Mouse woke up as we were drawing into the city. She flinched when I turned into an enclosed parking lot and the bright lights hit her eyes.
“Where are we?” She rubbed her eyes with the back of her fists.
“Just a mall. I figure we can clean up a bit and get some food before we have to meet Matt.” I unclasped my seat belt. “You want to wake him up?”
Jake snored softly in the back seat. He’d spoken in his sleep several times during the trip. The latest garbled comment was something to do with someone hating whales… Well, that’s what I thought he’d said.
Mouse twisted where she sat and pushed onto her knees so that she could reach between the seats.
“Jake.” she stroked his face with her fingertips. “Jake, wake up.”
He scrunched his face, as if her touch tickled. She continued and his eyes flickered open. He looked as if he’d woken from a dream, a good one. The expression on his face as he gazed at Mouse was so sweet; I thought I was going to be sick. Okay, maybe it wasn’t that gag-worthy. It was actually really cute. A tug of jealousy curled at the corner of my mind.
“Hey,” Mouse said, her voice infusing that one word with so much more than it would usually mean.
“Hey,” he responded in exactly the same tone.
Jake pushed himself into sitting position, crossing his legs upon the faded upholstery.
“Ready for some food yet?” I didn’t enjoy being the third wheel.
“Yeah, food sounds great,” he agreed, looking a lot more like his old self. Well, the self from yesterday, anyway… before his dad had shot him.
Grabbing a small pack, I stuffed it with a change of clothes for Mouse and I, and some basic sanitary items and scissors. We rode the escalator leading up into the central food court.
As soon as we stepped inside, I stopped. A towering green tree was adorned with baubles and lights. I’d never seen a Christmas tree before.
Mouse looked up in awe. “Is it real?”
“I think so,” I said. “I mean, I can smell tree…”
“It’s probably air-freshener,” Jake said.
Mouse and I pushed open the door to the women’s bathroom while he shuffled into the men’s. He wobbled a little when he moved.
“We really need to get him some new clothes,” Mouse said. She was right. The blood-soaked scrubs and the ratty shirt had to go. We’d deal with that after we’d eaten.
Using the sinks lining one of the walls, we brushed our teeth and scrubbed our faces. The wet washcloths refreshed our tired and grimy skin. It was the best we could do without a shower. A quick change into fresh clothes and I was substantially more relaxed.
“Can you help me with this? It’s time for it to go.” I gestured to the cast on my arm with the heavy-duty scissors. Between us we hacked away at the plaster until my arm was free. My wrist clicked slightly as I twisted it, but otherwise it was okay.
We followed our noses to the food court. The different foods produced hundreds of strange scents and flavors, mixed together with a thick layer of grease.
I couldn’t pick just one thing, so I went from one stall to the next, choosing small bits and pieces. My plastic tray contained miso soup, chicken wrapped in rice and seaweed, fried pork in a pink sauce with pineapple, a slice of pizza and something called a corndog. I’d never tried any of it before.
Jake was hungry now, too, which didn’t surprise me. He dug into an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet with gusto.
From my seat on the plastic bench I could see Mouse searching for me, a little lost in the crowd. I stood and waved. She saw me immediately and started weaving through the sea of people.
As she seated herself her eyes followed Jake as he, too, attempted to navigate between the tables and chairs.
“Wow, these girls must be cold,” he said as he sat down.
A quick review of the hall and I could see what he meant. Most carried big coats, but their short skirts displayed bare legs. They looked like they used a lot of bronzer.
I scrunched my nose, remembering how the powders and creams had felt on my skin. I envied them though. They’d never have to deal with their sisters being kidnapped by mad scientists, they’d probably never be shot at, and they’d be able to do anything they wanted with their lives.
I dug into my food, trying not to pity myself. None of us said much of anything until we pushed away our plates.
“Jake, we’re going to see some people tonight who, we hope, are going to help us to get our friends back,” Mouse said.
He looked instantly wary. “And what will I be doing?”
“That’s up to you.” She brushed her hair away from her face. “You can come with us if you want.”
“Is it going to be dangerous?” He pushed a limp bean sprout around in the sauce remaining in the container with a flimsy plastic fork.
“I don’t know, but we don’t think it will be.”
He picked the sprout up and tried to wind it around the fork.
“I’ll come,” he said with a small sigh. “I don't have anywhere else to go.”
“We’ll look after you, I promise,” Mouse said, lowering her voice a little.
He nodded in acceptance.