Marshall got out of bed, and immediately fell unceremoniously on his ass. “Dammit. Not again.”
“Are you ok babe?” Came a voice from the other side of the bed.
“Just my pride,” Marshall said, “And my ass. I’ll be ok.”
Marshall felt dizzy and unsteady. He stretched out on the floor, staring up at the ceiling. Marshall heard a rustling on the bed and a face appeared above him. The face was round and had freckles. It was surrounded by a mass of red hair that cascaded down toward him. “There’s a naked man on my floor,” Shelby Weatherly said, “This is certainly a predicament.” Her eyes, green with specks of gold, looked curiously down at him.
“Sorry,” he said. “Just give me a minute.” Marshall took slow deep breaths. He was embarrassed, not by the naked, but he hated to have an episode in front of other people. It told them too much and the way they acted around him tended to change.
“Was I too much for you?” Shelby smiled.
Marshall laughed. “Much too much for little old me,” he said. “Feel free to put that in your memoirs.”
Shelby frowned. “No memoirs for me. I’ll take my secrets to the grave, thank you very much.” She reached down and put a hand on Marshall’s shoulder. “Are you sure you’re OK?”
Marshall sighed. “It happens sometimes. My equilibrium takes a five-minute break. I’d gone two years without it happening. I thought I’d beaten it, but then it started up again around the beginning of the year. It doesn’t happen often.”
“Poor guy,” Shelby said. “Do you want some help?”
Marshall shook his head. “It will clear up in a minute,” he said. Marshall was fairly confident it would, and he would be damned if he would let doubt slip in.
“When is Fallon supposed to be home?” Marshall asked. “Should we lock the door? I don’t want her to see me on the floor.”
“As opposed to what we were doing earlier?” Shelby laughed. “Fallon wouldn’t come into my room without knocking. She’s stuck at family dinner anyway. Poor girl.”
“Is she off the waitlist yet?”
“No,” Shelby said with an edge to her voice.
“That has to be a fun dinner then.”
“Fallon can take care of herself. She’s a champion.”
“June got in you know.”
“Yes. Fallon is well aware of that. Why do you think she’s so miserable about not getting in the first try? If June hadn’t gotten in, she’d have already made plans for Humboldt. She always wanted to study oceanography.” Marshall laughed. Shelby ran her hand down from his shoulder to his chest. “I kind of hope she doesn’t get in. The last thing this town needs is another Weatherly with a business degree. I’d rather her become someone interesting.”
“You are a Weatherly,” Marshall said.
“Only by marriage,” Shelby replied. “My maiden name was Bagby. I do have a finance degree though. Before I married Dwight I was a personal banker and a financial planner. I was pretty good at it too. That’s how I met Dwight. He came to me for help. He was a better sheriff than a businessman. I fixed that.”
“I miss Dwight,” Marshall said.
Marshall thought back to the time the Sheriff had taken him on a ride-along. He had driven out the edge of town and showed him a big house that served as the town brothel. The sheriff had told Marshall, “I could shut it down tomorrow if I wanted, but who benefits? They end up on the street, unsafe and unwelcome. It’s not like the demand changes, so the supply will eventually return. That house has been there since before I was born. It’s clean and contained. They know I know, and that keeps everyone in line.” That had been Dwight’s philosophy. Enforcing the law was important, but keeping the peace was more important.
Dwight had been the one to tell Marshall that Santa Creda was a superorganism. Santa Creda lived in the same way that a beehive or anthill lived. The sheriff was convinced that Santa Creda, while not necessarily possessing an intelligence as we understood it, nonetheless made decisions and acted in its own self-interest.
“I miss Dwight too,” Shelby said, “But at least you’re banging his wife now.”
“A true pleasure M’lady.” Marshall managed to sit up again. “I think it’s passed, which is good because I really need to go to the bathroom.” Marshall got up, taking Shelby’s hand to study himself, then he walked, only a little unsteadily, to the bathroom.
“Eeek, Naked Man!” Shelby mock shouted as he walked away.
“Bagby!” Marshall yelled back.
After they took turns cleaning up, Marshall and Shelby got dressed and headed to the Santa Creda Aquarium. It was after five on a Sunday, so the aquarium was closed to the general public. Shelby was a founder though, and the guard in front simply waved as they walked in. With the exception of a couple of people working on a tank, the place was quiet and empty, and the passageway was dimmed so that most of the light came from the tanks. There was a low hum of machines, bubbles, and spaces throughout the place that seemed to swallow any other noise.
The two of them held hands as they walked. Shelby would stop once in a while and tell him about one of the exhibits. “There are six loggerhead turtles,” Shelby said pointing at one of them. “They were all rescues. You see that scar on Diane’s leg. That came from a boat rotor.” Shelby pointed to another turtle. “Woody there was extremely malnourished when he came in, but he’s made up for it since.”
“You guys do good work,” Marshall said. “Maybe you should be the oceanographer.”
“Do you know what flying turtles are called?” Shelby asked.
“I didn’t even know there were flying turtles,” Marshall said.
“Shellicopters!” She said loudly.
Marshall looked at her a moment, then said, “You magnificent bastard.”
They walked along a bit longer, then took a seat in front of the giant kelp forest, where they watched the sea bass, leopard sharks, and damselfish. This was the largest exhibit in the aquarium and had five rows of cushioned, stadium-style seats.
“I used to take Fallon here. I’d make one of the staff answer her questions and show her how to work with the fish and the animals. It helped take our minds off things. She interned here over the last two summers. I think she’d be happy here. I’m not going to push, though. I’m not like Benton.”
“Benton’s not so bad. She can just be a bit intense, but she’s good at instilling a work ethic. Even Bean spends an hour a day working on her numbers and letters.”
“She’s four,” Shelby said.
“I know… Different mothers, different styles. Trust me, when she’s with me, I concentrate on letting her be a kid. Yesterday we built sandcastles and rode the merry-go-round at the boardwalk.”
“Does Benton know about us?” Shelby asked.
“Not that I know of. You said to keep it quiet so I keep it quiet. Benton is usually pretty good at picking up on these things though, so there’s no guarantee.”
Shelby squeezed his hand. “I’m sorry about that. About six months after Dwight died, I made the mistake of going out on a date with a guy. I think you met him once or twice, Barry Conway?”
“Oh yes, I remember him. He’s the pawnshop guy, right?”
“Pawnshops, title loans, bail bonds… he has all the charming businesses.”
“And you went out with him?”
“Yes. I went to dinner with him… just dinner. You would have thought I drew a pentagram on Dwight’s grave, the reaction from the family was so severe.”
“His family you mean?”
“Yes. I don’t have family in town. I came here with my first husband, but he and I didn’t last long. He didn’t like that I was making money while he was failing at everything he did. I heard at some point that he’s living in Coos Bay now. He traded one port town for another.”
“You never check up on him?”
“We were friends on Facebook for a while, before I closed my account, but that was years ago.”
Marshall nodded. “After my accident, I completely lost track of Facebook. I’ve looked at it once or twice over the years, but it seems like the story of a different person.”
“I left because it is easier to ignore the nastiness if you don’t see it in print.”
“That’s terrible,” Marshall said. “I’m sorry that happened.”
“All of this is my way of saying I think maybe we can start telling people,” she said, “if you want.”
“Sounds good to me,” Marshall said.
“Just realize, you are dating the most hated woman in town.”
Marshall smiled. “I’ll wear that as a badge of honor.”
They sat quietly holding hands for several minutes, watching the fish swim. Marshall liked the colorful leopard sharks and watched one, in particular, swim back and forth behind the glass. He also liked the way the kelp waved slowly in the water, gently accepting the tide as it moved past. There was a peace to that, which Marshall admired.
“We should go out to dinner,” Shelby said. “How do you feel about Chinese food?”
“I think it’s bland and tasteless, just like everything else I eat. That’s the beauty of dating me. You can take me anywhere you like.”
Shelby laughed. “Chinese it is then,” she said.
“Here is how it looked five years ago, and here it is today.”
The CT scans looked alike to Marshall, but Doctor Oliverson pointed to a thin line in first and the same area in the second. “The damage in this area has healed a bit over the past few years. That’s good news. Your brain fixed a lot of the damage. It’s good at that.”
Marshall nodded. “Then why does it feel like I’m getting worse again,” he asked the doctor.
“Here’s the thing about the brain,” Doctor Oliverson said. “Even though it can fix a lot of things, it doesn’t put them back the same way they were before. You’ve done a lot of work to help yourself: the balance exercises, the stretches, the meditation. Those helped, but it still comes down to wiring, and I’m afraid a wire in there got tripped, and suddenly your balance issues kicked up again. That’s the bad news. The good news is that if you keep working as hard as you have been, there’s every chance it will find a way to fix itself.”
“There are no guarantees though.”
“Unfortunately no. But even though you’ve had this bit of a setback, think of all the progress you’ve made. Your headaches are under much better control, and you can tell when you’re hungry again. Those are big things.”
“They are, but my sense of smell and taste are pretty much completely gone now.”
“What about confusion?” The doctor asked. “Have you had any episodes lately?”
“Not, but I still carry the card.”
Marshall had a card in his wallet that read:
Hi. Your name is Marshall. You live at 601 Seaside Avenue in Santa Creda. You were born in Chandler, Arizona. You have a daughter named Aimi Bean. You also have a brain injury. Sometimes you forget who you are for a minute. Take slow deep breaths and calm down. You’ll remember again soon. You always do.
“My advice is to make sure you get nine to ten hours of sleep every night, preferably on a schedule. Let your brain get the rest it needs. Keep an eating schedule too and be sure you are eating what you should. You’re down to 145 pounds, which is four less than the last time you were in here. I’d like to see you back up at 150 or even 155. That’s a better weight for you.”
“I’ll work on it,” Marshall said. He reflected back on just eight years ago, before the accident, when he had been almost 300 pounds. He’d lost a person, an entire person, from his body. There were signs of this. His skin hung a little loose, especially around the belly area, but overall he figured that nobody got to almost fifty years old without a few scars, sags, and stretch marks. If you did, you belonged in Hollywood, but for Santa Creda he was doing just fine.
Marshall had had to adapt to a few things. He still had his driver’s license. It was technically good until he hit the age of 65, but Marshall had driven sparsely over the past few years, and only when there weren’t other options. He didn’t trust himself behind the wheel. The same was true of bicycles. There were a lot of cyclists in Santa Creda, and the town was small enough that you could get most places pretty easily on a bike, but the thought of having an episode while riding was enough of a reason to not even consider it.
Marshall thanked the doctor and headed out. He had a mile walk from the medical center back to his apartment. It was just past ten in the morning and a cool breeze was blowing with the scent of rain in the air. Marshall zipped up his windbreaker and walked briskly toward home. He got there just as a light rain began to fall.
Marshall sat down at his computer and logged in to the company VPN. There were six emails and a dozen instant messages waiting for him. Marshall had spent much of his career as a coder, but two years earlier, he had gotten kicked up into management, and now he spent his days assuring people that things were going fine.
For the most part, the job was easy. His team consisted of lifers who had been at the company ten years or more. He had trained half of them. As long as you knew how to deal with their various personality quirks, they did their jobs well. Marshall had found that the best use of his time was to run interference for his team, managing expectations and putting together pretty slideshows that explained to upper management why all their various needs and goals couldn’t, and shouldn’t, all be taken care of at once. Marshall had proven to be good at this, mainly because seven straight years of meditation and walking, done mainly to cut down on the severe headaches he got after the accident, had left him with a calmness that he wasn’t even fully aware of.
Marshall went downstairs and opened the door to the Santa Creda Adventurers Guild headquarters. The headquarters had been sparsely used since the incident on the first night when all the windows had been broken out. The windows had been replaced now with modern glass that would hold up a lot better in the unlikely case of a similar event. They’d held a meeting here last week. It was well enough attended, but he could feel the tension. SCAG headquarters had been built out to serve all their needs but now people were wary.
Marshall spent some time sending emails to the members of SCAG, letting them know what they should bring on the overnight to Herald Rock. After the incident with the jet had turned their first meeting into a mop-up operation, and a simple housecleaning had turned into a near possession, Marshall was hoping the hike to Herald Rock and back would be the kind of adventure he had pictured when he and Jack had first talked about forming a guild… a little adventure. Maybe they needed to start smaller. Marshall wondered if that was even possible.
After the emails were sent, Marshall headed downstairs to the training area. After some stretches, Marshall started on the balance beam, practicing walking back and forth. He set a five-minute timer on his watch and walked back and forth until it was done. He went forwards first, then backward, then sideways. The task was easy. After years of practice, Marshall had excellent balance, until he didn’t.
When the timer went off, Marshall got off the beam. He set another five-minute timer and stretched again. Daily stretches kept his left leg from cramping up when he walked. He had found that taking a break between each stretching session gave him the best benefit. When the timer went off again, he got back on the beam and practiced standing on one foot while he raised the other, then raised his arms, then pulled them in. He continued this pattern of five minutes of stretching and five minutes of balance work. After an hour he went to the weights and did ten minutes with the dumbbells.
After he finished exercising, Marshall walked to the pier to watch the sunset. There were several people fishing, and a few others taking in the sunset as he did. The air was blowing cool off the water, and in the distance was the haze that would eventually become fog, but for now, enhanced the colors of the sunset. Marshall watched until the sun was completely down. His phone vibrated and Marshall pulled it out of his pocket to see it was Shelby calling. Marshall smiled and answered.