Through and Out Again

August 2, 2019

I didn’t mean to go back.

It had been years since I was even allowed to, years since the last close call that marked my decision not to return. Not that I was given a choice— the door had been closed to me ever since.

I don’t know what changed. But sure enough, while my team was deployed across the grounds and everything was set, I looked up to see the entrance tantalizingly ajar. A single air conditioning vent in my room, partially unscrewed, the shadows of stored objects making themselves known.

I was alone, still hooked to my comms, and not needed for the rest of the mission. I figured it would be a minor distraction at worst— at best, I was wrong, and it was no more than a tactically-sound exit from the room I was holed up in. So I climbed, taking little notice of the dust brushing onto my clothes, past an old necklace that looked familiar, dusted copies of books whose titles I did not recognize, paintings and posters from decades ago. I got to a place I could stand, eyes sweeping the attic-like room unsure of what to pick up first.

She would like this place. It’s perfect for exploring.

A step forward, however, and it was attic no more. I had gone too far, slipped back toward a world I did not think I would see again. Back into a role I did not understand, though I knew it would be dangerous to admit it.

I was dressed in a tux this time. The bay windows showed nighttime, and I could both see and hear the distant crashing of waves on the shore. With a wry smile, I thought of how funny it was that such a gorgeous property existed technically so close to our apartment with the thin walls and lack of space. For a colonial moment, I wondered if I could not bring my family here instead.

Then it started, and I remembered the reason why even I had vowed never to return. She walked in, older now, but still beautiful. Dark, wavy hair cascaded down her back, and her black dressed shimmered as she walked towards me. I was rooted to the spot in panic; it was too late to hide.

“There you are! You look nice. Are you ready to go?”

I nodded, wondering how on earth I was going to escape this time. “I just… need the bathroom a second.”

“…You aren’t going to disappear on me again are you?”

I laugh, trying to be casual as I walk toward what I hope is salvation. “No, no.”

She follows, clearly not believing me after last time. Right into the bathroom with me. Now this is just ridiculous.

I make a show of fixing my bow tie while she scrolls through her phone, leaning against the bathroom door. Sighing inwardly, I turn to her. “Shall we?”

Just as we emerge, someone else joins us. Him, I don’t remember, which only serves to worsen the situation. “So,” he drawls lazily, a drink he’d helped himself to already in hand. “Shall we?”

She clearly knows him, smiling and making idle conversation in a language I know I’m supposed to understand.

When I think they’ve lowered their guards down just enough, distracted as they are by each other, I do something that still shames me. I bolt.

No words of excuse, no stammering explanation, no waiting to wherever we’re supposed to be going. I just run out through the only open window onto the patio, leap across the board walk, and keep sprinting into the shopping mall ahead.

Panting, I finally use my comms. “I need an extraction, quickly.”

There’s no response, but just as I hit a sports clothing store on my left, a clerk calls out, “In here! Colored changing room!”

I don’t break my pace as I veer inside, rapidly drawing curtain after curtain to find the right changing room, confusing the hell out of the people hovering outside. There’s more than one fucking “colored” changing room.

Just as I think it, my luck shifts and I find the right one.

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