JUNE 11th, 2061. San Francisco, Fireblue territory, North American Province, 05.25 local time.
Louise immediately remembered where she was this time. The second she opened her eyes, she pushed herself up and jumped out of bed. Luckily, the pounding in her head had disappeared almost entirely.
She looked around the room. The birds were singing loudly again, but she had no time to watch them from the window. She hurried into the small bathroom to take a shower and get dressed.
5 minutes later, she was putting on her sneakers. “What am I doing?” she thought as she sat up on the bed and glanced at the clock. Eleanor had said she would check up on her in the morning. Louise had assumed that meant she would stop by her room.
That’s why she had made sure she was dressed. She wasn’t going to open the door in her briefs again. It was 5.32 now, though, and all was quiet. “This is not okay,” Louise thought.
“You shouldn’t be waiting for her! You should be locking the door!” Louise jumped up and started pacing back and forth. “I’m not going to open the door,” she decided. “Even if she does come, I’ll refuse to talk to her.”
That’s when she heard the knock on the door. It was as subtle as it had been yesterday and yet it still startled Louise. She rubbed her clammy hands over her slacks. It wasn’t even warm in the room yet. Why was she so nervous?
Louise was holding the door handle before she even remembered her decision to not open the door. “What if it is Hobbs, though?” she thought. God, she hoped it wasn’t Hobbs. She pushed down the handle.
“Good morning,” Eleanor whispered, standing in the doorway.
Louise waved her in nervously, her eyes scanning the empty hallway.
Eleanor hurried inside. Louise closed the door and nearly bumped into her when she turned around. Their eyes held for a moment.
“You shouldn’t be here,” Louise blurted out, taking a step back.
Eleanor arched an eyebrow. “I just wanted to make sure you’re okay.”
“Thank you, but,” Louise hesitated. “You can’t be here.”
“This is my house.”
Louise crossed her arms. “I mean in this room.”
Louise huffed. “You know why.”
“You want me to go?”
The grey eyes staring back at Louise seemed a bit puffy still. Eleanor’s cheeks were pale. Louise couldn’t bring herself to say ‘Yes.’
“You look tired,” she said instead.
Eleanor’s eyebrows shot up. “Thanks,” she replied dryly.
Louise blushed. “That came out wrong.”
“It’s okay. I really am exhausted.”
The rawness in Eleanor’s voice gave Louise goosebumps.
“I’m sorry I said that thing about your aunt in a wheelchair,” she stammered before she even realized she was going to. She quickly averted her gaze.
Eleanor walked over to the bed but didn’t sit down. “It’s fine. I know why you did it. You needed Hobbs to know.”
“Still,” Louise said, tucking her hands in her pockets, “I hated doing it.”
Eleanor slowly turned around, meeting Louise’s gaze. “Really?”
Louise frowned. “Of course.”
Eleanor chuckled. Louise was so caught up in studying her beautiful curls bouncing off her shoulders she almost didn’t hear the next question.
“Has your partner calmed down?”
Louise pulled her eyes away from the delicate skin of Eleanor’s neck. She nodded. “Yeah. I’m sorry he asked… You know,” Louise didn’t want to repeat Hobbs’s stupid question.
“How she died?” Eleanor suggested, her tone slightly amused.
Louise shrugged, embarrassed. “Yeah.”
“You’re awfully apologetic today,” Eleanor teased. “Did the migraine get to you?”
Louise narrowed her eyes, but her lips had a will of their own and curved up. “I guess it might have weakened me for a moment.”
Eleanor smiled back. It was a slow, seductive smile that reminded Louise of a dozen warnings she had read in reports about Eleanor Lucas. God, this woman really did have exceptional charisma.
“You do look…less stern,” Eleanor said slowly, her voice light and playful.
Louise frowned in response, which made Eleanor burst out laughing. “Okay, ruined it.”
Heat rushed to Louise’s cheeks. She knew many people would describe her as serious or stern. It was true she thought that was part of being an officer, but that didn’t mean she was like that all the time.
“I’m here on a mission,” she said, crossing her arms again.
Eleanor pursed her lips. The morning light seemed to make the freckles on her cheeks stand out.
“What do you do when you’re not on duty?” Eleanor asked, taking Louise by surprise. Louise’s astonishment must have shown because Eleanor’s smile grew.
“Why do you ask?” Louise stammered.
Eleanor lifted her shoulders. “Curiosity? I guess exhaustion is getting the better of me too.”
Louise searched Eleanor’s eyes. She thought there was no harm in responding honestly.
“I pretty much work all the time,” she admitted.
Eleanor giggled. “I’m not surprised.”
Louise grinned back. “I don’t see you out fishing on weekends either,” she quipped.
“Ha! No, my job isn’t exactly 9 to 5,” Eleanor laughed.
They held each other’s gaze again for a long moment. Louise wanted to ask Eleanor so many questions all of a sudden. But she clenched her jaw before they spilled out of her.
“I better get going,” Eleanor said, interrupting the moment. Louise felt a pang of disappointment in her chest and gave herself a mental slap because of it.
“I need to go check on Stucky,” Eleanor added.
Louise immediately straightened up. “How is he?”
“Poor guy,” Louise sighed.
“Yeah,” Eleanor said, “I’m going to take him out for a walk.”
Eleanor pointed at the window. “Woods behind the garden.”
Louise smiled. “I bet he’ll love it.”
“Don’t know. He doesn’t seem to like me very much.”
“He’s just sad.”
“He likes you, though.”
Louise smiled, a little shy. “He can see my soft, not-so-stern side, I guess,” she joked.
Eleanor’s lips parted in surprise. Louise’s eyes widened too. Why the hell was she joking around with Eleanor Lucas? In other circumstances, she might even consider it flirting.
“Maybe you should join us then,” Eleanor responded after a moment.
Louise shook her head wildly. “Oh no, I can’t!”
Eleanor sighed dramatically. “Guess I’ll have to tell Stucky you didn’t want to see him.”
Louise huffed. “Hey! Not fair!”
She tried to give Eleanor an angry look, but the beautiful eyes that had looked so exhausted just minutes ago were now sparkling with amusement, and Louise couldn’t help but feeling delighted.
“No one will ever know,” Eleanor whispered dramatically. “There’s a tunnel all the way into the woods.”
“There is not,” Louise giggled, only half sure Eleanor was kidding.
“Okay okay, no tunnel. But if we take the kitchen door, no one can see us from the house,” Eleanor said, her voice hopeful.
Louise took in a deep breath. It was hard to say no when Eleanor looked so giddy all of a sudden. Stucky’s sad eyes also flashed through her mind.
“Fine, I’ll go say hi,” she muttered. “But only for a minute and I’m not going for a walk!”
Louise was already regretting her decision when she stepped onto the patio. She had noticed the kitchen staff glance at her curiously while walking behind Eleanor, who got respectful nods.
What the hell was wrong with her? Why did she keep taking more risks instead of less? Why had she opened her door? Why had she let Eleanor in again? And why on earth was she out on the patio with her for all to see?
“Stucky?” Eleanor called out.
Louise scanned the garden and patio. She didn’t see or hear the dog anywhere. Eleanor lifted a hand above her eyes, peering at the woods. “Stucky?” she shouted.
Louise tucked her hands in her back pockets as she waited uncomfortably. This wasn’t exactly helping in the ‘not getting noticed out here’ department. She took a step closer to the wall so it would be harder to spot her from a window.
Eleanor tried again. “Stucky?!” she yelled, her voice suddenly cracking. She started walking towards the woods at a quick pace.
“She’s getting upset,” Louise thought. She rubbed her chest as she glanced around nervously. Eleanor had already reached the woods and was sounding increasingly panicked.
Louise could go out there and help find the dog. Maybe he would come if she called out for him. But what about anyone seeing her out there? How would she explain it? She just couldn’t.
“Stucky?” Eleanor yelled, really desperately now.
Louise’s throat grew tight. “She’s going to lose it if she doesn’t find him soon,” she thought. She made up her mind then. She hurried after Eleanor, praying Hobbs wasn’t looking out of the window somewhere.
She mumbled “What the fuck am I doing?” as she reached the woods. She spotted Eleanor on a path a bit further among the trees.
“Shit, why did I let him out into the garden?” Eleanor said, running her hands through her hair.
Louise joined her and gave her a comforting smile. Or at least she tried to. “I’m sure he’s just exploring. That’s good, right?”
Eleanor blew out a breath. “He shouldn’t be able to get away. It’s a gated property. What if he got hurt, though?’
Louise turned around and looked for any movement between the trees. “Let’s walk around a bit. I’m sure we’ll run into him,” she suggested.
Eleanor dropped her arms, her eyes brimming with tears. “I can’t lose him too. He meant the world to my aunt. I owe it to her,” she pleaded.
Without thinking, Louise stepped closer and touched Eleanor’s upper arm. “Hey, we’ll find him,” she repeated.
“We don’t have time,” Eleanor croaked.
Louise thought for a moment. She guessed it had to be almost 6 AM by now. She had agreed to meet Hobbs in the lobby at 6.30. They had some time left. It wasn’t much, but they might get lucky.
“Come on,” she said as she pulled Eleanor along. “Try calling him again.”
“I know he hates me,” Eleanor sighed.
Louise wanted to wrap her arms around Eleanor and pull her close. She couldn’t stand seeing her this devastated again. “No, no, he doesn’t,” she mumbled and stepped away.
“Stucky?” Louise yelled hesitantly. She waited for a moment but didn’t hear anything other than birds and the usual rustling of leaves.
“Stuuucky!!” she tried again. She could feel Eleanor standing right behind her. Louise tried to pick up the peppermint scent again. A sudden rustle in the bushes brought her back to the task at hand, though.
“What was that?” Eleanor whispered.
Louise held up her hand, listening intently. After a few seconds, she heard more movement.
“Stucky?” she cooed while walking towards the sound.
She picked up on branches snapping and paws hastily approaching. Louise smiled.
Two big, brown eyes suddenly popped out of the bushes.
“Hey, you,” Louise said.
Stucky wrestled himself out of the bushes entirely and shook his body to get the dirt off. Louise was about to kneel down to pet him but two arms grabbing her from behind stopped her.
“Thank you!!!” Eleanor sobbed, as she pushed herself against Louise’s back even more, squeezing tightly. “Thank you so much,” she whispered.
Louise gasped at the butterflies rising in her stomach.