A Christmas Wish for Clara by Jessica L. Elliott

Chapter One

Clara Dreiers stood nervously outside the physical therapy building, leaning on her crutches. Crutches she hoped to be able to ditch in the near future. Despite the doctors’ warnings that it would take weeks before a prosthetic could be made and ready for her, Clara was determined. She wouldn’t let the car accident she barely remembered take more away from her than it already had.

“Hey there, let me get that door for you,” a masculine voice said behind her.

Clara turned to see a muscular man in scrub pants and a light jacket dash around her to open the door. “Thanks,” she said. “But I can get it.”

He grinned. “I have no doubt you could, but I’ve played the open the door with crutches game before. It’s not easy.” He pulled the door wide. “Come on in.”

She didn’t feel like arguing. Instead, Clara used her crutches to get into the building. A welcome blast of warm air hit her as she entered. While winter hadn’t fully descended on the city, the temperatures were already cooling rapidly. “You would think they would have a sliding door or something.” Clara muttered as she passed the man holding the door.

“One’s been ordered,” he replied, using one hand to brush back the dark hair that had been blown out of place. “Hopefully it will arrive soon.”

She glanced at him. “I’m guessing since you know that, you must work here.”

He smiled. “I’m one of the physical therapists. I don’t remember seeing you here before. Is this your first appointment?”

Clara nodded. “I’m Clara.”

“Beau Prince,” he said, giving her a bright smile that made her somehow feel lighter than she had in a long while. “I’m sure I’ll see you again, but for now I’ve got to scoot. I’m running a bit late this morning.”

“Bye.” She watched him go before taking herself to the front desk.

The receptionist looked up with a kind smile. “Welcome to Back on Your Feet. How can I help you?”

“I’m Clara Dreiers. I’m here for an evaluation and physical therapy session.”

Standing, the receptionist said, “I’ve got some paperwork for you to fill out and then we’ll get you checked in. Follow me.” She led the way to a small table, a clipboard tucked under one arm. She helped Clara settle into one of the seats and put the clipboard in front of her. “Just fill these out and let me know when you’re done.”

“Thank you.” Clara read through each paper, filling in her medical history and the reason for her amputation. Tears blurred her vision, but she dashed them away impatiently. Crying wouldn’t bring her leg back. Nothing would. But hard work and a prosthetic might at least help her get her life back on track. Once finished, Clara returned the clipboard to the receptionist before going to sit on one of the waiting room chairs. The timing of her accident couldn’t have been worse. All the years of ballet training had led to being cast as Clara in the local amateur dance company’s production of The Nutcracker. Though she was twice as old as the average “Clara,” the dance company wanted to utilize a primarily adult cast for the production meant to inspire the growing youth ballet program. They hoped that in a year or two, they would have young ballerinas at a level of aptitude to take on the roles traditionally theirs. Having started late in ballet herself, Clara had been thrilled to receive the role she’d most loved since her first introduction to ballet, the role her mother had named her for.

She’d been driving home from the studio, when the accident happened. Clara knew it was no small miracle that she’d survived the crash at all. Her mother had stayed at her side during the long hospital recovery. But now Clara missed her independence. She missed driving for herself, getting things herself, and most of all dancing. How she craved to dance again!

“Clara Dreiers,” a familiar voice called. She looked up to see Beau holding a file folder and smiling. Clara awkwardly pushed herself out of the chair, determined to do it herself. She got her crutches situated under her arms and then made her way to the therapist. “Well, well. Looks like we got to see each other sooner than expected,” he said jovially, his brown eyes twinkling.

“It appears so.”

“Come with me and I’ll introduce you to your team.” Beau led the way down a short hallway. Through open doorways, Clara could see treadmills and specialty equipment to help amputees relearn the basic things they’d learned in childhood. She stayed quiet as Beau led the way to a large therapy room. Some of the equipment she recognized from her long hospital stay. Other pieces were unfamiliar to her. At a table to her left, several people sat waiting for her. Beau stood behind her as she took a seat at the table. Once she was settled, he moved to the head of the table. “Clara, I’m just going to introduce you to everyone before I get to my next assignment. Everyone here is part of your unique team to help get you to your goals. Sometimes you’ll meet all together to discuss where you’re at, what challenges you are currently facing, and what progress you’ve made. Other times you’ll meet with specific people for individual needs. But at Back on Your Feet, we believe that having an individual team involved with each patient helps keep communication channels open, and helps the healing process be as smooth as possible. Do you have any family who will be joining us today before we start the introductions?”

Clara took a small breath. “My mother should have been in here by now. She was just parking the car.”

“The parking garage is notoriously difficult to navigate,” an older gentleman said in a soft voice. “We can wait. There’s no rush.”

She forced herself to smile. Maybe he wasn’t in a rush, but Clara wanted to get this ball rolling. The sooner she could get in a prosthetic, the sooner she could walk. The sooner she could walk, just maybe the sooner she could dance.

He gave a knowing chuckle, as though he’d sensed her thoughts.

“I’m so sorry,” a harried woman said as she entered. “I’m Trish Dreiers, Clara’s mom.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Beau said motioning for her to take a seat next to Clara. “We just barely got everyone settled. Now that we’re all here, let’s get started. Dr. Newark couldn’t make it today due to an emergency surgery, but you did meet him during your hospital stay, correct?”

Clara nodded. She remembered Dr. Newark well. A solemn man who balanced an optimistic prognosis with the reality that this would be neither easy, nor comfortable.

“Good. Most of the time physiotherapy will be led by Sabrina or Kaylee, but occasionally I might fill in for them.”

The two women he indicated waved with bright smiles.

“To my left,” Beau continued, pointing to the dark-skinned woman nearest him, “is Dr. Gilbert. She will be your prosthetist. Over the next few weeks, she will work to help prepare your limb for the prosthetic and develop the right prosthetic for you. Even after the prosthetic is developed and you’ve become accustomed to it, she will continue to work with you to ensure that your needs are being met.”

“It’s nice to meet you,” she said, her voice bearing the hint of a southern drawl.

“Next to her is Dr. Perkins. He is a therapist and will be available to you and your mother throughout the process, and as part of your ongoing care.”

The man with the soft voice nodded to each of them. “I will be pleased to help you in any way I can.”

Beau motioned to Clara. “I’ve got to go to my next assignment now, but why don’t you take a moment to introduce yourself?”

She felt a bit of nervousness as all eyes turned to her while Beau left the room. Unlike when she was on stage, there were no bright lights to hide the faces of her audience. “I’m Clara Dreiers. I am, was, a ballerina in the Walnut Creek Main Street Dance Troupe as well as teaching ballet to the youngest students. Twelve weeks ago I was involved in a car accident. I survived, but…” Her voice trailed away as sorrow overcame her.

Trish patted her hand gently. “Life is just going to be a little different now,” she said.

“A little?” Clara blurted, anger at the understatement overwhelming her. “A little?”

“Clara,” Trish began, a warning note to her tone.

“No, this is good,” Dr. Perkins interrupted. “Tell us, Clara. How is life going to be different for you?”

The tears she’d tried so valiantly to hold in spilled over. “Everything will be different. My career, my plans, my dreams.” She gasped as sobs racked through her. “Nothing will be the way it was before.”

“But I’ll still love you as I did before,” Trish said, her voice quiet and hurt. “Nothing will change that.”

Clara wanted to feel badly for hurting her mother’s feelings. She knew she was only trying to help, to comfort her. But she also knew that there was nothing her mother could do to make her feel any better about her situation. Acting like this was a small change was insulting, honestly to both of them. It would be quite a while before Clara could go back to being fully independent, putting her mother’s plans on hold. Clara hated feeling like she was a burden, and nothing her mother said would make her feel any differently.

“This is a true and good point,” Dr. Perkins said, the soft cadence of his voice soothing Clara’s raw emotions. “But you are also right. Many of your plans will change, but perhaps not all of them. Marvelous things are being done in prosthetic technology, Clara. I have no doubts that you will dance again. Perhaps not in exactly the same way you did before, but you will dance. First though, we must help you heal.” He glanced over the rims of his glasses. “I believe you both ought to schedule individual appointments with me so we can discuss your feelings on what has happened privately.”

Trish agreed and Clara nodded.

“At this point,” Dr. Gilbert said, “we’d best get started. You’ve got a long road ahead of you, and today is just the first step.”

~*~

At the end of the appointment, Clara felt mentally and physically exhausted. A tiny sliver of hope flickered against the crushing weight of her uncertainty. Beau was standing next to the reception desk as Clara approached to set up her next appointment. “So, how did everything go?” he asked.

“Honestly?” she replied. “I feel like I’m about to attempt climbing Mount Everest without any gear.”

Beau chuckled. “I understand the feeling. The road to recovery is never an easy one. But if you believe in yourself, you can do this.”

Clara looked away from him, not wanting to voice the niggling doubt claiming this would be impossible, not improbable. “How do you know?”

He pulled on his pant leg, drawing her attention back to him. A shiny prosthetic stood in place of the leg she expected to see. “I’m living proof that it can be done.” Beau smiled. “There’s a support group that meets here every Thursday evening. If you’re feeling up to it, I think it would be good for you to meet with other amputees. It can help this process feel less lonely, and certainly less impossible.”

“I’ll think about it. It’s hard when I can’t get around on my own like I used to,” Clara admitted.

Beau pulled a business card from the breast pocket of his scrub shirt. “If you need a ride, or just someone to talk to, I’m happy to help out.”

Clara took it from him, a wave of warmth rushing over her at the brief contact with his fingers. She chided herself for being silly. This was no time to develop a school girl crush on the handsome therapist. She put on her most professional front. “Thanks.” A car horn outside the building made her look up. “Looks like Mom is ready to go,” she said.

“Probably. You take care. And seriously, if you want to catch a ride to the group meeting, just let me know.”

Nodding, Clara put the card into her purse before getting her crutches situated and moving to the exit. While part of her balked at the idea of needing a support group, she also recognized the truth of his statement. She’d never really known any other amputees. Sure she’d seen them occasionally on television or perhaps in passing when in the larger cities surrounding her hometown. But Walnut Creek didn’t have many that she knew of. Back on Your Feet was a long ways outside the small city she’d grown up in. Beau was right. It would be good to get to know some of the others in the region. She could use support from people who genuinely understood what she was going through.