She stayed up almost the entire night debating over the decision. Jennifer glanced over at the clock hanging above the stove across from where she sat; the long hand pointing at four and the short hand at eleven.
I take that back, she thought. This decision did take up the whole night. She sighed, then after a brief moment, chuckled. Here she had a second chance–another chance for her life to go the way she always wanted it to–yet she found the weight of it almost as unbearable as her parents.
Her parents… Her fists clenched as she recalled the years of sitting alone in the living room with her brother, the drunken yells of her elder brother, and overall absence of love. Everything a parent ought to be, everything a family should’ve been, they hadn’t.
She rose from her seat and walked to her bedroom. The juniper patterned sheets of her bed beckoned for her to lie down and rest, but she refused. She had something far greater to take care of, and besides, she’d get plenty of sleep when she was dead. She sat on the bed with a sigh, and gazed over the room she’d called her own for the past eighteen years: the grass green walls, the oaken wardrobe next to the bed, the rows of black and white photos on the ivory desk next to her.
Jennifer’s eyes found their way to the photos of her past. Each scene within their wooden frames tugged at something warm within her chest, bringing a tiny smile to her lips. But when her eyes reached the last, the one at the far end of the desk, pushed away behind the others, that warmth turned vanished. This was the photo–the one with her entire family. In it, everyone stood in the backyard of her old home, not together of course, but scattered. Her parents in the corner, leaning against an old beat down,’52 truck. Her older brother and his pal in the other corner talking with two of his pals, oblivious to the camera. Only two real family members were together: two children in the center. One was a ten-year-old girl, herself, holding onto the handle of a homemade wagon she and her siblings had managed to jerry-rig together with the spare car parts and scrap found in the junk pile. Her messy, wavy blond hair ran past her shoulders. A small frown came to the Jennifer’s lips when she looked at the girl’s old hand-me-down yellow t-shirt. She’d hated that shirt, hated its Chinese lettering its front, and the tears and wrinkles that hinted to its place of origin–a swap-shop in some dump. The little girl’s sunken smile and dim almond eyes only made Jenny’s own glaze over.
She saw the reflection of the old woman within the glass of the photo, as the tears welled up. Gray hair, still carrying the same waviness as a child that trailed over her shoulders; the same eyes, now a dull chestnut than a bright almond, and the same depressed lips. She’d changed in many more ways than just her age. She regretted more than that little girl in the photo that used to be her.
But most of all, she regretted what had happened to the little boy beside the little girl–a small blond, poking his head above the wagon with his mouth open in surprise that matched the look of innocence within his hazel eyes–Peter.
Jennifer closed her eyes, biting back tears as images of flashing red and blue lights, police tape, a smoldering pickup truck, crying wails, and the regret of doing nothing pressed against them. She wanted these images gone. She wanted this regret gone. She wanted it all gone.
She sniffed, opened her eyes, then looked down at her clenched hands. She opened the right one to reveal a small, wrinkled business card she’d held onto this entire time. Printed on its top in shiny red letters, it read, “Sig. Dream Corp.” The phone number was beneath it.
Maybe there was a way for it to go away after all. Just maybe…
She set the card down and picked up the cordless phone on her wardrobe. She dialed the number on the card without even looking at it, she had it memorized. The phone rang once. Then twice. Then thrice, before,
“Hello,” said a cheery voice, “this is Robert from Sigmund Dream Corp. Granting your final wish you missed doing in life. How may I help you?”
“Yes, hello. My name is Jennifer Lance. I believed I called earlier?” It was a statement, not a question.
There was a brief pause on the other end of the line. She could hear the sound of fingers hammering on a keyboard before the voice returned. “Aw, yes,” the voice said, “Mrs. Lance, we have you marked down as undecided–”
“Not anymore,” Jennifer cut him off. “I’ve made my decision, and the answer is yes.”
“Yes, ma’am.” The voice said immediately, the sound of more keys being hammered away. “I’m marking that down now, aaaddddnnn there. You’re set. Now, you are aware that you must have your Final Will and Testament filled out, the waiver preventing any retaliating lawsuit from friends or surviving family members, and the transference of sums–”
“Yes,” she said with a flatness, looking over to the old black and white photo once more. She knew exactly what the operator was asking for. “I’ve already e-mailed my lawyer with the forms filled, along with the promised sum to your company.”
There was a brief, audible exhale from the other end of the line. She could tell the operator was surprised. “Y-yes ma’am,” he stammered, before resuming a more business-like tone. “I’ll be sure to get everything set on our end. Is there anything else I can help you with or discuss? The terms on the procedure–”
“No,” Jennifer said. “That will be all. Thank you.” She hung up.
Her eyes returned to the boy in the photo. “I’m sorry, Pete.” She whispered. “Maybe this time I can help you.”
She leaned over and flicked off the light switch, and went to bed.
Dawson pushed his thin, silver glasses back over the bridge of his nose, as he read over the client’s file one more time. He did his best to actually appear to care, making sure it was obvious that his eyes moved as he read each line when, in reality, he couldn’t care less. However, he’d learned at the start of his profession that it was much safer to appear like you cared than to show how you really felt in front of a client’s family.
“Alright,” he said after another minute of false-reading, “I think we’re set.”
He lowered the clipboard in his hand and looked to the small group beside the client’s bed. A graying haired man sat in his chair next to the bed, hunched over it. His hands were clasped together, like he was in prayer, exposing the gold gleam of his wedding ring. His red and yellow checkered shirt and tan slacks were wrinkled. Next to him stood a man in scrubs–the nurse. He had his back to Dawson, too absorbed with the off-and-on pulse of the green line that rose and fell with a beep with the client’s every heartbeat.
Dawson wondered how much time was left before the green waves fell rigid and the beep turned into a long, odious drone.
“How does this work exactly?” the hunched over man, Mr. Lance, the client’s husband, asked, turning to him. His gray eyes were red with two dark bags sagging beneath them. It didn’t take a genius to guess that he’d probably hadn’t left his wife’s bedside for days, which was understandable–she was right next to him dying after all.
Dawson’s eyes wandered over to the client’s sleeping form, as he thought on how he should answer. The dying woman, Jennifer Lance, was pale. Her wavy hair was splashed out beside her head, the wrinkles within her face were deep, and the oxygen mask over her pale lips fogged with every breath. Dawson knew from the file that she was no older than fifty, but her withered face made her look like eighty. This disease, whatever the hell it was (he hadn’t bothered to read that far into the file to know), had taken its toll. Yet, despite her weathered appearance, the slow rise and fall of her chest, the silent unmoving eyelids, she looked like she was at peace–then again every comatose client he’d dealt with looked like that.
He let out an internal sigh. He just wished the word ‘peace’ could apply to her past–hell, to all of his clients’ pasts. It would’ve made his job easier, instead of having to stand in front of a doomed client’s husband at eleven-freakin’-thirty at night, in a bedroom with too much forest wall-paper for his taste, and too many black and white photos, and explain for the billionth time in his career how the procedure worked.
Dawson wrinkled his nose when he caught whiff of what smelled like morphine. The smell doesn’t help either, he thought.
“Basically,” he began with another push to his glasses, “the machine we brought,” he gestured behind him to the large school desk-sized computer, that his partner, Lena, was busy setting up, “allows us to influence the subconscious, dreams in particular.” He paused to see if Mr. Lance was following along. He was. “When both my partner and I hook up, we’ll be able to share consciences with hers.”
Mr. Lance tilted his head back an inch, furrowing his brow. “I-I don’t understand how that grants my wife’s final wish.”
Dawson let out a quick sigh and opened his mouth to answer, but his partner beat him to the punch.
“Basically,” Lena said, “we travel through her memories and implant the wish she has now into her early childhood.”
“Which,” Dawson resumed after casting a quick scowl to his partner, “allows Mrs. Lance to fulfill her wish all on her own.”
The nurse, who was just replacing the IV bag with another one, paused and looked over at them with a baffled expression, along with Mr. Lance–who only furrowed his brow even more.
Ugh… Dawson frowned, it’s not that hard to figure out, guys. “What we want to do in life–win the lottery, become an astronaut, whatever–fluctuates as we grow older. What we’re doing here is planting that desire in the past and making it her primary focus in life. So as she gets older she goes and does-”
“What she wanted earlier in life.” Mr. Lance finished Dawson’s sentence, his face brightening in understanding.
“Correct,” Dawson nodded, crossing his arms.
“But, wouldn’t that mean her memories would change?” The nurse, who’d been silent up until now, spoke, “She might forget about her current life? Her friends, family?”
“That’s right,” Lena answered behind him, just as she finished calibrating the machine. “Now you see why we have a waiver voiding any follow-up lawsuits from the client’s friends and family.”
“Yeah,” Dawson nodded in agreement, “speaking of which, what is her wish anyway? It didn’t say in the file.”
Mr. Lance’s jaw slackened and his eyes glazed over, as if he were looking into the distance for the answer, “I-I…” he sighed and shook his head, “I don’t know. She never told me.” He looked over to his wife, his eyes moist. “She said you’d know.”
We’d know? Dawson straightened, then looked over to the sleeping Mrs. Lance. Why the hell would the hag think we’d know?
Mr. Lance’s gaze went back to Dawson, an expectant look in his eyes.
“Um…” Dawson mumbled.
“She didn’t tell us.” Lena answered, rescuing him. Dawson looked back to see her walk over. He felt short the moment she took her place beside him. Lena was nearly four inches taller than him–a tiny-weeny fact that always pissed him off–he was 5’10. She wore a white coat, like Dawson, only her ebony ponytail hung down back of hers, opposed to his own short cut, copper hair. She looked over to him with her green eyes with a small expression that said, ‘you’re welcome, moron’ before clasping her hands behind her back and continuing. “But once we sync up with her subconscious,” she said, “we’ll ask her.”
She gave Mr. Lance a sympathetic smile. Dawson, kept his face blank. He just wanted to get this over with.
“I want Peter to live,” Mrs. Lance said so low, Dawson had to strain to hear.
“Come again?” he asked. “You want a heater to live?”
Before he could receive a reply, Lena slapped him. “Hey!?” he yelped, then rubbed his arm. Lena stood next to him with her eyes narrowed at him before she turned back to the frail, worn Jennifer, who still sat on the edge of her bed, hunched over with her back towards them. If she’d heard Dawson’s comment, she didn’t seem to care.
Dawson and Lena had hooked up to the machine less than twenty minutes ago, and had sifted through the memories until they had found a recent, clear one–a month prior to their arrival, the night Jennifer made the call to Sigmund Dream Corp. to confirm her contract with the company.
Dawson hated that she had made the call in the same immaculate, green wallpapered bedroom she was still in during the present with her husband hovering over her bedside. Did this woman ever have a sense of taste when it came to decorating? He’d hoped to avoid seeing the same black & white photos decorating the nightstand that was right beside Jennifer. Heh, I never catch a break.
“Who is Peter, Mrs. Lance?” Lena asked, bringing Dawson back to the present–or the current ‘past’, rather.
“My brother,” Mrs. Lance again answered in a low voice. She looked up from her hunch at the photos, then reached forward and picked up one with a small blond little girl, holding onto homemade a wagon that a blond little boy sat in the back of. Dawson could only guess the little rascal was this Peter.
Heh. Dawson crossed his arms. He could already see where this was heading. Some sad story on how her brother had probably died just recently, and she wanted to have a life where they spent their entire childhood closer together and that she somehow stops his car-accident or whatever. He let out an internal sigh. He’d been doing this job for way too long. Nothing surprised him anymore.
“What happened to Peter, Mrs. Lance?” Lena asked. Dawson glanced over to see Lena’s entire focus on Mrs. Lance’s solemn form. He could never understand how his partner could get ssssooo into their clients. When was she going to understand that you can’t feel sorry for every sad, dying client? Everyone has a sad story and everyone dies. Simple as that. There was no need to wallow over each person.
Dawson’s lips pursed into a small frown before he looked back over to Mrs. Lance in time to see her set the photo down and then after a deep breath say, “I killed him.”
Dawson felt his arms and frown fall to his sides. She wuh?
Their client looked over her shoulder to the two of them, a bright glisten within her chestnut eyes. “I made him die.”
Dawson found himself exchanging a baffled face with Lena, looking just as stunned as him. Her emerald eyes were wide, with the same question ringing within Dawson’s own: What had this woman done?
“I was ten at the time,” Mrs. Lance continued, snapping their attention back to her. “Peter was seven.” She gave a wry smile, her eyes glazed over, as if she was seeing him now. “He just couldn’t keep still,” she said. “Every minute in the yard he was either trying to hop on our brother’s bike which was two times too big or imagining himself as some pirate sailing the high seas in one of the junked cars in our backyard.” She sighed. “I shouldn’t have gone that day. I should’ve stayed, should’ve told him how I felt. But…” She shook her head and turned over and buried it in her hands. She didn’t say anything for a long time.
Dawson couldn’t tell if she was trying to catch her breath or trying hide the silent tears she shed, regardless, he waited for her to finish. There had been no mention of any of this within the client’s profile when he’d gone over it, or rather skimmed over it.
After another few shaky breaths, Mrs. Lance raised her head, and without looking back at Dawson or Lena, resumed her tale. “A few days after this was taken,” she picked up the photo, staring at it, “one of the boys next door came over and invited Peter to go with him on a night ride on one of his bicycles. Unlike us, he was better off with money and his mother had bought him a new one. He still had his old red one which was just Peter’s size. Of course,” she set the picture down with a sigh, then turned to face Dawson and Lena, “I wasn’t allowed to go.” She exhaled, “I was the older sister and Peter’s new friend didn’t want me around to ruin the fun. He thought my mouth would make too much noise and get the both of them in trouble once they’d snuck out.” She paused and looked over to Dawson, “You ever had a brother, Doctor?”
“Oh. Uh…” Dawson was caught off guard. The last thing he thought this lady would do was bring him into the conversation. “No,” he said after a moment, “I was an only child. But I can imagine having a sibling.” He gestured with his shoulder at Lena, who in turn gave him a dry look that he knew translated into: Are you serious?
“Hmm,” Mrs. Lance tilted her chin up for a second then went on, “Well, the problem I had with my brother, and still have with people in general, is saying what I feel.” She looked off with a wistful expression, “I wanted to go with him so bad that night, and I so did not like that boy next door. So instead of telling him that he should stay, or just simply going along with it, I took one of my dad’s wrenches and loosened the screws on Peter’s tires. I figured that when he’d leave that night, the wheels would come right off and he’d have no choice but to stay home.” She closed her eyes and lowered her head. “I should’ve known better.” She looked back up to Dawson and Lena, “The wheels didn’t come right off the bike, as planned. It happened later, when Peter and his friend were riding alongside the railroad.”
“Oh, no…” Lena covered her mouth in understanding. Dawson tilted his head down, making sure to not make eye contact with Mrs. Lance. He mentally kicked himself for being so insensitive.
“Yes,” Mrs. Lance whispered. “So, now you know my wish. I want to go back and relive my entire life with Peter still here. Can you do that?”
Dawson looked up to see Mrs. Lance’s eyes searching the both of them. And for the first time, in a very, very long time, he got a feel as to how one of his clients felt. He empathized. True, he found his partner Lena to be an annoying, stubborn witch at times, but he’d hate losing her. He knew he couldn’t disappoint his client–couldn’t afford to.
“Yes, ma’am,” he answered surprising himself. “We can do that.”