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"Come on, 'Eivz," said the slightly tinny, disembodied voice of a woman by her right ear. "You said you wanted to do this."

"Mm dmmmn nnnnn," said Avery.


Avery turned her head to the side, unburying her face from the pillow. She took a breath. "I said I don't know."

The woman inside the glowing rectangle next to her sighed, brushed her hair away from her glasses, leaned forward, and adjusted her scarf. Dani looks so cool, Avery thought, noting the contrast of her dark hair, red lipstick, black sweater against clean shapes of office furniture, all white.

"Dani, it's like you're my conscience talking to me," Avery said. "It's like I'm video chatting with the angel or fairy." She wished her soul was something like a chic minimalist Brooklyn office. But in all likelihood it was probably more like a bar.

Dani's mouth twitched for a moment, and Avery could tell she wanted to take issue with the jumbled comparison. Maybe why angels would wear black, or if a soul is something you could enter. But Dani managed to keep a placid look.

"Avery, I'm going to get back on subject, okay?" Her voice was slower, softer, sonorous. "When I hear you say you don't want to run this, I feel more worried more than disappointed. I remember you were always courageous person once you had a stake in something. And I remember you telling me something really great when you agreed to help take over. Do you remember?"

"I just didn't want what Andy started to go to crap," Avery mumbled.

"You said," Dani enunciated, as if quoting from an award speech, "'Andy made a place where even strangers can feel like they can build something together. I really want to learn to do that too.' I liked that a lot--when I heard you say that, I felt inspired too." Dani smiled, then and tilted her head slightly. "Is that still something you want to do, Eivz? Not for anyone else, but for yourself?"

Avery planted her face in the pillow and nodded. This is pro Dani, she thought. Six million dollar startup deal Dani, and here I'm a sulking twelve year old girl who doesn't want to go to school. She is literally stepping out of running the world to hold my hand pat me on the head and tell me it will be okay.


"Yeah. Yeah, I'll do it," said Avery.

"Great," said Dani. "I feel so happy to hear that. I've taken care of most of the rest of the stuff. But the group just needs someone there, someone to lead them. That's you, Avery! I'll be there with you again next week, but I know you'll do great. And if anything comes up, we can work through it together, okay?"

At five o'clock Avery pulled on her poofy coat, tucked her ears into her knit cap, and stamped twice with each foot to make sure her sneakers were on. A hazy thought coalesced somewhere behind her eyebrows. She froze, but she was too late as usual. She closed her eyes. No good. Blank. Blank. Maybe later.

Avery opened her eyes looked at herself in the mirror near the shoe stand. If Dani is an angel, what am I? Tufts of fine brown hair stuck out from beneath the edge of the wool cap. She looked at her nose, soon to grow embarrassingly pink in the November air. She hunched closer. A pair of pale blue-green eyes blinked back innocently from the other side.

She backed up and patted her poofy jacket, then wool cap with both hands twice.

"I am... a shepherd?" Were shepherds allowed wear bright green caps? No, no good. Avery gave up, and swung her backpack onto her shoulders.

"I'm going, Su-chien!" she shouted back up the stairs. After ten seconds of silence, Avery stepped through the door, leaned back to pull it snugly shut behind her and walked down to join the slate and iodine tint of 35th Avenue. A cold breeze welcomed her outside for the first time today.

"This stop is--36th Street," the nice lady robot voice said from the ceiling. Avery watched the tiles of the station platform fly past, then slowly come to a stop in the opposite window of the subway car.

"Wait," she said aloud suddenly. She swiftly patted the back pocket of the backpack, which was sitting on her lap. She heard the comforting jingle and clatter of her keys. Okay. Then she looked down at her hands. She had forgotten her gloves again. She opened and closed her thin, chilly fingers a few times with regret.

But no. Not that. The hazy thought from before was floating there. She closed her eyes. The thing, something, what was it, the thing, the thing, the what. Yes. No.

And then it was clear, and Avery, hunched over and rested her forehead in her palms. What the hell was I thinking? Dani, wearing all black with red lipstick, in a completely white room, speaking softly and intentionally: she isn't an angel or a conscience or a fairy--she is an _assassin_!

"No, no, what would Andy think," Avery muttered. She imagined him nodding and smiling patiently, with his small, kind eyes, about to say, welll, perhaps...

Oh it killed. Not the criticism, but how little things changed week to week when she read her piece. There was always something weird about a metaphor she used. Or something missing from a character's motivation. And the worst--Andy would never say it himself, so it came from everyone else:

I just don't see where the story is going.

I don't feel like anything happened.

I don't know what you're trying to say with the story.

I wonder if you could think about allowing the plot to advance.

What's the point? There's no point, and it's going nowhere.

"This is a Manhattan Bound... Q-train," said the cheerful man robot voice.

Avery sat upright and caught the time, 5:15, on the screen of another passenger's enormous phablet as they snuggled up to a pole in the middle of the car. At least I'm on time. But how will I do this?

"Just follow the outline in the site we looked at," Dani had said, soothingly. And now sweet loving assassin Dani was going off to charm some unwitting venture capitalists.

And all I have to do is unlock the Hong Kong school alumni association room in Chinatown, Avery thought, then read off the script. Then I wait while people read their stuff. Then I wait while they discuss and offer criticism. Then--partners? I forget. Andy's format was always much more fluid, but Dani made a good point that maybe it'd be better to follow a script for a few weeks.

Avery unzipped her backpack and sifted through the jumble. The pens and markers had gotten out of the pencil bag again. She gathered them up and zipped the bag close again. The zipper was loose, so history would certainly repeat.

"I am a shepherd," Avery muttered. "She-P-H-A-rd. No, wait. E-R-D. Or A-R-D? Shit."

She pushed the pencil bag to the side, then rummaged past some crumpled papers (previously neatly housed in file folders) and crumpled napkins (previously neatly folded). Spotting a purple corner, she pulled a folder out from the mass. She zipped the backpack closed, lay the folder on top and flipped it open.

In the right pocket was the thick, stapled packet of blank healthcare forms she had printed the other day. On the left pocket was a duplicate packet, unstapled. And in neither pocket was the workshop script. Avery sat hunched over, her eyes roaming helplessly back and forth between the two pockets.

"Stand clear of the closing doors," the friendly robot man said. The doors slid shut, and the Q-train picked up speed, humming and clattering into the darkness towards Manhattan.

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