It’s barely ten in the morning when I pull into the car park at Memorial Medical Centre. I make my way into the reception and ask to speak with Doctor Connors. The intake nurse pages the doctor to the reception area. After a couple of minutes a man is his late fifties with too many wrinkles on his face to be a believer in botox rounds the corner. His white hair is almost the same colour as his lab coat. The right pocket has his name embroidered on it and he glance at the nurse who points to me. I smile and hold out my hand as he reaches me, “Hi, my name is Mason Harris.” I offer.
“Doctor Lance Connors, how can I help you today Mr Harris?” He asks dutifully as he shakes my hand in welcome.
“Well I was hoping you could fit me in for a consultation this morning?” I ask hopefully.
“I’m sorry Mr Harris but I have back to back appointments all day today.” He says as I still grip his hand. I pull him closer to me and whisper into his ear so that no one else can hear,
“This is about Sarah Andrews, trust me doctor you want to talk to me.” I say darkly.
“Nurse, push back my next appointment.” He tells the nurse urgently as he gestures for me follow him down the hallway. We reach his office and he opens the doors and waits for me to walk in ahead of me. I take a seat in what is clearly the visitor chair and wait for him to do the same. “Now tell me Mr Harris, why shouldn’t I call security?” He asks bravely despite the slight tremor in his voice. I smile approvingly at him for not wanting to give anything away.
“Because you would have done it by now Doctor. I assure you I’m not here to hurt you or her, I just want you to fill in the gaps since I last saw her.” I explain calmly.
“Well even if I would, I can’t disclose any information regarding any patients he tells me bluntly.”
“I appreciate that, but technically one of your patients is my child, so I have a right to know.” I tell him. He looks at me doubtfully and then takes a seat to further study my features.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about Mr Mason.” He declares firmly.
“Sarah Andrews, she’s pregnant and I’m certain I’m the father.” I tell him. Then I venture further, “I understand all of the reasons behind your hesitation towards me, and I would prefer that the Marshalls weren’t made aware of my presence.” Then he looks at me with outright suspicion.
“But not for the reason you think.” I add quickly.
“I am neither confirming nor denying that Miss Andrews is in fact pregnant, but I am curious as to what makes you so sure she is?” He asks. I begin to tell him the whole truth about my relationship with Ruby, everything from my undercover assignment to our meeting and falling in love. Right up to the night I lost her. His jaw is on his desk as he looks at me in disbelief at the tale I’m telling.
“I promise you I do not have any patient by the name, Ruby or Alyson Jade Morgan as you’ve claimed in your story, however I will indulge your story further. Perhaps you could recall for me the events and injuries your Ruby suffered on this night and I can perhaps hypothesize what may have become of her.” He tells me and I can read between the lines, he believes me he wants to help, but his morals and ethics forbid as well as the actual law.
“Well Ruby was shot,” I say indicating to the same location on my chest, “right here.” He just nods taking notes. “I was so scared the bullet hit her heart or tore through her chest. Then she was thrown into the river. I tried to get to her as fast as I could but my own bullet wounds slowed me down. I found her floating in the river under the dock and I hauled her up. She wasn’t breathing but the EMT’s revived her after about half a minute.” He holds his hands up.
“Did the EMT’s use paddles or manually resuscitate her?” He asks clearly he knows from her chart when they brought her here.
“Manually,” I answer. “It was the longest thirty seconds of my life waiting for her to breathe.” I say and I sink back into the chair further letting that memory weigh me down. I relay the rest of the story to him unknowing if he really believes any of it. The part about witness protection I tell him was her wish before we really fell in love. “She was under duress and I was furious with the Bureau for relocating her before she regained consciousness.” I say angrily and he nods. She would’ve arrive here still unconscious and this part of the story matches.
“Couldn’t you just have asked the U.S. Marshalls for the location of this girl of yours?” He asks sceptically.
“It’s not that simple, being with her went against the parameters of my assignment, the Bureau can never know. Even if it was allowed that’s not how the Marshall Service works. They have to protect the witness even from potential corrupt officers of different agencies, the protocols set in place are almost impenetrable. I’ve literally been driving from town to town looking for her because it’s easy to do than get through the red tape of the Marshall Service.” I explain exhaustedly.
“And did you find your Ruby yet?” He asks expectantly. I laugh a small laugh of dark amusement.
“Yeah I found her, but she has no idea who I am.” I tell him devastation saturating my voice.
“So there was no recognition at all?” He probes, “perhaps a smile that seemed more genuine than another, anything?”
“No, just…….wait,” I pause recalling the slip, “When I asked where she was from she said ‘I don’t know’. Even though she doesn’t actually remember the Marshall contact assigned to her would’ve made her memorize false answers to general questions like that.” I say excitedly. I notice the doctor is smiling as well.
“It sounds to me like even though your Ruby may not recognize you, she knows she trusts you. It may be subconscious but it’s there somewhere.” He reassures me. I feel a small swell of hope in the churning dark ocean of my heart. “Furthermore, it sounds to me like this Ruby is suffering from dissociative amnesia. It’s most common in those who have been through a terrible trauma, patients can sometimes awaken from a coma with no clue as to who they are or where they’re from. They lose every bit of memory that associates with the trauma they’re trying to forget. The memory is still there of course, just buried deeply by the mind for its own protection.” Doctor Connors explains all of this hypothetically but I know he’s talking about her.
“So she can just forget everyone and everything from her life including her own name?” I ask incredulously.
“It’s more like she forgot her name because it was spoken by someone who can link her memory to the traumatic event she is trying to forget. I’m sure she can recall everything else she has ever learned, like how to drive for example.” He says and I smile at the irony.
“Actually I would feel better if she did forget that, she’s a crazy driver.” I tell him and he smiles knowingly at me.
“Did you notice the bent over disabled parking sign in the lot?” He asks with a laugh almost forgetting himself. I look at him desperate for answers as to what can be done. “Perhaps I can take a sample of your DNA Mr Mason to run it against our records. It’s always a good idea for us small towns to keep records of such things in case we need blood donations et cetera.” He says pointedly and I agree instantly.
“About Ruby’s amnesia, is there anything that can be done to restore her memory?” I ask desperately.
“Unfortunately this is one of those time will tell situations, memories of course can be triggered by sights or sounds or even smells. To me it seems strange that she would not recognise you of all people which concerns me that her memory is more deeply buried than it needs to be. This is of course hypothetical, but I’m sure someone in Ruby’s condition is undergoing therapy to help her memory resurface.” He tells me.
I roll up my sleeve to expose my arm for the blood withdrawal. I hardly feel the needle as he works.
“So would it be a bad thing to try to tell her who I am?” I ask. He looks at me defeated.
“I’m sorry to tell you doing that may only reinforce the amnesia if she rejects the information she can recede even further into the void.” He tells me solemnly.
“So my best chance is to keep showing up and hope one day she just remembers me?” I ask in disbelief.
“Perhaps starting from the beginning is the best way to get her to remember, try to befriend her gently as you once did. The familiarity of it may shake something loose, but be patient with her.” He instructs.
“You’re the expert in these kind of things doc.” I surrender as he caps the syringe no containing a deep red liquid in it.
“But you’re are the expert in your Ruby. I would very much like to help you Mr Mason, and in two days if these test results show what I think they will I would like to see you again to discuss the results.” He tells me as he hands me his card. I stand up applying the cotton ball to my arm where I need to. We walk towards the door, “Just call me to meet you somewhere on Friday, I’m not at the hospital that day but I’ll work it out. And for your piece of mind Mr Mason anything we discussed today falls under patient confidentiality so I would be unable to disclose the content to anyone, even a U.S. Marshall.” He says quietly so as not to be over heard. I thank him and head towards the exit. I find I’m growing fond of this small town even if it is freezing.
It’s too hard to stake out the diner without being obvious so I just decide to become a frequent visitor until I figure what shifts she primarily works. The diner is open twenty-four seven, because it’s on the highway. I still don’t imagine there being a big crowd during the overnight shift except for the occasional trucker. I sit in the diner during the dinner rush and I check the time on my phone to see how late it’s getting.
“Are you sure you don’t mind doing the double?” Leon asks Sarah with a look of concern.
“Of course not, it’s fine I need the money. Relax Leon it’s not like there’s a bustling trade during the night, I’ll see you in the morning.” She says as she plants a light kiss on his cheek. He takes his coat from by the door and takes a look around the diner —locking me with an almost threatening look—then he leaves.
Sarah strolls over to the radio on the kitchen pass and turns the dial looking for a different station. She pauses the dial on a country music station then looks around the diner to see if anyone minds. When she doesn’t hear any objections she strolls away from the radio with a lightness to her step. She’s alone working in the diner now apart from the skinny boy who is in the kitchen.
I sit in my booth and scan the other patrons inconspicuously. They seem like tourists for the most part, a couple of locals and two truckers at the counter that have struck up a conversation complaining about the danger of the icy roads they travel.
“Are you doing okay over here?” Sarah’s voice interrupts my observations. I look up to meet her eyes and her smile takes my breath away and it takes me too long to answer her.
“Oh Doctor Connors is a great Doctor,” She says all of a sudden and I follow her line of sight to the Doctor’s card on the table top from where I had it out to store his number.
I look at her with a slight panic. “I’m sorry, it’s none of my business. He really is a great doctor though, he’s been a real help to me since I moved here.” She says apologetically. I smile at her,
“Its okay, I don’t imagine there are many secrets in a small town like this anyway.” I offer. She laughs a little in response.
“You might be surprised,” She says with a half-smile. Her eyes seem to flit to my phone and I’m glad now that I changed the screen saver picture so it isn’t her photo.
“I was just consulting with the doctor about a family member of mine,” I start to explain but she waves her hand at me.
“You don’t have to tell me,” she tells me.
“Its fine, he was just helping me understand something going on with her, which she doesn’t seem to understand herself.” I explain.
“You obviously really care about this family member, does she live around these parts?” Sarah asks curiously. I shake my head unable to form the words of the lie.
“I was talking with the doctor because he initially treated her.” I say truthfully hating myself for not being able to tell her everything.
“Well like I said he’s brilliant. I’ve been having some memory problems lately and he’s been really helpful.” She says vaguely. Memory problems? It’s a bit more than that. I nod at her and smile. She runs her hand through her hair seeming to contemplate something as she looks around the diner. She takes a seat opposite me in a flash.
“Actually, it’s worse than that. I woke up from a coma a couple of months ago and I can’t remember anything about the last nearly decade of my life, not even my own name.” She confesses quietly and I look around to see if anyone can overhear us.
I’m in awe that she trusts me with this information but I decide to call her on something she said,
“Isn’t your name Sarah?”
“Oh that, yeah well the doctors knew my name but I still haven’t remembered.” She lies smoothly and I’m filled with joy that her tell of a certain half-smile when she speaks is still there.
“Well you can obviously remember some things,” I say nodding towards the radio, “like the fact you enjoy country music.” She brightens up and smiles as she jumps up to run to her coat hanging by the door.
She rummages through the coat pocket and pulls out a brown leather bound journal. She pulls the pen out from its place in her pony tail and walks back towards me scribbling furiously with a smile barely contained on her face.
“Thank you for that. You’re completely right, I love country music. I’m supposed to write everything down as I remember, not matter how small. Every flash of memory, even things I’m not sure are real.” She explains as she sits down again.
I smile encouragingly at her and she continues, “I even keep it beside my bed when I sleep so that if I remember my dreams I write them down. This entire book is a jumbled puzzle full of thoughts and feelings and pieces of memory.” She says as she shakes her head. “Well I better get back to it.” She smiles and walks away tucking her journal into her apron pocket. Back behind the counter she starts to wipe the counter down and re-fill the salt and pepper shakers.
I have to mention this to Doctor Connors when I see him tomorrow. I continue to watch Sarah as I remember her movements from behind the bar she used to work at, every detail is the same, every subtle movement. I know I can’t stay here all night without a reason but I find it harder and harder to tear myself away from this place. I’m about to leave for the night when a young man approaches the counter with an air of confidence.
“So Sarah, I was thinking maybe this you’d like to have dinner with me tomorrow night?” He says boldly. I don’t know when exactly I stood up from my booth but I’m walking towards the counter.
“Sorry Tom, I’m working tomorrow night.” She says shortly but politely enough. My heart does a little dance at her refusal of him. Her heart must be missing mine as much as mine does her.
“Okay, how ’bout next week some time?” He persists and I clear my throat loudly next to him. Sarah looks at me seeming relieved for a distraction.
“Tom listen, I’ve told you before I’m not interested, please stop asking me.” Sarah says shortly without any politeness this time. I can hardly blame her if this guy just keeps harassing her.
“That was harsh Sarah.” He says trying to look stung.
“Well I’m sorry but you used up all my tolerance, you know my answer, it’s never going to change. Now if you don’t mind I have customers.” She says inclining her head towards me. The young man seems to see me for the first time and takes a step back from the counter and walks back to his table. Sarah smiles a little at me but her face is flushed a rosy pink with embarrassment. “Sorry about that,” She apologises and I wave it off. “That’s twenty-three, eighty- two.” She tells me and I hand over the cash.
“Keep the change,” I tell her with a smile, “and have a good night.”
“Thanks I will, I brought a good book with me. Will I see you tomorrow?” She asks and I turn and look over my shoulder at her remembering the first time she asked me that same question. I see her face almost flash with a hint of recognition then it’s gone in the same instant. “Wow de je vu,” She says and I look to her apron.
“Shouldn’t you write that down?” I ask and she smiles at me as she reaches into her apron.
“And yes you will see me tomorrow,” I assure her. I can’t be sure but her eyes appear to light up at my statement, then I leave before I go too far. Back in my motel room I toss and turn all night not able to fall asleep, I glance at the clock, three-forty-five in the morning. I get up and splash my face and get into my truck. I pull into the diner car park and find there are no other cars in the lot. I walk into the diner and the doorbell rings even louder than I remember it.
Sarah sits at the end of the counter reading a book, until she glances up to see my face. Her smile is warm and genuine as she looks at the clock above the door.
“Early start to the day or a late finish to yesterday?” She asks with an eyebrow cocked in suspicion.
“I couldn’t sleep,” I confess as I collapse into a booth near the doorway. Sarah takes a moment preparing something behind the counter and then comes over to me with a warm smile and a mug of something hot in her hand.
“It’s hot cocoa the way my mama used to make it.” She says as she places the mug in front of me. Then she walks back to the counter and takes a seat. I watch her struggle on one of the stools as I take a sip of the contents of the mug.
It’s like taking a sip of a happy childhood memory, warm rich chocolate flows over my tongue down my throat. My tastebuds awakened with hints of cinnamon and nutmeg and the smell transforms me to another place and time. I sigh happily and then I hear another sigh, a deeper one the sounds more pained. I look towards Ruby and see her squirming around on the bar stool until finally giving up she gets to her feet and stretches out.
She places one hand gently across her lower belly and pushes her other flat against her lower back. She turns to see me watching her.
“This is amazing,” I tell her tapping the mug with my index finger. She smiles proudly and walks towards me with her stomach sticking out. The beautiful round protrusion of my unborn baby and it’s so close to me.
“My back is killing me.” She announces to me and I nod perceptively.
“Well you’ve been on your feet for a long time.” I say then my eyes unintentionally focus on her belly. She pats her lower stomach affectionately and smiles at me.
“You can tell can’t you?” She asks and I shake my head obliviously at her.
“Tell what?” I ask innocently. She laughs.
“It’s okay, I’m almost seventeen weeks along, and I’m surprised I’m not showing more.” She tells me and I just smile knowingly at her.
“I’m sure others can’t tell,” I explain, “I’m just observant.”
“I can see that, what do you do for work?” She asks curiously as she takes a seat in the booth opposite me. I refuse to lie to her, I know how much it hurt her when she found out I was lying to her while I was undercover. I can never bear to see that crushed look on her face again.
“I’m taking a sabbatical,” I explain, “I worked for the government.”
“I like the way you say that, so you could be anything from a mailman to a spy.” She laughs and I join her. She doesn’t ask for clarification and I’m glad because if she had flat out asked me I would tell her the truth. She squirms a little still uncomfortable and it tears at my heart to see her in any kind of pain.
“Come with me,” I instruct as I stand and hold my hand out for her. She looks hesitant for only a second then she puts her smooth hand in mine and stands beside me.
The rush of electricity —from her touch—through my body is overwhelming. I lead her over to the counter top of the diner and I move aside a couple of the plastic menus and napkin dispensers. I pat the counter, “hop up,” I tell her.
“What?” She looks at me like I’m crazy. I intercede and place my hands on either side of her waist and lift her up onto the counter top with a short squeal from her. Her laughter is nervous as she sits on the counter facing me as I stand in front of her with my hands still on her waist.
“Spin around and lie flat against the counter top,” I instruct gently.
“Are you kidding me?” She asks as she shoots me a no-way-in-hell look.
“Trust me.” I plead with her. Her resolves fades as she considers trusting me, then slowly she turns and lay back against the counter. I place my hands flush beside her on the counter.
“Now bend your knees up slightly to allow your back to straighten more. The coolness and the flat surface of the counter top will help with your back pain.” I tell her remembering always seeking a flat surface to lie on after a tense operation in the field. She lies back down with hers knees bent up and her head falls against the counter. She looks at the ceiling then closes her eyes to block out the fluorescent lights. I take off my over shirt and roll it up and gently lift her head to place it underneath. She looks at me and reaches a hand out to squeeze my now exposed bicep in my grey t-shirt.
She closes her eyes again and takes a few deep breaths as she relaxes a bit more. I can see the small smile on her face.
“This feels great,” she says thankfully as she gently rests both her hands on her stomach. I make my way back to my booth not wanting to crowd her as she rests. I watch the gentle rhythmic rise and fall of that baby bump as she breathes in and out. Before too long she begins to snore lightly, I let her sleep as we’re the only ones here. There is less than an hour of this silent bliss as the evil doorbell from hell wakes her up with a start. She jumps down off the counter in a frazzled hurry and digs into her coat for her journal.
“Just have a seat anywhere sir,” She says as she flips to a page and begins to scribble. She looks at the clock above the door and seems shocked as she turns to look at me.
I smile reassuringly at her, but her expression is one of slight frustration. She takes the other man’s breakfast order then heads to the kitchen to begin cooking. Apparently during the night shift she does it all. At five am the next shift arrives to relieve her. I leave some money on the table for the cocoa and leave before she does. I wait in the cover of the trees off the highway until her car passes me. A little rusted through green Daewoo of some kind, not a safe car for these roads in the winter.
I follow her far enough back so she doesn’t see me and after less about five minutes she slows down and turns off the road onto a dirt driveway that leads into the trees. I would’ve missed it completely and driven past it if her brake lights weren’t illuminating the driveway. I pull over on the side of the road and make my way into the drive way on foot, sticking close to the cover of the large maple trees. At the end of the driveway I find her car parked beside a small cabin next to the dark waters of Lake Superior, in the dark I can make out the floating pontoon with the ramp that leads right up to the cabin porch.
I see her silhouette pass by a lit up window then as I dare to draw closer to the cabin I’m startled by a deep heavy dog barking. Shit. This is no fox terrier, this bark belongs to a big dog. I see a door open on the back porch and a dog the size of a bear leaps off the back porch and starts running in my direction still barking. I bolt back towards the truck as I can faintly hear Ruby’s voice calling the dog back. I jump back into the truck before the dog can get to me and I look out the window towards it as I speed away. No not a bear, more like a wolf.
Where the hell did that come from?