I realized that he was being strong. That underneath the pain and shame was a soul struggling to stand. And That I had to be strong too. I had to find a way to help him stand.
Because if he fell, so did everything else.
In some strange way, the antiseptic smell had become somewhat comforting. Bleach, hand sanitizer, antibacterial wipes; it all mixed together and carried the memory of surgical suites and pharmaceutical testing facilities. I didn’t actually like the smell itself, but it accompanied one of the few times of peace, quiet, and solitude I was able to enjoy. Even if the peace, quiet, and solitude was full of questions and doubt. I glanced over the screens and through the observation window, breathing in the antiseptic flavor. Nothing had changed.
The two-in-the-morning trips to my father’s basement lab had become a habit of mine. I’d just sit and watch and wonder. In the week since my ventures had begun I hadn’t figure out a thing. Not a single thing. I understood that the beeping screen was relaying vital signs, and that the I.V. held the drugs that kept my time uneventful. The white was to make spotting dirt and grime easier (as well as to assure that scientists were unfeeling and non-emotional.) The inch thick glass was to protect the spectators, as well as increase the sound proofing. The two computers on each side wall were for recording and computing data, and the table was for pouring over charts and jotting down notes. And the shackles were to make sure the he didn’t escape.
No matter how much I knew, none of it explained why there was someone chained and unconscious three stories below my bedroom.
At first I’d hoped that it was all just a clinical trial… that the boy lying drugged in the cell before me was just a deathly ill patient hoping for another shot at treatment. The bloody manacles carving rings around his wrists told the true story. He was a captive, each of his movements closely monitored and recorded for a host of scientists to dissect and debate. It was two in the morning: one of the only times the lab wasn’t clogged with geeks and guards and the like. I should have been sleeping—Sylvia, our maid, would have had a fit if she’d known—but I couldn’t, even if I’d wanted to. All of my dreams—nightmares—were full of his face.
I didn’t even know his name.
But his features haunted me… the way his black hair fell across his face, the strong set of his short frame, the warmth of his Latino skin. I pressed a clammy hand up against the glass, still intrigued. His eyes raced underneath his eyelids, his face scrunched in a continual grimace. It seemed like consciousness was on the verge of returning, but he couldn’t break through sleep’s veil. And he was frozen that way, the liquid dripping through his I.V. trapping him on the edge of wakefulness.
I suddenly wondered what his dreams held. Did he even dream at all, with the drugs in his veins? I couldn’t know.
I’d overlooked a lot. My father had pushed limits, but never so far. His work meant everything to him—even if it all of it wasn’t strictly legal. I knew my fair share of it. I never dug for details—I never wanted to know—but I’d answered enough calls, scheduled enough meetings, and sorted enough mail to get a taste of what was going on. After Mom passed, I’d come close to losing my dad as well. The man who’d fathered me still lived in the same house as I did, but he’d chosen to live for work. He’d just never crossed the line so far…
I rubbed a tired eye, yawning. The boy still looked as actively peaceful as ever. Nothing changed. And I knew it wouldn’t as long the anesthetic was doing its job. A flicker of an idea crossed my mind. The insecurity and indecision swarming my mind quickly beat it into submission. There was nothing I could do. I couldn’t help. No one could expect me to—I’d be betraying my own father. I knew nothing about the boy, and he could be a dangerous fugitive, after all. Or maybe there was something I could do. Maybe I was the only one that could help.
My blurry sight caught a flicker of motion. His fingers were twitching--an erratic quiver. I held my breath, concentrating on the small sign of life. After half a minute his hand stilled, returning to surreal slumber. It’d happened before. I figured it was just the effects of excess hormones or accelerated dream activity or some other intelligent mumbo-jumbo. I didn’t know, but I always hoped that maybe he would wake up… that he’d open his eyes, sit up, and I could talk to him, and sort it all out, and everything would be fine. It was just a big misunderstanding.
But I knew it wasn’t, and everything wasn’t going to be fine. Everything was wrong, very very wrong.
I wished I knew who he was. I wished I knew how he’d gotten the small scar on his collarbone, and if he spoke Spanish, and why. Why he was in my basement. Why my father had him hooked up to tubes and computers. Why the scientists allowed in had been minimized to a select loyal few. Why he had to be sedated. Why I could never pull myself away until the last possible moment.
He’d captivated me.
The irony almost made me laugh.
Somewhere, deep down, in that area between dreams and sorrow and the root of life’s purpose, I knew that I had to help him. I knew I was probably the only one that could.
So as the clocked ticked on its way towards four in the morning, I dragged the dosage to zero and watched as the computer calibrated.
Maybe that was enough. I’d just have to wait and see.