It was early morning when I woke.
"No fair," I groaned into my pillow. I wasn't supposed to wake up for at least another hour. Having gotten back to the cabin at about midnight the night before I needed the rest.
Knowing I wouldn't be able to get back to sleep with Jake Mason's snores echoing through the cabin I sat up. Everything hurt. Aches and pains would plague me until the day I finished the Argo 2. But it wasn't fair. I knew the others tried to help but they also had other camp activities.
Chiron had me opt out of all camp activities that weren't eating. After two weeks at camp, I had only gone to campfire twice, once when I had first gotten there and the night we returned.
"Come on Leo," I groaned, stretching my stiff arms. "Time to get back to work."
I took a fresh pair of clothes into the bathroom and tried to melt myself in the shower. Once sufficiently I snuck back to my bed. There were disadvantages to having your bed in the middle of the room.
I sat there for a moment, wondering if I shouldn't just lay down and try to go back to sleep. I didn't want to stand. Out of everything that hurt my leg was the worst.
Glancing around, heart pounding, I pulled my left leg onto the bed and lifted my pant leg. There, where my flesh and blood limb should have been was a hunk of metal. From an inch below the knee and beyond my leg was gone. Pulling on the strap around my knee the prosthetic fell slack, falling on the bed with a small clink.
I couldn't help but sigh in relief. The scarred stump below my knee was red and sweating, swollen like it hadn't been since it came off.
"Leo?" a girl's voice yawned.
Throwing the stump over the side of the bed I looked around. "Nyssa!" I whispered.
I prayed she hadn't seen but her awestruck face told me otherwise. "Leo?" her tone was full of... what was that? Terror, surprise, pity? "Wha-what? How?"
"Please don't freak out," I whispered. Slowly I lifted my leg back onto the bed, earning a wince from my cabin mate.
"How...?" she asked simply.
"It was a long time ago," I said, pulling the fake limb from the sheets. "I was just a kid. The machine shop fire..."
"Oh!" her hands flew over her mouth. "You don't have to say anything else. I understand."
I shook my head. "I should probably tell someone.”
“If you’re sure…” she sunk to the foot of my bed.
“When the machine shop collapsed I got caught in it,” I began slowly. “By the time they got me out my leg was infected. They brought me to the hospital and had to wait a long time for a legal guardian." I laughed bitterly. "My aunt Rosa got there two hours later and didn't want to pay for an operation. She told them to chop it off."
"But you were eight years old." Nyssa's brow furrowed and she sat on the bed next to me. "You had just, just lost your mom and they cut off your leg?"
I nodded. "At first they weren't sure I was going to make it. But after a night the legal stuff was out of the way and I was sent to Aunt Rosa's in a wheelchair."
"But..." she nodded at my fake limb. "How'd you get that?"
"At first I didn't have it. My aunt hated having the wheelchair so she got rid of it and I hobbled around on crutches. I got sick of being sore all the time and her attitude so I ran away after six months. When the cops caught me my aunt refused to keep me. So they sent me to a foster family." I smiled, remembering.
"Were they nice?" Nyssa asked.
"Nice enough," I fiddled with a screw on the side of my leg. "I was in there with a bunch of other kids and they liked to steal my crutches. Eventually, the 'mother' of the household got sick of finding me sitting in the middle of the hall, crawling everywhere. So she bought a thick, chunky plastic leg. It didn't fit and I hated it but I lived."
She knew I had run away many times. I had told her and the rest of my cabin mates a long time ago. "They liked stealing my leg too," I laughed a little. "Finally I got sick of it and ran away. By the time I got caught, I was three states away and no one really wanted to drive me all the way back."
"So where'd you go?" She asked, leaning on my shoulder.
"Different foster home. One by one I got sick of them, I'd cause trouble or someone would catch me using fire." I thought back to what I considered the dark days. "One of the bigger kids got annoyed with me so he pushed me into the fireplace. Half the furniture was in flames before I put myself out. But as you know I didn't get hurt."
Nyssa nodded, yawning slightly. "What happened after that?"
"Jumped from foster home to foster home. But once, right before the wilderness school, I stopped for the night in a car repair shop. I couldn't sleep, not with all those parts around. I began hopping around taking random parts and shoving them in my jacket. I don't remember what happened exactly but I started making myself a fake limb. It was shaky and over the whole night I perfected it."
I gestured down to my leg, of which my pant leg was still pulled up. "May I?" she asked, holding out a hand. I nodded. I couldn't feel her hand on the gears but I thought I could. "It's impressive. You've repaired it since then haven't you?"
Again I nodded. "The night I attached Festus's wings." My voice cracked when I thought about my dragon, a lifeless head in the bunker. "I found tons of parts and started to fix my leg. Sometimes I wonder if I should scrap this thing and make an entirely new one."
Nyssa shook her head. "Don't do that, it's a beautiful piece of machinery. But," she bit her lip, looking at it carefully. "It could be improved."
I heard the offer hidden in her words. "I can fix it on my own 'repair princess.'"
She laughed, "alright, alright. I'll lay off," she paused, her fingers reaching my ankle. "Leo, what's this?"
She was gesturing to the small engraving done with a pocket knife a long time ago. "I did that to a lot of things I owned." I wiped away the dust and grease with my thumb to reveal the initials indented in the steel.
"E... Z..." Nyssa read.
"Esperanza Valdez." I translated.
"Your mother's name?"
I nodded. "Nothing felt like it belonged to me unless I put that on it. It's been a bit like my good luck charm. And it keeps me going." I pointed to the less distinguished carving right under it. It was newer but blurrier, a stream of dashes and dots.
"What does it say?"
"Her favorite saying. 'Clean hands; dirty equipment.' It keeps me moving and working."
Nyssa smiled. "Smart. Something you can never forget."
"Nice story," a deep voice said, making me jump and fall onto the floor. Jake Mason stood there, a grin on his still bruised face.
"How much did you hear?"
"All of it I think. You two really don't know how to sneak around."
It only took a second for me to get my head around the fact that not one but two people now knew and who knew how many of my cabin mates sat awake in their bed's listening.
"You can't tell," I said instantly. "Neither of you can tell the others."
"But..." Nyssa's brows furrowed. "Why?"
"I don't know." I blushed, "normally I get teased."
"No one at camp is going to tease you," Jake comforted.
"I know," I smiled with one half of my face. "But please don't."
"Alright," Nyssa sighed. "You're the boss."
"Yes, I am." I grinned