All eyes were on the bell on the wall and the digital calendar just below. Valerie's heart quickened, causing the gentle flutter of excitement in her chest. She checked her smartwatch, 9:27 am, 115 BPM. Three minutes until opening bell, until her day truly begins. The addictive rush of adrenaline which keeps her laser focused and successful kicks in, she feels her heart beat harder. Another quick glance at her wrist- showed an incoming call from Wesley. Sighing, she hit decline, forgetting about her heart rate as a wave of irritation rippled through her. Why in the hell was he calling at this time? He knew better than to phone at market open. The countdown to the opening bell began, all thoughts of BPMs and fiancés melted away. Today would be a good day, she felt it. The energy sector finished high yesterday and performed even better overnight in the Asian markets. Oil was sitting at a comfortable $65/barrel and all market indices, except gold, appeared positive. Her breath caught as the bell rang across the trading floor and activity exploded all around her. …
Wesley paced in the apartment which was feeling less and less like home. Did it ever really feel like home? He thought of the day they moved in together. Valerie insisted they move into a new place, she didn't want to live in either of their old memories. He agreed, but not for the same reasons, he wanted something new. He wished for that romantic movie feeling of unpacking while laughing and taking photos of them being silly and fun. Memories they could hold and share with their kids, but that's not what happened. He stopped in front of the giant painting of a bear holding a burning house in one paw. No, she was too busy with work to unpack, leaving it all to him. When she saw how upset he was, she surprised him with this painting. The only reason he accepted the gifted apology was that they both instantly fell in love with it and connected over it. He remembered thinking that this would be their funny memory. Instead, it was a foreshadowing of their relationship, a house on fire while life watched on in curiosity. He looked at the clock, 9:26am. She would be angry if he called now, but what did that matter? She was always pissed off at him for something lately. Besides, why should his day be ruined for fear of upsetting her? The doctor's office called and needed a response right away. "It's not like they will hold our appointment, not after the last four were missed." He looked at the cat and realized he was waiting for a response. "That's it, I'm calling." He grabbed his cellphone and told the virtual assistant to call 'my fiancé.' There was a pause, click and the sound of ringing. It rang once, twice, then went to the machine. His first instinct was to throw the phone across the room. Instead, he clenched his teeth and left a carefully worded message, "Hi, honey. I don't know why you didn't pick up; the markets won't open early. The fertility clinic called to confirm our appointment. You know if we don't confirm they will cancel. Call me back at lunch, they need to know by 1." ...
The air rushed across Valerie's face blowing her hair back like a streamer. She loved the freedom of being on her bike; all the cares of the world faded away. The sun was warm on her back as she sped down the hill and rounded the curve to come face to face with a car coming up the wrong side of the road. The front tire of her bike crumpled, and she was suddenly floating through the air. She saw the car slide beneath her, then watched the pavement rush up to meet her.
Valerie jolted awake, screaming in a mix of pain, fear, and rage. The commotion bringing the nurse running to her side, making a gentle shushing sound. He placed his hands on her good shoulder gently easing her back to the bed. "Shh, it's ok. You're in the hospital, you're safe." Valerie's eyes were wild as she tried to focus on his words, "You were in an accident, remember? You were hit by a car while riding your bike. It's me, Andre. The nurse with the funny cat?"
Valerie relaxed as the memory, or what was left of it, came rushing back and began to weep. She closed her eyes, trying to pull herself together, feeling her face flush. She hated being like this, weak, hospitalized. There was too much to do, she didn't have time to be healing. She tried to sit up and pain coursed white-hot through her body, causing an involuntary gasp. The nurse's voice floated through the thundering pulse in her head.
"No, don't try to get up, just rest," a pause, then, "Was it the dream again?"
"You mean nightmare? My whole life is a nightmare now, and I can't escape it. I thought you said they would get better?"
"They will, slowly. Remember, this is going to take adjustment. Not just physically, but mentally, emotionally. Do you want me to-"
"What I want is to not be here! To not have to talk to you, doctors, or anyone. Just leave me alone, please!"
Andre quietly walked over to check her IV and left without another word. He'd been doing this long enough to know her anger was not directed at him. Her life had been upended, that was quite a thing to come to terms with. But come to terms she would. She was strong and stubborn, two factors which ensured she walked away from the accident as well as she did. If you could call a broken shoulder, three broken ribs, and a traumatic brain injury well. The physical wounds would heal, even the brain damage would get somewhat better, but the emotional toll would take some time.
Valerie watched Andre walk out of the room, barely holding her emotions in check. As soon as he rounded the corner, great heaves wracked her body. Her hand reached over to her tender ribs, then came to rest on her belly. Hot tears burned their way down her face as she felt like she would explode. Pressure was building, welling up from deep inside. She wanted to scream, but she didn't want to bring Andre running back. Instead, she closed her eyes and tried to run market metrics in her head. The last time she was on the trading floor oil was trading at fifty, no sixty-four, that wasn't right. But she knew that the NAS Index, no the NASTS- damn it, what was it called? She could feel rage boiling, an unfamiliar feeling, new since the accident. Sure, she had been angry before, like when Wesley actually left her, but rage was new. Apparently, a side-effect of the brain injury, or TBI as she learned it was called. The anger made her head throb more. She wanted to check the news, the markets, but the glare of a screen was too much. Which is why her room was perpetually darkened.
A sudden cramp in her abdomen made her jump as concern temporarily took over her mind, making her think a little more clearly. She began to breathe deeply as Dr. Perrett suggested. She thought it was stupid, but the doctor insisted, saying it would help with the stress and relax the muscles in her abdomen. The muscles surrounding the baby she didn't know about until the accident. She still wasn't if it was a gift or a curse. She and Wesley had been trying for one, but she secretly didn't want it to happen. She was too busy with work and couldn't afford the time off. One of the reasons she kept putting off the fertility clinic, ultimately leading Wesley to leave her. She didn't think he had to guts to do it, but when she didn't call him back, making them miss the fifth appointment, he made good on the threat he left in the second message she received that day.
It's incredible the irony you face in life. She lost her fiancé for not wanting to get pregnant, then lost her career to some idiot driver, only to be hit with the ultimate twist of fate, learning she is pregnant. She shifted her weight, every part of her screamed. She began deep breathing again after getting settled, stupid as it may be, it worked and helped calm her anger. She closed her eyes, the doctor's words haunting the darkness. "Your neuropsychological exam and scans came back. I'm sorry, it appears as though the damage to your brain may be permanent. You will always have memory issues and delayed thinking. This is due in part to the post-concussion syndrome. Essentially, you have a severe concussion which will never fully go away. You will always have headaches, sensitivity to light, sound..." the doctor's voice had faded as she tried to grasp what was being said, she had drifted back to hear the words, "...make it impossible to return to your old job..." The words echoed again and again as her head dropped to the side and she fell asleep.
Wesley stood with his back to the wall in front of the elevators, watching as each one hit the ground floor only to bounce back up to another floor several times. The doors of the middle elevator opened, and he took a hesitant step forward, then turned and began to pace once more. He paused, taking a sip of the coffee he didn't want, it was another stall tactic. His heart lurched at the thought of what he was about to do. He knew why he was procrastinating, it was a big decision, but his mind was set. This last month or so was an emotional train wreck. He left his fiancé, not an easy decision, only to find out days later that she had been hit by a car. What in the hell are you supposed to do with that?
He turned back to face the elevators. He knew what to do, he had only to do it. He walked over and punched the up arrow. The doors opened, and he entered, hitting the floor number with familiar ease. He took a deep breath and exhaled as the doors opened. He stepped out in front of the empty nurse's station and turned, walking down the hall. He put on a smile and forced himself to appear more confident than he felt. Coming to her door, he gave a gentle tap and waited for her response before entering.
"Hey, how are you feeling today?"
"Hi, Wes. I'm still here if that's any consolation."
"Come on, you have to be more positive than that. It's going to be a great day." He pulled the chair a little closer to the bed, beside the machines beeping out her vitals, "How are your robots treating you?"
"They're the reason I'm still here." Valerie managed a smile.
"Seriously though, how are you doing?"
Valerie put her hand on her belly, "I'm ok, I guess," she shook her head, "No, I'm not. I'm pissed off and hurt. I can't even remember any stock symbols."
"I know it's frustrating, but you can't stress yourself out over it. You know what the doctors said."
"I'm not rolling over and quitting!"
"I'm not saying you should, I'm only saying that your job right now is to get better." Valerie's face scowled, and she bit her lip, a sign she was getting irritated. He needed to change the subject, "But career changes can wait, when do the doctors say you can get out of here?"
The thought of going home brought mixed emotions. She had grown accustomed to the constant support. The idea of being home, alone, terrified her. Yet another change from the accident. She was never afraid to be alone before. She always bounced back when sick or injured, but this time was different. Her apartment may as well be a foreign land. She had friends who were willing to help, but she would still feel like a stranger.
"I'm not sure, but they said maybe three or four days." Her hand began to subconsciously rub her belly and tears began to well in her eyes before she blinked them furiously away. She wanted to tell him how she felt, about the baby, how terrified she was, but she couldn't. She felt lost, trapped in a nightmarish hellscape.
Wesley leaned forward, gently grabbing her hand. "It's alright, it's normal to be upset, but you have a lot of people here to support you, including me," he inched closer. "Which brings me to what I wanted to talk to you about. Why don't I move back in, for a little while? I can stay on the couch. That way someone is there to help you."
Valerie's eyes lit up as he spoke, the feelings of loneliness slipping away a little. "You want to get back together?"
"No. I mean, I don't know, maybe. We can see how it goes, maybe we can find our way back. I mean, it was your job that interfered, maybe it will be different now."
The pressure in Valerie's head lessened as an unexpected wave of relief washed over her. She didn't have to face this alone. "You have no idea how good it is to hear you say that. Yes, that sounds like a great idea, especially with the news I have for you."
Wesley's heart sank, what now? What else has she lost? He held her hand after she learned of the severity of her injuries, after she learned how severe the brain damage was, after she learned she would never trade again, and after learning she faced chronic pain for the rest of her life. What other shoe could possibly drop? He held his breath, readying words of support. Her hand give his a gentle squeeze before she began to speak.
"I'm not sure how to say this, one of the reasons I haven't told you. I didn't know how to react or how you would react, but, I'm pregnant."
The ground was going to slide out from beneath him. That was the last thing he expected to hear. His mind began racing, he could feel missing pieces of the puzzle click into place. He had wondered why there were keeping her in the hospital for so long. It didn't make sense with her injuries, but it did make sense if they were ensuring the health of a child. He leaned his head against her hand, tears running freely. Just when he thought he had it all sorted, life had another twist, but he would figure it out. They would figure it out.