Robby, on the other hand, loved the chill in the air and the frost on the ground. It didn't matter how cold it was...he was just glad to be out there, enjoying the back yard. No matter how I tried to convince him that it was too cold for anyone, he just laughed and said that the weather was perfect for him.
He would come back inside, his vinyl as cold as ice, grinning from ear to ear and telling me all about the amazing patterns of the frost on the clover, or how beautiful the sunrise was. I thought he was crazy!
So I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised when I was too late to catch him that morning. Beast'sbelle saw me waiting by the side door and explained that Robby had left an hour ago. I was tempted to go after him (sort of...it was REALLY cold out there), but then Beast'sbelle mentioned that her girls would be up any time now. It would be best for me to go back to the shelf, since she couldn't guarantee when I could get back in. She promised that if she saw Robby, she'd tell him I wanted to talk to him.
Reluctantly, I made my way back to the shelf and waited.
I had an urgent longing to get this over with and make things right. I paced fretfully back and forth on the top of my shelf, longing to hear from him...hoping that he would come back early today.
But the hours dragged on by, and Robby still didn't appear. A few times I thought of trying to peek out of the windows to see if I could catch a glimpse of him. Then I remembered that Belle'sbeast had put heavy shades over all of the outside windows to keep the sun from shining in too much at the back of the house. Even if I could get to the windows, I wouldn't be able to see out of them.
More hours passed. I was beginning to lose all hope of talking to Robby today. I was starting to lose my nerve, too. Maybe tomorrow would be better! But then it came again, that pressing sense of urgency. I was desperate to talk to my friend, to hear his laughter and see his smile. I really missed my buddy.
Then, late in the afternoon, the bedroom door suddenly opened. I ran my fingers through my hair and stood with my best posture, hoping to see Robby's face peeking around the door at the floor below. But instead of Robby, it was Beast'sbelle who came in. The minute I saw her face, I knew something was wrong. She was holding something in her hands, but I couldn't see it clearly.
She looked right at me with a somber expression. "Belle," she said seriously, "you need to brace yourself."
Instantly, a sinking feeling hit my stomach. I knew right then that something had happened to Robby.
Beast'sbelle walked over to her bed and gingerly set down what she'd been holding. I gasped and covered my mouth with my hands. It was Robby, but as I'd never seen him before.
He was covered with dirt, grass, and other debris. His left knee seemed to be bent at an odd angle. Worst of all, he wasn't moving.
Beast'sbelle turned back to me and held out her hand. Shaking all over, I carefully stepped into it and allowed her to lower me to the bed where Robby lay. "Is he alive?" I asked in a voice that didn't sound like my own.
"Yes," came Beast'sbelle's reply, "but he's unconscious." Her voice was strained. "I'm going to go find Ben. He should be able to help." With that, she was gone.
I stared down at my friend. Tears stung my eyes. "What happened to you?" I whispered.
"Belle, we came as soon as we could!" Rapunzel's voice came from my right. I felt as though I was in a thick fog, but I managed to look up at in her direction.
Rapunzel and Eugene were both there, staring down at Robby in shock.
"Where are the girls?" I asked for no reason that I could fathom. Normal conversation felt ridiculous at a time like this.
"We left them with Tess and Hailey," Rapunzel said breathlessly.
I nodded and turned back to Robby.
I could hear Rapunzel softly crying. I looked up and saw her clinging to Eugene. Rapunzel had buried her face in Eugene's shoulder. Eugene was staring down at his friend with a sober look of disbelief.
At that moment, Ben appeared with Beast'sbelle. I'd never been happier to see him in my life, but there were no warm romantic feelings at the sight of him this time. Now I was depending on him to save my friend's life.
He instantly went to work, examining Robby from head to toe.
"Is he going to be all right?" I whispered.
Ben gave me a grave look. "His condition appears to be very serious, but I'll do everything I can to help." His expression softened a bit. "I think it would be best if you gave me some time to work alone. I'll come get you as soon as I'm more aware of the extent of the damage."
Shortly after we'd moved to the big pillow at the head of the bed, I felt a light touch on my shoulder. I turned and saw Rapunzel, looking at me with compassion. The sight of her standing there with such love and forgiveness after the way I'd responded to her advice was too much for me. I hugged her and burst into tears.
Rapunzel just held me and stroked my hair, like a mother comforting a small child. I decided right then and there that I would try my best to never treat her unkindly again, even if it was difficult. She had always been there for me, and she deserved no less.
Meanwhile, Ben continued his careful examination of Robby, who appeared to be stirring.
After what seemed like hours, Ben made his way over to where we stood. I wiped my eyes and waited in tense anticipation. Rapunzel clutched my hand tightly.
Ben wore his usual stern expression as he spoke. "Well, your friend is conscious, which is more than he was when I first came. He's in a great deal of pain, and recovery will take an extensive period of time."
"What exactly is wrong with him, Ben?" Eugene asked, his voice full of concern.
"He appears to have damaged the joint in his left hip, and strained the plastic and inside armature of his left knee."
I felt sick...I was never great with hearing about injuries, especially when it involved someone I cared about. Rapunzel squeezed my hand reassuringly.
"Will his hip and knee recover?" Eugene asked again. I was so thankful he was there to voice all of the things I couldn't.
Ben shook his head. "It's difficult to say. There is a possibility that the knee will right itself over time. The hip joint is a lost cause, however. I'm afraid the only way to fix it would be to replace his entire leg and joint, and that would require expertise beyond my experience."
I found my voice. "So...what does that mean exactly? If his hip stays the way it is, how will that affect him?"
Ben gave me a sympathetic look. "He will have a very noticeable limp, and will most likely be in serious pain whenever he walks. I'm afraid his mobility will be very limited."
I felt as if someone had punched me in the stomach. Poor Robby! To be deprived of his mobility and freedom, two of the things he valued most, would be a devastating blow. Rapunzel and Eugene seemed to be trying to wrap their heads around this bit of information as well.
Ben sighed. "I'm sorry to be the bearer of such bad news, but I assumed you'd want to know exactly what the prognosis was." He straightened his vest. "I need to report my findings to Beast'sbelle and see if she has any children's Tylenol to spare. It should help with the pain. Meanwhile, he is awake, so if you go individually and don't take too long, you can go see him." Ben gave us a curt little nod and turned to go.
Rapunzel and Eugene let me go first, for which I was very grateful. Robby's eyes were open when I got to his side, and he gave me a weak smile.
"Hey," he said in a hoarse voice.
"Hey yourself," I said lightly, hoping I could keep from crying.
"Sorry for all the fuss," he said, forcing a little grin onto his pale face.
I took his hand. "I'm just glad you're okay," I replied, blinking back tears. I couldn't pretend to be flippant any longer.
He smiled up at me, but his smile disappeared as he inadvertently shifted his left leg. A grimace of pain crossed his features, and he clutched my hand so tightly that it hurt.
It terrified me to see him like this. I felt so helpless and useless. "Ben is getting you some children's Tylenol for the pain," I told him, feeling like I had to say something.
His eyes were scrunched closed, but he nodded at my words.
I stroked his hand gently. "You had me worried," I said softly, hoping to distract him. "I've been waiting to talk to you all day."
He looked at me again, obviously curious. "What about?" he asked, his voice still hoarse.
"Oh, just about how I feel like a complete idiot for reacting the way I did when you were just trying to help," I let out in one breath.
He smiled slightly at my long-winded sentence.
I looked down at him seriously. "I'm really sorry...and..." I couldn't help letting my tears fall. "I'm so glad I get to tell you that. I was worried you might never know how sorry I was."
Robby blinked slowly, as if his eyelids were feeling heavy. "It's okay, Belle," he whispered. "I forgive you."
I nodded and wiped my eyes. "Now get some sleep," I commanded him gently. "You can barely keep your eyes open."
He smiled again and gave me a little nod. Within moments he was fast asleep.
I sat and watched him as he slept. Every once in a while, his brow would furrow and he would give a little moan. I had to look away when he did. It was so odd to see Robby, usually the strong, tough one, in so much pain.
At that moment, Ben returned. "Beast'sbelle is on her way with the Tylenol," he informed me. "You should probably go get some rest now and let Robby sleep."
"I didn't give Eugene and Rapunzel their turns!" I suddenly realized.
"They'll understand," Ben assured me gently.
I looked up at Ben. "Is he going to be all right? I mean, really?"
Ben allowed a small smile to form on his lips. "I'll do everything I can to make sure of that, Belle. The best thing you can do for yourself and him now is to go get some rest."
I nodded bravely, hoping that I could get away before my tears erupted again. I gave Robby one last look and then started off for my shelf.
But as I left, I realized that I didn't want to be alone this evening. Wiping my eyes, I changed direction and headed for the curio, where I knew Eugene and Rapunzel would welcome me with open arms. I needed that comfort tonight. Tonight, I might even have to sing...even if it was a whispered song. I'd never felt the need as strongly as I did tonight.