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only you (and you alone)

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White blouse and a pencil skirt?

No, too formal.

Blue button-up and slacks?

No, too stuffy in this summer heat.

Black dress with a white belt around the waist?

No, but there was no reason why; Meg just hated that dress.

Why hasn’t she gotten rid of it yet?

With a huff of frustration, Meg collapses on her bed and stares at the ceiling, annoyed that she can’t find the right outfit for what has been one day that she has been working for for so long…

She knew she should have planned this out last night, or maybe even gone shopping and found something new, but she talked herself out of it whenever she thought about it because this is just like any other day in her education, right? If she made it out to be more than it is, then she would have only psyched herself out more and been in a world of panic for the last week…

But now all that panic she would have felt over the course of a week has compacted and hit her like a ton of bricks as she sits up and stares into the abyss that is her tiny closet.

Glancing over to the clock on her bedside table her stomach sinks as she reads the time.

7:36AM

It was too early for her having stayed up until three in the morning wondering about today, and now she has only about twenty-five minutes to finish getting ready and leave.

Okay, Meg, just pick something.  Don’t think too much about it.

She ends up picking out a pair of black jeans, a green v-neck, and a light grey cardigan.  An outfit that can go either way in terms of formal or laid back, and she takes a deep breath, going into the bathroom to brush out her hair. 

She slept in braids again last night forgetting to take them out before attempting to fall asleep.  Despite wanting to pull her hair up, she knows she has no time so she is just thankful her hair looks decent the way it cascades down her shoulders, still wavy from the braids, and taking this moment, she talks to herself under her breath, listening her achievements that have brought her here so far.

Okay, Meg, you’ve made it to your senior year of college, you’ve gotten accepted as a research assistant, and you’ve been accepted to study under the head of the psychology department…

After years of working full-time and taking care of her mother, Meg is surprised she has even made it this far, especially starting so far behind everyone else, it felt like.  She didn’t start her degree until she was twenty-two, the same age it felt like most people her age were already graduating.

Immediately she felt dejected, discouraged.  Sure, she had gotten into the university, but that was only a small step in the grand scheme of things, and the longer she had been away from school, the more she felt like she missed out. 

The one thing Meg was thankful for, though, was her best friend Nea who never was interested in higher education, but has supported her every step of the way, and she couldn’t be more appreciative of the help.

And now…now Meg started her research study internship within the department, and this was the first real networking she has done since she started.  Maybe she shouldn’t be making such a big deal about this, she knows, but she had been looking into graduate schools lately for some reason.

Maybe it was the dream of getting an even higher education, or the terror of having to actually get out there in the real world, she didn’t know, so she felt like she had to make a good first impression with her mentor especially, since any recommendations she would want in the near future should come from them.

What was their name?

She could smack herself, she’s so stupid…not even remembering the name of her mentor she is trying so hard to impress…

She met them a few weeks ago at a senior gala, didn’t she?

Let’s see…Dr. MacDonald? Dr. McMinamin? No…

Spitting into the sink and rinsing out her mouth far more aggressively than she needed, she ran into her room and grabbed her bag, ripping it open making sure she had all of her necessary stuff for the day.

Pens, paper, research papers she studied over the summer, binders full of various information about careers and masters programs, even though she should have already been applying to that last part, but she leafs through the papers trying to find the biography she found on her mentor…

“Fuck!” she hisses, immediately bringing up her thumb to her mouth and sucking on the little bit of blood that comes out of a sharp paper.  “Goddammit…I don’t have time for this…”

Glancing back at her clock it is now 7:58 and she has to leave but now she’s bleeding over important papers in her bag and hasn’t even started any coffee or tea or anything to bring with her…

She rushes into the bathroom and throws open the medicine cabinet, rifling through to try and find some bandaids…but all she finds are gag Jesus bandaids that Nea got her last Christmas. 

Sighing, she looks to her finger hoping that she won’t even need a bandaid, but by this time dark red blood is already left a small streak on her finger and is dripping on the floor in front of her, so either she can take the change, or show up and hope that a Jesus bandaid won’t be too…much.

‘Lord Jesus heal me’, she thinks to herself with a small laugh as she wraps the bandaid around her finger before rushing into the kitchen and at least filling up her water bottle.

Managing to fill up her bottle without any spills, she runs to grab her bag, her eyes catching the neon clock in the corner of the room.

8:05.

She’s going to be late.

She’s going to be late for her first day and everything is going to fall apart.

Running like she is about to start a marathon, she rushes out of her apartment and down the concrete steps to the parking lot trying to swallow growing absolute nerves and raw panic that builds like a tidal wave in her chest.

Fumbling with her keys, she manages to unlock her car door and get in.

Did she lock the apartment door?

Ah, fuck, she thinks, there’s nothing in there worth stealing anyways.  Shaking her head, she peels out of the parking lot, her tires screeching behind her as she is off.

She never thought she would ever be in this situation: late and panicking all over a research situation, that she never thought she’d ever be interested in.

Early in high school, she started to rebel, not in a conscious way, but she wasn’t interested in anything.

Math, science, English, Art…nothing peaked her interest, and with the increasing medical bills coming to her house from her mom, and with the increasingly lower grades in her school, she decided never to go back.

She took two years off her sophomore year, once she was old enough to work, and she worked in order to pay for the hospital bills, even if she couldn’t even cover half of them, but at least she felt like she was making a difference for the first time in her life.

After awhile as the bills piled up, and her mother got increasingly irritated that Meg was “wasting” her life taking care of her, her principal decided to give her the opportunity to go back, to get her diploma, amazingly enough.  She went to her classes, always worried about her mother, but as soon as she was out, she went to a part-time job at the local diner and helped pay the bills that they knew they could never pay off, but at least it was something for then until they could figure out the rest.

With the help from her principal, and the field and track coach giving her an outlet for her energy and running, she tried her hardest to graduate with passing grades, wanting to make a name for herself out there that was something more than just high school drop-out.

Meg really owes it to her principal allowing her to come back to school, even if now she doesn’t know if it was necessarily even legal, but afterwards it was never an issue, so she never wanted to fight or or bring it up. 

She finally graduated, but that wasn’t the end of her struggles, and to her, it only felt like the beginning.  Her mother’s sickness only worsened with time, and her moods began to swing from one extreme to the next, not knowing how she would feel day-to-day. 

Constantly worrying about one thing or another, she always felt like there was an impending deadline, or danger, or disappointment right around the corner that she could never get away from.  When she was able to see someone about how she felt, she was diagnosed with severe anxiety disorder, and once she was able to have resources to cope, her life changed. 

Yes, her life and her choices were hers, but moving forward, things began to have a more positive outlook, and the first thing she did was apply to a university near her town so she could still be close to her mom and friends, yet she could finally move on and help others in a way that she was helped along the way.

There was a slight embarrassment that she couldn’t shake being in her twenties already and taking classes with kids fresh out of high school, and she immediately felt like she was behind somehow, but the more she learned and concentrated on herself, the more confident she felt regardless of her peers around her.

And now look at her, Meg can hardly believe it.

Through all of the struggles and strife of graduating high school, dealing with her own mental health, and gaining the confidence to go back to school, she is finally starting her senior year and was accepted as a research assistant to the head of the Psychology department.

She felt proud, if not majorly overwhelmed, but proud nonetheless.

Right as she gets on the main road, her phone starts ringing while reading out the name in it’s automated tone:

My Bitch heart with stars skull with crossbones

Meg smiles, always laughing at how her phone reads out the emojis along with the name as she pats the passenger seat trying to keep an eye out on where she is going while trying to answer the phone.

Hitting the phone against her knuckle, with a hiss she picks it up and answers it, putting it on speaker and setting it back down in her lap.  Before she can even get any words out, Nea immediately jumps into why she is calling.

“Hey! I just wanted to call and wish you luck! You must be nervous, are you nervous? Don’t be nervous, you’re badass,” Nea practically strings all of her words together, particularly emphasizing Meg being badass, which only makes Meg laugh, even if it does come out slightly strained and panicked.

“Thanks.  I’m totally not nervous…I only feel like I haven’t known peace nor will I ever know peace ever again, and this sense of total unpanic is just killing me and I may never be the same again.  But again, I’m fine. Totally fine.  Totally awesome,” Meg replies, changing lanes without putting on her blinker and realizing she accidentally cut someone off behind her when they lay on their horn.  When she looks in her rear view mirror, they are already holding up their middle finger at her, but as soon as she looks back at the road, the angry looking man and his middle finger are the farthest things from her mind.

“Look, you’ve been working so hard for this, there’s no way they won’t like you.  You know what you’re doing, you kick ass, and you got this.  I know you do,” Nea slurs her words slightly and Meg hears a soft thud come from Nea’s end of the phone.

“Nea, have you been drinking? It’s 8 in the-“

“Haven’t been to sleep,” Nea interrupts.  “Just because you’re a responsible adult with obligations in the morning doesn’t mean I gotta have the same schedule.”

Meg laughs through the absolute jealousy she feels in that moment.  It would be so nice to have a job at a bar, work with fun people all night, sleep all day…

But no, Meg is loving what she’s doing but she misses the adventure of being able to go out and do whatever during the week since you don’t have to be at work until six that evening.

“Say, I’m gonna go pass out unless you want me on the phone while you walk in.  I’ll yell at anyone in that department that makes you feel less than what you deserve, girl.”

“No,” Meg smiles, “no it’s fine.  Go get some sleep.  Thank you for calling me though, it helped.”

“Anytime.  Are we still on tonight? Six?”

“Of course!” Meg exclaims, forgetting she made plans and is silently thankful that Nea knows how forgetful she can be.  “Oh, by the way, those damn Jesus bandaids are coming in handy today.”

There is a loud laugh from Nea before she gathers her thoughts.  “I knew it.  You do love them.  Anyways, I’m crashing, so I’ll see you tonight.”

“See you then,” Meg says, smiling as she hangs up and takes a deep breath, now in a much calmer and better mood than before.

Hopefully it stays this way but as she pulls into the parking lot at her school, it is now 8:34 and she is late.  She should have been there by 8:30.

Busting from her car, she makes sure she has her phone, bag, and water as she hits the lock on the door closing it behind her.

Her keys…

Fuck.

Spinning around, she notices she left her keys on the seat…goddammit.

That’s a problem for later, she tells herself, as she begins walking towards the psychology building, the same building she has spent so much of her time this last year, she knows the path by heart.

“Aye, lady, watch where you’re drivin’ next time, aye?!” A man’s voice calls, and at first she doesn’t think it is directed towards her, until she notices that there is no one else around.  Turning towards the voice, she sees a man about her age, getting out of a grey car that parked right next to her and staring directly at her.

“Excuse me?” She shouts back, a little bit too far to talk in a normal voice, but too far to yell. 

“Ya cut me off back on 522.  Learn how to drive, for fucks sake,” the man grunts before locking his car behind him, and suddenly Meg’s legs tingle, ready to run as she grips her bag towards her middle.

Who is this guy?

“Are you following me?” She asks, backing away as the man gets closer.  He has about eight inches on her, and the way his muscles practically bulge through his shirt indicate that she would be no match if he catches up to her.

She just hopes that her sprinting practice in high school hasn’t gone away these last few years, should she need to run.  She’s so close to campus, and once they’re in public, he will leave her alone, right?

Her thoughts are broken by a hearty laugh from the guy as he looks from her clenched bag to how she is posed to run away.

“No, no I’m not, lady.  Just tryin’ to get to work, I’m not gonna attack ya if that’s what you’re thinking.”

Oh.

“What department do you work in?” Meg asks, still backing up to make distance between them, not totally believing his statement.

“I go between working at the gym and the Psychology department.”

“Psychology?” That piques Meg’s interest.  “What do you do there?”

“I’m an assistant working there.  Answering phones ’n shit,” this man says drawing closer to Meg who slows down upon hearing where he works.

“Wait, really? So you know the head of the department?”

“Well obviously,” the man says, rolling his eyes as they near a set of stairs going up to the road. 

“Who is it?”

“Is this a test? You don’t believe me, love?” the man jokes, letting out a laugh.  Meg doesn’t respond, only scowls at this man’s behavior, but that seems to amuse him more than her answering as he keeps laughing.  “Fine, it’s Dr. MacMillan.  Evan, I think his first name is, though don’t call him that.  I heard he hates it when others call him that.  Gets right mad.”

MacMillan! That’s it! How could she have forgotten that? Thank god for this belligerent man; Meg is so happy to find out his name without trying to dig through her papers again, she could hug this man…though she won’t.

There’s something about him that keeps her from fully relaxing around him as he walks beside her now, full of both complete confidence and arrogance.

“So what should I call him?”

He shrugs and laughs.  “I avoid him, or really I avoid everyone in that department.  They’re all tossers, the lot of ‘em.  I don’t think they know I even work there, or what I do there.  They tend to leave me alone, and I leave them alone and that’s that, and I get paid.  Pretty sweet deal.”

“Wait…” Meg pauses, “So you just hang out in the psych department and get paid for it?”

“Pretty much.  That’s how I’ve made it this far through college, just tryin’ to get to the end of it.”

“Then why are you even here?” Meg scowls, thinking about all the hard work she has put into being here and then there’s this person who is treating this like some obligation, some joke…

The man doesn’t say anything, but he seems to harden beside her as his once joyful expression turns sour and his very demeanor changes drastically.

The two walk in silence towards the same building for a few minutes before the man speaks up again.

“Name’s David,” he mutters, like Meg asked for it even though she very much didn’t.

“Meg,” she says back, still doubting David’s story since she has never seen this guy around all the hours she spent around the building…but then again she couldn’t even remember the man she is going to be working under so maybe her memory isn’t really on her side.

“Where’re ya headed?” David asks Meg as they still walk in the same direction, making Meg become increasingly more paranoid that David was telling the truth. 

“Well, if you must know, to Martin Hall,” Meg answers, staring forward.  If he is who he says he is, he’s going the same way so it doesn’t hurt to make some small talk.

“Ah, so you are going the same direction as me.  For a moment, I thought you were following me,” David ends his sentence with a chuckle that doesn’t reach Meg as she picks up her pace just a little bit, wanting to get to the building on the other side of campus as fast as she can.

“Are ya going to class? What’re you heading over there for?” David asks, still making conversation that Meg has no interest in participating in, but she answers regardless, figuring that she will probably be seeing more of this man this year if she’s spending so much time where he works too.

“I’m helping Dr. MacMillan with his research, whatever that may be.  He hasn’t given me much of a background yet.  He sent me some email with one line telling me the time to meet in his office and that we would discuss the research then.”

David lets out a hum and says nothing more as they walk in silence and finally, Martin Hall comes into view.  With a sigh of relief, Meg tries to take deep breaths in an attempt to control her rapid breathing and the nerves that eat away at her stomach.

Not only is she now - she looks at her watch - ten minutes late, but she has no idea what to even expect from this meeting.

Thinking back to when she first met Dr. Evan MacMillan for the one and only time, his whole presence is of someone who meant business.

With his steely eyes and constant brooding demeanor, it was hard to try and strike up a conversation with him.  She wouldn’t even know where to start, and even when he made his rounds and shook everyone’s hand, it seemed too formal, robotic.

One handshake, a polite nod, and onto the next person, and if she thinks back, she doesn’t even know if he smiled once that evening, or maybe she missed the times he did.

Taking a quick mental note, he looked like he was in his maybe mid to late thirties, younger than she would have expected from the new head of the department, with dark almost black hair shaved on the sides of his head.  Honestly, he wasn’t that bad looking either, but Meg quickly stuffed those thoughts out of her mind, not wanting to think such thoughts about her mentor and technically, boss. 

But the one thing she couldn’t forget was how she felt when she first saw him.  She felt light-headed as her heart pounded in her chest and time slowed down around her.  She’s never felt like that with anyone before, and for a moment she debated on running to the bathroom, thinking she was going to get sick, but as he looked at her and paused, it was like they were in a world of their own.

That was until he visibly stiffened and turned away, carrying on a conversation with one of the other soft-spoken sign language instructors, Philip Ojomo, as though Meg didn’t exist, and at that moment, she felt like she was dunked into a tub of ice water.

Needing some time to herself, she rushed to the bathroom to catch her breath and thanked God that she was alone in there as she stared at herself in the mirror. 

What was that?

Her heart continued to race and she didn’t have any idea as to what came over her.  Was it attraction?

Maybe.

He wasn’t bad looking, but no, she’s never felt this way when she sees someone she’s attracted to, not even with people she has dated in the past, and along with the feeling of being lifted up, a strange dark pit grew in her stomach as though looking at him made her feel emotions, both good and bad. 

Leaning down and splashing her face a few times with cold water, she decided that maybe it was time to go home, and on top of everything, her feet were killing her. 

Damn heels…

Walking out of the bathroom, she sees Dr. Evan MacMillan once last time standing off on his own with a small glass of whiskey in his giant hand, and as Meg’s right ankle started to throb she turned around without a second glance, not wanting to interrupt him. 

Thinking about how he looked the last time she saw him, she figured he wasn’t one to be social or even remotely friendly, and now…

Now she is late and she will have to face him alone.

As they reach the building, David opens the door for Meg, who bolts in without a backward glance or even a thank you, her mind too caught up on getting to the third floor where most of the professors’ offices are.

“Well, good luck, lady,” David says, breaking up her thoughts with a salute as he walks down the hallway passing the stairs that Meg begins to ascend.

Normally, Meg would be polite, say thank you, nod, do anything, but right now her mind isn’t focused on friendly interactions with people who aren’t Dr. Evan MacMillan.

Bounding up the steps, she reaches the third floor in no time, and taking one look around she sighs seeing a familiar face waiting for her.

“Hey, Meg!” Claudette called out to her as soon as Meg entered the hallway.  The quiet girl sits beside the entrance to all of the offices with a pile of books spread out around her.  “I knew you’d be here so I wanted to wish you luck but you’re late!”

“Hey Claude, yeah I know,” Meg sighs and stops for a moment to catch her breath.  “It has been a morning.”

Claudette frowns at Meg and crosses her arms over her chest.  “Was it a morning, or did you just manage your time poorly? Did you even read that book I gave you?”

Meg rolls her eyes and smiles at her friend.  “Well, I flipped through the pages.  I’ll read it when I have time.”

“The book is about time management! You’ll have more time if you just read it.”

“Yeah, yeah.  Anyways I really have to go, I’m already so late,” Meg groans, standing back up as she looks down the hallway. 

“Good luck, you got this.  Show Dr. MacMillan how incredible you are.”

“You remembered his name?”

“Yeah, it’s a pretty easy name, plus he’s the one in charge of your job.  Of course I’d remember.”

Meg lets out another groan as she waves bye to Claudette, ignoring how silly she feels for forgetting Dr. MacMillan’s name at a time like this, but at least she knows it now, and as she makes her way down the hall looking at each passing room, not sure where his is, her heart rate picks up and the nerves in her stomach somehow worsen, even though she didn’t know that could be possible.

Finally finding his office at the end of the hall, she takes a deep breath and stands up tall, straightening her cardigan as she exhales slowly.

Raising a closed fist, she knocks on the dark wood door and waits for a response.

“Come in,” A deep voice calls from the other side of the door and with one more deep breath, Meg pushes open the door with a friendly smile.

Dr. MacMillan stands on the opposite side of the room and turns towards her at the sound of the door opening, and normally at this time, finally seeing who she is working with, her nerves would slowly dissipate, but as she takes one look at the large man looking at her, she suddenly feels small and exposed.

The very fire in her chest she felt when she first saw him a few weeks ago reignites as they stare at each other, both unmoving, as it feels like all the air around them disappeared. 

Dr. MacMillan’s lips part ever so slightly, but enough to cause Meg to glance down at his lips and then back up at his eyes, trying her best to stifle an uncharacteristically strong urge to walk up to him and touch him.  She isn’t sure how long they stay like this, for it could have been mere seconds, to minutes, but time meant nothing and somehow, somewhere, she feels like she has known this man…

But no, no that’s crazy. 

That’s impossible.

She has seen him one other time, that’s it, and there is no way that she has met him anywhere else. 

Forcing a smile on her face, she takes a step forward and speaks, trying to keep her voice level despite her nerves raging inside.

“I’m Meg Thomas.  I’m your research assistant for the year.”

“Pleasure to meet you, Meg,” he says, finally blinking for what seems like the first time since Meg walked in as he opens his shoulders and closes the distance between the two.  “I’m Dr. Evan MacMillan, but I suppose with the time we will be spending together, you may call me Evan if you wish,” he continues, his voice low as he puts out a hand for Meg to shake. “We…” Evan continues before clearing his throat, “We haven’t met before have we?”

The way his voice cracks just slightly at the end of his sentence gives Meg some confidence to talk and break the silence knowing that he is feeling the same deja vu as her.

“Well, we’ve met before, Evan” she hears herself saying without much thought as she grabs his hand.  She expects a quick handshake, but instead he doesn’t let go, not immediately, and she finds herself still holding onto his hand too.

“That’s impossible, I would have remembered you,” he says, his brow furrowing as he takes a small step forward bringing himself closer than what would be normally acceptable for the first time meeting anyone. 

Meg blushes under the scrunity of his intense gaze, but she doesn’t look away despite her face burning. 

“We did,” Meg continues knowing that she should just stop, just let him think she was wrong, but that’s never been her.  “It was at the Senior Gala last month.  You were announced as the new head of the department, and you met all of the Psychology majors.”

“You do not have a face that I would forget,” he says barely above a whisper through narrowed eyes as though he was merely talking to himself, not to her.  After a few seconds, he finally takes his hand away and straightens his back, making him seem even taller than before. “Nevertheless, you’re late.”

“Well-“

“I don’t need excuses.  Just be on time tomorrow,” he says while he steps back and takes a seat in his chair, gesturing for Meg to sit opposite of him on the other side of his mahogany desk. 

“Tomorrow? I thought we were only meeting twice a week.”

“Is meeting tomorrow going to be a problem?” He asks, turning towards her and raising an eyebrow.

Meg’s mouth tugs into a frown as she unzips her bag to pull out a battered notebook. 

“No,” she answers, finally looking back up at Evan who still hasn’t taken his eyes off of her.  “But for future notice, it would be nice if we consult on the days we meet beforehand.”

“Is this not beforehand? Unless I have forgotten how the laws of time behave, it is before our meeting tomorrow,” he ends his sentence by leaning forward on his desk and giving Meg a smirk.

“I meant-“

“I am aware of what you meant.  I was merely trying to lighten the mood,” he interrupts, leaning down and pulling out folders from a drawer in his desk.  “Perhaps my humor is a little on the rusty side.”

“You could say that again,” Meg scoffs, a small smile forming on her face before she realizes it. 

Evan stops and looks at her, his eyebrows high on his forehead. 

“It is not often I am in the presence of someone who is so…brutally honest.”

“Well, get better jokes and next time I won’t have to be honest and tell you your humor is severely lacking,” Meg retorts with a laugh as Evan simply smirks at her with a playful glint in his eyes.

“Nevertheless, despite my poor humor, you must be wondering what research I am conducting and what your role in this process will be,” he begins, changing the subject and leaning back in his chair.

“Well, the ad was pretty vague,” Meg responds, leaning back in her chair mirroring his relaxed attitude.

“Are you familiar with the name, Order of the Entity?”

“I can’t say that I am.”

“It is a cult located not too far from here, or rather one of their outposts is located not too far.  From what I’ve gathered, there are more outposts scattered around the world, and we so happen to share a county with one.”

“So, you’re just researching a specific cult? What kind of cult is it?”

“Without giving too much away, I want you to read some documents I have prepared, and I want your thoughts on the matter before I tell you.”

Meg frowns as she watches Evan stand up and walk over to a bookcase to her right.  He rifles through a couple of books before picking one out, along with four manilla folders bursting with papers.

“So what am I here to do?” She asks as he sets the papers down on the desk with a loud thud.  Eyeing the papers carefully, a few words pop out at her that makes her heart race with excitement.  Maybe this will be more exciting than she thought.

Cult.

Sacrifices.

Entity.

“Overall, it is simple: Help me research, organize files and articles we find, be active and thorough when it comes to details, and most of all, come prepared with ideas and thoughts of your own.  But from the small time I have spent with you, I expect that shouldn’t be a problem.”

Meg is almost tempted to be offended by that comment, but instead she nods and shrugs knowing that he is right.  She has her opinions, and she smiles a little bit knowing that she won’t need to hide them around him as much as she originally thought. 

“Does that sound okay to you? You will be credited to any discoveries or theories you propose.  That being said, if this position is too much, you may back out of this position, there is still time to change.”

“Yes!” Meg says a little bit too loud, too fast before she clears her throat.  “Yes, I’m still interested.”

Evan’s smirk on his face grows and sends pleasant shivers down Meg’s back.

“Well, in that case, welcome aboard and get reading,” he instructs, gesturing to the papers while he stands up and walks back over to his bookshelf.

“Right now?” Meg asks, slightly taken aback.

“Do you have any other place to be?”

Meg raises an eyebrow, shakes her head, and grabs the top folder while she leans back in her chair comfortably, trying to ignore how Evan keeps glancing back at her before picking out a book of his own and coming back to sit opposite of her once more.

Time passes fast, almost as though Meg blinked and suddenly it was hours later and the only telltale sign that she has been sitting too long was the pins and needles in her legs from restlessness, and the way her stomach growls wanting food.

The folders and papers she had been reading took over her interest almost immediately, and she couldn’t stop.  Some of them were written by Evan himself, while other’s were littered with names she didn’t recognize like Dr. Benedict Baker, or one who just went by Vigo whom of which she questioned his validity, but read his readings just the same.  There were others too written by some of the professors here at the university like Dr. Herman Carter and Dr. Sally Smithson.

As Meg spent time reading, she tried to find common themes, common sayings, anything that could link what they could possibly be researching, and what else they could add to this mysterious cult that Meg has had no knowledge of. 

Most of the papers started out the same with an abstract detailing what the cult is, what it worships, and what they do, but the one thing every paper lacks is the ‘why’ and maybe that’s what Evan is trying to research.

The psychology behind cults in general has always been fascinating to Meg after she took a sociology class and there was a brief mention of cults and how societies like that work, but since that small section of one class about a year ago, it hasn’t come up in Meg’s study’s since, so now that Evan wants her to help research a real cult thriving in this day in age, she could not be more thrilled.

As she read, Evan kept scanning various books, making notes of his own, and never staying seated for more than a few minutes before he was up again looking at something else.  Meg tries to ignore his gaze as he gets up every time, trying to focus on the task put in front of her, but occasionally she finds herself glancing up and watching him work.

The first thoughts she had when they first met come back into her mind for a brief second as she watches him.  He is wearing a dark red button-up shirt that almost seems too small, but it highlights his muscles beneath, suspenders, and black slacks, and she can’t help but think that he really is stunning despite his serious and intimidating nature.

But every time she thinks about that, she looks away and forces herself to concentrate back on the notes she takes while reading.  Concentrate on what she is there for and don’t get caught up in how he looks.

After awhile, she glances at the clock and with a shock, she realizes four hours have passed already in silence as the two sit and read, and Meg only gets a little bit overwhelmed as she notices she’s only about halfway through the papers he set in front of her. 

At that moment, her stomach growls particularly loud, and due to the quiet stillness of the room, she is sure that Evan must have heard it too.  Her question is answered as he glances up at her and slowly shuts his book. 

“On that note,” he begins to say with an amused expression on his face, “I think it is safe to say we can call it for today.  You may take the materials with you to review tonight.”

“Sorry about that,” Meg says with a smile.  “I’ll definitely go over these.  There’s some really fascinating stuff in here.”

“I agree.  Glad you feel the same, and I am happy to have you on board,” Evan says as Meg begins to pack the folders in her bag, careful not to damage any of the contents inside. 

“I’m happy to help,” Meg agrees, standing up.  “Thank you for allowing me this opportunity.”

With one last smile, Evan nods as Meg turns around to leave, closing the door softly behind her before exhaling a breath she didn’t know she was holding.

That actually went…okay.  Better than okay, as Meg fully expected the worst when she walked in there, and instead she was met with someone she felt confident she could work with on such an interesting study.

As she walks back to her car, she processes some of the information she read in the few hours she was there.

First, there was a cult, as Evan pointed out, called Order of the Entity.  It sounded pretty cheesy to Meg at first, but its members quickly became anything but that. 

They worship an ancient being that they call The Entity, and make sacrifices to appease this being, and the weirdest part of it all? It wasn’t like this was some murderous cult kidnapping and murdering innocent people, no, the sacrificed people were chosen like it was some honor.  They wanted to be sacrificed, killed, and Meg can only guess that is a big part of what Evan wants to study.  The thought alone sent chills down Meg’s spine as she read, and she can’t say it didn’t make her uneasy, but the excitement of learning more about this cult outweighed any doubts that came to her mind. 

As she approaches her car, with a groan she sees her keys right in the front seat taunting her from the inside, forgetting that she had locked herself out in her panic of being late this morning. 

Well shit.

She pulls out her phone and begins to text Nea hoping that she would be awake to hear her phone go off, but then she nearly drops her phone when she hears a voice behind her.

“Thought you’d be headed home by now,” Evan says, coming up behind Meg, carrying a briefcase and a jacket over his arm. 

“Well,” Meg lets out an embarrassed laugh, “locked myself out of my car this morning and I kind of forgot about it until now.  I’m just going to wait for my friend to come pick me up.”

“I can give you a ride if you need one,” he offers.  “Was just going to get lunch, but I can make a small detour.”

“No, no you don’t have to.  I’ll just call my friend, she can come get me,” Meg protests, definitely not wanting to put him out or make him feel obligated to give her poor self a ride home.

“Are you sure? It is of no inconvenience to me.  It could give us more time to discuss thoughts on the information you read.”

“Well…” Meg debates on saying no, still not wanting to inconvenience him despite his objection the other way, but he did bring up a good point, they could talk about what they found, which is something she is going to be helping with, may as well talk about it now. 

Plus, she thought she could call Nea who has a spare key, make her drive all the way out here, but she is about half an hour past Meg’s apartment, so it would be even more of an inconvenience for her. 

Making up her mind, she smiles up at Evan and nods.  “Thank you, okay.  I’ll get us coffee tomorrow then in return.”

“Deal.”

Without another word, as Meg follows Evan to his car, she quickly erases the message she typed out to Nea and simply asked her to meet at her apartment so she could get the spare car key.  Almost as soon as she sends it, her phone dings with a text from Nea saying she was on her way, and Meg sighs with relief. 

Beside her, Evan clicks a button on his key fob, and a car near them lights up causing Meg’s jaw to drop, definitely not expecting the type of car that they stop at.

It is a black Mercedes with tinted windows and looks like something way more expensive than anything Meg had ever dreamed of, and for a moment, her cheeks flush with embarrassment at him seeing her beat up old Honda Accord.  She doesn’t even know the year of it, but all she knows is that in the winter, it likes to stop working half of the times she tries to start it, so that…that’s only slightly embarrassing.

Evan walks up to the driver’s side and begins to get in before giving Meg a look who stands stunned near the passenger door, still admiring how fancy and new this car looks; she’s almost afraid to touch it.

She doesn’t think she has ever touched anything that would be so expensive, let alone be able to drive in.

“Is everything okay?” Evan asks from the other side of the car, startling Meg back to reality.  With a nervous laugh she nods and climbs in the passenger side without another word, trying to calm the embarrassment at Evan catching her absolutely gawking at his car.  Evan hesitates just for a moment with a scowl creating deep lines in his face before he gets into the drivers side and starts the car.

“Just tell me where to go,” he says, backing out of the parking space.  Meg quickly gives him directions and soon they are off on the road, tense silence filling the car around them.  Taking this time to look around, Meg notices how there isn’t much to look at around the car as it is pretty much spotless, except for a small metal decal on the door that she doesn’t recognize.

It looks like a mine with a few trees on either side, and below it says MacMillan Mining.  Gently running her fingers over the small charm, she wonders what this means as something deep in her mind thinks she has seen this icon before…but where?

MacMillan Mining.  The name doesn’t ring a bell, other than Evan sharing the surname of MacMillan, but the way the small charm looks almost drives her crazy the more she stares at it.  Where has she seen this?

“What influenced you to pursue psychology?” Evan asks, breaking the silence that settled over the car once they started moving.  It nearly catches Meg off guard, but she is grateful for the distraction.

“Oh, well I’ve just had a lot of real life experiences with it, and to be able to help others in the same way that I’ve-“ she stops herself as she looks out the window, not wanting to give too much information away, not about herself.  “That I’ve seen people in my life receive would be incredible.  But I did consider something along the lines of sports medicine originally, actually.”

“What made you change your mind?”

“Well, as the years went on, actually going to some sort of medical degree at twenty-two was just too much.  So here I am at twenty-five, still trying to get my bachelors and just wanting to get out there and start a career of some sort.”

“I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with starting a degree at any age.  I almost wish I had waited until I was ready, rather than being forced into higher education,” Evan says, but as his sentence got to the end, the volume of his words were barely above a whisper. 

“Forced into it?” Meg asks, wondering how anyone would be forced into higher education when that’s something she worked for for so long.

Evan doesn’t say anything in response, he doesn’t even acknowledge that Meg said anything, and as much as she wants to know, she decides that maybe it isn’t her place to ask, not yet anyway.

She will find out, that much is certain, but on the first day she has some restraint and control despite how her mind buzzes wanting to know more about Evan’s past. 

“So,” Meg says, tempting the waters as she points to the MacMillan Estate decal on the door. “What’s this little charm?”

Evan glances over at Meg and then the decal before his eyes glue back to the road and gloss over slightly.  He doesn’t speak right away, and in fact the only reason Meg knows he heard her was because of his look to her.  If not for that look, she might have thought she didn’t actually vocalize it, or maybe he was too caught up in his own thoughts to pay attention to her.

So she drops it with a small sigh as she looks out the window at the passing scenery.

“It’s my father’s company,” Evan mutters, finally speaking up.  “This is technically a company car.  I couldn’t afford this even if I tried.”  He ends his sentence with a small laugh that sounds more sad than anything. 

“Is it a big company?” Meg asks, not quite sure what to talk about when she knows absolutely nothing about mining, and she doesn’t want to pry too much into the personal life of her own professor either.

Evan nods.  “Fairly big.  It’s been in our family for generations, since the 1800s I believe.”

“Oh, wow.  I guess that would be nice to know you’d always have a job to go back to should something happen, you know?”

At Meg’s words, Evan’s whole demeanor changes, somehow gets darker. 

“I’d never go work for him.”

Meg’s chest doesn’t just hurt, it feels like it’s on fire at the complete regret of somehow making a simple conversation worse so she just lets out a sound of acknowledgement and doesn’t say another word.  Her brain starts firing off ideas, other topics to bring up, something else to say, but before she can think of anything good, Evan speaks again.

“I’m sorry.  I…my father and I aren’t close.  I don’t speak to any of my family, actually.  It’s a sensitive subject.”

“I’m so sorry-“

“Don’t be.  You didn’t know.”

Meg nods, again feeling speechless as he turns a corner, and with a sigh of relief, she sees her apartment building come into view, as well as Nea already sitting on the front bench, leaning to the side with one leg on the bench and the other spread out in front of her, half asleep.

“Well, thank you for the ride.  I really appreciate it,” Meg thanks him as he slows down and eyes the half passed out Nea. 

“Do you want me to walk you to the door?” He says, his voice even more serious than normal, which Meg didn’t think was possible, but the way he looks at Nea with narrowed eyes only makes her burst out laughing.

“No, that’s my best friend.  She has the spare key to my apartment, so I’ll be fine.”

“Is she okay?”

Meg looks back over to Nea, eyeing her clothes she definitely didn’t change out of since last night with her black shorts, fishnets, combat boots, and tank top with stains that Meg can only assume to be alcohol, or hopes is alcohol. 

“Yeah, she’s…fine,” Meg laughs out.  “She works nights as a bartender.”

Evan nods slowly as he peels his eyes away from Nea and looks at Meg, his green eyes staring into her blue as the quiet hum of the car fills the air around them.  After a moment, he smiles a small smirk that creates a dimple in his right cheek.  Meg almost wants to reach up and touch it

No.

That is completely uncalled for and that thought alone breaks the comfortable silence that came across the car as she looks away and unbuckles her seatbelt.

“Again, thank you for the ride.  I’ll see you tomorrow morning,” Meg fumbles, her words coming out of her mouth too fast and end up sounding like one long word rather than an actual sentence.  This only makes Evan chuckle as he leans back in his seat. 

“Grande Americano.”

“Excuse me?” Meg stops as her hand reaches the car door handle.

“That’s my coffee order for tomorrow.”

The realization kicks in and makes Meg smile and roll her eyes remembering that she did promise him coffee.

“Can’t have any other fun coffee? Why just an Americano?”

“Oh, so I drive you home just to be accosted because of my coffee preference?” Evan says as the smirk on his face grows, creating a much more comforting atmosphere between them than what transpired through the whole care ride.

“What can I say? Who wants watery bitter espresso shots? Have some dignity,” Meg retorts smiling back at him

Evan chuckles, a deep sound resounding in his chest that causes Meg’s cheeks to burn, and she takes in a deep breath, hating how she could never control her blushing or skin turning any other color.

“It has been a pleasure, Meg Thomas.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow, Evan MacMillan.”

They give one last smile and nod before Meg climbs out of the passenger door, and with the loud thud of the door closing, Nea jolts awake like she was shocked with electricity.

“Hey, girl,” Meg greets her friend with a wave.

“Who was that?” Nea asks, completely ignoring Meg straining her neck watching Evan’s car drive off and squinting her eyes as though to memorize the license plate for later.

“That was my research instructor, Evan MacMillan,” Meg answers, trying to ignore a strange pit that begins to form in her chest.  “He was nice enough to give me a ride home.”

“What?” Nea exclaims, slapping Meg on the arm.  “I was wondering how you were getting home.  But man, that can’t be your professor man.  Him? He drives a Mercedes!”

“What does the model of his car have to do with anything?” Meg laughs out, slapping her friend back on the arm. 

“Well, I mean, when you said you’d be helping with research, let’s be real here, Meg, I was imagining some stuffy old dude with greying hair, a sedan, and three divorces under his belt.  But him? Man, if I was into men, I’d be all over that.”

“Nea!”

“What? I’m just saying, maybe it won’t be so bad working under him, if ya know what I mean.”

“You’re so gross,” Meg lets out a snort as she turns around to go inside her already unlocked apartment.   “First of all, that’s completely unethical, and second…he can be kind of an ass sometimes.”

“Wait really? Bummer, dude.  Why? What happened?”

“Well he yelled at me for being late-“

“Reasonable.”

“Shut up.  Then he completely forgot who I was despite us meeting just last month.”

“You did forget his name too.”

“Are you on my side or what?” Meg says, shutting the door and rifling through her junk drawer in the kitchen looking for her spare car key.

“Fine, yes that is kind of assholeish.  But he did give you a ride home when you locked yourself out of your car.”

“Okay, well…” Meg lets out a groan of frustration, “Yeah it was nice.  But look…there were times where it just felt…weird.”

“Weird? Like how?”

“Like…have you ever gotten the feeling that you’ve met someone before, or you know them? Like know them know them?”

Nea frowns and lifts a hand up to her chin.  “I mean, when I’m drunk, yeah.  I make a lot of best friends that way where I feel like I’ve known them forever.”

With a laugh, Meg finds the spare car key and goes over to Nea giving her light smack on her head before joining her on the couch in the living room. 

“No, ya noodle.  I mean, there were times where I felt like I’ve met him before, known him somehow.  There was something deeper there and I don’t even know how to explain it myself, but I swear we’ve met.”

“You did say you met him a month ago, right? Maybe it’s that?” Nea suggests, throwing her feet up on the coffee table.

“No…I felt like this back then too.  I just didn’t say anything because I thought it was a fluke, maybe some bad food, I don’t know.  But this…”

“Eh, it’s probably nothing.”

“Maybe…” Meg mumbles looking at Nea’s feet on the coffee table, changing the subject.  How could she ever try to explain this to Nea when she doesn’t even know what’s going on herself.  She tries to see it from Nea’s perspective, tries to rationalize that she’s over thinking, but the thought in the back of her mind that they know each other stays there, scratching away slowly.  “Well can we go get my car then you can crash here until you want to go out later.”

“Hell why not just go get a drink now?” Nea suggests with a shrug.

“You’ve been up all night, Nea.  Are you sure? It’s…” Meg checks her phone.  “One-thirty in the afternoon.”

“Nah, I can go for a drink or two.  I had a solid four hours of sleep.  I want to hear more about this mysterious man that makes you feel things.  I know a place with really good food, I’m paying.”

A smile splits across Meg’s face as she shakes her head.  “Fine.  The food better be good, I’m starving.”

The pair jump up and exit Meg’s apartment, making sure to lock it this time with Nea’s spare key.  Being in Nea’s presence has always given Meg an excuse to not think, not have to think about much, and when she needed to talk, Nea had a way of always calming her nerves with her nonchalant attitude and carefree nature, but Evan MacMillan stays on her mind despite Nea’s words.

And for the first time, Meg can say that Nea’s reassurance didn’t work as they drive off and thoughts of Evan stay in her mind, playing over and over like a loop as a strange tingle makes its way into Meg’s shoulder.

 

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