Safe and Sound Part 3

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Deleted member 43473

“Have a good day at school!” I call from the car window. He turns, smiles, and waves. Driving away, I relish the warm feeling; he’s 11 now, the age where kids feel like their family is a complete embarrassment to them and seeing him smile and wave goodbye gives me a sense of family… a family that I never really had and I family I want to create for him.

Pulling into the familiar concrete, parking garage, I circle around and find my usual spot. The parking lot at this hour is still empty, save for several other early birds. Getting out of my car, the sound of my heels on the concrete echoes throughout the lot. I tug slightly at the collar of my blouse and another hand pulls the edge of my shirt down. I know it’s hidden, but it comes as instinct. One too many times where plastic was peeking over the edge of pants does that.

Putting my bag down on the desk, I settle down into my cubicle and get to work setting up my laptop. Flicking open a calendar program, I scroll to find a list of meetings. Not surprising, I do most of my coding at home and I come in to have my code checked and get news on new projects. I split my screen between my playlist and my template for emails. Stored on several documents, are the same general skeletons of emails that I use for the most common types of emails such as Thank You Emails, Project Status Updates, I’m Sorry for Something I May or May Not Have Done Wrong, Dead Line Announcements… you get the jist. Another code inputs the different templates with a tap of a key, and all I do is put in in the minor details. With this system, I’ve halved the time I take grinding out the same emails and doubled the time I can spend coding… or doing things around the house.

The morning slips by with the usual company meetings where I half listen to the same old events and tune in for the couple bits of new projects coming up. By noon, I’ve already submitted my programs for testing by one of our Information Penetration Specialists aka ethical hackers and I go off to grab a simple lunch.

Roughly an hour later, I sit with earbuds in. My fingers fly over the keys codes flow freely in the rhythm of the music. My eyes scan the screen as the codes materialize and I scrutinize each letter, each mark to make sure that everything is set up as it should be… swimming in a reverie of code. Knock, Knock, Knock. My head snaps up. I look up to see the smiling face of one of the hackers that I work with… Aeric.

“I can see that you remembered to knock this time,” I say with a smile spreading over my face. I lean back into my chair as I turn to face him.

“How could I forget?” He replies, leaning on the frame of my cubicle, “You practically beat that request into my head.” His smile spreads wider across his face.

“Anyways,” I respond, “Are you here to just talk about common courtesy or do you have something to tell me about the codes that I sent.”

“Never one to mince words,” He comments, but continues. “I have to hand it to you. You had me tied up in knots trying to figure out how to break this program.”

“So did you manage to break the program?” I say. A small trickle of wetness makes its way into my diaper… Must be nervous.

“After many sleepless nights,” He stands and waves with a flourish, “I managed to find one tiny vulnerability. Aside from that, you’re golden.” He finishes with a smile and a wink. “I’m really impressed with you. You never fail to make new and novel ways to tie up people like me.”

“Thank you for the compliments,” I reply, looking down to hide the color in my cheeks, “But you don’t need to flatter me.”

“This is far from flattery,” Aeric replies easily, “It’s the truth. A truth that I would like to elaborate more on over a cup of coffee.”

“You don’t have to go through the trouble of getting coffee with me,” I reply, the words stumbling out of my mouth, “I wouldn’t want to take up too much of your time.”

“You’re not taking too much time at all,” Aeric responds, standing up straight, “I was about to get coffee anyways and besides, this is for work. We’re going to discuss the program, not our life stories.” He stops and smiles. “Unless you want to tell your life story.”

“Just give me a second to pack my things,” I reply, waving him out the door. “I’ll meet you in the coffee shop on the first floor in a few.”

“See you then,” He replies with a wave. I watch his back as he turns the corner and goes off to his own office. A sigh escapes from my lips as he fades from view. After scanning my surroundings, I put my hand on my behind and give a slight squeeze. It’ll last until I get home… even being this nervous. The beauty of thicker diapers: no more staking out an empty bathroom in the middle of the day for a quick change.

“Here, I got you a coffee,” Aeric pushes a cup across the table, “I wasn’t sure whether you wanted needed cream or sugar, so I didn’t add it in. I personally take it black.” He leans back in his chair as he takes a sip. As I unpack my laptop, I see the sunlight illuminating the darkness of his hair, revealing a dark brown color underneath.

“Thanks,” I respond, taking a sip, “I take it black myself.”

“Tough one, I see,” Aeric responds with a smirk. I look up and see his eyes. His eyes, the shade of lapis lazuli, glimmer in the afternoon sun. The color of them fully revealed from under his eyelids.

“Yeah,” Aeric interrupts, rubbing the back of his head, “I know. My eye color is weird. I got them from my grandfather. He was a Dutchman, but don’t ask how a Korean and a Dutchman got together. That’s a story I can’t figure out.” His mouth turns into a lopsided smile as he stares at the table.

“Oh,” I respond, waving my hands, “I didn’t mean to be rude. I just…” I look off into the corner of the coffee shop, in hopes of finding something written on the walls to say. “I think they look very nice.”

“Well,” He starts, his cheeks coloring, “Thank you for the compliment.”

No words are exchanged for a while. The slight slurping noise of coffee being drunk surrounds us and the clinks, clangs, and coughs the patrons form our atmosphere. Was that too weird? Did I scare him off? Was that creepy? Aeric taps the table; my head snaps up.

“Well,” He says, his mouth curled up in a smile, “We shouldn’t just sit around drinking coffee. I have some things that I’d love to talk to you about your program.”

That breaks the dam holding back our conversation, and patrons flutter by as we discuss the applications of this program, vulnerabilities in the code, and innovative ways to combat the most common forms of cyber attacks. In between sips of coffee and short tangents off the branch of our main conversation, I found myself unfolding in his presence. I sit back in my chair, smiles and laughs come freely, and my hands never pull at my shirt tails.

“You know, I’ve never met a programmer quite like you,” Aeric says, taking a deep pull from his cup, “You break from the rigid norms that are all too common in this field, and you basically have the soul of a master artist with the mind of a programmer. Always coming with new products from existing materials.”

“You’re quite the talented programmer yourself,” I reply, setting my cup on the table, “You managed to break through the codes in even more unexpected ways. Besides-” I look back down at the table, “I’m not the best software developer in the world. I still have so much to learn.”

“I’m going to be very direct with you right now,” Aeric replies, his eyes fixed on mine. “You need to learn to take a compliment. You’re talented and intelligent and you should be a bit more sure of your work.” He gestures towards me. “Now, forgive my language, I don’t mean for you to act like douche, but hold your head up high.”

I smile.
“Is that so?” I say, extending the last syllable. Then I tilt my chin all the way up to the ceiling. He falls back into his chair and bursts into peals of laughter. Several heads turn, but he continues to laugh like no one’s watching. I watch him, nervously glancing at the other patrons. Then, a smile crosses my face and I dissolve into laughter. Eventually, the laughs turn into giggles and then fade into grins.

“Man,” He says, wiping away a tear, “You’re a real riot.”

“Yeah…” I reply, scratching my head, “Sorry for the lapse in professionalism.”

“Nah,” He responds, “A bit of nonsense is enjoyed by even the wisest men.” His eyes glimmer as he recites that quote. “Besides, I was the one that lapsed first.”

“Willy Wonka.” I reply with a gasp, “You like-

“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” We respond in unison.

“I don’t care what anyone says,” He starts, folding his arms across his chest, “That is the best kids movie that I unironically watch.” He pulls at his shirt collar and continues. “I guess that I have a peter pan complex.”

“Nothing wrong with that,” I respond easily, “Adulting 24/7 is no fun.”

“You get me.” Aeric replies, leaning back into his chair. “Anyways, could I get your number. I’d like to get updates on your programs when they come so that I can test them as soon as possible.”

“Here,” I scribble my number down on a napkin and pass it over. He glances back and forth from the paper and his phone. Watching his head go back and forth, I feel myself focusing in on him. Taking in every detail. The top button of his shirt lays undone. The slightly crooked angle of his tie. The way his forehead creased with concentration. The almost careless way his hair is styled.

Beside me, the phone vibrates. Looking down at it, the ID of the call shows up as Alex’s school. Worry drops like lead in my stomach.

“Hello,” I say, trying to keep my voice steady. “This is Anastasia, did something happen to Alex.” I listen as the woman on the other end details what happened.

“Alright, I’ll be there right away.” I end the call and I scramble to pack up my laptop and other belongings.

“What’s going on?” Aeric asks, getting up from his chair. “Is something wrong?”

“I need to go to my brother’s school now.” I respond, still focused on putting my laptop in my bag.

“Is your brother alright?” Aeric asks concern lacing his voice.

“He got into a fight at school.” I reply, almost running out the door, “Thanks for the coffee, and I’ll talk to you later.”

Running to my car, I regret the fact that I wore heels. Still, I manage to get to the car and speed off to the school. Alex… what happened now? What did you do?

Walking into the main office, my anger is barely contained within the vessel of my body, but all of it evaporates with what I see. A girl, her face red from crying sits with Alex’s jacket draped over her. The jacket barely covering her diaper. The front of it clearly discolored yellow. Alex sits beside her, alternating from comforting her and angrily pacing the room. His emerald eyes blazing with fury. His fists are clenched at his side.

“Alex, what happened here?” I drop to his level and put my hands on his face. His lip is split and swollen. I see a small streak of blood smeared across his face.

“Those boys. They stole her skirt, played catch with it. People stood around laughing. Pointing. Teasing. And no one was doing a damn thing to stop it.” Alex’s words are forced through his clenched teeth, his fists ball up by his side. “I had to fight for her. No one else would.”

“Oh Alex,” I say, engulfing him in a hug. “Did you get a teacher?”

“I couldn’t!” He yells, pushing me back, “No one was there! It was just me!” His chest rises and falls with heavy breaths. He takes a deep breath and then continues. “You taught me how to fight. You taught me how to defend myself. Doesn’t that mean that I have to defend others too?”

His words left me looking for something to say in response, but the sound of the door of the principal’s office opening bought me time. From behind the principal, several boys slinked out. Their eyes cut across to Alex, but Alex stares them back down. His emerald eyes holding the strength and resolve of diamond.

“I’ll get you back diaper boy. And your little girlfriend. ” One mumbles as he passes by. A low growl emanates from Alex’s throat. A shiver runs through me, not because of the boy, but because of Alexei. The sick little boy that I once saw is gone. Alexei is living up to his name: Defender.

“Alexei,” The principal calls, “You are dismissed.” The principal turns back to his office.

“But wait,” Alex calls back, “What about Amira?”

“Her parents will collect her,” The principal replies curtly.

“But that won’t be for hours,” Alex retorts, “We can’t just leave her here.”

“I can’t have her going home with the guardians of other students,” The principal replies, “The rules are the rules.”

Alex grabs my phone sticking out from my pants pocket.

“Amira,” He says, handing her the phone, “Call your parents and see if they’ll let you go wait at my house.” Gingerly, she reaches out for the phone and starts punching in the numbers

“I can’t allow this to happen,” The principal replies, folding his arms across his chest, “This simply can’t happen. There are reasons why we don’t let kids leave with strangers.”

“My sister is the best person you’ll ever meet,” Alex replies, staring down the principal, “You talk about rules, but what about common sense? You can’t leave her here for hours on end. If her parents let her go with me, then there shouldn’t be a reason she can’t come home with us. You have to follow what her parent’s want.”

I hear the principal’s jaw click as he clenches his teeth.

“With all due respect,” I start, “Alex does bring up some valid points. It would be simply unacceptable and cruel to leave a young girl here all by herself for hours in this state. You bring up up a valid point as well, there are good reasons to prevent children from going home with strangers. However, I’m willing to not only speak to the parents to gain their consent but also respecting their wishes if they don’t consent to let her stay at my place.”

Alex taps me on the arm as Amira has her arm outstretched, handing me the phone. I put the phone to my ear and listen. Doubt laces their voice. I explain who I am, what I do, and answer all of their questions freely and without hesitation. Then, I leave the call.

“Amira, you’re coming home with us.” I say, turning to both Alex and Amira, “They’ll be back to pick you up at 8:30 or 9:00.”