by Anj
(a.k.a. Azurenon)


All disclaimers in Chapter One


        The big day finally arrived and Dr. Rosemund was in my room before breakfast. He said I was free to go, but he'd be checking on me from time to time and change my bandage in a week. A few minutes after he left, breakfast arrived with Brandon carrying the tray. On it was a red rose in a small vase.
        "Good morning, Princess," he boomed in his baritone voice, looking quite debonair in his light blue suit and off-white sweater vest.
        I was expecting more casual apparel, since he'd informed me he was taking the whole day off, just so he could be with me. It was evident now that Brandon would always dress according to his station, no matter what the occasion.
        He sat the tray down on the table then pulled it over to me. "Are you excited, Princess? I know I am. I can't wait to get you home, where I can visit more often. Oh, I have a surprise for you. Miss Bennington, please retrieve my package, I left it outside the door." He never even glanced Sara's way. "I wanted to surprise you with the rose and your present," he continued, "but I saw the woman with your tray and... Well, I thought I'd bring it in with the rose, because I wanted to serve my princess on this very special day." He smiled broadly and raised my hand to his lips. "Ah yes," he said, taking the package from Sara. "This is for you, Princess. For your trip home." I started unwrapping the package, as he added, "This is just a sample of what the future holds for you, now."
        I opened the box to reveal a pretty blue dress trimmed in white lace. I removed it from the box, thinking it looked like something my mother would have picked out for me, when I was younger. It was definitely out of style: puffy short sleeves, low cut bodice. But, I knew from the feel of the silky material it was expensive. I glanced over at him, not knowing what to say. I'd never owned a dress so posh. Matter of fact, I had very few dresses. My wardrobe consisted of jeans, sweatshirts and T-shirts. And of course a few blouses and polyester pants for formal occasions.
        "Blue to match those beautiful blue eyes," he said softly.
        "Thank you, Brandon," I reached out to hug him. He kissed me on the cheek, lingering longer than he usually did.
When he stepped back, his eyes drifted from my bandaged head to the dress. "Well, I should go and let you eat now. I have an errand to run anyway. But, I'll be back in time to wheel you out those front doors and whisk you home, don't you worry." He winked and left.
        Sara took the dress and put it on a hanger in the closet. When she turned around, I detected the worried look on her face.
        "Oh... nothing... nothing. We've got a busy day ahead. I was just thinking about what needed to be done," she replied, as she headed for the bathroom. I knew she was preparing for my bath.

        Back in my room again, she helped me into the blue dress. I felt the least I could do for him was wear it, even though I longed for a pair of pants and a blouse. She pushed me over to the mirror, so I could see myself. The dress fit me rather well, surprisingly and I wondered how he knew my size. The blue in the dress complimented my eyes as well as the stone of the butterfly pin Sara had given me. Something I had forgotten all about, until now.
        "Princess!" Brandon boomed from the doorway, all smiles. "My, how beautiful you look! I knew you'd bring that dress to life! And I have something else for you," he beamed, crossing the room swiftly and handing me two packages.
        "Thank you Brandon, but..."
        "Ah-ah-ah, none of that. Just open them."
        I opened the first one to reveal a pair of low-heeled blue pumps. He quickly took these and handed them off to Sara. The other one, to my surprise, contained a very shiny, silky blue scarf, which matched the dress perfectly.
        "I bought you two of every color they had," he stated proudly. "Now you can accessorize your wardrobe with a scarf to match. Miss Bennington, help her get dressed."
        Sara put the shoes on my feet and then removed the pin from my turban. I held out my hand for it and she gently laid it in my palm, as she looked at my reflection in the mirror. I smiled and then turned my attention to the pin. The two blue eyes of the butterfly sparkled in the sunlight pouring through the window. Real topaz? I wondered. Surely not. Sara couldn't afford something this expensive, could she? I rubbed my finger over the small eyes: very smooth. As I turned it to one side the light refracted off the body, creating a tiny rainbow of colors within. The body wasn't glass as I'd assumed, but some type of crystal. I looked up at Sara, just as Dr. Rosemund entered the room. He motioned for Brandon to come outside.
Sara was still preoccupied with the turban. "I love the butterfly," I said, softly. She looked up at my reflection, her expression unreadable.
        "Butterflies are free," she whispered, finishing with the turban. "Always remember that."
        I handed her the pendant, wondering exactly what she'd meant by that. Was this her way of suggesting I would walk again?
        Brandon walked back in and strolled over to me. "My, you do look wonderful, but… what's this?" he asked, as if he hadn't noticed the butterfly before.
        "Sara gave it to me," I explained, proudly.
        He immediately looked over at Sara and his eyes grew small and cold. "Everything ready, Miss Bennington?" he asked, using that tone of voice he seemingly reserved for her alone.
        "Yes," she responded, placing her hands on the grips of my chair.
        "I will guide my princess in her chariot," he said, matter-of-factly and smiled down at me. "I just can't wait to get you home. Just wait until you see Shady Grove. I know you'll fall in love with it."
        He wheeled me out to the elevator, Sara following close behind with our bags. He was acting as if she didn't even exist; when he did speak to her, it was only to give an order. Wheeling me through the lobby, he talked incessantly like an excited child. Outside, a long black limousine was parked at the entrance. A tall, thin, gray haired man with dark piercing eyes, in black suit and tie, opened the back door.
        "Faith, this is Charles, our chauffeur," Brandon made the introductions.
        "Nice to make your acquaintance, Miss Neilson," Charles said, in a no nonsense voice, bowing slightly. He abruptly straightened up and stared straight ahead, as if he wasn't supposed to make eye contact with me.
        "Nice to meet you, too," I responded, taking in his rather stiff demeanor.
        Before I knew what was happening, Brandon had scooped me up out of the chair. From appearance alone, he didn't look strong, but most certainly was, because he handled me as if I were light as a feather. Of course, I knew I had lost weight, most likely more than ten pounds according to hospital scales, but still I felt he had to be in fairly good shape to lift me so easily.
        Gently placing me in the back seat, his clean-shaven face rubbed against mine -his cologne and aftershave filling my nostrils. He exuded richness from every pore; it was nearly overwhelming, though not especially pleasant.
        He crawled in beside me and shut the door behind him. Sara was forced to go around. When she was finally in the car, I surveyed my surroundings. My, oh my, look at all the gadgets, I thought. A small television, VCR, stereo system complete with CD player and a small bar, which I noticed was rather well stocked, were all built into the wood trimmed console in front of us. Soft classical music issued from the speakers concealed around the large back seat. The distinct aroma of leather upholstery, mixed with Brandon's rich scent, permeated the air once the doors were closed.
        "Home, Charles." Brandon's authoritative tone, reminding me of rich people in movies, except their driver was usually named 'James'.
        I glanced over at Sara to see if she was as impressed by all this as I was, but she was staring out the window, looking rather uncomfortable. I wondered what was wrong, but didn't inquire. I'd save that for later, when we were alone and settled in at Shady Grove.
        Finally, I'll get to see this awesome place I've heard so much about, I thought. Then looked over at Brandon, wondering what his home looked like, if his car was this nice?
A phone rang. Brandon quickly reached over and picked it up, with an annoyed look on his face. "Yes," he answered, brusquely. "Did I not leave explicit instructions that I was not to be disturbed, unless it was an emergency? Then handle it. That's your job." He cradled the phone very slowly, seemingly reining in his anger with deliberation. "It's so hard to find competent help these days,” he grumbled. “I haven't had a decent assistant since Raymond died. Now there was a real businessman.” His tone was rapidly returning to normal. “He ran the business you know, until I graduated college. Excellent man... knew how to handle himself amidst the competition. Taught me everything I know. Groomed me to take over the company, just as I'm doing with Jason."
        He glanced over at me and smiled, but this expression sobered rather quickly. "Oh, I'll teach you about the business. Wouldn't want you worrying your pretty little head about how your interests are faring. That is… if you even care anything about that."
        "I don't know a thing about the business world, but I suppose I could learn," I responded, thinking I find out why father disliked it so.
        "Don't worry, you'll only need to learn enough to keep track of your interests and carry on a conversation at dinner parties. And speaking of parties..." he said, excitedly, his eyes widening with anticipation of what he was about to reveal. "…I can't wait to introduce you to all my friends and associates at the party I'm giving tonight, in your honor."
        "A party... for me?" I was taken aback at the thought of even being at a party, much less one given for me, especially when I looked so horrible.
        "Mr. Neilson. I'm afraid a party might be too tiring," Sara interjected.
        "I've discussed this with your doctor, Princess, and he assures me it would be fine, as long as you don't tire yourself out.” he said, directing his comments to me alone, as if Sara were not even in the car, much less voiced any objection. “We thought it might be just the ticket to add some gaiety to your first night home." He patted my knee. I glanced down at his hand and he promptly removed it, as if he suddenly remembered I couldn't feel this.
        I glanced over at Sara to see what her reaction to this was. She was merely staring out the window, thinly disguised anger apparent in the set of her jaw.
        "Yes, I imagine everyone will be eager to meet you, Princess," he continued, "Some of them knew your mother and father when they lived here. So I imagine they'll be asking questions about them. But, I'll be right by your side to stop any... unpleasantness. I'm sure you'll have a wonderful time. Your mother always did.
        "Now there... there was a lovely hostess," he rambled on, "I've never seen a woman who could handle adverse situations like your mother. She reminded me of a swan. Harsh words, insults... they'd just glide right off her, like water off a swan's back, never penetrating. Yes, a beautiful swan, that was Marion.” He snickered, seemingly at some as yet to be voiced thought. “Or as one of my more flamboyant and eccentric directors once put it, she had such style that if she landed in horse shi… manure, she'd still come up smelling like a rose." He laughed softly, seemingly at the memory replaying in his mind.
        I glanced over at Sara, to see if she was hearing the same thing I was. This time, she was staring at his hands, her expression troubled, a little anger still mixed in; blue eyes cold and narrowed. Did she hear what I heard? I wondered. Could she feel the same vibrations I was receiving? Brandon had been in love with my mother! There was just no other explanation for these constantly flattering references and the look in his eyes when he spoke of her, as if he were talking about a saint. I wondered if my mother and father had been aware of this.
        "You inherited your mother's fine features, Princess. I should hope you inherited her grace and style, as well. Because I'm sure it would prove to be an asset in the future."
        I wanted so badly to ask him if he had been in love with my mother, but held my tongue, because it could possibly backfire on me. Suspecting is one thing, but bringing it out in the open to be judged, is quite another. I wanted to know and yet, I didn't. Not right now, at least. I attempted to put it out of my mind.
        Being in the middle, I alternated views from one side of the car to the other, as we sped through Atlanta via a six-lane expressway. Charles expertly maneuvered the car in and around traffic. I had always envied people who could weave in and out like this, making it look so very easy, when I would have been on pins and needles.
        We spent the next twenty minutes or so in heavy traffic, then the exits began to get further and further apart. More undeveloped land appeared. Pine forests sprang up here and there, sharing their domain with oak, popular, sweet gum and pecans, which had already started putting on their spring wardrobe.
        It was apparent I had missed the first three weeks before the official start of spring, when the first trees were just budding out: Redbuds decked in lavish purple, Bradford pears clothed in stark white. Missed the early spring flowers: yellow daffodils, purple and white crocuses, and an array of varied colored irises and hyacinths which grew in the flower garden my mother had so carefully tended. The gladiolus would probably be just breaking the surface now, in their journey to their full height over the next several months. The white Easter lilies would already be up and getting ready for an April showing. The azaleas would also be preparing for their spectacular display in the same month.
        Could it be April already? I wondered. "What's the date?" I asked aloud, of no one in particular.
        "March 29," they responded, in unison. They both glanced over at each other, then quickly turned away.
        I could tell that these two were going to be a barrel of laughs whenever they were together.

        A few minutes later, we exited Interstate 75. Several minutes after that, Sara squirmed in her seat and lightly touched my arm, which she'd been doing all along the trip, when she wanted me to see something of interest. I followed her line of vision and there in front of us -a little ways off to the left- was a large pair of wrought iron gates, attached to two large white stone pillars, each bearing upon their tops a statue of a sitting lion. Ivy partially covered two massive white concrete walls that extended for several hundred feet in either direction, giving way to a very tall chain link fence. The latter had been taken over by the clinging greenery, though not allowed to run amuck. I could feel Brandon watching me as I formed my first impressions of what would be my new home.
The car slowed and the large gates swung open slowly. I caught a brief glimpse of a man in uniform, inside a small cubicle, as we passed. I began to wonder if I were entering a home or a fortress, as we slowly crept underneath an arch of black wrought iron scrollwork, which spelled out the name:
SHADY GROVE. Once beyond the gates, I knew why it had been so named; for, pecan tress lined the driveway and beyond, as far as the eye could see. It was rather dark, riding between the trees, whose branches spanned out over the blacktop driveway.
As the thin ribbon of asphalt wound its way up a small hill, pecan trees gave way to high, well-manicured hedges on either side. I'd never seen hedges this tall, except in movies. The driveway then snaked around the small hill, the row of hedges leading the eye right up to a massive white mansion, loomed up ahead. It was beautiful; motion picture beautiful. I felt as if I'd been driven onto the set of “Gone With the Wind”. Or at least a restored version of that house, what with the large Corinthian columns lined up along the front entrance like stone sentinels.
        The driveway curved around a small courtyard, where a fountain spewed torrents of water into the air, forming a lovely cascading effect. Beautiful flowers: large irises, late blooming daffodils, pansies, snapdragons and many others, were carefully arranged in complimentary colors, outlining the courtyard and circling around the fountain.
        "Well, what do you think?" Brandon finally asked.
        I took one more look at the huge house, with its separate wings on either side. "I didn't expect it to be so... massive," I replied, totally in awe of the majestic beauty that surrounded me. “But it's… it's beautiful… like something right out of a movie.”
        "I knew you'd like it," he said, proudly. "I have a suite all prepared for you. It's in the east wing, there." He pointed up to the last window of the wing closest to us, as we turned towards the front of the mansion. "The largest suite on the east wing. It was your mother and father's when they lived here."
        Suite? Didn't that mean more than one room?
        Before the car came to a complete stop, a young African American man came bustling out of the massive doors that opened into the house. He quickly covered the distance to the car and was waiting to open the door for Brandon.
        "Get the wheelchair from the trunk, Sammy," Brandon ordered, as he got out. Then he reached in and gently picked me up, lifting me out of the car. "Welcome home, Princess," he beamed, as he held me in his arms and kissed my cheek. "Let's get you inside, shall we? Sammy, bring that chair."
        He carried me up the wide stone steps and across the threshold, like a groom would his bride. I could only wonder if this would be the only time I'd be carried across one; for, my chances of finding Mr. Right, seemed to have been hindered considerably.
        In front of me now, across a vast foyer, loomed a substantial staircase. It reminded me of the one Scarlet so gracefully floated down in Gone With The Wind. Shiny walnut banisters led the eye upwards to the second floor, where they branched off to either side and curved around connecting the opposing wings. The tinkle of glass brought my attention back to the massive chandelier hanging above us.
        "Would you like to see the first floor now or would you rather rest?" Brandon asked.
        "I'd like to see the rest of it," I replied, excitedly, glancing over his shoulder to find Sara standing in the doorway. "I feel like I'm in a dream world and I don't wanna wake up just yet."
        He laughed heartily. "Put the chair over there, Sammy." Slowly he sat me down. "First, I'll show you the library. I assume you'll be spending a lot of time in there. You do like to read, don't you? Oh, Miss Bennington make sure Faith's bed is made ready, I'm sure she'll be tired when we're finished," he added, as he pushed me into a long, dimly lit hallway off to the left of the foyer, where he stopped again at a set of large double doors. He swung both doors wide and I couldn't wait for him to push me inside, so I attempted to do it myself. "Ah-ah-ah, not in my presence," he admonished. "I'll handle that. You are my Princess, remember?"
         He pushed me into the room slowly, allowing me time to look around. Bookshelves lined each wall, except for the right one -containing a large fireplace- and the front wall, where two long double windows, reached nearly from floor to ceiling. Indeed it was a library: a very dark, but reasonably cozy one, with wine colored chairs and sofas strategically placed throughout, each with its own table and lamp. The heavy wine colored draperies and lace curtains gave the room a formal, secluded appearance.
        I could certainly get lost in a book in here, I thought. If I could, that is: the massive staircase presenting a major obstacle in my mind's eye.

        A little while later, when he showed me the kitchen, he walked over to what appeared to be a wide closet door and opened it. To my surprise it wasn't a closet at all, but a stairway. And at the bottom: a lift chair. "I'll teach you how to use that another day," he said, closing the door and walking back over to me.
        One by one, he showed me every room, in each wing, except for one. Each one had the same dark wood paneling, half way up the 10 ft. high walls, just like the front foyer and the halls. When we passed by the one room I hadn't seen, located at the far end of the west wind, he explained that it was his office. He allowed no one inside, except for one particular maid who cleaned it once a week. He said that if I needed him, to buzz him on the intercom system, which linked all the phones in the house and would provide me my own private line. And he reiterated that I should never go into his office; for, he was a stickler for his privacy. I didn't find that so very odd, since Mother never liked for me to bother Father, when he was working. I figured I could handle that. My uncle still wasn't exactly my favorite person to be around yet anyway.
        He pushed me back to the front foyer and up to the staircase. "As I said, I will teach you about the lift chair another day. Because today you are my princess and you deserve to be carried up the stairs." Which is exactly what he did. On the second floor landing another wheelchair awaited me and he eased me into it. "This one is electric. Just press this lever forward..." The chair jerked forward. "Back… left… right. Go ahead try it."
        I pressed the lever forward and off I went down the long dimly lit hallway. At the far end was a large window, partially covered by heavy draperies. Into the light stepped the shapely figure of a woman. At first, I thought I was imagining things; she seemed to have a surreal appearance, caused by the sun filtering through the lace panels. I could make out blonde hair, a dark blouse and pants. Then she turned slightly and the sunlight highlighted the side of her face. It was Sara. I hadn't recognized her without her stark white uniform. As we drew closer, she turned around and smiled, but Brandon did not even acknowledge her presence.
        "Here is your suite, Princess," he announced, proceeding through a doorway off to the right and into the room ahead of me.
        I slowly maneuvered the chair through the doorway, the controls reminding me of a joystick on a computer game. When I looked up, I couldn't believe my eyes. The whole room was decorated in blues and purples, my favorite colors. How did he know? I wondered. The wallpaper was off-white with tiny purple and blue flowers intermingled all over; the curtains dark blue with white lace sheers underneath; the thick carpet, light blue with dark blue mingled throughout, giving it a dappled appearance.
        There were two chairs and a sofa, whose upholstery matched the wallpaper, making one of the chairs -positioned against the left wall near a window- seem to be a part of the wall, itself. The remaining sofa and chair were sitting out in the center of the room in an “L” shape, a light oak end table and lamp between them. In front of the sofa sat a matching oak coffee table, on which lay a collection of classic books, by several different authors. Strategically placed in the corner of the wall containing the door, were a roll top desk and a floor lamp. The right wall was bare, except for a few pictures of horses and landscapes and a small closet door near the far end.
        As Sara walked into the room behind me, I realized something was missing: the bed. "Where's the bed?" I asked, quietly.
She smiled and nodded towards the double doors behind Brandon. He opened them slowly and dramatically. Light flooded in through the doorway. I pressed the lever on the chair arm and moved across the room at a leisurely pace, then continued passed Brandon, who remained in the doorway.
        The room was filled with light from two long windows, one on the left wall and one straight across from me. The curtains and the wallpaper were the same as in the previous room, except this one had wainscoting, painted antique white, running halfway up the 10 ft. high walls. Next to the window located directly in front of me, was a tall white chest of drawers. On the other side of this window, a rather low to the floor, white canopy bed, whose bedspread matched the wallpaper, and whose white sheets had been turned back, beckoned to me from across the room. Next to it, on the left side, was a white nightstand, complete with a new swing arm lamp, positioned perfectly for reading in bed. On the same wall was a large white vanity table, which held a sectional mirror that angled out onto the table from opposing sides, providing the occupant of the chair in front of it, three different views. And further down, a massive armoire loomed over in the left corner like a sentinel standing guard.
        “All the furniture was your mother and father's,” Brandon explained. “Of course I had to have the bed lowered for wheelchair accessibility.”
        I merely nodded, taking in the left wall, by the other window, where two matching chairs sat facing each other, a round white table (about the size of a game table) in between them. The front wall on this side of the double doors was ominously bare, except for an adjustable table like the ones in the hospital and a painting of a white horse standing on a hill, against the backdrop of a cloudy sky.
        On the far right hand wall were two massive white folding doors, which appeared to belong to a huge closet. This was obviously an addition to the existing structure, because the smaller door at this end of the wall, was set back much further than the closet. Does this door lead to an adjoining room? I wondered. As I meandered my way into the room, heading for the closet, and trying to get the hang of steering the wheelchair, my eyes were drawn towards the wall on the other side of the sitting room doors. Here a white dresser with matching hutch mirror, complete with little figurines of children on the knickknack shelves, briefly caught my attention. I admired the little girls and boys in their different poses and colorful outfits on my way by.
        By the time I reached the folding doors, Brandon was already opening them for me. It was indeed a long closet, spanning the entire wall, as I'd suspected. Yet, I assumed it would be empty, ready for me to fill with my own things, or possibly already containing them, since I'd made this request of Brandon. But it wasn't. Not by a long shot. I gawked at the long row of clothes, some hanging from expensive sachet scented hangers. There were dresses of every color: most of the same basic, out of style design as the one I was wearing; an array of skirts and silk blouses; and below them, matching low heel pumps, lined up a long two-tier shoe rack.
        I looked up at Brandon, who was grinning from ear to ear, seemingly very pleased with his self. I turned back around. Although I appreciated the sentiment -buying me these expensive clothes- I didn't like the implications. It was as if he were dictating my wardrobe. And as I surveyed his taste in clothes, I grimaced at the thought of having to cater to his feelings. I wanted my own clothes, but how was I to tell him this without hurting his feelings?
        As my eyes strayed down the long row of dresses and shoes, I noticed something dark and decidedly longer at the back of the closet. I moved down the length of the closet, until I found what I was looking for. There were several pairs of jeans suspended from a pants rack, behind the dresses, along with several polo shirts, a few sweatshirts, several pairs of cotton twill pants and matching blouses. And beneath these were two pairs of Reebok tennis shoes: one white, one black. My face lit up instantly; for, my first impression was that he'd honored my request after all. But, it soon became apparent these clothes and shoes were new. My joyous expression faded somewhat. Yet, I was at least glad he'd provided some things I liked.
        "What do you think, Princess?" he finally asked, as he walked over to me.
        "I appreciate you doing this," I replied, reaching out and touching a pair of the jeans in order to see what brand they were.
        "Where did these come from?" he asked, sounding a bit perplexed. "Miss Bennington," he snarled, spinning around towards her. "Did I not ask you to pick out a few pants and blouses for casual wear?"
        "I did," she responded evenly, crossing her arms.
        "Dungarees, men's golf shirts and... and these handyman's pullovers… this is what you call casual?" he grumbled.
        "Of course," she affirmed serenely, "that's the style these days."
        He sighed heavily. "Skirts and blouses… perhaps even pants are casual wear. But, these are dung-a-rees,” he maintained. “Only poor white trash and niggers wear these."
        "I wear them," I declared. "And I don't consider myself either of the two." He glanced down at me and I stared back, boldly.
        I resented his reference to "niggers". It was a derogatory term I felt should not be used to refer to any ethnic group. In accordance with Mr. Webster's definition of the word, I had met "niggers" in the Caucasian race.
         "You should try a pair of jeans sometime,” I added. “See how comfortable they are."
         His expression changed instantly, as if I'd hit him below the belt. I flashed him a quick smile and turned away, reading the tag on the jeans. Perfect, I thought, the jeans that fit.
        I glanced back at Sara, whose face bore a concerned expression. I smiled warmly. "Thank you, Sara. Now I know why we played twenty questions yesterday," I said, referring to her inquiries about my choice of clothes and brand name preference, as well as her disappearance right after lunch, while I was resting.
        She returned the gesture, as I steered around Brandon and over towards the small door, set back against the wall. "What's in here?" I asked. "Another room?"
        "It's your private bath," Brandon answered, his voice returning to the cheerful tone he'd been using before. "Let me show you."
        He swiftly came around me and opened the door. Directly across from this door was another one, leading into what I assumed was a bedroom like mine. Perhaps even the one Sara would occupy. I carefully maneuvered into the room to find the usual bathroom accouterments, with the addition of grab bars and the like, for the disabled. The tub, however, appeared to be newer compared to the other facilities. Light filtered into the room from a window on the far end, draped in long cottage style curtains.
        "I even had a bathtub like the one you used in the hospital installed, just for you," he said, proudly.
        I smiled, although I noticed the bathtub was not equipped for a shower, which was something I had enjoyed at home. I reasoned it would be a while before I could stand up by myself and take a shower anyway, so it really didn't matter right now.
        I turned away and fiddled with the steering lever, trying to turn around. "Please, Princess, allow me," he said, gallantly, putting his hand over mine.
        "Thanks, but... I need to learn to do this myself."
        "Oh, of course," he conceded, withdrawing his hand. His cheerful demeanor fell away as he walked by me.
        When I finally got turned around, he was standing at the door, running his fingers through his hair, disappointment written all over his face. I had a feeling my homecoming was not turning out exactly the way he'd planned.
        "Is this Sara's room?" I asked, motioning to the other door leading out of the bathroom, as I passed it.
        "No, she'll be staying across the hall," he answered decisively.
        "Oh, I just assumed because it was so close that..."
        "She will be close enough across the hall, I should think," he interrupted. "I've had a nice room prepared for her." He glanced down at me as I passed by him and flashed me a smile that seemed as phony as a three-dollar bill. "That room is in need of repair,” he went on to explain. “It's not easy keeping up twenty rooms, you know. Especially these up here, with the plaster walls."
        "Oh, I can understand that," I acknowledged, remembering the faint aroma of fresh paint when we first entered the bedroom. “This bedroom is larger than the sitting room, isn't it?” I queried, changing the subject somewhat.
        “Yes,” he affirmed, “Yes, it is. There were originally three suites on this end of the wing. I had them renovated for your mother and father when they came home to live,” he explained, seemingly warming to this subject. “We took out one bedroom here to make the bathroom and closet. And of course add more space to this bedroom.”
        That explains the window in the bathroom, I thought.
        “The others rooms were left intact, for the most part, adding only doors to join them together. I tried not to destroy too much of the integrity of the house and still give your mother and father their own private living quarters. The sitting room on the far end was used as a living room, for receiving guests; the other was a study for your father. The room next door was used as a “den” I believe they called it. And this, of course was… their bedroom.” A touch of sadness entered his voice “Your sitting room was designated … a nursery.” He cleared his throat. “Perhaps when you're up on your feet again, I'll have the other rooms redecorated for you.” The change in subject seemed to brighten his spirits somewhat. "Well… I should go now and let you get some sleep. You'll need to be well rested for your coming out party tonight." His tone was almost cheerful again, as if just thinking about this delighted him. "Let's get you into bed and get you some food first, though."
        Coming out party? I wondered, meandering over to the bed. What was he talking about? Wasn't that for young girls who were just starting to date? I hate to be the one to burst your bubble, Uncle, I thought, but I've already come out. And done a few other things you wouldn't care to know and…more than likely disapprove of.
        "This isn't a hospital bed, is it?" I inquired, as he picked me up and laid me down on the double bed.
        "It's adjustable," he replied, as he pointed to the remote control, contained in a holder, mounted on the right bedpost. "The hospital beds looked too small and cramped. And… wouldn't fit the bed frame, I'm afraid. I thought this would be far more comfortable for you. And not be a constant reminder of… your condition."
        "Oh, I appreciate that," I expressed, in total agreement with his choice.
        "I'm sure Miss Bennington can show you how to adjust it to suit you, later, when you need to sit up. For now, get some rest, Princess. Lunch will be served soon, but right afterwards, you get some sleep. I'd hate to find my guest of honor was too tired to attend her own party." He kissed me on the cheek and turned to leave. Glancing in Sara's direction, he paused. "Nurses dress casual these days, as well, do they?" he inquired, looking her up and down.
        I knew he was referring to her black blouse, jeans and tennis shoes. The change in her attire had taken me by surprise, as well. But, it was a nice surprise.
        "I thought Faith would feel more at home, if she wasn't constantly faced with a nurse's uniform. Sorta like the bed," she answered, unemotionally.
        He sighed heavily and started towards the door.
        "Brandon," I called and he quickly turned around. "Thank you for... everything. Especially this room. I know you went to a lot of trouble and great expense to have all this done for me. And… I want you to know I do appreciate it."
        "Your welcome, Princess," he responded, with a winning smile. "If there's anything else I can do for you, just let me know."
        "I hope you're using my inheritance to do all this," I vocalized, thinking of the expense.
        "Don't worry your pretty little head about it, Princess. I'll take care of all that."

        After he left, I requested that Sara help me change into something more comfortable.
        She nodded and walked over to the chest of drawers on the other side of the bed and produced a pair of neatly folded, long sleeve, purple pajamas. "I know it's not a nightshirt, but I didn't think that would be appropriate with... him popping in and you getting in and out of bed. But anyway…” She paused and unfolded the pajamas. “Now madam, these are 50 percent cotton, 50 polyester and..." She held up the top and bottom separately. "…as you can see they are plain. No frilly decorations to scratch you." I knew she was referring to a previous conversation concerning our choice of nighttime apparel.
        "Alright!" I said joyfully. "I don't have to ask who chose those."
        She cleared her throat. "He picked out some frilly nightgowns and robes. They're over there in the armoire."
        "Guess I'll need to wear them so I won't hurt his feelings, hmm?" I wrinkled up my mouth in a grimace.
        She shrugged. "Which would you rather have today?"
        I glanced down at the dress I was wearing: binding underneath my arms; the new bra: making me itch. "I wore his dress. So now I want my pajamas," I avowed.
        She grinned and proceeded over to the bed, where she helped me changed into my soft new pj's.
        "Thanks for the jeans, shirts and the Reeboks," I said, as she pulled the cover up over my legs. "And oh yeah, the other pants and sweatshirts and pajamas and... Well, just thanks for everything."
        "You're welcome." She chuckled softly and turned to leave.
         "And Sara...” I said, causing her to pause and turn around. “I do like you better in jeans. The nurse's uniform would've been a constant reminder. This way... you look more like… just a friend."
        "I want to be your friend," she said, softly, easing down on the side of the bed. "And as your friend and your nurse, I must ask you, please don't overdue it tonight. Let me know when you start to feel the least bit tired, okay? I mean, I know you feel strong and I know your uncle said the doctor thinks it'll be all right, but you haven't fully recovered all your strength, yet. And in a situation like a party, when you're excited and having fun meeting different people, you tend to overlook your body's warning signals. So, please... try and take it easy, hmm?
        "This won't always be the case, I promise,” she continued, as if reading my mind. “I won't always be hanging over your shoulder, so to speak, and nagging you. But, for tonight, I think I should. Bran... your uncle means well, I'm sure, but I don't think he realizes your limitations at the moment. Every time he's ever seen you, you were full of energy, after resting a considerable length of time. So please, let me know if you get tired. I'd much rather have you or him a bit disappointed over leaving a party, rather than retard your progress unknowingly. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
        "Yeah, no dancing on the tables for me tonight," I quipped.
        "Exactly," she said, with a broad smile.
        "I'm glad Brandon chose you for my nurse," I stated, touching her hand.
        "So am I," she affirmed. "Now, get some rest and if you need me, I'll be in your sitting room. I'll leave the door ajar." She got up and started towards the door.
        I watched her walk across the room, her snug fitting jeans hugging the contours of her shapely hips and making a very light swishing noise, as her inner thighs rubbed together. "Sara..."
        "Hmm?" She stopped at the double doors and turned around once again.
        I wanted to ask: Do you really believe I'll walk again? But, instead I stared at the nearly bare wall by the doors, which I immediately grasped would be a perfect place for my stereo system and television. "Umm… Do you think Brandon could have my stereo and television brought here?"
        "I don't see why not."
        "And some of my old clothes? I mean… I like the ones you picked out, they're great, but..."
        "You have the others all broken in, right?" she acknowledged, hugging the right door against her body. "And let me guess, you've got a favorite pair of jeans you're thinking about and… they're frayed here and there, but fit you like a glove, right?"
        "You got a pair of those, too?"
        She chuckled and nodded. "Got a hole right here in the knee. Most comfortable pair of jeans I own." I laughed along with her. "I'll ask about it," she offered.
        "Uh… on second thought, you better not," I vocalized, remembering they were not on such great terms with one another. "Maybe I should do it myself."
        "You're probably right. He doesn't seem to like me very much, does he? Oh well, that doesn't matter. I'm not here for him; I'm here for you. And if you like me... that's all that counts. Now get some rest. And that's an order," she declared, her tone of voice very deep on the latter sentence, as she started pulling the doors closed behind her.
        I couldn't help but laugh, because I knew she'd been mimicking him and the way he gave orders. "I do like you, Sara, a lot," I called after her.
        There was no response, except the slight squeaking of the old hinges as she pulled the doors together.
        After she left, my thoughts turned to my parents. It wasn't that I hadn't thought about them before, I just hadn't let myself dwell on it. Now, however, the tears started to flow. Alone in a comfortable bed, in comfortable clothes -for the first time since the accident- I once again cried myself to sleep. I missed them terribly!

Part 7

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