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Come lie with me, p.9

Come Lie With Me, page 9

 

Come Lie With Me
 


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  Serena’s eyes lighted up, and her pretty face glowed. “He stood?” she cried, dropping the sandal to the floor and sitting upright. “He actually stood?”

  “He had his weight on his legs, yes, and he could feel it,” Dione clarified.

  “But that’s wonderful! Why didn’t he tell me?”

  Again Dione shrugged.

  Serena made a rueful face. “I know; you think I make too much of a fuss over him. I do; I admit it. I…I’m sorry for my attitude when you first came. I didn’t think you’d be able to help him, and I didn’t want him to get his hopes up, only to be disappointed again. But even if he doesn’t walk again, I can see that therapy has been good for him. He’s gained weight; he’s looking so healthy again.”

  Surprised by the apology, Dione didn’t know what to say beyond the conventional disclaimer, “That’s all right.”

  “No, it isn’t all right. Richard’s barely speaking to me, and I can’t say that I blame him. I’ve treated him like the invisible man for the two years since Blake had the accident. God knows how he’s been as patient as he has. But now I can’t get close to him again, and it’s all my fault. Still, I’m irrational where Blake’s concerned. He’s my security, my home base.”

  “Perhaps Richard wants that distinction,” Dione murmured, not really wanting to get into a discussion of Serena’s marital problems. She hadn’t forgotten that Serena thought Richard might be seeing another woman, namely herself, and she didn’t think that involving herself with them would be smart. She liked Richard enormously, and Serena had behaved remarkably well since their bad beginning, but still, she felt uneasy discussing Richard as if she knew him a lot better than she actually did.

  “Oh, I know he does! The trouble is, Blake’s such a hard act for any man to follow. He was the perfect older brother,” she sighed. “Strong, affectionate, understanding. When Mother died he became my rock. Sometimes I think that if anything happened to Blake, I’d die on the spot.”

  “Not a very considerate thing to do,” Dione commented, and Serena looked at her sharply before giving a laugh.

  “No, it wouldn’t be, would it?”

  “I’ve been jealous of you,” Serena continued after a moment, when Dione showed no signs of picking up the conversational threads. “I’d been with Blake almost constantly since the accident; then you practically forbade me to come over except at a time you decided would be all right. I was livid! And almost from the beginning, Blake has been engrossed with his therapy, which has taken his attention away from me even when I am with him. He was so close to you, so obviously taken with you; you could get him to do all the things the other therapists couldn’t even get him to think about.”

  Dione shifted uncomfortably, afraid that Serena was going to start talking about Richard. It looked as if there was nothing she could do to prevent it, so she decided she might as well hold up her end of the conversation. Lifting her head, she turned somber golden eyes on the other woman.

  “I knew you felt that way. I regretted it, but there was nothing I could do about it. Blake had to come first; you were interfering, and I couldn’t let you do that.”

  Serena arched her dark brows in a manner so like Blake’s that Dione stared at her, taken by their similarities. “You were entirely right,” Serena said firmly. “You were doing what you were supposed to do. It took about two weeks before I began to see the difference in Blake, and then I had to admit that I was resenting you on my behalf, not his. If I really loved Blake, then I had to stop acting like a spoiled brat. I’m sorry, Dione; I’d really like to be friends with you.”

  Dione was startled again; she wondered briefly if Serena’s apology had any ulterior motive, but decided to take the younger woman at face value. When all was said and done, she herself was there only temporarily, so anything Serena said wouldn’t affect Dione beyond the moment. Lifelong friendships didn’t come Dione’s way, because she’d learned not to let anyone get too close to her. Even Blake—however close they might be right now, no matter how well she knew him or how much he knew about her—when this was all over, she would be gone and very probably never see him again. She didn’t make a habit of keeping in touch with her ex-patients, though she did sometimes receive cards from some of them at Christmas.

  “If you’d like,” she told Serena calmly. “An apology really wasn’t necessary.”

  “It was for me,” Serena insisted, and perhaps it had been. She was Blake’s sister, and very like him. Blake didn’t back down from anything unpleasant, either.

  Dione was tired after the emotional impact of the day, and she didn’t look in on Blake before she went to bed. The mood he’d been in, he was probably lying awake waiting for her to stick her head in so he could bite it off. Whatever was bothering him, she’d worry about it in the morning. She fell into a deep sleep, untroubled by dreams.

  When she was jerked awake by her name being called, she had the feeling that the sound had been repeated several times before it penetrated her sleep. She scrambled out of bed as it came again. “Dione!”

  It was Blake, and from the horse strain in his voice, he was in pain. She ran to his room and approached the bed. He was writhing, trying to sit up. What was wrong with him? “Tell me,” she said insistently, her hands on his bare shoulders, easing him back.

  “Cramps,” he groaned.

  Of course! She should have realized! He’d pushed himself far too hard that day, and now he was paying the price. She ran her hands down his legs and found the knotted muscles. Without a word she got on the bed with him and began to knead the cramps away, her strong fingers working efficiently. First one leg relaxed, then the other, and he sighed in relief. She kept massaging his calves, knowing that a cramp could return. His flesh was warm under her fingers now, the skin roughened by the hair on his legs. She pushed the legs of his pajamas up over his knees and continued with her massage. Perhaps he would go back to sleep under the soothing touch….

  Abruptly he sat up and thrust her hands away from his legs. “That’s enough,” he said curtly. “I don’t know what kind of a thrill you get out of handling cripples, but you can play with someone else’s legs. You might try Richard; I’m sure he could do you more good than I can.”

  Dione sat there astonished, her mouth open. How could he dare to say something like that? She’d pulled her nightgown up to give her legs more freedom of movement when she’d climbed on his bed, and now she thrust the cloth down to cover her long legs. “You need slapping,” she said, her voice shaking with anger. “Damn it, what’s wrong with you? You know I’m not seeing Richard, and I’m sick of you throwing him up to me! You called me, remember? I didn’t sneak in here to take advantage of you.”

  “You’d have a hard time doing that,” he sneered.

  “You’re pretty sure of yourself since you’ve gotten stronger, aren’t you?” she said sarcastically. It made her doubly angry that he’d act like that after what they’d shared earlier. He’d kissed her. Of course, he couldn’t possibly know that he was the only man to have touched her since she was eighteen, which had been twelve years before, but still…the injustice of it made her get to her knees on the bed, leaning forward as she jabbed a finger at him.

  “You listen to me, Mr. Grouch Remington! I’ve been driving myself into the ground trying to help you, and you’ve fought me every step of the way! I don’t know what’s eating you and I don’t care, but I won’t let it interfere with your therapy. If I think your legs need massaging, then I’ll do it, if I have to tie you down first! Am I getting through that hard head of yours?”

  “Who do you think you are? God?” he roared, his face darkening so much that she could see it even in the dim light that came through his windows. “What do you know about what I want, what I need? All you think about is that damned program you’ve mapped out. There are other things that I need, and if I can’t—”

  He stopped, turning his head away. Dione waited for him to continue, and when he didn’t she prompted, “If you can
t…what?”

  “Nothing,” he muttered sullenly.

  “Blake!” she said in utter exasperation, reaching out and grasping his shoulders and shaking him. “What?”

  He shrugged away from her grip and lay back down, his expression bleak as he turned his face back to the windows. “I thought that learning to walk again would be the answer,” he whispered. “But it’s not. My God, woman, you’ve been around me for weeks now, running around in almost nothing sometimes, and those see-through nightgowns of yours the rest of the time. Haven’t you noticed yet that I can’t…”

  When his voice trailed off again Dione thought she’d explode. “Can’t what?” she tried again, forcibly keeping her tone level.

  “I’m impotent,” he said, his voice so low that she had to lean closer to hear him.

  She sat back on her heels, stunned.

  Once he’d said the words aloud, the rest poured out of him in a torrent, as if he couldn’t control it. “I didn’t think about it before, because what was there to arouse me? It didn’t matter, if I couldn’t walk, but now I find that there’s an opposite side of the coin. If I can’t live life as a man instead of a sexless gelding, then it doesn’t matter if I walk or not.”

  Dione’s mind went blank. She was a physical therapist, not a sex therapist. It was ironic that he should even mention the subject to her, of all people. She was in the same boat he was in; perhaps she’d sensed that from the beginning, and that was why she hadn’t been frightened of him.

  But she couldn’t let this prey on his mind, or he’d give up. Desperately she tried to think of something to tell him.

  “I don’t see why you’d even think you should be aroused by me,” she blurted. “I’m a therapist; it’s totally unethical for there to be any sort of relationship except a professional one between us. I certainly haven’t been trying to seduce you, or even interest you! You shouldn’t think of me like that! I…I’m more of a mother figure than I am anything else, so I’d think it was odd if you responded physically to me.”

  “You don’t remind me of my mother,” he said heavily.

  Again she searched for something to say. “Did you really expect all of your capabilities to return immediately, just because you put your weight on your legs today?” she finally asked. “I would’ve been surprised if you had been…er, responding like that. You’ve had a lot on your mind, and you’ve been in terrible physical shape.”

  “I’m not in terrible physical shape now,” he pointed out tiredly.

  No, he wasn’t. Dione considered him as he lay there, wearing only the bottoms of his pajamas. He’d started leaving off the tops several weeks ago. He was still lean, but now it was the leanness of a hard layer of muscle. Even his legs had fleshed out some as he gained weight, and thanks to the rigorous program he’d been following, he even had muscles in his legs, despite his inability to command movement from them yet. He was a natural athlete anyway, and his body had responded promptly to the training. His arms and shoulders and chest were showing the benefits of weight lifting, and the hours in the pool had given his skin a glowing bronze color. He looked incredibly healthy, all things considered.

  What could she say? She couldn’t reassure him that his mind and body would recover and let him respond normally, because recovery hadn’t happened yet for her. She couldn’t even say that she wanted to “recover.” Perhaps she missed out on a great deal of human warmth by living the way she did, but she also avoided the pain of human cruelty. Until the accident, Blake had led a charmed life. He had loved, and been loved, by more women than he could probably remember. To him, life wasn’t complete without sex. To her, life was much safer without it. How could she even begin to convince him of something she didn’t believe in herself?

  At last she said cautiously, “You’re better, yes, but you’re not in top physical condition yet. The body is a series of complementary systems; when any part of it is hurt, all the systems cooperate in helping to speed healing. With the therapy program you’ve been following, you’ve focused your mind and body on retraining your muscles. It’s part of the recovery process, and until you’ve progressed enough that such intense concentration isn’t needed, I think you’re being unrealistic to expect any sexual responses. Let things happen in their own time.” After considering him for another minute, she tilted her head sideways. “I estimate that you’re at about sixty-five percent of your normal strength. You’re expecting too much.”

  “I’m expecting what any normal man expects in his life,” Blake said harshly. “You were bubbling over with self-confidence when you promised me that I’d walk again, but you’re not sure about this, are you?”

  “I’m not a sex therapist,” she snapped. “But I do have common sense, and I’m trying to use it. There’s no physical reason why you shouldn’t be able to have sex, so I’d advise you to stop worrying about it and concentrate on walking. Nature will take care of everything else.”

  “Stop worrying!” he muttered under his breath. “Lady, it’s not the weather we’re talking about! If I can’t function as a man, what’s the use in living? I’m not talking about just sex; there’d be no marriage for me, no children, and while I’ve never wanted to marry anyone yet, I’ve always thought that I’d like to have a family someday. Can’t you understand that? Haven’t you ever wanted a husband, children?”

  Dione winced, physically shrinking away from him. He had an uncanny knack of hitting her where she was most vulnerable. Before she could stop herself, she blurted out thickly, “I’ve always wanted children. And I was married. It just didn’t work out.”

  His chest rose and fell as he drew in a deep breath, and she could feel his gaze searching her face in the darkness. Surely he couldn’t see anything more than an outline, since she was sitting out of the dim light coming through the windows, so why did she feel as if he could tell exactly how her lower lip was trembling, or see the sudden pallor of her cheeks?

  “Damn,” he said softly. “I’ve done it again, haven’t I? Every time I say something, I stick my foot in my mouth.”

  She shrugged, trying not to let him know how thin her armor was. “It’s all right,” she murmured. “It was a long time ago. I was just a kid, too young to know what I was doing.”

  “How old were you?”

  “Eighteen. Scott—my ex-husband—was twenty-three, but neither of us was ready for marriage.”

  “How long did it last?”

  A harsh laugh tore from her throat. “Three months. Not a record-setting length of time, was it?”

  “And since then? Haven’t you been in love with anyone else?”

  “No, and I haven’t wanted to be. I’m content the way I am.” The conversation had gone on long enough; she didn’t want to reveal any more than she already had. How did he keep chipping away at the wall she’d built around her past? Most people never even realized it was there. She uncoiled her legs and crawled off the bed, tugging her nightgown down when it tried to crawl up to her hips.

  Blake said a harsh expletive. “You’re running, Dee. Do you realize how long you’ve been here without receiving a single phone call or a letter, without even going shopping? You’ve sealed yourself in this house with me and shut the world out. Don’t you have any friends, any boyfriends on a string? What is it out there that you’re afraid of?”

  “There’s nothing out there that frightens me,” she said quietly, and it was true. All of her terrors were locked within herself, frozen in time.

  “I think everything out there frightens you,” he said, stretching out his arm and snapping on the bedside lamp. The soft glow drove away the shadows and illuminated her as she stood there in her white gown with her long, black hair streaming down her back. She looked medieval, locked away in a fortress of her own making. His blue eyes seared over her as he said softly, “You’re afraid of life, so you don’t let anything touch you. You need therapy as much as I do; my muscles won’t work, but you’re the one who doesn’t feel.”

  Chapter S
ix

  She didn’t sleep that night; she lay awake, feeling the seconds and minutes ticking away, becoming hours. He was right; she was afraid of life, because life had taught her that she would be punished if she asked for too much. She had learned not to ask for anything at all, thereby risking nothing. She had denied herself friends, family, even the basic comfort of her own home, all because she was afraid to risk being hurt again.

  It wasn’t in her character to deny the truth, so she looked it in the face. Her mother wasn’t a typical example of motherhood; her husband hadn’t been a typical husband. Both of them had hurt her, but she shouldn’t shut everyone else out because of them. Serena had made an overture of friendship, but Dione had backed away from it, doubting the other woman’s motives. Those doubts were just an excuse for her own instinctive reaction to withdraw whenever anyone got too close to her. She had to take risks, or her life would be just a mockery, no matter how many patients she helped. She needed help just as much as Blake did.

  But facing the truth and dealing with it were two very different things. Just the thought of lowering her defenses and letting anyone get close to her gave her a sick feeling. Even the little things were more than she had ever had, and more than she could handle. She’d never giggled with a girl friend far into the night, never gone to a party, never learned how to be with people in the normal manner. She’d had her back to the wall for her entire life, and self-protection was more than a habit: it was a part of her, branded into her cells.

  Perhaps she was beyond changing; perhaps the bitter horror of her childhood had altered her psyche so drastically that she’d never be able to rise above the murky pit of her memories. For a moment she had a vision of her future, long and bleak and solitary, and a dry sob wrenched at her insides. But she didn’t cry, though her eyes burned until her lids felt scorched. Why waste tears on years that stretched away emptily for as far as she could see? She was used to being alone, and at least she had her work. She could touch people through her work, giving them hope, helping them; perhaps it wasn’t enough, but surely it was better than the sure destruction that awaited her if she allowed someone to hurt her again.

 
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