© Copyright 2005 by Diana Mylek
They returned to the hospital to find Emily sitting up in bed. Though she was happy to see her sister, she about had a coronary when the men walked in behind her. Throwing the sheet over her head, she shrieked, bringing the nurses running.
“Lacey!” Emily thundered, belying her condition. “Get my make-up!”
The men laughed and retreated to the cafeteria while Lacey made her sister presentable.
“What happened to me?” Emily asked Lacey. “I remember you telling me to get some rest, then that’s all I remember until just a while ago.”
“You were real sick, Em. Raymond made you walk home in the rain, remember?”
Emily nodded. “But it wasn’t his fault, really. It was my decision to walk home.”
“Oh, for Pete’s sake!” Lacey glared at her sister. “He knew you would be walking in the cold rain. Em, he let you!”
Emily sighed and wiped her face with a cloth. “So Stuart and Eric are here to visit?”
“Yes, but I won’t let him in until you’re presentable.”
“In a hospital gown? I’ll keep covered. How did Stuart know I was here?”
“Eric told him. He’s the one who drove you here.”
“No, Eric. Stuart sent Thelma to our house with flowers, chocolate and medicine.”
“Wow.” Emily searched for the chocolate. “Where is it?”
Emily brushed her hair quickly. “Get me out of here. I’ve got chocolates at home.”
“Ha, Em. Here, hold still. We’re almost done.” She applied Emily’s mascara for her and called Eric’s cell phone.
“She’s ready, come on up,” Lacey said.
“And bring chocolate!” added Emily loudly.
“You are so pushy.” Lacey laughed and asked if Eric heard that.
“I’ll tell Stuart, he’s the one who wants to impress her.”
Minutes later, the men returned bearing chocolate. Stuart’s heart skipped a beat when Emily gave him a weak smile and took his hand. For a moment he was reminded of when Kate lay dying in the hospital and fought the urge to run. He didn’t want to risk losing anyone again. Maybe it was a mistake to feel anything for Emily…what if he had to give her up? But his fears melted away as she held his hand and bid him to sit next to her.
“Thanks, Stuart for the flowers.”
“I left them at your apartment. Sorry. I should have brought more.”
She smiled shyly. “A woman can never have enough flowers. But what I’m really happy to see is the chocolate.”
He held out a candy bar to her. “I didn’t know what kind you liked so I bought them all.”
She took the candy bar, but did not eat it, yet. “I can’t believe you did that for me.”
Lacey pushed Eric toward the door. “We have to go, Emily. I just remembered something Eric and I need to do.”
“What?” Asked Emily.
“Leave,” laughed Eric, as she pushed him through the doorway.
Emily rubbed Stuart’s wrist as she spoke to him. “It must be difficult for you to visit hospitals.”
“It is; I haven’t been in one since Kate’s death. But I was worried about you.” He found it difficult to talk while she touched him. “I was afraid you had gotten sick from our time on the lake.”
“I didn’t,” she assured him. “You took very good care of me, even with what I did to you.”
“You would have had me without the hook,” said Stuart. “But it sure was an interesting way to meet.”
“We still have to shop for your sweater,” Emily reminded him.
“We will, as soon as you’re well.”
She felt sleepy and he noticed the fatigue in her eyes. “You need to rest. I’ll call you tomorrow, if you like.”
“Please,” said Emily, as sleep overtook her. Stuart watched her for a few minutes, and went into the hall where Eric and Lacey waited.
“She’s asleep,” he told them.
“I can’t thank you both for everything,” Lacey said. “We barely know you, but you’ve treated us like treasured friends.”
“Darn parents raised us right,” Eric sighed. “Well, our job is done. And I’m AWOL from work.”
Lacey walked with them to the elevators, hugged each of them, before returning to her sister’s room. Emily slept soundly into the early evening. When she finally woke, she called for her sister. Lacey was at her side instantly.
“Lacey, I dreamed Stuart was here, and he brought me chocolate.”
“He was, silly. He sent you flowers too.”
Emily looked confused. “Why?”
“Oh yeah.” She giggled. “Chocolate and flowers. And that shirt.”
“We met some very nice men.” Lacey popped a chocolate in her mouth.
“Did Raymond try to get hold of me?” Emily asked.
“You’re not serious.” Lacey stopped chewing and stared.
“He’ll be mad if he can’t.”
Emily looked away. “I don’t like it when he’s mad at me. It makes me feel bad.”
“Emily, listen.” Lacey sat next to her sister on the bed. “You are in the hospital because of him. Stuart and Eric, they’re nice men. Stuart would never treat you like Raymond. And he thinks you are very special. You like him, don’t you?”
“Yes, but Lacey, I hardly know Stuart, and Raymond needs me.”
“He needs a good whipping,” Lacey corrected. “Em, please. Give Stuart a chance to prove all men are not like Ray.”
Emily smiled uncertainly. “I want to. But what’s going to happen when he finds out what I’m really like? Will he hate me?”
“Let him worry about that. He already knows that you are compassionate, thoughtful, a wonderful person. That is how he sees you, Emily, though you don’t believe it.”
Lacey clasped her sister’s hand. “And if you give him a chance, you may find out you feel the same about him.”
“I already do, Lacey. I think he is the most wonderful man I’ve ever met. I just can’t believe he would want someone like me.”
A light knock made both of the women look at the door. A man in a white coat, possibly a doctor looked inquisitively at the girls.
“Excuse me, I heard one of you owns a bass boat,” the man said to them.
“Number three,” laughed Emily. “Two more to go.”
Stuart returned to the hospital the next evening, this time carrying books and stationary.
“So I can write to you while I’m in here?” Emily asked, taking the gifts and kissing him on the cheek.
“I’m kind of running out of ideas,” he said sheepishly. “Flowers, chocolates, stuffed animals; that was easy. I don’t know what else women like. Maybe perfume?”
“This is perfect,” Emily assured him. “I’d rather curl up on the couch on a cold winter’s night with a good book than anything else.”
“I’m hoping to change all that,” Stuart teased. He sat next to her in the chair. “Thelma sends her regards. She says as soon as you’re out we’re to have dinner at her place.”
“Hmm. That’s nice of her…but…”
Stuart felt a pang. Was she changing her mind about him?
Emily looked at him bashfully. “What I’d really like is to cook you dinner on the houseboat and go fishing like we discussed.”
He grinned. “Me too. You don’t have to cook. I can have Thelma…”
Emily put her hand to Stuart’s mouth. “Let me cook; it’s one of the great pleasures in my life. If you are well fed and happy, it will mean more to me than a night out on the town.”
He kissed her hand lightly and held it. “How would you like to…”
The door was thrown open and a gray haired man flew into the room.
“Touch her and die!” He threw Emily’s stuffed animal on the floor and pounced on Stuart, flailing at him with his arms.
“Daddy, I’d like you to meet my friend Stuart.”
The man stopped. “Stuart?”
“Stu—art,” Emily repeated.
He shook Stuart’s hand. “Hello, son. Nice to meet you.”
“Stuart, this is my father, Neil Blessing.”
Stuart brushed his hair back from his eyes and straightened his clothes. “Mr. Blessing. You have a lovely daughter.”
“Yes, thank you. We think so too.” He kissed his daughter on the cheek. “Your mother and I were so worried!”
“I’m fine now, Daddy. They said I can go home tomorrow.”
“Good.” The door opened again, and Mrs. Blessing entered, her worried eyes directed at Stuart.
“Stuart,” he said quickly.
She looked relieved. “I’m Sheila Blessing. How are you feeling, baby?” She rushed to her daughter’s side.
“Better Mom. I can’t believe you and Daddy are here. How did you know?”
Sheila felt her daughter’s forehead. “Lacey called. We came as soon as we heard.”
“She was very ill,” said Stuart.
Sheila looked at the young man. “You’re a friend of my daughter’s?”
“He owns a marina on Eagle Lake,” Emily informed her. “He and his friend Eric taught Lacey and I to fish and use her new boat.”
“Lacey bought a boat?” Neil asked. “A jet ski?”
“No, dad, a bass boat.”
He looked amazed. “Lacey bought a bass boat? To fish?”
“I guess you could say that.” Emily chuckled. “She caught one too.”
Stuart eyed her with an odd expression. Lacey hadn’t caught any fish when they we out on the lake. Emily smiled at him and nodded at Eric as he and Lacey entered the room. Stuart understood and chuckled also.
“Mom and Dad, this is Lacey’s teacher and fishing instructor, Eric,” Emily said. He shook both their hands.
“What’s this about my girl buying a bass boat?” Neil asked him.
“She did, sir. And she’s very good at handling it.”
Neil stared at Eric. “You taught her how to use it?”
“My dad sold her the boat. I just helped out. She’s a very quick learner.”
Lacey moved forward to hug her parents. “I couldn’t have done it without Eric. He’s been so helpful.”
“But why a bass boat? And where did you get the money?”
“It’s a long story, dad, but rest assured I didn’t use any of yours.”
He scoffed. “Don’t have any to give you anyway. Your mom spends it faster than I can make it.”
“I would love for you to see my boat, Dad. Even take you fishing.” Lacey held her father’s hand.
“Maybe when it’s warmer. Or you can come visit us in Arizona.”
Sheila sat by her daughter’s side. “So tell us, Emily, what the doctor says.”
Eric and Stuart moved to the door. “We’d better let you visit,” they said before they walked out into the hallway. Lacey followed.
“Wait,” she said as they walked away. “You don’t have to leave.”
“You should spend time with your family,” Eric told her. “We can come by tomorrow or the next day.”
“Are we still on for Friday?” she asked.
“Absolutely,” Eric answered. “Wild horses couldn’t keep me away.”
“Good, let’s hope the weather doesn’t either.” She kissed him lightly on the cheek and said good-bye. He stared at her for a moment, and then joined Stuart as he walked into the elevator.
Emily was not released until Saturday, to her great displeasure. She kept saying she felt fine, but they could not bring her fever down until then, and she was so ready to go home, she drove her family up the walls. Friday she spent pacing in her hospital room until Stuart came to see her. She made him take her to the cafeteria to eat, claiming the hospital food was inedible.
“This doesn’t count as a date, does it?” he asked as they sat at a table. “I’d hate for our first date to be here, with you in a robe and slippers.”
“No, of course not. I want our first date to be on the houseboat, wearing waders and a fishing gear belt.”
He laughed. “Is that all you think about, Emily? Fishing?”
“No,” she replied. “Sometimes I think about shopping.”
“So where is your family tonight?” He asked.
“Lacey and Eric were going to dinner, so my mom and dad invited themselves along. Dad wanted to see Hook’s and Mom wanted to eat there.”
Stuart laughed. “Eric’s in for quite a night with your dad. He worries about the both of you.”
“Lacey never gave him a minute’s trouble,” Emily said. “Or me, until…” She stopped and looked at the table.
“What’s the matter, Em?” Stuart took her hand.
She shook her head. “Nothing. Are you going to eat that cake?”
He wondered when and if she would ever tell him about Raymond. He wanted to tell her he knew, and that it didn’t matter, as long as she stayed with him. I want to protect her and show her she is deserving of love, he thought. I want her to know she doesn’t have to settle for someone like him. I want her! I’ll do anything for you Emily, just ask. But he kept his thoughts to himself. If she wasn’t ready to tell him, she wasn’t ready to commit to him either. He had to be patient, and win her affection.
Eric was slightly; no monumentally disappointed that he would not be spending the evening alone with Lacey. Her father had invited himself along, but Eric realized that Lacey seldom saw her parents, and Eric could take her out any other evening. They met at Hook’s, when Eric’s shift was over, and enjoyed dinner in the restaurant before Eric took the family on a tour of the store. Neil was very impressed, not only by the store, but by the young man who was obviously fond of his daughter. Eric told of his amusement when Lacey bought the boat, and tried to make it seem like she was a fisherman. Both men laughed at her inexperience. Eric told Mr. Blessing how rapidly she learned to use the boat and trailer, and how impressed he was at her skill.
“And the boat has done something else for your daughter,” Eric laughed. “The men are tripping over themselves to ask her out.”
“She’s never been one to date a swarm of guys,” Mr. Blessing said. “Her Mom and I were holding our breath that one of them would finally get hitched and make us grandparents. I guess this should help.”
“She’s absolutely incredible, even without the boat,” Eric insisted. “Any man would be lucky to get her.”
Neil gave him a stern look. “Any guy would have to get my approval first. He would have to be gainfully employed, so he can support her, and willing to be faithful to only her. And he would have to love her, more than he loves himself. She deserves no less.”
Eric looked Mr. Blessing in the eye. “I intend to be that man, sir.”
Neil smiled. “Good, son. That’s what I wanted to hear.”
They entered the boat showroom and Eric showed the Blessings their line of pleasure and fishing boats. Neil said he was more of a landlubber, but some of the pontoons made him think twice. Lacey and her mother walked to the end so she could show her mom the bass boats. A group of men were already admiring one, and in this group was none other than Darryl.
“Hey! There she is! The one I told you about,” Darryl called to his friends. In seconds Lacey was surrounded by adoring males, each competing for her attention.
“Help, Eric!” she called, laughing. Before he could reach her she had three date offers and a marriage proposal. He moved swiftly to her side and pulled her away from the crowd.
“Sorry guys, she’s not up for grabs.” He was chagrined; she seemed to be enjoying the attention. “Right, Lacey?”
“Oh, right,” she repeated, winking at her mother. “Maybe another time.” They moved out of the showroom and made plans to meet back at the apartment.
“We should get to know each other before we leave on Sunday,” Neil decided. Eric was sure he would not live through this weekend without kissing Lacey, but with little choice, he followed the family back to the parking lot.
Another group of men waited to speak to Lacey outside. Eric groaned in exasperation. “She’s not available, guys!” He turned to Lacey. “Are you?”
“Good question,” replied Lacey, lowering her lashes. “I still don’t have a date for Valentine’s Day. Your father will win the bet after all.”
Eric grinned. “Please, Lacey. Spend Valentine’s Day with me. I promise; I won’t make you bring the boat.”
“Now you’re talking,” Lacey said, patting his cheek. He wanted to kiss her badly, but it would have been in front of her parents and a whole parking lot full of men. Kissing her in front of the guys would be acceptable. Then they would know to whom she belonged. But kissing her in front of her parents? He didn’t think so. He instead gripped his truck keys so hard he broke the keychain.
Stuart left the hospital long after visiting hours was over; neither he nor Emily wanted to spend the rest of the night alone. Her family said they would be here tomorrow to bring her home, but she still had all night to wait.
“I hate this,” she said for the fiftieth time. “I feel fine. Why won’t they let me go home?”
“They want to be sure you’re ready,” Stuart replied for the fiftieth time.
“I want you to take me out fishing this weekend,” Emily said.
“It’s still rainy and cold,” protested Stuart. “I wouldn’t want you to get sick again.”
“I won’t,” Emily insisted. “You took very good care of me before.”
He smiled at her. “You’re very hard to resist, Emily. But your family would have my head.”
“They’ll never know.”
How could he refuse her? “Okay, but on a houseboat so you’ll be warm and dry.”
She squealed. “Thanks, Stuart! I loved being on the boat, but I still want to catch a fish.”
“Just not tomorrow after you get out of the hospital. Let’s wait until next Saturday.”
“Then let’s do something else,” she suggested. “I need to take you shopping for a sweater.”
“I would like that,” he said. “After church?”
“That would be perfect. My parents are leaving tomorrow morning. I guess this weather doesn’t suit them.”
He vowed to make sure she didn’t miss them when they were gone. The nurse came in for the third time.
“You absolutely have to leave this time,” she said sternly to Stuart. “And I am going to escort you to the door.”
He stood and said good-bye in a much more informal way than he intended. “I’ll see you Sunday for sure,” he called on his way out.” Don’t forget me now that I’m gone.”
Forget him? She smiled to herself. He was fast becoming everything to her.
The Blessings left early Sunday morning, confident their daughters were good hands. Lacey and Emily promised to write if they promised to stay in one place long enough for the letters to reach them.
Emily dressed carefully for church, knowing she would see Stuart immediately after. She did her hair in an elaborate style, much different than the casual tail she wore while in the hospital, and wore a dress with a matching sweater, but her shoes were the most comfortable pair she owned. They didn’t match, and she didn’t care, but she wanted to be at her best even after hours of shopping.
Apologizing repeatedly to both God and Lacey, she watched the clock and waited for service to end. When she could stand it no longer, she forced her sister out of the pew and home, and ran to her room to check her hair and makeup before Stuart arrived. She was spraying cologne when the phone rang, and she called to Lacey that she had it.
“Hello?” she asked into the handset.
“So, Em, finally, your police dogs aren’t answering the phone.”
“Hi, Raymond,” she said without enthusiasm.
“That’s it? After we’ve been apart all this time? I miss you, Emily.”
“I have to go.”
“No, wait, Emily. I never got to apologize and I’ve been trying to for a week.” His tone changed. “My life is misery without you, baby.”
She hesitated. “I’m sorry, Ray.”
“Emily, we need to talk. I need to make it up to you, for all this. Don’t you miss me, even a little?”
“Of course I do.”
“Then, Em, throw me a bone.” He sounded like he was crying. “You know how I feel about you.”
She felt the familiar guilt. How could she hurt him?
“Emily, just five minutes. Please. Let’s talk.”
“Okay, Raymond.” She sighed. “But I’m going away right now.”
“Tonight, Em? I promise you won’t be sorry.”
“Yes, tonight. Later. But no promises, Ray. Just talk.”
“Okay,” he sniffed.
“I do care for you, Ray. We’ll talk.” She hung up the phone.
“Sucker,” he laughed after the click.
The phone call left her shaken, and she took a minute to catch her breath after she put the handset back on the night stand. Why did he have to call just now, when she was so looking forward to being with Stuart? Now she was reminded that her first allegiance was to Raymond, who was really her boyfriend, and whom she was essentially cheating on with Stuart. We’re not married, she reminded herself, not really even dating, just…what? I cook and clean for him and he in turn tells me what a brainless twit I am…then I believe him. Stuart makes me feel…valuable, capable, as if I was a normal person instead of a bother. But I owe Raymond. It’s not his fault he was hurt, and needs care. If it wasn’t for me…She felt tears sting her eyes. I can’t have Stuart, I owe Raymond, and it was my own carelessness that sealed my fate. Now that I’ve met someone who I could love for a very long time, I have to give him up because of my stupidity.
The doorbell rang, making Emily’s heart sink. I have to send him away, she thought in despair. A moment later, Lacey poked her head into Emily’s room to see what was keeping her, and found her sister on the floor in tears.
“Emily! What’s wrong?” Lacey ran to her and put her arms around her weeping sister.
“You have to send him away for me, Lacey. I can’t.”
“Send him away? What do you mean? Emily, you were so excited about seeing him you made me leave church early.” Lacey found her sister a tissue.
“I can’t go with him, Lacey. I want to, I do, but it’s not right.”
“How is it not right, Em? You both like each other immensely, and you’re good for him. What could keep you apart?”
Emily blew her nose into a tissue. “Me, that’s what. I blew it last year when I had the accident. It was my fault, Lacey. And a man was injured because of my carelessness. No matter what I feel for Stuart, I owe Raymond for the damage I caused him.”
“No, you don’t!” Lacey groaned in frustration. “You have paid for that over and over. It’s done. He’s well, and playing on your guilt.”
“It’s not done, Lacey. Send Stuart away. Tell him I am so sorry.”
Lacey went out into the living room, knowing Stuart had heard every word.
“He called just before you arrived,” Lacey said. “I couldn’t get to the phone in time. I don’t know what to do.”
“I’m not about to let that weasel win,” Stuart told her. “I’ll talk to her.” He went into the bedroom and knelt on the floor next to Emily.
“Oh, Stuart, I told Lacey to send you away,” she said despondently. “I’m sorry, I truly am.”
He took her hand. “I can’t leave. Someone ruined my best sweater and I need a guide to take me through the mall to get another one.”
She laughed slightly. “If that’s your best sweater, you’re more of a fashion victim than I thought.”
“That’s why I need help from someone who knows how to dress a man.”
“I owe you, I know.” She pulled her hand from his and looked away.
He claimed it again. “I’m not asking for you to marry me, just help me find a sweater. Can you do that for me?”
“Stuart, you are a wonderful man. I could…” she sighed. “It doesn’t matter. You need someone who has more to offer than me. I know you think I’m normal, but I’m not. My incompetence caused an accident and sooner or later I would do the same to you. I can’t let that happen to you, it would kill me.”
He laughed. “Worse than being hooked by a fishing lure?”
“I’m being serious!”
“So am I, Emily. Let me decide whether I want to risk being with you. I take full responsibility for whatever happens. And I promise not to blame you. But what I want from you right now, today isn’t a pledge of undying love or commitment. I want someone to take me shopping for a sweater. I need a friend. No strings.”
“I…I could do that, I suppose…”
“And I’ll drive.”
She smiled. “I suppose you’ve heard what a lousy driver I am.”
“Only from you.”
“It’s true. I don’t drive unless I absolutely have to anymore.”
“I had an accident once,” Stuart said, sitting on the floor. “I was playing with the buttons on my radio and let my car drift left of center. I hit a van carrying school children.”
“Fortunately no one was hurt, but I was afraid to drive for a long time after that. But you know what, Emily? I did get back into my car, and I have never taken my eyes off the road again, for even a moment. It actually made me a better driver.”
“But you didn’t hurt anyone.”
He looked in her eyes. “I might have. It took me a long time to get over my guilt. But God forgives us for our mistakes. We all screw up sometime, we’re only human. If He can find it in his heart to forgive us, why can’t we?”
“But we are still responsible for our actions.” Emily’s eyes misted.
“How did you pay for the accident?” Stuart asked.
“My insurance covered injuries, and I had to pay a fine. And I’ve spent all year helping this person get over his injuries.”
“What will it take for you to finally pay for your role in the accident?”
“I don’t know, really. I’m doing everything I can.”
“The Bible says an eye for an eye. Did you do that?”
“No, of course not.”
“But you’re willing to give your life for this person. Was this person injured for life?”
“No, he’s all better.”
“Then you are done.”
“I don’t feel done.”
“Because you haven’t received God’s forgiveness. When you do, you will be set free, Em. But I can’t do that for you.”
She was quiet for a moment, and he knew she wasn’t yet convinced, but it would take time for his words to take root in her heart. God, he prayed, take over from here. I give her to you. Help me to be a good friend to her until she’s ready to accept your forgiveness, and make sure it’s me she turns to after she does!
“So, danger girl, how about that expedition into the wilds of the mall?”
She smiled and pulled him up from the floor as she stood. “It’s going to take a lot of hiking, but don’t worry, I won’t let you fall, or miss a sale.”
“Yes but will you save me if I’m in danger of being trampled by bargain seekers?”
“I’ll guard you with my life,” she promised.
What he would have given to kiss her at that moment! Slow down, he warned himself. You’ve got the edge, don’t frighten her away. He followed her into the living room, and told Lacey he’d have her home at before the mall closed, or the limit on his Visa was reached, whichever came first.
“Better take out a bank loan,” teased Lacey. “She’s a Blessing, but not a financial one.”
HEY! and don't forget to e-mail Diana Mylek to thank her for submitting her piece or if you have a comment! She would really like to hear from you.
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