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Rated: 13+ · Campfire Creative · Appendix · Romance/Love · #1654022
Campfire created as a part of Paper Doll Gang
[Introduction] A story about an unlikely couple and the misfortune that threatens their love.

"How lovely!"

"You look like an angel!"

"Steve is so lucky!"

Hearing the compliments of her friends, Rebecca Spencer felt pleased. They were all fussing over her while the makeup expert help her prepare for her wedding; hardly a few hours away. When she saw her mother Alice Spencer in the mirror, she smiled.

"Hi mom," she said.

"You look beautiful, my child," said Alice. Rebecca giggled when she she saw the admiration in her mother's eyes. Normally, the aristocratic woman would always be critical of her simple dresses and aversion to makeup.

"We don't have much time, darling. Steve has already reached the church."

"I'm almost done, mom," she said. How typical of Steve! Always so punctual. Thinking about her lover, made her eyes sparkle.

After Alice kissed her on her forehead and left,{/b} Rebecca turned to the mirror and touched her blonde hair, feeling the smooth texture. The memories of Steve’s unabashed praises brought a smile to her lips.

“I love you, my Goldilocks.”

The makeup expert touched up Rebecca’s eyelashes, painted her eyelids and darkened her eyebrows, highlighting her blue irises.

“I wish to sink to the depths of these blue pools.”

Next, the lady applied blush on her cheeks and gloss on her lip

“Kissing your sensuous lips is like manna to me.”

Rebecca admired her image one final time. Though she felt pleased at how she looked she felt a bit tentative because Steve liked her normal, simple appearance and she felt embarrassed at her heavy makeup. He had chosen her décolleté wedding gown and she was eager to show how she looked in it; especially how he would feel on seeing her exposed shoulders.

“Your milky, white skin...You drive me crazy, Rebecca.”

Gracefully she got into the car which would carry her to the church where her wedding with longtime sweetheart Stephen Cartwright would be solemnized.

It was a good 45 minute ride and it allowed Rebecca to settle down to her favorite reverie; how she met Steve.

xxx


“Miss Rebecca Spencer, please take a seat.”

With trembling legs she sat across the impressive oak table, hesitant to look at her professor of Greek studies. The man had a formidable reputation as a task master and students worried about making the grade in his subject of specialization; the plays of Euripides.

“I believe you wanted to see me, Miss Spencer.”

“Professor Cartwright, I wish to pursue my doctoral studies under you.” She found courage to gaze at his handsome features; somber, blue eyes and hair graying at the temples.

“May I question the reason for your wish? I’m sure you’ll find other guides who have a reputation for greater flexibility with the students,” he asked, his baritone making her heart leap.

“But there is no bigger authority than you Professor Cartwright, when it comes to Euripides and it is his plays I wish to study.” She had foreseen this question.

“And why, Euripides?”

“I admire Euripides’ daring in creating strong female characters in a society that was predominantly male driven. He also did not flinch from questioning the powers of the Gods which, seen in the context of the times he lived in means that he was a man of extraordinary courage.” She had been expecting that question as well and had been rehearsing that answer for a long time.

“I’m afraid I cannot reply to your request immediately Miss. Spencer. I’ll have to evaluate your candidature. Please submit me a written request and a 10,000 word critique on anyone of his plays. I need both of these by tomorrow 10 am.” His voice was formal and authoritative.

“But that is too…” She couldn’t complete her sentence. Seeing his gaze she froze.

When she finally left his office, she left even more confused than when she had entered. It was true that she loved Greek literature and wished to pursue it as a career. But her interest had always been Sophocles, never Euripides. She had always prided in being rational and logical unlike her silly friends who were always gushing about boys. She was shocked at her own behaviour.

She was not prepared for the way her heart reacted when she first set eyes upon Professor Stephen Cartwright, a man twenty years her senior. At that time she had no clue that the revered Professor was single, had been through a failed marriage and had a grown up son. She only knew that she wanted to be as close as possible to this handsome and venerable looking man.

xxx


The loud screeching of brakes shattered her reverie. Her last memories before she passed out were of her driver swerving wildly and crashing into a tree.



xxx


His hands shoved into the pockets of his black tux pants, Steve stood in the center of the small room, barely aware of the noises of people filing into the church on the other side of the closed door behind him. There was laughter, a few disgruntled, childish cries, and the quiet tuning of the organ, but it all faded away as he stared unseeingly through the small window into the afternoon sunshine.

The last time, he'd been twenty-four and a graduate student. Steve supposed that it was only natural that he should think about his previous marriage as his wedding was about to start, but he couldn't help but find an ironic amusement in the exercise. Rebecca was so different from his first wife, Carol. They had met in college - Carol had been working as a waitress while getting a business degree. Even from the beginning of their relationship, she had never understood his love for "dead Greek things," as she called them. Looking back, Steve knew he should have realized they didn't have anything in common, but he spent so much time buried in his books that he enjoyed how real she was, how different from him. In the end, though, Carol hadn't been able to handle the life of a professor's wife - not exciting enough. She didn't like being "ignored" while he worked on one of his books.

Steve's mouth curved in a slight smile. Rebecca understood. She didn't complain when he didn't even notice that she'd come in to leave his dinner next to him on his desk. When he emerged from his study, he'd more often than not find her emersed in her own research, books and notes strewn about the living room. Sometimes, she would be asleep, her laptop balanced on her stomach. She was so beautiful when she slept, he mused, her blonde hair tousled around her head. Her hair - it had always fascinated him. And her disturbingly blue eyes...


xxx


Steve looked up at the knock on his office door. Glancing at the clock, he noted the time - 9:45. Images of Rebecca Spencer flitting through his mind, he unconsciously adjusted his tie, the fingers of his other hand drumming against the desk. His voice, however, was perfectly calm and clipped as he called for his visitor to enter.

The door opened, and Rebecca walked inside, a notebook clutched to her chest. Steve felt the same strange sense of awareness slide into his stomach that he'd experienced the day before. Her hair was down today, curling around her shoulders and glinting in the sunlight like a halo. She wasn't like the other girls in his classes - too much makeup, too little clothing. He found them amusing and interchangeable semester after semester. Rebecca was quiet, studious, her passion for literature lighting up her eyes. Her clear, deep eyes...

Steve inwardly shook himself, his tone even more professorial than usual as he said, "Yes, Miss Spencer? Can I help you?"

Expecting her to offer some excuse for not finishing the materials he'd requested, he was surprised when she replied, "I'm sorry to disturb you, Professor Cartwright, but I have the proposal and the critique you asked for." She handed him a sheaf of papers.

Taking them, Steve glanced at the neatly-typed pages. "You have done a lot of work," he observed.

Nodding, Rebecca murmured, " I stayed up all..." She stopped and cleared her throat, changing her mind. "I hope they will convince you to take me as a student."

Steve studied her face, realizing that there were black circles under her eyes and lines of exhaustion around her mouth. He knew she probably hadn't slept. He tried to ignore his feeling of concern. "Yes, well, we'll see," he replied gruffly, dismissing her.

Rebecca nodded, but, instead of turning to leave, she took a step forward. "May I ask when you'll make a decision?" she pressed.

Steve looked up, once again finding himself gazing into her eyes. Unaccountably speechless for a moment, he quickly recovered. Frowning more at himself than her, he said, "It will take a few days." When he didn't elaborate, Rebecca gracefully backed down and headed for the door. Just as she was about to disappear, he couldn't prevent himself from saying, "Go home and get some rest."

Her eyes widening in surprise, Rebecca glanced back at him over her shoulder, a piece of her golden hair catching on her mouth. He couldn't shake that image for the rest of the day.


xxx


Steve was still lost in his memories when someone invaded his sanctuary. Turning, he found his son and best man, Jason - named after the famous Argonaut, although Carol refused to acknowledge that.

"Is it time?" Steve asked. Jason's mouth opened, but he didn't respond. That's when Steve noticed how pale his son was. "What's wrong?" he demanded.

"Dad," Jason said, his voice hoarse as he laid a hand on Steve's arm. "It's Rebecca. There was a car accident."

Steve blinked, his mind denying the words that threatened to dismantle his world.

“What?” he asked, hoping that Jason would reply that he was only playing a cruel joke.

“Dad, you’ve to take care of yourself. Rebecca needs you. She is in the hospital,” Jason replied.

“Is she alright?” he asked, hoping that the sadness in his son’s eyes was only a false façade.

When he didn’t reply, he understood that nature had once again conspired against his happiness. Steve felt his knees crumble and senses go numb. Rebecca, his darling Rebecca, the beacon of light in his dreary, academic world, lay on a cold hospital bed, when she should have been by his side; saying I do and kissing him.

He had always prided himself on his fortitude. When Carol had left him and Jason, he had not shed a single tear. He brought up his son almost single-handedly never once complaining about his fate. But today he felt as if someone had carved up his heart into pieces. The pain was so intense that it made him aware of his existence. Whenever Rebecca would be by his side, his heart with overwhelm with happiness; make him feel alive. Today, when she battled for her life, the pain worked on him likewise. He realized how much he loved her.

“I want to see her, Jason. Take me to her please.”

“Let’s go, dad.”

xxx


Rebecca Spencer proved to be an outstanding pupil. After Steve had browsed through the rather unfair assignment that he had demanded of her overnight, he knew that he was in for a rather complicated phase of his life. There was no way he could have rejected that application; the work was of such extraordinary quality. It was the only solace he could provide to his restless mind, because heart had already decided that he should take her in his tutelage.

After Rebecca had left he had accessed her personal records on the college database. His status as the Head of the Department of Greek Studies allowed him that privilege. He went through her personal information so many times that before he met her again he knew almost everything about her by heart. He cringed when he saw her age. She was only twenty four against his forty four.

I am a lunatic. She is just a student. What did I expect? Someone my age. He laughed to himself. But his heart sank at how artificial and unconvincing he sounded.

When the notice went out from Professor Cartwright’s office that he had agreed to guide Rebecca Spencer’s doctoral thesis on Euripides, everyone was forced to sit up and take notice. It was rare for a student to risk his career against the exacting standards Steve demanded. It was even rarer for Steve to accept to guide a student. When it happened, it actually meant that two great minds had come together.


“We have arrived, Dad.” Jason’s whisper brought Steve back to present day reality.

Rebecca’s mother waited for them at the reception. Steve’s heart pained to see the haggard expression on her handsome features. There was no denying how Rebecca had inherited her good looks. Though Alice lived fairly independently after the death of Rebecca’s father, there was no doubt about how much she depended upon her only child for emotional support.

“She is pretty serious, Steve. Doctors aren’t saying much.” She burst out crying.

“It will be alright, Alice.” Steve comforted her, patting her in the back.

“Can we see her?” Jason asked.

“She is in ICU. They will take her to the Operation Theatre (OT). Let’s go and wait there,” she said, wiping her tears on the sleeve of her dress.

She has aged by ten years in one day. Steve observed, taking her arm as they walked together to the OT.

They didn’t have to wait long. Rebecca was wheeled past them on a gurney. She was unconscious and Steve saw with horror the blood stains on her head, needles inserted into her soft skin, and the bottles of saline and blood hanging from the stand of the bed.

My lovely Rebecca! It proved to be the last straw for the renowned academician feared for heartlessness and toughness. He started to weep like a child.

When Jason tried to comfort him, Alice held him back.

“Leave him alone. He has bottled up too much grief within,” she advised.

He knew she was right and sadly he watched his father sob.

Tears streaming unchecked down his face, Steve caught Rebecca's hand, blindly walking beside her as the nurses continued to push her toward the OT. Normally, when he touched her, her warmth reached out and enveloped him, firing his blood. But, now, her skin was so cold, so pale. His fingers tightened, willing her to respond, but there was nothing, no sign she knew he was there.

"Sir, we have to take her inside."

When he didn't move, one of the nurses clutched his elbow to pull him away, but Steve resisted. If he let Rebecca go, if he didn't hold on...

"We need to get her into surgery, Sir."

They didn't understand. She was everything. His life. His breath. Without her...

"Dad," Jason murmured, putting an arm around Steve's shoulders. "You have to let her go."

I can't! The silent cry echoed in Steve's mind, and he leaned down, insensible in his desperation.

"Rebecca..." he croaked, the grief in his voice causing everyone who heard it to cringe in sympathy.

Overcome, Steve fell to his knees, Rebecca's hand sliding out of his grasp as they wheeled her away.

xxx


Rebecca stopped by her mailbox and pulled out the stack of paper resting inside. Her stomach clenching with anxiety, she flipped to the back page, trying not to let herself be discouraged by the daunting number of comments. She had been Steve's student for a year, so she knew what to expect. Finding what she was looking for, she quickly scanned his final evaluation of her work. Words jumped out at her.

...flat...vague...not thought out...lazy research...

It was the last that raised Rebecca's anger. Her face reddening, she slammed out of the room and walked quickly down the hallway. Knocking on Steve's office, she barely waited for him to answer before she shoved her way inside, letting the door slam behind her.

Glancing up, Steve asked with infuriating calm, "Is there something you want, Miss Spencer?" He tried not to notice how the hectic flush on her cheeks highlighted the blue sparkle of her eyes, and he dragged his gaze away, returning it to the computer screen in a well-practiced pretense that her presence didn't affect him.

Rebecca waved her paper in the air. "How could you say that this is unresearched?"

His eyes widening in surprise, Steve was forced to look at her. In the year she had been working under him, she had never once complained about his criticism. She had taken it better than any student he'd had before.

"Because you failed to consider an entire school of thought on the play," he replied, leaning back in his chair.

She paced a few steps away before returning. "That's because it's irrelevant," she retorted.

"Irrelevant?" he repeated, frowning. "You do realize I happen to have published on this subject."

Rebecca glanced away, a little mollified at the reminder, but then she stared at him, her expression stubborn. "And I think you're wrong."

Steve was speechless for a moment before he collected himself. Standing up, he circled the desk to face her. "I'm glad my publishers don't share your opinion," he said, his tone unabashedly arrogant even as he appreciated her courage in challenging him.

Rebecca held her ground as he confronted her, feeling conflicted. On one hand, she was still angry. On the other, his proximity was making her nervous. She always felt this way when he got too close. Her skin started to prickle with awareness, and she had trouble breathing. Her reaction was all the more intensified by the fact he seemed completely unaffected by her, his face impassive.

“I just mean that I think there is another possible explanation for this one...” As she tried to flip to the section she was referring to, Rebecca’s trembling hands fumbled the papers. They slipped out of her grip and fluttered to the floor. Groaning in frustration, she sank to her knees and began gathering them together.

Steve, automatically kneeling to help her, picked up a couple pages and handed them to her. He didn’t realize how close they were until she looked up to murmur her thanks, meeting his gaze. Their hands brushing, he stared down into her upturned face, near enough now that he could detect a small scar over her delicate eyebrow. He fought the uncontrollable desire to touch the marred skin, then trail his fingers down her cheek to her neck to find the pulse that beat there.

Fear prevented him from following through on his inappropriate impulse. Leaning back, he pushed to his feet, desperate to leave. “I...I have a meeting.” Before she could reply, he turned on his heel and stalked out.

Still on her knees, Rebecca watched him go, her eyes rounded in shock as she lifted a hand to her throat.


xxx


It was Alice who got Steve to his feet. Leading him to the nearby waiting room, she let him sink into a chair, patting his back when he bent over and covered his face in his hands. Then, choosing another seat, she tried to deal with her own sorrow.

Somewhere inside, Steve knew he should pull himself together, knew he needed to be strong for his mother-in-law and his son, but he couldn’t find the strength to do so.

For so long, Steve had found everything he needed in words, in language. They had protected him, been his solace and his comfort. Lifting his head with effort, he stared at the OT. Words could do nothing to insulate him against the horror of knowing Rebecca was in that room fighting for her life.

He stared at the red lamp glowing above the OT. It seemed to have a stubborn mind of its own and defying his wishes continued to glow with an ominous hue. The sight filled him with a cold rage as if the innocuous bulb was responsible for his woes. Knowing the virtue of patience he stood up and began to pace up and down like a restless tiger.

XXX


After her last altercation with Steve, Rebecca couldn’t muster the courage to face him again. She had a fixed session with him every Friday afternoon, but didn’t have the heart to go through it. It was uncharacteristic of her to be cowed down by a bout of mind-wrestling even though her opponent happened to be the acknowledged expert in the field. The fact was that Steve impacted her in ways which she never had anticipated.

On the morning her session with him was due, she received a slim envelope from Steve’s office. With trembling hands she slit kit open and pulled out the single page note inside. She was aghast to read the contents. It declared that Professor Steve Cartwright had decided to terminate her agreement with him on health grounds. It added that he would be willing to recommend her case to some other faculty member.

She read the letter several times, each time with growing consternation. Finally, throwing all caution to the winds she marched to Steve’s office and knocked. This time she waited courteously for him to respond. When she heard the muffled “Come in”, she pushed the door gently and entered.

“I am afraid, I don’t have much time, Miss Spencer,” he said when he saw her.

“It will not take long, Professor.” Her voice was composed.

He shrugged and motioned her to the chair in front.

“I am really keen to pursue my thesis under you, Professor.”

“But doctors have advised me against stress,” he replied.

“What makes you think that guiding me will be more stressful than your regular classes, Prof.?”

“I am under no obligation to answer that question, Miss. Spencer. You will appreciate that as the Head of the Department, I’ve certain privileges.”
I keep dreaming about you all the time. Your voice makes my heart pound. Can’t you see that? She wanted to say.

“In that case Prof. I would seek to be transferred to some other University,” she uttered, breathing heavily.

“Are you sure of that, Miss Spencer?”

She nodded her head vehemently.

“I’m sure you’ll have compelling justification for your rather extraordinary request. We have our procedures and the decision doesn’t rest with me. You can leave your application with my secretary.” Saying that, he buried his head in the book on his desk; a clear signal that the meeting was over.

She had a strong urge to cry like a child, hoping it would evoke some sympathy in his cold heart. With great effort she rose to her feet, taking as much time as possible, hoping that he might change his mind. She could only see his patch of graying hair.

She walked up to the door and pulled it open.

“Miss. Spencer.”

She turned her head promptly. A bit too promptly. She winced, not missing the amusement in his eyes.

“I can still take you on, under one condition.” He offered.

“I can work as hard as you want, Professor. I am willing to go to any extent,” she said vehemently.

“Any extent?” There was no missing the irony in his voice.

She nodded her head, feeling humiliated by his condescending tone. Had it been anybody else, I would have given you a piece of my mind. But I don’t know why you make me so weak. I hate you. She said to herself.

“In that case you will have to drop your divergent views. I cannot have a rookey challenge my opinions. Remember, I’m the expert here,” he explained.

Her reply was prompt. “I’m afraid I cannot work like that. I like to think for myself. It is better we part ways.” She was surprised that she could say that.

“In that case, we have our session in about.” He looked at his watch, before continuing, “Two hours. And please come prepared.” He returned to his book.

“What?” she exclaimed.

“Two hours, Miss. Spencer,” he replied, without raising his head.


XXX


The light finally turned green. They all got up, waiting expectantly for the doctor. The door opened and a man in green overalls walked out.

“Are you relatives of Miss. Rebecca Spencer?” he asked.

They all nodded.

“I am afraid, I don’t have good news.” He shook his head gravely.

“Isn’t she safe?” questioned Steve.

“Yes, she is. But the part below her waist will be paralyzed for life. She suffered irreparable damage to her spinal column. We couldn’t repair it.”




Paralyzed.

Steve tried to define the word, analyze it, but he couldn’t. There was no way he could apply the term to his beautiful, vibrant Rebecca.

“She’s...” he croaked, unable to say it aloud.

Alice gripped Steve’s elbow, her face drained of all color. Jason stood on his other side, his eyes dark as he studied his father’s face.

Steve started to shake, his heart beating so fast that it pounded in his ears. The doctor was still speaking, but he didn’t hear anything the man said. It didn’t matter.

Nothing mattered.

xxx


Steve sat at his desk, his head thrown back against his chair and his eyes closed.

What was he thinking? He’d made a decision. He had told Rebecca that he couldn’t be her advisor any longer. His excuse might have been pathetic, perhaps even a blow to his pride, but it was the only thing he’d been able to come up with that would make sense, that no one would question. It was the smart thing to do. He simply couldn’t continue to interact with her on a regular basis when he couldn’t keep his absurd, juvenile reaction to her under control.

But when Rebecca had announced she would change universities, her expressive eyes declaring the seriousness of her intentions, Steve had suddenly been depressingly confused at the idea of never seeing her again. Then, when he’d thrown down the gauntlet about not questioning his scholarship and she’d so vehemently – and magnificently – refused to promise him, he’d heard himself telling her to meet him for their usual meeting. As if he hadn’t tried to get out of their agreement. As if he didn’t have a valid reason for wanting to stay away from her. Yet, here he was, waiting for her – his pulse racing like some adolescent teenager.

For God’s sake, he’d been married and divorced. He had a son. He was a respected scholar. He could restrain himself. He could...

“Professor?”

Steve opened his eyes to find Rebecca standing in front of him. She wasn’t wearing any makeup, and she had on jeans and a sedate sweater. But her hair – it was once again loose and floating around her shoulders. Her face was so serenely composed, her skin so flawless.

And Steve felt the unsettling grip of both panic and desire, even stronger than before.

Rebecca hesitated in the doorway, uncertain what she was doing here. She’d convinced herself in the two hours since their last encounter that she would leave and change schools. Every time she thought of Steve’s arrogance and his cold indifference, her anger returned. How dare he try to manipulate her, force his opinions on her, and then almost cast her aside?

But here she was – in spite of her pride, in spite of knowing he wanted to be rid of her, in spite of the dreams that were almost driving her insane. She wanted to throw her well-worn copy of Euripides’ plays at his head. She wanted him to touch her. She didn’t know what she wanted. But she knew what she should do – she should leave and never think about him again.

“Have a seat, Miss Spencer.”

Steve’s controlled voice surged over her senses, her involuntary response nearly choking her. She needed to run, but, instead, she crossed the room, sank down in the chair beside his desk, carefully set her notes on her lap, and wondered if she had lost her mind.


xxx


Tears were sliding down Steve’s face, but he didn’t say a word or make any sound. He felt incapable of speech, of thinking clearly. He couldn’t breathe, couldn’t move.

Images flickered through his mind – Rebecca urging him to dance with her at a faculty reception, Rebecca moving quickly through his kitchen as she made dinner, Rebecca skipping away from him as they walked through the park, Rebecca twirling around with childish abandon as she tried on her wedding dress.

“Dad,” Jason said, gripping his neck. “Dad, she’s alive. That’s what matters.”

She’s alive...

She’s alive...


Steve blinked, the pain in his chest devastating, but he latched on to his son’s voice with desperate need.

Yes, yes...she’s alive.


“You may be wondering, Miss. Spencer about the reason for my sudden change of heart. I will not hesitate to admit that you have a natural flair for your subject, which also happens to be my life breath. Beside that you have a good mind and the courage to stand by your own conviction. Believe me, if you would have accepted my offer, I would have rejected you once and for all. But because you didn’t, I consider it a privilege to coach a student of your caliber.” The renowned Professor announced.

He couldn’t remember having spoken to any student of his in such exalted words. He was certain of one thing. The girl seated before him definitely haunted his dreams. Even his most stoical resistance proved to be a most feeble barrier against the allure of her beauty and grace. However, his lofty academic standards were absolutely inured to the seductive spell of her pulchritude. When he praised her, his words didn’t have even an iota of flattery. The girl seated before him had an intellect which could easily rival if not surpass his own. About this, he was absolutely certain.

“I don’t understand, professor. I thought my work was ...flat...vague...not thought out...lazy research,” she read out from the note in her hand.

“Yes, because the previous paper you submitted was vastly inferior to your gifts. Some other professor might have rated it as brilliant, and he would have been probably right. If the student was not Rebecca Spencer,” he replied.

She gaped open-mouthed at him; bewildered at the tons of praise which the renowned academic heaped upon her. She swallowed deeply, too stupefied to react, the impact of those eulogies still sinking in.

“And now if I may return to your interpretation of Phaedra and her love for Hippolytus…”He started, but she interjected in between.

“You said about a medical condition. What about that?”

“I have hypertension. After that day’s altercation, I initially worried that our sessions might be too strenuous for me. But I realized that I am here to facilitate your thought process; to encourage you to think independently and logically. As long as that happens I had nothing to worry even though your opinion might be divergent with mine. So it should not be a problem,” he said with a smile.
He was happy to see her relax. When she had entered his office, she appeared aggressive and tensed. She looked beautiful, but in a vulnerable sort of a way. Now that she seemed much more comfortable and relaxed, she looked equally lovely, but in a kind and graceful way.

For a moment he allowed himself to be swayed by her presence. He had a strong urge to brush away the gold tresses that scattered over forehead. Regretting for the first time in his life his profession, he wished that he were a painter and not a litterateur.


XXX


“When can we see her, doc?” he asked, realizing the import of Jason’s words.

“You are…”

“Stephen Cartwright. Rebecca and I were planning to get married today. This is Alice, her mother and Jason here, is my son.”

“I’m so sorry. Why don’t we meet in my office? There are some details to be discussed,” he suggested. His expressions changed and Steve couldn’t fathom whether he was surprised at the difference in their ages or shocked at the tragedy of his tale.

The doctor cleared his throat and began to speak.

“ Mr. Cartwright, we need to approach issues gradually. First and foremost, when Rebecca gains consciousness, we have to inform her of her disability. Our experience has been that it is always better if someone the patient loves dearly communicates this terrible news. We have to be prepared for all types of symptoms, the most dreaded of which is the ‘Withdrawal Syndrome.’ In it the patient gives up all hope and reconciles herself to her fate. She either hastens her demise or precipitates a state of lunacy, either of which is a tragedy.”

“The heartening thing is that Miss. Spencer will have complete control over her body above the waist. Which means she will retain all her faculties of the senses, be able to use her hand and most importantly her brain has remained completely insulated from any damage. It means that she can move about on a wheelchair.” The last bit was announced in a triumphant note, as if he had just presented some priceless gift.

Steve cringed when he heard those words. My beautiful Rebecca, the girl who loves to stroll in the park or wander about in the woods confined to a wheel chair, he thought. Without warning he began to sob uncontrollably.

“Steve, you need to stay calm.” It was Alice’s composed voice.

The intercom on the doctor’s table rang. He lifted the receiver.

“Rebecca has regained consciousness,” he announced, putting the phone down. “I will wait for you outside the ICU. Please decide who will speak with her,” he added, before hurrying out of the room.








“I...I...can’t...” Alice stuttered, wringing her hands. She paced to the window and clung tightly to its sill. “My baby,” she crooned.

Steve stared blankly at Alice’s tense back, absently understanding that she was distraught at what was happening to her daughter. There was a part of his mind that realized he should offer her comfort, but he shrank away from the idea of taking on her grief as well. His own was swelling and ebbing inside of him so swiftly and violently that adding another surge would completely destroy him.

“Dad,” Jason murmured, his face lined with grim concern, “if you want, I can...”

His expression tortured, Steve looked at his son. What did it say about him that he actually weakened and considered letting Jason go in to talk to Rebecca?

“No,” he whispered. “No, it has to be me. It needs to be...me.”

And I need her, he thought.

xxx


Rebecca pulled open the door and stepped into the quiet hall. Adjusting the strap of her briefcase on her shoulder, she wasn’t aware that she was smiling as she hurried towards Steve’s office.

Something had changed in their relationship after the day he praised her work. Their meetings and conversations were no longer impersonal, but rather they became discussions, lively exchanges with each offering suggestions and challenging the other’s opinions. Rebecca began to live for them, eagerly anticipating the hours she spent in Steve’s office, talking with him, being around him.

He had been away for two weeks. She hated the times he was gone to conferences or a lecture engagement. Life felt...flat. She couldn’t seem to concentrate on her work, and, without being able to discuss things with Steve, what she did get done wasn’t worth the effort.

Rebecca drew in a deep breath as she neared his office, her stomach twisting with nerves and anticipation as it always did when she was about to see him again. Then, turning the corner, she came to an abrupt halt when she realized that Steve wasn’t alone. A young man, around twenty or so, was sitting on the edge of his desk, and Steve himself was laughing at something the stranger said.

Rebecca had never seen him really laugh before, and she watched in fascination. The austere lines of his handsome face softened, and his eyes glowed with affection. Rebecca suddenly felt a tightening in her chest, and she hovered in the doorway in confusion.

Feeling her presence, Steve turned in his chair. His expression changed, and he became once again the autocratic academic.

“Miss Spencer,” he greeted. Waving a hand, he said, “Let me introduce my son, Jason. He’s on break from college. Jason, this is Rebecca Spencer, my...”

Jason grinned and held out his hand. “Your advisee,” he interrupted, obviously having heard of her. “Congratulations, Rebecca. Dad doesn’t agree to advise just anyone. You must be pretty good.”

Steve frowned reprovingly at Jason’s comment as, shaking hands with the younger man, Rebecca smiled shyly. “I do my best.”

Jason laughed. “You’re braver than I am. I moved to the other coast so he’d stop looking over my shoulder.”

“Jase,” Steve warned.

Nodding, Jason wisely changed the subject. “It’s nice to meet you. What are you working on?”

Surprised at how easy-going Steve’s son was, Rebecca found herself falling effortlessly into conversation with him, asking about his classes and his vacation plans. She couldn’t help compare the two men. They looked quite a bit alike – same eyes, same nose – but Jason was much less reserved. He actually joked with his father, who responded in kind, although in his much quieter way. Rebecca was intrigued by this side of Steve, one she never expected.

As Steve watched Rebecca and his son chat, he felt a gnawing uneasiness at how easily they seemed to get along. He was acutely aware that they were closer in age and probably had a great deal in common, which only increased his agitation – as unreasonable as that was. He had no excuse. It wasn’t like he was worried about Jason dating someone he was advising. The boy had a very serious girlfriend he’d been involved with for years. But Rebecca – she seemed so happy, so energized and yet relaxed.

Steve was ashamed at how upset that made him.


xxx


“If you’ll follow me, I’ll take you to your fiancée.”

The doctor didn’t wait for Steve’s response before he headed down the hallway. Steve followed him, oblivious to the activity around him. His eyes on the retreating lab coat, he kept his arms at his sides, fists curled tightly.

Finally, they reached a non-descript door just like all the others they had passed, meaningless
black, block numbers its only decoration.

“She’s resting,” the doctor said. “Please keep your visit brief.” He hesitated for a moment before continuing with a degree of sympathy. “You can tell her, if she has any questions – or if you do – I will be in later to check on her.” He didn’t take it personally when Steve failed to acknowledge his offer.

As the doctor walked away, Steve lifted his hand and rested it on the knob, but he couldn’t make himself push the door open. Rebecca was there, just a few feet away. He wanted so desperately to see her, to touch her, but he was terrified. In the end, it was the desire that swept through him to reassure himself that she really was alive that pushed him over the threshold.

The little room was dark, the curtains pulled tight against the electric glow of the street lamps outside. There was the obligatory beeping of machines – their monotonous, relentless sound strangely both soothing and maddening.

Steve stopped briefly a few feet away from the bed. Then, he lurched forward, compelled to reach for the motionless body in the middle of the sterile sheets. His hand tentatively skimmed Rebecca’s arm before, his fingers clenching, he clutched her elbow. He didn’t have a chance of mastering the emotion that assaulted him as he stared frantically at her pale face, the closed eyes.

“Rebecca...” he croaked.

When her lashes began to flutter, Steve moaned and, unable to help himself, bent over to press his lips to hers.

“My darling,” he said, the words trembling.

“S...Steve,” she whispered, her hoarse voice barely audible.

But he heard it, and, for a moment, he forgot everything except that she was here. He could still hold her. Still love her.
He touched her forehead, caressed her hair and gazed into her eyes; the sadness in them pained him.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered.

The words hurt him terribly. Doesn’t she know how much I love her that she apologizes to me? And for what? . Under normal circumstances he would have chided her, but today he checked his emotions.

“It’s not your fault, my love. The important thing is you’re fine,” he said.

She smiled at him feebly. The daunting task of breaking the terrible news, weighed upon his shoulders like a mountain. “Alice and Jason are here as well,” he said, hoping to buy some time.

They stepped forward.

“You need to rest, honey. Everything will work out just fine,” Alice encouraged.

“Thanks, mom. My legs feel a bit odd. That’s all,” Rebecca replied.

Alice and Jason suppressed their tears and looked the other way.

“What is it, mom?” she asked.

“Rebecca, you’ve to take this in the right spirit.” It was Steve’s voice, choking with emotion.

XXX


After Jason left, Rebecca turned to Steve.

“Can we start, Professor?” she asked.

“I thought you had forgotten the reason for coming,” he retorted.

“Excuse me?” she interrupted, shocked by the uncharacteristic acrimonious tone.

“You were so engrossed in chatting. I thought you weren’t interested in today’s session. You could call it off, if you want.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t know I was…”

“If there is one word I hate in the English dictionary, it is ‘sorry’.”

She was stupefied by his response and for the first time felt scared. He did have a reputation for a bad temper; but this was the first time she faced it. She couldn’t fathom the reason for his uncharacteristic outburst.

“If you are done, can we continue?” she responded calmly.

“Can’t you see it?” he questioned. Her unruffled response took him over the edge.

“See what?”

“How much I love you?” he beseeched, his eyes moist. She was rendered speechless. She couldn’t believe her ears.

“I hate it when you talk like that with some other man, even if he is my son,” he declared.

Slowly, she approached him.

“Since the day I set my eyes on you Professor Cartwright, I haven’t been able to sleep. You’re always in my dreams. No other man has ever made me feel like this. I don’t know if it is love, but I wish you would hold me and never let me go,” she announced, her eyes sparkling with admiration.


XXX


“What is it, Steve? Is something wrong with me?” The horror on her face made his heart melt.

“Rebecca, the accident has left your legs paralyzed,” he informed.

He didn’t wait for the impact of those words to sink in, before continuing.

“But it is only a temporary phenomenon. With medication and exercise, you’ll be alright soon,” he lied.

He saw the tears trickle down her eyes, but he knew he could not cry. He had to put up a brave front; love her and encourage her.

“You need to calm down, Rebecca. I’m there for you always. I love you so much,” he comforted her.

“Steve, please tell me you’re lying. That I’m not paralyzed,” she whispered between her sobs.

“I’m afraid that it is the truth, Rebecca,” he responded gently.

All of them watched as her heart rending cries pierced the ominous silence of the ICU. Seeing that Alice was about to break down, Jason led her outside.

Steve watched with consternation his lover’s pathetic plight. He felt helpless to do anything. But he mustered all his determination, suppressed all his agony and tried to console her. His attempts had little impact, but he did not give up.

“I’ll always be with you Rebecca, I promise. And I vow that I won’t die before you. I’ll live as long as you live so that I can care for you and love you,” he uttered. Bending, he kissed her tears as if that would absorb her sorrow. He would do anything to take away her unhappiness even if that called for an extreme sacrifice from him. God, please give her pain and unhappiness to me. Give my health to her. She has so much more to live for.
Rebecca couldn’t stop weeping. Although still weak from surgery, she gripped Steve’s arms with every ounce of her terrified strength. She wanted to believe that it was a mistake, that he had somehow misunderstood her diagnosis. But this was Steve – he didn’t make that kind of mistake.

“I’ll never walk again,” she whimpered, her teeth grazing his tear-soaked sleeve as she shuddered uncontrollably.

Steve’s body went still. “I told you, my darling. With exercise...”

“You’re lying,” Rebecca moaned, her heart clenching with cold certainty. “I always kn...know when you’re lying.”

Steve drew in a deep breath before his head lowered to rest in the crook of her neck, silently acknowledging the truth.

xxx


Steve sat perfectly still in his chair, looking up at Rebecca who was now standing only a few inches away from him. She was staring intently into his eyes, her focused expression bearing testament to the sincerity of the incredible announcement she’d made.

He couldn’t believe that he had let himself reveal his emotions. It was as if he couldn’t keep his feelings back any longer in the face of Rebecca’s seeming indifference. He’d been simmering with jealousy, and she’d apparently not felt anything. It had been maddening, and it had forced the words to the surface that had been buried somewhere inside of him since almost the first moment he’d met her.

And she’d replied that she dreamed about him.

Steve wanted to do as she asked, wanted to leap to his feet and, heedless of decorum and his open office door, pull her into his arms. She’d given him permission to do just that, and he selfishly desired to fulfill her request. His skin almost crawled with the need to taste her lips, to wrap his fingers in her hair.

Gripping the arms of his chair to prevent himself from standing, Steve fought to control his expression. “Miss Spencer,” he said, his voice carefully low, “I’m sorry. I should never have said anything.”

Rebecca was silent for a moment, searching his face. “Then you didn’t mean it?” she asked, as if she was afraid of his response.

Steve’s mind raced, wondering what he could say. “I can’t deny that...” he hesitated, “...I am attracted to you. You are a beautiful woman.” He tried to make it sound matter-of-fact, not something that affected him deeply every time she walked into a room. “But I misspoke,” he finally finished, looking away from her. “It won’t happen again.”

Retreating, Rebecca hovered beside Steve’s desk uncertainly. Thinking of what she’d said to him, she cringed with mortification. Her first reaction to his retraction was to run away, to hide from him, but she couldn’t move. She kept searching, trying to see beyond that once again composed mask. That’s when she noted the white knuckles of his hands as he clutched his chair. Somehow, it gave her the courage she needed.

“I don’t believe you,” she whispered.

“What?” he said sharply, frowning.

Rebecca took a step forward. “I don’t believe you,” she repeated, defiantly meeting his gaze.

Steve stared at her, his lungs constricting at the clarity of her unguarded eyes. There was a hint of fear in them, a vulnerability at odds with her bold statement. It called to him.

Abruptly standing, Steve stalked to the door, shutting and locking it. Turning, he walked back to Rebecca and, without another word, he took her roughly into his embrace. There was a matching violence in their long-anticipated kiss.

“Rebecca,” he whispered.


xxx


“Why...why me?” Rebecca sobbed.

“My darling, please...please...you have to calm down,” Steve begged. “You just got out of surgery.”

His words were lost on her. “I was...bride...my dress...” she said brokenly. “Now I can’t walk...can’t...down the aisle.”

Steve’s heart broke a little more at the crazed litany as she chanted the words over and over. In his mind, he saw the scene he’d been imagining for months. Him standing at the front of the church, her drifting towards him. Her smile. Her glowing beauty.

Now he was holding her broken body, trying to offer comfort he couldn’t find for himself.

The tears he was holding back for Rebecca’s sake nearly choked him.

© Copyright 2010 Prof Moriarty, Morgan Adam Internet Problems!, (known as GROUP).
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