For the next few weeks Ellie worked three times a day on regaining mobility in her arm. When they put a walking cast on her foot, her focus shifted to walking. As her release neared she pushed herself more and more, determined to walk out of the rehabilitation center without assistance.
Because of the seizures, Ellie wouldn’t be allowed to drive for six months. She’d taken a leave of absence from her job. Thankfully, her insurance covered all of the medical expenses except for her deductibles.
Her mother and father arrived for the big day. Ellie couldn’t tell her mother had ever had Lyme disease. She rushed around the room packing all of Ellie’s things, smiling and talking with everyone she encountered. And silent tears rolled down both of her parents’ cheeks when she walked out the door unassisted.
Ellie still wore a walking cast. Her ankle hadn’t healed completely yet. Another week or two, the doctor told her. She still had slight pain when she put weight on it, but everyone seemed happy with her progress. For the next two weeks, she planned to relax at her childhood home.
First, they needed to stop at her apartment so Ellie could pick up some clothing, books, her camera, and most importantly, her puppy. Reid and Stella didn’t know she was being released today. She’d call them later.
Miss Ruby’s TV blared down the hall. With a lump in her throat, she knocked on her door. She’d missed the little lady. Nothing. She pounded harder to be heard over the noise. Still nothing.
Ellie hobbled to her apartment and grabbed the spare key her neighbor gave her for emergencies. She returned to the door, knocked once more, and pressed her ear to the painted steel. How Miss Ruby loved her game shows! She unlocked the door a few inches and peered inside. “Miss Ruby? It’s Ellie. Are you okay?” She heard a groan and hurried in. “Oh no!”
Miss Ruby lay on her stomach on the kitchen floor in a pool of blood. She had a gash on her forehead. Ellie knelt beside her. “What happened? How long have you been here? Ruby, can you talk to me?” Her skin was cool but not cold. Ellie dialed 911 and spoke to Miss Ruby while they waited for the ambulance.
When the paramedics arrived, Ellie stood off to the side, listening to their conversation as they placed a neck collar on Miss Ruby and prepared to turn her so they could work on her more easily.
As they rolled her onto her back, she regained consciousness with a gasp. “Ellie?”
“I’m right here, Ruby.” She leaned over one of the paramedics and smiled at her. “They’re taking you to the hospital. You’ll be fine in no time.”
Her breathing sounded wrong, raspy and shallow. “I don’t think so.” She struggled to get the words out. “I can’t feel anything from the neck down. I came in here to get some dinner and my legs just gave out on me. I hit my head on the table when I fell. I don’t want to be on a ventilator, okay? I have a DNR in my Living Will.”
Ellie panicked, what could she say? “Don’t give up, Ruby, okay? The doctors put me back together so I’m sure they can help you, too.”
“We need to get her to the hospital.” One of the paramedics wheeled the stretcher over beside Miss Ruby.
“Wait,” Ruby said. “Ellie, go get the carved chest out from under my bed, but don’t open it until later.”
Ellie retrieved the box. “This one?”
“Yes. Okay, I’m ready now.”
“I’ll call and check on you later, Miss Ruby.”
”You take care, girl.” Her eyes fluttered closed. “I love you,” she whispered.
Ellie didn’t know if she’d meant to say those last words but she responded to them. “Love you too.” She blinked tears from her eyes and followed them outside, locking up the apartment behind her before returning to her own. She handed to box to her father and asked him to take it to his truck, planning to go through it when she was in the room she grew up in.
Ellie paused in her living room, her eyes travelling over the barn photos, seeing them with fresh eyes. I’ll always be a farm girl. With a smile on her face, she limped away. She froze as she entered her bedroom. Her bed was a mess! Then she remembered Reid saying that Misty had trashed her room. She heard a whine behind her.
“Did you do this?” Misty blinked, tail wagging. “You should feel bad. My bed is off-limits.” Ellie grabbed the pillows off the bed to straighten the coverlet and found her journal, chewed on two of its corners. “You really were a bad girl, weren’t you?” The puppy jumped up in front of her. “Oh no you don’t. Get down!”
Misty tried to get away from Ellie, running back and forth on the bed. She finally jumped off, racing out the door. “Puppy kindergarten! That’s what you need!” She bent to retrieve the journal. It had fallen open to Reid and Stella’s wedding day. Her scalp prickled. Misty didn’t tuck the journal under a pillow. Reid must have. Did he read it first?
She flopped down on the bed, hugging the book to her chest and waffling back and forth between mortification and anger. Finally she sighed. She wouldn’t know unless she asked him outright. And if he hadn’t read it, her questions might make him curious. She got up, dropped the offending book onto her bedside table, and finished making her bed.
Her hospital resolution to burn the journal sent her to the guest room to grab a satchel and a couple of books to read while she recuperated. She flipped on the closet light and found the bag she wanted on the floor beside the bookcase that held her library of journals. Several of the most recent volumes were missing and that answered her question. Not only had he read the one in her bedroom, but he’d taken the last few years’ worth, too.
“Sweetheart, are you about ready? We need to get home in time for Dad to milk.” Her mom stood in the doorway.
Ellie grabbed a smaller tote bag. “Yep, give me another minute. Did Dad pack Misty’s food?” Her mother nodded. “Okay, if you want to head down to the truck, I’ll meet you there in a couple of minutes.”
She thrust the diary into the tote bag and grabbed a few books. Her mother had evidently taken the suitcase she’d packed in her bedroom, so Ellie grabbed her camera bag and locked up the apartment.
Riding in the back seat of the truck, Ellie wondered what to do about her journals. Should she confront Reid or let it go? She fell asleep trying to decide.
“Ellie? We’re home, honey. Dad’s already unpacked the truck and put your stuff in your room.” Ellie blinked, yawned, and stretched.
“Sorry, Mom. I guess I’m a little tired.”
“Of course you are. It’s been an exciting day. I’ve got some beef stew simmering in the crock pot for dinner. You should probably eat and go straight to bed.”
“The only way this day could get better is if I could take a bath in that old claw-foot tub.” Ellie climbed out of the truck and headed for the front porch. Her mother beat her up the stairs and held the door open for her. The smell of her mother’s special recipe wafted around her. “Oh Mom, it’s been too long!”
Her mother smiled as she ladled beef and vegetables into a soup bowl. She set it in front of Ellie, then slathered butter on a few slices of her freshly-baked wheat bread and handed them to her as well.
“You’re not going to make me eat alone on my first night home, are you?” Ellie teased. From the small amount in her mother’s bowl, Ellie knew she’d also eat when her dad came in from his chores.
After eating two bowls of stew, Ellie carried her bowl to the sink and grabbed a towel to throw over her shoulder. Her mom intercepted the towel. “Oh no you don’t, you need to go to bed. You’re practically asleep now.”
Ellie yawned. “Thanks Mom. I’ll make it up to you, I promise.”
“Don’t worry about it tonight. I’m just so happy to have you home I could—I don’t know—dance maybe?”
“I’d like to see that,” Ellie’s father said as he entered.
“Okay you two, keep the party down. Don’t want to draw the cops.” Ellie kissed each of her parents on their cheeks. “I’m going to call the hospital and check on Miss Ruby, then I’m calling it a night. I love you both so much.”
“We love you too, baby.” Her mother hugged her tightly then let her go.
“Sleep well, Rosie.” Her father kissed the top of her head.
Ellie climbed the stairs to her room, smiling at the nickname her father still used with her. She dialed the hospital’s information number and asked for Ruby Jefferson’s room. After answering several questions, she was told to hold. Ellie’s knee bounced up and down, a nervous habit. Did it usually take so long to find a patient? The paramedics said they were taking her to St. Luke’s.
“I’m sorry, ma’am, but there is no Ruby Jefferson listed in our hospital.”
“They said they were bringing her to you.”
“Maybe they changed to a different hospital because of her injuries or because she preferred it.”
“I think she had a spinal cord injury. She said she couldn’t feel anything below her neck.”
“I see.” The woman paused, then whispered. “Try the University of Kansas Hospital.”
“Okay, thanks,” Ellie whispered back. She looked up that number and started over. This time she was immediately transferred. A man answered. “Yes, I’m looking for Ruby Jefferson.”
“May I ask who’s calling?”
“Ellie, umm, Elanor Thompson.”
“Thank you, Miss Thompson. I am David Marsh, one of the chaplains. I’m sorry to have to inform you that Miss Jefferson passed away earlier this evening.”
“Oh no!” Ellie’s voice cracked. She tried to swallow. “She was such a sweet, lovely person.” The chaplain offered his condolences. “Thank you. She tried to prepare me today, but I kept telling her she’d be fine.”
“She must have cared a great deal about you, Ellie. She listed you as her only contact. She also said you had her will and would know how to proceed.”
Was her will in the box she gave Ellie? “Okay, I’ll call tomorrow to make arrangements, if you don’t mind. I’m a little overwhelmed right now.”
“I understand. Again, please accept our condolences on Miss Ruby’s passing.”
Ellie pushed the end button, then hoped she’d remembered to thank the chaplain again. The square box, a little taller than a shoebox and about four times as wide, sat on the bed beside her. Part of her wanted to see what was in it tonight. But only a small part. Mostly she wanted to crawl in bed and remember Miss Ruby.
She picked up the box and groaned. Was it always this heavy? She didn’t recall having any trouble lifting it earlier today. Adrenaline maybe? She carried it to her desk and set it down, taking a moment to trace the name engraved across the top: Jefferson.
Ellie crawled into bed and said a prayer of thanks for Miss Ruby Jefferson. Maybe she’d left instructions about what kind of service she wanted inside that box. She fell asleep trying to recall the first time they’d met. A few hours later she jolted awake. She’d forgotten to call Reid and Stella!