"And that is how the Diminum works, folks," the speaker eagerly spoke.
Rylie nodded at the half-bald lecturer and took down notes on her flat screen. The speaker said a few more words about the new medical tool before ending his speech. An applause followed suit, but Rylie concentrated on getting as much as what she understood into her notes. She was on a two-day seminar for new technologies in health and medicine, and the schedule was packed. Since her arrival late last night, she had attended countless seminars all day long. It was 9p.m., and the last lecture had just ended. Despite of that, Rylie was still putting as much input as she can into her device. She ignored the audience's chatter growing louder as they hassled down the auditorium.
"What could you possibly be writing about now?" Someone said above her shoulder. Rylie turned around to see a stout figure with short brown curls bending over her.
"Jace!" Rylie cried out with a big smile. She excitedly stood up to give him a hug. "I haven't seen you in ages!"
The latter grinned at the sight of her bright blue eyes twinkling at him. "Rylie my dear, I see you all the time. We do work in the same hospital quarters, if you haven't forgotten,"
Rylie chuckled. "I meant, we haven't talk to each other. I'm sorry though, it's work. I've been completely swamped,"
"It's all good. I'm just glad to see a friendly face here." Jace waved away of any hint of guilt on Rylie's face. "Why are you still sitting here?"
"Just putting in some last-minute notes," she replied.
"But he's finished speaking. Almost no one is here." Jace's light hazel eyes laughed at her. He waved his arms around the room, gesturing the emptiness of the lecture hall.
"Alright, alright Jace," Rylie replied, half-laughing. "I get your point"
"Let's get out of here, Rylie," his tenor voice said. He offered an arm to gesture her to take it. Instead of following suit, Rylie smiled guiltily, "Can I add just a couple more sentences?"
Jace chuckled as he shook his head in disbelief. He plopped onto the seat next to hers and peeked at Rylie's notes. She typed a few more pointers on her touch screen before switching it off.
"Are we ready to go now?" the man asked her cheekily.
"Sure." Rylie begin arranging her things together and putting them in a square bag. Jace offered to carry them, but Rylie insisted that she was capable of it herself.
"So," Jace started, as they began heading out of the room. "Are you here alone?"
"Well, I came without really knowing anyone else here. I didn't expect to meet anyone I know either." A slight pang hit Rylie. She reminisced how she had asked Ryan to come along, but he was adamant not to go. Even worse, he had actually tried to convince her not to either. She remembered his words, 'I can hack into the system and we can watch the webcast from my room, Ryle. You don't have to go.' Rylie was tempted by the offer, but knew that the real experience at the seminars was more rewarding than hijacking the computer system from her best friend's room.
"That's funny." Jace broke her thoughts. Rylie looked at him confused. He continued, "At the hospital, I rarely see you without one of your squad agents. You're usually with a red-head --"
"That's my roommate, Dawn"
"Or a cheeky-looking blond --"
"Nicky's always getting himself hurt in some explosive invention"
"Well," Rylie paused, actually wondering why she was always hanging around Ryan. It wasn't like they work in the same department. "We're best friends since we were kids," was her reply.
"Ahh." Jace nodded, understanding the situation. They were walking towards the elevator to go to their respective rooms. Before entering, Jace asked, "So, would it be okay if I ask you to have coffee with me?"
"If you don't mind, yeah." He smiled at her charmingly. The elevator had opened and the two entered.
Without missing a heartbeat, Rylie said "Sure. We should catch up. It's been a long time since we sat down together anyways."
"Yeah, we were good when we were together." Jace said, standing close to her side after pushing the button to go to the first floor. Rylie realized that she was almost his height. The curly-haired boy didn't have to lean over like Ryan always did, although both men were the same age. It was actually pretty nice that she didn't feel that short.
"We worked together a looong time ago," Rylie echoed his thoughts. The two of them were partners when they were medical interns. Jace started late in his medical training because he took another interest before realizing he wanted to specialize in spy health department. Rylie had found him extremely helpful not only because he was used to the agency's system, but also because he was friendly and generous. After they completed training, both were enrolled in their respective squads and hardly spoke to each other anymore. Rylie missed his company, as he was sweet and understanding, but work has always come in between them.
When they reached the first floor, both found their way to the built-in restaurants inside the hotel. One of them had a bar, and was filled with the participants from the conference looking for a good night. Jace and Rylie opted for the quaint cafe store across from it. Classical music accompanied them as they entered the shop. Rylie happily inhaled the smell of freshly baked bread and looked around the array of sandwiches they had.
Jace nudged her gently. "Do you see something you want to eat?"
Rylie shook her head. The conference had provided three buffets for breakfast, lunch and dinner, along with snacks in between each seminar. She was full, but she suddenly wondered if Ryan had eaten for that day. She had only texted him twice since she arrived: the first text to inform that she had arrived safely; the second to remind him to eat breakfast. She knew he had a tendency to forget to eat. That was why she knocked on his door before leaving the night before:
"What's this?" Ryan asked after she carried two medium-sized containers into his apartment.
"They're your food when I'm away for the seminars." She opened his fridge to place both glasswares in it. "For breakfast, I'd baked you croissants, I think they'll make do. You can have them with milk or coffee. And for lunch --"
"Ryle, I'm perfectly capable of feeding myself," Ryan cut her mid-sentence.
"Don't be an idiot" Rylie retorted. "You won't go to the cafeteria without me pushing you out of this room."
"I can make do with what's left in my fridge."
"Oh yeah?" Rylie contained a grin of disbelief. "What about the last time you locked yourself in here and didn't eat for two days straight?"
"It was an important mission."
"What's important is your electrolyte balance in your body. If you're dead, no one can uncode computer stuff like you do," Rylie pointed out blatantly. She closed the fridge and turned to him. "Promise me you'll eat well," she said, her soft voice almost pleading him.
Ryan grunted in agreement.
"Three times a day."
Ryan didn't look too happy. "You might have to remind me."
"I will." She smiled warmly at him.
But she hadn't. Rylie felt guilt gnawing at her insides. She could text now, but there was a time difference between where she was and the headquarters. She doubt Ryan was going to eat at 3a.m.
"What kind of coffee, Rylie?" Jace had place a hand on her shoulders, shattering her internal digression.
"Tea," She replied, slightly flabbergasted. "I'm not a coffee person. Can I have a tropical blend in the tea?"
The cashier nodded, and Jace paid for both their drinks. A hint of pink crept on Rylie's cheeks. "You shouldn't have,"
"It's the least I can do." He gestured for them to sit down. "Your mind's been wandering a lot. Anything I can help out with?"
Rylie laughed softly. "I'm sorry about that. I think I'm a little homesick. This is the longest I've been without talking to my squad members."
"You're such a sweet person" Jace smiled at her. "I've always admired your kindness."
"Oh, Jace. Don't make me blush," Rylie replied, although the warmness in her cheeks hadn't left. A waitress came to their tables and handed over their drinks. Taking a sip of her tea, Rylie asked, "So what's new with you?"
"I just switched squads, actually. It's been incredibly chaotic." His hazel eyes lit up, and he begun to recollect the incident. His previous squad was disbanded because two agents dropped out due to stress of work. The squad leader was furious at the episode that she decided to go on a sabbatical instead. Jace was immediately assigned to a new squad. He had partly gone to the conference to escape the drama for a few days.
The two continued discussing about the squads, the agency and replayed their moments together during the medical training. Soon enough they were laughing about the old days. Halfway through their conversation, Rylie suddenly felt her phone vibrating. Seeing the caller ID, she quickly picked up the call, almost forgetting about the person sitting across from her.
"Ryan!" she cried out. "What's wrong? What happened?"
"Ryle? I can't hear you well." His voice fizzed through the device.
"Give me a second," Rylie knew that the bar across was getting too loud. Jace nodded to let her leave, so Rylie headed through the double doors that lead towards a quiescent garden outside of the hotel.
"Is everything okay, Ryan?" she inquired. Her mind flipped through different scenarios involving a bleeding Nicky or an injured Ryan.
"Yeah, nothing's wrong."
"What?" She retorted. "Why are you calling me so late then?"
"I was wondering when your flight back here was."
Hearing this, Rylie laughed heartily for a few minutes which subsided into giggles. Ryan only grunted in disapproval. Between her muffled laughter, Rylie asked:
"Why didn't you just hack into the airport system? You could have saved me a heart attack."
Ryan ignored her. "Well, when's your flight?"
"Tomorrow night, 11:40p.m. I think. I'd arrive around eight in the morning your time. You can check the model of my plane and my pilot through the airline agency," she added teasingly.
Ryan gave an indifferent snort. Rylie twirled her strawberry-blond ponytail.
"So, what have you been up to? Did you watch the webcast?"
"Why aren't you sleeping? Are you hacking into an agent's computer again?"
"Well, are you feeling alright? Did you eat today?"
"No" Ryan then quickly added, "I did."
"You're not just saying that to make me feel better?" Her voice sounded higher than normal. Ryan pictured her with both her hands on the hips.
"You can trust me."
Rylie sighed. "Yeah, I do." She took a deep breath. "I wish you did come along. It's been pretty lonely."
Ryan grunted in reply.
"I just ran into Jace, though. We're having coffee now."
"You should go then." He paused before continuing, "I'm going to sleep."
She suddenly felt a little guilty. "I'm sorry I haven't check on you earlier."
Ryan grunted. "I'm just wondering how you are too."
Rylie chuckled. "For all I know, you've been checking on me through the camera surveillance in the hotel." She paused, before a sudden realization hit her. "You're
not doing that, are you?"
Rylie heard a 'click' and a dial tone followed after. She paused looking at her cell phone, wondering if Ryan heard her last question. After deciding that she was being paranoid, Rylie turned back towards the café, only to see Jace coming out of it with her cup of tea.
"How's Ryan? Is everything well?" His hazel eyes looked concern as he handed over the tea.
"Yeah, he's good. Thanks."
"Well, the night is still young." Jace opened his arms wide, almost theater-like. "What say you? Any ideas on what else we can do?"
Rylie smiled at him gratefully. "Maybe next time, Jace? I'm feeling a little tired. Sleeping actually sounds like a good idea."
If he was disappointed, he didn't show it. "If that is what you wish, milady. I'll walk you to your room then."
Rylie protested, but Jace insisted on it. Picking up her things, they both head to the elevator. They exchanged a few words on non-related topics that did not rouse much interest. As they reached nearer to her room, Jace said:
"I guess I'm not going to win you over, am I?"
Rylie felt confused. "What do you mean, Jace?"
"Well, I know that you and Ryan are close. But even a short date when Ryan's not around is interrupted by him."
was a date?"
"I'd like to think it was." Jace gave her a hopeful look. Rylie became slightly flabbergasted. "Don't worry," he added. "I should have asked more properly. I didn't intend to take advantage."
Rylie wasn't sure what to say. It came as a surprise to her that her good old friend ever thought of her being more than friends.
"Rylie." He lowered his voice as he looked intently into her eyes. "Can you tell me the truth? Do you fancy him?"
"What?" Rylie answered. She was tired with people prodding her private life. Jace certainly was not the first one to question her relationship with Ryan. "I'm not comfortable answering that, Jace. Thanks for the tea
I'll see you tomorrow."
She was about to unlocked her door, but Jace touched one of her wrists gently. "I just wanted to know if I have a shot, Rylie. I didn't mean to upset you. I'm really sorry." His eyes sought after hers, but she didn't look back at him. Jace pulled his hand away and wished her goodnight.
He left before Rylie could say anything back. She was still astounded about how events changed in a matter of minutes.'Why am I even that mad?' the blond wondered. 'It was only a harmless, irritating question.' Rylie was torn between running after him to apologize. She was still slightly angry at him to do so. 'Maybe tomorrow,' she thought to herself. Rylie entered her room, and sighed in relief. She was alone.
Her phone vibrated with an incoming text. Rylie saw that it came from Ryan. It read:
'Have a good night, Ryle'
Driven by high emotions, Rylie stifled a small sob. She really did miss Ryan's presence, regardless of any labels people put to their relationship. He was the one person she could depend on or go to, especially when she felt bleak or gloomy. Rylie sent a message back to Ryan: 'Can't wait to get back'
Little did she know that Ryan could then sleep peacefully that night.