You groggily open your eyes. Your head is pulsing, begging you to pull the blankets over your head to block out the sunlight hitting them.
This is the first time you’ve woken up and it’s quiet.
You reach for your phone, its scuffed, white case nearly sliding out of your hand. It’s Saturday, just after 8am. This is the earliest you’ve woken up. You sit up and examine the room around you — you’re alone.
You sit and wait for a few minutes, listening for any signs of life to give you an idea of where you are. Nothing. You decide to get dressed and explore. You carefully open the bedroom door, unsure of what you’ll see. You’re relieved when it’s just a living room.
The living room has a long black futon and a pair of rocking chairs in it. There’s a gray cat with shaggy fur asleep in one chair, while the other is empty. Carrie is laying on the futon, her head on a hooded sweatshirt while she snuggles under a blanket.
After some light deliberation, you walk over and kneel in front of the cat, petting it on the head. It starts purring but otherwise pays you no mind. You feel more motivated as a result of your actions.
You look over and see Carrie stirring. She opens her eyes and smiles.
“I’m glad to see Piña likes you finally,” she says. “I was worried how she’d react to a third person living here, but she’s warmed up to you.”
You remember that Mel was already living with Carrie, though you’re surprised to hear you are too.
“It’s a good cat,” you say.
“They’re all good cats, Alana,” she replies.
She takes the hoodie off the couch and puts it on.
“Why did you sleep on the couch?” you ask.
“You needed somewhere to sleep last night,” she replies. “I wasn’t about to make you stay out here with the condition you were in. I’ll take my bed back other nights.”
“About last night,” you begin.
Carrie quickly interrupts you.
“Oh no, dear,” she says. “Don’t even think about apologizing. You have nothing to apologize for.”
“It’s not that. It’s that I don’t remember last night.”
“Seems normal,” Carrie says.
She motions for you to sit in the open rocking chair.
“How is that normal?” you ask.
“Mel says trauma can do weird things to our memories. I can talk you through what you told me happened if you want?”
You’re a bit nervous to hear what happened, but Carrie’s willingness to piece together what’s going on in this scenario seems helpful. You decide to take her up on it. She starts to explain but stops before she gets a full sentence in.
“What’s wrong?” you ask.
“We should do this over breakfast,” Carrie says. “It’s easier to talk with good food.”
You nod in agreement. Before you can get a word out of your mouth, she’s already bounded off to the kitchen.
“Do you want help?” you say.
“Nope!” she shouts back excitedly while her head is in the fridge. “What do you want to eat?”
“I don’t need anything fan — ”
“Eggs benedict, French toast, or an omelet?”
“All of those are a lot of work!” you protest.
“Not really?” Carrie says. “Besides, I’ll stock up on supplies tomorrow. I’m told the place we’re staying has a ton of food I could bring home.”
You sigh, remembering Carrie’s haul from last session.
“An omelet then,” you say.
“With what in it?”
“What do you have?”
“Tell me what you want in it,” Carrie says. “If I don’t have it, I’ll tell you.”
“Fine. Cheese — ”
“What kind of cheese?”
“Seriously?” you say.
Carrie ducks back in the fridge and pulls out four blocks of cheese.
“I have provolone, mozzarella, pepper jack, and cheddar,” she says. “Mel has some brie around here too if you’d prefer that.”
“Pepper jack,” you say.
“Are you sure you don’t want the brie?” Carrie asks. “I’m sure Mel would be fine with it.”
“I’m sure,” you reply. “Anything else you want in it?”
“Ham and green onions?”
You sit at a chair at the kitchen table while Carrie cooks. Knowing your sister is in there makes this even more startling as Sabrina’s culinary skills are limited to pouring sugar over Lucky Charms. As Carrie though, she moves effortlessly around the kitchen.
“So last night…” you state, your voice trailing off at the end.
“You don’t want food first?” Carrie asks.
“I figure we can start now and then eat while we still talk,” you reply.
Your hope is that this would focus Carrie, but she’s left the room in a dash. You stand up to find the eggs aren’t in the pan yet, so no need to worry about them. As you’re sitting back down, you’re nearly bowled over by Carrie running in from the other room. She grabs a pair of tall glasses out of the cabinet.
“How do you like your screwdrivers?” she asks.
“You don’t drink?” you say.
“Yes I do?” Carrie replies, confused.
It hits you at that moment that even if Sabrina doesn’t, the Carrie that she believes she is does. Best to play along.
“A bit more orange juice than normal, please?” you say.
Carrie makes each of you a screwdriver, handing you yours while taking hers back to the stove where she starts making your omelet.
“Do you remember anything from last night?” Carrie asks as she cracks eggs.
“Can’t say that I do,” you reply.
“Well damn. So you and Noel broke up.”
“Yeah. I guess he found out about you and Quinn.”
Oh god, you think. What have you done in this timeline?
“Me and…Quinn?” you say, unsure whether you’re attempting to feign ignorance or if your actual lack of knowledge is just shining through naturally.
“Yeah,” Carrie replies. “He didn’t know you two used to date.”
“What the fuck did he think was happening between us?” you reply.
Carrie shrugs. “I know not every pair of roommates is banging, but it’s clear you two were in love.”
“Were…” you say, your voice trailing off.
Carrie slides an omelet out of the pan and onto a plate, bringing it over to you. She grabs a couple of eggs out of the fridge and starts a new one.
“It’s not past tense, is it?” she asks.
“I don’t think I ever stopped,” you say.
In reality, that’s true. In here though, you know that’s a riskier thing to say. Carrie turns the burner off and pulls the pan off the stove.
“Your omelet,” you state.
Carrie waltzes over and gives you a giant hug.
“It’s okay to feel what you’re feeling for her,” she says. “Whatever that may be.”
You smile and hug Carrie back tightly. Your sister has always been an empathetic soul.
“Please do make your food,” you say.
She nods and walks away. Shortly after starting her food back up, she speaks again.
“I know it might not be my place to say, but I’m just glad you’re not with Noel anymore.”
“Why’s that?” you ask.
“Because he’s a douchenozzle,” Carrie answers.
You nearly choke on your omelet laughing.
“I forgot to offer you hot sauce!” Carrie shouts, running to a cabinet.
You try quickly to motion that it’s fine, but before you know it, Carrie has set three bottles of hot sauce in front of you. Not wanting to be a bad guest, you figure you should try one.
You stare at the various hot sauces. You decided against adding an extra ingredient to the concoction, even if it is made with pure utonium. Instead, you choose Green Sizzle, which is a lighter, more fragrant heat. Taking a bite, you’re happy with your choice. Carrie brings her omelet over to the table and sits down.
“What’s in yours?” you ask. “Bacon, pepper jack cheese, pepper bacon, tomatoes, hickory smoked bacon, mushrooms, Canadian bacon, parsley, and back bacon,” she replies.
A few minutes of silence go by as you and Carrie eat. You’re about half done when you notice that Carrie has not only finished her omelet, she grabbed a banana and started eating it too.
“You alright?” you ask. “I’m worried you haven’t eaten in weeks.”
“Concert day,” she says. “Got to carbo load.”
“That’s for runners,” you reply. “And what you’re eating isn’t carbs.”
“Carbo is a portmanteau. It’s the combination of Carrie and body.”
“You’re still not a runner!”
You’re growing exasperated, but Carrie doesn’t notice. She gets out of her chair and throws the banana peel away before washing her hands.
“You want to run an errand with me before rehearsal?” she asks. “It won’t take long.”
“Sure,” you say. “Where are we going?”
“You pick. I’ve got three to run today. Post office, party supply store, or Squirrels ‘r Us.”
“I don’t know what Squirrels ‘r Us is,” you say. “But I’ve been to the other two places. So I pick there.”
“Oh man!” Carrie squeals. “You get to experience my favorite new store! Go get ready. And dress light.”
You go to ask Carrie what she meant, but she’s already left the room. The two of you nearly collide as you head back to her room. She has clothes bundled under her arm and heads to the bathroom. Back in Carrie’s room, you see a cream-colored suitcase that you conclude must be yours. Sure enough, your clothes are in there when you open it. You choose a pair of shorts and a tank top on Carrie’s advice and are relieved to see her in similar attire.
“Let’s go!” she says excitedly. “I know we have a couple of hours and it’s close, but I’ll want to shower before rehearsal.”
You agree and get in Carrie’s tiny car with her. The trip is shorter than you expected, but you aren’t prepared for what you see next.
“What,” you say, “and I cannot stress this enough, the fuck?”
As you’re pulling into a parking spot, you get your first look at Squirrels ‘r Us. It looks like a big-box store except for one fact. Everyone going in is dressed like squirrels.
“I have to grocery shop,” Carrie says. “And they give you a discount if you go along with their gimmick.”
You’re happy to run errands with Carrie, but you weren’t expecting to dress in a mascot outfit of a squirrel.
“Fine. What do I need to do?” you ask.
Carrie points to a tall person in a gray squirrel outfit.
“Go see Jalen!” she says. “He’ll get you squared away.”
“Don’t you need one?”
“I shop here often enough that I brought my own. No need for a rental then.”
Carrie jaunts off to a line waiting out in front of the store. You, meanwhile, walk over to the gray squirrel apparently named Jalen.
“Need a suit?” he says.
“I guess so,” you reply.
Jalen motions at another employee in a red squirrel outfit. They bring a measuring tape.
You spend a few awkward moments staring at a pair of squirrel suit-clad employees who take your measurements before the second one runs off, leaving you with Jalen.
“First time?” he says, chuckling.
“How could you tell?”
“I bet you think we’re all nuts here.”
“Is that a fucking squirrel pun?” you say.
“Too far out on a limb for you?” Jalen replies.
You sigh. You’re expecting more puns but you’re interrupted by the second employee, carrying a brown squirrel suit.
“Here you go, ma’am,” they say.
You grab the squirrel suit and put it on. You expect it to be difficult to get into, but considering it’s at least double your size, you’re drowning in it. You take a few steps forward, only to nearly fall over your freakishly large feet. After a few more stumbles, you think you’ve finally got it down, only to fall flat on your face. You get back to your feet and see Carrie waiting with a cart.
“Ready?” she asks.
“This is harder than it looks,” you answer.
“You’ll get used to it.”
“Any tips on how to move around better?” you ask.
“If you get down on all fours and pretend to be a squirrel, it’s a bit quicker to move,” Carrie says.
You give Carrie a long pleading stare. You think you’re looking her in the eyes, but the squirrel head obscures them.
“There is no way I’m doing that,” you insist.
“You can push the cart if you want,” she says. “That might help too.”
“I can do that.”
“Just be careful of your tail.”
“Because it’s big, bushy, and adorable.”
Giggles emit from Carrie’s costume as she sprints off. You sigh and begin slowly pushing the cart. Leaning on the handle does make moving easier, though your gait is still unsure. You catch up to Carrie halfway down the first aisle. She has a box in each hand.
“Sugary cereal or super sugary cereal?” she asks.
She holds the boxes up to your face.
“Do I want the cereal with marshmallows or extra marshmallows?”
“Get the one with a normal amount of marshmallows,” you say.
This might be an experiment, but your big sister instincts are kicking in, hoping that Carrie will at least be semi-healthy. She stares at the two boxes before putting the super sugary cereal down.
“You’re right,” she says, sighing. “At least there’s some fun in the box.”
She walks off and gathers more food. By the time you catch up, she dumps an armload of canned goods in the cart.
“Is there anything fresh here?” you ask.
“Yeah. A couple aisles over.”
You nod and follow Carrie through the aisles. Aside from the sugary cereal, most of her purchases seem remarkably grown-up. One of the biggest things you were looking forward to was seeing Carrie move into college. She was young enough when you moved in that she didn’t come. But you were oddly excited for it. So much so that you don’t bat an eye when she grabs an industrial-sized box of chicken ramen.
“What’s lunch going to be?” you ask.
“We’ll likely go to the cafe next to the estate after rehearsal,” Carrie says. “I know Noel and Quinn are going to be there. But you’ll come for me, right?”
“Of course,” you say. “I wouldn’t miss it.”
Carrie gives you an odd look.
“Strange thing to say for lunch,” Carrie replies.
Your response clearly seemed out of place to Carrie. You furiously begin to verbally backpedal.
“It’s just that I really like lunch,” you insist. “It’s my favorite meal of the day.”
“A likely story,” she answers.
“It’s true! I love lunch!”
“Name three sandwiches then!”
“Cuban, ham and cheese, and bologna.”
Carrie leans in close to you. You think she’s squinting, but you can’t tell due to the giant squirrel head obscuring your vision.
“That checks out,” she says.
She then leans in even closer and whispers.
“But my breakfast meats and I have our eyes on you.”
“Why do your breakfast meats have eyes?”
Carrie’s shout startles a small child nearby, causing them to cry.
“We should really get out of here,” Carrie says. “It’s never good when the kits are upset.”
“This is all one giant squirrel joke to you, isn’t it?” you ask.
Carrie, however, has taken the cart from you without your noticing. You stumble as you walk to the front. By the time you make it to the checkout area, Carrie has already paid and is ready to go. The two of you return your suits. You feel absolutely disgusting.
Fortunately, Carrie offers you first use of the shower when you return back to the apartment. You consider taking a long shower, but think better of it, unsure of how much hot water you’d leave for Carrie even in this place. You’re waiting for Carrie to finish when Mel walks through the front door. You figure she’d be surprised, but that’s not the case.
“Good to see you again,” Mel says.
“Again?” you ask.
“You were here last night?”
“Right. Yeah. Sorry, it was a rough evening.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Mel replies.
She goes to the fridge and grabs a beer out, tossing you one. You swear that wasn’t there earlier.
“Thanks?” you say, confused at the gesture.
“Figured you might need it,” she replies.
Mel sits down as Carrie walks out. She’s dressed, though her hair is still up in a towel and a white toothbrush is dangling from her mouth.
“Hey!” she mumbles.
“Are you driving to rehearsal?” Mel asks.
“Yes…” Carrie pouts.
Carrie turns on her heels and walks off to finish getting ready.
“She’s in a good mood,” Mel says.
“Really?” you ask.
“Yeah,” Mel replies. “Don’t you think she’s in a good mood?”
“Well…yeah. But it’s almost too good of a mood.”
“I don’t follow. Isn’t happy good?”
“It is, but –”
Mel cuts you off.
“I wish I was that happy when I was her age,” Mel says. “It’s rough enough to be in your early twenties. Being happy helps.”
“How old are you?” you ask.
“You know you’re not supposed to ask a woman that.”
“That rule’s for men,” you insist.
“The rule is for whoever I say it is,” Mel snipes back. “But if you must know, 26.”
The room goes quiet. You hear Carrie turn on a blowdryer, giving white noise to an otherwise silent soundscape.
“Think things over,” Mel says.
“Think what over?” you reply.
Instead of answering, Mel walks out of the room without answering. You’re about to follow her when you hear Carrie turn off the blowdryer. She walks out of the bathroom, talking as she brushes her hair.
“Ready to go?” she asks.
“Yeah,” you answer. “Is it just me or is she a little odd?”
“She’s fine. You get used to her.”
Carrie finishes getting ready and the two of you are off to Hobart Estate. You decide to stick around and watch the rehearsal. Had literally anyone else asked you to come to watch the rehearsal, you’d be traipsing around the hotel trying to find Brielle — or at the very least Jeff. But you can stick around for Carrie.
As Noel, Carrie, and Quinn are warming up, Benimaru walks over and puts a hand on your shoulder, much as he’d regularly do in the real world.
“You’re quite the patient woman,” he says.
“Thanks,” you reply.
“Don’t move in with me though,” he says, cracking a smile. “I’m not ready for a relationship yet.”
“How could I ever resist your charm, Beni?” you say.
“Willpower and temperance are how most women do it.”
You sigh as he walks away, chuckling to himself. The quartet begins playing. You make it through the first couple of songs before you start to get restless. You occasionally stand up and stretch, but it does little to relieve your boredom. You look at your phone and consider texting Arn. Even though you know what he did, he doesn’t know you know. When you open your contacts though, his number isn’t there. In fact, there’s only one contact — Brielle.
You consider texting her, but then remember that you’ll only get to see her one more time the rest of the experiment. Would texting count?
You keep staring down at your phone, wondering how all of the other names except for Brielle’s disappeared from the contacts. Is this part of the new session? Did Brielle do this somehow? And yet…you want to text her.
But will texting her use up the one time you’ll get to interact with her left in the experiment? Jeff did say you’d only get to see Brielle one more time. Is this a loophole you can exploit? Or will this summon her to you like the instant snow code for Jeff?
You’re so engrossed in your thoughts that you don’t hear the music stop. Carrie is standing inches away from you, staring over your shoulder.
“Who’s Brielle?” she whispers.
“A friend,” you reply.
“A friend or a friend?” Carrie says.
“Just a friend.”
“Well, if you need a wingwoman, let me know,” Carrie says. “I can spit game with the best of them.”
“Carrie!” you shout.
She looks at you oddly. It hits you that you’re yelling at your sister, not the person she thinks she is.
“I mean,” you say, “thank you. But no.”
“Suit yourself,” she says before walking away.
Benimaru is attempting to gather the quartet back from their break when you notice a lavender-suited estate employee walk into the room. It’s not Jeff or Brielle. He’s walking toward you.
“Alana?” he asks.
“That’s me,” you say.
“This is for you.”
He hands you a small, green envelope, then walks away. You open the envelope to find a note. It reads: Room 324. 15 minutes.
You look over at the quartet. Everyone is getting ready, though Carrie catches your gaze. You motion that you need to leave. She shoots you a quick thumbs up, then goes back to adjusting her sheet music. You tuck the note and envelope into your pocket and leave.
You head to the elevator and push the button. Nothing happens. You remember the card key from Brielle in your pocket and swipe it, then try again. The elevator arrives with the tour group waiting to get off. Instead of Brielle leading it, it’s a diminutive gray-haired woman. You let them get off, then enter the elevator yourself. You push the button to go to the third floor, then wait for it to go up. You notice the student’s pen on the elevator floor and pick it up, just in case you need it.
As you exit the elevator, a housekeeper goes by with a cart full of supplies. They pay no mind to you, even though they nearly run into you. Must be one of the drone employees Jeff mentioned last loop. You want to talk to them and reassure them, but you don’t know what to say.
Upon arriving at room 324, you notice the door ajar. You carefully push the door open, curious if it’s a trap. Much to your surprise, you find the room empty — both of people and of furnishings. The stately bed in the center of the room is gone, replaced with a single green envelope. You walk over and open the envelope, expecting to find another letter in it. Instead, you find four bobby pins inside. There are no instructions or any other guidance. Just the pins. You pocket them, then take another look around the room.
You decide to check the bathroom and closet before you leave. The closet search proves fruitless, as it’s totally empty. The bathroom search seems equally unlucky, with every drawer and shelf empty. When you look behind the door, however, you see a garment bag.
Your curiosity gets the best of you. You unzip the bag and take a look inside to find a pair of dresses that look incredibly familiar to you — the black pencil dress and the navy cocktail dress from the first loop. The red dress you wore, however, is not present.
You zip the bag back up and bring it with you. You’re unsure how you’re going to get it back to Carrie’s apartment. Your train of thought is interrupted as you exit the room and nearly run face first into Jeff.
“Lost again, Miss Alana?” he asks.
There’s no hiding the garment bag, so you don’t even consider lying.
“A member of the staff told me to come here,” you say. “Seems I need nice clothes for tonight.”
“That does seem like a sound choice,” he replies. “Have you decided who you’re dressing for though?”
“Is Brielle even going to be there?”
“Have you checked your phone?”
“I have,” you reply.
“You have a way to summon her now,” Jeff says. “Use it wisely.”
“So had I texted her earlier, I would have used up my chance to see her?” you ask.
“It seems your self-control is improving. I’m quite proud of you.”
You breathe a sigh of relief. You don’t know when will be the most beneficial to see Brielle again, but you’re definitely glad you didn’t burn it during rehearsal boredom.
“I assume the blue is for her?” you say.
“What do you mean?” he asks.
“This is your doing, I assume,” you reply.
“Is blue her favorite color? Or something along those lines?”
“It’s certainly the warmest color. Or at the very least the one she shows the most interest in.”
You consider asking about the bobby pins, but ultimately think better of it. The fact that they were in an envelope in the center of the main room is certainly strange. But for now, you’ll hang onto them.
“Can you tell me my stats?” you ask.
“Yes, of course,” he says. “Your intellect is 31, your motivation is 25, and your charm is 20. At this time, intellect and motivation have a maximum possible score of 48, while charm has a maximum of 47.”
“And my other stats?” you ask.
“Of course,” Jeff says. “With Brielle, you have 45 trust and 60 relationship. With Quinn, 35 trust, 55 relationship. With Arn, 0 trust, 15 relationship. With Carrie, 15 trust, 50 relationship. And with Noel, 15 relationship.”
“What is it?” he asks.
“I genuinely don’t know if any of those stats are good enough to get anyone out of here.”
“I can’t answer that,” Jeff says.
“What can you tell me?” you ask. “I feel like you tell me just enough to leave me confused, but never enough for me to make some actual progress as to how to figure out how to get out of here with my life intact.”
“Your life will not be intact when you get out of here,” Jeff says. “There’s no way around that. That is the nature of this experiment.”
“Then fix it!” you shout.
“You still don’t get it. I know there’s more to see. But even with as much as you know, you don’t have a clue.”
“A clue about what!” you yell. “Stop being so fucking cryptic and help me.”
Jeff stares through you. His eyes are dark, cold, and sad.
“If you want any semblance of sanity when you get out of here,” he says, “be prepared to give up someone you love.”
Jeff goes to walk away, but you stop him.
“Who?” you ask. “Who do I have to give up?”
“Search your conscience,” he says. “Figure out the right choice for you.”
“Stop playing games!” you scream.
“I’m not,” Jeff says coldly. “This entire experiment is a twisted fucking game, whether I want it to be or not. I’m telling you the only way I’ve seen people come out of it without turning into a sociopath.”
Jeff walks away, leaving you in the hall with the garment bag.
You make your way back down the main floor. You’re walking through the lobby when you notice Carrie walking back into the ballroom. You’ve been upstairs long enough they’re on their second break. You go to check your phone when you hear a voice behind you.
“You alright?” Quinn asks. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
You can’t form a coherent answer. You’re unsure what to even say to Quinn in this loop, not knowing what your relationship is. Nevermind Jeff’s revelation of the gravity of your choice. Quinn is clearly concerned about your silence, taking it upon herself to wrap her arms around you and hold you. You return the embrace, smacking her in the back with the garment bag.
“Sorry,” you say. “Forgot I was holding this.”
“You know my offer still stands, right?” she says. “I’m always going to be there if you need someone to talk to. Even if you don’t want us anymore.”
You nod. She gives a half-hearted smile. Clearly you caused the split in this timeline. You break away from Quinn. She motions at the garment bag.
“Yours or Carrie’s?” she asks.
“Mine,” you reply. “For tonight.”
“Mind if I take a look?”
“Yeah, of course,” you say, handing Quinn the bag.
She drapes it over a chair and unzips it.
“Hot date?” she asks.
“Then why two dresses?”
“That’s how the bag came to me.”
Quinn gives you an odd look at your last statement.
“Are they rentals?” she asks. “Because I swear I’ve seen this black dress before.”
“You have,” you say. “You bought it for me. Something about how a beautiful woman needs a powerful dress.”
“Right,” Quinn says. “Wear the blue.”
“I thought you liked the black dress,” you reply.
“Oh, I do.”
“Well, then why shouldn’t I wear the black one?”
“Because I asked nicely?”
She zips up the bag and hands it back to you.
“Are you sure you’re alright?” Quinn asks.
You shake your head.
“I’ve got a rough few days ahead,” you say.
“Anything I can help with?”
“No. Just take care of yourself the best you can.”
“Noted. I’ll only have one milkshake at lunch.”
“Liar,” you say.
“I swear,” Quinn replies, holding out her pinky. “And not just because I’m going to save room for whatever dessert they have around here tonight.”
You chuckle and grab Quinn’s pinky with your own. Your instincts nearly kick in. You’re so used to pulling real-world Quinn in for a kiss when she pinky promises you that you almost do the same here. A twitch of your hand betrays you. Quinn notices and pulls her hand away.
“Sorry,” she says. “Old habits.”
Quinn begins to walk back to the ballroom when a thought crosses your mind.
“What are you doing after you all play tonight?” you ask.
“Drinking, probably,” she answers. “Why?”
“Alone?” you ask.
“You’re welcome to come join if you want,” she says. “I’ve got tequila.”
“I’ll think about it,” you reply.
She looks around and realizes you’re the only two left in the lobby.
“I should go,” she says.
She enters the ballroom, shutting the door behind her. You slump down the floor, unsure how you feel about how your interaction with Quinn ended. You’ve got time left to kill before lunch, but don’t want to go back to rehearsal.
You decide that looking for the last token is the right call. Even though you’d prefer not to keep anyone trapped in Project Tasman, you would like to have as many options as possible. You decide your best option is to head upstairs first.
On the second floor, you start your search similar to how you’ve searched estate before — room by room, hoping for an unlocked door. That said, you’ve also to taken to checking the light fixtures, ceiling, and floor. You don’t know where it’ll be hidden or what color it is.
The second door past the gift shop is unlocked this time. After five minutes of giving it a visual once over, you leave the room. You’re not desperate enough to tear apart bedding yet, nor do you have time. You promised Carrie lunch and you’re intent on honoring that.
The next few doors are all locked. Nothing in the hallway is catching your attention. Your mind keeps tumbling over where you saw the two tokens first — the red token was given to you by Brielle, while the blue token was in the blue room. But even then, Brielle gave you the blue one.
You shake off the thoughts, convinced that where you first saw them is purely coincidence. They must have some other meaning. You hurry down the halls, checking more doors. After several failures, you come to the next unlocked door. It’s Benimaru’s.
You search Benimaru’s unlocked room. You’re dismayed to find nothing out of the ordinary. His room does have a bit more than the typical room – an extra viola, a suit hanging in the closet, an electric tea kettle. That said, there’s no token anywhere to be seen.
Frustrated, you leave the room. You start sprinting down the halls, jamming every door handle down with your hands, hoping one will spring open behind you. At the end of the hall, you turn around at the sound of a door swinging shut behind you. It came from the middle of the hall.
You hurry back down the hall, trying each door carefully, hoping to find it. You take a deep breath and try the door for Cruz Ortega. It opens.
“Please don’t be in here,” you mumble. “Please don’t be in here.”
You take a quick visual scan of the room and are confident she’s not around, slowing your search as a result. Like before, her room looks more lived-in than most, but nothing else jumps out at you. And still no token in the main room.
You go to open the bathroom door when you hear the sound of water start to run through shower pipes. Brielle’s here. You hear her singing to herself beyond the door. You must decide — is now the time you use as your lone interaction with Brielle for the rest of the experiment?
Despite any instincts you have to the contrary, you decide to forego the chance at seeing nudity and sneak out of the room. You do a quick check of the remaining doors on the second floor before ending to the third floor to check there.
The third floor rooms prove to be a bit more frequently unlocked than the second floor. The first room you check proves fruitless, while the second one has a bowl of plastic fruit on the dresser, but still no token. It’s not even the kind of fruit artist immortalizes in a still life.
Rooms three, four, and five are equally boring and unhelpful as the previous two. However, as you arrive to the room immediately before Carrie’s — and two doors down from room 324 — you open the door to find another green envelope on the floor.
You open the envelope to find a folded note.
It reads: Congratulations. You’ve survived the temptations. Choose wisely. You look up from the note to find a table in the center of the room.
On the table is a panel with five buttons. One each of blue, red, yellow, black, and white. There are no additional instructions on the note, so you fold it and put it in your pocket. You inspect the rest of the room, only to find no additional explanation of the buttons.
You decide now is not the time to be guessing what the buttons mean.
“Instant snow,” you say.
After a few moments, you hear Jeff enter the room behind you.
“How can I help you, Miss Alana?” he says.
“What are the buttons for?” you ask.
“Because you chose not to take any of the temptations in this loop, I’m rewarding you,” he says. “Pick a button. You’ll get a bonus to the relationship and trust stat with that person, if applicable.”
“Is this normal?” you say. “Or is this part of your grand idea?”
“It’s normal,” Jeff replies, “though it’s uncommon people get it.”
“How do I know which button is for who?”
“Well, can I eliminate one?”
“Sure, why not?” Jeff says. “Pick one. I’ll even tell you whose button you’re eliminating.”
You stare at the buttons for a moment, but ultimately come to a quick decision.
“Red…no yellow!” you reply.
“Which one, Alana?”
“Red,” you say.
The red button evaporates from the table. You put your hand where it was, finding nothing there.
“You no longer have the chance to get a bonus to your relationship with Noel,” Jeff says.
“Oh good,” you reply. “I was worried I eliminated someone important.”
You’re now left with four buttons. After a moment of debate, you push the black button. The buttons disappear, leaving an empty table in the center of the room. You turn to talk to Jeff, but he’s gone. You examine the rest of the room, but nothing turns up. With none of the other rooms unlocked, you head back to the ballroom.
As you arrive in the ballroom, the quartet is just starting to pack up. You wait patiently. Noel passes you first, shooting you a dirty look, but otherwise ignoring you. Benimaru follows a few moments later, giving you a quick wave and smile.
Carrie and Quinn walk up to you together. They’re laughing about something, but you wait for them to greet you.
“You ready to go?” Carrie asks.
“Cool,” she continues. “I’m going to head to the restroom. Watch my stuff?”
You agree and Carrie leaves the room. A few seconds later, Quinn leans over and hugs you.
“What’s that for?” you say, hugging her back.
“Long rehearsal,” she says. “Noel’s exhausting.”
“Yeah, that checks out.”
“You’re sure you want to come with us?” Quinn asks. “It’s not going to be too awkward for you?”
“If it is, I’ll manage,” you reply.
Quinn seems satisfied with your response, bidding you goodbye, and then leaving. After a few minutes of waiting, Carrie returns. You load up then start heading to the cafe. As you’re pulling out of the parking lot, Carrie turns and looks at you with a shit-eating grin. You’d recognize that look from your sister anywhere.
“What is it?” you say.
“Nothing,” she says. “You’re just unreasonably happy after talking to her.”
You sigh. Your sister has always known when you care about someone — sometimes even before you do. Clearly she can see through the simulation to your real feelings.
You arrive at the cafe and go in with Carrie. Quinn and Benimaru are already sitting with coffee and pastries. Carrie orders a ham sandwich on an everything bagel and coffee.
“I’ll take chicken and waffles,” you say to the waiter.
Carrie’s eyes light up.
“They have waffles?” Carrie exclaims. “Can I change my order?”
“Yes,” the waiter replies. “I’ll have a ham and swiss cheese sandwich between two waffles.”
“You can’t order a sandwich between waffles, ma’am,” the waiter says.
“Why not?” Carrie replies.
“It’s not a bread choice.”
“Is a bagel a bread choice?”
“Is a bagel bread?”
“Is a waffle bread?”
“Yes,” the waiter groans.
“Is a bagel a breakfast bread?” Carrie asks.
“Is a waffle a breakfast bread?”
“No,” says the waiter.
“But it’s bread,” Carrie replies.
“And you eat it at breakfast, right?”
“Yes,” replies the waiter.
“So that makes it a breakfast bread,” says Carrie. “And by that logic, if a waffle is a breakfast bread and a bagel is a breakfast bread too, and I can get my sandwich on a bagel, I can also get it on waffles.”
“Fine,” replies the waiter as he walks away.
“He’s a broken man,” says Benimaru. “Good work.”
Carrie stands up and gives a curtsy.
“I do my best,” she says.
The four of you idly chat for a few minutes before Noel walks in. He has a tall, blonde woman with him that you haven’t seen before. You know that your split with Noel was recent in this loop, but considering the look on Carrie and Quinn’s faces, it’s recent enough that this is a startling development.
“Everyone,” Noel says, “this is Miriel. Miriel, this is Benimaru, Quinn, Alana, and Carrie.”
Miriel waves shyly. She doesn’t seem to know the situation she’s walked into. Then again, you don’t totally either. While you’re not above being a petty motherfucker, but you’re not about to drag Miriel into that. Noel does have a habit of finding nice women and being shitty to them, so you give her the benefit of the doubt.
“Nice to meet you, Miriel,” you say.
“Indeed. You seem lovely,” Quinn says.
Noel shoots her a glare, but Quinn is indifferent. The waiter takes Noel and Miriel’s orders and brings everyone else’s food out. The quartet starts talking through their set list for tonight. Quinn and Noel bricker at every opportunity, but Benimaru plays peacemaker with little effort. You feel Carrie slip you a note. You make sure Noel and Miriel aren’t looking, then sneak a peek.
I bribed the waiter to add hot sauce to Noel’s soup
You giggle to yourself as Carrie shoots you a coy smile. You watch Carrie take a huge bite out of her waffle-armored sandwich. You half expect her jaw to unhinge and eat the whole thing in one bite, but she doesn’t.
After a few minutes, the waiter brings Noel and Miriel’s lunch. Miriel has ordered a cobb salad and breaded eggplant. Noel, meanwhile, has a tomato, cheese, and spinach sandwich, along with hot sauce-infused tomato soup.
You choose to stay quiet, waiting patiently for Noel to take a bite of his soup. He opens his meal with a bite of his sandwich and begins talking to Benimaru about a Vivaldi piece he’d like the quartet to play. Carrie gives you an expectant look as he picks up his spoon.
Instead of taking a bite of the soup, Noel uses the spoon to pry his gooey, cheesy sandwich open. He sprinkles some pepper on the inside of the sandwich, smashes it back together and takes a bite. Still dissatisfied, he reopens it, adds some salt, and tries again.
Carrie begins to shake her leg under the table. It occasionally bumps up against your leg. You have to stifle your laughter at Carrie’s impatience but are confident your waiting will be rewarded as Noel sticks his spoon in his soup.
Instead, he flags down the waiter, asking for a glass of sparkling water that once thought about a lemon. The waiter brings his drink to him and though you try to focus on the soup, Quinn gets your attention.
“What do you want with your tequila?” she says softly, trying not to draw Noel’s attention.
“Why?” you ask.
“In case you come over later. I mean, if you want to, that is.”
“Just some limes and salt is fine,” you say.
“I don’t need anything fancy.”
“Cool. I’ll get some Squirt so I can have palomas,” she says. “There’ll be plenty of limes.”
She shoots you a smile, which you return in kind. You turn back to your left to check on Noel when you see Carrie’s face just inches from yours. She’s staring intently into your eyes with a cheeky smile.
“What?” you ask.
She giggles to herself.
“You’re gonna bang,” she whispers.
You give Carrie a playful push, which increases the volume of her giggles. Miriel looks up from her salad and gives a polite smile, but then goes back to eating. With her next bite, a small crumble of bacon tumbles off her fork and onto the table. Miriel hurriedly scoops the bacon up off the table, placing it on the side of her plate. You and Quinn both notice the behavior, but Carrie is the one to say something.
“It’s okay if you stain the tablecloth,” she says. “They wash them.”
“It’s not that,” Miriel replies. “It’s a habit I picked up as a child. We went on a cruise and the waiters would go around and crumbstick your table after you ate.”
“What’s a crumbstick?” Quinn asks.
“If you had bread and it dropped breadcrumbs on the table, they’d take these metal sticks and use them to wipe the crumbs into a napkin,” Miriel says. “It was very fast and scared me from making crumbs forever.”
Noel notices that Miriel is getting along with Quinn and isn’t happy. He looks like he’s going to say something.
You catch Noel’s eye. He waits for you to say something Quinn. Instead, you shoot him a wink.
“Who was the fastest crumbsticker?” you ask. “If that’s their title, that is.”
“I think they’re just called wait staff,” Miriel replies.
Noel makes an exasperated sigh, then picks up his spoon and aggressively stirs his soup. He takes a bite of the soup and is going in for a second when the spice from the first bite hits. He spits out the soup staining the tablecloth reddish-orange.
“Jesus!” he shouts. “Are they trying to kill me? Where’s the fucking waiter?”
You’re doing your best to hold your composure. Quinn and Carrie are practically in tears containing their laughter, while Miriel is staring at Noel with equal parts confusion and concern.
Benimaru is the first to crack, letting out a guttural belly laugh.
“Did you do this?” Noel says.
“No,” replies Benimaru between howling laughs. “But I wish I did. How do you always end up with spicy food?”
“I’m tired of this,” Noel replies. “I’m going to speak with the manager.”
Noel storms off.
“Okay, Karen,” Carrie shouts after him before breaking down laughing herself.
That cracks you and Quinn, following her lead in laughter.
After you all calm down, Miriel sheepishly speaks up.
“Is he always that,” she begins, before pausing to choose her words, “quick-tempered?”
Quinn and Carrie begin violently nodding before Quinn shoots you a worried glance. You tense up at the thoughts of your past running through your head. You don’t know how much Miriel knows Noel, but you’re hoping to help give her context as to his ways.
“He frustrates easily,” Quinn says.
Before she can continue on, you put a hand up and stop her.
“He and I dated for a year and a half,” you say. “The only reason he’s in my life at all now is that he works with my closest friends.”
“What did he do?” Miriel says. “If it’s okay to ask.”
You take a look around. The cafe is busy. Though you know that some of the people in here must be fake, you worry some are the trapped employees of Project Tasman. You don’t want to upset someone who can’t say anything.
You slide the shoulder of your blouse down, revealing a scar running from your collarbone to the top of your left breast. It has healed quite a bit in the three years since you dated Noel, but it’s still there. The fact that it made it into the simulation stuns you briefly.
“Oh god!” Miriel exclaims. “I’m so, so sorry.”
“Don’t be,” you say. “This wasn’t the worst. It’s the only reminder of the only physical time. But…”
Your voice trails off. You take a second to gather yourself before continuing on with the rest of your explanation.
“He split with me a couple of weeks after this happened,” you continue. “It took me years to realize this wasn’t my doing. That’s where he really gets you. Every shitty thing he said, I felt like it was my fault.”
Miriel starts to cry. Carrie gives her a hug.
“It’s not to say he didn’t do things to defend me,” you say. “He punched my brother in the face once for yelling at my baby sister. And I loved him for that. But it was the few good things that blocked me from seeing he was slowly trying to destroy who I was.”
Miriel gathers herself for a moment, then whispers to you.
“Can one of you take me home? Before he gets back.”
Without speaking, Carrie grabs her hand and leads her out the door.
“I’ll take you home,” Quinn says.
“I know,” you reply.
After a few minutes, Noel comes back.
“Where’d they go?” he asks, motioning at Miriel and Carrie’s chairs.
“Family emergency,” you say. “Carrie took her home.”
Quinn nods in agreement. Noel sighs.
“At least our meal is comped,” he grumbles.
He grabs the uneaten hard-boiled egg off of Miriel’s salad, then shoves it in his mouth before heading to the door. You wait a few seconds after Noel leaves before looking around the table. Quinn is gathering her stuff to leave, albeit slowly, and always with one eye to the door. Benimaru, however, is calmly pouring milk into his tea, then slowly stirring it.
“How are you two so calm?” you ask.
Your heart is still racing from Noel’s anger.
“I’ve dealt with worse,” Quinn says. She grabs her purse, handing you her wallet.
“Pay for me,” she says. “I’ll go get my car.”
Quinn leaves the cafe, heading to the nearby parking lot to get her car. You look at Benimaru, who is calmly sipping at his tea.
“The ones full of outward fury don’t concern me,” he says. “Those who can hide their rage are truly dangerous.”
“Is someone hiding their rage?” you ask.
Benimaru sets his tea down and stares out the window.
“I don’t think so,” he says. “But a true master can hide it from anyone.”
He stares for a little longer before quickly averting his gaze and looking at you.
“Then again,” he says, “I slipped some vodka into my tea to deal with him without getting a headache. Maybe you shouldn’t take advice from me.”
Benimaru takes his wallet out and begins to pay. You see Quinn’s car drive up outside. You place the money down on the table and go out to Quinn’s car. You sit down and notice the near silence inside. Real-world Quinn nearly always has music on — usually punk rock of some kind — so the quiet is jarring.
“You alright?” you ask. “Your car is never quiet.”
“He pisses me off,” she replies. “Still. I’m happy you’re not with him anymore and all. I just — I can’t imagine how anyone would want to be with him.”
“I know,” you reply. “Can we head back to Carrie’s? I want to make sure I’m there when she gets back.”
Quinn nods and puts the car into gear, then drives off. She doesn’t turn the music on the whole ride back.
You get to Carrie’s in short order. Her car, as you suspected, isn’t there yet. Instead of getting out of the car, you sit beside Quinn, listening to the engine idle. It takes a few minutes before one of you breaks the silence.
“You don’t actually have to come to my room tonight,” she says.
“I know,” you reply.
“I just wanted to make the offer,” she continues. “And it can’t hurt to try.”
You turn and look at Quinn. Her eyes are focused straight ahead.
“You really miss me, don’t you?” you ask.
She nods, not breaking her gaze ahead. You reach over and take hold of her right hand. She initially flinches at your touch, but tightly grips your hand after a moment.
“I miss you too,” you say.
You mean real-world Alana missing real-world Natalie. But you’re also missing the consistency of Quinn being around in here. Quinn stops staring forward and turns to you, pulling you across the center console and into her lap. You’re hunched down, caught between the steering wheel, the roof, and Quinn.
“It’s a bit tight here,” you say, your face millimeters from hers.
“Yeah, I didn’t think this through,” she says.
“I can move.”
She leans her body up and presses her lips against yours. For a moment, you forget about where you are — about the hellscape that is Project Tasman and the consequences that it has. You’re just with Quinn. And it’s everything you’ve ever wanted.
Your moment of solitude is short-lived, thanks to the sound of knocking on the window of the car. You turn your head to see Carrie grinning like an idiot. Even though the window is up, her voice comes through clearly. Very clearly.
“You can borrow my room!” she shouts. “I have noise-cancelling headphones and a long to-read list!”
Quinn laughs loudly.
“She’s eager,” Quinn says.
“The only thing stronger than the power of shippers is the chaos of Carrie,” you say.
You reach for the door handle, but aren’t able to find it before Quinn gives you another kiss. The two of you finally exit the car, where Carrie is digging through her purse. She produces the aforementioned headphones and a copy of “Catch-22”.
“Off you go,” she says, motioning for you and Quinn to enter the apartment.
Quinn takes the headphones off Carrie’s ears.
“I’ll see you at the estate tonight,” she says.
Carrie and Quinn share a quick hug before Quinn drives off.
“What now?” you ask.
“Well, I’m going to take a quick nap then get ready,” Carrie says. “You’re free to raid my pantry, or my stuff, or whatever.”
Carrie heads off to her room to take a nap. Despite some initial debate what the best course of action is, you remember that this is an experiment. While there aren’t many rooms in the apartment to search, there are a couple that catch your eye.
The first is the living room. That said, a visual scan of the room quickly reveals that the only things that could be hidden in the room are whatever balls the cat has knocked under the furniture. Piña verifies this by swatting one out from under the couch.
There is, however, one room you haven’t been in since you started this loop. You stand outside the door to Mel’s room and listen. When you don’t hear anything for a few seconds, you carefully push open the door.
It’s dark inside, so you feel around for a lightswitch. You don’t initially find the light, so you shut the door behind you, finding the switch on the wall behind where the door had opened. You turn it on and find an empty room.
A completely empty room.
No furniture. No art.
You decide to explore the closet, hoping to find some sign of Mel living there. You’re disappointed, though not surprised, to see that the closet is also empty.
“Dammit,” you say to yourself. “She’s going to be right behind me, isn’t she?”
You turn around slowly, expecting Mel to be waiting behind you, axe in hand, ready to chop your head off. But there’s no one there. You give a sigh of relief, taking one last look around the room and confirming the utter lack of everything aside from walls and a lightbulb before exiting.
You return to the living room, frustrated at your lack of success. You decide that Carrie was on to something all along, curling up on the couch for a nap. You feel Piña curl up at your feet as you start to doze off.
The sound of a guitar rouses you from your slumber. You check your phone and see that you’ve only been asleep a little over a half an hour. The sound of the guitar is coming from Carrie’s room. You decide to get off the couch and check it out. You carefully open her door to find Carrie sitting on the edge of her bed playing an acoustic guitar fingerstyle. She plays for a few more seconds before noticing you and stopping.
“What were you playing?” you ask, taking a seat beside Carrie.
“It’s a guitar,” Carrie replies. “It’s an instrument with ties back to 12th century Europe, but that’s not important right now. Shouldn’t you know what this is?”
“I mean what song are you playing?” you say.
“I don’t know,” Carrie says. “It sounds familiar, but I can’t quite place it.”
“Do you know the whole thing?”
“I think so.”
She starts playing again. The song sounds familiar, but you can’t identify it either.
“Do you have an electric guitar?” you ask. “Weirdly enough, I do.”
She pulls a shimmering pearl Flying V out of the closet.
“I try not to play it when Mel’s here,” she says. “Mel doesn’t like the distortion.”
She hooks the guitar up to a small amplifier in the corner of the room, fiddling with the dials on the face as she tunes the guitar. Carrie takes a seat on the floor and starts playing again, this time playing the song much faster.
It hits you immediately what the song is. Carrie stops a few seconds in and looks up at you.
“Something wrong?” she asks.
“Not at all,” you reply. “Keep playing, please?”
She does as she’s asked, starting the song over. For most of the song, you stay quiet, occasionally humming to yourself where the vocals would go. You never learned the words to the song. Sabrina’s high school band had played it for a talent show her freshman year. You didn’t think you cared for the song much.
But then Carrie starts playing the song’s aggressive, arpeggio-filled solo. You’d lost count of how many times you’d heard Sabrina playing it in her bedroom when you were home for the weekends. You can practically picture her picking away on her baby blue Gibson. You’re so caught up in your thoughts that you don’t notice that the song is over. Carrie is standing inches in front of you, holding a box of tissues.
“Sorry,” you say, taking one.
“It’s cool,” she says. “It made me want to cry too.”
You reach out and hug Carrie. She returns your embrace tightly. After a few seconds, you begin to hear Carrie faintly crying.
“Are you alright?” you ask.
“I think so,” she replies. “I just got really sad all of a sudden. Like I miss you. But you’re here.”
You hold Carrie until she lets go of the hug. She puts the guitars away, then fixes her hair in the mirror.
“I’m glad I hadn’t done my makeup yet,” she says. “I hate having to do it more than once.”
You chuckle at the thought of your sister even caring to wear makeup. While Carrie finishes getting ready for the evening. You decide to take Quinn’s advice and wear the blue dress. You quite like it, even if it isn’t the dress you would have picked. The drive to the estate is short and you venture off while the quartet sets up.
A pair of waiters with hors d’oeuvres walk by. You take some food and wait patiently for the quartet to begin playing. There’s a pair of technicians setting up lights for the dance part of the evening. One technician notices they’ve forgotten a row of lights and runs off to get them.
As the evening’s entertainment begins, you try to focus in on the music playing, but keep finding your thoughts drifting off to your sister. For as happy as she seems to be in here — and she does seem to be making the most of her time as Carrie — it’s clear Sabrina is still in there.
Is this the right place for her? Is it helping her? Is it hurting her? You have no idea how to answer any of the questions. You intend to interrogate Jeff during the next maintenance. But until then, you need to make the most effective use of your time in here.
“Bruschetta?” calls out a female voice from behind you.
You turn expecting to see Brielle. Instead, it’s an older lady with gray-blonde curls and an eyepatch over her left eye.
“Sure,” you say as you take one.
The night wears on. The quartet plays quite well, but their portion of the evening is almost over. You promised Quinn you’d go to her room after the event. You’re intent on keeping that promise.
You wait for the quartet to pack up as you watch the hotel staff begin to change the room over from dinner seating to a dance floor. Fortunately, your table is one of the few standing tables, so you don’t have to move. You do manage to swipe a drink from a waitress heading by.
Noel ducks out quickly, ignoring you as he goes. All the better, you think. Not that you wanted to talk to him again anyway. Benimaru swings by and gives you a quick hug before heading to his room. As usual, Carrie and Quinn are the last two to be packed.
After a few moments, Quinn walks up to you, cased violin in hand.
“You still want to come by?” she asks.
“I’d love to,” you say, shooting her a smile.
“I just need to talk to Carrie first.”
Quinn slips a room key into your hand.
“Give me thirty minutes and I’ll be settled,” Quinn replies. “Or give me twenty. I’m not picky.”
Her hand lingers a little longer than normal on yours before she walks away. You catch yourself watching her walk away, but you’re not the only one to notice it.
“I’d tell you two to get a room, but it sounds like you already are,” Carrie says.
You turn around and stick your tongue out at her.
“What?” Carrie replies, feigning shock. “You two are adorable together.”
“What are your plans for the evening?” you ask.
“Ideally, I’ll get out of this dress and into a long t-shirt and leggings,” Carrie replies. “Then I’m finding out what kind of snacks room service can bring me. Do you think they have waffle cones?”
“Like for ice cream?” you say. “I mean, maybe. Why?”
“I ideally need 13 of them,” Carries answers.
“I have a headband I’m going to hot glue ten of them to. Then I’ll wear one on each hand and scratch on Noel’s door while he’s asleep.”
“Are you going to scratch the door with your head?” you ask.
“No,” she answers. “In the event he charges me, I intend to ram him with my waffle cone helmet.”
“What’s the thirteenth one for?”
“I want ice cream.”
You sigh. Carrie turns around and goes to pick up her instrument when an urge that you haven’t had since childhood overcomes you. You sneak up behind her and wait, making sure her feet are set before making your next move.
“Backpack!” you shout, jumping onto Carrie’s back.
She catches you — a trick she rarely was able to do as a child since she’s seven years younger than you — and begins laughing.
“Go have fun,” she says.
You hop off her back and wave goodbye as Carrie heads out to her car to get her bags from the trunk. As you’re walking through the lobby, you notice Jeff standing beside the atrium stairwell.
You decide that an opportunity to talk to Jeff cannot be wasted. He’s fiddling with a pocketwatch when you reach him.
“I’m surprised I haven’t seen you sooner,” he says. “I expected you to head off searching for Brielle.”
“I’m trying to be smart about when I see her,” you say. “I’m sure there’s a time I’ll need to know more than when I’m with Carrie.”
“Indeed,” he replies. “How do you think your sister is doing?”
“She seems…fine?” you reply. “Does it help her?”
“We don’t know,” Jeff says. “It’s the hope, but it’s too early to tell. And just because it helps her doesn’t mean it’ll help others with her condition.”
You frown. If all of this somehow was able to help Carrie, maybe you could get some level of justification to it — you know, aside from the having to kill someone thing. But the fact that it’s not a sure thing frustrates you.
“Will I see her more in here?” you ask. “If nothing else, she’s happy. And I like seeing that.”
“She’ll show up again,” Jeff says. “Not as much as today, but she’ll be around for you.”
You give Jeff a half-hearted smile. He holds out a small box and hands it to you.
“What’s this?” you ask.
“Just something in case you need it,” he says. “You never know when it might come in handy.”
“Can I open it?”
“Later,” he says. “There’s no need for it today.”
You pocket the box — yes, the dress has pockets — and head to the elevator.
You arrive at Quinn’s door. Taking a breath, you pull the card key out of your pocket and put it in the door. Save for a single lamp on the far side of the room, the lights are off. Despite that, you see Quinn laying on the bed in a pink and black faux-corset and bottoms.
“I thought we were drinking,” you say as you shut the door behind you.
Quinn gets up from the bed and walks over to you slowly. She slides her arms along your shoulders and clasps her hands behind you, leaving you as close as you were in the car.
“Later,” she whispers.
Quinn presses her lips against yours, overwhelming your senses in the process. As she moves her kisses to your cheeks and neck, you hear the card key hit the floor, though you don’t remember letting go of it. Her hands slide down your back, hitting the box in your pocket.
“A present?” she asks between kisses.
“Just a gift Carrie gave me,” you answer.
You’re surprised you have your wits about your enough not to reveal Jeff gave it to you. Maybe being in Hobart Estate is getting to you after all. The thought quickly goes away when Quinn spins you around and sits you on the bed.
“Miss Saberhagen!” you say mockingly. “Trying to seduce me on the first date!”
“I would do no such thing!” she says with an equally fake tone of shock. “But if I were, is it working?”
You take a pause before you decide to answer.
Quinn slowly unclasps each of the silver clasps down the front of the faux corset. As much as you’re trying to focus on the fact that Quinn is refusing to break eye contact with you, you’re getting more distracted with each bit of progress she makes. She eventually reaches the final clasp, then slides the top off of her shoulders. She tosses it at you, draping it over your left shoulder in the process.
“How about now?” she asks, a smug smile plastered across her face.
You nod. Quinn kneels down on the floor and methodically takes your shoes off. She starts kissing up your right leg when a familiar feeling comes over you. You faintly see a series of pulsing lights.
“Fuck fuck fuck,” you grumble.
“I haven’t even started yet, but I love the enthusiasm,” Quinn says.
You let your feet touch the ground. The floor is warm.
You see another series of pulsing lights. Green. Then blue. Then purple. Then black. Everything is black. Again. You feel like you’re falling uncontrollably. The voice from before cuts through the silence.
*SESSION D COMPLETE. YOU HAVE THREE SESSIONS REMAINING TO SOLVE THE QUANDRY*
You reach for Quinn, desperately hoping for her to still be there. She’s gone.
*INITIATING SESSION E*
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