(Thanks to Irk for being my beta, I really appreciated her help)
It all started with the sound of a plate hitting the floor.
Zoey had been taking the dishes out of the dishwasher when one of the plates slipped out of her fingers and crashed to the floor. The sound of the dish shattering rang throughout the whole house.
Zoey had just entered her seventies and so kneeling down to the floor to pick up the pieces made her knees and back ache, but she stayed in that position for several minutes until Mike came in. He saw the shattered plate on the floor, and he saw Zoey holding the pieces. Her hair was pulled back in a bun, and wisps of it fell around her face.
"Zoey, what's going on?" he asked.
Zoey looked up at him helplessly. "How do you fix a broken plate?"
Mike got the broom and dustpan and swept up the pieces. He threw them away but then saw that she was still holding two of the pieces. He reached down to take them, but Zoey wouldn't let go.
"Mike stop it!" she said. "We have to fix the plate."
"It's okay, we'll buy a new plate, this one can't be fixed. Give me the pieces," he said. It confused him when she was still reluctant to let go. She finally let him have the pieces, and he was relieved to see that she hadn't been cut by them.
Mike threw the pieces away and when he turned back around, Zoey asked, "Where did the plate go? It was here just a minute ago."
Mike was starting to become concerned. "I just threw it away. Don't you remember, Zoey?"
"Did you? I must have not been paying attention," she said simply.
Mike feared it was more than that, but he didn't press the matter further. But over the next few weeks, more incidents like that one began to happen. Mike found the remote to the TV in the freezer, and he found his shoes hanging on the coat rack. But these were small things that he could easily brush off and laugh about. He and Zoey were both retired and gray-haired; it was normal for people their age to have occasional slips in their memory. These were harmless little mistakes, nothing that they couldn't deal with. Mike told himself that it wouldn't get any worse than that, and for a time it didn't. But gradually, it did get worse.
"Dinner's ready!" Zoey called one evening.
Mike hobbled into the kitchen with his cane, the aroma of their dinner bringing out his appetite. But he was confused when he saw that there were five plates set on the table, instead of just two.
"Are we expecting guests?" he asked as he took his place.
"No, should we be?" Zoey asked as she brought dinner to the table.
"Well, you've got three extra plates set."
"Those aren't extras, silly," she said with a giggle. "What, do you expect your own kids to go hungry?"
Realization struck Mike like a brick wall. "Sweetie, the kids don't live here anymore, remember? They're married, they have their own families now."
"No, they're much too young for that. Jack only just lost his first tooth, and Noel hasn't even finished kindergarten yet. Now would you go get them for me?"
Mike was shocked. He didn't know how he should be handling this, so he said the first thing that popped into his head: "The kids are all on sleepovers."
"On a school night?"
Mike forced a smile and said, "I think we can let it slide just this once."
Zoey sighed in exasperation and said, "They are going to be so spoiled. Oh well, just this once."
Dinner passed with no other incidents, and Mike once again told himself that there was nothing to worry about. After all, once or twice he had called out his kid's names, only to remember a second later that they didn't live there anymore. Everyone had slips in their memory from time to time, completely normal.
Mike continued to look the other way until he couldn't any longer.
Zoey had been out driving to pick up groceries in the middle of the afternoon. As she was driving home, she fell asleep at the wheel and her car ran into a parked car. Neither she nor anyone else were injured, but her license was taken so she was no longer allowed to drive.
Mike rushed to the hospital after he got the call. He found her in her room chatting to the nurse as the nurse took her blood pressure.
"You say you have a son? I've got two boys of my own, tiny things like their daddy. Jack is a musician and Riley is a writer, they're both so talented. The funniest thing happened the other day, Jack nearly wore his pajamas to school. Mike had to run and stop him before he got on the bus."
The nurse smiled and finished taking her blood pressure. She turned to Mike and said, "Your wife is fine, not a scratch on her."
"Thank you," said Mike, though he would decide that for himself. The nurse left them alone and Mike went by Zoey's side to make sure she was okay. He asked her about each body part in case the nurse had missed something.
"Calm down Mike, I'm fine. Don't fuss over me," she said with a wave of her hand. "A car just got in my way, is all. I guess you'll be my chauffeur from now on," she said with a cheerful smile.
Mike had expected Zoey to be more upset about losing her license, but she didn't seem to mind. She kept talking about the nice police officers and the nice doctor who had taken care of her. Mike tried to tell himself yet again that there was nothing to worry about, but he couldn't deny the reality of the situation any longer. Zoey was facing dementia.
In the following weeks, there were some changes that had to be made to Mike and Zoey's lifestyle.
Mike took Zoey to the doctor to start. Although she insisted that she was healthy as a horse, the doctor confirmed her diagnosis and prescribed her some pills to take to help with her condition. Every day Mike had to make sure she took them because she would forget, and even if she did remember she didn't think she needed them. Mike started making Zoey lists of tasks that needed to be done every day and he left sticky notes everywhere to remind her of things. The reminders helped her a lot, just as they did for him when his DID made him forget things. Mike also had to keep a closer eye on her. Zoey was fine for the most part, but there were times when she would put something in the oven and forget about it, or lock herself out of the house.
"My hero," she said one day after Mike got her inside the house.
Mike smiled a half-smile at her and said, "My pleasure."
The funny thing was, when her memory problems started, she seemed to become more energetic than before. She planted a flower garden in the backyard, something she hadn't done in a few years. She also started sewing more clothes for their grandkids more often, to the point that they didn't know what to do with all of them. But best of all, when her hands were too tired from gardening or sewing, she would insist on going to the park for a walk with Mike.
"But we just went two hours ago!" said Mike with a laugh.
"Did we? Oh well, it's a beautiful day!"
It was a beautiful summer day, Mike couldn't deny that. He couldn't stop smiling as Zoey took him by the hand and stopped to admire every flower and tree in the park. It was tedious stopping to look at them all, but Zoey was enraptured by each one, and her happiness was contagious.
After looking at the trees and flowers in half the park, Mike managed to get Zoey to stop and sit down on a park bench for a while so they could both rest. As they were watching children play, Manitoba Smith took Mike by surprise and came out. Mike's alters didn't come out as much now that he was older, but they still showed themselves on occasion.
"G'day sheila," he said. "If you'll excuse me, I've got some exploring to do."
"Oh, really? I'll go with you," said Zoey.
Manitoba thought it was odd that she was so eager to join him, but he just shrugged it off and went on his way into the woods nearby, with Zoey following him like a shadow. He collected some mushrooms and some herbs he found, along with any other odds and ends, such as a button, a cracked compass, and a candy wrapper. Zoey helped him carry the things he found.
"Would you take a look at this tree!" Manitoba said, standing by an old oak tree. "I reckon it's the tallest one in this forest, and the branches are perfect for climbing. I could see for miles up there."
Mike's alters knew that the body was old now and wasn't capable of doing the things it used to do and so they didn't take as many risks, but their perception was still off about these things at times. Manitoba had a harder time climbing the tree, but he ignored the extra strain and took it in stride. He climbed all the way to the top as Zoey watched from the ground.
"Mike! You shouldn't be climbing up there! You'll get hurt!" she called up to him, but Manitoba wasn't listening.
Manitoba made it to the top and stayed there for several minutes, taking in the view and congratulating himself for making it so far in such a frail body. Once he was satisfied he began to climb down. He was nearly there when Mike suddenly took back control. So startled and disoriented was he that he lost his grip and fell to the ground.
"Mike!" Zoey cried. She ran to him and found him unconscious on the ground. She couldn't get him to wake up, so she knelt down and hoisted him up on her back and dragged him out. Even with Mike being as skinny as he was, with her fragile arms and legs it felt like she was carrying a boulder on her back. It was slow going, but she forged on.
She made it to the edge of the forest, and one of the parents of the children playing called 911. Other parents rushed to their aid, taking Mike off Zoey's back and helping her sit down. They looked after Mike until the ambulance arrived. He had a broken arm, but miraculously nothing worse than that.
The second Mike's eyes opened in the hospital, Zoey threw her arms around his neck.
"Oh Mike, I was so worried. Don't ever do that to me again," she said in relief.
"What happened?" he asked.
"Don't you remember? You were climbing a tree like you thought you were Indiana Jones or something."
Mike blinked in shock. Did she really not know? "Zoey, that wasn't me. That was Manitoba, you know that."
"Who's Manitoba? There wasn't anyone else with you, you climbed that tree all on your own. It wasn't a very smart thing to do, being a man of your age," she scolded. She sighed and said, "Just be more careful, okay? I was worried you would never wake up."
Mike felt a deep hurt in his chest, even though he knew it was irrational. All these years Zoey had known and understood that he couldn't control what his alters did, and she had always supported him through the aftermath. But now she didn't know the difference between him and his alters, she didn't realize that the one who had made him climb the tree wasn't her husband. He knew it wasn't her fault, she couldn't help it. But even so, he felt like part of their connection was gone.
After that day in the hospital, caring for Zoey felt more like a chore for Mike. He still always made sure she had her pills and anything else she needed, but while before he had been glad to do it, now it just felt tiresome.
He felt terrible for it, and he wished he didn't feel that way, but he did. He wasn't even entirely sure why. Part of it was the incident at the hospital, but that wasn't all of it. He couldn't seem to place it, until one day during breakfast.
"Here you go Zoey, blueberry muffins. Don't forget to take your pills," Mike said as he handed her her plate.
"Thanks Mike," she said with a beaming smile. He struggled to return it, but she didn't seem to notice.
Just then, the phone rang. Mike went to answer it. "Hello?"
"Hey Daddy," Noel greeted brightly. "How's Mom doing this morning?"
"She's doing fine," Mike replied. "How's it going over there?"
"I just got through with breakfast and the kids are on the bus to school. Breakfast is so chaotic, you wouldn't even believe. I wanted to talk to Mom about what we're going to do to celebrate the birthdays this month, we've got two or three with the kids."
"All right, I'll let you talk to her." Mike looked to her and said, "Zoey, Noel wants to talk to you."
Mike handed her the phone. Zoey greeted Noel, "Good morning, sweetheart."
While they talked, Mike went to use the bathroom and take his own pills. When he came back, Zoey held the phone out to him and said, "Noel wants to talk to you."
Mike took the phone back and said, "Noel?"
"Dad, I think Mom's getting worse," said Noel with concern in her voice.
"What do you mean?" Mike asked. He left the room so Zoey wouldn't hear their conversation.
"She couldn't remember most of her grandkid's names. I told her their names and she seemed to remember a little, but I don't think it'll last long. At least she remembered that I'm grown and married this time. Dad, I'm really worried about her."
"I know," Mike replied somberly. "I know it'll be hard on the kids when they see her again if she can't remember their names."
"They'll understand, they know she's doing her best. Is there anything I can do to help?"
"We're okay, I promise. It's hard, but we'll make it. After all, we've been through worse."
"I'm proud of you Dad, for handling this so well. As hard as it's been for us, I know it's so much worse for you. I'll come and visit soon and bring the kids, it'll do us all some good."
"Thanks Noel. I love you," Mike said softly.
"Love you too, Daddy."
Mike hung up the phone and ran a hand through his thinning hair. He closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. He realized why he had been feeling resentful of Zoey lately, and he needed to talk to someone. He picked up the phone again and started to dial his therapist, but then stopped. He needed to talk to someone more personal, his best friend after all these years.
Cameron answered the phone and said, "Morning, Mike."
"Cam, I need to talk to you."
"Is it about Zoey?"
Mike paused. "How did you know?"
"Educated guess. Is she okay?"
"She is, but… I'm not sure how to say this."
"Just say it, whatever it is you can tell me."
Mike sighed and said, "She's having trouble remembering the names of our grandkids, and half the time she doesn't remember that our kids have grown up and live on their own."
"That's normal for people with this condition. It's hard on the family, but it's only to be expected," Cameron replied.
"Cam, when I was in the hospital after Manitoba broke my arm, Zoey thought I was the one who climbed the tree. She's not distinguishing me from them anymore."
"Again, that's only to be expected."
"I know that, but it goes deeper than that. I've been feeling resentful of all the things I'm having to do for Zoey lately and I hate myself for it. I mean, I'm glad that I get to do it. As long as we've known each other, she's done nothing but support me. I've had problems with memory and perception for nearly my entire life, and she always helped me and asked for nothing in return. I've always tried to make it up to her, I tried to give her everything but I knew I could be doing more, I just didn't know how. Now the time has come and our roles are reversed, and I finally have the chance to repay her for all she's done for me.
"But I don't know if I can do this, if I can handle this. In my case, Zoey knew I would come back when my alters took over. She had to wait sometimes, but I always came back. But in her case, I don't know if she can come back." Mike had to stop for a moment as tears ran down his face. "I feel like I'm losing her, and I feel like she's losing me. I'm so scared Cam, so scared that one day we'll wake up, and Zoey will think she's sharing a bed with a stranger. I'm so scared that one day she'll forget me entirely, and all our years together will mean nothing to her anymore."
Cam took his time in answering, and when he spoke, his voice sounded husky, like he was fighting back his emotions so he could talk to Mike. "There's no easy answer here, Mike. While you're losing your wife, I'm losing one of my closest friends. Zoey's not going to get better, but you still have this time with her. Even if there comes a day when she looks at you and doesn't know who you are anymore, you can make it because of all the time you were given. But even if she can't remember you, I don't think she could ever stop loving you."
Another tear rolled down Mike's face. He took a deep breath and said, "Zoey was so strong, she made it look easy. If she could do it, then I can do it too. No matter what happens, she'll always be Zoey, and that's what matters."
Months passed. The progression of Zoey's condition seemed to have slowed. She still had memory problems, but they hadn't worsened, which was a great relief to Mike. He had become much more adept at helping and supporting Zoey; he was so used to it now, there were times when he didn't even have to think about it, he just did it.
It was wintertime, shortly after Christmas. Even though both Christmas and New Years' had passed them by, not one of their decorations had been taken down yet. It would be a lot of work to take them down, and both Mike and Zoey enjoyed them too much to take them down anyway.
Mike and Zoey were sitting on the couch one night, bundled up in a blanket with hot chocolate while watching a movie.
"Mike!" Zoey suddenly exclaimed. "I just realized that we haven't bought any Christmas presents yet! If we don't hurry, we'll have nothing to give the kids for Christmas."
"It's okay Zoey, we don't need to have their gifts ready yet. We still have plenty of time." Eleven months to be exact, but Mike didn't mention that.
"Are you sure? Just think how disappointed they'll be if we forget Christmas," said Zoey as she bit her lip in worry. "Let's see if I remember correctly… Noel wants new skates, Jack wants a skateboard, and Riley wants that new game system, whatever it's called. I need to make sure I get them enough."
"We'll get to work on it soon, I promise," said Mike. That Christmas, they had done things differently. To make sure everyone got what they really wanted, Mike chose the presents they bought for them, and he let Zoey hand them out.
"Oh Mike, I'm so excited for Christmas this year. You already put up all the decorations, and even though it is a bit early, I think they look especially beautiful this year. In fact, I-" Zoey was interrupted by a sudden coughing fit.
"Zoey, are you okay?" Mike asked when the coughing fit abated.
"I'm all-" but before she could finish her sentence, she was seized by another fit of coughing.
Worried, Mike got up and got Zoey's jacket. He put it around her and then led her out the door to the car. Outside, Mike felt Zoey's skin. The air was freezing but she was burning up.
"Where are we going?" Zoey asked when she caught her breath.
"To the hospital, but don't worry," he said with a smile.
"Why would I be worried? It's just a little cold, that's all. I was bound to catch one sooner or later, it is winter after all." Zoey had barely finished speaking when she started coughing again.
Mike let the forced smile drop from his face. He hoped she was right and that it was just a cold, but he wasn't about to take that chance.
By the time they were at the hospital and in the waiting room, Zoey's symptoms had gotten worse. She was coughing harder and had trouble catching her breath. She was dizzy and she grasped her chest in pain. It was all Mike could do to keep from yelling at the nurses to get Zoey some help as the minutes ticked by. The emergency room was overrun and the staff was limited.
After an hour of waiting, a doctor finally came to see them. By that time, Zoey was barely conscious. She was taken back but Mike wasn't allowed in while they worked on her. Mike called their children and then anxiously paced around the waiting room with his cane.
Jack and his wife were the first to arrive. "We came as soon as we got the call. What's going on?" he asked.
"Zoey is very sick, they're working on her now. It was so sudden, one minute she was fine, and the next…" Mike trailed off.
"Let's sit down, Dad." Mike sat down at Jack's request and he sat down beside him. "Are you all right?"
"I will be, if Zoey is," he replied.
"The others are on the way, we'll stay as long as you need us," said Jack with a small, reassuring smile.
"Thanks Jack," said Mike gratefully.
A few minutes later a doctor came out to see them. "Mr. Skinner?"
"How is my wife?" Mike stood up and asked.
"Sir, your wife has pneumonia, and it doesn't look good," the doctor said gently.
"What do you mean? Is she okay?"
"We're doing everything we can," the doctor said. His expression was grave, Mike knew what he meant without him having to say it.
Mike crumpled back in his seat, and Jack said, "Thank you, doctor. Can we see her?"
The doctor nodded and took them to her room. Zoey was hooked up to several tubes and wires, it killed Mike to see her this way. Her eyes were closed, so at least she was sleeping and unaware of what was going on.
Mike was reeling in shock, his emotions were still raw and all he could do was sit down by the bed and look at her. Jack knelt down by his mother's side and took her hand.
"Hey Mom," said Jack with tears in his eyes. He made an effort to smile even though she couldn't see it. "It's me, Jack. You know, if you wanted to see me this badly, you could have just called."
He gripped her hand tighter and said, "We've all got to go sometime, don't feel obligated to stay just on my account, but please wake up one more time. You can't go without telling your favorite son goodbye."
Jack's attempts at using humor to keep from crying failed. Tears escaped his eyes as he kissed her forehead. "Just let me say goodbye first, okay?" He let go of her hand and went to stand with his wife, who held onto him to console him.
It wasn't long after that when Riley and Noel arrived as well. Both looked worried and distraught when they saw their mother lying there. Mike couldn't even summon the strength to say anything to them when they came in. All he could do was look at them with eyes full of despair.
Riley went to his mother's side and took her hand as Jack had done. "So it's true, you really are sick. I had hoped the doctors were just exaggerating, but that was stupid of me, I know. Can you hear me? I hope you can, and I wish you would answer, because I hate one-sided conversations."
He cleared his throat and wiped at his eyes as he said, "You know, you made Christmas really special for the kids this year. They love their Nana, and I wish you could see them one more time. I'd give anything for just one more Christmas with the whole family, wouldn't you? It just won't be the same without you."
Riley moved back and Noel took her turn. "Hi Mama. I'm sorry you have to be in the hospital so soon after the holidays. You should be at home where you belong. I've been meaning to call you. When you came over to our house for Christmas. I forgot to give you one of your gifts. I brought it with me, and you can open it when you wake up. It's mainly from the kids, so you'd better open it or they'll be disappointed." Noel's voice broke on the last word and her eyes stung with tears. "Oh Mom, don't go yet. This was so sudden, I can't let go yet. Please come back."
They stayed up all night by Zoey's side. None of them got even a minute of sleep. Zoey remained unconscious, and throughout the night she had several close calls and the nurses had to be called in. Through it all Mike stayed where he was, not speaking to anyone.
This went on for four days. Noel, Jack, and Riley took shifts in staying at the hospital and going home to take care of their families and rest. Mike refused to leave the room, staunchly keeping at his post.
On the fourth morning, the three of them weren't going to stand by and watch it any longer.
Noel said, "Daddy, we're worried about you."
"You're worried about me? When your mom is the one sick?" Mike asked incredulously.
"You look exhausted," said Riley. "Have you stopped to rest for even a minute since you brought Mom here?"
"Well, no. But-"
"Mom wouldn't want you running yourself ragged, you know that," said Jack. "Just think what she would say if she saw you like this. Go home and wash up and get something to eat. Just go home for a few hours and get some rest, we won't leave Mom's side, we promise."
It felt like betrayal to leave Zoey's side, but Mike had to admit that they were right. He was exhausted, and he hadn't eaten anything since coming to the hospital. He couldn't go on like this much longer; he needed to rest and recover his strength if he was to stay by Zoey's side. She needed him, but he was useless to her in his current state.
"Fine, I'll go," he finally agreed.
All three of his kids hugged him, and then he went home. The first thing he did was take a shower. The hot water relaxed him, but did nothing to ease his fears.
After he got out of the shower, he made himself eat a sandwich. It was all he could do to stomach it, but he wouldn't let himself quit. It seemed so pathetic to him, that just eating a sandwich could be such a challenge, but he hadn't had an appetite in days.
Once it was done he left the table and went to his and Zoey's room. She had made the bed the last morning they had been there. Mike lay down on his side. Though he was by himself, he wouldn't sleep in the middle and take up the whole bed. He took Zoey's pillow, clutched it tightly to his chest, and closed his eyes.
Mike woke up in the middle of the night. He had accidentally slept longer than he intended. He didn't take the time to call to see how Zoey was doing and instead dashed out the door and drove to the hospital as fast as he could.
"How is she? Is she okay?" Mike asked urgently when he burst into the room.
"Nothing's changed," said Jack, who was sitting by her side. Zoey was still unconscious, and a nurse was taking her vital signs. Noel and Riley were also still there, and all of them looked drained.
Mike was about to take his place back in his seat, but he stopped himself. He needed to talk to Zoey; he couldn't put it off any longer. "If you wouldn't mind, I'd like to be with Zoey alone for a while."
Noel, Jack and Riley nodded and left the room. As soon as the nurse was done, she left too. Mike sat down in the chair by Zoey's bed and took her hand. He gently stroked her hair and slowly began to speak.
"Hey, Zoey," he said softly. "Sorry I haven't spoken to you these past few days, I've just been so scared, and I didn't know what to say. I still don't know what to say, but I'll do my best.
"You know, these past several months haven't been easy. Your condition has been rough on me, but don't think I'm being selfish, I'm happy to take care of you. And as hard as it's been, at least you're still as happy as ever. You don't even know what's going on, and as sad as that is, I'm glad you're not suffering.
"I have a confession to make. When it first started, I was afraid I couldn't do it. I thought I couldn't take care of you. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't thinking of quitting, but I didn't know how I would do it. You've given me so much over the years, your patience, your support, your smile, your heart, your time… My disorder hurt us both in many ways, yet you never gave up. I always wanted to give it all back but I didn't know how. You never asked for anything in return but I wanted to show you how much it meant to me, and now I have that chance. But when I got it, I didn't know if I was up to the task. How did you do it all those years, Zoey? There must have been times when you were heartbroken and at the end of your rope, you must have thought about giving up, even if you never showed it. I wasn't sure if I could be as good as you.
"The truth is, I can't ever be as good as you, because there will never be anyone else like you in all the world. But that doesn't mean I can't try. It's been heartbreaking to see you this way, but I've done all I know to do to help you through it, and I'm going to keep walking this road with you until we reach the end of it. But I don't want it to end now, not when you're still so full of life. You have many years left in you, I can see it. But this illness is trying to get in the way of all that.
"Zoey, I just want to say that every minute I've had with you has been a gift and a privilege," said Mike, his hands and voice trembling. "In the good times, like when we would dance and see our friends and play with our kids, you were there. And in the bad times, like when it seemed I couldn't beat my alters, when Noel was gone, when it looked like I was out of the picture for good, you were there. No matter what happened, you were always there staying by my side, and so to take care of you now has been my greatest honor. Like I said, it's not been easy, but seeing the love in your eyes kept it from ever being a burden.
"Zoey, you've lived a long and wonderful life, and I know it can't last forever. When we were young we pretended our love was a fairytale, and if it was we would never have to say goodbye. But it's not, and it looks like it's your time to go. It's selfish of me to want you to stay here with me instead of moving on to paradise, but I can't help myself.
"Zoey, please don't go, don't leave me yet," said Mike as tears streamed down his face. He could hardly get the words out. "I always thought that of the two of us, I would be the first to go. I don't want to lose you, I don't want to live in a world that you're not a part of anymore. I would take your place if I could, but I can't. Zoey, if this is your time to go, then I won't leave you, I won't let you be alone. No one can hurt you now, you can be in peace. But Zoey please, please don't leave. Stay, please stay with me. Stay for just a little longer."
Mike sobbed by her side, clutching her hand like a lifeline. He sobbed until he was completely drained, and then he fell asleep by her side. It was a cold, dreamless sleep.
The next morning, Mike woke up feeling groggy and drained. He hadn't realized he had fallen asleep. He opened his eyes and saw that he was still holding Zoey's hand. He reluctantly let go and placed his hands in his lap. Zoey was still unconscious, and the heart monitor beeped steadily.
Mike pulled himself up and walked over to the window in her room. He leaned his head against the cool glass and looked out. There was a park near the hospital and he expected to see it, but there was a brick wall blocking his view. He couldn't see the sun or any sign of life outside the hospital room, all he could see was the wall.
"Isn't this a shame, Zoey?" He hadn't meant to say it out loud and felt silly for it at first, but talking to her was comforting and so he kept it up. "Who puts a brick wall by a hospital? It's the most depressing thing I've ever seen. There should at least be a view of the street so you can see people going by. There should be a garden here, like the one you have at home. You should get to see something pretty when you look out, how else are you supposed to heal? Flowers of all kinds and colors, with butterflies and hummingbirds flying around."
"Oh Mike, don't you know flowers don't grow in winter?"
Mike turned around and saw Zoey's eyes opening. She turned her head towards him, looking slightly dazed. Mike rushed to her side with tears in his eyes and took her by the hand, being careful to not clutch it too tightly. Words failed him, all he could do was look at her like he was seeing her for the first time.
"Well, not really. I guess there are some flowers that grow in winter," Zoey went on. Her voice was slightly hoarse, but the sound of it was nearly overwhelming.
"Zoey I can't believe it, you came back," Mike said.
"I didn't come back, because I never left. You asked me to stay, so I stayed," said Zoey with a soft smile.
"You heard me?" he asked incredulously.
"A little. I guess I just wasn't ready to go yet. Looks like we get a little more time together." Zoey gave him a weak smile.
Mike's face broke into a grin as tears ran down his cheeks. He kissed her cheek and then left to get the doctor and the kids.
Noel, Jack, and Riley ran into the room and each took their turn hugging their mother. They were all so relieved to see her awake and improving, they could finally breathe again. Zoey told them they didn't need to be fussing over her and kept telling them it was just a cold and they had had nothing to worry about.
The doctor concluded that Zoey wasn't out of the woods yet but that he believed she would make a full recovery.
Later that day, the kids left to bring the grandkids in so they could see their grandma. They had all been scared for her and they were uncomfortable coming into her hospital room, but once they saw that she was doing better they relaxed.
They kept Zoey in the hospital for another twenty-four hours and then she was released and allowed to go home. The whole family went home with Mike and Zoey and they had an impromptu party to celebrate Zoey's recovery. It wasn't really a party per se, there was nothing special about it since it was so last minute, but Jack got take-out for them to eat and Riley put on a CD of Zoey's favorite songs, and they got to spend the evening together. Being at home with her family was the best medicine for Zoey, and for Mike.
It was late at night when the family left, and even then they only left because Zoey needed rest. It was just Mike and Zoey now, sitting on the couch in the sudden quiet. The only sound was the sound of Zoey's music still playing.
"It's so nice having the kids over," said Zoey contentedly. "I can't wait to have them over for Christmas."
"How do you feel, Zoey?" Mike asked.
Zoey's eyes seemed to glaze over for a moment, and then refocused. She said, "Do I know you?"
Mike's heart seemed to stop, his breath caught in his throat. This was what he had been afraid of, that she wouldn't be able to recognize him. It might not last long and she might remember him later, but for the moment at least, she didn't know him.
Mike was tempted to try to remind her of who he was, to try to jog her memory and make her snap out of it. But instead he mustered up a smile and said, "You know me, don't you? I'm the one who asked you to dance. I believe you told me this is your favorite song playing."
Zoey thought about it and said, "You want to dance with me?"
"If you'll have me. Would you like to dance?" he asked as he held out his hand.
Zoey took his hand and they stood up. Mike put one arm around her back to help her stand and put his other hand on her hip. They swayed back and forth with the song. Zoey giggled and said, "I don't believe anyone's ever asked me to dance before."
"Then I'm honored to be the first," said Mike. His smile came easier now, and his eyes reflected the light in Zoey's.
"What made you want to dance with me?" she asked.
"You're the prettiest girl I've ever seen, why wouldn't I want to dance with you?"
Zoey giggled again, and then rested her head against his chest. "I feel like I know you somehow. Have we met before?"
"We have, actually. We met on an island, far away from here."
"An island? That sounds nice right about now, to be somewhere warm and sunny."
"It's been a while since we were on that island, though. That island changed my life, or to be specific, the people I met there changed it."
"I think I remember that island…" said Zoey, thinking hard to try to bring those old memories to the surface. "And I think I remember you, too. Your name is Mike, right?"
"Yes, it is."
"Mike," she sighed. "I like dancing with you."
"I like dancing with you too, Zoey."
Author's Note: And so we've reached the end of zoke week. Thanks to everyone for reading and for the feedback, it means so much to me :)