Jason leans forward, pushing their plates out of the way so he can hold both of her hands across the table.
“If there are a million ponds out there, with versions of you and me living similar and different lives, there’s none better than right here, right now. I’m more sure of that than anything in the world.”
The bare lightbulb in the ceiling rains down a naked and flickering illumination on the tiny cell. I’m strapped to a steel-frame bed, ankles and wrists chained together with restraints and connected, via locking carabiners, to eyebolts in the concrete wall.
Three locks retract in the door, but I’m too sedated to even startle.
It swings open.
Leighton wears a tux.
As he approaches, I catch a whiff of cologne, and then alcohol on his breath. Champagne? I wonder where he’s just come from. A party? A benefit? There’s a pink ribbon still pinned to the satin breast of his jacket.
Leighton eases down onto the edge of the paper-thin mattress.
He looks grave.
And unbelievably sad.
“I’m sure you have some things you want to say, Jason, but I hope you’ll let me go first. I take a lot of blame for what happened. You came back, and we weren’t prepared for you to be as…unwell as you were. As you are. We failed you, and I’m sorry. I don’t know what else to say. I just…I hate everything that’s happened. Your return should have been a celebration.”
Even through the heavy sedation, I’m shaking with grief.
“The man who came to Daniela’s apartment—did you send him after me?” I ask.
“You left me no choice. Even the possibility you had told her about this place—”
“Did you tell him to kill her?”
He doesn’t answer, but it is an answer.
I stare into Leighton’s eyes, and all I can think about is ripping his face off down to his skull.
I break down.
I cannot exile from my brain the image of blood running down Daniela’s bare foot.
“I’m so sorry, brother.” Leighton reaches out, puts his hand on my arm, and I nearly dislocate my shoulder trying to pull away.
“Don’t touch me!”
“You’ve been in this cell almost twenty-four hours. It gives me no pleasure to keep you restrained and sedated, but as long as you’re a danger to yourself or others, this situation can’t change. You need to eat and drink something. Are you willing to do that?”
I focus on a crack in the wall.
I imagine using Leighton’s head to open another one.
Driving it into the concrete again and again and again until there’s nothing left but red paste.
“Jason, it’s either you let them feed you, or I run a G-tube into your stomach.”
I want to tell him that I’m going to kill him. Him and everyone in this lab. I can feel the words coming up my throat, but better judgment prevails—I’m completely at this man’s mercy.
“I know what you saw in that apartment was horrible, and I’m sorry for that. I wish it had never happened, but sometimes, a situation is so far gone…Look, please know that I am so, so sorry you had to see that.”
Leighton rises, moves toward the door, pulls it open.
Standing in the threshold, he looks back at me, his face half in light, half in shadow.
He says, “Maybe you can’t hear this right now, but this place wouldn’t exist without you. None of us would be here, but for your work, your brilliance. I’m not going to let anyone forget that, most of all you.”
I calm down.
I pretend to calm down.
Because staying chained up in this tiny cell isn’t accomplishing a goddamn thing.
From the bed, I stare up into the surveillance camera mounted over the door and ask for Leighton.
Five minutes later, he’s unlocking my restraints and saying, “I think I’m probably as happy as you are to get you out of these things.”
He gives me a hand up.
My wrists have been rubbed raw from the leather bindings.
My mouth is dry.
I’m delirious with thirst.
He asks, “You feeling any better?”
It occurs to me that my first inclination when I woke up in this place was the right one. Be the man they think I am. The only way to pull that off is to pretend my memories and my identity have abandoned me. Let them fill in the blanks. Because if I’m not the man they think I am, then they have no use for me.
Then I never leave this lab alive.
I tell him, “I was scared. That’s why I ran.”
“I totally get it.”
“I’m sorry I put you all through this, but you have to understand—I’m lost here. There’s just this gaping hole where the last ten years should be.”
“And we’re going to do everything in our power to help you recover those memories. To get you better. We’re firing up the MRI. We’re going to screen you for PTSD. Our psychiatrist, Amanda Lucas, will be speaking with you shortly. You have my word—no stone will be left unturned until we fix this. Until we have you fully back.”
“You’d do the same for me. Look, I have no idea what you’ve been through these last fourteen months, but the man I’ve known for eleven years, my colleague and friend who built this place with me? He’s locked away somewhere in that head of yours, and there is nothing I won’t do to find him.”
A terrifying thought—what if he’s right?
I think I know who I am.
But there’s a part of me that wonders…What if the recollection I have of my real life—husband, father, professor—isn’t real?
What if it’s a by-product of brain damage I received while working in this lab?
What if I’m actually the man who everyone in this world believes I am?
I know who I am.
Leighton has been sitting on the edge of the mattress.
Now he props his feet up and leans back against the footboard.
“I have to ask,” he says. “What were you doing at that woman’s apartment?”
“I’m not entirely sure.”
“How did you know her?”
I fight to hide the tears and rage.