Thanks to Matteo’s demon girlfriend, I left too late to catch the train and had to take two buses to get to work. I walked up to the NeuroCore Research Center over an hour late. I understood that Avie was mad, but our personal relationship shouldn’t affect our carpool agreement.
Evelyn was upset so I didn’t bother asking her. Our relationship was complicated and largely undefined. I don’t know what to call us. We’re friends, I guess, but we’re not technically dating. We do have an understanding not to make many demands on each other. Neither of us is good at romance so we’re pretty sure a realistic relationship would probably break us apart. After all, our entire relationship is based on basically two things: Avie and–
“Why don’t we throw a party, Henry?” I said, facing the voice.
He narrowed his brown eyes at me, the lines in his pale forehead deepening. He hated when I called him by his first name in the Center which is why I always did when I saw him. In a second his face brightened. “Going away party?”
“Possibly.” I said, facing the wall again. “You’ve got the key.”
He clicked his tongue. “Too bad. I suppose we’ll be seeing a lot more of you.”
My nerves sparked with irritation as he leaned forward and pushed the “up” button next the elevators. On the screen above one of the doors, an arrow pointed upwards signaling that a box was coming from one of the three below ground levels of the building. I wasn’t about to be stuck in the claustrophobic tiny moving room with this guy.
“I’m going to take the stairs. It’s faster.” I said, trying to sound casual while stepping to the side.
Henry put an arm around my shoulders, his long white lab coat brushing against my back. “Nonsense. We haven’t talked in ages, Pern. This’ll give us a chance to catch up.” He squeezed my shoulder much too hard to match the friendliness of his tone. I knew he wanted to poke around in my business, but I wasn’t about to be intimidated.
I kept my back straight and my eyes focused forward as the elevator “dinged” and the doors slowly slid open. The steel like tension I had built up in my muscles melted away into rubber as I looked into the shocked hazel eyes of Avie. I don’t know what she found more incredible– his arm around me or what I knew she was putting together.
Henry patted my back then pushed me forward. Avie stepped aside as I stumbled into the elevator with him following close behind.
“Third floor, please,” he said, cheerfully.
Avie pushed the button and after a few seconds the door slid closed. The box descended into complete silence. Sandwiched between Henry and Avie (can’t a guy get a break!) I shoved my hands in my pockets determined not to speak another word. With a jerk, the box began to rise.
I could feel Avie’s eyes on me. Glancing over, I gave her a glare. I didn’t want her yapping her mouth about this. She raised her eyebrows, her brown face full of confusion. Then turned her head away probably thinking I was being immature or boorish or whatever dictionary word of the day was raging in her mind.
“It feels like we all know each other,” Henry said, his voice filling the small room. “Are you two dating?”
“No!” We said in unison.
Avie cleared her throat. “I’m sorry, doctor. That was extremely rude. I’m Avalon Nantz. I’m an assistant in the extraction and preservation department. We’ve never officially met, but I just want to say that it’s an honor to be in the same elevator as the Henry Lang.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Ms Nantz,” Henry said, shaking her hand. “I hear you all are doing great work in that department. I’ll have to visit. Who do you assist?”
“Dr. Emily Campbell.”
His blue eyes brightened with surprise and his face filled with respect as he looked her up and down. “You must be very good to keep up with one of our best. Dr Campbell has little appreciation for anyone who isn’t nearly as top notch as herself.”
Avie beamed. The elevator slowed with a lurch.
“Looks like our time is cut short,” Henry said. “I’d love to get together with you sometime, Ms Nantz. Anyone Dr Campbell can tolerate is worth getting to know.”
“Really? That would be wonderful.” Avie said. “I mean, it’d be an honor to pick the mind of a genius such as yourself.”
A pink tone colored Henry’s cheeks. “I don’t know about genius. I’m merely doing my part for the world.” He smiled as the doors opened. “I have an idea. Corbin’s having dinner at the house tonight. If you don’t have any prior plans come along as his date.”
“I’m not doing anything tonight.” Avie clasped her hands together. “I’d love to have dinner.”
“We’re not dating.” I told him.
The elevator “dinged” signaling that it was ready to move on. Henry put his large hand on the door forcing it back and keeping it from closing.
“Then bring Ms Nantz as your not-date,” he said with a smirk in my direction.
Avie burst out laughing. “Not-date! That’s hilarious!”
His smile softened on her. “We’ll be expecting the both of you at 7:00 sharp. Semi- to formal.”
“I look forward to it, Dr Lang,” Avie called as Henry left.
The elevators blessedly shut sealing me from any further communication with Henry for the time being. The box moved up again. Avie and I were quiet as we passed the fourth floor.
“Dr Lang!” Avie clapped her hands together. “Can you believe it? I’m going to have dinner with him!”
“Big whoop.” I muttered. “He had hair transplanted from his butt to cover the bald spot on his head.”
“He did not!”
“How would you know?”
The box slowed once more as it positioned itself at the 5th floor.
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Does Matteo know?”
The elevator jerked to a stop and the doors opened. I didn’t care that I was on the wrong floor. I was out of there. Avie stayed on my heels as I rushed down the ugly lavender painted hall trying to get to the stairs.
“Teo knows Dr Lang is my hero.” She said behind me. “Why didn’t he tell me?”
I whipped around and grabbed her by the shoulders. “He’s sworn to secrecy under penalty of death. And now so are you, Avalon Nantz.” Letting her go, I slowly drew my thumb across my neck mimicking a knife slitting it.
She gave me a look that said I was bluffing. “You would actually kill us if we mention that you and Dr Lang are related?”
I clamped my hand over her mouth. “Shut up, Avie.”
She pushed me off her. Wiping her lips with the back of her hand, she glared at me with disgust. “That’s so unsanitary.”
“How do you think my hand feels?” I rubbed my palm against my pants to scrub her saliva off.
“I won’t tell your stupid secret,” she said. “Just keep your germs away from me.”
“That’s going to be hard since you’re my date tonight.”
“Your ‘not-date’, remember?” She giggled. “Dr Lang is so clever.”
“Dr Lang is so clever.” I mocked.
She sniffed. “I see brains and charm don’t run in the family. And speaking of, why aren’t you part of the business?”
This is exactly why she’s so annoying. She never listens.
“First of all, stop violating the code of silence before you get shanked,” I ordered.
She crossed her arms and rolled her eyes.
I continued. “Second, I am part of the business.”
Avie smirked. “Technically, that’s true, huh? I guess what I meant to say is why are you so low?”
I clenched my jaw. My hand squeezed into a fist at my side. I almost didn’t care that she wasn’t a man. I felt my body tremble, but I kept it together. I know how to stay in control, I reminded myself. You are one piece. As if a switch had been flipped, my muscles relaxed, my heart slowed its pace and my mind focused.
“Hard work from the bottom up pays off the biggest reward,” I told her. “Isn’t that what you’re always reminding Matteo when he gets frustrated with his job? I’ll bet you say the same thing to your parents when they look down their noses at your less than ideal boyfriend. He’s the kind of guy they’d expect disappointing Evelyn to bring home. You’re not special.”
I’d more than touched a nerve. I pinched one. Avie’s face remained stern, but her eyes were shiny with tears. Evelyn told me what their parents thought of Matteo. The nicest thing they’d said about him was that he was an alcoholic thug. Matteo had never been an alcoholic and he’d given up his old ways. We both had.
“Corbin, I swear–”
“Like hell you do.”
She sucked in air between her teeth creating a hissing sound that was too reminiscent of a snake for it to come from an actual human. “I expect this month’s rent paid in full by you by next Tuesday. That gives you an entire weekend to come up with it.”
“Don’t try to play games with me, Avie. There’s nothing you can do if I don’t.”
“When I tell Matteo about how you threatened to kill me your ass will be on the curb so fast your body won’t have time to catch up with it.”
“I was only 59% serious about that!”
“That’s not how I’d describe it.” She tossed one of her red ponytails behind her back with a flick of her hand. “Lucky you, I’m what they call a generous person. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that concept. But I won’t tell Matteo if you pay by Tuesday.”
A sharp squeak forced both of us into angered silence. We waited while a man in khakis and a blue polo pushed a cart with several unopened boxes down the hall. As he passed us, one of the wheels on the cart squeaked loudly. As soon as he’d turned the corner we started up again.
“That’s blackmail.” I said in a lowered tone even though I could tell by the fading squeak that the man was nowhere near us.
“Hardly.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “We could take you to court right now and win twice that amount easily.”
I didn’t want it to be, but she spoke the truth. I can’t have the law breathing down my neck again. I don’t have a choice.
“Give me at least until next month.” I tried to negotiate. “I’ll save up my paychecks and pay when it’s due.”
“No way. If you don’t have the money just borrow it from your–”
“Ms Nantz. There you are.” A middle aged brown haired woman with glasses briskly walked up to them. “Who’s this?”
“No one, Dr Campbell.” Avie said with a wicked smile in my direction. “Just the maid.”
I felt my cheeks grow hot, but I said nothing. Dr Campbell didn’t question Avie’s comment instead putting her full focus on her assistant.
“My father’s here for his last preservation assessment. I want you to help prep, and monitor his brainwaves. I’m afraid I may be too close to the patient to keep my attention on the task.”
“Of course, Dr Campbell.” Avie chirped.
Dr Campbell gave me a short nod before leaving in the direction she came from.
“Heads up.” Avie said to me in a hushed tone. “The last stall in the women’s restroom on this floor is overflowing. I put in a report to insure that you get to it. Have fun at work today.” She ended in a sing-song voice.
She skipped off her ponytails bouncing against her shoulders before I could say a word.
I made my way by stairwell down to the second floor where the men’s locker room was at and changed into my uniform. That stupid girl. Of all the people in the world to find out. This was already the absolute worst day of my life and it had barely begun. I wish I had called in sick today.
As ready as I ever was, I pushed the door open and stepped out of the locker room. My two-way radio immediately beeped.
Taking the device off the belt strapped around my waist, I pressed a button and replied,
“2306. Got it.”
Sighing, I made my way to the custodian’s closet. Definitely should have called in sick.
Note: This is the first half of chapter 2 which I split because it may another few days before I can finish the pictures for the second part. Hopefully, I’m wrong and it’s sooner, but no guarantees. Anyway, I wanted to put something out this week. The above picture is a teaser for the second part. Every warning on that sign will play a role! >:)