Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Matter of Dreams: Chapter 1.2

            The owner of the voice let the door swing free and cleared some papers from a table squeezed between two chairs in the tiny space.  Lush, dark hair, and a face that echoed Mancini’s Resting; subtle piercing eyes reminiscent of Bouguereau’s bathers.
            I blinked.  Get a grip on yourself, Matt.  You’re drifting again.  “That’s me.”
            She sat down, gesturing toward the other chair.  “Have a seat.”  She started riffling through a box of papers next to her chair.  “Just a moment,” she said, and pulled out a folder.
            I slid into the chair, looking at my reflection in the long mirror that occupied one wall.  One-way, I assumed, for observation of subjects.  I made a mental note not to scratch anything untoward while I was in there.  The reversed image of my face seemed all right.  Dark under the eyes, but that was to be expected.
            She put down the folder, then looked up at me.  “I’m Lily Breckenridge.  We spoke on the phone.  It’s nice to meet you.”  She offered her hand. 
            I shook it, and summoned the energy for a smile.  “I remember your voice.  The pleasure’s mine.”
            She smiled slightly as well, then took a set of stapled pages from the file and handed it to me with a pen.  “I’ll need you to fill that out for me,” she said.
            I looked over the form.  Most of it was pretty standard, vitals, medical history, family history, symptoms.  The final part of the form was odd, though.  There were a series of multiple choice questions, the kind designed to test vocabulary and language comprehension.
            I looked up at Lily.  “For a sleep study?”
            “I can’t really tell you more than you saw on the flyer.”  She looked slightly embarrassed.
            This whole situation was weird, but if they could help me, I had to try and see it through.  I turned back to the first page.  “This might take a while.”
            “Take your time.”  She picked up the box of documents from next to her chair.  “I have to file these away anyway.  I’ll be back in a few minutes to see if you have any questions.”
            I started writing. 
* * *

            Lily watched the latest subject as he worked his way through the questionnaire.  She was a little impressed; not that he’d noticed the one-way mirror immediately, most everyone figured that out, but that he hadn’t forgotten about it.  Usually, once people on the other side of the glass got started on whatever task they had been assigned, it was only a matter of time before they started picking their noses – even if they’d actually asked about the mirror beforehand.
            Matthew Larkin, though, glanced up at the mirror every minute or two.  She didn’t think it was vanity; he wasn’t that stunning to look at.  Sort of cute, she supposed, in a bohemian kind of way, but definitely not someone who preened.  No, it was as if he was trying to look through the glass. 
            Lily jotted a note in Larkin’s file.  Attentive to detail, suggesting defensive attitude.
            She let him get on with it, and checked her messages on her phone.  Gloria, one of Dr. Harte’s other graduate students, had invited her out for Thai with the rest of the project team.  Lily sighed inwardly.  Gloria had been after her for a while to get out of the lab, but there was simply too much to do to get ready.  Phase One of the project was supposed to have begun a week ago, but they’d had problems recruiting the number of subjects they needed for a valid sampling.  Orientation had been rescheduled for tomorrow, and they were still down one.  With luck, Matthew Larkin would fill in the last slot.
            Lily hit reply, but wasn’t sure what to say.  She was too busy, really, but she hadn’t gone out much since the whole Ian thing.  And the last line of Gloria’s message said, “Don’t make me come get you.”  She knew her friend would actually come down with the rest of the team and drag her bodily out of the building if she tried to beg off yet again.  Lily rubbed the bridge of her nose.  Maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to take a break after all.
            She tapped out a terse yes, scanned the rest of her messages to make sure there was nothing urgent, then looked up at the mirror.  Larkin was flipping back and forth through the questionnaire, looking puzzled.
            Lily smiled.  He’d reached the multiple choice section.
            Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 4, 1st movement (Allegro) suddenly played brightly from her pocket.  Cursing, she fumbled to shut it off; she’d forgotten to mute her ring tone.  Larkin didn’t seem to be disturbed by it, and knew she was there anyway, but it was still bad form.  She looked at the screen. 
            Her mother.  Quickly, she switched the phone to vibrate.  Not five seconds later, it buzzed in her hand as her mother tried to call again.  It was either talk to her quickly now, or have half an hour of voice mail to wade through later.  She answered it.
            “Hi Mom, I can’t talk now,” she whispered.  “I’m in the middle of something.  Can I call you tonight?”  No, stupid, Lily chastised herself.  Don’t make it a question, she’ll just say...
            “I just wanted to talk to you quickly.”
            “Mom, I am right now sitting in an observation room at work.  I can’t talk.”      
            “He’s been asking about you again,” her mother said. 
            “I can’t talk to Dad right now, I’ve got to get back to work.  I’ll call soon.”
            “He’s asleep right now.  I just wanted you to know that he’s thinking about you.  I don’t understand why you couldn’t come home this summer, you know I need your help with him.”
            “Mom, we talked about this.  The project is full-time, I can’t get away.”
            “I’m sure your professor would let you come home for a little while if you explained.  Have you tried explaining to him?”
            “Yes,” Lily lied, “but we’re at a really sensitive stage, I can’t leave now.”
            “Give me his number, I’ll call him.”
            The thought of letting her mother talk to Dr. Harte gave her an icy shiver.  “Mom, I’ve got to go, I’ll call later, I promise.  Love you, give my love to Dad,” she said, ending the call over her mother’s last attempt to squeeze some guilt in edgewise.
            Lily checked her urge to throw the cell phone across the room.  Instead, she shoved the phone back into her pocket, and tried to calm down.  It wasn’t easy.  Lily took a deep breath.  She’d just make herself angrier running another circuit around those old arguments.
            “Focus, Lily,” she whispered to herself.  “We’re working here.”  Larkin had put down his pen.  Time to go back in.  She took another deep breath, put on what she thought of as her professional face, and headed back into the examination room.
* * *
[Go to Chapter 1.3]

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