Annie swiped her badge and waited for the click of the electronic lock. She strolled casually into the main corridor and then back toward the medical laboratory, listening to the echoes of her heels on the newly waxed floor. It was strange to be walking the hall on a day off. Her skirt felt out of place and awkward, the way you feel when you’re naked in a dream.
Ian sat alone in the med lab, busy with his paperwork, when Annie strolled in. The sound of her heels drew his attention. He looked up and pushed his glasses up into a head of greying hair. His eyes always seemed tiny with his glasses off.
“Can’t even stay away from the place on your birthday, can you?” he joked. “It’s me, isn’t it?” He searched her eyes for some amusement, but playful Annie was somewhere else today. “Happy birthday, by the way,” he added. “You must be at least old enough to drink by now!”
“Thanks,” she answered dully. “It’s twenty-eight. This isn’t business… sort of a… personal favor. Can I get you to take a look at something for me?” She set a vial on the desk in front of him.
He picked it up and twisted it curiously back and forth in his fingers. “Who have we got in here?”
Ian scratched his head nervously and pushed his glasses back down to take a better look at her. It wasn’t the kind of personal business he was expecting. “Shouldn’t you be going to a hospital for that …or is there something you’re not telling me?”
“I wouldn’t trust them the way I trust you, Ian. You know that.”
Ian put the vial back on the table. He pulled out a sterile slide, dropped it in front of him and unscrewed the cap on the vial, carefully eying his co-worker.
“What am I looking for Annie?” he asked, pulling a sample with a glass rod, adding it to the slide and placing the slip carefully.
“Well, that narrows it down a little…”
Ian placed the slide under the microscope and set the magnification. Annie watched impatiently as he removed his glasses, bent forward, and issued a series of quiet grunts and other assertions, adjusting the focus, changing the magnification several times, and pushing the slide around under the lens. After a while he pulled back from the microscope, rubbed his eyes thoroughly and then leaned back intently into the eyepiece lens again.
“What?” Annie asked. “What is it?”
“Honestly, I’ve never seen cells anything like these before,” he replied without taking his eye away. “You want to see for yourself?”
“No. I…” Annie shuddered a little. “Is it… cancer?” she asked, not really sure she wanted to know anymore.
“Cancer? No! No, nothing like that! No, I’ve seen plenty of cancer before…”
“What then? Can’t you just tell me what you see?”
Ian sat up rubbing his eyes again. “That’s just it,” he said. “I can’t. I’ve really never seen anything like it before. But…” He stared directly into her eyes. “I don’t have to know what I’m seeing to recognize what it means.”
Annie blinked nervously under the fluorescent tension of the moment. “And…?”
He glanced momentarily into the microscope again before lifting his head and giving her a philosophical look.
“What does it mean!?” Annie was beyond impatient now.
Ian smiled. “It means your biological clock is ticking, sweetheart.”
© 2012 Anne Schilde