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When Caleb’s eyes opened the following morning adrenaline kicked in immediately and he found himself beside the bed, crouched in a defensive posture, his heart knocking against his rib cage.
Slowly awareness crept in and he blinked several times, turning his head from side to side. What the hell? How in fuck did he get back here? His eyes landed on the twelve step poster and just as fast as the rush had hit him it evaporated, taking the strength out of his legs. He grabbed the edge of the bed to keep from falling on his face.
A pair of jeans lying in the middle of the floor in front of the bed caught his eye and he stared at them until his vision began to double, afraid to look around. Because those jeans were not what he was wearing the night before, they were what he was wearing the night before that. And right now they should be resting at the top of a bag of dirty laundry at Jake’s apartment. He squeezed his eyes shut and took a deep breath. He must still be asleep….wait, no. He should be in the hospital or dead. Oh shit. He’d OD’d. His spirit had left his body, his life had passed before his eyes just like in the movies...Okay, so they must have brought him back. The ambulance must have made it in time…but in that case he should be in a hospital bed. Or maybe he was in a hospital bed, comatose. He nodded slightly to himself, cracking open his eyes. So his injured unconscious mind had chosen this place. It made sense, after all he’d been waking up here for the past 180 days.
He threw on some clothes and headed out into the hallway, marveling at how real everything seemed. The distinct smell of bleach and ammonia from the cleaning products the night janitor used, the smudges on the wall where dirty hands had made contact, the handicapped railing with the fake chipped brass…it amazed him that his mind had saved these small details.
He entered the cafeteria and within moments of being there his brain processed two things, A: He must’ve paid a lot more attention to the other “patients” then he'd realized based on the details he noticed now and B: his cracked out mind had decided to relive the day before.
Everything was the same, all of the conversations, Dr. Douchebag walking in and talking to different people at different tables…shit, couldn’t he have chosen a better day to relive? Then again he supposed it was fitting for him to relive the day he nearly died. He wandered outdoors and sat on the picnic table, lighting up a cigarette, trying to decide how he felt about surviving. Perhaps that was the point of this, to determine whether or not it was worth fighting for life. Maybe if he decided it wasn’t his body would let go, bring him back to that floating place of peace…he frowned, it hadn’t been all that peaceful in the end. He shook his head, refusing to acknowledge the why of that.
He watched several others usher outside and recalled how he’d walked away at this moment. He was suddenly curious about what conversations his mind would conjure up for them since he hadn’t stayed to hear them yesterday.
“So you’re going home to Ohio?” Alesha asked Bob, hitching up pants that were threatening to show her over-sized ass.
Bob nodded with a big crooked-toothed smile. “My mother is so excited, she’s planned a party and invited the entire neighborhood.”
Caleb’s brow shot up, an involuntary laugh erupting from him. The group turned toward him.
“What’s funny about that?” Karen with the horse-face demanded.
“Ah, how old are you Bob? Forty-five?” Caleb asked.
“Forty-one,” the balding man answered defensively.
“Forty-one.” His gaze slid to Karen. “And you wonder why it’s amusing to overhear that Bob’s mommy is throwing him a “you did it!” party?”
Karen opened her mouth and Bob stopped her, putting a hand on her arm. “It’s okay. Obviously Caleb doesn’t have anyone to do the same for him. Don’t be mad at him for that, feel sorry for him.” Both Karen and Alesha nodded, their expressions solemn.
Caleb stared at them, his mouth quirking up. Just what was his subconscious trying to say? That he secretly wished he had people who cared about him? An image of Lissa flashed across his mind and his amusement died. Fuck that, he did not give a shit about her. She could rot in hell for all he cared. His throat was suddenly tight, a small voice in his head attempting to call him a liar, and he jumped off the table striding toward the door. He went straight to his room and grabbed his wallet and phone, dialing his buddy.
“Hey man, I’m ready to go.”
“I thought it was….
“Change of plans, come get me now.”
“Okay bro, see you in a few.”
He strode out the front doors and kept right on walking until he was off the grounds. There was no way he was reliving that stupid fucking meeting when none of this was real anyway. Except…if this wasn’t real then why the hell did the waiting seem to take just as long as it usually did? He paced back and forth on the side of the road, a light breeze drying up the sweat that had formed on his brow. Laughter bubbled up as he noticed this, as well as noticing that it was shaping up to be a very warm July day. Too much detail, he thought. What if he was wrong about the coma thing, what if today was actually Thursday and he’d only dreamed that he’d lived through it already? And he was skipping out before receiving his release papers. Fuck. But the conversations in the cafeteria…but weren’t they fairly generic? Stuff about starting a new life…suddenly he wasn’t so sure. He swore violently and redialed Jake.
“Hey, be there in about ten bro….
“Yeah, cool, I might be a few more minutes though. Sorry I jumped the gun but I’m just itching to get the fuck out of here and now Dr. Douchebag wants a private conversation…anyway just hang out a little okay?”
“Uh, yeah sure man, I’ll be there.”
“Thanks.” He hung up and jogged back to the building, pushing the doors open and attempting to enter the conference room as quietly as possible. Of course the doc noticed, though he didn’t make a public point at least. He didn’t even single him out like he had yester…in his dream or whatever the fuck it was. However he did skip him when it was his turn to be called up for his walking papers. Shit. When the last of them walked out he made his way to the front, the doc waiting expectantly.
“I’m sorry I was late,” he said, his gut twisting with the apology.
The doc nodded slowly, “Would you like to tell me why?”
Fuck. He swallowed his pride in the interest of getting the hell out of there. “Yeah,” he sighed, looking down at the floor. “It occurred to me this morning as I looked at the poster on the wall, that I hadn’t actually completed them all. And I got stuck on it, you know, particularly the step for making amends.” He looked up, injecting what he hoped was a sincere look on his face. “Because the one I want to make amends with is no longer in the land of the living. And I guess I was pissed about that one for a while. I almost walked out of here and fucked everything up, but then I realized who I really needed to make amends with was the kid I used to be before I went off the rails.”
The doc nodded, a sympathetic look pasted on his face. “I am very glad to hear you say this Caleb, I was concerned that you hadn’t gotten what you needed out of this program. But it sounds like you are on your way.”
“Yeah,” he responded quickly, “thanks to you. I know I never really contributed, but I always listened.” He nearly threw up in his mouth and was amazed it didn’t show on his face. But the guy seemed to buy it, giving him his papers and offering congratulations. By the time he left the building his throat burned from the bile that had threatened to erupt past the forced smile. He spotted Jake's car and lengthened his stride. When he reached it he opened the passenger door, slid in, and shut it all in one fluid motion.
Jake was grinning as he handed him a cold one,
Man, I bet you're glad to be the hell out of there!
Caleb cracked the beer and took several long swallows and belched loudly, giving Jake a wise-ass smile knowing he'd take that combo as an answer. Because what he was thinking was what the hell were the odds that Jake would do and say verbatim what he'd done and said in his dream? Purgatory whispered through his mind and he took another long swallow of the cold carbonated beverage to settle his stomach which was suddenly tossing around.
You okay man? You're awfully quiet, Jake glanced at him then back at the road, a hint of concern in his expression.
Caleb studied his friend for a moment, taking in his light brown hair that was in need of a cut...and a wash, the slight smattering of acne across his cheek, the nose that had been broken transforming a fairly attractive face into a less attractive but more interesting one. The earnest but perpetually lost looking brown eyes.
Caleb? Jake prompted, the worry more evident now.
Caleb took a deep breath and blew it out,
Yeah man, I'm fine, just adjusting to the idea of freedom.
Jake's face relaxed as he nodded,
I get that, I felt that way after that sixty day stint I did in county.
I remember, Caleb said softly before finishing off the rest of his beer.
Don't worry, you'll be back in the swing of things in no time, Jake told him confidently.
Caleb breathed a laugh,
No doubt. He turned and leaned in between the seats, grabbing another beer from the back and cracking it as he resettled.
A few more of these I'll by right as rain bro, no worries.
Caleb fiddled with the dial for the radio until it was pumping out some rock, he started playing air drums and singing along which further relaxed his friend.
This is who he was to the people of his acquaintance, the guy who never let anything bother him for long, the guy who made jokes, who treated life as a joke.
But the question that was trying to push its way to the front of his mind,*Who am I to myself?*for that he turned the volume up full blast and drained his beer. Succeeding, for the moment, in drowning the voice out.