The Absence of Intellect – Five

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“Good morning, Dr. Haynes,” one of the research assistants said as the head of the pharmaceutical research department stepped out of the elevator just in front of Emily. She kept her eyes on her phone so it looked as if she didn’t care that the assistant didn’t so much as acknowledge her presence. “Can I get you some coffee?”

“Sure,” Dr. Haynes said. “Black, two sugars.” He glanced over his shoulder at Emily, then kept walking without a word.

Since they worked in the same department, Emily was forced to walk behind him to get to her corner of the lab and endure the steady stream of greetings directed to Dr. Hayes. Not a single person in the lab said hello to her, and as much as she wanted to pretend she didn’t care about it there was a part of her that wanted to be popular. She’d had more than a few friends in school, and her parents had supported her in everything she wanted to do. When she’d worked at the hospital, she’d been one of the top surgeons. Here she was a pariah because she’d dared to show compassion, but she couldn’t leave until she’d at least mapped out the framework for the neural bridge.

It was a relief to finally get to her lab and shut the door behind her, and she swapped her backpack for her lab coat on the peg before using the app on her phone to start playing the dubstep channel at top volume. If her presence wouldn’t keep her coworkers out of the lab, the music almost certainly would.

Emily booted up the computer and logged in, thinking about the day before with a new perspective. It was entirely possible that the reason Hunter hadn’t wanted to log in to her computer was that he couldn’t remember his credentials. She wasn’t sure how he was getting into the intranet if that was the case but she wasn’t about to ask. The last thing she wanted was to embarrass him further, or herself for that matter. She still couldn’t believe she’d told him she found him attractive. It would be a miracle if he wanted to be alone in a room with her after that alone, not to mention the times she’d unintentionally made him feel uncomfortable.

She was just about to sit down at her desk when a loud knock got her attention and she turned to see Hunter opening the door. Her heart began to beat faster and she smiled as she used her watch to turn down the music.

“Sorry,” she said. “If I’d known you were coming down I wouldn’t have had it up so loud.”

“It’s no problem,” Hunter said. “I made sure to knock this time, though. The last thing I want is for you to associate me with jumping out of your skin.”

“I appreciate that,” Emily said. “I’m actually glad you came down, Dr. Chambers. I wanted to say that I’m really sorry about last night. I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.”

“You didn’t,” Hunter said. “If anything, I should apologize for just showing up at your house and for all the times I’ve snapped at you. It seems like my temper has gotten shorter lately.” He sighed. “Or maybe I’m just frustrated.”

“It’s understandable,” Emily said, turning to her computer and typing in a few commands. “I was a neurologist for almost ten years before I came here. I’ve seen first hand the way Alzheimer’s erodes your emotional stability as well as your memory.” She looked over her shoulder at him. “Not yours specifically, just in general.”

“You were a neurologist?”

“Yes,” Emily said with a smile. “I was affiliated with St. Cecilia’s Hospital. Their neurology department is the best in Illinois, and I had this hope that one day I could be a neurosurgeon so I observed as many surgeries as I could.”

“I can’t believe you gave up a career as a neurosurgeon to come work for Apogee,” Hunter said, shaking his head. Emily laughed and clicked on her email program.

“Your talk was extremely convincing.” She scanned the list of messages but didn’t see the name she was looking for, and closed the window again. It was meant as a joke but Hunter’s silence gave her the impression that he wasn’t taking it as such, and she opened her mouth to apologize.

“At the risk of being inappropriate, I was wondering if you’d have dinner with me,” he said, surprising her. Emily blinked at him in disbelief. “You can say no, it won’t hurt my feelings.”

“No, no,” Emily said quickly. “I’d love to have dinner with you.”

“Great!” Hunter grinned at her, making her blush. He’d always had more of a reserved smile on his face when she’d seen him and this open, genuine one suited him more. “For a minute I thought you were going to make me feel like I was back in high school.” Emily looked at him curiously and he shrugged. “I wasn’t exactly the most popular guy. I was quiet and more than a little awkward.”

“Popularity is overrated,” Emily said. “You may not have noticed, but I’m not especially popular around here either.”

“Why is that? You’re a nice person and your ideas are revolutionary. I can’t imagine anyone not wanting to work with you.” He walked around the tiny lab and Emily sighed.

“It’s possibly the most ridiculous reason you could think of,” she said. “Really just popular kid lunchroom crap that only halfway grew up.” Hunter watched her expectantly, and Emily couldn’t help noticing just how blue his eyes were. “It’s because I won’t experiment on animals.”

“Are you serious?”

“Yeah. I don’t like it and I feel like the same results can be achieved with simulations and human tissue cultures. Sometimes even better results, and with better results we can go straight to clinical trials as long as we give full disclosure and have airtight waivers for the participants.” She shook her head. “I know that makes me sound like some animal rights activist, but it’s how I feel.”

“First, do no harm,” Hunter said. “The difference between a medical doctor and a scientific one, I suppose. I don’t see why that would make people not want to work with you.”

“Because they think my methods would have adverse effects on their projects. Keep them from getting FDA approval, stall them in the research phase for years, that sort of thing.” She folded her arms over her chest. “That thinking just spreads like a virus in a small environment like this one.”

“So why do you stay? There are plenty of companies that would love to have you and your methods. Why did you give up being a neurologist?” His words sent a chill down Emily’s back. He’d asked the same question less than ten minutes earlier but she could tell that he didn’t remember asking it, much less the answer.

“We can talk more about it at dinner,” Emily said, afraid of embarrassing him again. She really did want to go out with him, and hoped that if they spent more time together and talked more, he wouldn’t be so sensitive about his condition. “Where do you want to go?”

“There’s a nice place called Cerise that’s on the Mile,” Hunter said. “I went there for dinner with some drug reps from Borkin Pharma and it had great shrimp. If you like shrimp, I mean. I know some people don’t like shrimp. They have other dishes there if you’re not a fan of shellfish.” Emily tried her best not to laugh but she couldn’t suppress a smile. “Apparently I haven’t outgrown all of my unfortunate teenage awkwardness.”

“I prefer to think of it as a sort of boyish charm.” She picked up her phone and unlocked it. “And I love shrimp. Let me give you my number so you can put it in your phone. You already have my address.” This made Hunter smile. He took out his own phone and offered it to her. When Emily took it, she brushed his fingers with hers, making just enough contact to send a spark of electricity up her arm. She typed her name and phone number into his address book, then looked up at him. “Do you want to try and set something up now?”

“Sure,” Hunter said. “Tonight?”

“I’m sorry,” Emily said. “I’ve got plans tonight and probably tomorrow.” She regretted having to tell him she couldn’t see him so soon, but a night of work could make or break her research. Melissa was counting on her to finish it, she couldn’t stop until it was done. “Saturday?”

“Fine with me,” he replied. “Could I talk you into coffee before then?”

“Well, since you’re twisting my arm,” Emily said with a grin. “I happen to be free for a few minutes at the end of my lunch break. I have an errand to run during lunch, but I can make time for coffee.” She handed him back his phone. “Only for you.”

“My day’s looking up, then.” He dropped his phone back into his pocket and headed for the door, much to Emily’s disappointment. Seeing him at lunch would make up for it, and she used her watch to turn the music back up. Hunter stuck his head back into the lab. “I don’t think I said it before, but I’m sorry for my behavior last night,” he shouted over the music. Emily forced herself to smile.

“Don’t worry about it,” she said. Hunter looked relieved as he ducked back out and Emily rubbed her temples hard enough to hurt. She couldn’t keep acting like he wasn’t repeating himself but she also didn’t want to upset him. It was a fine line, and not one she had ever expected to walk, especially not with Hunter. With a sigh, she dropped back into her chair. Splitting her time between the neural bridge and the new drug was going to be the death of her. At least I have dinner to look forward to, she thought as she pulled up the data for the cholinesterase inhibitor. I just have to make it to Saturday night.

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