The foragers returned just before supper and Cassie ran to greet them, not caring that Galahad looked ridiculous pushing the cart the Thespians had loaned them. When they rolled the inconvenient contraption to a stop, he stood up straight and pushed his hair out of his face, leaving a dirt mark on his forehead that to Cassie’s besotted eyes only made him more attractive. But when she went to his side, he dropped his gaze and pretended great interest in the contents of the cart.

“How’d it go?” Cassie asked.

“Good.” Galahad handed her a box of coffee creamer.

She waited for him to elaborate and when he didn’t, she pressed for details. “Looks like you hit the office towers today.”

“We did.” He hoisted a case of pretzel packets onto his shoulder and motioned with his head that they should go inside.

Cassie tried to conceal her bewilderment and a sudden urge to cry. Galahad was often distant the day after a particularly cozy evening, but she had hoped today would be different. In the storeroom, she touched his hand and searched his face for clues, but he pulled away and said there was more to be brought in from the cart.

They took several loads of goods to the storeroom before Galahad slipped away, saying something about going back to the cart while she was busy with a box of paper napkins. When she went looking for him afterwards, he was nowhere to be found.

How could he treat her this way? Cassie resolved to sit with him at dinner and force the issue. If he had changed his mind about her, he’d have to speak up. No way was he getting off easy!

Getting a seat beside him in the dining room wasn’t hard. He even acted like he had expected her, adjusting her chair for her and helping her reach the bowl of overcooked rice. And then he ignored her. He didn’t do it in an obvious way—there was so much talk about the lab mission that it was only Cassie who could tell he was being cool to her. What hurt was the lack of response when she touched his foot with hers under the table and the way he gave perfunctory acknowledgments of her words while asking questions of the others at the table and engaging in lengthy speculation about the Pharms, the lab, and the computer that everyone had by now guessed hadn’t been found.

David and Leila sat with them, acting uninterested in each other and not fooling anyone. Cassie looked around the dining room wondering where Paul was, glad he still hadn’t returned from wherever he had disappeared to. She would need to warn Galahad. It was just a matter of convincing him to quit being so cold and listen.

But first they must suffer through the evening announcements.

When they finished eating, Mundo stood to give the news of the day, then turned things over to Alex. With the studied reserve of a soldier, Alex got to his feet and looked out over the room. “As you know,” he said, “I took a team to the Three Rivers Allied Health Labs today. Our plan was to infiltrate the Corcoran Building and retrieve items related to the research of Doc’s father, Dr. Jonathon Winston Brody.”

The fidgets and whispers of the group quieted and Alex had everyone’s full attention.

“Entry was at fourteen-hundred hours and went for the most part as planned. We successfully gained access to Brody’s office and work areas.” Alex straightened and his eyes narrowed, daring anyone to challenge his next words. “The area had been ransacked. We found no files or equipment that matched the description given us.” He darted a glance at Doc. “We searched other areas as time permitted, but found nothing of interest. Then, so as to avoid encountering any Pharms and risking future trade, we called off the search at sixteen-hundred hours and returned to base. There were no casualties.” He turned to Mundo, gave a salute and returned to his seat.

The room erupted in whispers.

Mundo stood up and motioned for silence. “Alex and I will continue to discuss this matter and I’ll be forming a committee to consider next steps. For the time being, I expect everyone to resume normal duties and refrain from spreading gossip.” He waved off a few questions and went on to give other announcements, then turned the floor over to an assistant who read off the next day’s assignments.

“Well, that’s a shame,” Galahad said to no one in particular. “Doc must be pretty unhappy.”

David stretched his arms overhead. “I’m just glad we’ve got the shuttle back so we can forage. There’s nothing on some old lab computer that’s going to save us from the Telo.”

“That wasn’t the point,” Cassie said. “We were trying to find out if there was a reason to think human growth hormone had something to do with Telo or why there are kids who believe it does.”

“Same reason there’s still people who believe in some distant sky fairy who hands out rewards and punishments based on who follows the Bible best.”

“Better not let Paul hear you say that,” Leila said. “He’s been on a total Jesus rant lately.”

Seeing an opportunity, Cassie leaned in close to Galahad and spoke softly in his ear. “Speaking of Paul, we need to talk.”

He glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. “Why? Where is he, anyway?”

“I don’t know.” She pushed back her chair and stood up. “I want to talk to you alone.”

With a show of annoyance and an apology to their friends at the table, Galahad followed her out of the dining room, into a nook near the concierge desk. “Okay. What’s so important about Paul you can’t tell me in front of everyone?”

Cassie sighed. Why was he being this way? Had he met a pretty girl among the Thespians today? “Are you mad at me or something?”

“Why would you think that? You said you had something to tell me about Paul, so go on and quit being weird.”

Resisting the temptation to argue over who was “being weird,” she told him what happened in the garden. “Something’s not right in Paul’s head,” she said. “I don’t mean like forever-crazy, but he’s in a bad spot and I’m worried he might do something.”

“Like what? Like off himself because your friend’s not into him? Not likely.”

How could she explain? It was more of a feeling she had, a sense that there was something dangerous behind Paul’s crazy behavior. “Something’s really not right.” She fumbled in her pocket. “Doc gave me this.” She tried to hand him the sedative. “It’ll maybe calm him down so we can talk to him and find out how we can help.”

Galahad refused to take the offered pill. “I don’t need to give him a drug to talk to him. He’s my cousin and my friend.” He gave her a cold look. “Thanks for your concern, but let me deal with this.”

“Fine. But—” she searched his face earnestly. “Please don’t be mad at me.”

“Why do you keep saying I’m mad?”

“Because you act like it.” Cassie waved a hand in exasperation. “You acted last night like you liked me and now today it’s like I’m getting on your nerves.”

“Well, you are getting on my nerves, trying to tell me my cousin, the guy who saved my life, is crazy.”

“You were acting like this before I said a word about Paul. From the time you came back from foraging.”

Galahad ran a hand through is hair. “It’s been a long day and I’ve had a lot on my mind. Be patient with me, okay?”

“I’m not a toy.”

“I know that.”

“If you want a girl just for…well, you know…there’s plenty out there.”

“I know that, too.” He drew her into his arms and rested his chin on her head. “I wouldn’t be hanging around if I thought you were that kind of girl. It’s just there’s things I need to sort out okay? It’s got nothing to do with how I feel about you.”

Cassie leaned deeper into his arms. “How do you feel about me?” she asked, longing to hear the words.

He pulled her closer and didn’t speak for a long time. Finally he said, “Let me take you back to your room. I need to find Paul.”


1 comment:

Alice Audrey said...

This does not bode well for their relationship. Not well at all.