This is a continuing/serial story. I share a chapter a week and at the end of the story, and after I edit and rewrite, I self-publish it. To catch up with the story click HERE. To read the rest of the books in this series click HERE.
The day after the call from Adam, Ben thought about his conversation as he sat in the exam of the concussion specialist, waiting for the doctor to arrive. He’d offered Adam the chance to discuss anything with him over the phone, but Adam had abruptly changed directions, saying he would need to call Ben back at another time. Ben imagined Angie must have walked into the room at that moment. Whatever Adam had wanted to talk about, he apparently didn’t want Angie to hear it.
Ben hadn’t been lying when he said the doctor had cleared him to drive yet, but he still felt guilty for saying it, since he was hoping that clearance would come today. If it did, then he’d be cleared to attend the birthday party next week.
He needed that clearance for other reasons, though. He’d finally managed to convince his parents to let him stay at his apartment and walk to work but he’d need to be able to drive himself for upcoming appointments and court appearances.
His mom had driven him to this doctor appointment, and she could have driven him to the birthday party too, but he didn’t offer that suggestion when was talking to Adam. Angie had already made it clear that she didn’t want him there. He wasn’t going to go simply because Adam and Leona wanted him to. That could create all sorts of problems and ruin Amelia’s big day.
To ensure he wasn’t a total liar, Ben decided he’d ask the doctor if he could drive that far, if at all.
“Mr. Oliver hello.” The doctor walked in quickly, flicked a light next to the X-ray display on the wall in front of him and snapped two X-rays in place. He turned and held his hand out. “How are we doing today?”
Ben shook his hand. “Okay, I guess. I’m hoping you’ll tell me I’m doing better than I think.”
The doctor grinned and sat on the stool next to the X-ray machine, facing Ben. “I wish I could tell you that you’re back to a hundred percent, but I’m guessing that based on the symptoms you’re having you already know that’s not the case.”
Ben’s shoulders slumped slightly. “Yeah. I’m better but definitely not all the way there yet. The headaches are still frequent.”
“How about the vision and your cognitive skills?”
“Better than it was, that’s for sure.” Ben rubbed a hand across his face then across the back of his neck, letting his hand rest there. “But not back to normal by any means. I guess this means I’m not going to be cleared to drive yet.”
The doctor cocked an eyebrow, folding his arms across his chest. “Still having blurry vision? Dizzy spells?”
“Here or there.”
The doctor shook his head. “I wouldn’t recommend driving then.”
“Even shorter distances?”
“Can you have a dizzy spell, drive off the road, and hit a tree again even driving a short distance?”
Ben laughed softly. “Well, yes, but —”
The doctor tipped his head, looking over his glasses. He smiled. “Then, again, I wouldn’t recommend it.”
If the doctor wasn’t recommending even driving small distances, then a four-hour drive was definitely out of the question.
The doctor unfolded his arms and propped his hands on his knees. “Look, Mr. Oliver, I know this recovery is taking a lot more time than you’d like it to. I know that you’d like to speed things along, but you just can’t with an injury like this. Your brain needs time to heal and the more you push it, the longer it’s going to take.”
“But you don’t really know how long it will take?”
“I wish I did. I mean, we are seeing improvement so hopefully, soon, maybe six weeks or so, you’ll be almost back to normal. Realistically, though, this process could take as long as a year.”
The doctor gestured toward the X-rays. “Listen, you’re really lucky. I don’t know if you even realize how lucky. If you’d hit your head any harder and a few inches to the left, we’d be looking at you learning to walk and talk again. Mr. Oliver, my recommendation is to take it easy but also to go live your life. You’ve been given a second chance whether it seems like it or not. Take advantages of that.” He stood. “Just do it with a little bit of a caution for the next few weeks.”
Ben fielded the questions from his mom on the way back to the office, and got the same from Judi soon after he walked in the door.
“So, what’s the verdict? Still have brain damage?”
Ben glared at Judi over a cup of coffee. “Very funny. It’s not brain damage. It’s brain swelling. And yes, there are still some issues but hopefully it will be better soon.” He added more creamer to the coffee then held the container up. “Where did this creamer come from? I just usually use —”
“Plain, boring stuff. I know. I thought you could use a little flavor.”
Ben shook his head and chuckled as he stirred the creamer in. “Okay. If you say so. Did I get any calls while I was gone?”
“Yes, and I transferred two to your voicemail, but the other guy said he wanted me to take the message because you never respond to voicemails.”
Ben rolled his eyes. “Let me guess, his name was Patrick Wenbrook.”
Judi looked at the notes she’d taken. “Yes. I guess you’ve dealt with him before.”
“Many times. I’m guessing this is about the property issue.”
Judi nodded as she read from the notes. “Neighbor isn’t abiding by the agreement drawn. He’s ready to get the police involved. He wants you to serve more orders for his neighbor to cease and desist building the barn near his property line.”
Ben pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger and squeezed his eyes shut. “I’ve told him before that I don’t serve anything. He’s going to have to get the police involved at this point. I’m not trained to deal with six foot three 280-pound farmers who could break my neck with one hand. I just write letters and cite law and take people to court.”
He took the piece of paper Judi handed him with the man’s phone number on it. “Thanks. I’ll give him a call.”
When he walked into his office he flopped back into the chair and then sat up straight when he noticed Amelia’s photo laying in the center of his desk on a stack of papers.
“Hey, Judi? Can you come in here?”
Judi walked to the doorway and leaned against it and for the first he noticed the hot pink boots she was wearing that matched a black skirt trimmed in pink that fell a couple inches above her knees.
Ben made a face. “First, never call me that. Second, do you know how this photo got here? You weren’t looking through my stuff, were you?”
Judi frowned. “Really? If you think I would go through your private stuff while you were gone then why would you even ask me to work here?”
Ben let out a breath. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it come out like that. It’s just — well, usually this photo is in my brief case so I —”
Judi folded her arms across her chest. “I found it inside a case folder for a Michael Henderson versus Veronica Henderson. The one you wanted me to get the address from for that letter you wanted to draft.”
“Oh. Right.” Ben rubbed the back of his thumb across his forehead. “I’m sorry. It must have slid in there when the file was in my briefcase. I took that home last night to read over.” He winced. “I shouldn’t have accused you like that. I really didn’t think you were doing anything wrong, I just wondered how it got here.”
Judi shrugged a shoulder. “It’s okay. You have brain damage, so I’ll cut you some slack.”
Ben narrowed his eyes at her while she flipped a strand of blond hair over her shoulder.
“I don’t know, she sort of looked like you, so I thought maybe she was a niece and wasn’t supposed to be in the folder,” she said. “So, I tossed it back on your desk.”
Ben propped his elbows on the desk and folded his hands, glancing at the photo. “Right. Okay. Well, thank you for leaving it with me. I appreciate it.”
Judi didn’t leave though. She propped a hand on her hip and leaned her side against the door frame. “So, is she a niece? I don’t know your siblings very well, but I didn’t know they had kids yet.”
Ben wanted the conversation to end. Why had he even asked her to come in? He could lie and tell her his brothers did have a child, but he didn’t want to start that rumor. His brother might be younger than him, but he was also bigger, and Ben really didn’t want to risk anymore bruises or concussions.
“No, she’s not a niece.” He should leave it at that and just tell Judi to get back to work. Still, something in him wanted to claim this little girl as his, even though he had no right to. He swallowed a mouthful of coffee and cleared his throat. “She’s my daughter.”
Judi’s response was more subdued than he expected but still conveyed surprise. “Oh. Well, that’s something I didn’t know.”
Ben opened his brief case and placed the photo in the inside pocket again. “Most people around here don’t.”
“Who’s her mom?”
Even though Ben was starting to get used to Judi’s blunt manner, he still didn’t enjoy it.
He glanced at her over the edge of his coffee cup. “Angie.”
“Oh. So, like —”
“Don’t you have a letter to type into the computer for me?”
Judi smiled. “Oh. Right. Sorry.” She stepped back a couple of steps, but then stopped, her brow dipped. “But are you two together?”
“Go type up the letter, Jude.”
She scowled at him with pursed lips. “I don’t like the name Jude.”
A small smile tugged at Ben’s mouth. “I don’t like being asked personal questions.”
Judi sighed and turned back toward her desk. “Okay. Okay. Be that way.” She looked over her shoulder. “For what it’s worth, she’s a beautiful little girl.”
Warmth spread up Ben’s throat into his face and he was sure pink had spread across his skin. Amelia was beautiful, but he’d had very little to do with that. Accepting a compliment for something he’d had no control over felt wrong somehow. Still, he appreciated that Judi was trying to be nice. “Thanks. She takes after her mom, thankfully.”
He noticed tension pulling at his shoulders and neck as Judi left. He sat back in his chair. He wished he hadn’t told her who Amelia was. At the same time, it felt good to say the words out loud.
“She’s my daughter,” he whispered the words again and tipped his head back against the top of the chair.
In some ways saying those words was like having a burden lifted off his shoulders, while in other ways it was like one had been put on.