February STORYBIRD SCRIBES Challenge entry
The Cure
The Cure
The door slammed as Professor Cunningham came into the room, eyeing us with expectation. “I trust you all have heard what happened in New York last night.”
We all nodded warily, but the head of our reasearch department continued on as if we had all given him blank stares.
“It was a biological attack.” He began. “From whom, nobody knows yet. It’s an infectious disease that was leaked in the center of the city and spreads fast.” He sighed loudly. “Apparently people are already showing symptoms to what they’ve nicknamed Disease X. I’ve been called by multiple national scientific agencies to research a cure in this facility.”
He slid a yellow envelop across the tabletop. We watched as it spun and came to a stop near the center of the table.
”This is what I have on the disease. It’s not much, but its enough to start on. I have someone coming with more information.” He spread his hands out on the table. “I am going to split you into pairs, so you can conduct very focused research.”
He tapped a white sheet between his hands. “Mr. Johnson and Mr. Sylvester, you two will be working on finding the diseases origins...Mr. Martinez and Mrs. Gran, you will be studying the spread of the disease....”
I watched apprehensively as each of my coworkers got up from the table, took papers from the envelope, and left for the lab wing. Soon, it was just me and Cunningham. His eyes were still on the paper, searching for the next name. I smiled inwardly, knowing that he must have personally chose me to work with him because I was well respected. I was a worthy scientist. But just as I was about to ask him what we were working on, the door burst open and trouble swept into the room.
A woman, maybe in her mid-twenties, stood in the doorway. Papers were bunched in her hands, and as I watched one floated to the ground. Her hair was wild and unruly, thick and blonde with dark highlights. Green eyes like chlorophyl sparkled from behind black eyeglass frames and accented her quirky smile. Her clothes were wrinkled. Overall, she looked like she had just come through a tornado.
“Camilla!” Professor Cunningham sang as he turned to look at her. “Right on time!”
My stomach twisted, and I braced myself for his next words. I couldn’t be working with this girl. But as if fate were taunting me, the Professor’s hand came up and pointed in my direction. “I want you to work with Aiden.”
Dread seeped in as the girl grinned and looked at me. I felt as if I were just assigned to babysit a crazy five-year-old. I think Professor Cunningham could see the horror in my face, because he herded the girl out the door saying, “You can start heading to the labs. Aiden wil be there in just a few minutes. You two will be researching treatments ”
“Sounds good,” the young woman chirped, re-positioning the papers in her arms. She glanced one more time at me before she left the room. When the door was closed and silence had filled the room, I glared at Professor Cunningham with such intensity that I thought his beard might catch fire.
“Is this some kind of joke?” I asked incredulously.
“I don’t see why you are so disturbed by this,” Professor Cunningham responded calmly, picking up the paper Camilla had dropped and raising it to his eyes to study.
“You don’t?” I scoffed. “She looks like she could wreck the entire project. She’s too disorganized, she’s messy, and...”
Cunningham lowered the paper in front of his eyes. “You got all of that from the three seconds she was actually in this room.”
I nodded. “Seriously, does she have any experience with science whatsoever? I bet the last time she saw it was in front of a tri-fold with a baking soda volcano.”
I started. Professor Cunningham had never, ever, raised his voice at me, and the sound was so sudden and stern that I found myself completely speechless.
“I know Camilla,” Cunningham barked. “I know she is capable. She has a degree and good recommendations, and she finished top of her class. She won an award for her biology expertise. I will not stand to hear you criticize her when you have absolutely nothing as a basis except the way she looks and acts at 5 in the morning.” He walked over to me slowly with the paper, and I had a sudden urge to cower under the table.
“Look, Aiden,” he said, placing the paper in front of me. It was filled with graphs and charts of data. “I know that you are an experienced scientist, and you have worked very hard at this institution for almost six years. I know that you are organized, and methodlogical, and prefer to work alone, or with people you can trust. But I need you to be a good member of this team, and to work with other people. If you cannot bring yourself to overcome this juvenile problem, I will be forced to ask you to leave the institute.”
The blood drained from my face. “Leave?” I echoed.
“The choice is yours,” Cunningham reasoned. “But if you choose to continue your research I suggest to take this paper and your things to Lab 4. She’s waiting for you.”
I came into the room and quickly shut the door. Camilla was already there, looking at the papers she had been carrying. She had spread them across two desks in a fan, and was pacing back and forth to look at them. Her eyes met mine when I entered. “Hi,” she greeted faintly.
I didn’t answer but simply strutted to the back of the room and took a seat at one of the other desks. I opened my laptop and attempted to appear incredibly interested with the loading screen.
She came up behind the screen and extended her hand over the keyboard. “It seems we were never formally introduced. My name is Camilla.”
After an awkward pause in which I never acknowledged her presence , Camilla gently brought her hand back to her side. “You’re Aiden, right?”
“That’s right,” I answered curtly, typing in my lock screen password loudly.
Camilla brightened. “You know I really like that name. My favorite cousin is named Aiden. So tell me, how long have you been working with Professor Cunningham? He seems like a really nice guy and...”
“If you please, miss,” I interrupted. “I would love to sit and chat but we have work to do.”
The girl’s eyes widened with hurt, and her lips dipped into a small frown, but she said nothing. She simply walked back to her table and took up studying the papers again with her head ducked between her shoulders.
Her sad look was imprinted in my memory. I felt guilty, as if I’d rejected a lost kitten.
I was right, though. We needed to work; the institute and the country were counting on us.
Then why did I have the urge to call her back and apologize?
I shook my head. She was turning me into a fool. I forced myself to log into the online research archives and to push Camilla out of my mind. We would work “together” alright, but when Cunningham saw that I was the mastermind and Camilla was playing connect the dots with the papers, I would be rid of her and get some real, life-saving science done.
Cunningham leaned against the wall, eyeing me as I flicked though a collection of slides on the projector. “As you have seen,” I proclaimed. “Disease X, as it has famously been nicknamed, is like many of the diseases we have seen, and a quick cure is possible using a combination of existing treatments.”
The other research teams clapped softly, and I smiled triumphantly as I flicked off the presentation. Camilla stood beside me with her head bowed and her hands laced timidly at her waist.
“Camilla,” Professor Cunningham’s voice swept away the rest of the clapping. “Do you have anything else to add?”
I held my breath, waiting, trying not to laugh and destroy the moment.
Camilla looked up demurely, brushing her lush curls from her face. “Well, my reasearch actually pointed me in a completely opposite direction. According to the documents provided from the infected area, the virus looks very different than anything we have ever seen. It is gear-shaped, and behaves differently than other contracted diseases. According the the last few pages of the documents, the disease almost camoflauges itself in the presence of the fighting white blood cells.”
She stepped to the papers stacked neatly and held up the corresponding report. “We need samples, because we can’t base our reasearch on what we know. We have to go into uncharted territory and find a new treatment.”
I stared at her, bewildered. What in the world was she talking about?
“She’s right!” Someone testified from the back row. “Our research backs what she says. We need samples.”
Professor Cunningham raised his hands, silencing further discussion. “It’s a wonder, Camilla, that you and your partner had differing results.” His eyes narrowed at me, and I suddenly felt light headed. I had set this girl up to drag her down, but my strategy had failed, and come back to haunt me. Camilla, however, stayed silent, refusing to give me away. How odd. It was if she was trying to protect, rather than destroy, my reputation.
“We have samples coming tomorrow,” Cunningham said, though his eyes were on me. “You will all be free to observe them.”
Try harder, my professor’s eyes communicated. Or else.
We walked to the lab the next morning at 6 a.m.
I refused to look at Camilla walking ahead of me in a loose canvas shirt and pencil skirt. Something was wrong with me; I kept looking at her as if I was afraid she would turn into some superhero scientist if I turned my back. But she was still ever her old self, humming a tune under her breath and throwing speckles from her overfilled coffee mug onto the carpet beneath her. The only thing that seemed to change was the fact that her hair was combed back into a neat ponytail.
She held open the door for me, sipping her latte. “Good morning,” she said. She smiled.
I reflected the smile without realizing it, then quickly set a frown into my lips. “Hi,” I replied as I shoved past her. A set of test tubes sat in a box on the lab table. Warning labels were stamped into the side.
As Camilla finished her coffee, I pulled on my lab coat and prepared the necessary equipment. She too applied lab clothes and safety gear, and then we got to work.
She picked up a test tube with some clamps and set it into a holder below the microscope. I scootched in beside her as she looked though and adjusted the settings. She smelled like nutmeg and a flower shop tied into one.
“Careful,” I said catching her elbow. My voice came out gruffer than I intended, and her hand stilled on the knob. I put my hand over hers and eased the knob back so the microscope’s optical wouldn’t break the protective layer on the test tube. Her hands her small, soft, and tense under mine. She didn’t object however, when I kept them on to twist her hand around another knob.
“Thanks,” she said, sounding surprised.
“No problem,” I said, releasing her hands. “Just an old trick learned from breaking too many lab slides.”
What was I saying? “Just an old trick”? This was my life’s work!
And I realized, sitting there, watching her delicacy as she turned the knob, or jotted a note, or squinted suspiciously when something odd appeared in the lense, that I was falling head over heels for this girl.
For better or for worse.
It was five days after the attack. The infected city was under quarentine, and no one was allowed to visit or leave. A few breakthroughs had been made, but nothing major yet. The real reason I remeber the day is because Camilla was crying.
She had been gone from the lab all morning. I checked in on the samples and went over her work. There was nothing to correct. She was making notes in the margined about possible cures, and it looked like we were on to something big.
I walked into the lunch area and saw my colleagues talking quietly in the corner. They were looking intently out the window. I stepped near them to grab a tray. “Do you know what’s wrong with Camilla?” One was asking the other.
My ears prickled.
“I don’t know,” the other answered. “Looks like she’s having an emotional breakdown. Poor thing.” They walked away, speaking in hushed tones.
That’s when I notice her for the first time. She stands on the sidewalk below, leaning on her car. Her head is down on her folded arms, and her shoulders are shaking violently with sobs.
My heart pinches so hard it makes me wince. It’s the same hurt again I saw in her a few days ago, but things are different now. This time, I won’t rest until I have taken it away. I marched to stairwell before I could think twice, leaving the tray behind. I flew down the steps, ran through the side door, and took her in my arms. Her body went rigid for a moment before falling against me. Her tears soaked my dress shirt, and her cries tore my heart in two.
“What happened?” I asked, barely above a whisper.
Her green eyes found mine, though they drowned in miniature pools. “My father. He has the...” Her voice stopped as she leaned away and covered her eyes with her palms. “Disease X. He’s dying.”
I hugged her tighter. “We will find a cure, Camilla.”
“No!” She cried. “It’s impossible. I’m not even a real reasearcher like you. I’m disorganized, and messy, and inexperienced. I heard you. You said it yourself.”
I sighed. “I was wrong about you Camilla.” I admitted. “You are not disorganized, or messy, and certainly not inexperienced.” I wiped her tears. “You are the greatest and most unique scientist I have ever met, and you and I are going to find a cure.” I took a deep breath. “I’m sorry for everything, Camilla. Let’s go find a cure - right now - together.”
She looked up at me, her tears cascading into my fingers. And she smiled. “I love you, Aiden.” She whispered. “I don’t think I’ve known you long enough, but I think I love you.”
I hugged her, stunned that the once presigeous scientist was hugging a crazy crying girl in the street and he was loving every moment of it. “I think I love you too.” I replied. And I meant it.
The news was blaring again, but this time it was happy noise. Almost all of the cases had been cured, and the spreading was severely decreased. I was sitting on the lab, with Cunningham watching the live newsfeed on my laptop over my shoulder.
Camilla swept into the room, just as she had two and a half weeks ago, and this time joy, not dread, flooded my stomach.
“I’m guessing you’ve head some good news?” I asked, watching her giddily walz around the lab.
“Oh yes.” She said. “Dad’s recovering very nicely. I just wish everybody was doing as well as he is.”
I nodded. It had been a rough two weeks for the entire city. Camilla’s father was lucky.
“I think it’s time we celebrate,” I decided, standing up. “How about we go out for dinner?Professor, would you like to join us?”
“Oh, please, no,” Cunningham laughed. “But remember, this pairing...” he gestured to us. “Was my idea.”
We laughed, and I took Camilla’s hand.
She was the one who helped cure the world of Disease X, but that small movement reminded that she also cured my heart. Forever.
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