“Do you understand?” The police officer – or maybe he was a detective, John couldn’t remember – was stern.
“Yes, sir. I am to stay at least 50 feet…”
“Yards. 50 yards,” the man corrected him.
“50 yards from her at all times, and I am not to attempt to communicate with her.” John looked for some confirmation, and the man nodded. “Do I need a lawyer?”
“Not unless you plan on contesting the order. But if it was just a case of mistaken identity, as you claim, why would you do that?”
John knew no one believed his explanations. They thought John was crazy and probably needed to be locked up. But since there was nothing more than grabbing the woman’s arm, they seemed content to settle for the restraining order. This man just wanted John to know that he’d be watching.
The only thing John wanted was to get out. A bizarre situation had become a nightmare, and he would just be happy if he never saw Colleen again. Whatever connection might exist between her and Cailín no longer interested him. Being arrested was more than his curiosity could take. His apartment was the only place he wanted to be after a night in jail.
“I will stay away from her.”
And that was it. He retrieved his belongings and was free. It was already past noon. Going straight home, he messaged his boss, told him he would explain everything tomorrow. John hoped the news hadn’t gotten to his work; he wanted to be able to put it in context.
As soon as he sat down, exhaustion overwhelmed him. It had been a long night, and no amount of sleepless nights prepared someone for a sleepless night in jail. Deciding his state of tiredness might be severe enough, he moved to his bed and promptly slipped into unconsciousness.
* * *
The club never seemed to change. The people did; some different faces every night. But it was as though everyone was a regular, everyone knew how to behave to preserve the atmosphere. It might be kind of comforting, if it didn’t seem so odd.
Sitting at the bar, John wondered why he was back here. In his dreams, he would sometimes realize he was doing something he didn’t want to, and it would shock him. He might smoke a cigarette and then be horrified that he had done it. This felt very much like that, except he was awake.
His anxiety rose when he remembered that Colleen said she lived upstairs. Was he violating the restraining order? He stood to leave. It was silly being here; what had possessed him to come back?
“Hi, there. Missed you last night.”
Once again, Cailín seemed to appear from thin air.
“I was in jail.”
Her surprise looked genuine enough. “Why were you in jail?” Concern permeated her voice.
“We’ve already talked about this. You drugged me.” John surprised himself by saying that, but he immediately realized it was true. “I don’t want to go back to jail, so I’m leaving.”
He turned to walk away. Her voice stopped him.
He looked back at her. “What?”
“For drugging you. I’m sorry. I thought it was the right thing to do, but it wasn’t. I’m sorry.”
“Well… thank you.”
“I have a restraining order on me. From the woman who looks like you. She lives in this building. I have to go.”
“No, you don’t. Let’s go talk. No funny stuff. I swear.”
He should leave, he knew that. This admittedly fascinating woman had brought chaos into his life. Nothing good could come from staying. But her pull over him was undeniable. He could not say what it was about her. Yes, she was attractive, but that wasn’t it, at least not all of it. Whatever drew him to her, he found himself unable to ignore it now.
He motioned for her to lead the way. Rather than taking him back up to her office, she led him to an alcove off the floor. Pushing back the heavy curtain revealed a couch, a couple of chairs, and a low table. She waved him inside and closed the curtain.
“I didn’t know this was here.”
“These little spaces don’t get used much. But sometimes people want privacy.”
“Yeah. So tell me what happened.”
“Two days ago, after my last visit here, I woke up at home and went about my day. Something reminded me of you, which is when I realized I had forgotten about you. I assume that was whatever you gave me.”
She looked down to avoid his gaze. “Yes.”
“Why? Why did you do that?”
Her sigh was heavy. “I really did think it would help. I wanted you to forget this place.”
“It didn’t work.”
“I know. Please go on.”
He considered pursuing the question, but decided to continue. Maybe she would understand how messed up everything was. Maybe it would make her more willing to answer him.
“After work, I came over here to talk to you. But you weren’t open yet, so I sat and waited. I saw Colleen, your doppelgänger, walk by. Since she had said she’d never heard of this place, I grabbed her arm to stop and question her. Before I could get anywhere, the police showed up, and she said I was stalking her. They threw me in jail overnight and slapped a restraining order on me. That’s what happened.”
“Oh? That’s all you have to say?”
“I’m sorry, I wasn’t trying to minimize it. I was just thinking about how to make this right.”
“Tell me the truth. Do you have multiple personalities? Are you really Colleen?”
“No. I mean… No. I don’t have multiple personalities. This is rather difficult to explain.”
“Okay. Let me start with… Well, do you remember when I asked you if you remembered me before seeing Colleen?”
“This place is separate. It’s… different. People come here to get away from their day-to-day grind.”
“So you’ve said.”
“Well, it’s not just a slogan. It’s literally true. Everyone here is someone else outside of this place. No one here remembers their lives out there. And no one out their remembers their time here. It’s the ultimate escape. In other words, you shouldn’t remember events in one while you’re in the other. What you’ve described has never happened before.”
“So you are Colleen?”
“That’s your question?”
“Well, yes. At least in part.”
“No, I’m not Colleen. I know nothing about Colleen. I know nothing about her life. And she knows nothing about mine. Or about you. Except that you seem to think she’s someone else and are stalking her because of it. We are not the same person. It should be impossible for you to even remember both of us.”
“That is unbelievable.”
“I know. That’s why I didn’t want to explain it before.”
“If you don’t know about Colleen, if you only know about things in here, how do you know about any of this?”
“I’m the owner, remember? I set this place up. Nobody else out there knows anything about this. They just come here and enjoy themselves. I know the rules, but I still have to follow them.”
“So nobody can verify this?”
“Well… Now that you ask…”
“You’ve met him. The doorman. He’s never been inside. When I hired him, I explained things. Told him not to come in, it would make it hard to do his job. He agreed. You could talk to him.”
“So why do I remember?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know. That’s why I drugged you the other night. Try to put things back to normal. Obviously, as you noted, that failed. So I’m trying to tell you the truth, trying to make things right.”
This was crazy. He should have left. Should never have come back. A place separate from the rest of the world. John stood up and walked out of the alcove. Cailín said something, but he wasn’t listening. He kept going right out the door. The doorman was there, but John didn’t stop. He didn’t want to hear any more. Cailín was at the door calling out to him. But he didn’t stop this time, and she didn’t cross through the doorway.
Once he was up the stairs and a few steps away, her voice faded into the night. How had he even gotten here? It didn’t matter. He was exhausted again. He walked back to his apartment and went straight to bed.