Double Blind(6)
Author:Brandilyn Collins


    And I thought of my mother. How I’d failed her so often. I hadn’t been the cheerleader type, as she’d been. Or athletic. Hadn’t excelled in anything. Was an average student. Hadn’t given her grandchildren. I could hear her voice from childhood. “Lisa, you can do better than that, and you know it. Do you try to disappoint me?”

    Those memories hurt. But not like before. Their trappings of guilt and shame were gone.

    I’d never guessed that was possible.

    During my depression, no one could really help me. Not even Sherry. And they couldn’t possibly know what I was going through. I’d felt lost, utterly alone, and without the energy to do anything about it.

    Now it was like someone had flipped a switch in my brain.

    That day I cried a lot. Happy tears. It was almost more than my heart could contain.

    By dinner time the drugs had worn off completely. Then I could feel more than ever that the old weight in my chest was gone. Thought came more easily. Clearer.

    I missed Sherry.

    After eating I got up and shuffled around the room. Ventured a few steps into the hall. A nurse I hadn’t seen before asked how I was doing.

    “Fabulous!” I spread my arms. “You wouldn’t believe how the chip has worked.”

    Friday night I slept soundly for the first time in months.

    Saturday morning I felt even better. I told every nurse that came in how my life had changed. What the Empowerment Chip had done for me. They couldn’t shut me up. That afternoon Jerry and Clair came by.

    Ice Queen carried a notebook and pen. “How do you feel?”

    Couldn’t they see, just by looking at me? “I’m healed.” The words bounced off my tongue.

    Jerry’s eyebrows rose. “How so?”

    I told them, my words tripping over themselves. Ice Queen took notes. She seemed to record not only what I said, but my gestures and tone. Her chilled poker face remained in place, but she couldn’t keep the gleam from her eyes. It was the same excitement I’d seen when she talked about the chip a few days ago.

    A lifetime ago.

    Now I fully understood why she felt so passionate about the Empowerment Chip.

    “I know I got a real one,” I declared. “You can tell me now.”

    Jerry shrugged. “We don’t know. We won’t know until the trial is over and we report our findings.”

    Didn’t matter. I knew. “Who do you report to?”

    “Richard Price, V.P. of Research. And he reports directly to Dr. Hilderbrand himself, who developed the chip.”

    “Tell them they did it.” My voice caught. “Tell Dr. Hilderbrand thank you. For my life.”

    Jerry smiled. “They’ll be glad to hear you’re better.”

    They set a meeting for me to see them at the Cognoscenti offices the following Friday. Jerry wrote the time on the back of his card and left it on the tray near my bed. Next Friday. Just think of all the things I could accomplish by then.

    I shifted my top pillow. My head hurt only a little. I’d taken a couple over-the-counter pain relievers. “I can’t wait to get out of here tomorrow. I’ll be able to do things now. The future is a promise, not a threat.”

    “That’s great.” Clair smiled and managed to look half warm. “But don’t make decisions too quickly, all right? Just let yourself continue to heal from the surgery this week.”

    “Okay.” Although I couldn’t imagine just sitting around for a week. I wanted to move.

    “Once you get home someone will call you about setting up your post-op appointments,” Jerry said. As part of the trial I’d continue to report how I was doing to a Cognoscenti interviewer once a week for six months.

    “Yeah. Good.”

    After they left, the room was silent. But far from empty. I stared at the blank TV screen, just being.

    Were there other Cognoscenti patients in this hospital recovering from the procedure? Imagine some of them getting the placebo. I couldn’t have stood that. I’d be devastated.

    Thank You, God, so very, very much. My first prayer in a long time rose as natural as breathing.

    You’re welcome, child.

    My mouth fell open. Did I really just feel that?

    I knew I had. It had come just like that. So . . . real. So complete. God was here. In this room with me.

    Tears sprang to my eyes. This was the final thing I needed. This was everything. God had come back. He wanted to be with me. Me. The warmth of that knowledge spread through my whole body.

    How had I ever made it all those months without Him? I pulled the covers around me, sealing Him to my heart.

    Don’t quit talking to me now, please, God. I need You so much.

    I thanked Him again for the surgery. For Cognoscenti and the chip. And Sherry. For the new life I could live. But the more I talked to Him, the more something nagged at me. At first it wasn’t clear. Then it materialized.

    Surely God hadn’t come back just because of a brain chip. He was way bigger than that.

    I dwelt on that for awhile.

    If He hadn’t just come back . . . then what? Was He never really gone?

    The thought punched me in the stomach.

    When I felt like He’d abandoned me—could that have just been me?

    The answer spilled over me like warm perfume, soaking the covers. Soaking me. God had never really left me. I just hadn’t been able to feel Him.

    He hadn’t betrayed me. I could trust Him. I really could.

    The shift in my understanding was so immense I hardly knew how to handle it. Sherry had told me again and again that God was there for me. But I didn’t listen.

    I couldn’t wait to tell her this!

    Dinner came, but I had trouble eating. I was just too overwhelmed. My lightness had become near weightlessness, the peace within me so very profound. I was healed, and God was here.

    True—I still didn’t have Ryan. Or kids. My relationship with my mother was still broken. But I was whole. I could deal with these things. And God would help me through.

    Time passed, and sleepiness finally stole over me. When I turned out the light, I brimmed with anticipation for the morning.

    Mere hours later my nightmare began.





    Chapter 6





    THE VISION CAME AS I WAS FALLING ASLEEP.

    I was standing in a richly furnished living room. Large, overstuffed couch and matching love seat. Beige walls, a large impressionist painting of a seascape. Hardwood floors with a Chinese rug. Glass-topped coffee table. White marble fireplace.

    A petite woman stalked in, dressed in jeans and a blue silk top. A dark-haired beauty. “Why can’t you stop cheating on me? You’re nothing but a liar!”

    What?

    “Shut up!” a male voice shouted. But it came from me.

    “I’ll tell them all what you really are.” She jabbed a forefinger at me. “I’ll make you pay!”

    I glanced down at myself—my big hands and long legs, clad in khaki pants. Brown loafer shoes.

    I was a man.

    The woman kept yelling. “I’ll leave you, how will you like that? You can’t kick me around like some dog!”

    My hands—the man’s hands—shook with anger.

    I/he strode across the room. Through his eyes I saw the woman getting closer, saw fear cross her face. She cringed.

    He wrapped his hands around her neck. Tightened his grip.

    She choked. Grabbed at his fingers, clawing, trying to pull them away. He watched her face turn red, then white. She gurgled. Her eyes rolled back. Her legs gave way.

    He let her fall.

    For a moment I/he stood over her, panting. He wiped an arm across his mouth. Steadied his breathing.

    She moved.

    He cursed and grabbed her feet. Roughly dragged her out of the room, into a big kitchen with lots of stainless steel, more hardwood flooring. Beyond a glass door lay a deck and large backyard. She tried to kick him. He cursed again and let her go. Lunged toward the butcher block on the counter. He grabbed a knife. She wailed. He collapsed to his knees beside her. Arched the weapon high. The knife sliced down toward her chest—

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