And what about her daughter, her baby girl who hadn’t been a baby in years? She remembered a pudgy, brown-eyed toddler with a halo of jet-black curls, a little girl who could go from hysterical sobbing to laughter in a heartbeat. She remembered the feel of that baby in her arms, but after that, nothing. No images came to her of frilly Easter bonnets or lunch boxes or loose teeth. Fifteen blank years, as unknown as tomorrow.
She wished she could be angry; it was so much better than this aching, overwhelming sorrow.
In her heart, she was twenty-four years old and deeply in love with her husband. Only he wasn’t her husband and she’d had fifteen long years to heal the wounds he’d inflicted.
Fifteen years that had been wiped out.
Without memories, there was no passage of time, no change, no growth. There was just this love for Julian, this runaway train of emotion that she could do nothing but ride.
He must have nearly killed her with his betrayal. She knew that because when she’d said the word never, she’d felt it in her heart and soul. She’d loved him too much—and it would destroy her, that bad and dangerous love. But knowing a thing didn’t change it.
The door opened. “Mikita, you are awake?”
Rosa stood in the doorway, smiling brightly.
Mikaela gasped, brought a shaking hand to her mouth. “Oh, Mama …”
The years had been hard on Rosa. Her hair was snow-white now, her dark skin creased heavily around the eyes and mouth. Mikaela wanted to ask “What happened?” but before the question was even formed, she knew the answer. Bad love.
Rosa came up to her bedside. She touched Mikaela’s cheek, said softly, “A milagro.” Then she bent down and scooped Mikaela into a hug. “I never think to see you smile again, hija.” She drew back.
Mikaela’s throat constricted. “Hola, Mama.”
“I have missed you very much.” Rosa held on to Mikaela’s hand.
“What happened to me, Mama? No one will tell me.”
Rosa picked up a brush from the bedside table and began brushing Mikaela’s short hair. “You fell from a horse.”
“So they tell me. What in the hell was I doing on a horse?”
Rosa smiled. “You remember the bad language, I am not happy to say. In the past years, you have become the good horse rider. It is something you love.”
Mikaela grabbed her mother’s thin wrist. “Tell me about Juliana, Mama.”
Rosa carefully set down the brush. Her bony fingers curled around the bed rail. “We call her Jacey now, and she is everything you would wish for in a daughter.” She gazed down at Mikaela, her eyes glistening. “She is beautiful and gifted and loving and muy intelligente. And popular—I have never heard the phone ring so much. Look around this room, Mikita, and tell me what you see.”
For the first time, Mikaela looked around the room. There were flowers and balloons everywhere; cards lined the tables and the windowsill. “Are they all from Julian?”
Rosa made a sweeping gesture with her hand. “Not from that one. They are from your friends. This is your home now, Mikaela. It is a wonderful place, not like Sunville at all. Every shop I go in, someone asks about you. The women, they bring food to the house every day. Here, mi hija, you are much loved.”
Mikaela couldn’t imagine that she’d found a real home, a place to belong, and not to remember that, it wasn’t fair …
She looked up at her mother. “He never came for me, Mama.”
“I know. This was hard on you before. Maybe it is even harder now. Then, you remembered why you left him. Now, I think maybe you forget.”
“I want to see my daughter.”
Rosa didn’t answer for a moment. Then, softly, she said, “It will … wound her heart … this forgetfulness. Dr. Liam wishes for you to have another day to remember, sí? You do not want to hurt her.”
Mikaela didn’t know how she could survive the heartache seeping through her. “I remember how it feels when a parent doesn’t know you. I remember this from … my father.”
“You have never called him this before.”
“I know.” She sighed tiredly. “But calling him something else doesn’t make him someone else, does it?”
“No.” Rosa reached into her pocket, pulling out a photograph. “Here.”
Mikaela’s fingers didn’t work right. It took her several tries to grasp the picture, and even then, Rosa had to gently guide her daughter’s fingers. She stared down at the picture—it was of Mikaela and Rosa and a beautiful young girl. They were standing in an unfamiliar room, beside a gorgeous, wonderfully decorated Christmas tree.
Mikaela’s hungry gaze took in every detail about the girl—the brown eyes, the easy smile, the waist-length black hair. “This is my Juliana … No, my Jacey.”
“Sí. The memories, they are in you, Mikaela. Place this fotografía next to your heart and sleep well. Your heart will remember what your mind forgets.”
Mikaela stared down into the eyes so like her own. Try as she might, she couldn’t remember holding this little girl, or stroking her hair, or kissing her cheek. “Oh, Mama,” she whispered, and at last she cried.
Not long after lunch, Mikaela fell asleep.
She knew she was dreaming now. It was the first dream she’d had since waking up, and there was a comforting familiarity in the sensation. In her dream, the world was a hazy smear of blues and greens. A gentle summer breeze fluttered through the towering evergreen trees.
She was walking along a deserted road. Her body was working perfectly, no right leg dragging along behind her, no fingers that wouldn’t close. She came around a bend in the gravel road and saw an imposing wooden barn set on the crest of a hill. In the fields around it, there were horses standing in a group, munching contentedly on sweet green grass that came up to their hocks.
She kept moving, floating almost, past the barn, toward a beautiful log house.
A bank of gray clouds moved in suddenly, obliterating the lemon sunshine, casting the log house in shadow. It began to rain, spits of cold water that landed on her upturned cheeks like God’s own teardrops.
The front door opened for her.
She stumbled on the porch steps. Crying out, she grasped the railing and a splinter drove deep into the tender flesh of her palm. When she lifted her hand, she saw the bright, ruby-red trail of blood snaking down her wrist.
“No,” she tried to say, but the wind snatched her words away, and she was still walking, across the porch, into the house.
The door slammed shut behind her. She felt her way down the smooth wooden wall toward a staircase she somehow knew was there.
At the bottom, she paused, listening. Somewhere in this cold, dark house, a child was crying.
I’m coming. The words played across Mikaela’s mind but didn’t quite reach her mouth. She was moving again, running this time.
The cries became louder, more insistent. Mikaela had a fleeting, heartbreaking image of a little boy, red-haired, sucking his thumb. He was tucked back in a corner, waiting for his mommy to come for him.
But there were a hundred doors in front of her, and the hallway stretched for miles, fading out of focus at its end. She ran down the corridor, yanking open doors. Behind those doors lay nothing, yawning black rectangles spangled with starlight, breathing a cold winter wind.
All at once, the crying stopped. The silence terrified her. She was too late … too late …
She woke with a start. The ceiling above her was made of white acoustical tiles, their pattern sharp and bright after the hazy quality of her dream.
There was a man standing by her window. Her first thought was Julian—but then she noticed that he was wearing a white coat.
He turned toward her, and she saw that it wasn’t Dr. Penn. It was the other one—what was his name? He was a tall man, with longish blond hair and a nice face. He reminded her of an aged version of that actor from Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. Jeff Bridges, that was his name. It disgusted her that she could remember an actor’s name, and practically none of her own life.
“You need a haircut.” The words just popped out of her mouth, and she winced. What on earth had made her say that to this man?
He ran a hand through his shaggy hair and smiled, but it was a sad smile, and she wondered why he looked so … forlorn. “Yeah, I suppose I do. My … wife cuts my hair.”
When he spoke, it sent a shiver through her. “You’re the voice,” she said softly.
He pulled up a chair and sat down beside her bed. He stared at her boldly, without apology, and there was something in his eyes—a yearning, maybe—that made her want to touch him. But that was crazy; she didn’t even know him.
“What voice?” he said at last.
“When I was asleep, I heard you.”
He smiled again. “I didn’t know if you’d be able to. It seemed like I talked forever.”
Forever. That word again. It teased her, tickled some forgotten chord. “Who are you?” she asked.
He studied her for a minute. “Dr. Liam Campbell.”
Somehow she knew that wasn’t right. She looked around the room, at the photographs along the window that she hadn’t bothered to look at, and the bottles of fragrant spices, at the lovely pond filled with slick black rocks. She knew without knowing that this was the man who’d played the endless stream of her favorite songs. He was the one who’d given her something to hang on to through all that darkness.
And it was this man—this stranger with the sad, familiar eyes—who’d been here at her bedside for all those days, talking, touching, waiting. She could remember the feel of his hand stroking her hair while she slept, and the sound of his laugh. Somehow she knew that, too. She knew that he had a booming, throaty laugh that filled a room and begged you to join in.
“I remember how you laugh,” she said, amazed.
That seemed to please him. He smiled. “The memories will come like that, in bits and pieces.”
“Who are you?”
“No. Who are you to me?”
His whole body seemed to deflate, to sink into that ugly chair. Slowly he stood up and reached for her left hand. He caressed her fingers, so tenderly that her breath caught in her throat. She couldn’t remember ever being touched in just such a way, and then something came to her, some half-formed memory that couldn’t quite be reached. “This ring,” he said quietly. “I put it on your finger ten years ago.”
She stared down at the ring. A wedding ring. “You’re …” She couldn’t seem to form the word.
“I’m your husband.”
It was incomprehensible. “But … Julian …”
“Julian was your first husband.”
She panicked. First a child, now a husband. How much had she forgotten? How much more was out there?
She stared at him, shaking her head in denial. She wanted to say It can’t be, but in the last few days, she knew that anything could be. “How could I forget such a thing? How could I have … no feeling for you at all?”