The gray sky threatened early evening showers, a welcome relief from the unusual heat wave that had rolled in days ago. Sitting in his living room, Mauricio stared at the houses across the street. Their narrow little neighborhood street in the Chiswick area of suburban London still felt claustrophobic to him. He missed the wide open space they’d had in their family home in Calgary, Canada before SPI had disrupted his life. Even his small childhood home in Tampa felt less closed in than this place. He knew he was lucky to have his family back together after everything, after years of thinking he’d never see them again. He knew he shouldn’t complain. He should be grateful. Yet he hated this city.
Despite the comfortable life he’d made for Elisa and the girls here, he hated London. The weather. The grime and filth. The grind. Were it not for his fear of uprooting them again, he’d quit the Harmony Project tomorrow. He’d pack them all up and move back to Canada where, even if the weather was awful, at least he could breathe and relax.
Sipping lukewarm green tea, he watched a collared dove perch on the window ledge alongside another dove. For the next few minutes, he observed the doves as his mind wandered.
Ever since the meeting earlier, he’d racked his brain trying to decide who he could persuade to become a brand ambassador for H2F. Who could he get to agree to take the drug? Who would be willing to take the risk, given all the latest fear-mongering headlines? Sure, he could explain that the chance of adverse events was less than one percent. But if that tiny percent of adverse events included death or total loss of control leading to suicide or murder…how will I convince anybody to take that chance?
Mauricio sat the half-empty tea cup on the side table and tried to concentrate on tonight’s dinner. In an hour, he would have to put on a happy face and pretend his work life was not on the verge of exploding.
“You all right, babe?” came Elisa’s voice, soft as silk. She leaned against the wall next to the window, her apron stained and her hands covered with flour. “Uh-oh. You have the look. That look where everything is falling apart, but you don’t want to tell me because you think I’m fragile and you need to spare me the anxiety.”
“I don’t think you’re fragile. When everything with SPI took a left turn years ago, I held it all in to protect you and the girls. There was a lot I couldn’t tell you—”
“There’s a lot you still haven’t told me,” she said with a cross look. “But that’s neither here nor there. It’s the past.”
I wish the past was ever just the past. Mauricio sat up and rubbed his palms against the top of his knees.
“And now you’re doing that thing where you rub your knees, same thing your dad and brother do when they’re stressed about something.” Elisa sat on the arm of his comfy chair and wiped her hands on the apron. “So the question is what are you protecting me from now, Mauricio?”
He relented and, after taking a deep breath, explained his predicament in as much detail as he could without terrifying her.
She looked down. “I hadn’t heard about the kid in Chicago. I knew you were worried about the reputation of the product, but I didn’t realize so much was on the line. Look, these are all tragedies. But I guess I’m trying to understand what makes it different from other drugs that are still on the market. Other drugs that have similar awful side effects. From my time as a nurse in psych wards, if you saw some of the things I’ve seen antipsychotic drugs do to people…”
“Yeah, but I can’t say I blame people for being against a drug that led a boy to kill his classmates. And outside of the psychological effects, it’s caused strokes or heart attacks in several other users.”
“Several out of millions so far,” she replied.
“When we’re talking about a drug related to faders even one is too many. Anti-faders salivate at the these headlines each time, and we spend weeks doing damage control. You know how much the general public is already scared of faders, no matter how many tv interviews Eve Cooper does to help educate them about how harmless we are. I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place.”
Elisa sighed. “I think your colleague is right about getting somebody famous to take it. Who better to try H2F than Eve Cooper, the spokesperson for faders? I saw her in an interview the other day when I was doomscrolling down my Twitter feed. She was talking about some new initiative to help parents better engage with their fader kids, or something. Anyway, I think I might want to copy her new hairstyle. How do you think I’d look with dreadlocks?”
He smiled, imagining Elisa with flowing locs. “You’d look just like your aunt Ora.”
“That’s what I thought. Mama always said I looked like Ora.” She stood up and grinned. With a glance at him, she added, “Contact Eve Cooper. She can help.”
“I haven’t spoken to Eve Cooper in over a year, not since—”
“Well, now is a good time to fix that, isn’t it?” she interrupted, a stern look on her face.
As he watched Elisa hurry to the kitchen, he considered her suggestion. The thought of asking Eve had struck him earlier, but he’d tried to push it aside. How could he ask someone he’d betrayed, a friend, to put their lives at risk for him?
No matter how much he’d tried to avoid it, he’d known this day would arrive. The day he needed Eve Cooper’s help.
He unlocked his cell phone and typed Eve’s name into the web search bar. Clicking on her website, he scanned the list of her many published articles and interviews. When he reached her biography page, he studied her headshot. She looked different, more austere than the Eve he remembered. Short locs had replaced her tiny afro, but her brown eyes still contained the same look of perpetual boredom.
He clicked the “contact” tab in the top menu and found an email address. “She probably won’t even respond. Why would she?” he mumbled, his finger hovering over the hyperlinked email address.
Not wasting another moment, he opened his email and typed one sentence. “Eve, I know I have no right to ask you for help, but I’m in trouble and you’re probably the only person who can help me.” He added his name and phone number in the signature block, and hit send.
As he sipped his now lukewarm tea, he resumed staring out the window. The two doves had flown off.