The night of Expo arrives. At first, things run smoothly, but the engineers are in for a strange night.
Hi there! Just wanted to get this part out before I ran off for the weekend. Read the first 4 chapters at my studio! Enjoy!
Hi there! Just wanted to get this part out before I ran off for the weekend. Read the first 4 chapters at my studio! Enjoy!
“I accidentally screwed up the vacuum chamber and I have to spend my whole week fixing it,” Laurie ranted, diving into lunch with her coworkers, Harry Lester and Dr. Edwin Pierce. She had offered to share her splendid chicken pot pie with them.
Harry shook his head. “What are you, a moron? Didn’t you memorize the quadrillion steps in the handbook? God, why don’t you people intuitively know everything?” he yelled. With the same sarcastic anger, he shoveled food into his mouth. He chewed slowly, savoring the gravy. “Mm… Woman, this dish is phenomenal! Who taught you how to cook, The Matrix?”
Pierce spoke up. “Don’t worry, Laurie. No one blames you. I’m sure everyone here has made at least one mistake in the labs.”
“We’re just really good at hiding it,” added Harry. “Valentine could have fired me… oh… seven times now for improper use of equipment? And that’s not counting the whole bag of marshmallows I once threw in the microwave.”
Pierce sighed heavily. “I still don’t understand why you had to do that.”
“For science, my friend,” Harry said with a salute.
“Have you ever tried to microwave Peeps?” Laurie asked Harry. “You know, those little Easter marshmallows shaped like ducks and bunnies? It’s like blowing up a small animal. Except… you don’t have to actually blow up a small animal.” The sound of a throat clearing came from the hallway. Laurie bit down on her bottom lip, hard. She wondered if her boss had heard her whole speech on Peeps, or just the part about blowing up small animals. Seriously, why did he always have to swoop in at the worst possible moment?
Seth was only there to retrieve a snack. He quickly went through the refrigerator. The room was totally silent as he went; Pierce’s mouth was stretched in a painfully awkward grimace. Harry’s face was red with suppressed laughter.
When Seth finally left the room, all three friends released the breaths they’d been holding. Laurie put her head down on the table.
Harry turned to Pierce. “I like her. She stays.”
At last, after 4 weeks of employment, things seemed to be running smoothly around the Valentine mansion. Laurie never messed up again. Whenever Seth strode down the hall, he couldn’t help glancing curiously into her lab to see what she was up to. Usually, she was hard at work. Sometimes she saw her laughing hysterically with Harry Lester to some ridiculous inside joke.
“And I thought I was the only one who’s been naked in public!” Laurie exclaimed, slapping her leg. “I’m so glad I know you, Harry.”
Seth frowned—was this girl crazy?
Another time, he heard the faint hum of music issuing from her lab. Sometimes it was quiet, classical music; Laurie would appear highly focused on her work when it was. Sometimes it was jazz or blues, with a sassy singer on the melody. Laurie would bob her head and sing along. The sight would have been comical to anyone else, but of course, Seth just shook his head. The next time he looked, Edwin Pierce was in her lab, conversing with her while she worked.
“Who will make fun of Harry with me if you’re not there? Please go to Expo, Edwin!” she begged. Seth halted suddenly in the hallway, his curiosity overtaking him. Laurie continued, “I’ll dance with you! I’m horrible at dancing, but you don’t have to be good to enjoy yourself. You were my first friend at this job. It wouldn’t seem right if you weren’t there.”
“You’re way too good at begging,” Pierce remarked. “Alright, fine! I’ll go. But I do expect one horrible dance.”
“It’s yours,” Laurie agreed. She paused. “I’m really sorry about the divorce. Let me know if you need a place to stay.”
Pierce smiled. “You’re a good friend, Laurie.”
Seth was in his office, checking emails, when Pierce stopped by to drop off a report.
“Good work,” acknowledged Seth.
“Thank you,” said Pierce. He turned to leave the office.
“Keeping your eye on that new hire?” Seth asked.
Pierce stopped and turned. “Laurie? Well, she has been here a month, so she isn’t that new anymore. But yes, I’d say she’s doing a very nice job.”
“I suppose, but she’s too popular,” replied Seth. “Perhaps she would do better work if her social life didn’t get in the way.”
“I don’t think it gets in the way, Seth. She’s just a happy person. In fact, I don’t think she could do her work at all if she were unhappy. She isn’t hurting anyone,” Pierce defended with a smile.
Seth raised an eyebrow in a sour expression. “So she’s gotten to you, too, now? Is there anyone around here who doesn’t adore that girl?”
Pierce, knowing Seth fairly well, laughed at what he said rather than shrinking at his words. “Not that I know of. She’s quite special. You should get to know her.”
“Get out,” Seth sighed, returning to his paperwork. Then… “Wait.”
Pierce stopped again. “Yes, Seth?”
Seth hesitated. “How are things with you and your wife? …Er, ex-wife.”
“Disastrous, of course,” said Pierce. “Why do you ask?”
Seth spoke quietly. “If you need a place to stay, you’re welcome to any of my rooms.”
Pierce looked surprised. “Thanks, Seth. I’ll keep that in mind.”
Pierce walked out of the office, completely perplexed. It wasn’t like Seth to inquire after his workers, as long as he was getting the work he needed. He wondered if he should tell Laurie about the conversation--but then, he wasn’t the type to circulate gossip. He decided that it was best to keep this one to himself. “So I hear that Valentine has the hots for you.”
Laurie glared over her lunch at Mason. “You’ve been talking to Isabella, haven’t you? Well, firstly, there’s no basis for that claim. And second… have you asked Isabella to be your date, yet?”
Mason’s expression completely changed. “What’s the point? We can’t dance together or anything. I’m head of security! I’ll be standing by the door all night, bouncing people!”
Laurie stood up and slapped Mason’s giant, bulging right arm with her tiny hand. “You-get-in-there-and-you-ask-that-girl-to-the-dance-right-now-or-I’ll-end-you!”
“Alright, alright!” Mason cried, scooting away from her. “You’re so pushy!”
As he left the kitchen, Seth walked in. Mason’s face turned red, and he quickened his pace.
Seth stared at Laurie. “Were you just yelling at my security guard?”
“Well, that’s what he gets for spreading rumors,” Laurie replied smugly.
Laurie swallowed. “They’re stupid. I’d say you’re far above it, Sir.”
“You’re right about that,” Seth grumbled, unable to help admiring her smile. They faced each other awkwardly for a moment, neither of them saying anything. As if snapping out of a trance, Seth maneuvered around her, toward the refrigerator.
While he retrieved his usual snack, Laurie asked, “So what’s it like, having a party thrown twice a year in honor of your inventions?”
“No one can shut up about Expo,” he said bitterly. “But it keeps me connected to the rest of the world, and the workers count it as one of their perks. As long as there’s a full bar, I can put up with it.”
Laurie stifled a laugh. He reminded her of an angry high school boy who couldn’t find a date to prom. “So do you drink, Dr. Valentine?”
Seth looked at her and delivered a very short answer. “Yes. I do.”
As he faced her, he was reminded of Pierce’s advice: You should get to know her. If ever there was a chance to do that, it was here, at lunch. There was another pause while Laurie waited for him to continue with the conversation, but he didn’t. She coughed uncomfortably. “There’s an extra seat here, if you’d like to—“
“Keep up on your work, Fell,” he snapped, quickly strolling out of the kitchen with his food.
He quickened his pace down the hall. He was alone again, as he should be. She had invited him to eat lunch with her before, and he’d turned her down then, too. He remembered why: he didn’t want to know her. He knew what he did want, and it wasn’t a piece of her sparkling personality; his fists clenched at the tantalizing idea of his hands on her soft skin. But that was a very bad idea.
Laurie was a bad idea. And there were few things he hated more than a bad idea. He hoped that the women at Expo would be a good enough distraction.
The long-awaited Expo finally came to the Valentine Estate that Saturday night. Businessmen and scientific minds alike flocked to Bridgeport for the occasion, dressed their finest and ready to shoot ideas, make connections, and of course have a word with the great Dr. Valentine himself. The irony of a shut-in like Valentine throwing the biggest party in town did not escape Laurie. She was glad he did, though. It gave her a reason to wear her mother’s gorgeous blue dress. As she made her way to the front door, she admired the front view of the mansion underneath the purple dusk sky. “Laurie!” Isabella cried, running to catch up with her.
Laurie stopped and turned. “Isabella! Oh my God, you look breathtaking!”
“Oh my God!” she shot right back. “YOU look breathtaking! Like, seriously!” The two squealed and babbled to each other over their dresses for a moment. “I can’t wait to see what Expo is like! Come on, let’s go!” Isabella exclaimed.
Mason couldn’t give his date a ride because he had to be at the mansion hours early for preparations. The look on his face when he saw Isabella was one of adoration and humility. “Isabella!”
“Mason,” she replied, blushing.
He shook his head and sighed. “Yeah. I picked the right one.”
“You guys are too cute,” Laurie chuckled.
Mason threw his arm around Isabella. “You go right in, Laurie. I’ll be inside in a little while.”
“I’m going to stay with my date,” said Isabella. “Save a dance for me!”
Seth was enjoying his first and only attraction, the bar in the back of the ballroom, even before any of his guests had arrived. He would have to do a lot of talking tonight, way more than he was accustomed to. To his business partners, he would have to be especially civil. He drank quickly. He glanced around the room as it began to fill up. The crowd was starting to thicken and converge on the dance floor.
It was exactly 8 P.M. when she walked through the door.
To begin with, he didn’t see her face; only the royal, blue dress that hugged her slender figure; the melodic sway of her hips as she made her way into the room; her exposed, kissable neck. Seth knew it was Laurie Fell before his eyes hit her face.
She radiated perfection. Men stared and women glared as she drifted past them.
Seth turned back to the bartender. “Keep ‘em coming.” “Oh, look! It’s Laurie ‘Blows-Up-Small-Animals’ Fell,” Harry yelled over the music.
“For science,” she quoted unenthusiastically.
“I swear, you make it hard to pick up women! I can’t focus! Go hide in the bathroom or something!”
“I’ll take that as a compliment! Thanks, Harry!” she yelled back.
“Nice dress, Laurie!” Pierce yelled into Laurie’s left ear.
She winced. “Thanks! You ready for that dance I promised you?”
“I don’t know,” he said, looking around. “I think I need another drink.”
“Another drink it is!” she said, tugging his arm. With the help of some alcohol, Pierce looked brave enough to try a dance with Laurie. To his delight, she was a much goofier dancer than he was. She was also shameless, a winning combination. As the room began to fill with more girls, Harry left them to go on the prowl.
“What are you drinking, Dr. Valentine?” came the low sound of a woman’s voice. The lady’s accent was German; she had a gorgeous face and long, golden hair. “And why are you all alone? This is your party, is it not?”
Seth lifted his chin. “Whiskey. Would you like a glass?”
“Yes—but not as much as I would like to know you. You are debatably the most brilliant man in the world. Please… share your thoughts with me,” she purred. “I’m Veronica.”
Seth raised an eyebrow. She seemed like his type of woman. Finally, this night was looking up.
Laurie continued to dance the night away. She couldn’t remember having this much fun since her early college years. Little by little, Pierce seemed to grow more confident with his dancing… although sometimes, he just had to stop to laugh at Laurie’s moves. “Thank you for this, Laurie,” he said. “I never thought I would enjoy myself like this again. You’re one of a kind.”
“Just dance!” she yelled, shaking his shoulders.
Toward 11 P.M., Laurie felt a tap on her shoulder. “I knew I would find you here, Laurie Fell! I’d recognize that crazy dance anywhere.”
Laurie swiveled around on her high heels and met the stranger’s eyes. Her expression became foreboding.
“You?” she stuttered, taking a step back. “Oh my God! What are you doing here?”
Mastermind Chapter 5
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