(For the complete series click here)

Frank was freaking out. Maybe it’s fine. I just need to sit for a minute, he thought. Tenderly rotating his torso, Frank raised one elbow onto the sofa and levered himself onto the couch, careful to keep his left leg elevated and away from the floor as he raised it. Once in a sitting position, Frank rested for a moment. Okay, maybe it’s not so bad – like a sprain perhaps. Slowly Frank lowered his hurting leg to rest his foot on the carpet. Shooting pain went up his leg once again, and Frank raised the leg with a groan.

He knew he couldn’t hold his leg in that position forever, though. Lying beside Frank on the couch, Olaf, the cat, looked quizzically at Frank, then went back to cleaning his fur.

“Hospital,” said Frank, aloud this time. Looking at Olaf, Frank said again, “Hospital, Olaf. I’ve got to go.”

Looking around for something to use as a makeshift crutch, Frank saw the floor lamp next to the couch. Sliding carefully to the right edge of the couch, Frank grasped the lamp and pulled himself shakily onto one foot.

He needed his keys and wallet.

Using the lamp as a staff, Frank took a step with his good leg, then yanked the lamp out in front of him. The force of the movement pulled the cord out of the wall, and it trailed behind him. Limping now towards his room, Frank stopped for a break at the hall, leaning his body to catch his breath—holding one leg aloft and clutching for dear life onto the lamppost was winding him. Resuming his trek, Frank limped into his room and sat down on his bed. Gathering his keys and wallet, Frank also decided to go ahead and put a shoe on his good foot. His socks were in his chest of drawers across the room, but his shoes were directly underneath his bed, so Frank decided to slip the shoe on and not worry about the sock.

With the shoe laced, Frank stood up once again and began his kangaroo-hop-slide towards the door. Reaching the door to leave his apartment, Frank turned to say goodbye to Olaf. “Be good Olaf; I’ll be back…when I can—you have enough food and water for tonight.”

Olaf paused his grooming and looking over at Frank for a moment with the same curious apathy he might have towards a dying bird.

Frank turned to go. “Bye,” he said quietly, flipping off the light – the pain couldn’t stop his energy-conscious habits.

Opening the door, Frank struggled out of his room into the apartment building’s breezeway. It was empty. Frank struggled to get the door locked but finally succeeded.

His leg was throbbing noticeably more now. With the initial shock of the injury and bustle of getting out the door wearing off, a sharp throbbing pain had set in. Frank fought back tears until a random thought distracted him, a memory from his high school history class, a quotation from Abraham Lincoln after Lincoln lost an election, “It hurts too much to laugh, but I’m too old to cry.” Frank decided he was not going to cry.

Limping slowly over to the stairs to descend to the parking lot, Frank stopped to analyze the first major problem—how was he going to get down the stairs? He could leave the lamp and simply use the handrail to steady himself down. But he didn’t want to leave the lamp out—it was a good lamp; he didn’t want to lose it. And plus, once he descended he would still need it to hop to his car.

Below Frank, the tap of feet on the metal-and-concrete steps drew closer. Around the landing of the steps stepped one of the most beautiful women Frank had ever seen. She had her dark hair tied up in a loose bun and was wearing a t-shirt with a stylized grizzly bear on it and purple sweatpants. In both hands, she held bulging bags of groceries.

Frank hopped back from the stairs to unblock the stairwell. “Sorry,” he said. “You can come on up.” The woman clipped lightly up the stairs and passed Frank with a smile.

“Thanks,” she said. Noticing the lamp and the raised leg, she stopped after passing. “What’s going on? Are you all right?”

Frank, unused to social interaction, didn’t say anything at first. The most beautiful woman I have ever seen in real life is standing right in front of me saying words. Surely not to me. Searching within his mind for the right response to this social situation, Frank remembered what to say: “I’m doing fine.” But he wanted to be authentic too. “Just…going to the emergency room.”

“Oh my!” said the woman. “Do you need someone to drive you there? Let me go set these bags inside, and then we can go.”

Frank had forgotten what it was like to talk to other human beings. “No,” he said. “It’s fine. I can do it.” To prove the point, Frank turned to descend the stairs. Bringing the lamp down with his left arm, Frank missed the step landing, and the lamp slid uselessly down the stairs. Losing his balance, Frank flailed and grabbed desperately onto the handrail with both hands, averting a fall and further injury.

“Do not move! I’m going to be right out,” said the woman. “You’ll be fine, but wait, and I’ll help you down.”

A few moments passed. Frank held onto the handrail. He wasn’t about to try and move again.

A moment later, the woman reappeared. “Hey,” she said. “Grab onto the handrail, and I’ll support you on the other side, and we’ll just take it one step at a time. Okay?”

Frank, as socially uncomfortable as he was, was not about to object. The pain was getting worse, and his foot felt heavier by the second as he attempted to keep it elevated. The woman took Frank’s left arm and shouldered his weight. “All right,” she said. “On two, let’s step. One—two!” Frank, supported by the handrail and the woman, stepped his good leg down.

“Great. See, this won’t be too bad,” said the woman. “I’m Janet, by the way. What’s your name?”

“Frank,” said Frank, as they took another step. He was trying very hard now to keep from setting down his left leg – the fear of further pain outweighed the growing leadenness.

“Yeah, try to keep the leg elevated – don’t want to put any weight on it. So what happened?” said Janet.

Frank hadn’t been required to tell a story in quite some time. He tried to think of the particulars, of how to make the story interesting. “I sat down on it,” he said.

“Ah,” said Janet, unsure of what to make of this. She looked at Frank, and Frank felt the body image issues he had been plagued with since a young age—the larger-than-average rear end, the belly that had developed during college.

“Yeah, I thought I was about to sit on my cat.”

“Aah,” said Janet, “I’m more of a dog person, but cats are cool too! What’s your cat’s name?”

“Olaf,” said Frank. She’s more of a dog person. Frank sighed internally. He had been slowly forming a romantic story in his mind about himself and Janet—the woman of his dreams helping him to get to the hospital, kick-starting a passionate romance as she helped nurse him back to health.

Ah well. Cats and dogs.

“Olaf…,” repeated Janet, “That’s a good name for a cat.”

Maybe there’s hope, thought Frank.

“I’m gonna have to set my leg down soon,” said Frank, breathing hard now. “Like, really soon.”

“Hold on for just a minute more,” said Janet. “We’re almost there.” Stepping down the last step, Janet pointed to the red Honda Civic just a few feet away.

“Okay, I’m going to open the back door for you, and you can just slide yourself right in.”

Frank, heaving big gulps of air, summoned the last of his strength and leaned gingerly back into the seat, holding his leg aloft, then slowly lowering it and crossing it over his good leg, allowed it to hang freely down while letting his muscles rest.

Janet shut the back door carefully, then slid into the driver’s seat, fastened her seat belt, and hastened to the hospital. It was at this moment that Frank started feeling dizzy and lightheaded. The world grew black as he passed out.

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