Memories of a Freedom Lost – Chapter 5: Try

“Alright, you three.”

Too soon after Milla returned did Doctor Quack enter as well, and what he had to say wasn’t something that any of them wanted to hear.

“It’s time to turn in for the night.”

Milla’s expression faltered in disappointment, though not surprise. Fixing her backpack straps, she gave Lilac an apologetic look, then turned back to the door. Lilac looked on with a frown, which only became deeper when Carol stood up out of her chair. Lilac’s gaze followed the two as they began to leave. Her brow furrowed as something began to rise in her chest. Then she allowed that something to spill from her mouth.

“W-Wait!”

At once, Carol and Milla froze in place and turned back to her. Lilac’s cheeks became slightly pink, and her fingers searched the bed sheets anxiously. She looked to the doctor, mouth hanging open for a moment before she spoke.

“Uhhh, um… ‘S it okay, if… if they stay here?”

The doctor blinked. He looked to Carol and Milla, who both blinked back at him. He looked again to Lilac, sat up in her bed and hugging Blue to her chest, eyes wide and pleading.

“Well…” Doctor Quack scratched his lower beak thoughtfully. Then he gave a smile and a nod. “I don’t see why not. Go ahead.”

Carol and Milla cheered, back to Lilac’s bedside within seconds, and the doctor chuckled as he left.

“Who’s your new friend?” Milla inquired.

Lilac’s eyes lit up at the question, and she held her stuffed animal out to Milla. “His name is Blue,” Lilac explained slowly. “Carol gave him to me.”

“Really?” Milla glanced at Carol, who averted her gaze and scratched her cheek. “That was nice of her.”

Lilac hummed in agreement. “She also, um, readed… this.” She indicated the book sitting at the top of the pile on the nightstand.

“Really?” Milla glanced even harder at Carol, who tapped her fingers against her arm and whistled.

“Yeah. I, I like that one.”

Milla smiled and nodded. “I can tell.”

It wasn’t long before a contagious yawn passed between the three of them, and it was mutually agreed that they should get some sleep.

Milla said, “We’ll be right here if you need anything, okay?”

Lilac responded, “Okay.”

The girls said goodnight, and Lilac curled up under the bed sheets with Blue in her arms. She fell asleep that night with a smile on her face.

The next morning, all three could certainly concur, was easily the most pleasant since their arrival. Lilac was the first to wake, stirring Carol and Milla from their slumbers with lonely calls. The two, though probably in need of another hour or so’s rest, quickly scooted their chairs over to Lilac’s bedside at the sound of her cries. They passed the time with chitchat, which was quite easy to make considering that Lilac had suddenly become highly inquisitive.

“Where’d Milla go yesterday?”

“What’s the thing around the doctor man’s neck?”

“Why’re my hands purple?”

She was so full of questions that Carol and Milla became slightly overwhelmed, but nonetheless did their best to provide answers.

“To the royal palace…”

“That’s called a ‘heart-ear-checky-thingy.’”

“Uh, because you’re purple?”

Lilac became more and more excited with each answer they offered, growing increasingly enthusiastic with her question-asking. It seemed that she had discovered a whole wealth of knowledge with these two! Surely their answers could add some weight to her empty noggin.

The question party was broken up when Doctor Quack returned, clipboard in hand and looking just as dull as ever. The girls were much more interested in the nurse who followed, giving each of them a breakfast tray. Carol hadn’t actually seen Lilac eat since she woke up, she realized, though she may have just not been paying attention. Lilac’s meal consisted primarily of some blended puree in a spill-proof cup. Unsurprisingly, she couldn’t handle chopsticks any better than she could a pencil. But that was okay, for now. She would get better later, Carol was sure.

Once food had been consumed, it was time to get back to work. Lilac was handed paper and pen, and once more the group set about getting her to write something, anything. But still, she was hesitant, and Carol could see her hands jitter. Even after a week, any markings she made were discouraging illegible scribbles. While Milla and the doctor poked and prodded her with advice and shallow encouragements, Carol wasn’t interested in “helping.” She was more concerned with Lilac herself, the small, defiant noises she made when she was given instruction, and the way her gaze kept wandering to the window.

When the doctor stepped away, muttering something under his breath, Lilac sighed deeply. Milla gripped her shaking hand comfortingly, but she didn’t react. She only held Blue to herself, staring out the window, at the world beyond her room. At this observation, Carol’s brow furrowed with thought.

“Yo, doc,” she said, and everybody turned to her. “Why don’t we put the books down for a while and try getting her out of bed?”

Lilac’s eyes sparked hopefully at the suggestion, and though hesitant, Doctor Quack couldn’t think of an argument.

When presented with a wheelchair, Lilac was skeptical. Despite her eagerness to escape the confines of her bed, this weird thing that she was required to sit in for that to happen was just the slightest bit frightening. Then again, weren’t all new things to some degree? The doctor pulled back the sheets for her, and he and one of the nurses took her by the arms. Her breath caught when they sat her up, and her eyes searched the floor with cautious curiosity. Then they hoisted her up, and she squeaked as she was plopped down in the chair. She immediately tensed when the doctor and nurse stepped away, glancing over the weird thing’s edges and holding her hands stiff in her lap. Then Carol handed Blue back to her, and she lightened up a bit.

“You can steer it, if you’d like,” Doctor Quack offered the girls, “but you have to follow us.”

Carol and Milla exchanged glances. Milla, figuring that she was just the slightest bit too short and weak for the job, gave Carol a smile and a nod. So Carol took the wheelchair’s handles, and Lilac looked up at her.

Those eyes weren’t Lilac’s. But they would be again soon, Carol was sure.

The rest of that day, for what it was worth, was interesting fun. Lilac got to see the rest of the hospital, spending most of the ride in a stunned silence, eyes wide and searching every new thing that they could possibly search. Meanwhile, Carol and Milla got to find their own entertainment in entertaining her, be it pointing things out and telling her what they were called, playing with Blue to try and make her smile, or slipping her a bag of vending machine chips and being scolded by the doctor.

However, in stark contrast to just hours before, Lilac was strikingly silent for most of the journey out. She didn’t say anything to the doctor when he prompted her, nor to Carol or Milla when they spoke. She just sat quiet, trying to take in everything around her. Perhaps she was a little overwhelmed by all of the new? That was Carol and Milla’s best guess. But after some time of wandering around, Lilac finally found something to say.

“Why, ‘re…” she mumbled, before catching herself and trying to raise her voice a bit. “Why, does er’rybody… everybody else, get to…” As she stuttered, Carol and Milla exchanged glances. “Get to… stand… but, I…”

“Why does everybody else get to stand?” Carol questioned. Lilac nodded slowly, looking up, but not making eye contact. Carol looked to Milla uncertainly.

“Well…” Milla said, “It’s because… you’re hurt. You… You can’t stand. Not yet.”

“But I want that!” Lilac spat sharply, causing Carol and Milla to recoil. At their reaction, Lilac grumbled, lowering her head and scowling at her lap. “I, want… to, walk. Like you.”

“You want to walk…” Carol echoed quietly.

Lilac nodded again. “I… I want that. I wanna do that.”

Carol and Milla looked to Doctor Quack, who seemed to have been listening. He scratched his head in thought, and the girls stared at him expectantly.

“Well… There’s always tomorrow.”

So the next morning, Lilac was once again pulled from her bed and placed in the wheelchair. This time, the doctor led the girls to a room marked by a sign that read Physical Rehabilitation.

The task was simple: hold the raised metal bars to balance yourself so you can stand. The problem was, Lilac’s legs and arms were both jelly, and she collapsed the second that the doctor let go of her. So the new plan became not to let go of her at all, and the new problem became the extreme distrust Lilac held against her limbs after that first fall. She was so unsure of herself that she became completely frozen, eyes fixed to the ground and nervous sweat dripping down her forehead.

“Come on, Lilac,” Carol encouraged, “you can do it. It’s easy.”

Lilac grumbled, gaze remaining fixed to the floor.

“I’m not going to let go,” Doctor Quack assured her. “It’s okay. Just focus on steadying yourself. Can you do that?”

Lilac grumbled again. She glanced up at Carol and Milla, who hadn’t been smiling until she caught their eyes. Milla lifted Blue up and made him wave, and Lilac smiled slightly back. It faded, however, when she looked back down. They remained there for some time, nothing happening. Only Lilac staring down at the floor.

The doctor sighed. “Perhaps, this would be better held off until later…”

“N-No,” Lilac immediately protested. “I-I can. I can.”

“Are you sure?” the doctor questioned.

Lilac nodded confirmation. “I can. Don’t wanna wait.”

“If you’re certain…”

So Lilac kept trying as hard as she could to bring herself to try. Her grip on the bars tightened and loosened, her legs rattled beneath her, and it was clear from the glint in her eye and the knit in her brow that she was as concentrated as concentrated could be. But whenever the doctor loosened up his grasp, even just a little, she let out a distressed whimper, and they were right back where they started. No amount of effort could get rid of that fear she had.

Carol huffed, and Milla looked up at her curiously. Her gaze followed Carol as she stepped forward, and, without saying a word, gripped Lilac’s arm and back herself. Lilac stumbled over a gasp as she looked to Carol, who smiled at her.

“Don’t worry. I’ve got you.”

A moment later, Milla appeared on Lilac’s other side, having abandoned Blue to the parked wheelchair. She held the areas opposite to those that Carol was holding.

“We’ve got you.”

Lilac glanced to Carol, then to Milla, expression a little surprised. She saw their comforting smiles and felt that they weren’t letting go. With a deep breath, Lilac nodded. The doctor stepped back, enough to give them room, but not so much so that he couldn’t act if something went wrong. But everything was okay. Carol and Milla were able to correct Lilac’s grip on the rails and straighten her back a little. She was steady.

When Carol loosened up just a little, Milla followed her lead, and Lilac’s muscles tensed. The added weight caused her legs to wobble more, but it was okay, because Carol and Milla still had her.

“Breathe,” Milla instructed. Lilac tried.

“Try not to think about it too hard,” Carol said. Lilac tried.

With a little bit of effort, the shaking eased up. Carol and Milla loosened up a bit again, allowing Lilac to readjust. After repeating this process several times, Lilac had both feet planted firmly on the ground, and though she was still shaky, she was alright. Carol and Milla looked to each other and nodded. Then, carefully, they slowly stepped away.

She was doing it! Well, sort of. She still had to grip the rails, but even so, she was standing without being held. She looked to Carol and Milla, each with excitement and joy in their expressions, and felt some of that soak into her as well.

“I-I did it…” she gasped.

“You did it!” Carol and Milla cheered, and rushed to embrace her. The double-hug nearly caused her to fall over again, and the doctor chastised them for the hasty action. Still, once Lilac was back in her wheelchair, he offered Carol and Milla an approving smile. Satisfied with the outcome and Lilac’s pleasure, the two shared a triumphant high-five.

For the first time, Lilac was making progress.

Twice a day, she was returned to Physical Rehabilitation, and a little at a time, she was improving. It would be some time before she could walk without support, Doctor Quack assured Carol and Milla to neither’s surprise, but she would get there eventually. For the time, getting around via wheelchair and working with the metal bars each day was good enough.

But it wasn’t just the physical rehab that had to be worked on. There was still the reading comprehension and writing, however Lilac may have loathed the thought of them. There had been some semblance of hope that her success in the physical department may have encouraged her to try harder here, or at least distract her from her shortcomings. But no. Lilac was still as unsuccessful with and bitter about the reading and writing as ever.

The biggest difference now was that she actually got to sit at a desk while she tried to write instead of in bed. There were also times when Doctor Quack would be busy and leave the girls to work by themselves, not that his absence made much of a difference. They were still trying a variety of methods to get Lilac going, and all of them still failed. She still had Milla leaning over her shoulder at all times as she worked. She still had to be corrected on how she was holding the pencil, because, as she had muttered under her breath on one occasion, “That’s a stupid way to hold something.” Still, nothing changed. She couldn’t do it, and it was wearing on everybody involved.

One morning, while Milla was dozing off and Carol was flipping through the doctor’s reports at the back of the room, the quiet atmosphere was broken with a snap. Lilac had broken her pencil. She seemed to have broken her spirit, too.

At the sound of Lilac’s cries, Carol and Milla rushed to her side. They tried to comfort her, asking what was wrong, wiping the tears from her cheeks, placing Blue in her lap, but she was too busy sobbing to answer. They looked down at the tear-stained paper in front of her, covered in scribbles. Scribbles which, if you squinted hard enough, actually somewhat resembled letters, at least more than post-accident Lilac’s writing had before. Yet, it was still illegible.

She was trying. But nothing changed.

“Why’s it so hard…?” she choked out between sniffles. “Why can’t I but everybody else can…?”

Carol and Milla looked to each other, eyes soft with uncertainty. They both knew there was no good answer to that question.

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