Bill’s eyebrows were raised, and Allen’s hand slipped from hers in a silent rebuke. She’d probably just hurt her case for returning to active duty, but she didn’t care.
“Just forget I said that,” Peri said as she lifted her paper cup of hot milk and caffeine. “I’m fine. I’m happy. See?” She took a long drink, trying to minimize her anger while in front of three psychologists, her boss, and Allen.
“You are not fine,” Sandy said, and the man at the bar nodded in agreement. “But moping around here isn’t doing you any good. You need to go do something.”
Breath catching, Peri looked up. Is she serious?
Allen beamed. “See, Bill? Sandy thinks it’s a good idea. We need to get out of here. My cast comes off today. Give us something. I can do my physical therapy in the car.”
Anticipation coursed through her as she looked at the faces around her, the first she’d felt in months. It felt good, so good.
“Hold up.” Bill raised a thick hand. “Nothing happens until I hear Frank and Sandy tell me she’s good to draft.”
Peri stifled a shiver when Sandy glanced at Frank, and when Frank nodded, Allen made a fist, pumping it once. “Yes-s-s-s!” he said softly.
“There’s been minimal change in Peri’s state these last few weeks,” Sandy said. “I think the only way to shake things loose is to let her go. My larger concern is Allen.”
Allen looked up, shocked, as he pushed his glasses back up his nose. “Me?”
“Yes, you.” Sandy pointed an accusing finger at him. “You need to let go of the shared past you and Peri have. Your reactions are confusing her, causing more trouble than her missing memories. If you don’t treat her as if she’s trustworthy, she never will be.”
Allen seemed to shrink down into himself under their hard gazes. “It’s harder for me than you. I’m with her all the time.”
Frank’s hand twitched, and Sandy reached to still it. The man at the bar turned his back to them, and Peri wondered if more was being said than it seemed. “Allen, you are holding her back,” Sandy said. “Peri is highly intuitive, and she knows you’re not accepting her. Now, are you going to admit you have a problem and work with her to overcome it, or are you going to sit there and blame her for everything? She’s trying. Are you?”
Miserable, Peri wondered if this was why she hadn’t felt accepted. Her anchor was sitting right next to her, but if he didn’t trust her, then he wasn’t there at all.
“I’m sorry,” Allen said, and a lump swelled in her throat when he pulled her into a hug. “Peri, I’m so sorry. She’s right. I’ve been treating you as if you’re suddenly going to remember everything, and it just doesn’t work like that.” Peri let her head thump into him, breathing his scent and letting go of her fears. “Give me a chance,” he whispered. “I just need some time.”
Peri was smiling as he pushed back, but she dropped her gaze when he looked at her lips as if he was going to kiss her. Not in front of Bill, Frank, and Sandy!
“Okay,” she said, feeling as if something had shifted. Everything seemed possible now. It had to get better.
“Ahh, hell,” Frank said. “Give them something, Bill. Something that involves sun and very little clothing. They need to get out and find themselves.”
“I just wanted to hear you say it.” Bill reached behind his coat for a red-rimmed, short-life tablet and an envelope sporting Opti’s logo. “Where are we going?” Allen said as he took them.
Bill smiled at Peri’s clearly eager expression. Finally. “Let me know if you’re comfortable. Forgive me if it looks too easy, but Opti can survive you taking cream-puff tasks for a while. Besides, your knee is going to need several weeks of rehab.”
Must be first-year stuff, she thought, leaning to look when Allen peeked past the flap to see boarding passes, then punched his Opti code into the tablet. It lit up, the small countdown at the top showing they had seventy-two hours before it scrambled its motherboard, destroying any electronic evidence of their task.
“Come on, Frank.” Sandy stood to pull him into her wake. “Let the professionals get to work.” She grinned at Peri. “It’s good to see you where you belong, honey.”
Peri’s smile froze as Sandy’s last word echoed in her mind. Sandy had called her honey before, but it hadn’t been nice. Suddenly Peri realized Sandy had noticed, and she forced her expression to brighten until Sandy turned away. Jeez, am I that paranoid? Frank and Sandy were good people. She’d known them since her first days in Opti.
“First drink is on us when you get back,” Frank said. “Knock ’em dead, Peri.”
She took a breath to answer, hesitating when the guy at the bar slid from the stool to leave—head down as if depressed. Peri stifled a shiver, not knowing why. Small, positive noises came from Allen as he looked everything over. “This is nice,” he said. “Bill, we’ll take it.”
Bill stood. “I’ll leave you to it, then. Peri, do you want us to move your things to Allen’s while you’re gone?”
“Sure,” Peri said, vowing that she was going to make this work. The cold fact was that drafting came with the risk of losing memories, and it was only a matter of time before you lost a large chunk as she had. She had survived. Her relationship with Allen would, too. “Yes, please,” Peri said, leaning over until she bumped Allen’s shoulder and cast him a significant look. He gave her a preoccupied smile. At the bar, a flash of light intruded as the blond man left.