Chapter Two – Development
“Sure,” she said, feeling her heart banging against her ribs like a trapped silverback gorilla. She thought for a second and then said, “Why don’t you come to the pub tomorrow night? A few friends and I will be in need of a pint or two and some good company after finals.” He gulped visibly. Worrying that she had been too forward with this handsome stranger, she backed off and added, “But I’m free the day after if you’d prefer.” He was older than her, she suddenly thought, and realised that if he was indeed a grad student, he certainly wouldn’t want to hang out with a load of freshly-finished undergrads in a crowded pub at the top of town, on the night of their last exams.
His answer seemed to confirm her theory. “I’m not free tomorrow, but coffee on Friday sounds good.”
Relief that he had even accepted that bit washed over her, and she said with a huge, open smile, “Great, where do you want to meet?”
His black eyes were deep and pensive as he answered her. “Maybe The Meadows, down by the weir?”
The confidence in her early opinion of this total stranger grew at this suggestion, and she said, “I think that’s possibly my favourite place…”
He laughed, the alabaster skin around his eyes crinkling attractively. “Good,” he chuckled. “I don’t think I’ve introduced myself,” and he held out a rough, calloused and strong-looking hand. “I’m Alex.”
“Sam,” she offered warmly, wondering why his hands were so rough – perhaps he was a rower. With arms like his, she noted as it stretched over the space between them, he could very well be.
“Listen,” he said, retracting his hand, and a little of his confident demeanour seemed to retreat with it, “I’m not normally this forward – I mean, I don’t usually just ask the girl who happens to be sitting opposite me out for coffee, or for her number, but…”
Sam laughed and said, “I’m not normally bold enough even to look at the guy opposite me, let alone allow him to ask me for coffee.”
After they had switched numbers, his face seemed to drain of its vitality and a grimace flickered on his lips and eyebrows. She almost asked if he was alright, but he had hidden the expression behind a rather set and stern face, and she backed off immediately.
Then he was packing up his things, sliding his iPad back into a sporty-looking black rucksack. He turned to where those black forearm crutches were resting innocently against the chair, and, without looking at her, slid his arms into them, and awkwardly got to his feet.
Once standing, he did a strange, backwards kind of flick with his hips, and there were two soft clicks. Is he wearing some kind of leg braces? she wondered, trying really hard not to get caught looking at him.
A few more people had arrived since he’d claimed his spot near the end of the long, white, refectory-style tables, and he had to shuffle sideways with his crutches and his rucksack snagging awkwardly on the backs of other chairs, as he made his way along and out of the narrow aisle between the rows of tea and coffee drinkers. Once he was clear of the benches, he glanced back over his shoulder at her, as if trying to communicate something silently with her, using only those great, dolorous eyes of his. There was such sadness there that several emotions lurched into life in her chest and they were so strong that they nearly curdled there. Desperate to tell him that whatever it was he was worrying about didn’t bother her, she gave him the biggest, kindest, warmest smile she could muster. It seemed to work, as his own face split into a relieved-looking, if brief, grin, and he mumbled, “See you,” and began to move away.
The way he moved on those crutches, placing the tips down ahead of him and swinging his rigid legs through to meet them, biceps straining and shoulders bulging slightly beneath his NASA t-shirt, the slight shuffle of his feet on the ground and metallic clink as he placed them down, was unexpected to say the least. It didn’t look like a temporary injury like a snapped Achilles or broken bone; there was a permanence to those crutches, and a familiarity to the strange movement of his body. Something about it all kindled a tingling heat between her legs, and for a good five minutes after her handsome new acquaintance had left the UL tea rooms, her heart pounded, her mouth was dry, and her hand shook too badly for her to make legible notes.
She drew out her phone and texted Dan. She got several strange and bemused looks from students with iPhones and HTCs when they saw the Nokia 3310 in her hand. She ignored them. The phone did what she wanted: texts and calls – she had a Canon 7D for her photographs, and a laptop for the internet, and a tiny bank balance that required a £5 a month SIM-only contract with the piece-of-indestructible-shite phone she’d had since she was about fifteen.
Don’t know if you saw him, but the gorgeous guy sitting opposite me in the tea room just asked me out for coffee! she texted.
A nanosecond after she’d down on the hard table top and attempted to return to her panic-induced revision, it buzzed raucously, but it sounded more like a flatulent Chihuahua than a vibrating phone, and she quickly picked it up to stop it, before anyone thought she’d made the sound, not the phone.
OMG! was Dan’s reply. A moment later another text came through. That’s amazing!
She wasn’t sure if she should be pleased or annoyed at his amazement. A final text came from him, asking what did you say?
Her dextrous fingers rattled over the keypad as she replied, grinning like a schoolgirl.
I said yes.