Stranger in my Bed, p.1Kristen Chaney
Stranger in my Bed
Copyright Kristen Chaney
Stranger in my Bed
“Megan? Are you awake?”
The man’s voice isn’t familiar voice...and who is Megan? I try unsuccessfully to move; I’m stone stiff, in piercing pain, and lying on something hard. In the background, I hear machine-like buzzing. An office? I wonder who he’s talking to.
“Megan?” More urgent now. He takes my hand. His skin is warm, bringing feeling back to mine. His other hand massages my arm.
I turn my head toward the voice but I don’t open my eyes. Who is he? Does he think I’m Megan? Everything is blank. I give it a minute, waiting for everything to come back. Like, oh, the party last night. Or, I’m in a hotel on vacation and that’s why the bed feels strange.
Nothing comes back to me.
After another minute, still without anything surfacing, I squeeze his hand, hoping he’ll say more.
His hand pulls in mine as he turns away. Doctor? A hospital? That at least explains the jackhammer in my head.
“Megan, it’s me, Eli. Can you open your eyes? Can you squeeze my hand again?”
Eli? Should I know him?
The building pressure in my head is trying to blast my skull in a million directions. I want to reach up but it’s hard to move anything or speak.
“Don’t push her,” a different voice says—the doctor he called for? This voice is rougher, gravelly. Older. “She might need some time before she wants to respond.”
But I need answers now…
“But—” Eli starts.
“But let’s not rush this.” A warning lowers the doctor’s voice.
The tension between them… There seems to be more to that conversation, something else I should understand. I grasp for something. There should be some bigger picture coming into focus here, making sense of all this. Instead I’m spinning in confusion.
I force all the energy and concentration I have through my arm to squeeze his hand and hang on for dear life. The pressure in my head surges. I get my other hand to move toward my face. A sound escapes my throat.
“She’s in pain. Can’t you fix that?”
There’s movement and rustling.
Everything fades away.
When I crawl up out of the blackness, I wince at the dull pain pounding in my head and throughout my body. But it’s not as bad now; I can manage through this. Senses come back one at a time. Hearing first: a beeping, a faraway cackle laugh, a machine humming, and a voice speaking quietly in monologue. It’s just a sound without meaning for the longest time. Then it turns into that voice again. His voice.
…when we go home… I’ll make you chicken Marsala … we’ll sit by the fire…
Next comes the sense of being in my body, but it’s like I’ve been mummified and my limbs will crack if I try to move them. My mouth is bone dry so I concentrate there, finally getting my tongue to respond, but it’s similar to peeling old electrical tape off dry wood.
You’re so beautiful…
He whispers now, stroking my hair back from my face. It feels nice but at the same time, it pulses pain through my head, then radiating out.
The room is becoming more real and my sense of smell suddenly turns on: floor cleaner, disinfectant, the too-sweet scent of florist flowers, and a distinctly masculine scent of aftershave and cologne. That’s the one pleasant smell because it’s not overpowering like the others that are burning my nostrils.
As far as taste goes, I hope to god I never have to taste anything like this again. It’s that dried-out morning mouth you get in the winter when the heat is up high, but times one thousand. I want to breathe through my nose but feel something, a tube maybe, in one side.
Finally I get my eyes open and see him for the first time, the face that goes with that voice: dark hair, brown eyes. His shirt is a soft brownish tan. That’s all I can clearly see. Everything is blurry, coming to focus way too slowly for my liking. A nice face, I think, just as he leans down. He is going is kiss me.
I try to speak, which doesn’t work. My throat is desert dry.
“Careful!” A doctor appears behind the first man and leans down to look. “Mrs. Hawthorn, don’t speak just yet. You’ll want some water first. Your throat was severely cut—”
“Not yet. She’s not ready to hear all that.” The man physically pulls the doctor back by the arm. They glare at each other through a chilly moment of silence, while I try to get my bearings. The younger man who’s been talking to me is… intimidating. Built like a fighter. Handsome, but gritty.
“Ellison, she needs to understand her injuries.” The doctor is tall and skinny, fluffy white hair, with a hard, long face. He looks more like an old, grumpy professor at medical school than a caring doctor.
The two men are stuck in another stare off.
Then the doctor looks back to me, “Mrs. Hawthorn… Megan, let’s take it slow with your voice. I’m optimistic everything is fine, but I don’t want you to strain your vocal chords. We had to make some…repairs.”
Why the pause there?
They turn to each other and I have trouble following what they say. Then the younger man who’s been talking to me operates the bed to raise my head and holds a straw to my mouth. At first, my throat doesn’t want to work, but the water slowly makes it way down. After a few sips, it’s soothing.
I make a softer noise, but when the first man—Ellison—touches me, I pinch my face.
“Meg, what’s wrong?”
Both men stare at me, giving me a chance to see the doctor’s face. He has gray eyebrows over icy blue eyes. He is interested but looks like he’s peering at a bug, not a human patient. It makes me even colder.
Ellison is young, thirty maybe? I look back and forth between them, trying to place them. They know me but I don’t even recognize them.
“Megan?” the doctor says carefully, “Do you remember your husband, Ellison?”
Husband? I look at the younger man again and the growing horror in his eyes. He jerks away, covering his face, making an awful sound.
“Megan, I’m Dr. Harris. You’ve been here six weeks, since your car accident. Do you remember any of that? Blink several times for yes.”
I stare at him instead.
I try to move my toes and fingers. Everything is so stiff that I can’t tell if my digits moved at all. I start to speak but he holds up a hand.
I weakly wave toward my head and then the other man, Ellison, trying to ask about us.
“With your brain trauma, I suspected we might be looking at some memory loss.”
We? It wasn’t him lying here. And why did he start with that assumption? I look around wildly, trying to see more of the room.
“You’re lucky really,” Dr. Harris says as he leans back and crosses his arms. “Some people lose short term memory, so they can’t hang onto time, so to speak. They would forget what I just said.”
Lucky? Something tells me he should be more worried. But instead, he’s talking like we should just move on. It’s all normal. But … I’m married? A voice pops into my head: Rule number 1. No entanglements. Keep your eyes on the goal. Is that my voice? I can’t tell.
I glance at Ellison. He’s watching me, calmer now, and I notice his eyes are like polished wood, a very warm pretty brown.
“You’ll get through this, Megan,” the doctor says. “We’re here to help, okay?”
I wish he’d stop calling me that. I’m not sure why, but the name rubs me the wrong way. A short blonde comes in. I look at her long, curly locks for a minute before realizing she’s a nurse. Without addressing me, she joins t
Ellison sits by my side until the nurse shoos him away—to check my catheter. Both men go out into the hall. I wonder if I’ve been given the same privacy while I was under.
“Don’t worry,” she tells me in a cheery voice. “You’re responding well. You’ll be on your feet and going by yourself soon.”
Does any of this make sense? I feel like I’m watching it instead of living it.
I blink and… I don’t see her. I look around the empty room. Did I just fall asleep and wake up? I touch my head again, feeling for stitches or scars. There’s something under my hair. A scar? I touch my neck, running a finger down the slightly raised skin. It’s a straight line going down from my ear. Maybe I was lucky in that regard. Just imagine if the cut had gone across my jugular. I shudder.
Ellison comes in alone and sits down. I look at him just in time to catch worry creasing his brow. Then he sees me looking and smiles, the kind of smile you give to a child you want to calm down.
“It’s all going to be okay, Megan. I promise.” He takes my hand and holds it between both of his, gently running his lips across my knuckles.
I whisper, weakly, “But…”
“No buts. No worries. I’ll keep you safe. I’ve got you, Meg. Just rest now.”
Safe from what?
I close my eyes and a hot tear makes its way through my lashes. I don’t even know where I am, but I know this much: I hate feeling weak and helpless, and I hate even more that anyone is witness to this.
His hand touches my face and wipes the tear, but I bat him away. This isn’t right. Something isn’t right here. My gut is telling me not to trust him or that doctor. I need to get out of this place as soon as I can walk.
It’s been a very long day. Like a lifetime, actually, since this is the only day I remember living. I’m pretty much helpless so all I can do is gather information until I’m strong enough to move around on my own.
My “husband” Ellison says my name is Megan Hawthorn and that I survived a horrific car accident six weeks ago, six weeks and a day to be exact. We’re in Portland, Oregon, but I can’t pull up any memories of the city at all. We just moved here, he explained, from Maine. I don’t recall living in Maine either.
Shouldn’t those two places pull up memories of the cities I lived in?
He arranges the flowers in the vase again, fidgeting, his back to me so I take the opportunity to trace his slim figure. The tan shirt is neatly tucked into black pants, but wrinkled from sleeping here on the cot next to my bed. The nice cot isn’t anything I’d expect to see in a hospital. It actually looks very comfortable. He must have brought it here himself. His hair is dark and full, his body seemingly perfect although I’ve only seen him clothed.
Ellison and Megan… Hawthorn. I have to think about our last name, which seems very strange. Now that the shock has worn off, I can tell he’s attractive, although he doesn’t make my heart flutter or awake any passion in me. Maybe that’s because I’m recovering from life-threatening injuries. We’re in a small room together with just the light over the bed turned on and an ugly off-orange privacy curtain pulled shut, making the room even smaller.
He turns toward me, and I wonder if I could know that chiseled face. When our gazes meet, his brown eyes light up.
“Meg, you’re awake.” He sits down on the edge of my bed and rests his hand over mine. “I can’t wait to hear your voice again… Maybe the doctor will be in soon, and we’ll see if you can try to talk.”
I stare back at him without expression. Megan. Meg. Wouldn’t I be able to tell if that was my name? I’ll have to wait until I can talk to ask more about that.
“Oregon?” I mouth. He looks at my lips for a minute and then shakes himself out of it.
“Oregon… We came to visit and loved Portland, the river, the mountains to the east. The people too. We fell in love with this place, Meg.” He’s excited and expecting me to feel the same. “So we decided to move. Just like that. It was your idea.”
My idea, really? To be that impulsive? I look away, thinking that over.
“We got a real estate agent, bought land out in the country by Sandy, drew up plans. I build houses for a living and we wanted to build our own from the ground up. It’s part way done. Then—then you were in the accident.”
It’s starting to make sense on a logical level. Emotionally… I can’t figure out why I’m here, why I can’t remember Ellison, or things about myself.
There’s a brace on my arm still, even though the nurse said it should be healed by now. My neck is wrapped and he warned me not to talk yet, not until the doctor approves it. But didn’t it happen six weeks ago? I point to it, looking at him again.
“It was… bad. Pretty deep.” Ellison seemed to go somewhere dark.
It scares me—I want to know everything but I’m swimming in an ocean of new information. I can’t get it all in order. Somehow I know this chaotic feeling, and I also know I just need to start working through it step by step. I’ll figure it out. I lift a hand so he’ll lean closer.
I’m afraid to even whisper so I form words without making any noise. “How did we meet?” Still, he understands.
“You came into this little Irish pub with a girlfriend. You looked like a rocker chick.” He stops for a minute, brow furrowed. “I’m a guy. I just remember how hot you looked, but I’ll try to remember the details for you. Maybe it’ll help.”
Help me remember? A flicker of hope ignites somewhere deep inside me.
“You were slender but still curvy in these black, tight, leather pants and a leather jacket. And high heels. Let’s just say smoking hot was an understatement.” He grins at me suddenly. “But your face gave you away. You looked tough at first glance and then I saw your sweet face. And that night, your hair was all flat and shiny, and you had it pulled over one shoulder. It was a little longer than it is right now. So when you two sat at the bar, I put down my pool stick and walked over and sat next to you.”
He pauses, looking down. Is he remembering more? Or sad about something? I touch his hand so he’ll continue.
“You turned around and said, ‘That seat’s taken.’ But I really didn’t think anyone was coming in. I didn’t care anyway. I said, ‘I know. I’m sitting here. I was actually saving that seat for my girlfriend.’ And you blushed.”
I move my head, a very slight shake and raise my eyebrows.
“No, there was no girlfriend. But somehow it worked out. Somehow an amazing lady like you let me have five minutes. I bought you a drink, and your friend starting talking to someone, and we ended up playing pool together.” The wide smile stays on his face as he shakes his head a little. Then I notice the corner of his eye is moist. I wait for more of the story and then realize he’s lost in memory.
Why can’t I remember any of it? Or anything? I try to picture this woman he’s describing, but it’s a vague image, not any kind of self identity.
I close my eyes, wanting to scream and yell—I’m so frustrated and afraid. Why? I’m not sure. Everything is so fuzzy. My head is pounding. I can’t make sense of anything.
“Shh, now, it’s okay,” he says, like I was yelling.
The medicine in my IV lulls me back to the blackness. Part of me wants to go. The other part is terrified. I might wake up back in my life, able to speak and move, or I might wake up to a worse nightmare. What will come after this?
I awake again to murmurs outside the door, just loud enough for me to hear without understanding. I’m still here. Nothing has changed. I’m not sure how many times I’ve woken up and how many days have passed.
I hope I haven’t lost even more ti
It’s quiet here, which is strange. I’m not sure if I’ve been in a hospital as a patient before, or just visited people, but it seems like there should be more nurses coming in and out, people walking by, and noise from other patients. One more item to add to my ask-about-later list, when I’m allowed to use my voice.
I keep going back and replaying those first few moments, trying to remember where everything went wrong. How I got here. It’s the strangest thing, like my entire memory is just a thought away. I can remember movies, foods I like, even riding on a motorcycle on a dark highway. I’m living with this feeling that I just came out of a movie theater and I need to remember what my plans were for afterward. It’ll come back, now, or any minute. Or now. But it doesn’t.
I had decided to make a break for it at the first opportunity, but sadly I realize that wasn’t going to work. So I need to get stronger and figure a few things out. Then I’ll know what to do.
The doctor—what was his name?—had me try to talk. My voice sounded raspy. It freaked me out so I didn’t talk for a day and then we tried again. It seems to be getting clearer each time.
Ellison returns and I whisper his name. His face brightens and he leans over to hear me.
He jerks. Tiny, but perceptibly. I’m getting better at reading him. Something lingers in his eyes. “Tell you?”
I lift my hand enough to wave my fingers back and forth between him and I.
“Oh, about us? Tell you about us?” He visibly relaxes and lets his gaze wander off to the other side of the room, like he’s thinking, or remember… or making something up.
I use the opportunity to study him. It’s one of the few times he’s not staring at me. He’s very clean cut. Military clean cut, I realize with a jolt. He has the strong, thicker neck of someone who works out hard, and his shirt is straining over his biceps.
“Were you with me?” I ask, my voice breezy, raspy.
“Meg, your voice works!” His breath brushes my face as he takes it in both hands. I’m too startled to move.
I can’t breathe.
“Sorry, sorry.” He leans back. “I want things to be like they were before. I don’t know how to handle this… you not knowing me.”
Stranger in my Bed by Kristen Chaney / Romance & Love / Thrillers & Crime have rating 4.1 out of 5 / Based on33 votes