Doctor Connors has asked me to meet him at his boat at the marina today to discuss my blood work up. To me, the fact he has agreed to meet me means that he believes me and has good news to tell me. I pull into the marina car park and my Ford F-150 looks a touch out of place next to the shiny new European cars in the lot. There are a few fancy yachts moored to the same dock the doctor said his boat is moored to. ‘Saline Seas’ is the boat I’m looking for, clearly named by the doctor, and I just smirk at the expensive yachts that sit here in the harbor and rarely get taken out.
I finally find the ‘Saline Seas’ rocking gently in the icy waters of Lake Superior at the end of the dock. As I approach the boat Doctor Connors emerges from below deck and spots me. He waves me aboard,
“Mr Harris, welcome.” He says with a smile. I clasp and shake his hand as my feet hit the deck. “Thank you for seeing me,” I say but he holds up his hands and gestures for me to have a seat. The air is icy cold and it freezes the features on my face.
The doctor is hauling a line up from over the side of the yacht, “do you sail much Mr Harris?” He asks me and I just shake my head in response.
“I love to sail,” he says as he reaches over the side of the boat and pulls over a crab pot full of beer bottles on to the deck. I smile at him appreciatively as he tosses a beer at me.
“I’ve never really found the time to appreciate it fully,” I say as I tip my now opened beer bottle neck towards him. He raises his beer in a return gesture.
“I have a feeling I should’ve brought something stronger for this conversation,” he sighs slightly.
“Just rip it off like a band aid Doc,” I tell him as I internally brace myself.
“You are indeed the father of Miss Andrew’s baby,” He confirms and I breathe out with relief. Not that I wasn’t sure that I was anyway but I didn’t know how far Viktor Nolikov had gone to hurt her the last time he laid hands on her. I look at the Doc hopefully but he is still looking at me hesitantly.
“What?” I probe.
“It’s just that I’ve seen the x-rays of Miss Andrews, I know about every broken bone and the many scars she has, evidence of years of physical abuse. How do I know you aren’t the one who did this to her, or that her child is even the result of a happy union and not from an act of violence?” He asks doubtful. I close my eyes and try to swallow the bile rising in my throat at the thought of Ruby’s abuse and I shudder to think that this man believes our baby could be a result of violence instead of the pure love it was created from.
I tell him the more in depth story of Ruby’s relationship with Viktor Nolikov, and I explain that she is safe from him as he is currently on trial and will soon be locked away for life. The doctor looks at me sadly as I describe in more detail the way I feel for Ruby and the way I know she felt for me before she lost all memory of me. Then I have a thought and I reach into my pocket and pull out my phone, I unlock the screen and hand it to him.
“Scroll through the photos,” I instruct him.
As I sip my beer the Doctor scrolls through the photos on my phone, he laughs at one of the images he sees. He holds it up to show me, it the one of me trying to wrestle my phone from her as she distracts me by kissing me. Then he finds the one that’s my favourite the one of her content and happy, sitting on my lap with my protective arms wrapped securely around her waist. I’m kissing her cheek and she has her head leaning back towards me, her eyes are closed and I have never seen a look of more content happiness on a person’s face before, and apparently neither has the Doctor.
He takes in a sharp breath as he studies the picture then he hands me back the phone and he really seems to see the longing heartache that fills my eyes.
“You poor soul,” Is all he says for a moment and I quickly avert my eyes afraid of the weakness in them. “I want to discuss Ruby with you, I believe that I’m not breaking any patient confidentiality considering she is the mother of your child.” My heart soars at these words, mother of my child. Ruby is the love of my life, I’ve known it nearly as long as I’ve known her, and soon she’ll be the mother of my child.
A content smile settles on my face. Then I look at the Doctor,
“So can you fill me in from that night, until now?” I ask him hopefully. He nods.
“I can try. Ruby was transferred here almost three months ago to the day. She was in a stable condition despite the bullet wound. The bullet managed to miss all of her internal organs due to the angle it entered the body. We had to set her shoulder in a cast to help it heal but other than that she was in good condition. She remained in a coma for her first week here, and when she awoke I met the U.S. Marshall assigned to her case.” He tells me this and I cringe at the thought of Ruby waking up alone.
“The Marshall is a rather unpleasant woman who refused to give Ruby any information she didn’t already know. The Marshall wouldn’t even tell me, she just said ‘it’s classified’. So I can’t tell if Ruby’s memories are real or made up and it makes my work very difficult. I don’t even have a previous medical history for her, she was basically a Jane Doe. The Marshall scared the poor girl out of her mind when she first woke up telling her that her life would be in danger if she deviated from her new identity in anyway. It’s no wonder her dissociative amnesia is so severe after waking up to that.” He explains with a tone of disgust.
“Not to mention, being pregnant and sporting a bullet wound,” I add regretfully.
“I am sorry for these circumstances Mr Harris, and I truly hope to help her remember.” He assures me.
“Please, call me Mason. And Doc I think I can get a hold of her previous medical history file if that’ll help you.” I add casting a thought back to the Doctor on the Nolikov’s payroll in New Orleans.
“That would be helpful. I asked her to keep a journal of her thoughts and feelings and any memories that she happens upon and we discuss it in our weekly therapy sessions.” He explains.
“I know, she told me about it.” I tell him flatly and his face drops.
“She spoke to you about her amnesia and the journal?” He asks incredulously.
“She doesn’t like to talk about it to anyone, I practically have to drag the words from her mouth. She never even talks to Leon about it, he’s like an adoptive father to her. He rents her a tiny cabin by the Lake and he gave her a job. He wasn’t sure about her condition to work but I suggested the interaction would be good for her.” He says with a shocked look still planted on his face. “Her telling you all of this after just meeting you means that she knows on a deeper level that she trusts you completely though she may not understand why,” he says before adding, “yet.”
“I know about her cabin by the Lake,” I say and the Doc raises an eyebrow at me. “Yes I followed her,” I admit, “Did you know she has a wolf guarding her?” He smiles calmly at me.
“That wolf is an Alaskan Malamute. She was on one of the best sled dog teams in the area before she had puppies. It was a huge local dispute, the racer accused the breeder of cheating him by not having the dog de-sexed before he sold it to him. The breeder of course claims innocence, but the racer deemed the dog unfit for racing after it became a mother so he took it to the animal hospital to be put down. Of course Miss Andrews, forgive me, I mean Ruby couldn’t stand the thought of it so she rescued the dog. I can’t recall its name though.” He tells me and I let myself be absorbed by the story that demonstrates my Ruby’s huge heart.
“Sled dog racing is a big thing around here isn’t it?” I ask the question generally enough.
“Have you ever been to Texas?” He asks and I nod at him, “Well imagine the passion they have for football, move it north and change football to sled dog racing.” He says with a laugh.
“I’m going to have to make friends with the dog to get anywhere near her.” I say frustrated.
“Well you can’t just keep hanging around the diner with no excuse,” he tells me.
“I know, but what reason can I possibly have for being in this town besides her. I don’t want to lie to her, it almost crushed her the last time I did.” I tell him.
“Perhaps you could be researching for a book.” He offers helpfully. I remember my cover story of being a writer in New Orleans when I first met Ruby and I smile that it has come down to that again.
“I could say I’m writing my memoirs, then maybe get her to take a look at it when I’m done.” I say out loud not really looking for approval.
“Yes and I could be helping you with your research,” he says excitedly, “I would very much like to observe a few interactions between you and Ruby for my notes.”
I agree not seeing any harm to it and invite him to meet me at the diner for dinner at eight pm. After our conversation comes to an end, I disembark the yacht and land back on the dock.
“By the way,” I hesitate, “do you know if it’s a boy or girl?”
“Not yet Mason, she’ll have her twenty week scan soon to determine that. I can tell you that all our initial testing showed that you have a strong healthy baby.” He assures me and I thank him before walking away. I decide to go for a bit of a drive around the Lake and to see the sights of this cold but inspiring town. The hill sides are visions of dark green assaulted with bursts of crimson, russet and bright gold. The trees making their final displays of fall as the winter snow threatens to rob them of all colour.
After swinging by the road that leads to Ruby’s cabin I make my way back to my motel. Back in my room I take out my phone and place a call to Tulane University Hospital. I channel my best darkest tone possible, deciding that being an FBI agent will not help me in obtaining information from this man.
“Dr Dureski please,” I ask the receptionist on the phone.
“One moment please,” She says.
“Hello this is Doctor Dureski,” says the familiar voice at the other end of the line.
“Good afternoon Doctor, I was hoping you could help me with something of importance to the Nolikov family.” I request and I hear the silence on the other end of the line so I continue.
“You treated a woman named Ruby, and I’m going to need you to fax her patient file to a number for me, then I’ll need you to send all the hard copies to me.” I explain in a dark tone.
“I’m sorry whoever you are but I don’t; have the faintest idea what you’re talking about.” He stammers through the phone.
“Let’s not do this dance doctor, you remember the scars on my face? That happened after I displeased the Nolikov family. Do you understand?” I ask using a lie about my scars for dramatic affect and they work.
“I never kept any paper work on any family members as I was instructed.” He tries to lie to me.
“Of course and we’re very grateful for your years of loyalty, however Ruby is not a family member. She is a lose end we need to tie up.” I tell him menacingly. He gulps loudly enough that I hear it through the line and I smile pleased with my ability to scare someone over the phone.
“What’s the fax number, and the address for the hard copy?” He asks and I swear I can hear the beads of sweat rolling down his forehead. I give him the information he needs and make him repeat it back to me. Then I add,
“I’m sure I don’t need to mention that this conversation never took place.” I tell him.
“Of course, may I go now?” He asks like a child wanting to be excuse from class to use the bathroom. I just hang up in response. Fed-ex will have the hard copy of Ruby’s medical file here to me by Monday morning and the fax copy will be waiting in Doctor Connors office fax machine for him. I have a brief glimmer of the danger I may have just placed Ruby in but I push it away. That Dr Dureski is spineless but there is no one left in the Nolikov family—who isn’t dead or awaiting sentencing— to come after her in revenge.
In the slimmest possibility that anyone does come here looking for her then I’ll find them long before they find her.
I’m reassured by this fact, I would never let anyone intending her harm get near her. I start to think about a way into her life and I realise my best bet is to befriend her the same way I did last time, by just talking to her, and listening to her. I won’t push for anything romantic, as she obviously isn’t in any frame of mind for it, especially after the way she shut down that guy in the diner last night.
Poor guy I can hardly blame him for being drawn to her. This town has a population of less than six hundred and once you filter out the unsuitable matches for a partner based on things like sex, age, availability and whether or not they’re related, the pool is kind of shallow. I decide to take a minute to send an email to Joshua to tell him everything. I pone my laptop and load up the secure email server and start typing. As I type the words describing what I found here I can hardly believe them even though I know every word is the God’s honest truth.
I finish the email by telling him my plan to fix everything, as flimsy as the plan is I need to see it written down as well. I sign off the email and carefully reread it to make sure no personal details are mentioned. I only use the first initial ‘R’ to indicate Ruby and I sign it off as ‘M’. I don’t mention the name of the town or the doctor or anything that could link us together. In fairness the email reads like a short tragic story with no names. I close my laptop and get ready to go out for dinner.
When I arrive at the diner Doctor Connors is nowhere to be seen. I take a booth and realize I’m early. Sarah greets me with a smile,
“You look nice tonight, got a hot date?” She asks probingly.
“Actually I do,” I tell her not giving anything away to see her reaction.
“What?” You’ve been in town a few days and you have a hot date. God if I had your luck I’d be married by now,” She jokes but I can sense the lack of effort in her smile.
“I was just teasing, it’s more of a meeting.” I tell her fighting the smile on my lips. She purses her lips as she nods in defeat realising she reacted exactly the way she shouldn’t have.
“Can I get a coffee?” I ask smoothly to diffuse her embarrassment a little.
“Sure thing,” She backs away from me and I turn to see the door after hearing the bell. Doctor Connors hangs up his coat and searches around to find me. He slides into the booth,
“Mason.” He greets me.
“Doc.” I reply by way of greeting.
“I was worried I might be late,” He explains and I laugh a little.
“How could you be late, everything in this town takes less than ten minutes to get to.” I tell him. He smiles a short smile in response. Then he sees Ruby heading towards us with the coffee pot and a mug in her hand.
“Hi Doctor Connors,” she greet him formally with just a little less friendliness than she did with me.
“Good evening Miss Andrews.”
Ruby puts the mug down in front of me and a smile lights up her face as she says,
“So this is your hot date.” I laugh out loud at her and she gently brushes her hand across my forearm as it rests on the table top. Then she walks away back to the counter with a different shade of warmth flooding her face. I look at the Doctor who I discover has a terrible poker face.
“That was an expression of seeking connection.” He whispers hurriedly across the table and I shush him and wave him away as Ruby makes her way back to the table.
“I’m sorry Doctor, can I get you anything?” She asks keeping her focus on him. Although she is talking to him her body is standing closest to me. I can feel the energy practically jumping from my skin to hers and being returned again just as potent.
“Just water please Miss Andrews.” He tells her and I look at him with a raised eyebrow.
“Don’t you call her Sarah?” I ask curiously. He shakes his head.
“I was raised to never call a woman by her first name unless she explicitly gives you permission to,” he explains, “and Miss Andrews there has never expressed permission.”
I look back towards Sarah think how strange it was. She must know, he’s addressed her by her surname at least twice since he arrived and I’m sure many times before that. “Her first defensive block for her memory is a lack of connection to anyone else and she has made no effort in the time I have known her to establish any connection with anyone that she doesn’t have to. I would say that Leon is the closest thing she has to a human relationship. I think something about be being a doctor is off putting to her subconscious.” He offers his theory and I nod acceptingly. I remind him of her treatment and the time she spent in hospitals before.
I recall my afternoon endeavours and I tell Doctor about the medical file being faxed to his office number.
“Thank you very much, that will be very helpful.” He tells me certainly. Ruby comes back to the table with the Doctor’s water and order pad in hand.
“Can I get you two something for dinner?” She asks avoiding all eye contact with me. We order and she leaves the table promptly without looking at me again.
“I don’t understand, she hasn’t had any trouble looking at my face before.” I tell the doc and he sighs.
“I’m afraid her body language is more indicative of wanting to form a connection rather than remember one.” He tells me and I look at him like I’ve never met a girl before in my life.
“I have two daughters,” he explains, “Ruby seems to be responding to you in a physical way.” He says this like he’s narrating a nature documentary and I can’t help it, I feel the heat rise in my cheeks. “This is a good thing, in the event she never gets her memory back you have another option if she is still attracted to you. Of course my primary goal is to recover her memory, but I have to wonder if the good will outweigh the bad? I swore an oath to do no harm.” He tells me solemnly and I allow the idea of it to process for a moment then I shake it from my mind completely.
“It’s not just her good memories with me or her bad memories of him. It’s her own identity, the Ruby I know would never have run from the fear of a memory. She fought so hard every day to remember who she is on the inside, I can’t let her forget the amazing person she is.” I say firmly. His silent nod is the last I want to hear about letting her memory stay lost. When Ruby delivers our food she doesn’t even speak or look at us then she scurries away just as fast.
I just don’t understand at all.
“Hey do you want some fries, I’m going to go ask her for some.” I say not waiting for an answer before I get up from the table. I accept that it’s a busy Friday night here in the diner but it is well staffed and under control enough for her to be less stressed. I approach her from behind as she stands scribbling in her journal,
“Sorry to bother you, but could I get some fries as well?” I ask gently. Despite the soft tone of voice she jumps, startled by my approach and forces a smile to her face.
“Sure, I’ll bring them over.” She answers shortly.
“Are you alright?” I ask her genuinely concerned. She lifts her head and looks to the ceiling for a moment and when her eyes level with mine again she blinks the tears in them back. The rest of the diner fades away and all I see is her, tear filled eyes. Sunken black circles under her eyes, paler than normal skin and a false smile that is straight up injustice to her real one. She seem to buckle under the weight of my glaring concern and she raises her hand to her cover her eyes.
I wrap an arm gently around her back and lead her outside without drawing any attention to us. I grab my jacket on the way out the door and drape it over her shoulders as we walk into the car park. I walk her towards my truck and I stop and lean against it. She leans her back against the truck bed wall still covering her face.
“God, I’m being such a girl.” She sobs and I gently rub my hands down either side of her arms to help keep her warm. Her breathing is creating a fog cloud thick enough with mine that we can say we stepped out for a cigarette.
Which would be a perfectly reasonable excuse to those who don’t know she’s pregnant. I remain silent not wanting to push her for any more than she wants to tell me.
“I think I’m just being an emotional pregnant woman,” She sobs again as she wipes her hands down her face clearing the tears along the way. “I’m sorry I fell asleep this morning in the diner,” she apologises, “I’ve just been so tired lately and the past couple of weeks my back has been really hurting. You really helped me this morning with the counter, I still have your shirt by the way.” She confesses. I smile understandingly at the beautiful angle with the light snow back drop standing in front of me.
“Please don’t tell me you know that trick because you have a pregnant wife. And I’m standing here loading all my problems onto you like some overwrought crazy pregnant woman.” She says and I can’t help but laugh a little at the familiarity of a nervous rant from the woman I love.
“No I’m not married, I don’t have a pregnant girlfriend either. I know that trick from my army days trying to sleep in comfortably in the dirt takes some getting used to. As for loading all of your problems onto me, I only see that as a good thing if it lessens the weight you’re carrying.” I tell her sweetly and she looks at me and smiles a little flirtatious smile until she remembers herself and wipes it from her face completely.
“Besides, us new comers need to stick together remember? I could definitely use a new friend to help me navigate the new town.” I add platonically to put her at ease. She smiles and stands herself back upright.
“Can I hug you,” She asks shyly and I instantly fold her into my embrace without hesitation. “Your cold,” she says into my chest, “and of course you are, I have your jacket around me.”
I pat her back soothingly breaking away from the hug.
“Don’t worry, I’m tougher than I look.” I reassure her.
“I like your truck,” she says patting the tailgate as we walk side by side back towards the diner. Ruby steps in and resumes her work like she hardly missed a beat. I hang my jacket back up and take my seat in the booth with the Doctor.
“What happened?” He asked me excitedly.
“I can promise you doc if she had remembered who I am we would never have come back in here. She is just having an emotional day, she’s tired and I think the weight of everything is getting to her. We need to lessen her burdens in some way.” I tell him decidedly. He looks at me excitedly.
“In the months she has been here, never once have I seen her cry. Not during our sessions, not during any hospital work ups, nothing. She didn’t even cry when she saw her baby for the first time on the ultrasound screen.” He tells me.
“Why do you want to see her cry?” I accuse him angry at his apparent attempts.
“I just wanted her to connect with something or someone enough to have an emotional reaction about it.” He qualifies like she’s a laboratory test subject.
“After everything she’s been through, she’s too tough for that.” I justify her actions and I know it to be true. I’ve barely been existing since our separation myself, my most emotional action in the past few months was the yelling and cursing in my truck the night I found her and she didn’t recognise me.
I’m watching her as she’s walking down alongside the row of booths carrying some dirty plates, but she’s not watching where she is going. A kid has slid his chair out too far into her path and she can’t see it as she’s looking at the kitchen as she walks, I jump up from my booth running. The event seems to go in slow motion as she trips over the chair leg and loses the plates into the air. I slide along the ground on my knees to stop underneath her and catch her mid-air before she could land face first on the ground.
The smashing of the plates draws everyone in the diner’s attention to us. I only see her face, she looks terrified as she wraps one of her arms around my neck and the other protectively around her lower stomach. Her breathing is rapid and panicked until she looks in my eyes and she begins to calm down. I push my feet off the ground gently lifting her with me, her eyes stay locked on mine the whole time.
“Are you alright?” I ask her once we’re standing. I make no move to release my hold on her and she makes no move to let me go either.
I let myself hope for a split second that perhaps she may be remembering me, but her continued silence worries me. I ask again, “Are you hurt?” My voice is drenched in concern and she just shakes her head lightly from side to side.
“How many times are you going to save me in one life time?” She whispers smiling. That small flame of hope sets my heart on fire again. “I mean in one night,” she corrects herself and the fire in my heart is doused with a bucket of ice cold water.
I carefully start to let her go and I stand for a moment with my hands steadying her waist to make sure she’s okay. Her arm is still around my neck and I try to ignore the desperate desire to wrap her in my arms and kiss her until she remembers me. Leon’s voice shatter my bliss like a rock through a glass pane.
“What happened?” He demands protectively. Ruby tells him how she fell and I stopped her from hitting the ground. He looks at her concerned. “You should go home.” He tells her commandingly.
“I’ll drive you,” I say before I even realize the words formed in my mind.
“That’s okay I can drive myself.” She counters.
“No,” Leon says, “you might be in shock or something. Besides driving your car on these roads is just another risk to your safety.” He says finalizing the discussion. I begin to head towards the door with Ruby still attached to me. The feeling of her in my arms again is so reaffirming that I feel I could probably fly her home.
“Can we pick up those research questions another time doc?” I call to him, he just nods in response and shoots me a quick excited smile.
Terrible poker face. I am going to have to organize a poker game with him and take all him to the cleaners. I hold out Ruby’s coat for her and she lets go of me only to step into it. We reach the truck and I open the door and help her climb up into the passenger seat, shutting the door I run around to the driver’s side and start the engine before my body is even in the seat to get the heating going.
“So where to?” I ask. She turns and smiles at me.
“My house please driver,” She laughs and gives me the directions.