she occasionally had her own sharp hissing sounds which indicated that she was hurt as well.
“Where did you find a cloth down here?” he asked, not willing to turn around yet.
“It’s my sweater. Which is ruined now, with all the blood on it.” She sounded as if the sweater being ruined was worse than being cut on her leg. “In any case, we should try to find a way out. You can help me lift rocks out of the way once we know where we’re going.”
“Wait a sec,” he complained, turning around to face the shadow that he knew was her, “I already told you that I can’t, my arm is in pain.”
“Well, I’m a girl and you’re still stronger than me, even if you just use your left. I can’t get out of here without you until someone else shows up.” Her shoulders dropped, almost as if she was resigning herself. “You don’t want me to get hurt by something falling on me, do you?”
Nick had to think about it. She was a girl and more likely to get hurt, but she had done nothing but boss him around down here. Further, she seemed to have a grudge against him and want to beat him at anything she could. It took him a bit to answer. “You’re better than me in P.E. in pretty much every way. You’re stronger and faster. When I get out of school, I go home to jump on my computer, you probably work out or something because you’re in fantastic shape. I would think that between the two of us, you’re the stronger one, especially now.”
“So you’re useless, then?” she asked in a mild voice. In spite of it being mild, it felt like a slap in his face.
“Are you just going to insult me this entire time? Does it make you feel better to say shit about people you think are beneath you? I’m not useless, but I’m not your servant. And I’m not that strong.” The last sentence was softer, he was running out of energy to keep up this fight. Why did she care so much? What did it matter if he was better at Math than her? She was still getting good grades and would probably get into any college of her choice. Nick didn’t do badly himself, especially when it came to anything attached to computers, but he didn’t like his English classes and while he was taking Spanish, he sucked at it and he knew it.
She turned around to face him, remembering to keep the flashlight low. “Yeah, I can beat you in a foot race, but even I know that if we were to get into a fight, I wouldn’t stand a chance. You might not be that strong, but you’ll always be stronger than me. There’s nothing I can do about that.”
There was a brief pause before words settled in to both of them. Nick managed a, “I’m sorry,” at about the same time that Chelsea said, “I’m in great shape?”
There was something about the way she said it that raised warning bells in Nick’s mind. “Have you been staring at me?” she asked, making a step closer. “You like looking at my body? You sicko!” The last words were screamed at him.
“Whoa! I didn’t mean it like that! I only meant, well, I only meant that, like I’m overweight, right? And it causes problems? Like, problems that you don’t have because you take care of yourself. That’s it, I swear!”
She turned around again. “And to think that I was trying to be nice! I just want to go home.”
“Nice?” he asked, feeling like the tide was turning, “Nice?! When have you ever been nice to me? Everything is a competition to you and if you’re not on top, you try to destroy whoever is.”
“Excuse me for being ambitious. For wanting to do the best I can. For wanting a better life!”
They both stopped, Chelsea had turned back to face Nick again. He had to wonder if she got dizzy being so dramatic. They just stood silently facing each other, each assuming that the other was staring in disgust at the other.
Chelsea broke first. “Ok, look. I’m sorry if I ‘attacked’ you or something, alright? I just want to leave and let people know that I’m alive and be able to go home. I can’t do it alone, which is why I hadn’t gone anywhere yet. By myself, I might as well just wait for someone to rescue me. Now that you’re here, I thought we could try to get out so we’re not here for hours, days or weeks. Ok?”
Nick relaxed as well. “Yeah. Ok. Sorry about stuff, y’know. I could try to help.”
Chelsea waved the flashlight. “After you.”
It was obvious that she was asking him to go first because he was standing in the doorway and there was no way that she would get by him. He was still sullen about the fight, and didn’t really want to back down, but their collective survival was more important. He silently wished that he had been mature about it, like she had, then silently cursed himself for wanting to be more like her.
Once he was back in the hallway, she walked out and waved the flashlight up and down the hall. Nick could see where he had come from and even where he had fallen earlier. It was a miracle that it was only a bruise on his arm. There was rubble and glass everywhere and he could easily have cracked his skull open. In fact, he thought that Chelsea’s cut was probably from a shard of glass that had nicked her as she fell. The hallway was otherwise clear, though. Nick thought he could see the light barely hit the back wall.
“Ok, we go this way,” Chelsea indicated, pointing back the opposite direction.
“That way? Why that way? There’s stuff all over the ground that way and the hallway this way is much more open. Better chance that everything works this way.” “Nope,” she retorted, condescendingly, “There’s no light coming from that direction. At least this other way is closer and goes around a corner. The air isn’t stuffy so we must be getting some from somewhere. I say this way.”
They stared at each other for a bit again, each daring the other to cave. This time, Chelsea won. “Fine. We’ll try your way first.”
She only gave a smug smile in response and gestured with the flashlight for him to lead the way. They were near the end of the hall, and it only took a few seconds to round the corner to where the stairs were. The stairs were in good shape, for about 5-6 of them and then there was a mound of rubble blocking anything else, which was impressive because of how wide the stairs were. It was designed to allow a bustling crowd of teenage students to run past each other smoothly in between classes. And now, it had a giant pile of blocks and boulders covering it. There was no way to tell just how far back the pile went.
“Alright, see? There’s no way we’re getting past that.”
She walked past and started to examine the pile, leaving Nick in the dark, literally and figuratively. She shined the flashlight at all kinds of angles, including sometimes pointing it off to the side, which made no sense to him.
“What are you doing?” he asked, annoyed at his own ignorance.
“Air. I’m hoping to hear the air entering here and find out where it’s coming from. Maybe we can dig our way out.”
He sighed. “You really won’t quit, will you?”
She turned the flashlight into his face again. “What do you mean by that?”
“Wha? Agh! Stop it!!” She lowered the light again. “I mean, you don’t want to admit that maybe you were wrong. Like maybe your idea wasn’t the great one that you thought it was. Or maybe you don’t want to admit that I was right and that we should have gone the other way!” Nick’s voice had gotten louder and angrier as he went along. The frustration of everything was eating away at him and he didn’t really care any longer.
Nick heard the sound of rubble shifting at about the same time that Chelsea turned back toward him, so he assumed that she sat down. “Or maybe I don’t just accept defeat if it doesn’t work out the way I want the first time. Maybe I just want to be thorough. Did you think of that? Now, I’m trying to see if I can feel a breeze somewhere and I think I did, but I’m not 100% sure. If you can, could I get a few minutes to check? Please?”
Nick was silent. He admitted to himself that he didn’t think of what she was talking about, but he wasn’t about to admit it to her. That would be,....well, not surrendering, but certainly something that he wasn’t willing to put up with. If she was right, though, he would of course apologize and thank her. If she was right.
While it wasn’t really all that long, it seemed like forever for Nick. After all, he was just standing off to the side, not really doing anything. He wasn’t trying to avoid helping, more like just trying to stay out of Chelsea’s way. She was frequently using the light in various areas and then obviously leaning down to try and feel the breeze. It seemed inefficient, and he finally couldn’t take it anymore. “I want to help, but I don’t wanna get in your way. Maybe if I hold the light for you?”
The light paused for a bit and a strand of her chestnut hair fell into the light. He guessed that she was looking at him and trying to decide. “Yeah, ok. That might help.” She climbed down and handed the light to him. As she did so, she looked him right in the eyes and added, “Be careful with this, and no trying to look up my skirt, ok?”
This was the last thing on his mind, but as she walked away and he shined the light over where she indicated, he saw that not only was she in shape like he had mentioned earlier, but her clothes were grimy, tattered and torn in places. She was wearing a pleated skirt with a short sleeved blouse over it. One of her socks was down around her ankle and looked to be unraveling. The only reason he wouldn’t have noticed earlier is that she was always the one holding the light, never shining it on herself. Another attempt to maintain her perfect image? Or just her trying to use it to find out what was going on around her and she forgot for a little bit? He would never know.
However, he now had a better idea of what she was doing. She would tug, pull or prod things and then put her cheek or maybe her ear up to any area where she could dislodge something. After a couple of times doing that, Nick decided that while she was listening/feeling, he would shine the light up above where she could reach to see if there was anything up there that might help. The first time he did it, she immediately said, “Hey!” and he brought the light back down.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“Just looking up. Seeing if there’s something up above that we could move.”
She looked at him as if trying to find anything wrong with what he said, and when it was apparent that she couldn’t she shrugged and put her head up against the rubble. Above her, though, wasn’t much help at the moment. There was basically a giant slab, as if the wall had fallen over, and some smaller pieces that looked to be wedged in really tightly.
“Hey, I think I feel something. Can you come over here and move this rock?”
He lowered the light and saw her pointing at a piece of concrete with some rebar sticking out of it. If he was able to move it(which he wasn’t sure if he could), then it could either open up an exit, or cause the rubble above to fall down on their heads.
“I’m not sure that we should. I think stuff might fall.”
She looked up and he lit up the areas that he was concerned about. Then she said, “No, I can see from here that they’re secure. I’m hoping that by moving this, we can create a hole so we can get out.”
“So you can get out, right?” She gave him a scathing look. “I’m not going to leave you behind, dork. We’ll make sure it’s big enough for you to get through.”
Reluctantly, he walked over and gripped the rebar in his left hand. He set himself as best he could and took a couple of breaths to psych himself up and then tugged. As he expected, it didn’t budge.
“Use both hands,” she complained.
“I can’t, my right arm is hurt, remember?”
“Fine. Then I’ll help.” She climbed up next to him and grabbed the rebar in both of her hands, just above his own. He couldn’t help but notice how tiny they were and he wondered how much help she would be. It didn’t matter, though, and he counted to three so that they pulled at the same time. After about five seconds, they both felt the concrete move, ever so slightly. They both looked shocked and excited so they tried again. This time it moved immediately, but incrementally. However, even Nick could feel a slight bit of fresh air. More importantly, there was a bit of light coming out. They continued to move pieces of concrete until they made a hole big enough for Chelsea to get through, easily. They had stopped using the flashlight, it was bright enough for them to see clearly now.
“How long have we been doing this, it feels like hours.” “I don’t know, but it can’t have been that long. Anyway, we have to keep going.”
“I’m tired. You can get out, go get help.”
She shook her head, “I told you, I’m not leaving you. You’re a big guy, but we’ll keep going until we’re both free.”
He sat down and tried to catch his breath. Chelsea was breathing heavily as well, but nowhere near as badly. Nick felt like he was going to die. He wordlessly let Chelsea know that he needed a break and leaned back to try and suck air into his lungs. He was sweating like he never had before and his left arm was feeling sore from the strenuous work.
“Ok, fine. Just rest for a bit and we’ll get back at it. Do you mind if I?” she didn’t finish her question, but pointed at the open hole. He nodded, not caring if she meant that she would open it further, or escape to freedom. He had no idea where she got all the energy, but envied her that. He closed his eyes so he wouldn’t see her leave, but he could hear her jostling the rubble. After it went on for longer than he thought it should, he looked over and saw her bending over to try and roll a rock out of the way. Given her position, she was almost on the verge of showing off her panties, and remembering her warning from earlier, he decided to stand up so that she couldn’t accuse him of anything. She looked back at him, adjusted her skirt briefly and then went back to her rock. No complaint, no accusation, just back to work. Nick sighed and walked over to give her a hand.
They couldn’t tell how long it took, but they did make a hole barely large enough for Nick. Chelsea climbed through easily, and then looked back and gestured to Nick, offering her arms to assist him. He climbed into the hole and wiggled himself through it, getting stuck a couple of times. It appeared that they had misjudged how big the hole was just enough that when he finally did get out, Nick was scraped and bruised all over. Once out, they whooped and Chelsea came over and gave Nick a hug. This shocked him and made him hesitate just long enough to miss hugging her back before she pulled back out. He felt embarrassed that he had apparently misjudged her, thinking her heartless and/or emotionless. They continued to climb on top of the slab and out of the staircase. There were emergency workers who had heard their hollering and were now rushing over to give assistance. As they were being wrapped in blankets and tended to by the paramedics, Nick felt that maybe he had made a friend where he had thought he had an enemy.
ONE WEEK LATER
Repairs were underway at the school, repairing the partially collapsed building and moving the labs and equipment somewhere else so that classes could resume while construction was underway.
It was 5th Period and P.E. class. They were told to run laps around the track and everyone had to complete four of them before the end of class. This started about halfway through class. Nick had just finished and the teacher marked his name off the list, probably the last one that would be checked. Nick was exhausted and collapsed on the grass. As he huffed and wheezed, he propped himself up and looked around. He noticed Chelsea staring at him from across the field, where they were finishing up with the girl’s P.E. class. She was giving him the same mocking look that she had done for the entire year, obviously enjoying his pain. Ever since their experience, she hadn’t changed. She was still competitive and jealous of Nick’s accomplishments. She didn’t even try to say anything to him as she stared at him, instead just flipped her hair over her shoulder and walked back to the locker room.
Nick found his breath long enough to say, “Fuck you,” and collapsed again.