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Casey threw an awkward glance at the band manager before she knocked. He gave her a smile and a nod as her fist hit home on the door. Her heart leaped into her throat as the bus door swung out, revealing Danny Lat, the lead singer of Underway. Silently, Casey handed the man his mail and a slip. The slip identified her as Casey Marie, his new “Personal Assistant” as she was called. The roadies called her his newest slave. She had never wished to be part of the personal crew of Danny Lat. She hadn’t wanted to be a roadie either. Her first job had been the one she liked the best. As a local loader/unloader, Casey saw loads of bands breeze past The Crew, some good and some not. They all, however, had a unique sound. The Underway Crew bought her and several other locals in ’04, and she’d been running with the pack ever since. Now, she had been “promoted,” since “Mr. Lat” needed a new slave to work to death.
Danny stood aside and Casey stepped into the cave-like bus. She cast about in the darkness, looking for any sign of human habitation. There was none. Instead, it looked like a wild boar had rampaged around inside the bus. Clothes and bodies were strewn about as though no one cared. And really as lights flicked on and hung over kids no older than twenty-five got up, Casey could see that they didn’t.
“I’ll give you an easy job,” Danny whispered in her ear. “Be a good girl and get some strong, black coffee for these guys.”
Casey nodded, trying to contain her reaction to her brain, and starting to pray for a long line at the nearest Starbucks.
“And for y-you sir?” Casey stumbled.
“Something cold with lots of chocolate,” Danny laughed.
Casey burst out of the bus and started running across the lot. She was halfway to hell in a hand-basket before she found the strength to slow down. She took in six deep lung-fulls of air to clean out the lingering smells e from her nostrils. She allowed herself one small prayer before she began to walk down the street. The nearest Starbucks was a half a mile down the road, and Casey walked to it as slowly as she could manage, dragging her feet in silence. She pulled out the card and opened the door that seemed to take an hour and no time at all to reach. She looked up and smiled, her prayer for a long line having been answered.
After ordering her black coffees, and Danny Lat’s cold chocolate coffee, she dragged her feet all the way back, a journey that took a little less than half an hour to complete. It seemed like three seconds. Her heart gave a mighty leap and raced into overdrive. She raised her single free hand to knock, and froze as the door opened. Her heart froze with the rest of her, and she had to remind herself to breathe. When she did, she regretted it, having removed the fresh air that filled her lungs.
Casey dumped the coffee into Danny’s hands and pulled herself into the bus. Her heart thudded on and she started breathing through her mouth, fighting all her instincts as she began looking for the clothes basket that she knew that they possessed. Finally, she found it underneath a pile of beer bottles and began throwing clothes into it, making sure not to touch anything that would have the smell on her hands. When she had all the mountains of clothes in one spot to bag, she began to pull out trash bags and bag up the stinky, sweaty, smelly clothes to take down to the Laundromat the next morning. Casey did not look at Danny and his wide smirk as she began to bag up the trash. Fast-food wrappers, beer bottles, vodka bottles, jugs that were once full of grapefruit juice; all were thrown into the oblivion that was a trash bag. Slowly, methodically, almost obsessively, she picked over the bus and started taking the four full bags of trash out to the dumpster. As the band and their girlfriends drank their coffee and cleared their heads, Casey made the bunks and vacuumed the carpet. Finally, the bus clean and no longer reeking of the stenches of everyday life in rock and roll, Casey fell to the temptation of a deep slumber.
Sixty miles away, in San Francisco General Hospital, Naomi Lat stirred from her coma for the second night that week, and the doctors that were in charge of her raced around the room, gathering many things in hopes of her waking. They called Danny Lat, sitting in his bunk sixty miles away, and informed him of his wife’s awareness once again. Danny roused his crew and band, telling them he needed to go. The phone in Danny’s pocket rang once again, and he was told that his wife was silent. Danny drove out anyway, and he took Casey with him.
“How is she?” Danny asked softly, his voice choked by his tears.
“She has fallen back into her general state of comatose existence. Her vital signs are regular, and she has returned to normal.”
Casey, standing off to the side of the two men, drifted away from the conversation. Drawing her attention was a glint of gold that came from the room right next to her. In silence, she stared, unaware that she was drifting away from the two men until the woman on the bed was in her view. Her face was perfectly visible in that moment, and Casey could barely contain her scream. The woman that was Danny Lat’s wife could have passed for Casey any day of the week.
“Casey! What’s wrong?!” Danny cried, looking around for her.
Casey could not reply. Instead, she rushed into the bathroom and tossed every ounce of food and coffee she’d ingested from the past 24 hours into the toilet with a loud retching noise. Danny tried to help her up, but she groaned and fell back to her knees with a sickening crack, allowing stomach acid past her lips. She gasped for air, trying desperately to fill her lungs before the bile in her throat passed her lips once again. She barely caught Danny pulling her blue streaked black hair out of the line of fire before the stomach acid passed her lips again. This time, it was laced with the thick deep red blood that was her stomach blood. It was also her life blood, draining out of her body and into the pure white bowl before her. She prayed that they would spare her boyfriend the gory details and simply told them the cause of death as internal bleeding. Slowly, the world went black.
When Casey finally lost consciousness, fading from her body so fully and completely, the doctor was back with his needle full of life saving fluid called adrenaline. Danny had not expected his personal assistant to see in Naomi what he had seen in Casey. He had not even contemplated such a reaction. It was as though she had seen something else as well as herself. As he fell into the chair in the adjoining room, trying to fathom where he would begin his apology, he felt a pair of eyes staring at him. He looked up to feel the loving gaze of his once comatose wife on him.
“Naomi?” Danny whispered.
In the bed beside Naomi, Casey Marie stabilized her heart and breathing regulated. Her brain activity dropped to bare minimums as Naomi Lat spoke her first word in three years.
Spencer Reece held onto Casey’s hand as he stared Danny Lat down. Spencer, a fellow roadie, had known that letting Casey take the personal assistant post would break her, but he assumed that there would be months or even years of time for her to find a new job. Now, Casey was in the hospital after her first night. God only knew what hell awaited her when she woke up.
“Mr. Reece, you have my sincerest apologies,” Danny said softly.
“I don’t under-“
“Why did you bring her here except to harm her? What reasons did you have?” Spencer asked through his gritted teeth.
Danny sighed softly. “Naomi was the most important person in my life. She still is. Three years ago, the doctors brought her in for an operation. They put her under and she never woke up. Since then, I’ve had sixteen personal assistants. They all quit because they were worried sick about where I went when we were in California. I had to keep Naomi hidden so that I could keep touring; keep making money to support her. The doctors said she was beginning to wake up. Then, I spotted Casey. She was so like Naomi, in more ways than one.”
“What purpose did bringing Casey here serve? What darks ends did you meet,” Spencer growled.
From the opposite bed, Naomi passed out.
“Spen…cer” choked a small voice.
“Casey, don’t talk,” Spencer whispered as he slipped even closer to Casey’s bed.
“Not… Danny’s… fault,” Casey managed.
“She give you anonymity…”
“I don’t deserve it.”
“Yes… you… do…”
“I brought you here to spare you and I only made it worse. I’m so sorry.”
Casey fell back to the bed.
Above the beds, although no one could see it, was a ghostly red cloud. When Casey passed out, the red cloud was joined by a sapphire one. The sapphire cloud molded into Casey; the red into Naomi.
“You must choose now which one of us lives,” Naomi whispered softly.
“I… I can’t do that.”
“You have three days,” she whispered.
The lights above flickered, leaving momentary darkness. When the light returned, the two souls merged. Casey, the dominant personality, now had three days to choose which of the people on the bed below her would live and which would die.
I can’t do this! I can’t choose. Danny’s heart will break if Naomi dies. But Spencer’s heart will break if I die! How do I choose?
You must choose with your heart.
Who has the most to loose? Who? Could Spencer possibly have more in his heart to loose than Danny? But, if Danny keeps Naomi, Spencer looses a lifetime of memories. Danny has had many good years with Naomi.
You don’t know that.
You’re right. I don’t.
Slowly, but surely, Danny watched as Naomi’s eyes flickered open. She looked at him, and Danny could almost see the memories as they rushed through her mind. So many years had passed since they had fallen in love. So many good memories that they had shared. Danny already had a lifetime’s worth under his arm. At this point, Spencer might loose the lifetime that I’ve had. Sadly, Danny watched as Naomi’s eyes shut again.
Spencer watched in stunned silence as Naomi’s vital signs bottomed out. Her heart was slowing as Casey’s sped up. Casey’s eyes flew open as Spencer watched Naomi’s heart flat-line. Danny stood up and started pressing the call button, but the expression on his face did not match his mechanical movements. He looked at peace almost. Casey, breathing fast, looked up at Spencer, and then over at Danny. She sighed softly before grabbing Spencer’s hand in her own.
Six Months Later-
“When’s the wedding?” Danny asked with a smile, examining the large rock that sat on Casey’s left ring finger.
“In six months,” Spencer beamed proudly, his arm around Casey’s shoulders.
“That’s excellent,” Danny exclaimed.
“And, I have a question for you,” Spencer replied, suddenly much more somber.
“I have an answer,” Danny replied with a laugh.
“Would you be my best man?” Spencer asked.
Casey had told Spencer everything that had transpired in the hospital room, down to the exact moment she had decided to inhabit her own body instead of Naomi’s. “I realized that Danny and Naomi had a lifetime of memories together. You and I had none. I hated making that decision, but Naomi had lived a full life since she had met Danny. You and I barely got started,” she had grimaced. Every day, she looked at Danny, who could often be caught looking off in the distance at someone or something, and she wished that she could make him happy. And it was those time that she especially hated the decision that had been thrust upon her. She didn’t care, however, when she looked into Spencer’s eyes again. It was too much to take, how much she loved Spencer.
“October, huh?” Danny asked, smiling down at the bride to be.
“What? Oh, yeah. October. I figured that it’d be a good way to celebrate Naomi, since that’s when she...” Casey trailed off.
Casey had never told Danny about her decision.
“You would have liked Naomi. You and her were a lot alike. I’m sure you would have been the best of friends,” Danny smiled.
More alike than you’ll ever know.