My lungs burn from my frantic breathing. The dark box is so tight and compact that I can’t even move my arms. I try to pound against the box, but my arms are pinned to my sides. I don’t have the room I need to swing them. The oxygen is becoming thinner with each shallow breath that I take. I try to yell, but my voice ends at the wooden box. No one is going to come and save me. This is my grave. I close my eyes and take a deep breath letting the darkness take me.
It takes me a minute to catch my breath realizing I was having another nightmare. Lately, the nightmares constantly cloud my dreams. Restless nights are becoming the norm, but after this one, there’s no way that I am going to close my eyes again tonight. It takes me a few minutes, but I get myself into my chair and wheel myself into the bathroom. The cold water I splash on my face is refreshing. I glance into the mirror and barely recognize the reflection staring back—dark circles form a ring around my sunken eyes. I have lost a substantial amount of weight, and it is very obvious on my face. I haven’t intentionally lost weight; I just haven’t had much of an appetite. I look old. I need to figure out how to get some rest. I go back in the room to see what time it is. 5:00 A.M. No one else is up yet. A hot steamy bath sounds amazing, but the only bath is in the other bathroom. I make up my mind … I’m taking a bath. I grab my clothes and head down the hall to the other bathroom.
Surprisingly, the soak gifts me with a little energy. I hear commotion in the main room when I wheel around the corner. Heather is busy in the kitchen making breakfast, and Joe is sipping on coffee reading the paper at the table. He looks over the top of his coffee cup, and I see him wink, “Good morning gimpy.” The last few days we have been giving each other new nicknames.
“Am I going to have to separate you two?” I laugh at my sister and stick my tongue out at Joe. Since I have moved in, we have all grown into a morning ritual. We all sit at the table and enjoy breakfast together before Joe heads off to work, and Heather takes me to my physical therapy. It’s nice to have this time together.
“Can you believe in two days Lexie is graduating?” Time does seem to be going rather quickly. Today is Thursday, and then tomorrow I meet up with the lawyer again, and then … my beautiful daughter is completing a huge milestone in her life and moving on to another. Maybe I should take a few notes from her book.
My heart hammers against my chest. A mixture of nerves and excitement, have me on the edge of insanity. I’m more than ecstatic to see Ethan again, and as we get closer to the hospital, my anxiousness grows. I don’t think I was even this nervous at my wedding. I try to calm my hyperventilating by taking long, slow, and very purposeful breaths. Cool your jets Nicole. I can feel the scrutinizing gaze from my sister’s green eyes, but she never does ask what’s wrong, thankfully.
The smell of chlorine fills my nose, as I wait to see if Ethan or Laura will be my therapist today. The anticipation is killing me. Splashing in the pool distracts me, and I turn to look. An older gentleman in the pool, helps a young child swim. I’d guess he’s around ten years old. I don’t notice at first, but the child only has one leg. It breaks my heart to see that someone so young has to endure something so tragic. As I watch, I’m amazed how well he gets around. It doesn’t even faze him that he’s missing something that I would think, vital. Perseverance, that’s all it takes. I remind myself.
A light touch on my shoulder brings a smile to my lips. I know its Ethan. He rounds my chair, and my heart stops. It is absolutely impossible for anyone to be that good looking. I just stare unable to pull my gaze away.
“I missed you,” he says, sending all the mixed feelings I’ve had spiraling out of control.
I don’t want to admit it out loud, but I do, “I missed you too.” I blush and look down at my fingers in my lap. Ethan’s gentle hand cups my chin and lifts my face. His eyes are so filled with compassion and warmth. I feel drawn to him.
“Shall we get started?” I nod yes.
Ethan gets me into the pool, with more hands-on care than I think he uses with his other patients, but who’s complaining. Like Laura, he has me standing, but his body is right up against mine as he helps me make slow steps. The pressure of his body touching mine is dizzying. If he weren’t holding me up, I would fall over. I close my eyes as he uses his leg to push mine forward. We move in unison, as one. I’m tempted to take his hand and glide it between my thighs to ease this tension. Instead, I just squeeze onto his hand tighter. I am in way too deep.
I’m really starting to hate that our sessions are only an hour long. I might have to talk to Dr. Mitchell and see if he can extend that. A nurse I don’t recognize helps me in the dressing room. I check my phone as she pushes me out, and I see the missed call and text from Heather.
Hey got held up at work, can you call for a ride?
I pull my phone up to call Carrie but remember that she is out of town for work. “Crap,” I say not paying attention to anyone around me.
“What’s up?” Ethan’s sexy voice catches me off guard. He’s usually not in the foyer after our sessions
“Oh, nothing. My sister got held up is all, and I was just trying to figure out who I should call for a ride.” I shrug my shoulder like it’s no big deal.
“I can give you a ride.”
“No … no. It’s fine. I’ll call a girlfriend. I’m sure someone will come to pick me up.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. You don’t want to hang out here any longer than you have to.” He’s right. I come here every day, and I would rather not sit here waiting for God knows how long for someone to pick me up. Besides, what could be the harm in him giving me a ride home? I doubt he would turn out to be a stalker.
“Nikki, I’m leaving too. It’s not a problem.”
“Are you sure you wouldn’t mind?” I feel a bit skeptical having a stranger go out of their way for me.
“Of course, I’m sure. It would be my pleasure. If I didn’t want to give you a lift, I would have never offered.” He unlocks the brakes on my wheelchair before I can object and pushes me through the doors.