Sunday, April 29, 2012

PLD Chapter 18

There were few things in the world that Keeley loved more than falling asleep to the sound of the rain. The gentle patter on the roof combined with the sound of the waves churning outside normally lulled her into a deep and peaceful sleep. Not that night however -- she slept fitfully and woke up early the next morning, freezing, confused at how all the covers had ended up on the floor, and in generally a forlorn mood. Outside, the weather errily reflected how she was feeling.

After a few minutes she finally willed herself to get dressed and out of bed. Well, the growling in her stomach was actually the motivating factor, but that was a small detail. She sighed as she opened the fridge and surveyed its dismal contents: a leftover tuna sandwich and milk that had expired over the weekend. With a pang, she thought of the first night Clay had stayed at her house and how the contents of her fridge hadn’t been very different. So they went to Queen Street Grocery for good old fashioned country cooking and had spent the rest of the day wandering around the historic neighborhood, laughing and getting to know one another.

Keeley slammed the door of her fridge with a little more oomph than was probably necessary, frustrated by her lack of groceries and Clay’s absence. The force of the slam knocked a few magnets and pictures off the fridge, and as she bent to pick them up one in particular stood out to her. It was a picture of her and her mom from the previous summer. Keeley remembered the day well—they’d spent the day on the beach, people watching and laughing and eating junk food. Her divorce had been finalized just a few weeks before and though she looked ecstatic and glowing in the picture, she remembered how shocked her mom had been when she’d first arrived at her house that morning. Sheila Burns had arrived to find a shadow of her daughter – Keeley hadn’t left the house in days, her eyes were puffy from crying, and she’d lost at least fifteen pounds. Though the divorce had been her decision, it hadn’t been an easy one.

Keeley smiled wryly as she remembered how her mom had scolded her for withdrawing and dealing with everything on her own. She had always been that way—private and introverted. Some people figured things out by talking around in circles with others; Keeley silently mulled things over in her head. She bottled things up and kept them inside to herself, not wanting to burden anyone with her thoughts. And try as she might, she’d never been able to shake that bad habit.

And she’d tried. Because she knew that people hated it when she withdrew into herself and kept her problems to herself. There had been one time--back in college--when she thought that she and Jan’s friendship was going to end over Keeley’s introverted tendencies. Just like Clay had argued the day before, Jan claimed that Keeley never told her anything and she absorbed her problems without giving her a chance to return the favor. And while Keeley had denied it, she had known what her friend was saying was true. And that the reason she did it was true too: she didn’t trust anyone enough to let them in. Sure, she told herself she was being noble and she didn’t share because she didn’t want to burden anyone -- but the deeper reason was that she thought that if she didn’t let anyone know her thoughts, they wouldn’t be able to hold them against her.

That’s part of the reason he had an affair, a small, cruel voice said inside her. Yet, as much as she wanted to deny it, she knew that her habit of perpetuating emotional perfection and putting up walls was part of what drove a wedge between her and Brent in the first place.

She looked at the picture of her and her mom on the beach again. Keeley grinned wryly; even through a year-old picture, her mom was still teaching her a lesson and giving her guidance. She tenderly hung the picture back up, then grabbed her jacket and purse and headed out the door.

It took like what seemed like eons for the door to finally open. And when it did, it opened silently, without a word.

Clay sat in front of her, arms crossed and looking surly. He was in gym shorts and a tee shirt with the Whitlow & Sons logo on it, but his hair was tousled and his shirt was wrinkled as if he’d just woken up. He didn’t offer to let her in, so Keeley held up the bag of takeout from Queen Street Grocery that she’d grabbed on her way over. “Peace offering?”

He raised his eyebrows skeptically, but moved enough to let her through. Keeley rummaged around his disastrously disorganized kitchen for a few minutes, looking for utensils while he watched. After finding two spoons and a knife, she finally threw the silverware into the sink in exasperation. “Are you going to tell me where the forks are or are you just going to sit there and sulk?”

“I don’t know, I was going to offer,” he responded in a cool voice, “But I didn’t know if that was ‘coddling you’ or not.”

Keeley swallowed hard. “Okay, I deserved that.”

“No,” Clay said. “You didn’t. But I wanted to be a childish bastard for once.”

The words took Keeley by surprise and his tone of voice alarmed her. She had no idea what to do next and she had no idea what was going through Clay’s mind. This was a Clay that Keeley had never seen before: distant, cool, sarcastic.

Then he continued, “It’s out of my system now.” She could see the tips of his ears were red as he quickly wheeled by her and opened the dishwasher. He held up two forks. “And these are actually clean.”

She took the forks from him without a word. The air was electrified with tension and if Keeley had felt uncomfortable and unsure when she’d first walked in, the feeling was ten times worse now.

Behind her, Clay cleared his throat. “Let’s talk.”

Ah. The words she both dreaded and coveted. She sat the forks down on the counter and turned followed Clay across the room to the table. They both sat down in silence, looking uncomfortable.

“I’m sorry.”

Despite the somber mood, neither of them could help but smile at the fact that they’d said it unison.

“For what?” Keeley quickly continued, going on while the mood had lightened and before she lost her nerve again. “I acted like a child and threw a temper tantrum because you wanted me to know you cared.”

“And because I lost the lugnutts,” Clay mumbled with a small grin.

Keeley smiled a half-smile, glad her Clay was coming back. “I’m sorry...for bottling things up. And not letting you in. It’'s just a bad habit.”

Clay shrugged. “We’ve all got bad habits.”

“But ones like these tend to create wedges. And wedges tend to cause disagreements. And disagreements lead to endings and --”

“--And,” Clay gently interrupted. “Sometimes, disagreements lead to new beginnings and better understandings.”

They locked eyes for a moment. Clay took her hand in his and then continued. “And I’m sorry for pushing you to tell me what was wrong and for demanding to be let in. I just -- I have a fear sometimes that you won’t tell me things because you might think my problems,” he gestured at his legs, “are somehow bigger than yours.”

“Clay, I can honestly say that I have never once thought that. If I had, I wouldn’t have banished you from my office while I finished my dissertation, or complained about being sore after water skiing, or a million other little things.” Keeley paused, a thought suddenly occurring. “Should I ease up on the complaining?”

“No! That’s what I’m saying.” Clay sighed. “There is so much about this situation that’s not normal --”

Keeley interrupted him. “I grew up with parents who were artists. I’ve never known ‘normal’.”

Clay rewarded her efforts with a grin. “You know what I mean.”

“I do,” Keeley conceded. “But, I also know that you are one of the most capable people I’ve ever met -- wheelchair or not.” She looked at him hard. “Normal situation or not. You act like you’re some mutant just because you’re paralyzed--”

“--Well, a lot of people see it that way Keels. Don’t tell me you weren’t put off at first too, because I saw your face when I got out of the truck. You would have rather been alone than with the gimpy guy.”

Keeley flushed, immediately thinking back to the day they met. What he said was true and she couldn’t deny it. She squeezed his hand. “First impressions can be misleading.”  
“I feel like I can’t get rid of mine,” Clay mumbled, looking down. This wasn’t the turn Keeley had expected the conversation -- or the morning --  to take, and she hated serious conversations, but she wasn’t going to shut down again. That’s what had landed them here in the first place.

“Clay, look at me.” He looked up. “When you were a sly ass to Brent, I fell a little bit into ‘like’ with you. And when we went to that dive of a seafood restaurant, I liked you even more.”

When he didn’t say anything, she continued. “And when you made fun of my cooking, and brought me Thai food, and we went camping, and to the lake, and even yesterday, when you changed the tire,” she grinned wryly, “even though you lost the lugnutts, which is something that can be forgiven, I was constantly falling in love with you. That first impression of ‘Oh, he’s disabled,” long ago fell by the wayside.”

Clay still wasn’t saying anything. Keeley got up from the kitchen chair and went and sat down in his lap, wrapping her arms around his neck. “Mr. Whitlow, you’ve got to let it go.”

Finally, he looked at her again. His green eyes bore into her with an intensity she’d only seen a few times before. “This is to letting it go then, and new beginnings, and better understandings,” he said softly before he smiled -- the first genuine smile of the morning -- and kissed her lips.  

And as they kissed and Clay started to wheel them in the direction of his bedroom, breakfast completely forgotten, Keeley decided that the morning and the conversation had taken the proper route after all. Nothing was ending, as she had feared. Rather, it was only just beginning.



  1. I LOVE this story and am so happy that you were able to finish it. Although....maybe a sequel? j/k You are a great writer and I hope you continue to update your other stories, you have some great ones that I would love to see finished as well but that is just me being greedy. CONGRATULATIONS!

  2. I can't believe its come to an end. Thank you for the wonderful characters. You're a great writer. Would you consider publishing the final story on Amazon as a digital book?

  3. I was so excited to see an update! Seriously I've been checking for this daily. I was sad to see that it's the last update but I'm happy that Keeley and Clay finally got their happy ending! The first few paragraphs about Keeley keeping her problems to herself is so familiar to me, and the reasoning is also the same for me. Amazing, it's like you're in my head!
    Congratulations on finishing your story and I vote for a sequel too!

  4. I've loved this story, and while I'm sad to see the story ending I'm glad that Clay and Keeley get to live happily together.

    Well done for writing, and thank you.

  5. Great story, I really enjoyed it, thank you!!! I look forward to future stories written by you!!!

  6. This made my day. I wondered if you'd finish it and you did! I'm a little sad to see it end and look forward to more of your work. You're really talented.

    I love their "end" that's really an amazing beginning.

  7. Congratulations on a fabulous story with a terrific ending! Keeley and Clay were superb together. Please, do come back and finish your other wonderful stories for us. I still remember them and would love some more from you.

  8. Sad to see it end. Hope to read more from you soon.

  9. Great ending but WAY too short ! You let us hanging for months, years and now it's over. What a frustration! Keeley and Clay will be missed (mostly Clay, lol) Keep on writing. You do a great job, but please, please, please post on a regular basis.