Helena & Max (excerpt from Flight of the Cicadas)

Helena stood nearly six feet tall and was pale even against the backdrop of her cream-colored office walls. She had twisted her long, thick black hair up into a bun and had done so in a way that had been too tight, too fast, and too rough on her head. The angry act had already escalated her headache nearly to a full-blown migraine. Deep breaths, she thought. Her attempt at putting herself into a calming meditative state would have worked, had Max not burst through the door. Several profane words came to mind, but she’d never have verbalized them. She was taught to be a lady, after all.

Helena knew what was in his hand. He’d called it her pet project. He had humored her desire to do the research until she’d found something that threatened to insight public panic. Her findings were met with skepticism and were a blow to his delicate ego. Helena had studied people all her life and had sized Max up as part narcissist, part asshole years ago, but he also happened to be one of the best in his field. She laughed silently at that thought as her brows relaxed into her most condescending, humored look. There was a stubbornness to her expression that she had inherited from her mother – that  I just don’t give a damn look.  

As the red began to creep up Max’s neck and eventually engulf his entire head, he reminded her of a very large Elongate Aphid Fly; one of the ugliest insects she’d ever studied. Max’s red face was too large for his body with the exception of his backside and she couldn’t help associate him with the uglier insects. She was tempted to share her thoughts with him if for no other reason but to feel better.

A laugh rose in her throat at the sight of his reddening head and at the thought of how she had finally outdone him. That, he hadn’t expected. In her defense though, she had not intended to do it the way she had. The words had just come out. Unlike my colleague….He stared at her with venom. Perhaps her being humored with his anger was not the best of choices, but she simply didn’t care.

Max’s spittle landed on the cicada that was pinned to a spreading block. He was gripping the block so hard that his knuckles were turning a shade of red nearly matching his face. The cicada seemed to sway back and forth in a dizzying motion. The movement sobered Helena. She stood hoping it wasn’t too late for damage control.

Helena’s shift in facial expression to one of complete compassion, something she had inherited from her mother was feigned, yet appeared quite genuine to Max. His yelling eventually lowered to a near-whispered monotone. Twenty minutes of praising Max’s brilliance did the trick. She even managed to gently take the spreading board away from him during her rehearsed soothing speech.

His words didn’t fit the sudden softness of his voice. “What the hell were you doing in there, Helena?” she hated when Max made a point to call her by her name. She knew he only did it when he felt threatened. She reached across her desk and gently touched the tips of his fingers. Though they had never been lovers, she saw a certain attraction in his eyes when she touched him and used it against him anytime it became necessary. He looked at her fingers but didn’t move.

“Now, Max,” she took a deep, cleansing breath, “you know I meant no harm. Just wanted to present the findings of the study. That’s all.” The conversation continued back and forth, Max questioning and Helena reassuring him. She had publicly embarrassed him and it was perhaps a little bit on purpose. It was more about her frustration with the founders than with Max. She was certain that the majority of them were complete idiots. It made sense. Most were politicians and the others were scientists with other specialties. Sometimes when she spoke to the founders she felt like she had overlooked something important that she couldn’t quite put her finger on.

By the end of the conversation, Max was convinced of her sincerity. She was grateful and swore she would do her best not to repeat her behavior. She had sworn that before. Helena couldn’t afford to make an enemy of Max. He was just self-centered enough to believe that he could do everything by himself. If efforts to find a solution to the decline in the insect population were going to continue, Max’ help was paramount.

Max eyed the spreading board Helena was holding and slowly pulled his hand from Helena’s. He turned on his heel walking at a normal pace toward the door. The in-congruence between his suit and tie and the Max she knew was different enough for Helena to occasionally consider that he might have multiple personalities floating around in that head of his. As he left, his untucked shirt and frizzy hair bounced in unison all the way past the steps and around the corner until he was completely out of sight. Helena was quickly reminded that her head was throbbing. If the evening brought as much action as the morning had, she might have to get her dad’s machete out of the closet and chop off her own head.

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