Sunlight streamed in through the tiny slits in the crates, casting elongated shadows over much of the room and bathing the rest in an eerie pale glow. The hint of saltwater was easily detectable on the gentle breeze that occasionally stirred within the confines of the cold stone space in which Jason lounged.
His fever had dissipated sometime during the night as exhaustion took hold and he fell through a dark empty void, landing dazed and disoriented in the daylight. Blinking rapidly, he swallowed hard, his throat scratchy and his head throbbing with the promise of another night's agony.
Tears welled up in the corners of his eyes, catching in his lashes and temporarily blinding him. He swatted at them with the dirty sleeve of his jacket, forcing them back as his mind whirled with a thousand daring thoughts. One, he decided was worth a shot.
His eyes flickered to the doorway and his pulse quickened. Nothing moved as he listened intently for any sounds of human activity beyond his small room. Seconds ticked by, each one seeming to stretch into eternity, until he was certain that he was completely alone.
Sucking in a deep breath, he crept across the room to the stack of crates that stood guard in front of the window.
The bottom crate was by far the biggest of the three, and it stuck out farther into the room than the others. Jason grabbed the top of it and hoisted his small frame up and over the edge until he was resting on his knees, gripping the edge with white knuckles.
His breath came in sharp, rapid gasps, more exhilarated than frightful. Another quick glance at the door and he felt his confidence grow exponentially. So far, so good.
Forcing himself to his feet, he clung to the second crate to keep from falling back to the hard concrete floor.
The two top crates were the same size but sitting at odd angles so that there was just enough space for him to climb precariously onto the second crate and stand on the toes of his sneakers. Grasping the edges of the top crate firmly he struggled to balance on his tippy toes. A momentary flash of fear ripped through his body as he imagined the painful fall back to earth, but he shrugged it away as he braced his shoulder against the heavy wood.
He took a deep breath and shoved with all of his might, but the crate didn't budge an inch. He stopped to catch his breath before switching shoulders. Again, he pushed against the wood but to no avail.
A small bubble of hope burst somewhere in his heart but he refused to give up. He knew he could move this crate if he tried hard enough, he could feel it in every fiber of his being, he just didn't know how it was possible. But at that point, it didn't matter. All he wanted was to get out of the stuffy little room and find his mom.
Another shove proved as fruitless as before. Again and again he pushed and shoved the crate but it stayed stubbornly in place. Aggravation and a growing fear of being caught began to build like a run away train and he found himself pushing the crate out of sheer frustration, angry tears flowing silently over flushed cheeks.
Finally, out of breath and angry beyond comprehension, he climbed back down and threw himself across the mattress. A heated sob escaped him as his shoulders shook in desperate defeat.
He cried until no more tears would come, his body merely heaving with dry sobs as every inch of his skin burned with unnatural heat.
An image of his mother flashed across his mind once again, followed swiftly by a memory of his father. Closing his eyes, he thought of home, of his own bed, and warm hugs that made everything okay. As he drifted on warm thoughts of his parents he found it difficult to pry his eyes back open. It wasn't long before it became extremely tricky to differentiate between dreams and reality as everything began to melt into one huge stream of consciousness and bled together in his muddled and exhausted mind.
Somewhere outside his door, the shrill trilling of an alarm clock sliced the still silence in two.
The drive back had been the worst part. Alone with his thoughts, his fear and uncertainty had seemed to build and build until the confines of the car closed in around him. Near hyperventilating, he hastily rolled down his window and breathed in the fresh air that flooded the car.
But any hopes he had had of the fresh air cleansing his mind of such dark and dismal thoughts turned frigid as the heater worked overtime to keep his warm with the cold air still seeping in. A mumbled stream of incoherent curse words followed the window as he rolled it back up and stuck his frozen fingers over the vents to warm them.
Brake lights ahead of him warned him that traffic was headed for another standstill. Another curse, just as colorful as the first, flew at the windshield as Richard bashed his fist against the steering wheel.
Two days after the storm and even the best roads were still atrocious, and a few hours drive became a nine hour game of hit and miss. The interstate's usual four lanes were diminished to two as fallen trees and a debacle of motor vehicle accidents piled up for miles. Navigating them was next to impossible, even with the National Guard and State Troopers working overtime to direct traffic and keep order.
It seemed that Richard had left New York and driven right into the ninth circle of hell. And to make matters worse, he was riddled with fear for Jason and Lois, wanting nothing more than to hold them in his arms again and assure himself that his family was safe. But even as traffic began the slow crawl back to life, the angry knot in his lower abdomen gave him a swift kick back to reality. Any illusions that he was under that things were alright with him and Lois were just that, illusions. Something had changed in her demeanor to him since the incident aboard the Gertrude. Their relationship, while still civil, had a slight chill to it and he didn't understand why or how to fix it.
Which was why, when he finally made it back to Metropolis hours later, he stood hesitantly outside of her hospital room door, unsure of himself for the first time since they had started dating.
Soft voices issued from behind the closed door but no matter how hard he strained his hearing he couldn't distinguish who they belonged to. Glancing at his watch, he realized he had been rooted to the same spot for five minuets. He shot a curious nurse a bashful grin as she passed with an armload of paper work and felt a blush creeping up to his face. Feeling utterly foolish, he shook his head and rapped quickly on the door.
As he opened the door and stepped into the sunlit room, he calmly braced himself for the worst.
Lois sat propped up on a mountain of pillows, surrounded by an army of flowers and get well cards.
But his eyes are instantly drawn away from the colorful foliage by the purple and yellow pattered bruised across her face and exposed arms. A half dozen butterfly stretch across her forehead right above her left eyebrow and her right arm was cautiously bound up in a dark blue sling.
He let his eyes sweep over her body, away from her face as he struggled to compose himself. Searching for the right words, any words, but all speech evaded him as he moved to her side.
"Lois, are you alright," he asked, his voice cracking slightly.
She gave him a half hearted smile, "never been better Richard."
"I'm so sorry I couldn't have been here sooner, honey. Traffic was hell."
A soft chuckle escaped her and she grimaced in pain, the very act of moving bringing on a fresh wave of nausea. He reached for her instinctively, wanting to help her but afraid of hurting her. After a moment of awkwardness in which his hand hung suspended in the air above her shoulder, he let his it drop limply to the bed, seeking out hers without thinking. As he intertwined his fingers gently with hers, he vaguely remembered that there was someone else in the room.
He inclined his head towards the chair in the corner and his vision fell on the last person he expected to see.
The other man nodded curtly and pushed his glasses nervously back up the bridge of his nose. "Richard."
Whoa, I'm so sorry it took me so long to get this chapter posted! I've been really busy. College graduation and mother having a transplant can really take up a LOT of time. lol. I hope the next chapter won't take nearly as long!