I NEVER TALK about what happened.
There are reasons, good reasons, but I keep those to myself too.
I’m told the cops dealing with my case are wrapping up the last details, the task force is dispersing back to their prior jobs. They seem relieved, the ones who have stopped by the hospital—relieved to see me alive, and they are tired. I have dominated their every waking moment, and the stress of the case has been enormous. They are glad I’m alive, and they are ready to move on.
My sister has hired me a bodyguard. Someone to keep the press away along with the gawkers. There are newscasters vying for the first interview, and photographers trying to sneak in to get first photos. The bodyguard is talking to my nurse down the hall, and I can hear his voice—low pitched, determined—and the way he says ma’am I can hear his still-fresh military background. He hasn’t tapped on my door to introduce himself yet, but that is coming soon. I think I’m ready.
I hope I don’t see too much pity in his gaze, or too much seriousness. I’m alive, not dead. I’d like a smile occasionally, or even a laugh, rather than more of the grave intensity I see in everyone around me.
A tap on the door has me looking up from flipping pages in a magazine. I see a guy in jeans and a casual shirt who looks like a college student. Lanky, tall, nice blue eyes. I notice the hands in his back pockets, and the quick scan he’s giving me.
“Ruth, I’m John Key.” The voice puts him as the soldier-now-bodyguard I’ve been waiting to meet.
I decide I like his smile.
“I’m thinking about changing my name.” I have no idea why that is my first sentence, but apparently he’s better at social skills than I am because he merely nods before walking into the room and taking a seat on the edge of the bed, crowding me, but in a nice way, not trying to not make contact.
“Don’t make it Margaret. And I don’t like Shelly,” he offered, taking my suggestion seriously.
“I was thinking about Jessica. Or maybe Charlotte.”
“I could learn to like Charlotte.”
I decide on the spot I’ll be Charlotte. The person I have been, Ruth Bazoni, needs the space to rest, and even, maybe, to be forgotten. Charlotte… Charlotte Something—it feels kind of interesting to think of starting over.
I think it’s his voice that I like best. The sound is different than the voices I’ve feared. John is young, but the voice is old. His eyes are old too. There’s experience there that seems out of place. But I understand it. This man has seen war. He only looks young. I wonder if my eyes look the same. A young face, with ancient eyes.
“Your sister hired me, but my job description is so vague it’s got no boundaries. To keep it simple, I’m going to tell people I’m your boyfriend, and then tell them to go away.”
I nod, as if it’s not that big a deal, but it’s a big deal. The fact he would make the suggestion, would look past what’s happened in order to make it, is an act of deep kindness. I’ve never had a boyfriend, and I know I’ll be single for the rest of my life, but I can pretend if he can. “Could our first date be pizza and somewhere that is not this room? I’m hungry. And I’m bored.”
His laugh is nice. “I’m good for pizza.” He stood. “If we’re going to spend the next few weeks breaking the rules, we might as well start now. The elevator is close by. I can find a place in this hospital complex with at least a view, and a good pizza can get delivered. Think you can get dressed on your own, or should I invent a reason for the nurse to come help you?”
He nodded and stepped away, let the door close behind him.
I know I am much too thin—nearly all bones. I’ll probably manage just half a piece of pizza before becoming full. But I can see a day when those would not be the facts, and I want to get there soon.
I change into black slacks and a university sweatshirt, being careful of my aching wrist, and struggle to slip my feet into tennis shoes. I am sweating when I am done, wondering how foolish I am going to feel when my strength runs out before I can get back here to my bed. I push away the thought, open the door.
John is leaning against the wall outside my room, and he nods to the wheelchair parked beside him. I settle in the chair and spread the blanket he hands me out across my lap. I notice my nurse is gone from the center station. “You told her we were leaving.”
“What she doesn’t see, she can’t testify to.”
He tugged a chain with dog tags and two worn keepsake medals off his neck. “Wear these. They brought me good luck. You could use some too.” He slid them over my hair, let them fall into place, then stepped behind the wheelchair and pushed me toward the elevator.
I finger the metal, still warm from being against his skin. I blink back tears. I managed to get a guy who is genuinely nice. I hope he stays, at least a month or two.
“What kind of pizza?”
I smile, my first real smile in four years. “Supreme, please.”
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