"All right, Beth," Neal said. "I'll let the others know."
There was a sigh from the other end of the line. "Tell Steve... tell him I'm sorry."
"I will." The moment Beth hung up the phone, the doorbell rang. She went to answer it, wondering who could possibly be visiting them. Beth opened the door to see a delivery man, holding a large, rectangular package. Beth gaped at it in shock for several moments.
"Your signature, ma'am?" the delivery man said at last.
"S-sorry," she stammered, giving him the signature. Beth took the package from him and closed the door. She found Steve sitting up in the guest bed, making idle squiggles on his board. He looked up when she sat on the bed. Beth put the package on his lap and he scanned it with his hands. When he discovered what it was, he grew pale and pushed it away from him.
"HOW???" he wrote.
"He MUST be watching us!"
"I don't know. What does it say?"
Steve opened the package and Beth described the new canvas. It was painted such a dark blue that it was almost black. In one corner, there was the faintest hint of light, like the very beginning of a sunrise. Steve read the message, then sat gazing down at it with his unseeing eyes for several moments. Beth touched his arm lightly and he wrote down the message for her.
Darkness comes before dawn. Please don't give up. You have been, and always will be, my sole inspiration. Your sun will shine again. I know it will.
"It's beautiful," Beth wrote.
Steve nodded. "I don't like him watching us. But I can't believe that he would try to hurt me when he sends things like this."
"I know what you mean," Beth replied. "But I'll be keeping the curtains drawn from now on."
The fan's gift cheered Steve considerably, despite the scare it had given them. He let Beth convince him to get out of bed, and they spent the better part of the morning playing hangman and tic-tac-toe. His memory was getting better. Beth didn't even have to tell him where the last letters (or the last "X" or "O") had been placed on the board. Steve ended up winning almost every game, and he couldn't help teasing Beth about it.
"I'm just letting you win because I feel sorry for you," Beth wrote.
"Keep dreaming, sister," he replied. A short time after noon, Steve began to feel a slight twinge in his hip - the first sign that his medication was starting to wear off. He knew he should wait and try to bear the pain for a while, but he just didn't have the will power today. He asked Beth for a pill, and she didn't argue with him. When she covered his hand with hers and started to write him a message, he figured he knew why.
"I think I should call Dr. Reynolds."
Steve sighed. "I don't want to -"
"You don't have to go in. I'll ask her to come here."
"It won't help. I know she'll just say they're perfectly healthy."
"Please," she wrote. "We have to try at least."
Steve ran a hand through his hair, but decided to relent. It couldn't hurt to get examined, even though he was sure it wouldn't help any more than it had before. "Fine," he wrote. "For you." Beth gave him a kiss, then went away to make the call.
They'd hardly waited thirty minutes before Dr. Reynolds arrived. Beth told Steve that the doctor seemed to still feel guilty about the way Dr. Atwater had treated him, and she'd canceled all her afternoon appointments so she could visit him at home. Steve allowed the doctor to examine him, then waited several minutes while Beth talked to her. "Well?" he wrote. Then he tapped the board to get their attention.
Beth took his hand and wrote, "Normal."
"I'm not surprised," he wrote, disappointed nonetheless.
"Dr. R. says we should try a hearing aide. A very powerful one might work."
"Really?" Steve felt a faint glimmer of hope. "Do you think I might tour after all?"
"I hope so, baby."
Steve smiled. "Thanks, Dr." he wrote.
"Dr. R. says 'You're welcome. Sorry I couldn't be of more help.'"
Steve shrugged. "Not your fault."
The doctor left, and Beth came back to his side. "She gave me some numbers. I'm going to call and see when they'll come."
"Sounds good," Steve replied. "I hope this works."
"So do I."
Beth looked up after losing her third straight game of tic-tac-toe. "Doorbell," she told Steve. He nodded, and she got out of bed and went to see who it was. "Hi, Jonathan!" Beth cried. "Come in!" She stood aside and Jonathan walked in, looking mildly uncomfortable. "Have a seat," Beth said. "I'll go get Steve."
"No, no," he said. "You don't have to." Beth looked confused. "I... I can't really stay long," he said. "I just came to tell you something."
"Okay," Beth said. "What is it?"
"We've..." Jonathan sighed. "I don't know how to say this. We've decided to look for a new singer."
"We're getting a new lead singer."
Beth stood gaping at him for several seconds before finding her tongue again. "You... you can't do that! What about Steve?"
"Beth, Steve can't hear anymore. We've had to cancel the tour and now we're sitting around twiddling our thumbs."
"Jonathan, he's only been deaf for two days! I have three hearing aide specialists coming here tomorrow. If they can help him, Steve could still tour with you."
"But he can't sing, Beth. What are we supposed to do after the tour? How can we have a band where the lead singer can't sing?"
"He might be better by then."
"Do you really believe that?" he asked. Beth looked hurt. "Look, Beth, I'm sorry," he said. "But we can't wait forever."
"I'm not asking you to wait forever! But Steve hasn't even been sick for two months yet. That's not very long. Even if the hearing aides don't work, Journey doesn't have to tour. You guys are popular enough that Escape will sell without much promotion. Especially with all the publicity Steve's getting right now. But if you kick him out of the band, you'll kill the album before it's had a chance!"
Jonathan sighed heavily and looked at the floor. "I'm sorry, Beth," he said after a moment. "I really am. But we've made up our minds."
"No!" Beth cried. "Don't tell me that! Steve is your friend, Jonathan. When you first joined Journey, he was the only one who didn't treat you like an outsider. You know how he feels about Journey! It's his life! How can you take it away from him?"
"Beth, you don't know how hard it was for us to make this decision!"
"But you don't have to make it," Beth said. "You could wait. The least you could do is wait until we find out if the hearing aides work!"
"Beth, please. You're making this harder than it has to be. We've made up our minds. It's... it's time to move on now."
"Move on?" Beth cried. "Jonathan, Steve's sick, not dead!"
"And how long do you think that's gonna last?" he snapped. Beth gasped and Jonathan looked ashamed. "I'm sorry, Beth. I am. But something's happening to Steve that no one can do anything about. And it's not stopping. It's getting worse. It's only a matter of time before - "
"Get out, Jonathan," Beth said, finding her voice at last.
"Beth, please, I - "
"Leave!" she cried, feeling a lump developing in her throat. She marched to the door and yanked it open, striving to keep the tears at bay, at least until he left. Jonathan walked slowly to the door. He stopped before he went out, looking at Beth as if he wanted to say something more. "Don't come back here," she said softly. Jonathan gasped. He looked at her for a moment, his eyes filled with sadness. Then he lowered his head and walked out the door.
Beth watched him drive away, then slammed the door shut. She turned and leaned against it, giving vent to her tears for a few moments. After she'd forced herself to get it together, she went back into the guest room. Steve was looking toward the door when she went in. He showed her his board. "Are you okay?"
Beth sat beside him and wrote, "Yes, baby, I'm fine."
"Liar," Steve wrote. "What happened?"
"How do you know I'm lying?"
"I felt the door slam," he wrote. "And your hand is shaking."
Beth looked at her hand. Steve's sense of touch must be getting stronger. She couldn't tell that it was shaking unless she concentrated on it. She sighed. "Jonathan came."
"Oh?" Steve looked pleased, then worried. "Bad news?"
"Yes," she wrote. She sighed again. How could she tell him?
Beth took his hand and wrote, "Journey is looking for a new singer." Steve tensed, gripping the marker tightly. Beth waited for him to write something, but he didn't. She took his hand again. "I couldn't change his mind. I'm sorry."
Steve shook his head. He sat completely still for several minutes and Beth didn't disturb him. Then he wrote on the board. "I'm going to die."
Beth took his hand. "No, baby! I know you feel bad now, but it's not the end of the world."
"No. I mean literally. I'm going to die."
Beth paled. "Steve!" she said aloud. She took his hand and vigorously scratched out his message. "You are NOT going to die!" She wrote the word "NOT" in disproportionately large letters, underlining it at least six times.
Beth gripped his wrist tightly. She erased the board and wrote the word "NO" large enough to cover the whole thing.
Steve sighed silently, then erased the board. "Baby, listen to me. Whatever this thing is, it's taking away my senses one by one, and there's nothing I can do to stop it. At this rate, it won't be long before I'm dead to everything but this fucking pain! Even if I don't physically die, it won't matter," he wrote, starting to cry. "Just like it doesn't matter than I'm not physically blind. Or mute. Or deaf! I'll be dead anyway!"
Beth grabbed his hand. "Stop! I am NOT going to let that happen!"
Steve yanked his hand back. "You can't stop it!" he wrote. "Nothing can. And when I don't have anything left, you'll..." he paused, crying harder now and trying to keep his tears from falling on the board. His hand was shaking so much that the next sentence was barely legible. "You'll leave me."
Beth gasped. She took his hand in a firm but gentle grip and wrote on the board. "Never! I will NEVER leave you, Steve. Not EVER! I love you too much to try to live without you."
Beth released Steve's hand. He dropped the pen, pushed the board away and curled himself into Beth's arms, weeping silently. Beth rocked him slowly, stroking his hair and murmuring comforting noises that he would never hear.
After about two hours, Beth heard the doorbell ring again. She sighed and told Steve where she was going. Steve gripped her arm and shook his head. "Don't leave me alone," he wrote. Beth helped him to his feet, gave him his cane and together they went to the door.
Beth scowled when she saw Ross and Smitty. "Don't slam the door," Smitty said.
"Why shouldn't I?"
"Because we're out of work and we're hungry," Ross said.
Beth stared at them. "What did you say?"
"We're out of work and we're hungry," Ross repeated. "Can we come in?"
Beth moved aside and let them in. "Have a seat," she said, closing the door and feeling a little dazed. She led Steve to the couch. Smitty and Ross sat in arm chairs.
"Who is it?" Steve asked.
"Smitty and Ross," Beth wrote. Steve frowned.
"My God," Ross said, watching them with wide eyes. "I didn't really believe Neal when he told us."
"What are you going to do now?" Smitty asked.
"Mostly, I'm going to wonder what you two are doing here. And what do you mean you're out of work?"
The two musicians grew grim. "We quit the band," Ross said.
"Yup," Ross said.
"Because of Steve?" Beth asked.
Smitty nodded. "Herb, Neal and Jonathan came to us yesterday and told us we were getting another singer."
"Yesterday!?" Beth cried.
"Yeah," Ross said. "Apparently they talked it all out after you called and told them Steve was... that he was deaf."
Smitty sighed. "We told them we should wait a while, but they wouldn't budge."
"Some bullshit about needing to press forward and keep the ball rolling or whatever," Ross said. "So we told them if they started looking for a new singer without at least waiting for you to talk to a doctor, they'd be looking for a more than a singer."
"And they called your bluff," Beth said.
"Big time," said Smitty. "We went into the studio and Jonathan was just coming back from your house. Said you were pretty pissed off."
"Did you really tell him never to come back?" Ross asked.
Beth nodded. Then she heard Steve tapping on his board. "What are you talking about?"
"Sorry," she wrote, feeling guilty for leaving him out. "R. and S. left Journey because they let you go."
Steve smiled faintly and his eyes grew misty. He erased Beth's message and wrote "Thank you," in large letters.
His two former band members smiled. "How can we... should we try to answer?" Smitty asked.
"I'll tell him what you say," Beth said.
"Tell him he's welcome," Smitty said. "It was the least we could do."
"Besides," Ross said when she'd finished. "It just wouldn't have been the same without him there making smartass comments and driving us all crazy."
Beth translated, and Steve completely unnerved their guests by laughing his utterly silent laugh. "Look who's calling me a smartass," he wrote.
Ross and Smitty cleared their throats. Then Smitty said, "Anyway, if there's anything we can do to help, all you have to do is ask."
Beth wrote what he'd said. Steve smiled. "Thanks."
"I was about to start lunch," Beth said. "If you were serious about being hungry, you're welcome to stay."
"Why not?" Ross said, glancing at Smitty.
"Sure," he said. "It's not like we have anywhere to be."
Beth told Steve she was going to make lunch and left him to play hangman with Ross and Smitty. After lunch, Steve asked them to stay and help Beth fix the bedroom. Beth protested, but they insisted on staying to help, even after seeing the state it was in. In fact, they refused to let Beth help them at all beyond giving them directions. She stayed near Steve and he kept his hand on her arm, reluctant to lose contact with her even for a moment. Finally, in the early evening, they finished, dragging four full garbage bags outside. The room looked bare, but it was clean and the bed was intact.
"Thank you," Beth cried. "You guys are great! Thank you so much! It looks beautiful in here!"
They smiled, wiping the sweat from their brows. "No problem," said Smitty.
"Least we could do," Ross said. He grinned. "But I'll be careful the next time I tell somebody 'Anything I can do to help.'"