Beth ran to the window. The car was pulling into the driveway.
“Mom!” called Beth. “Dad and Mark are here. I can’t wait to see Mark!”
Mom stood by Beth. “Remember, Beth. Your brother’s accident was very serious. He may seem different to you at first.”
The door opened. Dad pushed Mark in his wheelchair into the room. Beth’s smile faded. She hardly recognized Mark. His face was gaunt and pale, and a pink rash extended down to his neck. His shaven head was covered by a white bandage, and there was a black patch over one eye.
Beth choked back her tears. She forced herself to smile. “Welcome home, Mark,” she said.
Mark smiled slightly. He mumbled something, but Beth wasn’t sure of what he had said. Mom had warned her that Mark’s speech was difficult to understand now. Beth kept a smile plastered on her face, but she didn’t say anything else. She didn’t know what to say.
During the next few weeks, Beth saw little of Mom and Dad. When they weren’t tending to Mark at home, they were driving him back and forth to the hospital or clinic. There was physical therapy to help his muscles grow stronger, speech therapy to teach him to talk again, and occupational therapy to teach him to dress and feed himself. Mark also spent part of each day in a special education classroom.
One Thursday evening at dinner, Mark was especially clumsy. Beth watched as he lost his grip on his spoon, spilling soup all over his shirt. She looked away as he threw his spoon down and muttered angrily.
Mom calmly cleaned up the mess. She helped Mark into his wheelchair and wheeled him into his room.
Beth cleaned up the dishes. “I got an A on my English paper, Dad,” she said. “Miss James read it to the class today. She said it was the best story in the class.”
“I’m glad, honey,” said Dad. “I know you worked hard on it.”
“Do you want to read my story now?” asked Beth.
“Maybe later,” said Dad. “I think I’ll spend some time with Mark, now. Mom’s tired. She needs a break.”
“It’s always later!” Beth blurted out. “All you and Mom care about is Mark!”
“You know that isn’t true. We care about you very much. I’m sorry we haven’t been spending much time with you since Mark’s accident, but right now your brother needs us more.”
Beth didn’t say anything.
“It would be nice if you would spend a little more time with Mark, too,” Dad added quietly. “You’ve hardly even spoken to him this week.”
“I don’t know what to say to him. It scares me when he gets so mad. He just doesn’t seem like the same Mark.”
“He isn’t the same Mark right now,” Dad said. “And he may never be the same, but he’s still your brother.”
Just then the telephone rang.
“I’ll get it,” said Beth.
It was Beth’s best friend, Cindy. “Guess what! We’re going to the lake tomorrow night and Saturday, and Mom says I can invite you and Sally to go with us!”
“I’d love to go!” Beth squealed. “I’ll call you back after I talk to Mom and Dad.”
Mom was in the kitchen, getting a glass of water. She looked tired and had deep circles under her eyes. “Yes, you can go,” she replied to Beth’s request. “It’ll be nice for you to get away.”
Cindy and her parents picked up Beth Friday afternoon. Beth was surprised when they pulled up in front of a large building. CONVALESCENT AND REHABILITATION CENTER the sign said.
“We’re going to stop and see Granny before we pick up Sally,” Cindy said. “We visit Granny every Saturday morning, but since we won’t get back until tomorrow night, we wanted to see her before we left.”
Beth followed Cindy into a large room at the center. The room looked cozy with its soft chairs and big couches, but somehow it still had the feeling of a hospital.
“You can wait here,” Cindy told her. “We won’t be long.”
Beth looked around the room. There were some men playing checkers in the back, and a gray-haired woman sat methodically knitting an afghan.
But what caught Beth’s attention was a teenage girl sitting in a wheelchair. She was a pretty girl with long blond curly hair.
She stared straight out a window. She didn’t say anything, but tears rolled down her cheeks.
An attendant gently wiped the girl’s tears. “I guess your mom called again to say she couldn’t come.” The girl just nodded. “I’m sure she’ll visit soon,” the attendant tried to console her.
Cindy and her parents came into the room as the girl was wheeled out. “That girl is always waiting, but nobody ever comes to see her,” Cindy commented to Beth. “She always looks so sad.”
“It almost seems as if she’s given up,” Beth mumbled.
“I’d give up, too,” Cindy replied, “if nobody cared about me.”
Beth was quiet as they got into the car. She turned to her friend. “Cindy, would you be mad if I ask your dad to take me home? I’m really sorry, but I think I need to spend this weekend with my brother.”
“I’ll miss you, but it’s OK. Maybe you can come the next time we go to the lake.”
At home, Mom and Dad were talking in the kitchen.
Beth smiled at their look of surprise. “Everything’s OK. I just decided I’d rather stay home.” She paused. “And I thought maybe you two would like to go out tonight while I stay with Mark. If it’s all right with you, we’ll order a pizza and rent a movie.”
Mom smiled. “Thanks, honey. It would be nice to get out. And I know that Mark will enjoy some time with you.”
“Mom and I read your story,” said Dad. “It was great. I can see why it was chosen as the best in the class.”
“I especially liked the ending,” said Mom. “You have quite a knack for surprise endings.”
Beth smiled. “Thanks—I guess I am best at surprise endings.”