“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.”
“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.”
“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?
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.
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.
“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?”
“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.
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.
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.