Saturday Morning: Present
My ID is lying to me. I don’t know how I know this, but I do. Just like I know the square root of 168 is 12.961, etc. Though, to be fair, I don’t know how I know that either.
With one hand, I squeeze the plastic rectangle that declares I am Sophia Hernandez, a student at Robert Treat College. With the other, I grasp the public restroom sink to keep from falling over.
The air is loud and thick. Behind me, swarms of women come and go, jostling each other for sink and dryer access. They’re all strangers. It occurs to me that any one of them could be a threat, but again, I don’t know why I think this.
I need to breathe. The brown tile floor blurs as I fight for composure. Once more I check the ID, then the mirror. Same dark hair and eyes. Same face. But I am not Sophia, whoever she is. The name fits wrong, like a pair of jeans too wide in the waist, too narrow in the hips. I like it, and it’s a good style, but it’s made for someone else’s body.
“Honey, are you all right?”
I jump. The woman speaking to me isn’t familiar either. “I’m fine. Thanks.”
My voice is confident and strong, everything I’m not feeling. But the lie comes easily, unlike my name.
Get out of here. They’re coming. Don’t trust her. Don’t trust anyone.
I shiver at the stray thought, which is growing more persistent. Buzzing in the back of my brain. My legs quiver with the urge to run.
“You sure?” the woman asks. “That’s a nasty cut you’ve got.”
I nod and turn my attention from the ID to the gash over my left eye. Blood sticks to my forehead, still wet. I don’t remember how I got hurt, but it stings like a bitch. “Yeah, I’m sure.”
I stuff the stranger’s ID in the stranger’s wallet and stuff the wallet in the stranger’s backpack. Then I splash water on my face and wipe away the blood.
The wound continues to weep, so I shuffle through the pack and find a bandage to place over it. Whoever Sophia is, she comes prepared. Good for her.
Lucky for me because I have to get out of here.
Whoever they are.
Taking a deep breath, I fumble my way to the exit then trip over my own feet as I hear a female voice in my head. “Guys, this is Sophia,” she says.
The voice is so clear, so familiar, that for a moment I think it’s real and the speaker stands next to me, waiting for a response I don’t have. I’m stuck in a nightmare, stepping onto a stage, unable to remember my character or my lines. But, of course, no one stands next to me or pays me any attention. They can’t hear my memory.
Shake it off, I tell myself. It’s not real.
Yet it is because I know that voice. I’m remembering.
Someone bumps me, and I stumble forward. The wheels of a suitcase almost take off my toes. Ignoring the pain, I claw at the memory fragment, desperate for more, but more doesn’t come. Am I Sophia then? The name is still wrong, but the person who spoke was referring to me. I know this, just like I know the square root of 168. So I must be her although I’m not.
I am living that nightmare. I’ve forgotten my character. I don’t even know what play I’m in.
I hitch Sophia’s—my?—backpack on my shoulder and move to a less busy corner. I’m in a station, that much is obvious. The building is big and beige, with a high ceiling, tall windows along one wall, and lots of tables and food stalls. South Station, I finally read on one of the many signs. South Station is where exactly?
Keeping to the perimeter, I walk away from the food area, searching for clues. There’s a giant sign advertising whiskey and another sign for metabolism-enhancing biotherapy—“Dieting is so twentieth century. Change your body, not your food. Talk to your doctor today.” Above the escalators are more signs directing me to transports of some kind: Red Line, Silver Line.
How about a lifeline? I could seriously use some help.
Trust no one.
Right, moving on. Have I always been this paranoid?
A souvenir stand on the other side of the escalators sells sweatshirts and caps that say Boston. That must be where I am then. How I got here is the next logical question.
Get out. Get Out. GET OUT.
I close my hands into fists. I can’t. I don’t know where I’d go.
Weaving through the maze of tables, I decide to buy a drink and some food. It’s hard to think when you’re hungry, so I’ll sit down and piece this together. I’m disoriented, that’s all. Really disoriented, like I’ve done too many drugs. Except I’ve never actually done any drugs.
At least I don’t think I’ve ever done any drugs. How would I know? Why am I so sure? Hell, this is probably a sign that I am on drugs.
The questions and confusion stab me in the brain, right behind my eyes, and I press a hand to my forehead. I’m not sure what drugged people do to sober up, but drunk people drink coffee. Maybe that will work on me.
So next question: do I like coffee?
From a safe distance, I observe a line of people approach a stall and order. I don’t trust myself to remember how to do it. Why should I when I don’t remember anything else? Finally, when I’m satisfied that I can handle it, I join the line.
“Cream and sugar?” the guy behind the counter asks.
“Uh.” The line shifts impatiently. “No.”
I fork over a couple bucks and step away with a bagel and my drink. It’s hot and bitter, and I grimace. Maybe I don’t like coffee.
Or maybe I do. I change my mind a minute later after dumping milk and sugar in it. Okay, brain, make a note of that. Or better yet, just work properly. How is it that I know what bagels and coffee are, but not whether I like them? How is it that I know I don’t do drugs when I’m acting like I’m on them? The illogic bothers me like an itch I can’t scratch.
I consider finding a hospital, and that buzzing in my head tells me this would be a terribly bad, absolutely horrible idea. Resigned to my paranoia, I let it go for now and search for a seat.
There’s a balcony above some of the stalls, so I head that way. It’s high ground; that’s important. But is there a secondary stairwell off it? That’s also important. I need an escape route.
I wish I knew why.
Fewer people sit up here, and most of the tables are empty. There’s an elderly couple, a guy with headphones who’s hunched over his laptop, and some employees on break. Yet down below, people wander around with food, searching for a place to sit. Some of them give up and sit on the floor. It’s almost as if most humans are so stupid they don’t bother to look up.
I always look up. That much I’m sure of.
“A good spy is constantly observing. They know their surroundings. Your surroundings are your camouflage and your arsenal.”
It’s a woman’s voice I hear in my head, but not the same one as before. That voice was young and makes me feel happy. This voice is deep and harsh. It makes my muscles tense. I don’t know who the speaker is, but the advice sounds like something I’ve heard a million times.
Well, four hundred and seventy-one times to be specific. Whatever. How do I know that?
Outside, people scurry along the sidewalks of a dreary, gray street. Everything is barren, cold and slick with the half-melted slush. Winter’s vomit. It’s not the sort of scene I want to distract me, so I take a table by the balcony and watch the food stalls and travelers milling about below. This way I’ll be able to see whoever is coming for me. Whether I’ll recognize them or not remains to be determined. I’m guessing not.
I grit my teeth and wait for the insane urge to pass. My body shakes with it, fear so strong it steals my breath. But where would I go? Hop on a random train? That would be brilliant. Maybe I once knew Boston, but I don’t now.
“There you are.” A guy with shaggy, bleached hair sets two cups on the table, and I dart up, almost knocking my coffee over in surprise.
Kyle. The name appears from somewhere in my brain’s malfunctioning recesses, and with it, a single image. The guy before me looks exactly like he did in that memory shard, only his clothes are different. I try to remember more about him and fail.
With nothing else to go on, I size him up—dark eyes, long lashes, strong cheekbones. He has a lucky assortment of racially mixed features that can’t fail to turn heads. Astoundingly hot. Although it’s not something I should bother to be noting this instant, I can’t help it. My heart skips about, pleased by this development.
He drops his backpack on the floor then plops down across from me. “Was looking all over for you, Hernandez. I guess you got your own coffee.”
“Oh. Yeah.” He knew I like coffee even though I didn’t. Okay then.
Cautiously, I sit back down. The growing panic in my gut doesn’t seem directed at him. Whoever they are, they are not Kyle. But how do I know him? What is he doing here? For that matter, what am I doing here, and are we doing here together?
Damn, I hope so.
“Are you all right?” Kyle asks. “You seem spacey. What happened to your head?”
I touch the bandage. “I don’t know. It was bleeding.”
He reaches across the table and takes my hand. “But you don’t know why?”
Kyle frowns. “You’re definitely not acting normal today.”
I suspect he’s right, but I can’t remember what normal is.
My fingers curl around his hand, almost like a reflex, but it makes him smile. That fills me with warmth, way more than the coffee does. But warmth doesn’t go well with panic. I’m all kinds of jittery. Between this sense of impending doom in my stomach and the way my heart gets fluttery from Kyle’s eyes, what am I drinking caffeine for?
“I think… I think something bad is happening. Why are we here?”
Kyle breaks off a piece of my bagel. “You’re asking me?”
Oh shit. That’s not the answer I wanted. “Then we should leave.”
“We just got here. You wanted to get away. Last night you couldn’t wait to get off campus for the day.”
Off campus? Of course. Kyle probably goes to Robert Treat College with Sophia. With me.
Although I can’t shake the voice telling me not to trust anyone, it’s time to trust Kyle. All I have to go on are my instincts, and they don’t think he’s the enemy. And I have to face it—I need to trust someone. This no-memories thing is a teeny bit of a problem.
I wet my lips, trying to figure out how to explain everything, and at that moment a figure below catches my eye before disappearing into the crowd.
My heart stutters. I can’t be sure I saw him—or if it even was a him—before the urge can’t be repressed any longer. There’s no time for explanations. “Leave now.”
Sophia has a transit pass in her wallet, and I stick it in my jeans pocket before throwing the backpack on. “Now. They’re here.”
Kyle doesn’t move. “Who’s here?”
I ignore him. Head down. Eyes up. I take the steps casually, my gaze roaming over every face, every body for signs of threats. Where are their eyes? Where are their hands? Who is after me?
“Sophia!” Kyle catches up.
I hush him, not slowing down. He’s a guy. He has longer legs.
My footsteps sound so loud. It seems impossible that people aren’t turning to stare as we book it through the crowd, but they don’t. I glance behind, hoping to catch a glimpse of whoever I saw from above—a face, a uniform, something that will give me a clue—but all I see is an ocean of strangers.
Must move faster. I’m almost to the escalators. I’ll pick a line. Any line. My hand trembles, curling around the plastic pass like it’s a talisman. My hearts beats so fast it’s hard to breathe. Kyle steps on my heels, trying to keep pace with me.
The line of people backs up getting onto the escalators. As I shuffle forward with the others, I take one last check over my shoulder and I see them. Finally.
There are two of them, men dressed in jeans and jackets. Nothing about them stands out, but I know. Their faces are unfamiliar, yet I recognize them somehow. And they recognize me.
The man on the left locks on my eyes then signals his partner. I nearly fall down the escalator. Swearing, I regain my balance, not stopping to apologize to the woman I bumped. Then I shoot by her, plowing down the moving steps, no longer bothering to blend in.
“Hey!” It’s one of the men. I hear his voice over every other noise.
I’m sure people are cursing and giving me dirty looks as I shove by. Kyle apologizes for us both as he struggles to follow. I reach behind and grab his jacket sleeve, urging him on. All I see is the path through the bodies ahead of me. Now that I’m running, my heart’s slowed down. My breathing has too. I’m focused. Ready.
I’ve done this before. Many times. Maybe not this exactly, but something similar. These are not the first guys to chase me. This is not the first live obstacle course I’ve navigated. So long as I don’t think, my feet find ground, propelling me through the crowd.
Watch your left, says that older female’s voice in my head.
I fight through the last cluster of bodies in front of me, all jabbing elbows and swinging arms, ignoring the screams from above. They are on the escalator now. They are fighting their way down.
Losing them in the jungle of people and the maze of stairs is my last chance. Slapping my pass against the card reader, I strain my ears, hoping to catch the sound of an arriving train. It’s all too noisy though. I’m too far away.
The gate opens, and I scramble through, Kyle right behind.
“What’s going on?” He grabs my arm, and I shake him off. “Who are those people?”
They’re the men coming to destroy me.
A sliver of cold panic runs down my spine like a knife blade, then fades away. I don’t understand what the thought means—they’re coming to destroy me? That sounds so much creepier than coming to kill me. So I ignore it. I have no time to question anything else right now.
“Just keep moving,” I tell Kyle.
I pick the first set of stairs I see, then take them at a neck-breaking dash. Useless people with useless luggage clog the walkways. I hear the two men’s feet and the grunts and cursing of the people in their way.
Circling, I scan for ideas. The track seethes with the antsy crowd. A train is arriving, but it’s on the outbound side. I had fifty-fifty odds, and I guessed wrong. Now I need more stairs to double back, or I need a place to hide. I have neither.
The backpack is weighing me down, so reluctantly I drop it and keep moving. I don’t know what I’m going to do without the wallet in it, but since I’m not sure it’s even mine…
I dart around a large group of touristy-looking people, taking shelter behind the blockade of their heavy jackets. Kyle doesn’t follow this time. All the better for him. Maybe he’ll blend in and disappear.
Steeling myself, I pull off my black jacket. It’s cold without it, but my shirt underneath is pink. The change is one more thing to make it harder for the men to pick me out of the crowd.
In the distance, a light forms in the tunnel. My hands clench and unclench. The train at last. Can I wait them out until it arrives? I stare at it, willing it to move faster.
My chest rises and falls with deep, steady breaths. For a second, I close my eyes, chasing memories that flicker through my consciousness. They’re filled with shadows: dark shapes, hushed voices, mysterious threats. But the only thing I can grasp is that bad people are coming.
Coming to destroy me—Sophia. And I’m not the only one in danger.
Should I be worried about Kyle then? Why is he with me? Is he in trouble too?
It’s not normal to have enemies, is it?
Before I can decide what to do, heavy footsteps snap my focus back to the immediate. One of the guys has found me. His face is hard as he approaches. I’m not going to make it to the train, and I’m not going to run anymore. There’s nowhere to go.
“Sophia Hernandez?” His strong hand lands on my arm.
I spin around, grasp his free wrist and twist his forearm. He drops my arm and lunges. I dodge. My body moves effortlessly, countering his attempts to grab me, fighting back with a skill that must be Sophia’s because it can’t be mine.
Someone screams as he hits the ground. I’m faintly aware that the train is screeching to a stop. That people are gathering around, Kyle among them. That this guy’s partner is going to be here any second. And if I think too hard about any of this, I’m going to think myself to death. Just like with the running, I need to let these strange instincts take over.
The train doors open, but I don’t get more than a few steps closer before guy number two appears. He snatches at me, and I grapple for release from his arms. He’s stronger, but I’m faster, and the strength I do have takes us both by surprise. I’m the better-trained fighter.
Among the chaos of people getting on and off the train, no one pays us much attention. Then someone yanks on my arm, dragging me away from the men and into safety. The train doors shut, and we start to move. I snag the nearest pole before I fall over. A few people throw wary glances at me, but most stare purposely into their laps, not seeing what happened or not wanting to have seen.
With wide, frightened eyes, Kyle hands me my jacket and backpack. “You okay?”
“Yeah.” For now.
They’re here. So now what?