Strange Bedfellows, Part 2
"...I think it took her years to forgive me," Barbara concluded her tale.
Jim actually caught himself smiling. Maybe this was a good thing, after all. He hadn't been so sure at first. Barbara had started telling stories about Jean, pulling up memories all the way from childhood. At first Jim's mind had begun to scream. Don't do this to me! But now he began to take comfort in the memories, and in the distraction they provided. At least the time goes by quicker this way.
Jim, Pete, and Bud left the talking to the women, but it was clear that the men benefited from listening. Except maybe for Bud. Jean's father kept his back to the rest of them and stared resolutely out the window. He looked so taut that Jim half feared he would snap. He's having an awful time holding himself together. But for now, at least, Jim would respect his father-in-law's body language, and would leave him alone.
The ladies laughed together over some reminiscence of Jean. Jim could hear how brittle, how fragile their laughter sounded. The laughter of people who are trying not to cry.
Jim shook his head at the surreal drama which had thrown his whole family together on this macabre stage. No wonder the Brits call the operating room a 'theater'. Jim's scattered thoughts no longer surprised him as they ran in such strange directions.
All the world's a stage...
To be, or not to be...
That is the question, isn't it.
Jim jerked his mind back to the present and leapt to his feet.
Nurse Fisher approached with a smile.
"I have wonderful news for you, Mr. Reed. Is this your family?"
"Yes, yes it is. Please go on." Wonderful news?
"We've just gotten the pathology report back, and the tumor was benign. It was not cancerous." Millie could not hide her joy at the report.
A chorus of relieved sighs filled the little waiting room, and Bud actually turned around to face the family.
For his part, Jim felt his knees turn to rubber, and he sat back down rather precipitously.
Pete clapped him hard on the back, grinning from ear to ear, moist eyes beaming.
I'm glad he didn't hit me that hard when I was still standing. I'd have gone down for sure.
Jim felt the familiar weak trembliness of relief, just like what he'd felt when they'd first found Jean. He realized he was smiling, but he hardly knew what to do with the jumble of emotions which competed for dominance in his heart.
"Thank you, nurse," he finally managed to choke out.
"You're very welcome. We've already given the news to Jean, and she's very relieved, naturally."
Jim began to feel glad that Jean was awake. He felt connected with her now in their shared joy.
"How much longer?"
"Well, it took a long time to complete the brain mapping. That took up the majority of the time that we were waiting for the report. They have begun the process of removing the tumor, but it is rather large. They're having to very carefully cut off its blood supply, and of course that's not something they want to rush. But they're getting there, Mr. Reed. Don't you worry."
"How's Jean holding up?" Jim felt a wave of tenderness as he thought of his wife going through it all alone. More alone than I can even imagine. She doesn't really know anybody. Not even herself. The thought sent a shiver through him.
"She's a trooper, that's for sure. She even tried a little humor now and then. She's a strong woman, Mr. Reed."
Jim smiled at the thought of Jean reaching for humor in the midst of her fear. I love that side of her. The image of her became so poignant in his mind that he had to push it aside to maintain his equilibrium.
"Do you have any other questions before I head back in there?"
Jim couldn't think of anything. His mind still reeled from relief. It's not cancer! Even now it only half sank in.
"All right, then. I'd better head back in."
"Oh, nurse, wait!" Jim rose and stepped quickly toward her as she turned back to him.
"Would you give her a message for me?"
Millie smiled her wonderful smile. "Of course, Mr. Reed."
"Just, please, tell her that I love her, and that I haven't left...I'm right outside. Okay? Will you tell her that?"
"I'd be happy to."
"Give her our love, too. We're her parents, and this is her sister." Bud spoke for the first time in the hours since they'd arrived.
"And that's our friend, Pete. Don't forget to mention him, too."
Millie laughed. "Okay, I'll tell her. I need to go back in now. Take care, and I promise I'll let you know whenever anything important happens."
"Thank you, nurse."
Jim remained standing for a long time, staring at the doorway which separated him from his wife.
I wish that door were the only thing between us. I hope we can overcome it if ...if she never does remember.
He shook himself at last, and went to call his parents.
I don't know how much longer I can stand this. Jean felt terribly antsy after lying so still for so long.
How am I supposed to just lie here and let them do things to my brain? It's unreasonable. It's absurd.
But that's what I have to do.
"How are you holding up, Jean?" Dr. Solomon seemed almost too intuitive when it came to judging his patient's state of mind.
"I just want this to be over. I feel like I'm going to explode if I can't move around soon."
"Hang in there. You're doing fine. I know this takes a long time, but you're over the hump now. And I can give you a tiny bit more medicine to take the edge off those feelings."
She started to protest, but stopped when the warmth in her arm told her it was too late.
Soon the surreal detachment returned. It's as awful, in its own way, as being able to fully feel the fear.
If the medication could have taken the feelings away completely, she would have welcomed it. But instead, it merely left her with the sensation of stepping outside herself, watching herself lying heedlessly on a railroad track with a train fast approaching. The horror remained. It just wasn't allowed to interfere with the proceedings.
Jean swallowed and thought she tasted blood. Fear regained some of its strength.
"What's wrong, Jean?" Doctor Solomon sensed her fear again. He frowned when she told him what she tasted.
Jean felt Doctor Barnes stop whatever he was doing when he heard it, too.
"Let's have a look inside, shall we? Open up and say 'ahhh.'" Doctor Barnes shined a flashlight and peered carefully into Jean's mouth and nose.
"I see it. You're getting a bit dried out, and that's to be expected. You haven't had any liquids to drink in hours, and this is a dry room. You have a touch of a nosebleed. Nothing serious."
Doctor Solomon frowned and fiddled with Jean's IV. "I'll pump some more fluids in. That should take care of things for you, Jean."
The doctors resumed their work, seeming unconcerned. Jean wished she could feel the same way. Something about the taste of blood made this whole thing grotesquely real to her, despite her medication. She began to tremble.
"Nurse, bring Jean another blanket, would you?"
Jean felt the warmth in her arm again, and knew more medication was on its way. For once she welcomed it. Anything is better than being here.
Millie draped a warm blanket over Jean, but it really didn't help much. For reasons she couldn't understand, Jean suddenly felt very fragile, very weepy, and very much alone.
Millie laid a hand on Jean's hand. "I've just come back from telling your family about the good news. Your husband sends his love, and tells you he's never left that waiting room. He's still there pulling for you. And your parents, and your sister, and your friend Pete are all there, too. They send their love as well." Millie smiled and patted Jean's hand.
Jean felt her body relax.
Maybe I'm not so alone, after all.
"All right, Mom. I'll see you soon."
Jim hung up the phone and returned to the small group huddled in the waiting room.
"My parents are coming now. They'll leave Jimmy with Linda." Jim's sister had taken the day off from work just to be able to help today.
"Mom and Dad," Jim continued, turning to his in-laws, "you won't need to go home to watch Jimmy, since Linda's there, but you're certainly free to head over there if you need a break from this place. It's still going to be a long time before we'll be able to see Jean."
"No, no. We've come this far. I want to see it through," Jean's mother replied.
Candace continuously mangled tissues as a way of releasing her anxiety, and the good news about the tumor had only slightly lessened her assault on the current one.
Bud now sat beside her. He, for one, seemed like a new man since the report came. And why not? Jim felt immensely better himself.
"How's Jimmy holding up?" Bud asked.
"Pretty well, I think. I told him that the doctors were helping Mommy with a hurt in her head, and that she would feel much better soon. He seemed to accept that."
Jim tried not to show the pain he felt when thinking of his son. Nagging worries plagued him in the back of his mind, but for now he refused to let them come to the front.
Pete stood. "I want to check in at the station."
Jim nodded, and Pete headed for the phone.
The clock ticked.
Bud ran a hand through his buzz haircut. "How long did that nurse say it would be?"
"She didn't. Except that it would be a while."
"Then would it be okay for me to go get something to eat?"
"Oh, Bud, how can you possibly want food at a time like this?" Candace scolded.
Jim almost laughed aloud at such words coming from a woman who'd endlessly pestered him to eat.
"A man's got to keep his strength up." Bud replied with a touch of irritation. "Is anyone coming with me?"
"I will," Pete called as he returned from the pay phone. He walked up next to Jim and spoke softly. "Mac has asked me to come in for the rest of the watch. They're running pretty low on officers right now, especially senior ones. Would you mind terribly...?"
"No, Pete, you do what you need to do. Grab a bite and go to work. And thanks so much for being here for me all this time." Jim laid a hand on Pete's shoulder and poured all of his gratitude into his eyes. "I think we're over the worst of it now."
"Jean's strong, and so are you. You'll make it."
"Are you comin' or gabbin'?" Bud called to Pete.
Pete smiled and rolled his eyes at being bossed around, and headed off toward the cafeteria.
Jim shook his head at the unlikely pair, and returned to his seat.
The remaining three sat in silence until the elevator doors swooshed with the arrival of Dan and Carol Reed.
"Jim! Oh, honey, look at you!" Carol fussed at her son from the moment she laid eyes on him.
Dan rolled his eyes and shot a look of sympathy at Jim.
Jim felt sheepish, like he'd suddenly traded in his pants for diapers. "I'm okay, Mom." He let some irritation show in his voice, but not too much. She was, after all, his mom.
"Dan, why didn't we bring him a razor? Jim, why didn't you ask for one? You can't have Jean waking up and seeing you like that! She'll run off again!"
"Oh Carol!" Dan scolded as his wife tousled Jim's hair. Then, in an almost-whisper, "He's not a little boy, Carol. Stop fussing over him!"
"Nonsense!" she protested in full voice. "I don't care how old he is. He's still my son, and I still have the right to fuss over him all I want." With that she enfolded Jim in a hug and kissed his cheek.
The two Reed men shared amused looks of commiseration over her shoulder.
"Mom, why don't you sit down and make yourself comfortable?" Jim gestured to a chair and hoped fervently that she'd take it. To his immense relief, she did, and Jim had to stifle a smile at the wink his father gave him.
Jim never would have admitted it, but he'd needed that hug.
I'm glad they came.
"Jean? How are you doing there?" Dr. Solomon's voice cut through Jean's fog.
"What? Oh, I guess I fell asleep."
"Vital signs?" Dr. Barnes asked quickly.
"Do you think that I caused her loss of consciousness by manipulating this tumor?"
Loss of consciousness? I hadn't realized.
"Probably," one of the students replied.
"I think so, too. How're you feeling now, Jean?"
"Okay, just a little woozy."
"Vitals are still stable," Doctor Barnes reported.
"Okay," Doctor Barnes spoke in a lecturing tone to his students, "you can see that I have successfully cauterized all the blood vessels which are feeding into the tumor superficially and laterally. Now this is where it gets tricky, because I'll be working with less visibility. I'll be gently lifting the tumor, ever so slightly, and cauterizing the medial blood vessels. Of course, as more vessels are cauterized from the medial side, the tumor will separate more from the brain and visibility will improve."
"Jean," he continued, "we're getting to the exciting time. The tumor is going to be completely removed here soon, though the actual time will depend on how many blood vessels there are. Isn't that good news?"
"Yes. Then what?"
"Then we have to close up. That will take quite a while, too. Patience."
Jean saw a sudden frown darken the doctor's face.
"Cautery, right here please!" Doctor Barnes tone became ever so slightly tense. "Nurse, can you suction that blood out for me? Where's that coming from? Can you visualize that?"
Doctor Barnes' rapid-fire questions sent terror into Jean's veins.
"What's happening?" She tried to keep from sounding too frantic.
"Well, Jean, you have a bit of a bleeder, and I haven't found it yet, that's all. I'll need to find and cauterize it...Nurse, suction please."
Oh no. Don't let things go wrong now. Please don't let things go wrong now!
Jim shook himself awake. I didn't mean to doze off like that!
"Yes?" He stood when he recognized Nurse Fisher.
"Mr. Reed, I have some wonderful news for you again. The tumor is out!"
Once again the little waiting room filled with relieved sighs.
"How's Jean?" Jim asked.
"She's fine. She's getting really antsy and bored, and she wishes she could get this over with. But that's a good sign."
"So, there've been no complications at all?" Jim could hardly believe his worries were over. Well, the life-and-death worries, anyway.
"No major complications, no." Nurse Fisher smiled reassuringly.
"No major complications? What minor complications did you have?" Candace renewed her tissue crumpling.
"She did have some bleeding for a little while, but the doctor was able to find the torn vessel and repair it. There don't appear to have been any harmful effects from that incident, and it didn't last very long. Doctor Barnes is not concerned about it."
"When can I see her?"
"We still have all the closing up to do. That will take at least an hour. Then she'll go into recovery, and you'll have to wear a sterile gown, mask and gloves to visit her. Visiting time will be very limited at that point, and only one person at a time can go in."
"How long will that last?"
"Well, assuming that she remains stable and free from infection, you'll be able to start extending your visits gradually after a few hours. You'll be surprised at how much easier it is for patients to recover from this sort of surgery than many other types. The brain itself feels no pain, so the only discomfort she's likely to feel is from the incision. We can manage that pain for her without any difficulty. The skull will be fragile for a little while as it heals, and so she'll have to be very careful. But she'll probably feel a lot better than you expect. And of course, since she was never completely sedated, she won't have to recover from anesthesia like she would in other types of surgery."
This sounds almost too good to be true. "What about her memory? Any sign of that returning?"
"Actually, we haven't pushed her to remember anything. At this point she's pretty exhausted from all that she's been through, so the doctor doesn't recommend that she be made to feel any pressure to remember. If she does remember anything, believe me, she'll be so excited that she'll definitely let everyone know."
After a few more words of encouragement, the nurse returned to the operating room.
Most of the family sat around reviewing everything they'd heard and exchanging words of relief. Carol left to call Linda.
Jim, on the other hand, walked partway down the hall for some time alone. He leaned against the wall and shoved his hands deep into his pockets. An entire flock of butterflies took up residence in his stomach as he faced, again, the prospect of meeting his stranger/wife.
She won't even look like herself any more.
Try as he might, he couldn't stop dreading the sight of her with no hair. He felt guilty about it, but the dread remained.
But a different fear began to surface, one which he'd managed to suppress until now. Well, mostly.
Back in the ambulance, I never told her about the hard times. I never told her about the pain I've put her through with my job. Once she finds out about that, how will she take it?
He blew out his cheeks with a deep sigh.
Sometimes her love for me was the only thing that kept her there. Now her love is just a dim impression of a memory. Is it enough? Will she still be willing to walk through the fire with me? Will she still care about the vows she took when she was someone else, vows she can't even remember taking?
How can I win her heart back?
Pete closed the gun locker and turned to face Sergeant MacDonald. "Yeah, Mac?"
"When you get a minute, stop in my office, will you? I've got a good report on Jean."
"I've got a minute for that any time!" Pete followed his superior into his office and listened with a widening smile to the report. Mac grinned as broadly as Pete did.
Pete shook his head after the narrative ended. "The tumor's out, it's not cancerous…it could have been so much worse in so many ways, Mac. I can hardly believe how well it's working out, considering." He took a moment to scrub at the fatigue in his eyes.
Mac eyed him with apparent concern. "Are you holding up okay? You didn't get much sleep last night, I'm sure."
Pete nodded. "I can finish my watch, and then I'll slip by the hospital and check in on Jim and Jean." He stifled a yawn.
In the comfort of the sergeant's office, Pete allowed himself to speak with MacDonald friend-to-friend.
"I have to admit though, Mac, it's really uncomfortable to stand there while Jean looks at me without a clue who I am." He looked away from Mac and focused on nothing as he remembered re-introducing himself to Jean. "I can't imagine how hard this must be for Jim."
"Maybe her memory will return quickly. You never know. We just have to keep hoping for the best, Pete."
The men sat wrapped in their own thoughts for a few moments, but then Pete shook himself into action. "I'd better finish with this 484-PS I brought in."
"Hey, could he be the one that's been hitting the old ladies outside of St. Peter's?"
"No, he doesn't fit the description. But one less purse snatcher on the street is okay by me, no matter who he is."
"Hear, hear!" Mac smiled his farewell to Pete, and then bent his head to his paperwork again.
Pete finished with his booking and his paperwork, and then took some seven time in the break room. He slowly nursed his cup of coffee, hoping his fatigue wasn't as obvious to others as it felt.
Jerry Woods walked in. He quickly hit Pete up for a report on Jean, and joined in the overall optimism that it created.
"Hey, mind if I sit here?" Jerry evidently had some free time to spend, too.
"Of course not!" Pete gestured toward the empty chair at his table.
"You know, I've been thinking about Jean so much. She's a terrific gal, isn't she?" Woods shook his head, apparently still quite troubled by the whole situation.
"Yeah, she sure is." I've been thinking about her all day, too. And Jim. And Jimmy.
Jimmy. Now there's one topic nobody's dared to think too closely about. How is he going to handle having his mother become a stranger?
Pete dragged himself away from that particular precipice. There'll be plenty of time to deal with that later.
Jerry spoke up again. "I keep thinking about the first time I met Jean."
"When was that?"
"It was at the first department picnic after Jim started probation. Jean was pregnant, though it barely showed. Jim, man, he was so proud!" Jerry chuckled at the memory, and Pete had to laugh with him.
Woods continued. "I remember though just how worried and careful Jim seemed around her, as if he were afraid she might break. I remember thinking, 'it's going to be a long nine months!'"
"Yeah," Pete agreed. "He's always protective of her, but it was ten times worse when she was pregnant. You'd think she was the first woman who'd ever been through it."
The men shared a smile at their reminiscence, but it seemed like a bittersweet memory to Pete.
He couldn't protect her this time. I hope he can learn to live with that.
Jim listened nervously to the nurse's explanation, feeling awkward as she dressed him in protective robes.
"Be sure you leave the mask over your mouth and nose the whole time you're in there. If you sneeze or cough on the mask, you'll need to wear it out here immediately and get a new one. Don't take it off in there, or you'll risk giving her an infection."
The nurse went on and on about the proper way to don the gown and handle the gloves, and Jim found it all a little overwhelming. I just want to go see my wife.
Jim understood the importance of all these precautions, but he still found himself resenting them. They seemed to form a barrier between him and Jean, a barrier that went much deeper than just a layer of protective cotton.
Jean and I have always had a simple, easy way of being together. This 'gowning up' business is so complicated. This whole amnesia thing is so complicated. I just want things to be normal again. I just want our old life back.
Jim felt a nostalgic yearning for the way things used to be, just a few days before. That was a lifetime ago.
She lost a whole lifetime. And in a way, I lost her.
He pushed the thought out of his mind as best he could, but it only traveled down a few inches and became a lump in his throat. There didn't seem to be anything he could do about it then.
"All right, then. You look like you're ready. Do you understand everything I told you?"
Jim nodded, though he was sure he hadn't heard half of it.
"All right. You have ten minutes." The nurse turned and left abruptly. Jim wished that nurse Fisher could have been here instead.
All of this bother, and I only get ten minutes with Jean? Jim could hardly bear the thought, even though he felt terrified of actually seeing Jean again.
Stop it! Jim clamped down on his conflicting, paralyzing emotions. Just do it.
He knocked lightly on the door, though he didn't really expect an answer. It just seemed like the polite thing to do.
"Come in." Jean's voice sounded strong, and Jim chided himself for forgetting that she would be awake. He steeled himself, dredged up a smile, and walked in.
Pete felt a little silly, and he hoped no one would catch him in the act. He scanned the break room even though he knew he was alone in it, and then picked up the phone. He dialed and held his breath, though he didn't know why.
Pete hesitated for a moment until he could connect the voice with a name. "Linda? This is Pete Malloy. I hope I'm not calling at a bad time."
"No, not at all. Do you have news?"
"No, nothing like that. The last I heard was that she was in recovery. Is there anything since then?
"No, that's the latest I've heard."
"Well, the reason I called is that I had an idea. My watch is going to be over in three hours, and I wondered if I might come over and play with Jimmy afterwards. I know he hasn't gotten to see his Daddy in a while, and I thought maybe Uncle Pete could play catch with him or something."
"Oh, that would be wonderful! I hate to say it, but he's driving me crazy. I'm not really used to kids. And he keeps asking me all sorts of questions about Jean, and I'm never really sure what to say."
Oh boy. Do I really want to go face that little guy's questions? The thought tugged at Pete's gut. Pete loved Jimmy as if he were his own son, though he'd never put it in those terms out loud. The boy's innocence, his pain, his fear, his trust, all of these would tear at Pete's heart when they played across Jimmy's small features.
"All right. I'll look forward to seeing him then."
Pete hung up and prepared to hit the streets of LA again.
Strangely, none of the potential dangers he faced out there worried Pete half as much as having to face that beloved five-year-old boy.
I wonder how I look.
He had come in the room. Him.
She forced herself to think the strange-sounding words.
He looked barely recognizable under his mask. But she saw enough of his scruffy face and dark-circled eyes to imagine his long vigil of worry and fatigue. All because of me!
She gave him and awkward smile, and he returned it before approaching the bed.
He's as nervous as I am.
He broke the silence first.
"How are you feeling?"
His eyes shone with concern. And with something more. Something that riveted her gaze and melted her heart.
I didn't just imagine it last night.
He really does love me!
Jim could hardly get the words out. His emotions whirled with a confusing mixture of joy, pain, relief, love, fear, and a few other feelings he couldn't identify.
If only I could hold her! The worst part of all of this was that he didn't have his Jean to help him through, and he couldn't wrap her in a healing embrace, either.
"How are you feeling?" What kind of lame question is that to ask someone with their whole head wrapped in bandages? Jim's hands fidgeted nervously. But what can I say to her?
Jean smiled weakly. "I'm...I'm not feeling too bad. Just a little sore."
Her eyes seemed to search his, and he tried to keep his soul as open and accessible as he could. Jim pulled up a chair next to the bed, but never looked away from her eyes.
Remember, honey. You've always been able to look in my eyes and see inside my heart. Please see me. Please remember me.
Her face remained open, unguarded. But her eyes narrowed a bit as she focused, studying him. He could see her effort to remember.
Don't push her. The nurse's admonition played back in his mind.
Okay, I won't. But I won't push her away, either.
Her unwavering gaze and her silence became uncomfortably long. He fought the desire to squirm with discomfort.
Let her look. Let her look all she wants.
Something about her face kept him quiet. She wanted to drink in the sight of him, uninterrupted.
He felt himself relaxing, and began to study her as well.
She looks pretty good, considering. He tried not to look too closely at the place where her hair should have been.
She looks so tired. But she's still so beautiful.
She reached toward him with a tentative hand. He became, if possible, even more still. Her eyes narrowed with concentration as she hesitated, and then reached toward him again.
"I don't remember..." she almost seemed to be talking to herself, "…but..."
Again her voice trailed off. Her fingertips touched his hair, lightly, tentatively. He scarcely breathed.
"I know...." She still seemed to be talking to herself, so Jim stayed quiet. She pulled her hand away from his hair, still focusing on his face with a half-puzzled expression. After another moment of studying, she laid her hand gently on his masked cheek. He closed his eyes.
What does she know? Does she remember?
"Mr. Reed!" The nurse's demanding tone jolted Jim.
Jean gasped and pulled her hand away from Jim. He quickly caught her hand in his, wanting to shield her from this unpleasant nurse. The warmth of her hand in his brought a rush of tender feelings with it.
"Visiting time is up for now. Time to go."
NO! Jim suppressed the urge to yell.
He turned quickly back to Jean. She continued to stare at him, and her face held that same curious longing. His heart nearly broke at the thought of leaving her.
"Please?" He was not above begging right now.
"No. Mrs. Reed needs her rest. You may come back in an hour. Come along, Mr. Reed."
She's right. Jim turned yearning eyes back to Jean. "You rest, honey. I'll be right outside. And I'll come right back in as soon as I can."
Jean nodded and released his hand with apparent reluctance. Jim glared at the nurse for a moment, then turned for one last word to Jean.
"I love you."
Her gaze intensified, and she slowly nodded her head. It's as if she almost knows, almost remembers.
He unwillingly followed the nurse, turning for one last glimpse of her face as the door closed behind him.
"Put it right here, hard!" Pete punched his glove, then held it ready for Jimmy's throw.
The little fellow drew his arm back and let fly.
Pete hardly had to reach for it. The kid's really shaping up already! Good form, good aim! Pete felt impressed. Jimmy had definitely inherited his father's natural athleticism.
"All right, Tiger. Let's see if you can catch this one!" Pete stifled a smile at the determined set on Jimmy's face. Just like his father. Jim could never deny him, not that he'd want to.
Pete made an artistic show of drawing back his arm. He made great, exaggerated pitcher faces and wind-up motions until Jimmy giggled so hard he nearly fell over.
"C'mon, Unca Pete! Stop goofin'!" Jimmy still laughed a bit, but he clearly wanted to play ball. So Pete made a mighty heaving motion, which he somehow slowed before releasing the ball. A gentle curving lob flew toward Jimmy, and the little All-Star grinned with satisfaction as it plunked into his glove.
Pete felt an odd sensation at the sight of that smile.
How could I have missed that before?
So much of Jimmy's face and manner were his father's, but at this moment Pete saw Jean shining out of Jimmy's eyes. And there, something in the curve of his cheek, the shape of his mouth… how can that be? How can he look so much like both of them at the same time?
Pete shook his head. They're both in there. I see Jim and Jean combined.
He squatted as if to take the next catch, but his mind remained captivated.
But there's more, because Jimmy's his own person. Completely unique.
Kids really are miracles.
Pete suddenly realized that he was just squatting there staring at his godson. I must look like a fool. Judging from the quizzical expression on Jimmy's face, Pete figured the kid thought he was nuts.
"Whatcha thinkin' about, Unca Pete?"
Uh-oh. What am I going to say? Pete wasn't sure he wanted to even mention the boy's mother right now. And yet he probably needs to talk.
"Put it here, Pal." Pete prepared for the toss, and caught it easily. "I was thinking about how much you look like both your parents. Not just your dad, but your mom, too." He lobbed the ball back to Jimmy, who tipped it off the end of his glove. Jimmy scowled and scurried after it.
"Everybody says I look like Daddy." He stooped and swept up the ball, but his demeanor no longer held enthusiasm for the game.
"Yes, you do, mostly. But I can see your mom there, too." Pete tossed the statement toward Jimmy like one of his lobbed balls. He almost hated himself, because he could see the pain in Jimmy's expression now.
Pete held back, waiting to see if Jimmy would pick up this particular ball and toss it back.
If he's not ready to talk, he'll let me know.
Jimmy began to look less like an all-star and more like a scared little boy. Pete rose to his feet, working painful kinks out of his calves and thighs. He walked slowly toward Jimmy, feeling waves of compassion for this innocent child.
It hasn't been that long since he was in Jean's belly. And since then he's relied on her for all his needs. How he must wish for his anchor right now.
Jean carries a lot on her little shoulders. Pete knew that she was Big Jim's anchor, too.
"I don't wanna play any more, Unca Pete." The little boy's shoulders sagged, and he slumped down to sit on the grass.
What you need right now is a big hug. But Pete would wait and let Jimmy initiate that on his own terms.
I could use a hug now, too.
Pete sat down on the grass beside his godson, stretching out his legs in front of him and reaching down for his toes. He made a show of working the kinks out of his legs, even though he'd already recovered.
Pete knew instinctively to keep himself busy and avoid eye contact right now. He made every effort to look casual, while his heart remained on high alert.
Silence is loud. After a while Pete began to wonder if he'd misread Jimmy. Should I say something? If I work on my legs much longer, he's going to know I'm faking it.
Pete leaned back on the grass, supporting himself on his elbows. He let his eyes focus on nothing, his demeanor clearly proclaiming his availability.
Will Jimmy listen? Will he open up to me?
Silence reigned, until finally Pete heard the slow, rhythmic sound of a little fist punching a little glove.
That's right, Buddy. Let the feelings come. Pete knew from personal experience that words sometimes had to start in the fists and work their way out.
"When's my Mommy coming home?" Jimmy's voice sounded small and vulnerable, and his little fist continued its pounding.
Pete finally felt free to look at his godson, and felt gratified when Jimmy gave him a brief, sidelong glance.
"I don't know, son. But I've been on the phone with your Dad, and he says your mom is doing really well."
Jimmy shrugged. "Yeah, that's what Daddy and Aunt Linda and everybody keeps tellin' me." The pace of the pounding picked up, ever so slightly.
Pete suddenly realized that he'd placed himself in an awful predicament. What has Jim told him? How much can I tell him? He knew Jim would want to shelter Jimmy, and Pete didn't want to tread on Jim's turf. What would Jim want me to say?
Pete began to wish he hadn't come.
"You know, if your daddy said your mom is doing well, then it's true. He wouldn't kid you about that."
Jimmy finally met Pete's gaze. The little fellow's eyes brimmed with tears, but he worked hard to hold them back.
Such a little man already.
"But what's wrong with her?" Jimmy brushed irritably at his moist eyes, still refusing to let his tears go.
Oh boy. Here goes.
"Well, your mommy got sick. Something to do with her head. Do you remember all those headaches she had?"
Jimmy nodded. He stared straight ahead of himself again, avoiding Pete's eyes.
"Well," Pete drew a deep breath, "the doctors are working to get rid of the thing that's making her sick."
Oh, I shouldn't have said it that way! Pete almost grimaced, and he hoped Jimmy wouldn't jump on his mistake.
No such luck.
"Thing?" Jimmy ran his sweaty forearm across his nose. "What 'thing' is making Mommy sick?"
Pete inwardly cursed himself. Don't you know Jimmy's too bright to miss that?
Pete sat back up, drew his knees up to his chest, and wrapped his arms around them. His body unconsciously mirrored his desire to hold back.
There's no getting out of this now.
"She, uh, she had a kind of sickness called...called a tumor." He inwardly cringed. I hope I haven't overstepped my bounds! Pete hated himself at the moment, and he hoped Jim wouldn't hate him later.
"A tuber?" Jimmy's voice held childlike curiosity now.
Pete couldn't help a brief smile. "No, a tumor. It's...it's…." Pete searched desperately for a way to explain it all without frightening the child. Finally he recalled something Jimmy would relate to.
"Do you remember when you had that wart on your finger?"
"Yeah." Jimmy looked at his finger as if he could still see the wart.
"Well, Mommy had something kind of like that in her head. The doctor's job is to take it away. Then her headaches should be better."
"What will the doctor do for it? Mommy put a band-aid on my wart." Jimmy continued to contemplate his grubby finger.
Pete swallowed hard. Somehow, childlike innocence touched his heart like nothing else.
"Well, I'm sure he'll do whatever he needs to do. He's a very good doctor." Pete offered to make eye contact, and Jimmy accepted it.
"So when's she comin' home?"
"I don't know, son. Soon, I hope."
But will she know she's home once she's here?
Jim paced until he tired of it, then sat until his backside hurt.
He rubbed at his tired eyes and glanced yet again at the clock. Its hands remained mired in a slow-motion crawl.
He paced again.
Hours had passed since he'd seen Jean. She'd been asleep during his second visiting time, and Nurse Attila wouldn't even let him in the room.
The nurse's name was really Braddock, but Jim had named her Attila when she dragged him away from Jean, and the name stuck in his mind.
When Jean had finally awakened, Jim had reluctantly let her mother take the turn to visit.
I hope she couldn't tell how badly I begrudged her that.
Jim glanced anxiously at Bud and Barbara, hoping they wouldn't ask to visit her next. I need to see Jean again. I need to know what she was thinking. He could almost feel her hand still warm on his cheek.
Any minute now. Jim glanced at the clock again. Sure enough, Nurse Attila marched officiously toward Jean's door. She pulled it open and called to Candace.
"Mrs. Bailey? Time's up!"
A few moments later Candace came out and began removing all her protective coverings. Jim studied her face, looking for any clue about her visit with Jean. He almost wanted to scream at how slowly Nurse Attila helped with the disrobing.
Finally Candace rejoined their little group, and everyone pounced on her with questions. Candace raised a hand to quiet them. "Jean says she's doing well. She is tired, though. She uh ... she didn't know who I was." The words gave more force to her feelings, and she suddenly broke.
Bud helped his wife to a chair and sat next to her, draping a comforting arm across her shoulders. Bud's own face wore a look of shock and grief again, almost like when he first arrived.
How would I feel if Jimmy didn't know me?
But she did remember something about me. At least she seemed to.
Candace continued her quiet, heartbroken sobbing.
I need to see Jean. I need to!
He glanced over at Nurse Attila. Without her, I can't get the gowns and masks to protect Jean. I can't go in without them. And Attila won't let me in early. I'm sure of that.
Barbara joined in with her own tears. Jim glanced at his parents, and saw his mother mopping at her eyes.
I can't wait another hour like this.
Pete drove with unusual concentration. So tired. So tired. Got to stay awake. He couldn't believe how the past couple of days had drained him.
I'm not as young as I used to be.
He stopped at a red light and yawned widely.
I can't look this tired for Jim. He needs me to be strong for him.
Pete glanced beside him at his tiny passenger. Jimmy's favorite bear sat in that seat, buckled in at Jimmy's insistence.
Pete smiled sadly and reached out to stroke the bear's soft fur. He could still see the sweetness in Jimmy's face as he handed the bear over.
"Give this to my mommy. It will help her feel better."
Pete's eyes misted over a bit. I hope so, Jimmy. I hope so.
An angry blare jerked Pete back to the present. The driver behind him laid hard on the horn, and Pete couldn't blame him. I wonder how long it's been green. He entered the intersection and winced as the light turned yellow. Too long.
He turned onto a four-lane road, and the driver behind him quickly changed lanes to pass. He pulled alongside Pete, who flushed as he felt the driver's angry stare.
I hope I didn't just give you a ticket recently. He stared straight ahead, avoiding eye contact. I hope I don't have to give you a ticket in the near future, either.
The other driver finally passed him with an ungentlemanly gesture out the window. Pete sighed with relief.
Pete glanced back at the little bear beside him.
"Don't tell Jimmy's daddy, okay?"
The bear stared straight ahead and said nothing at all.
"I want to speak to Doctor Barnes." Jim leaned over the counter a little and stared down into Attila's face.
She stood, and Jim felt a twinge of satisfaction. I intimidated her a little. He kept his face resolute.
"Doctor Barnes is busy at the moment. He...."
"Is he with a patient? Is he in surgery?" Jim interrupted. I'm not giving you any ground, lady. I'm taking the upper hand here.
Attila would not give ground easily, either. She stiffened her spine and stared at Jim with iron eyes. Her jaw jutted out just a little. "Doctor Barnes is busy." She emphasized the last word, underlining her refusal to tell Jim any more. Her eyes flashed defiance.
So that's the way you play it, huh? You're a big fish in your small pond. Well I've dealt with bigger fish than you. Jim found immense satisfaction at finally having an opponent, someone he could fight with, instead of a faceless illness that he could not master by force of will.
He leaned closer to the nurse, and saw her eyes widen a little. You're not used to backtalk, are you Attila?
Jim kept his voice low and intense. "Are you going to bring him here, or do I have to go looking for him? I could search every room on this floor in no time. I'm trained to do that sort of thing." Jim kept his gaze level, locked unflinchingly with her eyes.
He saw just a flicker of indecision on her part, and he made sure he kept his stance firm.
They held each other's scrutiny for several long seconds, each one sizing up the other.
And then, without warning, Attila folded. "This is highly irregular. I'm certain Doctor Barnes will not appreciate being interrupted while he gives dictation."
"I'll worry about Doctor Barnes." You just worry about me, lady.
Attila huffed and marched down the hall away from Jim.
"Nice work, partner." The words made Jim whirl around.
Pete stood leaning against the wall, his arms folded, and his Irish features filled with amusement.
"After today, I'd say you're a match for any 50-year-old woman in LA!"
Jim smiled despite himself. He felt a little embarrassed that Pete had seen him exercising his police presence against a woman. But then something unexpected caught his eye.
"What . . ?" Jim walked quickly toward Pete and plucked something out from under his arm. He looked it over, and then faced Pete with a touch of confusion.
"I spent some time with Jimmy today. He wanted me to give this to Jean. Said it would make her feel better."
Jim closed his eyes and moved to lean against the wall. He held the little bear in as close to an embrace as his dignity would allow.
For the first time in hours he felt his emotions welling up near the breaking point.
"I should have been there to see him." Jim replied huskily, looking at his partner again.
"It's not your fault you can't be in two places at once, Jim." Pete used that tone of relaxed irony that drove home his point, but his eyes held Jim's with piercing concern.
You're right. I can't expect too much of myself. Jim pulled his emotions back into perspective. He blew out his cheeks and ran his hand back through his hair.
"He's a great little guy. He's holding up okay." Pete spoke reassuringly.
"Did he say anything I should know about?" Jim regarded Pete with something close to resignation.
Jim handed the stuffed toy back to Pete and turned toward the voice. Nurse Attila glared at him with her hands on her hips.
"Doctor Barnes will see you now." She seemed utterly disgusted as she led Jim toward his prize.
Jim turned back for a quick grin at Pete, who returned it with a wave and said, "I'll see you in the waiting room."
Jim nodded and followed Attila into a plush office. How my world has changed since the last time I stood in a doctor's office! Was that really only yesterday?
Doctor Barnes looked almost amused as he dismissed the nurse and welcomed Jim.
"What can I do for you, Mr. Reed?"
Jim watched the nurse until she closed the door behind her. When he turned back to the doctor, he saw a knowing glint in his eyes.
"I trust Nurse Braddock didn't cause you undue hardship..."
Jim grinned. "Nothing I couldn't handle."
"She is an excellent nurse, but she can be rather ... rigid."
"I call her Attila," Jim admitted.
Doctor Barnes guffawed. "To her face?"
"No, no, no." Jim laughed as well. It felt good. The doctor appeared truly relaxed, and Jim found that quite reassuring.
The doctor quickly returned to business, but kept his unworried appearance.
"I know I spoke to you mostly through nurses through all of this. I'm sorry about that."
"Oh, no problem. I understand."
"I'm glad to get to speak to you personally. I wanted you to know how pleased I am with how the surgery went. She really did well, and her physical recovery should be rapid, barring any unforeseen circumstances."
Jim caught the limiting phrase and lobbed it back to the doctor. "Her physical recovery. What about ...mental recovery?"
Reality crashed in on Jim as he spoke the words. Jean may never be the same. He swallowed hard and forced his mind to listen to the doctor.
"Once again, I really can't say at this point. I can tell you that I saw no evidence of any mental impairment other than the memory loss. That's not a guarantee, because only time will tell for sure. But it is a good sign when there are no obvious deficits. And she clearly has the ability to make new memories. Has she recognized you? I don't mean from the distant past, but does she remember seeing you yesterday?"
Jim nodded, feeling again the feather-light touch of her hand against his face.
"That's also an excellent sign. Has she shown any sign of remembering things from before yesterday?"
"I'm ...I'm not sure. I've only seen her for ten minutes since the surgery. She clearly felt something. She said she couldn't remember, but it was as if she almost could. And ...maybe it's crazy, but it seemed like the emotional connection was still there."
"No, that's not crazy at all. And it is also a very good sign. It means that the memories are there, but somehow they're disconnected from her conscious mind. However, the emotional mind is located in a different part of the brain, and evidently her memories can communicate with her feelings."
The room fell silent while Jim considered the doctor's words.
When he spoke again, his voice sounded embarrassingly vulnerable to him. "So, her love for me should be as strong as it was before?"
"Love is a complicated thing," Doctor Barnes replied with a sympathetic smile. "I don't pretend to be an expert in that."
Nice sidestepping on that issue! But he couldn't blame the doctor. Some things were just beyond knowing.
Jim shook himself back to his reason for coming. "I want to be allowed to see my wife more often. She's tolerating the visits well, and I know it would be good for us both." I hope all that's true.
Doctor Barnes smiled again. "Yes, I've just been looking over the nursing reports. Her vital signs have remained stable, and she has gotten some sleep, I understand."
"Well, Mr. Reed, I'll make a deal with you. For the next 24 hours, don't disturb her when she's sleeping. But when she's awake, you can have, say, twenty minutes every hour. How's that?"
Jim tried to hide his disappointment. "If I promise to let her rest as long as she wants, can't I just stay with her?"
The doctor smiled a little and looked down at his desk. His thoughts seemed to turn inward, and he remained silent for several moments.
Finally he looked back at Jim. "Can I trust you to be absolutely honest with me, knowing that her health is at stake?" His face held no trace of a smile now.
"Yes, absolutely." I'll do anything.
"All right." Doctor Barnes looked Jim over as if sizing him up for trustworthiness. "Here's the deal. If, and only if, you find that she will sleep well while you're in the room, you can stay. But if you feel any hint that your presence is making her uncomfortable or unable to sleep when necessary, then I'm counting on you to leave her for a while. Her rapid recovery depends on you."
Jim nodded. "Thank you, Doctor. I really appreciate it." He could hardly contain his eagerness. "May I go see her now?" He rose to his feet as he spoke, ready to race to her room upon hearing the word.
"Wait. Let Attila...I mean Nurse Braddock ..." the doctor smiled at their inside joke, "…let her check to see if Jean is awake. If she is, you may go in."
"Do you want to tell her yourself?"
"Yeah, that's probably a good idea." He picked up his phone a dialed a number. "Nurse Braddock, please come to my office."
Jim couldn't wait to see her face when she learned he'd bested her.
"Hi." He stopped just inside Jean's doorway, feasting his eyes on her. She looked bruised and tired, but once again he thought she was the most beautiful sight in the world.
"Hi." She smiled weakly.
Jim remembered his promise. "Are you too tired? I can come back later."
"No. I'm getting bored. I want someone to talk to." She smiled again and stifled a yawn. "Was I talkative before?"
Jim sat down on the chair, hoping she could see his smile despite his mask. "Not in the bad sense of the word. You knew how to enjoy silence as well. You sure do love having heart-to-hearts, though. You especially like talking with your mom, and your sister, your friend Ruthie...and me." He felt a little shy all of a sudden, as if he were boasting about himself.
"I met my mom a little while ago. I didn't know who she was, and I could tell that she was really sad about that. It made talking a little awkward. I'm glad to know we get along well." Jean blinked slowly, as if her eyelids felt heavy.
I can't stay much longer. The thought both frustrated him and broke his heart.
Unless I can get her to agree to sleep.
"There's something we need to talk about." He wanted her to understand the seriousness of the matter, and she evidently caught his tone. Her eyes shot up to meet his.
Jim explained the doctor's terms and conditions for visitation.
She nodded quietly, and yawned without trying to hide it. "Okay, I promise I'll try to sleep with you...I mean...." her hand flew up to her mouth and she blushed deeply.
Jim grinned and waved off her concerns. "Don't worry. It's okay."
Her face once again filled with that deep look of almost-knowing, and she concentrated on his face intensely.
Darn this mask!
"Yes...I guess it is okay...isn't it?" She lightly touched his hair again.
"Yes. It is." Jim spoke soft and low. Once again he felt the fragile preciousness of the moment.
How must she feel about that?
A gentle knock on the door startled them.
"Come in," Jean called.
In walked a gowned and masked figure that Jim had not expected to see.
"Pete! How'd you get permission to come in here too?"
"Well, I told the nurse that I thought I needed to head home. She said I should gown up and say goodbye before I left, if I wanted to."
"Attila said that?"
"Attila?" Jean asked with curiosity. "I haven't met that nurse."
Pete and Jim chuckled.
"No, actually they've had a change of shifts. Attila went home, and now we have Betty. I don't know why, but nurses named Betty are always nice and always pretty." Pete's grin traveled all the way up to his eyes, making it easy to see despite his mask.
"You're Jim's friend, right?"
Jean's question removed all the levity in the room. Jim felt a chill travel through him, and the hair on the back of his neck stood up.
She doesn't know him. She doesn't know him. Somehow it still shocked him.
Pete's smile came back, but it failed to reach his eyes this time. Jim could barely see it.
"Yes, I'm Pete. I'm Jim's partner at work."
"Oh yes, that's right. You're both police officers. I'd forgotten that. I guess I've had a lot on my mind."
Pete and Jim exchanged uncomfortable looks. Pete looks like he wants to get out of here now.
I'd feel the same way, if she felt just as unfamiliar with me. Jim breathed a silent "Thank You" for the connection that he and Jean still felt.
"I have something here for you," Pete continued. He pulled the little bear out from under his arm and held it out to Jean.
Jim quickly searched her face for any sign of recognition. She's seen that bear a thousand times.
Jean only looked puzzled. "For me?" She accepted it and looked hesitantly back at Pete.
Jim's partner shot a quick look at him, and then turned back to Jean.
"I visited with Jimmy...your son...today. He wanted you to have it, because he thought it would make you feel better."
Jean looked the toy over with new appreciation.
"It's his very favorite bear," Jim added.
Jean hugged the bear to her chest and closed her eyes. A few tears slipped out, tracing lines down to her pillow.
"I want to remember him! I want to remember you all!" The heartache in her cry tore at Jim's soul, and he longed to hold her close. As it was, he could only reach over the bedrail and brush the tears away from her cheeks.
"You will, honey. You will. Just give yourself time."
Jean nodded and pulled herself back together with obvious effort. She patted the little bear gently. "What's his name?"
It took Jim a moment to realize who she meant. "Oh. The bear's name is Pancake."
Jean looked up with a puzzled expression. "Pancake?"
Jim and Pete both chuckled, relieved to feel the atmosphere in the room lightening.
"Yeah, one day you were making pancakes for breakfast, and Jimmy was really getting into them. He was only about two at the time. Your mom came by because she was going to watch Jimmy for you while you went somewhere. She brought him this little bear, and he jumped up and down in his seat, clapped his hands, and yelled 'Pancake, pancake, pancake!' The name stuck."
Jean held up the bear and looked at it again, regarding it with all the devotion of a monk beholding a holy relic. "Thank you for telling me that story." Her voice sounded small and quivery.
The room fell silent.
"Well," Pete said with not-quite-convincing lightness, "the nurse told me not to stay long. I just wanted to say goodbye and wish you well. I'll check in again tomorrow after work, if that's okay."
"Sure," Jean said politely.
Just as politely as she would have to any stranger.
Jim felt sorry for Pete right now. He stood to escort his friend out the door, putting a brotherly hand on his shoulder as they walked.
"Thanks for coming by, partner." He let his voice convey his sympathy for his friend's discomfort.
Pete nodded and gave Jim a look of heartfelt compassion. "Least I could do."
Just before he closed the door behind him, Pete turned to Jean with an afterthought. "Your parents and your sister will be stopping in for just few minutes, too. Then they're going to go home for some rest."
Pete lowered his voice a little to address Jim now. "You're parents have already left. They said they'd wait for Jean to be more ready for company before they tried to visit her. They felt like Jean's closest family should get the first chances."
Jim nodded. Sounds like my folks. Very thoughtful.
Pete gave one last wave and a "goodnight," and then the door shut him out.
Jim returned to his wife's bedside. "Do you want me to stay here while your parents visit, or would you like some time alone with them?"
Jean reached quickly for his hand. "Stay. You're the one I feel...closest to."
"All right." He patted her hand with his free one. "I won't go anywhere."
After a moment he freed his hand just long enough to lower the bedrail. The nurses may not like it, but I can't stand having that thing between us.
Jim took her hand and sat quietly beside her while she rested. He hoped the relatives would keep their visit low-key when they came.
The first knock sounded a few minutes later.
The family visits were brief and uncomfortable. Even though Jean did her very best to make everyone feel welcome, no one could escape the eeriness of the situation.
After the last of the visits ended, Jean leaned back heavily on her pillow and closed her eyes.
"They wore you out. I'm sorry. Do you want to be alone now?"
"No." Jean didn't bother opening her eyes. It reminded Jim of the awful morning they'd spent just before she disappeared, and fear clutched at his chest.
"Jean? Are you all right?"
She opened her eyes and smiled at him. "How am I going to keep my promise to go to sleep while you're in here, if you won't let me sleep?" The softness in her voice and in her face relaxed him.
"Okay. You go to sleep. I'll stay here and make sure no boogeymen come around."
Jean smiled contentedly and reached once more for his hand. He took it gratefully, enfolding it ever so gently in his own. She closed her eyes, and by force of habit he started to reach up to brush the hair off her forehead.
There was no hair. Only a bandage. His stomach sank.
My poor baby.
He studied her sleeping face for a long time, making sure she really looked okay. Then he studied what little he could see of her head, trying to imagine the rest of it. Trying to prepare his mind and his heart for the first time he would see her unbandaged. I don't want my face to show anything that would hurt her.
He hovered protectively over Jean when nurses came in to check on her. He felt relieved when their ministrations would awaken her, and just as relieved when she would smile at him and quickly go back to sleep.
Get your rest, honey. Get better. I want to bring you home.
Home. What does that word mean to you now?
Jean awakened in semi-darkness.
The sun must be down. How long have I been asleep?
Someone had turned down the room lights, but plenty more light crept in around and under the door. The regular sounds of the hospital filtered through.
Where's Jim? Jean looked around her as her eyes adjusted. A dark form came into focus, and after a moment she recognized it as the top of his head. Tender feelings warmed her.
He fell asleep in that chair with his head on my bed.
She reached out yet again to lightly touch his hair, just with her fingertips. He's going to get a sore neck. I wonder if I should wake him.
The question became moot. He raised his head and looked slowly around, evidently re-orienting himself.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to wake you up." Jean said softly.
"No, that's all right." Jim yawned and stretched with a groan, then rubbed at the back of his neck. "I guess the last couple of days have worn me out more than I realized. I didn't mean to pass out on you like that."
"Don't be silly! I'm not the only one who needs sleep, you know." She felt a mixture of tenderness and slight exasperation, like someone witnessing an endearing bad habit. He always expects too much of himself.
How do I know that?
"Jean? What is it?" Jim's tone sounded worried, and Jean realized that she must have been staring at him.
"I think I remembered something."
Jim jumped to his feet, suddenly energized. "You did? What?"
"Well, it's like before. Just the memory of a feeling. But when I told you not to feel bad about sleeping, I got the feeling that I often have to stop you from expecting too much of yourself. Is that true?"
Jim grinned. "Pete would say so. He's my other mother hen."
"I see." Jean smiled back.
"That's really exciting that you remembered that. I hope you remember some of my better qualities soon." Jim's smile remained broad.
I may not remember, but I'm willing to bet that his smile has always put butterflies in my stomach.
His words suddenly sank in. I hope he knows that I remember fond feelings for him.
"Would you mind rolling the head of my bed up? I'd like to sit."
"Sure." Jim rose and cranked the handle, slowing raising her up. "Tell me if you get dizzy, okay?"
She nodded, and had him stop before she reached 90 degrees. He sat back down and took her hand once more.
"Yeah. Thanks." She looked him over thoughtfully again. "Did I ever tell you the first memory I had?"
"No, I don't think so." Jim sat down, turned up the light a bit, and gave her his rapt attention.
"It was when I first tried to go to sleep in the woods." Jean shivered at the thought. She glanced back at her husband and saw sympathy in his eyes.
"I suddenly knew that there were supposed to be strong arms holding me. I didn't know whose arms, or where that person was, but I knew I was supposed to be held." She searched Jim's eyes, which had suddenly grown very moist. "I guess those were your arms."
He nodded, then looked away for a moment as he struggled to regain his composure. "Yeah," he managed to whisper.
"Lying there in those woods, I knew I wanted to be in those arms...your arms...more than anything." Jean felt a little strange saying that. In so many ways he still was a stranger. But somehow it felt very important to be true to her heart, and to the clues it gave her.
Jim's face held powerful emotions, and his eyes shone brightly through unshed tears. Jean felt a lump form in her throat.
When he finally spoke, his voice sounded husky with feeling.
"I wanted so desperately to hold you... to know where you were... to know you were all right!" His voice failed him, and he clung to her hand as if he were afraid she would disappear again.
Jean began to feel that her heart would burst.
They sat in silence for a while, allowing time to lessen the power of their emotions.
"The sun's coming up," Jim said softly.
Jean turned her head to look out the window. "Yeah, it looks like a pretty morning."
The door opened, and a Candy Striper bustled in with a breakfast tray. Her nametag said "Stephanie."
"Good morning, you two! I hope you're hungry." She looked like she couldn't be older than fourteen.
"Yes, I am. I haven't eaten much at all, have I?" Jean glanced at Jim for an answer.
"No, not much. But the doctor didn't want you to have too much yesterday." Jim stood for a better view of the tray as Stephanie rolled the bedside table over Jean's lap.
"I have a tray for you too, Mr. Reed." Stephanie smiled shyly at Jim. She looked quickly away, but kept darting glances at him and looking flustered.
"Oh. Thanks." Jim flushed ever so slightly.
Jean couldn't help smiling. She could see how her husband had dazzled the poor girl, and how uncomfortable Jim felt about it.
"Yes, thank you, Stephanie," Jean said politely. The Candy Striper responded by blushing.
"I'll...I'll go get your tray now, Mr. Reed." She hurried out the door, letting it close behind her.
Jean burst out laughing, but quickly clapped her hand over her mouth and suppressed her mirth.
Jim gave her an embarrassed glare, which almost set Jean off again.
Stephanie returned with Jim's tray, dropped it onto a second tray table, and dashed out of the room without a word or a glance in Jim's direction.
Jean snickered while Jim walked across the room to fetch his breakfast. She kept giggling while Jim pushed his table back to his chair.
Finally her husband seated himself, tried to look irritated, and said, "Stop it!"
Jean guffawed, and Jim just turned a deeper shade of red.
Jim watched Jean as she laughed. What a beautiful sight. Her laughter sounded like music to him. He only slightly minded being the butt of the joke.
His colleagues couldn't seem to figure out why he got so embarrassed about getting a lot of attention from women. They just don't understand. There's only one woman I want.
It was good to hear that particular woman laughing. At this moment, he could almost forget that she was, in essence, just two days old. No memory of us. No history.
The thought almost cost him his appetite, especially since the scrambled eggs on his plate looked dried out, the toast was overdone, and the sausage looked greasy. But hunger prevailed, and he pulled off his mask and ate.
Might as well set a good example for Jean. Jim wanted her to do whatever it took to come home soon.
He ate a few bites before glancing back up at his wife. She only picked at her food.
"What's wrong, honey?"
"Oh, I don't know. I haven't gotten my appetite back, I guess."
Jim wiped his mouth with his napkin. Yep, that sausage is as greasy as it looked. "Please try to eat, honey. The sooner you get better, the sooner you can come home."
An unexpected emotion flashed across Jean's face. The sight of it stopped Jim's fork in mid-air and sent his heart plummeting.
He lowered the fork back to the plate, still staring at Jean. She seemed to be trying to deflect his attention by eating and acting comfortable, but Jim knew what he'd seen.
She doesn't want to come home. She's afraid to.
Somehow that thought had never crossed Jim's mind. He assumed that she would feel eager to come home. Now he had some serious re-thinking to do.
What is she afraid of? What can I do to help?
They ate in uncomfortable silence for several minutes. Jim decided he wouldn't interrupt her meal. Let her eat.
But after finishing about half her eggs and a half-slice of toast, Jean wiped her mouth and pushed her tray away.
"I can't eat any more."
Jim looked up at her. He'd polished off most of his breakfast, but he pushed his tray away too. He glanced down at his discarded mask, knowing that he should put it back on.
Not a chance.
He gave the mask one last disdainful look and pushed it completely out of his mind. That way, if Attila says anything, I can honestly say I forgot about it.
Jim tried to catch Jean's eye, but she warded him off.
"How are you managing to get all this time off from work?"
She doesn't want to talk about it.
"I had some time off coming. But I will have to go back in soon."
She nodded and picked nervously at the hem of her sheet.
"Jean," he said softly.
"I…." she started to interrupt, sounding for all the world like a frightened child. But she stopped herself. "I guess I need to hear you out, don't I?"
"I'd appreciate it." Jim kept his tone as gentle as he knew how to make it, and she rewarded him with the eye contact he longed for. "Jean, when I talk about coming home, I'm not expecting you to just...pick up where you left off. Nobody expects that. Nobody plans to put any pressure on you."
He searched her face, gauging expressions that he knew as well as his own. She's open, she's listening, but she's still scared.
He decided to keep quiet, letting her sort out her feelings and respond in her own timing.
Jean kept picking at her sheet, and she turned her face toward the window. She chewed on her lower lip, something she only did when feeling very nervous or upset. Jim could almost feel the walls going up around her.
I can't believe how her emotions keep see-sawing.
Then again, I can't imagine what she's been through, what she's going through now.
He waited patiently.
Tears began slipping past her defenses again. They pulled at his heartstrings, and he yearned to brush them away.
Do I dare touch her? He had touched her before, of course, even since she lost her memory. But never when she had walled him off like this.
The thought that his touch might be unwelcome wrenched at Jim. He cast about in his mind for some kind of answer to his dilemma.
A solution presented itself. I'll let her decide. He reached out an open hand toward Jean's hand, but stopped short of touching her.
She looked quickly at his face, then down at his hand again. After a moment's hesitation she accepted his hand, and even seemed to hold it with some sense of warmth and comfort.
Now reassured, Jim reached with the other hand and gently stroked away the tear stains on her cheeks. His tender touch only served to bring more tears, though, and Jim could only hope that he had done the right thing.
She made no move to release his hand, so he decided that these must be good tears.
He dared to speak at last. "Let them go, honey. You've been through a lot. You deserve a good cry."
She put a hand over her face and sobbed.
Jim would have given ten years of his life, gladly, to have been allowed to snuggle her close to his chest right now. He didn't really understand why, but he knew that having his chest or his shoulder to cry on meant everything to Jean.
At least it used to.
As it was, all he dared to do was hold her hand, squeezing it occasionally. And he would brush away tears at times, and pat her arm or her shoulder. It seemed woefully inadequate, and Jim felt agonizingly helpless.
She finally cried herself out, and apologized as she reached for a tissue.
"No, don't be sorry."
In his mind's eye he brushed her hair away from her eyes. His hand started to follow through with it, but of course she had no hair in her eyes. No hair on her head either.
Jim suddenly wanted to punch something or yell at God. This is so unfair!
He reined in his anger. Time for that later.
Jean looked almost ready to talk.
"I...I know that everyone will understand." Jean began tentatively, but her gestures grew more expansive and her voice more emotional as she continued. "But it's still so scary! I'm about to go find out who I am, who my family is, what my house is like...well, I guess I know a little bit about the house. But...but what do I say to a five-year-old boy I've never met who calls me 'Mommy'?"
She mopped again at her nose and reached for a clean tissue.
"You saw how miserable everyone was last night, trying to act like they were okay with all of this, but of course they weren't. Once I get...home...there won't be any visiting hours. I'll just be there, and so will...." her voice trailed off, and she made an "oh forget it" gesture. Tears ran again.
"So will I?" Jim prompted gently.
Jean squeezed her eyes shut and nodded miserably. "You and...and Jimmy. Don't get me wrong. I think you're wonderful. And like I've told you before, I can feel close to you, even without the memories. But once you're in your home, you're going to want to feel at home, and you won't be able to. Because I'll be there, and I won't quite be a stranger, but...I won't quite be your wife, either."
She looked straight into his eyes with that last phrase, and he had to look away. Her words hit painful places in his soul.
"And you can't tell me that Jimmy will really understand. How could he? He's only five. He doesn't just want me to be his Mommy; he needs me to be his Mommy. Good grief, I can't even get it through my head that I am his Mommy. How am I going to be what he needs me to be?"
Jean grabbed another tissue and dabbed at her nose. "And you...how am I going to be your wife again? I must have once known just about everything about you; what you liked to eat, all your good habits and bad habits, how to make you laugh, how not to make you mad, what to do when you were upset..." She looked away from him, and her voice lowered until she almost whispered "... how to meet all your needs."
She turned her face away to stare out the window. "Your needs won't change just because I've changed. Who's going to meet those needs when I can't?"
Jean's anguished questions pierced like swords through Jim's defenses. Her worries were the same as his, the ones he'd refused to look too closely at until now.
He had to fight the urge to leap to his feet and pace. Panicky feelings made his heart race and his stomach grow queasy. He closed his eyes and tried to collect himself.
Silence fell over the room.
Jim spoke up when he finally trusted his voice.
"I don't have any answers. I wish I did. I have many of the same fears that you have."
He cleared his throat and continued. "I'm sure it will be a lot like what we've experienced here. We've gone through every imaginable emotion like some kind of roller coaster. We'll probably do the same thing once you're home."
He lightly touched her chin to coax her to face him. She turned her head, but needed several more seconds to find the courage to meet his eyes.
"And just like we've done here, we'll do it together there, too. Together! That's how we've done everything for years. You can't remember right now just what we've gone through, or how strong our love has become through it all. But you'll see it all again, as if for the first time, because my love for you hasn't changed. It never will."
Jean squeezed his hand and looked away again.
Jim tried not to examine his heart too closely. He feared that, if he did, he'd find that his love wasn't as unchanged as he'd hoped.
Can we really do this?
A knock sounded at the door. Jean snatched her hand away from Jim's and tried desperately to repair her tear-stained face.
"Come in," Jim called after a few moments.
Doctor Barnes walked in with his usual easy-going smile. Nurse Attila followed, with her usual scowl.
Jim suddenly felt glad that he had no mask on. It felt good to irritate that woman.
"Good morning." Doctor Barnes' natural smile gave way to a less convincing professional mask. He looked Jean over with concern in his eyes. "Are you in pain?"
"No," she waved him off. "The medicine is helping just fine."
Doctor Barnes looked to Jim for some insight, and evidently surmised the situation from their two faces. He walked to the bedrail and addressed them both.
"Your recovery time is going to have lots of rough moments, and lots of good ones. There will be plenty of milestones to mark along the way. And when I say 'your' recovery time, I do mean both of you. This is something that has happened to you as a couple."
Jim and Jean both drank in his words.
"But believe me," the doctor continued, "I've seen plenty of couples come through here. And I've gotten a pretty good instinct for knowing who has what it takes to make it through. I believe you two have it."
Doctor Barnes spoke so genuinely, and so kindly, that Jim began to feel better.
"Hang in there, guys." The doctor extended a hand to each of them, and they each accepted it; Jim as a handshake, and Jean as a comforter.
"Now," the doctor switched to a business-like tone, "the reason I'm here is to have a look under your bandage. I'd like to see how your sutures are healing. We're going to take you down to x-ray in a little while, and have a look at your skull, too."
"Okay," Jean answered in a tiny voice.
"May I?" Doctor Barnes reached toward Jean's bandage as she nodded her consent. He began unraveling it, and Jim felt himself unraveling a bit, too.
I'm not ready for this. This isn't a good time. He had hoped to witness this at a point when he felt strong. This morning definitely did not qualify.
As the unbandaging progressed, Jim began to see stains where blood had seeped through the inner layers of gauze. He found it unsettling.
C'mon, Jim, you're a cop! He'd used that line to strengthen himself a lot lately. But no amount of blood he'd seen on the job could lessen his discomfort at seeing her blood. Jean's blood. The thought frightened him, even as he scolded himself that it shouldn't.
The unraveling continued on both fronts. Jim wished he could turn away, but he remained riveted to the scene.
It's just as well. I don't want her to think that her head upsets me.
Even though it does.
He worked up a weak smile for Jean when she glanced at him.
"Okay, we're getting close here." Doctor Barnes paused. "I want to warn you, Mr. Reed, that what you see here may not look very nice right now. But don't let it worry you. Every indication we have so far is that she is free of infection and healing as expected."
"Are we ready?" He resumed his work with a nod from Jean.
Jean winced as he tweaked and tugged a little bit, freeing the bandage where the blood had coagulated and glued it to her skin. The doctor apologized.
"There." He stepped back as the last of the bandage came unwrapped. Jim felt glad that he was seated on the opposite side of the bed. He couldn't see much of her wound.
But he could see something that troubled him immensely. There, finally, he saw her bald head. Almost bald. Already tiny stubble had begun to appear, which somehow looked worse than total baldness would have been.
No matter how much Jim chided himself or tried to fortify himself, the sight still horrified him.
Jean looked unwaveringly at her toes.
"All right," the doctor began. "We've had some seepage at the suture lines, but not too much. That's to be expected. And it seems to have stopped a while ago now. This is all old blood. There's no sign of infection, which is no surprise since you have no fever. There is bruising, of course. That will subside in a few days. And you'll be glad to know that all of the scarring will be under your hair, once it grows back. You won't ever see it again."
"That's good news," Jean replied in a very small voice.
"Well, then. Nurse Braddock will re-dress your wound. Nurse," he continued to Attila, "we won't need a full head wrap this time. Just the ointment and sterile gauze over the site."
Jim wondered idly how Attila could speak so clearly through such angrily tightened lips. Lots of practice, I guess. That did seem to be her habitual expression.
You'd better treat her right! Jim rose for a better view of the cleansing and re-bandaging process. Unfortunately, doing so provided him with a front-row view of the injured side of her head. He gripped the footboard of the bed for support as a wave of nausea swept over him.
Don't look at it. He focused on Jean's face instead.
Jean winced slightly as Attila applied the dressing, but Jim could see that the nurse did her job professionally and well. He relaxed a bit.
The nurse finished in a matter of minutes. "I'll be back to take you to x-ray in 20 minutes or so," she reported dutifully, and left without another word.
Jim found himself alone with Jean again. His conflicting emotions left him rudderless, so he relied instead on his mind.
What are my duties?
His thoughts turned instantly to the relatives. Oh good. A chance to get out of here.
He felt guilty about his feelings, and decided to pretend they weren't there.
"Jean, I need to go call your parents and let them know the good news. That you're healing well, I mean." He felt awkward, trying to sound upbeat when he felt so lost and scared.
"Thanks," came her very small voice again. She did not look at him.
He lingered for a few seconds, feeling that he ought to say or do something more. But he couldn't figure out what that might be, so he finally left.
The nearest payphone awaited him just a few doors down the hall on the right. He went to the left instead.
The men's room door squealed as he opened it. The room seemed unusually dark, and he looked up to confirm that one of the fluorescent bulbs had burned out. Somehow it seemed fitting, considering his mood.
He went into a stall and sat down, not so much because he needed to, but because it was the only place where he felt he could have some privacy.
I need to think.
But thoughts eluded him. His mind simply went blank, and he sat in a mental and emotional fog for some time. A few men came in and went out again, but still he sat.
Slowly, thoughts and feelings began to return, until finally his surroundings disgusted him. What am I doing in this dark smelly bathroom? He felt irrationally angry at himself, as though he had let Jean down.
He stood and walked to the sink, washing his hands and splashing water on his face. When he glanced at his reflection, he felt a sense of déjà vu. Just like yesterday. Only today I look even worse.
The night's sleep had helped with the circles under his eyes, but they remained bloodshot. His hair looked greasy and unkempt from several days of neglect, and his beard...
Pretty soon her head will look that stubbly.
He squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head. Stop it! What's wrong with me? Why am I being so shallow? I know I love Jean a whole lot more than I love her hair, so why don't I feel that way?
Think, Jim, think. What do I do when I need to get my feelings sorted out?
I share them with Jean.
Sorrow welled up inside him. I can't do that right now.
Talk to Pete.
Pete's at work.
Jim ran a nervous hand through his hair, which only made it stand up worse. He quickly ran some water over his hands and smoothed the unruly mass into some semblance of submission.
I hope Jean isn't as unhappy about my hair as I am about hers.
If she were, I'd deserve it.
Jim sighed and trudged out of the men's room. Better go call the Baileys.
As he swung the door open he nearly collided with someone.
"Excuse me," they said simultaneously, and almost as instantaneously recognized each other.
"There you are, son. I was wondering." Dan Reed looked his son over with a critical eye. "You could use some rest."
"I got some last night." He didn't mention the uncomfortable position he'd settled for.
Dan turned around and called over his shoulder. "Carol, where's that stuff...?"
Jim's mom appeared from around the corner. "Oh, good, there you are, son." She moved around a bit to view him from several angles. "Just look at you. I told you he wouldn't have taken care of himself, didn't I, Dan?"
"Here," she handed a paper sack to Jim. "There's a razor and some shaving cream in there. Isn't there a shower in Jean's room?"
"Uh, yeah, there is. I guess I just didn't think of using it."
Jim hated having his mom fuss over him, so he tried to excuse himself. "I need to go call Jean's parents."
"No, you don't. They arrived here just before we did."
"When was that?" Jim glanced at the clock, because he still had no idea how long he'd been in the bathroom. Based on the current time, he figured it had been about fifteen minutes.
"Oh, we got here about five minutes ago, and the Baileys said they'd only been here a minute or two before that. Candace is in visiting with Jean right now."
Jim nodded numbly, feeling a dull sense of relief at his reprieve.
I don't have to go in there now. Good.
The thought only added to his burden of guilt, which in turn deepened his depressed feelings. He walked slowly, shoulders sagging, to sit in a waiting room chair. Once there, he rested his tired head in his hands and tried to stop thinking again.
"Jim." His mother's sympathetic voice and her hands on his shoulders threatened Jim's composure. He flinched away from her touch.
"Oh, Dan, you talk to him. I can't do anything with him when he's like this."
His mom sounded clearly upset, and Jim regretted that on some level. But right now he didn't want to be mothered. I feel helpless enough. I don't want to feel like a baby. I don't want to rely on my mom. If I let her touch me..."
Jim felt intensely afraid that he would fall apart under the same loving care that used to comfort him as a child. He needed strength, and that was one thing his mother couldn't give him.
"Jim, I think you need some fresh air." Dan spoke the same phrase he often used when he wanted a heart-to-heart with his son.
Somehow, with his dad it felt different. Jim knew a talk with his father would help him. He nodded wordlessly, and the two men walked down the hall toward nowhere in particular.
"This is 1-Adam-12 requesting a code seven at UCLA Medical."
"1-Adam-12, okay seven."
"1-Adam-12 roger." The eager young rookie looked to Pete for his approval.
"That was fine, Chuck." Pete tried to work up a convincing smile, but Chuck had begun to grate on him like a chef on cheddar.
Take it easy on him, Pete. It's not his fault he's so young and eager to please. Besides, it's only his second day riding with me. Give him time.
"Isn't UCLA Medical way out of our area?" Chuck asked.
"Yeah, it is," Pete agreed with a slight frown. "But it's okay as long as we're back where we're supposed to be in 45 minutes."
Pete steered the patrol car around the corner onto Mission Street and stepped back into his T.O. role. "Keep an eye open in this area. There's a lot of gang activity in the low income neighborhoods around here."
Chuck snapped off a salute. "Roger that, Pete." Then he turned his grinning face toward the street for a few moments. Pete relished the quiet.
I just wish he'd stop waiting for me to praise him every time he blows his nose. Chuck had begun to remind Pete of a dog that constantly nudged to be petted.
The quiet, and the rookie's vigilance, didn't last long.
"So, Officer Mal...I mean Pete, is the food that good at UCLA Medical? I always heard hospital food was awful. Not that I'd know from personal experience. I've never been hospitalized, knock on wood." Chuck stared at Pete with the same ingratiating smile that he pasted on his face at the beginning of watch.
Just stick with this job a little while, pal. You'll get your turn.
Pete didn't even look at the smile. He knew it would be there. At least Jim usually knows when to turn the teeth off!
Pete suddenly realized he hadn't answered Chuck's question.
"No, the food isn't that good. I'm going to visit a friend."
"Oh. Not someone who's sick, I hope."
Pete turned incredulous eyes toward the rookie. Surely he didn't really say what I think he said!
Evidently the rookie realized his error, but it didn't seem to have any effect on his facial expression.
"Oh. What a dumb thing to say!" Chuck grinned wider, though Pete would have hardly thought that possible. "I can't believe I said that. What I meant to say was, 'who is it?'"
If you don't wipe that idiot grin off your face, you'll be next....Pete nosed Adam-12 around a corner just as the light turned yellow.
I'm gonna make Mac pay for giving me this assignment.
"It's my regular partner's wife." Pete really didn't feel like talking about it.
"Oh, did she just have a baby or something?"
Pete didn't know why he felt so annoyed at the kid. It really wasn't right. He sighed and tried to adjust his attitude.
"No, she just had brain surgery."
"Ha ha ha ha!" Chuck laughed aloud, and Pete shot him another disbelieving look.
"That was a good one, Pete! No seriously, tell me, did she have a boy or a girl?"
Pete stopped at a red light and leveled Chuck with his most no-nonsense glare.
"She had brain surgery, and there's nothing funny about it."
For once, Chuck's smile faded.
Jim and Dan Reed walked silently through the corridors of the hospital.
Jim recognized the quality of his father's silence. Sometimes Dan remained quietly immersed in his own thoughts, but at other times he remained quietly available to hear the thoughts of others, as he did now. Jim could feel the difference without even looking at his dad. He always could, even when he was a little boy. He also knew his father would respect his silence, giving him time and space when he needed it.
So they walked.
For no particular reason they had come down a few floors, and were now approaching a gift shop. Jim stopped short of going in, choosing instead to turn and stare out a window like Bud had done before.
"I've lost my wife, Dad." He shoved his hands deep into his pockets and stared out at the parking lot. His eyes barely registered what he looked at, just as his heart barely registered his words.
I'm numb again.
"I'm so sorry, son." Somehow, coming from his dad, it didn't sound trite.
Silence stretched out between them.
"There are different ways to lose someone." Dan stepped to his son's side and joined him in gazing outside. "When I lost my parents, they were dead. It was permanent. There was nothing I could do about it, and no hope of change."
Dan paused a moment, rocking back and forth on his heels. "You haven't lost Jean that way. She's alive, and while there's life, there's hope. Don't give up on hope, son."
Jim always wondered at the power of his father's words. They were simple words, and he would have dismissed them if someone else had spoken them. But somehow his Dad could speak right through to Jim's soul.
Jim nodded in response.
The two men stood in silence for long minutes before Jim shook himself back to the present. He started to turn away from the window, but something caught his attention. A black-and-white snaked through the parking lot toward the entrance. On the roof of the car were the familiar numbers "012".
"That's Adam-12! Pete must be coming to visit." Unless it's someone else here for another reason. Pete could be in an L-car for all I know.
"I'd better get back to Jean, and I don't want to miss Pete." Jim and his father turned to retrace their steps. They walked in silence for quite a while, but finally Jim stopped. He leaned his back against the wall, and his dad turned to face him. Dan's face showed concern, but as usual he waited for Jim to speak up.
Jim spoke softly, feeling a little embarrassed. "Thanks, Dad. I don't know what I'd ever do without you."
Dan smiled back, then looked away with strong emotion on his face. "I feel the same way about you, son."
Family. That's where it's at. I've told Pete that a dozen times.
God, please help Jean be a part of our family again.
"Thank you, nurse." Pete welcomed the surprising reprieve. That's a good sign, if we don't have to gown up any more. That was one routine he wouldn't miss.
Pete glanced at his watch. The gowning process normally would have shaved several minutes off of his limited lunchtime visit. Pete wasn't sure if the added time was a good thing or not.
Maybe she'll remember something today.
He knocked softly on the door of Jean's room, then jerked around with surprise when Jim's voice spoke from behind him.
"Hi, partner," Jim greeted him.
"Well, stretchin' your legs, are you?" Pete smiled more easily than he expected to.
"Yeah. I saw Adam-12 pull up out front, and I was wondering if it was you. Who are you riding with?"
Pete caught Jim's look of confusion and quickly clarified. "You've never met him. He's fresh out of the academy. I sent him to the hospital cafeteria while I came to visit Jean."
Jim looked genuinely curious, a good sign in Pete's opinion. "How's he shaping up?"
Pete let his doubts show on his face. "Ehhhh," he replied, with a 'so-so' waggle of the hand.
Jim smiled a little, but then seemed taken by a new train of thought.
"Jean didn't answer your knock, did she?"
"No, I don't think so, now that you mention it. But I was so startled when you spoke up behind me, I can't be sure."
"Well, either she's still in x-ray, or she's sleeping. Let me check." Jim cracked the door open and peeked in.
Pete caught himself hoping she would be asleep, and chided himself with a twinge of guilt.
"Yeah," Jim whispered. "She's out like a light. Sorry you wasted your visit."
"No, that's all right. Give her my best, will you?"
"Sure. Why don't you go get some of that world famous hospital food?"
Pete grimaced. "Well, I suppose I ought to go stop Chuck from ingratiating himself to the entire cafeteria staff."
"Ahhh." Jim gave Pete a sympathetic grimace.
He knows how much I dislike that sort of thing. Pete said his goodbyes and headed back to his temporary partner. Almost as much as I dislike visiting Jean right now.
Pete hated himself for the thought.
But it's true.
"And this is your great-aunt Lillian. You and she were kind of close. I mean, when you had a chance to get together, you enjoyed each other. But you didn't get together that often. She lived in San Diego." Jim turned another page in their wedding album. So far, the pictures of the rehearsal dinner didn't bring any strong responses from Jean, but she seemed to enjoy looking at them.
I don't know how I'll stand it if she doesn't respond to the pictures of the wedding itself.
Four days had passed since the surgery. Jean grew stronger, and she looked less bruised. She kept a lovely scarf around her head now, too.
I hope I didn't let on how her baldness bothered me.
Jim had spent nights back at his house, trying to make up for lost time with Jimmy, trying to provide simplistic answers to the complex issues their family faced.
Jim worried about his wife and his son constantly. It wore on him, ground him down, kept him awake at night, and haunted his dreams when he managed to sleep. When he spent time with Jimmy, he felt bad for leaving Jean. When he spent time with Jean, he worried about Jimmy. He could find no escape from his anxious thoughts.
Right now he worried about his decision to show Jean the wedding album. He lingered over the pictures of various relatives eating the rehearsal dinner. I think the actual wedding pictures start on the next page.
Jim decided this was a good time for a break, and excused himself to go to the restroom. He stayed there much longer than he needed to, trying to find the strength to go on.
He checked himself over in the mirror. Clean, neatly combed hair and a freshly shaven face were a definite improvement over his first few days, but his expression seemed just as drawn and haggard. I thought I was hiding it better than that.
He tried to fix his expression in the mirror, and almost succeeded. At least I look a little better.
He took a deep breath, ran a hand through his hair, and stepped back into Jean's room.
Doctor Barnes! What's he doing in here? For a brief moment Jim worried that Jean may have taken a bad turn, but a quick glance showed her looking very much as he'd left her.
The doctor turned away from perusing the wedding album to greet Jim with a smile.
"Well, there you are. How are you feeling, Mr. Reed?"
Jim wished people wouldn't ask him that, especially in front of Jean.
"I'm doing okay." He gave his standard answer. "What brings you to visit us?"
"Well, I have some good news. Jean's recovery has gone exactly as I'd hoped. Her x-rays have shown continuous healing of the skull bones, with improvement every day. I really believe it's time for her to leave us." He turned to Jean. "It's time for you to go home."
"So soon?" Jean's fear showed clearly in her voice, and Jim's stomach dropped.
I want you to want to come home.
The doctor laid a kind hand on her shoulder. "I know it's kind of a scary thought. For both of you," he added, glancing at Jim again. "But it's also the only way you're going to return to any kind of a normal life. It won't feel normal, but it has the potential to become normal. That's something we can't offer you here."
Jim moved around so the doctor could see them both at the same time.
"I'm writing the order for her to go home tomorrow, unless either of you has a really strong objection to that." The doctor paused to give them a chance to respond.
Jim flashed back to his wedding day. Speak now or forever hold your peace.
Panic rose up in his throat, but he knew he had no sound reason to protest. Jean looked as if she felt the same.
"Jean," the doctor continued, "you'll need to continue to be very careful. Avoid bumping your head at all costs. Don't wear any kind of constricting item on your head, whether it's a tight hat or a wig. I'll want to see you back here for more x-rays in one week."
Doctor Barnes addressed Jim next. "It is important that her re-introduction to home be as stress-free as possible. There will be plenty of stresses for her just in trying to re-integrate into the family. I believe it would be wise to avoid having visitors at this point. Unless Jean herself requests them, of course." He looked at Jean. "If you feel the desire to see someone, by all means, do. But don't feel obligated to entertain anyone right now. I'm sure your friends will understand."
Jean nodded, looking slightly relieved.
The doctor turned back to Jim. "What have you told your son?"
"I...I've told him that his mom's been sick...."
"Have you told him that she won't remember him?"
"No." Jim felt nauseated at the thought of breaking that news.
"Will you be able to prepare him tonight? I don't mean to push into your family life, but it would be a cruel shock for him to find out on his own, the hard way."
"I…." Jim fought down his rising panic. His own voice sounded softer than the pounding in his ears. "I guess I'll have to."
Doctor Barnes gave him a sympathetic nod. "You'll make it through. Just keep it simple, and assure him that none of this is his fault, or implies any rejection of him, or anything like that. Kids tend to blame themselves whenever anything goes wrong with their parents."
The doctor turned his attention back to his patient. "Jean, do you have any questions?"
Jean looked very frightened. "N-no."
"Well, I'm sure you might come up with a few between now and tomorrow. Feel free to ask me, or one of my staff. No question is too big or too small to ask."
The doctor excused himself, leaving the young couple alone in a fog of awkwardness.
This must be how people feel in other countries, where they have arranged marriages. Meeting your bride the day before the wedding. Wondering what in the world you've let yourself in for.
"You're as scared as I am." Jean's voice cut through Jim's mental rambling. He flinched as her words hit home.
"I know you've been trying not to show it. I'd rather you were honest with me." Jean's tone was soft, but her words cut deeply.
"I'm...I'm concerned about Jimmy. I don't know how or what to tell him."
"Is that all you're scared about?" Jean looked piercingly at Jim. He could feel it, even though he avoided her eyes.
The lie rushed to his lips, but he bit it back. She's asked for honesty. If I don't give it to her, I may blow any chance we've got.
"No, that's not all." He still couldn't look at her.
"Thank you." He could see out of the corner of his eye that she smiled at him and patted the chair next to her bed. "Please, come sit down and talk to me."
Jim moved warily toward the chair. He always found it hard to share his weaknesses and fears with his wife, but now it nearly terrified him.
Jean watched her husband as he moved to the chair and sat down. His fear frightened her, because it spoke of his doubts about their marriage. She had avoided facing it as long as she could, but now necessity put starch in her spine. We have to deal with this.
"Jim, please look at me."
He quickly looked up to meet her eyes. His face wore open fear, but at her request he kept his eyes locked with hers.
Jean felt a rush of warmth. He's brave enough to be open. I admire that so much.
"I need you to tell me exactly what you feel," she said softly.
Jean could see Jim's stress level rising by the moment. His chest rose and fell more markedly, and he folded his arms tightly like a physical wall in front of him. His eyes dropped their gaze momentarily, but then recovered it.
"Well," he began, squirming with discomfort, "I ...I don't know what to expect. I've never done anything like this before."
Jean smiled a little. "Neither have I."
"I guess I...well...," Jim looked away with discomfort. "I won't be comfortable until I know that...that...," he seemed to wrestle with the words before finally turning his eyes back to hers. "Until I know that you're going to decide to stay."
Jean felt confused. I expected him to be afraid that I wouldn't remember, or that I'd be too different. Why is he afraid I'd leave him?
She studied his anxious features. I guess there's only one way to find out. "Why wouldn't I stay?"
He glanced back sharply at her. Once again he seemed at a loss for words, so she waited.
"I guess, well, you're bound to me now by vows you don't even remember taking. If it turns out to be too weird, trying to be married to a stranger...." Jim shrugged and didn't finish the thought.
"Was I happy with you before?" she asked. I think I must have been. Why else would I feel this closeness to him now, despite the fear and strangeness of it all?
Jim seemed amazed that she'd asked. "Well, yeah, mostly."
"I'll tell you what," Jean replied after a few moments' reflection. "Why don't you tell me what you're most afraid I won't like. Then I'll let you know up front how I feel about it now."
Jim's face filled with something close to awe. He actually smiled and shook his head.
"You're sure as gutsy as you always were." He began to look more like the Jim she remembered from the ambulance ride. The man who enjoyed her and loved her without walls of fear.
"So, what is it?" She couldn't help smiling back at him, but she didn't want to be diverted.
"Well," he ducked his head almost shyly, then looked up with an apologetic expression. "It's mostly my job."
"Yeah. It's...pretty hard being a cop's wife."
"Tell me about it."
"Well, I keep a really weird schedule. I often work long days. I often get called in to work at a moment's notice. We've missed a lot of planned dates that way."
We had a lot of planned dates? That sounds promising, even if we often had to cancel them.
"And, I missed Jimmy's birthday party one year. I've had to work on our anniversary, on Thanksgiving, on Christmas...." He rolled his eyes.
"I get the idea." Jean had to smile yet again.
"And, well, it gets worse." Jim's lightheartedness melted from his face.
Jean felt a twinge of worry.
"I've been hurt pretty badly, a number of times. I've even come pretty darn close to dying. So has Pete. He and I lay our lives on the line every day that we go out there. Of course, most days we don't stare death in the face, but some days we do. So far, we've gotten away with waving at it. Some day, it just may get a hold of one of us. That's a scary thing for you to have to deal with."
Jim looked away yet again, but she caught a glimpse of deep sorrow in those blue depths.
"I lost a close friend once. You had to comfort his wife as best you could. It was devastating for all of us."
After several moments of silence, Jean realized that Jim was through.
"I see," she said softly. "Did we argue much about it?"
"Mostly we just avoided the issue as best we could. We got along really well in every other way. Just the usual little petty things that every marriage faces now and again. No big deal. But every once in a while, especially after I'd had a close call, you'd let me know just how much it upset you. And I'd let you know that I had no intention of changing jobs. It was always a stalemate."
Jean thought about all of it in silence for a while. Jim too seemed lost in thought.
"Did I ever threaten to leave you?" she asked quietly.
"No, not in so many words. In fact, once you promised me that you never would leave me, and I believed you. But now...well, just like our wedding vows, that was a promise made by someone else. At least I imagine it feels that way to you."
Jean could hardly believe how openly he spoke to her, despite his fear. Her respect for this man grew exponentially. I've got someone special here.
She thought some more. The things he's been telling me...I'm sure they must have been horrible when I was going through them. He's asking me if I'll commit to staying in a situation I know almost nothing about, but which caused me a lot of pain in the past.
What do I do with that?
How do I decide?
It's too early for promises. I need to know more, to actually live with him, and Jimmy, for a while.
Jim rose to his feet, and Jean suddenly realized how long she'd stayed silent. What must he be thinking?
She raised her eyes to his face, but did not see the terror she expected to see there. Nor did she see walls of self-protection barricading him away from her. He looked down at her with...am I reading him right…tenderness?
She quickly reached for his hand, and the softness in his eyes deepened as he accepted it.
Say something! "Jim, I don't know what to say. I feel like it's too early for promises...."
"No," he interrupted, looking surprised. "I wasn't asking you for a promise now. That wouldn't be reasonable at all. I just wanted you to know what I was afraid of, since you asked."
"Oh, I see." Jean felt puzzled by his reaction. "I'm surprised. It didn't seem to upset you when I said that. About not making promises, I mean."
Jim reached to hold her hand with a second hand of his own.
"That conversation we just had...well, it felt just like us. Maybe it's kind of strange, but it felt kind of reassuring. We've been avoiding this talk for days, and we couldn't really get too comfortable with each other. Now that it's said, I hope we can just get back to the business of being us."
Jean smiled at him. "I'd love to."
Jim smiled back. "I really do need to go. I have some hard stuff to talk to Jimmy about. And I want to take care of some things around the house before you come home."
To Jean's surprise, Jim bent down and kissed her on the forehead. "I'll see you tomorrow."
Jim turned to leave, but Jean stopped him with a word.
He turned back to face her.
"I...I just wanted you to know that I'm not completely without clues about our marriage. I know that the old Jean chose to stay with you, and loved you. I'm not prepared to second-guess her, not without a really compelling reason. And I really...care for you. I respect you, too. If a girl had to lose her memory, I can't think of a better man for her to discover she's married to."
Jim's face expressed such an astonishing variety of emotions that Jean could hardly sort them all out. But she felt sure of one thing. He'd liked what he heard.
Jim sat down on one hip on the edge of her bed. He'd never done that before, and for a moment she felt nervous. But one look back into his eyes reassured her.
"Jean...right now I feel more certain than ever that we're going to make it. You're still yourself, no matter what you can or can't remember. When I fell in love with you, we hadn't made any of our memories together yet. I loved you without them then, and I can love you without them now."
For the first time in days, Jean reached up and laid a hand on his face. It was the first time since surgery that she'd touched him without the mask, too. He closed his eyes and nuzzled into her hand ever so slightly. Jean felt a little awkward, but a little warmed, too.
This connection... it seemed that whenever she touched him, she felt something deep inside of her responding. I know you. Somewhere inside of me I love you. I know it. And that part of me wants to come out. I hope it can.
But even if it can't, I have a feeling I'm not going to be able to help falling in love with you myself.
Jim checked his watch as he pulled out of his parking space. Good. Plenty of time before Jimmy goes to bed.
He maneuvered through the parking lot and out into traffic, setting a course for home.
I'm so glad Jean and I had that talk. Jim felt as if a weight were lifted off of him, even though his fears had no real resolution. Over the years, whenever they'd really talked like that, heart-to-heart, Jim had always felt better.
So why do I still fight it? Why does it take me so long to open up?
He stopped at a red light, signaled right, and made his turn without having to wait for traffic.
I wish traffic were heavier. The trip home wasn't taking nearly long enough. Jim's emotions made a pendulum swing away from the relief in the hospital and toward the dread of home.
What am I going to say to Jimmy?
I need more time to think about this. He felt almost a sense of panic as the familiar street names flew by.
I'm not ready. I'm not ready.
The fear consumed his thoughts, so that he couldn't even plan his words to his son. Yet despite his inner turmoil, his body continued to drive as if it were any normal day. Jim began to feel as if he were outside of himself, watching himself drive.
Left onto Miramont, right into the driveway. Jim threw the car into park and turned off the engine, then leaned his head back against the headrest, closed his eyes, and sighed deeply.
What am I going to say?
The answers refused to come. Finally he sighed again, threw the door open, and stepped out.
His mother appeared at the top of the driveway, watching him with some concern. She's wondering what's wrong. I just
went and scared her for nothing. Jim worked up a smile for her, and accepted the hug she offered him.
"Honey, what's wrong?" Her tone betrayed her worry.
"Nothing, Mom. Nothing. In fact...," Jim lowered his voice and glanced toward the door. Good, Jimmy's not there. "...in fact, the doctor just told me that Jean is coming home tomorrow."
Carol clapped her hands over her mouth, her eyes wide as saucers. She began to bounce on her feet, as if she were ready to leap for joy. After a moment she reached out and laid a hand on Jim's arm, a new sense of urgency in her demeanor. "Oh, there's so much to do. I have to get everything ready. Let's see, I need to...."
"Mom," Jim cut her off gently. He put his hands on her arms and waited until he knew he had her full attention. "You've kept the place spotless. You've cooked and frozen a bunch of meals. There's nothing left to do with the house."
She started to protest, but he shook his head.
"Mom...I have to talk to Jimmy. Alone. I have to give him a better idea of what to expect. I...I kept hoping she would get better in the hospital, and he'd never have to know. But...that isn't going to happen now. So I need some time with my son."
He felt a strange calm settling over him. He wasn't sure where it came from, but he welcomed it.
"Daddy!" Jimmy burst through the front door and ran into his father's arms.
Jim bent down and scooped him up. "Hi, Tiger!" He squeezed the little fellow tightly, and relished the return squeeze he felt from two little arms around his neck.
Jimmy pulled back to look in his daddy's face. "You came home early today!" His excitement came out clearly in his voice. "You wanna play catch?"
"Sure. You go get your glove and your ball. I'll go meet you in the back yard in a few minutes."
Jim put his son down, smiling a little as the boy squirmed to escape even faster. As soon as his feet touched the ground, Jimmy scampered to fetch his treasured baseball equipment. Jim straightened up and turned back to his mother.
"We'll be all right. Thanks for all you've done."
Jim's mom looked into his eyes for long moments, then nodded and turned away. "I'll get my purse."
Jim waited outside until his mother returned, then walked with her to the curb where she'd parked her car. Before she stepped into the street, she turned for one last hug.
Jim held her for a moment longer than he normally would have, just to express his thanks. When they released each other, Carol's eyes were misty. She patted Jim wordlessly on the shoulder and walked around to the driver's side door.
Jim stood until she drove out of sight, then turned and walked slowly back up the lawn.
What am I going to say?
Mac ran his hand through his hair, then dropped his fist onto his desk with unhappy resignation. I hate to have to do it.
He glanced out his office window into the hallway and caught a glimpse of Pete Malloy and Chuck Nickleson.
Mac had to smile. He knew Pete well enough to read every subtlety in his posture and face.
Chuck's driving him crazy. At least Pete will be glad to hear what I have to do.
Mac opened his door and called to his friend. Pete turned, and Mac pointed a finger at him, then wiggled it to beckon him in.
Pete excused himself to Chuck, directing him toward the break room with a nod and a point.
Mac managed a sardonic smile as his friend entered the office.
"What's up, Mac?" Pete asked as he closed the door behind him.
Mac gestured toward the papers on his desk with a grimace.
"The duty roster?" Pete pulled up a chair to hear his sergeant out.
"Pete, I've been over it and over it. There's just no way I can pull together all the manpower I need for tomorrow if I don't call Jim in. I had hoped to give him more time, but I don't see how I can. You know that ordinances require me to have a certain number of fully qualified officers out at all times, and the number is higher when we've got a bunch of rookies that need supervising."
"Mac, you know as well as I do that you could give Chuck his walking papers today. I don't mean to be cruel, but the kid just doesn't have what it takes. He's not shaping up at all, not learning from his mistakes or from correction. I'm telling you, Mac, I'm not sure how long I can keep him alive."
"I know. I factored that in. But with Eberly and Walsh both out...."
"What? What happened to them?" Mac clearly saw Pete's concern for the two seasoned officers.
"Oh, didn't you hear? Eberly sprained his ankle really badly. The doctor says he'll be off it for at least a week, probably more. And Walsh came down with some sort of stomach thing right in the middle of watch. I had to call his wife to pick him up, he was so sick. Nearly scared her to death when I called, too." Mac looked regretful. "I can't count on him being back for a few days, if this is the same bug that Billy had."
Pete looked chagrined. "I hadn't heard Billy was sick. I must really be out of the loop."
"Well, you've had enough on your hands. I didn't think my son's stomach bug was worth bothering you with." Mac waved off Pete's concern. "Anyway, Lieutenant Moore and I had pretty much agreed that Chuck needed to go, even before we had these officer shortages. But now, well, we're going to have to say our goodbyes today. I've already assigned Walsh's rookie to Jerry Woods, and I'm going to put Brink in an L-car. I plan to give you Eberly's kid. His name is David Marsh, and he's got some promise. But I want your opinion."
Mac felt gratified at Pete's nod. There were few people whose opinion Mac would trust more.
"Is Jim ready to come back? Frankly, he's running out of paid time off, and I could sure use him back. But I don't want to throw him to the wolves if he's not gonna be able to handle it."
Pete shook his head, his eyes uncertain. "I'd like to be able to tell you for sure, Mac. But most of the time he's in with Jean, and she's not allowed to have more than one visitor at a time, except maybe for a brief hello. I've spent some time with Jim, but not nearly enough. Some times he's looked pretty good. Other times he's looked like you could knock him over with a feather."
Pete paused, his brow knit with concentration. Mac waited patiently.
"I do know that Jim thrives on certainty and order. Having protocols to follow really helps him when he's feeling stressed. He's always been a pro when the chips have been down, even through tough times. I wouldn't want you to put him in an L-car, or saddle him with his own rookie, but if he's riding with me and...what's his name...Marsh? I think Jim'll be okay."
Mac nodded, satisfied. "Good. That's about how I figured it. If Jim comes in, that gives me a full complement. I'll give him a call."
Pete rose to leave. "When are we going to break the news to Chuck?"
"Tonight, at end of watch. He might as well finish out his day. Unless, of course, you feel it would be really dangerous for him to do so."
"I think we can manage another half-shift." Pete let his face show just how much of a chore that would be.
Mac smiled, though he wasn't looking forward to breaking the bad news to Chuck. It hurt to have to bring an abrupt end to someone's dream. Mac consoled himself by remembering that if he left an unqualified man on the street, he'd likely end up breaking bad news of a worse kind to his loved ones.
"I'd better hit the streets," Pete strode toward the door.
"Yeah. Thanks, Pete." The sergeant scooped up the phone, wondering what his chances were of reaching Jim at home. Might as well start there.
He frowned as the phone rang ten times, unanswered. There's usually someone there to take a message.
Better try the hospital. He thumbed through his index cards until he came up with the proper information, and then dialed again.
Jim lingered at his front door for a few moments before opening it and walking into his house. A quick glance out the back door confirmed that his son awaited him eagerly, tossing his baseball up and down and running after it tirelessly. Jim had to smile.
He walked back to his bedroom and pulled his glove down from the top of his closet. A moment later he heard the sliding glass door squeal as it opened.
"Daddy, are you comin'?"
"Yeah, I'm just getting my glove," Jim called, pulling the worn leather over his hand.
He heard the door slam shut, and assumed Jimmy had run back to the yard. Instead, the boy's quick charging footsteps thumped down the hall. Jim stepped out of his room to look down at the eager little face.
Jimmy panted a little from his exertions, and his grubby little face shone with excitement.
How does he manage to get so dirty so fast? Jim reached down to tousle his son's hair, feeling a lump forming in his throat.
God, he's so innocent, so happy. How can I tell him...tell him his mother doesn't know who he is?
"Daddy, can we go play catch at the park?" Jimmy's boyish voice broke through his father's thoughts.
Jim nodded with a little smile.
"Cool!" Jimmy danced with anticipation to the front door. "C'mon, Dad. Whatcha waitin' for?"
Jim walked with his son to the end of the block, around the corner, and across the street to the park.
"Remember to look both ways, son." Jim watched protectively, even though he held the child's sweaty hand firmly in his own.
"Nope, no cars comin'." Jimmy pulled his father onto the street.
Jim chided himself and made his feet move more quickly. Don't act depressed.
He tossed and caught the ball for at least a half an hour before Jimmy tired of the sport.
"Daddy, I wanna go to the water fountain."
"Okay, sport." Jim welcomed the thought of a drink himself.
Jimmy slurped the water noisily, putting his mouth right on the spout like his mother always told him not to. Jim knew he ought to correct him, but right now he didn't have the heart to do it.
Jimmy straightened up, dragging his forearm across his mouth. "Your turn, Daddy."
"Thanks, Champ." Jim bent down and drank, grimacing a little at the metallic taste. The cold wetness felt good enough to make it worth it.
He straightened up again and swiveled his neck in search of his son. Jimmy was sitting on one of those push-type merry-go-rounds, his feet keeping it in gentle rotation. Jim joined him there.
Jimmy shrugged slightly. "Why'd you come home early today?" He looked up into his father's eyes and squinted a little against the sun. "Did somethin' happen?"
The question nearly took Jim's breath away. How did he know?
"I thought so." Jimmy looked down at his well-worn tennis shoes. "Somethin' bad happened."
"Hey, now." Jim chided him ever so gently. "What if I have some good news?"
Jimmy's eyes leapt back to his father's. "Mommy's comin' home?"
Jim smiled. "Yep. Tomorrow."
Jimmy went wild. He jumped up and down in front of Jim. He screamed "Yeah!" at the top of his lungs. He ran circles around the merry-go-round, and then around the water fountain. "Yeah, yeah, yeah!"
He ran until he could run no longer, doubling over and holding his side like he had a stitch in it. But even that discomfort did nothing to dim the joy on his sweet little face. He hobbled back to Jim, gasping for breath, eyes beaming.
Jim watched it all wistfully. I wish I could end it just like this. I wish it could be so simple.
He met Jimmy's smile with one of his own, though he couldn't make it as broad or unrestrained.
Jimmy sat back down on the merry-go-round, and then laid down on his back with his arms folded behind his head. "Make it go around, Daddy."
Jim slowly put the ride back in motion, watching as the whole world seemed to spin around him. It seemed like a fitting metaphor for his life lately.
"Wow. My mommy's all better." Jimmy's voice sounded dreamy.
I'll never get a better lead-in than that. Jim swallowed the lump in his throat and blinked hard a few times.
"Well, son, she's well enough to come home. But she's not all better yet."
"Oh, yeah. Like the times when you got hurt."
"Yeah. Kinda like that." Guilt wrenched at Jim's gut. I can't believe what I've put this child through.
And it's about to get worse.
"Jimmy..." Jim felt another stab of panic as he wondered what to say. "Mommy had something... wrong with her head."
"I know. Unca Pete told me." Jimmy still seemed unconcerned.
Jimmy shrugged. "A coupla days ago."
Jim thought that one over. Oh yeah. Pete told me he'd come over. I didn't realize he'd talked things over with Jimmy. Jim wasn't quite sure how he felt about that.
"What...what else did he tell you?" Jim tried not to feel angry.
"He told me she had something in her head like my wart. I forget what he called it. The doctor took it away."
Jim digested that for a few minutes. "Is that all he told you?"
Jimmy shrugged again. "He told me Mommy had a good doctor, and he would take care of her."
"And that's all?"
"Yeah, that's all." Jimmy sat up, once again looking at Jim with breathtaking clarity and maturity beyond his years. "Was it true, what Unca Pete said?"
Jim nodded. I have to admit, the wart illustration was a good idea. I wonder if I would have thought of it. But Jim still wasn't sure how he felt about this unauthorized discussion, or about the fact that Pete had never told him about it.
"Yeah, it's true. The doctor took away the thing in her head. And he was a very good doctor."
"What was that thing called?" Jimmy's voice resonated with innocent curiosity.
It almost tore Jim's heart out to have to say the awful word. "It's called a tumor, son." He forced himself to recite it just as if he were on the job, giving horrible news to someone's bereaved relative.
"Yeah," Jimmy replied softly.
Jim couldn't begin to understand why he felt such anger rising over this, so he pushed it aside. I'll confront Pete later. Right now I've got a son to take care of.
"But," Jim continued, "back when you had that talk with Pete, there were things we didn't know."
Jimmy quickly sat upright. His once joyful features clouded over with worry. "What?"
"Well, we didn't know about how quickly Mommy would get better. We...we knew that she had one problem, and we didn't know when it would go away. We thought maybe it would go away before she came home, but it hasn't. The problem is still happening." Jim felt as though a giant hand were squeezing his chest.
"What kind of problem?" Jimmy's voice suddenly sounded very small.
"Well, son," Jim fought hard against his welling emotions, "she has a hard time remembering things."
"What kinds of things?"
"Well, you need to understand, Jimmy. The inside of your head has lots of jobs. One of its jobs is to help you remember things. If the remembering part of your head gets hurt, then you can't remember right. It doesn't matter how much you loved something, or someone, you can't remember it if that part of your head gets hurt."
Jimmy stared at his father for a while, and his eyes began to pool. "Did Mommy forget me?" He barely whispered.
Jim bit his lip hard and turned away. He let rage fill him; rage at the tumor, rage at God, he didn't care. He just preferred rage over the alternative emotions which battered him mercilessly.
He took several moments to collect himself, until he heard Jimmy crying softly.
"Mommy forgot me! Mommy forgot me!"
Jim turned back to see his son bury his face in his hands, shoulders shaking. The boy's heartbreak escalated quickly until he sobbed inconsolably.
Jim quickly gathered the boy up in his arms and crushed him close, letting his own tears blend with his son's.
"It's not just you, son. It's not just you." Jim couldn't find the voice to say any more than that. He could only hold his overwrought little boy, squeezing him to try to stop his little body from shaking.
Jim rocked softly, stroking the back of Jimmy's head with one hand, much as he would have done for Jean when she cried. The old Jean.
Jimmy wasn't the only one trembling on that merry-go-round.
After what seemed like hours, Jimmy's storm of tears subsided into more gentle showers. He pulled away from his father, his masculine desire to appear strong now outweighing his need for comfort.
Jim let him go, fully understanding his son's heart.
"Jimmy, it isn't just you that she...can't remember." Jim avoided the word "forgot." It sounded too much like carelessness or lack of concern.
Jimmy didn't turn to look at him.
"She can't remember anything from before she got the tumor." He waited to let his words sink in.
Jimmy finally turned toward him, his eyes huge. "That's...that's everything!"
"I know. When she first got sick she didn't even know who she was. The only reason she knows now is because I've explained it to her."
Jim laid a gentle hand on Jimmy's back, not sure if his son would reject it or not. Jimmy did not flinch away, so Jim let his hand relax there.
Jimmy looked back at his shoes.
"But she wants to remember, son. She wants to remember so badly. I've shown her your picture, and Uncle Pete gave her your bear to hold. She gave that bear a big hug when she found out it was your favorite bear. She kept saying over and over how much she wanted to remember."
"Does she still have Pancake?"
"Yes, she holds him by her side all the time. That's because she wants to remember you, and because she knows that you must love her an awful lot to have given it to her."
"Is she ever gonna get better?"
"She might. The doctor says she may get her memories back, but no one knows for sure. But Jimmy, I do know one thing. She's still the same wonderful person that we love. And she still feels love. Her heart can remember love, even though her head can't remember things. So she knows she loves me, and she knows she loves you."
Jimmy looked back into his father's eyes. The littler pair of eyes still brimmed with tears.
"And Jimmy, even if she never remembers things from before, we'll make all new memories together. It isn't going to be easy sometimes, and it's going to feel strange for a while. But I wanted you to know that it's not Mommy's fault. And it's not your fault. It's nobody's fault but the tumor's. So, please don't be angry with Mommy for not remembering, or with yourself because she can't remember you."
"I'm mad at the dumb ol' tuber." Jimmy's lower lip stuck out and his arms folded in front of him.
"Yeah, me too," Jim replied softly.
"I wish it never happened."
"Me too, son. Me too."
Jim opened the refrigerator to see what, if anything, his mom had had time to make for dinner.
Bless her heart. He found a meatloaf wrapped in foil. His mom had meticulously spelled out re-heating instructions on a slip of paper and taped it to the foil package. Next to that he found a green tossed salad and a note with instructions for mixing up instant mashed potatoes. She even told Jim where to find the package of potato flakes.
Jim smiled and shook his head. I think I could have read the instructions on the flakes just fine, Mom. He found his mother's thoroughness both endearing and mildly annoying, but mostly the former.
Of course, Pete would say I'm just like her.
Jim pulled the assorted goodies out of the fridge. He set them on the countertop, then checked on Jimmy through the window. His little trooper sat on the swingset, dragging his foot back and forth through the dirt.
I wish I could do something more to help him.
He felt that their talk had gone about as well as it could have. Jimmy had been heartbroken, but not completely devastated. Now he seemed to be trying to sort things out privately. Jim completely understood that, because he was the same way. Come to think of it, we're both like Dad.
Jim checked his mother's note, then set the oven temperature to 250. He started to mix up the salad dressing when the phone shrilled at him.
He picked it up and trapped it between shoulder and ear, keeping his hands free for more kitchen work.
"Jim? Hey, I've been trying to reach you, but nobody knew where you were."
"Sorry, Mac. I took Jimmy to the park. It was an off-the-cuff kind of thing. I had to explain to him about Jean's memory, because she's coming home tomorrow. I was just about to call you and tell you, too."
"Jean's coming home? Really? That's great! Except...aw nuts."
"What's the matter?"
"Well, the whole reason I called you was to ask you to come back to work starting tomorrow. I guess you can't though."
"Well, now, wait a minute. Are you really in a bind?"
"Yeah, sort of. I won't have a full complement without you. But I'll have to find someone else."
"No, wait. I'm not expecting Jean to come home until around dinnertime tomorrow. Which shift do you need me for?"
"Morning. Do you really think you can?"
"Yeah, I can do it."
"Okay, that's good. I really appreciate it. Believe me, I tried every way I could think of to let you stay home, but..."
"It's okay, Mac. I knew I'd have to come back sometime. I'm about out of vacation time as it is."
"Yeah, that was the other factor. I'm really sorry it worked out this way."
"It's okay. Frankly, I'm looking forward to getting back to work. Things are gonna be kind of strange around here. I'm sure Jean's mom will be glad to stay with her while I'm at work."
"All right then. See you at roll call."
"Right, Mac." Jim hung up, glanced back at Jimmy, and then dialed a new number.
Jean stared at the photo album Jim had left with her. She turned pages listlessly, not even really focusing on the faces.
I'm tired of trying so hard.
Every photo in that album felt like a demand to her. Jim tried not to put any pressure on her, she knew, but his face still sometimes pleaded with her when they looked through the album together.
Why can't I remember? Why won't it come back?
Jean felt a surge of anger, and slammed the album shut with a thud. She tossed it onto the bedside table and grabbed the television controller.
Clunk. The left hand button turned the TV on and cycled through volume levels. Clunk, clunk, clunk. The right hand button cycled through all four channels.
Nothing. I don't want to watch any of this.
Jean snapped the TV off again, annoyed that she had to cycle all the way up through the loudest volume level before it would turn off. One of these years they'll learn to make a decent controller.
She pushed the button that lowered the head of her bed, keeping it down until she could lie flat again. She fluffed her pillow and rolled onto her right side. I can't wait until I can sleep on my left side again.
I can't wait until I can sleep in any position again. Sleep had become impossible, partly due to lack of fatigue, and partly due to nerves.
I'm going home tomorrow.
I hardly feel like calling it "home." The only time I can remember seeing it, I was terrified.
The hospital is the only place I've ever felt safe. This is my home.
She tossed and turned between her right side and her back, sighing and punching her pillow irritably.
Maybe there's something else on TV.
In truth, only ten minutes had passed since her last bout of channel-surfing, but she felt sure it must have been longer. She clunked around the dial until lack of options forced her to choose what she hoped would be the lesser of the evils.
Soap operas had never been Jean's style. Today she felt desperate enough to try, but turned it off after about ten minutes.
Maybe I could read something. She picked up the newspaper that Stephanie the Candy Striper brought her that morning. Bad news. Murders. Riots. Unrest. She perused the headlines, and found nothing she wanted to read.
A headline at the center of the page caught her eye. "POLICE OFFICERS COME UNDER FIRE" it shouted.
Jean felt her breath catch, fearing it might be Officer Hernandez. She frantically scanned the article, not relaxing until she read the words "No officers were injured." A relieved sigh escaped her, and she went back to the top of the article to read it more thoroughly.
The article told the story of a fierce firefight involving officers whose names meant nothing to her. The policemen were apparently pinned down by a sniper until backup officers stormed his fifth story room, somehow overpowering the sniper even as he fired at them. The article mentioned a Sergeant MacDonald who coordinated the effort. I'm pretty sure I've heard Jim mention him. Her eyes took in some more.
"...Officers Pete Malloy and Gary Owens stormed into the hail of gunfire."
Pete. Jim's friend Pete? What was his last name? Jean strained to remember. Only once had she heard his last name, on that awkward day when he'd introduced himself to her. The rest of the time, he'd just been "Pete."
Is that him?
She closed her eyes and willed herself to remember. Malloy. Malloy. I'm almost sure that was it. Her eyes opened again, returning to the frightening details. I'm so glad he wasn't hurt. Her imagination picked up on the dangers and horrors of that scene, and she laid the paper down on her lap, trying to shut the images away.
Pete. What would have happened if he'd been killed? He means so much to Jim. Jean felt much more fear than she could account for.
She picked up her glass of water off the bedside table and sipped at it.
I've liked him from the start. I could see how much Jim cared for him, and vice-versa. He seems like such a great fellow.
Jean tried to think back to her brief visits with Pete, trying to pin down what made her care about him so much. But try as she might, she couldn't think of anything other than his obvious friendship with her husband.
I don't care why. I'm just glad he's okay.
She set her glass back on the table, and then put the paper beside it. I don't want to look at it any more.
She tried lying down again, but her thoughts agitated in her mind like clothes in a washer.
I don't ever want anything to happen to Pete, or to Jim. Or to Officer Hernandez.
Why am I so upset?
Jean's mind bounced back to her earlier conversation with Jim. "It's hard being a cop's wife...I've been pretty close to dying...so has Pete...I lost a close friend...it was devastating for all of us."
Jean closed her eyes. That sounds awful.
Her eyes sprang open again. No, it feels awful.
She grabbed up the newspaper, reading the article again in hopes of recapturing the feelings.
"That's it. That's it," she whispered. "I can feel it. I can remember the fear."
Jean closed her eyes yet again, still not quite satisfied that she'd figured everything out. She focused on the fear, letting it wash over her, begging it to reveal its secrets. She clung to it, almost like a lifeline, one that might pull her from her state of oblivion and back into the life she once knew.
She focused until her head hurt, but finally the lifeline turned to sand and slipped through her fingers.
She sank into her pillow, exhausted, as if she had fought her way through a mental quagmire. I have been afraid. Jim wasn't kidding. I've been through awful things.
So have Jim and Pete.
Pete isn't just Jim's friend. He's my friend, too.
She still could not touch any memories which might support her feelings, but she felt sure of them nonetheless.
I'm going home to fearfulness.
Jim closed Jimmy's door behind him as quietly as he could. The poor little fellow had had an awful time falling asleep, and he'd needed Jim by his side the whole time.
He wishes he had Pancake back. Jim rubbed tiredly at his eyes. He almost cried when he told me that.
Until tonight, he wished he had his mother back.
Jim's heart felt like lead.
What will tomorrow be like?
He shook himself. Don't borrow trouble. He could almost hear Pete's voice from a hundred different lectures on the same theme. Worrying about tomorrow won't do any good. Take care of right now.
He ran through a mental checklist of relatives and friends until he'd satisfied himself that he'd called everyone. Most of them took the "no visitors" rule pretty well. And Candace was happy to be invited to stay with Jean while I'm at work. I'm sure the doctor would want that.
He yawned and rubbed his hair with one hand.
Maybe I should have let Candace stay and take care of a few more things. Jim wandered around the house to see what needed doing.
His brow furrowed. Fresh uniforms. He headed for his room and surveyed his closet.
Great, just great! He scowled at the neatly hanging clothes. Not a uniform among them.
I'm gonna be up half the night washing, drying, and ironing.
He wanted to yell and throw some things, but he clamped down on himself. Duty comes first. Right now, that meant laundry duty.
He sighed deeply and dug his uniforms out of the hamper. Might as well wash some underwear too, just in case. He started to carry the armload of clothes out of the room when a new thought stopped him. Jean might need some clean stuff, too.
He dumped out the clothes he didn't intend to wash, making the hamper available for the ever-growing pile of stuff he'd have to take care of now. Jean's hamper sat on the other side of the room, and Jim felt mildly annoyed that Candace hadn't taken care of it. Of course, he instantly felt guilty for the thought.
Don't feel. Just do.
He grabbed Jean's hamper up and took both of them to the laundry room. He dumped them both unceremoniously onto the floor and began sorting things into piles. He started out quickly, but then he slowed as Jean's clothes brought floods of memories to him.
This blouse. He stopped sorting to hold it, fingering it as he thought. She wore it not so long ago, the last time we went to church. It looks so nice on her.
Seems like a lifetime ago.
Jim tossed the blouse into the pile with the other light-colored things, annoyed with himself for wasting time.
These jeans. She was so excited to find a pair that fit her so perfectly. He smiled as he remembered the way she'd modeled them for him, as delighted as she could be.
It goes in the dark pile, Jim. Just do your job.
His hand scooped up something soft. Lingerie. He stared at it for a moment, feeling stunned by a torrent of emotions. I bought this for our last anniversary. She wore it again not so long ago.
Memories of that very special night, and of others like it, nearly proved his undoing.
I can't do this. I can't feel these feelings right now. He tossed the lingerie down somewhere else. I think she hand-washes that stuff.
He shoved some things aside until he got to his uniforms, figuring those wouldn't unbalance his already teetering emotions. The shirt smelled sweaty, and...
I forgot. That shoulder seam ripped out. I needed Jean to sew it for me.
He fingered the damaged shoulder, picturing how she would have fussed over having to sew it. She hates sewing things up, but she always does it. And she doesn't really fuss all that much. Not usually.
A thousand images flooded his mind. Jean cooking, cleaning, laundering, sewing, mothering, laughing, playing, crying, pouting, loving….
Jim sank down to sit in the piles of dirty clothes, his head buried in his hands.
"I'm a little girl again. How did that happen?"
If anyone heard Jean's questions, no one answered.
Jean walked through the county fairgrounds, a little nervous about all the garish signs, blaring megaphones, terrifying freak shows, and dizzying rides she saw.
"When did I come here? How did I get here?"
A pair of clowns approached her, menacing somehow despite their painted-on smiles. They mocked and laughed, and Jean tried to find a way to avoid them.
The clowns would have none of that. They moved close to her. Too close. They peered and leered right into her face. "When did I come here? How did I get here?" They feigned high-pitched voices as they disdainfully mocked her questions. They laughed at her, and wiggled their huge fingers in her face.
Jean felt panic taking over. She tried desperately to dodge away from the clowns, but she could not escape them.
Their laughter became maniacal.
She began to sob. "No, No! Go away! Please leave me alone! Please leave me alone!"
The clowns laughed wickedly. "Oh, she wants to be alone, does she? We can arrange that!"
In an instant, the crowds and the noises and the clowns disappeared. Jean stood in a hall of mirrors. The reflections that stared back at her frightened her almost as much as the clowns. One mirror showed her as a little girl, standing in an empty void. Another showed her as a woman, again with no scenery around her. Another showed her sleeping under a tree. Yet another showed her with her skull in pieces. She stared with morbid horror at that mirror, until suddenly two gowned and masked clowns began cutting away at her brain.
"NO!" She screamed and ran, bouncing off of mirrors and crashing into reflections everywhere she went.
Her reflections began talking to her. "Do you remember me?" The voices sounded angry and accusatory. "Do you remember me?" Even when she found her way back to the macabre surgery scene, her open-skulled self sat up and hissed at her. "Do you remember me?"
She clapped her hand over her mouth to keep from screaming, and to try to quell her rising nausea.
More mirrors appeared. Pictures from her wedding album came to life. Guests stopped eating the rehearsal dinner while they asked her, "Do you remember me?"
"Jim!" A spark of hope came to life when she saw his kind face. She ran toward him. "Help me! Get me out of here!" But then she bounced off of him, and his image shattered into a thousand shards of glass. Each little shard began to speak to her.
"Do you remember me?"
Jean sank to the floor and sobbed.
A tiny hand rested on her shoulder. She turned to see a little boy. His face looked cute, but it horrified her, because it wasn't real. The boy's body was real, but the face had been cut out of a photo and pasted on him.
"You're...you're Jimmy, right?"
The little hand lifted off her shoulder. It reached up to the pasted-on face and pulled it off, leaving him completely without features.
"You don't know who I am," he replied.
Jean sank down until her face lay on the floor. "I'm sorry!" she sobbed. "I'm so sorry!"
More hands rested on her shoulders, shaking her gently. No. I don't want to see anyone else. I won't look at you.
"Jean? Wake up, Jean. You're having a dream."
Jean's eyes finally opened, and she gasped in panic at a face so close to hers.
Nurse Braddock quickly pulled back. "There, that's better. You were dreaming." For once, Nurse Braddock almost looked like she cared.
"Dreaming? Oh, yes. Of course." Jean tried to calm herself, but wave after wave of chills sent shudders through her and left her tingling.
To Jean's surprise, the nurse lingered, looking at her with continued concern.
"What time is it?" Jean finally asked.
"It's two o'clock in the morning. You should go back to sleep. Would you like a sleeping pill?"
"If I take a pill, will I still dream?"
"I can't say for sure." The nurse's face became surprisingly gentle. "But often patients tell me that they sleep deeply and dreamlessly."
"Okay. I'll try that." She waited while the nurse went out for a pill, and she accepted it gratefully once the nurse returned.
"You'll go to sleep soon, now." Nurse Braddock almost managed a smile, and then left Jean alone again.
God, please don't let me dream.
An awful claxon sounded. "FIRE!" Jim began to shout the warning, but his voice disappeared under the relentless waves of the alarm's blaring.
He ran desperately through the house until he spotted his pajama-clad son. He ran and scooped the little boy up and rushed him out into the yard.
Jimmy screamed relentlessly in his ear. "Pancake! I want Pancake!"
"I have to get your Mommy!" Jim hollered, still finding it hard to out-shout the alarm.
"NO!" Jimmy wailed. "I don't want her! I want Pancake!"
Jim shook off the youngster's grip. "Wait here!" Then he yelled as he ran back toward the house. "Jean! Where are you?"
Her voice filtered through the din, sounding fragile and scared. "I don't know where I am. I don't know where I am."
Jim tried to follow the voice, but every time he thought he'd triangulated it, the voice started coming from somewhere else entirely.
"Jean, stay still! Stay where you are!" Desperation choked Jim as mercilessly as the thick black smoke that filled the house. "Jean, please, help me find you!"
"I don't know where I am. I don't know where I am."
The claxon still screamed, seeming always just inches from Jim's ear no matter where he went.
Panic clawed at him. Time was rapidly running out, and he was close to losing his wife.
He ran through the house blindly now, tripping over furniture and piles of laundry. The house itself seemed intent on baffling him. The laundry room kept popping up in all the wrong places.
"I don't know where I am. I don't know where I am." Jean's voice sounded weaker and further away.
Jim began to sob. "Please, God!"
The alarm took up residence inside his head, threatening to explode his skull. He pressed the heels of his hands against his temples, fighting for some control.
Suddenly, in the midst of suffocating smoke, Jimmy stood before him.
"Son, how did you get in here? Go back, go back."
Jimmy's face became distorted with anger. The boy's expression looked so wickedly hateful that it chilled Jim to the core. He became transfixed, unable to move past this little horror that looked like his son.
"I told you..." the child hissed furiously, "...I don't want HER!" His last word came out as a shout that echoed in Jim's ears. Jim sank to his knees, overwhelmed with terror and despair.
The alarm buzzed, and buzzed, and buzzed.
Jim sat up in bed with a panicked shout. Sweat drenched him, his pillow, and his sheets. His hands clawed, trembling, at the linens, while he made a desperate, wild-eyed search for his bearings.
It was a dream. It was a dream. Jim bolted out of bed and nearly ran for the bathroom, where he doused his face with cold water to bring himself fully awake. After a few moments he leaned back against the bathroom door, arms wrapped around his stomach and heart pounding.
If it was a dream, why do I still hear the alarm?
Oh. He half-staggered back to his bed, slapping the alarm clock until it finally shut up. He let his weak knees buckle, and dropped down to sit on the bed.
It was just a dream. It was just a dream. Somehow his heaving lungs and pounding heart found no reassurance in those words.
That dream had been closer to reality than Jim wanted to admit.
Pete glanced back at the clock above Sergeant MacDonald's head. Where are you, Jim?
Roll call had gotten underway five minutes before, but there was no sign of Pete's regular partner. Pete's new rookie, David Marsh, kept glancing back at him.
I can't let him see how nervous I am. Pete tried to stop fretting about the clock, and took some perfunctory notes about the morning's update.
I hope Jean's all right.
I hope Jim didn't forget he was supposed to come in.
Maybe I should call him.
A few minutes later he heard the door swish behind him, and he couldn't resist craning his neck around to see who it was.
Thank Heaven. He gave his partner a little smile.
He looks awful.
Jim pointedly ignored the many curious looks aimed his way, and made a show of preparing to take notes.
Pete caught his eye one more time, and tried to communicate some support to his friend. Jim did not acknowledge the attempt.
Pete felt a fluttering in his gut. He knew Jim well enough to recognize that he was upset. But he also knew the slight hardness he saw in Jim's eyes as his partner made a point of ignoring him.
He's mad at me. What have I done? Pete turned reluctantly back toward Mac, but his thoughts remained fixed behind him.
"Welcome back, Jim," Mac said with a nod.
Pete couldn't see Jim, but he could just imagine his dismissive little wave, the one that said, "Take the spotlight off of me!"
Mac quickly resumed his briefing, and at the end he gave his customary command. "Fall out for inspection."
Pete shot a sympathetic look at Jim. His partner had obviously done his best with his uniform, but it certainly wasn't up to Jean's standards. Pete wasn't even sure it was up to LAPD standards, and he hoped Mac would cut him a break.
I sure wish he and I were riding alone. Pete doubted Jim would open up in front of Marsh. I wonder what's wrong.
This is not going to be a good shift.
I don't like this. Pete felt alarm bells going off in his mind. Their shift was halfway over, and so far it had been a snore. Just exactly what Jim needed it to be. But now…Pete felt a bead of sweat run down his side… I think our luck is about to change.
"What the blazes is the matter with them?" Marsh's voice sounded tense as he regarded the car in front of them.
"I don't know," Pete replied tightly. "But I don't like it when people deliberately try to get pulled over. It often means a set up. An ambush. Be on your guard." He flipped on the roof lights, but the offending vehicle showed no sign of pulling over.
Traffic here was fairly heavy with the morning rush, and Pete knew that several bus stops in the area would right now be brimming with children. I hope we can keep this a slow pursuit.
Pete reached over and flipped the radio to PA. "Blue Mercury Marquis, pull over immediately."
The car in front of them continued to weave across lane lines, sometimes into oncoming traffic. The four men inside shouted and jeered at the officers, and at one point a backseat passenger stood up as best he could and mooned them out the back window.
"Bunch of jerks," Jim growled through clenched teeth.
"Take it easy, partner."
Pete wished fervently that he had the old Jim next to him. The one who had learned to take such things in stride. The one Pete knew he could count on.
The one who already would have run the plates....
"Run 'em, Jim." It irked Pete to have to treat Jim like a rookie in front of a rookie. Reed's not making a good first impression.
Jim jumped toward the mic with obvious embarrassment. "Sorry. I...." he stopped trying to explain, choosing instead to make the call.
"1-Adam-12 requesting wants, warrants, and DMV on Cal license Victor Ocean Nora five nine three."
"1-Adam-12 roger." A short pause followed. "1-Adam-12, Victor Ocean Nora five nine three is a Los Angeles stolen, a 1968 Chevrolet Impala, registered to Mary Lewis, one-one-three-five Las Palmas."
"Better and better," Pete muttered. He gave the siren one quick blast.
The Mercury turned onto a residential street, and Pete felt a tightening in his gut. Just a few blocks down this road they would encounter a school bus stop. Pete didn't like to imagine the possibilities.
Jim keyed the mic again. "1-Adam-12, we are in pursuit of a blue 1970 Mercury Marquis bearing stolen LA plate Victor Ocean Nora five nine three. Eastbound on Elm approaching 33rd. Requesting backup approach from the east."
"1-Adam-12 roger." The dispatcher called Adam-14 and Adam-36 to intercept.
Jim hung up the mic and scanned the neighborhood. "I hope they don't speed up here."
Pete flashed him a quick look. Finally, he's acting like himself. He was glad to know Jim was on the ball again.
"Why don't you pull around and nose him off the road?" Marsh asked.
"I'd rather wait for backup. This is too hinky. I really think we're being set up." Pete kept his voice as low-key as he could, but he knew his tension showed. "C'mon, let's get this over with."
The young rowdies seemed to have heard him. The car slowed, and Pete felt his alarm growing by the second. They're too focused on us. I don't like this.
"Keep on your toes, guys."
The two backseat passengers no longer seemed interested in humor. They glared at the officers with cold malice.
"There's 14." Jim nodded toward the oncoming patrol car.
It's about time.
A sudden movement from the suspect vehicle made the hair on the back of Pete's neck stand up. The barrel of a shotgun appeared, and all three officers started to bail out as quickly as Pete could slam on the brakes.
An ear-splitting explosion rocked them as they pushed their doors open. The windshield shattered, sending glass flying into the passenger compartment. Pete heard Jim grunt. A second blast slammed into the seat between where Reed and Malloy had sat only moments before.
Jim stretched back into the unit, keeping his body low, and yanked the mic back with him toward the sheltering door. "1-Adam-12, shots fired at our location."
Rapid gunfire erupted from a different location, and Pete knew Adam-14 had answered with its own show of force. He popped up and contributed a few rounds of his own before ducking down again.
Pete spared the quickest of glances to his right. Jim squatted in standard position, though his face bore scores of tiny cuts from flying glass.
Come to think of it, Pete's face hurt, too, but there was no time to think about that now.
"Marsh!" He hissed.
"Right behind you." The rookie had left his own door open for shielding.
Satisfied, Pete rose for a quick bead on the suspect car. "Freeze!" he yelled, using the voice that had turned many men's blood to ice.
Someone popped up from the back seat, leveling a pistol in Pete's direction. Pete ducked quickly. What's wrong with these kids?
Jim squeezed off a round from his side.
A few more shots popped from various vehicles, and then the driver threw a handgun out his window. He raised his hands up and obeyed meekly when Pete ordered him out and down.
Pete rose to his feet, keeping rock-steady aim. From the corner of his eye he saw Jim doing the same, and he felt Marsh's supporting presence as well.
Officers from 14 approached with guns drawn, but they would leave the actual arrest to Pete and his partners.
Adam-36 wailed around the corner to join the fray.
Pete surveyed the scene warily. Not a single pane of glass on the Mercury remained intact. One suspect sagged lifelessly out of a back window. Two dark forms remained still inside the car, and of course the driver now lay spread-eagled at Pete's command.
Pete kept half an eye on Jim as the younger man approached the passengers' side of the Mercury. He looked fully alert and followed protocol to the letter. Be careful, Jim.
Pete had no choice but to trust his partner. He had his own responsibilities to attend to.
Marsh shadowed Pete as he approached the driver, stooped to pick up the discarded handgun, and placed it in his belt. Pete then gestured to the rookie, who patted the suspect down and handcuffed him.
Jim approached empty-handed. "They're both dead," he responded to Pete's unasked question.
Pete nodded. All of the officers holstered their weapons, and Pete turned to Marsh. The young officer looked pale, and he kept darting horrified glances at the carnage in the Mercury.
Give him something to focus on. "What do you recommend we do now?" he asked, forcing the young man to think of procedures.
Marsh swallowed hard but seemed to pull himself together. "Radio this in and then begin identifying witnesses."
Pete nodded with a satisfied expression. After working with Chuck, David Marsh was a pleasure.
Out of the corner of his eye, Pete saw Jim retrieving a blanket from Adam-12's trunk to cover one body. Other officers approached the Mercury with blankets of their own. Marsh seemed to be watching too, and he looked like he felt sick.
Behind Pete, Jim ordered a gathering crowd away from the area. Horrified neighbors and passers-by seemed as drawn to the drama as they were repulsed by it. A few of them shouted questions at the officers. Black-and-white units began pouring in from every direction, adding to the chaos.
As senior officer on the scene, Pete supervised all of the goings-on even as he called the rookie's mind back to his duties. "And what would you tell dispatch?"
Marsh focused on Pete again. "I would call in a Code 4 and request three ambulances and a field supervisor to our location."
"And what else?"
The rookie's face twisted with concentration. "I'm...I'm not sure."
"Take a look at our horse over there, partner. It's not fit to ride."
Marsh glanced over at Adam-12, and then nodded sheepishly. "I'll call for a tow truck."
"Good. Do it." Marsh trotted off to comply, casting a troubled backward glance at the grisly scene along the way.
"The kid's not half-bad," Jim commented softly.
"No, he's not." Pete turned very official eyes toward his partner. "What happened to you back there?"
Jim dropped his eyes for a moment, and then raised them again. "I just wasn't back in the groove. I am now, and it won't happen again."
Pete nodded. I think he's going to be okay. Whatever anger he had seen at the station no longer showed itself. Maybe it had nothing to do with me, after all.
Marsh returned from placing his call, and Pete put the heat on him again.
"Now what do we do, David?"
"Well, there's a lot of follow-up to do at the scene…" Marsh's eyes flickered back toward the shrouded bodies for a moment, "…and the suspect needs to go downtown."
"How do you recommend we proceed?" Pete's ear caught the wailing of the oncoming ambulances.
"Well, uh, we can't take the suspect in, so either 14 or 36 should transport him for us."
"Which should it be?"
"It should be 36, because they weren't involved in any actual shooting." The rookie looked chagrined that he hadn't realized it before.
"Good." Pete nodded toward Officer Woods. "Go ask him."
He watched with approval as Marsh strode toward Woods. Pete couldn't hear the request, but it seemed that the arrangements were made in a professional manner. As Marsh returned, Woods shot an approving look at Pete. I guess he handled that okay.
Pete felt immensely satisfied. Nothing felt better than watching a rookie shaping up well. This must be almost what it feels like to raise a son.
Mac's wagon pulled up. Pete met him and filled him in.
Mac nodded toward Jim when Pete finished. "His face isn't looking so great. Neither is yours, for that matter."
"We just got nicked a bit. Like a bad day shaving." Pete tried to wave the boss off.
Mac snorted. "Hardly. I want you two to get checked out at the hospital just in case."
"Mac!" Pete protested.
"No arguments." Mac cut him off. "But I'll make you a deal. You don't both have to go at once. Jim looks the worst off, so I'll send him first, and you can get started on the shooting follow-up. When he gets back, you can go. That way, we'll still be making progress out here, and that should keep you from fussing at me."
Pete nodded with his "Okay, but I don't have to like it" expression.
Mac tilted his head toward Jim. "How's he holding up?"
Pete felt a sudden urge to shelter his partner, but he also couldn't mislead his commander. "He had one momentary lapse, but since then he's been absolutely on top of things. I think he'll be fine."
"Well," Mac continued, "I'm glad to hear it. From the sound of things, it shouldn't go too hard with the SRB. Things look pretty cut-and-dried. And this does give Jim a couple of days off, doesn't it?"
"Yeah." Pete hadn't really thought of that. Of course they would both be on administrative leave pending results of the Shooting Review Board, but Pete hadn't thought through what that might mean for Jim and Jean.
"This doesn't do your duty roster any good, I'm afraid," Pete noted.
Mac scowled. "I'll worry about that." His expression promised that he'd be true to his word.
I'm glad I don't have his worries.
Jean picked at her lunch. Nothing appealed to her right now.
Why can't I get over it? It was just a stupid dream.
No, it wasn't. It's what I'm going home to today.
I wish I didn't have to leave here.
The California sun lay low in the west as Jim dragged himself wearily to his car. He had worked past his normal shift to get his face checked at the hospital and to complete the follow-up on the shooting. The Shooting Team interview had gone well, but it still left him feeling shaken. By the time he was finally cut loose, he'd had only a little time to attend to the last minute details at home before it was time to pick Jean up.
Jim backed out of his driveway. Who am I kidding? Jim knew his fatigue had as much to do with a late night of laundry and one horrible nightmare as with the events of his day. Though the shooting certainly hadn't helped.
Jim pulled up to a red light and stopped. He worked at some kinks in his neck, wondering just when they had decided to become permanent.
I'm bringing her home tonight. I'm scared to death to have Jean living with me again.
Jim felt awful about that, and tried once again to push the thoughts away. I bet every time I do that, the feelings go straight to the back of my neck and stay there.
The light turned green and he pressed on the gas.
There's no avoiding this. I might as well just do it.
Jean stood at the mirror, wishing she could fluff her hair. It just felt like a natural thing to do. I wonder if I used to do that a lot.
She replaced the scarf on her head, choosing the one that came with the lovely new outfit her mom had bought her. A going-home present, she called it. How sweet.
It had felt wonderful to stand up in the shower. Today was the first day they'd actually let her do that. They had even let her gently shampoo, which had been marvelous. Now she felt refreshed, and she also found that focusing on primping helped to take her mind off of that dream.
She looked through the make-up kit that her mom had retrieved from Jim's house. Oh, I mean "our house."
She applied the foundation and the rouge, then went in search of eye shadow. These colors should do. Mascara came next. Careful, Jim doesn't like it too thick. Make it look natural.
Jean gasped and nearly dropped the mascara brush. How did I know that?
She thought back to the few memories she'd found. They never come from seeing. They come from feeling or from doing. I need to do as much as I can at the new house. I mean, at my house.
She finished applying the mascara, hoping for more insights. None came.
When she finished with everything, she stood back to look over the results. Not bad. If I had hair, I think I'd actually look nice. It felt natural, primping for Jim.
Sudden apprehension filled her. Do I really want to look...attractive to him right now?
I barely know him.
She sat down on the bed, suddenly very uncertain of what to do. I want to look nice for him. But I don't want him to think that I....
A knock on the door made her heart leap into her throat.
Omigosh. He's here! She fought down the irrational urge to scrub all her makeup off.
She started to say "Come in," but thought better of it. I'd rather sit on a chair than the bed. She quickly moved to a chair and picked up a magazine. "Come in."
Jim entered the room and smiled appreciatively when he saw her.
He likes the way I look. Jean felt relieved that his expression evoked no fear in her heart. But a moment later something else did.
"Jim...what happened to your face?"
"Oh, it's nothing. The doctor says it's not serious. It won't scar or anything."
"But how did it happen?"
"I got hit with flying glass."
Jean felt certain he was trying to shelter her, and she wasn't about to let him get away with it. I need to know just what I'm facing.
"I want to know what happened, and please don't try to shield me from the truth."
Jim sat down next to her, looking very uncomfortable.
"Well, some people took some shots at us. A bullet took out the windshield while we were bailing out of the car. Pete and I got hit with some flying glass, though I got the worst of it. We brought the situation under control pretty quickly, with the help of some other officers."
Jean nodded, her worried eyes still surveying his face. "You could easily have been killed." Just saying the words sent a shudder through her.
Jim dropped his eyes down. "I know. That risk goes with the job. But we're trained to deal with situations like that, and like I said, we didn't get seriously hurt."
"I'm surprised you didn't get glass in your eyes."
"I know. I am too. But my eyes are fine. The doctor checked me out thoroughly. He did say I might find little pieces of glass working their way out of my skin for a while."
"I see." Jean's stomach felt like lead, and her mouth went dry. I know I've felt fear for him before. I can feel it now.
She turned away. Tears stung at her eyes, and she didn't want them to fall. Not in front of him. She felt as if she needed to protect herself, to be invulnerable in front of this virtual stranger who held such extraordinary power over her.
After a moment she rose and walked to the window, keeping her back to him.
"My things are all packed." She moved her head slightly in the direction of her little suitcase. "Pancake is in there, too."
"All right." Jim's voice sounded soft and a little sad, and it tore at Jean's heart. I'm hurting him, but I'm just not ready for this. I need to stand alone and be strong.
"When ...when do you want to leave?" Jim sounded nervous about asking that question.
"It doesn't matter. Whenever."
"Have you had a chance to say goodbye to all your friends here?"
Jean smiled a little. "Yeah, lots of nurses have been stopping by. Even Stephanie came to say goodbye." Jean felt her defenses dropping as she remembered the first time the Candy Striper had seen Jim.
Maybe I'm being too hard on him. Maybe I need to open up, at least just a little.
She turned around to face her husband, feeling shy and unsure of how to proceed.
"I...I guess I'm ready to go." As ready as I'll ever be.
Jim walked over closer to her, but not too close. He's so sensitive to my feelings.
"Jean, I know you're scared. So am I. But remember what we said a few days ago? We're gonna get through this together. Everything in our lives is better together. I know it's kind of strange, but please, let's try to work on the 'together' part, okay?"
"Little by little," she agreed, working up a weak smile.
"Little by little." He said it like a promise, and she felt herself relax a bit. I think he understands.
"Do you want to stay and eat dinner here? I've got some dinner already made at home, but I can keep it in the fridge for later if you like."
He's so kind. "No, I think we shouldn't postpone things."
"Okay, then." Jim reached down and lifted the little suitcase. He caught her eyes for a moment, and then tentatively reached for her hand. She gave it shyly, and enjoyed the way his hand gently enveloped hers. This feels right.
They walked, hand-in-hand, out the door of the only home Jean remembered. She turned back for one lingering look at her room, and her eyes misted over.
The door closed, and Jean felt a whole chapter of her life closing with it.
"And this is Bell Avenue. There's a little dress shop down here that you like to shop in sometimes." Jim pointed a few moments later. "There it is."
Jean looked politely at the landmark, but it stirred nothing in her soul.
Don't worry about it. You'll remember once you start feeling and doing.
Jim turned another corner. "This is MacMurray. We're not far from home, now."
Jean felt apprehension growing, though she couldn't quite identify the cause. These buildings…there's something I don't like about them.
They traveled a little further down the road, and Jean noticed that Jim had started casting quick glances her way. He can tell something's bothering me.
"Jean, are you okay?"
Jean gasped as they passed a particular storefront. Go, go, go! I need to go! For a moment the remembered feelings seemed as urgent as they had that first morning.
"Honey, what is it?"
"I remember these buildings!"
"You do? That's great!" Jim pulled the car over to the curb and gave her a joyful look.
"No," she waved him off impatiently. "Not from before. I remember them from...from when I was running away...from home. Jean tightened her already tightly folded arms. The terror and confusion of that day became vividly real to her.
"Do you want to leave?" Jim glanced around to make sure he could safely pull away from the curb.
Jean tried to keep from showing her fear as they drove along, but building after building brought back horrible memories of her day of confusion.
"Honey, it's okay. You're safe now, remember?"
She nodded, trying to make herself believe that.
Jim turned a new corner and pulled over to the curb once more.
"Honey, this is Miramont. This is our street. Are you ready?"
Jean closed her eyes to gather herself. After a moment she opened them again. "Yes, I think so." This time it was she who reached to hold his hand, and he gave her fingers a reassuring squeeze.
She turned toward something on the left side of the street. That woman! The woman with the hose!
The woman looked up as their car approached. She raised a hand in a cheery wave, just like in Jean's memory. Jim waved back.
"Who...who is that woman?"
Jim looked toward Jean as he pulled into a driveway. "That's Mrs. Donovan. She's our neighbor across the street. She's a good friend. She takes care of Jimmy sometimes, and she was the only one who knew about what time you left that day. She asks about you all the time."
"I thought...I mean, on the day I was confused, I thought she must have been one of the bad people who brought me here. I thought she would try to keep me from escaping."
Jim's face filled with deep sorrow. "That must have been so awful for you."
"Yeah," she whispered.
For the first time she paid attention to the house in front of her. "Is this...oh yes. I recognize that part."
Funny, I never really looked at the outside of our house much. I was too busy getting away.
Jim stepped out of the car and moved around toward her side. On the way Jean heard him speaking to the neighbor. "Yes, it is good to have her home."
Please don't come visit. Jean hoped Jim had told everyone to stay away for a while.
Jim opened Jean's door and reached into the seat behind her for her suitcase. Then he reached for Jean's hand to help her out.
She rose, forced herself to make an awkward wave in the neighbor's direction, and started up the driveway with her husband.
They walked behind the privacy wall, and Jean pulled Jim to a stop.
"Wait a minute. If the car I drove was really my car, why isn't it here?"
"The police had to keep it for evidence. It will be returned to us once they're through with it."
"Evidence for what?" Jean felt a return of her old fear of imprisonment.
"Two men stole it after you left it, remember?"
Jean frowned. "I don't think anyone ever told me that."
Jim's eyebrows shot up with surprise, but when he thought about he realized that he'd never mentioned it to her. It hadn't seemed important somehow.
"Well, that's what happened."
Jean took a long look at the front door. The last time she'd been here, she'd shuddered with fear as it had banged shut behind her.
"Are you ready to go in?" Jim asked ever so gently.
"Is Jimmy in there?" Jean couldn't keep the fear out of her tone.
"No. He's staying with my parents for the next couple of hours while you start to get settled in. I've told them to keep reminding him to take it easy on you."
Jean felt a mixture of gratitude and guilt. I'm disrupting everyone's lives.
"Okay, let's go in." Might as well get it over with. She filled her lungs deeply and sighed heavily.
Jim fished a key out of his pocket and unlocked the door. He swung it wide and held it open for her to enter.
Jean hesitated a moment.
Jim laid a gentle hand on her back. "It's okay. Take your time."
She acknowledged his kindness with a weak smile and stepped through the doorway.
Odd. My memories of this house were all helter-skelter, as if even the walls were crooked. The house that greeted her eyes looked remarkably harmless. Perhaps because of her distorted memory of the house, the real thing didn't seem frightening to her the way the buildings close to home had.
Jean walked first to the family portrait that had caught her eye on the Day of Confusion. "They look like a nice family, but I don't know them." That's what I thought then. Maybe if I'd looked in a mirror, I could have spared everyone a lot of grief.
I sure did have pretty hair.
She wandered through the house, aware that Jim kept protective watch over her from a respectful distance.
It's neat and tidy. I like the furniture, and the carpeting, and the wallpaper. I can believe I lived here.
She remembered the power of touch and began to experiment with it, running her hands over upholstery and knick-knacks. Her touch lingered over an antique-looking figurine.
"Tell me about this."
"It belonged to your grandmother. She had it for a long time, and you never saw her house without it. As a child you loved to look at it, and sometimes your grandmother would even let you touch it. When she died, she left it to you."
Jean continued to examine the figurine. "I feel warm feelings for this."
Jim smiled. "Yes, you always have."
Jean turned to Jim with a curious expression. "I guess I must have told you that story about my grandmother's house."
"Yes, you did. You cried when you learned that she'd left it to you, and you hugged it and told me all about it."
"When was that?"
Jim seemed at a loss for a moment. "Well, I don't think we were engaged yet, so maybe we were about eighteen."
Jean felt somehow awestruck by the thought. "I told you that when I was eighteen, and you've remembered it all this time?"
"Sure. You felt very strongly about it." Jim's face grew thoughtful, "I think that may have been the first time you shared something like that with me. I felt, I don't know, privileged to hear it."
Jean kept looking at Jim, trying to sort through her feelings. It seemed that no matter how often Jean felt proof of her love for Jim, she still needed reassurances that it was true.
She looked back at the delicate old figurine. We really do love each other. It must go both ways. I wouldn't have shared that with him otherwise.
Suddenly Jean found herself looking forward to going through the house.
She walked into the dining room, running her hands across the smooth tabletop and fingering the woven placemats. I've touched these before.
Jim still hung back unobtrusively.
He's letting me take the lead. Jean flashed him a grateful smile, and saw his whole face light up in response. At that moment she wondered why she'd ever doubted.
I love his face. All of the little cuts troubled her more deeply because of the smile beside them. I don't want him to ever be hurt.
She moved into the kitchen, running her hands over the appliances and picking up the utensils. I've used these. I know I have. Why can't I really remember?
She glanced back at Jim and realized he was studying her with apparent fascination. I guess it is kind of strange, me walking around feeling everything. But in no way did his expression belittle her, and she felt no discomfort from it.
Jean came to the kitchen window and looked out between the cheery café curtains. For an instant he saw something that made her gasp, and she turned quickly to confirm that Jim still stood behind her. He did, though now his face looked concerned.
She spun back to look outside again, but the apparition did not reappear.
"What is it, honey?"
"I...I saw you, outside, throwing a ball to a little boy. I guess it was Jimmy. I only saw it for a second, and then it was gone. But it was so real, it must have been a memory." Or else I'm losing my mind.
"Yes, Jimmy and I often play catch back there." The wide smile returned to Jim's face, along with a charming twinkle in his eyes.
Jean turned back to the backyard.
So why did I remember without touching anything? The answer immediately presented itself. Because the memory came with strong emotions. I loved watching them play out there. I felt happy.
This was becoming an adventure.
Jean moved next down the hallway, turning into the first door on her right. The sight brought her immediately to a standstill.
The bedroom. This is where I woke up. The strange bed. Strange sheets. Those same sheets. She could feel the fear, though it did not threaten to overwhelm her. In fact, the longer she stared at the room, the more her emotions became...I don't even know what to call this feeling.
"Jim, may I have a few minutes alone?"
"Sure, hon. Any time." Jim's footfalls retreated down the hall toward the living room.
Jean closed the door behind her, though she wasn't sure why she needed privacy right then.
She walked to the closet and slid the door open, taking in the casual familiarity of her clothes hanging next to his. Somehow the sight felt comforting, as if it confirmed everything she'd suspected about her old life. They look like they're at home in there.
Blue cloth caught her eye, and she quickly shoved other things away from the clothes which bore that distinctive color.
His police uniforms. She could scarcely breathe, though once again, her feelings remained inexplicable to her. She fingered the button band, the collar, the hem of the sleeve. What am I feeling? I want to know. I want to understand.
Her mind flashed back to the morning when Officer Hernandez found her in the woods. I trusted him because of that uniform. These clothes say something really good about Jim. And yet.... Something about those uniforms troubled her.
Someone shot at him today. Shot at him because of this uniform. Jim's words echoed in her mind. He's come close to dying. So has Pete.
Jean closed the closet doors with sudden decisiveness. I'm not going to think about this now.
She traveled clockwise around the room from the front wall, which brought her next to a dresser. My dresser. She wasn't sure if she knew it from memory, or if she just figured it had to be hers because of the jewelry boxes and pretty little touches on its surface.
She picked up each object, for a moment fighting down the feeling that she was snooping in someone else's house. These are my things. Some of them felt like hers, but others brought no response beyond curiosity.
She glanced nervously at the door, almost afraid to find Jim watching her.
What am I afraid of?
She began opening her drawers. The first drawer held nightclothes, and she pulled some out. Some looked relatively plain, but...
Boy, I've got a lot of lingerie.
I wonder if he buys it for me.
If not, then I guess I buy it for him!
Once again her emotions became so intertwined that she couldn't tease them apart. Or maybe I don't really want to.
Jean had a feeling that there were good memories to be found here, but she wasn't ready to feel them just yet. Jim's still too much of a stranger.
She closed the lingerie back into its drawer and went through the other drawers. None of them held much of interest, though occasionally she would feel a sense of ownership of something she saw.
Next came her nightstand, with her alarm clock and lamp, a tissue box, and a few other odds and ends. It all seems so home-like. Until a short time ago, this really was my home, and it didn't feel strange to me at all.
Jean shook her head, struggling to grasp that fundamental truth.
Next came the bed, though she was already sitting on it. Memories of the Morning of Confusion threatened to distract her, so she pushed them aside.
After a moment she made herself lie down on the bed, just to see how it felt. She closed her eyes, trying to focus on what her heart told her.
This is a good place. She began to feel a little embarrassed, and checked once more to make sure Jim hadn't reappeared in the doorway.
Stop being silly, Jean. She stood up and walked around to the other side of the bed. Jim's nightstand held nothing of particular interest to her, so she moved to his dresser.
He's organized, isn't he. She noted the neat divided tray that held cufflinks and tie tacks and loose change and...what's this?
She picked up a pin of some kind. After looking it over she decided it must belong to Jim's uniform. Looks like it has something to do with guns. Maybe it means he's a good shot. Or maybe it's because he's been shot. I don't know. I'm not sure I want to know.
A plain metal lockbox caught her eye next. She felt a pang of guilt, but tried to open it anyway. Nope. It's locked. She looked back at the divided tray, hoping to find a key that would solve this mystery, but she came away empty handed. I wonder what it could be.
She reluctantly pulled her attention away from the unknowable. After a moment's hesitation, she quietly opened his top dresser drawer. T-shirts and underwear. She quickly closed it again, and decided against opening any more. It was all just too intimate. I'm not ready for this yet.
Fear began to creep over her again, and she felt goosebumps rising on her arms. Time to move on to another room.
She opened the bedroom door and stepped out. Another door on her right beckoned her, but suddenly she felt too tired to take in anything new. Or anything old, for that matter.
I need to rest.
She made her way back to the living room, and Jim rose to his feet when she walked in.
"Are you hungry?" he asked.
"I am now," she replied, her mouth beginning to water. "What is that wonderful aroma?"
Jim smiled broadly. "That sure isn't hospital food! That's your mother's Homemade Chicken and Vegetable Soup. The name doesn't do it justice. She is a genius with soups. And in another..." he checked his watch "...five minutes, I'm going to pop the garlic bread into the oven."
"Sounds wonderful!" Jean thought she'd never smelled anything so good.
"It is. Your mom makes the garlic bread out of French bread, and she doesn't just add garlic and butter, but also parmesan. It's terrific."
Jean felt drawn to the kitchen where the large soup kettle bubbled. "May I peek?"
"Sure." Jim seemed unable to keep his eyes off of her, and Jean liked it.
She lifted the lid and closed her eyes as the unfettered fragrance became strong enough to taste. "Oh, my." Jean hadn't been hungry before, but she felt ready to eat this whole pot right now.
She reached instinctively for a large spoon and stirred the simmering mixture before replacing the lid. "I don't want it to thicken up much more. It's already just about perfect."
Jim just smiled.
For some reason, Jean felt shy. I feel like a schoolgirl sometimes with him.
"I think I'd like to sit down until dinner's ready, if you don't mind." She headed back toward a particularly comfortable-looking recliner.
Jean settled in and found that her impression of the chair had been correct. It seemed to envelop her in comfort, and sleep began to beckon as strongly as hunger did. A few moments later she felt dimly aware of Jim draping a blanket over her, and then she fell sound asleep.
"Mommy? Mommy?" She skipped into the kitchen, inhaling the aroma of her favorite soup. "Can Beatrice come over to play? Can she stay for supper?"
"Well, if it's okay with her mother, it's okay with me." Jean's mother bent down and tweaked Jean's nose.
"Hurray!" Jean skipped out the door and down the street to bring her friend the good news.
What could be more perfect?
"What? Daddy? Is that you?"
"No, hon, it's Jim."
"Jim?" Jean's eyes opened, and her husband's face greeted her.
"I felt awful waking you up. You had such a wonderful smile on your face. Were you dreaming?" He squatted down next to the chair, bringing himself to her level.
"Yes. I...." Jean sat bolt upright. "I had a memory! From when I was a little girl, and my mom cooked that same soup..." Jean nodded toward the kitchen, "... and I invited my friend over to dinner." Jean's voice became soft and introspective.
"Beatrice. She and I were inseparable. I haven't thought of her in years. But in the dream, I felt so happy." Jean turned wondering eyes to Jim. "I remembered!"
Jim's face shone with happiness, and he reached to gently touch her cheek with his fingertips. "Just think how many new memories you've found since you came home! This is really wonderful."
For a moment they just looked at each other, soaking up the emotions of the moment. Finally Jim stood. "Dinner should be ready." He reached for her hand and helped her up.
She walked with him to the table, allowing him to seat her in the most gentlemanly fashion. Her eyes remained fixed on him as he served her and then himself. He took his seat at last, and opened his napkin on his lap.
"You know," he said softly, "we don't often say Grace before meals, but this is one time when I think it would be wrong not to." He reached for her hand, and she took it. They both bowed their heads and closed their eyes.
"Dear God, thank you for this dinner. Thank you that we can enjoy it together as a family in our home. Thank you for the love that will see us through. Amen."
Jim prayed without stiffness or undue formality, and Jean found that very pleasing.
Yes, God. Thank you.
Jim rose to clear the table after dinner, but Jean stopped him.
"I'd like to do that, if you don't mind. It might...help me remember something."
"Okay, sure." Jim nodded. I'm glad she's being so positive about this.
Jim watched as his wife stacked dishes and silverware and carried them to the kitchen. She placed them in the sink, and then turned on some hot water. A moment later she bent down and opened the cabinet under the sink to retrieve the bottle of dishwashing liquid.
"Jean," Jim interrupted with a smile. "You knew just where you keep that dish soap, didn't you."
Jean paused, and then slowly smiled as she realized what he meant. "Yeah, I guess I did." She smiled happily and squirted some of the green liquid into the dishwater.
Jim watched her for a few minutes, and then realized that she'd forgotten about putting the leftovers away. She would usually do that first, so they wouldn't go bad.
Jim walked to the stove and peered into the pot, wondering what size container he should choose to hold the remaining soup.
"Whatcha doin'?" Jean craned her neck over her shoulder to see.
"Well, I was just wondering what container I should put these leftovers in."
"Oh. Let me think about that." Jim watched as Jean closed her eyes and wrinkled her brow with concentration. After a few moments she opened her eyes and shook her head.
"I can't remember anything about containers. But let me try something."
She stepped over to the pot and took hold of the serving spoon. She stirred at the soup, seeming lost in thought.
Jim folded his arms and watched her with open curiosity.
"Is stirring the soup helping you to think?"
"No." She waved her hand as if to shush him. "I'm trying not to think. I'm trying just to feel. When I found the dish soap, I wasn't thinking about it. I just went through the motions that my body knew how to do, and it found the dish soap for me. I'm hoping to stop thinking about containers until my body tells me what to do."
Jim raised his eyebrows, somewhat amazed at her insight. I've got to see if this works.
He realized that his open observation of her might be distracting, so he moved back to the dining room table and sat down.
Jean swished the soup around in the pot, and then began to tilt it, as if studying the volume of its contents from another angle. After a few moments she placed it flat on its bottom again, stirred for a while, and then tilted it all over again.
Jean went through that ritual three times, and then suddenly reached above her head to the cabinet just above the stove.
Jim grinned broadly. Atta girl! He felt incredibly buoyed by her progress, and by the valuable lesson she'd just taught him. Now I know how to help her.
He stayed in the background as Jean picked out a container, emptied the soup into it, reached automatically for the lid, and sealed it shut. Then she turned toward him, eyes beaming. "It works! It really works!" She fairly danced as she carried the container to the refrigerator and placed it inside.
Jim met her at the fridge with a very spontaneous hug.
She beamed up into his eyes, smiling broadly, eyes sparkling. Her body felt warm and wonderful in his arms, and he became keenly aware that he hadn't held her for a very long time.
Everything in him felt drawn to kiss her, but he held back.
The conflict within left him spinning. Love lured him closer, and love held him at bay. It's like being single all over again. Except back then at least we could kiss.
Jim suddenly found it hard to breathe. His eyes locked with hers, so tantalizingly close. Instead of a smile, Jean's face now mirrored the suspense that Jim felt.
What are we about to do?
After long, breathless moments, Jean finally broke the spell. She pulled her eyes away from his, looking instead at the floor, off to one side. Jim breathed again, and loosened his embrace. I hadn't realized how tightly I was holding her. A moment later he released her altogether, and she glanced shyly back into his eyes.
A knock on the front door made them both jump, and then they laughed a little to release the tension.
"That's probably my parents with Jimmy," Jim said quietly.
Jean looked nervous, but nodded. "Things have been going better than I had hoped so far, so maybe meeting him will go well, too."
You're a champ. Jim smiled at his wife and walked with her to the front door.
Jean felt as if a legion of butterflies had moved into her stomach. Besides that, a colony of ants sent shivers up her spine and made her skin crawl.
Calm down, Jean! This is your son!
Jim gave her a supportive smile, and she returned it appreciatively. He's so good to me.
As her husband opened the front door, Jean fought down the urge to try some last-minute primping. I doubt a five-year-old will care about that.
Too late, anyway. The door swung open, and there stood the Reeds.
My in-laws. Jean smiled nervously. She had met them a few times at the hospital, and they seemed nice enough. But still...
Behind Dan Reed's long legs, Jean could barely see the figure of a child, hiding. Little hands wrapped around Dan's knees, clinging tightly.
"Mom, Dad, come on in." Jim stepped back to allow his parents to enter.
Carol walked in immediately, and Dan tried to follow. "Come on, little fellow. Let Grandpa walk." He looked around behind himself and smiled good-naturedly at his frightened grandson. "Let's go inside."
"NO!" Jimmy's voice sounded angry and defiant. Beside Jean, Jim went slightly pale.
Jean's instincts told her not to push herself at the boy. Give him time.
Dan pried Jimmy's fingers gently off of his legs and walked into the house. Jimmy maneuvered to stay behind him, out of Jean's sight.
"Jimmy, son, come on." Jim's voice sounded upset. Too upset, though he's trying to hide it. He started to reach for Jimmy, as if to bring him out of hiding.
"It's okay, Jim." Jean said softly, raising a hand to stop her husband. "Give him time."
Jim complied, but looked clearly unhappy about it.
"Well, you know," Dan chimed in with a hint of mischief, "I'm going to sit down on that comfy-looking couch. If any little boys stay behind me, they're gonna get sat on."
"NO!" Jimmy yelled again, showing no sign of amusement.
Dan made good on his word, and Jimmy stood exposed for a moment. "That's my boy." Dan stretched out his arms. "Come sit with Grandpa?"
Jean studied the little boy's face. He looked kind of like the boy in the family photo, but he'd definitely matured.
He looks so scared.
Jean made no move toward him, trying to keep her face pleasantly neutral. She sat down, hoping to make herself completely non-threatening.
Jimmy's eyes darted back and forth between all the adults in the room. He seemed to grow more upset by the moment, and finally it seemed he could take no more.
"NO!" he yelled once more, and ran down the hall.
Jean's heart sank when she heard his bedroom door slam behind him.
"Jimmy!" Jim called after the boy, clearly more upset than before. He started down the hall, but this time his father stopped him.
"Jean's right. Give him time."
Jim held his place, but he fidgeted with an apparent need to do something.
Jean studied her husband's face now. This is hard for me, but it seems like it's far worse for him. She wondered what she should do.
"How are you feeling, dear?" Carol's voice broke into Jean's thoughts. Her mother-in-law sounded unconvincingly chatty, clearly trying to ease the tension in the room.
"Oh, I'm doing all right." Jean tried to pick up the pretense and run with it. Jim's distress troubled her deeply, and she hoped to distract him.
It did feel nice to talk about the successes she'd already experienced here at home, and soon she and Carol chatted more easily. But Jean kept a nervous eye on her husband, noting how withdrawn he became. As for Dan, he looked at no one, but seemed deeply lost in thought. Carol remained Jean's only hope for conversation.
If the tension gets much thicker in here, I don't know how I'll take it.
Jim watched as his wife and his mother chatted. For some reason the sight agitated him. Like watching Nero fiddle while Rome burns.
How can they pretend that everything is okay?
He fidgeted, fighting with the part of him that wanted to go make Jimmy straighten up. They're right. I can't make him accept her.
Jim couldn't really focus on the conversation between the women, partly because it carried no new information, but mostly because of a terrible little voice echoing in his mind.
I told you, I don't want HER!
Jim began to pace. I can't stand this. "Isn't anyone going to talk to Jimmy, if I'm not allowed to?" He let some resentment creep into his tone.
The room fell silent. The women looked up at Jim with such worried, uncomfortable expressions that Jim began to feel bad. He put on some emotional armor so he could avoid that feeling.
Jim's father finally broke the silence. "You're going to talk to him, son. As soon as you're ready."
I see. So you think I'm not ready to talk to my own son. Jim felt a depth of anger that he knew was irrational. Pete can talk to him and never say a word to me about it. But I can't go talk to him.
He felt his anger turning into resolve. I am Jimmy's father, even if everyone else has forgotten that.
He turned toward the hallway, aiming along the path Jimmy had just taken.
"Jim, come walk with me." His father's voice stopped Jim before he could take the first step toward his son's room.
Jim felt his jaw muscles knot up like iron, but he still felt too much respect for his father to snap at him. Instead he turned angrily and walked out the front door, hands shoved deeply into his pockets.
Jim walked halfway down the front lawn before stopping. His father had not followed him out.
Does he want to talk or not?
Jim waited in the front yard. He began to feel foolish, like a man alone at a restaurant table who realizes he's just been stood up.
I don't care if he comes out or not.
Jim paced a little, and then turned to walk down the street. I'm a grown man, for Heaven's sake! They can't tell me I can't talk to my own son. They can't shoo me out the front door of my own house!
Jim followed his feet, not caring where they took him. Before long he found himself looking at the park, the same park where he'd talked with Jimmy just last night. He paused for a moment, wondering why he'd come here. Then after a quick check of traffic, he walked across the street toward the playground.
The merry-go-round beckoned him, and he made his way over to it. The metal felt cold as he sat down, and Jim noticed for the first time how cool the evening was. He shivered a little, but felt glad for the coolness. It kept everyone else away and made the park a very private place.
Jim quite unconsciously began a slow spin on the merry-go-round. Despondency dragged at his shoulders and chased his thoughts down dark alleys. The deepening dusk perfectly matched his mood.
I don't have a family any more. My wife doesn't remember me or our son. My son can't stand the sight of my wife. My parents suddenly think I'm incapable of being a father.
It's over. It's all over.
Jim stared at his toes, or sometimes at the sky. Neither sight really penetrated his emotional fog.
I'm so tired. I'm just so tired.
Somehow, the full force of the last week's stresses bore down on him in one five-year-old package.
I told you, I don't want HER!
The merry-go-round dipped a little as someone's weight settled beside him. Jim raised his eyes for a brief moment, confirming that his father had joined him, and then he quickly turned his eyes back toward the ground.
Go ahead. Tell me that I'm not handling my son right. Tell me what I already know. It's all broken, and you don't think I can fix it.
His father said nothing at all.
How typical. I'm not jumping for your bait this time, Dad. Jim felt the hypocrisy in his thoughts. He knew he really needed to hear what his father had to say. But it just hurts so much. I shouldn't need my father, not at my age.
"It hurts, Dad." Jim felt surprised to hear his own voice. I wasn't going to let him draw me out!
"I can't even begin to imagine what you've been through, son. Or what you're still facing."
The two men continued their slow spinning in silence for a while, until Jim began to feel ridiculously childish. He stood quickly, but then immediately slowed himself. A leisurely pace would assure his father that Jim wanted his company.
The two men walked quietly, much as they had in the hospital before their last heart-to-heart talk. Jim felt almost ready to burst with words, but somehow he just couldn't get started.
"Talk to me, son."
His father's words broke down Jim's resistance. He walked slowly to a nearby palm tree, the kind without the sharp spines, and leaned against it.
Gradually, the story came out. The awful dream, and the awful reality that mirrored it. Jim's sense of having his place usurped and his fatherhood questioned. He said it all, even though some of the words clung to his ribs and dragged against his tongue in a desperate attempt to remain unspoken.
Through it all, his father listened in respectful silence.
"Jim," Dan began when his son finished, "You're exhausted, emotionally and physically. I don't even know what happened to your face today."
Jim fingered at the little scabs on his cheek. I'd almost forgotten.
"I didn't ask because I thought it might not be a good subject to bring up in front of Jean. But I'm sure it represents one more stressful thing in your life."
"I've got the next couple of days off. Administrative leave. I...I was involved in a shooting today."
Jim shook his head and tried to clear the awful images which suddenly assaulted his mind. The sight of three young dead bodies, at least one of whom he knew he'd killed, nearly overwhelmed Jim. I've been avoiding thinking about that. It's just too much. It's all too much.
Up until now Jim had been able to stay in denial of the day's effect on him. Now he seemed to have no defense against the horror.
"A car full of young punks tried to ambush us. Tried to kill us. Their first shot went through the windshield. That's how I got these." He pointed at his face, ashamed to note how his finger trembled. "We ended up shooting it out with them. We killed three of them, and the fourth surrendered. I know I got one of them, and I may have gotten a second one, too. We'll find out for sure from ballistics tomorrow." Jim felt nausea widening his throat and flaring his nostrils.
"I'm so sorry, Jim," Dan said softly.
Jim sank down to sit at the foot of the tree. He drew up his knees and rested his head on crossed forearms. He heard a smacking sound as his father evidently went after a mosquito.
"I guess we should head back."
Jim felt vaguely guilty about dragging his father out here to be eaten by bugs. Besides, the little vampires were starting to chew on him, too. But despite his words, Jim felt no strength to face his home right now. He remained seated on the cool, damp ground.
"Only if you're ready, son."
Jim just grunted. Will I ever be ready?
"You know, son, Jimmy's not the angry, hateful child in your dream."
Jim looked up at his father.
"He's a very frightened, confused child, who doesn't know how to cope with what's happening to him and to his family."
Jim grunted again. I can relate.
His dad continued. "And I know you'll find the right words to say to him. You always have."
Jim looked away again. He never felt comfortable receiving praise.
"Nobody's questioning you as a father, Jim. You're a terrific dad, and you make me proud. Your mom, too. We just could see that you were exhausted and overwhelmed. You needed to get away for a few minutes and catch your breath. And that's what you did, because you are a good father. A good father does what needs to be done, or at least tries with everything he's got."
Dan stooped down to pick up a rock, and then tossed it distractedly away. "I'm amazed at how you've held up, son. I don't know how I would have done in your situation."
Jim just sat. I hope he's right. I hope I'll find the right words.
A moment later a sense of urgency pushed him to his feet. Jimmy's probably still sitting alone in his room, scared to death.
"I'd better go talk to him now."
Dan nodded approvingly, and the two men made their way back to the house.
Jim knocked softly on the bedroom door.
"GO AWAY!" The voice on the other side of the door sounded very angry, and Jim tried to remember that his son was really scared.
He glanced back down the hall to where his mother and Jean watched anxiously. They said he wouldn't let them in, either. Should I just walk in?
He quietly checked the doorknob and found it unlocked.
Should I do it?
He hesitated for several long moments, and then swallowed hard and opened the door.
The expected angry shout did not come. Jimmy sat in a corner of his bed in a corner of his room. He hugged Yellow Dog, which had become a substitute for Pancake through this difficult time. His face showed streaks where tears had fallen not long before.
"Hi, son." Jim kept his tone very soft. The fear in his son's posture nearly broke his heart.
"Is she coming in with you?"
"No." Jim hurriedly shut the door, hoping Jean hadn't heard that question.
Jim crossed over and sat down on the bed beside his son.
Jimmy pulled into himself even more tightly, avoiding physical contact.
Jim kept his distance.
"It's all pretty scary, isn't it?" Jim looked out the window now, allowing Jimmy to escape his direct scrutiny. Out of the corner of his eye he saw his son shrug non-committally.
"I'm kind of scared, too. Did you know that?"
"No." Jimmy sounded a bit surprised.
"So is your Mommy."
"She's NOT my mommy. She looks like my mommy, but she's not." Jimmy folded his arms more tightly and set his jaw stubbornly. "And besides, she doesn't have any hair."
Jim felt a sudden pang of regret. I forgot to warn him about that. How could I have forgotten?
"Is that what...upset you so badly when you saw her today?"
Jimmy looked away. "Do you 'member that scary movie?"
The change in subject surprised Jim, and he turned to face his son. "What scary movie?"
"Bout those monsters from space who look like people, but they really are monsters." Jimmy's lip trembled as he spoke.
Jim searched his mind for the memory. He never let Jimmy watch scary movies, so he found the question very disturbing.
"I didn't think I ever let you watch a movie like that, son. Where did you see it?"
Jimmy hung his head. "I sneaked out of my room and sat in the hallway one night when you and Mommy watched it."
"Oh." Jim found a tiny smile. I seem to recall doing that a couple of times myself at his age. Got the pants scared off of me, too.
Not to mention the surprise I got when I caught my parents kissing....
Jim would have chuckled if his present circumstances hadn't been so somber.
"Son, that was just a movie. The monsters from space were really people in costumes, like on Halloween. None of that is real. And your mommy is certainly not a monster from space. I promise you that."
"How do you know?" Jimmy put Yellow Dog down on the bed and looked his father straight in the eye, leaning forward for emphasis. "The monsters from space never 'membered the stuff that the real people knew. That's how the good guys found out who the monsters were. And when they found 'em, they blasted 'em with their ray guns." Jimmy stuck out his lower lip, seeming to dare his father to refute his logic.
Jim rubbed his forehead. No scenario he had ever imagined had placed him in the awful predicament of having to prove that Jean wasn't a Martian….
"Son," he finally ventured, "I've spent a lot of time with your mommy in the hospital. I promise you, she's real. And anyway, like I told you, that was just a movie. Just pretend." He let an exasperated sigh escape him. "How can I prove to you that she's your mommy?"
Jimmy just shrugged.
"Hey, did you know that she's been starting to remember things?" Jim felt suddenly excited at this new avenue of attack.
"What things?" Jimmy seemed to be trying not to sound hopeful, but Jim knew he'd piqued his interest.
"Like where she keeps things in the kitchen. She even remembered seeing you and me playing catch in the back yard. She told me about it."
"Hmph." Jimmy pouted and shook his head.
This would be funny if so much weren't depending on it.
"Son, haven't you ever forgotten anything?"
"I don't know. If I did, I don't 'member what it was."
Jim quickly scanned his son's face for any sign of intentional humor. He found none.
"Well, I know that you forgot to take Pancake to your Grandma's house one time."
"Yeah, but then I 'membered, and you wouldn't go back to get him."
I guess that was a bad memory to bring up.
Where are all those right words that Dad was so sure I'd find?
"When you forgot Pancake," Jim pressed on with his point, "did you become a monster from space?"
"No." Jimmy sounded annoyed at Jim's absurdity.
"Well, neither did your mommy."
"Then who is she? If she doesn't 'member stuff, then she's not the same as my mommy, even if she is my mommy."
Sometimes kids are so profound.
"She's your mommy who can't remember things right now. But she's starting to, Jimmy. We just have to be patient."
Jimmy shook his head again.
"You don't need to be afraid of her, son."
"What if she forgot me forever?" Jimmy's plaintive question wrung Jim's heart like a pair of merciless hands.
"I don't think that will happen, Jimmy."
"But what if it does?" Jimmy bit his lip and blinked back tears.
Jim closed his eyes for a moment. God help me to know what to say!
An idea formed in his mind as quickly as an answered prayer.
"Jimmy, did you know that there are lots of times that you spent with Mommy and Daddy that you don't remember?"
"Uh-uh." Jimmy shook his head.
"You don't remember when you first learned to eat with a spoon, do you? Or when you first learned to sit up, or crawl, or stand, or even walk, do you?"
"No. And I can't 'member when I was in Mommy's tummy, neither." Jimmy looked thoughtful.
"Daddy remembers all those times. And Mommy did too, before her...before her tumor." Jim still found that word hard to say. "We loved those memories. We used to talk about them sometimes." Jim had to stop for a few moments and swallow very hard. "She and I could enjoy those memories even though you couldn't share them with us."
Jimmy picked up Yellow Dog and studied his paws.
"If Mommy never remembers, then you and I can still enjoy our memories from before, can't we?" Jim asked gently.
Jimmy shrugged and did not look up. "I guess."
"It's okay with me that you don't remember when you were a baby. Because we've made lots of memories since then, haven't we?"
"Lots of re-memories?"
"Yes." Jim smiled a little. "We've made lots of good 're-memories.' And those memories will always be special to us."
Jim reached out and gently lifted Jimmy's face to meet his eyes.
"We will make new memories with Mommy. I promise you. We'll be a family again. Because the love is still there."
Jimmy's eyes filled with sudden tears. "I love my Mommy. I want her back."
Jim put gentle hands on his son's shoulders, and felt them quivering. A moment more, and Jimmy threw himself into his father's arms, crying even as he struggled not to.
Jim fought a battle with his own emotions.
"That woman out there is your Mommy, Jimmy. She is. She just can't remember everything yet, that's all. But she still loves you. And you still love her."
Somehow, Jim's affirmation of his son's love seemed to calm the child. He lifted his little face to his father's and sniffed loudly.
"Okay." He rubbed his arm across his nose. "I need a tissue."
Jim stood and walked across the room to fetch the Kleenex for his son. Jimmy's abrupt change of subject signaled the end of the conversation, Jim knew. In a few moments he hoped to know what the outcome would be.
Jimmy scrubbed his nose with the tissue, and then threw the soggy Kleenex toward the waste can. It fell short by several feet.
"I'll get it." Jimmy jumped up and scurried to the tissue. He made a couple more attempts before finally landing it in the basket from directly overhead.
Jim watched him carefully. He seems to feel better. I hope he really does.
"Are you ready to go see Mommy?" Jim asked.
Jimmy shrugged, and a little of the spunk left him again. But not all of it.
"I guess so."
"Good." Jim clapped his son on the back, and then remembered the comforting words his own father had spoken so recently.
"I'm proud of you, son."
Jimmy looked back up at his father. "Okay." Then he opened the door and walked out into the hall.
Jim watched with some amazement as the little fellow marched unhesitatingly toward the living room, and then he hurried to catch up.
Jean felt her heart skip a beat as the door opened at the end of the hall. This must be how it feels to know the judge is about to hand down a verdict on you.
She glanced nervously toward her new friend, Jim's mother. She's scared, too.
The sound of Jimmy's footfalls preceded him by only a few seconds. All too soon her judge stood before her. He regarded her quizzically, with his hands on his hips.
"I guess it's okay that I can't 'member nothin' 'bout bein' in your tummy 'cept that I can't 'member bein' in your tummy," he said.
Jean froze, her smile trying to mask her confusion. She hadn't known quite what to expect, but this certainly wasn't it.
What on Earth is he talking about?
She turned a nearly panicked look toward Jim, then relaxed a little when she saw the humorous sparkle in his blue eyes.
Jimmy turned to his grandmother. "I'm hungry. May I have a snack?"
"Uh...." Carol seemed to shake herself out of her own bewilderment. "Uh, well, don't you think you should ask Mommy?"
Jimmy turned expectantly back toward Jean.
Jean's panic now hit hard. I don't know if I should let him or not! What are our rules? What did he eat at his grandparents'? What should I say? She keenly felt all eyes on her, and again turned to her husband for help.
Jim nodded ever so slightly, and Jean breathed a thankful sigh.
"Yes, you may." As the little boy scurried toward the kitchen, Jean felt maternal responsibility kicking in. "Let's see what we have." She rose to follow him and monitor his choices.
Yet her good intentions felt pitifully inadequate as she entered her kitchen. Where do I keep the snacks?
Jimmy walked immediately to the counter just left of the sink, and pointed up to a cupboard above his reach. "Can I have some Oreos?"
"Uh..." Jean looked hastily for Jim, but he had not followed.
"Uh...let's see what all we have." Jean opened the cabinet and surveyed its contents.
"Hmmm." Her eyes spotted a little red box. "Do you like raisins, Jimmy?"
"Yeah, you know I do." Jimmy looked at her with a touch of annoyance, but then he seemed to catch on. "I mean, you used to know." He looked downward, and his shoulders slumped.
"Well," Jean replied with a brightness she did not feel, "now I know again." She grabbed the box and handed it to Jimmy. He looked it over as if he'd never seen anything like it.
"Aren't you going to put them in a bowl for me?"
"A bowl." Jean felt fear rising again. Where in the world are those? Why can't I feel my way through this like before?
She knew the answer. I'm too nervous, and this is all happening too quickly. I don't have time to fumble around.
I can't pull off this charade.
For a moment, that realization felt like the end of all her hopes, but a moment later she realized that it gave her permission to relax.
It's okay if I can't. I don't have to pretend.
"Sure, I'll put them in a bowl for you. Where do I keep the bowls?"
Jimmy turned immediately and pointed.
Jean opened the cabinet and pulled down a child-sized bowl. "Thanks for helping me, Jimmy. I'll be sure to remember that now."
"Okay." Jimmy watched as Jean poured the raisins out, and then he took the bowl and carried it to the table.
Jean watched him for a few moments, feeling buoyed by her success, and by Jimmy's apparent acceptance.
Jim popped his head into the kitchen. "How's it going in here?" He spoke softly, as if wanting to keep Jimmy from hearing.
"We made it through. Jimmy helped me find things." Jean smiled reassuringly.
"Good. My parents are getting ready to leave. Can you come?"
"Sure." Jean had grown genuinely fond of Carol during the last few hours, and wouldn't have missed the chance to say her goodbyes. Dan had been very quiet most of the evening, but Jean's instincts told her that he was a friend as well. He sure seems to have helped Jim. Besides, I guess I probably have memories of him somewhere, too.
The farewells were brief but heartfelt. The senior Reeds backed out of the driveway, and Jean waved them out of sight.
Jim turned to the table. "Are you about done, Jimmy? It's bedtime."
"Aww, Daddy, can't I stay up, please?"
"No, Pal. You know how it goes. If you stay up too late, you're grumpy in the morning." Jim helped Jimmy down from the chair and gave him a playful swat on the rump.
"Oh, all right." Jimmy pouted a bit, but headed down the hall without further protest.
"Remember to brush your teeth. I'll be in soon to tuck you in."
Jim turned back to Jean. "How about you? You must be pretty worn out, too."
Jean hadn't realized it, but now that he mentioned it...
"Yes, I guess I am. It's been...quite a day." She took in a sweeping glance of the living room, remembering her evening of discovery.
"Yes, it has. It's so good to have you home." Jim looked into Jean's eyes with a tenderness that both warmed and frightened her.
"Come on, Daddy!" Jimmy's high-pitched voice called from his room. "I brushed my teeth!"
"Okay, son, I'm on my way." Jim smiled and took his leave of Jean.
Alone in the living room at last, Jean felt unsure of what to do.
Where will I sleep? Where will he sleep? What will I wear?
What will happen?
I'm not ready for this.
Jim smoothed Jimmy's hair down on his forehead.
"Thanks for helping Mommy find things in the kitchen tonight."
"Sure." Jimmy shrugged the way he so often did.
Jim arranged the sheet and the blanket just the way Jimmy liked them, and then bent down to briefly kiss his little son's forehead.
"Is there anything else you need?"
"A cup of water?"
"Sure." Jim could have predicted that response. It was part of their nightly ritual, at least on nights when Jim was home.
He walked down the hall to fetch the drink, and returned a few moments later to find Jimmy standing in his bedroom doorway, peering down the hall.
"What's up, son?"
"I wanted to look at her." He still didn't call Jean "Mommy." "I wanted to see if she was still a person."
Jim closed his eyes and swallowed a groan.
"Son, she's a person. Trust me. I'm a policeman. Policeman know these things."
Jimmy lowered his voice to a whisper. "Then how come I've never seen her eat nothin'?"
"Son!" Jim took a few breaths to curb his frustration. "She ate dinner with me before you came back from Grandma's house. She is not a monster!"
"What did she eat?" Jimmy looked unconvinced.
"Some of Nana Bailey's chicken soup and garlic bread."
Jimmy shrugged and trudged back to his bed. He sat down, drank the water that Jim offered, and then settled in to be re-tucked.
"Can I have an extra night light tonight?"
"An extra one?"
"Yeah. I don't know if that one's bright enough."
"Bright enough for what?"
Jimmy turned his face away and did not answer. Jim felt his heart sinking lower by the minute. He's acting like he doesn't trust anyone. Not even me to protect him. He's ready to defend his own life.
"Son, we don't have another night light. I'm sorry. But you don't need one. You're safe here."
Jimmy hugged Yellow Dog tightly and said nothing.
"Do you want Pancake? He's in the living room. I could go get him."
"No. I don't want him any more. Not after she slept with him."
"Jimmy!" Jim let the anger show in his voice. "I can't understand this! I thought we'd settled this all before. She is your mother, and you are going to have to trust me on that, son!" Jim heard the pleading tone that he inadvertently ended with, and hoped that Jimmy would respond well to it.
Jimmy closed his eyes and rolled over, turning his back on Jim.
He's shutting me out. He's decided that Jean is his enemy, and I'm his enemy too because I'm siding with her.
Jim felt completely lost. He had expected some difficulties, but never had he imagined that Jimmy would turn against him.
I should say something. I should do something to make this right. Jim stared at his son's back, but felt only utter helplessness. Finally he closed the door and trudged back down the hall, feeling completely despondent.
There she is. Jean sat in the recliner in the living room, looking worriedly in his direction.
Somehow, Jim didn't want to see her right now. His anger and frustration frightened him, because he could feel himself wanting to aim them at Jean.
This is your fault. You did this. Before you took off, everything was fine around here.
Jim shook himself. That's not right. That's not fair. She didn't ask for this to happen to her. It's not her fault.
He shoved the thoughts downward, burying them as deeply as he could. But he knew they weren't gone.
"Jimmy's not handling this too well, is he?" Jean asked softly.
Jim hesitated, searching for the right words. "It's hard for him."
Jean nodded. Jim could see the pain on her face.
"You must be tired. I know I am. We should get some sleep." Jim hoped she would agree, so he wouldn't have to talk to her any more tonight. I'm just too tired for any more of this. And I don't want to say or do anything stupid. I'm sure everything will look better after a good night's rest.
Instead of agreement, Jean's face flickered with barely concealed fear.
Jim mentally backed up and took stock, even though his whole being protested at the effort.
She's afraid to go to sleep. Why?
She slept in the recliner just fine. Is she afraid of the bed?
Realization sank into his gut.
She's afraid of sharing a bed with me.
He let his weary body drop down to sit on the couch. A deep yawn escaped him, and he squeezed the bridge of his nose with one hand.
"I'll sleep on the couch, Jean."
"No, no. That's okay."
Jim's heart leaped at the thought that maybe he'd misread her.
"I'll take the couch." Jean's words dashed his hopes. "I don't want you to give up your bed for me."
"Jean, it's our bed!" Jim felt instantly sorry at the way he'd snapped at her. Her face showed just how much he'd hurt her. "I'm sorry. I'm just tired and irritable, that's all." He sighed and rubbed at his temples, which had begun to throb mercilessly.
"Maybe you'll find that it helps you to remember things, if you sleep there. I can stay out here. Don't worry about it." He stretched himself out and closed his eyes as if to bring the conversation to a close. All I want to do is sleep. I don't care where I do it.
Jean gave him no answer. After a few minutes he heard her get up and walk to the bedroom.
Good. Now I can rest. He didn't even bother to turn out the lights, and fell asleep in moments.
Jean blinked back tears. I don't belong here. At best I'm a guest. Jimmy doesn't want me. Jim's already irritated with me.
I don't want to sleep in this bed.
Jim hopes it will help me remember. How long will he be patient with me if I can't remember?
Jean sat down on the side of the bed.
When I first woke up here, I thought I didn't belong, and I had to get out.
I feel the same way now.
Jean fought back tears.
C'mon, pull yourself together. Things seemed really good this afternoon. I'm sure there will be more good things to come. I'll remember more things. And maybe a good night's sleep is all Jim needs to stop being irritated with me.
But what about Jimmy?
Jean hadn't heard most of the conversation between her husband and son, but snatches of it had come down the hall. Enough to tell Jean more than she wanted to know.
I never did ask Jim what Jimmy meant by that weird sentence.
And I never asked him about that locked box. She glanced back at the metal box on Jim's dresser. I guess it's really none of my business.
The thought left her even more depressed, and she fought against it.
No, I live here. This is my house, too. I have a right to know about things like that. I refuse to feel like an intruder. I refuse.
She pulled her shoes off and pushed them under the bed.
But I'm sure not going to wear any of that lingerie.
Maybe I'll sleep in my clothes.
She stretched out on the bed, but then sat up again.
No, I have a right to wear a nightgown and be comfortable. Those are my nightgowns.
She opened the drawer and rummaged through until she found the most modest gown she owned. She changed quickly, casting nervous glances at the door, and wondering if she should have locked it. As the gown slipped over her shoulders, she closed her eyes and tried to feel some sort of memory about it.
Maybe I didn't wear this very often. Maybe I wore the lingerie more.
Sadness flowed through her. Things used to be good between us. That's what he told me, and I know he meant it. Sometimes I can even feel it myself.
So why are we irritated with each other, and why is he sleeping on the couch?
Jean felt torn. Part of her wanted to invite Jim in, just to sleep of course. But I'm not sure I'd be comfortable with that. I'm not sure Jim would be comfortable with it either.
Which is more unfair, having him sleep on the couch, or having him sleep here with someone who's off limits?
Jean stretched out again and rubbed at her eyes. I'm getting a headache. I hope that doesn't mean something else is going wrong in my head.
I'm tired. I'm tired of trying to figure it all out. I'm tired of worrying and walking on eggshells.
She rolled over onto her side, feeling more profoundly dissatisfied than she could ever remember feeling. She grabbed an extra pillow that she found on the bed, and cuddled up with it. Fatigue offered her a hiding place, and she took it.
This feels so much more comfortable than that hospital bed. I'm just going to sleep and forget about everything.
She yawned deeply, already feeling the edges of consciousness growing duller. A delicious heaviness pressed her down into the mattress, and she fell into the twilight of almost-sleep.
She jumped, suddenly wide awake.
I felt them. Strong arms. More real than I've ever remembered them.
This is where they used to hold me. Where HE used to hold me. And I loved it.
I loved him.
The sudden awakening left Jean unable to relax again. She tossed and turned, snatching only catnaps for the rest of the night.
I loved him.