Seated behind the particle board desk in the bland interview room, John suppressed the urge to stand and pace. Instead, he settled for checking his watch against the time displayed on his laptop. In the half hour that had crept by since his last subject had left, he had checked the time four or five times.
He went over his preparations for Grace, making sure he had covered his tracks. If anyone found out he had substituted a friend for one of the existing test subjects, he’d be looking for another job. If anyone found out he’d done it to help reinforce the existing test data, he’d have trouble finding
He’d left nothing to chance. He’d given Grace all the appropriate instructions. He’d substituted Grace for Subject 3258, who had quit just last week. He’d given her the same interview time as 3258. To the rest of the world, it would look like 3258 was still participating in the testing. If he’d done his homework, only he and Grace would know differently.
He checked the clock again. If he were at the desk in his office instead of this stimulus-free workstation, he’d have something else to fidget with as time congealed around him.
Nerves. Part of it was his typical seventh-grade-science-geek response to Grace, and to be fair, part was because he was putting his career on the line. But the real problem was that he didn’t have nearly enough answers for the open questions that filled his imagination in ways that had little to do with the laboratory.
What would she tell him?
Would she have lots of stories for him?
Was he ready for that?
A knock at the door made him jump. Nervous energy compressed his chest as the door creaked open and Grace peered around it at him. She let herself in and took off her coat while pushing the door closed behind her. Her black turtleneck and jeans showed off a figure that was all woman, curvy and lean. She pushed chin-length hair behind one ear and revealed a smile like a cat’s after a three-course canary dinner. For a moment he forgot all the risks that went with their illicit mission.
You’re just excited because you’re finally going to get some real data. Take it easy.
“Big smile,” he said. He shut the laptop. “Does that mean you’re a satisfied customer?”
Grace folded her coat over one arm. “More than satisfied.”
“Is that so?” John asked.
She nodded. “Want to hear all the juicy details?”
Of course he did—until she asked. Now, as the end of the question hung in the air, he wasn’t so sure he still wanted exactly what he had asked her for. And the smug look on her face said she knew it.
Grace draped her coat over the empty chair on her side of the desk before sitting. “I’ll go easy on you at first.”
John rearranged his notes, the microcassette recorder, and an overabundance of pencils and pens on his side, just as he had with dozens of other people, sitting close enough to observe their physiological responses and distant enough that they couldn’t see his notes. He tried without success to make himself comfortable in the cheap desk chair.
“Do you mind if I tape you?” he asked. “I want to make sure I get everything. I tell everybody that nobody else will hear it, but that’s doubly true in your case.”
Grace picked up the recorder. “You still use actual tape?” she asked.
“Instead of digital?” He nodded. “But just for you.”
She returned the recorder to its place on the table. “Why?”
“Three reasons. Nothing is ever left on the recorder—once I take out the tape, the recorder’s empty. The tape is easy to keep private—if it’s with me, no one else can get to it.” He looked up at her and smiled. “And if anything goes wrong, the tape will be easier to eat.”
Grace laughed and leaned back in her chair. “Can’t argue with that.”
“This is more of a conversation than an interrogation.” He slid the recorder to the center of the desk. “So you might not feel like I’m asking you many questions. I just want to hear what happened.”
“Sounds simple enough,” she said.
He engaged the recorder with a click
. Then he sat back with one of the notepads, which he tapped with one of the over-sharpened pencils. “Okay. Let’s hear it.”
John turned his attention to the blank page, writing the date and time in the upper right corner and waiting for Grace to begin. Often he’d found that his subjects would communicate more if he wasn’t looking at them. In this case, he worried that he wouldn’t be able to concentrate.
“You know I went to see Tal right after I saw you on Monday,” Grace said. “He thinks this is a great idea, by the way. He wants to be first on the list when you come up with one of these pills for men.”
Still holding the pencil, John rotated his hand, listening to the tendons pop. Tal is helping you
, he reminded himself.
That’s right. Good ol’ enthusiastic Tal is helping you.
“I know this is a secret,” Grace said, “but I didn’t think it was fair to ask him to do all this without knowing.”
“No problem.” John popped his wrist one last time and glanced up at Grace. “As long as he doesn’t say anything.”
“His lips are sealed. So what do you need to know?”
“Let’s start at the beginning. Right after you took it, did you…feel anything?”
“Anything…like what?” she asked playfully.
“The little chill we discussed.”
“I did feel that. Really cold, but just for a few minutes, until I got to Tal’s.”
The pencil’s scratch seemed very loud between them as he took note of the chill. “And then what?”
“As soon as he opened the door I felt really…agitated.”
“Nervous?” he asked. “Jittery?”
John looked up from his hastily scribbled notes. Almost everyone had reported fidgeting, pacing, or generally feeling antsy. No one had mentioned an increase in arousal. Not to him, anyway.
“You look surprised,” she said. Her self-assured smile was back in place.
“Me? No, no, no. Not surprised.” And he wasn’t, really. It was just that she was so matter-of-fact about it.
“You’re sure?” she asked.
“I’m sure. Keep going.”
“Okay.” Grace stretched her legs out in front of her, gazing at the ceiling. “So as soon as I saw Tal, I felt this rush. I just had to have him.”
John watched her take a long breath before she moistened the center of her upper lip with the tip of her tongue. She was reliving it now, whatever she had done that night after she’d left him. Inside him, something uneasy buckled and knit, pulsed with his heartbeat as her mind returned to this other man. He wrote down the counter number from the cassette recorder and reminded himself that he’d sent her on this errand. He’d chosen to be in this position, and if he was bitter about it now, he had no one else to blame for the bad taste it left in his mouth. He forced himself back to business.
“Any chance this was just your normal anticipation? For your friend, I mean.”
“No.” She took a deep breath and slid her palms down her thighs. “Usually we’ll talk a little or have a beer first. That night we were all over each other.” She glanced over at John. “It was a little scary, to be honest.”
He took note of her symptoms and of her movements now as he looked on. Her fingers twisted on her lap. Reluctance. This couldn’t be uncomfortable for her, too, could it? “Okay. Then what?”
Grace turned back to the ceiling. “Everything was more intense. When he put his hands or his mouth on me, it made me so…so wet. Everything he did made me want more.”
Had she lowered her voice for his benefit? The color that bloomed on her face told a different story. She wasn’t spinning a yarn for his entertainment. The recollection was turning her on.
He could practically hear her saying it. More. Please. More.
Damn. What would he have to do to make her blush? Would he ever be the one to make her breathless?
He idly traced the margin’s red lines. He’d had his chance with her already.
“And then?” He tried to maintain a neutral tone of voice.
She bit her lip. “I don’t know. It’s hard to describe. I was ready to come as soon as he touched me. It was like being a teenager again.”
“Out of control?”
Her eyes met his. “Yeah! Mmm. Out of control.” Her voice lowered again, as if she was sharing a secret with him. “Like being in heat. That have-to-have-it feeling, you know?”
He watched the words forming on the notepad in front of him. How long had it been since he’d felt out of control? How long since pure animal hunger threatened to take over—and he had done nothing to stop it?
He looked up at her, praying she couldn’t see the truth of his attraction on his face.
“Do you all have a name for this stuff yet?”
He rubbed the smooth surface of the pencil’s eraser with his thumb. “I think they’re still haggling over the one they’ll take to market. Last I heard, they were calling it Impulse.”
“Impulse.” She pressed those full lips together. “I like it. Impulse.”
“Think that’ll work?”
“Maybe. I don’t know. There is something…liberating about losing control. Giving in to biology.” She smiled. “But then I don’t mind having the extra scoop of ice cream either.”
He chuckled. “So you’re aroused.”
She blinked, and he savored that moment, enjoying the rare sight of Grace in shock. He might never share a bed with the woman, but he could still manage a surprise or two. He pointed at his notes with the pencil.
“Oh!” she said. “With Tal
“Everything he does makes it worse.”
Slowly, she shook her head. “Oh, no. Better.”
He watched her consider the choice of words. “Stronger,” she agreed.
He took note of her increased sensitivity, careful to use the word they’d chosen together. “And then?”
Silence stretched out after his question until he looked up to find her grinning at him. “Oh my God,” she said, amusement in her voice. “You’re blushing.”
“I am not.” Blushing. He snorted. He did this every day. He’d heard far worse than this. Hadn’t he?
“You know,” she said, “it’s going to get pretty graphic before I’m finished.”
Like he needed the reminder. “Well, that’s why we’re here.” He turned back to his notes and pushed his glasses up on his nose. “So get graphic. I can take it.”