19 | A Locked Heart

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The overcast sky brooded over Evanna when she emerged from the monorail station.

She was in downtown Komoreby, surrounded by sky-high buildings. The day was prematurely dark, and a cold wind blew with a whistling sound that was somehow audible above the noise. The sidewalk yawned before her in a wet, slate grey expanse, and even the welcome splotches of green appeared darker that day.

She fast-walked towards the twin towers that loomed in the distance. Sudden honking jarred her nerves, and a sideways glance revealed vehicles stuck in a traffic jam.

Evanna quickened her pace as if to outrun the memory that haunted her since biology class. The incident triggered a visceral reaction, followed by dread. Her inner eye lingered on Shane's face that didn't exhibit an iota of disgust or discomfort. It was like a red flag waving in her face. Here I thought Mort was creepy—at least, he shows it openly. Why did Shane do that—does he like to torture bugs? Why else would he volunteer? And what does it matter to you if he's creepy!

Apparently, whether Shane was creepy or not mattered very much, judging by the dull ache that persisted in her heart. It throbbed with pronounced jabs every time she thought about it. Her pulse quickened when the distant memory of the party surfaced, and she zeroed in on his laughing face as she floundered in the water.

She realized that part of her distress was more of a Pavlovian reaction. On a deeper level, she knew nothing about him, and he might destroy her like that hapless cockroach—a line of thinking that was even more upsetting.

She shook her head and powered on.

Mary and Janet had suggested that they go out for dinner that Friday evening, which was why Evanna was now heading towards their offices in Solaris Towers. Her mood had deviated towards barricading herself in her room instead, but she dreaded getting into an argument over the last-minute change of plan.

A stubborn vestige of hope stirred within, prompting her to consider the possibility that there was more to the incident than what met the eye. She suddenly wanted to talk to Shane, even though she dreaded the confrontation.

She shook her head again to blot out the compulsion. Last time you thought the best of people, look where it got you, Ev. Anukie flashed in her mind, picking out a pink dress and giving her wedge heels to go to the party. Her stomach lurched anew. Trust no one.

She clenched her fist in an effort to contain her emotions and glanced at the phone clutched in her hand. The first thing she had done after Biology was block his number. Then she had avoided him like the plague while an icy pickaxe chipped away at her heart.

Solaris A was a gigantic block with metallic wall cladding, next to which was its identical twin. Evanna ascended the wide steps and hurried towards the automatic doors that slid open to welcome her. She crossed the lobby area, where amber orbs hung down from the high ceiling.

"Yes, miss?" the receptionist asked when she trotted up to her.

"I'm visiting. Dedalus Media."

After she obtained a visitor keycard, she whizzed up to the seventeenth floor.

As she stepped out of the elevator, her gaze landed on the glass doors ahead, beyond which was a comfortable office space with wooden partitions and vector art decor.

"Hey, Ev," said a female voice.

Evanna spun around to face a smiling girl in a yellow dress. "Oh, hey, Riley!"

Riley, who worked in the client servicing department, had been friendly to her the previous two times she had visited.

"Mary and Janet should be back any minute," Riley said, pressing her forefinger to the scanner by the door and ushering Evanna in. "We had a big pitch to prepare for today, and it's been a bit hectic. You know, for the ZipTube project? You've probably heard about it."

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