I woke up around 9:30, with a stuffy nose and puffy eyes. Toss in the not-so-pleasant ice cream hangover and I looked as chewed up as I felt.
Friday wasn’t a good day for meetings. Kellan and I would have been drafting documents. I guess he still would be. I would be driving back to Charlotte after I got ready to go. I couldn’t believe that a possible relationship that had started out so beautifully had crashed so miserably in four days. That was a record for me.
I shuffled through my morning routine and dragged my bags down to the front desk. No pep in my step today and I went out to load my car.
I knew what I would be listening to on the drive home today: Tool, Cake, Chevelle – all of the music I had listened to with Kellan. All of the CDs we had in common in our collections.
I had been on the road for less than an hour when the tears started again. It had been right, damn it! We fit. I had never responded to anyone the way I responded to him. And I lost him because neither of us was ready? What would it take to get us ready? I didn’t have the answers on my own. That would take some brainstorming sessions and creative solution planning.
I pulled into a service station to fill the gas tank. I wouldn’t make it back to Charlotte on half a tank. As I stood there watching the numbers on the display tick tick tick, I began to get angry. Surely he knew that we were right, too. He had let me get close only to push me away. He was afraid, damn it. So was I, but I decided I wasn’t ready to accept defeat, not yet.
A right turn would take me back onto the road to Charlotte. So I turned on my left blinker and swung my car around. I couldn’t leave this way and I was gong to let him know just that.
I drove too fast on the way back to River Canyon. I was in jeans, a t-shirt, and sneakers. Not exactly business attire, even for casual Friday. I didn’t’ care. I had to see Kellan.
The receptionist recognized me and smiled. “You are looking for Kellan Tierney?”
I nodded. “It is a surprise though.”
“Okay.” She grinned. She picked up the phone and called him and didn’t tell him I was the visitor.
I couldn’t sit down. I paced until I heard the elevator doors open. I stopped, watching, waiting for his reaction. He wheeled off, which surprised me. He saw me and looked like he was ready to turn back around, which didn’t surprise me.
I saw the same hurt and anger in his eyes and I felt myself crumbling inside again. I would do anything to get that look out of his eyes.
“Kellan. It is lunchtime. I am taking you to lunch. We have some things to discuss.”
“No, we don’t. I said all I have to say.” He kept his voice quiet so the receptionist couldn’t easily overhear us.
“I have something to say. Are you going to make me say it here in the lobby or are you going to give me the chance to preserve my dignity and yours?” I kept a sweet smile on my face so onlookers would not know we were arguing.
He looked around. I knew how important his reputation for being extremely competent and self-assured was to him. I knew he wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize that. He nodded and wheeled toward me.
“I am driving this time.” I said as I held the door for him.
“Holding me hostage?” He shot back, glaring.
“At least until you hear me out.” I admitted.
“I have a handicapped parking placard in my car we can use for yours.” He sounded tired. “With me in the chair, you want it.”
I wondered if he had gotten any more sleep than I had. My guess was no.
“Okay. So we stop by your car first.”
We did and he got the placard, handing it to me without a word. I hadn’t expected silence.
“I will move my car over here. Just a second.”
I was a little afraid he would bolt back for the building, but he didn’t. He was waiting in front of an empty space. I parked and he wheeled over. I got up and went around to the passenger side to take his chair to stow it in the back seat. He transferred and I watched the process yet again, really watching this time, since I was standing right beside him. I had watched before, but never from this vantage point. I hadn’t wanted to stare before, not when it would be obvious that I was doing so. This time I stared. I wanted to know everything he did. I was determined to learn exactly what it meant for him to be a paraplegic. It was the only way he would let me into his world. I understood that now.
I got in the car after he was buckled in and his chair was in pieces behind him. He looked out the window, away from me, as I turned the key in the ignition. The same Chevelle CD we had listened to came on, very loud, and he looked at me.
“Nostalgic already?” His tone stung.
“I like Chevelle.” And I like you. “You aren’t a jerk, Kellan and I didn’t come here to fight with you.”
“Why are you here, Heather?”
No anger now. Honest curiosity and a tinge of disbelief.
“I told you last night that I like you. That I want to be with you. That hasn’t changed. Everything that happened last night, even you telling me to get lost, didn’t change any of that. Jesus, Kellan, I have never responded to anyone the way I respond to you. I have never felt like I clicked with anyone the way I click with you. I couldn’t just slink back to Charlotte with my tail tucked between my legs because you told me to.”
He looked at me now. Puzzled. “Seems like the best reason I know.”
I smiled. “One thing I have learned from you while working on this project is that you have to stick up for what you feel is the best solution. Examine it from all sides. Defend it. If it goes down after thorough examination, then perhaps it wasn’t the best solution after all. But it deserves due diligence. We deserve due diligence, Kellan.”
He shook his head. “I never imagined I would hear project manager lingo used to defend a relationship. Sounds like something I would say.”
I reached over, put my hand on his thigh. I knew he couldn’t feel my touch, but the gesture was important to me. “We moved too fast.” I said softly, quietly. “I am sorry for that.”
“I was right there with you, Heather.”
Another good project manager trait. Accept responsibility.
Then he put his hand over mine and I knew then all was not lost. I felt that goofy schoolgirl grin again.
“I know we can’t back up the timeline. I know we can’t change what has already happened. Can we chalk that up to ‘lessons learned’ and move forward with the knowledge?” It was easier still to speak indirectly in safe business terminology. I wanted to get past that, too. But I knew he understood this language.
He moved his hand and my heart sank again. I moved my hand back to the steering wheel.
“Do you want me to take you back?” I offered.
He thought it over. Shook his head. “No. Not really.”
I nodded. That was encouraging.
“Where are you taking me, anyway?” he asked.
I shrugged. “I really hadn’t planned much beyond getting you in the car because I didn’t truly expect to get that far. I halfway expected you to wait until we got outside of the building before you really let me have it for interrupting your work and your life.”
He actually laughed and I laws taken aback by the sound. I had not expected to see humor from him at all. Not today.
“I wanted the interruption. I need the interruption. I have spent almost every waking moment since I accepted my disability working to put my life back into some semblance of what it was before. And I have succeeded at work and in cycling. I had pretty much given up on being with anyone again for more than a date or two. I knew I had no chance once the clothes came off. I felt vindicated last night when everything unraveled. I knew you were too good to be true. I knew I couldn’t make you happy. It ended the way I thought it would. And here you are, telling me that I am wrong.”
“You don’t hear that often, do you?” I took my eyes off the road for a second to look at him. “That you are wrong?”
“What do you think?”
No smile. All serous again. I had a knack for stepping on his toes.
“Given your reaction, I would say, no, you don’t hear it often. That I came to see you today means that I disagree with you. I think you can make me happy. More importantly, I think I can make you happy. I at least want to try.”
“After what you learned last night, you still want to be with me?”
I nodded. “Yes.”
“What is wrong with you?” He snapped.
“What?” I wasn’t used to testy Kellan.
“What is wrong with you? How long are you going to want to stay with a man who can’t get it up?”
“As long as you will let me.” I answered honestly. “Listen, please. I will try to make you understand. I can get my brains fucked out by almost anyone. I can’t get someone to make me laugh like you do. I can’t get someone whose touch is the right touch. That is you, Kellan. Whatever else we have to do differently or not at all is okay with me. That is what I am trying to tell you. What you give me is far more valuable to me than a stiff dick.”
He winced at my last words. I really needed to find a place for us to get out of the car to have this discussion.
“You don’t know what being with me will be like, Heather. There is more to it than just not being able to get it up. There are things I have to do, routines I have to follow, to keep my body functioning like it should. None of them are pleasant or things that should be mentioned in polite company.”
I was headed down into the Fan. There were several really good restaurants down there. Not that we could have the conversation we were about to have in a public place. I had done the research last night. I had some idea of what he was talking about.
“Do you have to be right so badly that you will do anything to scare me off? Try again. You have a bowel and bladder routine. You use a catheter to empty your bladder. You have to do skin checks...” I started rattling off, trying to be gentle, but wanting him to know I understood more than he thought.
He looked startled. “How do you know?”
“I did the research I should have done in the beginning, Kellan. I didn’t know anything about spinal cord injuries and I was so busy trying to convince you that it didn’t matter to me that you are disabled that I didn’t listen to you when you were trying to teach me what you wanted me to know. Now I know. And I am still here.”
He shook his head. “You are insane.”
“Or in love.”
He wrinkled his nose in distaste. It was to-die-for cute and I stifle a laugh.
“Heather, that is about the sappiest thing I have heard you say.”
“There will be more, I promise.”
He relaxed, leaning back in his seat.
“I have said my piece, Kellan.” I was serous again. “Am I taking you to lunch or taking you back to work?”
“Lunch, back to work so I can get my stuff and close out for the day and then we are going to plan how we are going to spend the weekend. We can finish up the documents next week while you are here.”
“I get to stay?” I wanted to hear it from him.
I squealed. He cringed and started laughing.
He put his hand on my thigh this time. I had a fairly good idea how we would spend at least part of this weekend and I felt that goofy smile spread itself across my face again.
I was ready.
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