Beqa Lagoon, Fiji August 2005
“I picked up the workbook for class before we left Austin. Let’s work on filling out the first exercise over breakfast, okay?”
“Shannon, may I remind you that we’re on our honeymoon?” Shannon looked up from the marriage class workbook she’d picked up before she and her husband of three days had left Austin. “Babe, we can totally smoke the rest of the class by showing up prepared on the first night,” came the reply. “They’ll never expect us to have the first questionnaire filled out the day after we get back! Are we in this to show them who’s boss, or what?”
Edmund chuckled and shook his head at his bride, hunched over the first page of the workbook like an Olympic runner crouched at the starting block.
Shannon paused to twist her long copper waves into submission, twirling them around her fist and forcing them into a messy bun secured with a second pen that she produced from her handbag. Her greenish eyes glistened with golden flecks as she lifted her eyebrows in anticipation and stared at him.
“So?” she prodded. “Are we gonna do this thing, or what?” “All right,” he conceded. No use dousing the fire. “But the shuttle arrives to take us to the marina in an hour, so we eat while we do it.”
“Deal,” she said, and her perfect merlot lips curved into a vic- torious smile.
That smile got him every time.
“First question,” she announced. “Name the famous couple that you and your mate are most like.”
“Famous couple,” Edmund repeated, shaking his head as he poured coffee into both of their cups. He returned the carafe to the room service cart bellied up to the side of their patio table and asked, “What, like Antony and Cleopatra?”
“We’re nothing like them,” she corrected, making a large X in the air between them with her pen. “They were completely dys- functional. She’s totally vain and histrionic, and he’s a big cheater.” Suddenly, she froze for a moment and lifted one high, arched eyebrow. “You’re not trying to tell me something here, are you?”
Edmund laughed, leaping to change the course of the train before it derailed. “No, Shannon. I’m not. So who would you say then?”
“I was thinking we’re more like Rob and Laura Petrie.”
“From that old Dick Van Dyke show?” he mused. “Nah. Too cozy.”
“Yeah,” she agreed. “Ooh! Wait. How about Jonathan and Jen- nifer?”
“That’s it. We’re the Harts.” “Who are they?”
“You know, Hart to Hart. Glamorous jet-setter couple who solved crimes together. She was a gorgeous redhead, and he was handsome and debonair, and—”
“I can see the resemblance to us now,” he said, grinning. “But don’t you ever watch television from this century?”
“This from the man whose mind went directly to ancient Rome.”
A laugh burst out of him. “Well, how about Ross and Rachel?” Shannon’s mouth turned impossibly downward in that pout that took over her entire face every time someone mentioned Friends. Edmund counted down the seconds until her typical response. It would start with a whine— “Ohhhh.”
“I can’t believe there’s no more Friends.” “Maybe they’ll syndicate.”
“Maybe.” But her weepy expression said syndication would never be the same for a fan who had planned her Thursday nights (and Friday mornings) around a group of thirty-somethings and a coffee house every week for the last decade of her life. “Besides, Rachel’s the one with the money. And Ross is the brainiac.”
“Are you comparing yourself to Ross?” he asked, confused. “Or are you saying I’m not a brainiac just because my family has money?”
“We’re just not Ross and Rachel, babe.”
“Okay then. How about Meredith and McDreamy from that new hospital show we watched the other night? What’s the name of that show? You liked them, didn’t you?”
“Yeah, I think I might like Grey’s Anatomy,” she answered. “But they’ve only just started. It’s too soon to tell. We don’t really know what kind of couple they’ll be, or if they ever really will be one. I mean, I’m not sure they’ll make it as a real couple.”
“You do know they’re not real, right?”
She ignored him. “She’s too dark, and he’s a player. They don’t have the right stuff to last forever, so they’re nothing like us. We’re the Harts, okay?”
The hotel phone rang as she wrote down their answer, and Ed- mund went inside to pick it up. “What’s the next question?” he called over his shoulder.
“Oh, this is an easy one,” she returned. “Do the two of you have a song and, if so, what is it?”
Edmund grinned. He’d chosen to never reveal to Shannon that he’d seen Titanic with Sally Shafer, his first love, the girl he’d planned to marry; nor had he admitted that he didn’t remember the tinny instrumental version of its theme song, which Shannon said had been playing in the elevator where they first met. If she wanted that to be their song, he felt no particular need to confess that it had ever had any other connotation for him.
She did look a little like Kate Winslet’s Rose, come to think of it.
“Hello,” he said as he pressed the receiver to his cheek and listened as the front desk clerk told him their shuttle had arrived ahead of schedule and could be asked to come back later.
“That won’t be necessary. Send a cart and ask the shuttle driver to wait for us. We’re just finishing up.”
Edmund hung up the phone and crossed to the wide-open patio.
“They’re early, right?” Shannon said with a sigh when she no- ticed him leaning on the chiffon-draped post. “Figures. Two hours late for our massage, and now an hour early for diving.”
Her pen bounced across the tabletop when she tossed it, and she paused to stuff one last strawberry into her mouth before she bounded past him. She plucked the second pen from her hair and tossed it to him as buoyant red waves tumbled down her back.
“Just give me five minutes and I’m all yours until the end of time!”
Once upon a time, in a charming land called Austin, an exquisite princess with fire-red hair slipped into a deep sleep.
Her prince held vigil at her side, hoping and praying that she would one day open her beautiful emerald eyes again . . .
“I’m Dr. Petros. I’m just going to shine a light into your eyes for a closer look. Don’t be alarmed, all right?”
The beam of light cut through her like a laser, and Shannon squirmed away from it.
“Can you speak? Do you know your name?”
She moaned, pulling away from the large hand holding the lid of her eye open. When she’d escaped it and the white shaft of light finally set her free, several solid black silhouettes moved in around her.
“Let’s get an EKG, a chest X-ray, and some blood work right away,” said the voice that had awoken her. Then, more softly, he asked, “Can you see me?”
She blinked several times before squinting to get a better look at the shadowy man standing over her. The darkness of him began to fade until a distorted—yet friendly—face emerged before her. She pressed her eyes shut and when she opened them again, kind, dark eyes seemed to smile at her.
Shaggy brown hair . . . a shadow of stubble across a dimpled, suntanned face . . .
“Welcome back,” he said with what seemed like strange enthu- siasm. “I’m Dr. Petros. Do you know your name?”
She tried to speak, but she choked on the words, coughing and sputtering for breath.
“That’s okay,” the doctor reassured her. “Your throat’s going to be a little tight and dry for a while. Let’s get the patient some ice chips,” he said over his shoulder.
Shannon clenched her jaw at the words. She tried to ask, “Where am I?” through her teeth, but she couldn’t manage it with- out descending into another coughing fit.
“Here. Let’s try this first,” he said, and he spooned few ice chips from a plastic cup and offered them to her. “Open.”
She did as she was told, and then she flinched as the chips hit her tongue.
“Just suck on those for a few minutes,” the nurse who had fetched them advised. “Don’t chew. Let them melt.”
Frigid liquid cooled her parched mouth. When she opened her eyes again, the doctor stood over her, muscular arms folded across his chest, a lopsided smile once again lighting up his face. Despite her confusion, Shannon eyed him curiously. A stethoscope dangled from the neck of his white trench coat, and he wore several thin bracelets made of brown suede cord and small wooden beads where other men donned watches.
She pushed the last of the ice chips to the side of her mouth and tried to speak over them in the rasp that used to be her voice. “What kind of doctor are you?”
“I’m a neurologist.”
Neuro. Nerves. Nervous system.
“Have I gone mad?”
The doctor huffed out a chuckle and shook his head. “No, you’re not ‘mad.’”
A sudden jolt of fear knocked the wind out of her and she gasped. “Am I paralyzed?”
Shannon kicked her feet beneath the scratchy white sheet and sighed in relief when they moved—though they did feel as if they weighed a few hundred pounds.
“Not paralyzed, either.”
“Then why do I need a neurologist? What am I doing here?” “You were in an accident,” he replied.
“An accident? What happened?” A sudden flash of memory made her gasp. “Edmund. Is Edmund all right? Was he hurt?” “No, he wasn’t hurt in the accident,” he said, slipping the shiny stethoscope from around his neck. “You’ve been unconscious for quite a while. How about you let me check you out before you start asking your questions? I’m just going to listen to your breathing. Can you lean forward?”
Shannon’s entire body felt weighted down, but she pushed against it. She jumped when the cold metal of his scope touched her back and she realized she wore one of those hospital gowns with the large, unfortunate opening in the back.
“Take deep breaths,” he told her, but her lungs felt constricted when she tried. “Good. Just a few more.”
When he finished, he guided her toward the softness of the pillow propped behind her and took a step back.
“You mentioned Edmund—” “Where is he?”
“—but do you know your own name?”
“Shannon,” she blurted, frowning. “Where is Edmund?” “He’s not in the hospital right now.”
“What hospital is this?”
“Draper Long-Term Care Facility.”
“How long have I been here?”
“You’ve been here ever since your accident,” he answered. “Do you remember your accident, Shannon?”
She shook her head. “Was it some sort of car accident? A head- on collision or something?”
“No, not a car.” She thought he might have sighed as he looked at his shoes and shifted from one foot to the other. “Think back,” he said once his dark brown eyes met hers again. “What’s the last thing you remember?”
“I—I don’t really . . .”
A distant beat intensified until she could hardly hear anything over it. Several seconds thumped past before she recognized it as
her own heartbeat drumming in her head.
“Do you know your address?” he asked, and Shannon gri- maced, first at the doctor, and then at the plump, middle-aged nurse standing next to him looking so hopeful that she might re- member basic personal information. Stranger still, Shannon re- alized she was having trouble doing it. “How about your phone number?”
The side of her head began to itch. Why couldn’t she think of her own phone number? What was wrong with her?
“You said you’re a neurologist,” she said slowly. “My brain’s messed up, isn’t it?”
“It’s just a little over-stimulated at the moment,” he told her, and he touched her hand. “Let’s try this, Shannon. What’s the first number that comes into your mind?”
After just a fraction of a pause, she said with confidence: “78737. Is that my phone number?”
The nurse muttered something to the doctor, and he nodded. “What? What is it?”
“Well, that’s a ZIP code,” he prompted, and understanding dawned inside her.
“Right!” she exclaimed. “Austin, Texas, 78737! It’s our address.” The doctor smiled. “Good. Can you think of the rest of it?”
Shannon bit down on her tongue and held it there between her teeth as her brain itched and itched. She wanted to scratch it, she really did, but—nothing.
“What is wrong with my head?” She growled in frustration, smacking her hand against the bed railing. “And why are my arms strapped down?” she asked, noticing her arms for the first time and looking up with alarm. “What, am I a prisoner?”
“It’s okay, Shannon,” he said as he loosened the side straps and set her arms free. “That was for your own protection. When you woke up, you were flailing. What do you say you get some rest for now. This is your nurse, Angela. She’s going to take some blood, and in a little while we’ll get you a quick chest X-ray and an EKG.
Once I have a look at everything, I’ll come back and check on you again, okay?”
“No, wait,” she said, rubbing her sore and swollen forearm. “I have so many questions.”
“And I’ll answer every one of them when I come back, I promise.”
“Are you going to call Edmund?”
“You just focus on getting some rest. I’ll see you very soon.” At the door, he smiled at her. “Welcome back, Shannon.”
She watched his head disappear, long dark hair moving freely. That kind of man wasn’t her type, really. Edmund had been fair all the way around—light skin, eyes, and hair. Still, she couldn’t escape the thought as it came.
He’s very attractive, a voice in her head seemed to whisper. Shannon gave it a violent shake, trying to replace the image of shaggy Dr. Petros with one of Edmund. But nothing came.
Why can’t I remember?
“Do you know my husband?” she asked Angela as she lifted Shannon’s hand and squeezed her index finger.
Angela shook her head and shushed her. “This is just a quick stick,” she said, but the warning came as no real notification at all. Before Shannon could process the words, a small cylinder pressed against the tip of her finger inflicted an instant sting.
“Youch!” she howled. The nurse squeezed it until a drop of blood flowed out, which she transferred to the end of a small blue strip protruding from some sort of meter. “What is that?”
“Just monitoring your glucose,” the nurse said reassuringly. “My glucose. Why?”
“Standard procedure for patients waking up from a coma.”
“A coma.” Shannon narrowed her eyes and focused on the nurse’s apple-cheeked face. “I was in a coma?”
“Indeed you were. Now you have some ice chips in the cup, and I want you to suck on them for a while. The doctor has ordered some initial tests, and they should be here in just a little bit.” She placed a wired remote into Shannon’s hand. “If you need anything, you just push this button, okay? I’m at the other end of it. Do you want your shows on?”
Angela nodded toward a metal rack angled into the corner of the room. A black box sat on the top shelf, wired to the television hanging above it. The three shelves below it held DVD cases.
“All your favorites are there. Would you like to watch some- thing?”
All my favorites. How would you know my favorites? she won- dered.
“The complete Dick Van Dyke Show,” she said as she ap- proached the rack, angling her head to read the labeled cases. “Let’s see, there’s some I Love Lucy, some Hart to Hart, the com- plete collection of Friends.”
The corners of her mouth turned downward, but she wasn’t quite sure why.
Looking back at her, the nurse asked, “Any of that sound ap- pealing?”
Shannon shrugged. Suddenly, a thought occurred. “Wait—every episode of Friends?”
“Would you like me to put in season one?”
Questions bombarded her tired brain, and she shook her head and closed her eyes. “No,” she finally replied. “I think I’ll just . . .”
Dropping her head back to the pillow behind her, she let her words trail as a cloak of weariness pressed down on her.
“That’s right,” Angela said, and she moved to Shannon’s bed- side and stroked her hair. “You just take it easy for a little bit. You’ve had a big day.”
She heard the soft thump of the nurse’s rubber shoes as she padded out of the room. The next thing she knew, a lanky young man with a sing-song voice asked her to lean forward so he could place a plate behind her for the portable X-ray.
“Sorry we took so long,” he said as he gingerly arranged the tubes that bridged the distance between her arm and the plastic bags of fluid hanging from the rolling stand next to the bed.
“Did you?” she commented. “I must have dozed off.”
“Oh yeah, Dr. Petros ordered your tests three hours ago. But we’ve got a couple people out this week.”
Three hours, she thought. It felt like moments ago when the doctor had left the room. The cute doctor with the wavy brown hair and expressive dark eyes . . . Shannon gave herself another mental shake.
“Petros,” she said aloud. “Is that Greek?”
“Sure is. Dreamy, isn’t he?” the male nurse said with a wide, toothy grin. “Dr. Daniel Petros. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the others here doodle his name like grade-school girls.”
“Now when I tell you to, hold your breath so I can get a good picture, okay?”
“On three. One, two, three. Hold it.”
● — ● — ●
The elderly woman on the other end of the line seemed to stop breathing. Daniel had heard that thundering silence more times than he could count; more times than he even liked to think about. He repeated his introduction.
“Hello? This is Dr. Petros at Draper Long-Term Care.”
“Is it Shannie?” the woman asked with an emotional rasp that reminded him very much of her niece’s throaty voice when she had asked, “Where am I?” In all those years that he’d been caring for Shannon Ridgeway, he’d never imagined her voice as a husky one. He wondered what a little more time getting reacquainted with speech would do to it.
“Yes, ma’am. I’m calling with some fairly spectacular news.”
The woman sputtered, but her questions didn’t quite find her voice.
“Shannon is awake, Mrs. Winters.”
Daniel waited. Five seconds went by, then ten. “Did you hear me, ma’am? Shannon is awake.” “I’ll be right there.”
And with a slam, the call disconnected, leaving Daniel with a soft hum in his ear. He laughed out loud as he hung up the phone and leaned back. His desk chair creaked as he did, and he shook his head and raked both of his hands through his hair. He so seldom had the opportunity to deliver truly happy news. Phone calls to the families of his Draper patients typically began with, “I’m so sorry to have to tell you . . .”
He looked up to find Angela Westborne leaning on the doorjamb, watching him with a smile.
“What is it?”
“The EKG was just taken.” “Good grief, it’s about time.”
“I called down to light a fire underneath them. You’ll have all the results within thirty minutes.”
“The X-ray, too?” “And the blood work.”
“Very good, Angela. Thank you very much.” When she con- tinued to hover in the doorway, Daniel raised his eyebrows and asked, “Something else?”
“Pretty unusual, isn’t it?” “What’s that?”
“Waking up after almost ten years the way she did.”
“Oh,” he said, barking out a laugh. “Unusual. Yes. It’s unusual.” “Not like most of our patients.”
“No, she’s not. And to tell you the truth, Angela, I’m relieved to finally get to make a call like that to the family.”
“You called them then,” she said thoughtfully. “I’m sure they were thrilled.”
He chuckled again. “She just said she’d be right here and hung up on me.”
The two of them shared a laugh over it, and Angela’s entire demeanor softened as she tilted her head slightly and looked at him. “Shannon Ridgeway has become very special to all of us here,
hasn’t she, Doctor?”
“Well, it’s been nearly ten years,” he pointed out. “In my case, I’ve been her doctor every day since she was first admitted six months after her accident.”
The look on Angela’s expressive face spoke volumes. Daniel recalled that she’d discovered him having lunch in Shannon’s room more than once, even found him asleep in the recliner next to her bed one night when he’d avoided heading home and decided to watch an episode or two of those old classic TV shows Edmund had asked him to play for her from time to time.
“I’m just happy she’s the patient who woke up for you.” “Not for me,” he corrected. “For herself.”
“When will you tell her about Mr. Ridgeway?”
“Once her aunt arrives. I think it will be easier news to hear with family in the room to comfort her instead of a bunch of strangers.”
Angela tapped the doorjamb several times and smiled. “I’ll bring you the results once they’re in my hands.”
Easier news to hear.
The news of what had happened to Edmund would not be easy under any circumstances. Mere tolerability seemed like the best he could hope for, and Daniel bowed his head and prayed for just that.
Prepare the ground, Lord. Please. Help her cope with what’s to come.
● — ● — ●
“Could you ask my doctor to come back, please? He was here quite a while ago and said he’d return in an hour, but I haven’t seen hide nor hair of him.”
The male voice on the other end of the speaker replied, “Sure thing.” Shannon waited, but he had nothing more to say, so she dropped the call button and let it sag over the side of the bedrail.
She tossed her head back into the stack of pillows the X-ray technician had fluffed and placed behind her, and she released a growl of frustration. The buttery walls of her hospital room slowly crawled in a kaleidoscope pattern, and Shannon clamped her eyes shut in an effort to stop the movement.
“You said she was awake?”
Shannon’s eyes launched open and her head popped up, send- ing the room into another spin. “Ohh,” she moaned, and she dropped her head again and closed her eyes.
She eased her eyes open slowly and squinted at the elderly woman hovering over her bedside. Tears glazed the woman’s steel- gray eyes as she covered her mouth with the sausage-like fingers of her very round hand. Silver hair, pulled into a neat little circle at the top of her head, looked as if it had been combed upward over a pillow of air. Something about that funny bun reminded her of something, but what?
“Oh, Shannie, you just don’t know how long we’ve prayed for this!”
The woman’s voice sat very high at the back of her throat, breaking with emotion as she spoke.
I know that voice.
“Can you speak, dearie?”
She hadn’t meant to gape at the woman, but Shannon could see that her astonished expression had wounded her.
“You said she was talking to you?” the woman asked the tall Greek doctor with the shaggy dark hair.
“Yes. She’s able to speak,” he confirmed. “I think she’s just feel- ing a little overwhelmed at the moment.” He moved toward her and took Shannon’s hand. “Shannon, do you remember me? I’m Dr. Petros. We met a little while ago.”
She managed a nod, but she couldn’t take her eyes off the woman who had begun to weep softly.
“Are you feeling all right?” the doctor asked.
“Y—you never came back,” she muttered. “You said you were coming back to answer my questions.”
“I know,” he replied, his attention diverted to the screen on the monitor behind her bed. “I wanted to get your test results.”
“And did you?”
“I did. Shannon, do you recognize your aunt?”
She narrowed her eyes and regarded the woman with caution. “You’re . . . my aunt?”
Nodding hopefully, she dried her tears. “Yes. I’m your—” “Aunt Mary?” she blurted, and an unexpected wave of relief
washed over her. She remembered this woman. Pushing herself upright, she took a closer look. “Aunt Mary, you look terrible! Are you sick?”
Mary chuckled and touched her turkey neck. “No, dearie. I’m not sick. I’ve just aged since the last time you saw me.”
The doctor touched Mary’s arm and they exchanged a strange look between them. He scraped a chair toward the side of the bed and nodded at Mary. “Why don’t you sit down so we can all talk for a while.”
“It’s so good to see your pretty eyes again,” Mary told her, smil- ing. “I’ve missed those eyes! The last time I saw them, you were looking at me over the top of your wedding cake as you cut into it. Do you remember that, Shannie?”
A rushing wind moved through her ears, and a bright flash of the elaborate strawberry-filled chocolate cake with scrolled fondant imprinted on the back side of her eyes. Her hands flew in- stinctively to her temples as she exclaimed, “What is wrong with me?”
The time for an explanation had come. She had so many ques- tions, and she wanted answers.
“You were in an accident,” the doctor told her, using a tone of voice people tended to think of as calming. It was not having that effect on Shannon.
“What kind of accident?”
“Do you remember going diving? On Fiji?” Shannon frowned, remembering only fragments.
“You were diving, and the tank had a malfunction. By the time they got you to the surface, you were already unconscious. In fact, you were several minutes without oxygen . . .”
His words trailed off into a tunnel, and Shannon struggled to follow them. She saw his lips moving, and the echo of his voice took on a metallic quality as it clanked at her. He continued to speak as he leaned over her and replaced the oxygen tube she’d removed before they arrived.
“Deep breaths,” he instructed as he came back into focus. “Slow and deep.”
Shannon clamped the tube to her nose and closed her eyes as she inhaled. When she opened them again, her aunt glared at the doctor as he inspected the monitor behind her again.
“So that’s why I’m here,” she surmised. “Because of the diving accident.”
“Yes,” he said. Stepping back, he folded his arms across his chest the way he had when she’d first met him, and he smiled in the same way too, that deep dimple at the center of his chin flashing at her. “You’ve been in a coma ever since that time. You spent several months at Austin-Bryant Regional Hospital—”
“—and you were transferred here to Draper Long-Term Care that Christmas.”
“Christmas,” she repeated, and her eyes darted to her aunt. “What about Edmund? Where is he?”
And with that, Mary descended into tears, burying her face in her hands.
“Aunt Mary? Where is he?”
“Let’s approach this a little more slowly, Shannon,” the doctor suggested.
She scowled at him. “What’s your name again?” “Dr. Petros.”
“Dr. Petros,” she repeated. “Where is Edmund?”
“We’ll discuss your husband in just a moment, Shannon. I just want to make sure you’re clear on what led up to this day. Is that okay with you?”
She gulped around the dry spot at the back of her throat and sighed. “So I was in a coma through Christmas. How long ago was that?”
Dr. Petros reached over and set his hand to rest overtop hers. “Almost ten years.”