“You didn’t have to follow me back,” she said softly as she walked up to the door, “And you certainly didn’t have to walk me to the door.” She turned to face him. It was so strange to be in this position with him. To her, nothing had changed. Time had passed, but the feelings were still there perhaps even stronger than they’d been before. It would seem so natural to reach up and touch his face, to lean in and softly kiss him…
“It’s no problem, really. I just wanted to make sure you got home okay.” He looked at her, her eyes shining up at him. Looking down at her, he couldn’t help but smile.
“What is it?” she asked softly, her words floating through the air like music.
He sighed. “I may not remember, but I can tell by the way you look at me…we were good…we were real?”
Tears stung her eyes as she heard him say the words, words it had taken her far too long to admit and even longer to finally say. “Yes,” she whispered, “we were very real…you were everything to me and I like to think I was everything to you too. If you hadn’t had the accident, we were going to get married. We’d talked about it, but you insisted that we couldn’t yet because I would be expecting the proposal and you had to find a way to surprise me. You were always romantic like that.”
It was amazing to him to watch her as she talked about him this way. It was as if she was recounting some beautiful movie, but the scenes were actual moments from his life. “Look,” he said softly, hesitating a little, “If uh..if you’re not doing anything…I know you said Grace is gonna stay with the sitter tonight…maybe you could tell me a little more about the things we did or show me some pictures.” He stopped, the surprise on her face startling him. “Unless you think it’s too soon…I can come back another day…”
“No..No..not at all. I’d love it if you’d come in. Um..unless you think it’s too soon.”
Billy shook his head, following her inside.
“I didn’t really get a chance to say it earlier, but please excuse the mess,” she said with a smile. “It’s a little crazy with a baby in such tight quarters.”
“I’m sure,” he nodded. “Why uh…why are you in a hotel…Did we not have a house?”
She stopped, turning to face him. “No, we did…I just…I couldn’t stay there after you…well, after the accident. Actually, I left town for a while. I took a job in Chicago and I moved there to try and put some distance between me and the memories.”
“Did it work?” There was something about her, something that drew him. Though she was still very new to him in a way, there was a part of her that felt familiar and comfortable.
“No,” she whispered. “Because you were in here.” She placed her hand over her heart. “And everywhere I went, I just took you with me.” She took a breath, sensing the awkwardness of the moment, “And then of course there was Grace, who was in here…” She placed her hand on her now-flat stomach.
She stooped down to grab a cloth album. “There’s not a ton of pictures in here, but I do have some videos if you’d like to see them. This is the baby book I’ve been putting together for her.”
Billy opened the cover, flipping page by page slowly, his eyes roaming over footprints and hospital photos. “She’s how old now?”
Phyllis smiled. “A little over five months…it goes by so fast. It’s like you blink and she’s doing all these things that she couldn’t do yesterday.” She stopped herself, realizing how it must feel to him, realizing he’s missed so much. “She’s gonna be crazy about you,” she whispered, touching his arm softly. “I can’t wait for you to meet her.”
“Me too,” he managed, his voice raspy with emotion.
“The video,” she said quickly, standing up and moving to the shelf. “I almost forgot.”
“Actually,” he said softly, reaching out and grabbing her arm, “Would it be alright if we waited on that. I’m not sure I can handle that right now.”
“Sure,” she nodded, sitting down on the end of the bed beside him. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I’ve been so busy thinking about how hard this must be for me that I really haven’t considered how it must feel to you.”
“Don’t feel sorry for me,” he said looking up at her. “I survive an accident that, by all rights, should have killed me. I come home and find out I have a beautiful girlfriend and a healthy baby girl. I’ve won the lottery. I just feel like you and Grace—you’ve drawn the short straw.”
“Don’t you say that!” her words came out quickly as her eyes flashed in anger. The shock on his face jolted her back to reality and she pulled back, calming herself before she spoke again. “Sorry,” she whispered. “I just…I don’t ever want you to feel that I’m anything but grateful to have you back. Yes, it’s been difficult to know that you don’t remember, but I have to believe that the memories will come back.”
“And if they don’t?” It was the question he’d wanted to ask since the moment he’d laid eyes on her, but he’d been afraid to. Taking advantage of his certain burst of courage seemed to be the only sensible thing to do.
“I don’t know,” she admitted. “We’ll figure something out.” She looked at him. “Is there anything else you remember? Anything at all?”
“I don’t even know if this will make sense to you,” he sighed. “You know that show…I think it’s called something Abbey..”
Phyllis nodded. “You mean Downton Abbey?”
“That’s the one,” he nodded. “Well, I have this weird, fuzzy memory of being in a room in a house kind of like the ones they have in that show. I can’t see anything..it’s dark..and there’s the sound like rain pouring down, but I can’t see the rain.”
Phyllis stared at him, her breath catching in her throat. “Anything else?” She tried not to jump to conclusions, trying desperately not to get her hopes up too high.
“A smell,” he said quietly, closing his eyes to try and remember more, “like a burning…and heat…like the smell of burning..”
He opened his eyes to see tears streaming down her cheeks. “What?” he breathed. “What’s the matter?”
She smiled through her tears and brushed them away from her face. “That smell was a fire in the fireplace. There was a thunderstorm that knocked out all the power and it was cold so we found an old rocking chair that we used for firewood.” She looked into his eyes as she continued to talk. “It was raining and thundering and the wind was blowing so hard that it blew a tree down that blocked the driveway so we couldn’t leave and that house you’re describing….that’s the Chancellor mansion…that’s where we lived. That was our home.”
Billy nodded slowly. “Wow,” he breathed. “That’s a weird night to remember..I guess I was hoping for something more meaningful than that.” He stopped speaking as he saw her eyes flash.
“That’s not how the story ends,” she whispered.
“How did it end?”
She leaned in close to him, questioning her choices all the way, but throwing all caution to the wind as she softly pressed her lips to his. “Like that,” she said softly, as she pulled away. “That was the first night you kissed me.”
She half expected him to run, but instead she leaned into his hand as it lightly stroked her cheek. “Oh,” he breathed, his eyes never once leaving hers, “It’s got to be damn hard to forget something like that.”