Chapter Eight

Chapter Eight

A Chapter by Jooolie
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A Step Closer

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The air in the greenhouse was hot and humid despite the cold night air outside. Lora had lately found herself hesitant to venture away from her experiments, but tonight she somehow managed to pull herself from her chair and walk the small distance to Ian’s bar. She had received a call from Ellizabeth earlier that morning extending an invite to the students’ usual get-together. Though at first reluctant to join the group, Lora had been almost comforted to see the familiar faces sitting around the small corner table. As she sat in the smoky haze, surrounded by multiple conversations that lit up with bits of laughter, Lora tried to recall the last time she had any amount of fun. But the task of the cure loomed in the back of her head, and she was forced to turn her thoughts back to the plan.
“You know, I’m glad you came,” Ellizabeth’s voice rang among the group, catching Lora by surprise as she had begun to stare off at the rest of the customers.
“Yeah, thanks for the invite,” Lora replied nervously as she gave a small smile. “Cresig sends his regards too, by the way.”
“Is he busy with Slayter?” Ellizabeth asked, taking a sip of her drink and settling herself cross-legged in the chair next to Lora.
Lora felt a sudden hesitation to bring up her co-worker’s business as she stared back at Ellizabeth, who seemed to eagerly await a reply. She took a breath before beginning, forming a simple answer in her head. “Well that too, I suppose. He doesn’t get out too much, I wouldn’t expect him to make any appearances.”
“How’d you got caught up with him anyway?” Ellizabeth pried, leaning one arm onto the table and settling her head in her hand.
“Cresig?” Lora mumbled casually. She focused on hiding the growing frustration with Ellizabeth in the back of her head as she nervously pulled at her sweater sleeve. “I guess I haven’t really known him that long, now that I think about it.”
“Then you must’ve done something that made him want to use you in his work,” Ellizabeth continued, leaning in closer to Lora.
“The first time I met him was at a conference,” Lora grumbled, fully aware that the conversation would not be avoided. “The Botany researchers from the college were releasing our different experiments to the public. I’d won an award that night for my presentation.”
“What presentation?”
“You know, just a class project of sorts. I was leading a group of researchers to find a way to speed up the photosynthesis process of plants.” Lora regretted bringing up her first project. All the work she now put in to the carbon dioxide made her ashamed to think how she could have slaved away on something so insignificant for months at a time. “Needless to say, nothing life-altering happened,” she sighed, “but something must have drawn him to it.”
“And that’s when you started?” Ellizabeth continued.
Lora nodded. “He approached me at the presentation that night and that’s when I learned about...well, you know. And I’ve been looking for a cure ever since.” Her mind traced back to that night; so long ago, she thought now. Her current project made Lora feel that she had aged horribly, and now she found herself with no sense of time or knowledge of the rest of the world. She placed her head in her hands from a mixture of exhaustion and frustration and rubbed her eyes with her palms.
“Whoa hey, are you all right?” Ellizabeth exclaimed and placed her hand on Lora’s shoulder. The motion momentarily made Lora feel the need to spill all her thoughts to the girl.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” she mumbled instead, her face still covered.
Ellizabeth looked around cautiously for any eavesdroppers and leaned her face within inches of Lora’s “Is it about...that?” she whispered.
“I can’t find anything, Elli!” Lora found herself blurting out, much louder than she planned. She felt a moment of relief as she let her anger loose and gave an apologetic look to Elli, who had leapt back in surprise. “I’ve looked for months, and nothing.”
“Ah, don’t worry about it,” Darwin leaned in from across the table, a smell of alcohol covering his breath. “It’s not like you’re rushed or anything. Relax, everything’s fine and dandy.” He smiled as he finished off his current glass.
“What city are you in?” Lora snapped in disgust as Darwin once again became more interested in his drink. “Have you seen the people around here? They’re all going crazy! It’s all we talk about in class!” She spun sharply around to Ellizabeth. “And you know what really gets me? I’m not the only botanist that gives a damn anymore! Now there are all these little slackers that are trying to be the next big name and figure out some solution! What am I supposed to do if one of them beats me to it?”
“Like any of them could beat you,” Aimee chimed in quietly from the corner. “You know you’re smarter than them.”
“Well right now, it doesn’t look like I’m doing so hot,” Lora sneered, staring down at the table as Ian placed a full bottle in front of her.
“Look, so this whole thing is getting a little more popular. So what? You’ll get it, just give it time,” he said, patting her quickly on the back.
“What time? We don’t have any time!” Lora groaned, placing her head down on the wooden table top. 
“Or at least that’s what everyone’s thinking,” Darwin muttered quietly from his seat as he stared aimlessly at the glass in his hand.
Lora slowly moved her dark eyes up to Darwin’s face. “And what’s that supposed to mean?” she asked gravely.
“Hey, I’m just saying,” he answered quickly, putting his hands up in surrender. “Sure, people are freaking out a little, but some of them have been doing that since October. There just happens to be more of them now.” He looked around to notice some surrounding tables listening in. “No one proved anything for sure back then, and no one has now. We’re just as uncertain as we were a few months ago,” he finished as he smiled politely at the other tables, hoping to end any onlooker’s curiosity.
“You still say stuff like this?” Lora lashed out, quickly sitting straight up. “How can you be so uncaring?”
“It’s not that he doesn’t care, he’s just too stubborn to admit that he’s wrong,” Ellizabeth replied, keeping her eyes glued on Darwin. Darwin shrugged in response. Ellizabeth shook her head at him, the right side of her lip raising into a disgusted sneer. “You’re drunk,” she scolded him coldly.
“Just don’t let it get to you. You’ll be fine,” Aimee turned to Lora, shaking her head at Ellizabeth and Darwin.  
“I gotta say, though. I agree with this guy right here,” Ian chuckled, grabbing Darwin around the neck. He pointed a limp finger at Lora. “You’re trying to fix things, and I respect you for that. Now don’t go yelling at me, I’m not saying you aren’t right. But hey, if my lungs are decaying as we speak, why not go out with a bang, eh? I’ll pour us another round!” Darwin and the customers at the next table burst out in laughter as Ian staggered behind the bar. 
Darwin found his own laughter cut short as the front door opened to a familiar sight coming in from the cold. “Hey, look who’s back!” he shouted as he rose and walked toward the entrance to greet Jeff. “Where you been, man?”
“It’s been a while, sorry. I meant to find you earlier,” Jeff replied quickly, walking past Darwin before removing his hat and placing himself at the bar near Ian.
“Well, sit down, join the group,” Ian replied casually, motioning toward the table. “I don’t think you’ve met the ladies. This here’s Aimee, Ellizabeth, and Lora,” he said lightly, pointing respectfully to the group. He placed an arm around Jeff’s shoulders as he pulled up an empty chair to the table. “This here’s Jeff Manning, my favorite customer!”
“Ladies,” Jeff responded with a quick nod.
“Hey, you look pretty tense, ease up,” Darwin muttered, his eyes following Jeff as he quickly sat down.
“Oh yeah, you’re probably right,” Jeff mumbled numbly. 
“What’s going on, man?” Ian added, placing himself in the chair next to Jeff.
“Ah, it’s probably nothing,” Jeff said, shaking a look of disorientation from his young face. “What are you having, some kind of party?”
“Just a little get-together,” Ian answered simply. “You aren’t looking too good. Come on, join in,” he finished as he offered the sailor a glass.
“I don’t think that’s going to help this time. Sorry, Ian,” the sailor responded blankly, putting his hand up in front of the glass.
Darwin and Ian stared momentarily at each other before slowly inching closer to Jeff. “What’s going on?” Darwin asked under his breath.
Jeff took a few sideways glances before continuing. “I just got a message over my radio. From a buddy back on the coast.”
“What, is he sick or something?” Ian asked, his eyes remaining on Jeff.
“No more so than the rest of us,” Jeff answered. “It’s about this whole...disease thing.”
“Go figure,” Darwin muttered as he leaned back in his chair.
“It’s true. It’s not just rumors anymore,” Jeff added in defense, his piercing gray eyes lighting up with energy. “It’s been spreading all over California. He said it hasn’t gotten farther than that but, well, you know.” He was momentarily interrupted when he noticed Ellizabeth lean in closer to the conversation. He shook his head and continued. “Anyway, it’s real sickness. I heard the doctors are diagnosing and all that. I guess a lot of people are dying.”
“People are always dying, Jeff,” Darwin answered blandly. He rolled his eyes as the rest of the group turned to listen in.
“From lung poisoning?” Jeff snapped, his muscles tensing. “My friend sent me some pictures he got from when he was out there, you should see these people! He said they just dropped, like they were getting knocked out all of a sudden. Then when the doctors did the autopsies, their lungs were jet black.” He turned to face Darwin, a mouth set in a cold smirk. “So unless there’s been a severe amount of poison gas being passed around to the masses without me knowing, I’d say this isn’t too ordinary.”
“Only on the West Coast?” Ian asked numbly.
“So far! Who’s to say it won’t get out here any time now?” Jeff replied, a hint of fear on the edge of his voice.
The students fell silent for a moment before Darwin continued. “Well it’s not like New York hasn’t been acting like it’s already here,” he said simply. “People on this side have been acting ‘sick’ for months.”
“Well now I’d say they have fairly good reason to act like that,” Jeff answered sharply. “Who knows how fast this thing spreads? Maybe the New Yorkers have been right and it’s been here all along.”
“Do you think Slayter will say something?” Ellizabeth found herself asking, more to herself than anyone.
“Doubt it,” Lora chuckled beside her. She turned to see Aimee gathering her things. “Hey, where are you going?”
“The newsroom,” Aimee answered plainly as she pulled on her coat. “I want to know if anyone else has heard anything.”
“If they haven’t, I’m sure they will soon enough!” Jeff yelled after Aimee as the door slowly closed behind her. He turned back to the group. “It was just starting to go on the air over there a few hours ago.”
“So what do we do?” Ellizabeth asked quietly, her eyes staring blankly at the table.
“Not panic, that’s for sure,” Darwin answered, taking a drink from his glass. “Everyone else in the city will be doing enough of that, I’m guessing.”
Jeff nodded in agreement. “And that should be any time now.”
“But not too soon, right?” Ian asked has he rose to his feet.
“Well, I don’t mean right this-”
“No, hold on a minute,” Ian raised a hand to cut Jeff off immediately. “We’re having a get-together, damn it! And I want you all to be happy.” He pointed to Jeff. “And that means you too, buddy. So everyone just sit here, have fun, and I don’t want to hear another word about this thing.” 
Ellizabeth leaned in closer to Jeff from across the table. “Do you know how many people are dying over there?”
“Now what did I just say?” Ian turned to her in frustration.
“Please, Jeff,” Ellizabeth pleaded, her eyes becoming wide with worry as she shook the sailor’s arm, “I need to know.” 
“Don’t take my word for it...it’s Elli, right?” Jeff took a breath as she nodded. “Right, don’t quote me, but I’d say... I’d frankly say about an eighth of the state. That’s an estimate,” he added quickly as Ellizabeth drew back in shock, “but the number’s big enough that it wouldn’t surprise me to see it on the morning news.”
Darwin suddenly felt a sadness sweep over him as Ellizabeth leaned back in her seat. “It’s just a number, El. That doesn’t mean anything,” he said quietly.
“It could!” she blurted.
“Don’t react too soon, we haven’t heard anything for sure.”
“Do you have anyone in California?”
“Do I what?”
“Do you have anyone close out there?”
Darwin sat in silence for a moment. “No,” he answered quietly.
Ellizabeth stood to leave. “Well then maybe when that thing spreads out here, that number will be a bit more important to you.”
“Aw, come on, Elli! Don’t leave!” Ian groaned as Ellizabeth stomped toward the door. 
“I’m stepping outside to make a few calls,” she muttered as she grabbed her coat.
“It’ll be fine, El,” Darwin called after her.
“Once I hear something, I might believe you,” she finished before slamming the door behind her.
The group sat in silence around the table for a moment as the bar once again went back to its normal chatter. “I blame you,” Ian pointed blankly to Jeff as he began to gather empty glasses.
“What, and this surprises you?” Darwin said in frustration as he handed Ian his glass. “Every time anyone tries to forget about any of this for a second, it manages to come back up. I’m sick of hearing about this!”
“Good luck trying to get away from it,” Lora muttered from her seat.
“I’ve abandoned all hope, actually,” Darwin snapped back bitterly.
“All right, now I want all of us-” Ian began, scanning the table to see that a third of the original group was gone. “Well, maybe not all of us- to sit down, shut up, and I don’t want to hear any more. And I mean it this time. Now, what else can we talk about?” The room remained quiet as the group looked around to find a topic of discussion.
Jeff casually pointed a hand toward the bag slung over Darwin’s shoulder. “Hey, Darwin, I’ve seen you carrying that camera around the past few times I’ve been in here. What’s it for?” He was interrupted as Ian groaned and stormed behind the bar. Confused, Jeff turned back to the table. “I’m assuming it has to do with... .”
“With the...yes.” Darwin trailed off, placing his face in the palm of his hand.
Lora rolled her eyes at the two men and reached for her coat. “I’m going to go check on Elli.”
***

Ellizabeth flipped her cell phone between her fingers. The air was cold and the noises of the streets were louder than usual, but she did not mind; anything distracting to her thoughts was appreciated. The loud city almost drowned out the sound of a bar door opening behind her. Ellizabeth turned to see Lora glancing nervously down at her. For reasons she herself could not explain, Ellizabeth found tears coming to her eyes. 
“I couldn’t find any of them, Lora,” she heard her own voice cry out as Lora placed a welcoming arm around her.
“They’ll call back,” Lora cooed, her quiet voice surprisingly strong amidst the stream of car horns driving past them.
Ellizabeth buried her head in Lora’s neck. “And what if they don’t?” 
“Don’t think like that right now,” Lora answered gently, pulling Ellizabeth by the shoulders so as to look at her directly. “Jeff’s right, he said himself that he wasn’t sure how serious it really is.”
“But he said it was serious enough,” Ellizabeth muttered, budging from Lora’s grasp. “You don’t understand, it hasn’t hit your family yet.” As she turned her back, Ellizabeth felt Lora’s cold stare burning through her.
“I don’t understand?” Lora replied, a slight hint of laughter on her voice. “Elli, this disease is my life! I haven’t slept in five months because of it.”
“That’s not what I meant.” Ellizabeth added numbly.
“What did you mean then?” Lora snapped, her voice now quavering. “Just because I haven’t been hurt personally, I don’t understand? I’ve devoted all my time to this cure and it’s more than just my own family. Every person in California affects me. I feel like I’ve let them all down.”
“I know what you’ve put into this, but you haven’t lost-”
“You haven’t either, Elli,” Lora hissed. “You don’t know that something’s happened. Don’t mourn anyone, they aren’t dead yet. You don’t know anything.” Lora ran a hand through her hair as she calmed herself. “I’m sorry,” she added weakly, “it’s just...I’ve been given the opportunity to fix this, and I know I can.” A sound of desperation briefly crossed Lora’s voice and Ellizabeth felt a sudden sting of pity for the girl. “But this is all going too fast, and I can’t control any of it,” Lora continued. “It’s all just getting out of my hands.”
Lora waited a moment for a response from Ellizabeth, who lowered her gaze to the steps beneath them, her back turned from the conversation. Lora took a breath. “I’ve been hired to go to a lab out West,” she stated after a while. 
Ellizabeth turned sharply back to face Lora. “What?”
“In Minnesota,” Lora replied with a casual tone that shook Ellizabeth’s nerves. “There’s a study group on the lakefront that thinks they may have an experiment that could lead to a cure.”
“And you think this will help?” Ellizabeth asked, a feeling of worry growing in the pit of her stomach.
“They have some good ideas,” Lora stated blankly as she looked down at her hands, unable to look Ellizabeth in the eyes.
“What about Cresig?” Ellizabeth blurted. She could not help but hope Lora had forgotten the aspect; that her memory would click and she would be persuaded to stay in the city.
“I think he can take care of himself,” Lora muttered, crushing Ellizabeth’s last hope. “And besides, I told him this morning.”
“And he’s just peachy keen with this?” Ellizabeth asked coldly. 
“Not thrilled exactly,” Lora shrugged, “but he’ll live. I’d appreciate it if you didn’t tell anyone in there about this.” She added quietly, cocking her head toward the bar behind them. “I haven’t agreed yet.”
“But you’re going to.” Ellizabeth said more to herself.
Lora shook her head. “I don’t know yet. I understand that I would be leaving Cresig out here to fight on his own, but I feel like I would be helping him more by going out there.”
“He won’t be alone, he’s got us,” Ellizabeth found herself saying in a more defensive tone than she had expected.
“He’ll need much more than a few supporters if he wants to take down Slayter,” Lora scoffed.
“And by you leaving, that’s helping?” Ellizabeth snapped.
“It’s bringing us a step closer to any proof we’ll ever get,” Lora answered. She stared Ellizabeth in the eye. “Just promise me that you won’t tell the group.”
“I won’t,” Ellizabeth glared as Lora flashed a grin. The small, dark-haired girl rose to her feet.
“I should go,” Lora said weakly. “I still have a few things to do before I call the lab back.” She gave a slight smile toward Ellizabeth and turned to leave.
“Hey,” Ellizabeth called after her, “just give it some thinking. You don’t have to run halfway across the country to become a better botanist.”
“No,” Lora smirked. “But it sure couldn’t hurt.” She motioned her head in a short nod. “Nothing is certain yet, Elli.” Lora pulled her coat closer to her body and began her walk down the pavement.
Ellizabeth stared after the girl. Lora never turned back to her and soon became a distant figure under the street lamps. Ellizabeth waited for her to disappear into the snow before pulling the door handle and re-entering the bar. 


© 2011 Jooolie


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Added on September 19, 2010
Last Updated on March 18, 2011


Author

Jooolie
Jooolie

The city with the water tower, IA



About
I'm a sophomore in Journalism/Mass Communication and in the process of some sweet novel-writing. I thoroughly enjoy show tunes and I don't care who knows. I really like reading short stories an.. more..

Writing
Lifted Lifted

A Book by Jooolie


Prologue Prologue

A Chapter by Jooolie


Chapter One Chapter One

A Chapter by Jooolie