Stamford was practically bouncing as he led me through the halls of Bart’s. It was nice to see that he had found a place where he felt needed, where he could teach others, but I couldn’t bring myself to share in his enthusiasm. Jealousy gnawed at my gut as I watched my former classmate float from room to room with a boyish grin, as I limped along behind him, lost in a place I once called home. Bart’s was no longer familiar to me, and it was hard to smile back at Stamford when we both knew the only reason I was there was because I needed his help. He had refused to say very much about this ‘potential flat mate’ he had mentioned, but I had a sneaking suspicion it wasn’t as perfect as Mike had played it up to be.
“…and this is one of our laboratories,” Stamford was saying, reaching for the door with an excited spark in his eye. “It’s completely up-to-date, has all the newest equipment! Here we are.”
He gestured me into the room and I limped in, checking for potential threats out of habit. There was another man already in the room, but he seemed rather pre-occupied with a pipette.
“Bit different than my day,” I muttered, mostly for Mike’s benefit. I ignored his response. The stranger looked up and shot me one of the fakest smiles I’d ever seen. It didn’t reach his eyes, which betrayed how annoyed he really was to be interrupted by Stamford-and-guest. I couldn’t blame him.
“Mike, can I borrow your phone? There’s no signal on mine.” His voice was deeper than I expected, but not unpleasantly so.
“And what’s wrong with the land-line?”
“I prefer to text.”
Stamford felt in his pockets, making a face as his hands came up empty. “Sorry, it’s in my coat.”
“Here, use mine.”
My declaration startled me almost as much as it startled the stranger, who shot me a slightly surprised look before staring at me as if he only just realized I was real. My face heating under his gaze, I quickly pulled my phone out of my pocket and offered it to him.
“Thank you,” he said softly as he approached. The intensity of his gaze didn’t diminish as the distance between us decreased, and I fought the urge to step back. Looking at me as though I was a riddle that needed solving, the stranger reached for my phone, a calculating look on his face. Mike introduced me, but the other man made no indication that he had heard. His eyes dropped to my extended hand and he took the mobile without a word, flipping it open and beginning to text. I could have sworn he shot me a smirk as he spoke once more.
“Afghanistan or Iraq?”