Natalie watched and then made another hash mark on the whiteboard. It went next to three others that were gradually making up the next set of five. The board was nearly half full of such bright green marks, each about an inch and a half tall, as uniform in size as freehand could make them.
She was very careful about that. It mattered. Each mark was a compromise she and Mason had agreed upon. Too big and not enough marks would fit on the board; too small, and too many marks would fit. She had practiced with the marker until she could neatly fill the board with one hundred marks, in tallies of fives.
She looked over at Mason and watched. Then she made the five-bar gate to signify the fifth attempt of that set.
“That’s fifty,” she said, more distinctly than was absolutely necessary.
Mason frowned and nodded. Then he made himself smile as he got back in his chair.
“That was a good morning’s workout,” he claimed. “Lunch, a little rest, and we’ll be ready for the blue pen this afternoon.”
Natalie also forced a smile and nodded at him.
Mason looked at the German shepherd sitting by the door; the dog was leashed, and the hand loop was hooked over the doorknob. That kept Schultz from running to his master’s side during the counting process.
“Ready to go out, Schultz?” Mason asked. The dog’s face brightened, and Mason rolled his wheelchair around the soft mats he had fallen on fifty times that morning. He took hold of the leash and opened the door. Schultz, mindful of his master’s needs, slowly led Mason through the doorway and outside.
Natalie walked around the mats and closed the door behind them. She told herself not to sigh but did so anyway.
Fifty times Mason had fallen this morning. And it was almost a given he would fall fifty times this afternoon as she filled the rest of the whiteboard with blue marks. Then he would stop for the day.
They had begun to work it out just before he left the hospital.
“Mason, it would be a miracle if you ever walked again. How many times are you willing to fall in one day to try for that miracle?”
“I’m willing to fall a thousand times a day to make that first step on my own.”
“I’m not willing to watch you fall a thousand times a day,” she had told him.
They had compromised on one hundred.
Just fifty to go, in the middle of the afternoon, and they could both call it a day.