Authors: S. M. Lumetta
The air conditioning in the diner was maxed—unsurprising for July in the South. The row of windows along the front offered an unobstructed view of the parking lot and adjacent roads. With five families, two senior couples peppering the booths and three separate men at tables, the diner was busy but not overcrowded. The long, curved counter hosted a solitary truck driver and a couple of young girls a few seats down from me.
I occupied the end with a full scope of the room. I kept silent, the wall at my back. Not paranoia, just routine. For me, though, they were the same thing.
One by one I sized them up. Evaluating surroundings for potential threats was second nature.
The clinking of dishes and pans and the sizzling of the grill told me the number of kitchen staff—five, not including the waitstaff going in and out. Of those, there were three. Some conversations were muddled and quiet, attempting privacy, while others, like the largest of the families, clucked and snapped obnoxiously. The oldest had been grounded for sneaking out her window to see her boyfriend. The youngest two dueled with lightsabers via the available spoons, complete with sound effects.
Two tables over, an elderly couple silently eschewed conversation for staring blankly out the window. The wife absently picked at her mashed potatoes and smacked her dentures.
I avoided eye contact with the two girls and sipped my ice water. One giggled and whispered to the other, throwing glances my way. I didn’t have to look to see. My better-than-average hearing picked up plenty, and I rarely had to look directly at a person to catch pertinent information.
“He’s so hot,” one said. “I wonder if his—”
I sighed, cutting off the audio feed. I groaned and set down the last bone of my spare ribs. I was killing time. My trigger finger twitched. Overuse, perhaps.
The waitress returned with packets of hand wipes to clean the sauce from my fingers. I thanked her and asked quietly for the check. She winked as she dug in her apron for the slip. I fixed my gaze on the Formica in front of me, cracking the slightest of smiles. I had to remind myself to act like a normal human being, part of functioning society. How else was I to go undetected? I had a job to do.
I tossed a bill on the check, providing an ample tip. Good, but not too much. Throwing a quick glance out the window, I noted it was almost dark. The city’s skyline faded past orange. Clouds were rolling in.
Time to get to work.
“So how did you feel when you woke up?” Vivi asked, shoving a handful of cheese fries in her mouth. The possibility of any coworkers witnessing her potato slaughter in the middle of the cafeteria clearly did not faze her.
When she had stopped by to check in and ask me “out to lunch,” I asked her if visiting me was part of her community service hours.
“Naked midnight yoga in the park is a perfectly legitimate pastime—despite what the law says,” she deadpanned.
“I told you,” I said, blinking away the disturbing image of her packing away so many fries. “I panicked! I knew basic facts, I remembered how to tie my shoes and all that, but
was gone. I had nothing to center me. It was terrifying.”
She held up a hand as she swallowed.
“Thanks for not speaking with your mouth full. Again,” I teased, to which she flipped me the bird. “Elegant.”
She grabbed for another round of fries but spoke again before inhaling them. “So you weren’t
I crossed my eyes and let my mouth drop open in a zombie-like groan. “You can be blank and panic.”
“You were confused,” she continued, pausing to gulp down some ginger beer. “The situation created fear.”
“I thought you fired yourself as my therapist?”
She froze, her eyes wide and playful. It was a little jarring, given how professional and straitlaced she was in session. Her lower lip jutted out as she seemed to shrug her entire body. “I’m talking to you as your
Her broad smile told me otherwise. “You’re just nosy.”
are the nosiest.”
“I’ll have to take your word for it,” I muttered, my amusement dying a little. I didn’t feel sorry for myself, though. It felt good to have a friend, even if I didn’t remember what it was like. It was more than a vague inclination that I had no one outside of my parents, an inclination proven by the lack of visitors. That only made me more curious and a little sad. But as much as I wanted to know why I didn’t have anyone, I found myself equally apprehensive of possibly getting an answer.
Her expression was anything but solemn. “Good, you should.” She winked, but got a little more serious. “Your nurse Mary Lynn said you had a neighbor ask after you yesterday.”
I nodded slowly. “Sweet lady but I didn’t recognize her. She said we moved from Long Island a couple years ago. Her son asked me out once, but apparently my dad wouldn’t have it. Don’t remember that either and yes
she showed me a picture of the son—definitely not my stranger,” I said, pointedly addressing the ideas she entertained if the sparkle in her eyes was any indication. “In any case, she couldn’t tell me much else except that we mostly kept to ourselves but were friendly. Nothing clicked, so she offered her condolences and left.”
It’d been a fair disappointment. I had already struck out with school records—they couldn’t find any on me in New York, Pennsylvania, or New Jersey. They’d widened to a national database, but nothing so far. I have no idea if I was homeschooled or went under a different name. “Lucie Gideon” had registered for Rutgers University at some point, but never attended in person. I took some online classes but didn’t complete a degree.
The knot of anxiety tightening in my stomach became uncomfortable. I had to divert the focus. “Why are you so interested in being my friend, anyway?”
She eyeballed me, but I stared her down.
She sighed, grabbing a napkin to wipe cheese off her fingers.
“I promise,” she said, “it’s not about your vision. You just have a … a
used to say. My grandmother was forty-seven when she came to New York from Argentina with her three kids and my sixty-year-old grandfather, who was actually Italian by birth.” She stopped to laugh, remembrance shining in her eyes. “Sorry, I digress. What I mean is you have this fire. It reminds me of my best friend from high school. Jade had an amazing kind of heart—she was brutally honest, funny, and kind. And I get a similar feeling from you, so I’m following a hunch that you could be the kind of valuable friend she was.”
“That’s a gamble,” I said, hollowed by the truth in my words.
She grinned and narrowed her eyes. “No risk, no reward.”
I looked down, possibly blushing, and picked up a cold fry, nibbling the cheesy end. Still good. “So, don’t you see her anymore?”
The smile left her eyes. “She died in college. Drunk driver broadsided her.”
“Oh, God,” I groaned, grabbing her hand. “Are epic cases of foot in mouth common in amnesiacs?”
She laughed before we decided to wrap up our cafeteria stay. She walked me and my IVs back to my room where she promised to visit again soon and bring some magazines from this decade.
Vivi’s visits continued just about daily unless work kept her away or I was in a mental or physical therapy session. “I’m not stalking,” she said at one point. “I’m already in the hospital anyway.”
As promised, she brought magazines of various types, so I might see what interested me. I felt as if she was still on the job, but I didn’t mind the kindness. I came to rely on her visits—someone who was not looking to take my pulse or my statement. Still, I found it comforting to talk about how my sessions were going with her. It was better therapy in a way. She was quickly becoming my rock, and I told her I feared that I was becoming too attached.
“Sorry, I’m married,” she answered drily.
“But, you know, Nash might not mind a sisterwife. He’s got some kink.”
“I haven’t even met the man,” I reminded her with mock disgust. “Why would you poison the well like that?”
“I like to make him look like a complete deviant. It amuses me,” she said, flipping through a magazine. “Especially since he’s an attorney.”
“I’m not sure that’s a stretch.”
“See? Now you’re getting it. Besides, there’s nothing wrong with kink.”
I rolled my eyes. “Noted, doctor.”
“As a matter of fact, when he blindfolds me and—”
I threw my pillow at her to keep her from elaborating.
She laughed and kept talking, obliterating any chance I had of keeping a straight face when I finally met Nash Bonnar in person.
Our conversations usually volleyed from the serious to inane topics such as pop culture—admittedly the bulk of which was news to me unless it referred to Elvis, Johnny Cash, or
The Wizard of Oz.
Go figure. Knowing details on a few celebs or a movie but not where I went to high school sometimes got to me, and I would get frustrated. So Vivi would distract me with a ridiculous comment or get really crazy and toss off something completely logical.
“Neurologists don’t fully understand how amnesia works, so there’s no reason you should,” she told me. “Unless, of course, you
a neurologist, in which case, that’s just a cruel irony.”
I snorted, amused, but something was on my mind. It was almost a month since I awoke, but I could recall little to nothing about my life before the attack. I still marveled that I didn’t suffer more anxiety as I had initially. I felt like I
be worried, but I wasn’t. I couldn’t remember my birthday, first kiss, or anything like that. The first time I caught my reflection in a darkened window, I’d only seen a stranger with uneven, chin-length red hair and wide dark gray eyes.
As I turned to look into the mirror in the bathroom, I saw the same girl and wondered what her secrets were. I stared for a few moments longer and my reflection winked. I gasped and blinked hard, the self-assuredness quaking as I struggled to confirm that I hadn’t simply winked at myself. But then deep down, I felt comfort—a certainty—that told me it had come from wherever my premonitions spring. The stranger I saw
me. It was a vision without closing my eyes. I couldn’t explain it even if I were the most eloquent speaker on earth, but I
it. I took a deep breath and a quick sip of the water on my side table and shook it off. My lips curled as I shifted my focus back to Vivi, who was evaluating me with a strange look on her face.
“How long do I have to stay here?” I asked softly.
The question must have surprised her. She went still, twisting the medallion on her necklace. “Oh, uh, I don’t know. How is physical therapy going? Are your burns healing all right?”
My shoulders sagged. “Yeah. There are a few small spots that are deeper and more severe than just second degree, but Dr. Ford said—”
“I told you Holden’s my brother, right? Call him Denny. It really irritates him.”
I nodded, waving my hand in a small motion indicating that we’d covered that. “Right, so as long as the burns don’t get infected, they should heal over without needing skin grafts. Bonus.”
“Did you know he was the one who referred your case to me?” she asked, apparently on her own train of thought. “If he hadn’t been called on a plastics consult for your burns, we may not have met. It’s not as if you’d have needed counseling for a boob job.”
I choked on my own spit, wondering as I coughed how I ever could have taken the woman seriously as a psychologist.
“What are you trying to say?” I shot back in mock offense, gesturing to my chest.
“Nothing, hot tits. He doesn’t do augmentations anyway,” she teased, obviously enjoying herself today. “He works primarily in the burn unit.”
I groaned, letting my head fall back against the pillow. I gently rubbed my elbow where it had been itching lately.
“Sorry. I just … I have cabin fever or something. I had another ‘preview’ of my
this morning and every one of them makes me even more impatient.”
“Oh, yeah?” Her eyes wide and smile perking, she leaned in closer and singsonged, “Tell me!”
I shook my head. “It was short, nothing—”
“Don’t even try to hold out on me, Gideon.”
A smile stretched my lips across my face without my permission. “He was sleeping in our bed.”
When I paused, she jumped in, “That’s it?! I mean, was he naked? Ugly sleeping? Ninety years old and chubby?”
“No!” I said over a laugh. “It was … he had our baby on his chest—his bare chest—if you must know.”
“Be still, my hostile uterus.” She sighed, leaning back to fan her abdomen.
I laughed. “Have you made an appointment with that specialist, by the way?”
“Yes! I did, I promise. Bully,” she said. “Talk more about the vision. Or preview, I like that phrase. Was it a boy or girl?”
“I couldn’t tell. The baby was only wearing a diaper, but had a full head of curly red hair.” I sort of swooned. “Do you see why I’m impatient now? You couldn’t possibly understand how adorable it was. I think I ovulated just thinking about it.”
Vivi smiled, wistful. “I do.”
“Now I just want to get out of here. If I can’t remember the past, I want to get started with the future. I need …
She breathed in a deep breath, slid off the end of the bed she’d been sitting on, and brushed her suede skirt down. Her boot heels clicking on the floor sounded like bad news walking.
I blinked hard, trying to hide my discomfort before she saw.
“I know, babe. If I had any say, I would take you home with me right now. Unfortunately, having recused myself from your case and subsequently befriending you—”
“So noble of you.”
“Such a bitch,” she declared, her smile and subtle laugh proving the words false. “All I’m saying is that my opinion may not have much sway at this point. I can talk to Toni—er, the chief of psychology, Dr. Rovello. Usually, you’d be released into the care of a family member or spouse after a certain period of time. And with amnesia this extensive …”