Read Anterograde Online

Authors: Kallysten

Anterograde (17 page)

Eli,
his nerves frayed from the situation with Calden, might have been a little
short with the soldiers. They might in return have made difficulties, so that
in the end he had to resort to his trump card and call Lana on her direct line.
Bothering the general in charge of all city forces during an attack was not, as
a rule, a good idea, although Eli was lucky enough that she expressed her
displeasure toward the patrol rather than him.

Thirty-two
minutes after Samford’s call, he was standing on the threshold of a staff room,
watching Calden sleep, his arms folded on the table and his head pillowed on them.

“I’m
sorry,” Samford said quietly. “I wasn’t even gone for five minutes. I went to
get coffee. He was pacing when I left, so I didn’t think…”

Her
voice trailed off when Eli shook his head. “No reason for you to be sorry. Either
he crashed because he pushed himself too hard, or like you said he was trying
to skirt the rules. Whichever it was, he’s responsible, not us.”

Even
as he said it, he couldn’t help but blame himself. If he’d only stayed …

But
there was no point in wishing things could be different. This was the situation
they were in, and they’d have to deal with it. There was simply no way around
that.

“And
you absolutely need him for that surgery?” he asked quietly.

“Once
we open her up, it’ll be a race. We do need four hands, but they don’t have to
be his. Especially if he’s running on less than an hour of sleep.”

Eli
observed her critically. “How much have
you
slept in the past two days?”

She
shrugged.

“Would
you trust him by your side if his illness had never happened and he was running
on an hour of sleep for four days awake?” he asked.

She
did not hesitate for a second. “Over any other doctor in this hospital.”

Eli
glanced at his watch. Assuming Samford had called him right away, Calden had
been asleep for about forty minutes.

“Can
the girl wait twenty more minutes?” he asked. “That’ll give him a full hour.
It’s not enough, but it’s at least something.”

Samford
looked torn, but in the end she agreed. Eli had a feeling that, without Calden
there, the girl didn’t have a chance, even if Samford wasn’t saying so. Everything
was a matter of time now.

Twenty
minutes felt like an eternity as Eli kept watch over Calden. Far too soon he laid
a hand on Calden’s shoulder and gently shook him awake.

Blinking
owlishly, Calden raised his head and looked up at Eli, his brow already
tightening in confusion.

“Eli?
What…”

He
blinked a few times as he looked around, and Eli could see the realization come
over him that he was at the hospital but had no idea how or when he’d gotten
there.

“Calden,
do you trust me?” Eli asked quietly.

Those
confused, sleepy eyes turned back to him. “Trust… Yes, I… What—”

“Then
come with me, please.”

Eli
offered Calden his hand. Despite everything, he couldn’t quite stifle a smile
when Calden took it after only the briefest of hesitations and let himself be
pulled to his feet. Without thinking, Eli linked their fingers together and led
Calden to the nearest bathroom. Under the glow of harsh fluorescent lights Calden
seemed paler, the circles under his eyes, darker.

“I
need you to take off your coat and your top,” Eli said, pulling his own over
his head and holding it to his chest. “I know you’re confused, but you’ll start
to understand as soon as you look at your arm, I promise.”

With
a look of complete bewilderment, Calden shrugged out of his white coat. His
frown deepened when he took in the words on his arm, tracing them with a
finger. He looked up at Eli, his tongue briefly wetting his lips before he
asked very low, “How long ago?”

“Four
months,” Eli said calmly. “It’s October now. You’ve been doing really well. Saving
lives, composing, arguing with your mother. Just like nothing happened. I live
with you now. Help you remember what you need to know. And also…” He gestured
at Calden’s chest. “There’s something else, but you need to see it for
yourself.”

Calden’s
fingers were shaking when he pulled his scrubs over his head. He looked down,
and quickly noticed the tattoo. He faced the wide mirror on the wall, and Eli
watched his lips move as he read the words silently. When he turned a questioning
look to Eli, Eli was ready for him, exposing his own tattoos, proving without a
word that, yes, it was real. Yes, something terrible had happened to Calden,
but that didn’t mean good things couldn’t still happen.

Again,
he mouthed the words, and a slight smile curled his lips.

“How
long for that?” he asked, even more quietly than before.

Eli
smiled back. “It’ll be one month tomorrow.”

Calden’s
smile widened. Eli always tried to let him make the first step and move at his
own pace, but right now he’d have given just about anything to kiss him. He
might even have done it if Samford hadn’t knocked twice on the door before pushing
it open, though without peeking in.

“I’m
sorry,” she called out, “but we can’t wait any longer. I’m starting to scrub in
now.”

The
door swung shut again. Eli covered himself, motioning for Calden to do the
same.

“If
she’s scrubbing in,” Calden said, sounding as though he were musing aloud, “and
if she’s telling us, it means I’m due for surgery. Correct?”

Eli
nodded and told him what he knew, including the part about Calden probably
choosing to fall asleep so that he’d be allowed to perform the surgery.

What
he didn’t say, what he couldn’t have said because he simply didn’t know, was
that the girl, even with her face half covered by an oxygen mask and her hair
hidden in a cap, could have passed for Riley’s twin more than Calden himself could.
Everyone in the operating room who had ever laid eyes on Riley could tell that,
at the moment Calden saw her, he saw someone else lying there, someone he’d
never had the opportunity to even try to save. And everyone who watched him
work alongside Samford for the next four hours could tell that he’d have given
anything, done anything to save the patient.

Samford
called time of death just a little after six in the morning. She left the room
first, looking older than Eli had ever seen her. The nurses and
anesthesiologist followed. Calden remained, standing over the bloodied body of
a woman he’d never met until that day. Coming up behind him, Eli laid a gentle
hand on his shoulder, causing Calden to startle.

“How
long?” he asked for the third time that night, his gaze never lifting from her
bloodied body. “How long was I asleep?”

Eli
tightened his hand and tried to guide him away. “Calden…”

Calden
refused to budge. “How long, Eli?” he snapped, and his voice echoed in the deserted
room.

“An
hour,” Eli answered with a sigh. His hand slid down to Calden’s arm, hoping the
touch would help anchor him. “You’d been awake for close to five days. You
needed the rest.”

Without
warning, Calden wrenched his arm free and strode toward the door. Rather than
pushing it open, however, he punched the wall next to it. Something inside Eli
ached as though Calden had just struck him.

“You
said I still save lives.” Calden’s voice was utterly blank, his eyes flat and
empty. “How can I do that, how can I do
anything
if I fall asleep when
I’m needed in the OR?”

“You
do help.” Eli took Calden’s wrist, raising his hand to check the damage. Just
bruising. “You save lives. But you’re not God, not any more than you were
before June. You’ve got a diary. A record of your most interesting patients.
Let’s go home and you can see—”

“Yes,
home,” Calden said, turning away and pulling free from Eli. “There’s nothing to
do here. No point in staying.”

He
stepped out. Eli watched him go, aching for him, unsure what to do to help.
When he followed, he found an exhausted-looking Langton in the hallway.

“Is
he okay?” he asked, briefly resting a hand on Eli’s arm.

“He’ll
be fine,” Eli murmured. “Once he forgets, he’ll be fine.”

At
the end of the hallway, Calden’s silhouette had stilled. He wasn’t looking
back, but he was clearly waiting. Eli said his goodbyes and went to him, trying
not to wonder if things would have been different if he’d remained at the
hospital with Calden, if he’d awakened him as soon as he’d arrived,
if

Calden
would forget, and as Eli had said, he’d be fine.

And
Eli would be fine, too, because blaming himself wouldn’t help Calden in the
least. But damn, sometimes he wished he could forget, too.

 

(
next chronological chapter
)

 

 

July 5
th

 

 

Calden
flicks through the handful of post-it notes again, scowling.

“Is
that all?” he sneers, directing a frown toward Eli.

“That’s
all of it, yes,” Eli confirms, shifting uncomfortably in his chair. “Is there
something else you want to write down? I’ve got a block of sticky notes here.”

Calden
scoffs, though he doesn’t reply. Over a month has passed, and all he has is
this: a few squares of paper with random notes in his handwriting. One of them
warns him not to criticize Eli’s cooking.

Another,
more interesting note, dated of only a few days ago, mentions that he shouldn’t
discuss his illness with Eli as Eli blames himself for what happened. That’s
good to know, if wholly incomplete: why on Earth would Eli blame himself? And
how can Calden fully understand what happened if he’s not allowed to ask
questions?

“Why
am I writing these?” he asks, dropping the stack of sticky notes on the floor
and flinging himself down onto the sofa. “It’s ridiculous! Why would you make
me do that?”

This
time, it’s a full glare he directs at Eli, who rolls his eyes in reply.

“As
if I could make you do anything,” he says, exasperated. “You thought it’d help.
We watched this movie together. The character has the same condition you have
and he manages it with notes, pictures, and tattoos and—”

“You
made me watch a movie in which
tattoos
play a role?” Calden interrupts.
“And you say you can’t make me do anything!”

Eli
takes in a deep breath. His lips tighten to a thin line for a few moments.


You
decided to watch the movie,” he finally says. “I researched anterograde amnesia
and saw specialists praised the movie as a fairly accurate depiction of what
it’s like, and when I mentioned it, you decided to watch it.”

Calden
throws his hands up. “Why would I do that? I know what it’s like!”

His
voice rises as he speaks, and he ends up on a shout. He’s not mad at Eli, per
se, just at the whole situation. He woke up two hours ago to find Eli waiting for
him in the living room, and the pleasant surprise of seeing him quickly faded.
It’s not his fault, Calden knows that, but as the bearer of bad news, he’s an
all too convenient target. And presumably, a frequent target, too; Eli watches
him with the same sad resignation in his eyes as when he first told Calden
about the amnesia.

“Of
course you know what it’s like,” Eli says, and his voice takes on that
soothing, ‘I’m a doctor and I will fix this if you let me’ tone Calden knows
very well even if he never bothered developing it himself. “We’ve been trying
to find a way to make things easier on you when you wake up, and the sticky
notes were an attempt at that. Clearly it’s not working.”

The
last is said with that same resignation again, and that’s wrong, that’s so
completely wrong that it makes Calden angry again. Eli shouldn’t sound like
that, like life has dealt him an insurmountable blow—especially since Calden is
the one with an incurable ‘condition.’ Eli is stronger than that, a rock,
unmovable, indomitable. Or at least, that’s what he should be. Seeing him like
this makes all of it even worse.

Unable
to face the pain on Eli’s features, Calden turns around, pressing his face to
the back of the sofa, presenting his back to a world he wants no part of.

“Think
of it as an experimental treatment,” Eli continues. “It failed. Figure out why,
and how to improve it so next time it works.”

The
armchair creaks softly when he stands. He crosses the room, briefly resting a
hand on Calden’s shoulder before walking into the kitchen. The spot where he
touched feels warm long after his hand has retreated.

An
experimental treatment, Calden repeats to himself as he listens to the oddly
comforting sounds of Eli making coffee. Yes, it helps if he thinks of the notes
that way. He now knows that they’re frustrating rather than helpful because
they follow no pattern, are by necessity too short, and he can hardly add to
them on those ridiculously small squares. The medium is clearly ill-fitted for
the desired effect, but keeping notes does seem necessary. Eli can tell him
what he needs to know, but he depends on Calden’s questions, and some questions
Calden doesn’t care to ask him, not when they’re likely to bring back that
resigned look Calden already hates so much.

“Sit
up. I made coffee.”

Calden
does sit up, though he doesn’t take the mug Eli hands him and instead stands,
going out to his office across the hall. He starts riffling through his desk
drawers, pulling out stacks of papers and medical journals he leaves on the
floor in haphazard piles.

“What
are you doing?” Eli asks with a sigh from the doorway, but already Calden has
found what he wanted.

He
sets the spiral-bound notebook on the desk, opens it flat and rips away the
first few pages—staff meeting notes, taken back in the days before he realized the
depth of Petters’ idiocy. He hardly needs those anymore. It still leaves him a
hundred or so pages, more than enough. Next he finds a couple of pens and
returns to the sofa, his dressing gown flaring behind him, Eli following with a
mug of coffee in each hand. He asks something about the coffee, but Calden is
too focused on what he’s doing to actually hear the question.

Thinking
about the situation, it doesn’t take him long to identify the thing that
frustrates him the most. He understands his diagnosis, but he knows very little
about how it came to be. At the top of the first page, he writes,
Illness
and treatment
. He skips a couple of pages. The next topic is just as
obvious.
Living conditions
, he writes, but what he means—and he’s sure
he’ll know it next time he opens the notebook after waking up—is
Eli
. The
how and why of Eli living with him. How not to bring that resigned, defeated
look back to his face.

There’ll
be more, no doubt, but this is a good start.

He
looks up from the notebook to find that Eli has left the mug meant for him on
the coffee table before sitting back down in his armchair with his own.

“New
experimental treatment?” Eli asks in between two sips.

Calden
nods impatiently as he turns back to the first page. He’s about to start asking
questions when something occurs to him. This notebook, if it works, will serve
as an annex to his mind, storing what he can’t recall any other way. But there
are many things in his mind he wouldn’t care to share with others, and
presumably it will be true for this, too.

“I
need a promise from you,” he says, annoyed that he even needs to ask. “You
can’t read this. It’ll only work if I don’t have to be concerned about my
thoughts being read by others.”

Eli
doesn’t question this, or the purpose of the notebook. He only gives a slight
nod. “If you want my word, you have it.”

It’s
silly, of course. If Eli breaks his promise, Calden is not likely to know it,
nor will he even remember asking Eli for his word. But Eli
will
remember, and his moral compass was always without fault.

For
the next hour or so, Calden asks Eli details about his illness, its treatment,
his stay in the hospital, all the things Eli didn’t explain when Calden woke
up. Eli looks increasingly pained, but he answers every question.

“Why
didn’t you tell me all of this when I woke up?” Calden asks as he looks up from
writing in the notebook. “You just gave me the overview, and that wasn’t
anywhere near enough.”

Eli
shrugs, then glances away. “I’ve done it before. You don’t seem to like being
given too many details all at once. You seem calmer when you get to ask the
questions rather than when you’re just given answers.”

Calden
thinks about it for a moment. No, that’s not it. It’s all information, and he
doesn’t think he would mind if it was dumped on him rather than parceled out.
The issue, he thinks, is the tightness at the corners of Eli’s eyes. It’s that
note that warns not to discuss the illness with him. It hurts Eli to talk about
this, and it hurts Calden to see him in such discomfort, especially since he
doesn’t understand its cause.

“Why
do you mind telling me about all this?” he asks abruptly.

Eli
gives him a grim smile. “Why do I mind telling you the same thing day after
day?”

Is
it the repetition? Calden considers that, but quickly dismisses the notion. Eli
would have known what he was agreeing to when he moved in.

“There’s
more to it,” he says decisively. “What else bothers you?”

The
smile grows grimmer still. “What else?” he asks quietly. “Every day I get to
tell my best friend, the most brilliant man I know, that part of his brain is
locked away and inaccessible to him. And every day it feels like telling Van
Gogh he’s not allowed to paint anymore. How could I
not
be bothered by
it?”

Calden’s
mouth opens, although he has no idea what to say. He closes it again and looks
down at the notebook, flipping to the second page. It’s still blank. Even with
what Eli promised, Calden doesn’t dare write what he wants.

Eli
still thinks I’m brilliant.

“I’m
terrible with a paintbrush,” he says, glancing up, and is glad when Eli relaxes
a tiny bit. “But I’ll perform surgery again. There’s no reason why I wouldn’t.”

He
wishes Eli’s small nod and his murmured, “Of course,” didn’t seem like tokens
offered to appease him.

He
needs to find a way to fix things, he decides, so that this whole process goes
faster and more smoothly, and so that Eli doesn’t have to tell him again,
doesn’t have to hurt himself, over and over. The notebook will help, but will
it be enough? He might not always have it with him, and besides it might take a
while to read as it grows longer, while Calden knows quite well he can get
impatient if he doesn’t get the facts he wants right away. He taps the pen onto
the notebook, thinking. After a while, he asks, “That movie that started the
notes. What was it? Do we still have it?”

Five
minutes later, Eli has popped a disc in the reader and the title credits roll
up on the television. Calden stifles a sigh, preparing to be bored.

By
the time the end credits start, he has to admit that it wasn’t
that
bad.
If anything, the dual timelines helped make the storyline a little less dull
and predictable. And while the notes idea didn’t help, maybe something else
would…

Shutting
off the television, he leans back on the sofa to think, to weigh the pros and
cons. For one thing, needles are involved, and while Calden is hardly afraid of
those, the connotations are less than helpful in his present state of mind.
There’s also the fact that he was always loath to mark his body in such an
indelible manner. One small way in which he and Riley were different…

“So?”
Eli asks, coming back into the room after he begged off from watching the movie
again. “What did you think of it?”

He
didn’t want to watch it, Calden realizes, because the subject hits too close to
home. And that’s the only pro Calden needs.

“I
am going to get a tattoo,” he says, sitting up.

Eli
looks at him with unmasked surprise. “You are? Huh. Last time you scoffed at
the mere thought of it.”

“Last
time,” Calden retorts, “I thought sticky notes would be enough. Clearly I can
be wrong.”

If
nothing else, the admission draws a small smile to Eli’s lips. He has always
enjoyed hearing Calden admit he was wrong. Nice to see that this, at least,
hasn’t changed.

“So
what are you going to get?”

The
answer is easy. “My diagnosis. On my arm, where I can see it easily. From now
on, rather than telling me, you’ll direct me to look at my arm, then at the
notebook. I will still have questions, but they should be less numerous, making
the waking process easier for both of us.”

Eli
mulls over that for a moment and finally gives a small shrug. “Well, I hope it
works because it’s rather final. Maybe you could just write it in marker, see
how that goes for a few days?”

“No.
I’d know it’s only temporary and I’d question why. It has to be permanent.”
After a second or two, he adds, “And it has to be in my own handwriting.”

He
tries to imagine it—imagine himself waking up, finding Eli in his house again,
being told to look at the words on his arm… Or maybe he’ll see the words first
and have time to come to grips with that reality before he talks to anyone.
Either way, it should be better than, “Please sit down, Calden. We need to
talk,” offered with a painful smile.

An
hour later, they’re at a small tattoo parlor across town, and if the owner
looks a little perplexed by Calden’s request, he agrees easily enough. While he
prepares the stencil, Eli says, sotto voce, “This is just a one-time thing,
right? You’re not going to have bits and pieces tattooed on you every time you
wake up like in the movie, are you?”

Calden
shakes his head. “Of course not. But it might not be the only tattoo. Something
else might be important enough.”

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