Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Three's A Crowd Chapter 22 Part 1

Hello my reading friends, it is only Tuesday and once again I am posting today because another week and my employer scheduled me to work tomorrow on Wednesday and I didn't want you guys to wait until late tomorrow night. Well, here is Chapter 22 Part 1 for your enjoyment. I hope you like how Trish and Shawn are getting closer and closer, I know you have been so patient waiting for those two to finally hit it off. They do like each other a lot but dealing with their insecurities they have been making it difficult to let their guards down. Slowly, the layers of the walls around their hearts are coming down and you will be there to witness that. I appreciate you all so much, Let me know how you like this chapter. Hugs, Yours, Dani

Friday, April 24, 2015

Twist Of Fate Chapter 10

Here is Chapter 10 with an unexpected visit at Matthew's parents. I also post a TOC for those who want the ten previous chapters in a row. It will be updated every week. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Three's A Crowd Chapter 21

Surprise! I am a day early this week whereas I was a day late last week. I am working tomorrow and may not have time to post so I finished editing Chapter 21 today and here it is. I hope you enjoy how the rest of the night/morning develops for Trish and Shawn even though it gets a bit dramatic, but you know how I like drama...:-) One thing is for sure though, Trish and Shawn are becoming closer and closer with everything happening in their life. I hope you like this next chapter and as always thanks for reading TAC. Hugs, Dani
Table of Contents TAC

Friday, April 17, 2015

Twist Of Fate Chapter 9

Hi Paradevo readers, it's Friday! Time for TOF (sounds weird so I prefer not to use it) So here is Chapter 9 with a family reunion for Matthew and Cassandra. As usual, any comments are welcomed and appreciated.

Between the Pages: Chapter 1

"There’s just one researcher, today," Sharon tells me as I enter into the reading room.

"Fantastic," I whisper back, glancing across the room. One lone man sits at a table by the window with a stack of manuscripts. He's hunched over the papers and looking down. I jerk my thumb in his direction. "So serious!"

Sharon laughs as she stands up. "Academics, you know."

Once Sharon leaves, it's just me and Lone Researcher. Working in the reading room is easy, and almost as interesting as watching paint dry. To pass the time I usually play this game with myself where I try to peg what sort of research people are working on. Scientists and journalists are easy to spot: they almost always are working with microfilm. Literature scholars are pretty easy to identify too. Usually, they're the ones going through rare books, flipping the pages reverently and slowly. Then there are historians, which pretty much comprise everyone else. The historians are cranky, demanding, and usually old.

I look at the man across the room in scrutiny. Not much to tell from this far away, but my brain's pegging him as a literature guy. A professor, maybe. Yeah, he looks older and professory. Longish chestnut hair. Something about the oxford shirt combined with tortoise shell glasses and hint of a dark beard just screams "I'm reading Ayn Rand, and I like it!"

Lone Researcher is oblivious to my profiling. Which, might be a good thing. You know, in case he actually hates Ayn Rand would be terribly offended by my hypothesis.

With a sigh, I turn back to the computer. That was fun while it lasted. It's more fun when the reading room is packed, but right now it's the dead of summer so none of the university students are here to clutter the place up. The only visits our archives get in the summer are crotchety genealogists and overly dedicated academics.

Against my better judgement, I glance at the clock. It's only been thirteen minute.

I quickly start making a mental to-do list:

-email Barry about PTO
-pull stuff for remote researchers
-finish accessioning the Millner collection
-write exhibit text

I emailed Barry earlier in the day and got my paid time off for my brother's wedding next month approved. The Millner collection stuff can wait -- will have to wait -- until tomorrow. The text I had to finish was for two different exhibits. It's a maximum of 250 words per wall panel. You think that would be easy! It's not. Being brief is a skill. One which I don't possess.

Procrastination is one that I do though, so I leave the text for later. Pulling materials is easy and mindless. At least on my end. It's probably a pain for the vault staff though, who have to track down that one obscure text about Acadian architecture in Nova Scotia in our 30,000 square foot vault. But then, the vault is pretty organized (it's actually meticulously organized, and I'm scared to touch anything on the rare occasions I venture down there), so maybe it isn't too bad for them after all.

Thirty-five minutes (and a lot of dicking around on the computer) later, all of the materials I'd requested arrive. That's actually a pretty good response time for a large research archives. "Thanks, John."

John, a tiny man with huge glasses that has worked in the vault for almost thirty years, smiles as he handed my books over. "Sure thing, Inez."

After John leaves, I look over at Lone Researcher. Still bent over his books. Ugh, I wish I had his work ethic.

I've got to get a least one wall panel out of eight done. But it's already 4:30. We'll be closing in thirty minutes...do I really have time to start this?

I glance over at the clock again--somehow it's still 4:30 even though feels like it's been five years since John left--and settle in to begin writing.

"'For a pillow I used a stick of wood, softened with an old pair of shoes, and strange to say, slept very comfortably.' These are the words young Wesley Olin Connor penned as he camped outside of Cumberland Gap, TN in the winter of 1862. While Connor is often remembered for his time --"

"Excuse me?"

The voice startles me. It's low, with a distinctively Southern sound, and it rolls over me like a smooth whisky. Looking up, I realize Lone Researcher has vacated his post, and is now waiting in front of my desk. Now that he's closer, I realize that he isn't old after all. Not only that, but underneath the professory, academic facade, he's also attractive. Like, really attractive.

Annnnd...whoa. He’s also using a wheelchair. How in the hell did I miss that earlier? He sits in front of me with a huge Bankers Box on his lap.

I peer sheepishly over the desk, feeling guilty for not having noticed his presence before now. "How long have you been waiting?" I ask in an apologetic tone.

He smiles. Whatever he wants -- and I'm certain he wants something, because that's pretty much the only time people smile at me in the reading room--I'm already planning on giving him simply because of that smile. Seriously! I bet the girls in his classes (I’m still working under the assumption he’s a professor) eat him up--wheelchair or not. Hell, I'm practically salivating.

"Only a short while." Lone Researcher nodded towards the computer. "You seemed very focused. I didn't want to interrupt."

Despite my minor embarrassment, I laugh. "Is that ready to be re-shelved?"

He shakes his head. "Actually, could you hold it for me for tomorrow?"

"Sure!" I respond, a bit too enthusiastically. Still trying to make up for having ignored him at first. "Name?"

"Max Ellis."

I make a note on one of the "Hold" shelves and then reach out for the items in his lap. Then, I watch as Lone Researcher -- Max, I guess -- shuffles the box from his lap onto the circulation desk.

"Thanks." He flashes me another winning smile. "So I'm all set for tomorrow then?" I nod and try to match his smile, but I'm pretty sure I fail miserably. "Well, see you tomorrow then."

With that, Max makes his way towards the door, propelling his wheelchair forward with smooth and practiced strokes. With each pump his broad shoulders pulse and I can tell that he is incredibly built, especially for a stuffy academic. I (rudely) stare as he wheels down the hallway to the circulation desk to check out of the reading room. And suddenly, for the first time in a while, I'm excited about coming back to the reading room tomorrow.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Between the Pages: Chapter 2



The next day starts off not so great.

When I get to work there is an angry note on my computer monitor that reads: "Text. TODAY." It's not signed, but I know it's from Barry, my boss. There's probably a vicious email in my inbox too. You know, just in case the sticky note isn't enough. I check my email and sure enough, there it is.

Aside from the sticky note and a semi-catastrophic coffee spill, the rest of my day goes well. I finally get text written for the water reclamation and wilderness exhibits and send that off to the media department. They'll spruce it up, make it look pretty, and make it fit on a poster so that it's more appealing to visitors. How are they going to make water reclamation interesting? No clue.

By the time that 3:00 rolls around, I'm relieved to be heading to the reading room. I've got some research to finish for another exhibit I'm curating titled “1616, 1916, 2016”. It’s only a pop-up exhibit, so it won’t last for more than a day, but I think it’s going to be pretty neat. Basically, I’m picking a few of the more interesting rare books in our collections from the years 1616, 1916, and 2016 and displaying them. The only problem is all of the cool books I want to use—like the Italian anatomy textbook bound in human skin!—are not from the correct years.

Maybe I should reconsider which years to use…That's what's on my brain as I walk into the reading room. Thoughts of books bound in human skin are quickly pushed from my head though, as I realize the reading room is covered up. It's crazy crowded. Seriously, I've worked at the University Archives for five years now and I can't remember a summer day this busy in a while. I groan inwardly.

Poor Sharon looks haggard. Her expression is pretty much a visual version of my inward groan, and it makes me nervous for my shift. She looks too relieved to be leaving.

"It's been insanely busy," she confirms in a whisper. Quickly she runs through a list of who is who and where their on-hold materials are on the shelf. There's only eight patrons in the room, I realize as she explains, it's just that they all have a shit ton of materials. I'm feeling much more relaxed about things as she logs out of the computer and gathers her things, until she adds, "Oh, and vault staff is down three people today. So, it's just John and Rachel."

Great.

I know that there's a look of pure terror on my face. With this many people simultaneously requesting a large number of items and only two people working to retrieve those instead of five, our usual fifteen-minute turnaround time is going to skyrocket. Which in turn, makes the researchers pissy. And who are they pissy at? Whoever is behind the desk. Sharon gives me a sympathetic look as she leaves.

Okay. Game face on. I'm ready for this. Kind of. Sort of. Not really. I hate (even the possibility of) confrontations.

The first twenty minutes goes by quickly and smoothly. One old lady huffs a little bit when I explain to her—for the third time, by the way—that she can't have her coffee cup in the reading room, much less on the same table as a map of France from 1789. As she stomps out of the room to put her coffee in the researcher lockers, I hear a small snicker to my left.

Looking up, I'm fully prepared to shoot the offender a look of pure venom. Having to chase off little old ladies is not funny! But then I realize that the offender is none other than Max, the lone researcher from yesterday.

Today he's traded in a window seat for one closer to the circulation desk. Maybe because it's crowded in here? I personally hate having to weave in between the tables with oversized maps hanging off them; I imagine the obstacle course's difficulty would be increased tenfold in a wheelchair. Whatever the reason, I'm not complaining that he's closer today. It gives me a perfect vantage point for oggling (almost) unashamedly at him. He has a strong jawline that is only slightly hidden by a faint beard. Usually I'm not into the long haired, bearded, hipsterey types, but there is something about Max that makes my heart beat faster. His hair is a rich chestnut brown and his skin tanned, hinting that maybe he spends a fair amount of time outside. That's hard for me to believe--especially if he's the stuffy academic I think he is. Today he's sporting a baby blue Oxford shirt and I can see a tweed jacket hanging off the back of his wheelchair.

I roll my eyes at him good naturedly as if to say, "Old ladies are the worst, am I right?"

His broad shoulders shake with a small chuckle and he flashes me a grin that makes my stomach flip before looking back down at the manuscripts in front of him.

Just as I'm debating the ethics of creeping on Max via the internet and his research account information with us (which is actually crazy AND creepy seeing as how we've only had the one, very professional conversation and the one very unprofessional snicker exchange), the door to the reading room opens and John pushes a huge cart carrying a thick stack of oversized folders inside. He stops by my desk so that I can check them into the patron that requested them and then deposits the materials at the desk of a Mr. Bob Heading, who looks incredibly unhappy.

"You the only one working down there, son?" Mr. Heading asks in a loud and thick Cajun accent. The fact that he called John "son" would have made me laugh since John looks to be at least twenty years his senior, but something about the look of contempt on his face makes me restrain. "Because it sure did take long enough for this to get here to me."

John nods his head understandingly. "We're down a few people today so it's just me another worker."

"Whether there's one of ya or five, I think ya ought to do better than taking thirty minutes to bring these here materials to me," Mr. Heading grumbles.

John flashes me a "What can you do?" look and shrugs. Mr. Heading wanders back over to his desk and starts to examine the large stack of oversized documents.

I do a quick check on the computer. Bob Heading is an independent researcher from Southern Louisiana -- and holy Lord! -- he's called up the entire Johnson Confederate States of America collection. The Johnson Collection is a huge collection we're acquired about thirty years ago that's made up of like two hundred different boxes of old Confederate documents and probably twice that many maps and newspaper clippings. The thing is a behemoth, and Mr. Heading has requested all of it be brought up.

Already I know that this is going to be a problem. Reading room policies only allow patrons to have five items in the room at a time. As I watch Mr. Heading look through the five maps he has in less than five minutes, something tells me that he's not going to like the five item rule. Or the fact that he's going to have to wait twenty more minutes for another five to be brought up.

We manage to get through the whole routine twice before he says something. But by the time 4:00 rolls around, it seems like he's starting to lose his patience. He's up pacing around the room, huffing and puffing loudly. I send his request through at 4:01 and text John that it's urgent. By some miracle, the door opens fifteen minutes later, rather than the thirty I'd planned on, and at 4:16 John walks through with Mr. Heading's items. He winks at me as he sets them down.

Grinning broadly at the quick turnaround time, I alert Mr. Heading to their arrival. "The next items in your queue are ready."

But instead of matching my enthusiasm for our (understaffed) vault staff's quick retrieval time, he scowls. "I've been waiting here fifty minutes."

I give him an incredulous look. "You've been waiting fifteen, Mr. Heading."

"FIFTY MINUTES," he repeats, this time louder. It makes the other patrons look up. Out of the corner of my eye I see Max watching the man with a curious expression. "I've been waiting fifty minutes for these, and it's gonna take me less than five to go through 'em. Then I got to wait another fifty minutes to have more brought up? That's bull--"

"--Sir, please," I interject. "Keep your voice down."

"Why? I'm sure all these here people are just sitting here, waiting on their stuff too."

"Mr. Heading, I'm sorry you're displeased with the retrieval time, but we actually do have a very quick one for a facility--"

"Well I don't think that you do, missy," He tries to talk over me. "I think there's a problem--"

"--of our size and--"

"--and that problem is YOU."

My jaw drops.

Mr. Heading is standing in front of my desk now, leaning over it. The look on his red face is one of utter contempt. On the one hand, he's right: it is annoying to have to wait for thirty minutes for something that you'll finish in five...but on the other hand, that also sounds like a personal problem too. Plus, we have at least three signs--all in clear view--that inform patrons of the wait time, which we usually over estimate as being thirty minutes.

I don't like confrontations. I don't like being yelled at. I don't like that he's disturbing other patrons with his claims of waiting almost an hour when I have proof of it being fifteen minutes. But what really gets me, what really grinds my gears, is that this man insinuates I don't know how to do my job. The job I've worked at for over five years and that (although I bitch about sometimes) I love.

I don't hesitate for another second. "Sir, I'm going to have to call security."

Mr. Heading snorts. "You don't have to call security."

With that last statement, he walks out. But not before he snatches his laptop off of the table. Then, he chances one last look at me, and with a wicked gleam in his eye, shoves the stack of oversized folders he'd been looking at off the table and onto the floor. He practically runs out while the old documents flutter onto the floor, looking just as fragile and sad and defeated.

I let out a wounded sounding yelp at the state of things and immediately rush over to the documents. "I am so sorry for that," I apologize to the remaining eight patrons in the room. I squat down and start to carefully pick up the documents, feeling my face redden. Whether it's from embarrassment or anger at Mr. Heading, I'm not sure. In five years I've never had a day at work as bad (or exciting) as this one.

"These are all out of order," I mumble despondently. The documents aren't tagged or marked and I'm not sure which items go in which folders. As I continue to pick them up and try to make some sense of the order, I mutter some more really obscene, really not nice stuff about Mr. Heading under my breath. I'm having a huge glass of red wine when I get home tonight. And take-away. Maybe from that new Italian place that just opened downtown. Hmn...I wonder if they deliver?

I'm concentrating much more on my dinner plans than I am to what I'm doing. Which is probably why I don't notice Max until he's literally right in front of me. He doesn't say anything--respecting the reading room rules, unlike some people!--but he starts to help me collect the massive amount of spilled documents. Bracing himself with one hand on one of the wheels, he bends over at the waist and starts to pick up some of the smaller documents and put them on the table. The gesture is so kind that I barely cringe when he picks them up haphazardly and I don't mention the fact that should really be handling each document with two hands.

"Thank you," I whisper when we're finished.

Max smiles. "Sorry you had to deal with that guy."

I shrug. "It happens."

At this point I stand up and start walking back towards my desk. The clock on the wall says it's 4:45 and I'm shocked to see a stack of materials on my desk waiting to be checked back in. Everyone else is gone, except for me and Max and one other man who is a regular during the summer (genealogist). Great. At the rate that my day seems to be going, someone probably walked off with a rare book or something.

When I'm done checking everything back in, and after I've said a prayer that nothing is missing, I clear my throat. Both Max and the genealogist, look up. Max smiles bashfully, and it's adorable. "Is it time already?" he asks.

"It's time," I tell them both a little apologetically. I doubt anybody working in the reading room today achieved anything, thanks to all the commotion, and I feel party responsible. "I'm sorry again for today."

The genealogist deposits his materials on my desk and leaves without a word. Max, on the other hand, sticks around. He wheels up to my desk with his box on his lap, but he doesn’t hand it over. He’s holding it in a protective grasp. I wonder if he loves books and antiquities as much as I do.

He's clad in his tweed coat now--though why, I don't know, it's literally ninety-three degrees outside today--and he looks quite dapper.

"You know," he begins, grinning mischievously, "I would have thrown a fit if you had insisted I turn these in promptly at 5:00.”

I smile gratefully at his joke even though the memory of the afternoon still stings.

"Hey, don’t beat yourself up. Like you said: it happens,” he tells me as he finally relinquishes his hold on his materials. The sentiment surprises me. A second later Max begins to laugh and is talking to me again. “I have a friend who works at an archive in Mississippi and she's constantly butting heads with this researcher who comes in once a week demanding to see a certain set of 'macrofilm.'"

I smile as I realize a few things all at once:

#1: Max, a (handsome) stranger, seems to be making an actual effort to cheer me up.
#2: Max, a (handsome) stranger, the likes of which we never see in the reading room, is making an effort to continue this conversation.
# 3: Max, a (handsome) stranger, might be flirting with me.

But really, I'm an idiot when it comes to flirting. Maybe he's just being nice. Yeah, he’s definitely just being nice, because there is no way a guy like that is single--even with the wheelchair.

Even so, I play along. After all, a little fun never hurt anyone, right? "That's better than having someone ask for their 'mini fish.'"

Max tilts his head in confusion. "Mini fish?"

I sigh heavily. "She was a tenured professor and she meant microfiche."

Max laughs. It's a deep, hearty, and genuine sound. I grin too and mentally pat myself on the back as he wheels back to his table to gather the rest of his stuff.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Three's A Crowd Chapter 20

Hello readers of TAC. I know I wrote a message earlier about posting my next chapter. I decided to post the next chapter today anyways as it was edited and ready to go, so here is Chapter 20 of TAC. Trish and Shawn have an odd encounter at the casino. In this chapter find out if Shawn can catch Trish after she takes off seeing him with another girl on his lap. Hope you enjoy it and as always, thanks for reading and letting me know how you like it, you all mean so much to me, Hugs, Dani

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Chapter Two of Footsteps is up!

Hello! I'm sorry to those of you who have been following 'Footsteps' - as you may have picked up from the comments, I had a catastrophic computer failure, which meant that I couldn't access any of the writing I'd done to publish it. I'm on a hiking holiday now, but I found a quiet few moments to tinker with the technology and get the second chapter out of the broken hard drive and onto the internet for you.

As ever, let me know what you think of it. Also tell me if you want to hear Caleb's voice, or whether you like just Alyssa's. As before, it'll be a while until the next one, but hopefully not as long as this time. All I need to do is purchase Microsoft Office and get up and running again once I'm back from holiday. That does mean I'll be back at work though, and long hours in a metals workshop aren't conducive to getting much written, but I love this story and these characters, so I promise it'll get done.

That's more than enough waffle from me, so here's the link. Don't forget to let me know what you think of Chapter Two, and again, I'm sorry it took so long! Luckily there's been plenty of wonderful new stories and chapter updates on here to keep everyone happy :).

Rose


Friday, April 10, 2015

Twist of Fate Chapter 8

More intimate and devvy moments between Matthew and Cassandra in Chapter 8. Hope you will like it!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Three's A Crowd Chapter 19

Hello friends, close call this week...been so busy and going to be busy for the next couple of weeks but I want to still try to post regularly. Here is Chapter 19 of TAC. Trish and Shawn are edging closer to each other again. as they both can't deny anymore that they enjoy each other's company. Have fun reading, thanks for your time and let me know how you like the chapter. Hugs, Dani

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Disorderly

Hiya! Here's another newbie attempt - there have been some fabulous ones on here, so I hope I can live up to that!
Many thanks for reading

B xxx

*********************************************************************************************



It’s amazing how the culmination of momentous events cascade together, imperceptibly mating with the tiniest of choices to force us down paths never even considered.

If I hadn’t decided on going through with college in England, I’d have remained buried and forgotten in California.

If I hadn’t been late to that one mediocre lecture in the entirety of my three year course, then I’d have never hurriedly wedged myself next to Amanda.

But I did. And she said hello.

And nearly six years later, we’re sharing a prissy little flat while she’s successfully pursuing an insane Quality Control career… and I’m merely biding my time working shitty hours for an insurance company because I’m too afraid of failing at being a teacher.

Pathetic, isn’t it? Seriously pathetic. I’ll quite happily set myself up in a foreign country halfway across the globe, and yet monumentally fall apart when it comes to something so simple as a career.

At this particular juncture in all my 27 years of [primarily idiotic] choices, I’ve lost the confidence for practically everything.

Funny how quickly things can change. 

Friday, April 3, 2015

Disorderly Chapter 2



I don’t go back inside. Instead, I text Amanda that I’m going home, please forgive me.
She replies with a smiley face, and I’m weirdly confused by it. 

I’m tempted to renege on my last comment, and there’s a fleeting desire to remind her that actually, you should beg my forgiveness, how dare you talk about my stupid mental issues to random dudes!

I type out the message, but get no further.  I’m drawn to looking out of the window, watching the excited pubs and beautiful people in snapshots through the window, my phone resting lazily in my palm.

But I’m seeing absolutely nothing except the stalwart frame of Ben, towering above me in the dusky evening light, leaning toward me, gently comforting me with a soft smile and a malachite gaze. 

Who – what – is this man to have wrapped me up so wholly in a manner of minutes, nesting me and all my highly evident psychosis in some easy cocoon of genial comraderie? The gentle giant, studious, frank, obviously fighting the ramifications of some horrid disease that’s twisting his limbs toward uselessness… Christ almighty, the final thought releases pangs in my tummy, cold strings of guilt and shame at my own warped fascination with his disability. 

Wrong, wrong, wrong, you’re all sorts of wrong… 

The entire journey home, I’m hearing his voice humming deliciously in my skull; I’m watching his legs drag uselessly away from me as he leaves… I’m replaying the conversation I had with him over and over – a silly record on repeat. 

It’s all wrong. 

I’m dutifully picking out everything I did wrong, from running outside, to crying, to the pathetic outpouring about my mental state – surely, I’d have appeared less vitiated had I just hitched up my dress and spread my legs wide enough. 

At least I’d have kept my mouth shut; at least I’d have kept my grizzly little confession securely contained. 

Would I feel better had I just admitted to him that I’m also weirdly fascinated, intrigued – fucking attracted – to the poor guy’s disability? 

Wrong!

Each addition to my ramshackle list of wrongs just compounds upon the sharp, icy ache in my belly, until I feel quite ready to purge Antarctica from my stomach. 

I stare at my phone, gazing intently, and delete my previously typed message. I’m barely seeing the M glaring back at me in Amanda’s name. 

It’s black, angular, distorted and impresses deeply on my other nagging curiosity: MS. I quickly give in and type it into the search bar – such is the beauty of modern technology, offering me a crash course in neurodegenerative disease on my way home from the pub. 

I have to lean back after a while, finding myself wholly overloaded with symptoms and stats, facts and figures that may mean absolutely nothing to him – drugs, side effects, complications, types and subtypes, and even mortality rates. The only rational conclusion I dare come to is that MS seems to be fucking nightmare of a disease, turbulent, fickle, insidiously volatile. 

Jesus. 

I close the phone, refusing to face his reality any longer. 

I’m also increasingly aware that there are other people around me, and the last thing I need is for them to have any inkling about my perversion – for what else is it?

***

I’m standing at the bottom of the stairs outside our front door – smoking, of course – when Amanda clip-clops effortlessly up the path in her super skinny stilettos. She immediately reaches out and pulls me into a quick cuddle.

“I’m okay,” I tell her. “Just…” I pull back. “Why? How?”

“I know,” she breathes, standing back and giving me a quick survey. “He’s a good friend, Jo. Honestly. That time with-“

I nod, quickly, closing my eyes and ducking my head.  “Yeah, okay.”

“Jo, babe, I was scared, okay? I was just sat on the stairs by reception at stupid o’clock and shaking and a bit, just, disoriented with everything, and he came through from the lab and stopped and asked what was wrong and I just, I told him.”

I look at her again. Her blue eyes are wide, glassy with unshed tears, imploring me, begging forgiveness.  She continues, harried. “That and, I dunno, he understands this shit Jo, you know? He’s never judged you. In fact, he’s always asked me about you since it happened.”

I pull another drag, stunned. “Seriously?”

She nods. “Yep.”

I shake my head. “I don’t get it.”

She shakes her head, grasping my free hand. “With him, there’s nothing to get. He’s Ben. He’s genuine. He’s amazing really. Countless times, I’ve poured my heart out to him over coffee at lunchtime and he listens and advises and just, is there. Well, okay, normally, it’s work related bullshit, the bloody politics and what-not, how to handle sticky situations, but never-the-less, he’s got this knack for sussing people out and putting things right. He’s wasted being hidden in that lab, you know. Ben should be a bloody ambassador for peace or something.”

I smile at that, a diffused chuckle passing my lips. Peace-maker, yes, I definitely got that impression.

She half turns to me as we climb the few steps toward the flat, a devilish grin on her lips. “You were outside for quite a while with him.”

I have a chance – a slim chance – of salvaging something here. “Um, just a few minutes. He told me what he thinks will fix the car.” I take a long drag on my cigarette, pumping my lungs with smoke and courage. “Listen, d’y’think he’d mind if you gave me his email?” Deep breath. “Just, y’know, to thank him.”

She grins again, ever-so-wickedly, pulling the cigarette from my fingers and taking a slow drag herself. “I’ll do you one better, my dear Jo.” She tosses my nearly finished cigarette in the empty flower pot near the door.

I roll my eyes and simply follow her inside, curiosity driving my feet. 

***

My phone’s reminding me that it’s 23:22. Eleven minutes ago, I had every intention of composing a message, and yet not a single character has been entered.  I squirm again, kicking off the duvet entirely from where it had been tangled about my feet – it’s just too damn hot.  Pin-pricks of heat stab my neck, my lower back, between my thighs.

And I’m questioning my own sanity – I’m teetering dangerously on mania of some sort, my brain a disordered flock of mangled sentences, punctuated by the erratic tempo of my accelerated heartbeat.

No drugs required, either. Ha, go me, right?

The hated curser blinks: off, on, off, on, a mocking fingerprint tap-tap-tapping inside my skull.  The digits of Ben’s phone number seem to crawl toward me. 

“Fuck it,” I murmur, and let my fingers carry themselves.

                Me>>> Hi, it’s Jo. From the pub earlier. Just wanted to thank you. For listening. And understanding. And I’ll tell you how I get on with the car.

I hold my breath when I hit send, the tension mounting as if the phone would spontaneously combust from texting – from texting him. As if by doing it, I’m tempting fate, I’m asking time to stop, I’m asking the world to stop turning because Josie decides to text Ben.

But it doesn’t. Nothing happens. Fate, time, the earth, they’re all right on schedule.

The tick-tick-tick of my bedside alarm clock carries on as it has done. Life continues.

I remind myself that I bear no weight whatsoever in the turning of the world – it carries on, whether I text Ben or not, whether I tempt fate or not, whether I breathe or not.  

I’m a nobody.

                Me>>> And if I offended you, I’m really sorry.


                Me>>> And if I woke you up, I’m sorry too.


I chuck my phone onto the bed and fold my arms over my face, and offer a chastising whisper: 
“Ridiculous, ridiculous, ridiculous.”

The darkness penetrates, surrounds, laying heavy, the clock’s incessant tick-tock a driving base-beat to my heart. I scramble out of bed, shove myself into a rather too-bright red dressing gown and sneak outside to smoke. I’m halfway through angrily shaking a defective lighter that’s dangerously on the brink of being spent when my phone vibrates in my pocket.

I fight to light my cigarette before daring to look.

I could just be Amanda, telling me off again. Yes, it’s got to be…

My phone vibrates again.

I quickly yank it free and draw in a sharp breathe when I read:

                Ben<<< Im awake just studying. No apologies necessary. And happy to listen. I know its not easy. Esp when we are telepathic and know other peoples thoughts. X


                Ben<<< That was meant as a joke. Sorry. Im talented at not engaging brain sometimes lol x

A massive smile cracks my face, a quick chuckle escapes my mouth; I’m incapable of stopping it.

The two kisses received aren’t lost on me either.  

I’m all too eager to type my reply, this time not hesitating – the words flow from my fingertips easily.

                Me>>> Studying anything exciting? And I wasn’t offended at all. Made me laugh actually.


                Ben<<< programming. exciting would not be my adj of choice X


                Me>>> I’ll take your word for it. What’s the right adjective then? Xxx

I admittedly hesitated on the three kisses, but whatever, right?

It seems an age – 6 minutes precisely, before he replies.

                Ben<<< Dry! You always up late? x

                Me>>> So you’re into electronics and programming and word modifiers. Interesting mix, lol. Yeah, a bit of a night owl. Xxx

It’s 9 minutes before he replies, and I find the waiting periods become increasingly stressful.

                Ben<<< I never claimed to be exciting! Realy dont mean to be rude but can we talk tom? Im sorry I just need to sleep. Swear its not personal xxx

I bite my lip, the sharpness of my teeth matching the pang of guilt in my chest. I remember reading about fatigue in MS being quite debilitating.

I know he needs to go, needs to sleep, rest, recuperate. The image of him walking away from me flashes again, and I know that this time, I can’t let it happen again. I can’t. Deep within, buried in the pit of my stomach and in the primordial recesses of my mind so frequently hidden, there’s a churning of our potential, an intrinsic yearning for him that I can’t – I won’t – ignore again.

The necessity for Ben feeds my fingers:

                Me>>> No worries, I understand! I’m sorry if this is really innapropriate but do you finish early on Fridays like Amanda does? Just that I’m off tomorrow and I wondered if maybe you  wanna hang out? Get coffee? There is a place in town called Crème that’s really good  xxx

I hit send, not even bothering to apply the heavy review and edit cycle normally given to any form of written communication I use, because time is of the essence.

But as dutiful as ever, my ramshackle insecurity still imparts a tug of war with my urgency and I’m compelled to offer him an out.

                Me>>> You can say no. I mean, it’s okay if you say no, I won’t be offended or anything. x


                Me>>> Sorry hang out is so American. X

I shove my phone back in my pocket, finishing off my cigarette and trundling back to bed. My phone vibrates as I’m kicking off my slippers, but I wait until I’m safely nested in bed before daring to look – momentarily petrified that he’s declining the invitation.

                Ben<<< stop apologising. And yes. Sounds good. I have an appt after work so meet about 4? Let me know tom x

                Ben<<< Sweet dreams x


I don’t know how many times to be precise – because all rationality departs that instant – but I read, and reread, and reread each message again, and again, and again.  Seconds, minutes, possibly hours later I’m able to place my phone gently beside my bed, and settle myself so still that it’s practically death-like. 

 I’m lulled to sleep encased in a blanket of internal peace I’ve fought to find for years.

***

Peace doesn’t last, of course. I wake up, momentarily still riding my bliss clouds until it dawns on me that I’ve got a quasi-date thing going on and holy fuck, clouds aren’t any protection against the pummelling of nerves.

Date, well, maybe? Possibly? Maybe not. Just coffee, right? Just coffee, just a quick non-alcoholic drink with a guy I barely know… pure platonic and then some.

I take my time getting ready because I need to smoke myself to death between each stage – shower, makeup, hair, clothes. Somewhere inside my helter-skelter routine, I have to put music on, industrial, dark, moody – because it fits, because why try to force a square peg into a round hole, right?

I’m late because of the stupid clock on the oven being slower than I’d expected, because of the stupid road-works forcing me to wait a goddamned eternity at temporary traffic lights.  Thankfully, there’s a parking space in the tiny little car-park across from the café – though I’m even more precious minutes eek by because I’m a pissy, edgy wreck at this point and it’s not the time to have to dig in one’s handbag for spare change for the car park.

The parking ticket tells me it’s 12 minutes past four and I jog across the road, not bothering with the zebra crossing because fortune’s offered me some grace in the form of a convenient gap in the traffic.

I throw myself through the door and a quick survey finds him easily enough, toward the back, dressed in a navy shirt, on the phone.  He catches me eye, lifts his hand in a slow wave, a small smile playing on his mouth. He says a few words more as I carefully walk over, a prickly hot wave of fresh nervousness  washing over me.

He mouths a quiet “Sorry” at me as I sit across from him at the small, round bistro-type table, and I make a big show of sorting through my handbag – bloody typical that I immediately find the pound coin that viciously eluded me moments ago. I know it’s rude, but I listen intently as he’s discussing something about waveform magnitudes, scopes and amplifying something, before gently begging to be released.

The call ends and he quickly places his phone face down on the table, looking somewhat sheepish. “I'm really sorry, we’ve got an apprentice at work and he’s panicking about exams a bit. I feel guilty letting him flap about in panic.” 

I smile warmly, quickly, squashing my bag in my lap and shaking my head. “Don’t worry about it, shit happens, right? Besides, it’s my fault for being late and anyway, it’s awesome you’re helping.” I clutch desperately at my bag, wondering if he’d help me like that? “I mean, I assume that’s what was happening. Um, yeah, I’ll – I’ll uh shut up now.” 

He shakes his head at me, barely breaking eye contact. “Don’t be daft. You’re absolutely fine.”

I smile wanly at that, severing away to sweep the table desperately for some distraction. Nothing. Nada. I’m on the brink of convincing myself that I’ve made a hideously pathetic mistake in even thinking he’d want to be here, with me of all people, when he says the most incredulous thing:

“Jo? It’s okay. Seriously. No pressure.” The words are soft, sweet, delicately whispered.

I stare at him. I feel my mouth part slightly, my tongue suddenly dry and stupidly swollen – I don’t feel capable of coherent speech. I swallow an arid urge to fabricate my well-being, because at that moment, I truly don’t think he’d believe me. Those green eyes meet mine, and I’m split-open before him; neurosis, psychosis, frenzied absurdity, it’s all lain bare. I want to cry, I need to laugh.

I catch him grimace slightly, and subtly shift in the seat. He looks down at the table. “Sorry,” he murmurs. “That may have sounded incredibly condescending, and I honestly didn’t mean it like that, I just-“ He raises his eyes to me again, and I don’t miss a flash of pain, self-doubt, misery; though it’s gone as soon as it’s registered. “I know you’re nervous, and I don’t want you to be, that’s all.”

My feeble tongue still feels distrustfully useless.

Typically, such visceral exchanges between me and new fellow humans never end well. I’m well adept at surveying the land prior to erecting an impenetrable wall that I hide behind in preparation for war. No one’s permitted so close, so quickly.

So why the hell am I letting him in? Why the hell do I need him in?

I succumb to the insanity of it and reach across the table, hesitating briefly before touching my fingers to his. He feels cold, and twitches rather suddenly as I make contact. I retract immediately, feeling the slow burn of rejection, murmuring my apologies and shaking my head at my brazenly foolish attempt at connection.

I’m fucking useless at connecting.  Who was I kidding?

I fumble with my bag, and sling it back over my shoulder, quickly standing. “I-I’m sorry, I shouldn’t-“ I refuse to meet his eyes. “I’m an idiot, I-“

“Jo, stop. Please.”

I feel tears pooling, and I feel words crowding. Useless tears, useless words. “No, Ben, you’re, like, fucking awesome and I-I don’t belong – I’m obviously not- I made a mistake“

He fumbles for but grabs my free hand across the tiny table. “No, no, don’t go. I can’t…” Desperation clings to his tone and he glances about him quickly. “I’m sorry if my hand freaked you out, I swear to god I didn’t mean anything, it’s a spasm, it’s my MS.” He swallows quickly. “I have a lot of degeneration spinal cord, so my nervous system doesn’t work properly; consequently, my muscles don’t either.” 

I feel my face blanche before quickly becoming beetroot, because I could never be so casually flippant about my own issues… somehow, yeah, I was sorta’ tortured for a long time and now my brain’s screwed just doesn’t want roll off the tongue as casually as the weather.

His hand is still cold on mine, but I can’t stop feeling… warmth. Electricity fizzles, ignited somehow as his fingers twitch weirdly against mine.

Ben sighs. “See?” He breaths.

I stare at his wrist, at mine, needing to cement the idea that he’s touching me.

Fuck, the spark of his touch feels capable of emancipating me from my own sordid self.

Our eyes lock and I’m somehow seeing him anew, fresh, tantalising in his willingness to pursue kinship.

It’s bolstering me against the insecurity. I don’t look away.

I hold his stare, I hold his hand, reeling as space between us warps, twists, collapses on itself, though we’re both stone still, silent. Here’s the impasse, I know it – with its torturous, candid electricity between our flesh; I know that this is the bit where our next actions will decide the entirety of our acquaintance, where a film soundtrack is meant to crescendo in anticipation. My feet are conflicted, our hands remain linked; and my brain’s latched on to reciting do I stay, or do I go-go…

I bite my lip, and slowly sit back down again.

I don’t immediately release his hand, instead offering a delicate squeeze, which he gently reciprocates, a faint smile forming a tightrope between us.

And when the brutal impasse has crumpled, I relinquished Ben’s hand back, and force mine firmly back in my lap, fingers brutally picking at my fingernails.

The silence between us has solidified, and now feels frighteningly impenetrable. I don’t understand – have I screwed this up? Has my impermanence forced another tick into my pathetic litany of failed relationships? “Sorry,” I murmur, unsure what else needs to be said.

He shrugs, and it seems that to him, we’re suddenly back to just getting coffee.

My mind feels ready to break apart, because the more I feel compelled to present myself as balanced, the more my instability shows through the cracks.

He speaks, normally: “Jo? Honestly, there’s nothing to be sorry for.”

Yeah, just me freaking out, it’s all gravy, dude...

Anyway, what can I get you? Because-“ And he braces against the table to scoot forward slowly in the chair.

But I cut him off, grasping desperately at a menial task to orient myself. “Uh, no, my turn, because you paid last night.” A convenient excuse; though I’m more worried about the logistics of his carrying a tray of coffee across a busy coffee shop after briefly glancing at the walker situated behind him. I stand again, digging in my handbag for my purse, where I remove a crumpled £10 note and leave my handbag on the table – because the logistics of carrying a tray of coffee with a handbag liable to sliding off the shoulder are also problematic.

Plus, this way he won’t think me a fat pig for getting two sugars, because what he doesn’t know won’t hurt him, right?

He asks for a decaf iced coffee, no ice – interesting for a guy – and gives a quick smile. I notice his eyes drop, looking toward his hand on the table.

I reach out, and simply brush my fingers against his, craving… him, and damnably bold in my doing so. “Hey,” I whisper, leaning close. “I gotta’ do this. Because I’m so anxious I’m going to, like, pick the paint off the table soon. Simple tasks are good for me.”

His brows furrow. “Um, it’s pure aluminium.”

“Exactly.” I say, pulling away to go get coffee. “We gotta’ get this, um, date-thing back on track, right?” And I cringe as I turn around, desperate the smack my own forehead because god, why do I do that?! Go from needy bitch to flirty whore and back again before I’ve even fetched coffee.

Walking back after the usually arduous coffee ordering debacle, I’m careful to balance the tray of liquid just right to prevent the oh-so-predictable tumble to the floor, and I don’t meet his eyes, keeping mine locked on the coffee levels. 

I notice he uses both hands to slowly lift the plastic iced coffee container off the tray. It dawns on me then that maybe he can’t grip well, or can’t lift well, or possibly can’t use his hands properly? I’m not sure. I wonder if the iced coffee thing is more for the ease of lifting – plastic is a hell of a lot lighter than oversized ceramic bowls disguised as mugs.

I remember last night, and I’m thankful the barista placed a straw through the lid.

I sit down and make a slow performance of stirring sugar (yeah, two, whatever) into my coffee, guilty embarrassment twinging painfully from my earlier ridiculous comments.

“Thanks,” He says. Amazing how his voice just seems to melt the ache away. “Apparently, if you don’t watch the tops of the mug when balancing liquid, it’s easier to keep level.”

I look up, deftly raising my own stupidly full coffee to my mouth. Delay tactics. I’m good at those – sometimes. 

He picks at the straw. “My sister. She’s full of little tit-bits like that. But has got about as much common sense as a hallway carpet.”

I smile at the analogy, but my lips feel a bit disjointed; I’m aching for some form of contact again.
I make do with his eyes.

He stares into mine, and I note his eyes narrow ever-so-slightly, and I’m quickly paranoid that I’ve made the fatal mistake of barking up the wrong tree entirely – doubt swirls, tapering my previously daring confidence. “I’m sorry,” I murmur again, “I mean, I understand. I think I got this this wrong, so if you’re like, seeing someone, or-“ I squeeze my eyes shut to block him out, to stop myself seeing the way his gaze subtly shifts from carefully guarded restraint to moderately abject surprise – the majority of which is in his eyes, so beautifully trained on me, so wretchedly nearly skinning me alive with their quiet brilliance.

I hear him shift. “Jo, no, you’ve not got this wrong. I just…” He stops.

I force myself to stare at my cup to avoid those eyes, to compose myself. It doesn’t seem to work and I chuckle. “This is becoming a trend or something, me getting all stupid and emotional. And we barely know each other.”

“That’s – Okay, hold that thought for a sec,” he says, and in the midst of more shifting, I look up to see he’s pulled the walker in front of him and is slowly levering up to his feet.  Almost as soon as he’s nearly standing, his legs start to subtly quiver and I don’t miss the exasperation in the brief twitch of his lips. A self-conscious glance to the left confirms he’s got a bit of an audience; my own fascination is boiling inside and I hate myself fiercely for being unable to pull my eyes away from his shaking legs, those bent knees, the way it obviously takes a few attempts to force that left foot to move just a few inches.

I’m suddenly rather confused; I’m not quite grasping the point of this obviously taxing exercise.  I watch as he quickly reaches for the empty chair next to me, yanks it out further and then performs a hasty, clumsy pivot to before gently lowering himself down again.

And I get it – he’s moved closer to me. I attempt to shatter my mug by squeezing it to death, because his new proximity is making the burning desperation to touch him all the more potent.

“Look,” he breathes, and his eyes meet those of the strangers watching his earlier movement. There’s no dare, no fight, no offer of anything except his gentle acquiescence, and he just looks straight back at me. “Last night, I walked outta’ there pretty intrigued by you. The discussion we had certainly isn’t what I would normally talk about with people I’d just met, least of all women - not that I talk to lots of women or anything,” He chuckles, it’s more self-deprecating than mirthful, and I feel an overwhelming twinge of empathy.

So, as casually as possible, I place my hand over his. “Me neither. Guys, though. I mean, I don’t talk to a lot of guys. So please tell me you’re single,” I murmur.

Now he laughs, nodding slightly. “Yeah, you’ve nothing to worry about there.”

And of course, despite the beautiful direction this conversation is heading, the inevitable hangs there, taunting me – and I echo it: “But?”

Ben sighs, staring at the table. “I honest to god am flattered Jo, truly, but I need to be straight with you. This, me, my disease, it’s not going to get better.” There’s a brief pause before he seems to force his eyes back to mine. “I have primary progressive MS. Progressive being the operative word.”

A stone sinks in my gut – I’m unable to tell if it’s excitement or dread. 

He continues. “Normally, people with MS have a relapse and then improve. Mine doesn't work like that. I won’t improve, I'll just slowly get worse over time." A nervous swallow. "I’m honestly not saying this to scare you, or force your hand, or make you pity me or anything like that, I just need you to know what you’re getting yourself into here.” There’s a new fervour in those green eyes, a dare staring back at me; but I also register the insecurity, the shame, even the fear.

Which matches my own because the first thought I have is that he’s going to die at some ridiculously young age, and I feel myself tear up – stupid, stupid, stupid – but he must have understood.

Or he saw it – I had the look again, the one we both so casually bonded over less than 24 hours ago. God, I really am an idiot.

He’s probably used to it – idiots, that is.

He just squeezes my hand gently. “I’m not going to die from it, if that’s what you’re thinking.” Relief must have poured from my face, for he cracks a rather cocky smirk that’s bordering on incredibly sexy.

A glum giggle escapes my mouth. “God, I’m that transparent, aren’t I?” Of course, I want to probe, to ask a million questions, to understand precisely what worse entails, but it’s not right, not yet.

Ben smiles that sweet, kind smile. “You do seem to wear your heart on your sleeve.”

Tell me about it, I think, and I know that it’s now or never; without much pushing, the words spill out, unbidden in an attempt to rekindle our earlier connection, however short-lived. “It wasn’t pity, Ben. I swear. I just – you’re –“ I squeeze gently at his fingertips, feeling him return the gesture with that typically odd spasm; except this time, it imparts much more comfort than surprise and spurs me to continue. “It’s – fuck’s sake, I don’t know. I feel something about you. Crazy, I know, because I only met you less than 24 hours ago but there's something about you, I feel it. Something good. I don’t know how else to say it. I just, god, I know this sounds entirely fucking crazy, but please, I’m not trying to dick you around or screw with your head. I’m just trying to make you understand that I’m serious here and this isn’t some sick joke or something.” I swallow hard, my voice becoming a dark whisper. “Please believe me. I’ve had sick jokes played on me before and it’s cruel, and I swear to god I don’t do cruel.”

Ben nods, slowly, quietly, gently. “Jo, you don’t have to explain yourself. It’s not crazy, okay? I believe you.”

“You do?”

He gives me a delicate smile, reassuring. “Yeah, I do.” He pulls away from my fingers to pick up his drink and take a long sip. “I get the impression something… bad… happened.”

I feel myself go beyond white, and a sinking sickness scours my belly.

He continues, eyes fervently wider, “No, no, it’s okay, you don’t have to tell me, you don’t have to ever talk about it if you don’t want to.” His hand comes back to mine, eyes sincerely locked on mine. “Let’s just, go slow. I’m no good at fast these days. I-If that’s - is that okay?”

I smile, only offering him a simple nod, a warmth spreading throughout that disintegrates the knot in my belly and quiets the discord in my head. It’s incredible. It’s immense. It’s fucking perfect in its gentility and for the first time in my entire life, I’m beginning to understand just what freedom from myself could feel like: 

It could feel like love.