“North California Avenue.”
“North California. And bring your checkbook. Has Charlie already left for school?”
“I want you to pick him up and bring him with you when you come to get me. This is very—”
“I am not bringing my son to get his father out of jail. What the hell happened, Jason?”
Officer Hammond raps his knuckles on the Plexiglas and moves a finger across his throat.
I say, “My time’s up. Please get here as soon as you can.”
“I love you so much.”
She hangs up.
My lonely holding cell consists of a paper-thin mattress on a concrete base.
Camera over the door, watching me.
I lie in bed with the jail-issue blanket draped over me and stare at a patch of ceiling that I’m guessing has been studied by all manner of people in the throes of despair and hopelessness and poor decision-making.
What runs through my mind are the innumerable things that might go wrong, that could so easily stop Daniela from coming to me.
She could call Jason2 on his cell phone.
He could call her between classes just to say hi.
One of the other Jasons could decide to make his move.
If any one of those things happens, this entire plan will blow up spectacularly in my face.
My stomach hurts.
My heart is racing.
I try to calm myself down, but there’s no stopping the fear.
I wonder if any of my doppelgängers have anticipated this move. I try to take comfort in the idea that they couldn’t have. If I hadn’t seen that belligerent drunk at the bar last night, obnoxiously hitting on those women and getting thrown out by the bouncer, it would never have occurred to me to get myself arrested as a ploy to make Daniela and Charlie come to me in a safe environment.
What led to this decision was a unique experience that was mine alone.
Then again, I could be wrong.
I could be wrong about everything.
I get up, pace back and forth between the toilet and the bed, but there’s not much ground to cover in this six-by-eight-foot cell, and the more I pace, the more the walls seem to inch in closer until I can actually feel the claustrophobia of this room as a tightening in my chest.
It’s getting harder to breathe.
I move finally to the tiny window at eye level in the door.
Peer through into a sterile white hallway.
The sound of a woman crying in one of the neighboring cells echoes off the cinder-block walls.
She sounds so far beyond hope.
I wonder if it’s the same woman I saw in the booking room when I first arrived.
A guard walks by, holding another inmate by his arm above the elbow.
Returning to the bed, I curl up under the blanket and face the wall and try not to think, but it’s impossible.
It feels like hours have passed.
Why could it possibly be taking this long?
I can only think of one explanation.
She isn’t coming.
The door to my cell unlocks with a mechanized jolt that spikes my heart rate.
I sit up.
The baby-faced guard standing in the doorway says, “You get to go home, Mr. Dessen. Your wife just posted bail.”
He leads me back to the booking room, where I sign some papers I don’t even bother to read.
They return my shoes and escort me through a series of corridors.
As I push through the doors at the end of the last hallway, my breath catches in my throat and my eyes sheet over with tears.
Of all the places I imagined our reunion finally happening, the lobby of the 14th District Precinct wasn’t one of them.
Daniela rises from her chair.
Not a Daniela who doesn’t know me, or is married to another man, or another version of me.
The one, the only.
She’s wearing the shirt she sometimes paints in—a faded blue button-down spattered with oil and acrylic—and when she sees me her face screws up with confusion and disbelief.
I rush to her across the lobby, wrapping my arms around her, and she’s saying my name, saying it like something isn’t adding up, but I don’t let go, because I can’t let go. Thinking—the worlds I’ve come through, the things I’ve done, endured, suffered, to get back into the arms of this woman.
I can’t believe how good it feels to touch her.
To breathe the same air.
To smell her.
Feel the voltage of my skin against hers.
I frame her face in my hands.
I kiss her mouth.
Those lips—so maddeningly soft.
But she pulls away.
And then pushes me away, her hands against my chest, her brow deeply furrowed.
“They told me you were arrested for smoking a cigar in a restaurant, and that you wouldn’t…” Her train of thought derails. She studies my face like there’s something wrong with it, her fingers running through two weeks’ worth of stubble. Of course there’s something wrong with it—it’s not the face she woke up to today. “You didn’t have a beard this morning, Jason.” She looks me up and down. “You’re so thin.” She touches my ragged, filthy shirt. “These aren’t the clothes you left the house in.”
I can see her trying to process it all and coming up blank.
“Did you bring Charlie?” I ask.
“No. I told you I wasn’t going to. Am I losing my mind or—?”
“You’re not losing your mind.”
Gently, I take her by the arm and pull her over to a couple of straight-backed chairs in a small waiting area.
I say, “Let’s sit for a minute.”
“I don’t want to sit, I want you to—”
“Do you trust me?” I ask.
“I don’t know. This is all…scaring me.”
“I’ll explain everything, but first I need you to call a cab.”
“My car is parked two blocks—”
“We’re not walking to your car.”
“It’s not safe out there for us.”
“What are you talking about?”