She paused, not sure if she should tell him the rest. "You know, you're famous now." Paige paused to see his confused expression. "You've been in the papers, the radio and the TV. You're a hero."
Jeff felt himself blush, "Well I don't feel like a hero, I feel like I got hit by a truck. I'm just glad you're OK . . . " Jeff trailed off as the drugs pushed him back into unconsciousness. Paige sat there holding his hand for several minutes. When she was sure he was out, she leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek.
"My hero," she said quietly. She looked over at the far end of the room, "Didn't I tell you he was perfect?"
Jeff felt himself coming around again. He had drifted in and out of consciousness all day. The drugs were wearing off a little and he could feel his chest throbbing. He moaned and tried to move to alleviate the pain.
"Are you all right?" he heard Paige ask. "Do you want me to call the nurse?"
"I'm just a little sore, don't worry about it. What time is it?"
"It's about six in the evening," a male voice answered.
Jeff was starting to realize how frustrating his situation was. He didn't recognize the voice and had no idea there was even anyone else in the room. "Who said that?"
Paige answered, "Jeff, this is my dad, Steven."
He felt someone take his hand. "Son, there are no words to tell you how grateful I am. You saved my little girl from something terrible. Anything you ever need is taken care of, all you have to do is ask."
Jeff found that his condition caused him to put more stock in the way people sounded. He decided he liked this man immediately. He had a softness to his voice that showed his emotion, but there was a subtle strength to it as well. Jeff thought about what it would feel like to have the girl you raised from a baby come that close to something tragic. It must have been incredibly difficult and probably made him feel helpless as well. In an odd way, Jeff decided they had something in common.
"You don't owe me anything, sir. I couldn't have lived with myself if I didn't do something. I'm just glad she's all right."
"I'm glad as well." He could almost hear the smile of pride as the man spoke. "You know the nurses have been complaining to me since you came in here. She won't stay in her room and they have to threaten to get her to leave yours."
"She still has a room? Paige told me she was fine, is everything all right?"
"Well, she broke her wrist and has some nasty bruises, but otherwise she's OK. They told her she could go home, but I think she's staying so they have a harder time keeping her out of here." He smiled at his daughter as he teased her.
"Dad, come on," she complained. "Jeff, don't listen to him, I'm fine. I had to stay here for observation and I'd go crazy sitting by myself in my room. I just come in here and read. That way if you need anything, someone will be here. It's the least I can do."
He started to get dizzy from the exertion of talking. It annoyed him that something so simple could wear him out. "Guys, can we talk later? I'm feeling a little woozy."
Steve and Paige left him alone as he let himself drift off again. Despite these nice people being so helpful, he couldn't shake the dark mood that seemed to be growing.
" . . . You mean you don't want us to see him?" Paige fumed. "Dr. Walcott, that's just not acceptable!"
"No, that's not what I'm saying," he tried to assure her. "In cases where someone undergoes a severe trauma like the fight, it's common for them to be overwhelmed by the attention people shower on them. Since Jeff is dealing with the loss of one of his senses it makes him especially susceptible. We don't think it's permanent," he said, then waived his hand trying to cut off Paige's protest, "but nobody can promise him anything. It's very difficult for him to deal with and he might feel like the attention is something that could be taken away. It's also possible he might feel like being alone sometimes. In a way, he feels responsible for you and it would be very stressful for him to have to ask you to leave and risk hurting you.
I know Katy's time is limited because of her family, so someone other than Paige should make themselves available. We have a fine staff to take care of him, but if someone is going to be a full-time caretaker, it should be only one person. He needs someone he can identify with. They would also need to not be easily offended when he's honest about his feelings. My biggest concern is still him drifting into a depression, so I'd like there to be someone he can talk to or just sit with when he doesn't feel like talking. But we need to keep that attention somewhat limited to avoid making him defensive."
They all sat for a minute trying to decide the best way to handle things. Finally the young blonde woman in back stood up, "All right, that's going to be me."
Doctor Wolcott couldn't stop himself from smiling. He hoped she would volunteer. He had been very fond of her since he met her, almost eight years ago. Her charity work at the hospital proved she had the ideal temperament and sense of responsibility to handle the situation. More than that, helping someone like Jeff might be just what she needed too.
Jeff stirred, trying to rouse himself. He appreciated the drugs keeping the pain away, but constantly being half-asleep was beginning to grate on him.
"So are you with us again?" came a soft feminine voice.
"Who's there?" Jeff asked, tiring of having to repeatedly ask the same question.
"My name is Sarah. I'm Paige's sister. I've been around, but it's hard to talk to you with her hovering."
Jeff laughed at her insightful statement. He had the same thought several times. To avoid offending Sarah, he just said, "She can be determined."
"That's my sister, determined and impossible to discourage. You know she has the biggest crush on you," leaving Jeff struggling for an appropriate response. "Don't be too impressed with yourself, before you it was the guy who ran the roller coaster at the amusement park."
He laughed uncontrolably until his chest hurt. Again he used his new attention to listening and decided this was someone he instantly liked. He wasn't sure if there was anything to this listening thing, but it somehow seemed right.
"I never did ask, how old is she?"
"Well Casanova, she's eighteen and a freshman in college. Why, are you interested?"
Jeff could hear the mirth in her voice at his expense, but instantly realized she was only teasing him. "Sorry, I think that might be a little young for me. I only got a quick look at her in the alley. She is very pretty, but I didn't have any idea how old she actually was." With the mention of the alley, his mood darkened. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be insensitive."
"Please, the last thing you have to worry about around me is being insensitive. You're right, she is very pretty. She was homecoming queen, head cheerleader and had requests from a local modeling agency. Dad wouldn't even let her consider it. She was going to college," she paused awkwardly. "Like me," she finished quietly.
Jeff was almost certain she was hinting at something difficult because of the tone of her voice. He decided it was best to change subjects.
"The thing in the alley is just so awkward. I'm glad I was there to help, but I always feel like I'm going to say something that will make her relive it. I'm just not sure how I should handle it. She's such a sweet kid. I don't want to say anything to hurt her."
Sarah cringed as the doctor's words were proven true so quickly. "I understand. Don't worry about what to say to me. I'm not exactly the take offense type." She tried to sound casual but still make sure he understood her point.
"Say whatever's on your mind, or you can relax and I'll catch up on my reading. I'm here because I'm the one without the commitments." She quickly realized that didn't come out the way she intended, so added, "Everyone wanted to be here to make sure you were OK, I just had the most availability."
They talked for almost an hour before he was finally exhausted. She peppered him with questions about what he liked, what he had been doing before that night and assuring Jeff that he should tell her if he needed anything, including privacy. The only thing she didn't do was talk about the alley or how grateful she was about him saving Paige. He wouldn't be able to understand how thankful she was anyway.
As he drifted off, he realized his bad mood from earlier was gone. He was honestly glad she had kept him company.
The next day, at five o'clock sharp, she arrived at his room. "Hey good-lookin', how are you feeling today?"
Jeff smiled as he realized how good it felt to hear her voice. "I'm a lot better than before. I think I've finally gotten past this stupid in and out of sleep thing. I've actually been staying awake longer and have even been able to listen to the news. Paige is right. They've mentioned me several times. It's so strange to hear somebody talk about me like that, I feel like I'm in an episode of The Twilight Zone."
"Well, don't get too cocky. You're not going to get any hero worship from me," she said, obviously teasing him. "I've got a present for you."
A present? he thought, thoroughly confused. He heard her rustling through a bag and making some assembly noises. He was about to ask what was going on when he heard a pair of speakers blast, "Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Sam Kinison." He grinned broadly as one of his favorite albums started.
"Did you buy me a CD Player?"
Sarah smiled as she saw her gift had the intended reaction. "Better, I got you an MP3 player and had some friends fill it up with stuff for you."
She spent the next hour acquainting him with the technology and how to operate it without being able to see. She had bought a pair of powered computer speakers so they could listen together or he could plug in the headphones. She had bands, comedians and even weird internet stuff he had indicated that he liked. Jeff didn't know that last night she had written down everything he told her. It cost her a pretty penny and took all day, but she managed to get most of it downloaded.
He smiled and thanked her profusely for the thoughtful gift. "Now I have a present for you. Since you've never listened to Sam, just sit down and enjoy."
Sarah spent the next hour laughing until tears streamed down her face. Several times she was embarrassed by things she heard, but she understood why Jeff had expressed such fondness for the strange man with the wild hair. As they laughed together, she thought to herself how glad she was that she volunteered to make sure he was taken care of. Paige was right. He was perfect.
" . . . No, that's the craziest argument I've ever heard. The guy's a crook and should have his ass run out of Washington!"
Sarah felt herself getting flushed. Jeff had a way of getting her aggravated over things. She realized early on it was because he wasn't just passionate about what he thought. He educated himself on issues ranging from politics to sports to just about everything she could think of. When he challenged her, she really had to dig deep to make her points without him tearing them apart.
Jeff tried not to smirk as she lost her cool. It had been three weeks since she had begun watching him and he couldn't get over how amazing she was. She was intelligent, passionate, tender, funny and incredibly open. When he was able to point out a flaw in an opinion she held, he sat dumbfounded as she actually considered his argument and sometimes changed her mind. He had rarely met anyone so willing to be open-minded about their opinions.
She had told him she didn't like comedians who worked blue. The first night with the MP3 player, she didn't make it through 45 seconds of Sam's concert before he actually heard her snort. He loved the way she laughed. It was so full and without any consideration for propriety. They actually forced a nurse come in and ask them to keep it down.
Now they were having another political debate. He was an Independent, uninterested in the politics of an issue, but only on what he considered the truth of it. She was a confirmed Democrat who found it hard to believe that someone could make her rethink positions she'd held for years. To Jeff, the best part about the debates was how heated they could be without any hint of acrimony. When they finished this discussion, she'd probably tell him he was an ass and then they'd check out a new comedian or movie. He knew they'd laugh and joke until it was time for her to leave, then he'd have to go to sleep without her.
He hadn't told her how hard it was for him when she left. It had only been a few weeks and he warned himself it was at least partially because of his condition, but he was hopelessly infatuated. He didn't say anything because he didn't want to scare her off. She was like his lifeline to the world. He could be in a bad mood and she'd listen patiently. If he was happy, they'd laugh and fight about politics. If there was a game on, she'd watch while he listened, often with her cheers drowning out his. Most of all, when she wanted to talk, he was thrilled to listen. He wanted to know every detail about her. She was fascinating.
The only time he hit a wall was when he talked about her past. He suspected she had been divorced. There was a point in the past she would talk about, but not a day further. Jeff wouldn't push her about it because he didn't want to force her to relate something painful. He didn't want to think about such a truly good hearted person having to deal with hardship.
He had never felt this way about anyone and had been trying to figure out a way to ask if she was interested in more. It was difficult because he knew if she said no, it would make things so awkward he might lose what he had with her.
On the other hand, if he didn't say anything, he might lose her because she didn't know he cared. The bandages were supposed to come off in few more days and the doctors thought he'd be leaving one way or another within a week. Once he was out, he was afraid she might drift away. Jeff didn't want to use his situation to make her feel sorry for him, but he also realized that she had committed to visiting him every day while he was there, and he might never have that chance again.
Suddenly he realized she had been talking to him, but he hadn't heard a word.
"Hello, is there anybody in there? I said if you could actually take a stand on principle, maybe you'd see why you were wrong."
Sarah's smile faded as she noticed something wasn't right. She never got the impression he wasn't listening, he was the most attentive person she'd ever talked to. True, part of it was his status as a captive audience, but Jeff was completely genuine. She didn't doubt he would be the same anywhere.
"Sarah, I really like you. Once I'm out of here, could I take you out?" Jeff held his breath. He couldn't believe he actually said that out loud. He hadn't meant to, it just tumbled out and now it was too late to take it back.
There was a painful silence. In reality, it wasn't long, but to him it felt like hours. "Jeff, I'm sorry," she began.
He didn't even hear the rest. There was a pounding in his head as he realized he had just ruined everything. He was so embarrassed he misread her. Since losing his sight, he found that he was really good at picking up on people's intentions and thought he knew Sarah's.
Now what do I do, he thought helplessly.
"Jeff, please understand, I really like you, but it's just not possible."
Sarah was on the verge of tears. She had been dreading this for over a week. She could tell how strongly Jeff felt for her, but it was nothing compared to the way she felt. The question was how to let him down easily. He couldn't know why she wouldn't date him. She couldn't force herself to have that discussion. She just hoped they'd make it through him getting out of the hospital. Now she knew that wasn't a possibility.
"Look Sarah, I shouldn't have put you in that position, I'm sorry. I . . . I think I should be alone."
He felt so stupid. Here he was, laying flat on his back completely helpless. How was she supposed to answer him? If she said yes, it might have been out of sympathy. If she said no, he just made her feel like a monster. Now he had to ask her to leave because all he could do is lay there.
She tried to talk to him, but he insisted she leave. As she sadly walked out the door, she wished her life could have been different . . .
At five o'clock the next day, Sarah didn't come. It was crushing to Jeff, although a part of him expected it. He sat quietly, hoping she'd show up and pretend he hadn't screwed everything up. He knew it probably wouldn't work. He had put her in an impossible position and nothing she did would satisfy both of them. If she tried to apologize, he'd feel like a cripple. If she said she wanted to go out with him, he knew it would be out of sympathy. If she still said no, he'd be too embarrassed to act the same around her. He felt lonelier than he ever had in his life.
He drifted off to sleep while thinking about his situation. He was awakened some time later by the feeling of a wet sponge moving on his chest. As he woke, he grumbled about wanting to do this later.
"Sorry, it's time for your bath," came the hushed reply.
Jeff was startled at what he thought he heard, then decided it was just his imagination. He relaxed, hoping this would be over quickly. He wasn't in the mood for the normal small talk the nurses made, trying to make sponge baths less uncomfortable for the recipient.
He sat still, wondering why this felt different tonight. The way the wet cloth dragged across his chest, slowing at his nipples, made him a little uncomfortable. Whether it was intentional or not, he was getting turned on. He had been lying there for more than three weeks without any chance for a normal sexual release. As he felt the soft cloth slide down his stomach, his erection became uncomfortably hard. It wasn't the first time he'd had this problem.
He tried to joke, "Sorry, I . . . uh think I've been here alone a little too long."
The nurse just shushed him and kept at her work.
She seemed to be dwelling on more sensitive spots of his body than normal and the whole thing was definitely moving slower. He was really getting agitated about his condition, but tried to relax and focus on something else. That changed when he felt her slip his covers lower and run the fabric slowly down his erection. He knew this was completely inappropriate.
"Listen, I'm sorry but . . . "
"Just be quiet and let me enjoy myself," he heard Sarah scold.
Jeff tried to push himself up, "Sarah?"
She pushed firmly against his shoulder so he would lay back down. "Listen buddy, I had to bribe the nurse to let me give you your bath, so I want my money's worth, all right?"
He felt a flood of emotions. After believing he had ruined everything, there wasn't any way for him to process what was happening. He wanted her so badly, but this sudden turnaround was stunning. He couldn't imagine what could have happened to trigger this.
Sarah was trapped in her own emotional confusion. She never intended it to go this far, she wanted to tease him a little and then apologize for the way she acted yesterday. It was supposed to be a little joke. As she ran the rag across the scar on his chest, she couldn't help thinking about how he got it, and the irony of her being the one to lose control over a guy. That was normally something her little sister would do.
There was something about Jeff that she couldn't get out of her system. It was something she never could have anticipated and something she thought she'd never feel again. The more she tried to keep her feelings about him in check, the more completely out of control she felt.