Tim Caine boards the elevator on the main floor of Grady Hospital and presses the button for his wife Alyssa’s floor. He’s happy she’s awake, but concerned about her personality change. He spoke to the doctor earlier but found the conversation less than reassuring.
“It’s not just her memory, Doctor Gardner, her entire personality has changed,” Tim said. “She’s rude, sarcastic, and seems to have acquired a considerable knowledge of movie trivia.”
“It’s not unheard of for patients who’ve experienced this kind of trauma to undergo changes in personality,” the doctor said.
“She won’t even answer to her own name,” Tim said. “She insists I call her Rebecca.”
“There’s a lot we don’t understand about how the brain heals itself,” Dr. Gardner said. “I can tell you the swelling has gone down and the CT scan doesn’t show any residual damage. Alyssa is a very lucky young woman. Things could have been much worse.”
“My sister-in-law sent me an obituary she found online for a woman named Rebecca Asher who died in November, two-thousand five, in a car accident outside Braselton,” Tim said. “The obituary listed a brother Steven.”
“Has Alyssa ever mentioned anyone by that name?” Dr. Gardner says.
“Not to me,” Tim said. “We met in 2008 but her sister’s never heard of Rebecca Asher either.”
“Even though we don’t yet know the reason, there has to be one,” the doctor says. “Until we figure that out, what Alyssa needs most is to be surrounded by the people she knows and loves.”
It was another step in an interesting life Tim had led since he arrived in Atlanta to start his freshman year during the Olympics. Timothy Marcus Caine was born 10 October 1978 in Seattle, Washington, the middle son of Gerald and Naomi (Grant) Caine. A good student, he had a high aptitude for math and science, and maintained a high B average throughout high school, where he played baseball and soccer, and was considered an above average player in each, though not enough for a scholarship. For college, he headed East to Atlanta, as the Olympics were in full swing, to attend Mercer, arriving early in the hopes of taking in some of the games and getting here the day before the Olympic Park bombing. Eventually, he earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in accounting, and took a job as a loan officer with a credit union, following graduation.
One of his father’s aunts, Catalina, was the family historian, and was fond of telling the story of their earliest Colonial ancestor, Henry Kane, who came to Virginia in his teens as an indentured servant in 1732, and, upon his release nine years later he earned fifty acres which he claimed in Massachusetts and promptly sold for a profit. He was a blacksmith, who could read and write, and following his release, changed the spelling of his name to “Caine” for some reason. From there, for the next hundred and fifty years, the family moved west, avoiding the slave territories, and never again being held in bondage, finally settling in Oregon territory from which they eventually migrated to Washington.
From an early age, Tim’s parents instilled in him and his siblings a love for the outdoors, camping, hiking, and climbing, and once he’d settled into his job in Atlanta, he joined a singles group that focused on outdoor activities. One morning, on an extended day hike to the North Georgia mountains, he found himself among a breakaway group of hikers which included an attractive blonde with a runner’s physique who introduced herself as Aly, and said she was an elementary school teacher. As the hike progressed, Tim found himself engrossed in a conversation with her about education funding and how woefully inadequate she found the state’s commitment to teaching, despite the funds coming in as a result of the lottery. As the subjects shifted, Tim noted Aly was responding to his jokes, and asked him many questions, genuinely interested in getting to know him. When they came to the end of the hike, Tim learned she was Alyssa Walker and that she lived on his side of town, near Lenox. He took a chance and asked if she’d be interested in meeting for coffee some afternoon and she proposed they have dinner instead.
Their first official date was to a sushi place on Buford Highway, and a movie at the metroplex on Interstate 85. From there they saw one another every few nights during the school year, and a few months after meeting one another, Alyssa took him home to meet her father. Working in the mortgage industry, Tim was familiar with Walker Development, and the role Paxton had played in shaping Atlanta, but the man Tim met seemed down to earth and welcoming, totally devoted to his youngest daughter. Throughout the evening, though Alyssa had mentioned having a sister, her name never came up, which Tim found rather odd. When he asked Alyssa about it, she explained that Paxton and Leah weren’t speaking to one another and it was good Tim hadn’t brought it up while they were together. A few weeks later, Tim suggested Alyssa could move into his apartment, but she refused, not due to a lack of desire on her part, but because she wanted more of a commitment if they were going to live together. It took Tim another month or so, but finally he decided he’d found the woman with whom he wanted to spend the rest of his life and proposed. Alyssa joyously accepted.
The wedding was the most elaborate Tim had ever seen and he was glad his participation consisted of him showing up at the church on time, since he was certain planning was a logistical nightmare. His extended family and friends took up most of the first three pews to the right of the altar, whereas Alyssa’s family, and friends, and her father’s business associates, took up every available space left in the sanctuary that probably seated over three hundred. The wedding was presided over by family friend and former United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young, and, at Alyssa’s request, included the Rabbi from the Temple she attended as a child. Her immediate family took up the first few rows, important guests took up the next few and there was quite a number, any other random friends took up the remaining seats. Alyssa had been upset to learn that a number of her father’s family had sent regrets, but Tim learned after he arrived that another member of Alyssa’s family had interceded and gotten everyone there.
The ceremony itself rivaled a royal wedding in its opulence, the bride proceeded by a children’s choir singing The Bride’s Chorus from Lohengrin a cappella, followed by the flower girl, then the ring bearer, the bridal party, and, at last the bride and her father. They were followed by a woman with dark, reddish hair, distinctive blue eyes, and wearing a dark, man-tailored business suit, who nodded or otherwise acknowledged individuals in the bride’s section. It was the first time Tim had actually seen Alyssa’s sister Leah, who Paxton had tried to exclude from the guest list. As Paxton and Alyssa stopped at the altar, Leah slipped behind them and took a seat in the front pew. The ceremony itself was short and to the point. Tim and Alyssa had prepared a few words, but otherwise, it was a traditional ceremony. At the reception, Tim finally met Leah and got his first initiation into Walker family politics. Alyssa’s mother’s side of the family hardly interacted with anyone else in the family other than Leah, who seemed to go out of her way to avoid the wife of one of her uncles, and Paxton and Leah barely exchanged ten words between them.
In the months afterward, Alyssa slowly filled Tim in on the specifics as she knew them, and he began to notice how much influence Paxton had over Alyssa. She rarely contradicted anything her father said in front of him, and while Paxton would visit the Caines on a regular basis, Alyssa had very little contact with her sister, beyond phone calls and one or two visits, when it was certain Paxton wouldn’t be calling. Tim learned, early on, that Paxton had offered considerable financial assistance to him and Alyssa, and he had to politely, but firmly refuse, which had caused some tension with Alyssa, not because they needed it, but because she didn’t feel comfortable refusing offers from Paxton.
Totally on his own, Tim rang up Leah while he was downtown once, and dropped by her office to get better acquainted. What struck him most about her was how much like Paxton she was, cordial but distant, revealing very little about how she felt about anything. He found her tendency to refer to Alyssa as “Princess” a bit condescending, but admitted it seemed to suit his wife, who avoided conflicts, particularly with her father. Leah had no blinders on about Paxton.
“He’s offered some sort of financial assistance hasn’t he?” Leah said when Tim inquired about Alyssa’s past relationship with her father.
“Yes,” Tim said.
“Typical,” she said. “How did you respond?”
“When we were together, Alyssa and I agreed we didn’t need it,” Tom said. “But when he brought it up at the house, she said we hadn’t made a decision. We actually got into an argument about it after he left.”
“Yes, you’ll see that pattern again,” Leah said. “Alyssa was very young when Mom died, and Dad tends to be more than a little controlling.”
“I’ve picked up on that,” he said.
“If you really want to get into an argument, let her know you talked to me,” Leah said.
“Then I shouldn’t mention I saw you?” Tim says.
She leans forward. “Oh, you can mention it, just don’t tell her what we talked about. Lay it on me. Tell her I set up the meeting so we could get acquainted.”
“Step lightly when the subject of Dad comes up,” Leah said. “It’s Alyssa’s major blind spot.”
He had taken these words to heart and learned to navigate around interference from his father-in-law, occasionally having to assert himself, until he developed an uncomfortable truce. Paxton’s death had thrown Alyssa into a deep sadness, and Tim has worried she might require professional help to work past it. He took it as a promising sign when she went back to work, but now the car accident, followed by her personality shift left him wondering how to help his wife.
He exits the elevator and heads to Alyssa’s room, finding it empty, and the clothes he brought for her missing.