Lydia watched Theo come into the room. He’d done it a thousand times before, too many to count, but this time it was different. He wasn’t in their home, and over the fifteen months that had passed since she’d last seen him conscious, somehow he had gradually begun to fade to a shadow in her life rather than being a solid, real part of it. Since that one day in December, she knew layers of this man she hadn’t known before. She’d gradually been able to unpeel their lives in the time he’d been unable to communicate, she’d processed all of it alone without his feedback, and she wasn’t sure where they went to from here.
The Theo before her now wasn’t the six-foot-one cheeky man Lydia remembered. He wasn’t the man who’d winked at her in the mornings as he left their house in Bath, or the man who’d sung in the shower at the top of his voice to begin each day. The bubbly person she remembered Theo to be was different to this man who hunched over the crutches that wedged beneath his underarms and made him puff with exertion until he safely made it over to the sofa by the bay window.
‘Hi.’ Her voice came out squeaky and she bit down on her lower lip. She’d promised herself she wouldn’t cry, she wouldn’t get emotional at this miracle in front of her, this moment she’d begun to believe would never happen.
Theo left his crutches resting against the wall, and the powerful muscles in his forearms, although significantly smaller than before, enabled him to lower himself onto the sofa beside her. She wasn’t sure if he was aware, whether he’d done it on purpose, or if his coordination had dictated his exact position, but he’d left a gap between them and Lydia was glad.
Theo turned to face her, a big sigh following his words as though speaking was just as much effort as moving around the room was for him. He smiled, and if she didn’t know him so well she wouldn’t have noticed the slight tug on one side of his mouth that hadn’t been there before, the movement of tiny muscles below the surface of his face that were still battling to repair themselves.
‘I’ve only been using the crutches on and off for two weeks,’ he said, as though they’d only sat together like this last week. Perhaps he was as nervous as she was. ‘Otherwise it’s an old people’s metal Zimmer frame or the wheelchair.’
She smiled anxiously, knowing that despite his blasé remarks, Theo would have hated relying on any kind of contraption to get around. Because the Theo she knew was all man: a rugby player, a man’s man; strong, independent, robust.
His face had filled out since she’d last seen him and he looked a healthy version of the man who’d been lying in a bed for months on end. She could smell the soap from his shower, see the tiny scar on his chin from when he’d fallen over as a teenager and knocked it on a broken bottle. He had another scar now, more visible and along the plane of his jaw. But other than that, you’d never look at this man and know what he’d been through.
She wasn’t sure whether it was Theo who moved closer or her, but now she could feel the warmth of his body as her arm touched his, bare from the bicep down below his T-shirt sleeves. The sunlight was strong in this room, the shaft coming in from the window sending dust motes dancing around in the air in front of them, and when Theo’s hand dropped next to her own, the backs of their hands making contact, the tears came.
Lydia rested her head on his shoulder and felt Theo’s head tilt towards hers. She wasn’t sure how long they sat there for, but it was long enough for someone to come and check that everything was okay, ask whether they wanted some refreshments – they answered that yes, that would be lovely – and even to check Lydia wasn’t the driver of a Honda Civic blocking in another resident’s visitor who needed to leave in time for the school run.
The working fireplace in front of them now was welcoming and soothing to gaze into when you had no idea what else to say. But Lydia looked out onto the drive, her scones untouched. Outside the trees were still bare, the air cold. On the drive up here she’d passed woodland, where Lydia knew in a couple of short months there would be a definite carpet of bluebells beyond. As she’d walked up the driveway, slowly and hesitantly, towards the front door of the rehab centre, she’d stepped carefully in case ice lurked beneath, and as soon as she’d opened the grand front door she knew that soon everything would be out in the open. No more lies. Nothing but the truth from now on.
‘I’m finding all of this really hard to believe.’ She looked at Theo. ‘I never thought…’
‘You never thought I’d wake up?’ His words were clear enough but more deliberate than usual, as though he was concentrating on getting his speech to sound exactly the same out loud as it did in his head. ‘How much has my mum told you?’
‘Not much. I was shocked when she called me and I put the phone down.’ She looked at him when she heard him snigger. They’d always laughed at Anita’s serious ways, how no woman was ever good enough for her son, and laughing now made Lydia relax at least a little. ‘We’ve only texted since then. She told me you’ve been awake for a while but wouldn’t see me.’
He looked out onto the gravel driveway and the flowerbeds waiting for spring colours to pop up. ‘I didn’t want you to see me like that, stuck in a bed, not able to do anything.’
She gave a wry smile. ‘What do you think I’ve been doing for the last fifteen months?’
‘I guess you’ve got a point.’ His expression turned serious. ‘I was angry.’
‘At me? Why?’
‘I couldn’t eat, I could barely speak, I could only lie there in a bed and part of me hated you and my family for letting it happen.’
‘It’s not been the easiest time for any of us.’ She toyed with the strap of her bag that had fallen onto her knee. ‘Your mum and I had very different opinions on what was best at the time of your accident.’
‘So I understand.’
‘She told you?’
He nodded, one hand massaging the back of his knee, although not fully; it was as though his hand couldn’t quite remember what to do, how hard to push. He looked like her Theo, the man she’d been dating since they met at Bath University all those years ago. He looked the same in many ways, yet so much had changed, some of it down to him and the rest down to her.
‘I didn’t just w-w-wake up and g-g-go back to normal.’ His sudden stuttering caused Lydia to hold her breath and he didn’t miss her reaction. ‘Speech was slurred at first.’ He said the words with determination, concentration, not with the ease most people did when they opened up their mouth and knew whatever came out would make perfect sense. ‘I’ve seen speech therapists, physical therapists, I’ve had test after test. I couldn’t even do the basics when I first woke up.’
She didn’t ask him to list everything. She knew he’d want to put as much of this behind him as possible, but some of it, especially what she’d unearthed in the last fifteen months, he would never be able to.
‘Lydia, there’s something else,’ he said. ‘I remember so many things. I remember the day we met at university, I remember our years in London. I remember learning to ride a bike.’ He coped with his agitation by pausing before he went on. ‘I remember going to see my dad in New Zealand, I remember our grotty rented flat in Bath after the postage-stamp-sized flat in London, and I remember us choosing our terraced house together and the day we moved in.’ His face softened, perhaps with memories he wanted to treasure. ‘I remember us skinny-dipping in the Lake District.’
She blushed as she thought about that time too, how in love they’d been, the infatuation, the excitement of every touch and murmured sweet nothing. But her heart-warming moment was short-lived.
‘Lydia, I can’t remember anything since our trip to Zurich.’
A sense of fear formed in the pit of her stomach. ‘That was more than a year before the accident.’
‘That’s my last memory. I can remember us on the trams, when we climbed that funny mountain…what was it called?’
‘Uetliberg.’ She smiled tentatively. He’d never been able to remember the name of it.
‘Memory problems are really common after what happened to me.’ The sentence took a while to come out, he seemed to be panicking, getting emotional, and Lydia reached out to him but withdrew her hand after she reassuringly patted him on the knee. Somehow it didn’t feel right. Not now. Not after everything that had happened.
Lydia tried to think of some of the things they’d done in the time since Zurich. She wound back to the Christmas before the accident. ‘Do you remember ice skating in London, going to Winter Wonderland and seeing the ice sculptures?’ He shook his head. ‘What about watching the circus?’ He shook his head again but she persisted. ‘You must remember that, it was terrifying! The man climbing the ladder almost fell and the audience laughed thinking it was all part of the act, but we could tell it wasn’t.’
‘I don’t remember.’
‘Well what about buying our new sofa and armchairs?’
He grinned. ‘Doesn’t sound like something I’d need to remember.’
‘We had a huge row about it. I’d insisted they were perfect for our house and when they were delivered they were too big for the lounge. We had an argument and I threw your trainers at your head.’
He smiled, softly now as though he’d already accepted something she hadn’t. ‘Did you get me?’
‘Of course I did. You pretended you were really hurt, said they’d smacked you in the eye and when I got all concerned you started laughing.’
‘I don’t remember, Lydia. Mum’s filled in some blanks: Uncle Morris’s funeral, don’t remember that; a promotion at work and being flown to San Francisco to speak at a conference, I don’t remember that either. Lydia, I have no memory of the year before my accident.’
Her heart sank.
Because if he didn’t remember that year, it meant he wouldn’t remember what he’d done. And if he didn’t remember, then what she’d done in the last couple of months would make no sense to him, it’d hurt him beyond all recognition.