“Anyone want to go for a walk?” asked Erica from the doorway. Her hair was down for the first time in days, spilling over her shoulders in waves. She shoved her hands deep in the pockets of her coat and twisted from side to side as she waited for an answer.
Leo looked up from his computer. “Right now?” He’d barely slept all week—there were dark rings under his eyes and his hair was sticking up at weird angles. He sat back slightly, staring at his cluttered desk. For a moment, he seemed to take in everything: the stack of cereal bowls on the shelf, the schematic sketches of gadgets in progress, the mess of papers covered in calculations and doodles, the open textbooks and reference manuals, then the two computer monitors and laptop screen before him, although the keyboard must have been lost days ago under the mess. His optical mouse sat poised on a notebook in the general area of his right hand; he was lucky it was wireless, or it would’ve gotten tangled in everything long before. Leo closed his eyes—Erica could almost hear his unspoken wish for all of it to disappear when he opened them again—and breathed in deeply. He rubbed at his temples and leaned back in his chair to look out the window.
“It’s pouring outside,” he said.
“I know,” replied Erica, still swaying slightly in the doorway. “Is Jay there?”
Leo nodded and yawned before twisting in his seat and to throw a pencil across the room. Erica heard a muffled, “Ow!” and a groan. She stepped through the doorway to see around the bend of their L-shaped room.
Jay’s desk was not nearly as cluttered as Leo’s, although that might have been because he’d splayed his design sketches across the floor instead. If Leo looked tired, Jay looked insane. His eyes were bloodshot and wide with caffeine-induced energy, and his already shaggy hair was starting to make weird animal shapes. Apparently he’d just shifted his headphones from over his ears to around his neck, and he probably hadn’t heard anything Erica and Leo had said before.
“Want to go for a walk?” Erica asked him.
“Now?” he questioned. He looked incredulous.
“Why not?” she countered.
She didn’t think his eyes could get wider, but they definitely widened when he glanced out the window. “It’s raining.”
“So?” she asked, smiling. “When’s the last time you went outside?”
He shivered. “It’s raining.”
She gave him a withering look and turned to rummage through his closet by the door.
“Come on. You need a break.” She pulled out his raincoat. “Both of you,” she added pointedly, eyeing Leo hunched over his desk.
“Noo,” whined Jay, gingerly stepping over his drawings on the floor to collapse on the futon under Leo’s lofted bed. “You can’t take me out there. My lungs can’t handle it. I’ll die of oxygen poisoning.”
“Same here,” seconded Leo, raising a hand without taking his eyes off his computer screen, which had just begun running a projectile simulation.
Erica pulled a grimace. It wouldn’t be worth the walk if the two of them whined the whole way out and the whole way back. She tossed Jay’s raincoat in his direction. “Fine…”
“Thank you,” said Leo. He was absently typing function commands on his keyboard through a lecture handout.
Sighing, Erica leaned over and pulled it aside. “Here.”
Leo started slightly. “Oh whoa. Thanks.” He looked up at her. “Why don’t you bother Derek? He’s usually up for an outdoor excursion. And he’s not allergic to air like us.”
Erica eyed him for a moment, wondering just what he was trying to imply. Something about his way of talking, paired with his Italian good looks, gave him a certain sense of charismatic knowing, like he shared some special secret with you. Erica wondered sometimes if he could read minds, although she knew he was just really good at reading people.
“I couldn’t find him,” she finally answered.
“Well then,” he said, his gaze back on his computer. “I guess you’re out of luck.”
She shrugged and headed for the door, a fleeting smile crossing her mouth when she heard Jay snoring softly under his raincoat.