Monday, September 30, 2013

Hands On Update: Chapter 7

Hello Everyone,
Work's still pretty hectic, so I was a little delayed with this next chapter. And please, know that your comments are very much appreciated. It's so great to have this kind of immediate feedback and interaction.  So--it's still Valentine's Day, later, and after a little "pushing".
Hope you enjoy Chapter Seven.
Adele.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Update - Cambridge Connections, Chapter Five

Thanks for the feedback I've been getting about my first story. Here's chapter five. I was going to make chapter five and chapter six one long chapter, but it was actually far too long, so I split it up at a convenient place. It does mean that you'll be kept waiting another week for their cinema date, but I hope there's enough drama in this week's chapter to keep you going.

Enjoy!

Rose

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

In/Exhale Continues

So I know I normally post on Wednesdays or Thursdays, but I've been working on season two and though I love the rest of season one, I'm impatient, lol.

Last week ended with Nikki making a possibly irredeemable choice. This week, Kai's finally back home and we get a little insight into Jon's past and Jon and Kai's family before they were separated. We also see the return of Renee (I know you guys have been clamoring to see her again).

Thanks to all of you for your feedback. It's really appreciated. Keep it coming. :)

September 15, 2000


Check out the updated Table of Contents if you need to catch up or you're just joining us.

-CA

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Update - Cambridge Connections, Chapter Four

Thanks for your comments so far - really helpful, and I hope I've cleared a few things up in this chapter. There's supposed to be a bit of mystery about Alex and Will's relationship - the reasons will be revealed in a later chapter. 

I was in two minds about whether to post Alex's point of view in this one, and I did include it, so forgive me if it feels a bit clunky... 

Also, I've put this in the story, but I'll put it here too. There's a bit of slang that probably ought to be glossed here:

“Natisci” is short-hand in Cambridge for the Natural Sciences course. “Mathmo” is the term for someone who studies mathematics. And finally, “Caius” is short for “Gonville and Caius”, one of the really pretty old colleges in town, and is pronounced “Keys”. Let me know if there's anything else I've forgotten. 

Anyway, here's Chapter Four. Thoughts - either positive or negative (be nice though please...!) are always welcome. 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Hands On Update: Chapter Six

Hi Everyone, As always thanks so much for your feedback. It really means a lot to me. I'm a little late posting this week. I had a pretty hectic week, and that may hold true next week too. But here's the next chapter. It's a little long, but it's in parts. And it's Valentine's Day. Hope you enjoy Chapter Six.
Adele.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

In/Exhale Continues

Since I have pretty much every remaining episode done, I figured I'd just go ahead and post weekly after all until the Season Finale (after which I will probably take a break).

Last week, Kai got some bad news about his leg and said some things to Nikki he might regret, leaving them both in a bad place, but Vicky and Jon's relationship seems to be blooming, even if Jon is struggling with a particular patient that hits a little too close to home.

We pick up that evening and see what Nikki gets up to, along with Jon finally getting to see his brother after a long day.

You'll either love this episode (which contains a flashback of the first time Nikki and Kai have sex) or hate me for it.

*Reader advisory: This episode has a few moderately explicit sex scenes (not as graphic as others have been, but you've been warned).

September 13, 2000 - Part 2


Next week, we'll finally get to see Kai back home, more of Jon and Vicky, and some insight into Jon and Kai's family.

Keep the comments coming :).

-CA

PS - As always, you can find the full story (and supporting documents) in the updated Table of Contents.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Update - Cambridge Connections, Chapter Three

Sorry for taking a while - it's been a hectic weekend to say the least, and it's taken the newbie a while to work out how to post ongoing stories (much help needed from the moderator, so thank you!). This post is a bit longer than the first two chapters, and I'd like to thank Beth for her invaluable help with this chapter - couldn't have done it without you.

As ever, thanks for your comments - keep them coming as they really help me.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Hands On Update: Chapter 5

Hello Everyone. Thanks for the feedback as always. Here's the next chapter. Hope you enjoy. Chapter Five.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

In/Exhale Continues

So I have my first big test in my ASL class tomorrow, so I originally planned on posting the next edition then, after class (even though I said I'd post every other week for a while). But there's been so many great stories on the board, and I've just about wrapped up almost every episode left in the season, and after refreshing the page for the ten trillionth time hoping to see an update from someone, I decided, what the heck. I'll update.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Update -- Cambridge Connection

A short chapter this time, to keep you going til the end of the week, when I aim to post Chapter Three. Hope you like it. Don't forget to comment - things you like and things you don't, as they both help a lot. 

Enjoy!

--Rose

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Devo Diary Update

Chapter 12 is up: the immediate aftermath of my relationship with Patrick the Fireman. Plus more musings on terrible devotee websites, and my first attempt to create something better.

As an aside, it seems like updates to Devo Diary are going to be even more irregular than ever. I will try to post every other week, but real life is a little busy, and I have used up the backlog of material I had prepared. Big thanks to everyone who has been following along so far. Please be patient, and don't worry, I will keep posting even if there is a bit of a wait between chapters.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Hands On Update: Chapter Four

Thanks for your comments. I wondered if I should wait until next week, but the chapter was done and things were kind of left hanging...So Paige and Madison have headed off for their coffee date. This next chapter is perhaps a little long anyway, but it seems to me they needed the space to get better acquainted. So here they go: Chapter Four

Cambridge Connections: Table of Contents



Last updated 03.08.2014



Chapter One - Connection - Sam and Alex meet in the UL cafe.

Chapter Two - Development - Sam watches Alex leave...

Chapter Three - Cramps and Champagne - Alex is so surprised, he makes one or two silly decisions that have some consequences...

Chapter Four - Surprise Encounter - Sam realises Alex uses a chair, and the two of them have coffee. 

Chapter Five - Connection Interrupted - Sam receives some bad news from home and cancels on Alex.

Chapter Six - The Silver Screen - The two of them inch ever closer to each other.

Chapter Seven - Connections Past - Someone from Alex's past reminds him of an old connection, while Sam deals with an old 'connection' of her own. 

Chapter Eight (Part I) - Outdoor Adventures - Their adventure begins, and they enjoy each other's company.

Chapter Eight (Part II) - Outdoor Adventures - The conclusion of their date, and there's a bit of reassurance for both of them. 

Chapter Nine - Taekwondo - Sam kicks ass and spends some time thinking about Alex

Chapter Ten - Rachel - An old flame of Alex's suddenly reappears, seeking reconnection...

Chapter Eleven - Dark Nights and Stage Lights - Sam is taken to London, spends some quality time with Dan, and gets closer to her date with Alex

Chapter Twelve - Dorks and Mutants - Sam and Alex spend an afternoon together, and take a halting step closer...

Chapter Thirteen - Interlude - a little glimpse of brotherly life, and possible romance for Will? Sam and Dan cook for his parents, and she has to discuss Alex with them.

Chapter Fourteen (Part I) - The Secret of Life - Sam meets Alex for drinks and goes back to his for dinner, where more things than the curry get hot.

Chapter Fourteen (Part II) - The Secret of Life (II) - the conclusion of Alex and Sam's evening.

Chapter Fifteen - Tall Grass, True Tales - Sam shares her past with Alex, and he shares one or two things with her as well.

Chapter Sixteen - Encounter, Relief - Sam and Alex make their way back to his apartment, and they meet someone along the way...

Chapter Seventeen - Graduation - Sam graduates, and breaks the news about Alex to her parents.

Chapter Eighteen - O Absence, what torment... - Sam begins her internship in London, and Alex begins to realise he'll have to face Rachel soon.

Chapter Nineteen - Push me/Pull you - Sam returns to Cambridge for a weekend with Alex, and the two get a little bit closer.

Chapter Twenty - Boardwalk Adventure - Alex's little trip has to happen a little differently from how he'd planned, but as usual, the two of them still manage to have some fun.

Chapter Twenty One - Spaces in Between - A snapshot of a weekend in between events for Sam and Alex. With a phone call with Rachel thrown in for good measure...

Chapter Twenty Two - Rain Clouds and Release - Sam journeys back from London for her Taekwondo grading, and both she and Alex make a bit of a personal breakthrough.

Chapter Twenty Three - (Re)new Acquaintances - Rachel makes a proper appearance, presenting Alex with some ghosts of the past, Doyle takes Sam out in London, Sam begins to think in earnest about her quest for Canada, and Alex prepares to head to Sam's parents' house by the sea for a long weekend. 

Chapter Twenty Four - Sam's interview for Canada, and there is a small incident on her trip home to her parents' house with Alex...

Chapter Twenty Five - We meet a few of Alex's friends, and Sam gets more than she bargains for when she surprises Alex with an early visit... 

Chapter Twenty Six - Aftermath - Alex and Sam meet to discuss the possibility of a peace treaty...

Chapter Twenty Seven - The Passage of Time - Sam's eight months in Canada change her, and Alex changes too.

Chapter Twenty Eight - A Letter from Home - Sam receives a letter from home that might just be a game-changer.

Chapter Twenty Nine - Arrival and Departure - Sam and Alex are reunited.

Bonus Chapter *sex scene*

Friday, September 6, 2013

Cambridge Connections

Those of you who were on the site a few months back may remember a small fiasco regarding my first story. These characters have now been re-written into a completely different scenario, and I hope to leave it at that. I'm a bit rusty on posting procedures, so please bear with me if I make a mistake with formatting etc...

Sam, a vivacious girl with a troubled past, is sitting in the university library before the day of her last finals exam, and glances up and sees a dark haired, handsome young man with a scar running from eyebrow to lips. Overcoming their initial shyness, they strike up a connection in Cambridge University Library.

As ever, comments are welcome, in the form of positive and constructive criticism!


Thursday, September 5, 2013

Cambridge Connections - Chapter Two


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.



Continued --->

In/Exhale Continues

Sorry for the long break since the last post, but I'm definitely going to need the extra time to make sure I can keep posting regularly. My class is incredible, but really intense, and takes up a lot of time, and I like to let episodes sit for a little while before I post them so I can make sure they're the best they can be for you guys. So that means more time. I'm sorry for the added wait.

Anyway, we continue on September 12, the day Kai wakes up in the hospital. Jon and Vicky finally had their first kiss last episode (aww!), and Nikki was there when Kai woke up.

But, of course, things are still rocky for Kai, and part of Nikki's past that she's been running from and struggling to keep hidden for years suddenly reasserts itself, potentially changing everything. . . .

September 12, 2000 - Part II



Please keep those comments coming, as they really are sometimes what get me through a dark day when I'm doubting my writing or sharing the storyline. You guys have been wonderful, and I'm glad that you all are enjoying my quirky little story.

I also have a couple short (under 5000K) short stories in the works I hope to be able to share with you all soon. :)

-CA

PS - Check out the updated Table of Contents in case you need a refresher or you're just joining the story!

PPS - I'm working on an episode (September 18), in which Kai goes back to Dr. Miller again. I haven't decided whether or not to post that, or just skip ahead as I know you guys are getting really impatient for the season finale. Is this something you'd like to see? Or would you rather we keep chugging along?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Hands On Update: Chapter Three

Hello Everyone,
Once again thanks for your supportive comments. I'm so glad you like the story so far. Blog posting is totally new to me (have only been a reader in the past) so I especially want to thank the  Moderator for helping me with the mechanics. I feel like I'm learning a new skill. Today I'm trying to fly solo.  We'll see how that goes. Also since I'm not sure how long "too long" is for a post, Paige and Madison's "date" will come in two chapters. I hope that's okay. So here's Chapter Three

Cambridge Connections - Chapter Three


Chapter Three – Cramps and Champagne


Pain seared up Alex’s leg like a distress flair that vanishes into a velvet sky. It had careered from the arch of his foot, taking a diversion around his knee, drifting like a boy-racer round a roundabout, before heading up his thigh and hip where it revelled peevishly in his pelvis and lower back before evaporating in a quivering wake. He gasped quietly, clutching a trembling hand to his right thigh, rubbing it between the struts of his KAFO’s.  Well this is going to be damned attractive, he thought bitterly, trying to keep the pain from his face, and from Sam, who sat like some kind of goddess across the table from him.

It suddenly dawned on him that he’d not cathed for over four and a half hours, and it was high time he got back to the apartment which he shared with Will, before a nearly full bladder provoked spasms which would definitely prevent him from ever getting home from the library. Slight panic began to rise in his chest as he thought how helpless he’d be without his chair if his legs began to spasm badly half way home. Reminding himself of the concerned look that his older brother had given him that morning in the living room before he’d left for the maths department, despite not even knowing Alex was planning a hike to the library on his crutches, put Alex in an even fouler mood, and it festered with the hovering fear that he wouldn’t make it home. Time to leave.

He could see, even with his one blind eye and without looking directly at her, that Sam was watching him subtly. She’d find out about this sooner or later anyway, he sighed inwardly. Might as well let her see now and give her the choice to back out. Two days should give her plenty of time to come up with an inventive excuse to bail from a date with a crip.

Getting out was painful and awkward in more ways than one, but once he had hobbled free of the tangle of chairs, he risked a glance back at Sam, masochistic as he had ever been, expecting to see horror or revulsion on her face. When he saw the smile that she offered him, like he was a life-long friend and not some crippled stranger who’d just asked her out for coffee, his hopes rose, billowing upwards and forming themselves into a phoenix of confidence, for a few moments at least. “See you,” he said, that new hope suffusing his words. Please don’t trip, please don’t fall, please don’t slip, he thought as he swung mechanically over the shiny lino floor towards the doors, his feet dragging slightly in a way that clearly betrayed his lack of movement.

What on earth possessed this girl to accept my offer? he thought, full of wonder. He wasn’t about to question it too deeply though; he was thrilled.

It was a long crutch back to the apartment on King’s Parade. His family had owned it for generations, Cambridge academics the lot of them, and it had passed to Will and Alex on the death of their mother six years earlier. It overlooked the wedding-cake screen of King’s College, with the great hulking chapel just a stone’s throw from their windows.

As Alex slid the key into the lock, his palms were throbbing, his shoulders were burning, and his legs were really beginning to complain. He knew he shouldn’t have been on his crutches for almost an entire week now, and he thought crossly as he ditched his rucksack by the door that he’d probably have to take a few days in his chair to recover. He balked at the idea of turning up for his coffee date in the chair, but at this rate it was looking more and more likely.

Then, as he crutched slowly across the room towards his chair, he caught the tip of his toe on a beautiful Persian rug, and he went sprawling, flying through the air towards a coffee table which seemed to come careering up to meet him. Pain seared in his elbow as he collided with the corner of the table, and he couldn’t untangle himself from his crutches in time to break his fall properly. “Shit!” he swore as he landed on top of the crutches like a set of pick-up sticks.  The impact of the fall set his legs spasming within their cage-like braces. He rolled himself round and reached his strong fingers down his leg in an attempt to release the KAFO’s, and, after the fourth or fifth try, he managed to unlock them so that he could at least ease the tug-of-war going on between his legs and the braces. He sat there for a good five minutes, nursing the cramping, burning muscles, willing them to relax, until he finally felt a slight letting up in intensity. His compact, rigid-frame chair was a foot or two out of reach from where he had fallen; it was sleeping quietly and politely at the far end of the sofa, too far away even to hook it with a crutch. He’d come crashing down between a heavy coffee table and the sofa, and couldn’t manoeuvre or shuffle along the ground to it either. If I can get onto the sofa, I can get into my chair.

He was so acutely aware of the need to cath that he was too hasty in arranging his legs so that he could heave his backside up onto the sofa. Each time he got his feet together and his knees bent, his right leg would spasm and send it slithering out in front of him.

At this rate, he couldn’t stand, he couldn’t take his braces off, and he couldn’t get to his chair. Without being in that chair, he would never make it to the bathroom where his small pharmacy of medicines were arranged in a neat order in a cabinet without dislodging the contents of his bladder everywhere. He snatched a glance at the Mondaine, Swiss station clock, which proclaimed the time in its efficiently stylish way, sitting on a blank buttress of wall between two groaning, floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. Will should be home soon. Please God, let him come home soon, he thought pleadingly.

By the time the frazzled-looking young man with straw-coloured blond hair and piercing blue eyes practically fell through the door twenty minutes later, Alex’s pain had increased, and both his legs were still spasming riotously, the pain growing to more acidic levels as the pressure built up in his bladder.

Will took one look at his brother’s ashen, slightly sweat-sheened face, and dropped his laptop bag on the threshold, exclaiming, “Alex!” darting forward. “Holy shit, what happened?”

Alex’s dark eyes looked imploringly up at him, somewhat vague and unfocused. “Spasms,” he croaked.

“How long have you been like this?” Will asked, “Did you take your meds?” He was frantic; he was a mathematician, not a doctor, and seeing his little brother like this again, in this much distress, was a thing of the past he’d thought. Alex mutely shook his head. “Why the hell not?” Will snapped, looking down at his brother’s jittering legs.

“I… I tripped,” he said hoarsely, his face suddenly flushing despite the pain. “Didn’t have time to cath before –” a single, sharp jerk tore quickly at the bone and muscle of his thigh and he gulped down a gasp laced with bile.

“You should have called me,” Will said gently.

Alex nodded at his rucksack and uttered gruffly, “Phone’s over there, and I’ve not been back that long.”

The calm in his voice was deceptive, and the frustration had been building in him until it had almost reached fever-pitch. Will dashed for the bathroom, and he rifled manically through the various tubs of pills, searching for the one that would ease those spasms. While Will was gone, Alex bent forward again, hand on his thigh trying once more to make his right leg stop quivering by stretching out his hamstring, and he felt a creeping dampness in his jeans and smelled ammonia. “Oh for fuck’s sake,” he fumed as his eyes rolled shut in shame.

When he brought the meds to his brother, who’s dark eyes were brimming with emotion, Will noted the discolouration around the top of Alex’s jeans, and the slight smell. Alex followed his gaze and rolled his eyes feverishly. They were so full of shame that Will’s heart went out to him. “Here,” he said, shuddering slightly as Alex dry-swallowed the pills.

With the meds in his system, the spasms quickly began to recede, leaving behind joints and muscles which cringed like they’d been soaked in a strong caustic. White and still shaking, he reached an unsteady hand out in the vague direction of his chair, his heart plunging like a lead rocket to the pit of his stomach. It galled him to need his brother to fetch it from where it sat, only a step or two from the end of sofa, and set it up for him to do a transfer.

From where he had slumped on the floor, he put his hand around the cold metal of the vertical bar of his chair, gripped it grimly and prepared to lift his body into seat of his chair. He had raised himself from the ground no problem, but suddenly the elbow which he’d bashed as he’d fallen began to stab and shake, and his arms folded in surprise beneath his weight. He collapsed, slithering towards the floor, bashing his backside on the footplate. Will found his feet lurching forward, darting to clutch Alex under the arms, hauling him upwards like a sack of coal.

Alex’s shame only deepened. It reminded him of the first time he’d attempted a transfer in rehab. He gritted his teeth in resignation. I’m sitting in a puddle of my own urine, wiped out, and only twenty four years old. Not quite what I’d seen for myself six years ago…

Will didn’t need to ask him if he wanted help changing. He knew his brother well enough to spare him that. He just wheeled him to his room, and when Alex had undone the button of his jeans, Will mechanically slid his trousers off over his brother’s legs which were still dancing around uncooperatively, before gently undoing the straps of his KAFO’s, which mercifully weren’t too damp, and removing his soaked boxers while Alex pushed himself up on his hands to help, finally sliding a towel beneath Alex’s cold buttocks before he set himself down again.

Lifting his weight up a bit to help Will, Alex had cringed as he’d caught the acrid smell, and, for the first time in months, cursed his injury bitterly. His brother pushed him silently to the bathroom, using the low bar along the back of his chair, and aligned him for a transfer to the shower bench which straddled the bath, before locking the break and hooking an arm under Alex’s own muscled arms, and seeing him safely into place. Once there, he left him to it. At the doorway, Will called over his shoulder, “Call if you need anything.”

Will would have been lying if he had said he wasn’t straining his ears for any abnormal sounds. He knew the kind of noises which jarred against the background tapestry of sound from the shower: a bottle dropping; the soft flump of a body sliding from the shower stool; the skitter of limbs on a tiled floor… He’d not had to listen for them in years, and the thought made him uneasy now.

He pretended to sort the contents of his bag out, absentmindedly drawing his phone out and checking his emails before making a cup of tea and hovering aimlessly around the small kitchen area. Once, he did catch the sound of a plastic bottle crashing to the floor and had almost darted through the doorway, but he hung back and chided himself when he glimpsed Alex leaning forward, with resignation writ large on his stern face, his great toned biceps in stark contrast to the slightly withered and atrophied legs as he picked up the shampoo bottle from where it lay in the bath by his soft, and unmoving feet.

Still hanging around in the kitchen, Will heard Alex transfer from the shower, heard the gasp of pain and the grunt of resignation, and a moment later, his blue eyes were drawn to the door where his little brother was slowly pushing the rims of his chair over the hardwood floor to his bedroom. Without a word or a glance to Will, Alex disappeared into his room, closing the door behind him with a flick of his left hand.

Alone in the immaculately tidy room, summer rays gilding the white architrave, Alex sighed. He’d not had spasticity this bad in years. He looked down at his legs; to his eyes they seemed thin, but not horribly emaciated. They did look weak and pale to him as they lay there, inert, deceptively still and quiet within the frame of the dark chair. He ran a hand over his thigh, testing the sensation, knowing where it faded like a landscape into the fog and where it remerged, even more sensitive than it had been before the accident. Had he simply over-done lately and just forgotten to cath today or was he due for his second ever major infection? He remembered the first time he’d got an infection, probably from not cleaning the cath out properly or something – he’d been delirious and ended up in hospital for a week. Not this time, he thought, please, not this time. Let it just be the fact that I’ve overdone it.

Trying to take his mind off his physical misery, he thought of Sam, and wondered if she’d show. She probably thought he was only on crutches; a temporary injury maybe. Tip of the iceberg, he thought sourly, hoping this whole situation wasn’t about to do a Titanic on him. He also wondered how quickly she’d bail if he turned up in a chair, and endeavoured not to picture her face as he arrived on wheels at The Meadows, guiding the chair between the gingham table cloths towards where she sat, eyes wide, teacup forgotten half way between saucer and lips, mouth hanging slightly open as she spluttered and forced her reeling brain to conjure wild excuses to leave… Stop it. Just deal with that when you come to it, he scolded himself. You never know, she might not be like Olivia. As he sullenly pulled his t-shirt over his dripping, black hair, he snarled aloud, “Who are you kidding, Alex Norwood? She’ll be just like all the others.”

***

Cold, sticky liquid exploded in her face. She tried to scream, but it bubbled down her throat and made her cough and splutter. Dan yelled something, but she couldn’t hear because she now had Sainsbury’s cava pouring down her ear canal too. “I hate this stupid tradition!” she finally yelled, ducking out of the way as Dan shook the bottle and a fresh wave of cheap, imitation champagne flung itself recklessly at her long plait.

Sam and the other archaeologists, as well as a few students taking some other completely different paper like computer science, were causing quite a spectacle for the summer tourists as they left their last exam. Finally, when the whole display was over and she thought there could be no more cava, she flung her arms around Dan’s tall, lanky frame and squealed, “I’ve finished! I’ve finished my degree!” over and over in his ear until he had to peel her off him in order to give her a reply.

Re-inflating his lungs after her vice-like grasp, he spluttered, “Yes! Let’s go and get drunk!”

Her smile flickered and faded. “How about we just hang out instead?”

Annie, the girl who had sat next to her in lectures all year, and who fairly worshipped her, came up behind them and squeaked, “Yes, let’s go and get drunk! We’ve finished our degrees!” before she’d registered Sam’s response.

Unaware that she was being watched by dark eyes from a distance, Sam backed away, preparing to spring like a gazelle down the tarmac surface of King’s Parade. As Dan launched a second attack with the dregs of the cava, seconded by Annie and a small knot of friends, she kicked her powerful legs into action. That day those legs were hugged by close-fitting black leggings, and she sprinted away in the opposite direction from the stern-looking Senate House like an athlete on a track.  

***

Alex remembered every overheard syllable of Sam’s conversation with her friend Dan in the tea rooms the previous day, so he knew that at half past four that day, that enchanting and intriguing girl would be leaving the exam hall to face a soaking in cheap cava by a loitering squad of friends. He smiled as the first few people came out, hanging back like wildebeest at the edge of a surging river, no one wanting to be the first to exit the perimeter of the Senate House fencing.

He was still feeling weak from the previous day’s spasms, and because of the lingering fire in the joints of his legs he was sitting in his sporty, black chair beside the large sash-windows of the Georgian apartment. He’d been juggling the activities of reading a physics paper with people-watching from the high apartment windows for an hour or so, letting the sunlight wash over him, and almost imagining he was a plant that could be revived with a bit of gentle light. His legs ached, and every now and again his right leg would give a threatening pulse, like thunder running before rain. He prayed there would be no storm.


Then there she was, walking confidently through the milling people outside the big classical building, heading for the black gates which guarded the perfect, emerald green Senate House lawn, and kept back the throng of waiting friends, all armed with their beverages of choice. My God! he thought as he saw the long, comfortable looking, pale blue shirt she wore, belted casually at the waist, and the dark leggings. She looked like Superwoman on her day off, dressed as her alter-ego who had just stepped from her boyfriend’s apartment, wearing his shirt in the morning. Minus the boyfriend, it was a perfect image.

He couldn’t keep the smirk from his lips at the scene which then unfolded: her shock at the faceful of high-pressured liquid; her laughter; her outcry; her joyous, crazy-fast sprint down the street, dodging cyclists and tourists with all the agility of a cheetah. “How can this girl be interested in me?” he wondered aloud, muttering under his breath.

“What?” Will’s voice disturbed his thoughts and Alex jumped, forgetting that his brother had decided to work from home that day as ‘he didn’t need to go into the department’, apparently. Alex knew why he’d stayed, and the happy balloon inside his chest deflated a little. Nevertheless, he was as grateful as he was horrified to know that if those spasms should flare up again, Will would be there.

He’d always been there, Alex mused, looking at his bookish brother sitting cross-legged on the sofa with a coffee table pulled right up to the cushions’ edge, with pieces of white A4 paper spilling around him so that he looked like a frog on a lily flower, the blue sofa becoming the surface of a still pond. Thought processes rippled across Will’s face from time to time, and spilled out over the paper surrounding him, leaving a wave of scribbled symbols and letters behind it on their surfaces. For the past four hours, he had hardly moved, except for the biro which had squiggled away furiously. Alex’s eyesight wasn’t good enough to see what he was working on, but he knew that few people had the brainpower to appreciate the pure, poetic, elegant beauty of Will’s PhD thesis.

Then from seemingly nowhere, Alex was suddenly gripped with a wild and masochistic urge to go outside and wheel around, perhaps to go and find Sam, wherever she’d got to, and maybe let her see him from a distance in his chair. He turned back to the window, trying to spot her, almost pressing his scarred cheek against the cold glass. The sensation grew in him until he could bear it no longer, and he said, “I’m heading out. You want anything from town?”

“What?” Will repeated the same sound to a different stimulus from his brother, returning only slowly to the normal plain of existence. “You’re going out?”

“That’s what I said,” Alex said, just the hint of a snarl tickling his white teeth.

Will’s frown was fleeting, but unconcealed. “Where are you going?”

Dark locks of hair shuddered as Alex made a side-to-side movement with his head. “Not sure. Might go down to the weir.”

“The river?” Will’s interest was piqued. “You want to be alone?” He knew his brother’s moods, but he couldn’t seem to make this one out.

Alex’s face was pensive for a moment, and then he said, “No, I guess not. You want to come too?” Will was not the typically ‘outdoors’ type, and his interest in a walk puzzled him. He hoped Will wasn’t feeling the need to play nursemaid.

Will nodded and said, “Give me a couple of minutes to extract myself from this mess,” he waved a vague hand at the reams of paper which hemmed him in. “I think my brain could use a change, and a breath of oxygen.”

Alex barked a laugh and turned his eyes back to the street, but Sam was nowhere to be seen. The larger girl who had trailed them out from the exam hall was just disappearing out of sight past a dirty little alleyway between King’s and St. Catharine’s, which was known locally, charmingly, as ‘Piss Alley’. They were heading for the river.

The stair-lift was a godsend. It had been expensive to install, but since the family owned the building outright, the little shop below it had given enough income from rent money to pay for it after Alex’s accident. After six years of trundling up and down, he’d become pretty efficient, and developed a knack for carrying his chair whilst riding the slow-moving lift. Reaching the bottom, and transferring neatly to the soft seat of the chair, Alex readjusted his weight, then guided the wheels down the tiny threshold step, leaning back slightly as he bumped down, the force of which made his knees knock together. Out on the busy street, he tried his best to ignore the six or seven sideways looks he immediately got, and the outright stare of several unabashed children. That’s right, stare at the cripple with the funny legs, he thought, his mood curdling a little in the warmth of the day.

Will rested a hand on the back of Alex’s shoulder in the briefest of gestures after he had pulled the door shut behind them, and the two of them set off in the direction of the river.

The waters of the River Cam, normally so still and green, gushed over the weir looking like twisted glass, tangled with strands of green weed. Mallards dabbled their yellow feet in the cool water, and a pair of swans promenaded along the towpath, giving condescending looks to humans, dogs and ducks alike as they strolled past. Alex waited while Will held open the heavy metal gate to the pasture which kept the cows in and the solo cripples out, and then cruised smoothly over the asphalt surface of the towpath, letting the roar of the water fill his ears and drown out the whispers of a group of school children who could not help themselves. He sighed as the wind rustled through the melancholic willows, testing their fingers in the water as though keen to join the ducks. Darwin College library with its wooden planks looked like a chandler’s store or a shipwright’s workshop, but its only output was graduate degrees, sailing out in a fairly steady stream, only to be lost in a vast ocean of other academics. Alex smiled as he thought of the brilliance of the mind that was next to him, strolling along with his head lost in string theory most likely.

A high shriek tore through the hazy summer air, and both brothers looked over to the low, green meadow beyond the weir. Alex recognised the blue shirt, the flailing plait, the bright laugh. What am I doing? he suddenly thought. She’ll see me and then I won’t stand a chance.

The cold hand of doubt clutched at his lungs and heart, and the steady rhythm of bicep-hand-wheel faltered, fingers slowing the wheels of his chair with their gentle friction. Will stopped a step or two ahead of him and turned, seeing Alex’s head downcast and his face wracked with some emotion. “You ok?” he asked sharply, noticing that Alex’s right knee was bobbing up and down with a kind of rude impatience.

Alex clamped a hand on it to stop it, and he said sadly, “Yeah, I’m fine. It’s just…”

“What?” Will was standing square in front of him, his soft chinos and his checked shirt crumpled in a way particular to academics the world over.

Alex afforded himself a smile at the observation, despite his inner turmoil. Storm in a teacup, he tried to convince himself. “Ach,” he exclaimed, making a face. “You know I said I was going for coffee with that girl from the UL?” Will nodded slowly, glancing around, beginning to catch on. “Well… she’s over there.”

Will followed the single nod of Alex’s handsome head, and he squinted his eyes for a better look. “Wow,” he breathed, impressed.

Sam’s blue shirt – at least Alex hoped it was hers, and not that boyfriend’s which he had imagined earlier – was now clinging to her lithe body, soaked in cava. “Yeah,” he concurred. “The thing is… she doesn’t know about this.” He gestured limply to the wheels of his chair, not realising he’d just given away the fact that he’d crutched all the way back from the UL, a distance of only half a mile, but further than Alex should probably have crutched after four days of standing. Evidently so, after the spasm and cath debacle.

“You weren’t in your chair on Wednesday?” Will asked sharply. “Alex!” His tone was as admonishing and stern. “I thought… No wonder you –”

“Will, I’ve gone that long before, and besides” he said evenly, cutting through Will’s exclamation. “I need a brother right now – a wingman – not a father, ok?”

Will inhaled deeply, as though trying to crush his initial response with a ton of air. “Right. Sorry.” Then his face became as much of a question as Alex’s, both reading “what’s the next move?” in their soft, handsome yet very different features.

Alex made up his mind, set calloused palms to rims, pushed forward, and made his way along the towpath, keeping her in his sights as best he could, having to turn his head sharply towards her to allow his left eye, his good eye, to drink in the scene.


She stopped in her game, dodging Dan’s reaching hand, and coming to an abrupt halt, plait catching up with her and swinging like a leather whip. Her legs were slightly apart, braced from her sudden stop, and her hands rested in soft fists at her side. She was looking directly at him, and she knew exactly who he was.





Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Cambridge Connections - Chapter Four

*Quick note – “Natisci” is short-hand in Cambridge for the Natural Sciences course. “Mathmo” is the term for someone who studies mathematics. And finally, “Caius” is short for “Gonville and Caius”, one of the really pretty old colleges in town, and is pronounced “Keys”. And we try to pretend that Cambridge isn’t like Hogwarts... Enjoy




Chapter Four – Surprise Encounter


A movement in the William Morris curtain of willows to her left caught her eye, and she froze suddenly just as Dan made a dive for her. There, sitting in a wheelchair and looking straight at her, was that cute guy who’d asked her for coffee. He’s in a wheelchair? But he was using crutches… he was walking, she thought, her mind racing.

Dan collided with her, hardly expecting to have found her immovable as a monolithic column. He looked around, up to the canal above, but saw nothing at all that could have made her freeze like that. “Sam?” he asked. “What is it?”

She turned away, remembering herself and feeling a hot, stinging rush of embarrassment at having been caught gawping at Alex like a moron. “I… that guy from the UL… he’s there, only…”

“What?” Dan asked, turning back to her. “What’s the matter?”

“He’s…” she faltered again, “He’s just…” she risked a glance back and saw that he was still where he had been, but he seemed to have immersed himself in patting the head of a cheery, liver and white springer spaniel, which looked as though it was in danger of wagging its tail right off. Its doggy grin was writ large on its happy, patchy face, and she thought Alex was smiling too but it was hard to tell from that distance. He’s no less handsome for being in a wheelchair, she thought suddenly. “It’s nothing,” she said to Dan, gathering courage. “Be right back,” and then she found her feet running across the deep, springy grass, her legs acting like pistons as she powered up the slope to where the concrete walls of the broad, canal-like stretch of the river held back its sluggish weight like a belt on a saggy midriff.

As she crested the incline, the dog looked up, padded over and greeted her enthusiastically, smearing slobber on her leggings as she crouched to fuss it. “Gross!” she laughed, tickling the dog behind its silky ears before looking up at Alex. “He’s adorable – yours?”

Alex looked like he was experiencing several reactions simultaneously, and remained mute.

Sam glanced up at the slender blond man standing behind him. They looked nothing alike, and she wondered who he was. He spoke falteringly for Alex, seeming a little confused at his silence. “No, he’s not… Alex always wanted a dog when we were kids, but I’m pretty allergic sadly…” He trailed off awkwardly and seemed to be resisting the urge to cuff Alex around the back of the head to get a response from him.

She crinkled her nose in commiserative understanding, and said, “We couldn’t have one either because my mum’s allergic.” They're brothers? she mused, startled by the difference in their appearances.

The spaniel took himself off at that point, bumbling away after new scents, without the faintest hint of a goodbye, and left Sam, the tall blond boy and the silent form of Alex all looking at each other somewhat awkwardly on the towpath.

Finally Alex’s voicebox lurched into life, and he croaked, “How was your last exam?”

She moved her head from side to side and said, “Not too bad – could have been better, could have been worse. Anyway, it’s all done now!”

“It’s a good feeling,” he said knowingly, beginning to relax a bit she thought. His shoulders weren't hunched quite as self-consciously any more. “You should be able to have fun tonight.”

“I plan to,” she said with an exuberant smile, turning to go back down the hill as Dan yelled her name. “This was a nice surprise – I didn’t think I’d be seeing you til tomorrow.”

Alex seemed unexpectedly buoyed up by her genuine comment, and his next words seemed to tumble from his mouth before he could catch them. “You’re still coming then?” he said incredulously as she neared the bottom of the incline.

“Of course!” she said, looking back over her shoulder with an innocently confused smile. “See you!” and she walked backwards for a couple of paces, smiling at them both, before jogging back over to Dan and her knot of friends, where she was pounced upon by her curious companions, all of them asking who that had been.

“My coffee date for tomorrow,” she said proudly. Dan made a comment about not believing that it had taken Sam nearly a three years of being at Cambridge to get a date, and she shoved him hard on the shoulder so that he staggered sideways, a slightly surprised look on his boyish face.


***


Disbelief buzzed in his ears as he watched her return to her friends, and he felt like he had after the very first time he’d asked a girl out, aged about fourteen. The same worry kindled in his stomach now as he saw her talking in a conspiratorial huddle with her friends. He saw Dan’s reaction – his reaction to me? – but when he saw her response to Dan’s comment, whatever it had been about, and then her peel of laughter, head tossed backwards and hands on hips, he felt slightly reassured. Maybe she was defending his honour?

That evening as he sat slightly slumped on the sofa, his eyes were not really taking in the BBC Horizon programme on fracking. They were seeing that meadow again. Annoyingly, his right leg had begun to spasm gently, jumping up and down in the same way that the limb of a caffeine addict might bounce constantly.

Will noticed as he stood to take their curry plates to the kitchen, and said quietly, pausing to look back at him, “Did you take your baclofen when we got in?”

Alex sighed, knowing he wasn’t deliberately fussing like a nursemaid, but still, when it happened frequently enough, it always started to feel that way. Swallowing down the irritation, he said glumly, “Yes.” He paused, and then added gently, “You know, if we weren’t trying to save money by living together while we do our PhD’s, I would actually remember all this stuff without you…” His comments were not maliciously given, but he saw more hurt in his brother’s eyes than he’d expected. Will shrugged a smile at him, and placed the dishes in the sink.

Alex so desperately wanted to crutch to the café the following morning, but he knew he couldn’t if his legs were still playing up; it would only make matters worse, and he knew he needed a few days in the chair after a run of days on his crutches. Perhaps he’d already done the hardest bit though, he mused – she now knew he used a wheelchair, and maybe that was enough of a heads up. She’ll be ok now, surely, he thought, desperately trying to inject his thoughts with some sense of optimism.

When Will returned from the kitchen and plonked himself down in an armchair, both of Alex's legs were jittering up and down under very mild spasms, and Alex’s big hands were resting on his knees. “Hurting?” Will asked.

Alex's phone buzzed on the table, and he saw Sam’s name on the screen, still seeming unfamiliar to his eyes. He leaned forward to scoop the phone up, and the movement made his right leg twitch harder.
“No, just spazzing…” he murmured, trying to be good-natured in response to Will's question and cautious gaze from the armchair. Clutching his fingers around the phone he forced himself upright out of the lean with a deft pump of his bicep.

Sam’s words seemed bubbly and lively as her speech had been earlier, and he could almost hear her voice as he read the text. “Hey, great running into you today. Sorry I was a bit of a state, but you know how it is after finals. What time are we meeting at The Meadows tomorrow? S.

A grin split across Alex’s face, making the scar at the edge of his eyelid drag down a little, and the upper corner of his lip refuse lopsidedly to match the height of the left hand side, giving him a cheeky half-smile.

Will’s face was no longer concerned. He was once again the annoying older brother that any younger sibling would recognise, “Is that your date tomorrow?” he asked provocatively, and he barked a laugh when he got a mute eye roll in return.

11am ok? A Alex texted back.

Great, see you then. S.

Looking forward to it. A

He slept fitfully that night, waking with a start in the early hours, a jolt of gleeful pain in his sciatic nerve sending violent spasms down his right leg. “Damn,” he gasped, fingers reaching down to work the brief pooling pain from the muscle. “Please,” he begged aloud in a throaty whisper, “Please stop it…”

After ten minutes or so of kneading the muscle of his thigh like a sculptor shaping a stubborn clay sculpture, the thrumming pain had dissipated. The spasms didn’t stop immediately, however. I really have overdone it lately, he thought sadly, and it wasn’t the first time he’d spent too long on his feet. He was an old hand at being a paraplegic now, and should have been well adjusted, physically at least, to the demands he could make of his new body. Every now and again he would get cocky and would push himself too far. It had also been a while since he’d been distracted enough to muck up his own regimented routine, and he thought back to their encounter in the tea rooms. He'd been so flustered at asking her out, and at the first signs of spasms, that he'd just bolted for home, straight past the toilets. Scolding himself for his utter stupidity, he decided that lying on his stomach would ease his muscles. He could use his body weight to open out his tight hips and thighs, using the pressure on his feet to stretch out his knees, and he forced his body to roll over, his fairly immobile legs tangled momentarily in the duvet before he finally flopped onto his chest. He slid one strong arm under the cool pillow, and lay with his head facing the wall to his left, his scar and blind eye pressed into the soft cotton weave of the pillowcase. There he waited for sleep to catch him and bear him away to a gentler world without the irritation and inconvenience of spasms.

The following morning, Will was standing by the kettle as it gurgled happily towards boiling point. Alex knew he would be watching the first few tourists – the ones that were really keen to get going, and the Japanese coach parties in particular. In a few hours, hoards of them would be swarming along King’s Parade, taking photographs of absolutely everything from absolutely every angle. Will sighed. Alex’s sharp ears picked up the sound, and his eyes darted to his brother’s face. “What is it?” he asked cereal bowl balanced on his lap, his knees mercifully still and compliant after his night stretched out on his front.

“Something’s bugging me with my paper, that’s all.”

“You want to brainstorm later?” Alex asked, finishing up his cereal in a few gulps and wheeling over to the counter to put it in the dishwasher. They’d ‘brainstormed’ and wrestled with ideas together since they were old enough to use words to communicate. Will was only a year older than Alex, and though neither of them voiced it out loud very often, each brother was incalculably dear to the other, and with good reason.

Will smiled warmly and nodded. “Thanks. If I’ve not got it by then, I’d appreciate it.” He sipped the tea he’d just poured, and suddenly his blue eyes flashed bright, exclaiming gleefully, “Mmm, what time’s your date?”

Adrenaline mushroomed in Alex’s chest, exploding upwards from the pit of his stomach and filling his torso with a sickly cloud of worry and nerves. “Eleven.” His voice sounded quavering even to his ears.

The soft laugh that fluttered over from the kettle made Alex frown with annoyance, but Will said, kindly, “Will you relax? You’ve got this!”

Sucking a great breath in and out, Alex said nothing and looked at his watch. He still had a couple of hours. “Help me do my range of motion?” he asked, not meeting Will’s eye.

“Sure.”

Tired and achy, Alex lay on the floor on a yoga mat as Will finished manipulating and flexing his legs for him; he may be incomplete, but thigh abduction and flexion was still weak, and he couldn’t really manage it too happily on his own.  Now that they were finished, he pushed himself up on his elbows and glanced down at his lower body, glimpsing the way his feet dropped sadly towards the floor. They looked ugly and dead to his eyes, but he was pleased to see that they weren’t juddering around like they frequently did after his ROM exercises.

Will brought his chair back over from where he’d put it out of the way while they did the exercises. Alex folded his thin legs gingerly at the knee and waved his brother away like a summer wasp. As Alex let go of it to bat his brother off, his right leg flopped outwards to the side like a felled tree. He yanked it back upright, still keeping it bent at the knee. With his bare feet close together, he reached up and placed his hand on the vertical bar which descended to the footplate. He pushed himself up with his free arm, arse in the air. As he neared the landing pad of the soft cushion, he grazed his backside on the strong, rigid side-guards of the chair, and felt a brief stab of pain. Will’s blue eyes were stern but resolutely silent.

“Not my first rodeo,” Alex snarled as his right leg lurched suddenly and shook violently. Six years of bloody hauling my arse around in this chair, and I still fuck it up, he chided himself. Mercifully, the spasm was just a reaction to landing on the side-guard, and stopped in a matter of minutes. 

Showered and dressed, save for his socks and shoes, just over an hour later, Alex was ready to leave. As he deliberated whether to crutch or wheel, he rubbed the seam of his jeans between his fingers.

“You off then?” Will asked, resting his lanky frame against the kitchen counter, nursing his third mug of tea in his slender-fingered hands.

Alex glanced down at his now inert legs, and then across the room to where his black crutches stood against the wall, weirdly mimicking the way was Will leaning on the opposite side of the apartment. “I ought to use my chair,” he began. “Only, I don’t want her to… I don’t want her to treat me any differently. And people always do. Even when I’m on crutches, I don’t get treated as ‘disabled’ as much as I do in the chair.” He sighed.

Will licked his lips nervously and said, “You’re not going to like me for saying this, but you probably should use the chair.”

Alex’s breath came out in a deep rush and he nodded slowly.

“She’s already seen you in the chair though,” Will added. “I mean, she’s had time to get used to that fact. Perhaps it won’t be that big an issue…”

“Yeah,” he said, not sounding convinced. As if to confirm his thoughts, the arch of his foot yanked itself up into a spasm, hooking his toes back up like the claws of an angry cat. He stared down at them for a moment, feeling oddly disconnected, knowing they were his feet, and not really feeling them. Sensation was patchy down his legs, and he had very little feeling in his feet. “Great,” he said as he tried to put his sock on. It was like trying to force a weasel into a small bag.

When he was eventually ready, it was quarter to eleven. With one last longing look at his crutches, he headed for the door, transferred deftly to the stair-lift and rode it down towards the front door, a feeling of dread mingling with his excitement. 

He wasn’t really concentrating as he popped down the tiny step from the threshold, and he nearly crashed into a man walking quickly along the pavement, forcing him to leap aside, cursing. When he saw Alex in the chair, he muttered, “Fucking benefits scrounger,” and slouched off into the sunny day. The weather could not possibly have been more opposite to Alex’s mood as he set off in the direction of the weir, calloused hands angrily shoving his wheels forward over the uneven pavement.


***


Sam had chosen a table in the dappled shade and had just turned her head up to look at the bright, stained-glass canopy of leaves above her, when she caught a different kind of movement out of the corner of her eye. She had wondered whether he would be upright or wheeling today, and when the dark form of a young man in a wheelchair glided into her field of vision, she had her answer. 

He looked a little drawn around the eyes, she thought, tense, as his dark irises scanned the faces of the café patrons looking for hers. She raised her hand a little and waved, smiling broadly, and wondered what the fleeting emotion was that she saw on his handsome features. He came over to her and she watched his hands deftly guiding the push rims of his chair like a potter shaping clay on a wheel. “Hi,” he said, his voice dark and even. “Good choice of table, thanks,” he mumbled as he wheeled along the edge of the wooden decking. She got to her feet and dragged a chair back so that he could tuck into the void it left behind, and she wondered with a rush of adrenaline if she should have asked first. Again, he smiled gratefully, putting her mind at ease, and neither of them made a big deal out of it; he only paused to murmur a quick, “Thanks,” again.

A waitress floated over and handed Sam a menu. When she spotted Alex’s chair, her hazel eyes widened and she said slowly, as if he were five years old, “Here you are, that’s your menu.”

He closed his eyes, looking mortified for just a second, before turning to her and saying, in a clipped but polite and velvety voice, “Thank you so much.”

When the waitress had taken their orders, Alex turned to Sam with a searching and intense look on his face, his dark eyes piercing, and she suddenly felt like she was back being interviewed for her place at Cambridge. “I have to ask you something, here and now,” he said, his voice suddenly sharp as a cleaver.

“Ok,” she said, looking warily at him, heart beginning to thud in her chest.

His question was not at all what she had expected for a coffee-date first question. “When we were talking in the library on Wednesday, and you saw this –” he jabbed a hand up at his scarred cheek, “– and you saw the way I walk, or… not –” this time he flung the back of his hands against his thighs with a soft flap sound, “Did you… I mean… what did you think?”

She was shocked at the directness of his question, and flustered silently for a moment. Then, thinking carefully about her words, she spoke. “First thought?” she asked, her eyebrows raised. He nodded. “Honestly, my first thought was ‘wow’.”

He frowned. “Good ‘wow’ or that’s-an-ugly-scar ‘wow’?”

She chuckled and it was his turn to look cautious. “Good wow,” she said with a smile. “Truth be told, scars are kind of hot.” She shrugged. “You’re gorgeous anyway, and trust me, the scar doesn’t detract from that.” Was she being deliberately bold to match him? It wasn’t like her at all, she mused. 

Alex clearly didn’t believe her, and waded on with his interrogation. “But this? Does this detract?” he asked doggedly.

“No not at all,” she said honestly. “I mean, I was a bit surprised when I saw you yesterday, as I think you figured, but that was only because I’d seen you walking the day before, that’s all.”

His doubt faded a little and he looked shy, but pleased. He sucked air into his cheeks and blew it out in a rush. “Not often I hear that it doesn’t matter from a girl. Normally it’s just a pitying look and a ‘you’re not really my type’…”

“I’m frequently told by my friends that I’m not normal…” she reassured him, looking at him from under her lashes.

The waitress brought their drinks, and set them down in front of her. She then looked at Alex and said slowly, “You want me to pour your tea for you?”

Sam thought he looked for a second as if he might hit her, or run her over, but he tilted his face up to her and said coldly, “No thanks; I’m halfway through a PhD in geophysics, I think I can manage a cup of tea.” The waitress blanched, muttered something, and walked away. When she disappeared, Alex rolled his eyes at Sam. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I know that was rude, but I just… urgh,” he made a face and poured his tea, letting his cloudy silence finish the sentence for him.

Hoping this coffee date was not about to take a nose-dive from ‘surprisingly-forward-first-question’ to ‘awkward-silence’, she asked, “Do you get that a lot?”

With a sigh, he said, “Yup.”

A thousand questions burned in her mind. How long have you been in a wheelchair? Why are you in a wheelchair? What’s wrong with you? Will it get better or worse or neither?

Something of her blizzard of questions must have showed in her face, as Alex gave a soft laugh and said, “You want to ask me, don’t you?”

Sheepishly, she smiled, settling for honesty, and said, “Only if you want to talk. You’d be perfectly within your rights to call me a nosy bugger and then we could move on to other questions like what college you’re at and all the other standard Cambridge topics… You know, the usual coffee date questions…” She hoped she hadn’t come across as rude, but she desperately didn’t want him to think that all she wanted to know about him was why he was in a wheelchair.

She was relieved beyond all measure when he threw back his head and laughed a deep, throaty laugh. “You know, your friends are right. You aren’t normal.” And he continued to chuckle as she feigned a stab in the heart. “I was hurt in a car accident six years ago,” he said, “So I’ve had plenty of time to learn to deal with people like her,” he jabbed a hand behind him, “Not that I’m always successful though…” he added with a wry smile. “In answer to your other questions, I was at Sidney as an undergrad because Blundell Court has something like a hundred accessible rooms to choose from…” he trailed off, looking embarrassed. “I mean, most of the other colleges only have one accessible room, or adapted room…”

She smiled, imagining that his inner monologue read something like “Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck,” at that moment. “It must be tricky,” she offered, feeling rather lame.

He grimaced and said, “Meh, it’s not awful. A lot of colleges, especially the more modern ones, are pretty good. It’s just the older ones – the ones you’d actually want to apply to – are all winding staircases and narrow doorways…” He rubbed his chin and she saw how rough his palm looked. She surprised herself by wondering what those callouses would feel like against her skin. He was carrying on and she forced herself to pay attention to his words and not his hands. “…my PhD I decided to try Caius. It’s not been bad, and I rarely have to go into college anyway; my brother and I share our own apartment in Cambridge, and I do most of my research at the department or at the company that’s sponsoring my PhD.”

“Do you do any supervising?” she asked, recalling some of the PhD students who’d inflicted a painfully awkward hour of one-to-one tutorials on her.

Alex’s smile widened and he said, “Yeah, I do a bit. I supervise maths for the natsci students.”

She had a sudden vision of what Alex would be like as a supervisor and smiled. “I hope you’re not too mean… I’ve had some horrible PhD students supervise me…” She was so glad he was now beginning to laugh more. The more he laughed, and the further they moved off the topic of his disability, the more those tired lines around his eyes seemed to fade.

“I’m only horrible if my supervisees can’t be bothered,” he said evenly. “And they were probably horrible to you because PhD supervisors don’t tend to prepare all that well for the supervision; he wouldn’t want to look like a fool in front of you.”

Was that a line? Did he just use a line on me? She smiled coyly, thinking, about time too.

He was speaking again, but she thought she saw the faintest hint of a blush gilding those chiselled cheekbones of his. “Well, you don’t have to put up with PhD students bluffing their way through supervisions now that you’ve finished. Which college were you at?” he asked and there was a playful gleam lingering in his dark eyes.

“Emma,” she replied, smiling fondly at the memory of the warm, golden columns and sweeping gardens of Emmanuel College. “It’s beautiful,” she added. Thinking of her college with Alex sitting there made her realise that there were steps into the porters’ lodge, steps up to most of the rooms, steps on the underpass under Emmanuel Road, steps up into the chapel...

Alex’s answer stopped her before she could add any more stairs to her collection. “I’ve not really been there much,” he said quietly.

Sam smiled and said pointedly, “It’s not exactly the most accessible of colleges, I’d imagine.” Oh fuck. It was her turn to hear those words in her head, and she instantly regretted ever having let them slip from her tongue. She was struck by the expression which settled on his intriguing face, and she couldn’t place it: he seemed caught between admiration and mild embarrassment. Whether both sentiments were directed at her, she couldn’t be sure.

He nodded slowly. “When a few of us from natsci wanted to get together and watch a film or something they often came to Sidney, or to a good friend of mine’s room at Robinson, which, by the way,” he added with a self-effacing yet cheerful tone, “Is wonderfully accessible.” Her laugh seemed to kindle the smile in his eyes and he whickered a laugh of his own.

“Long way to go though,” she said, “I can’t remember going to Robinson more than once in my whole undergrad - I hope the film was worth it!”

“Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is always worth it!” he said in a bit of a rush.

Suddenly he blanched a bit, and she thought he must have sounded like a total dork to himself, so she gave a cheeky smile and said, “Got to love a bit of Kusanagi fan service...”

The expression on his face was so exquisite that she wished she’d had a camera. His lips parted in astonishment, his breath caught in his throat, and he said, “I’m astonished! You know what I’m talking about?!”

“I’m a huge geek really,” she babbled. “I may have studied archaeology, but my friends are, almost without exception, all scientists or mathmos. I hardly ever see the mathematicians though, they don’t socialise much, so I can’t vouch for their taste in TV shows, but thanks to the others - natscis in particular actually - I quickly developed an appetite for things like Ghost in the Shell and…” she then pulled open her unbuttoned, dark cardigan and glanced pointedly down at the faded black t-shirt underneath, which was emblazoned with a great orange octopus above the word ‘misbehave’. If she hadn’t known better, she might have thought Alex had fallen in love with her in that instant.

His eyes glittered and widened even further in disbelief, the scar stretching slightly over his right eyelid. “She likes Firefly,” he said in a mock-dreamy accent that was only half-joking, and her bright bark of laughter made several pensioners glance round at them scornfully. She didn’t care. She had just fallen a little bit in love with the dark eyed semi-stranger sitting opposite her, and looking at her as if she were an example of a rare type of artefact that no one ever finds in-tact. She turned her gaze on him and the message in her eyes was clear. Kiss me.


***


He bumped down a curb and crossed the road, which made his left leg ripple into a quick bounce, but by the time he’d reached the other pavement and tipped the casters up the curb, bumping the main wheels up afterwards, both his legs sat inert and well behaved.

What the hell am I doing? he asked himself as he turned down the narrow street that would bring him out at The Meadows cafe - a tiny tea room run from what looked like a shed mounted on a trailer. It was pulled in every Thursday and Friday, like some kind of tinker’s cart, to a grassy spot in the crook of the river-bend by a farmer’s wife in her battered and rusty red Toyota Hilux. Decking which fitted together like the world’s easiest jigsaw puzzle was laid out on the flat bit of grass, and a roll of wooden boards spread from the towpath down the slight incline to where the cafe sat like a small hive, dispensing homemade cakes and hot tea to enchanted tourists in the field below the river. God knows how she got a permit to do it, but the fortunate patrons of the little cafe did not question their luck, simply accepting the sweet libations gratefully; pilgrims receiving alms at a monastery door. He had been a regular in his second year of undergrad, but hadn’t been much since. The two most loyal customers were still there, he observed with a smile, but the other faces had changed. The only other face which would be familiar to him, those indescribably strong and beautiful cheekbones and eyes, would be that of Sam. He hoped she’d show. He leaned back slightly as he rolled gently down the hill, his rough palms braking on the slick rims as he balanced his weight in the chair with expert familiarity. 

Would that exquisite face of hers even be here? he wondered, and a kind of choking, desperate fear rose in his throat as he scanned the faces before him on that patio. It vanished in a puff of cartoon smoke when, after a wild few seconds, he saw her, sitting right on the edge, reclining in a chair with her chin raised slightly to the dappled sky above her. The table she’d picked was at the end of a runway of decking wide enough to launch a 747 from. It was the first time he’d seen her hair loose and unrestrained by the thick rope of her Dutch braid, and now it tumbled down her back in gorgeously sensuous waves. He felt an urge to run his fingers through it. Instead, he set his hands to his push rims and wheeled along to the table she had chosen. Had she deliberately picked this easy-to-get-to spot? He became convinced of it when she stood gracefully and moved a chair out of his way so he could slide in opposite her.

Alex could not get one nagging question out of his mind, and it suddenly burst from him, about fifty questions sooner than he’d intended. “When we were talking in the library on Wednesday, and you saw this –” he indicated the scar, trying not to be too savage about it, “– and you saw the way I walk, or… not… Did you… I mean… what did you think?” Nice one, Norwood, he thought, fire a question at her straight away about whether being a crip is an issue… He waited nervously for her response. Fuck it. I can always bail, and I never have to see her again. 

It was obvious that he’d but the fox in the henhouse with his stupidly brazen question, but on reflection, he was glad he’d got it out of the way. They moved on, almost naturally, to college life, leaving the spectre of his wheelchair behind, for the most part.

His mood was brightened further by the mysterious light that seemed to emanate from her laughing eyes and by the way her hair shimmered in the strong, bright, English summer sun. Even the bloody patronising waitress was only a passing summer shower, thanks to Sam’s vivaciousness. She was beautiful, but not in the normal sense: she was strong, almost masculine looking, and her skin wasn’t exactly the clearest, but her beauty was the kind of rugged beauty you get in the wilds of Scotland, and it nearly overwhelmed him. 

He could not have described what his heart did, when she first of all knew what Ghost in the Shell was, but then when she bared all her geekery to him, wearing the ‘misbehave’ octopus like a proud escutcheon, he couldn’t believe his luck. He had to take a mental wheel backwards for a second and take stock of what he had just discovered: a girl that seemingly wasn’t put off by his wheelchair; a girl who was into anime; a girl who not only knew what Firefly was, but had the associated clothing. This has to be too good to be true, he thought as he squirmed with mingling pleasure and apprehension. “She likes Firefly,” he found himself saying with glee.

What was that silent communication in her eyes? He’d not seen that look since, well, since Olivia, and before the accident. It couldn’t be... Suddenly the temporary dam, which her penchant for an obscure Japanese anime and American space-steampunk had created, buckled and all the tide of self doubt poured in like a river, bold and boisterous with winter swell.

Sam was speaking again and he forced himself out of his crushing whirlpool of uncertainty to listen. “Have you seen the new Avengers movie?” He shook his head mutely. “I’ve heard good things about it - you know, as a playful, trashy, hundred and thirty minutes of fun - we could go and see it some time if you like?”

At this, three thoughts crashed simultaneously through his mind like a trio of cheetahs on crack: Did she just ask me out on a date? Am I that out of practice that the girl asks me first? More to the point, she likes me enough to be that forward? ”S-sure,” he stammered in disbelief. “But you probably don’t want to go to the cinema with a cripple.”

His words clearly shocked her and she frowned. “Why not?”

He smiled sadly. “Crip seats are right at the front, so it’ll be too close and too loud...”

Sam’s sighing smile was visible, and it dragged the tension from her shoulders with it. “If that’s the price I have to pay for going with you, I’ll happily pay up.”

Alex wanted to giggle like a small toddler with a plate of chocolate biscuits. “I...” he started to say something, but then changed his mind. “That’s great. I’d love to. Do you know when it’s on?”

She shook her head and fished in her pocket. He assumed she was going to check it on a smartphone, but then she said, “I would look up the times now, but...”

She drew out a blocky, blue Nokia 3310 and he laughed at the outdated absurdity of it. Seeing she could tell it was a good-natured laugh, he said, “Christ, I didn’t think people used fossils like that any more! You should donate it to a technology museum...”

Feigning indignation, she raised a hand to her chest and said, “It works perfectly, thank you very much. It does everything I need it to.”

“Except find you film times,” he added playfully. He suddenly noticed a scar on her wrist as she waved the phone around. It was long, very thin, and mathematically straight; the type of scar he recognised all too well from the small collection on his own body. A surgery scar.

“Yeah,” she admitted, not realising where his eye had snagged momentarily. “But it means I have to rely on my sciency friends for aid, and it makes them feel useful and important, and sometimes even superior, to their poor peasant friend who will have to scratch around in the dirt for a living while they form the next Google...”

Alex snorted a laugh that burst unexpectedly from the pit of his lungs. “Maybe you’ll dig up an Anglo-Saxon Nokia,” he said and she laughed.

“It’d be a Viking one, surely,” she added, her eyes flashing playfully.

Alex snorted a laugh. “But you’re going to think I’m all haughty if I take my Android out and use it to find a film time,” he said.

Her smile was coy as she replied. “No I won’t,” she said, and he smirked lopsidedly at her playful combativeness, “Because if you don’t take it out, I can’t go and watch it with you. I’ll just have to camp out outside the cinema in the hope that you turn up for one of the showings, but that doesn’t seem like a very solid strategy for success...” She nodded once, like a small child making up its mind, and said, “No, I’ll just have to be the damsel in distress with the antiquated technology and wait for a knight to tell me what time The Avengers is on.” She finished with another nod.

Oh god, he thought, don’t fuck this one up, Norwood. He drew out his phone, tapped it a few times with his thumb, brought up cinema times for Cambridge, and said, “How about Sunday at seven?”


“Done,” she said, without hesitation. “It’s a date.”



Continued --->