A New BeginningbyRockywriter2012©
Hello! This is my first submission to the site, and I am submitting it for the Winter Holidays Story Contest 2012. Having said that, I would like to urge you to vote up the story if you like it. I would appreciate it a great deal!
Also, I would be remiss not to mention that this story is not a stroke piece. There is some buildup, and if you are not interested in that, please kindly click the back button and be on your way.
DISCLAIMER: Any resemblances to real people or locations (with the exception of cities, states, etc.) are purely coincidental. I'm sure that some of the locations I use are in fact real, but for the sake of the story, please pretend that they're not.
Thanks, and enjoy!
A lone tear streaked down Leah's cheek as she stood before her late husband's grave one overcast Friday afternoon. She'd told herself before she left the house earlier that she was only allowed the one tear, but it had been an impossible rule to adhere to. Still, she had to try. It had to get easier at some point, so why not then?
It had been a little over four years since Paul, who was a Sergeant in the Army, died, but Leah was still a wreck on some days. That's why she only made a point of visiting him on days that represented happy events in their relationship. Their wedding anniversary, his birthday, her birthday, et cetera.
That day she'd gone to let him know their big brown English bulldog, Louie, was going to be a father, after he'd somehow gotten off his butt long enough to impregnate the neighbor's French bulldog. It was a bittersweet conversation for her, because it was one she never got to have with Paul. That was something she never forgave herself for. She'd known for days that she was pregnant, but she just didn't know how to go about bringing up the topic. The timing just wasn't right. At least that's what she told herself.
"Mommy, where is daddy?" The voice came from the precocious three-year-old girl standing next to Leah. Charlotte was getting to an age where she'd start to understand the permanence of her father's death, and it was a fact that both frightened and relieved Leah.
"He's in Heaven, Charlie," she said, pointing to the sky. "He's watching us right now."
She knelt down and straightened her daughter's jacket before giving the best answer she could come up with. "Because he loves us very much." She wiped away the next tear before it could run down her cheek.
"This much?" Charlie asked, holding her hands about a foot apart. She was at the age where everything that was otherwise intangible could be measured by the distance between her tiny hands.
"No," Leah corrected, holding her arms as wide as her small five-foot-three frame would allow, "this much."
It was only the fourth time Charlotte had ever been to visit her father, but Leah hoped there would be many more before she had to explain what had happened to Paul to their daughter. It was hard on Leah raising Charlotte on her own, and she knew it would only get more difficult once the little one started to recognize how different her life was without a second parent. That was a thought Leah had nightmares about quite often. She never wanted Charlotte to feel like she was missing something, but she was. She was missing someone very important, a man who should have been helping to mold her into a smart, inquisitive, and adventurous child, much like the way he'd been thirty years before.
The following day, Leah was awoken by a loud ringing from her cell phone. A quick look at the screen told her it was a call from an unfamiliar number. It was about five in the morning, so she answered, figuring it was important. She had learned in the past not to ignore any phone calls, no matter how annoying they may initially seem to be.
"Hello?" Her voice was thick with typical morning grogginess. The pitter patter of the rain hitting her window calmed her, keeping her from raising her voice at whomever it was that decided to call her at such an ungodly hour.
"Leah? It's Tommy."
"Tommy? Do you have any idea what time it is? You could have woken Charlotte."
The grogginess had since been replaced with an icy tone she reserved for only a handful of people. Tommy Foster was one of those people. She couldn't possibly think of a reason for her husband's old drinking buddy to be calling, especially not that early. The last time she'd set eyes on him was at Paul's funeral, so she had since wrongly assumed he no longer knew her number.
"Look," he told her, "I wouldn't be calling if it wasn't important. You may not like me, but you have to believe that."
"What is it? I'm not picking you up from the bar. They have cab services for that." The truth was, she probably would have picked him up anywhere else in town if he asked. She just couldn't stand the sight of that place.
"No, I moved away awhile back. I've been in Alaska working on a crab boat since last June. It's our offseason now, but I'll still be stuck here for a while, which is why I called. It's my brother. He's at the University Med Center after getting in a car accident. I'd go, but I won't be able to get on a plane for at least another week or two. I'm sorry, but you're the only person I could think of to call in Seattle."
She sighed, suddenly feeling guilty for the harsh tone she'd used before. "Does he need someone to pick him up?"
She remembered vaguely hearing about both of his parents moving to Florida not long before he met Paul. For all she knew, Tommy's brother had no family members left in town.
"Well, yes... That, and a place to stay." She could hear him wince through the phone.
"I'm sorry, a place to WHAT?" she spat. "Doesn't he have friends that can lend him a spare room?"
"Just for a week or two! Please, Leah, I'll pay you. Anything. Jon really needs my help, but I'm stuck here for the time being. His friends don't have the room, and I know you do. Besides, you're a nurse!"
"Same diff. You still have more medical knowledge than anyone else I know."
Her pale blue eyes strained to look at the clock beside her bed. It was only 5:07, way too early for Tommy Foster's bullshit.
What she said next was partly due to her tired state and partly due to Paul. Somehow she knew he'd have done the same for one of her friends.
"I'll be at the hospital at nine. I have to take Charlie to Paul's parents for a sleepover, but I can swing by after that." She paused, firmly rubbing her temples. "Is that it?"
The brief phone call had managed to stress her out in only a matter of minutes, and she knew she wouldn't get another wink of sleep afterward. She reminded herself it was still much better than the sleepless nights she'd endured when she was pregnant, but she would have liked to get more than five hours.
"Yes," he confirmed emphatically. "You don't know how much this means to me. Thank you."
"I'm doing this for Paul, not for you. Don't forget that. Goodbye, Tommy."
Three hours later, Leah pulled into her in-laws' driveway. They lived on a small farm a little more than thirty miles east of the city. Charlotte loved going to her grandparents' house, mostly because they let her chase the chickens around their small octagonal pen. She was convinced she'd catch one of the hens very soon, but they always managed to get away at the last second.
"Mommy, where are the chickens?" Charlotte frowned and pointed to where they normally would be, just ten yards away from where they were parked.
"It's raining, Charlie. The chickens don't like to get wet, so they're inside right now. Maybe they can come out later," she suggested.
Leah made quick work of whisking her daughter out of her car seat and grabbing her backpack. It held two changes of clothes, some Pull-ups, and a coloring book for her to draw in later on. She was constantly drawing things. She was very artistic for her age.
Paul's parents, Ellen and Daniel Vaughn, were watching from their large wrap-around porch with looks of pride on their faces. Charlotte's resemblance to their son was almost uncanny, so it was always a treat for them to take her off Leah's hands one weekend every month. Her long dark brown curls contrasted her mother's short straight blonde hair, but it looked just like her dad's crazy head of curls when he was her age. Her trademark dimples were also a trait she'd inherited from her dad, and they were very prominent when she smiled.
They were also thrilled to see that she inherited her mother's expressive baby blue eyes. Paul had mentioned many times in the past that they were what made him fall for Leah so many years before. In fact, he loved them so much that they were convinced their son pulled some strings in order for Charlotte to get them. It was just the thing their son would have done if given the chance.
"Hey, guys," Leah greeted with a wave while the two of them trudged up the stairs to meet Ellen and Daniel on the porch. Charlotte had insisted upon carrying her own backpack, thus making her mother's hands unfamiliarly empty.
"It's good to see you, Leah," said Ellen, "How's work been at the clinic lately?"
"Good, we actually just found out yesterday that Louie's gonna be a dad. Charlie told him about the puppies, but he didn't seem all that thrilled." She shrugged, eliciting a chuckle from her in-laws.
"Ahh, well boys will be boys, won't they?" Daniel's face turned red at his wife's blatant reminder of his past behavior, but she spared him any extra embarrassment by quickly changing the subject. "Are you planning to stay for breakfast? I made eggs and bacon."
"They sure will," she quickly agreed. She glanced at her watch and sighed. "I wish I could stay for breakfast this morning, but I actually have an errand to run. A friend needs a ride home from this hospital. Rain check?"
"Of course, dear. We'll see you tomorrow."
After getting a hug from Charlotte, she was on her way back to the city.
She pulled into the hospital at around 8:45 and sat in the car for a few minutes, just quietly watching her windshield wipers make quick work of the raindrops that were falling furiously from the sky. It rained a lot in Seattle, but it was rare for it to fall this hard, especially so late in the year; it was typically far too cold for such heavy rain during the first week of December.
She eventually pulled out the post-it note she'd written Jon's room number on from her purse and tugged her hood over her head before grudgingly leaving the warmth of her Honda Accord.
Minutes later, she was standing outside room 307, unsure of the situation she had gotten herself into. Many questions ran through her mind all at once. What if he's just like Tommy? What if he doesn't like kids? What if his injury scares Charlie?
She must have looked nervous, because the nurse leaving the room next door quietly told her she could enter the room. "Jon's propped up watching an old baseball game or something, like a crazy person. Just make sure to knock before go in, and don't hesitate to holler if you need anything."
Leah smiled and nodded her thanks before softly rapping on the door. She was sure he didn't hear it, though, because at the same exact moment, he screamed wildly at the TV. "What are you sending Sanchez for?! He can't run for shit!"
Then, more quietly, he said, "Come in!"
Leah tentatively cracked the door open, trying not to make very much noise. "Hi," she greeted while quietly closing the door, "I'm Leah. Did your brother tell you I was coming?"
"Hi, Leah. I'm Jon. It's a pleasure to meet you."
The man lying in the bed stopped her dead in her tracks. He looked nothing, absolutely nothing, like Tommy, and the smile he gave her was more genuine than any she'd given in a very long time. He looked so happy to see her that it was almost unnerving.
He chuckled loudly at her sudden apprehension, "If you're wondering, yes I am adopted. Tommy's folks took me in when I was five."
She felt herself quickly warm to him as she took a seat by his hospital bed. "So," she said conversationally, nodding her head toward his right leg that was propped up on a couple of pillows and almost completely sheathed in a navy blue cast, "how'd you end up in here?"
His jaw tightened, and he ran one of his tan hands through his thick tousled black hair. "I lost control of my truck after hitting a pool of water on the road yesterday. Wound up with a bad break in my fibula and a few bumps and bruises in other places. The truck's totaled, but I guess it could have been worse. I'm excited to get out of this damn bed, though.
"I really appreciate what you're doing, by the way. My place has too many stairs for me to get around on my own in a wheelchair." He gave her a sheepish grin, clearly just as uncomfortable by his predicament as she was.
"And I live in a ranch. I guess Tommy was smart to call me after all," she replied with a wink.
"Precisely!" His laughter boomed loudly, making both of them thankful that he'd been given a room without a roommate.
After his laughter died down, they sat for a few moments in silence, until eventually the two of them turned their attention to the old TV hanging on the wall on the opposite side of the room. He'd been watching a rerun of the Mariners game from a few months before. Luckily for him, Leah was a big M's fan herself, and they slipped into an easy conversation about the team's best prospects, whether or not they'd make it to the playoffs in the next ten years, and the best concession stand food they'd been able to eat at Safeco Field.
"The Mahi Mahi is to die for. I'm telling you, you have to try it next time you go to a game!"
He shook his head emphatically at her seemingly ridiculous suggestion. "How the hell do you eat anything besides peanuts and hotdogs at a baseball game? That's insane!"
"Even Charlie likes the fish. I win." She magnified her point by swatting his arm with a small throw pillow.
He cocked an eyebrow at her. "Charlie?" When she turned back toward the TV screen for a second, he returned the favor by throwing one of his own pillows in her direction.
"My daughter. She's three. I take it Tommy didn't tell you about her?"
"No, I actually remembered hearing you had a daughter from a few years ago; I just didn't know her name, I guess. Charlie's not exactly a name you hear every day for a girl, so it threw me off a little. Where'd it come from, anyway? Just liked the name?"
"Paul did, actually," she replied, thinking back to the night they'd spent hours discussing baby names during their honeymoon. "He said if he ever had a son, he'd name him Charlie. That was the only name he had his heart set on; he wanted to name a boy after his paternal grandfather.
"When it turned out that we were having a girl instead, I had to get a little creative. Her name's Charlotte, but I've always just called her Charlie. I think it suits her."
"I like it. Is it okay if I call her Charlie, or does she prefer Charlotte?"
"I honestly don't know. To everyone else, she's just Charlotte, but I guess we'll be finding that out tomorrow when she gets home from grandma and grandpa's farm."
Just then, the nurse from before walked in with a clipboard and papers for Jon to sign. She gave us both a friendly, if not somewhat tired, smile before handing him his paperwork. "Just initial all of them on this first page and sign and date the bottom of the last one. If you have any questions, let me know, if not you can leave when you're done with these. Is she your ride?"
"Great." The nurse then turned her attention to Leah. "Is your car parked out front, or is it in one of the garages? If it's out front, we'll have to cover his cast to keep it from getting wet."
"I can just move my car if that's easier. I didn't realize he was in a cast, otherwise I probably would have parked inside."
"Don't worry about it," Jon interjected, "Angie here's a pro. She can probably wrap this thing up in a minute or two. Besides, with as hard as it's raining right now, you probably wouldn't be able to find a spot inside."
"He's right, those garages fill up fast on days like this," Angie agreed. "Okay, so just get these signed real quick, and I'll be back in a minute with the Saran Wrap for that leg of yours, Jon." She left the room in a blur, surprising both Leah and Jon. For someone who was surely in her fifties, she still had a pretty big skip in her step.
"Angie's great, but it'll be nice to have a nurse that doesn't have a full head of gray hair for the next couple of weeks." Leah gave him a puzzled look, spurring him on.
"You'll come to find I'm a very forthright person, so don't be surprised when I say this: I think you're downright gorgeous, Leah. I don't mean to make you feel uncomfortable or anything, and you can take what I said as seriously as you like. I just happen to think a lot of guys will be jealous when they see you wheeling me out of here in a little bit."
Her cheeks burned hot. She'd always been somewhat wary around men since Paul passed away, but she had to admit Jon's compliment was more welcome than she probably would have predicted. If she was being honest with herself, she knew she found herself attracted to him as well, but she also realized that she probably would do nothing about it in the long run. She never did.
"Thank you. You're not so bad yourself, though I'm sure you already knew that."
He beamed at her, making her face turn red once more. She was beginning to regret her decision to let him stay in her house; she could see herself getting very attached to him in the short period of time Tommy needed her to look after him.
Nearly an hour later, they were pulling into the garage of her one-story brick house. They had stopped at his place first in order to pick up some clothes and a few toiletry items he'd need over the course of the week.
"This is a nice place you've got. Looks expensive."
"We got it for probably fifty grand less than what it was worth back when the housing market was in the dumps. At least that's what our realtor told us. Paul's parents help with the monthly payments, since Charlie and I are otherwise living on a single income."
"They sound like good people," he commented quietly. He gave her hand a squeeze before unclicking his seatbelt. "I hope that wheelchair isn't too heavy for you. I wanted to try crutches, but apparently I can't do that for another few weeks when I get my shorter cast put on. I'll probably be out of your hair by that point."
She got out of the car and grabbed the wheelchair from the trunk. She set it beside the passenger side door, waiting for Jon to shimmy his way out of the car.
"You sure you don't need any help?"
"Yeah, I can get out on my own. I still have one leg that works properly, plus I'm probably too heavy for you to prop up. What are you, five-three?"
"And a half."
He chuckled. "Okay, that makes you a foot shorter and probably a hundred pounds lighter than I am."
Once he was situated in the wheelchair, she grabbed his duffle bag from the backseat and walked toward the door that led into the house. He followed her slowly, still getting used to maneuvering the wheelchair on his own. If there was one good thing about it, it was the arm workout he quickly realized he'd be getting over the upcoming weeks.
"I have an extra bedroom if you want to use that, but it might be easier for you to sleep on the couch. It's lower to the ground," she said once they were both inside the house.
"You're probably right. I don't want you to have to help me get in and out of bed at night. That's kind of the whole point of me staying here; since everything's on the same floor, I should be able to be almost entirely independent. The doctor did say I'd need help bathing myself, though," he said with a wink. Leah could feel her cheeks grow warm, eliciting an impish grin from Jon.