Of Thorns and Lightning

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Bronx Blues

“Go the hell home, Maize. We don’t want you here, we just had to invite you so we wouldn’t get in trouble.”

♦️

Maize was lost.

She lived in the city for her entire life and didn’t ever lose her way. She knew the streets and the local routes like the back of her hand. Now, she looked around and knew exactly where she was, but none of it seemed familiar to her. She felt like a foreigner in her own home.

She lost her sense of direction, not on the road but in her life.

Somewhere along the line she had misplaced herself and didn’t know how to find herself again.

Then her car gave out a final cough and sputtered to its death in the middle of the highway. It was an eerie scene; a deserted road illuminated by dim streetlights further down the highway next to Co-op City in the Bronx. She couldn’t even see the buildings; the fog was so heavy and thick.

Frantically, she tried everything she could to get her engine started again. The electrics were still working, and she put on her hazard lights so no one would rear-end her while she attempted to problem solve. She used every trick in the book, but no quick fix seemed to work and exist to bring her Saab back to life just for a moment. She shifted into neutral and got out of the car, the headlights of the oncoming cars blinding her in the dead of the night. Their beams reflected off the shiny, wet road and through the rain and fog but then eventually faded into the distance, leaving her to realize she was alone.

Within the time she got out of the car to push it to the shoulder, the pouring rain had soaked through all of her layers of clothing and the sky showed no sign of the rain easing up any time soon. In fact, it seemed to fall even harder and heavier by the passing minutes. She regretted even going to the party in the first place because she was chilled right to the bone. Her thin and arguably minimal outfit wasn’t ideal for the weather because there really wasn’t anything to keep her warm.

Maize popped the hood of her car and put her umbrella underneath it to hold up the hood since the pole had been long broken. She took as much refuge as she could underneath the hood, but it was too dark for her to see anything. Her phone was resting inside the cup holder, but it didn’t have a waterproof case on it and the rain would ruin it in moments. She reached under the driver’s seat and lifted the lever for the trunk, and she rummaged around for her emergency kit that hadn’t been touched since Ann had convinced her to put a flashlight and batteries in it as well as carry some band aids. Never had she thanked her mother more than in that moment, and she sent a silent prayer up to God for that.

Maize didn’t know what to expect when she looked under the hood of the car. She wasn’t an expert on engines by any means; her abilities ranged from identifying the battery and the engine block, and that was exactly the end of it. She didn’t know what she was looking for. She didn’t know how to fix any of the problems that were running through her mind.

The battery was fine since the lights still worked, but the engine wouldn’t turn over. It didn’t even sputter or cough when she tried. A tow truck at this hour would be impossible to get and no one was going to be awake or would wake up when she called them. She was completely and utterly alone, on the interstate, in the Bronx, by herself on a Saturday night at 3 in the morning in the pouring rain.

Her lip quivered and a hot tear rolled down her face, mixed in with the raindrops.

Maize hadn’t cried in as long as she could remember. She didn’t cry in front of anybody, she didn’t cry alone. She got emotional but didn’t ever deal with her emotions, and suppressed them when she had no one to talk to about them. She thought her strength rested in her near inability to cry.

But this seemed like the appropriate situation to let it all go.

Knowing there was nothing she could do, she bit her lip and removed the umbrella and slowly closed the hood of the car. She gave it a solid slam to make sure it was completely down, and her hands remained on the hood of the car as she leaned over and cried. Her stringy wet hair fell in front of her face and stuck to her skin and clothes which were plastered to her body from the water. She began to shiver, but couldn’t remove herself from her position to sit in the car where it was still relatively warm, and more importantly, dry.

She could call the police and ask for help. She could try a tow truck, but she knew she’d have to wait at least two hours until morning broke for nearly any service. She could call, she could wait in her car where it was dry. That was the logical thing to do. Still, yet, she couldn’t. She couldn’t even bring herself to try.

The road was quiet most of the time. Eventually, a pocket of vehicles would pass her, but then it was deserted. Trucks came and went. But one driver stayed. On her way to look at the car and investigate who had come to her rescue, the heel of her shoe got stuck in the storm drain grate on the shoulder, twisting her ankle in the process. She managed to jimmy her shoe out, so she was free, letting her attention turn back to the car.

Their LED headlights shaped like eyes with eyeliner cut through the fog like a hot knife in butter. They put their hazards on as well and slowly came to a stop at the side of the road behind Maize’s car. The driver stepped out first with an umbrella and he followed, neither one able to see the other person. Maize flicked the knife attachment on her Swiss Army knife keychain out and kept it close until she analyzed the driver and the car.

It was a black Audi R8. William Townsend had one of those.

“Hey, do you need some help?” The driver called out, though cautious, and his voice was recognized immediately by Maize.

It was William.

As he approached, he realized the beaten-down figure with their hair covering her face was Maize. He rushed to her side, holding the umbrella over her head.

“Maize! What the hell are you doing out here?! Are you okay?!”

“I can ask you the same thing!” She exclaimed, startled to actually see him on the side of the road completely by chance.

“I left before you guys to go to that Townsend Industries meeting with a bunch of my investors and shit! I’m more worried about you! Especially because I was completely unaware of this plan of yours to go wild and find yourself in the Bronx in the middle of the night but here you are, potentially in danger!”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Townsend, it didn’t turn out like I planned.” Maize apologized to him formally. She didn’t sense that now was the time to use his first name only, she thought that was only reserved for the good times, when she would dare to go as far and call them friends. She got the message that he too was angry and upset with her, just like everybody else.

“What didn’t turn out like you planned? What happened? Why are you here? Listen, I probably won’t even be mad, I just want to make sure you’re safe. That’s all I care about, and being here, especially by yourself on a night like this isn’t safe.” He questioned, his dad instincts kicking in.

“The guys are at this club in Harlem where Meaghan, Peter and I used to go but I left early because I just needed to get home and my car,” she began, sobbing. She didn’t go into detail about the actual events of the night, and she white lied about leaving early. That wasn’t exactly the truth, and she knew it. William knew that there was much more to the story. She wiped her eyes and took a deep breath.

“My car won’t start, and I don’t know what to do, William. It won’t turn over, and it just won’t run, and cars are supposed to run!” She said, frustrated and exasperated.

William waited a moment. He knew she had much more to say and now was not the time to interrupt.

“I don’t know why it won’t work. I filled it with gas three days ago so it can’t be out already. My fuel gage isn’t broken, that I would know. I don’t know what to look for, I don’t know what the problem is, I don’t know what caused it and I don’t know how to fix it because whatever I do, it won’t work! It just won’t start, William! God damn it, why won’t it start?! I’m trying to do everything right and to get it going, but it won’t! It’s not my fault because I take care of it, but I was the one driving it when it stopped working, so it has to be somehow my fault! It wasn’t anyone else, it was me!” She exclaimed.

“Why won’t it start?!” She yelled, slamming her hand down heavily on the hood, continuing to cry.

William knew that she wasn’t talking about the car at all. Still, he turned her shoulders, so they were face to face, eye to eye. He wiped her hair away from her face and the tears from her eyes and he clasped her wet face with both hands. The umbrella was deemed useless with the kind of rain they were having, and it was set aside. He did his best to convey his message to her that followed the theme of cars. He chose his words carefully and as best as he could through his exhausted mind, but something he said seemed to work.

“Maize. Listen to me. You may have made some driving mistakes in your life. Ran a red light once or got into an accident. Maybe knocked a mirror off or slammed the doors too hard. But otherwise, you’ve taken care of your car the whole time you’ve had it, and that’s not to be overlooked. This car is 24 years old, Maize. That’s older than my daughter, and older than me when I had my daughter. Over time, things get worn out and break apart, no matter how well we take care of them. It happens. Things change and we have to let things go sometimes. Your car has reached the end of the road and it’s not your fault.” He explained as calmly as possible and then pulled her into a tight embrace. Her shaking body didn’t ease much against William’s chest, but he was radiating heat while she was shivering. He ran a hand down her wet head of hair and rubbed her back in an attempt to soothe her.

“I’m going to call you a tow. Someone who can get here fast and then I’m taking you home.” He spoke softly.

He called AAA, taking advantage of the advertised 24-hour roadside assistance, and hoped for the best. He thought now would be a better time to get some more information from her.

“Maize, at this party did you take anything? Have you been drinking anything? I just need to know you’re okay.”

“No, I didn’t take anything. I had one shitty beer hours and hours ago, before things started going bad. I can’t speak for anyone else, though.”

“What happened? What do you mean by things went bad?”

Maize flashed back to earlier that evening, and it was dangerously fresh in her mind. She bit her lip, still feeling so much pain and hurt over it.

“Maize I know this is tough but please tell me something so I can try and help you, and possibly the rest of them. I don’t want any of my Gods getting themselves into trouble or hurt.”

“I thought... I just thought we were all having a good time but first, all the girls and Jordie met someone in line and they all said they didn’t know me so they could get in with a stranger, leaving me outside. Then, when I finally got in I was angry but later things got worse. I don’t even know what happened, but Talia said that they didn’t like me because they thought I was serious and weird and uptight, and she said I wasn’t like them and that I’ll never be like them and to just leave because none of them wanted me with them. They don’t want to see me in training because every time they look disgusted with me. Angelina does it the most because of the accident. And the worst part is that the people I thought were my friends didn’t say a god damn thing to defend me.” She cried. All William could do was nod in solitude and understanding and try and figure out a way to fix it. He didn’t want to do everything for her, but she needed someone to stand up for her like her friends didn’t.

“Maize, I know that my daughter hasn’t been treating you well, and I see how much it hurts you. You wear your heart on your sleeve, and it’s bleeding right now. I’ve talked to her and yelled at her when I needed to and I’m trying everything in my power to simultaneously be a good dad to Talia as well as be a good leader to all of you. I don’t want to see you hurt, and I know she’s the one that’s inflicting the pain on you. I’m going to swallow my pride and admit to you that right now, I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to fix it, but dammit, I’m going to keep trying. I won’t stop trying to make things right. I owe you that much.” He spoke, being completely honest with Maize.

“And I know you don’t believe it, and you might not be able to see it, but me and Thor can see that you’re becoming more and more of a god every day. I know you think you’re not changing, and you’re not meeting the standards of the person you think we want you to be, but you are. You’re making progress every day. Maize, you’re doing just fine, and we’re all proud of you. I know the group is tough right now, but you have to keep on going because it’s worth it. It’s going to work out. You’re going to make a real difference in this world, and that’s worth so much more than this drama bullshit. I believe in you, Maize. Come on, let’s get you warm and dry.” William admitted, he too wearing his heart on his sleeve.

Maize grabbed her things out of her car and William escorted her to his, opening the door for her. Maize sat in the passenger’s seat of his Audi and she thought for sure that her wet hair and clothes were going to ruin the upholstery. William didn’t seem to care at all. He was equally wet but wasn’t complaining about the condition of the suede or the leather. He had bigger things to worry about. Off in the distance, they saw the lights of the tow truck come down the highway, which took a weight off of both their shoulders. The faster they could get her car towed, the faster they could get back to the compound to settle in for the night, and the faster tomorrow would come to wipe the slate clean and start a new day for them.

William was still standing out in the rain, waiting for the tow truck to situate itself to help them. In the meantime, he started his engine and put the heat on for her, making sure she didn’t catch a cold from being chilled and soaked to the bone. His suit jacket was the only article of clothing among them that was dry. He had left it in the car when he got out to investigate the situation at the side of the road, and he draped it over Maize’s torso like a blanket before closing the door to keep the heat in. When they were all ready to go, William got in the driver’s seat and led the way for the tow truck on their way back to the compound. To break the silence, he flicked on the radio and the voice of the late-night radio host greeted them.

“This one is for all your lonely people out there, if anyone is even listening right now. Stay dry tonight, this rain is here to stay. Here’s Marc Cohn,” he spoke before the tune of Walking in Memphis began to play. It somehow made the trip home a little easier. Maize closed her eyes and listened to the familiar song as the highway whooshed beside her. With the combination of the open road and the power of the engine, they were back at the compound in no time. William pulled up under the carport by the main doors and killed the engine. He walked with Maize into the building and he pressed the button for an up elevator. The whole drive there he had been running solutions through his mind until he had finally settled on one. They stepped onto the elevator, William pressing two different floor buttons.

“Give me a second, okay Maize? I’m going to go talk to Thor. I think I have a solution.” He spoke. She nodded. “Go get into some dry clothes and I’ll be up to check on you.”

Maize went straight to her room, the cold air conditioning not helping her case. She was dripping wet footprints on the floor though she was limping slightly, accompanied by drips from her hair, dress and her six-inch platform heels she was carrying in her left hand. Her hand shaking, she swiped her keycard to get entry to her room and she threw her shoes down and peeled her wet dress off. Her arms were littered with goosebumps and her teeth were chattering behind blue lips. She took a warm shower to get her makeup off and clean up, then she pulled on her warmest sweatpants, socks and hoodie with the drawstring tied so the hood stayed on her head. She climbed into bed and clutched her stuffed elephant, begging sleep to take her. Her eyes were puffy as a reminder of past tears, which forced her to keep her eyes closed. It had been another bad night for Maize.

William arrived on Thor’s floor. He knew that Thor would still be awake; he had no concept of mortal time and slept whenever he felt like it and had no circadian rhythm. William didn’t bother knocking on Thor’s open door. He was sitting in the quiet with reading glasses on, breezing through a novel under the dim light of the lamp perched on the table next to his armchair. Immediately Thor knew something had happened, and it wasn’t good. William skipped the introductions and the small talk, he jumped right into the serious matter at hand.

“Thor, I think it’s time. She’s ready, she’s capable and she needs to get out of here for a little while.” He spoke, Thor knowing exactly what he meant.

“What, you don’t think it’s too soon? I don’t want to throw her into something she’ll get overwhelmed by.” Thor explained but William was confident in his answer.

“No. You’ve trained her and we both have an immense amount of trust in you. It’s time. Take her to Asgard.”

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