It wasn’t as bad as it sounded. Juliet broke her arm and Luke had to reset it.
“But you’re an engineer!” Henry protested.
“I’ve taken classes,” Luke said. He went on to explain that when he had gone back inside to take his phone call and the earthquake started, Juliet had come running out to where he was. They were going to come outside, but glass started breaking so they took cover in the master bedroom doorway. As they watched the other side of the house break away, the wall closest to them collapsed and Luke had to pull Juliet to the ground.
“Tackle is more like it,” Juliet mumbled, grasping her injured arm.
“Yes, well,” Luke said, looking embarrassed. “I might have been a little too forceful. It just all happened so fast.”
“Shouldn’t we take her to the ER?” Henry said, crouching down next to her.
“With that airplane down there?” Luke said, gesturing toward the hill and the ruined backyard. “I think the ER’s going to be a bit busy.”
“I’m not even sure we can get down the hill in a car,” Alex said.
“I’ll find something for a splint,” Luke said, and began rummaging amongst the debris.
I realized the wall that had nearly hit Luke and Juliet was part of the library. Or used to be. Books lay scattered on the ground mixed with mud and rubble from the ceiling where it had split open. The living room where Juliet sat, along with the master suite seemed to be the only part of the house still intact. It was beyond surreal to look over at where the dining room should be, where they had all been sitting less than an hour before. I could only gape at the wreckage. I couldn’t even conjure an emotional response.
Water dripped down onto what remained of the entry from broken wood beams sticking up into the sky like jagged fingers. Pipes from the bathroom jutted from a nearby wall like broken bones, spouting water that flowed in a stream into the fragments of marble tiles. There was a kind of crater in the floor where the piano was—which had somehow survived, though it was a little worse for wear—like a giant boulder had crushed the floor down. Beyond that, there were some remains of the kitchen: a lone bar stool on its side, a section of the island still standing, and then the debris mixed with land.
“Good,” Alex said. “I’m going downstairs to find Rob…and Lida,” she added reluctantly.
“I’m going with you,” I said.
Henry looked like he wanted to join us, but then looked back at Juliet as though asking for her permission.
Juliet stared back at him for a moment, the pain from her arm clear on her face. “I don’t care,” she said. “We broke up, remember?”
I turned away so I couldn’t see his reaction, but I heard him following once we reached the stairs. We had to climb over broken pieces of plaster and two-by-fours, and some of the stairs gave way as we made our way down slowly.
“Be careful,” Henry called unnecessarily when Alex stumbled on a step. “And we’d better make this fast. I’m not sure how stable the house is above us. It could come down any minute.”
Alex didn’t seem to hear or care. She was on a mission. I knew how she felt. If it were Henry down here, I’d be doing the same thing.
It was pitch black in the basement.
“Shit,” Alex said somewhere ahead of me, and then a light shown bright from behind us. Henry held his phone above our heads: flashlight app.
“Don’t move any more to your left, Alex,” Henry said as he shown his light on the caved-in ceiling of the studio, the shape of which resembled that of the floor above where the piano sat. What could be seen of the floor sloped down in the direction of the hill. A few sparking wires cascaded from the ceiling, but even with Henry’s light I couldn’t make out any forms that made sense in my head.
Henry and I followed Alex to the right where it looked like the glass case that held awards and memorabilia had toppled over, crushing a table to bits. Just beyond that we found Lida huddled on the floor, and in her lap was Rob, his eyes closed.
Alex screamed, a high-pitched mournful scream I’d never heard her utter before. I couldn’t understand what she was screaming about.
“Henry, help me!” she yelled, and began tugging at the glass case.
Henry’s light shone like a spotlight over the whole scene and it became clear. All I could see was Rob’s upper body, the rest hidden beneath the case. Lida hadn’t moved since we arrived, but now I saw her silent tears as they made tracks down her dirt-stained face.
“Henry!” Alex screamed again.
Lida looked up. “Alex.”
Alex ignored her and kept pulling at the case. “We have to get this thing off him!”
“Alex!” Lida said, louder this time. “He’s gone.”
Alex slumped to the ground, tears streaking her face too. “No,” she sobbed over and over as she crawled to Rob. She took his face in her hands and kissed his mouth. There was a small part of me that was hurt Alex had never told me about Rob. It was obvious she was in love with him; how had she kept this from me?
Lida still hadn’t moved, and watched Alex with a blank look on her face.
There was a rumbling sound coming from nearby and I didn’t like the sound of it. My mind jumped to the thought of an aftershock; we could not be down here if there was an aftershock.
“Alex,” I said. “We have to get out of here.”
“Lida, take my hand,” Henry said. Lida stared at Henry’s hand for a moment before taking it.
Alex still had Rob’s face in her hands when the ground began to shake again. A massive cracking sound came from the far wall where the ceiling was caved. None of us had time to move before the piano from the floor above came crashing down and the other side of the studio crumpled under it. The whole section of the studio seemed to fall away, but the ground where we stood somehow remained intact. Not an aftershock, I decided; more likely the structure just couldn’t take the strain any longer.
“Is everyone all right?” Luke’s voice came down from the main floor.
“So to speak,” Henry called back as he shined his light at the hole where the studio used to be. As the dirt and dust settled and shapes became clear, what we saw made my eyes grow large in surprise.
...to be continued.
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