Sam had not been asleep more than a couple of hours this time, when a commotion outside his room roused him to full alertness. Even so, it had been a relaxing slumber and though he couldn't yet claim to be back to 100 percent health, he felt quite refreshed, and considerably less achy.
Having soon realized that further napping would be impossible with the noise from the corridor; he decided to investigate – his leaper's instincts telling him that if something was going on in his immediate vicinity, then he should be in the thick of it rather than snoozing on the sidelines.
He sat up without much difficulty, but standing proved a bit more of a challenge. When he swung his legs out toward the floor the sight of his tightly bandaged left foot, and the increased circulation making it throb, reminded Sam somewhat rudely that he had sprained his ankle quite badly out on the mountain. Two days of rest, compression and elevation had reduced the swelling, but it was decidedly tender nonetheless.
The noise was still evident outside, though it seemed to be moving further away from his door. So Sam took a breath and cautiously rose, keeping his weight as much on his 'good' foot as possible. Using the bed, the walls, anything he could reach to steady himself, he made his way to the wardrobe and hastily dressed in the clothes B-J's mother had thoughtfully put there. He didn't bother with the socks and shoes, since his foot would not have taken kindly to the restriction.
Even after this delay, the sounds of excited or agitated voices still reached his ears, so Sam hobbled out of his room to track down the source of the din.
He saw a large group of what had to be reporters, accompanied by their photographers, milling around the corridor as if waiting for something or somebody. They seemed to know where they wanted to be, but were being prevented from attaining their target by hospital staff. One or two were trying the doors to other rooms nearby, as if they could sneak round a back way to their desired location. Many were arguing, pleading, cajoling, or trying to bribe their way into the room they were being denied access to. Some were trying to force their way in by sheer weight of numbers. Yet still they were held at bay.
Sam deduced from what he could overhear that the occupant of the room in question must be none other than Jill Kinmont.
Why couldn't they leave her alone? This soon after the accident she was probably still fighting for her life in there. The last thing she needed was this media circus.
Sam was about to wade in and have a go at their insensitivity, when he passed a door they had left open in passing. One of the occupants happened to look up, and sharply reprimanded him for being out of bed.
"Momma!" he responded instinctively, changing direction and limping into Becky-Lou's room to face the inevitable parental lecture.
Lillian Parnell rose to her feet, both angry with her son for not following doctor's orders, and worried about his welfare. B-J still looked exceptionally pale, even a little grey and she could see in his face that his ankle was paining him more than he'd ever own up to.
"Sit!" she ordered sternly, as if training a disobedient dog. After the first faltering step, she scuttled over and proffered her own feeble frame as support.
"Easy now, Momma's here. Lean on me." Knowing it would be unwise to insult her by insisting he could manage alone, Sam merely smiled his thanks and dipped his head respectfully. With her 'assistance' Sam dutifully made his way over to the bed, and as he reached it and took the proffered seat, Becky-Lou stirred.
Lillian Parnell was mercifully distracted from her intended tirade and began speaking to the girl, though she was not yet awake enough to fully register what was being said to her.
"Don't you fret none, Becky-Lou, your Papa's here, he just stepped out to use the bathroom, he'll be back before you know it." She took hold of the girl's hand and stroked the back of it with her thumb.
For a second, the matriarch looked across at Sam and opened her mouth as if she were about to send him to fetch Mr. Carter back post haste. Then she remembered his injured foot, and her command that he should not be walking on it, and she shook her head 'never mind'.
"Bobby-Joe's here, my boy came to see you." Lillian was smiling as she patted the pale cold hand, but there was still criticism in her eyes as she glanced over at him again.
Sam half rose, though he was careful to rest his weight on his right foot. He leaned over and kissed Becky-Lou on the cheek, as he was sure B-J would have done.
Despite her waif-like appearance, she was still attractive.
Like Sleeping Beauty at her Prince's kiss, Becky-Lou opened her eyes and awoke with a loud sigh, bestowing a smile upon her handsome suitor.
"There she is!" exclaimed Mrs. Parnell, who was very fond of her son's intended.
Becky-Lou blinked a few times, and took in her surroundings.
"Take your time, honey." Sam recommended, remembering how weak and frail he'd felt when he first came-to. "Just lie still and take it easy."
"Good advice," Lillian concurred, "Shame you didn't take it, Robert Joseph Parnell." She gave him a nudge in the ribs, and he bowed his head contritely.
"I'm going to find William and let him know his daughter is back with us." Lillian declared, heading for the door. "You two just sit tight."
"Yes Momma." Replied Sam meekly.
For a minute or two, he merely sat by the bed, holding Becky-Lou's hand gently as Lillian had done, and allowing her to regain her faculties gradually.
"Thank you, B-J." she whispered, so softly he barely heard her.
"You saved my life – again." She went on, her voice husky and rasping, as his had been.
"My pleasure." Sam grinned at her, and kissed the back of her hand gallantly. "I'm not going to have to make a habit of it though, am I?" he scolded gently.
"Not planning on it." Becky-Lou promised. "I think I've had enough brushes with death to last me quite a while!"
"Amen to that!" Sam smiled.
Leaning forward to kiss her forehead, Sam told her much as he'd been told, "You should sleep some more, get your strength back. I'll come see you in the morning."
"Do you have to go?" Becky-Lou asked, not wanting her 'dreamboat' to desert her.
"Put it this way," Sam responded, "Your father will be here any minute. He's probably gonna bust my chops for keeping you out all night!"
Becky-Lou laughed, and then coughed a little. "I can handle Papa." She attested.
'I bet you can,' thought Sam.
"Besides," Becky-Lou looked him in the eye, "nothing happened. Not in that way. Even though I really thought I wanted it to at the time." She blushed. "Didn't you want to, B-J?" she queried, her eyes boring into him. It was one of those questions that it was virtually impossible to answer without risk of offending, especially with someone of Becky-Lou's sensitivities.
"What I wanted, and what was sensible in the circumstances were two very different things, honey." Sam settled for what was, in reality, more or less the truth.
"I'm glad now we didn't." she conceded. "You were right, there'll be a more special time and place." Sam sighed with relief.
"Only if you get some proper rest and get yourself better," Sam chided tenderly, bringing her back to the present.
She had been willing to acquiesce, for she did indeed still feel tired and weak, but at that moment she became focused on the ruckus outside.
"What's all that about?" she asked, intrigued and a little alarmed.
"Nothing to worry about," Sam hastily reassured her, "Just a load of reporters trying to get the scoop on Jill." The words were out before he thought of the impact they would have on this intense young lady who took things so much to heart. Sam immediately wished he'd engaged his brain before putting his mouth into gear. A careless word to Becky-Lou tended to have dire consequences, as he'd learned to his cost.
"Jill? Jill's here?" Becky-Lou was sitting up before Sam could stop her, though her hand went to her head as a wave of dizziness washed over her.
"B-J, why didn't you tell me?" she practically shrieked, leaning out of the bed to swipe him round the arm. "You have to take me to see her. You just have to!" By this time, she was almost out of the bed, but Sam reached over and held her back.
"For a start, honey," he reasoned, "You are in no fit state to go running round the hospital."
"But…" she started to protest. Sam put a finger to her lips to prevent the interruption.
"For another thing, Jill's in no fit state to receive visitors. Why do you think the reporters are so riled up?"
'I guess you're right," Becky-Lou conceded with a pout, "Maybe tomorrow?" she batted her eyelids at him, and twisted her hair in her fingers.
"We'll see." Sam was surprised but pleased that she had yielded so easily. "If you promise to rest up now."
"You too." She countered, thus avoiding actually giving any promise herself.
"Yes, ma'am." Sam smiled at her, settling her back into the bed and kissing her tenderly on the forehead. "Sleep well, sweetie."
Then he rose to his feet and hobbled out, to return to his room.
He really should have known better. When something appears to be too good to be true, it invariably is.
He was barely out the door when he heard a thud from inside the room. Turning on his heel – not an easy maneuver when you only have one sound heel to turn on – he shuffled back in as fast as his ragged gait would allow. Not surprisingly, he found Becky-Lou on the floor, sobbing softly to herself and trying to drag her unresponsive body toward the door.
"What on earth do you think you're doing?" Sam asked incredulously, though in truth he had a pretty good idea.
"If you won't" sniff "help me," she looked up defiantly, "I'll get to Jill by myself." She struck out with determination and dragged herself a little bit nearer.
Sam sighed and rolled his eyes heavenward. The girl was impossible.
As luck would have it, there was a wheelchair just behind the door - a big old-fashioned wheelchair with huge heavy wheels. Sam grabbed it, and leaning on it as much to support his own still weakened legs as anything else, he pushed it over to where she lay, which was fortunately not too far. It was as squeaky as it was cumbersome.
"Keep still, you silly goose." Sam told her as he approached, feeling that the affectionate insult was somehow prompted by B-J.
"I'm not getting back in that bed until I see Jill for myself." Becky-Lou hit the floor with her fist for emphasis. She did as she was bid though, and ceased her struggle to crawl to the door. She hadn't really the energy to continue it, but there was no way she was about to let Bobby-Joe know that.
"In that case, the sooner I get you in this chair and down to Jill's room, the sooner we can both get back to the rest we need." Sam declared as he parked the chair next to her, and secured the brake.
Getting her into the wheelchair would have been comical if it hadn't been such a strain on both of them. Becky-Lou was still so weak from her ordeal that she couldn't get her limbs to co-operate in the process, no matter how hard she tried. She'd already discovered the hard way that her legs couldn't yet support her weight, slender though she was. For his part, Sam was far stronger than she, and under normal circumstances he could have lifted her with no more effort than if she were a feather pillow. Still, the muscles in his arms trembled and protested as he tried to lift her up, and his ankle pounded, and his back ached. It was altogether way more exertion than either of their cold-ravaged bodies should have been engaging in so soon. It took them several attempts, and more than once Sam almost ended up in a heap on the floor on top of her. By the time she was settled in the chair, they didn't know whether to laugh or cry, but had barely the breath for either.
It was lucky that their respective parents hadn't returned to see the tussle, for surely neither would have approved. Sam wondered what was keeping them, a part of him having wished in the midst of it that they would get caught, if only so that he could get some help with his onerous task. He was exhausted at the end of it, and he hated feeling so weak and feeble. Once more, he was leaning heavily on the wheelchair, wondering how much longer he could keep on his feet, especially when one of them was pulsing with pain. All the good his recent nap had done him was now negated, and then some.
Nonetheless, having closed his eyes momentarily and taken a couple of calming breaths, Sam began pushing Becky-Lou to her desired destination.
For a second time, he was barely through the door when a noise distracted him. This time it was the sound of the Imaging Chamber door opening, and Al popped in almost directly in his path, startling him, and making him stumble.
"Are you okay back there, B-J?" Becky-Lou asked – genuinely concerned more for her boyfriend than for the fact that he had almost tipped her onto the floor again.
"I've been better." Sam responded curtly, and truthfully.
"Sam?" Al was surprised to see his friend out of bed, which was clearly where he still needed to be.
Sam merely gave him a shrug. He couldn't converse with the hologram without Becky-Lou thinking he'd flipped. The look he gave his friend bade him explain his sudden appearance, which was obviously motivated by more than a desire to see if he was awake again.
"Guess you're wondering what brought me here?" Al interpreted. Sam's eyebrows confirmed the deduction.
"I told Ziggy you weren't fit to go gallivanting, and I can see I was right." Al began. "But she says you need to get Becky-Lou down to Jill's room. Ziggy insists there is something Becky-Lou needs to hear. Jill's just down the corridor." Al waved his hand to indicate the direction. Sam shot him a look that clearly said, 'where the heck do you think I'm headed?'
'Ah, yes, I can see you're one step ahead of me!" Al observed, keeping pace with the limping leaper.
They soon reached the crowd, which had quietened down somewhat, making the squeak of the wheelchair seem obtrusive. While Sam had been struggling with Becky-Lou, the reporters had finally been allowed into the room to talk to Jill herself, but not for long. Just as the odd group drew level, the journalists were being herded out to trade places with the anxious photographers, who burst in, flash bulbs blazing. The evicted reporters were talking to a couple, who were answering endless questions.
"That's Bill and June Kinmont, Sam." Al supplied.
"Jill's parents." Sam confirmed.
"I know," whispered Becky-Lou - in awe of being so close to the great skier and her family. "Shhh." She waved her hand to bid him be quiet and let her listen.
Bill was just saying, "…If she wants to get back on those boards again, it'll be okay with us. We don't hold skiing responsible for this accident. It's something that just happened. Bobby and Jerry haven't quit skiing because of it, and we hope no one else does, either."
Then a reporter asked: "Mrs. Kinmont, just one question. How can you let your son go east to race when your daughter's just broken her neck? Doesn't it kill you to see him go?"
"It doesn't happen to be my decision." June Kinmont replied, far more calmly than Sam was sure she was feeling inside. Sam couldn't help but admire the grace and courage with which the pair handled themselves.
"Did you hear what they said?" Becky-Lou looked up at Sam, tears springing to her eyes.
"Yes, honey, they said nobody should give up skiing because of Jill's accident." Sam was mindful of Al's original proclamation that his mission on this leap was to prevent Becky-Lou from giving up her future in skiing. He didn't think that Becky-Lou was the sort to quit for fear of having an accident like Jill's, but he was now sure that somehow the two events were inextricably linked. Ziggy had been right about her needing to hear Bill's comment.
"No, not that!" Becky-Lou contradicted impatiently, "They said Jill had broken her neck!" She was trembling with emotion. "I have to see her, B-J, I need to see for myself."
She reached down and tried to turn the wheels on the chair, but they were too heavy for her. Sam sighed again. If only she could put as much energy into her career as she did into getting her own way, she'd be a champion for sure.
Sam edged them forwards, and managed to line them up with the doorway. At first, they couldn't see past the flashing of the cameras, but as the photographers were told their five minutes were up, and reluctantly allowed the Nurse to usher them out, Becky-Lou was able to sneak just inside the door, her boyfriend close behind, himself shadowed by a hologram. She took a horrified look at her heroine lying in the Stryker frame like a suckling pig on a spit, and gasped. Surely that couldn't be Jill, beautiful Jill, with tongs coming out of her head – literally out of her head like horns? The traction was holding her immobile, but Jill had heard the gasp, and a strange squeak, and knew that she was not alone following the retreat of the photographers.
"Who's there?" she asked. "Nurse, someone's still here."
"Don't be alarmed, Miss Kinmont." Sam hastily reassured her, wheeling Becky-Lou over next to the head end of the frame, being careful not to get tangled in traction wires. He leaned over into her field of vision. "You probably don't remember us…"
"Bobby-Joe, isn't it?"
"Hey! You two, out of here," ordered the Nurse, who thought that her patient had been subjected to far too many visitors already.
"It's okay, " Jill told her. "These are my friends."
Becky-Lou beamed widely at that. The nurse looked skeptical, especially in light of the opening remark the boy had made, but she held her tongue, at least for the moment.
"Is that Becky-Lou with you?" queried Jill, unable to turn her head to look.
"I'm here!" the young lady in question piped up, waving her hand for Jill to see.
Jill put two and two together…
"Was that a wheelchair I heard? Did you fall too?"
"Long story." Sam interjected, pushing Becky-Lou to the end of the 'bed', behind Jill's head. He'd noticed that a small tilted mirror had been fixed above Jill's head, to let her watch a television that had been brought to her room. Sam positioned Becky-Lou so Jill could see her in it. "We got trapped - uh benighted - on the mountain, slight case of hypothermia, but we're gonna be fine."
"Slight case!" Al snorted, but a glare from Sam soon silenced him. They both knew it was a monumental understatement, but that the severity of their suffering was not the issue here.
"I'm glad to hear it." Jill told them, with genuine relief.
"Oh Jill!" was all a tearful Becky-Lou could bring herself to say. "Poor Jill," she whispered almost to herself.
"I know! I look frightful!" Jill countered, and then added, "I can't even wash my hair with all this – this hardware."
Becky-Lou couldn't help but snigger. With all Jill had to contend with, she was worried about her appearance.
"You look better than I expected you would." Sam told her, honestly, and Jill smiled.
Becky-Lou tried for a moment longer to delude herself. Jill wasn't that badly hurt. She'd be back on skis like her parents had said; she really didn't have anything more to worry about than how she could wash her hair.
Then Becky-Lou looked again at the fragile figure immobile in the Stryker frame, and knew in her heart that Jill was unlikely to walk, let alone ski, ever again. She sniffed back a sob. Jill was not despondent, and Becky-Lou didn't want to be the one to make her so. She was also a little sad for herself, though. She hadn't really believed this scenario could be possible. She had made a vow not to ski until Jill returned to the piste, and now it was undeniable that this would never happen. Becky-Lou had not planned on retiring so early. She allowed herself a little sigh.
"This set-back won't keep you from taking your place in the team, will it?" Jill broke into her thoughts. Jill meant the hypothermia of course, but Becky-Lou's mind was still on her private declaration.
"I think we've missed the final try-outs." Sam told her, realizing that he was going to have his work cut out to resurrect Becky-Lou's career.
"It doesn't matter anymore." Becky-Lou muttered.
"Oh, but it does!" Jill told her. "I saw your run while I was waiting for mine. You're ace!"
This took Becky-Lou totally by surprise. She had never in a million years expected to hear such high praise from the best skier in the world. She blushed.
"Not compared to you, Jill. I told myself on Sunday that I wouldn't ski again until I can run against you," she blurted out, "You've always been the one to try and beat. Not that I ever could!" Becky-Lou was babbling.
Sam finally knew exactly why Becky-Lou had originally quit skiing. She had waited and waited for Jill to recover, as everyone at first expected her to because of the media hype. Then when it finally became clear that Jill would never ski again, Becky-Lou was too inexorably tied to her self imposed promise to take up her own career again.
"I don't think I pose much of a challenge at the moment!" Jill stated without rancor.
Becky-Lou was about to protest, but Jill forestalled her. A part of her believed the propaganda that said she'd ski again. She wanted to believe it. She had always been strong minded and determined and used to getting her own way. Yet she hadn't moved anything below her shoulders in over four days, and she knew deep down that she was in serious and lasting trouble. She couldn't bear to think that two sets of young girl's dreams and ambitions had been shattered on that mountain along with her spine.
"Have you heard of my friend A-J?" Jill asked.
"Audra Jo Nicholson, yeah, she..." Sam remembered.
"She contracted polio, yes." Jill wanted to keep it to the facts. "I told her then that I'd ski for the both of us. Looks like - for now at least - you gotta ski for all three of us, Becky-Lou."
"That's quite a tall order." Becky-Lou looked nervous, but excited too.
"You gotta promise me you'll try." Jill looked into her overhead mirror earnestly, holding eye contact with the girl in the wheelchair. Sam looked at her too, willing her to say yes.
"I'd do anything for you, Jill!" Becky-Lou declared, much to Sam's relief. "I just hope I can live up to your expectations."
"Bingo!" put in Al; a squeal from the handlink telling him this was another success for Sam.
"All you have to do is give it your best shot. That's all anyone can ask of you. Oh, and if it's possible, have fun getting there."
"Wise words indeed." Echoed Sam. "On which note, I think we should leave Jill to rest. She's had a demanding day what with the press and all, and we've taken up far too much of her time already. Besides, you need to rest too, Becky-Lou." Sam's foot was crying out for rest too, but it had been worth it to get Becky-Lou back on track. "You're father will be wondering where we've got to. I don't want him thinking we've eloped!"
Both young girls smiled at that, as they said their goodbyes.