Howard County Hospital, Two Months after the Blast
Gayle Forsythe was having nightmares. She was in a cloud of gray dust and couldn't find her way out. She could feel the hot pavement beneath her feet, but she didn't know which way to go. The dust was choking her and burning her eyes. Sometimes she heard sounds and voices in the distance. Unable to see where she was going, she tried to follow them. Someone was squeezing her hand.
"Gayle... Gayle Forsythe... Gayle....” Dr. Jonathan Chambers was patient. He had all the time the world. It took him a month in a field hospital to fully recover from ligament surgery on his ankle, his burns and the trauma of that day. He was in a walking cast. His wife, June, and parents were long dead, and since he and June had been childless, he didn't have any close relatives to go to or look after. He called his cousins in Detroit and California to let them know that he was okay. His cousin George in Fontana offered to put him up, but he declined, preferring to stay closer to the East Coast academic world.
He called his pension fund in New York City, established a bank account in Baltimore, and had his pension and Social Security direct deposited in the account. Upon leaving the hospital, he rented a small apartment on the Baltimore Harbor and started to resume his life. Mostly trying to help Georgetown University get reestablished. He was emeritus there, and one of the few that survived. The alumni and survivors wanted it so—so money was pouring in to rebuild. The web site, outsourced to an IT firm was intact, and became the focal point of the rebuilding effort.
Something bothered him, though--that girl that had saved his life. What happened to her? After two weeks of trying to get settled in his new surroundings, Jonathon Chambers was having misgivings. He got on his new computer, got on the Internet and began searching. FEMA had set up a missing persons web site where people could search for relatives and friends. He typed in "Gayle Forsythe," and right away, located her at Howard County Hospital. It wasn't far, so the next day, he rented a car and drove down to Columbia.
What he found displeased him. While the nurses, mostly of Filipino and African descent, were very sweet, they were clearly overworked and understaffed. Most of them were working 80 hours a week and it showed. When he arrived at Gayle's bedside in a room made for two beds but now containing three, he found three comatose patients--largely neglected. They all had bedsores and were not on antibiotics to treat them. "The doctors told us not to use antibiotics because they are in very short supply. We are only able to get to these patients twice a day to bathe them and check on their vitals. We have to care for the living first.” In a tired voice, Editha Concepcion was very matter-of-fact. She clearly was doing all she could do. The halls were crowded with beds of ambulatory patients. The place had an overpowering smell like a bad nursing home. Dr. Chambers searched the halls for a doctor. He found none. He took matters into his own hands and became an instant volunteer.
First, he tended to Gayle. He turned her on her side and propped pillows behind her. He cleaned the sores on her back, buttocks, and one heel. Exposing them to the air. After he finished with Gayle, he did the same for the other two patients. Aside from grunts and occasional sighs, they were all uncommunicative, losing weight, and teetering on the edge of death. Chambers made sure that they got their intravenous power drink and vitamins so that they could recover their strength. He turned them every hour or so, to let their sores breathe and heal. In between, he held their hands and talked to them, trying to get some response.
After eight hours of this, he grew tired. Making his patients as comfortable as he could, he set out to find a motel in the neighborhood. He found none. They were all full of evacuees from the blast or relatives of patients in the hospital. Desperate, about 8 p.m. he found an evacuee shelter open at a local church. There, he got a hot meal and a cot. By midnight, he could no longer sleep, so he headed back to the hospital and turned the three patients again. Before morning, he returned to the church to get some more sleep. This became his pattern for the next few days. Finally, an older woman on the church meal line offered him a room in her house. He paid her handsomely for it too. It was a large home with a large guest room and bath for him. Her husband had died five years earlier but she wasn't in the market for a new husband; he was glad for that. He had a nice bed and all the food he could eat from what she cooked for the church. She even did his laundry.
Weeks into his mission, all three of his patients had gained weight and their pressure sores were healed. One, a young man whose name tag read, "Brad Whitney," started coming around with a lot of moans and movement. Finally, he opened his eyes and asked where he was. This time, Jonathan Chambers knew the lay of the hospital and found a doctor as quick as he could. He was excited. "Dr. Forman! Dr. Forman! I've got good news. Brad Whitney has started to come around. He just asked me where he was. Come. I'll show you."
Dr. Ben Forman had no choice but to follow the limping Dr. Chambers to the elevator. "You say he's asking questions? That's a good sign. I really do want to see this."
The elevator reached the 6th floor and they both rushed out to the room. Brad was already sitting up, trying to pull his IVs out, and contemplating jumping to his feet on the floor. They caught him just in time. "Hold on there, young man! You've been in a coma for three months! Your legs won't hold you. Just relax. We've got you now." Dr. Forman was almost as excited as Chambers. They both got hold of the boy by the arms and restrained him. Brad didn't like it one bit and glared at both of them. "It's okay. Just relax. We need to check you out before you can get up. Professor Chambers said that you were asking where you are and I'm here to tell you." The doctor was pulling on Brad’s legs while Chambers was supporting him in his sitting position on the edge of the bed.
"You've been in a coma since the blast. You received a concussion from the shock wave and may have brain damage. You are in Howard County Hospital over 40 miles from your home. Do you remember the blast?"
A bit afraid of what was going on, Brad spoke cautiously. "All I remember was I was driving with my driver's training instructor when there was a flash on his side of the car that burned him worse than me. And then there was a great hand that picked up the car and threw us toward a big oak tree. That's all I remember until I woke up this afternoon all tied up in these tubes here in this bed."
"Your driver's training instructor probably died. Your parents may be dead to. No one has called for you. When you're well enough, you can search for them on our computers. It looks like you be getting well very soon. Your legs and arms seem quite strong for someone who's been in a coma."
"I've been exercising everyone here in hopes that they would wake up. So glad to meet you, Brad. I've been talking to you for some time."
"Oh... that was you talking to me... I could hear you but I couldn't move. And then, I could see the light through my eyelids and opened them. There you were. Everything is really strange....” Brad got very dizzy and almost keeled over.
"Good work Chambers. For now, Brad, I want you to lie down and sit up alternately for the next hour or so. Your legs feel very strong, so with the help of a couple of nurses, later, I want to see if you can walk. For now, I'm going to order some soup and ice cream for you so that you can build your strength before you try it--okay?"
"Okay sir." The thought of soup and ice cream had Brad beaming.
Within a week, Brad Whitney was up and around and becoming a nuisance at the hospital. He had located his father on the Internet and they had a tearful reunion. His father checked Brad into a brain injury rehab center in California and he was gone. Dr. Chambers missed him, but not as much as he missed Gayle. Her eyes fluttered and she made noises sometimes. Her pressure sores healed and she gained weight and strength with his constant attention. Another comatose patient was brought in the room and he began treating that patient the same as he had the others.
One day, about a week after the new patient arrived. Professor Chambers was talking to his favorite girl when she blinked and opened her eyes. There was a fearful, startled look on her face as she tried to figure out where she was. "I... a... where... am I? I... was having... this man... dream, and I tried to... wake up... where am I? Who are you?"
"It's me. Professor Jon Chambers. We walked from the blast together. Remember?" Tears flowed from his eyes like a river. Chambers was so happy that she had finally come to.
"I don't know you. Where am I? This is a hospital... isn't it? Why am I here? Let me speak to the person in charge." In a frightened voice, Gayle was adamant. "What's going on here....” her eyes closed and she was sleeping again.
Jon Chambers wasted no time getting a hold of Dr. Forman. He told the first nurse that he saw to page Dr. Forman and get him to 614, and then he returned quickly to Gayle's side. She was restless now, trying to open her eyes and moving about on the bed. She seemed too frightened to open her eyes. Within five minutes, Dr. Ben Forman arrived. "Well Chambers, it looks like you've awakened another one. If you keep this up, I'll have to hand you my smock." He winked.
"Gayle Forsythe, this is Dr. Forman. How do you feel? You can wake up now. I'm here. I have Dr. Forman here for you, too."
Gayle opened her eyes and stared at them. There was a long period when they just looked at one another and didn't say a thing. Finally, she spoke. "I don't know who you are doctor. Or why I'm here. Please help me. Please help me....”
Dr. Forman patted her hand. "It’s okay. You just woke up from a long sleep. Professor Chambers here and the nurses will help you. Thank God you're alive. Gayle nodded, "Yes", and held tightly to his hand. In a minute, she drifted off to sleep again.
It was two weeks before Dr. Chambers was able to explain to Gayle who she was and why she was there. Her short-term memory kept playing tricks on her and she had to start out every day not knowing who she was or where she had come from. Her physical body recovered more quickly than her memory. It wasn't long before she was walking again, going to the bathroom by herself and eating well. Food was such a new experience for her that Jonathan had to explain what every food was she ate. She gained weight and strength, but not her memory. Chambers had to start over with elementary school. It was the toughest teaching assignment he ever had.
One of the other two comatose patients died. Another one quickly replaced him. Jonathan Chambers, working day and night, found that it was getting too much for a man of his age. He got Gayle transferred to the Sheppard and Pratt Psychiatric Hospital in Baltimore associated with Johns Hopkins. He moved back into his apartment by the harbor. He still worked with Gayle daily and began to think of her as the daughter he never had. It was hard. Very hard on him. After a year, Gayle still had no memory of before she woke up in the hospital. He learned that her mother and father had died and that her brother had disappeared. He found the house in Reston. He went to the local police and told them that the only known survivor in that house was in a psychiatric hospital in Baltimore and needed to recover before she would return. The police agreed to watch the house, but they didn't guarantee that it wouldn't be broken into and vandalized given the nature of the way people were after the disaster. So many people had died and never returned that many houses were vacant. Even though the area had been cleared from the hot zone after numerous summer rains, the fear of radiation still kept many away. The mayor of Reston had vowed to shoot looters and vandals, but with so many houses vacant, it was almost impossible for his force, even supplemented with the National Guard, to secure the area completely.
Dr. Chambers checked on all the neighbors. The elderly couple next door, the Hoovers, told him a harrowing tale of how they had tried to evacuate in heavy traffic and how they were glad they were able to be back after so many months away. They assured him that they would keep close watch on the house and check daily to see if all the doors were locked. They said they loved Gayle and told him to wish her well from them. Mrs. Hoover even said she would prepare a gift basket of fruit for Gayle to send with him. Four or five other neighbors also said they would help. Several other houses in the neighborhood were still empty. One, according to the appraisal district, belonged to Marion Wilson, Shauna’s mother. It had been broken into and badly vandalized. Chambers hoped that that wouldn't happen to Gayle's house and he wished that it would never happen to anyone.
When Chambers returned to the Hoovers' to pick up the fruit basket, Ralph Hoover had a surprise for him. "Professor Chambers, you know what this is?" He held up a key with a wry smile on his face. Rather than wait for the Professor’s awkward answer, Ralph answered it for him. "I rummaged around out back there and found this key. You can go in if you like." His smile grew bigger. “I saw two guys trying to break in one day. One blast in the air from my shotgun and they ran away. Don’t tell Harriet.” He winked.
Jonathan couldn't resist the curiosity he had and joined Ralph as they both went over to the house and opened the back door to the kitchen. Except for a layer of dust on everything, the place seemed intact. Ralph said that he and his wife would get their maid and come over and clean the place up. And then they would put sheets over all the furniture and try to protect anything else that could get damaged by just sitting there. To safeguard against looters, Ralph decided to take all the guns and liquor from the house and hide it in his. He wasn't sure if Gayle would want them when she got back.
There was evidence that things had been taken. “Probably Jason,” Ralph declared. “We haven’t seen him since we returned. Will let you know if he comes back.”
With some reluctance, they entered Gayle's room. Professor Chambers chose some family portraits, a doll that showed signs of heavy use. A high school yearbook, her diary, an old computer, family albums, some of her clothes, and anything else that he thought would help her remember. Late in the afternoon, as Chambers got in his car to leave, the Hoovers were there to see him off like old friends. "Tell Gayle not to worry, we'll take good care of the place for her until she's well enough to come home." There were tears in Harriet Hoover's eyes as she said it.
The Spring, one year after the blast
Carl Rhineburgh was puzzled, but, like all psychiatrists, still had an answer for them. "All of our tests show, that while you had a terrible concussion and brain swelling with bleeding, your brain has recovered nicely. All of your motor functions have returned and I feel comfortable about letting you leave as long as you continue therapy to improve your memory. I'm beginning to think that your amnesia may not be so much from the physical injuries sustained, but from the deep anguish you still feel for the loss of your family and fiancé."
Gayle couldn't wait for him to finish before she answered. "Sometimes I get so angry because I can't remember them. I don't feel anything about them. I look at the pictures. I look at my pictures. I read my diary and listen to my voice messages on my computer. I have pieced together a history of what my life used to be. But I still can’t remember anything. I hardly remember what happened yesterday, let alone trying to remember that." She started to cry. Gayle often cried at times like this.
Professor Chambers was quick to come to her aid. "My apartment is cramped, Dr. Rhineburgh, but I can take her in. Don't worry; I'll bring her to therapy every day. Gayle's become like a daughter to me, haven't you, Hon? He patted her gently on her left leg.
Dr. Rhineburgh, looking over his glasses, responded curtly. "I don't want any monkey business. Ms. Forsythe has suffered a tremendous loss. I wouldn't want an old fool making it worse."
Luckily, Rhineburgh's remark was lost on Gayle. It made Jonathan Chambers’ blood boil. "I meant it when I said, “Like a daughter.' How dare you to insinuate such a thing after all I've done for her."
"Just covering all the bases. Keep in mind. My staff and I will be watching."
Driving back to the apartment, Chambers found himself justifying. What was that old fogey thinking? "Don't worry honey, you're going to like the apartment and the waterfront. Forget it—we’ll do just fine." He patted her leg absent mindedly as he said it.
He was always doing that--patting her leg. It was one of her fond memories. Gayle stared out the window at the scenery floating by. She thought about being in the apartment with her man. He was old, and his teeth were stained and crooked. But his breath was not bad when he kissed her and touched her gently. After dinner and wine they would make love. If she could just remember not to say anything to Dr. Rhineburgh about it.…
Four months later Gayle woke up one morning very sick and threw up. She didn't tell Jon about it. In fact, she had forgotten about it the next day when it happened again. It wasn't until the third day, at their usual breakfast after a long walk, that she said anything to him. "Jon, I don't think I want to walk tomorrow. I didn't feel good during the whole walk this morning. I... I... don't think I can even eat this cereal....” She gagged, got up from the table quickly and rushed into the bathroom to throw up. Chambers followed close behind.
"How long have you been like this?" He asked.
"I don't know. You know I don't remember well. Maybe yesterday... maybe the day before… maybe longer."
"If I had my guess, I'd say that you're pregnant. I'm going to take you to a gynecologist. No need to tell Dr. Rhineburgh just yet, okay?”
Chambers made an appointment with a gynecologist three days off. He then drove to the local drugstore with Gayle and they bought a pregnancy test. When they got back to the apartment, Gayle needed to pee, so he had her try the test. He was shocked, but not surprised, to find out that Gayle was pregnant. He began to worry immediately. On the way to her appointment and therapy that afternoon, he urged her not to tell anyone. He wasn't happy. He felt like a terrible burden had been placed upon him. He was 78 and way beyond being a father. The thought of Dr. Rhineburgh's admonishment kept ringing in his ears. Would he go to jail?
Gayle couldn't understand Jon's despair. Given their routine, having a baby seemed to be perfectly natural. She had a lot of time to take care of it. Except when she was sick, she felt okay--perhaps a little hungrier than normal. Otherwise, sex was good and she felt she was making progress in her therapy--learning new things every day. She was beginning to piece together a complete memory since just after the blast.
Two days later, they went to the gynecologist. An ultrasound proved that Gayle was, indeed, two months pregnant. Dr. Evenly Roberts, a gynecologist, was quite concerned when she saw the elderly man waiting in the waiting room. She called him in to the examining room with Gayle. "Your daughter is two months into a pregnancy. I'm quite concerned because of her mental condition. She says she doesn't remember having sex and doesn't remember who the father is. Do you know, Mr. Forsythe?"
"I'm... I'm... not her father, I’m Professor Jonathon Chambers. I'm a good friend and I'm taking care of her until she gets better. I....” Chambers turned pale, grabbed his chest and slumped over in the chair. Dr. Roberts grabbed him to prevent him from falling off the chair, and, seeing his distress, called for a nurse. When the nurse arrived, she gave Chambers an aspirin and with the nurse's help, got him on the examining table and released his belt. He was barely conscious. She asked the nurse to call 911 and began giving him CPR.
The University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center was just around the corner from the clinic, so paramedics arrived within five minutes. Gayle was disturbed by all the commotion, and what was happening to her Jonathan, but she couldn't quite figure it out. Eventually, she just slumped down in her chair and cried. After Professor Chambers had been rushed off to the emergency center, Dr. Roberts turned to her.
"I want you to go over to the emergency center and see how he's doing. Is there anyone that can help you?"
"Dr. Rhineburgh. Dr. Rhineburgh. I... I think Dr. Rhineburgh can help....”
"You don't have any family and friends nearby that I can call for you?"
"Dr. Rhineburgh. He'll know what to do. He always helps me. I know he can help me…. He can help me…. He can help me."
Dr. Roberts held Gayle in her arms and rocked her gently. "I'll help you, Ms. Forsythe. I'll help you. Nurse! Nurse! Can I get a nurse in here?”
A nurse came rushing back into the room. Dr. Roberts instructed her to go to the Internet and look up a Dr. Rhineburgh. "No, I don't know the spelling--he's probably in our local insurance directories. Just get hold of him for me and have him call my cell phone, okay?" She continued to soothe Gayle. "It's all right. You're going to be all right. So's your baby. Everything is going to be fine. Don't worry."
After what seemed like a half-hour to Evelyn Roberts, her cell phone rang. It was Ben Rhineburgh. "I don't know who you are, doctor, but I was in consultation when you had me stop for this. Quickly, tell me what's so gosh awful important?"
"I've got a patient here--Gayle Forsythe--who is two months pregnant. Her companion, a Professor Jonathan Chambers, collapsed in my treatment room with a severe heart attack. She doesn't seem to have anyone who can help her. She keeps repeating your name. Can you help?"
"Oh, Gayle Forsythe. Yes, she is my patient. We are full here at Sheppard and Pratt, but I'll make room. She needs constant care at this stage of her recovery. I'll send a driver right away to get her. Where are you located? Where is Chambers located? How can I call to get hold of him?" While waiting for Dr. Roberts’ response, he muttered under his breath. "Damn, he did it. There'll be hell to pay if he recovers….”
Jonathan Chambers' aortic valve was too damaged and he died in the operating room at the Shock Trauma Center. Back in familiar surroundings, Gayle settled into a routine designed to help her come out of her amnesia at Sheppard and Pratt. Chambers' lawyer came within two weeks and tried to explain to her that Professor Chambers had left her his retirement fortune, amassed on the stock market and worth about $1.8 million. The apartment was hers, too, free and clear. Dr. Rhineburgh hired a trustee from Wachovia Bank and gave him the power of attorney to oversee a trust set up for Gayle with the inheritance. Gayle was unaware of her wealth, only that she got what she asked for whenever she asked for it. Soon, her room was filled with stuff, and Dr. Rhineburgh had to have some of it put in storage.
Except for her brain damage, Gayle was young and healthy, and the pregnancy proceeded without complication. By the second trimester, she learned that it was a boy and she knew in her heart that she would call him Jonathan. It was her way of clinging to the most secure memory she had known since the blast took it from her and her former life away. He was Jonathan in her womb and he would be Jonathan all her life. When she hugged him she would remember the good professor who took her in and saved her. They would smell the same.
As she neared the end of her pregnancy, Gayle grew anxious. She didn't know what to expect and couldn't remember the careful instructions the nurses taught her about taking care of her newborn. One night, about a month before she was due, she had a bad dream that someone was killing her baby. She woke up with cramps in her stomach. She called for someone, yelling, "Nurse... nurse... Dr. Rhineburgh? Is anyone there? I'm hurting... is anyone there?"
In her stressed condition, she began to go into labor and her water broke. Gayle didn't think of pushing the nurse call button, she just started screaming. A patient in the next room thought she was dying and pressed the nurses' button to get their attention, too. Finally, a nurse arrived, and, seeing her condition, called for help. There wasn't time to take her to the emergency room. Gayle had the baby right there. Although he was a month premature and had to spend a few days in incubator, little Jonathan, at 51/2 pounds, was a strong, healthy kid. It wasn't long before he was in his mother's arms and tasting her milk.
At her next therapy session, Gayle was excited. "Dr. Rhineburgh. I didn't tell you this before. It was just too amazing. You remember that I had a terrible nightmare the morning Jonathan was born? Well, it was memories. It was memories of everything that happened to me after the blast. I remember walking through the dust and smoke. I remember catching up with an old man limping and finding out that he was my professor, Jonathan Chambers. I remember helping him to lie down in the shadow of the slope of 495. I remember stealing water from the convenience store. I remember everything... everything!" A strange smile came over her face and she started crying. Dr. Rhineburgh came to her side and consoled her. She kept saying, "No, No, Dr. Rhineburgh. I'm happy. I'm crying because I'm so happy that I can remember everything about you and about Jonathan--everything!"
Rhineburgh called the entire staff in to view the new miracle. He had seen quite a few since his caseload tripled after the blast. This one was special. He asked Gayle questions about her early arrival at the hospital. She answered every one of them with glee. Everyone was ecstatic about her miraculous recovery. By the end of that session Dr. Rhineburgh was thinking about how he could get her back into society with her boy as soon as possible. If he only had time to write an article….
Two months later
Gayle Forsythe was starting to worry about the apartment. Like she told Dr. Rhineburgh, "All these memories of Jonathan are crowding in while I’m there, making it hard for me to take care of my little boy. When we go for walks by the water, I start to cry whenever anyone rushes up to the stroller and says what a cute baby I have and what's wrong--why am I crying? I don't have a good answer for them. Everything at the waterfront reminds me of him. His books on the bookshelf, the sun coming up, and the sun going down. Maybe I need to get away from that place."
Gayle was thinking of Reston. When the baby cried at night, she would wake up in the middle of a dream. The dream always seemed to be of a happy time from her childhood with her family. There was this house. This house on the hillside surrounded by trees. Her mother was always serving her something good to eat or drink. She was playing with her brother games in the woods. He always shot her before she could shoot him. He was younger and smaller but better at physical games. She always beat him in board games and cards. They would go camping a lot--the whole family. And Gayle remembered the cabin, the cabin in the mountains with her grandmother. Oh what a wonderful time she had! Finally, the memories became too much. She had to go home.
There was a lot to do. Gayle had to hire a nanny to help take care of Jonathan while she put her life back together. She had to buy a car and get a drivers’ license. She had several meetings with the trust advisor to get her financial life in order. Finally, when she felt confident enough to handle her own finances she let him go. She called the county clerk of Fairfax County to determine if there were any ownership problems with the family homestead. Gayle was told that, because her parents had perished in the blast, she would only have to find a will to be able to establish her ownership. The County Clerk suggested she get a lawyer and take it to the probate court. Gayle tried to call the house in Reston, but the phone had been disconnected.
Finally, after Gayle had completed all these tasks, she felt confident enough to go visit the old homestead. She left Jonathan with the nanny. It was a short drive, but it seemed longer because of her anxiety about what she would find. She pulled into the old driveway about noon. Except for a basic neglect, which left the shrubbery overgrown, and in bad condition, the place looked the same--a little dirtier, a little older. Parking the car in front of the garage, Gayle went around the house to see if the key was still there. She was surprised to find that it was. Trying the back door, it opened.
It was eerie--she felt like she was breaking in. Her heart was pounding wildly as she scanned the familiar scene of the kitchen. It was remarkably well kempt for having been vacant so long. She was surprised. Using her cell phone, she called to have electricity, water, natural gas, and the telephone turned on. Only after that did she leave the kitchen. She visited her parents’ bedroom first. It was intact and also clean. Finally, she went to her bedroom. Gayle was overwhelmed by her emotions by then and lay down on her bed and bawled. With no one to hear her, she eventually calmed down, got up and searched the rest of the house. She noted that some things had been removed from Jason's room. She wondered if he had survived and where he was.
While looking at family pictures in the living room, Gayle saw a man in uniform and suddenly remembered her Uncle Jim. She hadn't thought of him before and she didn't know why. All she knew was that she had to try to reach him if she could. She got on her laptop and got some phone numbers. With her cell phone, she called a few and asked for Colonel Forsythe. The well-meaning operator sent her here, and then sent her there. Just when she thought she was about to strike out, the woman on the other end of the line said, "You mean General Forsythe don't you, General James A. Forsythe?"
"Yes! That's him! He is the one I’m trying to reach. I'm his niece, Gayle Forsythe, how can I reach him?"
"You can't reach him, the General is on special assignment for the President. You can leave a message. He checks his messages about once a week."
"Okay. Connect me."
The operator made the connection and the phone rang. After about 10 rings it went to a voice message that was clearly her Uncle Jim's. "Hi, is your niece, Gayle. You may have thought me dead because you didn't hear from me. They tell me I had amnesia but I'm better now. I'm moving back into Mom and Dad's place. It's in good shape. I love you. Please call me as quick as you can." She gave her cell phone number and hung up. There was a knock at the back door.
"Is that you Dr. Chambers?" The sound of Harriet Hoover's voice was music to Gayle's years. She rushed to the kitchen to hug her.
"It's me, Gayle! I never thought I'd see you again." Tears filled her eyes as she held the grandmotherly Mrs. Hoover close.
"Where's Dr. Chambers. Isn't he with you?"
"No... No, Jonathan died over a year ago. We have a son, five months old. I named him Jonathan after his father.… Where's Ralph?"
"Oh my, Professor Chambers was such a nice man. My Ralph died three months ago, too. His heart gave out. Trying to keep up both yards and all. That's why your yard looks so bad. I haven't been up to getting someone else to come and do it."
"Jonathan's heart failed him too. It was so nice of you to take care of the place since my parents were gone." A wave of memories and emotion swept over her like a cold draft. It made her shudder.
"My, my. Let's stop talking of such dreadful things. Come with me over to my house and I'll fix you supper."
Harriet fixed Gayle something to eat, and they sat down to talk about the family. Harriet was saying, "... and you kids were always going off to Mountain Falls to stay with your grandmother, Gail. I'm sorry, but I lost touch with her after the tragedy... "
"Grandma Gail! I just remembered. Why didn't I think of her? I tried to call her in Baltimore, but the number was bad. I've got to call her. Do you have her number?"
"Yes, Gayle, I think. It’s around here somewhere. Since Ralph died I just can't seem to keep things.…” She started to cry.
Gayle rushed to hug her. "Now, now.... I know just how you feel. Every time I think of Mom and Dad it brings tears to my eyes and I can think of nothing but them. I'll find Grandma's number in the house and call her later."
Harriet offered Gayle the opportunity to stay the night, but she said, no, and returned to the house about 9pm. Without electricity, she rummaged around the desk with a flashlight and finally found her mother's address book with Grandma Gail's phone number in it. The number was so familiar, like she'd known it since she was a small child. Funny, how she remembered some things easily and not others. It was too late to call, so she decided to wait until morning. After putting a dust free covering on her bed from her dresser, she crawled in and tried to go to sleep. Memories kept crowding in as she stared at the light from the streetlight playing through the leaves just outside her window on the walls and ceiling. Her thoughts were interrupted by the familiar ring tone of her cell phone. Luckily she had charged its battery in the car while going over to Harriet’s that evening. With its bright lights, it was easy to spot in the dark.
"Gayle, I'm staggered. When my office called and told me that you had called, I got your message and called back as soon as I could. This is your Uncle Jim. Sorry about the time--I've lost track of it. Hearing your voice helps me believe that there is a God. We all thought you dead! What happened? Why are you just calling now?"
"It's a long story, Uncle Jim. I got a concussion from the blast, but still walked out until I passed out from bleeding on my brain. I was in a coma for over a year and when I woke up I couldn't remember anything. I just remembered you today when I saw your picture here at the house. Where's Jason? How's Grandma? I was going to call her tomorrow morning."
"Oh, Gayle... I don't know how to tell you this. But I have to. I'm calling from here in Mountain Falls. Mom was brutally murdered last week after she arrived home from seeing Jason in Chicago. I've been cleaning up and installing a video security system. Charlie's agreed to look after the place. I'm so sorry.... she would've so loved to hear that you are alive and well. Jason is well and has graduated from college with his Masters degree in three years. The sad news is that he has entered into secret service of the country and you will not be able to contact him for your and his security for the next 20 years. I'm supposed to return to my post tomorrow, but I'll fly down there in the morning before I head back. Don't go anywhere. Your Uncle wants to see you."
Gayle tried to go to sleep; the thoughts of what she had just learned spun her around in her head. Sometime in the wee hours, she got up, drank a glass of water and took a walk in the moonlit backyard. When she returned, exhaustion overtook her, and she finally fell asleep.
The staccato sound of a helicopter landing on the street out front startled her from her sleep. She looked at her watch, it was 9:45 a.m. and the sun was streaming in.