My eyes fluttered open. It took me a considerable duration to grow aware of my whereabouts.
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I was on a bed. Okay. The room I was in looked like a bedroom. Alright. There was a hand on my head, and glancing up I saw that it belonged to Amanda. It felt nice.
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Abruptly, I lifted my head up, only to drop it back down into the pillow, groaning in pure agony.
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"Slowly, Em," Amanda – whom I had trouble believing was Amanda – spoke softly.
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I only groaned more in response. I felt stabbing pain in my head as if some ruthless invisible force in my cranium was ripping the very nerves off of my scalp.
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"How... what are you doing here, Amanda?" I grunted in barely english.
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"Shh now, I think you're hungover," her voice responded.
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"Hung— what? How—"
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She shushed me again, and I complied, closing my eyes for a few seconds.
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Then, lifting my head up slower than last time, I saw Everest sitting in a chair at the opposite wall, his legs propped up on my bed, arms crossed, face as monotone as ever.
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"What happened? Where are we?" And most importantly: "Why don't I know this?"
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"We're in an apartment hotel in Southern California."
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Southern California. A blinking red light on a map flashed in my mind for a split second and disappeared just as fast as it came. Then, more images followed. Reynolds Corporation. Mark Hemisphere. Gemma's location. Arya. The frat house. And then... and then...
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Everest got to his feet and was at the head of my bed in lightening speed.
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"Tell me you remember what Gemma told you, yesterday," he demanded.
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I came to learn that this was probably not the best answer to give him, when he turned away in a frustrated motion, running both of his hands through his hair.
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What the hell did I miss?
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"Emerald, do you remember anything from last night?" Amanda asked, gently.
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I frowned further. "Last night. Last night? What happened last night?"
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Suddenly, Everest stormed towards me. Something sharp flashed across his eyes. "This is why— this is precisely why you should listen to me!" he growled, getting all up in my face. "I told you to stay by my side. Why do you never listen?"
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"Everest," Amanda place a hand on his shoulder, which he rung off.
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"She's acts a child! She can't follow simple instructions. She doesn't understand the seriousness of what's happening!"
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I sat up feeling heat rise to up my neck, the furious kind.
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"Everest, calm down," Amanda said.
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"No! This whole thing is a joke to you, isn't it?" He glared at me with deadly cold eyes.
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"Don't shout at me," I said, quietly, trying hard, and failing, to bottle up a sudden spasm of anger.
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"How many times do I have to tell you that your life is on the line?" he continued. "Does that even mean anything to you? Do you even realise how pathetic—"
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Before he could finish that last sentence I had wrestled him to the floor, my head ringing like a siren.
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"Shut up!" I fumed. "Shut up! You don't know me! How dare you—"
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The next moment, before I could even comprehend, he had me pinned down by the arms to the exact spot on the floor where he had been just a second ago.
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"I dare, because you don't get it. You threw all of it to waste," he bit exasperatedly, as Amanda unsuccessfully tried to make both of us stop. "You spoke to Gemma, yesterday, and you don't even know it. You got drunk, and you don't even know it!"
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"Get off!" I feebly struggled.
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"We're doing this for you," he emphasised, hands tightening around my wrists. "The only person stopping you from getting the cure right now, 202, is yourself."
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With that, he got up.
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I got up, too. "Then don't do it for me!" I shouted. "You don't have to, and no one asked you to."
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"Stop it, both of you!" Amanda intruded, standing between me and Everest. She faced Everest. "I did not come all the way here to babysit the pair of you. I cannot believe that, at a time like this, you have it in yourselves to be bickering and fighting like– like kids!
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Then she turned to face me. "And Emerald, five minutes – you've been awake for five minutes, and everything already going downhill. You, missy, need to find a way to control that temper of yours."
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"Me? Are you kidding me, right now?" I fumed. "He's the one interrogating and accusing me of things I don't even remember doing!"
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I heard Everest scoff in the back. "Precisely my point," he rebutted. "It's your carelessness that has landed you here."
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I turned away. "This is bullshit."
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"For heaven's sake, watch your mouth, Emerald," Amanda said, snapping the last bit of patience I had in me.
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I vigorously turned to her. "I'm not a child, Amanda. Give it a rest, will you?"
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"Well, you're not exactly behaving like an adult at this precise moment," she responded.
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"Because I swear?"
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"No, because of the way you're speaking back to me and picking fights with Everest."
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"Picking– he came at me!" I shouted.
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"Like you came at me, yesterday," he muttered back.
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"Can we just stop this?" Amanda spoke at once. "We have things to get on with. We still need to find another way of locating Gemma, and persuade her to give us her drug."
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"Which we would have done yesterday if a certain someone didn't go and get drunk."
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For a moment, as soon as he said that, my anger dissolved, and disappointment intruded its way in. Why didn't I remember? If I were hungover, that meant last night I must have— no, I didn't! Did I? Not that could remember, anyway.
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We were at a frat party. That meant... I got drunk at a frat party? I got drunk at a frat party. I didn't get drunk at a frat party! What in the world would have made me pick up alcohol and say, hmm, I know of the toxicity of this stuff, but imma try it, anyway?
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Before I could reply, Amanda intruded. "Everest, you know that's not fair. You said she didn't do it deliberately."
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"Even then!" Everest bit, exasperatedly. "She shouldn't have strayed away!"
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Amanda turned to me. "Why did you stray away?"
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I blinked. How the hell was I supposed to know?
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"I don't know," I replied truthfully, meeting Everest's icy eyes for a millisecond, and expecting them to harden at my naivety. "You're the one who was sober. Do you know?"
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His eyes didn't harden. They didn't do anything. Finally, he muttered, "No."
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"Well then," I folded my arms, "if I, as you say, didn't get drunk intentionally, then you can't exactly pin the blame on me, can you?"
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"That's besides the point. The fact remains that you didn't stick to the plan as we were supposed to. That's all on you," he responded.
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I breathed heavily. "You know what, man, I don't even understand why you care. I'll get on fine alone," I said.
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"As finely demonstrated yesterday," he bit. "You go on and on about
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My eyes narrowed into slits. "Oh yeah? Well, maybe you should put less brainpower into sarcasm and more into discovering what these things called emotions are."
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"Maybe you should stop being a brat and appreciate the fact that you're not a lab rat for Director anymore," he blasted back, his eyes possessing the coldness of ice.
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My throat went dry.
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"Take that back."
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He returned stubborn silence.
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I pushed at him. "Take it back!"
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"Alright that's enough!" Amanda interrupted once again and attempted to pry me away. I shrugged her hand off.
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"Emerald," Amanda said sternly, "drop it."
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I stared at Everest for a few more seconds, distilled hatred coursing through me for a few more seconds.
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Hydrogen, 1; helium, 4; lithium, 6.9; beryllium, 9; boron, 10.8; carbon, 12...
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I walked out of the room.
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After washing my face in cold water, and exploring my surroundings, I came to know that I was in a hotel apartment near Los Angeles.
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Everest had left the apartment a few minutes ago for reasons I wasn't bothered to find out and I sat myself down at a dining table in the living room, and resting my elbows on the glass surface, I threw my head into my hands, beating my memory for so much as a lone flash of whatever happened last night.
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It was useless.
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All I saw was darkness behind my eyelids. A pair of footsteps approached the living room and I looked up.
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"What are you doing here?" I asked Amanda. "How did you even know where to find us?"
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"People talk," Amanda replied, "I saw you on the news. Your speech, I mean. Everyone saw it, actually. What were you thinking?"
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"Not you as well," I groaned.
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"It's not safe. Do you hear me?"
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"Are you here alone?" I asked.
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"Sort of. I'm with Jay," she said referring to her husband.
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"Where is h—"
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"Hey, Em," a familiar voice called from behind, startling the hangover out of me.
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"Holy— dude!" I gasped, clutching my best. "You scared the sh—"
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"Language, Emerald," Amanda scolded, earning an eye roll out of both me and Jay, who seemed to have fabricated out of thin air.
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"What the hell, man?" I said to Jay.
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"Nice to see you, too," he responded.
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"How long were you there for?"
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He shrugged. "Long enough to see you beat yourself up for whatever's got Everest all worked up about. And trust me, that boy never seems to get worked up over anything."
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Hold on a minute. "Wait," I said, slowly. "You knew about him too?"
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Jay gave me a puzzled look. "And you didn't?"
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I frowned at Amanda.
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"No. Jay. She didn't know, because Director strictly forbade it," Amanda said, glaring at her husband.
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I nodded. "And he wiped my memory using electric rods. "Nice guy."
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Jay frowned for a moment; it was weird to see a guy as laid back as Jay frowning. "I'm sorry, Emmy," he said.
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I shrugged. "Meh, I don't remember it."
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Amanda rolled her eyes. "Why don't you already know this, Jay?" she asked disappointedly, as though her husband hadn't been paying attention for the past thirteen years.
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Jay raised his hands in the air. "Well, I'm sorry that I don't rot my life away at the Front to be up to date with every last detail that goes on in that place."
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"See! Jay doesn't even work at the Front, and even he knows about Everest!" I argued.
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"Quit complaining," Jay replied, shoving my shoulder, "you've had him all to yourself for over two weeks."
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"Oh yeah," I bit, "I really hit a milestone there. Being stuck with an emotionless wretch for a half month. How fortunate."
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"He told you?" Amanda asked me.
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"Told me what?"
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"About Director's order for the—"
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"Removal of his emotions?" I asked. "Mmhm. The whole story."
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"I was going to say inhibition of his neurotransmission activity."
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"Fancy words, same meaning," Jay said.
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In more than one occasion, Jay was smart in the most unlikely ways. "I like your brain," I told him.
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"And I like your weirdness," he replied.
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"Can we stay on topic please?" Amanda spoke agitatedly.
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"Oh yes. Question," I said. "Why isn't Director, you know, executed yet? Did we just skim over the detail that he has the makings of a literal mad scientist?"
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"Well—" Amanda began, irritatingly in a somewhat rebutting tone.
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"Or perhaps," I interrupted, "he has a tumor in his brain, that's causing all this psychopathic behavior. Tell him to shove some 202 up his—"
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"Emerald," Amanda snapped.
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"What? Why are you defending a madman?"
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"I'm not. Just don't swear."
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My eyes drooped. "Really, Amanda? I'm nineteen! I could be out there doing way worse things."
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"You don't know what's been going on at the Front since you left, do you?" Amanda asked.
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I picked my nails. "Yeah, yeah, you told me the last time I saw you. The place is a mess, Director's losing his mind. If anything, I'd say he had already lost his mind a long time ago."
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"No, Emerald. Since then. Do you know what's happened since then?"
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My nails needed filing.
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"He bought a new electron microscope?"
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"Director is behind bars."
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I dropped my hand.
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"Amanda, stop being so dramatic. He's not behind bars," Jay said. "Yet," he added, thoughtfully.
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"Wh-wh-what do you mean?" I spluttered.
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"The FDA discovered that there was something wrong with 202. Director is in custody. If it comes out that he attempted to sell 202 with prior knowledge of the errors in its formula – which he did – he's looking at a life in prison."
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I stared at Amanda in absolute disbelief. Damn, Leonardo works fast.
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I opened my mouth to respond when Amanda interrupted.
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"But, that's where you come in."
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"Me?" I asked, bewildered. Leonardo didn't tell Amanda about our little encounter, did he?
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"Well. Yes. You see, we not only want the truth about 202 to come out, but we also want Director off the CEO's seat. And for that to happen, he needs to be locked up."
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"Alright," I said nodding, "back to the 'me' part. What do they want from me exactly?"
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"They need you to testify."
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I arched an eyebrow. "For...?"
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"The termination. You need to testify that Director had intentions to murder you, following discovery in the fault of the 202 formula."
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"Oh. Okay," I agreed. "Yeah, I can do that. What happens after? Who will replace Director?"
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Amanda and Jay glanced at each other for a meteoric second.
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"Well, Chadwick and Holland Front—" Amanda started.
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"Died without an heir for the company," Jay finished. "So that part is still being decided."
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I saw Amanda glare at Jay.
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"What?" I asked her.
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"Nothing," she said, blinking.
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I gasped. "They're going to make you the CEO! Yay!"
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She blinked rapidly. "What? No, don't be absurd. They're not going to make me—"
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"They so are!" I screamed. "With no heir, the board will have no choice but to elect you! Go feminism!"
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"I think you're getting ahead of yourself," Amanda said, "we haven't even sorted out Director yet. We'll discuss this further over dinner. We're going out."
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"Dinner?" I repeated, flabbergasted. "I just got up!"
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"You realise it's evening, right?" Jay whispered, mockingly. "That's not morning sky, Em, it's evening sky."
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"I missed the whole day?"
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"Yes. And we're going out for dinner. Your friend Arya's joining us. And so is her boyfriend. And her daughter."
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"You've met Arya?" I asked.
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"Yes. And her boyfriend. And her daughter."
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"Damn, even I haven't gotten that far," I said. "So what brings her to join us? Wouldn't it piss Gemma off a tad?"
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"Arya's been fired from Reynolds."
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"Mind you, she seems over the moon about the news. Now, I've brought your phone and your passport. Emerald, you better have not used hypnosis on the control officers—"
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"I didn't!" I retaliated, honestly. "Everest did." My stomach tightened at the mention of his name. He was well out of order today. To hell with him!
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"Everest brought you here straight from the... frat party," it sounded like saying the words were physical torture for Amanda, "and when it was almost morning, we arrived."
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"Let's just say, you're lucky that you were already asleep," Jay said. "That earful Amanda gave Everest – he's probably pissed at you for that alone."
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"Where are we going? McDonald's?" I asked Amanda, a quarter sarcastically, a quarter hopefully, and a half to stop talking about Everest, as it was doing things to my abdomen.
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"No. McDonald's is practically cholesterol constructor. We're going someplace healthy."
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"I don't get cholesterol," I muttered, thanking my dramatically high metabolism.
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