First Breath and the Reset

First Breath and the Reset

story

He leaned close but not too close. As much as he wanted to kiss her right away, he also wanted to see if she felt the same.

January 14, 2014

The weather was annoyingly cold that day. Keith had thought about bringing a jacket before leaving his house but he had already started the car and was too lazy to get out. He switched on the radio and released a deep sigh. Winter had left a few weeks ago but it was still freezing outside. The sky had been gray for a couple of weeks and it was starting to get to him.

He took out his phone from his pocket. No messages. Switching to his recent call list, one name had engraved itself on all 18 calls he had made the past few hours. Zoe.

Last night was terrible. Zoe was in tears burying her hands on her face. Keith stood on the other side of the room, speechless, his face on the floor and searching for reasons. He couldn’t find the right words to tell her he was sorry. He couldn’t even look at her, touch her, tell her she meant the world to him. It wouldn’t sound sincere.

He ran his hands on his dark brown hair. Say something. Anything. It’s your fault. Tell her you’re sorry.

“I can’t take this. I have to go.” Sounding resigned, Zoe grabbed her bag and left without another word.

The room fell silent. It was over. On normal fights, Keith would go after her and tell her how much he loved her and that he would fix everything. That night however was different. He cheated. The only thing she specifically asked him never to do. And it wasn’t an ordinary affair. It was different. Weird-different.

Images ran faster than sound through his head. The first kiss, the first touch, the first words. How could he just stand there and lose her? She wasn’t just a friend or a stranger. He loved her. But he knew he had lost her when she said she had to go. The way she said it sounded like retreat, like she had given up on him, on them.

It started the morning after New Year. Zoe was leaving town to be with her family for awhile. She kissed Keith goodbye as the speakers announced the arrival of her plane.

“Are you going to be okay without me for awhile?”

“I’m sure I can manage.” Keith placed his hand on her cheek. “Besides, you’ll only be gone for a week right? There’s this new project I’m doing with a client so I have that to do while you’re gone.”

“Alright, but if you need instructions on how to make that lasagna, just give me a call okay?”

“Don’t worry, I can always Google it if I have to. I can take care of myself.”

Zoe smiled and hugged Keith for the last time before she went into the waiting lounge.

“I love you.” she mouthed as she looked back at him.

“I love you too.” he did the same while gesturing for her to go.

Despite everything, Keith was secretly happy to finally be alone. He didn’t want to admit it but their 5-year relationship was starting to weigh him down and he could use the time off to clear his mind. Everyday felt like a routine and that spark they tell you about in the movies had slowly fizzled. Yes, he loved her very much but he couldn’t understand why it felt like something was amiss.

He drove to a nearby coffee shop along the airport lane. Wood and glass dominated the semi-modern shop. The room was quiet and there appeared to be only a handful of people scattered in the place. He gave his order and took a seat by the glass window. Coffee was something that always relaxed him. Contrary to what people say about it giving you more energy, it acted the opposite to him. It relaxed his nerves.

Zoe didn’t like coffee. It made her feel like a thousand years old. It was one of those things they both couldn’t stop arguing about. Zoe always won though but in Keith’s mind, he made more sense than her.

As he was about to take a sip, the corner of his eye caught a familiar figure. Raising his head to that direction, he almost jumped out of his seat.

Zoe? What the heck? But that’s impossible.

He swore he saw her go inside the airport’s waiting lounge. How could she get here so fast? His heart was beating hard and for a brief second, he was paralyzed. She looked up from the book she’d been reading and smiled at Keith as if ashamed she caught him staring at her. Keith gave out a shy smile. She lowered her head back down and continued reading her book.

“Zoe?” Bewildered by her indifference, he stood up from his chair and approached her.

“Uhm, excuse me?” She raised her eyebrow. “No, my name’s Heather.”

Is this a joke? She’s got to be joking.

“Oh come on Zoe? What happened to your flight? Did they cancel it?”

“Uh, no. And you sir, are kind of creepy.”

Okay, I’ll play along. *“Alright then, *Heather, do you mind if I take this seat?”

“Well, I was going to let you before you started sounding like a psycho lunatic.”

Keith chuckles. “So which is it? Psycho or Lunatic?”

The tension in her eyes dropped. “Well I said you were both, does that count?” She let out a small sincere laugh.

Keith swore she sounded exactly like Zoe and looked like her but if she wasn’t Zoe, who was she? He was intrigued.

“Listen Heather, I have to take a call for a sec. Can you hold on for a bit?”

“Sure go ahead.”

Walking towards the back of the coffee shop, Keith grabbed his phone from his pocket. With a view of Heather from the back, Keith dialed Zoe’s number to check if her phone would ring.

Zoe’s phone rings but Heather continued reading her book in silence. Maybe she turned her phone silent.

“Keith? Hello?” Zoe’s frantic voice emerged from the other line. Heather was still reading her book.

“Uh. Zoe? Where are you right now?”

“Are you okay Keith? Didn’t you just drop me at the airport earlier? What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. I just thought I’d say hi and check if you were okay in there.”

“Well, actually I’m about to board the plane so I have to go. I’m okay Keith. I’ll only be gone a week. You said it yourself earlier.”

“Oh okay. Sorry Zo. Have a safe flight!”

“Okay, I love you.” Zoe dropped the call. He stood by the post looking at Heather, still confused.

What is going on? Maybe I should just go home and rest. Maybe Zoe was right about coffee. It must be getting to my head.

He placed his phone in his pocket and walked quietly towards the exit. He increased his pace so she wouldn’t see him go out.

“Excuse me? You forgot your drink.” Crap! She’s real.

“Uh, I think I’m going to head out. Just leave it there. I need to feed my dog.” Keith hoped he didn’t sound too alarmed but he was and he just wanted to go home.

In his car, Keith turned on the radio to relax his nerves. He was reminded of the first time he met Zoe. The professor was preaching about the theory of evolution while he idly looked outside for something to happen. His desk was next to the half-opened door at the back of the room when suddenly, she passed by the door and briefly looked inside. For a split second their eyes met. Brown on brown.

It took him a second to stand up and excuse himself out. She was hurrying for her next class which turned out to be in the next building so he asked if he could take her there. And that’s how it all started. Keith remembered how much effort he had given just to see her and talk to her at school.

“Hey stranger. You’re still there?” Keith turned to see Heather standing by his open window.

“Err, uh, yeah. Guilty. Sorry, I took off.” He noticed something different about Heather despite looking exactly like Zoe. Her eyes seemed brighter, kind of like when he first met Zoe.

“That’s okay. I hope I didn’t scare you.” She flashed a worried smile. “Anyway, I’m heading home. Sorry if I did scare you though.” She turned to leave.

“No, wait.” Keith searched for words. “Sorry, it was stupid of me not to introduce myself.”

He opened the door of his car and got out. “I’m Keith.”

“Well, I see the psycho lunatic has a name after all.”

Keith was so fascinated at how similar and different Zoe and Heather were. But how could this be possible? There’s only one way to find out.

“Do you want to grab dinner with me? See, I’m heading to 8th street in that new restaurant by the lake.”

“Wait, are you asking me out on a date?”

That took him by surprise. Maybe he was. Besides, what could a single friendly dinner do? Zoe would be intrigued to hear about this story when she gets back.

“Yes.” And she showed a timid smile. Keith felt his heart jump for a second.

They arrived at what looked like a cozy little restaurant that had an outdoor dining area by the lake. The canopies reached high above but they weren’t too high so that the hanging light bulbs drowned the tables below with their orange glow.

He expected an awkward evening but instead, she turned out to be quite entertaining. She was witty and didn’t run out of things to say. There were several times when Keith accidentally grazed his knee against hers and she would blush though she tried hard to pretend she didn’t notice.

The night ended with her having to leave early because she had to meet with a friend. He insisted on taking her to where she had to go but she said no. They said their goodbyes and that was maybe the last he’d see of her. Maybe this was a dream and he’d wake up any moment.

Lying in bed, he replayed what happened earlier. He smiled thinking about those little moments when she’d blush and look down. The way her eyes sparkled as she talked about this book that she liked. The way she bit her lip when she was nervous. He fell asleep with that thought.

He woke up to the sight of shadows swaying on top of him. The wind was making the curtains dance with such elegance on his roof. Heather. Was she real?

He grabbed his phone.

Zoe: I’m at home with mom and dad. Hope you had a great night. xo

Keith was slightly guilty for thinking about Heather when he had Zoe. He placed his phone back down on the bedside table and did his routine for the day. As he was about to go to work, he noticed a book on the passenger’s seat. *Heather was reading this at the coffee shop. *Keith opened the cover and saw Heather’s name and number. He closed the book hastily.

Shit. She was real.

For the rest of the day, Keith thought about Heather and how great their night was yesterday. He couldn’t concentrate on what he was doing and was happy the day was finally done. He left home and placed the book next to his bed. He contemplated about texting her but he was afraid he’d seem too eager. What was the matter with him? He sounded like a teenager falling for a girl for the first time.

Keith: Hi Heather, you left your book in my car. I suppose you want it back. Just let me know. - Keith

He turned off his phone and went to sleep.

The next day came and a message blinked as he turned on his phone. He rubbed his eyes and sat up.

Heather: Hey Keith. I definitely want it back. Sentimental value and all, you know. Meet me at the coffee shop near the airport later at 5.

Holy Crap! She replied. I didn’t expect her to reply so quickly. *Keith was frantically going around his room, his heart beating. *Now what?

“Now, I have to meet her.” He says under his breath as he went inside the shower.

The meeting was casual but he felt mostly nervous and excited at the same time. His watch turned 4:57. She stood in front of him wearing a simple blue dress. She looked stunning. Her lips looked redder than the first day they met and her eyes looked even more beautiful that night. She was nervous too, he could tell. But this only made her look even more beautiful.

Their conversation continued from where they left off the last time only this time there were no awkward silence. They had gotten to know each other more and were more comfortable than the last. This time, Heather was in no hurry and she let Keith take her home.

Her apartment was two blocks away from the airport. It grew in the middle of a quiet neighborhood an hour away from Keith’s. That nervous moment brought itself back to the surface as they stood in the apartment’s entrance. It was cold that night and Keith had wrapped his jacket around Heather to keep her warm. She was looking straight at him as if waiting for something. He leaned close but not too close. As much as he wanted to kiss her right away, he also wanted to see if she felt the same. She grabbed his hand, closed her eyes and there it was. She leaned in for the kiss. Their bodies scrape against each other as she placed her arms around his neck. He could feel the sparks as he heard her breathe heavily. Keith felt all sorts of things. He felt like flying, like jumping, like floating, like singing, like all kinds of things.

After that night, they had been seeing each other again. Everyday was different. He learned something new from her and there were a billion things to do together. Work was just a routine he wished would end soon so they could be together. He felt so alive he wished this could just go on and on until a text appeared on his phone.

Zoe: Keith, you haven’t really returned my calls or answered my texts the past few days. I assume you’d been busy with your new client. Anyway, I hope you could pick me up tomorrow at the airport. I’m heading back home and I really miss you.

Shit! It’s been a week already? Zoe. Holy Crap, what have I done? What is wrong with me?

At the airport the next day, Keith tried his best to look normal though he couldn’t hide the fact that he was guilty of something. Zoe had arrived carrying her bags and she seemed happier than when she left. Something changed as she was away. Her eyes sparkled like Heather’s. She threw her arms around him and kissed him hard.

“I missed you so much, you wouldn’t believe how long I’ve been waiting to come home!” All Keith could do was smile as Zoe breathed through his neck.

The drive home felt too long for him. Almost like eternity. He couldn’t find it in him to tell Zoe what he did. It would break her. And he’d never seen her like this in ages. She seemed like the girl she was before the routine happened. She was the girl he’d fallen in love with from the beginning and the girl he should have loved despite everything.

Beep. A message.

Heather: I need to talk to you.

Crap. Not right now. This can’t be happening. Keith ignored his phone and placed it in his pocket.

Beep.

Heather: Keith, it’s urgent. I need to tell you something really important. I’m leaving town and need to see you before I go.

“Keith? Who’s texting you? You look nervous.” Zoe was starting to suspect something.

“Uh, just from work. We’ve been having some problems with our client.”

Beep.

“Then let’s pull over so you could answer it. Here just tell me what to type and I’ll send it.” She extends her hand to get the phone.

“No. I’ll just call them later. It’s not that urgent.” Keith hides his phone inside the black hole that is his pocket.

When they got home, Zoe was rushing over to their room. She looked like a kid who’d visited Disneyland for the first time. She was happy to be home.

Beep.

**Heather: **Keith, I’m sorry I should have told you earlier. Can you call me?

“So, who’s Heather?” Zoe’s tone dropped.

“Who?”

“There’s a note here on your bed that says she had a great time last night.”

Oh no! Forgot to throw that away.

“You know, if you were cheating on me, I swear… But I hope you have a pretty good excuse.” Zoe’s voice was getting really serious.

“I…uh..I..”

And that’s when Zoe began to cry.

“I know we hadn’t been doing well lately. It was clear that the spark had died when we stopped going out on dates. But I thought it’d all be fixed once there was distance between us.” Zoe said, her voice shaking. “I guess I was wrong.”

Keith wanted to say something but he couldn’t. It was silent for several minutes except for Zoe’s crying.

“I’ve been meaning to start over with you. I wanted a reset button so we could start over again.” Zoe paused. “But then, I find you like this and I’m not sure how to react Keith.”

“I can’t take this. I have to go.”

When Zoe left, Keith felt his world collapse. It was his fault. It was all his fault. Why didn’t he just work out his relationship instead of falling for someone…someone who…

Beep.

Heather: Keith, I tried to call you. Anyway, I have to go. I didn’t tell you this earlier because I was afraid you’d be scared of me. Keith, I’m a clone. Someone stole some samples from the hospital and made us. I’m an experiment and now they need to put me to sleep. I wasn’t supposed to interact with you. But I wanted to be human. I wanted to talk to people and live a life like you. You’ve shown me how beautiful the world is but now I have to go. I hope you find someone worth loving. Thank you, Keith. I love you.

A clone. A fucking clone. What the hell? I cheated on my girlfriend with a clone of her. How stupid can I be? And how twisted things have become.

Keith is sitting on his car. It’s been months since he saw Zoe. It’s been months since their big fight. He is looking at his phone for the nth time. So far his record is 30 calls for today. He dials her number. No answer. He drives his car towards the beach. He needs to get out and just breathe. Lately, he’s been feeling too numb, maybe fresh air will help him feel something.

He walks towards the wooden pier that extends towards the ocean. He and Zoe used to go here a few years ago when their relationship was just starting. She loved the ocean and how the sky meets the sea in the middle and stretches on to eternity.

As he is walking, he notices someone standing, looking into the horizon. He stands next to her and she doesn’t move at all. She continues to look at the sky and the ocean as they crashed into a line across the horizon.

“Hi” Keith says.

“Hi,” She smiled and this gave him hope.

“I don’t believe we have met before. I’m Keith.”

She turns towards him and gives this sheepish smile. “Hello Keith, I’m Zoe.”

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