“Rowan, you here?” Cameron barely got into the apartment before she sprinted from the living room, rushing to the door to close it behind him, locking the latch. When she leaned against the door and gave a heavy sigh, he offered a concerned chuckle. “You ok?”
“Did you see them?” She asked, then rushed back into his apartment, over to the window in the living room that faced out towards the road.
“Who?” He followed, finding her peeking past the curtains she had drawn shut, her shoulders going straight and immediately beckoning him closer.
“Look, look!” She pointed discreetly as he neared, directing his eyes to a black SUV parked down the street. “It’s them, from last night. The suited men. They followed me here.”
Rowan let out an unsteady sigh and returned to his couch, where she laid out papers across the entirety of his coffee table, sweeping her eyes rapidly across the text.
Cameron stayed at the window to keep a lookout. It certainly seemed like the car from the night before, but it could easily just be a coincidence. It was the more likely conclusion in fact. It was unlike Rowan to be so irrational. That was usually his thing.
“Hey, Row, have you slept?” he pried gently.
She growled. “I’m not crazy. They followed me, ok?” Her head fell into her hands, sighing again.
Cringing, Cameron sat and pulled her closer to him by her shoulders. “I’m sorry, I’m not doubting you, just… Maybe you need to clear your head a little.” She deflated with his arm around her, shaking her head as she rested in his collar. While she tried to settle her racing heart, Cameron glanced over the papers. “What is all this?”
“I talked to Phelps today. About what happened. He gave me this contract to read over.” She answered with a weak, tired voice, realizing after a moment the information she shared was disjointed and probably didn’t make much sense.
She tried to clarify, pulling away from his comfort to collect the papers in order and hold them out for him. “It’s a project, Cam. Whatever we saw last night, I guess they are researching it or… something. Phelps didn’t say, and the contract hasn’t been much help. All I know is that Miller’s heading it.”
“Wait. Miller?” Cameron took the papers from her but paused with disbelief at the name. “You mean, Miller, Miller. The author of all those science papers you couldn’t put down while in school?”
Rowan gave him an eyeroll at his attempt at knowing what he was talking about. “They’re called scientific journals, Cam. And yes, that Miller.” She was about to add to the thought, but Cameron was on his feet with excitement for her, interrupting.
“Rowan, that’s huge!” He beamed, looking at the contract in his hand and laughing. “You’re going to be working with one of your idols, Row. That’s amazing.” He turned to her for a reaction, but his grin faltered when all she could manage in response was a strained smile. “Why aren’t you more excited? I thought you’d be losing your mind over this.”
“I am! I mean… I was.” She tried harder to be grateful, but when she failed, Rowan let the pretenses fall off her face, allowing the concern constricting her lungs to show. “This is a really amazing opportunity, absolutely. Something just feels… off.”
“Off like, how?” he asked, sitting again to listen.
Rowan inhaled deep to try and shake the discomfort away, running a hand through her hair and letting her eyes stay shut for a moment too long. “Well, the men following me is a little unnerving, for one.”
Cameron hummed. “Are you sure it was the same people from last night?” It was clear he didn’t want to doubt her, but he was also trying his best to encourage her to be a bit more logical. She didn’t blame him.
Even she knew it sounded insane.
“No one ever left the car, but it followed me all over the city. I came here because I got so nervous to go home alone. After reading some of the contract, I’m even more convinced that it’s them.” Rowan feathered the papers in Cameron’s hand to point out how much reading she had been doing, before directing him to the first page. “The whole thing is really vague. It never names what we’re working with. Just ‘the subject,’ and it doesn’t say anything about what kind of study we’re doing.”
“Isn’t it kinda common with contracts though? Like, general language, so they can recycle the contract for all their projects?” Cameron tried his best to calm Rowan’s nerves by being the rational one for once.
She nodded. “Yes, but… It also stresses more than once that I’m possibly at risk of death during this study.”
He laughed, although a hint of discomfort leaked into it. “I’m sure they’re just covering their asses. I mean, when we have to put warnings on coffee cups that the contents are hot…”
She ignored his interjection, determined to prove her concerns now. “It talks about the necessity of being ‘discreet’ regarding the project. Basically, I can’t talk to anyone outside of my colleagues about it, which is fine, I understand, but usually there is some sort of clause about the consequences for breaking the agreement, and it will outline the process of your removal from the team and whatnot. In this contract it’s all very vague wording... I get the feeling that it’s threatening me, with much worse outcome than just being removed from the project.”
Once again, Cameron’s concern showed on his face, but he attempted to smile it away, shaking his head. “I’m sure you’re just reading too much into it, Row.”
Huffing at his stubbornness, Rowan grabbed the contract back from him and flipped through the pages to find her proof. Pointing out a section she highlighted previously, she gave the paper back and read aloud from next to him.
“One should be with the understanding that leaks of information will not be tolerated, and those suspected or guilty of sharing information, or suspected of being likely to, will be dealt with accordingly. By signing this contract, one is agreeing that one understands and gives consent to any form of consequence seen fit if the mentioned agreement is broken.”
Cameron met her expectant gaze after she finished reading, the discomfort twisted up in her gut ghosting across his eyes. He tried to banish the expression by giving a dismissive snort and a casual, “Ok, so… Maybe they are trying to scare you a little,” but the damage was already done.
Rowan’s stomach tied itself into another knot. “They’re succeeding,” she groaned, letting her face fall into her hands once more. “What am I getting myself into, Cam?”
Her defeated tone triggered something in him, driven to prove her doubts wrong. “The contract is a little unsettling, I’ll give you that. But what does it have to do with the suits following you?”
She paused a moment, realizing it wasn’t really a question she had asked herself quite yet. “Well if the contract is anything to go by, then I guess… To make sure I don’t say anything problematic before signing? I wasn’t supposed to be part of this, after all. Maybe they think I can’t be trusted and are keeping an eye on me.”
“But you said you don’t even know anything yet, really.” Cameron pointed out, doing his best to counter her arguments, likely for her own sake. It was strange, having him switch roles with her and act as the rational one, rhyming off logical questions to try and relieve her concerns. It wasn’t working, but she appreciated it regardless.
“I know enough. We saw a body, afterall. Remember?”
Cameron nodded, a chill shaking up his spine at the unsettling memory.
Rowan groaned again, rubbing at her tired eyes and kneading the headache from her temple. “I just can’t stop thinking about it. Like… If they are so worried about the details of the project getting out, what on earth are we studying?”
The worst part was, even with all these reasons to be terrified, Rowan also couldn’t help herself from feeling hungry: desperately aching for an answer to all the questions that were cycloning around in her head since the night before. It was crazy, but the longer she thought about it, the more reasonable Cameron’s alien theory kept getting, and it was a troubling sign when she settled for conspiracies to satiate her curiosity. She hoped it was only the exhaustion getting the better of her, but she couldn’t shake the possibility from her mind.
She sighed, defeated. “Whatever it is, maybe I should be scared.”
Cameron wrapped his arm around her shoulders again to offer some comfort. “It’s not like you to let your imagination run wild, Rowan. Normally you leave the crazy theories up to me,” he teased, offering a gentle smile when she laughed in self deprecation.
“Besides… Since when do you let a few scare tactics get in your way? So what if all signs clearly point to it being an alien?” He paused to hammer in his joke with a sarcastic look. “How fucking cool would it be to study an alien? With one of your idols? And you have that chance, Row. You’re going to let some stupid contract and some assholes in tailored suits and an expensive car spook you out of a once in a lifetime opportunity?”
Cameron’s pep talk worked wonders, stifling her nerves for a moment and allowing a grateful smile to tug at Rowan’s lips as she leaned into his hug. Determined to rid her of her last bit of apprehension, Cameron flipped through to the last page of the contract and held it out for her to take.
“Sign this. We both know you’ll spend your life regretting it if you don’t.”
It’s like he was putting to words, loud and clear, the logical part of her thoughts that her fear was refusing to listen to. He knew her too well. She was already going insane with curiosity, with the ache of the unknown; it was only her timid fingers keeping her from guaranteeing the answers she knew she needed.
If she didn’t get them, she’d always wonder.
Rowan glanced at him, his dark brown eyes so naive and honest, and her heart swelled with all the times he had been there to support her and push her in the right direction, even when she wasn’t always there for him. The thought stung bittersweetly though, when she remembered this was an opportunity she’d have to go at alone.
His earnest encouragement helped though, letting her push that negativity down along with the rest of her previous worries, at least long enough to take a pen from the coffee table and scribble her name across the final page of the contract with the last bit of nerve she had left for the night.
When she exhaled definitively, turning to Cameron for a reaction, he beamed and raised his arms into the air in celebration, shouting, “Get ready to be studied, ugly, alien scum!” The expression forced Rowan into a fit of tired giggles that made her stomach ache and cheeks burn.