Chapter 11 - 2018
Cassie didn’t see the old man the rest of the day. She kept her eyes peeled on the other patients, flinching whenever one of them made the slightest gesture with one of his arms, twitched his neck, or shouted. She waited for another attack, expecting it like the sunrise, like the clock striking midnight. Inevitable.
That night, she stared at the ceiling as she lay in bed. The moonlight filtering through the high window left dull diamonds separated by dark crisscrosses on the old tiles above. She turned to her side. The friction between the hospital-grade sheets and the scratchy fabric of her scrubs itched. She sighed and sat up.
Tears stung her eyes. She allowed them whenever she was alone, the time to come undone.
“Why?” she asked the room, God, whoever or whatever was listening. “Why me? Why is this happening?”
She sniffed and wiped her nose on her sleeve. She didn’t expect an answer, but when only silence spoke back, she lay back down, pulling the covers over herself. Her eyelids grew heavy as sleep claimed her.
She was in Randy’s house again. Danielle was in her arms, weeping. She rubbed the other woman’s back.
“I was finally pregnant,” she whispered. “Randy, why did I lose the baby?”
Cassie gently shushed her, kissed the top of her auburn head. Her head swam with questions and no answers. She had no words. Maybe I’m being denied being a father because of my own lousy one. Would I be just like him? No, no... I’ve worked too hard and come too far to believe that, to let that happen. But why Danielle?
“I’m so sorry, darling.” She brushed away a lock of hair and kissed her cheek.
Danielle’s sobs intensified. She buried her face in Cassie’s T-shirt. When she withdrew, she gazed into Cassie’s eyes. Mascara ran down her flushed cheeks. “It’s just not fair. We’ll never--”
Cassie hugged her closer. “Shh, I know.” The tears poked at her own eyes, but she didn’t cry. She had to be strong for Danielle. “We have each other.”
“But, Randy, years and years we’ve tried to have a baby. Everything was going fine, and then...this? I was five months pregnant! This wasn’t supposed to happen!” She pounded on Cassie’s chest.
Cassie let her, didn’t release her. “Maybe…” Maybe we can try again. She didn’t speak, the pain too raw. Her well-meaning words would slice through Danielle, keep the wound open longer.
The vision faded to blackness. Cassie’s eyes snapped open as she bolted up in bed. Sweat beaded on her brow. Her breathing was fast, her chest heaving as if she’d just run a marathon.
“Another memory,” she whispered.
She gazed at the door, but remained in bed, trying to puzzle together Randy Davis.
Several hours later, after an uneventful shower and breakfast, Cassie stepped into the community room. The TV droned on in the background as usual. A few people roamed the room, moaning or muttering under their breath, but most of them sat still, either watching TV or nothing at all. She tracked the room for the old man and found him on a couch talking to a much younger man.
She tried to reconcile the memories of Randy with the angry old man who claimed to be him. What if he really was just insane? Even if he is Randy, he killed his wife, right? Right? Cassie shuddered.
She longed for an easy explanation, a clear-cut, black-and-white solution. If the memories were like watching a movie, that would be one thing, but she was a part of them. She felt them as if she were Randy, and she couldn’t believe a man who had loved his wife so tenderly could have murdered her.
Unless he lost his mind.
* * *
“You’re especially broody today,” Charles said as he sat on the couch next to Jimmy.
Jimmy ignored him, keeping his eyes on the window, imagining the world outside--his company, his family, his friends. The world going on without him.
“Hey, buddy. I’m talkin’ to you.”
Jimmy scowled. “Go away, Charles.”
Charles shrugged and chuckled. “Heard you don’t like the new guy.”
“Just heard?” Jimmy turned his eyes on the young man.
“Yeah, sorry to miss you tacklin’ the poor loser. Must’ve been quite the entertainment. Certainly better than this shit on TV.”
Jimmy snorted. “You might call it entertainment, but it’s my life, my mind. Not that I expect you to believe me any more than the next guy, but that new guy’s body belongs to me.”
Charles burst out laughing.
“I didn’t know that was funny.” Jimmy made to stand, but Charles pulled him down onto the cushions. “Do you mind?”
Charles held up his hands. “Sorry, sorry, it’s just that… I thought I had weird fetishes.”
Jimmy’s eyebrows drew down. “Your fetishes involved raping underage boys. A perversion. I never did anything that warrants me belonging in here.”
“You’re just jealous ’cause you’re too old for my tastes.” Charles chuckled again.
“I’ve had enough.” Jimmy stood.
As he was headed out of the common room, he saw his old body. His fists clenched at his sides. They locked gazes. Something like fear passed over the other man’s features. Randy hated him all the more, loathing the way weakness twisted his previous face into something it shouldn’t. He made to take a step in the other man’s direction, but then he came to his senses. With a sigh, shoulders slumped, he exited the room through another way and avoided the man everyone else called Randy Davis for the rest of the day.
* * *
From twenty feet away, the old man stared at her. Cassie froze. She tried to look away, yet she couldn’t help herself. Seconds could have dragged into hours. Then the man called Jimmy whisked his eyes away. He seemed to teeter between coming at her and going the other way. She had not a moment to think about what she would do or say if he tried to attack her again. Then he left the room, choosing the opposite direction.
Cassie released a breath. The young man on the couch smiled. She considered talking to him, asking him what they had been discussing that he had found so amusing.
Bad idea. Her stomach twisted. She raced to the bathroom and vomited.
“Is everything okay, Mr. Davis?” asked a nurse from behind.
Cassie wiped her mouth, tried to smile at the kind face of the older woman. “I think I might have the flu or something. I’m just gonna lie down.”
“Of course, Mr. Davis. Let me know if you need anything.”
Cassie nodded and returned to her room.
What the hell am I gonna do? Where’s my fire, my fight? Not that I’ve been known to be a fighter. More like a girl too shy to ask a boy out. Remember when that was my biggest worry? That, or getting an A on my calculus test? I never imagined I’d be...
Cassie recalled standing up to the druggie in the city jail. That, she supposed, was easy enough. She didn’t expect to ever see the guy again. She wondered why she was even in the same facility as the old man, how such a twist of fate was possible. She also blamed the medication for covering her with an almost-constant blanket of drowsiness.
If he is Randy, I need to prove that I’m not who he thinks I am, especially before they move him...if they move him. Or move me. No way they’re gonna keep us together if they think he’s gonna attack me every time he sees me.
And then what? Even if he believes me, what can we do, locked away like this?
The memories. Of course! I’m an idiot! Why didn’t I think of it the first time?
Her mental argument ended and Cassie smiled.
She lay on her bed for a long time, staring at nothing. The ceiling blurred into memories of her dad pushing her on the tire swing in the back yard, of her mom and her pitting cherries for pies, of her standing along the wall with a dozen other girls at the semi-formal dance in eighth grade and watching the boys gaze back from the other side of the gym. Betsy Willis, who moved away in third grade, who had been her friend since before she could remember, yet they fought like sisters...what was she doing with her life now? Did Evan still hang around with those unruly brothers down the street and run around with sticks, even though they were too old? Did Melanie, who knew Cassie better than anyone, know someone else was inside her body, living her life?
She rolled onto her side. Her eyes closed. A brilliant white flashed. She had no concept of time. The next thing she knew, she was staring at a burly man lying in a king-sized bed next to her. His furrowed brow and grizzled face suggested he was a few years older than her. She didn’t recognize him.
What the hell?
Every firing nerve was telling her to bolt, but not wishing to wake this stranger, she sat as quietly as possible. She pushed the sheet away and gasped when she gazed upon her body.
She swallowed thick saliva, moving her tongue around. Something hard bumped against the roof of her mouth, the back of her teeth. She tried to swallow the lump, but realized the ball wasn’t going anywhere. My tongue’s pierced?
Cassie left the bed, standing in a mess of clothes on the floor. She jumped when she caught a movement out of the corner of her eye. When she turned, she sighed with relief. It was only her reflection in the mirror. Her reflection!
Why’s my hair blond?
She stepped toward the mirror over the dresser and stared. Her hair hung over her shoulders with a weight she had forgotten until now. The ends frizzed in the rare late-September humidity, despite an out-of-date air conditioner unit buzzing in the window. Smudged red lipstick clung to the moist skin on her chin. Heavy black eyeliner decorated her eyes. She was nude, yet her fair complexion wasn’t bare. A smattering of words covered her lower abdomen, right below another piercing--her belly button. She drew closer to the mirror and read: “Fuck ’em all.”
She searched the floor for her clothes. Whoever had done this to her body was gone.
Am I back? Am I free?
The prospect of her plight now was a dream. Her head spun as she tried to grasp this reality.
She found a woman’s black tank top and pulled it on.
The man on the bed stirred. Cassie froze as her fingers made contact with a thong she hoped was hers, even though she didn’t recognize it.
“What are ya doin’?”
Cassie gripped the underwear in a fist. “I’m…”
He chuckled and patted the bed next to him. “C’mon, get back here. We have unfinished business.”
“But I’m not--” The underwear fell to the floor.
He pushed off the bed and came to her, wrapping her much smaller body in his arms. Before she could protest, his lips engulfed hers. His tongue forced its way into her mouth. She shivered despite the heat. Her knees threatened to give out.
No, no. No!
She pushed his chest, breaking the kiss.
“What the fuck?”
“I’m not… Can I please go to the bathroom?”
“Please?” The gleam in his eyes held amusement but steel.
“Yeah. Please. I need to pee.”
The man chuckled. “Pee? What are ya, five? Fine. Go take a piss, Cass. Then get the hell back here. I’m gettin’ hard just thinkin’ about you naked in my bed. A man’s got needs, ya know.”
She nodded weakly and left the bedroom.
“Where’re ya goin’, babe? Bathroom’s right here.” He motioned toward a door in the bedroom.
“Oh, right.” Her ears burned. Feeling she had little choice, she returned to the bedroom and entered the bathroom. She made to close the door, but the man stopped it with his large hand.
“What’s the matter with ya? Just take care of it and get back here.” His voice was no longer patient.
Cassie inched toward the toilet and sat.
“Just...give me a minute.”
Cassie forced out a drop of urine. She glanced into the bedroom, where the large guy sat on the edge of the bed glaring at her. She was reminded of the attack in the shower in the mental hospital and wasn’t sure she was much better off now.
She stood, flushed, and washed her hands. As she dried them on a dingy towel covered with stains she didn’t want to think about, hands came around her from behind and pulled her toward the body that felt like a brick wall.
“Can’t I just go home?” she asked.
“Home?” He snorted. “Ya hate home. Said your parents were the biggest fuck-ups, that they’d be better off dead.” He laughed.
“I never--” Her insides turned to ice. Oh, God. I have to get out of here.
“That’s enough talk.” The man overpowered her, leading her back to the bed.
She was a rag doll under his hands and mouth. Cassie whimpered as tears leaked out. The guy either didn’t care or was oblivious. With every thrust, she died a little. She tried to picture her parents happy and proud. And what about her brother? There was that bright flash again, and as she pondered how to end this nightmare, she was back in the bed at the hospital.
She jolted from the bed, the metal headboard banging into the wall as she stood. The doorknob slid under her sweaty palm. When she finally managed to get a grip, she shoved all her weight into the door and fell out into the hallway in a heap.
“I have to get out of here!” she screamed. “Please, someone help me!”
A patient, who was walking down the hall, ran away, cowering as he covered his head. Cassie ran to the nurses’ station, disrupting a line of patients receiving their medication for the evening.
“Hey, wait your turn,” someone said.
Someone else giggled.
“New guy, looney guy,” sang the young man who had been speaking with Jimmy earlier.
Cassie stopped when she saw him, grabbing him by the fabric of his collar. “Where is he? Where’s the guy you call Jimmy Williams?”
The young man grinned. “What’s it to you, sweetie? You got a crush? I’m free and open.”
One of the nurses was upon her. “Mr. Davis, whatever is the matter?”
“I wasn’t here a minute ago. I was back where I belong...kind of, but please, you’ve gotta help me. Please believe me. She’s, he’s...I don’t know! She’s gonna kill them.”
“Who’s gonna kill who, Mr. Davis?” asked the nurse in an calm voice.
The nurse nodded at a couple of orderlies, who stepped up to either side of Cassie.
“Maybe it would be best if you go lie down for a bit, Mr. Davis. Please, come with us.”
Cassie shook her head. “No, no...please. I know it sounds crazy. I wouldn’t believe it myself in your shoes, but I’m telling the truth. Can’t I make a phone call, see if they’re okay?”
“Just come along, Mr. Davis, and we won’t have a problem.”
“No!” Cassie darted from the orderlies before they had a chance to grab her. She ran at the door, ramming into it with her shoulder, again and again. She jiggled the knob, but it didn’t give.
Then hands on her shoulders, on her arms, pulling her away from freedom, pulling her away from helping her family. Randy’s body slumped against the door, cheek pressed up against the glass. Through the fog of her breath on the glass, Cassie gazed at a short hallway and another locked door, another blockage between her and the world. The pain along her right side from ramming into the door was dull compared to the agony that split her head. It was like her mind was broken, and the tears that spilled leaked from the crack.
As they hauled her back to her room, she caught a glimpse of the old man standing in the crowd near the nurses’ station.
“Randy Davis!” she called. “I know it’s you!”
His mouth opened like he was going to speak, but perhaps it was shock. Then his craggy face hardened, and he averted his gaze.
Cassie lost sight of him. She arrived at her room.
“Someone will be by with a dinner tray soon, Mr. Davis,” said the nurse.
Back in her room, only the door was locked.
* * *
Randy watched his old body escorted out. The words came unexpected, hurled at him like daggers.
“Randy Davis! I know it’s you!”
To hear the lies in his old voice--his stolen voice--cut him in half. Half of him held onto the possibility that the person occupying his body was crying out for help, maybe a victim as much as him. Half of him fought back with his own sword, wanting nothing more than to end the life of this imposter who had ruined his life. The half with the sword won.
“What was that about?” Charles asked, joining him. He laughed.
“Nothing new around here. We’re all crazy, right?” Randy considered stepping out of line, but knew he wouldn’t get out of taking his meds so easily.
“He told me he needed to talk to you. Seemed pretty serious about it, too.”
“If he so much as says hi to me…” He’s dead. I’ll kill him with my bare hands if I have to, consequences be damned.
“You’ll what?” Charles barked out a laugh.
“I don’t care what happens anymore. This has to end.”
“Be careful what you say, my friend. They’re listening.” Charles kept his face straight, but the glint in his eyes gave away his amusement.
“I don’t care about that, either. Let them hear. I’ve got no secrets. I’ve got nothing left to lose. Don’t you get it, Charles? I’ve already lost everything.”
Charles didn’t have anything to say. He was already off pestering someone else. Randy sighed, stepped up, and took the pills. He would no longer accept being Jimmy, James, Mr. Williams, or anyone else they thought he was.
I am Randy Davis. That other guy is a fraud, a liar, a murderer, and will die, one way or another.