by C.L. Donley
Genre: Contemporary Romance
The Halcyon program has only grown in respect and mystique over their now fifteen years of matchmaking. When I went through it six years ago, they were still boasting 100% success of all the participants. Single, usually hopeless, candidates leave the program as part of a couple. The foolproof methods Halcyon uses to guarantee a soulmate comes from a blend of technology, biology, psychology, and, of course, sex. Naturally, with its high price tag, extensive, invasive testing, and painstaking process, only serious participants make it through, and everyone found success. Until us.
Even though he’s now an hour out of the way, I’m still visiting this kid faithfully on weekends at the St. Lawrence Rehabilitation Center. I’m starting to look forward to our visits. In any other universe, the two of us would probably never like each other. He’s a trust fund kid, although I think technically to be considered that you have to leave your parents’ house, which he apparently only did when forced. Me, I’m the kind of guy that knows how to talk to everyone. I always liked helping people. Always liked being the life of the party. Police work mellowed me out a bit, but otherwise, my wisecracking and jovial nature goes a long way with a lot of perps who end up going to jail anyway. But they’re always in a good mood when they go. Cliff’s parents are loaded. The father’s in natural resources. Fairly old money. Clean coal, whatever the fuck that is. From what I’ve had to glean, Cliff’s the only child. Spoiled. Basically they raised a loser who leeched off of them. They would never use those words, of course. But I would. And I’m not leaving them off the hook either. Even with his memory still fuzzy, Cliff’s a bit of a blank slate. No direction, no ambition, no real passion. Not even for the girl that drove him to the ledge where I found him that night, the girl he can’t remember anymore. But I’m working on changing that. For some reason or another, the kid’s got some kind of psychological damage. I got a chance to really imprint something on this guy that could have a lasting effect. Cliff was a crazed, sobbing mess of a man when we briefly met. Now he’s doing physical therapy, learning to walk, simply because he can’t think of what else he’d previously planned to be doing. On the off chance he hasn’t just faked this whole thing out of boredom or for attention, I hope, for his sake, the memories never come back. I get to the hospital and check-in only a few paces from Cliff’s room. I can see Cliff’s room door’s already open so I confidently walk toward it, seeing Cliff in his familiar catatonic looking state on the edge of the bed while two nurses help put back on his trousers. Either he’s gone to the bathroom or been given a bath. Lucky bastard. “Hank!” I greet him. Cliff’s big dark eyes are blank a moment longer before the delay of a wide smile registers the familiarity between us. “Hey Felix,” Cliff says. It’s the friendly tone of a man that has an unexpectedly persistent visitor, not of someone who remembered once trying to jump off a ledge and was stopped by a highway patrolman. “Your move, Hank.” “Why do you call me that?” “What, Hank? It’s from Regarding Henry. It’s the ultimate amnesia movie, bro.” “Did he also have a zany friend that came to visit him?” “Zany physical therapist.” “Ah.” “You’re awfully quiet today.” “I’m feeling contemplative.” It’s warm enough that September afternoon to play chess on the balcony during my visit. Dr. Krueger thinks it’d be good for his amnesia to play games, particularly games he still remembered well enough to teach someone else. “So, have you given any thought to what you want to do once you get outta here?” “I have, actually.” “And?” “…I think I wanna be a cop,” Cliff announces. “Really?” I say, amused. Surprised, really. And I think I’ve earned the right to be flattered. “Yeah.” “You’re not doing that on account of me are you?” “Sort of.” “Hank, I’m touched.” “You saved my life. You cared about me. Without knowing who I was.” “Anyone would do what I did in my position.” “I don’t think so. You help people.” “How are the parents going to take this life decision?” “They’re going to hate it. But I always planned to be a disappointment. Here’s my perfect chance.” Uh… Thanks, I guess? Sounds a little too flippant for my taste. “There are tons of other ways to help people, you know. Ways that are a lot less… thankless. Sure you wanna take the oath?” “Why not? I’ve been a dickhead my entire life.” “And now you want to help put dickheads away?” “…Sort of. They need a sympathetic ear. After Harvard, I think I can survive anything.” “Harvard, huh? Well. We’ll see.” “Also, she told me once she had a thing for civil servants.” I stop in my tracks. She?? Surely he’s not talking about the broad who started all of this. Like he suddenly gained his entire memory back. Cliff sometimes says jumbled shit. Dr. Krueger says to ignore it, unless he doesn’t. “Well, you know I’ll help you any way I can,” I reply. “I know. Still got a lotta work to do.” “I’m not worried. Doctor says you’re killing your physical therapy.” “No, it’s definitely killing me.” “Well, you’re recovering in record time. Everyone’s amazed, no bullshit.” “How do you know?” “I’m a cop, people tell me things.” “Well once I’m well enough to walk on my own, they’re gonna boot me outta this place. I’m looking at at least another year.” “There’s no rush.” “For you, maybe.” “I wouldn’t worry. It’s not like your parents wouldn’t let you—” “I’m not going back there.” I stop again, looking at the chessboard like I’m planning my next move, but really I’m stunned to silence. I’m not going back there. It’s the same thing he said that night on the highway bridge. “You remember,” is all I said. “Everything?” “I think so.” “How long?” “Not long.” “At my last visit?” “No.” “Well… that’s great,” I reason. “I take it I’m the only one who knows.” “For right now.” “Gonna enlighten anyone else?” “Maybe Dr. Payton. If I can trust him.” “Dr. Payton?” “He’s the neurologist here.” “Not your parents?” “It’s just better that they don’t treat me the way they treated their son. If that makes any sense.” “It makes perfect sense.” We play a few chess moves in silence as if afraid of the place being bugged. “We had a therapist. At Halcyon,” Cliff moves his knight. “Met with us every week and stuff. His name was Dr. Payton too. It was weird for the first few weeks here. Like a phantom limb. I kept wanting to scratch this itch. Kept wanting to sit down with my doctor every week and it wouldn’t go away. It just sort of… pushed through.” “And you remember the girl too?” He ignores me, and for a minute I think he hasn’t heard me. I look up at him and I can tell that he did hear me. But he won’t say her name. Almost like he’s not ready to. But I remember it. Because it was a pretty unique name. Lyric. He hesitates before moving his bishop. “'Course I remember… ‘the girl,’” he says. “I remember what you said about her.” “What did I say?” “You said, ‘before you jump, maybe you should talk to her first.’” “And you thought that was a terrible idea.” “Not terrible. Just impossible.” “And what do you think now?” “I think… one day at a time,” Cliff says. “Here here.” It wasn’t all the time that going the extra mile got me a big win. In fact, most times it never did. There aren’t a whole lotta years between us, but to see this young man in his right mind, taking back control of his life is like watching a tap-dancing duck. It’s a sight to see, and it feels even better. “I think I saw her on television, but I still have a little trouble understanding what’s real.” “Wait, what now?” “Never mind. It’s crazy.” “Not necessarily.” “Checkmate.” I look down at the board. “No fuckin’ way.” “You’re terrible at this game dude.” “I practiced online. I downloaded a fuckin’ book.” “Felix...” “What, buddy.” “Thanks, man. For my life.” I give Hank a little smirk as I reset the board. “Don’t mention it.”
C.L. Donley is a future New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author of multicultural and interracial romance, who believes romance novels that are impossible to put down are the only kind that should exist! Armed with a B.A. in English and M.A. in Writing, she is new to the romance game, having written her first novel, Amara's Calling, after discovering the romance genre in September 2017. Donley writes in a style she calls "romantic realism" that is sophisticated yet simple, grounded yet unaplogetically escapist, and character-driven rather than plot-driven. This style creates a unique, modern reading experience ideal for book club discussions, personal epiphanies, satisfying re-reads, and the occasional spiraling reviewer! Love it or hate it, fans and critics alike can't deny her talent, and always find themselves coming back for more!
She loves hearing from readers and discussing her favorite parts of her own books, so feel free to indulge her.
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