As I approached the Welcome Center, Jace was struggling to get out the door with a brown paper bag and an armful of papers in tow. He made it out the door, but the bag fell to the ground, and a fork, bowl, and metal thermos all spilled out onto the sidewalk. He glared accusingly at the bag for a moment, then at the door, before he started to stoop to pick up his belongings. Halfway down, we made eye contact and he stopped and smiled at me.

"Hey there, Dahlia! Did you get your results yet?" He seemed to have forgotten all about his dishes in the interest of having a conversation with me.
"Yeah," I answered as I approached and crouched to help him pick up his belongings. He quickly remembered what he was doing and bent down to help.
"So, what's the plan then?" He looked eager and hopeful. I guess he figured that I would be happy with my options. They were custom built for me, after all.
"Not really sure," I sighed, "There's only one thing I've ever done, only one job I've ever loved, but apparently I can't do it anymore. So I don't know. I don't know what I'm going to do." We both stood and I felt him trying to make eye contact.
When he found himself failing that, he offered, "Well, what's the closest thing that they gave you?"
"Nursing, but I'm just not... I don't want to. That's not me."
"What did you do before?"
"I was a biologist at the CDC. I studied PTA and infected humans."
"Nursing would be pretty similar."
"It could be, could being the operative word. There could be an outbreak. There could be an infection. But down here? There won't be. It'll never be the same thing. Nursing and studying are two totally different things."
"We need more nurses. We always need more nurses. We'd be in some deep shit without nurses." I found that we were wandering off away from the Welcome Center. I let Jace lead.
"Oh, I know. I'm not saying it's not important. I'm not saying that it's not a good thing to be, or that I'm not glad it came up, or that under different circumstances I wouldn't do it, but that's just not what I'm trained to do. That's not where I feel like I'm useful. I know, I'd be helping people, but not in the way I came here to do. It's all just temporary fixes until they get sick or hurt again. If I help to find the cause or cure to PTA, that could mean a permanent fix."
"Well, maybe there's some route that you can go to get yourself to the point where you qualify to do your type of work again?"
"Maybe, but I doubt it. I'm not disqualified for lack of knowledge, or ability, or experience. I'm disqualified because Sylvan thinks I'm traumatized." I couldn't help but spit Sylvan's name a little. I know he has my best intentions at heart. I know he's just trying to look out for everyone here, but still. Ass.
"Well then, I think that the best route of action for you, at this point, if you don't mind my advice, would be to find something you can bear to do, at least for a little while, to prove that you're just as stable as the next PTA survivor, and win back his trust. I know, you probably didn't do anything to lose his trust in the first place, I know what Sylvan can be like, but them's the breaks sometimes, you know?"

I thought about that plan for a moment before realizing we were standing in the middle of the street, in front of my house.
"Well, this is where I'm headed. Where are you going? Crap, that's a dumb question, you were headed toward the Welcome Center, weren't you?" He smiled warmly -- not pityingly -- at me.
"I'm staying... right here," I pointed at my front door.
"That's crazy!" He put his arms up and some pages fell out of his bundle and scattered across the pavement between us. I live right across the street from you! How long have you been here?"
"Oh, I think a week or two I guess. I slept for a while after I got here."
"Hm. That explains why Denise kept creeping up here all the time. I guess she was looking after you?"
"You mean Sylvan's Drone?" Jace got a little chuckle out of that one. "Yeah, she's been a real treat..." The last line dripped with a little more sarcasm than intended.
"She can be a little... bitchy sometimes," he answered as he picked up his papers.
"That's not very nice," I laughed, "But ohhh so true!"
"Well, Miss Linz, I'm sorry that I led you of on the wrong track today. Where were you headed, when I intercepted you?"
"Oh, actually I was coming up to talk to you. I mean, to anyone. I mean, someone at the Welcome Center. About my results." Smooth, Dahlia, smooth. "Sorry I bothered you off the clock. I owe you one."
"No worries," he waved me off with his hand full of mangled paperwork, "Actually, if you owe me one, I can tell you how you can pay me back." He suddenly went thoughtful and looked me in the eyes with the most serious, pensive expression I think I've ever seen on a man's face.
"If you owe me one, we can have dinner sometime. You cook. Then we can call it even. Unless it's really horrihble, but then I'll just have to figure out another way you can pay me back. Sound like a plan?"
"I guess. I haven't gotten any real, cookable food yet, though, so it might be a while."
"All the more reason for you to decide what crappy job you're going to take. More work means more food, you know." He grinned before turning and calling over his shoulder, "See ya later."
"Bye," I called after him.

Who knew it could be so easy to make a friend? And dinner plans?

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