Jamey raced along the curves and hills of his favorite bike route. When he moved to Daelin, it was one of his best reasons for living somewhere not in Atlanta proper. He felt the wind on his face as he followed the curve downhill. The aerodynamic carbon frame of his premier Giant TCR Advanced 5L 0 race bike rode like a dream. He took a drink from his water bottle then put his legs in gear to climb the next rise. He felt the burn in his muscles, familiar and welcome. He rounded the last curve and could see his silver Alfa Romeo Spider with the bike rack in the distance. Worry inflamed his mind. Why? He was almost there. He’d make it this time. Then he felt the crunch of the bike and his body under the weight of the car. The alarm went off, and Jamey woke in a cold sweat, like always. The same dream, the same ending. He reached for the blackthorn cane his father had ordered from Ireland. Getting out of bed was sometimes the most adventure he’d have in these days after the accident. Jamey had been off work for twelve months, healing his body and retraining his brain. Traumatic brain injury was the one part that hadn’t healed yet. He could think and go to work. He could produce the projects required of him as a structural engineer. Presentations, though, were a disaster. He knew the words to say, but the wrong ones always came out. Sometimes it was not only unprofessional, but downright embarrassing. And words took forever with his halting speech. As long as he could write it, all was well. Meetings, if he needed to speak, were his downfall. He felt like some of the kids he’d made fun of in school who’d had disabilities. He regretted that deeply. He prayed for forgiveness, hoping God would then remove his disability. Jamey ran the electric shaver over the scars on his face. His brown hair was short due to the brain scans and injuries he’d acquired. His piercing blue eyes looked back at him in the mirror. He used to look okay. Not drop-dead handsome, but pleasant enough for girls to want to be with him. Now his long-time girlfriend had dumped him because he was scarred and couldn’t communicate properly. Except for his family, he found himself alone to deal with the changes in his life. His aftershave still stung in the scars. Maybe he should grow a beard to avoid shaving and to hide the scars. Jamey put some hair gel in his stubble to affect a cool presence. Not much else left to do to it. Jamey used the cane to descend the staircase to the kitchen, praying for over-the-counter pain relief to finally kick in. He was confronted every time he entered the kitchen by the verse he’d mounted on the fridge. His physical therapist had given it to him. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4
January 4. Noelle grabbed an apple and a slice of homemade bread as she dashed for her car. She couldn’t afford to be late on the first day of her new job. She stopped in front of the mirror in the foyer and took assessment. “Purse, keys, lunch, breakfast, gym bag. Check.” Noelle ran her fingers through her auburn-highlighted brown hair. She smoothed the navy velvet jacket and the flared skirt beneath it. “Good enough.” Noelle grabbed her rolling satchel, flung open the front door, then closed and locked it behind her before jumping into her brand-new blue Prius. After leaving her subdivision on the southside of Daelin, she joined the mass of commuters on their way to various points around Atlanta. She arrived fifteen minutes prior to her appointment at Connor and Sullivan Engineering, a prominent Atlanta structural engineering and contracting firm. Noelle flashed the newly received parking pass and employee badge, then she pulled her car into the employees’ parking garage. A lovely man in a silver car slid into the parking space beside her. He struggled to get out of the front seat with his briefcase and a cane. She resisted the urge to help. Instead, she said, “Good morning.” He nodded in her direction then hobbled to the staff elevator. She hurried to join him in the elevator. “Noelle Etheridge. My first day here. I’m a little nervous.” He smiled but didn’t speak. “I’m a speech-language pathologist hired to help someone here.” The man’s face flushed bright red. “No.” Then he shook his head and leaned on his cane. “Me.” He pointed to himself then, dropping his cane. Noelle picked up the cane. “I don’t mean to embarrass you. It’s nothing to be ashamed about.” She stood just as the doors slid open in the first floor lobby. People piled into the elevator leaving Noelle and the mystery man in the back of the car. The man reached into his pocket and pulled out a business card. He smiled and handed it to her. “James Andrew Connor III, Lead Structural Engineer.” His phone numbers were on there as well as his office address. On the back was his home address. “Pleased to meet you, Mr. Connor.” “Our voiceless, fearless leader, right, Jamey?” The voice was taunting, as though from a Charlie Brown cartoon. “Brilliant despite a brain injury. My wife should be so lucky.” Noelle touched his arm and spoke quietly. “Don’t they know you’re here?’ Jamey nodded. “They … know.” “You know he can’t help it.” The woman punched the man in the arm. “Leave him alone.” Another voice remarked, “That’s exactly what I try to do every day.” Jamey leaned against the back wall and closed his eyes. Noelle could feel his pain. He needed her help. She could help him if he was willing to trust her. The elevator stopped on the seventh floor. Jamey gathered himself and touched her arm. His touch was gentle but streaked straight to her heart. He motioned to the entry to let her go out first. “I’m supposed to check in at Human Resources on eight.” “Soon.” He nodded and smiled and left her alone in the elevator.
Noelle found herself sitting in an office alone, waiting for the HR director to arrive. The woman was already half an hour late. For this, she’d skipped breakfast? On cue, her stomach grumbled. Great. Jamey Connor needed her help, now. Let’s get this show on the road. A tall woman rushed into the office, briefcase, jacket, and scarf flying around her. “I am so sorry I’m late. The traffic from Emory was horrific.” She captured all the flying items and secured them on the hall tree inside her door and placed the briefcase next to the desk. “Christmas Etheridge, right?” She stuck out a hand. “Noelle Etheridge.” Noelle shook the woman’s hand. “Oh, I’m so sorry. You’re going to think I’m the one who needs help recovering from a brain injury.” The lady plopped into her desk chair and popped up the laptop on the desk. “I’m Heather Inglewood. We have some paperwork to complete, then I’ll take you downstairs to engineering and introduce you to Jamey Connor.” “We met in the parking garage.” Noelle was not impressed. The HR lady was late, rude, and unkind. If the elevator ride and the HR department were any indication, Jamey needed intervention , rescuing him from his co-workers. “In the elevator, Jamey’s fellow workers were quite unkind to him. You just made a derogatory remark about people who suffer, literally suffer, from traumatic brain injury. Is there anyone to whom I should report this discriminatory behavior?” Heather sat up sharply in her chair. “I’m sorry. I was inappropriate. I was trying to break the ice, that’s all.” Noelle mentally tallied a strike against her. Big mouth, one. “Jamey’s father is VP. His grandfather is CEO. It’s a big family business. They asked me to find someone who could help Jamey communicate better. He’s just as brilliant an engineer, but presentations, phone conferences, and section meetings are impossible for him.” The lady went on to explain the circumstances of the accident, the timeline of his recovery, and the importance of Jamey recovering his speaking ability. “If Jamey does not recover his speaking ability soon, he’ll need to be demoted from his current position, so someone else can lead his department.” When the paperwork was finally finished, it was 11:30. Most people were escaping in droves for lunch. “Well, you can tell by the mass exodus that it’s lunchtime. There’s a food court in the mall across the way.” “I brought my lunch.” Noelle couldn’t wait to eat it. “Is there a break room or do I have an office I can eat in?” Heather scribbled a number on a Post-it Note and stuck it on Noelle’s notepad. “I’ll come down to floor seven after lunch and properly introduce you two.” With that, Heather left Noelle to find her own way downstairs. No problem, Noelle knew how to ride an elevator and read numbers on office doors.