Murder: It's All in Your Head

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Chapter 18b

Cassie lay awake in bed late into the night, her hands resting on her stomach. Her conversations with Randy kept replaying through her head.

He’s even more broken than I imagined, yet he still wants to help. I hope I didn’t force him into it.

Shaking her head, she closed her eyes and tried to imagine being in her old bedroom. That was how she wound up in her body the second time, after all. Cassie wondered if focusing her mind on where or who she wanted to be had something to do with controlling her ability. She imagined boy band posters surrounding her. She felt her grandma’s floral quilt molding to her form. She smelled her mom’s apple pie baking in the oven, the aroma wafting down the hallway. She opened her eyes. The dim, dank hospital room encompassed her. She sighed.

“If I can do this, why’s it so hard? How did I manage to swap bodies with Randy?” A pause. “Because I really wanted him to believe me. I was desperate enough to take the plunge.”

She went silent as someone shuffled outside the door. It was likely a nurse making midnight rounds. The footsteps stopped. Cassie closed her eyes and pretended to sleep. She knew the staff needed to keep tabs often on the patients, and to be found awake might give them reason to question what she was doing. Still, she supposed as long as she wasn’t disturbing anyone, what did it matter?

And if I had the light on and was reading a book? she wondered.

Whoever was on the other side of the door resumed walking, the sound of footsteps disappearing down the hall.

Okay, focus. She kept her eyes shut and tried to take her imagination deeper. Cassie had never been one to have an overactive imagination as a child. She never believed in ghosts in her closet or the boogie man under her bed. Now, she questioned everything she had ever known or believed. If it was possible to switch bodies with another, what else was possible?

Her mind drifted to questions of God and if there really was a divine being looking after the world. I used to believe in you, but if someone can commit murder and blame it on an innocent person, what does that say about you? You created people, after all.

“What the hell am I doing?” she said with a huff. Groaning, she sat up in bed, the cover falling off. She raised her eyes to the indifferent ceiling with its cracks and watermarks. The rain had stopped, leaving weak moonlight filtering in through the crossbars of the window. Cassie didn’t need to gaze upon the residual raindrops tracking down the glass to feel the tears tracking down her cheeks.

“How much have I cried these past few months?” she whispered in a tremulous voice. “How many tears does it take for a miracle? How much faith does a person need to have to believe that everything works out? If you are there, God, answer me. How many more people have to die because of this killer? I-I have the power to stop it!” She choked up, swallowing down a sob, then collapsed into her pillow, her tears coating it.

Maybe Randy’s right to give up. He’s lost everything. And I’m just about there.To think I was stupid enough to convince him to help me. I’ve gotten his hopes up for nothing.

Just do the best you can.

Her mom’s words came to her like a whisper on the breeze. They eased into her mind, needling their way to the forefront, until they made their presence fully known. Now they shone like a beacon in the night.

Just do the best you can.

Cassie snatched up the words, holding them fast in her heart. She dried her tears.

“Just do the best you can,” she whispered.

She closed her eyes again and pulled herself further into creating her room, of being there. Present. Just present. This time, she stared deeper at the walls.

The boy band posters gave way to the wallpaper with the little daisies, a remnant from her childhood. Mom was hanging that wallpaper after they just moved in. Cassie, three years old, sat at her heels with a pencil and drew little stick figures on the bare walls.

The smell of Mom’s apple pie entered her nostrils, migrating down the back of her throat, then settled on her tongue. She savored the McIntosh or the Golden Delicious...whatever they had picked as a family at the local orchard that ran hayrides and had a corn maze every autumn. Her dad hoisted Evan up so the little boy could grab an apple. Cassie held the bag open as her brother added it. Their laughter blossomed, alive...those apples reversing into flowers, to spring, to life and rebirth.

Grandma’s soft quilt fit perfectly against her form, hugging her, warming her even when she was sick, reassuring her of home. The fabric brushed against her cheek like Grandma’s kisses when they visited on Sunday afternoons. Then Cassie was embraced by those age-old arms that had taught Mom how to make the best apple pies and had switched together quilt upon quilt.

The music of her favorite bands, those posters that littered her walls, blared from her iPhone buds she and Melanie looked at their yearbooks and giggled over their crushes--the boys they could never in a million years actually ask out. But hey, maybe Brandon or Jackson would ask one of them out to prom or homecoming next year?

Cassie continued to allow the images to grow, to expand into all-encompassing memories. She dove deeper, spinning and whirling like she had in gymnastics. The roughness of the hospital-grade sheets gave way to the softness of Grandma’s quilt. The rattle from the heat in the century-old building transformed into the thrum of the fan Cassie kept in her room for white noise. The dank smell of her room in the mental ward dissipated into the lingering aroma of chicken from dinner hours ago. She opened her eyes. Her butterfly night light shone in the corner.

“I did it,” she whispered, a smile touching her lips.

The moment of victory surged through her core, shaking her body. My body. I’m back in my body.

She gazed heavenward. “Thank You.”

Cassie swung her legs over the side of the bed, dizzy. She realized that even though she was where she should be, her form didn’t fit quite right. She’d gotten used to Randy’s taller, sturdy, muscular frame. With her hands on the edge of the mattress, she steadied herself and stood. She crossed the room and turned on the light on her vanity. Gazing upon herself, she scowled at the bleach-blond hair with its dark roots. She sniffed. Was that cigarette smoke? Making a face, she grabbed the oversized T-shirt and tugged.

This must belong to that guy I woke up in bed with. Disgusting.

She took a deep breath. “Okay, I need to do this.”

She left her room, padding down the hallway to her parents’ bedroom. The door was closed. Her hand hovered over the knob.

God, please, please, please, let the monster who’s been inside my body be asleep. With every passing second Cassie remained in her body, she assumed the other presence was none the wiser.

She pressed her ear against the door, frowning that she didn’t hear her dad’s snores.

“Just do it,” she whispered.

She opened the door. Darkness enveloped her as she entered. It took a moment for her eyes to adjust as she approached the bed, finding only her mom there.

“Who’s there?” came Mom’s voice. She shifted to sitting in bed and fumbled with the nightstand light.

The light clicked on, bathing the room. Cassie blinked against the brightness.

“Cassie, what are you doing?” Her mom rubbed at her eyes.

“M-Mom?” Cassie’s voice wobbled, as did her body. She lost her footing and collapsed onto the bed, throwing her arms around her mom. “Oh, Mom!” Hot tears poured down her cheeks.

Her mom sat there, frozen, for several seconds. Then her arms slowly snaked around Cassie’s shuddering back.

After Cassie clung to her mom like a lifeline, her mom drew back enough to look her in the face. She brushed the hair from Cassie’s cheeks. “Sweetie, is something the matter? We’ve been so worried about you.”

Cassie shook her head. “I don’t even know where to start, Mom, but I’m afraid I haven’t got a lot of time to explain. If I don’t seem like myself, it’s because it’s not me who’s been in this body. I know it sounds crazy, but I swear to God it’s the truth. There’s someone in my body who’s taken over, and she means you real harm.”

“Cassie, what in the world are you talking about?” Her mom pulled back some, holding the blanket over her chest like a shield.

Cassie glanced at the made-up side of the bed.

“Where’s Dad?” Her stomach dropped as she imagined the worst. Oh, God! What if she already killed him?!

Just as soon as Cassie’s head started spinning, Mom answered, “Your dad and I thought it would be best if he stayed with his brother for a while. But you know that.”

Cassie’s chest heaved. She forced her breathing under control. Good, good, he’s out of the house...but that thing knows that! She knows where he is, could go to Uncle Dave’s house and kill his whole family, too!

She grabbed her mom’s upper arms and looked her straight in the eyes. “Listen, Mom. You need to get Dad and Evan, and all of you need to get out of here. Go somewhere safe. Don’t tell me where you’re going, but get out. Please.”

Her mom’s eyes darted toward her cell phone on the nightstand. “Cassie, you’re scaring me.”

She released her mom. “I-I’m sorry.” Cassie knew her mom was likely thinking of calling her dad or someone...maybe the police. The police. Yes. “Call the police, Mom. Have them arrest me.” Maybe it will buy some time. What time? Why hasn’t she killed them yet? What’s her game? But she lived two years inside Randy’s body, making everyone he knew miserable and ruining his reputation before she killed Danielle. Cassie groaned, squeezing her eyes shut, and grabbed at her head.

Mom made a little whimper. Cassie couldn’t see what her mom was doing, but the bed shifted, signaling movement.

A man clad in black raised his belt over her. The sound of heavy footsteps. The thrust of violation, the tearing, the agony… Blood seeping down her legs… Blood pouring down Danielle’s neck… An elderly couple lying prone in their bed in an eternal embrace, bullet holes through their foreheads… Bone and guts strewn in hay, the leftovers from the pigs’ feast… A young man strung upside down, a pool of red underneath him… Blood again and again and again…

I always finish what I start, Father.

Always finish what I start.

How does it feel to be me, Father?

The burning…the fire…all-consuming…flames licking the pain, driving her to kill.

“I am Helen Hawkins,” whispered a century-old voice, “and I always finish what I start.”

Cassie gasped for breath.

Get back to your room. Get back to your room.

Cassie, still holding her head with one hand, darted from her parents’ bedroom. She felt along the wall with her free hand, each step reinforcing the pounding in her brain. She swore a boa constrictor coiled around her, squeezing the life out.

Her legs made contact with the bed. She flopped onto the mattress. When she thought she might pass out in the blackness, a white light flashed, and she was released. She sucked on lungfuls of air--sweet, beautiful air--and opened her eyes.

She was back on the bed in her room at Hatford Hospital. Tears of relief, disappointment, and fear escaped from her eyes, unbidden. She sat up, rubbing her head.

“Helen,” she whispered. “Your name is Helen.”

The images of Helen’s life after life cycled through her mind. She couldn’t be sure, but the oldest memories seemed from a century ago, based on the style of clothing people wore.

“A hundred years? My God, this has been going on longer than I ever imagined.” She lifted her eyes to the ceiling in prayer. “Let Mom listen. Let them get somewhere safe, please.”

Cassie compared this experience to her last with Helen. There had been no red-hot poker pushing her out, which Cassie assumed meant Helen had fought back. This time was different. She had brushed Helen’s taint on her body, much like Randy had when he was in his old form.

“Please,” she murmured, again in prayer, “don’t let her know. Don’t let her know I was back in my body.”

If she knows I was successful, that I had control this time… Cassie shuddered to think what Helen would do.

But what’s to stop her from jumping into someone else’s body, even if she doesn’t wind up killing my family?

“But I did it. I really did it, and that means I can end this.” A mixture of emotions whirled through Cassie. The brief thrill of victory died when her mom’s face came to mind, the fear in those eyes, the unrecognition of who her daughter was.

Anger spiked. “I swear if it’s the last thing I do, you will pay for your crimes, Helen Hawkins.”

Cassie lay down, trying to calm herself with steadying breaths. She knew it wouldn’t do any good if she didn’t get some sleep. She would need a clear mind when she spoke with Randy in the morning. The determination of ending the cycle of murder was Cassie’s driving force, what finally eased her to dreams of finishing off Helen.

* * *

The girl woke to the mother saying something inane.

“Stupid bitch,” the girl muttered, opening her eyes. She glared at the older woman. “What the hell do you want?”

“You heard me. Do you care to explain to me what all that was about?” The mother crossed her arms.

I can’t believe she’s challenging me. “What what was about?” She rolled her eyes. The light from the hallway shone into the girl’s bedroom, illuminating the older woman’s face. The girl pictured a nice clean cut along the base of the mom’s neck, the slow, pleasureable red pouring out.

The mom huffed. “Your father is right. You need to leave, Cassie. I’ve had just about enough.” She left.

The girl snorted. She’d be smart to leave like her husband if she values her life. Instead, she’s too busy getting in my business. This Cassie girl was a real loser.

Cassie. What if? Helen shook her head. No way. I’m too good. That was a fluke that one time, nothing else. I knew she’d been inside her old body. I’d know if she were again.

She wracked her mind for any indication of the other girl being back in her body.

You were asleep, nagged Helen. You can’t be sure.

Shut the fuck up, the girl replied. I always finish what I start. I’m not about to let some dim-witted child win.

* * *

Randy scooped scrambled eggs--of the powdered variety--into his mouth. He rested his elbow on the table in the canteen, blinking away the sleepiness that carried over from the night before.

“I did it,” came a voice he knew as his own at one time.

Cassie slid into the chair next to him, spooning eggs into her mouth with gusto.

He nearly dropped his fork, then straightened. “You did?”

She smiled with such craziness that Randy recoiled. “Yes!”

“Well, great.” His heartbeat increased. “But get the grin off your--my--face. You’re making me look ridiculous.”

“But I can’t help it, Randy. There’s so much to tell you.”

Randy glanced from side to side, taking note of an orderly who watched them like a hawk. “Not here.”

Cassie seemed about ready to explode, but she contained her excitement until they were back in her room fifteen minutes later. Randy sat on the bed, watched her with a dazed smile as she paced, tossing her hands up as she spoke.

“It takes a lot out of me to do it, but I figured out how to swap minds. I had to really, really concentrate to pull myself back to my old body. I had to will myself to exist where I wanted, if that makes any sense.”

“Not really,” he replied, “but I’ll take your word for it.”

She stopped and faced him. “It was thrilling and terrifying at the same time. I got to see my mom again. I told her to get the hell out of there and to not tell me where she was going. God, I hope she listened.” She said the last part in a whisper. She dropped onto the bed next to him, the life draining from her. Her shoulders slumped as she gazed at her hands on her lap.

“I wish I could see Danielle again like you got to see your mom.” The words left his mouth, unbidden, on a breath.

Cassie glanced up. Randy thought he glimpsed her true eyes in his former brown irises. He leaned away, her gaze too penetrating.

“Do you believe in heaven, Randy?”

He couldn’t speak past the lump that grew in his chest and moved to his throat. Static electricity roved up and down his body, rooting him to the bed. He couldn’t move if he tried. “W-what’s that got to do with anything?” he finally croaked.

“Heaven, God...the belief that good triumphs over evil, that we can beat this.”

“And who is this?” The devil himself?

“Her name is Helen Hawkins, and I saw in her mind a little. Like you did with me. It was enough to know that she’s been killing for a century.”

Randy was drowning in a pool of ice water. He grabbed for something to hold, to anchor himself, to just fucking breathe, but his lungs weren’t working properly. Now his eyes joined in malfunctioning, blurring his sight as he fought with gasping breaths. His stupid, stupid mind whirled and couldn’t form a coherent thought but this: “Are your eyes blue, Cassie?”

She was but a breath away, doing the breathing for him now. She brought her hand to his wet cheek, and his own flesh melded with his mind. Those blue orbs implored him to trust, to believe. “My eyes are blue, yes, and Danielle is in heaven. And you are here with me, and we are in this together.”

His eyes closed. Her lips brushed his, and his mind and her mind became their mind.

* * *

Cassie lost herself. Maybe she had already lost herself months ago since wearing Randy’s body or dipping back into her old form and brushing with Helen. One moment, she rode on the waves of victory and hope. The next, she crashed to the bottom of the ocean of despair and fear. She felt so much at once, so intensely, that when Randy asked if her eyes were blue, she held nothing back.

He sees me without having to see me. He and I, we’re two sides of the same coin.

As soon as she kissed him, Mom’s terrified face fell in front of her, knocking her back.

What the hell am I doing? She pulled away, blushing. “I-I’m sorry. That is, maybe I’m not sorry. I don’t know, Randy.” She shivered with delight and trepidation, unable to hide her body’s visceral reaction to that kiss. On some level, she’d wanted it. On another level, she feared to form any thought on what that kiss could mean.

Randy stared at her, his mouth slightly open. “I, uh… Don’t apologize. You’ve been through a lot. Maybe it was just you needing something, anything...or anyone to hold onto.”

“You...you get that?” It was a question but wasn’t. She knew he understood.

“We’ve been starved of human affection in here, isolated, thought crazy.”

“I’ve felt so alone at times, and to know you’re with me…” Maybe it’s a nutso scenario, certainly not ideal...but nothing about this situation is normal. I stopped caring about the status quo a long time ago.

He took her hand. “I have to admit…kissing my own lips is weird, and you’re over ten years younger than me...and to everyone else, we look like a couple of guys.”

“Is that a problem?” She laughed.

“Not at all. It’s just…”

“It’s not wrong,” Cassie said. “The handbook stays that romantic relationships are permitted, so long as both parties consent and it doesn’t interfere with either party’s treatment.”

Randy snorted. “You make it all sound so clinical. Yes, I know the rules.”

He doesn’t deny romance, but is that what this really is? Am I in love with Randy or just with the idea of being in love because I’ve been so starved of any form of love for so long? Her blush deepened.

“What are you thinking?” he asked.

“When I said romantic relationships, I wasn’t implying--”

“No, of course not.” He was almost too quick to reply.

A nervous giggle escaped her lips. “I mean, just a couple of days ago, you wanted to kill me, so--”

It was his turn to laugh. “That was when I thought you were Jimmy Williams, the guy I thought responsible for ruining my life.” As soon as the words left his mouth, Randy sighed. “We may have the truth now about who’s behind this, but it doesn’t make me feel any better. As for that poor sucker, Jimmy, well, part of me hopes he’s out of his misery. This is no kind of life.”

Cassie nodded, reaching for his hand. “I hope you don’t mind.” She glanced at their entwined hands. “I need something to touch. Someone to touch.”

His lips quirked. “A kiss wasn’t enough?”

She laughed. “You’re terrible. But no, maybe a kiss wasn’t enough. Maybe I still need you to be with me in more than the figurative sense. I don’t know what happened to Jimmy or all those other victims. I don’t know how this Helen woman can live with herself knowing what she’s doing.” A stern man dressed in black, his face a blur, flashed through her mind. The thrusting violation that followed… “Oh, God,” Cassie whispered, a tear forming in the corner of her eye.

* * *

Randy’s hand was sweaty in hers, but he didn’t try to pull away. He stared, transfixed, as the tear tracked down Cassie’s face. Somehow, he saw past his old face and into the face of the young, amazing woman next to him. His heartbeat increased.

“What’s wrong?” he asked, squeezing her hand.

“I saw-- I mean, among the glimpses of Helen’s memories, I saw a man in black. He was dressed like it was a hundred years ago, and somehow, I knew this marked the start of Helen’s killing spree. But he wasn’t just a man in black… He was a monster, the first monster, before her, I mean.”

Randy’s throat went dry, his stomach recoiling. “I have a bad feeling about where this is going.”

Cassie bit her lip, grimacing and shaking her head as more tears fell. “It’s no wonder she’s a monster. This man...he did the worst sort of thing to her. He--”

Randy held up his free hand. “I got it. Still, that doesn’t make it okay what she’s doing. What the hell did Danielle and I ever do to this Helen woman? You or your family?” He released her hand and stood, stalking across the room and punching the wall. The moment his fist made contact, his hand erupted in pain. He cried out and cradled his hand. “Damn it.”

Cassie was at his side, a concerned look on her face, her hands hovering over him. “Why did you do that?” She shook her head, taking his hand. “It’s gonna have a nasty bruise, but it’s not bleeding. Can you move it?”

Randy groaned as he extended his fingers and gave a pained nod. “Yeah,” he grunted. “Stupid move.” He glanced toward the door. “I hope no one heard that. The last thing we need is some nurse or orderly coming in here.”

When a few seconds passed without incident, he breathed a sigh of relief.

Cassie wrapped an arm around him and led him to the bed. “Here, let’s sit. There’s no point in making yourself more miserable.”

Randy plopped on the edge of the mattress. “A bit late for that, don’t you think?” He flexed his hand, testing his ability to move it. “I don’t think it’s broken.”

“Well, that’s something.” The mattress shifted with Cassie’s weight as she joined him. “But as for why Helen has been killing, I’d say the answer is obvious. She suffered unfairly and thinks others should suffer. I get the impression that no one ever stopped her abuser, so she took it into her own hands. She said something else besides her name when I touched her presence.”

“What’s that?”

“‘I always finish what I start.’”

Randy shuddered, a chilly presence walking through him, like a ghost. “Well, I’d certainly say she’s been doing an awfully good job if she’s been murdering for a hundred years. What makes you so certain you can stop her?”

“What choice do I have?”

Her words were so plain, so straightforward...yet Randy detected a scared little girl underneath them. He stilled his bruised hand, placing it on the shabby blanket beside him. His other hand sought hers. “You’re probably the bravest person I know. When I said I couldn’t be more miserable before, I spoke without taking into consideration that I have you now. I don’t know what we are. I mean, we’re allies, but somehow friends doesn’t seem strong enough. Comrades, maybe? Since we’re kind of in a war of sorts. But even that sounds too run-of-the-mill. Maybe that’s why I let you kiss me… It’s not just loneliness and brokenness that’s brought us together, Cassie. You taught me to hope.”

Her eyes shone with unshed tears. Randy wondered if she was all cried out. She cupped his cheek, stroking his earlobe with her index finger. “I never was in love before. I don’t know if that’s what this is, but if I were a betting person, I’d place a wager on it. I’ve watched movies and read books where two people fall in love because of extraordinary circumstances. They’re thrown into the chaos against their will. It’s either fight or die trying, right? I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared shitless right now, Randy. She could decide to kill my family at any moment, so…”

Randy placed a hand over hers on his cheek. She was warm, almost feverish. “You should get some sleep. You look done-in.” He took note of the dark circles around her eyes, of the drawn look on her face. It’s funny that I’ve started calling it her face and not mine. I guess it’s become hers, hasn’t it? “But yes, you’re right. We need to end this as soon as possible.”

Cassie’s eyes slid shut. She leaned into him, and her hand dropped from his cheek. “I hope I can get back to my old body and do just that, but to end this, that means--”

* * *

Cassie broke off mid-sentence, the full implication of ending the killing streak hitting her like a train going a hundred miles per hour. Until now, while she knew she needed to stop Helen and knew she needed to have access to her old body to do it, she hadn’t realized what ending the murders meant for her.

She swallowed, fear numbing her. She was almost detached from the situation as she finished her sentence. “That means I’ll have to kill my body.”

Randy wrapped his arms around her, seeming to know the balm she needed. He remained a steady presence, not speaking but just there.

Cassie shook all over, tears trembling out, uncontrolled. “Oh, my God. Oh, my God, Randy. I have to kill myself...at least my body. I’ll-- I’ll never be able to be me again.” If she could, she would have pulled her legs up to her chest and sobbed into her hands, but she couldn’t move. She buried her face in Randy’s light blue scrub shirt and wept, feeling Randy’s hands move up and down her back.

* * *

Randy had no words of comfort or reassurance. His admiration for her bravery and resolve was only further strengthened by her admission. The rock in his stomach told him that while he, too, knew what stopping the monster meant for Cassie, her voicing it made it real.

“And what in the name of all that’s holy is going on in there?” asked Nurse Doris, stopping mid-step at the door as she made her rounds. She narrowed her eyes.

Randy scowled at her. “What’s it to you?”

Nurse Doris stepped into the room and crossed her arms over her chest. “Well, I never expected to see you two in each other’s arms. Perhaps Dr. Winslow needs to re-evaluate you and increase your meds.”

Randy refrained from rolling his eyes. “There’s nothing against, uh...romance.”

The nurse’s eyebrows shot up to grey roots her poorly dyed auburn hair. “Be that as it may, I’ll be watching you two, and I’ll be reporting this new development to the rest of the staff.”

“You do that,” Randy said.

Nurse Doris gave them one last look-over and left.

Randy loosened his hold on Cassie. She’d gone limp in his arms. By her breathing, he realized she’d fallen asleep. A small smile on his face, he murmured, “You poor kid. You’re done for today, I think.” He eased her back onto the mattress, cradling her head until it was on the pillow, and covered her. Standing, he leaned over and kissed her forehead. “It’s no wonder you’re asleep, what with all you’ve been through today.” He left.

Later that day, Randy sat in a small, drab room with Dr. Winslow, a table the only thing between them--at least in the physical sense.

“How was walking group?” the doctor asked, eyeing Randy over his reading glasses.

Randy shrugged. “Therapeutic?” He gave the other man a smirk.

Dr. Winslow scribbled something on his notepad. “Indeed.” He set the pen and paper down and steepled his fingers, surveying his patient curiously.

Randy refrained from huffing, from meeting the other man’s gaze. He glanced toward the exit, knowing an orderly was stationed on the other side of the door. He sighed and waved his hand in the air. “If you’re going to ask it, then do it, Doc. We both know you’re just dying to.”

Dr. Winslow frowned. “Your behavior confuses me, James.”

Randy didn’t correct him. He hadn’t bothered in weeks.

When Randy didn’t speak, the doctor continued, “I’ll admit that you’ve been...calmer than usual the past week or so. I’m glad to see you and Mr. Davis have worked out your differences, or so it seems, but…” He shifted in his seat, like his underwear were itching him under all his bulk.

Randy snorted. “So, it’s made the rumor mill with the staff that Mr. Davis and I are in love? You have something against a couple of gay guys, Doc? It’s not contagious, being gay.”

This is almost too much fun. I need a bit of fun after all that’s developed. He thought of Cassie and wondered if she was still asleep. He hadn’t seen her since that morning.

Dr. Winslow seemed about to blanch as he straightened himself. “Of course not, James. I have nothing against you finding love. We are all worthy of love. You can understand my surprise and concern that you seem to be in love with Mr. Davis, though. Not long ago, you were at that man’s throat. Care to enlighten me about what changed?”

“I changed, Doc. Circumstances changed.”

The doctor’s eyebrows raised toward his receding hairline. “What changed about them?”

“Well, Ca-- that is, Mr. Davis and I talked. I’m no longer under the delusion that I’m him. He’s not the man I thought he was.”

“And who is Mr. Davis to you?”

“She-- um, he’s brave. A good man. A good friend. I guess I wanted to be him so badly before because of his reputation, you know? And I’m not talking about the stuff that was in the news the past couple of years. I don’t believe he killed his wife. A man like that doesn’t do something like that.”

The doctor sighed. “Your interest in Mr. Davis still isn’t healthy, James. I’m concerned that because of your history of believing you were him, now that the man is here, you’re getting close to him for reasons that aren’t healthy. Even if you think what you’re doing is fine, I must warrant against it.”

Randy’s amusement at playing along evaporated. He clutched the sides of the plastic seat, his knuckles white. Baring his teeth, he said, “I finally find a bit of happiness and you’re ready to snatch it away? My God, what the hell do I have to do to make you people happy, to get you off my back? Here I thought I was making progress.”

“I may need to re-evaluate your diagnosis, James. You’re a fine actor.”

“I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking I’ve been fooling you this whole time on purpose, right? That I’m a sociopath who played the insanity card, that I’m the most dangerous of the bunch in here. Did it ever occur to you that anything I did that looked crazy was due to extreme mental and emotional duress? Did it ever cross your puny mind that I’m just a normal guy who’s being accused of crimes I didn’t commit, and that’s what’s driving me crazy?” He stood, the chair clattering to the chipped linoleum floor behind him. “I’d like to go, please.”

“You may go, but we’ll be meeting again in a few days, James. Don’t think this is the end of this conversation.”

Randy opened the door, ready to bolt. The orderly blocked his way.

“Let him go, Doug,” said Dr. Winslow. “We’re done in here.”

The orderly stepped aside. Randy returned to his room and wished more than ever that he was anywhere else.

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