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. You feel an arm around your body. You raise the blankets slightly to see the familiar sight of Quinn’s arm across your chest.
At this point, you’re just happy to feel Quinn — and no one else — next to you when you wake up. You carefully roll over, trying your hardest not to disturb her. When you finally face her, you see she’s sleeping peacefully. You gently kiss her forehead, then slowly roll back over.
You reach for your phone, its scuffed, yellow case nearly sliding out of your hand. It’s Sunday, just after 930am. You’re surprised to see that you have three texts. All of them are from Arn, who is back in your phone as a contact. The texts read:
We still meeting for lunch?
Text when you wake up.
You sigh. You’d managed to avoid the last lunch session with Arn. You likely would have killed him had you seen him. You decide that being more tactical with your half-brother is in your best interests.
You wonder who all you might run into in the lobby if you were to go down there right now. Noel’s balls haven’t been kicked, so it’s probable he’s there. Carrie is likely there too, stealth purse in hand. Brielle is likely around somewhere too.
You set your phone back down on the nightstand and snuggle back into bed. Unfortunately, your adjusting of the blankets disturbs Quinn. She opens her eyes and smiles at you.
“Good morning,” she says. “Rare that you wake up before me.”
“I’ve only been up a couple of minutes,” you say. “I didn’t want to get out of bed.”
“There’s the Alana I know.”
She pulls you close to her. You rest your head on her bare shoulder.
“We can get up if you want,” you say. “It’s not like we could lay here all day.”
“I know,” Quinn answers. “I need coffee anyway. But that means putting on a shirt and I feel lazy today.”
“Are you still meeting Arn for lunch?” she asks.
“I need to text him back,” you say.
“You should do that. I’ll go get us coffee and breakfast.” Quinn climbs out of bed and grabs a t-shirt from her bag. “Anything you want?”
“Surprise me,” you say.
Quinn gives you a look of surprise.
“Really?” she says. “You don’t just want black coffee?”
“That’s how I want my coffee, yes. But we’re at a hotel that could have good food. Bring back something we don’t normally have.”
She smiles and leaves the room. You take your phone back off the nightstand and text Arn and see this reply.
Yeah. Keeps me from eating like a child.
You put your phone back down and are about to curl back up under the blankets when you remember something from Noel’s loop — Quinn has two names. This is the first time you’ve been around her stuff without her since then.
As cliche as it may be, you figure the best place to start is Quinn’s purse. There’s a pair of light gloves, a flashlight, some lip balm, a pair of granola bars, a few tampons, an absurd amount of pens, her car keys, her wallet, and a baggie of antacids.
Nothing in the purse itself draws your attention — though you believe you’ve found where all the pens in your apartment keep disappearing to. You open her wallet, hoping this will turn up a more fruitful search.
Aside from a couple of credit cards, some loyalty cards and gift cards to various stores, and Quinn’s license, there’s nothing to write home about initially visible. Quinn doesn’t even bother to carry cash because she’s an adult and knows that loose bills make you spend more money.
Just as you go to close the wallet, you notice a scrap of paper peeking out from behind her license. You carefully remove her license to find it’s actually a picture. In the picture are two girls. The younger one can’t be more than 7 and is definitely Quinn.
You don’t recognize the older one. She looks to be in her mid-teens and looks a bit like Quinn, only if Quinn’s orange-red hair were dark brown and she wore oversized glasses. She’s clearly family, but you’re not sure of much beyond that.
Quinn’s violin case draws your eye. You’re hesitant to mess around in it — you’re confident she’d let you go through her most private phone conversations before you got to touch her beloved violin. But this feels like a big secret that you need to explore.
Initially, you find nothing of note. There’s a violin in the base, along with a few bows in the top of the case. You open the first of two compartments in case, finding a spare set of strings, some rosin, and a golf pencil.
In the second compartment, you find a bag of chocolates and Quinn’s library card. Your morning hunger suddenly hits you, leading you to grab the bag of chocolate and take one for yourself. You’re putting the chocolate back in the case when you notice a silver lever in the compartment.
You carefully push the lever and hear a clicking sound. The first compartment has popped up from its position in the case. You pull it out of place and look beneath, finding a small handgun and a garrote beneath.
Stunned, you quickly put the compartment back into place, hearing it click as you do so. You quickly shut the violin case and pocket the trash from the chocolate. Why would Quinn need to carry weapons?
You decide to search Quinn’s suitcase. Unfortunately, this decision reveals nothing to you that you don’t already know. She packs light, with nothing extraneous save for the lingerie you saw last loop and an extra pair of socks.
You’re starting to put her clothes back into place when you hear the door of the room close. Quinn’s standing in the doorway, a plate balanced on each arm and a cup of in each hand.
“Did you lose something?” she asks.
“Deodorant,” you mumble. “Sorry, I forgot mine.”
Quinn gives you an odd look, but then smiles.
“Top flap of the inside of the lid,” she says. “But please help me first.”
You bound to your feet and take the two plates off of Quinn’s arms.
“You said to surprise you,” she says. “So I got a plate with literally every kind of fresh fruit I could find, with sides of whipped cream and peanut butter. And then there’s a plate of biscuits and gravy with hash browns and bacon.”
“We could share them both,” you reply. “Gives me some room for lunch when I see Arn later.”
The two of you split the two plates of food while playing games on your phones. After finishing eating, Quinn goes off to shower while you head to the lobby for more coffee.
You decide to take the scenic route to the lobby, walking through the second floor on your way to the stairs that’ll lead you to the center of the building. On the way by the gift shop, you notice a familiar face inside.
“Hi Benimaru,” you say. “What are you looking for?”
“I was hoping they’d have some gum,” he says. “But it’s all wintergreen.”
You dig in your pockets and produce a pack of cinnamon gum.
“This work?” you ask.
He smiles and takes the gum from you.
“Thanks,” he replies.
You smile at him and leave the room. You’re halfway down the stairwell when a thought hits you. You’re not sure where you got the gum from. Do you always have it when Benimaru needs it? For that matter, you don’t know when you’re going to need a lot of what you have. You know the tokens won’t matter until you have to choose who to kill. But what about the bobby pins? And Brielle’s card key? And the black dress? And the box Jeff gave you?
You’re lost in thought and bump into someone. A cornucopia of breakfast food spills out on the floor in front of you.
“Shit!” Carrie shouts. “I’m so sorry!”
“It’s alright,” you reply. “Why did you have so many waffles?”
“Stockpiling,” she says. “I hear there’s a global waffle shortage on the horizon. I have to be prepared. Hey! Can you help me make waffles? I need to make a few. Hundred. Thousand.”
“I’m sorry,” you say. “I really want to, but I can’t.”
Carrie looks a bit upset but then shrugs it off.
“It’s alright,” she says. “I can’t expect anyone to just drop what they’re doing and help me make a quarter-million waffles.”
“Why do you need a quarter-million waffles?” you ask.
“Well, technically I need a million quarter waffles,” Carrie replies. “But since the waffle irons pre-split them into four pieces, it’s more effective this way. You just have to cut them apart.”
“Sure,” you reply. “Your plan to getting there is solid. But why do you need so many?”
“Waffle shortage, remember?” Carrie says.
“But why a million quarter waffles?”
“I can sell them at a higher profit margin.”
Carrie’s logic has begun to make sense to you. You’re not sure if this is a good thing or not.
“Listen,” you say, “I hear there’s someone here that might be able to help you with your waffle wishes.”
Carrie leans in close, convinced that the information you’re about to share with her is a secret.
“Who?” she asks. “Please tell me who can help me deter waffleggedon.”
You take a look around to make sure no one is within earshot. Once you’re certain the coast is clear, you lean back in close to Carrie, playing along with whatever is going on inside of her head.
“Go to the front desk and ask for Jeff and Brielle,” you say. “I feel like Brielle will be more than willing to help you. Jeff might take a little convincing though.”
“Should I tell them you told me they’d help?” Carrie asks.
“Oh, of course,” you say. “Nothing would please them more than knowing you’re on a super serious mission and I’ve enlisted their help for you.”
“Oh good!” Carrie says excitedly. “Thank you so much!”
Carrie bounds off toward the lobby. You finally acquire more coffee and head back to the room. Quinn is just getting out of the shower when you arrive back. You set the coffee you brought for her down on the bathroom sink.
“This room doesn’t need more steam,” Quinn says, laughing. “But thank you.”
“If you leave it, the steam will clear out,” you say before shooting Quinn a wink before you walk out.
“That line only works if you don’t have plans!” she shouts after you.
The two of you finish your coffee, then pack your stuff to check out of the hotel. As you’re wheeling your luggage through the lobby, you notice Carrie sprint down the hallway, holding a chef’s hat on her head with one hand.
“She’s in a hurry,” Quinn says.
“Waffle shortage,” you say.
“That checks out. She going to be alright?”
“Yeah, she’s got some help.”
As you exit the building, you take a quick glance back to see Carrie sprinting in the other direction, this time with Jeff hot on her heels.
You load your bags into the trunk of Quinn’s car, then give her a hug and kiss goodbye.
“Arn’s still planning to drop you off, yes?” she asks.
“As far as I know,” you reply. “Will you be around if he can’t?”
Quinn nods. You and Quinn part ways, allowing you to begin your walk to your agreed upon lunch destination. Would any restaurant you chose be there to meet Arn?
The restaurant is surprisingly empty. You see Arn filling his drink at the soda fountain, though he’s yet to choose a seat. There’s no line, so you decide that now is the optimal time to order.
You place your usual order and check out. As you sit down at the table, Arn offers you some napkins.
“You’re nearly on time,” he says.
“And you’re nearly nice to me,” you say.
“I didn’t get to where I am today by showing up late,” he says.
He takes a drink of his pop before continuing on.
“The planner for dad’s estate called yesterday,” he says.
“What’d she want?” you ask.
“She was just making sure everything’s set for Sabrina to go to college in the fall.”
“Don’t you me…”
You cut yourself off. Arn doesn’t realize that Carrie and Sabrina are one and the same in Project Tasman. He’s still operating off of the knowledge that Sabrina is his sister and that his sister is going to college — not that she’s in a coma.
“Don’t I mean what?” he says.
“Nothing,” you reply. “I misheard you, then realized what you said midway through my question.”
“She doesn’t get why Sabrina wants to be a physics major.”
“Why’s that her business?” you ask.
“Because Sabrina has this nasty habit of flaking out on class because she’s bored,” Arn says.
“The girl needs a challenge! She was going to double major until you talked her out of it.”
“Physics and music don’t go together,” Arn replies.
“Ever heard of Brian fucking May?” you ask. “Dude was the guitarist for one of the best-known bands in the history of rock and has a Ph.D. in astrophysics.”
“I’m not saying it can’t be done,” says Arn. “I’m saying Sabrina needs more structure…more focus. Ideally, she’d get a business degree. That’ll give her a better chance to get a job.”
“What was your major again?” you snip.
“Religious studies,” replies Arn. “And I learned the hard way why having a better degree matters. That’s why I went back for my architecture degree and am getting my MBA.”
“And Sabrina isn’t you,” you reply. “She has a plan. She wants to go become a research assistant to some fancy physicist who studies the mathematical probabilities of alternate dimensions.”
“The fact that you remember what the mad scientist does but not her name is a little alarming,” Arn says. “I think a major reason Sabrina gets along with you so well is because you enable her.”
“Physics is a legitimate field of study!” you shout.
“It is,” he replies. “When it’s not being used to try to prove out whether or not ghosts are real.”
“Let the girl dream! Do you remember what you wanted to be when you grew up?”
“An attorney,” Arn answers.
“No, before you became an asshole,” you retort.
“Enlighten me. Since you’re always the one who seems to know everything about everyone.”
“Take a guess,” you say.
“Why does this have to be a game?” Arn asks.
“Humor me, please?”
Arn groans, takes a bite of his food, and swallows it.
“Fine,” he says. “Probably a teacher.”
“What?” you say. “No, it was much more unique than that.”
“Alright,” Arn replies. “Was it a racecar driver?”
“It was not.”
“A birthday party clown?”
“Not that either.”
Arn throws his hands in the air in frustration.
“Did I want to be a garbage man?” he asks.
“Not that either,” you reply.
“Was it an eggplant farmer?”
“Nope. Chuck Testa.”
“The taxidermy guy?”
“Yep,” you say. “You wanted to be a celebrity taxidermist.”
Arn rolls his eyes.
“That was just a childhood fantasy,” Arn says. “Didn’t you have stupid occupational desires as a kid like everyone else?”
“I did,” you say. “I wanted to be a research biologist. You know, despite hating nature.”
“And you grew out of it,” Arn says. “You didn’t know what you wanted to do with your life until you were an adult.”
“I still don’t know what I want to do with my life,” you reply.
“My point exactly. Why get a degree you may change your mind on?”
“Fuck off, Arn,” you say. “Let the girl have her dream. Not everyone wants to be a killjoy like you.”
Arn ignores your comment and takes a bite of his food. You’re about to continue your lunch when something catches your vision. You turn and look at the cash register. Noel is checking out. His food is on a dine-in tray. He takes his card back from the cashier and starts walking to the dining area. You know that with the small seating area there’s no way to avoid seeing each other.
Unfortunately, Noel decides to strike up a conversation…just not with you.
“Small world, Arnold,” Noel says. “I was just thinking about you.”
“Even a broken clock is right twice a day,” Arn says. “What do you want, Noel?”
“Mind if I join you for lunch?” Noel asks. “I have a business proposition to discuss with you.”
“Go away, Noel,” you say.
You think you see the corners of Arn’s mouth perk up at the attempt to get rid of your ex, but before you’re sure, Noel has already taken a seat beside you.
“You can leave if you want,” Noel says. “We’ve got to talk.”
“What do you want?” Arn asks between bites. He’s eaten more since Noel walked up than he had the entire rest of lunch.
“Am I really that obvious?” Noel says. “Can’t I enjoy lunch with an old friend?”
“You literally walked up and said you have a business proposition, you ignorant fuckstick,” you say.
“No one asked you,” Noel shoots back.
Arn points at Noel’s still closed bowl.
“What’d you get?” he asks.
Noel takes the cover off the bowl.
“Rice, cheese, sour cream, and chicken,” Noel replies.
“Why bother?” Arn asks. “You could get the kids’ meal for cheaper.”
“I’m not a child,” Noel says. “I just don’t like spicy food.”
“Ah yes,” you reply. “Your poor tum-tum thinks white bread is too spicy.”
“Will you please do something about your yappy little dog?” Noel asks.
“Quiet Alana,” Arn says. “The hot sauce on your breath is scaring him.”
“Arnold,” Noel says, his voice softer, “you really want to take me and my proposition seriously.”
“And why’s that?” Arn asks.
“Because I know something that you’ve been trying to hide for a while now.”
“I highly doubt you know how to put your pants on by yourself,” Arn replies. “Knowing anything about me is over your head.”
Noel looks serious. And you know that Arn IS hiding something. But what does Noel know?
You stay quiet, focusing at the look on Arn’s face. Whatever he’s hiding that Noel knows about, Arn clearly doesn’t think it’s too serious. He’s half-smiling, half-smirking as he waits for Noel to say more. Noel is, surprisingly to you, equally stoic. Noel is practically allergic to keeping secrets. Sabrina had found out about both the start and the end of your relationship with him from Noel. But now he’s quiet — a bit too confidently so at that to have nothing up his sleeve.
“I want a cut,” Noel says.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Arn replies.
“Don’t play dumb with me,” Noel answers back. “I’m much more practiced at it and see right through it.”
You can practically hear Carrie shouting about Noel’s self-burn in your mind. And while this does amuse you, the same clearly cannot be said for Arn. He’s beginning to get annoyed at Noel. Noel senses it too and continues on.
“Do you want to tell her about The House of St. Josephine?” Noel asks. “I don’t mind, but if you want to get your sins off your chest.”
You turn and look at Noel. He’s staring through Arn. Meanwhile, Arn’s confident smile is still on his face, but not in his eyes.
“What’s he talking about, Arn?” you ask.
“It’s an orphanage,” he says. “We helped design their new facilities.”
“I don’t know about that,” Noel says. “I mean, you might have. But that’s not why they matter. And you know it.”
Noel begins talking to you, though he doesn’t break his gaze at Arn.
“He’s right about them being an orphanage. One of the better ones in the state, at least from what I’ve heard. They do a lot of good work for the kids there. Thing is, when you play enough black tie events, you start to meet important people. And if you get enough drinks in them, they’re just as likely to spill the beans as anyone else. Only their secrets are much juicier.”
Noel pulls a sheet of paper out of his pocket. He unfolds it and slides it across the table to Arn.
“That’s my account information. I want $100,000 by the end of next week,” Noel says. “Then 10% of your take each month.”
“This is blackmail,” Arn whispers.
“Yes,” replies Noel. “Be glad I’m not asking for 15% of the total. Your profits would dry up if I did that.”
Arn folds the paper up and pockets it.
“What are you doing?” you ask.
“Not now, Alana,” Arn says.
“I believe the legal term for what he’s doing is embezzlement,” Noel replies. “Which isn’t normally something I’d care about. But when you’re fucking with kids, it hits a little close to home.”
“Then why are you taking money from Arn?” you ask. “If it hits so close to home and all.”
“They’re using the orphanage as a front,” Noel explains. “The House of St. Josephine is actually has four different buildings in its complex. Three of the buildings are historical, so there’s a lot of specific guidelines and rules you have to follow if you want to work on them. The main building, however, doesn’t fall under those same guidelines.”
“But there’s still a ton of work that needs done on it,” Noel continues. “And, if you keep finding problems in the building, finding the cheapest contractors you can to fix them, the using company funds to funnel money, you can make a pretty penny.”
“That’s fraud,” you say.
“Yes,” Noel replies. “Enough that someone making money can afford to keep people quiet when they know.”
Noel turns and looks at you.
“And now, you can get your own cut too,” he says.
“No!” you shout.
“That’s not right.”
“Unlike you, she’s got morals,” Arn chimes in.
“Don’t you start,” you say. “You’re funneling slush money through an orphanage and being a dick to Sabrina.”
“What’s he doing to Sabrina?” Noel asks.
“He’s trying to get her to change her major before she even starts because he doesn’t like it,” you reply.
“What the fuck, man?” Noel says. “Let the girl dream. She’s already smarter than you’ll ever be.”
“You stay out of this,” Arn says. “You already fucked up one of my sister’s lives. I don’t need you screwing up a second one.”
Noel goes quiet and takes the last few bites of his food. He rises from the table to take his trash and tray to the can.
“Never thought I’d see the day you’d agree with him,” Arn says. “After all he p –”
The rest of Arn’s sentence is cut off by the sound of metal meeting skull as Noel slams Arn’s head with his food tray. You scramble to stop Noel, but he’s already taken multiple punches at the back of Arn’s head. You try to pull him off Arn, but your first attempt fails. The second try goes better, as a few employees help you break out the ruckus.
Noel bolts out of the building, leaving the employees to check on Arn. He’s bleeding but seems coherent. You’re flustered and sweating, but weirdly calm. You blame this on being in the experiment — especially because the blood isn’t making you nauseous.
Arn steadies himself against the table and stands up. He suggests you leave and literally no one even considers protesting this. Either there isn’t police in this experiment or this was all a ploy to move the plot forward without this becoming a police procedural.
You get in Arn’s car. He reaches into the glove box and pulls out a handkerchief, dabbing the blood off his brow.
“I hate that he made me bleed,” Arn says. “Coward hit me with a sneak attack.”
“Why are you doing this?” you ask. “Don’t you make enough money at the firm?”
“It’s not about the money,” Arn says. “I mean, it’s a little bit about the money. But that’s not all.”
“Then what is it?”
“You wouldn’t understand,” he says. “You already don’t get why I’m doing it. You don’t think it’s ethical. It won’t matter. So what do I have to do to keep you quiet?”
You think it over — this is a unique opportunity.
“I want power of attorney over Sabrina,” you say, trying your best not to let your voice quiver with nervousness as you say it out loud. “I know it’s only going to matter for a few more months, then she can do as she wants. But I want it.”
“Not a chance,” Arn says. “You don’t know the first thing about how to manage her needs.”
“That’s my choice,” you reply. “And unlike Noel, there’s not an amount you can pay me to keep me quiet.”
Arn sighs. He starts the car and begins driving toward Quinn’s apartment.
“I’ll think about it,” he replies. “Will you give me the time to do that?”
“How long do you need?” you say.
“That’s fine,” you say.
“Thanks,” Arn replies. “I just need to think of a story that will make this seem not suspicious.”
“You mean no more suspicious than you stealing money using an orphanage as a cover?”
“It’s not like I wanted to do it,” Arn says. “I had an offer I couldn’t refuse.”
“How very Corleone of you,” you reply.
“It’s not like that. I found out it was happening and was going to whistleblow the whole scheme. But I got talked out of it.”
“How?” you ask.
“A quarter-million dollars a year is a lot of money to keep quiet,” Arn replies. “Besides. You have the option to do the same thing. You’re just choosing something you want instead. Even if it isn’t money.”
The car goes quiet as you think over what Arn said. He’s not wrong. You are holding your knowledge of this as leverage to get control over your sister’s health and well-being. But something doesn’t sit quite right with you.
“Is everyone okay with you being in on this?” you ask.
“What do you mean?” he asks. “Are you sure they didn’t just bring you in to be the fall guy? Young guy starts using his company as a front to move money. Then an investigation starts. Coincidentally, something happens to you. You’re out of the picture, out of the country, or at worst, dead. And everyone else gets off scot-free, save for a nominal fine to the company.”
“They won’t throw me under the bus like that,” Arn says.
“The corrupt people won’t act corruptly when they need to?” you say sarcastically. “I find that extremely hard to believe.”
“What do you suggest I do?”
“I don’t know,” you say. “Just do the best you can. Whatever that means to you.”
“That’s not very good advice,” Arn replies.
“No. It’s not specific advice. Don’t conflate the two.”
As you go quiet, the car falls silent again. You turn the corner and begin traveling down the street that Quinn’s apartment is on. You notice a tear trickle down Arn’s cheek. You can’t recall the last time you saw him cry, if ever. Even when your dad died, he was angry more than sad.
“I’m just trying to do what’s best for her,” he says softly. “I don’t want her to end up worse off than she should be.”
“I know,” you say. “But you have to let her do what she wants sometimes too. She’s going to go to college and do stupid shit. But not the same stupid shit we did.”
“She’s not going to start a bar fight like you did?” Arn asks.
“What do you think she’ll do?”
“Run an all-night dance marathon counter-party called Wafflepalooza where the goal is to eat as many breakfast foods as you can for charity?” you say.
Arn gives you a weird look.
“That’s an oddly specific prediction,” he says.
“Could you see her doing it?” you ask.
“Absolutely,” Arn replies. “She’d find a way to wrangle whoever’s organizing dance marathon into showing up at her thing instead.”
You chuckle to yourself, remembering Jeff chasing Carrie around the estate. You pull up to Quinn’s building. As you open the door to get out of the car, Arn starts to speak.
“You won’t tell Quinn about this?” he asks. “Not until I’ve had a chance to think things over at least, right?”
“I can give you that long,” you say. “But not much more. She is my fiancee, after all.”
“I know,” Arn says. “Thanks.”
You exit the car and make your way inside. Quinn is lounging on the couch, playing video games on TV. You duck under her line of sight to avoid disrupting her, but she barely notices. You glance over at her and you’re becoming unsure if she realizes you’re even here. You need to make your presence known…but how?
You decide the most effective way to get Quinn’s attention would be to distract her other senses. Her eyes are clearly off-limits mid-game and you’re not evil enough to use her sense of touch or sound against her. Smell and taste are all you have left.
You go to the cupboard and grab a bag of popcorn and throw it in the microwave. Even as you get a giant bowl out from another cabinet, Quinn still doesn’t notice your motions. After the popcorn finishes and you pour it into a bowl, she comes to life.
“Hey!” she says. “Great timing. I need a snack.”
“It’s for you,” you say. “How’s your game?”
“Not bad so far. The Roomba crossover with goombas is better than you’d think.”
“Are they like homing goombas now?”
“Sort of,” Quinn replies. “If you’re not making a mess on the screen — you know, not killing things or dropping items — they ignore you. But if you do kill something, they go after whatever died. And dropping an item is a real bad plan.”
“Goomba attack?” you say.
“So. Many. Goombas.”
Quinn stares off into the distance. You dare not ask more, for fear of whatever it was she saw in there. Instead, you saunter over to your end of the couch and take a seat with the popcorn.
“Where’s mine?” she asks.
“This is it,” you say. “Ready?”
Quinn nods and opens her mouth. Your first throw falls a little short, landing on her shoulder. She quickly scoops it up and readies for a second. Your second throw is not good. At all. It flies over Quinn’s head and lands somewhere in the hall behind her.
“Are you trying to kill me?” she asks.
“Clearly not,” you reply. “I can’t even hit you.”
Your third and fourth throws at least hit Quinn, but don’t get near her face. Finally, on your fifth throw, you manage to hit her face — albeit in the nose.
“I’m getting hungry and not getting fed,” Quinn says.
You grab a handful of popcorn out of the bowl. Quinn narrows her eyes as she watches you carefully.
“You wouldn’t dare,” she says.
You stare back at her and smile. You mouth the words ‘I love you. I’m sorry.’ before tossing the popcorn high in the air. The snack comes fluttering down. A few kernels land in Quinn’s mouth, but most of them shower across her face. She laughs as she picks popcorn out of her ginger hair, eating each piece as she finds it.
“Better?” you ask.
“Yes and no,” Quinn replies.
No sooner has she finished her sentence than you’ve tossed another handful in the air at her.
“Keep it up,” she says, before shooting you a coy smile and a wink.
You grab a third handful and toss it at Quinn. This handful flies a bit more wildly, with none of it landing in her mouth. Quinn tries to fish all of the pieces off her body, but it’s becoming a struggle.
“You’ve gotten more in my shirt than you have in my mouth,” she says. “I’m going to need to shower again.”
“That’s too bad,” you reply. “Maybe you shouldn’t be so messy.”
Quinn stands up and walks over to your side of the couch. She grabs a handful of popcorn out of the bowl and shoves it in her mouth. Then she takes a second handful, gives it a light crush, then lets it fall in your curly brown hair.
“Oh no,” she says with an over-the-top feigned shock. “Now you also need to shower.”
You stand up, bowl of popcorn in hand, and meet Quinn eye to eye — or at least as close as you can giving up three inches of height to her. You lock eyes with her, carefully maneuvering the bowl of popcorn behind her back with one arm.
“What are you doing?” she asks.
You nudge her in close to you and kiss her, pouring the popcorn over both of your heads. This causes Quinn to break away from this kiss and fall into uproarious laughter.
“You’re cleaning this up later,” she says as she tries to gather herself.
“Worth it,” you say.
You grab her wrist and lead her toward the bathroom.
“Now hurry up and get in here before we run out of time,” you continue.
“Run out of time?” Quinn says. “Are we going somewhere?”
“No. The cockblocking simulation is going to cut us off again.”
Quinn shuffles to a stop.
“What?” she asks.
“Darling,” you say. “Roleplay with me for a second. Can you do that?”
“Whatever you need,” Quinn replies before she kisses you on the neck.
You stop her and make her make eye contact with you.
“Focus,” you say. “I need you to pretend like we don’t know when we’re going to see each other again.”
“But that’s sad,” Quinn replies.
“Yes,” you say. “But what if you didn’t know if you were going to see me again? Or didn’t know if the next time you’d see me that you’d want to be with me? What then?”
“Alana,” Quinn says.
Her face is far more serious — and nearly fearful — than you’ve ever seen her.
“Are you in danger? You can tell me anything. You know that, right?”
“I do,” you say. “It’s just…”
“No,” you say. “Let’s go. Shower first.”
Quinn gives you a look of concern, reluctant to move from her spot in the hall.
“You promise?” she asks.
“Yes!” you answer, frustrated. “Please let me have this.”
Quinn pulls you in by the arm, then grabs the back of your head and kisses you passionately. The two of you tumble into the wall, nearly causing you to lose your balance. Instead, you end up in one of your favorite places — pinned between Quinn and the wall.
Quinn breaks away from the kiss and drags you into the bathroom. As she starts the shower, you take her clothes off her body. “You’re going to distract me from getting the temperature right,” she says.
“I don’t care,” you reply as you slide your hand down her hips.
You pause long enough to take off your own clothes. By this point, Quinn has finished fiddling with the water, practically tackling you into the shower.
As much as you were hoping Quinn’s passion would take your mind off of things, nearly as soon as the hot water hits your body, you break down sobbing. You lean into Quinn and begin to cry, tears mixing with water from the showerhead. She grabs you tightly and rubs her hand across your back.
“Hey,” she says. “It’s alright. Whatever it is, I’ll keep you safe. I promise.”
You nod into her shoulder. You can feel Quinn intermittently stopping and pulling popcorn out of her hands and your hair.
The steamy shower is beginning to make you feel lightheaded. Quinn senses this, guides the two of you down to the floor. You collapse your body further into her arms, the weight of the past few days crashing down on you.
“It’s alright,” Quinn whispers to you repeatedly.
Part of you wants to believe her. That she will — hell, that she can — keep you safe. But she’s in here with you. And she doesn’t even know it. If she couldn’t save herself, how could she save you?
Beyond that, there was the gun and the garrotte in her violin case earlier. And the second name on her door card. And the picture of a little girl, maybe a sister or cousin, in her purse. What else was Quinn hiding from you?
Yet, despite all of that, you feel safe in this moment. Because she’s here. She’s the bright spot of your day. She is who you feel safe with. But above all, she’s been the one thing grounding you to reality this whole experiment.
In between your tears and even with your eyes closed, you see the faint pulsing of lights.
“No!” you shout into Quinn’s shoulder. “Fuck off.”
“What?” Quinn asks.
“I can’t go,” you mumble between sobs. I can’t do two more of these.”
You see another series of pulsing lights.
“Two more of what?” Quinn says. “What is happening to you? Please tell me. I’m here to help you.”
You try to speak, but the words catch in your throat. You grasp at Quinn over and over as she slowly fades away from you.
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 E COMPLETE. YOU HAVE TWO SESSIONS REMAINING TO SOLVE THE QUANDRY*
You feel alone.
*MAINTENANCE MODE ENGAGED*
You’re surrounded by the lights again. Green. Then blue. Then purple. Then black.
Everything is black.
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