It is absolutely beautiful today – clear blue skies scattered with puffy white clouds, warm and pleasant, a gentle breeze making the waves dance. It seems like everyone is at the beach enjoying the weather. Kids are swimming, building sandcastles, running after a ball or with their dogs; an elderly couple are strolling barefoot, hand-in-hand, along the edge of the water; two police officers are eating ice-cream, smiling and talking to the vendor standing on the sidewalk. The scene could have been taken out of a travel brochure.
The images through the cab window usually soothe me. Today, however, they are directly responsible for the queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach.
I may never be able to run after a stupid ball again.
The loving couple makes me think of my loving boyfriend, who lovingly broke up with me as soon as I was released from the hospital. I knew it would happen the day he came to see me there – after all, what would he want with someone who might never be able to walk unaided again? I was surprised he’d waited that long to do it.
Seeing the police officers smile at the ice-cream guy…that enrages me most of all. The inebriated arsehole that smashed into my parked car got off with a fine and a slap on the wrist.
The cab pulls up at the pools, where I’m supposed to meet my physical therapist. We’re having a hydro session today and I’m not looking forward to it. Getting out of the cab and fiddling with my crutches (I hate these things) I feel my Blackberry vibrate in the pocket of my tracksuit bottoms. Once inside, I fish my phone out. It’s a text message from my therapist.
“Hey. Running late. Car got a flat. Get wet so long. Be there soon.”
I look over at the bleachers and my heart sinks. There’s quite a crowd here today…lots to witness my embarrassment, hobbling in and out of the pool. There’s an empty-ish section near the locker rooms and I shuffle my way there, thankful that at the very least, I’m already wearing my swimsuit under my clothes.
Wincing, I sit down and put my crutches under my feet against the step. I don’t want anyone to suffer my fate by tripping over it. I’m irritated with my therapist. It’s uncomfortable when I bend…she usually helps remove my shoes, and now I have to get them off myself. It takes me a good seven minutes.
Just as I am taking off my sock, my eye falls on a large yellow and grey running shoe. It belongs to a guy, shrugging out of his jacket about three feet away. After the situation with Arsehole, I am a little repulsed by men in general…so his proximity takes me a bit by surprise. He is standing somewhat in front of me, so I can stare – he’s tall, pale with dark blonde hair and lean.
Off comes the t-shirt. Despite it bulging just enough in all the right places, it’s not his torso that makes me stare – it’s the white patch on his left shoulder blade.
“Girly, isn’t it?”
Damn. Caught in the act. I can feel my face burning.
“Sorry, didn’t mean to stare,” I mutter, injecting as much ice into my tone so as to cover my gaffe. “It’s not every day you see a guy with a tattoo of a unicorn. But it is beautifully inked.”
“Thanks,” he says with a chuckle.” You’ve got a few then?”
His voice is like honeyed velvet – looking at his face and laughing, cerulean blues, I certainly did not expect that sound coming from his mouth.
“Ah. Not into ink?”
“Not into needles, is more like it.”
He chuckled then. “Hospital put you off it then?”
“Ugh, you have no idea. Wait…why would you assume I was in hospital?”
“It took you about five minutes or so to remove your sneakers. Judging from your frame, I wouldn’t say that you were terribly unfit, so probably injured. And I could be wrong, but I don’t think people buy walking aids as a fashion accessory.”
The fact that I’ve been studied so closely, by a complete stranger, no less is a little weird. Doesn’t matter how incredibly hot he is.
“Stalking a job or hobby?” I ask.
His laughter is so infectious; I struggle to bite back a smile.
“Um, well, a hobby I suppose,” he replies after calming down from his laughing fit. “But is it not usual for a normal, warm-blooded male to notice a pretty girl wherever he is?”
“I suppose not,” I say, trying to sound nonchalant but being betrayed by my blush. I’ve never taken compliments well.
“So…what was it?”
“The reason for the crutches,” he said, sitting down next to me. I still don’t know whether it was his lack of a shirt, his gaze or voice, but I was so distracted I answered without pausing.
“Car accident. Drunk driver slammed into me, resulting in whiplash, a bulging lumbar disc, a fractured tibia and these,“ I said, pointing under my feet.
“Yikes. But, here you are,” he said, smiling.
I’d rather I wasn’t, actually. “Yeah, here I am.”
Before either of us could say anything further, a perky voice interrupted.
“Scar! Hey! Sorry I’m so late. I’ll be out in a sec – just want to chuck my things in a locker.”
“I take it that’s your therapist. Scar?” he asked as she rushed past us.
His tone made me giggle. “Yep, that’s Anita. And ‘Scar’ is short for Scarlet.”
“Beautiful name…it suits you.”
Again, my face betrayed my discomfort with compliments. I chose to dodge it, mostly because I couldn’t think of anything witty to say while he was looking at me like that. “I should get ready. Still have to get my trousers off, which takes a while, as you’ve seen.”
I don’t know how, but his laugh made my belly clench. And then, he held his hands out to me to help me stand and positioned them at my waistband. “May I?” he asked, and it took me a few seconds to realise he was offering to help get me out of my pants. Once again, I was at a loss and all I could do was nod stupidly and then stand there while he was sliding my bottoms down my legs.
“Thanks,” was all I eventually managed to get out.
“Can I show you why I chose a unicorn?” he asked when he was done.
When I nodded, he hiked up his left pants leg. I didn’t know how to respond to the steel limb, but he continued without waiting for me to say anything. “The unicorn is the universal symbol for the unattainable. The doctors said I wasn’t an ideal candidate for a prosthetic limb, but in my case, stubbornness paid off.” He looked up past my head and back at me. “Here comes Anita. Well, Scarlet, it’s nice to have met you at last.”
He paused and held out his hand. I reached out to return the handshake.
He held on for longer than was necessary, and I was…well, hypnotised by his gaze. “Maybe I’ll see you around soon,” he said at last, eventually letting go of my hand and heading off to the opposite end of the bleachers, waving at a hulk of a blonde guy waiting for him there.
“Hey, you ready?” Anita asked, snapping me out of my staring.
“Hey…yeah, let me just get my jacket off.”
Just as I was about to undo my zip, I felt something in my hand.
Call me some time. Sooner, rather than later. Tom – 555 2908