Short Story

From time to time, I will post a new short story here on this page, or as a general post on this blog.  You can find all of my #FREE short stories by clicking on the "Short Story"under Notebook Subjects to your right.
For your convenience, here are my short stories on this blog currently:

Loch Ness

Come From Behind the Chair

So, without further ado, here is one of my favorite stories...


Twerking Cougar
Rochelle Campbell
Drink in hand, Shonell turned reluctantly from the hot , smooth-headed bartender.  He had heaven-kissed abs and sported neon green suspenders holding up what appeared to be shorts that were glued on and a fab neon green and white bowtie.  She sighed imperceptibly.  Too young.  Damn.  Shonell had a rule; anyone that she could have babysat when they were born was, for her, stealing from the cradle.  At, forty-four, Shonell was not about to deal with all the nonsense men under thirty brought with them.  The bartender?  If he was a day over twenty-three she'd be surprised.  However, she grinned to herself, he was checking her out.  She could feel it.  Shonell turned back around and winked at him.  Just as she suspected, he was watching her from underneath his thick au naturelle eyelashes which she, and half of the women on the planet, had to pay to get.  Putting on the strut, Shonell sauntered away wondering if she should throw away her rule just for tonight…
"There you are!" shouted Christy, one of Shonell's BFFs.
"You act like I was lost," smirked Shonell.  "Where's LaTrina?"
"Where else?" Christy pointed to the dance floor.  "Over there, right in the middle, showing out as usual," she said with a smile.
Shonell craned her head a bit, careful not to spill her drink and catch sight of her friend working it out.  A good ten years younger than Shonell, LaTrina, better known as La-La, was vibrant and attracted attention like bees to honey.  Shonell smiled a huge cat-just-ate-the bird smile.
"Uh-oh," Christy said holding out her hand for the drink she knew would be thrust there.  "I know what that smile means…"

Shonell's drink ended up in Christy's hand without a drop being spilled, and the older woman sailed towards La-La already gyrating and causing a commotion as she blazed a path through the crowded floor.  When she got to the throng, Shonell burst into it twerking as the song changed over to Tyga's Rack City.   




The two women put the younger women to shame showing off their dance floor prowess.  Twerking on each other and any man that was brave enough to handle these two über-confident women Shonell and La-La were the hit of the night.  Christy watched from the outskirts and admired her friends hi-fiving them as they came over to her and tried to pull her in too.  Christy pulled her hand back pointing to the drink she held and they both called out, "Chicken!" to which Christy fervently nodded in agreement.

~  ~  ~  ~
"Your bottom number is elevated; it's 98," Dr. Vundansun told Shonell.  "And your top number is 145."  Shonell looked back at him with an uncomprehending look.
"You have elevated blood pressure, pretty high actually.  And let me see," he looked away toward the monitor as he re-adjusted the probe against her ribcage under her left breast.  "Yes, there is also thickening of the heart muscle which is not good.  This elevation is not a recent thing; it's long-standing."
Shonell just stared at Dr. Vundansun horror beginning to dawn in her eyes.
"On a scale of 1 to 4, you are currently at a 3.5.  You will have to start taking heart pressure medication, reduce your sodium intake as well as get on a regular exercise regimen."  At Shonell's look of disbelief, he added, "I know you're in good shape, but you told me of your family history with high blood pressure on both sides, remember?  So, while you may be exercising, the sodium reduction and increased water intake will help you in conjunction with the medication."  The doctor stood up and shook her limp hand and said on his way out, back to her, "You can clean yourself off and get dressed.  The nurse will give you the prescription and also the types of blood tests I want when you come back in a month."
Still shell-shocked and mute, the doctor turned back and came over to pat Shonell's hand gently and said, "You'll be okay.  You just have to adjust your lifestyle.  You knew that you couldn't stay young forever, right?"
At that, Shonell looked up at him and blinked the tears away.  I thought I could stave it off some more…
"We all have that moment where our mortality hits us dead between our eyes and we realize we're not twenty anymore," he chuckled a bit.  "I had the same kind of rude awakening a few years ago shortly after my 50th birthday when my doctor told me that I had heart trouble.  I'm a cardiologist!  I know what to do to prevent this from occurring, but…it happens.  Ms. Murphy, please try to come to grips with it.  You will not die.  You take good care of yourself and you'll be fine.  Any questions?"
He hated to leave her, but she had to change.  With tears streaking down her face she just looked at him lost in her thoughts.  He squeezed her hand bringing her focus back to the moment, "Feel free to call me at any time if you have questions.  I'll have the nurse give you my emergency number, all right?"
Shonell nodded numbly.  He patted the back of her hand again, smiled benignly and left the room.  The nurse smiled gently and left Shonell as well to allow her to clean and dress in private with only the thundering silence for Shonell's company.
~  ~  ~
Drink in hand, Shonell's gaze roamed restlessly around the club.  Her eyes alighted on a great set of abs here, or a terrific smile there but her eyes kept moving.  She sat in one of the cozy tables nearest the dance floor of the 40/40 club in Atlantic City watching the coming's and going's with little change of expression sipping her blue-hued Jolly Rancher drink occasionally.  After an hour, La-La slid into the seat next to her bathed in a sheen of perspiration.  "Whew.  I'm getting too old for this!"  She immediately winced at her choice of words when Shonell shot her a withering glare.
"Sorry, you know I didn't mean it that way."
"S'okay," Shonell said waving it off.
"You can't sit here all night."
"Why not?"
"You know you're not supposed to be drinking that stuff either.  What is it?  A Long Island Iced Tea?  Or, your favorite?  A Jolly Rancher?"
"What are you?  My mother?"
"Look, don't get exasperated with me!  You asked me to keep an eye out.  This is your third drink and you were only supposed to have one." LaTrina put out her hand and Shonell reluctantly shoved the drink at her.
"Now dance.  Work the alcohol out of your system.  I'll have a mineral water for you when you get back."  Shonell threw her a nasty look.
"Whatever, you asked for me to do this, so go," and she pointed to the dance floor.
"Wish Christy didn't have to work this weekend; she knows how to have a good time."
"She lied.  We knew you'd wheedle her into letting her do whatever you wanted."  Shonell's eyes narrowed to slits.
"You evil…"  With a beatific smile, her friend stabbed her finger towards the dance floor.
Frustrated beyond her tolerance levels, Shonell shoved back jostling the couple next to them and stomped off.  On the dance floor, she moved listlessly making no attempt to hide her blaise attitude until Chris Brown's Beautiful People came on and Shonell perked up and went full on into dance mode momentarily forgetting her problems.

"I've been watching you all night," said a deep, masculine voice from behind her.  He did not touch her but his body heat radiated towards her making her want to turn around; she didn't.
"So that makes you a stalker," she threw over her shoulder.
"Ha.  That's original.  So, you've only just come out of your funk now that your favorite song came on?  Must be something deep.  Man trouble?  Or, life drama?"
Interest peaked; Shonell decided to humor the mystery man but refused to turn around yet.
"Life drama.  What of it?  Are you a shrink?"
"Close.  I'm a yoga instructor."
In spite of herself, Shonell laughed but his quiet confidence and soothing manner had her very intrigued.  In a twirling movement, Shonell spun and faced a chocolate-y smooth-skinned man with distinct features, full lips and a short cap of tightly coiled hair.  His mesmerizing dark brown eyes made her knees knock but she managed to swallow and keep dancing on beat.
"Yoga instructor, huh?  What type of yoga?"
"Ah, you know enough to ask?  Pretty good.  Hot."  Bronwyn smirked.  It figures…
Out loud she said, "Bikram seems to suit your style."  He smiled broadly showing off his beautiful even ivories.
"Why is that?  You think I'm hot?"
She laughed fully and with an abandon she hadn't felt in weeks.
"Well, now that you mention it.  Yeah, maybe I do."
The song changed to Rihanna's Birthday Cake and Shonell lost all sense of playfulness and went full hardcore with almost no thought.  Twerking and bouncing and exorcising the demons that plagued her about her health, aging and her mortality just fizzled out of her as she moved fluidly and seductively to the song.

Unbeknownst to her, there was a large ring that had formed around her and when the song changed over they all shouted for more and cheered her on.  Embarrassed, Shonell took a quick bow and sashayed off the dance floor.
LaTrina handed her a tall glass with lots of bubbles in it and a twist of lime.
"Lemme guess?  Water?"
"The fizzy kind."
"So who's your friend that's making his way over here?"
"He is?" Shonell looked around.
"Ooo…someone's interested.  This is new for you.  He's not 30.  He's not dressed to the nines.  He's well-built but not drop-dead gorgeous like you usually like them.  What gives?"
"Shh!  He's almost here.  He's a hot yoga instructor…"
"I'll say..." Shonell threw her look that would silence the most unruly child seconds before she turned a sweet smiling face to the handsome man.
"You left me in the crowd that adored you so I couldn't get through until now.  Wow.  Where'd you learn to do that?  Is there a side job I should know about?" he asked and arched his brow.
"This is my friend LaTrina.  I'm Shon.  Who are you?"
"Shon.  LaTrina," he said nodding curtly with a smirk at both women. "Yuandre Maban."
Shonell tried not to swoon.  The name fit him perfectly.  She knew she was in trouble and he had barely touched her.
"Yuandre…what's the origin?"
"Supposedly Haitian; my parents visited Haiti, several years before I was born and the name stuck with them.  It can work for either a male or female."
LaTrina was staring at him slightly glassy-eyed.  Shonell kicked her under the table.  LaTrina straightened her spine, blinked a few times and grabbed Shonell's Jolly Rancher and took a big sip.
"Well, if you excuse me," La-La said standing abruptly, "I'm going to the powder room," and dashed off.
"What happened to her?  Did I say something wrong?"  Yuandre looked after her perplexed.
"Don't mind her, she's touched in the head and does the darnedest things sometimes."
He leaned closer to her across the table and rested his chin in his hand and looked into her eyes.
"Do I scare you?"
Shonell sat back increasing the space between them and the intense electricity emanating from him and shook her head with a tenuous smile, "No.  Why do you ask?"
"You ran off the dance floor.  Now she runs to the bathroom.  There's an awful lot of running away from me happening this evening and all I want to do is enjoy your company again some other time in a…quieter environment.  Does that sound like something that could work for you?"
Her mouth went dry at the thought of being alone with Yuandre.  Even in a crowded restaurant, he would singe her to a cinder with one kiss; she just knew it.
"Why don't we start off with something simple like you giving me your number?"
He threw his head back and laughed.  His whole body was involved.  His chest rose and fell, his nose wiggled a bit and his eyes were slitted and held a gleam.
"That's the oldest trick in the book.  You know you're never going to call me."
"How can you be so sure?  Try me," she said pulling out her phone.  He sobered up and dictated the requested digits.  LaTrina came back as Shonell tucked her phone back in her evening clutch.  Yuandre got to his feet.
"Well, I have to run. It's witching hour for me, but I will leave you with this:  
Who is my love but the soul of my soul, and the reason for every beat of my heart.  
If you want to find out who wrote it.  You'll have to call me."  With that, he walked off  slowly 
but not before he saw drool coming slipping from the corner of LaTrina's pretty, now pouting, mouth.
~  ~  ~
No man had ever affected Shonell quite like Yuandre.  At her desk, Shonell was aimlessly pushing salad greens around in the flimsy plastic bowl.  It had been more than a week since she had met him and she refused to call him.  By the same token, she had not really thought about her high blood pressure much except to drink 4 full glasses of water eacj day and visiting the gym regularly in the past week.
If nothing else, he's motivating me to maintain a healthier lifestyle…
With a sigh, she forcibly stopped herself and threw the salad away.  Turning to her phone she snatched it up and dialed.  It rang twice and then she heard him.
"Look, don't get smart with me!  You know what you've done and now you're going to fix it by picking me up from work and taking me to dinner, or a yoga class, or, or…"
"Where?"  She blinked twice at the steady calmness in his voice that was also tinged with a healthy dollop of good humor.
"Where do I pick you up?"
She wasn't sure how to handle his calm strength and unruffled tone.  After all, she had called him ordering him around.
"You still there?"
She gave him the address in a robotic fashion.
"Feel better now you've yelled at me?"  Properly chagrined, she said nothing.
"I hear you smiling.  I'm glad you got that out of your system.  You bottle too much up.  You want to know now, or later?"  She frowned.
"Who the author is?"
"Right!  Yeah."
"Phillip Varady, Sr.; taken from The Stonebearers."  She had no idea what he was talking about; she'd never heard of Varady.  She heard him laugh.
"Don't try and bust a gut trying to act like you know him.  He's a little known writer of a book that I happen to like a lot and he dabbles in poetry."  She relaxed a bit but then said something gauche.
"Can I get off the phone now?"  He laughed again.
"Of course you may.  I'll see you soon," and he rung off without another word.
Serves me right.  She huffed at herself and got down to the first real work she'd put in all day.
~  ~  ~
The waiter took the entrée dishes and deftly placed the desert menu on the edge of the linen covered table.
"So, what is it with you and Rihanna?  When that cake song came on you…went somewhere.  I'd love to know where.  And can I go with you next time you leave?"  His slow wide smile and the single dimple in his left cheek made her stomach flutter.  Shonell lowered her eyes and focused on her glass of chardonnay.
"Whatever do you mean?  I was just dancing to a hot song; just like everyone else."
"Not quite like everyone else.  You drew a crowd and had a few men drooling."  She looked at him through her lashes.
"Were you one of them?"  Yuandre looked at his watch and fiddled with his napkin.
My God, is he blushing…?
"I would like to believe I am a tad more civilized.  Salivate is a term I'd prefer to use."  He turned those dreamy dark eyes on her and took her hand in his.  "So, where did you go?"
"To a happy place; where everything is all about pleasure -- good pleasure.  Nothing that would cause the cops to come," she added quickly.
His voice dropped a few octaves.  "What if the cops came because you were making so much noise…?"  The temperature rose a good 15 degrees instantly.  Shonell pulled her hand back slowly and tried to clamp down on the wetness that threatened to overflow.  She quickly picked up the menu and scanned it seeing absolutely nothing while she tried to gather her wits.
"What type of woman do you think I am?  Just because I can copy a video vixen's dance moves doesn't mean I am one.  Don't get it twisted."  She strove for a school teacher voice.  He leaned back in his seat.  His eyes flicked over her taking in her trim torso with full breasts that flowed into a slim waist.  His eyes traveled back up to her face and noted once again the smooth coffee-and-cream complexion with the fabulous tiny locs surrounding her heart-shaped face with the inquisitive almond-shaped dark-brown eyes.  No, she was no mere video vixen.  She was an intelligent woman running from something she was terrified of.
"I think you're a woman with secrets from the world and quite possibly from herself."  She looked up at him quickly and studied his eyes a moment before looking back down at the menu.
"No mystery.  Just a woman coming to terms with gravity."  A bubble of gaiety rose within him and he snickered lightly.
"Gravity?  So, that's the going name for it now, is it?  Silly me thinking you were in the midst of a mid-life crisis.  Yoga takes care of gravity beautifully.  You should take my class sometime."  He shifted his approach; he knew she was feeling vulnerable and unappreciated but why, he couldn't understand.  She had not one line, wrinkle or age spot -- nothing.  She looked 10 years younger than he assumed she was yet, still, the melancholy of a mid-aged woman.  He cleared his throat and began speaking melodically:

"Beautiful woman,
come out and play,
reveal your inner treasures.
The sparkle in your eyes,
the natural swing in your walk,
you radiate excitement and enthusiasm.
You need no latest fashion,
No expensive hair cuts,
No blinding big accessories.
You glow in your passions,
passionate in your pursuits;
you know what you are made of.
You are not easily bothered,
by the mindless opinions of others;
you know very well where you want to go.
You are a joy to watch,
an inspiration to others,
your pure soul an endless marvel.
Beautiful woman,
let your brilliance shine through,
your eyes speak of true inner beauty."

As he was reciting the poem, Shonell went from disengaged to completely in tune with him.  She hung onto every word and sighed when he finished.
"That was beautiful!  Did you write that?"
"No, that was Fion Lim.  I just thought you'd like it."
"What is it with you and poetry?  Is that something yoga instructors have to master as well as all of the pretzel positions you guys get into?"
"Was that a jibe?  You never know, you may like some of the positions I can get into…"  Shonell took a big sip of her chardonnay and pointedly ignored his comment while trying to stop the raging heat from spreading.
"So, how long have you been teaching yoga?"  The conversation stayed benign for the rest of the evening because Shonell forced it that way.  She wasn't ready or willing to deal with a man like Yuandre.  He wasn't real.  Couldn't possibly be legit.  What man spouted poetry at the drop of a hat?  Danced well?  Was calm and rock-steady?  And, on top of it all, sexy and a half and probably knew very well how to make a woman's toes curl -- backwards!  No, Yuandre was off-limits.  No second date would be forthcoming.  He was much too dangerous.
Desert finally over; demitasse refused and light shawl re-acquired, Shonell and Yuandre made their way to the front to retrieve their cars from the valet.
"That was an awesome dinner.  We should do this again sometime."  Shonell made noncommittal noises and smiled prettily.  She wasn't prepared for his swift twist and grab of her waist pulling her up towards his full parted lips.  She wasn't remotely prepared for the shock of his soft wet probing tongue teasing her reluctant lips apart.  She most definitely wasn't ready for its deft movement which tickled and wiggled and engaged tongue in a dance as old as time.  Nor was Shonell ready for the thunderous pounding of her heart as it skipped several beats.  When Yuandre pulled back Shonell immediately felt the loss and keenly wanted him back where he was just a moment ago.  She resisted the temptation to pull him back and demanded she get a hold of herself.
"Your car, Miss?"  She smiled at the valet, nodded at Yuandre and quickly got into her Crossfire waved and mouthed, I'll-call-you and drove off thankful she was sitting and no one could see the wetness seeping down her thighs.
~  ~  ~
The next morning, Shonell forced herself to get dressed to go back to Dr. Vundansun's office for her follow-up visit.  She had ignored most of what he said; hadn't stopped drinking, nor had she really drastically increased her exercise regimen.  All she did was try to drink more water each day.  The medication?  She hadn't even filled the prescription.  She sent a quick email to her co-workers and let them know she would be in later that morning and trudged out the door at 8:50 perfectly on time for her ten o'clock appointment.
"You're pressure has gone up a bit.  It's now 150 over 99.  Have you done anything I suggested?  Do you realize the seriousness of this situation, Ms. Murphy?  You are playing with your life by disregarding my recommendations.  Are you taking the medication?  That should have assisted in managing it somewhat.  Did you miss a few days?  Did you become stressed at work, or at home?"
Shonell looked everywhere except at the doctor.
"Ms. Murphy?"
She sighed and looked at him dead in the eye and said, "No, I'm not taking the medication as yet."
She shrugged and looked away again.  How do I tell him I'd rather die than take a bunch of pills and change my life?  That sounds stupid…
"Ms. Murphy, you are an intelligent woman.  While I understand that this is a very enormous life change for you, it's not an impossible one.  You can still enjoy a drink or two a month.  You can eat fried foods about once a week, if you're on your medication.  You need to exercise two to three times per week for at least one hour each time.  If you don't manage this condition, Ms. Murphy, it will manage you and you won't like the outcome."  He stopped speaking.  She still did not look at him.  She heard him sigh and get up.  "Do you still have the prescription?  Or, do you need another one?"
"I still have it."
"Good.  What is your pharmacy's number?  I'll make it easier for you and call it in."
Shonell looked at him sharply, "I can handle that, Doctor.  I'm fully capable of that small administrative task."
"Sorry, that has not been readily apparent to me.  I wish you luck, Ms. Murphy.  I would tell you to come back in a month but at this point, I'm not sure if you'll come in.  So, I leave it in your capable hands to take care of scheduling the next follow-up appointment.  Good Day."  The doctor whirled away and the door clicked shut sharply oupon his exit.
Shonell got up and left quickly not stopping at the nurses' desk.  She just wanted to be out of the claustrophobic office.  She hailed a cab and got into it blindly as the first of the tears began to flow.
~  ~  ~
The phone on her desk rang.  She lifted the receiver and put it to her ear.  "So, what did the Doc say?"  Shonell closed her eyes and took a deep breath.
"Christy, I don't want to talk about that right now."
"I guess that means it got worse.  How much worse?"
"What part of…?"
"Damn it, Shon!  What the hell is wrong with you!  Take the damn medicine!  Do you want to die?  Are you trying to kill yourself to die young and pretty?"  Shonell sighed and rubbed her eyes.  She felt the headache getting worse.  She had been ignoring it for the better part of the last hour.
"Answer me."
"No.  I don't want to die.  I want to live a normal life.  Is that too much to ask?"
"Right now?  Yeah!  It's too much."
"Isn't this La-La's job -- to yell at me?  When did you start?" Shonell grumbled crossly.
"Ever since LaTrina started crying every time she thought of having to go to your funeral, that's when."
Shonell's heart stuttered at that and she had to force breath into her lungs again.  The pink elephant that she hadn't wanted to deal with was just exposed.
DEATH.  Am I calling it??
"So, since you don't have any answer for me, I'm assuming we should go and pick out appropriate black dresses.  Look, when you're ready to deal with this, call me or LaLa and we'll come over and help you."  Christy slammed the phone down causing Shonell to wince and pull the phone quickly from her ear.  She hung up the phone, turned to her computer and her cell rang.  She glanced at the number, sighed and clicked it on.
"Yes, I remember the yoga class is tonight."
"Good girl.  I see I bully well.  But, you sound tired.  Are you alright?  You have to hydrate to do this class, you know.  It will be about 95 degrees in the room."  Shonell wilted just thinking about it.
"So hot?  I thought we were starting off with the warm class?"
"Things got changed around and I'm covering for someone tonight.  That's why I called actually.  The class is at six-fifteen, not seven o'clock like we discussed.  Can you still make it?"  Looking at the time, Shonell made a snap decision.
"Yeah, I can leave work a bit early and run home and get my stuff and get there."
"Great!  Remember; drink at least another two to three glasses of water so you don't get light-headed. Bye!"
~  ~  ~
Rushing slightly, and feeling a little bedraggled, Shonell huffed the last few feet towards the yoga studio tripping on an upturned broken piece of concrete.  She caught herself before she went slamming down onto the unforgiving rough sidewalk and thanked her lucky stars she hadn't fallen.  It had been years since she had hurt herself.
~  ~  ~
"Okay, we're in the home stretch; only 15 more minutes left in the class.  Breathe in deeply and go into camel pose."  Yuandre flowed back fluidly from a kneeling position and tented his arms making an arched back bow with his body.  Perspiring profusely and feeling parched beyond belief, Shonell was kneeling.  Going backwards with her head down didn't feel right.  Everything in her resisted the movement even the persistent aching in her temples complained but she wanted to prove to Yuandre, herself and every twenty-something-year-old in that class she could do it just as effortlessly as they could.  Shonell went for it.  Just as her eyes hit the back wall the room spun; her head pounded.  Black and spots obliterated her vision and a deathly silence took over…
~  ~  ~
A beeping sound brought her slowly back.  Shonell fluttered her eyes open and saw Yuandre, LaTrina and Christy peering anxiously at her.
"Sweetie, you okay?" LaTrina, on Shonell's right, was gently patting her hand in calming back and forth motions.  Shonell moved her eyes and saw Christy, on her left.  Shonell blinked and tried to speak.
"No, no.  Don't speak.  Just rest.  You've been unconscious for three days.  You need your strength," said Yuandre quietly from the foot of the hospital bed.
"Yeah, just rest," reiterated Christy.  "Now that you're awake, we can breathe easier."
"Shut up!" hissed LaTrina.
"Ladies…" Yuandre said in a menacing tone.  They both quieted and looked back to Shonell who was watching them all fearfully.
What the hell was going on??
She tried to speak but only croaking sounds came out.  Shonell's fear hit new heights.  She tried harder only to get more croaking sounds.
"I'll get the doctor," said LaTrina, noting Shonell's increasing distress before bustling out of the room.  Yuandre came over and took her place.  Shonell's eyes pleaded with him.  He looked away, took a deep breath before speaking.
"Shonell, you had a stroke.  The doctors don't know how bad yet.  They wanted you to…wake up.  Your blood pressure was really high and taking the hot yoga class didn't help.  Worse, you probably didn't hydrate enough before class…" he trailed off and looked deep into her wide eyes, noted her trembling lips.  He knew what she wanted to know but he didn't go any further.  He waited for the doctor.
Shonell's eyes darted between Christy and Yuandre.  She tried to roll her head to look more fully at Christy but something wasn't right.  She couldn't seem to do it.  In fact, her whole left side seemed…sluggish.
What the hell is going on?!
Her eyes wheeled in her head as she began slowly piecing all of the information together.  The panic was rising and she knew she had to calm down.
At that moment, LaTrina came back in with the doctor and a nurse in tow.
"Excuse me, please," Dr. Vundansun pushed Yuandre aside and stood beside Shonell and peered into each of her eyes with a bright light.  She blinked rapidly.
"Good, good," he mumbled.  The nurse had pushed Christy aside and had wrapped a pressure cuff around Shonell's left arm.  They all waited anxiously watching the machine work.  After a tense sixty seconds, the machine beeped the result.
"150 over 96; still quite high, but manageable.  You are very very lucky, young lady."  The doctor looked at Shonell and sighed.  "Now, you have to take your blood pressure medication.  There's no way around it."  He looked up at the circle of friends and asked, "Did any of you tell her?"  Everyone shook their heads.  He looked back at Shonell and pulled down the safety rail and sat on the edge of the bed on her right side.
"Shonell, you had a hypertensive emergency, or in layman's terms, stroke.  From the preliminary tests, it seems that most of the damage is to your left side.  It also may have affected your vocal cords.  If you understand what I'm saying, please say yes."  The air in the room grew tense as they all waited.  Shonell closed her eyes a moment, marshaled all of her energies and forced the word out.
"Ye --ss."  She stuttered and it took great effort but the word did come out.
"Okay, good. Very good!  But I see that took a lot of effort.  As soon as you're stronger, we'll get you into a rehabilitation center and get to work.  You're stable now and over the next few days we'll see where we are.  Your body is still trying to heal itself because you're strong and in relatively good health.  But, once you get out of this bed you've got to commit to a healthier lifestyle.  Good rest, water, a good diet including fresh fruits, lean proteins -- no fried foods!  No alcohol.  None.  Do you understand?  Just nod your head."  Shonell gave her muscles the order but they did not comply.  Her head only twitched.  The fear blossomed again.  The doctor leaned across her and began pinching her left arm in various places.
"Do you feel this?"  She croaked her answer.
"Li -- tle."  He touched the left side of her face.
"This?"  She felt nothing.
Shonell stomach lurched.  I can't feel on the left side of my body!! Oh my, God!  What if I stay like this?!  How will I live?  Make money?  Take care of myself?!
All of her fears rose to the surface and she began panting as questions about her co-op came to mind and her dancing -- her one true escape would be lost to her!  A keening sound reached her ears a moment before she felt strong hands encircling her right hand.  Her eyes darted over and Yuandre filled her gaze.
"Shhh.  It's okay.  You're not alone in the world.  I'm here with you and I'll never abandon you."
"Neither will we," her two friends chimed in.
Shonell's breathing began to slow but she still was extremely upset.  Her life had changed irrevocably in a matter of days.
~  ~  ~
Seven Months Later
"That's it…come on.  Do one more round of arm circles.  I'll help you if you're struggling," Shonell's therapist said.
"Stephen, it hurts."
"It's supposed to cause tension.  Your muscles are getting stronger.  The very fact that you can feel the pain is a good sign.  Remember last week you didn't feel anything?"
Shonell was dumbstruck.  That's right!  I can FEEL!
"You mean, after all of these months, my left side isn't completely dead?" she asked with budding hope.
"Nope.  Didn't I tell you to do the work and stop worrying about the outcome?"
"I just figured that was therapist optimistic mumbo-jumbo that you guys are paid to tell us 'stroke victims'.  Can't you guys come up with another term for us?  I hate being a victim of anything."
Stephen grinned and said nothing.  He knew better than to say anything when a patient like Shonell made a breakthrough of this magnitude.  He let her grouse and continued his work trying to keep his own excitement in check.  Her feeling pain was monumental.  Stephen's own hope was beginning to wane when Shonell had not responded to the therapy.  Burke Rehabilitation Hospital had a wonderful reputation for assisting people like Shonell to recover.  Her stroke was moderately severe but her body was still young enough to fight the ravages of the stroke.  Stephen thanked everything and all that was greater than himself for this woman's start on the path of recovery.  He could easily see that if she did not heal reasonably well that she would be one who would allow her condition to hold sway and let go of the mantle of life.  He sighed imperceptibly and said, "Okay, that's enough.  Shall we get you into the Jacuzzi and call it a day?"
Shonell nodded her head vigorously trying to ignore the beads of sweat on her brow.  Today was a tough one but she was glad about her progress.  She couldn't wait to tell her friends and Yuandre.  He had been a pillar of strength for her throughout this process.
Stephen carefully helped her into her mobile chair and she settled herself in deftly.  She'd had plenty of time to practice in the last several months.  As she maneuvered her way down the corridor, Shonell carefully viewed the other patients she passed.  She was one of the few patients that were on the younger side and she noted how much more severe some of the patients' conditions were and for the first time since being at Burke, she was thankful; thankful that she just possibly may one day leave the Center on her own two working feet.
~  ~  ~
Fresh from the Jacuzzi, Shonell wheeled herself back to her room only to find Yuandre waiting for her with a large bouquet of white azaleas and soft pink gerbera daisies in an oversized happy face mug on her windowsill.

He was such a frequent visitor the nurses had let him wait in the comfort of her plush room.  A soft sigh escaped her, gerbera daisies were one of her favorite flowers.
"Ahh -- they're beautiful!  Thank you, Yuandre," she held out her good hand to him and he hastened over and hugged her back carefully.  She leaned back to look up at him and smiled.  She appreciated his good looks but she now appreciated more his steadfastness, his sincerity and his support.  She had no idea that all of that stuff she's read in romance novels was actually true.  She'd always thought that stuff was for ugly idiot women who had nothing better to do with their time than read about Fantasy Island men and how wonderful they were.  She sighed and mentally kicked herself.  It took a stroke to make her realize what was important.
"Penny for your thoughts…"
"Just a penny?  Figured my thoughts had more value than that," she joked.  He looked at her closely with a serious face.  Struck by the pensive look in his eyes, Shonell's smirk faltered as her eyes slid down to his full lips.  She licked her own and her eyes darted back up to his.
"Something's changed.  You're…happy.  Did you get good news?"  Amazed by his intuition she smiled.
"Yeah, I felt pain in my left arm today during the last few minutes of my therapy.  Isn't that great!"  He laughed.
"I don't know about the pain part, but the feeling part is wonderful!"  She laughed too. 
"Yeah, feeling pain and being happy about it is a bit of an oxymoron but hey, right now my world is topsy-turvy so I have to go with the flow."  Yuandre looked at her sharply, amazed.  Since he'd known her, Shonell had never gone with anyone's flow except her own.  He smiled and kissed her soundly while thanking Oludumare, God's name in the African Yoruba tradition, for the blessing of healing Shonell's spirit which was the part of her in most need of repair.
"Hey, I found something you might enjoy," he said as he disengaged himself from her.  He walked over to the bouquet and pulled a small pretty sky-blue filmy gift bag from the side.  He walked over to her and placed it in her good hand.  She looked down and saw that within was a deck of cards.
"Cards?" she asked quizzically.
"Reflection cards.  You shuffle them and pick one out based on what the image is and turn it over and read the saying on the back," he took it from her, opened the bag and shuffled.  "Pick one," he said when he had fanned them out.  She indicated one that had a whitish top portion.  She wanted to see the image.  He pulled it out and her eyes feasted on a gorgeous mountainous landscape with a ribbon of highway cut through it and a large body of water in the background.  The sun was not out; it was overcast but it was not a melancholy scene at all.  It appeared as if the sun would peak out at any moment.  And the road, it disappeared around a bend in the mountain.  She couldn't see if it ended, continued, or what.  Her pulse quickened.  She wanted to know where the road went!  She looked up at Yuandre and smiled.
"I like this image."  He gave her a Cheshire cat grin.
"Read the back," he flipped it over and held it up for her to read.  It said:

Unlimited possibilities exist today.
Free yourself to imagine greater!

Shonell laughed with delight.  She couldn't have picked a more apropos card.  She looked up at Yuandre and said, "You rigged this!"
He shook his head and put the card back in the deck, "Nah-uh!  You picked the card, not me.  You saw me shuffle them.  You had twenty cards to choose from and you chose that one.  Life is funny like that sometimes, you know?"
Shonell looked up into his dancing dark eyes and smiled.  Yeah, life is funny like that.  One day you're in a club twerking trying to forget about the grey hairs in your kitty-cat and the next you're fighting for your life and finding a brand new one that looks absolutely golden…
"Come here you," she said as she pulled him closer with her good hand, and she kissed him hard on the lips.  For the first time Shonell knew what love was and she was determined that she wouldn't throw it away again.
~  ~  ~

For more short stories, pick up Rochelle's Leaping Out on Faith on Amazon, Smashwords, or your favorite e-bookstore.