A different doctor than the first one came into the room.  He looked much more professional with a white coat, hair graying at the temples, and a stethoscope dangling from his neck.  I instantly trusted him more than the other man.  And he didn’t hover unnecessarily close or make me feel uncomfortable in any way.  Except for his onslaught of questions.

“And what’s your name?” he asked.  The way he was staring at me made me think this was some sort of trick question.  But I had only ever had one name.

“Penny Taylor.”  Maybe I didn’t like him that much after all.  He was treating me like a child.  I knew my own name.  “Do you want me to spell that for you?”

He chuckled.  “No, that won’t be necessary.”  He looked down at his notebook.  “And the very last thing you remember is studying?” he asked.

I nodded, my mind stuck on what my mom had said.  Penny, you’re 26 years old.  I shook my head.  I’d think I’d remember if seven years of my life had flown by.  “So can I get out of here?  I really do feel fine and I have exams to study for.”

The doctor jotted something down in his notebook.  He looked up from his pages and smiled.  “We’ll get you out of here as soon as we can, Penny.  You have my word.”

“You can’t release her like this,” my mom said.  “What’s wrong with her?”

Her words stung.  There was nothing wrong with me.  She was the one that had lost her mind.  I glanced at my dad for reassurance, but he was staring at me with just as much worry etched on his face. 

Penny, you’re 26 years old.  The words swirled around in my head, refusing to settle.  I’m 19.

“I’m going to go talk to your family in the hall,” the doctor said.  “We’ll be back in a minute.  Sit tight, alright?”  He tapped my blanket covered foot and walked out the door with my parents.

This was just some sort of bad dream.  I hadn’t been sleeping that well.  Austin had blown me off the past few nights, claiming he was studying for finals.  But he never studied, his GPA was proof of that.  I knew what he was doing behind my back.  Who he was doing.  And he was slowly driving me insane.

I was fed up with his shit.  I was so sick of being his second choice.  We needed to have a serious conversation about what we were.  Again.  How many times had we talked about the same issues over and over again?  But I refused to go home for the summer without knowing where we stood.  That would definitely drive me mad.

Wake up.  I patted the sides of my face but the hospital room didn’t magically transform to my dorm room.  Melissa would know what to do.  She could tell everyone what was going on.  I looked at the nightstand for my cell phone but it was nowhere in sight.  The chairs by the bed were empty too.  My backpack was nowhere in sight. Damn it.

I looked down at the IV stuck in my arm.  I was just contemplating how much it would hurt to pull it out when the door flew open.

The first doctor came barging in, his eyes blazing with anger. 

“Penny, we’re leaving.  I’m taking you home.”

I shrunk away from him.  Why would he take me home?  My parents could do that.  I didn’t like this doctor.

“Everything’s okay.  Let’s just get you unhooked from these.”  He looked at the machine I was attached to, like he was trying to figure out what to do.  How inexperienced was he?

“Mr. Hunter,” my new doctor said as he came into the room.  His cheeks were flushed red with anger.

“Penny, you know I’m sorry.  You know that.  You know I’d never hurt you.”

I opened my mouth and then closed it again.  Who was this guy?  “I don’t know you.”

He ran his hands down his face.  “Baby.”  He sounded tormented.

But I was more focused on what he had said rather than how he had said it.  Was he talking to me?  I looked at my parents.  I didn’t think he was talking to them.  When I turned back to him, he was on his knees by the side of my bed.

“Baby, just let me take you home.  We can’t trust any of the doctors here.  They don’t know what they’re talking about.  We’re going to go home and everything’s going to go back to normal.”

“To normal?”  My heart was racing.  What normal was he referring to?  And how did it involve me?

He grabbed my hand.  “Yes, baby.  Tell him you want to go home.”

I pulled my hand away from him.  “I want to go back to school.  I have finals.”

“Penny.”  His voice broke.  “You’re not in school anymore.  You know that.  I know you remember.  You have to remember.”  He lifted up my hand again, tilting it toward me.

I stared down at my hand.  There was a tan line on my ring finger.  A line that would have formed from years of wearing an engagement ring.  Or a wedding ring.  Or both.  I looked back at the man on his knees, with the desperation on his face.  There were small crinkles around the corners of his eyes.  Lines that came with age.  He was…old.  Not old like my parents.  But certainly older than me.  Too old for me.

“I need you to remember.”  His Adam’s apple rose and fell.  “I need you.”

I felt like I was going to throw up.  How many times had I wished Austin would look at me the way this stranger did?  So why did his gaze just make me feel sick to my stomach?  I pulled my hand away from him and shifted away from him on the bed.

“Mom, Dad.  Can’t you just take me home?  Please?”

“Penny, the doctor thinks it’s best if you just go back to your normal routine,” my mom said.

“Then take me back to school…”

“Your normal routine with James.  And Scarlett.  Here in New York.”

“But not for a few days,” my doctor interjected.  “We’d like to monitor your progress.  Despite what your husband thinks, not every doctor affiliated with this hospital is out to get you.  You’re safe here.  And hopefully your memory will come back before you even head back to your apartment.”

I barely heard him.  I was completely focused on one word he said.  Husband.  I looked down at the tan line on my finger.  I was married?  I looked at the man on his knees again.  To him?

“Does that sound good?” the doctor asked.  “In the mean time, there are a bunch of people in the waiting room ready to help jog your memory.  Familiar faces and stories will be good.”  He cleared his throat.  “Not angry, harsh moments.  Pleasant fun ones.”  He was staring at…my husband. 

I swallowed hard.  “You’re not a doctor?” I said to him.

For a moment it looked like he was going to cry.  But then he lowered both his eyebrows.  He stared at me in a way that no one ever had before.  Like he hated me and loved me at the same time.  Goosebumps rose on my skin.

“No.  I’m not a doctor,” he said.

“What’s your name?”

“James.”  He pressed his lips together and stared at me for a moment, like he was willing me to remember.  “James Hunter.”  He looked at me expectantly, like his name alone would trigger a memory.

But I didn’t feel like I had anything to remember.  I felt like everyone here was wrong.  The doctor.  My parents.  This man kneeling beside my bed.  This beautiful, broken man.  I didn’t need to know anything more about him to know that he was so broken.  And even though I didn’t know him, I hoped to God it wasn’t my fault that he was like this.  Because I had no clue how to fix him.  I had no idea who he was.  And as soon as I was out of this hospital I was going back to school.  I had finals to take.  School was my number one priority.


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