Dates, and doctor visits start the wheels of change turning in all their lives
Ch. 22 – Changing Lives
It took only a couple weeks for Crystal, Erick and Melinda to settle into a very well-running daily routine, and for them all to notice that their friendship was growing just as rapidly. And it didn’t take long for the comments to start, either. Some, naturally, weren’t so flattering, and reminded Erick and Crystal of that guy in her first term English class: “Hey, pop, think you can handle two young chicks like them, or do you need some help?” Those they quickly decided to simply ignore and not let them spoil their otherwise wonderful mood each day. But most of the comments were obviously intended to be in fun, and they all enjoyed them. Like: “Hey, man, don’t be keeping all the good-looking girls for yourself, okay?” or “Man, where do you get the kind of luck that gets you good looking girls like those two following you around all day?” And many, especially those from students or faculty members who’d known Erick and Crystal for a while, or had heard about their reputation, were not only polite and in fun, some of them even surprised them with a good laugh: “Hey, girls, I see you’re doing your part to keep Erick in good physical condition, aren’t you?” Then, too, the three of them had their favorite ones, like: “Hey, Erick, does Crystal know about you and Melinda?”, to which Crystal would always shout back, “Yes, I do. Now he has the younger sister he’s always wanted!” or the girls’ personal favorite, “I see you two are still giving Erick plenty of exercise!” to which Melinda would always shout, “Yeah, and it’s not just from pushing these chairs, either!” Even though the three of them all knew there was nothing going on between Erick and Melinda, they loved seeing the reaction those two replies often got from others.
Within a few weeks, roughly midway through that second term, they got another surprise. Erick had taken Crystal to the restroom during lunch. As they returned to their table, the look on Melinda’s face was openly obvious to both of them. They’d never seen her grinning like that before, and she was so excited she couldn’t stop moving around, let alone stop that grin. “What’s gotten into you, girl?” Crystal asked, already grinning along with her. “The way you look I’m waiting for you to get up out of that thing and walk!” Melinda laughed.
”It's almost that good, Crystal!” Melinda squealed. “I’ve got a date Saturday night!” she almost yelled.
”WHAT??” Crystal yiped. “OK, Melinda. No holding back,” she laughed as Erick looked on with a warm smile on his face. “Of all the times for me to have to go to the bathroom! OK, girl, let’s have all the details!” Melinda couldn’t help but laugh.
”OK, Crystal. Try this. His name is Harold Brockman. He’s 21, a Sales and Marketing major. And… he already knows how to maneuver a wheelchair and… help me in and out of it,” she finished. Crystal could tell Melinda’s tone was a little solemn at the end, and she’d heard the hesitation in her words..
”Melinda, how did he…” Crystal asked softly.
”His mom’s had MS for ten years now,” Melinda said slowly. “She’s in one of these more than I am. But the neat thing is,” she continued, her mood beginning to pick up again, “that Harold told me all this up front. He offered the information. I didn’t have to ask him about what he’d do if I had to go to the bathroom. He knew. He said he’d get one of the waitresses at the restaurant to help me inside the restroom if I needed it and he’d be waiting right outside for me. And he said that as long as I didn’t mind both of us being nervous, he’d even lift me out of this thing so I could sit in normal chairs when we eat out or go to a movie.”
Crystal knew the relief and warmth that she felt was obvious on her face, and she loved feeling that way. "Melinda, I think that's absolutely wonderful!", she said, all but crying. "You be real sure and tell us where you two go, and how well it all goes, will you?"
"You bet I will, Crystal! I... couldn't have done this if you hadn't been there for me when we talked after I first came here. Thank you for giving me the courage to face this. It's paying off already, but I could never have done it without you." Crystal sniffed, and wiped her eyes.
"Thank you, Melinda. I deeply appreciate that."
Naturally, the following Monday, Melinda’s date was THE topic of conversation even before Erick had had time to lift Melinda into the rear truck seat.
”OK, girl!” Crystal shouted. “I want to hear all about Saturday night before we get to class. I don’t want to wait till lunch for a single detail!” Melinda broke into hearty laughter, enjoying both the wonderfully eager tone of Crystal’s words and the beautiful friendship they symbolized.
”OK, Crystal, okay!” she beamed. By now the girls knew each other well enough that she could tell Crystal was anxious, and not just saying this to give her an outlet for her hyper emotions. “He picked me up at 7:00, on the dot, too! And we ate dinner at a place called “McClean’s”.
”McClean’s?” Crystal said. “I’ve never heard of it. Must be a new place. How was it?”
”The food was great! And it felt wonderful to sit in a normal chair again, too!” Melinda responded. “Then we went to one of those out-of-the-way cult movie theaters. He wanted to do something original for me,” she grinned. “And I was so happy about how it all was going, I don’t even remember the movie title!” she laughed.
”I guess that proves you were um… otherwise occupied, doesn’t it?” Erick laughed as he drove.
”Yep, it sure does!”
”Hey, Melinda, it’s up to you if you tell us, but I just have to ask, you know that. Did…”
”Yes, Crystal, he kissed me!” Melinda all but shouted, cutting her off. “I knew you’d ask.” They all laughed.
”He even asked if he could do it again! We… kissed about 4 or 5 times!”
”And you still lost count, huh?” Erick said teasingly.
”Yes, I did!” Melinda freely admitted, laughing with him. "Mainly because his kisses weren't just the grade school kind like you gave me," she laughed, blushing.
"I think I deserved that, didn't I, Melinda?" he laughed back.
"Yep, you did," Erick, she laughed again.
”I love that!” Crystal shouted. “Um… neither of you felt like you were rushing it?”
”No, Crystal. To be honest, I needed that,” Melinda said softly but firmly. “You told me you needed to know right off that Erick still wanted you in bed. This is my first version of that. I needed to know a guy still thought of me as pretty enough to want to kiss me.”
”THAT I fully understand,” Crystal said warmly.
Erick couldn’t resist. “So… um… what happens now?”
”What the hell do you think, Erick?” Melinda laughed heartily. “We’re going out Friday too. We just… haven’t decided what we’ll do yet. Um… would it be OK if he joins us for lunch one day this week if he comes up with something for Friday and wants to ask me about it?”
”I’ll answer that with your own words,” Crystal teased. “What the hell do you think?” They laughed together.
”Thanks, Crystal,” Melinda said warmly.
”What are real friends for, girl?” Crystal said with a warm smile.
The next evening, there was a voicemail message waiting for them when Erick and Crystal got home. As usual, Erick pushed the ‘play’ button on the recorder and pushed Crystal up to the dinner table as it began. Crystal, this is Dr. Bernhardt’s office, reminding you of your appointment Thursday afternoon to check the progress of your healing on those stumps. We’ll see you at 4:00.”
”Wow, I didn’t realize it was that time already, Erick. God I want this healing done!” she squealed.
”Time flies when you’re having fun, baby, you know that,” he laughed. “And um.. we’ve been having a LOT of fun, haven’t we?” he teased.
”God you like to see me blush, don’t you, honey?” she said as she turned away. “Yes, we have. And we’ve also been busy too, with my homework, and Melinda, and everything else,” she retaliated with love. “It’s not just been in the bedroom, darling,” she continued, “but I have to admit that is the best part of it,” she finished, blushing again.
”Thank you, my love,” Erick said as he kissed the back of her neck. “I feel exactly the same way.”
”Melinda, we need to figure out what you want to do about your last class or two tomorrow,” Crystal began during a very rare lull in their conversation the following morning. “I have an appointment tomorrow at 4:00 to check on the healing of the stumps, and I sure as hell don’t want to miss it,” she laughed. I don’t want anything delaying me from getting those new limbs as soon as I can!”
”That I can easily understand, Crystal,” Melinda said. “Um… let me ask Harold today or tonight if there’s any way he can take me to my last couple classes and home.”
”Great idea! Let us know ASAP in case the three of us need to do something differently, OK?” Crystal asked.
”You bet,” Melinda said as they pulled into their assigned handicapped parking space on campus.
Just before noon, as Erick, Crystal and Melinda were eating lunch, they heard someone walking toward them on the tiled cafeteria floor. The closer he got to them, the more surprised the look on the young man’s face. When they all looked up to see who it was, Erick and Crystal immediately recognized him as the young man that had nervously asked Crystal out to dinner some weeks before. Melinda shouted, “Harold! Hi!” and held out her arms for a hug. As soon as they let go of each other, Melinda said, "Harold, these are my great friends Erick and Crystal Metcalf. This is Harold Brockman, the guy I told you both about.”
”Um… we’ve kinda met already,” Harold said, a little embarrassed.
Crystal decided to take the nervousness away from him. Smiling, she said, “Melinda, Harold is the one I told you about too. The one that asked me out to dinner that day at lunch.”
”You’re kidding!” Melinda chirped.
”Oh, I’m sorry,” Erick said. “Please, Harold, sit down and join us. Sorry if we forgot our manners for a minute. Please,” he said, motioning to the seat next to Melinda.
”Are you sure?” he asked nervously.
”Sure, Harold,” said Crystal. “And if you’re still embarrassed about asking me out that day, please don’t be. I’m really flattered that you asked. Honest.” She saw him visibly relax.
”Thank you,” he said as he sat down. “I appreciate that.”
”Think nothing of it, really,” Crystal said. "Like I said, I took it as a compliment.”
So… have you thought of anything for us for Friday yet?” Melinda asked him, hoping to also get them all past the awkward stage.
”Yeah, I have,” Harold said, smiling now. ”How about we drive up to Newport for the evening, have dinner on the river, then go to the aquarium?”
”I’d love that! You’re on!” she grinned. “Before I can forget, is there any way you could take me to my last two classes tomorrow, and home after school? Crystal has a doctor’s appointment and she and Erick can’t be here. I don’t mean to impose, honest.”
Harold laughed warmly. “You won’t believe this,” he said, smiling. “I got an email this morning. Both the professors that teach MY last two classes are sick, and won’t be back till next week. I’d love to be your chauffeur, Miss Graham,” he said, bowing. They all laughed.
”Great!” said Melinda. “I’d love that, sir!” she quipped as she leaned over for a kiss. Harold started to respond, but hesitated.
”Go ahead, Harold, we’re the same way,” Erick said, smiling as he leaned toward Crystal. Harold followed his lead, and each couple shared a quick kiss. “Now, that wasn’t so bad, was it?” Erick asked, smiling.
”I don’t think so,” Harold said, smiling, “but I’d … like to try it again to be sure, you know?” They all laughed with him.
”Sounds good to me!” said Crystal, leaning toward Erick again. Each couple shared another kiss.
As they finished lunch a short while later, as if to continue the new “tradition”, each couple kissed again, in the presence of the other, as they left the table. “See you tomorrow about 3:00 then, Melinda?” Harold asked.
”What time to you have to leave tomorrow, Crystal.?” Melinda asked.
”3:00 is fine, Melinda. The doctor’s office is only a few blocks away.”
”I caught that,” Harold said, kissing Melinda again. “See you at 3:00 tomorrow then. Say… right in front of the Union?”
”Works for us,” said Erick.
”Good! See you then!” Harold said as he left for class.
Thursday afternoon, when Erick, Crystal and Melinda arrived back at the Student Union, Harold was already waiting. “Hi ya, Beautiful!” he said to Melinda. “Hi, Crystal, hi, Erick.” He said as they shook hands.
”That’s more like it,” Crystal said. Harold smiled.
”Thanks,” he said. “It does feel good not to be so nervous around you now.”
”Harold, I can’t resist asking you something,” Melinda said, smiling. “Now that you’re NOT so nervous, is Crystal still as attractive looking to you as she was when you asked her out?”
Harold didn’t hesitate this time. “Yes, she is,” he said as Crystal blushed heavily. “But to me you’re even prettier.” Now Melinda was the one that turned beet red.
”You can’t be serious, Harold,” she said, still blushing.
”Ah, but I am, dear lady. I’m dead serious.” With that, he leaned down, kissed her and said, “As a matter of fact, I can’t think of a better time than right now to ask you if you’d go steady with me. Will you?” he asked, his nervousness openly obvious. “I know it’s a term from our grandparents’ days, but I like the sound of it, and what it means. Would you, Melinda? I know we haven’t known each other very long, but I feel something special here, and I want to find out what it is. Please.”
Melinda stared at him a moment in disbelief, then looked silently at Erick and Crystal with that same look on her face, as if she needed confirmation she’d heard him right. Finally, she got herself together. “Um… Harold, I… don’t quite know what to.. say. I… can we agree that we’ll take it very slow, not rushing a single moment of this no matter how long that means things will take? I… I’m going through a lot right now, and I don’t want my other problems to mess up a great friendship. Um… can we agree to take our time?”
”Melinda, I wouldn’t want that any other way. My intent isn’t to rush you into anything. Please believe that,” Harold said in the most calm voice any of them had heard from him yet. You could tell by their faces that they realized how important this was to him if it actually was no problem for him to say it. “We will take things as slow as you want. I promise.”
”In that case, Harold, I would love to be your steady partner!” Melinda said warmly. “You see, I think I feel something too. But I’m not sure what IT is, either, and I’m scared. That’s the biggest reason I asked this of you. I hope you understand.”
The look on Harold’s face then brought a smile to all the others. His grin was ear-to-ear, and his nervousness was gone. “I’m glad you do feel something, Melinda. I hope this works for both of us, my love,” he said warmly as he leaned down and kissed her again.
"We'll leave you two lovesick kids alone and head for the doctor's office," Crystal laughed. "See you two tomorrow! We'll pick you up as usual in the morning, Melinda!" she said as Erick began wheeling her to the truck.
"OK, good luck with the tests!" Melinda called.
"What tests, Melinda? Is she OK?" Harold asked as he wheeled her to her next class.
Erick and Crystal arrived at Dr. Bernhardt’s office a few minutes early. As they got to the sign-in window, the receptionist said, ” Crystal Sandlewood?”
”Yes, “ said Crystal, “but we need to change that last name now,” she said, smiling. “I’ve gotten married since the appointment was scheduled.“
”Oh, OK, no problem,” she said, smiling. Handing Crystal a clipboard with a form on it, she said, “Since he’s not here, you can take that form with you so your husband can fill out his side if you don’t have his information.”
Erick and Crystal looked at each other, both grinning widely. “It’s… been a long time since we’ve heard things like that, hasn’t it, darling?” And, naturally, Crystal was saying so just loud enough to be overheard. She saw the receptionist look up, so she turned and smiled at Erick again.
”Yes, sweetheart, it has. About seven months, I think.”
”Um… I’m sorry. Is this your husband?” the receptionist asked.
”Yes, this is Erick,” Crystal smiled. I’m sorry… I couldn’t resist that. I didn’t mean to embarrass you, it’s just that we hadn’t surprised anyone like this since we first got together about seven months ago. I couldn’t resist reliving a wonderful, fun old memory. I’m sorry.”
”Don’t be,” she said. “Actually, that was a gentler way of telling me than doing it flat out, and I think I appreciate that,” she said, smiling. “I’m Jean Black.”
”Erick and Crystal Metcalf,” Erick said as he handed Jean the completed form. “Nice to meet you.”
”Same here, Mr. and Mrs. Metcalf,” Jean smiled. “If you’ll have a seat, Dr. Bernhardt will be with you shortly.”
A few minutes later, Crystal’s name was called and Erick began wheeling her toward the patient doorway. “I’ll take things from here, Mr. Metcalf,” the nurse said.
”You don’t understand,” Crystal blurted. “If Erick can’t come, I can’t either. Please check with the doctor. He should have received a note from my former doctor about this,” Crystal said, obviously in a mild panic. Seeing her panic, the nurse didn’t question the request. Her hospital training had taught her well in reading patients’ true emotions. A few minutes later the nurse reappeared.
”You’re right, Mrs. Metcalf. I’m sorry,” she said. “The doctor had forgotten about the note from Dr. Jackson. He found it in your folder. Right this way, please,” she said. Crystal’s huge sigh of relief was obvious to all three of them as they went down the hall.
”Crystal, Erick, I’m Dr. Bernhardt,” the doctor said as he entered the room shortly thereafter. “I’m sorry for that mix-up. But with Dr. Jackson’s description of your emotions right now, Crystal, I fully understand. Not a problem, I assure you.”
”Thank you, doctor,” she said, smiling now. “It means a lot to me.”
”Actually, Crystal, if this is the only emotional situation you have to deal with after an accident such as yours, I’d say you’re doing better than at least 75% of similar patients. Some people take years to even be able to stand being in a car after something like that.”
”Thank you, doctor, and yes, the need to be near Erick to feel secure at all times is the only one I still have to deal with.”
”Excellent, then. I applaud your courage. Which Dr. Jackson also told me about. He said to be prepared for a fighter. Is he right?” he asked, smiling.
”You bet he is!” Crystal squealed. “I’m ready when you are, Dr. Bernhardt!” Erick couldn’t help but smile at the wide smile on Dr. Bernhardt’s face.
”Well, I can certainly already tell he was honest with me about you,” Dr. Bernhardt said, smiling again. “Ok, then, let’s the three of us get down to business.” That put an even bigger grin on Crystal’s face.