Monday, July 31, 2000

In/Exhale - October 31, 2000 - Part I

October 31, 2000


Kai grinned as soon as he saw Renee emerge from her apartment. She wore a red dress with white polka dots, a huge matching bow and big, black, round mouse ears on her head. She locked her door, then wrapped her arms around herself as the cold hit her. Her costume managed to be both adorable and sexy, but it wasn’t exactly meant for late October in Northern Iowa. He honked his horn and flashed his lights, and she brightened as she rushed over, immediately jumping into the car and pulling the door closed.


“I could have come in.”


Renee waved her hand. “No sense in you going through the trouble.” She smiled. “Where’s your costume?”


Kai glanced down at himself: he was wearing his usual clothing, a long-sleeved tee below a fleece pullover and jeans. He shrugged. “You look adorable enough for both of us.”


She sighed, blushed as red as her dress. “Now I just feel silly. In New Orleans, Halloween is a big deal. Everyone dresses up. Everyone, and goes trick-or-treating, even adults.” She shivered. “It’s also a lot warmer.”


Kai laughed, turned up the heat, then reached for her to pull her close. She accepted the kiss, sweet and pure as always, taking away some of his anxiety.


She rested her forehead against his for a moment, breathed deeply, then released it with a sigh of contentment. “Shall we?”


Kai pulled out of the parking lot and headed toward the hospital; County House wasn't far from JMH. As they drew closer to it, Kai felt the anxiety rising inside him like mercury in a thermometer and desperately hoped the combination of hydroxyzine and Renee's calming presence would prevent a full-blown panic attack. He'd gotten close a few times in the past month, but thus far had been lucky.


“So,” Renee said after a while, interrupting the silence, “is there anything I should know before we get there?”


Kai sighed. “Like what?”


Renee shrugged. “You tell me.”


Kai took a moment to consider. “Iowa has two places parents can dump their broken children,” Kai said, his voice flat, though still bitter. “County House in the north and another in the south. CH is mostly kids who don’t need constant nursing care.”


“Wait, dump? I thought you were an orphan. I mean--”


Kai couldn't help smiling at Renee. She sat, curled up in the seat, tucking some of her curls behind her ear, making his chest ache just from a glance, from how beautiful she was, from knowing she was right beside him. “Orphan isn’t a bad word, Re. My parents have been dead most of my life. But yeah. My parents were gone, but only about 40% of the kids at CH are orphans. A few were taken by CPS for various reasons. The rest are surrenders.”


“Surrenders?”


“Kids whose parents decided they didn't want or couldn't afford to deal with a disabled kid.” Kai shrugged, made the final turn toward the long road leading up to County House. “Parents give up their healthy kids all the time for all sorts of reasons. Being . . .” Kai bit back the “fucked up” he’d wanted to say, and instead said, “disabled  is expensive; some kids need daily care.” Kai held his breath as they pulled into the parking lot--the place hadn’t changed in the past four years, still looking solitary and forlorn, like an abandoned cabin you stumble upon in the woods. “My roommate was a surrender, and for a long time, I thought I was, too.”


Kai felt Renee’s hand on his thigh, and it instantly calmed the swirl of nauseous nerves in his stomach. He maneuvered into a parking spot near the front entrance. “Home sweet home.”


Renee stared out at the forsaken-looking building, a dark-brick, characterless box that bore an uncanny resemblance to a large post office. What passed for landscaping surrounding the structure was overgrown, riddled with dying weeds from the cold, and obviously hadn’t been tended properly in decades. Just the way Kai remembered it.


Renee waited in the warmth of the car, not saying anything immediately, until Kai had assembled his chair and transferred out. “Not one of Jonesville’s finer architectural examples.”


Kai chuckled as he locked the car and bumped up the curb.


“It looks like it was built in the 1950s.”


“Yup. With the polio epidemics of the 1940s, suddenly a lot of poor farmers had kids that couldn’t work and they couldn’t support, so County House was built to house the ones who could breathe on their own. With the vaccine, the number of polio cases dropped, but there were still plenty of kids with other problems, so they were sent here.”


“You know, for someone who claims he’s failing history . . .”


“I know my town. Art’s a bit of a history buff, when it comes to Jonesville and Iowa history, and he’d tell me about it, or bring me books. Besides, I learned all that before . . .” Kai cleared his throat, remembering he still had to tell Renee about his transplant. “My memory problems. We should head inside. You’re freezing.”


Kai held the outer door open for her, waving her in.


“Calhoun County House for--” Renee started to read aloud from the sign near the interior door: Calhoun County House for Crippled, Diseased, and Feeble-Minded Children. Ring for admittance.


“Just County House. Please.” Kai pressed the buzzer.


Renee looked at him quizzically, but said nothing.


“A few years ago, there was a petition to rename all the public institutions. Go PC. But the state decided that it would cost far too much to change signage, paperwork, etc., so, yeah. Just County House.”


Renee opened her mouth to comment, but she was interrupted by a harsh voice, bleeding through static, “Deliveries are Monday through Friday, eight to five, rear entrance. Visiting hours are Saturdays, ten to three, and office hours, weekdays, ten to five. Thank you.”


Kai sighed loudly. “It’s Kai Fox. Trick-or-treat?”


There was a painful scratch of static, then a buzz, and the door popped open. Before Renee could help, Kai pushed it the rest of the way, wheeling through and holding it for her. She smiled at him, but her eyes were searching, clearly taking in the place.


It amazed Kai how it still smelled the same: stale, depressing, with just a hint of disinfectant, though it looked like the staff had made genuine attempts to spruce up the lobby. Don’t feel bad, parents! Leave your disabled kid in the state’s care. He’ll love it here! See how happy everyone is? Kai thought bitterly as they approached the front desk, where a large, staged MDA-telethon-worthy poster had been hung on the wall, a group of kids a range of races and apparent disabilities grinning for the camera, with the words, Calhoun County Cares About Kids! printed in a disgustingly cheerful font at the bottom.


“Oh my God, it’s really you,” a voice called out, drawing both Renee and Kai’s eyes toward the back office, just off the front desk.


A pudgy woman with a tuft of white hair who looked like she should have retired ten years ago emerged. Cathy Evans, “The Warden,” as Kai and David called her, the woman who had essentially been cursed with running County House for the past forty years. She was part of the system, the ultimate authority figure all the kids had to bow to, and she’d never learned more than a handful of signs, but still, she cared in her own way, and she’d always done the best she could with the limited funds allotted to her.


She put her hands on Kai’s shoulders, appraising him. “Look at you. All grown up. I hardly recognize you. You’re a man now.”


Kai dipped his head, surprisingly embarrassed. He cleared his throat. “Ms. Evans, this is my friend, Renee. She's going to help me with the kids. Are they ready?”


Cathy frowned. “I’m sorry, Kai. But you know I can’t let any of the children off the premises without a member of the staff, and with cutbacks . . . I can’t afford to spare anyone.”


“Dammit. Can’t you make an exception? It’s not like you’re handing them off to some stranger. And I’m taking them to Jonesville Memorial. If anything were to happen, we’re in a freaking hospital.”


Cathy crossed her arms on her chest, shook her head. “You and David. Always thought the rules shouldn’t apply to you if it wasn’t convenient.”


Kai’s anger flared, tempered only by the hydroxyzine, and he found he couldn’t think of the English words fast enough, his hands moving in harsh, rapid signs. “It’s not about convenience, Warden.” Kai’s hands slapped together loudly when he signed “CONVENIENT,” his face turning into a scowl. “It’s about us giving these kids a smidgen of a real fucking childhood.” Kai’s signs were jerking, intense, his chest heaving.


Cathy blinked, clearly not fully understanding him, but she recognized her “namesign” (if you could even really call it that), and the curse. Kai also knew she was familiar with KIDS, REAL, and GROW-UP. Enough she got the gist.

Kai felt Renee’s hand on his shoulder, and he forced himself to take a few slow, deep breaths. After a moment, he was able to find the English to say, “We’ll be back within the hour. Let the kids who can gather in the common room.”

#

“What did you say to her?” Renee asked as soon as they’d climbed back into Kai’s car.
“It’s not about rules; it’s about what’s best for the kids. Give them a taste of what normal children have. That’s why we’re going to Walmart, we’re buying candy and stuff we can use to play some party games, and we’re going to improvise Halloween.”
Renee stared at him. “Somehow, I suspect what you actually said was a lot angrier than that.”
Kai cracked a hint of a smile as they pulled out of the lot.
Renee was quiet a moment, watching the scenery fly past her window. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you that visibly mad.”
Kai sighed. “I shouldn’t have blown up at her, and I shouldn’t have dragged you into this. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. I’m glad you wanted to include me in a part of your past.” She grinned. “And it’s good to see you aren’t this inhuman android capable of suppressing your emotions all the time.”
Kai glanced sideways at her, felt himself relaxing more. If it weren’t for the fact that he didn’t want to disappoint the kids, he’d be tempted to just blow it all off, take her back to her place, and kiss her until they both were dizzy. “If I’m completely honest, I was hoping to convince Ms. Evans to let me take the kids even if she couldn’t spare anyone, and I can’t drive the van.” Kai tapped a finger on the hand controls to convey his meaning--the van didn’t have them. An easy, playful smile slipped onto his face.
Renee shook her head and bopped Kai on the shoulder.
“Hey! I’m driving here!” Kai said, laughing good naturedly, his bad mood completely gone. Their eyes met for a moment, and Kai had to sigh softly to himself at how unreal this all felt.
They laughed together, and when it finally faded, she asked, “Did you mean what you said? About giving these kids as close to a ‘normal’ Halloween as you can?”
Kai took in a breath, drummed his left hand on the steering wheel. “I only got to go trick-or-treating once. The year before my parents died, my brother took me. I was the Incredible Hulk,” Kai said with a sad laugh. Kai was five, super excited, because it was the first time he’d been well enough and walking easily enough that his father had allowed it. Of course, he paid for it later that year with the bad case of pneumonia. “At County House, the only acknowledgement we ever got for holidays were tasteless, sugar-free cookies, and sometimes, if we had an enterprising volunteer, a few decorations.”
“Kai . . .”
Kai shrugged. “I got used to it, fast. But if I can do a little something for the kids . . .”
He caught the hint of her smile in his peripheral vision, but he was circling the Walmart parking lot, searching for a spot, not really able to focus on her. “Fucking old people,” he muttered. “Shouldn’t they be in bingo or at church or something this time of night?”
“If you want to drop me off, I can just run in . . .”
Kai smiled faintly. “It’s fine. If a spot doesn’t open up in the next couple minutes, I’ll park down toward the end of the row, on the line. That’ll give me space enough to transfer. One good thing about the chair; I don’t need to park close.”
#

“This is so weird,” Renee said, leaning on the cart handle, observing idly as Kai sorted through the remnants of the candy.
“Shopping with someone in a wheelchair?” Kai asked absently, tossing a bag into the basket.
“Shopping with you. A few days ago, you were avoiding me, yet here we are.”
Kai pushed farther down the aisle, coasting, scanning the decimated shelves; she suspected it was his way of avoiding eye contact. “Here we are.”
Renee abandoned the cart for now, approaching him from behind; he seemed too focused on digging through a pile of random stuff--honestly, the Halloween aisle looked like the remnants of a campsite after being torn apart by hungry bears--and she got this strange sense of deja-vu. The other night, when she’d gone home with him after surprising him in PT, and he’d tried to hide by putting away their leftovers.
Hesitantly, she laid a hand on his shoulder, just barely touching him. She felt him tense instinctively, then force himself to relax. “Do you even still want me here? Now that you don’t . . .” She swallowed. “. . . need me anymore?” She hesitated a moment, then added, “To drive?”
Kai sighed, gripped the edge of the shelving to help himself turn around. He looked up at her, not speaking for a long time. “Part of me wants to say yes. It was one thing to have you help me take the kids around the hospital, another for you to . . . really see what was basically my childhood.”
Renee dropped her head, nodded. “I can help you finish up here, or I can just go. Call a friend or catch a bus or something.”
Kai reached out, grabbed her wrist, but held it loosely between his thumb and index finger, as if he were afraid to break it. It sent a reflexive shiver through her body she hoped he couldn’t sense. “True, I don’t need you,” he said, staring at her wrist, stroking the underside softly with his rough thumb. It made the shiver more intense, and she had to fight not to pull away. No man had ever made her feel like this, a simple, innocent touch sending the nerve endings in her body firing in a mad frenzy. “But I want you,” he finally finished, looking up at her, his eyes wide and sincere.
Without thinking, Renee braced one hand on his shoulder, leaned forward, and kissed him. She felt him immediately melt into her, a hand reaching back to grip the shelving to keep them steady. A warmth filled her when she felt his smile, but evaporated when he pushed her away only a moment later. Her eyebrows dipped in hurt and confusion, but Kai’s grin was still there, beautiful and genuine, his eyes soft and uncharacteristically unguarded.
He sighed softly. “We have to hurry up and get back. Light’s out is nine, and they put some of the kids to bed earlier than that. I doubt Ms. Evans could convince any of the staff to push bedtime routines up even thirty minutes, even for Halloween.” Kai dropped his hands to his rims and expertly swiveled out from between Renee and the shelf. “Bakery, then checkout. Come on.”
Renee watched him as he pushed toward the grocery portion of the store, occasionally spinning around and smiling at her before turning back and continuing to lead the way. She became distracted, watching the muscles in his neck, shoulders, arms, as he moved, wanting desperately to wrap her arms around him, kiss a line down his ear, jaw, neck, shoulder. . . .
". . . pie for the kids who can't do cookies?" Renee realized Kai had been speaking to her.
"What?"
He spun around, looked up at her quizzically, wheeled backwards as he repeated himself, "I thought, get them some real cookies and maybe pie for the kids who need something easier to eat."
"Uh, sure," Renee said, following him to the bakery, not really understanding. But this was Kai's show anyway; she was just supporting cast.
Kai paused at a display of the remnants of Halloween treats. "Or cupcakes. . . . Oh, man. We never had cupcakes." Kai began filling the cart with a variety of baked goods, his eyes lighting up as if he were a little kid getting these rare treats.
Watching him made Renee's stomach ache. Is this where some of that penetrating sadness she saw far too often in his eyes came from? "You really grew up in that place?"
Kai sighed, wheeling to another table. "Yes. It was 'home' for twelve years."
Renee did some quick math. She knew Kai was 22; that meant he'd spent more than half his life there. No wonder he had issues. "Was it really bad?"
"County House?" Kai finally spun around to face her in one smooth movement. Truthfully, she missed his height, but she had to admit she loved the way he moved in his wheelchair, her stomach doing funny knotting things watching him glide over the floor.
"Yeah." She barely got the word out; she wanted to climb in his lap, pull off his shirt, and kiss every patch of his skin. The thought made her blush, and she hoped he didn’t notice.
"Everything's relative," Kai said cryptically, offering her a forced smile. "That should do it; we should head back before it gets too late."


#


A couple hours later, the festivities were winding down, and Renee stood, leaning against the far wall of the common room, beside Cathy, watching Kai playing a kind of blind man’s bluff with the younger kids.


“He’s so good with children,” Renee mused. “You should have seen him the other day, reading to the kids in sign language.”


“Hmm. He and his roommate always kept to themselves. Although Kai integrated more with the other children than David. It was a relief for the staff when David turned 18, but it was hard on Kai. It’s good to see him happy.”


Kai’s feet nudged the wheel of one of the other kid’s chairs, and the girl burst out laughing. “I think I found something, but it’s awfully giggly.” He reached his hands out until he found the child, tickling her, causing her to squeal. Finally, he opened his eyes. “Madison?”


She nodded enthusiastically, apparently delighted Kai remembered her name. She looked like she was about six, and from the way her limbs seemed bent at odd angles, Renee suspected cerebral palsy. There’d been a girl at Renee’s school who’d had it, along with a personal aide hired by her family to help her through classes. She’d been smart, but severely disabled, and though Renee hadn’t actively avoided her, she hadn’t been sure how to approach her or deal with her, especially since the girl had a severe speech impediment.


Madison apparently did too, her smile fading as she struggled to say something. Renee watched as Kai leaned closer, all his focus on the girl. He nodded, whispered something Renee couldn’t hear, then leaned back. She saw him smile, gesture to his neck like he was turning a key, then wink at Madison.


The rest of their conversation was mimed--Renee wasn’t sure if Kai was using sign language or simple gestures, but even she could understand the point he was making. He was letting Madison be “It,” to her obvious delight.


The game went on like that for a while, one child switching with another, Kai helping where he could or was needed, until a few staff members started rounding them up for bed to a chorus of whines and boos.


Kai pushed toward Renee and Cathy once most of the children had been herded out. “Madison should be in a power chair. Or at least a manual chair that fits her.”


“She’ll grow,” Cathy said in a quiet, yet authoritative voice.


“It’s too heavy and too big. She can barely move in it. She’s a child, not a doorstop.” Kai’s eyes burned into Cathy’s, and as she had the other day in PT, with Troy, Renee suspected there was more to this argument than what she heard on the surface. Would she see more of his earlier anger come out?


“If you’d like to provide the several additional thousand dollars per child per year that I need in my budget to provide such things, perhaps you can donate it and we can both hope the state won’t take it all for another more ‘important’ project.” Cathy smiled and blinked at Kai, unfazed by his anger.


Kai sighed, the tension in his shoulders relaxed, and he leaned back. “I’m sorry. I know you do your best with what you have. I just--”


Cathy nodded. “I see you got yourself a good chair now, though.”


Renee looked between them, curious what Cathy meant. Kai had explained how his mobility changed constantly. Had Kai related to Madison’s struggle with a bulky, heavy chair that didn’t fit him properly? Yet another thing for the "Ask Kai Later" list.


Kai looked down reflexively. “Gift from my brother.” He spun around in a tight circle, as if to demonstrate its nimbleness, and Renee’s stomach fluttered a bit watching him.


Cathy smiled a complex, tired smile that Renee couldn’t quite interpret. “It was good of you to drop by. The kids really had fun tonight.” Then she laughed quietly. “I’ll admit I never thought I’d see you ever again.”


Kai waved his hand between them, central fingers folded, thumb and pinky extended, pointing between himself and Cathy. Renee recognized it as the sign SAME; essentially, in this context, it was the ASL equivalent of “ditto.”


“The kids would love it if you came by another day.”

Kai glanced over at Renee for the first time; she’d almost begun to think he’d forgotten her, or she’d somehow mastered the art of camouflage and blended in with the wall. He took her hand, squeezed her fingers, smiled up at her. “I might do that.”



#


“That was really sweet of you,” Renee said as she helped Kai load the remnants of the party in the back of his car; Cathy wouldn’t let them leave anything, much to Kai’s chagrin.


Kai shrugged. “Just living vicariously.” Kai raised his brows up and down, Marx-brothers style, and stole a cupcake out of one of the containers, eating it in two bites.


Renee laughed, shaking her head, leaning forward to wipe off some frosting from the side of his mouth. Then she gave in and licked the spot, kissing him. He tasted like sugar--he’d had as much candy and sweets as any of the kids, and she wondered how he wasn’t bouncing off the walls. The kiss was short, but wonderful, ending when Kai evidently felt Renee’s shiver.


“Come on, let’s get you warm.” He handed her his keys.


Renee hurried around to the passenger’s seat, climbing in and starting the engine, feeling the shift of the car as Kai closed the trunk. She was slowly beginning to defrost when she heard a knock on his window. Looking over, she saw him point to the lock, his eyebrows raised, making him look like a sad puppy.


Laughing at them both, since she’d neglected to unlock his door when she’d gotten in, she leaned over and did so, giving her an inadvertent peek at how his hand controls worked. She could see the lever leading down with bars that connected to each pedal. He also had what looked like a removable foot guard blocking off the pedals. She made a mental note to ask him about it at some point, but figured it must be a way to make sure his leg spasms wouldn’t cause an accident.


Renee watched as Kai hurried to pull himself in, disassembling his chair quickly to minimize how long the door was open to the cold. He didn’t seem bothered by it, even though he was only wearing a light fleece pullover, but she knew Kai was both an actor (who only revealed what he wanted) as well as a native. After all, it wasn’t even November; things would get much, much colder than this. Renee couldn’t help, though, if her body still remembered New Orleans winters where 40 was considered abysmally frigid.


“You warm enough?” Kai asked her tenderly as soon as his chair was secure in the back seat and the door was shut.


Renee nodded, but she shivered.


Kai laughed, held up a finger, and pulled his fleece off over his head. It temporarily made the T-shirt he wore underneath ride up, exposing part of his stomach and chest, where Renee saw the hint of several scars. But before she could get a good look, the moment was over, and he was handing her his sweatshirt.


She smiled, threaded her hands through the arms and hugged it close without pulling it over her head. It smelled faintly of him, and still retained the warmth of his body. Renee’s eyelids fell halfway in pleasure for a moment before Kai’s gentle laugh brought her back.


“Keep it if you want.”


“I meant what I said before,” Renee said as Kai drove out of the parking lot. “It was sweet of you to do this, and especially the way you handled Madison, turning off your voice so she didn’t feel bad.”


Kai shrugged a single shoulder. “I’m not sure if I was clear about this before, but I was mute when I was a kid. I couldn’t speak.” His eyes darted sideways, perhaps expecting Renee to have some huge negative reaction to this, before returning back to the road. “That’s why I know ASL. I didn’t learn to talk till I was fourteen.”


“Wow. You speak so well. I never would have guessed.” Perhaps that explained his angry signed outburst earlier; he hadn’t switched to ASL so Renee wouldn’t understand him, as she’d originally assumed. Instead, she wondered if it was because, when he was furious or tired, his brain defaulted to his first language. Renee had relatives like that, remembering many a family gathering with heated arguments in barely intelligible Cajun French. It also explained why he remembered better when she helped him visualize the material. With their midterm coming up, she’d have to keep that in mind.


“Lots of speech therapy and being thrown into a high school where most of the teachers forced me to talk,” he responded. He rolled his shoulders, as if he were sore or stiff. “Anyway, I understand what that’s like, struggling to communicate.” He smiled, but it was one of his complex grins that meant much more than it seemed. “I have a lot of experience in getting people to understand me, when necessary, without speaking.”


Renee snaked her hand onto his thigh, relieved when he smiled, not shirking from her touch. “Is that why you're such a good kisser?”

He let out a short, rich, genuine laugh. “I'm really skilled at other forms of nonverbal communication,” he said slyly. “And I think you already know I'm good with my hands.”



#


Kai pulled up in front of Renee’s apartment, parked. “Thanks for your help tonight.”


Renee shrugged. “It was definitely a different way to spend the holiday.”


“We do have the best dates, don’t we? PT, orphanage for disabled kids. Next time I should take you to a nursing home. Complete the awkward dating triumvirate.”


Renee laughed, shook her head. She took Kai’s right hand, smoothing her thumb on his palm. “I like you because you aren’t like other guys.”


“Yeah, the wheelchair sort of sets me apart,” he said, but he was smiling at her.


Renee leaned over, laid a hand on his chest. Kai’s heart sped up; he hadn’t told her about his transplant, his FS, yet, other than his vague admission about his allergies, though he knew he couldn’t let it go like he had with his MLS. If he lost her because of it, it would be better to do it sooner, before he got too involved. “You have a good heart,” she said with a sweet smile. “Art was right about that.”


Kai echoed her expression, holding her hand in place. “We should have a proper first date. . . . Though I’m afraid I’m not real experienced with conventional dating.” He felt the beginnings of a blush but forced himself not to hide from her.


She climbed onto her knees so she could lean over better, stole a quick but intense kiss that left him dizzy and half hard in seconds. “I just want to be with you. I don’t care what we do. Surprise me.”


"OK. Sunday?" Kai took in a deep breath. “And we’re still on for studying tomorrow after class, and Thursday afternoon, so long as the bookstore’s not busy, right?”


“Yes,” Renee said, “but you’ll do fine.”


Kai looked away, picked at the steering wheel with his thumb. “Says the girl with the A+. If I bomb the midterm, there’s no way I’ll be able to pass history. I’ll have to wait until next fall, and I won’t be able to take World History II next semester . . .”


Renee sank down onto her calves, still facing him. “OK. Mini pop quiz. What year was the Magna Carta signed?”


“Uh . . . 1000 something? No. 1100?”


Renee shook her head. “1215.”


Kai let his head fall to his hands on the wheel. “See: I can never remember the dates.”


“Kai. Look at me.”


Reluctantly, he did.


“Sign that date for me.”


Kai’s eyebrows furrowed, but he obeyed, signing, “TWELVE FIFTEEN.”


“Good.” Renee mimicked him. “What was the Magna Carta?”


“Re--”


“Come on. If you get it right, I’ll kiss you. Is that incentive enough?”


Kai rolled his eyes, but he was smiling. “Uh, like the Bill of Rights for England, right?”


Renee’s eyebrows went up, smiling encouragingly. “MORE. The Magna Carta inspired the founding fathers, definitely.”


Kai squeezed his eyes closed, trying to think. Kai signed slowly to speak the English, too, for Renee’s sake, “It limited the king’s power?


GOOD. And who was the king?”


Kai’s brows furrowed. He could feel the topic beginning to escape him. He looked at Renee, waiting so patiently for him to answer, wondering if he should admit he couldn’t remember what they were talking about. He knew she was quizzing him for history, and the year 1215 was clearly visible, in sign, in his mind, but beyond that. . . .


“It’s OK,” she said, smoothing his arm, obviously sensing his anxiety and confusion. “Think Robin Hood.” She grinned as she began to sing, “‘Too late to be known as John the First; he’s sure to be known as John the Worst. A pox on the phony king of England!’”


Kai laughed, but that didn’t help stir his memory.


KING?” Renee signed, mimicking him from earlier, a “K” drawn down from her left shoulder, across her torso to her right waist, her eyebrows questioning. When he nodded that she was right, she continued, fingerspelling “John,” then doing the sign for write to indicate “signed,” then fingerspelled “Magna Carta” slowly. “WHEN?


Without thinking, Kai immediately responded, “1215.” Then it hit him, what had happened, and his head jerked up, a smile slipping onto his face.


“Guess you earned that kiss, huh?”


Kai pulled her close, kissing her deeply, intensely, pouring his gratitude and amazement at having someone like Renee, who was smart and beautiful and patient. Who was learning to sign and willing to do whatever she could to help him, fucked up brain and everything. His heart was in his throat, a light, feathery feeling that almost felt like a blood pressure crash, but which he realized was happiness: pure, undiluted, and amazing.


“You sure you can’t come inside?”


Kai sighed, shook his head. “But I’ll see you tomorrow.”


Renee let out an adorable whine of complaint, stealing another kiss before sitting back. She tugged at Kai’s fleece, which she’d slipped on the rest of the way earlier in the drive. “I’ll keep this as collateral.”


Kai let out a loud, freeing laugh that felt enormously good. Part of him wanted to invite her to the party, an excuse to spend a few more hours with her, but she’d be totally out of place without knowing much ASL, and if Kai did run into David again, he wanted their conversation to be private. “Night, Re,” he said in a voice he almost didn’t recognize as his own, quiet, longing.


“Night,” she said as she looked back at him before climbing out, the light from the building's lamps casting a halo over her dark curls, pulling out her auburn highlights and perfectly framing her face.


“Night,” he said one last time, even after the door had shut, his eyes following her as she unlocked her apartment and slipped in with a final wave and a smile.

Kai leaned back in the seat, letting out a long breath. Fuck. Only a few days since Renee walked in on him in PT, and already he was falling for her. Dizzying, head-over-heels, merry-go-round love.



#


Vicky and Jon stood in his office, kissing hungrily. They clung to each other, desperate to take the kiss farther, but Jon only had ten more minutes before he needed to get back to work. Vicky guided Jon toward the couch in his office, pushing him back. He resisted at first, but finally fell down into it. She quickly followed, reaching to undo his belt.


“Vic,” he gasped as she stroked him through his pants. “We can’t.”


We can’t, but I can,” she said, freeing his aching, leaking cock and stroking it a few times gently before taking him in her mouth.


Jon grunted at the warm wetness of her tongue as it caressed him, letting his eyes fall shut, unable to speak any more complaints. He hadn’t experienced many blow jobs before Vicky--Jenny, for example, had considered fellatio unsanitary--but Vic was not only fond of giving them, she was good at it.

“I like the sounds you make when I have you in my mouth, she’d told him. “So uncharacteristic. It drives me crazy.”


Jon started making some of those noises as she licked and sucked the head, long strokes then little flicks of her tongue, making him whimper and thrust into her, desperate for more sensation. She rewarded him, taking him deeper, letting him hit the roof of her mouth. He felt the tightness in his belly and knew he was close, pressing against her shoulder.


“Vic, Vic, I’m going to come.”


She sucked hard up his length, releasing just as he let out a shout, shooting into her hand, which she cupped over his tip to try to catch the mess. His stomach spasmed a few more times, and then he was still, the rush of post-orgasmic relaxation sweeping over him.


“You’re terrible,” he sighed.


“Terrible?” she asked, teasingly, getting up to plant a lazy kiss on the side of his mouth. “Or terribly awesome?”


She used some tissues to clean her hand and him, and he tucked himself back in, hoping he could enjoy a few minutes with her before he had to get back.


“You’ll be very relaxed for the rest of the night now, I hope.”


Jon laughed softly. “I’m going to have a lot to make up for when my crazy schedule is finally over, aren’t I?”


“Mmm hmm. Have you given any more thought to Thanksgiving at my family’s?”


Jon sighed. “I don’t want to leave Kai alone. It’s not fair to him. Last year he was still so close to his transplant, we couldn’t really celebrate too much. I know he’s always wanted to do the whole traditional dinner thing.”


Now it was Vicky’s turn to sigh. “I’d invite him, too, but I’ll assume he’d decline.”


Jon shrugged. “You’ll have to ask him yourself, but Kai doesn’t like large groups of strangers much. And don’t you have like seventeen brothers and sisters?”


Vicky squeezed Jon playfully. “Ha ha. Seven. But yeah, I have a huge family. If you decide to come, I’ll need to make you a yearbook-style guide just so you can keep track.”


“Not being very convincing right now. Did I mention Kai’s not the only one who doesn’t like crowds?”


Vicky opened her mouth to retort, but was interrupted by Jon’s pager.


He shifted so he could take it off his belt and check it. Jon groaned when he saw the number. “The ER. Probably another kid who aspirated a candy corn or one of those stupid plastic spiders. I’ve gotta go.”


Vicky sighed, kissed him quickly on the lips. “Guess I’ll head home, then. I’m exhausted.”


“Drive safe,” Jon said, standing and offering his hand to help pull her up. “Call or page me when you get home, so I know you got there OK. I might not be able to answer, but I’ll talk to you tomorrow. I’ll probably still be here when you get in in the morning.”


“Take care of yourself, OK?” Vicky said, kissing Jon one last time before accepting a hug. Jon loved how right her body felt against his, and though he’d teased her, he’d brave hundreds of hostile relatives if that’s what it took to be with her.

########

Continue to October 31, 2000 - Part II ----------->