Breathing heavily, partly from the exertion of getting to the car, partly through nerves, she breathed in her first fresh air in over ten weeks. As she settled herself in the back seat for the long drive ahead, she heard the driver stow her luggage in the trunk. Having arrived with only her handbag, she was leaving with two large suitcases. Their purple zebra print design had made her smile – Maddy had shopped for them for her and they had Maddy’s unique style written all over them. They definitely weren’t her own usual safe choice of plain black. With a resounding thud, the lid of the trunk was slammed shut.
“Are you comfortable, Miss Hyde?” asked the driver politely as he came round to close her door.
“Yes, thank you,” she replied quietly.
As he pulled out into the mid-morning Manhattan traffic the driver headed down Fifth Avenue. Gazing out of the tinted window, she drank in the familiar sights of the city. When the car turned right onto 55th Street she breathed a sigh of relief. The pain medication she had taken before they had set off was finally beginning to have an effect. Carefully she adjusted her position on the back seat. The movement triggered a fiery bolt of pain in her left thigh. As it subsided, she let out a long sigh.
Up front the driver was focussed on the traffic. He wasn’t one of the regular drivers from the firm and she guessed he had to be fairly new to the job. Several times, as they negotiated the city traffic, she tried to engage him in conversation – every time she failed. It was going to be a long ride to the house. Reaching into her oversized hobo bag she rummaged around until she found her iPod. With the ear buds snuggled into her ears, she selected her favourite classic rock playlist and settled back in the seat. The combination of the motion of the car, the music and the painkillers began to make her feel drowsy, her eyelids grew heavy and she drifted off to sleep.
When she awoke, it took her a few minutes to figure out how far down the highway they were. Eventually she recognised the Wilmington skyline and guessed correctly that they had crossed into Delaware and were approaching Route 1. More than half way home.
It had been almost a year since she had last visited her home at the beach. When the doctor had met with her to discuss her discharge date and convalescence, it had made sense to return to the beach house instead of her Manhattan apartment. She had weighed up the pros and cons. True,her Upper West Side apartment was ideally situated for everything she could ever want in New York but it was spread out over two levels; the beach house was all on one level. The ocean air would be better for her than the polluted air of the city. She could hide at the beach. Very few people there knew her as anything other than “Jim Hyde’s daughter”. In the end it had been an easy decision.
She changed from her playlist to one of her favourite albums, smiling as she noted the album cover on the tiny screen. It was one of her own designs but one that she still wished the band in question had allowed her to tweak a little more. When she had designed the subsequent stage back drop, they had allowed her to amend the design. Every time she saw the album cover, she knew it was missing a bit. With the powerful hard rock music blasting through her earphones, she watched out of the window for familiar landmarks- Dover Air Force base, Dover Downs race track.
“Excuse me, Miss Hyde,” called the driver. “I need to make a comfort stop. Do you mind if we stop for a moment or two?”
“Not at all,” she replied, pausing her music. “There’s a Walmart a little further down. You could stop there and use their restroom.”
“Thanks,” he replied, keeping his eyes on the road. “I’ve never been down this way before.”
“Its sign posted. You can’t miss it.”
A few minutes later, he turned the car off the highway and parked near to the front door of the huge superstore.
“Do you need a comfort stop?” he asked somewhat embarrassed.
“No. I’m fine,” she replied, with a smile. “But you could pick me up a bottle of juice. Apple juice would be good.”
“Of course, Miss Hyde. I’ll be right back.”
Alone in the car she watched the people coming and going from the store, relaxing in the normality of it all. In her bag her phone chirped like a cricket to alert her of a text message. It was from David, her financial advisor and confidante; her Jiminy Cricket.
“How far away from the house are you? Housekeeper waiting for you. Hope all is well. David.”
“Just stopped at Milford. Not far to go now. I’m fine. Stop worrying. L x” she replied.
As she slipped the phone back into her bag, she notice she still had the plastic hospital wristband on. Using her nails, she picked at the seal on it and eventually managed to remove it. She stuffed it into the depths of her bag, glad to be free of the last reminder of her lengthy hospital stay. She looked down at her skinny wrists and skinny legs. Over the past ten weeks she had lost weight – at least fifteen or twenty pounds she guessed from the loose fit of her clothes. Subconsciously she ran her hand down her left thigh – still feeling areas of numbness and areas of extreme tenderness.
Before she could slide into a completely dark maudlin mood, the driver returned with a bottle of apple juice in his hand. He opened the back door of the car and handed it to her.
“Be careful. I took the liberty of slackening off the lid.”
“Thanks, “she replied as she unscrewed the bottle top. “Next stop home?”
“Yes, miss,” he said warmly.
The sight of the Rehoboth water tower and the sign posts for Slaughter Beach made her smile as they drove towards town. Nearly there. As they left the Coastal Highway to drive into town, she opened the window and breathed in the salty air. Immediately she felt a great weight lift off her shoulders. Coming here had been the right decision.
When they got into Rehoboth itself, she had to direct the driver through town and out towards Silver Lake then along E Lake Drive to the house. As the driver turned the car into her driveway, she smiled. The house looked exactly as she had left it. Another car was parked under the tree and she assumed it belonged to the housekeeper David had hired to take care of her.
“Home sweet home, Miss Hyde,” declared the driver as he switched off the engine.
“Yes I guess it is,” she said wistfully.
The front door opened and a small dark haired motherly looking woman stepped out onto the porch. As the driver came round to open the rear door of the car she came down the steps to greet them.
“You made it safely then,” she said with a warm smile. “Welcome home, Miss Hyde.”
“Thanks. And it’s Lori.”
“Do you need a hand?” asked the older woman taking a step forward.
With a shake of her head, Lori said, “No, I can manage.”
Her words came out sharper than she had intended causing her to blush slightly.
Reaching across the back seat of the car, she lifted out the standard hospital issue elbow crutches. Gritting her teeth, Lori slid herself to the edge of the seat and lifted her injured leg round until she had both feet securely placed on the gravel driveway. She was sore and stiff after sitting in the car for almost four hours but, mustering all of her determination, she hauled herself to her feet, with some help from the car door, positioned her crutches then took her first slow faltering steps towards the house.
“Could you possibly fetch my bag from the back seat, please?” she asked.
“Of course,” answered the housekeeper.
It took Lori all of her time and most of her strength to negotiate the three front steps but, as soon as she stepped into the hallway, she felt herself relax a little. A strong aroma of coffee was filtering through from the kitchen. Feeling steadier on her feet indoors, she slowly made her way through the open plan lounge and dining area and headed for the sun room. As she passed through the study space, she cast a glance at her desk and empty drawing board. A fresh sheet of paper was clipped to the board in readiness.
The sun room looked exactly as she had left it the previous summer, even her magazines and a hair brush still lay discarded on the footstool. Everything around her felt like home; everything smelled like home. Carefully she turned the latch on the patio doors and slid open one door, the runner giving its usual squeal of protest. Taking extra care with her crutches on the damp decking, Lori stepped out onto the large sun deck. Closing her eyes she listened to the waves crashing in on the beach that lay beyond the low white picket fence. She could hear the seabirds crying in the distance. The breeze blowing in off the ocean blew her long blonde hair across her pale face. Turning away from the wind, Lori shook the hair out of her face and smiled. She was home.