The sun was shining especially bright the next morning, and as it streamed through the curtain crack above my bed, hitting me directly in the face, I could only imagine it had turned up the rays just for me. My own personal hell on earth. With a groan that highlighted my dry throat and even drier mouth, I rolled over, burying my head in the thin sheet draped over my body. It dimmed the light to a bearable level, but did nothing for the constant chirping of the birds that roosted outside my window, nor the clanging and banging coming from the kitchen.
“People are trying to die in here!” I yelled, cringing as the sound ripped up my throat like razor blades and proceeded to hack bluntly into my skull, adding to its constant throbbing with a jab of intense pain.
In the next moment, music erupted from over near the door. It took a moment before the slow dun dun da-dun on the sad sounding strings registered in my head as the funeral march. I would have laughed if I wasn’t absolutely certain the act would cause my already protesting body to scream in pain. Instead, I reefed the sheet from over my head and glared at the iPod where it sat in the dock.
My gaze travelled slowly to the right, finally locating Dodge as he leaned against the door frame, looking extra chipper this morning in his grey slacks and not-purple-but-looks-purple-anyway button through shirt. In one hand he held a large saucepan, while the other grasped a wooden spoon, poised at the ready.
“You wouldn’t dare,” I whispered, my voice barely audible over the music that trudged on.
He raised a brunette eyebrow at me and I could tell he was absolutely loving this. “What was that, Bea?” he enquired innocently, turning up the volume on the music. “I can’t quite hear you.”
“You. Wouldn’t. Dare,” I managed to say a little louder. My head would explode if he made me yell again, and I wouldn’t be responsible for any mess it made. I especially wouldn’t be held responsible if I happened to spontaneously combust from the combination of music and pot banging he was threatening.
A smug smile spread slowly across his face, accompanied by the glint in his eye I had come to dread as he reached over to turn off the iPod. I had just enough time to drag my pillow over my head, clasping it to my ears, before he started beating loudly. It continued for what felt like eons – though, that may have been the lack of airflow talking – before I felt the bed dip beside me and the drumming stopped. Cautiously, I released the pillow, uncovering my face and pulling in a breath of refreshingly crisp, clean, cool air.
“I hate you,” I grumbled, snatching the spoon from his hand and whacking him over the head with it before tossing it across the room.
“Good morning to you too,” he greeted cheerfully, tapping his fingers on the bottom of the saucepan as he bounced up and down. His movements made the whole bed jiggle and I had to grab the edge closest to me or risk falling off. He grinned down at me hanging on for dear life. “How are you feeling this morning?”
“Smiling before lunch should be illegal,” I shot back as my stomach belatedly rolled from Dodge’s bed bouncing. “As should moving and noise making.”
“That good, huh?” Dodge dropped the saucepan to the floor with another loud clang and carelessly kicked it across the room.
“I haven’t felt this dead since O-Week, first year of university.”
“Great,” he enthused. “Now, I have some questions for you. Answer to the best of your ability, you were completely blotto when he carried you in last night and I couldn’t get a straight answer out of you.”
An unauthorised groan left my throat as I dragged the sheet back up over my head. I didn’t want to go through this. I wasn’t sober enough to go through this. Probably I would end up blurting out something embarrassing that I’d been keeping locked away from even him for years. Like the time I – nope, don’t even go there. If I think it, it will likely pop out of my mouth just as quickly. It’s best to keep all thoughts well and truly clear of the embarrassing secrets compartment of my brain.
As I attempted to hide from the world, the bed swayed, whether from actual forces against it or from a mental imbalance that caused me to think the bed was rocking, is another matter entirely. I scrunched my eyes shut tight in an effort to calm the bile rising in my throat and realised that Dodge was pacing around my room. Without so much as thinking about opening my eyes to get a bead on his shadow through the sheet, I threatened, “Swear to God, Dodge, if you’re cleaning my room again I will kill you three times before you hit the ground.”
There was no immediate answer and I could almost believe he had left me to die in peace after all. I peaked slowly over the edge of the sheet, my hopes building when I saw the empty side of the room.
That’s when the banging started up again.
A startled cry wrenched from my battered throat and I really did fall off the bed this time. My hip crashed to the floor first, followed by my elbow as my head smacked against the front of the bedside table. The good news is, the banging stopped as Dodge dropped the items to the floor and rushed to my side. The bad news, on the other hand, was twofold. First and foremost in my mind was the extra pain in my head, like I didn’t have enough left over from my connection with the wall yesterday and my hangover. And on top of that, Dodge was laughing at me.
I slapped his hands away as he reached to help me up, opting instead to curl around myself in a pile of self pity. “Are you done torturing me yet?” I grumbled.
“Not quite,” he admitted, ignoring my feeble efforts at evading him and scooping me up into the air. The weightlessness made my stomach drop and I only narrowly avoided hurling my guts up on Dodge’s as per usual, pristine shirt. His eyes widened when he looked down at me, and I could only imagine how crap I looked at that moment. Not the worst he’d seen me, but still pretty bad. “You’re not going to yawn on me in technicolour, are you?” he fretted, moving quickly out of the room and down the hall. “You face just turned, like, lime green.”
He set me down on lid of the toilet and stepped back in the same motion. My head spun as I tracked his progress to the door with my eyes and I had to grip the edge of the sink beside me to stay upright. Dodge disappeared from sight for a moment, allowing me enough time to clear my head and get my vision under control. When he returned he handed me a glass of clear, lightly fizzing liquid that I assumed was either almost flat lemonade or water and dissolvable aspirin. Whatever it was, I gulped it down so fast it barely touched my tongue before it was gliding down my throat.
I set the glass back in his hand and he handed me my toothbrush, complete with toothpaste.
“Brush ‘em and listen up,” he instructed, perching on the side of the tub and crossing one leg over the other. His gaze was intent on mine, which provided me with a weird sense of awareness as I recalled what I looked like in the mirror while I brushed my teeth. It didn’t quite fit with the confused expression I could feel creeping over my features.
I was grateful that he seemed to be taking care of me like usual, after the initial razzing, but the fact that he was now going to ask me questions to which I may not even recall the answers had me worried. This had the potential of making me feel stupid.
“Why did you agree to a date with the boss?” Dodge asked.
I almost laughed. Almost. That question was an easy one. “Because I didn’t want him to suck my brains out and drag me to his home planet,” I replied easily around the foam threatening to cascade down my chin.
Dodge just stared at me for a moment with his What the hell are you talking about face in place. I’d seen it often over the years. Usually when I professed to not knowing something to do with makeup, or hair, or dressing. It was like his body physically rebelled the idea of someone being unable to do the things he did. In fact, he got that very same expression the first time he took me jogging and discovered that I couldn’t touch my toes. Which I can now, if you recall. We thought it might be a fluke, but last I checked – which was during a break the previous day – I still could.
“Brain sucking?” he questioned. “His home planet? Did you watch sci fi movies without me again?”
I shook my head slowly back and forth, my lips clamped shut to prevent spraying him and the room with toothpaste and saliva, and was surprised to find that it didn’t hurt so much. It must have been aspirin after all. “Turns out he’s not an alien, he’s just going through some strange side effects from his drug trial drugs.”
He continued to gaze at me in confusion, his brows furrowed in that ugly way he gets in the mornings. A single strand of hair had escaped his control and was flitting across his wrinkled forehead. I had to squash the urge to reach out and tug it out. He’d hate me for that almost as much as he hated me for the email yesterday. In fact, I was surprised he was still talking to me after all the covert glances and behind the hand whispering he’d had to endure for the rest of the day. I fully expected to be ostracised for my stunt, no matter how accidental it was.
It was then that I realised I had failed to divulge more than just what happened in the gym, but also what happened by the pigeon holes. There was no way I was going to get out of this conversation without letting go of at least some of it, so I spat, rinsed and set about telling the tale.
By the time I finished, Dodge had coaxed me out into the kitchen and cooked me a breakfast of bacon and eggs, which I was in the process of devouring when he glanced at his watch.
“I’ve got to go,” he announced, retrieving his satchel from the kitchen counter and hurrying toward the door. “I don’t want to be late for work.”
He was out the door and gone before I had even swallowed my latest bite. I sought out the clock on the oven and was thankful for having already emptied my mouth as I caught sight of the time.
And since we’d spent at least an hour arguing over whether I was telling the truth about Riley or if I was delusional – Dodge was more inclined to blame my drugs for the entire event, rather than believe that Riley could change his skin colour to match his surroundings like a chameleon – that meant he’d woken me before seven on a hangover day. No wonder I felt like crap.
Bigger problems arose as I continued to contemplate my situation, though.
First, since I had, in Dodge’s words, been completely blotto upon returning home last night, I had failed to take off what little makeup I’d been allowed to put on, and thus, looked like a cross between a insomniac panda and a heroin addict going through withdrawal. Add to this my morning afro, which had been fortified by left over mousse and hairspray, and I was beginning to look like a zombie from a B-Grade movie.
I lifted one hand to test the resistance of my hair, caught a whiff of my own odour and decided that I probably smelled like one too.
So I needed a shower. That, plus the requisite hair drying and styling, body moisturising and dressing that followed would take at least twenty minutes. Then there was the five minute trek up the road to the bus stop, the twenty-five minute bus ride, and the extra five minute dash through the park at the other end.
This lead to the other problem: I was going to be at least half an hour late for work.
No one would be surprised by such an occurrence, I’m sure, but from where I was sitting, with my half finished breakfast on the table in front of me, going in to work seemed like more effort than it was worth. I could always just call in sick. Riley would understand. If we were being honest, Riley was the reason. And after hitting my head twice in as many days, I think I was entitled to a little time off.
Another glance toward the clock, which showed that ten whole minutes had passed while I’d sat there in thought, solidified my decision. I picked up my phone, which for some reason was conveniently located on the end of the kitchen table, and typed out a quick, typo riddled text to Emily explaining that I was too hung over to work and that she should make up a valid excuse to put in my file as to why I didn’t turn up.
The device buzzed with a reply a moment later as I once again lifted fork to mouth, savouring the freedom of having all the time in the world to go through my morning routine. As I reached for the phone, I allowed myself the perfect, blissful moment to decide that I would soak in the tub for an hour rather than quickly scrub myself clean in the shower.
I flicked the screen on and read the text Emily had sent with a dull confusion.
“What about your appointment?”
My mind flicked through my mental planner – the only one I kept – and came up blank. What appointment? I thought, staring at blankly at the screen. There was no way the answer would come to me telepathically, so I tapped the question in and hit send.
The next reply came before I’d even set the phone aside.
“Weren’t you meeting Derek in the gym today?”
Crap. I’d forgotten about that. He was probably going to assume I was skipping work to avoid him and his supposed self defence lessons, and to be honest, it wasn’t a half bad idea. In fact, coupled with my hang over, it seemed like an awesome reason not to go into work today.
“How did you know about that?” I texted, sliding my plate away and standing to totter off to get ready for my much needed bath. I’d just made it to my bedroom door when the phone buzzed in my hand.
“Check your email,” it said, to which I rolled my eyes and promptly began operating under the assumption that Derek had sent an email to remind me of and confirm our arrangements for his supposed self defence lesson. My guess was it would be more of a beat on Bea session, which seemed like an even better reason to not go in today. Who in their right mind would willingly walk into that kind of thing?
With that in mind, I wasted no time typing back, “Just tell him I’m sick.”
“What about the photocopier?”
I jumped and nearly dropped the phone as that text appeared on the screen right before my eyes. My thumb was still hovering over the send button, absorbing the vibrations that accompanied the text with a thrilling little shock wave. It tingled up my arm a short way before dying out and I was left to suck in a shaky breath as I carefully lowered myself to the edge of the bed.
I pressed extra hard as I composed my latest reply, because while it didn’t show my agitation in the text, it did make me feel just a little calmer. “Guard it with your life. Unplug it. Put an Out of Order sticker on it. Lock the copy room door. Send the Squad on a wild goose chase. Just don’t let anyone near it!”
And with that, I turned my phone off and flung it toward the pillows littering the top end of the bed. Apprehension shivered down my spine as I belatedly contemplated what my precious photocopier would be like when I arrived at work the next day, but it was too late to do anything about it. I’d already made my mind up that today was a sick day. All that was left to do was grab my purple, terrycloth robe and sink into a nice warm bubble bath.
The apartment was bathed in as much darkness as I could manage in the middle of the day, with the lights off and the curtains drawn. I had the air conditioner blasting at a respectable twenty seven degrees Celsius, otherwise known as the temperature Dodge had locked it on. The only thing I could change was whether it was on or off. For everything else Dodge had a pin code. I’d never been able to crack his system.
After my bath, I’d wrapped myself in my robe, grabbed the three litre bottle of water Dodge kept in the fridge and sprawled myself on the couch, remote in hand and pain killers within reach. On the coffee table a short distance away was a selection of chocolates, chips and other unhealthy food stuffs in case I started to feel better and needed to boost the nausea again. I was all set for a day of self pity and feeling like crap.
I flicked through the channels a million times over before settling on the TV shopping network. Don’t ask why, just assume that I like torturing myself with things I can’t buy and tacky advertisements featuring testaments that include whole phrases that are exactly the same those the sales person had used just moments before cutting to the clip. It’s so deliciously cheesy that it almost makes me feel better about my crappy life. Because for all that’s wrong with it, at least I don’t have to sell my soul to a camera in the attempt to sell junk that probably doesn’t even do what they’re saying it does.
The woman on the television was enthusing over the low, low price of just “four instalments of $34.99 plus postage and handling,” for three bras that will probably flatten your chest and not give you any support whatsoever, as she idly felt the outer breast of one of the models.
“Who would even buy something like that?”
I must have jumped ten feet in the air at the sound of Emily’s voice resonating from the couch cushion next to mine. I had been curled against the arm rest, nursing a glass of now room temperature water and, as per usual, hadn’t heard or seen her approach. The only reason I knew she was there now was because she’d spoken. Who the hell can sit down on a lounge without causing it to sink even a little?
And didn’t I make sure the door was locked, bolted and chain in place before I went for my bath?
“What the hell are you doing here?” I demanded, my voice piercing through the lingering headache with how shrill it sounded as I took in her tweed pencil skirt and matching bolero jacket over a pale pink ruffled – eww, ruffles – blouse. Her shoes were ridiculously fashionable given the conservativeness of the rest of her attire and I envied her ability to walk in them. I would give anything to be able to wear stiletto heels, but Dodge and my mother won’t even let me try them on in the shop for fear that I will break an ankle even before I stand up in them.
Unfortunately, I kinda believed that was possible too. But back to right now. Emily had magically appeared on my couch beside me and I was still too hazy to be freaked out, it appeared. Surprised, maybe, but no freaked out.
“Dodge asked me to check on you,” she explained, cocking her head to the side as she continued to watch the television. I, on the other hand, was keeping an eye on her, in case I blinked and she disappeared again. “You weren’t answering your phone. And you mother was getting worried.”
“Screw my mother,” I muttered. She only ever got in contact with me when she found out I was doing something she disapproved of, or if Dodge tattled on me, or if someone died. Plus obligatory Sunday night dinner once a month, during which I was less of a guest and more of a roast. I always dragged Dodge along, but he was no use after a glass of wine and the offer of the opportunity to pick me to shreds.
Emily raised one eyebrow at me, offering a dubious expression. “As I understand it, a few of the male staff would like to.”
“But true,” she assured me. “And now that I have made sure you’re still alive and have not attempted suicide in the shower stall after last night’s escapades, I shall be returning to work.”
“Why would I attempt suicide after last night?” I asked panic welling up in my chest, battling with a new wave of nausea. Had I done something with Riley that I should regret?
As if she was inside my head, she answered. “You kissed him,” she said shortly. “Several times if the drunken texts I received are anything to go by. And according to Dodge you were pashing Derek yesterday as well. You’re turning out to be quite the player, Ms. Cooper.”
Her judgement was playful and non-caring. It was like when I told her that her hair would fall out if she kept it in those tight buns all the time. She just shrugged it off. And at least she hadn’t called me the slut word.
Quickly straightening her skirt as she stood, she averted her gaze from the television back to the PDA as a torrent of activity lit the screen in blinking blue lights. Usually, given this kind of interruption, she would walk away distractedly to either deal with the situation that had arisen, or monitor it closely. But instead she stood stock still in the centre of my living room finger scrolling through whatever text was appearing before her eyes.
Panic, ever so sneaky in its approach, began to infiltrate my mind. This was not normal behaviour for Emily.
“What is it?” I asked, sitting up properly and craning my neck in an attempt to see the PDA. “IS the world being overtaken by brain sucking aliens?”
She cut her eyes to me, an annoyed and exasperated expression shining down upon my being in an almost visible glow. If I didn’t know better, I’d say she’d been body snatched. But that was impossible... right?
“What is it with you and aliens that act like zombies lately?” she questioned.
I shrugged. “I saw it in a movie over the weekend. I guess I’m just being paranoid.”
“And gullible,” she added with a roll of her eyes. “They don’t exist, so relax.” In an almost absentminded movement, Emily waved the PDA in the air. “We have bigger fish to fry.”
An involuntary shudder ran through me at the mention of fish, but I pushed past the brief gut churning that accompanied it to press for details. Something was clearly amiss if she was that absorbed by the events on her screen.
“Eric just received an email from a private address I’m certain belongs to Mr. Walker,” she explained quickly. “It’s proposing transferring a number of Walk Safe staff to The Innovation Station.”
That name sounded familiar, but suffering under the light, lingering fog from last night, I couldn’t quite place it. All it brought to mind was futuristic bus stops, and I’m pretty sure that is not what she was referring to.
At what must have been one of the most blank stares in the history of this apartment, Emily once again rolled her eyes at my ignorance. “It’s the company we’re merging with,” she pointed out impatiently. “He wants to make the transition smoother by mingling the staff. Anyway, there’s a list of employees he wants to transfer and –.”
“Oh God,” I interrupted, delving my fingers into the knotted curls at my temples. “Please don’t tell me you or Dodge are on the list!” The slight panic I’d felt earlier bloomed forth once more, expanding and filling my entire chest like a heavy cat sitting there. “I can’t survive on my own.”
Where I expected her to assure me with the quick efficiency she always displayed, that I none of us were on the list, Emily hesitated. Cue the exit of every single skerrick of calm from my body. Emily never hesitates.
“No,” I insisted, shaking my head vehemently, fingers fisting in my hair. Despair had spread itself so thick throughout my body that the vigorous movement of my head didn’t even hurt, nor the pulling of my hair. There were more important issues than a hangover headache right now. “No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no –“
“Eric has already told him that he flat out refuses to give me up,” she tried to soothe me, but by now I was almost beyond reason. “He’s not going to allow me to be wrenched away. The company would collapse without my presence.”
I took a deep breath and tried to centre myself, focusing on her words of reassurance. “And Dodge?” I prompted after a moment. Every body part I could manage was crossed in the hopes that she would offer the same peace of mind where my roommate was concerned, but the look on her face and the way she averted her eyes spoke volumes of his fate before she even opened her mouth.
“I’m emailing Eric right now with my opinion on the matter,” she placated, her thumbs beginning a frantic dance. “If he still allows Riley to transfer Dodge, I’ll buy you a small laser for the photocopier.”
It wasn’t much of a trade off – given the choice I’d prefer to have my friends by my side, rather than one measly little laser that probably wouldn’t even be lethal – but it made me feel better. It meant she was doing her best to ensure we all stayed together. Emily could deal with a lot, but she would never willingly allow a laser into the office if it wasn’t a last resort. That’s where she drew the line.
“Dodge wanted me to give you this,” Emily said, placing a take away soup bowl on the coffee table beside the remote. I didn’t even want to contemplate where she’d pulled that from.
The warm, enticing aroma of my favourite wanton soup filled the air as I lifted the lid, engulfing me in it’s steamy goodness. When I lifted my gaze to thank her, however, Emily was gone again, leaving not even a wisp of smoke or a glimmer of fairy dust in her wake. Perhaps she’d discovered the trick to teleportation.