Erin Cartwright lay back on the couch in her office, massaging her temples and trying to dispel a particularly rough headache. The ticking of her old wall clock was the only sound and she found it soothing. She had acquired one for her apartment as well, and often found herself counting the seconds as she drifted off to sleep.
She looked over at its face to check the time. 11:30, she thought, Sam should be on his way to the Simulation Chamber with James now. Which means-
As if he had been reading her thoughts, Eric Tanner opened the door to her office and walked in without so much as knocking. His gaze took in the dimmed lights and her posture on the sofa in seconds, “Are you ill?”
She sat up and swung her legs so that her feet touched down on the floor. “No Eric,” she replied, shaking her head, “Just a headache. I’ll be fine.”
Tanner hesitated – a rare occurrence for the usually stolid executive. “Your presence is not necessary. He will only be going in for a short while.”
Despite her discomfort, Erin got to her feet, “No. He’s my responsibility, I will accompany him.”
She fixed the blonde strands of hair that had come loose while she had laid on the couch and smoothed down her shirt before donning her officer’s coat. Tanner regarded her silently while she did up the buttons and then exited ahead of her when he saw she was ready. She fell into step beside him, keeping her hands at her sides and refusing the urge to rub her temples again.
Tanner stared straight ahead as they walked, but she knew his attention was on her, so when he spoke without turning toward her, she was unsurprised. “You have not been sleeping well.”
It was not a question. The lieutenant remained silent. She had found that arguing against the truth with Tanner was only asking for a bigger headache. Even if it was something that he shouldn’t be aware of, whether he actually knew or not was beside the point. By the end of it, he would know for certain.
“Perhaps you were the incorrect choice for taking on the boy?”
“What?!” Erin was unable to catch herself. The older man had a knack for cutting right to the core. She often mused that he would make an excellent interrogator for the army.
Tanner continued, “You have been worried for Mr. Lalonde’s well-being. It has been causing you stress and I wonder if it will begin to affect your performance as his instructor.”
She hesitated. He had a point, after all. She had been losing sleep ever since Sam had been brought to the Academy. “I just wasn’t expecting you to bring him in so soon. I thought I had more time to train him. He isn’t ready.”
“Ready or not, he is going in. What I need to know is whether it should be you guiding him or if I need to find someone else.”
“Can I be blunt, Eric?” She waited for his nod before continuing, “I don’t think he’d trust anyone new at the moment. Especially, if he thought their assignment had come from you.”
They entered the elevator and Eric pressed the button for the eleventh floor. The doors slid shut and the car began to climb.
“This is a fact,” her companion admitted.
“So you’ll keep me assigned to him?”
Tanner thought for a moment and nodded, “For now. But I expect improvement.” The elevator stopped and chimed its arrival as the older man turned to look at her, “From both of you.”