Tuesday morning, I was sorting my completed piles of photocopying into alphabetical order by the last name of the person who requested it to ensure a smooth run as I breezed through the pigeons holes to hand them all back, when a slow shiver ran down my spine, accompanied by the distinct feeling of being watched. I ignored it, focusing instead on returning the documents to my tub from Z to A.
Yesterday, I'd had the exact same feeling on several separate occasions, and each time I turned around there was no one there staring at me. It had gotten to the stage where I'd asked Dodge to keep an eye on everyone and let me know if anyone was looking at me.
No one was.
The tingling at the back of my neck increased until finally, I gave in to the urge to spin around and face my stalker. Again, I was met only with thin air and the usual copy room inhabitants. I was starting to think Derek had bribed the techies to give him a direct link to the copy room's surveillance camera.
Either that or I should put these feelings in my drug trial diary in case they were part of a side effect – like paranoia – not listed on the pill bottle.
Speaking of the drug trial, Dodge had spent the entire night on the phone trying to get through to some kind of hotline attendant so he could tell them what was happening and get the okay to stop taking the pills. He hated dealing with the rash, but he didn't want to just stop the trial without them knowing. They were paying him for his services, after all.
He'd finally gotten through to them as we arrived at work at ten to nine - I know, on time two days in a row, there must be something wrong with me – and after emailing them a photo of how bad the rash had gotten, he had been instructed discontinue use immediately. Later today he would be returning the remaining pills, at which point the program administrators promised to supply him with an extra five hundred dollars cash for his suffering. We figure that will be enough to cover all the lotion he'd been through in the last three days. Unfortunately, it would not pay for the therapy needed to get the image of a naked, rashie Dodge wiped from my brain. Where's the brain bleach when you need it?
Taking my tub, I made my way cautiously to the window to peer out and make sure the coast was clear. I was being more careful than usual with my travels around the building, because a) Derek was hanging about more than usual this week, and b) Riley wanted to 'have a chat' with me according to his email this morning, and I was afraid to reply and set up a time, just in case he was planning on firing me, or shipping me off to that other company to aid in the joining process. Can you imagine what Derek would do with uninterrupted access to my photocopier? The prospects are so horrible I can't even picture them; my brain immediately shuts down such thoughts as they appear in my mind.
I'd gotten down to the M's, my tub feeling considerably lighter than it had when I first entered the hall of pigeon holes, when Riley caught up with me. He was dressed in navy pants and a white business shirt, the sleeves rolled up his forearms to expose gloriously tan skin. I wasn't sure if he looked better in the clothes he unicycled in or as the serious boss, but he definitely wasn't hard to look at.
"I've been looking for you," he informed me, leaning casually against the opposite wall. "You're quite a hard woman to pin down."
I shrugged, slipping yet another stack of papers into a compartment on the wall. "You must not have been looking very hard. I'm in one of four places at any given time. Break room, Copy room, my desk, or here."
I was deliberately playing it cool, not even glancing at him as I spoke. It was easier to concentrate on the task at hand that way. Look at the post-it; match the name on the little stickies under the holes. It didn't take any more thought than that, but with Riley in the room I was nervous as hell and likely to stuff it up. Ignore Riley's eyes in the back of your head, I told myself as I narrowly avoided putting Jacob Mason's photocopying in Christie Neuman's pigeon hole.
"I sent you an email this morning," he mentioned.
"Emily said you ignored it."
"I just haven't had a chance to reply to it yet," I explained, retrieving the last set of documents from my tub and waving it in a vague gesture. "I've been busy."
I took my time slotting that last distraction into its place, not eager to face the boss head on. When the tub was empty, I checked my own pigeon hole and finally turned toward the opposite wall. What I saw there almost made me stop breathing. Riley was there, sure, but it was more than that. I'd expected normal flesh, since he's human and all. But where his face should have been was a, well, I suppose you could call it a painting. In fact, his face was painted just like the painting next to his head. The majority of his face was pale blue accented by little white flowers.
Blinking, I tried to tell myself I was seeing things; that the stress of the last two days clearly having gotten to me, but when I opened them again his face was green with a purple slash dividing his face diagonally from temple to jaw.
Without warning, my knees went weak and my butt connected with the hard linoleum floor beneath me. Once again, I found it difficult to take my gaze off the boss, but this time it was for an entirely different – yet still shocking – reason. His face was changing unnatural colours right before my eyes.
And he was coming closer.
Fear of the unknown – and perhaps a few too many late night B-Grade horror movies – had me scooting backwards along the floor as he bent towards me, his face taking on the exact shade of the wall behind him. Suddenly, my paranoia of the last two days turned to a massive freak attack as I realised that Riley was a creeper. Where I'd thought there was no one in the copy room with me, just a few minutes prior, he must have been...
I glanced away from his face long enough to note that his shirt and pants stayed the same hue they had always been.
"Oh God," I gasped, making the grossest of realisation.
My new boss had been spying on me in the nude. It was the only explanation. I'm sure if I wasn't expecting to see a human shaped outline amongst an otherwise flawless view of the wall or the cupboard beyond, I wasn't likely to notice it. Even now I had a hard time distinguishing where Riley ended and the wall began.
"Are you okay?" he asked, reaching a hand toward me. I scooted a little more until my back met the pigeon holes.
"Please tell me I'm going crazy," I whimpered softly.
His brow furrowed in confusion but he took the hint and straightened, taking to deliberate steps back away from me. "What do you mean? You're not going crazy as far as I can tell. What's wrong?"
"Your face." Hysteria bubbled like boiling water within my chest, creating sensations I wasn't used to. What I wouldn't give for Dodge to perform one of his world famous rescues right about now; for him to swoop in unannounced, give Riley an earful, wrench me to my feet and drag me away. I'd come to rely on his ability to appear on the scene just when he was needed most. Which made my current situation all the more frightening. What had Riley done to Dodge so that he couldn't save me right now?
Riley's brow furrowed as he collapsed into a chair that had been left in the hall. He raised a hand to his face while pulling something from his pocket. Expecting the worst, I turned my face away in anticipation of the excruciating wound that would erupt on my body from the gun he was surely retrieving. My cringe was prolonged as he obviously paused. Perhaps he realised the error of his ways.
Cautiously, I peeked over my shoulder, then turned all the way around when I noted the phone in his hand and the concentrated look he had as he stared at its screen, his skin slowly turning back to its natural human colour. I didn't dare move any closer, though. Just because he was distracted by a piece of technology didn't mean he wasn't a brain hungry alien from the planet Zorp just beyond our solar system, intent on devouring my flesh and hanging my skin up as a warning to others who may pass.
"Damn," I heard him whisper, tucking the phone away. "I really thought I had it under control."
We sat in our respective corners, watching each other carefully for a long moment. I don't know what he was thinking, exactly, but I was on the train of thought that I needed to get out of there quick smart. The unfortunate truth of the matter, though, was that he was between me and the door that would lead to me escaping him. Unless I wanted to duck into one of the – probably occupied – offices down the other end of the hall and crawl out the window.
"I need to talk to you," he said quietly, as if he didn't want to startle me. If my involuntary jump at the sound of his voice was anything to go by, it didn't work.
"No, I won't come back to your planet and be a breeder for your entire species because all the females there have died out," I responded promptly, trying to stay calm. There had t be a logical explanation for this, right?
Sounding perplexed, Riley repeated, "My planet?"
I shook my head vehemently. "No. I told you already, I won't go."
"You're already here," he assured me.
Cue the freak out.
"Oh. My. God. You transformed this hall into some sort of intergalactic transporter and lured me in here as a trap, didn't you? I'll never see my family again. Oh God."
"Beatrix," he said sharply. "Calm down. I'm not an alien."
"That's exactly what an alien would say," I accused him, getting to my feet in case I needed run.
Riley got to his feet as well, fussing with the front of his shirt. "What you just saw is a side effect from the pills I was given at the drug trial," he said, stepping toward me as he once again reached into his pocket. I thought for sure he was going for a gun this time, or perhaps a piece of advanced technology from his home planet designed to control my inferior mortal mind. When the hand reappeared, however, it held a small pill bottle, just like the ones Dodge and I had received. He held it out to me, but stayed where he was. "Here, have a look."
With shaking, hesitant hands, I took the bottle from Riley and began to read. "For Flawless Skin," the label boasted. "Smoothes, firms and clears. Improves and blends uneven skin tone." I glanced up at Riley's completely normal face. So he had a couple of scars, big whoop. Scars look good on men. And who cares if his skin tone is uneven? He's still pretty hot.
Wait. Did I just think that? Kindly scratch it from the record. I cannot have such thoughts and feelings about a suspected alien. Not only was it unethical, it was highly dangerous. Next thing you know phrases like Stockholm Syndrome will be thrown around and I'll be giving birth to millions of tiny alien spawn in while chained to a wall in a deserted cave.
I pushed my thoughts to the back of my mind and read on. "For best results, take one pill every two hours, with food." That seemed a little excessive. Every two hours worked out at like twelve pills a day. When you consider that I only take mine three times a day, and Dodge's were only four, twelve seems like a biiiig number. And with food? Who eats twelve times a day anyway? Self conscious people who want flawless skin and were prescribed this medication. Vain people who want flawless skin and insist their doctors prescribe this medication for them because they've seen too many plastic surgeries end badly. People with that weird genetic defect that leaves them without the ability to feel full, so they're hungry all the time.
An apparently, Riley, if the instructions on this bottle were anything to go by.
He must have been studying my expression, because he prompted, "Read on, it gets better."
"Warning: Do not exceed eight pills in a twenty-four hour period." I had to blink and read that again before the meaning really sank in. The bottle was contradicting itself. Telling the user to take twelve pills a day on one line and on the next warning them not to exceed eight. Did chemists and doctors even proof-read what they wrote on these things?
I looked up to meet Riley's gaze, wondering if he was overdosing and that's why his skin was weird, or if he really was an alien for Zorp. Was it possible that these pills had given him the ability to change his skin colour?
"Side effects may include," he said, leaning forward to glance at the bottle I still held poised for reading. "Fever, mood swings, dry mouth, excessive weight gain, scales, peeling skin, change of skin colour and hives."
"What about the excess pills?" I asked, returning to my concern as he took the bottle back and tucked it away in his pants pocket. "You can't take how many it says."
"I don't," he said. "And for the record, this," – his face turned purple with orange polka dots that reminded me of fiery bubbles – "is not what I expected when I read the change of skin colour part. I thought I'd maybe get a tan for once in my life."
"Instead you're like a chameleon," I offered, silently thinking that it was way cooler to have chameleon like abilities than to have perfect, mark free skin. I was also disappointed that I hadn't received any cool side effects from my drugs, especially now that I couldn't even claim paranoia in my drug diary, since my creepy feelings of the last twenty four hours were completely justified. Reminded of this, I gestured toward the door to the office and started walking, allowing him to fall into step beside me as we made our way out, but making sure not to get too close. I still felt odd about the colour change skin.
As we entered the office, I headed toward my desk, under the assumption that he would let me go back to work now that he'd maxed out my freak-o-meter for the day.
I was wrong.
When I increased my pace in order to be free of him, he caught my arm. "Wait," he requested. "Have you gotten any new... talents from the pills?"
"No," I replied, quickly shaking my head. "Still the same old me. But Dodge got a nasty rash. Wanna see?" I pulled out my phone and brought up the picture I'd taken of Dodge's rash when it had been at its worst. "Check it out, he's like a blotchy, boiled lobster."
"He doesn't look happy," Riley commented, adjusting his spectacles as he leaned closer to my phone screen for a better look. A lock of hair fell into his face and he mindlessly brushed it out of the way as he stood straight once more, his gaze locked over my shoulder in the direction of my desk. "In fact, he doesn't look happy right now."
Turning my head, just enough to see Dodge out of the corner of my eye, I couldn't help but agree with that account. From his desk, right beside mine, Dodge was glaring in our direction and, if I'm not mistaken, was grinding his teeth. Steam was practically rising from his ears.
"I wonder what's wrong now," I said to myself. "He probably just discovered the broken button on the back pocket of his pants from when I stood on them last week."
Riley, still gripping my forearm lightly, asked, "So you and Dodge...?"
"We've been together since the eighth grade," I confirmed, making sure I was very particular about my phrasing. People always got the wrong idea about me and Dodge, which we actively encouraged. "We drive each other crazy on a regular basis."
"Right," Riley breathed, instantly releasing me. "So dinner is out of the question then?"
I grinned at his question. I had the perfect response lined up and waiting. It had come to me months ago, but I just hadn't had a chance to use it yet. "Don't worry," I assured Riley. "Dodge and I have a very open relationship. We're into sharing. Just last night we were with Emily."
His jaw slackened, hanging open about an inch as his slightly magnified eyes widened, presumably in shock. "So you'll have dinner with me tonight?" he asked dumbly. "I'll pick you up at eight?"
I pushed his mouth closed as it resumed its mild gape, and with a twinkle in my eye replied. "I'd love to, but it will have to be a public restaurant. I'm still not convinced you won't suck my brains out and drag me back to Zorp."
And with that, I left him standing dumbstruck in the middle of the open office as I flounced back to my desk, and by extension, the angry looking Dodge. I was braced for impact when I slid into my office chair with a lot more grace than I could usually manage.
"Emily texted me. You showed him the rash picture, didn't you?" Dodge demanded, shoving aside the small tower of files that lay between us so that he could reach out and pummel me if the situation called for it.
"He asked me to dinner tonight."
This seemed to enrage Dodge even more, just like I thought it would. "So you showed him my picture?!"
"No. It happened in the reverse order," I informed him. "I showed him the picture. He said you looked angry, just like you do right now and he assumed we were an item. Then he asked me out and I accepted."
"You love life is screwed up," Dodge informed me.
"Not screwed up enough that I'm getting regularly screwed," I pointed out.
"Hand me your phone, I'm going to delete that photo."
I jumped away, holding the phone up as I did so, my hand inadvertently gliding along the screen. A whooshing sound emitted from the device as Dodge attempted a lunch across the table at me. We both froze staring at the small screen in horror. Realisation of what I'd just done dawned slowly as the words registered in my head.
"Bea," Dodge said slowly. "Please tell me that's your new screen saver."
I scrambled for the phone, as if bringing it to me to examine might make the email unsend. Hopefully I'd accidentally sent it to someone who wouldn't even look at it. I tapped on my sent items folder and brought up the email that had just zoomed off to cyber space without my consent and almost gagged in horror as I saw the To: box.
Sent to: ~All contacts~
"You are so DEAD!" Dodge exclaimed, reefing the phone from my hand and tossing it into the top drawer of my desk before he abruptly tossed me over his shoulder and strode purposefully from the office. All I could do was let out an exasperated sigh. For the second time in as many days I was being carried off caveman style to God knows where, and would very likely be dead within an hour of reaching my new mystery destination.
I didn't stand a chance; Dodge knew all my weaknesses.
NaNoWriMo Word Count: 25 297