“Can you take me to Arn?” you ask.
Mel nods. She leads you further down the hallway.
“I assume you got my note?” she whispers, now staying close to you.
You wait until she looks at you, giving her a nod. A feeling of relief washes over her face.
“The fact that I’m still here means you hid it,” she continues. “Thanks. Not everyone knows what to do when help is given to them.”
You walk past a few more doors before you stop at another tall mahogany door.
“Can I speak to him alone, please?” you ask.
“Will you promise me you won’t try to kill him, maim him, or otherwise bring physical or mental harm to him while I leave you unsupervised?” Mel replies.
“That’s an oddly thorough list of requests.”
“I have an oddly thorough job.”
“Very well,” Mel says as she unlocks the door. “Knock when you’re ready to come out.”
You enter the room, the door closing behind you. Arn is laying on what looks to be a hospital bed. He’s awake, and though he looks a bit groggy, he doesn’t seem to be in too bad of shape.
“Hey,” he says. His voice is weaker than normal, much as yours was just after waking up.
“Hey,” you say.
You pull up a chair and sit by your half-brother’s bedside. He’s staring ahead at a point on the white wall across the room that you can’t identify. You steal glances over at him intermittently. It’s clear that he’s scared — and maybe he should be. After all you’ve been through, you decide that opening with rage isn’t the best option, even if you do get there eventually.
“Why did you do it?” you ask.
“I wanted to give her another chance,” he says. “The doctors said she wasn’t going to make it.”
“So this was your way of keeping her alive?”
“I didn’t know what they did here. Not fully at least.”
Tears begin to roll down Arn’s face.
“I was hoping they had some kind of treatment to help her recover,” Arn continues. “They made it seem like it’d help her and it’d all be good. That everything would just disappear and that maybe she’d get better.”
“So it wasn’t a lie?” you ask. “Your fuckup really is the reason I’m in here.”
“I’m sorry,” he says. “I didn’t mean to put you through this. I didn’t mean to put her through this.”
Arn’s cries gain intensity as emotions begin to overwhelm him. Though you’re angry that he’s the reason you ended up in Project Tasman, he is still your half-brother. You place your hand on his arm. You’re not willing to hug him or comfort him any more than that, but you can’t completely ignore him either.
“You chose her, didn’t you?” Arn asks.
“I did,” you say quietly.
“I figured. You wouldn’t have come here otherwise.”
“No. I wouldn’t have.”
For the first time since you entered the room, Arn looks over at you. He’s not been damaged by Project Tasman in the same way you’ve seen in Brielle’s eyes. He looks sorrowful and remorseful, as if a great weight has been added to his shoulders.
“She was brilliant,” he says. “I’m sorry I ever tried to hold her back.”
You can’t bring yourself to respond to Arn. The accident that put Sabrina in a coma wasn’t Arn’s fault. Nor did he force you to choose to kill your half-sister. But his repeated holding her back made you resent him. And that’s something you’re not ready to deal with. Not while you still need to see her.
You climb out of your chair and make your way to the door.
“Alana?” Arn calls behind you.
You turn around and face him.
“What are you going to do when you get out of here?” he asks.
You shrug. You turn and knock on the door, saying nothing to him as you leave the room.
You join Mel back in the hallway. She leads you to the next door down the hall, opening it and leading you in. You’re surprised to see your fiancee, Natalie, though she was Quinn inside of Project Tasman, already sitting waiting by Sabrina’s bedside.
“Oh my god, Nat,” you say as you sprint over to her.
She wraps her arms around you and twists you back and forth. She’s clearly been out of the experiment longer than Arn based on her energy. You feel your own excitement rise just from seeing her.
“Oh my fucking god,” she says as she squeezes you in a tight embrace. “I thought I’d never see you again.”
You hold Natalie tightly in silence for what feels like hours, though the presence of a ticking clock causes you to realize it’s only a few minutes. All the while, you’re staring over Natalie’s shoulder — your sight occasionally obscured by her copper hair — at your sister lying in a hospital bed.
This is the last image you had of her before you entered Project Tasman. Sabrina was everything you could have been but never had the motivation for. She had a full ride scholarship for college. You were convinced she’d win a Nobel prize by the time she turned 30. But instead, a split-second brought her to a place she couldn’t recover from.
Natalie lets go of her hug and wipes away tears you didn’t realize you were crying. She moves out of the way and lets you sit down by Sabrina. You pull the chair as close to the bed as space allows, laying your head on your little sister’s arm as you talk to her.
“I’m sorry this happened to you, sis,” you say. “This isn’t how things should have ended for you. You deserved the world. The whole fucking world. You should have been a rock star. Or an assistant to that famous scientist you loved. Or the inventor of some sci-fi waffle replicating gun. Or anything you wanted to be.”
You glance up and see Natalie consoling Mel.
“But now,” you continue. “Now just be the best you can be wherever you’re going. I’ll see you when I get there.”
Two years later, you’re walking through Schipol Amsterdam Airport, making your way to the luggage carousels to retrieve your suitcases. Natalie strides along beside you, absentmindedly checking your itinerary on her phone with one hand while she holds tight to yours with the other. The second ring on her left hand is still a bit awkward to feel, but you’ll get used to it.
“The trains to Utrecht run every 15 minutes,” Natalie says. “It’ll take us about a half hour to get there, so I think we’ve got an hour or so before we can take a nap.”
“Oh good,” you say. “I don’t know how much I could explore until I get some rest.”
“Travelling first class will help with the jet lag,” she replies. “It was awful nice of Arn to do that.”
You nod and keep walking. You haven’t seen your brother since the final day in Project Tasman. If you had it your way, you wouldn’t talk to him either. But he’s insistent on trying to make things up to you for everything that happened in the experiment. And though you’re generally against it — especially since everything he tries involves money — you wanted to do something special for Natalie for your honeymoon. A comfy international flight seemed like a good idea.
Your honeymoon was already coming to you at a limited cost. A few months before the wedding, Natalie got a call from Mel, offering to put the two of you up in a high-end hotel. It meant your exploration of the Benelux countries would be based out of Utrecht rather than Amsterdam, but you weren’t one to complain about free accommodations. Mel was also the lone person involved in Project Tasman to attend your wedding, and frankly one of only two you would have even wanted there. You don’t want Arn around for the foreseeable future and the less you see of Jeff, the better. You would have loved for Brielle to come, but she’d taken a job out of the country and couldn’t make the flight back. This saddened you, but Natalie insisted it would all work out in the end.
After picking up your luggage, you board the train to Utrecht. The half-hour trip goes quicker than you expected — in large part because you dozed off on your wife’s shoulder shortly after the train started moving. As the two of you arrive at your hotel, you’re enamored with the building’s grand facade.
“How much did this cost?” you wonder aloud.
“Mel really undersold this place,” Natalie replies. “I figured it’d be a nice hotel, not a place where you drop a Benjamin on the bellhop’s tip if you’re feeling stingy.”
You’re greeted at the door by a bellhop in a gray uniform.
“May I take your bags?” the bellhop asks.
“Oh,” you reply, a little taken back from Natalie’s previous response. “We can take them.”
“Please, madam,” the bellhop insists. “This is part of our hotel’s exemplary service. Allow me to take the bags to your room while you check in. What name is the reservation under?”
“Natalie Warren,” Natalie answers. “And please take them up. We’ll need a bit of time to check in.”
The bellhop nods and takes your luggage, hustling it onto a cart and off to the elevator.
“Does it really take that long to check-in?” you ask. “This place seems efficient.”
“We’ll be a bit,” Natalie replies.
The two of you make your way to the front desk. There’s no one there initially, but as you get closer, a familiar face exits a back room and comes into view.
“Oh my god!” Brielle shouts. “You’re finally here!”
She exits the front desk area and runs over to you. You lose your balance as Brielle charges you, meeting you with a half-embrace, half-tackle. Though you’ve talked since leaving Project Tasman, you’re surprised to see how happy you are seeing her in person for the first time since leaving.
“You kept the name,” you say, gesturing at her nametag after she finally lets you go.
“Yeah,” Brielle replies. “After I got out, I tried being Cruz again. But I couldn’t get used to hearing my old name again. So Mel helped get me in touch with someone to change it.”
“Why keep Brielle though?” you ask. “You could have changed it to anything.”
“I liked it,” she says. “Even after all of the shit I went through while I had that name. It just felt like it suited me.”
“It does,” Natalie interjects.
“I suppose I should do my job and get you two checked in,” Brielle says.
“You knew she worked here?” you whisper to Natalie as Brielle makes her way back behind the desk.
“Surprise,” Natalie replies, smiling.
“Do you think she’ll join us for dinner? Or something?”
“I’m sure we can figure something out.”
“Alright,” Brielle says. “Here are your card keys. You’re in room 402. There’s amazing room service here and it’s being comped for you as part of your package. I’d recommend the dinner pancakes.”
“Dinner pancakes?” Natalie asks.
“It’s a Dutch thing,” Brielle responds. “I swear it’s worth it. They’re called pannekoeken. I like the one with cheese, spinach, and bacon, but feel free to pick whatever.”
“Any chance you’d be willing to join us for dinner later?” you ask.
Brielle leans forward, taking care to avoid leaning against one of the columns dividing the desk.
“Here’s the thing,” she says. “I’m working until seven tonight. And I’m not supposed to come fraternize with guests if I’m still in my work uniform. But if you’ll give me time to run home to change and shower, I’d be happy to have dessert with you two.”
You look at Natalie and smile.
“That sounds great,” Natalie answers.
“Oh,” Brielle says. “And I’m taking my first vacation. Or holiday. Whatever it’s called here. So once I get off work tonight, I don’t have to work again for six days.”
You get your card keys from Brielle and head up to your room. It’s a massive suite with a full living room.
“Mel did not fuck around,” you say.
“It would appear not,” Natalie replies.
“We should call her and thank her.”
After a dinner of pannekoeken, you curl up in bed and relax while you wait on Brielle to come over. Natalie is lounging on the couch reading one of the books she brought for the trip. You notice her close the book and stare at the ceiling for an extended time.
“What’s up?” you ask.
“Do you ever wonder if he’s still in there?” she asks.
“Nope. But if he is, good riddance.”
“But Brielle was in there a lot longer than him, right?”
“Right,” you reply. “And you see how long it’s taken her to feel comfortable seeing us in person because of it.”
“It’s a shame,” Natalie answers. “I hope they found a way to make it more helpful and less –”
“Traumatic?” you say, cutting her off.
A hush falls over the room, though it’s quickly interrupted by a knock at the door. You answer it, finding Brielle standing there with multiple bags and an armload of wine.
“Holy fuck,” you say. “Let me take some of that.”
“Thanks,” she replies. “I had to knock with my foot.”
You begin to lay out the various snacks and desserts on the living room table, while Natalie takes the bottles of wine to chill. You notice that Brielle is still standing near the doorway, shoes and her light jacket still on.
“Come have dessert!” you say excitedly.
“I need to say something to the two of you first,” Brielle replies. “Please?”
“Yeah, of course,” replies Natalie, joining you back in the living room.
“Look,” begins Brielle. “I know you know that my head got really fucked up in there. And I’ve been working to get better. It’s been a really long road and I’m finally starting to feel like the person I was before ending up in that place.”
“That’s good,” Natalie interjects.
“Somewhere along the way,” Brielle continues, “I realized that I can’t be normal anymore. At least not the normal I thought I was before ending up in there. And that’s made me reckon with a lot of things. It’s part of why I was so willing just to uproot my life and move to the Netherlands for a job. It’s always been the dream, but I had things holding me back before. But now I have this and I kind of like it. And the two of you got married. Which is amazing and I’m so happy for you.”
“Thanks,” both you and Natalie say almost simultaneously. You share a quick laugh at your near-jinx.
“I know that I was all gung-ho about being open to being part of your lives when I was in there,” Brielle says. “And I’m not saying that I wouldn’t still be. Eventually. The two of you have been amazing friends to me, even if I’m not the best at being stable.”
“You’ve been through a lot,” you say.
“I know,” Brielle continues. “And that’s the thing. I want to have some time in my life where I can just figure out me. And I know the two of you will be there as friends while I do that. And if there’s sometime down the line where we grow closer than that — I think I’d like that. I just want to understand who I am right now. So I don’t want there to be any expectations or confusion about my intentions.”
“We understand,” Natalie says.
Brielle walks over and hugs you both, giving you each a kiss on the cheek. She finally takes her jacket off and hangs it in the closet.
“That said,” Brielle states. “We’re celebrating tonight. We’re finally all out, together and free. You two are celebrating a wedding. I’m working at a Dutch hotel with columns in the lobby. I bought half of the country’s wine. I fully intend to get plastered and sleeping somewhere in this room. And then when we wake up, I’m going to show you where to get the best coffee to stop a hangover in the entire city.”
“Good,” you say. “We wouldn’t have it any other way.”
As Natalie walks to the other room and begins opening wine bottles, Brielle walks over and puts her arms around you. Her eyes don’t hold the same fear they always had in Project Tasman. She’s finally out of the experiment. You all are.
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