A cool autumn gust swept into the reception area of Crasob Engineering as the front door opened. Swiveling her chair in the direction of the door, Alana Morton glanced up at the digital clock above the doorway — 9:25 — and looked down expecting to see a FedEx or UPS delivery person carrying in a package. The eyes of the forty-six-year-old receptionist then widened in surprise, as she saw Jane Summers bustle in with a face red with not only exhaustion, but unmistakable fear.
“Jane?” Alana rose to her feet, stepped out from behind the half-wall separating her desk from the front door. Upon seeing Alana, Jane’s shoulders seemed to relax a bit, yet confusion still reigned across her face, wind-tussled brown hair dangling down her cheeks.
“Gary. Is — ” the nylon strap of her backpack slipped off Jane’s shoulder, and she caught it with the crook of her elbow — “I need to see Gary.”
Alana turned to her right, but Gary had all but reached the reception area already. The worry on his face was amplified by his voice. “Jane, are you all right? I’ve been calling — ”
Jane raised a hand. “Not here.” Her voice was strained. She pointed to Gary’s left. “Office.”
Alana stared back at Jane, slack-jawed. Jane was assertive, occasionally abrupt, but never this dismissive, this rude. It wasn’t like Jane to brush past her, without a word, as if Alana were a street-corner beggar. Gary stepped back, allowed Jane to stomp past him.
Alana glanced back at the clock. “Jane’s never this late.” Gary held up both palms to her, silently mouthing it’s OK before turning to follow Jane.
Gary’s wide hips bounced off the door frame as he hurried into his office. Jane was already sitting in one of the two chairs across from his desk; her shoulder-length brown hair was disheveled, as if it were resting uncomfortably on the top of her head. Her glasses sat near the end of her nose, the lenses mis-aligned with her eyes.
Gary stopped, turned, closed the door to his office. He turned back to Jane, saw her wipe sweat from her brow. He thought about the time. “Did you walk here?”
Jane shook her head, answered without looking up. “Ran.”
Gary took a step towards his chair, then changed direction, sat in the chair next to Jane’s. He put a hand on her shoulder, was relieved when she didn’t flinch or pull away. “Your car break down again?”
Jane’s eyes snapped wide, as her head jerked up. “Car! Again, with the car.”
Gary’s mouth opened slowly, but no words came. A knock sounded on the door, and Gary rose. “I need to get this.” He rushed to the door, opening it to reveal a tall man, in his early 20s, a thin moustache under thick glasses.
“Arjie!” Jane’s excited voice surprised both men at the door. “You’re here too!”
The smile on Arjie’s face looked like it would rather be frowning. “No place I’d rather be.”
“Jane’s having a — ” Gary glanced back at Jane — “rough morning.” He turned back to Arjie. “Did you find the Route 20 files?”
Jane rose quickly from her chair, pointed at Gary. “That, too! What are these files you keep talking about?”
“The Route 20 files.” Arjie’s smile melted, like ice cream under a heat lamp. He pointed behind him with his thumb. “I found them, you’d uploaded them to the Projects drive before you left Friday, instead of keeping them on your hard drive. For once, like I’m always telling you.”
Jane Summers brought her hands up to her temples, closed her eyes and rubbed hard with her fingertips. “This is — so weird.”