I didn’t sleep very well in the hotel room. Too excited in an unfamiliar environment. Carrie and I had gone out dancing for a little while after dinner, to one of the lesbian bars in Carytown. Not great for picking up or getting picked up, but a really great place to dance. I came back to the hotel thoroughly exhausted. It had been unsettling to not find sleep. Needless to say, when the alarm clock buzzed I yearned for a few more hours. But the thought of meeting Kellan pulled me out of bed.
I had chosen my outfit carefully. I am not usually a skirt and dress person, but I had decided to be daring since I would be meeting Kellan and representatives of the business unit. I am just over 5 feet tall, so, a shorter skirt and heels gave me the illusion of some height. I had managed to get my hair to pretend to be straight and it was holding the short bob well. I looked professional. The butterflies in my stomach made me feel very unprofessional. Have I mentioned I have some self-confidence issues?
I unplugged my laptop from the charger and shoved it in my briefcase. I unplugged my cell phone from its charger and shoved it into my briefcase, too. Checked my watch, checked the mirror one last time, and decided to go meet the man whose face I now knew from Carrie’s photos.
River 3 loomed before me; all glass and steel and ultra-modern. I think Richmond battled itself trying to decide if it was a Southern or Northern city. The business park felt like it was going more for the urban East coast than the traditional Southern. That was okay, too.
I asked for Kellan at the receptionist’s desk, and then took my seat after she had gotten him on the phone. The lobby was decorated in a soothing gray and mauve. I tried to relax, but found myself sitting on the edge of my seat, trying to find some natural pose for my hands. My heart was pounding. I knew what to expect. Carrie had shots of him in the handcyle with all his gear on and one of him in his wheelchair with the rest of the team. He was cuter than I had dared imagine.
I looked up as I heard the elevator bing and the doors opened. I did get a surprise. He wasn’t in a wheelchair. I smiled as he approached.
He stopped just inside the reception area, supporting his weight on shiny black forearm crutches. “Heather?”
I would know that voice anywhere. “Hi, Kellan.” I stood up as he crutched over. “Nice to meet you in person.” He shifted his weight to his left crutch and extended his hand. I took it. His hand was warm and strong and his simile lit up his dark blue eyes. The arms that showed below the short sleeves of his shirt were toned and sleekly muscled. He was even cuter in person. The photos hadn’t done him justice.
“I need to sign you in.” He let go of my hand and went over to the receptionist. I watched the way he moved. He planted both crutches in front of him and then swung his braced legs so that his feet landed even with the crutch tips. I was fascinated, watching his strong arms take all of his weight while his feet were in the air.
The receptionist asked for my badge, wrote down the number, and had Kellan sign a book. Left-handed, I noticed.
“Come on up.” He turned back to me. “My office isn’t’ huge, but there is space for you to work.”
I followed him to the elevators, up to the tenth floor. We had the usual idle chitchat in the elevator, about my trip, the hotel, and the weather. I didn’t dare tell him I already knew so much about him. It would probably spook him a little.
As we walked down the hall, he pointed out the essentials: bathroom, break room, his office, which was in between the two. We turned back.
He had an actual office with a door and a window. There were no offices with doors in my building. It was a rabbit warren all the way. It wasn’t’ a huge office, like he had said, but it was all his. There was a table in the right-hand corner, opposite the door. I stood just inside the doorway, waiting for him to tell me what to do.
“The table is for you.” He sat down, leaned his crutches against his desk and unlocked his braces.
I walked in quickly and kept my back to him as he reached down to adjust his legs. I fiddled with getting my laptop out of the briefcase. I flipped open my laptop, took out all the cables. “Do you have a hub?”
“Under my desk in the floor.”
“Same as my office.”
He backed up toward the window to give me room to get to the hub
“I’ve got it.” I said too quickly and dropped to the floor in front of his desk. Dammed short skirt. I would have to be careful or I would flash the passersby in the hallway. Under the desk, I shoved the cable into the data port and found myself staring at Kellan’s feet, held securely in the metal braces, clad in brown leather Dr. Martens oxfords. I slid back out from under the desk and straightened my skirt. I turned to the table rummage through my briefcase again.
He grabbed the edge of his desk and pulled himself under it and began typing without saying anything.
I stood, waiting, with the power cord in my hand. He looked up. “Yes?”
“I need to plug it in.”
“Oh.” He pushed back again so I could get back under the desk.
I got the power cord plugged in, slid back out, trying not to stare at his feet this time, got my clothes straightened and sat down at the table to boot up my machine.
“I sent you the file with the revised project plans Friday afternoon.” I remarked as I watched my little laptop wake up.
“I am reviewing it now.”
I nodded and opened my email. Nothing new since I left Friday afternoon.
“I didn’t schedule any new meetings for today.” Kellan looked up from the screen. “I wanted us to spend today looking through what we have and deciding where we need to go. We will start meeting with the business unit tomorrow, beginning with Doug Shepherd.”
“Seems like a logical choice.” I commented. And with that, we got to work.
I realized it was lunchtime because my stomach growled. Neither of us had moved from our seats for three hours. We had gone through all of Melissa’s existing documentation, decided what we could keep, what needed to be removed from the site. We had separated the factual from the erroneous and were beginning to get a pretty clear picture of just how little Melissa had actually accomplished. It was scary to think she had been working on this project for months.
“She didn’t understand what she was supposed to be doing.” Kellan commented, shaking his head. “And we need to take a break.”
I leaned back in my chair and stretched. “Is there a cafeteria in the building?”
“There is.” He pushed back from his desk and locked his braces. “Bathroom break first, though.”
“Agreed.” I stood up and walked out before he had picked up his crutches. Working with Kellan was easy. We hadn’t differed in opinion yet regarding how to proceed with what we had. I had no doubt that we would could pull this project out of the ashes and make it a resounding success. I was far less concerned with work than with getting to know him. My crush had not abated in the last three hours. Meeting him had only made him that much more interesting to me. I was looking forward to lunch and some non-business conversation.
I got back to Kellan’s office before he did. I walked over to the window and looked out at the parking lot. His office was on the front side of the building. It was a sunny day, more pale summer sky, guaranteed to be stifling hot by mid-afternoon.
“That is hwy I keep my back to the window.” He came back. “I would stare out the window all day, otherwise, thinking of all the other things I could be doing on a sunny day.”
I smiled and turned around. “What would you do on a sunny day if you weren’t here?”
“Today, I would probably be out cycling.” He stayed in the doorway. “Are you ready to go?”
“Yes.” I moved away from the window. “You ride with Reid Blackwell.”
He looked surprised. “I do.”
“Reid is my best friend’s fiancé.” I smiled. “When I mentioned your name to her last night, she told me you were on Reid’s team.”
“Carrie Stallworth is your best friend?”
He didn’t seem angry, just surprised.
I nodded. “Since freshman year in college.”
“Wow. Small world, like I said. Carrie told you about me? About this?” He lifted a crutch.
I nodded, feeling guilty.
“I knew someone had. You didn’t look at all surprised when you saw me for the first time.”
“”Actually, I was a little surprised.” I looked up, wanting to be as honest as I could. “Carrie told me you used a wheelchair.”
“I do use a wheelchair about as often as I use crutches and braces. Carrie has only seen my wheelchair because I don’t use leg braces when I am cycling. They get in the way.”
“Oh.” I had seen the way his legs were extended in front of him on the handcycle, held in safety straps, feet in footrests. I could understand where leg braces would get in the way. “Let’s go eat.” I said as my stomach growled again.
He led the way to the elevator. The elevator doors opened and we stepped inside to join four other people. I stood quietly beside him, noticing that the other occupants of the elevator had moved to allow him as much space as they could. That bothered me. He wasn’t contagious and he handled his crutches expertly. I stood right beside him, almost defiantly.
We got off first and people held back until we were clear.
“I am used to it.” Kellan said quietly. “Thanks for staying beside me.”
“Where else would I be?” I almost spat.
He looked at me and smiled. He had such a great smile. I turned red.
“So what would you be doing on this sunny day if you weren’t here?” He picked up the conversation from before.
“I am almost embarrassed to admit that I would probably be curled up in a sunny spot reading a book. Carrie was never able to convince me that I would enjoy cycling.”
“You should give it a try.” He encouraged.
“I don’t know.”
We had reached the cafeteria.
“I will show you around first.”
I grabbed a tray and utensils and things for both of us at the entrance. He watched me and didn’t say anything. The cafeteria was much larger than ours, with a full salad bar, a grill, deli, coffee shop, meat and starch and vegetable entrée.
“How is the salad bar?” I asked. “Do they have spinach?”
He gave me a quirky smile. “Not much point in eating other salad greens from a nutritional standpoint, is there? And yes, they usually do.” “I may not cycle, but I have learned something from Carrie. What are you going to have?”
“Sandwich. My usual fare.”
I started for the deli line. He followed.
“You didn’t ask if I needed help.” He said as we took our place in line.
I turned red yet again and opened my mouth to apologize.
“Don’t apologize.” He stopped me. “I am not scolding. This is the first time today you have tried to help me and it was the right time.”
“But I should ask first.” I raised my head to meet his eyes. I wasn’t uncomfortable with his disability, but I didn’t know the proper etiquette.
“Yes. I ask for help when I need it. I would have asked, but you beat me to it.”
His smile put me at ease. It was his turn to order, so my sensitivity lesson was over for the moment.
I got my salad, we made it through the cashier line where I wouldn’t let him buy my lunch (all of my meals are expensed against a per diem) and found a booth by the glass wall.
I noticed some people watching Kellan and others looking away as he got seated. I could just slide into my seat. The process was more complicated for him. He sat sideways in the booth with his legs straight out in front of him. He slid his crutches into the booth beside him, unlocked his braces and used his hands to lift his legs and swing them around under the table.
“I don’t know which is worse: people looking away or people staring.” He opened his bottled water.
“How long ago were you injured?” I pushed my salad around on the plate, not wanting to start eating before he did.
“Almost three years. You would think it wouldn’t bother me anymore.”
I had no good response so I took a bite of my salad. He picked up his sandwich.
The conversation turned to work and things to do in the Richmond area. It was light and pleasant and he smiled a lot. Being with him for the next five days would be a blast. Now if I could just find out if he was interested in me…
To be continued...