A few hours later that same night, Sami opens her eyes only to see that her husband still hasn’t come back to bed. Worried, she makes her way once again to the kitchen to find EJ stretched across the table in front of him, sleeping at an odd angle. She moves to wake him.
Sami (lightly touching his shoulder): “EJ..EJ.”
EJ continues to sleep.
Sami (shaking him a bit more): “EJ. Come on, EJ.”
EJ still doesn’t respond.
Sami (going with the sudden inspiration): “Elvis.”
At the mention of his given name, EJ bolts upright in his chair. Apologetic for startling her husband, Sami backs away from him.
Sami (concerned): “I’m sorry I had to wake you, EJ, but you really shouldn’t be sleeping like this. It’s not good for your ba-”
Sami cuts herself off and her face falls as she sees EJ’s haunted and bleary-eyed expression stare back at her. His sleep had been anything but restful.
EJ (bluntly): “Storage chest.”
Sami (surprised): “What?”
EJ (too quickly): “I didn’t want to, but Father insisted.”
Sami (confused): “You didn’t want to what?”
EJ (lost in his memory): “No, Elvis, that is not Hope Brady’s favorite beverage, and I should know because last time I got it wrong because it is an easy question because if you’d studied harder I wouldn’t have to punish you, Elvis, your fault I had to strike again why can’t you remember?”
Sami (piecing it together): “The flashcards…when you got the answer wrong. He…”
Alarmed, Sami trails off and is unable to say the rest.
EJ (nodding and rubbing his upper left arm): “I was. I had to be in there. But not by myself quiet-shhh, let it work.”
Watching his right hand move, Sami’s eyes widen as she realizes what EJ is describing.
EJ (as if he’s told her before): “It was better then. Before the shadows were wrong because the shapes didn’t match. And I told Father that the first time, and-and he said he understood, so he told me he’d make it easier. I could because the needle not so much. Not so hard then. It was better. He promised me, and it was better. I could be then. I was okay.”
EJ twists and rolls his head to the side before he continues.
EJ (incoherently): “He helped. So I had to help too. Needed to help-I needed to be-he wanted because Father needed me to be what he wanted I what it was to pay attention because I had to and I did because.”
Attempting to follow EJ’s garbled reasoning, Sami’s concentration falls away to a spike of horror as a smile suddenly spreads across her husband’s face.
EJ (proud): “And I am.”
EJ (reassuring himself): “Because I am a good boy. I am a good boy. I am a good boy.”
And with the declaration announced, Sami glimpses how deep her husband’s conditioning had been and how intractable it would be to remove, how the immense strength that EJ possessed had come at the expense of years of scarring by an individual who had no compassion for anyone but himself. Staring at her husband talk to himself, Sami could not help but feel dread grow across her. She had been the one who insisted he open a door that perhaps should have remained closed. Not knowing what else to do, she moves to EJ and wraps her arms around his right limb.
Sami (matching his genuine smile with a false one of her own): “You’re tired. Let’s go to bed.”
At her command, EJ looks at Sami openly, searching her eyes.
EJ (needing her to understand): “Samantha…I am a good boy. I am.”
Sami (reassuringly): “Yes, I know. I know.”
Drained, EJ lets Sami help him up, lead him out of the kitchen to their bedroom, and get under the covers. Sami follows him beneath the blankets and immediately moves to hold him gently as he begins to recite his promise to himself. EJ repeats his mantra until he falls asleep, and once the silence finally settles around her, Sami swallows nervously.
Sami (whispering): “What have I done?”
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8 years ago