When he wakes up to garish white lights, he has no sense of himself. He’s empty like everything that makes him a person has been scooped out and there’s just a draft in a cavernous space there instead.
His mum takes him home. He touches things, but nothing seems to trigger or feel familiar. Like the taste of his name on his tongue, it doesn’t sound right. Aaron. Ah-ron. Aaron
There are pictures of him and a girl on the mantle, and she sits hovering on the stairs, just creeping down from the top like she’s watching him, but she doesn’t want to encroach on his space. His re-learning of himself.
All eyes on him, he fobs them off with a lie about sore ribs. He was in a car accident that started this all off and he wants to go to bed. No one stops him but there is more silent handwringing as he goes.
Sitting on his bed with its purple sheets and his furniture all matchy in its unmatching, he doesn’t feel like he’s home.
His head turns when there’s a small knock at his door, he calls for them to come in.
The girl thumbs to her chest, “Liv.”
He nods, “Right.”
“Er, I just wanted to give you this.” She approaches like she would an easily startled animal, maybe he was like that before. Easily spooked. Opening her hand, she has a platinum band resting on her palm.
“Oh.” It’s a wedding ring. A man’s wedding ring. His, clearly.
“D’ya remember?” She’s angling to see if he knows anything about the ring.
He hesitates, shaking his head, “No.”
“Oh.” A pause, “I’ll just let you–”
He doesn’t hear the door close, he’s searching deep inside himself for some connection to this piece of metal between his index finger and thumb. He doesn’t feel like he’s married. Poking around thoughts of women leaves him blank. Just like everything else.
But it’s what the doctor said, innit? Once you get home with all your things, try not to overwhelm yourself, and have a chat with your wife. It’ll come back to you.
Retrograde amnesia. He can make new memories, just not access old ones.
He bumped his noggin getting thrown around in his car like a ping pong ball and beyond that he’s fine. No broken bones, no internal injuries, just a duff brain.
He stands up and puts his ring down on the left side bedside table. He feels comfortable with that. He opens the drawer itself and noses around but there’s nothing much but a bit of tat.
Opening up the wardrobes, that feels more confusing. One half, well, more than half is made up of suits, shirts, blazers, blue jeans, all pressed and neatly hung up and the latter half is black hoodies, black jeans, one black shirt and in the little cubby holes are folded up black, grey and maybe two white tops. He’s wearing black jeans and a black jumper, so he figures that stuff is his. He doesn’t understand the shirts and suits though. He fingers through them, they feel soft and expensive but abhorrent to him.
That’s one fact about himself he knows: doesn’t like suits.
The chest of drawers at the end of the bed holds the same bizarre clues. Pants. Tons and tons of pants. Socks in varying colours, but mostly black. He isn’t desiring to see a bra, but he can’t believe that he’s taking up the first two drawers in this bedroom with his skivvies.
His phone was smashed in the accident, so when he finds a laptop hidden in the third drawer, he takes it out and puts it on the bed. Hands on his hips, the fatal flaw in this plan is that he’s got no idea what the password is. And given that it’s hidden in his bedroom, he doesn’t want to ask Liv if she knows the password.
He wants to pull his hair out with frustration. He looks over at the ring and he picks it up to throw it.
Who are you? Who am I?
Why aren’t you here?
Sliding down to sit on the floor, head pillowing on the mattress, the tears come and he doesn’t stop them.
Feeling tired and his head finally banging, rather than taking a painkiller, his hand hovers over the dressing gowns on the back of his bedroom door. There’s a few, but there’s a soft navy blue one that doesn’t smell like him, so he takes that one, buries his nose into it and takes it to cuddle as he lays down on the bed.
The digital clock reads 1:03am when the front door goes.
No one has bothered him for anything, so he sits up and scratches his stomach, feeling hungry. Heavy footsteps clunk on the stairs and that makes him freeze.
His door opens and it’s a heavy sigh, “Aaron.”
There’s so much going on at once that when the not-so-strange but strange-to-him interloper makes to grab him, he tips sideways and falls off the bed.
He doesn’t have a wife. He has a husband. He’s gay. Or he thinks he’s gay.
His stomach does give a little thrill when he scrambles to get up and his husband comes around the side of the bed to help him up. He’s tall, taller than him, fair to his dark, freckles dotting his whole face that looks paler than pale in the barely there light coming through the window. Yeah, he’s fit. Definitely gay. But he still doesn’t know him. Doesn’t know his name. So, he draws back.
That seems like the wrong thing to do when hurt flashes across the man’s face.
“I don’t—I don’t know you,” He finishes lamely.
Hands that were encircling his wrists drop and a step back is taken. That hurts him.
“Liv said you didn’t remember anything,” He repeats as if by rote. “I’m…I’m Robert.”
He rattles it around in his brain, makes the word silently with his mouth before he says, “Robert.”
“And we’re married?”
Robert looks down at his finger, which is bare. The ring itself is lost to the creases in the duvet if not the dressing gown that he was sleeping with.
Robert shows him his, “Yeah. A year and a half. We’re…we were going to get married again. Next month.”
“Were?” Of course ‘were’, he can’t even remember his own birthday. “Oh. Okay.”
There’s an awkward silence before Robert asks him, “Are you alright?”
He sits down on the bed, “I forgot my entire life.”
“It’ll come back.” Robert doesn’t say it like it’s a done deal or like he’s pushing, but that he shouldn’t worry, or fear it. He’s going to be okay.
“I’m sorry I don’t remember you.” He feels like he has to say it.
Robert frowns, “Aaron, you were in a serious car accident, I’m just bloody glad you’re alive.”
It’s so clear that Robert wants to reach out and touch him, hug him. He sits down next to him on the bed, his fingers splaying just next to his thigh. He figures, what could it hurt? He sees the matching band to his on Robert’s finger and it propels him to pick up his hand and lace their fingers together.
Robert smiles softly, “You, uh, you did this before. Not so long ago.”
“Yeah, we weren’t here, we were sitting on the floor of your family’s garage.”
That makes him frown, “Why?”
Robert’s face falls, “I hurt you, I hurt us, we weren’t together anymore, but you took my hand and you told me you wanted to be with me.”
He wants to ask so many questions, but he just finds himself watching as he rubs his thumb over Robert’s knuckle.
Instead, he goes with, “That don’t sound very romantic.”
Robert laughs, “It was, but I got scared. Losing you was the worst thing that ever happened to me–”
He catches Robert staring at him and he looks away.
“I couldn’t do it again. I couldn’t hurt you again. So, I said no, and I left.”
“You didn’t want to be with me?”
Robert chuckles softly, “I always want to be with you. I went home to try and make peace with my decision.”
He shakes his head, “No. Didn’t matter anyway. Had some nutter banging on my door in the middle of the night.”
That makes him smile.
“I came to get ya?”
“You said probably more than I’ve ever heard you say about anything and—” Robert clearly wells up with emotion, so he squeezes his hand with his own, “You asked me to come home with ya.”
The lack of resonance in him makes Robert pull away emotionally, he can see it, but he holds their hands tight, “Don’t.”
He lets their hands go and he wraps his other hand around the back of Robert’s neck and he tries to move back, but his hand is firm, “Please?”
Robert nods, barely moving his head and before he’s done, their lips touch. It sparks the part of his brain that wants and he drags Robert closer to him. Hands press on his sides to stop Robert from falling across him, but he doesn’t deny him this kiss, gently opening up and letting him take whatever he thinks he needs from it.
Everything, he thinks. He needs everything.
Fact two: most definitely gay.
Those hands push, “Aaron.”
He hears it and he lets go. Robert’s mouth is red and bruised from his, so he rubs his thumb across his bottom lip, to soothe or feel it, he doesn’t know.
His stomach chooses that moment to growl loudly and shamelessly, Robert smiles and pats his thigh, “I bet you didn’t eat. I’ll make you something.”
“I do, so do you, sometimes.”
“That’s a lie,” He guesses and Robert looks at him.
He harrumphs and follows Robert downstairs to the fridge and he starts pulling out random ingredients while Aaron sits at the table. He folds his hand under his chin and feels a sense of déjà vu for the first time.
“We did this too.”
Robert looks at him with surprise, “Sort of. I made pasta.”
The flush on Robert’s cheeks is tantalising, “Valentine’s day.”
“Romantic,” He asserts and Robert coughs, “What?”
“It was, your boyfriend would have loved them.”
Well, if that isn’t a slap in the face, he doesn’t know what is, “My what?”
Robert reiterates the story, of how Aaron was trying to make fancy ravioli for Alex only he couldn’t get off work, so Aaron invited Robert to stay and enjoy his own creations.
“Yeah, and?” He has a suspicious feeling there is more to this.
Robert plays dumb and he knows in his gut there’s more by that admission, “Robert.”
“We almost kissed on the sofa.”
That sounds right. Facing Robert and feeling like he wants to kiss him, that rings true.
“You--you were wearing a dark blue shirt.” It feels like he’s hazarding a guess, but not. Like he’s picturing it in his mind, but it’s true.
Robert stops whisking the eggs he has in a bowl and looks at him, “I was. Is that–is that your first memory?”
He roots around further, the hazy gauze over the moment makes it difficult to grasp any of its edges, “I think so.”
Robert looks down and starts whisking the eggs again, “Okay.”
It ends up being a really good omelette. It satisfies his belly and makes him feel full and warm.
They go back upstairs and this time get ready for bed properly. Robert goes first because he knows where everything is. He sets out a pair of pyjamas for each of them to wear, singles out everything that’s his and offers him a towel if he wants to shower.
He comes to think of it and he does feel crusty. Robert leaves the bathroom door open and he shucks off his clothes and gets into a boiling hot shower and lets it at least peel off the first layer of grime with just the water alone. He picks up what is ‘his’ shower gel, sniffs it and puts it down. There’s another, clear bottle and he smells that and recognises it from the robe. It must be Robert’s. The robe as well. He thinks about piles of pants, this shower gel and sadness before he squeezes some out onto a sponge and scrubs himself down with it. He’s suitably pink and raw when he brushes his teeth and dresses.
Robert has cleared the bed, putting the laptop on top of the dresser and he’s on the right side of the bed, fiddling with the ring. He folds it into his palm and tells him, “I’ll keep it safe for you.”
He gets onto the bed on his knees, pushing the duvet out of his way before he offers his hand. Robert stalls and he waggles his fingers.
“It’s my ring, ain’t it?”
The ‘but you don’t remember it’ hangs in the air, but Robert holds his hand still and pushes the metal over his knuckle. He twists it with his thumb and Robert smiles as he does it.
He follows what he has going for instincts and he gets under the duvet, holding his arm open for Robert to lie along his side. Robert looks at him for a second before he slides over and puts his head on his shoulder, his arm tucking around his waist.
They wake up and he’s turned onto his side, his back to Robert, his arm still holding his waist but now his nose is buried in his hairline. His head is banging now so he has to unpeel himself from their warm cocoon to get some painkillers. He moves to get up when Robert’s hand grabs onto his thigh with a mumbled ‘no’.
His body is unaffected by amnesia and has retained all of its normal bodily functions including the happy reaction to Robert’s displeasure at him leaving their bed.
Robert rolls away in sleep and he uses that time to get up and get the painkillers and a glass of water. Slowly things return to standard and he climbs back into bed. Robert is looking at him bleary-eyed and frowny.
He kisses his forehead and tells him, “Go back to sleep.”
It’s a command Robert hears and obeys. It’s another hour or so before Liv starts banging around in the bathroom and the house sort of just wakes up. Robert potters around while Liv eats her breakfast and they move around each other like family and he’s just sort of left. He doesn’t know what his place is in all this.
Liv asks him if he wants to eat and he barely hears her, “Er, no, ta.”
She shares a worried look with Robert and he shakes his head.
“I can see the pair of you, y’know.”
Liv tries to shrug nonchalantly, “There’s just never a time when you don’t want to eat.”
“First time for everything,” He practically grouches at her, but she doesn’t look at him any different.
Fact three: maybe he’s a knob.
“Aaron’s fine, Liv, he’s a grown-up,” Robert says in a way that sounds concerned but he’s actually being a knob.
Fact four: I’m a knob who married a knob.
“Just gimme some soddin’ breakfast then.”
Robert smiles and he realises he’s been trapped. Liv hands him a bowl, the Frosties and the milk. He eats with a glum look on his face and then eats a second bowl just because he realises he likes the taste of it.
Robert kisses the top of his head and freezes after he does it, “Um, I’m just going to talk to Jimmy about getting some time off.”
Liv nods and he folds his arms, “Why? I’m not an invalid.”
He doesn’t know what’s up with him this morning, but he feels all stirred up and ready for a fight.
“Because yesterday my husband got into an accident, lost his entire memory and I was stuck in bloody Leeds for half the night.”
He literally wants to throw out: sounds like a ‘you‘ problem. Then he remembers that mood swings can be a part of the healing process. Which is good, he wants to remember, but bad because he’s stewing before it’s even 8 o’clock.
“Look, Robert, just go to work, alright? I ain’t a danger, Liv’s here–” He looks at her and she nods, “no use in us all being trapped in this.”
“It’s not being trapped, Aaron, it’s wanting to be there for you.”
It’s soft and meant only for him.
“You were there for me. You told me them stories.” And I remembered.
He can see that Robert wants to argue, to plead with him, but he won’t be moved. He feels tired anyway, so he might just sleep again and he says so.
“I’ll work the morning and come back after lunch that’s my only and final offer,” Robert tells him and he agrees.
He watches Robert point to himself, then to Liv.
Everything goes smoothly after that, Robert goes to work, Liv sticks on the telly and he folds himself under the blanket on the sofa and pretends to be a hermit.
“Not much different to normal then,” Liv throws at him as she tidies up some magazines.
He figures that she feels more comfortable with him now. He feels more comfortable in himself. Has more of a sense of himself today. They end up playing old school Scrabble which he’s pretty shit at and Liv wipes the floor with him.
Fact five: bad at spelling and originality.
His mum pops round again and she waddles to sit on his settee and he squishes in next to her as she tells him odd things about himself. He notices she stays pretty close to the surface and that’s fine. Liv does that hovering thing again and then it’s lunchtime and everyone has to eat again.
Robert appears as he’s got a baby with him, “Seb. Sebastian.”
Everyone looks at him and he doesn’t get why, he just takes the baby and bounces him on his hip, “Why you brought us a kid, I don’t know.”
Liv and Chas disappear upstairs, and Robert sits down on the armchair and he sits with the baby on his lap on the settee.
“When I said I hurt you, that we broke up—”
He looks at the little boy in his arms, “You—”
“I cheated on you. Once. Never again, but it gave me Seb.”
“Is his mum—?”
“Disappeared, actually, it’s kind of her thing, but not,” Robert looks a bit jumbled up about it, but he can’t see anything other than vague concern.
“You’re not gay then, like me.”
Robert shakes his head, “No, I’m bisexual.”
It takes a minute to digest, but it’s not like he can feel how it felt to know that Robert had done this thing. He doesn’t know how he felt.
“Why?” He asks.
Robert looks confused.
“Why did you cheat?”
Robert sighs, and as much as he doesn’t want to do this to Robert, to rehash what is obviously painful and they, from what he can tell, were happy before he hit his head, but he needs to at least partially understand.
“You were…gone, and things were said, and I—” Robert’s face shows his struggle in how to phrase it all, “I got drunk and did a stupid, terrible thing. I wish I could take back ever hurting you, but I can’t.”
That he feels. He feels sharpness and grief, but also a longing loneliness. He thinks he remembers lying on his bed just missing Robert and touching the empty space where he was gone.
Fact six: he doesn’t like the feeling of Robert being gone.
Still, Seb wriggles to be let down and Aaron puts him on the floor. He immediately tucks a couple of cushions around him before he stands up and gives Robert a quick kiss.
Robert gives him one sharp nod of his head, “You deserve to know.”
“Yeah, but it’s better now, right? We’re happy.”
Soft lad, he thinks. It also makes him think about his phone, “I broke my phone. Can you get me a new one?”
The next few weeks are hard. He stalls with getting his memories back and he’s spilling out his anger onto everyone else, but mostly Robert. He feels like he makes the most progress when he’s with him but it’s never enough.
They’re in their room having the same drawn-out argument, “You have to give it time, Aaron.”
“Time? What, twenty-six more years’ time?”
“You’re being hard on yourself.”
“Someone has to be.”
“You’re being hard on me!”
That gets him to listen. Robert sighs and sits on the end of the bed.
“I can’t make this better for you, I can’t give you the answers and make them mean something for you.”
“I didn’t ask you to,” He sits down next to Robert, barely touching him but feeling like there is a valley between them.
“Yeah, but seeing you hurting, I can’t handle it.”
Aaron makes the executive decision to take control of things. He nudges his nose against Robert’s as a warning, but he also surges forward to kiss him. Robert has been careful, entirely too careful, about how they touch each other. It’s like an unwritten rule: when you get your memories back. What if he never gets his memories back? Is he supposed to live in a sexless marriage to a man he’s clearly attracted to and is attracted to him?
He’s starting to hate the sound of his own name, “Just kiss me, yeah, nothing else.”
Shackles off, but a barrier in place, Robert lets go a little, manhandles Aaron across his lap and keeps his hands PG over his hoodie but his lips kiss him like how Aaron imagines Robert used to kiss him. It’s lazy and his jaw aches but it’s everything. It lights a fire inside him that burns but doesn’t consume. It’s a toasty fire when you come in from the snow.
Fact seven: he likes hot fires on cold days.
He gets Robert to lie on his back on the bed and he leans over him to steal more kisses. He feels Robert’s fingers smooth over the skin exposed between his jumper and his jeans and he sits up on his thighs.
A promise is a promise.
Robert is a mess and Aaron’s body is hot under his layers, but finally, he feels close to him again.
Robert frowns at him, “What?”
“The wedding, vow renewal, whatever, you didn’t cancel it, did you?”
“No,” Robert sits up and his hand goes to the small of his back to stop him from slipping off Robert’s lap.
“Marry me. Marry me still.”
He can see Robert about to form his name and he covers his mouth with his hand.
“Maybe I’ll be like this forever, maybe I won’t be, but this is our second go of it. Let’s do it properly…for who we are now.”
It makes him feel vulnerable. Maybe Robert doesn’t want to marry him, maybe he’s waiting for the perfect old version of him to reappear one day and that’s the one he’ll promise all of his days to.
Fact eight: this feeling of not being enough feels too familiar.
“Yes, yes, ‘course I’ll marry ya.”
His grin hurts his jaw more, but he doesn’t care.
Robert had steadily been planning the wedding without him but with the wishes he had expressed before his accident. Robert brings him a big book of wedding stuff and asks him if there’s anything he’d change. He touches the invites, the ribbon choices, the pictures of the wedding cake and he feels good about them all.
“You, uh, you didn’t want us to see each other the night before the wedding,” Robert says quietly.
He doesn’t see why that would be a strange request, “Okay?”
Then he gets it. Robert doesn’t want to be away from him.
“I’m not gonna do a runner. Ain’t that for good luck or summat?”
“Prevents bad luck.”
“Can’t be worse than the first wedding, can it? We ended up divorced.” He closes the book and Robert smiles.
“We never actually got ‘married’ so we were never divorced, and I liked our first wedding.”
“Yeah?” Aaron settles in for the story and Robert rolls his eyes.
“It was in the garage.”
Aaron frowns, “What’s with this bloody garage?”
A blush creeps up Robert’s neck, “We, uh, have good memories there.”
Code for sex memories.
“Are you telling me you married me in a garage where we had sex?”
“More like you married me. I wanted to do the whole big thing we had going before your gran got arrested, you—”
Just wanted me.
“You said let’s do it now, regardless.”
“I wasn’t letting you get away.” He figures, and Robert laughs.
“I wasn’t going anywhere, not then, not ever.”
Aaron smiles, running his fingers through Robert’s hair before he leans over and kisses him.
“Me either, so just bugger off for the one night and then we can do the forever thing.”
No one does a runner.
No one comes down with a mystery illness.
No one dies.
Aaron wakes up with butterflies in his stomach because he’s getting married today. He’s got a new suit and a spiffy looking buttonhole and Liv is shoving him to get him out of bed. His bestwoman. He might not remember asking her, but he’s so glad he did. He’s only been able to piece bits of their relationship together, but each bit he cherishes as much as he does his relationship with Robert.
“Brush your teeth or Robert will start running the moment you breathe on ‘im.”
“Such a sweet talker,” He grumbles good-naturedly as he goes into the bathroom for a shower, a shave and for teeth brushing.
There isn’t actually much preparation to do, so he goes over his vows again feeling self-conscious of the fact that they’re so short and they aren’t steeped in history, their history. Maybe its selfish of him to keep Robert like this, tied forever to a man that doesn’t remember him. Not in the way he deserves to be remembered.
“Oi, stop it,” Liv chastises him, and he plasters a smile on and heads down to the church.
They chose to walk down the aisle together, hand in hand, and they’re both obnoxiously smiley and it’s wonderful.
Aaron doesn’t let Robert’s hand go when they reach the altar. Harriet welcomes everyone, and Aaron feels a shiver of déjà vu along his spine and Robert rubs his knuckles to comfort him.
The main part of the service is short and then it comes to their vows. Aaron goes first per his request and he grabs for Robert’s other hand.
“I know this doesn’t make sense. That this wedding was meant for someone else—” Robert shakes his head, but Aaron carries on, “But I love you. I know I love you because in spite of everything there’s this feeling in my chest that never went away. It just got bigger the more I got to know you again. And I didn’t know what it was at first, I didn’t even know it was there because you’re a part of me, Robert; my husband, my family, my home. I want to promise to you that I will be all of those things for you again. That you’ll love this version of me as much as you did that other version.”
He manages to wriggle Robert’s ring onto his finger when Liv hands it to him.
“Aaron—” Robert sniffs and Aaron wetly laughs, “I already love you, ya idiot. I don’t live in our memories. They’re beautiful, but they aren’t you. They aren’t me. They’re a mix of both of us and they’re always changing. Always growing. If I live to be 80, I will have 48 more years of memories with you than I have now. I want that. I want us to have that. I promise to make new memories with you. My husband, my family, my home.”
Vic passes Aaron’s ring to Robert with a tap on his arm.
They’re both laughing at their choice to use the same words as Robert puts his ring on, but they have meaning, even when Aaron heard them through Robert’s voice telling him the story of their reunion he knew they were important.
“If that’s all?” Harriet interjects and they both nod, “Well, I think we can safely pronounce you both husbands. To Aaron and Robert.”
That’s their cue to kiss and Aaron naturally falls in step with Robert who cups his face and kisses him sweetly and shortly. He wraps his arm around Robert’s waist as they face the church. Everyone claps and they even get some petals thrown at their faces.
There’s a cry of “too early, Sam!” and everyone laughs.
The party moves to the Mill and Aaron is sitting on the bonnet of Robert’s car outside the front of the house, and it’s been defaced with balloons and a sign saying ‘Just Married’ taped to the back with empty cans attached to it.
There’s a lot he still doesn’t remember, and people will try and force it if they think they can make him. 9 times out of 10, it won’t work and it just gives him a grumpy headache. So, peace and quiet outside it is.
Robert finds him on the car and sits next to him, “Hey, fancy seeing my husband out here.”
He smiles, “What? Me hiding at a party?”
“Some things never change.”
Robert kisses his temple, “I know you think you’re different because you don’t remember stuff, but you’re still Aaron. Still rude—”
He shoves Robert for that.
“Still humble, still unendingly kind to those you love, still my beautiful husband.”
Who I love.
It’s a sad little fracture, but it’s real. Another piece of a puzzle that maybe doesn’t need solving.
“Aaron, you’ll be okay, whatever happens, because you’re strong. And you’ll have me, and Liv, and your mum. We’ll be ecstatically happy because you’re the love of my life; you. No one else.”
Five years down the line, the doctors think Aaron has remembered all he can. There are some things he’s missing, bits of his and Robert’s affair, the quiet moments that led them to fall in love the first time, his favourite type of ice cream. Then there are things he wishes he could forget again, Gordon. Prison. It’s a mishmash, but Robert was right. He was, and is, fine. He makes new memories with ease and they keep the bad ones at bay.
Fact nine: Aaron is extremely happy with his lot in life, memories or not.