Brenda and Phil gathered close and took his hand, the three of them clutching fingers while his parents began to cry and laugh.
Oren glanced around the room, looking completely disoriented. “What happened?”
When his gaze landed on me, I held out the cup, bringing the straw to his chapped lips. He drank a few sips and then closed his eyes and sighed in relief.
I set the cup on the side tray. “Do you want me to raise the bed so you can sit up?” They’d stopped elevating his broken leg, so I didn’t think there would be any problem with getting him more comfortable if that’s what he wanted.
And he did. With a nod, he murmured, “Yes. Thank you.”
I pressed the bedside button and watched his face as his torso was lifted. When he opened his eyes and lifted a hand, letting me know he was good, I stopped. He studied me a moment, his gaze moving over my clothes.
I looked down at the scrubs I was still wearing and tried to think up a reason to give him why I wasn’t in my own clothes.
“You don’t look old enough to be a nurse,” he slurred sleepily.
I started to smile, thinking he was teasing me since I’d just given him a drink and adjusted his bed, but then he turned away from me, completely dismissing me, and I realized he really did think I was a nurse.
My gaze zipped to his parents, only to find they were staring right back, alarm in their eyes. Brenda returned her attention to her son. “Oren?” she said fearfully.
“Yeah?” His soft, raspy voice made me shudder. He reached for his mom again. He’d never once tried to reach for me.
He knew who she was. He knew who his father was. He knew who he was.
But he didn’t know who I was.
Fear, dark and cold, rushed into me. Oren didn’t know who I was. How could he not know who I was?
“Where’s Zoey?” he asked, glancing around the room.
“Oh shit,” Phil whispered.
I covered my mouth with both hands and took a step backward. Oren’s parents exchanged a horrified glance before they looked across the bed at me, anguish flooding off both of them. I shook my head, trying to deny it, but one of the worst things possible had happened. He’d lost his recent memory, at least four years of it...because he still thought his sister was alive.
Catching all the distress in the room, Oren said, “What’s wrong? Is she okay? What happened? Why am I here? Where’s my sister?”
Brenda whimpered and laid her hands on him in reassurance, but he must’ve sensed her pain.
“Mom?” His voice trembled with fear.
His parents looked to me again, and Oren turned my way, his gaze accusing, as if I was interfering in a private moment that a stranger should not interrupt.
“I, uh...” My voice trembled as I lifted my hands and backed another step away. “I’ll let you have your family time.”
His parents nodded their thanks, and Oren turned back to them, already forgetting me.
Tears streamed down my cheeks. My legs felt like noodles and in no way able to support me, but I kept walking, letting myself out of his room and quietly shutting the door behind me.
I was halfway down the hall when I heard him scream, “Noooo...Zoey.”
It was a miracle his vocal chords could be that loud after how hoarse he’d been. But the pain behind his screams let me know he’d found a way to use them regardless.
Noel, and Quinn, and Zoey, and just...everyone flew out of the waiting room just as my legs gave out and I started to collapse.
My brother dove at me, barely catching me. “Caroline? What the hell? Are you okay?”
Another cry from Oren’s room had him lifting his face and glancing that way. “What happened?”
I grabbed hold of his shirt as our friends gathered around, looking panicked and worried. Tears streamed down my face and clogged my throat. I couldn’t talk.
“He doesn’t...” A sob seized me, and I squeezed my eyes closed.
“Caroline?” Worry filled Noel’s voice as he stroked my face.
“His memory,” I got out. “Lost years. Still thought his sister was alive.” I met the eyes of every person gathered around me. “He doesn’t remember any of us.”
Days of exhaustion, fear, worry, heartbreak, and guilt took over then. I passed out cold, everything going dark and blessedly numb.
I woke in a hospital bed. At first, I had no idea what was going on or why I was there. When I remembered Oren, and his coma, and him waking up with only half of his memory, I gasped and sat upright. Then I whimpered and cradled my head because it throbbed like hell.