Staying at Melanie’s for a few days. Don’t forget to feed the animals.
Ryan ran his fingers through his unruly morning hair as he read Charley’s note, written with impeccable handwriting on a post-it shaped like a kitten. He had bought her that notepad soon after Vader had joined their little family. Carefully, he put the note back on the kitchen counter and opened the refrigerator. He had intended to make Charley breakfast before she went to work at Spirit, the tattoo shop in the city, in an effort to make up for his actions last night.
I suppose I could still bring it to her at work, he thought. No, that would be going too far, figuratively as well as literally. She clearly needed her space. He turned on the stove and cracked a couple of eggs into a pan. Hearing the noise, Vader and Kitsune, their gigantic orange tabby, ran over to Ryan and rubbed against his calves, purring.
“I know she fed you before she left. You can’t fool me into feeding you twice, you rascals.” He glared down at them, then realized he was overreacting. It wasn’t the cats that had Ryan grumpy, nor was it the morning light that had so rudely filtered in through the living room window and woken him up sweating on the couch. He frowned. It had not been a restful night’s sleep.
After breakfast, he checked the cats’ bowls (just to make sure) and peeked in the hamster’s cage to make sure she had enough food and water. She did. Then he checked his watch and smiled. He still had about an hour before his lifeguard certification class at the local community college.
As he went to open the windows in the living room, to hopefully lessen the apartment’s persistent smell of cat, something crunched under his bare left foot. He looked down and saw the papers that Charley had tried to show him last night. Sighing, he dropped to his knees, slowly and carefully picking up each piece of paper, smoothing them as best he could. He placed them on the counter next to the kitty post-it and jumped in the shower.
Dressed in jeans and a flannel shirt, Ryan dried his hair with a towel while brushing his teeth. For some reason, he couldn’t stop thinking about the papers that Charley had tried to show him last night. He wondered what “evidence” she had come up with to prove the existence of aliens. Maybe there was something weird going on. He snorted at his own foolishness, then sobered as a thought plagued his mind. If there wasn’t anything to her ramblings, Charley was actually crazy. Like needed-to-be-committed crazy. That was an alternative that Ryan hated to even think about.
The thing was, he knew Charley. She had some weird ideas, usually during her manic-depressive episodes, but those were explainable. For Christ sake, she had watched her parents die right in front of her. She had seen a therapist every week for the six years after their deaths, and her episodes became fewer and fewer. Besides yesterday, the last time Charley hid in the bunker to protect herself from “aliens” was nearly six months ago. It was a delusion, for sure, but she always acknowledged the irrationality of her beliefs and never let them affect her life outside of her strange episodes. Until now.
When his class had finished, Ryan’s curiosity about the papers had become a full on obsession. He needed to see what Charley had found, and yet he feared it. What if she truly was deranged, and the papers were delirious ramblings? What else could they be? He had to know if the woman he loved was insane or not. He raced home, coasting through stop signs and almost running a red light. He just couldn’t get back fast enough.
Ryan tossed his keys on the counter and was just about to pick up the papers when a little blinking red light alerted him to the fact that he had a voicemail. He deliberated for a minute, hand hovering over the papers, before picking up the phone and pressing the button.
“Hey Ryan, it’s Matt. Charley called me at lunch, and said you had some sort of fight last night. That sucks. Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that I’m here for you if you need to talk. I know my little sis can be tough to deal with sometimes. Besides, I miss you. Let’s get a beer, ok? Call me back.”
Suddenly, Ryan felt a little less freaked out. Matt would know what to do, just like always. Ryan picked up the papers and pressed the redial button, shoving his feet into the boots he had just kicked off. Soon they had made plans to meet at Soren’s Pub down the street. Fishing for his keys in his pocket, Ryan realized he left them on the counter and felt a little twinge at the fact that Charley would have reminded him had she been there.
Matt signaled the bartender as Ryan slid into the stool beside him.
“Two beers please. Garden IPA.” The bartender nodded and turned away from them. Ryan started to pull out his wallet. “I got it man, I’m the one who invited you out after all.” Gratefully, Ryan smiled and put his wallet back in his pocket. Any other day, he might have put up a fight, demanding to pay at least half, but today he just didn’t have the energy. Instead he watched the bartender, a twenty something in a dress shirt with a towel flung over his shoulder, pour their beers with careful attention. He leaned his elbow upon the glossy mahogany counter and rested his head on his hand, suddenly feeling exhausted.
A beer was placed in front of him, and Matt clapped him on the back, pulling him out of his stupor. “This’ll make you feel better. Wanna go sit somewhere?” Ryan nodded, and followed Matt as he wound his way through the maze of bodies to a dimly lit table near the back of the bar. He noticed Matt’s confident posture as he walked; he seemed as comfortable here as he had on the football field some years earlier. Matt’s broad shoulders seemed to part the sea of burly men all by themselves. It was impressive, and Ryan became acutely aware of his skinny, lanky frame. Matt had that effect on people.
“So.” Matt gestured towards Ryan as he took a sip of his beer.
“So?” Ryan scratched his head. Matt rolled his eyes.
“Tell me what happened and stuff. Come on, don’t make me go all therapist on your ass.” Ryan chuckled, then took a swig of his IPA.
“Jesus, Ryan. I had no idea she had gotten that bad.” Ryan found himself quick to go on the defensive.
“Honestly, she has been getting a lot better lately. I mean, when you think about it-“
“I am thinking about it,” Matt interrupted, “and it doesn’t matter how often this is happening. The scary part is, it is becoming more real to her. She used to call me after and tell me how she felt bad for you, because she knew that it was irrational but she believed it in the moment. But now it sounds like she really and truly believes this girl is an alien. Based on what exactly?”
“She works at a hospital?” Ryan shrugged, grimacing. “I don’t know, she came up with better reasons, I just don’t remember them.” Ryan noticed he had been biting his nails as Matt took a deep breath.
“She never told you what happened to our parents, did she?” Ryan stared forlornly into his beer glass, nodding. After all of this time with Charley, it still hurt him that she never trusted him completely.
“She said talking about it would force her to relive it and she didn’t want that.”
Matt nodded. “I’m not saying that’s not the truth, and everybody has their secrets, but it would really help you understand this situation better.
You know that Charley was in the car with Mom and Dad when it crashed, right?”
“Yeah she told me that part.”
“Did she tell you anything else?”
“Okay, that’s what I thought. Well, the paramedics came and they let Charley ride along in the ambulance to the hospital. I have no idea why; she must have been pretty freaked out and I can only assume there was blood everywhere.” Ryan leaned in towards Matt, his knuckles gripping the edges of the small square table. “Anyway, when the ambulance got to the hospital, Charley wasn’t allowed to go in with them, and started to get hysterical. She clawed at the paramedics and screamed bloody murder until they put her in the psych ward where I had to go pick her up.”
“Later she told me her side of the story. According to Charley, Mom and Dad were both alive after the crash and in the ambulance. She says she even remembered Mom trying to talk but not making any sense.” Matt stopped here, swallowing and closing his eyes briefly. “There is this one moment Charley describes that still haunts me, even though I know it was probably a figment of her imagination trying to cope with a crazy situation.
The paramedics yanked Charley out of the ambulance and quickly placed Mom and Dad on stretchers. Charley reached Mom and grabbed her hand just as the paramedics started to cover the bodies with a white sheet. As they shouted ‘Two DOA’s, take them to the morgue,” Charley swears she felt Mom squeeze her hand.” As Matt sat back and took a long gulp of his beer, Ryan noticed a few beads of sweat gathering on his forehead. “Anyway, that’s sort of indirectly where the alien thing started. First she was on and on about hospital negligence but then it became weirder and weirder until she decided that everyone who worked at the hospital was an alien using human bodies for…something.”
“Yeah it’s not exactly a straight line, just a kid trying to cope with a horribly tragic event.” Matt paused. “Sometimes I wish it were me instead. I feel like I fucked up not being there for my baby sister. I mean, yeah, I know, there was no way anyone could have known, but, I just…” Matt broke off, not crying or even tearing up, just staring at his shoes. Ryan cleared his throat.
“So, what should I do?” Matt pursed his lips.
“Wait for her to come home (I’ll check up on her daily for ya) and then try and get her in to see Karen ASAP. Beyond that, I have no idea what to tell you, just that you can call me whenever. You know that right?” Matt suddenly leaned across the table and looked into Ryan’s eyes. “I mean it.” Ryan nodded. A few minutes of awkward silence occurred in which the other voices in the pub gradually reached a crescendo, until Ryan pointedly looked at his watch. The good thing about Matt was, he wouldn’t try and make useless small talk when he knew it was just for show. Matt took the cue and they said their goodbyes. Matt even offered Ryan a rare hug. As they exited the bar, Ryan took out the papers from Charley and tossed them in the trash can without a second glance.
Ryan got home and booted up his computer. He intended to go over his notes on CPR for his lifeguard safety class in anticipation of a test coming up. He noticed he had a few new emails, and went to check them. One stood out to him. It was from “the Underground UFO” and contained a video file and no text. Ryan raised his eyebrows and decided to move it to spam. His cursor lingered over the email before his curiosity got the better of him and he clicked on the file.
Immediately his attention was captured by the presence of his new friend Lauren in pink scrubs in what looked like a hospital setting. He recognized her immediately from the way her hair was styled, which made him wonder if this video was taken the day he and Charley met her. There was also another woman there, presumably a doctor, and a girl with long blonde hair sitting upright in the patient’s chair. Ryan watched as the “doctor” told the girl she was putting her under for chemotherapy, and the girl drifted off into a peaceful slumber. Then Ryan stared in disbelief as Lauren slipped a needle into her IV and took fourteen vials of blood before leaving with it, at which point the doctor came back and woke the girl up, telling her, “The chemo seems to be going well; are you feeling any side effects?” Then the video ended as abruptly as it began.
Ryan sat back in his chair. He wasn’t an expert on chemo by any means, but he was pretty sure that simply taking blood was not the way it worked. And the video didn’t seem fake either, although he intended to take a closer look once he had time to process what he’d seen. Of course, this didn’t by any means point to Charley’s crazy alien theory, but there was definitely something…odd about the video. Not to mention; who sent him this video and how had they known he knew Lauren?
Ryan saved the video to his computer. Then, summoned by Vader, he fed the cats and went to bed. With Charley gone, he could use the bedroom again, but with all the confusing puzzle pieces whirling around in his mind regarding that video, he doubted it would make much difference in the quality of his sleep.