Claw Marks and Other Scars

When Aidan and Lynn become mentor and apprentice, they both head into the partnership with expectations. No one has ever wanted more of Aidan than what he can do in his field, study of magical creatures, and he is certain it will be no different with Lynn. Lynn has turned keeping secrets into an art form, and she is sure Aidan will not try to test the walls that she's built around herself. Both carry around their pasts like uninvited guests who never took the hint to leave and cause trouble wherever they go. Now, with a new threat hoping to collapse both their lives, it has become time to conquer old demons and fight for the future, lest their pasts and someone's want for revenge swallow them whole.

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4. Chapter Two (P2)

    No one said anything as Aidan pulled into the parking lot of a small diner. Lynn didn’t recognize the town they were in, and she wasn’t sure if Aidan really knew anything about the city either. Neither of them made a move to get out.

    “You’re sure?” His voice was soft, and he looked right at her when he asked. He looked so worried, and she didn’t know if the concern was for her or for him. Or for both of them. Her throat felt dry.

    “Yeah.”

    Aidan only nodded, somewhat hesitantly, and the two entered the diner.

    Seated across from each other beside a window, the two fell into an uncomfortable silence. Even the waiter seemed to become uncomfortable when he came near them to take their order. They both ordered the special, lacking the want to think. Although Aidan had admitted to his guilt for the situation and her place in his future, if only temporary, had been established, he still had the same grave look he had had when they first escaped in his car. He kept fiddling with his silverware, face contorted in a look of confliction and guilt. There was still something on his mind, but Lynn was hesitant to ask. The waiter delivered plates filled with chicken sandwiches, fries, and onion rings. Sensing the increasing tension, he scurried away the second the meals were down. He had never even asked them about drinks.

    Both Aidan and Lynn crinkled their noses at the same time, speaking in unison until the end of their sentences.

    “I hate fries.”

    “I hate onion rings.”

    Out of nowhere, they started laughing. There was hardly anything funny about the situation, and they were drawing irritated stares from others patrons in the diner. But it felt good, almost natural. They swapped sides, leaving Lynn with half a plate of onion rings and Aidan with an equal number of fries. Soon, however, their smiles died down again. Aidan was back to looking somber.

    “What’s that face for?” Lynn attempted a neutral voice, but irritation crept in. They should be happy over not being dead, yet Aidan still looked like he was going to a funeral. She knew it was selfish, but she wanted him to put on a happy face or spit out what was bothering him.

    She could practically see him filling up with nervous energy. She watched him picked up a fry, using it to shift around the others on his plate.

    Lynn opened her mouth to repeat herself, but Aidan spoke before she could. “I’m sorry.”

    Apologizing without elaboration following was emerging as a pattern in their interactions.

    “For?” Lynn mimicked how Aidan had responded when the situation was reversed. If he noticed, he didn’t acknowledge it.

    “For...touching you.”

    Lynn was staring at Aidan, who was studying his food. It took her awhile to realize what he was talking about. She recalled the situation in the tunnel, Aidan pushing her down so she wouldn’t be caught in a mass movement of what Aidan had called volvuses.

    “You had to get me out of the way,” she said slowly. She didn’t understand why he was apologizing. It wasn’t like he had ulterior motives to keeping her from being injured on her first day.

    “I-I know. I had to-”

    “Then why are you sorry?”

    When Aidan brought his face up to look at her, she was taken aback by his expression. He was grimacing. “I-I...It’s just...The look you had on your face. You winced. Like I’d burned you.”

    Lynn broke the brief eye contact. She hadn’t intended to have that reaction to him. She hadn’t even thought about it. But her lack of conscious caring just went to show how deeply ingrained her aversion to touch had become.

    Aidan must have noticed that he’d made her uncomfortable. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said anything. I-”

    “Quit apologizing,” she snapped, following it up with a mumbled apology for her tone.

    Aidan went back to staring at his plate, playing with his fries. “Just know I’ll only do it if I have to. I don’t mean to make you uncomfortable.”

    A pang of guilt hit Lynn for the shame she seemed to have instilled in him. He looked so guilty despite having done the logical and correct thing.

    “It’s...fine.” She was selecting her words carefully. “I mean, what you did. You don’t need to be sorry for things that aren’t your fault.”

    For a split second, Aidan had an odd expression on his face, but he brushed it away.

    “So…yeah,” she concluded awkwardly. “That’s that.”

    Pin-drop quiet ensued. Aidan continued to stare at his food. Lynn broke open one of her onion rings with her nail, eating out the strip of onion.

    “That’s so weird,” he commented, almost under his breath.

    Lynn raised her eyebrows at Aidan as he finally drew his head up. “You raise a furry alligator and you think how I eat my onion rings is strange?”

    Aidan chuckled, although it was clear he was trying not to give her the satisfaction. “Don’t let Albert hear you call him that.”

    “I don’t think he’d be offended.”

    “I wouldn’t be so sure.” Aidan’s smile seemed to waver.

    Lynn could practically sense him thinking about his beasts, left behind at his home while they began a trip to an unknown location. She flicked a piece of onion onto his plate. “Don’t think about it, okay?”

    Aidan raised an eyebrow, expression softening. “About what? Your terrible table manners?”

    Lynn gave a small smile, knowing she had succeeded. The two fell into silence, maybe genuinely companionable this time. Maybe it was just because they were both relieved to be alive. Maybe it was because they both found solace in having someone to head into the future with, whatever lay ahead. Because really, neither one of them knew what they were getting themselves into.

 

    All night in the motel, it was obvious that Aidan was still concerned about his creatures. Neither of them could be sure as to whether the beast that attacked had returned, presumably to Charlie, after they escaped, or if it had torn up the rest of the house, possibly going below ground. Even though the whole day had passed, little planning had been done. In truth, neither of them knew what to do. They didn’t know where Aidan’s younger brother was, or what he was up to. After their meal at the diner, they had barely managed to speak to each other. There didn’t seem to be an in between for them; either they were talking with atypical easiness, or they weren’t talking at all.

    The motel room was small, containing little aside from two ratty beds on either side of a nightstand. Based on the states of the bedding and carpeting, neither of them wanted to be the first one to check out the bathroom. For the past half a day, Aidan and Lynn had fallen into completely opposite states. Lynn had been lying on her own bed having, after a while, managed to block everything out and just read. Well, almost everything. She couldn’t quite ignore Aidan. While she rested, he was using up every bit of energy he had, walking around the room in frantic lines and circles. Sometimes he was muttering to himself. Lynn caught names, presumably those of creatures he had left behind, and snippets of his grief over other physical possessions that may end up destroyed by their return. An image of his handmade book appeared in Lynn’s mind, and she felt a pang of guilt. She could have grabbed it, and that’d be one item of his that’d be there right now. She couldn’t imagine how long it must have taken to make. She shook her head, rationalizing that she had had no reason to take it, and probably would have lost it outside while they were fleeing if she had, putting it in greater danger of destruction. But still. Part of her was growing desperate to relax him.

    “You never told me how you got into working with magical creatures.” Lynn’s words were the first ones in hours, and Aidan nearly jumped out of his skin.

    When he calmed, he looked at her blankly. “No, I suppose I didn’t.” His pacing slowed but didn’t cease.

    “You evaded the topic,” she said slowly. “Went on a tangent about the word ‘beast’.”

    Aidan shook his head. “I went on a tangent, but I wasn’t evading the topic. It was coincidence.”

    “Coincidence or not, you didn’t answer.”

    “There’s not really a story there.”

    “I still don’t believe you.”

    Aidan collapsed onto his bed, palms flat against the mattress on either side of him. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

    “So you admit there’s a story there!” Lynn sounded overly triumphant, but she didn’t mind. Her statement was only proven when Aidan didn’t meet her eyes. But even though his reluctance to share brought out intense curiosity in her, she also felt herself sympathizing with him. He hadn’t explained, but just the look on his face screamed of a story she could relate to. So many of his reactions seemed to have experiences behind them. Even though she barely knew him, his expression alone made her heart hurt a little.

    “Promise me you’ll tell me about it one day, okay?” she said after a while. She leaned back in a less imposing position, and he half looked at her. Their eyes connected, but Lynn didn’t push the topic. Like he had said...pushing never worked.

    Hesitation, and something like distrust, passed over Aidan’s face, and he gave the shortest of nods. She smiled at him, but he took a while to return the gesture. Although Aidan didn’t strike her as a liar, and she had no reason to believe he was making an empty promise right then, Lynn was sure he thought time would make her forget this vow. Too bad for him that she had an impeccable memory. Particularly when it came to things of such interest.

    Lynn set her book to the side, lightly drumming on her legs. Too much silence between them filled up their days, and it really shouldn’t be all on Aidan to avoid that, although she had been letting it be that way. Then again, her social skills when it came to new people were rusty. She was used to always being around the same small group of friends that she had known for years already. The need to befriend anyone new was in the past. Until now. She thought about Sarah, easily the most outgoing of the group, and what she would do right now. Sarah and Mei were the ones who always dragged her and Benjamin to go out and do things. Lynn had consistently forced herself to go along with it, not wanting to be the buzzkill, but parties weren’t her thing. Not then, not now. Thinking about it just reminded her of high school, bringing her train of thought back to what Aidan had said the day before about his science teacher.

    “So what was the rest of your high school experience like?” Lynn asked before she could over think and determine the icebreaker as stupid.

    Aidan looked taken aback, but also something Lynn hadn’t expected: pleased. He shifted back into a more comfortable position, laying with one arm under his head. “What do you want to know?”

    “Anything. Teachers, classmates, classes.”

    He appeared conflicted. “There’s not really much to say. Why are you always the one asking the questions?”

    Lynn turned onto her side, facing Aidan with her head propped up on her hand. “What do you mean?”

    “It was fairly self explanatory.” Aidan faced the ceiling. “Most of what you say is questions. A lot of questions about me, but you already know more about me than I do about you. That doesn’t seem fair.”

    She raised an eyebrow. “You’re looking for fairness?”

    He cast a side look at her. “Always.”

    “Okay, fine. You ask the questions then.”

    Regret almost instantly appeared on his face. “How am I supposed to know what to ask?”

    Lynn’s laugh was low. “I thought you wanted to ask the questions?”

    “Well…”

    “So think of something.”

    Aidan’s head flopped sideways on his pillow to look at her. “Fine. Um…” He studied her face for awhile, glanced around the room, then focused back on her. “Your own question back at you. What was your high school experience like?”

    This time Lynn raised both eyebrows. She didn’t get why he’d care about that.

    “You have to answer,” Aidan said, as if just knowing she’d object to the question. “You gave me the asking power.”

    She sighed, but she wasn’t truly irritated. She chewed her bottom lip, then answered hesitantly. “I spent my entire first class on the first day of freshmen year in a bathroom stall.”

    Aidan didn’t even pretend like he wasn’t shocked. “Why?”

    Lynn snorted. “WHY? I was terrified. I barely knew anyone. The school was huge. I was afraid that I’d get lost, or accidentally run into one of the seniors, or get shoved into a locker, possibly because I got lost and  ran into a senior. Like in teen movies. I thought everything that could go wrong would. That I’d lose my schedule, or that it’d have a typo and I’d go to the wrong class and embarrass myself.”

    “So you hid in the bathroom?” Aidan was trying to hold back his smile, but he was failing miserably.

    Lynn’s face warmed up. “W-well, yeah. I didn’t know what else to do! I mean, in retrospect it was really dumb. I had a friend in every class I could have gone with. But at the time it seemed like a good plan.”

    For just a moment, as Lynn said ‘friend,’ Aidan looked away, his face briefly looking as though a shadow had passed over it. But it was gone so fast that Lynn wasn’t sure that she had seen anything at all.

    “So...yeah, I didn’t really enter high school gracefully. I didn’t exactly go through it gracefully either, though. In my first class for care of magical creatures, the prerequisite for every other class on the matter...It didn’t go that well at first. I never really forgot about this one assignment. It was just a fun activity for the first day of class after we went through the syllabus. We were supposed to sort of design a creature. I can’t remember exactly what mine was, just that if it had been graded, I would have gotten an F. We were supposed to invent, and instead I just combined two creatures I already knew about. I couldn’t think of anything original. I don’t have a creative bone in my body, I guess. Even the drawing sucked. That teacher looked at me like I’d disgraced myself and my whole family.” She didn’t know where it came from, but suddenly, Lynn started laughing, and across from her, Aidan was smiling too. It could almost be called grinning.

    “My teacher did the same thing. It was just embarrassing though. After she went around and looked at them, she decided mine was the best and felt the need to show it to entire class.” Color came to Aidan’s face just remembering the incident. Lynn’s laughter finally calmed, but she was still smiling. “So what about after that?” Aidan urged. “Sophomore year?”

    At the mention, Lynn’s smile deadened. It was obvious that she was now forcing it, trying to pretend like in a split second the mood hadn’t changed completely. She could see in Aidan’s eyes that he had noticed, but he didn’t bring it up. “Nothing really,” she mumbled, not looking at him. It was a blatant lie, and he pretended not to notice. They tried to generate small talk for awhile and liven the mood again, but it soon became clear that the lucky streak they had gotten into had died. Eventually, the forced conversation faded out, and one of them turned out the light.

 

    “I know who we need to find.”

    The words were spoken by Aidan out of the blue. For the last two days, they’d been desperately trying to conceive some sort of plan. The nearly constant brainstorming about what to do next was similar in method to what they had done in the tunnels: Aidan threw out ideas without fully thinking them through, and Lynn countered with the consequences of actually following through with them. Sometimes it took in-depth thinking to realize the issue. Most of the time, however, the problem was so obvious that Lynn wondered how Aidan could have even let the idea be known at all. Admittedly a small part of her found it fascinating. Lynn herself would never be able to spout wild plans without thinking. She’d worry too much about saying something stupid and being judged for it. Then again, Aidan had said plenty of ridiculous things already, and she was yet to judge him for it. Maybe this kind of interaction between them showed as much about her as it did about him.

    “I thought it was obvious who we needed to find.” Lynn didn’t look up from her book. The fact that their target was Charlie could hardly be considered a new revelation. When Aidan didn’t respond, she looked up to find him staring at her. His look was hard to read, but if she had to guess, it was something like one part irritation and three parts amusement. Like thinking he should be bothered, but finding it funny nonetheless.

    “Not Charlie,” he said slowly. “His partner. Well, one of them. His right hand man. Woman. Right hand woman.” Aidan paused, then nodded, as if confirming it to himself.

    Lynn finally closed her book and set it aside. “Because you think she’d know where he went?”

    “I think that’s a possibility.”

    A minute passed in silence. Lynn could feel Aidan watching her as she mulled it over. She was unsure if the attention made her feel embarrassed, uncomfortable, or a mixture of the two. Regardless, it was an unpleasant feeling, and she was relieved when a question occurred. “How do you know about her?”

    For a second, Aidan looked confused, as if it should be obvious. Then his face reflected the light bulb that went off in his head. “The article concerning his arrest,” he explained. “She was the only one arrested with him. Her name is Angela Bircotti. I don’t really know much about her. The article mentions some prior arrests, but there’s not much else here. I don’t know how to go about finding her. This article was the first time I heard about her, although that’s not surprising. Charlie isn’t usually the sharing type.

    “Like you?” Lynn said before she could stop herself.

    For a moment Aidan had a look of something between confliction and hesitation. “And like you,” he replied with an unexpected quietness. Then, he cleared his throat, getting back to business. “Anyway...Since we don’t have any other ideas...I think she’s our best bet. If we can figure out how to find her.”

    A small smile played at Lynn’s lips. “I know just the person.”

    Aidan’s lips parted, about to ask for elaboration, but Lynn cut him off before he could. “How is it that you’re just randomly remembering this article now?”

    A subtle tinge came to Aidan’s cheeks. “Well, um. I happened to have the article in my wallet and stumbled across it.”

    Her eyebrow raised. “You keep a folded up article of your brother’s arrest in your wallet?”

    The red deepened, and he stopped meeting her eyes. “...yes.”

    “Why?”

    He evaded the question. “Everyone has odd things in their wallet or purse.”

    “I don’t,” Lynn countered. “And even if I do, I bet I’m not as bad as you.”

    One corner of Aidan’s mouth upturned. “I guess we’ll have to see.”

    Lynn returned the half-smile, silently accepting the suggestion before retrieving her wallet. A minute later, the two of them sat cross-legged on Lynn’s bed. It wouldn’t have been enough room to sit side by side without touching, but Aidan hung a couple inches off of his side of the bed, leaving a small gap between their knees. It was enough space that he wouldn’t accidentally bump her, yet little enough that it was barely noticeable. She wondered if that effort was for her benefit or his. She didn’t ask. In front of each of them was their respective wallet contents. They were each visibly surprised at some of the similarities. Yet, despite the common items, they were finding different stories behind them. Aidan had a library card, but Lynn had five.

    Upon inquiry, Lynn explained, pointing to them one by one. “This is the one I got for the nearest library to your town. This one is from where I was living before I came to you. This one is from the one near Maxwell’s home. This one is from the library near where I was living while getting my degree. This one is from my hometown.” Out of the corner of her eye, Lynn watched Aidan’s gaze travel over the five cards. She’d lined them up in chronological order, and one could easily see how long she’d lived in an area from their use. Her hometown library card was faded and ripped at the edges.

    Aidan’s finger traced the hometown card. “Why did you keep all these old ones? You don’t live at any of these places anymore. You won’t be using the libraries there.”

    Lynn stayed quiet, still watching Aidan at her side. Finally, she gave a small sigh. “I...I don’t know.” It was truthful enough that Lynn didn’t feel guilty. She wasn’t entirely sure of why she’d kept them, but she had a hunch.

    Drawing the attention away from herself, Lynn gestured to an item from Aidan’s pile. “What about that? It looks like an eggshell.” Lynn waited for Aidan to disprove her guess, but he didn’t.

    “It is,” he said. “I don’t have to worry about it breaking because only Hugo or another of his kind would be strong enough to break an egg of their offspring. This one”-he pointed to the one Lynn had singled out-“is from Hugo. And this one”-he pointed to another one, this time blue instead of pink-“is from Martha.”

    Lynn only had a short amount of time to check out the eggshell pieces before Aidan had switched the focus back to her. “What about her?” Aidan tapped his finger on one of the two photos that Lynn carried in her wallet. It was the one of the young woman with the uncertain smile.

    “What about her?” They were Aidan’s words repeated back to him, but Lynn’s tense tone changed the meaning completely. She could tell Aidan noticed the tension, but he didn’t comment on it.    

    “It’s just that you have this other group photo of you and your friends. It seems odd to have her separate. Was the one with your friends taken before you knew her, or…?” Aidan trailed off, turning his head to look at her inquisitively.

    “No,” she said quietly. “It was the same year.” She picked up the photo, set it back down, then finally met Aidan’s eyes. “I guess she was just sick when we took that photo or something.” This time she felt guilty. That was a blatant lie. But she wasn’t ready to tell him the truth yet. Once more she found herself watching him swallow curiosity in order to respect her boundaries. A small wave of gratitude hit her, but she didn’t thank him. Verbally acknowledging an unspoken agreement defeated the purpose of letting things go without saying.

    “Speaking of photos,” Lynn said after a while, breaking the silence she’d caused. She picked up a picture from Aidan’s pile. Even though it was clearly taken many years ago, it was easy to recognize Aidan in the photo. In the photo he had the same eyes and freckles, and stood with the same mild discomfort. Next to him was whom she could only assume to be Charlie. Although Charlie looked multiple years younger than Aidan, he was almost Aidan’s height. Aidan’s hesitant posture and expression was absent in the younger sibling. Instead, Charlie stood tall and proud, a somewhat cocky grin on his face. Aidan had his arm around his brother. Although Aidan’s smile was a bit awkward, Lynn could tell it was genuine.

    Aidan scratched the back of his neck. “Oh, yeah, that.” He rubbed at his forearm. “That’s from when I was about a month off from eighteen and Charlie was just turning thirteen that day. My mother made a big deal out of him becoming a teenager. Something about growing into a man.” She might have been imagining it, but Lynn thought she heard a hint of jealousy in Aidan’s voice. She felt there was more to that story, but she also had a feeling that Aidan wasn’t ready to talk, either. The two of them sat in silence. They had very quickly realized that what they carried around with them said a lot about them whether they liked it or not. Part of Lynn hoped that eventually she’d get to hear Aidan’s stories, both the ones behind these items, and all the others. More than that, she hoped she could eventually find it in her to share her own.

 

    “So when are you going to explain the smoke bombs?” Lynn’s eyes remained trained on the road as she spoke. This time, she was driving, and Aidan sat at her right, staring out the window. He’d been examining the countryside for the duration of their conversation, and they’d hit a lull. They might have ended up not talking for the rest of the trip if Lynn hadn’t remembered the smoke bombs that she knew must be concealed somewhere within the car. She’d glanced around a couple times throughout the drive, but she hadn’t spotted any, only places they may be stashed away from the public eye. The most obvious option was the glove compartment, but Lynn had a feeling that a spot which was just thatobvious—was not Aidan’s style. And regardless of where he kept them, she didn’t know why he kept them. Most people kept an emergency kit and a spare tire in their car. Not weapons.

    Aidan laughed. It wasn’t quite uncomfortable but instead more like embarrassment. She stole a quick glance to her side. He had a acquired a similar red tinge to earlier that day. He mumbled something, cleared his throat, sighed. “I...Well...”

    Lynn tossed another glance his way. If they were in a city and not driving through the countryside, she’d be far more reluctant to look away from the road for even a second. Even with being the only people on the road she felt uneasy. Reluctantly, she gave up trying to read his expression and focused on the task at hand, still waiting for Aidan to collect his thoughts.

    Finally, Aidan began stringing words together coherently. “A creature escaped once,” he began. “Normally, such a thing wouldn’t be much of a problem. I take the creatures outside frequently, of course.”

    Lynn couldn’t see Aidan’s face, but he could surely see her quizzical expression. He took the creatures outside? Was he insane? Of course it was ideal that they not be cooped up underground all the time. But public opinion regarding magical creatures wasn’t what it used to be. No wonder Aidan’s neighbors seemed to have such high disdain for him. He was very open about housing beasts that were far from being seen in the best light. He would have gotten less contempt with a lion in his backyard.

    “However,” Aidan continued, “it was different this time. Many of my creatures are ones I have had for a fairly long time. A few go as far back as childhood. But this one was new. Not just new to me, but in general. I had just gotten it from...actually, that’s a story for another time.” Suddenly Aidan’s voice seemed to tense up a little, but he cleared his throat and returned it to normal as he continued. “So it, being more clever than I anticipated, escaped while I was trying to bring it inside. And it may have, well, chased me. Just a bit. And I’m not very fast.” Aidan gave a slightly sheepish chuckle. “It probably would have gotten me if I hadn’t already been near the car, and it too large and weak to get me once I was inside. So now I prepare for similar circumstances. This car isn’t the only place smoke bombs are. They’re in almost every room of the house, and my…” Lynn could hear the confusion in Aidan’s voice as he hunted for the right word. “Office? Lab? Whatever one would call it.” He paused. “It’s just nice to have a backup plan should such an incident occur again. A few seconds of disorientation can make all of the difference.” The confidence with which Aidan said that last line made Lynn wonder if there were other incidents Aidan wasn’t mentioning. She stayed silent while she made a turn, restraining her want to make further inquiries about other incidents that may be in his past.

    “I tried to make a special compartment in the car once, something that would make accessing them quick and simple,” Aidan added when she didn’t say anything, preventing them from falling into silence. “It didn’t really work. In fact, it blew up in my face. Literally. There was smoke everywhere.” There was a shift in his tone. It was lighter, easier. His growing calmness combined with the brief anecdote made a grin break out on her face. She could feel laughter in her chest as she refused to open her mouth. She worried her reaction would make Aidan feel as though she was making fun of him, but a  quick glance revealed relief on his face. She parted her lips to allow her laughter to flow unobstructed, and he looked almost proud.

    With the car stopped at a stop sign, Lynn allowed herself to look around the inside of the vehicle. She could practically feel the gears turning within her head. “I think we could do something with it,” she said after a while. “With the right materials.” She turned her head toward Aidan, giving a surprisingly effortless smile. “If you still want to.”

    Aidan’s eyes were bright, and a bit curious. “Absolutely.”

    Lynn nodded in recognition, then turned her attention back to the road as she brought the car back into motion. There was only a few minutes of silence between them. Soon, Lynn was parking at the side of the street in front of an apartment complex.

    “You know, you had nothing to gain by not telling me who we’re meeting,” Aidan pointed out.

    Lynn tipped her head from side to side, then tossed Aidan’s keys back to him. “True,” she said. “But it’s more fun this way.”

    “Do you just get a thrill out of secrets?” he asked with a raised eyebrow, tucking the car keys into his pocket.

    Lynn turned to look at him. The mild teasing that had been in Lynn’s voice and on her face was replaced with surprising seriousness that visibly took Aidan aback. She tucked a piece of hair behind her ear. Right when Aidan began to worry that he’d offended her and that she wasn’t going to answer, she finally responded. “No,” she said. “I hate them, actually.” She paused, a contemplative look on her face. “Maybe they’ve just become a defense mechanism for me.” She turned away toward the list of names and corresponding buttons outside the building. It was clear from her speed with pressing a button that she didn’t even read the names.

    After a few seconds, a voice came through the intercom. “Is this the pizza guy?”

    Lynn laughed lightly under her breath, then spoke into the intercom. “Sorry to disappoint."

    “Lynn! Come on in!” Suddenly the voice sounded a lot more excited. Lynn took that as a compliment. On one hand, a close friend should warrant more enthusiasm than a delivery guy. On the other hand,  pizza held a special place in Mei’s heart. A few seconds after Mei stopped talking, a buzzer sounded.

    Lynn opened the door to the apartment building. “After you,” she said, gesturing inside with a slight bow. Aidan rolled his eyes without true annoyance and obeyed, and the two disappeared inside.

 

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