The garage door slammed hard enough to rattle the pictures on the walls. That was the moment Beverly chose to bump her head against my thigh, eyes pleading for a taste of the delicacies she could smell on the table above her. Like all Labradors, she was magnetically drawn to food, and was an incurable beggar. It only worked once in a while, but that was enough for her to keep on trying.
This was one of the times when it was going to work. Lucky dog. “I’m not hungry anymore, and they need me at the shelter,” I said. I stood, pausing only to set my plate on the floor for Beverly to lick clean. Then I turned and walked, tight-shouldered, to my room.
It was that or start screaming. And if I started, I didn’t know when I was going to stop.
Mom knocked on my door twenty minutes later. Her mothering radar was in good form: twenty minutes was exactly the amount of time I’d needed to stop being so mad that I wasn’t fit for human company. I wondered, very briefly, whether Sally would have needed twenty minutes, or whether she’d been one of those people who had ten-minute tantrums. Maybe she’d gone in the other direction, and screamed for forty minutes every time she got upset. I’d never know. Sally was gone, and I was living her increasingly confusing life without her.
“Yeah?” I called.
“I can give you a ride to the shelter if you can be ready to go in five,” Mom called back.
I paused, assessing. I hadn’t showered, but there was a shower at the shelter that we were supposed to use after cleaning out the puppy cages. I could always volunteer for cage-cleaning duty—something no one sane would refuse to let me do if I was offering—and then use that as an excuse to take a shower afterward. Shoveling a little shit would be good for me. I could use the time to think.
“I’ll be ready.”
Mom hesitated before saying, “Sal—”
The rest of the sentence never came. I heard her steps move away from my door after a few minutes had passed, and I turned myself to the essential business of getting out the door.
I was lacing my shoes when I realized my bag was still sealed in plastic wrap on the kitchen table. I swore under my breath, shoving a change of clothes for after my shower under my arm, and left my room. I needed that bag. Not just for the emotional reassurance of having my things with me, although that was important. I didn’t want to go to the shelter without my ID, and it was in my wallet, which was, naturally, in my bag.
Mom was banging around in her office; I could hear her moving papers and shuffling things on her desk, looking for whatever it was she needed to start a successful day of volunteer work. I grabbed the scissors from the kitchen and returned to the task at hand: freeing my possessions from their plastic prison.
Whatever brand of plastic wrap SymboGen used, it was industrial strength, and it had been flash-sealed, not taped down. I had to practically saw through it in order to create a large enough hole for me to get my hand inside. It was almost funny, in a horrible way. The food was easy to access. My so-very-dangerous keys and notebook, on the other hand…
My notebook. The blood drained from my face, and I ripped the rest of the plastic wrap open without even trying to be delicate about it. I’d been carrying my notebook, the one that Dr. Morrison insisted I update daily as part of my “therapeutic healing process.” Putting it into my bag every morning was habit, and since I’d never expected my things to be out of my possession for more than an hour or so, I hadn’t seen any reason to vary my habits just because I was spending the day at SymboGen. But my things had been away from me overnight, giving any prying research rats at SymboGen plenty of time to go rummaging through my innermost thoughts.
I wasn’t sure those thoughts would be of any interest to anyone but myself and my therapist. I was terrified that SymboGen was once again intending to prove me wrong.
I pulled the bag out of the plastic wrap with shaking hands and dumped it out on the kitchen table, not bothering to stop when pencils and tampons went skittering away onto the floor. My notebook fell out. I tossed the bag aside, grabbing the notebook and flipping it open as I scanned for any signs that someone else had been reading my private thoughts. I’m not quite sure what I expected—an inspection sticker? A receipt from the company scanner?
I know that I didn’t expect what I found. Three pages after my notes ended, someone had scrawled a phone number on a previously blank page. Under that was written in large block letters:
CALL FOR ANSWERS IF YOU ARE SURE YOU WANT THEM.
YOU MAY WANT TO RECONSIDER YOUR DESIRES.
KNOWING THE DIRECTION DOESN’T MEAN YOU HAVE TO GO.
Each letter was large and clear, like whoever left the message knew I had trouble reading. It was signed “a friend.” I didn’t recognize the handwriting, but that was no real surprise—I rarely saw anything handwritten at SymboGen, where everything was done officially, on computers and data pads. I stood there staring dumbly at the note, which was both evidence that my privacy had been violated, and the first sign I’d been given that someone, somewhere, might be able to tell me what was really going on.
“Sal? Are you ready?”
“Coming, Mom!” I shoved the notebook back into my bag, covering it with my clean clothes before gathering up the rest of my things and cramming them in as well. Once I was sure there was nothing showing that might give me away, I slung the bag over my shoulder, gave Beverly one last pat on the head, and ran for the garage. I needed to think about what I was going to do next, and I needed to speak to Nathan. But first, I needed to get to work.