Whilst she is fast asleep in the middle of the night, Samantha feels something strange happen to her and wonders if this is a nightmare. When terrifying evidence suggests the Orphans are part of a sinister ongoing experiment, Samantha’s suspicions turn to Lee, Claire’s boyfriend. But her probing inadvertently triggers Lee’s own investigation, bringing him dangerously close to the truth, as he is determined to find out who she really is.
After I’d taken a shower, I thought about giving myself a foot bath and fresh pedicure. But first, I decided to file my fingernails. After I had cleaned, trimmed and prepped them, I got one of my nail varnishes ready and began searching for the rest of my nail tools when I heard the front door deadbolt turning. I might have guessed it was none other than Lee the moment he made his voice heard. ‘I’m back.’
I hoped and prayed for him not to come into the bathroom, as I was still naked and only had my towel wrapped round me. I quickly dried myself and threw on Claire’s dressing gown. ‘How come you’re already home?’ I asked. ‘I thought you were staying over at Cody’s?’
‘Last minute change of plan.’ Lee collapsed on a sofa and let out a long deep sigh. ‘We still need to talk. Since you’re off the force and I’ve also quit my job, maybe we should pack our bags and go away somewhere. That way, we can figure out how to get our relationship back on track.’
That very much depended on wherever he had in mind.
‘Why don’t we discuss it tomorrow?’ I suggested.
Later that night, I had the most bizarre dream. Strange men in white coveralls came into my room whilst I was fast asleep and hooked me up to machines in order to perform tests on my body. I felt some sort of metal object slide inside my mouth on which I choked. I was terrified and determined for this nightmare to end, and so I jolted myself wide awake in a rush. I was sweating and felt all shaken up. I jumped out of bed and rushed to the bathroom and brush my teeth – and coughed up the metal I had choked on.
What the fuck was this?! It seemed to be an electrode. Which meant that it wasn’t a dream after all! What the hell was happening to me?
I examined the electrode under the magnified makeup mirror that belonged to Claire. Then I quickly scanned my arms just to make sure that I actually hadn’t been dreaming after all. Lo and behold! I located a small puncture wound from where they had drawn blood, which indicated further evidence that my dream was in fact real.
As I came out of the bathroom in a daze, Lee was waiting outside with a mug of coffee he had made for me. ‘I take it you didn’t sleep all that well and could do with a pick-me-up,’ he clarified. ‘After all, no gun, no badge, and nowhere to be.’ He handed me the coffee.
Though I was infatuated by his inner beauty and gorgeous figure – as well as taken in by his warmth and support – I refused the beverage. ‘Thanks, but no thanks.’
I nervously got dressed, still freaked out over being experimented on whilst I’d been sleeping.
‘Maybe we should move to Rio de Janeiro,’ he suggested. ‘After all, we don’t have any ties here.’
I turned to look at him as though he were off his head. ‘It’s not that simple,’ I insisted. ‘We can’t just get up and leave just like that.’
Lee looked disappointed. ‘Why not?’ he wondered openly.
I didn’t answer his question straight away. I pulled on my shoes and sweaters and prepared to step outside the door. ‘I need some time alone to clear my head,’ I replied without making any eye contact with him.
Lee realised something was seriously wrong when he finally clued into my quiet breakdown. ‘You’re shaking like a leaf,’ he noticed. ‘And where are you going, anyway?’
I was getting exasperated, but managed to keep my cool. ‘I’m just going out for a while to get some fresh air,’ I claimed. ‘I’ll be back in about an hour.’
Once I got back to Felix’s, I showed the electrode to Melissa, who examined it meticulously. ‘Yep, it’s an electrode alright. From an electroencephalogram array.’
From a what?
‘Basically, this EEG helmet monitors electrical activity in the nervous system and brain,’ she clarified.
I felt like throwing up. Felix put his hand on my shoulder supportively.
‘Where was Lee during all of this?’ Melissa asked.
‘That’s the problem. I can’t remember,’ I said. ‘the only I do remember is that there were three men in the room.’
Felix didn’t try to hide his disgust. ‘Lee must have been a part of it. He had to have been.’
Alison was having her usual cigarette break in the kitchen. She too was blatantly disgusted. ‘I might have guessed we were being experimented on,’ she said through gritted teeth. ‘These people are unbelievable.’
‘All that you’ve described sounds merely diagnostic,’ Melissa agreed. ‘Trust me, if it were my experiment, I’d want someone close observing the subject in order to keep tabs and accumulate data.’
I for one refused to accept Lee’s potential involvement in the situation. ‘I’ve been with him long enough to know him well enough by now.’
‘And why exactly are you defending the bloke?’ Felix asked. ‘The fact that you’re living under the same house and supposedly sleeping together doesn’t make him faithful or loyal for that matter.’
Alison was quick to verbally express her own thoughts. ‘I may be sleeping with my spy as well. There’s a fifty-fifty chance that my husband might be my monitor.’
I was determined to get to the bottom of this. I picked up the gun Alison had left for me and prepared to head on my way. But just as she too was about to make herself scarce, I remembered one other thing I needed from her. ‘What about the money that I asked for as well?’
Alison rolled her eyes in annoyance. ‘What is the money for?’ she asked tightly.
‘It’s a self-defence fund,’ I shot back defensively. ‘I already told you I need to protect my family, remember?’
‘Whatever,’ Alison murmured as she pulled out an envelope stuffed with what I guessed was $20K. ‘I will only say this once. Please use it wisely.’
As Alison left, I made my intentions clear to the rest of the gang. ‘If Lee is the mastermind behind this whole clone monitoring madness, I’m seriously fucking going to shoot his balls off.’ I felt extremely angry at his betrayal.
Melissa was concerned for my safety and wellbeing. ‘Please be careful,’ she warned me. ‘At least try to not jump to the wrong conclusions just yet.’
Suddenly, Claire’s police mobile rang. For fuck’s sake! This was the last thing I needed right now.
‘Maybe you shouldn’t bother answering it,’ Felix advised. But I’d already made my mind up. ‘What do you want, Ant?’ I snapped.
‘It’s Raj, not Ant.’
Raj the tech guy?! My mistake.
‘Claire, I lent you some surveillance equipment a few months back. Now that you’ve resigned, I will need the equipment back before it is inventory.’
So Claire had borrowed surveillance equipment from Raj? Brilliant! Another mysterious detail I’d known absolutely nothing about.
‘This may be none of my business, but it’s just about Lee, right?’ Raj asked curiously.
‘Yes, it is,’ I informed calmly. ‘I promise to get it back to you in a few days.’
I hung up, my head all over the place. I then discussed about Claire’s countless issues with Felix. ‘Claire had Lee under surveillance before she killed herself,’ I told him. ‘Question is: did she find anything?’
We went back to the condo to look for Claire’s surveillance equipment. I powered on the laptop to search for important information. ‘This place feels antiseptic,’ Felix groaned as he pulled on black gloves. ‘Lee’s whole world feels fake now.’
‘Quit whinging and start being helpful, will you?’ I said sharply.
‘Fine. Fair enough.’ Felix rummaged up some of Lee’s business cards for TREXCOM Consulting.
Once I realized there were no audio or video files or any transcripts, I shut down Claire’s laptop. ‘There must be some form of evidence,’ I said, frustrated.
‘I think I may have found something,’ Felix called as he pulled out a wooden box from the upper closet shelf. It contained a 9 MM pistol belonging to Lee. It also held several pictures of him in military combat uniform. I dismissively put them to one side and moved on to the hand-written letters from Claire to Lee. They were labelled ‘private’ and so I decided not to read them.
Finally – and last but not least – we found the surveillance equipment in the trunk of Claire’s other jeep. So there was no need to turn the whole house upside-down after all.
‘Time to check out where Lee works,’ I decided openly.
‘I bet there’s nothing there,’ Felix suggested.
‘We don’t know for certain, do we?’
I entered the downtown building where TREXCOM Consulting kept its offices. There was nobody at the front desk, except a short-haired blonde named Linda Carter. ‘Can I help you?’ she asked professionally.
‘I’m looking for Lee,’ I told her.
‘Lee’s office is on the top floor now,’ Linda informed me. ‘We downsized, remember?’
How was I to know that? But then there were a lot of things only Claire knew.
‘He’s in a meeting at the moment, but I can get him for you if you want,’ she offered.
‘That’s very kind of you.’
Linda showed me the way to Lee’s new office.
Once I got into the office, I got straight down to business. I placed the chicken sandwich and fries I’d bought for Lee on his desk, and then hurried to install the surveillance equipment under the desk. I worked my way through the desk drawers from top to bottom. They were all empty. As I closed the last one, Lee came in. ‘So you went out of your way to buy my lunch for me,’ he observed as he spotted the takeout on his desk. He was bound not to be aware of what was underneath.
‘I know how much you’ve been craving Wendy’s,’ I offered kindly as Felix watched and listened in carefully via his laptop while monitoring the output.
‘Listen, Claire, we need to talk about last night,’ Lee decided as he crowded up against me in his desk chair, much to my discomfort. ‘In the shower.’
Felix burst into fits of laughter.
With a warm smile, I gently pushed Lee back. ‘I only came to bring you lunch,’ I insisted.
He brushed my hair back to kiss my neck, but then paused. ‘What happened to your scar?’ he suddenly asked in a rigid tone.
Now I felt tense. ‘What do you mean?’ I asked nervously.
‘I mean the scar on your neck from the mountain bike accident,’ he continued, his voice hard. ‘It’s gone.’
Felix choked on his popcorn. Holy shit, he thought. Now we’ve fucked up!
I tried to play it off casually. ‘It must be the fast-healing ointment I’ve been using for weeks,’ I said dismissively as I moved out from behind my side of the desk. I wanted to bite his head off, tell him to stay back and keep his distance. But then I would give myself away.
‘I don’t think I saw it properly,’ he said, frowning. ‘Can I quickly see it again?’
I held him off. ‘You will really try anything, won’t you?’ I giggled.
‘You’re right,’ he said in a playful tone. He grinned from ear to ear, but I could see his eyes were still cold and hard. ‘I will.’
I made my way out. ‘I’m heading to a friend’s. I promised her I’d pick up her daughter from school. See you tonight,’ I called.
‘Okay, no problem,’ he called back. ‘Thanks for lunch.’ As he bit into the chicken sandwich and grabbed a couple of French fries, his wide smile was by now replaced with a frosty glare. Now I know you’re lying, he thought icily. And I know for a fact you’re not Claire. You’re an imposter.
As he was still eating, he powered up his laptop and immediately pulled up a video of Claire in marathon training. He paused and then zoomed in on a frame that showed the back of Claire’s neck and a large, gnarly scar. He slammed the laptop furiously. ‘Linda,’ he called. ‘Something just came up. I need you to clear my afternoon schedule.’
I read through Claire’s sad letters to Lee. Angry, I got in touch with Felix. ‘To say that Lee is one heartless bastard is an understatement,’ I vented to my foster brother via the mobile. ‘Claire loved him but he wouldn’t love her back, and he wouldn’t leave her or let her go.’
Felix had no idea what to make of any of it. ‘Lee’s certainly changed his tune,’ he noted rather bluntly. If I could see his face, I would be able to tell that he hated Lee just as much as I did.
‘God, everything is such a mess right now,’ I murmured. ‘I mean, I still have genuine feelings for him, but I don’t think I’ve fallen for him anymore.’ That was the big problem. I had fallen for Lee, but I just hadn’t shown it. Just then, a school bell rang. I was at Katrina’s school, getting ready to pick her up. ‘Katrina can’t wait to see you,’ Felix reassured me.
‘I know,’ I nodded, even though he couldn’t see me. ‘She’s the only thing that matters to me right now. Of all the things that scare me right now, this one’s the heaviest.’ I was terrified about how my daughter would respond to me after so long apart. That was the one thing I was worried about the most, especially because of the irreplaceable love I had for all the people in my life. I longed to dispense that love, even to my Clone Sisters.
Katrina came running out of the school, but then slowed down once she spotted me. I felt apprehensive. How would she know that this was actually me and not someone else in disguise?
Here was the moment of truth. ‘It’s really me this time,’ I reassured her as I reached out for a hug.
To my surprise, Katrina came toward me and then smiled. ‘I know,’ she said confidently. She threw herself at me ecstatically and I couldn’t contain myself any longer. We both laughed and cried at the same time as we held each other tightly. Katrina studied my outfit carefully. Her own outfit consisted of a casual school dress with a spring cardigan.
‘Why are you wearing such fancy clothes?’ she wondered curiously. Mind you, I did look and feel quite fancy. I had on a high neck blouse that had belonged to Claire and an office skirt that came down to my knees.
I chuckled. ‘You don’t miss a thing, do you?’ I asked rhetorically. As we walked back to Siobhan’s, we chatted about Aunt Alison. ‘How come you never told me about Aunt Alison?’ Katrina asked. ‘You both look exactly alike.
‘Only because I didn’t know Alison before,’ I admitted. ‘I promise I’ll explain it all to you someday.’
‘Is someone trying to hurt us, Mum?’
‘Not that I know of. Why would you think so?’
‘Because Aunt Alison said you’re making sure we’re safe.’
Unbeknownst to me, there was a black car parked a few miles from where we were. Lee was in it, and he had been watching us the whole time via binoculars. He was also wearing a wire device. ‘Caught you,’ he sneered.