Bob let his arms drop and gazed hesitantly through the small space in which Peter and he were huddled together. The shaking of the earth had stopped, but it had done so twice before already only to start again. Bob was not sure how much he could trust the peace.
This was not how he had expected this afternoon to go at all.
He and Peter had gone into the city archives of Rocky Beach to do long-overdue research for a school project. They had been chased by one case after another in the last few weeks and that had somehow led to them ignoring all the schoolwork they should do. And truth be told, neither Peter nor Bob had shown much enthusiasm to spend this weekend doing their research, but in the end, they had driven to the town hall instead of the scrapyard of Titus Jones after school this Friday.
They had ignored the first soft shaking of the earth. Earthquakes were nothing unusual in their region and they had set in the brand new annex of the town hall that had not only been build with the appropriate air conditioning to house even the older documents of the archive securely but had been prized to have one of the most structural sound architectures to withstand even the stronger earthquakes.
Evidently, there had been made mistakes somewhere in the construction.
Otherwise, Peter and Bob would not be sitting buried under rubble, in a small cave created between a mysteriously still standing wall and two shelves that had fallen over and were now tilted against the wall and holding back the rubble of the floor above them. It created a space that was high and wide enough for them to sit but not to stand or lie down comfortably.
“Is it over?” Peter’s voice was shaking.
“We can only hope so,” Bob muttered. “This was a fucking big earthquake.” And they had been damn lucky to be knocked down by the shelves because if they had taken a couple of more steps in the direction of the door, they would have been buried directly under the rubble.
Peter sighed. “We should have gone for the window instead of the door.”
“Expect, we have no idea if the windows could even be opened.”
“Yeah, right. I forgot for a moment.” Peter was slurring his words a little.
Bob frowned and looked at his friend, but there was not enough light to see much. “Are you hurt?”
“Don’t know. I think the edge of the shelf hit me in the back and maybe my head too. But I don’t think it’s bad.”
Bob did not like that at all, because who knew how long they would have to wait here until they were rescued. And speaking of being rescued, as long as no one knew they were here, the likelihood of that happening fast was probably very thin.
“Did you grab your backpack?” Bob asked while starting to rummage through his own. It did not take him long to find his phone.
“It’s half-buried under the damn shelf,” Peter answered.
“The one that saved our lives?” Bob grinned. “No reason to curse it out. - The emergency lines will probably all be in use now, huh?”
“If the network is even still working,” Peter said skeptically.
Bob shrugged. “Let’s try.” He chose Jupiter’s number in the hope their friend had been somewhere safe and was not in a similar predicament as they were.
It took only a few seconds for Jupiter to answer. “Bob, are you and Peter alright?”
“Not exactly.” Bob sighed. “You know the new annex of the town hall with the archive? It was not as secure for earthquakes as it was touted to be. We are kind of … buried.”
“Are you hurt?” Jupiter asked alarmed.
“I’m not, but I’m not so sure about Peter,” Bob admitted. “Are you alright?”
“Aside from the shock, sure. The scrapyard is total chaos, but the house is okay.” Jupiter sighed. “Did you get through on the emergency line?”
Bob snorted. “I didn’t even try. I thought the chances were better to reach you. We are surely not the only ones buried here, maybe you could direct the rescue to us.”
“Where exactly are you?”
“Ground floor, nearly at the end of the building. It was the second to last room, I think. To the left,” Bob explained. “There are two shelves above of us, holding back the rubble.”
Jupiter cursed under his breath. “Great, let’s just hope they’ll hold. I’m taking the bike to the town hall. There will hopefully already be help there when I reach it, so I can direct them to you. - How hurt is Peter?”
“Not sure. I can’t see much, but he seems to be a little bit dazed. The shelve hit him.”
“I’m o-kay!” Peter insisted.
“Yeah, he sounds anything but,” Jupiter said, the worry clear in his voice. “I’ll try to get you out of there as soon as possible. Your phone is charged, I hope?”
“It is, but do you think the network is going to hold up?”
Jupiter hesitated. “Right, that could be a problem. I’ll try to call you as soon as I’m at the town hall. And I promise I’ll get you out of there as soon as I can. To know where you are is half the work done already.”
“See you soon!” Bob muttered before the call disconnected. He looked at Peter, who had shuffled around so he could lean against the wall. “Jupiter is sending help our way.”
“That’s good.” Peter sighed. “I’m feeling kind of dizzy and my back hurts.”
“Do you think you are bleeding?”
Peter was silent for a long moment. “I don’t think so. But … maybe you should check?”
Bob shuffled around until he could reach Peter’s back and head with his outstretched hand. He was instantly relieved to not feel anything wet, but Peter hissed sharply as Bob’s fingers ran over the edge of his shoulder blade, and Bob could feel a bump forming under Peter's hair at the base of his head.
Bob related his findings to his friend. “So, probably not too much to worry about!” Aside from the possible concussion, but they could do nothing for that anyway. “Where exactly is your backpack?”
Bob thought he could actually see Peter’s frown. Maybe his eyes were adjusting to the dim light. “So that we know what we have in regards to water and food. And we can shut off your phone so that we still have one when my battery runs low.”
“Right.” Peter sighed. “Sorry, not very quick at the moment. It’s somewhere under the shelve that hit me.”
Bob snorted. “I know exactly how you feel. At least, you haven’t lost any memories. Every time I get hit in the head I seem to forget important things!”
He turned and tried to reach around Peter to get to the shelve. There was barely enough space to sit beside Peter, and even with his friend drawing his legs as much to his body as he could, Bob could not reach very far. But after a few minutes of wiggling and cursing, his fingers found one of the straps of the backpack, and with a little bit of tugging and pulling he could free it. Or at least most of it, as the noise of torn fabric indicated.
“Sorry,” Bob muttered sheepishly.
Peter laughed lightly. “At least this time my parents can’t accuse me of being not careful enough with my things, because they can’t put the fault for any of this at my feet!”
Bob snorted. “Yeah, the one time all we want to do is our homework, something like this has to happen.” With Peter's backpack securely in his hand, he searched for the most comfortable position to sit beside his friend.
“I know my bottle of water has to be nearly full,” Peter said. “But that’s all I had with me.”
“I have a bottle of water, too, as well as a sandwich and a few granola bars.” Bob rummaged through Peter’s things, searching for his phone. “Fuck.”
“You’ll not only need a new backpack.” Bob sighed. “Your phone is in pieces.”
“That’s not as bad as it sounds,” Peter said happily. “Now I don’t have to find arguments for my parents to buy me a new one because that one had already started to fail and I didn’t have enough money to buy me a new one on my own.”
Bob rolled his eyes, even so, his friend would not be able to see it. “Except, now we will be cut off from the outside world as soon as my phone is dead.”
“You think they will take so long?”
“We don’t know how bad it is out there,” Bob whispered. “Have you thought about the possibility that there were not made any mistakes during the construction of this building? The earthquake was big. And if a building that should have been fairly secure didn’t survive it, how many other buildings will be crashed? How many other people will be buried somewhere?”
“At least Jupiter knows where we are,” Peter replied quietly. “They will search first in the places where they know that there are survivors, right?”
Bob swallowed hard. “They should.”
“So, they’ll come for us first! And we were at the end of the building. It won’t be as hard to get to us here as if we had been in a more central room. There was only one floor above us and a flat roof. They won’t have to dig deep.”
“Let’s hope that is how it will go!” Bob muttered.
“Of course it will. Not the first time we are trapped somewhere and it did never last long in the past, did it?”
Bob laughed. “That’s right. And Jupiter is still out there to get us help.”
“You remember the case with the blind man that wasn’t blind? The case where we met Albert Hitfield for the first time? - This is not even the first time we are trapped in a collapsed house!”
Before Bob could reply, his phone started to ring. “Jupiter, are you already here? That was fast!”
Jupiter laughed. “I took the motorbike, with the permission from my aunt this time, after I told her what’s happened to you. And most people try to help where they are, so the streets are mostly free. - It’s really bad around here. The whole town hall is collapsed, not only the annex you are in. But there are no rescue workers here yet.”
“Where are you exactly?”
“I’m standing beside the ruins of the annex.” Jupiter sounded devastated. “There are a few people outside who are starting to organize the rescue without any professionals here. Because they are right, it could take a while until anyone comes. It was fairly far-reaching and one of the strongest earthquakes in the last few decades, as far as I have heard. - Do you remember the number of the room you were in? Here is someone who has a plan of the annex.”
Bob shook his head. “I didn’t even care to look at the number. There was a Lady who showed us to the room and the right shelves after we had told her what we were looking for.”
“You said second to the last room on the left, didn’t you?” There was another voice in the background, but Bob could not make out what was said. “Can you tell us where in the room you are?”
“We have the wall to the hallway in our back and … I don’t know, maybe six or seven feet from the door? Peter was ahead of me, I’m not sure how far it still was. We tried to get to the door, but the shelves fell on top of us just seconds before the floor above us collapsed.”
Jupiter took a deep breath. “Okay, left or right to the door?”
“To the right, if you stood in the door facing the room. More to the end of the annex than to the main building.”
“That’s good. Part of the outer wall is still standing, so we can use the windows for orientation. It shouldn’t be too hard to find the right place to dig for you.”
Bob sighed in relief. “That sounds good. - Peter’s phone was destroyed in the collapse. My battery should hold for a couple more hours. I won’t call anyone and I won’t take any calls but yours.”
“Maybe you should make a quick call to yours and Peter’s parents?” Jupiter suggested.
“Can’t you send them a short message?”
Jupiter sighed. “Yeah, okay. I’ll try to call you in an hour to tell you how the work is going. Or as soon as possible, if the network breaks down.”
“We’ll patiently wait for you,” Bob promised.
Jupiter snorted. “We’ll try to work as fast as we can. - See you later.”
The call disconnected and Bob shoved his phone carefully into the pocket of his trousers and related to Peter the information he had gotten.
“So, we need to find something to spent the time with, huh?” Peter sighed deeply. “I hate it when I can’t do anything!”
“Look at the bright side, we won’t have to finish this project. The school will probably be canceled for a while!”
Peter snorted. “All right, that is a good thing. - Any idea what we can do?”
Bob shrugged. “How is your head?”
“If I close the eyes and don’t move the world doesn’t spin around me.”
“Maybe what you need is a little bit of rest and quiet,” Bob suggested.
“And you think I can just close the eyes and pretend everything is all right? - And shouldn’t I stay awake in case I have a concussion?”
“I’m not sure. Even if you show any more symptoms for it, there wouldn’t be anything we could do anyway. You can’t even lay down here!”
“Let’s see.” Peter shuffled around beside him, then he was lowering his head to Bob’s crossed legs. “There, lying down more or less.”
Bob raised a brow. “And that’s comfortable?”
“Your legs as a pillow are never uncomfortable, regardless of the situation!” Bob was positive he could hear Peter’s grin. “No, but really. This is better than sitting up, regardless of how twisted my legs are. As long as you don’t mind?”
“Of course not,” Bob muttered. He dropped a hand on Peter’s chest and carded the fingers of the other through his hair. “I’m worried about you.” The last time he had been so worried about Peter had been after their plane had crashed in the alps and Peter had been missing in the beginning.
“I’ll be okay. - Now we can tell our parents that it doesn’t matter if we search for trouble or not whenever they complain about a case!”
Bob snorted. “Won’t help against their fury about our shenanigans.”
“You know, I think this is still better than being trapped in an elevator for most of the night,” Peter said slowly. “At least we aren’t at risk of falling.”
Bob blinked and needed a moment to follow Peter’s change of thought. “You mean the night, you and I were chased by robbers through a museum for a gem that wasn’t even in that museum?”
“I think Jupiter and Morton had the better place that night!” Bob involuntarily shuddered. “I could have lived the rest of my life without ever having pressed a gun against my head.”
“Yeah, there was that.” Peter sounded disgruntled. “I tend to intentionally not remember that. Because I really don’t like these absurd situations you are getting yourself into all the time!”
“That’s not fair!” Bob protested. “It’s happening to you and Jupiter as much as it’s happening to me!”
“Neither Jupiter nor I have ever been sent into space in a shuttle!” Peter huffed. “That was the most absurd thing that ever happened to us.”
“I try to tell myself that was just a nightmare whenever I think of it!” Bob muttered.
Peter snickered, but it ended in a painful groan. “Laughing’s not a good idea, it seems. - But I can fully understand your stand on this one. It was so outlandish, it’s only logical it had to be a nightmare. Expect, all three of us would have to have the same nightmare!”
“But I stand by my opinion! It’s happening to you as much as it’s happening to me! You were the one who was sent over the pacific with a secret organization and later on chased by the CIA! And it was Jupiter who just decided to go to Venezuela because he had gotten this idea he could find his parents there!”
“You want to make a list?” Peter asked challenging. “About who of us got into more trouble? And in the more absurd trouble?”
Bob was not sure if he was really interested in such a list, because he had a feeling he would lose at least against Peter if not against Jupiter in regards to both number and ridiculousness, but it was a topic that could hold up for hours and distract them thoroughly.
He sighed in defeat. “And I assume it will fall onto me to keep this list in my head and write it all down when we are out of here, huh?”
“You are the one responsible for research and archive!”
They started with recounting their cases with a focus on the parts where one of them had ended up in danger or sometimes even only in some kind of absurd situation. But as time went by, they deviated more and more from their actual cases, until they were telling each other little stories that had nothing to do with the events that had actually taken place. And every story they told seemed to get more ridiculous. Still, it was a fun little game and it helped against the growing anxiety.
Jupiter did not call another time. Sometime during their stories, Bob took a look at his phone, only to learn that two hours had passed and he had no signal anymore. It was not a surprise, but it made him nervous. He had felt so much safer when they had still been able to reach the outside world.
Their stories helped to not think about the missing connection to their friend. Bob denied himself to take another look at his phone, mainly because he did not want to further his anxiety by knowing how much time had passed. Even as Peter grew visibly more tiered over time, Bob held stubbornly onto this resolve.
“You know what’s really annoying?” Peter whispered sleepily.
Peter sighed. “Did you notice, that in the past few months it was you who got into trouble every time?”
“That’s not true!” Bob protested frowning.
“It is! You were abducted two times recently, if I may remind you! Once with this fake author who had used his mother as a ghostwriter and then the circumstances of her death for the first book that was really his own. And then when all you should have done was feed the cats of that man who was obsessed with the underworld!”
Bob sighed. “Yes, okay. I can’t deny that.”
“And you were the one who got blackmailed by the rogue FBI agents,” Peter continued. “The only time Jupiter and I got into trouble since … hm, basically since our trip to India, was when we all got stuck in the mountain hut under the avalanche!”
“I’m sure there will come a time when this particular kind of luck will fall more onto you or Jupiter again!”
Peter shook his head. “Don’t care about that. I just wish I wouldn’t have to worry about you all the time! Because that really sucks, you know?”
Bob nodded. “I know how much it sucks when you or Jupiter are in trouble. So, yes, I know what you are talking about.”
“Not the same,” Peter muttered.
Bob frowned. “Really?”
“I worry more about you than you do about me or Jupiter. Or Jupiter does about us.”
Bob huffed. “Why do you think that?”
“I’m just a friend to you.”
That gave Bob pause. “And I’m not just a friend for you?”
“Of course you are my friend. My very… best friend.” Peter began to slur his words more and more and was interrupted by a yawn. “But sometimes I wish you were more than a friend. But I know you wouldn’t like that. Neither my thoughts about that nor the whole idea with another guy in general. So, yeah. … Do you think I could sleep a little while?”
Bob blinked and took a deep breath. “Sleep away. … And we’ll have this whole discussion again when you are not already half asleep. Because … this last thing you said is really, really wrong.”
“Is not,” Peter muttered. “You are never looking at any man or the boys in school. And wherever we go you seem to find a girl.”
Bob sighed. “We’ll talk about this again when you don’t have a concussion and are nearly asleep.”
“I’m already asleep.” As much as Peter was slurring his words, Bob could easily believe that his friend was already halfway there. “Because as much as I dream about talking to you about this, I’d never do it.”
Bob kept quiet and let Peter slip into sleep. He was not sure if it was the right decision, but there was nothing he could do anyway. The last couple of minutes or even half an hour he had spent to engage Peter in as much of a conversation as his friend had still been able to hold, but it had become increasingly difficult. Now he had just to hope, that they would be found soon because he wanted Peter to get medical help as soon as possible. Under normal circumstances, Peter would never have dropped off to sleep so easily in a situation like this and it was worrisome that he had done it.
With Peter sleeping Bob had nothing to do but get lost in his thoughts. He tried not to think about the last things that Peter had said because it was infuriating that Peter thought he would get mad about it. On the other hand, Bob was not even sure if he had understood fully what Peter was talking about. At first, he had been sure that Peter was talking about being in love with him, and that had let hope rise in Bob. But who knew what Peter’s muddled brain was actually meaning with ‘being more than friends’. It would only bring heartache – more heartache than Peter brought him regularly anyway – if Bob thought too much about it without a way to discuss these thoughts with his friend.
Bob would wait until he could have a quiet and undisturbed discussion with Peter about these comments. And until then he would not worry too much about it. He had lived with his crush on Peter for many months now and thought it to be utterly hopeless. He would be able to hold back any hope that wanted to rise until they were out of here and Peter was well again.
Bob had to have fallen asleep himself because he was startled out of a very nice dream-place when light was suddenly flooding their little cave and he heard the frantic voice of Jupiter calling his and Peter’s name.
“We are here!” Bob called back.
“Oh thank God! I had started to think we were digging at the wrong place!”
Bob laughed. “I fell asleep, I think. No idea how long I should have been able to hear you, but the last rubble you lifted let a lot of light into our cave. You have to be nearly there.”
“How are you? How is Peter?” Jupiter sounded worried.
“I'm okay. But Peter fell asleep a while ago and he hasn’t woken up yet. I’ll be glad to get him out of here and into medical care!” Bob answered. “How much time has passed?”
“We started digging nearly four hours ago. We have found a few other survivors and... some who didn't survive. It wasn’t as easy as I thought to get here. And the first rescue workers have just arrived half an hour ago.”
“It’s so bad out there?”
“Yes. - Can you wake up Peter? Or do we need more help to carry him out?”
Peter snorted. “As if I could sleep through your ruckus, Jupiter!”
Bob was relieved to note that his friend was speaking much more clearly than he had before his nap. It meant that it had probably not been such a bad idea to let him sleep.
“You sound better than you did earlier,” Jupiter remarked. “How are you feeling?”
“My head is killing me, but I don’t feel dizzy anymore. I’ll be able to climb out of here alone as soon as there is a path for it. So don't worry, you won't have to carry me!”
“I’m carrying boulder after boulder of rock for you, that’s quite enough, don’t you think?” Jupiter replied laughing. “There are a few nurses and emergency doctors here who can take a look at your head in a couple of minutes.”
There was part of the ruble lifted directly above Bob’s head and he ducked away from the dust and small stones trickling down at them. When he raised his head again, he could see Jupiter’s face through the top of the shelf. His friend was red-faced and sweaty, but he was showing a wide grin. Bob returned it grateful and relieved.
“The trouble you are finding everywhere is astonishing!” Jupiter said.
“We made a list,” Peter said, carefully sitting up. “And we came to the conclusion, that Bob is the one who gets most often and into the most absurd trouble!”
“That was not decided yet!” Bob protested.
“And it’s not really fair, don’t you think, Pete?” Jupiter groaned under the weight of the next boulder he was lifting with the help of another man. “Nothing can be absurder than Bob’s little trip into space, after all!”
“That’s what I said,” Peter agreed. “Can you imagine that Bob isn’t agreeing with us at all?”
Bob huffed. “Just let me go to Headquarters, so I can search our archive and I’m sure I’ll find something equally absurd for each of you!”
“In your dreams, Bob! Only in your dream!” Jupiter called out to them.
They continued with their banter back and forth during the following twenty minutes or so that it took for Jupiter and the men and women helping him to get enough of the rubble aside so they could lift off the shelves without letting their cave crash in. Bob was aware, that all of this banter was only meant to distract Peter and him from their precarious situation and he was thankful for it. Maybe it served even their helpers to not think too much about the chaos around them for a few minutes.
They were all laughing in relief as first Peter and then Bob was dragged out of the ruins and carefully let through the rubble to the medical tent that had been built in the town square right in front of the town hall. Bob had to hold back a shudder when he saw the ruins they had been saved from. Even so, Jupiter had already told him over the phone that the whole town hall had collapsed, he had had no reference to imagine the destruction and chaos.
Because Bob had no obvious injuries, Peter was the first seen by one of the doctors while Jupiter remained with him in front of the tent. Wherever Bob looked, people were working in the ruins of the town hall, or with injured people or in other buildings that had collapsed. If he had to estimate, he would say that roughly half the houses around the square were at least partly damaged.
“Have you heard anything from Peter’s or my parents?”
Jupiter nodded. “I managed to have a quick talk with your dad and Peter’s mum. Both of your parents were okay when I spoke with them, but it will probably be a while before either your parents or Peter’s dad will be back from LA. It’s… as bad there as it is here. Your dad didn't know if he would stay there and help or try to come back right away to help here. He wanted to meet up with your mum and Peter’s dad before making that decision. They had already arranged a meeting point when I spoke with him.”
Bob sighed deeply. “I hope he decided to come back.”
Help was needed everywhere, he knew that. But he wanted to be selfish and have his parents with him or at least easily reachable. Rocky Beach was small enough that they could easily walk from one end to the other in something like two hours. To reach LA or anyone in the city would take a lot more time.
“Peter’s mum was at home. And she went out to take a look at your house. For the most part, there didn't seem to be any damage,” Jupiter continued.
Bob frowned. “For the most part?”
Jupiter sighed. “The apple tree in your yard… has buried your garage beneath it.”
At first, Bob sighed in relief, but then he remembered his car inside the garage. “No! That’s not… My Beetle is in there!” He felt tears of frustration rise up in his eyes. He loved that car and he had spent so much time, money, and work on it to keep it working. Bob had not planned to ever buy another car.
“There won’t be much left of that car,” Jupiter muttered and patted his shoulder. “It’s not such a great loss! It has cost you much more in the last two years as if you had just bought another!”
Bob dropped down into the dirt. “Fuck! That’s my car you talking about!”
“Language!” Jupiter reprimanded him snickering, sitting down beside him. “We’ll find another car for you. One that won’t need to be sent to the workshop every other week.”
“You are exaggerating!”
Before Bob could say anything else, the doctor who had taken Peter into the medical tent called for them. Peter was holding an ice-pack against the back of his head and a nurse was putting a bandage around his chest.
“I’m ordered bed rest,” Peter reported darkly. “But I don’t need to go to the hospital. No signs of damaged bones, only two very ugly hematomas, one at the head the other right at the shoulder blade. I have a list of symptoms I need to look out for, but otherwise, I'm good to go home.”
Bob smiled relieved. “That’s good to hear. I’ll bring you home, but we’ll probably have to walk. Are you up for that?”
Peter shrugged. “If I had a say in this, I would stay and help. - Our bikes stood in front of the town hall, are they damaged, too?”
“You won’t be able to lift anything for a couple of days, Mr. Shaw, or ride a bike” the nurse interrupted. “I can understand your desire to help, but you wouldn’t be of any help with your injuries. Let your friend bring you home. There will still be a lot of work everywhere, even in a week. You need to look out for yourself first.”
Jupiter nodded. “I’ll stay here for a couple more hours and make a stop by your house before I go back home. Uncle Titus can take your bikes back to ours, as soon as he is sent home for the night. The two of you need a little bit of rest.”
“We haven’t done anything but rest in the last four hours!” Bob protested.
“To be buried in a collapsed house is not exactly rest,” Jupiter replied. “You may not have sustained any injuries, Bob, but it had to be a shock none the less. And someone needs to bring Peter home. That’s probably nearly an hour's walk at the moment. It will be dark until then and the work will have to wait for tomorrow anyway. We have barely any light here and we were already warned from the rescue workers that they would send us home because no one who is too exhausted is of any help.”
Bob sighed. “Alright. But I’ll come back here tomorrow.” He looked to the town hall. “Have we any idea of how many people are still missing?”
Jupiter shook his head. “No. But there is a woman who took over the coordinating, so it will all be a little more organized in a while. Everyone who was here just started digging wherever we had reason to believe we could find someone. No one thought about organizing anything or taking notes and gathering all the information we had available.”
Peter turned to the nurse. “Are you sure I can’t help with things that don’t have to do anything with lifting things?”
The nurse shook her head. “We have people who are educated for the part of organizing these things. Volunteers are mostly needed for the digging. Take a couple of days to let your shoulder heal, then you can come back.” She finished fixing the bandage. “I know there is no other way for you to go home than walk, but take a break whenever you feel fatigued. Don't push yourself too hard.”
“Do we need to change the bandage?” Bob asked.
The nurse shook the head. “It’s only for stabilization until Mr. Shaw is home. The only thing you need to look out for is that your friend doesn't stress his shoulder too much.”
Bob nodded. “I’ll remind him in case he should forget it.”
Peter gave a long-suffering sigh but did not protest, while Bob and Jupiter helped him to put his shirt back on, while the nurse was already rushing to the next patient. Originally the doctor had wanted to take a look at Bob just to be safe, but he was not reminding them of that, when Peter, Jupiter and he left the medical tent. He felt fine and there were a lot of people who actually needed help.
“You’ll find probably both of us at the Shaw’s later,” Bob said to Jupiter. “If my parents aren’t back yet, I don’t want to stay alone in the house and I’m sure Mrs. Shaw will be happy to have me over. Especially if her husband hasn’t gotten back yet either.”
Jupiter nodded. “Okay. But leave a message for your parents at your house. There hasn’t been any news on a timeline to bring the network back online. I’m not sure they will bring it back online for a couple of days because it would just shut down because of overuse again.”
“We’ll see you later,” Peter said. “Don’t take on too much. You don’t look as if you could go for much longer.”
“I’ll take care!” Jupiter promised.
“We’ll wait for you. Have you heard anything from your uncle or aunt?”, Bob asked.
Jupiter nodded. “I have heard from them a couple of hours ago. Uncle Titus is somewhere around here helping. He brought the truck, so anything that needs a little more power is taken care of by him. And he is bringing people to the hospital if it’s needed. Aunt Mathilda is still at the scrapyard and trying to bring order into the chaos there. Some things shouldn’t be lying around just anywhere.”
Bob nodded. “Okay, that doesn’t sound too bad. Let’s hope we’ll reach the Shaw's house without any kind of trouble. We’ll see you later!”
“Take care of yourself, too.” Jupiter waved with a hand before he was called away by one of the men who had previously helped him to free Bob and Peter.
Peter and Bob turned in the direction of the houses of their parents without saying a word for a couple of minutes. Peter was walking very slow and Bob was not sure if he was really up for the whole walk to his parent's house. It would take no more than half an hour under normal circumstances, but the streets were full of people and full of cars that had been abandoned to help or that had been tossed on their sides by the earthquake.
The more they walked, the more they got an impression of how bad the situation really was. Bob could not remember to have ever seen so much destruction before in his life. But then, he could neither remember an earthquake of the strength or duration like it had happened on this day. He was worried about the next couple of days and the consequences of this earthquake. Until today he had felt fairly safe, even so, he knew of the risk of major earthquakes.
“Do you think this was the big one everyone is speaking about for years now?” Peter asked.
Bob sighed. “I kind of hope it was. Because… if there is another one waiting to happen that’s even stronger, I have no idea how anyone or anything here could survive that.”
“That’s not exactly reassuring,” Peter muttered.
Bob shrugged. “Maybe we shouldn’t think too much about it. It will be a while until we can get any information on it anyway. The phone network is down, so we can probably assume the internet is unreachable, too. We’ll have to concentrate on getting through this chaos for the time being.”
“I hate that I’ll be unable to help!”
“I’m just glad we got out of there without any major injuries,” Bob whispered. “Jupiter said, they already found a few people who didn’t make it while they were searching for us. If we had been a little bit quicker or slower, those shelves wouldn’t have done anything to save us.”
“You are right.” Peter sighed. “You are really not hurt?”
Bob shook his head. “I would have called the doctor back if I would feel pain anywhere. I saw the shelve hit you and could duck. I think that saved me from being hit by the other one. - Do you remember what you said before you fell asleep?”
Peter was quiet for so long, that Bob took that as yes, even so in the end his friend shrugged. “Not really. I told a really ridiculous story at the time, wasn't I?”
“That was a little bit earlier.” Bob looked at him with raised eyebrows. “You were talking about how annoyed you are by the fact that I end up in trouble all the time. Which was probably on your mind all the time during our earlier discussion. And I have to admit that I was hit by this kind of bad luck more often than either of you in the last couple of cases.”
“But it was never your fault,” Peter muttered. “And we got you out of it every time.”
“You said you were more worried about me than about Jupiter,” Bob continued.
Peter hesitated in his step, but then he shrugged. “I was probably quite out of it at the time. Of course, I would have worried about Jupiter the same way! He just wasn’t as much in trouble as you since the whole story with the ruby and the silver hand.”
“Which is in my opinion not less absurd than my short stint as a pilot of a shuttle!” Bob could not help to point out. “Who gets sucked into any contact with these kinds of sects, really? It’s the second time we had to handle Sphinx! - But you aren’t distracting me. Because you said something that was really not true, and I don’t know how you got this whole idea.”
Peter turned his head away. “Do we really have to talk about my rumblings from when I was nearly asleep and had been hit in the head previously?”
“We do,” Bob insisted. “Because… You said I wouldn’t look at any man and you thought I would be disgusted that you thought about me as more than a friend. I would like to know what you meant with ‘more than a friend’, and assure you that I would never be disgusted with anything you think about me.”
“Not even if I regularly think about kissing you?” Peter cleared his throat. “And other things,” he added so quietly, Bob nearly missed it.
“Not even then.” Bob could not hold back his smile. “So, it’s probably not the right time to think about taking anyone to a date, because there just won’t be many opportunities for it. But I’m not opposed to the general idea, of a date, or a kiss, or more. With you specifically.”
Peter stopped mid-step and turned to him wide-eyed. “Really?”
Bob stopped directly in front of him and smiled. “Really. I still don’t know why you have such a bad impression of me!”
“You were really put out when Jeffrey tried to flirt with you.” Peter shrugged. “He had such a big crush on you and everyone knew it, but you weren’t very nice to him about it all.”
Bob blinked dumbfounded. “Jeffrey had what? No!” He shook his head. “No, that’s not possible. You have to be mistaken! He didn’t even look at me when we were talking! And he was trying to leave and take you with him all the time. If he was mooning about anyone, it was you!”
Peter frowned. “You thought Jeffrey had a crush on me?”
“He wanted to meet you all the time!”
Peter grinned. “Because he hoped you would come with me. He explicitly asked me to bring you along. But you never wanted to talk with him on the few occasions you actually came with me. You broke his heart with how you only showed him the cold shoulder!”
Bob shook his head vehemently. “No, really, that’s not possible! - I thought he was chasing you and… Okay, yes, I was not very nice to him, but that was because… I didn’t like how much time you spent with him. And I… had a really hard time to rain in my jealousy.”
Peter started to laugh. “You were jealous of Jeffrey. And I thought because of all of that, that you couldn’t handle another man showing interest in you. That’s… kind of fucked up!”
“It really is.” Bob snorted. “I have known for a long time, that I like boys and girls. But it seems that girls are the only ones who notice me and somehow we never talked about it.”
Peter huffed. “As you can see with Jeffrey and me, girls are not the only ones who notice you! It’s your perception that is screwed in this regard!”
Bob grinned embarrassedly. “Maybe.”
“So, a date yes?” Peter took a half step forward so that there was barely any space between the left.
“If we can find an opportunity in all this chaos,” Bob muttered. He looked up at his friend and if he wouldn’t see the pain in his eyes, he would have probably leaned up to kiss him. “I never thought… I’ve had a crush on you forever! I never thought there was any chance for it to lead anywhere!”
“I broke up with Kelly because I finally had noticed that I had fallen in love with you,” Peter replied quietly. “After… you had been abducted again when they tried to stage the prison break out with that guy that shared a few similarities with you.”
Bob frowned. “That was months ago!”
Peter shrugged. “As I said, I had misinterpreted your reaction to Jeffrey big time!”
“We are both idiots.” Bob hugged his friend carefully because otherwise he would have kissed him and he really did not want to have their first kiss happen while Peter was in so much pain. “Let’s get you home. Are you allowed to take something against the pain?”
Peter nodded. “Yeah, no worry. They asked me if I wanted anything, but I’m pretty sure their supplies are not the best and they’ll need what they have for others. We have Advil at home and I can endure for so long.”
“Let’s go then.” Bob let go of his friend, only to take his hand in his. “It’s still a long way.”
Earlier he had thought about asking Jupiter for the help of Titus Jones in bringing Peter home, but he suspected that Jupiter would have offered that if Titus were available. Neither of them was so bad off that they absolutely needed help and he did not want to take the help away from others, who were more hurt than them.
“You know, we’ll just have to find a way to make time for a date”, Peter said, while they turned back to the street. “I mean, in a couple of days, it won’t be necessary anymore to work through the night, when all that’s left is to rebuild the things that were destroyed. There will be plenty of time for a trip to the beach or something.”
Bob smiled. “You are right, of course.”
The most urgent thing at the moment was to find everyone who had been trapped in the collapsed buildings. But that would pass by in a couple of days or a week when the hope to find other survivors would drop rapidly. Bob would have liked to not think about that, but they had often enough spoken about a scenario like this at school. With the destruction as far-reaching and as big as it seemed to be, there was no chance to find everyone in time. All they could do in the next couple of days was doing their best.
They would do exactly that. Bob knew that even Peter would start to help long before his injuries should allow it, but he also already knew, that no one would sincerely protest against it. They would find work for Peter that would not stress his shoulder and back unduly.
Whatever horror and shock awaited them in the following days, they were still alive and their life would go on. To look forward to that, to make plans for that, would give them something to hold up their hope and give them the strength to get through the following days and weeks.
“I like the idea of the beach”, Bob said quietly. “We should keep that in mind for the first opportunity we get to get away for a couple of hours.”