Hi Eileen, something happened with Nicolas…
No, too worrying.
Hi Eileen, what should I do if someone breaks a window…
Hi Eileen, I hope you had a good week…
I dropped my head in my hands, emitting a low wail of frustration. (Dana later told me that it sounded like the last of the dinosaurs on its deathbed.) Be as it may, repeated failures to convey sensitive information will sometimes do that to you.
I tried emailing Eileen about the most recent incident without sounding too alarming, although I wasn’t even sure I should tell her about it. Technically, it wasn’t something I would have ever known if I had just stuck to my normal duties.
However, now that I knew about it, wasn’t it my duty to tell her, since it was possibly related to Nicolas’s issues? And what should I say of the way we parted?
I gave up and went to bed.
The next day, I wasn’t exactly excited to go to work. I ended up arriving at school an hour late and didn’t hurry to make up for it. I dragged my feet to the elevator, wondering what I would say to Nicolas. Should I apologize or pretend nothing had happened?
One thing to note about the elevator: it was situated right in front of a lounge area where students took breaks from time to time. It was only after I pressed the button that I noticed Irina’s other two grad students sitting there, chatting. I was thinking of making a smooth retreat, but they saw me and fell silent. Too late.
I looked at them. They looked at me.
The girl, I think Roisin was her name, at last put an end to our silent exchange. “Hey, Ethan. How’s it going?”
“Good. How about you?”
She made a strenuous effort to pretend the awkwardness wasn’t there. “How do you like working with Nicolas?”
The other student sitting beside her, some guy with short black hair and a bunch of tattoos on his forearms, burst out laughing. “Sorry, didn’t mean to…” He couldn’t finish his sentence and cracked up again.
Roisin shoved him with her elbow. “Aibek, stop it.”
I was impatient for the elevator to come down and save me. Why was it taking so long?
Roisin regained her composure and cleared her throat. “Lilya is throwing a dinner party for the lab Saturday. We’ll be there, and a few other undergrads you’ve probably seen around. Irina will be there as well. You’re welcome to join if you want.”
Spending an evening in the same room as Irina sounded lovely. Nothing like the fear of death to make you feel alive. “Oh, thanks. I got the email. Is Nicolas coming?”
Aibek did his best to keep it in check, but the pressure was too much and he broke into an uncontrollable fit of laughter yet again. Roisin could have gone into competitive facepalming with the kind of performance she gave.
“Even if we invite him, he probably won’t want to come,” she explained. “Anyway, it’s better like that.”
At those words, she grabbed Aibek by the shoulder and pulled him out of the lounge with her. “See you around.”
So, in my position, would it be okay to go to a lab party to which everybody was invited except my client? If I went, it would be like I was actively ostracizing him. At the same time, maybe it was part of my job to become more familiar with his environment.
Right before crossing the threshold to our office, I prepared to apologize for being late and held back just in time. There was Nicolas, his head resting on his folded arms, sleeping at his desk.
Well, that was a tricky situation. From watching him work around the lab, I knew he had no time to waste, even though he never told me exactly what he did. On the other hand, it might have been better to give him a few more minutes. The incident previous night must have been very stressful for him. He needed to rest.
I came up with what I deemed an acceptable compromise and went back downstairs to get some coffee at the cafeteria. As I came back up again, I debated about the best way to wake him up. What I really wanted to do was stand there and contemplate his sleeping form just a little longer.
Wait, no. Let’s rephrase that.
What I really wanted to do was watch him until I was able to read his thoughts and know what was going on. There always seemed to be something invisible ready to pounce on him at any time. It was unnerving. I nudged his shoulder and he slowly came back to life. I looked away when he opened his eyes and put a warm cup of coffee on his desk. “Shit, how long have I been asleep?”
“I don’t know, I just arrived.”
Neither of us spoke for a moment. The air was heavy with unsaid words about the day before. If either of us had planned to apologize, now would have been the time. I was still afraid of looking at him and seeing his resentment about what I’d said.
Then, the moment passed. He sipped his coffee.
There was something at his feet, a small object. His pebble. I bent down to pick it up. “I think you dropped this,” I said.
The expression that lingered on his face as he took the pebble from my fingers perplexed me. “Hey, maybe you should take the day off and go home,” I suggested.
“Ethan, can I ask you something?”
“Never let me sleep again.” I would have laughed at him if it wasn’t for the pure weariness in his eyes. It seemed like such a real wish—to never sleep again. “Let me know how much I owe you.”
“You don’t owe me anything, it’s just a coffee!”
He held his head in his hand. “You’re too nice. Someone will take advantage one day. If they haven’t already.”
That put me on the defensive. “Is that a warning or a threat?”
“It’s a statement.”
No malice intended. Nicolas must have wanted to get back to work as soon as I stopped bothering him. I thought I might keep the conversation going, just to force him to relax a bit longer. “Lilya is having a party tomorrow,” I said, leaning against his desk.
“She told me.”
“Did she invite you?”
“In a way. We all know it’s better if I don’t go.”
Once again, I wanted to contradict him, but I knew he told the truth. “Do you mind if I go?”
“You should. It’s not good for you to be stuck with me all the time.”
“At least I’m getting paid for it.” This quip was meant to elicit a reaction from him. I thought I saw his eyebrow twitch. I smirked and shook my head. “Seriously, what if they start talking about you?”
“If they start talking about me, then I won’t see you again next Monday.” He finished his coffee and got up to get going with whatever he had to do.
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