After a spinal cord injury left Stephanie disabled, she fell into a depression and isolated herself by refusing to leave her bed. Her loving husband, Mike, cares for her, but lately, Stephanie has realized she and Mike aren’t alone in their house.
A rumble from the house’s first floor alerted Stephanie that someone was moving downstairs again. It was too early for her husband, Mike, to be home from work. Besides, Stephanie hadn’t heard the car, the garage door, or any other sounds that heralded his return from work.
“Who’s there?” Stephanie shouted. She stared at the bedroom door and listened hard, but the house was silent now.
Doubt crept into Stephanie’s thoughts. She couldn’t leave the bed due to a spinal injury from a few years ago. If there were an intruder in the house, she’d be unable to fend them off.
Footsteps sounded on the stairs. Stephanie’s gaze was glued to the door as the handle slowly turned. Would the neighbors hear her if she screamed? Would the intruder leave her alone once they saw she was no threat to them?
The door swung open. Stephanie summoned her courage to face whoever was about to enter her bedroom.
“Hi, honey. I’ve got lasagna for dinner.” Mike smiled at Stephanie as he approached the bed.
“When did you get home?” Instead of feeling relief at seeing Mike’s face, Stephanie was angry. “What on earth were you rumbling around downstairs?”
“Rumbling? I don’t know what you’re talking about. Were you hearing things again, Steph?”
Stephanie glared at Mike. “Stop making it sound like I’m going mad.”
Mike shook his head and offered Stephanie a bite of lasagna. “The doctors have always said it isn’t good for your mental state to lie in bed all day. If you’d just use your wheelchair…”
Stephanie silenced Mike with a fierce look. “You’ve also been spending more time downstairs than with me. You’re up to something, Mike, I know it.”
Mike leaned over to kiss Stephanie’s forehead. “I swear, I’m not hiding anything from you, Steph. I love you, and I just want to make your life better.”
Despite Mike’s reassurances, Stephanie couldn’t shake the feeling that something was going on. Suspicions lurked in her mind all evening, even while Mike helped her get set up with more voice-controlled technology.
“Now you can watch whatever you want on TV, listen to music, and even start writing novels again,” Mike said once everything ran smoothly.
“How dare you hide your mistress in this house! And don’t even try to deny it because I saw her with my own eyes.”
Stephanie smiled at him. “It will be nice to write again. I just wish I could finish my paintings.”
The next day, while Stephanie was dictating a short story to her writing app, a loud voice from downstairs announced the start of a midday news program. Just as suddenly, the house was silent again.
“I know you’re there,” Stephanie shouted. “Show your face!”
As usual, Stephanie’s call went unanswered.
“I’m telling you, Mike, something strange is going on. If you’re not responsible, then you need to investigate.”
Mike set Stephanie’s empty dinner plate on the bedside table and sighed. “Why don’t I fetch your chair? We’ll go for a walk—”
“No!” Stephanie turned her head away from him.
“I told you I don’t like that chair, but you never listen to me.”
“I do listen, Steph. I just…I’m worried, okay? You hear things, and you refuse to go out. This isn’t healthy.”
A tear ran down Stephanie’s cheek, soaking into her pillow. “You don’t know what it’s like. One day, your life is normal, and the next, you’re stuck in a body that ignores you, unable to do anything important for yourself.”
“You’re right, I don’t know what it’s like,” Mike whispered. His gentle fingers wiped the tears from Stephanie’s cheek. “But I gave you my heart, Steph, and promised myself to you, no matter what. Please, trust that I’m only trying to do my best to ensure you’re happy and can live a fulfilling life.”
The following morning, Stephanie asked Mike to move the TV for her. His eyebrows arched in surprise when she said she wanted it suspended from the ceiling.
“It will be more comfortable for me to watch that way,” Stephanie insisted.
While Mike worked on attaching the TV to a stable section of the ceiling, Stephanie directed him to correct the angle and position until it was just right.
“Are you sure about this?” Mike scratched the back of his head as he studied the skew position of the screen.
“Yes. It won’t get any glare from the afternoon sun there,” Stephanie replied.
Mike looked doubtfully at her, but Stephanie stared him down. In truth, she doubted she’d be able to watch any of her usual TV shows with the TV where it was, but that wasn’t why she wanted it there.
Although she never turned the TV on, Stephanie’s eyes were glued to the screen all day. Finally, her patience was rewarded. The dark screen perfectly captured a reflection of the front door. In it, Maggie glimpsed a lithe young woman exiting her house.
Now it all made sense. Mike had cheated on Stephanie in college, and it seemed he’d returned to his old ways. Tears ran down Stephanie’s face. He was cheating on her under her own roof!
The moment Mike entered the bedroom that evening, Stephanie confronted him.
“How dare you hide your mistress in this house! And don’t even try to deny it because I saw her with my own eyes.”
“You’re wrong.” Mike shook his head. “I’m not having an affair.”
“Stop lying! If you respect me at all, if you feel anything for me, you’ll confess. Or is it your plan to drive me crazy by denying the sounds of your hussy moving about downstairs? Do you enjoy torturing me?”
Stephanie fixed Mike with an intense glare. “I told you when I got hurt that I’d understand if you left me, so stop playing games and come clean.”
Mike shook his head and left the room. Stephanie sobbed. Mike returned with a piece of paper, and Stephanie was sure this was the end. Mike showed her the form, and Stephanie’s outrage turned to confusion. Instead of divorce papers, he showed her DNA test results.
“She’s my daughter, Kate,” Mike said. “I’m sure you remember Karen, the woman we almost split up over during college. It turns out she was pregnant when she suddenly left school. I didn’t know she was pregnant until my daughter tracked me down and told me Karen died.”
“He’s telling the truth.” The young woman Stephanie glimpsed earlier stood in the doorway.
“Mom only told me who my father was when she was dying because she knew I’d be homeless and alone in this world. She never wanted me to know him before because she thought he was scum.”
“I was so afraid when I came home and you weren’t there.”
Kate looked at Mike and smiled. “But Mom was wrong. For months, I’ve watched him look after you and seen how much he loves you. I’ve never heard of anyone who’s as devoted as Mike is to you.”
“You should’ve told me sooner,” Stephanie said.
“I was afraid.” Mike hung his head. “I didn’t want to lose you, but I couldn’t let my daughter down when she needed me.”
“Stephanie?” Kate entered the bedroom carrying a tray. “I brought you lunch. It’s a lovely day today, but I think it’ll rain later.”
Stephanie watched in disbelief as the girl sat in Mike’s chair and sliced off a piece of pancake.
“It’s such a relief that I don’t have to hide anymore.” Kate flashed her a smile as she speared the piece of pancake on a fork.
“Put down that fork and go away,” Stephanie snapped.
“Just because I accept your presence in my home doesn’t mean we’re going to be friends, and there’s no way I’ll let you feed me.”
“But…” Kate looked at her like she’d just been slapped.
“No ‘buts’, now get out of my room.” Stephanie turned her head aside and watched from the corner of her eye as Kate slipped out and shut the door.
Mike was upset when Stephanie told him she didn’t want Kate to help her. They argued, but Stephanie would not be swayed. So, Mike tricked her. After he fed her breakfast the following day, he triumphantly declared that Kate had cooked the eggs he gave Stephanie.
“And, as you can see, they weren’t poisoned,” Mike added sarcastically. “Now, I’ll be home late this evening since I’m working the night shift. Please, let Kate help you.”
Stephanie was angry but didn’t realize something was wrong until an hour later. She was watching TV and started to feel drowsy. Stephanie never took naps, but now she struggled to keep her eyes open. A heaviness filled her head, but one thought stood out in Stephanie’s mind.
“Kate!” Stephanie shouted. “You nasty little liar, you drugged me.”
Footsteps echoed on the stairs. Kate slipped into the bedroom just as Stephanie’s eyes fell shut.
“Don’t worry,” Kate said. “This is for the best; you’ll see.”
It was dark when Stephanie woke. Stars glittered in the sky, and waves rolled gently into shore. There was music too. Stephanie glanced to her right and spotted a musician playing guitar for passersby. It had been years, but she instantly recognized the entrance to the pier. She was outside in her wheelchair.
“Just breathe and relax.” Kate leaned over Stephanie’s shoulder. She held a cup of iced coffee with a straw in her hand.
“I’m very sorry for tricking you, but it’s for your own good.”
Angry words boiled on the tip of Stephanie’s tongue, but she couldn’t bring herself to disrupt the musician or break the peace of her surroundings. She would admonish the girl later, but for now, the guitarist was playing her favorite song.
A salty breeze blew off the ocean, and Stephanie shut her eyes to enjoy it. How long had it been since she last felt the wind in her face? How long since she last heard the ocean? Stephanie didn’t even realize how much she missed these simple pleasures until now.
Kate smiled at Stephanie. When the musician finished playing, Kate dropped a five-dollar bill in his hat. As she returned to Stephanie, her phone rang.
“It’s okay, Dad, we’re safe,” Kate spoke into her phone. “I left a note on the fridge, but I guess you didn’t see it. Stephanie and I are at the pier. Will you join us?”
Not long afterward, Mike appeared through the crowd. He rushed toward Kate and Stephanie, sinking to his knees beside Stephanie’s wheelchair.
“Are you okay?” He looked up at his wife with tears in his eyes. “I was so afraid when I came home and you weren’t there.”
“I’m great, especially now you’re here, Mike,” Stephanie replied. “Remember how we used to come here every Saturday to watch the sun set?”
Mike smiled. “Of course I do. You have no idea how happy it makes me to see you here again.”
Stephanie, Mike, and Kate spent the remainder of the night wandering along the promenade. They spoke and laughed and watched the stars wheel away across the sky. When they returned home, Mike settled Stephanie in her bed and left for work.
“Breakfast?” Kate peeped in through the door.
“I promise there won’t be any sleeping pills in it this time.”
“So that’s what you gave me.” Stephanie yawned. “I’d love some pancakes.”
“Coming right up.” Kate smiled.
Kate and Stephanie ate breakfast together and chatted like they’d known each other forever. Afterward, Kate announced she had a gift for Stephanie.
“Just, don’t get mad at me, please,” Kate said when she returned with a large, covered square. She set it up near the end of the bed. When she removed the covering, Stephanie gasped in surprise.
“Who taught you to paint like that?” Stephanie couldn’t take her eyes off the portrait of herself Kate had painted. “Your technique is superb.”
“Thanks.” Kate smiled shyly. “Mom taught me the basics, actually.”
“Could you paint our night at the pier?” Stephanie asked. “I’d love to have a memento of the time we spent together.”
“Of course. I can start right now.”
Kate set up her equipment, and Stephanie watched her paint all morning. From that day on, the two women became good friends. Kate regularly painted scenes at Stephanie’s request, and the three went out together at least once a week.
What can we learn from this story?
Don’t give up on life. Stephanie gave up on trying to live her life to the fullest after her accident, but Kate helped her realize there was still much to live for and enjoy.
Keep your heart open to others. If you shut yourself away from society, you’ll miss the joys of beautiful moments shared with loved ones.
Share this story with your friends. It might brighten their day and inspire them.