View From Heaven

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 23 (v.1) - Chapter 22

Submitted: April 08, 2008

Reads: 125

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Submitted: April 08, 2008



Chapter 22

God dammit, his arms ached. He might as well have just traveled the past seven miles walking on his hands for the wretchedly cramped muscles in his fingers, biceps and shoulders. Granted, it probably had not been a good idea to make Heidi’s maiden voyage on the streets of Chicago a ten kilometer endurance challenge, but could anyone really blame him?

Eight weeks. Eight weeks since he had gotten any decent breath of fresh air. It had been Ben’s idea to take advantage of his mother and sister’s impossibly busy schedules and the necessary refills on his medication to make his escape. For quite understandable reasons, Theresa was hesitant to let her son venture out into the world alone again. The last time she had gone against her baser instincts and let him go out on his own, he had disappeared into a life of crime and been responsible for the death of another man. It was a simple trip to the drug store, however, and the fact of the matter was—regardless of whether or not he was completely repentant for the mistakes he had made—Ben relied too much on his family at the moment for his survival. He didn’t have the freedom to pull something stupid this time because he had nowhere else to turn.

The moment Heidi’s wheels kissed the pavement outside Theresa’s apartment, Ben realized there were some farther reaching repercussions to rejoining society than previously imagined. He was quite used to being able to move from place-to-place without anyone even aware of his presence—in and out of the shadows, quick, silent. He was snake-like—without the evil implications of course.

He might as well say good-bye to those days with the three thousand square inches of mesh and metal under his ass. Ben was now an invalid, handicapped, hamstrung, hog-tied; and this was his coming out party. Benjamin Manning, on display for all the world to pity, or perhaps even ridicule. He traveled the first few blocks with his eyes trained down, his face nestled into the collar of the new winter coat his mother had purchased him, afraid to see the gawks and gapes of people he passed.

Ben gained some confidence as he gained ground, and finally he had to face the world straight on to safely cross an intersection (where he was suddenly very resentful of the pedestrian crossing signal. Don’t Walk? Couldn’t if he wanted to.) It was then that he had a minor epiphany—no one was looking at him or paying him one little ounce of attention. There weren’t even any side long glances of people trying not to be rude. People didn’t care.

God bless America, Ben mused. Land of those so self-absorbed, they could walk right past a four foot pigeon with its head on fire and not notice. He had never been so happy to go completely disregarded by the world around him in his life.

Block-by-block, from Franklin down to Adams, Ben felt himself acclimatizing to his new legs: the muscles and joints of his upper body working in a fluid, sweeping motion to propel himself forward; his hands finding a rhythm as they glided lightly against the hand rims; his breathing synchronized perfectly with each full rotation of the wheels. It was almost empowering.

Of course there were some important lessons to be learned. One, he did not fit very nicely into narrow passageways his thin body might have otherwise cleared; thus the one hundred and twenty seconds he spent attempting to dislodge himself from in between an unrelenting bike rack and bench. Two, he was in operation of a solid, potentially destructive machine which meant he had to exercise caution when in the presence of others. He had nearly taken out an old lady whipping too hastily around a corner onto Ogden.

The weather outside was typical for the first day of February: glacial, with a biting wind off the lake that drove the temperature nearly into the negatives. His face felt as if it were being accosted with tiny needles and his hands had lost most of their feeling. It mattered little to him, however. Some unspeakable force within him pulled him anxiously forward, and with each mile he advanced, Ben felt the invisible shackles that had weighed down his body fracturing, snapping, and breaking. What he felt—it certainly wasn’t happiness—but perhaps it was a prelude to it.

Acceptance. It was merely acceptance, but it was a necessary first step if he ever wanted even a fighting chance at happiness. For whatever reason, he had been allowed to keep his life, and this meant he should justify the fact he was spared when someone who had seemed so much more worthy had lost his chance.

In the past he’d told himself that all it would take to right his wrongs was the chance to start over. Well, this was it. Finally he’d been afforded the opportunity. It hadn’t been as clean and simple as jamming the “Reset” button on a video game, but he’d take what he was given. He was quite literally a new person, inside and out.

These thoughts circulating in his mind, Ben journeyed on and on across town—passing by three pharmacies within reasonable distance of his mother’s apartment. Over two hours later he arrived at Gungler’s which was only a little over a mile away from his old south side apartment.

Crossing the threshold of the store and into its merciful warmth, Ben paused for several seconds to catch his breath and nurse his aching upper limbs. He had been a bit too enthusiastic on the first excursion, and it was going to be an awful long return trip, he feared. Maybe he could hire a homeless person to push him back home…

Reaching into his jacket pocket, Ben retrieved the four crumpled pieces of paper, all bearing Dr. Weinstein’s illegible signatures. Ribavirin, Cefadroxil, Telithromycin, Tetrahydrogestrinone? He thought the doctors were trying to save his liver. Ah, well, he was starting to rather enjoy the sensation of his head disconnected from the rest of his body compliments of his medication cocktails.

Feeling like a ninety-five-year-old man, Ben inched forward, grimacing at the pain. He resolved as he went that this would be considered limping in paraplegic terms. The pharmacy was located at the far end of the store, and Ben was further enlightened of his limitations when—what would have only been a ten second journey on foot—turned into an intimidating obstacle course straight out of American Gladiator. He discharged a string of obscenities as Heidi side-swiped magazine racks and nicked shelf corners, causing more than a few consumables from the store to plummet to the ground. Some aisles were so narrow they were clearly impassable and he had to put it in reverse and find a new route.

Ben was just generating a mental letter to the governor about discriminatory aisle dimensions when a female voice to his left drew him out of thought.

“Oh, you have got to be kidding me!”

Ben sniffed and scratched his cheek.

“Yeah, tell me about…it.”

Turning towards the store’s counter, Ben saw a face that was strangely familiar. His heart skipped a beat. The past rather eventful month and a half had caused him to forget the little incident which occurred during his last visit to Gungler’s. The blonde girl behind the counter, the very same one who had caught him dead in the middle of a quick-change crime, before mercifully allowing him to escape, looked livid.

“I had no idea people could sink so low.”

Ben swallowed hard, the prescription-bearing papers crinkling in his hand as his fist tightened.

“Your little life of fraud isn’t going so well, or maybe it’s just not exciting enough anymore. So you’re trying a new, sick-minded angle, hmm?”

Ben looked at the girl in complete bafflement. What the hell was she talking about? She was positively glowering at him now; but, no, not at him—at Heidi. Then realization struck him: she believed his newly acquired impairment was an act. It made sense considering the first and only impression she’d gotten of him. She was quite justified in her assumption. Just because he couldn’t blame her, though, didn’t stop him from feeling incredibly irritated.

There was a short silence before he veered from his original destination and jerked his way over to the counter. The girl—what was her name again? Gail, Gretchen, Gladys?—continued to scowl, but there was a hint of fear behind her eyes now. For all she knew he might be harboring a weapon under his coat just waiting to be provoked so he’d have an excuse to bust it out.

When he was directly in front of the store clerk, Ben spun around so that his back was to her. Bending forward so that his chin was almost to his knees, he reached behind him and lifted his coat and the shirt underneath to reveal his lower back. With this view the girl could plainly see the cast enveloping his body, as well as the exposed incision area on his right flank where the stitches had recently been removed, leaving an engorged area of scarlet, black and purple skin.

The girl was quiet and Ben, deciding he’d pretty much rested his case, returned to his normal position, spinning back to face her. She was dumbfounded, her mouth gaping open, cheeks spotting pink with embarrassment.

“I…I didn’t…ooooh…um…”

Ben, reveling in the girl’s mortification, wordlessly continued on to the pharmacy. In the next few minutes, as he waited for his order to be filled, he caught glimpses of her and saw that she was still visibly distraught over her very big mistake. She shook her head slowly from side-to-side, bit her lip, cursed herself out loud, even smacked the heel of her hand into her forehead a few times. It wasn’t often he could make others regret their harsh words towards him. This was just too delicious.

Receiving his medications, Ben purposefully returned down the aisle right next to the cash register, nearly taking out a display of Valentine’s Day candy in the process. The girl’s—dammit, what was her name? Something flowery like Hope or Faith—face had a rather pale, sickly hue now and she looked ready to vomit as he approached.

“Look,” she uttered, putting a hand out to stop him. Her voice was shaky. Talk about a guilt trip, and all he’d had to do was lift his shirt. “You have no idea how incredibly, painfully sorry I am about what I said. I spoke without thinking. I just assumed…”

“Grace,” Ben said in a matter-fact-tone, finally catching sight of her name tag. Grace was startled out of what she had intended to be a long, heartfelt apology, glancing down at the red vest the name badge was pinned to.

Ben smiled dryly.

“Cool your engines, there. Of course you assumed, and who can blame you? My reputation precedes me, doesn’t it?”

Ben watched Grace visibly relax, some color returning to her face.

“So…so, how did it happen if…you don’t mind me asking?”

She looked at him with those bright green eyes he could remember anywhere, filled with a child-like curiosity, yet guarded and untrusting of the man who had involved her in quite the scandal not very long ago.

“How did it happen?” Ben sighed heavily. “Well, let’s just say my little life of fraud, as you put it”-Grace winced-“well, it back-fired on me. That’s all.”

The young woman nodded, seeming to understand enough of what he said to not ask anymore questions; or perhaps she just did not want to pry. A stray piece of soft, blonde hair fell into her eyes and she absent-mindedly tucked it behind her ear with her finger tips.

There was an awkward pause in the already sparse conversation.

“Well, Grace. I better be getting home now.”

The cashier smiled politely and nodded. She looked ready to apologize again, but instead gave a little wave as he moved towards the door.

He battled with it several seconds—throwing it open, lunging himself urgently forward before the door crashed on him, throwing the door open again, lunging forward again—until he managed squeeze out at a hair’s width.

Damn this inaccessible city.

The return trip took over half an hour longer; the sun had nearly vanished by the time he reached the North side again. Ben’s arms were on fire now and he was pretty sure the tips of his fingers were in the first stages of frost bite. He paid his bodily woes little mind, however, and was home long before he actually expected to be.

The fact of the matter was that the minute he had left the drug store Ben’s thoughts had drifted upwards like a helium balloon in quick ascent. His mind circled, listless, round and round, spiraling helplessly into the air and no matter how hard he tried to re-attach his head, he could not seem to grasp clarity.

It was a split-second image, merely a flash-bulb memory, and with no rhyme or reason, it had taken its mind captive.

It was a pair of green eyes with soft, black lashes and the wisps of golden hair, as soft as silk that drifted in front of them.

What a damn day. Cecily scuffled the twenty-two steps from the elevator to her mother’s apartment, grumbling all the way. Mid-winter morosity must have set in without anyone giving her the newsflash because today’s patrons had been unnecessarily cantankerous. A woman’s soup at table fourteen was too hot. A crotchety old man at table twenty-one did not care for the music selection playing over the loud speakers. It was days like this, though there were surprisingly few, when Cecily’s faith in the top income bracket was temporarily destroyed. She just wanted food, a hot shower, and a nice, long sleep.

The little pity party she threw herself all the way home, however, ended abruptly the moment she walked through the door. In front of her, bathed in the glow of a solitary hanging light, was her mother. Cecily, particularly sensitive to her mother’s emotions, could perceive the tension in a heart beat and her perception was exemplified by the way she found her mother sitting—head in hands, drooped over a giant pile of papers, a forlorn expression on her face. Theresa did not move a muscle when her daughter walked through the door, so Cecily advanced further in the room in the hopes she would be acknowledged.

Her mother looked exhausted, still sitting in her scrubs—fresh off an eighteen hour shift at the hospital. Well, she had looked exhausted for eight weeks now, but tonight it was particularly apparent. On top of this, her dull eyes were glazed and her lids puffy—tell tale signs she had been crying.

“Mom?” Cecily attempted timidly, afraid the very sound of her voice might tip her mother over some precipice she tottered perilously upon. Theresa raised her gaze ever so slightly.

“Hello, honey,” she replied with little feeling.

“Are…are you all right?”

There were several seconds of silence before Theresa began talking, in a slow and deliberate manner.

“Your brother left here at one this afternoon to go have his prescriptions refilled. He failed to notify me that he intended to take a six hour tour of the city.”

Cecily pivoted towards the television blasting in Spanish. Her brother was asleep before the T.V., arms sprawled across his bed, mouth gaping open. Heidi sat patiently at his side just waiting for her next ride.

“I got home two hours ago,” Theresa spoke through her teeth, “to find my son—my ill, physically incapacitated son—was missing after dark. Just before he finally showed up, I was on my way to the phone so I could contact the Chicago Police Department and ask if they had arrested anyone in a wheelchair today.” She let out a very small laugh before her face went dead pan again.

“W-well, what about that cell phone you gave him. Didn’t you at least try that first?”

Her mother sighed heavily.

“Oh, yes. Eleven times to be exact, but he never picked up. He politely drew my attention to the new law about one being on one’s cell phone whiledriving.

Another strange little laugh which seemed to end too abruptly. Her mother seemed on the verge of emotional collapse.

Cecily’s eyes were drawn to the sizeable stack of papers between her mother’s elbows. The papers were an assorted array of colors—mostly pastel—pinks, blues, yellows. It reminded her a bit of Easter, but something told her they did not bring such joyful tidings.

“What are those?”

These, my dear,” her mother answered, in a sinister tone. “These represent the nearly four-hundred thousand dollars I owe in medical bills.”

Cecily’s heart sank into her stomach.

“Four hundred…how…how is that even possible?”

Theresa squeezed her eyelids shut as if in immense pain.

“Anesthesia, two months in the hospital, physical therapy—it all adds up very fast.”

Cecily was quiet for several moments, simply soaking in the enormity of the debt her mother owed. She was not a rich woman. The Mannings had always only had enough to provide them relative comfort.

“Okay,” she uttered resolutely, pulling up a seat next to her mother. “So that’s a huge, huge amount of money, but you’ve got good insurance. I mean they’re going to take care of a lot of that, right?”

Theresa sniffed and nudged at the cordless telephone next to her elbow.

“That’s what I believed two hours ago when I first got on the phone with the company. Apparently they take little pity on Ben’s situation. Why should they break the bank for a charged criminal who brought his accident upon himself? They agreed to pay about one-sixteenth of the cost.” She laughed bitterly. “I forgot they lack a mother’s forgiveness.”

Cecily watched fresh tears well in her mother’s eyes. Her own stung as if someone had poured sand into them. The next time their gazes met, the younger woman saw genuine panic in the elder’s eyes, and it terrified her. Her mother was her constant source of strength, and now she looked at her daughter with an air of complete helplessness. Cecily was in no position to take control when she could barely control her own emotions. Theresa’s words expounded the fear in her face.

“This doesn’t even include the costs of the wheelchair. Ben’s court date is in six weeks; I’m going to have to pay lawyer fees. Cecily, I…I don’t have this money. I’m going to be ruined.”

Her head throbbed; she thought, foolishly, the agony had lifted. Now, she felt herself slowly sinking back into the miserable waters she had treaded for far too long already. She did not know if she would have the strength to keep her head above the surface this time.

“We-we can do this. I’ll take on double shifts at work. I’ll…I’ll sell my apartment and move back here permanently. It’ll be a little cramped, but we’ve managed so far…”

Cecily’s words trailed off as it quickly grew apparent in her own mind how nae she must sound. It would take her a good two years, even working double shifts, to make half the amount of money her mother now owed. Still, her mother shook her head in ardent refusal.

“There will never be a day—so help me God—when I will stoop so low as to beg money from one of my children.” Theresa forced a tired smile and patted Cecily’s hand as if she had suddenly remembered her role as the ever-consoling mother. “It’s not so awful as I’m making it seem, I’m just worn out. I’ll get the money loaned to me, file bankruptcy if I have to.”

Cecily’s stomach churned at the mere thought.

“It’s only money, right? Isn’t that what I’ve taught you and your brother all along?”

Cecily nodded in reply, but her heart was not completely in agreement. Sure, it was only money, it had always been only money. She had had one too many experiences in her life to help teach her what was truly important—a financial issue just wasn’t.

The part she could not accept was the fact that there never should have even been a financial issue to speak of. Once upon a time she and her family had been promised unconditional support to replace that which had been lost with her father’s passing. Nothing could ever mend the wounds in their hearts, but there was absolutely no reason that the Mannings should have to suffer for lack of money as well. They were to be provided for as long as they lived.

How quickly conditions could be unearthed and promises broken! Just months after Jason’s death, his family was left high and dry to fend for themselves in a world that had already been cruel in an almost debilitating sense. No matter, though. With a few life-altering sacrifices they found a way to manage. They had worked so hard and with such resolve that there was little room for bitterness.

Somehow this rather dire and panic-worthy situation brought a lot into perspective and Cecily was left feeling impossibly angry. Too many questions were left unanswered, too many mysteries unexplained. There was never a better time, when the festering troubles of her past—lying just beneath the surface—had re-emerged all at once, to actively seek out the information she so clearly deserved.

Without another word, Cecily stalked into the guest room, dropping in a huff onto her hard and bumpy couch, wondering how many hours it would be before her body finally allowed her to drop off to sleep. Fortunately, there was very little left to mull over. She was quite decided of her next morning’s destination, albeit the least bit apprehensive. It had been years and years since she had stepped foot anywhere near the place and she couldn’t even begin to imagine the feelings which would be evoked the moment she set eyes on it. Try as she might, her fears would not be settled until the next day’s mission was complete. The simple fact was that she knew no other place on earth as haunted as the one to which she would soon travel.

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