Thursday, September 30, 1999

Secrets

This story originally appeared on the Secret Garden website and is archived here at the request of author Doug Rogers.


 
Constance Griffin looked around, over her left shoulder. Yes, he was still there. The blond young man with the close-cropped hair and blank expression had been behind her for the last 10 minutes. He had to be a dev. Why else would someone be stalking her?
The statuesque woman took one more step with her forearm crutches, and turned on her left foot. The suddenness of the move caused her full skirt to flare, almost like an ice-skater performing a spin. The young man started in spite of himself. When the skirt had raised he had seen just a flash of the stump of her right leg under it.

"Do I know you?" she demanded of the stranger?

"I don't believe so," he stammered, trying to maintain some sort of control.
"Well, if you don't know me, may I ask why you are following me?"
"Uh," he stammered again. "I wasn't following you, actually..."
"You were just following me sort of then," she demanded sarcastically.
"Well, uh, we were just, uh, going the same way."
She flushed visibly.
"I saw you looking at me. Watching me. If you don't stop following me, I'm going to call the police."
"Look," he began, "I admit I was watching you. I was following you... trying to think of some way to introduce myself."
"And why would you want to do that?" she asked coldly?
"Because I think you're very attractive. I wanted to meet you."
"Well, honey," she fired back at him, "I've been told all about you people. You're a devotee... right? One of those freaks who get their jollies off of other people's loss? Well, back off! I don't want anything to do with you. You're a filthy pervert and I want you to leave me the hell alone! Now get out of here before I have you arrested!"
She angrily whirled around and began to crutch off.
David Soloman stood there, shaking.
"Well, what was I expecting," he thought to himself. "An open-arms welcome?"
His thoughts drifted back to the time two months ago when he had first caught a glimpse of the woman. She was passing the restaurant where he took his dinner most evenings. The slight metallic sound of her crutches alternating with the click of the single high heel shoe had caught his attention. He looked up just in time to see her glide by. For the next several weeks, he had been on the lookout for her. And there she was... just like clockwork. It was obvious that she worked around the area, and he was catching her on her homeward jaunt. It had taken two months to work up the courage to try and meet her. And wow! How wonderfully it had worked out.
David shook his head. He turned, and walked the six blocks back to his apartment building. The doorman nodded as he opened the outer glass, and David nodded back. He was oblivious to the other people in the elevator as he rode it up. His thoughts were still on her.
Connie was fuming. The sorry bastard! How DARE he do that to her! Here she was, less than a year out from losing her leg in that awful wreck. She still had flashbacks of the sudden lurch of the train and the scream of twisting metal. And all those weeks in the hospital. And then, finally, the decision that nothing was working and it had to come off. God! Hadn't she been through enough?
Her career had taken off. She was an in-demand accountant! And now this. She turned into her apartment building, not even acknowledging that ever-present doorman.
Once in her apartment, she changed clothes and mixed herself a drink. She looked, absently, at the stump of her right leg, now protruding from the leg of her shorts. She examined it, circumspectly. The 10 inch-long cone of flesh ended gracefully at a rounded end. Her doctor had told her she really was lucky needing a revision. He had been able to almost completely remove the deep and ugly scar that had greeted her when the bandages were first removed.
She took another deep plug at her drink.
She absently opened the front of her blouse. Yes, there they were. Her full, firm breasts still beckoned for attention... asked for a hand to cup them and a mouth to kiss and suck them.
"So where are they?" She wondered. "Where are the guys that goddam shrink keeps telling me are going to 'value me regardless'. What bullshit."
Robert had called almost daily while she was in the hospital, and had been oh-so eager to take her to dinner when she got out. But that had been an embarrassed, terrible evening. Neither of them knew how to react to or deal with the stares as she crutched into that restaurant. They had eaten the meal with very little to say to each other.
And he had never called again.
"Where are they? she asked out loud. "And how am I going to meet them?"
David had ordered the baked spaghetti. It hadn't come yet, and all he could do was wait... and watch. He glanced at his watch. She ought to be about ready to come by, he thought. He looked up. The striking woman was standing in front of his table.
David smiled a nervous smile.
"Hello," he said.
She nodded. "May I sit?"
David gestured to the other, vacant seat at the table. She took her place.
"I saw you through the picture window. I thought I ought to come in... I want to apologize to you," she began.
"No apology needed," David said. "I realize how rude it was of me to follow you yesterday."
"Well, I gave you no chance to explain. I'm sorry."
"Hey. It was me. I have been seeing you pass for weeks now. I think you are a very attractive woman, and I wanted to meet you. I just couldn't figure out how to go about it."
"Well, I appreciate your kind words. I suppose I don't feel very attractive. I'm sorry I was extremely ugly to you. I'm sure you are a very nice person, and I'm very ashamed of how I treated you. That said, I guess I better let you eat in peace. Goodbye."
She rose, almost magically on that single leg.
"I would appreciate it if you would allow me to buy your dinner tonight," David said, reaching out a hand to take her arm.
"I couldn't possibly," she said.
"Please", he returned. "I promise I won't even ask your name. Consider it, uh, my apology for following you."
She looked the fellow over. He WAS attractive. He appeared to be about 30 or so... a bit younger than she, but certainly mature enough to be over his "young adult crazies". The blond hair accented dark brown eyes. He was striking even!
"All right," she said, and returned to her seat. "If you let me buy the drinks."
"A bargain," he smiled.
There was an awkward silence after the drinks were ordered. David finally opened.
"Well, I have to ask..."
"Oh Dear GOD," she thought! "Right off the bat? Does he HAVE to ask?"
"Where do you work? I see you every day as I am having supper!"
"Ah..." she flushed, "I, uh, have an accounting business. Me and three other partners. In the Banegy Building."
"Well," she thought to herself! "At least he's got SOME class! Let's see how long it takes him to ask!"
"How about you," she asked.
"Computer consultant. Cloney and Meyers. We do lots of networks here in town."
"I know," she grinned. "You guys are our computer people. I've never seen you."
"I don't do the field installs. I'm the guy who figures out why the install isn't working. Desk job, basically."
"It's a small world."
"Yeah."
"He's sure smooth," she though as the evening progressed. "Almost an hour and he has yet to ask the question."
"Well," David began, "I have kept you far longer than I said I would. I want to thank you for the drinks."
"And you for the dinner," she returned.
"By the way," he said...
"Here it comes," she thought...
"Do you mind if I DO ask your name?"
She smiled, with relief. "Connie. Connie Griffin."
"I'm David Soloman. I'm pleased to meet you. Finally."
"Nice to meet you, David. Perhaps we can do this again sometime."
"I'd like that," David returned.
And with that, she floated out of the restaurant.
And so, it became something of a ritual. Several days each week... David never saw a pattern to which ones, Connie would see him in the restaurant, and stop in to dine with him. Some nights it was his treat, some nights hers. Some evenings they went Dutch. And in all of this time, David never did ask how she had lost her leg.
Connie wondered about that. Most people, even business associates got around to asking sooner or later. But David had never broached the subject. Maybe she had scared him too badly when they had first met. Perhaps she had misjudged him, and he wasn't really a devotee. "Or," she thought, "maybe these people are not the monsters I've been told they are!"
It all came to a head one evening in April.
"I've been thinking," Connie opened.
"About?" David asked as he cut another bite of his steak.
"About how silly it is that all we ever do is share meals," she said.
"You don't enjoy these evenings?" he asked, almost hurt.
"You know I love the time we spend together. I was just thinking. I'd love to fix dinner for you tomorrow night if you'd like to drop by my apartment."
David's smile could have lit the entire lower end of town.
"I assume you'd like to come?" she asked.
"I'll be there! Where and when?"
"Apartment 337... The Browning Arms... 6:00 too early?"
"I'll be there. With the wine. White or red?"
"Red."
She got up.
"And Connie?"
"Yes?"
"Thanks!"
She smiled. "Be on time."
David was actually about 10 minutes early as the doorman called up to have him cleared into the building. He was 7 minutes early when he knocked on the door, and Connie let him in.
The meal was exquisite. Connie had fixed Lasagna from an old family recipe, and David was enjoying every mouthful. The wine was perfect. And, he thought, Connie looked especially radiant.
When the food was gone and the dishes cleared, Connie seemed to be thinking to herself.
"Penny for your thoughts," he smiled.
"Oh, nothing."
It showed on her face. She had decided something.
"Would you like to stay for a movie, David?"
"Uh... Sure!" was all he could get out.
Connie crutched to the sofa, and picked up her remote controls. The TV flared to life, and then, as the Warner Brothers Logo appeared she asked "Have you ever seen 'Choose Me'?"
"Never," he replied.
David lowered himself into the sofa cushions, seating himself to her left. They were about 35 minutes into the film, when he slid his arm from the back of the sofa to her shoulders. He noticed, with pleasure, that she actually snuggled toward him, just a bit.
At an hour in, he turned and kissed her cheek. She smiled, and turned toward him, offering her lips.
At 1:26 into the film, her hands were on the front of his shirt. By 1:37, he was really impressed with what she had under her shirt.
Unfortunately, the film ended one hour and 43 minutes after she had started it.
They both sat there, not knowing whether to be embarrassed, happy or what. Connie had closed her blouse, and David had buttoned his shirt. It was Connie who broke the silence.
"David, why are you attracted to me?"
David was taken aback.
"Is it my missing leg?" she asked?
David swallowed hard.
"I'd be lying if I told you that wasn't a part of it," he said.
"So you ARE a devotee," she sighed.
"Let me tell it to you this way, Connie," he began. "When I was 11, someone very close to me lost his leg to cancer. He was cured, but he thought everything was all over for him. Being kids, his playmates didn't see it that way. At that age, everyone thought it was kind of neat... that it made him really special. They all helped him when he needed help, of course, but they also were very open, as children may sometimes be."
"Well, it's NOT 'NEAT'," Connie began.
"May I finish? Thank you. Seeing how his playmates accepted him made me think... hey... this kid doesn't have it so bad. It really didn't make any difference. But it did give him something like a mystique. An aura of mystery. So, I've always been interested in people who have lost limbs. I've never really gotten to know another amputee, but I must admit that was one of the things that attracted me to you."
"I see," she said, dejectedly.
"But what you're really asking is, is that all I want from you."
"Isn't it? Fuel for your stump fetish?"
"No. That's really not what I want at all, Connie. Don't all of these months of companionship and friendship mean anything to you? Not to mention the fact that you are pretty and witty. And, yes, Connie, I like ALL of your body. I liked touching you this evening. And I want to touch you some more. Everywhere."
She was shaking her head.
"I'm sorry, David. This is so hard for me... I really thought that no man would ever... oh, the hell with this! I've made a mess of this thing! Maybe you better leave."
"I'll leave if you want me to. But I'd rather stay. I'd rather stay and let you know that we are FRIENDS."
She looked into his eyes a moment, and then smiled. "Friends who kiss."
He smiled back. "Yes," he said. "And touch."
"David?" she asked coyly.
"Yes?"
"Would you like to sleep with me tonight?"
David did a double take! This was all happening so fast! Sure, when she had asked him to dinner, he had hoped. When she had asked him to stay, he had thought "Maybe...". When they had "made out" on the sofa, he thought "Closer..." He shook his head vertically and smiled. "Would you think me a lech if I don't turn that one down?"
She nodded to herself. "OK. I'm going to try it. I've got to try to be with a man sometime. And he is so much what I'm looking for. Maybe he DOES understand. Maybe..."
David was still seated on the sofa when Connie called from the bedroom that she was in bed. She'd made him promise that he would let her get into bed before he came into the room. She was just not ready to expose herself... at least not that part of herself... to him yet.
David walked into the room. It was dark. The only illumination came from a light burning in the bathroom, the door 4/5 closed.
He removed his shirt, and sat down on the cedar chest at the foot of her bed to get rid of his other clothes. Connie watched the sinews of his back, working, thinking that he really DID have quite a nice back.
"Connie?" he asked over his shoulder?
"Yes?"
"If you'll tell me a deep dark secret about yourself, I'll tell you one about me."
She laughed. "I can hardly wait. What do you want me to tell you?"
"The obvious," he said, gesturing to the void under the bed sheet. "How did you lose your leg?"
She laughed softly. "I've been waiting half a year to hear you ask that. OK. A train wreck. 18 months ago."
Suddenly, she heard a slight hiss of air, like that heard when a tupperware container is opened.
David stood up, and she saw his naked outline against the light from the bath. The long, narrow stump of his left leg was hanging in mid-air. He took a hop, and turned to face her.
"Cancer," he said simply. "Age 11."













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