SWITCH

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Old Man

Gerald made it back with an armful of food. “I brought a milkshake for Calynn and a sandwich for you Richard. Turkey is all they have. Just eat the damn thing and don’t complain.” Gerald looked over and saw Richard’s scar. All the color drained from his face. The scar wasn’t that bad. It was as round as baseball and almost flat, but there was no reason for such a reaction from a medical professional.

I leaned into Richard’s shoulder to whisper quietly, “He is a very odd man.”

“You have no idea,” Richard moaned as he shuffled across the room to the pile of food. It looked like I aged him ten years in twenty seconds.

“You are going to have to rest for the whole day Colonel.” Gerald was more than a little concerned there was an authority in his voice as spoke.

“Yeah, you are probably right Doc. I need to stay here. I don’t want to try to make it home.”

“The residual effects, are they worse than before?” Gerald knew more than he let on. He knew what to expect and obviously, he knew enough not to get within arm’s reach of me.

“It’s bad. Much worse than ever before. She must have held back in the past. This was raw, unfiltered.” Richard pulled two chairs to a small table by the window and sat down. I unwrapped his sandwich, opened his water bottle, and sat down next to him.

“You’ve got pretty good domestic skills, Cal. I was just wondering how to wrangle the sandwich out of the wrapper.” Richard chuckled as he mocked my attempt to be helpful.

“Yes, I recognized the helpless look. You forget I have a teenage boy at home.” I stopped hearing what I said. “I don’t any, more do I? I don’t have a home, and I’m not much of a mother or a wife for that matter. Not while I am stuck here.” Tears began to run down my cheek as I realized then what this all meant for me.

The only life I knew was gone. None of my experience prepared me for what I was capable of doing. Richard looked at me like he was trying to think of something to say.

“Please don’t look at me. I would go back to my room, but I don’t want your head to start pounding.”

“They are coming to see you Saturday. I don’t know about your home or your husband, but your son, I know he is going to want to see you. I’ll make it possible for him to visit you as often as he can, don’t worry.” Richard seemed different today. As he began to get weaker so did his cold, rough exterior.

“It is not like there are any other options now.” I wiped my tears on my sleeve and downed the last of my milkshake.

“Doc do you have any rooms with a double bed. I’m going to drop. I need a place to lie down.” Richard was passing out. By the far off look in his eyes, he only had a few minutes left.

“Double bed? This isn’t the damn Ritz. Drink some water, wash your sandwich down. I don’t need you choking in your sleep. We can put a cot in Calynn’s room. You should be able to sleep close enough to her there.” Gerald hurried off to get the cot brought in and set up.

“Okay, old man let’s get you up. We can walk right over here.” I helped Richard make his way across the room to the hospital rooms on the other side of the hallway.

“What did you just call me?”

“Old man,” I joked smugly. “Don’t you feel like an old man? You sure look like an old man.”

“You are pure evil.” Richard’s voice was strained. He struggled to speak with any volume.

“Yes. Today I will agree with you. Here we are. See it’s a nice bed.” Richard opened his eyes very wide as if he was trying hard to focus. He was almost out.

“Doc is bringing me a cot.” Richard half-heartedly flailed his arm in the direction of the open doorway. Even half-asleep the man still knew where the exit was.

“Doubt there’s enough time. I’ll take the cot, so your head doesn’t explode.”

“Lay here next to me. You used to wear Chanel. It was nine or some number. Our bed smelled like it for weeks after you left. I love that smell. This bed smells like bleach.” Richard reluctantly surrendered to the pillow with a string of half grumbled half cursed words. He was out cold.

I was stunned to hear the name of my perfume. I found a small bottle of it at an estate sale shortly after I made it back home. My mother loved estate sales. I went with her on treasure hunts a few times. The purple bottle was part of a beautiful miniature set of jewel-toned, glass containers. The kind you only see at Christmas. As far as I knew, I never wore that perfume, but something about the scent. I fell in love with it instantly. Later I found out the scent was out of production, so I only wore it on special occasions. Sadly, the bottle ran dry shortly before Matt’s fifth birthday.

Still, there was no memory of sharing anything with the man passed out on my bed. Some twinge of recognition fired in my brain as I looked at him. A quick, hot pinprick dug in my skull causing me to reach up and grab the left side of my head. The pain left as quickly as it arrived taking whatever information it held with it. Two young orderlies quietly entered the room with a narrow folding bed and positioned it next to where Richard was sleeping. I waved and nodded appreciatively for their stealthy efforts.

Gerald brought in two cold sodas and a thick stack of medical files. He wanted to piece together how my ability works, and he wanted me to keep up my sugar. After reading a few of my earlier reports, it became clear some type of memory block existed when it came to my childhood. I had little recall before age twelve even back in my early twenties, long before the car accident.

Gerald was at a loss. He didn’t have anywhere else to look for clues. “Do you know of anything that happened? Did anyone share any family stories of tragedy or illness around sixth grade? I assume you developed your abilities early in your childhood, but there’s nothing to support my theory. Maybe an event of some type triggered all this for you.”

“Nah, I don’t think so, and no one in my family ever mentioned anything. There is one conversation with my mother that sticks out to me now. Talking with her after the accident. I was whining about my money situation. She asked how my eyesight was, could I see everything? She made quote marks in the air as she spoke, and I remember thinking she was acting stranger than usual. I read the calendar to her from across the room and told her I could see everything fine. She laughed at me and said, well good now you know what normal feels like. Enjoy this pain, you’ve earned it. At the time I just chalked the comment up to her strange way of looking at things. But now the little remarks over the years make sense. She was trying to see if I could remember my abilities, but I didn’t.”

Gerald looked over my injuries and replaced the goop on my skull while I droned on and on recalling several out of place moments that occurred over the years. There was nothing useful left in my head when I went back to California. I was broken and confused but I was normal.

Richard’s sacrifice sped up my healing process. My sides and legs no longer needed bandages even the deep gashes in my hands looked better. My head wound was not nearly as painful, but it didn’t look as restored as the rest of me. The pattern of repair graduated from the ground up.

Gerald surmised it was a primal response. Having your legs heal first meant you could run away and hide from danger. This would have been an advantage to early humans, allowing them to flee predators, and get to safety while they recovered from battle born injuries.

We documented what we could from the experience. It was obvious we would not be siphoning more life from Richard anytime soon. He was beaten and to have brought down such a strong man so quickly. I can’t imagine I could use just anybody for this process. I would need strong subjects.

Gerald wanted to map my brain function while I drained the life out of somebody else. But I didn’t want to surrender to that feeling without some safeguards in place. It wasn’t worth trading a life for an experiment. I was shocked he would even consider it.

“How is your patient doing?” Gerald kept busy in the lab, but he kept coming back to check on me. He did actually look worried about Richard.

“I walked across the room to get a bottle of water and he didn’t flinch this time. Seems like I can move away from him without causing him any pain. I could use a second pair of eyes to test my theory.”

“No problem let’s try it.” Gerald stood in the hallway and watched as I picked up my shoes and walked out to the lab. We stood silently in the hallway waiting to see if Richard reacted.

“Looks like you are off the hook. Let’s call that six hours of recovery time for the Colonel. You seem a little off. Too much time alone?”

“What makes you say that? I’m fine. I feel good actually.” I was in silence for too long. Having time to think about my situation left me to question how much of my life I could share with David. None of this would sit well with him.

“Okay then let’s check out your new cottage.” Gerald was trying hard to be upbeat, jingling a set of keys as he flashed me a cheeky smile. It reminded me of a desperate parent trying to get their toddler to try summer squash for the first time.

“I can’t say I like the idea of a permanent residence. I would like to think all this will be over soon, and I will go home.”

“Think of it how you like but you need a space of your own to relax. Besides, you are going to have visitors this weekend. If Richard’s extreme tactics don’t drive you insane living like a nomad out of that backpack of yours most certainly will.” Gerald made sense, reluctantly I agreed with him.

“I can’t go home now what if I hurt somebody?”

“This is my point. Before this morning you probably felt like a captive and felt the logical hope of release. But this place isn’t a prison, I swear it’s not. Besides, I heard we’re getting a frozen yogurt machine installed in the west wing mess hall. I don’t know of any prison around here with fro-yo.”

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