I really should have picked up on the first hint. It was staring me right in the face but it was so subtle I just didn’t cotton onto it at first. Something in my life has changed; everything and nothing is different, I don’t know what happened but now, I feel like an imposter in my own skin.
Friday has crept up on me like the bad end of a surprise. I’ve been working such long hours, for so long that I barely knew what month we were in anymore let alone the day. The moment I cracked my eyes open against this morning’s six am sun I knew something was wrong. Sitting up and rubbing a hand across my eyes I took in the familiar sight of my bedroom, wardrobe door slightly open, the same bedspread, the Terry and Lea matching dressing gowns that I hated hanging from their hooks on the bedroom door, last nights clothes slung across the chair in the left hand corner; everything in its usual, messy place. I shrugged off the uneasy feeling that had taken up residence in my stomach and slid my way downstairs, stuffing my legs through my creased up trousers at the same time.
Gliding triumphantly into the kitchen, I tightened my belt to its usual fifth notch in and smiled at the back of my wife’s head for a brief second before it hit me, the second hint.
“Hey, er, darling. What did you do to your hair?” She turned her face just a little so I can see the side of her face in the morning sun, she’s juicing some smoothie thing for lunch later. I don’t need to see all of her face to tell that she’s frowning.
“Nothing. It’s been like this since forever, dummy.” I want to reach out, to take a strand of that short, brunette hair and tug on it, wanting it to come away and reveal the long, golden blonde locks I know so well. Not once in our ten years of marriage have I ever seen her with any other style.
“Very funny. Did you dye it overnight or something? That’s some dedication Lea.” She turns around fully now, frowning, as I knew she would be. She sticks a finger in her mouth to lick off some blitzed fruit and cocks her head to one side.
“Terry, did you leave your brain upstairs asleep? Look …” She gestures to the wall behind me where we have a few pictures from our wedding hanging. I peer at them, expecting to see the same thing I’ve seen every single damn day for the past ten years.
“I’ll be damned.” I whisper to myself as I take in endless pictures of us together, and Lea on her own, sporting that brown bob. The lengths change a little, one right up under her chin, another to her shoulders but it’s not long and it certainly isn’t blonde. I feel the bottom fall out of my stomach.
“Terry?” I feel a comforting hand on my shoulder. “Terry, are you ok, you’re a bit white.” I take a gulp of air and gather myself.
“Yeah, yeah I’m fine.” She doesn’t look convinced. “I must have just dreamt it, you know one of those lucid things.”
“Uhuh.” She says and kisses the end of my nose before sliding my lunch along the counter to me. “Get your butt in gear then or you’ll be lucid dreaming about getting a new job if you’re late again.” She slaps my dazed and confused ass on the way out of the door and before I know it I’m in the car, driving absent mindedly.
I fucking know she had never had brown hair, I know it in my god damn bones and yet here we are, all brunet and shit and I don’t know what happened. My brain chews it over, everything just feels wrong, the colour of the houses I drive past everyday seems different, the stop sign that I swear was never there before. I shake my head a little bit to clear my thoughts; these damn dreams getting in my head.
I pull into my usual space in the parking lot and hot foot it up the steps of the building two at a time, the office is quiet, Friday mornings are usually worked from home, or so many of my lazy ass colleagues thought. I reach into my pocket as I see my office door approaching on my right and swipe the shiny piece of plastic through the chip reader. It beep a couple of times and a light flashes; pushing on the door I heave in surprise when it doesn’t open. Scanning the card again I watched with round eyes as the light flashed red, my entry denied. I stepped back, confused, head darting left to right. This was my corridor, my floor, fifth door in on the right, this was my office without a shadow of a doubt. I scanned the card again, something akin to rage beginning to bubble up inside of me.
“Hey Terry!” Someone called me from behind me, I felt a clap on the shoulder and turned to see Jordan Stenmark hovering in the corridor.
“Hey man.” I muttered before turning back to the door.
“Trying your hand at a spot of breaking and entering?”
“Something’s wrong with my card. Damn thing’s broken, it won’t let me in my office.” My fuse is short today, super fucking short.
“Well, call me stupid and all but wouldn’t it help if you tried it on your actual office door?” I stop, card mid swipe and glare at him. Jordan frowns a little and gestures to the name plaque I’d not even thought to look at yet. I raise my angry eyes to the golden lettering that leered down at me, mocking me.
Head of Sales
I stared at it for the longest time, unable to take it in. First Lea’s hair and now this, something was wrong with me, really wrong. Jordan reached across me, his suited arm snaking past me to pluck the card out of my quivering fingers, placing a hand on my arm he led me across the corridor and swiped us in; I caught the name plaque on the way in:
“What’s up Terry? Are you hungover or something?” He looks concerned, the same way my wife did. The office I’m in is definitely mine, just on the wrong side of the corridor. What the fuck is going on here?
“Do you want me to call someone, Lea maybe?”
“No, no. Just give me five minutes, I’ll be fine.”
“You sure, buddy?” I nod back at him, unable to speak through the whirring cogs of my mind.
I don’t know how long I sat; head in hands, staring at the water cooler bubbling away. There is a little crowd gathering outside my office, I can see their shadows outside the blinded window. Hushed whispers float through the cracks in the door, it sounds urgent, pressing. Maybe something has happened, maybe someone is ill … maybe it’s about me. A shiver runs across me and a great need to know what is being said fills me. I’ve never been the sneaking type but today, I have no self control.
I slid along the whitewashed wall, keeping to the tips of my toes desperate not to make any noise. I don’t want to be seen so I keep myself away from the window, and make it to the door. Pressing my ear to the crack, I hover my head away from the wood, the door moves in the frame and I don’t want to make a noise. When did I get so paranoid?
“He’s in there now?”
“Closeted himself in the first moment he got. I didn’t really get a chance to speak to him.”
“You could have pushed him a little harder!”
“Or yeah, sure and have the whole thing blown apart. I’m not that clumsy you know!”
“Fighting won’t help us now. Will you two calm down. How much does he know?”
“I’m not sure. I think he’s picked up on something, I’m sure of it.”
My heart is racing now. God what is this! What do I do? Jordan that dick, he’s setting me up in something, if only I knew what it was. I think about locking the door from this side and waiting it out but where is that going to get me? There’s no way out up here, no street facing windows. I keep listening.
“Did Lea do her bit this morning?”
“From what she told me he woke up shaken, but otherwise fine. She thought we were all on track.”
I take myself away from the door, unable to compute what I am hearing. Lea, how can it be true? Maybe she was coerced, forced into taking part … or maybe she is in on whatever is happening to me. I’m scared now, frightened to leave and frightened to stay. I don’t know what to do but I have to do something, and do it fast. I decide to make a break for it, it’s the only way. They don’t know I’ve heard them so if I just act cool, keep it together I can do this. I straighten myself and, rearrange my tie and ruffled hair; taking a deep breath I grasp the door handle with purpose and push myself out into the corridor.
The chatter stops instantly. Silence pours into the corridor and no one moves a muscle. I keep my hand on the door handle, not quite wanting to let go if it’s comforting metallic shape.
“Hey Terry!” Jordan says, a little too cheerfully. “How are you feeling buddy?” I do a quick scan of the people in the hallway, all faces I know; Janet from reception, Vince from tech support, Lance from security and a few others, about six altogether. I can’t outrun this many.
“Fine, I just want to grab a cigarette and a coffee.”
“Are you sure you’re ok Terry, you look awfully white.” Janet pipes up.
“Yeah Terry, you don’t seem too well.”
“Terry, is there anything I can get you?”
“Terry, talk to us.”
Time seems to stop and all I can see is this sea of faces pouring in on me from every angle, bleating my name and they just won’t stop. It’s crazy, they look crazy, heads all cocked to one side in mock concern. They’re my co-workers, people I’ve known for years but they’re not, they’re different now, something has changed.
I mumble something about needing air and making a dash, walking just a little too fast down the corridor and around the corner; shouts of “Terry, wait!” ringing in my burning ears.
I make straight for the car, keys fumbling in my hands, rattling, ringing with my desperation and fear. I jam them into the lock and throw myself in. I lose no time in jamming it into first and peeling out of the parking lot. I don’t know where I’m going, I have no money, no clothes, nothing but I can’t go back, and I can’t go home.
I wish I’d noticed that first clue earlier. I don’t know how I didn’t register, how I didn’t know. My name isn’t Terry.