There was a little girl dancing in the rain. Her knee-length white dress furled around her with every twirl of her body. It was warm like the comfort of a gentle breeze of spring. As though the winter had just ended. She realized that she was on a hill next to a large camphor tree. And that's where she spotted a boy, no older than ten, at best.
He was sitting there in the rain with what appeared to be a pad of paper in his lap. Though he was sitting in the rain and the leaves of the camphor were dipping, his notebook seemed completely dry; it was as it was in an invisible bubble of his own little world. He wore a long coat too big for his thin body, hanging heavily with rainwater that clung to him like a second skin. He was soaking wet, but the paper wasn’t. She walked up to the boy who was staring into the pad of paper. She leaned over to see what he was doing, but all she saw was blaring red lines.
It frightened the girl.
Suddenly scrawled on the once pristine white paper was the word Ares in a deep and angry red marker that bled into the rest of the white pages. Next to the terrifyingly brilliant crimson writing was Queen and Awaken and Swan in the same red ink. She stumbled away from the boy to escape but ended up tripping over a tree root.
She started to fall and shut her eyes tight. But, it felt as though she was falling for longer than it should have to hit the ground. Opening her eyes, she found that she was now surrounded by ginkgo leaves, butterflies, origami swans, broken clocks all set to the same time, and many other random items that she could barely make out. But, she spotted a bag of her favorite flavor potato chips; a bracelet with a tiny ginkgo leaf charm that gave off the feeling of safety; a pocket watch that wouldn’t stop spinning and stopping at the most random times; and then there was a simple black ballpoint pen that felt lucky. Then, all of a sudden, glass shattered all around her and she was surrounded by shards of glass in four colors; orange, red, purple, and blue.
But, every one of these fell slower than she did and sadly, this girl knew that she was going to hit the ground at any time.
And when she did, the girl, now a grown woman with shoulder-length brown hair, woke with a start in a pink bed inside a tiny apartment.
Her phone was ringing on her nightstand. She picked it up and saw the face of her father on the screen. The dream was already fading before she could write it down in the dream journal, even as she habitually reached for it. It was something her father had her start when she was in primary school. When she realized the dream was gone, she sighed and smiled at the caller ID and answered the ringing phone.
"Good morning Dad, what's up?" she greeted with a yawn.
"I could ask you the same thing, Emme," her father sounded amused for being first thing in the morning. "I thought that you were already in the office, but Anna and Kiki said that you hadn't clocked in yet. Did you forget to set your alarm again?"
Emme groaned and looked at her digital clock. It read 10:32 am. She was struck with discomfort, a flash of several broken clocks that read the same time flashed in her mind before it was gone once again. Was there some sort of significance to that number? Either way, it didn’t matter anymore.
"Shit,” she swore under her breath, jumping out of bed so she can rush to get ready. “Sorry, dad. I will be there as soon as possible, I forgot to set my stupid alarm again!”
She rushed to get whatever she needed for that day ready, shoving papers that she was supposed to look over into a tote bag. “Can you keep Anna distracted until I get there? She's going to rip me a new one when she finds out I overslept again."
They both laughed before hanging up. They both were rather familiar with Anna's rage at this point. Anna started working at Xi Production Company when she was still in college and loved it ever since. One of Emme’s seniors in the company, she joined the team in her junior year of college while Emme was still in her second year of high school. She worked her way up through the ranks after joining the company full time upon her graduation and now worked as her father’s right-hand. Though Anna never told anyone her age, she had two kids and Emme concluded that she had to be approaching her middle-to-late thirties, despite her youthful looks.
Emme quickly showered and dressed in a white dress with blue flowers with a white and blue striped button-up that she tied shut at the bottom. Buttoning up a few of the lower buttons, she put on a white pair of kitten heels and the necklace that her father gave her for her 22nd birthday that was only a few days ago. It was a simple silver droplet with a rather large blue gem in the center that used to belong to her mother before she passed away when Emme was only a child. Quickly curling just the bottom parts of her hair before rushing out of her apartment, she barely noticed the moving company for the once vacant apartment right next door.
As she was approaching the elevator, she realized that she was forgetting something important. With an impatient sigh, Emme turned around to grab her keys, purse, and book bag. Now she was ready to go. After locking up, she was finally able to head to work, and later, school at Loveland University; confident that all will be well while she’s away.
Swiftly hailing a taxi, she managed to make it to the company building only a "little" late. But, she had a secret weapon. Emme was gleefully smiling that she had the forethought to get coffee and doughnuts for the office.
“You’re late, Emme! Again!” Anna’s scary office mom voice was showing. Bracing herself with a deep breath, Emme knew there was only one way to stop her in a time as dire as this.
Emme quickly turned around after she finished clocking in, revealing a box of donuts in her hand with a flourish that had the coffee precariously balanced on top.
“I know, I know, but I was getting breakfast for everyone! Most of it is already passed out!” Emme said quickly, trying to sound like she hadn’t run at all when she got to the company building. She quickly handed Anna her favorite donut, a glazed maple, and her favorite drink, a caramel macchiato.
While Anna was initially upset and disappointed in Emme's late arrival, she couldn’t be upset with the sprinkled donut in one hand and a coffee in the other. Willow and Kiki both giggled as Anna pouted with a single sprinkle on the corner of her mouth after she indulged in a quick bite. Anna tried for another quick glare, but it was more like an angry kitten, who had a sprinkle on the corner of her mouth. Emme chuckled softly before heading off to find her father.
There, she spotted him in his office, where he was looking over the latest reports from the last quarter.
"How're our ratings doing?" she asked as she set down her father's coffee.
He sighed. His normally neatly combed back hair was in shambles. Dark brown with only a hint of grey at the temples, he made the look handsome for a man who was in his late forties. He even made wearing glasses look good, though in his case, it was only for reading. They were rectangular and sat only on the tip of his nose.
Looking up at Emme, he pulled them off and set them beside him on the desk to lean back in his seat. He smiled sweetly at his daughter, revealing more of his age. There were laugh lines and crow's feet, but it didn't matter to Emme since he was still her loving father.
"We're doing pretty well, though we lost about a fifth of a percent in our ratings for this past quarter," he stated. "But nothing too major that we need to make any cuts to the budgets for this quarter.”
Emme sighed. She didn't know if she should believe that. She knew that her father didn't want her to worry about the company. He tends to hide things from her, though she finds out other ways. Emme knew that if things got any worse, but lately, with their declining ratings and bombing shows, the company has been losing several of its investors.
"Honey, don't worry," he reassured. "Everything is going to be fine. We're shooting a commercial this afternoon for those White Rabbit Creamy Candies, and I'm confident that Fanks will need help with the costumes. I know that you always want to step in and help with the behind the scenes stuff."
“Alright. I’ll go down and see where they need me. So, I'll see you later though okay, dad?" She popped over to his side and pressed a quick kiss on his cheek, leaving him to his paperwork.
Emme headed down to one of the studio’s to find that they were still doing set-up. There were a lot of bright colors on-stage as well as props that they were going to be using. The actress that they were using in the commercial was in full makeup and costume, so she didn’t think Fanks actually needed her help. She did move around a lot to see where she would be needed, if anywhere, helping the crew make things run smoothly.
‘How long were they working on this because I overslept?’ She thought, guilt and disappointment in herself filling her. ‘They’re almost done now. Did Dad know that they were almost done when he sent me down here?’
Thankfully, the day was uneventful. Emme didn't have any problems with the Candy spokesperson, and she didn't hear of any bugs in the system as Willstrong, one of the company’s tech guru’s, came up with a catchy final edit. While there was a lot of CGI and animation that she knew she never would have been able to do on her own, Willstrong made it look so easy.
She was finally able to leave after several hours of hard work and with the final product completed, she left to catch the train to head to campus, grateful for the company's close proximity to Loveland University. Upon her arrival, the sky darkened, becoming cloudy. With a frown, she could have sworn that the meteorologist said that it was going to be bright and sunny today. Now, she wished that she had brought a collapsible umbrella with her.
As she neared the building, she saw a young man in a white lab coat standing under a camphor tree. With a clipboard and pen in hand, he was making notes every now and again as he watched students rushing about as it quickly started to sprinkle. She's never seen him on campus before and she's certain she's never met the man, and yet the terrible sense of familiarity struck her. But then again, Emme reasoned, she wasn't a science major, so she wouldn't see anyone dressed in a lab coat. And even then, she's barely taking a basic biology class to get the lab requirement out of the way that specific professor only wore a typical suit and tie.
The man must have felt her eyes on him because he turned and caught her brown eyes with his silver ones. Despite looking like he was sleepy with his eyes half-closed, he was good-looking that catching his eye had her heart skipping a beat. He had a nice angular face with a pointed chin and high cheekbones that when he sent a warm smile her way, her heart thumped again into her throat.
Startled, she quickly turned away and darted towards class. Emme could feel her burning cheeks, knowing full well that she was most likely the color of a ripe tomato. Taking a breath to calm her heart and hope her blush tampered down, she entered the classroom and sat down in her usual seat close to the front of the class.
It was the lecture for that biology class that she needed. The professor was a middle-aged man named John Yang. Surprisingly, Emme's father knew the man when they were both in college together, but lost touch right before Emme's adoption finalized almost 18 years ago. They didn’t rekindle their friendship afterward, but Emme never knew why. Her father still spoke fondly of him, yet even after mentioning that she was taking his class, he didn’t attempt to reach out to him. Her dad seems so lonely nowadays, perhaps she could mention something to her professor about having a cup of coffee with him.
"Good morning, everyone," Professor Yang greeted with a smile. "Now, let's get to it, shall we?" She pulled out her notebook and mechanical pencil, already fighting the boredom of this class. She was a liberal arts major, so someone tell her again why she needed a science credit?
"I'm sure that you remember where we left off last time as we were talking about different genetic traits as well as how the Punnett Square was basically obsolete in this day and age. Most especially now that we know so much more about genetic coding." He moved around the front of the classroom before gesturing with his arm. "And that is why, for today's class, I've brought in my associate, Dr. Xu, to help better explain about humans and their genetics. Everyone, help me welcome Dr. Xu and thank him for taking time out of his busy schedule to help me with the class."
He stepped away from the whiteboard as the class made a weak attempt at an applause as the very same man that she saw in the white lab coat from under the camphor tree walked into the room. He smiled softly, and Emme couldn't help but compare him to a character from Alice in Wonderland. More specifically, the Mouse at the tea party and was perpetually sleepy. Not the groggy, I-crave-murder, five-cups-of-coffee tired, but the cute and sweet, adorable sleepy that Emme couldn't help the small smile.
"Hello, I am Professor Lucien Xu," he said in a tenor voice that was like liquid velvet.
Emme couldn't hold back a blush.
"Human genetics is quite fascinating and I have been honored to be a part of a team that has been researching this area for a long time now." He paused to look around the room.
The room, at least the female portion of it, was attentive to every word that this professor said in his soft, silky voice. While he didn't seem to notice that all the girls' eyes followed his every move, Emme felt their attention was like a cat to a laser pointer.
But then, his gaze stopped when they fell upon Emme, causing her heart to thump heavily against her chest. When he broke his brief pause, his eyes never wavered from hers, as though they shared a secret when she knew nothing. "I do hope that everyone will take just as much interest as I do about our subject matter today." A playful smile played at his lips as he spoke. He knew the influence that he was having on the girl, just from something as simple as eye contact.
But then, she blinked. Nothing but white filled her mind and two words were spoken by what sounded like Professor Lucien: "Silly girl." She could almost feel a large, but gentle hand being placed on the top of her head, filling her with a comforting warmth. Emme resisted the urge to shake her head. She had no idea where that came from, but she tried to pay attention to the lecture.
Thankfully, giving her heart a break, Lucien turned his attention to the board behind him and wrote simple terms for them to remember in a rather nice handwriting.
"Does anyone know what genetics entails?" he asked in that soft voice of his that somehow got everyone to pay attention despite how boring the class usually was.
When no one answered, he launched into his lecture. "Then, remember this, genetics is the study of heredity and the underlying processes that tell us how traits are passed on from parents to their offspring. It explains how you have your mother's eye color and your father's nose, but your brother would have your father's eyes and mother's nose. But what exactly is being passed on from your parents to you for you to have these traits? What determines who gets what trait and why? And this, class, this is what we will be learning today."
And the rest of class continued like this. Lucien explained the structure of DNA, asked specific and rhetoric questions that no one could answer, so he would do it himself. He made the topic easy to understand when, previously, Emme couldn't make heads or tails of even simple terms Professor Yang went over.
By the end of the lecture, she almost forgot how long he locked eyes with her for the entire duration of his lecture whenever possible. Almost . And with that charmingly soft smile that never failed to make her face burn to kingdom come.
"Thank you, everyone, for being so attentive and for letting me help Professor Yang teach you about genetics. Now, I believe it is best that I turn the rest of your time back to him,” he said with that disarming charm of his. Lucien gathered whatever materials he brought with him and started to leave the classroom.
"Okay, everyone, if any of you have follow up questions, I am sure that you could find either myself or Professor Yang during our office hours. My office hours are Mondays and Fridays 11 to 2 in the Math and Science building, room 241," he said with one last look at Emme, causing her to blush even more. What was his obsession with her? She hid her eyes beneath her bangs.
"And thank you, Dr. Xu; your lecture was insightful, as always," Professor Yang said as he moved back in front of the whiteboard. Turning to face the class, he clapped his hands together. "Alright, I want everyone to reach chapter 14 before Thursday. We will be discussing DNA packaging and replication, so please be prepared as this will be on the final. That's it, so enjoy the rest of your day."
People packed up around her as she made a quick note of the homework. Emme left the classroom in a hurry to try and catch one last glimpse at Professor Lucien, but he was nowhere to be spotted. How can someone who looked so tired be gone so quickly? With a sigh, she resigned herself to accepting that he was gone.
Emme huffed as she left the building, groaning when she found that it was still raining. Setting her mouth in a line in determination, she sprinted across campus to catch the train home. Her way back home was filled with images of the professor with quick flashes of a perfectly dry notebook and a strangely familiar camphor tree.
It was so peculiar.
The way he continuously caught her gaze in his own, the puzzling familiarity he held in those languid eyes, and even in the way he moved and talked. Emme was certain that she didn’t know the Professor, and yet, it was like she instinctively did.
So, the question remained, bouncing around her mind: why was he so familiar?