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Chapter Seven

Chapter Seven



“I’m sorry, we’re overwhelming you,” the tall younger man said, and reached out to tuck an errant curl behind her ear in a move so natural, she almost leaned into his touch. Mr. Grant’s touch. What was going on with her? Maybe it was more serious than the doctor suspected. 

He explained, “You aren’t hallucinating. The bird is intended to look very real, and that’s part of why it’s worth so much. My company works with the DARPA — The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency — and we hope this can help with covert operations, national security concerns. If it can fly true. It got a tad off course today.”

“It looked so real. And it was silent, even landing.”

The man beamed with a pride that said the bird was entirely his creation. Why did he seem so familiar?

“Serrated feathers on the wings. They were a good decision,” he mused quietly, and the words itched Cora’s brain with recollection. She observed him, trying to place the memory.

He regarded her with aloof silence, inscrutable, and she could only wonder what he was thinking. They were left with a watchful stare shared between them.

“Perhaps she’s a bit starstruck, Grant. It’s not often you’re rescued by a world-famous tech genius after falling from a cliff,” Flaherty chuckled at the pair of them, and waved a Forbes magazine from the desk that featured his neighbor on its cover, surrounded by his various inventions.

The picture was familiar to Cora from her father’s emails. Eoghan Grant. Dad had sent a link to the same article and mentioned how he heard the young man lived in the area. A founder of a startup computer engineering firm, that had grown into a powerful corporation and held hundreds of lucrative patents, he’d left the company, though she didn’t know why. She also didn’t know how to pronounce his first name, but she certainly wouldn’t be asking now, when she’d made a fool of herself and was sitting in wet underwear on his couch. Her embarrassment was acute.

“That’s you?”

“I asked Marca to throw all those out,” he muttered.

“My father is an engineer, he really admires you. Especially your work in unmanned flight artificial intelligence.” Cora watched as he stood and took the magazine, passed by her and tossed it in the trash. Not interested in fans, she surmised. Her shame doubled, a realization of what a mess she looked and had created. It wasn’t as terrible as her mistake in Africa, but she was feeling particularly sensitive to how she might be perceived. No Marble Cora here. More like Kelpie Cora. “Mr. Grant, Dr. Flaherty, I’m sorry for causing you trouble today. Perhaps you can call me a cab — I left my phone at my house — and I’ll get out of everyone’s hair.”

It seemed every person in the room had an opinion about that.

“Not until your clothes are washed and dried.”

“I’d rather we not have you moving around for a bit longer.”

“No.”

The last, firm denial was from Mr. Grant, who stood glowering with arms crossed. 

When he added no detail to that, Cora sighed. This guy is hard to read and easy to offend, she thought.

“Fine, then may I at least borrow some clothes? I’m having flashbacks to New Guinea where the natives stole my clothes.” And didn’t offer a blanket, she decided not to add. Marca let out a gasp of agreement and trotted out of the room, while — Egon? Eyog-an? she decided just to think of him as Mr. Grant — Mr. Grant kept watching her like a hawk.

Flaherty nodded, a preamble to his exit. “Well everyone, I’ll check back in on Dr. Killigrew in a few hours. Be careful of dizzy spells — in fact, no driving until I’ve checked you out again. I will warn you, concussions can lead to drowsiness and sleeping is healing.” He then transferred a glare to Grant. “But if she is asleep for longer than two hours, you’ll need to try to wake her and if you can’t, call 9-1-1 and then me. We don’t want a subdural hematoma.” With that grave warning, Dr. Flaherty excused himself just as Marca dodged back in the door with a pile of men’s pajamas.

“It’s all we got but it’ll cover you till your own clothes are clean.”

“We’ll give you some privacy,” Grant nodded. They both left her alone. Cora took the moment of solitude to let out a shaky breath and take in her surroundings. The whole room was like a giant library or study, several walls lined in books and a desk cluttered with multiple laptops and large screens. In the room’s center sat the long leather couch she was on and expensive pieces of furniture to complement it. A gas log fire warmed the room from the indoor wall and opposite it, French doors looked over a stone patio, wide lawn and some gardens.

The clothes performed their minimum function on her small frame, but she folded over the waistband of the pants and tucked the big shirt into the front to help keep them up. Her arm was bandaged, her head too, and she felt bruises emerging everywhere. Anxious to check her head, she noticed a frame on the wall whose glass beamed back the morning sun, so she rushed over to it to study her reflection. Hair in knotted ropes, crusted with salt water, a bruise and scrape on her cheekbone and hairline where a clotted cut promised a future scar.

“What a mess,” she muttered, then heard a knock at the door. “Come in.” Grant walked in hesitantly just as she glanced back to the frame and realized the art behind the glass was a hand-drawn snowy owl. Its familiarity stole her breath. She would know the artist anywhere. At the corner it was signed “E. Grant.” 

She looked back to him and the resemblance crystallized around the decade-old memory of him, the rescue in Acadia, the library dorm room, his drawings. Then her vision grayed, her body lost its strength, and all she heard was him shouting her name.

Eoghan didn’t quite manage to catch her before she pitched forward onto her knees, but stopped her forward momentum from a complete crash. 

As her vision cleared, she realized she was draped around him, head in his neck.

“Damnit. I’ve never fallen so much in my life. Sorry.” It was a mutter against his shoulder.

He let out an involuntary chuckle. “I’ve never had a woman faint at my feet before.”

She braced her hands on his shoulders and straightened slowly, faced him again to study his features. Slate gray eyes. Wavy hair. Lean face, no beard this time.

“You used to wear glasses.”

Eoghan smiled as if she were finally in on a secret he’d been keeping.

“Lasik,” he replied. 

“And a beard.”

“I gave up on that, wisely. You used to avoid cliffs.”

She shrugged thin shoulders drowned by his shirt. “Owls. I like them.”

Helping her up, he walked her back to the couch and sat down with her. 

“I didn’t know if you recognized me.”

“I didn’t,” she admitted. “You seemed familiar but... a bit different than ten years ago. The drawing tipped me off. I had read about you before, but I didn’t know you could spell Owen that way.” Cora settled against the back of the couch and tucked her legs under her, then studied him without hiding her warmth at finding him again. She almost felt her smile growing into a grin at the idea that the boy on the cliff, so many years ago, was now this attractive, fascinating man. 

“It’s Scotch Irish.” He pulled a throw from the arm of the couch and settled it over her legs with the familiarity of an old friend. It seemed odd to her how at ease she felt around him, essentially a stranger.

“That magazine article was impressive. So now you design those for the military?” she asked with a gesture to the inanimate owl standing sentinel in the corner.

“DARPA, technically. But it’s all in the goal of national security, yes. And you’re a doctor now?”

“PhD,” she nodded. “I’m an infectious disease epidemiologist. Well, I will be for a few more weeks. Then I’ll be a part-time professor in want of a real job.” When he shook his head slightly in confusion, she explained. “I’m here to investigate a couple of teenage boys who have an unexplained illness. But then my fellowship with the CDC is up, and I’m going to teach at Bowdoin and decide what’s next.”

“You mentioned New Guinea. I guess a lot of your assignments are abroad?”

“Almost all,” she nodded.

“That must be exciting.”

Cora’s eyes dropped to her hands, twisted in her lap. “It was. I mean, it’s been wonderful. And you — what did you do after you left the library that day?”

Eoghan’s grey eyes shuttered momentarily, and she sensed he still harbored a discomfort about that day when the librarian seemed to be escorting him out. She couldn’t recall the woman’s words, merely a feeling that it had been a source of shame. But he lifted his chin and replied, “I headed to MIT with a couple bags and finished two engineering degrees.”

Cora glanced around the large room. “But you live here now? I read that you chose to take a different role after your company went public.” When her view returned to him, his tense expression made her think she’d touched a nerve.

“I still advise the company, but I don’t do well at...people management?” He shrugged when she waited for him to explain more, looked at him expectantly. “I prefer to design things, software. Not spreadsheets and policies.”

Chuckling, she admitted, “Spreadsheets are my life, but I curse them daily. In fact I have a few waiting back at my laptop before I get to visit with the hospital tomorrow. Hmm. I’m going to need to arrange a ride.” A yawn took her by surprise and she covered her mouth, embarrassed. Her eyelids felt heavy. The warm sun coming through the windows magnified her drowsiness and made sleep suddenly delicious.

“I’ll be your driver. You wouldn’t be in this situation if it weren’t for me.” 

Then: “Cora, I think you’re falling asleep sitting up.”



Next Chapter: Chapter Eight: The Maine Province, 1722