The Torus Project

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Thrillers  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 3 (v.1)

Submitted: February 04, 2011

Reads: 56

A A A | A A A

Submitted: February 04, 2011



Chapter 3
7:30 a.m., Saturday
Amber. Deep eyes. Full lips. Had she really been there?
Most of the previous night blurred in Brian’s mind. The beer didn’t help, but he couldn’t forget the introduction of Amber to his life. Their group had talked until about midnight before breaking up. Jackie and Carol—once Carol knew her hopes with Brian were dashed for the evening—left a little earlier. Mike knew when to leave, too, which left Brian and Amber alone. They had exchanged numbers, talked a little more of backgrounds and similar interests, and left Sam’s comfortably.
Brian couldn’t believe his luck. The excitement still raced through him the following morning. He had awakened to Wilson’s schedule, of course. Saturdays counted no differently for five-year-olds, so he had taken his roustabout to breakfast—pancakes had zoomed to the top of Wilson’s list recently. He then dropped him off for t-ball practice and an after-practice lunch at a teammate’s house.
He thought about studying for next week’s finals, but the day was nice. His military money and Rebecca’s death benefit meant he didn’t have to keep a job . . . for now. That’s when another memory hit him from the night before. Everything pre-Amber was pretty much awash, but he did remember something about Dr. Kevill and his aborted office visit of the afternoon before. Carol had mentioned nanotechnology in reference to Dr. Kevill’s saying “nans”.
“Nanotechnology,” Brian said to himself. He knew the word. Most people did. It was indeed a hot topic now. Small computers. Small robots. Small.
He fired up his handheld computer, which sat beside his bed, deciding to do some homework after all. A link to the campus library, a student password, and he was suddenly immersed in a world of superconductors, chemical-like computers, and the fuzzy field of quantum physics. Many believed the field of nanotechnology would usher in a new industrial revolution. Working with sizes a billionth of a meter, researchers were using the very blocks of life—atoms and molecules—and directing them to perform as they wanted. Thus, building materials could be made extra-sturdy by arranging molecular attributes from the inside out. Clothing could be lightweight and weather repellant at the same time. Medi-robots could surf our bloodstreams in search of disease. Nano-tendrils could filter through oil spills, rearranging things at an atomic level and thus rendering environmental disasters harmless. The possibilities were enormous. Just reading the portion he did made Brian very excited.
He became so immersed in the research project, it took a phone call from Wilson’s friend’s house to wake him to reality . . . your son needs to go home.
Just before Brian stepped out the door to retrieve Wilson, though, the phone in his handheld computer signaled an incoming call.
“Brian?” A sweet, perky voice. Shy. Fresh.  Brian turned on the video to see his caller.
“This is Brian.”
“Amber.” Her picture came in clear, dark hair, full, blue eyes, puckered lips.
“Oh . . . hey, Amber.” He cleared his throat. “Ah . . . how are you?”
“Fine. Calling to see what you were doing tonight.” Amber’s face was in the foreground of a public place, people passing by behind her. Must be at a mall phone, he thought.
“Umm . . . don’t know, really. Just going to pick up Wilson, my son, now. You know, I mentioned him last night.”“Yeah, yeah.” She gave him a gorgeous smile across the video link.
“Probably going to spend time with him since I haven’t seen him all day.”
“How nice. Would you two like some company?”
The proposal took Brian by surprise. He’d been an entrenched single parent for so long, a widower, and now all of sudden here’s this girl running into him in the bar, getting his phone number, and calling the next day to come over to spend time with him and Wilson. He didn’t quite know how to hunt . . . and virtually nothing about being the hunted.
“I . . . ah.”
“Just say yes. We could bake cookies and play a game or something. How old did you say Wilson is?”
“Great! I have this perfect video game he’d like, part of a silly free promotion pack I got when purchasing some other software. He’d love it!”
“Wil loves video games all right.” Brian’s head spun in anticipation of being with Amber again so soon, but he tried not to show his nervousness on the video. Seeing her again brought a tingly feeling to his stomach, a feeling he had not felt in a long time. He also felt guilt. What would Rebecca say?
“So is it a date?”
“Sure, I guess so. Let me go get him and clean this place up a bit.” He looked around at socks hanging from a chair, Wilson’s toys scattered throughout the two-bedroom apartment, dust caking his kitchen bar. “How about seven?”
“Let me tell you how to get here . . .”
“A girl visiting here?”
Wilson didn’t know why Dad had suddenly decided today was the day to clean up, why toys were being found storage places that had never previously existed.
“No, Wilson, not Jackie. A new girl. Amber.”
“Why not Jackie?”
“Because Amber is coming.”
“Where’s Jackie?” Wilson tagged behind his dad’s dust rag, periodically inhaling fumes.
“I don’t know.”
“Why don’t you know?”
Brian spun on his shorter self, sending Wilson back a step, and bent over. “Look, Wilson, I want you to be good tonight, you hear me? Amber is a new and special girl. Please, please no temper tantrums, and don’t beg or bother her too much, okay?”
Wilson frowned. “Why is Amber special? Do you loooove her?” He giggled.
“What? Don’t start that! Now go pick up your room!”
Brian later checked on Wilson and found the boy had only half-way cleaned and was playing pretend with his cowboy doll. Listening in, he heard Wilson use the cowboy to say, “Let your mommy take care of that. She’ll know what to do.”
Brian took a deep breath. A new girl. How could he be so stupid! A new girl must mean a new mommy to Wilson. Three years had taken some of the pain away but not all. Never all. “Clean yet, sport?” He surprised his son.
“Almost.” The boy wasn’t as chipper as earlier.
“Thinking about mom?”
He put down the doll and stared at the floor. “Yeah.”
“I know. I miss her, too.”
“Is Amber going to be a new mom?”
Brian picked Wilson up and hugged him tight. “No, guy. No one can be the mom we lost. Okay? Maybe . . . one day, we will have someone here with us. But not your mom. A new person who will love us very much. Okay?”
Wilson hugged his dad back. They stood there in silence for some minutes before finishing the cleaning together.
About an hour later, after a few more warnings to Wilson to be nice and after spot-checking the ceilings for spider webs and the bathroom for mildew stains, Brian greeted Amber. She arrived carrying ready-to-bake cookie mix and a video game titled “Captain Avenger”. Brian couldn’t care less about the accessories; he was tuned into her—the dark Capri pants, a soft lime-green sweater, makeup just right, and dark-brown hair pulled back to bring out her blue eyes.
“Hi, Amber. Glad you could make it.” To release some of his own anxiety, Brian had relapsed into military demeanor, which kept him a bit stiff and to the point. It also kept the sweat to a minimum. “Hey, Wil, come here!” The boy popped out of his room carrying an action figure. “Wilson, this is Amber. Amber, Wilson.”
Amber stooped down and presented her video game to Wilson. “So glad to meet you, Wilson. I brought you a little present . . . a video game.”
“Cool!” Like a bird at feeding time, he zeroed in and snapped the game up, dropping his previous toy and racing back to his room where Brian had set up a monitor on which Wilson could play his games.
“Hey, Wil! What do you say? Wilson!”
A head briefly popped back out. “Thanks!”
“Told you he liked video games.”
“I’d say so.” Amber surveyed the place. Average kitchen, table and chairs, monitor and sofa. Brian had also managed a few prints to color the walls, and she noticed pictures on top of the coffee table and a living room shelf.
“Cozy,” she noted. “This student housing isn’t bad, huh?”
“Nah.” Maybe he had missed a spot on his previous inspections. “Wilson and I have been here for over a year. A little cramped, but he likes it okay. “Go ahead and have a seat. Would you like something to drink?”
“Sure. What do you have?” She handed over the cookie mix, and Brian took it the kitchen.
“Oh, we’re the usual kid-safe place . . . water, kool-aid, cola, iced tea.”
“Tea sounds good. Thanks.” She was inspecting the pictures. Bringing her the tea, Brian had a lump in his throat, knowing she might ask about his dead wife.
“This Wilson’s mother?” Amber held the picture in her hand. “She’s very pretty.”
“Yes.” Brian saw Amber and the picture of his ex-wife together. They looked similar, same body type and hair color, but Rebecca’s memory drew more power. Seeing her still hurt, especially after sharing with Wilson earlier.
Amber looked up at Brian, putting the picture back. “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t want to—“
“No, no. It’s okay. Just a tough subject, that’s all.”
“You guys look pretty happy here. Where was it taken?” The picture was of Brian, Rebecca, and then two-year-old Wilson snapped on a road trip the three had taken that year, their first time off at the same time since Wilson was born, their first and last.
“The Ouchita National Forest. It’s east of here.”
“Been there camping a few times. A beautiful place.” She put back the picture.
Brian took a quick drink of his tea, steadied himself, and thought how this conversation was moving kind of fast.
“We, ah, we both like . . . liked the outdoors . . . hey, are you ready to bake those cookies? I better go check on Wilson . . . if you want to turn on the oven?”
Amber straightened up a bit and nodded her head. “Sure, Brian. No problem. These cookies are the best! You’ll see.”
Thirty minutes later, all three hovered around Brian’s kitchen counter and tasted the chocolate chip cookies, even a distracted Wilson, who seemed enchanted by his new video game.
“So, Wilson,” Amber said between bites, “tell me about your dad. What does he like to do when he’s not at school?”
Brian tried to give Wilson a secret look to be quiet, but, of course, it didn’t work.
Wilson stood between the adults, the cookies just within reach on the edge of the counter top. “He sleeps and watches TV,” he said without worry.
“Oh, really?” Amber glanced up at Brian. “And what do you do when you are not at school?”
Wilson tried to snatch another cookie from the pile, but Dad took the plate away. “I play video games,” he said, like it was the natural thing.
Amber reached for a cookie herself, but Brian still commandeered the plate. “And what about you, Amber? What do you do when you’re not at school?”
“Me?” she replied, batting her lashes and stepping back to lean against Brian’s kitchen table. “I hunt down innocent men in bars and bake them cookies.”
The answer shut Brian up long enough for her to move forward again, get close to him, and grab another cookie.
“Wilson!” Brian got goose pimples from the close contact. Although a guilty voice from Rebecca’s picture across the room said, “Remember me,” it had been such a long time since Brian had been on a date, with a girl he liked, and physically touched by a pretty girl, too. “Time for bed!”
“But Dad!” Wilson ran around the living room and onto the couch, jumping up and down.
“Jammies and bed! You heard me!”
A slight skirmish ensued, but, after a bit, Brian finally got Wilson into bed, with his t-ball practice, after party, and now new person and new video game all combining to finally wear the boy out for sleep.
“Thank, God,” said Brian.
Amber was cleaning up the cookie mess. “Thank who?” She gave Brian a probing look, a meaningful look.
“God. God. Just an expression. Glad the little booger decided to crash, that’s all.”
They both settled back on the sofa.
“Look, Brian,” Amber’s directness started in again, “I didn’t mean to be too forward about . . . you know. Difficult past times, okay?”
Brian twiddled his thumbs. “No, problem. Just some tough memories. That’s all.”
“Must be rough.” Amber put her hand on Brian’s leg. “I know you don’t know me well and all, Brian, but you can share with me. Heck, you’re a psychology major, and I’m a philosophy major. You can’t get much deeper than that!”
Brian grunted. “I appreciate that.”
“Speaking of deep,” she said. “Why did you decide on psychology? Why not business or engineering? What kind of stuff did you do in the military?”
Brian let out another grunt. “Well, in the Air Force I did what I was told, of course. Mainly, I worked on planes—
hydraulics, things like that. The days were long, pretty boring. That’s until I met Rebecca.” He grimaced. “Oh, sorry. Like you want to hear me talk about her all night.”
“Don’t worry about it. I understand.”
“Well, I still worked on planes after I met her. She was actually in the planes. AWACS navigator. You know . . . those planes with the funny radar thing on top?”
“I think so.”
“Anyway, things were more bearable after I meant her. We shared similar interests, could make fun of the stupid flight jocks and their egos behind their backs.” He paused, looked back toward Wilson’s room and then at the picture of the three of them together.
“And old Wilson came along?” Amber said.
“Yes, an accident,” he whispered. “We were both so surprised. Rebecca freaked. ‘It was going to ruin her whole career,’ she said. ‘We weren’t even married!’
“So we did it right and got married. She had to take some time off, of course, but things turned out okay.”
“They usually do.”
“Yeah, and little Wil was born so precious and wonderful . . . and . . . and my whole life changed.” He looked up at Amber, feeling younger. “Do you have any brothers and sisters?”
“Believe it or not, I’m the only one, just me, unique.”
“Well, I have a brother still up in Nebraska who’s about eight years younger than I am, and I can remember the feeling. Before, I was the only one, and then my brother came along, and it changed my whole world. Same with Wilson. Before, it was just me and Rebecca, doing our jobs, not really noticing the future much, and then came Wilson, and my world changed. And, believe me, it was for the better. Difficult, but for the better.” Brian looked down again between his knees, a pained expression on his face.
“That’s until the accident, huh?” Amber’s voice was soft.
“Just when I thought I had adapted to that change, God threw another one my way, this one definitely not for the better.” A car door slammed outside, and Brian jumped. A gust of wind hammered his window. “I was starting to be disenchanted with the Air Force after Wilson was born. Hell, we both were. But, when Rebecca died, I knew engineering and hydraulics just weren’t for me anymore . . .”
“What happened, Brian?” Unlike the weather outside, she was calm, her face patient.
She likes the questions, he thought. But I see myself spending time with this woman. I wonder if Wilson will like her, too?
He looked from Amber to the floor, his hands clenchedbetween spread knees. Brian had only told a few people what had happened to Rebecca, his immediate family and Rebecca’s, of course, Jackie and Mike. That was it. But there was something about Amber. He had taken enough psychology to know the process—of being vulnerable and needy, of opening up too quickly and turning people off—but she was asking.
“Her squadron was called to monitor a situation in Iraq, and she touched down with a transport in Basra.” He remembered Wilson in the adjoining room and kept his voice quiet. “Then came an explosion. A damn terrorist blew himself up close enough to kill some of our soldiers!”
“Suicide bomber?” Rebecca whispered.
“The coward bastard looked for the first weak spot and zoomed in for the kill!”
Brian’s face was red, his knuckles white from being held so tightly. “It hardly made the evening news, with all the other stuff happening that year. But Rebecca, shrapnel in her body, was dead at the scene.
“And Wilson and I were here, tucked away in base housing, unknowing, helpless to do anything!”
“Oh, Brian!” Amber put both hands on his shoulders, moved closer to give him a hug. “I’m so sorry. Truly, I’m so sorry!”
Brian had tears in his eyes but quickly recovered, realizing he was making a spectacle of himself. He didn’t push Amber away, though. He allowed her to hug him, allowed it to turn into more than a sympathetic embrace. Their faces drew closer, hands slowly rubbing backs, stroking hair, and, finally, a kiss, experimental at first, then more definite. Passionate.
That was when Amber knew she had Brian Minor, like the pendant so carefully weaved around her neck, wrapped about her own beautiful, little fingers.
In a much larger living room across town, a different couple sat on a lush leather sofa, sipping red wine and listening to, among other things, the low vibrations of saxophone great John Coltrane in ultra hi-fi stereo mix.
“All this talk of violence and sex is making me sooo horny, Andrew,” a sultry brunette said with a Spanish accent. “Let us turn off these silly students and make our own love basket.”
Kevill listened to his lover but felt distracted. He had done away with his teaching clothes and was now attired in matching red silk robe and pajamas, their designs Asian, with tiger and bamboo prints. His rotund body looked somewhat pathetic in the suit, but under the low lights and low music, he knew his partner found him attractive.
“You’re right, Madalene. I sometimes like to listen in through the pendants.” He paused for a sip of wine. “Seems like our little Amber is doing just fine, though.”
“Always the project. Always the work. You need to relax some tonight.” She moved closer and blew into Kevill’s ear, placing her tongue around the edges.
“Yes, well . . . I do believe our little project will do just fine until the morning,” he said and hit a few buttons close to the couch. The lights dimmed even more, the music steadied itself, and Kevill allowed himself to simply feel. Not the easiest thing for him to do. Control had become his forte. But he realized, too, that the project wasn’t all computers and statistics. A human element lay at its core. He breathed in possibilities as the wine, woman, and song drew him to sleep.

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