I liked Kumar almost instantly. Right off the bat he introduced himself, shook my hand and offered me an assortment of drinks from a small fridge in the corner of the room.
"No thanks." I smiled, tossing my empty coke can in the trash.
The room was small, but comfortable. The walls were white and the floor had a simple tile pattern. Next to the fridge, a row of counters ran with a sink and a microwave on the edge closest to me. On the other side of the room there was a vending machine and a soda machine . It had a round table in the middle that reminded me of the break room in the place I once worked at as a telemarketer. Yeah, I was one of those people.
I sat down in one of the folding chairs at the table and sighed. I wasn't looking forward to talking to Gary. Kumar sat across from me. It took me a moment before I realized he was starring at me.
"Something on my face?" I asked, and he snapped out of it, embarrassed.
"Sorry!" He apologized, his voice heavy with an Indian accent. "Its just that... you're kind of a celebrity around here."
"Really?" I asked. The folding chair squeaked as I leaned back in it.
He nodded. "You're Mr. Moore's replacement right? Everyone's talking about you, though... not all of them are kind."
I chuckled a little. "I figured."
"Dawson seemed really upset."
If I had been drinking anything, I would have spat it out comically like a cartoon right then. "What?! Dawson works here?" I nearly fell out of my chair.
"...Yes?" Kumar said nervously. "Is that a problem?"
"No, no." I sighed, sitting up. "Its just..." Then I remembered that he was one of Annie's pals. "Never mind."
There was a long pause where we didn't talk at all. Then, Kumar leaned forward, his voice curious and inquisitive. "Where are you from?"
I shrugged. "I grew up in Nowhere Land, south of here."
He nodded. "That's the way it is with most people who come to own this place. So I've heard anyway. But, and I'm sorry if I'm being rude, why did Paul choose you? If you don't mind me asking." He shifted uncomfortably in his seat.
"I don't know. He liked the way I looked I guess." That was a lie.
"You look like a friendly person." He smiled. "Annie thinks so too. Except for when you ruined a perfectly good pair of jeans that is." We both laughed. I was a little surprised. I always thought I looked more like someone who was going to beg you for money. Or steal it.
"So, how close are you and Annie?" I asked, trying to stop laughing.
"Pretty close." He gave me a mischievous smile. "Dawson better keep an eye on her before I steal her out from under his nose." That sent us in to another fit of wild laughter. We looked pretty ridiculous, but I didn't care. Kumar was now New Friend #2.
"You know." He said, gasping for breath. "You're pretty ok."
"You're not so bad yourself."
"Hey hey! Somebody forgot to invite me to the party!" I groaned as Gary spoke behind me.
Kumar looked up in surprise. "This must be your friend." He looked back at me. "Should I leave?"
I nodded, standing up. As he passed me, I whispered "run while you still can."
He snickered and closed the door behind him. I thought I could faint laughter on the other side. I then turned to Gary, a fake friendly smile on my face.
"How's my old buddy?" He grinned. I noticed that, despite him being younger then me, his hair had started receding. "Still stealing money from banks? Or have you moved on to more organized crime?" He was joking, but I couldn't help but feel a stab of anger that he would dare mention that part of my past in front of me.
Still, I continued to smile. "No, I'm done with that. I'm getting a job here pretty soon."
"So I heard, so I heard. Hey, did you see that babe in the lobby? Nice tits-"
"What do you want Gary?" My voice shook.
He blinked, a little surprised. "Oh right! I was thinking that... us being so close and all... you might get in a good word with your boss for me. You know, help me get a head start in this town." I had been helping Gary get 'head starts' for years. He blew it almost every single time, usually getting both of us fired.
"I don't think so. This isn't just some job Gary. I could actually have a future here. Plus, you actually need some kind of knowledge..."
He laughed, that idiotic laugh of his. "Oh please, what do you know about science? You failed that class twice! Plus, you're gonna need someone around here to help you play nice with the other kiddos."
I narrowed my eyes at him. It was true, I rarely ever got along with people, but I had been doing just fine before he showed up. "I can handle this on my own." I said, trying not to reveal my rage.
He patted me on the back, a gesture that almost made me punch him right there. "Sure you can." He said sarcastically, wandering over to the fridge.
"I mean it." I said as he rooted through the food. "I actually have something this time. And... I'm not sure if I want to risk it."
Gary turned back to me, and I wondered if that had been the right thing to say. "Now Toddy." He said. I always hated that nickname. "Don't tell me you don't want to help out your best pal!"
"It's just that-" I tried to explain.
"Don't tell me your gonna turn your back on me." He was smiling, but his eyes held little humor.
"I can't keep looking after you." I said finally.
"...What?" His smile faded.
"You heard me. I can't keep supporting you. I get you jobs and you lose them within a week. I get you places to live and you can't even bother to keep up with your payments. All you do is watch TV and waste your money on beer!"
"Hey!" He yelled. "After all I've done for you-"
"What the hell have you done for me?!"
"Remember that time I bailed you out-?"
"You're the one who got me in there in the first place! You told the police who I was!"
We stared each other down, neither one willing to break. Fury was, like Gary, an old buddy of mine, and, like Gary, decided to rear it's ugly head that day. I took a step forward, my blue eyes gleaming. Suddenly, Gary looked afraid.
"Whoa buddy." He put up his hands. "Just calm down." I took another step forward. "We can work this out." Gary was returning to his old 'innocent' appearance. I didn't care. That is, until he said "you wouldn't want to lose your job, would you?"
I paused, considering it. I relaxed a little. "I'm sorry." I said finally. Gary looked relieved. He had had past experiences with my rage. "I just can't help you right now. Maybe later..." I trailed off.
He smiled. "No problem. I'm staying at a place down by the river. They call it the Moat. Just ask for Gary if you ever want to talk." With that, he walked past me. But before he left entirely, he looked back at me. "Guess you'll never be rid of that ol' temper, huh buddy?"
I nodded quietly and he disappeared behind the door. "Shit." I said aloud. I had actually been following a kind of hope that, if I kept an upbeat attitude, eventually my anger would vanish. Stupid me.
Oh well, Gary was gone (for now), I had two friends, a place to live (I had decided to take up Paul's offer), and, according to Paul, I would soon have a job that would give me more power then the average man. My former cheerfulness returning, I walked to the elevator and pressed the button. I was beginning to enjoy the jazz music that played inside it.
I had 45 minutes before I had to go see Moore again. I pressed the button for the lobby after a moment's thought, hopping Gary would be out of the building at that point. Annie was, of course, still there.
"How'd it go?" She asked, shuffling through yet another stack of papers.
"Pretty good." I smiled, hopping I could fool her. I didn't.
"You liar. What happened?"
I sighed. "Well... considering I almost beat the tar out of him..."
"Todd?" Annie raised and eyebrow at me.
"I don't know, he just... I mean he wont..." I sighed again. I had never wanted to tell anyone about my past, who I used to be. I looked back at Annie, and suddenly, I decided that if I had to tell anyone in The Lab, it would be her. "I guess I have to start at the beginning for any of this to make sense."