Cara Michaels’ Picture Choice: 2
Title: Under the Surface
“I can’t believe we’re doing this.” Faith scuttled along the hallway, right along my back.
“Are you sure we won’t get caught?” Wes’s voice climbed high.
“Don’t be such a pussy, bro.” Brad chucked him in the shoulder, starting a four-body pile up as the smaller man stumbled forward. I caught myself, face inches from the wall.
“Fuck you, man.” Wes shoved back.
Cue the cock fight.
Hissing and shushing filled the hall and I rolled my eyes.
“Can we not let the entire campus know we’re here?” Our destination loomed large in the dim corridor. Frosted glass and dark wood double doors. Name on the door in tidy block letters. And a lock my six-year old niece could pop with two pipe cleaners while she hummed the Mission: Impossible theme off-key. One of these days, my sister would catch on about our extracurricular activities and I’d never get to babysit again. “Security guard is in the north end of the building. We have about ten minutes.”
Four anxious bodies crowded up on me produced an amazing amount of body heat.
“Jeez, guys. Give a girl some breathing room, would ya?” I pulled a small toolkit out of my pocket and made quick work of the lock.
“Holy, shit, Andrea. You know how to pick a lock?” Julie’s offended sensibilities set my teeth on edge.
“Dad’s a locksmith.” Not even close to the truth. And complete bullshit to the people who knew the girl I pretended to be.
“Let’s just say I know all sorts of things I shouldn’t.” Now that was true. “Never let a genius get bored.” I struck a diva pose, and Brad deflected the attention from me as Wes and Faith laughed.
“Just curious, Jules. When Dree came up with this, how did you think we were getting in here?”
“Oh, whatever.” Julie stuck out her tongue.
“You got balls, Dree.” Brad snickered as I opened the door with a flourish. “Never knew you had it in you, girl.”
Yeeaahh. If you only knew, pal.
He startled me with a quick brush of his lips across my cheek as I stood. The hint of his cologne teased the air. I thanked any powers listening for the low light. My body—my face—shivered, and it took me a moment to get myself under control.
Steady, girl. Save the inappropriate hormone rushes for the next time you watch the CW.
“Let’s just get this done and get the heck out of here.”
“This is going to be the best senior prank ever!” The sentiment echoed through the group and I waited through the round of high-fives.
Thirty years old, and undercover as a college senior. I so needed to reconsider my career path. But I lacked the usual skill sets for the 9-to-5 crowd. No, I didn’t see adding a genetic knack for shapeshifting and mimicry to my résumé.
They crowded into the dark office and I closed the door and flipped on the light. Four voices let fly the complaints, hands shielding their eyes against the brightness. I surveyed the room as they recovered, spying my true reason for a little late night B&E.
“Someone will see us.” Brad moved to kill the light, but I stopped him with a hand on his chest.
“We’ve got long enough for our Next Top Model shoot.”
The muscles beneath my hand bunched, the heartbeat jumped.
“Besides.” My voice came out rougher and I cleared my throat. “We need the light for the full effect, right?”
Brad’s pupils flared, his hand coming up to hover over mine.
“So how about in front of the desk? With Dean Pompous’ wall of fame as a backdrop.”
Aristo Pappas, dean of students, aka Dean Pompous, loved to sit in his big leather chair framed by diplomas, certificates, awards, and other academic bric-a-brac. Almost as much as he loved to lord over students and faculty alike.
He’d also been a naughty boy in recent months. The man and his high morals had gotten lost in the darkness. How different we could be when we thought no one noticed us. It fell to me—and those I worked with—to guide the dean back to the light.
I held up my phone, the back, decorated in cutesy pastel stripes and emblazoned with the nauseating motto “we are young.” Three words to excuse a lifetime of stupidity. One day these kids might get it, but that day would clearly not be this one. Faith, Wes, and Jules touched everything, left fingerprints everywhere.
Well, I couldn’t save everyone.
“We ready?” I grinned at them, trying not to notice the awareness lingering in Brad’s gaze. No, no, no. You are not supposed to notice me like this. “Okay, smile.”
I shifted the view a smidge to the left and snapped the picture early. The fresh image popped up on my screen long enough for me to know I’d gotten the money shot.
“What the heck are you aiming at?” Faith crossed her arms, scowling at me.
“Sorry, my bad. Try again.” I took a proper picture this time.
“You should be in one of these, Dree. Here, I’ll take one.”
I didn’t protest, knowing any hesitation would inspire questions. Wes snagged the phone and Brad snagged me. He reeled me in until I stood with my back tight against him. His warm breath tickled my ear.
“Something’s different about you.” The whispered words froze me in place.
Half a dozen pics and awkward poses later, we headed out the door.
I wiped down the doorknob and locked up behind us. We headed into the dark night, splitting up to return to our respective dorms. Brad made a promise to catch up with me later tonight.
I’d need to be gone before then. I accepted the pang of regret and entered the dorm, ducking into a room. Not Andrea’s, but mine. There’d been no need to decorate, knowing I’d only be here a handful of weeks. I changed clothes and stuffed my few belongings into an aging gym duffle.
My body relaxed, shivered and reshaped. I glanced in the mirror, glad to see myself for a change. Funny how quick I could forget what I looked like. Part of me wondered each time if the real me came back, or just the best approximation my memory could concoct. Mahogany hair faded to honey brown. Brown eyes to hazel. Taller than Dree. Not as curvy.
I pulled up the image I needed on my phone and emailed it with a short message.
Left corner. Behind the desk.
Two minutes later, my phone dinged.
I see it.
A Gemini dropbox.
Yes. We’ll arrange a change in courier. Find out what Pappas is up to.
The next message gave me a map link. Then:
Consider it a retirement present.
I opened the link, gaped at the beachfront home.
At least for now. Things are about to get hotter.
What’s going on?
Dr. Welborn’s in FBI custody. The Paladins need to lay low
Everyone is clearing out before we expose Pappas.
I should stay. Help.
You should go be yourself for a while. Remember what it’s like.
You’re going to need me.
Trust me. We’ll be in touch.
The phone went dead and I swore softly. Bag over my shoulder, I left the way I’d arrived, bumping into Brad on my way down the steps.
“Sorry.” He steadied me, eyes focused ahead. Looking for Andrea? She’d return soon, with no memory of the moments he wanted to explore. “You okay?”
“Not much breathing room in these halls, eh?”
Brad’s eyes narrowed. What had I said? Oh hell. Breathing room. But he couldn’t suspect—
“No,” he said. “There isn’t. Have we met?
“Don’t think so.” I forced a laugh. “Pretty sure I’d remember you.”
“Let me get the door for you.”
He watched me long after I walked outside. The weight of his gaze demanded a response.
It took everything I had, but I didn’t look back.
Like what you just read? Have a question or concern? Leave a note for the author! We appreciate your feedback!
Cara Michaels is the author of the Gaea’s Chosen sci-fi romance series and host of the #MenageMonday flash fiction challenge.