“Bill is only a few minutes out,” Ruth was saying as she led them down the hall past dark offices and diagnostic rooms. “He must have been putting in a late night.”
Peri’s gut tightened, but if it was because of Bill or the diagnostic room Ruth was ushering them into, she couldn’t tell. Allen filed in behind her to stand just inside the door.
“Jewelry off,” Ruth said brightly, moving about with quick efficiency, her short black hair swinging as she turned a soft, indulgent chair for Peri. “And your jacket. Here’s a bin for you. I’ll be right back to get your drip started. Bill wants to watch the diagnostics, so as soon as he gets here, we can get going.”
Peri took off her coat and gingerly sat in the big chair, her shoulders easing as she sank into the soft cushions. The low-ceilinged room had a flat brown carpet and drapes on the walls as if there were windows. There was no examination table, but there was a little desk with an outdated computer plug-in beside the etherball, and a trash can for hazardous waste. A second door probably led to an adjacent room. There was a mirror on the same wall—clearly a one-way for observation. It was desperately trying to be a comfortable room, but the diagnostic tools were ruining it.
“I don’t want to leave,” Allen said, looking helpless beside the door, and Ruth seemed to soften as she pulled the shade on the one-way mirror.
“You can stay.” She smiled at Peri, halfway out the door. “I’ll be back with your IV.”
Needles, Peri thought glumly as the door shut, and Allen sat in the chair beside the door. It was placed carefully—set on the outskirts and not very comfortable—to imply that he was allowed to be here but would have no power. He was here on sufferance.
Neither of them said anything as she took off her pen necklace, setting it beside her purse in the plastic bin with a picture of a mountain pasted to the bottom. A watch was next, and then her magnetic-backed earrings that wouldn’t rip out in a fight. Reluctantly she set her knife beside them. Peri eased into the chair, the watch especially catching her eye. She wondered how long she’d had it. She never wore watches, especially one with so many gadgets. This one looked brand-new. Significant.
“I’m sorry this happened,” Allen said, his voice low as if someone might be listening.
Peri handed him her coat and he draped it on the back of his chair. “Shit happens.”
He shifted his feet, hunched over his knees. “I’m sure we can bring something back.”
Three years? The silence of the building soaked into her along with his obvious doubt. Her head was scrambled like Sunday morning eggs. You couldn’t bring back three years, and she didn’t know if she even wanted to try. What could have happened that I’d lose three years?
Allen straightened at a rattle in the hall. Peri tried to smile but only managed not to frown as the door opened and that same man from the hallway came in with a bag of saline drip on a stand. A tablet was tucked under his arm, in startling contrast to his buff physique. His tie had been straightened, and the familiar packaging of a sterile IV kit showed from his lab coat’s pocket. Peri’s pulse hammered, and she took a steadying breath, quelling her paranoia.
“Hello, Ms. Reed,” the man said, his voice professionally bland as he ignored Allen apart from a cursory, somewhat peeved look. “I’m Silas. Ruth asked me to get your IV started while she prints up some paperwork she forgot.”
“Sure.” Peri nervously tucked her hair behind an ear before she began to roll up her sleeve. Her scraped knuckles caught her eye, and a flash of scratched parquet flitted through her thoughts. I will not MEP. I will not MEP.
“And you are?” Silas said to Allen as he set his tablet on the desk.
Allen shifted in his seat. “I’m, ah, Allen. Her anchor.”
“If you’re staying, you need to be quiet. I don’t want you screwing up the results.”
Allen leaned back in his chair, his arms crossed resolutely over his chest. “I know how to be quiet.”
Satisfied, Silas sat in the rolling chair as if it were a throne, cracking his knuckles as his tablet connected. She wondered if his nose had been broken once or twice, which wouldn’t surprise her, with his brooding manner and the iron-pumping arms stuffed into his lab coat. Even so, it only added to his rugged good looks. He had just shaved, and the spicy pine of his aftershave was … different but good.
Exhaling, he typed into his tablet with surprising facility. She leaned to peek, and he turned it so she couldn’t. Her memory loss–induced paranoia fluttered. He’s wearing dress shoes.
Eyebrows high, he ripped the IV package open and swabbed her inner elbow. “Rough night?” he said sarcastically.
“That’s what they tell me,” she said, then added a dry “Ow?” as the needle went in.
“Sorry.” Smile insincere, he taped the needle into place. “You have nice veins. They’re popping right up there.”
“That’s because I don’t poke them all the time,” she said, and at the door, Allen shifted his feet. Peri glanced up, having almost forgotten he was there.
Silas used too much tape, and she watched him set up 2cc of something from his pocket into the drip port. Immediately her aches retreated. Shit, it was good stuff.
Peri watched the drip, enjoying the lassitude plinking into her in time with the drops.
“Does it wear off fast?” Allen asked, his wary tone sparking dully through her. She’d tell him to shut up so she could enjoy her high, but it seemed like too much trouble.