Beth’s Dilemma – The Invitation – Part 3 of 2
By: Leo N.Ardo
South of Lexington, Kentucky, one and a half hours to the destination, she is happy it’s not longer. The rain is making the driving difficult and dangerous. Only positive from the long drive is plenty of time to think about the confusing relationship dilemma. If I stay with . . .
Interrupting her thought is a single truck tire rolling at high speed through the median toward her. Reflex jerks the car to the right. The front tires have enough traction to act as anchors while the rear end slides equal with the front. The two side tires skid ten feet before the car begins to roll.
The first rotation breaks the driver’s window. She watches her wallet, snack cooler, and coffee cup pass by her face and settle on the ground. She can see them on the highway for a split second before they are struck by a yellow moving van. Reflex directs her arms overhead, which by now is actually under-head as the car is rolling on its top.
Another full roll, and the car lands on its wheels. She can feel the rain on her left arm. Someone is talking to me. A warm hand touches her arm. The last words she hears, “Are you okay?”
When the highway patrolman arrives, traffic is backed up for a mile, and the large raindrops are relentless as they pelt his rain slicker. The loose contents and chards of the windows are scattered along the highway. The smaller pieces are washed away with the rain. The coffee cup is flat, the cooler is in about 50 pieces ranging from a fully intact lid to pieces about the size of a quarter, and the wallet is wedged between the rear dual tires of the yellow moving van which is instructed to park up the road about 50 feet so traffic can move in the far left lane.
The ambulance arrives. The paramedics check the driver quickly for life, then broken bones. Carefully, they remove her from the car, strap her to the gurney, slide the gurney in the ambulance, connect the life saving solution bags, then race to the nearest emergency room. She is unconscious.
The patrolman records the license plate number QR8DRAT to later identify the driver. The wallet and registration form are not in the car. The car is winched onto the transport. Two miles from the transport service storage yard the license plate falls onto the transport track bed, vibrates to the back, and falls onto the road.
Ten days earlier . . . Beth removes her car from the Bowling Green Hospital Emergency Entrance into the adjacent parking lot. The 1972 Dodge Dart is in the same mint condition as the day her father gifted it four years ago. The chosen parking space is six stalls from the nearest vehicle at the end of the parking lot.
Three minutes with the rearview mirror to touch-up her make-up and hair before locking the car, and proceeding to the entrance. Walking out the ER door is Sidney Scott; former boyfriend, construction manager for a series of dams in Kenya, and the kernel of her thoughts many times the past two years. Beth could see he still maintained the build needed to keep his Bowling Green wrestling scholarship. Slumping shoulders and gazing at his feet reveals his concentration on troubling news.
“Sidney.” Beth startled him.
Sidney took a few seconds to collect his thoughts, “Beth, how nice to see you, I was about to call. My aunt Jessie is struggling with lung cancer. She wants me to call you. She said you were a good friend. I think she wanted us to see each other.” He added, “What are you doing here?”
“A work associate’s daughter came out of a coma and I brought him to the hospital.”
“The little girl in ICU is the talk of the hospital. Aunt Jessie is in room 223. Stop in if you have time.”
“How long have you been in town?” Inquiring for two reasons: one, for conversation, and two, to find out if she is still a priority.
“Two days ago, the day aunt Jessie was admitted.”
“I’ll drop by later this evening,” she says.
The emergency door opens automatically as Beth approaches. The elevator bank is fifty feet down the hallway. The up-button opens the elevator to her right. Inside, the button panel indicates ICU is on the third floor. On the second floor, two nurses enter talking about the recovery of a little girl from a coma.
At the third floor, Beth takes a few seconds to orient herself while the elevator door closes behind her. To the right is the information desk, and she is about to ask for the room number when Charlie walks out into the hallway. She waves her hand and calls to Charlie.
“Thank you for stopping. It was a brave act when you thought I was a ‘bank robber’,” Charlie continues. “The doctors are giving Erin a check-up. They want to hold her overnight for observation. Can I buy you a cup of coffee? The doc’s will be about half an hour, according to Erin’s ICU nurse.”
“That would be lovely,” Beth replied.
They return to the elevator, take it to the first floor, and walk to the cafeteria.
“We are going to miss you at dinner, and Melissa will miss those General Boelinger burgers on Friday’s,” a doctor says.
“Dinner?” Beth inquires.
“I eat dinner here every night—It’s close to Erin.” Charlie points to the coffee urn, “Coffee is over here.”
They select a table by the window, and like Beth’s Dart, they are five empty tables from the closest people.
“When we go back to Erin’s room I’ll introduce you two.”
“I would like that. What are your plans now that Erin is okay?”
“The doctor wants us to hang around Bowling Green for another day. I want to release Hannah’s ashes as soon as possible for Erin’s well being. They were very close. Erin has already started with her questions: Will mommy wake up too?, How long before mommy wakes up?, and Can we bring mommy here so they can wake her too?” Charlie pauses as he realizes the weight of those questions. He slowly continues, “I need to contact Pawpaw, Hannah’s father. He lives with us. He and Erin are as close as Hannah and Erin were. Pawpaw is a wonderful man. He raised Hannah on his own. He walks Erin to and from daycare, plays cards with her, and helps her with colors, alphabet, counting, etc.” Charlie pauses again, “Another reason to get Erin home quickly is so she can get into a routine with Pawpaw.”
They continue to talk for another twenty minutes.
The doctors, nurses, and two carts leave Erin’s room as Beth and Charlie arrive. Erin is sitting up right. A big smile greets Charlie along with two arms extended for a hug. A big hug, which Charlie needs more than Erin, takes a couple minutes.
Anticipating Erin’s barrage of questions he words Beth’s introduction carefully. “Erin this is Beth. She gave me a ride to the hospital today. I work with her.”
“Did you drive all the way from ‘Sythana’ just to give daddy a ride?” Erin asks.
Beth offers her hand to Erin. “Your dad did not tell you the whole story,” Beth explains as they shake hands
Erin replies, “He does that a lot lately. I am three and a half. I know when he is protectin’ me.”
Beth adds, “We girls know these things don’t we?”
Erin, looking at her dad with all the confidence she can muster, “Yes.”
Charlie wanting to talk to the doctors says, “I will leave you two girls to talk for a couple minutes.”
Erin waves to dad, and says to Beth, “He just wants to talk to the doctors. He’s a good dad. He cares for me.”
Beth begins to fix Erin’s hair and talk about the accident, Erin being “asleep” for four months, and Charlie working at the warehouse.
Charlie returns to the room as Beth says, “The pickup ran out of gas and I gave your dad a ride to the hospital.” Beth suggested to Charlie, “Why don’t I take you and a few gallons of gas back to your pickup.”
At the gas station, Charlie has to purchase a three-gallon red plastic container for gas at $12.00. The same can is $2.85 at the discount store. Beth took me to the hospital. Now she is helping me get gas. I can’t take advantage of her kindness. He reluctantly pays $12.00 for the container plus $13.75 for the gas.
Beth watches Charlie pour three gallons of gas into the classic pickup. Her thoughts are how fast and furious they met today: she knew Charlie – by name only – for four months, then a bank robber for two days, and today he introduces Erin. It might be a big intrusion to have dinner with them in Erin’s room. Beth says, “Charlie, I know . . .”
Charlie interrupted, “Beth, I can’t thank you enough for all your help today: driving me to the hospital, talking with Erin, and helping me find gas. Erin was struggling with Hannah’s death before the coma. I want to be alone with her so she can talk about Hannah.”
Her “intrusion” version did not bother her, but Charlie’s “so she can talk” explanation hurt. Erin and I became good friends almost instantly.
A couple accelerator pumps, three turns of the starter, and the engine comes to life. They exchange waves from inside their vehicles. Beth enters traffic first, turns right at the corner, and wipes a tear from her eye. Charlie enters traffic and returns to the hospital.
Charlie and Erin have dinner together for the first time in four months, in the hospital room. Charlie stays the night.
Erin is released the next morning—The perfect beginning to an enjoyable day touring Bowling Green. She calls Pawpaw and talks for twenty minutes. Charlie’s admiration grows as he imagines Pawpaw’s portion of the conversation.
Later in the week, Beth and Doris are having lunch together. Doris playing the role of an amateur psychologist—asking the probing questions while Beth analyzes the situation.
“How are you doing?” Doris asks.
“Okay, I guess.” Beth pauses for a few seconds then adds, “Sidney’s back in town. We have had a couple dates. It has been fun.”
“Like or love?” Doris asks as a good friend who is also curious about the answer.
“Unsure, leaning toward like,” Beth replies as she shrugs, then continues to answer the next question before Doris asks. “Charlie sent a letter before they left Taos. Describing the ceremony in Taos and that Erin has been quiet since releasing the ashes. He is planning a birthday party hoping to cheer her up. His focus is Erin’s depression. He thanked me again for taking him to the hospital. That’s about it.”
“Well, all the questions are to find out if you’re going to stick around. I want to offer you a promotion to Customer Service Supervisor,” Doris informs.
“Oh my, this is exciting! Tell me more,” Beth says oozing with joy.
Cynthiana, Kentucky. Two days later. Pawpaw asks Charlie, “She’s still not talking to you?”
“I am the bearer of bad news. My answers to the mommy questions do not satisfy her,” Charlie answered. “I think she understands Hannah is gone and can’t be put back in the urn, and blaming me for not trying to wake Hannah.”
“I imagine you answered several versions of that question.”
“Yes. Actually, she was good until Hannah’s ashes were gone. It was a difficult decision, but I hope it is better for Erin long-term. Oh, I forgot to mention, I received a call from day care about Erin’s melancholy behavior. The day care manager told me Erin stares out the window about half the day, and her drawings and doodles are the same theme—a dad plus mom plus child.”
“You did the right thing. It will be good for her to get closure. It’s tough on kids, but she will bounce back quickly,” Pawpaw adds.
“So… Erin’s birthday is next Saturday. What do I need to do?” Charlie inquires.
“Most of the planning is complete. The invitations have been mailed. You need to decide what entertainment you want.”
Saturday afternoon 1:30 p.m., Charlie is nervous. He is placing a lot of hope on this birthday party. And, in thirty minutes he will be responsible for fourteen kids for ninety minutes. He is trying not to think about it too much as he hangs the last “Happy Birthday Erin!” banner.
At 1:50 moms begin dropping off their children. At 1:55, Pawpaw and Erin return from their walk to the grocery store. Eight friends are kicking a balloon like a soccer ball, while the soccer ball sits under the banner.
As Erin approaches the house she looks to Pawpaw. He says, “It’s still early. Be patient. Be sure you thank your dad. And, be surprised.”
She runs to Charlie, who lifts her for a hug. “Thank you dad.” A minute later she is playing with her friends.
Mr. Science arrives at 2:30. His show is thirty minutes and ends with Erin assisting in making ice cream with liquid nitrogen. Charlie is busy cleaning up, setting up, and watching Erin have fun. Occasionally, she watches the street. Charlie thought she must be watching for Hannah—the ultimate birthday gift.
At 4:30 they are still entertaining two kids. Their mom arrives at 4:40. Charlie and Pawpaw finish cleaning up at 5:30. Erin smiles as she naps on the sofa.
On Sunday mornings Pawpaw cooks breakfast. Charlie wanders into the kitchen, and pours a coffee. “I think the party was a big hit. I talked with Erin after the party and her mood was good.”
Pawpaw added, “I noticed a change walking back from the grocery store yesterday. The only thing that would have improved the party was the arrival of Beth.”
“Beth? Is that who Erin was watching for yesterday?” Charlie asked.
“Yes, I helped Erin write the card inviting her to the birthday party.” Pawpaw adds, “Erin heard us planning the party. I promised to keep her invitation a secret. She wanted to surprise you. I have talked a few times with Beth after she received the invitation—nice gal. I was expecting her. She said she would be here.”
Charlie is outside picking-up the Sunday newspaper as a Highway Patrol Car stops by the curb.
The patrolman opens the passenger’s window and says, “Are you Paul Potter?”
“Paul is my father-in-law,” Charlie replies.
“Then you would be Charlie?”
“These birthday invitations were the only way we had of identifying this Beth. They were pinched between the visor and the roof. Sargent Foley misread the license plate, the registration wasn’t in the car, and there was no wallet. She is in a coma at Lexington’s Saint Benedict’s Hospital. Can you come and identify her?”
“Yes. We will be there in about two hours,” Charlie responded.
“See you there,” The officer handed an envelope to Charlie, and then drove off. The hand written birthday invitation from Erin is decorated with hand-drawn hearts, balloons, and flowers. It reads: Beth, I miss you. Daddy miss you. Can you come to my birthday party? Thank you, Erin.
With the invitation is a letter from Pawpaw to Beth:
I am writing this letter to invite you to Erin’s birthday party next Saturday the 18th at 2:00 p.m. The invitation is Erin’s own handwriting. I helped a little, but she insisted on inviting you.
I am Hannah’s father living with Charlie and Erin. Both talk about you every day. I am an old man, but I can still read my son-in-law. He, and Erin, would enjoy your company at the party.
Charlie wakes Erin and tells her about Beth’s accident and the visit from the patrolman. While explaining the situation to Pawpaw, Erin begins honking the pickup horn.
At the hospital, they are directed to room 232. Erin runs out of the elevator when it stops at the second floor. She peeks in every room until she finds Beth. Erin looks to the nurse who nods okay and gestures toward the room. Her small hand reaches between the bed’s safety rail and touches Beth’s arm. Charlie and Pawpaw enter the room as Erin says, “Beth, you are going to be okay. I know because I am.”
Charlie left the room to talk with the doctor and the patrolman. He had heard it all when Erin was in a coma: uncertain when she will wake-up, has been out since she hit her head, the longer she ‘sleeps’ decreases her odds of waking, and most people wake-up in less than five days.
Charlie signs some papers for the patrolman that identifies Jane Doe as Beth Wilton. About twenty minutes pass before he returns to the room. He hears their voices as he approaches Beth’s room. He smiles when he hears the third voice. As he enters the room, Beth looks up and says, “We have to stop meeting like this … ”
* * * * *
Note: It’s true; this is part 3 of 2. The original short story was written in two parts. Part three is the follow-up to the original requested by several readers.
Leo N. Ardo: – I am a thirty-five year veteran of small business, and author of the Jon Hersey – Industrial Spy series. I enjoy photography, fly fishing, biking, and embellishing our travel experiences in journals titled Exaggerated Tales of an Ordinary Man.
We call Utah and Wyoming home.
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Hoping life blesses you with good stories!