This is every definition of the phrase ‘not okay.’
My free hand reached cautiously for any kind of support. I was led on only by the pull of five slender fingers and chipper, rhythmic footsteps. Chipper though they were, that was getting old fast.
I’m gonna show you the breach, she’d told me, but… you’re not ready to know where it is.
The makeshift blindfold had slipped from its place a while back, but only managed to pin one of my eyes shut.
How has this breach not been found yet? I wondered, too miserable to ask. They’re so uptight about security here.
“Hold on, Liz,” she consoled under her breath. “Hold on.”
“I’m fine,” I whispered back. Asserted. A little bitterly. Tried to hide it.
Despite my resistance, she continued on just as chipper. Tried to ignore it. “Just duck here,” she directed, “and suck in.”
Squeezing through a tiny duct through the building’s secure hull did nothing to improve my mood.
Upon resurfacing, summer warmth landed on me like a load of dry laundry. This, I welcomed. I’d even stopped caring that Sam didn’t let me go back for shoes. Grass between my toes brought a healing I wasn’t expecting.
The fingers released mine. Thud. Something slid back into place behind me.
“You can take off the blindfold,” she notified me, grunting as she replaced the panel; “You’ll want to see this.”
Untying the knot, I carped, “I’m sorry to disappoint, Sam, but I was never much of an outdoorsy person.”
That was a lie, plain and simple. A verdant canopy cast a comforting shadow in the heat of the June sun. We towered over soaring peaks and lush, plunging valleys – all of this I’d missed on the winding drive up. It pulled from me a betraying wonder-filled sigh.
She means well. Stop being a DiCaprio.
Hey, I retorted to myself, he’s an Oscar-winning actor now. It would be awesome to be him.
You know what I mean, me.
As she produced two Diet Cokes from a small tote, my negativity only strengthened her resolve. “Come on, Liz. It’s a lovely day.”
An adjacent peak held my gaze. The sun hit it just right. Such a lovely day.
“Besides, we don’t come out here to be outside, really. We come here to get away.”
I really wish that were possible, Sam, but right now, I’d settle for you to stop talking.
Hey, watch it, you.
“It is pretty stuffy in there,” I acknowledged, pressing tightly to the side of the building.
“And everyone is so uptight all the time, right?”
I allowed a quiet laugh as she handed me one of the sodas. “Well, the work they do is… pretty important. Lives do depend on them.It’s kind of a big deal.”
“I know, love. But, you know, all work and no play.”
“Apparently, it makes Jack a dull boy,” I finished for her. “And, please, call me Lizzy.”
“Lizzy, then,” she corrected.“Désolée.”
My requisite language gen ed told me she was apologizing in French. My low opinion of her told me she was just dying for me to ask her what she’d meant. Anything else would probably offend her.
With slight satisfaction, I shrugged. “Ne t’en fais pas.”
She furrowed her brow ever so slightly, but with a blink she pardoned my French.
I relished in the silence between comments. I knew it wouldn’t last long, but I enjoyed the lack of mechanical whirring in my ears. Sure enough, though, any second now she would spoil the peace with some kind of small-talk prompt, like –
“So, Lizzy, are you doing alright?”
My eyes flew to the sky. I relished the silence again.
I’m not usually this bitter, I promise...
“Wally said you’re having a bit of trouble adjusting.”
I flinched, nearly dropping my soda. How would he know?
Staring at the peaks. Scratching my nose. I responded. “I’m fine, actually.”
“Let me know if there’s anything you’d like to talk about, Lizzy.” She inched closer, tracing my gaze to the peaks. “I’ve been here my whole life, so this… has been my world for as long as I can remember. I never made the transition. But I remember when David did. It was rough. It always is.”
All I could do was nod. Did my best to throw her a half-smile. “Thanks, Sam.”
“Of course. What are friends for?”
I tried to conceal the wince.
After setting down her drink, Sam whirled around to get a good look at the external security cameras, then meandered across the lawn, taking advantage of their blind spots.
I remembered that we had snuck out of a supposedly secure government facility through a literal hole in the wall. A heavy guilt soured my stomach. They shouldn’t even have blind spots. This has to be so unsafe.
And yet I raised no objections as Sam leaned over the fence on the opposite side of the yard. The bureau had kept me locked in there for – I mean, it had to be at least three weeks now, but I wasn’t sure. Lots of new people. Lots of testing. Lots of things to learn, and remember, because God forbid you slip up – the stakes are just too high. Something had started to get to me.
I let the darkness of my eyelids envelop the mountainous terrain. There was a sigh in there somewhere. The idea that I was alone was so pleasant that I allowed it to stay. Even believed it for a moment. Exhale everything. Inhale sunlight. Inhale birdsong.
“Daniel seems to be… paying you a bit of attention.”
My eyes flew open. From across the yard, Sam leaned against the fence, smirking coyly at me.
My gaping mouth should have conveyed my intense disinterest in the subject. But her expectant simper remained no matter how long I kept quiet.
“I… get the feeling that’s standard fare for new girls around here.”
She giggled. And it was such a cute giggle. She was such a kitten of a person. Tall, but an adorable little brown-haired green-eyed kitten of a person. It was so. Irritating. “How observant of you. He’s a walking hazing ritual. Such a troublemaker.” With a cock of her head, she posed, “But, he’s a good guy. You should…” her eyebrows did a dance. “You know?”
Restraining the resulting guffaw was the hardest thing I did that day.
She caught my cold demeanor and returned her view to the peaks. It only took ten seconds, if that, for the sun to warm her resolution. “This is my favorite spot out here. You get this beautiful breeze, and it’s in the best part of the shade. And when you crane your neck just right, you can see the whole sky. Wally and I used to…”
My heart did a cartwheel at the name. I slunk down further in my seat against the building.
Sam cleared her throat. “It’s perfect for the sunset.”
“I love hearing about how beautiful it is over there, but I’d love hearing about it even more if I could actually go over there and see how beautiful it is, and I wasn’t bound to the side of the building by a sonic frequency.”
“I thought you weren’t an outdoorsy person.”
I actually allowed myself to sneer.
“Lizzy, hey.” She made her circuitous way back to my seat and plopped down next to me. Laid a consoling hand on my shoulder. “The view’s nice from back here, too.”
I recoiled from her touch. Suddenly very aware of how much of a Jack Ashton I’d been.
Do you think being awful to her is gonna change a thing?
A hard lump burrowed down my throat. I gave her my first genuine smile of the day as she opened her drink. “Yeah, it is. Very nice. Thanks for bringing me out here.”
The brightest smile illuminated her face. I could the silver lining widening in her mind’s eye: there was hope for me, yet.
But definitely not for her Diet Coke, which was now pillowing into a moist layer all over her pants.
I couldn’t hold back my chuckle at the shock on her adorable little kitten face.
“Sam, where did you get these Diet Cokes?”
A thought crossed her mind. Gasp. “Oh, ce garçon! Dang, Daniel, back at it again…”
More giggling. I set my soda in her tote. “We should probably get you cleaned up.”
With a sigh, she assessed the damage, and then turned toward the sun. “Hold on, just… two more minutes out here.”
Uneasiness swirled in my core. No, not everything would be okay for a while. I’d have to get used to that. I’d have to get used to her. But as I took one last long loving look at the peaks, I could at least find hope in seven words I never thought I’d think.
Maybe she’s not so bad, after all.