When I came back on Wednesday, Emmy wasn’t at the front desk. That gave me pause and I wasn’t alone in worrying. I’d kept Vaughn informed of everything I’d seen. So it wasn’t a surprise when he leaned over the counter to her desk, moving the computer mouse.
“Her name’s still the most recent log in.” He pushed himself off the counter. “I don’t know if the medical division’s got rules about dating other employees, but technically, she’d have been dating someone from another company. So she shouldn’t get fired for that. On the other hand, I bet there’s something in the Employee Handbook that would let them fire her for dating a married guy. I wonder where she is?”
“No idea.” We walked together until we came to Vaughn’s office.
He opened the door and stopped halfway through, turning back to me. “Don’t leave me hanging, okay? Text me when you find out what’s going on.”
“I’ll do what I can. We’re not supposed to use our phones in the lab. I might be able to take a break outside though.”
He gave me a thumbs up and stepped through the door.
I walked down the hall, wondering how damaged the ansible was and if I’d be able to send a message from my implant to ansible and out to the Xiniti space station near Mars and then back to Earth and Vaughn’s phone. Maybe I wouldn’t need to? Knowing as I did that there were aliens on Earth, it seemed impossible that none of them had found a way to link Earth’s internet to the interstellar ansible network.
On the other hand, if they were on Earth, they might be here to avoid galactic civilization—which was understandable. On a personal level, I felt like I should reply to Kals, but I felt awkward about it too.
That was my last thought before entering Higher Ground’s lobby. As my shoes hit the wooden floor, Stephanie stood up in her cubicle, waving at me. “Over here.”
I walked around the far end of the row, pulled my chair out of my cube, and rolled it down the row to find Emmy sitting with Stephanie in a chair borrowed from another cube.
I said the obvious, “I didn’t expect to see you here.”
“Because you’re assuming that I’d be hiding from Sandy?” Emmy shook her head and then took a breath and looked down. “If you are, you’re right. Sandy’s in California with his wife for the next two weeks.”
Emmy glanced over at Stephanie, keeping her voice low. “Does he know?”
“That you and Sandy were playing ‘hide the cannoli?’ Emmy, everybody knows.”
Emmy blinked. “Hide the cannoli?” Then she giggled and looked at me. “I’m beginning to feel like I should have a press conference for everyone in the building so that I only have to explain it once. Except then I’m pretty sure I’d get fired. There’s a section in our employee handbook about engaging in ‘immoral behavior on company grounds.’ Technically, it would have been here, but it’s all Hardwick property.”
She shook her head. “I don’t think they really care, but if they do, you know they won’t punish Sandy.”
Her mouth twisted and she looked at me. “Not that you asked, but I broke up with him. When we started he said he and his wife were practically divorced. They’re not.”
Stephanie shook her head. “That’s practically a cheater cliche—at least that’s what Lifetime movies tell me.”
Emmy sniffed. “Good news. All their cliches are true. I’m sure that next week it’ll turn out that I’m pregnant with Sandy’s baby, an ex-boyfriend will start stalking me, and one of the two of them will hire a hitman to kill me and steal the baby after she’s born.”
“But it’ll be okay in the end,” Stephanie told her, “because you’re a good person and because of the hot yet sensitive guy you’ll fall in love with in the next two hours.”
I looked from one of them to another. “You’re making me feel better and better about never watching that channel.”
Stephanie smiled. “It only seems silly because it’s not your ridiculous fears and fantasies.”
She looked at Emmy, “Do you want to go out after work? Hit a bar and hang out?”
Then Stephanie grinned at me, “And no offense, but not you. You’re under 21, right?”
“Twenty,” I said. We’d been in space on my birthday and I hadn’t even noticed until we got home. They used a different calendar out there.
“Good,” Stephanie said, “then I’m not being rude. I’m being a good example to the intern.”
And turning back to Emmy she said, “So, girls’ night out?”
Emmy paused, exhaling before saying, “I… Yes. Let’s.”
They both smiled, Emmy a little more slowly. Then she looked between Stephanie and I. “Someone told me the two of you were going out. Are you?”
Stephanie shook her head. “I don’t know where that came from. No.”
Deciding that I should back her up on this, I said, “I’ve been going out with Haley, my girlfriend, since my senior year of high school. Stephanie and I sometimes talk here, but that’s it. People make assumptions sometimes.”
Not long after that Stephanie and I went to the lab while Emmy went back to her desk. Before leaving, I texted Vaughn, “Emmy in my office. Still employed.”
He texted back, “Good,” and added, “You should look at this.”
He’d sent a link to a Detroit Free Press article with the headline, “Local Businessman Killed by Cougar.” I read the article. He’d invested in Higher Ground.