Neil felt lousy for the rest of the day. He couldn't stop thinking about how he had made that girl cry. He had made other girls tearful with his insults and harsh words, but no one who seemed as strong as Megan. He hadn't meant what he had said. He hadn't realized that being a reporter meant so much to her.
Before leaving for the day, Neil checked the online student directory for Megan's address. It was against his nature to do this, but he felt too guilty not to go check up on her. For all he knew, the girl was going to go slit her wrist over this. He didn't want that on his conscience.
When he reached Megan's dorm, he realized it was one of the few dorms that didn't contain an elevator. Megan was on the second floor and Neil stared ahead at a long flight of stairs in front of him. He cursed to himself. Since Neil couldn't bend his legs with the braces on, stairs were tricky, if not impossible. But somehow Neil felt that he had to go up and see Megan.
Neil carefully sat down on the second step. He removed the metal braces that ran up the entire length of his legs and put them on the step next to him. Without the braces, his legs were thin and limp. Using his hands, Neil could drag himself up the staircase, step by step, moving his braces and crutches along with him. When he got to the top, he put the braces back on and struggled to his feet.
Megan's room was down the end of the hallway. When he knocked on the door, a pretty blonde answered. She looked him over quickly. "You must be Neil," she said coldly. "Why don't you get the fuck out of here?"
"Is Megan around?" Neil asked, resisting the urge to lash out at this girl.
"Yes," she said. "But I doubt she wants to talk to you. I don't think she needs you to verbally abuse her again."
Megan's thin face appeared behind the blonde. "Neil? What are you doing here?"
"He's probably afraid you'll get him in trouble," the blonde said coolly.
"Quiet, Lisa," Megan snapped. She turned to Neil. "What do you want?"
"Can I come in?" Neil asked. He looked down at his legs. "If I stand much longer, I'm going to fall over."
"That's what you deserve, you prick," Lisa said.
"Yeah, come in," Megan offered. She turned to Lisa. "Can you leave us alone for a few minutes?"
Lisa eyed her. "Fine. But give a yell if he starts being an asshole again."
Lisa went in the other room while Megan and Neil sat down on her futon. Neil noticed that Megan averted her eyes when he unlocked the knees on his braces so that his lower legs came down limply. When he was done, Megan met his eyes. "There really isn't anything to say. I'm going to talk to Roger tomorrow about finding another mentor."
"I think it's for the best," Neil told her.
"Fine," Megan said coldly. "So why did you come down here?"
Neil hesitated. "I wanted to apologize. I didn't realize-"
"You realized," Megan snapped at him. "You knew exactly what you were doing. And I very much doubt you're sorry."
"I thought you'd be better off," Neil said quietly. "I wouldn't be a good mentor."
"Is that what it is?" Megan asked. "Or are you just afraid of me feeling sorry for you?"
It was the first time anyone had said that to him, straight out. "No," he stammered.
"Nobody feels sorry for you, Neil," Megan told him. "Everyone hates you. And now I hate you too. I'm sorry I cried in front of you, because you don't deserve to see my emotions. I wish I could hide them the way you do."
Her words stung, for some reason. Megan had a sweet face…light reddish-blonde hair and a sprinkling of freckles, but her words were like ice. That made it even worse.
Neil cleared his throat. "One of your high school articles…you left it on my desk the day I hired you, and I read it. It…it was good, but it needed work. I could help you. I know how to help you."
"I won't be your punching bag," Megan said.
He lowered his eyes. "I…I can be nice…sometimes."
Megan's chewed on her lip. "I don't want another scene like we just had. You make time for me. And you better be nice."
Neil nodded. "I think this could work out."
Megan held out her hand. "Then I'll stick with you. Now get out before Lisa throws you out." She smiled slightly.
Neil stared at her a minute. He suddenly realized that she had been manipulating him all along. But instead of feeling anger, he felt a touch of awe. Maybe Megan would be a good protégé. "If you let Roger fuck you, it's over, you know," he remarked.
Megan smiled wider. "I don't think that will be a problem."
Over the next few weeks, Neil and Megan maintained an amicable relationship as Megan did the stories she was assigned. She would show him her work and he would comment politely, but offer nothing else. Neil could see that Megan was disappointed, but he was afraid of getting to close to her. He didn't want to get his heart broken.
Then one morning, Neil heard a knock on his door at 6 AM. He was fast asleep, and he willed the knocking to stop for several minutes before he finally yelled, "Who is it?"
Neil shook his head. "Christ, what is it?"
"Can you open the door?"
Neil closed his eyes. In the days shortly after his accident, Neil sometimes woke up in the middle of the night and forgot that he couldn't walk. He would start to get out of bed and be surprised when his legs didn't obey his command. Now he never forgot about the braces at his bedside. He picked up the metal and began covering his legs.
"Neil!" Megan called again.
"Just a minute!" he yelled back.
Neil struggled to his feet and dragged his legs toward the door. He opened it a crack and peered out at her pretty freckled face. "This better be good, Megan."
She smiled brightly. "I wrote a story. My own idea."
For a moment, Neil considered reaching out and strangling her. But then again, he had to admire her effort. He threw the door open, ready to give her a piece of his mind.
"Nice pajamas," Megan commented with a grin. "You look cute."
Neil made a face at her. "Don't even try it. I can't even begin to tell you what's wrong with what you just did."
"First," Neil began, ignoring the fact that she was humoring him. "It's six in the morning. I was asleep."
"I thought an ambitious guy like you would be up bright and early," Megan teased.
"I guess I'm not as ambitious as you thought," he muttered.
"I don't know about that…"
"Second," Neil went on. "You see these braces? If you get me out of bed, I have to put them on, which is a pain in the neck."
"Third," he finished, "Roger isn't going to like it if you do your own stories. He wants you to do the ones he assigns you."
"I did all those," Megan told him. "This is extra. Please, Neil, won't you read it?"
"Can't this wait?"
Neil took the story out of her hands. "Fine, I'll read it. Have a seat somewhere."
Megan came into the room while Neil sat down and started reading the story. "Wow, you're room is big," she commented.
"I'm an upperclassman," Neil said. That wasn't the whole truth. His room was big because it was a handicapped room. Megan didn't know about the wheelchair in the closet. Neil's mother had forced him to bring it with him to school, and he had agreed with the intention of never using it. But as it turned out, Neil was usually so exhausted at the end of a day of crutching around that he often collapsed into his chair when in the confines of his own room.
Megan sat down on his bed while Neil looked over the story. After about two minutes, he looked up. "No, Megan, this isn't going to fly. You can't do the story like this."
Her eyes widened indignantly. "Why not?"
He told her briefly.
"Oh," Megan murmured. "I…I never even thought of that…"
Neil shrugged. "Well, now you have something to think about. Now if you don't mind, I'm going back to sleep."
"Wait," Megan said quickly. "Please tell me…how did you…I mean, how…"
"I don't know," Neil said. "I told you, I have good instincts about this kind of stuff."
"You have to teach me."
"No, you're not!" Megan cried. "You're just…pushing me away! I need your help, Neil. Can't you not be so cold?"
Neil looked at her a long time. She was right. He was doing everything he could to keep his distance from her. Maybe he was being too cautious. After all, he could help her. "Okay, here's how you do the story…"
In the following months, Neil taught Megan as much as he could. She never became quite as good as he was, but she was definitely a great reporter. In that time, Megan came to view Neil with awe. He was a brilliant reporter and aced all his classes with little effort. But she also came to care about him very deeply, and was the first person in a long time, maybe ever, to truly understand him.
But the emotions Megan felt for Neil could not compare to what Neil felt for her. Just as he had feared, Neil fell deeply in love with Megan. He fantasized about her when he was jerking off, when he was in class, and even sometimes at the Eye. As the couple spent nights together more and more frequently, working late on various articles, it was all Neil could do to keep from kissing her. It was the first time he had experienced true love, and it hit him hard.
The situation was aggravated by the fact that he was certain Megan had no romantic feelings for him. She didn't date much, but it was more due to her personality than some hidden feelings for Neil. Either way, it was very frustrating for him, since he thought about her so often. He sometimes wondered how she would react if one day he showed up at her door with a dozen roses, then decided against it. Megan's friendship was so important to him and he didn't want to screw it up. Especially since he was pretty sure how she would react.
Near the end of Megan's freshman year, Neil was awakened in the middle of the night by pounding on his door. He rubbed sleep out of his eyes and struggled to sit up. "Who is it?" he yelled.
"It's Megan," the voice yelled back.
Neil immediately felt concern in the pit of his stomach. Megan wasn't the sort of person to run around waking people up in the middle of the night. He pulled on his braces and walked over to the door. When he cracked it open, the sight of Megan's face pushed away any irritation he felt at being woken up.
"Can I come in?" she asked.
"Yeah," he nodded vigorously. "What's wrong?"
They sat together on Neil's bed. He placed his crutches on the floor, beneath the bed.
"I had a terrible dream," she said. "I…I woke up screaming and I couldn't sleep. You're the only one who I knew would make me feel better."
Neil put his arm around her gently to comfort her. "Hey, it's okay. You can stay here as long as you need."
"Thanks, Neil," Megan said gently. "Thanks for being here."
Neil looked down and saw that Megan's hand was on his knee. Her face was so close to his that he could feel her breath. Her intentions were unmistakable. "Megan…"
He cleared his throat. "If you do this, you should know…you ought to mean it. Because…because I love you and if you don't love me, then you're just fucking with me."
"Then I mean it," Megan said. She leaned forward and pressed her cherry lips onto his. She ran her hand up and down the length of his braces as she slid her other hand over his well-built chest. One hand rested on his leg as she looked up at him. "Can you feel them at all?" she wanted to know. He shook his head no. She pushed him down onto his back and continued to kiss him and caress his legs. "Can I take off your braces?" she asked.
Neil's self-consciousness faded and he nodded to her. She had some trouble figuring it out at first, but she quickly caught on. She slid off the braces and put his paralyzed legs in her lap. He watched as she stroked his thin legs and his erection strained at his pajama pants. For years he had acted as if his legs were not his own, but now he was very aware that they were his own legs and that Megan was doing wonderful things to them.
Megan climbed on top of Neil, still keeping her hands on his legs. He didn't know where she had put his braces and he didn't care. He was looking forward to waiting for her to put them back on later, a process he had always hated. Her slim hands made his braces an erotic object.
She pulled off his pants and underwear so that his lower body was bare. She caressed his bare legs as she lowered her mouth onto his penis. He laced his fingers into Megan's red hair and gripped her head as her tongue worked his organ. When her mouth lifted, he was harder than he had ever been. She plunged him into herself as he groped for her small erect breasts. It was his first time having sex. He wanted to move around like he had seen the men do into the porn flicks, but he knew that was impossible for him. With his legs paralyzed, all he could do was caress Megan's chest as she did all the work. And this seemed fine with Megan. She exploded into orgasm and Neil followed soon after.
They made love several times that night, and when it was over, Megan snuggled in under Neil's arm. One of her legs lay strewn across his legs.
"That was amazing," Neil said. "You're amazing."
"No, you are," Megan said.
Neil shook his head. "I wish I could have…done more for you."
"No," Megan said firmly. "God, you did enough."
Neil smiled and kissed her on the forehead. Spent from the activities of the night, he drifted into a peaceful sleep.
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