Her fingers bit around mine sternly. “No. I don’t think you fully understand. This was not your fault, Caroline. It was an accident. You didn’t cause it, and you tried everything within your power to help him. You were not to blame.”
My nose burned as I tried not to cry, but it didn’t work. Hot, heavy tears filled my eyes. “But if only I’d—”
“No. No more ifs, child. Oren’s been suffering for years with all the what-ifs he has when he thinks about Zoey. Don’t put yourself through that, too. Just focus on the fact that he was a hero and saved both you and your brother. Okay?”
I couldn’t help it, I began to sob. Squeezing my eyes closed, I bowed my head and confessed, “I just want him to remember me.”
“Oh, sweetie.” Brenda tugged me away from my brother and pulled me into a warm, motherly embrace. “He will. Have faith. Oren always comes out okay. He’s our little survivor. He’ll get his memories back, and he’ll love you again. Don’t you worry.”
But I did, and I sobbed all my worries out on my mother-in-law’s shirt. She just held me, and forgave me, and after a while, the tears finally dried.
Noel made good on his threat. No matter how much I balked, he drove me home that night. I hadn’t seen Oren since the moment he’d woken from his coma and hadn’t recognized me. Everyone thought it best if he wasn’t approached by too many people he’d see as strangers just yet, not until he adjusted to the fact that he’d lost his sister and was no longer seventeen years old.
It hurt to stay away from him. A part of me wanted to sneak into his room and just have him look at me. He’d remember. He had to remember me. Us. To me, it was the only thing worth remembering. But I didn’t want to confuse him and hurt him more than he already was.
My room at Noel and Aspen’s house was no longer mine. Brandt had moved in and none of my things were there. That was okay. My home was with Oren, in his bed. I was tempted to go back to his apartment and sleep in our room, alone. But I knew I’d never sleep and missing him would kill me, so I let Brandt be a gentleman and bunk with Colton for the night while I took over his new room.
But I still couldn’t sleep, and when Colton snuck in to cuddle with me in the middle of the night, I was glad for the company, even if the bitter sweetness of it made me cry some more.
Oren apparently grew restless and frustrated with not being able to remember five years of his life. The next day when Noel and I arrived back at the hospital, his parents seemed frazzled from having to “deal” with him.
Brenda swept her hair out of her face and blew out a breath. “He wants answers, and we don’t know what to tell him without shocking him too much.”
“We told him he’s had concerned friends here, worried about him, and he wants to meet you. All of you.”
Noel and I shared a glance. Excitement glittered in his eyes, and I knew my own stomach fluttered with anticipation. I couldn’t wait to get back into his room. Nodding together, we turned back to Oren’s parents.
“Of course,” Noel answered immediately. “I’ll get the gang gathered, no problem.”
Within a couple hours, we had everyone back at the hospital. “Okay, so...” Noel rubbed his hands together as he took control of the group. “I think we’ve agreed that it’s too soon to tell him he’s married unless he remembers, but, uh...everything else is fair game. If he asks about something, we can tell him whatever he wants to know.”
Though only Pick, and possibly Eva had known Oren and I were married before the accident, they all knew now.
“Sounds good.” Pick placed his hand on the small of Eva’s back. “Let’s go see our boy.”
En masse, we started for his room. I wondered fleetingly if so many strangers at once would overwhelm him, but I also knew everyone would take it easy on him. When we reached the door where Phil was standing to welcome us inside, I stalled and latched on to Noel’s arm.
He glanced at me and walked me a few steps away before murmuring, “What’s wrong?”
Worry filtered through me. “What if I can’t do this? What if I can’t keep it together and I just...I start crying again? I don’t want to upset him or—”
“Caroline.” Noel smiled and kissed my forehead. “If you want to see your husband, then come on. I know you. Once we get in that room, you’ll do whatever you have to do to keep it together.”
His not-so-pep talk made my lips quiver with a half smile. But then I straightened my spine and nodded. Though my nerves were wrenched with worry, I clutched his hand as he led me into the room behind everyone else.