For the most part, they drove home in silence. Zeb had offered to take over driving, since Zoe was obviously exhausted, but she insisted that driving was helping to keep her mind off of the last twenty-four hours. He asked about her arm, and she filled him in on her encounter with Seve.
“If I ever see that guy again…” Zeb said.
“You’ll call the police,” she replied firmly. “Zeb,” she pressed when he didn’t agree right away, “promise me.”
He looked at his little sister, bleeding and bruised and wanted to do anything but promise not to put his hands around the neck of the guy who did this to her and squeeze. But that way lay darkness. Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord, he reminded himself. “I promise.”
About ten minutes from her house, she asked, “Hey, do you care if I stop somewhere to get something to eat before going home?”
“Yeah, of course. I’m so sorry, I should have suggested it as soon as we got into town.”
“We both had other things on our minds…” she muttered.
They pulled into the first fast-food place they encountered and ordered a couple of meals, Zeb noticing that she ordered a chicken sandwich rather her usual burger.
“Here, I got this,” he insisted handing over his debit card when they got to the window, and, for once, Zoe relented and allowed him. He figured she probably had little to no money on her anyway.
When she pulled her car into her apartment building’s parking lot, Zeb got out first, getting her oversized first aid kit out of the trunk and helping her out of the car. She carried the food, even though he tried to make her let him do it, and led the way to the stairs. “Where are you going? The elevator’s over here,” Zeb said, gesturing to the opposite side of the lobby.
“I know, but I don’t want it triggering one of your attacks just now. I need your help to fix me up.”
He lowered his eyes and nodded, feeling the helplessness and uselessness creeping up his face in a flush. “Okay,” he said, slogging up the two flights of stairs behind her.
She let them in to her apartment. It was small, and old, with exposed adobe brick walls and single pane windows. However, Zoe had done a remarkable job of making it hospitable. The walls were lime washed to a pale cream color that contrasted with the dark wood floors. Her few seating pieces were overstuffed and upholstered in ivory cotton, the rest of the furniture designed to be visually airy. Overall, it was welcoming and tidy. He didn’t really get why she didn’t like it here.
He took the food bags from her and sat them on the glass-topped coffee table. “Here, sit down. Let me take a look at that arm.”
She wearily sat down on the couch. He put the first aid kit on the coffee table and sat next to her. She unbuttoned the flannel shirt partway and slipped her injured arm out. “Easy,” she warned as he untied the shirt she had used to stop the bleeding.
He sucked in a breath when he saw the damage the bullet had done. “Oh, dear Lord,” he muttered, suddenly nervous about making matters worse trying to help. “Okay, what do I do?”
“It really needed stitches, but it’s too late for that now. There should be some antibiotics in the kit, and some peroxide. You’ll need gauze, painkillers and rolled bandages, too.”
He looked through the various bottles and packets until he found the painkillers and antibiotics, and she took them with a long drink of Coke. She guided him on cleaning the wound, wincing and whimpering slightly with the pain, but she gritted her teeth and pressed her lips and eyes shut tightly until he was done. He very gingerly dried the skin around the wound with some more gauze, apologizing every time she sucked in a pained breath.
“It’s okay, just get it over with,” she said.
“Shouldn’t you go to the hospital for this?”
“Yeah, probably, but Seve might be looking for us, and he’s probably expecting me to do just that. I only got away from him last night because I didn’t do what he expected me to do, I think,” she said, stuffing some fries in her mouth. “I think we need to keep doing the unexpected to get through this,” she said around the mouthful.
He finished off with the rolled bandage to cover the wound and control the bleeding. “There you go,” he said. “Is that tight enough? Too tight?”
“Thank you, it’s fine,” she said with a small smile.
He poured some more peroxide onto some gauze and mopped the cut on her forehead, which had started bleeding again as well. He used a couple butterfly bandages for that one. “Anywhere else?” he asked, looking her over critically.
She looked down at her hands, which were clean but badly abraded. “These are all shallow,” she answered. “So’re the ones on my legs. I washed them up at the truck stop, so I think that’s everything.”
He stood up and gestured toward the bathroom. “Do you want me to get you a bath going?”
She took a huge bite of her sandwich and shook her head. Mouth full, again, she replied, “I’m not sure we should stay here. What if he finds us?”
“I don’t see how they could.”
“My purse was at your house when Seve grabbed me,” she said, eyes wide. She started to wrap her food up again.”
“Hey, hey, hey,” Zeb said, coming back and putting his hands on hers to make her stop, “you need to eat. We can get some of your stuff and get out of town, but I think we can finish our food first. Okay?”
She nervously nodded. “Okay. But hurry.”
He nodded. “Okay.” He got his food out and started tearing into it, feeling just as pressed for time as she was, though he didn’t want her to realize it. He may not be of much use to her, with his condition, but he could at least stay strong and calm for her.
They finished virtually simultaneously and he helped her throw some clothes and toiletries into a bag. “What about you?” she asked.
“I’m a guy, I’m okay with smelling like a pig and wearing the same clothes for days on end,” he said teasingly.
She wrinkled her nose. “Ugh, I remember,” she said with a smile. “Maybe we can just wash your stuff when we get to wherever we get to.” She handed him the bag and then grabbed her first aid kit from the coffee table on their way out the door.
“Sounds like a plan. Except we don’t know where that’s going to be,” he said when they reached the stairs.
“Where do people go on a brother-sister road trip when running from psycho killers?”
“If you believe the movies, small desert towns with a sordid history and it’s own share of killers.”
“Nah, that’s where they go before they get chased by the psycho killers.” She backed out of the apartment building’s front door, holding it open for him.
“Ah, right. Then I have no idea.” This was nice, the banter. He’d missed hanging out with his little sister more than he realized.
She unlocked the car and turned to him. “Maybe we should go to the police now.”
He thought it over a moment. The story was out there, the picture was public, and he had Zoe back in mostly one piece. There really was no reason not to anymore. “Okay. Yeah, I think you’re right.” He looked at her pointedly, “If you’re sure.”
She nodded. “Oh, I’m sure. Believe me.”