Devi, meanwhile, had gone as pale as her complexion allowed. Staring at Nathan, she asked, “How bad is the outbreak?”
“I don’t know yet. Apparently, they started getting reports almost as soon as Sal and I saw it happen, but I was the first person who’d actually come in with a report of the process, so they wanted to talk to me. Now they need me to help with the intake. We’ve got at least thirty people incoming.” He slanted another glance my way. “I really need to get Sal home. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“I can drive her,” said Devi. We both blinked at her. Devi smiled a little. “I live in San Bruno, she lives in Colma. It’s a carpool made in heaven. Besides, my car already smells like dog, so it’s not like I need to worry about my upholstery.”
“If you’re sure—” Nathan turned to me. “It’s your choice, Sal.”
The idea of getting into a car with someone whose driving history I didn’t know made my chest clench and my stomach turn over again. Sure, I did exactly that every time I took a bus, but there was something reassuringly solid about buses. Even after hearing about the bus driver with the sleeping sickness, buses felt safer to me than cars.
Still, Nathan was needed, and Devi was already heading home. Mustering every inch of calm I could find, I nodded. “Sure,” I said. “That’ll be fine. Devi’s always been really nice to me, and won’t it be better for you to get down to the ER now, not after dealing with there-and-back traffic?” To punctuate my point I stepped forward, tugging on Beverly’s leash so she’d come with me, and kissed him lightly. He flushed, eyes darting toward Devi.
“Don’t mind me,” she said. “I know what you two get up to when the office door is closed.”
Nathan cleared his throat. “Regardless. It’s unprofessional to subject you…”
I tapped his nose with one finger. He stopped. “I’m going to let Devi take me home. You’re going to go to the ER and do your job. You’re going to help people. I’m going to give Beverly the biggest soup bone I can find at the Safeway. And I’ll talk to you tonight, okay?”
“Okay,” said Nathan, looking relieved and guilty at the same time. I understood the combination. I was feeling something similar—relieved to be getting out of here, guilty to be leaving him alone—leavened with a healthy dose of fear.
Looking into his eyes, I suspected that I wasn’t the only one who was scared. All that did was frighten me more.
Devi’s car was a ’25 Prius, silver-beige, with no worrisome dents or signs that she’d been in a major accident. I relaxed a little. I relaxed more when she buckled her belt before putting her keys in her pocket and pressing the button to start the engine. She glanced my way, checking to be sure she wasn’t the only one who was buckled in. I offered a wan smile.
“I don’t do cars when I can help it,” I said. “I really do appreciate your giving me a ride home, though. I know Nathan’s needed here.”
“It’s no problem,” said Devi. She glanced at her rearview mirror. “You all right back there, Beverly?”
The dog didn’t answer. I think both of us found that a little reassuring.
“Good,” said Devi, looking satisfied. She was still paler than she should have been, with a worried look in her eyes, but at least she was comfortable in her car. “What’s your address again?”
I recited the address for the benefit of her onboard GPS, which beeped politely before it announced, “Route calculated.”
Devi pressed the button to turn off the voice instructions and activate the LED readout on the windshield. That made me relax a little more. Drivers who see their directions are less likely to take their eyes off the road, and reading without the voice component had been shown to reduce accidents by as much as eight percent.
“Let’s get you home and me back to my own dog.” She chuckled wryly. “My dog and my wife. But the dog is the one who’ll greet me at the door, whereas Katherine is probably still at work. She just gets annoyed when I forget that I have a human, not just a bulldog, to come home to.”
I’d met Katherine once, at a hospital cocktail party that Nathan dragged me to. She worked at the Lawrence Hall of Science and always looked a little distracted, like she was listening to conversation and running some complicated equation in her head at the same time. She stood almost a full foot taller than Devi, with a pale Scandinavian complexion and a broad Minnesota accent, and from everything I could tell, the two of them were blissfully happy together.
“What’s your dog’s name?” I asked.
“Minnie. It’s short for ‘Minneapolis.’ She’s an American bulldog.” Devi beamed like a proud parent. “She’s a good girl. She just gets a little destructive when she feels like she’s being left alone for no good reason.”
“If you both work, how do you handle that?”
“We vacuum up a lot of feathers and buy a lot of throw pillows.” Devi’s car rode smoothly enough that I barely even noticed when she turned onto the freeway—not until a less safe driver went rocketing by on our left, going easily twenty miles above the speed limit. Some of the other drivers leaned on their horns. I grabbed the handle above my door and squinted my eyes tightly closed, trying to tell myself that I was hanging off the passenger grip on the bus, and that I wasn’t on the freeway. I was anywhere but there.