To her great surprise, Diego walks into Janet’s hospital room.
“And didn’t tell me?”
“I didn’t know who I was. It took almost a year of therapy just to remember my own name. And I looked rough. The doctor wasn’t a plastic surgeon. He tied me up with goat gut and duct tape….”
She laughed, fighting tears. She could only imagine his suffering.
“You think I’m kidding? Six surgeries later, I look like myself again. Except for this.” He pointed to the scar. “I’m a work in progress.”
“How did you finally remember me?”
“That was Coffey’s idea. He figured I needed a trigger, something from my past that would make all the pieces fall in place. He got pictures of you and started showing them to me. Every day, the same thing. This is Janet at seven, this is Janet at eleven…. He finally showed me a picture you’d had taken with you, and Dad, and the boys. And it jumped at me. I remembered—driving away, seeing you in the rear view. Just like that, I remembered it all.”
“You came back,” she whispered.
“I came back….” He kissed her, and all the years dropped away.
Flora poked her head in. “Sorry to interrupt. Would you like to stay the night?”
“Yes, thanks.” Diego flashed a happy smile at her.
Flora brought in sheets and a blanket and pillow. She helped him make up the window seat, which doubled as a bed.
“How long am I in for?” Janet asked.
“Well, babe, you got shot in the head,” he explained as he slipped off his shoes and wiggled into bed beside her.
“Grazed you, but it left a pretty nifty groove in your skull and they shaved your head to give you stitches.”
“Oh, I bet that’s attractive.”
“It’s an edge look, but you totally carry it off.”
She giggled and started to cry.
“Shh… It’s okay, babe. I’m here and I’m never leaving again.”
Janet went home the next day. Her entire family met her and Diego at her house. They had a short welcome home party and left. The boys went home with their grandfather, leaving Janet and Diego alone.
He helped her shower, putting a snug shower cap over her dressing. When she was clean, they cuddled up in the bed. She lay with the uninjured part of her head against his chest, listening to his heart beat.
“I hope the doctor okays me for extra curricular activity soon,” she said with a regretful sigh. “We have a few years to make up for.”
“It’ll keep,” he said, playing with her hair. “I’ve missed these moments. Even when I didn’t remember who I shared them with, I missed them.”
“You’re never going away again?”
“Coffey promises. Never. He’s slated me as unfit for active duty. I’ll go back to being an ROTC guy. I liked that job.”
“No one told me. Did Tex get arrested? What happened after he shot me?”
Diego got very quiet. She peeped up at him. His jaw was set, his eyes stony as he glared at the wall.
“No, he’s not in jail.”
“After that? Wasn’t he arrested?”
“What?” She sat up so fast, it made her dizzy.
“Do you remember anything?”
“Not after I rushed him.”
“I got here a second too late. Tab and Len were watching. I was looking for him, and then it occurred to me that he’d come back here.” He paused, sighing heavily. “What were you thinking, running at him like that?”
“I’d had it. I couldn’t take the waiting anymore. I wanted him to get it over with.”
“He damn near did. If Len hadn’t tackled you….”
“Right as the gun went off. He’s lucky he wasn’t killed.”
“What’s with you guys?”
“Loose cannons, every one.” Diego chuckled a moment, sobering before he continued. “So, the bullet grazed you as you went down. I thought you were dead. You lay there so still and there was so much blood. Len and Tab took care of you and I took care of Tex.”
“That being said, I have a question for you, and I’d like your answer in one, single syllable word, easily verbalized, even with a head injury.”
Janet snuggled against him and he fought an inner battle with his conscience, and her doctor’s orders, versus his desire.
“We’ve had our rough spots, more than most people, but I love you more now, than I did twenty years ago. Janet, will you marry me?”
“Yes. Oh, yes! Yes! Yes!” She kissed him hard on the mouth.
Doctor’s orders be damned! He kissed her, pouring every ounce of love he had into it. Totally against medical advice, he made love to her. He was careful, taking it slowly, savoring the taste of her lips—the first he’d had in ten years.
They had a small wedding, only family, but over a hundred people at the reception. Every member of Diego’s old team came. The doctors he’d rescued, the high school faculty, and both their combined families.
Danny was best man, Ricky the groomsman. Ramona and Sookie were her attendants. When she threw the bouquet, she aimed right at Coffey. Surprised, he caught it, laughing loudly when the single women in the room lined up and kissed him.
They had their honeymoon in Hawaii—an entire month in paradise. Life had taken them in different directions, their paths crossing and recrossing like a road map. But now, they were finally on the road together, and it led them home.
Janet lay in bed, gazing out at the lapis surf from their hotel bedroom. Diego was up and singing in the shower, but she couldn’t make herself get up. The sun rose, setting the sky on fire. Janet smiled, inhaling happily, as she greeted a brand new day.
©2020 Dellani Oakes