The line moved forward and I trotted out of the terminal and to the car rental kiosk. Thirty minutes later, I was speeding toward the hospital in a Ford Focus, the heat turned all the way up and my right thumb flicking, flicking, flicking at my nails. It was snowing outside. All I’d brought was a light jacket and a couple light sweaters. I was going to freeze.
The walk up to his hospital room was the longest I’d ever taken. My chest hurt as I worried if he’d remember me or not. His doctor — an Indian man with a kind face — met me in the hallway.
“There was some bleeding to his brain that we managed to get under control. He is in stable condition, but he is very confused. Don’t be upset if he doesn’t know who you are.”
“But, what caused it? Thousands of people get concussions and don’t lose their memories,” I said.
“There’s never a single causal explanation for these things. All you can do is be patient and give him the support that he needs. With this type of memory loss, it usually takes time, but their memories return.”
I looked fearfully toward his door. This was really happening. I was going to walk through that door, and the only man I’d ever allowed myself to love would not recognize me.
“Can I see him?”
The doctor nodded. “Give him space. To him, this will be the first time he’s meeting you. If you want to hug him, ask permission first.”
I swallowed the fist in my throat. Thanking the doctor, I knocked lightly on his door.
I heard him say, “Come in.”
The first thing I saw when I walked in was the pretty nurse who was checking his IV line. She was flirting with him. My initial response was to walk directly up to Caleb and to kiss him. My territory. Instead, I stood furtively by the door and waited for him to notice me.
Please … please …
He looked up. I smiled.
“Hi, Caleb.” I walked a few steps closer. There was nothing in his eyes. My heart shook with each second of realization. There was not going to be a miracle when he saw my face, my beautiful red hair would not usher back his memories. I was made of steel. I could handle this.
He glanced at the nurse — who was pretending not to notice me — and she nodded, touching his arm lightly before heading out the door.
“Hi, Leah,” he said.
“Do you — “ I caught myself before I could say anymore. I wouldn’t question whether he knew me or not — no — that would surely paint me as an uncertainty. I would simply assert who I was to him and demand that he mentally accept it.
“I’m your girlfriend. It’s weird having to explain that to you.”
He smiled — the old Caleb smile. I released the breath I was holding. God, I needed a cigarette.
I neared the side of his bed. He was pretty banged up. There were five stitches over his right eye and his face looked like a Kandinsky.
“I was so scared,” I said. “I came right away.”
He nodded and looked down at his hands. “Thank you.”
The muscles were working in his jaw as he ground his teeth. I blinked at him, unsure of what to say next. Did we start at square one? Did I give him a summary of who we were, where we’d been?
Be still my manic heart.
“Can I … can I hug you?” I shook as I waited for his answer. They were tremors of fear, a calculation of the loss I’d feel if he rejected me.
He looked up, his brows furrowed, and nodded. It was one of those great moments of relief I would always remember. My internal knots untangled and I dove at him, wrapping my arms around his neck and sobbing into his chest. For a few seconds, it was just me holding him, and then I felt his hands rest lightly on my back. I cried harder. This was so messed up. I should be comforting him, and here I was weeping.
If he had died … oh God … I would have been all alone. His mother had told me that the driver of the car had died. I’d met him once or twice at Caleb’s work functions.
When I pulled away from him, I couldn’t meet his eyes. I grabbed a wad of tissues from my purse and turned my back to him as I dabbed at my eyes.
I had to keep it together. Think positive. Soon this would be over and buried into our past. For now, I needed to be there for him. We were so good together. Even if he had no memory of before, he would see it now. I needed to make him see it. I stifled a sob. Why did this have to happen? Right when our relationship had finally been moving forward.
I froze. My name sounded foreign on his voice, like he was saying it for the first time, tonguing the syllables cautiously. I dabbed at the last of my tears and faced him … smiling.
“Are you…? God…” He balled his fists when he saw my wet eyes. “I’m so sorry.”
He looked like he was about to cry, so I sat on the edge of his bed, seeing my opportunity to be of some use.
“Don’t worry about me,” I said. “I’m fine so long as you’re fine.”
He frowned. “I’m not fine.”
“Then, neither am I, but we’re in this together.”
I am in the living room, flipping through Vogue while Caleb cooks dinner. The baby is sleeping upstairs, and the television is on some grody news station, playing just loud enough so Caleb can hear it. I am thinking about changing the channel to put on America’s Next Top Model, when I hear her name. My head snaps up. Olivia Kaspen. Her picture is on the screen, as she stands surrounded by reporters. I grab for the remote, not to turn it up, but to change the channel before Caleb can see it.
“Don’t,” I hear from behind me. I squeeze my eyes shut. Shrugging, I increase the volume. The newscaster is female. I once read a statistic that said sixty percent of men tune out female newscasters. Unfortunately for me, Caleb is not one of those men. He edges closer to the TV, the knife still in his hand. His knuckles are white. My eyes trace up his arm and rest on his face. From his nose down, his features are marble. Everything above that is registering emotion on a nuclear level. His eyebrows are drawn and his eyes look like a loaded gun ready to go off at any moment. I transfer my gaze to the television, afraid that if I keep watching him, I’ll start crying.
“The trial for Dobson Scott Orchard will begin next week. His attorney, Olivia Kaspen, who up until this point has been mum about her client, recently made a statement, saying she took the case after the accused kidnapper and serial ra**st contacted her directly, asking her to represent him. It is highly speculated that Olivia, who received her undergraduate degree from the same college as one of his victims, will be issuing a plea of “Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity.”
The show switches to a commercial. I flop back against the couch. The picture they had shown of Olivia was grainy. The only thing really visible was her hair, which was much longer than it had been through my trial. I slowly pivot my neck around until I can see Caleb’s face. He is standing motionless behind me, his eyes slightly narrowed and glued to the toilet paper commercial, like he’s suspicious of their three-ply guarantee.
“Caleb?” I say. My voice catches, and I clear my throat. Tears sting at my eyes, and I have to use all of my willpower to keep them from spilling onto my cheeks. Caleb is looking at me, but he is not seeing me. I want to throw up. How fragile is my marriage, if all he has to do is look at her and I cease to exist? I turn off the television and abruptly stand up, sending the contents of my lap crashing to the floor. I grab for my purse, feeling for where I stashed my cigarettes the night I went to Mother Gothel with Sam. I pull them out, not caring if he sees … wanting him to see.
“Are you serious?”
His voice is calm, but I can see the unbridled anger in his eyes.
“You don’t own me,” I say casually, but my hand is shaking as I lift my lighter. It is such a lie. Caleb has owned every one of my thoughts and actions for the last five years. Why? Was I always such a sellout to love? I think back to my other relationships as I take a drag. No, in every relationship that came before Caleb — I had the power. I blow my smoke in his direction, but he’s gone. I stub out the cigarette. Why did I feel the need to do that? God.
I don’t go to bed. I sit on the couch all night, drinking rum straight from the bottle. Self-reflection is not something I excel in. I think of myself as being perfectly photoshopped. If I started scraping at the layers of what I’m suppressing — what I’ve put a pretty picture over — things would start looking pretty ugly. I do not like to think about who I really am, but the loneliness and alcohol are loosening my restraints. I call Sam to distract myself. When he picks up, I can hear music in the background.
“Hold on,” He says.
He comes back on a few seconds later.
“Is Estella okay?”
“Yes,” I say annoyed. I can hear his sigh of relief.
“I am not a good mother,” I announce to him. “I’m probably worse than my own self-absorbed, critical, gin and tonic drinking mother.”
“Leah, are you drinking?”
I set the bottle of rum aside. It misses the table and crashes to the floor. Good thing it was empty. I flinch.
“You better have pumped before you did that,” he snaps.
I start crying. I did. Everyone is so judgmental.
He hears me sniffling and sighs. “You’re a pretty bad mother, yes. But, you don’t have to be.”
“Also, Caleb still has strong feelings for Olivia.”
“Can you just not focus on Caleb for once? You’re obsessed. Let’s talk about Estella-“
I cut him off. “I think I’ve always known this, but I’m not sure. I can pull dozens of memories from some private storage room in my brain that only alcohol has the key to unlock. Most of the memories are of looks — the ones he gives her and not me.” I bite my kneecap and rock back and forth.
“You know what, I have to go,” Sam says. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” He hangs up. I toss my phone aside. Fuck Sam.
When Caleb looks at her, his eyes shift into a different gear. It’s like he’s seeing the only thing that matters. I am sickly familiar with the way he looks at Olivia, because it is the way I look at him. When I stand up, the room swings. I am so drunk I can barely understand my own thoughts. I stumble upstairs and into my closet. I pull down bags and suitcases until I am surrounded by L’s and V’s and the subtle rich smell of leather. I’m going to leave him. I don’t deserve this. It’s just like Cammie said. I’m being half loved. I stuff a few handfuls of clothes into a bag and then collapse on the floor. Who am I kidding? I’ll never leave him. If I leave him, she wins.
I wake up with my face pressed to the floor. I groan and roll onto my back trying to fit the pieces of last night together. I feel worse than the day I gave birth. I wipe the drool from my face and stare around at the mess. Suitcases and duffel bags are littered around me like my closet rained them. Was I trying to reach something when I knocked these down? I have the violent urge to vomit, and I hurl myself towards the toilet, making it just in time to empty my stomach into the bowl. I am gasping for air when Caleb strolls in, smelling clean and fresh. He is dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, which is odd since he works today. He ignores me as he slips his watch over his hand and checks the time.
“Why are you dressed like that?” my voice is raspy like I spent the night screaming.
“I took the day off of work.”
He won’t look at me, a bad sign. I am trying to remember what I did to him, when I catch a whiff of my hair. Smoke. I inwardly groan as the memories come drifting back. That was so stupid.
“Why?” I ask cautiously.
“I need to think.”
He heads out of the bathroom, and I follow him downstairs. Sam is feeding the baby, he raises his eyebrows when he sees me, and I run my fingers through my hair self-consciously. Screw him. This is entirely his fault. Ever since he showed up, my life has slowly started unraveling.
Caleb kisses the baby on top of her head and walks toward the door like he is late for something. I chase after him.
“What do you need to think about? Divorce?”
He stops suddenly, and I slam into his back.
“Divorce?” he says. “Do you think I should divorce you?”
I swallow my pride and the challenge that is on the tip of my tongue. I have to be smart. I’ve let myself get carried away lately. Pushed him when I had the chance to make things right.
“Let me go with you,” I say evenly. “Let’s spend the day together — talk.”
He looks unsure, his eyes darting to the nursery door. “She’ll be fine with Sam,” I assure him. “It’s not like I do anything anyway…”
My statement seems to seal the deal. He nods once, and I want to scream in relief.
“I’ll just be five minutes,” I say.
He heads out to the car to wait for me. I launch myself up the stairs two at a time and slam through the door of my closet almost falling over in the process. I put on a clean pair of jeans and pull a t-shirt over my head. In the bathroom, I splash water on my face, wiping away the smudged makeup and take a swig of mouthwash. I don’t bother with new makeup.
I come running out the front door, and I have a small heart attack when I don’t see his car. He left me. I am ready to fall down in the driveway and cry when his shiny BMW turns the corner. Relieved, I get in and try to play it cool.
“You thought I left you,” he says. There is humor in his voice, and I am so relieved to get something other than coldness, that I nod. He looks over at me, and I see surprise cross his face. I look down at myself self-consciously. I very rarely let him see me without makeup, and I never wear t-shirts.