“Thank you,” Emily said to the young man who had set up her new computer. He nodded and left her alone in her newly outfitted lab. It was hard to believe that in just over three weeks she had everything she needed to start work on the neural bridge. She hadn’t asked for the computer but it had come anyway and she wasn’t about to complain. She’d been dreaming of this moment for years and it was finally happening.
Before she’d come to work at Apogee Labs, she had been a neurologist, and the idea had come to her then. She’d been working on the theory in her spare time, and on the biochemistry end whenever she could. It had been moving at a snail’s pace but now that she had the equipment and the director’s blessing, she could really do it. Not only that, but it would make development of the new cholinesterase inhibitor go ten times faster.
She was just sitting down to sign into the intranet when her cell phone rang and she glanced over at it. Her stomach turned. There was no name, but she’d seen enough numbers from the hospital to know one on sight. Afraid to pick it up, but even more afraid not to, Emily grabbed her phone and hit the talk button.
“This is Emily Ashton.”
“Good afternoon Dr. Ashton, this is Amie Declan from the billing department at St. Cecilia’s. I’m calling because our most recent invoice for Mrs. Amell’s continuing care was returned to us and we need payment for last month’s charges.” The woman’s tone was businesslike and Emily assumed this was because she had to deal with collecting money from people all day, but she was in too good of a mood to care.
“Yes, I just moved. I thought I’d forwarded my mail but apparently I hadn’t. I can stop by the hospital later and pay. Or can I just set up online payments through my bank?” Emily held her phone between her ear and shoulder as she entered her password into the computer.
“I can set up a bank draft, yes. You’ll have to come by the hospital, but I leave today at three o’clock. I’ll be back tomorrow at nine, though.” She could hear the woman typing on the other end of the line and sat back in her chair.
“No, no, I can come today. I’d rather get things taken care of so there’s no lapse in Melissa’s care.” Emily looked at her smart watch and saw that it was one o’clock already. She doubted anyone in the lab would care if she left early, especially if she was planning to come back. “Give me about an hour and I’ll be there.”
“Of course. And you don’t need to worry about Mrs. Amell’s care. You’ve never been late with a payment before,” Amie said. “I’ll see you in a little while.” She hung up and Emily leaned back in her chair with a sigh. She’d been so preoccupied with the move to her new place that she hadn’t even noticed that the bill hadn’t arrived.
I have to be more careful, she thought. I can’t let anything happen to Melissa.
“Dr. Ashton?” The voice from behind her made Emily jump, and she sat up so fast that she nearly slid off her chair. She scrambled to her feet and turned to see Hunter standing just behind her.
“Dr. Chambers,” she said, exhaling with relief. “You have to stop sneaking up on me.”
“Sorry. I just came down to see if you got everything you needed.” He looked around the room at the brand new machines, some of which had only just come out of their boxes. “I took the liberty of ordering you the new computer. A project like this requires much more computing power than the ones we have now.”
“The ones we have now are pretty great,” Emily said with a smile. “This one is on another level, though. I really appreciate it.”
“Good, I’m glad. You can get started as soon as possible, then.” He picked up a ball of clear tape and held it up, and Emily coughed into her hand.
“I have a bad habit of fidgeting when I watch people setting things up,” she said. “The IT guy was having problems and I started rolling tape around in my hands to keep my mouth shut. It’s hard for me not to just lean over and telling him to just let me do it.” She held out a hand to take the ball but Hunter tossed it into the trash instead.
“I can’t blame you, I feel the same way when I watch someone fumbling around.” He went to one of the machines and studied it. Emily watched him, trying not to be obvious. She had a crush on Hunter that had started when she finally got the opportunity to meet him, and she’d never thought she’d be so close to him. She joined him at the table that held all her equipment, fully aware that she was close enough to reach over and touch his hand. She’d never dare, of course, but it could be done if she wanted to. Instead she smiled up at Hunter.
“Isn’t it great? I had no idea they were making them so small now. The one I saw at the CDC was much bigger, but that was years ago.” She looked over at the computer, which had rebooted itself and was working on updating the program.
“You worked at the CDC?”
“No, just toured the headquarters as part of a conference. Working with viruses and infectious diseases never interested me much. Pharmaceutical research is much more interesting.” She folded her arms over her chest to remove the temptation to get closer. “I guess I’d rather be the one to solve the problems, not discover them.”
“I see. We’re lucky to have you, then.” Hunter went to her computer, which was displaying a login screen.
“You want to be the first to log in? I’d consider it an honor,” Emily said. Hunter smiled and leaned over the desk. She expected to see his fingers fly over the keyboard but instead he frowned. It looked as if he was trying to remember something, and after a painful few moments he straightened.
“This is your lab,” he said. “You should do it.”
“Oh. Sure.” Emily typed in her login credentials, then looked over her shoulder at Hunter. “I can’t believe you got the funding for this so quickly. I couldn’t even get anyone to take me seriously a couple of years ago,” she said, then grinned up at him. “You really are a genius.” Emily expected Hunter to make some sort of joke, but his expression darkened instead.
“It’s none of your business where I got it,” he snapped. “Just do your job.”
“Yes, sir,” Emily said, her smile disappearing. She’d thought they were getting along well but he’d thrown that idea in the trash with the tape ball. “I’ll get started transferring my files.” Hunter didn’t reply to this, only turned and went to the door, slamming it behind him as he left. Emily winced, then stood in the middle of the room trying to figure out what she’d done. She wasn’t expecting them to be best friends, but she hadn’t expected him to be rude either.
She sighed and shook her head, then sat down in front of her computer. The molecular mapping software opened and she started to type in the specifications for the structure she wanted to simulate, then glanced over at her phone. When she saw that it was 1:30, she jumped out of her chair.
“Dammit!” She grabbed her backpack from the coat peg beside the door and slung it over her shoulder, then headed out the door. It took her a minute or so to realize that she was still wearing her lab coat and she ran back to the lab to pull it off and hang it on the peg. Then she hurried down the hallway as fast as her heels would let her. No one seemed interested in the fact that she was leaving and she couldn’t bring herself to care.
Figuring out her boss’ mood swings was not a priority at the moment, getting to the hospital was. She skipped the elevator and went for the stairs, wondering if it was worth going back to work after she took care of her business. It wasn’t as if anyone would miss her.