For the first time in his forty-two years, Clayton Baker is scared silly. There’s no gun in his face – been there, done that, have the scar. After years of working with just about every national intelligence agency, he’s finally found the one thing that gives him nightmares.
He’s been through it with his father. Watching his strong, solid father reduced to a confused child had been agonizing. Heart-breaking but not terrifying. Not like watching his mother is. Not like listening to a panel of doctors debate the odds and possibilities of heredity.
When his father was diagnosed, Clayton told himself that it would be all right. He only had half his dad’s DNA, therefore he only had half the risk. Now his mother’s ill and the doctors are calling it extraordinary. Clayton calls it a death sentence.
He knows he’s driving his wife crazy with the plethora of vitamins and daily mental exercises. Mondays and Thursdays he does a crossword puzzle. Tuesdays and Saturdays are for word searches. Soduku is on Wednesdays and Fridays. Sunday afternoons are spent playing chess or Trivial Pursuit. He’s not sure if it’s going to any good, but it helps to be doing something.
He never was the popular one. Not athletic or outgoing or the class clown. But boy did he have a big brain, a near photographic memory, and a knack for solving puzzles. His brain got him through high school and college and then right into the CIA. He’s been passed around from agency to agency where he’s treated like a prized piece of equipment. On the rare occasion he’s let out into the field, he has a protection detail that rivals that of a few dignitaries.
He has to keep his mind sharp. He owes it everything. Without his brain, he never would have spent six weeks with the NSA and met his darling Audrey. She’s taken his new quirks in stride and even helps with the crossword or offers to beat him at Trivial Pursuit. She sets his vitamins out on the counter with his coffee mug and tries to hide the concern in her eyes.
There are two habits she hasn’t picked up on. If she ever does, there will certainly be hell to pay. He’ll spend more nights on the couch than he did the time she discovered the real reason she’d been taken off of active duty.
He watches her. All the time. He spends long hours committing every curve, line, and inch of pale skin to memory. He catches the expressions that flicker across her face and files them away in his big old brain.
The second habit involves a bit of deceit. On the nights she thinks he’s locked in his study catching up on paperwork, he’s really watching every home movie they own. He watches their wedding video twice a week. There’s that summer trip to Cancun, Christmases with her family, birthday parties, and anniversaries. He makes a point of watching at least twenty minutes of film every day. There are so many moments with Audrey he doesn’t want to lose.
He doesn’t care if in twenty years he can’t remember the capital of Lower Uzwhocaresistan or if he can’t get the answer to thirty-two across. He doesn’t care if he never finishes another Soduku puzzle or is forced to retire. He just never, ever wants to forget his wife.