Their Protector: An MC Outlaw Halloween Romance, page 122
That scared the hell out of me. I didn’t know what I was feeling, and I didn’t know why. I didn’t know how I was going to deal with this.
At first, everyone had been full of hope that I would get my memories back. I was young, healthy, and fit. The doctors had predicted a speedy recovery. As the months had passed, it had become clear that there was nothing. I wouldn’t remember.
Slowly, the people who had tried so hard at first faded away. I had fewer and fewer friends left. They told me I’d changed. How could I have not changed when the cornerstones of who I was had been removed? Finally, only my parents were left, and I had to start over, building a life on nothing.
I had graduated from school, but I couldn’t remember what I’d learned. I had been enrolled in college, but when I started, I couldn’t focus in class, and learning new things was hard.
Finally, I gave up and fell back on the only thing I knew, the one thing that coursed through my veins like nothing else. Fitness.
I had always been active, with a curvy hourglass, athletic figure, and even though my mind knew nothing, my body remembered. My muscles knew what they had to do, which gave a whole new meaning to the term “muscle memory.” Cheerleading was the one thing I had left, and I threw myself into it. Everyone said I had already been the best cheerleader on the team prior to my accident, but now I had somehow gotten even better at it.
Fast forward five years, and I was one of the most sought-after coaches for women’s cheerleading. I had taken high school teams to nationals. I had trained teams for major sporting events. And I dabbled in personal training on the side.
Slowly, I had created a new life for myself.
Brian’s face flashed in front of me again, but I shook it off. After everything I’d gone through to get back on my feet, I didn’t need reminders of everything I’d lost.
I got into the shower and got ready for the game. I was a busy person with no time to dwell on sad things from the past. Concentrating on my present and future was how I kept moving forward, or else I would be too depressed about the past.
I had something in the here and now to do— just like I always do— and it was time to do it. No matter how much these persistent thoughts of this Brian guy tried to get in my way.
Lorraine met me at the Hard Rock Stadium. From time to time, they let the minor leagues go where the big boys played, and the turnout was always fantastic. Excitement lingered in the air. I made my way to the women’s locker room, and my girls were in there, dressed in their uniforms, ready for action.
Lorraine, my assistant and best friend, was already present, and she came to give me a hug. She was a friend I’d made after the accident, someone who hadn’t been involved at all. I’d told her about it, but the only Sadie she knew was the one I was now, which is exactly how I liked it. She was a loyal friend, and she expected nothing from me other than what I could give. Which at times over these past five years, hasn’t been a whole lot.
“Are we excited, ladies?” I asked.
They cheered. We would dance next to the field during the game. During timeouts, they would take the field and entertain the spectators. The cheerleaders were a big favorite.
“Looks like you’ve got them under control,” I said to Lorraine. “I’m going to grab us sodas before the game starts.”
She nodded, and I left the locker room again. I cut through the VIP section, where I wasn’t technically allowed, and almost made it through without trouble when I bumped into someone.
“Oh, my God, I’m so sorry,” I said, keeping my head down.
If whoever this was asked me for my ticket or pass or whatever, I would get in trouble, because I didn’t have one.
“Sadie?” the man asked.
I looked up into Brian McMurray’s cerulean blue eyes. Of course, he would be in the VIP section. His eyes smiled at me, and his sandy hair was messy, like he’d only finger combed it.
“Brian,” I said.
My stomach turned. It was the same feeling I’d had when I’d seen him on the field last night. His eyes had seemed to turn more blue since then, though.
God, he was sexy.
“You remember me,” he said.
I nodded slowly. “From after the accident.”
He nodded, and I couldn’t tell what he was thinking. His face was unreadable. Although, if he showed me an expression, I doubted I would know what it meant. I didn’t know him like that.
“What are you doing here?” he asked.
I might as well give it to him.
“Cheating,” I said.
He raised his eyebrows, lips curling into a smile.
“I want to skip out on the crowds,” I said. “I wasn’t going to sit here or anything.”
He chuckled. “Smart move.”
I relaxed. Something about him was calming. I didn’t remember that about him from when I was in the hospital, but the last time we spoke, I had been angry the whole time, resentful, difficult. I didn’t pay attention to the people around me, only to myself, my agony, and my problems.
He wore jeans that were faded in all the right places, a blue-collared shirt that brought out his eyes with sleeves rolled up halfway, the top button of his shirt undone. He was super toned, and had tattoos.
“How have you been?” he asked.
A security guard walked past and didn’t even look in my direction. Standing next to and chatting with Mr. Famous had its perks.
“I’ve been good,” I said. “Training hard with the cheerleaders.”
Brian nodded. His eyes were still gentle, his lips on the verge of a smile all the time. I had forgotten how tall he was, too. He loomed over me but in an alpha male sort of way, not in a way that made me feel crowded or creeped out.
“And you?” I asked.
He chuckled. “Well, my career has been going very well.”
It was a very impersonal answer. And your personal life? I wanted to ask, but it seemed unfair of me to do that. I wasn’t sure why I wanted to know.
“Your cheerleaders look good, by the way,” he said. “I can see you’ve been working hard.”
I nodded. I didn’t know what else to say. This happened whenever I met someone that had known me before the accident. I always felt like I was disappointing them somehow, like I was a watered down version of who they needed me to be, and since I couldn’t remember who that had been, I could never figure out how to make it right.
“Well, it was nice seeing you again,” he said, as if he knew I was starting to feel awkward. “Take care of yourself.”
Whenever someone said that to me, it felt like a line, but when Brian said it, it sounded like he really meant it. He smiled at me, and it reached all the way to his eyes. I felt warm and beautiful when he looked at me like that.
He touched my hand lightly before walking away. I turned and watched him go. I took a deep breath and blew it out slowly. My chest felt tight, like I was struggling to breathe, and something nagged at the back of my mind.
I flashed to an image— a memory?— of Brian in a suit, wearing a shirt that was the same color as his eyes, a rose pinned to his lapel. He was much younger, his body not as filled out as it was now, but it was like I knew that body. The eyes of the Brian from my vision smiled the same way Brian’s eyes had smiled at me now.
Was this really a memory? The doctors had said it was possible that I would start remembering something things at some point. But so many years had passed without one single memory that I had become convinced it wouldn’t happen for me.
If it was a memory, though, it was the first time I’d remembered anything since the accident. I couldn’t even remember my parents, my home, anything. Why in the world would my first memory be of this Brian guy instead of anything else?
My chest tightened, and I couldn’t breathe. This was the start of a panic attack. I’d had them sometimes in the past, and they always happene
The feeling was unreal. It was as if I could have been anyone, said and done anything in the past, and I wouldn’t even know it now. I had no idea who the “old me” even was, and the thought was enough to send me into a spiral sometimes.
I hurried away from the VIP section and hid in the women’s restroom. I pressed my back against the wall, the tiles cold behind me, and I forced myself to breathe in and out slowly.
When the panic passed and I felt better again, I walked to the mirror above the sinks. I splashed cold water on my face and studied myself. It was still me, but I couldn’t remember when last the woman staring back had been as familiar as she was now.
There was more, locked up in my mind. If I could remember Brian, I could remember more. I tried to reach for it, but I couldn’t grasp it. It felt like trying to remember a dream. For a moment, I thought I had something.
Then it was gone again, and when I looked in the mirror one more time, the Sadie I saw was the same one I had learned to live with the last few years. There was no trace of the Sadie I had once been, and no more memories of who Brian used to be.
I suppose it must not have been a memory and only a vision that quickly flashed in and out of my mind, as if perhaps it wanted to remember so badly that it was creating a false memory. I had been foolish— or too caught up in the panic attack— to think my mind could actually remember something, or someone.
Running into Sadie the day after I saw her on the field was surreal. Why was it happening now? After her accident, she’d wanted nothing to do with me. After three months of trying, I’d given her what she’d wanted and given up.
Now? She was everywhere I looked. It was bullshit.
I didn’t know how I felt about that. She still had the same effect on me that she had always had. She was beautiful, and she made me feel like a real man. Strong and tall. She was short, just over five feet, and she was delicate. That didn’t mean she was fragile. She had always been one of the strongest women I knew.
But I didn’t want her to have that effect on me now, not when I knew she didn’t want me. I knew that just after the accident, it had been difficult for her. And maybe I had pushed a little too hard. But knowing all of her and not having her remember anything about me had been pure torture.
The guilt also ate me alive. I felt it was my fault she had fallen. And I guess, emotionally, I felt responsible to do something to fucking make everything okay again— even though the more rational part of me knew that nothing would ever be totally okay ever again.
I had kept trying to talk to her about things we’d done together, to hopefully jog her memory. Eventually the doctors had to explain to me that there was nothing I could do to help. Either her memory would return, or it wouldn’t. And they also strongly hinted that my presence was becoming unwanted.
I didn’t understand why she didn’t want me. I hoped she didn’t think of me as some stalker, but even if she couldn’t remember me, the Sadie I knew and loved would have listened to what I was telling her and realized that in time, memories would come. She was also so reasonable and kind.
The doctors told me that she had undergone a complete personality change, though, which they said was not unusual for survivors of head injuries and people who had been in comas. Where she was once outgoing and trusting, she was now reserved and distrustful. I suppose anyone would have been, after what she had gone through.
But it was more than that— sometimes her answers to me, to her own parents even, were snappy and angry, whereas before she had always been so sweet— sometimes even too nice. The doctors patiently explained to me that it was likely a combination of a lot of different factors. A protection mechanism she had built up based on trauma, frustration at not knowing who she was, and different personality traits than she had before the accident.
They told me that in all honesty, my presence in her life and insistence that she regain her memory was likely making her more upset. I was crushed to find out that not only was there nothing I could do to help Sadie, but I was actually making things worse. I finally realized that the best thing I could do for her was leave.
When I walked away, it ripped my heart to pieces, and I told myself I would never get involved with anyone again. Yet I was barely even able to be fully attracted to someone, or just with girls physically. Basically I sentenced myself to a life of loneliness and dissatisfaction, but I didn’t know any other way to be, because my heart just wouldn’t let her go no matter how much my brain told it to.
And now, I was responding the same way to her all over again. I couldn’t believe I kept running into her, and I knew I shouldn’t be happy about that fact, but I couldn’t help it. Clearly, I still had a soft spot for her, and the conversation had gone well. Better than I’d imagined.
She hadn’t been angry or hostile. She hadn’t even been suspicious. She’d been interesting and open and in a good mood. And mischievous. I wondered if she knew how much of those traits had been there from the start. I wondered how much of herself she’d managed to regain since the accident.
I pushed the thoughts away. We had a history, but that was all it was. The relationship hadn’t even ended badly. It had just disappeared in the blink of an eye. We had both moved on with our lives. Sadie was in the past, and it would be better for me if she stayed there.
Although, I really wanted to see her again. Now that I knew she wouldn’t be hostile and hurt me more, I wanted to talk to her. Fuck, I was in trouble. Nothing had happened yet, and I already felt like I was stuck in a time loop.
I had to get out of my head because now I was back near the rest of my team.
“Where were you?” Hanson asked when I sat down in my seat in the VIP section.
I shrugged. “Just walking around.” I hesitated before I added, “I ran into Sadie.”
Hanson frowned. “Sadie? As in the Sadie? Your ex-girlfriend?”
I nodded and swallowed. “It was coincidence.”
I didn’t add that I’d seen her at the training facility. Nothing had happened there, and I hadn’t thought I would see her again. I hadn’t been ready to be grilled by Hanson about it. But now, I couldn’t hold this in— it was just too big of a deal. My need to tell my best friend outweighed my reluctance to be interrogated or perhaps lectured at.
“And?” Hanson asked. “How did that go?”
“Better than I thought it would,” I said. “At least she knows who I am. But only from after the accident. You know…” I blew out my breath, unable to find the words. “Shit.”
I rubbed my hand over my face. I felt off balance, to say the least.
Ever since I had first seen her, I had felt that way. My heart seemed to permanently be trying to leap out of my body. And my cock seemed to be permanently trying to leap out of my pants.
Hanson nodded slowly. His face was concerned. He had never known Sadie, and we’d met after I’d recovered from the worst when I’d had to walk away. But I’d told him enough for him to know that I had been through hell. And he had been a big proponent of my goal to forget about the past and move forward in the future.
That’s why he always played my wing man before he met Lacey, and pushed me to meet girls or at least hook up with them. He always thought I was too stiff and needed to let loose and relax and have a good time. But he didn’t know what it felt like to lose the love of your life without really losing her.
“How are you feeling?” he asked.
Exactly how you would expect me to be feeling , I wanted to say. It’s not like anyone would feel fan-fucking-tastic in this situation.
But instead I just said, “I’m fine. Surprisingly.”
But that was a damn lie. I wasn’t fine at all. I had no idea what I was feeling, but I wasn’t fine. Seeing Sadie again had brought back a rush of memories. The memories were bittersweet, not because we had been in love and it hadn’t worked out, but because I had all those memories an
This reminded me of another variation of another old saying: “If a tree falls in the forest and nobody's around to hear it, does it still make a sound?” If a man dedicated two years of his life to a woman and she didn’t remember it and went about her life as if she didn’t even know about it, did it still count? Had any of it even fucking happened?
I had to be honest with myself. I didn’t want to see Sadie because I still felt like it was my fault. I felt guilty. I always asked myself the same questions again and again.
How could I have stopped it? How could I have saved her?
I had known that she was being careless, and I had seen her teeter on the rock in the wind before she’d fallen. I should have told her to come to me, or I should have fetched her and pulled her back. I should have saved her. How could I have fucked up so badly?
If I had done the right thing, done everything differently, I would still have her now. If I had, she wouldn’t have forgotten me.
I yanked myself out of the spiral of guilt and what-ifs and pushed it away. I could kill myself going around in circles like this, trying to figure out what I could have done differently. I could tell myself that everything would have been different if we hadn’t gone away from the rest of the group to have sex. If we hadn’t had alcohol. If we hadn’t gone at all.
No matter how much I beat myself up or how many times I ran through everything I could have done, it didn’t change the past. When my mind ruminated like this, I tried to remind myself that I had told her to come to me, and I had started going to get her.
I did what I could with the limited amount of time that I had. The accident had happened anyway, for whatever reason and none at all, and Sadie didn’t remember who I was. Thinking about it so much and feeling overly guilty wasn’t going to change that simple, sad fact.
In two seconds, two years of my life had disappeared without a trace. Fucking fantastic.