The Husband She Couldn't Forget
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ďNo. She hasnít seen your crazy-looking self.Ē
Rolland took the ribbing in stride. ďIím a lot better than I was. I donít know what I looked like before, but this isnít bad, right?Ē
ďYou are correct there, my friend. Do ten curls, slowly. Melanie arrived two months ago, but she had to go through training on how to do things the Ryder way, and then she took over cases for Barbara Greenspan who went out early on maternity leave.Ē
ďThe lady with the cats.Ē Rolland chuckled. ďIím glad sheís gone.Ē
Horace held his curled arm for a second, then guided it down. ďYou scared of cats?Ē
ďI donít know, am I? She had like fifteen cat calendars, cat mugs, cat hats and cat chair covers. Her office is enough to scare anybody.Ē
Horace laughed and Rolland kept pumping iron, alternating arms. ďShe had a cat clock that chased a mouse. Do they screen people before they hire them here?Ē Rolland put the weights on his leg and watched Horace lie on the floor and laugh. ďGet up. Youíre making me look bad.Ē
ďYouíll like Melanie,Ē Horace told him. ďSheís really good. Sheíll help you return to society with hardly any glitches.Ē
ďNot if she has cats, she wonít.Ē
ďNow listen, in all seriousness.Ē
Rolland stopped moving. This was their code phrase when to listen closely. ďYouíre almost done here. Physically, youíve passed every test. The four-mile ride, and then you shook your head when Shelby was talking to you. Coordination, balance, stamina. You did it.Ē
Rolland leaned back and smiled. ďReally? Well Iíll beóĒ he frowned. ďIíll be what, Horace?Ē
ďA son of a gun.Ē
ďThatís right. Iíll be a son of a gun. Why arenít we celebrating with some of that bad chocolate cake Purdy cooks in the lunch room?Ē
ďYou have high-class taste buds, too, but donít say that too loud. I like Purdyís food.Ē Horace looked around as if Purdy had spies. He crouched down in front of Rolland. ďThe truth is that physically youíre healed. You might have a little difficulty with balance, but otherwise youíre okay. And youíve got your cane, if you need it.Ē
ďI donít need it.Ē
ďOkay,Ē Horace said, putting his hands out, knowing how Rolland felt about it. ďWe didnít know Barbara was going out early on maternity leave, or weíd have already started you with someone on the last phase of your treatment.Ē
ďIím not mad about that, Horace.Ē
ďI know the cat thing. Melanie is taking you on as a favor to Barbara. You have to get past Melanie Wysh before you can go into the world. You may never remember your old life, but you can start a new one. Sheís the gatekeeper.Ē
ďMelanie has the key, right?Ē Rolland said slowly.
ďThatís right. Your memory is getting better every day. Youíre remembering all the new things youíve been taught. I feel as if my child is growing up and going off into the world.Ē
ďIíll miss this place.Ē
ďYou can always come back to visit, but once youíre gone youíre going to be fine.I promise. Besides, youíll always know where to find me. Letís finish up and get some cake.Ē
Rolland did ten triceps presses and stretched. The other therapists watched him and he realized theyíd been charting his progress all along. These people had become his friends to replace the ones he didnít know if he had.
ďHorace, Iím going to shower and change. I want to meet Melanie today. Letís get this last phase started.Ē
The door to the gym opened and Horace looked around him. ďI guess youíre going to get your wish sooner than later. Thereís Melanie now.Ē
ďDude, Iím sweaty.Ē Rolland threw the towel over his face and mopped himself dry.
ďShe wonít care. Sheís down-to-earth people, like me. Melanie,Ē Horace called. ďYou might as well meet your new client. Melanie Wysh, this is my pal, Rolland.Ē
Rolland pulled the towel off his head and shoved it under his arm before extending his hand. ďIím sorry for my current state. Iím Rolland.Ē
Her eyes were the color of rust, her skin warm-looking like honey-baked bread. Sheíd been smiling as she walked, her hair bouncing in frivolous curls. Then she gasped twice and her hand flew to her cheek.
Her lips lost their smile, and she licked her teeth showing just a hint of pink tongue.
ďIs everything all right?Ē
She nodded in a jerky manner.
Her hand fluttered in mid-air and he took it, knowing it would be as soft as it was. Heíd learned people would sometimes react oddly to him and he forgave her.
ďIím Melanie Wysh,Ē she said. ďAnd your name again?Ē She reclaimed her hand and put it behind her back. Her hair was red. He loved red hair.
ďI donít know. Three months ago it became Rolland Jones.Ē
The colored letters on the side of Rollandís case file seemed to follow her as she walked barefoot through her cottage home. Melanie carried the glass of wine to the living room sectional and sat down, folding her legs beneath her.
Plumping the pillows, she leaned back and felt her back relax, yet the tension in her body remained until she reached for the file that had dominated her mind. She used her fingernail and opened it.
John Doe aka Rolland Jones had been in a car accident in Las Vegas, Nevada, June 16, a little over three months ago.
His injury list was extensive. Broken nose and eye socket. Dislocated jaw. His front six top and bottom teeth had been knocked out. Sustained lacerations to his upper body, arms and hands. The injury list to his knee was gruesome and she winced, and then read, Traumatic Brain Injury. Heíd been pulled from a car that had burned, but he had been spared injury from the fire.
After lying in a coma for twenty days, heíd been brought to the Ryder Rehabilitation and Spinal Center in Kentucky for complete rehabilitation.
His physical recovery had been nothing short of miraculous, except for the resulting symptoms from TBI. He knew how to write alphabetical letters and words, but he couldnít write numbers anymore. He reversed things, his shoes occasionally, words, which hand to shake with. He had image memories of his past, but not of the past six years. Sometimes things had to be defined for him. He didnít know his name, his age, but he thought heíd been married. He confused right and left and didnít have a mental edit button. Whatever he thought came right out of his mouth. He still suffered with balance problems and he sometimes got lost.
Melanie raked her hands through her new short haircut and stared at the auburn strand that came away between her fingers. Why had she dyed her hair this color?
Because it was different and sheíd wanted a fresh new look to go with her new life.
She did a few deep breathing exercises. How could she help Rolland Jones?
She jotted down the standard treatment plan, but given his physical advancement, decided maybe Mr. Jones might like to do some of his therapy outdoors.
He was handsome. Gorgeous, really and she wondered why she hadnít spotted him before. Sheíd heard his name mentioned several times, but had never known who the women in the break room had been talking about.
She tried to put Rolland to words and realized there werenít enough. He was the mmmph women talked about with a shake of their heads and an open-mouth laugh. He was the reason for the raised eyebrows and the twisted lip at the laundry center. He was the double sigh, neck roll, wrist flick, teeth suck, hip switch, six feet of mocha-mocha, hot, scarred, but still fine black man.
She rubbed her aching heart with her thumb, telling herself love was not in her cards. She was here to help make others whole so they could go into the world and become productive.
Her time had decidedly passed.
Sipping her wine, she closed her eyes and listened to the water and the sounds of the children playing around the man-made lake outside.
It was September, typically hot in Georgia this time of year, but Kentucky boasted moderate temperatures with low humidity, and she was glad sheíd chosen this place to relocate.
The vacationing families had left after the holiday, and everyone who had stayed had already gotten acquainted.
Sheíd been welcomed, and while grateful for the warm reception, Melanie liked that her neighbors respected her desire for privacy. After her initial refusal to be set up with everyoneís brothers, they left her dating life alone.
She leaned back on her pillows, the file on her chest, watching the sun fade behind the Appalachian Mountains.
How could she give Rolland Jones reasonable hope that heíd be all right in the world without any help? Most TBI patients had family to aid their recovery in the outside world. Having TBI wasnít easy. It wasnít like he was ever going to wake up and not have the debilitating condition.
His brain would not be restored to its former state, but she could help make his life reasonably comfortable. Her job was to make sure he had the skills, but not to give him false hope. Sheíd teach him how to live within his limits.
Resting her eyes, Melanie listened to the distant strains of Michael Bubl? singing Me and Mrs. Jones on the stereo and dozed.
Melanie stood behind her desk, then on the side, then sat in the visitorís chair, then went back behind her desk.
Where was Mr. Jones? He was thirty minutes late.
Walking to the door she peered out and then decided she wasnít going to search for him, but get some other work done. She had other clients to see besides him.
Melanie sat down, then got up to adjust her fan to blow right on her, because her office got too much morning sun. She held her arms out so she wouldnít perspire all over her summer sweater as she reviewed two client charts. Making notes, she reached for her diet soda.
ďSoda isnít good for you.Ē
His voice made her feel as if a hundred hands were bathing her with warm oil.
ďYouíre late. I expected you at ten.Ē
He looked at her, then down at the card in his hand. Large hands, capable hands turned the card over and she wondered what else they could do.
She pulled her gaze away.
ďMelanie, Iím sorry. I can reschedule.Ē His sincerity made her feel guilty for being so blunt.
ďOh. Okay,Ē she said taken aback. Her husband had never apologized for anything. ďOf course not. Iíll see you.Ē
ďI get times wrong sometimes, but this says eleven oíclock. I canít read numbers anymore. Although that may say ten oíclock. It looks like it says eleven.Ē He walked inside the office and came around her desk, the card extended. ďYou can see for yourself, I wouldnít lie to you.Ē
The last few months, sheíd uncovered so many untruths that Deion had told, sheíd stopped believing in anything. She had to remind herself that they werenít the same people.
ďI didnít mean to imply that youíd lied, Rolland.Ē She tried to rise just as he leaned down to show her the card.
Their heads connected and the card fell to the floor.
ďOh,Ē he said, backing up, a smile as big as sunshine on his face.
ďAre you okay?Ē she asked, up and out of her chair in an instant. ďIím sorry. Is there a bump? Can you see me? Are you having any trouble?Ē
ďMelanie?Ē His voice moved boulders in her.
ďMy foot hurts.Ē
She looked down and realized she was standing on tiptoe on his toes. ďOh my goodness, Iím going to kill you. No! Thatís a figure of speech. Iím so sorry. I didnít mean that.Ē
He laughed now, sidestepping his foot from beneath hers. ďI think Iíd better sit down.Ē
ďOf course. Come over here to the couch. Iíll get some ice.Ē
ďItís just a head butt. You didnít hit me with a Crown Victoria. Now that needed some ice.Ē
Melanie hurried across the hall to the break room and was back in a few seconds with an ice pack.
Rolland had sat on the couch with his head back. A knot the size of a pea had formed on his forehead close to his hairline.
ďA Crown Vic hit you? Who drives those these days?Ē Melanie studied the knot, trying to decide how to apply the pack that was now freezing her fingers.
ďOld people. Well, in my case their granddaughter who wanted to sneak out on the town. Theyíre paying for my care and offered a healthy settlement, which I accepted.Ē
ďIím glad youíre being taken care of.Ē
He touched her wrist. ďYou sound like you really mean that.Ē
ďOf course I mean it. Everyone here wants the best for you.Ē
ďYes,Ē she said, holding the pack by her fingertips.
ďI think we might need to cover that with something or when you take it off, you might peel off my new skin.Ē
Mortified, Melanie stepped away. She was standing between his legs. Looking down into his eyes, all she wanted to do was cup his face and ask him where had he been all her life?
She knew the thought was irrational and sheíd have a serious talk with herself tonight over sushi. But for right now, she was not going to cause him further harm.
ďRolland, Iím a very capable rehabilitation specialist. I didnít mean to hurt you, but Iíve clearly started on the wrong foot. Iím going to get a towel, apply this pack and then call someone to check out your head.Ē
ďThatís not necessary, Melanie. Iíve had worse injuries playing football.Ē
Melanie hurried to her desk and opened her lunch bag. ďSo you remember playing football?Ē
ďYes, when I was a kid. I remember running with the ball and laughing. But not my name, the team and all that. A cloth napkin,Ē he asked, once she wrapped the pack and put it on his head.
ďThey make me feel special.Ē Melanie tried not to look down at him.
ďI feel pretty special for you letting me use it,Ē he said.
ďAnd you should,Ē she tried to joke. ďI donít usually do wound treatment. But considering I caused this bit of trouble, Iím obliged to help you.Ē
ďThanks,Ē he said smiling.
ďSo what do you hope to learn, Rolland?Ē
ďHow to cook. Add numbers.Ē
ďLike nine plus seven?Ē
ďThatís going to take me a few minutes. Write numbers. I recognize itís a number, but I canít write it for anything.Ē
ďThe alphabet.Ē Melanie listened as he recited the whole thing without stumbling. ďBackwards.Ē
She smiled, surprised at herself. ďYes, I am. What else can you identify that you want to learn?Ē
ďI want to find out about my old life. Was I married? Did I have a family? Where are they? Did they look for me? I want to learn how to drive. I love cars.Ē
ďWell,Ē she said. ďSome of those things are on my list, too. Learning how to use numbers so you can dial a phone and cook are very important.Ē
ďDo you use lists a lot?Ē he asked, gazing up at her.
It occurred to Melanie that she didnít have to stand over him and hold the ice pack. ďYes, for everything. It helps you stay on task and helps me track your progress. You donít like lists? Here, hold this.Ē
She guided his hand up to hold the ice pack and went back to her desk and sat. Feeling silly for leaving him on the couch alone, she took her pad and the contract she had every client sign.
ďLists are fine, but you have to keep them in the right, whatís the word?Ē
ďPerspective?Ē she offered.
ďRight. Everything has a right perspective. So letís get started. Am I going to learn how to cook first or drive?Ē
She laughed. ďNo, but I was thinking, the most important thing for you is to always know your way home, right?Ē
ďI donít know that Iíll ever find my home, Melanie.Ē
Her heart pounded. ďYouóyou will, Rolland, and you know, Iíve found, a home is wherever you make it. But first thingís first. Iím giving you a contract and by tomorrow I want you to read it and sign it. If you donít understand something, just ask me and Iíll explain it to you.Ē
ďIíve got homework already, Melanie Wysh.Ē
ďThatís right. Now, hereís a compass. Letís go get lost and find our way back. I just need to do one thing.Ē
She went behind her desk and changed her pumps to sandals.
Coming back to his side he looked down at her. ďYouíre short.Ē
ďThanks, Rolland, that was honest.Ē
ďWas I supposed to lie?Ē
She saw the confused look on his face. Bless his heart, he really didnít know social rules. ďNo, youíre not supposed to lie, but youíre not supposed to say everything you think, either.Ē
He towered above her by more than half a foot.
ďWhat are you thinking?Ē she asked.
ďI get what youíre saying. Shelby perspires like a man and some of the guys joke about it in the locker room. Iím not going to tell her.Ē
Melanie laughed. ďGood example. Donít ever tell her. Now letís go?Ē
Rolland stepped outside and Melanie closed her door behind them. She pushed her sunglasses in place before joining Rolland and heading out into the sunny and breezy day.
ďI love the color of your hair.Ē He let his palm touch the spikes and smiled down at her.
ďThank you, Rolland. Now, you know north, south, east, west, right?Ē
He stopped at the intersecting sidewalk and shook his head. ďThe cafeteria is blue. The dorms are brick red. The gym roof is orange and rehab center is white. The administration offices are beige. If north isnít a color, you have to tell me where it is.Ē
Even though she had on her sunglasses, Melanie had to lean backward to use her hand to shade her eyes because Rolland was so tall. ďOkay, this is a compass. North faces the sun. Anywhere in the world. North always faces the sun.Ē She showed him the compass in her hand and looked at his, but they werenít reading the same.
ďHold on a second.Ē She took his and shook it. ďYours is broken.Ē
ďYou trying to get me lost already?Ē
ďNo,Ē she said, banging on the instrument. She stopped hitting it. ďRolland, donít follow my bad example. Hitting something never makes it work.Ē
He laughed. ďIf you say so. Weíll just have to use yours.Ē
ďOkay,Ē she said, more softly than she intended. Clearing her throat, she held her compass out and the needle pointed north. ďWeíre facing north. Behind us is south. To our left is west and to our right is east. Okay, letís walk west. Which way is west, Rolland?Ē
ďRight,Ē he said and stepped on her foot.
ďNo,Ē she yelled too late.
ďOh. Sorry. I didnít mean that. Okay, letís try it again. West is left and weíre going left,Ē he sang and walked to his right.
Melanie screamed when he stepped on her foot the second time.
Rolland jumped, and she slammed her hand over her mouth.
Neither of them moved.
Other people around them stopped and Melanie waved them away. She was going to recover.
ďYou scared me,Ē he said.
ďYou hurt me.Ē
ďI didnít mean to.Ē
ďI know, Rolland. Iím sorry for scaring you.Ē She reached out but didnít touch him. ďLetís try tomorrow. Iíve got an idea of how we can get this perfect tomorrow, okay?Ē
ďOkay,Ē he said, not looking at her.
ďIím fine, Rolland, really.Ē
ďDonít lie to me, Melanie. If you lie, I canít trust you.Ē
ďIím not lying. I promise.Ē
ďYes, you are. Your toes are bleeding,Ē he said, and walked away.
She saw that they were and wished she could take back the words.
Rolland sat outside his dorm, sunset streaking the sky in blues and mauve. He looked at the book in his hand to verify the color he was witnessing. Yes, it was mauve. Left of pink and right of rose, it was beautiful and calming. He leaned his head back and let the breeze dust his neck in coolness before he sat back up and looked straight at Melanie Wysh.
ďI owe you an apology, Rolland. May I sit down?Ē
He moved over on the swing and made room for her. ďDo you like to swing?Ē he asked, pushing it with his foot.
ďI do. I havenít in a long time,Ē she told him. ďI have something to say.Ē
ďThen you have to swing for a few minutes. Youíll enjoy it. Put your head back like this.Ē
Rolland pulled Melanieís head back just as a happy breeze floated by.
They sat this way for a few minutes and it gave him time to study Melanie undisturbed. She was a tiny woman, no more than a hundred and fifteen pounds, and if she was five three, he was being generous. Her hair was short, freshly cut with auburn/reddish highlights that looked cute with her eye color.
She was a pretty woman, a classy woman, someone he wished had known him long ago. She had kissable lips like the women on TV, but Melanie was real. She was someone he could see himself coming home to and having dinner with.
ďWhy did you come see me?Ē he asked her.
She seemed embarrassed to have been caught relaxing. She straightened her spine and folded her hands. ďI came to apologize for lying to you earlier. I did it because I didnít want to hurt your feelingsóĒ
Rolland let her drift off, his mouth pursed. ďI didnít cut you off,Ē he said, laughing.
ďI know you didnít,Ē she jumped in, hurriedly, then laughed. ďI just mean to say that it was easier to say I wasnít hurt so that we could get to the greater goal of you learning which way west is.Ē
He gazed at her out of the corner of his eye. ďOkay.Ē
ďDo you understand anything Iíve just said?Ē
ďYes. So itís better to lie than to tell you youíve confused the hell out of me.Ē
Melanie crossed her legs and touched his arm and it felt like fire had been set to his limb. Rolland liked the heat and didnít want it to stop. For the past three months heíd been cut, sewn, stapled, massaged, twisted and rehabilitated by so many people that he thought he was immune to the human touch, until now. He moved his arm closer so she would touch him again.
ďI donít want you to lie to me. If Iíve confused you, then tell me. What I mean to say is that Iím sorry for lying to you. It wonít happen again.Ē
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