Chapter 1 – Waking Up Is Hard To Do
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Chapter One – Waking Up Is Hard To Do

When had it gotten so hard to do such a simple thing as opening his eyes? Carter had a mind to just bring his hands to his eyelids and push them up with his thumbs. That should have done the trick if his hands hadn’t been just as stubborn to move as his eyelids.

This is getting ridiculous, he thought to himself, and, just for the sake of running a minimal test, he tried to move his toes.

That’s better, the far right one seems to move a little, he mused. Yet, it looked like the little exertion had the result of making him feel exhausted.

Drifting off to sleep, he had the weird impression that someone was calling for him.

“Mr. Ruskin,” a voice with a small annoying lilt to it seemed bent on preventing him from getting his well-deserved sleep. “Mr. Ruskin, you really need to wake up.”

Funny thing. His eyelids popped like a can of lager beer on a hot day in July. Not that it was that pleasant to have your eyelids suddenly listen more to a stranger, than to you. At least now he was awake and the annoying voice was going to stop pestering him.

His eyes landed on a round face with beady eyes full of life.

“Mr. Ruskin, you’re awake! I always say that patients need just a little effort to get out of it. Just let me get the doctor. But, first,” the woman, who seemed to wear some kind of white bonnet, matched with equally white attire, started to fret around, “let me show you something.”

At this point, Carter had to admit that curiosity was gnawing at him too badly to stop and think why on Earth he was called Mr. Ruskin. That name sounded familiar, but he was pretty certain it wasn’t his. What was his last name? His brain seemed to be all messed up.

The woman returned with a ... what was that thing called again? Ah, a mirror. Ha, he could still remember simple things. But what was his last name again?

He examined the snake-shaped handle before raising his eyes to look at it. When he did, all he could manage was:


That mirror had to be magical because his reflection mouthing the word ‘damn’ like it was the least desirable word in the English language didn’t belong to him. It did belong to someone, of course, but not him. And why was this guy staring back at him with such consternation? If there was anyone entitled to feel bereft at the unlikely occurrence that his face was not his anymore, that was him.

“Come on, Mr. Ruskin, don’t frown. All these little scratches will heal up nicely,” the woman stared at him from one side of the mirror, making Carter think that she somewhat looked like a leprechaun. Only that she didn’t wear green, but white overalls.

Wait, wait, wait! His mind screamed at him. He looked around. White walls, white window sills, white door …

All right. He was just going to faint.

“Mr. Ruskin!” the woman called for him from far away, seeming pretty much alarmed.

Well, let her sort this out, Carter thought gloomily, as he drifted away.


The second awakening was not that unpleasant. Carter smoothed down a few creases in the blanket. His hands were moving now, and obeying to him, thank heavens, and he didn’t need the nurse – yes, he had gathered that much since he had awoken – to tell him to do this or that. The perspective of living like a lonely puppet on a string, having to obey the squealed orders of an energetic woman, clearly dedicated to her healthcare oriented profession, was just making him shudder in pure horror.

“Could you please show me the mirror again, Miss …?”

Was he supposed to know the nurse’s name? Had he been conscious for more than a minute since he had been brought to the hospital? And what the hell could have happened to put him in the hospital, in the first place?

“Oh, you,” the nurse waved one hand and blushed like she was flattered. “It’s Mrs. Jones, actually, but you can call me Marge. How young did you think I was, Mr. Ruskin?”

He hadn’t exactly thought anything. Marge didn’t seem too put off with his lack of response and dutifully held the mirror.

He inhaled. And exhaled. Instead of his brown hair, the apparition in the mirror had an ash blonde mane styled in a quiff. Damn, he hated that kind of hairstyle. He still wore his brown hair a bit too long for someone in his early 30s, but he didn’t give a damn. Yes, he was pretty damn certain his hair and his eyes were both brown. No, he wasn’t insane. Oh, look, he did remember things. Like, for instance, how he looked. Wait, what if this was some kind of prank, and he was shown not a mirror, but some digital device displaying another person’s face just to make fun of him?

He examined the face in the mirror with a critical eye. Well, two critical eyes that were green and mischievous, instead of his dull ordinary brown eyes. Not that there was something wrong with his eyes. His actual eyes. He didn’t even have to wear glasses most of the time. So, his eyes were pretty much in good working order.

But this guy was a looker. The kind to appear on the covers of magazines. Or maybe not. Maybe except for his perfect face, the rest was flabby and unattractive. He touched his belly, but, no, it didn’t look like the guy currently impersonating him was fat. If anything, he seemed lean to the point of being considered thin.

And there went his prank theory. His body could not have been replaced, like his face in the mirror. Which didn’t mean he was fat. Just certainly with a little bit of meat on his bones, unlike this guy who was trying to pass as him. Or who he was trying to pass as. Damn, things were complicated.

But why was this reflection in the mirror familiar? Where had he seen this guy before? His brain was still in auto mode and could not take basic requests.

“Mr. Ruskin, maybe I should ask the doctor, but he said that you seemed fine if a little tired. All the tests we’ve run on you point out that you’re out of danger,” the nurse began an apologetic tirade, “and I took it upon myself to let your husband in to see you.”


Carter would have dropped the mirror, but he was not the one holding it. So he just lay there, his mouth agape, staring at Marge in shock. When the hell had he gotten married? And to a guy?! If this was a nightmare, it was pretty damn fucked up.

“He is a wreck, dear,” Marge’s eyes filled with more than gentleness. They were on the point of swimming in tears. “He had been waiting for you to wake up for two days, now. I doubt he caught any sleep.”

“Wait, my husband? Who is my husband?” Carter squealed.

Great, even his voice was annoyingly pleasant. Even now, high pitched and in shock.

“Well, aren’t you a comedy act, dear?” Marge patted him on the arm, as she tried hard not to laugh. “The other Mr. Ruskin, of course. Aron Ruskin.”

Aron Ruskin? A flash of recognition shot up his addled brain, finally catching up with him. He hadn’t spoken to Aron in two whole frigging years.


“Alex!” Aron rushed to his side, pressing him into a careful hug.

He hadn’t seen Aron in two years, either, besides keeping up with the no talking policy. Always done the best to steer clear out of the places where they could have bumped into each other.

“I was so worried, so, so worried,” Aron cradled him in his big arms.

Aron had always been a big guy. Not big in the sense of fat, but well built, with the constitution of an athlete. Many had thought that seeking a career in publishing had not been the smartest move for him. But Aron loved what he did. And he did take care of his body, with the same dedication he did everything else in life.

Right now, he seemed maybe a bit bigger, but maybe it was just because Carter felt so damn small in the guy’s huge arms. That he didn’t remember. He was not as tall or built like a brickhouse, how Aron was, but he had never felt so little and puny. Right now, he felt like a puppet turned into the favorite toy of a giant. He grunted a little, and Aron pulled himself back right away.

“Oh, so sorry, does it hurt badly, baby?” Aron looked at him with concern written all over his handsome face.

“Well, I’m afraid Mr. Ruskin here is a little sluggish, after the little bump,” Marge supplied right away. “We will keep him on pain medication until he recovers a bit more.”

“A little bump?” he asked, moving his startled eyes from Aron to Marge and back again.

“Well, it was more than a little bump,” Aron said while running his fingers through his short jet black hair. There were a few silvers in there that Carter did not remember. “You got hit by a fire truck.”

“Ouch. That must have been unpleasant,” Carter murmured.

Marge burst into laughter, something that was reminding him of a funny hedgehog he had once seen in a cartoon. Clearly, he was in a dream. Except for the whole hospital thing, and the fact that he was apparently married to his former best friend, it wasn’t that much of a nightmare. So he was going to enjoy it, or whatever, just live through it.

“He is such a dear,” Marge commented, as soon as she could breathe again from her fit of laughter. “And he has such a great sense of humor, doesn’t he?” she turned towards Aron.

The man just looked confused.

“Alex? A sense of humor? Sure,” he replied, but Carter could tell Aron was not convinced.

Aron’s dark eyes were inspecting him now, and Carter felt a bit fidgety under that gaze. It felt like Aron was looking at something holy and perfect. Like he was in love. What a stupid dream. All right. So he was Alex, Aron’s husband. Aron and Alex. They sounded like twins. Identical twins, even, although there could not be a more important difference between them, Aron being all hard muscles and strong bones everywhere, and Alex almost as light as a feather.

Skinny asshole, Carter thought to himself. Aron’s face changed from slightly relieved to somewhat worried.

“Can you give him something else for the pain, nurse …?”

“Ah, call me Marge,” the woman replied chirpily. “But he’s already at the full dose as he is, the poor thing, we cannot give him anything more, really.”

“But he’s still in pain,” Aron tried to reason with the nurse slash happy sparrow. “Just look at his face, all contorted like that!”

Carter touched his face with his hands. What was Aron droning about? He felt no pain. But he was probably grimacing at the thought of having Aron looking at him with those lovey-dovey eyes. Yeah, he was probably making a face right now, like he had just eaten half a pound of lemons.

“I’m not in pain,” he intervened, stopping the little quarrel between Marge and his - gosh, he could not really say it, could he? - husband.

“You’re not?” Aron looked at him, fairly surprised.

“No. I’m actually quite okay.”

“Great! That’s great,” Aron sighed with relief.

“Well, it is great,” Marge chirped in. “The other fellow, the poor thing, is in serious condition. He’s still in a coma, and the doctor says he is not bound to get up anytime soon. Although, with a comatose patient, one never knows …”

“What other fellow?” Carter mumbled, feeling cold sweat down his back.

“The other guy who was hit by the same fire truck as you.”

What? Were they hiring blind people to be fire truck drivers these days?

“You don’t remember?” Aron looked at him with concern.

His mind was a mess. No, he could not remember. At least, not right now.

“Nurse, please, stop unloading things like that on my husband,” Aron turned towards Marge, feeling a bit embarrassed and extra concerned right now. “He is clearly not well.”

“No, that’s okay,” Carter intervened again. “Who’s the other guy?” he asked.

Aron opened his mouth to say something. The nurse looked at Aron like she was asking for permission to talk.

“Well, his name is Carter Malis,” Marge finally spoke.

“Carter Malis?!” he almost screamed.

Finally. Now he knew his complete name. Just in case he needed to fill in some registrations or official papers. One just couldn’t walk into the world without a complete name.

“Yes, dear, but please, don’t overexert yourself,” Marge tried to appease him.

“Yes, I know,” Aron looked down, staring at his hands. “What could have been the chances? I haven’t seen him in two years, and now, involved in the same accident as you …”

“Carter Malis?!” he asked again, wanting, no, needing to be told that it was all a mistake, and his ears were playing a trick on him. “Who the hell is Carter Malis?”

What he wanted to declare, screaming, was: I am Carter Malis! If he was here, and Carter Malis was in a coma, that could only mean one thing. That he was on the brink of death while being and feeling very much alive. While someone else was probably trapped in his comatose body.

“You might not remember him that well,” Aron began speaking. “He used to be my best friend. I told you about him.”

Carter’s eyes just glazed over. All right, this was the strangest, most fucked up dream he had ever had.

“You know, the guy ... the homophobe at our wedding,” Aron added, growing more and more embarrassed as he shifted from one foot to the other.

Now Carter stared at Aron and stared without blinking for about half a minute or so. The homophobe? Oh, that. That he remembered.


Aron had just come back to their city after building up a career away from home. Carter had been so excited to get together with his longtime friend. He had been pretty lonely since Aron had left, but it was not like he was going to admit it. He was always surrounded by so-called friends. Guys he didn’t particularly like. Not one like Aron. But now that Aron was back, they were going to have so much fun, hitting the bars together, playing basketball in the summer, hockey in winter, and drinking beer, and all that.

Yeah, things had been looking up until Aron, seated across from him in one of their favorite dives, with a few empty beers in front of him, and more on the way had dropped the bomb on him.

“I’m getting married.”

He had said that matter-of-factly, with a bit of determination in the way he had held his palms flat against his thighs.

“Cool,” Carter had replied with a grin. “Who’s the lucky lady? Does she have a hot sister?”

“Actually,” Aron had replied after a few awkward seconds, as he seemed concentrated on peeling the label off of one of the beer bottles on the table, “it’s not a lucky lady.”

“Oh, she’s not lucky?” Carter had grinned, not getting the gist of the matter. “Of course, she’ll be stuck with your ugly mutt face for the rest of her life. Yeah, I get it why she’s not lucky. But what about the hot sister? Any chances?”

“Carter,” Aron had been a bit too forceful in cutting him short. “It’s a … guy I’m marrying.”

If the dive hadn’t been so busy at that hour, Carter was certain he would have been capable of cutting the silence falling between them with a Swiss knife. Or at least poke at it with a spork.

“You’re joking,” he had said flatly. “Right?”

Aron had stared at him, his original awkwardness now turning into something akin to confusion, just a short stop on the way to anger.

“Is that a problem?” he had asked, his eyes trained on Carter.

“Yeah, it’s a problem. You’re not gay!”

A few other patrons had turned to look at them, and Aron had looked at him with reproachful eyes.

“Big news, Carter. It looks like I am because I’m marrying a guy.”

“Wait, wait, wait,” Carter had raised both his hands off the table. “Where’s the hidden camera? Who asked you to prank me? Was it your idea? Really, Aron?”

“Carter, there’s no hidden camera,” Aron had slowly shaken his head. “Just your best friend who happens to be gay and in love with another man.”

There had been another shocked silence from Carter. He could not face this. No, it could not be right. So he had just stood up and left.

And seen the two at their wedding, which he had crashed while being terribly and helplessly shitfaced. There the memories were getting a tad blurry. He might have spouted a bunch of homophobic shit until some well-built dudes had dragged him outside and thrown him into the street.

And that had been the last time he had seen Aron until today.


“The homophobe?” he repeated like he could not believe it still.

From that moment onward, he had often wondered how come he had had no idea he was such a bigot. He could not care less if half the male population on the planet was fucking the other half in the ass. But Aron was a totally different thing. The guy could not be gay. That was just plain fucking wrong. So maybe he was a homophobe only when it came to Aron. Otherwise, he could face an entire pride parade, and maybe even join in for a dance or two.

“Yes,” Aron confirmed, with a tired sigh. “Will it bother you if I go and check on him? He … there is just no one close that could visit him at the moment, that’s all.”

“No, of course not,” he mumbled.

Aron was staring at him like he could not make sense of him. Not of Carter. Of Alex. Because Carter was apparently in a coma, with no high chances of getting up anytime soon.

“I thought you hated him,” Aron spoke softly.

“Well, the guy’s in a coma. What’s he going to do? Get up from the bed just to give me a thrashing? Hey, maybe that can be motivation enough for him to get up off his sick bed,” he said brightly.

Marge burst into laughter again. Funny how funny everything seemed to her. Carter wanted nothing else but to go see the body. His body. Well, it was not like he was dead. Just partially.

“I’m coming with you,” he tried to get out of bed, and this time Marge hurried to push him back in the bed.

“Don’t worry, I’ll check on him,” Aron said, blinking like he could still not understand what was going on.

“No way, I’m going with you,” he began fretting while trying to fight the nurse off. “Marge, I swear, this IV pointy thing will hurt,” he struggled with the small tube hooked into his hand.

Marge pushed his hand away from the other with a quick move and he dropped back on the pillows, with a loud groan. Apparently, he was so weak that he could not even fight a woman. Jeesh.

“Mr. Ruskin, play nice,” she chided him.

“What? I’m no longer ‘dear’ to you?” He jibed.

“You are a dear only when you don’t threaten me with the catheter,” Marge replied dutifully.

“Ah, is that how this is called?” Carter took a look at his hand and examined it carefully. Hmm, it looked like he even had a manicure. “I thought that was the thing that goes into your ...” he swallowed his words, thinking that spouting four-letter words in front of such a nice, yet devious, lady in white, was not exactly advisable.

“When you get better, we’ll go together to see him,” Aron promised him. “If you still want to, of course.”

“Then I should just get better soon,” he said and crossed his arms over his chest, as much as the IV tube was letting him.

“Stop frowning, dear. It will give you wrinkles,” Marge chided him, seemingly more concerned with his complexion and youthful appearance than anything else. That was highly unprofessional of her.

“So what?” he replied.

“So what?!” both Marge and Aron said together in shock.

Oh, right. Alex was some face lotion ad star or something. Great. He was stuck in the body of a total douche who thought his looks were enough to get him everything in life. Including an awesome guy like Aron, as a husband. Who was surely, undoubtedly, completely straight.

Alex must have used some magic on Aron. That was the only explanation. Seeing how he could switch bodies with Carter, just like that, that had to be it. Alex was Harry Potter. A gay Harry Potter. Or something.