Astrid opened her eyes. All she could see were shadows—human shaped shadows leaning over her. All she could hear were whispers and beeps and a swooshing sound. Every single part of her hurt. Then everything went black. When she opened her eyes again, things made more sense. She was in a hospital room. Light was streaming in through the window blinds. A woman in colorful hospital scrubs was leaning over her.
“Awake?” the woman asked.
Astrid tried to nod, but she couldn’t. So she tried to speak but the only thing that came out was a croak.
“Don’t try to move your head. It’s immobilized. Let me get you a sip of water.” She held up a cup with a straw and Astrid sipped. It was like swallowing razor blades. “I know. It hurts. Don’t worry. It will get better. Try another sip.”
“Are you… nurse?” Astrid managed after the second sip.
“Yes. My name is Amelia. I’m your day nurse. I’m going to get the doctor. If you promise not to try to move very much, I’ll unfasten your hands.”
Up until that moment, Astrid hadn’t realized it, but her hands were tied to the sides of the bed. She saw, once Amelia had untied them, that there were intravenous fluids going through a needle stuck in her left arm behind her left wrist. Her right arm was in a cast. The nurse left, and returned a few minutes later with a dark-haired, handsome man wearing a white lab coat.
“Hello, Astrid,” he said. “I’m Dr. Phillips. I’m going to take a quick look at you, if you don’t mind.” He looked at her eyes with a tiny flashlight and then examined the top of her head.
“Can you wiggle your fingers? How about your toes.” All of the appendages seemed to be functioning correctly.
“What happened?” Astrid’s voice was a whisper.
“Well, what do you remember?”
“Nothing? Do you know your name? Do you know how old you are?”
“I’d know I was Astrid even if I didn’t remember. You just called me that. I’m Astrid Maxxim. I’m fifteen.”
“Where do you live?”
“I… I don’t remember. I… I live in a really big house.”
“Do you remember your school?”
“I… I’m a sophomore. I know that.” She clenched her fists in frustration. “Can you untie my head?”
“All right. When you started to come to yesterday, you began jerking around a lot in your sleep. We didn’t want you to send yourself back into surgery”
As the doctor removed whatever was holding her head, she reached up and touched her scalp, finding that her beautiful shoulder-length strawberry blonde hair was gone. In its place was an unruly mass of spikes about an inch long.
“When did I have surgery? What happened to me?”
“You had brain surgery three weeks ago. You had an accident. That’s all you really need to know right now.”
“Was anyone else hurt?”
“No, Astrid. You were the only one.”
Exhaustion suddenly overcame her, and Astrid closed her eyes and let sleep swallow her up again. In and out of slumber, time seemed to lose all meaning. Then she was awake again and Amelia was giving her a sweet, soothing drink.
“Astrid, there are a couple of people who really want to see you,” said the nurse. “Do you feel up to visitors?”
Her nurse stepped out of the room, and a moment later Astrid’s mother stepped in, hurrying over to her side. Kate Maxxim was just as beautiful as ever, tall and elegant with the same shade of strawberry blond hair that her daughter now missed. She looked very tired. The blue business suit she wore was a bit crumpled. On her heels was a man in a white shirt with a blue tie.
“How are you feeling, Sweetie?”
“Better now that you’re here, Mom. It’s so disorienting to wake up and not know where you are or how you got here.”
“It’s all better now,” said Mrs. Maxxim. “Don’t worry about remembering the accident. The doctors said you might have a little trouble with your memory at first.”
“Yeah. It’s weird. I remember my room, but I c… can’t remember our address. It’s just right there. I just can’t quite get it. I want to talk to you about it. I know I can remember then.”
Her mother sat down in the chair on Astrid’s left side.
“We’ll have a nice long talk right now. We’ll talk about anything you want to.”
“Great,” said Astrid with a sigh. She pointed to the man with the blue tie. “Let’s let this doctor check me out first and then we can talk without being disturbed.”
“Astrid, this isn’t a doctor,” said her mother, suddenly looking alarmed.
“Astrid, don’t you know me?” the man asked.
She looked up into his friendly face and kind eyes behind horn rimmed glasses. He was handsome with his brown hair just turning grey at the temples.
“I don’t think we’ve ever met,” said Astrid.
“Honey, this is your father,” said Mrs. Maxxim.
“Is he?” asked Astrid with wonder. “Then… um, are you two married?”
“Yes,” Mrs. Maxxim’s voice cracked when she answered.
“It’s nice to meet you,” said Astrid, looking up at him. A tear slid down his face from behind his glasses. “Should I call you Dad or Daddy?”
“You call me Dad.”
“I do? You mean we’ve met?”
“Yes Astrid. We’ve lived together all your life.”
“Um, Dad? Do you think I could talk to Mom alone for a little while?”
The man nodded and quickly left the room.
“I feel really bad,” said Astrid. “I probably really hurt his feelings, but I don’t remember him at all.”
“It’s okay, Honey. Don’t feel bad. Your memory will come back and everything will be fine.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes,” said her mother forcefully. “I’m sure.”
“Okay. Please, Mom. Tell me what happened to me. I know I had an accident, but I don’t know anything else.”
“I can tell you some of it, Astrid. The doctors don’t want us telling you anything except what we know for sure. They think you might create false memories based on what you hear from us. That might make it harder for your own memories to come back. The truth is, I don’t know all the details. All I know is that you were on a field trip with your class and you fell while climbing and hit your head. You were bleeding into your brain and the doctors had to rush you into surgery to relieve the pressure. You also broke your arm and two ribs, and you have a couple of other hairline fractures.”
“It was Outdoor Survival.”
“No. I don’t remember falling or even a field trip. I do know I have Outdoor Survival seventh period. Austin sits next to me.”
“You remember Austin?” asked her mother.
“Sure,” said Astrid. “Oh no! I didn’t miss his birthday, did I? It’s February third.”
“Oh, I’m afraid so. That was a week and a half ago. Would you like Austin and your friends to come visit you? They’ve all been asking about you.”
“Sure, that would be great.”
“Can we have your father come back in?”
Astrid nodded. Her mother went out and returned with the man she said was Astrid’s father. They both sat down and the three of them talked about home and about their work at Maxxim Industries. Astrid really couldn’t remember anything about her father, but she liked him. They began discussing Astrid’s inventions, but at some point in the conversation, Astrid drifted off. When she woke, her mother was gone, but her father was still there.
“You invented the hoverdisk, didn’t you?” she asked him.
“Did you remember that?”
“Not really. I deduced it. I remember building my hoverbike and using hoverdisks. I didn’t invent them, so they had to come from somewhere. I know my mother isn’t an inventor, so it must have been you.”
“Brilliant as always,” he said, smiling weakly.
“Can I see your phone?”
He pulled it from his pocket and unlocked it with his fingerprint, before handing it to her. Once she had it in her hand, she flipped open the photo app and began scrolling through it.
“Lots of pictures of me,” she said. “It’s a good thing I know you’re my dad or I would think you were some kind of weird stalker.”
“When I come back tomorrow, I’ll bring your tablet and then you can look through all your pictures. That might spark some memories for you.”
“Can’t I just come home?” asked Astrid.
“The doctors say not for a few more days.”
She held up the phone with a picture of two men sitting together.
“Are you Uncle Carl’s brother?”
“You remember Uncle Carl?”
“Yes. It’s so strange. I remember Uncle Carl and I remember he’s married, but I can’t remember anything about his wife.”
“Do you remember his daughter?”
“Uncle Carl has a daughter?”
“Yes, and yes, Carl is my brother. Do you remember Aunt Penny?”
Astrid shook her head.
“Well, at least you remember somebody from my family,” he said.
“I’m really sorry, um… Dad.”
“That’s okay, Astrid. Everything will be all right.”