The little coffeeshop had become something of a refuge for me over the summer. Hidden in the back corner of campus, it was small and quaint. It gave me all the silence I lusted for, which led me to become quite the regular on those hot summer days when life just seemed too much. For this reason, his presence was initially not welcome. With him came the end of the summer, the end of the quiet, and the beginning of what I felt was sure to be another semester from hell.
My first day back in class proved to be just that. After a change of major that left me wholly confused and near-penniless, the only thing I wanted was my daily soy latte and a little solace in my very brief lunch hour. When I arrived at the coffeeshop, I was horrified to find it full to the brim and clattering with first-day-of-classes excitement. A table of guys stared at me when I passed, and I flipped my hair as I continued up to the counter.
I was perturbed to have to wait for him at first, but my anger diminished quickly as I took in the situation. Standing behind him, I was unable to see his face, but what I did observe had be squirming with an uncomfortable heat.
His shoulders were toned and hard. Even in the loose shirt he wore, there was no concealing his firmly taut muscles. The low backrest of his chair hide the rest of his torso just as it began to dwindle away and become painfully thin. Feigning impatience, I let out a long sigh and shifted to stand beside him.
A sideways glance showed his strong hands positioned firmly on the pushrims of his angled wheels. He heaved a sigh of his own before powerfully pushing himself off the padded seat of his chair. Thin legs swayed and his knees splayed apart as he settled back down. I thought I might choke on the heat flushed across my body.
His food came at that moment, and I realized he must have been left to order it for an entire group. He took two of the water glasses between his parted thighs, but hesitated when it came to the hot drinks.
“Hey Chris,” a voice called out from behind us, singsong and dripping with amusement. “Looks like you could use some help.”
His smile was electrifying as he turned his gaze from the plates of food. It settled on me for a moment, found me gazing at his motionless legs. I jolted out of my thoughts and looked away. “Too late Mitch,” he called back, turning his attention to some distant point beyond me. “I already dropped your sandwich. That’s what you get for sending a cripple to get your food.”
My ears burned pink. Little did I know this was all for my benefit.
“Why don’t you ask the girl behind you for help?” The beginning of my lifelong resentment of Mitch was set into motion. “She’s been gawking at you for the past few minutes.” Now I was giving serious consideration to digging a hole in the floorboards and crawling in.
“Wouldja mind?” His only comment to me. I couldn’t speak, but it didn’t seem to matter. As he handed me plates and cups to shuffle, it became obvious he wasn’t waiting for an answer.
I stayed behind him as he wheeled the short distance to his table. His eyes were in his lap, watching the water inside the plastic glasses slosh precariously on the verge of disaster. Pausing at the table I had just passed with the haughty hair-flick, he began to unload the contents of his lap. I slammed a sandwich down in front of a smirking guy I assumed to be Mitch, and Chris looked up to me with a grin.
“Actually, that one’s mine,” he laughed, evidently loving this. A beat of silence followed with him examining me examining him. “It’d work better for me if you slid in first,” Chris finally stated, motioning to the bench beside us. Once again, feeling myself robbed of choice, I slid into the short space.
He wheeled up alongside the wooden bench and set the brakes of his chair. Bending over, he stuck an arm behind both calves and casually knocked both feet to the ground. His ankles crossed, but he let them. Setting one forearm on the table, the other hand next to his hip on the chair, he heaved his body upwards.
I drummed my fingertips on the table and forced my gaze everywhere but on him as he repositioned himself once more. “So,” he finally said after he was settled in. I turned my eyes back to his face and felt another jolt of untamed fervor. “What do you want to know?”
“Excuse me?” I mumbled, my face showing a sufficient amount of confusion.
“Oh, come on,” he laughed, crossing his arms in front of his chest. Suddenly that cramped space seemed vast. I found myself turning into him, curling one leg under me on the bench. My kneecap pressed against his denim-encased thigh as I made the same motion, giving him a hard look of misunderstanding. “Mitch here says you were staring at me. What is it you’d like to know?”
I gazed across the table to where that idiot Mitch was elbowing the guy next to him and exchanging high fives under the table. An eyebrow raise was all the response I could justify as I gazed around the bench of smirking testosterone. While I didn’t know for certain, I had enough sense to figure out the situation. This was a game to them; catching someone in the act of gawking at their friend and ganging up to embarrass the hell out of the guilty party.
“Yeah, I was,” I finally admitted with a shrug of indifference. I let a stroke of quiet ripple throughout the table. All seemed impressed that I had caved so easily. Mitch cracked his fingernails and waited for the coup de grace as Chris took a drink of his coffee, evidently quite pleased. “I couldn’t help it, you’re cute.”
Evidently this wasn’t the answer Chris had expected. He sputtered into his coffee, and for a second the table went deathly still. Setting the mug back down on the table, he gazed long and hard at my expression, as though scrutinizing it for any signs of teasing. I merely shrugged.
Finally, his eyes found their way down to my legs. He frowned a bit upon seeing my kneecap pushed into his thigh. I noticed this and smiled, moving a hand to wrap long fingertips around it in response. Even through the full material of his jeans I could tell there was a good degree of atrophy. My entire palm curled around easily, and I thought I could have effortlessly secured the limb all the way around with the tips of both hands’ fingertips.
“I can’t feel that,” he admitted at last, blinking a few times and setting his hand firmly against mine. I felt his callused fingertips slip under and begin to remove my grip and all I could do was pout in return.
“Hmm, that’s too bad,” I whispered, leaning close to his earlobe. “Why don’t you show me what you can feel?”
to be continued...
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