Cate awoke with a jolt. It was the second night in a row that she'd had the dream. She could only remember one thing from it upon waking: the deep voice that echoed in her head. What did it say? She'd no idea; there was only silence in her memory. With a small groan, she buried her face into her pillow.
Her alarm clock blasted its wake up call into her ear three minutes later. Cate swiftly brought her fist down onto the snooze button and cracked an eye open to survey the time. 4:15, but she already knew that. Every morning was the same: Cate had a hard time getting out of bed each morning. It could've been the inane Development of US History I papers that always seemed to haunt her from her desk across the room. It could've been the stench of stale coffee that lingered on her clothes in spite of numerous washings. It was probably, however, her average of four hours of sleep a night.
With much effort, she dragged herself from her bed and lumbered over to her window. She gazed groggily onto the quiet, slumbering Georgetown street. The inky, indigo-colored sky offered only moonlight but Cate still saw the same shiny, black SUV that parked there the night before.
Her brow furrowed absently at it before she padded down the hallway. The burst of streaming water from the showerhead made her jump; perhaps that car had made her more nervous than she could readily admit. Or maybe it was that ethereal voice still instead her head.
She showered and dressed in her uniform: black pants and a black shirt. She balled up the green apron and stuffed it into her tote bag with her laptop and books.
The October morning was proving to be overcast and cool. The sky had only lightened to a foggy grey. Cate hopped on the bus to the Metro. Black shiny SUVs were more than commonplace in D.C., what with every politician and dignitary employing one to get around town. It was no surprise to her that there was one parked outside the Foggy Bottom station. She did, however, raise an eyebrow at the SUV parked by the Capitol South Metro station.
"Wonder what's going on around town today." She muttered to herself. She'd hoped the sound of her normal, raspy morning voice would calm her heart into beating properly. It didn't.
She greeted her manager with a small nod and got to work. It wasn't long before the morning rush hit the Starbucks and the therapeutic ritual of making espresso drink after espresso drink made any unease fade from Cate's mind.
As things calmed down, she took the time to straighten up the seating area. After the rush it always seemed to resemble some sort of national disaster area. She collected the abandoned coffee cups, the crumpled napkins, and the dissected newspaper sections. Cate then had a fifteen-minute conversation with Ralph, a retired tobacco lobbyist, about the lost teen years of Jesus Christ.
After she extracted herself from the interaction, Cate noticed the resident bum, Charlie, asleep in one of the purple armchairs.
"Hey, Charlie," she called to him.
His eyes shot open.
"You gotta move on, man," she said gently.
He stretched, gathered his bundles, and left with a toothless grin. Cate went back behind the counter.
"Got Charlie out, eh?" Aaron, her manager asked.
"Yeah," she replied, "and he didn't pee on the chair this time, either."
"You know," Aaron watched the man cross the street, "I think he was a part of Nixon's White House."
"Yeah," Aaron raised an eyebrow as Charlie drifted down the street and out of sight, "you never, ever know who is going to walk in here."
Cate shook her head. Aaron always carried an air of a foreboding seer. He was about forty years old but spoke like a wise sage who'd seen great things in his life. The truth was, he grew up in Silver Spring and dropped out of Virginia Military Academy. Cate was used to his mysterious utterances and almost always paid him no heed.
If only she'd paid attention to him that afternoon, maybe she would've noticed the black car pull up outside of the Starbucks. Maybe she would've seen two people emerge from it and enter the store. Maybe she would've noticed their undeniable interest in her.
She didn't really take notice of them until three days later.
It was a Thursday. The October rainstorm had been sweeping through town for several hours and there was no one interested in coffee that day—except for two customers.
They came in at one, as always. He was well dressed but a little bit rumpled, possibly a professor of some sort. He had cropped silver hair and wore horn-rimmed glasses. She was usually in a skirt and jacket. Her low, slick ponytail accentuated her severe cheekbones and the only make up she wore was red lipstick. His countenance was amicable while hers was formidable.
They always ordered the same things: tall iced coffee in a grande cup with extra ice, 3 pumps hazelnut, 2 pumps classic, an inch of non-fat milk, with a dome lid and a venti straw for her and a black tea for him. They always sat at the window counter. If the seats were unavailable, they would stand by the door.
Cate would always resume her work behind the counter as usual but today was different. Today they seemed to be studying her every move. From the corner of her eye, Cate could swear the man had leaned in to his companion and whispered something against her ear. They then both glanced in her direction.
"Who do you think they are?" Stephanie, the cashier, asked her.
"I have no clue." Cate replied with a shrug, "but they've been staring at me."
"I know," her friend breathed, "and they've been in here for the past four days. Do you think they're swingers?"
Cate allowed a laugh in spite of her uneasiness, "I think they're spies."
"Yes, and," Stephanie chuckled, "'his bowtie is really a camera'."
Cate made a few more drinks and glanced at the clock. It was one thirty. Quitting time. She took off her apron and hat and clocked out.
"I'll see you tomorrow, guys." She called to her co-workers as she left the coffee shop.
It was off to the Library of Congress for her daily research session. Cate walked over to Capitol Hill in the brisk autumn afternoon. The rain had finally stopped and the sun started to peek out from behind the cloud cover. Whatever feelings of wariness she harbored during the last minutes of her shift had not left her when she'd left work. Cate glanced over her shoulder.
There they were. They were following her, not too closely, but definitely following. She quickened her pace. After thinking that she'd lost them while crossing Independence Avenue, she ducked into the Jefferson building. Of course, there was security. And, of course, there was a long line of tourists at security. Not wanting to check to see if they'd made it in, Cate focused on getting to the Rare Books reading room to attempt to concentrate on her work and possibly disappear amidst the stacks.
No such luck would befall her on that particular afternoon.
She pulled her laptop from her bag. It slipped out of her trembling hands and clattered onto the table. There were no less than three passive aggressive, silent reprimands from the readers around her.
It was then that they had appeared in the doorway and spotted her. Cate flipped open a few books and cowered behind her computer. For good measure, she began typing furiously.
She could scream, definitely. She could run. She could probably throw one good punch to buy some time. She could bargain with them—perhaps pirates kidnapped her parents and they'd sent agents to negotiate a ransom. What type of deal could she ever strike with Somali pirates? Somali? Sure. What made her parents so vulnerable as to—
"Pardon me," the silver-haired man interrupted Cate's thoughts, "are you Catherine Blackstall?"
"Yes." She could give them her inheritance. She'd have to contact the family lawyer-
"Could we have a word with you?"
-What was his phone number? Did she have it logged in her phone? Would they accept a personal check?
"What? Yes." She stopped typing.
"I am John Rosencrantz and this is Melinda Abernathy."
The man sat down next to Cate while Melinda chose to remain looming over her.
"I'm sorry," Cate began, "do I know you? Should I know you?"
"No," Melinda uttered in a low voice, "you don't know us. But we know you."
"And why is that?"
"Because we need your help, Catherine," John said, "you are under the academic supervision of Dr. Peter Montague, are you not?"
"Yes, I am." Oh, good Lord, Peter. What have you gotten yourself into? "But—but I haven't seen him in—"
"Six months?" Melinda supplied in a frigid tone.
"Yes," Cate nodded, "he took this sudden sabbatical—"
"You need to come with us." John said and stood abruptly. "Gather your things."
"He didn't tell me where he was going!" She felt her heart rate multiply, "I'm sorry I don't know—"
"You're not in trouble," Melinda drawled with a bored eye roll, "but you need to come with us."
Cate glanced at John and he nodded encouragingly. With a deep breath, she packed up her things and followed them out to the front of the building where there was a black car waiting.
"After you," John opened the door and gestured for Cate to get in it.
The girl thought for a moment. If these people know where I work and study, they know where I live. If I'm not dead now, I'll be dead later.
"We're not going to kill you," Melinda sighed, "That would indeed be a very foolish thing to do at this juncture."
"Enough," John scolded his colleague softly. "Cate?"
With a resigned nod, she climbed into the car. They sped off and pulled up to the back entrance of the Smithsonian American History Museum. Before Cate could question anything, Melinda handed her a blindfold.
"It is for your security."
Dead. Dead. I'm dead.
"We won't hurt you."
Cate pursed her lips and tied the blindfold across her eyes. They led her into what she could only assume was the museum. She tried to memorize the turns she made and the lengths of halls she'd walked but it was impossible. She felt as if they were taking her in circles.
The building was devoid of any sound. She could sense a stark fluorescent light that filtered through the blindfold but Cate experienced little else. Her companions did not speak and she only heard her own footsteps. They ushered her into an elevator and went down for several minutes.
The doors opened to a hallway that seemed very dark. Cate could feel Melinda's firm grip guiding her left arm as they led her into a room. Cate expected to see a firing squad or perhaps an Iron Maiden when they restored her sight but there was just a table. Around the table were three chairs. A portly blonde man in his mid-fifties occupied one of them.
"Welcome, Miss Blackstall." He announced, "I am Amos Pickering. Have a seat."
Cate stared at him and took a seat robotically.
"I can see that you're confused about this situation." He stated directly, "I am sorry for that. This is the best way we know how to go about this. Now, you are affiliated with Peter Montague, yes?"
"And you know him fairly well?"
"I suppose." Cate was caught a bit off-guard by the question, "I've been working with him for the past two years. He's my advisor for my doctorate at Georgetown."
"Yes, yes," the blonde man said, unsurprised. "Would you say you know his motivations well?"
"His motivations. Do you think you could anticipate his actions?"
"His...actions? I don't understand."
"For instance," Pickering spoke very casually but at a rapid pace, "if he were to disappear in 1777 Philadelphia, would know where he'd gone or what occupation he might take?"
"Did he ever talk about historical occupations that particularly interested him?"
"1777? Philadelphia? What—what are you talking about?"
Pickering took a deep breath. He glanced at Melinda and John as he produced a large linen handkerchief from the inside pocket of his navy blazer. He ran it tiredly across his forehead and then placed it back out of sight. He cleared his throat softly.
"For the past twenty years," he began with the air of a bard embarking on a long epic, "a small group of historians at the Smithsonian has been at work with a small group of physicists at NASA. And when I say small, I mean ten people. It has been a top secret, confidential project that is only know to very few. And when I mean very few, I mean twenty people. We don't even have a name."
He paused to scrutinize Cate's reaction. Her wide-eyed, blank stare was enough for him to continue.
"For the past two decades these teams have worked together to create a transport device. With exhaustive research and an extensive experimentation process, we've reached what we'd like to call a successful curve."
"Better known as time travel."
The words struck her like a sucker punch to the stomach. Cate shook her head to relieve the feeling. She stood up and the chair scraped noisily across the concrete floor.
"I'm sorry," she said as she felt tremors assailing her body again, "I need to go home."
"Please, Miss Blackstall," Amos' measured demeanor had been broken by her distress, "I am trying to explain this in the best way possible. Melinda, could you get Miss Blackstall a glass of water?"
Without a nod of acknowledgement, Melinda disappeared with a moderate slam of the door. Cate fell back into the chair.
"This is insane." She trembled.
"No, it's just secret." Amos stated simply, "and no one can know this."
"Why are you telling me this?"
"Because you know Dr. Montague," he said, " and from our background work on you, I see that you are a doctoral candidate at Georgetown, currently researching late American colonial culture."
Melinda came back into the room and placed a glass of water on the table with considerable force. Cate drank it quickly and wished it had been cut with vodka.
"You also partake in historical reenactments around the greater D.C. area," the man continued, "you speak French, German and Latin. You have no highlights in your hair, no plastic surgery, no visible dental work, and you are 5'5"."
"What does this have to do with anything?" Cate asked, "I can give you a few hypotheses as to where to find him but beyond that—"
"You're the perfect candidate to go on the next curve."
"You have a vast amount of knowledge of the time period," he grew excited, " You have useful skills in language and etiquette and your appearance is historically acceptable."
"You don't wear contact lenses," he continued, "you don't have any medical issues, you aren't married. You don't have children. You look like you could be twenty—or thirty. A wide age range is always helpful."
"We need you, Miss Blackstall."
"I'm sorry," she shook her head in disbelief, "you want me to time travel?"
"We try to stay away from any terminology that's overtly Wellsian in nature." Amos' tone became slightly critical, "we prefer 'curving'."
"You want me to curve?" Cate appeased him.
"Yes," he said, "the initial curve was Dr. Montague, Dr. Laurents—she went to the First World War—and Dr. Lindstrom, who went to the Roman Empire. We outfitted them with a small pack of supplies, a good amount of money and a solar powered communications device. With this device, we've established that all three have successfully completed their curves and reached their appropriate time and place.
"Their goal on these missions was to receive first-hand experiences in history, to witness momentous events as they were happening. They've been gone for six months now and we've lost track of all of them. Their devices are all turned off. Or they're broken, which, then, was a real waste of that grant."
"They haven't come back?"
"So," the man ignored her question, "we sent Fiona Macon, who was a new research recruit to our program. She is an expert on American women's history and so she went to Philadelphia looking for Dr. Montague. We have reason to believe she may be in trouble but we can't know for sure as her device was turned off as well."
"How do you know they're not dead?" Cate asked plainly.
"We don't know." Amos returned with equal transparency. "What we ask you, Miss Blackstall, is no small feat. We are aware of that. The top priority of your mission is to find Dr. Macon and Dr. Montague. Any other information you acquire or events you observe is a bonus."
Cate narrowed her eyes incredulously at Amos' incredibly clinical approach to what seemed to her as a life and death situation.
"And if I don't come back?"
"We're running out of money," he said quickly, "you're our last hope to get more funding and, possibly, go public."
He didn't quite answer that question.
"And if I say no?"
"We must respect that." He set his jaw, "and notify the professors' families."
"I'm just a student." Cate held her hand to her forehead as tears began to well at the corners of her eyes, "I'm not equipped—mentally or physically—to go back in time—"
"—CURVE, SORRY." She slammed her hand down onto the tabletop.
"We also offer you $5,000 upon your return." He put in casually, "any and all subsequent trips will also include similar compensation."
All traces of anxiety vanished from her face. Cate fought hard to focus on the task presented before her. It would change the course of her entire career. The opportunities were infinite.
"I need time."
"Of course, of course," Amos replied with a furrowed brow that signified sympathy, "take as much time as you need. But if we could have an answer by tomorrow, that'd be great."
"I see." Cate pursed her lips.
"Would you like to see the facility?"
He looked nervous, like he was making a final attempt at an unsuccessful sales pitch. Perhaps Cate truly was their last hope.
"All right." She managed and allowed him to lead her through the doors and down the hallway to a larger room.
Like everything else she'd seen, the room was grey concrete with no windows. There was more fluorescent tube lighting across the ceiling. The room was very cold but there was no air movement. It had control board on the left side of the room with many buttons and gauges off to one side and a large, black machine in the center of it. Next to it was a small, square platform.
"So this is it?" She asked nonchalantly. Her heart was racing.
"Yes," he nodded as he carefully gauged her response, "this is our latest model. Let me introduce you to the gentleman who would be your 'pilot', so to speak. He's our resident expert on this machine. All the way from Oxford."
Amos motioned to a ginger-haired man sitting at the control desk. He rose and shuffled over to them and shook Cate's hand. She smiled. This guy seemed nice, but perhaps that was just his warm handshake.
"Oscar Entwhistle." He said as if he was self conscious of his own name.
"Cate Blackstall. Nice to meet you."
Oscar nodded, "So, you're our new curver?"
"No yet." Amos emitted a nervous laugh, "we're trying to woo her, Oscar."
"Ah, well," Oscar chuckled, "don't over do it, Amos. We don't want to seem desperate."
He gave a smile to Cate and resumed his work. She couldn't help but turn her mouth into a small grin.
"Any news, Oscar?" Amos laid his hand on the dashboard.
"No." Oscar replied in a manner that indicated his boss asked this question several times a day.
"Well then," Amos exhaled, "let me escort you out, Miss Blackstall—"
"Actually, Amos," Oscar cut in as he shut down the machines, "I'm done for the day. I can walk her back up."
The blonde man's eyes brightened. Cate narrowed hers—was this a recruiting tactic?
"Of course," Amos let a smile cross over his face, "of course. Good-bye then, Miss Blackstall. I hope to hear from you soon."
"Thank you for this… experience, Mr. Pickering." Cate shook his hand politely and pulled hers away when he held onto it for too long. "I shall consider your offer."
Amos' smile soured into a fleeting scowl before being finally recharged. He handed Cate a blindfold with his new grin. After a small nod, he disappeared into the hallway.
"Ready to go?" Oscar asked and held up the blindfold.
"Very well." Cate allowed him to tie it around her head.
"Can you see?"
"Good." Oscar adjusted the material so it stopped slipping down her nose. "May I?"
He placed his hand lightly upon her arm. She nodded and felt his fingers find their way against her palm.
"So you're the good cop."
"I'm sorry?" Oscar gave her a sidelong glance as he led her through the twists and turns of the underground hallways. "Ceiling gets very low here. Mind your head."
"Amos is the bad cop," Cate ducked her head, "and you're the good cop. He handed me off to you so you could work me from a different angle. It's not going to work."
Oscar let out a small laugh, "I don't tend to bother to interpret Amos' actions. In fact, I tend not to listen to him altogether. Left turn coming up."
Cate was silent in thought.
"So what do you think?" Oscar steered her into the elevator. "Will you do it?"
"Honestly," Cate bit her lip as she figured out a proper answer to his question.
Oscar looked at the blindfolded girl in the elevator next to him. He cleared his throat as he waited for her response.
"Yes." She finally said, "yes. I think I will do it. Am I completely crazy?"
"If precedents mean anything," Oscar continued to hold her hand and now gave it a squeeze, "yes, you are. But that doesn't mean you can't do a good job. You already seem saner than your predecessors. Mind your step, here."
He led her out of the elevator and finally outside. Night had fallen and the temperature had dropped considerably. Cate removed her blindfold and shivered.
"Thanks for leading me out." She handed the blindfold back to him.
Oscar put his hand up, "a souvenir."
She smiled and ran her hand across her eyes wearily, "God, I need a drink."
"There's a great place I know just around the corner." Oscar offered, "they have a great, er, happy hour."
"Sure," Cate nodded, "I may just need to pick your brain."
"Lead the way, Oscar."
They grabbed two seats at the end of the bar. Cate ordered a vodka soda and Oscar had a pint of Fat Tire.
"So, let me start it off for you," Oscar leaned back with a grin, "'how, what, when, why?"
"That's a start, yes," Cate laughed, "but I don't even think I'd understand the half of it."
"Long story short," he said, "I've been here for five years. In that time, we've had some really exciting breakthroughs that have brought us to this place we're in right now. Basically what we do is send people back to the past, or, as Amos said, 'curve' through a closed loop of time. This was previously thought to only work with objects returning to their own past. Through the research and experimentation done here, we've been able to send not only objects but also people to the actual past.
"Of course, they travel faster than the speed of light and that was the device you saw in the room where I was working. It's not some sort of Dr. Who telephone booth but our generator. If you were to go, you'd stand next to it, the lasers would encase you and poof! Off you'd go.
"It took a few tries to get the actual destinations right. Peter ended up in Outer Mongolia in 1217 at first. We had to get him out of there quickly, as you could imagine. I think Laurents ended up in the Kalahari—not sure of the year—before we set her on the right course. Lindstrom, Jesus, he bounced all over the place."
"What do you mean?" Cate sucked her drink down.
"At first he ended up in his own childhood." Oscar exhaled, "in his own backyard. He seemed really upset about it, as well. I think something similar happened to Fiona but she wouldn't talk about it. So, we got him out of there as fast as we could and then he ended up at Machu Picchu, I think. After that it was the Pyramids, Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Colossus of Rhodes. I think he hit nearly every major Ancient Wonder of the World."
"Oh my God."
"Yeah," Oscar took a sip of his beer before setting down very deliberately on the bar as he paused, "there's a pattern there. And that's not something we were expecting, nor do we know how it happened. So, there is… still much to discover."
"Once they're there…"
"After the curve, you'll probably be knackered as hell," Oscar said, "Laurents came down with a cold after a few days and we were worried with her being sick because of the Spanish Flu during World War I but I think she's all right now. Or, we can assume.
"But for all of the curvers, there was something of an adjustment period. It was probably shorter than sending a regular person back in time because of their knowledge, which is a good thing. After that, we tried repeatedly communicating with each of them and for whatever reasons, all communication stopped. Either they were robbed of their devices, which is perfectly plausible as they were designed to look like jewelry. We have reason to believe that, like Fiona, Dr. Laurents is in trouble. As for Montague and Lindstrom, we have no idea."
"Why do you think they're in trouble?" Cate glanced to the bartender and raised her hand, indicating to her glass for a second drink.
"Fiona was only there for two days before she'd gone rogue." He started quietly, "it's hard to tell who exactly she was associating with when she disappeared as I cannot hear other people—only the person with whom I'm connected.
"Then, late one night, I was awakened—I'm the only one connected so I usually get to sleep whenever the curver does. Anyway, I was awakened by her cries. I tried to speak with her, to calm her down but she either didn't listen or didn't hear me. She grew increasingly frantic, she started screaming…"
Oscar trailed off and closed his eyes for a moment.
"You know what happened to her."
"I have a good idea."
"She was raped. Or, at the very least, assaulted."
"Oh my God."
"And it's extremely hard to pinpoint exact times and locations," Oscar exhaled his frustration forcefully, "so if you do go—when you do go—we won't be able to send you back to the precise moment. Times of day are the same but seasons, days of the week, and years obviously, are different. We have no idea where she is."
Oscar stopped again and rubbed his eyes.
"And I've felt like I've failed her."
"Oh, Oscar," Cate grasped his arm comfortingly. "There was probably very little you could've done."
"That's my worst fear in this job." His brown eyes looked at hers pitifully, "and it's already come true. Being on the other end of a glorified quantum phone line and being completely helpless. I kept on thinking to myself: 'I need to call the police, 911, anything.' And then it hit me: there are no fucking police in 1777."
"So how close can you drop me?"
Oscar's eyes widened, "You're seriously considering this now? After what I just told you?"
"In spite of that, I suppose I am," she replied, "how close, then?"
"You'll be third in line for 1777," he explained, "so anytime after Fiona has gotten there. We're not sure why there are limitations as to when we can drop you. We're still researching that. But Jesus, she may be—"
"And Peter?" Cate quickly changed the subject.
"We just don't know." Oscar admitted wearily, "He was quite the odd one, wasn't he? Maybe his eccentricity contributed to his disappearance."
"Peter is a strange guy," Cate agreed, "if I were a betting woman, I'd say he just turned his device off. He wants complete immersion. Was he the first to volunteer?"
"Yes," Oscar said. "We had originally planned on using an animal but he was dead set against it. He wanted to go no matter what."
"Wow." Cate breathed, "He really wanted this. I wonder if-"
"I wonder if his wife's death has anything to do with it."
Oscar nodded in agreement. "Do you have any questions?"
"Uh, yes. Why me?" Cate asked incredulously, "I mean, I'm not an expert. I'm still a student. If they're looking for Indiana Jones or Robert Langdon, I'm sorry. They'll have to keep looking."
"Well, we're pretty desperate at this point."
"It doesn't mean we have no faith in you." Oscar said comfortingly, "It just means we have very little choice. You know Montague and, well, Amos went through all the reasons why you're our best candidate."
"What is Amos' goal with this project?"
"On paper? To collect historical data to better understand past societies and our society as a whole," Oscar recited dutifully. "But if you were to ask my personal opinion, well, I don't think that's entirely true. There's a motive. I just don't know what it is."
"I have another question," Cate's eyes narrowed, "why does Melinda shoot laser beams from her eyes any time she looks at me?"
"I imagine she hates you by association." Oscar suggested, "she lobbied heavily for your spot but was denied because, as you've undoubtedly noticed, has cheek implants. And collagen injections in her lips, I think. She's an expert on British colonial history. She was dying for this. You come in with no knowledge of the program and no experience, hence the laser beams."
"She's… a historian?"
"A little. We're usually a pretty specific type, if I dare to be so stereotypical." Cate said, "and John is…?"
"Ah, of course."
"Any more questions?"
"Are you concerned you may… get in trouble for saying these things in public?"
"Quite frankly, no." Oscar took a sip of his beer, "a handful of people know about this project. And you're looking at the only one in this room. I could go into the entire history of the program but I've being doing all the talking. Tell me about yourself."
"Not much to tell, really," Cate shrugged, "I got my BA at Dartmouth, my masters at Rutgers and I'm studying for my doctorate at Georgetown. I'd love to stay in the area and continue to do research fellowships with the Library of Congress. I'd also love to teach.
"Right now, I'm a slave to espresso and I do Revolutionary War reenactments on weekends. I live with nine other people in a Georgetown rowhouse and I want a cat but I can't afford it. I love Oaxacan Mexican food. My favorite color is peach. My favorite band of all time is Queen—"
"A Night at the Opera, naturally."
"Oh, come on," Oscar feigned annoyance, "News of the World or Jazz, at least."
"What?" Cate asked shrilly, "Oh, please. Don't start with that."
"Fat-Bottomed Girls, Don't Stop Me Now, Bicycle Race…"
"Love of My Life, Bohemian Rhapsody, You're My Best Friend…"
"All right, all right. But this debate is not over. Anyway, where were we before you revealed your excruciatingly mainstream love of Queen?"
"I grew up in a small town on the Connecticut river called Essex. Went to prep school in Newport. I have a huge inheritance and the only thing I resent more than its existence are my parents who refuse to give me a dime because it 'builds character'. So I read, I starve, I brew and I lace myself into a stay once a month. How about you?"
" Grew up in Essex—the real one—attended the Harrow School, Oxford, Oxford again and then Harvard."
Cate raised her eyebrows, "I can't say I don't feel inferior. Wow, the real Essex. Didn't know mine was the knock off."
Oscar chuckled and his eyes met hers. Cate felt it was time to go.
"I think it's time for me to call it a night." She yawned, "Not that I'll get any sleep."
She beckoned to the bartender.
"Please, allow me." Oscar produced his credit card from his wallet.
"Oh…. Thank you." She stammered, "When I said I was starving I—"
"Not to worry," Oscar cut in as he signed the check, "I was in your place not too long ago. I know how thirsty grad school can make you. You'd better relish your vodka now."
The corner of Cate's mouth rose as she grabbed her bag and put on her coat. They walked out of the bar together into the cool night air.
"Well," Cate sighed as a puff of breath escaped from her lips, "it's been… an education, Oscar. Thank you."
"I think you'll be perfect." Oscar smiled warmly at her, "see you tomorrow?"
"Yes, I suppose. If I only knew where I was going."
"How about I meet you at two outside the American History museum and escort you in?"
"Perfect. See you then."
"Good night, Cate."