Byron entered the ballroom slightly late as was his habit at these events. He had not arrived at the hotel late. He simply sat in his car listening to the game on a portable radio until he imagined most of the guests were seated. He never was much of a fan of the "meet and greet" end of things. His deep green eyes scanned the room until he found his friend Eddie right in the thick of things! He looked around at the tastefully decorated room and the happy faces of the attending donors and again said a silent prayer of thanks that he had partnered himself with a marvel like Eddie.
He quickly checked the stack of index cards in his breast pocket. He was prepared for his one and only duty this evening. He had to give an inspirational speech about the work of the foundation. It chaffed his pride but he knew that the sight of him in the chair inspired pity in the hearts of some of the foundation’s most generous donors. Pity brought in the needed funds to keep the whole operation going. He didn’t like being the "Jerry’s Kid" of the evening but for the sake of the men and women who needed the services, he was willing to sacrifice his dignity for one evening a year.
Byron checked his ticket to find his table number. It was probably near the stage and he began to make his way toward the few tables arranged in that area. Even though his and Roger’s were the only wheelchairs in the room that night, Byron noted that the tables were widely spaced to make travel easier.
Eddie always thought of the small things... well, not so small in Byron's world. It was awkward and uncomfortable to make an entire room of people rearrange furniture just so he could get to his table. The thoughtful furniture arrangement allowed him to whisk by without even brushing an arm.
The silent entrance was also good because even though he wanted to see Eddie and make sure everything was under control. He didn't actually want to talk to his friend just now. He knew if he did, the "fix up" was inevitable and he wanted to postpone that as long as possible.
He finally found his table and the place card with his name on it. He was seated across from a blonde woman whose back was turned when he rolled up. She was talking to a smiling couple and he could here the husky timbre of her voice. "Damn!" he thought. He'd been trying so hard to avoid the set up and here he'd most likely wheeled right into it!
"Double damn!" he couldn't help but repeat to himself. And Eddie knew exactly what kind of woman he liked too. She was slender but not like the stick figures that always pranced anemically across the TV screen. Her back was soft and tapered gently at the waist. She was sitting but he could imagine her pert rear gently swelling below his line of sight gracing the satin covered chair. He had a feeling when she turned that she’d be equally well appointed on the front. He could just hear the sound of her rich laughter over the pulsing of hot blood in his ears.
What on earth was Eddie thinking?!? Women like this one were exactly what all guys were looking for, but he’d met his fair share of them since he’d been on wheels. They were invariably gorgeous and polite, and definitely not in the market for cripples! Oh well, at least he wouldn’t have to deal with gently turning down some buck toothed spinster! She’d take care of the rejection. In the meantime, he’d at least get a nice view for the evening.
She finally said her goodbyes and turned startled to find someone sitting in the space across from her. Yes, it was just as Byron suspected. She was even more stunning from the front. He could see her full bust pushing itself out of the front of her low cut blouse but he remembered his manners quickly and pulled his glance upward to her full lips which were wryly grinning at him as if she knew what he was staring at.
There was a faint trace of a scar which pulled at the right side of her grin and made it slightly but charmingly crooked. The scar traced itself upward along her cheek and ended at the corner of her eye which was also pulled ever so slightly. He hardly noticed though as he lost himself in the startling pale blue.
It was probably several minutes before she looked away self consciously and made him realize he was making a gaping idiot out of himself. He managed a smile and prayed his voice wouldn’t break as he spoke, “Hello, I’m Byron Forrester.” What a relief! Even though he felt like a gawking 12 year old boy, at least he sounded like a man still!
“I’m Katrina Black.” she held out a long beautiful hand which he grasped in his calloused grip. She had a surprisingly firm handshake and he felt just a little dirty prolonging the contact just a bit. It had been a long time since he’d touched a woman and her soft delicately scented hand sent crackles of electricity through him.
An awkward silence stretched between them. Finally her eyes stopped upon the breast pocket opposite his speech notes and immediately lit up. “Were you listening to the game?” she asked. He looked down and tucked the earpiece wire deeper into the pocket and nodded sheepishly. “Oh great! I’ve been dying to know the score. I don’t know why they always plan these events for big game nights.”
He smiled—a woman who loved football. She’d better be careful or he’d be asking for her hand in marriage before the evening was through. “When I left my car, LA was up by 7.” She pumped the air with her fist. He neglected to mention that he had actually been rooting for the other team to win. Wouldn’t want to contradict her just when they’d found common conversation ground.
He pulled the radio from his pocket and set it on the table. “I think maybe I better leave this here for now. Wouldn’t want it falling out when I go up on stage,” he leaned in conspiratorially, “besides, if my speech gets really boring for you, you can always flip it on to check the score for both of us!” He winked at her as she graced him with another of her musical laughs.
“Only if you promise to check again during mine!” This evening was going to turn out much better than he could have imagined. -----------------------------------------------------
Katrina gave a start when she turned to see the handsome man sitting across from her. He’d apparently been sitting there boring holes into the back of her head and the couple she’d been talking to hadn’t even glanced in his direction. Too busy trying to get a good long look at her ruined face, she supposed.
It may have been Katrina’s imagination but it seemed like half the room was trying to steal glances in her direction. She’d arrived early to spare herself the scene of everyone staring as she limped her way to the table. She’d sat there alone for hours as person after couple after group found some excuse to come up and talk to her or borrow things from her table.
It was better when they were at least direct about it. “You look… great!” they’d say, not even trying to sound convincing. This was definitely harder than she thought it would be. It was probably going to take a solid month living as a complete hermit to knit together the bruises her ego suffered tonight.
The last couple had been the worst. They hadn’t even tried to sound encouraging. “Oh god! How did you ever live through the devastation?” She’d laughed it off but their assessment of her appearance definitely stung. It was a relief when they finally left and she turned to find this man ripped straight off a romance novel cover sitting in front of her.
In the dim light of the dining hall, his eyes were the deepest green she’d ever seen. Almost like sun dappled spruce trees. His hair was dark and short and he’d rubbed in generous amounts of mousse apparently to tame stubborn curls into submission. His skin was tanned as if he’d spent a month lying on a beach in the Caribbean. She suspected though that his complexion was naturally swarthy. He wore a fitted tux and her hands idly itched as she thought of reaching out to touch the starched shirt to feel if his chest was as well muscled as she imagined.
After she’d taken her brief appreciative appraisal of him, she noticed he was also sizing her up. His eyes landed first on her chest and she could almost see him check himself mentally and raise his eyes. He inevitably found the scar as everyone did and she braced herself for the new comment from her table mate. She was quite surprised when he simply introduced himself.
She felt a little guilty prolonging the handshake just a bit. His hands were a bit rough and calloused and he smelled like aftershave and the outdoors. The effect was positively intoxicating for a woman who’d been on a very long dry spell.
The conversation flowed freely through the cocktails and appetizers and the tablemates both felt at ease in each other’s company. The topics were superficial but abundant and the silences were companionable. They’d even stooped to putting their heads together and speculating about the private lives of the people at surrounding tables. It was childish they both knew but it did help Katrina put her own unpleasant experiences of the evening into perspective.
After the initial stare at her face, Byron didn’t even seem to notice the scar. He talked directly to her and not as if she were a tragic figure. He didn’t even seem to recognize her at all. He simply talked to her like she was a friend. Katrina had sorely needed that. Even now, five years out of the spotlight, she still had few if any real friends. It was just so nice to have a regular conversation with a regular guy she truly wanted to just thank him.
Byron was almost disappointed when the pleasant evening had to be interrupted by his speech but he caught a glimpse of Eddie stepping up to the podium to introduce him. “Well looks like I’m going to have to leave you soon.”
She smiled at him again. “Not forever I hope! I can’t imagine what I would have done without you so far. I don’t think I can face the rest of the evening without you here.”
It was his turn to laugh. “I’m not sure my company is quite that good!”
“I’m having a great time. I can’t tell you how nice it is to finally talk to someone normal!”
The smile left his face just as Eddie announced his name. “Damn!” He’d been doing a lot of swearing that evening. He’d almost convinced himself that she might not mind a guy in a chair. But of course, she probably didn’t realize the truth. When she saw, her opinion would definitely change. He unlocked the wheels of his chair and rolled back to give her a full view of himself. “Sorry, guess I’m not so ‘normal’ after all.”
She opened her mouth but he didn’t give her a chance to speak as he wheeled away from her and up the podium. After the speech he didn’t go back to the table. He wanted to spare them both the stammered excuses she’d have surely come up with by now. He simply exited through the curtain and out the side door. Eddie would be upset that he hadn’t stayed but he could contend with that later.
To be continued....