Outdoor Adventures - Part II
Sam could almost have been the 'naive young daughter' character from some Agatha Christie novel as she made her way up the stairs of the great house, eyes wide and dark, and mouth slightly open in wonder. Her soft-soled shoes gave only a whisper of her passing to the stitched hunting figures in the tapestries on the walls and the professorial old men in their oil-painted studies. Free-standing Art Deco braziers with gilt eagles mounted on the edges watched as she rounded the corner of the shallow-treaded, stone staircase, and she tried not to imagine their cruel beaks turning to watch her pass. She came silently up to a wood-panelled room with paintings of birds covering the walls.
A wheezy, asthmatic old lady puffed around the corner and looked surprised to find someone so young in such a stuffy old room. "Hello, dear," she said in passing, and carried on, chugging like a steam engine. Sam smiled, remembering the National Trust places they'd all visited as a family with her grandmother when Sam had been small; some were massive old houses, while others were wildlife reserves enjoyed by walkers and bird watchers. Despite the trust's reputation for catering more for OAPs and young children, Sam had retained a love of exploring the hidden corners of old houses and their beautiful gardens right into her late teens and early twenties. She relished the opportunity to capture wildlife and unusual corners at these places.
The upstairs of Anglesey Abbey was decorated a mixture of tastes from lavish English Renaissance to clean Art Deco; there were sparkling white bathrooms with arctic expanses of glittering marble, mirror and chrome, and dark, red velvet rooms that had an eerie, forgotten quality to them.
Taking her time and meandering through the rooms she entered a kind of trance, drinking it all in. It was only when she made her way down a set of steep and winding stairs to a secluded living room, which didn't lead anywhere, that she remembered that Alex was still waiting for her. With a rush of guilt, she realised how long she'd spent pottering and poking around the secrets of the house. Just as she turned to make her way back up the staircase, she glimpsed an ornate grand piano decorated with panels and figures of intricately inlaid wood. Wishing she'd had the talent and time to get beyond her Grade 3 piano exam, she smiled, and headed back up the stairs, and out to find Alex.
The hallway that led to the exit was long, dark and narrow, lined with frowning suits of armour. She rounded the corner and stepped into the harsh daylight flooding through the doorway, as silently as though she were a memory of the house and nothing more. She smiled to see Alex sitting on the bench, Android in hand, legs stretched leisurely in front of him. His crutches were neatly tucked away beside him, leaning against the cold stone bench and they looked as relaxed as he did. He was so absorbed in whatever he was reading on his phone that he didn't register her presence, and she crept forward, heart pounding at the sight of him. It suddenly dawned on her why he hadn't looked up - she was approaching on his blind side. Her eyes darted up to the scar which sliced through his thick, strong brow. With the silvery scar softened by the shadows of the porch, it seemed to her that he was some kind of scarred angel, resting a while with her. She hoped sadly that he wouldn't fly away too soon. Feeling as cheeky as she did guilty for perhaps taking advantage of his lack of sight, she snuck closer and then just sat down next to him with a soft, "Hey."
She felt him jump, then heard his rich, cocoa laugh, before he said, "Have fun?" He slid the phone back into a side pocket of his jeans, and turned his head a little more, even lifting his body up, biceps working like pistons, and repositioning himself so that she floated into his field of vision. Sam was chagrined, and shifted to the front of the stone bench so that he wouldn't have to crane his neck right round to see her.
"It's gorgeous," she said. "I think my favourite room’s the one with the piano, and the hundred and one paintings of Windsor Castle on the walls…" The bizarre tastes of the last owner of the Abbey had certainly created an eclectic collection for visitors to marvel at.
Some strange expression had come over his face at the mention of the piano, and then he gave a heart-stopping half-smile that was full of memory. His deep voice was husky as he said, "I remember coming here when I was about sixteen - the room steward asked me if I played the piano. He got me to play something for him."
He's a musician too? she thought, delight flaring and fluttering in her chest. "You play the piano?" she asked, "Wow." His shy smile stirred a storm of butterflies inside her, and she was afraid to open her mouth again in case they all bubbled out.
"Yeah," he mumbled. "I'm no Vladimir Ashkenazy or anything, but I can hold my own I guess."
Praying the butterflies were going to cooperate with her, she said, "I was all mistakes and no melody when I had to learn."
"You play anything else?"
Resisting the childish temptation to say 'the fool', she shook her head. "No, music is one of those mysterious dark arts that you either have the gene for or you don't. My artistic genes manifest themselves in a love of photography and reading poetry, but playing instruments doesn't really feature..."
Alex laughed softly again, and then said, "Shall we look around the downstairs rooms?"
She hung back, watching him lever himself upright on his crutches, arms straining as they bore his full weight. His cheeks flushed a light pink, gilding his sharp cheekbones for an instant as he flicked the braces locked and caught her eye. His lips twitched momentarily into a nervous smile. Sam returned the gesture, perhaps tossing a little too much desire into the potion, and turned away quickly, making for the dark safety of the hall of armour.
She heard a slight grunt from behind her. Her head whipped around to see Alex lifting his hips up and over the step into the hall. It was a high step, and he misjudged the tread, his toes colliding with the stone. His crutches held him as he stumbled but there was still a fleeting note of real and intense panic in his dark eyes. She initially thought he was shaking, until she let her eye slide down his body and realised his right leg was spasming. His eyes darted about wildly for an instant, clearly looking for somewhere to park himself while the spasms ran their course. The house steward had left her post by the door a while ago, leaving her chair free, and Alex made a little dive for it. When he'd landed and released the lock in a series of movements far too quick and practiced for Sam to follow, she heard him breathe, "Shit." He looked up at her briefly, black eyes brimming with emotion, and he croaked, "I'm sorry. It'll pass in a minute.”
She tried her hardest to say with just a smile, 'It's ok. Take your time.' Maybe her message got through, as the ghost of a smile flitted across his face and he began to dig his fingers into the muscle half way down his thigh between what seemed to be the straps of his brace, though the jeans made it tricky to be sure. His right knee was bobbing furiously and he still looked mortified. Did he want her to go away? Should she offer? She didn't know the etiquette for someone with a disability, and that was beginning to make her nervous. "You want me to stay?" she finally managed to make herself say.
He glanced up at her, still viciously kneading his thigh with his thumb, and his eyes were hard and cold as he scanned her face, as though he couldn't deduce her meaning.
She almost took half a step back, but, rallying her courage, she smiled and said, "No ulterior motive, I just wondered if you'd rather I gave you some space..."
Alex laughed unexpectedly. It was brash and loud, and it rang rudely down the hallway of hushed suits of armour, and she half expected one of them to turn to them and 'shush' them. "I'm sorry," he said. "I just haven't quite got used to how genuine you are."
Now it was her turn to be embarrassed. "I... I just thought..."
He raised a pale and slightly tremulous hand. "Please," he said reassuringly, "It's just that when people ask if I want them to stay, normally they're looking for an excuse to bail." He returned his attention back to the spasms in his thigh, which were now much lessened by the pummelling his strong fingers were giving them, and by his having sat back down. "If..." he added without looking up, "If ever you did want to bail though, just say so... I'd... I'd understand."
His tone wasn't at all self-pitying, which made his comment all the sadder. "Alex," she said, her voice high and wavering slightly. She took half a step towards him, looking around to make sure they were still alone. This was not a conversation for spectators. "I don't want to bail. I'm sorry if something I said or did just now gave that impression. As I said before, I might not always know..." she rolled her eyes in frustration at not being able to articulate herself properly, "Know exactly what to do or say... but I want to see where this goes..."
A light danced in his tired eyes and he shook his head in disbelief. His words were warm when he spoke. "Two things we can easily work on." He gave her a lop-sided grin and released his leg from the steel grip of his fingers.
His leg seemed to have calmed down again, but she noticed the sweat beading around the tapering edge of his strong eyebrow. Should he have been in his wheelchair? Is he walking just to impress me? In a moment those thoughts had evaporated as he was on his feet, nimbly swinging his tall body over the carpet and into the sitting room, as though the spasms had never bothered him. He had said they were just passing. She wondered if they happened often, if they were always painful, why they hurt if he was paralysed - was that what he'd meant by incomplete? - and a myriad more questions she didn't think she'd ever find the courage to ask him. She hurried after him into the oak-panelled drawing room where the soft ticking of old clocks whispered of more treasures to be discovered.
When they finally emerged into the bright sunlight again, having seen a stunning array of artefacts ranging in date from late medieval to the early twentieth century, Alex turned to her, and asked if she wanted to see the rose garden. The gravel crunched satisfyingly under her shoes as they worked their way slowly around the facade of the house, following the light, sweet scent of summer roses. Maybe she was emboldened by the romantic spirit of the approaching rose garden, but Sam felt the overwhelming urge to slide her hand into his and walk side by side with him into the courtyard ahead. Alex, however, could not walk - or apparently even stand - without gripping those crutches tightly in his calloused hands, and she felt suddenly very distant from him, like the crutches were now a cage keeping him from her. An idea struck her that she could put her hand in his back pocket, but that would be far too forward for the faltering, uncertain, and youthfully awkward stage of their relationship. Stretching up to lay a hand on his shoulder would probably be too tricky for her and would probably hinder him, she thought, so the only other option that wouldn’t get in his way was putting her hand on his lower back. She faltered for several paces, apprehensive at the idea of putting her clammy little nervous hand on his t-shirt. Go for it. And eventually, she did.
Alex, concentrating on setting his crutch tips down on the uneven path, suddenly became conscious that Sam was looking at him. He was so used to the hostile and inquisitive gazes from Joe Public that the way this gorgeous girl was looking at him really took some getting used to. Glancing left out of his good eye at her, he grinned involuntarily: his cramps had faded, the sun wasn't quite so hot around this side of the house, and Sam was smiling. Smiling at him, no less. Then, without warning, he felt a gentle pressure around his lower back, on one of the last sections of his spine where he still had decent feeling. His rhythm faltered and he ground rapidly to a halt, crutch tips set ahead of him, legs left behind, forming a wide triangle. He closed his eyes again, dropping his chin to his chest, the same feeling of ecstasy and uncertainty coursing through his veins as when she'd reached up to touch his face. The simplicity of this gesture almost moved him to tears. The acceptance in the soft placing of her palm was something he'd not really felt since before the accident. There had been a time with Rachel when he'd found familiarity and comfort in the touch of another, but it was never quite like this, was it? he wondered. "Sam," he breathed. "You know how you said earlier that you wanted to take this further?"
"Too far?" she asked, a kind of nervous terror humming through her tone.
"Just enough," he said, opening his eyes and looking down into her own anxious eyes.
She beamed in relief and he felt her fingers curl against him for a moment, rucking up the heavy folds of his black t-shirt. "Come on," she said. "Let's find those roses."
A bench had been strategically placed under a drooping tree in the rose garden, but neither of them felt like stopping, communicating as much with a simple glance and smile, and meandering slowly around the closely-cropped lawn of the garden, sampling the different and delicate scents of the petals.
Alex didn’t notice how much he'd slowed down, how he could barely hoist his dragging feet clear of the ground, or how much his shoulders were burning until they got back to the car. Grabbing the chassis of the BMW as soon as he reached the boot, he slid his hands out of the cuffs of his forearm crutches and immediately hated the unnerving feeling of being upright but unstable. He drew the keys out of the front pocket of his rucksack so that Sam could get in, unlocked the car, stowed the crutches in the boot behind the pieces of his chair, and then turned his attention to making his way along the body of the car towards the driver's side door. Heaving his hip up and round, and then flinging his leg forward with a gargantuan thrust of his thigh muscle that translated into a mere, shuffling movement was as disheartening that day as it had been six years ago in rehab. His toes snagged on the uneven gravel and he was forced to grip the car hastily to keep himself on his feet and off his face. Risking a glance up at Sam, he saw that she was leaning her right hip against the passenger door, gazing across the car park to the trees away in the distance. There was a dreamy look on her face and before she caught him stopping and staring, he fumbled with the handle, opened the door, swivelled himself around and plonked his weight down on the seat with a grunt. Both legs began to judder at the force of his landing, and he released the knees hurriedly before they made his feet dance manically, dangling at the end of straight, stiff, spasming legs. "Bollocks," he cursed, and as he coaxed them to stop, he rolled his shoulder forward and felt his biceps groaning too. Glad he was sitting down, and not a moment too soon it seemed, he lifted his still hopping legs into the footwell, and yanked the door closed moodily behind him.
Sam was still staring off into the clouds and didn't even notice the door slam. He leaned across and rapped on the window and she leaped at the sound. Scurrying to open the door, she flustered, "Sorry, I was miles away. It's such a beautiful day."
Unable to tell if she was just covering for him, or whether she was being genuine again, he said nothing and started the car. Much to his annoyance, the spasms did not stop as he'd hoped they would. They did slow a little, but he could tell they were being tricksy and sure enough, half way home, a single shot of pain seared up the outside of his right thigh and pooled in his hip as the tired muscles cramped. He'd gone a long way on his legs that day, nearly two and a half kilometres in total around the gardens, and it was certainly the furthest and the longest he'd dared push his body upright in a long, long time. Wheeling that far would have been no problem at all. Praying his whole lower body wasn't about to cramp right up in protest, he winced, kept driving, kept his hands on the wheel and controls, his eyes on the road, and sat, glumly taciturn for the short drive back. Sam occasionally ventured comments about the things they'd seen, but mostly she turned her gaze away from him and watched the flat fens of Cambridgeshire flash past with a soft smile on her porcelain face.
Winding its way through the heavier traffic and bottlenecks created by the road works, the BMW finally drew up in the disabled bay outside the nondescript King's College building. Opposite was Corpus Christi's crazy clock, and as usual, a large knot of tourists had gathered around it, blocking up the road on the other side. Alex looked over at Sam. She had just raised her head to turn her gaze on him, and, feeling suddenly mortified at having to ask for help, he felt the adrenaline rise like bile in his throat. His legs had quietened down almost to normal, but he knew their moods, and they were still feeling capricious, pulsing sporadically. If he tried to stand, he might risk a full cramp up, and if that happened, he would probably fall over. That would be far worse than just asking for her help, he decided. "Sam," he said, his voice cracking a little. He cleared his throat and found that she was already moving to get out. Fearing he would be left inside the car and feeling unexpectedly and needlessly helpless, he opened his mouth to speak again.
Sam looked over her shoulder before she climbed out and asked if he would like his crutches or the chair.
Her firm thoughtfulness shut him up and he couldn't formulate a response for a good few seconds. "Chair," he croaked eventually. "Thanks. Just bring it in bits and I'll put it together." Did she really not mind? What was wrong with her? Why couldn't she seem to see him the way everyone else did?
"Here," she said bringing the main frame and the unattached wheels together.
Alex was surprised at her strength. His was a lightweight, sporty chair, but still, heaving it all out of the boot in one go was enough to put a slight flush in Will's cheeks sometimes. Alex did reflect that Will was a soft-handed academic, and Sam was a practising martial artist, so it shouldn't really have surprised him.
"How do you want me to put it...?" she asked, not knowing which way he wanted the chair to face.
It was only when she’d held the chair for him as he'd indicated, and once he'd attached the wheels, that he saw that her hands were trembling, and, as he leaned out, his own hand on the chair, he could see how wide her eyes had become. She was unnerved by something after all. He gently lifted his legs out of the car, he swung his reluctant body over the yawning gap between car and chair, and eased himself down with a tricep dip into the welcoming embrace of the chair. As he'd predicted, his legs were not happy at being disturbed again, and they both danced their frustration for all the world and Sam to see.
She was still hovering uncertainly in the road, and as he saw a bicycle whizzing up towards them he grabbed her by the wrist and said, "Watch out," pulling her gently out of its path.
He felt her fingers splay instinctively, as though she were about to put him in an arm lock like she had the guy in the bar, but the next thing he knew, they were closing about his hand and as he looked up into her face, he saw her smiling again. "Thanks," she said, without letting go.
He had planned to ask Will to bring his crutches up later, but, with Sam's hand in his, he felt bold again, and asked, "You want to come up for a drink?" before realising she'd have to see him in the stair lift first. Oh fuck it, he thought. She'll have to deal with it. Not that he was exactly ready for her to see any more of the mechanics of his disability.
"That'd be great," she said.
He flicked his eyes down at their entwined fingers. "I'll be needing that back then," he said with a smile, and she released his hand with one of her own.
"You want me to take anything up?" She was probably thinking of his crutches, and he was surprised at how quickly she had come to think of things he needed.
He inhaled, held the breath and sighed it out. "My crutches are in the boot, if you wouldn't mind bringing those up, that'd be a big help."
"Sure," and moved to go and fish them from the boot.
For just a split second after she'd let go, he had felt wildly adrift. Scolding himself and giving himself a good mental shake, he manoeuvred the chair away from the car to shut the door, and he caught sight of her little hands around the shafts of his crutches as she lifted them free of the boot. Much to his astonishment, he actually felt the blood draining away from his head towards a very different kind of brain, and he heard a slight ringing in his ears. Relieved, knowing that his lower body needed 'help' these days and couldn't betray his thoughts, he flashed her a grin, and once she'd closed the lid of the boot, he led the way across the road towards the apartment, imagining a number of ways Sam could 'help' his lower body.
Alex's plan to get transferred before Sam even got through was blown apart when he dropped the front door keys, sending them skittering away across the tiny step, and, of course, they were just beyond his reach. Deftly swivelling the push rims round, he retrieved them before some kind passer-by could make a polava out of doing it for him, but it meant that Sam had caught up with him. If this is going any further, she'll have to start seeing you like this, he thought, but somehow on date number two, or maybe three if they were counting coffee at The Meadows, he wasn't quite ready for it yet.
Oh well, here goes, he thought as he lined himself up for another transfer. Grabbing the chair in his right arm, he hit the button and began to crawl up the staircase at a hideously slow rate. Doing his best, perhaps vainly he thought, to draw attention to his straining bicep rather than his bobbing legs and the horrid plastic seat of the lift, he shifted the weight of the chair slightly. It seemed to work, because Sam's eyes were drawn almost magnetically up his body, and a flushed smile bloomed briefly on her face, like Japanese cherry blossom in spring.
"I can't believe how lucky you are to have a flat right here," she said, keeping pace just behind the mechanism of the stair lift.
He smiled. She was trying so hard to make everything feel normal for both of them. "Yeah, I know. I pay for it by having to live with my brother." She seemed shocked, and he added, "We're so close, it's ridiculous, but sometimes there's a fair deal of friction. Most older brothers have grown out if being protective by the time their little brother hits twenty four, but Will kind of never got the chance..."
She nodded, "I see."
He suddenly remembered that she'd said she supposed to be packing her stuff up to go home the next day, and asked, "Are you all packed for tomorrow?"
Sam's laugh trilled above the grinding of the stair lift and as they reached the top of the flight, he heard her say, "Mostly. I'm staying up in Cambridge with Dan til graduation to save paying college any more money, so it's just my stuff that's going home. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but it's probably going to be more stressful than beneficial!"
He fumbled with the key in the lock, wondering whether Will would be in, and how he'd act with Sam. It’d been a while since Alex had brought a girl home. Pushing the door wide open, he wheeled over the threshold and called out, "Will? You here?"
A distant and rather muffled voice emanated from somewhere, followed by footsteps on the hardwood. Just before he rounded the corner into the living room from his own bedroom, Will said, "Hey, you're back. How was it...?" His voice caught in his throat as he came round the corner and got his second glimpse of Sam. He clearly hadn't expected to see her in the flat. "Hi," he fairly squeaked, running a hand through his scruffy flax-coloured hair.
Sam returned his greeting with an awkward one of her own, and then looked at Alex. He had to laugh. "It was great," he said, following Will's eyes down to where his legs were still jumping a bit, "I'm in need of a cup of tea and a sit down now though."
Will frowned, saying quietly, "You walked?"
Alex could tell he was mildly concerned, and from the way his eyes darted between Alex's spasming legs and Sam's pretty face, he knew what Will was thinking. He ignored his brother and asked Sam, "Tea? Or something else, I can see what we have..."
"Tea sounds great," he heard her say.
While the kettle boiled, he heard Sam ask Will about what he did. "I'm doing a Ph.D. in fluid dynamics..." He looked a bit nervous, like the nerd at high school who accidently finds himself talking to the prom queen. This girl was actually nothing like your stereotypical prom queen, but most of the women in Will’s department were not quite as beautiful as Sam… As though deciding that he’d reached his quota of social/female interaction for one day, Will added, “Well… I’d better get back to it. Got quite a lot more to do today… I’m glad you… I’m glad you and Alex had fun.” He flashed a nervous smile and scuttled from the room like a disturbed beetle.
Alex snorted to himself and made his way past Sam, following his brother. “Be right out,” he said as he passed.
He followed his brother to his room, and pushed politely inside. “How’s it all going? I have to say you look a bit cross-eyed… did you even take a break today?”
Will’s cheeks flushed beetroot red for an instant, and he said, “Well, I… I had some lunch…”
Alex barked a laugh, “Well, you had three minutes off at least…”
“Shush, you,” Will shot with a joking smile. “I don’t know why you’re asking me about my day – you should be in the kitchen with that girl of yours!”
Alex grinned roguishly, wheeling backwards for a few turns. "She's amazing, Will," he found himself saying.
He turned to look at his brother and said, "I'm glad. You deserve some fun."
He snorted. "You say that like my life is a total misery!"
"You know what I mean," Will retorted, and when Alex began to say something in response, he said with a grin, "Go on, go away. Get back to her."
Laughing, Alex swivelled around and wheeled back into the sitting room. He took one last glance at Will over his shoulder, and saw him stare one last time at the face in the mirror before standing up and making himself busy.
The kettle had already boiled by the time he joined Sam again in the kitchen, and he found her staring out of the window at the tourists still milling around on the street below. "Any interesting ones?" he asked.
She jumped, not having heard his silent wheels on the hardwood. "What?"
"Any interesting tourists? It's one of my favourite past times, watching them. They're like little ants..."
"I wonder if they have any idea they're being watched..." She was thoughtful for a second. Then added, "That reminds me of a quote from War of the Worlds, about being observed like creatures that swarm and multiply in -"
"-in a drop of water," he finished, laughing heartily. "Have you heard the musical version of that?"
"The what?" she asked incredulously, coming away from the window and round into the kitchen area to stand next to him. "There's a musical of War of the Worlds?"
"Yup," he said cheerfully, digging the teabags out of a tin and tossing them into a couple of mugs. "Jeff Wayne's musical version. I'll play you the track with that quote on in a minute once I've made the tea. There's a shameless over-use of the synthesiser though, I should warn you."
Her laughter was high and unexpectedly girlish, and it echoed around the flat, adding a new character and light to the whole apartment, and he pushed her mug along the counter in her direction with an admiring smile.
Nursing the mug in her hands, she waited while he fished an iPod from the speaker-dock on the shelf behind the sofa, and flicked through to find the album.
Placing the iPod back in the dock and hitting 'play', Alex sat back in the chair and watched her face as the track started. The song, 'The Eve of The War' was ridiculous, but brilliant, and the were soon laughing again.
It was a long track, nearly ten minutes, and after it had faded out, she laughed, "Oh that's fabulous!" setting her now empty mug down on the counter. Her expression suddenly showed surprise, and phone had clearly buzzed as she dug it out of her pocket and looked at the messages. "Excuse me a minute will you?" she asked quietly. "I've got a message from my mum and I should probably reply..."
He waved a hand casually and said, "Sure, go ahead."
She smiled and turned her attention to the big chunky Nokia in her hand.
Reaching out to turn down the volume of the following track, Alex noticed just how furiously his legs were bobbing, and he realised with a jolt of surprise that he'd missed his afternoon baclofen. Fuck, he thought, what the hell's wrong with you, Norwood? Routine, routine, routine, were the three golden rules of his paraplegic life now, and this girl was playing havoc with them. Not deliberately of course. He’d taken it with him in his rucksack, but it had lain forgotten at the bottom of the bag. He bolted for the bathroom and gulped down the meds, returning shortly to find Sam standing by the bookshelf, running her fingers along the spines of the books.
He was mesmerised by her.
Her long hair tumbled down her back, and her ass in those jeans looked beyond perfect. The way her fingertip lingered leisurely on the books as it passed over each one was hypnotically beautiful, and he hung back, reluctant to disturb her or break the spell.
Catching the slight squeak of the black rubber tyres on the kitchen floor, she turned her head, hair swinging sensuously as she moved. "You have an amazing collection here," she smiled. "And of course, the typical nerd-fest section..." She indicated the complete Hitchhiker's series, the Richard Feynman lectures, and The Watchmen and V for Vendetta graphic novels. "You have a lot by this author," she added, drawing out a black and grey volume with the words 'Murakami' and 'IQ84' on the cover.
"Ahh, he said, pushing his rims forward to come over towards her. "Murakami is a god of literature in my opinion. Have you ever read anything of his?"
"No, I've never heard of him," she confessed guiltily.
She looked so darned cute he had to laugh. "I'm not surprised," he said. "Practically no one has. If you wanted to get into something, try this one," and he wheeled right up to the shelf to draw out 'Norwegian Wood'. "It's a good one to start with I think."
When she took it from him, her fingers touched his, and he was reminded of the first time he'd felt the touch of her skin in the cinema. The same rush of tingling joy coursed through him this time too, spreading from his hand out to his entire body.
She thanked him and said, "I should probably get going now. Like I said, I have a few more boxes to fill tonight ready for tomorrow morning."
"My dad's coming pretty early tomorrow..." she grumbled. "I'm so not a morning person..."
"Me neither," he agreed. Too bad I have to get up at the same time every day to empty my fucking bladder before I wet the bed like a two year old, he thought angrily, wisely keeping his thoughts out of the conversation.
She moved away from him, towards the door, but her steps were faltering, reluctant even. He followed behind her and when she was standing beside the door, waiting for him to open it, he took her hand in his. "Thank you for coming today," he said, regretting his rather awkward choice of words immediately; they made him sound like a crippled old man. "I hope you had as much fun as I did."
Her dark eyes gazed earnestly down at him. "Perfect second date," she said. Her leg moved slightly, as though she had been about to step and decided against it.
Damn it, he thought, tugging almost imperceptibly softly on her hand with his, come closer. I can't kiss you from down here.
Responding seemingly to his very thoughts, her hands were suddenly on his shoulders and she was leaning forward, kissing his scarred lips with a gentle passion that moved him deeply. As he kissed her back, his tongue gingerly began to taste her lips, and he pulled her closer to him. He heard her give a tiny, almost inaudible, moan, and her dark irises, flecked with gold, disappeared behind her eyelids. When they parted, she straightened up, pursing her lips together, seemingly tasting him too, and she said, "See you soon?"
"Definitely," he said, his voice breathy and slightly hoarse.
As she fairly skipped from the room, her hair bounced and shimmered with each stride, and she passed through the doorway and onto the landing and stopped. She flashed him a wide smile, and said, "Looking forward to it." And then she was gone.
"See you soon." It was more a prayer than a whisper.