☦Rose Labelle turns 33.☦
Rose Labelle jolted upright in bed, sweat pouring down her body. For a brief moment, she stared down at her feet, absorbing the image her eyes took in, making absolutely sure they were still there and intact.
It wasn't until what felt like a lifetime later that Labelle was at ease with herself and looked over to the clock. It read 3:00, a few hours before she had to leave for work. She glared at the clock, as if it had inconvenienced her by giving her nightmares.
After a bit of consideration, she decided to get out of bed and search for her hormones and antidepressants in the dark. She wouldn't dare turn on the lights; it'd be too overwhelming. After some fumbling around, swearing, and a stubbed toe, she managed to locate it, and the pill bottle top came undone.
Labelle stood still, feeling the pills slide down her throat, and closed her eyes. She let even the most mundane feelings and sensations wash over her. The low chatter of infotainment from the TV, spoken word coming from her computer, music drifting from the radio… all ritual to help prepare her for the day ahead. Thoughts of socialization and conversations, memos and projects all came to her, as she prepared responses to every possible conversation she might have that day.
She opened her eyes and the clock displayed a time much later than she wanted it to.
At that moment, the radio DJ came on.
"For you early birds getting up now, good morning from Classic Stone FM. Today is September 13th. For, um, those of you getting up just now, you may want something soothing and relaxing. Well, back in '65, The Beatles… well, Paul McCartney rather, recorded one of their most seminal songs, and released it 48 years ago today. That song is "Yesterday", and it's a lovely song…"
September 13th. It's my birthday…
She slammed the radio off the moment Paul McCartney's singing tried butting in.
Labelle tried making pancakes for breakfast. Lost in her train of thought, she slammed her hand upon the stove.
"Aww, what's the matter, Belle? It's your birthday!"
"Put a sock in it." She shot a sideways glare at Jeffery Ash, wanting to fully swing to the side to convey the extent of her annoyance, but the chairs loaned to them made it too uncomfortable to do so.
The two, collaborators first and foremost, were working on a project involving faster methods of detecting and taking down videos related to the Andronika anomaly, as well as locating a possible origin. Since the project was expected to last for a minimum of two weeks, having now gone on for more, the two were put in a barely furbished room in Site-19.
Ash and Labelle had been noted as being commendable partners who were able to work well on projects and get work done in a quick and timely fashion. Their shared programming backgrounds made them an ideal match as partners.
The only thing missing from their dynamic was the social aspect.
"Come on, you're 33!" he exclaimed. "You're not old enough to hit your mid-life crisis, but old enough to have a little experience. It's the sweet spot of aging. What's not to like about that?" He grinned, as though trying to lighten to mood.
"I am really even less up for this," she snapped back at him.
"What's wrong with your birthday? You don't feel like you're getting that old already, right?"
"You do remember that Jade and I broke up a couple months ago, right?"
"So…?" Ash looked at her quizzically. Labelle frowned and stopped her typing, turning around to face him.
"Remember how we share the same birthday? I told you to celebrate hers afterwards because we both wanted to celebrate our birthdays separately. Did you not remember that?"
"…oh. Right." His voice sounded awkward. "We should probably type up the report on this Andronika thing and finish working on resources for securing the IPs, right? No way we're going to locate this thing's source."
Labelle made a noise of approval and nodded at her screen as she went to open up her word processor. "Another week and we should be good. You wanna handle the report? I can tackle the bulk of the coding for now. I dunno how good I'd be at speaking with others. That's more your thing anyway."
Ash nodded at his screen.
"Hey you, you got a cigarette?"
"You know I know that you got one on you." Ash sighed and handed Labelle another shark-branded cigarette as they stood outside, watching a flock fly overhead on the breeze.
As soon as Labelle walked into the cafeteria on her lunch break, she spotted her corner of friends/acquaintances, surrounding a cake and smiling at her. She froze like a deer in headlights, praying that everyone would not notice her.
"Haaaaappy birthdaaaay toooo yooooouuu! Haaaaappy birthdaaaay toooo yooooouuu!"
Of course, everyone had stared. Some even joined along in singing.
"Happy biiiirthdaaaay deeeaaarrr Rooooossseee… Haaaaappy birthdaaaay toooo yooooouuu!"
"Uh, thank… thank you guys? I uh, I appreciate it." She forced a smile and nodded as one of the singers, whose name she could never remember, got up and dragged her to the table.
"Come on, make a wish, Rose!" someone exclaimed.
"S… Sure." She closed her eyes to think of a wish, ignoring the feeling of all eyes on her. After dragging out the wish-thinking for as long as she could possibly do so, she settled on something.
She blew out the candles, wishing for lunch break to be over as quick as possible.
"I still don't understand how we're supposed to be analyzing when these videos pop up if we can't even pinpoint the origin of this," Ash questioned, his eyes following Labelle as she took to playing hackey sack with her stress ball while they talked.
"Well, all the videos are consistent in titling, content, and anomalous properties." Labelle managed to keep enough of a steady rhythm to rarely mess up.
"So the program looks for new uploads titled 'Ventrilo' or 'Soundboard' or whatever, does an audio scan for any sudden bursts of static, and once it does…" He continued to watch, mouth agape and body language indicating a half-assed attempt at listening.
"It goes through a process of taking the video down. It happens during processing, before the video is even viewable."
"Well yeah, didn't we already have that kind of technology?"
"In a sense, but the programs we already have don't do it automatically and crawl through processing videos. By the time it's detected, the video's been up for long en—" The ball flew and hit Ash on the forehead, and he fell back and made a noise of surprise and pain.
"Shit, sorry! Are you OK?" Labelle stood and gawked at Ash's forehead from afar. The bruise wasn't too remarkable, though she was surprised she was able to kick it hard enough to leave any kind of bruise at all.
"Ugh, yeah. I'm fine. You can keep talking. I'll go see if we have ice in the mini-fridge though." Ash got up from the floor and headed over to the fridge.
"No, no, it's fine. There's nothing more to say, really. Shit, I'm sorry." When she stopped staring at Ash's forehead, she picked up the stress ball and went back to playing with it. "I'm just hoping that if God loves us, we'll be off this project in a couple of weeks." Even as she spoke, she couldn't help but look over repeatedly at Ash to make sure he was alright. She was relieved to see him duck up with a bag of ice over his head, and stopped the hacky sack when he came back to his seat.
"That'd be real nice. You're sharing the source code with me before we leave, right?"
"Yeah. Just gonna make some preliminary changes while you get in touch with higher-ups and work on disseminating those urban legends." Labelle punctuated the statement with a nod and sat down, going back to work on programming as Ash took the bag of ice off his head every so often to send emails to project heads.
The atmosphere was quiet, neither speaking to the other, with both trying to figure out how to break the silence. After a couple of hours of silence, and 15 minutes until the end of their work day, Labelle was the first one to speak up, looking over to Ash and being cautious with her words.
"Wanna come over my house and drink to celebrate?"
"My birthday. I can't have a party with one person, and you're here anyways." Labelle went back to typing, as Ash looked at her with curiosity. She hadn't invited him to anything since her last birthday party, but it wouldn't hurt to invite him. He seemed receptive to the idea anyway.
"Sure. You have beer, right?"
"You know it."
The two sat on Rose's floor in front of Ash's laptop dedicated exclusively to music, a cooler's worth of cheap (both in price and in quality) beer within arm's reach. It certainly got them drunk faster than they planned, but with the day off tomorrow, there wasn't any real worry. The laptop was currently playing generic, bullshit indie folk (that's what Labelle had thought anyway), but it at least filled the silence whenever the two couldn't find anything to talk about.
Fortunately, that rarely was a problem.
"Coooome oooon Ashy, you remember Mrs. Chandler back in high school, right? She was a total bitch!" Labelle smiled as she spoke, radiating energy. "I remember her, uh, yelling at you after class one time! Something about a fucking, uh… do you remember?"
"Nah. Think I tried drawing pictures and she saw. Good thing too, I'm shit at drawing."
"Draw me something! Here, let me get you some um, something to work with." She got up and carefully walked over to the end of the living room, locating paper and pencils to bring back for Ash. When she found them, she grabbed it and tried carefully to walk back, making sure not to fall or hit any of the beer cans still lying around.
"Ugh, sorry for that. I took forever I think… Maybe an hour at the most." She sat back down and handed Ash the materials, and looked at the laptop, frowning. The current song they had played barely progressed at all, and she knew her senses were more off than she realized. "…oh. I was probably running, wasn't I?"
"Yeah, certainly Miss Graceful." He let out a laugh that was an obvious failed attempt at being stifled, as she scowled. "What do you want me to draw?"
"Hmm…" It took a bit for her to think of something, and to make sure she didn't spend forever, she checked the laptop. The song got through its chorus in the time she took to think. "A dragon."
"Yes," Labelle said with deadpan seriousness. Ash tapped the pencil against his chin, the look on his face taking on heavy seriousness.
"Okay." He then took to drawing a dragon eating pancakes. Labelle was enthralled with watching Ash draw. She was surprised that he was doing a very good job drawing such a silly thing while drunk. For a brief moment, all she could do was stare in amusement. The music eventually shifted off from generic indie folk to generic bullshit trap. The music didn't bother her, though. She was having fun with him outside of work, so what did it matter?
After a couple albums of music burned through, Ash finished his drawing of a dragon eating pancakes and held it up.
"So, what do you think?" He looked at her with caution. As she examined it, a thought popped into her head and a grin formed on her face.
"It needs to be in space."
"In sp — wow. Goddammit, Belle." He sighed and she giggled while he got back to drawing lazy stars and a lazy, light scribble with the pencil to signify the blackness of space.
"And what are you, uh, gonna call your masterpiece?" She pitched the question to him, going back to watching him draw. After he finished the lazy space background, he initialed his name on an empty corner with the title in quotes:
"Okay, okay, but how about this?
"How does it feeeeeel?
How does it feel?
To be on yooourrr ooown?
With no direction hooome?
A complete unknoown?
Like a rooolling stone?
"Ash, you look like a goddamn dork singing that."
Labelle moved Ash's body on the couch to make sure he didn't sleep on his back. Neither of them could drive back home, nor knew anyone who'd be willing to go to their house and watch over them at 3 AM, so this was the next best option. The only thing remaining was the music, which she shut off. The playlist got better, but what good was enjoying someone else's library without that person?
She went to her room to pull out a sleeping bag and pillow, dragging it to the living room so she could sleep by him in case of an emergency on either of their parts. Though she had fun, the night felt a bit hollow.
With a sigh, she went to find her sleeping pills, undoing the pill bottle top and taking enough to fall asleep for the night. After feeling them crawl down her throat, she went to lay in the makeshift bag, scooting her body in to feel snug. Thoughts idly drifted into her head, until they inevitably came back to Jade. She curled in on herself, trying to calm down enough to sleep.