The service was every bit as horrible as I imagined it would be. Most of the office was there, including the office downstairs. Apparently Zedd was the sort to really reach out to others. At the luncheon people traded stories about just how much of his time and money he had devoted to those in need. It must have killed him, knowing what he did and not able to save anyone else. It just further solidifies the fact that he must have said something to his family. I need to find them, they would definitely be able to shed some light on things. I cross the room, locating Devon near the back by the kitchen. I can’t get over how huge this place is. Imagine if you could the biggest house you’ve ever seen and then double it. I wasn’t even aware they made houses in Wal-Mart size. I approach him slowly, not wanting to scare him away. He is deep in thought, staring out of the large bay windows. He turns when he hears the click of my heels against the tiles. His lips curl into a soft smile. There is definitely more to that smile─ it’s the sort that you give your friends or family when they ask what is wrong.
I have the strongest urge to wrap Devon into a hug. I find myself more and more curious of how he would feel against me, how he would smell. I have never been in a relationship and up until now I really haven’t thought about it. School and art always took priority over anything else. After seeing what it does to others and how much it impacts people’s lives, I have run in the opposite direction for years. Devon though, I haven’t noticed a hint of ulterior motive, he is genuine and kind. There had been a few people in college that had shown interest in me but I always shut them down. Not in a mean way, just stated that I did not want anything to do with a relationship. A few of them told me that I could tell them the truth, one even asked if I was a lesbian. Apparently, they had talked amongst themselves and came to the conclusion that since I had not been interested in male partners, I must have liked women. The truth is I have had very little sex drive over the years. It isn’t something that I think about often. I can get urges from time to time but never enough to seek out a partner. It makes my skin crawl thinking about someone touching me. The touching aspect was awful enough, sex mortifies me. I have gotten curious and watched porn a few times. The women never seem to enjoy what is happening. All I can focus on are their faces, there is something about their eyes─ sadness or a longing for love. I cringe at the way men would grope them or shove things into places─ there were no limits to where they did. I rub my arms and hug them to my chest. Given the chance would Devon want to do those things to me? I frown. Even if he is interested, I really get the sense that he would keep it to himself and not allow it to cloud his judgement. For the first time I find myself liking someone. It’s as alien a thought as everything else I’m doing so why do I feel so uncomfortable?
“Hey Kate,” Devon says softly.
“Hey,” I respond. We sit in comfortable silence for a moment. “I was wondering,” I begin, “If I could maybe talk with Zedd’s family. You know, since I was the last to see him.” His face falls a bit, it’s the first time I can see some real emotion reflected there. He shakes his head, “I’m afraid that’s impossible.” I’m taken back but ask, “what do you mean?” He glances over at the people in the living room and then inches closer to me. He smells like soap, clean and nice. “Zedd lived his life in the system until he was eighteen. As far as either of us knew, he didn’t know where he came from.” My heart speeds up as he leans within inches of my ear. “He had a few clues here and there about his mom but nothing solid. Our family sort of took him in on holidays and events.” At this point, my heart is beating so hard against my chest that I am sure he can hear it. Then he does something unexpected and takes a step back. My shoulders relax and my heartbeat subsides. After several moments I’m back to normal. It is incredibly refreshing to stand next to someone in comfortable silence, it feels natural with Devon. I turn toward him, “I’ve been meaning to ask, did Zedd” I pause a few beats searching for what to say, “say anything odd to you?” His eyes meet mine. It’s the sort of look that strips you bare. “Like what?” he whispers. Those eyes. Those damn eyes. I’m left speechless. My throat dries and my chest grows tight with anxiety. Devon is honing in on my every reaction, trailing from my eyes to my mouth. “You’ve been hiding something from me,” he says, “I can tell. From your first day in the office until now.” My gut reaction is to run. I want to get away as far as possible from him. But, I need answers. Maybe Zedd had mentioned something to Devon that I wasn’t aware of. I shove down my fears. “I have been, but please trust me when I say that I have my reasons.” He raises his eyebrows at me, “If it has to do with Zedd I want to know every single detail,” his voice cracks and he emphasizes the last few words. “You may have your reasons, but I can promise you that you’ll get no judgment from me. Just be honest.” He sighs, takes a few breaths and continues, “please.” I look at the floor, unable to look at his eyes. I manage a small nod.
“Hey, Devon?” We both look over at the interruption. One of the guys from our meeting is standing in the entry. He looks awkwardly at me and Devon, aware that he probably walked in at the wrong time. “Sorry to interrupt, I uh, think it’s time for your speech and words from friends and family.” “No, no Jason that’s fine,” Devon says, “Sorry, I didn’t realize it was that time already. I’ll be right there.” Jason nods then walks out leaving us both back to where we were before.
“Can we talk about this later?” he asks, not bothering to let me finish my sentence, “Let me take you out for dinner, somewhere public where you’ll feel safe. Is that OK? I can even meet you there if you would rather travel alone.” I bite my lip, my brow creasing, “alright,” I say after a few moments, “I can do that.” His eyes press together, his face washed in relief, “thank you so much Kate. Just let me know where and what time.” I bob my head and scurry out of the kitchen. I can’t believe my luck, but I can get through this. I shouldn’t care about what Devon thinks of me if it means that I could possibly save him too. I would need a way to explain all of this and I can’t for the life of me figure out how to convey it. He can’t see the letters, he will dismiss a government conspiracy, but somehow I cling to some ill thought-out hope he will listen. I pray Zedd has shared this with him so that maybe if I mention some of the same things, he’ll trust what we are saying. Zedd believed it so much that he ended his life. Surely that must count for something.
We arrive back at the office around two o’clock. There is still enough time for me to get a little work done, and most importantly keep my mind distracted. I worry that Devon will call me into his office but he never returns. In a way it’s a huge relief─ not that I would mind his company, but he’s so damn persistent and I really don’t want to do that here. Jason walks up to me and explains that he will be temporarily taking over Zedd’s duties until a new manager is in place. We go over a few sketches and then what Zedd had asked of me. Jason is quiet, like me, so after we talk business, he is gone. Thank goodness for small miracles. I look at the 2-D design and then import it into the 3-D modeling program. I pour myself into into creating every single detail. It feels so amazing to be back into a routine that I work until my fingers and back scream in protest. At some point I have managed to tuck one of my legs under me and lost all feeling in it. I stand and stretch, content with my completed workload for the day. Most of the office left several hours ago. I spot a few guys in the back messing around in the motion capture room but they are all that is left. I pull out my phone and glance through it warily. I’m surprised to not find a text but ultimately I decide that it’s best if I get this meeting over with. I sniff my pits and further decide that a shower would be a good idea. Apparently stewing in my own soup had done some not-very-pleasant things to my clothes.
I grab my wallet, phone, and keys and then turn toward the elevator. I am mid stride when the lights turn off. I immediately freeze in place. I have been so preoccupied with everything today that I’ve forgotten about Them. I hold my breath and wait. There is a yell in the back and I exhale. The guys are still here. OK, good maybe the building has timed lights. Not wanting to press my luck I pick up the pace. No way in hell am I going to give these things a chance to terrorize me. They fucking thrive off of it.
I yelp as a noise blares from my hand. “Jesus christ,” I swear, flipping my screen around. It’s Devon. Shit. He probably thinks I’m going to bail on him. I glance at the time, it is nearly seven. I answer on the fourth ring.
“Hey, Devon I’m so sorry I was up at the office and I lost track of time working on this character.”
His voice comes out awful, it sounds like he’s been crying, “Oh, that’s OK. I just wanted to check in with you. Did you want me to pick you up or would you rather meet somewhere?” He sniffs a few times and clears his throat. The guys emerge from the back, shoving each other as they walk toward the elevator. “Hey Kate” one of them say. I nod and wave as they shuffle through. “You coming down?” I shake my head mouthing, “no you go ahead, thanks.” He mouths “OK” and in seconds they’re gone. Leaving me to the quiet, dark office and Devon. “Uh, yeah you can pick me up from my place if you want. Just, you know, give me a chance to get the day washed off.”
“OK, great. Just decide what you want, anything is fine, my treat.” Please don’t make me decide, I plea silently. “Oh, whatever is fine by me,” I offer quickly. He pauses on the line, “how about sushi or Thai?” I bite my lip, noodles sound pretty great right now. Something warm, comforting, and starchy. “Thai sounds great,” I say. “Alright, I’ll pick you up about eight?” “That works,” I reply. We say our goodbyes and hang up. I frown at the slow moving elevator and press the down arrow button. Why did we have to be on such a high floor? I see that they finally make it to the bottom, silently willing it to go faster. A computer restarts in the back and I hear the beep as it resets. The room groans and pops as the wind hits the side of the building. Every click, every pop is amplified by the insufferable quiet.
Come on, I urge silently, just six more floors.
The computer does a start up jingle in the background. I refuse to turn around. “Not today, Satan” I mutter.
The ding goes off as it reaches the fifteenth floor and I squeeze my eyes shut and sigh. Finally, it’s here. The door swooshes and I open my eyes. I stare for several seconds, the color draining from my face. I don’t want to believe what I’m seeing. My hand goes up to my face and I clamp them around my mouth. No, no, no, is all that can run through my mind. I stagger back a few steps, distancing myself from the horrific image. Jesus, there’s so much blood. I close my eyes, take a breath, and then open them. He’s still there and so is the pulpy mass.
The glassy stare of Zedd’s eyes stare at me accusingly. The back of his head is missing─ there’s blood and brain matter everywhere. The gun lays on the floor next to him cradled in his limp hand. This isn’t real, it can’t be because we buried him this afternoon. I frantically search the room, trying to remember where the emergency stairs are located. I scream as his body jumps and twitches in a seizure-like motion. Zedd grunts and his head jerks toward my scream. His bones snap and pop as he rises from the floor. A few meaty chunks of brain matter slide to the floor, making a sickening splat when they hit. Oh god. I retch several times, trying but failing to reassure myself it isn’t real. He limps toward me as a gurgling sound escapes his lips. I bolt to the left and pump my legs as fast as they will carry me. I don’t know where the staircase is but I don’t care. I am not about to sit here and let him get close to me, I know it has to be back here somewhere. I flee past several dark offices, glancing behind me every so often. There is no sign of him. I’m all the way at the end of the u-shaped hall when I realize my terrible mistake. If I had just ran to the right I would have found them. Fuck it.
I charge around the corner and scream as I run into something solid and fleshy. I lash out, shoving hard and screaming. “Whoa, whoa, Kate,” Devon yells. My head throbs from the adrenaline as my heart comes back down from near cardiac arrest. My legs give out and I fall forward on my hands and knees.