"We have to talk," Katie's eyes are hard and her brow's all creased up.
I nod and I try to look agreeable, but I don't say a word and I keep on brushing Daniel's hair. And I focus on the sweet floral scent of his shampoo and how soft his hair feels and the way it slides like black silk through my fingers. Katie wanted to cut it last year when all of this started, but I wouldn't let her. It's his pride and joy, or at least it was
. He won't be able to keep it up
, Katie said, and you'll have your hands full anyway.
But my hands don't feel
full, not with all I've lost.
"It's about Daniel," she continues, and her voice's so cold.
He doesn't react to the sound of his name, but I
do. Because I don't want
to talk about Daniel--not now with him here and not later, either. I know what Katie's gonna say, and I don't want to hear it. My hands won't stay steady and I almost drop the brush and it snags in Daniel's hair. And he turns to me with a small, hurt noise, and he's too pale and his eyes are big and shadowed and scared. But he's every bit as beautiful to me as he's always been, and for a second I swear he's there
, really there--
And he blinks and the moment passes, and my heart breaks all over again.
"Sorry I scared you, dude," I whisper, and I lay a hand on his back. I can feel his ribs through his T-shirt and the too-fast beating of his heart. His whole body tenses under my touch, and I've gotta stay still 'til he relaxes. But then he leans in and rests his head on my shoulder, and I hold him close and breathe him in and remember how he used to be. How we
used to be. And I remember those first awful weeks last year--how lost he looked and his endless questions.What happened? Was I dead? Am I alive now?
One year and who knows how many tests and treatments later, and we still know so little.
Every thirty seconds and sometimes sooner, his memory resets and for him there's nothing in between. And he's quieter now with all the meds they've got him on, but those questions are still there and I can see them in his eyes whenever he looks at me.Where'd I go? How long was I asleep?
But there's never any answers to give him, because even the doctors're stumped. It's a brain injury, they say, but they're not clear on the cause and I can't help because I wasn't around when it happened. They tell us it's a rare case and they look at Daniel like he's a puzzle for them to put together. But they can't find all the pieces, and they can't say for sure if he'll get better or how long it'll take if he does. It could happen tomorrow or in a year or not at all. And that's the worst part, that nobody really knows
know is Daniel's gone, maybe forever, and I wasn't there when he needed me most.
"Jess?" Katie's voice is softer now, but she's not gonna let me ignore her.
"What is it?" I ask, and I'm so tired, all worn out from fighting so hard to hold onto what's left.
And I feel selfish saying that when Daniel's the one who's lost everything. It's not so much work taking care of him, really. Because it turns out he can take care of his hair and his showers and all those things just fine on his own as long as you remind him every day. The doctors call that procedural memory, and it means his body remembers how to do things even though his brain doesn't. So he can still tinker with his circuits and wires and stuff, and it makes him so happy and it's the only time he's almost him
But you've gotta watch him so he doesn't get distracted and burn the house down... like he almost did the other day.
Katie twists a lock of her own black hair around one finger. "I think we need to consider... other options for his care."
My eyes well up and my stomach's in my shoes and I think I might choke on this lump in my throat. But I knew this was coming and I've gotta stay calm, so I wait to speak 'til my voice won't shake. "There are
no other options."
"Jess." All the steel's gone from her now, and her voice's flat and kinda robotic. "He's not getting any better."
My arm tightens around him of its own volition and he lets out a soft little sigh. And there's no way I'm gonna abandon him again, not now and not ever. "He's--" My words come out all squeaky and I swallow and start over. "He's calmer, isn't he?"
Katie snorts. "More like catatonic." She shakes her head, and her dark eyes flash. "How long do you think you can keep this up? You're only nineteen, Jess. You're supposed to be going out to parties and... doing whatever normal people our age do."
"You don't understand--" I start, but Katie cuts me off.
?" she demands, and her face might as well be made of metal except for the flush rising on her brown skin. "That you blame yourself for a breakup that wasn't your fault? Or that you're wasting your life playing nursemaid to make up for it?"
Her face's too close to mine and her breath's hot on my cheeks. Daniel squirms away and he huddles in the corner and makes himself small and I want to tell him it's all gonna be okay. But it isn't
okay, and I don't know if it ever will be. And I want to tell Katie it is
my fault, because I knew he didn't mean all those things he said to me, the last time I saw him before
. I knew it was just a fight and I walked out on him anyway, and he never takes care of himself when I'm not around, and--
"Snap out of it, Jess," she growls, and she lunges toward me and I think she's gonna slap me. But she grasps me by the tops of my arms instead and lifts me onto my feet. She shakes me like a ragdoll and her long nails dig into my skin.
"H- he belongs with me, K--"
"Yeah, right," she snaps. "That's why you were on that six-week 'vacation' at your parents' house when all this started."
And she might as well
have slapped me right across the face, the way that stings.
"You didn't break him, you idiot." Her arms fall to her sides and she stares at the floor, and I've never seen her look so sad. "I heard him yelling at you clear across the house, and I heard the front door slam when he left. He walked out on you first, and you were right
to leave him when you did. He was broken from the start--"
"He's. Not. Broken
," I hiss through gritted teeth, and that low, icy voice's coming from my mouth but it doesn't sound like mine. My blood's pounding in my ears and there's this crazy strength surging through me. And I'm shaking but it's not because I'm scared, and all of a sudden I don't feel like sweet, harmless little Jess anymore. I march right up to Katie and I stare her down and I swear I could throw her across the room. Daniel shrinks away from me, and he mutters something I can't make out.
But Katie doesn't back down one bit. "Well, he's not coming back, is he? Look at him."
He's cowering against the wall, and his eyes are bright with fear.
"Is this the man you love?" Katie won't let up, not for one minute.
And all my rage drains away in an instant, because that's a question I can actually answer. "Yes."
She hollers something back, but I don't hear what it is because my eyes are on Daniel. And he blinks back at me with this light in his eyes and I want so much to believe it means
something. That this time it's him, it's really him and he's back for good. But I've been hoping so hard for way too long, so I swallow and I brace myself for the moment the light flickers out again.
But it doesn't come.
Daniel's perfect brows knit together and he clears his throat. "Don't fight," he croaks. "Please."
His voice's like a thousand rusty hinges but it's the most wonderful sound I've ever heard.
I throw my arms around him and I snuffle into his shirt and he holds me like he's never gonna let go. My hands tangle in his hair and now I'm the one with all the questions but I'm too busy clinging to him for dear life to ask them.
"She's right, y'know." His words're soft puffs against my ear and they make me shiver. "Did this to myself."
I'm drenched in tears and my head's spinning and I don't want to pull away, but I do. "What d'you mean, dude?"
"Might not want anything to do with me once I tell you," Daniel mutters.
He leans forward and he lets his hair fall over his face like he always does when he's ashamed. And it's so him
it makes me ache, and there's nothing he can say that'll change the way I feel, and--
"You left, and I--" He pauses and picks at the carpet, and he takes a deep breath. And he leans his head back against the wall and closes his eyes. "Look, I fucked up, okay? Knew this guy..." He trails off, and he looks straight at me with his big wet eyes and shakes his head. "I don't deserve you, Jess. I wanted this."
And I can't think straight, because nothing makes sense. "You wanted
this? To lose all your memories?"
"Not all of them." He sighs. "Guy wasn't supposed to take everything
. Just--" His voice cracks, and my heart does, too.
Because I already know what he's gonna say, but knowing doesn't make it hurt any less. He cups my chin in one gentle hand and he plants a soft kiss on my forehead. And he whispers the words against my skin.
"Just... you."Author's Note:
This story and its characters are fictional, but the idea was inspired by a real person. They did not
teach me about Clive Wearing
when I got my psych degree, and I feel a little cheated (especially since I'm still
paying back my student loans).