Author: Audrey Frank
The Lonely One
Eva Webster skillfully headed her wheelchair to the front door and the mail slot. Did she get some postcards today? She couldn't travel, so she had joined an international club where she exchanged cards with people from all over the world. Those small greetings were her window on the world.
There were two cards and a large envelope. She looked at the cards first and smiled. Two new names. One from England, the other from France. She hastily ripped open the remaining envelope and frowned. When would her mother's friends stop sending her invitations to their parties? She knew her mother meant well, trying to include her so she would get out of the house and her mind off her disability. It wasn't working.
Before the accident she loved going to parties and events. With long, brilliant black hair and luminous blue-green eyes, she always felt like the belle of the ball. Each party gave an excuse to buy a new gown.
“Good afternoon, Miss Eva. I was just going to pick up the mail for you.”
“Nancy, you startled me. I am perfectly capable of getting the mail by myself.”
She inwardly winced as she realized how harsh her voice sounded. Nancy was a loyal companion for three years. She didn't need to be there every minute, though.
“I'm sorry, Nancy, but wheelchair or not, I'm still able to take care of little things.” There was that tone again. What was wrong with her today? She handed the invitation to Nancy.
“Mother's at it again. I don't want to go to parties. When will she accept that fact?”
“She means well, Miss Eva. Maybe it would lighten your spirit to head out into the world again. The accident shouldn't be the end of life as you knew it. You're young, you've got money, you're smart, and you're beautiful.”
Eva reached for Nancy's hand and squeezed it. Nancy was sixty,on the plump side, and full of Irish wisdom. Eva had grown to love her. Maybe she should stop hiding away. She was lonely always being cooped up at home.
“I'll think on it. Here, let me show you my latest post cards.”
They laughed together and the rest of the afternoon went smoothly, until Elizabeth Webster flounced through the front door.
“There you are, my darling girl. Did you get the invitation to Harley's dinner party?
We can both go together. It will be a lovely evening. You are going, aren't you? You must get out of this house and mingle.”
Eva sighed. “I'm thinking about it. Just don't push me.”
Her mother cocked one perfectly groomed eyebrow and shrugged. As she walked out of the room, Eva and Nancy looked at each other. Nancy rolled her eyes upward.
“She'll never change. I best get supper on the table before she starts complaining.”
After dinner and when Nancy had left for the night, Eva wheeled herself into the bedroom. It was lavishly decorated with a brilliant gold bedspread and matching drapes. Mahogany furniture lined up against pale green walls.
If I had my 'druthers, Eva thought, I'd have furnished this room in bright colored furniture with cottage style accessories. Ever since Eva's father died, her mother had become the challenging widow, changing everything to wreak of wealth. Sometimes Eva wondered did her mother ever really love her father or had she married him for his money?
She pulled a shoebox off the desk and carefully placed her new postcards in alphabetical order. All those wonderful places and people. They were enjoying life and she was living vicariously through them. It had to stop, she decided. Maybe her mother was right. She needed to stop her own lonely pity-party.
The next morning when Nancy arrived, Eva told her she was going to take the advice her mother had given and tackle going to the party.
“That's wonderful, Miss Eva.” Nancy beamed down at her.
“You'll have to help me shop for a new gown. We can drive to that little boutique on Simpson Avenue. Surely I'll find something there.”
Plans made, Nancy helped her into the car, and headed out. They laughed during lunch. Eva was actually excited about the party. At the boutique, with the shop owner's help, she tried on several gowns. She couldn't stand to get the whole effect, but her reflection in the mirror helped. Which one would she settle on,she wondered. Each time the dressing room door opened, Nancy would clap her hands telling Eva what colors she liked. Four gowns later, Eva was ready to decide. She felt exhausted from the effort.
Finally back in her wheelchair, she was startled to feel someone's hand on her shoulder. She looked up into a ruggedly handsome face with the warmest brown eyes she had ever seen.
“Didn't mean to startle you, but you should buy that teal number. You look gorgeous in it.”
“And you are?”
“Ex-captain in the army. My name is Steve Archer, and you're the most beautiful woman I've seen in three years. You really need the teal dress. It brings out your eyes.”
Eva felt her cheeks warm. She looked closer at this stranger. A shock of slightly graying hair matched his brown eyes. She noticed he was bracing himself on a cane. She held out her hand.
“I'm Eva Webster” she offered.
“Hey, are you getting that dress to go to my mother's party? You'll be the youngest and most gorgeous woman there.”
Eva's eyes widened. “You're Harley Archer's son? I thought you were in Afghanistan.”
“I was until I got blown away. Now I'm home and ready to start life again. Can't think of anyone better to start it with than you.” He winked, a slow grin spreading across his lips. “May I have the honor of taking you to the party?”
Nancy decided it was time to interrupt before Eva could decline.
“That would be lovely,” Nancy said, shaking his hand. “I'm so proud of you young men, keeping us all safe. And he's right, Miss Eva, you should buy the teal dress.”
Eva smiled.“Well, I guess you two have the last word. I'll buy the dress and be happy to be with you at the party, Steve.”
After making plans, on the drive home Eva thought about Steve.
“Nancy, do you know more of how he was hurt?”
“I do that. Lost a leg below the knee when a ground mine blew up near him. I marvel how well he's adapting, don't you?”
Eva nodded. How lovely. Two cripples helping each other get through a party.
That night Eva's sleep was fitful. How would they get along? She thought of his missing leg. Did it bother him? He seemed so confident. Would it bother her? She tossed until nearly dawn, then fell into a restless sleep.
At ten the next morning, the front bell rang. When she opened the door it was Steve, holding a bouquet of yellow daisies.
“I think I might have overstepped things yesterday at the store.” He held out the daisies.
Second thoughts, Eva decided. She should have known better. She took the daisies and wheeled into the living room. Steve followed her.
“I was pretty brash at the store yesterday. You really didn't have a chance to decline. I'm sorry about that, but you're so lovely I just wanted to grab on while I had the chance.”
Eva's eyes widened. He still wanted to take her? He went on to explain how painful it was when his own mother looked at him like broken goods. He didn't understand her attitude and decided that, even as an amputee, he'd show her that life could be normal and he could be happy. He asked Eva what kind of accident put her in a wheel chair. He wasn't trying to pry, just curious. If she didn't want to talk about it...
“No, that's okay. Three years ago my horse bolted when a rabbit jumped out on the trail. The doctors all agreed I would never walk again, so here I am.”
“Bull shit!” Steve exploded. “If I can walk you can walk. Have you tried physical therapy or even gotten a second opinion?”
“Not really. My mother accepted the fact and I felt it was just useless.”
“Your mother accepted the fact so you've wasted three years of your life.” Resentment tightened his face, his brows drew together. What was it about their mothers?. Most families gave support. He and Eva were just the exceptions. That bonded them and he was determined to help her.
Eva reached out and touched his cheek. He crushed her hand in his.
“I didn't mean to blurt all that out, Eva. I just have this gut feeling that if you try you can walk again. Let me help you, please. I know some great physical therapists. At least give it a shot.”
“Okay, but after the party. Let's just get through that, then we'll see.”
He impulsively kissed her cheek. Yes, they were bonded and it would grow stronger.
The party turned out better than she had expected. Steve never left her side. Every one was delighted to see her again. If they were just fawning or meant it, the words soothed her nervousness. When Steve drove her home he softly kissed her goodnight. He'd be in touch tomorrow and they'd head to the doctors.
That night Eva told Nancy what she was about to do.
“But I don't want Mother to know. Eventually, if it works, I'll surprise her. Until that happens, we keep it our secret, okay?”
Nancy nodded. “It shouldn't be too difficult. She's always floating off somewhere in the afternoon, so your secret will be safe with me.”
Nancy hugged Eva. She always felt there was the possibility of Eva walking again. Then she laughed, her booming voice ringing through the room.
“There's a reason they call them practicing physicians. I always thought it was a joke. You may just prove them wrong.”
At the therapy appointment, Eva felt every nerve tighten as she was run through the MRI, then examined by two doctors. She was told it should be possible for her to walk again if she followed instructions and kept a positive attitude. She was introduced to someone named Tony. He had muscular arms with tattoos and crossed them as he explained what would happen. They would start tomorrow. Eva shuddered. It would be grueling work and it was all up to her.
Had she realized how grueling, she probably wouldn't have agreed to anything. She started with weight pressing to strengthen her arms. So many exercise machines. Monsters ready to gobble her down. Tony explained she first had to build up the muscles in her arms so she could work the bars and bicycles. She was drenched with sweat at the end of the session.
Steve was waiting when Tony wheeled her out to the lobby.
Tony chuckled. “You got a real woman there. She complained a lot, but she didn't quit.”
Eva rubbed sweat from her brow and grimaced at Steve.
“ I think I could kill you for getting me into this. I never had to exercise and now I'm chained to machines.”
“Better than chained to a wheelchair.” Steve draped a towel around her as Tony carried her to the car. That night her muscles ached and she wondered where all this would lead. With my luck, probably nowhere. She thought of Steve and his enthusiasm. No way could she let him down. She fell asleep and dreamed what it would be like to walk hand in hand with Steve. She already knew she was falling in love with him. She smiled in her sleep.
Days became weeks. Weeks became months of terrifying ups and downs. Still she could feel progress. Muscles, that she hadn't felt for years, started cramping. She could actually wiggle her toes. Walking the bars was the hardest part, but Tony was close by to be sure she didn't fall. She felt life returning to her body.
Steve started coming to her sessions, urging her on. When he showed up in walking shorts one day Eva saw his prosthetic limb for the first time. What wonders surgeons could do now. It almost looked natural. He had mastered not using a cane, and Eva longed to walk to him and passionately kiss him. The look in his eyes told her he was feeling the same way.
That night, sitting together on the living room couch, Steve put his arms around her as she nestled against his chest. He kissed the top of her head.
“I love you, Eva. Felt it the first day we met.” He lifted her chin and kissed her.
Eva reached up and curled her arms around his neck. “I'm going to walk again, Steve, just for you. I promise.”
The next morning before she headed out she questioned Nancy. Did her mother suspect anything? Nancy rolled her eyes, a habit that started when she first came to work. Mrs. Webster was like no one she had ever worked for. An impossible woman to please, but she stayed because of Eva.
“Darlin' girl, your mother is so wrapped up in herself she hasn't even realized you're not at home during the day. You just keep on working those legs so we can have a party and watch her faint.”
The next week at therapy, Tony rubbed the stubble on his chin and looked deep into Eva's eyes. He had gotten her to stand alone. To him, that in itself was a miracle. She was ready.
“The time has come, Missy, for a quick rehearsal. You're gonna walk by yourself today. Not far, but alone. No bars, just you. If you start to fall I'll be there. Okay?”
Eva ran her tongue over parched lips. Her eyes stared back at Tony. She felt her heart beating in her throat. He reached out his arms and took her hands.
“Are you sure, Tony? I'm not. Maybe tomorrow?”
“This is your moment, Kiddo. After almost six months of physically pushing yourself to the limit, I think you're ready.”
He pulled her gently to a standing position. What if I can't do this? All those months of trying and maybe it hadn't worked. Tony released her hands and stood back. She was actually standing alone. But walking?
Tony pointed to the door. “Just six steps. It'll be easy, I promise.”
Eva took one step, her arms extended to her sides for balance. First the right, then miraculously the left. Right. Left. Slowly, but she was moving on her own. She looked up to see Steve coming through the door. He reached out to her. She barely remembered how many slow, tortuous steps she had taken until she was in his arms, sobbing.
The staff was applauding, but Eva was oblivious as she clung to Steve. She had walked. She was ready to start her life over.
Tony interrupted and told her how great she had done. He said she needed to move slowly and he still wanted her to return for final instructions. It was agreed she'd take off a few days.
When they drove back to the house her mind was bubbling over with the one thing she wanted to do. She told Steve to wait for her in the living room while she walked to her bedroom, using the walls as leverage. She reached for her box of postcards and sighed. She gently plucked at each card, remembering how they had become her world. No more. Tomorrow she would drop them off at the library. Perhaps they would open someone else to their beauty. She didn't have to live vicariously through them any more. Her loneliness was over, her life with Steve just beginning.