I actually came up with this idea before I came up with the idea for CRAVE: The Seduction of Snow White. It was a tricky puzzle: how do you update something as classic and, well, magical as Sleeping Beauty? Meeting the challenge of reinventing the fairy tale has made this book one of my favorites.
-- Book Binge (posted 11.23.08)
Dr. Jacob White pulled up to the large house in the Hamptons, pulling his Lexus to a smooth halt in the curving driveway. There was a crisp snap to the air. Fall was coming, and this place would go from the heights of the summer bustle to the dormancy of winter weather. Strange place to keep a patient, he thought as he rang the doorbell. Still, he wasn't here for the nightlife. He was here to cure someone who couldn't be cured.
In short, he was here to do his job.
A maid, dressed in a simple gray uniform, opened the door.
"I'm Dr. White," he said. "Mrs. Jacquard is expecting me."
She acknowledged this with a silent nod, then gestured for him to enter the house. The interior was French Colonial: dark wood paneling, lots of moldings. Everything expensive, tasteful, understated. He walked down a long corridor to a sitting room, where Mrs. Jacquard sat on a suede divan. She stood with effort. Although he would guess she was only in her sixties, she moved like someone much older. Her Chanel suit demurely projected old money and high society.
Which would explain the exorbitant amount she was offering to pay him, he thought. Not that he particularly needed the money, but it showed she was serious.
"Dr. White," she said, offering her hand. He shook it carefully, since everything about her seemed fragile. He sat after she did. "I’m so glad you've agreed to help my daughter. We've come very close to losing hope."
"I can't promise anything," he said off-handedly, "but I'm looking forward to the challenge."
Mrs. Jacquard cleared her throat, her tone hesitant. "She's been treated by a lot of doctors over the past six years."
Jacob smiled. She's never been treated by me.
"I should hope my record for recovery would speak for itself," he replied instead. "In any case, I will certainly do all I can for your daughter."
She nodded, her movements bird-like, small and delicate. "I suppose that's all we can ask," she said softly. "So many of the best minds in your field – Richards, Bjornsen, Hataki – have turned down treating her, saying there was no possibility of recovery."
That caused Jacob to start. The names she'd rattled off so casually were the penultimate experts in neurology. The fact that they'd turned down her case as hopeless made him feel uneasy. He hadn't done as much research into this case as he normally did before taking it on.
He felt he hadn't needed to.
She was known in medical circles as "Sleeping Beauty", practically an urban myth among the neurological community: a young woman in a mysterious coma for six years, with no clear causation and no response, after a multitude of treatments. Curing her would be like finding the Holy Grail. When Mrs. Jacquard called, he found himself tempted by the challenge.
Now, he had to see if he had what it took, to find the solution to a puzzle that had all his peers stumped.
He all but rubbed his hands together, eager to get started. "I'm going to need all her case files," he said.
"So you mentioned," she said. "I've had all of her files put in your room. I hope you don't mind that we've set up a room for you here?"
"Not at all." He wasn't planning on sleeping much, anyway. There was too much work to be done. "It will be much more convenient this way. I'll settle in after I get a look at my patient."
Her eyes narrowed, and he wrestled with a surge of impatience. "Dr. White… what, exactly, do you know about my daughter?"
He shrugged. "I know that she was on a vacation in the Caribbean, that she fell into a coma and that there was no clear reason for what caused it."
"You've heard the rumors, then." Her cultured voice was tinged with bitterness.
"Yes." He shrugged again. There was no point in denying it.
"My daughter did not use drugs," she said sternly. "There was no group orgy, no rough sex that caused head trauma, no use of hallucinogens. She's a good girl. She's always been a good girl." She cocked her head, her bright eyes studying him. "Do you believe that?"
She stared at him, as if gauging the honesty of his reaction. After long moments, she relaxed against the back of her divan. "You mean that."
"How could you tell?" She asked, with a small smile.
"Because if she'd done any of those things," he answered, "it would have shown up for other doctors, and you wouldn't need me."
Her face fell.
"Mrs. Jacquard, I’m not here to judge your daughter," he said. "I've heard tons of crazy rumors, certainly, but I will tell you this: I am one of the best. I will go over the case files, but I am willing to bet that the reason your daughter is still under is because something was missed… something simple but vital. If there's anything nefarious in her past that might have contributed to her state – and consequently, might help wake her up – then I'll find it and use it. If that's a problem, then perhaps we shouldn't continue."
He waited, his body completely relaxed.
Her brow furrowed. Then she nodded.
"They said you might be a tad brusque," she remarked.
"I'm sorry for that," he answered. "But I get the job done."
"I certainly hope so." She stood, with some effort. "Well then, let's show you your patient."
He followed her down yet another corridor. The whole house seemed to have a strange silence to it, thick enough to touch. It was claustrophobic. He ignored the sensation, focusing instead on his excitement. This was the case that would be the signature for his whole career, he thought, his heart accelerating slightly.
She opened a door, pausing to look at him expectantly.
"This is my daughter."
He stepped in and was momentarily jarred. There were many familiar elements: medical monitoring equipment beeping faintly, the antiseptic scent that permeated every hospital he'd ever worked in. But the room was a girl's room. There were posters on the walls, teen idols from a decade ago. The walls were a faded robin's egg blue. There was a desk, a television, a twin bed, as well as a dresser with small figurines on it. For a second, he anticipated seeing a child lying before him.
Then he got a good look at his new patient.
"What the hell?"
He shot a quick look at her mother. She obviously was used to a similar reaction. "She is your patient. This is my Rory."
He turned back, staring at the woman lying in the bed. Long, golden blonde hair flowed in waves across the pillowcase. Her skin was porcelain perfect, pale as pearl, yet with a glow of rose beneath the smooth softness that reminded him of a Rembrandt he'd seen years ago, brilliant with the artifice of life. Her lips were a dusky raspberry, pouting and full. Her long eyelashes rested on her cheeks like fringe.
He was expecting to see what he always saw, in a case like this: the emaciated body of a young woman turned spindling and wan by the ravages of six years of coma. But she wasn't gaunt. Far from it, despite the IV hooked into her arm. From what he could see, she had a good shape, trim but womanly beneath her thin blanket. Her breasts rose and fell gently, her breathing unlabored. She looked like she was merely sleeping.
"What is this?" he demanded, his voice coming out hoarse. "Some kind of hoax?"
"This is what they can't explain," Mrs. Jacquard answered sharply. "This is why fourteen doctors before you have quit, and why twenty others have turned my requests down. This is why I called you." She paused, and when he looked at her, she seemed to be bracing herself. "Will you still take her on as a patient, Dr. White?"
His eyes were drawn back inexorably to the woman lying there, so beautiful, so perfect. So trapped. His whole body ached for a brief, confusing moment.
You should say no. The others had turned this case down for a reason, his logical mind argued sternly. He was good, but he wasn't a magician. There was no explanation for something this bizarre.
He took a step closer to the body. He should leave, he thought.
He touched her wrist. The pulse was weak, but stronger than he'd imagined. Her skin felt buttery soft, supple and sleek beneath his fingertips. He felt a pulse of heat shooting up from his hand, and he released her, momentarily stunned.
You should go.
He closed his eyes.
"Rory," Mrs. Jacquard said. "It's a nickname, for Aurora."
"Rory," he repeated, and stroked her arm unconsciously. There was something here. More than his case, more than his career. There was something fascinating. Hypnotic. Compelling.
He leaned down, whispering gently.
"Hello, Rory. I'm Dr. Jacob White." He paused. "I'm here to wake you up."