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Life as I Know It

A Novel

Life as I Know It by Melanie Rose
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What if you had the chance to live someone else’s life? Full of heart and soul, here is a captivating novel about the choices we make for family and love—and how sometimes a total stranger is the person we really need to be.
 
Jessica Taylor is walking her dog in the rain when she meets the man of her dreams—only to be struck by lightning moments later. When she wakes up in the hospital, the doctors insist she’s someone else: Lauren Richardson, wife and mother of four.

    Lauren’s husband wants nothing more than for life to get back to normal—complete with a well-organized house and very properly behaved children. But Lauren’s kids haven’t been allowed to have much fun, and one of them has special needs. Can Jessica embrace this family of strangers and become the wife and mother they need? As she struggles to find her way in this new life—and the way back to her old life—she reconnects with Lauren’s estranged sister and discovers a secret that could rip the family apart.

    Now, torn between Lauren’s responsibilities to her family and Jessica’s chance at love, one woman is about to find out whether the road not taken leads to happiness—or to heartbreak.


From the Trade Paperback edition.
Random House Publishing Group; February 2010
ISBN 9780440338758
Read online, or download in secure EPUB
Title: Life as I Know It
Author: Melanie Rose
 
Excerpt
Chapter One


As dreams went, it was a scary one. I snuggled deeper into my pillow, preparing to drift back to sleep, to try to recapture the feeling I’d had with the handsome stranger. But some alien scent or sound roused me, tugging at my consciousness. I opened one bleary eye and turned to look at the bedside clock. It wasn’t there. What was there was a stark Formica cabinet topped with a plastic water jug standing next to a white plastic beaker complete with drinking straw.

Pushing myself up on one elbow, I discovered that a needle had been taped in place on the back of my left hand. It appeared to be attached to a clear bag of fluid, which dripped into my veins via a thin line. I stared at it for a few seconds, then peered around at the small windowless room. Apart from the cabinet and the bed, there were various monitors bleeping rhythmically against the wall. Wires led from them toward the bed. Running my hands over the starched white hospital gown in which I found myself, I located the sticky ends of the monitors—they were attached to my chest and sides.

I sat bolt upright and immediately wished I hadn’t as stinging pain fizzed across my back and shoulder. Gingerly, I fingered the gauzy material at the back of my neck and across my left shoulder. Bandages. My mind turned back to the lightning strike. It hadn’t been a dream, then. For a moment I sat quite still, trying to regain a clear memory of what had happened: the handsome stranger in the storm, the two dogs cowering behind the car, the rain pelting relentlessly down. And what of Frankie? Who was looking after her now?

I lived alone in my basement flat on the outskirts of Epsom. My parents lived miles away, buried in a quiet hamlet in Somerset—a village consisting of a handful of cottages, a pub, and a post office/general store—the sort you could drive through and never notice was there. No one would know to tell them I’d been hurt, or that Frankie was all alone somewhere.

Touching my fingers to the top of my head, which felt tender and tingly, I tried to recall if I’d had any sort of identification on my person when the lightning had struck. My handbag had been in my car, left in a different lot from the one where the stranger’s car had been parked. I’d had nothing in my coat pockets except a couple of tissues and a dog biscuit.

Gazing around the whitewashed room, my eyes alighted on a card, partially hidden by the water jug on the bedside cabinet. It had a child’s drawing on the front, of a woman surrounded by small children, the heads out of all proportion to the sticklike bodies, the hair bright blue and standing up on end. I flicked it open and read the scrawled message inside.

Dear Mummy. Hope you get better soon, lots of love from Sophie, Nicole, Toby, and Teddy xxxx.

I wondered vaguely how clean the room was if the previous occupant’s belongings were still here, and I had just placed the card back on the side table and leaned back against the pillows when the door opened and a nurse came in carrying a chart. She smiled when she saw me awake and sitting up.

“How are you feeling this morning, Mrs. Richardson? You’ve had everyone really worried about you, you know.”

I frowned and drew my head back slightly to look up at her. “You must have your patients mixed up, nurse. I’m not Mrs. anyone. It’s Miss—Miss Jessica Taylor.”

The nurse, who was by now leaning over me ready to thrust a digital thermometer into my left ear, straightened up and stared at me oddly. “Do you remember what happened to you, dear?” She pulled up one of my eyelids and peered into first one eye, then the other. Apparently satisfied, she stood back to scrutinize my features and wait for an answer.

I nodded but my throat felt dry. “I was struck by lightning.”

“That’s right, dear, and you’re in the hospital. But do you remember what you were doing when it happened? Who you were with, for example?”

It seemed like a trick question somehow, combined with the speculative look she gave me as she asked it. I didn’t see what business it was of hers anyway, so I shrugged evasively, feeling the painful twinge of burned flesh under the bandage.

“I was with someone.”

“Who?”

“Why is it important, who I was with?”

She didn’t have a chance to answer, for at that moment the door opened again and a group of excited children burst in.

I was so surprised that I sat openmouthed as they bounded toward me, en masse, shrieking, “Mummy, you’re awake!” and “Mum, we’ve really missed you!” One of the older girls thrust some flowers into my hands. The younger of the two smiled and kissed me. A small boy was shouting, “Let me see her! I can’t see!” until the older girl picked him up and deposited him at the foot of my bed. I glanced toward the door where another small boy stood silently, his eyes wide and his bottom lip quivering.

The nurse must have seen my shocked expression, for she lifted the small boy back down off the bed and chivied the children toward the door.

“Mummy is still tired,” she said firmly when one of the girls tried to protest. “I think you should wait in the playroom until Daddy has finished talking to the doctor. You can come and see her again later.”

The nurse closed the door firmly behind them and turned to face me.

“You don’t remember, do you?”

I shook my head in confusion. “There’s been a mistake. They’re not mine, honestly!”

“It is quite common for people to lose their short-term memories temporarily after a lightning strike,” she explained as she smoothly checked my pulse and blood pressure. I watched her jot her findings onto the chart, her face coming closer, minty breath warm on my skin as she peered into my eyes again.

“I’ll fetch Dr. Shakir. He can examine you better now that you’re awake, and he’ll explain what has happened to you. I think he’s talking to your husband right now.” She smiled encouragingly at me. “Don’t worry, Mrs. Richardson. Everything will turn out all right.”

“I’m not Mrs. Richardson,” I said again to her retreating back, but this time my voice held less conviction. As the door closed behind her I went to rub my hands over my eyes, forgetting the IV drip, and the movement caused a fresh burst of pain in my left shoulder. Carefully, I lowered my left arm down beside me, then gingerly held my right hand out in front of me and stared at it. The hand was slim, with beautifully manicured nails. Panic spurted somewhere deep inside me. This somehow didn’t look like my hand, with its broken nails where my fingertips tapped away daily at my computer keyboard. And where was the small scar that I’d picked up the time I’d cut myself on a tin of Frankie’s dog food?

Tears prickled behind my eyes and I blinked them back, determined not to cry, but I had never felt so helpless and confused.

How could they have made such a mistake? It wasn’t possible that I had a husband and four children I couldn’t remember. I couldn’t have forgotten something like that! This had to be a bad dream after all—a very real-seeming dream that would evaporate when I awoke.

I could feel the hands that didn’t seem to belong to me shaking, and I tucked the right one alongside the left—firmly under the fold of the sheets. Soon, I told myself sternly, I would wake up and laugh about this nightmare. I’d wonder why I had been so afraid and I’d tell myself how silly I’d been to worry.

Screwing my eyes up tightly, I willed myself to wake up, but when I opened them I was still in the same place and my shoulder still smarted painfully. A little voice deep inside me whispered that something terrible had happened to me, and I shook my head, refusing to believe it.

When I heard the door open again, I sank back down between the hospital sheets and closed my eyes. I didn’t think I had the strength to go on with this nightmare. My body hurt and I wanted to go home. Home to my little one-bedroom flat in Epsom, where I could curl up on the sofa with Frankie’s head on my lap and watch TV in my pajamas, or call my parents and friends and tell them about what had happened to me while I indulged myself by eating spoonfuls of my favorite pistachio ice cream straight from the carton.

Cool fingers stroked my forehead. The sensation was somehow familiar, yet I couldn’t recall anyone ever doing that to me before.

“Lauren? Lauren, sweetheart, are you awake?”

Clenching my eyelids tightly together, I remained obstinately silent. If this was a husband, father to those children, I wanted none of it.

Another voice filled the room, an Indian accent, firm and in control.

“Mr. Richardson, if you would excuse me for just one moment. I need a few words with your wife.”

The fingers found my hand and squeezed it. “I’ll be right outside the door, sweetheart.”

I waited until the door clicked shut before opening my eyes. A tall Asian doctor was gazing down at me, a reassuring smile on his friendly face. “Good morning, Mrs. Richardson.” His eyes flicked down to the notes in his hand. “Er—Lauren. The nurse tells me you are experiencing some memory loss?”

“My memory is fine,” I answered somewhat belligerently. “It’s just that you’ve got me mixed up with someone else.”

The doctor shook his head, still smiling. “I know this must be upsetting for you, Lauren, but I’m afraid that is not the case. There is a good man out there who assures me that you are his wife, and four young children who have been waiting since yesterday for you to wake up. In some cases a high-voltage injury can cause clouded mental status. It’s known medically as the Pat Effect, but don’t worry, it’s usually temporary.”

He perched on the edge of the bed and looked at me with dark eyes full of sympathy, and something else I couldn’t quite detect.

“Lightning is a formidable force, Lauren, and you are on strong painkillers, which could be causing some of your confusion.”

I watched apprehensively as he opened a notebook and scanned its pages. His obvious belief that I was this Lauren Richardson person had me wondering what else he was going to tell me.

“When you were brought in yesterday with burns to your back, shoulder, and the top of your scalp, I did a little research on the effects of lightning strikes. Yours is the first case I’ve seen personally.”

He glanced at me for approval to continue and I nodded, realizing that the underlying gleam in his eyes was professional curiosity.

“Apparently, lightning travels at astonishing speeds of between one hundred and sixty and sixteen hundred kilometers per second on its downward track to the ground. Or, in your case, on its way to you, Lauren,” he told me with undisguised awe. “On its return stroke it can reach an amazing hundred and forty thousand kilometers per second, and the enormous spark heats the surrounding air explosively, creating the sonic boom we hear as thunder.”

I found myself thinking that he must have made an exceptional—if rather geeky—medical student with his enthusiasm for knowledge, but the facts were sobering when I remembered that the lightning had actually hit me at those speeds.

“In some cases this spark can generate a temperature of thirty thousand degrees centigrade, Lauren—about six times hotter than the surface of the sun!” He finished with a flourish.

The look he then bestowed on me was one of thinly disguised fascination, as if, after discovering and recounting how powerful lightning was, he was surprised to find I was still breathing.

“So, you’re telling me I’m lucky to be alive,” I commented quietly, watching his eyes for confirmation.

Dr. Shakir inclined his head with a small dip that I took to be affirmative.

“Although the scorching to your head appears superficial and the burns to your back and shoulder will heal without skin grafts, we must be careful about infection, which is why you have an antibiotic dressing on your shoulder,” he explained. Pulling his notes together he raised his eyes briefly to mine.

I looked at him suspiciously. “What are you trying to tell me?”

“The shock of the lightning bolt stopped your heart for a while. You went into cardiac arrest. We had to shock you again to bring you back. Once we’d got you back with us we concentrated on rehydrating you. That’s just normal saline in the intravenous drip you have there. Then we dressed the burns. After that it was just a case of waiting for you to wake up.”

“To see if I was brain damaged,” I said, shaken that I had actually needed to be resuscitated, and again watching for his reaction.

“I would like to schedule you for a head MRI scan,” Dr. Shakir continued smoothly, ignoring my comment and studiously avoiding my gaze. “But in the meantime you will have to trust me that you are the mother of those children and the wife of Mr. Richardson.”

I looked at him skeptically. He was hiding something, I was sure, but there didn’t seem much else to say. I glanced toward the door and remembered with a sick feeling deep in my stomach that the family out there was waiting to visit me.

“Please, I’m very tired,” I pleaded, fighting down the panic that was rising in my chest. “Could I rest before I see . . . anyone?”


From the Trade Paperback edition.
ISBNs
0440338751
9780385343992
9780440338758