[tab=30] She'd been able to move around a lot in years past. The constant workout of being on the girl's basketball team combined with roaming from class to class gave Kathryn an athletic stance. Once she lifted textbooks and folders full of paper, calculators and pencils instead of weights. As a lab assistant, she could leave all her notes and supplies with the pipettes and centrifuge she used to cut apart genes.
[tab=30] Commander watched as Kathryn walked outside, escaping the campus where she worked. He kept his distance. Even though he tried not to express it, the need to talk to his friend was still there, whispering in his heart. For a moment, he watched her, content to record the subtleties of her slender shape and calm steps.
[tab=30] Students at the University of Missouri—Saint Louis wouldn’t notice some guy in a suit with no tie—both were plentiful. Commander didn’t try to force his way through the students, but he still kept his eyes aimed forward. No one would think he'd jumped from a helicopter and bombed a company only three days earlier.
[tab=30] He had a longer stride than Kathryn, letting him easily catch up. Commander guarded his thoughts as he came closer. He valued what Kathryn said, no matter how menial or unimportant they might be.
[tab=30] Without turning around, Kathryn said, “Thomas. I know you’re there.”
[tab=30] Commander smiled walked beside Kathryn. “It’s getting harder and harder to sneak up on you.”
[tab=30] Kathryn laughed. “How’ve you been?”
[tab=30] “Good. You?”
[tab=30] “Same as usual.” Behind her small smile, Kathryn's voice held enough husk that no accent could purge, not even the Northeast Arkansas drawl that lingered on her vowels. “What brings you to campus this time?”
[tab=30] Lacking any southern accent, Commander said, “I wanted to see how powerful a signal could be shot through a cell phone.”
[tab=30] “You could talk to your provider about that.”
[tab=30] “I was thinking more about a high speed Internet link.”
[tab=30] Kathryn cocked an eyebrow and asked, “How fast do you need to check your e-mail?”
[tab=30] “Point taken.”
[tab=30] They laughed and walked together, both of them trying to find the next thing to say. “I missed you a few weeks back,” Kathryn said.
[tab=30] Commander grabbed his brow. “The party to celebrate your new position.” He shook his head. “I’m sorry. I had business out of town. There wasn’t anything I could do about it.”
[tab=30] “Well, next time we go to lunch, you’re buying.”
[tab=30] “Fine with me.”
[tab=30] Kathryn laughed. “You know, you caught me at a bad time.”
[tab=30] “Really? What's going on?”
[tab=30] “I'm going to celebrate you setting me up with the man of my dreams.”
[tab=30] “Then I won't force James to wait a minute longer than he has to,” Commander said. “I can't speak for you though.”
[tab=30] Again, the young woman laughed. “If it was any other time, I'd tell you to come along.”
[tab=30] Commander smiled. “And I'd tell you know. Tell James I said hi.”
[tab=30] “Never.” Kathryn glanced at her watch and grew a little smirk, saying, “Maybe just this once.”
[tab=30] “Sounds good then. See you later.”
[tab=30] Commander waved and walked away from Kathryn. He looked back and measured her stride again, trying to make the perfect mental image.
[tab=30] She fixed her earrings, a set of gold hoops and diamond studs, and sprayed on a bit of perfume just in time to hear the doorbell ring. When Kathryn checked the door, her smile became reality and she opened the door.
[tab=30] “Good evening, my lady,” James said with a performer’s bow. He wore a nice suit, but left out the tie, suggesting a hint of casual thinking. James grinned as he ran his fingers through his light brown hair. “May I say you look quite lovely?”
[tab=30] “Thanks,” Kathryn said. “I like your suit.”
[tab=30] James gave a bit of a laugh and asked, “Are you ready to go?”
[tab=30] “Sure. Let me get my bag.”
[tab=30] Kathryn picked up on James’ smile and asked, “Why are you always smiling whenever we’re this close?”
[tab=30] “I’ve never been able to get used to dating a girl who's taller than me when she wears heels.”
[tab=30] Kathryn’s eyes strained for a moment. A part of her mind recalled when another person looked up to her while longing for her. A part of her mind remembered standing on a metaphorical pedestal, somewhere she didn’t want to be. But this was different, James was different. James only looked up because of Kathryn’s heels.
[tab=30] “Tell me something that'll sweep me off my feet,” Kathryn said with a smirk.
[tab=30] “Sure. You should walk in front of one of those trucks that clean the streets.”
[tab=30] She punched his arm. “You know what I mean.”
[tab=30] “But this is more fun.”
[tab=30] Kathryn slapped his arm again.
[tab=30] “You might look delicate, Kathryn, but you have the most beautiful punches I have ever been hit by.”
[tab=30] “Someone's going to have to call the cops,” Kathryn said. “There's about to be a case of domestic abuse.”
[tab=30] James put his hands up in surrender. “I can't help I'm not a poet. We barely read anything where I went to high school. The best I could come up with is something like...” James shrugged. “I could drown in the ocean of your eyes.”
[tab=30] Kathryn smiled and stood taller. “See. That wasn't too hard.”
[tab=30] “Yeah, it was. I don't have a super brain like you.”
[tab=30] “Don't sell yourself short,” Kathryn said. “I grew up in the middle of nowhere.”
[tab=30] “That must be where your accent came from.” James laughed and added, “I suppose you could be trying to sound like southern belle.”
[tab=30] Kathryn slapped James' arm again. “I don't sound anything like that.”
[tab=30] “Way down South in Dixie, you might sound like you're from the North,” James said before shifting to parody of a Southern accent. “But up here with those Yankees, you sound like just another Reb.”
[tab=30] Kathryn rolled her eyes. “I should shoot you.”
[tab=30] “They'll only take my gun when they pry it from my cold, dead fingers!”
[tab=30] Kathryn leaned against James. “It's times like this when I wish I'd trained myself to talk normally.”
[tab=30] Returning to his natural tone of voice, James asked, “Talk normally?”
[tab=30] “Thomas. He trained himself to not sound like he's from Southeast Missouri.”
[tab=30] “I'm glad you didn't.” James stopped and turned Kathryn to face him. He let his fingers sweep the side of Kathryn's face. “I love your voice, just like I love the rest of you.”
[tab=30] “Even my eyes?”
[tab=30] “Even your eyes. I really could drown in them.”
[tab=30] They kissed.
[tab=30] The rush of the moment—both of them—was still with Kathryn, filling her senses with notions they usually didn't have. Much of her stayed on guard, ready to attack. It was an unusual state for Kathryn, a state she felt she didn't belong to at all. Her instincts guided her toward the bathroom, wanting to wash the sweat away from her face and maybe find something to wear on the way. It wasn't her habit to walk around naked in the dark.
[tab=30] She found the bathroom and started pulling the door closed. Her left hand flipped on the light, temporarily blinding her. Rubbing her eyes, Kathryn found a discarded t-shirt and pulled it on. The sink came on and she filled her hands with water and washed her face.
[tab=30] As she opened her eyes again, a man's face stared at her in the mirror. The face had been weathered by untold horrors, enough that he wore a gold mask with thin seams. He grinned.
[tab=30] Kathryn stumbled back against the wall, her arms trying to block her from the man. There was no one in the room with her. She heard James whisper her name, wondering where she was. Remembering James inside of her, she turned off the light and went back to bed.