It was a fun evening out with friends. Cassie and Marilyn determined that their group could use a little reunion after the whirlwind holiday season full of families and feasting. Now that everything had settled back into its regular rhythm, it was time for everyone to touch base again. Plus, Marilyn claimed she still had a few late Christmas presents that had missed her main mailing trips to the post office. They had met at their favourite coffee house. It was their particular favourite because it was actually situated in an old house. They had put the main serving area with the barista counter in what would have been a front sitting room; the living room and dining room were full of darkly-stained wood tables, which were usually occupied with students from the nearby university. The upstairs bedrooms could be reserved for private parties and each was full of cushy overstuffed armchairs and cute mismatched end and coffee tables. The kitchen was used as the kitchen, naturally. Cassie and Marilyn had reserved one of the upstairs rooms for their post-holiday shindig and invited all their mutual friends. The group had ordered drinks and light snacks and talked nonstop until one of the baristas came to tell them the coffee house would be closing soon. A few people had stayed to finish chatting in the parking lot but Cassie was tired and the thought of her cozy bed at home was much more tempting than the promise of losing feeling in her fingers and toes if she stood outside chatting. She had said her good nights and started on her way home.
As she sat at a red light, she remembered to take her cell phone off vibrate. It had only gone off once in her pocket during the whole evening but she knew that, if it had been important, the person would have called back. She saw now that she had missed a call from someone using her Google Voice number, which meant that their voicemail would have been transcribed to a text message for her by the service. Most of the time whatever technology they used at Google to transcribe voicemails was moderately accurate. It had a few issues with names and other proper nouns but it always did a great job if someone left a phone number in their message. When Cassie read the text transcript, she thought it must have had some trouble deciphering the caller's message. The caller did not identify who they were or a number at which they could be reached. The message said something about the government and some study. Cassie did not recall signing up for any research study, though there were many opportunities at her job, and particularly not one for the government. She made a mental note to listen to the message when she got home and continued on her way.
Her drive home from the coffee house was slightly farther than everyone else in their group because of her decision to live closer to her job. Cassie worked for a pharmaceutical company, partly in the research department and partly with the testing facility. She had started work as a pharmaceutical assistant, who actually did a lot more with inventory and maintaining the computer system, in one of their many laboratories. After a few months in that area, the company had approved the request of one of the scientists with whom she had closely worked. She wanted her to also record results from lab testing, first as they went through their trials on lab animals, and later when the medication was used on a human focus group of volunteers. Cassie was given the responsibility of being a liaison between their test subjects and the scientist. As her job description changed little by little to match that of a personal assistant to this scientist, her salary and benefits adjusted as well. She then had the funds to move out of the 8-unit house full of college students and other young professionals and move into her own little ranch house in the suburbs and get the cat she had always wanted. The community which she moved to was full of white-collar business men, soccer moms, and children who spent their entire summer vacation outside. As one of the younger non-attached people in the neighborhood, Cassie was almost immediately sought out as a babysitter, which she did not mind at all. After working 40 hours a week in labs asking people if medication made them feel any better, or any worse, it was a nice break to spend a Saturday night or Sunday afternoon playing with children. She found their inventive questions much more pleasurable to answer compared to some of the stubborn adults in her test groups. She looked at every question as an opportunity to educate the children and their parents trusted her to give age appropriate answers. Once, when she had been babysitting for an angelic little girl named Caroline, the child had asked why they had different skin colors. Cassie explained that her darker skin meant that somebody in her family had come from Africa a long, long time ago. Considering the girl was six, Cassie omitted the gruesome details of the history of slavery in the United States. Caroline's mother kept a large world map poster in their breakfast nook so Cassie showed Caroline where Africa was and explained how the climate was very different there and darker skin helped protect people from being hurt by the sun's rays. This led to a discussion about sunburn, which Caroline was fortunate enough to have not experienced in her six years of life. Cassie took that opportunity to include a little tidbit about the importance of sun block and together they wrote a note to Caroline's parents asking them to make sure they picked some up at the store. Caroline was already in bed and asleep by the time Mr. and Mrs. Swift arrived home from their dinner party so Cassie showed them their note and explained their daughter's questions of the evening. They thanked her for handling the situation so well and explained that one of the reasons they had moved to this neighborhood was so their daughter would meet a diverse group of people and be able to attend a school with a variety of children who may be different than herself. They had both been raised in multicultural-multiethnic areas and felt their lives were much improved because of the knowledge they had gained from it. Cassie couldn't have been more pleased to hear that some parents were looking for things to improve their child's future with something you really could not learn from a book, not that she had anything against books, far from it. Part of her babysitting bag was library books she had picked out especially for each child depending on their reading level and interests. Many parents she had sat for were pleased that she read to their children, or was read to by the child, instead of plunking them down in front of the television for the whole evening. She had called her mom as she walked home that evening to tell her, jokingly, that there was still hope for future generations.
Now Cassie was driving back home from her night out. She considered that the voicemail she had received might be in regard to some government-contracted laboratory tests but that was the only plausible reason which came to mind. It also did not make sense that she would get a work-related call on a Saturday night. She took the freeway exit to the suburbs, turned down the road past the main shopping drag before, five minutes later, she turned onto her quiet street. As she pulled into her driveway, she was glad to see that the lamp in her living room was on. The past few evenings she had been out late, the timer had been malfunctioning and she had come home to darkness. Tonight her front windows emitted a warm welcoming glow. She locked her car and went in the side door. Betsy, her tabby cat, was already at the door having hurried over from wherever she was lounging as soon as she heard the car pull into the driveway. Cassie greeted her with a rough scratch behind her ears and under her chin before Betsy would let her come in. She put her purse and keys on the kitchen counter and flicked on the light above the stove. Her answering machine light was blinking and the display said there was one new message. If the earlier caller had used her Google Voice number, the message on her answering machine would be the same as the one on her phone. She pressed the play message button. A computer automated voice told her that she had one new message and after the beep there were a few second of silence. "Cassandra Grayling, you have been selected to participate in a government-funded social study to commence in one month's time" said a man's silky voice. He had a slight hint of an accent but Cassie could not place it. "Your participation is completely voluntary and you will be compensated for your time. More details will be mailed to you within the next two business days and you do not need to take any action at this time." The message ended as abruptly as it had started. 'So,' she thought, 'I've somehow been selected by the government to participate in one of their weird social projects. That's different.' She listened through the message one more time, shrugged, and deleted it. Two business days would mean she should keep an eye out for any strange mail on Tuesday.