I know, it's my first time posting here and it's a story where they don't even kiss, so go figure. Probably belongs on some kind of "Twilight Zone" type of site but I don't know of any. I still like it though.
Karen knew she should not stop for the hitchhiker. It was just not a good idea for her to do that, but she did anyway. She just had to. It was pouring rain, almost a deluge and none of the three cars a head of her even slowed down for the drenched, soggy looking man. So, she honked her horn and moved over to the shoulder and backed up a little as he ran up to her minivan.
"Much obliged," he said with a thick Texas accent, shaking off the water as he tried to slide into the front seat.
"Don't worry about getting it wet," she added as he slid a knapsack into the back.
"Name's Tom," he said as he fastened the seatbelt and shut the door. He finally had a chance to look at his savior. She was in a wheel chair in the van and she had hand controls. "You sure are a brave woman stopping for a hitchhiker."
"I've always been like this," she smiled. "Not even this has stopped me."
"Well, I sure do appreciate it. Been out here a while and it is pretty nasty."
"Where are you headed?" she asked trying to keep her eyes on the road.
"Nova Scotia," he replied. "'Bout as far away from what happened as I can get I guess."
"You're not in trouble with the police are you?" she asked a bit nervously.
"Nope, had one problem and took care of it. Nothing you need to worry about. Just had my world turned upside down, that's all. If I make you nervous, just say so and I'll get out, but no, I've never harmed anyone, anyone at all except by accident."
"No, that's OK. I'm headed to Albany. I can take you that far anyway."
"Sounds good to me."
They drove in silence for about half an hour as the rain slowly started to let up.
"You haven't asked me what happened," she said. "Everyone else has."
"One of the rules of being a good hitchhiker is that you don't ask too many questions. If the driver feels like talking, you listen, if not, then you keep your mouth shut unless they want you talk. I always try and be a good hitcher."
"I was eighteen," she began, "and my boy friend Zak was nineteen. Just went to the movies, don't even remember what we saw. Nothing to drink or anything and on the way home got hit by a drunk driver. Zak died and they kept telling me I was lucky. Sure didn't seem like it to me. I'll never walk again. I just kept believing that God works in mysterious ways. Sounds corny I guess, but I believe He has a plan for everyone, including me and this is just part of it. Don't know what it could be but I just decided to make the most of it and do the best I can so I went right on living. Going to become a teacher."
"My guess is a pretty good one at that."
"I sure hope so. Can't just sit around feeling sorry for myself. That just won't work."
"I was the drunk driver," he said a moment later. "I had a few too many and my wife and two daughters were in the car when I hit a tree. I lived and they died. They were my life," and he almost started to cry. "Sorry, but you're one of the very few people I've ever told." The rain started to let up. "I wish I had your faith. Not sure there is a God or that he has a plan of any kind."
"Trust me, I know He does," she replied sincerely. "God always has a plan for us."
Right about then he thought she was just one of the bravest people he had ever met. "I'm glad it works for you."
The rain eased up and then stopped all together as they got closer to Albany.
There was a truck stop just off the interstate outside of town. He put some gas in the van for her. "I'll bet one of these truckers is heading east," he told her.
"I'm sure someone will give you a ride," she smiled at him as the sun started to shine. "I really hope you find whatever it is you're looking for. I know I have. Just remember, God does have a plan."
With that, he grabbed his knapsack from the back of the van, waved and took off for the parking area where the trucks were idling.
Three and a Half Years Later
It was a warm spring day, the kind that makes you want to rush outside and just do something, anything at all anything other than be cooped up in a stuffy class room with thirty other students who were already looking forward to graduation two weeks down the road.
The class let out and everyone made their way outside, including Karen. The other students knew her by then and mostly just took her for granted. She knew where all the wheel chair ramps, elevators and wheel chair accessible bathrooms were by then. It was her last class of the day and she was in no hurry to go back to her lonely apartment. Taking her time, she rolled along the campus sidewalks, taking the long way back to her minivan, hoping to meet a few friends and checking her voice mail to see if there were any messages -- there weren't.
At last, she was back at the van. A tall, vaguely familiar looking man in a brown cowboy hat and faded jeans was standing near it. She reached for her cell phone in case she needed to call the police, but as there were a number of other people around, she didn't think it necessary. Besides, there really was something familiar about him.
"Howdy," he smiled at her.
"Do I know you?"
"Not exactly," he replied. "Three and half years ago, on your first trip here, you picked me up in the rain outside Buffalo."
"Now I remember," she said. Now she was nervous. What could he possibly want after all this time?
"I've come to repay your kindness," he answered.
"It really isn't necessary. It was raining and I was actually glad I had some company. You helped me concentrate."
"Actually, it's necessary for me. Something I've got to do, something wonderful." His eyes and face almost lit up and she half believed him. "Don't mean to frighten you and certainly not harm you or anything. Hell, I never did that before, never. Just made the one mistake you know about and almost made another that you don't. I found my answers just like you said I would and now I've got to do something really wonderful for someone and I've picked you."
"Why me?" she asked. "Why not someone else from wherever it is you're from?"
"If it hadn't been for you telling me to trust that God has a plan, I never would have found out what it is. I would have died after I left you, just made my way out to Nova Scotia and taken a long swim until I drowned. Instead, I found something else, something really wonderful. I'd tell you what it is, but heck, you'd never believe me. You'd think I was a crazy person or something and maybe I am a little bit."
He could tell she was a bit reluctant and nervous about the encounter and he really couldn't blame her at all. "Tell you what. It's a really nice day so why don't you and I just find a spot to sit in the sun and I'll try and explain what's going on and what I need to do and if you think I'm a crazy son of gun, then you have my word that I'll leave you alone and never bother you again."
"OK, I guess," she half agreed. She had trusted him once before under much more dangerous circumstance. Now they were out in the open with other students all around them. She pointed to an open courtyard and she aimed her wheel chair in the direction.
"So, how did you find me after all this time?"
"I suppose I just could have asked around for a pretty young woman in a wheel chair. Aren't too many here I guess."
"You could have, but then I could have changed schools too."
"Could have but didn't, did you? Nope. I was told you were here." He paused as they entered the courtyard. "You see, after I left you, I continued to wander around for a bit and I did make it all the way east, out where you just can't go east any more. I really was going to just start swimming and not stop until I died. Figured that was the only way to escape what had happened. I was pretty stupid, I guess. Anyway, met some people and spent a lot of time with them. They showed me who I could be and what I could do and what I could become. In order for all that to happen, I got to do something really nice for someone. I picked you and said what I wanted to do for you and they just told me where you were and told me to do it."
"And what is it that you're going to do for me?"
"You get to close your eyes for just a moment and make a wish. I get to make it happen."
"No one can make that happen."
"You ain't closed your eyes yet and besides, you did say something to me about God working in mysterious ways and having a plan for us, didn't you? Don't tell me you don't believe all that now."
"Honestly, not any more. I just don't."
"Now, ain't this a hoot? There I was, havin' no faith at all and you believing and now here we are three and half years later and I'm the one that believes and you're the one that don't. How about that?"
"I'm sorry but after all this time and a lot of other things, I just don't believe that He can do what the doctors have said is impossible and I really don't believe you're God either."
"Well, you are right about one thing. I sure ain't God, nope, not at all. Can't say as I've even seen Him even. Not somebody or something you can see anyway. You just know. As for the other part of what you said, well, you just have no idea at all what He can do once He makes up His mind to do it. Sometimes He needs a little help and sometimes He just delegates the whole shebang."
"And he's delegated you?" she asked. "You sure don't look or sound like a doctor to me."
"Never said I was." He paused. "Tell you what. Let me tell you a couple of things you probably don't think I know about you. I know that when you were six years old, you and your older brother Gary stole a couple of apples from Mrs. Taylor's porch and ran over to the park and ate them and when you were confronted by your mother a couple of hours later, your brother tried to lie his way out of it but you fessed up and admitted. The next day, he gave you a black eye as result, but you returned the favor and gave him a bloody nose and even broke it. You both figured you were even and you're still close. He was the first one there after your accident and the first one to give blood that day too."
"He really liked Zak too," she said. "We were all such good friends."
"Somethin' else nobody knows but you and Him. How about the time when you were fourteen and ran away from home for all of what was it, six hours one day? Took the bus into Columbus did you and just wander around for a couple of hours, then decided it wasn't to your liking and then took the bus back in time for dinner. Nobody even knew you were gone, did they, not even your brother."
That was something nobody knew.
"That's really scary," she said.
"Nothing to be afraid about," he said, "nothing at all. What happened to you was not supposed to happen. You were supposed to get thrown through the windshield like you did but you somehow landed a little bit too wrong. Now I get to make up for it."
"How can you possibly do that?"
He smiled. "You know, I just don't know. I just got to decide to make it happen and it will happen. How about that?"
"Just like that?"
"Yep, just like that, but first you got to believe. If you don't, it won't happen. Just like those Wright Brothers at Kittyhawk. If they hadn't believed, it never would have happened."
"Their plane would have flown," she said.
"Maybe, but if they hadn't believed, they never would have done all that work to get it to fly in the first place. Just like you. You've got to believe to make it happen. Then, when it starts, you'll have a lot of work to do."
"What do you mean?"
"You think that if I suddenly said you could walk that you actually could? Your leg muscles aren't up to it and they've actually forgotten how to work together to make you walk. Nope, it won't happen over night, not at all."
"I haven't thought about that lately," she agreed. "I guess you're right."
He nodded. "First though, you still got to close your eyes and make a wish."
She did and wished she could walk down the aisle at her graduation. She kept her eyes closed for a moment and when she opened them, he was gone. Startled, she wheeled her chair around and almost ran over a friend of hers. "Did you see him?" she asked. "Where did he go?"
"Who, Karen? I didn't see anyone, anyone at all."
"I was talking to a guy, just now, in a cowboy hat and jeans. He asked me to close my eyes and I did but only for a second and now he's gone."
"Karen, I didn't see anyone. I've been walking on this sidewalk and I've had you in view for oh, a minute or two and I didn't see anyone, especially not some guy in a cowboy hat, not here in Albany of all places. Are you sure you're all right."
"Positive. Look, I was talking to him, right here," she insisted.
"If you say so."
They chatted for another minute or two and then Karen made her way to her minivan, drove to her apartment building and wheeled into her two-bedroom apartment.
Inside, she realized that whoever he was he was just another disappointment for her. How could he possibly do what doctors insisted could not be done for her?
She wheeled into the kitchen and accidentally hit her knee on one of the cabinets. "Damn that hurts," she said out loud. Then she realized something. "It really does hurt!" Nothing below her waist had hurt for almost five years. She pinched her leg and felt it. It too hurt. It was truly amazing. She could actually feel her legs and toes! It was the most wonderful sensation she had ever felt.
"Let's see if I can wiggle my toes," she said. "Damn, how do I do this?" No matter how hard she tried, no matter what she said or did, nothing moved. After half an hour, she gave up. "At least I can feel my legs," she said. "Better than nothing."
The next morning, she was pleasantly surprised to find that she could still feel her legs and this time, after a few minutes, she was able to wiggle her toes. "Maybe this is happening slowly," she said.
As she went about her day of classes, she looked constantly for the man in the cowboy hat and didn't see him until after her last class where he was once again, standing by her mini van.
"Thank you," she said.
"Ain't done nothin' yet," he replied.
"You disappeared yesterday," she said moving closer. "My friend said she never saw you either."
"I blend into the back ground."
"So, what are you really?"
"Can't say as I know really. 'Sides, don't know that you're ready for the answer either."
"Will I really be able to walk down the aisle in two weeks?"
"What do you think?" he asked her.
"I really hope so. I really, really hope so."
"You got to believe first. You got to believe and act as if it really will happen."
"I know it. I know I will."
"Good, 'cause I got me a ticket to your graduation and I intend to see it. Never saw anyone graduate from college myself. Not much a one for pomp and circumstance but I guess it has its place."
"You must have graduated from highschool, didn't you?"
"Oh, sure I did, back in Galveston Texas. I barely got through though. Not the best student in the world but was real good with my hands. Became a cabinetmaker of all things, working in wood. I did all right for myself and my family until...."
"And how are you living now? Are you getting by?"
"Don't need much money now," he laughed. "As they say, 'God provides'."
"Karen, are you all right?"
She spun around to see another friend behind her. "Were you talking to yourself? That's not a good sign."
She spun back around and he was gone. "No, I'm OK, really, I'm OK."
"You look a bit tired," said the friend.
"Yes, maybe I am. Finals start next week, you know."
Over the next few days, she slowly improved. One day, she could move her ankle, the next, her knees. Three days after seeing him, she stood up on her own for the first time.
"This is truly amazing," exclaimed her doctor five days later during a routine visit. "I've never seen anything like it. It almost looks as if you're having spontaneous regeneration of your nerve tissue. Are you doing anything different?"
'Talking to God maybe,' she thought but did not say.
"I need you to start some physical therapy right away," he said. "Come back tomorrow and we'll get you going."
"Count on it," she said. "I'm going to walk down the aisle for graduation next week."
The doctor shook his head not believing but the next day, even he began to wonder. She was improving almost hourly. A day later, she took her first steps in four and a half years. A day later, she made it slowly half way down a hall and back. On her very last day of class, two days before the ceremony, she walked into class on crutches instead of the wheel chair. Most just barely noticed her but the few that did were completely taken by surprise.
One of the people who was most surprised was Jeff, a modestly handsome young man who had once taken an interest in her. He tried to talk to her after class that day.
"I'm sorry," she explained walking away from him, "but you left me saying something about not being able to deal with a handicapped person and wondering how we could have sex with me like that. I mean, if that was all you were thinking about with me then I guess it's just as well you did dump me."
"It wasn't like that," he complained.
"No? Then what was it like? Do you even know? I did almost everything for you and what did you ever do for me? Did you ever take me to the doctor's office? How about go grocery shopping for me? Take the van in when it needed work? Nope, not a damned thing. Well, all that will be coming to an end. I'll be walking soon and then I really won't need you, at least not for any of that."
"I loved you."
"You don't even know what the word means. I was just your poor little crippled girlfriend, someone you could show off to get sympathy for and maybe something on the side from some other young woman. Sorry, but never again."
She made her way back to her van, and then to the doctor who was still amazed at her progress and then finally back to her apartment.
"Howdy," smiled Tom as she entered. "Hope you don't mind me being here."
"Of course not," she beamed. "How can I possibly mind you being here after all you've done for me? I really am going to walk down the aisle Saturday morning."
"You sure are," he agreed.
"Nobody believes this, nobody at all."
"I know, but I also know that you believe and that's what most important, more important than what anyone else thinks or cares."
"Of course," he laughed. "Young fellers like him and I can be a bit dense, you know. Don't always think straight."
"Goes for women too," she agreed. "Should I take him back?"
"He ain't ready yet, I reckon. You ain't the woman for him and he sure ain't the man for you either. Besides, you ain't sure who you are yet. Lot of changes comin' for you now, what with you're walkin' again."
"I told my parents," she began, "and my brother. They'll be here tomorrow," she smiled. He nodded. "They can't believe it either but they will, they will," she beamed.
"Don't know quite what to think, do they?"
"No, they don't and neither do I honestly." She sighed and sat down. "I had everything all planned out about what I was going to do after graduation. Now it's all changed."
"Why?" he asked. "You were going to teach handicapped children in Columbus. You've got a job lined up there to start in the fall. No reason why you can't. You just won't be wheeling around in your chair that's all. You'll still remember what it's like though. You'll never forget it, never and that will make you a better person. You can be a big help to those kids 'cause you'll know what it's like to be laughed at and made fun of and ignored by the other kids, even if you only lived it for a few years where some of them will live it for their entire lives. You will still know it forever."