There were days she could hardly bear to look at Lincoln; she wondered if she resented him because if it hadn’t been for him, Michael would still be alive and well. She reprimanded herself for those thoughts, knowing fully well how unfair and crazy she was being, and yet, sometimes, late at night, when she was lying in bed and listening to Jacob’s even breathing next to her, she couldn’t quite supress those thoughts.
When she’d lost everything, Michael was still by her side. Her heart seemed to forget the role he himself had played in her downfall and before she knew it, she’d been addicted to the feeling of being by his side. It’d been the two of them against the world, and it was more addicting than alcohol, more addicting than morphine, headier than any drug.
He’d been her whole world, and she knew enough about dependence and addiction to recognize the feeling, but Michael was the only mistake on her long list of mistakes she never regretted making. He’d been one of a kind, that kind of person who was meant to accomplish much and inspire others to accomplish even more, that kind of person whose soul shone bright like a scorching flame. No matter what the world threw at him, he would always bounce back, stronger than ever, to meet it head on again and face another challenge with his spine straight and his shoulders back.
When he looked into her eyes, she’d felt strong enough to lift mountains, brave enough to stand up to anything and anyone.
And now she hardly knew what to do with herself, lost in a world that still sometimes seemed so different to the one she’d been used to sharing with him. The calm, slow and steady flow of days that came and went and brought with them no bigger challenges than the day-to-day grind, would confuse her from time to time, and made her feel as though there was something else she should be doing, some bigger problem to solve and some higher goal to pursue.
But she had Mike and he was her pride and joy, the only shard of Michael she had left, the only piece of him that hadn’t been relegated to the realm of pointless dreams. He reminded her so much of his father it scared her sometimes, made her feel as though she was incapable of seeing her son as his own person, only as a reflection of his father. But her son was very much his own person and she never failed to actually recognize that; she loved him more than life itself, more than she’d ever thought herself capable of loving anyone.
But he frustrated her sometimes.
“Mike!” she called. “Mike! Come downstairs right now!”
Jacob came downstairs with his briefcase in his hand, checking his watch. “Running a bit late, aren’t you?”
She brushed a lock of hair off of her forehead and scowled at him. “Did you eat the blueberries?”
“The blueberries in the fridge! You know I save them for Mike’s pancakes!”
Jacob smiled impishly and came around the kitchen island and put her arms around her waist. “Sorry beautiful,” he said. “You know I can’t resist them.”
As irritated as she was, she had little appreciation for his attempt to pacify her. “Well, then you can explain Mike why his blueberry pancakes don’t have any blueberries in them.”
She squirmed out of his embrace and turned to look at him. He was still smiling, a fond little grimace that creased the corners of his mouth into little crescent moons, and for some reason that expression only served as more fuel to her fire. She’d woken up in a bad mood and somehow it’d all gone downhill from there; her husband’s chirpy mood really wasn’t helping matters.
“Mike!” she yelled. “Don’t make me come and get you!”
Finally, the pitter patter of his tiny socked feet sounded from the stairs. He ran into the kitchen at full speed, a backpack thrown over his shoulder and hair all over the place. “Hi, mom!” he yelled. “Hi, dad!”
He’d only taken to calling Jacob that recently, and Jacob had reacted to the development so positively it almost surprised Sara. Even now, after a few weeks, the word never failed to put a smile to the man’s face. “That’s right,” he’d say. “Your father, that’s me.”
“What’cha got there, buddy?” Jacob asked, seeing an additional bag hanging from Mike’s hand. “You got soccer practice today?”
Mike nodded. “The try-outs are today!”
“You’re fifteen minutes late, young man!” Sara scolded, cutting him off before he could start on that particular, already too-discussed topic “Sit down and eat!”
Mike let his bag slide from his shoulder and sat down at the kitchen table. When he saw his pancakes, he frowned. “No blueberries?” he whined.
“You have your father to thank for that,” Sara said, somehow vindicated. “Dig in.”
“I have to go, babe,” Jacob said, pulling his bagged lunch from the fridge. “I’ll see you later?”
“Yeah, see you,” Sara answered, presenting her cheek for him to kiss.
Mike’s excited babble kept her occupied until it was time for her to drive him to school.
Loud noises still sometimes made her think of gunshots and made her want to cover her head and crouch behind the nearest wall or tree and scan the rooftops for snipers. She feared that the reflex was now ingrained so deeply within her she would never get rid of it.
She was scanning the vegetable stands at the farmer’s market, looking for some nice and fresh-looking fennel and some carrots, when she heard the first sounds of commotion behind her. She turned to look, expecting to see an old lady haggling over the prize of mushrooms or a kid, whose parent hadn’t paid close enough attention, trying to sneak away with an apple, when a loud crash and shouting brought her out of her reverie and she immediately sneaked her hand into her bag and closed it around the can of pepper spray. As poor a weapon as it was, it was still better than nothing.
The scene unfolding before her was truly bizarre; a woman, decked in a frankly ridiculous white leather outfit that made her look like some kind of crazy dominatrix, wielding a long, sharp looking stick was standing there, legs apart and face was set into an amused, almost mocking expression that was trained at the man who was flopping around at her feet like a literal fish out of water. “Going somewhere?” she asked mockingly.
That voice, speaking, calling her name, was enough to make her feel like she’d been doused with a bucket of ice cold water. She tore her gaze away from the strange woman and looked over to the left, where a man was standing, one hand casually resting on the butt of a strange gun.
The face had changed some, clearly time had taken its toll on those beloved features, but he was still so unmistakeably him that her heart seemed to stop at the sight of him. She shook her head, closed her eyes and then opened them again, hoping against hope that it was nothing but a mirage, nothing but her mind playing tricks on her. But no, the man was still very much alive and very much there, strange, mean sneer twisting his face.
“Grab him and let’s go,” he said, clearly addressing the woman in white. “Unless you want to do some shopping and wait for the heat to show up.”
Even though the day was nowhere near cold enough to warrant such clothing, the man she couldn’t bring herself to call him Michael, not even in her head was wearing a dark-blue parka with a fur-rimmed hood, and had goggles dangling from his neck like it was a fashion accessory. Sure, compared to his companion, his choice of clothing seemed almost tame, but it was still ridiculous enough to warrant a raised eyebrow.
That drawling voice was so unlike the one she was used to hearing, and yet to scarily similar she felt every word like a punch to the gut.
“Michael?” she whispered. The man didn’t hear her, couldn’t, over the sounds around them. He hadn’t been addressing her when he’d spoken her name, hadn’t even looked over at her once. He hadn’t been speaking to her, after all.
The other Sara pulled out a pair of handcuffs from somewhere and pulled the man’s hands roughly behind his back and began cuffing them together. “Stop squirming,” she hissed, when he was making her job difficult. “Unless you feel like losing a finger or two to frostbite, I’d move your ass.”
The threat was strange, but it barely registered in Sara’s brain. She still had eyes only for the man who couldn’t be Michael, at least not her Michael, whatever that meant.
She felt tears rise to her eyes and was suddenly inexplicably angry. It was as though somebody was dangling Michael in front of her like a beautiful, unattainable dream, that was to be immediately snatched away, as soon as she started believing it might actually be true.
“Michael,” she repeated, louder this time. The man didn’t even twitch, even though he must’ve heard her. Gave no indication of recognizing the name of her voice.
As the woman hauled her prize to his feet, a man suddenly hurled out of the crowd at them, wielding something that resembled a police baton, only those didn’t normally shoot blue sparks and crackled with electricity.
“Watch out!” the woman yelled. Not-Michael pulled out the strange gun in one, fluid, familiar motion and it powered up with a whine.
“Stay where you are,” he drawled lazily, aiming it straight into the centre of his would-be attacker’s face. “Or should I say,” he smirked, clearly pleased with himself, “freeze?”
“You and your puns, cold,” the woman said. “Just get on with it.”
“You heard the lady,” not-Michael said. “Put it down, before I put you down.”
The man didn’t comply; instead, he raised the strange baton higher into the air in a determined motion, with clearly malicious intentions.
But before he could execute whatever plan he had in mind, a blue ray hit him square in the chest. What happened after was so surreal Sara couldn’t actually believe she was seeing it. Ice slowly began growing on the man’s body, thicker and thicker still until he was encased in it.
“Dumber than a sack of rocks, this one,” not-Michael said casually. “I told you we should’ve stuck to the plan.”
“Don’t be so prissy all the time,” the woman grinned, dragging her prize over. “Like you don’t love every excuse for good icing.”
The man nodded his head slightly in concession. “True,” he said.
With a casual, relaxed flick of his wrist he sent the statue toppling over and falling down, where it shattered on the ground upon impact. Sara, who was now standing with her feet covered in shards of something that used to be a living, breathing person, looked up and met the stranger’s eyes. They were cold and cruel and nothing like Michael’s had ever been, and yet she couldn’t deny that they were the same.
When their eyes met, his gave away no sign of recognition and only lingered on her for a fraction of a second.
“Let’s go,” he said then, but he wasn’t talking to her. His words, aimed at the other Sara, were met with a sharp nod and then the both of them disappeared into the crowd. It was all Sara could do to remain upright, her knees threatening to buckle under her. As the infinitely heavy weight of crushed hopes began to gently unload itself onto her shoulders, tears began slowly trickling down her cheeks. For one brilliant moment she’d indulged in the fantasy of having Michael again – and now she was going to pay the price.