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Authors: Chris Scully

Inseparable

BOOK: Inseparable
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Inseparable

A FLASH of bright light in my eyes, a jumble of raised voices and hands pulling at my body—these

are my first memories. Then the pain slicing through my skull, through my body, sharp as a knife, and

bringing with it blessed darkness.

When my brain finally struggles up through the murky depths of consciousness, each sense

slowly reawakens. Everything seems disjointed and muddled, and the first thing I hear is the raspy

sound of my own breathing. The fingers of my right hand twitch; I feel warm skin gripping mine and

the whisper of a soft breath across my knuckles. A heavy weight presses on my chest, making it

difficult to breathe, and I want to push it away, but I can’t summon the strength to move. Slowly, I

crack my eyes open a slit. They feel swollen, and the steady throbbing deep behind them means I can

barely keep my eyelids open long enough to confirm that I am in a hospital room. There must be a

nightlight somewhere, because the weak glow is just enough to illuminate the faded curtain enclosing

my bed and the dark tousled hair of the man whose head rests by my hip on the mattress. Somewhere

beyond the curtain, someone is snoring, but my companion is silent, slumped forward in a chair,

clutching my hand as if, even in sleep, he can’t bear to let go.
Good, I’m not alone
. With that fleeting

thought, unconsciousness pulls me under again.

The next time I resurface, it is daylight. I can feel the warmth of the sun on my face and see the

soft golden glow bathing the room from beneath my lashes. But it’s too much when I try to open my

eyes. The brightness stabs through my retinas. I roll my head on the pillow to escape, and explosions

of pain go off in my skull. I can’t hold back my whimper. There is a sudden movement next to me, and

then a gentle touch on my forehead, on my cheeks, wiping away the tears leaking out behind my closed

eyelids.

“You’re awake,” whispers a man’s hoarse voice. “Oh God, Adam, you’re awake.”

“Sun,” I croak.

“What? Oh, it’s too bright?” My companion moves about, hurriedly closing the blinds. When the

light dims, I cautiously open one eye, which gives me the chance to observe him unnoticed for a

moment. He is young, in his late twenties, and attractive with chin-length dark curly hair that looks

like it needs a good combing. When he turns and smiles, I’m struck by what a nice face he has, tired,

but open and friendly, and full of so much raw emotion it almost hurts to see it. His eyes are red and

swollen from crying, and even as I watch, fresh tears well in those brown velvet depths, spilling

down round cheeks into the neatly trimmed stubble of his beard. I want to comfort him, but the pain

radiating through my chest is driving out any other thoughts, driving out the air from my lungs.

“Can’t… breathe,” I gasp.

“Shh, calm down. I know it hurts. It’s your ribs, but the doctor says you have to try to breathe

deep. Just look at me.” I focus on his face, the sound of his gentle voice. A small gold stud glints in

each ear, and it’s so appropriate, because he reminds me of a gypsy I saw once.
Somewhere
. “That’s

it. Just breathe in and out….”

There is dried blood on the front of his grey sweater, but he doesn’t seem injured. Mine? I

struggle to recall how I got here. He must see the panic on my face because suddenly he asks, “What’s

wrong?”

“I don’t remember.” My voice sounds hoarse and unused. I close my eyes and think.
Think,
I tell

myself. But all there is, is blackness.

“The accident?”

“Anything! I don’t remember anything.”

He pales visibly. “Where the hell is that nurse?” he mutters, fumbling with the call button beside

the bed. He takes my hand. It’s the only part of my body that doesn’t hurt. “Do you know who I am?”

I shake my head, which makes the pain even worse. There is a brief moment where his face

crumples. He seems wounded more than anything and, even though I hardly know this man, I would do

anything not to upset him.

“I’m Joe,” he says and, once again, his calm voice pulls me back from the edge of panic.

“You’re Adam. You were hit by a car.” He starts to pull away, but I refuse to let go. “It’s okay. I’ll be

right back. I’m just going to get the doctor.”

He isn’t gone a minute before he’s back with a nurse. Then another arrives. Then one doctor and

two, and within no time my side of the curtain is crowded with people poking and prodding and

asking me questions, talking over each other when all I want to do is sleep. Someone blocks my view

of Joe’s anxious face, and I can’t bear it. As if sensing my distress, he moves to my side and takes my

hand again. The contact soothes me. It’s the only thing I can hang onto in a world that has suddenly

been pulled out from under me.

They tell me I was hit by a car yesterday—SUV actually—while crossing the street. I have three

cracked ribs, some bruising, and a concussion. Oh yeah, and I can’t remember shit. There’s a big

black hole where my memories used to be.

BY THE afternoon, the pain is manageable with a little pharmacological help, although nothing can

completely eliminate the hammering inside my head. I’m able to open my eyes without tearing up as

long as the blinds are kept closed. The doctors take me away from Joe to do some more tests. These

hours without him are the longest. It’s as though I can’t rest unless I know he’s near. By the time they

run an MRI and ask me questions about my name and what year it is, I’m almost ready to lose it.

When they finally wheel me back to my room and I see Joe pacing the hallway with barely concealed

frustration, I dissolve into sobs of relief that send shooting pain through my chest. Joe glares at the

orderly, and the two of them help me back into bed.

Once we’re alone, Joe wets a washcloth in the adjoining bathroom and sweeps it across my

forehead and over my cheeks. The cool water on my heated face feels heavenly. “I don’t think you

cried this much when I made you watch
The Notebook
,” he teases.

“I don’t remember.”

“I know.” There’s a sad smile in his voice.

“I don’t remember
you
,” I rasp. And somehow that is worse than the pain, because this man has

shed tears for me, has hardly left my side, and I’ve just forgotten him.

“Maybe up here.” Joe gently strokes my forehead, then slides his hand down to hover over my

heart. “But what about in here?” It’s so simple but it’s true. Deep down inside where it matters most,

I
do
know him. From the moment I opened my eyes, something in me recognized him.

He hands me a tissue, and I discover it even hurts to blow my nose. “I’m sorry to be such a

crybaby,” I whisper. I’m exhausted. It’s a struggle just to keep my eyes open, but I don’t want to lose

sight of Joe. “Thank you—for being here.”

“Adam, I’d do anything for you.
Anything
.” Joe leans down close so our heads are almost

touching. His unruly curls brush my cheek, whisper soft. I’d like nothing better than to reach up and

run my fingers through them, but my arms feel like lead. I drift off feeling safe and loved.

Sometime later, as Joe is trying to coax me into finishing an unappealing hospital dinner despite

my lack of appetite, Dr. Singh, the doctor who examined me earlier, enters the room. “You’re a very

lucky man, Mr. Beck,” he proclaims.

“Lucky?” Joe practically chokes. “How can he be lucky? He doesn’t remember who he is.”

“It could be worse—much worse. Your motor skills are unaffected; your new memories,

anything since the accident, are fine. What you’re experiencing is called retrograde amnesia. It’s not

uncommon with traumatic brain injuries like you’ve sustained. When the car hit you, you struck your

head on the pavement which appears to have impacted your right temporal lobe. However, according

to the neurologist your scan shows nothing that would indicate permanent damage.”

I stop listening. The rice pudding I just swallowed seems intent on coming back up. How can

everything just be gone? What if I never get my memory back? What if I never remember who I am? I

feel Joe’s hand clutch mine and squeeze. His sad eyes say everything will be okay. And I believe him.

“The good news,” continues Dr. Singh, “is that this is almost always temporary. And in the

meantime, things like your personality and general knowledge about the world should be unaffected.

It’s primarily your personal and emotional memories that are missing. Essentially you’re the same

person you always were—you just can’t remember the details.”

“So we just wait?” I ask.

“Yes, and keep an eye on things of course.”

“Does that mean he can come home?” asks Joe.

“With proper care, yes. We’ll keep him one more night, just for observation, but barring any

complications, tomorrow morning I’ll stop by and sign the release forms.”

I look up at Joe. He gives me a small smile of encouragement that lifts some of the weight from

my shoulders. At least I won’t be alone. Only later that night, when everything is quiet, does it

suddenly occur to me that I’ll be going home with a stranger.

ARMED with instructions on what I can and can’t do, a prescription for painkillers, and a little

machine I have to blow into every hour to keep my lungs clear, Dr. Singh allows me to be discharged

the next morning. Although I have a follow-up appointment next week, I can go home. Home to a

place I don’t even remember.

Sitting on the bed waiting for Joe to return from filling the prescription in the hospital pharmacy,

I start to feel anxious. “Are you sure I shouldn’t stay here just a little longer?” I ask the nurse as she

slips fleece-lined hiking boots onto my feet since I can barely dress myself. Joe has thought of

everything, bringing me fresh clothes and a heavy down coat—the price tag is still attached to the

sleeve, and I wonder why he’s had to run out and buy something new.

“There’s nothing more we can do here. Besides, you don’t want to spend Christmas in the

hospital. You’ll be more comfortable at home.” She carefully slides my arms into the coat as though

she were dressing a toddler. “Your boyfriend knows what to do and who to contact in case of

emergency.”

My boyfriend
. I only wish I could be as sure as the nurse. For all I know I could be going home

with a serial killer or sex fiend. Then, as if summoned, Joe enters the room pushing an empty

wheelchair, and I only have to look into those soft brown eyes—full of worry and bloodshot from

lack of sleep—to realize I am being an idiot. How could I be anything but safe with this man? I give

him a tentative smile. Everything will be okay. It has to be.

Just as I am settling into the wheelchair, there is a soft tap at the open door. A tall, thin older

man with silver hair and day’s growth of stubble stands there fidgeting nervously with a red wool hat.

“Um, hello,” he starts. “I’m Hank Wheeler.” I look up at Joe for help. Should I know this man? He’s

not a doctor, because he’s wearing regular clothes. But Joe’s face, which I have only ever seen sad or

worried, is cold and tight.

“The man who hit you,” Joe says flatly. I curl my fingers in Joe’s and give him a little tug to

behave. What happened to me was an accident pure and simple. I already know the police are not

pressing charges; Wheeler blew clean in the Breathalyzer. He was the first to call 911 and stayed

with me until the police and ambulance arrived. There is nothing more he could have done.

“I just wanted to make sure you were all right. I’ve never… nothing like this has ever happened

to me before. You just ran out right in front of me. The road was so damned slippery I couldn’t stop in

time.” He sighs and it is obvious how shaken up he still is.

“Thank you for coming, Mr. Wheeler,” I offer.

He bobs his head in discomfort. “It’s the least I could do.” He turns to Joe and they exchange a

BOOK: Inseparable
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