"What the hell is this, Steve?" Herbie cried. "You push us to finish the album in spite of your leg, and now you show up almost three hours late?"
"I can explain," Steve said.
"We're listening," said Smitty.
"I was at the doctor's office."
"You could have called," Ross said.
"It wasn't exactly top priority at the moment," Steve said.
"Not top priority?!" Neal cried. "We've been sitting here twiddling our thumbs for almost three hours!"
"Dammit, don't you think I know that? I've been sitting in a doctor's office getting tested for almost six hours!"
"Which was plenty of time to pick up the phone," Jay said.
"Look, I'm sorry I forgot to call, okay? But if you'd just listen to me..."
"We can't have you doing this when we're so close to finishing," Herbie interrupted.
"Yeah, man," said Neal. "We got one day left, and now you to decide to pull a diva stunt like this?"
Beth had had enough. She usually made a point of not interfering when Steve and the others got into fights, but this had to stop and Steve was obviously too overwhelmed to do it on his own. She strode purposefully to the instruments, picked up Neal's guitar, turned his amp up full volume and slammed his pick across the strings several times. In the wake of the awful racket, everyone stood gaping at her in complete shock. For one thing, Beth hardly ever interrupted their spats - and never in such a rash manner. For another, no one ever touched Neal's guitar unless they wanted to risk certain death.
Neal scowled and opened his mouth to speak. "Shut up," she snapped, before he could make a sound. Neal was shocked into silence, and Beth put the guitar back on its stand. Then she walked back to stand beside Steve, glaring furiously at his attackers. "Now that I have your attention, why don't you jerks try getting your heads out of your asses for one second!" They didn't speak. None of them besides Steve had seen her get really angry before, and they didn't seem to know what to make of it. "Steve, why don't you show them what we bought at the hospital today?"
Steve sighed heavily and pulled his cane out of his jacket pocket. The rest of the band watched while he slowly unfolded it and rested it on the ground. "What the...?" Neal looked puzzled.
Ross frowned. "Isn't that the type of cane blind people use?"
"Yes," Steve said. His response was met with dead silence as the others' faces registered first shock, then complete mortification. They all looked so terribly guilty that Beth didn't think she needed to say anything more.
"Steve..." Jay began.
"Don't," he said. "Baby, I need to sit. My leg's starting to hurt." Beth took Steve's hand and led him to a chair.
"Jesus Christ," Neal whispered. "I just thought... I mean, you two are always holding hands. I never thought..."
"My God," said Jay. "Steve, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to... I don't know what to say."
"Don't say anything."
There was silence for a few moments. Then, Herbie asked, "You're really blind?"
"Do I actually have to honor that with a response?" Steve asked.
"I mean, you can't see anything at all? Like gray blobs or something?"
Steve sighed. "Nothing."
"When did it happen?" asked Ross.
"Some time last night. I just woke up, and I couldn't see."
"What... what did the doctor say about it?" Smitty asked.
Steve frowned and lowered his head. Beth answered for him. "They say his eyes are normal."
"What?!" Jay exclaimed. "You can't be serious!"
"Did they run more than one set of tests?" Smitty asked.
"Nine," Steve said. "They tested me nine different times. My eyes tested normal every time. Which means there's nothing they can do about it." He sighed. "I'm blind, and there's nothing they can do."
"Oh my God," Neal said. "Jesus, Steve! I... we... Jesus!"
"Yeah. My sentiments exactly," Steve said. "Look, can we not talk about this right now? I've made us late already. Let's finish up."
"Are you sure?" Jay asked.
"Yes. There's nothing wrong with my voice. I'll be fine."
"But what about afterwards?" Herbie asked. "This may not be the best time to bring this up, but what about the tour? I'm already behind with planning the dates."
"Herbie!" Smitty cried.
"No, it's okay," Steve said. "And like I said, there's nothing wrong with my voice. I can handle a tour."
"Steve, what about your leg?" Beth asked worriedly.
"It'll be all right, baby," Steve said. "I've thought about this a lot lately. I'll be fine as long as I take a pill about an hour before we go on."
"Beth, please," he said. "Don't argue with me on this. It's something I need to do. I'll be fine." He smiled at her. "Besides, you'll be with me anyway, right? You can make sure I don't push myself too hard."
Beth sighed. "All right. But I will be all over you if you start to work too hard, you hear me?"
"I understand," he said. He turned toward the direction of the band. Beth could see that they were unnerved by the fact that he wasn't looking directly at any of them. "I just need you guys to point me toward the audience and make sure I don't run right off the stage." Steve grinned and the others laughed. Beth laughed along with them, but there was tension beneath their laughter. They were scared. Steve more than any of them. He put on a brave face for the guys, but Beth knew that just below the surface he was terrified. She couldn't blame him. His sight had been taken away for no apparent reason and there was nothing the doctors could do about it. They couldn't cure a problem they couldn't find. Beth could only imagine how helpless Steve must be feeling. She was having a hard enough time dealing with the fact that she was powerless to help him. And she had the awful feeling that whatever was happening wasn't finished with him.
He waited across the street from his idol's house for several hours before they came home. He watched Beth get out of the drivers seat and open the passenger door, as Steve usually did for her. Steve got slowly out of the car and unfolded a long white cane. Beth stood aside, and Steve moved the cane across his path, slowly making his way to the door. He stopped when the cane hit the threshold and turned to look behind him, smiling proudly.
Beth clapped her hands. "Perfect, baby!" she cried excitedly. "You're really getting the hang of that thing! Soon, you'll be able to use it around the studio."
"Sure," Steve said. "Soon, as in three months from now. It took me ages to get up there."
"You did great," she said, catching up to him. They said a few other things he couldn't quite make out. Then they went into the house and closed the door.
He narrowed his eyes, then drove at top speed back to his house. He stayed up all night making the card. Donna urged him more than once to come to bed, but he wouldn't. He couldn't stop until it was finished. He carefully placed each button and sewed them on by hand. Finally, at 7:00 a.m., it was done. He decided to have his gift delivered this time. He'd made copies of their new key, but he didn't want to push his luck by entering the house so blatantly again. He called a delivery service, then got ready to go to work.
Beth signed the delivery man's fancy clipboard and took the package from him, brimming with curiosity. The large rectangular package was about the size of a poster. It was lighter than she'd expected it to be. "So what is it?" Steve asked.
"It's for you. Don't you want to open it?"
"You go ahead. It's not like I can see it anyway."
Beth felt a pang of sadness, but didn't say anything. She opened the package and looked at its contents in confusion. It was a large canvas, over which a length of black denim had been stretched. "Um... I still don't know what it is," Beth said
"What? Well, what does it look like?"
Beth described it to him and he seemed as puzzled as she was. Beth touched the canvas and was surprised to feel raised fabric. She looked closer, and saw that it was a round button made of the same material. Beth turned the canvas over but she still couldn't make anything out. The back of the canvass had been painted black to match the thread. Beth inspected the canvas further, and found a word painted in white on the shorter side of the frame. "Bottom." She turned it around, and saw the word "Top" painted on the other side. She smiled. "It's for you, Steve," she said. "I can't read it."
Beth handed Steve the canvas, making sure it was right side up. Steve touched it and found the buttons as well. He felt around the top left corner and frowned. "I hope this isn't Braille," he said. He felt the first set of buttons again. "Hey! It's a 'D'," he said, smiling. Slowly, he 'read' the rest of the canvas, saying the words aloud to Beth as he made them out.
Seeing isn't believing. You still rock.
Love, your biggest fan,
Steve grinned broadly. "Wasn't that great?" he said.
"Yes, it was." Beth ran her hand along the canvas. "I wonder how long it took him to make it."
"Hours, I'm sure." He touched it again, still smiling. "Did the package have a return address?"
"Let me check." Beth looked around the package and found the address. "It does. Do you want to send him something?"
"Yeah, let's send him a picture. Will you write the note for me?"
"Of course." Beth found Steve's head shots and he told her which one he wanted to send. She pulled it out and wrote down what he wanted on the back.
Thank you so much for your wonderful gift. It's beautiful.
P.S. Thanks also for the lovely roses.
Beth handed Steve the pen and put the tip in the right place so he could sign his name. "Do we have something to send this in?" he asked. "I'd like to send it right away."
"Sure, baby. If you want, we can take it to the post office right now."
"Yeah, let's do that." Beth helped Steve to the car, put the picture inside and drove them to the post office, keeping her thoughts to herself. She didn't like the fact that this other Steve knew where they lived. She was only a little more reassured by the fact that they'd had the locks changed. But he'd gotten in before. What was to stop him from doing it again? She decided not to tell Steve about her fears. He was so excited about the gift, and she was reluctant to spoil his mood.
Suddenly, Steve gasped. "What is it?" Beth asked.
"I just thought of something," he said. "How did he know about it so fast?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, how did he know about my being blind? I was in the hospital most of the day yesterday, then we went straight to the studio. We didn't get home 'till late!"
Beth frowned. "I don't think it could have gotten into the news that fast, could it?"
"Not unless the doctor's leaked it," Steve said. He was silent for a moment. "I don't like this, Beth. What if he's watching me or something? I mean, he does know where we live."
Beth was thinking along the same lines, but she didn't want Steve to worry. "Well," she said hesitantly. "Maybe... maybe he knows somebody at the hospital. If one of the nurses knows him, they'd have to know what a big fan he is. They'd probably tell him what was happening."
"Well, that's not exactly reassuring," Steve said. "But I suppose it's better than actually being stalked." He sighed. "I guess I should expect this kind of thing. The high price of fame, right?"
"I guess so," Beth said.
"Well, I'm not going to worry about it," Steve said firmly. "And I don't want you to worry, either. After all, if he were going to hurt me, he could have done it by now, right?"
The doll lay on its table as usual. The rusted nail still lay deep in its hip, and now a strip of black cloth was tied around its eyes, sealed in place with wax. Its mission was not yet complete. No matter. Its creator remained steadfast. Soon. Soon.