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Today was the day.
That's right, ladies and gents. Midterms were upon us. As I walked towards campus, I saw students nervously shuffling along. Some had lucky charms pinned to their bags. One rabbit I saw had a rabbit's foot attached. A good sense of humor or a sick joke? I guess I'll never know, because loud screams from campus jolted my attention. Oh that's right. It was a common tradition that upperclassmen stand in the quad, on top of the PCC Seal, screech, and rub the adjacent raptor statue. It was believed that if upperclassmen didn't do it, they would fail their midterm and some ancient raptor curse would befall the entire campus.
Of course that's such baloney. The fate of students doesn't descend to some petty ritual. Although it is fun to watch. Some students lingered in the quad to take videos of the others. I was one of the few that continued to our classes. My first midterm was for psychology. The students were directed to the auditorium to take this midterm. When I filed into a seat and sat down, I glanced down to the stage. Professor Felicity and Jamie were preparing the tests and talking amongst each other. The noise from everyone else talking and laughing crowded out their conversation though. Within a few minutes, Professor Felicity called out to the class.
"Class, may I have your attention please?" The room immediately quieted down. The cat's voice was the only one that echoed throughout the large hall. "Thank you. Jamie and I will be passing around your midterm booklets. We ask that you do not open them until I say so. I will have a giant timer up here on a slide. You all have two hours to complete the test. If you finish early, raise your hand and either Jamie or I will come up and receive your test. You are permitted to leave once you have finished, but we ask that you do it in a quiet manner. No bothering other students who are still taking their midterm and no speaking or using your phone until you have left the auditorium. Does everyone understand?" We all knew by now that if Professor Felicity directly addressed in some form of a question, you RESPOND. Everyone nodded and the cat smiled. "Wonderful. We will pass around the booklets now. Again, do not open them until I say so."
Jamie and Professor Felicity made their way around the auditorium, handing out the booklets. I was on an end seat for a row, so Jamie handed me the stack. She leaned forward, smiling warmly and winking as she walked up the aisle. I proceeded to pass the tests down. Before I knew it, Professor Felicity was speaking again. "Okay, everyone has a booklet, correct? Perfect." Jamie began to set up the time for two hours. Professor Felicity glanced over to see that Jamie had clicked it on and turned back to us. "Alright, you may open your booklets now and begin taking the test. Good luck, everyone." A loud rip tore through the hall as everyone opened up their booklets. I gripped my pencil nervously and hunched over my booklet.
I had studied for this moment too much; I had it in the bag. I hoped.
It seemed like time had flown but I was finally done with the test. I put my pencil down and sighed in relief. Jamie's voice rang out. "Ten minutes left, guys. You're in the home stretch." I leaned back in the seat. Some people had finished earlier than me and had left, but most stayed in the room. They were either reclining and looking around, resting from the test, or still taking the test. I was so tired but I had to preserve my energy for the next midterm. English. It wasn't going to be too grueling but I couldn't underestimate it. Professor Long was serious about English. Before I knew it, the timer was beeping. Jamie and Professor Felicity were making their rounds to collect the booklets. Thankfully, our names were right on the front. There would be no confusion once they were all collected. As I handed Jamie the stack of booklets, she tapped me on the shoulder and grinned. "5:45?" she asked subtly. I smiled and nodded. "Perfect! See you then."
Jamie had walked away. Professor Felicity told us not to leave until she dismissed us. "I'm sure all of you did well. Jamie and I prepared you all for this and your grades coming into this are quite satisfactory. Good luck on the rest of your midterms. You may leave now." The cat waved and everyone made their way out. I had fifteen minutes before my next midterm. I felt like getting a strawberry smoothie to quench my thirst, satisfy any hunger, and calm my nerves. Professor Long probably wouldn't like it if I brought that though. I had to be satisfied with just a bathroom break.
The English midterm went fine. I felt confident coming out of there. Professor Long made sure to remind us about the term paper. It was due the week after midterms. So basically, we had one more week to pull ourselves together and get our crap organized. Which I didn't have a problem with. I was fine-tuning it; I had been working on it slowly but with Winnie's help, it looked almost ready to be submitted. Key word: almost. The next midterms I had were biology and chemistry. Professor Klaus kept his fun, unique air as he proctored our midterms. It focused on just the human body so it wasn't too awful. Professor Graham seemed more demure today as he silently handed the midterms around. He never struck me as a man of few words; the break-in must have seriously did a number on him. I wonder if he knew it was Opal. I wonder if he knew she confided in me.
When I took the midterm and when I was done, I avoided eye contact with the hamster. He mutually avoided contact with me as well. As I left the classroom, I could feel his little eyes boring into the back of my head like a termite in a board. He probably had an idea. Glancing at my phone, I caught a glimpse of the time. It was 4:30. CRUD I only had like an hour to get ready for my dinner with Jamie. That sounded weird when I put it like that. Let's rephrase: meeting with Jamie to hang out. Better! That sounded more platonic, right? I got back to the house before Portia or Winnie. I quickly jumped in the shower and picked out something to wear. I kept it casual. She said we were going to like some bar/lounge. I pulled on some dark jeans and sneakers. I was torn between what to wear as a top. I could go with a sweatshirt or I could dress it up a little by putting on a flannel.
Let's go with the flannel. I had grabbed my phone and was ready to leave when Winnie walked in. She narrowed her eyes at my dressed-up appearance and smirked. "Where are you going right now? Aren't you tired? I'm beat from all my midterms." I couldn't lie; if there was one thing I was basically physically incapable of doing, it was lying.
"I'm meeting Jamie at the quad. She invited me to chill out at this local dig." Winnie started laughing hysterically.
"Oh my GOG. You're going out on a date! No wonder you're wearing makeup." I scoffed in annoyance. Sure I may have put a little bit more concealer and blush on than normal, but I looked how I always looked. I wasn't doing it up anything special for Jamie. "Okay, you have fun. I see that I won't be waiting up for you tonight." I picked up a pillow from the couch and threw it at her. I missed, hitting the coat rack instead. The rack fell to the floor and Winnie still didn't stop laughing. I rolled my eyes.
"Whatevs, loser. Have fun watching Netflix." I said jokingly. Before Winnie could get the last word in edgewise, I shut the door. Worries about Opal and her welfare still weighed on my mind, but now wasn't the time to worry about it. I could worry about it AFTER I had hung out with Jamie. I could tell Winnie when I got home. For now, I just wanted to unwind and have some fun. It wasn't difficult to find Jamie at the quad. She looked really pretty. She let her long blonde hair down and was wearing a nice top, jeans, long brown boots, and a brown leather jacket. Her glasses were AWOL. She approached me once she saw me, beaming like the sun. "Hi, Jamie!" I greeted warmly.
"Hey, Eden. Glad you could come meet me. How were your midterms?" We talked on the way to Central Avenue. Our conversations were so natural and never forced. Even on our short walk, I learned quite a bit about Jamie that I never knew before. Like how she was 26, and was working towards her PhD in psychology. We talked about our families and our childhood and high school experience. I know she was my TA so it seemed like there ought to be some separation, but honestly Jamie was just like a student. She stopped abruptly on the sidewalk and pointed to the small building in front of me. "Here we are." I looked up at the little sign. It read "Oscar's." Jamie smiled and opened the door for me. I eagerly walked in.
It was dark inside. Neon lights were scattered around and rock music blasted through the speakers. A giant pool table stood in the middle of room. Several guys were playing a game. Some scantily-clad women at a nearby hightop table were cheering them on. Other hightop tables and smaller tables were scattered around the small room. The whole back wall consisted of the bar. An older, balding man looked up from his work and waved at Jamie, calling out to her. She grinned. "Hey, Oscar!" I looked at her curiously. She just shrugged. "I guess you would call me a regular. A lot of faculty come here; you rarely see any students." She gestured to the tables. "Pick out a seat anywhere. What do you want to drink?"
Clearly, alcohol was off the table for me, but I still wanted to have some fun. Water seemed too bland, but I didn't know what was suitable for this occasion. "I don't know. Surprise me with whatever's good." I said. She nodded, winking and giving me the thumbs up.
"You got it." Jamie sauntered over to the bar and I couldn't help but stare as she walked away. I was so used to seeing her in class and observing her interactions in a professional environment. Here, she seemed different. Her hair was different, her aura seemed happier, and she definitely looked more like she wanted to party. It was confusing but calming to witness. Within a minute or two, Jamie returned with two drinks. A beer for her and a...what was that? It seemed like Jamie was reading my mind. "Oscar said it's the special for tonight. He calls it the Cider Bomb. Apparently, it's a mix of cider and a Shirley Temple. Tell me what you think." I picked up the reddish-orange drink and sipped it carefully.
Actually, it was really good. I licked my lips and looked over at Jamie. "This is delicious! Want a sip?" I asked. Jamie smirked.
"No, because then you'd want me to give you a sip of mine. I'm not sure how ethical that is." I laughed.
"How ethical is any of this?" An awkward silence settled over our table for a few seconds. I quickly changed the subject and we began to talk smoothly again. We talked about different things: school, life, pop culture. I discovered Jamie and I had a lot more in common than I realized. She's watched the Harry Potter movies religiously, we enjoy the same genres of music, we both have Tumblr blogs, AND in our smaller group of friends, we're the clowns. Jamie and I ended up ordering some nachos, wings, and sliders so we could just munch on appetizers as our dinner.
Between talking, eating, and enjoying the music, we had a lot of fun. At one point, I noticed the clientele in the bar were more creepy and shady. They already were questionable when Jamie and I walked in, but now I wouldn't be surprised if any of those guys had attacked me in the alley that night. I looked at my phone and saw it was 11:30. No wonder! By now, our appetizers were thoroughly picked through and Jamie had quite a few drinks. I didn't feel secure just letting her go home by herself. I don't honestly think she had those plans in mind anyways. She offered to walk me home and said we could call a cab for her when we got closer to my house.. I attempted to pay the bill, or at least my half, but Jamie wouldn't hear it. "I invited you out here, Eden. Let me treat you." I tried to override her but she wouldn't hear no for an answer.
After saying goodbye to Oscar, we stumbled out of the bar and made our way back to my house. She could walk just fine and her speech wasn't slurred, but I could definitely tell her judgment was off. We didn't really talk much on the way home, solely because it was late and I didn't want to attract too much attention to ourselves. As I got closer to home, where I could recognize landmarks and felt safe, I called a cab for Jamie. Soon enough, we were standing in front of my house. It was almost midnight and there were no lights on inside. Winnie wasn't kidding when she said she wouldn't wait up for me.
"The cab should be here any minute now. We can just wait outside for it." It wasn't too chilly so the stand was tolerable. Jamie smiled.
"Thanks for calling one for me. You didn't have to." She said. Was that a blush on her cheeks? Were her cheeks cold from the light wind? Or was it just the alcohol?
"It's the least I could do after you paid for tonight. Thank you. I had a lot of fun. It definitely helped me relax after stressing about midterms." I said.
"Don't mention it. I had a lot of fun too." I didn't notice it at first, but she was standing very close to me. She was practically in front of me, smiling wide. I was about ready to say something when Jamie lunged forward and kissed me on the lips. I didn't know what to say or do. It felt very nice but at the same time, I was so confused. Could I ever receive a consensual kiss? Like seriously. I suddenly saw headlights coming from behind me; it was the cab. Jamie pulled away and smiled. "My ride's here. I'll see you soon, Eden." She hopped in the van and before I could even mumble a goodbye, she was gone.
Oh for Gog's sake.
When I woke up, I was so grateful it was a weekend. I could sleep in and contemplate everything that has happened. ALL AROUND. I mean, I've been kissed by two different girls without my permission in two days. I wasn't expecting them to do that. Alisha had told me that Opal has been kidnapped. I have no idea where she is or if she's okay. If she's even alive! I mean, come on? I feel like I'm in some movie in the Big Momma's House series. This can't be real right now. Meanwhile back at the ranch, I had taken all my midterms and just praying that I did well on them all. Winnie was such a doll; she made me breakfast in bed. Calling it a post-midterm party, Winnie carried a tray of French toast into my room. I thanked the horse thoroughly; she sat alongside me in my bed and ate her breakfast with me. Winnie snickered once she had settled in.
"So how was your date?" I groaned and threw my head back against the headboard. "That doesn't sound promising," Winnie quipped, "What happened? Did you have fun?" She asked. I leaned forward, taking a bite out of my French toast.
"It was fun. I had a lot of fun. Jamie is super nice and friendly, but the end of the night...it was so confusing." Winnie stared in confusion. "Jamie..." I trailed. I hesitated; should I tell Winnie? I don't see why not really. Winnie probably expected it anyways. "Jamie kissed me." Winnie's eyes bulged out and her mouth formed an 'o'. Before the horse could say anything, I kept talking. "She probably wasn't thinking straight. It was late...but I don't know, Winnie. I'm so confused. She's my TA and we shouldn't be out on like mini-dates, but I can't say I didn't like it."
"...Do you like her back?" The horse asked. I shrugged.
"I don't know. I have so many other things spinning through my brain right now that I haven't had time to think about my 'feelings'. Between Alisha and the Opal drama, I don't have time to concentrate on high school-ish stuff." Winnie nodded. "I didn't tell you what had happened the other day though..." I trailed. That's when I descended into my epic saga. I told Winnie everything: the truth about NORE, Opal planning to break into the office, Alisha surprising me at the diner and kissing me. It took a few minutes to update the girl on everything but by the time she was done, the usually-outgoing horse was shocked into silence. She held her chin with one hand and stared at me when I had finished. She pursed her lips and slowly nodded.
"Okay, this is a lot to take in. NEVERTHELESS, I am your friend and I won't just let you wander this maze yourself." I asked her what that meant. She beamed at me. "It means I'm going to help you!" She exclaimed. I held out my hand out and grimaced.
"No! It's bad enough I'm involved and that I've opened up my mouth to you! I can't risk your reputation here either!" Winnie waved me off.
"Nonsense, E. Do you realize...there's a girl MISSING? We need to find her because Gog knows what poor Opal is going through right now. Don't you agree? Let's call campus security or the police. We have to do something!" I shook my head and immediately expressed my fears to Winnie. If Alisha or Cassius found out that we had called the authorities, they might retaliate and do something bad to Opal. The last thing I would want to happen is for Opal to get hurt. Winnie bit her lip. "You're right. We'll have to tackle this mission independent, bro." I groaned inwardly. Mission? "What was the last thing Opal talked to you about?" Winnie asked. "Perhaps there are some clues and leads that we could pick up on." I took a second to think. I couldn't honestly remember. I mean, Opal had talked to me about so much information. Plus Portia's information was crossing over in my brain and I couldn't come up with anything. Winnie folded her arms. "Oh come on, E. There has to be something she told you of importance. A headquarters? Something that--"
"That was it!" I screamed. Winnie jolted in her seat on the bed and asked me to clarify. "Opal told me that NORE has a chapter building in Park City. It's like a lab or something. She said that her research is probably somewhere in there, stored away." Winnie nodded slowly. I continued. "Plus I still don't know what Opal found out after breaking into the professors' offices. I really should investigate that too." Winnie smiled that smile I knew too well. It was that grin she plastered on her face when she was writing. My friend had a plan. THANK GOG. Winnie straightened up in bed and pulled her hands together.
"I'm going to ask around the city and possibly explore to see if I can figure out the location of this chapter building. Once we find out, I can scout out the level of security and the probability of anything good being in there." She leaned forward and poked me in the shoulder. "You head to the science center and the computer labs and see what you can find out." Winnie took our dishes and stood up. "I'll wash the dishes and get out of here in a few minutes. I'll meet you back at the quad at...1:30? Maybe sooner, depending on what we see. Cool?" I was shocked by how quickly Winnie was moving. I nodded though and got out of bed.
"That sounds good to me. I'll get dressed and head over to the science center now." I got some normal clothes on and made myself look decent for the day. Within minutes, I confirmed the game plan with Winnie and walked towards campus.
Wandering around the computer labs on Saturday didn't sound like the best idea in hindsight. Who knew if there were any students here? Sure there were like one or two classes going on, but nothing too important. There was one kid in an offshoot room working on something. It looked like some project. I leaned in and asked if he knew if Harry was around. Coincidentally, the guy told me Harry was just here but ran over to the science center to tell Professor Keaton something regarding the break-in. So, I needed to be careful. Professor Keaton was in the science center and I had no idea how nice or how hostile he would be. I thanked the kid and walked across the campus to the science center.
Again, I was limited to wandering. There wasn't much going on here. Some people working on projects. Others doing experiments. One or two classes or tutoring sessions going on. Nothing major. I realized what floor I was on when the door alongside of me flew open. Harry exited the door, waving to a person behind him.
"Alright, I'll see you, Professor Keaton." I called out to Harry who turned around and stared at me curiously. "Uh yes, can I help you with something?" Before I could ask if he could follow me to somewhere AWAY from the eagle's office, I was interrupted.
"Eden! Just the girl I wanted to see. I was going to call you or contact you but I forgot your information. Mind if you step into my office for a moment? I need to have a word with you. It won't take long, I promise." Oh Gog. I couldn't say no; that would be ridiculously rude of me. I nodded and turned around to Harry. The hippo shrugged apologetically, saying he had to get back to the computer labs. Harry turned on his heel and soon he was gone. The eagle gestured me to sit down in his office. I nervously trudged in the room and took a seat in his chair. I remembered being in here before and feeling really nervous. That anxiety didn't disappear--I was feeling it right now--but I was feeling it for a different reason. Professor Keaton smiled warmly. "I tried to get in contact with Opal, but she hasn't been answering. I figured I would talk about it with you and you could carry on the message, correct?" I nodded. "Perfect. Well, I just received word from the capital about Opal's research." My heart raced unnecessarily.
"Firstly, they thanked us all for our patience. Bureaucracy and all that prevents NORE from being very timely about matters. After heavy analysis of Opal's research, they have come to the conclusion that it is far too dangerous for undergraduate or graduate students to work on in university facilities. They are taking over the research and will handle it themselves from here on out; we are not to do anything else regarding the research at all." My mind was racing. What??? How could they do this? Why are they doing this? Of course, I knew the smartest thing to do was to stay quiet. I held my hands together and nodded and smiled at the most appropriate moments. "Since our hands are completely tied and NORE has strictly forbidden us from doing anything else, that leads me to my next point. I am cancelling the project and excusing Opal from her senior thesis."
Excusing Opal from her thesis? Is that even a thing? "I figured that I could have always given Opal the opportunity to do something else for her senior thesis but I didn't want the same thing to potentially happen again. The girl is so bright and ambitious that anything she chose could have yielded the same results--needing the capital to step in. Excusing her from the thesis seemed like the best option. In turn, that means that you are excused from the research. I'm sure you're relieved, huh? No more lab work or any of that to deal with for now. As I told you before, I will definitely make sure you are given some type of compensation for your time. I will talk it over with Professor Graham and we will discuss possibly giving you credits for your work."
He stood up. I instinctively stood up too, taking the hint to leave. My brain was moving for me but my heart was yelling at me to stop. This couldn't be over. Not like this. I had to do something. Professor Keaton was closing the conversation and gently nudging me into the hallway. By stepping forward and cutting off space, I had had no choice but to step outside of the office. In a lapse in the conversation, I quickly burst in with some words of my own. "Are there any other opportunities around campus for me to get involved with research?" I asked. "I would love to be able to continue helping out someone in the lab. Someone else perhaps working on their senior thesis?" I pushed, desperate for something. Professor Keaton's entire demeanor changed instantly. He scowled and leaned against the frame of the door.
"I'm sorry, Eden. There are no other opportunities for you to get involved with research at the moment."
The door slammed in my face.
I rushed across campus, hoping to still find Harry in the computer labs. I needed to ask him anything and everything he knew about what happened with Opal. I was extremely relieved when I saw the hippo in one of the labs, tinkering with a computer. He straightened up when he saw me and awkwardly waved. I rushed up to him and halfway spilled out the truth. I didn't go into too much detail but I asked him straightforward if he told anyone about Opal's involvement. The hippo shook his head, denying the whole thing.
"No, I tried to keep Opal's name out of it for as long as I could! It was only a matter of time until it was discovered, but I didn't personally tell anyone a thing." I stared down the young man. His eyes seemed trustworthy; I could tell he wasn't lying. I sighed and leaned backwards against the wall. I tried to think things over. Who could be connected? Who could be the rat? Alisha and Cassius found out Opal was involved somehow and I needed to get to the bottom of it quickly. On a mere whim, I asked Harry one last question.
"Is there anyone in the CS department that is also pretty involved with the chemistry department at all?" The hippo scrunched his face and thought about it for a moment. He nodded slowly with a hint of confusion on his expression.
"Yeah. Um, there's a guy named Octavian in my class with Professor Sheldon. He's a CS major with a chemistry minor. He's definitely had classes with Professor Graham and I'm pretty sure he's had classes with Professor Keaton. He's a junior so he probably has access to those upper-level classes." Octavian. I don't exactly know who he was but I remember seeing him around the science center; he's a red octopus with a heck of an attitude. I thanked Harry for his time and for putting up with me. He smiled lightly. "It's no problem, Eden. I hope I've helped you at least a little." he said. "I'm sorry I couldn't be more specific." I waved him off.
"It's okay. Don't worry, you've helped me a LOT." I turned on my heel and hurried out of the computer lab. I needed to find Winnie. It was almost 1:30 and I needed to get to the quad. I hurried to the grassy center of campus and was immensely relieved to find the brown horse standing under one of the large trees. I called out to her and she saw me immediately. I met her and smiled widely. "I'm glad you're okay, Win. I found out a lot of stuff but before I get into it, let's sit and talk about what you've found out." I said. Winnie and I settled down on the grass. The horse looked eager to dive in.
"Okay, so this is going to be long, but I don't want to spare any details. Basically, in a few-second summary, I've found out where the Park City chapter is and there's heavy security but I think I've found a loophole." The horse took a deep breath. "Sorry about the length but you won't regret it. FLASHBACK TIME, GURL."
After you left, I immediately hit the streets. I wasn't going to waste a second in finding the Park City chapter. Phone in hand, I tried to Google anything I could about the Park City chapter of NORE or anything involving Park City and NORE. I didn't receive any direct hits but gauging off of some resources, I got an idea of the 'general' location. It was towards the corporate district, which didn't totally surprise me. I mean, NORE is supposed to be a government agency, right? When I walked the streets, I expected to find some giant, luxurious building with like an Animal Crossing flag or seal or something. I didn't actually end up seeing that at all. When I got closer to the corporate district, I noticed a lot of men in suits walking around. They were pacing around the block and I felt like some were following me at one point.
I got kinda freaked out and tried to throw them off the trail. I thought it had worked for a moment but soon, I saw two guys walking in front of me, cutting off my angle. I took a look at the badge on the one's shirt and it was this weird symbol. It was a snake wrapped around a pyramid. I tried to look at it more but I didn't want to get caught staring. I didn't recognize the symbol at all but I figured it had something to do with NORE. They must have been security grunts pacing around the building. It meant I was close to something they were trying to hide. But I looked all over and had no idea where the building was. I just saw an insurance building, a law office, another law office, and the corporate headquarters of an industrial/medical waste company.
I was exiting one of those corporate buildings when I noticed the men in suits walking on the sidewalk in front of me. They didn't see me thankfully as I watched them. They exchanged quick glances before going down an adjacent alley. I didn't want to lose them! Soooo the obvious choice was to follow them! I crept out of the building and hid around the wall to see them go down the alley. They entered through the side door of the industrial waste company. I was kinda confused but still followed him. From the outside, it just seemed like your normal waste company. They call themselves MedEco. But in the walls that I saw, NORE was plastered all over. There were grunts everywhere. The security is thick there. I tried to prowl around. There were like labs and different vials and storage areas, but I didn't want to get caught prematurely.
I sprinted out of the door I came in and didn't stop until I came back here.
Winnie's story lulled and I couldn't help but think about how much danger I put Winnie in. How much danger Winnie put herself in. Alisha definitely made it sound like I wasn't supposed to find out all that about her background and NORE and that Portia shouldn't have been able to access the information she did. I was really worried now. All my friends were at risk and it was my fault. I felt a nudge in my shoulder and Winnie was looking at me with concern.
"You okay, E? You look kinda pale." I nodded. Winnie slowly accepted my answer and smiled lightly. "Now that I told my story, you tell yours. Did you find out anything from Harry?" I nodded and began to tell her everything. I explained how Professor Keaton cornered me and kicked me off the project. I expressed my confusion about being yanked off so abruptly and Professor Keaton excusing Opal from the thesis. I also explained that Harry said nothing and pointed out Octavian was a CS major and a chemistry minor. Winnie nodded, cutting me off for a moment. "His involvement in the chemistry department might raise some red flags." she said. Winnie drummed her fingers on her legs and pouted. "We have to find a way to get into that building. That's probably where Opal is--it's huge!"
I sighed. "Our only option is breaking into the MedEco/NORE Park City chapter. You said it's high security though." I trailed. Winnie nodded.
"Yeah, but I did notice that all the doors had the same keycard lock. But the keycards were shaped like actual keys. I only know because I saw a few of the guys use them to enter doors." That's when it hit me; a lightbulb glowed in my head.
"That's it! Winnie, I have a plan." I quickly gathered my thoughts to explain it to Winnie. It was complex, detailed and intricate. Heck, there wasn't even a strong chance it was going to work. But I wanted to try. I told Winnie what we were going to do. I was going to send Winnie in to Professor Graham's office to "ask" him for help regarding chemistry. Not that she didn't actually need it, but that's another story. I would hang outside the office and conveniently fall down and pretend to hurt my ankle. I would scream, prompting Professor Graham to come out of his office and assist me. While the hamster would be helping me, Winnie would scour the office for his keys. Once she got them, she would signal to me, I would get up, pretend to be okay, and we'd hurry towards the corporate district.
It was a stretch but then again, what WASN'T a stretch for me lately? A lot has happened in the past couple days that I never would have imagined. Either now or in the past. Winnie and I hurried out of the quad and came back to the science center. Professor Keaton was nowhere to be found but Professor Graham was in his office. I hid around the corner as I observed Winnie lightly knock on the open door and let herself in. The two carried on a comfortable conversation for a few minutes but I couldn't let them just blabber on forever. Professor Graham, once he got to talking, wouldn't let up. That's when I stepped forward and slammed myself against the wall.
I let out a scream and noisily fell to the floor. I grunted in pain loudly and heard Professor Graham running out to me. He knelt besides me and gently ran his paws over me. Everything was going according to plan. "Eden! Are you alright?" I grunted and 'tried' to move my leg. I had to make it look like it was hurt but not too hurt to where Professor Graham would insist I need medical attention. I sighed and gritted my teeth.
"My ankle hurts. I must have twisted it or something." Professor Graham narrowed his eyebrows.
"I should call for help. You need to see a doctor." I waved the professor off, insisting it was okay. He helped me stand up and lean against the wall, but he still looked at me with a concerned expression. "Eden, are you sure you're alright?" he asked. I nodded. Winnie emerged from the office and gave me the signal behind the hamster's back.
"E!" She exclaimed, running over and grabbing my shoulder. She turned to Professor Graham. "Professor, thanks for taking some time out to talk with me. I should take Clumsy over here home. Let's go, girl." I leaned against her shoulder and shook my foot. "Are you okay?" I slowly nodded.
"Yeah, I'm good. I appreciate both of you being concerned about me. Sorry for being such a klutz!" I exclaimed. I paced around in a circle and eventually worked my way up to a normal walking speed with a slight wince and grunt of pain. "I'm okay. Winnie will take me home and make sure I get some ice on this ankle. See you around, Professor Graham!" Winnie and I hurried out of the science center while trying to preserve our cover. I was so terrified that I didn't say a word to Winnie until we got back to the quad. I stared at Winnie in shock. "Do you have the keys?" Winnie nodded and jingled them in her pocket. I sighed and clenched my forehead. "Oh Gog, I don't even know if he even has a key let alone if it's on this ring. We're risking a lot here, Win." The horse smiled.
"I know. And we're going for it." The horse called for a cab. The yellow car pulled over directly in front of us. Winnie told the driver where to go and we were soon off. I hoped we could get as far away from campus as possible before Professor Graham found out. It was only a matter of time before he would put two and two together and suspect us. If I took Professor Keaton's attitude into account, then we were royally screwed. I stayed silent for the rest of the ride. We were in the middle of the plan right now. My mind raced with worries but I couldn't let Winnie be aware of my fears. If she sensed my terror, the whole mission could be jeopardized. We just stole Professor Graham's keys and are attempting to break into a government agency chapter building.
There was no going back.
When the cab dropped us off in front of the MedEco building, I felt like I was going to throw up. I had to push through; rely on adrenaline for this, Eden! Gog, I couldn't wimp out now. We were in too deep. Winnie looked around before guiding me down the alley. There were a lot of people around so we blended into the crowd. Winnie easily slid us through the side door and I found myself in an empty hallway. Winnie fingered the keys in her hand and gestured for me to follow her. The only sound I heard as we crept down the corridor was the pounding of my excited heart. I tried to breathe deeply but I felt Winnie's elbow jab me in the ribs. She glared at me and hissed nastily. Apparently, I sounded like a wimpy protagonist in a horror video game. I huffed quietly.
"I AM in a horror video game!" I whispered. That's when we heard the footsteps approaching us from around the corner. I grabbed Winnie and darted into the nearby door. There was no one in there to see us, but I realized where I pulled Winnie into. We were standing in a locker room. Two grunts were showering; I looked at the personal belongings on the bench and saw female looking clothing. At least we were in a female locker room. Winnie noticed two suits and sunglasses and pointed them out to me.
"E, let's slip these on. No one will look at us twice with the uniform on." I hesitated but before I knew it, Winnie was stripping down in front of me. I groaned, averting my gaze and hurrying to get the suit on.
I prayed no one would recognize us as we walked down the hall. The suits somehow fit perfectly and the black sunglasses hid our faces. We walked down more hallways but were still lost. We had no idea where to go or what to do. Why did we just break inside this top secret chapter headquarters again? At one point, we were alone down a hallway on the second floor. I had noticed a laboratory type of room to the left. I abruptly stopped and stepped backwards. Winnie stared at me in confusion and asked what I was looking like. I peered through the door window and tried to open the door. It was locked.
"Hey, bring that key over here, will you? Let's try it in this door." Winnie stared at the key ring and pulled out the only key that made sense. It was a long key with a thick handle. The handle was shaped like a snake wrapped around a pyramid. It was a weird symbol but it was that same symbol that was plastered all throughout this building. It must have been NORE's insignia. Winnie grabbed the key and swiped it warily down the keycard holder. A light that was red suddenly glowed green and we both heard the click of a lock.
I nervously opened the door to reveal a lab with huge vial storage. Some vials were left out but for the most part, the room was filled with giant file cabinets and ladders. In the middle of the room were two giant computers. Winnie nudged me and pointed to the computer. "This must have a database for all the inventory in this room. There's got to be information about Opal here." Winnie sat down and began typing rapidly. "Gah, it's password protected. I have no idea where to start and I am no encryption pro." I approached the file cabinets and began to open them up.
"Gog, Win. There are tons of vials in here. They're all arranged in alphabetical order." I picked up a vial and carefully looked it over. I couldn't tell what it was but there was a name and a college on it. This one read 'Amelia Clark-- Garden Beach University'. I cringed inside. "Imagine how many students' research is in here. It all started out the same way...having to contact the capital..." I trailed.
"What are you two doing in here? You're not authorized to be in this room."
Winnie and I both turned around to face the door. A young human man stood there. He had short blonde hair and bulging muscles. Muscles that I wouldn't want wrapped around me angrily. He cleared his throat, simply staring at us. Winnie spluttered stupidly; I managed to get out an answer.
"I'm sorry. We were ordered to obtain research from one of these rooms. I thought they had said..." I rapidly glanced over at the wall where it said the room number. "B45. But I don't see the person's name here. When my colleague tried to access the computer, she forgot the password." The male grunt stared at us suspiciously and stepped forward. He leaned over and quickly typed in the password.
"The password is harley. It's not that difficult to remember. Who were you looking for?" he asked, narrowing his eyes at me. I gulped, hoping he wouldn't suspect us of anything shady. Even though you know, we were totally shady.
"Opal Douglas." The man typed in the name and to my surprise, Opal's picture, full information, and even a file were pulled up on to the screen. "Her research is in C49. Why do you two need it so badly?" he asked. Winnie pursed her lips, getting out of her chair.
"We told you, we're under orders to retrieve it. Where's the upper D wing?" she asked curiously. I didn't know why she asked that until I stared at the computer. Opal's file had shown under Holding Block that she was located in the Upper D Wing - 190. That must have been where they were keeping her. The man bit his lip.
"It's in the basement. What's with all the questions? What ARE your orders anyways? Who even gave you these orders?" Winnie chuckled, making her way out of the room.
"You're the one asking a lot of questions. If you must really know, we're on orders from Big K." Winnie said smoothly, without missing a beat. My jaw almost dropped and I felt like throwing the girl against the wall so she didn't have to bury us deeper in any lies. "We have specific orders to retrieve the research and take it somewhere." The man didn't say a word and followed us out of the room. He stayed with us all the way up to the third floor. He stood next to us in the elevator and walked behind as we headed towards C49. He kept his eye on both of us; I could imagine what was rushing through his mind. Our entire story probably oozed fishiness.
With ease, Winnie and I opened the door and I grabbed the research. It wasn't difficult for me to find. I opened the cabinet and found Douglas right away. I gripped it firmly in my hands and nudged Winnie in the shoulder as we walked out of the room. The horse cleared her throat and faced her man. "While my colleague and I appreciate your kind gesture of escorting us up here, we must go our separate ways." Winnie led me down the hallway but the man reached out and grabbed my shoulder. I yelled out at him and Winnie looked ready to deck him. The man didn't step down though.
"Where are you going with that research?" he demanded. Winnie scowled.
"It's none of your business!" The horse exclaimed. The man looked ready to kill us though. Winnie blinked, sighing out loud. "We have specific orders from Big K to destroy the research in front of the researcher." The man rolled his eyes and said we were lying and that it was bogus. TECHNICALLY, it was true. But we weren't going to let him know that. Winnie snapped back. "Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't realize you were the go-to boy for our policy and protocol. I'll just listen to you and explain to Big K that her orders weren't carried out because of you." I placed the research down on the floor of the corridor for good measure and we pretended to walk away. The man looked extremely distraught and terrified. He reached forward, calling out to us.
The man couldn't see it but Winnie smirked to me. I leaned down to pick up the research and we headed down to the basement. The elevator ride was long and awkward. The man still stayed with us--I don't understand why. Winnie clearly attempted to intimidate him but he wasn't getting the hint. When the elevator hit the basement and the door slid open, I got a completely different vibe from this floor. It was dark, dank and moldy. A foul smell lingered under my nose and I tried to restrict my breathing depths. It didn't seem to faze the man. He led us towards Opal's prison cell. I felt so bad that she had to spend even a night down here. It was disgusting. I made sure to memorize the way we came in. I was not going to be the idiot person who got lost on the way out, trying to make a daring escape.
I saw Opal. She looked okay; she didn't look hurt or anything like that. She just looked dejected and dirty. The man stepped in between Winnie and the cell. Man, he really was turning into a pain. Before Winnie could open her mouth to keep our cover from being blown, I dropped the research gently on the concrete floor and kicked the man in his groin. He screamed out in pain and fell to the ground. I rapidly looked around for something to keep him quiet. That's when I saw the dirty t-shirt scrunched up in the corner of the room. I ran over to grab it. Ew, it must have been white at some point but now it was a brownish gray. I turned around to run back to his hunched over figure. He must have gotten up though because suddenly, I felt strong arms pin my arms against the brick wall. I squirmed under his grip and stared across the room at Winnie. She was busy getting Opal up and letting her out of the cell. The grip felt familiar. I could smell his breath on my face.
It was that same breath! My brain flashed back to that time in the alley after going to Chipotle. The time that Alisha rescued me. As things began to make sense in my brain, I growled and bit him again. I thrashed. I fought back just like I fought back before. I added a couple kicks for good measure. Luckily, there was no one else in the basement with us. No one heard us struggle. Somehow the tables turned. I grabbed the man by his shoulder and wrenched it backwards. He screamed out and let go of my one arm. I used the newfound freedom to pin him against the wall. I knocked his head against the wall. A sickening crack echoed across the basement.
I saw blood but I couldn't let that stir me. Not letting any distraction affect me, I tied the t-shirt tightly around his mouth, leaving just his nose for breathing. Winnie came up behind me with a coil of rope. Man, this girl didn't miss a beat. I used it to swiftly tie up his hands and knees. "Thanks for helping me out now." Winnie chuckled.
"I had to get Opal out of the cell. Let's get this juice bag in there." Winnie helped me drag the guy across the floor and toss him into the cell. We shut the door with a clang and Winnie didn't hesitate to lock it and put the key back on the rack. I picked up the research and Winnie helped a groggy Opal head towards the basement stairs. She asked us what was going on. I didn't answer. Winnie rubbed the elephant's shoulder. "Just keep quiet and stay calm. We're going to get you out of here, Opal." The horse whispered. The elevator was right there. I pressed the button to open it but the elevator dinged. Winnie and I were stunned into silence and didnt know where to go. There was nowhere to hide.
Alisha stood in the elevator.
The pale girl with the beautiful hair and flawless jawline stepped out in front of us. Winnie, Opal and I instinctively stepped back. She looked me over like a piece of meat and then glared at Winnie. The tension in the air was tight and I didn't know what to do. Was she going to hurt us? Was she going to kill us? Thousands of thoughts were running my brain and I had no idea what to do or how to react. The only thing I could do was just stare at Alisha's body and grip the research tightly. Oops. Alisha furrowed her eyebrows and scowled at Winnie.
"If I were you, I wouldn't walk around here screaming that you have orders from the Big K." She paced around us and pursed her lips. "Because we all clearly know you are lying. I would certainly know if you had orders from my mother." Winnie and I both exchanged terrified looks. Alisha came closer and brushed her fingers against my cheeks. "It's nice to see you again, buttercup." I scoffed and took her hand off my face. She smiled and stepped back. That smirk on her face, Gog, I just wanted to smack her. She always wanted to act like everything was cool between us. WHEN IT WAS NOT. Alisha looked at all of us. "I'm going to take you up to the interrogation room. We all need to talk about some things."
Before we knew it, someone had come up from behind us and knocked us out. When I came to, we were in like a meeting room. It looked like some type of room where conferences were held. I was leaning against Opal's shoulder. Winnie was on the other side. We were all slowly gaining consciousness. I glanced up and saw Alisha sitting in a chair, reading a book. She looked up and saw me come to my senses. Alisha set down the book and came over to my side. She lifted me into the chair and grabbed an unopened water bottle that was sitting on the table. I didn't understand why she was being so charitable and kind. She rested her hand on my shoulder and sat next to me. I slowly drank the water and she glanced over at Winnie and Opal.
"Your two friends are still knocked out?" I scoffed.
"Well whoever you had sneak up behind us did a number on them." I sighed.
"I told the grunt to go easy on you guys." There was silence between us. It was tense but it didn't feel as awkward. It almost felt like old times. Alisha spoke up again. "I'm sorry about all this." She said suddenly. I looked at her, curious to hear what else she was going to say. "I didn't expect things to spiral out like this. I just want you to know that I do love you. My emotions for you ARE real." Oh Gog. I pulled further back in the chair. I tried to get her to stop but she just kept talking. "I don't know what's going to happen when my mother gets here, so I want to talk to you about some things now. You don't have to forgive me or even believe me. I just need you to listen." I looked in Alisha's green eyes. Those eyes that I might have fallen in love with. This was the old Alisha that I remember. I nodded and allowed the girl to speak. She took a deep breath.
"I wasn't honest with you and that was my fault. I needed to be more upfront, especially when you asked me directly. I was so stupid and crazy back then. Not to say I'm not still crazy now though..." she trailed. Alisha shook her head. "But anyways, my backstory is not nearly as medieval as I portrayed it before. I grew up in a rich family in a suburb of Park City. My father was a Marine and my mom had to play the military wife. She did the best she could for me and Cass, but it was never enough. We were terrible children to deal with, but she was no angel either. I don't honestly know if she was meant to be a mother; I mean she became a mother so I guess fate did play it out, but I just don't think she was...GOOD." Alisha shrugged. "I have horror stories I could tell over and over. When my dad was deployed, it wasn't easy for my mom. She was alone and had to deal with two closely-aged children. Cass and I missed our dad so much; video chatting just couldn't cut it anymore."
"There were only two weeks left until Dad came back. TWO weeks. Then his Humvee ran over one of those bomb things in the street." Alisha paused. I was still weak but my energy had greatly recovered by now. I wanted to wrap Alisha into a giant hug or something. But I remembered who she was and our history and past. I refrained from any affection. "In some miraculous turn of events, he survived but he had to lose a leg." Alisha bit her lip and looked like she was holding back tears. "The Marines immediately discharged my dad and he came home a battered veteran. Cass and I were so excited; our dad would be coming home and wouldn't have to be deployed anymore. Mom wouldn't be angry or confusing or alone anymore. Needless to say, Cass's and my impression of what our home life would be was drastically different from what it actually became."
"The man that came off of that plane wasn't our father. I don't know who that man was. He was worse than my mom if possible. He was moody, angry, depressed, BROODY." Alisha sighed. "He wasn't the loving family man that was always so happy and carefree. This man was burdened and moped around constantly. He had no desire to live or transition back into civilian life. Luckily for us, my mom was an educated woman. She was a PCC alumni with her masters in public health and epidemiology and her PhD. NORE already existed before my mom stepped in and joined the company. My mom was very bright with loads of potential. They hunted her down; they wanted her to work in their ranks because she was good at what she did. My mom climbed through the ranks over the course of her life and our lives. She gained the trust of people high up in NORE and she eventually became the vice president."
"I remember the day she told us. We were all eating dinner when my mom dropped the announcement. Cass and I were so excited for her. This meant more money and honestly, it also meant she wasn't going to be around as much. My dad on the other hand could barely be fazed. He made all these offhand comments about his inability and Mom's 'superiority'. Cass and I were too young to fully understand their argument, but now we both realize that my dad was angry that my mom was claiming the pants in the family. Although I couldn't fault her. It's not like he chose to do anything. He sat around all day popping pain pills and lounging on the couch. He would have nightmares and could barely go out in public with us if we went out at all."
"When I was 17 years old, my life changed twice. The first time, my mother came home and told me and Cass that she was now the head of NORE. She didn't tell us what happened and she didn't tell us why it happened. All that she said was that we were the top and we were now Big K. She ingrained it in our heads over the next few years and it soon became a mantra. My mom wanted to use it to unite us for HER cause, but my brother and I turned it into a cause to unite together against her. We haven't actually taken action on that yet, but nevertheless, Big K is our code for our team. Not our bond with her. Second time my life changed was a bit more devastating."
I reached my arm out and touched Alisha's shoulder. "We don't have to talk about that!" I exclaimed with an aghast face. Alisha smirked. Gog, it seemed so calming. I almost forgot I was basically being held prisoner.
"A while ago, when you bugged me about my backstory, you wanted to talk about it. What's different now?" I bit my lip and said nothing. "I'm not afraid of talking about it. It's not something I'm ashamed about, because I understand it now. It hurts but I still understand what happened. My dad had PTSD after being deployed. I mean I couldn't blame him, he was in a horrific Humvee accident and lost his leg. He left us a patriotic war hero and came back in a wheelchair with one leg. He didn't approach it in the right way and in his mind, he was weak and incapable of doing anything. He could have made lemons into lemonade, but he didn't. Everyone goes through things differently and I'm not saying he wasn't justified, but if he got the right help, things could have been different." No, don't tell me she's going with this angle. She is, isn't she? "We weren't the right family for him. My mother was a cold witch and Cass and I were too young to understand it all. We couldn't give him the love and support he needed. Sometimes, I think it's my fault. I was the older sibling; I was the woman of the house 99% of the time. I could have possibly stepped up and helped him. If I did, he would be alive today. If we had gotten my proper counseling, he could have been saved."
"You can't beat yourself up for that." I said firmly. "Could you have done something to help him? Yes, but would it have worked? You'll never know for sure. I know I'm no one to listen to, but I've learned enough in psychology to know that counseling and support doesn't fix everything. The person has to want to help themselves and from what you've told me, I don't know if your dad wanted to help himself. You and your mom and your brother could only have done so much for him. If your dad did not feel any motivation, then there was no way you guys were going to implant that in him." I assured her. Alisha and I both twirled around when we heard someone clear their throat. A tall woman was standing in the doorway. She looked very familiar. Her brown hair was firmly wrapped in a bun and she wore a pantsuit. The woman stepped in the room and I realized who it was.
It was Dr. Norma Grover.
"Wise words from a foolish girl. Don't you think, Alisha?" Alisha said nothing and looked down at the floor. "How rude of me to not introduce myself properly. My name is Rosalind Kavanaugh. Otherwise perhaps known to you as...Big K?"
Or so I thought.
Big K...well Rosalind Kavanaugh, strode into the room giving me and Alisha evil glances. She had those same green eyes but they affected me in such a different way. These eyes seemed monstrous, demonic, and evil. I winced and had to look away. Alisha moved her shoulders farther back from me and leaned in her chair. Meanwhile, Rosalind slid into the chair in front of me and Alisha, staring at us in such a pensive yet manipulative manner. I wanted to spring up out of my seat and run away. But I knew that THAT would not work. I also knew it wouldn't be a viable option or plan. Even it did work, I couldn't leave Winnie and Opal behind. They were my friends and I needed to find a way to get them out of this situation too. This all was my fault anyways. I took a deep breath as Rosalind smiled wide.
"I came as soon as I could to deal with this situation. We knew that you and your little friends were balls of spitfire but we had no idea you would attempt a breakin." Rosalind laughed condescendingly. "I mean, do you think this is some Grand Theft Auto video game where you can just sneak into a warehouse and expect to complete your objective?" I gulped. I thought Alisha had shivered alongside of me. "You and your friends were poorly mistaken. NORE is a high-security facility and we take great care in ensuring that we keep it that way. We don't know how you and your friends were able to penetrate our barriers, but I will personally take the steps to prevent that from ever happening again." I couldn't help but gulp again. Rosalind grinned.
"Now, on to my next point. Originally, I was just going to deal with Opal. However, due to the changed situation, I will have to add you and your horse friend to the scenario." Rosalind cleared her throat. "My plan was to put Opal into our eradication chamber. Informally speaking, it is the place where we will erase Opal's memory of her research, education, and life during her college career. She would lose all memory of what happened during her college tenure. She would have the memory of her high school senior self, going into college. This is the best, most humane method of memory erasure that we can do. We do it with everyone. Including Drift Trotter." My eyes bulged out of my head. How did she know that was a name I could remember? Rosalind sneered that same sneer I remembered seeing in Alisha. "Yes, I am quite aware of the depth of research that you and Opal have discovered. Not to mention that this is our method of preferred research eradication. Since there are rescuers involved, we'll have to double the load and speed up the time. You're a smart girl. Surely, you must know what that means, don't you?" I didn't say anything but I could only guess. Rosalind smiled.
"With you and...what is the horse's name? Winnie? With you and Winnie, we have every intention of doing the same." I glanced over to Alisha just to see what her reaction was. I didn't know how to feel when I saw that Alisha had a very neutral expression. She didn't say a word but would just alternate between looking at the ground and staring out the window. Winnie's voice pierced my thoughts.
"You can't do that to us, you monster!" I looked over and saw that both Winnie and Opal were fully conscious. I was relieved to see that they were okay. They didn't look dazed, confused, or injured. Rosalind turned around to face Winnie with a curious look. She didn't say anything to patronize the horse but we all knew that she was taunting us. She was just begging us to make her day. Winnie scowled. "You'll never get away with this. Erasing people's memories is an awful thing and you deserve to have the same thing happen to you!" she exclaimed. Rosalind laughed heartily. She pointed around the room extravagantly.
"Please, I can do anything want. I am the boss. I am in command of everyone inside this building and in this company. NORE is mine. I can be much harsher if you so wish. I could order your death. I could demand your decapitation, your head on my platter. Or I could have you tortured, begging for death just to be put out of your misery. I have all the power and YOU have no choice in the matter. So unless you want your sentence to abruptly change under my capricious command, you would do best to be quiet." Rosalind backed up and began to turn around and leave the room. I looked over at Alisha, staring at her pleadingly. I reached out to grab Alisha's arm. Her warm hand and arm felt cold and stone-hard now. I tried to look in her eyes to see an ounce of light.
"Alisha, please! Don't have this happen to us! Save us!" Tears threatened to fall from my eyes. Alisha bit her lip, turning to snap at me.
"You have no idea how much power and control my mother has over me, my brother and this company. She isn't kidding when she says she's in charge. Now shut up unless you want it worse." I gasped. Who was this girl? She flopped back and forth so much that it made my head spin. Rosalind walked away from us, opening the door casually.
"Cassius! Come in here and take these three to the eradication chamber. At this exact moment, I have people prepping it. It should be ready and they should be on their way!" she ordered. We all expected Cassius to stride in and take us away. We would have had no say about it. However, everyone was quite puzzled to see that Cassius didn't come in. Rosalind looked puzzled and stared down the hallway. "Alisha." she hissed. "Where is your brother?" she asked. Alisha scoffed, sending her mother a dirty look.
"How am I supposed to know?" she asked with a nasty tone. "You sent me to the basement to pick up these dimwits and bring them here. Cass was with you last time I checked." Rosalind clenched her fists, groaning out loud. She stomped towards Alisha with an enraged expression on her face. Alisha frowned heavily. "Don't push me. Cassius is your son. Therefore, your responsibility." Rosalind slapped Alisha across the face.
"You treat me with respect, especially in front of such inferiors. I am your mother; you better remember that." Rosalind turned on her heel and whipped open the door again. She stopped before leaving. "I will be right back. I need to find your brother. Stay here with the foolish children until I return with Cassius." Alisha rolled her eyes. She was ready to retort back with a snide comment but restrained herself. Rosalind pursed her lips and left the room. Alisha, Winnie, and Opal turned their heads to occupy themselves otherwise, but for some reason, I chose to keep my eyes on Rosalind as she left.
I was shocked to see her head throw itself back. At first I was very confused, but I soon heard Rosalind let out a cry of pain. Alisha jumped up and stared forward, calling out to her mother. Rosalind gripped her nose and charged forward. Suddenly, a medium-sized figure clad in all black and a ski mask appeared in the doorway. It anticipated Rosalind's attack with ease and moved to the side. Rosalind ran herself into the wall. Rosalind twirled around to face the attacker but was slower. The figure pinned Rosalind against the wall and punched her in the face. We all heard a sickening crack; it sounded like Rosalind's nose broke. Alisha reached for something in her belt. Before I knew it, I realized there was a gun in her hand.
I gasped and Alisha pointed the weapon at the figure. The figure who was now...ohmiGog...WHO WAS NOW HOLDING A GUN TO ROSALIND'S HEAD. Alisha snarled. "Put the gun down, raise your hands where I can see them, and kneel down on the ground." The figure made no movement. Alisha growled. I was surprised to see Alisha's arms snake around me and hold me against her chest. In any other moment, I actually would like this. Now really didn't seem like the best time to be spooned though! Seriously, Eden, snap out of it. Quit freaking sniffing her hair and settling against her chest! I felt Alisha hold the gun tightly against my head. "Make any sudden moves towards my mother and Ms. Sunshine over here gets burnt out."
Ouch to that metaphor.
I didn't honestly believe that Alisha would shoot me. At least, I didn't want to believe it. I had to keep my guard up though. I couldn't let it down for a minute. If I did, it could cost my life. Winnie and Opal both stood up to defend me. They two were honestly the best friends. They were willing to risk their lives just to help me out. Both girls called out to Alisha, demanding she let me go. Instead of listening, I could feel Alisha hold the gun against my head tighter. She drove it into the back of my head. Undoubtedly, it made a mark. Okay, this felt real. I allowed my emotions to overwhelm me; tears flowed down my cheek as I feared for my life.
Within seconds, I felt a pressure lift. When I realized why, I felt terrified yet relieved. Winnie had lunged across the room at Alisha. The horse tackled Alisha to the ground, pinning her down. Opal, thinking quickly, ran across the room and helped the mysterious figure with Rosalind. Rosalind was weak but still struggling against her captor's hold. Opal pinned Rosalind against the wall leaving Portia to, in turn, help Winnie with Alisha. There was a struggle. The horse and the black-clad figure rolled around on the ground, struggling to weaken Alisha and to get the gorgeous girl to stop resisting. After some time, Alisha stopped for a moment, groaning in pain. Blood ran down her face. I refused to look. Winnie quickly jumped up, grabbing my arm and tugging me over to the other side of the room. Opal had everything under control with Rosalind. The elephant, even after captivity, was strong as ever.
The stranger and Alisha continued to wrestle on the floor. I had no idea who this stranger was, but I was in awe that the person was taking out Alisha so easily. Alisha was a strong, tough girl and for someone to dominate her in a fight so simply was shocking. The sound of crashing glass interrupted my thoughts. Alisha had just thrown the stranger's gun out of the window. The stranger's eyes bulged; you could tell that through the ski mask. After a few more moments of struggling, the gun in Alisha's hand flew out of her hand and skidded across the room. It landed...right at my feet. The figure looked up in shock and stared at the gun. It was just sitting there. No one told me to do anything but I picked up the weapon anyways. I gripped it firmly in my hands and pointed it towards Alisha and the fighting shadow. Alisha looked up at me and when she met my eyes, she zoned out.
"Eden...what are you doing?" The hesitation allowed the figure to pin Alisha to the floor. Alisha didn't miss a beat though and immediately turned the tables, putting the figure in a headlock holding a shard of glass from the broken window to its neck. "Calm down, okay?" she said, looking at me. "Just take a deep breath and put the gun down." I didn't do anything. Suddenly, the figure grabbed at their ski mask and ripped it off. I nearly passed out when I saw who it was.
It was Portia.
The Dalmatian took deep breaths but was struggling to breathe normally. "Eden, please!" The dog cried out. "She's choking me. You got to do something!" I was so confused but at the same time, so happy. Portia rescued us all and for what reason, I have no idea. I looked back at Alisha. She was still choking Portia and holding the glass to her neck.
"Eden baby. Please. You don't want to do this." Oh Gog. Those green eyes. I scanned Alisha, knowing what the right thing to do was. "Cupcake, I love you." I squinted my eyes. A shot rang out in the blank space.
I stared forward at the scene in myself. Blood pooled on the floor. A shaking Portia, clad in black, stood up and stared at me speechless. She was shocked into silence? I was dumbfounded! What was Portia even doing here? Portia pulled out her cell phone and dialed a number. Within seconds, she was speaking to someone (perhaps reinforcements?) and told them that Rosalind was under custody. An awkward silence hung over the room until big SWAT guys wearing bulletproof vests and carrying guns entered through the doorway. They took Rosalind from Opal and carried her out of the room. Portia looked at both me and Winnie with a sheepish grin.
"I...have some explaining to do, don't I?" she asked with a chuckle. Winnie and I nodded vigorously. Portia gestured for us to follow her out of the room. Opal, Winnie and I slowly made our way out of the room. Medics rushed past us with a stretcher to get to Alisha. She was dead. And it was because of me. My stomach pitted. Portia rested a paw on my shoulder. "I have to take us all down to the police station for a routine questioning. We'll talk more on the way." We slowly made our way out of the giant building. Police officers, SWAT teams and FBI agents were all over, securing the building and arresting employees who were inside. Portia herded us out of the building and led us to her car.
We all clambered into a white Honda sedan and Portia slipped into the front seat. She turned the key in the ignition and cruised towards the police station. Opal inspected me and Winnie for injuries; we weren't hurt. But I couldn't help thinking about Alisha. The last thing she said was that she loved me. And I killed her. Sigh, I know that it was the right thing to do. I couldn't let Alisha kill Portia, especially not after Portia saved us. Winnie nudged me in my seat.
"What are you thinking about, E?" I shrugged.
"I was just...thinking about Alisha." The horse sighed.
"I can't tell you to get over it and I can't tell you it's going to be okay. But I know you're a strong person and I know you can handle anything that is thrown at you. If you need a shoulder to cry on though, I'm here." I nodded. I wanted to cry; I really did. But I knew I had to hold back. At least for now. Portia eventually pulled into the police station. Once she parked, the dog turned around her seat and faced us. The poor look on that girl's face...she seemed so sad.
"Eden, I feel really awful about the whole thing! I didn't mean for all that to happen so quickly..." she trailed. I shook my head.
"I don't blame you, Portia. At the moment, I don't really know what's going on but I'm not angry at you." Portia looked lightly relieved. She smiled and helped us all out of her car. Everything felt to me like a daze as we entered the police station. Things were clearly busy there ; cops were hustling all around working to process the arrested and to get more officers out to investigate and patrol. Portia led us into a large interrogation room and grabbed multiple chairs. Winnie sat me down in one chair and slid into a chair alongside of me. Portia sat across the table and smiled.
"Well, I have some explaining to do. I don't really know how to begin so I'm just going to jump into things. My name is Portia Green and I'm an FBI agent." Portia's been lying to us this whole time. The betrayal sank in. How did this make her any better than Alisha? If anything, it made her worse. She lived in my house; she slept under my roof. Sure, neither Winnie nor I saw Portia frequently but it didn't detract from the severity of the lies. We believed Portia was a GracieGrace intern all this time when, in reality, she was working on exposing NORE for the FBI. As much as I wanted to feel like the victim, Portia did just save us though.
"I feel very bad for lying to you and Winnie this whole time, but understand that this was my job. I had to keep my cover or the whole mission would be blown. I don't want either of you to think that I wasn't genuine about my friendship with you or my personality. I really am into nutrition and health! And fashion is a huge interest of mine. When I'm not working, fashion is a hobby. It's just never something I pursued to pay the bills..." She trailed. Portia looked into my and Winnie's eyes. "I'm sorry for being dishonest. I want you both to know that platonically, my expressions were real. I do really like you guys and I hope we can continue to be friends." Winnie and I robotically nodded and smiled. Portia continued on to the gritty part.
"NORE has been on the FBI's watchlist for quite some time but we never had any concrete evidence to go off of." Portia started. "So a few months ago, we decided to plan an intricate sting operation to ultimately take NORE down. Our operation had very strong agents and allies helping us achieve our goal." Portia leaned forward in her seat, biting her lip. "You really have no idea how detailed NORE's whole plot was towards you; it already is very terrifying but we basically just defused a bomb." Portia shook her head. "As you may already know, the chemistry faculty of PCC is in on the game too. They handpicked you, Opal, to be in this position. To take your research." Opal sighed deeply, staring forward in confusion.
"But why? What did I have that hundreds of other Biochemistry majors at PCC didn't?" she asked. Portia shrugged.
"We don't know. We will try to get the answers out of Rosalind but there's no guarantee. We ended up receiving huge intelligence about the depth of Alisha's plan and objective. You see, Eden was handpicked too." I felt sick. "Again, we don't know why. But we do know that Graham Prock and Keaton Fleming discussed choosing you for Opal's research and they had told higher authorities. Higher authorities as in Alisha and Cassius Kavanaugh." Stomach churning. Stomach churning. "When Alisha found out that Eden was chosen, she concocted an elaborate plot that she was confident would work. It turned out working, but how did she know it would work? Well, she recruited the help of a person who would know Eden's character and could get Eden in that spot at that time."
We all stared at each other, trying to figure out who that person would be. Portia swallowed. "It was Nate Thompson." Stomach making noises now. I felt something coming up my throat. "The bear was paid by Alisha to bring Eden to the beach that day. No one else knew what was going on; he squealed to us and in return, we're planning on giving him an easier sentence. From the moment that Eden went down to the beach, well, the rest is history. We have solid intelligence that Alisha carried out Rosalind's orders but we don't know to what extent Alisha agreed with these orders. From what I personally gather after investigating, I believe Alisha had to comply with her mother's orders but she never wanted to hurt Eden. I have testimony from her brother Cassius that she loved Eden and wanted to take her and run away together." I pushed myself out of my chair and sprinted to the bathroom. Portia, Opal, and Winnie stared at me but I didn't care. I ran towards the bathroom--I saw it on the way in the police station. I made my way into the stall and vomited up everything in my stomach.
I didn't realize I had left my stall door open until I heard footsteps approach me from behind. I turned around to see Opal kneeling on the floor besides me. She asked me if I was okay; I didn't say anything but just sat against the wall and sighed. Opal sat down next to me and rested a hand on my shoulder. "I just want to thank you for saving me. I understand it wasn't easy and I now see how dangerous it really was." she added with a laugh. "You were right when you said that I needed to watch myself." I smiled a little. Opal sighed and fixed her hair. "I didn't realize how deep of a situation we were in and I can't imagine how terrified you must be too."
Opal cleared her throat. "I mean I was most likely targeted because of my brain and my success within college. I was creating leading research with a top-notch thesis. I was accepted to pharmacy school. But you...you were just a frosh that had no idea what she was jumping into. I'm sorry if I dragged you into all this trouble. You shouldn't have had to go through all that." I didn't say anything. I didn't blame Opal for any of this but for some reason, I couldn't find myself able to speak a word. Opal grimaced. "I can't sit here and say that your emotional recovery from all this will be easy, but I just want you to know that Winnie and I are here to support you."
I smiled in response and sighed. "Thank you. It's just that...Opal, I killed Alisha." I blinked away tears. A voice alongside of me spoke up.
"You did the right thing, Eden." I glanced up and saw Portia leaning against the stall door. She didn't sit down which I realized the reason why. Living with Portia, I learned the dog was totally OCD. So it didn't surprise me that the Dalmatian refused to sit on the dirty tile floor of the bathroom. "I'm grateful to you for saving my life. If you hadn't done anything, Alisha probably would have killed me." Portia said, her voice fading to a light whisper. I smiled lightly.
"It's the least I could do for you saving all of our lives." Winnie popped around the corner of the stall, mumbling something about a bathroom pow-wow. I laughed and slowly stood up. "I see how manipulative she was and how evil but...she said she loved me. Those were her last words." Winnie shook her head and frowned.
"Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but Alisha didn't mean those words. She was just trying to get you to pity her and feel bad. Don't let those fake words make you feel guilty, E." I nodded. Winnie was right. Portia rested a hand on my shoulder and led me out of the bathroom stall.
"I understand how stressful this all must be. Go home and enjoy your weekend. Relax and get your mind off of all this. Have some fun with the girls!" Portia exclaimed. "And..." she trailed, "if you aren't too infuriated with me, I might be home early and we can all do something fun together. Maybe a night out to dinner or something." I laughed and nudged Portia in the ribs gently.
"I'm not mad at you. I understand you had to do that for your job. Maybe, we'll be able to get to know each other more now that we're all more open with each other?" I suggested. The dog nodded and beamed.
I have never felt more optimistic and comfortable in my life.
We didn't end up doing anything fun or exciting. I was so tired that I just ended up going to bed. I was so emotionally drained and exhausted from the whole ordeal that I didn't feel like being social that night. Winnie and Opal got my gist. I almost didn't want Opal to leave. I tried to persuade Opal to stay the night at our house; she could sleep in Alisha's old bed. I was still convinced that someone would swoop in and take Opal away. I didn't want to wake up in the morning and discover Opal was gone. Opal didn't want to intrude though; she wanted to just go back to her dorm room and relax. I understood and allowed her to leave, but I still was worried for her.
Most Sunday mornings for people are dedicated to going to church or something. Others attend a class or a lab or some type of social function. Me? I was content to lounge in my bed with a blanket over my head and do nothing. I hadn't been sleeping for about forty-five minutes; I had just decided to lie in bed and stay there. I wasn't even that hungry and didn't mind the fact that the clock now read 12:06. I crawled out of bed and made my way downstairs. Winnie and Portia were sitting there eating breakfast. I had barely seen Portia since the day I started school; I conducted my roommate interview with her over the phone for Gog's sake!
I assumed that since Portia didn't need to work on the NORE case as much that she would be around more? Gog, this thing, even the morning after, was so weird. Winnie munched on a pancake and gestured me to sit down. She slid a plate in front of me and encouraged me to eat. As breakfast progressed, I talked to Portia and learned more about her. When she was a little girl, she began to love fashion. Nutrition became a hobby and a life goal for her in high school. She had even minored in nutrition in college (She was a PCC Raptor too!).
Being an FBI agent was her thing though. It was awkward to finally interact with Portia on a face-to-face front. I had figured that at the going rate, I wouldn't see her for the entire school year. I only was acquainted with Portia's instant message aesthetic. Portia was blabbing on about her family life and trying to make me feel more comfortable when I heard a knock at the door. I furrowed my eyebrows and hopped of the chair, walking to answer the door. Winnie scoffed and asked out loud who would be at the door right now. As the horse cursed out the strong possibility of a Yova Witness being at the door with a message and a sales tactic, I slowly opened the door.
Jamie was standing there.
Winnie's face blushed, although it didn't blush as deeply as mine, and waved for Portia to leave. The horse headed for the stairs. "We'll give you and Eden some time alone." Winnie murmured. Portia and Winnie climbed upstairs leaving me alone. Downstairs. With Jamie. I smiled lightly and let Jamie inside. The older woman smiled awkwardly, walking over the threshold and standing in front of the couch. I offered her Jamie a seat and plopped down on the couch. She sat next to me at a close but not too close distance.
"So...what's up?" I asked. Jamie blushed.
"Well, I just wanted to talk to you about Friday night." Oh Gog. THAT night. Jamie scratched the back of her head. "I hope I didn't do anything to make you uncomfortable with my actions." She said carefully. "I'm not going to say I didn't uh...enjoy what happened, but at the same time, I didn't mean for things to escalate as they did." Jamie sighed. "It was out of line for me to kiss you, Eden, but I just wanted to tell you that I do have feelings for you. Do...do you feel the same?"
My heart stopped in my throat. I don't know! Did I feel the same? I had no chance to analyze my emotions at all, let alone my feelings for Jamie. Alisha had permeated the entire gyri and sulci of my brain. I couldn't think of Jamie when Alisha's perfect jawline and endearing nicknames invaded every part of me. But when I do think about it intensely, I do feel an attraction towards Jamie. She's different from Alisha but she's a good different. The only problem? Well, our romance is basically forbidden. We're the 21st century, college-aged Romeo and Juliet that ARE NOT stupid enough to commit suicide because they think their lover is dead.
I looked down. "Jamie, I'm not going to lie. I don't know if I feel the same." I said slowly. "I'm definitely attracted to you but I don't know how I feel. I would need time to think about things and time to see how I feel about you." Jamie nodded in understanding. "And besides...you're my TA. Wouldn't you lose your job if we dated?" I asked. Jamie shrugged and clasped my hands. The warm feeling in her hands was different from the warm feeling in Alisha's hands. Alisha had an aura of lust but Jamie had an aura of passion. Lust and passion, I've learned, are two different things.
"I'm not exactly sure how us dating would affect my job," Jamie honestly admitted, "however, I'm not afraid to take that risk. I want to pursue a relationship with you and see where it takes us. I haven't asked around about the danger of TA-student relationships and it certainly isn't a question I popped into Google..." Jamie said with a hearty chuckle. "I do know that I don't care what impact it has on my TA status. If I get kicked out, then I get kicked out, but I am very confident that it would not be in vain." I was so touched; Jamie apparently seemed like she really cared for me. And here I am like a giant don't, unable to give her a simple answer.
I did know one thing. If I never took a risk, how would I know if something ever worked out?
I smiled at Jamie. "I--I can't believe you would do all that for me, Jamie. I feel so awful because I don't know if I can reciprocate those feelings..." I trailed. Jamie held my hands tighter.
"Don't feel bad. I am more than willing to be patient with you. If you don't feel comfortable openly dating this semester, I'm okay with it. I have no problem with taking it slow." How slow though? I didn't know how fast I wanted to move and if I even wanted to move at all. To say I loved Jamie would be a huge stretch but I did care about her and her wellbeing. I didn't want to reject Jamie outright because I did think she was a nice, caring, kind, beautiful person. But at the same time, I didn't want to NOT patronize her advances either.
GOG things are always so complicated. I bit my lip and nodded. "Are you okay with..us staying friends for now at least until I'm not in your class anymore? And then we can try to be a little more serious?" I suggested. Jamie nodded eagerly.
"Absolutely, Eden." Something about that happy smile made my heart skip a beat faster. Jamie and I talked for a few more minutes and then she eventually saw herself out. She had kissed me on the cheek after I hugged her goodbye. As quickly as Jamie barged into my house on a Sunday morning, she was gone. If Winnie came downstairs right now and looked at my goofy grin, she'd throw an orange slice at me and call me a dork. Maybe she's right. Maybe I AM a dork. If she'd ask me if I had fun making out with my new girlfriend, I'd draw on her face with a Sharpie while she slept. Jamie wasn't my girlfriend, but it's not like she wasn't NOT my girlfriend either.
...Yeah, I'm confusing. But, it's a good confusing.
I'm only a college freshman but I've already learned a lot. I've learned about the right friends and the wrong friends. I've learned about how to realize who is really there for you; I've discovered to cherish those people for eternity. I may not always do the best job of it but I know that that's the necessary, right thing to do. I've learned that good friends don't make excuses or expect you to pity them in any way. Sure, I can support a friend in their time of need but it's abusive for those same friends to constantly drain you without cherishing or appreciating you as well. Good friends never hurt you without apologizing for it.
I felt something slimy slap across my face. I looked down to see an orange slice lying in my lap. Portia and Winnie stood across the room, in the kitchen. Portia still had the fridge open. Winnie had a mischievous grin on her face.
"You're such a dork, E! Quit daydreaming about your girlfriend! You'll have plenty of time to have fun making out with her later." I smiled, laughing out loud. I made a mental note of where we kept the black Sharpie for tonight.
My current friends were amazing and I couldn't wait to make room in my heart for new ones.