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They really did want to get me working in the building if they were calling Nathan in. That might seem a little self-centered—not everything in the world is about me, and I understand that—except for the part where, if Dr. Banks was trying to hire me, the only way he was going to accomplish it was by making working at SymboGen so appealing that I couldn’t say no. Having Nathan on the payroll would be a huge step in the right direction.

“But…” I paused, my eyes narrowing. “If you were already here, why did it take you so long to come down and get me?” Dr. Banks said he was calling Nathan. Not getting him from the reception lobby; calling him.

“I didn’t know you were involved in the quarantine, and I didn’t want you to feel like I was here to check up on you. I rushed down as soon as I knew that you were waiting for me. It’s been less than five minutes.”

Either Dr. Banks had lied, or Nathan was lying to me now. I touched his cheek with one hand, bile burning in my throat as I looked into his eyes and made my decision about whom to trust. Nathan. I trusted Nathan, and they hadn’t told him. They hadn’t told him that I was in danger, and even when they knew I wasn’t, they hadn’t told him that I was alone in an isolation room waiting for him to come and take me home. Instead, they’d left me where I was, probably so they could clean up their messes in peace.

“Let’s go home,” I said.

Nathan nodded. “Okay.”

It was strange to walk through the halls of SymboGen without either Chave or Sherman at my side, ready to tell me what was next on my schedule or imply that I was somehow too scruffy to be in the building. Two of the security officers accompanied us from the basement to the lobby, which was deserted; they must have sent most of the company home after Chave got sick. It seemed like a good precaution following a possible contamination. I just didn’t understand what that contamination was.

I stopped just before we reached the door, my hands going to my shoulder where the strap of my shoulder bag should have been pressing down against my skin. “My bag!”

“Your personal possessions are still undergoing decontamination, Ms. Mitchell,” said one of the officers. She sounded distracted, and I realized that there was a small earpiece in her left ear. She was probably listening to status reports from the rest of her team even as she walked with us, multitasking her way through an unexpectedly busy afternoon.

“When will they be done? Those are my things. You had no right to take them.”

“Dr. Banks has promised delivery of all your possessions to your home. You’ll have them by tomorrow morning.”

I took a breath, forcing myself not to get angry. This woman wasn’t in charge, and there was no way Dr. Banks was coming back out of his office to see me. I had been dismissed, and I knew it. “Tell Dr. Banks that I am not happy with him right now.” For a lot of reasons, only some of which I was ever planning to discuss with him.

“Yes, ma’am.”

I shuddered and started walking again, Nathan by my side. The doors slid smoothly open to allow us to exit the building, and the jasmine-scented San Francisco afternoon reached out to embrace us.

The world felt dirtier and more complicated as soon as we stepped outside the artificial environment of the SymboGen building. For a company that was built on the hygiene hypothesis, whoever was responsible for the SymboGen interior decorating had chosen a surprisingly sterile palate. The plants were overgroomed to the point of seeming artificial, and filtration systems were everywhere, attached to the small scent-diffusion units that pumped the perfume into the air. I had never seen anything out of place.

Even here in the parking lot things were cleaner than they should have been. The white lines were bright enough to be freshly painted, and the asphalt was so black that I would have assumed it was fresh if it hadn’t always looked like this. The landscaping was pristine. After what had happened inside, all that cleanliness was oddly chilling. It felt like a knot loosened in my chest when we reached Nathan’s car, with its muddy wheels and fast food wrappers in the footwell.

“Are you sure you’re okay, Sal?” asked Nathan. “You’re pale.”

“No,” I said. “I don’t think I am okay.” It wasn’t reassuring, but then again, it wasn’t intended to be. I tried never to lie to Nathan, even when it was something as small as claiming to be “fine” when I wasn’t. He always caught me, and I always felt terrible for having tried to deceive him.

“Do you want to stay at my place tonight?” Nathan kissed my forehead, squeezing my fingers at the same time. Then he let me go and walked around the car. The alarm chirped, signaling that the locks were open.

“I can’t. You heard the officer—my things are being sent to my house, not yours. I think my parents will panic if they get that kind of delivery without me being there to explain it to them.” I opened the door, sliding into the car. It was a relief to sit down after standing for so long. My legs promptly went limp, making me worry that I’d need Nathan’s help if I ever wanted to get up again.

Nathan got into the driver’s side, closing the door behind himself. “Do you mind if I come home with you, then? I don’t want to leave you alone, and it would be nice to spend some time with Beverly.”

“That would be fine,” I said, and smiled.

Then the weight of my betrayal crashed down on me. Sherman was infected—or worse, Sherman was dead—and here I was smiling at my boyfriend, happy at the idea of spending an afternoon with him and the dog I had stolen from another infected man, another man who might be dead.