Persistence of Memory
Written February 2002
Synopsis: Madeline develops amnesia, and Paul releases her until her condition improves. However, a new terrorist organization is determined to make her re-integration into Section as difficult as possible.
Disclaimer: The characters within are property of LFN Productions, Warner Bros., and USA Network. No infringement is intended.
Madeline stirred the alfredo sauce into the fettuccine, adding a bit of parsley to it for color. Broccoli was simmering in another pot, and she had peeled and sliced two red pears for dessert. Paul would be here any moment, and she wanted to make sure everything was done before he arrived.
Reaching the conclusion that she was in love with him both thrilled and frightened her. It all happened so quickly, but she felt prepared for it somehow, like she was destined to love only him. Cam suggested that Paul was her soul mate, but Madeline wasn’t sure about that. It sounded like something out of her novels. People didn’t just meet and fall in love and stay together forever, did they?
The doorbell rang, and her heart jumped into her throat. She forced herself to take a deep breath before making a beeline for the front door and pulling it open. A colorful bouquet of flowers greeted her, and she couldn’t control a gasp of surprise. Red, pink, yellow, white, orange, peach…she didn’t know roses came in so many colors. “Paul!”
“Well, you said the red ones were at your office, so I figured you might like some at your house.” He peeked around the corner of the bouquet and smiled. “Surprise.”
“You–” Shaking her head, she took the vase from him and carried it to the kitchen table. It made a beautiful centerpiece, and she turned to him, a delighted smile on her face. “Thank you.” She wrapped her arms around his neck and held him close to her, her heart thumping madly inside her. How could one man be so wonderful? “Thank you.” The words faded as their lips met urgently, as if it had been a year since the last kiss instead of a week. Moaning, she allowed their tongues to dance together, savoring the taste of him, wishing they could remain like that for hours.
Raising his mouth from hers, he gazed at her tenderly and smiled. “You wore your hair down,” he realized. “I like it.” He brushed a gentle kiss across her forehead. “I missed you.”
“Did you have a good trip?”
“As much as I could have. It wasn’t too exciting. I did get to finish Cam’s novels. I think I liked ‘An Even Deeper Ecstasy’ the most.”
The admission made her chuckle, and she walked over to the stove. “For dinner, we have fettuccine alfredo and broccoli, and for dessert…” She spun around with the bowl in hand. “Pears.”
“You must’ve gone to a lot of trouble.”
“No, it was no trouble.” Kissing his cheek happily, she turned back to the stove to spoon out the pasta and broccoli.
“Well, it looks fantastic, and I’m starving.” Paul headed for the living room with glasses of water for each of them and flopped onto the couch. “Would you mind if I turned on the news?”
“Of course not,” she replied, joining him with dinner. “I try not to miss any current events.” She sat close to him but tried to keep focused on something other than his nearness. “You know, I was on the national news once.”
“Really? What for?”
“There was a statewide ‘meeting of the minds,’ so to speak. I was asked to do a presentation on adolescent misdiagnoses of depression. They filmed it and interviewed me, and I made headlines. Cam even recorded it.”
He grinned, dropping a kiss on her forehead. “I didn’t know I was dating such a celebrity.” He must have been starving; he ate his portion quickly, mumbling about how wonderful it was. It made her chuckle. Pasta was one of the easiest things to cook, so she didn’t feel like she deserved all of the praise. Still, the food seemed to taste better the next time she took a bite.
Setting her empty plate on the coffee table, she thought about changing the channel, but he looked so fascinated by the news reports that she decided against it. If he was involved in global security, the wars across the planet would certainly interested him. Content to just be with him, she curled up in his arms and sighed happily.
Amazing. Simply amazing. Paul shook his head in awe at the television. The news reports were so biased and incomplete, he wondered how anyone assumed they knew what was going on. At one point, he found himself laughing. It was for the public’s own good, of course, but it was simply ridiculous. If they only knew…
“You know, Madeline, I think the associated press should–” He gazed down at her and realized that she was sound asleep. Her dark eyes were shut, and her breath softly tickled his neck. A tiny smile of affection touched his face as he swept her into his arms and carried her upstairs. Rufus followed them curiously, laying at the foot of the bed as Paul put her down on it and brought the covers to her chin.
Slowly, she peered at him through half-closed lids. “Paul, what–”
“Sshhh. Go to sleep.”
She turned toward the clock, stifling a yawn. “It’s not even ten yet!” She struggled to sit up. “I slept through your whole welcome-home party, I’m–”
“Madeline.” He tried to sound stern, but he couldn’t keep the amused grin off his face. He noticed he had been smiling a lot more since he ‘met’ her. “Go to sleep. You’re exhausted. I’ll call you in the morning, arrange for Monday’s lunch.” After placing a gentle kiss on her forehead, he stood and walked to the door. Rufus watched him leave then hopped onto the bed next to Madeline. Smiling, she nestled herself under the covers and fell back asleep.
“No, give it to me, Maddy, you don’t deserve it! I said… Noooooo!”
Madeline jerked upright, gasping for air as if she had just been on the verge of drowning. Rufus whined softly and jumped to the floor. Her gaze darted around the room, finding comfort in the familiar surroundings, and she sighed in relief.
What was that? The voice in her dream, the screaming…
Slowly her eyes widened in shock. It may not have been a dream after all.
The name plagued her mind all Sunday morning, and covering her head with a pillow seemed the only way to get it to stop. A little piece of her still pleaded with her mind, begging it to reveal that the incident at the top of the stairs had been a dream. But she knew it wasn’t. How could she ever face what she had done?
The telephone rang, and she could hear Paul’s cheerful voice on the answering machine, leaving a number where she could reach him. Madeline released a whimpering groan. What would he say if he knew? He would leave her for certain!
Why me? She knew it was a pointless question, but it was the only one she could voice. For some reason, she had suspected that her past had included something horrible, but she didn’t expect it to be quite as shocking–or quite as early–as it had been. She wished she had more time, more strength, to battle her new-found war, but sleep and hot showers were the only weapons available. And isolation.
On Monday, she managed to get Jenny to cancel her appointments for the week, opting to stay in bed. There was no way she could help her patients now. How would they react if they knew their therapist was a murderer?
And her family! No wonder they never came to claim her at the hospital when she woke up. Her accident must’ve been a blessing. Why would they want to bring home the woman who pushed her sister down the stairs and killed her? You always hurt the ones you love.
Although Madeline could’ve used a shoulder to cry on, Cam was on vacation with David. Of course, she wasn’t sure she could confess her sins. What would Cam think of her then? Yes, she decided finally, it would be easier alone. If she played her cards right, she could probably spend the week without seeing anyone. The solitary confinement would help her sort out her feelings, make sense of the mess she was in.
But she couldn’t stay holed up forever. Somewhere along the line, she would have to face the truth. She, Madeline Wolfe, had killed her sister. It had been so long ago that she no longer felt guilty, just…horrified. It wasn’t something she could tell anyone for fear of repercussions. And to think I was worried about my amnesia becoming widespread knowledge.
The incessant knocking at the front door wasn’t helping her in the least. She couldn’t concentrate, and a headache was forming with lightning speed. So much for spending the week alone. Grumbling to herself, she stomped to the door and yanked it open. Paul stood on the other side, smiling brightly. Her heart momentarily twisted around itself. In her haste to begin her sabbatical, she had forgotten to cancel their lunch date.
“Hi, Madeline.” He bent down to kiss her, but she turned her head and wandered back into the living room. “Well, I’m glad to see you, too.” She heard the door shut behind him and his soft footfalls as he followed her. “I missed you at lunch today, and when I stopped by your office, no one was there.”
“Yeah, I took a sick day. A sick week actually.” She frowned at her own voice. It was hoarse and scratchy from having hardly spoken in forty-eight hours. “I’m sorry I forgot to call.”
“A sick week? Are you feeling all right?”
How could she tell him? There was no way he could understand. She glanced at him briefly before sinking into the couch. “I’m fine.”
Paul sat beside her, still grinning, and took her hands in his. “Well, I hope you come out tomorrow. I found this great little place that serves–”
“No, not tomorrow. Actually, not for a while.” His expression went from joyful to confused, and she had to look away. “There are some things I need to sort out, and it would be in your best interest if you just disappeared for a while.”
His grip lessened until he pulled away from her completely, and she resisted the urge to cry. Why did it have to be so hard? Just when things were going right… “I don’t understand, Madeline, what–”
The old adage repeated in her head: You always hurt the ones you love. “Paul, please don’t make it any harder than it already is.” He didn’t answer, but she could feel his heavy gaze on her. He wasn’t moving. Slowly, she turned back around to face him. “Please? I don’t want to hurt you more than I have to.”
“I’m not leaving until you tell me what happened. I think you owe me that much.”
He didn’t seem angry at all. He seemed…anxious. Almost eager, like he knew what she was going to say. Madeline licked her dry lips. “I remembered something. Something from my past, and–”
“You did?” He smiled happily. “What was it?”
“I don’t think you want to ask me that.” She ducked her head with a sigh. She couldn’t protect him from her if he kept asking questions. Yet a part of her wanted him to force the memory out into the open where it wasn’t as frightening.
She remained furiously silent, but her body was shaking with tension. Her fists were balled up so tightly that they had lost all color. “Please, just–”
“No. You’re not getting rid of me. Whatever it is, you can tell me. I promised you that I wouldn’t abandon you, no matter what happened, and I don’t break my promises.”
She was so tired of trying to cope. All of her frustration escaped with a heavy, anguished moan, and she practically threw herself into his arms, holding on for her life. “It was…so terrible, Paul,” she sobbed. “We were standing at the top of the stairs, arguing.”
“Me…and Sarah. My sister.”
“How old were you? Amnesiacs remember the most distant memories first, right?”
She appreciated his attempts to calm her, having her focus on details rather than emotions. “I was…six or seven, I don’t know. Young.”
“What were you fighting over?”
“A doll. She wanted my doll, and I wouldn’t give it to her. She said it was too pretty for me.”
He stroked her hair with one hand and rubbed her shoulder with the other. “Then what?”
“She pushed me, hoping I would drop it. And she kept pushing me…so I pushed her back. I didn’t realize she was on the edge of the stairs…”
Madeline could only nod, tightening her hold on him, afraid that, when the words passed her lips, he would leave her. “Ten steps down to the landing. There was a sound, a horrible crack, as her head hit the marble floor.”
Paul didn’t move, nor did he relinquish his hold on her. The only sound he made was a small, knowing sigh.
“Sarah died,” she clarified, her voice muffled by his jacket, “and I killed her. It’s all my fault.”
“No, Madeline, no.” He lifted her shoulders so he could look into the face. “It’s not your fault. You did what any child would do; you pushed back. The fact that you were at the top of the stairs is what led to her death. Don’t blame yourself for this.”
“It’s not your fault,” he repeated adamantly. “It was an accident. You were too young to understand the implications of what you had done, so you have no reason to feel guilty.”
Madeline stared at him, trying to comprehend what she was hearing. If she didn’t know better, she’d say he was a therapist himself who had dealt with this exact situation. The mind is most vulnerable in children, so it would come as no surprise if, as a child, she was bewildered by the event and felt extreme guilt and shame over it. But now, she was so distanced from it that she felt very little. Just shock. Slowly, she bobbed her head up and down in agreement. Paul’s statements were exactly what she had been trying to tell herself for the past two days. Maybe I just needed to hear it.
“You don’t remember anything after that? How your parents reacted?”
“No, but I think I know what happened.”
“Why do you say that?”
“I’m alone, aren’t I? Maybe my coma was the perfect opportunity for them to disown me.”
He was shaking his head before she even finished her sentence. “Don’t be ridiculous. It’s possible that you and Sarah were the only children and that your parents have passed away.”
She bowed her head. He was probably right, although she couldn’t be sure. There weren’t any documents listing her genealogy. But how could he be so optimistic, so certain about her life when she was full of confusion and second-guesses?
He put his hand on her chin, turning her toward him. “Now I want you to promise me something. The next time you recall a memory from your past, I want you to call me. I don’t care if it’s the middle of the night, or if I’m out of town, or if you’re in the middle of a session. Get to a phone and call me, and I will be there for you. I don’t want you to lock yourself in the house again, thinking you can figure this out on your own. I know you’re strong, Madeline, but you’re not that strong.”
She breathed deeply, leaning back into the safety of his embrace. “I don’t think I’m strong enough.”
His voice was as low as a whisper. “You have to be.”
End of part six