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A Lucky Break

"Hello, dear, how are you doing?" Mrs. Daniels asked as she poked her head into to the hospital room. Beth McKenzie looked away from the huge cast that encased her leg as it hung from the apparatus overhead. She wiped a tear from the corner of her eye, and hoped that Mrs. Daniels couldn’t tell she had been crying.

"Oh, my. Look at all the lovely flowers. Where did they all come from?"

"You and Mr. Daniels sent the beautiful carnations. Thank you, they’re lovely. The others are from some of the truckers. The big lily plant is from Jim Bonham. It was nice of him to do that," Beth said.

She had talked to Mrs. Daniels right after the accident, and she had assured Beth that the motel’s insurance would pay for her medical bills.

"You just concentrate on getting better. Don’t worry about money or anything," Mrs. Daniels had said on her first visit.

But Beth couldn’t help but worry. She wouldn’t be able to work for at least two months, much less get herself to her classes. The Daniels’, owners of the Sunshine Motel and Truck Stop were barely making it as it was, and she wouldn’t be able to pay rent on the little apartment if she wasn’t working. Where would she live?

Tears came to her eyes again as Beth remembered the pain and the bad news that after a second surgery to repair the compound fracture, she would be in the hospital for at least two weeks, and then have to undergo several weeks of therapy. One minute, everything was going as planned, her goal was in sight, and suddenly she was in a hospital with an uncertain future.

She had just finished folding the last of the clean towels, and placing the stack on the cart to return them to the supply closet. She was running early, and would have plenty of time to get to her class.

One more semester and she would be qualified legal secretary. She hadn’t seen the puddle of water at the bottom of the stairs, and when her foot went out from under her, her body slammed down on her leg. She hadn’t realized she was so badly hurt until she tried to get up and couldn’t. She vaguely remembered Jim coming out of his room and comforting her until the ambulance arrived.

The job at the motel had been perfect. The hours left her afternoons and evenings free for school and study, and she lived in a little cabin next to the owners’ home behind the motel. The Daniels were operating on a shoe-string, and had offered her the cabin as part of her pay. They worked two shifts at the restaurant, so they needed someone for a couple of hours each morning, cleaning the motel units and doing the laundry. After a few days, she had the job down to a science, and with some artful budgeting and the Daniels inviting her to join them for dinner a couple times a week, she was doing just fine.

The secretarial school was in town, just off the interstate, so the half-hour bus ride was almost door to door. She was the only maid, and work was hard, but some of the regular customers, mostly truckers, left her pretty good tips. Beth had gotten to know some of the men in the two years she had been there. They were for the most part, hard-working family men.

She smiled as she thought of one of them in particular. Jim Bonham stopped at the Sunshine at least twice a week, and Beth was always happy to see his rig pull in. He finally owned his own truck, after years of driving for a large company. He was tall, lean and extremely polite. He told her funny stories about growing up in the south. She wondered if some of them were entirely true, but she just enjoyed listening to him talk. He had a touch of a southern drawl, which became more pronounced when he was telling one of his stories.

Beth had mistaken his friendliness for something more until one morning she saw the little leather-framed photo on the dresser of a pretty woman and two little boys who looked a lot like Jim.

"Married, of course," she had thought. "The first man in a long time that I’ve been even mildly attracted to, and he’s married."

"Sending the lovely plant isn’t all Jim Bonham’s done, dear," Mrs. Daniels was saying as she pulled a chair closer to the bed. "He came to the house the other night with an envelope full of money and said it was to pay your rent on the cabin. Dave and I told him that wasn’t necessary, but he said the truckers had taken up a collection so you would know you had a place to live until you could come back to work."

The tears that Beth had been having so much trouble controlling, once again welled up in her eyes.

"But that’s not all," Mrs. Daniels continued, patting Beth’s hand. "It seems that Jim has a sister who lives over in Turnmont, and she’s willing to come over and fill in for you till you can come back to work. That way, I won’t have to hire someone to take your place. I don’t want to lose you, and if she’s willing to work for the same wages, your job will be waiting for you."

"Oh, I can’t believe this," Beth sobbed, finally giving into the tears that had been building up. "You’re all being so kind and wonderful. I’m so lucky to have you all!"

"Especially that darling Jim Bonham," Mrs. Daniels said with a sly smile. "He’s a real charmer, that one is."

"Don’t I know it," Beth thought to herself after Mrs. Daniels left. "I hope his wife appreciates what a kind and caring husband she has."
Two weeks later, Beth hobbled out of the Daniel’s pickup with Mrs. Daniels help, and adjusted the crutches under her arms.
"I’m so clumsy with these things, I’ll probably fall and break something else," Beth laughed as they approached the door of her apartment. She was glad to be getting home, even if it meant sitting around with her leg up in the air most of the time between trips to the physical therapist

"Welcome home, Beth," shouted more people than she ever thought could cram into her tiny living room. Mr. Daniels was there, Mickey, Jess and Terry, three of the regulars at the motel, Sara and Stephi, waitresses at the truck stop. Over in the corner, standing near the huge lily plant he had sent her, was Jim, holding the hand of his wife, the pretty woman Beth recognized from the photo with the two little boys.

"Okay, all you guys, clear out and let the little lady sit down," Dave Daniels said, herding the guests out to the lawn. "We’ll fire up the barbeque and celebrate outside"

Jim took Beth’s crutches and helped her down into her chair.

"There you go," he said. Comfy?"

"Yes. Thank you," Beth said. "I don’t believe we’ve met," she said, smiling at Jim’s wife."

"Well, I was just getting to that. This is my sister Janice. She’s been taking care of business around here until you’re back on your feet. She’s not quite as efficient as you, but she gets the job done."

Janice gave her brother a playful punch in the arm and a warm smile. The affection between them was obvious, but Beth couldn’t hide her surprise.

"Th .. the two little boys are yours?" Beth stammered. "Where…"

"My husband works nights, so he could be with them the few hours I was here in the morning. When Jim told me you might lose your job, I thought it was a great idea for me to work for a while. I can use the extra money, and it certainly made Jim happy. He talks about you all the time. I feel like we’re old friends…" Janice’s voice trailed out the door as she joined the others.

Jim sat down on the arm of the chair and surprised Beth even further by bending down and kissing her.

"You must have seen that coming for a long time," he said. "I can’t believe you didn’t know how I’ve felt about you. I’ve been so obvious. Lots of times I could have made it home in a couple more hours, but I stopped and got a room because I wanted to see you, if only for a few minutes. I should have been out of here early on a lot of mornings, but I hung around to catch you.

"Then when you had your accident, and no one to look after you, I had to do something. I was afraid you’d have to move, and I’d lose you.

"But I thought…"

Beth’s thoughts would have to wait. Jim was kissing her again.
Tit For Tat
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