The Absence of Intellect – Three

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At least three times a week, often more, Emily’s neighbors had friends over. Since she shared a wall with them, she got to hear their muffled voices shouting about sports, games they were playing, and once or twice she’d heard them singing. That wasn’t even counting the dancing or the smell of marijuana that sometimes came through her vent. It didn’t really bother her unless it went on past midnight, which was rare.

She was in the kitchen washing the cat’s food bowl when the doorbell rang, and she turned off the water and dried her hands on the kitchen towel before going to answer it. Once in a while her neighbors came over to apologize for the noise or offer her a beer, but she still checked the Nest app on her phone to see who it was. To her surprise, it wasn’t Rich or Evan on her doorstep, it was Hunter Chambers. She opened the door immediately.

“Dr. Chambers,” she said, at a loss for why her boss would be at her house at eleven at night. “What are you doing here?”

“Mind if I come in?” Hunter looked exhausted. Emily nodded and stepped aside. “Thanks.”

“You want something to drink? I just made cinnamon cocoa.”

“Sure.” He seemed preoccupied, but followed Emily into the kitchen. She poured two mugs of cocoa and handed him one, then leaned on the counter. She felt more than a little self-conscious in her flannel pajama pants and tank top, especially since he was still wearing the same suit he’d been wearing at the lab, but if Hunter noticed he didn’t mention it.

“So what can I do for you?”

“I’m sorry to come by so late,” he said, lifting the mug to his lips. “I got your address from your HR file. It’s inappropriate, I know, but there’s something I wanted to talk to you about and I don’t feel comfortable discussing it at work.”

“It’s no big deal,” Emily said. She couldn’t help being a little excited. She’d never even considered the idea that he would be helping her with her laboratory, much less coming to her house. “I’ve always wanted a late-night visit from a good-looking doctor.” Emily felt herself instantly turning red. She had no idea what had made her say it but Hunter didn’t seem to have noticed. “What’s going on?” He took a deep breath and looked down at his cocoa. “Dr. Chambers?”

“I want to apologize for the way I behaved earlier. There was no excuse for my taking my stress out on you.” His words made Emily smile, glad that he was at least acknowledging what had happened.

“It’s all right,” Emily said, smiling. “The doctor I used to work for used to throw things at the wall when he was mad, and I was just glad I got out of there before he started throwing them at us. I suppose it’s the price of working with geniuses.”

“That’s a joke,” he said bitterly.

“What is?”

“What’s the first thing you think about when you think of me, about Apogee Labs?” It was an odd question but Emily didn’t want to push him too hard for fear he’d shut down.

“Let’s see, the first time I saw you speak was at a conference in Evanston. It was right before I applied to Apogee. You were talking about the use of anticonvulsants to treat other conditions because they targeted similar areas of the brain, and the potential for creating a next-generation medication. I was so impressed. I applied to Apogee before I even checked out of my hotel.” She smiled. “That’s probably what I associate you with the most.”

“If I told you that I not only don’t remember that lecture, but what area of the brain seizure medication affects, that would change your opinion of me, wouldn’t it?” He was finally getting at it and Emily shook her head.

“Not really. It was three years ago. It’s impossible for everyone to remember everything they’ve ever done.” She nodded toward the living room. “Come on, let’s go sit down.” Hunter didn’t argue. He followed her through the kitchen and into a rather spacious living room. It was, however, the wall she shared with her neighbors and they seemed to be getting rowdy.

“Sounds like they’re enjoying themselves over there,” Hunter commented and Emily sighed as she sat down on the couch.

“I honestly don’t think there’s a time when they aren’t.” A muffled roar of laughter came from the wall and she gestured to it. “That guy in particular. I wish I could get as excited about anything as he seems to get about everything.”

“You were pretty excited about the neural bridge earlier,” he said, sitting on the opposite end of the couch. His closeness was distracting and Emily attempted to focus on her work instead of the blueness of his eyes.

“Of course I was,” she said. “Being the one to create a new treatment for such a devastating disease is exciting; it could impact so many people.” She debated telling him about Melissa but decided not to. The last thing she wanted was for him to question her reasons for creating the neural bridge, especially since he seemed to have single-handedly found the funding for her lab. He had apologized for yelling at her but she didn’t want to push her luck.

“Yes,” Hunter said, looking away from her. “I’m one of them.” Emily frowned slightly. She was on the verge of asking which of his parents had Alzheimer’s when he turned his eyes back to her. “I’m in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.”

“You are?” Emily couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Hunter nodded. “How bad is it?”

“I’m starting to forget things that have happened in the past. Sometimes I can’t remember peoples’ names when I’ve just been introduced to them, and depending on the day I have trouble planning out things at work.” He took a drink of his cocoa. “It gets worse as the day goes on. I make a lot of lists in the morning.”

“Are you on medication?”

“Yes, but as I’m sure you know it doesn’t stop the progression of the disease, only slows it down.” Hunter sighed. “The medication gets better every generation but I’ve exhausted all the options. It’s getting to the point where I don’t know how much longer I can work. That’s why your neural bridge therapy is so important.”

“Dr. Chambers,” she said, trying to be as kind as possible. She hated letting people down. “I’m years away from clinical trials. I’d be happy to pull strings to get you into one but by that time the majority of the damage may be irreversible.” Hunter looked as if she’d punched him. “I’m so sorry. I’ll do my best but I can’t guarantee anything.” To keep from seeing the look on his face, she picked up the cat bowl and filled it with food. “If you’ll excuse me, I need to feed my cat. You can see her if you want.” Hunter was silent and she went up the stairs to her bedroom with him on her heels.

Her closet door was partially open and she pulled it open all the way to reveal a cat laying on its side with five tiny kittens nuzzling into her belly. Emily squatted down to put the bowl near another that had water in it. Hunter finally smiled.

“I found her a couple of weeks ago and brought her home. She’s really skittish, though, so she’s spent most of her time hiding. I wasn’t expecting to open my closet a couple of days ago and find this.” She put her hands on her hips. “They’re cute, aren’t they?”

“Yeah,” Hunter said. “Of course they’re cute. They’re…” His words trailed away and Emily looked over to see him frowning, as if he was trying to figure something out. Emily’s body went cold. She knew without asking that he was trying to remember the word. “They’re…”

“Kittens?” Emily supplied the word gently and wasn’t surprised to see Hunter’s face flush.

“I don’t need your help,” he said harshly, and Emily suddenly felt guilty. “I have to go,” he said, turning around and walking quickly down the hall. Emily stood up and hurried after him, taking the stairs two at a time but she’d barely reached the bottom floor when her front door closed. She put her hands on her hips and looked at the floor, disheartened. She waited until his car drove away, then sighed and locked the door.

Emily went back to the kitchen and picked up his mug, then poured out the last of his cocoa. She couldn’t believe that her boss, the man who had made Apogee Labs into one of the top pharmaceutical companies, couldn’t remember the word for kitten. There had to be something she could do for him, she just had to figure out what that was.

 

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