With barely any sleep that night, Rowan still arrived at the ECBS bright and early the following morning with two, large cups of coffee in hand: one for herself to keep the eye bags subdued and another, she hoped, to loosen Dr. Phelps’ lips.
She had spent the rest of her night constructing the case she would make once he arrived for work. Rowan was top of her class, excelling in his program, the best assistant he’s had, and not to toot her own horn, but definitely his personal favorite. She deserved, at the very least, to know what was going on after last night’s confusion.
He owed her that much.
Even with her speech all planned out, Rowan sat outside his office with her back tense, legs bouncing with anticipation and gnawing rough on her lip with her nerves. Because something about what happened felt important. Important in a way she didn’t understand yet, but felt in her gut like a sixth sense. Like there was a reason she stayed late that night, seen what she saw. A reason beyond simple coincidence or probability.
Whatever it was, whatever the cause for his secretiveness, for the guns and the armored vehicles, she could handle it. Rowan was ready for something bigger. Bigger than a research analyst job at a small facility in the middle of nowhere. Phelps wouldn’t be able to argue. He knew her drive, her passion, her ambition, and she could tell this was her chance.
Of course, “chance” suggested a certain amount of luck Rowan did not believe in. Rather, this was an opportunity waiting to be taken, and Rowan wasn’t going to just sit around and let it pass her by or hope it would be handed to her. She’d gotten this far in her career only by hunting down every single opportunity that came, so this would be no exception. She wasn’t even sure what she was going into his office to ask for, but she knew she wasn’t leaving without a yes.
There was no way to argue against “chance” when it came to what she happened to hear while waiting for Phelps, though. Unintentionally eavesdropping on a conversation between doctors as they passed by, Rowan picked up a name she knew, a name she shouldn’t have heard, a name that turned the nervous fluttering of her heart into hard, heavy pounds against her eardrums.
“Did you hear? Adam said he saw Dr. Miller in the building this morning.”
“Yeah right. Adam likes to exaggerate.”
“Miller and Phelps went to school together, and they worked together on the influenza anti-viral. Maybe it was a friendly visit.”
“Even so, doesn’t Miller work for HHS now? Why would anyone on a government wage set foot in Eureka? The only way I’d show my face in this town after leaving would be if I lost a bet.”
Rowan didn’t have enough time to process the information. The rest of their conversation moved further down the hall, and approaching from the other end was Phelps, at a pace noticeably quicker than his usual mosey, similar to how he had rushed inside the building the night before.
His steps faltered when he saw Rowan waiting for him, knowing why she was there and reluctant to face her. He managed to push through the apprehension, though, and went right for his office door, fumbling with the key as he greeted her politely.
“Morning, Miss Platts.”
Stuck in a moment of disbelief, Rowan almost allowed Phelps to escape into his office completely unharassed, but managed to shake out of it just in time to keep him from closing the door behind himself.
“Is it true, sir?”
A flash of panic swept over his face at her question. “Is what true?” he asked, like there were a number of things she could be asking about, and her knowing any one of them was highly undesirable.
“Was Dr. Miller here?”
Rowan’s question came out too loudly, and Phelps shushed her, tugging her into his office and shutting the door behind them before someone overheard her.
“Does this have something to do with last night? This isn’t a coincidence, it can’t be. Miller was here because of the body, right? It was a body, wasn’t it?”
Phelps shushed her again to try and get her to lower her voice. He seemed worried at first by exactly how much information had just come out of Rowan that she probably shouldn’t know, but he gave in quickly. Dropping his pretenses while collapsing into his high-back desk chair, he gave a defeated sigh while adjusting his bowtie straight again.
“You’re too perceptive for your own good, you know that, Rowan?”
“Please, sir. You can’t lie to me. You know how I feel about Dr. Miller. Please.”
Rowan hurried to discard the coffees onto his desk and collect a chair to sit across from him. Although, it was barely sitting, with how rigid in anticipation she was.
Phelps gave her his “tough” look, an attempt at a scold he could never quite manage because he didn't have kids of his own. Offering another defeated sigh, he muttered that he’d be hearing about this later before answering.
“Yes. Miller is here, and as much as I’d like to say it was just to visit an old friend, I’ve never been paid such a pleasantry. And… And that’s already far more than you need to know so that’s all you’re getting out of me.”
His words were meant to sound like putting his foot down, but it came out more like a plea not to push it further. As if Rowan needed anything more to start piecing together a picture of what was going on. She was on her feet again, pacing across Phelps’ office as she put together the puzzle he’d presented.
“If Miller is here that means… That means this is something big. The government wouldn’t just send one of their top scientists off to the middle of nowhere for nothing.” Rowan couldn’t help her over-exhausted mind going to places it probably shouldn’t have, reminiscent of the alien talk the night before with Cameron. The possibilities made her head spin with foolish fantasies, and put a giddy, girlish grin on her face. “Something big, here in Eureka. Holy sh—”
“I’m stopping you right there before you get ahead of yourself. This has nothing to do with you and will have nothing to do with you. You’ve already seen too much, but I’m trusting you to not tell anyone about it. I can trust you, right? Rowan?”
Rowan brushed away his words, unable to help herself from prodding further. “Are you going to be working with Miller again, Dr. Phelps?” She couldn’t help the stars that were no doubt in her eyes at the prospect of the old colleagues reunited.
Her excitement only softened Phelps up further. He hesitated, but caved too easily, a less than humble smile crawling onto his face. “I have been asked to be of assistance, yes.”
Rowan couldn’t breathe through her excitement. “This is history in the making.”
Phelps chuckled, trying to brush her off. “Come now, it’s not—”
She scoffed at his attempt at regaining some modesty. “You two cured influenza the last time you worked together! This is huge.”
Rowan was trying to calm down her shaking, because he wouldn’t take her seriously if she was in hysterics, and an idea was starting to form. An idea of her, his assistant for over a year, shadowing him on this secret project. Or maybe… Working with them? She didn’t even know what the project was, what the study would be based around, what the gurney and the body and the armed men had to do with any of it.
And she didn’t care.
Whatever it was, it would be groundbreaking if Miller had anything to do with it.