Burying Water Page 3

“Yeah. I think I do.” It’s so soft, I barely hear her over the rain hitting asphalt and the low rumble of her idling engine. I startle as cool fingers suddenly slide over my cheek, my nose, my jaw—covered in fresh stubble—until they find my mouth, where they rest in a strangely intimate way. I feel like she’s testing me. What’s going on in this woman’s head right now?

Though I can’t stop the steady climb of my heartbeat, I don’t move a single muscle, more curious than anything. Very slowly, the shadow in front of me shifts closer and closer, until her mouth is hovering over mine and her breathing is shaky.

And then she kisses me.

It’s a tentative kiss at first, her lips lightly sweeping across mine without committing entirely, but it gets my blood rushing all the same. I can’t say that I’ve ever kissed a woman without seeing her face first. It’s both unnerving and strangely liberating. If she looks anything like her lips feel, then I’m kissing a supermodel right now.

Finally she finds her place, her lips slightly parted as they gently work against mine, each one of her ragged breaths like an intoxicating spell as they slip into my mouth alongside her tongue. I don’t even care about the rain or the cold or getting home anymore, too busy fighting the urge to loose my hands on her. But I don’t know why the f**k she’s doing this and I’m a suspicious person by nature. So, I ball my fists and keep my arms to my sides while her mouth slowly teases mine and her hand grasps the side of my face.

Just when I’m ready to give up on my mistrust and pull her into me, she suddenly breaks free, her short, hard pants dispelling her calm. She steps back, taking the shield of her umbrella with her. The cold rain is a semi-effective douse to the heat coursing through my body.

“Thank you.”

I smile into the darkness. “No big deal. Tires take me no time.”

“I wasn’t talking about the tire.” She’s smiling too. I can hear it in her soft words.

With my mouth hanging open, I watch her silhouette round the car. In one fluid motion, she folds her umbrella up and slides into the driver’s seat.

And I’m left standing here, wondering what the hell just happened. She doesn’t know what I look like either. We could pass each other on the sidewalk and we’d never know.

Maybe that’s the point.

Shaking my head, I dart back to my car, my clothes soaked and my mind thoroughly mystified. She may be sweet but if she goes around kissing strange men on the side of the road, no wonder she has regrets. I hope regrets are the worst thing she ever has to deal with.

True to my word, I tail her for eight miles, my fingers testing my lips as I recall the feel of hers against them, until she signals toward one of Portland’s richer areas. A big part of me wants to turn off and follow her the rest of the way. Just so I know who she is.

I have my hand on the turn signal. But at the last minute, I pull back and keep heading straight. Regrets have a tendency to spread when you tie yourself to the wrong kind of person. I’ve learned that the hard way.

I hope she finds what she’s looking for.

FOUR

Jane Doe

now

“I told you already; she’s not lying. She doesn’t remember a thing! Anyone who looks into the poor girl’s eyes can see that!”

Dr. Alwood’s harsh tone pulls me out of a light sleep. She’s standing next to my bed, squared off against a man with an olive complexion and wavy chestnut-brown hair—peppered with gray at the temples—and a grim expression, dusted with day-old scruff.

“I have to do my job, Meredith,” the man says, his dark eyes shifting to catch me watching. With a nod in my direction, he clears his throat.

Dr. Alwood turns and her scowl vanishes, replaced by a soft smile. Today she’s wearing a baby-blue blouse tucked under her white coat. It doesn’t do much for her pallid complexion, but it’s pretty all the same. “I’m sorry to wake you,” she says, her voice returning to its typical calm. A life jacket for me these past few days, while submerged in this ongoing nightmare. “The sheriff would like to speak with you.” With a gesture to the man, she introduces him. “This is Sheriff Welles, of Deschutes County.”

The man offers me a curt smile before dipping his head forward and squeezing his eyes shut. As if he has to regroup; as if facing me for more than that short period of time is difficult. Maybe it is. Based on what the small parade of nurses coming in and out of my room have told me, the swelling has gone down and the deep purple bruising has faded. You can even see my high cheekbones again, whatever that means. I have yet to even glimpse myself in a mirror and no one seems to be in a rush to bring one to my bedside, not even to see if it may trigger my memory. They keep telling me that we should wait “just a few more days.”

“He’s going to ask you a few questions.” She casts a glare his way. “Right, Gabe?”

His heavyset brow pulls together as he lifts his gaze to meet mine again. Such penetrating eyes—not a single fleck of gold or brown to break up the near-black color. They draw me in and make me hold my breath at the same time. He must do well in interrogations. “Right.”

Gabe Welles. Of course, the sheriff knows what his name is. Everyone knows what their name is. I’m the only clueless one around here. “I don’t know how much help I can be,” I say, my voice much smoother than when I first regained consciousness . . . my eyes flicker to the clock to calculate . . . forty-two hours ago. I’ve regained nothing else.

I still have no idea who I am and I certainly don’t remember being raped and beaten. I imagine most victims like me would do anything, take any sort of pill or potion, to forget the traumatic experience. But I’ve spent every conscious moment grappling with the recesses of my mind, hoping to find a thread to grab on to, to tug, something that will unravel the mystery.

Nothing. I remember nothing.

“You seem to be doing much better than the last time I saw you,” Sheriff Welles says in a rich, gravelly voice that demands attention.

“Gabe—I mean, Sheriff Welles—was the one who found you,” Dr. Alwood explains.

My cheeks heat with color. “How bad was I? I mean . . . ?” Was I on bloody, na**d display for him to see? Do I even want to know if I was? It should be the least of my worries, and yet the thought churns my stomach.

“I’ve seen a lot in my thirty-five years in the police force, but . . . you were in rough shape.” He pauses to clear his throat. “Dr. Alwood has already informed me that you don’t recall anything. I have something that I thought may help.” From a canvas bag, he pulls out a clear plastic package marked “Evidence,” followed by a case number, and holds it up. Electric-blue sequined material stares back at me. “You were wearing this dress when I found you.”

Where would I be going in that? A wedding? A disco? Based on the reddish-brown stains and tears, I won’t be wearing it ever again. The sheriff and doctor watch me closely as I admit, “I don’t recognize it.”

He dumps it back into the canvas bag and pulls out another plastic evidence bag, this one with a light pink coat and very clearly covered in blood. “You were wearing this over your dress.”

Was I? “It’s not familiar,” I answer honestly. The steady pulse from the EKG begins to increase again. I’ve noticed that it does that every time Dr. Alwood begins questioning me, as my agitation rises.

He pulls out a third bag, with only one silver dress shoe in it. It has a heel so high, no sane human would choose to wear it. “Just like Cinderella,” I murmur half-heartedly, adding, “I don’t even know how I could walk in that.”

Without a word, he holds up a small bag with a necklace in it. Even in the muted fluorescent lighting above, the stones sparkle like stars. “We had these diamonds inspected. Whoever bought this isn’t hurting for cash,” Sheriff Welles says.

“I don’t know who that would be,” I answer honestly. Is that person me? Am I wealthy? Or is the person who gave that to me rich? Who would have given that to me? The father of my lost child, perhaps? Where is he now? I instinctively glance at my hands. At the fingertips that reach out from one end of my cast, the remnants of my red nail polish still visible though my nails are badly broken. Half of my pinky nail has torn off. If I look very carefully, I think I can make out a tan line on the third finger of my right hand. “Was I wearing a ring?”

“Why do you ask? Do you remember wearing a ring?” His voice has dropped an octave, almost lulling. As if he’s hoping to coax an answer out of me.

I frown. “No. I just . . . If I was pregnant, does that mean I’m married?” Did I walk down an aisle in a white dress and profess my love to someone? Am I even old enough to be married?

“This was the only piece of jewelry that we found on you,” Sheriff Welles confirms.

“Could my ring have been stolen?”

“I can’t say for sure, but my experience tells me that, had this been a robbery-motivated attack, they would not have left this necklace behind.”

Not robbery.

If not that, then why?

Why?

Why would someone do this to me?

Dr. Alwood and Sheriff Welles sit and wait while a thousand questions flood my mind and tears of fear and frustration burn my eyes. I gather they’re waiting for me to be struck by an epiphany thanks to a couple of plastic bags stuffed with bloody clothes and jewels. They don’t seem to understand, though. My memory—my life—isn’t simply riddled with holes. It has been sucked into a black hole, leaving nothing but this battered husk behind, my mind spinning but unable to gain traction.

Finally, I can’t take it anymore. I burst out with, “I’m not lying! I don’t remember who I am!”

A wisp of a sigh escapes the sheriff as he drops the jewelry back into the bag, his gaze touching Dr. Alwood’s eyes in the process, an unreadable communication between them. “Okay, Jay—” He cuts himself off.

“It’s okay; you can call me that,” I mutter through a sniffle. I’ve overheard the nurses referring to me as “JD” a few times and, when I finally asked Dr. Alwood about it, she admitted with a grimace that it stands for “Jane Doe.” Because that’s who I am now.

Jane Doe.

Apparently that’s not just reserved for people with toe tags.

He pauses, settling his stern gaze on me. “I wish I had more to tell you about what happened, but I don’t. We believe that you were dumped in the location where we found you. Where you were attacked, I can’t say. We’ve canvassed the area for clues, but nothing’s come up. We don’t even have good tire tracks to work with; the fresh snowfall covered them. No witnesses have come forward yet and no one has filed a missing person’s report that matches your case. I have my men scouring the database.”

He sighs. “The rape test returned no results. There were no DNA matches in there. Dr. Alwood was able to order a DNA test on your unborn fetus. Again, results did not match anything in the database.”

I guess that means that the father wasn’t a criminal. At least there’s that. “So . . . that’s it?”

His jaw tightens and then he offers me only a curt nod.

My eyes drift away from both of them to the window across from me, the sky beyond painted a deceptively cheerful blue. The small television mounted on the wall is still on—I fell asleep watching it—and showing a news broadcast. Yellow caution tape circles a gas station. A caption flashes along the bottom, calling for witnesses.

And a thought hits me. “Was my story on the news?”

“No.” Sheriff Welles’s head shakes firmly. “I’ve kept this story away from the media.” He adds in a low mutter, “God knows they’d love to have it.”

“But maybe it would reach my . . . family?” The family who hasn’t filed a report yet?

“Yes, maybe. Maybe it’ll also reach the person who attacked you. Do you want him to know that you survived?”

A cold wave rushes through me as Dr. Alwood snaps, “Gabe!”

His mouth purses together but he presses on. “Reporters will sensationalize this story. They’ll want pictures of your face. They’ll want to post details of your attack. Do you want that all over the news?”

“No.” My eyes dart to the door as a spark of panic hits me. “You don’t think he’d come here for me, do you?” Maybe he already has. Maybe my attacker has already stood there, watching me as I’ve slept. I shiver against the icy chill that courses through my body with the thought.

“I think he assumes you died and your remains would be dragged off by a mountain lion or wolves before they were discovered,” he assures me, his words offering little comfort. “That old tannery building probably hasn’t had a visitor in over a year.”

“How’d you find me, then?”

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