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Marian felt her nerves stretch taut. There were 5 strangers staring at her, one of whom had just crushed her in a frantic embrace. Not only was she swallowing the bitter pill of being a woman without ally, but she also was forced to play the role of the prodigal. She was supposedly back in the place where she spent most of her waking hours, but inwardly she fought the urge to flee.

An hour had passed since Nisha had burst through the doors. Francis, a tall lanky fellow who looked to be in his late thirties made no attempts at conversation. He simply allowed his flattened lips to turn upward as he glanced up at her, before moving swiftly to his workstation and opening his laptop.

Sasha, a youngish looking man with wide eyes and an accent flowed from his mouth like dripping honey. He more than made up for Francis’ reticence. Marian had about enough of Nisha’s giggles and Sasha’s retelling of whatever ribald joke or outrageous YouTube video he’d lately seen or heard.

According to her brief reintroduction, Janice doubled as a technician and administrator. She seemed to be the caring, motherly type. Marian noticed her hand reassuringly pat Sasha’s shoulder at Nisha’s teasing or Mark’s rude critiques. A few times she even winked at Marian in what felt like a friendly way.

Mark was as tall as Francis but as thick as a redwood trunk.  Marian had expected a booming midwest accent, but found out that Mark was a New Yorker born and bred the first caustic word out of his mouth.  When she asked which borough he was from, she wasn’t surprised as he crowed, “Staten Island.” Although he seemed to have no patience anyone except Drake and Francis, Mark did flash her a sympathetic smile at Marian’s obvious admission that she remembered none of them.

The gesture only sank skin deep. Dr. Marian had no use for either sympathy or stories. With all the talking going on, she was miffed that no decent information beyond Nisha’s slip of the tongue would be retrieved.

Drake sensed her discomfort. “Why don’t we let you all go back to work. I know Marian must still be out of sorts.” He turned to her, “You ready to head home, Dr.?”

Marian was out of her seat before the question was left his mouth. The reunion had left little time or privacy for interrogation, and she determined to use a different approach the following day.

“Yes, Drake, let’s go. I feel a headache coming on. The fresh air is just what I need.”

She turned to face the others. “Thank you all for your welcome.”

Marian didn’t wait for a response, she simply swept her light form out the door and down the hall to the elevator.  A few minutes later Drake joined her, but the elevator had come and gone while she waited.

“What took you so long? Giving the troops their marching orders without my interference?” Her sarcasm seemed negated by her indulgent smile.

Ignoring the question which was truer than he was willing to admit, he quipped,  “I’m surprised you waited for me, now that you remember how to get around.”

Marian grunted and pressed the already lit  arrow down button.

************************

As she wasn’t prepared to launch into her interrogation just yet, Marian welcomed the silence of their train ride home.  Once safely absconded in their 3rd floor walk-up, she suggested they take an afternoon nap.

Drake’s eyebrows almost touched his widow’s peak. “You are suggesting I share my bed with you?”

“Oh, c’mon. Just this once. I didn’t get much sleep on that stupid couch. Although, I seem to remember having a sleeper or futon before you…”

“Donated my Queen sized luxury plush mattress for your personal use,” he finished for her.

“So you’ll not mind me putting it to good use.”

“As long as you’re willing to share.” His left cheek was hiked up by a crooked smile. He moved forward in four steady steps, first left then right then left then right again.

He stood before her, his nose almost touching her forehead.

Marian should have inched back, no yarded back. Yet she didn’t. “I intend to sleep, Mr. Finch.”

“That’s another thing,” he began reaching up to tip-up her nose, “you insist on calling me Mr. when I am just as much a Dr. as you.”

“Yes, but, I am in charge,” she managed weakly, her pulse picking up into a pitter-pattering rhythm.

“That’s only in the lab, and even then, it’s mostly for show. As you guessed, I’m the one who gives the,” he paused to allow his lips to curl upward, “marching orders.” He laughed softly.

Something jerked within her, like a warning alarm ringing from the bell tower of her consciousness. What am I doing.  She summoned her willpower like a necromancer at a graveyard.

“Well, Dr. Finch, I plan on getting a nice long, uninterrupted, nap. You are, of course, welcome to join me.” With that she rolled out of his grasp and scooted into the bedroom, leaving the door open behind her.

By the time Drake entered the room, Marian was well on her way to sleep land. He shrugged and removed his clothes before slipping in beside her.

***********************

Marian awoke to Drake’s ever too close face. “Ugh. I’ll never get used to that,” she said without realizing the words had been spoken aloud.

Drake recoiled. “How sweet, wife.”

Marian laughed before feigning a chagrined look. “At least you haven’t called me Mara for hours.”

“Well, Mara, did you enjoy the view before you opened your eyes?”

“Yes, thank you.” She stared at his bare chest for what seemed like moments.

“Are you thanking me for my concern or for taking my shirt off?”

“Oh, I don’t know, both.” She began to believe she was on to something. She turned around and began sliding her backside toward him. She stopped at one point and leaned back into his lean yet chiseled chest.

Drake sucked in his breath, willing his heart to stop its thump-thumping.

“Drake,” she began, “what did Nisha mean when she said, that everyone was worried this time?”

The wind got kicked out of his lungs as he begged his mind to locate the default response.

Marian waited, deciding to continue on her present course of manipulation.

Finally Drake attempted an answer, “Mara, I suppose there is something that I should tell you.”

Marian stiffened on cue and turned to face him, her eyes close to his.

“The truth is, Marian, you have been sick for some time. You developed a condition shortly before we married. I guess I should have suspected something was wrong when the girl who had avoided me for two years suddenly wanted to tie her life to mine. Maybe it was just my insufferable arrogance…I don’t know, but it’s a neurological disorder, a newish one, with only two other documented cases worldwide. You have episodes like the one you had two days ago. When you return to consciousness, your memory is slightly impaired, but not usually as comprehensively as it was this time.”

He stopped his speech, and Marian decided it was time to play her part.

“So, you’re saying that I’m sick, the disorder is incomprehensible, everyone associated with me is aware of it, and is trained to react accordingly. Meanwhile, you are left in charge of not only my research and my assets, however small they may be, but also my entire existence while I am functioning and While I’m not?”

He refused to meet her gaze. Coward, she spat out in her head.

“And I’m supposed to just accept that this is my reality? Do you drug me to keep me docile as well?”

“No, Marian, you are not on any medication, in fact, they have proven ineffectual.”

She refused to ever so much as twitch a muscle for five minutes. Drake peeled himself away, got up, and began pacing the room, his face painted with a look of concern.

“All right. I want to meet the others.”

He turned to her and paused his walk.

“What others?”

“You mentioned two other cases. I want to meet them and learn how they cope with all this nonsense. I’m sure we can take a leave of absence from the lab, considering that’s all you seem to do these days.”

He moved over to the bed and knelt down in front of her.

“Mara, love, we can’t go visit them.”

“That’s ridiculous, of course we can; we have savings at least, don’t we?”

“No, darling, it’s not the money. It’s, well, they’re, they didn’t survive the illness.”

She gasped. “This is fatal?”

“It was for them. They weren’t as strong as you. Both took their lives less than a year after being diagnosed.”

Marian felt something tighten in her innards. What have I sleepwalked into?

El Fin

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