No Kiss, Just Goodbye
Since the day Daemon tried to kill me I’ve had a continual headache.
The pain ranges from moderately tolerable to piercingly unbearable. The effects on my vision force me to spend large amounts of time with my eyes closed. As a result, I’m able to recognize the voices of people I don’t normally spend time with. While being wheeled down the hall, I hear a few murmurs and know right away, I don’t want to be noticed and so slump further into my wheelchair.
Part of the penalty for being bed-ridden and depressed is spending a lot of time ignoring the conversations of people around you. This exercise in practice has made me aware of the trivial nature of the limited number of people in my life and my immediate surroundings. For instance, in all the time I’ve known Abi, I never noticed the way she is constantly touching or flipping her hair. And my Doctor picks his nose when he thinks no one’s looking.
As we roll a little further down the hall, I’ve got my eyes stuck to the floor as we pass two pairs of shoes in a familiar style: the standard police issue, plain, black, and shiny. I notice right away a third pair in the group and know the owner has never been in my ward before. The third pair of shoes are very large with thick, black rubber soles. The tops are a combination of woven denim and brushed suede. Military-style waffle stompers.
Once we’re well past the visiting feet, I strain to look back and confirm my suspicion. The police have come back to question me. It’s infuriating. Sure, I’m lying about what I know, but memory loss is a documented side effect of my condition, verified by at least two physicians. Yet, here they come back to bother me again. Only this time, they’ve brought a friend.
What do they think I’m hiding?
The third is a stalwart man with a short, neat, flat top, wearing a khaki suit. The three stop at the nurse’s station and Flat Top flips open a small wallet to flash his badge. In the same moment a voice announces, “Homeland Security.” A squeaky tone follows, indicating significant surprise.
The lady cop behind him turns in my direction as we pass around the corner.
“Can you speed it up?” I beg, leaning forward, reaching to press the call button for the elevator. The light doesn’t even come on. “Why don’t we try another set today?” I point around the next corner.
“That’s the maternity ward, we can’t go that way.” She keeps her hands firmly on the handles of my chair, facing the bank of elevators.
“This is bullshit.” If I get up and walk myself out of here, she might get loud and I don’t need any more attention right now. So I wait, quietly counting the seconds and running out of patience. I’m about to jump up and run by the time the bell dings, signaling the elevator doors. I wheel myself into the empty car, relieved and aggravated with her. Through the reflective walls I watch her pushing her thin, bleached hair to one side, attempting to hide her troubled expression as she presses the button for the lobby.
“My girlfriend says the meds make me grumpy.” It’s easy to be cordial once the doors are shut.
Once we exit on the ground floor, the aide guides me through the network of halls and corridors until we finally come up the back of the main lobby.
Wheeling towards the entrance, I catch sight of a familiar silver BMW 5-series parked in the patient pick-up zone directly outside the glass double-doors.
Sparkling clean and purring. Abi is in the drivers’ seat.
“I can’t believe it!” I urge my helper to move faster. “She fixed my car!”
The automatic doors open wide and fresh air rushes in, washing the stench of rubbing alcohol and iodine from my nostrils. The bright sun burns my eyes but it can’t erase my smile.
Abi leans over, opening the passenger door. “Surprise!”
There’s a jerk as my chair abruptly stops. I turn back toward the aide who’s got her hands latched onto my chair.
“Don’t worry.” I direct and excitedly hop up from the wheelchair. “Nobody will blame you. Just tell them I’ll be back in a few hours.”
She doesn’t respond, but just watches, mouth agape as I turn back to Abi. “How did you do this? I can’t believe you! You’re amazing!”
Inside, the leather seats have been oiled. It smells of fries and strawberry air freshener. I plop into the ergonomically perfect bucket seat and shut the door.
“Don’t you want to drive?” Abi’s grinning from ear to ear.
“I told you, I don’t feel like being cheered up. Now you’ll have to suffer the consequences.”
I open the glove box and search for sun glasses. The only pair inside are hers but they fit and I don’t care what they look like.
“Do your eyes hurt?”
“Yeah,” I point towards the road, “let’s make like a tree and leave.”
She giggles. “Whatever you say, Master.”
“That’s Mister Master to you, Slave.”
I lean the seat back and try not to think about how tired and confused I feel. Instead, I focus on the smooth pull as we take off. The car drives and sounds perfect. Music comes on, playing at just the right volume as we glide through the busy streets.
The wonderful smell of fries wafts from the greasy bag on the console, reminding me that I’m hungry. I reach inside and start munching on my lukewarm lunch. The burgers’ bun is soggy but it tastes so good. When I’m finished eating, I turn to Abi who’s been chattering nonstop since we left and realize I haven’t heard a word.
“Thank you, Abi.”
She proudly thrusts her shoulders back. “You are very welcome.”
“No, I really mean it. This is the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me.” My perpetually empty chest is feeling not-so-empty as I watch her drive my car.
The car slows to stop at a large intersection. “I know you want to drive.”
“Yeah,” I say, coaxed to a smile by the light in her face.
“Fire Drill!” Abi throws the car into park and her door flies open. She darts out onto the jammed boulevard, running around the back of the car.
I maneuver into the drivers’ seat as Abi climbs into the passenger’s side, laughing. When the light turns green, we take off. I change lanes and take the first ramp onto the crowded freeway.
“I thought we were going to my place?” She asks with a deceptively sweet look that matches her tone.
“We are, but I need to make a stop first.”
She takes my free hand between hers and presses my palm to her cheek. “I missed you, G.”
Her skin is soft and warm, like her heart. I let myself wallow in how much I’ve missed her. How thankful I am for everything she’s done for me. My throat fills with apologies. All the ones she’s missed over the course of our relationship. A sorry for everything I ever did to hurt her, for every lie and half-truth. For every thought I had that wasn’t about her, every action I took that gave her less than she deserved. Now would be the perfect time to say how often I thought of her while I was away, how I put serious thought into how much I want to marry her. For the right reasons. And how painfully aware I am that she deserves someone better.
I finally know what I want for my life: to see her smile, to go back to school and study sound engineering, to take care of her. I want for us to be together, to have our own family. But buried deep in my gut is the distinct mystery of my fathers’ final request and the sense that fate has other plans and until I know what those plans are, I have to be fair to her.
“I miss you too, Abi.”
She looks out the window. “Where are we going?”
“I have to pick up something my dad left at The Home.”
Traffic is heavy and I don’t mind. I need to think. It’s been so long since I’ve been behind the wheel, I forgot how driving soothes me, helping me do just that.
The guy back at the hospital with the bland suit and flat top was from DHS. There is only one reason the Department of Homeland Security would be involved. My dad said whatever is on the last disc in Jeanines’ laptop will change my life. That probably means that whatever I am caught up in must be too big for local law enforcement to handle. But how would they know about it? I still don’t understand why or how I am connected to any of this. I still don’t know where I went or how I got there. All I know is that I don’t know anything.
Her lips touch my neck.
‘Generations in the making,’ Dad wrote. I want to know what that means and what DHS knows and what they want from me. The bits of this fractal fit together, I know it, but every piece so far seems arbitrary. I’m missing the links that hold the parts together.
There are thousands of accidents each year, in America alone. If time travel were triggered by such a common occurrence, it wouldn’t be random. I can’t imagine how someone could orchestrate such an event. What does Daemon have to do with it and why did he try to kill me? How did Elijah get mixed up in this puzzle? What was my dad hiding and did he leave me enough evidence to clear my name without further involvement?
It would be a mistake to underestimate the motivation and capability of Homeland Security. Honestly, the possibilities scare the crap out of me. As a general rule, I don’t trust anyone in a position of authority, especially the federal government. Any group with clout like that sees the world differently than the individual. They only respond to circumstances that protect their existing power, or situations that will provide them with more of the same, and therefore cannot be trusted. I refuse to cooperate with an entity having the right to lock me up without cause and ask questions when they get around to it.
“G?” Abi sets a hand on my face, trying to turn my attention.
“I’m driving, Ab.”
“We’re going half a mile an hour. I can walk faster than this.” She presses against me, trying again to take my focus off the road.
“Abi, please!” The rebuke comes out louder than I intend.
She backs into her seat. “What’s wrong?”
“For one, you are trying to force me to turn my head and it hurts. So don’t do it. For another, I’ve got a lot on my mind, and third I am not risking an accident.”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“No,” I sigh.
“Does it have anything to do with where you were for three weeks?”
“I don’t know,” is the most honest answer I can give. If things are as serious as they seem, I should tread carefully.
She folds her arms and stares out the window, resolved to sulk.
The parking lot is nearly empty when I pull in, making it easy to find a space in the shade. The clicking of Abis’ assumption catches my attention. The seatbelt she’s just released retracts. Her hand is on the door handle.
“Ab, could you wait here?” I ask, shutting off the engine. “It will only take a second.”
Before she can answer, I’m out of the car and on my way inside.
I hope Jeanine is working today. I haven’t talked to her since she gave me the box. I wonder momentarily if I should have called in favor of simply appearing but rationalize that it doesn’t matter now, because I’m walking through the front door.
Putting the need for urgency aside—I’m anxious to learn as much as possible about whatever my dad wants me to know—I’m not in the mood for a stroll down memory lane. At the reception desk, I ask for Jeanine. The woman behind the high counter picks up a phone and a few minutes later the person I need is walking quickly up the main corridor.
She smiles when she sees me. “I didn’t expect you today!” She walks straight over, scooping me into a maternal hug. “You look so much better.”
“I should have called.”
“Yes, but I know you’re busy. Healing takes a lot of concentration.” She touches my hair. “It’s growing back in nicely.”
“Thank you,” I blush, automatically touching the bandages covering my healing head wounds.
“How is everything going?” She asks, showing a genuine concern in her bright brown eyes. I can tell she is truly happy to see I’m better.
“Can we talk for a minute? Outside?”
She turns to the reception desk. “Give me two minutes, and don’t you dare tell Annette.”
We walk together out the revolving door and into the heat.
“Do you need help, G?” She asks intuitively as we walk.
“I need to ask you something and I don’t know if anyone else should hear.”
“You let my dad to use your personal computer?”
“My laptop, that’s right. He used it to play Solitaire.”
“Would you mind if I took a look at it?”
She stares, questioning with her eyes, but relents. “Alright. I don’t know what good it’ll do you. It hasn’t worked in a while.”
I set my hand on her shoulder. “I think he may have left some information for me.”
“Not sure, that’s why I need to see the computer.”
“He always was a little strange that way, huh?”
I agree with a nod and follow her through the parking lot until she stops at the back end of a white Subaru.
“I’m glad you came by, even if it is just for the computer.” She takes a small set of keys from her pocket and opens the trunk. “You look good. A little pale, but healthy.”
“Thanks,” I smile. “Abi’s taken good care of me. She’s over there,” I point to my car.
Jeanine opens a red and white box deep in the back of her trunk and takes out a large laptop. “You tell her I would like to see her again someday. I have to get back inside before the boss knows I’m gone. Here you go.”
When I take the laptop, she pecks my cheek and chuckles. “It makes me happy to see you two together.”
“Thank you for taking such good care of him.” I say, bringing it in for a parting hug.
“You can shut it up when you’re done and you better call me. Soon.” She commands on her way back inside.
“Sure thing!” I give the same parting promise I always have, imagining how she’s rolling eyes.
I set the computer back into the open trunk and press the power button. Nothing. The giant notebook is much older than mine. It probably died of old age. I do a quick check, find the battery is not properly attached, correct the problem, and flip it back around and try the power button again—still nothing. Next, I check the box. No power cord. I think for a second, staring at the frustrating monitor. She’s not expecting me to take it with me. Futilely, I press the button over the disc tray. It makes is a sound like a spring popping and the dish flies open, spitting out a blank DVD just like the other ones Dad left me. I snatch up the disc, place the computer back into the box, and close the trunk of Jeanine’s car.
Back in my car, Abi is sitting resentfully in the passenger seat. I make out her quiet glare through the window. She hates feeling excluded and I am in the habit of pushing her away. As I make my way towards her I am thinking of the disc in my hand and how anxious I am to see what’s on it. My dad said no one else was to see it. He made it sound like the contents are the most important thing in the world. Then, I look again to her pouting lips and hurt feelings. There’s no way to do this with her around and I know she won’t want to let me out of her sight. I can’t blame her.
She starts in as soon as I turn the key. “She was pretty. Who is she?”
“My dad’s nurse, Jeanine. You remember her, don’t you? You two met at the funeral.”
“Is she the same one who called to tell me you were back?”
“I must be well enough to argue,” I mumble under the music.
“You came here to see her before you even thought of me?”
Though I saw it coming a mile away, hearing the insinuation infuriates me. “I came to see my dad, Abi.” I’m an asshole, taking all my frustration out on her. “Who else would I pay a visit? You broke up with me, remember? What else was I supposed to do?”
“Because you lied! Again!” She retorts at full volume.
Between my ears, the pain ignites as I pull out of the parking lot. “Well, I am so sorry if wanting to see my elderly father before you, my ex-girlfriend, offended you.” I say the words calmly to avoid adding to the ache and it emphasizes the sarcasm nicely. “Is that what you want to hear?”
“I want to know what happened!”
“I don’t know what happened!” I slam on the brakes. When I look at her, I can tell she doesn’t believe me. “Fine! Here’s the truth: I spent three weeks shacked with my dad’s middle-aged nurse. After the fun was gone, I shot myself to keep you from finding out. Is that good enough for you? Are you happy?”
Cars behind are honking and she starts crying in that way that she has—the one that stabs and twists—so I apologize, but she ignores me. I try to comfort her, but she minimizes everything, and only makes me feel worse.
“Ab, please don’t be like that.” Pulling over to the side of the road, I reach for her. “I’m just—this is all too much and I can’t talk about it. Not yet. Please don’t be upset. I need you to understand.” I’m addressing her back because she refuses to turn around.
“It’s my fault. I shouldn’t have asked.” She sniffs. Abi the martyr.
“You are so frustrating.” My head starts to seriously hurt. I reach behind my neck, trying to stop the internal slicing. “Ow! Mother—”
“What’s wrong?” Her hands fly to me, patting, searching for a place to comfort.
I take measured breaths, forcing myself to relax. If I can calm down, the pain will dissipate.
“I’m sorry, G. I saw her put her arms around you and kiss you and I thought—”
“I know what you thought and I’m sick of dealing with it. Yes, I’ve lied, but I would never cheat on you. You should know that. Now nothing is the way it was before and I don’t have it in me to constantly worry about your feelings. I’m sorry if that makes me an asshole.”
Abi’s arms are crossed, her eyes shrunken in fury, her lips pouting.
I sigh, out of patience. “I’m dropping drop you off at home. I have things to take care of and I’d rather do them alone.”
“Is she going with you?”
“I just said, ‘I want to be alone.’ What is so difficult to understand?”
She turns away again, and this time I don’t offer comfort.
We don’t speak until we’re on her street. She starts gathering my things to take with her.
“Leave that,” I say when she grabs my backpack. “I want all of it with me.”
Her eyes tighten. “Are you coming back?”
“You’re the only person who can tolerate me for an extended period of time. Where else could I possibly go?”
She gives a slight smile, trying to seem relaxed though I know her too well to believe it. “That’s true. You are very irritating.” Something outside catches her attention. She points out the windshield. “What’s going on up there?”
Half way up the road is a caravan of uniform SUV’s surrounding some unlucky person’s house. I take my foot off the gas. Its Abi’s duplex. Her front door is wide open.
I turn at the next corner, two blocks away, hating what I have to do.
“What are you doing?” Abi asks.
“Dropping you off.”
“G? You do know this isn’t my street, don’t you?”
“Abi, those cars are surrounding your duplex.”
She gasps, holding a hand to her chest. “I bet it’s my neighbor! I’ve had my suspicions about that guy for a long time. You know he has pot plants on his back patio? I don’t care if its semi-legal, I don’t think a person should be allowed to grow it wherever they want. Come on,” she pats my leg, now cheerful and giddy. “Let’s go be nosey.”
“Abi, you have to walk from here.” I rub the back of my head, pressing the tape of the bandages against my skin.
I’m sighing, trying to think of a way to break it to her. “No one has ever been so good to me, Abi. I really do appreciate everything you’ve ever done and I don’t want to fight with you.”
She leans back in her seat. “It has been a bad couple of months and a worse couple of weeks. I haven’t been very much help. I think of you as such a strong person because you take everything so quietly, but I know this has to be so hard on you.”
“It’s either be quiet or scream.” My fingers work at a small tear in the cover over the steering wheel.
“I don’t know anybody who could go through what you have and still function. First, you’re missing for three weeks and can’t remember anything, then some maniac tries to kill you and your dad dies the same day he hears the news. You don’t even get to see him. It’s more than any person should—”
“What did you say?”
“What?” She stills, touching her fingers to her mouth as if she’s afraid she has said something wrong.
“That’s what I’m asking. Repeat what you just said about my dad.”
She hesitates. “Um, well I was saying how the news of losing his only son must have been devastating.”
“No, the part about the same day,” I press.
“Well, if the dates you gave me are right . . .” Digging into her purse, Abi pulls a small calendar from her wallet. Opening it to this month, she points. “See, I circled the day Jeanine called and the day you told me you were admitted to the emergency room.” Then she pushes my arm aside and opens the console. “I kept this . . . it’s from his memorial service. I was going to give it to you.”
She takes out a creased paper and places it in my hand. I unfold it to see a rare photograph of my father printed on a pale yellow paper. He’s standing in the recreation center next to his only friend, Stuart. I can tell it’s an older picture by the slightly larger amount of hair on the sides of his head. They’re both wearing Hawaiian shirts.
“Look,” she points at the print beneath the photo. A set of dates: the first signifying his birth, the second, the date of his death.
“When I came back from the service, I put your car in the shop. I couldn’t let it go; it was all I had left.” Her voice trembles. The tears disappear in rapid blinks and she sniffs. “I am going to order something special for dinner. You’ll be back by then?”
I touch her face, falling a little harder at her willingness to compromise. “Your biggest complaint has always been I’m not honest with you. I’m working on it, Abi, I swear I am. I love you more for trying to give me the space I need right now when I can see it hurting you. But this—me being gone and coming back, acting like I don’t want to be around you—it isn’t what it looks like.”
Her eyes delve into mine, searching for a lie. They won’t find one.
“You have to go, now. Alone.”
Her eyes glisten, again. “Are you seriously asking me to trust you?”
“I want that, yes, but I know better. I have no idea what I’m caught up in or why but I do know that telling you anything means putting you at risk and I won’t do that.” She has to be able to look those government agents in the eyes and tell them she knows nothing.
“You’re protecting me? From what?” A profound sense of shock sharpens her words, cutting me deep.
“I am sorry, Abi. But I have to leave. Right now.”
She breaks the gaze. “It didn’t take long for me to fall back into this old habit, did it?”
I don’t like the undertone.
“You know, the one where I do everything, give everything, and you take and take-off?”
That emptiness has settled back into my chest. “This isn’t what I want, Abi. Please don’t break up with me.”
“Don’t worry, G. I’m going to do what you want. I’ll walk home from here. You can keep your car and your secrets. But when you come back, I expect answers. Real ones. Or we’re done. For good this time.” She opens the door and in one sniffle she’s gone.