by Amber Joy Connelly
She stood there listening to the clock tower chime and braced herself for the doors to open. Brooke had just returned back to her first semester of college after being gone for already almost half of it. She was just another student, she was just like the swam of faces now passing her by to get to their next class before the bell chimed. She had her bag, her overpriced books, her class schedule. She just didn’t have her memory.
Although it was a small College in her hometown and many of the students were former High School peers and friends, most the faces were unrecognizable to her. But she was getting better. Slowly. That’s why she was here today. The doctors, her parents, her therapist—they all thought she was ready. That being here could help. Somehow?
She pulled out her new schedule for this semester’s block session and the school map. It was already Friday of the first week into it, but they wanted her to start off simple. One day, see how it went, and then she would have the weekend to process it all. She read off the list of classes. They assigned her all female teachers because she had an adverse reaction to males ever since she woke up in the hospital bed forgetting everything. She didn’t freak out anymore though; she could act like a sane, normal eighteen-year-old. She was now more comfortable in public areas and could handle being around males…but at a reasonable distance. That’s why she was finally back on campus. But still, they thought female teachers would just be best…for some reason.
Brooke looked back among the sea of faces that she knew she should recognize and waited feel or think something, anything. She begged that voice in her head to give just a little today, like it had been doing the past couple of weeks. She took a step forward to immerse herself in the crowd of students. So far so good, she thought. She pressed forward. Now walking among everyone, she noticed a very tall, golden-haired student. He was about a head taller then the rest and very broad shoulder. They made eye contact for a second. Her heart started to quicken, like it did when a panic attack would start, but instead of the suffocating feeling that normally followed, she just felt a flutter in her stomach and warmth. Then that voice in her head said, “Handsome.”
He was out of sight within seconds and she searched the crowd almost desperately to see him again, but he was definitely gone. A tall thin brunette came walking in her direction. Brooke made eye contact with her. The brunette smiled and approached Brooke. She heard the voice in her head say: “Kate, my almost best friend”.
“I’m Kate,” she said.
“I know,” Brooke smiled back. Kate was surprised for a moment but didn’t miss a beat.
“I knew you wouldn’t forget me!” Kate linked her arm into Brooke’s. “We have history together.” She clarified. “We have art history together.”
“History?” Automatically Brooke said. “The only history I’m good at is mine own.”
Kate laughed. “Yea, that’s what you always say.”
Brooke chuckled at their silly inside joke, but then the reality of what she said came clear and how pathetic it was to no longer know her own history. Kate is positive and cheers her up.
“Well, it’s mostly all about Art,” Kate said, “And you’re really good at that.”
Brooke wanted to ask, “I am?”, but she remained quiet and walked arm in arm with Kate to class. Still, she couldn’t help but continue to look for that tall, golden-haired, mister handsome.
She stood there at the bottom of the bleachers listening to the crowd cheer and braced herself for her first real, social experience since….well, she couldn’t remember, but at least since that poignant hospital bed.
Again, they all thought she was ready. It was Friday night and the energy from the student section watching the game was exhilarating. Her mind had been a void that was quickly filling. It was overwhelming and confusing, but people’s faces were starting to be assigned names by the voice in her head. Only all female faces though. Her mind could accept that gender. With each name in her head, came a small bit of personal information. “Kristy, cheerleader, very competitive,” “Natalie, prom queen, a snob.” And so it went.
Deciding to go to the game was a last minute decision, so she arrived alone. She searched out for Kate—her almost best friend. Brooke wondered is she had a real best friend, and if so, where? The Student Section was very wide and appeared to easily have every student attending—aside from the ones playing on the field. As she scanned the crowd for Kate, Brook tried to associate the faces, find ones that she feels connected to, and to also see if he was out there somewhere. The crowd jumped to their feet with a roaring cheer. She watched the game on the field below. A tackle plays right at the sideline on the 30 yard field mark closest to her. Running, chasing, reaching, jumping, tackling. The sounds and violence bombards her senses and her heart started to beat too fast. Was it the excitement of the crowd getting her caught up? Was it her men issues? Or was it something else? Brooke was close enough to see the faces through their helmets. She wondered if he could he be on that field under one of those helmets. Was mister handsome a football player?
“Brooke!” a voice pierced through the noise. It was Kate. She was waving at her from a small group of girls with the school’s letters sparkling on their cheeks and a ribbon of the school’s color tied in their hair. If Kate was with them, that probably meant they were her clique of friends. It was time to join in. She climbed up the bleachers and found her spot next to Kate. For Brooke it was an evening of more “re”-introductions. Everyone was gracious, but they couldn’t disguise the expression Brooke was used to by now, as if they were expecting something or looking for something from her. Brooke wished she knew the answer, the key to it all.
She stood up from her usual spot on Dr. Colt’s couch. Saturday mornings were time weekly appointment with her therapist. This session was very productive he said. Lot’s of progression he told Brooke. She had told him about her first day back to school yesterday, the friends she “re-met”, and even golden-haired mister handsome. As usual he mostly just listened and took notes.
The hour was up and it was time to go. Dr. Colt casually pointed to the coffee cup Brooke bought at the café close to his office, the one she’d been going to every Saturday for weeks now. “What’s your usual?”
Thinking it could be a part of his therapy she answered. He tore off a corner from his notebook and scribbles something. He hands it to her. Brooke saw it was an address. “Try this place out”, he paused for a moment as she looked at him. “They make good ones there.”
Brooke got in her car. The torn corner still in her hand. The GPS—crucial for anyone with amnesia, and the only way her parents let her drive--automatically initiated with the start of the car engine. She entered the address into her GPS, for next time. Then Brooke wondered if maybe there was a reason why NOW he gave her that place’s address. She had been brining a cup of coffee every session since they started. With nothing else to do, her curiosity—naturally a constant companion lately--gets the better of her. Brooke turned a corner yesterday, and she no longer would let fear or uncertainty set her back. She was ready for answers.
Brooke decided to check it out right then. She drove forward and took the turns where the voice on the GPS told her. She watched the map on the GPS to see what was familiar. It took her into the older, but nicer part of the town. There the trees were taller, lining the streets. The homes became more and more spread out as they got bigger and bigger with manicured lawns that looked like golf courses and sculptured gardens one could imagine champagne parties under twinkling lights with mini orchestra’s playing. Was it just imagining she wondered?
The voice on the GPS told her to take a left. The road turned a curve around the rolling hills she been navigating through, getting closer to the coast that was just over the next ridge. It would be a perfect day to sit on the sand and let the shore work therapy on her that no number of therapist session could. Brooke was dressed for it—a pink ruffled tube top and faded, snug jean shorts—taking advantage of one of the last warm days of the season. The voice on the GPS broke her train of thought. The road ahead began to slope into a small canyon where right in the middle sat a huge white mansion.
Every sensor in her brain sent off signals. It was a very familiar huge white mansion.
Letting her curiosity empower her, Brooke turned off the street onto the long tree lined drive that led up to the massive house. The grounds were gorgeous. Ancient trees shadowed the pristine grass that went on forever. The house loomed larger and larger as she got closer and pulled into the circle drive. To ease her pounding heart and resisting mind, she told herself this was probably her best friends’ house. Or at least maybe her almost best friends’ house. Maybe it was Kate’s home? She knocked on the door before she lost her nerve. A doorman greeted her by name. He knew her, but he was cautious too, like he was nervous, or keeping a secret. He was acting like most people have been treating her since she could remember, or “couldn’t remember”.
The doorman, bound by his manners, motioned for her to enter and waited for her make her next request. Brooke didn’t know any know any of this, but he already knew who she was there to see, and that she always politely made the request every time anyway. Obviously, this time she was silent. Rebounding from the awkwardness, the doorman leaned to the left and motioned towards a spacious room just off from the echoing foyer. “May we?” The home was silent except for a ticking clock coming from a distant somewhere. The reserved doorman was starting to irritate her. Was he always so quiet? Why wasn’t he saying anything? What did he want her to say? To do?
They entered the room that could best be called a sitting room. There were inviting arm chairs and settees around antique tables with a fireplace she could literally use as a closet. The most breathtaking part of the room was the wall of windows that covered floor to ceiling which looked to be 15 feet above; they were flanked by scarlet red velvet curtains. Trying to ignore the silent man beside her, Brooke walked to the windows to see the view they were designed to so proudly display. More gorgeous grounds, more forever grass, a sparkling pool and cabaña off to the side and further in the distance a huge, ancient oak tree….with someone sitting under it. Her chest thumped. That person was the reason this house was familiar.
She squinted to see if she could see better. It was a girl, a brunette, a very skinny brunette. Immediately she thought “Kate” and she sighed in relief. Then the girl turned to look to her side and her profile was not Kate’s. The voice in Brooke’s head said, “Vanna, very emotional, eating disorder ever since….” Vanna adjusted her position, curled her legs under her and revealed that she was not alone under the tree. Her company sat up from leaning against the massive trunk of the tree. Long legs were pulled up and wrapped by tan forearms. They were a guy’s legs; they were a guy’s forearms. A guy with golden hair.
It was at that moment silent man beside her decided to speak. “I apologize—He is with company at the moment.”
“He’s with company?” she choked.
“Yes, Miss Vanna.” It was not the name she wanted to hear, she already knew that. What was his name and why did she know his home? Who was He?
“I’ll go let Mr. Charles and Miss Vanna know you are here.” He didn’t know what else to do and he walked out to the room before she could say otherwise. She couldn’t help but watch the couple under the tree. Were they a couple? What had they been doing under that tree with nothing and no one other then grass, trees, and flowers to disturb their privacy?
The doorman must have called out to them because they both looked up towards the house sharply and began to stretch to a stand. Vanna was very skinny. The sunlight almost made her frilly top sheer and she could see her tiny torso as she walked closer to the house. Again the voice in her head said: “Vanna, very emotional, eating disorder ever since….” That was all it was going to give. Mister Golden—Charles, apparently—nodded something and walked in step beside Vanna. Beside, but not too close; Brooke was hopeful.
Brooke repeated the name Charles in her head. But nothing. No voice. Just like it had been at first for every other man she tried to remember. It was weeks before she finally remembered her own Father. Charles and Vanna walked out of view. She heard a distant door shut, and quick steps echoing off the wood floor, coming closer and closer. She shook her hair off her shoulder and straightened her shoulders ready for…..
Vanna entered the room. Alone.
“Hey, you coming with us? Did Kate tell you to pick me up?” Vanna asked?
“Hmmm,” Brooke answered with a slight nod. She didn’t know what else to do. Her doctor said to just pretend she knew what was going on in certain situations.
“K, come with me. My purse is upstairs,” Vanna said.
Brooke followed Vanna up the curved stairs passing door after door until they entered what was very obviously a guy’s room. It was Charles’ room. Brooke did or didn’t want to know why Vanna’s purse was in his room. Before Brooke could worry more, Vanna started talking. Vanna talked very fast.
Vanna said she suspected he was into someone, but she didn’t know how serious it was. She said she didn’t blame him because of what happened and she knew how she could be and how she was. “But still, considering everything…,”Vanna said like Brooke was supposed to know what she meant by that. Then Vanna started talking too fast again. This time it was about a wedding. His sister’s wedding, and it being on the family’s “insanely gorgeous” yacht and that was a major social event that lasted two days. She said that he would of course bring a date, an “overnight” special date, and that it wasn’t her, although it should have.
Brooke tried to keep up with so much information so fast. She was amazed how fast Vanna could talk and she wondered how long Vanna planned on staying in his talking about him, and more importantly where was he? Vanna’s too fast talking suddenly dropped to a whisper as she said, “Look what I found in his room.” She reached under his bed. At this point, Brooke started to get very uncomfortable and a panic that made her feel way too hot despite her barely there tube top.
Vanna pulled out a fuchsia bundle of delicate fabric. With a flip of her wrists it flowed from her hands to the ground in a stunning, slim dress. Brooke fell in love instantly.
“That is breathtaking,” Brooke said and unthinkingly, like an impulse, took it out of Vanna’s hands. She held it up against her size six frame. “This isn’t yours.” It should have been a question, but Brooke said it more like a statement.
“No, I’m a smaller size and it’s too long….,” Vanna trailed off as she looked over the dress against Brooke. Behind her, Brooke saw a full length mirror against the wall she hadn’t noticed before and stared at her reflection. Vanna turned to look in the mirror too. In the same moment they both noticed a startling revelation. Not only was the dress a perfect fit for Brooke, but fading tan lines on Brooke’s chest and up around her neck exactly match where the dresses straps would lie if worn. This was Brooke’s dress.
“It’s yours?” Vanna said it as a question but it was more like an appalling statement.
Then Vanna started talking way too fast again, but this time it was louder and more frantic. In the blur of words, Brooke heard: “how dare you”, “considering our history” “what we’ve been through” “I leave for the summer” “trust” “secrets” and “stealing my ex-boyfriend”. That last statement hung in the air making no sense, yet making Brooke very awkward.
“Give me your keys.” Vanna ordered. Her purse on her shoulder, her other arm extended out to Brooke with her palm up.
“What?” Brooked asked.
“Give me your keys. I’m going to Kate’s house. He can take you there to get your car.” Vanna stood there with her hand out, with a silent yet terrifying calm.
“I don’t know…,” Brooke stammered. “I don’t think…,” she mumbled, stunned, confused. Scared.
“Give me your FREAKIN’ KEYS!” Vanna yelled.
A voice in Brooke’s head warned her: Vanna. Emotionally unbalanced. Dangerous.
Brooke gave Vanna her keys.
Vanna stormed out of the room. Brooke listened to her quick steps running down the stairs, fading away. Then Vanna yelling another angry curse at someone—she could guess who—followed by the massive front door slam with an echo through the seemingly vacant house. Except, it wasn’t vacant; there was the doorman and Charles. One of the two was walking up the curved stairway that very minute. Heavy steps. Cautious steps.
Brooke turned to the mirror again and checked her reflection. She tossed her hair back, straightened her shoulders, took a deep breath, and looked down at the dress still draped over her arm.
“It wasn’t fair,” Charles said, standing in the door. Brooke looked up and saw him in the mirror reflection. She spinned to face him. Her heart pounded to see him so close, even if it was across the room. Or maybe because her recent issues with the male gender. Or maybe because she had a million questions now, more then ever.
He rested his shoulder against the door frame, purposely not entering the room she was standing in the middle of. His hands were tucked into his pockets. He appeared casual, but the situation they were in was anything but.
Confusion was written all over her face. “What?”
Charles nodded toward the dress with a small lopsided smile. “It wasn’t fair to the bride how gorgeous you looked in that dress.”
“Oh.” Brooke said, blushing at being caught holding the dress. “I wouldn’t….,” but she didn’t know what she really meant to say. “I can’t…,” she tried as a different approach, but that falters too. He remained leaning in the doorway, waiting—keeping his distance—afraid to enter his own room, as long as she was standing in the middle of it. “I don’t…remember,” she finally finished and tossed the dress onto the bed.
“Yea.” He stood straight and crossed those tan forearms she noticed before. “It’s yours, you should take it back.” He frowned at his own words.
“Right. Um, can I get it later, maybe?” Brooke felt odd taking such a gorgeous and obviously expensive dress that was apparently hers but she had no memory of owning. She felt the need to explain. “I don’t have my purse with me. It’s in the car---Dang it!”
“What?” He uncrossed his arms and stood on edge at her sudden distress.
“She took my keys. She took my car. With my purse.”
He gave a quick curse under his breath and tapped the wood frame with his fist. “She got a ride here,” he said quietly, almost as if he was talking to himself, but at the same time obviously explaining it to her. “Now you need a ride home.”
“Actually, Kate’s house. She said you can take me there. It’s where my car will be.” Brooke felt more pathetic than confused at that point. “But, I don’t know where she lives. I guess you do?”
Charles nodded his head as he glanced about the room. Brooke could tell he was considering something. His eyes fall back on her and seemed as though he was about to ask a question, but he checked himself before the first word was spoken. Instead, he took a step back into the hall way and motioned with his arm. “Come on. Let’s get out of this room.”
Brooke followed as he jogged down the stairs, keeping the safe distance from him. A few steps down he stopped and turned to look back up to her, again that question on the verge of asking. Charles recognized her hesitation but he didn’t allow how much it bothered him to show. She froze on the upper steps and waited. Again, instead of asking, he turned to take the final steps down and walked in the opposite direction of the first room Brooke entered earlier. Just before Brooke’s last two steps down, Charles stopped mid stride, tucked his hands in his pockets, turned and walked back toward the stairs. Brooke paused, keeping that two stairstep distance. She waited--looking down into that hauntingly handsome face.
“How did you get here? This house?” Charles implored. He looked away from Brooke’s face, to nowhere, then back at her again. “How did you know where to find me?”
His questions were asking more then what they were asking, and Brooke recognized that. She wished she could give him the answers that this handsome not-so stranger wanted. She had thought she noticed him out of a crowd of college kids because he was taller then most, or more handsome then most. But obviously it was more then that. Much more. Charles knew how much more. Brooke didn’t. He wanted to ask so much more, but he didn’t.
He was waiting.
He had been waiting.
“I didn’t,” Brooke apologetically answered because it wasn’t what he wanted to hear.
His face fell and he turned away with a quiet curse.
"Wait,” she called out and took those last two steps closer. He stopped and half turned back to her, but avoiding eye contact. Still, she pleaded up to his face, wanting to give him all the answers she could. She was quickly learning that he had earned that right. “My doctor gave me directions to a place where I could find good coffee, I never got there...I don’t know if there ever was such a place. Anyway, instead I found this house on the way. It was so beautiful. I recognized it right away and I just had to know why. So I knocked on the door, and…that’s it.” She paused for a second, considered what she was about to share and took one more step closer to him. “Then there was you.”
At this, Charles looked at her, no hiding the hope in his expression. Brooke may not be able to recall the memories with him, but they were tucked away somewhere and they were real. She knew that. She could feel it deep within. At least her heart was remembering. She wanted to know his history. She wanted to know how his history involved her history. There was a key to it all. Maybe it was him. Maybe he was the key, and he could help her, and everyone had been waiting for her to figure that out. He continued to stand there, waiting. He was so tall, her eyes were level with his chest, that she watched rise with each breath. He wasn’t as calm as he appeared.
He was anxious.
“I saw you yesterday on campus. It was my first day back. You probably knew that.” She paused for an answer. His quick nod answered he did. “And as soon as I saw you, well there was….something. I kept looking for you all day. I looked for you at the game.”
Charles smirked. “I was there.”
“You were?” Brooke couldn’t believe that she missed him.
“Yea, I was on the field getting my butt kicked,” he said. “My head wasn’t really in the game.”
“Oh.” She pretended to understand, she had a hint of a thought that she had something to do with it, but that could be just wishful thinking.
“Yesterday was my first time seeing you…since…in a long time.” He was nervous. He didn’t want to say too much, push too far. “I knew it was going to be yesterday. They told me.” She wondered if his ‘they’ were the same as her ‘they’. His chest rose high as he sighed, sadly. “I knew you wouldn’t remember me. But. Still….,” He looked off to that nowhere again and clenched his jaw.
“And here I am.”
“And here you are.” Then he smiled, really smiled.
Her breath hitched at the charm of it and she truly smiled back. It felt really good.
“Okay,” he said, that smile still lingering, he stuffed his hands back in his pockets, as he gave a quick tilt and nod of his head indicating behind him. “Follow me.”
She did. She was realizing and feeling she would…whenever, wherever. He looked back over his shoulder as he led her through the halls of the house. A home that felt comfortable—familiar more and more.
“So you were looking for great coffee, which mom my shiny espresso machine does make. But. You love-- You’ll love her fresh lemonade. Comes from our own trees.” He stopped in front of another open, lovely room with a polished black grand piano by some more huge windows. “Wait here. I’ll be right back with that lemonade. And, then we’ll see about that ride.”
Brooked walked into the room. Again familiar. Everything seemed to be on the edge of her thoughts, trying to break free. She’d felt it many times before these past few months. Everything was a foggy haze when she woke up confused, aching and scared in the hospital. She panicked whenever her doctor came close, but remained calmer with the nurses. They quickly realized it was any male doctor or male nurse that made her nervous. Once they got an all female staff working with her, she started to improve and the fogginess cleared but her memory was lost. Her mother was the first she remembered. One day when the bandages were finally removed from her head a voice inside her mind said. Beth. Mother. Sensitive. A man, her father she was told, always stayed in the door way, tortured and troubled. About a week after she remembered her mom, the voice in her head looked at him and said. Scott. Dad. Protective. It was that day she was able to go home.
That was pretty much how it went—people and things a strange distant somebody or something and then, poof, the voice in her head tells her what she needs to know. A little bit more to remember, a little bit more to fit the puzzle. No one told her much. They said it was better that way. She needed to do it on her own, despite how confusing and frightening it could be. All they told her was an accident happened, she was hurt badly and was unconscious in the hospital for some time. Way too vague. Way too frustrating. The curious thing was she never heard of anyone else being hurt, she never saw anyone else with her same injuries—head wound and broken bones. She vaguely remembered seeing police officers in the foggy haze when she finally woke up. But, they were never allowed to come near her, even if they were female officers.
It was a major debate between her therapist and mother for her to return to school. Her mother wanted her to wait and apply to a different college. Her therapist said that would offer no help. Her family watched her closely and slowly introduced her back into what would become familiar things again. The family’s favorite restaurant. The Mall. The Grocery Store. All places to see how she would handle crowds, strangers, specifically anyone male. As long as they didn’t invade her personal space she slowly got better at managing the panic inside. Her therapist was the first man she learned to be comfortable with, aside from her father. It was on purpose they chose a male therapist. Within weeks she learned she could trust him, and that’s when she started to feel calmer inside and learned how to deal with her new confusing, strange life. She started to remember who she was.
She remembered little things. Like her favorite color—pink. Like her obsession with shoes. Like her favorite book—Gone with the Wind. Like her favorite pastime—playing the piano, only she couldn’t remember how to play…yet. She walked over to the beckoning grand piano. This one was much fancier then her parents’ modest upright. The late morning’s sunlight fell onto the immaculately polished wood. She ran her fingers over the keys, itching to play something, anything. She pushed a few keys, just to hear the perfect toned note fill the quiet room.
“You play--” Brooke jumped and turned to watch Charles walk into the room with two tall glasses of lemonade. She couldn’t tell if he was asking a question or making a statement.
“Yea,” she said. “Well, I did.”
“Yea,” he said and handed her one of the glasses. It was the closest they had been yet. Their knuckles even brushed.
She took a sip of her lemonade. It was fantastic and the coolness of it felt good against her sudden warmth. “You play?” she asked.
Again the lopsided smile, as if something amused him, but there was still a hint of small frown in between his brows as he answered. “Yea. I do.” He sat down at the bench as if he were going to play and she felt excited to listen, but instead he twisted and put his back to the keys.
She remained standing, but he was so tall that even sitting on the bench he was closer to her eye line. She appreciated the view and opportunity to admire his perfect features. He matched her gaze for a moment then took a long drink of his lemonade.
“So about that ride,” he started. “My brother in law has my car right now. They’re off- roading on our beach right now.”
“Our beach?” She just had to ask.
“My family’s. Our private beach is just over that hill.”
“Wow,” she whispered. “Your family’s place is like a golf course.”
“Yep. That’s the idea.” He took another long drink. She did too.
Before she lost her nerve she asked: “Is this brother in law from the, um, wedding. Your sisters?” She was nervous and all her sensors on overload as she dug for something. She immediately noticed the furrow between his brows again before he looked out the window.
“Yes, that’s the one,” he said. “They are visiting for the first time since the wedding and honeymoon and move and all that.” He paused to take another sip of lemonade. “They live just a few hours south of here where he’s going to Grad school.” She should have probably already known that, but she didn’t.
Troubled about what to say next, she took another long sip of her lemonade. It was almost gone. Then what?—she wondered. “This is really good.”
He raised his own glass as a sort of “cheers” and gave a wink. She chuckled to herself. Tapping her fingernail on the glass she walked over to the window to see if she could view the distant shore he spoke of. It also dawned on her that if someone could afford their own private beach and a home this size, that they probably owned multiple cars. But she didn’t want to seem pushy, and she also didn’t really want to go either.
“I’d take one of my dad’s cars,” he said, as if reading her mind. “But, I’m on probation to drive any of them.”
“Why?” she asked without hesitation then regretted how nosy it sounded.
He ran his hand through his golden hair and stared out the window behind her. “He caught me driving drunk.” He choked out the last word, like it caused a bad taste in his mouth. “He doesn’t care if I smash my own car, but he ain’t letting me touch his babies.” He continued to stare off to that nowhere behind her. “Not that I’d do it again. It was just a rough time.”
She felt guilty. She felt responsible. She didn’t know why. She wanted to tell him she was sorry. She almost did, but the moment past.
“Anyway, we’ll go when they get back.” The smile was back on his face and he was all charm again. “Come here and I’ll play you something.”
Her heart skipped and she came close again. Him at the bench, her leaning against its cool top. She didn’t know what to expect, but she was excited to hear. His tan, long fingers splayed out on white ivory keys and she was mesmerized. He began to play. The first notes were simple, pretty, and then they became haunting. The melody weaved into her mind, it made her ache, her heart started to beat stronger. It was familiar, hauntingly familiar, yet it was missing something. It was a duet. Her fingers itched like they had a mind of their own. They wanted to play the missing part.
Slowly she came to round the piano and laid her right hand on the keys. There was a quick pause from his melody and then he started again. She pushed her mind to remember what notes to play. Her mind pushed back, it didn’t want to remember, but her fingers took over and began the missing melody. Two simple melodies woven together to make perfect harmony. She lowered herself onto the bench to better play her part. Without pause he scooted over to make room. Together they played perfectly, shoulder to shoulder. She stole a quick glance at his sternly concentrating face, and warmth consumed her. She smiled, he glanced over at that moment and caught her smiling, and he smiled back.
And then it happened. Like an explosion in her head. A flash of a memory. One further back then any she had so far. All the sounds, colors, feelings of that memory came at her like a wave crashing down. She faltered and missed the notes. He saw her face and immediately stopped. He worried seeing her hold her hands on her head. Her gorgeous head that got smashed so hard she didn’t wake for a week. He jumped up from the bench to give her space, maybe he was too close.
He began to say something but then he heard a “Hey. Dude.” from behind him and he turned to see his brother in law stride into the room and toss something at him. “Forgot to give this to you earlier. Found it in my car right after the move couple months ago.” It was his missing cell phone. His brother in law was fully in the room at this point and noticed her sitting at the piano. “I, uh, I’m going to go help Jess wash the Jeep.” And he was out of the room just like that.
Charles stared at the phone in his hand. He’d lost it right before….
He looked over at Brooke. She was no longer holding her head; she was playing her part of the duet again, slowly, quietly almost like she was in a trance. He looked back down at his phone. He’d been borrowing his mom’s all this time. He pressed to see if it still had any power. It turned it on. “New Voice Mail” flashed on the screen. He probably had many. He pressed the button to listen.
Charles was across the room, messing with his phone, but Brooke didn’t care. She wanted more of that memory, at this point her head was pounding from the flash. She ignored it and continued to play the notes over and over trying to trigger the flash again, but she kept hitting the wrong note and her mind would push back. One more time, she told herself. He was still across the room, with the phone to his ear. She played it again, with her eyes closed, letting her fingers do the work. It worked. She completed the melody and her head blasted the memory.
She was driving her Mom’s suburban. She was in a black formal dress and heals making it very difficult to drive. Her dark hair fell down her neck and back in huge pinned curls. She looked in the rear view mirror and could see her almost besties in the back seat sitting next to man- boys looking like dapper gentlemen with their tuxes and side slicked hair. Her mom’s classical music station playing over the radio, but no one notices because all the laughing, talking, flirting. In the passenger seat beside her is Charlie. The handsomest of them all, but not her date. They decided no one was pairing off. It was a group thing. They were going to prom as an uncomplicated group date.
But things were never uncomplicated among her friends. That’s why she called them “almost” besties because they couldn’t fully trust each other, and someone was always having issues. Lately, it was Vanna the most. She looked back in the rear view mirror to see her snuggling up to her latest conquest. Her collar bones were sickly prominent, and despite her denials, we knew she had and eating disorder. Ever since last semester when she announced she was pregnant, and then two months later told her and Kate she miss-carried. And of course “the father” knew. Again she looked over at Charlie in the passenger seat. Staring out the window, ignoring the obnoxiousness behind him. A cool, calm strength she had secretly loved for years. He had broken it off with Vanna a few weeks before her stunning baby news. But got back together with her to do the honorable thing when he found out. She wondered if it was all a ploy to get them back together, but that could have been wishful thinking on her part. When Vanna miss-carried and they broke up shortly after, she figured it was probably all true. But, with Vanna’s fragile emotions, she could never stop wondering. Now she was in the back seat, blatantly flirting with his best friend at her side. Charlie didn’t’ seem to care. She was relieved.
“Pretty,” Charlie simply said.
“Hmm?” she wished he was referring to her, but she knew better.
He pointed his thumb to the radio. “The song. It’s pretty. My mom likes this stuff.”
“My mom too,” she replied. “I could teach you to play it for her. Your mom.”
“Seriously? You play?”
“Ever since I was five. I love it. But, yea, I could teach you this song,” she offered again. She couldn’t imagine anything more perfect then sitting next to him on a piano bench.
“Cool. But I’ll owe you,” he teased.
“You are NOT going to pay me. It will be my service to society to culture-fy you,” she said.
“Culture-fy?” he chuckled.
She gave a quick nod.
“Okay. Miss Culture-fy,” he taunted.
“I know,” she said, her wheels turning in her head. “You can pay me back with a dance tonight.”
“Yes. A slow one!” She didn’t know if she would get a chance otherwise and her senior prom wouldn’t be complete without a dance with him.
He groaned. Her heart plummeted. “Just one,” he asked.
“One,” she insisted.
A smile spread that charmed her head to toe. “How about,” he slowly said “All of them.”
“Sure,” she replied, and managed to somehow not crash the car she was so thrilled.
“Good. Then let’s start next week,” he said.
“Okay,” she said and smiled back at him.
The memory stopped as a loud crash from where he stood startled her. Brooke looked over and saw a chair toppled on its side, its leg smashed, and Charles very obviously upset.
“Charlie?” she cautiously asked, aware that she said his name for the first time. He was no longer Charles in her mind. The memory showed that. He was Charlie. He was her Charlie.
He could hear the concern and nervousness in her voice, but it also shook him to hear her say his name like that. Like she knew him. Really knew him. “Sorry. I’m ok. I just…” He held up his phone like that held all the answers. “Dammit! No. I’m not okay. It’s my…Dammit!” This time it was the other leg’s turn to get smashed with his foot.
Starting to panic now, Brooke stood up from the bench and backed away. She knew Charlie. She recalled the feelings of trust, friendship, caring she felt from her wonderful memory. But seeing Charlie so angry was very disconcerting. She watched him pace a few steps one way, turn and pace a few steps another. Something was seriously tormenting him. Then he turned and strode towards her.
“I probably shouldn’t. But you have to hear this. You have to know,” he said with so much force, and then more gently, “I need you to know. I don’t know, maybe this will help.” Then he pushed a button and handed her the phone.
Right before she put it up to her ear he brokenly said: “Even if it means you’ll hate me.”
Brooke listened. It was her voice. It was a message from her. As she listened to her message, again a flash like an explosion came with the memory, the words started to echo like a stereo in her head. She heard her voice from the phone and her voice leaving the message in her memory and within seconds, just like that, it all came back.
“Hey Handsome, it’s me. I haven’t heard from you all day. Was practice that bad? Anyway, I just got out of music class and I think I remember you saying you had a class at this time too. So let’s meet up and get some dinner. I’ll wait for you by the Kennedy building. Love ya. Bye.”
She hung up and walked down the building steps heading towards the Kennedy Building. Other students were filing out of their evening classes and going all different directions. She wished she could remember what building Charlie’s class was in. It was the first week in her college experience, so she was still trying to figure it all out. She loved it. It was a small college, with most her friends from high school attending, but she liked how that made her feel more comfortable, more safe with familiar faces around her. But most of all she loved that she was here with Charlie.
They were together. Ever since senior prom in May their relationship changed. She spent every week of the remainder of that last month of school at his house teaching him to play the piano, but mostly just hanging out. Then the summer came and the world was just them. Most their friends were away for the summer, or working, or doing something else, they didn’t care—they had each other. They had days full of relaxing on their beach. Nights full of lying on the hammock under the stars. They had the summer to fall in love. Then they had last week—the wedding. Out on the yacht, getting sunburned in that insanely expensive dress but only caring how perfect it was to spend all weekend with Charlie. To hear him tell her he loves her.
Lost in thought, she didn’t realize how quickly the light was fading. She wasn’t used to the days getting shorter already. She was relieved to see the building ahead and to know that Charlie’s be there any minute, if he wasn’t already waiting for her. They had met there earlier in the week, so she knew he knew the spot. But, he wasn’t there. No one was there. And she couldn’t see a single student anywhere. Alarms went off in her head. It was in the new student orientation handbook, “Don’t be on campus alone after dark.” Her heart started to pound and she searched for somewhere to go, but she had only been there a few minutes. He should be there any second. Someone turned the corner. It was him, she thought, and took a step forward. But it wasn’t him. The student looked up at her movement and gave a quick smile. She politely smiled back at him. “You okay?” he asked.
“Yes. I’m waiting for someone. He’ll be here any second,” she sternly answered. She reached for her cell phone in her purse, not taking her eyes off him and got ready to push the speed dial for Charlie’s number.
He nodded his head and took a step past her. “Alright then, have a good night.”
Her pounding heart, started to slow down as she looked at her phone to call Charlie again. Cursing herself for how stupid she was to not get a ride home from her friend in class that offered. She was mad that she and Charlie hadn’t made real plans to meet up. She was mad that he didn’t answer his cell phone. She was starting wonder why she hadn’t heard from him all day. She pressed Kate’s speed dial number to get her to pick her up and then she looked for a door to the building. She needed to get inside where it had to be safer then the now fully dark night.
The impact came from behind, knocking the wind out of her and her phone to the ground, shattering it into pieces. She tried to bite the hand that covered her mouth making it harder to breath. He was pulling her back into the shadows. She twisted and kicked, she fought with all her strength. She heard him grunt in pain, and curse into her ear. She reached up to find his face and tear with her nails. His grip loosened. She was able to pry his hand off her mouth just long enough to let out one blood curling scream.
“HELP ME!” She cried.
He twisted her arm behind her back and she heard it snap the same time white hot pain shot through it. The pain paralyzed her for a moment and he was able to turn her around. They were face to face. It was the student who had just passed. He started to push her back towards the wall. The fear raged through her and she started kicking and biting and hitting again. She made contact with his groin, and he coughed out in pain. He retaliated by slamming her up against the wall and smashing her head into the brick.
That’s when everything went black.
Brooke already knew where the story picked up again. In that hospital bed. Broken and damaged with bruises and bandages all over. In a life that so quickly could turn ugly and terrifying that she chose to forget it all. But now she knew that in that life she wanted to forget, with those terrifying minutes, there were so many more memories with happiness and with love. She looked over at Charlie who was standing there with pain, guilt and torment racked across his face.
Charlie who never got the message because he’d lost his phone the day before.
Charlie who was blaming himself.
Charlie who loved her.
Charlie who had been waiting for her all this time.
She began to sob. He was at her side in an instant, pulling her into his arms.
“Brooke, I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I am so sorry.” He rocked her and held her head as the tears wet his shirt. Brooke felt his chest shutter with his own silent pain as he whispered. He needed her to forgive him. “Please..”
Brooke pulled back, she took a shaky breath, the tears still continued to fall, as she answered. “I love you.”
He closed his eyes, dropped his head for a breath. Then he looked back up to her and with his hand already behind her head, gently pulled her in for a kiss they both desperately needed.