A knock at the door woke him up and as he searched the room to remember where he was, he saw that daylight was creeping in through the blinds. “Coming,” he said, his voice coarse from the cigarettes he had consumed the night before. He got off the bed and clumsily stepped into a pant leg before falling back on to the bed. With a grunt, he got the second pant leg on and stood up to fasten the zipper. The knocking came again. “I said I'm coming, jeez.” He walked out of the bedroom and looked over the mess of his apartment. He thought for a moment about how he'd gotten so low, and then realized that he really didn't give a hell at this point. Pushing over refuse and dirty clothing, he walked to the door. He opened it while sticking a cigarette in his mouth. “Yeah?” he said to the person on the other side.
Before him, a young woman stood holding a fall jacket in her hands.
Michael squinted, trying to recognize the woman. “Yeah. Who're you?”
She looked at him, with pain in her eyes. “What happened to you Michael?” She peered into his apartment.
He leaned into her field of view. “Do I know you?”
“I guess not.” She said with disdain as she turned around.
Michael's brow furrowed as he watched her walk down the stairs. She stopped at the bottom and turned to look at him once more. He could see tears running down her cheeks. “Wait. Listen, I'm sorry,” he said, walking down the stairs shirtless and barefoot. “I'm sorry. Please, come inside. Talk to me.”
“Michael you don't even know who I am.”
“That doesn't mean I can't get to know you,” he said, the unlit cigarette waving around as he spoke.
“To be fair,” she said, shaking her head, “I don't think I know who you are either.”
“There you go, fair trade right? Come in. Talk. We'll figure this out.”
“No, Mike. I think maybe it's time I give up.” She began walking away.
He stood silent, somehow hurt, even though he wasn't sure what she meant. He took the cigarette out of his mouth and took a stab in the dark. “How long have I been gone?”
She stopped, and he watched her head raise up. “Two years.”
“What am I to you?” he asked.
She turned to him. “Everything Michael." She sighed. "You were everything to me. We had a house, two dogs. We had a life.”
His heart started racing as she walked back toward him, her straight brown hair blowing softly in a gust of wind. “You got involved with some kind of space program, or at least that's what you told me it was.”
They both turned as a suburban came around the corner at top speed.
“Huh,” she said, her tears rolling out of the corners of her eyes. “Here they are again.”
The vehicle stopped next to them and the same man exited the passenger side. Abruptly, the rear passenger door opened also and the man Michael knew as Dan got out and hurried around the back of the vehicle. “Cassandra, what're you doing here? You should go home.”
“Hey, hang on here. What's going on?”
“God damn it. This is why you can't do this anymore Cassandra, we can't keep doing this.”
“Doing what?” Michael asked, looking back at Cassandra and then to Dan. “What's being done?”
“Michael, just get in the car, and you …” he pointed to Cassandra, “Go home.”
Her tears were a torrent now, and she sucked in air in uncontrollable sobs as she turned around and walked away.
“Wait. What's going on?” Michael began walking toward Cassandra.
Dan shook his head and turned to the agent near him. He signaled him with the wave of a hand, which prompted the man to produce an air pistol.
“Cassandra, wait!” Michael yelled as he began running. A faint pinch crept up behind his leg and he grasped at it instinctively. He felt an aluminum tube, with small feathers at one end. In that moment, his vision began to falter and he lost his balance, dropping to a knee. “Cassandra.” He said, once more as the Agent came next to him and lifted him up onto his shoulders.