I meet Kevin outside the atrium Monday morning. The sky is overcast which matches my mood. The weekend had been almost perfect except for that dinner conversation Saturday night and now we have to eat dinner with the dragon lady tonight. Josh had told me that his parents’ chef was incredible, although he admitted he liked my mother’s food better. I hope I can manage a few bites.
“Hey Kevin. How was your weekend?” I sit down next to him and he offers me a coffee. “Thanks for this.”
“I know you like a double espresso. The weekend was great. Luis is incredibly interesting and I think I cracked it.”
I whisper excitedly. “Really! That’s fantastic. Everything seems to be coming together.”
“That may be. Unfortunately, it can fall apart really fast on the night of the attempt. I could tell Luis is worried. I was afraid to ask, but he must be in an intelligence service. Do you know what agency he works for?”
“No. I got the same impression as well that he worked for a government agency. Josh doesn’t want to talk about it out of respect for Luis.” I take another sip of coffee and notice Jenny Whitcombe entering the building. I give Jenny a wave with the biggest, fake smile I can muster. Jenny waves back and keeps walking. At least Jenny is still making an attempt to be cordial, unlike Marcus.
Kevin also watches Jenny move on. “Glad she didn’t stop for a chat. It is tough to pretend to like someone when they are trying to hurt me. Luis and I went to a martial arts studio to spar. He is lethal. I could tell he was holding back with me, and I am really good. I have to say, this is some operation we are running.”
“Are you having second thoughts? You know you can back out of this. You have helped enough. I am here to get my father back. I am willing to risk my career and everything else. But you don’t have to do this Kevin.”
“I know. I’ve been thinking about this. My brother is dead and I can’t bring him back, but I do miss him. I had no friends growing up and my brother was the only person who took an interest in me. This isn’t about revenge anymore. Families shouldn’t have to go through what all three of us had to deal with. Besides, you guys are my family now, at least on the East coast.” Kevin smiles at me.
“Yes we are. How do you feel about dinner tonight with the chairwoman?”
“A root canal would be more appetizing. I am trying not to feel anything. It is quite unappetizing. Do you know if I have to wear a suit?”
“I don’t know. I was going to check with Josh and run home to put something on.”
“Talking about me?” I turn around and break out in a smile. Josh leans in and kisses me. “Hey Kevin, I heard you had a successful weekend.”
“Yeah it was. I was just asking Analia what to wear tonight.”
“I’m just wearing a collared shirt and a tie. We’ll all go together. We’ll stop by Analia’s apartment to change. I have a town car picking us up here. Might as well have a little fun tonight. The good thing is my mother eats fast. As you know, she is quite efficient, so we’ll be done early and then we can go get a drink. I need to grab another coffee before starting work. Anyone need another coffee?” We nod our heads yes and walk over to the coffee bar for seconds.
“Hey Josh. Luis and I are going to meet up for another weekend again. He is going to take me out and teach me how to pick up girls.”
Josh’s eyebrows almost reach the top of his hairline. “Wow, that’s great Kevin. I think I want to see this. Just don’t pick up Luis’ accent.”
“Well I figured since you and Analia are an item, I was going to have to look elsewhere.” Josh and I look at each other openmouthed as Kevin strats walking ahead of us. Josh starts laughing as I whisper for him to stop.
The day passes quickly. Josh and I work closely with Kevin running the endless statistics. By the afternoon, Josh starts to put together the slide presentation. So far we just have the background and study design, but it gives us the opportunity to move ahead as we correlate the stats. Staying on schedule pacifies us. I’m tired after the weekend and enjoy having a quiet day in the lab. Jenny Whitcombe makes an appearance to confirm the dinnertime. The sight of Jenny results in Marcus throwing us death stares. It is obvious that Marcus already knows about their dinner plans, but I’m becoming immune to his malevolence. I shake my head as I look away from him. I catch Dr. Morehouse observing this interaction from the doorway, again. It is not the first time I’ve seen him observing us.
We leave early that night after we send Kevin back to his dorm to change. It is fun driving in the town car to my apartment. I’ve never been in a limousine before, as I’ve never been to a prom or other major event. When we arrive at my apartment, I quickly change into a simple, black, silk sheath and heels. As I come out into the living room, Josh gives a wolf whistle and Kevin breaks out in a huge grin.
“You just made the night a whole lot more enjoyable. What do you think Kev?”
“You’re stunning.” Kevin says enthusiastically. I blush a deep tomato red in response. Up until this summer, only my mother ever commented on my appearance. It is an uncomfortable phenomenon.
“Okay you guys. It’s just a dress. Let’s get this over with.” I link my arms through both their arms and head down to the town car. We take 96th street to cross over to the East side. Josh’s parents live in a penthouse on 5th Avenue between 85th and 86th Street.
“Did you grow up here Josh?” Kevin asks as we enter the atrium.
“Not really. My mother bought this apartment when I was in my last year of grammar school. I was sent to boarding school the following year and spent the majority of my summers with my grandfather. It’s a beautiful apartment, a museum piece, but it is cold and uncomfortable to live in.”
The atrium of the building is ornate and pure marble. I wonder if Katharine Lucas does get sent to jail, would the experience alone kill her. Windowless rooms with bars would be devastating for someone like Katharine. The maid is at the door when we arrive at the penthouse. She greets Josh and invites us to join his parents and Dr. Morehouse on the terrace.
“Hello team. How good of you to come. Analia and Kevin, may I introduce Dr. Benjamin Lucas, my husband?” Just then the maid comes over with the phone and hands it to Katharine.
The five of us watch for a few seconds as Katharine walk off the terrace. “Please call me Benjamin.” Josh’s father recovers from his wife’s abrupt departure and resumes the conversation as I hear Josh whisper, “she never changes.” Benjamin is quite distinguished and attractive. I had assumed he would be a slight, unassuming man from the stories I had heard about him.
“It is lovely to meet you. Good to see you Dr. Morehouse.” I shake both their hands and Kevin does the same. “This is a beautiful terrace. What a perfect view of Central Park.”
“That was the draw of this place. The view. My wife prefers to go to our home in the Hamptons on weekends, but I am content just to stick around here.”
“Where do you work at the Institute? I have never seen you in the cafeteria.” Kevin asks.
“I have a private lab on the top floor with my own kitchen. I’ve actually been the one going over your research with Dr. Morehouse. The two of you are extremely talented. Analia you are especially strong in analysis and pattern recognition and Kevin your computer skills are exceptional. I wanted to hire you since I spoke to your mentor when you were a sophomore.”
I quickly add. “Josh has been incredible too.” Benjamin chuckles.
“Relax, Analia. I have always been Josh’s biggest supporter. He is a natural born leader, just like my father.” His attention is diverted by the return of Katharine. “Ah darling, is dinner ready?”
“Yes, forgive me for the interruption. It was Vice President Halliday and I had to take it. Shall we go into the dining room?” Josh grimaces at me as we walk into the dining room.
The dining room is a showpiece, complete with a Louis the sixteenth mahogany dining room set and the most ornate cabinet I have ever seen. I also spy what appears to be an original Cezanne. I turn my attention to Katharine.
“That is an amazing cabinet. I have never seen anything like it.”
“No, you wouldn’t. It was custom made for the Duke of Somerset in the eighteenth century and took years to create. It has only been auctioned three times, I purchased it the last time it was auctioned at Christies. Do you like art Analia?”
“I do. Although, most of what I know I have learned is from the Internet. Didn’t have much time at Stanford to go anywhere. I have only been able to get to the Met once this summer since we have been so busy.”
“We also went to that art opening down in Chelsea over a month ago.” Josh adds. “That gallery owner was a trip.”
“Are you referring to Jeff Trembly? He does have a good eye for spotting raw talent. We should sit down. Luciana has the first course for us.” Katharine signals the maid that she can serve.
The meal like the apartment is exquisitely prepared. Katharine’s influence is everywhere, except for her husband who is extremely refined. He gives off the impression he prefers simple elegance to the opulence that Katharine prefers to surround herself in. Knowing Josh, I can’t imagine him living here either. It would have been a gilded cage in his eyes.
After the main course of foie gras and Chilean sea bass is consumed, we settle down to coffee and dessert. I have to give Katharine props for the coffee. It tastes like the beans were just harvested today.
“So do you three feel prepared for the conference in four weeks?” Katharine asks politely.
Josh speaks on our behalf. “I believe we are almost there. We have just finished running all the statistical analyses and everything correlates well. If we had a few more weeks, we could have presented a second paper, but at least we will have that information for any questions about future work.”
“Just be careful with what you disclose Josh. The group over in Oxford has been looking at the same issue. They are very competitive. I would like you to run through the presentation with Dr. Morehouse, your father and me the week before the conference.“ I notice Kevin’s eyes start to widen at the prospect.
Benjamin Lucas, who has been rather reserved throughout the evening, jumps in to reassure us. “It is just something we do when we send our conferees out. The audience at these conferences can be aggressive at times. You have to be appropriately prepared. It helps to be questioned before hand so you can identify any knowledge gaps you may have.”
“Benjamin, don’t frighten them.”
“Forgive me, that is not my intention. I am just trying to help. My first conference was an unmitigated disaster. The research was actually first rate. I just wasn’t prepared for the questions and I was raked over the coals.” Kevin gives me a look and I just pat his arm.
“Who will actually be giving the presentation?” Katharine asks studying the three of us closely.
“I think Josh and I will field the questions. Kevin is not very comfortable in large, public forums.”
“I function best in the background.” Kevin adds.
“I see. Well we will figure it all out in three weeks. I think Kevin should speak at least once. Perhaps, he can just discuss the statistical analysis. It would be good for Kevin to get the practice.”
“Yes Dr. Lucas.” Kevin looks as if he has swallowed boric acid. He starts turning green. Fortunately, Katharine veers off into another stream of thought.
“So, tell me Josh. Have you seen your college roommate, Luis? Is he still doing nonlinear dynamic analysis and boundary work with that aerospace think tank?”
“Yes he is still working with them but NASA has been heavily recruiting him the last few months. They have a new project they want him for.”
“That would be a tremendous opportunity for him. Why doesn’t he do it?”
“He doesn’t want to leave New York after his mother died last year.” Josh pours himself another glass of wine as Benjamin studies the both of us carefully.
“Well he is a good son, but he should really reconsider. So have you introduced Luis to Analia and Kevin?”
“Yes. We went to his father’s restaurant last week. His father loves company.”
“Yes, well his family certainly never had such good opportunities for advancement in Cuba. It is so gratifying to see what this country can do for the less fortunate. Luis certainly benefitted from being educated here.”
“Mother, you will get a nose bleed if you keep up that attitude. Luis worked really hard and took out huge loans to pay for his education.” Katharine’s nostrils flare at the rebuke. I look at Josh and see his jaw muscles twitching. A very uncomfortable silence follows Josh’s reply.
Benjamin breaks the silence. I sense that Josh’s father has played the diplomat for many years in the family. “Well, I think the three of you will become an overnight sensation in the genetics world after your presentation. Are you planning to stay for a few days in Milan or perhaps visit Florence or Rome?”
Kevin and I look at Josh for answer. We had never discussed he possibility of staying. “We hadn’t realized that was an option and have not discussed it.” I answer for the three of us.
“Well, if you want to take a few extra days to sightsee once the presentation is over, I see no problem. Just make Jenny aware of any change in itinerary and she can change the tickets.”
“Thank you. We’ll discuss it later. I think we will get going now. We plan on getting in early tomorrow.” Josh makes a move to stand up and the remaining guests follow him. Josh hugs his father goodbye and perfunctorily kisses his mother’s cheek. Kevin and I thank our hosts. Dr. Morehouse rides down in the elevator with us. Josh offers him a ride home but he declines in favor of walking home.
When we reach the sidewalk, Kevin immediately takes off his tie and leans against the building. “I am so happy that is over.”
Dr. Morehouse chuckles loudly. “Kevin, you did really well tonight. I don’t think you have anything to worry about when it comes to speaking at the conference next month. You just passed the test.”
“Will you still be attending the conference as well, Dr. Morehouse?” I ask. I still wasn’t sure if he would come. He almost never travelled to conferences unless he was presenting.
“I will come for a few days since this is your maiden voyage. It helps to network with the other scientists in the field. I will see you in the morning.” Dr. Morehouse turns and walks south on Fifth Avenue.
Kevin stares after him. “He is a man of so few words. Less than me, actually. Do you really think I passed the test tonight?”
“With flying colors. My mother was testing us for our response to her mention of Luis. Also Jeff Trembly. You didn’t give anything away. It was her way of telling us that she is keeping tabs on us.”
“Do you think they followed us to the Institute that night?” I wonder.
“No. Luis had a camera installed above the restaurant door and two men stationed outside observing the tail. One of his men double parked with a delivery truck and blocked the tail when we left the restaurant. No one followed us. That is why we left through the back door.”
“Did you know this when we were there?” Anxiety is infecting Kevin again. His facial features are contorting.
“I learned about it the next day. I didn’t say anything because you two have enough to worry about. You also gave pretty natural responses to when my mother mentioned Luis’ name. Luis and I discussed it. We thought my mother might try to provoke a response and it helps that you weren’t trying to force an answer. I didn’t want to deceive you, but Luis has pretty good instincts and he advised me to play it this way.”
The car arrives and the three of us wordlessly get in. After a few minutes, Kevin speaks first. “It’s fine with me Josh. We survived the test and that’s what is important.”
I remain silent. Even though I trust Josh implicitly, I don’t like being left in the dark. We drive to Kevin’s place first and drop him off. After we drop Kevin off, we drive back to my apartment and stop two blocks away. Still silent, I follow him into a coffee shop after he pays the driver for his service that night.
We sit down in a booth and order tea. Josh studies me after we order. “Are you angry with me?”
“No. Honestly, I am not sure what I am feeling. There are just so many secrets and lies and it makes me uncomfortable. I feel like I have been living in a fishbowl since I arrived in New York. Please don’t lie to me again or elect not to tell me things, no matter how much you want to protect me. Please.”
Josh holds both of my hands. “You got it. I am sorry. I would never hurt you. I don’t want anything to happen to you, ever.”
“I know that. You know, we don’t have a choice in this life about whether we get hurt. But we do get to choose who we let into our weird little worlds and who we give the power to hurt us. And I trust you. I just don’t want to be left out. Maybe it’s a control thing, but I need to know what is happening because the rest of my life is chaotic.”
“You’re right. I am sorry. Let’s go get some sleep.” We leave a tip for the waitress and our barely touched coffees on the table and head out the door. Josh walks me home and kisses me goodnight. “I love you Nali. I will always protect you. I wish I could take you back to my place this evening.”
“I love you too. I wish I could have you stay here tonight but that would be awkward. I told my mom I would be home tonight and I don’t want her to worry.”
“You’re right, it would be.” He kisses me again. “Sweet dreams.” I watch Josh walk towards the train.
I float up the stairs and finds mom asleep on the couch. I place a blanket over my mom and fall into a dream filled sleep.