They stepped into his apartment, and she studied his face, waiting for signs of recognition to flicker across his features. None came. He looked around curiously, as though he’d never been here before in his life. She withheld her sigh. She had been listing everything she knew about him since she’d picked him up from the hospital, but nothing had helped jog his memory. It terrified her to think that amnesia could hit anybody at any time. After all, the doctors had found no signs of head trauma.
“So, I live here?” he asked as he began to explore.
“Yep.” She followed him around, pointing out various knick-knacks and explaining their significance to him. He remembered a few things here and there, but they had all been with him for most of his life. No new breakthroughs seemed to come.
After a while, she noticed his attention start to fade. It had been a long day, and she must have overloaded him with information by now.
“Why don’t you go to bed,” she suggested. “Maybe you’ll remember more in the morning.”
He looked at her, then turned his head toward the door. He bit his lip. “Do you think, maybe, you could…stay?” His voice dropped to a little above a whisper. “I don’t want to be alone, right now.”
Her eyes softened. “Of course.”
She followed him to the bedroom out of habit, but she stopped herself when she reached the doorway. “Oh. I can stay out on the couch, if you want,” she suggested, jerking a thumb in the direction of the living room.
He studied her cautiously for a moment. “I guess you normally stay in here with me, huh?”
“Yeah, but it’s no big deal. I don’t want to make you uncomfortable.” She tried to force her voice to stay positive and supportive. He didn’t need to know how much the demotion would hurt her.
“No,” he said. “I want to do things the way I used to. It might help me remember. You can stay in here.”
She smiled and nodded, stepping into the room. After a moment’s consideration, she decided she should at least stay reasonably clothed. “Can I borrow some sweatpants?”
He gestured toward his dresser. “Be my guest. You’d know where they are better than I do.”
She went to his drawer and pulled out a pair, taking them into the bathroom to change. When she returned, he had found a pair for himself and put them on. He looked from her to the bed. “Which side’s mine?”
“That one,” she said, pointing and crawling under the covers on the opposite side.
He turned out the lights and climbed in. She lay on her back, listening to him move and trying to imagine that it were just another night. Any minute now, he’d take her up in his arms and they’d kiss and everything would be all right. But he didn’t, and it wasn’t.
“So, you said we’ve been dating for a long time, now, huh?” he said into the darkness.
“Seven and a half years.”
“Wow,” he exhaled. “I guess we’re really in love, then.”
I guess. She tried to keep her heartache out of her voice. “We are.”
He stayed quiet for a moment. “You know, the last thing I remember…I never believed anyone could love me.”
“Because no one ever had. I can’t remember a single girl ever showing any interest in me. I didn’t even have a lot of friends. It was like there was something wrong with me.”
“You were just young. You hadn’t met the right people, yet.”
More silence. “Do you actually, you know…find me attractive? Have we kissed and stuff?”
She snorted in laughter, despite herself. “It’s been seven years. We’ve done a lot more than just kiss.”
He sighed. “I still feel like a virgin. I still feel like I should be a virgin.”
“That’s okay. It’ll all come back to you soon.”
“And if it doesn’t?”
A lump formed in her throat, and she did her best to talk around it. “If it doesn’t, we’ll just have to start over. You don’t ever have to do anything you’re uncomfortable with.”
“Thank you,” he said.
Once more, silence fell around them. She closed her eyes and listened to him breathing. Right when she began to think he’d fallen asleep, he spoke again. His voice was rough and filled with emotion.
“I want to know what it feels like to be loved.”
“Come here,” she murmured, gathering him up in her arms. She rested his head in the crook of her elbow and twined her other arm around him, gently caressing his back. His arms went around her, too, and she could feel the caution in his touch. They lay like that for a while, his breath rhythmically tickling her face. She noticed that he was trembling. Finally, she tilted her head toward his, letting her nose trace along his cheek to show her intention. Her lips found his, and she led him into a soft, slow kiss. She noticed that, despite his amnesia, none of the awkward hallmarks of their first kiss were present. His mouth remembered her, even as the rest of him forgot.
Suddenly, he pulled away, tilting his head back to get it out of her range. “I can’t do this,” he gasped.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to push you into anything.”
“No, it’s not that,” he said, his voice breaking. “I can’t lead you on like this.”
“What are you talking about?”
By now, he’d let go of her and rolled onto his back, though one of her arms still draped over his chest. She felt it bucking beneath her, indicating sobs he wasn’t letting her hear.
“I’m not the person you fell in love with.”
“What do you mean?”
“Don’t you see?” he choked out. “I don’t remember you. I’m the person I was before I ever met you. And the person you met, the person you love—” An audible sob interrupted him, and he paused for a minute, trying to regain control. “I became that person because of things that happened to me that probably aren’t going to happen a second time. I can’t just turn back into who I was before this damned amnesia.” His voice dissolved into sobs once more, and he struggled to get out the rest, despite them. “I’ll never be the person you want me to be.”
She searched out his hand in the darkness and took it, holding it tightly. “You already are. Honey, do you think you could possibly be the same person today that you were seven years ago, amnesia or not? Do you think I’m the same person, for that matter? When you love someone, when you’re truly committed to being with them for the rest of your life, you have to accept them, not only for everything they are, but for everything they will be. You’re still you. I can tell, just by the way you’ve been acting these past few hours. You may be a different version of the man I love, but you’re still you, and that’s all I want.”
“I don’t know what to do to deserve this.”
“You don’t have to do anything, honey. Just, please, come here?”
He rolled toward her, again, and she enveloped his shaking frame in her arms, holding his body tightly to her. He kept crying, and she sensed that he was letting out all the fear and frustration of the past day.
“It’s okay,” she murmured, running her fingers through his hair. “You’re safe with me.”
Over time, his sobs died out and she felt his body twitching like it always did when he first fell asleep. She had trouble sleeping on her side, but she didn’t let go of him, choosing instead to hold him long into the night. Once, she felt him stiffen as he jolted awake, but when a hand reached up and felt her warm arms around him, he relaxed, nestled against her, and fell back asleep. Eventually, she nodded off, as well, wondering what version of her love she’d wake up holding the next day. Either way, she was no longer afraid. Their love would survive this obstacle as well as any other.