Carmen Green.

The Husband She Couldn't Forget





She drew her hand back.

So what happens when you dont want to tell me something?

I just wont answer you.

Thats not fair, Melanie. Thats the only way I get information.

He could tell she was considering what hed just said.

As your therapist I have to keep some things confidential, so Ill just tell you its confidential and youll have to respect that.

Thats fair. He opened the book hed been reading and pointed to the sky. Melanie, have you ever seen mauve? Its a cool color.

She leaned over to look at his book, and he caught a whiff of her perfume. Yes, its cool, she said.

You have to look at the sky, he told her.

Oh. She sat back embarrassed.

You dont have to be embarrassed. I know cool has two meanings.

Youre a mess.

He looked down at his clothes, then at her and she started laughing until her meaning dawned on him. Oh, youre funny. Mess has two meanings. I can see therapy will be fun with you.

What do you do when you get upset? she asked him as they watched people walk the large campus.

I try to figure out what went wrong, he said, crossing his legs. I never get angry with people. I get disappointed. I mean, what can anyone do to make me angry? Theyre trying to help me. If they dont give me cake? Sometimes thats not so bad.

She smiled and his stomach fluttered.

This is all I know. So I dont get angry. I get frustrated. I want to leave the campus and come back like real people do. I feel like youre all having more fun than I am.

What kind of fun?

Driving.

She laughed. Driving is important, but I wouldnt say its fun.

You have your arm out the window, your sunglasses on. You wave to people, blow your horn. Youre going somewhere. Its fun.

Youve seen me driving?

Yes, Ive seen everyone driving. Even Purdy and shes not a good driver. Shes hit everybodys car.

Melanies mouth fell open. No way.

Does that mean am I lying? Im not. Ive seen her. Horace and I have seen her hit cars in the parking lot.

Melanie cracked up and looked around. Did Horace tell you not to tell people?

He considered her question for a moment. Maybe he did.

She patted his arm. Lets talk about something else. May I ask you something?

My life as far as I remember it is an open book.

Okay, she said, and he liked the way she squeezed her lips together. Why dont you have a sock on your left foot?

He stretched his long leg out and flexed his foot.

Melanie, we were having a hard time earlier with west. Im not sure if it was me, but lets just say it was. I decided that to spare your foot anymore damage, I wouldnt wear a sock on this foot as long as your toes are healing. No sock will remind me that left is west. He stood up. Left is west, he said and turned left.

Melanie applauded.

If left is west, which way is south?

Rolland stopped and closed his eyes. Other patients and their family members walking by on their way to the dorm watched Rolland.

Melanie gave them the sign to be quiet.

If youre facing north and west is left of north, then south is left of west? Rolland pivoted to the left and looked at Melanie expectantly.

Yes! Rolland, that was great. Shed gotten off the swing and hurried over to him. Which way is east?

Left, he said confidently.

And she gritted her teeth and jumped before he could catch her toes.

Well work on it, she told him. You did great.

Almost perfect. Horace would say I got too cocky trying to impress you.

Impress me? Why? Her smile faded a little.

Youre my new therapist and who wouldnt want to impress the person who holds their future in the center of their hands?

In the palm of my hands.

He took her hand and drew a circle in the center. Right, and thats a lot of responsibility to place right there. Besides, youre beautiful and when I see you, I get a fluttering feeling in my stomach.

Oh, Rolland. She drew her hand back and her smile disappeared.

Its not like when they gave me the medicine that made me throw up, Melanie. Now you look ill.

No. She reached for him and her hand stopped midair. Then she touched him anyway. Im not ill. Its justwell. Do you understand about relationships? Man and woman relationships?

I wasnt born yesterday. I didnt forget everything. I see how these women look at me. Im scared ofem.

She nearly laughed, but smothered it behind pursed lips. Right. Why?

They whisper when I walk by, but I can still hear. Once I got my new face, well, I was the cats meow.

Melanie burst out laughing and tried to hide behind her hand. Who told you that?

The optometrist who worked on my eye after my facial bones healed. I had been developing cataracts, so I had Lasik surgery to fix everything.

No. She looked horrified, but remembered reading this in his file.

Dr. Hoover said I was the cats meow.

Okay, dont you say that again.

Why?

Men dont say that about themselves.

What do they say?

Nothing.

Women say theyre hot, cute, sexy, and men cant say anything?

Melanie looked lost. The sidewalk lights flickered on and he could fully see her face. Im not a guy. I dont know what they say.

But its not the cats

Dont keep saying it. Her hand was on his arm in a strong grip, her lips threatening to smile again.

Melanie, I get a lot of attention and Ive never been attracted to anyone. Not a doctor, nurse, aide, therapist or driver, and I think that covers just about everyoneuntil I met you. Youre very pretty and not just in that you-put-on-makeup way, but I like you. More than Purdy, but not more than Horace.

She looked so serious for a moment and then she burst out laughing. Not more than Horace? Okay, thats fair. Youve known him longer. Okay, but this is the deal, Rolland

I like when you say my name. It sounds as if you really mean to get my attention.

I do. I need for you to hear this. We have to maintain a businesslike relationship.

Sit down, Melanie.

He sat on the grass while she continued to stand. Her legs were at his eye level and he got a good view of her legs.

Your legs are smooth.

She quickly sat beside him.

I understand that you cant like me in a romantic way. We have to maintain a professional distance. But I cant be honest some of the time, Melanie. See, you missed it.

She looked up as a streak faded in the sky. What did I miss?

The fireworks. Theres a company that sets them off every Monday even though the big shots at Ryder get angry.

Melanie finally looked at him and she wasnt angry anymore. Why do they get angry?

Because they feel as if its distracting to those of us with brain injuries, but we disagree. Look behind you.

Melanie turned around and then looked at Rolland. Everybody is outside.

Its kind of special. If you watch long enough you can tell what theyre practicing for. Fourth of July, New Years. Sometimes people even have them for weddings.

The words Happy Birthda glittered into the sky and everyone laughed because the Y was missing.

Ive never known this to go on, Melanie said, watching for the next fireworks. Suddenly a pink Y sizzled in the navy blue sky, and the audience applauded.

You probably leave on time. Why are you here so late today?

Because I wanted to make sure that I talked to you. Now that weve talked, Im going to head home.

She stood up and people started making catcalls at her until she ducked down onto the ground. Its a tough crowd, he told her. This is entertainment, but you get to drive.

Melanie laughed and took out a small notepad. Ill make a note in your chart that you want to learn how to drive.

And I want to be your friend.

Rolland

Melanie, Ive been here for over three months and nobody has looked for me. My fingerprints were taken in Vegas where the accident happened and nothing. They were sent across the country and nothing. Horace said I was born to wolves, but thats not true.

No, it isnt. He shouldnt tell you that.

Hes just kidding. If he didnt get me to laugh, hed have a crying man on his hands and that wouldnt have been any fun either. You know what, Melanie? I must not have been a nice person. How big of an ass do you have to be for nobody to care for you or even ask about you?

Maybe they didnt know where to look, she offered, her gaze on the ground. When she looked at him her eyes seemed to be filled with tears.

Dont spend any tears on me.

Okay.

My prints came back negative. My wallet and briefcase burned in the fire. Thats why Im Rolland Jones. I got this flutter in my stomach for you, but Ive had a busted face and knee that hurt and a whole lot of really painful injuries. I need friends. Ill get over this flutter like Ive gotten over everything else. Be my friend, Melanie.

Okay, Rolland. Lets be friends.

He stuck out his hand and she shook it and by damn if his whole body didnt tingle.

Chapter Four

Melanie, not feeling well?

She passed two of her colleagues on the way into the building and reached for the door. Im fine, thanks.

All right, then.

She saw the curious glances but ignored them. So what if she was dressed a little differently? She had to make a point.

Walking into her office, she stowed her briefcase under her desk and sat down. She had just a few minutes to get a cup of coffee before Rolland arrived for his session. Shed spent the greater part of the evening thinking of how to discourage any further advancement of his crush, but the truth of the matter was that when shed shaken his hand last night, something had happened.

It was as if a fizzler had been placed beneath her skin and ignited because shed spent the rest of the evening massaging her arm to rid it of the stimulation.

How had that happened?

She had to remember he was her patient. Blowing out a disgusted breath, she grabbed her cup and went to the break room where she met more curious stares. Two therapists finished their coffee and walked out and she was left alone with the one woman she liked the least.

Why are you dressed like you belong on the prairie?

The departments administrative assistant Cali loved to attract attention and she did it by wearing as little as possible. She walked over to the coffeemaker, stuck her cup in front of Melanies and brewed a cup of cappuccino.

Thank you for noticing my pretty dress. I like it, too, Melanie said.

She handed Cali her cup and the younger woman smiled sweetly. Dont try to use that reverse psychology on me. Im too smart for that. Thats an ugly dress and you know it. If you dont, you do now. And good luck at the patient softball picnic in that awful thing.

The younger woman was almost out the door. Cali, dont mistake my kindness for weakness. If you value your job, youll remember your position and youll remember mine, too.

All pretense was gone, replaced by a look of hate on Calis face. You think you can come in here and just replace my best friend. Well, Im going to do everything I can to make sure you dont last in your position.

Im glad I know where you stand.

Dont get comfortable. With a twist of her blond head, she walked out, her hip bumping the door, making it hit the wall. For all her theatrics, she nearly ran into Rolland who was oblivious to her drama.

Hey, Cali.

Oh, hi.

He stuck his head in the break room. Its ten oclock and I believe we have a date with a compass.

Melanie emptied her cup into the sink and rinsed it as she took several deep cleansing breaths. Youre right we do.

You do know its going to be ninety degrees today. He eyed her dress skeptically.

Melanie sighed, having not taken that into consideration when looking at clothes to completely cover her body. I can handle it.

All right. But you look like you belong on that TV show.

Little House on the Prairie? she asked, getting her sunglasses out of her desk and heading toward the door.

No. What Not to Wear.

Thats not funny at all, Rolland.

Rolland laughed aloud as they kept walking through the woods, birds flapping overhead, disturbed at his apparent glee. Hed made another joke about how old-fashioned her dress was.

Im sorry, Melanie.

How could she stay mad at him when he looked so handsome and so contrite at the same time? He was cool in his khaki shorts and blue golf shirt.

Do you accept my apology?

Shed folded her arms and had stopped walking, but she smacked his outstretched hand. Of course I do. I never hold a grudge. Come on. Where are we?

I dont know.

Rolland, you cant say you dont know. Look at your compass.

Melanie, I dont know where you got these compasses from, possibly the same place you got your dress, but it says south.

Despite herself, she giggled and pretended to punch him in the arm. She pulled the collar away from her throat and wouldnt admit the dress was a bad choice. Or that the lace was scratching her neck so bad she thought she was about to be beheaded. Or that she wished she had worn shorts like Rolland. And that his legs looked good, despite the neatly sewn scars.

It had been her idea to take the trail into the woods, get lost and find their way out. They were still on Ryder property, but she wanted him to find his way back to the campus.

Stop cracking on my dress. I happen to like it. A friend gave it to me.

You should give it back.

Whats wrong with it?

Its not you. Youre short, so why buy a short woman a long dress unless you dont know anything about women.

What do you know about them?

He stopped in the middle of the path, put his hands on his hips and struck the pose of the Greek God Zeus. Ive made love to beautiful women, Melanie. Youre a beautiful woman and whoever gave you that dress wasnt thinking of you as a woman.

Her throat closed and she had to open her mouth and take a deep breath. How do you believe they were thinking of me?

As an object.

A squirrel rustled the leaves and branches behind her and she jumped.

Rolland took her hand and urged her on. You have a nice figure. Why cover it up?

I have a professional job and I have to dress a certain way.

Youre not Cali. Youre not making a statement with your clothes, but you will be if you start wearing that to work all the time. Its like a blanket.

Who are you? she murmured, then shook her head, hearing herself. Let me see that compass. The object of the compass is to let it do its job. It will locate the sun. Where is the center? Do you remember?

North, northwest.

Okay, then we want to figure out where we are. She paused and fanned herself. Its supposed to be fall. Where are the cool temperatures?

You do listen to the weather, dont you?

Of course.

Then you know were having an Indian summer.

She hadnt known that. Study the compass, Rolland.

He shrugged. Okay.

There was a bridge ahead that crossed a small creek. Do you like to cook?

Yeah.

When was the last time you cooked some food?

Uh, I dont know. But if I could cook something today, Id make sirloin steak, grilled asparagus, fresh baked apple pie over a bed of rice and red wine.

That sounds delicious. Are you sure youd put the pie over the rice?

Yeah, definitely. Do you like asparagus?

Sometimes. Do you?

I dont know. Ive never had them.

Rolland, where did you get the menu if youve never had the food?

TV. When I was recuperating I watched all those chef shows where the head chef would yell at the other chefs.

Thats terrible. She headed across the bridge and liked the sound of the brook beneath.

You become sadistic when your bones take six weeks to heal. I got crazy for a whileId yell, burn the chef. I didnt say I was a nice person, Melanie.

She couldnt stop herself from laughing. Youre right, you didnt. I suppose I cant hold it against you given your state.

He spun around and walked backward and she watched him. I have another great menu. The delight in his eyes was captivating.

Okay, tell me.

Id make veal amandine.

What side dishes?

Vanilla ice cream, sweet potatoes and corn.

Youre just trying to make me laugh and its not going to work.

If you bake the corn with the sweet potatoes, its really good. Somebody needs to watch more TV.

Im sorry. I shouldnt have teased you. Ive never had it. Is it really good?

I dont know. Im just messing with you.

Rolland, youre a mess.

He looked down at his shirt again.

Not really. Come on. Lets look at these flowers. Do you know what a rose smells like?

A rose.

Okay, smarty-pants, but what does it smell like?

A plant.

You know theres a difference between flowers and plants. She walked him over to a bush and pulled one down. She smelled it and offered it to him.

I like watching you, Melanie. You look like youre enjoying it.

Now you try.

He smelled the flower and then took his time working the pink blossom from the branch.

What does it smell like?

Fresh air.

Think about it. Does it smell sweet or fruity?

I cant tell.

Try again, Rolland. And this time, really focus.

Should I smell the flower just like you?

Yes. Now focus.

He closed his eyes and inhaled. His chest rose and his Adams apple moved up and down as if he were eating something. Slowly his eyes opened and when their gazes met, there was sunlight in his eyes.

What does it smell like?

It smells sweet.

Rolland, that was very good.

They walked on and she chose daffodils and hydrangeas, petunias and more roses, until Rolland found a tree and sat down underneath its shade.

Can you spread out your blanket so we can rest? He pointed at her dress.

Okay, Ive heard enough about the dress. It will never see the light of day again.

Good. And Im getting a headache from smelling all your flowers. He sat down with his back against the trunk. Although he always had a smile on his face, he looked tired, more tired than shed ever seen him. She wanted to stroke the back of his neck and rub his shoulders, but that wouldnt have been appropriate. That didnt stop her from soothing him.

Im sorry. I didnt mean to overload your senses. We can head back. She fanned him with her hand and gauged the distance back to the dorm.

Melanie?

Yes?

Kneeling beside him, she put her hand on his forehead and saw the marks on her finger from the absent ring. The reminders of her past life. How about if I call for a ride for you? They can have a golf cart over here in ten minutes.

Rolland held her until she was still. Besides liking that youre blocking the sun, I would really like to kiss you.

His lips greeted hers in a kiss that defined perfection in its simplicity. There was a knowing about the way his mouth moved over hers, an assuredness in how his head tilted and hers dropped to the side and back to accept his mouth and tongue that made her realize this wouldnt be the last time. That thought brought reality screeching back.

She planted both her hands against his chest and moved herself away.

Melanie?

Wait. I need a minute. All of her senses began to work again and she heard birds caw. Squirrels hustled about their business, and a deer ran past heading east.

Rolland got closer and even though she didnt want to, she had to stop him.

Rolland, I could lose my job. You cant do that again. I have to think about the ethical implications of kissing you. Youre a patient at this center and I could be held responsible for anything that happens to you.

I kissed you. Im responsible for my actions.

But Rolland, I kissed you back. Therefore Im responsible, too.

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