Chapter 9 by Vishnu Sunil

Panting, both Rob and Tara dropped down on the stain-ridden couch with a thud. Wanting to talk but barely being able to catch their breath, they just stared at each other hoping their eyes could communicate instead. After a few moments of getting their breath back, Tara blurted out, "What happened? Why did we just run all the way back?" 
Rob still in a haze, partly from his splurge last night replied, "I think Adi knows" and proceeded to show Tara the message which read Why would you do this?.

 

Tara's face remained frozen in horror and jerked into a mini panic attack as Rob's phone started to ring with the face of her former captive, it was Adi calling and both of them looked at each other wondering what to do next. "Umm hey Adi" said Rob groggily trying to sound like the last hour or so was all just a bad dream.
"Bro, why are you doing this? You know you should have come to me first! I would have sorted this fix for you. What do you have to say for yourself??" quizzed Adi leaving the two friends sinking into the couch. "Just don't make me look bad in front of pharmacists whom I deal with, can't be seen being friends with a junkie. That would mess up my reputation, man," a sense of relief took over their shoulders that finally unclenched. "No one needs 5 bottles of cough syrup a week."

 

“I’m sorry Adi, I didn’t tell the gang yet but I’ve lost my job and I’m going down this dark hole. The only option I can see right now is to enroll in this random beta drug test or something they’re running. I need to be able to pay my rent, let alone survive or I’d rather this virus get me.” A moment of silence followed, Tara glaring at Rob for keeping a secret, Rob shying away and a silence of deliberation from Adi who was obviously contemplating something. “I think I could help you with that” muttered Adi, “I know the Head Scientist running the tests and I could get you in but as long as you don’t have any drugs in your system, so come clean to me now!”
“Clean as a whistle, except for maybe some excessive amounts of over the counter cough syrup” weirdly chuckled Rob. Adi after quick deliberation agreed, “Hold on tight, I’ll get back to you once I confirm with Dr. Rosenberg” and cut off.

 

Rob still embarrassed to show his face to Tara sat quietly, the consequences of the previous night starting to take effect. Tara started her rant with how Rob couldn’t confide in his clique and then onto his new addiction, sounding more like a stressed mother than friend. “Are you done now? Thank you, Mom,” scoffed Rob. “Do you think he’s onto us? Is this a ruse to drug me up like he did you?” Tara looked confused and stressed, her exhaustion from the escape catching up to her, “I’m not sure, maybe he’s just being a good friend? Maybe he thinks he’s smarter than everyone else that he’s playing along with his God complex?” wrinkles more pronounced starting to appear on her forehead, a look that would cause all her Finsta followers to immediately unfollow her, she thought. Was she that shallow? Is that what her mind had drifted to? Shoo away her friend for slaughter, act like nothing had happened and go back to providing her followers with their daily dose of Taraness.

 

“We need to figure out what we’re supposed to do. What about that guy? Do you know how to get in touch with this creepy stranger who called you?” quizzed Rob, starting to feel his heart rate pulsing. Tara on the verge of tears, “I don’t know, about the guy, or about Nadia,” her name finally got Tara to shed tears, the first that Rob had witnessed. Not knowing what else he could do, he wrapped her around his monolithic arms, “We’ll figure this out, let’s just breathe, calm down and figure out how we can go about this. Adi has got connections everywhere in the Government, we need to be smart about this and that’s your strong suit.”

The ring of a message cut across their conversation, it was Adi “Meet me at my apartment tonight; I got you into the trial. Clean yourself up, I’ll make you some lasagna like you wanted before we get started. I’ll send a car for you at 6”.  A message which wasn’t as panic-inducing as the last. This gave them a few hours to plan and a few more much needed hours for Rob to recuperate and prepare himself.

About the author:
Vishnu is a 28-year-old avid reader. When he isn’t running around on a football pitch, he’s putting his engineering degree to work in trying to figure out new ways to make a difference in the world. The next thing he hopes to check off on his bucket list is to experience the beautiful Northern Lights (hopefully soon).