The Tierney home was a 1930’s brick colonial with a slate roof and a black and white tiled screened porch. Kellan had been 5 years old when they moved into this house. All of his childhood memories were there, from playing in the sandbox in the back yard with Kyle and Brianna to playing basketball in the driveway with Kyle and his dad. Christmases, birthdays, graduation parties, now an engagement party. Kellan and Kyle already had a bet going. Kellan said a June wedding. Kyle said April.
As they pulled up in the driveway behind Kyle’s truck and a silver Volvo, Kellan wondered what Heather’s reaction would be to this house that held so many reminders of what he had been before his accident. All of the family photos, trophies, everything still displayed. And layered on top of it were all of the modifications his parents had made so the house could still be his home. He put the car in park and cast a nervous glance at her. Her eyes scanned the surface of the house, with its warmly lit windows.
“This is where you grew up?”
He saw the same look on her face that he saw when they passed the old farmhouse. That little girl look of weaving dreams.
“This is where I grew up. The house is full of stories and my mom will probably try to tell you every one of them.”
“I would like that.”
Heather waited while he got into his chair. His back was bothering him again. It was easier to use the chair.
“My parents are nice people, I promise.” Kellan knew she was nervous. “They are going to love you.”
“I hope so.” She followed him up the wheelchair ramp.
He still didn’t see the ramp in his mind’s eye when he thought of his parents’ home. The house had been remodeled to be accessible for him while he was in rehab. He had lived with his parents for nearly a year after his release from rehab. Then he and Kyle had moved into the apartment they shared now. And he knew it was time for both of them to move on.
Juliana Tierney met them in the foyer. She surveyed them, gave a genuine smile, kissed Kellan on the top of his head. “Hi, sweetie.”
“Hi, Mom.” He looked a little embarrassed, but the beautiful smile returned when he looked at Heather.
“Mom, this is Heather Whitlow. Heather, this is my mom, Juliana Tierney.”
“Hi, Heather. Welcome.” Juliana took Heather’s hand in both of hers, greeting her warmly.
“Pleased to meet you, Mrs. Tierney.” Heather smiled. She now knew where Kyle got his red hair. Juliana Tierney was classically pretty, with her long red curls pulled away from her face.
“Dinner is almost ready.”
“Is there anything I can do to help?” Heather offered.
“I put Brie to work. Thank you for offering” Mrs. Tierney smiled. “Why don’t you two join everyone else in the den? I will call you when dinner is ready.”
“I want to show Heather around first. So we will be following you into the kitchen.”
Juliana nodded. “I am sure Brianna wants to see you first, anyway.”
Heather looked at Kellan for an explanation.
“The second floor landing is a wall of photos. My guess was you would want to see those first. “ He smiled. She had expressed curiosity about what he was like as a child. She was about to find out. “The lift is in the second set of stairs, which is in the kitchen. As you can see, the main staircase curves, so the lift wasn’t practical there.”
“Oh.” Heather stared at the highly polished curving banisters. She swallowed. How could she ever take Kellan to meet her family knowing he had grown up in a house like this?
“Come on.” He smiled again to reassure her. He could not gauge what was going on in her head. “You should meet Brie separately, anyway.” He exchanged a knowing glance with his mom.
Heather followed Mrs. Tierney down the hallway, past a formal living room with a baby grand piano, a cello in a stand and a violin on a chair. On the opposite side of the hallway was a book-lined library/study. Heather didn’t want to be awed by Kellan’s parents’ home. She didn’t want to be awed by the way he had grown up. But she felt that sadness tugging at her again. He had grown up in a stable family, surrounded by music and books and safety. She had not told him much about her own upbringing. She dreaded the conversation she knew they would have to have. She took a deep breath. She needed to force herself to enjoy this; not feel belittled or intimidated by it.
Brianna had her back to them, at the stove stirring something, as they walked in. She had long red curls like her mother’s and was a good six inches taller than Heather. She turned around as she heard them approach and her face lit up when she saw Kellan. Her eyes were blue, but pale blue, not dark like Kellan’s. She was beautiful and Heather instantly expected not to like her. Especially when her eyes darkened as she looked Heather over. Still, Brianna put the spoon on a spoon rest and walked over to them, smiling. “Hey, big brother.” She hugged Kellan. “You look great.”
“Thank, so do you.” He smiled. “So show me the rock.”
She held out her hand. The diamond was set in yellow gold, princess cut, very sparkly.
“It is beautiful.” Heather said. “Congratulations.”
“Thank you.” Brianna surveyed her coolly. “You must be Heather.”
“Yes, Brie.” Kellan interjected. “This is my girlfriend, Heather Whitlow. Heather, this is my sister, Brianna Tierney, soon to be Brianna Williams.”
“Pleased to meet you.” Heather held out her hand. Brianna took it and shook. Brianna’s lips smiled, but her eyes dared Heather to get on her bad side.
“We will talk later.” Kellan took Heather’s hand once Brie dropped it. “Heather wants to see the ‘Wall of Shame’ before dinner.”
Brianna surprised Heather by giggling. “Make sure you point out your eighth grade class picture. You had just gotten your braces tightened.”
Kellan made a face. “Yes, I remember. It hurt to smile and that showed. Mom would never take it down, though.”
“Of course not. I have three beautiful children.” Mrs. Tierney protested. “And that wall commemorates every milestone in your lives.”
Heather looked uneasy for a second. She wasn’t sure she wanted to see photos of Kellan with Anna. He misinterpreted her apprehension.
“Don’t worry, the hospital and rehab pictures are in a separate album. I won’t show you those before dinner.” Kellan said quietly. “But there is one on the wall of the day I came home from rehab and the day I cam back from therapy with my leg braces.”
“Milestones, like I said.” Mrs. Tierney reiterated. “Now, Brie, we need to finish this up.” She stepped over to the stove beside Brianna.
“You should go up the stairs first.” Kellan instructed Heather as he led her to the staircase. “The lift isn’t fast.”
The lift was a metal platform that folded against the wall at the base of the staircase. It ran on a track against the wall. Heather nodded and began to walk up the stairs, resisting the urge to stop and watch Kellan perform this task she had never seen. But she didn’t know how his mom and his sister would take her open curiosity and admiration of him, so she climbed the stairs slowly and waited for him at the top. She was amazed by what she saw. The walls of the long hallway were divided by chair rails and wainscoting. The wainscoting was a calming sage green. The wall above was covered in framed photographs. Heather wanted to wait for Kellan to join her, but she was drawn in and began to follow the chronology on the walls. It began with a round-cheeked, dark-haired, blue-eyed infant… Kellan, of course. She smiled. Her beautiful boyfriend had been a beautiful baby. She heard the motor of the lift start and glanced down the stairs to see Kellan making his slow ascent. His parents really had made the house accessible for him. She could only imagine how hard that project must have been for them. To know that they were bringing their oldest child home in a wheelchair, that he wouldn’t be able to live in their house the same way anymore, that so many changes were needed and that it would be that way for the rest of his life.
He reached the top of the stairs, lowered the lip of the platform that kept him from rolling out, and wheeled into the hallway.
“You were a beautiful baby.” Heather turned dreamy eyes to him.
“Thank you.” He managed not to look embarrassed. “It gets better.”
Heather moved slowly down the hallway, watching Kellan grow up before her eyes. She couldn’t believe how organized his mother had been; how complete the photo scenes were. She could see what his childhood had been, what his family had been, Christmases, birthdays, camping trips, family vacations, music recitals, races for Kyle and Kellan, dance recitals for Brianna. Class pictures, family portraits. The history of a family captured on a wall. Then she got to the end. College graduation. More race pictures. And then the change from Kellan on a bicycle to Kellan in a wheelchair, to Kellan on crutches, and recent photos of Kellan with his handcycle. Her chest tightened as she studied the photo that had to be his release from rehab. He was so thin, with dark circles under his eyes. Without thinking, she reached out a gentle hand to touch the face in the photograph. She didn’t want to cry. Not now. But he looked so sad and like he was in so much pain.
“That was not a good time for me.” He said at her elbow.
“How much weight did you lose?” It wasn’t the question she wanted to ask, but it was the only one that would come out.
“About 40 pounds, I think.”
“How could you lose 40 pounds?” Heather was stunned.
He shrugged. “Muscle. I spent too much time on the bike to carry any extra weight. When I got hurt, I didn’t have any to spare, so I looked pretty bad pretty quickly.”
She couldn’t look at the photo any more and think about how much pain he had endured. She moved back up the wall to what must have been his senior class photo from high school. He was better looking than any of the heartthrobs from her high-school days.
“You must have had your own following of girls.” She smiled, tied to lighten the heaviness that had settled on them.
He snorted. “Are you kidding? I was a geek in a school uniform. And I went to an all–boys’ school. I didn’t date until college.”
Heather shook her head. “What a shame. You would have been a perfect high-school crush.”
She walked back up the wall. Found the picture of an adolescent Kellan with a mouthful of braces and a grimace that could never pass for a smile. He had gone through an awkward phase. She still would have thought he was cute. “Eighth grade?” She indicated the photo.
“Well, it looks like Kyle and Brianna had their time with the orthodontist, too.” She pointed to one picture of all three Tierney children with metallic smiles.
He laughed. “Brie points out that picture of me because it is the one I have complained about since Mom put it up. It isn’t so much about the braces.”
“This is amazing.” Heather took a few steps back to take in the whole wall once more. “To be able to watch you grow up this way and to have this window into how you came to be who you are.”
He looked at her, knowing there was more than she was saying, to be so overwhelmed by family photos. He moved closer to her.
“I don’t have anything like this to show you, Kellan.” Heather said in a small voice. “You know I am not close with my family.”
He nodded and took her hand. “I know. It doesn’t matter. I am not in love with your family. I am in love with you.”
Those were the words she needed to hear and she brightened instantly. “Thank you.” She gave him a quick, soft kiss on the lips.
“You two come downstairs. It is time to move to the dining room.” Brianna called up the stairs.
“Okay.” Kellan called back, after returning Heather’s kiss.
“You go down first.” Heather said, since the lift platform was still set up for him. She followed him down the stairs. The kitchen was empty and she followed Kellan into the den, where everyone sat, talking, waiting for them.
Six pairs of eyes looked up expectantly as Kellan wheeled into the room. Heather stood behind his chair, smiling nervously.
“Sorry to keep you waiting.” Kellan looked around the room. Kyle and Daria sat on the loveseat. Brianna and Trent snuggled close on the sofa. His dad sat in a leather recliner and his mom perched on the end of the sofa opposite Brianna and Trent.
“No apologies needed.” Juliana smiled at him.
“So this is Heather.” Andrew Tierney stood up.
Heather was surprised by his height. He was taller than Kellan or Kyle. Kellan had his dark hair and dark blue eyes. His smile was kind and Heather stepped from behind Kellan.
“I am Heather.” She echoed, meeting his smile.
“Dad, this is Heather Whitlow. Heather, his is my dad, Andrew Tierney.” Kellan formalized the introduction.
“We are glad to finally meet you, Heather.” Dr. Tierney shook her hand. “I have been after Kellan to bring you around for awhile now.”
“Andrew…” Mrs. Tierney warned.
He laughed. Heather liked him so far.
“Heather, you already know Kyle and Daria.” Kellan continued. “And you met Brie when we came in. So last but not least, Brianna’s fiancé, Dr. Trent Williams.”
“Why does he get the title and I don’t?” Andrew Tierney laughed.
Kellan shook his head.
“Hi, Heather.” Trent stood.
“Hi, Trent. Congratulations.” She shook his hand. He was handsome in a boy-next-door sort of way.
“Thank you.” He seemed to turn faintly pink.
This surprised Heather a little. Beautiful Brianna was marrying a shy guy? She stepped back beside Kellan, putting her hand on his shoulder.
Andrew Tierney studied them, studied his son.
Blue eyes met blue eyes. Dr. Tierney knew his son well. “Shoulder or back?” He asked with no preface.
Kellan took a deep breath. He hated coming home sometimes. His parents always knew when something wasn’t right. “Back, mainly.” And Heather is moving in with me and I haven’t told you that yet. Brianna isn’t the only one advancing her relationship.
Heather looked down at him. She knew his back was bothering him, but she hadn’t realized his discomfort was that obvious.
“I will take a look after dinner.”
“I am okay, Dad, really.” Kellan protested for no reason. He knew he wouldn’t get out of the house without an impromptu exam.
“Let’s have dinner.” Mrs. Tierney stood. Kellan was grateful for the diversion. Brianna and Trent had honed in on the conversation, doctors’ ears perked up. He just wanted to be left in the background and allow Brianna to take the spotlight she craved and deserved.
Everyone made their way into the dining room and got seated. Heather took her seat beside Kellan. Kyle and Daria volunteered to sit across from each other, so Heather was between Kellan and Kyle. Trent was between Brianna and Daria and Dr. and Mrs. Tierney sat at the ends of the table.
The atmosphere was so warm and relaxed that Heather could not feel nervous. She was the newcomer and everyone drew her into the conversation. She couldn’t help feeling like she had found a place where she fit perfectly. A family where she fit. She knew she and Kellan were right, but to feel that ease with his family was more than she had ever hoped.
“So we need to plan an engagement party.” Mrs. Tierney said excitedly.
“Actually, Mom, I would like to keep the celebrations small right now, since Trent and I are still in session. We can plan a party when we have a break.”
Mrs. Tierney looked disappointed for a fleeting instant, then regained her smile. “The longer I have to wait, the bigger the party gets,” she warned.
Brianna laughed. “That is perfect, Mom. I will be ready for a huge celebration by that time.”
“So when is the wedding, Brie?” Kyle exchanged looks with Kellan.
“The second Saturday in June.”
Kyle gave Kellan a dismayed look. Kellan grinned.
Brianna looked from one brother to the other. “So you won the bet, Kellan?”
“You guessed April, Kyle?” She fixed her gaze on him.
“Yes.” Kyle answered.
“April was my first choice. Trent wanted July. We compromised with June.”
“April has always been your favorite month.” Mrs. Tierney smiled.
“Kellan, Kyle, I have a question for you.” Brianna turned serious.
Kellan gritted his teeth. He had some idea what Brianna must have in her head. He wondered how he would get out of this one.
“Kyle, I would like for you to play at my wedding. Kellan, I would like for you to sing. Please.” She turned big blue eyes on him, pleading like a little girl.
Kellan shook his head. His guess had been right. “I am not a performer, Brianna.”
“I know, Kellan. I wouldn’t ask if it didn’t mean the world to me.”
Heather watched him. She knew Kellan had a wonderful voice. Why the hesitation?
“I love it when you sing to me.” She said barely loud enough for anyone else to hear.
Brianna’s eyes lit up. “You get him to sing to you?”
“Sometimes.” Heather smiled.
“Wow.” Brianna was impressed. “Kellan, will you please consider it? For me?”
Kellan nodded slowly. “I will consider it.”
“Any hesitation, Kyle?” Brianna turned to her twin.
“Are you kidding?” Kyle smiled. He was a born performer. “This will be great.”
Dr. Tierney watched the exchange. Watched his two sons. Kellan and Kyle were as close as brothers could be, but they were opposite in almost every way. Brianna fit somewhere between the two.
Dinner passed in more plans for Brianna’s wedding. Heather found herself happy and chatting, fully relaxed. Afterward, she and Daria helped Mrs. Tierney and Brianna clear the table and clean up the kitchen while the men headed for the den again.
Dr. Tierney did not sit. Instead, he steered Kellan into his room for the promised exam.
Kellan wheeled in front of his father wordlessly.
Dr. Tierney shut the door behind them. He watched Kellan closely as Kellan transferred onto the bed. Back and shoulders. He knew from the way Kellan moved his body.
Dr. Tierney sat down in the chair he had pulled away from the desk. “You pushed yourself too hard. Which you tend to do when something is troubling you. Want to talk about it while I check out your back?”
“Not especially.” Kellan removed his shirt and rolled onto his stomach. He was used to this. His dad had always treated him for whatever injuries he had from cycling, other sports, or general clumsiness.
Kellan had broken vertebrae at L1-2. The vertebrae were shattered and had severed his spinal cord. Two steel cages studded with his own bone fragments had been used to rebuild his lumbar spine. The surgery had been expertly done, but the pain at the site of his injury had never gone away. Dr. Tierney probed the area with gentle but deliberate fingers. Kellan reacted to his touch, drawing in his breath sharply.
“How often are you taking Vicodin now?”
“Almost every day.” Kellan admitted.
“You have ramped up your riding schedule?”
“Drop by my office tomorrow. I want to get a scan of your vertebrae. We will go from there.”
“Dad, Heater is going back to Charlotte tomorrow. How many more pictures of my spine do you need, anyway?”
“I am seeing some swelling and I want to check it out. And bring Heather with you. If you want to marry this girl someday, Kellan, she needs to get comfortable with doctors’ offices.”
“I hadn’t said anything about marrying Heather.” Kellan rolled back over to look at his father.
Dr. Tierney smiled at his son. “Kellan, you don’t have to say anything. You are in love with her. I have always let your mom figure out Kyle and Brianna. I could never guess what those two would do next. But I know you. Are you planning to propose this weekend?”
Kellan shook his head, almost relieved that his dad knew what was going on. “I do want to marry her. We have only been together for four months in a long distance relationship. I am afraid that it is too fast for a marriage proposal, but I don’t want a long-distance relationship anymore. Heather is accepting a position here in Richmond. I have asked her to move in with me and she said yes.” He paused for a moment, waiting for some reaction from his dad. His father just watched him, so he continued. “I look back on what I had with Anna and I realize that in comparison, it wasn’t anything like this. I loved her, but I fit with Heather. I have found the right person.”
Dr. Tierney tried not to look shocked. That was probably the most he had heard Kellan say at one time in months.
“I am very happy for you.” Dr. Tierney leaned back in his chair. “So you think it is too early for a marriage proposal, but you don’t want to be apart from her.”
Kellan nodded. “That is what I just said.”
“Propose, Kellan. You love this girl and you want to spend your life with her. Early or not, that is what you feel. You owe it to her and yourself to let her know that. There is nothing wrong with a long engagement.”
Kellan’s eyes widened. Then he frowned. “You don’t think it is too fast?”
“Not for you, no.”
“Because I am crippled and I need to seal this deal while I can?” Kellan met his father’s eyes levelly.
“No.” His dad answered mildly. “Because you think things through. You make your decisions after careful deliberation. You have always known what you wanted.”
“Yes, well, I almost married the wrong girl.”
“But you didn’t.”
“That led you to the right person for you. You never said that about Anna. You said you loved her, just like you said before. Never that you had found the right person.”
Kellan nodded. “I will think about it.”
“When do you plan to tell your mom that you and Heather are moving in together? And have you told Kyle?”
“I didn’t want to tell Mom in front of everyone. Kyle is happy for me. I think he may be planning to move in with Daria.” Kellan grinned.
“Your mother is going to flip, Kellan.” Dr. Tierney tried to be stern, but he couldn’t hide his grin.
Kellan shrugged. “Maybe not. I will propose.”
“Now?” Dr. Tierney knew once Kellan’s mind was made up, there was little chance of changing it.
Kellan shook his head. “I know exactly how I want to do this and it will take a little time to set up. She will be back in two weeks. I will do it then. That should give me enough time.”
“Good for you.” Dr. Tierney squeezed Kellan’s shoulder and stood up. “I don’t know when I have seen you so happy, Kellan. You deserve this.”
“Thanks, Dad.” Kellan pulled on his shirt and transferred back into his chair.
“We should go back out and join the crew.” Dr. Tierney walked ahead of him.
Kellan nodded and wheeled out the door his father had opened.
Brianna and Heather then dried dishes that had been hand-washed by Mrs. Tierney and Daria. “How long have you known Kellan?”
“About 7 months.” Heather dried another wine glass and set it on the counter.
“How did you meet?”
“At work. We were assigned to the same project.”
Brianna nodded, setting down the glass she had just dried. She bit her lower lip and looked at Heather. “Do you love my brother?”
Heather did not break the gaze. “Very much.” There was no hesitation.
“Because of the way he makes me feel. Because of who he is. Because of who I am with him. He is the right person for me, Brianna.” Heather answered thoughtfully.
“You really mean that.” Brianna reached for another glass.
“I really mean it.”
“He loves you.” It was a statement, not a question.
Heather nodded. “Yes.”
“Okay, then.” Brianna smiled. “No more questions. For now.”
Heather couldn’t believe she had gotten off so easily. She had thoroughly expected Brianna to interrogate her ruthlessly.
Brianna saw the look on her face and giggled. “I am an overprotective sister. No doubt about it. But Kellan is smart. If he has given away his heart again, he knows what he is doing. He learned the hard way.”
Brianna’s face clouded. “I still want to strangle her. She tore him apart. But I know he is much better off without her. He is happy now.”
Heather didn’t have anything else to add, so she quietly continued drying glasses.
“You are going to fit in just fine.” Mrs. Tierney put her hand on Heather’s shoulder as she walked up.
Heather beamed. “Thank you for inviting me.”
Mrs. Tierney laughed. “You have been invited before. Kellan wanted to keep you all to himself for as long as he could.”
“I heard that.” Kellan came into the room with his dad right behind. “No more talking about me now. I am here.”
Heather’s smile at the sight of him was all any of the Tierneys needed to see to know how much she loved him. His smile back at her confirmed it for them all. Kellan was happy and he had found “the one.”
Very few nights passed without lovemaking for Heather and Kellan. This night would be no exception. Even when their intention was to sleep, they inevitably ended up with their bodies entwined, pleasing each other every way they could.
“What time do you need to leave tomorrow?” Kellan asked Heather as they lay beside each other later.
“I don’t want to leave.” Heather snuggled closer to his side.
“I know. I don’t want you to leave.”
“I have more time off coming to me.”
He smiled. “But I do want you to tell Doug yes and explain things to Jack. I want you here permanently as soon as I can get you.”
“Mmmm.” She ran her hands over his bare chest. “I just want you.”
“No one is stopping you from getting what you want.”
She kissed his neck. “Thank you for taking me to meet your parents.”
He laughed. “That is an excellent way to spoil the mood. Bring my parents into bed with us.”
“Sorry.” She moved her fingers down his chest, down his abdomen, to the area at his hips that marked where his sensation stopped. He trembled under her touch. Hypersensitive. She moved her fingers back up, tweaked his nipple – hard.
His response was a sound mixed of pleasure and pain. She slid over on top of him, her bare chest to his, kissing his mouth, then his neck, then sliding her body down his legs, careful of the catheter, until her mouth was even with his nipples. She propped herself up on her elbows and began to kiss and nibble at him, sometimes nipping lightly, sometimes biting hard enough to make him cry out. She loved the way he responded to her. She knew she could make him feel good and that pleased her greatly. She worked his nipples with her mouth and hands, massaged and caressed all of the areas he could feel and some he couldn’t until he gripped her shoulders and groaned.
“Come here.” He said as she sat up. “Sit on my chest.”
Heather slid back up his body, loving the feel of him against her skin. She grabbed the headboard and used it to support most of her weight while she perched on his chest, his head between her thighs. Kellan held her waist as his tongue worked her clit. She moaned and arched her back. As he brought her closer to orgasm, he moved his tongue to slide in and out of her, massaging her clit with his fingers.
She gripped the headboard as he increased the pressure and the speed. He could fuck her with his tongue better than any other guy ever had with his penis. It didn’t take long before she climaxed, crying out in pleasure.
Both totally relaxed, they could sleep.
To be continued...