My heart attempted to make an escape through my mouth as I jumped, turned and slammed down the laptop lid simultaneously. Autumn stood directly behind me, arms crossed, a very confused look on her face.
“Holy crap, don’t do that to me!” I gasped, pressing a hand against my chest.
“I thought you knew I was in here,” she said dryly. “I made enough noise coming in.”
“I didn’t hear you,” I snapped, very irritable.
“I could tell by your reaction,” she said sharply. “I might be a rookie, and I might be younger than you, but I’m not stupid.”
I gave her a filthy look and tried to slow my heart rate. You act suspicious, people will treat you like you’re suspicious, I told myself, slumping into my seat. Guilt stabbed me in the heart as I looked back up at her.
“Look, I didn’t mean it,” I started, my voice shaky. “I’m sorry. I’m not saying that you’re stupid, I didn’t mean it like that.”
“No, I get it, you’re under a lot of pressure. Can’t be easy, training a rookie to take the place of your best friend,” she said, seeming irked. Something close to compassion, or maybe it was pity, flitted across her face for a moment before her expression settled into on of curiosity. “So who were you promising what to?”
“Sarah,” I said heavily, running a hand through my hair, feeling as though I’d just run a marathon.
“But she’s-” Autumn began. I looked at her tiredly and she changed track pretty quickly. “Why? What were you promising her?”
“Why? Because she asked me to do something if I could,” I said, running my fingers through my hair again.
“Well, what did she ask you to do?” Autumn asked, sitting down on the foot of my bed.
“I don’t see how that’s any of your concern,” I said, trying to stay calm.
“I guess it’s not,” she said, wilting. I could hear Sarah reprimanding me in the back of my mind.
Come on, treat the poor girl better. She doesn’t deserve this!
“Does it have anything to do with that thing you were reading?” Autumn asked hesitantly. I forced myself to not flinch, to not tense up.
That “poor girl” is too smart for her own good, I told Sarah defiantly.
“Yes, it is,” I said, turning away. I was sure my guilt was written all over my face.
“Well, this whole thing must have you torn up pretty bad,” Autumn said carefully. “but it sounds like your friend knew that it was coming.”
I couldn’t restrain myself as my hands curled into fists on my desk. Slowly I turned my chair back to face her.
“Why do you say that? Who told you anything about Sarah’s death?” I demanded harshly.
“Well, you for one,” Autumn said, watching me. “And the other squad members. The placement officer. Not to mention that thing you were reading.”
The world fell away as I heard and comprehended what she was saying. My heart attempted to escape through my mouth again, and I must have jumped to my feet, because I was suddenly standing.
“How much did you see?” I asked, my voice deadly quiet. Autumn’s eyes had grown to the size of golf balls, as she continued to stare at me.
“Just the bit about, um, her being in big trouble and, um, the files on the SD card,” she said, sounding slightly concerned. My breath escaped from my lungs like a balloon, and she took the opportunity to roll off the bed and move to the other side of the room, still watching me warily.
“I’m not going to tell anyone,” she said hesitantly. “If your friend got killed for it, then there’s no way I’m going to go running my mouth about all of this.”
I stared back at her blankly, my brain struggling to process everything that I was hearing.
Told you you needed to be nicer to her, Sarah’s voice echoed in my head. Numbly I shot her a mental dirty look.
“Oh goodness, this is too much,” I muttered, dropping back into my desk chair. “What did I do to deserve this?”
“I don’t know, but it must have been really fun,” Autumn said wryly. I studied her serious face for a moment before smiling.
My emotions felt like a roller coaster, and I was drained from the breakneck speed they were changing with. Numbly I wondered if I was going insane, and then I dismissed the thought.
“I’m stuck with you, aren’t I?” I asked her.
“You say that like it’s a bad thing,” she countered.
“That’s not how I meant it-“I began as a wicked smile, much like the ones that Sarah used to give me, spread over her face.
“I’m just messing with you,” she said, with an overly patient tone of voice. I considered throwing something at her, and then dismissed the thought.
“It might not be that bad,” I said. “Of course, it could also be horrible. You’ll never know until it happens, Autumn.” Surprise flitted across her face, only to be replaced y a teary eyed smile.
“That’s the first time you’ve used my name,” she whispered, grinning more genuinely that I had ever seen her grin.
“Don’t get used to it,” I said gruffly, turning back to my computer to hide my awkwardness.
“Can I ask exactly what’s going on?” Autumn asked, crossing the room. “If I’m getting in trouble, I like to know why.”
“I wish I knew,” I answered, opening my laptop back up. “Whatever it is, it sounds illegal.”
“Is it illegal if a branch of the military and a government funded research group are both doing it?” she asked. “Whatever ‘it’ is, that is.”
“Yes, it is,” I said. “Assuming it breaks the laws, that is.”
“Well, it must,” she reasoned. “Why else would Agent Castello be killed?”
“I have no idea about that either,” I muttered, exiting out of the folders and ejecting the SD card. “But I have a feeling I’m going to need more help than I have now, and it looks like Sarah intended for a couple of other people to be in on this.”
“The more the merrier,” she chirped, sounding possitively excited by the prospect, blissfully unaware of the knot that was forming in my stomach.
“Right,” I said, hiding the card in my desk. “Merrier indeed.”