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Authors: August Clearwing

Never Have I Ever (33 page)

BOOK: Never Have I Ever
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“Don’t presume to know what I have and have not experienced, Miss Minogue.”

“Piper.
You can call me Piper. And, I’m not. I just… I’m trying to extend an olive branch here. I don’t know what kind of women you and your brother are used to Ethan—”

“Simpering fools mostly,” he said evenly.

I shook my head and dragged my tongue along the back of my teeth to ward off an unintelligible string of curse words. Once composed, I looked back at him. “Well. I’ve never been one to simper. Submissive slut though I may be, it is for Noah and Noah alone. And only because he’s earned my respect and adoration.”

“He seduced you, nothing more. This affair between you will end soon, one way or another.”

I wanted to beat my head against the table. “Are you always this suspicious of people?”

“Enough to protect what’s mine… by any means necessary.”

My eyes narrowed at him, a little wary and a little more insulted. “Okay, I came over here to make peace. Outside of those terribly unwarranted and superficial reasons already listed, you have no reason to hate me.”

“I don’t hate you, Miss Minogue,” he said as he slipped his glasses off. He folded them and set them on the table. “I feel absolutely nothing but indifference towards you, in fact; which is why I have no problem telling you, if you’re not careful, something bad could happen.”

“All right.”
I exhaled, resigned to my failure at getting through to him as I stood up. “You know, you can threaten me until your face turns blue or Judgment Day, whichever comes first. I gave myself to him. I belong to him, and he’s assured me that he’s not going to ‘kick me to the curb’ as you classlessly put it when we first met. So, if all you have to offer is intimidation in return for my token of solidarity, you can kindly and respectfully go fuck yourself.”

He didn’t bat an eye at my blatant veracity. Instead, he took a long swig from his drink,
then
said, “There might be one thing.”

This’ll be good.
“Oh. Enlighten me.”

Ethan stared at his glass for a moment and tilted it so the ice clinked against the sides. “Paperwork takes a while. The funding for that mockery of a science faire project hasn’t been transferred as of yet.”

The intention of his statement became all too clear in immediate fashion.

“Did you fall out of the Crazy Tree and hit every single branch on the way down?” I flourished my arm out in no particular direction as if to gather some form of thought from the Æther. I never gave him time to answer. “There’s no way in Hell you would do that. It’s Noah’s contribution, not yours.”

“His contribution, which comes from the company’s coffers and,” he sucked in a breath; soft, and sarcastic. “Technically speaking, I am his boss.”

“That funding was going to be there whether I worked at the observatory or not. I’m not getting anything out of it except the comfort in knowing research will continue.”

Ethan looked up at me, the satisfied ghost of a smile beginning to tug at the corners of his mouth. Every single word that spilled from his lips dripped with subtle disdain masked as condescension. “And that’s all you care about isn’t it? Not the money, no. If you cared about that you would have taken my first check and disappeared to the other side of the country. You care about the people. You care about the education and the discovery for the sake of discovery and are content in the knowledge that the human race will just keep on learning despite itself.”

One half of me was pissed, the other half crushed. “You really want to fight me on this, don’t you?”

“No, I would rather not waste my breath. It seems you are leaving me little choice, however. I wouldn’t care two licks about the damned observatory if you didn’t work there. But you do. And you feel for the people. So take a moment to think; exactly how selfish are you that you would strip those opportunities away from the future of your scientific field?”

Who was he to talk about selfishness?
Hello, Pot, I’m Kettle.

The observatory did need the money, but in the end they weren’t strapped for cash. There was still enough floating around until we had time to locate another investor. I stood my ground, my growing feelings for Noah and the strength he instilled in me to be a more forceful personality echoing back.

“Like I said Ethan; kindly and respectfully,” I ended it there to allow him to fill in the rest for himself.

As I walked away, he managed to get the last word in, “One way or another, Miss Minogue.”

The bell above the door at the café clattered violently against the glass as I tore it open and emerged onto the streets of sunny Los Angeles. It was difficult to get me angry. It was a fucking miracle, almost. People had to work expertly hard to get under my skin the way Ethan did. At that point I just saw red. My legs moved by themselves; muscle memory of the walk back to my car while I resisted the urge to slam my fist through the paned glass shop windows lining the buildings on my left.

I vaguely heard the sound of the café bell a second time as I reached the corner, followed by Declan’s voice shouting, “Hey, Piper! Wait up!” and hurried footsteps running to catch me.

“Now’s not a good time, Dec.”

“Whoa, whoa!
Wait.
Stop.”
He took my arm and pulled me off to one side of the sidewalk so we wouldn’t get trampled by other pedestrians. “What happened back there?”

I pursed my lips in an attempt to abate the desire to lash out at him just for being present in my fuming rage. Instead, I was pointing back towards the café, wanting all my frustration to tear through the building and knock Ethan on his ass.

“That is the most infuriating man I have ever met in my entire life!”

“Yeah,” Declan agreed with a laugh, “Ethan’s a bit of a whack-job. Don’t let him get to you, all right? He drives people crazy to get a rise out of them so that he can come out on top and look like the better person.”

“I offered a ceasefire, offered him dinner and to get to know me before he dismisses me as a gold-digging whore and he still—he—he—
Argh
! I’m done!” I threw my hands up in the air and started off again.

“Where are you going?”

“Ethan wants a war,” I called over my shoulder.

Declan’s voice waivered, “And you’re going to give him one?”

“Exactly the opposite; I’m not giving him the satisfaction!”

He finally stopped following me.
“Why not?”

“Because I’m cleverer than he is!”

 

***

 

This is a bad idea. This is a bad idea. This is a bad idea.

This is a REALLY bad idea.

But here I was, standing at the door to Dr. Fairbanks’ office Monday morning and my mind hadn’t been changed. My phone was in my hand and I clutched it tight. I needed somebody to stop me. I needed somebody to talk some sense into me before I did anything rash. I called Noah, Declan and Anya all that morning and none of them answered. I left no messages. What would I have told them, anyway?

The way Ethan said what he said, though, made me realize that the only way the threat of ripping funding away from the observatory meant anything to him was if I worked there. The only solution was to no longer work there. If I could convince him that I moved on, that I had nothing to do with Mt. Wilson anymore, then maybe I could save them. I would be out of a lucrative job, but at least it would help the team in the long run. Ethan kept tabs on me. He’d know when I walked. And that was exactly what I counted on. Finding a new position somewhere else was a job for Future Piper; a job which may or may not be terribly difficult dependent upon my list of contacts.

I took a deep breath and knocked on the door.

Dr. Fairbanks’ voice came from inside, “Come in.”

Someone, call me, I thought as I walked into his office. I closed the door behind me and waited for Dr. Fairbanks to finish riffling through paperwork on his desk before I approached him.

He looked up at me.
“Ah, Piper!
Good to see you. You missed a lot while you were away. I thought you’d be back in time for the Curiosity landing on Mars last week.”

“I caught it online” I told him, though I wished at that moment I could have shared in the exhilaration live rather than from a hotel room in Sydney.

“You should have been in the control room down at Caltech. Tears of joy all around,” he said. Then he waved away his own enthusiasm. “So, are we ready to get back to work?”

“About that…” Fuck, this was hard. “I actually came to let you know that I need to submit my letter of resignation.”

Dr. Fairbanks instantly rose to his feet then and leaned his hands on his desk. “What? Why? Is there something that needs to be addressed?”

“Oh! No!” I waved my hands in a kill gesture. “There’s nothing wrong with the observatory or my coworkers. Not in the slightest. I’m just going to try to secure a position back at Caltech for a while.”

He sighed and lowered his head. “Well, I had a feeling you might want to move on to bigger and brighter things after graduation.” He looked back at me and wet his lips. “What if I offered you a full time position here as a Team
Lead
? It would mean a bump in salary of at least ten thousand to start.”

My jaw dropped.
“Um.
Wow. That’s very generous of you, Dr. Fairbanks. But, it’s not about the pay.”

“We need somebody like you on our staff.”

“Have you considered Tish or Q for the Team Lead spot? They’ve been here much longer than me.”

Dr. Fairbanks flipped through a file idly. “Tish didn’t want it. I offered it to her. She said she’d rather crunch the data than manage people.”

“And Q?”

“He won’t go anywhere without his sister.”

“Yeah, point.”

“Is there nothing I can say to convince you to stay on? We really need you.”

You need the funding far more
, I thought.

Why would nobody call to persuade me to stop this lunacy?!

“No, Doctor, I’m sorry. I love it here, but something else is calling to me at the moment.”

“Very well.
Far be it for me to stifle the dream of working where you want to.” He took his seat again and collected up a few papers from his drawer, then handed them across his desk to me. They were exit interview questionnaires. He continued, “Get these back to me today if you can. You’ll leave on good terms. Though I’m less than thrilled at this sudden departure so soon after your vacation; if you ever need a recommendation, point them in my direction.”

I fished my badge and keycards from my purse and placed them on the desk delicately.

“I have your contact info, sir. Thank you for understanding.”

Before I rescinded my decision, I exited his office and shut the door firmly. Not even 11 a.m. and I was in dire need of a stiff drink.

Refuge came in the form of the ladies’ bathroom on the first floor just off to one side of the diner. I washed my face with cold water and tried to make it all make sense. I felt sort of sick and queasy; all in all like the giant turning machine that was my life just got knocked into a different gear and I had to readjust to the flow of things.

I stared at myself in the mirror, watching the little droplets of water roll down my forehead and cheeks while tourists hustled around me to get to the next scheduled event in less than ten minutes. There were three sinks in this bathroom, so I didn’t feel so bad about occupying one all to myself for the better part of those ten minutes.

As the last of the tour group left the restroom, I toweled my face off, tossed the towel in the trash and returned to staring at myself in the mirror for a moment longer.

And it was there in the public bathroom of my now former place of employment that it hit me full force. “Oh you stupid girl,” I said to my reflection, “You thick, stubborn, stupid genius.”

I backed up against the textured green divide between two stalls. I watched myself in the mirror as I sank below the horizon of the sink and I slid down the length of it until I was sitting on the cold tile floor. Nobody in their right mind did what I did. Nobody sane took a threat like Ethan’s and solved the problem by quitting their job to negate the effect. They fought tooth and claw for everything all at once. But then, they say—whomever the collective conscience of the world decided was
them
—that it makes you do stupid things, this—this depth of feeling which gripped me like a vice and refused to falter.

Once and for all I could put a label on it. If I had to compare Noah to one thing it would be the all-encompassing mastery of the cosmos. He was the pulsar, the singularity, the violent storms of gas and dust that spun together to create the Universe. He was the serenity of a quiet nebula as it nurtured the growth of new stars. He was rage and wonder and untouchably beautiful in his propensity to make no sense unless you took the time to study the rules that governed the impossibility of his existence. Noah was my fucking Higgs Boson. He was the one missing element of the Standard Model of Piper Minogue; the final piece that made everything fall into place and at last make reality itself just click. And I found him.

BOOK: Never Have I Ever
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