I woke up startled. Not like one of those minor startles but instead with a full-blown nightmare quality gasp. My wide eyes shifted between the three people leaning over me. One of them was saying something. My head hurt too much to sit up and I felt a slow warmth behind my neck.
“Emma?” he said, “Emma, can you hear me?”
I wonder who these people are. Also, why does the one up front keep calling me Emma? It looks like I’m on the floor of a home improvement store. But how did I get here? I work in an office doing secretary tasks for a bunch of accountants. It’s not glamorous but it pays the bills and keeps me busy.
“Emma?” Front guy says again.
“My name is Claire. What happened?”
“Uhmm…your name is Emma.” He points to my shirt. “See, it’s even on your name tag.” Another guy, actually a rather cute guy, behind and to the right of the first man, points to a nearby ladder. “A customer knocked you off the ladder because he wanted you to mix his paint.”
“But I’m just a secretary,” I mumble.
“Nah, Emma. You work here. But you manage the hardware stock; you’re not a paint mixer,” cute guy says. As he says this, I see a team of paramedics weeding through the customers with a gurney and red medical bags.
At this point, I start getting scared. These people have me confused with someone else. They’ll get the paramedics confused. My insurance will throw a fit. I hate hospitals and I don’t want to go alone. I want my best friend. If I’m going to a hospital, I need Noah.
“Where’s Noah?” My heart starts pounding as the medics start getting closer.
While first man and cute guy seem confused, the third guy who looks about a hundred years old, looks annoyed. “I don’t have any employees named Noah. If you’ve been lollygagging on the job to flirt with some boy –”
Cute guy cuts him off. “Emma doesn’t lollygag. I’m sure Noah’s a family member or something.”
The paramedics show up and start asking questions. What happened? Where does it hurt? Can you wiggle your feet? I’m too overwhelmed and confused to help. Instead, I start crying. “Please, just get Noah,” I say while the strange men are explaining to the paramedics how I fell off the ladder and seem to be disoriented about who and where I am.
“I KNOW WHO I AM!” I yell, finally getting their attention. “My name is Claire Robbins. I live on Birch Street in Evanstown. I work as a secretary at the offices of Schmidt and Klein. The only thing I’m disoriented about is who on earth you people are and why you keep calling me Emma. Please. Please, just get Noah. I need Noah.” While most of that was angry and I even got sarcastic air quotes in for the word ‘disoriented,’ I ended in a whispered plea. In my anger, I had sat myself up. Apparently, I had hit my head well enough, because the dizziness from sitting up turned into black static-like spots in my vision.
The second time I woke up, I found myself in a hospital bed. The initial panic I had felt toward the paramedics and the hospital seemed a little silly now. But then I remembered how weird all those people were acting and the anxiety started to creep back in. As I looked around, I realized my wrist was cast and I had a bandage dangling in my face. Using my good hand, I found the rebellious bandage belonged to a long strip that wrapped around most of my head.
As I tucked the bandage out of my way, a man I had formerly missed coughed from the corner. More fear crept up as I realized this was the cute guy from the home improvement store. However, I finally had the presence of mind to look at his name tag. His name was Devin.
“Uh, hi?” I said.
“Hey Emma, you had us all pretty worried there.” As he leaned closer and kissed me on the cheek, he whispered, “Especially me.”
I guess he must have sensed my panic because he sighed and leaned back. “You still don’t remember who you are, do you?”
“But I do. I’m Claire Robbins,” I reminded him.
“Em, the doc said it might be awhile before your memory comes back,” he sighed deeper this time, as if it hurt him that I couldn’t remember. “Maybe I could try to help you remember?”
Silent tears fell from my face but I nodded slowly. He picked up a cell phone from a night stand between the bed and an uncomfortable looking chair. He said, “This is your phone. I’m going to pop open the camera app, ok? After a few clicks with his thumb, he turned the phone toward me. “That’s the self-facing camera. See, that’s you?
As I looked at the stranger in this makeshift mirror, I felt a twinge of familiarity. Like perhaps I spent too many mornings trying to hide that small scar on my cheek with makeup and long bangs. “How’d I get this?” I wondered.
“Oh man, that one was a doozy. Uh, you snowboarded off a roof,” he looked away.
“I snowboarded off a roof?” I repeated.
“You don’t believe me?” He wondered. Again, he looked kind of depressed by the whole situation and I felt kind of bad for him. He seemed to really believe I was this Emma girl. And he liked her; it was pretty obvious.
“Sorry, I’m not really sure what I believe anymore. I mean I specifically remember being Claire. I know about the kind of life I lived as Claire and I remember my best friend. I have memories of the crazy things he conned me into doing.” Though I gave him a slight smile, Devin frowned and walked to the window. He looked stormy, standing there with one hand on the back of his neck and the other swiping at his face and dark hair. After a few shuddering breaths, he came back over and pointed out a scar I hadn’t noticed on my good forearm.
“Last year, we went hiking and you tripped over this huge rock. I couldn’t figure out how you didn’t see it. Do you remember what you told me?” He asked.
I couldn’t hold his gaze, he was too intense. Though most of my fear had started to dissipate, I still couldn’t conclude that this guy wasn’t bonkers.
“You said it was my fault for being so tall, dark, and handsome. Then you laughed and threw a pine cone at me,” he recalled. With a whisper, he finished the memory, “I was your best friend.” His sincerity hurt.
He picked up a worn leather wallet from the nightstand. “This is yours.” He hands it to me. I flip if over in my hands a few times. It does look like the type of wallet I would carry. I unfold it. The first thing I see is a driver’s license. The picture is the same face I saw in the cell phone’s camera. The name agrees with Devin though, Emma Hughes.
In addition, the picture is obviously one of those cheesy barely-old-enough-to-drive licenses. I remembered taking this picture. I had just passed my road test and my Dad had said he’d help me buy a car after I got my license. I was thinking of all the used car shops we would navigate. I had gotten a job a year prior and saved up $3000. It wouldn’t get me anything fancy but Dad said he’d pay the registration and insurance for the first year.
I pull the license out of the sleeve and notice I had other cards crammed behind it. A library card, a bank card, an employee ID from the home improvement store I first woke up in. The billfold hid a stack of wallet photos and one single letter shaped paper. The first photo was of a young girl, maybe a tween. I got the feeling she was my cousin but I couldn’t pull her name out of the fog of my memory.
I flipped through the rest of the pictures slowly, forcing myself to guess at names and relationships. Until finally, I pulled out the last snapshot. As I stared at it, everything came rushing back at me in a blur of information. I started crying and Devin took our wedding photo from my hands. He pulled me into a hug as I told him. “I remember. Oh, Devin, I’m sorry.”
After we calmed down a bit, his curiosity got the best of him, “What was that last piece of paper you had?”
“It’s a letter I got earlier today. Read it.” As he opened it, he started reading aloud.
I just finished reading the advanced copy of Slamming Doors that you sent me. I absolutely loved it! You did such a good job with Claire and Noah. You must have been so deep inside their heads to get everything across to us ignorant readers. Though I had to laugh because I knew from the very beginning that you based the two of them on you and Devin. He’s going to love it when he sees the dedication. I assume you’re still planning to give him his copy for the big 3 year anniversary. Can’t wait for the party!
Congrats again on the publication!
Love, your brother,