A couple of summers ago, a year after I slammed the door on Avel and a year before Jeremiah turned brute with the full moon, I was working on a project. My work back then was very vague. Well, it still is, but back then it was even more smoke and even less paperwork.
Kadey was working with me, kind of as an intern. We'd been given an assignment in a black envelope, something I had only heard rumors about before that moment. Mr. Oulara hadn't even mailed it to me in the usual fashion. He'd found me at a cafe, staring out the window and absentmindedly turning my empty tea mug in circles.
"Meli," he said after clearing his throat. I looked up slowly. I wasn't too thrilled to hear his voice, or to see him standing next to my table. Although, I probably should have been happy about it. Mr. Oulara didn't show up with black envelopes for just anything. He laid the project on the table and walked away. I could reject it by not touching the envelope, but I was too curious. For a minute I just looked at it, letting my mind wander through the stories I'd heard about black envelopes and the failures associated with them. Whatever this was, it meant they trusted me. Great.
When Oulara was more than out the door and his dark sedan was turning at the signal at the other end of the parking lot, I sighed resignedly and pulled the envelope closer with my fingertip. The instant I touched it a shock of electricity shot through my finger. I gasped and pulled it back, and then I looked at my hand. My finger had a tiny mark on it; at a glance it just looked like a small burn, but the more I stared at it, the more it looked like our company's seal. It had been burned into my skin.
I read the single piece of paper quickly, knowing that, as usual, there was only a short amount of time before the words disappeared. Here is what it said:
I had pulled the paper out of the envelope so it had been face down, so my first reaction was, "Huh. Black envelope, brown paper. Ok." And then I had flipped it over and my stomach had started beating and my heart was tied in knots. In other words, I had no idea what to do with myself. Avel? Avel was my project?
I almost didn't need to read the entire page. After I saw the words "Ambreel Avel Tucker" my brain had come up with a lovely flashback of Avel leaning in my kitchen doorway. No one needed to tell me his distinctive features. In my mind Avel was grinning at me, twirling a knife around his fingers, showing off. I was making dinner. Avel put the blade down and touched my arm with the back of his hand. I blinked. This was going to be difficult.