I watched the big face of the clock hanging on the wall of the cafe as it turned 6:00. I downed the last few drops o my coffee nervously. It was sweet enough to stand a spoon up in and I was grateful, not for the first time in my life, that sugar at that concentrate had an alcoholic-like numbing effect.
As an operative, Michael was punctual to a fault, it being 6:00pm, the time when we were supposed to meet, meant he was already 15 minutes late.
The clock ticked 6:01.
That was it. I was going looking for him.
Almost 4 hours and 3 trips by the bridge drop location where Michael was supposed to be right before he came to the cafe to meet me later, I defeatedly returned to the cafe to see if Michael had, by some miracle, showed up in the intervening time.
He hadn't, but I did arrive at the cafe in time to see the 10:00 news, playing on the big screen cafe TV. And the banner headline.
"Mystery Man Found in Frozen River"
"Miss, are you alright?" I was vaguely aware the barista was asking me. "Miss?"
I felt all the blood in my head rush to my ears as panic set in. I knew it had to be Michael.
"Anyone with information on the Mystery Man is asked to contact St. Helena's hospital with information," the newscaster concluded.
I didn't say anything as I turned on my heel and raced for the car to get there.
I have no idea what hospital procedure is in a situation like this, so please just bear with me. It makes my story work.
The hospital was a nightmare of yellow incandescent light and rushing gurneys as I rushed up to the nurse's station.
"I'm here with information about the mystery man found int the river," I said quickly to the nurse behind the counter.
"I'll give you the number to contact the police with any information you think you have," said the nurse.
"Please," I cut in. "I think he may be my husband," I lied. I knew they wouldn't give you anything at a hospital unless you said you were married and worst came to worst, I could produce a cover ID saying we were married if I needed to.
"You do?" asked the nurse, her eyes widening slightly. "Let me page his doctor and see if you can ID him."
About 5 minutes later, a blonde doctor a little older than me came down to escort me up to what she informed me was the coma and severe trauma ward where Michael was being held.
"Hi, I'm Dr. Foster," she said, tucking her clipboard under her arm and extending her newly free hand to me. "I hear you think the patient might be your husband?"
"Um...yes. Hi," I said, taking her outstretched hand and grasping her fingers briefly.
I followed her into an elevator and down a hallway lined with patient rooms. Each on e had a little glass window revealing the patient inside. She pattered on about some sort of doctor stuff as we walked, but I was in too much of a daze to really absorb it. She hadn't even told me what room he was in when I glanced in the window and recognised him.
"Michael!" I said, running ahead of the doctor and rushing into the room and to Michael's side.
I sat down in the car next to Michael's bed and grabbed his hand.
"I take that as a positive ID," she said.
She paused at the door. I clung to Michael's hand for a moment before turning to her.
"What's wrong with him?" I asked.
"Your husband was submerged in very cold water or a very long time," she said.
"When does he wake up?" I asked, trying to maintain composure.
"It could be hours, could be days..." she trailed off.
"Or...?" I asked her, turning to look at her.
"It's touch and go right now," she said. "But I'm not gonna lie to you. Your husband was hypothermic for a very long time. Adults don't usually come back from that. It'll be touch and go for a few days, but if he doesn't wake up in a few days, the prognosis isn't good. You might want to use this time to say goodbye."
"He'll make it," I said obstinately, a little in denial, but I would never admit it. "I know him."
"I'm gonna go get you a coffee," she said, putting a hand on my back. "We have a cappuccino machine in the lobby. Okay?"
I didn't respond and just sat there, staring at Michael. Willing him to wake up. About 5 minutes later, she returned with some noxiously sweet—even by my standards—french vanilla thing that I could tell by tasting it didn't have that much caffeine. I took it gratefully and sipped at it numbly, staring out at the sleety winter day.
After several days of that damned yellow lit bedroom. I developed a routine of weak machine coffee, sitting with Michael, and staring out at the sleety winters days that had possibly killed the love of my life, something wonderful finally happened.
I woke up and discovered I was in a glaring, harshly lit hospital room. IVs and cables were attached to my arms and a TV I hadn't located blared nearby. The very next thing I noticed was a very pretty girl sitting by my bedside, looking worried. A lean redhead with not too much of a bust and the most mysterious, troubled, deepset greeneyes I'd ever seen. She was wearing a green tank top and a purple bra that showed rather obviously at the neckline, staring out the window at a winter landscape, I could tell, half listening to the TV, half lost in thought. I moved my arms slightly and looked around and she turned to me instantly.
“Michael?” she said uncertainly, taking my hand. As if she was afraid noticing I had woken up would suddenly jinx me back to unconsciousness.
When she leaned over to take my hand, I could see down her shirt and see that the purple bra wasn't really high enough cut to completely cover the edges of her rosy pink nipples. The site gave me a flushed feeling all over and I instantly felt guilty and I looked away quickly. I knew it wasn't like me to be looking down random girls' tops and I had no idea what my relationship with this girl was.
Seeing I was awake, a huge smile rose to her face. She rose to her feet and ran for the hallway.
“He’s awake!” she called down the hallway before immediately returning to my bed.
A nurse came in and checked my pulse, shining a light in both my eyes before.
"Do you know who are?" she asked me. "Do you know how you got here? What hospital you're in?"
I realised for the first time, I didn't. I thought hard, straining for that knowledge I couldn't grasp.
"No," I said.
"How 'bout Fiona, here?" the nurse asked me. "Do you know who Fiona is?"
I shook my head. Though I found the concept that Fiona was someone I was supposed to know heartening.
"It's called retrograde amnesia," said Dr. Foster. "Sometimes it goes away, sometimes it doesn't. There really isn't a rhyme or reason to it."
"You were found in a river not far from here, no papers, no nothing," the nurse said. "Fiona here identified you and has been here ever since."
"And just who is Fiona to me?" I asked.
"Can I talk to you in the hallway for a moment?" Dr. Foster asked, guiding her out into the hall.
"I'll be right back, Michael," she said, as the doctor shepherded her away into the hallway.
Out in the hallway, Dr. Foster turned to me.
"So," she said. "I'd like you to not tell him who you are to him right away. Let him remember on his own."
"Um...Okay..." I started.
"Just give him a few days to remember on his own," she said. "It really is better."
Of course, that was the very first thing Michael asked me upon returning to the room.
"So, who am I to you?" Michael asked, a slight smile playing at is lips. "Best friend, co-worker, boyfriend...?" he raised his voice slightly with what I thought was honestly a hopeful twinkle in his eye when he said 'boyfriend.'
"Dr. Foster says it's better if I don't tell you, let you remember on your own," I said dragging my toe awkwardly, fighting the urge to tell him everything.
The doctor came back into the room, carrying a clipboard with Michael's file on it.
"Hello, Michael," she said, looking at the file. "I'm Dr. Foster, you already know Fiona here."
"Pupillary response is normal," she took a little reflex hammer and checked his knee reflexes. "As are reflexes. I'd like you to try to eat something," she said. "Something light, since you haven't eaten for a few days."
"Blueberr—" I started, before remembering what she'd said about having Michael remember himself.
"No, it's fine," she said. "Hs favourite food might help him remember if he can't remember for himself," she smiled. "Blueberry something, I'm guessing?"
She turned to Michael.
"Do you know what you might like?" she asked.
"No..." Michael said.
She turned to me again.
"Blueberry yogurt," I finished.
"Blueberry yogurt it is," Dr. Foster said. "We'll go grab you that and be right back."
"Is it okay if Fiona stays with me?" Michael asked, reaching up and grabbing my hand.
"Of course," Dr. Foster said. "I'll go grab that and be right back, Fiona can stay with you."
I sat down on the chair again next to Michael's bed. I smiled and brushed my hand across his cheek, around the corners of his eyes.
"I was so afraid I'd never see those beautiful Prussian blue eyes again," I said to Michael.
Michael smiled. I knew I was probably revealing more about our relationship than Dr. Foster would like by doing this, but I didn't care. I had my Michael, alive awake and whole again and I was damned if I wasn't going to express affection towards him.
I leaned back in my chair.
"So..." Michael said. "Tell me about myself," he gave one of his trademark lopsided smiles. He certainly hadn't forgotten how to act when he was trying to be charming. I took some heart in the fact that he had gone immediately into trying to charm and impress me. Cocky and confident with that damned charming smile of his. It reminded me of the day I'd first met him when he was still Michael McBride. "What am I like?"
"Dr. Foster says I'm not allowed to tell you that," I said to him. "she says it's better for your memory if you remember on your own."
"Okay," Michael said. "Well, if you can't tell me about me, tell me about yourself, then."
"Well," I said. "My name's Fiona. I have a younger sister called Claire, five older brothers, some of whom were in college by the time I was born, Sean's the youngest."
"Did something happen to your sister Claire?" Michael asked.
"Why? Do you remember?" I asked. It was hard to feel hopeful about that particular fact, but he had reacted to Claire.
"No," he said. "It's just, your eyes looked sad for a second when you mentioned Claire."
That man. I smiled slightly and shook my head. He could read me like a book.
"Claire died when I was 23," I said to Michael. I gave a sad smile. "She was 19, in college, she absolutely was one of the lights of my life."
"I feel like I understand what you're saying about having a younger sibling..." Michael said uncertainly. "Do I have one?"
"Yes," I said. I figured this counted as Michael remembering on his own, though I certainly wasn't going to tell Michael about his brother. "You do."
At this point Dr. Foster reappeared with the yogurt.
"Sorry I took so long," she said. "We only had strawberry and vanilla up here on the floor, I had to go all the way down to the cafeteria to get blueberry."
"Michael's remembered he has a younger sibling," I announced to the doctor.
"Oh," she said. "How did that come about?"
"It's not really remembering," Michael said. "So much as getting the sense I had one."
"I was telling Michael about my siblings and he said he thought he understood how I felt about my baby sister," I said.
"Okay," said Dr. Foster. "That's very common in retrograde amnesia. The fact that Michael here's a big brother is just a fact that's stored in his memory. It's the same way he knows bed means bed or who to use a fork. It's just a fact he's a brother. It doesn't necessarily mean his memory's coming back."
She handed him the yogurt and one of those beige, biodegradable plastic spoons.
"You don't have to eat all of it," she said. "I'd like you to just a have a few spoonfuls to start. Stop if you feel sick."
“So…Um, Fiona...” he said, looking down at his hands and twiddling his fingers. “I don’t know what our deal is, but when they finally let me out of here, do you want to grab a cup of coffee or something?…”
I looked down at Michael.
“What?” I asked, whipping around, sputtering.I just couldn’t believe Michael was asking me out, not knowing what our relationship was. I didn’t really know how to react to that. He took my reticence as a refusal, however and quickly drew his arms to his chest, looking down at his hands.
“Or not…It’s fine,” he said. “Like, I said, I don’t know what our deal is. You might hate me. I just thought that since you were here in my room, we might be close and…”
“No, Michael, it’s not that…” I started. I was furious that I wasn’t allowed to tell Michael what our relationship was and explain my reaction.
I took a deep breath and took a new tact on this.
“Michael,” I said, coming up to him. “I would love to go get a cup of coffee with you.”
After I finished saying that, I gently grasped the back of his head and kissed him roundly on the mouth. I felt his breathing speed up in the brief kiss and his pulse sped up beneath my fingers. Michael interlaced his fingers into my hair and opened his mouth to turn what was meant to be a chaste gesture of affection turned into a deep breathless kiss. Hands were on my shoulders, pulling me tight into his chest. By the time the kiss concluded itself, I was breathless and my heart was pounding.
Michael gave me one of his cocky smiles he always used when he was trying to be charming.
"I guess that means yes," he said, grinning.