I groaned, as I lay in my bed. “I don’t want him anywhere near me. Why do I need a nurse? I have Sara.” I was still upset. I would gladly take spending time with my sister over having to be polite to Johnny.
“Although there will come a day when this will cease to be the case Sara is not recognized as a licensed healthcare provider,” Johnny pointed out. He would visit six days a week for eight hours a day, note book in hand, to report back to my medical team.
I lay on the bed while Johnny lifted my scarred leg, bending my knee with slow even pressure. “Who are you to my sister? And before you answer I want you to know, you can stop with the whole ‘just a friend’ act.”
Johnny laughed. “She told me she’s not your sister. Would you like to tell me the story of how you came to be part of Sara’s family?”
“I would like you to piss off.”
Johnny switched to rotating my bent leg, to put pressure on the joint of my hip. “What are you willing to tell me about yourself?”
I winced in pain. “I am a waste of life. And this was a waste of time, why can’t I just be in a wheelchair?”
Johnny shook his head. “We are God’s children, and he let you come back for a reason.”
“I would love to know what that reason was,” I said trying to fight through the pain. “I was an athlete; and I am not smart enough to go to college, I have nothing to live for.”
“You could go to college,” Johnny said, trying to comfort me. “Maybe not UCLA but there are collages for all kinds of people.
I glared at him. “Fine- I don’t want to go to college, because I have no idea what to do with my life!” A searing pain shot through my knee. “STOP WHAT YOU ARE DOING TO MY LEG!”
“I’m going to get a heating pad; I want to try to relax the pain away before resorting to the injections,” Johnny said.
“Why?” I cried out in agony.
Johnny put his hand on my shoulder. “Your body needs to build strength.”
I wanted the needle- the immediate relief. “My body needs to give up. My legs, my lungs, and my heart: everything needs to give up- I have nothing!”
“You have Sara, and you have me. You will walk again, and you will make it to California!” Johnny noticed a UPS package on my nightstand. “And you have a care package…”
Mother had placed it there earlier in the day.
I rolled over. “It’s anonymous, probably from the hospital staff.”
When Johnny left for the day I opened it. The gift was from Jen’s father Diego.
“Dear Sean, Sara mentioned you had a fondness for candy, I hope these will help lift your spirits. I will keep you and your family in my prayers, your friend Diego Quinto.” Inside was a box of cake flavored truffles. I flipped over the box to read what was inside. Some were chocolate fudge, others were strawberry cheesecake, and there was even a lemon meringue flavor. It felt a little awkward to receive a box of chocolates from another man, but Diego’s heart was in the right place.
I also knew why he sent them anonymously. If mother had seen his name my candy would have likely gone in the trash.
I hugged the box as I fell asleep.
I awoke to the sound of Sara’s voice. “Who sent you candy?”
“Jen’s dad, your third best friend,” I muttered. “Come to think of it where exactly do I rank? I’m not smart like Diego or Johnny.”
“Sean, you will always be my number one. Now let me have a truffle.”
“Say something embarrassing about Johnny, and I will let you have a truffle.”
Sara laughed, “Johnny’s parents refused to buy him a car because he failed his driving test five times. Then when he got his paramedic license he had to retest and he passed because as a paramedic he has to drive with a sense of urgency. Point being- he’s more psychotic behind the wheel then you are.”
I laughed. “You get one truffle.”
“Fine, I’ll just get my own box the next time I visit Diego at the hospital.”
“These are from the hospital?” I asked.
“Yeah, but not our hospital: I’ve only seen them in the gift shop at the veteran’s hospital.”
“Is Diego in the hospital?”
“He goes to the hospital every week for physical therapy. I’ve been accompanying him to the pain clinic.”
“Sara, are you crying?”
She wiped her eyes. “I forgot you’ve never seen his back.”
“Is his back worse than my legs?” I asked.
The look on Sara’s face made me feel an immediate sense of shame. “Sean, don’t…Just don’t.”
I had no right to compare my pain to his. “I’m sorry, Sara. What does Diego do at the pain clinic?”
“Usually just acupuncture to stimulate the nerves. He’ll lie on the table and depending on the therapist sometimes he’ll be allowed to hold my hand. When he’s finished we’d go out for smoothies. Except on days when I take him to the chiropractor. He’s usually in too much pain to do much of anything, so we just go back to his place and watch movies.”
I found it odd that Sara had taken it upon herself to be responsible for Diego’s medical care. “How do you get to his house when you don’t have a car?”
“Johnny drops me off, sometimes I take a cab.”
“So what happened?”
Something had to have changed, to make her so upset.
“About a month ago Diego and his wife were arguing. He ‘lost his footing’ and fell down a flight of stairs. He messed his shoulder up really bad and he suffered a herniated disk in his neck.”
“That’s horrible, did he get the police involved?”
“Of course not, I’m just thankful his wife was willing to dial 911 for him. The last time she hurt him he had to drive himself to the emergency room.”
“She’s done this multiple times?”
Sara suddenly pulled out a drawer full of makeup. “I don’t want to talk about it. I have to get dressed. Johnny’s taking me out to dinner.”
“You’re leaving me?”
“For like an hour.”
“I bet you wouldn’t leave Diego alone for an hour,” I muttered.
“Nothing, have fun on your date.”
I didn’t trust Johnny. I could tell Johnny was only there for Sara. Johnny made her laugh. Johnny was who she talked to about her academic goals. Johnny drew little pictures for her that she pinned to the wall by her desk. Despite what Sara said, I knew in my heart Johnny was replacing me as her best friend.
* * *
On the second day of my physical therapy Sara made sure to stay with Johnny as moral support, since I was refusing to get out of bed. Johnny took my blood pressure, and temperature, and then attempted to get me to practice with my crutches.
“You just want me out of this bed so you can have sex with my sister!” I shouted, hurling the metal crutches at the wall.
Sara screamed, “Sean!”
“Sean, I can have sex with my girlfriend wherever and whenever I damn well please,” Johnny said as he got up to leave.
I sat up and hurled a nearby water glass at the boy’s head, narrowly missing as Johnny slammed the door behind him.
Sara glared. “What is your problem, Sean? I understand you’re frustrated but you are acting like a child. Johnny’s only trying to help you.”
I pulled the blankets over my body. “Go to him, you know you want to.”
Sara shook her head. “I want to go to UCLA! I want to be with you that’s what I want!” She made sure to slam the door hard as she left.
I was shivering, my legs were in agony but I needed to hear her reaction. I need to know she loved me. I snuck down to the kitchen hiding in nearby closet.
Johnny was in the kitchen with a glass of water.
“What the hell was up with you in there?” Sara shouted.
Johnny slammed his fist into the table. “Me? He’s the idiot who thinks I’m only here to hook up with you.”
Sara slapped him in the face. “Do not call my brother an idiot- ever! Second, I do not need you destroying my relationship with Sean. He has been through so much- he doesn’t deserve your level of disrespect!”
Johnny walked away. “Well you can do his physical therapy for today, I’m leaving!” Johnny took his notebook and called his dad to pick him up.
I chuckled to myself, “Loser.”
Sara headed back to our room.
With my crutches, there was no way I could beat her back to the room, so I did the next best thing. I collapsed in the hallway.
Sara ran to my aid. “Sean?”
I forced myself to cry. The last thing I needed was for her to think I was spying on her. “I wanted some orange juice. I thought I could make it to the kitchen.”
“Let’s get you back to bed.”
Sara helped me back to the room and tucked me into bed.
“Is he gone?” I asked.
“For today, but please let him help you. Johnny is a good person.”
On the third visit I did not say a single word to Johnny, I simply took orders; sit up, stand, lay down, etc. After an hour Johnny went to the kitchen for a break. Sara was waiting for him. “At least he’s calmer today.” I knew she hated seeing me so weak and hopeless.
Johnny looked over his notes. “I’m becoming emotionally exhausted here. Sean has lost the will to live; he needs something to cling to.”
Sara wiped tears from her eyes. “We just need to try and bring it back to him. I believe in you. Trust that God will show us the way.”
On his fourth visit there was a note taped to the front door-
Mom and I are out grocery shopping. Sean is asleep. Help yourself to a snack.
Johnny let himself in the house with the spare key mother had given him.
But I was not asleep. At the sight of the note I was sobbing.
“Sean, are you alright?” Johnny shouted as he entered. He ran straight to the room.
My face was buried in my pillow. “Where’s Sara?”
Johnny approached cautiously. “She’s not here.”
“Please get Sara,” I begged.
Johnny could tell I was in pain- this was more than physical pain. “Sean, talk to me, what’s wrong?” As he got a better look at my body, in bed under the white blanket, the answer became glaringly obvious.
I was supposed to practice with my crutches. But my legs hurt so badly, I would beg Sara to let my stay in bed. She would bring my meals and bring my crutches to the bedside when I needed to use the restroom.
That morning I needed to use the restroom. I needed to take a piss so badly I was in physical pain, but my crutches were too far away. I would have had to get out of bed and crawl across the room on my inflamed joints. The prospect was too much, so my body took matters on to itself.
I wet the bed.
Johnny placed his hand on my shoulder. “Let’s get you cleaned up.” He went to the bathroom to draw a bath. I was sick with fever and it had been days since I last bathed. He put my arm over his shoulder. “I got you.” Since I slept in only sweat pants it was not difficult to get me undressed. He would make sure to examine my legs to be sure none of the scar tissue had become infected.
I had no choice but to trust him. Johnny let me put my weight on him as he helped me into the bathtub. He lowered my body into the warm water allowing me to slowly straighten my legs. “Take your time, just lean on me.” I was having difficulty straightening my knees. Johnny reached under the water and gently massaged my legs working from the joint downward.
“Does that feel okay?” Johnny asked.
I looked at his face, it was the face of the paramedic who pulled me from the wreckage and asked to hold my hand. He was the boy who prayed for me on the way to the hospital. I was so upset at myself. Even if Sara left me, Johnny was the man she deserved.
“Johnny,” I said, exhausted, the day’s the events, combined with the symptoms of cystic fibrosis left me desperate for sleep. “I’m sorry about the way I’ve treated you, It just…I’m so afraid.”
“Its fine Sean, you’ve been through a lot.”
I closed my eyes. “I can’t lose Sara.”
Johnny soaked a washcloth before applying the soap. “I’m not taking Sara from you.”
“Do you love her?” I asked.
Johnny brushed my hair to the side as he washed my arms and back. “I love her, but she loved you first.”
I felt myself falling asleep in the warm water. “Thanks, man.”
Sara saw the aftermath; it was not the first time I wet the bed when I was too sick to make it to the toilet. Although all of the instances she witnessed were before the age of ten. She stripped the blankets and sheets and headed to the laundry room. When she came back I was in the bathtub talking to Johnny as he massaged my shoulders.
Johnny and I made a connection. I could truly feel he wanted to see me succeed. Then he had to go and mention my ex. “Tell me about Jen.”
I felt uncomfortable, but not enough to ruin the moment. “Sara told you about Jen?”
“When you get to California, do you think you’ll try to find her?” Johnny asked.
I shook my head. “I don’t know. What if she doesn’t want me; what if that’s why she left?” Thinking about Jen hurt worse than anything.
“How about today, instead of physical therapy we play some video games,” Johnny suggested.
“No, I think I want to practice with my crutches,” I said confidently. “I want to work my way towards walking again.”
“Good for you, “Johnny replied. He would go on to wash my hair, all while talking to me about all I had to live for. He helped me get dressed and support myself on my crutches.
Sara left us alone for the rest of Johnny’s shift. “Have a good day?” she asked as Johnny was getting ready to leave.
Johnny nodded. He couldn’t stop smiling. “I think we made a connection. Working with Sean was a lot like breaking in a horse. The horse is never going to be the same again, but you just have to make that feel acceptable.”
“I can hear you!” I shouted from the bedroom.
Sara kissed his cheek. “Thank you for never giving up on him.”
Johnny put his notebook away. “By the way I mentioned Jen.”
Sara was frozen in place. “You mentioned Jen?” She ran straight to the bedroom.
I was lying in bed, trying to sleep. Sara crawled into bed with me. I woke up and turned to look at her. She needed to choose her next words carefully.
“Why did Johnny mention Jen?” I asked.
“I told him about Jen,” Sara said.
“And why would you do that?”
“Because he’s my friend, we talk about a lot of things.”
“Ok, tell me something personal about him.”
“His last name is not Phoenix.”
“I knew that.”
“He has a tattoo on his wrist that says ‘mystical’.”
“I knew that too.”
“He has a horse named Polly who was born when his grandmother died.”
Okay, that is too painfully cute.
I abruptly changed the subject. “Johnny said he loves you.”
Sara kissed my cheek. “Johnny’s sweet.”
“Do you love him?” I asked
Sara touched my hair, tracing her hand down my forehead, near my eyes, trying to coax my back to sleep. “Not the way I love you. I’m going to California with you. What I did with Johnny shouldn’t matter.”
“I trust you,” I said, closing my eyes.
My eyes shot back open. “What do you mean by that?”
Sara rolled off the bed.
I sat up, my heart was pounding. “WHAT DID YOU DO WITH JOHNNY?”
“Exactly what you think I did. Now get some sleep, Sean.”
I screamed into my pillow.