Chapter Twenty One
When we got back to Mason’s place, Greg was there and all three of them were having a heated debate over the safety of wearing foundation. It was a strange conversation to walk into.
“They seriously used to use lead mixed with vinegar to create a white paste,” Greg was telling my roommates. None of them had noticed Mason’s and my entrance. “And when they figured out how toxic it was, they moved onto something healthy - arsenic. And the arsenic worked so well, they started eating it!”
“That’s different,” Cat argued. “They didn’t have the FDA to research that stuff.”
“Oh, right,” Greg scoffed. “Our good friends at the FDA. They would never approve something that was harmful.”
From the look on Cat’s face, it appeared she’d been trumped. “Yeah, okay. But they don’t use lead or arsenic anymore.”
“That we know of,” Sarah interjected.
Greg gestured toward her with one hand. “Exactly. You don’t know what’s in all those products. They have like fifty different names for sugar, so they can trick you into thinking you’re eating healthy. It’s the same with eye-liner and lipstick.”
“Really?” Mason asked him as he closed the front door and pulled off his coat. “Makeup?”
Greg stood up from where he’d been sitting on the coffee table. “Dude,” he answered in an exasperated tone. “Six sisters.”
Mason chuckled. “You use that excuse a lot.”
“What other weird beauty stuff did they do?” Sarah asked. She’d been sitting cross-legged in front of Greg on the floor but came to standing and followed him to the kitchen.
Greg patted Mason’s shoulder as he passed us on his way to the fridge. “Well,” he answered her, “They used radiation technology for hair-removal.”
“No way,” she gasped, covering her mouth.
“Yep. And it worked pretty well,” he added, riffling through a fairly empty fridge. “Until it started causing cancer. By the way, fun fact? Radiation is what we now use to CURE cancer.”
“How did they do it? You just sat under an X-ray machine?” Sarah asked.
“For many, many hours,” Greg affirmed.
“No way...” Sarah was saying as Greg finally found something to eat and brought it to the table. The two of them sat down and continued their conversation which was mostly Greg talking and Sarah nodding along and looking enthralled.
I watched Mason toss his coat over the back of a chair and join them.
On one of the fluffy sofas, Cat was listing through her phone, maybe counting the reasons to stay alive tonight.
I went and sat next to her. “Are you ready?”
“I think so.” She didn’t look terribly worried. “Did Mason get that check?”
“Yes.” I nodded.
“Why is he even doing this for us?”
Glancing over, I saw him laughing with Greg and Sarah. “I don’t really know.”
Cat leaned forward and practically whispered even though we were pretty secluded in the living room. “What exactly did you do to him?”
“Nothing,” I told her, splaying my hands.
She didn’t look convinced. “You really only met him two days ago? And he’s willing to part with this much money to keep your roommate safe? How much money does he have? Is he super rich, or something?”
“No,” I shook my head. “I don’t think he’s super rich, but he did tell me his job pays a lot.”
She furrowed her brow. “What does he do?”
Catching her insinuation, I defended Mason. “It’s legal.”
“Hey, I didn’t say anything.”
“You were giving me a look.”
Impish, Cat finally responded. “Well, whatever. I’m just glad you met him. You two are cute together.”
“What?” I asked. “We’re not together.”
“Oh, okay.” Cat rolled her eyes. “He probably acts this way around every girl.”
“Just the way he watches you when he thinks you won’t notice, like right now,” she said. As I started to turn to check, she warned, “Don’t look.”
“He’s watching me?”
“Every once in awhile, he looks over here and he smiles a little. And he’s not looking at me.”
I started to blush.
“He’s sweet,” Cat told me with a motherly squeeze of my arm. “I give my approval.”
She grinned. “I guess we’d better get ready to go.”
“Oh, right. You need to see what he bought for us.”
When we were all ready to leave and nervously milling around the small space - except for Mason who leaned against the counter looking completely relaxed minus the occasional sympathetic glance in my direction - Greg checked his phone before slipping it back into his pocket.
“Cab’s waiting.” He spoke in the tone of someone offering a final meal to an inmate, soft and contrite. Then, in a fatherly kind of way, he rubbed Sarah’s shoulders and leaned in to ask if she was going to be alright. In the last half hour, I’d watched the two of them forge quite a friendship. She’d followed him around and hung on every word he spoke. In turn, whenever she drifted too far away from him, he’d gone to seek her out. Like they were attached by a string. Like they’d been friends forever.
Sarah smiled up at him. “Yeah, I’ll be fine. Marcus is actually a nice person. Everything is going to be alright.”
“A nice person?” I asked her. “Are you serious?”
Greg scowled at me, protective of Sarah, as he helped her into her coat. “She just means he’s fair. And he doesn’t actually want to hurt anyone. You have his money - Everything will be fine.”
We escaped the safety of Mason’s apartment and took our cap clear across town. I’d had no idea Sarah worked that far away until we were standing in front of a flashing, neon-pink sign in the seedier part of New York.
The front doors swallowed us up like bait. We had the item necessary to finish the quest - but would that be enough? I thought of the game...
We entered the dungeon like an army of misfit hopefuls. A strange calm overcame me as I was pulled into the electric world of elementals and cracking cemented walls. My room disappeared, and I became Heals – without dysfunctional roommates, indecision, or worry about tomorrow. For the moment, I was safe in my mail armor…
Except that I couldn’t just step away from the battle if it displeased me. I couldn’t shut down my monitor in selfish abandon.
This might be my final raid.