Steve stepped back from the canvas, eyebrows furrowed as he examined his most recent markings.
Bright strokes of chalk were layered over delicate lines of paint. An odd combination for an odd man, but the contrast in textures had always struck him in ways that other mediums hadn’t.
He glanced up at the clock before switching pieces of chalk. He still had thirty minutes until Hannah left work. Another twenty after that until she should arrive home.
He wanted to be done with his current piece before she got back. He was painting it for her as a surprise. It was part of a collection he’d begun when he proposed to her. And he’d given her one every year since, a painting for every year of marriage, each depicting a significant moment in their relationship.
She claimed they were the best presents she ever received outside of their children. He hoped that was true.
He always spent more time on these paintings than any of his other works. They are more than presents to him. His love for Hannah wasn’t something he could express with words. But with art… with the time and care he put into his work… they were truly a part of him. The most beautiful part of him. And Hannah deserved the most beautiful parts of him.
He found himself humming as he put the finishing touches on his painting, enjoying the quiet of his home while Hannah and Chris were away.
He always felt guilty for enjoying their absence, but he couldn’t help that he felt at peace in the silence. Chris would be home soon, anyway, back from a quick weekend trip with a couple of his friends. There was no need to feel guilty about having fun by himself while his full-grown adult son was away from the house.
His humming grew louder, reverberating throughout the garage as he became further engrossed in his gift. A tear fell from his eye as he finished it, prompting a surprised chuckle. He often shed a tear or two over his work, yet it caught him by surprise every time.
He was so focused that he didn’t hear his phone at first, letting it vibrate atop his workbench. Then it rang again, dragging him out of his creative bubble. He almost didn’t answer it when he saw it was an unknown number, but if they called twice…
“Hello?” He said into his phone, putting it on speakerphone so he could focus on his painting.
“Mr. Garrafino?”
Steve hesitated, his breath caught with fear. “This is he,” he said.
“Mr. Garrafino, your wife was in a car accident and she is currently on her way to St. Joseph’s Hospital.”
Steve’s heart raced, his ears ringing with alarm, filled with pressure as he fought against the weight of his anxiety.
“Mr. Garrafino?” Said the lady on the other end of the phone. “Can you meet us at St. Joseph’s Hospital?”
“Yes,” was all he could manage to say, having to blink back the spots in his vision.
In a daze, he ran inside and grabbed a set of keys from the kitchen table. With tunnel vision, he ran out his front door, not bothering to lock it as he ran to his car.
Three times he tried the handle of his car before realizing he grabbed Hannah’s keys instead of his. Keeping her keys just in case, he ran back inside and grabbed his own.
He might have run some stop signs. If he did, he didn’t notice. Though he definitely ran some red lights, ignoring the blaring car horns.
Once inside the hospital, he slowing to a complete stop, immobilized by fear. He didn’t know how badly she was hurt, but it had to have been serious. She was taken by an ambulance. And if she was okay, they would have said she was okay. The fact that the lady didn’t say Hannah was okay, was confirmation enough that she wasn’t.
“Sir, can I help you?” Asked the desk attendant.
Steve nodded, stumbling over his name. Her name. But he eventually received directions to her room.
He was already in tears as he entered her room, his imagination painting fearful images of the pain she might be in.
Then he saw her, smiling at him with a spoon full of pudding in her hands. “Hello, dear,” she said cheerfully.
Steve collapsed in on himself, falling to his knees with relief. “Thank God,” was all he could think to say as he grabbed her hands, kissing them repeatedly.
“I’m okay,” Hannah said, “but the car is pretty beat up, and I’m not sure it’s still under warranty.”
Steve wiped his tears on his sleeve, not willing to let go of her hands. “What happened?”
“I honestly don’t know,” she said, shrugging, and then immediately wincing in pain. “I apparently ran into a car. My head was throbbing, but they gave me some pain medicine for it. My neck still hurts if I move it though.”
“You don’t remember the crash?” He asked, moving closer to examine her head. He couldn’t see it before, but underneath her dark hair was a swollen wound that had already been cleaned.
“I remember flashes,” she said, closing her eyes. “But nothing coherent. The doctor had some guesses as to what happened, but she’s waiting for the tests results to come back before saying anything for sure.”
Steve smiled down at her, amazed at her resiliency. He wasn’t sure how she could smile after such a traumatic event. He supposed the drugs helped.
“I’m so sorry, honey,” he whispered, bending down to give her a gentle kiss. “I’m so glad you’re okay.”
She smiled back before shoveling down a spoonful of chocolate pudding. “Of course I’m okay,” she said with her mouth full. “I’m the strongest woman you know.”
Steve couldn’t help but chuckle at that. “The strongest,” he agreed, nodding emphatically. It wasn’t until that moment that he finally thought about their children. “Chris and Beth!” He said suddenly, straightening up. “We need to let them know.”
Hannah grabbed his arm, instilling a sense of peace. “The hospital already called them. They left a message for Beth, and Chris is on his way here.”
Steve let out a sigh of relief as the door suddenly opened, revealing a young doctor. “Good evening,” she said, adjusting her glasses as she nodded in Steve’s direction. “Mr. Garrafino, I presume?”
Steve nodded. “Thank you for taking care of my wife.”
“No thanks necessary,” she said, smiling at Hannah. “Now, the test results from our brain scans have come back, and they confirm what I suspected.”
Hannah placed the empty pudding cup on the table next to her bed, looking much more serious than before.
Steve watched her face, suddenly anxious. “What kind of results were they?”
The doctor let out a small sigh as she looked down at her notes. “You suffered a severe seizure,” she said, making eye-contact with Hannah.
“From hitting her head?” Steve asked, feeling completely out of his depth. He knew nothing about seizures.
“Unfortunately not,” the doctor replied. “The seizure is what caused the crash in the first place. Based off of our scan, it looks like you have severe Epilepsy.”
Hannah looked just as lost as Steve felt. “What does that mean?” She asked, her voice shaking.
The doctor moved to Hannah’s side opposite of Steve and placed a hand on her shoulder. “It means you’re at risk for more seizures. Potentially ones just as severe as the one today, but your condition is treatable.”
Steve held his breath, attempting to process the doctor’s news. “What does that mean? Treatable?”
“Like with medicine?” Hannah asked. “Will that make the seizures go away?”
The doctor smiled understandingly, lifting her hand from Hannah’s shoulder. “In eighty percent of patients, yes. The medicine should keep the seizures at bay.”
With that, Steve finally allowed himself to breathe, relief plain on both his and Hannah’s face.
“But there is still a chance the medicine won’t take,” the doctor cautioned, “and seizures can still be triggered by high-stress situations.”
Steve and Hannah looked at each other, each processing what the news meant.
“So what does that mean, exactly?” Hannah asked. “That I have to stay calm at all times?”
The doctor smiled again. “Not exactly. It means that until we see sustained evidence that the medicine is working, you’re not allowed to drive or operate a vehicle. Nor should you attend work.”
Hannah grimaced.
“Thank you, doctor,” Steve said, attuned to his wife’s frustration. “We appreciate your help.”
“You’re very welcome. I’ll be back with your prescription and to answer any other questions you have,” she said before leaving them alone in the room.
“I don’t want to leave work,” Hannah said as soon as the doctor left. “I’ll go crazy with nothing to do. And we don’t have enough saved for us both to be out of work.”
“We’ll be fine,” Steve said, stroking her hair in the soothing way she liked. “I’ll find something.”
“You shouldn’t have to,” she said, on the verge of tears for the first time.
“Hey,” he said, kneeling down to her level. “Look at me.” She looked over, her lips still turned down in frustration.
“I’m going to take care of you,” he said. “You’re going to be okay. We’re going to be okay.”
With her eyes still locked on his, she let out a small smile. “Yeah?”
“Yeah,” Steve said, smiling back. “Because I’m the strongest guy you know.”
Hannah’s smile widened. “The strongest.”