She was going down a magic path, and then at the end there was a spindle, and she’d pricked her thumb. She remembered dad reading about it, when she was very small and sat on his lap.
No. She’d never touched a spindle in her life. She’d been in the car, driving with mom to take things to her college dorm–
No. She was in the museum, and she was 10 years old, and they were talking about how people used to make thread and showing how to use a spindle.
No. She was on a magic path going through a magical forest, all green and gold, and at the end there was a great light, and there she lay on a glass coffin. She walked, in fascination around her won coffin. She was wearing a white dress and clutching a white rose.
Suddenly there was a feeling of…. was she being kissed? And then warm water fell on her face.
Helen woke up. For a moment she didn’t remember how to open her eyes. There was a smell of antiseptic, and several faint distant beeps. Not too far off, someone was crying.
She blinked her eyes, flinched at the light, opened them, and found herself in an hospital room. She found herself sayinng “Spindle” only it didn’t come out as a word at all, but as a sort of wheezy groan ending in a croak.
Suddenly the room was full of people, shouting, checking her. Someone, a doctor? Nurse? was moving a finger in front of her eyes and asking her to follow it with her eyes.
Later they asked her name and date of birth, and she had to clear her throat and drink water someone offered her before being able to tell him.
There was a rush of things, and they rolled her down the hall and into an MRI machine. Inn the process, Helen realized her hair was too long. It bothered her. She always wore her hair short, because of swim team, and also because it was easier to get ready in the morning. She’d never been a morning person. Now her hair was brushing her shoulders and that was strange. And she had no explanation.
It bothered her all the way to being wheeled back into her room, and fed some fairly tasteless green jello.
Afterward she was left alone and looked out the window at the familiar background of downtown and mountains. only there were a couple of buildings she didn’t remember, and no one had told her what she was in the hospital for. She felt like she’d been sick a long time. Like she couldn’t quite muster the right strength on her arms and legs, like… Something was wrong. She’d felt like that before, when she’d had that bad flu at twelve, a year after mom remarried and just before she met Drew. Like the flu had drained all the energy from her body. It had come back. She’d been almost fully back to normal a month later, when she met Drew, though she was still weak and clumsy enough she’d dropped her her books in the hallway and he picked them up. And she’d looked up into his face, with its too-big eyes, surrounded in a hallo of rumpled dark hair, and read in it the same struck-with-wonder expression as she must be showing. It was like the most ridiculous meet cute ever. She’d never even thought of boys or dating before, but…. Drew was like a long-lost part of her.
Her mom and step dad — she didn’t remember her dad except in dreams, because he’d died before she went to first grade — hadn’t liked it. Mostly because… Well, Drew just was the son of a single mother, and his mother was a waitress. And drew wanted to be a musician, which mom said translated to bum. They’d made fun of it, but they’d referred to it as puppy love. As nothing much. They’d joked about it for the next six years.
Just before the accident, she’d been arguing with mom because Drew had asked her to marry him, and mom said going into pre-law Helen was just signing on to be supporting a bum musician forever. He’d be out playing bars and hooking up with girls and Helen would jsut be paying the bills.
But Helen knew Drew, and she couldn’t imagine anything more unlikely. They’d talked. He knew few people made it in music, ever, and he was studying accounting, as a backup. He said he was just trying, but if it didn’t work, he’d make sure he wasn’t a burden. And he’d never really seemed to have any interest in any other girls, just like she’d never had any interest in any other boys. They just weren’t like that.
Besides, she had said yes, and she wasn’t going to take it back. She figured they’d manage one way or another. But mom said getting married early would just mean that she wouldn’t ever go to law school. Helen would end up as a waitress or something. Mom said she herself could have gone far if she hadn’t married dad and then been saddled with Helen when dad died in that stupid war.
She stared at the ceiling and wondered if mom was still mad at her. And why was she in the hospital? She wasn’t in a cast or anything, so what had happened that warranted a hospital? Had she dreamed up the accident? Perhaps she’d had a flu or something.
Perhaps she dozed listening to the background noises of the hospital, because it seemed to her someone magically materialized in the room. He was a young man, wearing scrubs, with a stethoscope around his neck and a bright green plastic clipboard. He grinned at her, “So, how is our miracle lady feeling?”
“Miracle? I’m all right.”
“Good, good. Any memory problems?”
She frowned. “I don’t know. I remember being in a car with my mom, and I think we crashed, but maybe it was a dream. I don’t know? I mean, why am I here?”
“It wasn’t a dream,” he said, the big smile in place. “You crashed.”
“Oh. Well, I don’t remember anything since then. I mean, a lot of dreams about spindles and stuff, but not….”
The bright smile stayed in place, but there was a wrinkle on the forehead. “Why…. why do you think you should remember anything else?”
Helen reached up and touched her hair. “My hair was short.”
“Oh. Oh. Okay, I get it.”
He pulled a chair close to the bed, and said, “Okay, this is going to be a bit of shock, so I want you to take a deep breath and be ready, okay?”
She nodded, somewhat afraid. Had mom died?
“You are right to remember the accident as the last thing that happened to you, though it’s not quite. When your mother hit the SUV, her car was totaled, your mom was fine, and you looked fine, but you would not wake up. No exam we made, including MRIs showed anything wrong with you, and you were belted in and never hit anything. We thought it might be a spinal injury at such a level it didn’t show. Except you’d not wake up. We waited a week, then a month, then we gave you stimulants, but you did not wake up. Your brain activity was the same it would have been if you were in a deep sleep. You reacted to pain or cold, by moving the part pricked with a pin, or exposed to cold, and sometimes you smiled or frowned, though it seemed to have no relation to external stimulus. And you would not wake up.”
“For a month?”
The young man — was he really a doctor. He looked barely older than her 18 years of age — frowned. “No, Hel– Ms. Cockaigne. I’m sorry, we got used to calling you Helen. But…. Ms. Cockaigne, you have been asleep for ten years.”
She didn’t know what she told him afterwards. She didn’t know what happened. She didn’t doubt it, though. That explained her hair, the weakness in her limbs. She had a vague idea he’d talked about neuro-electrical stimulation, and why though she’d need physical therapy her muscles hadn’t completely wasted away, but she hadn’t been fully listening. Her mind had been going through a cycle of its own, spinning over the shock of ten lost years.
Ten years. She wasn’t eighteen but twenty eight. And she’d obviously never gone to college, much less law school. She was a high school graduate and twenty eight years old, only her mind was eighteen. In her mind, last week, Drew had taken her to the ice cream shop for her eighteenth birthday, and he’d proposed. She felt at the fourth finger of her left hand but there was nothing there. Well. Hospitals didn’t let you keep jewelry, did they? Not that it was anything expensive. Just a little thin twist of silver. He’d told her he’d get her a real engagement ring later. He’d gotten a job doing the books for his uncle’s bookstore, and he was saving, so he’d buy her something nice in a month or two.
But her finger felt too naked, and she felt bereft.
It had been ten years. She stared at the ceiling. Did she really expect him to be single, waiting for her? She’d been in a …. what had the doctor called it? persistent vegetative state for ten years.
It hit her suddenly and out of the blue that this must have cost a fortune. Did her step dad’s insurance cover it? If not–
Mom had resented Helen as far back as Helen could remember. Or maybe not that, she had resented that Helen’s dad had died and left her with Helen. She resented having to get a job as a secretary just to pay for their living expenses. Yes, that was how mom had met her next husband, but not six years, and anyway, mom always said she’d been meant for better things. If she hadn’t got married she’d have been a best selling novelist.
Helen tried not to judge, because until she remarried mom had had a very hard life, but all the same, she’d never quite understood what she was supposed to do about it. Other than go to law school and become very rich, and make it up to mom, maybe a bit somehow.
When a nurse came in with a different color of jello, Helen asked, her voice shaking only a little, “Is…. is my mom going to visit? Did you tell her?”
The nurse looked surprised. “That you woke up? Yes. But you know, she’s in Florida….”
So, mom was on a trip. Helen steeled herself for the accounting of how much Helen’s stupid illness had cost, when mom got back.
She’d eaten and started dozing, when the phone rang. “Ms. Helen Cockaigne?”
“I don’t suppose you’d give us an interview?”
“Well, you know, all our viewers want to know what it’s like to be a real life Sleeping Beauty.”
At that moment a nurse had come in, and talked into the phone about how the patient wasn’t well enough for this, and then hung up. Then called reception or whatever a hospital was and said no calls should be directly forwarded to this room, but routed through the nurse’s station.
She’d blushed a little while explaining to Helen, “I’m sorry, but you really do need to rest, and all we need is the phone ringing off the hook, with all the journalists wanting stuff. Let you get a little better first.” She was a big motherly woman, and arranged the covers around Helen as if Helen were about six, as Helen drifted off. She supposed, as she did, that of course there would be a human interest angle to someone who had slept for ten years, after all. She imagined she would be some kind of celebrity for a week or so.
Well, maybe she could do fundraisers and take some of the pressure off mom.”
And the phone rang. She picked up.
“I can’t believe you’d pull this, now.” It was mom’s voice and she sounded very, very angry. “He put you up to it, didn’t he? All for the publicity and to paint me as a villain!”
“What? I haven’t talked to Drew in…. I guess ten years.”
“That’s what you say. But my lawyers will hear of this. There’s such a thing as slander, you know?”
The phone went dead, and Helen blinked. What did Drew have to do with this.
Just then a nurse, this one young and very pretty, looked in and stared at her. “Ms. Cockaigne– Oh, no.” She said, staring at Helen who was still holding the phone, and she was sure, pale at the onslaught of anger from Mom. “I’m sorry, she said she was your mother, and I–“
“She was. She is.”
“Oh.” Then she took a deep breath. “Well, there’s someone here to see you, and he wondered if you’d let him come in. He says if you’re very tired he won’t, but he–” The nurse blushed. “Well, I’m sure you’ll want to see him.”
“Who is it?”
“Drew– That is Mr. Andrew Alexander.”
Helen couldn’t find words, but nodded.
Dew was dressed expensively. That was her first thought. He was wearing jeans and a dark blue t-shirt, but it had that look of clothes that had actually been fitted and were made of very good materials.
He was…. older. But not old. Though she had to argue with her eighteen year old mind over that, he didn’t look old. He’d just finished growing and filled in. He was the man the boy had promised to become. But his face was the same, with the dark eyes too big for him, and looking somewhat anxious. And his hair, though it was obvious at some point it had been cut very carefully, was all on end. She smiled, suddenly, finding her familiar Drew. Drew ran his fingers through his hair while thinking, so his hair never stayed combed for more than a few minutes.
He stopped at the door, but when she smiled, he rushed in, and pulled the chair that was on the door side of the bed, not the one the doctor had used. He removed a book from it, to the bedside, and then sat down. He blushed a little, under…. well, it was interesting for Drew to have a dark five-o-clock shadow.
Catching her looking, he gave a chuckle, and ran his hand across his cheek. “I’m sorry, I was on a plane to New York City when they called, and I had arranged to come back. I haven’t shaved. It’s just good they called before I was on a plane to Germany.”
“Germany? Do you live there?”
He laughed. “No…. just a t- Trip.”
“I can’t believe you’re awake. I hoped so much, I waited so long.” He reached for her hand atop the covers, then hesitated, and she closed the distance, grabbing for his hand. His hand warm and felt strong, the fingertips calloused.
“I can’t believe I’ve been asleep that long.”
“Well, you know how you used to cut corners and sleep only a couple of hours, to study and everything? It just caught up with you.” His hand squeezed hers, and she found a little laugh.
“I just feel terrible for giving everyone so much trouble,” she said.
He shook his head. “It’s not like you did it on purpose.”
“My mom called. She thought I had. She said I…. arranged it with you. She said it was slander.”
“What is slander? Is she out of her mind? I’m not even giving any interviews.”
Helen frowned, “Why would you give interviews? She said her lawyers–“
“Yeah, there’s kind of a court case. May I explain?”
“Of course,” Helen said. “I’m tired of feeling like I don’t understand anything.”
“Okay. So….” He took a deep breath. “I’m kind of a pop start.”
She blinked. “Kind of?”
“Well, it was like this, for two years after…. well…. you know, after your accident, I worked for my uncle, and I went to college, but I was writing songs and putting them up on youtube, and eventually, it just sort of exploded, and then I got a recording contract, and–” he sighed. “I’ll tell you everything, someday, but anyway, I became a pop star.”
“That– That’s nice.”
“It’s mostly a lot of work,” he said. “And I learned to have agents and press secretaries and lawyers defend my privacy, so I could do the work where it counted: in the songs.”
“Yes, of course,” she said. So, mom had been wrong. “I remember you always told me that you needed luck, but also a lot of work to make it in music, and that you had to try, but you might never make it, because you didn’t know if you could work that hard, even if you got lucky.”
He blushed, and squeezed her hand. “I had to. I had someone to look after.”
“Of course,” she said. She’d been steeling herself for this since she’d found out it had been ten years. But perhaps they could still be friends. She couldn’t imagine losing Drew forever. “Of course you’re married. What’s her name.”
He flinched back, “No, of course I’m not married. They don’t let you marry people who aren’t conscious.” And before she could react. “Which was the problem. See, your mom’s insurance, or I guess your stepfather’s, cared for you till two years ago, when you turned 26, and then your mom said they should let you go.”
“Let me go?”
“Stop care. Turn off the machines. After eight years, all the doctors said you’d never wake up–“
“But…. she didn’t?”
“No. I….” He blushed. “I asked your mother and step father to let me pay for it. So they let me. But they want to move to Florida. They’ve moved to Florida a couple of months ago, actually. And they felt better about leaving you…. well…. across the country, so they wanted to disconnect you. And I sued to stop them. I’ve been keeping it tied up in court. Only….” He paused. “Only yesterday a decision came down in their favor. They are your legal guardians. And I had to go on tour. So–” He sighed. “I’m sorry. I came in to read to you, I don’t suppose you remember?”
She shook her head. Then said, “I remember someone kissing me…. And something wet.”
He laughed. “Men don’t cry, so it couldn’t possibly be one of my tears that was wet, but I did kiss you. You know, I thought it was goodbye.”
“So, ” she said. “That was why you– why the press is calling. You’re famous. And the lawsuit.”
They were silent a long time. “I know you might never forgive me for all this. I didn’t mean the lawsuit to become public. I didn’t want to air out everything. I really didn’t, but it’s very hard, even with all the buffers to keep my life out of the press. I know that’s…. You might not want to sign up for that, and I’m sorry I dragged you into it.”
He squeezed her hand. “I’ll go now,” he said. “I think you need to rest.”
She wanted to tell him to wait, but her mind was in a whirl. After a while she rang the nurse’s button. “I hear I’m a cause celebre in the press. I want magazines. Do you have magazines and papers about me? About?”
The nurse, the young one, nodded.
She read for hours. Drew had not been public about his attachment to her until her mom had sued to disconnect her from life support. Then it had come out he’d visited her every day of her coma, and read to her. The whole thing had come out, and the press had become very excited about it, because it explained why Drew Alexander didn’t have a love life. Because he was in love with this girl who wasn’t conscious. The press called her Sleeping Beauty.
And Drew hadn’t exactly been very honest with her. The most sensational tabloids pointed out he’d bought her parents a vacation house in Florida for the privilege of also paying the exorbitant bills of her care.
Eventually she fell asleep, but she woke up in the morning, to the excitement of being allowed tea and toast, and felt like she’d been thinking all night.
Drew had invested so much in her, spent so much time dreaming about her. Could she ever live up to it? Or was she just a dream in his head? And did he even still love her, now she’d woken up?
He’d left without saying anything about their relationship.
She had a physical therapy session, and been allowed, or forced to take a few steps, holding on to a walker, which felt ridiculous but was also extremely tiring. She supposed she had to learn to walk again. Stupid the things you forgot.
Back in her room, she reached for and got the book he’d been reading to her. It was a book of fairy tales and the book mark was on sleeping beauty. She read it, frowning. Well, at least she hadn’t slept a hundred years. Though she thought Drew had got past enough brambles–
“Knock Knock,” Drew’s voice from the door.
“Oh,” she said, closing the book. “I thought you’d be in Germany.”
“No. Cancelled the tour, of course.”
“But….” She’d gathered just how big he was from the magazines. “That must be very expensive.”
“It’s only money.” He sat down by the bed.
“Must be nice.”
“That part is.”
She felt her cheeks grow hot. “I read magazines, and everything you did, and– I’m sorry. I’ll try to pay you back. I don’t know how but I’ll figure it out.”
“I don’t need you to pay me back.” He reached in his pocket and brought out a box. He opened it to show a ring. It was very simple, but probably not silver, even if it was that color, and it had a diamond in the middle, that seemed to sparkle with white fire. “Marry me, Helen.”
Her voice went away again. She’d thought of all the reasons she shouldn’t. People would say it was publicity. Her mom would say– She looked up and met his eyes, and like all those years ago, in the school hallway, she felt they belonged together. They’d always belonged together. “You can’t possibly want to marry someone with the mind of an eighteen year old.”
“It’s not an eighteen year old. It’s you. It’s your mind.” He was very serious. “And yes, I want to marry you. I was going to give you more time, but I don’t want to. I waited so long–” He swallowed. “I know you have to be crazy to marry me. You’ll start getting death threats from groupies tomorrow. And you’ll need secretaries and body guards just to keep your privacy, but I love you Helen. And I want us to be married.”
She felt her voice was lacking, again. When she found it, she said, “I don’t care about all that, if I get time with you. If I get to be your wife.”
“All the time you want. And that’s what I want too. For you to be my wife. For me to be your husband. I don’t care about anything else.”
“Well, then, yes, I will marry you.” Her voice felt hoarse and choked with tears, though she wasn’t the slightest bit sad.
He leaned over and kissed her. And then she knew she really was awake.