"God! Kenneth is so lame!"
Karen Stevens looked up from the book she was studying to assess her roommate. Dana Keith's make-up was smudged beyond repair and the right side of her blouse was not completely tucked in. "I don't know," she quipped back. "Looks like he did a pretty good job with you!"
Both girls giggled.
"Oh, he got the job done alright, at least from his perspective! But damn, girl! Don't these guys have a clue about there being more to it than 'Gee baby, you're pretty, let's screw, it won't hurt much, did it?'" She began to take the wrinkled clothes off and get ready for bed.
"I'm afraid we've got a lot of training to do to make most of 'em worth snuggling up to," Karen agreed. Then she got a far away look in her eyes and a sad smile began to play over her lips.
Dana raised an eyebrow. "You okay?"
Karen shook her head as if to clear it. "Yeah. Sure. Sorry."
"What was that all about?"
"I was just remembering something... someone."
Dana shifted the raised brow up another notch. "Well?"
The young woman looked at her roomie seriously. "I was remembering the very best lover I ever had. That's all."
The partially nude girl sat down amid Karen's books and assorted notes that covered her blue bedspread, her breasts bobbing as she shifted to find a comfortable position. "Well? Do I have to go get pliers to pull it out of you?"
Karen smiled and bowed to the inevitable. She tossed Dana a robe. "Here. Cover up. You don't want to be ready for action when you hear this one. His name was Steve Kenyon. He introduced himself to me as 'Stevie.' It was the summer between high school and my freshman year here." Again a smile played across her lips as her mind drifted back over the gulf of the four years now past.
The words however died in her throat. It was not the boy's handsome good looks or his athletic physique that stopped the phrase before it was spoken, although both were the case, and either might have halted her. What stopped her was simple human compassion. The young man now standing above her, shielding her from the rays she had come to the seaside seeking had only one arm!
Well, not really. More accurately, he had only one hand. He had a right arm, but it had obviously been amputated just below the elbow. The light colored pinkness of the surgical scar was still quite clear.
"Well, hi, Stevie Kenyon," she returned, not sure what else to say or how to respond.
"This piece of sand taken?" he asked with an infectious smile, pointing at a strip next to her striped beach towel.
"Have at it," she said with a sweeping gesture.
The young man easily dropped to the sand, his chest even with hers, but with his feet pointing the other way. He bent the nub of his forearm and leaned on the elbow. Karen caught herself looking at the amputated limb and quickly tore her eyes from it.
"Hey, don't get spooked by this," Stevie said, flexing the remnant. "This is just a little souvenir I got from an adventure last summer!"
"Yeah. Wanta hear about it?"
Karen looked around, as if not wanting anyone within ear shot to know that she was, indeed, curious about the boy's disability. "Sure," she said easily and then added quickly: "If you want to tell me."
"It's gonna cost you," he said, sliding his shades down so she could see his eyes sparkle with mischief.
"And what's that?"
"I never tell my story to a stranger! You're going to have to tell me your name!"
"Fair enough. Karen Stevens."
Stevie reached with his free left hand and took her right hand to shake. "Good to meet you." He gestured at his missing forearm. "I've found that it's better to tell people about this first thing when I want to get to know them," he began. "If I don't, they spend all their time wondering about it and never spend any time getting to know me." He gave her a sly look. "This way I can kill two birds with one stone!"
Karen nodded for him to continue.
"This happened while I was trying to stop a robbery," he announced, pausing to gauge her response.
"Yep. It was like this: My bud Carey McCarthey and I were out in his Mustang cruising up and down Hollywood Boulevard one night right after the end of school a year ago. We had gotten into a couple of drag races, but that was about it. The cops started cruising the strip pretty heavy about 10:30, so we decided to head back to Riviera. No sense in contributing to the Hollywood Policeman's fund!
"Well, Carey decides he wants a Slurpee so we stop at the Seven-Eleven that's on the way home, and go in to get one and rap with one of our buddies who clerked there.
"We hadn't been in there ten minutes when this wild lookin' dude comes in with a can of spray paint in one hand and a gun in the other! You wouldn't have believed it! Hair like outa the sixties and clothes that had to be at least that old!"
"Yeah, except that wasn't quite the way I put it." He giggled. "The dude sprays the security video camera by the door on his way in and tosses the can. Then he says: 'Gimme all the money, shitheads, or I'll blow your asses away!"
"Well, Donnie was about to crap behind the register, but he opened the drawer and was yankin' the bills out! I got to thinkin' about the fact that I had damn near a thousand bucks in my billfold. It was all of my graduation money, and I was going to go make the down payment on some new wheels the next day! So, I wasn't about to let him have it!"
"What did you do?"
"I caught Carey's eye and looked at the scumbag's shoulders, then looked at me and cut my eyes to his legs. Carey got the message, and I counted down from three on my fingers. Carey hit him with a body tackle high and I hit him low. The asshole fell like a stone." He paused. "The only problem was, we didn't knock the gun out of his hand like I had planned. The moment he was on the floor he started shooting and asking questions later."
"Yeah, it was. The first shot got Donnie in the chest. I caught the second one here in my arm." He patted the end of his stump for effect.
"Yeah. The bullet tore up all sorts of stuff. I passed out from the pain and when I woke up the first thing I saw was this big-ass wad of white bandages and tape. I knew what had happened; nobody had to tell me. I mean, there was nowhere they could've been hiding the arm and hand as short as that mess of white was!"
"God! I don't know how you were able to accept something like that so easily."
He shrugged his shoulders. "At least I lived. I got out of it better than Donnie."
"I'm so sorry," Karen began.
"Yeah, I was real sorry he didn't make it, too," Stevie nodded.
"I meant for you," the girl corrected.
Stevie smiled crookedly. "Don't feel sorry for me!" He smiled. "After all, if I hadn't had this I wouldn't have gotten you to listen to me long enough for you to get to know me!"
The girl didn't know what to do with that one.
"Want to hit the waves for a while?" he asked.
Karen looked the young man up and down a couple of times. Yes. He was probably worth spending a little time with! He was proving to be good company so far. "Why not?" she answered, getting to her feet.
Stevie had brought a frisbee with him to the beach, and the young pair spent the majority of the afternoon playing with it in and out of the water's edge. She had been more than a little surprised that the guy was as adept at the sport as he turned out to be. He seemed just as at home catching the disk between his nub and the side of his chest as with his sound hand. In the end, Karen was the one who had missed far more shots than had he!
The sun was going down when they finally returned to Karen's towel.
"Are you getting hungry?" Stevie asked.
"A little," she answered.
"Stay here," he said. "I've got some weenies and stuff in the car. I'll be right back."
It took him less then two minutes to return. "Help me gather some driftwood," he said, gesturing toward the high tide line with his stump. She did as he asked, and was again surprised at how little the missing hand seemed to slow the boy down.
A few minutes later, fire blazing and the first round of hot dogs eaten, Stevie cradled his roasting stick in the crook of his right elbow. Karen looked at how naturally and easily he managed it and a thought struck the girl.
"Do you ever wear a, you know, an artificial arm?" she asked.
"The thought just struck me. You don't seem slowed down a bit by, you know... I had always thought people who lost a hand would use one of those hook thingies."
"I tried one at rehab," he said easily. "Too heavy and they don't do a damned thing. A pair of pliers on the end of a stick! Naw, I decided that I could do better without one. Why? Does this gross you out?" He flexed the nub a couple of times.
"No." She grinned at him. "That's the odd thing. It doesn't bother me at all." She looked into his eyes. "Can I admit something to you?"
"Well, when you came up to me this afternoon, it did bother me. I started to tell you to get lost, until I saw that you were, you know, missing the hand. Then I thought that I'd really be a rude shit if I did that... that you'd think it was because of the arm. It wasn't I just wanted to sun bathe!"
"Hey. There's a lot of girls who tell me to get lost."
"Yeah. There's a lot that want everything perfect. But I'm not worried about them. After I lost my hand I figured, hey! What else have I got to lose? So I started being a pretty brash little bastard!" He giggled.
"Well, let me assure you I'm not being nice to you now just to keep from hurting your feelings," she began. "I guess when I saw you were beating my butt with the frisbee this afternoon, I decided that, well, that's just the way you are. Like those gorgeous brown eyes. Just how you happen to look."
"I like the way you look," he offered a little breathilly.
"Do you?" she teased back.
"Yes. You fill that bikini so well!"
It seemed so natural. They simply leaned together and began to kiss. As she returned the increasing urgency communicated by his lips, Stevie reached with the tip of his stump and began to very lightly stroke the tip of her left breast through the cloth that covered it. The effect was overpowering and instantaneous! God! She wanted him so badly! She wanted to touch him and be close to him and feel his warmth!
Karen reached behind her back to release the hooks that held her top on.
"Let me," Stevie breathed in her ear. "I can do that with one hand, too."
A moment later the twin cups dropped to the sand, and Karen began to relish the feel of Stevie's skin against her own. She had never known for sure if it was her imagination or if there was some scientific principle behind it, but she was sure she could feel the electronic nerve impulses firing in the end of the young man's stump as he pressed it against first her bared breast, and later a far more sensitive spot further down her tummy! She wasn't quite sure when her bottoms came off, or his for that matter, but what she would remember for the rest of her life was the sight of a sky full of stars stretched out over her mimicking the fireworks of the ardent, electric, fiery, abandoned, passionate young man who took her over the top that evening three different times without stopping!
Dana's eyebrow went back up. "And why not? I would have! You make him sound so hot!"
"It wasn't because I didn't want to! I mean, he could have had me all he wanted over and over and I would have done it without the pills! He asked me for my address and phone number before we got in our separate cars and drove home, and I wrote it out for him. As it turned out, I wish I had gotten HIS address."
"I never heard from him again."
"No shit? You mean he just did you that night and..."
"Well, that was what I thought at first. And let me tell you, girl, I was really heartbroken! That guy had made me fall in love with him just being with him that one day!"
"So what happened?"
"Well, it was about mid-June when we spent that day and evening together. About mid-August, I got a phone call."
"So he finally got back with you!"
A dark cloud passed over Karen's face. "You might say that. The voice at the end was a man's. He told me that he was Robert Kenyon, and that he was Steve's father." Karen paused and bit her lip. "He told me that Steve had just passed away, and that my name was on a list of people whose numbers he'd been given to call. The funeral was to be two days from then, and if I would like to come he had a letter to me that was to be hand-delivered."
"God! What happened?"
Karen reached into the drawer next to her twin bed. "Here's the letter I got just before the funeral service. Stevie can explain it to you far better than I could."
I've just gotten home from our evening together, and I wanted to write all of this down while it was still fresh in my mind.
First, I want you to know how very much I love you. For reasons that will become clear shortly, this will be the only time we'll ever be together, but that doesn't mean that I don't love you. I love your sweetness and the fact that you were willing to overlook what a lot of girls won't to be with me. I love the fact that you were willing to share your deepest gift with me on short notice. It means you have a capacity to seize the moment when you know it's right. Were things other than the way they are, believe me, I would be with you as often as you would have me to talk, to see movies, to walk on the beach, in short, to do anything that you might want to do.
Second, I want to apologize to you. You remember the story I told you about losing my arm? It was a total and complete hoax. Fully bogus. I'm sorry that I didn't tell you the truth, but as you are about to find out, it was a far better story than the truth. I don't know if I told it to you just so I would come off better, or if it's what I tell myself: If you'd known the truth you'd have been scared off.
You see, Karen, I'm dying. I didn't lose my arm to an accident. I lost it to cancer. They worked on the arm for over a year with all the drugs and rays and poisons that they use. In the end, there was nothing to do but chop it off. I wish they'd done that in the first place. That stuff they give you makes you so sick and hurts so bad!
About three months ago I got to feeling lousy and went back to the doctor. It's come back, it seems, and this time in a place where they can't get at it. The idiots said they could buy me another year or so with more chemo, but damn! Who wants to live like that? Been there. Tried it. No thank you! I decided that the 'few months' they give me without that stuff would be better. All I take is stuff to keep the pain away. It doesn't make me goofy or anything... just keeps things from hurting.
I decided that I was going to spend these least few months living instead of dying. I'd always been too shy to ask girls out before all of this started, so a few weeks ago I screwed up my courage and started doing just what I did with you on the beach today: walking up to pretty girls and seeing what would happen. So far there have been three of you who took the time to get to know me.
Please don't feel betrayed because you're not the only one. That's why I'm not going to call you. None of you need to watch me fade away at the end. I want you to remember that one perfect date we just finished, and I hope from time to time you'll remember that night, and me, with at least a little fondness. You see, you are all of the girls I might have gotten to know had there been more time! In the normal scheme of things there would have been so much more we could have done and places we could have gone. But things are as they are. I've got to compress it all into a few short weeks!
Please know that wherever I wind up being, I will remember you as one of the girls who gave me a full life. I'm going to live these next weeks as hard as I can. They have to count for forever.
Dana wiped a tear from her eye as she handed the letter back to her friend. "And they gave you this just before the funeral?"Stevie
"Yes." Karen gave a sad smile. "As it turned out, there were seven of us girls who got those letters," she paused. "And two guys." She shrugged her shoulders. "I guess Steve wanted to try everything before... you know."
Dana shook her head, looking back down at the flowing handwriting that covered the pages. "That's so sad. How can you bear to think of it?"
"The nine of us keep in touch, you know. We sort of need each other in a strange way. You see, not only was that the most loving night I ever spent," she answered quietly. "Stevie made me someone truly special in the process. I owe it to him to remember."
"Yeah. Stevie needs for us all to remember him," she said slowly. Then she smiled at her roomie. "He has nothing else left to lose."