Title: Before & After
Author: Nazarea Andrews
Release Date: July 30, 2015
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Rike and Peyton fell in love in college.
A boy from the wrong side of the tracks, covered in ink and crooning in a bar is the last person a straight laced girl with a art major should fall for, but his rough edges made her jagged, alive, shaving away the coddled southern princess and revealing a soul wild and brilliant.
They fell in love, despite her family and his past and all the reasons why it wouldn't work--and with their best friends, they made a life. Everyone was supposed to live happily ever after.
They, more than anyone, knows that life doesn't go according to plan.
Rike and Peyton fell in love in college. A boy with a guitar, and a poet's heart, and a girl with freckles dusted over her nose, a perfect fucking fairy tale.
But what happens when the fairy tale doesn't fall apart--but is forgotten?
Chapter 2: After
Sometimes, the loneliness
Is a physical blanket,
A tangible thing that wraps around me,
Like a suffocating wave that won’t recede.
And then your hand,
(Rike’s poems to Peyton)
Noise. Quiet, steady, noise. It breaks the silence, shrill and sharp, then gone and it’s just a waiting silence. My eyes open, slow and painful, and I look at a fuzzing white ceiling, and the bright silver of a pole near my head.
Why the hell is there a pole near my head?
I open my lips to talk, to ask and a body, one I hadn’t noticed before, shifts in the corner.
The nurse looks at me brilliant blue eyes, and for a moment, I can’t remember what I was going to ask, because there is only his eyes and the questions there, and a scruffy beard, sharp angled face, and long hair that hangs in disarray like he’s been pushing his fingers through it.
“You’re awake,” he says, and I remember that I was asking a question.
But I can’t remember what it was. I think, struggling to hold on to the elusive question and my eyes widen, panic slamming into me. Beside me, the shrill and sharp noise of the monitor that woke me screams to life as my heartbeat slams in my chest.
I can’t remember anything.
It takes a sedative to calm me down, and when I wake, it’s slowly, with no idea of where I am. It’s dark—and I remember the light streaming into the room earlier, lighting his ice blue eyes, and the wild panic when I realized everything was a blank slate.
I feel it again, now, but the panic tamer, not as sharp and choking. I shift to sit up in the hospital bed, and glance around.
My gaze lands on the nurse, sleeping in a chair in the corner. His hand is wrapped around a phone, and I wonder, inanely, if he sleeps in all of his patient’s rooms, or if I’m special.
Tattoos snake under the pushed up cuffs of a long, silver blue thermal, and I have the absurd desire to push them up and see what designs will be revealed.
I don’t even like guys with tattoos.
Why is he here? I clear my throat, and his eyes fly open. For a moment, his eyes are sleepy, soft, so intimate it makes the breath catch in my throat, and I swallow hard. Then he blinks, and the hungry emotions are tucked away, and there is only concern there, calm and professional as he pushes out of the chair and comes to the bed.
“How are you feeling?” he asks, glancing at the machine briefly. His eyes flick over it, and his lips tighten before he reaches for a button.
I stop his hand with my own, and see his eyes flare wide, before he closes them, and with a deep breath pulls away from me.
Stung, and strangely embarrassed, I tuck my hand back under my blanket. “Where am I?” I ask my voice shaky with disuse.
How long have I been here, how long have I been unconscious?
“St. David’s Medical Center.” He waits, watching for some sign of recognition, and then adds, “Austin, sweetheart.”
Austin. Why the hell am I in Austin?
“Where would you rather be?” he asks, his voice carefully neutral.
I blink. I hadn’t realized I’d spoken aloud until he responded, and I feel heat crawling up my neck. His eyes drop to it, and heat, and I clear my throat, looking away. Searching for an answer to his question.
Where would I rather be?
It’s a blank page, my past empty, stretching behind me. For how long? I bite hard on my lip. “How long have I been here?”
“I think you should let me call the doctor.”
“Why can’t I remember anything?” I whisper, and tears sting my eyes. I blink hard, and sniffle. He’s staring at me, his face tight and remote, and I want him gone, suddenly. I want just a minute, to break down in private. Away from this stranger with his tattoos and eyes that see too much.
“Can you call the doctor? And maybe give me a minute?”
He inhales sharply, and I feel a flare of guilt, inexplicably. Then he nods, and steps away from my bed. “Of course. Give me a few minutes to find him. If you need anything—“
“I’ll call the nurse,” I say and he nods.
I don’t know who he is. Why he’s here. Why he looks so strangely hurt by my behavior.
“Do I know you?” I ask, hesitantly.
His whole body seems to tense, and I want to reach out and touch him, to soothe the tight line of his shoulders.
A tattoo is licking up his neck, a bird in flames, just visible over the collar of his scrubs.
“I’ll be back with the doctor,” he says hoarsely.
And then he’s gone, and any answers he might have are gone with him.
It stings a little. Like I should know him, or why he was here—and I don’t.
Why the hell am I a hospital in Austin? Why aren’t my parents here?
Every memory I reach for is blank. A space where something should be but nothing is. It’s like who I am has vanished. The doctor is a Haitian man with skin the color of midnight and a wide smile. And an accent so thick I almost can’t understand him as he explains.
The nurse—not tattooed blue eyes—gives me a notebook, and when the doctor leaves again to find my MRI scans, I write what I know.
I was brought in from a car crash two weeks ago.
I had traumatic brain injury, causing memory loss.
Apparently, I was drunk before the accident and that didn’t help my mental functions at all.
The girl with me is still in critical condition.
Her license says she is Lindsay Murphy and I am Peyton Collins.
I live in Austin.
It’s not nearly enough for me to work with—to build a life on. But it’s all I’ve got, so it’s going to have to do. What bothers me isn’t that I can’t remember. It’s that I’m alone here.
What the hell kind of life was I living, that I am so fucking alone?
The door opens, and Tattooed Blue Eyes enters with a paper bag. He eyes me for a minute, and I stare back silently.
A tiny grin turns his lips, and he comes deeper into the room sitting down in a chair near my bed.
“Knock knock,” he says, and waits, staring at me.
I frown, “Who’s there?”
“Hatch who?” I ask, exasperated.
The grin blossoms into a full smile, “Cover your mouth when you sneeze!”
I giggle and shake my head. “That’s really bad, Blue eyes.”
His grin falters, for just a second and then he shrugs. “But you laughed. Now. Are you hungry?”
I don’t respond, and he doesn’t seem to care, going to work pulling out a plate of fried rice and chicken with vegetables and spreading it all out on the table. He moves easily, almost ignoring me, but I can feel the tiny glances he darts at me.
“What are you doing?” I ask, when the plate is in my hands and he’s back in his chair. The sleeves of his thermal have been shoved up, and I see stairs crisscrossing up his arm, and a brightly colored fish on his other, twisting through weeds and flowers.
“I’m eating dinner with you.” He says. Pauses, “Do you want me to go?”
That possibility looms in front of me. All night, alone in this room, and nothing. No memories or knowledge to keep me company.
The thought is terrifying and I shake my head. Because whoever he is, he’s a distraction. Someone to keep my mind off the emptiness.
“No,” I whisper. “Please stay.”
Nazarea Andrews is an avid reader and tends to write the stories she wants to read. She loves chocolate and coffee almost as much as she loves books, but not quite as much as she loves her kids. She lives in south Georgia with her husband, daughters, and overgrown dog. Get more info at Nazarea’s Website.