The old white farmhouse appeared pale yellow in the last of the late autumn sun. The red tin roof had an orange cast and a family of pygmy goats munched rust-colored leaves and the last green grass of the lawn. All but one, who was diligently stripping the bark from an ancient oak.
Kellan cranked past the house, shaking his head at the busy goat. Heather loved this old farmhouse, loved the red tin roof, and thought that goats were the best idea ever for lawn maintenance. Kellan loved the way her green eyes lit up when they drove past this farm, which they tended to do whenever she visited Richmond. She was like a little girl, looking at her dream house. She wanted to lie in bed and hear the rain on the tin roof.
He missed her. He cranked harder, as if riding faster would bring her to him any quicker. She was coming in for a long weekend. Carrie’s wedding. And they had things to discuss.
He could see Kyle up ahead of him. They both rode at their own pace. Kyle never pushed it so hard that he couldn’t turn his head and see where Kellan was and Kellan could never keep up with Kyle, no matter how hard he pushed it. His shoulders burned and his back hurt, but they were almost done. Two miles and they would have completed the loop and would be back at Kyle’s truck.
Kyle was already putting his bike in the rack when Kellan pulled in.
“You made good time.”
“You say that every time. Spare me, please.” Kellan unbuckled his helmet.
Kyle looked over at his brother. “What’s eating you?”
“Liar. You are always in a pissy mood when you are waiting for Heather to come in. I can’t figure it out”
“I am not in a pissy mood and there is nothing to figure out.”
Kellan tugged at the safety straps around his ankles. He lifted his feet out of the footrests and arranged his legs. He stretched and grimaced.
Kyle watched him. “You okay?” He stopped the teasing. Kellan tended to get very pissy when he was in pain.
“I just rode twenty miles, Kyle. My back hurts. My arms and shoulders hurt. Arms and shoulders weren’t designed to do what I make mine do every day.”
“I don’t need the physiology lesson, smartass.” Kyle checked his watch. “Your lady love will be arriving in about two hours. You should have time to shower and get dressed. If we leave now.”
Kellan tossed his helmet at Kyle. Kyle caught it neatly and tossed it into the truck.
“Does that mean you are ready to get in the truck?” Kyle smiled.
“Why couldn’t you have bought a car I could get into by myself?” Kellan asked, not for the first time.
“Because my life does not revolve around you.” Kyle opened the passenger door and then knelt d down to lift Kellan out of the handcycle. “And I wanted a truck.”
Kellan was quiet as Kyle slid one arm under his knees and the other around his back. He put his arm around Kyle’s shoulders. Being carried made Kellan feel truly helpless. Fortunately, it was rarely for more than the few seconds it took Kyle or his dad to help him complete transfers he could not do on his own. Any longer distances and he usually got a piggyback ride, which seemed less humiliating then being cradled like a small child or new bride.
“Easy.” Kellan cautioned as Kyle picked him up and the pain in his back sharpened.
Kyle shifted his grip a little to ease the pressure on Kellan’s back, which caused Kellan to slip.
“Fuck, Kyle, don’t drop me!” Kellan snapped, tightening his arms around Kyle’s shoulders.
“Have I ever dropped you?” Kyle shot back, securing his hold. The thought of dropping Kellan scared him just as much as it did Kellan.
“No, and I don’t want to break that perfect record or any more of my bones.”
Kyle got him into the passenger seat without further incident or comment. Kellan got himself arranged and buckled in as Kyle walked away to break down the handcycle and put it in the back of the truck. Kellan watched as Kyle quickly and effortlessly took the bike apart and carried its pieces away in less than half the time it took him to do the same tasks. Kyle did a lot for him, and as much as Kyle said his life didn’t revolve around Kellan, Kellan knew that Kyle’s life would be vastly different if he didn’t depend on him so much. Kellan was ready to change some of that, but so much would be dependent on Heather. Kyle was right. He was in a pissy mood. And it had little to do with the fact that his back hurt like hell and everything to do with the fact that this weekend would take his relationship with Heather to the next level or likely to its end.
When they got back to the apartment, Kellan headed for the shower. It wouldn’t take him two hours to get ready, but it wasn’t a fast process. Kyle would have showered, gotten dresses, grabbed something to eat and left for his girlfriend’s house before Kellan was ready to leave his room. That was okay.
Kellan emerged from his bedroom with plenty of time to spare. He had been tempted to stay in his wheelchair because his back and shoulders still hurt, but Heather loved taking off his braces when they went to bed, so he put on the braces. Truth be told, he enjoyed watching her take them off. It was sometimes foreplay, sometimes helping, depending upon what followed: sex or sleep. The first time she had taken off his braces, she had done it with fear in her eyes and trembling hands. He had watched her, biting his lip, saying nothing, knowing how afraid she was of doing something wrong, of hurting him somehow. Their lovemaking that night had been very gentle and thorough as she had explored and gotten acquainted with his body and he explored and got acquainted with hers.
Now there was no trepidation, no hesitation when they were together. She knew his body and he knew hers. He had learned Viagra would work for him. He still had no sensation and he couldn’t ejaculate, but having Heather ride him until she came was an experience in itself. The look of bliss on her face, the way her body tensed and then completely relaxed, it satisfied him in a way his own orgasms hadn’t.
He shook his head as he crutched into the kitchen. Thoughts like that gave him a huge mental erection, even if his body couldn’t follow through. She wouldn’t be riding him tonight. He was advised to take the Viagra no more than once a week. Considering that he would need to take Vicodin to dull the pain in his back, he didn’t think he wanted to use that once per week quota on a night when he felt like shit.
He stared into the refrigerator for so long that nothing at all looked appealing, but he had to take the painkillers with food, so he pulled out the milk for a bowl of cereal. He ate the cereal, took the pills and went to the living room to watch TV and wait for Heather.
Heather entered the Richmond city limits around 8:30. She would have to cross back out into the county to get to Kellan’s apartment, but she would be there by 9:00 like she had told him. She didn’t like driving in the dark, but she hadn’t wanted to wait another day to see Kellan, so she had left after her 3:00 meeting. She hadn’t seen him in almost two weeks. As the project they were working on reached its end, it became harder to justify spending at least every other week in Richmond at the sponsoring business unit’s expense. But this trip wasn’t for business. She was on vacation for Carrie’s wedding. Four days with Kellan and no work to do. Their first long weekend together. It would be fun.
Heather felt that silly schoolgirl grin spread across her face. She was goofy in love with Kellan and she didn’t like being apart from him. She had news to share. That 2:00 meeting had brought something unexpected and she needed to talk to Kellan about it. It could change everything for them. She was ready to uproot her life to be with him and Doug Shepherd had offered her the means to do so. Would Kellan agree? She thought they were to the point where they were both ready to move the relationship forward. They had not discussed “the relationship” since the day she had turned her car around after being sent back to Charlotte by Kellan himself. She had to let him know that she wanted the relationship, wanted to try, even if he was afraid. They had tried and it was right. Time for another talk.
The drive passed quickly as she turned scenarios in her head and she pulled into Kellan’s apartment complex with 7 minutes to spare. She parked beside his Outback wagon, bounced out of her car without any of her things. She just wanted to see him. Luggage would wait.
She rang the bell and was a concerned when she received no response, even after giving him a little extra time to get to the door. She rang one more time, and then she used her key to get in.
“Kellan!” She called out as she went into the apartment. No response. She was scared now. The TV was on in the living room. And there was Kellan, sound asleep on the sofa. She smiled. He could fall asleep almost anywhere, almost anytime. “Kellan…” she called his name again as she knelt down beside him. He stirred a little, but didn’t open his eyes. She stared at him for a moment. He was so cute, lying on his side, clutching a pillow. She called his name again, reached out to gently shake his shoulder and kiss his cheek. He smelled of soap and sandalwood.
“Wake up, sleepyhead.” Heather sat back on her knees as he opened his eyes.
“Heather.” He reached out his hand to touch her face.
“In the flesh.” She smiled.
“You caught me napping.” He smiled back, pushing up on his elbow to start sitting up. He grabbed the back of the sofa, then used his free hand to lift and swing his legs down so his feet were on the floor. He pulled against the back of the sofa to sit up straight and arranged his legs
“Yep.” She waited until he was still then put her hands on his knees and stretched up to kiss him again, on the mouth this time. His hands cupped her head as they kissed hello.
“I have missed you.” She said when they came up for air.
“You talk to me everyday.” He teased, stroking her soft brown hair.
“Not the same.” She smiled up at him and moved in for another kiss.
“Not the same at all.” He agreed, as they pulled apart again. “How was your drive?”
“Long.” She stared into his deep blue eyes. They needed to talk. But she didn’t really want to talk now. “How was your ride?”
“Long.” He pushed his left hand into the small of his back and stretched.
She didn’t miss the grimace. “Bad day?”
He looked down. “Not so bad.”
Liar. She knew when he couldn’t meet her eyes. “How about a back massage?” She offered.
“That would be nice.” He reached for his crutches and stood slowly.
Heather followed him to his bedroom. She couldn’t wait to get her hands on him. Or for him to get his hands on her. But she knew from the way he was moving that she would have to take it easy on him.
He sat on the edge of the bed and leaned his crutches against the wall by the headboard between the bed and the nightstand. He didn’t make a motion to begin undressing. He knew Heather wanted to do that for him. Heather knelt at his feet and began untying his shoes. Once the shoes were untied, she stood up and kissed him, wrapping her arms around his neck. He held his arms around her waist, pulling her close.
“I have missed you so much.” She whispered as his kiss brought that familiar heat to her thighs.
“You said that already.” He laughed. “And I have missed you too.”
She pulled away to lift his legs onto the bed. He scooted up a bit and laid back against the pillow, watching her undress him. She unbuttoned and unzipped his pants, opened his fly, kissed the line from his navel to the waistband of his light blue boxers. He shivered and closed his eyes. She moved to pull down his pants and he pushed up on his hands so she could get them over his hips easily. Kellan watched as she so carefully lifted his legs and got them free of the pants then so carefully placed his legs back on the bed. She had been a little afraid of his legs at first, but now her touch was gentle for a different reason. He could see how much she loved him just in the way she touched him. He had never thought it would be like this for him again. He wasn’t sure it ever had been this way for him, even with Anna, his ex-fiancée.
Heather started with the right thigh cuff and unbuckled it. She looked up at Kellan. His eyes were closed again. She smiled and didn’t say anything. It would be a quiet night. She continued to remove his braces, with the same gentle touch, although with his eyes closed, he had no way of knowing what she was doing. She laid the braces on the floor, then climbed on the bed beside him. He opened his eyes.
“Take off your shirt and roll over and I will rub your back.”
He shook his head. “Just come here.”
She curled up against his side. “Did you take something?”
“Yes.” He kissed the top of her head. “Vicodin. I’m sorry. This isn’t the way I wanted to welcome you.”
She shrugged. “Don’t apologize. It will be like this sometimes. I know that. It just means you can’t give me shit when I tell you I have a headache.”
Heather lay with her head on his chest; his arm encircled her shoulders. She reached her hand under his shirt to touch his skin. Just being this close to him was enough. For now. She lay there, snuggled against him, tracing her hand across his stomach and his chest. He relaxed. Maybe it was time to talk.
“I had a meeting with Doug Shepherd this afternoon.” Heather started the conversation.
“Hmm?” Kellan answered.
Heather realized he was drifting off to sleep again. Maybe it wasn’t time to talk. “You need sleep. Why don’t you go get ready for bed and we will call it an early night?”
He nodded sleepily and she sat up so he could get out of bed. Even half-asleep, his transfer to his waiting wheelchair was a fluid, well-practiced motion that his body now performed from memory. Heather watched him wheel into the adjoining bathroom then went out to her car to get her bag.
The bathroom door was still closed when she got back into his room. She hadn’t expected any different. It took him awhile to do everything he needed to do before he could go to sleep. She knew his routines now. She knew what he had to do to keep his body healthy. All the things her body did on its own to keep the plumbing clean, he had to do manually. He had to catheterize himself to empty his bladder before putting on a condom catheter to prevent any nighttime accidents. He would check his bowel to be sure it was clear. She wasn’t as disturbed by it as she had thought she would be, but the sight of the condom catheter and bedbag he used at night had been intimidating at first. She was used to it now.
Heather changed into her pajamas and climbed into bed to wait for him and her turn in the bathroom. She nestled under the comforter and stared up at the ceiling, smiling. Being in Kellan’s bed was right in a way nothing else was. Sleeping next to him she felt safe and loved. When she was held in his arms, everything seemed right with her world. She finally understood what Carrie felt for Reid. Would she and Kellan be as lucky to make it to the altar and to join their lives together? It was what she wanted.
He came out of the bathroom and she drove the thoughts aside as she excused herself to brush her teeth.
He was already asleep when she returned to the bed a few minutes later and she curled up against the warmth of his side and found sleep.
Heather woke up to a gentle kiss on her cheek. She opened her eyes to see the man she loved so much smiling at her from the other side of the bed.
She put her arms around his neck and pulled him down on top of her. “Too early, Kellan,” she mumbled. “We have the day off.”
He kissed her neck as she stroked his shoulders. Then he pushed himself up.
“You can stay in bed, lazybones. I know how early you went to bed last night. But you may not be able to sleep though my weights clanging,” he teased.
“Your weights are in the other room. I can assure you I will sleep through them.” Heather grumbled good-naturedly.
Over the past months, Heather had gotten used to his morning routine and even come to help him with some of it. But today was vacation. She had taken a long weekend for Carrie’s wedding and Kellan had taken the time off with her. She wanted to sleep late or at least take their time getting out of bed.
“Go back to sleep.” He gave me another kiss on the cheek
Heather was definitely awake now.
“Not a chance.”
“I win!” He put his hands in the air in victory.
Heather growled and lunged to tickle his unprotected side. She had learned by accident that he was as ticklish as a three-year-old and she used it against him every chance she got. He immediately put his arms down, catching her against him. She wrapped her arms around him and kissed his stomach instead.
“What a great way to wake up,” he said, running his fingers through her hair.
“I agree.” Heather looked up at him adoringly.
"Thanks for taking it easy on me last night.” He grinned a little sheepishly.
“Are you feeling better?” She asked first.
“Then you will pay for it later.”
“Is that supposed to be a threat?”
“What do you think?”
“I think we should wake up this way every morning.”
Heather’s heart skipped a beat as she searched his eyes for a glint of teasing, looked for that playful grin. No trace of either. He was serious. Nice segue into what she wanted to discuss with him.
“I have been thinking about that. I started to tell you last night, but…” She sat up and turned to face him.
“But I fell asleep.” He smiled. “I remember something about Doug Shepherd.”
She nodded. Felt a little hesitation. Best to say it. “He offered me a job, Kellan. Here in Richmond.”
Now it was Kellan’s heart that skipped a beat. “What did you tell him?”
“I asked him for a few days to decide. I wanted to talk to you first.”
He nodded, not wanting to let too much show until he knew where she was going. He couldn’t stand to have this go the wrong way. “What do you want to do?”
“I want to wake up beside you every morning. Taking his offer will allow me to do that. But I want to know that it is what you want, too.”
He nodded again, looking down at the comforter over his legs.
Heather waited for him to speak, clutching at the comforter; afraid she had moved too fast. Had the thought of being together all the time been nicer than the reality would be?
“I want that, too.” He said quietly. “You are willing to uproot your life to be closer to me?”
“In a heartbeat. I love you, Kellan Tierney.”
“I love you, too.”
Heather nearly squealed with joy. She had said the words to him before, but he had never been able to say it back, although she knew he loved her. He wouldn’t be with her otherwise. It wasn’t his way.
“I am moving to Richmond!” She suppressed the squeal but not the yell, which no one but she and Kellan could hear. He laughed and hugged her close.
“You are a crazy girl.” He kissed her.
“I would have to be, wouldn’t I, to change my whole life for a cute, blue-eyed boy.”
“That’s the way to build up my self–esteem.”
“Like you need any help with that.”
He looked at her with wide blue eyes, all innocence. “What is that supposed to mean?”
She shook her head. “So what is on the agenda for the day?” She looked ready to hop out of bed.
“Slow down.” He took her hand. “Tell me what Mr. Shepherd offered that you are accepting.”
“Project manager II position dedicated to supporting the workflow infrastructure needs of his team.”
Kellan’s eyebrows raised. “A promotion with the position? How can he do that?”
“I asked the same question. Since it is a different organization, apparently he can. I will be right on your heels.”
“It will be a great opportunity for you. But are you sure you want to work for Doug?”
Heather nodded. “After the CL Workflow project, I understand the way he does business. He isn’t easy to deal with, but he always ends up on the right side of his business needs. I can respect that. And I think I stand to learn a lot in his org.”
“You will do a great job. You do understand the way he works. I think you will bring about positive changes for his org.”
“Thanks.” She kissed his cheek. “I will accept his offer when I get back on Tuesday. Instead of going bike shopping today, can we go apartment hunting?”
He looked a little disappointed. “No.”
“You don’t need to go apartment hunting.”
“I don’t?” She hoped she knew where this was going.
“I would like it if you would live with me.”
“But you already have a roommate.”
“Who would love to spend more nights with his girlfriend but doesn’t want to leave his crippled brother alone. It would be good for Kyle not to live with me anymore.”
“Is Kyle okay with this?”
“He will be. I haven’t talked to him about it yet. I wanted to talk to you first.”
Heather caught what he was trying to say. “You were going to ask me to move in with you this weekend?”
“I really wanted to, but I wasn’t’ sure how we were going to make it work. I don’t want a long-distance relationship anymore, but I didn’t feel like I could ask you to leave your job and your life to come up here and be my live-in girlfriend. You need more than that.”
“Oh, Kellan!” She threw her arms around his neck. “You have made me the happiest girl in the world.”
“I am not entirely sure how I did that, but I will accept it.” He laughed.
“I can’t wait to tell Carrie I am moving.” She beamed.
“You can tell her tonight at the rehearsal. Right now, you are mine.”
He flipped her over onto her back and kissed her mouth first, then paid careful attention to the rest of her body. As her back arched and she cried out, grabbing a handful of his dark hair, she knew that while everything was right with the world while she was in his arms, having him between her thighs could tip her world off its axis.
To be continued...