Posted in Natalie

Natalie: Part 4- I’ll Be Home for Christmas Installment One

How can a person not want to go home for Christmas?

I knew it was a nearly impossible dream. When I first got to rehab, the thought of Florida at Christmastime was the only thing that kept me going.

Well it was December 16, and not a word about being released from rehab had been uttered. I guess I’d be spending another holiday in rehab. First my birthday, then Thanksgiving, and now Christmas.

“Why the long face?” Daddy asked when he, Momma, and Yule walked into my room. They were trying their hardest to hide their smiles and smirks. Something was up.

“Was I wearing a long face?” I asked knowing I was.

“You were looking nostalgic,” Momma said.

“Well with Christmas coming up and all,” I said.

“You want to go home,” Daddy stated.

“Yeah,” I said.

“Well, I’m sorry,” Momma said, “but December 20th was the best we could get.”

“That’s ok,” I said turning around. “Wait…what!”

“You’re being released!” Momma, Daddy, and Yule shouted. Noel walked into the room with a noisemaker in her mouth.

“Natalie’s going home for Christmas!” Noel shouted.

“I’ll be home for Christmas?” I asked. This just seemed so unreal.

“Yup,” Momma said. She pulled a suitcase from behind her back.

The next four days were torture.

I had a bunch of doctor’s visits just make sure that I was breathing ok and my spine wasn’t swelling. Momma and Jaci had to pack for me since couldn’t leave rehab. I had to do a test on December 19th to make sure that I really knew everything I needed to know. Then at ten A.M. December 20th I was free.

“How does it fell to be in a car again, kid?” Yule asked me as we got on the highway.

“Nauseating,” I said. I hadn’t been in a car since early October.

Momma seemed to agree with me. She looked sick. She had her head in her hands.

“Stop the car,” Momma groaned.

“Riley, are you all right?” Daddy asked.

“Stop the car!” Momma shouted. Daddy pulled over on the side of the road, and Momma ran out the door. She started to vomit on the side of the road.

“Yuck!” Megan screamed. I couldn’t help but chuckle a little bit.

Momma got back in the car without saying anything. She fell asleep right away, and ten minutes later she woke up and started yelling about how she had to use the bathroom.

And that’s how our trip went. Momma would fall and asleep and less than thirty minutes later she would have to pee.

At one o’clock, the time we were supposed to be arriving in Florida, we still had another hour to go, and everyone was starving.

“I want Wendy’s!” Megan screamed at the top of her lungs when Daddy asked what did we want to eat.

“No, McDonald’s!” Noel screamed. She started to scream “I’m lovin’ it®” over and over again.

“Please stop, honey,” Momma said. She sounded like she was dizzy, and she looked like she could vomit again.

Noel stopped and then started pointing at a sign that had a picture of McDonald’s one it. She kept pointing in the direction of the sign even when it was out of sight. After about two minutes though she stopped and started staring at her hand.

“Natalie, honey bear, what do you want to eat?” Daddy asked.

“I want some greasy fries,” I said in a desirous voice. Rehab food is not much better than hospital food. It’s all healthy too, which isn’t a bad thing but eating that food for two months makes you want some McDonald’s fries real bad.

McDonald’s it is,” Daddy said.

“Good,” Momma said. “I have got to use the restroom.”

We got off, used the bathroom, and ate lunch. We got stuck in traffic once we hit Berkshire County, and didn’t arrive in Florida until three P.M.

“The sign with the snowman!” Megan screamed when the sign appeared. Momma and Daddy let out a well held sign. Yule, who had been here before, started to amaze me by telling me what was coming up next and the names of trees. Noel didn’t really seem to care and just sucked her finger. Jaci looked excited, and I just couldn’t stop smiling.

“I’m home. I’m finally home,” I said as we pulled up into the B&B driveway.

I saw that someone had put up a wheelchair ramp. Virginia, Emily, and Regina ran out of the house and to the car.

“You’re here!” Virginia cried as I got out of the car. “There’s so much to tell. First I think I should tell you that Darcy didn’t take anyone to Homecoming in October. Second, Ms. O’Donnell has a BOYFRIEND! He’s her next door neighbor, and yours truly got the two of them together! Mrs. Stewart became a Christian. Jessie-Maria is on her way. Ms. Donna is calling her now. We thought you’d guys never show up. Oh, um, who’s this dude?”

“Slow down,” I laughed. “This is my big brother Yule.”

“You have a brother?” Emily, Regina, and Virginia said at the same time.

“Long story,” I said. “Where’s Darcy?”

“Who knows,” Virginia said running up the B&B steps.

“Nice of ya to mention me,” Yule joked as I rolled up the wheelchair ramp.

“You know I love you,” I said. Yule laughed.

Nothing about the B&B had changed. It was the same was when we left. Darcy was standing in the arch looking unsure of what to do.

“Darcy!” I shouted. I rolled as fast as I could and gave Darcy a huge hug.

“Can’t…breathe…,” Darcy said.

“Sorry,” I said letting go.

“Somebody’s excited,” Darcy said. He looked the same except he was taller. His voice had changed.

“Put me down!” I shouted as Darcy picked me up out of my wheelchair.

Darcy laughed.

“You’re strong,” I said. “Put me down.”

“You’re heavy,” Darcy laughed. “Nope.” I smiled. Darcy looked at Yule.

“Darcy, this is my big brother, Yule,” I said. Darcy’s face was priceless. He almost dropped me.

“Haven’t I seen you before?” Darcy asked.

“Um, yeah, I’m a relative of Fowler Stewart,” Yule said. He hurried towards the restaurant.

Darcy put me back into my wheelchair and pushed me into the resturant.

Jessie-Maria came running into the restaurant and fainted.

“Sean? Sean, are you all right?” Yule asked walking up to Jessie-Maria’s limp body. He ran his fingers through her newly highlighted hair. He gave one of those memorable laughs. He picked Jessie-Maria’s body up and set her down in a booth.

Jessie-Maria came too soon after that. She looked at Yule in disbelief.

“Hey, Blondie,” Yule laughed.

“My hair is not blonde!” Jessie-Maria argued. “I got it highlighted. My dad wouldn’t in a million years let me dye my hair.”

“I bet he fainted when he saw your hair,” Yule smiled. Jessie-Maria shook her head and laughed.

“Wait, you two know each other?” I asked. A sweet smile came to Jessie-Maria’s face. She took a necklace off of her neck. On it instead of a pendant there was a class ring on the chain.

“You actually wear it? I thought you would just stash it away in your underwear drawer,” Yule said.

“Actually,” Jessie-Maria said with embarrassment in her voice, “This was the first time I’ve taken it off in two years.”

Yule put the necklace back on Jessie-Maria’s neck; Jessie-Maria’s face lit up more than the New York City night skyline.

“I’m lost,” Virginia said. She was pouting, and I laughed.

“Let’s see,” Jessie-Maria said. “I met Yule two years ago. I was volunteering at a hospital/rehabilitation center. Yule had been shot in the hip and was acting like a snake” Yule laughed. “Nobody who was paid to work there wanted to work with him so they had me, a ten to eleven year old girl, take care of him. I had to do everything for him, even feed and dress him which made no sense because he had a hip injury. For some reason I was the only person he didn’t shun. After a while I started to love this grump, and it turns out the feeling was mutual. I convinced the Johnson’s to let me stay long enough to help Yule out. When he got better, the Johnson’s called Mr. Bill, and I was gone. But before I left Yule gave me his freshman class ring. It was way too big for my fingers so I put it on a chain and wore it around my neck…everywhere.”

“How romantic!” Virginia squealed.

“I’m outta here,” Yule said getting up and walking up the steps. Jessie-Maria laughed and smiled.

“Yule never said anything about a girl,” I said shaking my head.

“How did you meet him anyway?” Virginia asked. “And how in the world is he your brother? Are your parents adopting him or something?”

“It’s a long story,” I said shaking my head.

“Well promise us that you’ll tell us all these long stories at the sleepover we’ve planned for you,” Emily blurted.

“Emily!” Jessie-Maria, Virginia, and Regina cried. “It was supposed to be a surprise!”

“Ooops…,” Emily said blushing.

“Come here!” I cried opening my arm. The girls gave me a hug that hurt my ribs so badly, but the hug was worth it.

**

For dinner just about everyone in Florida crammed into the restaurant to come see me. I received lots more flowers and candy…and a lot of hugs.

Mr. Stewart and Timmy came late. When Timmy showed up, Jaci practically flew into Timmy’s arms. Timmy carried Jaci to the least crowded part of the restaurant, and they started talking about a mile a minute.

I noticed Momma made herself absent when Mr. Stewart showed up. When he spotted Yule and Noel, I thought he was going to drop down dead.

“Grandpa! You won’t believe it! Cousin Yule and Cousin Noel are Natalie’s brother and sister!” Emily shouted when Mr. Stewart walked towards the table she was sitting at with Jessie-Maria, Yule, Noel, Virginia, Darcy, and me on the end.

Oh, he better believe it.

“Hello, sir,” Yule said offering his hand. There was sadness and pain in his eyes. Mr. Stewart’s eyes were as cold as stone.

“Hello, son,” Mr. Stewart said shaking his hand. The words seemed to stab Yule’s heart. It was like Mr. Stewart was talking of code. He was recognizing Yule as his son, but nobody would give a second thought about it.

“And hello, Noel,” Mr. Stewart said to Noel sweetly. She looked at Mr. Stewart’s forehead for a second and then went back to stealing food off of Yule’s and my plate.

“I wonder what’s up with him,” Emily mumbled as Mr. Stewart walked away. “He’s never changed moods like that.”

Yule just put a big mouth full of macaroni and cheese in his mouth.

“So how do you like the new menu?” Ms. Donna asked walking up to the table.

“I really like the mac and cheese,” I said rubbing my belly. Ms. Donna smiled.

“I decided that two choices were just too plain,” Ms. Donna said. “So I added macaroni and cheese, baked and fried chicken, grilled cheese sandwiches for the kids, and hamburgers. I’m thinking about adding pizza!”

“That would be so good,” Virginia said. “Pizza is the one thing I haven’t master yet.”

Ms. Donna laughed and walked away.

“FOWLER STEWART!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Everyone looked to the door where Mrs. Stewart was standing. She was mad and looked ready to throw the book in her hand at Mr. Stewart.

“Lori,” Mr. Stewart said looking at the book in Mrs. Stewart’s hand and not her eyes, “not here.”

“Yes, here!” Mrs. Stewart screamed. “The whole world deserves to know the snake of a husband I have!”

“Lori,” Mr. Stewart said with a shaky voice. “What are you talking about?”

“This!” Mrs. Stewart yelled opening the book. “Explain yourself!”

Even from afar I could see that the book was a photo album. I couldn’t really see the pictures but I was sure they were baby pictures of some sort.

“And this!” Mrs. Stewart screamed flipping the page. The entire room gasped.

Mrs. Stewart started to walk around the room showing just about everyone the picture. It was a picture of my mom. She was holding either Yule or Noel in her arms. She looked young and scared; she had several scares on face. Mr. Stewart was in the corner looking at the baby in Momma’s arms. His expression was downright scary.

“And this!” Mrs. Stewart screamed. She looked around for Momma, and when she didn’t see her, she handed Daddy two pieces of paper.

“Read it! Read them both!” Mrs. Stewart cried. Daddy hesitated for a second, but he didn’t dare deify Mrs. Stewart in this mood.

“Name: Yule Nicholas Walters-Stewart. Date of birth: August 1st. Place of birth: Berkshire Pittsfield Hospital. Parents: Fowler Stewart and Riley Anne Walters,” Daddy read.

“That’s enough of that one,” Mrs. Stewart said. “Read the other one.”

“Name: Noel Joy Baldwin-Stewart. Date of birth: December 25th. Place of birth: The Hospital of Tampa, Florida. Parents: Fowler Stewart and Riley Anne Baldwin,” Daddy read.

“That’s quite enough,” Mrs. Stewart said.

Everyone was staring at Mr. Stewart. Mr. Stewart was looking around for Momma, but she still hadn’t come back. Mr. Stewart looked mad.

“Lori, I can explain everything,” Mr. Stewart said.

“Then explain!” Mrs. Stewart screamed.

“Not here,” Mr. Stewart said. “Let’s go home and talk about it.”

Mrs. Stewart looked reluctant.

“Fine,” Mrs. Stewart said gritting her teeth. She marched out of the restaurant, and Mr. Stewart followed.

Momma walked into the restaurant looking sick. Everyone stared at her with sad and companionate looks.

“What did I miss?” Momma asked.

Posted in Natalie

COMING SOON: Natalie Part 4- I’ll Be Home For Christmas

Coming Soon: Natalie Part 4-I’ll Be Home For Christmas

“I’m home. I’m finally home.”

Fresh out of rehab, Natalie can’t wait to get back to Florida, but her return back to Florida is nothing like she expected. Within her first day back, Mr. Stewart is arrested, two ‘long’ lost lovers are reunited, and a strange blind girl is found in the B&B attic. As the past slowly unfolds, Natalie discovers the true meaning of the word family.

Posted in Natalie

Natalie: Part 3- Heaven Everywhere Installment Twenty-Three

**

I stared out the window. Snow was falling from the New York City sky. It was seven weeks later and my thirteenth birthday.

I felt like the snow was for me. I had been feeling rather depressed lately. I had been in rehab for a couple of weeks now. I was learning how to use my wheelchair, get in and out of bed, bathe, eat, get dressed, and some fun stuff too(which included piano. Surprisingly Daddy tried to talk me OUT of taking lessons). But no matter how hard I tried or how much determination I built up, I was still depressed. I couldn’t find the heaven in my accident no matter how hard I tried.

I flipped through one of my old art notebooks. I was going to take an art class that night and was feeling nostalgic. On one of the pages instead of a picture or drawing, it was a list.

Thirteen Things To Do Before Turning Thirteen

1. Visit Grandma and Grandpa in London, England

2. Go on a road trip

3. Visit New York City

4. Go to a dance with a date and everything

5. Be in a wedding party

6. Get my ears pierced

7. See snow!

8. Visit Washington D.C.

9. Learn how to ride a bike or skateboard

10. Break a bone

11. Get a job

12. Perform in a talent show

13. Make a BFF for life

I ripped the piece of paper out of the notebook and started to shred it. Tears started to pour out. Nowhere on that list did it say “Become Paraplegic!” or “Go to rehab!” But through my tear stained eyes I noticed something.

I had visited Grandpa and Grandma Baldwin on spring break. The night Momma and I drove to Florida could count as a road trip. I did way more than just visit New York City. I went to the Valentines’ Day Dance with Darcy. I had been in three weddings parties in less than a year. I got my ears pierced…against my will but still. I had got to see snow. I was seeing snow right then. Momma and I drove through Washington D.C. I learned how to both ride a bike and skateboard. I had broken my foot and my back…I had been a waitress at the B&B. I performed in the Christmas in July show. And Virginia, Regina, and even Emily were my best friends for life.

Tears started to pour down my face faster. I don’t even remember making the list, but I had done all the things on it. And in less than a year. I sighed. I opened the drawer of my desk and took out some tape. I was starting to repair the list when Daddy walked in the room.

“I know you’re about to have cake,” Daddy said placing a cupcake in front of me, “but it’s supposed to be one of the best cupcakes in New York City.”

I stared at him. A year ago I didn’t even know he existed. Three months ago I didn’t even want him in my life. And now seven weeks after a life changing event, I couldn’t imagine life without him. If Daddy hadn’t been here, I would probably still be in stage one of my learning.

“Why are you looking at me like that?” Daddy asked.

“I was just thinking,” I said.

“Just thinking,” Daddy said in a goofy voice. I smiled and nodded. I handed him the list.

“What happened here?” Daddy asked as he read the list.

“I got angry,” I said.

“Why? Didn’t you do all these things?” Daddy asked.

“Yeah, I did them all,” I said, “but…”

“But what?” Daddy asked taking my psoriasis lotion out of my bag.

“I can’t find the heaven in my accident,” I finally said.

“The what?” Daddy asked as he rubbed the lotion in.

“The beauty. The meaning. I call it heaven,” I said. Daddy nodded.

“I mean what good can come out becoming paraplegic?” I asked.

“To tell you the truth, honey bear, I’m as in the dark about it as you, but I do know that in the end it will work out,” Daddy said screwing the lid back on the lotion. He dropped the bottle of lotion because his hands were trembling so much.

I smiled and couldn’t help but laugh. For the first week I was in the hospital, Daddy was a total wreck. He passed out a couple of times and had to change his shirt at least four times a day. He and Momma soon made up after Momma saw how real his fear of hospitals was. By the third week, he had gotten better, but when he saw a dead body…Now he just trembled a lot and rarely passed out. He got out of the hospital/rehab at least once a day. Sometimes he went to Central Park for fresh air. Sometimes he went to the apartment and took a nap in peace. And on special days like this, he brought me back something. I bit into the soft and moist cupcake. It was by far the best cupcake I’d ever had.

“You think it’s funny?” Daddy joked handing me the bottle of lotion so I could do my arms and neck.

“A little,” I smiled. Daddy returned the smile.

“I just noticed something,” I said looking at him.

“What?” He asked.

“You have dimples!” I shouted. “No wonder my mom likes you so much.”

I pictured my father’s face. He had dimples too.

Daddy laughed and shook his head.

“You’re just noticing that?” Daddy asked.

“Yeah,” I said sheepishly.

“Did you do your weights?” Daddy asked.

“Yes,” I mumbled. I hate lifting weights but it was necessary. I had to keep a strong upper body and lifting weights ‘fit’ me. But I couldn’t complain. My lung capacity had already expanded.

“Hide me!” Yule cried running into the room and locking the door.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“The nurses,” Yule said in a disgusted tone.

I laughed. Ever since we got here, the unmarried nurses and female doctors went crazy over Yule. Nicole, who helped me learn how to get dressed and feed myself, can’t stop talking about Yule during my learning time. It had gotten so bad that if I wasn’t almost finished with my course I would ask to switch teachers.

“Happy Birthday!” Noel shouted from the other side of the door. “Unlock, now!”

I rolled over to the door and unlocked the door.

Noel pushed in a cart full of flowers. There was also three very small present on the cart. Momma, Abby, Zach, Jaci, and Megan followed Noel into the room.

Momma looked overly tired, but the smile on her face seemed to wipe the sleepless nights away. Abby, who had recently started to wear maternity clothes, had a hint of frosting on her lips and I guessed that Daddy had brought her a cupcake too. My suspicion was answered when I noticed that Noel had a red tongue, Megan had frosting in her hair, Jaci still had a cupcake in her hand, and Momma well Momma just looked like someone who had just tasted the joy of a cupcake.

“So you told us that you wanted nothing for your birthday,” Momma said taking one of the little gifts off the cart. “But they were out of nothing at the story. Apparently they were out of nothing in Florida too since all these flowers or for you.”

I laughed.

Momma handed me the box.

“That’s from us,” Yule said. “Your siblings.”

I opened my box and inside it was a necklace that had my name on it. My name was surrounded by hearts.

“It’s beautiful,” I smiled. Yule put it on me.

“It’s low enough that it won’t choke you,” Yule said.

“I thought of the gift!” Noel said slowly. I opened my arms for a hug, and Noel squeezed me very tight.

“Almost lost you, sister,” Noel said. “Love ya.”

“I love you too,” I cried. Tears poured out of Noel’s eyes.

“And this is from me,” Daddy said handing me the one of the boxes. “Your mother and I couldn’t agree on what to get you so we got separate gifts.”

Momma smiled and shook her head.

Inside the box there was a ring. It had a heart on it and a tiny diamond was inside the heart. Inside the band it said “My daughter, my love.” It was my turn to be speechless. I soon found myself crying my eyes out.

“Do you not like?” Daddy asked with worry in his voice.

“I love it,” I cried. “I love you.”

Once again Daddy was speechless. We had come a long way in seven weeks. If it hadn’t been for the accident, we would probably still be bickering and fighting. Maybe that was the reason this had to happen. Something had to happen to get the fact that Daddy loved me through my head. In the past seven weeks, Daddy had done so much for me. He hated hospitals, yet he was there for me every day. That meant more to me than words could explain.

“I love you too,” Daddy finally managed to get out.

“Open my present!” Momma shouted like an excited child.

I took the little box from her hand and opened it. Inside there was a gold bracelet with my name on it.

“To match your necklace,” Momma said.

“Thank you,” I smiled.

Then we cut the cake, but everybody was full from the best cupcakes ever except Yule and Zach. They were saving their cupcakes for ‘later’.

It was the most sentimental birthday I’ve had so far. I’ve only taken my bracelet off once when the clasp broke. I wore my necklace and ring expect when I was sleeping and showering.

My life was now limited, but somehow it was just…better. I had a dad again. I had siblings! I had a family.

Now the only thing that would complete the year would be going home for Christmas.

THE END

Posted in A Moment With Me

A Moment With Me, Ari

Yesterday, my mom beat me at Scramble with Friends.

I thought I’d be upset about or cry or something. I also thought my mom would go screaming from the rooftops or post the picture of her score higher than mine or something.

But no. I wasn’t upset, and my mom didn’t even tell me.

I have gotten better at Scramble since I started playing my mom so that was a plus. I also beat her at the other game we had going…

Oh, well.

Posted in Verse of the Day

Verse of the Day

Galatians 2:20

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Posted in Natalie

Natalie: Part 3- Heaven Everywhere Installment Twenty-Two

**

“I still can’t believe you brought that thing,” Abby said as Momma handed her some ice for the bump in her head.

“What?” Zach asked as he grabbed a Wii remote controller. “You said we weren’t leaving New York until after Thanksgiving.”

“I thought maybe we could go sightseeing,” Abby said. “Not Just Dancing.”

Zach laughed.

“How’s everyone?” I asked sitting down next to Abby.

“Virginia has been hanging out at the B&B a lot recently. Jessie-Maria devotes all her time to the twins. Emily has been extra bossy. Darcy kinda mopes around and swears that he’s fine,” Abby said. “And I have been counting down the days until Thanksgiving in vain.”

I laughed.

“So what’s this news that can’t be told over the phone?” Momma asked sitting down on the couch.

“Well,” Abby started, “I’m going to have a baby.”

Everyone gave Abby a hug and congratulated Zach.

“So how have you been?” Abby asked me after everyone gave her a hug.

“A mess,” I said. “But I’m trusting.”

Yule winked at me.

“Now, who wants to play against me?” Zach asked waving a couple of remotes.

**

“Aren’t you getting tired?” Yule asked. It was almost eleven o’clock and everybody else had already gone to bed, and Yule, being Yule, had stayed up with me.

“I’m only ten points away from beating Zach’s high score,” I said. “You can go to bed you know.”

“I know,” Yule shrugged. “You can always try in the morning you know. The Wii’s not going anywhere.”

“I have insomnia remember?” I asked jokingly. Yule sat down on the couch and contemplated what to say.

“I’ll make a deal with you,” Yule said. “If you go to sleep now I’ll take you to that brand new skate board park tomorrow and teach you a couple of tricks.”

“Deal,” I smiled. I put down the controller and walked into my bedroom.

Noel was sleeping on my bed. I climbed in and soon fell asleep to her rhythmic breathing.

**

When I woke up, I was flying in the air. My ribs hurt. In the corner of my eye I saw a car speeding away. My back hit the sidewalk hard, and there was a loud popping sound.

“Natalie!” Yule cried. He was shirtless and shoeless.

“Why don’t you have a shirt on?” I groaned.

“That’s the least of our worries right now,” Yule mumbled.

I tried to get up, but my legs didn’t even twitch.

“Don’t move,” Yule said. He held my head in place.

Momma, Jaci, and Noel ran out the apartment building. Noel started to vomit. Momma was screaming into the phone.

“My daughter has just been hit by a car.”

That’s when I started to panic.

Why hadn’t the driver of the car stop?

Who was driving the car?

How did I even end up outside?

Sleepwalking.

Oh no, this was it. I had done it. My sleepwalking was going to kill me. I started to feel scared and seeing blood all over Yule’s abdomen did not help.

My life started to flash before me. I saw days at the beach with my father. I saw my Dad giving me my fudge tin. I saw days at the beach with my mother just after my dad died. I saw myself on my first day of first grade. I saw myself painting and sitting at the lunch table with other ‘artistic’ people. I saw Ryan trying to grab me and screaming. I saw the long car ride to Florida clearly. I saw the Christmas Party. I saw that Christmas morning. I saw the panic attacks, Grandma Shirley, and almost leaving the country. I saw Jaci and Megan’s coming. I saw the Marshmallow World Day. I saw the Valentine’s Day dance. I saw the Bridal Shower. I saw my mother’s wedding. I saw England. I saw myself riding a bike. I saw the Father-Daughter Dance. I saw Abby’s wedding and Momma’s conversation with Mr. Stewart. I saw the night Mr. Steve told us we were moving. I saw us moving. I saw Yule’s face at the door. I saw the sad look on Noel’s face. I saw Dr. Janet’s face. I saw dance class. I saw Yule teaching me how to ride a skateboard. I saw Ms. Angela’s face. I saw Momma’s face when we learned she was Yule and Noel’s mother. I saw Abby fainting. I saw Yule staying up with me. I saw Noel sleeping on my bed and could almost hear her calm rhythmic breathing.

People were staring at me. Some were laughing and taking pictures of me. Some of the women were crying. One guy kept yelling and cursing out the driver of the car that hit me. Abby and Zach had come out. Abby was trying to shield Megan from seeing me, but Megan had seen me and kept asking why I was lying on the sidewalk. Mr. Steve wasn’t outside, but I could vaguely see some activity in our apartment window on the sixth floor.

I wanted to cry, but no tears would come out my eyes. Then I noticed Jaci. I had seen her run out of the apartment, but I just didn’t notice her. She was in her pajamas. She was saying something and it was very familiar to my ears. She was reciting the words from my pictures. She kept repeating it over and over again. Those words soothed my fears. The scared feeling I had washed away. God will save me. God will save me from whatever was going on right now. What Jaci said felt better than crying. It was like music to my ears.

The rest was very hazy. I remember being loaded into an ambulance. Neither Momma nor Yule could come with me and that just made me even more scared.

I remember having to have a CT scan, an X-RAY, and a MRI scan. Then they told me that I had to have surgery right away.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” I mumbled as they sedated me.

**

When I woke up, everything hurt. There was a strange brace on my body. My legs still felt unattached and that’s what scared me the most.

“You’re up.”

I tried to turn my head, but I couldn’t. I didn’t need to see the person to know it was Yule.

“What happened,” I said. “My brain feels fried.”

“Excuse me,” Yule said walking out.

That didn’t help any.

“Should one of us tell her or the doctor?” I heard Yule ask.

“You tell her,” I heard Momma say.

“Why me?

“The two of you have a correlative relationship. I don’t like the idea of a doctor telling her. She loves Abby and Jaci, but I just don’t think they should tell her. Noel would barely be able to get the words out and she may seem a little insensitive. I can’t trust myself to tell her, and well…Steve’s not here and she wouldn’t want to hear it from him anyway.”

Mr. Steve wasn’t here? Anger built up inside of me. I knew in my heart that if it was Abby or Jaci he would be here. Even if it was Megan. But when it came to me…he just didn’t care.

Yule walked back into the room. He had a large envelope in his hand. I looked up at his eyes. They were even more sunk in with age now. I saw the clock out of the corner of my eye. It was seven P.M. I couldn’t even imagine the kind of day the rest of the family had.

“That thing does not look fun,” Yule said sitting back down.

“Trust me,” I said. “It’s not.”

“It’s supposed to keep your spine in place,” Yule said.

“What happened to my spine?” I asked. “Did I fracture it?”

Yule sighed.

“Kid, you broke your back,” Yule said. “And fractured some ribs.”

“Oh,” I said.

Yule took a scan out of the enveloped and showed it to me.

“Ouch,” I laughed.

The color drained from Yule’s face.

“I don’t know how to saw this but…,” Yule started. “You’re an L1 complete paraplegic.”

I stared at him. How could you just say that? No warning. No nothing. Just like that. You’re paralyzed at twelve years old.

“What?” I asked. “No!”

Tears started to pour out of Yule’s eyes.

“I’m sorry, kid,” Yule said. “I saw you. I saw you standing in the middle of the street. I knew you had sleepwalked there. I ran as fast as I could, but…when I got outside I saw the car hit you. I saw your lifeless and limp looking body land hard on the sidewalk. I failed you, kid. It should have been me. I’m the one that deserves to be lying in a hospital bed paralyzed. I’m the one who’s turned their back on God and has done some many wrong things that I should be sitting in jail for. I’m sorry…I’m..”

“WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?!”

I tried my best to look at Yule. That sounded like Momma and she was not happy.

“Around.”

Pain shot through my heart. That was Mr. Steve.

“Do you just think you can waltz in here and act like everything is ok?”

“I never said everything was ok.”

“I don’t know how you can watch a car hit Natalie and then go to work!”

Mr. Steve didn’t answer.

“I thought maybe it was just all in Natalie’s head. I thought that you really did care. Your actions have clearly spoken louder than your words. You made it very clear today that you don’t care or love Natalie.”

“You know that’s not true.”

Momma didn’t say anything, but I could just imagine her face. I could just see her smirking.

“I hate being lied to.”

“I’m not lying.”

I just knew my mom was shaking her head and was starting to cry again.

“Here, I don’t want it anymore.”

I heard the sound of a ring being thrown on the floor.

“Riley, wait!”

I heard the sound of feet running down the hall.

Mr. Steve stumbled into the hospital room. He was twirling Momma’s wedding ring. He had a duffel bag under his arm. It was clear that he had been sweating. He was trembling and his feet were shifting all over the place.

Yule stared at him. It was easy to see that Yule hated Mr. Steve and who could blame him? Probably Mr. Steve.

“I bet you’re hungry,” Mr. Steve trembled. “I think everybody else in the cafeteria. I bet that’s where your mother is going.”

Yule looked at me. It was clear that he wasn’t about to leave me alone with Mr. Steve.

“What’s in the bag?” Yule asked not moving.

“Some of Natalie’s clothes,” Mr. Steve said placing it down on the ground, “her psoriasis lotion, and some pictures that were on her wall.”

“Didn’t you hear?” I asked. “I’m paraplegic now.”

“Abby told me,” Mr. Steve said sitting down.

He seemed as unaffected as it got.

Yule’s stomach growled.

“Go ahead,” I said to him. I stared at Mr. Steve. I was going to make him miserable.

Ok, ok, I know it’s wrong, but for the past several months he’s been the one making me miserable. Now, I was lying here in a hospital bed unable to walk and he didn’t care.

Mr. Steve would never become my father. That was impossible. Especially after this. He didn’t care. He didn’t love me. I felt stupid. It hadn’t occurred to me until I was getting my spine scanned, but I really did care about Mr. Steve. My heart was aching because I never got a chance to call him Dad. My heart wasn’t hurting so much anymore. Now my heart was full of spite. And the most dangerous kind.

“I’ll be right back,” Yule said. He stared down Mr. Steve as he walked out the door. Mr. Steve shivered.

“I guess you heard,” Mr. Steve said more to Momma’s ring than to me.

“Yeah,” I said.

“Good riddance,” I said under my breath.

“Your mom probably wants to divorce me right now no matter what the Bible says. Jaci and Abby want to disown me. Yule and Noel hate me. And Zach is trying to stay on my good side while not angering Abby,” Mr. Steve said.

And I really want you to leave me alone.

“I hate hospitals,” Mr. Steve said after about a minute. “Nosocomephobia. I hate that word.”

What does that even mean?” I snorted.

“It’s the fear of hospitals,” Mr. Steve said sitting down.

I laughed. He had to be kidding me.

Mr. Steve looked at me like I was the most insensitive person in the world.

“It’s a real thing,” Mr. Steve said in a hurtful voice. “The only time I can stand being in a hospital is when someone’s having a baby.”

“Then what are you doing here?” I asked. “I’m clearly not having a baby.”

“I remembered something,” Mr. Steve said.

“What?” I asked.

“I was seven years old. It was the first time I’d ever been to a hospital and I was scared to death. I had broken my arm. My mom was stuck in traffic, and my father well he didn’t feel like a broken arm was a real emergency. I blacked out at least twenty times when I was there. I threw up just about everything I’d ever eaten. I sweated my shirt out. I couldn’t stop trembling. I just felt like I was going to die. I stayed as far away from hospitals as I could. I didn’t even go see my grandfather when he was dying from cancer. I…I really regret that,” Mr. Steve said.

“So you’re afraid of hospitals. That’s a cowardly phobia,” I said. Mr. Steve chuckled.

“Yes, yes, it is,” Mr. Steve said. “Abby probably doesn’t remember this, but when she was three years old she was in a car accident. It wasn’t a serious car accident, but she was taken to the hospital as a precaution. I walked into the hospital, and I fainted. I kept blacking out and trembling. It got to the point where I had to call my parents to get Abby because I literally woke up in the hospital bed and fled. A year later my parents’ house caught fire. They were sent to the hospital. I just couldn’t walk in there. I never saw them again.”

I stared at Mr. Steve. He hadn’t been there for Abby. He couldn’t even bear to go into a hospital to see his dying family. Why was he sitting here in this chair? If he hadn’t been there for Abby, he surely wasn’t going to be there for me.

“After that I tried to overcome my fear,” Mr. Steve said. “I thought…I thought I had overcome my fear. I was able to visit you after your panic attacks, take you to get your cast off, and take you to the hospital to see Yule and Noel. But…I promise you, Natalie, that I told myself that I was going to go to the hospital. When the turn to the hospital came up my hands started to tremble and I started to shake. I parked my car and just sat there. I called into work and told them what happened. They said that I didn’t have to come in. I sat in that parking lot all morning. Around lunch I told myself that I was going to in. I walked towards the door and ran back to the car. I sat in there the rest of the day. I finally got the courage to walk into the hospital. I fainted. They wanted to check me out, but I just made my way over here. Abby wasn’t too happy to see me though.”

“So you’ve been in the parking lot this entire time?” I asked. Mr. Steve nodded.

So he was there for me…just in the parking lot. I tried not to cry. I felt bad about wanting to make him miserable. He was afraid of hospitals but here he was. He was sweating and trembling. I knew everything within him wanted to pass out or faint. I knew he desperately wanted to flee. But here he was. He was here for me. He hadn’t even been able to do this for Abby. He had come a long way in seventeen years.

“Mrs. Quinn told me that I didn’t understand you,” Mr. Steve said. “She said I didn’t know you, and you said that when we moved. When I saw your mother, I knew that I’d been given a second chance. She left without a word to anyone. I wanted to marry her…”

“I have a question,” I said sourly.

“Shot,” Mr. Steve shrugged.

“My mom left seventeen years ago. Abby’s almost twenty, and Jaci’s almost nineteen. So you got married before my mom left. Why didn’t you just marry her?” I asked.

“Good question,” Mr. Steve said. “Karen and I’s marriage was arranged by none other than my mother. My mom and your Grandma Shirley didn’t get along.”

“Imagine that,” I mumbled. Mr. Steve chuckled.

“I didn’t want to marry Karen, but what choice did I have? My mother hated the Walters and there was no way I would ever be able to marry your mother while she was alive,” Mr. Steve said. “When I saw your mother on that cold December day I recognized her immediately. She recognized me too. I knew I wanted to marry her, and I knew that you were part of the deal. There was no doubt in my mind that I could love you just as much as Abby. But um after a while doubt crept into my mind. You made it very clear that you were just as stubborn as me. I wasn’t going to be the first one to say sorry and you surely weren’t going to be the first one. I’m sorry, Natalie. I really do love you. Can you ever forgive me? Can we please start over?”

I didn’t answer him. I didn’t know what to say. A tear rolled down my cheek.

“Fine,” Mr. Steve huffed after a couple of minutes. He got out of his chair angrily and walked towards the door.

“Daddy,” I cried, “please don’t go. I’m scared. I need you, Daddy.”

Daddy stood in the doorway for a second. He turned around and looked at me. I looked at him. Tears poured out of his eyes like a waterfall. He tried to talk, but no words came out. I had made him speechless.

Daddy sat back down in the chair, and that was all he had to say.