Thirty-Eight - Ira

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The white Victorian country house was the strangest place to set up a psychiatric office. It was on the outskirts of a small town located a couple of hours out of London, surrounded by rolling green fields. It was greener than the tropics.

I'd never imagined Stuart Neville to be the country type, but then again, I also wouldn't have imagined that he'd call himself Neil Stewart, either. I slammed the door of the black BMW shut and walked up the gravel footpath. Stuart had his new name on a sign by the door. He must be so proud of his clever name change. Bizarre.

I was a quarter of an hour early to my scheduled appointment. There were no other cars parked out the front, but I waited another ten minutes, taking in the fresh air of the English countryside. I scratched my newly bleached blonde hair out of nervousness. When it was almost time, I thrust one hand into my coat pocket and knocked on the door with the other. It swung open within a second, like somebody had been standing by it, waiting for me.

Linkin glared at me with her cold blue eyes. Her arm was tensed, like she was trying her hardest to not shut the door on me. She was dressed smartly in a blue-grey blouse, black skirt, and black nylons that tucked into into high heels. She frowned at my new urban look, seemingly saying, "it's not New York anymore".

"Hey, Linkin—"

"Fuck you," she said through clenched teeth. Linkin threw the door open and shouted into the hallway, "Stuart, your bitch-o'clock is here for you!"

I looked at her calmly, stepped into the house and took off my coat. I stood there awkwardly in a sleek black dress and ankle boots, stunned in my tracks. Fuck you? Bitch-o'clock? I blinked my wide-open eyes at Linkin. Someone missed me more than I'd expected.

"Can I get you anything, Miss Traitor?" Linkin added, trying to look dangerous. It was sort of cute.

"No, I'm fine, thanks," I said coolly, but couldn't bring myself to smile. I'd prepared myself for this on the long flight – I knew that neither of them would be happy to see me.

When Linkin realized that she couldn't provoke me, she huffed and stormed off upstairs. Soon after, I heard a door slam shut.

"Nice," I said, looking at the empty hallway, tensed up but amused. "I'll just give myself therapy, no problem."

"Ira?"

I turned to the voice. Stuart stood on the other side of the spacious hall, arms hanging by his side. He looked different to when I'd last seen him, dressed much too warmly in black jeans and a blue sweater, thinner than I remembered. Gone was the easygoing friend that I'd warmed up to in Mexico; he looked exhausted and for some reason, it reminded me of the misery I'd felt on Dell Island. Pushing up his glasses, Stuart looked unsure about how to approach me. When I walked over to him, he folded his arms across his chest defensively. He looked wary, forlorn, but not angry like Linkin was.

"Hey, Stuart," I said, trying to keep my composure, but seeing the hurt on his face made my insides clench – maybe I'd made him this way. "Or Neil?" When he didn't look amused in the slightest, I gave up my attempt at pleasantries. "Let's sit down. We need to talk."

Stuart invited me to sit in an armchair and took a seat facing me. The setup for his office was comfortable, much better than what he had in the labs. "I never thought you'd come back, Ira. What's the matter?" The words that came out of him were nonchalant, at odds with the expression on his face, the clenched hands in his lap.

"Celestia found me," I said, looking him hard in the eyes. I didn't know if I was here to warn them that they were still looking for us or if I was here to stay. "I was in New York. I could have kept a lower profile, but they could eventually be onto you, too."

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