Easy. Simple. Smooth. Those were the words that Simon and Angelique wanted to describe the day with, but fate—fickle as it often is—slashed those dreams.
With only a tiny bit of apprehension tucked quietly in the back of his mind, Simon strolled through familiar glass doors. He ushered his distracted child into the lobby and propped the door open with his elbow until Angelique walked through.
Both parents kept their eyes on their child, and when Jacob looked up from the toddler-proof tablet in his hands, Simon held his breath. He eyeballed the tyke as he looked around until the boy found the unoccupied, child-sized table in the corner. As carefully and methodically as a toddler could manage, Jacob fumbled with the chair until he managed to scoot into a good sitting position. Without missing a beat, he went right back to playing his games, completely oblivious to where he was and preoccupied with his tablet.
Simon let out the air in his lungs and visibly relaxed, thankful to have dodged that bullet. At least they would be able to sign in and get the paperwork done before the inevitable meltdown started. Focusing back on the task at hand, he joined Angelique and stepped up to the receptionist sitting at the front desk.
"Hi!" the receptionist greeted the couple. "You must be Simon and Angelique, Jacob's guardians."
Angelique smiled, grabbing the pen—tethered to the desk—to sign them in. "Yes, that's us."
"You're right on time as always," she complimented. "I've got your paperwork for today's visit in one of these folders, but I —" she stumbled, looking down at the desk—littered with blank manila folders—and reaching up to hide her face with her hands, "I forgot to label them."
Simon, seeing the embarrassment creep onto the young woman's face, did his best to reassure her. "It's totally fine," he said, giving her a thumbs up. "We're in no rush. Take your time."
"Thanks," she mouthed and went right to work.
While the receptionist combed through the folders, the nurse assigned to them commented, "It's such a shame that this is Jacob's last visit for a while."
Simon stared at the nurse for a moment trying to decipher the meaning behind her words. When nothing came to him and after a quick non-verbal exchange with his wife confirmed that she too was confused, he asked, "Why?"
"Oh," the nurse giggled. "All the nurses agree. Jacob is one of the cutest kids that we've got here."
Simon smiled. He looked over at Jacob, and it was certainly easy to understand why everyone always complimented the boy on his cuteness. He just emanated it. From his innocent-but-endearingly-charismatic smile to his kind, polite and friendly personality, Jacob took the title as the greatest kid, and Simon could barely hide his pride for the little boy, especially when he was just so grateful that Jacob was his son.
His son. The words were just so new to Simon, and still they were attached to such profound and immense joy. After Angelique's stillbirth, those words were a source of pain and grief, almost always amplifying the sadness in his home, in his marriage and in his heart until he could no longer bear it—until it destroyed the dad in him forever. After the funeral, therapy and even when he had told himself that he could move past the loss of his first child, the pain still lingered, confined to those words as Simon compartmentalized to keep going—to survive.
Jacob changed everything for him—even as a young man, looking for a therapist. From their first therapy session together, Simon saw the boy inside of Jacob, starved of paternal love and affection. And after a few years, Simon knew that despite the regret, grief and loss all mixed up in every bit of the pain in his heart, Jacob saw the lingering paternal warmth inside of himself.
Even before Jacob verbally acknowledged Simon as the father figure he never had, Simon knew. He saw it in the way that the young man's eyes would light up when he praised him for getting good grades in graduate school and in Jacob's barely contained excitement as good news tumbled from his mouth, words sometimes lost in the cacophony of excited cheers and hearty laughter. He saw it in the tragedy too, how despite feeling lost in his darkest moment, Jacob always managed to find his way back for another session, and Simon knew that their connection was so strong that even an hour of silence often communicated so much more than he ever could in a single session.
Jacob didn't even have to say it, but Simon knew on that faithful day almost a month ago, Jacob attended that session to ask his therapist and father figure to save him from himself. Simon heard the indirect cry for help from Jacob, and no amount of professionalism, no ethical guidelines and no objection from even Jacob could stop Simon from saving Jacob's life. He would not—could not bear to lose another son.
At first, the guilt from such an undeniably selfish act was hard to bear. But as days became weeks, he wondered if it really was so wrong to save someone's life—to let Jacob be free and happy again. Jacob with himself and his wife as his parents now had a happy, healthy family again and while he could have never anticipated this connection when seventeen-year-old Jacob entered his office, neither Simon nor Jacob could deny that their special bond saved a grieving father and a forlorn adolescent from themselves.
"Thank you for inviting me to view the procedure, Dr. Kelly," Mr. Hammond said into his office phone. "I am very excited to see the results on Jacob. From what we've seen, his case truly is special. I'll get down to the lab right away."
Mr. Hammond put the phone back on the hook, and he stared at it almost as if the phone would disappear if he looked at it long enough. He inhaled for as long as he could— until his lungs can't suck in another milliliter of air—and exhaled, "It's time."
Quickly, he turned to his computer and opened the command function, typing the paragraphs of code he has memorized in case of emergencies. Within in seconds of his typing coming to an abrupt stop, the screen on his computer went black, and the only thing on the display was a blinking cursor. He typed:
new phase of unofficial testing to begin today
ready to apprehend doctor and seize records
permission to execute? -Agent R
Agent R waited, staring at the screen until his eyes burned. He had to believe that his superiors would trust his judgement. Now, was the time to act before another innocent life was harmed—or worse—by Dr. Kelly's ambition. He could not allow her to experiment any longer on Jacob. The boy's life could be at stake.
Briefly, Agent R thought about what the outcome could be if his superiors denied his request. He would—in essence—be forced to watch the life drain from an innocent child, should Dr. Kelly's current pharmaceutical cocktail prove to be too risky—too toxic for a child's vulnerable biology. He knew deep in his heart that he could not do it. The years that he had spent undercover as Charles—a man whose personality he found repulsive—had to be worth something. Above all, he became a spy to protect vulnerable people, and that never entailed watching innocent after innocent die.
He closed his eyes and promised himself that no matter what happened—no matter the consequences—he would act. He had to be true to the idealism of his younger self—back when he was just little Robert. And when he opened his eyes again, seven small letters were sent back to him.
Robert expertly navigated his intentionally cluttered office room to retrieve the gear he had hidden in boxes in the room. He donned a bulletproof vest and reassembled his firearm. Quickly, he attached a body camera to the front of his chest and powered it on. He did a once over and began his mission as prepared as he could be.
Robert rushed as fast as he could to the other side of the building. Although he pretended to be out of shape to maintain his cover, he could sprint through the hallways like a football quarterback. He rounded corner after corner, slid past the staff in his way and managed to make it to Dr. Kelly's lab in what could probably be considered record time.
As he got closer to her lab, he moved slower, approaching her with caution. He utilized every bit of his training from the military and the CIA. He didn't dare breach the room until he confirmed Dr. Kelly's location from a small window into her lab. He watched her open different cabinets and waited until she emptied her hands, unknowingly leaving herself completely vulnerable for attack. Robert steadied himself and entered.
"Dr. Kelly," he barked, his eyes cold and unafraid. "It's over. You're under arrest."