Authors: Ruth Madison
Tags: #romance, #love, #disability, #disabled hero, #disabled, #wheelchair, #imperfect, #disabled protagonist, #disabled character, #devotee, #devoteeism, #imperfect hero
by Ruth Madison
A collection of short love stories featuring
physically disabled heroes
Copyright 2011 by Ruth Madison
Print Edition Copyright 2011, available at
most online retailers
Discover other titles by Ruth Madison at
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enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
1)On Saturday Afternoon
2)Mariann, Dancing Alone
4)The Happiness Pact
6)Knight in Shining Metal
On Saturday Afternoon
Em Matthews had a mother, a father, a
roommate, and a boyfriend, but only one friend. His name was James.
She met him at the hospital where she worked. Em volunteered doing
odd jobs. Technically, she was an intern and there to get some
contacts in the field she was studying. In practice, she swept a
lot of floors.
She wasn't really sure that she wanted to go
into physical therapy anyway. To her mother, going to college was
just a distraction until Em got married. She thought this would be
a good choice because Em would meet eligible men, but then her
mother had found Kyle and that was that. James would not be what
her mother considered an eligible man.
Em didn't pay any attention to him at first.
She walked through the corridors of the hospital silently, keeping
as close to the walls as she could, usually with her head down. She
spoke to no one but her supervisor. Em had always been painfully
shy, and she could barely get through the normal interactions
expected of people at school and work. But James said hello to her
as he passed in the hall. She was so startled that she didn't say
anything back, but watched his back as he rolled down the corridor.
Even though he was in a wheelchair, he didn't seem like a patient.
It was a power chair, but still he had an ease with it that she
hadn't seen in the many newly injured men and women who lived in
The next day she saw him again. This time she
attempted a small smile in his direction and he smiled back,
stopping his chair in front of her. Uh-oh. Now she would have to
say something. She wasn't good with people; they scared and
She noticed immediately his adorable smile
and his brown hair sticking up in all different directions very
charmingly. He wore thin glasses and had a little stubble over his
chin. His body seemed lumpy under his shirt and his hands were bent
sharply at the wrists, the fingers pressed together. “I'm James,”
he said. “I do speech therapy with the stroke patients.”
“Oh,” Em said, “I'm Em. I'm nothing
He frowned. “What was that?” As usual, her
voice was so soft that a person sitting two feet in front of her
couldn't hear her. She tried again. “I just said I'm nothing
“Oh, I doubt that,” he said. “What did you
say your name was?”
“Em?” She never noticed her rising intonation
but her boyfriend, Kyle, teased her about it a lot.
“Is that short for something? Emma?
Em looked down at her shoes as she said,
“Ember.” People always laughed at her name because she was so
unlike a fire.
“Suits you,” he said.
“You’re joking,” she said.
“No. I’m serious. You have fire in you, and
isn’t that what an ember is? The potential for a fire?”
Em smiled a little. She liked that idea.
“Hang with me, kid,” James said. “We'll find
your spark.” He grinned and Em felt warm inside.
The next week Em was rubbing Windex slowly
across some glass doors that led out into a garden beside the rehab
center. She was lost in thought, watching all the people sitting
outside in wheelchairs. She wondered why she was always invisible.
No one would notice her watching because she was like a ladybug:
tiny, harmless, unnoticeable, and quiet. Throughout her life, her
student report cards had listed her as “timid,” “meek,” and “shy.”
The people here were supposedly worse off than she was in life, so
why was she jealous of them and their forced companionship?
“Hello, Em,” she heard behind her. She turned
and found James looking at her. She smiled.
“Want some help?” he continued.
“Okay,” she said softly, tucking her hair
behind her ear.
He rolled near the glass door sideways and
moved the arm closest to the door off its rest. It hovered shakily
in the air until he got it pressed against the glass. Em reached
over and put a paper towel between his hand and the door and he
began moving it around.
The head nurse, Nancy, saw them and laughed.
“Going to join our janitorial staff, Jim?” she asked.
“I’m keeping my options open,” he said
Nancy shook her head and walked on.
“Say,” James said, “I have a meeting to try
to expand the budget, do you think I should go with a corporate
look or boyish charm?”
No one ever asked Em's opinion. She didn't
know what to say. After a few moments of pondering she ventured, “I
think maybe it would be best to look as serious as you
She was surprised to see James actually
considering her words. “Suit it is,” he said, looking up at her. He
nodded toward the door and said, “Not bad, right?”
That was how it began. For the first time Em
was involved in the life that happened around her. Jim brightened
her workday. She swept the stroke patient's floors while James was
there and listened to him work. The patients rarely even noticed
she was there. James and Em took breaks together and went to the
cafeteria. They sat outside in the garden and watched people,
making guesses about their lives outside the hospital. They played
scrabble together in the rec room when no one else was there, James
knocking letters onto the table and telling Em where to arrange
them. She kept trying to tell him she had a boyfriend, but somehow
she could never manage to say it.
One night she got back from work to find her
roommate, Julia, sprawled out on their couch with books and papers
all around her.
“Hey.” Julia called out as Em dropped her key
in a porcelain dish by the door.
Em smiled back and hung her coat up on a
“Your mother called,” Julia said. “She said
she’d try you tomorrow.”
“Okay,” Em said. She had to write a paper
tonight and she hadn’t had much time for schoolwork these days. The
paper was due at the end of the week and she still didn’t know what
the topic was going to be. She sat down at her computer at the desk
next to her bed. But she didn’t see the blank white screen and the
blinking black line—she saw James.
She loved his shaggy brown hair that looked
soft, and his smile that always made Em smile back. There was a
spark in his eyes that she had never seen anyone direct at her
before. He laughed easily and he respected her opinion.
Without a word written on her paper, the
doorbell rang; a moment later Julia called out, “Em! Kyle is
Em hurriedly ran her fingers through her hair
and smoothed it down before Kyle arrived at her doorway. She smiled
and stood to walk over and kiss him lightly.
“Are you ready to go mini golfing?” he
“Oh, I forgot that was today.”
“You’ve been forgetting a lot lately, Em. I
worked hard this week so we could go out mini golfing. I thought
you’d be looking forward to this; I know how much you like it.”
“Yes, of course I do, let’s go and get my
It was true that mini-golf was Kyle and Em’s
favorite thing to do together. One of the few fun things Em could
do, Kyle sometimes joked. He said she was too serious and always
focused on her schoolwork. Ember didn’t see herself as serious; she
just had fun in more subdued ways. Em’s favorite thing to do was
take a book, curl up on a big chair with rain rattling the window,
open the cover, close her eyes, sniff the pages, and read for
hours. Kyle only read for work.
“Why are you frowning like that, Em?” Kyle
asked, “Putt-putt doesn’t take that much concentration.”
Em lifted her eyebrows and hit her orange
ball. She missed, but it didn’t matter. Half the time she lost the
game on purpose so Kyle wouldn’t sulk on the way home.
Em got home early that night, refusing Kyle’s
offer of coffee after the game. She still had that paper to
The next day Em's mother called early enough
in the morning that both girls were still at home. Em knew it was
her and steeled herself for an unpleasant conversation. For the
first twenty minutes, Em's mother listed all her neighbors and what
they were up to, then all the people at church and all the news
about them. Finally she said, “I can hear you biting your
Em looked down and saw that her hand was near
her mouth. “I’m not,” she said.
“Don’t lie to your mother.”
“I should go—the hospital will be expecting
“It’s cute that you have a job and all, but
don’t let it distract you from more important things. I’ll be
coming to visit in a few months and I expect to see your nails in
good shape by then. Keep up with the manicures.”
“Yes, mother,” Em said. She looked down at
her plain nails, which had been bitten down to the finger.
“Appearances matter. I don't know how many
times I'm going to have to tell you that. Ask Kyle, he doesn't want
a girl with stubby nails.”
So she did. That evening she called Kyle and
asked what he thought of her mother's assertion that her nails were
ruining all her prospects in life. “Yes,” Kyle said. “It's a
problem. I thought you were working on it.”
“An unkempt appearance is unprofessional and
“I'm mostly kempt, though, aren't I?”
“It's the details that leave a lasting
Em didn't argue. She was tired of Kyle and
her mother ganging up on her, though. She was tired of feeling
ugly. At the hospital the next day she was still thinking about
“What’s wrong?” James asked.
Em looked down at her hands. “Do my nails
Em nodded. She held them out to him so he
could see her stubby short fingers and almost complete lack of
nails. He leaned forward to look at them and suddenly Em felt
acutely aware of some kind of electricity in the air around them.
His skin was so very close to hers, his mouth inches from her
fingertips. An unexpected urge rose in her to brush her hands up
the sides of his face. She pulled her hands back abruptly.
“They look fine to me,” James said, raising
his eyes to hers and twinkling in that way that he did.
Em coughed and made an excuse to get back to
work. She almost tripped as she hurried out of the room. After she
finished her chores, she started walking home in the dark night.
Her arms tingled as she thought of his skin being so close to her.
She saw his eyes in her mind and for some reason she turned around
and walked back to the hospital. The still bright lights inside
were a harsh contrast to the night outside. In the rehab wing,
though, everything was dim.
Em hurried to the nurse's station and said,
“Where is James?”
“What's that?” The nurse cupped her hand
behind her ear.
“James? Do you know where he is?”
“Oh, I think his shift ended.”
Em hadn't noticed how high up her heart felt
until it sunk back down. He'd be home already. The nurse continued,
“He'll be in J wing.”
“Oh,” Em said. She wondered what he was doing
there, but perhaps he had loose ends to tie up after work. She
walked over to J wing, a residential hall, really more like a
nursing home, affiliated with the hospital.
The hallways were empty and Em had no idea
how to find him. Her voice was too soft to call for him. She kept a
hand against one wall as she slowly walked from one end to the
other, stopping abruptly at a painting hanging at the end of the
hall. She crossed to the other side and began walking back the
other way. What was she doing? Why wasn't she just going home? Her
stomach clenched at the thought of returning to her little
apartment, her schoolwork, her boyfriend. She kept pacing the hall
until an attendant walked by.
“Excuse me?” Em said. She had to repeat it
twice before the attendant noticed her. “Do you know where I can
The man pointed and said, “Room 304.”
Em followed where he had shown and gently
pushed open the door, stepping into the room. There were two beds:
an old man on one and James on the other. He was wearing blue
pajamas and his wheelchair was empty beside him. He didn't see her
right away, as he was looking over at the other man and gesturing
his wrist at the basketball game on the television.