Copyright is held by the author.
WORRYING DIDN’T come easily to Damien and he felt he was all the better for it. But there were times like tonight where he felt that a bit of doubt wouldn’t be the worst thing.
“Hun, will you stop hogging the mirror? Anyone would think it was you turning 30 today.”
Kate always looked gorgeous, but as she often playfully reminded him, what did he know? He had been her boyfriend for just over a year. He simply smiled and kissed her on the cheek before heading for the door. Then he stopped and turned around. “You do look beautiful, you know.”
An hour later, everything was running like clockwork — the guests had settled down in an expected pattern, Damien and his best mates were seeing that everyone had a full glass as well as enough to nibble on. All Kate had to do was laugh and enjoy herself, and she seemed to be doing that splendidly. As he looked across the room at her in deep conversation with her sister, Damien knew that he was making the right choice. He walked over to get the door, hoping that she felt the same way.
Marie was standing right in front of him, her arm draped around Kate’s colleague from work. Dark hair that curled a bit at the ends, eyes that always seemed too bright to be real and a smile that lit up her thin, narrow face. Damien thought that smile faltered just for a second as she saw him. But it could just have been his shock at finding her there, unannounced and almost exactly like he’d left her two years ago.
Later he couldn’t remember what he’d said to her or Bill before leaving Kate in charge of looking after them. He found himself in the upstairs bathroom, going over everything Kate had ever said to him about Bill, but couldn’t find any mention of her. If he was the kind to stay up all night because of something he’d done, Marie is what would haunt him. In any case, it was probably the only thing that had the power to make him regret a lot of his life before Kate. He splashed some water on his face and walked back down.
“There you are! I told Bill that you were looking for criminal lawyers to interview for your next show and he said he’d definitely think about it.”
Kate spoke in the excited, rushed way she always did after a few glasses of wine. Damien stared over her head but couldn’t see Bill or Marie. Kate followed his gaze.
“They’re just out in the back garden — Mia was feeling a little nauseous, the poor thing. I’m glad you can finally meet her.”
Damien had a vague recollection of Kate mentioning a Mia a few times in the past, but his attention must have wandered. There was a brief pause when Kate seemed to wrestle with whatever it was that she wanted to add. Damien frowned and interrupted her thought. “Mia is Bill’s Mia?”
“You’re funny.” Kate giggled. “Anyway,” she lowered her voice, leaning in close so that chin touched his chest. “Actually I’m not supposed to say anything, but it’s just you so I suppose it’s all right. Mia’s pregnant! Bill was worried that it was too soon, you know with the accident and everything, that maybe it would all be too stressful for her — she’s been doing so well at remembering these past few months. You know what I think? It’s lovely that those two have found each other.”
She stood on her tip-toes and kissed Damien, before disappearing back into their living room.
There had been a time when he and Marie had talked about those things — the future, a house, a family. Though Damien had to admit that he’d just wanted to seem supportive and caring rather than the irresponsible guy who had asked her out on a dare by his very drunk friends at a bar he didn’t even remember the name of. Against all his set judgments, Damien had found himself enjoying her company on that first date and all the ones after. She was pretty, smart, funny, deceptively gentle until you tested her will.
Damien looked at her now, framed against their back door, Bill’s arm around her shoulder like it belonged nowhere else. There was only a hint of a bump through her dress that he now noticed. How much did she remember about the accident and after? The old, somewhat selfish Damien that still lingered was hoping for none. And then she was standing right in front of him again.
“Bill tells me you have a talk show on the radio, what’s that like? To be honest with you, I don’t listen to radio very often, but maybe you might give me a reason to.”
This time there was no hint of recognition in her smile or manner, just a friendly person genuinely interested in a stranger she had heard about from her boyfriend. Damien found himself slipping into the boyish, affable sort of demeanour he adopted when people asked him that.
“Yeah, no it’s pretty great actually. A lot of work, many hours trying to come up with interesting material, sometimes even late hours at the studio if we have segments that need to be taped. That would be a problem with many girls, but Kate’s hours are almost as bad as mine!”
Her laugh had changed, but it was still as endearing.
“That must make it difficult to spend time with each other.”
He smiled and shrugged as if to say “well what can you do?”
“Well, we try to make sure we grab every chance we can get.”
Damien knew he loved Kate and that she loved him. For him, that was enough.
“You know . . .” Marie or Mia or whatever she called herself these days had just started to say something when Damien hurriedly excused himself to go find the birthday girl. He finally traced her to their bedroom where she was sitting on the floor. His coat was lying in a heap behind the door. Where was the small velvet box he’d left in its inside pocket?
“I tripped on these damn heels and grabbed the coat to steady myself,” Kate said by way of explanation. “Help me up, will you hun? Pretty or not, I should never have bought these shoes.”
He lifted her up, trying to appear nonchalant when she was standing inches away from something he’d carefully planned for weeks.
Kate must have sensed that something was off because she bent her head to one side and looked at him. “Is everything okay? You seem . . . different.”
Damien hesitated. What was the worst thing that could happen if he told her the truth? You’d lose yet another great girl was the voice whispering at the edges of the headache that was beginning to form behind his temples. But even he wasn’t prepared for what came out of his mouth next.
“Kate, will you marry me?”
Once again, Damien found himself standing across from Marie. Kate was with her sister and friends, showing them the ring. Bill was on a work call outside. How could you make polite small talk with someone you’d once intimately known?
“You know, you remind me of someone.”
Damien felt his chest shrink. Maybe he was finally beginning to worry just like the rest of them.
Marie was still talking away. “Ever since you opened the door, I’ve been trying to think of who it is. My memory isn’t what it used to be. And even some of the things I do remember seem scrambled, out of place, like I’m stealing bits and pieces from other people.”
Her matter-of-fact manner seemed genuine, leaving all the regret to settle down heavier in Damien. He swallowed and shook his head.
“Erm I dunno, maybe I just look a bit like someone you used to know?”
“Yeah that’s probably it. But I can’t seem to shake the feeling that I know you.”
It was then that Damien almost told her something he hadn’t admitted even to himself. That he was a coward. That he didn’t deserve Marie, nor Kate for what he had found he’d been capable of doing. Instead he mustered what he hoped was a calm and casual tone. “I don’t mean to pry but what exactly happened? Kate didn’t say. Well, actually she probably did but I wasn’t listening.”
This was the most honest thing he’d ever said to her. Her laugh was easy-going, like he’d just said the funniest thing in the world.
‘Well, a lot of the details are still hazy. All I remember is that I was driving back home after work and the next thing I know I’m waking up in hospital. The first thing the doctor said was that I was lucky to be alive.”
Damien forced himself to speak, his throat dry. “Must be hard, not being able to remember a lot of things, people . . .”
“I guess. My friends and family have been really great without throwing a lot of information at me. It’s the hardest when it was someone I really used to care about, but maybe not remembering everything is kind of a blessing, you know? I mean I’m sure you have things in your life that you regret, wished you could forget.” There was a pause. “But then I feel selfish and want them to remember me even if I can’t.”
Damien knew she wasn’t being personal but his chest constricted again. How much had they told her about him? A part of him wished there was some way she could at least remember the good times. It was right then that Kate came up behind him.
“Hey you.” She smiled up at him before looking at Marie. “I hope this one isn’t letting you do all the talking, Mia.”
“Actually, I was just saying to him that he reminds me of someone. Maybe we know each other in some parallel world! That’s what I say to a lot of people I can’t place.”
Both of them laughed while Damien tried hard to look amused.
“Are you sure you don’t know Mia, Damien?”
Kate’s voice was teasing but it felt like his skin had been sliced open. Before he could think of an answer that wasn’t an outright lie, Marie chimed in: “Well, I’d like to think I’m not as forgettable as that!”
Damien muttered something about the cake and went into the kitchen. The last thing he heard was Marie congratulating Kate on the engagement.
Everyone had left hours ago but Damien’s headache wouldn’t go away. A glass of water was on the small table in front of him, a notepad on his lap.
“What’re you doing up so late?”
He hurriedly closed the notepad as Kate walked over to the back of the couch.
“Trust you to be working rather than dozing off on the couch. Can I have a look?” She extended her hand.
“Well, it’s only a rough idea for now. I’d rather you see it when it’s done. I’m thinking of calling it Remember Me.”
Damien hoped he hadn’t answered too quickly. Kate usually read a lot of his drafts and came up with some good insights. She put her hands up.
“All right fine, I won’t be nosy.”
Kate sat down on the couch.
‘Wasn’t it a bit strange that Mia seemed to think you looked so familiar? She talked about it again after you left the room. I just felt really bad for her. I mean, I think I’d go mad. I just . . . I love you, Damien.” Her voice was soft.
“Me too . . .” Damien paused like he wanted to say something more. The silence held its breath as he leaned in to give her a kiss.
“What’s wrong? It’s like your mind is somewhere else.” It was Kate who pulled away after a while and cupped his cheek.
“I’m just tired.”
There was a pause before Kate spoke again.
“Damien, do you really want to marry me?”
“Of course I do, why would you think that?”
“You’ve had something on your mind all evening and at first I thought it was just the proposal. But I don’t know anymore.” Her voice was dangerously wobbly. “What are you not telling me?”
Damien was surprised at how steady his voice was. “It scares me how deeply you make me feel, you know that?”
Kate shifted on the couch and cut him off. “Do you remember that time we walked five blocks because you said you wanted me to taste the best ice-cream in the world? You told me it was the first time you’d ever brought a girl there, and asked me to move in with you.”
“I was so nervous that I forgot to order extra whipped cream on mine.” Damien laughed despite himself.
“Well, what I can never forget is how vulnerable you let yourself be after everything you’d told me about your past. It was the moment I realized I would never regret us.”
Kate placed her hand on his.
Damien flipped the notepad open to the second page to give himself somewhere to look while he talked.
“It was too hard, too messy, too . . .” The words spilled out before he could organize them. Kate was silent, her eyes focused on his face. “I . . . you’re smart enough to make the connection sooner or later, but it’s not about the girl. That I could be capable, maybe still am capable of something like that . . .”
He handed over the notepad to her.
“I was thinking that listeners could chime in with their own memories. The ones they will never forget. Things they wish they had done, things they will always regret. But it’s also about things they are glad they did.”
Damien kept his eyes on Kate’s face as she read through their past year, and his life before that.
“I remember our first anniversary dinner at Sants and how long it took to get that wine stain out of the dress you’d spent so much money on. I’m sorry for being a clumsy idiot.”
“I remember both of us falling ill on our trip to Nice and taking turns playing nurse instead of tanning by the pool.”
“I remember you baking me a chocolate cake from scratch on my birthday and me asking you which bakery you’d bought it from.”
“I remember how beautiful you looked the last time I saw you, despite the IVs and heart monitor. And yet I walked away . . . because most of all I remember how scared I was — of being in love, of being understood, of losing you, of you not remembering me.”
Kate was mouthing the words he hadn’t been able to tell anyone until now. Her eyes were full of something he couldn’t place but she didn’t pull away when Damien touched her hand and kissed her fingers. This time he looked straight at her.
“I remember the day I first met you at your sister’s party. I remember how happy I’ve been every single moment I’ve known you. And I will always remember how beautiful you looked tonight when I asked you to marry me and you said yes. Just . . . I’m done running, Kate.”
Marie had once told him that in the end our conscience was the only thing we had. Maybe this new found worrying every now and then wouldn’t be so bad after all.