Read an Excerpt
LearningBailey Flanigan series
By Karen Kingsbury
ZondervanCopyright © 2011 Karen Kingsbury
All right reserved.
Chapter OneCody Coleman anchored himself near the hospital room window and wondered for the hundredth time what he was doing here. Why he was holding vigil for a young woman in a coma while Bailey Flanigan was leaving Indiana — maybe for good? He stared at the rainy parking lot twelve stories down and a realization hit him. It had been just twenty-four hours since Bailey stopped by the hospital to tell him goodbye. A full day of wondering and remembering and missing Bailey more than he could put into words. But none of that changed the reality of his situation: He was sitting bedside with Cheyenne Williams, pleading with God to save her life.
The machines around her whirred and beeped and reminded him that Cheyenne was alive. But everything else was tenuous ... her condition, her prognosis. Her future.
Cody moved to the chair beside her bed and looked around the room. A sofa sleeper clung to one wall, the place where Cody had stayed most nights since the accident. Someone had to be here if Cheyenne woke up. When she woke up.
Cody's eyes fell on his guitar. He brought it hoping music might help bring Cheyenne around. He wasn't very good at it, and he could play only a couple songs. But they were songs that spoke of God's faithfulness, His mercy, and grace. If Cheyenne could hear ... if any part of her was still connected to the world around them, then these songs would help. Cody believed that. Besides, he had told her that he was playing the guitar a little. They'd texted about it the day before her accident. Cody still had the conversation on his phone. He pulled it out of his pocket and thumbed through his text messages until he found the conversation with her.
So you'll play for me ... one of these days?
At the time, he laughed at the text, and his response hadn't promised anything: I better practice first.
Don't practice ... just play ... all music is beautiful, Cody.
It was Cheyenne's last line ... all music is beautiful ... that convinced him to bring his guitar to the hospital. Other than a few times when he'd gone home to change clothes and shower, or when he was teaching or coaching, he was here. Last night — after Bailey's goodbye — he'd even slept here.
Because if he went home with the box of things Bailey had given him, if he looked through the box and remembered every good and wonderful thing about being with her, he might never come back. Why be here when Cheyenne woke up if he didn't have feelings for her, if he wasn't going to be here through her recovery and maybe afterwards?
Instead he stayed and kept reminding himself of what Tara had told him. Tara, who once long ago dreamed about having Cheyenne as a daughter-in-law. He could still see the earnest look in her eyes when she pulled him aside that evening after dinner. Maybe God saved you from Iraq for Cheyenne ...
Cody stared at the beautiful girl in the bed, at her peaceful expression and the way her body lay so perfectly still. Maybe Tara was right. It was all he could think about, and so he hadn't gone home last night. He'd stayed right here beside Cheyenne, sleeping when he needed to and praying, of course. Always praying.
Cody stood and stretched. Tara would be here soon. She had called and told him she'd be by for a few hours after church. This ordeal had to be so hard on her. She'd lost her son to the war in Iraq, and now the young woman who would've married him was fighting for her life.
The room was quiet other than the sound of the machines. Cody walked to his guitar and picked it up. If she wanted to hear him play, he would play. And never mind that he wasn't all that good.
He sat back down at her bedside and found the right chords. The song was an old one, something he'd heard in chapel every now and then while he was serving overseas. The music filled the room, and Cody was surprised. It didn't sound half bad. "Great is thy faithfulness ... Oh, God my Father ... there is no shadow of turning with thee ..."
The doctor had explained that Cheyenne might not remember him. She could have amnesia or any number of traumatic brain injury symptoms. Her list of damaged body parts was long and frightening. The impact of the truck hitting her broadside as it ran the red light had slammed her head against the inside doorframe. The swelling in her skull had stopped, but there was no way to tell just how damaged her brain might be.
In addition, she'd suffered a lacerated liver and internal bleeding. Emergency surgery her first day in the hospital had stabilized her, but there was no telling exactly how extensive the damage to her organs was. In addition, she had a broken lower right leg, broken ankle, and fractured wrist. She would likely need surgery to repair the broken leg, and possibly surgery on her back, as well.
Despite all this, Cody kept singing. There was something stripped down and raw about the hymn and its painfully honest message. No matter what a person might go through, God was faithful. He was merciful and loving ... and His abundance was new again every morning. Like he'd once heard Bailey's father, Jim Flanigan, say. "We can have as much of God as we want."
Cody needed a lot of Him right now. He closed his eyes and kept singing. "All I have needed, thy hand hath provided ... great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me."
He finished that last line and was just about to head into the chorus when Cheyenne moved. Not a lot or with any sound, but her fingers flexed, and then her arm shifted a few inches on the blanket. Cody breathed sharply and set his guitar down at his side.
"Cheyenne ... It's Cody. Can you hear me?"
Again she moved, and this time she winced.
Cody sat up straighter, his heart thudding hard inside him. If she could feel pain ... if she could respond like that, then she had to be better off than they thought, right? "Cheyenne ... it's Cody. I'm here."
She breathed in deeper than before, deeper than she'd breathed since the accident. And that meant she was responding to his voice. She had to be. Slowly, like someone coming out of a winterlong sleep, Cheyenne tried to blink, tried three times before her eyes opened just the slightest crack.
Cody looked over his shoulder at the door to her hospital room. Should he call for the nurse ... tell someone what was happening? He looked back at Cheyenne and decided to wait. Better to put his full attention on her right now and not worry about what the doctors would say, what tests they might want to run now that she was showing signs of consciousness. At least for the first few minutes.
More blinking, more movement — and again she made an expression that showed how much pain she was in. "Cheyenne ... I'm here." He stood and leaned over the bed, touching her healthy hand with the lightest sensation. "It's Cody ... can you hear me?"
Cheyenne turned her head so slowly it was hard to tell she was moving at all. But she did move, and this time she blinked a little faster than before and her eyes remained open. As they did, they found his and they held. She was looking right at him — staring at him. Cody hadn't known her for very long, but he knew her well enough to be absolutely sure about this: Cheyenne remembered him. Her eyes searched his, and she seemed to have a thousand things to say.
"Can you talk?" He didn't want to push her, but he was desperate to know exactly how much of her might come back ... her mind, her intelligence, her kindness ... her love for God and people.
She moved her mouth a few times and then closed her eyes, clearly exhausted.
"Don't work too hard. It's okay. You don't have to say anything. As long as you can understand me."
Again, she opened her eyes and looked straight at him, and — in a way that was unmistakable — she nodded. Yes ... she could hear him. She could understand. She blinked again and the slightest sound came from her throat.
"Are you trying to talk?"
She nodded again.
"It's okay ... you can talk later ... you're very tired, Chey ... don't overdo it." Once more he wondered if he should call for the nurse. But she looked a little less uncomfortable than before, so he let her have this moment. He moved his hand gently over her dark hair. "Does it hurt ... are you in pain?" His voice was soft, his tone quiet so she wouldn't feel startled in any way.
A sigh came from her and she nodded again. But then the corners of her mouth lifted just a little and a hint of the familiar sparkle danced in her eyes. Almost as if to say, Of course it hurts. But none of that mattered as long as she was alive.
Still again she opened her mouth, and this time in a scratchy whisper she began to speak. "Cody ..."
She knew his name! A fierce sense of protection and caring came over him. This precious girl had been through so much, so many seasons of heartache. How could she face the days ahead without someone who looked out for her, who understood and appreciated her? He ran his thumb over her brow. "I'm here for you ... I'll stay no matter what."
Peace filled in the pained lines on her forehead and she nodded, more slowly this time. Her eyes looked deep into his soul, to the places that might've doubted the wisdom of being here. "Please ... stay."
"I will." Cody felt the commitment to the outer edges of his heart. He put his hand alongside her face, speaking close to her, directly to her lonely soul. "You have my word, Chey ... I'm not going anywhere."
She was still looking at him when her eyes gradually closed again. With a soft exhale, she seemed to fall back asleep. This time Cody acted quickly, pushing the call button and summoning the nurse. Over the next hour, the doctors did tests, assessing her in every possible way. They woke her up and managed to hold a conversation with her while Cody watched from the other side of the room.
"You were in an accident, Cheyenne ... do you know that?" The doctor was a tall thin woman with compassionate eyes. "Do you remember the accident?"
Cheyenne looked across the room at Cody, and then back at the doctor. "I ... remember the truck."
Again Cody's heart rejoiced. If Cheyenne could remember the truck, then she could remember just about anything, right? Which meant maybe her brain had survived without any damage at all! He stood, watching the scene play out, realizing how much of Cheyenne's future rode on the assessment.
When it was over, when she was asleep once more, Tara arrived. She seemed to take in the commotion in Cheyenne's room as she rushed in, breathless, right up to Cody's side. "My baby girl ... did she wake up?"
"Yes." Cody led her outside Cheyenne's room where they could talk. He smiled bigger than he had in a long time. "She remembered me."
"Cody." Tara raised one eyebrow at him. "What are you ... a crazy man?" She gave a single chuckle. "Of course she remembered you. Do you own a mirror, Cody Coleman?"
He laughed quietly. "No, but that's not all. She remembered the accident, the truck ... she seems exactly the same."
Tara grew very still and she closed her eyes. This was what they'd worried about, that Cheyenne would wake up somehow damaged, different. Less than she'd been before the accident. But by all signs, Cheyenne's personality — at least that much — was intact and Tara looked beyond relieved.
Tara brought her hands to her face. "Thank You, Jesus ... You brought her back to us." When she opened her eyes she hugged Cody's neck. "God's going to work out the details, Cody ... see? It's just like I told you."
The doctor called them out into the hall then, and explained her initial thoughts on Cheyenne's condition. Chey was cognitively whole — a tremendous relief and a resounding miracle. The doctor smiled, and her eyes seemed to give a glimpse to her own personal faith. "I've seen God work in hospital rooms, and this was a tremendous example." The woman's smile dropped off some. "However, the physical tests didn't go as well. She couldn't respond to simple commands — touching her finger to her nose, lifting her good leg ... that sort of thing."
"What does that mean?" Tara's eyes were wide again and her hands began to shake.
"This was another possibility." The doctor hesitated. "Her brain damage may be in the area of her brain responsible for motor skills."
"So ... she might never walk again?" Cody wasn't afraid of the possibility. After his own injuries in Iraq, he didn't view physical trauma as anything more than another mountain to conquer. But still, he wanted to know.
"I believe she can learn to walk in time." The doctor looked over her notes. "But I don't think she'll walk out of this hospital room."
Tara asked how Cheyenne was doing right now. "Can we see her again?"
"I gave her something for pain. She'll sleep for the next several hours." The doctor smiled again, empathetic to their concerns. "You're always welcome to stay."
A sense of exhaustion came over Cody and he leaned against the wall. He hadn't slept well last night, so if this was a time when Cheyenne would sleep for a few hours, he figured maybe it was time to go home. He could shower and grab a change of clothes. And he could take the box Bailey had given him home to his apartment. He shared his plan with Tara and she agreed. "I'll stay here ... in case she needs anything."
Cody thanked her, and after taking one more look in at Cheyenne, he found the box from Bailey behind the hospital chair and set off. The hospital was outside Indianapolis, ten minutes from his apartment near the city campus of Indiana University. His roommate wasn't home when he walked inside, and Cody was grateful. He needed an hour or so alone. Just him and God and whatever Bailey had given him in the box.
He took it to his room, shut the door behind him, and opened the blinds. It was the last day of April, and a thunderstorm was headed their way. He could see out the window the dark clouds gathering in the distance. The way they were gathering in his heart.
For a long time he held the box in his hands and looked at it ... just looked at it and remembered his conversation with her the day before.
She was leaving ... he understood that much. Bailey had gotten a role in the Broadway musical Hairspray, and tonight she would already be in New York City. Ready to start rehearsals.
He ran his hand along the box lid and tried to imagine her cleaning her room, going through a lifetime of memories and keepsakes, treasures from her childhood and high school days. Along the way she'd come across whatever was in this box, and she'd set the items aside. As she cleaned, she must've known she would take the box to him the day before she left.
But what she hadn't known about was his involvement with Cheyenne.
She had no right to be mad at him, of course. Not about Cheyenne. Not when she was seeing Brandon Paul. Cody could still picture the way Brandon and Bailey looked together at her house that day, moving boxes across her front porch. He had come to her house that afternoon to find common ground with her. But after seeing Brandon, Cody had turned around and driven away. He hadn't seen Bailey again until yesterday. So she couldn't be upset that there was someone new in his life.
But maybe she did have a right to be upset about the fact that he hadn't called her once since January.
That's what she told him as they stood facing each other in that brightly lit hospital waiting room a few doors down from Cheyenne yesterday. He closed his eyes and he could still hear the pain in her voice.
"You promised to be my friend." Her eyes held a hurt so raw, Cody had to look away. Even so, she continued. "But you know what, Cody? You never meant it."
She was right, but he didn't say so. Instead he let her stand there in the waiting room, hoping for an answer that never came. Cody breathed in long and slow and ran his hand over the top of the box again. If he were painfully honest with himself, deep inside he had never meant to keep the promise of being Bailey's friend.
Not when he was still in love with her.
Cody ran his hand over his head and felt the blow of that reality, felt it like a physical pain. He never would've done anything to hurt her, and yet he had. The rest of his life he would regret that.
Excerpted from Learning by Karen Kingsbury Copyright © 2011 by Karen Kingsbury. Excerpted by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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