It felt like Christmas morning. Those torturous hours spent waiting for everyone else to wake up so you can tear into the brightly colored packages Santa left behind. You knew everything you asked for was sitting under that tree, shiny and new, waiting to be unwrapped.
David and Matt were arriving in on the ten o’clock shuttle. The bulk of the weekend traffic wouldn’t arrive until the evening. The Colonel had arranged for them to arrive early. I should be grateful for the favor, but sometimes when I look at the man, I still feel so profoundly victimized.
Janet located my bank account and found that I had fifty dollars in the attached savings. She ordered new bank cards and had all the paperwork ready for my payroll to be direct deposited. It seemed I wasn’t a captive, after all, they were paying me a civilian salary. Janet even had the identification packets ready for the guys to finish with their photos and fingerprints. The woman didn’t miss a thing.
After my business with Janet concluded I took a leisurely walk to the helicopter pad by way of Ivan’s lab. My conversation with him last night didn’t go well. He was furious with me for leaving after the test and for keeping my ability gains from him. I entered the quiet lab and found him hunched over his microscope in the back of the room. He knew I was there, I saw him glance towards the door when I opened it, but he purposely didn’t look up at me. I put a cheerful smile on my face and walked up to the end of his lab table.
“Good morning Ivan how’s it going today?”
“I am not interested in being berated so early today Calynn.”
“So, you are still upset with me?” I flopped down on a nearby chair, propped my elbows on his worktable and rested my chin on my hands.
“Yes, I am upset. Yesterday’s poor judgment has called into question how committed you are to your recovery.”
“Why do you have to be so dramatic? I want to apologize for my behavior last night. I am sorry for my harsh words but in my defense, you killed me earlier that morning. There’s probably not a greeting card for that particular milestone, but I expected you to say something apologetic, and you didn’t.”
“Well, you suck at apologizing that wasn’t genuine or heartfelt. But if were expecting me to say something after the test then I am truly sorry to have flatlined you. Helping make a significant breakthrough, I might add.” Gerald pawed noisily at the tabletop feeling around for his pen, all the while never taking his eyes away from the microscope.
“Just tell me you planned it to go that way.” My voice cracked as I spoke giving away more of my concern than I wanted to. “You had complete control over the situation the whole time right?” I didn’t know if I wanted to hear the honest answer to my question but I stood there in the silence and prepared to accept whatever he had to say.
“Of course I did. Why do you ask?” Gerald stopped working and waited for my response.
“I saw you before I wandered into the dark unknown. You ignored me completely. You looked scared while you were working on that other woman. She looked so pale. She looked dead. I didn’t stick around to see if you were able to help her.”
“There wasn’t another patient in the room with us Calynn. There was only you, and you are fine. You were never in any real danger. There is no way I could have been ignoring you. You think you saw me?” Gerald looked up from his work but kept his gaze fixed forward. I shook my head in disbelief. He reminded me of a willful child with his ridiculous attempt to ignore me yet still, carry on a conversation.
“Yeah, I did see you. I want to explain something to you about my trip to the outer rim, but I don’t want you to think I’m nuts and put me on crazy pills. I truly saw something, and I’m not insane.”
“There is no such pill, but I can’t imagine you would be uncomfortable saying anything to me any longer.” Gerald’s sarcastic tone brought back to memory a particularly vile rant of reasons why I thought he was holding me captive. The plot of every horror movie and kidnap scheme that ever entered my mind flew out of my mouth. He should still be upset with me.
“I didn’t want to come back. I was angry that you revived me so quickly. You can’t imagine how perfect it was. That was life, all this here, this is death. None of this crap mattered to me. None of it except Matt. Without him…”
“I can see why that would alarm you. Reactions after this sort of thing vary. There isn’t a normal reaction to a near-death experience. I wouldn’t dwell on it. I would, however, like to see if the implant has changed. Could you come in first thing Monday for some new scans?”
“Sure, anything you need. Starting Monday, I’m all yours.”
“I seriously doubt that,” Gerald mumbled under his breath. “I’m heading into town later today. Can I bring you back anything? Is there anything you need, anything at all?”
“No thanks,” I remembered looking for my sunglasses and not being able to find them. “Actually, I could use a pair of sunglasses. I had a pair in my purse when I last left my house, but I guess they didn’t make it here. I would like to pay for them though. I have the cash.”
“The money doesn’t concern me. There is a shop next to my barber that sells sunglasses. I can easily grab you a good pair on my way home.” Gerald pushed himself away from the microscope, leaned on the counter top stretching out his back and finally looked over at me. “A bit of advice. Be open to the possibility that everything may not go as you envision this weekend. Stay calm, relax, and try to remember why you want to keep breathing in and out. It’s not just Matthew that keeps you here.” Gerald’s full attention went back to his computer screen. “The morning report shows the first shuttle is delayed twenty minutes. Maintenance ran long, it happens, it’s normal. Sit, have some coffee, you’re wearing a hole in the floor.” I sat quietly with Gerald and watched him work between the microscope and the computer until I heard the warning alarms of the helicopter approaching.
“Got to go; thanks for the coffee Ivan.” I bolted from the room, leaving my half-empty coffee mug behind. There were only a few people waiting at the pad when I arrived. I watched the huge helicopter land with a knot in my stomach. I had seen the crew land and take off a few dozen times without error, but now that my son was involved, I felt anxious.
Matt and Dave made their way well past the ground crew before they recognized me. My recent weight loss must have made me look different to them. Matt noticed me first, ran up to me, and gave me a long hug. Dave was strangely distant. It had only been five days. I couldn’t imagine what was going on in his head.
Nick greeted me with a handshake and a pat on the shoulder. He commented on how rested I looked. A stranger I had seen briefly, on quite possibly the worst day of my life, appeared happier to see me than my own husband. I shook off the shunned feeling that was fouling my good mood and turned my attention to David.
“Honey it’s so good to see you, I have missed you both so much.” I hugged Dave and thought I felt him thaw a bit, but this reaction was not at all what I was expecting.
I decided to listen to Gerald’s advice and not dwell on the odd reception. I took them one on either side of me, and along with Nick, we made our way to get their ID cards. The conversation was minimal except for Matt. Whatever was eating at Dave, my son was not affected. We signed Matt up for the video gamers club and a base orientation for the morning.
Nick went over to speak privately with one of the clerks and left the three of us alone for the first time since they had arrived. Dave leaned into my ear and quietly whispered. “Every move we make he is taking note of it, don’t say anything important until we are alone.”
I looked up at him and smiled, “I know I’m starving too. I’ll make us some lunch.” Dave laughed quietly and we continued our lighthearted faux conversation.
He was genuinely spooked. I could see it in his eyes; he was scanning every wall and corner, and he looked haggard like he hadn’t been sleeping. I could feel my stomach tighten as Dave’s stress and anxiety began to creep into my mind. Nick was done with the clerk; he turned towards us with a pleasant smile.
“Okay, we are all done for now. Here are your identification cards keep them with you. Be prepared to show your ID if asked. I will leave you three to your weekend. Give me a call if you need anything. I’m going into town, but I’ll be back in time for us to leave Sunday night.”
“Thanks, Nick we will try to leave you alone.” Nick nodded in agreement before walking off toward the dormitory buildings. Matt grabbed an activities calendar and headed out the door, Dave and I followed after him. As I stepped outside, I became aware of my shadow man in the tree line. This was not Craig’s energy. I was seeing a brand new set of colors stalking me. This man was darker, more focused, more intense. An almost smug feeling came over me. I would have to let Richard know I could see this new guy too.
We walked the slate path back to the house through the main courtyard, past the medical buildings and on into the residential areas. Matt was in awe of the huge boulders that littered the campus and all the people walking around in uniform. I handed him the house keys and pointed out my little cottage in the distance. “Go on ahead and see the house. I know we walk too slowly for you sweetie.”
“All right!” Matt exclaimed examining the small grouping of keys. “Are there any bears?” Matt ran off down the path toward the house. I noticed my shadow man turned toward him for a second then moved back to watch me.
Dave grabbed my hand and kissed the back of it. “They only let me come here today so I can convince you to do three things.”
“Only three, well that doesn’t sound like much fun,” I joked.
“Honey, they don’t intend to let you return home with me today.” Dave was somber and quiet, he put his hand on the small of my back and seemed to be preparing for me to flip out on him.
“Leaving isn’t something I can ask for yet David. Everything has gotten so complicated.”
“You know you can’t come home with me, and you’re not angry. I half expected to be visiting you in a jail cell.”
“It’s not like I’m here by choice. I get a golden cage as long as I play along. I don’t want to find out what happens if I don’t.”
“They are into everything, every part of our lives, it’s unreal. Your car, they just took the wagon, scrapped it at the junkyard. My hours at work were cut back to thirty a week. Some kind of bullshit reduction in man-hour’s excuse. You know how busy we have been. With all the storm damage we had ten hour days, mandatory overtime, I can’t believe it.”
“Was it because of the restaurant incident? Do they not think you’re ready to go back to work?”
“I thought it was, but then yesterday Nick told me a utility company two towns from here is looking for a maintenance supervisor. It would be a step up for me, more pay, better benefits and percentage 401K matching. They even have scholarship programs for dependents, too much good stuff to remember, but we would have to sell the house and move here.”
“They want you and Matt close, so they can watch you unnoticed.” As I offered the explanation I could feel the words choke in my throat, my eyes begin to water. This was all getting very real.
“No one’s discussed any of this with you, have they?”
“No, they want me focused on other things, besides I was out of it for a few days.”
“Yeah, of course, they want to keep you focused.” Dave was tired. The trip and the news that he was sure would upset me had worn him down.
Matt shouted to us from the front door. “Hey come on, this is getting boring, you’re so slow. Do you know you have fifty million chipmunks living in your backyard Mom?”
I waved at Matt and squeezed Dave’s hand. “How is he doing? The restaurant, how much did he see, what does he know?”
“Not nearly as much as I thought he did. The way he describes it the sun’s glare off the back windows of the restaurant kept him from looking in. He only knows what he heard on the radio. There’s been nothing about the robbery or the shootings on the news since that night. It’s as if it never happened. Calynn we have several things to talk about once Matt’s occupied.” Dave was scared. I hadn’t seen him like that in a long time.
“He wants to go to the video game thing tonight, let him be distracted by this place. There are kids his age here on the weekends. It will be nice for him to have some new friends. Especially if you do move closer and he has to start at a new school.”
“I don’t trust any of them,” Dave whispered.
“I know, and you should listen to that. You have always been a great judge of character, but this is an all or nothing situation. Either you are with them and protected by the fold, or you are against them, and everyone here becomes your enemy.”
“What is it you do? Tell me, all this time, you kept it a secret from me didn’t you?”
“No, I swear to you I had no idea. My head injury set this all in motion. I had no memory of this place. I wasn’t keeping any secrets from you.”
“What is it you do Calynn?” Dave was serious and controlled as he spoke. He looked poised to accept various answers from me. I could only imagine what he thought. I was certain nothing remotely close to the truth had entered his mind. There was no way to explain something that shouldn’t be possible. I would have to find a way to show him.
“I don’t want to scare you. I just want a few more hours before you look at me like I’m some kind of freak. Please wait until we are alone, then I’ll explain what I know.”
“Christ Calynn, fine we’ll do it your way.” Dave was too tired to argue, or he would have continued to push the issue until I gave in. We made our way to the front door as slowly as possible. I knew the sniper in the tree line was watching me. I made sure my motions were unthreatening. I couldn’t tell Dave we were being watched, he wouldn’t sleep if he knew.
Matt ran through the house surveying all the rooms before scouting for the best place to charge his gadgets. Ann left a fancy charging station on the desk in his room, and this became his favorite part of the house. I made turkey and rice stir-fry and pan-fried some pot stickers for lunch. Not much had happened to them since I was taken but a lifetime seemed to have passed for me. I swirled a fried dumpling in a puddle of sweet and sour sauce while I listened to Matt recap the week without me. I wasn’t able to tell them anything, and I could feel a separation growing between them and me. My part of our little three-way partnership was now silent.