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Chapter 23: The guards weren’t any less rough helping her out of the wheelchair the second time than they had been back in Dr. McCullough’s office. And they hadn’t even stepped back from the couch they dropped her onto before Dr. Stewart started in on her.
His eyes danced in definite delight. “Good afternoon, sunshine.”
An immediate response came to Sabrina’s mind, but talking to Dr. Morrison before had suitably flushed her potty mouth. So she resorted instead to clapping her wings angrily behind her.
“How did it go this morning?”
It took just that one question to push all thoughts of maintaining a stony silence out of her head. She had been flirting with the idea of lounging on the settee with casual indifference, but the question was infuriating enough that she lost her cool.
Sabrina sat up ramrod straight. “How about you go get electrocuted a few times, and then we’ll talk.”
His mood changed drastically with her retort. Sighing the sigh of a long-sufferer, he leaned forward. “My dear, your main problem is that you just don’t get it. You’re determined to look at life through an immature lens instead of acknowledging that the world is not all black and white.”
Still seething, Sabrina said nothing.
Stewart steepled his fingers together to rest his chin on top, a further sign that he was setting his opinion above all else. “I understand that you’re young and taking all of this personally.”
“You think?” She asked incredulously.
Smiling like he was speaking to a naïve child, his voice nevertheless held a finality she knew would be foolish to defy. “The good of the many outweighs the good of the one. Now pull that coffee table over. You’re going to take an IQ test, and you need a flat surface for parts of it.”
Seeing as how she didn’t have any other viable option, she did as he said despite the additional aches it caused. Then she went about staring off at the far wall, refusing to meet his gaze. Sabrina was learning that, on HPAC grounds, faeries were not allowed to win. It was a rule enforced by any means necessary. She understood that, but it didn’t mean she had to submit with a good attitude.
The first phase of the test Stewart gave her was simple enough, only involving a number of geometric shapes she had to fit together into various patterns or pictures as depicted on flashcards. She navigated through each with little hesitation until she reached the very last one. Sabrina knew they were supposed to form a house, but as for which box was a window and which was a door, she had no idea. It wasn’t perfectly symmetrical, and so she finished the challenge in what she considered a shameful amount of time.
She had no clue why she cared so much when she well knew Dr. Stewart already had an answer for whatever outcome she produced. If she did well, he’d mark her as clever enough to destroy the human race. If she did poorly, he’d label her a dumb animal. Even so, she still felt like she was representing the entire faerie population and would let them down if she didn’t do well.
So she pushed through the next one as quickly as she could. It centered around nine cubes, each of which had mixed red and white faces. Once again, they came complete with configurations she needed to replicate with the blocks. And once again, her mind and fingers worked quickly until the last flashcard.
If she’d been in a different situation, Sabrina would have enjoyed the challenges. But considering the so-far unclear stakes, she instead found herself growing more and more stressed with each new task she was told to tackle.
Despite that, the third and fourth rounds were right up her alley. Dr. Stewart would say a word and she had to give a definition or synonym. He read off “issue,” and she’d fire back “a problem or topic that needs to be considered.” Or “Cat,” and she would respond with “feline, pet or tabby.” It went on like that until he set down his papers and announced that they would be taking a break for lunch.
Sabrina had been so miserable in the morning and then so intent on the test that the notion of eating had completely slipped her mind. It wasn’t until he brought it up that she realized how very hungry she was.
He picked up his phone, pushed three buttons and requested their meals be brought in. The simple command had Sabrina nervously wondering if the food would be drugged. But by the time it got there on tidy plastic trays, she was certain she was going to take the risk. Removing the steamed-up cover of the solid plastic dish made her mouth water, and she did her best not to drool.
It smelled amazing.
A mixture of steamed carrots, broccoli and cauliflower took up one third of the plate. The rest held a healthy portion of linguine with red sauce, chicken and cheese on top. There was even a small cup of Parmesan and several packets of salt and pepper. If anything, they seemed intent on killing her with too much sodium. Which seemed like a much better way to go than being exercised to death.
“So where is the faerie entrance?” Dr. Stewart asked smoothly after both of them had taken a few bites.
The question was so random that Sabrina had to blink several times before she could form a decent answer. “I have no idea.”
“We’ll see,” was his only reply.
They ate the rest of their meals in silence, which suited her just fine. She had no doubt he’d bring up the topic again. But since she really didn’t know where Fairiedom opened up, she figured she couldn’t reveal too much in the way of incriminating evidence. At least she hoped not.
Her stomach turned at the possibility of it somehow being otherwise, which she tried her best to push aside. It wasn’t like she needed any more reasons to freak out.
She had to believe her ignorance would be an asset. For probably the first time in her life, she found herself beseeching the heavens for total naivety on a subject.
Dr. Stewart finished eating his meal first and wiped his mouth like he was at a five-star restaurant. Sabrina found his every movement disturbingly smug, from the way he set the napkin back down on his empty plate to the way he re-crossed his legs like some prissy girl.
It was so obvious he considered himself the smartest person in the room. Probably the world too.
Slicing the last piece of chicken with her plastic knife, she speared one half of it with perhaps unnecessary savagery. And when she pushed the empty plate away a moment later, she continued to eye the flimsy utensils. She wondered about how it would feel to drive them through Stewart’s skin. If it meant putting an end to their meeting, she would happily break her previously-made promise about stabbing people.
The doctor gave no indication he was aware of his potential peril. He was too busy scrolling through his pristine, white tablet to pay her any mind. His infernal sense of safety made him that much more tempting to attack.
Sabrina tapped her foot against the floor, just for something to do. “Are we anywhere close to finishing?”
“Impatient little thing, aren’t you?” His head was still bowed over his screen.
She considered making a rude remark but toned it down to a short “No. I’m bored” instead.
Stewart glanced up at that, though just to cast her a brief condescending look before returning to whatever he was looking at. When he finally did direct his full attention back at her, Sabrina found herself wishing she had kept her mouth shut after all.
The next rounds of the IQ test were much more frustrating than their predecessors. An English major’s worst nightmare, they involved the dreaded N-word: numbers. Dr. Stewart would say a set of numbers and letters in random sequence, and she had to repeat them back, separating them first by number and then by letter, both in order. So if he said “five G eight,” she’d have to respond with “five eight G.”
The first several were easy enough, but he continued to add characters with each new set. As he did, it forced her to concentrate harder and harder, with more and more frustrating results. When the string grew to eight symbols long, she thought the vessels in her brain were going to pop. Her fingers dug into the cushion below her, and her eyes strained with the effort to concentrate, as if somehow she could visualize the symbols in their correct order.
“Two,” she began, hesitated, and then ventured a “three.”
By that point, Sabrina was mainly guessing. She could barely remember there being a nine in the combination, too stressed trying to go over the entire thing to think straight. After a frustration-filled pause, she gave up.
“I have no idea.”
Stewart made a note of that, then gave her the next sequence, which managed to drive her spirits lower. She had thought that after admitting her inability to process any more, he’d move on to the next sort of tests. Yet he seemed bound and determined to finish everything up.
Whether that was normal or one more example of his brand of mental sadism, she had no idea.
There were four more such sets. While that didn’t seem like a lot, simply put, it was. It took him only a few seconds to read off each, but agonizing minutes for her to painstakingly recite them back. Worse yet was how there was yet another test afterward that necessitated memory and organization: two areas she struggled with.
In the grand scheme of life, and taking everything else she’d gone through that day into consideration, the games shouldn’t have been that big of a deal. Yet by the time they were done, Sabrina was in a horrible mood, especially after Dr. Stewart forced her to recount her experiences with Morrison. It was like McCullough’s massage had never happened, she thought in a fit of dejection while she was walked out of the psychotic taskmaster’s office to return to her cell. Her wings twitched wearily, causing a slight breeze to run across her shoulders and cheeks.
That simple move instigated the alarming sound of safety switches clicking off.
She stopped short, barely finding the strength of will to turn her head and view the guards behind her. Just as she’d feared, she found four drawn Tasers and four faces regarding her with cruel determination.
None of them had to say a word. She knew how close she was to finding out how many volts the weapons could pack.
“Sorry?” She ventured with a definite quaver to her voice.
They glared like she’d been problematic on purpose, but motioned her to continue.
It would have been a relief to be back in her cushioned prison, except that Alex wasn’t there. In an attempt to keep herself from dwelling on the fact that she was falling in love with him again – or that she had never really fallen out of love – she sat down and drew her knees up to her chin to analyze the day’s events. Wings hunched and chin set on both fists, she let her thoughts travel back to the morning’s excruciating workout.
It wasn’t until that moment that it really dawned on her what she had accomplished.
Sabrina had never been much of an athlete. So it was something more than noteworthy that she had run as long as she had and pulled so much weight for so many reps. It made her wonder if maybe the HPAC did have a reason to set four armed guards on her. She seemed to have transformed into Superwoman, which she couldn’t help but relish for very violent reasons, all pertaining to revenge.
She wondered how many guards she could take on at a time. And whether her powers would expand further tomorrow or over the next couple of weeks. They were intriguing questions that grew much more so when she remembered the bruises she’d left on the one guard’s face and the way she had kicked the female scientist so far across the room. Sabrina found herself scorning them all for making an enemy out of her, especially Dr. Stewart. In his smug superiority, he had deviated from the seemingly typical practice of having her surrounded by muscle at all times.
She’d happily use his arrogance to her advantage. She just had to first figure out a real plan instead of one that consisted of killing, running and hoping for the best. There were too many logistics to consider to merely make a mad dash for it, but she was determined to get through all of them no matter how much trickery she had to resort to or blood she had to spill.
Alex walked up then, interrupting her thoughts. Surrounded by guards, he looked weary but happy to see her.
Standing up to meet him, she was ordered to sit back down, a command she obeyed. If she was going to lull them into a false sense of security, she supposed she’d have to give the impression of cooperating. But it took some measure of self-control to wait until the door slid shut again behind Alex.
As soon as it had, she bounced back to her feet. He wrapped his arms around her in a strong hug.
“I’ve been so worried about you.” He didn’t let go.
She smiled wearily against his shoulder. “I knew you could handle yourself.”
With a wry laugh, he pulled back just a little to look at her. “Thanks for the vote of confidence. I think.”
They sat down with their backs against the right-side wall, taking turns at peering into the hallway in case trouble came by. Not that seeing it would do them much good, but it nonetheless felt a good bit better to have the possibilities in their scope.
“Did they give you something to eat?” Sabrina asked worriedly.
“Oh yeah,” Alex grimaced. “They made me have breakfast with Dr. Stewart.”
“It was lunch for me,” she supplied.
“And then lunch was with a second egomaniac of a doctor bent on indoctrinating me and then –”
Sabrina interrupted again. “Dinner was more of the same?”
He nodded. “Pretty much.”
His arm went around her and she leaned into it, enjoying the warmth and security it offered, fragile though both might be.
“How about you, Za?” He asked, kissing the top of her head.
“It was enlightening,” she explained, sounding out the syllables while she thought the words out. “Frustrating, painful and you couldn’t pay me to willingly go through it again. But it was definitely enlightening.”
“They made me work out this morning.”
Something in her tone must have alerted him, because his voice got a little quieter. Like the calm before the storm. “Oh?”
“They pushed me like crazy, and I hated every minute of it. It was horrible. But Alex?” She leaned away to look at him straight on. “I’m strong.”
“Of course you are.”
It wasn’t a condescending response, but Sabrina could tell he didn’t understand what she was saying. “No, I mean overnight, I seem to have gained actual muscle. I was able to lift weights! I’m not talking about those five-pound dumbbells either, but the solid blocks that body builders work with on those all-in-one strength-training gym sets.”
“Yeah, they told me you’d be able to.” His tone wasn’t entirely readable.
Sabrina automatically took the defensive and pulled further away. “So, what? You think I’m going to use my new powers for evil?”
“That isn’t what I meant,” he protested. “I’m on your side.”
She wanted to argue with him, to feel out the exact level of commitment he was pledging. But her desire to know wasn’t as strong as her need to have a friend. “Sorry.”
He sighed and pulled her back to him. “I’m not going to let you down again. I promise.”
Sabrina hoped that was true. She hoped it more than she wanted to admit. Because she didn’t think she could handle suffering through the early stages of heartache and betrayal all over again. The latter phases were bad enough.
It didn’t feel like it was late as they sat there, nor did either of them seem tired. They talked for a while, but Sabrina found herself craving a movie to cuddle up in front of or something else to do to fill the time. That feeling of agitation only heightened when his hand, which had been around her shoulder, ran down her arm.
It wasn’t a distracted “it’s going to be okay” kind of touch. It was too light and purposeful to be that. She felt her nerves respond to just the one stroke, and she moistened her lips in nervous anticipation.
“I missed you, Sabrina,” he told her, letting his fingers continue to play gently against the length of her arm. “I missed you a lot.”
“I might have missed you a little too,” she admitted, her heart beating noticeably faster. “Of course, I had tons of guys to fill up my time.” She looked up again, intending it as just a tease.
The joke was on her though since he happened to be looking down at her at the same time. She knew she should have looked away. She also knew that she could have had she tried. But she didn’t want to.
Alex seemed to second the notion, because he moved in closer to her and she closed her eyes in expectation. She felt him brush his lips against hers and leaned in further, only to have him draw back. It left her longing for further distractions.
He didn’t give her time to make a countermove though, taking her face in both of his hands and closing his teeth on her lower lip. She shuddered in pleasant surprise, and a thoughtless whimper escaped her throat.
He probably had plans to continue the slow, steady teasing. But she just wasn’t in the mood for that kind of thing. Squirming to her knees, she brought one leg over his lap to straddle him in what had to be a very undignified fashion. And then she leaned in and kissed him.
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