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Reckless Abandon: Balance

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Previously, in Happiness:

        Keith Kogane takes a twelve-hour rideshare from Balmera Valley to the resort-like city of Olkari Beach. He’s staying with mother and police chief Krolia in her beach house until he gets back on his feet. The next morning, Shiro calls him to the police station where they both review the reason for him arriving: to provide protection from death threats after blowing the whistle on illegal practices from his old workplace Galra Fulfillment.

         Meanwhile, Lance McClain has been living a happy engagement with his fiancée/girlfriend of two years, Anna Komatsu, spending their last summer together before the demands of graduate school take up their time and energy. Anna is the only child and heir to Komatsu Whole Foods, owned by father and multi-millionaire Ren Komatsu.

        After Krolia and Shiro get promoted to Chief of Police and Deputy, there is a party for their celebration at the home that Shiro happily shares with husband of five years, Adam. Hunk and Pidge are there with their own food truck to provide gourmet catering. Lance thinks that Krolia is bringing a date to her party but is shocked to find Keith there after three years of silence.      

        The next morning, Keith goes to the beach to clear his mind and sketch. Lance also happens to be there taking an early morning surf. After having a small get-together with the engaged couple, Keith goes with Lance to an old movie theater where he meet Coran, a free-spirit. Despite getting back to their old dynamic of being very good friends. Keith struggles with romantic feelings for his old friend that have been suppressed until late.

        Lance invites Keith to come with his friends to visit Allura, a young doctor who serves those in the main beach community, as well as downtown. Her family legacy includes being a safe house for those Olkarions who experience social and emotional turmoil and upheaval. Keith has friends with his friends until Krolia summons him back to the police station for something urgent.

        Keith discovers that his ex Rolo DeMartin and former roommate Acxa Williams have been murdered.

        Elsewhere, Lance is spending a Sunday afternoon with Anna and his friends. Anna gets drunk after a private conversation with her father and Lance takes her home early, discovering a bruise on her cheek while hungover. She refuses to take action. Lance receives a call from Keith swearing him to secrecy on his whereabouts, but Krolia calls next demanding to know where her son is. Lance has no choice but to squeal with the threat of an obstruction of justice charge hanging over him.

        Keith makes it halfway to Balmera only to get detained in a holding cell overnight.

        Shiro comes the next morning to retrieve a disgruntled Keith and takes him to his old apartment, where not a trace of his old life with Acxa remains. After an emotional nervous breakdown he goes to pay his final rent, surprised that someone already paid for the both of them and moved her belongings out as well. He and  Shiro take a flight home.

        Lance comes over to Krolia’s later that afternoon with a kitchen full of groceries as a gesture of forgiveness towards Keith. A rainstorm erupts shortly, and the men are forced to remain inside. Keith tells Anna that Lance is safe and that everything is okay. Lance wakes up at midnight and begins to drink away his complex feelings until Keith intervenes and invites him out for a motorcycle ride.

        Rain has passed and the two men hang out at the city limits where Keith reveals what has happened the past two years, and Lance confesses his lingering romantic feelings. Keith shuts him down, assuming his friend is suffering from cold feet, but allows him to spend the night in the guest room after the storm continues.

         Lance goes out surfing despite the overcast the next morning and gets a concussion, so Coran takes him to Allura. Anna has no idea, and Lance wants to keep it that way until he recovers completely. Keith reveals his conversation with Lance during a gym workout with Shiro. They encounter Mr. Komatsu, where he offers Keith an opportunity of a lifetime, yet Keith needs a day to give his final answer.

         The next day, Lance and Keith meet at the beach and get into a heated argument over the status of their friendship. Keith give’s Lance a clear demand: Marry Anna if he cannot love him freely.


 

Chapter Text

       “Galra seems to be gaining steam. We have to remain vigilant…” Keith said to Mr. Komatsu while in his brightness-absent office during a late Friday afternoon.

        Quite honestly, Keith was expecting grunt work and mental drudgery when he came in wearing a black suit with a red tie and white button shirt tucked in. His usual neck-length strands were brushed back into a knot that laid at the nape of his neck, hair revealing a slicked-back widows peak. He was simply a “protégé”, no one with a particular title. Keith refrained from labeling his position “assistant”, since the man had consistently shown him the kind of respect and trust that one would a well-loved son. Knowing that made it easier for Keith to speak freely, yet respectfully to him.

        “Fear not. I’ve been monitoring their timetable, and it appears that they have run into some issues as of late.” Because of internal changes, Galra Fulfillment’s construction had ceased indefinitely, which meant that their original projected opening would no longer be the November 15th start date. For now, Olkari Brands would be able to polish their own business projections for new products.

        The man glanced up with a final scratch of his fountain pen across a form and set it down gently. “That's enough for today, come back here at 6:30 Monday.”

        “Yes, Mr. Komatsu.”  Keith turned and walked away.

        “And Kogane-kun?”

        “Sir?”

        The man bent his lips with a warm, yet subtle grin, “Thank you for your work ethic.”

        Keith returned the man’s smile with creased eyes, coasting in the comfort of a chill that steamed into his spine.

====

        “What the hell just happened?” Shiro opened his mouth in shock.

        Members of the Beat, along with the entire precinct were moaning and bitching (rightfully so) about former Chief Sanda’s cushy new job at the mayor’s office. A new young anchor on TV was giving the report as she recalled Sanda’s extorsion scandal in a cynical tone that silently condemn bad deeds going unpunished.

        “Meanwhile, morale for the Olkari Police department has increased since the torch has been passed to Krolia Kogane. Many residents are twenty five percent more likely to prefer her over former Chief Sanda since the scandal.

       Reporting locally from Olkari Beach I’m Davina Henley, Channel Seven News.”

       The department’s applause was a resounding song to Krolia’s ears, though she took great care not to rest on her laurels. Keith caught a glimpse of a self-satisfied smirk that he had not seen in so long.

       “Get it, boss lady!”

      “We said you and Shiro could turn this place around!”

       But still: those loyal to that woman, meaning politicians and other influencers with a heavy pocketbook were rejoicing at her being by Mayor Lubo’s side. Most everyone in the department feared that the wealthy one percent would breed corruption.

        “Should we toast, Chief?” Shiro had a coffee mug in his hand and Krolia smiled the moment Keith made his way through the maze of desks to give her a proper congratulations.

       “Come on, you two.”

        In the quiet away from the corridors, Shiro pulled the cork out of the tall, green bottle laced with a gold foil label and ducked as the cork launched to a random corner of paperwork where Krolia’s things were waiting. After a hearty laugh, the family toasted over flutes of the most expensive almond champagne, because a small pack of beer just wouldn’t cut it. According to Keith’s fancy brother, “beer was for depressed, sad saps who wanted a cheap numb.”

        “Things are looking up. So, to Olkari PD and Keith’s brand-new endeavor with Komatsu-san.”

        “And to hell with Sanda.” Krolia bit with a cocky grin.

        Krolia and Keith met Shiro’s glass with a toast. With one sip Keith immediately took another because damn, it might have been better than the bitterness of a draft beer this time around.

        “I still think a corporate cut would look great on you, Keith.” Shiro drawled with brotherly love and stroked the slickness of the gel in his hair. “Maybe you should shave a little off the nape and edge it a little at the temples…”

        “I like the length of my hair just fine.” He shirked lightly while his hand reached the back of his head.

        “What are you going to do the minute it passes your shoulders?” His brother shot back with a pouty sip.

        Keith simply shrugged, “Braid it.”       

====

        Streams of fall foliage glory tumbled to the wayside for Keith as he continued on his motorbike, and a childlike abandon melted into a joyous smirk. He could potentially start showing off and doing wheelies, if he were still a street racer back in the days when it was fun to test the limits of adults who felt like he knew him better than he knew himself.

        Fresh, yet sleek. That’s what ran through Keith’s mind last month while stepping into the green building of the Coriander Suites on Tamarisk Road for the first time. It was situated a twenty-minute equal distance from the beach community and the Native Olkarion reservation. It lacked the flashiness of uptown, yet it was also missing the weightiness of downtown. It was for those that were more upper middle class, something that Keith most definitely was not by default. He liked being a few doors down from Hunk and Pidge, who he allowed to come over weekly for some quality time.

        The once-empty floor plan and the familiar odor of fresh paint and patted carpet triggered previous desert sadness the first day, but he reprogrammed his brain with the fragrance of gentle beach humidity flowing from his bedroom balcony. While the condo was contemporary, his articles of stacked artist magazines, tossed pillows, and neatly stowed away dishes were minimalist.

        He went straight to his room after coming to his suite, loosening his tie and putting his suit jacket back on a wooden hanger. He was back in joggers and a tight red hoodie with his hair loosened to his usual fall with fringes covering his forehead. As he turned the oven on, he started singing a classic rock song to the music playist from his phone while digging around in the fridge.

        In his oblivious stupor, Hunk and Pidge welcomed themselves inside.

       “Keith?!” Pidge waved casually while removing her green beanie and shaking out her light brown hair.

        The man jerked his neck and hissed, nearly dropping a cookie sheet straight out of the oven. “How the hell did you guys get in here?!” he strained.

        Pidge pointed that he left the door cracked open and that anyone could have strolled in without saying a word. Keith sighed as a mix of hypervigilance and shame stirred quite heavily into the pit of his stomach. What the hell was wrong with him? Back at Krolias, he would activate all five locks on her door; he was becoming too comfortable in his new home.

       “Keith?! Got the stuff!” Hunk waved a paper bag from the Olkari Whole Foods market. “Um…Whatcha got there?”

       “Thought I’d do a practice session to warm up…”

       It was supposed to be a nice, plump batch of plain sugar cookies, but instead Keith was pitifully working his brain overtime to figure out how twelve cookies came out to be one molded mass.

       “You added too much oil.” Hunk spotted off the bat.

        “But the recipe said right here to add half a cup of butter! ” Keith stared his phone down as if ready to make an arrest.

       “Did you soften it or melt it?”

       “It was already soft. I didn’t even refrigerate it yet!” he huffed with heated frustration spreading to his neck.

       His mistake, according to Hunk: missing the difference between a half of cup of softened butter and the same amount of melted butter. In this case, melted was the worst thing that the recipe asked for, and the larger guy never minced his opinions on shitty recipes online. The former would have technically been a quarter of a serving more. And that was one of the reasons that Keith called him over: to get some impromptu lessons.

        Keith twisted his lip and bit the inside of his cheek as Hunk continued his rant. Sure, he could make cereal and anything that came in a package or from the freezer section. But adding ingredients together never seemed to bring the desired result for him; it shouldn’t have been so complicated! Just like mixing drinks in a blender. So why was it that someone else could follow the recipe to a T and get a totally different outcome? Whoever put that recipe together online was an asshole for not putting up a glossary to define softened and melted!

        At least reflecting on his own batch would allow him to compare notes and make fixing his mistakes more effective in learning. He grabbed the tray and began to scoop them carefully with a spatula.

        “You gonna throw those away?” Pidge asked.

        “I was…”

        “Well let me recycle a few…”

        “Be my guest.” He shoved the cookie tray away and frowned with skepticism wondering what was edible about the crap she was about to eat. With a happy raise of her eyebrows she took another bite. Maybe he did something right…

        Hunk took out all the ingredients needed for the recipe. Every ingredient was either organic or really fancy: African vanilla extract, salt that was a shade of pink, chocolate liqueur chips, and pumpkin pulp.

        “These are gonna be fancy, aren’t they?”

        “Fancy, but so worth it. You’ll see,” Hunk leaned over the counter as if getting ready to tell Keith about the facts of life, “I put a lot of love into what I do. I make sure the food is satisfied and satiated.”

        “Um…”

        “You have to make love to your recipes. Give it the right attention with the proper amount of care.”

        Keith smiled from discomfort.

        “You’re listening to the master himself.” Pidge crunched through another piece of the failed cookie batch.

        Keith scribbled notes of Hunk’s ingredient measurements on a blank page while watching him mix dry ingredients and wet ingredients in separate bowls. Hunk wiped up every spill behind him.

        After leaving the cookies to chill in the freezer for 30 minutes, Hunk brought out a mini ice cream scoop and began serving each ball of dough into rows of five. Twelve minutes baking on 375 degrees and they were finished. Keith thought they looked like something from a commercial shoot.

        Once they cooled, they each toasted with a sweet treat and munched into one. Maybe Keith had a sweet tooth, but what floated through his brain was a wave of ecstasy.

        “Better than sex?” Pidge threw out.

        “Open a café!” Keith blurted out in rare childlike enthusiasm.

        Pidge melted to the counter in a pile of laughter and Hunk eventually wore down with the same.

        “As much as we enjoy serving on wheels, our ultimate plan is just that: to have a home together that we can call our own. Nestled somewhere that anyone can find.”

        “You definitely have my vote.”

        “Somebody’s been living on the generic brand for far too long!” Pidge laughed.

====

        Whenever he could, he offered to help Matthew with the Green Initiative, knowing that Komatsu was always a champion for the rights of Native Olkarions everywhere.

        Matthew dedicated time each day after his Graduate classes to a non-profit, moving tirelessly to maintain working and civil relationships between those who were members of the middle class and below. Some attended school in the mainland, were involved in academics at the Ivy League, and were rather faceless compared to “trust-fund babies” who made an impression anywhere they went. Apparently what Matt meant a while back by helping the Green travel initiative was that he was helping to fund it through activism efforts. This initiative would benefit those young Olkarions who wanted to travel from the Mainland and beyond without impediment.

        The goal was to gather as many signatures as possible and to show the Mayor what voices needed to be heard. Hopefully, they would gain his support.

        “There are residents living uptown that could stand to sign this.”

        Keith squinted while reading the measures thoroughly. One was for all Olkari University students to provide a ten percent of their tuition towards improving transportation between downtown and uptown. The deal would be a sweetened incentive in creating better travel arrangements for students and business owners directly from Native Olkarian families who mostly resided downtown. A second was for the top five percent of wealthy residents to donate an additional fifteen percent of their taxes towards residential and business infrastructure for hurricane reinforcement. Mr. Komatsu and the late Mr. Altea already contributed.

        “As long as you know them personally, I trust you.” Matt grimaced. “But what about Sanda?”

        “What about her?”

        Keith understood Matt’s concern: that woman would probably whisper in the mayor’s ear to keep things at the status quo. Getting their measure on the ballot would be like pulling teeth without the right kind of people to back it up. For better or worse, money spoke louder than any of the staunchest activism ever could…

        “Why can’t we ever have a get-together without the political Pow Wow?” Pidge complained through a mouth of chocolate chips.

        Hunk returned with the assertion that Pidge could stand to learn a little something about the way movements were formed. The young woman argued that there should have been a less jovial time and place for such things; they were supposed to be discussing a house warming. Matt, being the one who was more afraid of interpersonal conflict between friends, simply validated the other man’s words.

        “I might have to pass the torch someday, and you’re on the list.”

        “Give me a break! That won’t happen long until you’re found dead in your rocking chair!”

        “You never know, Katie…”

        To dissipate the growing tension in his living room, Keith enthusiastically introduced Coran as being a potential ally. After all, he seemed to be more immersed in the community than most as a philanthropist, a wanderer, Allura’s guardian, and someone who loved the Olkari Theatre.   

        “Talked to him the other day, and he told me he was going to start his new venture as a tour guide.” Matt just shrugged.

        “Alright. I’ll talk to him next time I see him at the beach tomorrow morning. Let’s hope he has the hands and the time for some more good will.”

        The man smiled at Keith, then back at his sister. “One step at a time, right?”

====

        It had been over a month since Keith revisited this spot on the beach where his mother’s house was ten minutes north. Where the only space free from the punishment of the sun’s rays resided on that shaded bench. The area now belonged to a couple who nuzzled and embraced like pigeons or doves did, whispering secrets that only the wind could discern. Why did looking at that threatened to drown his heart in such sadness?

        The gentleman’s gaze lightly singed him with offense, and he sighed in apology.

        “Long time no see, my boy!” Coran gauged Keith for a warm embrace with his arms open, which Keith met in kind. “I was beginning to think you might have returned to that desert smog down south.”

        “Just busy.” Keith said truthfully.

        He offered to buy Coran a drink as a purely friendly gesture. Non-alcoholic, of course.

       There was an exceptional café called the Windy Cave nestled in the college district. One of Coran’s favorites. To Keith it appeared just as ordinary as any coffee shop with the flooding of students and far too much conversation bouncing from wall to wall. Yet the walls told a different story of a vintage innocence and of golden age celebrity status. Several autographed pictures of actors and actresses streamlined the walls in a collage around the place. There was an ice cream soda station with a machine that was left unused since the 1950s. For just a moment, he pondered if Lance would have known the exact history of when, what, how, etc.

       They took a booth nearest to the bathroom where the vacuum of voices ceased somehow.

       “Matt had classes, otherwise he would be here too.”

        Keith filled him in on what their plans were for the petition, and Coran was all too healthy-minded agreeing for him. Though there was a link on the Internet for him to fill out the form there, he figured that every single signature would count, including paper and pen.

       “And I’ll be sure to pass the word along. Where will Matthew be mostly?”

       “Olkari University, in the center square. Between ten and twelve.”

       “I’ve earned two PHD’s from that campus. One in Philosophy, and the other in Marine Biology. I could give Aqua Man a splash for his crown and his jewels!”

      Keith deadpanned, not quite getting it. It had been a while since he’s seen a really good contemporary movie.

      “Sounds like someone needs to catch up on their cinematography, eh? What did you last watch?”

      “Uh…something about a girl getting knocked up by a college professor…” With the sweep of his words, his throat swelled up eyes saturating with nostalgia’s pain. He took a concealing sip from his mug.

       It had been at least a month since he and Lance spoke. After that late afternoon at the beach when he confessed to being in love with him, Keith could only assume he was getting along for better or worse. They both changed so much as far as their livelihoods were concerned…maybe it would have been too much to ask for friendship again…

        Coran took the time to scan Keith’s expression for permission to empathize. Was his really that obvious?  “Hmm…that look in your eyes reminds me of a painting that I saw at the University Art Gallery. There’s a mess of horrors depicted in the castle that’s taking center stage. Our poor prince is so bruised that one can quite literally see the bulge and veins of his heart as they’re on the verge of bursting right open and splattering right in front of him! Lots of the macabre there.” He settled down and sipped his tea.

        Keith swallowed the floral essence from his cup and set it down gently.

        “Diamond or Dust. That’s what the artist called it posthumously.” Coran used to spend his college days there browsing student paintings. That one always struck him as beautiful and tragic to the point of sacred.

        Keith almost choked on the current of his drink, “Wait a minute! How can he name something after his death?”

        “It was meant for his lover who didn’t find the masterpiece until the funeral. During the reading of the will he left his estate with them and revealed the name of the painting in an envelope after everyone had left…legend says both are still laughing deep in the hills of Daiza Hills.”

        “Is this a real ghost story or an anecdote, Coran?” Keith mindlessly chomped on a tea bag. Either way, what the hell was the point?

        Coran’s tone was speckled with sobriety, “No one can ever question a diamond’s worth because it’s earned its value, whether it stays in the limelight or unrefined. It’s worth comes from its transparency. Its dust is a result of so much beating.”

        After that, Coran cackled with zest, his ginger moustache bouncing as he sipped from his cup. “And this is precisely why I no longer take my dates to art galleries! Most of them are gossips, one of them was a nurse at the University Medical Center.

        Maybe it was the brewed flower in both of their cups, but Keith wondered if Coran smoked some good leaves often.

        “Coran, thank you.”

        “I try my best. It’s my undeniable wit and ability to see the gizzards amongst the guts that got me this job as tour guide.”

        “What about the theater?”

        “Oh, that’s my moonlight job. I’ll be able to sleep from midnight to dawn, repeating and getting every other weekend off, of course.”

        After finishing his tea with a satisfied sigh, he grabbed his golfer’s cap and spun it around his head. “I won’t keep you. You tell Matthew that I’m guaranteeing my support. I have many close friends who are Olkarions. One of them lives off shore and owns a beautiful plant nursery with her and her wife. Her daughter…”

        Keith frowned, anticipating what he was going to say next. But Coran dismissed his own words on a need-to-know basis. “Sorry. Go see Allura next. This would be something that’s near and dear to her heart.

====

       The elevator was a quiet addition to the busy hospital corridors, where several women in scrubs passed to and fro, their shoes scuffing as frantically as their energy. But in the elevator the kinetic push and pull was Keith's only companion.

       After coming out, he stopped a nurse and asked where Dr. Allura Altea was. With a spin of her long blonde pigtails, she motioned for him to follow her swiftly.

       “Can you slow down a little?”

        “This is my default moving speed! I feel like I’m in slow motion when I take a stroll!” She spoke in a harried British accent.

       Keith nearly tripped over his own foot following her down a sharp turn of a corner. Allura’s office was in between the other surrounding doctor’s offices and her door remained shut for now.

        “Sorry. I’m not always permitted to knock on her door unless it’s urgent.” She straightened out her pink and blue scrubs while leaning against the wall with one foot elevated. “Yep, she’s with another patient at the moment.”

        It was a pet peeve of Keith’s to rush and then stop for no reason. He sighed and took time to read her name tag: Romelle, written in a wacky font.

        “Do you have an appointment with her that requires emergency care?”

        “No.  Mr. Komatsu sent me to discuss something important with her, and...”

        “Wait! Are you Keith Kogane?”

        “Yes I am.”

        Once again, she skipped along until Keith followed her to the nurse’s station. She urged him to wait for a minute while she scavenged her own desk drawers for something, murmuring over not being able to find what she was looking for. “Wait!” her eyes flashed happily as her hand grabbed the sketchbook and gave it to Keith.

        “How did you get your hands on this?”

        “Allura left me a note to give this to you once you came in.”

        He must have left it at her house the other day. Though Keith felt like an old, familiar patch of himself was sewn back together, he remembered the task at hand.

        “Do you know if she will be much longer, or should I come back another day?”

        “I want to say wait for another thirty minutes, but that may not be wise…”

        He pulled out his phone and requested a sheet of paper for him to scribble a message down for her. It was his name and phone number with the words at your earliest convenience regarding the Green Initiative underlined roughly.

        “Thank you…” not wanting to butcher her name, he stopped. According to her, Roh-mail was the phonetic pronunciation. He thanked the girl for her help and froze in his tracks when a patient rolling down the hallway crossed his path. The man clearly had better days as evident by his scar-riddled, bandaged face. His dark eyes bore into Keith’s soul like a ghost possession threatening to take place before he was wheeled away.

        “Thank you, Romelle.” He darted towards the elevator with his sketchbook close to his chest like a boy drawing comfort from a plush. The hospital corridors suddenly felt like white-washed walls of confinement and it made his chest thump harshly. The sickeningly enhanced scent of bleach pushed nausea to the pit of his stomach.

        “Keith?”

        Allura had emerged from her office and looked at the man with concern simmering in her eyes. “I got your message, you’re not leaving so soon, are you?”

        For a brief minute, the room stopped spinning and the sterile scent had dissipated the moment he saw her. He never liked hospitals much, especially since most of his visits have been anything but festive. Yet there was always something that was comforting about Allura’s presence, as if she were a healer.

        “Um, no. We can talk. Are you free right now?” The urge to ask her who the hell that man was fizzled on his tongue the moment he got back into business mode.

        “Do come in.”

====

        Allura’s office appeared to be much airier than Keith expected; as colorful and filled with plant life as her house an hour’s drive away. The space was wide-open, accented with a palette of blues, whites, golds, and pinks evenly distributed. Her desk was crafted from industrial steel and lightly ornamented with stationary and little figurines, including a multicolored group of mice that kept company next to her gold name plaque. Numerous awards decorated the walls on either side of a large window.

        The woman said yes, before Keith could begin to go over the measures with her. Apparently, in between twelve-hour seven day a week shifts, she found time to do her homework and agree to what Matt was asking for.

        “Last month, I brought the issue of our island’s infrastructure up with Mr. Komatsu, but he seemed ambivalent about it. The fact that he’s open to these new changes...”

        “He feels that putting this new measure on the ballot would offset Galra’s comeback.” Corporate hemorrhaging was what the older man dubbed it.

       “This warehouse is a lot bigger…” Keith crossed his arms and sat up straighter in his chair. “Mr. Komatsu believes that their presence could be a threat to low-cost pharmaceuticals in this area…”

       Allura folded her arms and took a sip of water, “If by bigger, you mean flashier and smarter on location. Profits will soar for them and there will be thousands of new jobs in the longterm. It would be a noble short-term solution, but the long term…”

       “I don’t hear any worries from you, Allura.”

        “Why should I be? I personally believe there is no competition or threat.” Despite her door being sealed, Allura lowered her voice, “In the past I have denied the new CEO an offer that he thought I wouldn’t refuse.”

        Keith cleared his throat. “So, this man tried to bring you to his side before?”

        Lotor Daibazaal was in the news a lot more now that he decided to take his aging father’s place as CEO. This member of the Galra clan was going to usher in a new age in which corruption did not factor in providing a fresh start. Or so the media speculated…

        “He warned me that you might be a little uneasy about me bringing this up.” Keith’s gaze loosened to the window.

        Allura folded her arms and rested her chest forward, “Understatement of the year. Ren knows why we aren’t together anymore…”

        Keith was a little thrown off from hearing a younger person calling him by first name. Most normally referred to his boss as “Komatsu-san or Mr. Komatsu…

        “Are you alright?” she asked.

        “It’s nothing. Go ahead.”

        She continued by recapping a deal that Lotor presented her years after her father died. They were more serious as a couple then, and Lotor wanted to marry her during that time. Unfortunately, that would be under a prenuptial agreement stating that all pharmaceuticals would be transferred by Galra. Weeks later, the warehouse went under and feds were called. Lotor had disappeared suddenly without notice. Allura called off the engagement, packed her bags and took a trip back to London to clear her head.

        “My feelings for that man nearly costed me my reputation. And what would my father say if he were here? Doing business with corruption? I’m only curious to know if Lotor does as we predict he will this time around.”

        “I don’t know. When I was a factory worker at the one in Balmera Valley, they were taking twenty percent of each employee’s paychecks under an unspecified name. Turned out that it was all part of something to illegally cover their bottom line should the place go belly up.”

        “Well, whoever was responsible for bringing them down the first time, they did a better job than I ever would. A shame they’re keeping their profile private; they deserve a reward or a medal of honor or something…”

        All Keith chose to do was nod. Yet another few words of a confession evaporated on his lips because why brag now? Still, she needed to know.

        “The one that did that…”

        Three hollow knocks to the door.

       “Allura?”

       Keith read the wrinkle on the doctor's nose that told him he was thinking the same thing; that hopefully the nurse had something genuinely urgent to make up for interrupting their conversation.

       “Do you remember that patient of yours that kept smashing his face into the window during his PTSD episode?” Romelle brought up reluctantly.

       “Don’t tell me he’s done something else perilous.”

        As Romelle rushed away, Allura excused herself and closed the door behind her. Keith could still make out hollow bits of conversation between the two women despite their hushed tones. Something about the patient becoming more agitated with the “new treatment”, and inquiries about any estranged family.

        “Did you spell his name correctly, Romelle?”

        “Just the way you wrote on the form: D-E-M-A-R-T-I-N…”

        Keith spelled the name under his tongue and gasped sharply. De Martin…that name washed over Keith like the coldest shower of Deja-vu. The Mr. DeMartin he knew died…