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At noon, I'm walking down the street in the small town in which I'd finally landed a job as a file clerk and general flunky for a large construction firm, looking for a diner one of the guys told me about. He said the food was good home-cooking and the prices low compared with the other places in town. Hell, they'd better be with what I'm getting paid. If I'm lucky I can scratch by from week to week. Guess that's about all I can hope for. I mean no good job's going to come to a guy whose left arm ends in a hook, even if he's decent looking like me, specially if he's gonna be meeting the public.
I find the place, shove the hook in my pocket, and walk in. There's one small table near the back, so I take it and look around. Sitting alone at the next table is a guy about my age I wish I looked like. He's got beautiful long blond hair that's shining in the light, a face I want to trace my fingers over and then kiss to bring a smile through the sadness. His shirt is open to the third button showing just enough to tease. He sees me looking and winks. I smile back, but waitress comes up and diverts my attention. Just as well, I guess. I ask for the meatloaf so I can manage with one hand, but she tells me they're out and suggests a veal cutlet, instead. Oh, well, I should be used to it after nearly five years.
I look back over at the guy, but his plate has arrived and his attention is on feeding his face. A few minutes later, my plate comes and I have to use my hook to hold the fork against the meat to cut it. I put a piece in my mouth and out of the corner of my eye I see the guy staring at me with the sweetest smile I've ever seen. In a state of emotional collapse, I shovel down the rest of my lunch without tasting it. I get up to go back to work and see the guy still staring at me. He tosses me a salute and another smile while I'm paying.
All the time I'm walking back to work, my mind keeps going over the way the guy kept staring at my hook. The damn thing's ugly as hell, but it's useful so I wear it until I get back to my room in the evening. Feels good to get it off and rub my stump after a long day. They gave me a choice. I could have just half my hand, which I figured would be useless, or they'd disarticulate it at the wrist. I took the latter so I could wear the hook. I've even learned to like the look of my stump, the way the end spreads out just a little, and I get a lot of use out of it, almost as much as I do the hook, unless there's something I gotta grab. Then I remember something they told me in rehab when I was learning to use the hook, and think about the guy in the diner again. Was he really one of those who gets off on amputees, I wondered. What the hell, he was cute enough I'd let him play with my stump anytime, something else, too.
After work I grab dinner at the same diner, so happy when the waitress sees my hook and doesn't turn a hair that I treat myself to a small steak. I look around, but the cute guy's not there. I'm not surprised I feel a little disappointed. I could use a friend.
I get off for lunch a little early the next day and head for the diner, but the guy's not there when I go in and take the same back table. I'm hoping yesterday wasn't a one-time thing when I hear a little squeak and look up. It's the beautiful guy and it's the tires on his wheelchair I hear making the noise on the tile floor.
He gives me a smile. "Can I join you?"
"Glad to have you. Let me get that chair." I grab the chair across from mine and move it so he can wheel into place. Both his legs are gone about mid-thigh. His slacks are pulled snugly against the ends.
If possible, he turns up the voltage on his smile enough to make me feel I'm melting inside. "You must be new in town, haven't seen you before yesterday."
"Yeah. Started Monday with General Contractors."
He nods. "Good firm. They give you any static about the hook when they interviewed you?"
"Nah. But they made damn sure I'm out of sight. I work the file room and sometimes the supply room if they get rushed."
He smiled. "You speak like an educated man, not what I'd expect to find in a job like that."
"I've a degree in mechanical engineering, but this was the best job I could find."
"You should invoke the Disabilities Act."
"Too much hassle. Haven't the time or money. What about you?"
"I do estimating."
He shrugs. "You know. I study blueprints and draw up cost estimates for bidding."
The waitress comes up and takes our orders.
"I'm Andy Andersen, by the way." I hold out my hand and he grabs it firmly.
"Rick Brookwood. Good to meet you."
We chat a bit until our lunches arrive. I notice the guy watching the way I use my hook while I eat, but it doesn't bug me like it usually does. When we're finished, we go out together and I see him swing from his chair onto the seat of his car with ease, then fold the chair and shove in back. I'm standing there trying to work out in my mind how he did it so smoothly when he backs out of the parking space, toots the horn, and gives me a wave. Without thinking, I lift the hook in response, then walk back to work.
When I go back to the diner for lunch the next day, he's sitting at the same table and waves me over. Feels good to be recognized by someone, even if it's just for lunch. While we're eating he asks where I'm living. When I tell him it's just a rented room and say where, he grimaces.
"That's not the sort of place a guy like you should be living."
"All I can afford, man. Job pays minimum and that doesn't go far."
He impales me with dark brown eyes I could fall into. "What do you do in your spare time?"
"Read a lot. I got a card from the public library soon as I had an address to give them. Like music, too."
"Classical. My folks raised me on it. My dad likes opera and my mom, orchestral, but I like smaller works like concertos and sonatas, 'specially string quartets." I'm surprised when he smiles instead of making a face.
"You're a better man than I thought. It appears we have a lot of similar interests." His face grows serious. "How would you like a better place to live?"
"What do you have in mind?" I ask. The way this guy dresses yells money to me.
"I've learned to live pretty well in my chair, but I sometimes need a little help. I had a guy living with me, but he shuddered every time I asked him to touch me, like lifting me in and out of the tub. That was bad enough, but then he started drinking so I had his ass out the door in nothing flat. I like a drink before dinner myself, but I'm not having a drunk around. I've been looking for some one to live with me since. You interested?"
"Sure am. But with just one hand you think I can do everything you might require?"
He grins. "The muscles you show are proof enough. As for lifting me, you can do it by putting your arms under mine. I've got a small house built to accommodate my chair so I won't be asking a lot of you. If you can cook some and don't mind cleaning up the place from time to time I'll spot you room and board. What about it?"
It sounds so good to me, it's all I can do not to jump up and hug the guy. "Deal. When you want me to move in?"
"Let's see. Today's Thursday, so what about Saturday, if you haven't paid too much ahead on your room."
"I'm just renting by the week. Been hoping I could find some place better that I could afford. Saturday it is."
He gives me the address and we seal the deal with a shake, before he takes off in his car.
Friday afternoon as I'm about to check out from work, the foreman calls me over and hands me the keys to one of the company's pick-up trucks. "Hear you're moving, Andersen. Keep the truck over the weekend and bring it back when you come to work Monday."
I'm in shock, but he walks off before I can ask him anything. Luck like this just doesn't come my way. I'm the type that has the kind of luck that got my hand.
I figure Rick's the kind of guy sleeps in on the weekend, so I wait until about ten before I take off, though I had packed what little I've got the night before. Typically, I get lost, so it's almost eleven when I get to Rick's house. It's a great looking place of brick set low to the ground with a ramp for his chair instead of steps.
I grab an armload from the truck and head for the door. It opens just as I get there and Rick's sitting in his chair giving me a grin. " It's about time you got here. I've been waiting for a couple of hours. Drop your stuff in my lap and get the rest."
Why not? This guy's the independent type, so I do.
He swings the chair around so fast he almost knocks me down, then grins at me over his shoulder. "Teach you to stay out of my way," he calls as he rolls down the hall with surprising speed. "First door on the right."
I get the rest of my stuff and find him in a room that's nicer than the one I used to have at home.
"Okay, buddy. Put your stuff away like you want. I'll be out back."
I settle in, finding my room has its own bath. Pure luxury. Then I walk through the place. A big living room with a desk and computer at one end and a fireplace flanked by two leather wing chairs that'll be cozy in winter. There's a nice kitchen big enough for him to use the chair in easily, with a table set in a big bay window. I look out and see this awesome paved patio and a swimming pool. Rick's sitting out there with his back toward me, so I wander out.
It's getting hot and he's wearing Speedo swim trunks; his stumps completely visible. I give them a glance and look at him. "You got a great place here."
"Not what I wanted, but what I need. I designed it myself and my old man's company built it."
"It doesn't look that old."
"It's not. I had legs eight months ago. Hard way to learn not to drive half smashed." He gives me a smile. "Looks like confession time. What about you?"
"I was working a construction job the summer before I went to college. I was cutting a sheet of plywood with a rotary saw when some dumb sonofabitch hit me from behind with a two by four. Knocked me down and the saw went through my hand about mid way. The kind of luck I always have. I was hoping for a decent job, but like I told you, nobody likes looking at a hook. I don't either for that matter, but," I hold out my stump, "I've gotten to like the look of this."
I see the poor guy look down and grimace, then look back up hurriedly. "Wish I could stand to look at mine."
I walk over so I'm right in front of him, doubting the wisdom of what I'm about to do. I don't want to screw up a good deal for me, but this guy needs to recognize a few things I've had to learn. I reach down and lift his hand, placing it on the end of my arm. I can feel him flinch.
"Go ahead and touch it, buddy. It's real and it isn't ever going to change, just like your legs. Whoever did the job on 'em did it well. They look nice, not like some I saw when I was in rehab." I reach down and use my one hand to rub both of them gently.
When I look back up, Rick's staring at me with his mouth open. "You you touched them like you like them."
"I do. If you're looking for pity, forget it. That word's no longer in my vocabulary. I guess we'd better get one thing straight right now. If I stay here and you want me to do something I think you can do for yourself, you're gonna do it. You can take it, or throw me the hell out."
I'd swear I saw tears in the guy's eyes for a minute. "You're gonna be a tough guy to live with, but I expect you'll teach me quite a bit of self-reliance. Guess I've had it too easy so far."
"Right. You can do a lot more than you think. You going swimming, or you just dreaming about it?"
"Swimming. I can still do that. Lift me to the pool."
"Do it yourself. I'm gonna go change."
He grins at me. "You heartless sonofabitch. Won't even help a cripple." But he locks the brakes on his chair and lowers himself easily to the patio and, using his hands as crutches, swings his butt between them until he's in the water. I change and enjoy a great swim, with him taking me on laps a couple of times. When he stops and clings to the edge of the pool, he jerks his head for me to swim over beside him.
"This is when I really need help, Andy."
He's in the shallow end, so I put my arms under his and lift him out. Without his legs, he's lighter than I thought he would be. He gets back into his chair with no trouble.
The rest of the weekend is pure pleasure like I haven't had in quite a while, even when Rick chases me out of the living room while he makes some private phone calls. Our personalities and interests mesh so well it's like we've been best friends for years. On Monday morning at six we both haul ass outta bed and get ready to be at work by seven. I fix us some breakfast, then Rick, wearing his legs and dressed like an executive, takes off in his car. I drive the truck the foreman lent me.
The foreman is standing outside the warehouse waiting for me. He gives me a funny look when I hand him the keys to the truck, then passes me a memo from the head office. "Boss wants to see you. Like now."
He shrugs. "They don't tell me things like that. Looks like you'd better clean out your locker if you got anything in it. I don't think you're gonna be working down here any longer."
He walks off leaving me wondering why I'm getting fired. I can't figure what I've done wrong, except maybe use the truck to move. But he let me have it, and I can't think of anything I've done to piss him off bad enough he'd want to get rid of me. I'm glad it's first thing in the morning so my jeans and work shirt are clean. I brush my hair back and walk toward the office building.
The receptionist raises her eyebrows and gives me a look that says a flunky like me ain't supposed to be here, so I hand her the memo. A second later she's hanging up the phone and pointing to the elevator.
"Second floor. Ask for Marge."
I slip my hook back in the pocket of my jeans and push the button. When the door opens, all I can see is a mile of thick carpet and a great looking young woman behind a desk big enough to play table tennis on. She looks up as I step out. "Mr. Andersen?"
I nod, and she points to a door that's as nice a piece of woodwork as I've ever seen. "Go right in."
I knock on the door and open it, dreading the words I'm sure I'm going to hear. I look up and almost drop dead on the spot. There's an older man with silvery hair, wearing a suit that must have set him back several hundred, but it's the other guy coming toward me, swinging his legs between crutches, I can't believe I'm seeing. I stand there like a stone statue while Rick's giving me his great grin and saying, "This is my new assistant estimator, dad. He's has his degree in mechanical engineering and some experience as well." He turns that grin back on me. "He's also my new house mate. He started in on me not thirty minutes after he moved in, so I know he's going to teach me a lot."
Mr. Brookwood comes across the office to shake my hand, giving me a big smile. "If you can make Rick do something for himself he doesn't think he can do, you're a good man. I admire that attitude and I expect you to carry it over to your new position. Welcome to the firm, Mr. Andersen."
Somehow I manage to shake his hand and then Rick's leading me down a short hall and into an office that opens into his. I stare when he opens the door, because my name's already on it in gold paint.
"This is yours. You'll be working directly under me." He gives me that grin again. "You might be boss at home, but I'm the boss here and don't you forget it."
I finally find my tongue. "Hell, Rick, I thought I was getting fired."
"No way, buddy. Just getting a job you trained for. I know talent when I see it." He holds out a credit card. "You'll need this. It's a company card in your name. Don't abuse it, but use it for what you need until you get paid. You'll be paid monthly like me. Now take the rest of the day off and go get some clothes to fit your new position." He hands me a slip with a store name on it. "Try this place, I get all my suits and shirts there. I'll see you at home."
I reel out of the place in shock, barely hearing the smiling receptionist calling me Mr. Andersen and wishing me a pleasant day. Rick must have called the store ahead and told them what to do, because I'm not given a choice. I'm measured from head to toe, then ushered out of there with assurances everything will be delivered to Rick's home by evening. When I get there, I grab a beer from the fridge and fall down in a chair, still trying to figure out what's happened to me when Rick wheels in. He's still wearing his legs.
His first words are, "I need you, buddy."
I follow him into his bedroom, and watch as he throws his coat on his bed and pulls his tie and shirt off.
"Help me with my legs," he orders, so I slip his pants off and fold them on the hanger with his coat and hang them in the closet, before I help him unstrap the legs and ease them off.
"God, my stumps hurt. I'm not used to those damned legs, yet. What about a rub, buddy?"
I lift him to the bed and massage his stumps as best I can. When his hand touches mine, I look up.
"You're good. Where'd you learn?"
"I hold out my stump. Forget about this?"
He grins. "Not for a minute." Then his arms are around my neck, pulling me down beside him. "Let's see if you're really gonna work out in this job." He has me undressed faster than I could have done it, and props up looking at me. "Damn you're a beautiful stud. I'm glad you've got a stump, so you know what it feels like." He grabs my arm and strokes the end. "This is a real turn-on, buddy. I can see you get a kick out of rubbing my stumps, too."
Hey, a guy's luck has gotta change for the better sometime. I just didn't expect it all at once.