Monday, August 13, 2012

In Remembrance of Us by AJ Rose

When epic friendship turns into epic romance, there’s no possible outcome besides Happily Ever After, right?

Tom Foster hopes so, but he can’t answer that. A traumatic brain injury during a mugging wiped out his memory. His love for Ryan Guthrie, the man he’s learned he’s married to, is strong and true, but as each memory returns, Tom discovers much discontent. Can they build a new foundation to stand on, or will epic be the word that describes their marital failure?

Chapter 1
Panic—sharp and overwhelming. Worst headache ever.
“Hey, you okay, man?” The voice sounded far away, as if filtered through a tunnel. Staggering, I felt steadying hands reach out and grasp my arms. It didn’t matter. My legs had no strength, crumpling beneath me as I opened my mouth to speak. My hand came away from my head, and I stared dumbfounded at the slick red on my fingers.
“Oh my God,” the stranger said. My weight carried us to the ground in a tangle of awkward limbs. The last thing I remembered was the sound of a phone beeping and the words, “I need an ambulance at the corner of…”
Wincing, I opened my eyes, sucking in a sharp breath as light sliced through me. I couldn’t suppress a moan, and it caught the attention of two figures in chairs beside my bed, a backlit halo solidifying them into women with straight blonde hair, brown eyes, and full lips they worried with their teeth. My vision cleared, and the two women morphed into one.
“Hey, Tom,” she said, jumping up when she saw my eyes open, grasping my hand gently with a cool, dry palm, her subtle perfume wafting past my nose. It made me smile and flinch at the same time. That’s Susie’s smell. Light, sound, and smell were like an ice pick to my brain. I swallowed dryly, licking my lips with a sandpaper tongue. Noticing my discomfort, Susie held a cup in steady hands, guiding the straw between my cracked lips. The cool liquid burst across my tongue, and I closed my eyes at the simple pleasure. I looked at her again, seeing her worried gaze traveling over my face.
With a moistened throat, I found I could speak, albeit croakily. “What happened, Suz?”
She laid a gentle palm to my cheek and pulled her chair over, holding my hand. “Best guess is that you were mugged this morning. You were wandering around Hudson Street before you collapsed. Someone saw you bleeding and called for help. The cash was cleaned out of your wallet and your phone was stolen. The police called your boss off one of your business cards, and Lois called me when she couldn’t reach Ryan. The doctors say you have a moderate concussion, and the police have no clue.” She snorted indelicately. “Do you remember anything?”
I squinted, tried to focus, and shook my head, stopping immediately when a stab of pain seared the back of my eyeballs. “I remember…having dinner with Ryan at Haru for my birthday party. The cab ride home. Everything after that is…blank.”
“Your…twenty-eighth birthday party?” Susie asked, her careful tone raising a shiver on my skin. I studied her, but her expression was neutral.
“Yeah. That’s the one.” I tried to remember more, but frustration built, and I didn’t have the strength to feed it, so I closed my eyes and breathed, letting it go.
“I called Ryan after I got here. He’s on his way home from Chicago, but there aren’t any more flights tonight. He’ll be here first thing tomorrow.”
I pulled a surprised face. “Why did you call him if he’s out of town? And what’s he doing in Chicago?”
“Advertising convention. He would want to know, no matter what’s going on with you two.” Worry bloomed on Susie’s face again. What did she mean,what’s going on with you two? Nothing was going on with us, far as I knew.
“He’s leaving a work thing because his best friend got mugged? That’s silly. He could have waited. Not like I’m going anywhere.” A wave of fatigue crashed over me, and my eyelids drooped.
Her eyes strayed to the bandage on my head, and she put a soothing hand on my arm, smiling. ”I’ll get the nurse to check your pain meds, but you should sleep. Ryan will be here soon, and everything will be fine.” Her voice sounded farther and farther away. I drifted again.
Hushed conversation reached my ears from voices in the hall. I strained to hear. What came to me was disjointed, like a cell phone losing reception.
“…trauma he experienced…short-term memory loss…full recovery…swelling of the prefrontal lobe exacerbates…”
“You mean he won’t remember the assault, or he won’t remember more than that?” Susie’s voice cut in. The clouds in my mind began to clear, their words no longer broken.
“The likelihood of him regaining memory of the assault is small, which is normal for people suffering trauma, particularly in head injury cases. In Mr. Foster’s case, his prefrontal lobe is swollen, the portion of the brain responsible for transferring data like sight, smell, and sound, to and from the hippocampus, or memory center. The injury he suffered is preventing that information transfer, which means he cannot access his memories.”
“So when the swelling goes down, he should remember, right?” Susie’s worry was evident, and though I didn’t want her afraid for me, I felt a flash of gratitude that she was there. I heard the doctor, but I didn’t understand everything he said. Susie would put it in terms my addled mind could follow. Always by my side, Susie the Sidekick, even through the worst.
“As the swelling recedes, he may begin to recall things, or he may not. Damage suffered to the brain is impossible to predict, and he may never get back the time he’s lost. We won’t know until he begins to recover.”
“It doesn’t matter the significance of the memories lost? Just everything’s gone right now, and he may never get it back?”
I swallowed dryly, head pounding. I tried to ignore it, to keep listening.
“Amnesia is not exactly quantifiable. He may know his favorite color or his favorite type of wine, but not where he lives or who is boss is. The significance plays little part in what is and isn’t retained. Long-term memories are less likely forgotten, so his recent past is subject to more blanks than his childhood.”
“And this is the reason he doesn’t remember Ryan is his husband?” Susie asked.
My eyes flew open, and my body jerked at the knowledge, a flare of pain causing a sharp intake of breath. I’m married? To RYAN? My eyes strayed down to my left hand, the plain gold band on my fourth finger glinting marginally in the small light from the bathroom. I hadn’t noticed it before, but now that I’d seen it, I couldn’t take my eyes away.
“Everything may come back in the morning when Ryan arrives. Or he could remember slowly over time, or even have everything back once he’s immersed in his life.”
“Let’s hope so. Thank you, Doctor,” Susie’s voice was sad and hopeful all at once.
I lay back and closed my eyes, not moving when Susie came in to resume residence in her chair. I felt guilty for pretending to be asleep, but I was reeling and needed a minute to process. Ryan. My husband.

AJ Rose

No comments:

Post a Comment