Chapter 4 Ryan
After about an hours’ drive we stopped outside a white house, with a wide porch with a seat swing. The place looked idealistic. Pink roses grew either side of the porch steps. The soft soil surrounded the property and finished at the back where I could make out an expanse of green grass, dotted with white flowers. I wanted to go round there. But I knew I had time. The warm air brushed my skin, as I stood and looked up into the house. I could see a high slanted window, I felt a twinge in my memory, I had a feeling it was my room.
“Woah! Sabre!” Nanny suddenly cried, lunging forward and shielding me with her arms. I looked around her frantically. There was the sound of panting and then a low bark. A beautiful dog, started towards me, weaving through Nanny’s legs, where it jumped onto its hind legs, throwing its paws up onto my chest.
“Oh!” I gasped, as my backside hit the gravelled drive. The air was knocked out of me, as I glared at the beautiful Alsatian. Its dark brown fur was immaculate and soft, it shone in the sun. Its brown eyes watched me, waiting for a response.
“This is Sabre.” Nanny explained, as I got to my feet, wary of getting knocked over again. The dog followed me, sitting so close to my feet that his fur tickled my ankles.
“Why is it looking at me like that?” I asked quietly. Its gorgeous eyes watched me, as if waiting for something.
“Sabre is your dog.” Nanny explained. “You’ve had him since he was a puppy. He has been pining for you ever since you didn’t come home. He’s kind of like...you’re protector.”
I looked down at Sabre, and then knelt down. So, our faces were level. He was truly beautiful, his long snort sniffed the air between us, I raised my hand and his wet nose ran the length of it. I stroked his face crooning quietly.
“Hey Sabre” I said, in a sweet voice. I rubbed behind his ears, and his eyes closed. “Aww do you like that?” I asked rubbing again and watching the dog’s mouth fall open.
When I stood up, Sabre stood up too. He watched the house as I did.
“Do you remember anything about this place?” Nanny asked, she opened the front door allowing a waft of lavender to hit me straight in the face. I took deep gulps of it, looking at the photographs framed on the walls, and the maroon coloured carpet.
“No” I whispered “but it’s so lovely...the smell” I was taking bigger gulps. My eyes were scanning the large hall way. Directly in front of me were stairs leading up and into what I guessed, were the bedrooms. Sabre trotted straight through, walking around a corner where I could no longer see him.
“I feel very strange explaining this to you.” She chuckled sheepishly. I watched her bite her lip again, that action worried me.
“I'm sorry, I-I will remember” I was determined in this fact.
Nanny looked at me with sudden fierceness. “God Honey, please do not feel guilty” she strode over to me and tucked me beneath her arms, her comfort was so welcome. I hardly realised I needed it until my arms tightened around her too. “It is never you that I get frustrated with...it’s –it’s the god damn evil people who did this to you!” she sobbed, holding me tighter. I pulled away to look at her properly. She was crying. I let her cry; I did not know what to say.
She let go of me after a moment, her voice chuckled as she spoke “Your silly old Nanny, getting all worked up” she sniffed and rubbed her face. I nodded and looked at her with all the love I could convey. She placed her hand on my injured cheek and sighed. The warmth of her fingers didn’t help me forget the deep gash was there. I swallowed more dry gag.
“Your bedroom is up on the left, you have a bathroom in there all made up for you. My bedroom is the right and the spare room is next to it – not that it’s ever used. ” She pointed up the stairs. “I'm going to make tea, would you like some tea?”
I looked at her quizzically “you like tea” she said hesitantly. I nodded with a faint smile. I took the stairs slowly, feeling for anything more familiar but there was not much. Pictures framed the walls either side of the stairs and I caught my reflection every time I tried to peer at them. My eyes were big I concluded, they looked alien. I shuddered and kept my head down until I reached a white door.
There was a bright yellow wooden sign with black italic writing on the front it said
The words were decorated with floral patterns and when I rubbed my finger over it I had a brief flashed of memory, of my own thin fingers painting that pattern. I pushed the door open, determined and a little excited to see my room for what felt like the first time.
The creak of the door scared me a little, and I took frantic short steps inside.
It was a lovely room that opened to a single bed that lay adjacent to the door; it had many thick colourfully patterned quilts, and old looking toys that were stacked on the pillows. There was a window directly above the headboard which shone sunlight into the room. To the right, the roof sloped and was decorated with pictures of people I didn’t recognize. Apart from several photos of Ryan, his handsome face blown up, pictures of both of us, holding each other or pulling funny faces. There were also pictures of Sabre as a puppy.
A photograph of a couple was framed in a heart shape. Their faces smiled out of the paper down at me. The woman looked a mixture between me and Nanny, tan skin, and blue eyes. I started to remember her easily and she was there with me in the room, her memory a presence.
She had her arm around my shoulder; I could feel her hot skin on the back of my neck. Her breath was in my ear as she spoke words to me that I couldn’t quite hear. I remembered her kind face and the words she was saying to me made me laugh. Her hair was shorter than mine but that same, strange brown. Not muddy or chocolaty but almost like dark sand.
I swallowed my grief, feeling the familiar way the sadness would creep up my throat and blind my eyes with tears when I thought about her - my mother. I turned away from the picture and looked around the room.
Flashes of memories were coming back to me. Where certain things were in my room were becoming apparent. Then there was a shout from downstairs and I laughed at myself for jumping so dramatically.
“Honey?” Nanny called.
I looked around the room once more and then I ran back down the stairs, remembering quite suddenly how Nanny does not like to shout for me. I reached the bottom of the stairs with a thud, it felt familiar for me to jump the last few steps and when I landed I saw that Nanny was trying to hide her delight in this tiny familiarity. Sabre materialised at my feet almost at that same moment, his wet nose pressed against my leg. I ran my fingers over the top of his head as he led me towards the kitchen.
A hot brown muddy looking liquid steamed in front of me as I entered the kitchen, which was bright white with windows on all sides of the room, almost like a conservatory. Plants grew outside; they looked out of control as though they had never been tamed. The counter tops were orange, and highly decorated with appliances. The big fridge directly in front of me across from the counter island was splattered with pictures and drawings.
“I called Ryan” Nanny began, looking worried. My head snapped up and my heart started to pound. “I’ve tried calling many times Honey, but he just won’t answer the phone, so I was thinking you could go over there while I do the shopping?”
Of course, I was going to agree with her. I was so determined to see him that I could hardly breathe as we got back into the car. I watched the road the entire way to the supermarket sitting at the edge of my seat.
“Well, the supermarket is on the way...I know you’re probably not going to remember but you can drive and his house is not far” I didn’t register what she was saying until she put the keys into my hands. She was allowing me to drive?
“Wait, wait, wait!” I shrieked as she hopped out of the car, her bob bounced around her face. She smiled wickedly at me.
“You will be fine. You’ve known how to drive since you were twelve and don’t worry about picking me up neither; I'm hitching a ride with Grace.” She looked at me for signs of remembrance. I was too panicked to try. “Take the second turning before the bridge, follow on until you see a willow tree, and turn right again at the willow tree. Ryan is there”
My grandmother definitely knew how to push my buttons. Those last three words had me starting the ignition. She must trust me very much to let me drive, maybe she thought my memory was not as bad as I thought it was.
Very slowly, I hit the accelerator. The jeep crawled and I was repeatedly honked at by a shiny silver car behind me. I changed the gear, following my intuition and heading back for the main road. I followed Nanny’s directions perfectly, and because there were fewer cars than I expected, I could drive slowly and concentrate better. I turned the wheel hesitantly, worried that I might hit something. Although all that surrounded me was desert.
My hands were sweating and my heart was racing as I saw the willow tree ahead of me. I even realised my front teeth were biting into my bottom lip. The habit my grandmother had hadn’t skipped the generation. I turned the sharp right before the tree and faced an old looking house.
Even though there was bright sunlight in the sky, the house gave the impression of darkness. There were windows at the front, all covered with dark curtains. The door was almost black. The enormous willow tree shaded the house from any light. I looked up at the house for a long moment, but did not feel any real recognition.
I cut the ignition and stepped out of the car, landing heavily on my feet.
As I walked towards the house I wondered what I would say to Ryan. What would he say? Were we in a relationship or just friends? I couldn’t remember. Nanny said we were close.
But I think I knew the answer to my own question. I ached for him, it was like my heart was actually going to jump out of my throat and race me to his front door. I must have cared a lot about him. There was no sign of life in the house, no car parked outside it either. It worried me; the thought of his absence was strictly terrifying to me.
It would feel like my sudden awakening in the morgue would have been for nothing.
When I reached the door I knocked without hesitation.
I waited and waited, feeling the heat of the sun between the trees scorching the skin of my arms. I was so nervous I thought I would bit my lip off. I tasted blood on my gums and knocked again.
It was clear there was no one there; I just did not know what else to do. I peered into the windows but no one contradicted me. The windows remained dark and lifeless.
I would not wait for him, I thought to myself as I got back into the car. I suddenly knew where I had to look now that his house had rejected me. Did he have parents? I could not remember. He surely did not live alone.
His face was all I saw when I got back onto the main road. I let the road melt past me in a heat wave haze. I didn’t know where I was going, but I followed my wheels and turned whenever I thought it was necessary. Shops disappeared behind me, and soon I was surrounded by orange desert. I knew I was going the right way. My heart was sure of it.
It was like a second soul within me, it beat faster to let me know I was right. The sun shone down on the grey top of the car, the wind whipped around me. It felt remarkable to be alive. I took deep breathes in and out, elevated that I could. Each breath I took, Ryan was there, his face just behind my eyelids.
I sped up, and took a deep turn to the left. There was brief shadow from a canopy of dark trees and then the sun was there, and a wider expanse of desert sprawled itself out around me. It looked like no life disturbed here. It was very peaceful. In the distance I saw a dark blue haze, large in the distance. I continued to drive onwards, my eyes never leaving that dark blue blob.
Within metres of the dark blue car I stopped. I couldn’t see anyone and no one came out at the arrival of my truck. I got out, feeling the burn of the sun against my bare legs. My white trainers kicked the orange dirt up in dust around my ankles. The dark blue car was a fiat; it wasn’t familiar to me at all. I didn’t know whether it was Ryan’s or if it were abandoned.
I looked around the desert, feeling only slightly right in my actions. I reached back in my memory to the dream, there was something missing, where I stood was not the right place in my dream. I took a deep breath through my nose, there was definitely something missing. The smell of creosote. As I squinted through the heat waves I saw a faint line of green metres from me, among that line was something tall, someone was standing.
Urgency like fire burned in my chest and it picked my feet up as I ran. My feet pounded the dust, making it rise up around me. I didn’t care; let me be covered in dirt. I ran faster and faster, letting the wind sail past me. The tall person continued to grow and grow until I slowed into a walk. I watched his figure. His back was to me but I knew it was him; his broad shoulders slumped as he stood and his thick head of chocolate brown hair. My heart lurched in my chest. When I became metres from him, he knelt to the ground. There was something wrong.
His knees buckled beneath him and I could hear his sobs. The imperative to comfort my grandmother was nothing like this urge. My feet ran me forward.
“Ryan!” I shouted, his name was so familiar to me, even the way my voice said it. I ran around to face him.
His beautiful face left me breathless, it was better than my memories; my body reacted instantly to seeing him. It was like my eyes and my heart were separate to me, my eyes widened, my heart flipped in my chest and my mouth stretched into a wide smile.
He didn’t look at me, and his eyes were fixed on the ground as if he hadn’t heard me. I knelt in front of him, savouring how perfect his tan skin was as I placed my hands on either side of his face. It felt right to do this, like it would have been my natural instinct. I was confident he wouldn’t flinch at my touch.
“Ryan” I whispered, the dirt from the blistering, hot ground dug into the bare skin on my knees, the wind whistled past us and the sun continued to beat down but I felt right in that moment. It was the most natural I had felt since waking up. There was no force to the moment, no pretence.
His eyes found mine and every memory of looking into those brown eyes flooded back to me, but in not the painful way, it was like a waterfall - one after another. In my mind, flashes of this face evolving, growing as the years had passed.
“Oh Livvy” he mumbled. His strong hands curled around my waist. His reaction was a shock. He seemed so calm; he was not as frantic as my grandmother or as upset as the nurse. I waited for him to speak. His face contorted in pain. He smelt the same as my memory was telling me, a heady scent that clung to my nose and tugged at my memory.
His eyes started to scan my face worriedly. “y-you look different” he said shakily, his voice was much deeper than I expected, but as soon as he spoke my ears were deafened with blurs of memories of his voice. He looked normal, neutral and it seemed as though he expected to see me.
“You smell” he pulled my hair out of the ponytail as if it wouldn’t hurt me. He smelt my hair “What’s going on?” his frown deepened but his hold on me never loosened. He took another deep pull on my hair.
“Ouch, Ryan what are you doing?” I shrieked and pushed away from him only enough to attempt to pull my hair up. I savoured the way my tongue said his name, it was so effortless, not like the awkwardness of my own name.
His eyes widened in shock and his hands caught mine in a hard grasp “What is going on!” his voice faltered into a sob, his eyes began to water. I caught his face in my hands; I was very confused, even though he seemed more confused than me, which was impossible.
“Yes Ryan, I'm here” for the first time I could smell something else on him. It was thick and sweet. I looked around for the smell. There was a bottle of brown liquid on the ground next to him. My memory told me it was alcohol.
“Oh, don’t say that” he sounded as though he meant it; he looked away from me and frowned again. “You say that all the time” he moaned and tears started to leak from his dark eyes underneath my fingers and I didn’t understand. I looked at his beautiful face in pain and had to force myself to remain calm.
“Ryan” I whispered. He tried to move away from me but I just moved my hands, I put them either side of his neck – feeling his soft skin, reminding myself that this was a normal thing to, no matter how strange it seemed. “I'm really and truly here” I looked into his eyes as they streamed with tears. He looked angry. His thick brown eyebrows drew together; his lips opened a fraction in confusion.
“I-I don’t even know why I'm getting angry...it’s not your fault” his voice was thick. I felt his warm arms wrap around my waist again. He held me tightly to him, again as if I couldn’t feel it. He didn’t expect me to respond to anything he did. He stroked my uninjured cheek, looking into my eyes but never saying anything. Every few minutes he would lean forwards, his lips so close to mine I thought he would kiss me, but then he would steel himself and only tighten his hold on me.
“You look so different today” he said quietly after some time had passed, he spoke in a whisper, as if to himself. One of his hands came around to my face and his warm thumb stroked my bad cheek, I winced as my injured skin burned in protest. His eyes widened in shock at my reaction, again as if he wasn’t expecting it. I felt his breath against my face; I could taste it on my tongue. My overwhelming happiness that I was here in this moment was almost a distraction to the fact that Ryan was drunk, he seemed to think of me as a hallucination and I couldn’t truly remember who he or I was.
I bit my lip thinking of a solution to this, which was not easy. “Why am I different today?” I whispered. I watched his mouth as it opened in shock that I had spoken again. I was determined to learn as much about myself as possible, it seemed imperative to become the person that Ryan cared for. To end his suffering was all I wanted, but I didn’t know why. He had been staring at me for a while. I needed to hear his voice.
“Your face...and you smell...better. This must be my worst nightmare, I don’t care” he took another deep breath of my hair then pulled my face back to his. My hands wound around his shoulders, my hair blowing forward into his face as the wind picked up.
“You’re not in a nightmare” I said loudly but he didn’t seem to hear me. I hated to hear that he had nightmares of me. My absence must be terrible to him. I imagined it the other way around - if he had died. I had to swallow the urge to be sick.
Ryan laughed a little laugh. “You saying that will make it worse when I wake up. God, I wish we could stay here.” he whispered the last part, and set me on his lap more comfortably. The alcohol suddenly made more sense. If he wanted to dream of me, getting drunk would have been his way of doing this. I shook my head at his foolishness, that impulse was so natural. But I didn’t know why, it frustrated me so much. The moment my body reacted to him, and I didn’t know why, I wanted to just cry. It was like my mind controlled my body until I realised what was going on. I wasn’t connected at all.
“We can” I promised. He winced and looked away from me. He looked out towards the sunlight and then back at me, he looked tired – his skin darker than in my memories, as if he had been out in the sun for too long, his pupils had dilated.
“You promised you’d never leave me” he said, the tears were back in his eyes and I choked on raw sobs which my body reacted to, I went with it - feeling too much pain to fight it, not wanting to fight it.
“I know but I kept my promise. You’ll see” I rested my head into the dip of his shoulder – it felt like a familiar thing to do. His fingers slid through mine and we looked out into the orange, dusty desert.
We sat like statues for hours. The sun started to dive into the horizon, leaving a thick haze of orange behind. Everything seemed to be soaked in the colour, I didn’t mind. My eyes seemed to miss the sight of it and I knew that nothing could make me move from where I was right now.
Ryan had started running his fingers into my hair; his breathing was close to my neck. I wanted to speak to him, to ask him something. But it didn’t seem necessary. Life now, seemed to move slower for me. I felt as though I had all the time in the world to talk to him.
“You’ve been here a long time. You’re usually gone way before the sun leaves.” Ryan said hesitantly. I looked up at him, but he wasn’t looking at me. Little tears were still falling down his face; it was awful to see his pain so evident on his face. My hand curled up his jaw and smoothed the skin behind his ear.
I didn’t know what to say to this. Insisting that I was here just made him upset. I didn’t want that.
Softly, his warm fingers slipped behind my head through my hair. His fingers touched the head wound and I jumped up with the pain.
“Ow” I winced, pressing my lips together to stop from whining. I sat away from him while my head continued spinning. His wide eyed reaction could be seen through my half open eyes.
“Oh I'm so sorry” he knelt down beside me and lifted me from my waist up against his body. This didn’t help my spinning head. But the separation from each other was painful; it seemed to be an agreed circumstance that we had to be touching each other. “Are you alright?”
“Yes, it’s just still sore.”
“You’re never usually sore” he said confused. His brow furrowed and he looked worried. “What happened to your face?” He touched the spot gingerly, seeing me wince even at the slightest touch. I caught his hand in mine.
“You know what happened” I said awkwardly “I was attacked” I whispered the last part, remembering what Nanny had said about him getting “very, very angry” Ryan’s eyes widened again, and he did look angry, he snarled an awful sound and let go of me abruptly. I fell back onto my backside when he stood up, making terrible sounds and sobbing.
“They took you away from me” he cried, he sounded possessed and in a lot of pain. I stood up, feeling the cool air and missing the warmth of his skin.
“Yes b-but I'm back now. I'm here. Here.” I stammered. I took hold of his arms to make him face me.
“Stop saying that!” he barked. I let go of him, my face terrified at his anger. As soon as he had said it, his anger fell away from him and he looked over my hurt expression with sincerity when he spoke “I'm so sorry Liv, I don’t know why I'm wasting our time together being angry, I'm sorry” he leant his forehead onto mine, breathing heavily, deep breathes in and out to calm himself.
“Ryan?” I whispered. He opened his eyes, sniffing quietly as he looked at me waiting. I took his hand and we sat as we had. His arms wound around me in that way, my heart starting to thump in my chest, and my skin seemed to unravel itself. I pressed my face into the curve of his neck and spoke in a whisper. “Promise me, not to interrupt as I explain” I opened my eyes briefly. He nodded; his hand was rubbing up and down my arm, where goose bumps were appearing. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes.
“The day before yesterday I woke up in – in the morgue” I swallowed. Ryan squirmed beneath me in shock “wait, you promised” I warned him. My fingers locked around his chest and I could feel his heart beating. He had to believe me and this was the only way. “I woke up in the morgue and I didn’t – I don’t remember much about me...but I remembered your face” I looked up at him and he was looking down at me with an indescribable expression. His mouth was set in a line and his eyes were reflecting the moon that was full and high in the sky. “A doctor came, then Nanny and now I'm really here...somehow I woke up.”