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He battled his way through the bands of fog that tried to drag him back into the darkness. He wanted to wake up, wanted to move, but his body was uncooperative.
Pain registered in varying degrees. His leg, his shoulder. His head. God help him, his head. It pounded in sync with his heartbeat, every throb a stab into his retinas. He managed to drag the arm that didn't hurt up to grasp and pull at the thing covering his face.
The oxygen mask snapped back when he lost his grip and the bump against his lower lip sent new pain through him. This woke him more fully, gave him the push needed to open his eyes.
He blinked, focused. Saw dingy walls, more gray than white, and a mud-colored water stain the size of a fist on the ceiling tile. Someone had tried painting over it, but the stain had seeped through.
Next came the steady beep of a machine somewhere above his head, another ticking noise behind him on his right. Two seconds later he heard a click, and the band around his upper arm tightened just shy of squeezing it in two.
A hospital. But why?
He heard a nasally, rumbling noise and turned his head to find the source. An older man sat in a chair beside the bed, slumped forward on the blanket covering him and snoring loud enough to wake the dead.
He grimaced at the effort it took to slide his hand down to where the man lay, but before he reached the guy's arm, his fingers encountered something hard. Head throbbing, he grasped the item and dragged it up until he could see what it was. A picture?
The two men in the photo smiled. They had similar looks despite the differences in age. Both held hunting rifles and wore camouflage. Written across their chests in loopy, feminine handwriting was "Barry & Beau, Thanksgiving 2002."
Blinking, he took in the room again, noticing a mirror attached to the door closest to the bed. He stared at himself a long moment, then looked back at the photograph. Same face. A little older, a lot rougher in appearance with all the stitches and swelling and bandages, but definitely the same.
The man in the chair snuffled out a loud, throat-blasting snore. The guy choked, coughed and woke. He raised his head and rubbed his eyes and midyawnglanced up and froze. Eyes flaring, he shot to his feet, the chair hitting the wall. "You're awake. You're awake!"
Was he? He wasn't so sure. Everything felt off. Dreamlike. His mind was stuffed with cotton and his face unfamiliar except for the fact it was on the photograph he still held.
What was going on? "Don't move," the man ordered, grinning as he hurried toward the door. "Don't move," he repeated over his shoulder before yanking the door open to yell, "Doc? Doc! He's awake, come quick!"
Running footsteps thundered toward the room, growing louder as they grew close. A man in a white lab coat burst into the room.
"Glad to see you're back, soldier. My name is Major Abrams, and I'm your doctor. Let me check you over and then we'll get down to business."
Before he could find his voice, the physician pulled a minilight from his pocket and blinded him with it, ordering him to keep his eyes open despite the daggers of pain stabbing his brain. A couple of torturous seconds later, the doc straightened and wrote down some notes on his chart.
"What happened?" He sounded like a frog after a dry spell.
"What's the last thing you remember?"
He searched for an answer, but didn't find one.
"It's okay, take your time and wake up a bit. Are you seeing double?"
"How many fingers am I holding up?"
"Three. Where am I?"
"You're in Landshuhl Army Hospital." The doctor pointed to a whiteboard across the room. "What's written on the board over there?"
The pain in his head and the brightness of the lights left him squinting. "Your nurse today is Lt. Pauley."
"Very good." The doctor pulled out a stethoscope and pressed it to his chest. "What's my name again?"
He frowned. "Major Abrams."
"Good. And your lungs are clear, which is excellent. Now, back to the original question. Can you tell us what happened?"
He frowned, struggling, his thoughts too fast to catch, a speeding blur he couldn't focus on or stop. "I'm not sure."
"That's fine," the doctor murmured, continuing his exam. "After a head injury like yours, it's perfectly normal to be a little confused. Don't be alarmed. It would be unusual if you did remember details. That's why I'm grilling you with these questions."
"Do you know what happened?" He hated having to ask. Hated the nothingness where the answers should've been.
He stared at the older man who'd been sleeping beside his bed, then did his best to ignore the expression on the guy's face, the one that said whatever had landed him in the hospital hadn't been good.
"The details can wait," the doctor stated firmly, his gaze brooking no argument from the other man. "After we get some tests out of the way."
His heart rate increased, the beeps on the machine behind him sounding closer together. Awareness slid into his consciousness in place of his memories. Something was wrong, something big.
"Tell me what's going on." His gaze locked on the older man and refused to let him look away. "Who are you?"
The guy paled, becoming the same gray as the walls. Abrams cleared his throat. "Let's take this one step at a time, soldier."
Terror gathered inside him, a rolling, building wave growing higher and wider with every second that passed. "I want to know now. Tell me what's going on." The doctor murmured something about tests again and he cursed. "Tell me!"
The older man staggered to the other side of the small room. The man shook, and that sight had his hand tightening into a fist. The plastic picture frame bent, the edge sharp against his skin.
He'd remember everything in a minute. It was the pressure. Had to be. He'd just woken up. It was The picture. "He's Barry."
The man turned, his expression hopeful, a relieved smile forming on his lips.
The right answer, but why didn't the name mean anything? Barry. Barry? The knowledge, the memory, wasn't there. And he could tell by the way the doctor watched him that he knew it. He wasn't fooling anyone.
He tried to swallow the lump in his throat. "I'm Beau." He held on to the picture so tightly he heard his knuckle pop. "I'm Beau." The monitor behind him filled the room with ever increasing bleeps.
"You're Beau," Major Abrams agreed with a slow nod. "But?"
He fought back humiliating tears as the roar of waves crashed over him, dragging him under. From a distance, he heard someone shouting.
Dizzy, sick, he raised his hand to his head, tried to ease the ache. He hit his face instead, the plastic frame scratching him. The harder he tried to remember, the worse the pain became, slicing through his skull until it was impossible to think, to concentrate.
"Why can't I remember?" He dropped the picture and grabbed the man by his lab coat, needing something to anchor him, to hold him together. "Why can't I remember?"
The doctor's mouth moved, but he couldn't understand the words. Cold wetness touched him and a needle pricked his arm. Seconds later a peacefulness settled over him.
Everything began to blur. Fog crept in again until he was surrounded by darkness, lost and floating. Adrift.
"Amnesia?" six hours later, Barry Buchanan paced Major Abrams's office floor, his inhaler clutched in his hand. He'd had to puff on the thing off and on all day to combat the wheezing and stress.
After watching his son lose it in full-blown panic, he shook like a compacting machine. Six hours and he still couldn't get the sound of Beau's hoarse shouts out of his head. He'd felt every ounce of his son's gut clenching fear, and couldn't imagine how terrifying it would be to wake up and not know his own name. Now Beau was worn-out and much too quiet.
"How can this happen? This is this is something off a soap opera." Barry stalked to the window and kept his back to the doc, afraid the Major might see how close he was to losing it himself.
Four days ago he'd gotten the call that Beau had been injured and was being transported from Iraq to Germany. He'd dropped everything, hopped a flight with nothing more than a couple changes of clothes in a backpack and hadn't had more than a few hours of sleep since. He'd waited by Beau's bedside, praying. Begging God for Beau to wake up, to be okay. But now that he had "How can he not remember any-thing?"
"I know this is a shocking turn of events, but it's not uncommon to experience memory loss after the kind of head trauma your son sustained. With time he'll be able to adjust and most of his memories should return."
"How can you or anyone else expect that boy to adjust to not remembering who he is?"
The doctor ran a hand over his hair, the high-and-tight military cut leaving him nearly bald. "The road ahead will be difficult, but he will. The technical term for his condition is retrograde amnesia. Depending on the trauma sustained by the patient, the length of the memory loss may vary. In your son's case, it's severe. At least in regard to certain things."
"Certain things? He doesn't remember half his life! He doesn't remember his own father!"
"No, he doesn't," the doctor agreed calmly. "But Beau has retained his education. He knows how to read, count. His short-term memory is unaffected, his vision is fine and there are no signs of hemorrhages in his skull. All of which add up to a very good prognosis."
"When will he get his memory back?"
"That's something I can't answer. Patients recover at their own rate, Mr. Buchanan. Your son's memory could return before we go back to his room to talk to himor it could be weeks or even months. The worst-case scenario is that he never regains his memories, but that is the worst case. Given time, the odds are well in his favor that he'll regain his memory of everything except the time around which the actual injury occurred, and that is perfectly normal. We need to focus on the positives right now, and not the aspects out of our control."
"What's the longest anyone's ever gone before their memory returned?"
The doc looked distinctly uncomfortable. "There have been case studies lasting as long as twenty-four months."
"Two years?" How did someone function for two years without their memories?
"That's not the norm," Major Abrams stressed.
"But there are no hard-and-fast rules where the brain is concerned." He shifted in his chair. "Mr. Buchanan, I'll arrange to have one of our mental-health professionals talk to you as soon as possible about what you can do to help your son, but the fact is it's all a waiting game. Pushing or rushing your son to remember before he's ready will not help him and could actually cause more damage. Regaining his memories or talking to him about them is a process. A slow one that needs to be performed by a professional."
Barry paced, too frustrated to sit down and have the discussion in a calm, straightforward manner.
"The good news here is that your son not only survived, he's young and healthy and the shrapnel injuries are healing quickly. There's no reason why he shouldn't make a full recovery. It's just going to take some time and patience."
Barry rubbed his gritty eyes and exhaled roughly. "But we still have to go back into that room and tell him he's not going to remember any time soon."
The doctor's gaze slipped down to the inhaler Barry held in his hand, then back up to his face. "I can do that myself if you'd rather not be present."
He shook his head, knowing no matter how tired or worn-out he was, he couldn't let his son face this alone. "No. Beau might not remember me, but I'm still his father. I'll stay by his side no matter what. That poor boy who died, Beau's buddy His father turned his back on him when he needed him most. I won't do that to my son. I won't do that to Beau."