SWITCH

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Whiskey and Cherries

It was late. The night crew only sparsely populated the huge building. Calynn was still recovering in the tank at the far end of the medical wing. Richard thought to go see her, just look in on her quickly and leave, but he reluctantly decided against it in favor of another full glass of whiskey.

His thoughts drifted back to when he flew into San Francisco and drove to the sleepy central valley town where Caly’s family lived to find her. He was laser-focused on his purpose. He was going to make her explain why she left and remind her why she needed to come back.

It was a Friday, Caly had a medical appointment for her leg injuries. Medical records were easy to track. Between them and her recent credit report, he knew she bought a car, ordered cable at one of the condominiums her Grandmother owned, and she was recovering as expected. He needed to see all this for himself. Somehow, she started over. It didn’t make any sense. How could she start a new life as if nothing ever happened?

Richard sat in the rental car outside her doctor’s office waiting for Cal to arrive. She noticed him walk in the office but only glanced at him briefly before returning to her magazine. Calynn was sitting away from all the other people in the waiting room—this was a standard precaution. She couldn’t be too close to people without feeling their emotions. If she didn’t keep her distance, she could influence people just as easily.

Richard’s blood started to boil. She was fine. She must remember everything. He’d been lied to. But her hair was pulled back in a ponytail. Caly never wore her hair that way. She was wearing makeup and jeans, a purple tee-shirt, and a black leg-brace. She didn’t look the same. She looked ordinary. The fire was missing from her eyes. She was peaceful and calm.

Richard waited five minutes then walked outside so he could breathe. She looked up at him again when he walked back into the room. Caly’s leg brace hit her purse and a paperback book dropped on the floor. He picked up the thick novel and handed it to her. Richard couldn’t help but snicker. Caly was more lethal than any fictional monster she could ever read about. She thanked him and smiled briefly at him like he was a stranger. Richard felt nothing when she touched the book in his hand. There was no spark on his skin, there was no intrusion into his thoughts. She was empty.

Calynn looked self-conscious as she hobbled across the room to the nurse. Disgusted by her needless suffering, Richard went out to his car and waited across the lot for her to leave. He followed her to a residential area. Property records showed the house was purchased by her mother two years earlier. Richard parked down the street and watched. Caly took a duffel bag out of the trunk and went inside. An hour later she walked out wearing tan khakis and a black button-down shirt.

Caly drove to a restaurant where she ate an early dinner with a white male in his early twenties with a fresh cast on his arm. Richard watched and waited from across the lot. The young man met her at her car, opened her door, and helped her inside the building. As if she was weak and frail and needed his help. It was laughable. When their dinner was over the young man cheerfully helped her back to her car and kissed her before she drove away.

Richard called the office where unreliable records showed she was recently hired. He asked for her under the guise of being a copier repairman and was told she was off on Fridays but would be back Monday morning. He followed her from a distance all weekend. She went to her mother’s house twice and the video store once. He decided to see if she remembered him—if she did, he would take her back with him. If she didn’t, he would go back alone and find a new mission to occupy his mind.

Richard followed Caly into a video store and followed as she browsed through the movies. She bypassed the romantic dramas, the comedy section, and the foreign films as she headed to the action movies. She was humming quietly to herself. Something he only heard from her on the days she was free.

They traveled and pretended to be newlyweds in Greece and college students in Peru. Tired of keeping up elaborate lies they were just themselves in the Florida Keys. They spent a month’s pay in two weeks sleeping until noon and spending their nights at the dance clubs. People flocked to her side, they didn’t know why they were drawn to her but man or woman didn’t matter. They all felt something raw and pure standing next to her skin. That was the last time he was with her alone. No mission, no target, no obligations, and it was the last time she pretended she was normal.

Calynn looked up when he got close to her in the new releases section, but she only glanced in his direction briefly. It was a quick, automatic surroundings check, she didn’t see him, she didn’t recognize him, and she didn’t find him threatening enough to take a second look. She was happy without the memory of him and her severely exploited gift.

He wanted to turn around and leave. He couldn’t look at her face anymore. Calynn reached up and twirled one of the opal stones in her ear, checking the post. Richard remembered picking the stones and the setting and how quickly she forgave him for his bad reaction to their pregnancy. Their child was expected in October. Opal is the October birthstone. He could tell she liked the earrings, she was protective of them, but he could also tell she didn’t know why.

If he moved at that moment, he would have to grab her and tell her everything. He would force her into his car, cause a scene, make her come back home with him. He stood there motionless with a movie case crushing in his grip and watched. He watched her chat casually with the clerk about the new movie she was anxious to see and the caramel microwave popcorn she selected. He watched her get into her new green hatchback and drive back to her new life never looking back at him once.

This personal torture was more than Richard could endure. He needed to leave her alone even though he remembered everything. She was ignorant of the facts, but she was happy. And he told himself she was better off this way. He was better off without her. Someday it would have ended bloody and mean. This way was better—it was clean and quick.

He drove back to the airport that night and waited in the parking lot for his flight to leave early Monday morning.

Arriving home, he gathered her things from all over the house, nightgowns, coffee cups, and all the bottles of crap she left in the shower. He threw it all in the trash. The pictures he tossed in the garbage still in their frames. He topped everything off with all the food in the fridge he could put his hands on. Once his place was free of her, he went into town, got a case of beer, and a bottle of Glen Levitt, and began trying to rinse her out of his soul.

After sleeping for a few hours, Richard got up and went outside to search through the trash. He retrieved the pictures, wiping off the coffee grounds and the old Chinese food. Richard found some of her clothes he couldn’t part with and pulled them out of the garbage too. Curious to see what become of it, he grabbed the last of his bottle and walked to her cottage across the compound to find it stripped clean. Everything was in boxes waiting to go into permanent storage.

Richard opened a tall box marked nightstand. Inside the single drawer, he found the sonogram pictures she showed him two days before he left. He slipped the film into a thick stationery envelope from a box of butterfly thank you cards she kept in the same drawer, closed the box back up with a piece of tape, and left. Nothing else in the house interested him.

That was a long time ago. Richard thought as he stood up from his desk and felt the effects of the small bottle of whiskey he unintentionally finished. He popped a piece of gum in his mouth, straightened his uniform, and patted his hair into place for his short walk home.

The thought of putting a bullet in her head became as repulsive to him as it was to the good doctor. Twenty-seven days was not going to be long enough for her to regain her previous skillset, but they would try. She needed to remember it all. Two good days were wasted waiting for her to recover naturally. He was not going to piss away any more of them. He needed a plan.

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