Forty-Two - Ira

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"Shut up, Linkin," I groaned into the pillow. "It's the middle of the night in Mexico. Jesus."

"Fill in for me today!" she yelled through the door. When I didn't say anything, she tried again. "Ira!"

"Okay, okay." What the hell was she doing? Was she serious? I'd just turned up last night, and I had no idea how things worked here. Nevertheless, I put on a gray dress that looked close to professional and ran into the bathroom to tame my bed hair, borrowing Linkin's makeup, which I discovered was a few shades lighter than my skin. I washed the offending patch off my face and just filled in my eyebrows. With my messy blonde bob and pink lipstick that I dabbed on with a finger, I barely looked like myself.

I ran down the stairs with my shoes making too much noise. The reception desk was on the other side of the staircase, with a laptop placed at an annoying angle to the desk corners. A vase of flowers stood next to it, and I was surprised to find that they were real upon touching one of the petals.

When I opened up the laptop, it mockingly required a password. I rolled my eyes. Leaning down on my elbows, I found two locked drawers and one sticky note written in Linkin's pristine handwriting. "Don't wait up? Tell that to my jet lag, Linkin."

I guess I was staying.

"Morning," Stuart said, startling me. He was just coming off the last step. His hair was damp, and he was wearing a crisp white shirt and black jeans that made him look professional but approachable. He looked great, much better than yesterday, and he smiled watching me straighten up, before looking at his shoes shyly for a second. "Who are you?"

"Not Linkin." I tore the sticky note off my desk and handed it to Stuart, a smirk tugging at my lips. "Apparently, I'm taking over as secretary indefinitely, but I can't even log into the laptop. You have a handover policy?"

"She takes mental health days off every now and then, but..." Stuart gave me a look that didn't carry much confidence in his words.

"She goes off on her own? Will she be okay?"

"I've tried telling her, but she's Linkin," Stuart said, rubbing the sleep out of his cheek. Before I could protest, he added, "Admin shouldn't be too hard, Ira. I think today is a short day, too, off memory. Just be nice to the clients and you'll be fine."

"Are you implying that I'm not nice?" I raised an eyebrow. He'd implied a lot of things about me which were funny but true: professional liar, escape artist, shameless criminal.

"First, use the right side of your face too so you don't look like you'll track down anyone because you do have their details," Stuart said, a little life coming back to his face. "Second, you'll need a phone keypad for the password. Spell Konstantinov out with the numbers. Yup, we're unoriginal stalkers. Third, don't worry, but I'm going to run off and make a quick breakfast for us. Linkin's runner has got us running late." He smiled at me and walked to the back of the house, where the kitchen was.

"Hey!" I called after him. "I'm helping." My face was flushed and I didn't want to think about how I could unlearn my serial killer face; I'd much rather spend some time with Stuart. Ahead of me, he shrugged and waited for me to catch up.

"Lucky for you, no Linkin means no burnt toast." Stuart checked the toaster and emptied the tray for crumbs at the bottom. "What do you feel like this morning, Ira? No Mexican food for your Mexican time zone, unfortunately, but check the pantry for anything you'd like."

I saw Stuart taking eggs out of the fridge but I opened the pantry out of curiosity. They had honey, cornflakes, a coconut-based cereal, and... "Stuart, who's responsible for the fruit loops? Eggs are great."

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