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I laughed. “Are you my escort for the rest of today?”

“The rest of your life, my pet, if you’d only allow it.” He leaned over and took my hand, spinning me around like we were getting ready to dance the waltz in the middle of the hallway. More of the research staff walked by, slowing to watch us with visible amusement. Sherman had that effect on people. “Are you ready to leave that parasite pasher of yours for a real man?”

“That’s a new word and I demand a definition before I answer,” I replied. “What’s a pasher?”

“A pash is a kiss, so a pasher is someone who kisses. Ergo, I have called your boyfriend a tapeworm kisser.”

“Never seen him kiss a tapeworm, but he pashes me on a pretty regular basis. I think I’ll keep him.” I paused. “Well? Was that right? Did I use it right?”

“You used it perfectly.” Sherman let go of my hand, snapping back to business as he consulted his clipboard. “I’m supposed to take you for a blood draw, a urine test, and a nice cool glass of barium. I hand you back to Chave after that—sorry, Sal—so that you can head up to Accounting and go over your receipts, but then it’s back to me for a lovely nap in the gel ultrasound chamber before lunch.”

“My favorite place,” I said. I wasn’t kidding. Tight spaces didn’t bother me—they never had—and while I was in the ultrasound tube, all I had to do was lie perfectly still. There were no needles or difficult questions involved. That could be nice, considering everything else that a visit to SymboGen entailed.

“I know.” Sherman smiled. “I also know how much you hate dealing with the bureaucrats upstairs, my pet, but it’s good to see you in the flesh. I never quite trust those reports that tell me you’re doing perfectly well, sandwiched between profit-and-loss statements and requisition slips for more paper towels in the kitchen.”

As much as I hated to think about myself as being just one more report to circulate around the offices at SymboGen, I appreciated Sherman’s concern. He was one of the only administrative staffers who actually treated me like a human being, or at least like a pet he was happy to have around the house, rather than like an escaped lab rat. I attributed that partially to his own dual nature, formal when the higher-ups were within hearing range, totally relaxed when he was alone with anyone who didn’t trump his pay grade.

“I can put up with it,” I said, adjusting my grip on the strap of my bag.

“Good.” Sherman started walking, those long legs of his unfolding to set a pace that was frankly inhumane. I scampered to keep up. He didn’t even seem to notice. That, too, was a part of his charm. He didn’t treat me like a lab animal, but he didn’t treat me like an invalid, either. “Standard questions, then. Did you eat anything, drink anything, or do anything else that might send your blood chemistry into a tizzy?”

“What’s a tizzy?”

“A tailspin, a scramble, a mess.”

“You know, sometimes I think you’re making up words just to screw with me,” I said. He wasn’t; I looked them all up after every visit, and while some of them had regional variations that didn’t match up with the definitions he gave me, his basic words and phrases always checked out. He was playing it straight, or as straight as Sherman was capable of playing anything. He was the sort of man who thought a crooked line could use a little bending, just to put a little more interest into it.

“Answer the question, Sal.”

“No, I haven’t done anything to mess with my blood sugar. No food, no drinks, and the last time I went to the bathroom was before I got here. I am totally ready to donate blood to the cause of keeping your phlebotomists employed.”

“Good girl.” Sherman flashed me a grin, showing the one crooked incisor that he refused to have fixed because, quote, “the ladies loved it.” I wasn’t sure which ladies he was talking about in specific, but judging by the glances he got from the female medical staff, he could have his pick. He always showed his teeth when he smiled. I liked him enough not to get too upset. It still made me uncomfortable. “Don’t forget the hematologists. They’ll be the ones studying the delightful fruits of your gory labors.”

“I’ve had time to learn the drill.”

“True enough, and it’s time to put that learning into practice, because here we are.” He stopped in front of an open doorframe, knocking twice on the wood. “Dr. Lo, we’re ready for you if you’re ready for us.”

“Come in, please.” The pleasant-faced Chinese woman who operated the lab pushed away from her microscope and stood, indicating a red leatherette chair with one hand. “It’s good to see you, Sally. Have you changed your hair?”

“I brushed it,” I said, and grinned.

“Well, you should keep doing that. Now if you’d have a seat, I’ll be right with you.” That was about the limit of our social interaction during most visits, and this one seemed to be no different.

“Okay, Dr. Lo,” I said, and sat, putting my bag down beside the chair where I could grab it easily. It only took me a second to get into the correct position, with my arms on the armrests, elbows down and wrists turned toward the ceiling. Practice makes perfect in all things, I suppose.

Dr. Lo sat down on a stool and rolled over to sit next to me. “How’s your weekend looking, Sherman?” she asked, as she began swabbing down the inside of my right elbow with antiseptic.