When I show up in the lab the next day, Kevin meets me at the door with a proposed work schedule for the next two months. It includes bathroom, lunch and dinner breaks. It appears Kevin is trying to tame his panic by organization.
“Kevin, did you stay up last night to make this?” I take a minute to look over the schedule appreciatively.
“I did. It helps me feel in control of the situation. I analyzed how much time we will need to analyze each sample twice and allowed for a few blips along the way. But, we will be able to finish by the middle of September and that will leave plenty of time to work on the verbal presentation.”
“Well, we will try to follow it but we already have two blips on the radar. A neuroradiologist is coming Monday to help sort the data more accurately. I also have to take a few hours to go get my passport.” To demonstrate my support, I walk over to the copy machine and make several copies. I lay one of them at Josh’ desk.
“You have never travelled outside the country before?” Kevin looks shocked.
“No, our circumstances didn’t allow for travel. This is my first adventure. Aren’t you the least bit excited?” I ask him.
“Since I am going with you and Josh, I am beginning to feel some excitement. I ordered an Italian language immersion course last night. I should have it within a few days and we can practice together if you want.” We walk over to our workstation and start collating the data we will analyze that day. We have become so acclimated to each other by now that we work in tandem without speaking.
I smile inwardly. Josh was on point in his analysis of how Kevin would prepare for the trip to Italy. I turn to Kevin. “Do you pick up languages easily?”
“I do. Right now, I speak Spanish, French, Chinese and Portuguese. Now that Jiang has arrived, I practice Mandarin with her when I can. Italian should be easy as it is a Romance language. Farsi is next on my bucket list.”
“What else do you do for fun?” I ask.
“I am a fourth degree black belt in Aikido. My father signed me up for lessons when I was seven because everyone picked on me at school. I found a place a few blocks away from here where I can take classes. You should come one day” Kevin looks over my shoulder. “Here comes Josh.”
“Morning. Ready for another day? I am so ready for the weekend.” Josh gives me a squeeze on my arm. “I see you got your outfit for tonight. It’s a nice dress. Can’t wait to see you put it on”
“You peeked?” I’m a little surprised. Maybe he was worried that I wouldn’t look sophisticated enough?
“Yes and I approve very much. I might have to start worrying about Kevin. He is smitten.” He winks as he says this and I blush.
We settle down into our work. All three of us concentrate on running the DNA sequences on the alleles we have identified so far. It was hasty on the chairman’s part to refer us to this conference. At the very least, we should have run through all the data completely before agreeing to be part of the conference. We still don’t even know the title of the abstract that was submitted to the conference with our names attached to it. Late in the morning as promised, Katharine Lucas comes into the lab to announce that she is sending Josh, Kevin, and myself to the conference. Dr. Morehouse might attend as well. Josh, it turns out, was also on pointe in predicting Marcus’s reaction. He becomes visibly agitated to the point that Dr. Lucas actually notices. She assures the other group, and Marcus in particular, that they will have a chance to present at the international winter meeting depending on their progress.
The afternoon passes quickly and fortunately we accomplish a great deal of work. At seven o’clock I change into my dress and receive several appreciative stares from the members in my lab. Josh and I leave to catch the subway going southbound towards Chelsea. It is such a beautiful night and still warm out. The streets are teeming with people and the outdoor restaurants are packed. Josh points out that most New Yorkers hit the nightlife on Thursday evenings during the summer, as they take off on Friday afternoon for the beach. As we walk into the gallery, we are photographed together, which I find disconcerting. I wonder how my mother feels about being photographed. She has practiced keeping a low profile for years.
When we enter the atrium, a flamboyantly attired man introduces himself as the owner. “You must be Branna’s daughter. You are her spitting image. I am Jeff Trembly. Welcome to my gallery.” He kisses me on both cheeks. He addresses Josh next. “And who is this handsome man you have brought with you?”
“My name is Josh Lucas, sir. Pleasure to meet you. I have followed your career. It is quite illustrious.”
“You mean infamous and the pleasure is all mine.” He stops the waiter walking past us, picks up two flutes of champagne and hands the flutes to us. “Please enjoy the party. Hopefully in a little while I can introduce you to the artist and his work. Your mother is in the next room. I am experiencing some déjà vu now. It seems like only yesterday when I first introduced your mother to the art world. Sorry, I can’t chat longer, but duty calls.” He points Josh and me towards the back of the gallery.
Josh and I peruse the paintings as we head towards the rear. There is a fantastical quality to them, like they are out of another dimension. The price tags on the paintings are also out of another dimension. As we round the corner, I spot a well-known actress speaking with several other party attendees. We spot mom with her date analyzing a painting on the other side. I’m a little thrown when I see an unknown man with his hand on my mother’s lower back. I look tentatively at Josh, with half a smile on my face. My mother had warned me that she would be with a date as part of her cover. Still, it is difficult for me to see my mother with another man. I wonder what that says about me.
“Hi mom! This is some party.” I give her a kiss on the cheek.
“Hello darling. How are you Josh?” Mom abruptly breaks off her conversation with the mystery man. “May I introduce Jax Bullock? Jax, this is my daughter Analia and her friend Josh Lucas.”
“Hello. It is a pleasure to meet you. What do you think of the art?”
“The show is amazing, both the art and the people attending. However, I think I may have sticker shock from the price tags.” Josh is turning on the charm. Meanwhile I’m still trying to find my voice.
“Yes, the prices are a little rich for my blood. But I appreciate the free champagne and of course the gorgeous company.” Jax answers with a wink. I feel myself stiffen and Josh, noticing, puts his hand in mine.
Josh addresses Jax. “I have seen you on the news. You are a district attorney. You prosecuted those two serial rapists who were attacking women on the Upper East Side last year.”
“That’s right. It almost was a loss. One of them worked in the forensics lab and had switched the DNA samples. Fortunately, we had footage of them together on the CCTV cameras and we rechecked the original samples. I understand both of you are quite gifted in DNA analysis.”
“We are both genetic scientists. We’re currently researching the genes responsible for pedophilia.” I make an effort to join the conversation, but I realize that I sound stiff. My mother gives me a quizzical look.
Mom intercedes at the mention of research. “No shop talk. We are here to have fun. Don’t you love Jeff? He always draws such a great crowd. He also has a great eye for new talent.”
Josh answers as I have become temporarily mute and am mentally kicking myself. “I used to see him in the society pages all the time. He is the Elton John of his generation. He does a lot of philanthropy work.”
“Yes he does, but he plays it down. He used to be quite the wild man, but he has a heart of gold. Here he comes now.”
“Hello beautiful.” Jeff gives mom a squeeze. “See anything you like? From the way he looks at mom, it is obvious they have history. It is another story from my mother’s past that I would love to learn about.
“We were just looking at this painting. The colors are exquisite. I love it.” Mom points to the painting right behind her.
“Excellent eye. That happens to be my favorite. If you want to purchase it, you get the standard Trembly discount.”
“You don’t have to do that.” Mom protests. I watch my mom with fascination.
“Anything for you, after what you did for me all those years ago. Come over here and meet the artist.” Jeff starts walking towards a small, animated group in the next room.
“I would love that.” Mom takes Jax by the hand and motions for Josh and me to follow. Josh whispers in my ear that my mom seems to be quite popular. We meet the artist and are introduced to several celebrities. I hope that I don’t look as clueless as I feel. Mom, Jax and Josh appear quite at ease in this environment but I feel like a rubber band whose social skills are being stretched. After a half hour, I begin to relax and enjoy myself. Right up until I come face to face with a stunning brunette staring at Josh. Josh is engrossed in a conversation with Jax and I have to alert him that he has an admirer. I nudge Josh and indicate the woman next to them wants to speak to him.
“Hello Emily. It has been some time. How are you?” It occurs to me suddenly that the two of them were involved
“Very good. Just came back from a modeling shoot in Belize. Who is your little friend here?” She says indicating me. This woman obviously has claws.
Josh puts an arm around me. “This is Dr. Christiansen. My girlfriend.” Out of the corner of my eye, I see mom and Jax watching this exchange.
“Interesting. I rarely meet pretty, female doctors.” Emily redirects her gaze back towards Josh. “How is your brother? Are you still taking care of him?”
“Bent is doing really well, at home where he belongs.” Josh talks with a smile on his face, but there is ice in his stare. The tentacles of jealousy start to unravel in my gut.
“Well, it is good to see you. Give me a call sometime.” Emily flounces off and I just shake my head.
“Well isn’t she delightful.” I murmur.
“I take it you guessed who she is?”
“I’m guessing that is your ex-girlfriend who wanted to institutionalize Bent. She is stunning to look at, but I wouldn’t want to spend time with her. It is like talking to a freezer.”
“She is a heartless bitch. She still wants me back because she thinks I have unlimited cash and will inherit everything from my parents. The truth is I haven’t taken a dime from my mother since I turned eighteen.”
“Well, I can tell you that I personally have no interest in your mother’s millions.”
“So you are just interested in my hot body and devastating wit?’
“That pretty much sums it up.” I respond with a twinkle in my eye as Josh pulls me into his arms for a hug. Mom approaches us.
“Are you two ready to leave? I hope you don’t mind, but I am going to travel back with you. Jax lives downtown. I told him he doesn’t have to escort me home.”
“Sure mom. Did you buy the painting?”
“I signed the contract and will arrange payment after the weekend. Shall we go?” Mom leans in and whispers. “ Don’t freak out. I am going to kiss Jax goodbye in front of the photographers. I will explain everything later”
The four of us exit together. We make plans to meet up at the boat after mom runs a series of evasive maneuvers around Manhattan the following afternoon. Jax agrees to drive to our apartment and pick Branna up and drive with her before depositing her at the boat basin. We say goodbye to Jax and true to her word, mom kisses him goodbye. I pretend not to notice. We take the train back to our apartment and Josh gets off at our stop and walks the two of us to our building. Sans goodnight kiss. I realize how much I love walking home with him every night, and that kiss. But the weekend is only hours away and we will have unadulterated time to enjoy each other’s company. As we enter the building, I remind mom to not mention my birthday while we are at the beach. I am happy enough to be with Josh, Bent Francesca, mom, and of course the new puppy. When we get into the apartment, I ask mom to talk about her friendship with Jeff Trembly. I find the stories of my mother’s youth fascinating. We fall asleep on the couch after travelling down memory lane.