Double Blind(4)
Author:Brandilyn Collins


    Once I got home I knew what would happen. The fear would descend, and I’d be paralyzed. My twenty-four-hour deadline would seep away. The promise of that chip I’d held in my hand would be gone to me forever. A lifelong regret. Then what would my future look like? Tomorrow, next week, next year? I was drowning here.

    The Empowerment Chip was a thrown lifeline.

    But what if I got the placebo? My last dare to hope—dashed.

    My thoughts fisted. I heard myself breathe. For a long, quivering moment I hung there.

    Something beyond me turned my feet from the elevator. The next thing I knew, I was standing at Jerry’s closed office door. Voices drifted from inside. My hand knocked on it, and the conversation stilled. Footsteps . . . and the door to a possible incredible new life opened.

    Even as my voice trembled, I looked Jerry in the eye. “Where are the papers I need to sign?”





    FRIDAY, MARCH 9—SATURDAY, MARCH 10




    Chapter 3





    THE NEXT THREE DAYS PASSED LIKE EONS. WE’D SET MY surgery for Friday. In those three days I came close to cancelling a hundred times. Somehow the morning of the procedure managed to arrive. I was due at the hospital at 8:00 a.m. The first two hours would be prepping, then into the operation. I couldn’t drive myself, since I’d need someone to bring me home in two days. Sherry said she’d pick me up, but she couldn’t take me. She was busy getting her daughter to school. I’d scheduled a cab.

    “Where to?” the taxi driver asked.

    I carried a small overnight bag, my purse inside. No makeup, no jewelry. I’d put my wedding rings in a dresser drawer.

    “Hillsdale Hospital in Palo Alto.”

    His dark eyes flicked me a look in the rearview mirror. “You sick?”

    “No.”

    “Visiting someone?”

    “No.”

    He left me alone.

    Sherry and I had talked at length on the phone last night. “I still can’t believe you’re doing this,” she said.

    “Me either.”

    “It’s just so . . . drastic.”

    “I need something drastic. And they insist it’s a pretty simple procedure.”

    “It’s your brain.”

    “It’s my life.”

    Silence.

    “Are you scared?”

    “Petrified.”

    She grunted. “Me too.”

    The cab pulled up in front of the hospital. My nerves jittered. I walked inside and headed to the second floor, as I’d been directed. With each step my legs grew heavier. What was I doing? This was the last chance to change my mind. I didn’t even like hospitals.

    In the clinic area a young nurse with chic brown hair met me, all smiles. Pretty face. Such graciousness and calm. Deb Smith, read her name tag.

    Such a common name. Was it fake?

    I frowned at myself. Why in the world would I think that?

    “This is for you.” She handed me a multicolored cotton gown. “All your jewelry’s off already?” She looked me over. “That’s good. You can put your clothes in the rubber bin over there.” She pointed behind me.

    “Where’s the surgeon?” I hadn’t even met him. Or was it a her?

    “He’ll be along shortly.”

    “Where’s the brain chip?”

    “He’s got it.” Deb Smith patted my hand. “Don’t worry. This is a straightforward procedure, really. I’ve seen many a person before you sail right through it.”

    But what about afterward? Would my life be changed? “Tell them not to give me a fake one. Please.”

    “Well, that’s out of my jurisdiction, I’m afraid.”

    “I don’t want a broken one either.”

    The nurse gave me a mild look. “There’s a sealed and sterile envelope with your name on it. The chip inside is meant only for you. And it’s been checked and rechecked. No way it’s broken. Now just get dressed in your gown, and we’ll be back for you soon.”

    She pulled the curtain closed with a swoosh.

    I changed into the gown. My body shook. I’d never been through surgery before. Not even for tonsils. What if I was allergic to anesthesia?

    Hugging myself, I sat on the gurney and waited. It was cold. A wave of aloneness rushed me. If Ryan were still alive, this wouldn’t be happening. Even if I’d been attacked, I could have made it, with Ryan.

    Soft footsteps sounded. They stopped outside the curtain. “Ms. Newberry? May I come in?”

    “Yes.”

    The curtain drew back.

    My doctor looked in his sixties. Thick gray hair, a round face. “Hi, I’m Dr. Rayner. I’ll be doing your procedure, along with Dr. Frank. Do you have any questions?”

    So many. My lungs clogged at the sheer weight of them. “Are you . . . do you work for Cognoscenti?”

    “Yes. Dr. Frank and I have done many of these procedures. You’re in good hands, if I do say so myself.”

    I nodded.

    “Anything else?”

    My head shook. I simply could not talk.

    He spoke with me until Deb Smith returned, clearly trying to reassure me. “Okay.” The doctor smiled. “I’ll go prep, and we’ll see you soon.”

    “So. Looks like you’re set.” The nurse’s eyes drifted to the bin behind me, containing my clothes. “Whoa, cool bra. Bright blue.”

    What? I blinked.

    “Where’d you get it?”

    I looked at the bra, bewildered. Was it bright? I hadn’t noticed. “Victoria’s Secret.”

    She raised a shoulder. “Of course. Where else?”

    How surreal, discussing underwear at a time like this.

    Another nurse appeared. I needed to lie down so they could prep my head. I obeyed, a rag doll. Sections of my hair were parted. A shaver whirred.

    Fear crammed my throat. I was really doing this.

    Next thing I knew, they were wheeling me into surgery. I watched the ceiling go by, my thoughts hazed. What was I doing here? Had I lost my mind?

    I still had time to pull out of this.

    The operating room felt even chillier. “Why’s it so cold in here?” I asked one of the masked docs. Which one was he?

    “The lower temperature keeps the germs down.”

    Oh.

    “All right,” somebody said. “Ready to go.”

    My eyes squeezed shut.

    “It’s okay, Lisa, you can relax.”

    My heart cantered.

    A plastic-feeling mask descended over my nose and mouth. “Okay now, just breathe normally.”

    Panic spun through me. I gasped in air. Let me out of here. Out, out, out!

    Was someone above me telling me everything was okay? It wasn’t. Not at all. I sucked more oxygen.

    Dense fog carpeted my veins. So . . . heavy . . . Desperately I tried to move my mouth. Yell Stop!

    Nothing happened.

    Another breath, and the fog thickened.

    No, please. I don’t . . .

    A third breath. It sucked me down, down, to the depths of the ocean. I struggled to swim up.

    But my feet . . .

    Got . . .

    Tangled.





    Chapter 4





    A SECOND LATER I WOKE UP.

    Sensations and thoughts chugged in my head. This ceiling—not the one in the operating room. A different blanket on me. My body felt like lead. An IV needle was taped into a vein in my arm.

    How did this happen? I’d just gone under.

    I blinked hard, feeling my mind. Nothing seemed different.

    Maybe they didn’t do the procedure. Maybe something went wrong

    Or did I get the placebo? The thought leadened me. I couldn’t even hold it in my head. Couldn’t bear to think it.

    Ryan. Were memories of him still with me? I visualized his face. His smirk when he used to tease me. I could hear his voice. His off-key singing.

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