Monday, 6:00 a.m.
The alarm clock beeped, and Wesley woke up. His first thought was that he hadn't been able to stay awake until midnight, and didn't know yet if he would be able to walk when he got out of bed. His next thought was to turn off his annoying alarm clock.
He sat up, and that was easy enough. He could see the bars around his bed, however, and recognized his old home. Even as Wesley's spirits sank as he realized which life he'd returned to, he tried to fool himself. He wouldn't know he was paralyzed unless he actually tried to move his legs.
Wesley realized the truth of his condition a few moments after that, when he tried to stand off his bed and couldn't. With a sigh of defeat, Wesley reached for his bars and climbed into his wheelchair, the same way he always did.
A cloud of depression hung over Wesley's head as he wheeled into the bathroom and undressed before climbing into the shower. The movements were automatic, a result of years of life in a wheelchair, but he could still remember the ease with which he'd walked into his bathroom the day before.
Despite the blind man's old warning that Wesley would be unable to adapt to life in a wheelchair, he was able to follow his morning routine with the practiced ease of one who had spent his entire life in a wheelchair. His week of freedom was unnoticeable, but for the weariness and sadness that permeated his every movement.
During breakfast, Wesley mournfully stared at the wall opposite his seat and tried to imagine that Caelan was there with him, eating the same cereal and making jokes about the people he'd met and the things he'd done the day before.
With a start, Wesley realized that he'd never made up with Caelan after their fight. It was too late to apologize; Caelan wasn't only unaware of their argument, he probably didn't even know who Wesley was. Somehow, despite the fact that Wesley had saved himself the trouble of apologizing and making up some lie to account for his behavior, he wished he'd ended his friendship on a better note.
After breakfast, Wesley wheeled himself outside. Ava sat in the driveway, where she'd always sat. He approached the car, and for perhaps the first time in his life, didn't feel a surge of pride for all the work he'd done to fix her up. Ava was just a car.
He laid his right hand on her door, and felt her smooth paint. "Hey, sweetheart," he said, but his heart wasn't in it.
Sighing and shaking his head at the change that seemed to have come over him, Wesley followed his usual routine necessary to climb into his car. When he turned the key in his ignition, he saw what time it was, and started. He'd forgotten how long it took to get ready when he was in a wheelchair.
Wesley shook his head once more, this time at his forgetfulness, and began to drive. Perhaps it would take some time to readjust himself to his old life.
Monday, 12:47 p.m.
The taste of chicken parmesan still on his breath, Wesley wheeled himself to the wall where several empty payphones stood in wait of whomever would like to use them. Usually, during the hour between his lunch break and his next class, Wesley liked to find a nice shady spot outside and read, but after all the changes he'd undergone of late, he was eager to call his mother and listen to a familiar voice that didn't belong to one of his students.
Wesley fished in his book bag for his wallet, and pulled all of his spare change out. After paying for a twenty-minute phone call and figuring he could add more change after that if needed, he dialed the number he knew by heart.
The phone rang only twice before his mother answered. "Hello, Berglund residence," she said.
"Hi, Mom," Wesley replied. "It's Wesley." He winced at the second sentence. Who else would call her "Mom?"
"Oh, Wesley, it's so good to hear from you," his mother gushed before saying, "Wait, shouldn't you be at work now? Is something wrong?"
"No, nothing's wrong," Wesley assured her. "I just haven't talked to you in a while, and thought I'd call you to catch up a bit.
There was a short pause before his mother said, "Oh, well that's nice, honey. It's so good to hear from you. Did you have the day off work, then, today?"
"No, but my next class doesn't start until two," Wesley replied. He paused, and waited for another comment from his mother, but none was forthcoming. A moment later, he asked, "So, is anything new with you?"
"Oh, well, I'm still volunteering at the hospital, and that's going quite well, thank you," his mother replied. Wesley smiled at her attempts to be polite even over the phone. She continued, "I'm really quite proud of myself, because I just finished knitting a blanket; it took me five years. Anyway, Olivia's oldest daughter just had a baby, so I might give it to them."
"Olivia?" Wesley repeated. "I don't think I know her."
"Oh, she's just a friend of mine from the hospital; you wouldn't know her," his mom assured him. "But listen to me, rambling on about these people you don't know! My life is so boring, I want to hear about what you've been up to."
Wesley smiled again at the typical behavior for his mom. "I meant what I said, Mom," he said. "I want to know what's going on in your life."
"Oh, it's just the same old same old," she sighed. "Nothing new to report here. What about you, though? Anything new?"
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you," Wesley replied, thinking of the way he'd spent the last week. He then remembered how desperately he'd tried to cling to the other life, despite the fact that his mother was dead, and felt a twinge of guilt. How could he try to trade his mother's life for another, even if it was his sister's?
Barely understanding why he followed his bad instinct, Wesley found himself asking, "Hey, Mom, I have a question. It's no big deal, really, but I'm just sort of curious."
"Well, go right ahead, honey," his mom replied. "You can ask me anything you want."
Wesley doubted she would appreciate the question he had to ask. He plunged ahead anyway, doubting that he asked in the most polite way he could, or that the subject was entirely appropriate to be discussed on the phone rather than in a face-to-face setting. "Did you ever want any other children after you had me?" he asked.
"It's a personal question, I know," Wesley blurted. "It's just that some things have come up lately that made me wonder. . . if you'd have been able to have more children, would you have?"
"What could possibly have come up that would make you wonder such a thing?" his mother demanded, sounding more astonished than angry.
"I'm sorry, forget about it," Wesley replied. "It was a totally inappropriate question; I don't know what came over me."
"It's not inappropriate," his mother replied. "You're welcome to be curious about your own family, and yes, I did want other children." Wesley bit his lip and thought of his sister who had never been born because of him.
Then, to his amazement, his mother continued, "But, we did have another child: a little girl. She was born when you were three; you probably don't imagine much about her. Your father and I didn't like to talk about her very much, but you have a right to know about her."
Wesley barely avoided breathing a curse word in astonishment. Instead, he coughed to cover the explicative he almost said to his mom, then asked, "What happened to her?"
"She was still born." Although Wesley's sister had to be dead for at least thirty years, his mother's voice adopted the cold tone people use when discussing tragedies and trying not to break down. "The doctors told us we shouldn't try to have any more children, but your father and I wanted more babies so much, we tried, and we thought she'd be all right, but she didn't make it. She didn't even get to even see the world before she died."
Wesley could hear his mother's voice threatening to crack, and he didn't want to torment her with more questions, but he had to know the full story of his sister's too short life and sudden death before he could drop the conversation. "Were you not supposed to have children because of that same sickness that caused me to be born in a wheelchair?" he asked.
"Yes," his mother answered, and the coldness and returned to her voice. "The doctors said I couldn't get pregnant, but when I did, I thought that they'd be wrong about Sophie being born deformed, too. After she was born, though, I really couldn't get pregnant again."
"Sophie," Wesley breathed. "That was her name, then?"
"Yes," his mother replied, "Sophie Angie Berglund. "We meant to tell you eventually, when you were old enough, and maybe show you the burial plot, but the time never seemed right. How right is this, though, telling you about your baby sister on the phone?"
His mother's voice warbled, and Wesley feared that he'd upset her too much with his questions about Sophie. "Mom, don't get upset, I'm glad you told me," he assured her. "Mom, are you OK?"
"Oh, I'm fine honey, don't you worry about me," his mother replied, and once more, Wesley felt a wave of self-loathing about how quick he'd been to desire a life where his mother was dead.
"Listen, Mom, I'm sorry that I haven't called you very often lately," Wesley declared in a sudden fit of contrition.
"Oh, honey, I know you're busy," his mother replied. The safer and more ordinary topic of conversation seemed to comfort the older woman, who sounded like she'd recovered from her earlier bout of grief. "I do like hearing from you, though. Thank you so much for calling me."
"Mom, you don't need to thank me, I like talking to you," Wesley responded automatically. "Listen, it's been a long time since I talked to you last. How about I come visit you this weekend? You don't have any plans, do you?"
"Sweetheart, that sounds just lovely," his mother replied.
"Great," Wesley responded. "Listen, I'm on a payphone, and don't have much time left to talk. How about I call you later this week from home and we'll work out the details for me to come see you, all right?"
"Oh, I'll probably be home in the evenings," his mother replied. "I only volunteer at the hospital in the mornings, you know."
"Great," Wesley answered. "I'll talk to you later, then. I love you, Mom."
"I love you too, sweetie."
"Bye," Wesley called.
"Buh, bye," his mother replied.
Wesley hung up, and maneuvered his way away from the wall. Even after spending his entire life in a wheelchair, Wesley still had difficulties steering it in tight spaces. Even though he hadn't actually been in a booth, Wesley had troubles turning his chair around in the hallway without bumping against the walls.
He'd come to accept his difficulties as part of life, but after that one week of independence, his day-to-day trials seemed all the more irritating. He grunted, then managed to turn his wheelchair in the right direction and left, planning the various things he could do for his mother when he saw her.
Monday, 4:33 p.m.
On his way to his car, Wesley found himself behind a very tall redheaded woman. She looked very familiar, but Wesley didn't want to say anything for fear that he might be wrong. Although he knew any errors would be instantly forgiven because he was in a wheelchair, Wesley didn't want to embarrass himself.
Suddenly, a small breeze picked up, blowing all the papers the woman held out of her arms and down to the ground. A few landed before Wesley's chair, and when the woman turned around to pick the papers up, Wesley saw her face and knew that his first impression had been correct.
On an impulse, Wesley leaned as far forward as he could to pick up the papers. He'd grown too accustomed to his ordinary life, however, and forgotten how the chair had inhibited his reach. Although Wesley stretched for the papers, he couldn't touch them.
Sitting up straight again, Wesley blushed and decided that his efforts to prevent embarrassment had been for nothing. The woman knelt before his wheelchair to pick up the last of her papers.
"I'm sorry," Wesley said. "I'd pick the papers up if I could, but. . ."
"Oh, you're fine," the woman replied, quick to excuse anything for the sake of the man in the wheelchair. Wesley almost took offense, then reminded himself that everyone treated him that way.
The woman turned away again, and eager to start a conversation, Wesley called after her, "That's an awful lot of papers, Cheryl. If you're not careful, you're going to get a reputation as a tough professor." He was careful to keep his voice light so that she wouldn't think he was being too critical.
As Wesley had hoped she would, Cheryl laughed, then turned around to chat. "Well, I guess my students will just have to think I'm mean, then," she replied. "How have you been, Doctor Berglund?"
"Oh, fine," Wesley replied. "And please, call me Wesley. I'm only Doctor Berglund to my students."
Cheryl smiled at the request, then replied, "All right, Wesley."
"I'm sort of surprised you knew my name," Wesley continued. "Most first-year professors take a while to get to know everyone on the staff. Those of us who have worked here forever have it easy, because we only have a few new names to learn every year, but new professors have to meet everyone." His words were a lie, of course. He would never have remembered Cheryl's name if not for their date the week before in the other world.
"Well, you're pretty memorable," Cheryl declared. A moment later, she gasped and amended, "That is, I mean. . ."
"It's all right," Wesley said, adding another lie to his earlier one. "I know I stand out because of my chair."
The declaration seemed to surprise Cheryl, who instantly replied, "Oh, no. I mean, yes, it sets you apart, but I was going to say you stand out because you're so good-looking, but I didn't want to say it because it might seem inappropriate."
"Oh," Wesley replied. "Well, I don't mind."
Cheryl shifted her weight but didn't say anything. Wesley didn't add anything, either, and just as the silence began to get awkward, Cheryl said, "Well, I have a lot of papers to grade. Maybe we'll see each other later, all right?"
"Yeah, later," Wesley replied. He watched as Cheryl turned and walked away.
Monday, 8:55 p.m.
Wesley could hardly describe what he did as a "walk," since he couldn't walk, but his action was the nearest to such a thing he could get. He rolled through the park, observing the deep green of the leaves on the trees and simply thinking about all that had happened of late.
He had yet to make any sense of the week that had passed before when he stopped short at an unexpected sight. The self-same blind beggar who had somehow changed his life a week before sat by the sidewalk, his cup for coins sitting before him.
Wesley approached the blind man, then paused as he tried to think of what he should say. The beggar saved Wesley the trouble of starting a conversation by musing, "It's been just over a week, right?"
"Yeah, that's right," Wesley replied in suspicion and surprise. "How did you know it was me?"
"Very few people come through this park making the sound of wheels rather than that of feet hitting the ground," the blind man replied. "Then, you approached me and stopped without saying anything or giving me money, and I knew you were one of the people whose lives I'd changed."
"That's impressive," Wesley observed, wondering why the blind man hadn't demonstrated his abilities before. "If you can do that, why can't you get a real job?"
The blind man actually laughed, then replied, "Well, unfortunately, they don't hire a whole lot of people to identify others based on the way they sound when they approach. I'm still disabled, even if I can impress you every now and then."
Wesley sniffed, then replied, "Yeah, so am I, and I'm still not giving you any money."
"Really?" the blind man asked, clearly feigning surprise. "Do you mean to tell me you didn't learn anything from your little incursion into your other life?"
"Oh, I learned a lot of things," Wesley replied. "I learned that I would have been an entirely different person if I hadn't been born disabled. I learned to really appreciate the gifts I've been given, and I learned that my little sister would still be alive today if not for the accident that killed her and put me in this wheelchair. Then, you went ahead and killed her by bringing me back here."
The beggar listened seriously and allowed Wesley to recollect himself after he'd finished talking. Then, the beggar said, "I'm very sorry about your sister, sir, but I didn't kill her."
"No, you didn't," Wesley replied, trying to remain rational and fearing that he might fail in his attempts. "No, she was still-born, but it was all because my mom was sick when I was a baby, and you allowed her to get sick. You could change everything back to the way it was, if you wanted!"
"Yes, I could," the blind man replied. "I could give you your legs for a few days, a week tops, but afterward, you would have to return to this life. I have a gift- I can change individual people's worlds, but only for a little while at a time."
Wesley bit his lip as he processed the new information. Then, he said, "Fine. Give me back the other life, and next week, we can meet again, and you can do your magic or whatever again."
"I'm afraid not," the blind man said, pulling his cup toward him and rising to his feet. "You don't really want to live like that, trust me. You've had a nice delusion for a while, and if I were you, I'd appreciate the chance you had to be normal again just for a little while. Now, it's time to return to the life that belongs to you."
The blind man began to use away, using a cane Wesley hadn't noticed before to blaze his path before him. As it became clear the beggar had nothing more to add, Wesley called, "Why did you give me my independence just to take it back from me again? If you wanted to show me how tough it is to adapt to life as a cripple again, it didn't succeed. I don't like being back in this chair, but I really don't have any new sympathies for you."
"Oh, that was just a show, haven't you figured that out yet?" the blind man replied without turning around. "This was never about me, or about trying to teach you any sort of lesson. I just wanted to give you a gift for a week. Although you can't use it any more, you now know that there are plenty of doors open to you that weren't open before. Cheryl isn't only interested in men who know how to dance, you know."
"So, what, you're some sort of good fairy or something?" Wesley demanded.
"Something like that," the beggar replied. He paused in his departure, and turned around once more to approach Wesley. "While we're talking here, you wouldn't happen to have any spare change, would you?"
"Not for you," Wesley replied. "If I can live the rest of my life in a wheelchair after tasting the freedom of walking, you can handle your own without donations from me."
Strangely enough, the blind man smiled at this response. "Good choice," he said. "And good luck with life." To follow up his cryptic comments, the beggar turned around and walked away, leaving Wesley behind.