Chapter 3 – Ascent

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Montreal, Quebec – March 7th, 2015

Ascent Pharmaceutical had always tried to be active with various charitable causes. They had recently partnered with other Quebec agencies to help provide some of their medications to a few countries in Africa at a nominal rate. They also had a longstanding arrangement with nearby Université de Québec à Montreal to help offset travel and tuition costs for one student every year travelling from overseas. Finally, there was, of course, the work-study scholarship program that Yvette was currently a part of.

The program meant that high school students with strong science marks were sometimes invited to sit in on planning meetings and to visit the research labs. Once a part of the program, it meant that they would also get heavily discounted prescription drugs and other supplements if they ever needed them. It also meant that they had to spend two afternoons a week on cleaning duty at the hotel and conference centre, for which they would get paid.

For Yvette and all of the other teens that were connected, it was a pretty sweet job too. There were usually four people scheduled for a shift, with one assigned to answer the phones, one vacuumed the carpet in the hallways and foyer, and two people went from room to room getting them ready to have guests again. It was one of those kinds of jobs where, unless there had been a big conference the week before, which there usually wasn’t, there wasn’t much work to do. The teens all knew not to complain about the lack of work, but they also knew that it was best to use any extra time to do school homework or at least something educational. A lot of times, though, that mean that they sat in the staff room with their textbooks open while they talked about everything other than school.

Yvette was the youngest student in the program, at fifteen, and people could stay in the system until they went to University. The other participants were pretty friendly, and they never made her feel left out because of her race, but they were all light skinned Jewish kids. The only exception was Joey.

All week, ever since her birthday party, Yvette had been looking forward to her shift. Joey went to a different school, and he was a whole grade older, so they would have never seen each other anyway. She only got to see him at work, which is why it was such a treat that he came to her party. She was honestly surprised when he agreed to come to her birthday party. Besides a few girls that they both knew from the Ascent program, there wasn’t going to be anybody that he knew there. Yvette looked nervously at the schedule to see who would be doing what job and was pleasantly surprised to see that she and Joey were on the cleaning shift together.

At first glance, Yvette and Joey were very different. She was the kind of person that walked into a room and every eye and ear were on her. She said the first thing that came to her head, even if it meant that by the time she was done talking she believed something entirely different. He was happy to slip into a room unobserved. He didn’t say much, so if it wasn’t for their common mixed race, she might not have even noticed him, except that when he did talk, it was often pretty funny. And he was cute. Yvette loved his sneaky kind of smile and his tight black curls. She also loved the way that he laughed at her jokes too, even though she knew he was way funnier than she was. On top of all that, or maybe because of all that, he seemed to have a special kind of power over her.

She was assembling the cart of cleaning supplies when he showed up for work.

“Did you bring any leftover birthday cake?” he asked.

“I’ve learned not to trust you with birthday cake.”

Joey just smiled and started grabbing the remaining items on the checklist to put on the cart.

“Have you done the cleaning shift before?” he asked.

“Just once,” Yvette said, “but the other person knew what they were doing, so I mostly just tried to stay out of the way.”

“Okay, well I normally do the bathrooms and then collect all of the towels and bedding to be washed. So if you want, you can do the vacuuming, dusting and tidying.”

“Sure,” she said.

Yvette was nervous, both about working with Joey and about doing household chores publicly. Her parents paid a cleaner to come by the house once a week, and Norma had insisted at various times that no woman in her household would be expected to do housework as a default. It was for that reason that when Yvette told her mother about the job, she didn’t mention that there was cleaning involved. Norma could easily have found out since she worked for the same company, but she wasn’t going to hear it from Yvette.

“You’ve never used a vacuum before, have you?” Joey asked as he watched her struggle with the chord.

“I can figure it out.”

Joey just smiled and nodded as he took his bucket of supplies to the bathroom. When he emerged, having cleaned the toilet and wiped down the mirror, Yvette had managed to plug in the vacuum and turn it on, but it was still locked in the upright position, and so she obviously wasn’t getting much work done.

Joey walked over to her, hit the release button with his foot, pushed the machine and pulled it back a few times, and then gave her the handle. She met his smug grin with a stubborn eye roll, but she was glad for his help. And, even over the chemical aroma emanating from the bathroom and from the bucket Joey was still holding, she could still smell his deodorant or cologne. Whatever it was, she liked it.

Joey was bringing the wet towels to their cart when Yvette turned off the vacuum cleaner. He looked around and noticed a few areas that he knew weren’t up to the expectations. Without saying a word, he turned the vacuum back on and went over those areas again. Yvette appreciated that he didn’t say anything critical, but she still resented not being good enough.

She had dusted the rooms on her last cleaning shift, so knew what she was doing there and quickly went about her work as Joey watched closely.

Finally, Yvette walked around with a bucket of complimentaries, checking the bathroom and mini-fridge for any supplies that the guests might have used that needed to be replaced.

“I wonder if anyone would notice if we finished off these liquor samples?” Yvette joked as she took a few partially consumed mini-bottles out of the fridge.

“No,” Joey said confidently. “Nobody counts how many bottles you bring back. Trust me, we could have as much as we wanted, and everyone would just think that the guests drank a lot.”

“Really?” Yvette asked, taking a sniff of the rum.

“Really,” Joey said. “And that one is really good with pop.”

They were able to resist temptation in the first room, and with their cleaning checklist completed they moved on to the second room. This time Yvette was determined not to need any of his help. Sometimes she would look across the room at him to see if he was watching how good of a job she was doing and she was almost disappointed that he wasn’t watching her. Sometimes, though, she would look over to see what he was doing and he would already be looking back at her, but as soon as she looked, he would quickly turn back to his work.

After the second room was done, Joey took a few unused plastic cups from the bathroom, a can of cola and a sample bottle of rum from the mini-fridge and put them on the counter together.

“We deserve a reward,” he said.

“Stop,” she said. “Someone might walk by.”

“Nobody ever walks by.”

Joey poured the drinks despite Yvette’s initial objections. She let out a nervous laugh as she took the cup from him. She listened again for footsteps in the hallway before taking a sip. Her parents often served wine with meals, so she was no stranger to alcohol, but this wasn’t like anything she had tasted before.

“I thought it would burn more,” she said.

“That’s because it was mixed,” Joey answered. “If you drank it straight out of the bottle, then it would burn. Next time, I’ll have to mix yours a little stronger.”

“No. There won’t be a next time. We have to get back to work.”

In the third and fourth rooms, Yvette was starting to feel much more comfortable with the vacuum. It felt like she was working faster, and it was almost like there was a rhythm to that she had found. Joey seemed to pick up on it, because one time when she looked up from her work, she saw him prancing around, doing an exaggerated version of what she looked, as though she was dancing with the machine. She had to laugh, even though he was making fun of her, but since she was right beside the bed at the time, she launched a pillow at his head.

When they got to the fifth room, Joey carried his bucket of sprays and brushes into the bathroom again, and Yvette followed him. He didn’t notice that she was there until he looked toward the mirror and saw her standing behind him. He turned around to see what she wanted, but the grin on her face made it clear. She held her hands behind her back and lifted her chin toward him. He smiled and put his hands on her shoulder. He leaned down, closed his eyes, and met her lips with his. Yvette could have stayed in that bathroom a lot longer. Initially, she was emboldened by the fact that they hadn’t seen anyone else in their section of the building throughout their whole shift, but the idea starting creeping into her head that somebody, maybe even her mother, might be walking down their hallway.

“I don’t want anyone to see us,” she said, pushing herself away. “I know nobody’s been down here so far, but we could both get kicked out of the program if they found us in here.”

Joey reached for her when she pulled away, but she just gave him a playful smile and quickly left the room. He would reach for her a few more times, but she would just giggle and go back to her work. If every cleaning shift was this much fun, Yvette was going to enjoy her time in the scholarship program a lot more than she thought she would have.

Joey pushed the supply cart into the sixth and final room, and before he took his bucket, he looked over at the alarm clock on the nightstand. It showed that they were at least an hour ahead of schedule. Of course, he had homework and other productive things to do, but he had other things on his mind.

“This is our last room,” she said. Yvette was already looking forward to talking with Joey in the staff room. As long as they had their school work in front of them, everything would look proper.

For the rest of her shift, she resisted the temptation to walk over to the bathroom to see how he was doing. She had worked quickly, and when he finally emerged with the towels in his arms, she was done all of her work. Now it was safe for her to replace any emptied shampoo bottles or opened soap packages. She didn’t notice on her way through the entryway that Joey had closed and locked the door leading to the hallway. He hadn’t shown any interest or curiosity toward her for the last twenty minutes, and so she stopped looking for indicators of his intentions.

Yvette waited by the cart while he struggled to remove the bedding. Just as she turned to looked out the window she was surprised with a barrage of blankets and comforters that Joey had thrown at her. He threw them with enough force to knock her off balance, and in her temporary blindness, she fell onto the bed. While she flailed around trying to get out from under them, he had jumped up to playfully try to keep her under them.

“Let me out!” she shrieked between fits of laughter.

Before she would find her way out of the maze of blankets, she would find Joey under them too, and he no longer needed to work to keep her there. Other days they would have been more careful, but with the passions and emotions they were feeling, there wasn’t much room for caution. And Yvette had every reason to believe that her (almost) daily morning regiment protected her from any unwanted consequences.

To someone who was suspicious, they might have found evidence of what was happening, but when people are aware of the dangers of getting caught, even otherwise carefree teens, they learn to hide it pretty well. But this day, and the days that would follow, their friends and immediate supervisors were unaware that anything other than cleaning had happened on their shifts.

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