Carrie listened to me ramble on about Kellan, about how much I liked him, about how much I really wanted it to become something more between us. She was very excited for me. She was also encouraging me to put on the brakes just a little.
“You need to take it slow, Heather. I get the impression he has been a little shy since his accident.”
“That is okay. So you like him?” I wanted Carrie to approve of my choice just as she had wanted me to approve of hers.
“What I know, I like. I don’t know him all that well. But Reid has known him for years and says he is a good guy.”
“He said the same about Reid.”
“Well, at least we know our intended significant others would get along, which hasn’t always been the case.” She picked up her egg roll.
That was the truth. My ex-fiancé had not liked Carrie or her then-boyfriend. That should have been a huge warning sign.
We finished our meal and made it to the business park as the guys were getting on their bikes.
Reid was very surprised to see Carrie. They hugged and were the forever-cute couple. I knew to look for black Toyota Tundra. Kellan told me Kyle would drive. I saw it and walked over that way. He was on the grass by his handcycle, doing something with the chain. His wheelchair was behind him. A redhead I knew from Carrie’s photos to be Kyle was with him. Kyle looked at me inquisitively as I approached.
“Hi, Kellan.” I got his attention.
He looked up and smiled widely. “Hi, Heather. I am getting a slow start. My chain is loose.”
“Oh.” I walked over closer to see what he was doing.
He looked from me to Kyle. “Heather, this is my brother, Kyle. Kyle, this is Heather Whitlow.”
Kyle had a beautiful smile, too. We shook hands.
“We need to move, Kellan, or we are going to miss the start.” Kyle prompted.
“Almost done.” Kellan said, twisting the chain tool again. “There.”
He wiped his hands on a towel, shoved the tool back into his toolkit, which Kyle immediately picked up and tossed into the back of the truck. .
“I am not lined up right for a quick transfer.” Kellan commented. He was facing his bike, his legs stretched out in front of him, one on either side of the front wheel of the bike. I remembered Carrie’s description of his legs: “really skinny and really still.” They were. He was wearing black cycling tights that hung loosely around his thin legs. I hadn’t noticed so much when he had on braces and khakis. Now it was obvious. I didn’t find it scary, as Carrie had described.
“Kellan, they are lining up.” Kyle warned.
“Then go ahead. I will catch up.”
“Or I can help you and we can both hit the line just a little late.” Kyle looked at me as the said this.
Kellan looked at me, too, then nodded. “Okay. You can help me.”
Kellan pushed up with his hands, lifting his hips and sliding backwards away from the bike. Once he was clear enough, he picked up his right leg with his hands close to hiss knee. His leg bent automatically and he moved one hand to his calf, bending his leg a little more and swinging it over the wheel of his bike. He crossed it over his left leg as Kyle knelt down beside him. Kyle slid one arm under Kellan’s knees and the other around Kellan’s back. Kyle put his left arm around Kyle’s shoulders and kept his right palm flat on the ground. As Kyle lifted with his knees, Kellan pushed himself up with his hand to help Kyle. Kyle seemed to pick him up easily and I wondered idly what he weighed. I watched as Kyle carried him to his bike and gently placed him in the seat. Kyle was so careful as he straightened out Kellan’s legs, arranged them in the footrests and fastened the safety straps while Kellan put on his helmet, gloves and sunglasses. Kellan checked the safety straps behind Kyle after Kyle stood up. “Let’s roll,” he said. Kyle nodded and got on to his bike, which was leaned against the truck.
“See you in a little while. I am glad you are here.” Kellan smiled at me again as he pulled out to join the other riders. I watched the muscles in his arms bunch as he cranked the pedals. He was strong. In the close-fitting cycling jersey, I could see that his pecs and chest were very well-defined. I wanted to see him with his shirt off. I needed to get these thoughts out of my head.
“Me, too.” I said as he followed Kyle onto the track. I walked out behind them. Carrie was standing near her car. I walked over to watch with her.
“I lost you,” she said.
“You and Reid were too caught up in PDA.” I teased. “I went to find Kellan.”
“You found him.” Carrie nodded to where Kellan had pulled in behind the pack.
“Yes, I did.” I smiled.
She looked at me quizzically. “You really are taken with him. I don’t think I have seen you this excited over anyone since that musician I hated so much.”
“Which one?” I asked. It was an honest question. I had a penchant for musicians in college. And Carrie had thought they all were jerks. In retrospect, I could see she had been right.
“Bryan, I think. Maybe it was David. Does it matter?”
“No. Not really.”
“What is the attraction, Heather?” She nodded her head in Kellan’s direction. The riders were moving off the line.
My feathers were ruffled. “He is cute, smart, funny, we get along really well… Look at him.”
She bit her lip. “Yes, look at him. He is all of those things. He is also severely disabled.”
“You keep coming back to that. Why should it matter to you if it doesn’t matter to me?”
“Because I don’t think you have thought it through. I think you are so infatuated that you haven’t thought about the realities of being with someone who is disabled. You have seen how independent he is. Have you seen him when he needs help?”
“Yes.” I snapped. “I just watched Kyle get him into the handcycle, which means I just saw him carried in his brother’s arms. I have carried his lunch tray for him. I have been out with him and I see the way people look at him. I see the way people treat him. I know he is disabled, Carrie. I know that it means he can’t do some things and he does lots of things differently. I DON’T CARE!”
My fists were clenched and my heart was racing. I had yelled at Carrie only once before in our 7-year friendship, also over her disapproval of my choice of partner. She had been right that time. This time I knew she was wrong.
She looked like I had slapped her. I knew she was only pushing this because she cared about me, but I felt like she was being unfair.
“Okay, okay. You have thought about it. I will back off. I want you to be happy. I really do.”
“I know. I love you for it. We still don’t know if he is interested in me, Carrie.”
“He is.” She smiled. “He wouldn’t have asked you here otherwise. He is showing off for you and you aren’t even watching.”
“Because you are arguing with me.” I observed. “So let me watch.”
“Let’s walk the track.”
We walked around the outer edge of the track, crossing over the roadway from the inside. Cyclists whizzed past us. Kyle and Reid were in the front of the pack. Kellan was near the middle. He was fast.
“Did you know him before?” I asked quietly.
Carrie shook her head. “I knew his name. I had seen him at some mountain bike races. But I didn’t know him until I started dating Reid and really got into the road world.”
“So he was a mountain biker, too?”
“Yes. That is how he got hurt.”
“Oh.” I wanted to know more. I didn’t want to ask Carrie. I wanted Kellan to tell me when he was ready.
I was enjoying watching the cyclists. Granted they were just going around the track, but as Carrie pointed it out, I could see them working on different team strategies. Kellan stayed in the middle of the pack and Kyle and Reid stayed at the front.
“They will be hungry and tired after this.” Carrie said. “Do you and Kellan have plans for afterward?”
“No. He asked me to come and watch. That was it.”
The riders eventually finished the training race and came in from the track. Carrie and I split up so she could go meet Reid and I could meet Kellan. I waited by Kyle’s truck and couldn’t stop a huge grin as he approached. He parked the handcycle in pretty much the same spot in front of his wheelchair.
“That was fun to watch.” I said as he stripped off his helmet, glasses and gloves. He was sweat-soaked, his dark hair wet and close to his skull. He looked beautiful to me.
“I am glad you enjoyed it.” He smiled, grabbing a water bottle and turning it up. “Could you please hand me the towel that is in my chair?”
I handed it to him, my fingers lingering on his for just a moment. I couldn’t believe how much I wanted to touch him, to be touched by him. He dried his face and his hair. “I need a shower,” he commented.
That was something I would like to see. I raised my eyebrows, my interest piqued.
Carrie and Reid joined us then. “You just keep getting faster.” Reid said to Kellan.
“Practice.” Kellan answered.
“Want to go get a bite to eat?” Reid asked as Kyle rode up. “We could even let the women crash the party.”
“Dining with a bunch of smelly men. Some party.” Carrie rolled her eyes.
Kellan looked at me. I couldn’t tell what he was thinking. Kyle looked at Kellan. He would let Kellan decide.
“I think I will pass tonight, Reid.” Kellan said. He sounded really tired. “Thanks for the invitation.”
“Sure. Next time, maybe.”
Kellan nodded. Kyle popped the front wheel off of his bike so he could put it in the rack in the truck bed. Kellan was still in his handcycle.
“Want to come with us, Heather?” Reid asked me.
Kellan looked up quickly, meeting my eyes. His eyes asked me to stay with him but his mouth wasn’t going to say the words if I wanted to be somewhere else.
“No thanks, Reid. Carrie and I actually ate before we came to watch the ride.”
Carrie gave me a questioning look.
“I will call you later, Carrie.”
“Okay. See you.” She and Reid turned away holding hands.
“When is their wedding?” Kellan asked as he unfastened the safety straps around his legs and placed his feet on the ground.
“They seem like a really happy couple.”
“I think they are.”
“Could you get my wheelchair, please?”
“Sure.” I stepped over to the wheelchair. I had never touched one before. His was not like what I thought of as an old person’s wheelchair. It had a low back and a u-shaped footrest.
“You will need to unlock the brakes,” he instructed as I pushed and it didn’t move.
“Oh.” I fumbled for the brakes, not looking at him.
“Here.” Kyle stepped over and showed me how to release the brakes. I turned red. Kyle didn’t push the chair over, though. He did leave that for me.
“Please line up the front wheels of the chair with the back wheels of the handcycle.” Kellan told me. “And lock the brakes.” I did as he asked. I wasn’t sure where to stand while he did this. I stayed behind his wheelchair.
Kyle leaned against the truck, giving me a look that hinted of a threat or a warning. I got the distinct impression he wanted to quiz me. He was not impolite, but he had made no attempts at being friendly. I looked away from him and watched Kellan.
He first moved his right leg out a little then lifted his left leg and brought it over beside his right. He placed his right palm flat on the ground, gripped the seat of the hand cycle with his left and pushed up and slid over onto the ground. Then he placed his palms by his hips and pushed up and slid his backwards until he was right in front of his chair. He reached behind for the seat cushion, grabbed it and pulled himself into the chair. His muscles bunched and rippled. I could see it took a lot of strength to transfer from the ground to the chair like that. He shifted his weight so that he was comfortable, and then arranged his legs and feet. He had no movement in his legs. I knew that for certain now. I stepped back as Kellan released the brakes and turned around to face Kyle and me.
He looked different in the wheelchair. I was used to looking up at him. Standing on crutches, he was just shy of six feet tall. In the wheelchair, he had to look up at me. He looked tired. I wondered if he was always pretty tired at the end of the day from using his arms to do everything he needed to do.
“Ready for me to load your bike?” Kyle asked, indicating the handcycle.
“Sure.” Kellan wheeled away from the handccycle. I followed.
“Thanks for inviting me, Kellan.” I dropped to sit on the grass in front of him so he wouldn’t have to look up at me. It put me in the position of looking up at him again and I was more comfortable with that.
“Thanks for coming.” He smiled, suppressed a yawn.
“You are tired.” I observed the obvious.
“A little. Busy day and a hard ride.” He admitted.
“You looked great out there.” I said. He had. I had loved watching him.
“Thanks. It has taken work. I started out always bringing up the rear. Now some of the slower riders go home ticked off because they can’t outpace me, no matter how hard they ride. I won’t ever catch Kyle again, though.”
“You couldn’t catch me before.” Kyle called out. I should have known he could hear us. “Not on the road, anyway.”
“Not very often the last season we rode together, that is true.” Kellan pushed up on the wheels of his chair, held himself there for a few seconds and dropped back down again.
Kyle had Kellan’s handcycle stowed and all of the other miscellaneous gear packed away. We were one of three groups left in the park. He walked over to us.
“Ready to go home, old man?”
“I guess it is time. I need a shower and sleep.” Kellan looked at me.
Kyle shook his head. “Just kiss her and get it over with already. I will look the other way.”
I turned crimson. Kellan turned red, too. I had not expected any comment like that to come out of Kyle’s mouth. And I had no idea that was what Kellan really wanted. But Kyle knew his brother.
“Heather…” Kellan started to say something, then closed his mouth and just looked at me with confusion and longing. It had been ages since I had seen longing in a man’s eyes.
I stood up and leaned over to kiss his cheek. He couldn’t exactly come to me and I didn’t want to be any bolder than a chaste kiss. “See you tomorrow, Kellan.” He tasted salty and sweet. I started to pull away but he turned his head to brush his lips to mine. His lips were warm and soft and I accepted his kiss greedily, wanting more. His tongue gently parted my lips and probed my mouth. His taste was again salty and sweet and I felt heat in my thighs. He knew how to kiss me. I pulled away reluctantly, catching his hand and squeezing it. I caught Kyle watching us from behind Kellan’s chair. He looked happy and relieved.
“Bye, Heather.” Kellan said softly. “I will see you in the morning.”
I was blissfully happy. And then I realized how hard tomorrow was going to be. I had fallen for a coworker. Now what?
To be continued...