Authors: S. M. Lumetta
I must have looked as if she’d dropped an anvil on me, flat and shell-shocked.
“Don’t worry, Luce,” she said, stepping up to my side. “I’m not going to leave you high and dry, okay? I’ve got some ideas.”
I smiled weakly, nodding. “It’s okay. I get it.”
“For now, I have to go. I’m supposed to meet Nash for dinner. Oh! I will have to bring him by this weekend. You have to meet
,” she said, laying on some Argentinian flair to go with her wicked smile. “And he has to meet you! Especially if you’re coming to live with us.”
I blanched. She couldn’t be serious.
“Don’t look at me like that,” she snapped. “You are already a more genuine friend than any I’ve had since college. Except maybe Charlotte, but she’s my cousin so that doesn’t count. Anyway, I’m going to make this work.”
“Vivi,” I said, admonishing her insanity. “I can’t let you do that. You don’t really know me.
don’t know me.”
She laughed. “First of all, I am an excellent judge of character and I know enough. Secondly, sweet cheeks, I don’t need your permission. You can refuse, of course, but I want you to stay with us. Maybe you’ll be a good luck charm.”
“Pffft. Fat chance,” I muttered, involuntarily smiling. “Are amnesiacs the new rabbit-foot? I feel used. And don’t you think you should discuss this with Nash?”
“He’s easily bribed with food and sexual favors. Plus, I can guarantee he will feel exactly the same way I do,” she said, effectively ending the discussion with a kissy-face.
At that moment, my favorite nurse, Mary Lynn, came in wearing a motherly, protective expression to announce, “Detective Quinn and another investigator on the case want to speak with you again. He insists that he just needs a few minutes. Are you feeling up to it?”
I couldn’t help but to take in her appearance, appreciating the laugh lines framing her warm, hazel eyes. Silvery threads of time were carefully swept into a neat bun at the back of her head and the tight purse of her lips needed another coat of too-pink lipstick. There was a simple gold band on her ring finger, but a certain loneliness in her eyes told me it was simply habit.
I wanted to hug her, but instead, I smiled and shrugged.
Vivi asked me if I’d be all right, and I assured her I would, so she hurried off to meet her husband. The detectives didn’t have much new to add, but they did have a sketch of another man found dead at the scene. They’d not been able to connect him with my family or me, and though they’d had a facial reconstruction created of his possible likeness, I still couldn’t help ID him. They were nice about it, but I could see the frustration misting off them as they left.
I wanted to yell,
“Sorry you have to deal with my amnesia, too!”
It would’ve been laughable if it weren’t so true.
Alone with only my thoughts and a bare room, I wondered what I would do when I finally did leave the hospital. The small space seemed to grow and echo around me with only my breaths to bounce off the walls. An empty canvas had been forced on all sides, and I was left to figure out what to put on it. I had time before I would be released into the wild, so at the very least, I wasn’t in a rush to pick my colors and style of brush. I could be whoever I wanted to be.
I finally met Nash the next day and we hit it off like long-lost siblings. He told me he’d always wanted an annoying little sister and promptly started calling me “Lil Red.” I didn’t get the reference, so he spent an hour explaining the story of
Little Red Riding Hood
to me. It was kind of upsetting, but only because I could remember lines from reading
but not the basic plot of a popular fairy tale.
Sometimes amnesia really sucked.
In any case, that was when Nash had graciously promised to help me to go through the paper-laden process of wrapping up insurance and all the legal matters.
“Are you serious?” I asked.
He grinned. “Hardly ever, but because of work, it’s sometimes required.” He paused to buff his fingernails on his extremely well-tailored suit. His shoulders were so broad, it had to be custom. “And anyway, paperwork is ninety percent of what I do, and I am one hundred and fifty percent awesome at my job.”
“Which is why he gets manicures. So much paper dries out your skin,” Vivi interjected, only to be hushed by Nash.
“That’s private,” he hissed playfully and then looked at me with a smirk. “But I guess you are going to be familyish, so I suppose you’re going to learn some of my dirty little secrets.”
“Should I be afraid?” I teased.
“I think you’ve been adopted,” Vivi joked. “I told you he’d love you just as much as I do.”
“The both of you are batshit,” I told her, hoping my gratitude was still evident. Judging by the volume of her guffaw—and his—it was understood.
I’m there, then I’m not.
After quickly cleaning, organizing and gathering my tools, I left the key to my motel room by the TV and made my way out a side exit. The night was brisk, but not cold. I didn’t shiver.
I swept my gaze across the parking lot as I slid smoothly into the backseat of a waiting cab where a foul scent assaulted me.
In a flash, I was overcome with a memory long since buried. High-voltage shock coursed through me, rendering me helpless to the onslaught of images.
My brother, Drew, stood next to my locker, jabbering on about a girl he’d met in his third period composition class. I looked at his earnest face and grinned. A year my junior, the kid always looked up to me—and I was proud of that.
“She’s the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen in my life,” he gushed. “She has almost-black hair with a bright red streak in it. And she smells like … like really good stuff. Cookies or um … vanilla or some shit. And she totally smiled when I looked at her!”
Apparently, that one friendly greeting—and the tight black jeans she was wearing—was enough to send him over the edge. Did he pass out? No. He bolted from the class before the bell so he could jerk off in the faculty bathroom because that door locked.
“Dude, is that normal?”
That was when I caught a whiff. I gagged and stepped backwards, waving a hand in between us.
“Goddamn, man, have you showered this month? You smell like the bathroom in a smut factory, all desperation and masturbation. Use some fucking deodorant!”
His eyes went wide, and he not-so-suavely tucked his nose in his armpit. A quick, mortified expression flashed across his face. “You don’t think she noticed, do you?”
I laughed so hard, I dropped the books I was holding.
“Are we heading someplace?”
I rejoined the present to find the cabbie staring at me expectantly.
“Train station, please.” My voice was hoarse and it set off warning bells because I felt compromised somehow. I took a quick breath, noting a slight shake in my muscles.
Thankfully, the station was only a ten-minute ride away. I watched downtown Memphis float by in a nondescript blur. The inside of the cab was hot and sticky on top of the stench, and the air conditioning was clearly on the fritz. News radio crackled with static and stale political views, though the driver didn’t seem to mind. I rolled down the squeaky window to release some of the offending scent. Warm but fresh air steadily rushed over my face offering a modicum of relief.
I hadn’t thought of my brother in … well, longer than I could quantify. If I weren’t careful, I would start to wonder about him, and everyone else. I couldn’t have that.
People like me work alone, everything I did was planned. I had nothing but the job. That was my purpose. There were no surprises but failure, and failure was death.
As we pulled up in front, I paid the driver and slid out of the cab almost before it came to a stop. With my bag slung over my shoulder, I headed toward the departure boards to find my platform.
The night air was thick, humidity clinging to my throat and sitting heavily on my chest, as I tried to breathe. I used it to center myself and disconnect.
I settled in my empty cabin, the train’s movements jostling me gently side to side. Still shaking off the eruption of memory, I closed my eyes and leaned back in the seat. Concentrating on breathing, I let the ambient noise calm me. The rhythmic rattling of the connectors between train cars was a soothing enough distraction.
The train barreled toward Chicago, somewhere I could be easily lost. In a big city with sharp corners and high angles, I could blend into the cement and steel without catching a single eye. Everyone went about their own business, and I would hide in plain sight until a new assignment found me. It wouldn’t be long. It never was. My talents were always in demand.
Cell by cell, I was bled of the disquiet, drained of the past until I was simply waiting for darkness. As my body surrendered, so did my mind. But sleep was only a brief solace. Soon enough I would wake empty.
There were no dreams in me.
It took a lot of persuading and conversations with my team of doctors, plus some serious string pulling and Nash’s lawyerly help, but Vivi managed to get me released into her care. As my only friend, she had subsequently become my only family, so it was easy to offer my support of her guardianship to the judge and my doctors. It was all pretty confusing for me, but I guess that’s why I wasn’t allowed to make my own decisions yet. I would soon enough, but only after the chief psychologist on my case officially deemed me fit to take care of myself.
After two weeks of a group home and nearly three months after I’d woken up in the hospital, I got to live in the real world.
“We’re on the top floor,” Vivi said when the car pulled up in front of the brownstone on a street with trees finally green and full with springtime. “Don’t be too impressed; my aunt left the flat to me in her will. We don’t own the entire building. I mean, Nash and I make a good living, but not
The apartment was beautiful, and Vivi had gone to great ends to make my room a sanctuary for me. It was certainly comfortable, calm, and in the quietest corner of the house. It was easy to relax there, and a relief to be living in an actual home again despite my inability to remember any I’d previously occupied. This, in turn, made my transitional therapy sessions smooth and positive.
“I was hoping you’d have recovered more memories,” Dr. Henry admitted at one of my last evaluation sessions, almost two months after being released. “But you are adjusting to life so well without them, I am glad to give you a stamp of approval.”
I hopped up in my seat and squealed a little bit, stilling when he held up a hand. Vivi sat in on the sessions and threw me a thumbs-up from behind him.
“This is conditional, Miss Gideon,” he continued. “You will be required to continue therapy twice a week, more if I find any reason to be concerned or you have any unusual episodes.”
I nodded, my smile uncontainable. “I totally understand. I’m sure you know Vivi—”
“Will be a constant source of support!” she cut in, excitedly. “Nash, too. I promise you, Sidney, she’s doing so well. I have total confidence.”
He smiled, turning to give her a look. “I appreciate that, Vivien. If Lucie doesn’t mind, I’d like you to check in with the team regularly as well.”
As Vivi and I left, she tossed her arm around my shoulders and sighed happily, “And so it goes!”
I slowed my pace and came to a stop. “Kurt Vonnegut, right?”
She stared at me. “You don’t remember who Madonna is—the pop music icon, not the mother of Jesus—but you know
“I don’t know what to tell you, Vivi. I must have read a lot. I didn’t remember the title, if that helps.”
“Amazing. It’s amazing!” she declared, resuming her hold on me and ushering me out the door. “I might have to test you with more literary quotes later.”
Within a few more weeks, I had most of my legal and monetary ducks in a row. I was feeling pretty solid, therapy was consistent, though very few new memories resurfaced and never any of significance. Vivi asked me about my visions all the time, but they had been short and singular since I left the hospital. All of them focused on my stranger, and none of them gave me clues as to when or where—much to my frustration.
It was a smile, a kiss. Or maybe he was leaning on the counter, sheltering a coffee cup in his hands. The most recent preview I had, I couldn’t even see his face, but I knew it was him. I was nestled in his arms, my back to his chest. We sat cuddled on a couch, our legs covered with an afghan. I knew it wasn’t Vivi and Nash’s place, or any other I’d seen yet. And I’d been with them to Denny’s apartment, as well as a couple of friends’ places. One couple I became particularly fond of was Charlotte and Drew Ellicott.
Charlotte was Vivi’s cousin, who happened to have gone to high school with Nash and married her sweetheart Drew, who was a childhood friend of Nash’s that he kept referring to by girls’ names.
“Sounds a little incestuous,” I teased. “So when did you meet Nash, Viv?”
“We were in Cape Cod for Charlotte and Andrea’s wedding,” Nash said, unable to resist ribbing his friend. “We met in the hotel gym.”
“I kicked him in the face and it was lurve,” Vivi joked, crossing her eyes as she looked goofily in his face. Dropping into a serious expression, she said, “Leave Drew alone.”
Nash gave me a look. “His name
“You’re still a dick,” Drew said, amused, though he had been quiet until then.
“You love me so much it makes Charlotte jealous. And as for this one,” he said gesturing to Vivi, “I considered pressing charges for assault, but she seduced me in the stairwell, so I forgave her.”
Charlotte laughed loudly, elbowing Drew, who just shook his head. “Remember when Nash told you he met his date in the hotel, not even realizing she was already in the wedding?”
Vivi covered her face. “I forgot about the stairwell.”