Burying Water Page 2

“No,” I finally offer. “I think I’m okay.”

“Good.” She gingerly peels back pieces of gauze from my face—some over the bridge of my nose and another piece running along the right side of my face, from my temple all the way down to my chin. By the slight nod of approval, I’m guessing she’s happy with whatever is beneath. “And how is the air flow through your nose? Any stuffiness?”

I test my nostrils out. “A little.”

She stops her inspection to scribble something on the chart that’s sitting on the side table. “You were very fortunate that Dr. Gonzalez was in Bend on a ski trip. He’s one of the leading plastic surgeons in the country and a very good friend of mine. When I saw you come in, I called him right away. He offered us his skill, pro bono.”

A part of me knows that I should be concerned that I needed a plastic surgeon for my face, and yet I’m more concerned with the fact that I can’t even imagine what that face looks like.

“I removed the stitches two days ago to help minimize the scarring. You may need a secondary surgery on your nose, depending on how it heals. We won’t know until the swelling goes down.” Setting the clipboard down on the side table again, she asks, “Do you remember anything about what happened to you?”

“No.” Nothing.

The combination of her clenched jaw and the deep furrow across her forehead gives me the feeling that she’s about to deliver more bad news. “I’m sorry to tell you that we found evidence of sexual assault.”

I feel the blood drain from my face and the steady beeping spikes again as my heart begins to pound in my chest. “I don’t . . . I don’t understand.” She’s saying I was . . . raped? Somebody touched me like that? The urge to curl my arms around my body and squeeze my legs tight swarms me, but I’m too sore to act on it. How could I possibly not remember being raped?

“I need to examine the rest of your injuries.” Dr. Alwood waits for my reluctant nod and then slides the flannel sheet down and lifts my hospital gown. I’m temporarily distracted by the cast around my leg as she gently peels back the bandages around my ribs and the left side of my stomach.

“These look good. Now, just relax, I’ll make this quick,” she promises, nudging my free leg toward the edge of my bed. I distract myself from my discomfort with the tiled ceiling above as she gently inspects me. “You required some internal stitching, but everything should heal properly with time. We’re still running some tests and blood work, but we’ve ruled out the majority of sexually transmitted diseases. We also completed a rape kit on you.”

I close my eyes as a tear slips out from the corner of one eye, the salt from it burning my sensitive skin. Why did this happen to me? Who could have done such a thing?

Raped . . . STDs . . . “What about . . . I mean, could I be pregnant?” The question slips out unbidden.

True to her promise, Dr. Alwood quickly readjusts my gown and covers. Peeling off her gloves, she tosses them in the trash bin and then takes a seat on the edge of my bed. “We can certainly rule that out from the rape.” She pauses. “Because you were already pregnant when you were brought in.”

The air sails from my lungs as she delivers yet another harsh punch of news. My gaze drifts to my flat abdomen. I have a baby in there?

“You were about ten weeks along.”

Were. Past tense.

“Do you not recall any of this?” Dr. Alwood’s brows draw together as she watches me closely.

A soft “no” slips out and I can’t help but feel that she doesn’t believe me.

“Well, given your extensive injuries, it is not at all surprising that you miscarried. You’re lucky to be alive, as it is.” She hesitates before she adds, “I don’t think that whoever did this to you intended for you to survive.”

A strange cold sweeps through my limbs as I take in the ruined body lying on this bed before me. I’ve been lucid for all of five minutes—the long hand on the clock ahead tells me that—and in that short time, this doctor has informed me that I was beaten, raped, . . . and left for dead.

And I lost a baby I don’t even remember carrying, or making.

I don’t know who the father was.

I don’t even know who I am.

“I’m going to send you for another CT scan and MRI.” I feel the weight of her gaze on me. “Are you sure there isn’t someone or something that you remember? A husband? Or a boyfriend? Or a sibling? A parent? Maybe a city where you grew up? The hospital would like to find your family for you.”

Her barrage of questions only makes my heart rate spike and the annoying EKG ramp up again. I can’t answer a single one of them. Is anyone missing me right now? Are they searching for me? Am I from Bend, Oregon, or do I live somewhere else?

Dr. Alwood sits quietly, waiting, as I focus on a small yellow splotch on the ceiling. That’s water damage. How can I recognize that and not my own name?

“Even a tiny detail?” she presses, the urgency in her voice soft and pleading.

“No.” There’s nothing.

I remember nothing at all.

THREE

Jesse

then

There are a lot of things I don’t like about Portland.

The rain tops the list.

Scratch that. Driving in the rain tops the list. It’s usually just a dreary never-ending drizzle, but once in a while the skies open up for an especially heavy downpour. The shitty old Toyota I bought for five hundred bucks doesn’t deal well with that weather, the engine randomly sputtering and cutting out like it’s drowning. I don’t know how many times I’ve tried to fix the problem.

September was a heavy month for rain. It looks like October is competing for a record, too, because it’s pouring again tonight. It’s only a matter of time before the car gives out on me, right here in the middle of this deserted road. Then I’ll be just like the poor sucker on the shoulder up ahead, his hazards flashing.

Even though I’ve already made my mind up to keep moving, when I realize it’s a BMW Z8, my foot eases off the gas pedal. I’ve never seen one in real life before. Probably because there are only a few thousand in the entire country and each one would go for a pretty penny. It’s rare and it’s f**king gorgeous.

And it has a flat tire.

“Nope.” Changing tires in the rain sucks. That rich bastard can wait for roadside assistance to come save him. I’m sold on that plan until my headlights catch long blond hair in the driver’s side. Twenty feet past, my conscience takes over and I can’t help but brake. “Shit,” I mutter, pulling off to the shoulder and slowly backing up.

No one’s getting out, but if she’s alone, she’s probably wary. With a loud groan, I step out into the rain, yanking the hood of my gray sweatshirt up over my head. I jog over to the passenger-side window. Growing up with a sheriff as a father, you learn never to stand on the road, even if there isn’t a car in sight. People get clipped all the time.

I knock against the glass.

And wait.

“Come on . . .” I mutter, my head hung low, the rain pounding on my back feeling like a cold hose bath. It can’t be more than 40 degrees out here. Another five seconds and I’m leaving her here.

Finally the window cracks open, just enough for me to peer through. She’s alone in the car. It’s dark, but I’m pretty sure I see tears. I definitely see smeared black makeup. And her eyes . . . They glisten with fear. I don’t blame her. She’s driving a high-priced car and she’s sitting alone out here after eleven at night. And now there’s a guy in a hoodie hanging outside her window. I adjust my tone accordingly. “Do you need help?”

I hear her swallow hard before answering, “Yes. I do.” She sounds young, but it’s hard to tell with some women.

“Have you called Triple-A?”

She hesitates and then shakes her head.

Okay . . . not very talkative. She smells incredible, though, based on the flowery perfume wafting out of her car. Incredible and rich. “Your spare’s in the trunk?”

“I . . . think so?”

I sigh. Looks like I’m changing a tire in the pouring rain after all. “Okay. Pop your trunk and I’ll see what I can do. Stay in here.”

I round the car. Beneath half a dozen shopping bags and under the trunk floor, I find the spare tucked away. Running back to get my jack and flashlight out of my car—I use my own tools whenever I can—I settle down by the back corner of the Z8, happy for the dead roads. Not one vehicle has passed since I stopped.

The BMW is jacked and the lug nuts are off when the driver’s door opens. “I’ll have this changed in another two minutes!” I holler, gently pulling the rim off. “You should stay inside.”

The door slams shut—I cringe, you don’t slam anything on a car like this!—and then heels click on the pavement as she comes around to stand next to me. The rain suddenly stops pelting my back. “Is that better?” she asks in a soft voice.

I don’t need to glance up to know that there’s an umbrella hovering over me. “You’re not from Portland, are you?” I mumble with a smile. Neither am I, technically, but I’ve learned to adapt in the four years that I’ve lived here. Part of that is knowing that no guy in Portland would be caught dead using an umbrella. Neither would most women, actually. We’d rather duck our head and get wet than be labeled a wuss. Smart? No.

“No, not originally.”

I yank the tire off and roll it to the side. That’s when my eyes get caught up in a pair of long, bare legs right beside me, covered in goose bumps from the cold. Forcing my head back down with a low exhale, I grab the spare.

“Thank you for stopping. Most people wouldn’t have.”

Most people, including me. “You should really get a Triple-A plan.”

“I have one,” she admits somberly and then, after a second’s hesitation, adds, “My phone died and I can’t find my car charger.”

So, she was totally stranded. As much as this sucks, I’m glad I stopped. This should give my conscience something to feel good about, seeing as I’ve tested it plenty over the years. “I can’t find my phone charger half the time. It’s usually under the seat. I finally went and bought a second cord that I keep in my glove compartment.”

I hear the smile in her voice as she says, “I’ll have to remember that.”

“Yeah, you should. Especially in a car like this.” The spare is bolted in place in another minute.

“You’re very fast.”

I smirk as I lower the car. “I’ve been changing tires since I could walk.” Well, not really, but it feels like it. Grabbing the flat tire with one arm, I intentionally step out from the umbrella so I don’t get her dirty with it on my way to the trunk. It’s too late for me, but I’m used to it. I go through more clothes than the average guy. “Do you have far to go? These aren’t meant for long distances.”

“About ten miles.”

“Good. I can stay behind you until you get off the highway, if that makes you feel better,” I offer, wiping my wet, dirty hands against my jeans. “I’m headed that way anyway.”

“That’s very kind of you.” She doesn’t make a move to leave, though. She just stands there, her face hidden by the darkness and that giant umbrella.

And then I hear the stifled sob.

Ah, shit. I don’t know what to do with a rich girl crying on the side of the road. Or crying girls in general. I’ve made plenty of them do it, unintentionally, and felt bad about it after. But other than saying, “I’m sorry,” I’m at a loss. I hesitate before asking, “Is everything okay? I mean, do you have someone you can call? You can use my phone if you want. I’ll grab it from the car.”

“No, I don’t have anyone.”

A long, lingering silence hangs over us.

“Well . . .” I really just want to get home and catch The Late Show, but I didn’t get soaked so I could leave her standing out here.

“Are you happy?” Her question cuts through the quiet night like a rude interruption.

“Uh . . .” What? I shift nervously on my feet.

“In your life. Are you happy? Or do you ever wish you could just start over?”

I frown into the darkness. “Right now I wish I wasn’t freezing my ass off in the rain,” I admit. What the hell else do I say to that? I wasn’t ready for deep, thought-provoking questions. I generally avoid those, and God knows the idiots I hang out with don’t toss them around. Is this chick out of her mind?

She steps in closer, lifting her umbrella to shield, granting me part of my wish. “I mean, if you could just start over fresh . . . free yourself from all the bad decisions you’ve made . . . would you do it?”

Obviously this woman’s shitty day started long before the flat tire. “Sounds like you have some regrets,” I finally offer. It’s not really an answer to her question but, honestly, I don’t know how to respond to that.

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