“I’m sorry,” he barely whispers, thick, hot tears filling his pleading and desperate blue eyes.
But in all honesty, he doesn’t know why he even says it. He knows his apology, no matter how sincere, will fall on deaf ears, that his words will never make a difference, never bring back what he took.
Perhaps the words aren’t meant to change anything; perhaps they’re more for him than for anything or anyone else.
They’re certainly not for Rachel Matheson. And judging from the look on her face – blank, cold, emotionless – she doesn’t seem to believe him anyway. Why should she? After everything he’s put her through. She might be just as much of a monster as he is, but that doesn’t change the fact that he has deeply wronged her and her family.
And now he’s paying for it. Publically. His sins have finally caught up to him, and the entire thing is on display for the viewing of everyone in Willoughby, Texas.
He glances down at the needle that Dr. Gene Porter has strategically placed against his right arm. The doctor doesn’t speak, doesn’t smile, doesn’t even make eye contact; he simply begins to empty the lethal fluid directly into Bass’s veins.
It’s the last thing Bass remembers as he stares up at the courthouse ceiling and drifts into dark oblivion.
- - -
I’m dreaming of a white Christmas—
Just like the ones I used to know…
Where the treetops glisten
And children listen
To sleigh bells in the snow….
The distant sound of Bing Crosby’s deep baritone voice and the delightful scent of freshly brewed coffee are the first things he notices when Bass opens his eyes.
It’s the kind of morning that is sure to bring a lazy, appreciative smile to anyone’s face, but not to his. Instead, the aged lines on his forehead become more prominent as his features form into a confused frown. He squints at his surroundings, unable to recognize any of it.
He’s in some bedroom, he realizes. More specifically, he’s in a bed – a king-sized one with lots of clean, fluffy pillows and a plush white duvet that’s draped over him.
He quickly pushes back the covers and forces himself into a seated position. His frown remains intact as he continues to look around the neat, simply decorated room.
What the hell is going on? And why does it feel like he’s been magically transported into some alternate reality – one where he can’t remember a single thing about anything that existed before this moment?
He feels as if he’s missing an entire lifetime of memories, as if he’s been thrown smack dab into the middle of the here and now without any background or context or history. And yet, at the same time, he feels like he’s exactly where he’s supposed to be, as if his present ‘reality’ is all part of his normal, everyday existence.
But it can’t be, can it? One doesn’t just wake up and fail to remember his entire life. Plus, there’s a strange, nagging voice in the back of his mind that tells him he doesn’t belong here and that he doesn’t deserve any of this, but he hasn’t the slightest idea why he feels that way. And no matter how hard he tries to make sense of it, his mind refuses to comply.
Bass shakes his head. It’s too damned early for such existential musings.
He forces himself out of bed and walks into the adjoining master bathroom. It’s small, clean, and surprisingly spacious; everything seems to be in its place, yet nothing about the space is even remotely familiar to him.
His brow knits together when he notes the black lace bra hanging on the back of the door. So he doesn’t live alone, he gathers. Or, at least, his female visitors feel comfortable enough to leave their undergarments in his bathroom. Or maybe he’s not in his bathroom at all? Maybe he’s the visitor?
He figures he’ll find out soon enough.
After washing his face and brushing his teeth, he finally wanders out of the bedroom, down a small hallway, and into a quaint living room that’s picturesquely decorated for the holidays. A five-foot tree that’s all lit up with twinkling white lights and an assortment of red, blue, purple, and silver ornaments sits in front of a window, outside of which snow is falling. Everything in the room is homely and a little too domestic looking to belong to a bachelor. Clearly, a woman is responsible for the décor choices. But the space isn’t entirely feminine either.
Bass realizes that this room is also the source of the music he heard earlier. But Crosby’s classic has ended and Michael Buble’s rendition of I’ll Be Home for Christmas now plays from the iHome system that sits atop the fireplace mantel.
“Merry Christmas Eve!”
His exploration of the apartment is cut short by the sound of a woman’s enthused voice.
Bass turns toward the source and is surprised to find Charlie Matheson of all people standing there in an oversized Marine Corps t-shirt and a pair of blue plaid pajama bottoms, her hair piled high in a messy bun; she holds in her hands two steaming mugs of what Bass assumes is coffee. He watches as her bright smile slowly fades.
“Bass?” She raises an eyebrow at him and moves closer. “Are you okay?”
Bass’s head is now spinning. He still can’t figure out what, but something is definitely wrong with this picture. He feels his heart rate increase when Charlie moves to stand directly in front of him and hands him one of the mugs.
Her bright blue eyes suspiciously narrow at him, and she carefully searches his gaze. “What’s going on?”
“What do you mean?” He asks in return.
She giggles under her breath before reaching up to fiddle with his curly hair. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost, babe.”
‘Babe? What the fuck is going on?!’ Bass’s mind screams at him. Indeed, something is wrong is with this picture – very wrong.
The next thing he knows, Charlie’s lips are softly pressing against his. They’re warm and supple and feel far better than anything Bass could have ever imagined, and the way she kisses him suggests a blatant level of familiarity, implying to Bass that they’ve shared these types of moments a million times before. And yet, once more, to his grave disappointment, he can’t remember any of these supposed moments.
“So did Miles say what time we should head over to his place?” Charlie asks once the kiss ends.
“What?” Bass stares at her blankly.
She rolls her eyes. “God, what has gotten into you? Did you hit your heard or something this morning? Anyway, never mind, I’ll call Miles or Nora and ask them myself.”
He watches in stunned silence as Charlie turns on her heels and heads into the kitchen.
Bass sighs wearily and heads back to the bedroom. He needs a shower, he decides. Perhaps that will help him clear his head a little.
He enters the master bathroom and turns on the shower. While the water heats up, he pulls off his t-shirt, turns on the sink, and splashes his face for a second time this morning. Then he brings his face up to look at his reflection in the mirror.
…and his knees nearly buckle when he does.
Staring back at him, from behind his own reflection, is Emma Bennett.
“Bass,” she says, her face stoic and beautiful. She's wearing the same thing she wore the night she died in his arms.
And suddenly, Bass remembers everything…
The blackout, the Monroe Republic, the Mathesons, Emma’s death, the fact that they had a son together who is still out there somewhere, the nuclear bombs that the Patriots dropped, and Charlie…how she’d found him in New Vegas and had brought him back to Willoughby upon his request, only to have his plans backfire completely. He remembers staring into Rachel’s lifeless blue-gray eyes the night that he was executed, and he remembers being sorry for everything that had happened but knowing it was too late to even think about fixing any of it.
“Bass,” Emma repeats, breaking him from his weighted and torturous reverie.
Her voice is soft, but it startles him. He frantically looks behind him and expects to find her standing there, but he quickly realizes she’s not there at all. She’s just a ghostly reflection in the mirror.
The color has drained from his face and his eyes are wide and filled with terror as he stares back at the image of the woman he once loved, the mother of his child. He feels the hot sting of tears as he reaches up and places a hand against the mirror in a pathetic attempt to touch her, but, of course, to no avail.
“Emma,” he chokes out. “How…? What…what is—am I…?”
He doesn’t even bother to finish the question, because, given his last actual memory, he knows exactly what the answer is.
“You’re not dead, Bass,” Emma tells him.
He frowns hard at the mirror.
“Not yet, anyway,” she adds with a sigh.
“I don’t understand….”
“I know. I’ll explain.”
He watches her carefully, eagerly, fearfully. He can’t remember the last time he was this terrified; not even the night of his execution had mustered as much fear in him.
“You’re trapped inside your own mind, Bass,” Emma says. “What you’re seeing right now is a figment of your deepest desires – the life you’ve always wanted.”
He silently watches. Is that it? That’s all she’s going to tell him?
She falls silent, and for some reason, it infuriates him.
“Right. So playing house with Miles’s niece…that’s the life I’ve always wanted?” He finally scoffs.
“There’s no need to be defensive about it.” Emma holds up a hand, as if to stop him. Her tone remains even and cold. “I’m a part of your mind, remember? So lying to me is worthless.”
“Lying about what?” His knuckles whiten as he clutches the sides of the sink. “What does Charlie have to do with anything?”
Emma’s expression never changes. “It’s not about the picture-perfect holiday morning with Charlie. That might be the way your mind is choosing to manifest your desires, but deep down, you know exactly what this is. Don’t you?”
Bass doesn’t respond.
“Ever since things disintegrated between you and Miles, the only thing you’ve ever truly wanted is for someone to look past the monster that you feel you’ve become; for someone to realize that there is still some goodness left in you.”
“The last person to look at me like that was you,” he admits. Once more, he feels the tears forming in his eyes. “And look where that got you.”
“None of that matters now, Bass. What happened to me has happened.”
“I still don’t understand what Charlie has to do with any of this.”
Emma nods. “Remember the night of your execution? Remember the way Charlie looked at you right before you were sent into the courthouse?”
An icy shiver shoots down Bass’s spine. He remembers. It's a look he'll never forget. He stares at Emma, completely dumbstruck.
“This is your chance, Bass. In this reality, you have the chance to be different…to be the person you’ve wanted to be for so long – the person that Charlie was just beginning to see.”
“What does that even mean?” He questions defensively. “What difference will any of this make if I’m just stuck inside my own fucking head? Emma, you know what happened. They executed me. I’m never going to get another real chance.”
“But you see, that’s where you’re wrong.”
Bass moves his face closer to the mirror, his expression desperate. “What are you saying? That I’ll get another chance at life?”
Emma lips curl into a hopeful but mostly sad smile. “I love you, Bass. Just know that.”
And then she’s gone.
“No! Emma!” His words come out in an urgent whisper. But all that’s left in the mirror is his own unwanted reflection.
Just then, there’s a loud knock against the bathroom door.
“Damn it,” he curses under his breath, his shoulders falling in defeat.
“Babe? You okay? You’ve been in there a long time!”
“I’m fine!” He hollers.
“Well, can I come in?”
Bass rubs a hand over his scruffy, unshaven face. His heart is still pounding from his encounter (if one should even call it that) with Emma, the weight of her words still hanging heavily in the air around him.
He has no idea if anything she said about him receiving another chance is even remotely possible, or if it’s all just part of some fucked up mental game that he’s currently playing with himself. But then…what if she is right? What if there’s even a tiny chance that he might be given a second go at life? What then?
With more questions than answers circulating inside his head, he glances one more time at his reflection and exhales a short, sharp breath. A newfound sense of resolve comes over him, and he decides to go with it; whatever this between-realities-dimension that he’s currently stuck in plans to throw at him, he’s done being passive and acting like an incompetent fool.
He decides it’s time to meet whatever comes his way head on, just like he always did in his previous life. While his decisions themselves might be different here, his determination won’t be. He was a leader of men in his last existence. Surely, some of that assertiveness will manage to find its place in this existence.
Decision made, he turns and swings open the door – only to find Charlie’s impatient expression waiting on the other side.
“What the hell…you haven’t even showered yet?” She complains upon observation.
An arrogant, mischievous smile tugs at the corners of his lips as he slowly rubs his right pectoral muscle. “I was waiting for you.”
“Well…in that case, good. We had the same idea.” She flirtatiously pushes past him.
He watches hungrily as she strips off her clothes and lets down her long, golden hair. She’s not even the least bit fazed when she catches him lustfully examining her body from head to toe – again, a clear indication that they’ve done this many times before.
Bass watches as she slides open the shower door and steps inside.
“Well,” she sighs, “come on! Get naked and get in here.”
He chuckles and does as he’s told.