Double Helixby Nancy Werlin
Eighteen-year-old Eli discovers a shocking secret about his life and his family while working for a Nobel Prize-winning scientist whose specialty is genetic engineering.See more details below
Eighteen-year-old Eli discovers a shocking secret about his life and his family while working for a Nobel Prize-winning scientist whose specialty is genetic engineering.
Barbara L. Talcroft
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It was almost impossible for me to sit still -- but I had to. I couldn't be pacing frantically back and forth across the rich gray carpet of Wyatt Transgenics's expansive reception area when Dr. Wyatt -- the Dr. Wyatt --
But he'd send an assistant to get me, wouldn't he? To escort me to his office? He wouldn't come himself.
My knuckles were tapping out a random jumpy rhythm on the arm of the chair. I clenched my fist to stop it. I shifted my legs.
The chair I sat in was small and hard and low to the ground. Obviously, whoever designed the corporate reception area had been focused not on the comfort of visitors, but on showcasing the enormous double-helix staircase that dominated the atrium with its depiction of DNA structure. And though anyone would find the chairs uncomfortable, they were particularly bad for me. My knees stuck up awkwardly, making the pant legs of my borrowed suit look even shorter than they were. There was nothing I could do about that -- my father was only six foot three. His jacket, also, was too tight across the shoulders on me.
I tugged at my tie. I suspected -- no, I knew I looked ridiculous. The suit didn't even make me look older. And I now thought it had been completely unnecessary. In the time I'd been sitting here, at least a dozen Wyatt Transgenics employees had moved purposefully across the mezzanine area at the top of the double-helix staircase, and they'd all been wearing casual clothes. Sneakers. Jeans. T-shirts under lab coats. The only people in suits were the two security guards.
I could hear Viv's voice in my ear. Philosophical. Well, who knew? We both thought you ought to wear a suit.
We had. Viv had at first tried to convince me to buy a suit in the right size from a store. She'd been appalled when I explained the cost of a man's suit, and, undeterred, had spent all yesterday afternoon dragging me through used clothing stores in Cambridgeport. Excuse me, but do you have any suits that would fit my boyfriend?
When she'd failed to find one, she'd burst into tears. Right in the middle of Central Square.
Viv. If she weren't in my life...well. I couldn't imagine how lonely I would be.
Guilt stirred in me, though. Viv thought this was a job interview of some kind. A summer internship. I hadn't lied to her. I never lied to Viv. I had just, as always, kept quiet and let her think whatever she chose.
Of course, I could have kept it a secret that I was coming. But I'd felt as if I would burst if I couldn't say something. And who was there but Viv to confide in, even a little? I wasn't going to tell my father.
Once more I caught myself fidgeting, looking at the clock. My appointment had been for twenty minutes ago. I'd checked in with the receptionist ten minutes early, so I'd been here half an hour. I tried to work up irritation at being kept waiting. Dr. Wyatt was a busy man, an important man, a Nobel Prize winner, probably one of the most important scientists alive today -- but it was he who'd invited me. He who'd set the date and time. I'd had to duck out of school an hour early to get here by bus. It was rude of him to keep me waiting so long.
But the truth was, I didn't care. I was consumed by curiosity...and anxiety. I'd wait all afternoon if I had to.
Bottom line: I had no idea why I was here. Why I'd been...summoned. The woman who called me had simply said: We got your email. Dr. Wyatt has read it. He would like to meet you.
She did not say it was a job interview. She had not asked me to send, or bring, a résumé or a school transcript or any teacher recommendations.
We got your email.
I had emailed Dr. Wyatt. I had found his address on the Wyatt Transgenics website and I had written to him. That was a fact. Three weeks ago. But it had been a big mistake, a drunken impulse that had embarrassed me seconds after I'd clicked Send, and certainly it had never occurred to me that Dr. Wyatt himself would read my message. It was inconceivable that it had caused an invitation -- no, my earlier word was more accurate: a summons.
What was I doing here? Was this truly a job interview with Quincy Wyatt himself?
"Eli Samuels?" The voice from the mezzanine level was pitched normally, but it carried down to me as clearly as if the speaker were using a microphone.
My head jerked up. I found myself scrambling out of my chair. Staring up.
And...there he was. Dr. Quincy Wyatt, the man himself, twenty feet above me, standing at the top of the spiral of the double helix. He looked exactly like he did in the photographs. That big head with the tight, grizzled, reddish-white hair. The round black-rimmed glasses. The steel cane clenched in his left hand.
Viv's voice again. He's a legend, Eli! I mean, from seventh-grade biology class-Gregor Mendel, Watson and Crick, Quincy Wyatt. We had to learn all that stuff, remember?
I remembered, all right. I remembered, for reasons I'd never told Viv -- and never would, either.
I stared up the stairs at him. He at least was wearing a suit -- a cream-colored linen suit, with a beige shirt. His fit him better than mine did me. I was suddenly very conscious of my ankles, sock-clad but otherwise exposed to the world in the gap between the hem of my father's pants and my shoes.
Then Dr. Quincy Wyatt lifted one hand and beckoned. And, though I made no conscious decision to move, I found myself walking.
I crossed the reception area. I mounted the stairs. I felt his gaze on me, piercing, bright, interested. And when I reached the mezzanine, I stood quite still -- it didn't even occur to me to put out my hand in an offer to shake -- and he examined my face for two full minutes. I stood patient as a statue as his eyes took me in, missing -- I knew -- nothing. Not the ill-fitting suit, not the bulge of the book in my pocket, not the backpack dangling from my hand. Not even -- I'd have sworn -- a grain of my skin.
The most acute mind on the planet, he'd been called.
I wondered if he could see my soul. My lies to Viv. The drunken disaster I'd been that endless horrible spring night, after it had become clear to my father that no college acceptances or even rejections had arrived, and I told him the truth: They would not, because I had applied nowhere.
I thought that maybe I wouldn't mind if Dr. Wyatt could see everything.
At last, he nodded. "Eli Samuels," he said again. There was a tone to his voice -- as if I were a specimen now satisfactorily labeled and classified -- that reinforced my idea that he understood me better, somehow, than anyone else ever had, or would.
"Hello, Dr. Wyatt," I said. The words came out a little croaked; I had to clear my throat. And then I heard myself add inanely: "Here I am." I wanted to disappear; I felt so stupid.
But: "Indeed, Eli Samuels," said Dr. Wyatt. "Here you are."
Then he smiled directly at me. He smiled the way Viv's mother does when I come home with Viv after school.
The smile caused his cheeks to lift into little mountains on his face. And somehow I knew that I didn't need to be nervous or afraid anymore.
I smiled back. I was too relieved to do it well.
Dr. Wyatt lifted his steel cane a fraction of an inch from the floor, just enough to gesture with it. "Come with me into my office," he said, and turned. He limped a little as he moved, but he used the cane deftly, and I followed him in the same way that, as a child, I'd toddled confidently after my mother.
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