Read Natural Selection Online

Authors: Amanda Lance

Natural Selection

Natural Selection

 

 

By: Amanda Lance

 

 

Natural Selection

 

Copyright © 2014 by Amanda Lance. All rights reserved.

First Print Edition: May 2014

 

 

Limitless Publishing, LLC

Kailua, HI 96734

www.limitlesspublishing.com

 

Formatting: Limitless Publishing

 

ISBN-13: 978-
1499105872

ISBN-10:
1499105878

 

No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to locales, events, business establishments, or actual persons—living or dead—is entirely coincidental.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1

 

 

Dreaming

 

The sky drew away from her every second.
For an instant, it reminded her of how a movie screen fades to black, signaling the ultimate end. Her feature was ending now, too, the top of the building steadily moving away from her as she plummeted to the bottom. The crazy thing about it was how slowly everything moved, how it took so long to perish during a death that could have—should have—been fast.

She reached for the clouds as they grew fa
rther away, their white ends turning an ugly shade of gray as her speed increased. Calling out, Emilia screamed—the glare from the building’s windows blinding her as gravity finally seemed to kick in.

When she landed
, there was only silence.

 

It was Tut’s barking that woke her, forcing Emilia awake long before the night was through. Unfortunately, it was not nearly soon enough to keep her nightmare away. Maybe she had called out or had just been kicking at the bed again, but either way the pit bull was extra alarmed about her movements, whining more loudly than usual.

Becoming
aware of where she was, Emilia flung herself back down in bed. She sighed as the comforter made a
whooshing
noise as the air was expelled from it. Needy and eager for attention, Tut nudged himself until his head was under her hand. Despite her own restlessness, Emilia smiled. She never regretted adopting the pit bull with the disproportional overbite—unlike most everything else in life, he had always managed to make her feel better.

Nevertheless, the images from the dream were fresh enough to banish even the prospec
t of sleep, and Emilia knew it would be a waste of time to attempt the endeavor. Submitting to the ultimatum, she sighed and sat up, feeling the stretch in her back as she steadied herself and wandered to the other side of her studio apartment.

This had, after all, become a regular routine of hers.  

It started at the same time the letters stopped showing up. Like a barren creek, they came less and less, slowing to a trickle until they were nothing at all. Unlike her dream, however, there was no immediate cause for alarm. Really, there was no reason to be concerned at all. Maybe he was busy with work or the manor, traveling even, she told herself. At the same time, however, there was only so long that she could tell herself that, justifying his behavior as much as she possibly could.

At first Emilia tried to call,
even resorted to e-mailing (although she knew that contacting him by those means was a longshot). Yet just like the letters, her calls were refused until they weren’t taken altogether—not that Kasper regularly conversed on the phone, anyway. Though Mrs. Levkin’s excuses for him sounded realistic, plausible even, Emilia could hear the lie in the older woman’s voice and nearly pitied her. Mrs. Levkin and Emilia shared a fondness for each other, but if the older woman’s employment depended on her lying to Emilia, she didn’t feel worthy to judge her for it.

So Emilia pretended that
she really believed he was in a meeting or on business in a country where he could not be reached. Emilia only called a few more times before giving up the attempts altogether—no longer able to pretend that she believed Mrs. Levkin’s fibs.

The biggest mystery to Emilia was Kasper’s ability to break her heart all over again. When he had first sent her away
, there was still the vague hope that things could be mended. She fantasized nonstop during those first few days that he would change his mind—prayed for it even. But when the hope finally began to deplete, she spent hours poring over love letters she knew she’d never get again, followed by more nights crying until her eyes were too swollen to do anything but sleep. Without wanting to, she became obsessed over every word he had ever written to her and spent endless hours trying to search between the lines for clues that he was growing bored of her. Had her education and his voyeurism been the excuse he was looking for all along? His way of shoving her off while trying to take her feelings into consideration?

She didn’t know why she should have
ever expected anything different.

Emilia shut her eyes. Despite what she had been led to believe, New York was surprising
ly quiet. Those summer nights with only her thoughts and Tut to occupy her were almost unbearably boring. And while Emilia was not unaware of how lucky she had been in finding a vacant apartment far enough from the campus to be inexpensive, and still close enough to be within a reasonable walking distance, she still longed for some of the same excitement she often heard others speak of.

Still, more often than not
, she spent her time thinking about Kasper, about Iram Manor, and her friends who dwelled there. Why was the landline disconnected? Was it possible that he had moved without bothering to make her aware of it? Did he find someone else? And what of Mrs. Levkin and Mr. Shiraz? How had they been faring over these last few months?

Emilia stretched and poured the rest of her
ice water in Tut’s bowl. Assuming it was sacred, he gulped it up without a second thought and burped his thanks. Once again, he made Emilia laugh at his gross behavior, but as she checked the time on the microwave, she became instantly frustrated. It was already way too late to take him for a walk alone, and still too early for the gates of the dog park to be open. Even if it hadn’t been, however, Tut had already settled himself in his bed, seeming to care about nothing other than going back to sleep.

“So you’re saying I’m in this alone
, then?”

His snore confirmed her suspicion.

If she couldn’t go outside, then she could pace. The monotony of walking had worked its magic before when Kasper declined her idea of coming to Iram Manor for winter break—the cold being harsh enough to numb even the power of that rejection. Besides, walking—whether it was for Tut’s benefit or simply to and from campus—seemed to be the only exercise she got anymore. So Emilia paced and hummed to herself, stopping only when she heard a knock at the door. She cursed out loud, prompting Tut to woof as he jumped up to investigate.

Emilia knew it would be Andrew before she even opened the door. Like her, he was a student who kept somewha
t irregular hours. And because he lived directly beneath her, he was as much of a victim of her sleepless pacing as Tut was. She unchained the door and scolded Tut for his loud barking. Sure enough, the familiar face of her neighbor greeted her, and once Tut recognized him, the barking quieted.

“Hi
.” Andrew waved.

She grimaced
, kicking at Tut’s backside with her slipper for trying to jump on the visitor.


Did I wake you again?”

“You have some heav
y steps for a little person.” Andrew looked down at Tut and smiled. “Or maybe it was you, huh?”

She exhaled and leaned her head a
gainst the doorway. Unlike a lot of other Hindi guys, Andrew kept his hair styled and spiked up. Emilia thought he used too much hair gel, but then again she knew her fashion sense wasn’t very keen, either. He also had large black frames that shielded his blue eyes—a trait that, like his American name, Emilia understood he had received from his father.

“If it doesn’t involve throwing a ball or begging for food
, he usually isn’t interested.”

Andrew
nodded and reached down to pet the dog, a gesture that continued to sedate Tut. “Are you awake because you’re upset about the shelter?”

Emilia nodded and smiled sadly. T
he closing of the shelter seemed like a reasonable explanation for her insomnia. At the mention of it, however, she instantly began to feel guilty. Despite the fundraisers and pleas for donations, it looked as though Home at Last would only remain open for another six months. Shouldn’t she have been focusing on that instead of a guy who clearly didn’t want her?

“My boss keeps hoping the state will change its min
d about funding us. The paperwork to become non-profit, though, is a real pain.” She shrugged. With his torn up t-shirt and gym shorts, it seemed obvious that she had woken him. “Ugh, I’m really sorry about waking you up.”

“It’s cool.
” He shrugged. “I was just studying, anyway.”

“I’d invite you in, but I was going to try to get back to bed—”

“Oh sure, sure. Just making sure you’re okay up here. Not going to war or anything.”

“I’m okay, thanks.” She smile
d. “The cannons aren’t scheduled to go off until morning.”

“Good thing I have an early lab tomorrow
, then, huh?”

Emilia rolled her eyes and tapped her nails against the door. “You never thought you’d be so happy to be a TA
, right?”

He nodded
and began the journey back to his apartment. “You got that right. See ya.”

She nodded, pulling Tut back by his collar. “Yeah. See you around.”

Emilia waited until she heard steps heading down the stairs before she pulled Tut into a bear hug. “Well, I guess I
have
to go to bed now, don’t I?”

The dog gave her a sloppy kiss
, forgetting about the previous excitement just as fast as it began. Emilia watched him wander back to his bed before reluctantly climbing into her own. It took another hour before she let sleep and the rest of her dark dreams take over.

The next morning
wasn’t much better. Without much rest and a full schedule, there wasn’t much to look forward to other than work, and that made things that much more gloomy. She hurriedly got ready, spending a little extra time with Tut outside before she left. How unfair was it that as soon as Emilia became comfortable in her new job, it was being threatened? Shelters, both private and state funded, were being closed because of a lack of interest and funding from the general public. And with that, far more dogs were being put down than had to be. She hated it immensely, and while it might have been the root of all evil, money was dictating not only her employment, but the lives of all dogs in the county. Emilia did her best to comfort herself by remembering that, if nothing else, she had gotten Tut out, but it did little to assuage her guilt.

Perhaps it was only made worse by the fact that Tut
reminded her of Kasper. Disfigured and broken-hearted, she had nursed him back to health, then named him after one of the most famous kings of all time—a gesture she thought Kasper might have appreciated. For all her efforts, though, it had not done much to impact the greater whole—not unlike her relationship with Kasper.

“Okay
.” She slung her backpack over her shoulder and handed Tut a small rawhide. “You behave yourself.”

“You talking to me?”

“Oh.” She laughed. “Hey, Andrew.” Quickly, Emilia locked the door behind her and waved to Andrew, who looked just as tired as when she had seen him last. She could tell from his weighed-down backpack and armful of books that he, too, was going out for the day.

“Hey
, if I’m late again tonight, would you mind taking Tut for a walk later?”

He no
dded, and Emilia rushed to catch up to him at the bottom of the stairwell before Tut realized she was gone. “No problem. You have a class tonight?”

“No, but
bunch of us are strategizing on fundraiser possibilities after closing, so I might be late. Are you sure you don’t mind?”

“Nah, it’s cool. I still owe you for keeping my p
lants alive when I went on holiday.”

“You have one
plant, Andrew. It literally took five seconds a day.”

“Well
, maybe.” He shrugged before rushing ahead to open the door for her. “But then there was all that rotation for sunlight.”

“Still
.” She rolled her eyes. “It wasn’t a big deal.”

“And neither is walkin
g Tut. I like helping you take care of him, he reminds me of a dog I had growing up.”

“If
you’re sure—”

Andrew
laughed, winking at her as he walked down the street. “You worry too much, Em!” She was already walking the other way when he called out again: “No wonder you can’t sleep!”

 

***

 

He stared out, watching the clouds move and create large, bulbous shadows over the rose garden. Even with his increasingly poor eyesight, he could see how the interbreeding had changed the colors in the petals over the years, creating different templates of orange and pink that were practically prize-worthy. He was told frequently of how often Mr. Rivas was complimented and how Kasper should be equally as proud, of how much his tailor and the carpet cleaner admired them. Yet, as lovely as his roses seemed to be to everyone else, the only opinion he cared about was that of a girl over three hundred miles away.

“She attends classes on Mondays
, Thursday nights, and study sessions Saturday mornings. Tuesday through Friday she works at this humane society group—”

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