Her mother was talking to her, but Serena was not listening. She stared out of the window, her eyes far away from all of them. The intensity of what had occurred, and the powerful relief and concern she had felt when it was all over had slowly faded away. In their place was an emptiness, a dull sense that something was missing.
When they arrived, he was waiting at the door anxiously. When she got out of the car, their eyes met and for a moment she could swear he almost smiled, and she very nearly did as well. Then his eyes drifted down to the cast on her hand, and the smile was gone. She could feel his guilt over what had happened. She walked right past him without saying a word, and went straight to her room.
She remained holed up there for days after that, hardly coming out even to eat. Her parents knocked on her door a few times the first two days, worried about whether she was properly taking care of herself, but decided after that to give her her space and hope for the best.
Sabueso remained as helpful in performing the various chores of the house as he had been, but it was clear Serena’s injury weighed heavily on his mind. He moped about the house, cleaning and organizing things, with a downtrodden expression on his face.
On the third day, Serena had had enough of staring into space, so she opened up her laptop with the intention of finding something equally mindless to do. She caught up on all of the blogs she usually read, which killed a fair amount of time. She watched a few videos. She watched a handful of poorly produced documentaries on Netflix.
After finishing one of the latter, she was hit by a sudden impulse. She typed “punching” into her browser’s search bar and hit enter. Google brought up two different Wikipedia articles–“Punch (combat)” and “Punching”, some kind of metallurgy process—as well as several fitness sites. Halfway into the results, above a Saturday Night Live sketch, was a video called “Derek Panza – Punching Technique” on YouTube. She clicked it and began to watch.
The video was certainly of a type. The soundtrack consisted of a few power chords over and over, the sort meant to get you pumped up. The transitions between explanations displayed Panza in the pose he was about to explain, framed by textured metal. But the explanations themselves were very simple, no-nonsense descriptions of how to throw particular punches, and in total it amounted to less than seven minutes.
When it had ended, she started it over and watched it again. As inexperienced as she was, she could already see several specific things she had done wrong when she threw the punch that broke her hand and wrist. She had gone over that punch in her head countless times since she had come home from the hospital, and began comparing it to what Panza was saying.
She had planted her feet and not followed through at all, and twisted her body. The most important mistake, the one that undoubtedly caused her injury, was that she hadn’t kept her wrist straight. Jack had clearly known what would happen to her, because he hadn’t even tried to protect himself. He knew whatever damage she might inflict would be nothing next to the damage she herself would suffer. For the first time in days, raw emotion pierced through the numbness. She burned with anger, directed at Jack for being able to treat her like a joke, and at herself for letting him.
For the next three hours, she watched the video over and over, yearning to be able to try imitating Panza’s punches but knowing she ought not to risk exacerbating her injuries. So she remained, propped up on her bed, and she watched.
Eventually, she was ready to move on to other sources of information. She went to the account that had posted the video–“panzamma”–to see if it had anything more in depth. It has nine other Panza videos, mostly about specific workouts. She bookmarked it and then went back to Google.
She went to the Wikipedia article “Punch (combat)”. From there she entered a universe of linked articles on specific punches and punching styles. She was reading and watching videos late into the night.
She emerged from her room sometime in the early morning. She went down to the kitchen for something to eat, as she had skipped dinner. On her way she noticed the light was on in her father’s study. This wasn’t surprising–he often lost track of time when in the grip of a new obsession.
As she passed the family room, she noticed the object of her father’s obsession passed out on the couch. Sabueso had been given a proper bed to sleep on in their guest room, but she had found him down there a number of times since he had moved in. She couldn’t figure out why–he didn’t watch the TV, so he hadn’t fallen asleep while watching it. And he seemed to like his bed just fine. Still, sometimes he just didn’t make it upstairs. She picked up the blanket she had folded next to the couch for just these occasions and pulled it over him.
She went into the kitchen and poured herself a bowl of cereal, with a generous helping of milk. The information she had looked at that day, and everything else that has been going on, sank deep into the back of her mind. She thought about nothing in particular; her mind wandering to TV shows she’d watched lately and other trivialities.
Before she knew it she had finished her bowl. She realized she was famished, so she filled it up again and continued eating. After a few minutes, she heard the door to her father’s study open, and saw the light flood the hallway. Her father walked down the hall, then paused when he noticed Sabueso. The clanking of Serena’s spoon against the bowl drew his attention.
“Oh, hello stranger,” he greeted lightly.
“Hey Dad,” she replied between mouthfuls of Frosted Flakes. He walked into the kitchen and went to the fridge to pour himself a glass of orange juice. Once he had, he walked over to the table and sat himself across from her. “I don’t know why he does that,” she said, “I know he prefers the bed.”
“I feel a bit bad about that,” her dad replied.
“I think he stays behind because he isn’t sure if I’m going to have more questions for him, and he’s figured out that I won’t bother him if he has gone to bed.”
“you should tell him not to stay up for you, then!” she said, a little outraged.
“I have, believe me. It doesn’t stop him. And…I have to admit once or twice I have ended up asking him some things when I discovered he was still out here.”
“I know, I know. But this is important, sweetheart. Especially after what happened.” Serena chewed her lower lip, feeling suddenly ill at ease.
“Are you going to let him stay?” she asked quietly. He did not answer immediately, but finished his orange juice and then stared at the empty glass for a few minutes.
“We haven’t decided,” he admitted, “Obviously we had no reason to think we would be putting you kids in danger when we brought him with us, so far from those people. But we don’t want to do anything to put the family at risk.”
“Maybe Jack was their one guy they had to send after people outside of Paraguay,” Serena said, her tone betraying more urgency than she wanted it to.
“Maybe. I am just not sure we can take that chance. But we’ve all talked to the police, and we’ll let that process play itself out before we make any decision.” he assured her.
“I don’t think they believed half of the things I told them about Sabueso,” she sighed.
“No, I think they believe I’m some kind of crank academic living in a fantasy,” he told her with a smirk, “but that man is a far bigger deal than any of this, apparently. I’ve spoken with some FBI agents who have been chasing him for some time, and they were much more interested in what I had to say. They’ll want to talk to you when you’re feeling up to it; I insisted that they wait until you were ready.”
“Thank you, dad” she said earnestly. A comfortable silence fell between them. Serena stared at her empty bowl, knowing she could easily have another but not feeling as hungry as she was. She wrestled over whether to have a third bowl, finding the subject easier than what they had been talking about.
“they really are amazing,” he said with genuine awe, as though those ’amazing’ people hadn’t nearly killed him and his family. Twice. “His injury was far worse than yours, and yet it was healed in a matter of hours.” His gaze drifted to Serena’s sling, and she didn’t like the look in his eyes.
“It hasn’t healed, Dad,” she said firmly.
“Of course not,” he said cautiously, “the doctor said it would be weeks.”
“you looked like you thought it might have healed.” she accused.
“Don’t be silly.”
“I’m not like them.” there. She said it. No one had brought it up, not once, since the incident. Though she could not know it, her parents had not even dared to broach the subject with one another.
“No…of course you aren’t,” he said after a beat, seeming resigned to this fact, “that would be a tremendously improbable coincidence. It’s absurd to think so.” She relaxed a little. He had entertained the possibility–who wouldn’t have? But he had come to the only logical conclusion.
“Are you disappointed?” she teased him.
“What father wouldn’t want his family to heal quickly and be strong enough to defend themselves?” he replied with a warm smile.
“More like, what scientist wouldn’t want some more specimens?”
“Please. My relationship with Sabueso complicates things enough as it is. The last thing I need is for my wife and children to be a part of this,” he sighed. He pushed his chair back and stood up. “I’m going to bed and you should too.” he leaned over and gave her a kiss on the forehead. She wished him good night, and he left.
She waited a few minutes after she heard her parents’ bedroom door close before she did it. She felt foolish, but she just wanted to be sure. She took her arm out of the sling and flexed her hand as much as the bandages would allow.
She felt nothing. No pain.
With a rising anxiety, she took the pins off of her bandages and began to unravel then. It took several minutes, and she had a nagging fear that she would not be able to re-wrap it properly. Still, she persisted.
Eventually, she dropped her bandages on the table and was able to examine her hand completely. She made a fist; lightly at first and then tightly. She bent her wrist forward and backward, and rolled her hand around in a circle. She prodded her hand and wrist with the fingers on her other hand.
She didn’t feel a thing. She had completely healed in about a week’s time. Maybe less–who knows when she would have figured this out had curiosity and fear not overwhelmed her.
It couldn’t be. She couldn’t be one of them. She just couldn’t.
She looked over to the couch where Sabueso was sleeping and her blood ran cold. He had his head propped up on the farthest arm rest, and had his eyes open. He was staring right at her.
She grabbed her bandages and rushed past him, up the stairs to her room.