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Chains of Memories

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It was August 17th, 2053. One year to the day that my world ended.

I was doing my worst habit, watching old videos of Ted. Everybody told me that would make it harder for me to move on. It wasn’t helping me move forward, it was just keeping me stuck in the past. I knew that that was true, but I couldn’t make myself delete the videos. I couldn’t even avoid watching them.

It just felt so good to see his face. I’d put the VR glasses on, and I would see him in front of me, smiling that little grin of his, like he knew something I didn’t. I’d hear his voice, hear him say my name. I’d see him walk around, see how even though he was short, he carried himself with confidence and stood with pride.

It was all a memory, a recording, but for the briefest of moments I could pretend that he wasn’t gone.

My phone buzzed and it was Ted’s older sister Grace. I picked up.

“Hey, Joseph.”

“Hi, Grace. How’s it going?”

I heard her laugh without humor. “I’m okay, but I’m not the one that needs to be checked in on right now.”

“I’m doing fine.”

“Honey, I know you want that to be true, but it’s not.”

I sighed. I couldn’t get mad at her, especially when she was right.

“I promise that I’m doing better.”

“I feel like your definition of progress is a bit skewed.”

“I can take care of myself, Grace.”

“Oh yeah? It’s been a year. What are you doing? Probably sitting at the table you two ate at, wistfully looking at VR clips of Ted from years ago. Have you even gone outside today?”

I felt like she punched me through the phone.

“I’m actually on our bed,” I said meekly.

“You’re getting out and meeting me for lunch right now.”

I sighed. There was no use fighting her on this.

“Where do you want to meet up?”

She gave me a location and told me that if I didn’t meet her at the assigned time she would hunt me down. We ended the call.

I glanced again at the lightweight VR headset, the one with so many memories of Ted stored on it. A big part of me was tempted to look at one last clip before heading out, but I knew damn well that it wouldn’t end up being just one last clip. I rose to get ready.

*****

Grace gave me a hug in greeting.

“Hey, Joseph.”

I forced myself to smile as I said hello to her, too.

We sat down and talked about nothing in particular. We certainly didn’t talk about the elephant in the room, at least not until the end.

“I know you were devastated. I was, too. But it’s been a whole year since Ted died and you seem no closer to moving on with your life than you did then.”

“You say ‘move on’ like it’s so simple. He was my husband.”

“Yes, but you and I both know that he wouldn’t just want you moping forever.”

“It’s not as easy as all that.”

“You need to take this one step at a time.”

I sighed. “Grace, I love you, but please try to put yourself in my shoes. You have a husband of your own. You had somebody to take comfort in. I have nobody.”

She crossed her arms. “You seem to be doing everything in your power to keep it that way. No one is forcing you to be alone.”

I looked at her. She was even shorter than Ted, but she was somebody I’d never want to get on the bad side of. She was direct and lacking in tact at times, but she cared for me and wanted to help me.

“I just don’t know where to start.” I could feel my eyes get shiny.

Her expression softened. I was always the more sensitive, emotional one between me and Ted. I think she sometimes forgot that she couldn’t use the same tough love on me she could with him.

“I’m sorry for being so testy.”

“You’re fine.”

She sighed.

“Joseph, I need to tell you something else.”

I raised my eyebrows.

“Something had happened in Ted’s past that he never told you about. He asked me to keep it a secret, too, but before he left he requested something.”

My eyes widened. Ted hid something from me for all those years?

“He said that he kept it to himself because it was irrelevant to your relationship, and it was, but he said that if you really couldn’t move forward, I would let you know about it. I don’t know what good it will do, in fact it seems counterproductive, but I have to respect his wishes.”

She went through her phone and pulled up some documentation.

“In his early twenties, long before he met you, Ted was struggling financially. Knowing Ted, he refused to ask for help about it.”

I smiled weakly. He really was stubborn like that.

“He underwent something that was newer at the time: submitting his DNA for cloning to get some extra money.”

Cloning was something that was relatively common. Decades ago, scientists had cracked the code on how to grow a human genetically identical to another. The person to be cloned needed to be alive, and the clone would start out as a zygote that a mother needed to birth, but it worked and was used as a form of procreation, sometimes out of necessity, sometimes out of personal preference.

“His casino oyna DNA was used to make a clone for a young woman, and a little bit later, she gave birth to a son. He stayed distant, but had kept light tabs on them over the years. The two of them still live in the area. The clone is named Cason, and he’s eighteen now.”

My jaw dropped.

“I have no idea why he thought telling you about his clone would help, but he asked me to let you know,” she continued. “I know that you wouldn’t do anything crazy, but I don’t think it’s wise. Still, here’s a little bit more about the kid.”

She transferred some data from her phone to mine.

“He knew you better than me, so I hope he’s right and this helps provide some closure.”

I was stunned. Ted had a clone this whole time?

We finished up and she gave me another hug.

“Don’t be afraid to call me. I’ll always be available to listen.”

I nodded and we left.

The moment I was home I got on my computer and punched in the information about Cason. I got to his social media and looking at his picture nearly made me cry.

It was Ted.

Yeah, Cason was young, younger than he was at any time I knew Ted. He wore glasses while Ted wore contacts. He was clean shaven while Ted liked having facial hair. The smile he had in his profile picture was smaller, shyer than the one I knew and loved so much. But it was him. I was looking at a picture of Ted.

He had the same strawberry blond hair. He had the same gorgeous brown eyes. He had the same dimples on his cheeks.

I tried to calm myself down. This is not Ted, I reminded myself sternly. This is an entirely different person. It’s not like he was brought back to life. You know nothing about this kid and he knows nothing about you.

I had a powerful urge to change that. I wanted to meet Cason. I needed to get to know him better.

Why? I asked myself. That’s not Ted. Why do you care so much?

I didn’t know. What I did know was that I was drawn to him. I felt that somehow, he was the key to me moving forward in my life.

Still, it’s not like I could just track this boy down and strike up a conversation with him. What the hell was I supposed to say?

Hi, I know we’ve never met before, but you’re the clone of my deceased husband and I need to bond with you. Wanna grab dinner?

I rubbed my temples with my fingers. This was getting way too complicated.

I looked at his profile and learned a little bit about him. He seemed normal enough. He recently graduated high school and was headed to college.

Then my eyes locked on a post that was relatively recent.

I’m currently looking for a place to stay near the local college. I’m not picky. If anybody reading can help me, send a DM and we’ll talk about it.

The college was a couple blocks away from me. My house had room for another person. I was typing a direct message to him before I even knew what I was doing.

Within a few hours we chatted about arrangements and if he would like to stay with me. I asked if we could meet up somewhere and he said that that would be fine.

We arranged to meet in a nearby park that Tuesday at 2 PM. I had no idea why, but I was more excited about seeing Cason in person than I had been about anything in a long time.

*****

I was anxiously waiting on a park bench. I had arrived thirty minutes early, wanting to ensure that I got there before he did. I didn’t want to look so eager, but I couldn’t help myself from looking every which way to see if I could find him, even if it was quite a bit before the assigned meeting time. I was in a polo and slacks, and had my long dark hair braided to the side. I worried that I was overdressed. My nerves built as the minutes ticked by.

Cason came at 2 o’clock sharp. My heart did a little tap-dance seeing what truly looked like a younger version of Ted approach. I called out when he got closer.

“Cason Daniels?”

He turned to look at me and smiled.

“Hey. You must be Mr. Locklear.”

He walked up to me and held out his hand.

“It’s nice to meet you.”

I grinned and we shook.

“The pleasure is all mine.”

I glanced down and the sensation of touching Ted again slammed into me. I felt myself get misty-eyed, and Cason noticed.

“Is something wrong, Mr. Locklear?”

I shook my head and wiped my eyes.

“Nothing’s wrong, it’s just allergies,” I lied.

“Do you need a minute?”

“No, no, I’m fine.”

I regained my composure.

“Let’s walk, Cason. We have some things to discuss.”

He nodded and we started our little stroll.

“Locklear is a Native American name, isn’t it?” he asked.

“Yep. My dad’s Native American and my mom’s Latina. I’m impressed. Most people wouldn’t know that.”

He smiled sheepishly. “I’m studying to be a linguist. I like learning about name origins and stuff like that.”

“So, why do you want a place to stay? You could commute to the college pretty easily.”

“Well, I have a single mom, and she’s been canlı casino working her ass off for the last eighteen years taking care of me. I studied hard and got a scholarship, and I want her to have a little more time for herself.”

I smiled. “That’s very considerate of you, Cason. You’re a good kid.”

He blushed and looked down. He spoke again a few seconds later.

“So, about the living arrangements. I wanted to talk to you about rent.”

I shook my head. “You don’t need to worry about that. Do some cooking and chores and we’ll call it even.”

He looked back up, eyes widened. “Really?”

“Of course. You’ll have enough on your plate as is.”

He smiled, though he looked a little confused. “Thanks, but…why? We don’t even know each other.”

I said in our DM conversation that a friend of mine had told me about Cason’s situation and that was how I came across his online profile. Not the truth, but not a complete lie, either. This was all a balancing act, because I wanted to keep how I really knew him to myself for the time being. But I’m not an idiot. I was a 37 year old stranger taking interest in an 18 year old boy. I didn’t want to come off as a predator. I needed Cason to say yes. I chose my words carefully.

“You seemed like such an earnest kind of guy, and I wanted to help you. I can imagine that it’s not easy in a single parent household. Plus, I have extra room at my place. It’s not a problem.”

He seemed to accept that, but didn’t say anything.

“Did you ever know your father?” I asked, just to gauge how much he knew about his origins.

“I don’t even have a father at all. I’m a clone. My mom is sterile and got the DNA from a donor.”

“Do you know anything about that person?”

“Nothing at all. Mom never told me anything about him. I figured that it wasn’t important.”

I nodded.

For about half an hour the two of us walked and talked. In that time I got to know Cason a little bit more.

Seeing him in person made me notice a few more things that made him different from Ted. He was the same height as him, 5’5″, but a different build. Ted was toned and fit looking, but Cason was skinny and soft. Ted and I worked out together, in fact I had him to thank for my muscular frame, so I was much more built. I was 5’8″, not tall, but being next to Cason made me feel like a giant. Ted was a man, but Cason was definitely still a boy. Even so, he was gorgeous. If Ted was the sexiest, most handsome man ever, Cason was the cutest, most adorable boy ever.

The differences were more than skin-deep, though. Ted had a strong, confident personality. It was one of the things I’d always loved most about him. Cason was more like me, soft-spoken and reserved. It almost felt wrong, but that was ridiculous. It’s not like he was a perfect carbon copy of my husband. The only thing Ted and Cason had in common was their DNA.

Despite all that, he looked so much like Ted that interacting him was a little dissonant. I had to make a conscious effort to call him “Cason.” It’s like if you go to a house that has exactly the same structure and layout as yours, but the inside is completely different. It felt like I was talking to a Ted from an alternate reality.

I didn’t really know what I thought a relationship with Cason would accomplish. If I wanted somebody to fill the void that Ted left in my heart, Cason was not the person for it. He looked like Ted, but he wasn’t Ted at all.

Even so, he was a nice kid. I at least wanted to be friends with him and had no problem with helping him out. I wasn’t opposed to continuing our relationship and seeing where it took us.

I decided to wrap things up.

“So, what do you say? Do you want to stay with me?”

He smiled. “The arrangement sounds great, Mr. Locklear.”

I frowned. “You know, if we’re gonna live together, I’d prefer if you called me Joseph.” Hearing him call me “Mr. Locklear” made me feel old.

“Oh, sorry, Mr.—I mean, Joseph. It’s just a force of habit.”

“It’s fine, Cason. But we’re friends now, so there’s no need for formalities.”

He nodded.

The two of us said goodbye and parted.

*****

Cason moved in a week or so later, using my house’s guest bedroom. It wasn’t something I would have been able to hide from Grace, so I told her about it myself. She wasn’t happy.

“This is exactly why this was such a bad idea! Leave the kid alone. He has nothing to do with you!”

“Grace, he doesn’t know about any of this. I’m just helping him out.”

“But for how long? You really think you can hide this all from him forever?”

“I’m going to tell him eventually, just not right now.”

“Do you even know what you’re doing? What’s the end game here?”

“I’m not sure,” I admitted. “But I know that I have to do this.”

She gave me an exasperated look.

“You better figure it out quick. Cason shouldn’t be strung along like this.”

“I promise he won’t.”

Cason was a good housemate. In some ways he was a contrast to Ted. My husband was kaçak casino messy and let things pile up without batting an eye, but Cason was more neat and organized. In other aspects he was much like his clone. Both he and Ted had the annoying habit of waking up early for no reason. I like to savor my sleep, but Cason was up at 6 AM or earlier every day. My house was sort of small, so even if he was quiet he usually woke me up as he got ready in the morning. It was a little annoying, but it also helped me notice one way that he was just like Ted. Both he and Cason had this optimism to them that was almost infectious. They would smile and it would make me want to smile, too. Even early in the morning they would be chipper and ready to face the day. It was a welcome addition to my daily routine.

I would go to work as a lawyer and he would go to college. He had mostly morning classes, so he would normally be home before me. Some days I would come back and he would be cooking dinner for the two of us. Cason wasn’t spectacular in the kitchen, but he knew a little. I was the chef between me and Ted, so I was able to teach Cason a few things myself.

In the evenings I would be on my tablet and he would usually study. Cason was a diligent student and a hard worker, though I worried that he was neglecting having a social life. He didn’t talk much about friends and he certainly didn’t have any romantic interests, male or female. As far as I knew, the only close friend he really had was me.

The thing was, as the weeks went by, I saw him less and less as a friend and grew to regard him as if I was a parental figure. Ted and I had talked about children, but he was gone before we could do anything concrete. Still, I slipped into the parental role with Cason without much effort.

One day I wanted to see if he felt the same way about me. Experimentally, I tried something. That morning, after he woke me up, I padded into the kitchen and said “Good morning, son.”

Cason seemed a little shocked, but didn’t have a negative reaction. He just blinked a few times and said “Good morning, Joseph.”

From that point on, I started calling him “son” about as much as his name. He never did anything to indicate that he minded. It took almost a week for him to even bring it up.

“Hey, Joseph?” he asked one night.

“Yeah?”

“You know how you call me ‘son’?”

“Oh, do you not like it? It just felt right. I’ll stop if you want.”

He shook his head and I could see his face redden. He wouldn’t really look at me.

“No, it’s not that. I…I kinda like it. I was wondering…I was wondering if I could maybe call you ‘Dad.'”

I looked at the boy. He was so embarrassed about this, but it was understandable. Not only did he not have a paternal figure growing up, he didn’t even have a biological father. I’m sure his mother did her best, but it was a role that she wouldn’t be able to fill. But now, he had an older male role model and it excited him. He was starting to experience having a dad.

I smiled warmly.

“That’s fine, but I think I would prefer ‘Daddy.’ Is that okay with you?” For whatever reason, ‘Dad’ was a word I thought should be reserved for truly familial relationships.

He nodded. “Thank you…Daddy.”

I held out my arms. “Come here, son. Give Daddy a hug.” We hadn’t hugged yet, but it seemed fitting given the direction our relationship had gone.

He walked into my embrace and I wrapped my arms around him. I held his head protectively with one hand. I gently petted his hair.

“You’re a good boy, Cason.”

He chuckled. “Thanks, Daddy.”

That was the point where things got serious and we really started to bond. He became a little bit more open with me. Like Ted, he would normally keep his problems to himself, but when he realized that I really did care about him he allowed himself to lean on me a bit. It wasn’t drastic, but there was a difference.

We also got much more tactile. We’d hug often and he even let me kiss his forehead sometimes, though not in public. I already knew that Cason had been missing a father figure, but my experience with him made me realize that I had been wanting a child more than I thought. I loved being Cason’s Daddy. I loved him being my son.

I don’t know what Ted had in mind, but through meeting Cason I had found a new sort of joy in life, a purpose that helped me feel less sad. I now felt like I truly had a reason to get up in the morning. It felt good to know that I was living not only for myself, but for someone else, too.

*****

It was around October that year that things started to get a little rocky for Cason. He’d spend much more time than normal studying and I could see his frustration flare up multiple times. One night, after seeing him fume for almost an hour I got curious and walked over.

“What’s got you so annoyed?”

He glanced up at me, then right back at the tablet he’d been scribbling on.

“Calculus. I’m not great at it.”

I cocked an eyebrow.

“Aren’t you studying to be a linguist? Why would they give you a Calculus class?”

“They probably did it differently when you went to college, but now a few STEM classes are required for all majors. I thought I would just get them out of the way.”

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