Wednesday, August 2, 2000

In/Exhale - October 26, 2000 - Part II

October 26, 2000 - Part II
 
The cold night air hit Kai immediately as they exited the building, a reminder that winter would be here soon. It bit at Kai’s skin where his T-shirt still clung to his back with sweat, making him shiver reflexively. Jon would kill him if his brother knew he wasn't wearing a sweatshirt or jacket, but it wasn't far to the car. Besides, fuck Jon. Kai was still trying to wrap his head around Renee showing up like she had. A large part of him was furious, the anger burning like a fire under his skin, but another part was happy. He’d given up on even having a friendship with Renee, yet here she was.
 
“Where are you parked? I’ll walk you to your car.” Kai paused, waiting for her answer.
 
“Uh,” she said, hesitating. Renee toed the ground with one foot in a way he found disturbingly endearing.
 
“You need a ride.” Kai stifled a groan. He was tired and hurting and sweaty, and he just wanted to go home, shower, drink some Gatorade to make sure his BP didn’t crash, and crawl into bed.
 
“I mean, I can take the bus. It’s not a big deal.”
 
Kai shook his head. “Around here, the bus schedule gets a bit wonky after seven. Besides, I owe you an interview, don’t I?” He knew he was being snarky, but he couldn’t help it. It was his only way to let out some of his anger without allowing it to get out of control. And he didn’t want to do that to Renee. She clearly hadn’t surprised him to be malicious. She was obviously a sweet girl; it wasn’t her fault she was hung up on someone as fucked up as him.
 
“All right, if it’s not any trouble,” she offered, tucking a stray curl behind her ear.
 
Kai had to look away, turning his chair, trying to ignore the pleasant skip his heart made just from seeing her make such an innocent, inane gesture. He couldn’t do this, not now. They could be friends, maybe, but he had to get his own shit together--or at least moderately together--before he could think of anything more with Renee. The past few weeks had made that painfully clear.
 
“I’m in front. Come on.”
 
Kai rolled down a ramp, then took a shortcut through the staff parking lot toward the front of the physical rehabilitation building, releasing his pushrims every few feet and gliding so he could cast a quick glance over his shoulder to make sure Renee was following. Finally, with a sigh, he flicked his wrists and turned nearly 90 degrees.
 
“Walk beside me.”
 
“I’m sorry,” Renee said, sheepishly, rushing to catch up.
 
“It’s fine,” Kai said, struggling to keep the exasperation out of his voice. “Another female friend of mine was attacked the other day and I would just feel more comfortable if I could see you.” A queasy feeling filled Kai's stomach at the thought of Nikki, whom he hadn't heard from other than the occasional postcard. But she was the past, and he'd spent the last month alone. Maybe he could--. No. He quickly dismissed the thought.
 
“I’m sorry,” Renee muttered quietly, her voice almost lost to the light wind that tossed her curls. “I’ve never--I don’t--”
 
“It’s fine. Don’t trip me, and I won’t trip you. Deal?” Kai offered a real smile this time, felt a little of his anger fading as he remembered how much he’d wanted them to have a chance, so much he’d hidden all this from her. What a fucking mistake that’d been.
 
She smiled shyly back and they walked most of the rest of the way to the front of the PT complex in silence.
 
They finally reached the bank of handicapped spaces that fronted the building; Kai’s was the only car left at this time of night. He pushed toward it, and as he did, he heard Renee speak up again for the first time in minutes.
 
“Why didn’t you . . . tell me . . . before?” she ventured.
 
Kai sighed, unlocking the car on her side and pulling the door open for her. She smiled at the gesture and climbed in after a moment’s hesitation.
 
“You came here tonight because you wanted honesty, right?” Kai asked, a hand on the door.
 
She thought about it, then nodded.
 
“Here’s some honesty for you, then: nothing about me is simple. I don’t say that to be arrogant, just honest. I’m complicated. My past is complicated, my health . . . is complicated. Sometimes, simpler is easier.”
 
He shut the door, pushed around to the other side of the car, and transferred, careful not to bump his right leg on the steering wheel or hand controls. He popped the wheels off his chair, then, with a warning to Renee to watch her head, tossed them and his frame in the back. He knew she was staring, but he tried not to let it bother him as he shifted into reverse and pulled out of the lot.
 
After a few moments of quiet, she spoke again. “You drive with your hands?”
 
Thank you, Captain Obvious, Kai thought, but he swallowed it down. “Yes. Always have. I don’t trust my legs.”
 
She apparently wasn’t sure what to say to that, seemingly chastened; despite his best efforts, some of his sardonic thoughts had come through in his tone, so she said nothing.
 
“Look,” he said when they were parked at a red light, turning to face her, “being forthcoming isn’t exactly my default state, but I’ll do my best to answer your questions. I can’t promise I’ll answer everything, but don’t be afraid to ask whatever you want.” He cringed inwardly at those last words. Even though he’d prefaced it with the assurance he wouldn’t tell her everything, the fact that he was willing to be so open was terrifying. Even Nikki. Even Becca knew only portions of himself. And look where that’d gotten him.
 
Renee nodded.
 
He saw fear in her eyes; was she scared of him? Was his calm facade chipping away? He was so tired and sore and fucking pissed at Jon. But at the same time, perhaps this was a second chance of sorts. He’d felt something unlike he’d ever felt before when he’d kissed Renee. It was like his entire body had been sleeping and woke up with that kiss.
 
“One condition,” he blurted as they neared the apartment.
 
“What?”
 
“Please never show up at PT ever again.”
 
“I’m sor--”
 
“It’s fine. Past is past, etc., etc. Just. Don’t do it again.” He kept his eyes fixed straight ahead. “I go in the early mornings and late in the evening on purpose. I don’t like an audience,” he added.
 
She nodded, ducking her head, and fuck, he felt like such an asshole. He’d tried to be level, not to show his anger, but it apparently didn’t matter.
 
He pulled into his parking spot and set the brake. “It’s OK.” He reached over and tilted her head up, one long finger on the tip of her chin, wanting, despite everything, to lean over and kiss her again. Instead, he said, “It’ll be nice being able to go back to Lost Apple again. I’ve been avoiding that place for weeks, terrified I’d run into you.” He felt his cheeks heating with a blush, and reached up to cover it with his hand.
 
She hesitated a moment, then pulled his hand away, nesting hers in it. A surprising ache filled his chest, staring at her small fingers curled in his large palm. “So you were avoiding me?”
 
He swallowed, kept his gaze fixed on their hands so she wouldn’t have to see his eyes. “Yes.”
 
“Why?”
 
He shook his head, then remembered he'd promised to be forthcoming. “The night I was supposed to meet you, to explain all of this . . . I . . .” He cleared his throat, pulled his hand away. Blinked his eyes, then when that wasn’t enough, rubbed them with his fingers. “We should go inside.”
 
“Sure,” she said in a small voice, clearly disappointed. “Do you--”
 
“I got it. Just give me a sec.” He shut off the car and placed the keys in her hand. “It’s chilly, if you want to go ahead and let yourself in.”
 
She stared at the keys for a moment before climbing out.
 
Jesus fuck. He was going to swear at Jon next chance he got in rapid sign language, even if his brother would only catch a fraction of it. It'd make him feel better.

#

Renee obeyed Kai, entering the apartment and switching on the light. It was obvious, though he was trying not to show it, how furious he was. And now he'd admitted he'd been avoiding her. God, she was an idiot. What did a guy have to do to make it clear he wasn't interested? . . . But he had invited her here. That meant something, didn't it? And he was trying to moderate his anger, too.
 
Renee looked around the apartment. It wasn't much different from the one she shared with Diane, though it was shockingly neat. To the right of the entrance was the living area, with the open-plan kitchen and dining nook on the left. A doorway almost directly across from the entrance likely lead to the bathroom and bedrooms. The place was . . . it barely looked lived in. Almost like a showcase apartment meant to entice people to rent rather than the home of two young bachelors.
 
The only signs anyone lived there were a stack of magazines on the table, one held open with a highlighter. No photos decorated the walls; no knickknacks personalized the space. Renee wandered into the kitchen, also noting the apartment didn't seem adapted for someone in a wheelchair. Sure, the doors were a little wider, and the floor was wood laminate instead of carpet, but the kitchen looked like any other kitchen in an apartment like this.
 
Renee opened the fridge. She knew it was bold, but her maw maw always taught her you can learn a lot about a person based on how they stock their kitchen. She immediately saw the vials labeled Human Insulin, remembering vaguely Kai had mentioned his brother was diabetic. What was she doing? Looking for some proof Kai actually lived here instead of this being some kind of setup? She laughed at herself. The fridge was as sparse as the apartment, but the two middle shelves were full of bottles of Gatorade, all stacked on their sides on top of each other, their orange caps showing.
 
She heard the front door close and the subtle creak of Kai's chair as he rolled in.
 
"Hand me one?"
 
Surprised, it took her a moment for his words to register, finally pulling one out and shutting the fridge. "You really love Gatorade," she said, turning around and offering him one. She watched as he twisted the lid and took a long drink. Even tired and sweaty and annoyed and in that chair, he was sexy.
 
He wiped his mouth with his forearm, then recapped it securely and dropped it in his lap, half empty. "No, actually, I don't really like it at all. But I've been having issues with my blood pressure getting too low, so I'm supposed to drink several bottles a day."
 
"Oh."
 
He shrugged. "I'm dying for a shower. There's not much, but help yourself to whatever you want. Coffee's in the cabinet there. Feel free to make a pot." He chuckled at her look of surprise. "I don't drink it, but I'm pretty sure my brother would die if he didn't have coffee daily."
 
Renee relaxed a bit as Kai did; some coffee sounded nice, though she'd have to double-check the milk.
 
"There's takeout menus and some cash in this drawer if you want to order something to eat. Get whatever you want; I'm flexible, but vegetarian. Hopefully I'll be done before they get here, but you don't need to wait for me if you're hungry."
 
She watched him back out, then turn and disappear into the hallway. She opened the drawer, studying the menus, imagining that at any moment, she’d wake up. After weeks of nothing, suddenly she was in Kai’s apartment, ready to eat delivery with him and have him actually tell her about himself. It was all too surreal.

#

Kai reclined in his shower seat, grateful he didn’t have just a bench, giving his back a break, letting the hot water fall on him. What was he thinking, inviting Renee here? He was sore everywhere. It would be nice to stay in the shower until the hot water ran out or he felt his blood pressure dropping. But even though he'd warned Renee, it'd be rude to keep her waiting too long.
 
With a sigh, Kai leaned forward and shut off the water, then wiped off as much of the excess moisture from his skin as he could. Pushing the curtain aside, he transferred carefully into his towel-draped chair, arranging his legs. His right was stiffening, he noted with a grimace. He'd have to stretch before he got dressed and put the brace on. He knew his quads were healing well, all things considered, but he was tired of having to be so fucking careful all the time. Micovic had warned him if he reinjured them, his walking days would be over, no contest. Though he wouldn't be walking much if he didn't regain control of his knee, even just being able to stand again (outside PT) would be nice.
 
Kai pushed out to his bedroom, grabbing some clothes from a drawer. He'd pulled the tee halfway on out of habit before he realized: if Renee hadn't already seen his trache scar, she would now. His fingers found the indentation at the base of his throat. It'd been a year; maybe it was time he accepted the scars and moved on. He pulled the shirt on the rest of the way, then wheeled to the mirror. This shirt was loose, like most of the ones he slept in, and the collar bunched at the neck, partially masking the scar, especially since the shirt was red.
 
Fuck it, Kai thought, pushing to his bed and grabbing his automatic blood pressure cuff off one of the shelves of his nightstand. He transferred out of his chair and took his BP.
 
"Shit," he muttered as soon as the numbers registered. The combination of sweating in PT and the heat of the shower always dropped him a few points, but tonight was bordering on precarious. He felt OK, mostly just tired, but he needed to drink more Gatorade and eat something salty if he didn't want to crash. And with Renee here, that's all he needed.

#

Renee was unpacking the food from the paper sacks and searching for plates and silverware when Kai rolled out. He was wearing a loose red T-shirt that masked his body except for his arms, and gray cotton pants. On his right knee, over his pants, he wore the black brace she'd noticed him wear to class. His feet were bare on the footrest, and his hair was damp and uncombed. Her heart stuttered in her chest seeing him like this. It was silly, she knew, but she could get used to him letting his hair down, relaxing around her.

"I got Chinese. I hope that's OK?"

He beamed, pushing toward her eagerly. "That's perfect. My pressure's low; the salt will really help."

Kai grabbed the plates and silverware she'd taken out, and a couple small boxes of what Renee assumed was rice, and stacked them carefully in his lap. Then he pushed to the table, laying it all out. She followed his lead, and soon they were sitting in front of their filled plates, Kai with a second bottle of Gatorade and Renee with her coffee.

Renee offered Kai a pair of chopsticks, and he laughed. "Uh, I think I’d like to get more food in my mouth than not."

"They're easy to use; I can teach you." Unconsciously, Renee eased closer. She demonstrated. "Hold the first one like a pencil." Kai obeyed. "Now, hold the second one just on top, so it pivots." Kai attempted to imitate what Renee was doing, but failed miserably. She laughed good naturedly and took his hand, adjusting the chopsticks. His palm was so much rougher than she'd remembered. She realized it must be from weeks of wheelchair use and using them in PT. It was strangely sensual, and she found her thumb lingering.

Their eyes met; his were heated, but he quickly looked away, abandoning the sticks in favor of his fork. Clearing his throat, he said, "Uh, I'll stick to this for now, thanks."

Renee was so confused. Clearly, he wanted her, but was forcing himself to pull away. I’m complicated, he’d told her. That was certainly truth.

They ate in silence for a while, Kai picking at his food. She’d noticed from the few times they’d eaten together how he never seemed to eat with relish; apparently eating was a chore he had to get through, the way some people viewed washing dishes or doing laundry.

“Did I not get the right thing? There weren’t that many vegetarian options . . .”

He shook his head, mashing a piece of tofu with his fork. “This is fine.” He sighed, and his shoulders sagged. “Look, Re,” he said, finally, looking up. “I like you. I do. But . . . I think we should walk before we run.” He let out a hollow laugh and stuffed some food in his mouth. “You don’t know anything about me,” he said after he’d chewed and swallowed.

“That’s why I’m here, isn’t it?” Renee said, unable to hide the defensive note in her voice.

A shade of a smile pierced his face. “What do you want to know.” He didn’t say it as a question, just a flat statement, pushing food around his plate, occasionally taking  a bite of broccoli or baby corn.

“Tell me about your disease. M--”

“MLS.” He inhaled through his nose, his eyes still focused on his plate. Finally, he reached over to the stack of condiment packets and fortune cookies, snagged one, and opened it, pulling out the tiny slip of paper. “‘Your future is what you make it,’” he read snidely, before tossing the paper aside and breaking off pieces of the cookie. He leaned back in his wheelchair, occasionally slipping tiny bits of cookie in his mouth and chewing slowly.

Renee watched him, giving him time to formulate his thoughts, trying not to seem impatient. Everything with Kai seemed so . . . calculated. Her fantasy of seeing him relaxed apparently was exactly that. He might be in his PJs, but he wasn’t comfortable with her yet. Not by a longshot.

Finally, he lifted his left hand. “Normally, when you want to move your muscles, your brain sends a signal to the nerves there, and those nerves tell the muscle to contract.” He formed his fingers into a fist. “Then they cut off the signal, so the muscles can relax again.” He released the fist. “The nerves in my muscles are messed up. Often, they’ll contract without an outside signal, sometimes rapidly in succession.” He opened and closed his fist several times quickly. “Often, the signal to relax gets messed up, so they lock.” He stopped, his hand half open, fingers curled, muscles tense; she could see the cords standing out. “They can stay that way for hours, even days.” He used his other hand to massage it loose. “Sometimes massage is the only way to get them to relax,” he said, flexing his fingers. “The other problem I have,” he said, munching on a few more tiny pieces of cookie, “is the muscles get a kind of ‘boy who cried wolf’ thing after a while.” He nibbled his lip, thinking. “Like, they get oversaturated with stimulation over time so they stop responding. First, it’s a delayed response. So, I’ll want my muscle to move, and it’ll move, but it’ll take it a while before it does.” Kai demonstrated again with his hand. “After a while, it stops responding at all, and the only time I get movement is during a spasm attack.” Kai reached for another cookie, crushing it in the plastic in his fist.

“These . . . attacks. Are they . . . bad?”

Kai had peeled away the plastic and was picking out the tiny shards of cookie with the tip of his finger, slipping them into his mouth, ignoring the fortune. “They can be.”

He abandoned the rest of the cookie dust and forced himself to eat some of his food, adding several packets of soy sauce and mixing it up. She noticed his nose would wrinkle with each bite; clearly, he didn’t actually like it so salty, but apparently was doing so for his blood pressure. She’d heard of people who had problems with high blood pressure, but she’d never seen anyone with low BP issues. Was that part of his disease, too? She wanted to ask, but decided not to for now.

“That Saturday night I was supposed to meet you--”

“And you didn’t show up.”

Kai nodded. “I had a severe MLS attack.” He stabbed his fork repeatedly into a spear of broccoli, his eyes downcast. “I don’t really remember most of it, but .  . .” Kai dropped his fork, and his hand went to his neck, cradling it there. It clearly wasn’t easy for him to tell her the truth. Despite his warning: walk not run, she leaned over and laid her hand on his arm. Finally, reluctantly, he met her eyes. “I didn’t meet you that night because . . .” He took in a deep breath. “I was unconscious. I . . . woke up almost three days later, in ICU. Apparently, I nearly died.” He laughed hollowly, then pulled away, focused on gathering up his silverware and trash onto his plate, obviously getting ready to disappear with it into the kitchen.

“Kai, wait,” she said, reaching for him, but he had turned around, so she ended up grabbing the back of his wheelchair instead. She saw his shoulders tense and immediately let go, as if her fingers had been burned. He snapped around in one chrisp movement. “Don’t touch my chair. And don’t look at me like that.” His words were equally sharp.

Renee wasn’t sure how she was looking at him, and wished, desperately, she had his level of control over her facial expressions, that she could conform it into that perfect, unreadable neutral. But she couldn’t, so instead, she forced herself to follow his eyes, taking the plate out of his lap and grabbing his hands, gripping his fingers between hers.

“Kai,” she said. “It’s OK. If you don’t want to tell me any more, you don’t have to. I’ll call a friend or a cab or something.”

She saw some of his anger deflate away, and he squeezed her hands back. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to snap. . . ." His eyes drifted. "I was in the hospital a week, and it was almost two weeks after that before I was remotely myself. And by then . . .” He shrugged, shook his head. “I thought it was too late. It was easier to avoid you than . . .”

“I was convinced you thought the kiss was a mistake. That you had a girlfriend you’d gone back to and you didn’t want anything to do with me.”

Kai’s eyes met hers, shocked and sad, full of disbelief. “How could anyone not want you?” His fingers toyed with the curls on the side of her face. “You’re . . . so beautiful. And sweet. And obviously patient and persistent.” He didn’t laugh, but a faint, genuine smile pierced his stony expression. They started leaning toward each other, but he pushed her back. “You deserve someone far better than me,” he said, grabbing his plate and hurriedly backing away, disappearing into the kitchen.

Renee hesitated a moment, a bit dumbstruck by his admission. Finally, she gathered up her plate and some of the leftovers and followed him. He was cleaning up, obviously desperate to keep busy, his back to her when she entered.

“Shouldn’t I get to decide that?” she asked.

“What?” he asked without turning around, adding detergent to the dishwasher.

“Shouldn’t I get to decide what I deserve?”

He shut the dishwasher to give himself space to turn, which he did, slowly. “Re. Being with me is much more than this,” he said, his fingers playing along his pushrims. “Much more.”

“Then give me a chance to find out. Don’t I deserve that?”

He smiled faintly, and after a moment’s hesitation, studying her face, offered her his hand. She took it, smiling back, surprised when he pulled her into his lap, perching her on his left thigh. “I never thought I’d get to do this again,” he said finally, his eyes half lidded as he pulled her in for a kiss.

Renee had dreamed of this moment, and though she never pictured it exactly like this, sitting on his lap in a wheelchair in his kitchen, both their tongues tasting of soy sauce and ginger, it was even better than she’d imagined. This kiss made the first pale by comparison. She felt light, feathery, like she was floating, yet his arms wrapped tightly around her to keep her from sliding off his lap. His mouth was warm and salty and wonderful, his kiss demanding and yearning and so honest. Kai’s kiss said more clearly than any words could: he wanted her. He’d been wanting her since that first day, just as she’d wanted him, and he’d obviously been holding himself back for reasons she still didn’t fully understand. But now, as his tongue danced beside hers, as he nibbled her lips and teased her, she could feel his smile, his genuine, happy, no-pretense, no-masks smile, and it made her laugh despite herself. He echoed her, pulling back just long enough to get a breath before diving in again for more. Her skin tingled, her hands tracing over his shoulders, biceps, and she pulled away, kissing trails along his chin, jaw, down his neck. She loved the way he smelled: strongly of soap and water, underlying a subtle male scent she knew was him. No fancy body sprays or aftershaves or colognes. Just him.

As she worked her kisses down his neck, she felt him stiffen and push her away. What had she done wrong now?
 
Securing her with one hand, she noticed he pulled up his shirt collar with the other. His eyes were still dark, his lips swollen, his cheeks flushed. He blinked a few times, and now his eyes just looked sad. So achingly, penetratingly melancholy, she wondered how he could switch so rapidly from anger to happiness to despair in only a matter of moments.

He nudged her off his lap, then looked around the kitchen, seemingly lost for what to do next. Finally, he spied the cartons of food, so he busied himself shutting them and sticking them in the fridge.

“I should take you home.”

“No.”

“No?”

“Let’s go sit. You promised me twenty questions, and I've only gotten a couple.”

Kai sighed, but he followed her out to the living room. He grabbed a pillow that was set off to the side, placing it in his lap. Then he pushed to the sofa, laying it out of the way but within reach. Part of her figured she should look away when he transferred, but she loved watching him, loved the way the fabric of his T-shirt clung to his shoulders as they flexed with his movements. He placed one palm on the sofa cushion, his other on the edge of his wheelchair's seat, heaving himself up and over. It was jarring, despite all she'd witnessed already this evening, to see his legs left behind, visibly stiff, his toes tense. How he had to use his hands to pull them onto the couch, one by one, taking special care with his right leg, that knee fixed by the brace at an angle slightly greater than 90 degrees. Kai took some extra time arranging the pillow beneath his legs. Renee noted his right toes flexed and relaxed in a strange rhythm, so Kai leaned forward to wrap a hand around them, his fingers working, as if to still them. Evidently, a small sample of the spasms he'd spoken of earlier.

"Does it hurt?"

"What?"

She slid into the opposite end of the couch, curling her legs beneath her. "When your muscles do that." She gestured with her chin.

He released his foot, and she could see his toes had stopped spasming, though they looked tense. He sighed, leaned back against the arm of the couch, eyes narrowed. Calculating. "Yes," he said, at last. "But I'm used to it." He finally fixed his eyes on hers, unreadable, as he quoted, "Life is pain. Anyone who says otherwise is selling something." Then he blinked, and before he looked away again, she saw that chilling, penetrating sadness.

“What happened to you?” she asked softly, not even sure she’d spoken the words out loud until his head snapped up. “Why won’t you trust me? I don’t care about the wheelchair, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

He shook his head. “It's not that. I mean, yeah, I guess that's part of it. I might not realistically walk again. Do you understand that?”

Renee blinked at him, glanced over at his empty wheelchair, then back at him. What was there to understand? “That doesn’t matter to me. Why should it matter?”

Kai was silent a long time. Finally, he spoke, slowly, carefully, "Today's about honesty, right? Tell me. What were the first thoughts that went through your head when you saw me? In PT.”

Renee tilted her head, thinking. “Uh . . . surprise. I was surprised. Uh, and then I was worried. I thought I should have waited for you outside. Like I was invading your privacy. That you were going to be mad at me.”

“That’s it?” His tone was caustic, disbelieving. Not quite angry, but bordering on it.

“Uh . . .” Renee felt her cheeks heat. “Honestly, seeing you like that . . . finally realizing at least part of the truth, that you’d been keeping from me? It was like I was seeing you for the first time. And I realized . . . that I wanted to know you more than ever." Renee risked a glance up, but Kai’s face was unreadable except for his eyes, which had darkened to a deep, cold blue.

“Really. You’re not just saying that because you think that’s what I want to hear?”

“Jesus, Kai,” Renee said, finally breaking down. “I don’t know what you want to hear.” Renee sighed. “I don’t understand you. It doesn’t mean I don’t want you.” Renee pushed some hair out of her face, staring at Kai straight on. She was going to give him honesty, and if he asked her to leave, then so be it. “The reason I showed up today is because I was tired of not seeing you. Because all this time we’ve been apart, all I’ve been able to think about is you. And when we’re together, all I can think about is kissing you. I’ve only kissed you twice, and this last kiss was even better than the first. And the first was incredible.” Renee felt tears welling up and swallowed against them. “And right now? All I want is a chance to kiss you again. And find out if the third kiss is better than the fourth. And the fourth better than the fifth. And if the fifth is better . . . than all of them. I just want you to give me a chance. To find out.” Renee realized she was breathing hard, not quite crying, but close.

Kai’s face was unreadable, but his brow was furrowed, and the darkness in his eyes had dissipated. Finally, he met her gaze. “Is that really how you feel?” he asked, his voice small, uncertain.

“Yes,” Renee said with conviction.

Kai shifted, lifting his legs off the couch so he was now sitting properly, his hands braced on either side of his thighs, the pillow moved aside. “I’m messed up,” he said. “More than just my legs.”

Renee took that as an invitation to scoot closer. An indescribable warm, happy feeling forming in her chest when he embraced her with one arm, hugging her close to his body. She laid her head on his chest, feeling so strangely complete somehow. True, she barely knew him. But still, this felt so right.

“Then we’ll be messed up together.”

Renee looked up in time to catch Kai's smile, one she couldn’t remember seeing before, yet another of his multitude different grins she had yet to learn. With one hand, he cupped her cheek, pulling her toward him. His lips met hers, almost tentatively at first, before he deepened the kiss. Even more than the one in the kitchen, this kiss was filled with a desperate longing, the tender way his tongue and lips moved against hers, the way his hand still held her face as if she were something precious he was afraid to lose if he bothered to let go for even a moment. This kiss spoke even louder than the last: I want you. I've missed you. And, she realized, by the way he clung to her as their tongues moved together, Don't leave me. Maybe even, if the fire she felt blooming in her heart from his taste and touch were any indication, the sparks that, with time, would ignite into I love you.

Renee had never kissed anyone like this, where it wasn’t simply a prelude to sex, where it was so much, so very much, more than that. Where she was left with her insides floating around, her heart stuttering, dizzy. Confused, unsure, yet, bewilderingly, knowing happiness was right here, tall and blond and mysterious, and who kissed her as if he fueled her very soul.

Finally, he pulled back, his nose brushing against hers, reluctant to part. He smiled, but his eyes still held that chilling sadness, as if he were certain, when he blinked, he’d realize this was all a dream. Renee knew that feeling, because part of her was afraid of the same thing.

His fingers toyed with her hair, wrapping a ringlet repeatedly around one finger. The more he did the motion, fingertips grazing her cheek, the more the sadness shifted to a softness she couldn't quite identify, but her heart told her was right. It was exactly how she was looking at him, knowing--not even sure how--that he was her future: wheelchair, baggage, and one million smiles.

“Was that better?”

It was her turn to smile, besotted, her hand searching out one of his strong shoulders. “I’m not sure," she responded coyly. Then she leaned forward, stealing another kiss.

And she’d been right. Every kiss was better than the last.

10 comments:

  1. Aaahhh! (Deep sigh of satisfaction). I am one of those people who was always rooting for Kai and Renee to get together properly, and you haven't disappointed me. In fact, I've been waiting for this scene to happen and it was even better than I could have imagined or hoped. I have only two words to sum it up - thrilling and beautiful. Thank you so much. I look forward to reading about Kai and Renee again in the future.

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  2. I'm in tears, I really hope you don't take too much time to post again because I'm addicted to this story

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  3. Worth...the...wait! Very very nice finale. Thank you. I wanted to hit kei for a moment there but way to go jon for getting her there. And way to go Re for her determination to fight for it. She's what kai needs, a strong someone to help pull him out of those dark places, to really want him. Thank you thank you! Beautiful.
    -aka

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  4. Wow!!!! Amazing!!

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  5. I loved it!!! I've been hoping, hoping, hoping Kai & Renee would get the chance to explore and this is a great start. This was sweet, hot, exciting and I can't wait to find out what happens next.

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  6. Wow--what an amazing two-parter! I SO love these two. You go have your well-deserved break, get into the right frame of mind, and ponder your wonderful characters. We will be very understanding and patient--and grateful for whenever next you grace us with another lovely chapter.

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  7. Yes!! yes yes yes! This is beautiful and perfect (and perfectly written). Really feels like the story has moved forward to a natural conclusion (of Season One - don't think you can finish there, young lady!! :P), and I'm a Renee & Kai girl, so this makes me really, really happy. Thank you. Good luck with all your other projects, and try not to leave us without these wonderful characters for too long please!

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  8. These two chapters were amazing! If I highlighted the sentences which touched me then most of the text would be yellow! You were able to convey so much emotion in these chapters - you are really a master! You have developed your characters thoroughly - they are complex and realistic. And, thank you for giving Kai and Renee a chance - can't wait for the new season!
    Cheers,
    Anne

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  9. Truly Amazing, Chie! What a journey you are taking us on--I love it! And I'm eagerly awaiting next season and any other stories and lessons you share with us. Thanks for your wonderful work!

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  10. There is really nothing as great as a great kiss. This chapter was that great.

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