Dr. Jennifer Eckels woke suddenly with a jolt.
“Oh, what the—?”
She groaned loudly as a thundering pain threatened to split her head open.
“Whoa, whoa... Just lay back, Doctor.” A disembodied voice came from above, and Jennifer felt hands on her shoulders, gently guiding her back down into a supine position. “There was an explosion. Just lay back. You’re going to be ok.”
Jennifer complied, wincing at the soreness she felt all over her body, eyes shut as she grimaced in pain. Dimly, she was aware that she was lying upon crisp coarse sheets in a hospital style bed, likely in the medical wing.
Now, she could somewhat recall coming into the lab that morning, a day starting out like any other, hunched over a microscope, and then a loud hissing from behind, one of the lab techs shouting, “Look out!”, a deafening, chest rattling bang, and then nothing.
Jennifer turned her head to the side to see a medical doctor, one she didn’t know, standing beside her bed, writing on a clipboard. She was a little disconcerted to see he was wearing an air mask on his face.
“What... what happened?” she asked groggily. “Is everyone else all right?”
The man scribbled on the clipboard intently for a few more moments, brows drawn together, before looking up with a sigh, and then finally addressing her.
“It was a pressurized tank explosion. I’m sorry to say, your other two colleagues in the room didn’t make it.”
Jennifer felt a chilling shock run down her spine as she realized what a close call it had been, and simultaneously a deep sadness—she really didn’t know the labs technicians from this morning very well, but she still at least saw them on a somewhat regular basis, and they would greet each other in the labs and hallways...
“Anyway, no need to concern yourself with that right now,” the doctor continued. “The important thing is you’re going to be fine.
“In fact, there isn’t even a need to keep you here for much longer, or have you admitted. Your husband has been notified already, and he’s on his way.
“When he arrives, he can take you home.”
Edward Eckels drove frantically, the wheels of his sedan squealing as he turned into the Gen-U-Tech Labs parking lot. It just figures, he thought distractedly as he whipped into a parking spot. Jennifer had had her reservations about coming to work for a company like this, and he’d felt rather the same.
And now this.
He had gotten a call from a random admin at Jennifer’s work saying that she had been involved in some kind of lab accident and he was to come quickly. The bitch wouldn’t provide any more details than that, leaving him to rush out of the office frantically, his mind racing with concern and worry to match his breakneck pace of driving.
Running into the sprawling, polished lobby, Edward was maddeningly waylaid by the front desk, the security guard disinterestedly asking for identification and calling upstairs for clearance with no urgency whatsoever. Rather than being provided with any sort of escort, he was unenthusiastically directed by the guard to a paradoxically small and undecorated room down the hall, which held only an unoccupied desk and a few uncomfortable chairs, one of which he sat in as he waited.
It was nearly twenty minutes later when the door was knocked upon and opened without waiting for a response, and a man in a smartly dressed business suit came in.
“Hey... Uh, it’s Evan right?” the man asked, holding a hand out.
“Edward,” Edward corrected curtly, shaking his hand cursorily. “Where’s Jennifer?”
The man in the suit sat down in the desk across from him, giving the tabletop a small frown and brushing it off distractedly before shuffling a few papers into a neat stack and setting them back down again. Only then did he apparently find it satisfactory enough to reply.
“Now, I don’t know what you’ve been told, but your wife is totally fine—we just want to assure you of that,” the man began, speaking in a slow, calm, slightly loud voice that bordered on condescension. “And just so it’s clear, this was caused by an employee’s wanton disregard for our laboratory safety protocols.”
Edward blinked at the man for a few moments at this banal non-answer. “So… are we seriously doing this right now..?
“Do me a favor,” he solicited, his tone dangerously causal at first, gradually rising in wrath. “Can you just please take a minute from trying to cover your ass and tell me something?
“Where the hell’s Jennifer?!”
“Ok, ok,” the man said, holding his hands out in front of him in an infuriating gesture of placation. “She’s coming right now, but we just have to get some papers signed to authorize her release, acknowledge waiver of liability, etc, etc.”
“Listen, you fucking weasel,” Edward snarled, reaching out across the desk and grabbing the man by the front of his expensive tie. It was just then that the door opened again, and Jennifer was pushed in on a wheelchair by an orderly in scrubs, dressed as though for surgery, including a hair cover and mask.
“Edward!” His wife exclaimed in shock at the scene before her. “What’re you doing?!”
Edward immediately released the man, his outage instantly forgotten as he went to crouch down eye-level in front of his wife, gripping the arms of the wheelchair. The orderly behind her silently departed.
“Oh Jennifer, Christ, I was so worried. They didn’t tell me anything.
“Are you ok, babe?”
“I’m fine,” she answered. “They said I’ll be sore for the next week or two, but otherwise, I’m fine.”
Relief flooded in. She would be all right. She certainly looked well enough, like her normal self. Her brown hair was a touch disheveled, her light gray eyes slightly bloodshot, and perhaps the shadow of a bruise to come on her cheekbone, but otherwise she seemed uninjured. He wrapped his arms around her.
“Ow, Edward, get off! I’m very sore.”
He let go immediately, apologizing.
“Oh, don’t be silly,” Jennifer said, smiling wanly. “Only, I’m just very exhausted and want to go home now.”
“There’s just the matter of the paperwork,” the Gen-U-Tech executive broke in.
“Listen, you piece of—” Edward started, whipping his head around savagely, his anger quickly rekindled, before his wife interjected.
“Just sign whatever they want so we can get out of here.”
At home, Edward tucked his wife into their bed, having carried her upstairs. Jennifer might have been a little heftier these days than their wedding night long ago when he’d first carried her across the threshold, and he may not have been hitting the gym as much he’d used to back in the day either, but still, Edward was more than capable of taking care of his wife when duty called.
He changed her out of her clothes into one of her nightgowns, Jennifer sleepily murmuring her thanks as she quickly drifted off, and he pulled up a chair beside the bed to watch over her.
Edward brushed some of her brunette hair out of her face, stroking her cheek softly. Christ, it had been such a scare to get that call. Idiots, he thought resentfully. Whatever Gen-U-Tech’s less than savory reputation, still one would think a multi-billion dollar corporation could have figured out a better way to have handled the whole thing. And to think, two people had been killed in that accident. It just as easily could have been Jennifer.
What would he ever do without her, he wondered, his imagination briefly taking hold, vague images of a drab funeral, guests in black, spiralling bleak, empty days flashing through his mind before he pushed away the unpleasant thoughts. Looking at her familiar face, he was filled with appreciation for her, and all of their happy time together.
Having met in college, they had taken perhaps a less conventional path than their other friends and gotten married early, buying the house they lived in now soon after. Edward had worked hard while Jennifer was getting her PhD and although there hadn’t been much money in those early days to make ends meet, let alone go out and live it up with friends, that had never really been their speed anyway, and now in their late thirties, they were financially leaps and bounds ahead of most anyone they knew their age.
Not that finances mattered much. Jennifer was concerned most of all with her research and outside of that, Edward was more than content to have quiet nights at home, talking about her latest developments or sharing a good book.
Looking at her now, eyes closed, deeply asleep, Edward was a little surprised to see the careworn wrinkles around her eyes. The way the years had flown by... Good years. Great ones.
Drained from the events of the day, Edward suddenly felt exhausted himself, and found himself drifting off in the chair. What would I have done, he thought again sleepily.
Just as he nodded off, the last thing he thought was, God, I love this woman...
“Ooh yea, baby.... that’s it... do it to me like that...”
Edward woke with a start.
His back ached, cramped from sleeping in a sitting position. The bedroom was enveloped in darkness, as it was apparently some unknown hour in the middle of the night.
“Yea, baby, I’m close... keep doing me like that...”
What the hell..?
It was Jennifer, talking in her sleep, saying things he’d never heard from her mouth before, in a husky, breathy voice he’d never heard her use before either. He reached over and snapped on the nightstand light.
What the hell?!
He jumped to his feet immediately in shock. It wasn’t Jennifer at all, but some blonde haired… woman... lying in their bed, brazenly masturbating in her sleep. Edward stared in complete disbelief at the stranger, lying on her back, moaning lewdly, her nightgown shucked up to her waist, feet planted on the mattress, hips lifted in the air, pelvis thrusting, a hand busy between her legs, her panties pushed to the side, sex fully exposed as two fingers plunged in and out.
Her lust filled face was clearly several years younger than Jennifer’s, her body svelte and fit, toned muscles flexing as she pleasured herself.
What the fuck is going on?!
“That’s it, baby... I’m gonna squirt all over...”
Through the surreal confusion, Edward realized that this intruder was wearing the nightgown he had put on Jennifer. But this made no sense... Where was Jennifer? Who was this? Why would they have switched clothes?
The woman thrashed and writhed on the bed, twisting the linen sheets, soaking them as she climaxed with a gush of lubrication.
This is insane... what is happening?!
The woman never appeared to awaken, her body giving a series of small twitches as she came down from her peak, her raised hips sinking back down, her moans dissolving into a series of murmurs before ceasing altogether, her bust, which Edward could see now was absolutely massive, rising and falling in deep, steady breaths.
Edward, feeling numb all over, managed nonetheless to lurch his brain into motion again and half ran, half stumbled downstairs to get his cellphone. To call... who exactly? Once he had it in his hand, he realized he had no real idea who to turn to for help. That Gen-U-Tech asshole in the suit had asked them to call in if they noticed anything unusual, but no way in hell would Edward turn to them. For lack of anything else to do, he began dialling 911 as he made his way back upstairs, his thumb poised over the ‘send’ button just as he re-entered the bedroom.
And then the phone slipped from his hand, dropping unnoticed, quietly to the carpeted floor below.
There in bed was Jennifer, sound asleep, the other bizarre stranger nowhere to be seen.
To look at his wife, Edward would have thought that the past ten minutes could be chalked up to some kind of psychotic breakdown on his part, except for the nightgown, still twisted about her waist, her belly and below completely exposed, and the soaking wet dark spot, slowly expanding on the sheets between her legs.