Read Anterograde Online

Authors: Kallysten

Anterograde (5 page)

“Do
you still see it?” Caroline asks suddenly. “Or hear it?”

Calden’s
head jerks up. “What?”

But
his surprise comes less from the fact that Caroline asked than the realization
that, no, he doesn’t hear or see
Riley
anymore. He’s afraid to think too much about it and
wonder about the why, afraid
Riley will
come back.

Caroline
lets out a sigh of blue smoke. “Your hallucinations. You said ‘shut up,’ so I’m
thinking you heard something. You wouldn’t look at the corner of the room, so
you were seeing it too. Or are still seeing it. What is it, Calden? Do you want
to talk about it now that
we have five
minutes
?”

Calden
shakes his head, ready to let the topic drop, but he can’t help but ask, “Have
you asked before?”

Caroline
nods as she takes another long drag on her cigarette.

“I’m
guessing I never answered, or you wouldn’t keep asking.”

“Or
maybe you did answer,” Caroline retorts, “and I want to know if it’s the same
hallucination. You’re still my patient.”

Calden
snorts. “No, I’m not. And I didn’t. I wouldn’t…”

He
trails off as a thought comes to him. He wouldn’t tell Caroline or anyone else
he hallucinates about
Riley
telling him to kill himself—and he won’t put it in
the diary in case Eli reads it. He said he doesn’t, but really, how can Calden
know for sure? He doesn’t even want to put it in code in the diary, because
that’s the first thing he’ll read when he wakes up next time, and maybe reading
what form his hallucinations take might turn into a case of self-fulfilling prophecy.
But if he gave himself a clue through Caroline, he might know if he’s right in
thinking they’re always the same. He thinks for a second; it’s not difficult to
think of a clue obscure enough for others but clear enough for himself.

“Next
time I mention hallucinations,” he says, getting close enough to Caroline that
he can breathe in a bit of secondhand smoke and realize that, no, he hasn’t
taken up smoking again, “I need you to say this, precisely. Are you paying
attention?”

Caroline
stands a little straighter. She nods. “Do you want me to write it down?”

Calden
makes an impatient gesture. “If you need to. Just say this: ‘
Is nine enough
?’”

Frowning,
Caroline mouths the words. It’s clear she wants to ask what it means, but even
if she did, he’d hardly explain to her what he’d confessed Riley, a year or so
before her death: that he was in love with Eli, and that out of ten, he was a
solid nine. “Is nine enough?” she’d asked, teasing. He’d teased right back.
“He’d have to be my twin to be a ten.”

Before
Caroline can say a word, Eli’s voice rises behind Calden.

“Someone
asked for a ride
home?”

Not
bothering even with a goodbye to Caroline, Calden turns around. Eli is standing
by the open door of
his car
. His eyes look bruised, the shadows under them too
deep, but he’s smiling softly. Without thinking, Calden smiles back.

“Home
sounds like a rather smashing idea,” he says, climbing into the car. Eli follows
after a quick goodbye to Caroline and a quieter, “Three days. At least. Tell Doctor
Langton
, would you?”

If Caroline
responds, Calden can’t hear it. He doesn’t ask Eli what that means. It’s fairly
obvious. The hospital won’t call for his help for at least three days,
presumably so Calden can catch up on sleep. He bites the inside of his cheek
rather than protesting. He needs the sleep; he knows that. He just wishes he
didn’t need to be mothered like this.

Just
a block away from the hospital, they are flagged down to stop at a
check point
. On
an attack night, cars are only allowed on the roads with special dispensation,
which Eli produces for the soldier standing by the car with a rifle in hand. They
only carry rifles inside the city; bullets have no effect on demons. Soon,
they’re on their way again.

“So
how did that reattachment surgery go
?” Eli asks, his voice so composed that there’s no
hint of the fact that, two years ago, it wasn’t just his hand but his entire
arm that Calden reattached during a marathon surgery. The same arm with which
he now shifts gears before reaching
out
to Calden’s hand and wrapping his fingers around it.

He’s
been doing this since Calden woke up,
but
it still feels odd. Odd and pleasant and strangely familiar, too. It’s like Calden’s
hand remembers the feel of Eli’s, its warmth, the way it presses gently without
being overwhelming, even when Calden’s mind insists this is all new.


Just routine,” Calden says
, and proceeds to tell Eli everything about it, then
about the holes Caroline must already be drilling in that man’s skull, because
if he stops talking, surely he’ll fall asleep, and that can’t happen, not now,
not yet.

“You’re
a genius,” Eli whispers when Calden is done. “Do you know that?”

“If
I did, I must have forgotten,” Calden replies, then smiles, just a little, to
show Eli he’s joking. “Clearly you don’t say it often enough. Getting used to
my brilliance?”

Eli
laughs and
takes Calden’s hand more fully
in his, entwining their fingers and
squeezing
lightly. “Not likely. You just like hearing it too much for your own good so I
have to pace myself.”

But
Calden isn’t listening. He’s looking at Eli’s hand, wrapped around his own as
though it’s the most natural thing in the world. And maybe it is. The words
inked over Calden’s chest certainly hint that this happens on a fairly regular
basis
, and probably a great deal more
. But it
still feels
new and too good to be true
.

“Ca
l
den?” Eli says
quietly as he gives another small squeeze to his hand. “Is this all right?”

Calden
nods once, hesitantly, then again with more determination.

“It’s
fine.
Really… good
.”

Eli
laughs again.
Calden loves that sound.

“You
looked elsewhere for
a
moment
.”

“No,
I’m here,” Calden says
, and his voice
sounds oddly rough.
“I’m with you.”

“I
know,” Eli
said, taking his eyes off the
road to flash him a smile
.

His
hand
shifts, turns
over, and now they’re palm to palm, fingers entwined.
His skin is warm against Calden’s. If Calden still believed in
God
, he’d thank
him, her, or them that he can see
his house
just up the street
.

 

(
next chronological chapter
)

 

June 27
th

 

 

Eli
sat in
the
armchair
that was one of the few
possessions he’d brought into Calden’s house when he moved in
, stared at nothing in particular, and sipped from a
glass of whiskey. It might have been his second, maybe his third. He’d decided
not to count.

As
a rule, he didn’t drink much. He’d witnessed firsthand how enjoying just a
drink every now and then to relieve the pressure of working on the frontline could
too quickly turn into bartering all of one’s ration tickets for alcohol. Every
once in a great while, though, indulging was nice. Tonight, he had what was, in
his opinion, the best of excuses.

As
he was raising the tumbler to his lips again, he heard noise from Ca
l
den’s bedroom.
He glanced at his watch: four hours. He heaved a sigh. Ca
l
den had been
tiring easily since coming out of the hospital ten days earlier, and he rarely
went more than a full day without sleep. But when he did sleep, it was never
for long enough. Doctor Bonneville had warned Eli this might happen, and there
was a bottle of sleeping pills on Ca
l
den’s night table—not that he ever agreed to take any.

Patterns
had already started to emerge, and Eli pulled out his phone. Right as Calden’s
footsteps started coming down the staircase, Eli’s phone chimed as a message
came in.

 

I
don’t suppose you’re still waiting
.

 

Eli
didn’t bother typing a response. Ca
l
den’s steps had stopped for a second; no doubt he’d heard
the chime of Eli’s phone. Soon, he came into the living room in his pajamas and
dressing gown, his hair in disarray, the phone in his hand.

“Eli?”

Eli
nodded at him and indicated the armchair across from him. “Have a seat, Ca
l
den. We need to
talk.”

They
needed to, yes, but Eli really didn’t feel up to it. They’d done this just that
morning, and Eli had hoped he’d get a bit more time to prepare again. Every
time he told Ca
l
den, it was harder than the last. He was sick of it
already. They’d have to find a better way. Eli supposed he’d need to be
entirely sober to figure that one out, though.

Ca
l
den looked
troubled as he sat down. He always was. Eli knew exactly why.

“The
date?” he asked after wetting his lips with whiskey.

Ca
l
den glanced at
the phone, then back at Eli, frowning briefly at the glass in his hand.

“I
guess it’d have been too much to ask you to
wait
for me
at
Lola’s
for twenty-five days,” he
said, his voice trembling ever so slightly.

Smiling
sadly, Eli nodded. An attempt at humor—that was nice.

“I’m
not that patient, no.” He observed Ca
l
den for a few seconds. “Do you want to figure it out
for yourself or do you want me to tell you?”

Ca
l
den had tried
to work it out three times; he’d never come close. The idea that his brain
might not be working exactly as it ought to was literally unthinkable to him.

“Tell
me,” he asked quietly, and Eli did.

Symptoms. Diagnosis. Encephalitis. Coma. Anterograde amnesia.
Prognosis.

They
were medical words, and as such they flowed easily off Eli’s tongue, even when
it felt a bit too heavy from the alcohol. He didn’t say he’d all but lived in Ca
l
den’s hospital
room for two weeks. He didn’t mention the dark circles under Lana’s eyes when she’d
watched Ca
l
den breathe through a machine, and the tremor in her voice when she’d
said it was something she’d hoped never to see again.

What
was the point of telling Ca
l
den just how much they’d feared for his life? That
part of the story was over now. To Ca
l
den, it had never happened, would never be more than
words, easily forgotten.

With
his fingers
linked
in front of
him,
Calden
observed Eli in silence for a long
moment after Eli had concluded with, “You went to bed four hours ago. That’s
nowhere near enough. You should try to sleep some more.”

“How
many times have you explained this to me?”
Calden
finally asked.

Eli
took a sip from his glass. The alcohol burned, giving him an excuse to grimace.
“No idea. I’m not going to keep count. Next question.”

“Are
you always the one who tells me?”

“Your
mother
tried once in the hospital.” Eli
snorted quietly. “You refused to believe her. You accused her of lying to you
about… well, about a lot of things. She was not amused.”

And
that was the understatement of the year. Lana had taken the accusation that she
was directly responsible for Riley’s death like a blow. She’d immediately put
up a good front—she wasn’t in charge of the city’s entire defense forces for
nothing—but the façade had cracked just long enough for Eli to see how much it
hurt that
the only family she had left
did not trust her; worse, that he claimed to blame
her for the death of his twin when they all knew he actually blamed himself.

“How
does it work, then?” Ca
l
den asked quietly, his eyes narrowing. He sounded like
he was talking to himself rather than Eli. “If you’re to tell me about my
condition every time I wake up, you’d need…”

His
gaze flicked over Eli
and the armchair
as his voice trailed off; Eli turned his face away as
he took another sip—the last one from this glass. He didn’t want to know what Ca
l
den saw when he
looked at him.

“You’ve
been living here,” Ca
l
den said with some degree of surprise. “How long?”

Eli
stood and retreated to the kitchen to help himself to another couple fingers of
whiskey. He could see where this conversation was going, and he was far too
sober for it.

“Since
you were released from the hospital,” he said as he returned. Sitting down
again, he scrunched up his bare toes into the carpet, waiting for Ca
l
den to
figure
it all.

“If
my condition was temporary,” Ca
l
den said slowly, “I could understand you moving in to
help for a few days. But you said the prognosis is that my memory will remain
affected, with no chance of recovering function.”

It
wasn’t a question, so Eli said nothing. Ca
l
den’s gaze felt heavier and heavier on him. He hid
behind his glass.

“How
did we go from me ruining your life by demanding too much of your time to you
resigning your job at the
hospital
and moving in with me?”

Eli
closed his eyes. Which part should he address first? God, but he didn’t want to
do this, not now, not again, not so soon after the last time. He’d thought he’d
get at least a full day.

“You
need more sleep,” he murmured. “There are sleeping pills in your bedroom. How
about—”

“No,”
Ca
l
den
cut in sharply, jumping to his feet and pacing through the room. “I’m not
tired, not in the least. I want… no, I
need
to know what happened.
Everything that happened. Everything I said. Tell me.”

“Tell
you what?” Eli snapped. “I didn’t quit my job. I took a leave of absence.
Although I am rather lucky I wasn’t fired. Apparently ‘standing guard over
comatose friend’ is not quite good enough an excuse for not doing my job, or at
least not when there are demon attacks still happening.”

Eli
took a sip at the memory of being berated by Petters right outside Calden’s
room. Calden had still been asleep then, but Lana had been there. She’d walked
out, as regal as a queen, and told Petters she had need for forceful men like
him on the frontline, and would he like to join in? His face had turned paler
than his starched medical coat. He’d never last on the frontline, and it was obvious
to all three of them at that moment. When Lana suggested that, instead, he
might take on Eli’s duties at the hospital for a few days, Petters was all too
happy to agree.

“So
your current job is… what?” Ca
l
den stopped pacing and turned a sharp look to Eli. “Home
nurse? As much a waste of your abilities as dropping surgery was
.
I hope Lana is
making it worth your while
.”

Eli
snorted. One day, Ca
l
den would react differently. One day he’d say ‘thank
you’ rather than getting annoyed that he had to rely on someone. One day… Eli
was very good at deluding himself.

“Lana
isn’t paying me. You are.” He raised his glass to Ca
l
den as though
in a toast. “I’ve got full access to your bank account and ration tickets. Your
idea. Thanks again for that, by the way.”

Ca
l
den looked
shocked. He always did at this point. “My bank account? I signed off on that?”

“Your
idea,” Eli said again. “Your mother arranged it, but I can show you your
signature on the papers. You thought it was the only way to be sure your bills
would get paid in time or that you could live here rather than in an
institution. Well, the only way other than—”

“Depending
on Lana,” Ca
l
den finished for him, now thoughtful but less
agitated. “Yes. I can see that now. It was for the best.”

“Was
it?” Eli snorted. “Can you think of no reason why it might be a hardship for me
to be
with you 24/7
?”

Frowning,
Ca
l
den
drew the robe tighter around him before plopping himself on the sofa. “If it
was that much of a hardship,” he said, “you wouldn’t have agreed.”

Eli
shook his head. He knew not to expect this. Ca
l
den had never asked about it so
far, and today, more than ever, it hardly mattered if he did. But really,
wasn’t that the sort of thing one’s best friend, whether he had his full memory
or not, would ask about?

“You’re
not going to ask what
Bryce
thinks of all this, are you?” he mumbled before
taking a deep gulp. “Of course not. What does it matter to you? You couldn’t be
bothered
to tell me what you knew about his first husband, why would it all
matter any more now?”

“If
you’d asked me,” Ca
l
den started, but Eli cut in angrily.

“Oh,
fuck
off! You knew I wouldn’t ask you. And I’d bet my right arm you knew I wasn’t
going to ask him. You weren’t trying to look out for me, you weren’t trying to
help me understand why my
husband
was pulling away from me, you were just doing what
you do best. Showing off. Showing me how much smarter you are. How blind I am.
Would it have killed you, really? Once in your life, would it have killed you
to be a good friend and say, ‘Eli, your husband’s ex cheated on him with a
woman he claimed was his best friend from all the way back to their
college
years,
so you might want to assure him you’re not going to cheat on him with your best
friend even when he calls at ridiculous hours because he needs
to pick your brain about some experimental surgery’?
Or you could have told him yourself
.”

His
throat felt too tight to continue, and he took a drink.

“How
long, Ca
l
den?” he asked, staring at the empty chair in front of him rather than
at Ca
l
den
himself. “How long have you
known he and
I were doomed?”

Bryce
had brought the divorce papers today. He
hadn’t
even
come in. He’d just left the envelope
with the mail.

“How
long?” he repeated again, now turning his eyes to Ca
l
den.

Ca
l
den’s face was
pale, bloodless, probably a better representation of how he felt than his
expressionless features.

“If
you’re implying I could have stopped your marriage from disintegrating, then
you greatly overestimate me, as unlikely as that sounds.”

“If
I’m implying anything,” Eli snapped, “it’s that you’re the reason it
disintegrated.
Calling
at all hours, barging in on us whenever you pleased.
And then you were ill, and who else was going to stay with you?
Your mother?
I
can just see that
from here
. And then you woke up, and you asked if I’d help, and
never even stopped to wonder how well my
husband
would react to that. That’s how good of a friend you
are. You assumed I’d pick you over him.”

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