Charlotte hasn’t been acting like herself today. I know she’s busy getting everything ready for Jake’s party this evening, but I feel like she’s avoiding me.
We’re alone in the gym, just her and I, hand in hand while I work on my balance. Her mind is noticeably elsewhere even though she smiles at me when I can stand longer than the last time.
“That’s it, if you don’t want to tell me why you are in a glum mood...“, I yank her into my chest and hug her tightly.
She tries to pull away after a few seconds, but I hold her even tighter and say, “I am not letting go until you either cheer up or reveal what’s bothering you”.
“I’m sorry I’m in my own world today; I will perk up, I promise”, she still doesn’t convince me.
“I have just the thing that will lighten your spirits! Will you please walk with me to the parallel bars?” I ask her.
We get to the bars and I instruct her to stand in the middle of them, facing me about two feet away.
“Levi, what are you doing?“, she drags out my name.
“Wait for it!” I tease her.
She is in position to catch me, but I shoo her hands away.
I hear her suck in a deep breath and hold it when she watches me stand up straight and let go of the bars. She instinctively moves her body closer to me, it’s her protective nature.
“Freeze! Young lady!” I tease again. “I am coming to you”, I disclose.
Keeping my hands close to the bars without touching them, I shift my weight to my right and swing my left leg forward, taking a step.
Charlotte is bug-eyed and still holding her breath, so I quickly steady myself before she passes out. Carefully, I disperse my weight to the middle and take a step forward with my right leg.
Her smile widens and I reach for her face with both of my hands and capture her mouth with mine. She kisses me back and finally breathes again, ” That was amazing! You just made my whole day!“, she declares, wrapping her arms around my waist, embracing me again.
" I thought you might like that! Sometimes I can take two steps before I need to grab the bars”, I say with glee.
She hands me my crutches. Her mood is different now, she looks happy again and says, ” How about we help get Jake’s party started?”
Once again, the lounge is full of people, music, and great food. Sarah put together a slide show on the big screen reminding us of all Jake’s milestones. Seeing pictures and videos of when he first arrived here, in pain, not able to do much on his own, brings back memories of when I first arrived. I wanted to forget about those days all together yet looking at these pictures on screen reminds me how hard Jake worked... how hard I have worked and all the challenges we have overcome.
I most enjoy the pictures of the two of us goofing around in the gym together and racing our wheelchairs down the hallway. Jake has been a great friend; he’s helped me through everything while I have been here. I hope he can say that I have helped him too. I’m going to miss not having him around every day.
Charlotte dances around from person to person, engaging in endless conversations while I talk with Jake. My eyes drift in her direction every few minutes, making me smile when she catches me staring.
Nate suggests that some of us stick around a little longer after the crowd leaves to have some drinks and reminisce. Only Nate, Jake, his girlfriend, Charlotte, and I stay. We spent the next two hours laughing and talking, all of us were buzzing at this point, except for Charlotte, she didn’t have a single sip of alcohol tonight. I was curious as to why Charlotte refused to drink tonight, but I was too off my trolley to ask her. All I heard her say was, “Someone has to make sure you make it to your bed without falling on the floor”.
The next morning, I woke up on the couch with Charlotte squeezed in next to me. Looking around I notice that we all passed out on a couch or a chair in the lounge. We must have been inebriated!
We all swallow a couple headache pills and head for breakfast. Charlotte realizes I’m still a little tipsy and places my arm around her shoulder, hers around my waist and walks me to the dining room.
“I’m sorry”, I grin at her.
“Don’t be! Everyone had fun!” she returns my grin.
“Don’t you look like a sorry bunch”, Sarah giggles as she walks over to our table with a pot of coffee. I think we all drank two or three cups worth hoping it would dissolve our hang over.
After breakfast I headed to the gym with Sarah while Charlotte took Jake and his girlfriend to her office to go over his discharge paperwork, and everything else they would need for California.
I said my goodbyes to Jake and promised I would visit him in the summer. Jake of course couldn’t leave without giving me some advice. He told me not to let fear or anger get the best of me and to remember, that when life brings me down, having someone who loves me by my side will always make it better.
Damn Jake! He should be some kind of inspirational speaker or something of the sort.
In the gym, Sarah helped me work with the parallel bars. This time I convinced her to remove my leg brace.
My left leg isn’t very strong, even after two rounds of stem-cell treatments, but I have been able to add an extra pound to the weight machine every other day; so luckily my leg is improving but at a slow and steady rate.
Sarah attached the gait belt to my waist and stood behind me, her hands firmly gripping the belt.
My left leg feels funny whenever I bend my knee to pick it up. I need to be extra cautious when I place my foot back down because I don’t have complete control of my ankle, my foot is usually set in the brace. Charlotte says it’s good to start using the bars without my leg brace so that I can get used to walking with a more natural hip movement instead of swinging my leg around to take a step, like I do when I am wearing the brace.
This is not so hard. I have mastered the bars with my leg brace on. With no brace, I have Sarah holding me steady with the gait belt and my arms carrying most of my weight.
When I was all done in the gym, I met with Nate in the weight room. Nate added the extra pound to the leg press, and I worked my way through multiple sets until I had no energy left.
Charlotte met me for lunch in the afternoon and instantly noticed I was in pain.
“Levi, you can’t work your muscles that hard in one day”, she scolds me.
“I know...“, I grunt back in pain from the constant leg spasms I’m having.
The spasms are coming one right after the other. I’m trying to breathe and put pressure on my leg at the same time and nothing is helping. I can’t even get up to walk anywhere so Charlotte has Sarah bring a wheelchair over.
“Come on, we are getting into the hot tub”, Charlotte angrily mumbles as both her and Sarah help me into the chair.
I am already wearing gym shorts, so Charlotte doesn’t bother having me change into swim trunks.
The hot water combined with the jets pulsating against my legs helped calm my spasms. The hot tub was a good idea even with Charlotte sitting in the water with me, looking at me with a scowl on her face.
“I am sorry Love”, I say, giving her my best puppy dog eyes.
“I just hate it when you’re in pain, it makes me sick to my stomach when I know you’re in pain”, she confesses.
“Awe... that’s because you love me so much”, I say, pulling her close so I can give her a smooch.
Charlotte massages my leg until she feels no further spasm.
“I walked all the way across the bars today without my brace!” I brag, changing the subject.
" I heard! That’s awesome”, she finally smiles at me.
“Do you feel like you can walk with me now, back to your room?“, she asks.
" I think you should rest the remainder of the afternoon, and we can stop for dinner somewhere on the way to my place”, she adds.
She helps me out of the tub, hands me a towel to dry off, then we slowly walk back to my room. She has her arm tightly around me while we walk. My muscles are extremely sore and not just my leg, but my back and arms too.
After a snail’s pace, we make it to my room, and I lay down on the bed.
“I think I’ve learned my lesson”, I joke with her.
" Oh, have you now”, she hums in return.
She bends down to pick up my wet towel from the floor and when she goes to stand back up straight, I see her wobble and grab onto the bureau for support.
“What just happened?“, I blurt out.
“Nothing! I’m just dizzy, I think I stayed in the hot tub too long, maybe I need some water”, she looks away from me while she speaks.
“Get some water then”, I demand.
I don’t like what just happened, she’s making me nervous.
Some time goes by before Charlotte returns to my room. She appears to have more energy and she is smiling.
“Where shall we eat tonight?“, she asks all chirpy.
“Are you feeling better?“, my voice serious when I ask her.
“Yes! much! I must have been dehydrated”, she attests.
Thankfully, I didn’t catch her having any other dizzy spells the rest of the week, which led me to believe she really was dehydrated.
The following weeks after told me differently though. It was difficult for me to pinpoint what it was exactly. She acted like her normal self around me, praising all my progress, continuing with my afternoon pool sessions, showering me with love every chance she could. Everything seemed fine except for when she disappeared for a few hours every other morning. I didn’t mind because I had therapy with Sarah and Nate, but I was curious. When I would bring it up to her, she would tell me that she was getting stuff taken care of at the hospitals.
It all made sense, it is part of her job, spending time at the hospitals, going to conferences and finding new patients who would benefit from her program.
What has gotten me the most concerned lately was when she ran off to the bathroom because she was sick last week. She blamed it on the stomach flu. This week she is blaming it on food poisoning. I took care of her the best I could, making her tea, rubbing her back when she got sick, checking her temp like she would do for me.
Today she seems to be feeling much better. She is back to her old happy self this afternoon, working with me in the gym.
I’m on my eleventh month now of this program. I have gained back strength in my hips, both arms and my right leg. If it weren’t for my stubborn left leg, I would be walking on my own by now. My right crutch and my left leg brace are all I need to help me when I walk around. Charlotte is so happy for me, and so am I.
So far this week, I have taken five or six steps without my leg brace on. My ankle isn’t sturdy, so Charlotte had a new brace made that forms around my foot, ankle and up my calf. The brace easily fits into my shoe and keeps my ankle locked in place when I step.
“What you have accomplished is remarkable Levi”, Charlotte happily reminds me.
Both my hands are on her shoulders while hers grip my waist. We are walking around the gym together, her moving backwards while I move forward. I am wearing only my new ankle brace as I practice walking, Charlotte catching me with her strength the few times my knee buckles.
Her eyes are so inviting and the way she gazes into mine shows me how proud of me she is. I would not be able to do what I am doing now without her.
“So, Mark tells me you have an audition for a new role back in London at the end of next month?“, an inquisitive tone to her voice.
" Only if I can walk on my own by then... and even then, I don’t know if I want to jump right back into acting”, I admit.
“You should go and try it anyway, maybe you will realize you have missed it...missed home”, she points out.
“Yeah, maybe, but I don’t want to leave you here”, I give her a half smile.
“I promised you I would help you to walk again so you could get back to your prior life and your career. I’m not going to be the one to hold you back”, her tone serious.
Is she trying to make me go back to London, I wonder? I’m not even sure if that’s what I want to do anymore. What I want is to be with her. She is right though; she didn’t do all of this for me so I could just give up acting. I do need a job when I am finished with my program here. I can always find some other career here in Boston, with her.
Charlotte is staring at me waiting for a response. Not sure of what I want to say, so I put my head down and sigh.
" I know, I need some time to think about it”, is all I can come up with.