Steve gasped. Consciousness had returned, and with it came the pain. It was only slightly less intense than it had been before, which meant it was just short of mind numbing. He gripped the bed clothes tightly, alarmed to realize that he didn't know where he was. That, coupled with the nearly unbearable pain, was enough to send him into a panic. His breaths came in short, quick gasps.
"Steve?" Steve looked over to see Beth looking down at him worriedly. "Steve, what's the matter?"
"Hurts," he said through clenched teeth.
"Okay, baby." She quickly pushed a button on his bed. "Somebody will be here in just a minute, okay? Just hold on."
Steve nodded. He was relieved to see a familiar face, and he started to calm down a little. Beth stroked his hair, just like she usually did at home when she wanted to calm him down. Soon, he was no longer hyperventilating, although the pain in his leg still had him breathing hard. "Where..."
"We're at the hospital, sweetie," she said.
Of course. He must have passed out at the studio. He looked around the room with distaste. Steve hated hospitals. The lights were low, so it must be late. Damn it all! He wouldn't be able to go home at least until morning came. If they saw fit to release him at all. Before he could ask Beth any more questions, a young blonde man came into the room. "What's wrong?" he asked, stepping quickly over to Steve's bed and checking his vital signs.
"He just woke up and he's in a lot of pain," Beth said. "Can you give him something?"
"I'd better get the doctor first," he answered. "I'll be right back." He looked at Steve. "Hang in there, sir." He turned and walked quickly out the door.
Steve waited, breathing heavily and trying to hold himself together through force of will alone. Beth continued to stroke him, looking toward the door every few seconds as if that would make the doctor come faster. In a few moments that seemed to take eons, a tall, fifty-ish man in a white coat came to the side of the bed, followed by the young man. "Hmmm." The doctor frowned down at Steve. "How are his readings, nurse?"
"Normal, doctor," the blond man replied. "His heart rate is accelerated, but that's all."
"Hmmm." The doctor's frown deepened. "How long have you been in pain, Mr. Perry?"
"Since... woke up," Steve gasped.
"Can't you give him something for it?" Beth asked.
"I will. But I'd like to check a few things before I sedate him. It may help me to determine what the problem is."
"You mean... you don't... know?" Steve asked.
"I'm afraid not, Mr. Perry. Your x-rays don't show any sign of physical damage."
"Then why..." Steve held his breath and closed his eyes, unable to complete the question.
"That's what we're trying to determine, Mr. Perry."
Steve felt Beth slip her hand into his and he squeezed it tightly. "Why don't you do something for him?" she cried.
"I will, Mrs. Perry. Please be patient."
"How the hell am I supposed to be patient when..." Beth cut herself off and Steve heard her take a deep breath. He opened his eyes to see her obviously forcing herself to stay calm.
"Tell me, Mr. Perry. Is the pain you're experiencing sharp, or more like a dull ache?"
"Sharp," he said.
"Where exactly does it hurt? In the joint?"
Steve frowned. "Can't... tell. Hurts... too much."
The doctor took a seat beside the bed and reached under the covers. "All right. I'm going to apply some pressure. Tell me if the pain increases." He pressed down gently a little above Steve's hip. "Did that hurt more?" Steve shook his head. "How about here?" He shook his head again. "All right. Here?" Steve's eyes widened when the doctor touched him the third time. He fully intended to say "Yes, that hurt more." What came out of his mouth was a harsh cry of pain. He was aware of squeezing Beth's hand much too hard as his entire body tensed. Then he passed out again.
Beth smiled down at Steve when he opened his eyes. "Good morning, sweetie," she whispered.
Steve smiled. "Hi, baby," he said drowsily.
"How do you feel?"
"Good." He smiled for a few more seconds. Then he said, "Let's go home."
"We will, really soon. I just have to wait for the doctor to come and tell us what's going on."
"Why? I feel fine."
"I know, honey. But that's because..."
"Hey hey! You're still alive, I see." Beth looked up to see Neal standing in the doorway.
"Hey, Beth. How's it going?"
"Okay. You're just in time. Steve just woke up."
"What? It's almost 1:00!"
"He had a shot around 3:00 in the morning."
Neal came into the room and looked down at Steve. "Hey, man. How are you?"
"Great," he said with a grin. "Wonderful. A-okay. Just like peaches and cream. Peas and carrots. Peaches and carrots?"
"Um... I think he gets the point, sweetheart," Beth said.
Neal giggled. "This is great. I could probably get him to say anything right about now."
"Neal," Beth warned. "Don't you dare!"
"Aw, come on." Beth glared, and Neal sighed. "You're no fun." He took a seat near her, and his face grew serious. "Joking aside, what are the doctors saying?"
"Nothing! They still don't know what's going on. He woke up hurting in the night, and Dr. Sharp did some probing. All he found out was that Steve's pain has a focal point. It's centered in his hip joint. But there's still nothing physically wrong with the joint. Dr. Sharp even did a second set of x-rays focusing on that area, but there's just nothing there. He drew some blood to see if there's something going on that the x-rays can't catch."
"Dr. Sharp's got x-ray vision?" Steve asked, sounding slightly drunk. "Wow, cool!"
Beth looked at Steve with a puzzled expression. "What?"
"I wonder if he can fly, too. I'd like to fly. But not in a plane. In the air like a bird. Birds have hollow bones. Not me, though. Maybe that's why I can't fly."
Neal laughed again. "He's flying high as a kite right now. What the hell did they give him?"
"Morphine," Beth answered. "The nurse said he'd be a little spacey when he woke up, but I guess I didn't realize how spacey."
"You can't fly in space, baby," Steve explained to her. "You need air and space doesn't have air. Silly girl."
Neal grinned. "Man, my kingdom for a tape recorder!"
"Neal! What kind of a friend are you?"
"One who recognizes and appreciates the need for blackmail every now and then."
"Somebody's getting blackmailed?" Beth looked toward the door again. Ross, Smitty and Jonathan were there. "Can I be in on this?" Ross asked.
They came in and took a look at Steve. "Hi, guys!" he said happily.
They greeted him, happy to see that he was obviously feeling better. "Hey, maybe they'll release him soon," Jay said.
"Don't let that smile fool you," Neal said. "He's doped up, man. Not playing with a full deck right now."
"Oooh, are we gonna play cards?" Steve asked. Then, after a few seconds, and in a tone that would have been indignant if he didn't sound so woozy, he said, "Hey, wait a minute! What are you trying to say, Neal? I've never taken drugs in all my life! What're you trying to do, ruin my reputation?"
"See?" Neal said, smiling mischievously. "All we have to do is get a tape recorder and keep him talking. We could hold it over his head for months!"
The others laughed, and Ross actually suggested going to the gift shop to see if they sold tape recorders. Naturally, Beth wouldn't allow it. They chatted with each other for a while, laughing periodically whenever Steve tried to join the conversation. Eventually, another doctor came into the room. She looked somewhat surprised to see the room full of people, but she pulled herself together fairly quickly. "Mrs. Perry?" she asked, looking at Beth. "I'm Dr Reynolds. I handle Dr. Sharp's patients during the day." Dr. Sharp's replacement was almost as tall as he had been. She had dark red hair and an angular face that made her look slightly severe. "I have your husband's blood test results." Everyone in the room looked expectantly at her. "Perhaps we should speak in private?" she asked hesitantly.
Beth waved dismissively. "It's all right. What do the tests say?"
"He tests negative. As far as we can tell, your husband isn't suffering from any diseases."
"'Course I'm not. I keep telling everybody I feel fine. Nobody believes me. I told them! I'm A-okay. On top of the world. Hunky dory. Lesss go home!"
"Steve, honey, we can't go home yet," Beth said. "They still haven't figured out what's wrong with you."
"Actually," Dr. Reynolds said. "I have decided to authorize his release."
"I just told you, I don't need relief. I'm fine! Wassa matter with you, lady?"
"There isn't any more that we can do for him here, Mrs. Perry," the doctor said, ignoring Steve. "You've said that you're sure it's not psychosomatic, but none of our tests show anything physically wrong. I'd like to schedule an appointment with a counselor all the same, just to make sure we explore all our options. But for now, the most I can do is write him a prescription for painkillers and send him home."
Beth just stood there, looking at the doctor. She wasn't quite sure how to feel about the information. On the one hand, she would be glad to take Steve home, knowing how much he hated hospitals. On the other hand, nothing had been done to stop whatever was causing his pain. She sighed. "What does this mean? I mean, should he just walk around like nothing's wrong? Can he go back to work?"
"I suggest that he wait at least a week before going back to work. As far as walking, there are no physical problems keeping him from doing so. However, there will be some limitations. According to Dr. Sharp's notes, and what you've told us, the pain is almost completely incapacitating. It may make the lack of physical problems a moot point. However, as long as his medication is in effect, he should be able to walk normally. I'll make sure you're provided with a cane in case it wears off while he's out of the house." She started writing on a specialized notepad while she talked. "The prescription I'm writing is for a very strong dose of ibuprofen. He needs to take it with a full glass of water, and he has to eat first. I don't mean just a few crackers, either. He has to eat a full meal, or it'll cause stomach pains."
"Got it," Beth said, taking the slip from her. "Thanks a lot."
"You're welcome. One more thing, though."
"I don't suggest giving him a pill every time his leg starts to hurt. If the pain is as bad as you say, you may have to give him one just so that he can function. However, you did say that when it first happened he couldn't even speak, and he was able to answer Dr. Sharp's questions last night. It seems that the pain is lessening. But unless the counselor can tell us something, or the pain eventually dissipates all together, your husband may have to live with it for a very long time. Eventually, he's going to have to learn to deal with the pain without the help of medication. That's going to be hard for you as well as for him, but it has to be done. All painkillers are potentially addictive, and the last thing he needs is to become a dependent."
Beth nodded, a little frightened by the doctor's warnings. She didn't want to think about the possibility of Steve's having to live with this pain for the rest of his life. And how was she going to find the strength to deprive him of medicine if he was really hurting? Beth sighed. I'll have to cross that bridge when I come to it. The doctor left, and she turned to Steve. He grinned happily at her, completely untouched by the doctor's predictions. "When do we go home?"
The full story had reached the press by that afternoon. Of course, he knew before that. He'd gone to the hospital that morning and sweet talked a few of the nurses. He wasn't able to get into Steve's private room, but he had learned everything the nurses knew about his strange ailment, and how it had baffled all the doctors. He left the hospital after he'd learned that Steve would be released soon, and headed straight for the flower shop.
Steve began to feel a slight ache in his leg. Morphine must be wearing off. Damn! Already? He sighed heavily as Beth pulled the car up to the house. "You okay?"
"I'm fine," he said. "Happy drug's starting to wear off, that's all." Beth looked worried, but didn't say anything. She was always looking worried lately. Steve smiled, wanting to reassure her. "Really. I'm fine. Come on, I need to get inside my house!"
Steve had no trouble walking to the house, and he insisted on carrying the cane the hospital had provided. He opened the door and gasped. "Oh my God." On the coffee table was a huge bouquet of long stemmed red roses. There must have been at least four or five dozen of them, arranged in a crystal vase with little sprigs of baby's breath. Steve smiled at Beth. "Honey! When did you have time to order me flowers?"
Beth came in behind him, looking at the flowers with a shocked expression. "I... I didn't," she said.
"I didn't order these flowers, Steve," she said, looking a little scared. "I don't know how they got in here, either, because I know I locked up!"
Steve looked at the flowers with renewed interest. "Hmmm. Maybe the guys sent them. They know I usually keep a key somewhere around the front door. Maybe they wanted to surprise me." Steve put the cane down and went over to the flowers, checking for a card. Beth hung back a little, almost as if she thought the flowers were going to bite her. Steve found the card and read it aloud.
When you're in pain, I'm in pain. Hope these flowers brighten your day.
Love, your biggest fan,
"Well," Steve said. "Wasn't that nice?"
"Nice? Steve, they're from that kid with all the pictures of you in his wallet!"
"So how did he get them in the house? And how did he find out about this so fast?"
Steve sighed and sat down. His leg was starting to throb more insistently. "Beth, you're just being paranoid. You know how fast news travels. Especially bad news. And fans are always the first to know. What's so strange about that?"
"But, Steve, that still doesn't explain how the flowers got in here. I mean, the door was locked."
"Are you sure? Maybe we forgot to lock it. We were in a hurry to get to the studio."
"Steve, you know I would never forget to lock the door!"
Steve sighed again. His medication was wearing off quickly, and he was in no mood for puzzles. "Oh, Beth, I don't know! This arrangement probably cost upwards of $300. Maybe he paid the delivery people to pick the lock or something. Or maybe he bribed a locksmith. Who cares?"
"Who cares?" Beth cried. "Steve! That means he broke into our house! Doesn't that bother you even a little?"
"No!" Steve shouted. "Dammit, Beth, everything bothers you! Stop being so paranoid! They're pretty flowers. Why can't you just be happy that they're here and stop worrying so much? If you're worried about him stealing from us, why don't you just go inventory the house or something?"
Beth looked shocked and hurt, and Steve wished he hadn't yelled at her. She was right, after all. It wasn't exactly normal for someone to break into their house, or pay someone else to, even if it was just to deliver flowers. In fact, it was downright scary. He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "I'm sorry, baby," he said. He stood up, wincing a little, and put his arms around her. "I'm sorry. You're right, and I shouldn't have snapped at you like that. It wasn't fair." He backed away a little and gently touched her cheek. "We'll get the locks changed today, all right?"
Beth nodded. "Okay." She looked over at the flowers again, then smiled at Steve. "You're right, too," she said. "They are very beautiful."
Over the next few days, Steve and Beth worked out a rhythm for dealing with the painkillers. In the morning, when the pain was at its worst, Steve would force himself to bear it as long as he could. Then, when he thought he couldn't handle it anymore, he would eat breakfast and take a pill. When it wore off, he would force himself to endure the pain again for as long as he could. Then, he would eat and take another. Each morning, the pain in Steve's leg seemed to lessen. He began to hope that it would disappear all together, but about four days after his release from the hospital it reached a plateau. After that, when it was at its worst, the pain was just bad enough for him not to be able to walk without the help of the cane. He hated using the cane, but he found that as long as he didn't bump into anything, he could make it through the day by just taking one pill in the morning and one to help him get to sleep at night.
The hospital's counselor came a few days after his release. Steve made sure to take a pill an hour before his visit. He knew that he wouldn't be able to maintain his composure while the counselor asked him ultra-personal questions if he had to deal with his leg, too. The counselor sent Beth out of the room, then asked several questions about Steve's career, his relationship with his bandmates and his relationship with his wife. The next day, they received word that counselor found him well-adjusted considering his line of work. He found no evidence that Steve had any more trouble coping with stress than any other famous person. "In other words," Steve said. "You still don't know what's wrong."
"No, we don't," Dr. Reynolds said. "I'm sorry, Mr. Perry. I really hoped the evaluation would turn up something."
"Yeah, but unfortunately I'm just a normal, well-adjusted human being," he said.
"I didn't mean to sound like..."
"I'm only kidding. So I can still go back to work when the week is up, right?"
"I don't see why not."
"Great. Thanks, Doc."
Two days later, he was back in the studio. His bandmates gave him many pats on the back, and Herbie even had a card for him. They tactfully ignored the cane Beth carried for him just in case, and went on with their clean-up work like nothing had happened. Steve was glad to be back. It was good to be in the swing of things again, concentrating on something that he could actually control. Soon, the album would be completely finished and they would begin making arrangements for the tour. Steve refused to let himself worry about how he would tour with his leg in the shape it was. One thing at a time.
The doll had not succeeded. Yet.