“I have noticed even people who claim everything is predestined, and that we can do nothing to change it, look before they cross the road.” —Stephen Hawking
February 19th, 2020
The Forbes magazine stood on the shelf, glaring at her. “The Smartest Man Alive,” it read at the bottom in small block letters.
“Oh my God,” Nicole whispered, almost losing her grip on the chilled coffee. She whipped the magazine off the rack and stared at a perfect picture of Brian Sava, her father.
“Miss?” the cashier asked.
“Huh?” Nicole looked up. The people waiting in line and the balding cashier glowered at her. “Oh, shit. Sorry.”
Placing the magazine and a cold bottled version of Starbucks coffee on the counter, she waited for the cashier to ring her up. The quick 7-Eleven stop was definitely a second choice to her usual extra-hot double espresso, but she’d left her apartment unusually late and had to get across town.
“That’ll be eleven thirty-five,” the short man behind the counter said.
Nicole handed him a twenty-dollar bill, then held out her hand for change.
A buzz vibrated against her hip. She dug in her purse for her phone as some bills and coins landed in her hand. Magazine tucked under her arm, she walked away from the counter and looked down at the message. “Dad” read at the top of the little text box.
Nicole blew out a tight sigh. He’d asked her a few days ago to have lunch with him again, and for the first time, she dreaded it. The things she needed to tell him would already be hard—why did he have to make it even harder by going public? Wasn’t appearing in a magazine something a person would tell their family? On top of that, Mom hadn’t said anything either.
She had to have known, right?
Nicole squeezed the phone with her fingers until they hurt. Maybe being angry at him would make it easier to leave for California.
Nicole neatly put the change into her wallet, and as she walked out into the small parking lot, she opened her messages and replied:
Sliding into the front seat of her black Lexus SUV, she popped the top on her cold coffee and drank half of it. Holding the magazine in her lap, she scowled at the cover. He looked polished in the picture, arms crossed, blond hair slicked back, his Italian suit tailored to perfection, and smirking a little at the camera as if he knew he was smarter than everyone. Which he was.
She closed her eyes and rubbed at a spot on her forehead where a migraine threatened to form. No one could ever live up to a father who was a genius—no, worse than that, a father who was smarter than other geniuses. But that wasn’t the problem. Her heart thudded as she flipped through the magazine to the article that showed more pictures of him, and an interview. Her hands trembled as she skimmed through the questions. The journalist asked about his family and his company’s interests and partners—even if he was going to work for NASA. Her dad had been vague about the family part, at least. The throbbing in her head eased; the facts surrounding her accident needed to stay dead and buried.
Slapping the magazine closed, she stuffed it in her purse and pushed the engine start button. After her phone linked with the car, she turned on a lecture from her new boss at the San Francisco Veterans Center. She made her way across Chicago traffic and tried to listen to the latest cognitive treatment for the PTSD patients she’d be counseling, but she couldn’t concentrate. The decision to leave her family hadn’t been easy, but as she glanced at the magazine sticking out of her purse, she knew it had been the right one.
Her stomach quivered like it usually did when she was nervous. Dad wasn’t going to know about the dancing part. By some miracle, the San Francisco Ballet had accepted her as a new instructor. She couldn’t stop the longing she felt to be a part of the ballet world again. Still, she had to finish interning while she was there, and the San Fran Vet Center had an opening. The need to leave Chicago and the memories that lived all around her grew stronger every day.
She let out an audible groan that echoed off her dashboard. It’s wasn’t hard for her to imagine what would happen when she saw Dad today. He’d be furious and try to argue that it wasn’t smart to move so far away, but he wouldn’t understand her need to do so.
The fight might be the worst they’d ever have, and who knew when he’d speak to her again? And now, as she pushed the gas pedal a little too hard, fate wasn’t even letting her avoid telling him any longer.
The building her dad owned was on the outskirts of downtown, a short, modern, industrial-style architecture that was only five stories tall but big enough to appear to take up half a block. At certain times of the day, the sun gleamed off the glass windows and steel, blinding if looked at directly, and mounted on the top of each side wall was a parapet sign that read Savac Industries in bright white letters.
Nicole parked on the curb and grabbed her leather purse, wrapping the shoulder strap across her body. After she fed the meter, she jaywalked across the street and through the automatic sliding doors. Her jaw dropped as she saw the new security checkpoint. All state of the art, guards ushered people through the big machines that stood side by side. Two months ago, the only type of security was a little desk in the corner of the foyer with a uniformed man sitting behind it.
What the hell does he need all this for?
Once again, she remembered the magazine article, and that he had recently gone public with some of his research.
She rolled her eyes. Jesus, I don’t have time for this.
After she placed her purse and flats into a plastic bin, she slid them onto the conveyor belt and crossed her arms as she stood in line to wait for the guard to usher her through one of the machines. Once she stepped in, the full-body X-ray started to spin. She raised her hands and heard the machine whirl as it clicked multiple times. It looked like an airport security X-ray, the one that always made her feel naked. Some creeper was probably behind a desk in the back, peeking at every part of her, and she fought the urge to cover up her private bits. Finally, the security guard waved her through, and as she stepped out and turned to get her bag, another guard had her wallet out and was clamping it shut.
“What the hell are you doing? Put that down!” she yelled as she stormed to the table at the end of the conveyor belt.
The guard held up his hands. “Miss, calm yourself. This is the security checkpoint for the building, and any bags will be searched that we deem necessary.”
The man looked down at her with an impassive gray stare. Then he gripped the bottom of her purse and tipped it upside down, giving it a little shake. All the contents came spilling out, clattering into the waiting plastic bin—tampons, medications, and all. He even unzipped the big pocket inside and pulled out her pointe shoes.
Her temper flared red-hot, making her face burn. She scanned the guard’s salt-and-pepper hair, then down to his starched white shirt, where a radio perched at the shoulder. From his detached demeanor, he seemed like a man who wanted to get his way. Gripping the side of the table, she leaned a little toward him.
She pointed down at the magazine lying in the bin with her father’s picture on the cover. Narrowing her eyes, she lowered her voice and glanced at his name tag.
“Mr. McKinley, do you know who my father is? Dr. Brian Sava. I’m pretty sure he’s your boss. He owns this building.” Pausing, she gritted her teeth and seethed. “Put my things back in my purse, and I might not tell him to fire you.”
Seemingly unfazed by her threat, the guard scooted the tray toward her. Yanking her purse out of his hands, she checked her wallet for anything missing, then stuffed her belongings back inside.
As she turned and wrapped the strap across her body again, he said, “Have a good day, Ms. Sava.”
She looked over her shoulder at him.
What a dick.
She stomped across the open foyer to the wide hallway that housed the elevators.
Dad’s pissed me off for the last time today.
“Nicole?” she heard behind her as she pressed the square down button.
Nicole swung around, eyes widening. “Autumn! What are you doing here?”
Autumn hurried toward her and gave her a hug. “I visit my dad every Thursday. If I didn’t, I would never see him.”
“Oh, yeah. That’s right,” Nicole said as the elevator dinged.
The doors opened, and she stepped in at the same time as Autumn.
Nicole got her key card out and swiped it across a black laser scanner above the elevator’s selection panel.
“Why haven’t you called? I haven’t talked to you in a month.” Autumn’s soft-spoken rebuke still had fire in it, much like her hair color.
“Access granted,” said a British female voice.
Nicole leaned forward to press the B button for the basement level, in an attempt to hide her lying eyes. “I know, I know, I got wrapped up as the ‘new’ intern.” Nicole twitched her lips. She was getting used to telling the same lie; in reality, she was packing up to move.
How am I supposed to tell her?
Autumn’s dull reflection gleamed off the silver elevator doors. How different they each were, blurred within the shady metal. Nicole stood at least four inches taller, with hair so brown it was almost black, and Autumn’s freckled skin was so light it actually made Nicole feel tan. The only thing alike about them was their fashion, both wearing black leggings and flats with loose, neutral-colored blouses.
As the bell dinged once again, the elevator gave a light jolt and stopped. When the doors opened, she stepped out in time with Autumn, and they headed toward their father’s multiple labs and offices.
The labs were not her favorite part of visiting her dad. Knowing she was underground made her feel too enclosed, like she needed fresh air. On the other hand, the hallway was spacious, and the dark floor was so polished that it reflected the lights inlaid into the ceiling above.
Head down, Nicole watched their reflections as they passed underneath her feet. Biting her lip, she thought she should have rehearsed what she was going to tell him about moving to California. She would have to give Autumn the same talk soon—she was leaving in two weeks.
I’m such an asshole.
As they turned the corner, the lights flickered in the hallway and seemed to be having trouble coming back on. When they did, Nicole stopped mid-stride when she saw who was opening the door ahead of her—someone she hadn’t seen in a long time.
“What the hell is she doing here?” Nicole snapped.
Autumn stopped with her. “I didn’t know she was back.”
“When was the last time you talked to her?”
“Has to be over a year.”
Nicole scowled at the door Brandy had just walked through. When she thought her nervousness and anger couldn’t get worse, it skyrocketed to another level.
“You know, I’ve tried to tell her I’m sorry, but she seems to get nastier every time I see her,” Nicole said.
“She barely answers my calls. Brandy doesn’t forgive easily, you know that. What happened that night… She has to blame someone. We’ve talked about this countless times,” Autumn said.
Nicole sighed, nodding her head. She didn’t want to deal with this confrontation today. Some people aren’t supposed to be in the same room with each other. She and Brandy were two of them.
What the hell is Dad thinking?
The whole day was getting weirder by the second. If Brandy was here, whatever he had planned wasn’t going to go over well.
Nicole considered turning around and walking right back to her car. Instead, she clamped down her anger until she could unleash it.