In Remembrance of Us
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by AJ Rose
Category: Erotica/Erotic Romance/Gay Fiction
Description: When epic friendship turns into epic romance, there's no possible outcome besides Happily Ever After, right? Tom Foster hopes so, but he can't answer that. A traumatic brain injury during a mugging wiped out his memory. His love for Ryan Guthrie, the man he's learned he's married to, is strong and true, but as each memory returns, Tom discovers much discontent. Can they build a new foundation to stand on, or will epic be the word that describes their marital failure?
eBook Publisher: MLR Press, LLC/MLR Press, LLC,
eBookwise Release Date: September 2011
5 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [118 KB]
Reading time: 71-99 min.
Panic--sharp and overwhelming. Worst headache ever.
"Hey, you okay, man?" The voice sounded far away, as if filtered through a tunnel. Staggering, I felt steadying hands reach out and grasp my arms. It didn't matter. My legs had no strength, crumpling beneath me as I opened my mouth to speak. My hand came away from my head, and I stared dumbfounded at the slick red on my fingers.
"Oh my God," the stranger said. My weight carried us to the ground in a tangle of awkward limbs. The last thing I remembered was the sound of a phone beeping and the words, "I need an ambulance at the corner of..."
* * * *
Wincing, I opened my eyes, sucking in a sharp breath as light sliced through me. I couldn't suppress a moan, and it caught the attention of two figures in chairs beside my bed, a backlit halo solidifying them into women with straight blonde hair, brown eyes, and full lips they worried with their teeth. My vision cleared, and the two women morphed into one.
"Hey, Tom," she said, jumping up when she saw my eyes open, grasping my hand gently with a cool, dry palm, her subtle perfume wafting past my nose. It made me smile and flinch at the same time. That's Susie's smell. Light, sound, and smell were like an ice pick to my brain. I swallowed dryly, licking my lips with a sandpaper tongue. Noticing my discomfort, Susie held a cup in steady hands, guiding the straw between my cracked lips. The cool liquid burst across my tongue, and I closed my eyes at the simple pleasure. I looked at her again, seeing her worried gaze traveling over my face.
With a moistened throat, I found I could speak, albeit croakily. "What happened, Suz?"
She laid a gentle palm to my cheek and pulled her chair over, holding my hand. "Best guess is that you were mugged this morning. You were wandering around Hudson Street before you collapsed. Someone saw you bleeding and called for help. The cash was cleaned out of your wallet and your phone was stolen. The police called your boss off one of your business cards, and Lois called me when she couldn't reach Ryan. The doctors say you have a moderate concussion, and the police have no clue." She snorted indelicately. "Do you remember anything?"
I squinted, tried to focus, and shook my head, stopping immediately when a stab of pain seared the back of my eyeballs. "I remember...having dinner with Ryan at Haru for my birthday party. The cab ride home. Everything after that is...blank."
"Your...twenty-eighth birthday party?" Susie asked, her careful tone raising a shiver on my skin. I studied her, but her expression was neutral.
"Yeah. That's the one." I tried to remember more, but frustration built, and I didn't have the strength to feed it, so I closed my eyes and breathed, letting it go.
"I called Ryan after I got here. He's on his way home from Chicago, but there aren't any more flights tonight. He'll be here first thing tomorrow."
I pulled a surprised face. "Why did you call him if he's out of town? And what's he doing in Chicago?"
"Advertising convention. He would want to know, no matter what's going on with you two." Worry bloomed on Susie's face again. What did she mean, what's going on with you two? Nothing was going on with us, far as I knew.
"He's leaving a work thing because his best friend got mugged? That's silly. He could have waited. Not like I'm going anywhere." A wave of fatigue crashed over me, and my eyelids drooped.
Her eyes strayed to the bandage on my head, and she put a soothing hand on my arm, smiling. "I'll get the nurse to check your pain meds, but you should sleep. Ryan will be here soon, and everything will be fine." Her voice sounded farther and farther away. I drifted again.
* * * *
Hushed conversation reached my ears from voices in the hall. I strained to hear. What came to me was disjointed, like a cell phone losing reception.
"...trauma he experienced...short-term memory loss...full recovery...swelling of the prefrontal lobe exacerbates..."
"You mean he won't remember the assault, or he won't remember more than that?" Susie's voice cut in. The clouds in my mind began to clear, their words no longer broken.
"The likelihood of him regaining memory of the assault is small, which is normal for people suffering trauma, particularly in head injury cases. In Mr. Foster's case, his prefrontal lobe is swollen, the portion of the brain responsible for transferring data like sight, smell, and sound, to and from the hippocampus, or memory center. The injury he suffered is preventing that information transfer, which means he cannot access his memories."
"So when the swelling goes down, he should remember, right?" Susie's worry was evident, and though I didn't want her afraid for me, I felt a flash of gratitude that she was there. I heard the doctor, but I didn't understand everything he said. Susie would put it in terms my addled mind could follow. Always by my side, Susie the Sidekick, even through the worst.
"As the swelling recedes, he may begin to recall things, or he may not. Damage suffered to the brain is impossible to predict, and he may never get back the time he's lost. We won't know until he begins to recover."
"It doesn't matter the significance of the memories lost? Just everything's gone right now, and he may never get it back?"
I swallowed dryly, head pounding. I tried to ignore it, to keep listening.
"Amnesia is not exactly quantifiable. He may know his favorite color or his favorite type of wine, but not where he lives or who is boss is. The significance plays little part in what is and isn't retained. Long-term memories are less likely forgotten, so his recent past is subject to more blanks than his childhood."
"And this is the reason he doesn't remember Ryan is his husband?" Susie asked.
My eyes flew open, and my body jerked at the knowledge, a flare of pain causing a sharp intake of breath. I'm married? To RYAN? My eyes strayed down to my left hand, the plain gold band on my fourth finger glinting marginally in the small light from the bathroom. I hadn't noticed it before, but now that I'd seen it, I couldn't take my eyes away.
"Everything may come back in the morning when Ryan arrives. Or he could remember slowly over time, or even have everything back once he's immersed in his life."
"Let's hope so. Thank you, Doctor," Susie's voice was sad and hopeful all at once.
I lay back and closed my eyes, not moving when Susie came in to resume residence in her chair. I felt guilty for pretending to be asleep, but I was reeling and needed a minute to process. Ryan. My husband.
The last thing I remembered about Ryan was...my twenty-eighth birthday, just two weeks before he turned thirty. He'd set up a surprise party for me at the exact same restaurant I had booked for his surprise party. It was our favorite, a sushi place near Broadway on Forty-third called Haru, so when he told me he wanted to take me to dinner there, I couldn't explain why I wanted a change of venue.
When we walked in and Ryan spoke to the hostess, I got a distinctly uncomfortable deja vu flash before we were led through the warmly lit main dining area with its bamboo walls and twinkle lights to a small back room. A chorus of "Surprise!" was shouted out as we walked in, Ryan grinning at me goofily before pulling me into a hug.
"Happy birthday, Thomas," he low voice curled into my ear, holding me close, the short puffs of breath against my neck causing me to shiver. I held that hug longer than necessary, hoping he didn't notice or think too much of it, pulling back only when a twitch in my crotch forced me to let go. It wouldn't do to get a hard-on my friend could feel up close and personal.
Pleasantly buzzed by the end of the night, I watched Ryan work the crowd as we were getting ready to leave. Truth was I couldn't avert my eyes if I wanted to. His presence always drew my gaze: the strong line of his shoulders, his slender build, his dark eyes framed by heavy yet perfectly sculpted brows. That night, his hair kept brushing my temple when he leaned close to say something he wanted only me to hear, and every time, I turned my face just enough that I felt his breath over my lips, his words washing over me.
I wanted him to wonder what it would be like to kiss me. I had vowed to make it a birthday I'd always remember and tell Ryan how I felt about him. His warm brown eyes danced with mirth and affection. His body set mine alight with little touches to my hand, elbow, or a careless arm slung over my shoulder. It didn't hurt that he was hotter than hell. I'd imagined more times than I could count that lean body pressed against mine, the dignified grace of an athlete or dancer, that power pointed in my direction.
It was like that with us, ever since college when we met at a comedy club. There was a spark between us, something undeniable and magnetic, burning hot, and it attracted others to us. We were the life of the party back in the day. Susie told me she was surprised it hadn't burned us out, as fierce as it was, but we settled into our friendship easily, a small sun of energy that fed itself and kept spinning, self-sustaining and constant.
But we'd never dated. Ryan was otherwise occupied when we met, and when that ended, I was a couple months into what would become my Great Mid-Twenties Romance with Alan. Alan, who left a few details out of his life, like the fact that on a weekend bachelor party for one of his friends three years into our relationship, he got married in a Vegas chapel to a long-time friend of his from high school, a blackjack dealer. Oh, and that friend was a woman. Alan's refusal to annul the marriage and his plans to move to Vegas were more than I could handle.
It was Ryan who picked up the shards of broken Tom. He held me through bouts of depression, talking me down from searing rages, patiently coaxing my smile from hibernation. We'd grown closer, though that line, the wavering, sometimes pencil-thin demarcation between friends and lovers, had never been crossed, even if its presence had become a heavy weight between us.
We left Haru, arms companionably slung around each other's waists, and hailed a cab. In the backseat, I looked at Ryan's hand resting on the seat beside him, fingers splayed. I wanted to reach out and link fingers, bring his knuckles to my lips and admire the slender wrist with the sprinkling of silky dark hair peeking from under his shirt sleeve. I reached...
And that was it. Next thing I remembered was two Susies sitting overlapped in my periphery and a crushing pain in my head.