Three days before the Rivendell presentation, you come home and the first thing you see is Thea’s coat in a crumpled pile on the floor of the hall. Your heart skips a beat. Thea loves her clothes. Thea worships clothes, she adores them. She would never treat her glorious cream cashmere baby that way.
“Thea!” You sound panicked and rush inside and find her coiled in her bed. “Thea, what happened?”
You kneel in front of her, her face peeking from under the duvet is red and the eyes are puffy.
“He dumped me…” Oh, no! You pull her into yourself. She’s hiding her face in your neck. “Jimmy dumped me… He said that I was a dirty whore and left…” She’s crying, her body convulsing.
Since you met at the playground when both of you were five, you have seen Thea cry about ten times. At her aunt’s funeral, at her brother’s wedding, over a pair of destroyed shoes. The shoes were her mother’s, who died before you met Thea. Thea doesn’t cry. She processes and moves on. While you rave and destroy everything around you, Thea rejoices because life is wonderful and full of light and pleasures.
More so, Thea has never cried over a man before. You are rubbing her back and murmur comforting nonsense to her.
“It’s been seven months… How can he do that to me after seven months?..” You are not going to ask. “I haven’t cheated, I was a perfect girlfriend…” She’s self-aware enough to understand what the first assumption you’d jump at would be. “And then we ran into this fat arsehole Bourk, and he was dirty talking, and Jimmy just stood there… We had a fight, and he left…” She’s crying harder. “I don’t understand. He knew who I am before… I have nothing to be ashamed of!..”
“No, Thea, you don’t! Don’t you dare doubting yourself!” She sobs.
“I need a drink.”
You look at the giant hazel eyes of your best friend and shake your head.
“No, Thea, you don’t. What we need is to talk and have tea and get through this.” She blinks and stares at you.
“When did you grow up, Wren?” You smile to her and stroke her hair.
“I haven’t. I just learnt that we need to use our brain more when it comes to our heart.” Thea whistles.
“That was deep, Wren. And a complete poppycock.”
You laugh. “Yeah… But you still are not getting any booze.”
You arrive to Sheraton with a sleepy and grumpy Thea in tow. She can never sleep on the bus and immediately collapses into a deep slumber as soon as you get the keys to the room. You tuck her in and go downstairs to have some food.
It’s still breakfast buffet time, and you are meditating over the choice between eggs and toast, when you feel a strange shiver running through your spine. Before you turn, you know who is standing near you.
He looks good. All freshly ironed shirt and the exotic ponytail. He’s frozen with a plate hanging in his hand, and you think that it’s going to smash on the floor any second.
“Wren?” You give him a polite smile. God, he is so sexy with his softly parted lips and widened eyes.
“What the hell are you doing here?” And the spell is gone.
“I’m pondering my breakfast options.”
He places the plate on the counter with a thud. He’s so going to grab your arm and drag you out of the restaurant and scold you like a little girl in some shadowy corner of the lobby. And you are so fucking tired of this shite. You pick up a grape from the nearest plate and pop it into your mouth.
“And you, John? What are you doing here?” Your sarcastic tone stops him in his tracks.
“I did not expect to see you here, Miss Leary.” He’s over his surprise, and the cantankerous overbearing prick is back. He’s boiling. “I thought…”
“You thought you would tell me to stay home and I’d be a good obedient girl and sit quietly on my spot.” The nostril flare.
“I was protecting you,” he hisses. Always aware of the surroundings and decorum, aren’t we, John? Always in control. Tosser.
“Which no one asked you to.” Wow, you are so calm right now. How is this happening?
Oh the empowerment! Here is another spoonful of the same bitter drink for you, John.
“I’m sorry, I was rash again.” Your tone is mollifying, and he narrows his eyes at you suspiciously. “And I’m sorry, it was very rude of me. I haven’t thanked you for your advice and information. Thank you for enlightening me regarding the project and the presentation. Now I will decide what to do with it.” Another polite smile. “Have a nice breakfast!”
You put your plate down and walk out of the restaurant. Room service it is.
Dr. Hugo Elwig is a powerful figure. Tall, with heavy angled brows over steely eyes, and a low expressive voice. His large hand envelops yours, and he gives you a small ceremonial bow. Should you courtsey?
“Miss Leary, it’s an honour having you here with us. Your last year publication on the microcephaly was indeed very innovative.”
“Thank you, Dr. Elwig. It is indeed a high praise coming from you.”
“I have to admit I’m surprised Dr. Claufield has sent you to present, though…” Yep, give me the ‘students are not qualified for interinstitutional symposium presentations’ speech. “I would assume she would prefer to come here herself, since she is such a big fan of our spa.”
What now? You look at him. The mesmerizing eyes are laughing.
“The hotel you are staying in is a part of the research center, and their spa is famous around the country. I hope your travel bursary covers the treatment there.”
It actually does. That is where Thea is right now, enjoying hot stone massage and cleansing teas. While you are heading to the place of your impending execution. Dr. Elwig has met you in the lobby of their main research facility and is accompanying you to the amphitheater.
“To be honest, Dr. Elwig, I was surprised myself. Considering how important your involvement and support are for the Yamataki Foundation, I would assume they would send the best to charm you into working with us…” He tilts his head and gives you a curious look. “But apparently I possess all the necessary qualities to see it done.” You give him a direct and confident smile. One of the brows cocks up.
“You might actually do, Miss Leary.” He scans your face. “But you will have to work twice as hard now that our board is in such a foul mood this morning. We were dragged into a meeting with your colleague Dr. Thorington before any of us had a chance to have their first coffee. The man doesn’t seem to sleep. Which explains the immense medical successes but also the abdominal flaws in character.”
“Talent develops in quiet places, character in the full current of human life, Dr. Elwig. Without Dr. Thorington’s persistence and vehemence, his scientific successes wouldn’t matter. The medical community these days would be ten years behind in its development.”
“A Goethe quote, Miss Leary? You are indeed an asset for the Yamataki Project.” His tone is impish.
“Just as Dr. Thorington’s research, and the tests we are conducting in our lab. In which I will surely convince you in the nearest fifty minutes.” He gives you another weird little bow of his and opens the door to the amphitheater in front of you.