DG Hear, MistressLynn and myself are doing a mini writing invitational. We are each picking one song from Ray Price and using it as the basis for a story. I've picked "City Lights," DG Hear, "For the Good Times," and MistressLynn (aka MissLynn), "That's All That Matters." I will also be doing "A Girl in the Night."
We hope you enjoy the stories — Jake Rivers
As he lay in a hospital bed, his wounded body trying to heal, Clay let his mind drift. It had been two weeks since the last surgery to repair his shattered legs. The doctors had told him right from the start that it would be a lengthy process. Never did it cross his mind it would be five long, lonely months, waiting to go home.
His boss had offered him the chance to go to England for three months to work with an affiliate and update their security system. The job paid a hefty bonus if he finished on time but the allure of England made him accept the assignment. At thirty-nine, Clay had few obligations to keep him from traveling. His marriage had ended several years ago when his wife decided she wanted more excitement.
"Good morning," the cheerful voice called from the doorway.
"What's so good about it?" Clay asked.
"The sun is shining, for one," his nurse replied.
"It doesn't do me much good in here now, does it?" Clay grunted.
Shelby DaValle was on duty the day the handsome patient arrived. Since then he had been in her care many times. The sarcastic remarks began shortly after this last surgery. To Shelby, it was something she ignored, accustomed to the outbursts of patients. She knew it was a combination of the injury, pain, and medication, not the individual.
"Your chart says you slept through the night," Shelby remarked.
"Do I get a gold star for it?"
"No, I only give gold stars to patients that smile," she told him as she wrote in his chart.
Clay sighed as she went about her duties. He knew he should apologize for his rudeness. The way he behaved was so unlike him he shuddered.
"Are you cold?" Shelby asked.
"I'm sorry, I shouldn't take my frustration out on you," Clay said.
"Who else is here, Clay? Under the circumstances, you've been a stellar patient. It's too bad you don't have more outside communication," Shelby remarked.
"I wasn't here to make friends," Clay reminded her.
Shelby stopped at the door when she was finished and turned back towards Clay. The handsome American always looked so lonesome to her. Not knowing anybody was one of the downfalls of being in a foreign country.
Clay closed his eyes and thought about his life. In the last years he had traveled to so many places, he wasn't sure he could remember them all. The attraction was wearing off and he knew it. This freak accident here in England gave him plenty time to think. Soon the medications began to work and he fell into a light sleep.
The feel of a hand across his arm hours later gradually brought him awake.
"Getting more beauty rest?" Shelby teased.
"Last time I looked into a mirror it hadn't helped," Clay replied.
Shelby grinned as she went about checking Clay's vitals.
"According to the other nurses, you only need one thing to make you perfect," Shelby said.
"One of them on your arm," she answered.
Clay laughed even though he tried not to. Most of the nurses that cared for him were quite young.
"They're young, Shelby. The day I have a woman at my side she'll be confident and strong," he explained.
"Sorry, I'm already taken," she winked.
"Just my luck, too," he smiled.
Shelby added a few notes on the chart as she spoke. "Do you need anything before my shift ends?"
"A couple legs would be great," Clay responded.
"I think dinner is fish tonight, so you're out of luck there, too," she quipped.
They groaned at the silliness and Clay felt his bad mood lift.
"See you in a couple days, Clay. I have off tomorrow. Be sure to ring for the nurse if you need something tonight."
The evening dragged for Clay. He flipped through the channels on the television but nothing held his interest. He didn't feel like reading a book and all the magazines were old. Soon he decided to go to sleep.
During the night, the nurses stopped in to check him, but Clay was so used to it he didn't even wake up. When he finally did open his eyes, it was morning, and his breakfast was on his side table. Picking at the food, he listened to the sounds in the hallway, thinking about what he would be doing if he were home. One of the nurses came by to take his tray a bit later and said she would be back to help him clean up soon.
Clay sat back in bed and sighed. Needing someone to help him wash up had been humiliating in the beginning. It took only a few days to accept his limitations. Now it was just a part of his day here.
The voice caught Clay's attention the second he heard it. He knew most of the people that worked in this unit but this was a new one to him. Sweet, soft and lyrical, it sent a shiver down his spine. Maneuvering in his bed, trying to see around the partially closed door, Clay looked for someone new standing nearby. Disappointed to see only the usual staff, he sat back, listening again for the voice.
"Good morning, Clay," his nurse greeted.
"Who is the new woman out there?" Clay demanded.
"Excuse me? There's no one new on the unit today," the young man replied.
"I heard her," Clay explained.
"Let's get your bath completed, and change your bedding. Maybe you were dreaming," he told Clay.
With the door shut, and the curtain pulled, Clay only heard muted sounds from the hallway. The nurse helped him clean up, changed his bedding, and checked to be sure that he was comfortable before he finally left.
"Leave the door open please," Clay asked as the nurse left.
"You got it. Let me know if you need something else, Clay."
Clay laid back and closed his eyes. He hated that he was so weak yet. Considering everything he'd been through, all the trauma to his body, the doctors continually reminded him he was doing better than they expected. Day after day stuck in a bed didn't keep him in shape though, he told them.
The day went on like all others. Clay had become used to the routine after all this time. Lunch came and went, nurses stopped in to see if he was comfortable, dinnertime passed by, and soon another day was over. A restless night left Clay groggy the next morning. When he heard that same soft voice, he jerked awake, scrambling to sit.
He heard the woman laugh as she talked to others outside his door. They stood to the side of the opening where he couldn't see them. Clay felt the compassion in her words as she spoke. Who was she though, why didn't she see if he needed anything, he wondered as the door opened all the way.
"Oh, it's you," Clay said as Shelby walked in.
"Thanks, it's good to see you too, Clay," she smiled.
"Who is she? The woman with the soft voice that I heard," Clay demanded.
"She was outside my door, talking to someone, laughing," he said.
"There are visitors out there all the time, Clay, you know that," Shelby explained.
"I heard her yesterday too, Shelby. She isn't a visitor. I know she isn't. Help me find her, please, help me," Clay implored.
Shelby stopped and looked at the man she had taken care of for so many days. She discovered several things about him, both from their talks and from her observations, and one thing she knew without a doubt. He didn't ask for help often.
"You're serious about this, aren't you, Clay?" Shelby clarified.
"The first time I heard her, I sensed she was special. Don't ask me how, without seeing her, but I just know. Help me find who she is," Clay whispered.
Clay closed his eyes as he lay back in his bed. The depth of emotion he felt about this unknown woman should scare him. Instead, he felt drawn to her, to the comfort her voice offered.
"I'll see what I can find, Clay," Shelby said as she left the room.
The minutes crawled as Clay waited for Shelby to return. He strained to hear through the now closed door. It occurred to him he might be losing his mind. So many days here, left alone, so much time to think, his imagination running wild. It was simple, he told himself. He had dreamt the voice. He was lonely and his subconscious made it all up. Yet in his soul, he knew she was real, that she would play some role in his life.
Shelby opened the door almost an hour later and walked over to the side of his bed. She saw the anxious look on his face as he waited for her to speak.
"There's a volunteer that just started this week. From what I can find out, she visits the patients here, reading, or just listening to them," she began.
"It's her, I know it is. Her voice is full of patience and understanding. A volunteer would need that, Shelby. Can you bring her to me?"
Clay looked up at the nurse that had become almost a friend to him in all these months. He begged with his eyes for her to help him.
"I'll ask. That's all I can promise. Now let's get you bathed and into a clean gown," she said.
With his bed bath complete, Shelby straightened up his room, and soon was on her way out. Clay rested from the exertion of moving around in the small bed with both legs in casts. His medications began to work and he nodded off. The smell of spice tickled his senses a short while later. He turned without thinking and moaned as pain shot up his legs.
"I didn't mean to disturb you. I'll leave."
Clay heard the voice and was awake instantly. He shook his head and tried to shrug off the effects of the drugs.
"No!" he cried out. "Stay!"
"Alright," that same soft voice replied.
"I heard you, in the hallway, yesterday," Clay stammered.
"This is my first week volunteering here so I've been asking a lot of questions. I'm Lucy Thomas, by the way," she introduced herself.
"Clay Ross," he replied.
"Shelby said you could use a volunteer but she didn't say what you needed," Lucy said.
Clay stared at the woman named Lucy. The light in the room was dim but he could see the shine in her pitch-black hair. He guessed her age to be middle thirties. Absorbing her scent, drinking in every detail he could, he remained silent.
"Do you need a nurse? I can go find—"
"I'm fine," he interrupted.
"If you're sure... ," Lucy said.
"I'm sorry. Normally I'm not so rude," Clay apologized.
"Being hospitalized, in a foreign country as you are, it's understandable. I used to travel a lot with my husband," she added.
Clay felt his heart stop at the mention of a husband. That she would be married never crossed his mind. He was so sure his premonition was right about her.
"What does your husband do?" Clay asked out of politeness.
"He was in real estate," she replied. "Buddy died last year."
"I'm so sorry," he stated.
"Thank you. Now how can I help you today?" Lucy asked.
Clay tried to think but all he wanted to do was learn about her. He struggled to find something she could help with.
"Well, I can't get out of bed, as you can see," he began. "Since I don't know anyone in England, I was hoping..."
"I don't think you need me to read to you, Clay, so go ahead and tell me," she grinned.
"You'll think it's silly," he hesitated.
"I'm here to help. Nothing is silly," Lucy reminded him.
"Could you just, I mean would you, um, talk to me?"
Clay almost blushed at the way the words came out. He was acting like a teenager meeting the girl of his dreams.
"The only people I ever talk to is the staff here. It's been months since I heard anything more than medical jargon. I'm not asking for much, really, just conversation," Clay finished with a sigh.
Lucy watched as the American spoke. She felt the loneliness in his every word. Traveling as she had with her husband for so many years, she knew how it felt to be in a strange country. To be injured made it far worse. She pulled up the chair by the wall and sat next to his bed.
"I'd like that, Clay. What would you like to talk about?"
Clay wanted to know all about her but was afraid to scare her. Instead, he took a deep breath, and grabbed a topic from his mind.
"Did you ever visit America in your travels?" Clay asked.
"You might think with my accent I'm from here," she laughed. "I was born in America."
"Really? You must have lived here a long time then. I'm from the southern part of the states," Clay explained.
"I picked that up from the way you talk," Lucy teased.
The next hour flew by as they exchanged stories of their travels. Clay was intrigued by the way her eyes lit up when she talked about her visit to New York City. Every piece of information he learned stuck in his memory. When she stood up, saying she needed to go, he was disappointed.
"Say you'll come back tomorrow," Clay implored.
"I'll stop by in the afternoon," Lucy agreed.
"I want to thank you—" he started.
"No need, Clay. I enjoyed myself."
He smiled and gave a little wave as she walked out the door. With her perfume lingering in the room, Clay put his head on the pillow, already missing her. How someone he knew almost nothing about could affect him so was a puzzle. He closed his eyes and dozed, a grin on his face, his mood lighter than it had been in days.
That's how Shelby found him when she slipped into the room around noon. She looked at the way he slept and wondered what was going on in his head. He appeared less tense and stressed than he had when she left him only hours ago.
"Clay? I have your lunch," Shelby said as she gave his shoulder a light nudge.
Rousing himself from the thoughts in his head, Clay yawned, and looked at Shelby. She helped him position himself better and rolled the table over his bed.
"Thanks for talking Lucy into coming in here," he replied.
"She seemed very nice," Shelby said.
"Nice? She's amazing," Clay stated.
Shelby took in the slight pink forming on Clay's cheeks as he spoke. It wasn't embarrassment causing it though. For the first time in days, he had a healthy look to him. She wondered what had happened between the two in the short time they were together.
"I need to look extra good for tomorrow afternoon. Can you get one of the newer gowns for me, Shelby? How can I make this room look cheerier, I wonder..."
The words came fast, as if all one sentence, until Clay's voice left off and his thoughts took over. It was unlike him to worry about his surroundings, but here, he was out of his element.
"She's coming tomorrow I take it," Shelby teased.
"Yes, in the afternoon. What if my meds make me sleepy and I doze off? She might see I'm asleep and leave this time. Shelby, I can't be asleep when she comes," Clay cried.
"I don't think you'll fall asleep, Clay, but I'll be sure to pop in here if I see her and check on you," Shelby offered.
Shelby smiled as she left the room a few minutes later. The spark of life she saw in Clay was great. For so long he had been complacent, doing as told, but never showing much emotion. It would be interesting, she decided, to see what the following day brought.
The small amount of physical therapy Clay did each day wore him out. With the trapeze over his bed, he was able to move a bit, and do a few exercises with his upper body. That afternoon he pushed himself to do everything the therapist asked better than he had before. For Clay, there was more of a purpose in getting stronger now, a reason to work harder.
With thoughts of seeing Lucy again the next day, Clay relaxed that evening. He went over the last several years of his life and admitted something was missing. Correcting that thought, he smiled and told himself he needed a partner, someone that would be his equal, like Lucy. He fell asleep with images of them together, walking, talking and sharing.
The sounds of the hospital woke Clay. Every thought instantly went to Lucy and her visit later. He wanted to spend hours with her, hearing her voice, discovering everything possible about her. Each time he looked at the clock, it appeared to be moving slower, with the morning dragging for him. Staff brought his lunch in but it went back untouched.
"Clay? Lucy is with an elderly woman a few rooms down. I snuck in to see if you needed help with anything before she gets here," Shelby said as she shut the door.
"The blinds, can you open them better, and I need to change this stupid gown, and can you cover my feet better so my toes aren't in the air, and —"
"Whoa, Clay, take a breath," she interrupted.
The air rushed out of his lungs as he tried to relax. It was difficult to explain how important this was to him. He watched as Shelby straightened things in his room and opened the blinds to let in the daylight. Clay took the threadbare gown off and replaced it with a newer one. They might be ugly, but in his case, it was his only option for now.
"All set, Clay," Shelby told him.
"I'm ready, Shelby. Leave the door open so she can see I'm awake, okay?"
With a nod, she pushed the door open all the way, gave him a wink and walked out. Lucy knocked on the door several minutes later. She smiled when he motioned for her to enter.
"Hello, Clay," she greeted him. "How has your day been so far?"
"It was okay. Grab a chair and sit for a while. I would get it for you, but..." he chuckled as he pointed to his casts.
"I understand," she grinned as she pulled the chair close to his bed.
They talked for the entire afternoon. Clay learned that Lucy loved children even though she had none of her own. With her husband gone so often, and the traveling they did together, it was just never the right time. She admitted their marriage had problems even before his heart attack. The second attack weeks later took his life.
Clay told Lucy stories about his childhood. She laughed at his antics in school. When Lucy confessed she had been valedictorian in high school, Clay wasn't surprised, since he found her to be extremely intelligent. He discovered she wanted to travel back to the United States some day. Lucy was shocked when one of the nurses brought Clay's dinner tray in and began to apologize for taking so much of his time.
"Don't, Lucy, please. I enjoyed myself more than you know," Clay said.
"I did too, Clay," she replied.
"Will you come back?" he asked hesitantly.
"I'd like that," Lucy admitted. "Tomorrow is a busy day for me, but would it be alright if I came after dinner?"
"It's a date," he grinned.
They laughed as she gathered her things and left him to his food. Clay wasn't hungry and so the table stayed where it was. All he wanted to do was close his eyes and remember Lucy sitting by him. Somehow, the idea of finding someone while he was in this situation felt right. For weeks now, he had been stuck in this bed, and it had given him time to evaluate his life.
In his dreams that night, he saw Lucy's eyes, the way they sparkled when she laughed. He woke up with a smile and it stayed with him all day. Physical therapy wore him out, and as usual, he napped for a short while to regain his energy. The nurse in charge of him for the day noticed he was cheerier than he had been in weeks. Though he had always been a good patient, seldom complaining, the last surgery had taken his spark.
When his dinner was finished, Clay pushed the table to the side, looked at the time, and pushed his buzzer. With the help of the young aide, Clay cleaned up, changed into another gown, and soon was ready for Lucy.
Lucy knocked a few minutes later and smiled when she saw him. Without hesitation, she reached for the chair, pulled it to his side, and sat down. She told him a bit about her day when he inquired. They laughed and shared stories until they heard the announcement for visitors to leave. With a brief wave and promise to be back the next day, Lucy walked out the door, leaving Clay alone once more.
Over the next weeks Lucy and Clay spent time together every day. She visited with other patients, never neglecting her volunteer duties, but still made time for Clay. Several times, she brought cookies, pastries, or tea. Clay teased her about sneaking them in until she threatened to stop bringing more goodies. Lucy watched as each day Clay looked healthier. Staff commented on the change in Clay since he met Lucy.
Neither mentioned what would happen when Clay left the hospital. Yet they knew that day was approaching as Clay continued to improve. A therapist worked with him to gain strength in his arms for when he finally could use either a wheelchair or crutches.
One day Lucy arrived to find Clay's bed empty. Her smile turned to a frown as she felt the panic rush through her body. Just as she began to turn she heard Clay's voice in the corner. Lucy had tears at the sight of Clay sitting in a wheelchair. It was the first time he had been out of bed since she met him.
Having a bit of freedom was a huge step for Clay. Some days the two would sit in the lounge near his room to talk. A few times, they went to the cafeteria, drinking tea or lemonade. Clay turned the conversation to Lucy as much as he could. He loved hearing about her life and learning more about her.
At night, before Clay finally slept, he would picture her there, with him. Everything he discovered about her affirmed his initial feeling that she was special. He admitted to himself that he wanted more with her than visits in the hospital. Would they get along as well in another setting he wondered? So many questions ran through his mind when he was alone.
Clay met often with his doctors to go over x-rays, tests, medications and therapy. When he developed an infection, they kept him in bed, cut back on therapy, and limited his visits with Lucy. Being alone again, with only his thoughts, Clay tried to imagine the future. He pictured himself healthy, able to walk, with Lucy at his side. Lucy brought up the subject one evening inadvertently.
"Do you think your injuries will stop you from doing any of the activities you did before?" Lucy asked.
"I don't know yet, Lucy. It's too soon to tell how limited I'll be," he replied.
"It must be difficult for you, stuck here, not knowing," she went on.
"Lucy, I've been to a lot of places in my life but I'm tired of the business trips. Traveling sounds great until you realize you don't remember where things are in your own home. It's time for me to settle down," Clay explained.
"I hope everything turns out well for you, Clay," Lucy said.
"Thank you. I have a ways to go here before I can even think about going home," he admitted.
"Have you ever thought about getting married again, Clay?"
"Do you think anyone could put up with me?" he teased.
"You forget how much I've learned about you. I know your moods from all the time we've spent together. You just need the right woman next to you," Lucy smiled as she spoke.
Lucy decided to leave when the nurse came in with Clay's medications right then. With the promise of a visit the next day, she grabbed her things, waved and left. Not long afterward Clay was sound asleep. The following morning the doctor came in with good news. The casts could come off and if things went well he would release Clay in about a week. It was the day he had been waiting for and he should be happy. Yet leaving England, and Lucy, depressed him. Since they were coming off the next day, it gave him time to think, and talk to Lucy. She walked in a couple hours later to find him napping.
Lucy sat in the chair and watched him sleep. Each day she was aware of how important he had become to her. Finding someone else after the death of her husband had never entered her mind. She knew her friends all wanted her to begin dating. Until Clay, she had no desire, no intention of becoming part of a couple again.
"What are you thinking about?" Clay's voice was quiet as he posed his question.
"You're awake," Lucy replied.
"That's not an answer," he laughed.
"I was daydreaming a bit. How was your day?" she asked.
"Do you want to hear some good news, Lucy?"
"Of course I do, Clay," she replied.
He went on to share the news the doctor had given him that morning. Lucy listened as he talked about having his legs free from the casts. When he talked about therapy, and walking, she saw the determination in him.
"When will you be discharged?" Lucy wondered.
"If things go as he hopes, the doctor mentioned a week, or thereabouts. I've been in the hospital for so long I can't wait to smell the fresh air again. Just being able to leave will be amazing," he explained.
Lucy tried not to show her disappointment. It was great news for Clay, she knew that, but it just meant he would be leaving soon. She wasn't ready for that. He talked about all the things he wanted to do once the healing was complete. Lucy listened and smiled while she fell apart inside. Soon she pleaded a headache and left.