Now Emily wondered if the pill case had really been lost, or if her mother had felt lonely and wanted some company this afternoon.
“So,” Emily said, “you found the pills and you took all the medicine you needed?”
Lillian nodded, patting her mouth with a paper napkin. “Yes, I did. There are a few more pills I have to take at night.”
“And how was your lunch? Can I get you anything else? Some fruit maybe?”
“Fruit would be nice.” Lillian looked surprised but pleased by the offer. “There’s a pear on the windowsill. It should be ripe by now.”
Emily rose and found a fine-looking yellow pear. It was perfectly ripe, as her mother had predicted. She washed it, then cut it into thin slices and arranged them on a china dish, the way her mother liked it.
“How nice,” Lillian said, taking the dish. “Thank you.”
“It’s nice to have some company during lunch,” Emily said, sitting across from her. “I ate at my desk today, but my secretary came in and we ate together. We do that every Monday, go over the week’s schedule.”
Lillian nodded. “Very efficient.”
“We get organized,” Emily agreed. “But it’s nice to just chat and have a visit. The office gets busy. We don’t have much time to talk about personal things.”
Lillian’s eyes narrowed as she picked up a slice of pear and took a small bite. She was wondering where this conversation was going, Emily could see. Lillian wanted to prepare herself, get one step ahead of her daughter.
“Mother, did you really call me over here today for those pills? Or was it because you felt lonely and wanted some company? You can tell me. It’s a perfectly reasonable way to feel.”
Lillian sat up straight in her chair. “What a ridiculous suggestion. I called because the medicine was lost. Fortunately, I found it.”
Emily should have known. Her mother would think any admission of loneliness or needing other people was proof of some great deficit in character.
“Yes, that was lucky,” Emily agreed. “Have you given any more thought to what we talked about on Saturday? Having someone come in here, a live-in housekeeper or even someone who comes for a few hours a day, to help you?”
Lillian shrugged and took a small bite from the pear slice she was holding. “No, I did not. In fact, I didn’t give it a single thought. I’m sure I made my feelings perfectly clear to you and your sister.”
“Yes, you did. But we really wish you would consider our feelings, too. We’re both worried about you now that Sara and Luke are gone. Maybe you don’t think you need anyone coming in to help you. Maybe that’s true,” Emily conceded, though she certainly didn’t think so. “But it would make us feel better—much better—to know someone was here, helping you. Looking after you a bit, doing whatever needs to be done when we aren’t available.”
Lillian shook her head. “That’s all a very nice way of saying I need a babysitter, Emily. And I won’t have it. Some smug, overpaid, untrained stranger coming in here . . . touching everything, pestering me with their endless questions. It’s simply an unnecessary and unwanted intrusion, not to mention a waste of money—my money, it goes without saying. And those people are quite expensive. . . .”
Emily’s cell phone rang and she checked the number. “Excuse me, I need to take this,” she said to her mother.
It was her secretary, Helen. “Emily? Mr. Cummings, from the Parks Department, is here. He was in the building for another meeting and wants to know if you can see him earlier than you had planned.”
“Oh, let me see.” Emily glanced at her watch.
Was it a quarter to two already? Time sure flies arguing with my mother.
“I guess I can be back in a few minutes. By two o’clock. Will that be all right for him?”
“Hold on, I’ll ask.” A moment later, Helen came back on the line. “That’s fine. He’ll be waiting for you.”
“Great. I’m on my way.” Emily didn’t like running out on her mother like this, in the middle of such a conversation. But she wasn’t making any headway, and she didn’t want to miss Mr. Cummings or risk getting on his bad side when she knew he could help the town.
“Sorry, Mother. I have to get back to work.” Emily rose and grabbed her jacket and purse. “I’ll stop by tonight. Do you need anything from the store?”
Lillian seemed upset by the abrupt departure. “Don’t bother. I have everything I need. Stores deliver these days, you know.”
Emily knew her mother much preferred to have someone shopping for her and complained endlessly about deliveries, soggy vegetables, or the wrong brands or sizes.
“Well, call me if you need anything,” Emily said. She kissed her mother on the cheek and left by the side door.
Score one more for Mother, Emily thought, heading for her car. She would have to call Jessica later and report this latest conversation. They definitely needed to strategize.
It seemed their mother was easily winning this match. So far, at least.
MOST OF THE BUILDINGS AT THE VA HOSPITAL IN BEVERLY WERE DRAB brick buildings, built sometime around World War II, David guessed. It looked more like an old military base to David than a place that would help him recover.
But when they finally found the building that housed the Physical Therapy Department, David was relieved to see it was newly built and not so ominous looking. Once Jack helped him find the wing where the new therapist was located, David urged him to go.
Jack seemed about to argue with him, then agreed. “All right, I have some errands to do. I’ll come back in about an hour. Meet you here, okay?”
David nodded and watched as his father walked off down the long corridor. Why did he feel like he was being left at his first day of school?
Maybe because he had set that deadline with his father, shedding the walker by Christmas. He’d had some physical therapy before, but now there was pressure.
He hoped this therapist was good. He hoped the guy knew some magic the others had not. David picked up a magazine,
, and paged through the pictures of new cars. Man, would he ever love to get behind the wheel of a new car. That would be an instant mood booster. He could afford a new car, right out of the showroom, but driving wasn’t very likely right now. Not until he either got the feeling back in his foot or learned how to control it better.
A door near the reception area opened, and a man in a medical uniform walked out. He was quite tall with broad shoulders and an impressive, muscular build. His pale blue uniform made a stark contrast with his brown skin.
He glanced down at the file in his hand. “David Sawyer?”
“Right here.” David raised his hand then lifted himself up on his walker.
The man smiled and waited by the door, holding it open while David made his way over. “Hello, David. How are you doing today?”
“Okay, I guess.” David hated it when these medical people asked that question, as if they were reading from a script. David knew this guy saw a hundred patients a day and doubted he cared one way or the other.
“I’m George Henson. Just follow me, and we’ll get you started with your appointment.”
“Sure. No problem.” David was eager to ask the new therapist a few questions, but he was having enough trouble keeping up with the walker.
Finally, they reached a large, open space where David saw several leather-covered tables, separated by curtains, lined up against each wall. The middle of the room was filled with exercise stations—bikes, tread-mills, weights, traction devices, and a padded walking track with a railing on either side. In another corner, David saw a Jacuzzi tub.
Several patients were working with therapists. One guy, working on a weight machine, was missing an arm. But David noticed he had pretty impressive biceps on his other arm and a large tattoo.
George led him to one of the leather tables and pulled the curtain to one side. “I’d like you to sit up here,” he said. “Need some help?”
David thought he did need help but didn’t want to admit it. “I’m okay,” he said. With a mighty push on his arms, he managed to hoist himself up, though the effort hurt his hip.
“So you’ve had some operations? Two on your right hip?” George asked.
“Right. The first didn’t work out that well. They had to go in again.”
“I see. Have you had any PT yet?”
David nodded. “For a few weeks after my first surgery, back in September. But none after the second.”
George nodded and made a note on a chart. “Okay. Gena will be right with you. She’s just finishing with another patient.”
“Gena? Who’s Gena?”
“Your therapist, Gena Reyes.”
“I thought you were my therapist.”
George smiled and shook his head. “I’m a nurse here. You’ve been assigned to Gena for your therapy. I work with her. Didn’t someone at reception give you her name?”
David shrugged. “I don’t think so.”
The receptionist might have given him a name when he checked in. David had not been paying attention. He didn’t listen to half of what people said to him these days, just sort of zoned out.
David glanced at George, who was looking through his medical history folder. He felt foolish for automatically assuming that a man would be a doctor or therapist and a woman would be a nurse.
Okay, his therapist was female. He could handle that. It might even be fun on some level. If anything about this deal could be pleasant.
While he considered this unexpected twist, a small, dark-haired woman whisked the curtain aside and looked straight at him. She had large brown eyes and long hair, pulled back in a tight ponytail. Her smooth skin and fine features were bare of makeup, and the only jewelry she wore was a pair of tiny gold earrings. She was in her early thirties, David guessed.
Not bad, he thought, even in her baggy medical uniform. But how was this little woman going to lift him, move him, help him exercise? He didn’t mean to be a chauvinist, but he doubted she was strong enough. Maybe that’s where George came in.
“Hello, Mr. Sawyer. I’m Gena Reyes, your new therapist.” She extended her hand and he shook it. Her grip was firm and strong. “May I call you David?” she asked politely.
“Please call me Gena,” she replied. Despite the offer to go with first names, her demeanor was serious, totally professional.
George handed her the file, and she began skimming David’s records. “So you haven’t been to therapy since October. Is that correct?”
“I needed a second operation on my hip. And I didn’t start up again after that one. I’ve lost feeling in my right foot. I need to wear this support.” He pulled up his pants leg to show her the prosthesis. “And I can’t really get around without the walker.”
“Have you experienced any return of feeling in your foot lately? Any tingling or even a pins-and-needles sensation?”
“No, nothing like that.”
She made a note on the file. “Do you perform any exercises at home? Any stretching or the exercises you were shown?”
She lifted her head and looked at him. Her expression showed nothing, but David did notice a spark in her dark eyes. “What’s ‘not really’? Can you be a little more specific, please? Not at all? Or did you try, and feel too much discomfort to continue?”
“I did try once or twice,” David replied, put on the spot. In truth, he really hadn’t tried at all. “I thought I wasn’t doing it correctly. I didn’t want to hurt myself or throw the hip out of whack.”
She didn’t say anything. Just looked at him briefly then made another note on the chart.
She would sure look a lot better if she lost that deadpan expression. It was just physical therapy for goodness’ sake, not brain surgery.
“All right. I need to evaluate your condition, and then we can talk about a plan for therapy. Can you get down on your own?”
“No problem,” David replied, though he knew he had to be careful to land on his good foot or he might fall over.
However, in his eagerness to show Gena Reyes he was not a total mess, he miscalculated and his numb foot slipped out from under him. David would have hit the floor if not for George, who swiftly stepped forward and caught him. “Whoa there, buddy,” George said with a grin.
David felt like an idiot. A lame idiot. He managed to smile back at the big man. “Thanks. I’m okay.”
With both feet on the ground, not even bothering to look at Gena, he took hold of his walker again.
Gena watched him fumble a bit, which made him feel even more self-conscious and clumsy. “Okay, come with me,” she said, making no move to help him. “Out to the exercise area. Let’s get a better idea of what we’re dealing with.”
“Yes, let’s,” David replied tartly.
He would have liked to watch Gena the way she was watching him, which he couldn’t do, of course, without falling on his face. He couldn’t get a read on her. She wasn’t exactly the warm and nurturing type. In fact, he had known a few drill sergeants who exuded more charm.
Out in the exercise area, David did the best he could as Gena asked him to execute certain movements—travel across the room and back with the walker, pick up an object from the table and then from the floor. Sit and rise from a chair. Attempt sit-ups, modified push-ups, and leg raises. Stretch to touch his toes. He knew this was a necessary part of the process . . . so why did he feel as if she was purposely making it hard for him? Why did he feel like some sort of trained animal being put through its paces? This didn’t bode well for the future, he thought grimly. If Gena was such a taskmaster during a basic evaluation, what was she like during the real therapy?
“Is that as far as you can stretch, David? Are you sure?”
“Yeah, that’s it,” David grunted. He sat up straight, feeling beads of sweat break out on his forehead. Man, was he out of shape. And when was the last time he had broken a sweat like this? He couldn’t remember.
“I’d like you to try walking without the walker, using the handrails over here.” Gena directed him to an exercise station where two parallel handrails were set up about waist high, a lane of matted flooring between them.