Took day 23 off because work, migraine, and midterm are never a good combination in tandem.
Dateline – approximately three weeks before the beginning of the story – Manhattan
AJ turned away from the storage shelves, her brow arching. Cataloguing the department’s collections wasn’t her idea of fun, but it needed to be done before the semester started and she’d volunteered—in her humble opinion, it beat what her colleagues in the department were up to in these waning days of summer. A young man hovered in the doorway, dark-haired with almond-shaped eyes, a backpack dangling from his shoulder. He was familiar, though she couldn’t quite place the face or the voice.
“Can I help you with something?” she asked.
The man smiled a self-deprecating smile. “Maybe. Professor Krause sent me down here to see if you needed any help.”
“Maryanne sent you, huh?” AJ dusted her hands off on the seat of her jeans, quirking a brow. “You’re with the department?”
“Post-grad,” he explained. “Semester year. I have the Baird-Mancini Fellowship.”
“Ah, for forensic anthropology, yes.” AJ glanced over her shoulder at the racks of artifacts, carefully arranged and labeled. “And Maryanne sent you down here to help me why?”
“I think she ran out of things for me to help her with upstairs.”
AJ snorted a laugh. “Maybe. Honestly, I’ve got this pretty well in hand on my end. What’s your name? Are you assisting for anyone in the fall?”
“That’s the other reason I think she sent me down here,” he said, then blushed, glancing down. “I think she wanted me to talk to you about your strategies for teaching some of the intro classes. I’m supposed to teach a couple of the general education ones and she said my syllabi were a bit…complex.”
“She says that about most of the syllabi we write, but it doesn’t seem to scare everyone away.” She moved away from the shelves and toward him. “Still waiting on that name, you know.”
“Oh.” He glanced down, apparently bashful, at least for a few seconds, then back up again before he extended his hand. “Ben Miyazaki.”
“AJ McConaway. Welcome aboard.”
“Thanks.” He glanced at the shelves. “You going to have time to take a look at those syllabi?”
“Got them with you?”
He tugged a sheaf of papers out of the backpack dangling from his shoulder and AJ grinned.
“Let’s go to my office. I’ll make you a cup of coffee and we’ll talk.”
He nodded and let her lead the way.
Circa 2022 (late summer/early autumn) – Chicago
“So this is it,” Brigid said softly. The lake glittered with the lights of the city, the sun now nearly gone. They stood together on a rooftop overlooking the water, stealing a few last precious moments before it all came to an end.
Everything was quiet, even the sound of the cars in the street below. The breeze off the water was cool, even at this time of year, a welcome relief from the heat of summer. Even that, too, felt like an ending, one she’d been trying to deny for the past three days since he’d told her they were leaving, that he was taking his charges back to New York, that things had changed and would never be the same again.
“I suppose it is,” he said, his voice as quiet as hers had been.
“I don’t want you to go.”
“We don’t have a choice.” Robert’s voice was gentle, probably far more gentle than she deserved, considering how many times she’d said it and the shouting match they’d had about it. “It’s too dangerous to stay. For them. For your people, too. Besides, with everything going on in New York…” his voice trailed away and he didn’t say more.
Brigid’s jaw tightened. “You still won’t tell me?”
“I’ve told you all I can,” he said. She wanted to believe it but wasn’t sure she could—wasn’t sure she could let herself believe it.
But she nodded anyway, staring out over the city and Lake Michigan, feeling sick at heart and sick to her stomach.
His fingers slid into hers and squeezed. By morning, he’d be gone and she’d never know what it felt like to feel his fingers against her skin, what his hair would feel like under her fingers, what his kiss would taste like. He always wore the gloves, never took them off, and she didn’t dare touch him without a pair of her own—the curse of his so-called gift.
“I am sorry,” he whispered.
That much, at least, she knew he meant.
“Brigid, look at me.”
“I can’t.” She swallowed past the lump in her throat.
“Because I’ll do something we’ll both regret.” She wanted to—but she wanted a lot of things. No one had made her feel again like he had.
Fate was a cruel bitch.
“We knew that—”
“Don’t say it,” she said. “Don’t say that it was never going to work. Don’t say that we’re living in two different worlds that were never going to cross. Don’t say any of it, Robert. It’s bullshit and both of us know it. We’d make it work. If you were staying, somehow we’d—”
She broke off, her throat too tight to speak. She tried to suck in a breath, then another. He squeezed her hand again.
“I’m sorry,” he said again.
“I know.” Brigid sighed, scrubbing at her eyes with the heel of her free hand. “Dammit, I know, Robin. I just—I fooled myself, I guess. Even with all the danger and the bullshit I somehow managed to fool myself. I shouldn’t have.”
“It wasn’t just you.”
Now she did look at him, saw a flicker of something she knew was reflected in her own eyes. A lump rose in her throat.
“I didn’t want this to end, either,” he said quietly. “But sometimes—”
Brigid found she couldn’t bear to hear the words, couldn’t let him say them. Without sparing a thought for the consequences, she took his face in her bare hands and kissed him. His lips tasted like the bourbon they’d been drinking earlier, like sweet and salt and the liquor and coffee. It was all at once what she’d imagined it would be and wholly different. He stiffened, eyes growing wide, hands grasping for purchase and finding it on her arms, gloved fingers digging into the flesh of her forearms for the space of one heartbeat, two.
Then he shoved her away, stumbling back and sitting down hard, gasping for air eyes wife, face pale.
Her stomach dropped.
What the hell did I do? She felt sick. He stared at her, shaking but unseeing, flooded by everything he’d just taken from her in that touch, everything he’d just seen—was still seeing, was still experiencing.
His gift. What have I—
What was I thinking? I knew that—
“Robin.” She gasped his name, horrified, terrified. “I—”
“Go,” he rasped, seeing her but not seeing her. “Just—go.”
Desolated, she went. The damage had been done.
There were some things that could never be mended.