Calden wakes up in the middle of a heart attack.
Or at least, that’s what it feels like. His chest is constricted, his body uncomfortably warm.
It is not, as such, an unfamiliar feeling. He felt this way before, after his sister Riley’s death, when he helped himself to the hospital’s supply of opiates. That night, he ended up knocking on death’s door, though he didn’t actually pass the threshold. That was how his mother described it in a rare use of metaphors that has somehow resisted all attempts from Calden to forget the whole ordeal.
Calden’s memory is a strange thing. He can recall that metaphor, he can recall his previous overdose, but he absolutely cannot recall the high that must have caused the overwhelming tightness in his chest.
As his grip on consciousness solidifies, he opens his eyes to find himself in his bed—he doesn’t remember getting in it—and with a possessive arm thrown across his chest. The owner of that arm, rather unexpectedly, is Eli. When or why Eli climbed into Calden’s bed, Calden cannot fathom.
Why they both appear to be nude is just as much of a mystery.
Calden isn’t opposed at all to those developments, but they are rather startling when he has no recollection of what led to this. And that lack of memories, as much as the tightness of Eli’s arm, quickly becomes too much to bear.
Pulling away, he sits on the edge of the bed, his feet firmly on the floor but his mind still unsteady. A quick look at the clock tells him it’s almost eight in the morning. His last memory is of lying on the sofa in the early afternoon with a splitting headache severe enough that Eli was concerned. Clearly things have happened since then. One of those things was sexual in nature, judging from a trace of discomfort so minimal Calden wouldn’t have noticed it if he wasn’t taking stock of his body. It explains why he and Eli are naked in bed, but by God how did they get from friends to lovers in just a day?
“Bathroom,” Eli mumbles behind him, and the word feels like an electric shock. Calden nearly jumps to his feet.
“What?” he asks despite his suddenly dry throat
Eli’s eyes are still closed, but he responds readily after a wide yawn.
“Go into the bathroom. Look at your arm. Then at your chest in the mirror. Then come back to bed ‘cause it’s too damn early to be up.”
He’s not making any sense, and Calden is about to say so when he sees something on the inside of his left arm. With only the glow of the alarm clock for light, he can’t make out more than a large stain, dark on his fair skin. Frowning, he stands and crosses the hallway to the bathroom. He has to blink a few times against the bright lights, but soon he looks down at his arm and sees that the stain is a tattoo.
His first thought is that this is appalling. Of all the ridiculous things to do to his body…
His second thought is that the tattoo is healed. There’s no redness, no swelling. It’s been there for a while. But how can that be? He didn’t have a tattoo earlier today.
The next thing he notices is that this is his handwriting. He couldn’t not recognize it. Slanted and untidy, it is as distinct to him as his own face. Which means he must have written the words and given them to a tattoo artist to ink exactly as they were.
The last thing he takes in is the words themselves. Or maybe he did read them first and shove their meaning back, too unsettled to consider them right away. But he can’t ignore them. Not when they are the beginning of an explanation as to what is going on.
The tattoo on his arm says: Diagnosis: anterograde amnesia.
He runs a finger over the words at the same time as he accesses the library in his memory palace. The library is exactly where it should be, as is everything else he can see, but there’s something out of place, nothing he can quite identify and yet the feeling of wrongness is like a pinprick right at the base of his skull, where he feels much too vulnerable.
He ignores the feeling the best he can and finds the definition for anterograde amnesia. He knows already what it is, but he needs the words, needs to contain this, to make it medical data rather than fear. He also needs to make sure it’s only anterograde amnesia, and not more than that.
Anterograde amnesia is defined by the inability to create new memories, leading to the failure to recall the recent past. Long-term memories from before the inciting event remain unaffected.