Swift Escape – Chapter 4

 

Saturday 9:33 a.m.

Okay: keys, wallet, MP3 player, cell phone . . .
I close the door hearing the familiar squeak and walk toward the elevator. Two people in white uniforms are bringing boxes to the neighboring apartment. I peek in as I pass, trying to see if the new tenant is there.
Ah, how stupid! I shake my head. Sarah’s got me all worked up.
I don’t care. And I don’t have time for this.
I stop in front of the elevator, waiting. There’s no sound.
They must be using it for transporting the boxes. I turn on my heel and then head downstairs, hopping in rhythm over the dark brown wooden planks. Three floors down, the entrance hall is cold; the doors are wide open. I put my cap on, pull it down all the way to my eyebrows, and walk outside.
I look up. A million snowflakes are falling down in a mesmerizing pattern, leaving tiny cold snow prints on my face.
What a day to buy Christmas presents!
I walk down the stairs, pulling my gloves on, absentmindedly gazing up the snowy sky. One moment, my shoes touch the ground, but the next, the floor disappears beneath my feet and I slip on a fine layer of ice covering the stairs.
I lock my breath and tense all my muscles, instinctively bracing myself for the fall.
But a sudden strong hold around my body squeezes the rest of the air out of my lungs and . . . stops me from falling.
A few seconds pass before I can engage my brain again.
What—?
I look up and see—blue. Beautiful blue. Stormy ocean blue with a ray of light blue crystals, surrounded by dark eyelashes.
The strong hold around me is, in fact, a pair of arms, and they are wrapping me tightly against a man—
“Are you okay?”
—a man with a deep voice.
He pulls me up and basically stands me on my feet again, still holding my arms to keep me steady.
I take a breath. I want to answer, but I can’t. I’m just speechless. It must be the shock. Or maybe it’s the blue eyes—I don’t know which.
He smiles and lowers his head a bit, still looking into my eyes, as if trying to read my thoughts.
I take a breath, finally, and answer, “Sorry, I just . . .” Who. Is. He? “. . . slipped.”
He slowly lets go of me. “The ice built up overnight. One needs to be careful.”
“Yes, my sister was just telling me I should . . . pay attention.”
The voice . . . the voice . . . where have I—
“She seems like a smart lady.” He smiles wider, one side of his lips pulling higher than the other. It looks a bit crooked, but it’s so . . .
I blink a few times, then raise my gaze to his eyes. “Yes, perhaps I should . . . listen to what she says.”
I close my eyes for a moment, trying to refocus again.
“So,” I say, my eyes still closed, trying not to lose my concentration. “Are you . . . moving in?” I open my eyes, hating my sluggish brain.
“Yes. I’m in the small unit. On the third floor.”
My brain pauses again. How did my sister know there was a gorgeous man moving in next to me? Perhaps I really should pay more attention to what she says.
“I am . . .” I swallow. “I’m actually your neighbor. Last door on the right.” I need to take a deep breath, as if I used all the air from my lungs with this one sentence.
He stretches his hand toward me and says, “I’m Sam. It’s nice to meet a neighbor on the first day.”
With some delay, I reach out and shake his hand, mine tiny in comparison. “I’m Jane. It’s nice someone is finally moving in.”
He smiles a broad smile and my mind goes into standby mode again. Then he bends down and causally picks up a heavy-looking white box. “I’ll see you around. Be careful out there.”
The only thing I can do is nod. He circles around me and starts climbing the stairs.
“Oh!” I turn around. “I hope you don’t have any porcelain in the boxes upstairs.”
He chuckles. “No. Why?”
“The transport people didn’t quite understand the ELIGARF stamped on the boxes.”
He tilts his head, frowning. “I don’t . . .”
“Upside down . . . ?”
Then his frown disappears, his lips spreading again into a crooked smile. “Thanks for the warning! I’ll make sure to check that nothing’s broken.”
I smile and continue to the bus stop, careful how I step. Twenty feet away, I can’t help but look back. Sam’s heading up the stairs carrying the box, but his eyes are on me, a faint smile on his lips.
And then, a moment, when time stops, the world disappears; I look at him, and he looks at me, and it lasts for eternity.
My heart rate picks up and I quickly turn away, looking at the ground before he sees me blushing.
I walk, my gaze on the floor, unfocused, while in my mind I’m still standing transfixed at the staircase of my building.
Sam.
And then I need to laugh to myself. I don’t remember ever being as distracted by someone as I am right now.
Ah, well. A new experience, I guess.
I’m slowly getting ahold of my sensible, clever brain again.
There are several people waiting at the stop, all wrapped in warm coats and jackets. Two older people are talking to each other. They are complaining about a bus being late. The others are connected to their smartphones via umbilical cord, dead to the world.
I turn in the direction of the traffic and see a white and yellow bus approaching.
Inside, I sit down in the last row and look through the hazy window, my mind now where it should be—on my experiments.
If I have some time after shopping, I might quickly go to the lab, check if the cells have grown.
I calculate in my mind the cycles of replication for these cells. They will be in the middle of the exponential cycle by then, but they won’t have reached the plateau phase.
No, that doesn’t make sense. If I don’t see any growth, I might think the experiment had worked, but it might really only be in the early growth phase. No, I’ll wait for tomorrow. Tomorrow I’ll know. No point in going sooner.
I look outside again, happy with my decision.
Buildings, cars driving in the opposite direction, large poster advertisements. My mind is unfocused until I see one of those large poster ads where a company fails to communicate its own brand but an image stands out—and is unexpectedly striking. It’s a black and white image of a desert night, moonlight shimmering over the dunes, and a moon, large and beautiful, just over the horizon. And it captures me, completely, because the moon is the only thing that has color.
And it’s blue.
Dark blue.
Just like Sam’s eyes.

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