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Norah had been doing her research on TJ’s spinal cord injury. And it was either surf the net or go stark raving mad from boredom. It wasn’t like she was even taking him to his therapy. He refused to go.

She hauled TJ out to go grocery shopping one day, more for fun than for food. That’s how bad it was.

What she was learning from her research was that TJ was making his own life worse. He needed to be in therapy. He had a chance at a full recovery. She was armed to the teeth a week later when she confronted him. She waited until he was ready and they were on the porch, then grabbed the keys to the handi-van, as he’d dubbed it. “Let’s go.”

“Where are we going?”

“Therapy.”

“Yours?” He looked at her with that blank look like he knew what she was doing.

“Yours.”

“Sorry.” He turned away.

“TJ you need to go. You can get your old life back. You just have to work at it.”

His jaw was steel. “And if it doesn’t work?”

“Then at least you’ll be able to say that you tried!” What was wrong with him?

What was wrong with her? For the life of her she couldn’t figure out why she cared. So Norah simply left him there on the front porch. She dropped her keys and her purse and left them where they fell. Walking down the front ramp she decided that she’d just saddle Thunder and ride away.

He called to her back. “It’s not your life, Norah.”

Damn him. Damn him for making her mad. She turned back to face him. “So you’re going to waste yours just to prove that point to the rest of us?”

His tone of voice was a mockery of the words he spoke. “Handicapped people can be a useful part of society nowadays.”

“You need to go to therapy. You don’t have to be in that chair. You can sing with Wilder again. So what if therapy sucks? These sessions will make that possible.”

“Therapy doesn’t work if I don’t cooperate.” His tone again told her he was simply repeating what he’d been told. He’d completely disengaged from the conversation.

She didn’t know where it came from. Only that she was angrier than she had ever been in her life. And she’d been as angry as him once. “How dare you!”

She stormed up the ramp, an avenging angel, or more likely demon. “How dare you waste this chance!” When she was within striking distance, she did. She hauled back and slapped him across the face the hardest she’d ever hit anybody in her life. “You have no idea how much I wish I had another chance. I wish I was you! I wish I was in that chair, that I could fix what was wrong.”

He opened his mouth but she steamrolled him.

“I had a husband and a baby! And they got killed. I would give anything to be able to fix that.” She motioned to his chair even as the tears formed. “I’d take that in a heartbeat. I’d give my legs and my arms, forever, for one more day, one more hour. So you shut up about how bad it is. You stop sitting here and feeling sorry for yourself, you get your sad ass to therapy and fix your problem!”

She was practically screaming. And she was shaking.

He’d even stopped rubbing his jaw.

But she had to get herself together. It had been so long since she’d had any kind of outburst, since she’d said or done anything to acknowledge that part of her life. She stalked off, thinking again how nice it would be to saddle Thunder and ride away.

TJ’s voice pulled her back. “I’d take what you have in a heartbeat.”

That stopped her and made her blood run cold. “No you wouldn’t. You lost your legs. Get over it. I had my heart ripped out. And it’s never come back.”

“That’s just it. You had someone who loved you. For how long?”

“Five years.”

“Whatever pain you’re in, it’s because someone loved you for five years. I’ve never had that—not for a day. So you can go to hell.”

He was turning to go inside. But the porch wasn’t wide enough for a graceful exit, he had to turn and maneuver a couple of times. Norah came back to the porch, breathing deeply, tears running down her face.

“Don’t go.” She didn’t wait for his reply, just sat herself back down on the edge of the porch, where she usually watched the sunset.

She felt his hand in her hair before she heard him. “We’re a sad pair aren’t we? Just drowning in our sorrows.”

He still didn’t speak, so she grabbed his hand and held her cheek against the back of it. His skin was smooth and warm, and she closed her eyes. Her father was the only one who’d been able to comfort her. She wasn’t even sure if this was comfort now.

But she took another breath and tried again. “TJ, I want you to go to therapy. Please.”

“Why?”

Somehow she knew that her answer mattered. That what she said would change things, one way or another. “Because this isn’t you.”

“You don’t know me.”

“Yes, I do. I hear your voice on the radio, and I remember what you were like.”

He sighed. “What if I fail? How would you handle it if you’d tried to rescue them and you’d failed?”

She nodded. “I wouldn’t be able to live with myself. But I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I’d had the opportunity and never tried. Trying and succeeding is the only survivable option. But not trying is guaranteed failure.”

She looked up at him. Again wondering why she’d gotten involved. “Why would you fail? TJ, you’ve never failed. You made everyone in school do whatever you wanted. You got a punk-slash-country band on the radio, crossing over into the pop market. The world has to watch out when you decide what you’re going to do. It’s in the basket.”

He laughed. She wondered what he’d decided. And why it mattered.

 

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