DARKNESS. I OPENED my eyes and still couldn't see. Every day started and ended the same. In a dark void. Ever since my life ended and started all over again. I touched the cylindrical scar hollowed out below my left eye. Still tender. Its damage still raw.
The only time I saw clearly now was in my dreams.
I reached to my right and felt the cool sheets of my bed. Not Leah's warm skin. Gone. The fourth morning into her two-week trip back up to Santa Barbara. The longest we'd been apart in nine months.
Since a killer shot me in the face and stole my vision.
Leah had been by my side during the weeks and weeks of grueling physical and cognitive rehabilitation. Praising, cajoling, prodding me up the next rung of the rehab ladder. She'd put her life on hold the last three months, living with me back in San Diego, and making weekend trips to Santa Barbara to keep her interior design business afloat.
Leah was gone, but I wasn't alone. Midnight, my nine-year-old black Lab, stirred from the foot of the bed. I heard his license tink against his metal nametag as he rose from the floor, his muscles unfurl under his skin, and his paws push off the carpet. I swung my legs over the edge of the bed and felt warm breath on my right knee.
I found Midnight's head and scratched it. He licked my face. I got out of bed and walked the ten steps to the master bathroom. Last year, the trek would have been only eight or nine steps. My strides were shorter now. More regimented.
And always numbered.
I showered and walked the five steps from the bathroom to the dresser against the wall.
Midnight at my side. I opened the top drawer. Underwear and socks. All folded into neat little packages. I never used to fold my clothes or even care what drawer I put them in.
Now it mattered.
I grabbed a pair of athletic socks from the left side of the drawer and a pair of underwear from the right. I could tell the difference between athletic and dress socks by the thickness and cushion of the fabric. But I still separated them. Everything had its place. T-shirts next drawer down, blue jeans in the bottom. Tennis shoes snug against the dresser around the right side. Dress shoes, slacks, jackets, coats, and button-down shirts were in the closet.
Along with a gun safe I no longer opened. But I still kept a .357 magnum in the nightstand next to my bed. Old habits die hard.
I only went into the closet for my bomber jacket these days. There wasn't a reason to get dressed up or have a quick change of clothes that I could stuff into the duffle bag in the trunk of my car for stakeouts.
My private investigator's license was still good for another year. After that, I'd let it lapse. I didn't want to return to my old life. At least, not that part of it.
I dressed and headed downstairs with Midnight at my left thigh. Six steps out of the bedroom, fifteen down the hall, and fourteen stairs descending onto the landing. Another step down into the living room.
Midnight had sensed something different about me after my injury. He'd always been dedicated to me and an excellent guard dog, but now he rarely left my side.
We walked the sixteen steps from the staircase to the sliding glass door to the backyard and I let him outside.
The first couple weeks after I got home from Santa Barbara, I spent hours and hours walking off distances from every conceivable option in the house. Bedroom to kitchen. Front door to back door. Office to living room. And dozens of others. Over and over. So many repetitions that I didn't consciously count the steps anymore. My subconscious did that for me and directed me where I had to go. I saw where I was going inside my head. The logistics of my house still fresh in my mind's eye. The only time I didn't envision my surroundings was when I was in the bathroom at the sink brushing my teeth or shaving. I knew there was a mirror in front of me, but I didn't visualize myself in it. Just a blank space.