I was really edgy and slightly annoyed. I knew I had been a bit difficult with Milla when she tried helping me, but I explained to her that I was just nervous since being like this was not something I was used to. Girly dress. Fancy hair. I even let her talk me into colored lipgloss (“Just to pop!”, as she insisted).
What if a real date for him meant… bowling or something? Was the skirt too much? Heels? Really? Why had I let myself give in to all this. If Kellen loved me, he didn’t love me for my clothes, or how I styled my hair. What if he thought this was silly? He had never seen me like this. He would laugh, I knew he would.
I couldn’t stop pacing Tuesday evening. I looked at my watch and kept self-consciously touching my hair, wanting desperately to pull it back. My lips felt kinda weird, too. The last time I had worn makeup was when I was younger–around fifteen–and had let Tempest give me a makeover. Didn’t last long. I never understood the point of makeup so wearing it now just felt so odd.
But would Kellen like it? What if he did like it and preferred me looking like this than looking how I normally did? Ugh, I wanted to throw on some old pants and… I dunno. Burn something.
I looked up when the doorbell rang. I bit my bottom lip and took a few, quick steps to the door and pulling it open. “Hey Kellen,” I whispered. “Um–come in.”
I began blushing as he shut the door behind him, since he didn’t even turn around to do so. He kept his eyes on me and at first I couldn’t tell if he disliked it, liked it, or loved it. “Hey,” he said, reaching up and fiddling with his collar. “You look… wow…”
Now I blushed even more and I wasn’t sure what to reply to that. My mouth felt full of cotton. But finally I managed to squeak out a ‘thank you’. I gulped and then smiled. “You look great,” I said, glad that he was dressed up as well. That did relieve some of the awkwardness I felt earlier.
“Thanks,” he said, fiddling with his collar again. “I was worried that it was too somber.”
“You look good in dark colors,” I said, glancing down at the way the open V of his shirt neck fell against his chest. I knew I was acting like a hormonal teenage girl and not how I usually acted and felt, but then shudders went over my body when he reached over and took my arm gently and I no longer cared that I wanted to just jump in his arms and kiss him.
“You look beautiful in this but then again, you look beautiful in anything,” he replied with a smile. I grinned back, another part of the awkwardness lifting. He didn’t care about my clothes.
When he did kiss me–quick, but on the lips–I felt so thrilled and excited for this date. A real date. Even though I would be explaining to him that I was gonna be his co-worker, I had the feeling that this was going to be a very wonderful night.
Since it was late evening, the first place we went to was one of the bridges overlooking one of the rivers. The setting sun made the water glow orange and Kellen and I just leaned against the stone, watching the sun slowly sink lower and lower. We talked a little bit, though not much. We mostly just admired the view and held hands.
We broached the subject of the fact I needed to tell him something but when I said it was something involving my job, we agreed to wait until dinner. Then he kissed the back of my hand and told me to wait just a couple minutes. I watched him go down the street towards his car. He got into the back seat and soon returned with something hidden behind his back.
I smiled when he offered me deep red roses that matched the ribbon on my dress. I inhaled deeply and smiled at Kellen over the red blooms. “They’re gorgeous,” I said.
“Hmm. They pale in comparison to you, of course,” he said with a slight laugh. Then he reached over and touched my cheek very gently. “How about some food?”
“Dinner sounds great,” I said and soon we were at one of the fanciest restaurants in town. We sipped at expensive wine as we waited for our food (also expensive) to arrive. It was then we talked about my news. Kellen’s eyes widened when I told him I was going to be working at Acinert, but he seemed okay with it. It was then I realized just how terrified I had been before this and it was a huge relief that he wasn’t angry that I’d be a co-worker.
After dinner and dessert (which was fabulous), our final stop was the library. It was closed but Kellen unlocked the doors and took me into the darkened building. I couldn’t help but giggle, feeling like we were breaking in despite the fact his family owned this place.
We went to the little room where we had met for the second time. There was a CD player on one of the tables and he turned it on. Soft, low, romantic music filled the room and he pulled me against him.
“I hope this is okay,” he said as we swayed back and forth.
I rested my cheek against his shoulder. “This is amazing. This has been–amazing.” I closed my eyes, enjoying the feel of his arms around me. It wasn’t until he twirled and dipped me that I realized I didn’t know how to dance. All I had ever done was wiggle my hips around to classical music. But Kellen obviously knew how to dance, and dance well.
He pulled me back up against him and nuzzled my ear. “So does this mean we’re an item?” he asked rather hopefully.
“Yes,” I said without thinking, without hesitation. He pulled back and kissed me. It wasn’t quick, it lasted quite a while. When we parted I just stared up into his eyes.
I couldn’t imagine ever being happier. This was the best night of my life. I wasn’t stupid, I knew things were going to get difficult once I started working at Acinert. My relationship with Kellen would probably have a few problems if we were dating and also working together. Plus the fact I had to tell my family (right?) and then the fact I would be working for… no… with the Reddings. Or Deargs. Whatever.
But I held on tight to the happy bubble inside of me as I put my head back on his shoulder. Whatever the problems that might arise from my new job, thinking about this incredible night would help me get through.
The next few days whizzed by. I finished up working at the Soil and Water facility, got my new ID card for Acinert, and told Milla all about my date. I talked several times to my family but never once mentioned my change of work.
On my first day of work, Kay met me. Or Thomas, whichever I was supposed to call him. He talked clearly so I figured he had another one of those electronic devices in his mouth.
“Thomas, or Professor Dearg,” he replied when I asked him what was on my mind. “You know where my office is. This is yours.”
He stopped in front of a door that was fairly close to his. “My–my office?” I asked.
Kay unlocked the door with his key card and swung the door open. “Yes,” he said. “Right now I think you should just get situated. The computer is pretty straightforward. Later, you’ll be asking some questions to one of the people here for testing. Simple questions, I’ll give you a checklist,” he said with a small smile. “If you need anything, just come over and ask. But pretty much right now just get used to the computer system and stuff.”
He didn’t come inside with me so I shut the door behind me and looked around, heart leaping out of my throat. I glanced at the books on the shelves, peeked in the file cabinet (empty) then the overhead cupboard (also empty) and finally settled at the computer. There were sticky notes all over the screen, including how to turn it on. I couldn’t help but smile as I switched it on and watched as it fired up.
I used the sticky notes to sign in to both the computer and the internet. There was a file marked ‘Welcome File’ that I was told via sticky note to read. So I spent the next forty-some minutes reading through the document carefully. It was a lot of talk, not much show. It sounded like one of those ‘happy joy buzzword’ things that didn’t really explain much. I didn’t really glean any new information from it except for a map of Riverview and its outskirts which had Acinert buildings circled.
After being unable to do anything but surf the net, I sat there a bit bored. I wanted to do something. Work, actually work. I felt silly just sitting there and didn’t want to waste my time looking up viral videos or whatever. So finally I took one of the thick textbooks out of the bookcase and began reading it.
I read for almost an hour before anything happened. There was a knock at the door and when I called out, Kay came in. He handed me a clipboard with a series of questions written down then guided me down the halls towards the same room where I had met Flavian and Ross.
“Her name is Naida,” he explained before opening the door. “Just ask her those, write down the answers, then lock the door behind you. Then we’ll need you to type up everything, print it out, and hand it in. Okay?”
I nodded, too nervous to say anything. He let me in and shut the door behind me. I found myself staring at an adult rainbow woman. She looked as displeased as I felt nervous.
“Who are you?” she asked rather darkly.
I pressed my lips together, my stomach churning. But I was not going to be talked down by her. I lifted my chin and smiled. “Hi,” I said as cheerfully as I could muster. “I’m Miss Danevbie. I’m here to ask you some questions. Your name is Naida?”
“Is that the first question?” she asked, narrowing her eyes. I stared blankly back until she finally gave in. “Yes. That’s my name.”
“Let’s have a seat,” I said, going over to the small table and perching into one of the chairs. She sat across from me, folding her hands in her lap and staring at me. “Okay, let’s see…” I pulled a pen out of my pocket and looked at the list. The first few questions were ones such as, was she still feeling sick, did she still get headaches, dizziness, etc. But then they started getting strange and I felt uneasy.
“Are you happy in Ancora?” I asked, pen poised over the paper. “If you are not, please state the number… um, the number of which rule you do not find helpful to the, um, well-being and security to Ancora?” What kind of question is that? I wondered, finding myself missing the work I had been doing at Soil and Water.
“I am not happy,” she replied and I scribbled that down. “I think rules 2, 5, 9, and especially one are sunbright ridiculous!”
“Sunbright?” I asked, not sure if I heard her right.
“Yeah, you heard me,” she replied in such a tone that I wondered if ‘sunbright’ had developed as a curse word in the town.
Shrugging, I continued asking her the strange questions until I finally got to the last one which I was shocked to see. It took me a moment to regain my composure before finally saying, “Do you feel as though your time here to process the information you have received has altered in any way your judgment and attitude towards your existence in Ancora?”
I stared at her and she stared right back. She was silent. I gulped and repeated the question, hoping she just hadn’t understood what I said because honestly I wasn’t sure what I was saying. “No,” she mumbled when I was done with the spiel. “I feel the same.”
I wrote that down then stood up, offering my hand. She turned away and went over to the bed. Silently she lay down with her back to me, not even moving as I went over to the door and opening it. I decided not to say goodbye and I left the room, locking the door and heading towards my office.
What is this? I wondered as I began typing up everything. What does all this mean? It almost feels like they’re punishing her for her opinions or something. Why would…? I mean, this is a research facility. But… it is researching human behavior so maybe… I rubbed my temples and bowed my head. I don’t know, I thought miserably.
After I gave Kay the report, he invited me to have lunch in his office. He asked me all sorts of questions about my family… our family. I told him a little bit about his other grandchildren (that was so strange!) and his new great-grandson. He lit up with excitement at that thought and asked more questions. Seeing his young face–younger than me–and knowing he was my father’s father was just so odd, when I thought of how old my father looked.
But we had a pretty good time. I asked him about the report and he said most of those were just typical questions. “We want to make sure everyone in Ancora is happy,” he said. “If they’re unhappy then they might be considering leaving, and they might not have the courage to say it. Since very few people leave Ancora, it’s something considered ‘bad’ with the villagers. So as management, we have to be able to tell when someone is holding their true feelings back.”
I nodded and listened, thinking that while it made sense it also didn’t. Which in itself didn’t make sense.
Now sporting a headache, I returned to work. He had given me more reports to type up and a list of books I should read. I was allowed to leave early and I stopped to get some fast food to eat. When I got home it was still early in the day, but I felt as though it were midnight so I fell onto my couch and fell asleep, still in my work clothes.