Dark hair, dark eyes. Peering absentmindedly out of the window as he did, with his sharp profile, Nicolas reminded me of a crow. One of his hands rested on his lap, his long fingers toying with a small object—a pebble, from what I could see. It’s only much later that I realized that this first meeting with him, this first vision of him, would remain forever branded in my memory.
At last, he sighed and said, “So, you’re not a student?”
It took me a second to realize he was addressing me. “I used to study medicine.”
“Used to?” he echoed.
His eyes never left the window. I wondered what had captured his attention so completely. “It takes a lot of effort to get in. And then there’s the prestige, and the prospect of a well-paid job. What’s wrong with you?”
He deigned to glance at me as if my shock was at all surprising.
“Med school wasn’t what I expected. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with me. You quit your program, too. Does it mean there’s something wrong with you?”
I realized too late that I should have mulled over my comeback a bit longer.
“Well, there are a few things… as you know,” he replied.
Great. I was already being insensitive with the client. My mouth opened and closed once or twice, but since I hadn’t figured out the right thing to say, I only managed to do a convincing impression of a goldfish. Nicolas watched me struggle for a moment. Then, Eileen came back.
“Did you have time to discuss? Do you need a few more minutes?” She handed a cup of coffee to Nicolas. He took it and sipped pensively.
“No, we had enough time,” Nicolas replied.
He got up and I followed him with my eyes. Yep, not the right match, I thought. Better luck next time. I prepared to rise from my chair, “Well, I guess it was nice…”
He cut me off and I fell back into my seat. “I didn’t take a break from school by choice. Circumstances forced me to leave. There’s a project I started, and it’s important for me to go back and finish it. I would be really grateful if you could help me out.”
Eileen did a better job of hiding her confusion than me. “Great, so you two were able to get along.”
The whole scheme was too sketchy for my taste. Anyway, Nicolas needed someone to help him with school. How could I help him if I couldn’t even help myself? It made no sense. The only thing that could prevent me from declining the offer…
“We’ll give Ethan some time to think about it.”
…was my utter inability to say no.
I pondered my options as I walked back home. There weren’t that many, really. With my limited experience, it was either helping Nicolas or working at some coffee shop. I was actually lucky that Eileen had even considered my application. Moreover, after how badly I thought my interview had gone, I was surprised that Nicolas had accepted me so easily. Maybe he wouldn’t turn out to be as bratty as I had initially thought.
When I reached my front door, I almost screamed in terror. An indistinct figure was sitting on the threshold.
It took me a while to determine that I wasn't being visited by a demon escaped from my worst nightmare. It was just some girl. Her hood hung low over her downturned face and her straight curtain of black hair made her look a little like that girl from The Ring. That was actually the comparison that helped me remember her.
“Dana? What are you doing here?”
Dana was a fellow student from my med school days. We’d chatted a few times, but nothing more. She was pretty eccentric, from what I recalled. I had no idea how she’d found my place. Her head snapped up. “Ethan! You remember me?”
I suppressed a wince. “Yes. What’s up?”
“I have a problem. I was wondering if you could help me…” She blinked a few times behind her thick glasses and looked down. I noticed the backpack next to her. A shiver ran down my spine. I really hoped this wasn’t what I thought it was. “My roommate wants her boyfriend to move in with her, but he finds me creepy, so she asked if I could tone it down, so I said I don’t understand, and then we got angry, and then…”
I was always told that when doing interviews for med school, they looked for students with minimal social skills, at the very least. I surmised that she must have been some kind of genius to overcome her serious lack in that field. “Did she kick you out?”
“I’m not sure. Can I stay with you for a few days?”
Of course not! I barely know you! I wanted to say. And if I was being completely honest, she was creepy as hell. “Can’t you move back in with your parents?” I tried. Ouch. That sounded cold.
“They’re not in this country.” She got up, picked up her bag, and walked away like a little grey mouse. “I’m sorry. I didn’t want to bother you.”
I was being such an asshole. In my panic, I grabbed her arm before promptly letting go. She shared my shock. We looked away in discomfort. “I didn’t mean that. Of course you can stay for a few days.” Whatever “a few days” meant. “Come on. I’ll take your bag.”
“Thanks, thanks so much…” She kept going until we were in my apartment. The place was small. It would be cramped with two people. We looked around, as if it would help us find extra space where she could sleep. The couch was pretty big and comfortable. She would be fine there. Unless I was being an ass by not offering her my bed. Wasn’t that a little too self-sacrificing, though?
“I’ll take the couch, if you don’t mind.”
I dropped her bag in the living room and went to get some blankets and a pillow from the closet in the hallway. “I haven’t seen you at school in a long time. People are saying you dropped out.”
“People are right.”
I shrugged, forgetting she couldn’t see me. “I didn’t like it.” I was reminded of Nicolas’s question, the one everybody secretly wanted to ask: what was wrong with me? I closed the door a little too loudly to maintain my pretense of composure.
Back in the living room, Dana sat on the couch with her laptop already open in front of her. “What are you up to now?” she asked without looking up.
I dropped the folded sheets and the pillow on the armrest. “I got a job as someone’s companion. It’s a mental health thing.”
“Good for you. You’ve always wanted to specialize in psychiatry, right?”
I nodded, not feeling the need to add anything to that statement. “I’ll order something for dinner.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
I didn’t know how she’d gotten my address. That detail was unsettling and it would definitely be a point I would have to clarify eventually.
For now, I needed to sort out what I was going to do about Nicolas. He intimidated and intrigued me at the same time. I might have just been desperate for company, but I was seriously considering the offer. In a way, I felt that maybe we weren't that different.
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