Handing a package of baked apple bites to an older man, she turned to her next customer, about to ask what the person wanted. But when she saw who stood there, she was speechless.
“I admit, I haven’t been here before,” said Cord, who was lounging at the counter as if it were the most normal thing in the world. “What do you recommend?”
“You know this is all crap,” Rylin blurted out, hardly aware what she was saying. She couldn’t believe Cord even knew how to get to a monorail stop, let alone that he remembered which one she worked at.
“Yes, so I’ve heard.” Cord’s eyes glittered, amused. “But I’m trying to talk to the girl who works here, and if that means I have to buy some crap, so be it.”
“Myers!” Buza called out from the back room, where he was working his way steadily through a bag of bacon-flavored chips. “Stop flirting!”
Rylin bit her lip to keep from answering. She turned back to Cord, her voice tight. “Apparently we need to keep moving. So, what can I get you?” she asked, still uncertain why he was here.
“Whatever takes longest,” Cord replied, looking at Buza, who frowned.
Rylin set about making a whipped hazelnut frappé, tossing ingredients in the blender and putting it on the loudest setting. “So, this is where the magic happens,” Cord spoke under the noise of the blender, leaning back on his heels.
“Cord, why are you here?” she asked bluntly.
“Would you believe it if I told you I miss your cleaning?”
“What happened to your old maid service?”
“They aren’t as fun as you.”
“Wanna play hooky?” he asked.
“I thought Brice was leaving town.” She took the blender out of its socket and poured the creamy drink into a white elastifoam cup, marked with an obnoxious yellow smiley face.
“I wasn’t talking about cleaning,” he clarified. “I’m going on an adventure, and I want you to come.”
“I don’t know.” The line waiting behind Cord was starting to get loud, insistent. “Fifteen NDs,” Rylin said, and slid him the hazelnut frappé.
“If you come, I promise to drink this nasty concoction you’re forcing me to buy,” Cord said, looking up at the retinal scanner and nodding to confirm payment.
“Myers!” Buza bellowed. “Hurry it up out there!”
That was the final straw. Her blood boiling, Rylin whirled around and stood in the doorway, hand on hip. “You know what?” she said. “I don’t feel well. I think I came back to work too soon. Probably because my boss bullied me, and told me that if I didn’t come back, I’d get fired,” she replied angrily.
He looked up, bacon-chili powder smeared on his upper lip. “You leave now, you are fired,” he threatened.
Rylin took off her name tag in a dramatic gesture. “Good-bye, then,” she said, and threw it on the floor.
“Let’s get out of here,” she told Cord as she hurried out the employee entrance, laughing at the thought of Buza trying to handle that angry crowd of customers alone. God, that felt good. She’d been fantasizing about quitting since her first day working there. She knew she’d freak out about this tomorrow, once she had to start looking for a new job, but right now it was deeply satisfying.
“Bottoms up,” Cord said, and took a swig of the frozen, syrupy mess. He choked but managed to swallow the sip. Rylin couldn’t help laughing, a little hysterically.
“Where are we headed?” she asked, stepping with Cord onto the monorail back toward the Tower.
“I was thinking dinner,” he said. “Are you hungry?”
Rylin looked at him, her brow furrowed, but for once he didn’t sound teasing. “It’s only ten a.m.,” she pointed out.
He grinned. “Not where we’re going.”
Rylin didn’t quite figure it out until they disembarked at Grand Central, the transport hub that sprawled over six floors in a massive chunk of the Tower’s east side. She let Cord lead her down the iconic marble steps that had been excavated from the original Grand Central, past the monorail lines and elevator banks, toward the farthest part of the station. “Wait,” she said slowly, as understanding dawned, “you didn’t—I’m not—”
“Too late, our train is already boarding,” Cord argued, pulling her along the Hyperloop platform and onto a curved, bullet-shaped car, the sign above it flashing PARIS GARE D’OUEST. Rylin followed, in too much shock to protest. The inside of the car consisted of four pairs of seats, the oversized lay-flat chairs a deep purple, each with its own silencing privacy walls.
“Seats 1A and 1B, that’s us,” Cord said, finding their row.
Rylin planted her feet in the aisle. “Cord, I can’t accept this. It’s too much.” She wasn’t sure how much a first-class Hyperloop ticket cost, but she had the feeling she didn’t want to know.
“Suit yourself.” Cord sank into the window seat. “If you don’t want to come, don’t come. I’m going to Paris either way. But decide soon,” he added as a countdown sounded over the speakers, “because in ninety seconds this train will be deep under the Atlantic, heading to Europe at twelve hundred kilometers per hour.”