Josie - An Introduction

By JohnA

I really don't know whether I progressed into becoming a legbrace wannabe, or whether I've always been one. I know I've always been fascinated by the sight of someone wearing braces, and had always wanted to know what it would be like to wear them. I was overjoyed to get an opportunity to borrow a pair of full-length braces and try them on "just to see what they felt like".

Did I take them off after half an hour, saying: "Well that was interesting: I've always wondered what they would be like, and now I know; so my curiosity is entirely satisfied, and I won't ask again" ? Did I hell! I felt a thrill like I'd never felt before. It was: "Can I keep them on a bit longer? Can I try just one more manoeuvre in them? Can I keep them on for the rest of the evening? When can I try them again? Can I have another go tomorrow? Can I have them for longer next time?" and "How can I get hold of a set I can keep?"

There was no doubt that my over-riding desire was to be a legbrace pretender; and I had no peace for my yearnings until I did manage to acquire a set of my own.

Then came all the hours of secret practicing; it was really difficult to get around in them to begin with -- but that was the attraction and thrill of it. Initially I used to walk stiff-legged; but soon realised that I was "cheating" by using my calf muscles and ankles to spring on my toes, so I locked the ankle joints. It also soon became apparent that it was not only easier, but more "appropriate", to use crutches and swing my legs forward together through them, rather than attempt a "one leg at a time" gait.

And I didn't want to cheat by using my knees: this made actions like sitting down, getting up, and negotiating stairs distinctly difficult -- but I was determined to learn to do everything "properly". Eventually I reckoned I could cope with just about all of the everyday situations -- but how was I to appear in public?

Then came the second stage of my progression; if there was any physical pain in the first stage (and there was), there was far more mental anguish in the second. I was scared of being seen by people who knew me, with a dread of "what will they think?" I tried going to the other side of town, where I could continue my practice outdoors but would not be known to anyone. I noticed I got a lot of glances, a lot of them admiring looks, and that made me feel good at the time; but it just accentuated how frustrated I felt when I had to take them off and come back home so that I wouldn't be seen.

Eventually the frustrated anguish of not being able to wear them became stronger than the worry of what friends might think. I decided to take the bull by the horns, and met up with three of my best friends with my legbraces on. Not surprisingly, they were pretty dumbfounded when they saw me! I tried to explain that I had wanted to do this for a long time, and how good I felt in them.
By the end of that afternoon, one was still in a state of shock (and still hasn't fully come to terms with my desire). The second admired my courage and determination (which I took to be "permission to continue"). And the third opined that I looked rather cute -- which was the clincher!

Since that first experiment had not been a disaster, I thereafter made a point of wearing my legbraces whenever I was out with any of my friends. Generally, I got a similar mix of responses; and I rather hard-heartedly decided that if any of them couldn't cope with seeing me as a "voluntary cripple", then it was their problem, not mine. I said that they were my legs, and I could do what I like with them. Some of my friends had had their bodies pierced for jewellery in the most unlikely and outrageous of places; and they were in no position to criticise my choice of "fashion accessories". Indeed, I made a point of always wearing very short shorts or skirts, as I liked the way the steel and leather of the braces emphasised my pretty legs; and it was soon apparent that a lot of the boys found me more attractive in my legbraces -- which really reinforced my desire.

I was soon wearing them whenever I wanted to; and since I wanted to wear them all the time, that meant I was wearing them all the day, on all occasions. I was pleasantly surprised to discover how quickly most of my friends got used to me: In much the same way that whenever I saw a head of fluorescent pink hair bobbing through a crowd, I just thought "There's Debbie" without bothering to remember whether her hair had been brown or auburn the week before, so when people saw the glint of steel as I swung along towards them on my crutches, they just thought "Here comes Josie". Also, as I made new friends, they just accepted me as being in legbraces, as they had never known me without them; and I used that as another excuse to never go out without them on.

But I had not anticipated the third stage of my progression.

In the very beginning, it was a relief to take my braces off at the end of a day, as my leg muscles were aching from "fighting" the restraint of immobilisation; but that never dissuaded me from putting them on again the following day. That situation soon reversed to one where I felt "normal" when wearing the braces, but my legs felt quite floppy when I took them off; but I interpreted that as meaning that I had learnt to relax my leg muscles fully. Soon after that, I felt confident and secure when supported by the braces, but very insecure and unsteady when they were off; which I assumed was simply me getting fully acclimatised to them. After all, I told myself, I could give up wearing them any time I wanted to. Later on, I noticed that my leg muscles seemed to be getting weaker, and I didn't really trust myself to walk on them when my legbraces were off; but since by now I never took them off until I was home and preparing for bed, this didn't seem to matter.

One evening I was sitting on my bed and had just taken my braces off, when I remembered I wanted to get a particular mini-skirt out of the wardrobe ready for the morning. Sleepy-tired and not thinking, I stood up to walk across the room -- or rather I didn't: my knees buckled, my legs collapsed, and I fell in a heap on the floor. I've no idea how I "ought" to have felt about that; but all I thought at the time was "Silly me! Of course I fell down: I haven't got my braces on", and dragged myself across the room on my backside. Although that incident made it clear that my legs were getting really weak, I merely assumed that I could always build them back up again with lots of exercise whenever I wanted to or felt the need; but since I didn't really want to, and didn't perceive any pressing need, I did nothing about it.

But from then on, not only did I never take my legbraces off except when I knew I wouldn't need to walk anywhere; once they were off, I never even attempted to walk -- I could always slide around on my bottom if need be. This meant that I could remain blissfully unaware of the continuing and accelerating atrophy of my leg muscles. Even when I found I couldn't lift them into bed, or couldn't move them in the bed, I merely told myself "Well, I've been doing a lot of walking today; it's not surprising my legs are tired" (even though that was obviously stupid), or "It's the bedclothes that are preventing my legs from moving".

The final acceptance came as a result of two events closely following each other.
My cousin stayed with me for a week; she is one of the few that cannot or will not accept or understand my infatuation with legbraces. She got up each morning before me, moved by braces from where I had left them by the side of my bed the night before, and hid them on the other side of the room, saying that she was "encouraging me to walk normally again". Quite apart from not wanting to "walk normally", I couldn't anyway; and had to scoot across the floor on my butt to find them. Peeved, she then started putting them on high shelves or on top of cupboards where I couldn't reach from the floor. My arms are strong from all the crutching, so I could pull myself up a certain amount by hauling on a table; but I was getting absolutely no support from my limply trailing legs, and I couldn't even use them to balance as I tried to reach higher with one hand.
Shortly after she left, I met a friend who hadn't seen me for some time. She greeted me with "Are you still pretend-wearing those braces? Anyway, forget about them tonight, and come to our swimming-pool barbecue". I tapped the steel bars and jokingly replied "I can't go swimming: I'd sink like a stone in these!" She snorted and said "Well take the silly things off, and come and chase the boys round the pool like everyone else".
In both those cases, while trying to convince them that my legs had deteriorated beyond the point of no return and that I was helpless without my legbraces, I finally accepted the fact myself:

So I no longer have any choice in the matter -- I now have to wear legbraces all the time.

Interestingly, I didn't feel any great pangs of regret at this outcome, even though my original desire had only been to wear them "just for fun"; I can only assume that subconsciously I must have been a fully-fledged wannabe all along.

It's just as well that I had already decided that I never wanted to walk "normally" again: my legs are now completely useless, so now I have to wear legbraces all the time.

The only time I don't wear them is if I'm dressing up to go to a party, and I take a fancy to wearing a tight pencil skirt and dainty shoes. In that case, I can't really strap my braces on, either under or over my clothes; so I leave them off. Then I can't even stand, so instead I have to spend the evening trundling myself around in a wheelchair -- which makes a change, and can be just as much fun.

I remember the first time I did that: I arrived quite early; and later on as the room filled up, a friend of mine arrived but didn't spot me in the crowd, even though he was standing right behind me. I heard him ask "Is Josie here? You know, the girl in full metal legbraces". I spun my chair round to face him: "The answers are: Yes I am; but no I'm not tonight!" I replied gleefully.

I had realised that it was ages since I'd crossed my legs, as it's near impossible to do in long braces; so I had rearranged my legs into a nice provocative pose (though of course, the only way of getting my legs into position was by lifting them with my hands). The only time I doubted the wisdom of that was when I wanted to un-cross them again: with no control over my kneees or ankles, it took much longer to disentangle my legs and get my feet to flop back properly on to the foot-rests!

As you may gather, I like to dress up and show off my braced legs; and that includes shoes and visits to shoe-shops.
But it's a bit of a palaver unstrapping all the harnesses every time I want to try shoes on; so whenever I go on a shopping expedition, I leave the legbraces off and go in my wheelchair.

One shoe-shop has a rather dishy young assistant: he realised straight away that if he just held a shoe out and said "slide your foot into this", nothing would happen. His attention to detail includes remembering to place my foot back on to the chair's foot-rest afterwards, instead of just letting it go and leaving it dangling wherever it flopped.

I thanked him and complimented him on his gentleness. "I'm trying to be careful" he said bashfully "as I don't want to risk any damage to your delicate legs". "Thank you again" I responded "but they're not fragile or anything -- it's only the muscles that don't work. And incidentally, there's no loss of sensation -- I feel and appreciate your gentle caress!"

It's costing me a small fortune with all these frequent visits to that shop just to receive his "attention " -- if he doesn't ask me out for a date soon, I'm going to have to put some words into his mouth!

But the rest of the time, I much prefer legbraces to a wheelchair.
Mind you, there was one occasion when I almost wished I had a chair with me:

I decided to go on a seaside/sunbathing holiday, and found some nice open sandals with thick cork soles that fitted my callipers and looked perfectly appropriate. The combination of bikini and legbraces certainly got me plenty of admiring looks!
Crutching on sand was a new skill I had to learn. The firm sand below the high water mark wasn't too difficult; but the soft sand further up the beach was a real struggle -- but a challenge like that merely adds to the excitement!

The near disaster was after the first day of sunbathing (with my braces off so I wouldn't have white patches): I stayed out in the sun too long, and got rather badly sunburnt on my legs and upper thighs, and it was agony strapping the braces on again.
In fact, my left leg was so tender I couldn't even stand anything touching the skin, so there was no chance of fitting the cuff of my brace on to that. My right leg, though still painful, was not quite so burnt, and after liberal application of soothing cream, I could just about tolerate the thigh-cuff for brief periods.

So now I had to learn to crutch-walk on only one braced leg: that wasn't too difficult, though keeping my balance was trickier than usual.
The real problem was what to do with my left leg: with no brace supporting my ankle, my foot dangled, so my toes scraped painfully on the ground when I tried to swing my braced right leg. If I put a shoe on my left foot, the toecap caught on the ground even more, and I risked losing my balance completely.
In the end I settled for a shoe with a high platform sole and even higher wedge heel to fit to my right calliper, so that my left foot kept safely clear of the ground; I found it fascinating the way my unbraced and unused left leg swung uncontrollably about all over the place as I tried to walk.

Josie visits great-aunt Emma

For those of you who don't know me, I'm Josie and I'm a legbrace pretender who wore her braces too often for too long and lost the use of her legs.
In fact, I didn't worry when I first noticed my muscles starting to weaken, and didn't bother to do anything about it even when they became really feeble; and by the time it was obvious that they were no use at all, I merely accepted that my latent wannabe desires had been fulfilled.
The only time I was unhappy and frustrated was in the very first stage: when I dearly wanted to wear braces but couldn't bring myself to appear publicly in them for fear of what people might think and fear of rejection by them. But eventually I got over that hurdle.

The following episode occurred during the period when all my close friends knew about my brace-wearing and had become used to me that way; but I hadn't dared to say anything to my family yet -- though I very rarely met them anyway.
It was also during the stage when I had been wearing the legbraces just about all the time, and my legs were getting distinctly weak through lack of use of their muscles.

It had been arranged that I should visit Aunt Emma and stay with her for a week or so. Actually, she's great-aunt Emma, if not even more ancient! The last time I saw her was at a family Easter gathering, which I hadn't really wanted to attend, but couldn't get out of; I suffered a day and a half with them, without my legbraces and missing them terribly, before I could get away. Aunt Emma sat centre-stage, an imposing matriarchal figure, and everybody seemed in awe and trepidation of this dominating old lady. Actually, although I had no real conversation with her, she didn't seem quite so frightening as her reputation. Not many of the folk were talking to me, probably because I looked so glum and disinterested; but whenever Aunt Emma's eyes met mine across the room, her expression seemed to soften.
I really didn't know what I was letting myself in for, to be cooped up for a week with this old dragon nearly sixty years older than me; but the visit had to be made, and I resigned myself to it being a boring time.

The real worry was about the legbraces: like the rest of the family, she had never seen me with them, and so I wouldn't be able to wear them for the visit. I wondered if I might be able to get out of her house at times, so decided to pack my legbraces and crutches in a canvas holdall to take with me, in the hope that I might have some time to myself. But then I started to worry "what happens if she opens the bag and discovers them?" The following morning, as I got ready to catch the bus out to her, the decision was made for me: without the support of my braces, my weak legs made it difficult enough to walk carrying my rucksack packed with clothes; so there was no chance of me carrying the extra weight of a bag of ironmongery too! So I reluctantly left the holdall - and my beloved braces - behind in the hall, and tottered off to the bus station without them.

Aunt Emma lived on the outskirts of a small town in the country just outside the city. The bus journey was uneventful, and reminded me of the occasions when I first used to visit out-of-town places to secretly practice wearing the braces; only this time, I hadn't got them with me, and the thrill of anticipation was missing.

When we arrived, I was the only passenger to get off; and I was very grateful that the driver lifted my rucksack off the bus for me. As the bus drove away, I remembered that Aunt Emma lived right on the outskirts of the township, and I dreaded the thought of having to walk there, and doubted if I would even make it.
The street was deserted except for a battered pickup truck and a little old man. He came over to me, gave a sort of "touching the forelock" gesture, and said "Would you be Miss Josie?" I nodded, and he explained, "I'm Arthur, and I'm a neighbour of your Aunt Emma. She sent me to come and collect you from the bus." Well, that was a relief!
We both bent to pick my rucksack up from the ground. I thought it unfair to let such an old man try to carry it, even though I knew it would be a struggle for me. But he insisted, and picked it up as though it had no weight at all; not in the manner of a musclebound youth showing off, but with the experience of a lifetime in knowing the correct way to lift things.
During the drive out to Aunt Emma's, I had a chance to see that Arthur was far from the decrepit old man I had first taken him for. Old in years may be, and with a few "olde-worlde" mannerisms; but a charming conversationalist, with an alert mind and a youthful cheeriness.

As we arrived at Aunt Emma's house, she came out of the door. She was the same imposing figure as I always thought of her; yet as I looked closer, I could see a soft and welcoming smile on her face -- she really was pleased to see me. "I'm so glad to see you" she said; adding to Arthur "take Josie's bags upstairs for us".

She showed me over her house, and upstairs to the bedroom she'd prepared for me, then down again and out and around her garden.
It was a fairly large garden, with paths that wound round and over rockeries. Aunt Emma had a thin ebony cane with her in the garden, and I remembered that she had had a hip replacement operation not long ago; but she only seemed to be using the cane for pointing things out, moving trailing creepers out of the way, and poking things generally -- but not actually for walking.

But by the time we got back indoors, my legs were trembling with the unaccustomed effort and I was afraid they were going to buckle under me. So when Aunt Emma said "But you must be ready for a bite to eat: sit down at the table and I'll bring the tea in", I was relieved to be able to take the weight off my legs, and sat down quickly.

The conversation over the meal was just trivia: about the weather, her garden, and my bus ride. When we had finished, Aunt Emma started to clear the table, and I felt I ought to help her. Without thinking, I moved one hand to my knee to check the knee locks were free, and then suddenly realised that I hadn't got my braces on. I realised that I wouldn't be able to just stand up by knee-power alone, so used the edge of the table and the back of the chair to push up on, hoping she wouldn't notice. "Let me help you with the dishes" I said. "Certainly not," she replied, "you're a guest, not a skivvy! Just sit yourself down; I shan't be a moment."

I sat down on a pouffe, which appeared to be the nearest object to sit on. When Aunt Emma came back in and closed the door on the sound of a dishwasher whirring away, I didn't feel so bad about not helping.
She walked over to the mantelpiece and looked at a photograph on it "This is a picture of you at your first school; and I've had so little chance to get to know you since then". She did not attempt to bring the photograph over, so I was obviously supposed to go over to look at it.

And then panic set in -- I couldn't get up!

I tried to press with my legs, and nothing happened. There was nothing solid nearby to pull myself up with. I pushed down on the cushion with my hands, but that barely lifted my bottom an inch off it -- and I could see no way of getting any higher.

Aunt Emma appeared to have changed her mind, and said "On second thoughts, just stay where you are for a moment" and went out of the room.
I wondered if I should slide off the seat, and whether I would have time to crawl across to the table and pull myself up on that; but it was difficult to think for the banging and clattering sound that was coming from the hallway.

In no time, Aunt Emma came back in, carrying a pair of crutches: "After I had my hips done, the young whipper-snapper of a doctor gave me these crutches; I hardly used them of course, but I kept them in the back of the broom cupboard". She brought them across and put them into my hands: "If you straighten one leg, or perhaps both, and then push on these, you should be able to stand up".

I could hardly refuse with a "No thanks, I'll manage on my own", because I knew full well I couldn't. But of course, using crutches was the way I was well used to getting up, and so by using them, I was upright almost immediately.
Sheepishly I tried to hand them back, but she was already back across the room by the mantelpiece again.
I started to walk forward, carrying the crutches and making only token use of them for balance; but Aunt Emma stopped me immediately: "No no, that doesn't look at all right: use them normally!"
I must have exhausted any ability for quick thinking by now; and for some reason the way she stressed the word "normally" stuck in my brain. So I thrust the crutches forward, and then swung my legs forward between them: This was just like my usual way of walking, except that I had to keep my knees straight myself, and my ankles felt a bit floppy; but otherwise I did feel much more "normal" and comfortable. "Ah, that's better" I thought.
"Ah, that's better" said Aunt Emma, as if reading my mind.

We looked at the photograph together; it had indeed been taken an embarrassingly long time ago. "There's so much to catch up on" she said, "so let's make ourselves comfortable, and I want you to tell me all about yourself".
There were a pair of armchairs either side of the fireplace; each with a high straight back, soft armrests, and a comfortable seat which was quite high: the ideal style for an elderly lady with artificial hip joints, and also as it happens, ideal for me. "Where do you want me to start?" I asked "Back at school? Or when I left school? Or from when I left home?"

"Oh that's all tittle-tattle which we can cover later" she replied; "What I really want to know about is your walking".
I tried to put a "I don't know what you're talking about" look on my face, but she was undeterred:
"When we came in from the garden, it was obvious that your legs were like jelly, and you barely made it to the table. You had to strain to get up after tea; and you were obviously helpless on the pouffe. I thought back to when I last saw you at Easter. Your face was so unhappy then; I could understand that you weren't comfortable in the company - and I can understand that, because I didn't find the conversation exactly scintillating myself - but there was more to it than that: I sensed that you somehow felt 'incomplete'. I also noticed that you did as little walking as possible; yet there was absolutely no signs of any crutches in evidence then."
"That was barely two months ago; yet by the way you handled them just now, it's obvious that you've been using crutches for considerably longer than that."
She sat back with a patient yet attentive look on her face.

I tried to think of some story to explain things away; but I somehow suspected that she may have guessed even more of the truth than she had just described -- and anyway, trying to tell lies to her just didn't seem an option. But I also realised that there had been no tone of accusation in her voice: she had merely stated some facts without any hint of judgement or condemnation.
I decided that I "might as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb" and told her the whole story of my legbrace usage - hesitatingly at first, but soon quite openly - from my initial fascination right up to wearing them practically full time. I told her that my legs were getting weaker, but it didn't seem to matter if I was wearing braces anyway; and that all my friends knew what I was doing, and that it was only my family that I had not yet told: which was why I was not wearing them here.

That brought us up to date, so I stopped, waiting apprehensively to see what level of disapproval Aunt Emma would express.

But there was no disapproval at all; her eyes were wide and bright: "My dear Josie, what a thrilling story! Oh, when I was a young gal, I used to pretend to be all sorts of things; but I was such a butterfly that I never saw any pretences through. Yours is a fascinating adventure, and I admire your courage and character!"

Her expression then showed a little concern, and she continued "But there's no need to keep this silly charade up any longer, and we mustn't have you straining your pretty legs any more. You shall put your leg-braces on at once, and let me see what they look like. You did bring them with you of course?"

I bit my lip, and explained how, at the last moment, I had left them and my crutches behind. The smile left her face to be replaced by a concerned frown: "Oh dear, this is a really serious predicament; we can't have you stranded here for a whole week without them. Now let me think . . . . . You said that everything you need is in a hold-all, and it's just inside your door?"
I nodded; and she picked up the telephone from the table beside her chair, and pressed the re-dial button: "Arthur? Good, I have an errand for you . . . . . Yes I'm perfectly aware what time it is, but this is important. Drive over here straight away; but come via the filling station before it closes and ensure your tank is full."

Aunt Emma unfolded her plan of action with military precision. When Arthur arrived, I gave him instructions on how to get to my place, gave him my door-key, and described the hold-all. He took it all in, and only asked if there was anything else he should fetch while he was there; I told him I thought not, unless he spotted any shoes in my hall.
After he had gone, Aunt Emma said "Arthur may look an old fool, but he is utterly reliable. We can relax now". I assured her that I thought Arthur was certainly no fool, but an utterly charming gentleman.
And indeed we did relax: I found I could talk freely, and she pottered in an out with sandwiches and home-made wine, in between relating some of the adventures she had got up to as a girl: many of those were hilarious, and when I envisaged them in the bygone era in which they had taken place, I realised that many of them were outrageous!

Then Aunt Emma looked at the clock: "Goodness gracious, look at the time! You've had a long day, and it's time you were in bed. You know where your bedroom is, and everything is ready for you. I shall assume that you can manage to get up the stairs ..... in your own time and in your own way". She was quite right on the last point; since I no longer needed to pretend to have any strength in my legs, I was well practised in hauling myself up steps; not very elegantly, but certainly efficiently.
I slipped into a most inviting bed, and was soon fast asleep.

I did have one strange dream: I dreamt that I woke up to hear movement in the room, yet was not afraid. "Who's there?" I called calmly. A comforting voice replied "Don't worry, it's only Santa Claus". And with the incongruity that only occurs in dreams, I just murmured "Oh, that's all right then" and went back to sleep.

The following morning I drifted awake feeling so relaxed and comfortable that I thought I was in my own bed. Still half asleep, I automatically reached one arm out of bed for my leg-braces. When my fingers felt the touch of an unfamiliar carpet, I jolted awake: I wasn't at home, I was at Aunt Emma's! But now my eyes were open, I saw - only a few inches further along from my hand - my holdall on the floor, opened and with my braces on top. My crutches were there too; and Arthur had also found two alternative pairs of shoes. I lifted my legs out of bed, and saw that my braces were shining and gleaming like I'd never noticed before.

Aunt Emma must have heard me stirring, and her head appeared round the door: "I hope you slept well my dear; but the sun has been up for ages, and now it's time you were too". She put a look of mock annoyance on her face and scolded "Really Josie, you never were any good at looking after your things; those braces were all scuffed and grubby, and it took us ages to clean them up: Arthur even had to get an old toothbrush to get the dirt out of the fiddly bits! I'm just going to make some breakfast; and then I want to see what the real Josie looks like."

It was wonderful to get back into my braces, and my confidence flooded back; I hadn't realised just how insecure I could become after only a day without them. By the time I was dressed I felt really good; to think that only twenty-fours hours before I had been very apprehensive about this visit, but now I was really looking forward to the week.
I made my way downstairs, let my nose follow the aroma of breakfast, and swung cheerfully into the kitchen.

As I stood in the doorway, Aunt Emma looked at me. "You look wonderful" she said "and I'm obviously seeing the complete Josie. Firstly let me say that your smile is so radiant it would melt an iceberg! And I think I can understand why. You always had attractive legs, but now those braces seem to set them off; it's my belief that even the most beautiful painting looks even better when framed by a carefully chosen surround." I had never thought of that analogy; but it certainly fitted the image I like to give.
When breakfast was finished and I straightened my legs as I got up from the chair, the drop-locks on the knees snapped securely home with a sharp click; Arthur's toothbrush had done a good job of cleaning the dust out!

Aunt Emma looked at me again, this time slightly more critically: "I can't claim to be up with the modern fashion; but I'm sure that attractive girls don't usually wear skirts as long as that, right down to below the knee? It seems a terrible shame that you have such a pretty pair of legs - and such a shiny set of braces now - and your best attributes are more than half covered up and hidden from view!" I admitted that I normally wore skirts that were very much shorter than the one I had on at that moment; and faltered a bit as I tried to explain that I had been afraid that she might have disapproved of the revealing sort I preferred, and so had not brought any of my short skirts with me.
"I'm not that much of an old frump!" she protested; "But never mind: I was going to suggest we went into town anyway so that I could show you around, and now we have a perfect excuse to go on a shopping spree to get you some holiday clothes."
I was happy with the idea of that; now that I had my legbraces and crutches back, I was looking forwards to getting out and about.

The long-suffering Arthur was summoned again with his pick-up truck. Into this he carefully installed Aunt Emma, her little two-wheeled shopping basket, my crutches, and me. During the short drive into town, Aunt Emma voiced her thoughts: "When I used to play tennis as a girl, the trickiest part was to avoid tripping over the hem of the long dress; but the youngsters I see playing on TV these days have such short skirts that you can see their knickers -- I think you'd look especially attractive in them". The imperturbable Arthur didn't seem embarrassed by this conversation, so neither was I, and I happily agreed with Aunt Emma's suggestion.

Arthur dropped us off in the main shopping street, and Aunt Emma led the way until we reached a sports shop. The window showed a range of sports equipment and accessories. I stopped, and looked hesitant. "What's the matter?" asked Aunt Emma. "Well," I said falteringly "although I've bought clothes in all sorts of department stores and fashion boutiques, I've never had the courage to go into a real sports shop in legbraces". "Come come," she retorted "there has to be a first time for everything; all you need is a little moral support". Since Aunt Emma's idea of "moral support" was the flat of her hand pressing firmly into the small of my back, I had no alternative but to go in through the door.

The shop was actually quite large and had a wide range: not just sports equipment, but everything from serious sportswear to designer leisurewear. It was a quiet Tuesday, and there were just two assistants in the shop. The younger was talking to the older with a look of mild panic on his face, and casting furtive glances at the two unlikely customers: an elderly lady dressed as though she had just stepped out of the pages of a history book; and me with legbraces and crutches. The middle-aged man - presumably the manager - took a deep breath and walked over: "Good morning ladies; can I help you?" "I should hope so, young man" replied Aunt Emma, "please fetch a daringly short tennis dress". The manager gulped. "Not for me, you silly goose" Aunt Emma snorted "it's for my dear niece here; we want to show off her pretty legs". If that had been said in any other company, I would have prayed for the ground to open up and swallow me; but with Aunt Emma's arm around my shoulder, I felt perfectly safe and protected. Indeed the only person showing any embarrassment was the poor manager; and Aunt Emma seemed to be wickedly enjoying all of this!

We soon found a wrap-round skirt which we both liked: it flared from the waist following my hips; and when my hips stopped widening, the skirt just stopped! And we also got a dress of similar length (or lack of length!) I saw some aerobics exercise kit in glistening stretch Lurex; and Aunt Emma approved. I was now glad that she had enticed me into this particular shop, as I was also able to get some running tights in colours far more eye-catchingly vivid than the leggings I had seen in any of the other shops.
Aunt Emma also held aloft some very short and tight shorts, and proclaimed in a loud voice "I fail to see what purpose this garment fulfils on a sports field, apart from exhibiting the exact shape of the wearer's backside and disclosing a positively indecent quantity of thigh ..... we'll take them".
Wondering whether I'd overspent my budget of holiday money, I pulled my purse out of my shoulder bag, but Aunt Emma waved it away: "This is my treat; for far too many years I've never known what you really wanted for your birthdays, and at long last I can begin to make up. Is there anything else that takes your fancy?"

Although - thanks to Arthur's eagle eyes - I was all right for shoes, I was looking at a pair which are difficult to describe: either they were thick-soled moccasins in a sporty style, or sports shoes in a moccasin style; whichever they were, I hadn't seen their like before, and I thought they looked rather smart. Aunt Emma followed my eyes and appraised them: "Now that style would only work on a young pair of legs. On a woman only a few years older than you they wouldn't look right at all; but they'll suit you perfectly -- a very good choice".
"I do like them, Aunt Emma" I said, "but I think I'd better leave them; I wouldn't be able to wear them while I'm here with you". "Oh dear, why ever not?" she asked. "Well you see" I explained "my braces include support for my ankles, and since I don't use sole-plates to fit inside a shoe, I can't wear a pair of new shoes until they've been modified to fit on to the end of my callipers". "Could that be done to these?" she asked, and I nodded. She beckoned the manager over again: "We'll take these shoes: put them in their box, but don't wrap them up; we want to keep them separate from the other items". The shoe-box was added to Aunt Emma's shopping trolley, and we left the shop. I was feeling happy; Aunt Emma had enjoyed the whole episode; but the poor manager looked in desperate need of a stiff drink!

Aunt Emma led the way along the main street, then turned down a small side alley. Halfway along was a somewhat dilapidated shop, whose sign declared in faded paint "High Class Boot Repairs, P Henderson" followed in fresher paint by "& Son". She pushed the door open, and a bell on a spring jangled. A handsome lad came through a door at the back of the shop. "Where is Mister Henderson?" Aunt Emma asked. "He's in the workshop, Miss Wilkins" the boy nervously replied. "Well tell your father I wish to see him" she demanded.

At first I thought the boy had been over-awed by Aunt Emma's domineering presence; but as he scuttled back through the door I realised that it was me he was goggling at! "Hmmm" I thought, "either he's never seen legbraces before, or else I've got an instant admirer". It was just as well he knew the layout of the shop; I'll swear he walked backwards all the way through the door in order to keep his eyes on me!

Almost immediately the father came out. He was a wiry man with half-moon glasses, rolled-up sleeves, and a leather apron. "Good morning Emma" he said "what can I do for you?" "This is my niece Josie" said Aunt Emma. As Mr Henderson bade me good morning, she opened the shoe box: "I want you to adapt these shoes so that they will fit on to her callipers". "That's not exactly a run-of-the-mill request" he commented. "That may well be," continued Aunt Emma, "but we're relying on you to be able to do it".
He dropped all pretence at social banter, and became totally professional: "I would prefer to ask for the braces to be left with me for a day; but I take it that will not be possible?" Aunt Emma nodded curtly. "In that case" he continued "the first thing to do is to measure everything up, and see what I can do. Would you please come through to the workshop?"
We all went through to the back room -- followed by the son, as the door bell would jangle and summon him if any customers came into the shop. Mr Henderson sat me down in a chair, and gently lifted my legs on to a foot-stool. He looked closely at the ends of my callipers; I could see that he would have liked to twist my leg round to see both sides, but instead he bobbed his head back and forth in an arc. Then he sat back on his heels, and thought deeply for a moment. He then selected one drawer from a cabinet, took out a few tools -- and in no time flat he had completely disassembled the ankle-swivel and lower end of the callipers. Next he made lots of measurements, and copious notes. Finally he looked at us: "Well, I'm satisfied I can do it" he said. "Either leave the shoes with me, and call back later tomorrow; or I could do it right now -- but that would mean keeping you here for about another hour". Aunt Emma looked at me: "Can we wait that long?" "I don't mind either way" I replied "it's up to you whether you you want to get home now or not". Aunt Emma looked Mr Henderson in the eye and simply said "Do it Peter".

Mr Henderson paused just long enough to ask his son to make a drink for us; he moved towards a corner of the room -- shuffling backwards again, so he could keep his eyes fixed on me! Aunt Emma got up, saying "I don't think we can trust you not to scald yourself! Just show me where the kettle and things are, and I'll make the coffee; I'm not doing anything else of use".

In fact, it was just under the hour when he reassembled my braces with the original shoes, and carefully placed the newly-modified shoes in their box. "I've used a slow-setting glue to ensure the uppers keep their softness" he cautioned "The glue has set enough for the shoes to be carried, but please allow them to cure fully overnight, and don't try to wear them until tomorrow morning". He turned to me, and said with genuine concern "I really am sorry for immobilising you for such a long time". "Please don't apologise" I said sincerely "It was fascinating to watch you at work; I've never seen the actual process before, and I've never been offered a 'while you wait' service before. I really am grateful to you for what you've done".

As we left the shop, the son said "I do hope I have the chance of meeting you again" with far more intensity than an ordinary customer might warrant!

The next few days were a real holiday for me. To begin with, Aunt Emma took me out and showed me around the area until I had got my bearings; after that she gave me more time to myself so I could explore wherever I wanted. I even managed to get over to Arthur's house, having first ascertained from Aunt Emma what sort of a gift I could take him, to thank him for all the trouble he had taken that first night; that made for a very enjoyable afternoon.
There wasn't much in the way of 'night-life' in the town; but I found that I was more than happy to pass the evenings in with Aunt Emma, chatting freely away and listening to tales of her own adventures.

On the Saturday morning, Aunt Emma said "Try not to exhaust yourself too much today, but leave some energy for the evening. I always get along to the village dance on a Saturday night to meet people; and I hope you'll come along too". Now that was another thing I loved about her: none of the unwarranted assumptions some people make, like "Well you can't dance, so you obviously won't want to come to a party"; and I readily agreed.
As she walked off, she said over her shoulder "Oh, and when you meet Jamie, be sure to tell him all about yourself". "But who's that?" I called out after her "I don't know anyone called Jamie" ..... but she had already gone.

Arthur was driving into town that morning, and so I had an opportunity to look for something which fitted my idea of a "country dance" dress -- not that I'd ever been to such an event before.
I finally chose a short dress with a floral print. Actually, its style was a little too young and girly; but what the hell, it suited the light-hearted mood I was in. After bringing it home, and before Arthur arrived to drive us to the village hall, I thought I'd better wear it - together with some matching bobby-sox - for Aunt Emma to vet. She agreed that it was somewhat young-looking; but assured me that it made a very pretty party frock, and that it would be perfectly suitable for our evening out.

The "village dance" turned out to be the social event of the week for the community. Whole families turned up, so the age range included everybody from the very young to the positively ancient. People sat in groups at the many tables around the hall, but also wandered across to "visit" friends on other tables; all very informal and relaxed. The "orchestra" consisted of a fiddle player and an accordionist, who played country dances at the rate of one tune per pint of cider each; a few people were dancing, but most were just sitting around chatting.
Everybody knew Aunt Emma, and as each greeted her, she introduced me to them. I had initially assumed that such a closed community might be a bit off-hand with strangers; but in fact they made me very welcome.

After a bit, Aunt Emma wandered off to another table where Arthur was sitting, leaving me to watch the proceedings. Although I felt quite comfortable, I didn't actually know anyone. Then I noticed Mr Henderson's son arrive; as this was a face I recognised, I gave him a little wave. His eyes lit up, and he galloped across to the table. "Hello Josie" he said "do you remember me from the shoe-menders earlier this week? My name's Jamie."
So that put a name to the face! "May I join you?" he asked.
"Of course you may," I smiled "do sit down. And of course I remember you -- I could hardly forget the way you were staring at me!"
"Oh dear" he said nervously, "I didn't mean to stare, only ..... you looked just like a girl I saw getting off the bus the day before during my lunch-break ..... except that your legs are in braces, so it couldn't have been, as she wasn't wearing leg-braces ..... and anyway, you look much more attractive than she did, even though you do have those ....." He floundered to a halt and went bright red: "Oh gosh," he stammered "I really am sorry; it must be terrible for you when people comment about your braces".
"Don't worry" I said cheerfully "you are not making me embarrassed, and I can assure you that I have absolutely no hang-ups whatsoever about wearing them!"
He looked relieved, and continued "I really think your braces are very attractive ..... no I mean you look very attractive ..... but it's just that the braces seem so very much part of you".
I was really beginning to like Jamie: for all his shyness, he had just unwittingly paid me two of the nicest compliments -- that my legbraces enhanced my looks. "You're very sweet" I said "and much more natural than some people who go to great contortions to avoid mentioning the subject; or worse still, try to pretend they haven't even noticed! It's very refreshing to meet someone who is open and honest about what they think."

"I wouldn't have dared to say how much I was attracted to you in your leg-braces" he cautiously explained "but your Aunt Emma called into the shop yesterday, and told me 'When you meet my Josie, be sure to tell her all about yourself'."
I giggled: "And when Aunt Emma tells you to do something, you don't dare refuse? I know the feeling!"
And then I remembered that she had given me exactly the same instruction!

"Right then" I said "let's be good and do as we've been told! It sounds to me as though you have a particular fascination with legbraces; am I right? And don't worry, I shall understand perfectly if you have".
He took a deep breath, and admitted "Yes, I have been for a long time. The first time was in my first school, when there was a boy who wore them, and I tried hard to make friends with him; but then his family moved out of the town. Later on, I saw a girl in legbraces; but she was only around for a short time, and I never had a chance to get to know her".
I could see he was a kindred spirit, and told him about my fascination with legbraces; but I couldn't resist teasing him by first asking "Did I really look that ugly getting off the bus?" Caught off-guard, he replied "I didn't say that she was ugly, only that ..... Hey! Was it really you?"
That gave me the chance to tell him my story, and my ever-increasing desire to be a brace wearer.

Although we were talking and sharing freely, the whole conversation was carried out in whispers so that we would not be overheard. It was getting quite exhausting trying to hear each other's whispers above the general hubbub and noise, and I was starting to get hoarse.
Then Jamie said in a clearer voice "It's getting a bit stuffy in here; shall we go outside for some fresh air?" I raised my eyebrows quizzically and said "Are you sure that will be a 'proper' thing to be seen doing?" "Oh yes" he replied cheerfully "that's quite the usual custom!"
I still wasn't too sure about the local etiquette; but I could hardly 'tiptoe' out quietly in my braces! In fact, apart from a smile and greeting from people we actually passed on the way to the door, nobody seemed to take any notice of our little sojourn. As we reached the door, I looked back to where Aunt Emma was sitting; she smiled, and gave an almost imperceptible nod of her head.

Outside, it was indeed cooler, and quieter and so easier to talk freely.
After a little kiss and cuddle, Jamie started talking hesitantly: "I don't know how to ask you this ..... and I don't want to offend you ..... but there's something I'm dying to ask ..... but just say 'no' and I won't mention it again ..... only this seems to be my only chance ....."..... I was beginning to get impatient; particularly as a fast and furious grope behind some scratchy thorn bushes is not my idea of sensuality or romance: "Oh come on, spit it out!" I prompted.

"I wish I could ask you" he blurted "if I could possibly try your legbraces on -- only for a moment, just to see what it feels like." I relaxed and smiled; I considered that quite reasonable! "I don't mind you asking at all; and the answer is yes you may ..... in principle. But I'm afraid there are a couple of practical difficulties:
Firstly, as you know, the shoes are mounted on the braces, and I doubt if my shoes would fit your feet. The shoes could be dismounted; but the ends of the callipers would dig into your foot, and you wouldn't feel the true effect anyway."
"I've already thought of that:" he said cheerfully "From father's measurements I know what size your shoes are, and my feet certainly wouldn't fit. But I watched very closely what he was doing, and found his notes and figures. During the evenings, when he wasn't watching, I've modified a pair of my own shoes to mount onto the callipers". He crossed one foot over his knee, and I could see that he had in fact made a good job of replicating the mounting slot in the heels; and he had even coloured the metal sleeve so that it hardly noticed. "You sneaky little devil; so you have!" I said in admiration.

"But unfortunately, there is another problem" I continued "concerning re-adjusting them to fit your legs; and that could be quite time-consuming. Although I can - and often do - wear these braces over skin-tight jeans, my legs are quite slim; and I think your trousers will make your legs too bulky for a rapid fit. It might be a bit quicker and easier if you took your trousers off; but I'm not happy about the risk of some somebody else coming outside and discovering the two of us -- you with your trousers down!"

"Oh dear" he said ruefully "I hadn't thought of that -- and you're quite right of course". As if to confirm the point, there was a swell of noise as the door of the hall opened, and another couple emerged into the evening air.

As we made our way back, he stopped suddenly and pleaded "Oh gosh, please don't tell anyone I wanted to wear your legbraces!" I gave him a little peck on the cheek for reassurance: "Of course, I promise I won't tell a soul. And if only we could find a way of doing it in safety, I would be perfectly happy to let you try them". He gave me a great big kiss of thanks -- and I didn't care who saw it!

When we got back in the hall and rejoined Aunt Emma, I noticed that this community get-together, for all its popularity, was not going to be a late-night event; some people were already starting to say 'goodnight' and leave.

When it was time to say goodbye to Jamie, Aunt Emma said to me "I hope you've asked Jamie over to lunch tomorrow". "I'd love to!" I said "But it's not my place to invite....." "Nonsense!" she retorted "You can't string a boy along all evening, and then just ditch him at the end of the night!" Turning to Jamie, she continued "We shan't be sitting down to eat until mid-afternoon; but we shall be up and decent by ten in the morning, and we shall expect you to arrive then. It won't be anything special, so dress will be 'informal'."

A perfect end to another wonderful day; and another night of blissful dreams.

When I woke up next morning, I pushed my legs out of bed, and reached for my legbraces as my usual first action of the day. At that point, Aunt Emma bustled in: "Good, you're awake. Now what are you going to wear to look nice for Jamie? I haven't seen you in that exercise outfit yet."
Now I would never have thought of metallic green aerobics kit as being the obvious choice of attire for an 'at home' -- but all of Aunt Emma's suggestions so far had turned out to be ideal; and anyway, I hadn't had a proper chance to try them on yet either. In fact, I found they really suited my carefree mood; and I realised that it was just as well Aunt Emma had popped in so early, as I needed to put the cycle shorts on first, and then my braces on over them.

We paced ourselves so that the last of the breakfast things had been cleared away just as the clock came up to ten. A moment later, there was a knock on the door: Jamie was bang on time!
As I crutched along the hall, I looked at myself in the mirror: I looked as good as I felt! I had a wonderful feeling of suppleness and felt as free as the air; and - something which is so difficult to describe to anyone who hasn't experienced it themselves - that feeling of freedom was even more enhanced by my rigidly encaged legs.

I opened the front door wide for Jamie. I saw his lips move to frame the words 'Good morning'; but what actually came out was "WOWEE!"
He was wearing a slim-fitting cap-sleeved black tee-shirt, and short pale-blue shorts which showed that he had very handsome legs. "And wowee to you too!" I retorted.

Aunt Emma ushered us into the sitting room, told Jamie to make himself at home, and went back into the kitchen. We had a little kiss and cuddle, and exchanged flattering compliments. "My offer of letting you try my legbraces still stands" I whispered "but the trouble is...."... Aunt Emma popped her head round the door again: "We've only just finished our breakfast" she said to Jamie "but if you're ready for a coffee, I'll make you one". Jamie assured her that he was fine, and not ready for coffee yet; and Aunt Emma went back out.
"We'll never have a chance without getting caught, if your aunt keeps popping in and out" said Jamie "Is she likely to go out later?" "I don't know what she does at the weekend;" I replied "I can't think of a polite way to 'get rid' of her for a bit -- and even if I could, I don't think I could bring myself to do it".
I heard a clattering coming from the direction of the hallway, and was trying to remember where I'd heard that sound before.

The door opened again, and Aunt Emma came in, and said to me in a perfectly matter-of-fact voice "It's just dawned on me that you might find it helpful to have this second pair of crutches available, for while Jamie is wearing your braces on his legs".

We were shocked speechless, and I reckon our chins must have hit the floor in unison.

"Oh come come" Aunt Emma said "I wish you youngsters wouldn't keep assuming that we oldies must all be imbeciles! It was so obvious back in the shop Jamie, from the way that you just couldn't tear your eyes away from Josie's legs, that you had far more than a passing interest in her braces. And last night at the dance, you were deep in animated whispers non-stop all night; whereas in the past, your conversations with the opposite sex always dried up within five minutes, for lack of a common interest to talk about!"
"And not only have you come suitably dressed" she concluded triumphantly "but you're wearing the same shoes as last night -- the ones that you've specially modified!"

We were still gaping open-mouthed; but even if we had regained the power of speech, we couldn't have refuted what she had just said.

"Oh dear" continued Aunt Emma, with the tiniest trace of impatience in her voice "you two are a bit slow on the uptake! Now Jamie, from the look in your eyes last night, I'm sure that when you went outside, you plucked up the courage to ask Josie if you could try her legbraces -- am I right?" Jamie lowered his eyes and nodded.
"But you probably didn't have time" she continued "and in any case, I hope you didn't try it in the dark. And I'm assuming, Josie, that you were agreeable - in principle - at a more suitable place and time?" "Yes" I admitted.
"Well then" she said enthusiastically "what more suitable place and time could there be for your mutual interest, than the here and now? You're alone together, and quite safe from prying eyes. This is the best opportunity you'll get -- make the most of it!"

She left the room, and Jamie looked at me with disbelief: "Did I hear right? Having found us out, did your aunt really say she didn't mind in the least?" "That's what I heard too" I replied, beginning to feel relieved "and from my crash course this week in understanding Aunt Emma's ways, I believe she truly does mean it.
So, what were her last words?"
"'Make the most of it'?" suggested Jamie. "Right!" I replied with glee.

To begin with, I took just one brace off, and let Jamie put it on himself, using my remaining brace as a pattern to follow. I also suspected the reasoning behind Aunt Emma's early-morning suggestion of what I should wear: we could investigate all the details of the upper thigh cuff without any unladylike skirt-lifting.
Jamie had just finished adjusting the first brace for fit, when Aunt Emma came in again, carrying a hat with a huge floppy brim: "I'm glad to see you're enjoying yourselves. I'm just going out for my morning constitutional, so you'll have the place to yourselves for a couple of hours. Josie: look after your guest properly -- all the coffee things are ready for whenever you want a drink, and you can make yourselves sandwiches if you get peckish. Jamie: don't let Josie strain her dear legs, and remember to take great care of her braces."
"But above all -- have fun!" and she slapped the hat on her head, and closed the door.
The door immediately opened again, and the hat reappeared above a face with a forced dead-pan expression: "Oh, just one more house rule: no penetrative sex if you don't mind -- let's make a token acknowledgement of it being the Lord's Day".
Aunt Emma and her hat swept out of the house; and we fell into each other's arms in laughter.

Once Jamie had become used to the restraint of the one brace and knew what to expect, we fitted the second one on.
As he started to experiment with walking stiff-legged, and trying to sit down and stand up, he made all the clumsy mistakes that I had made in my early experiments. But this time, I was able to teach him the tricks needed; and he was a very diligent pupil.
We moved some of the furniture so that there was a straight clear stretch running diagonally across the room to practise crutching along.
Jamie was now used to the locked knees; so I set the ankle stops for essentially zero foot movement, and he was getting used to moving with his legs completely immobilised and rigid.

We were just getting ready for another practice run, when I stiffened as I heard the sound of the the front door. "Aunt Emma?" I called out apprehensively.
"Hello Josie, I've just got back..." Aunt Emma's voice came along the hall and through the door immediately behind us "...but we won't be eating for quite some while yet, so just carry on with whatever you're doing."
Confidently, we moved away from the door together. It was one of our best runs so far: Jamie had learnt the balance needed, and maintained a regular rhythm in his swing. I was crutching along beside him - keeping my knees straight as if they too were braced - and we stayed perfectly 'in step' all the way across the room.

As we stopped at the far end, I heard Aunt Emma's voice say "Don't they make a lovely couple?"

And a second voice replied "Indeed they do, Emma".

Horrified, we jerked round. "Mr Henderson!" I yelped.
"Dad!" croaked Jamie ..... and fainted.

Sorry, that's probably an exaggeration -- after all, in all the stories I've ever read, it's only the girl who faints, never the boy! Under any other circumstances, his knees might have buckled; but at that moment, that was the one thing they could not do. What actually happened was that right in the middle of the tricky manoeuvre of turning round, the shock had made him lose both his concentration and his balance -- and he started to pole-axe over.
Instinctively, I tried to prop him up; but of course my unbraced legs couldn't support the weight of the two of us ..... and we crashed down ignominiously on to the settee together.

We lay there petrified, eyes closed, instinctively felt for each other's hand, and held tight waiting for the explosion of fury.

But in the silence that followed, I remembered what their words were, and gingerly opened my eyes.
Mr Henderson was not apoplectic with rage; he was smiling at us with a caring fatherly look.
"Don't fret Jamie" he said quietly "you're not in trouble, I'm not cross with you, and you have nothing to worry about."
Jamie gingerly opened one eye, and his father continued "I've been aware of your fascination with legbraces for a little while now. That first day in the shop: I would have expected you to notice how attractive Josie was; and equally to do a double-take when you noticed the braces. But you were obsessed with Josie's legs and braces, and I don't think your eyes even blinked once for a whole hour. And then I remembered, back at your first school, when there was little Ben with polio in your class. You went to great lengths to befriend him; I would guess that you eventually got round to asking him to let you try his braces on, but I suspect that he was too afraid of his helplessness without them?" Jamie nodded wistfully.
"Then later, that girl with paralysed legs who was in town for a term -- I think her name was Deidre? You followed her everywhere she went; though I don't think you ever plucked up the courage to say so much as 'hello' to her?" Jamie reddened slightly.
"And I soon realised what you were up to, skulking furtively around in the workshop when you thought I wasn't looking -- and that clinched it."

"I've been having a long talk with Miss Wilkins this morning ..... no Josie, your Aunt Emma has not broken any confidences or disclosed any of your personal details. But what she did describe - in a general way - has helped me to acquire some insight into Jamie's preoccupation. I can understand that it is deeply ingrained; and that any disapproval on my part would be of no help whatever, and probably do more harm than good -- so I accept it."

Having been mentioned, Aunt Emma spoke: "I can understand that the pair of you feel shattered that your secret is out; but in reality, it isn't. The only people who know - who have seen Josie without braces and Jamie with - are the four of us in this room -- and we can keep it between us. Oh yes, Arthur has seen Josie unbraced, but he is the very soul of discretion. He knows nothing about Jamie of course; but even if he did, we could trust him".

Mr Henderson continued: "Since Josie is a visitor, and will be leaving tomorrow, she doesn't have to worry about facing awkward questions. But Jamie still lives in this town, which contains quite a few narrow-minded inhabitants. Whatever you decide you want to do in the future Jamie, please feel free to discuss it openly with me -- I promise you I'll give you all the support I can".
I could see that Mr Henderson truly meant every word, and obviously loved his son as much as I felt Aunt Emma loved me.

Jamie was beginning to relax, but was still rather overwhelmed by the events. Since we were already holding hands, and our bodies were jammed together on the settee, I nestled closer and gave him a reassuring kiss.

"Really Josie!" Aunt Emma interrupted, with an affected sharpness in her voice but a twinkle in her eye: "Where are your manners? You might have the decency to unlatch the poor boy's knees before you start clambering all over him!"

Oh Aunt Emma! I love you dearly!

On later visits to my (great-)aunt Emma - which I always enjoyed - she would always invite Jamie over. She knew his secret of his fascination with legbraces, and was very supportive of us both. In the safety of her little house on the outskirts of the town, I was only too happy to let Jamie borrow my legbraces to satisfy his pretender yearning.

On the very first occasion, my legs still half-worked, so that I could still walk a little unbraced, and quite easily with a spare pair of crutches, so I could "pace" him as he practiced.
But on the subsequent visits, my leg muscles had rapidly weakened, to the point that once my legbraces were off, I could only "sit on the sidelines" and watch.

Since by then I was otherwise normally wearing braces from morning to night, I felt "naked" without them; but I cheered myself up by playing a game of "posing":
When braced, by legs can either be straight for walking, or bent for sitting -- and there aren't really many other positions they can be in. But now when unbraced, I could re-discover all the variants on sitting poses: one leg under me, cross-legged, knees to my chin, draped over arm-rests, and so on. I found it strangely fascinating yet somehow perfectly "normal" that each pose required me to lift my legs and position them with my hands, as they certainly couldn't move of their own accord.

I also noticed that if I wanted to cross the room, by dragging myself across the floor on my bottom or crawling on my stomach by hauling with my forearms, Jamie always stopped whatever he was doing, and was even more intently enthralled at the way my still-pretty legs trailed so limply and uselessly behind me; there's no doubt that his infatuation with legs that need braces is far from superficial -- so I crawled around some more to please him!

Josie goes clubbing

If you don't know me already, I'm Josie and I'm a legbrace pretender; or rather, that's how I started out. I rapidly became infatuated with wearing them, and adored the feeling they gave me (not to mention the attention and admiring looks I got!)
I was soon wearing them all the time, and didn't feel particularly concerned that my legs seemed to be losing their strength.
But as a result of wearing them too often for too long, the muscles for my ankles and knees systematically degenerated, and I progressively lost the use of my legs.
It's just as well that I had already decided that I never wanted to walk "normally" again: my legs are now completely useless.
So now I have to wear legbraces all the time.

If you've been reading my story, you'll remember the first time I spent a week visiting and staying with my Aunt Emma. For the first day (and part of the last), I tried - not particularly successfully - to walk without my legbraces; but for all the rest of that week, I was in my braces as 'normal'. As it happens, that week was also the last time I ever walked unbraced.

On the second day, my Aunt and I (me being in braces) went shopping, and caused great consternation in a sports shop when we were looking for a short dress for me!

That was such a wonderful week that I've since made many happy return visits to her. These are mainly at weekends; but on the next time I was there during the week, I decided to make a point of going back into that sports shop.

It was a quiet Wednesday when I went into the shop. There was no sign of the manager, only the young assistant whom I recognised from my previous visit. He recognised me too; and started to look panicky, just like last time, and was obviously wondering where he could hide! But he was too indecisive, and I soon cornered him.
"Hello, you look as though you've just seen a ghost" I joked "that must mean you remember me!"
"No I don't" he said, looking rather flustered "or rather, yes I do -- but I didn't serve you last time".
"I know you didn't" I countered with a grin "you were too scared to!" "Oh dear" he replied rather shamefacedly "The trouble was that I've never had to serve a customer with a disability before, and I was frightened I would mis-handle the situation".
I didn't want to upset him any more, so I smiled gently at him: "It was a first time for me too" I admitted "At first I thought this shop was purely for serious sports equipment and that I might be out of place; it was only because my Aunt pushed me that I dared to come in!"

"Anyway, I'm here now; my name's Josie -- what's yours?"
"I'm Walter, Miss" he replied "but I'm not supposed to be too 'familiar' with customers".
"Oh come now" I retorted "surely you were taught the importance of making a customer feel 'valued'? Well, I'll feel much more 'valued' if you relax and call me Josie".
"I would like to" he replied "but I'm still scared that I might accidentally say something thoughtless".
"Don't worry about me" I said with a grin "I'm just a fun-loving girl who likes to dress up, chat with the boys, and enjoy herself. I also wear legbraces -- but I don't have any hang-ups about them or about comments upon them".

"I did think you looked very attractive and cheerful when I first saw you" he replied "But the last time you were in, and went over to the rack of shoes, my stomach churned when I saw you looking at the running shoes -- when you can't even walk".
"Don't exaggerate!" I countered "I just swing my braced legs through between my crutches -- that may not be the way you do it, but it's normal for me. What's more, I like wearing sporty shoes: the heels are more comfortable, particularly as my heels hit the ground quite hard if I'm trying to move quickly.
Obviously I can't run, but let me put it to you: how many girls come in and buy an expensive pair of fashionable Nikes -- and then only wear them for strolling along the street, and wouldn't even know where the local running track is?"
"I guess most of them would come in that category" he replied. "Then so do I too!" I replied "Which means that you don't have to treat me any differently to them!"

"Anyway, it isn't shoes I'm after this time" I continued "I was quite impressed by the casual clothes you had here, and thought I'd see what else you've got. What would you recommend?"
Feeling more 'on home ground' he started "We've just had a new delivery of ...." but I interrupted him: "I wasn't asking for the sales patter of what lines you've been instructed to promote" I teased "I asked what you would recommend. What do you think would make me stand out from the crowd? What would your ideal dream-girl wear?"
He looked briefly startled, then relaxed and had a faraway look on his face: "Since you ask" he replied "I love to see a girl in clothes where the top is figure-hugging, and the hem is very short and very flared ..... and all in bright vibrant colours" he finished up a little sheepishly.
"I love your taste!" I said with a big grin "Just the style I like too! If you've got anything like that here, please show me!"

He went off, and brought back two outfits. One fitted his description perfectly, and the other was even more gaudy. I held the first one up against myself, and looked at my reflection in the mirror -- I rather liked it.
"That does look nice on you" he commented "Were you looking for something special to go out in at night?"
"I haven't got any particular occasion in mind" I replied. "Usually if I'm visiting during the week, I stay indoors in the evenings to keep my Aunt company -- and anyway, there doesn't seem to be much night life in this town".
"No, there isn't much" he said "and certainly nothing to match the bigger cities. But there is a new club that's opened recently: it's only just started up, and so far only opens one night a week -- tonight, in fact".

"I didn't know about that" I said with interest "Could you tell me where it is? Or better still, would you take me along there?"
He looked hesitant, and did not reply.
"Sorry, I wasn't thinking" I said "I should have realised that you would have already invited your own girlfriend -- and I certainly wouldn't want to intrude".
"It's not that" he replied, looking a little sad "I haven't got a girlfriend at the moment. I've been going along to the club hoping to meet someone, but there always seems to be more boys than girls there. I always finish up being the one left on my own -- and I think they're all laughing at me" he finished up in embarrassment.
"Well, if you're going anyway, but unaccompanied" I suggested "and I'm at a loose end tonight -- then we could go together, surely?"

But to my surprise, he still looked very doubtful.
I thought for a moment, and then hazarded a guess: "You're worried that they'll laugh at you even more, if they think you're so hopeless at pulling the birds, that the best you could dredge up was a pathetic cripple that nobody else wanted?"
"NO!!" he gasped; but I could tell from the look of anguish on his face that I had in fact hit the nail on the head.
"Well let me assure you" I continued firmly "that I most certainly don't think of myself like that. Indeed, if I knew where the club was, I'd be tempted to go along by myself just to prove that point -- though I wouldn't wish to embarrass you in the process"
"Mind you" I continued "I would expect to dress up for it. What sort of clothes do the other girls wear? Anything adventurous?"
"Most of them try to look flirty and dress sexy" he replied "But they're mainly copying each other, and I wouldn't call them adventurous".
"Would any of them wear anything like this outfit?" I asked.
"No, I don't think they would" he answered, now beginning to show some interest "they don't seem to go in for exciting effects".

"Well, that would give me a slight edge" I said "but if they go so much by superficial first impressions, I'd need more than just a slight edge. Let's have a look at that more flamboyant outfit, and see what it looks like against me. If you're shy about holding it up against my chest, could you steady my waist so I can let go of my crutches and use both hands?"
This second one really was colourful, with some panels in fluorescent dayglo! It would have been much too 'over the top' for most occasions; but as an outfit to really stand out, it fitted the bill perfectly. "What do you think?" I asked.

He was standing behind me, and in the mirror I could see his face peering over my shoulder. His eyes were wide open with delight: "You look fabulous!" he cried "and the even more amazing thing is that it makes your legbraces look ..... Oh, I'm sorry" he trailed away "I nearly made an uncalled-for remark then -- please forgive me".
"Oh come on!" I retorted, in pretend exasperation "I told you I don't care if people comment about my braces. Don't keep me in suspense -- what were you going to say?"
He swallowed, and replied carefully "It was that the colours seem to need the shine of the steel of your braces to complete the perfect effect ..... I know it's not a kind thing to say, but it really is the combination of fabric and chrome that grabs me" he finished up embarrassedly.
"But that's absolutely wonderful!" I rejoinded "That's exactly the effect I'm always on the look-out for!"

"So to return to my original question" I continued "Would you dare to take me to the club if I was wearing this?"
"Would I dare?" he replied with a beaming smile "I think I'd be willing to kill to get the chance!"
"Does that mean we've got a date?" I smiled. "You bet we have!" was the enthusiastic reply.

When we were back at the cash desk, I noticed a door opening at the back of the shop, and saw the manager emerge from an office. "Watch out!" I whispered "your boss has appeared. You'd better wipe that smirk off your face and try to act normal!"
The manager stopped dead, and I saw a look of fear wash over his face as he re-lived the memory of the consternation and near mayhem my aunt and I had caused him on our previous visit.
He started to sidle towards us, obviously wanting to know what had happened this time, but equally obviously not wanting to get involved!
I waited until he was within earshot, and then picked up my purchases and said to Walter "Thank you very much indeed, young man; you have been most helpful". "It was a pleasure to serve you, Madam" Walter courteously replied.
As I turned to go out of the door, I looked back to see the manager beside Walter, with his mouth agape wondering how he had handled such an "awkward" customer. Walter was trying to look nonchalant, but was actually looking a bit smug!

Early that evening, back at Aunt Emma's, I put the exotic outfit on, matching it with flop-socks and tennis shoes, and put my hair into a pony tail.
Not surprisingly, her eyebrows rose when she saw me dressed up like that! "I don't think that would do at all for the vicar's garden party" she said "But seeing as how you're going to mix with young people tonight, I'm sure you'll knock them all speechless!" she added with a big smile.
"One little word of caution though" she continued, a little more seriously "I hope you don't make the other girls too jealous -- they might turn a touch catty if they think they've been outclassed"
"But I'm sure you'll sort that out" she said, with her smile returning "and I hope you have a lovely evening!"

Walter had forgotten to tell me there were some steps down to the sunken floor of the Wodin Club (as it had been provisionally named); fortunately, they were shallow and not at all awkward -- I did so much want to make an impressive entrance with him!
And so I did! All heads turned, and there were some barely-stifled gasps -- nobody could claim they hadn't noticed me!
We found an empty table, I unlocked my knees, and we sat down together.

I noticed the others were nudging each other and exchanging whispers -- but nobody came over to us. "Aren't you going to introduce me to your friends?" I asked Walter in a clear voice.
They could hardly avoid us after that; and their curiosity began to overcome their initial doubts.
As I had half expected, it took a bit of effort to get over their somewhat parochial attitudes. They also had a preconceived notion that any disabled or handicapped person must also be completely withdrawn, lacking in any interests, and utterly devoid of any sense of humour -- and I had great fun showing myself to be the very opposite of that stereotype!

The girls were initially put out by my extrovert dressing, which did rather put them in the shade; but after a bit, they relaxed and seem to have decided that I needed to wear eye-catching clothes to divert attention away from my legbraces. That's not how I see it, of course -- but it was easier to let them believe whatever they were comfortable with, rather than to contradict them.
I also perceived that the boys were privately admitting to themselves that they would never have had the nerve to invite me out on the strength of one chance meeting, and Walter went up in their estimation. I knew that Walter would never have asked me if I hadn't manipulated him; but I reckoned he deserved that boost to his confidence, and didn't let on. Instead, I said - deliberately within the girls' hearing - that I only accepted his invitation because he was so thoughtful and caring.

After that, we all got on well together, as they accepted me for what I was: A visitor who was looking for a fun night out, and wasn't going to let her legbraces spoil anything.

Later in the evening, I wanted to go to the ladies toilet. It turned out to be up a flight of stairs which were steep, twisting, and narrow -- a brace-wearer's nightmare. I reckoned that by now they had accepted me as a person and as a friend, so saw no need to try to disguise how difficult it was to haul myself up them.
On my return, two of the girls came quietly over to me. I had noticed Karen intently watching my movements, but it was Mandy who spoke for them: "Oh Josie dear" she said quietly "we really did feel for you just now struggling on those awkward stairs". I was touched that they showed concern; but I certainly didn't want them to feel sorry for me. "It was just one of those challenges that I expect to encounter every once in a while" I replied with a smile "It's just as well you aren't wearing tight pencil skirts, or you would have had much the same difficulties too!"

As the evening wore on, people tended to break away from a big group, and pair up together. I was enjoying Walter's company; but the disco music was beginning to get a bit monotonous. "I don't want to sound like a spoilsport" I asked him "but how much longer do you want to stay? My aunt will probably wait up for me, and I don't want to keep her up too late".
"That's fine by me" he replied "I have to start work early tomorrow for a stock-check before we open, so I don't want to be too late to bed either. My parents let me borrow their car tonight, so I can run you home".
As we left, the others all wished us a good night, and said they hoped they'd see me again. They weren't perturbed by us leaving early: I think they assumed we were going outside for a bit of snogging!
We did have a bit of a cuddle in the car; and then he drove me back.

When he stopped the car outside the house, I turned to him and said "Aunt Emma will expect me to invite you in and meet her". Walter turned a little pale: "Isn't she the rather ..... ummm ..... 'imposing' lady that came into the shop with you last time?" he asked hesitantly. "Yes; but don't worry about that -- she's very sweet really" I replied reassuringly "She will expect you to be polite and well-behaved -- but that won't be a problem, as you are anyway".

Walter helped me unfold out of the car, and accompanied me to the front door. Aunt Emma welcomed us in with a slight touch of formality; and then fixed Walter with a critical gaze.
"Good evening, Miss Wilkins" he said carefully "Thank you very much for allowing me the opportunity to take your charming niece out for the evening; and I hope we are not too late in returning".
Walter had passed Aunt Emma's first test - politeness - and her face immediately softened. "It's very good of you to run Josie home" she said; "I know Josie is not a child, but you will understand that I would not have liked her to be out on her own in a strange town after dark".
Walter didn't quite know what to reply; and Aunt Emma put on her beguiling 'tell me all about yourself' look. "Usually my parents are not keen on me borrowing the car" he admitted "but when I told them what I would be doing this evening, it was their suggestion that I take their car -- in fact, they insisted on it".

Walter had now passed her second test - honesty - and Aunt Emma relaxed completely. "Do sit down and make yourself comfortable" she said with a welcoming smile "I can see from your faces that you've both enjoyed yourselves; and I'm very grateful to you Walter, for giving Josie a chance to spend an evening with people of her own age-group for a change".
By now, Walter and I were sitting together on the settee, and I had dragged my legs into a more comfortable position so that the metalwork of my braces wouldn't dig into him when we snuggled up.
"Seeing as you're driving" she said to Walter "I shall not offer you an alcoholic night-cap; but I do hope you will stay and join us for a mug of cocoa". Walter thanked her and accepted.

"And it's nice to see you regaining the power of speech" she continued with a mischievous grin "You seemed to be rather dumbstruck the last time I saw you in the sports shop! And by the way" she added, with an even wider smile "Has your poor manager recovered from the nervous breakdown he seemed to be having?" Walter could tell that it had been a source of amusement to her, and said that the manager had been shattered for the rest of that day. "I rather think I would not have been quite so hard on him if he hadn't tried to be so insufferably pompous" she joked; then added with a conspiratorial wink "But when tomorrow morning comes, I'm relying on you to completely forget I ever said such a thing!"

Aunt Emma then disappeared into the kitchen to make the cocoa. "Isn't your Aunt a lovely lady?" Walter said to me. "I told you she was" I replied, adding with a smile "And when she comes back in with the drinks, she will quite expect to 'discover' us having a kiss and a cuddle -- so we'd better not disappoint her!"

As I said earlier, my visits to Aunt Emma are usually at the weekends, mainly to meet up with Jamie. In the safety and privacy of her house, I can take my legbraces off, and let Jamie borrow them to briefly satisfy his legbrace pretender/wannabe desires.
The next occasion when I was there during the week, I had almost forgotten about the Wodin Club; but remembered just in time, and decided to go along by myself to see if it was still going.

It was: and much the same crowd were there as I remembered from my first visit. They all remembered me, were pleased to see me again, and made me immediately welcome.
They seemed much more convivial and less 'competitive' than before; but perhaps that was because they no longer saw me as an interloper.
The girls were no longer trying to emulate the same 'Siren' image, but were dressing to show their individuality. I was wearing skimpy shorts, but had not gone to the extremes I had before, so there was no feelings of rivalry there.

Walter was there too; this time he was no longer sitting on his own, but was sitting with Karen. I felt pleased for both of them: I remember that I had liked Karen very much; we had got on well together last time, and seemed to have a lot in common.
They immediately welcomed me and invited me to join them.
Karen looked very attractive: she was wearing a soft fluffy top which positively cried out to be cuddled; and for leggings, she was wearing dark blue footless running tights which had a silver-white reflective stripe running the full length of the outside seam.

"It's lovely to see you both again" I said, unlocking my knees and lowering myself into a seat beside them. "I think you look very nice, Karen: I love that legbrace-lookalike effect, and I'd guess Walter does too!"
Karen looked a bit sheepish. "I hope I know you well enough to be honest with you" she said tentatively "You looked so attractive in your legbraces last time; and I admit I'm trying to copy the look. But if only I'd known you were coming tonight, I wouldn't have worn them -- you must think I'm heartless to make light of your need to wear braces on your legs".

"On the contrary!" I replied with a smile "I'm always delighted whenever anyone finds my legbraces attractive! And don't worry about the 'pretence' aspect of it: I know all about that, and I can tell you I have a very soft spot for pretenders!
It's rather too noisy in here to explain the full story of why; but if you're interested, we could arrange to meet up again sometime and have a quiet chat about it".

"Oh, could we please?" she said, with a look of hope on her face "I think I would rather like to".

But with one thing and another that evening, we never did get round to arranging to meet up again.......

Josie: The Antidepressant

For those of you who don't know me, I'm Josie and I'm a legbrace pretender who wore her braces too often for too long and lost the use of her legs.
In fact, I didn't worry when I first noticed my muscles starting to weaken, and didn't bother to do anything about it even when they became really feeble; and by the time it was obvious that they were no use at all, I merely accepted that my latent wannabe desires had been fulfilled.

I had taken a last-minute opportunity to visit my (great-)Aunt Emma, as I had come to find her company so enjoyable. Her neighbour Arthur had kindly fetched me from the bus station in the town centre and driven me to her little house on the outskirts. As we arrived, Aunt Emma welcomed us, inviting both of us in.
"I'd like to" said Arthur "but perhaps I ought to get back home".
Aunt Emma looked at Arthur, then at me, and then back to Arthur again: "You're worried about Neil?"
"A little;" Arthur replied "I know he seems to want to be alone -- but I don't want the lad to feel neglected".
The name was new to me: "Who's Neil?" I asked with interest. "He's a nephew of mine, much the same age as you, and is staying with me this week" Arthur replied cautiously.
"I hope I have a chance to meet him while I'm here!" I said eagerly.

There was a pause; and then Aunt Emma said "I think we'd better all come inside and sit down".
Somewhat surprised by this turn of events, I swung myself along the hallway behind Aunt Emma into her sitting room, with Arthur following. Aunt Emma took one of her two high-backed armchairs, I released my knee locks and lowered myself into the other one, and Arthur pulled a chair from the table and sat down.
There was another pause; and then Arthur broke the silence: "I've always been fond of Neil; such a good-natured and out-going lad. Or rather -- he used to be."
"It was about a year ago that he had an accident with some machinery: It should have had a safety guard, and he shouldn't have been near it anyway -- but it's too late to alter history now. The doctors and surgeons did their very best -- but the damage had been too great."
"They had to amputate the remains of both his hands above the wrist".

"Oh that's terrible" I said, with my heart jerking. "How is he now? I take it he's out of hospital".
"Oh yes" Arthur replied "It was a comparatively short stay in hospital, so he's been out quite some time now. In some aspects, he's recovered quite well. He's fortunate that he doesn't appear to have nightmares about the accident itself. The stumps of his forearms healed well, and don't give him any pain. And I admire the way he has learnt to do day-to-day tasks without any hands".
"That sounds very promising" I said hopefully.
"Unfortunately" said Aunt Emma "his problems are more psychological than physical".

"He's become progressively more withdrawn since he left hospital" continued Arthur "He's become moody and uncommunicative, and so unsociable as to be antisocial. His folks hoped that a change of air away from home might make a difference -- but I don't seem able to cheer him up".
"We're at our wit's end" Aunt Emma said "I think the modern term for his attitude is 'fear of rejection' -- though by his behaviour, he's the one who is doing the rejecting. At times, his behaviour is so surly as to be quite threatening. So, much as we would dearly love it if someone could lift him out of his depression, I am not going to ask you to help, nor will I think any the less of you if you choose not to get involved".

She stopped, and allowed me to absorb their words. My heart went out to this poor boy, and I wanted so much to help him; yet Aunt Emma was almost advising me to keep away from him. But then I got the feeling that if Aunt Emma had really thought such a mission was impossible, surely she would either never have mentioned Neil or else specifically forbidden me to see him.
"I'm wondering:" I said slowly "As you know, although I wear legbraces out of need now, I don't think of myself as being disabled; even though - technically speaking - I am. Is there any possibility that he might be more receptive to someone that he would perceive as being disadvantaged?"
"There is that chance" Aunt Emma replied softly "Indeed, it's the only possibility left that we are holding out any hope for".

I paused for long enough to ensure that all my feelings were unanimous: "I'm willing to try. When shall I go over? If Arthur is going back anyway, I might as well go with him right now".

As I followed Arthur through the doorway into his living room, I could see a blond-haired boy sitting on the settee and glancing at a magazine with a look of bored disinterest on his face.
"Neil: this is Josie -- she's come to give you a bit of company" Arthur announced.
Neil jerked his head up with a look of horror; "Oh uncle....." he groaned, making it obvious that he meant "I wish you hadn't!". At the same time, the magazine fell to the floor as he quickly thrust his arms into the cushions behind him; but before they disappeared from view, I caught a flash of steel at the end of both sleeves -- so he was wearing hooks!

I crutched over to him. "Hello Neil, I'm Josie" I said cheerfully, holding out my hand. He didn't even look up, but just mumbled "Can't shake hands".
"May I sit down?" I asked, trying to sound friendly. "S'pose so" he muttered, making it quite clear that he really meant "No! Go away and leave me alone!"
Arthur looked uncomfortable, said "Right; I'll leave the two of you to it", and scuttled back out of the room.
I sat down beside him, not too close but angled towards him, with one knee unlocked and the other still straight. "Aren't you going to say hello?" I tried again.
He grunted, but made no reply.

After several seconds had passed with no further action between us, he impulsively pulled his arms out from behind him, and jerked his sleeves up in front of my face. "This is why I don't want to get involved" he burst out with a snarl; "See -- I'm disfigured! No hands -- just these rotten hooks! Yeah, it's a shock isn't it? Now you've seen the revolting sight, you can get out and go to the bathroom to throw up!" He dropped his hooks into his lap and glared at me defiantly.
'Oh my God' I thought 'he really has got a hang-up about them!'

Not sure how to respond, and also feeling rather stung by his outburst, I retorted rather severely: "Look, I'm not shocked by your hooks, nor do they upset me; but if I did leave, it would be solely because of the nasty hurtful way you just shouted at me!"
His face changed to an abject look of anguish: "Awww, I didn't mean to shout at you. You only came because Uncle Arthur asked you to -- but you should never have come: I don't expect you or anybody to want to have anything to do with anyone as repulsive as me!"
"Sure your uncle asked me" I said, calming down now that the worst of his anger had subsided, "but I was very happy to. I'm only an occasional visitor to this town myself, and so I know how lonely it can be to begin with when you don't know anybody".
"That is kind of you" he replied morosely "but I'm slowly getting used to being lonely, so please don't put yourself out on my account. I'm trying to resign myself to the fact that I shall never have a girlfriend ever again -- not with these abominations."

"Let me repeat" I persisted "that I don't find your hooks a turn-off at all; and I wanted to meet you as a person, not an object under scrutiny". "And anyway" I continued sweetly "I still don't know many people of my own age here, so I was looking forward to making a new friend".
"You mean you're not disgusted by my hooks?" he said, with a look of incredulity "And you really did just want to make friends?"
"Yes, honestly" I replied; "Now, do you still hate me so much that you want me to go away?"
"No, of course I don't hate you" he stammered "I .... I think you're very nice."
"I'd find that easier to believe" I grinned teasingly "if you said it with something approaching a smile on your face."

For the first time, the corners of his mouth curled upwards a little instead of downwards. "I think you're very nice" he repeated.
"Thank you," I beamed "that's better! Does that mean I can stay?" "Oh yes! Please stay!" he replied, with his first sign of enthusiasm. Then he bent down and deftly lifted a corner of the fallen magazine with one hook. "I'll cover up my hooks so that they won't upset you" he said a little self-consciously.
"There's no need for that" I said brightly, "I told you they don't worry me at all. Now; look at me". This time he looked me straight in the eye without diverting his gaze. "Wonderful!" I said "Let me tell you I think you're much more handsome with a smile instead of a scowl!"
"But I don't expect a boy to look at just the face of a girl; now look at my legs -- hadn't you noticed that there was something slightly unusual about them?"

He reddened slightly. "Ummm, well of course I couldn't help noticing that you had legbraces, only ..... I didn't want to say anything insensitive" he finished weakly.
"Hey!" I chided "You're a fine one to talk about 'insensitive' after trying to bawl me out earlier on!" "But don't worry, I quite understand your initial reaction to an unexpected visitor, and I've forgiven you completely" I finished gently.
"I really do apologise for my unjustified outburst" he said with sincerity "and thank you so much for forgiving me. If I'm honest, I was so obsessed with what you might think of my hooks, that I never even stopped to think what you might feel about your legbraces".
"Let me tell you straight out" I said "that I have absolutely no hang-ups about wearing braces; I'm not worried about people seeing them, nor do I get upset about people mentioning them -- so you don't have to worry about me at all".

"But now I should ask you" I continued "and for both our sakes, please be honest -- do my legbraces make you feel uncomfortable?"
He thought for a moment. "Strangely enough" he replied "I thought I would be; but there's something about you which makes me feel at ease".
"Good, I'm glad about that" I replied "But I would guess that if I had been all edgy and uptight about wearing braces, that would have made you feel uncomfortable?" "Yes, I reckon you're right there" he replied.
He thought for a moment, then continued "Do you think it's possible that when people shy away from me, it's not so much because of the sight of my hooks, but more because of my own attitude towards them?"

I deliberately didn't say anything, but just smiled and nodded slowly, so that his own words could sink in.

"Is that why you wear a short skirt instead of trying to cover them up?" he asked.
At this point I realised that it was not the right moment to admit that I had always wanted to wear legbraces even when I had no medical need; but now that my legs had become useless, I could reply without feeling a fraud: "I reckon there's no point: if I wore a longer skirt, you'd still see the bottom halves of them; and even if I wore long baggy trousers, it would still be blatantly obvious that my legs didn't work. So I much prefer to be up-front about the braces, rather than to try and hide them and have the deception fail."
"That's interesting" he mused "I did briefly try some artificial hands; but although they were very cleverly made, they still didn't look real, and wouldn't have fooled anybody for long. Also, I couldn't do as much with them as I can with these hooks -- perhaps I shouldn't grumble quite so much."
"That's the spirit!" I said encouragingly "I reckon we can take it that we have sufficient in common that we can discuss the mechanical parts of our bodies without any embarrassment? For example, I've never seen hooks in close-up before; have you ever seen legbraces in detail?"

"I've only seen them at a distance" he replied. "I've been puzzled how it's possible to bend and sit, when they're normally so straight and rigid".
"Oh, that's quite easy" I explained "There's a hinge or swivel-joint here at the knee; it's unlocked at the moment so my knee is free to bend. But see this sort of spur immediately below the pivot; and this other bit coming from above the pivot and curling round under it". I could see he was interested; and also suspected that it allowed him to relax and not have to worry about his inhibitions of personal relationships. I slowly lifted my calf with one hand and pressed my thigh down. "See? When the leg becomes straight, the pawl clicks into place". I then used both hands to lift my thigh so that my foot was off the ground. "Now it's locked rigid, and will stay that way until it's unlocked again".
I noticed that a hook was inching towards my braced leg.
"Now pull on that lever" I said. "Who, me?" he said disbelievingly "Sorry, yes of course I should assist you if you can't do it yourself". "Oh, I could easily release it myself" I replied "but you'll understand better how it works if you do it. Just pull the lever that goes behind my knee upwards slightly". He gingerly gripped it and pulled it up as instructed. As the pawl cleared the stop and it unlocked, my leg immediately dropped and my foot hit the floor with a thud; and he jerked his hook away in panic.
"Oh my God, I've broken it!" he yelped. "Not at all" I said reassuringly "but I should have realised you might not have anticipated what would happen: Once the joint was free, there was nothing to hold my lower leg up - I haven't got any working muscles to do it - so of course it dropped straight down".
Much relieved, he brought his hook forward, and fiddled with the pawl in fascination. "I noticed your hooks open and close" I said "How do you do that -- thought-waves or something?" He grinned: "That's still science-fiction as yet; though I think they're working on it. No, it's much simpler than that: This cable runs up my sleeve to the shoulder; when I tense my shoulder-blades, it pulls on the wire, and opens the hook; and when I relax, they close themselves". "Gosh" I said "that must be very clever to learn to operate fingers with your shoulders!" "It's not a matter of being clever;" he replied wryly "there being no alternative, it's a necessity. But then, you must have had to learn a new way of walking too."

After a pause, I held his hook with my hand. "That's enough for today's engineering class" I joked "Now let's pretend to be human beings! You see I have no qualms about holding you; so now you'd like to touch my leg, wouldn't you?" He looked horrified: "I couldn't possibly do that!" he exclaimed. "Ahhh" I retorted "I can understand that a well-behaved boy might feel that they ought not; but any full-blooded boy would still like to! You're not gay, are you?" "Certainly not!" he said indignantly. "Well then" I said "try me" and lifted his hook on to my leg.
I managed not to jump as the cold steel touched my thigh; and it sent a shiver of thrill up and down my spine. I probably had a rapt look on my face, but I wouldn't know: there wasn't a mirror around, and anyway, I had closed my eyes. He gently slid his hook towards my knee; but after all too few seconds, he lifted his hook off my leg, and I opened my eyes. A multitude of emotions were racing over his face: "This is incredible: I thought I'd never even speak to a girl again -- and yet now I've actually stroked ones leg!"
And then his euphoria faded: "Oh dear, I feel really rotten about that -- taking advantage of you in that way".
"No you didn't" I said, slightly perplexed, "It was all my suggestion".
"I know" he said sadly "but I've just realised that your legs are dead, and your eyes were closed, so you didn't even know what I was doing. You would never have let me do it if your legs had any sensation in them".
"Oh but they do!" I said gleefully "It's only working muscles that my legs are lacking; but I've got full sensations and felt everything -- and I enjoyed every single second of it!"

But then it was my turn to feel guilty. "I'm sorry" I said "I'm the one who's the heel: although I was thrilled by your touch, I didn't stop to think that you probably couldn't feel anything".
"Don't upset yourself about that; but it's true" he replied ruefully "I can't feel anything at all with them. It's not too bad most of the time; from the moment I knew I had lost my hands, it was so obvious that I would never have feeling fingers again, that it wasn't too difficult to accept. That meant that by the time I was fitted with my hooks and started to learn to use them, I wasn't expecting to get any sense of touch. Most of the time it's just an inconvenience: I always have to watch what I'm doing with them because of the lack of tactile feedback; so for example, I can't put a hook in my pocket and blindly feel for a particular object. But this is the first time I've really missed that ability".
"I truly am sorry" I said "I should never have put you through that cruel experience".
"It wasn't too bad" he replied with the beginnings of a smile "I just used my memories and my imagination. Ummm ..... I reckon you have beautifully smooth skin; I also perceived that your legs were shapely and well-rounded -- although that may have been wishful thinking."
"Spot on!" I cried with relief "and you can rest assured that no girl would ever turn down a compliment as flattering as that!"

I paused after that, as I didn't want to push his emotions too far or too fast. Neil was the first to break the silence: "I just can't believe what's happened. This morning I was in an absolutely foul mood, and now I feel so happy! It's all down to you and your kindness -- how can I ever thank you?"
"Well" I replied mischievously "You could try a great big slobbering tongue-tingling kiss!". He looked a little startled; but I was relieved to see that it was no more than good old fashioned shyness this time. "Wouldn't that be a little too 'forward'?" he said "I mean, we've only known each other an hour".
"Fair enough" I replied "So how about a nice friendly hug?" He seemed happy with that; and we stretched our arms towards each other. "Ummm..... we're too far apart" I pointed out "It would be less of a struggle for you to move towards me". "Oh gosh, I'm sorry" he said as he slid quickly across "I'd completely forgotten you couldn't move your legs".
His hug really was a loving one; the only minor niggle was that the tip of one of his hooks was digging into the small of my back. I realised that it wasn't his fault as he could neither see nor feel what was happening behind my back. I decided not mention it, as I didn't want to spoil the moment; instead, I followed up on his words. I nibbled his ear and whispered into it "That's what happens when you think more of the person inside than you do of any oddities on the outside".

As we separated, there was a discreet cough from the doorway. "I didn't want to intrude on you, Josie" Arthur said apologetically "but your Aunt Emma's on the phone: she wants to know if you're coming home for tea. You can take the call on the extension in here". I couldn't quite reach the handset, but Neil deftly lifted it and handed it to me. "I'm sorry Aunt Emma" I said "I'd completely forgotten the time". "Time doesn't matter" she cut in "How are you getting on?" "Wonderfully, thank you!" I replied "Neil and I are the best of buddies! But of course, I'll say goodbye to him and come over straight away ..... that is ..... unless ..... I shouldn't really impose on you, but ..... could I possibly bring Neil back with me?"
"Of course you shall" she immediately replied "I'd be very cross with you if you DIDN'T invite him".
I noticed a look of fear spreading across Neil's face as he overheard the conversation. "Remember that I haven't had a chance to ask him yet" I said cautiously "so I don't know if he'll come. He's still very shy ..... ummm ..... about his..."... Aunt Emma cut in quickly: "Arthur has already put me in the picture. Tell him he's very welcome, and not to worry". Her voice took on a conspiratorial tone, as if delivering a coded message: "And if his habits at table are different to ours, I assure you I will not slap his wrist or rap his knuckles -- do you get my drift? So I will expect you both; there's no need to rush -- but everything will be ready when you arrive".

"Please come to Aunt Emma's for tea with me" I pleaded with Neil "I don't know if you've met her yet; but don't believe her reputation of being an intimidating dragon -- she's really the sweetest and kindest lady on earth, and is so looking forward to meeting you".
Neil was still unconvinced. "You go along my lad" said Arthur encouragingly "You'll get a far better meal there than I can provide!"
"And don't invent any excuses about not being hungry" I added "you'll be able to eat as little or as much as you want".
But now Neil was looking even more panic-stricken: "I'll believe that your aunt is as nice as you say; but a meal -- I don't think I could cope with that".
I wasn't quite sure how to counter that: "Well, I'd be very happy to sit on your lap and pop morsels into your mouth; but I had assumed you would be able to manage yourself?"
"Oh, I can feed myself all right" replied Neil, with a look of anguish "but ..... but not ..... not in front of people".

I realised that this was a sticking point that we had to get over.
"Look Neil, sooner or later you're going to have to face that hurdle, and there has to be a first time for everything. And yes, I do fully understand the trepidation you feel, believe me. But there's nothing to worry about! Surely, after our afternoon together, you can trust being in my company? And don't worry about Aunt Emma: The first time I visited her, she didn't even know I wore legbraces; yet she didn't bat an eyelid when she saw them -- so she certainly won't get an attack of the vapours when she sees your hooks. Not only that, but she's watched me struggling with stairs; and even seen me without my braces, helpless and unable to move -- yet she neither showed any embarrassment nor did she cause me any. I know this will be a challenging experiment for you -- but I can promise you that Aunt Emma's is a totally safe environment to try it in".
Neil began to relax. "Shall I drive you over?" offered Arthur. "It's not far" I replied "so I'm quite happy to get some fresh air -- providing Neil doesn't mind walking slowly, that is". I looked appealingly at Neil.
There was a long pause as he battled with his fears; then finally he took a deep breath and a look of determination came over his face.
"It'll do me good too" said Neil "I've been doing nothing but sit around all day. Shall we go?"

Aunt Emma greeted us with loving enthusiasm "Hello Neil; I'm so glad you've come to keep Josie company -- I can't expect her to put up with a doddery old woman like me all the time! I've left putting the kettle on until you arrived, but everything else is ready; just sit yourselves down, help yourselves, and make a start".
As we sat down at the table, I was surprised to notice how badly it had been laid: instead of the usual impeccable place settings, all the cutlery was just scattered around the table -- most unlike Aunt Emma's normal precision. I almost made a comment, but stopped when I realised that it was even more untidy than I had first noticed: Usually she lays everything in carefully matching sets, but this time there was complete chaos! Not only was there such a miscellany of knives, forks, teaspoons, dessert-spoons, cake-forks, tongs and spatulas -- but none of them matched! The knives had a mixture of flat metal handles, round ivory handles, and there were some kitchen knives with square-section wooden handles.
Slowly Aunt Emma's rationale became clear to me, as Neil's eyes cast around the table, and he selected those items which would be easiest for his hooks to grasp -- she had really been thinking ahead!

Things went smoothly; the conversation was just snippets of chit-chat, and Neil's expression showed that he was quite comfortable with the situation. "The lemon sponge is delicious!" he complimented. "Then do have some more!" replied Aunt Emma "Help yourself to another slice". Neil selected a knife, and carefully started to cut into the threequarter-round of cake. The knife nearly slipped once, but he completed the cut without mishap. Only after he had transferred the slice to his plate did I realise that I had been holding my breath throughout the whole operation.
After he had finished eating that, Aunt Emma asked "How did you like the fruit slab-cake; would you like some more of that?" "Oh yes please!" replied Neil enthusiastically; then he looked at the cake stand, and his voice tailed away: "Ummm ..... on second thoughts .... thank you, but I won't".
"I'll cut us all some more slices" Aunt Emma promptly announced. As she sliced through the cake, she added conversationally "I always seem to pack too much fruit in, and it finishes up rather solid and difficult to cut, doesn't it?" Neil remained silent; but Aunt Emma put on her 'tell me all about yourself' look -- and Neil fell under her spell: "As Josie knows, I can control how I open my hooks, but not how I close them; that means that I don't have a very strong grip, and so I sometimes lose my grasp. But I'm sorry -- you really didn't want to hear about that". "But of course I do" said Aunt Emma with interest "I'm not being nosy; it's the just the same thing as wanting to know if a guest takes sugar, or is allergic to anything".

After everything had been cleared away after the end of the meal, Neil stood up and said politely "Thank you both very much indeed for a lovely afternoon; but I suppose I ought to get back to Uncle Arthur's now". I suddenly began to worry how he would spend the evening -- would he slide back into lonely isolation again? Then I remembered that it was Saturday: "Aunt Emma, were you planning on going to the village dance tonight?"
"That is my usual pattern as you know" she replied "and I was hoping and assuming that you would too; and yes, I think it would be an excellent idea if Neil were to be your escort".
"A village dance?" said Neil, with a look of perplexed disbelief. "Oh yes" I replied enthusiastically "it's the social event of the week for this little community! Your Uncle Arthur usually comes too; so we could make up a foursome. You will have a chance to meet some more people -- very nice people" I stressed.
"But I haven't got a tuxedo or bow-tie to go to a dance in" Neil countered. "Oh it's nothing as pretentious as that!" Aunt Emma assured him "Mind you, folks do like to dress up a little, and -- if you don't mind me saying so -- you do look a little scruffy at the moment; I suspect you haven't been taking much care over your appearance?" Aunt Emma had that beguiling look which makes it impossible to evade replying. "I'm afraid that's true" Neil admitted "Ever since I believed that I was a sort of pariah, I didn't see any point in trying to make myself presentable. I have brought a change of clean clothes with me -- but they aren't any different to what I'm wearing at the moment". "Well, as long as you're clean, that wouldn't be too bad" said Aunt Emma encouragingly "but it would be so much better if we could smarten you up a bit. Josie: who do we know that might be Neil's size and could lend him some clothes -- is Jamie Henderson in town this weekend?" "Oh yes" I replied "he is around today; but he phoned me to say he had promised his father he would help with some repairs to the house, and so won't be coming to the dance tonight".
"I couldn't possibly ask to borrow clothes off someone I don't even know!" Neil spluttered. "Nonsense" Aunt Emma replied "Jamie's a very kind and helpful boy; he's much the same build as you, and I don't think there's much more than an inch difference between your heights. Besides which" and here she gave me a sly wink "I happen to know that Jamie would do anything Josie asked him to!"
Although Neil still looked undecided, we sensed that in his heart he really did want to come out with us. Aunt Emma switched into her 'military campaign' mode and laid out the plan. She would ring Arthur to explain, and tell him to get his van ready. While Neil walked back to Arthur's, I was to ring Jamie to make the arrangements; and then I was to ring Arthur to let him know to drive Neil to the Hendersons.

After Neil had left and Arthur had been put in the picture, I rang Jamie. "Hi Josie!" he said "I'm so disappointed I shan't see you tonight; so I'm glad you've rung for a chat". I started to tell him about Neil. "I gathered that Arthur had a nephew staying with him this week" Jamie said "but from what I've heard, he's pretty unsociable". "Please don't prejudge him" I said, and briefly explained his background. "Knowing you, I suspect you'll be fascinated by his hooks -- but try not to make it too obvious! If you could get him looking smart, it would do wonders for his self-worth". "Anything for you!" replied Jamie "I'll start looking through my wardrobe".

I quickly rang Arthur again; Neil had just got in, and they were both ready to set off to Jamie.
Now it was time for Aunt Emma and me to get ready; I wanted to look my prettiest for Neil!

I had decided to wear a dress which was in the style of a smock, although it was quite short, with its hem well above the knee.
As usual, I let Aunt Emma "inspect" me as we got ready. Her approval was tinged with a trace of criticism: "You have a very trim waist" she said "but that smock doesn't show it off". She rummaged around in some drawers, and produced a dainty white belt, which she proceeded to tighten around my waist.

We were standing in front of a full-length mirror, and I noticed that as the belt gathered the material in at the waist, it caused the hem to ride even higher up my thigh -- and I commented on it.
"Why, so it does!" she replied with a mischievous smile!

We had just finished getting dressed, when the phone rang. Aunt Emma answered it, and then said to me "Everything's on schedule: Arthur and Neil have just left the Hendersons and are on their way over right now. I expect you'd like to talk to Jamie" and handed me the phone. "Hi Jamie; how did it go?" "Hi Josie" he replied "You were right about Neil being shy and self-conscious; but I discovered he's really a great guy underneath that insecurity. We quickly got on to the same wavelength when we found a common subject that we both agreed about -- namely you! I've kitted him out as best I could; I hope you'll approve. I've given him a bit of a pep talk, and he says he's determined to give you a good evening out. I suspect I'm going to miss you tonight more than you're going to miss me -- but I'm not in the least bit jealous". Then he added with a chuckle "Well, just a little bit jealous!"

As we made our final preparations, there was a knock on the door: Arthur and Neil had arrived. "I'm sorry we're a bit late" Arthur said to Aunt Emma "but I got chatting to Jamie's father". "We're still in plenty of time" Aunt Emma assured him.
I looked at Neil: Jamie had done a good job on him! He was wearing a multi-coloured open-necked Hawaii-patterned shirt, tucked into tight-fitting black jeans, which in turn were tucked into cowboy-style boots. With his arms by his sides, his hooks shone against the black of the jeans; and I was delighted to notice he was making no attempt to hide them. "It wasn't Uncle Arthur who made us late" he apologised "it was me: I thought I'd never be able to pull these boots on". "Don't worry, we're not late" I replied "and your time wasn't wasted; let me assure you that the result is well worth the effort -- you look stunning!"
His eyes were wide open over me: "Wow! I thought your skirt this morning was short; but tonight......! Do you know, I think I've been outclassed? You're showing off vastly more chrome and steel than I am! Under these conditions, there is absolutely no way that I could possibly feel ashamed of my hooks!"
"Attaboy!" I replied "That's what I call positive thinking!"
Aunt Emma reappeared and put on one of her theatrically prim looks: "You do realise young man, that it is my duty to inspect Josie's escorts for their suitability . . . . . and I'm pleased to report that you pass muster with flying colours" she finished beaming. "Right troops; are we all ready for the off?"

As at my first visit to the dance, everybody seemed to come to say hello to Aunt Emma and Arthur; and each in turn were introduced to Neil. The exchanges were brief, but very welcoming.
After a short while, Aunt Emma and Arthur got up from our table and wandered off to chat to their friends, leaving Neil and I alone together. Neil clearly felt very welcome and quite at ease, even though I was pretty sure this must have been his first real outing since losing his hands. I put my right arm round his waist, and gently lifted his left hook on to my knee; his smile increased -- it all seemed so natural and appropriate.
"How are you feeling so far?" I asked. "I'm feeling good" he replied "This is the first time I've been to any sort of social event since the accident. I thought I'd be frightened among so many people; but I'm not -- everybody seems so friendly! Talking of which, I must find a way of thanking your friend Jamie: he was so kind and helpful. I can see why you like him; and he absolutely dotes on you! Some boys I knew back home were either scared by my hooks, or else made cruel jokes about them; but Jamie was nothing like that -- he even got out a buffing cloth and offered to polish them for me! Now I realise that he is usually your partner; he told me that if I was going to be his stand-in, I had to look the part!"

Running out of small-talk, we sat quietly for a while. He seemed to be quite happy just soaking up the convivial atmosphere.
But I was trying to think what to do next; My biggest worry was that I might try and force the pace too much, and disrupt his new and fragile confidence.
The band started playing a slow number, and my thoughts crystallized: "Neil, I think I owe you an apology" I murmured. "Whatever for?" he asked in astonishment. "I've been unfairly pressurising you" I said quietly "First I forced you to open up to me when you wanted to be on your own; next I dragged you over to Aunt Emma's and forced you to eat with hooks in front of her; then I put you into the humiliating position of borrowing clothes from a stranger; and now I've forced you into full view of a whole roomful of people. I feel so guilty about what I've put you through, that I ought to give you an opportunity of getting your own back on me". He had a baffled look on his face: "But you haven't done anything the least bit unkind. Yes you've prodded me into facing situations instead of hiding away -- but I've got nothing but gratitude to you for that. I wouldn't dream of 'getting my own back' ..... and in any case; how could I?"

I swallowed. "Ask me to dance."

Fortunately, he didn't panic; but he was totally flustered. "But I never thought ..... I sort of assumed ..... Why -- can you?"
"I don't know" I truthfully answered "I've never tried before. Often at parties I've propped myself up and rocked my head and shoulders to the beat; which doesn't really count. But I've never tried proper twosome dancing. I'm willing to have a go if you are."
He looked at me, and I saw his expression change from concern to determination. "If that's what you want? Then we will!"
He stood up, then bowed stiffly and formally. "Miss Josie, may I have the pleasure of the next dance?" he asked in a clear voice.
With his head bent close to mine, he whispered "And now I help you to your feet?" "I'll need my crutches to get across to the dance floor" I whispered back; and he politely fetched them.
I swung across to the dance floor, with Neil walking attentively by my side. On the edge of the floor was a small table, at which were sitting a middle-aged couple, whom I remember being introduced to earlier. They appeared to be just sitting quietly, content to listen to the music and watch the other dancers. "Would you mind looking after my crutches for a few moments?" I asked, trying to sound as though it was a perfectly normal request. "Of course; with the greatest of pleasure" was the immediate reply, just as if it was a normal request! He took one crutch, I put the freed arm around Neil's neck, and relinquished the second crutch.

"What do we do now?" Neil whispered. "I'm not quite sure" I whispered back. "If I hold on to you, and you hold on to me, we'll try shuffling sideways".
That turned out to be not too difficult; and frankly, most of the other dancers weren't doing anything significantly different!
By trial and error I discovered that by swaying my body more-or-less in time to the rhythm, I could shift my weight between one leg and the other, and move appropriately short distances in almost any direction.
I also realised that we didn't really need to cling quite so tightly together -- but I wasn't going to say so, and spoil the fun!
And I also began to realise that Neil must be - or have been - quite an accomplished dancer himself: he let me make whatever shuffles I could, yet was able to mirror my moves exactly - and even to anticipate them - until it looked for all the world as if he were leading me in a well-rehearsed dance routine.
I'm not sure which of the two of us got the greatest sense of achievement -- I'm sure we both advanced greatly in our confidence.

The band stopped playing, and the dancers started to applaud them. Neil's composure disappeared instantly, to be replaced by panic.
"Damn hands!" he choked in despair "I can't clap!!"

That woke up my dreamy mind; but fortunately the solution suggested itself: "And I should hope you don't try" I hissed quickly. "Your job is to stand behind me and slightly to one side, with both arms tight round my waist to hold me upright, so that I can let go of you and applaud for both of us". We did that; and the pose seemed so natural, and so obviously acceptable to the other dancers, that Neil's fear evaporated as quickly as it had come.

We had finished up within easy distance of the table where I'd left my crutches. The man beamed at me: "Bravo me girl!" he said "Well done!"
"I couldn't have done it without Neil's support -- both literally and figuratively" I replied. "And a very handsome young man he is too!" the wife chipped in; to which the husband added "You're a very lucky chap to have such a pretty partner".
As we left their table, I couldn't resisted a little dig: "I hope you didn't feel too much of a fool, being relegated to a mobile walking frame for a gawky cripple" I whispered. "Josie!" he replied, shocked; "I would never think of you like that!"
"And I have no complaints about any shortcomings in you" I teased pointedly.

As we approached our table, I saw Audrey sitting there with Aunt Emma. I had met Audrey on a previous visit, and liked her very much; she was a down-to-earth girl, yet very vivacious. She had also accepted my legbraces in a totally matter-of-fact sort of way. 'Oh good' I thought 'she's one person who won't freak out at the sight of Neil's hooks'.
"Hi Josie!" she called out as we approached "You two were the smoochiest couple on the floor! Are you going to introduce me to your dishy friend?" "Hi Audrey" I replied "this is Neil. Neil -- Audrey". "Hi Neil!" said Audrey with a big smile "I'm so glad to meet you!" She held out her hand; and Neil, still so buoyant that his inhibitions were lagging, automatically mirrored her movement. Audrey - bless her - just took his proffered hook in her hand and squeezed it: "Come and sit down next to me!"

Aunt Emma spoke to Neil -- something about 'I'm glad to see the age of chivalry is not yet dead' if I recall -- and so Audrey started talking to me: "It was so good to see you on the floor just now. On previous occasions, I've been a bit worried that you might have felt 'left out' of things". "That's all right" I replied "that's never worried me. But I'm very glad I've now had the experience -- mind you, it's left me exhausted!"
At that point, the band struck up a fast rhythmic number. "In that case" said Audrey smartly "can I borrow your Prince Charming for the next dance?"
Neil looked at me questioningly. "By all means!" I replied "I haven't got my breath back from the last one yet!"
Neil was satisfied that he'd been given permission; and Audrey grabbed him by a hook and led him towards the dance floor before he could change his mind.

"Thank you Josie" said Aunt Emma, leaning over towards me "I was relying on you to let Neil dance with Audrey". "I was quite happy to" I replied "after all, I can't be a proper dancing partner to him ..... Just a moment! What did you mean: 'you were relying on me' -- Did you put Audrey up to it?" Aunt Emma put a look of pretend horror on her face: "Heaven forfend that I should do such an underhand thing as that!" She gave a little wink "Though come to think of it, I just may have dropped a little suggestion....." Then her voice became more confidential: "It did cross my mind that if you stayed too close to Neil all night, then, come the cold light of day, he just might have relapsed back into his old fears, and deluded himself that your interest was untypical and unlikely to be repeated, and that everybody else in the world still found him unacceptable". I thought about her words, and realised their significance: "Good grief! If I monopolise Neil, that might actually do more harm than good! Oh, I'm so glad you averted that potential disaster".

We turned our eyes towards the dance floor. It seemed I had been right about Neil's dancing ability. He was a little wooden to start with - presumably through lack of practice - but soon loosened up. In no time, they were spinning and twirling each other around with gay abandon. The combination of Audrey's cat-suit and Neil's flashing hooks made a riveting spectacle. Although I'm no judge in such matters, I reckoned they were well up to professional competition level exhibition dancing.

The music stopped, and my heart missed a beat: how would Neil face up this time to his paranoia about being unable to clap?
But neither of us had to worry: All the other dancers, and the band themselves - and just about everybody else in the hall - were all applauding Neil and Audrey! Neil made a deep sweeping theatrical bow, and Audrey slowly and gracefully curtseyed; then in rising, Neil gently took her hands in his hooks and kissed her finger-tips. They were the stars of the floor!

During that dance, I had also realised why I had felt so tired: It hadn't been the physical exertion -- it was the mental strain of trying to keep the encouragement up.

But after that, I had plenty of opportunity to relax and recuperate: all over the hall, girls were abandoning their beaus and queueing up to dance with Neil!
Not that I was lonely: I had a steady trickle of their discarded boyfriends coming over to the table to commiserate with me about losing my partner! An added bonus was that after the chats, the boys no longer perceived Neil as a rival, but appreciated how important the evening was to his social rehabilitation.

All too soon, the band announced "Take your partners for the Last Waltz".
I looked at my watch, and was amazed how fast the time had flown. On previous occasions, the gathering had always started to fizzle out soon after half past ten; but it was now nearly midnight, and nobody had left yet!
I saw Neil politely extricate himself from the clutches of his harem of admirers, and he hastened across. "Josie; I'm so sorry to have deserted you for so long" he said "But there is no way that the Last Waltz will be with anyone but you!" I was uplifted by that; but my enthusiasm waned as I looked at the throng of people that I'd have to work my way through to reach the dance floor. "You'd better pass me my crutches" I muttered.

"Never mind the crutches!" he replied enthusiastically "Let's do this in style!" Bending down, he whispered "put your arms around my neck"; and then he lifted me in his arms.
Usually, I dislike needing to be carried anywhere -- just pride, I know -- but this was different: I was literally being swept off my feet by the most eligible bachelor in town!

The wall of people seem to melt away before us as Neil bore me in his arms and strode proudly to the centre of the floor. There he gently lowered me, carefully checking that my knees had clicked locked. By now he had judged exactly the quite small amount of support I actually needed: the remainder of our clinch was a pure lovers embrace! If Audrey had thought our first dance was smoochy, it had nothing on this!

As the romantic waltz music floated around my head, I was in a heavenly dream-world.

And the way ones thoughts wander in dreams, I found myself thinking "There could be something of a let-down next week when I'm back with my usual circle of friends: Hugs will never be the same again without the tingle of a hook tip stabbing into the small of my back".

Josie: Fulfillment

For those of you who don't know me, I'm Josie and I'm a legbrace wannabe who wore her braces too often for too long and lost the use of her legs.
In fact, I didn't worry when I first noticed my muscles starting to weaken, and didn't bother to do anything about it even when they became really feeble; and by the time it was obvious that they were no use at all, I merely accepted that my latent wannabe desires had been fulfilled.
The only time I was unhappy and frustrated was in the very first stage: when I dearly wanted to wear braces but couldn't bring myself to appear publicly in them for fear of what people might think and fear of rejection by them.
But once I'd plucked up the courage to ignore possible rebuffs and do what I wanted, the frustration evaporated and I've never felt miserable since.

Well, not until recently.

My image had been one of a pretty girl with a pair of shapely legs both encaged by the steel of full length braces, and I always wore very short shorts or skirts to show off both my "attributes" to their best advantage.
But now my leg muscles are not just weakened and atrophied, they've become shrunken and shrivelled. My once shapely legs are now just scrawny matchsticks with knobbly knees. The boys who were once turned on by the gleam of my braces are now turned off by the sight of my horrible scraggy legs. And I don't blame them: I can't stand the sight of the wretched things either.
I can't find a way of hiding their ugliness: No brace wannabe would dream of putting their braces on, and then covering them up with baggy trousers or an ankle-length dress. If I try to wear my braces over some jeans, it's difficult and painful to tighten the cuffs enough to give me the support I need; and anyway, the way the denim creases and crumples on to my thin legs looks dreadful. If I wear skin-tight leggings, they merely accentuate how skinny and shapeless my legs are; and if I try ski-pants which don't shrink down to my skin, the loose material flaps where it's obviously supposed to be tight, and makes it so obvious what a sick joke my legs are.

This is not the way I wanted things to turn out at all.
I HATE my legs now: they've ruined everything I had strived for.

I was crutching despondently through a shopping area, when out of the corner of my eye, I glimpsed a man watching me. That in itself is not unusual (and when my legs were better looking, I expected that sort of thing); but I remembered I'd noticed him watching me an hour earlier in a different part of the area. "He's been following me!" I thought. I was so intent trying to see what he looked like (and my mind was preoccupied with why he'd want to look at my ugly legs) that I wasn't watching where I was going, and I collided with a bench seat.
Fortunately I fell on to it, rather than falling down to the ground; but I still had to concentrate on how to get my balance and re-orient myself. By the time I looked up, he was by my side. "Can I help you in any way?"
Actually, he said it with genuine concern in his voice; but I couldn't stop myself screeching out "And so you damn well ought to: it's all your fault anyway!"
But within a second or so it seemed, I was sitting in a sensible position on the seat; he seemed to know exactly how and where to support me for the most effect with the least intrusion.
"You made me fall over!" That was a ridiculous accusation, but he didn't bristle at it all. "I won't attempt to defend myself" he said, "If you say it was all my fault, then I'll accept the blame. Which means I have to make amends for my actions: a bouquet of flowers and a candle-lit dinner might be appropriate?"
"You're trying to chat me up, damn you!"
"Oh dear, I'm being far too thoughtless: first I seem to have upset you, and now I'm trying to rush my apologies too fast. We're right opposite a café; please may I at least buy you a coffee to give you time to recover and regain your composure?"
I bit my lip. The accident was purely because I wasn't looking where I was going; my tirade against him was unjustified; and yet he was being the perfect gentleman, and there was no doubt that his concern was genuine.

Sipping my coffee, I could take a closer look at him. He was older than me, mature and distinguished in behaviour yet still youthful looking. The cut of his suit and the style of his shoes suggested his tailor was so expensive that I wouldn't have heard of them if he'd told me.
I had calmed down now, but I teasingly said "You've been stalking me, haven't you?" He raised one eyebrow and gave a boyish grin: "I know you won't believe me, but actually, no I wasn't. To be sure, I had spotted you earlier; but you were moving away at the time, and I feared that I would not set eyes on such a delightful lady again. It was coincidence that I happened to be passing back this way again later; and of course you registered the moment I glimpsed you. But I shan't be so ungallant as to ask why you were taking such an interest in me."
I was warming rapidly to this man; he was treating me like a person, not as an object.
But reality cut back in to my mind: "Oh gosh, I'd forgotten I was on my way to an appointment: I'm sorry, but I must leave now or I'll be late -- it's not far away, but it's obvious I can't run."
"But of course; I should not have detained you" he replied instantly, standing up and walking to where my crutches were leaning against the wall. His response was so natural that I went straight into the standard routine whenever a friend was bringing my crutches: slide one hip forwards to the edge of the seat, manipulate that leg straight, lock that knee-hinge rigid, then check that the catch on the other knee was free to auto-lock the moment I had levered myself upright. I then looked up and held out my hands to receive my crutches. He had brought them over all right, but was resting his elbows across the handles: "When I suggested a cup of coffee, that wasn't supposed to be instead of the roses and dinner; that offer still stands. Where shall I collect you, and what time would you prefer?" Much later it dawned on me that he must have known that he'd caught me in that tricky unstable halfway stage where I was neither sitting nor standing, and that there was no time for thinking, let alone a protracted debate.
"I'll be ringing your doorbell at seven on the dot" he said when I was fully upright.

The dinner was superb: nothing pretentious, yet absolutely delicious. The ambience was soothing and just romantic enough, no more. The wine was exquisite; but he made no attempt to get me drunk. And it was an evening of conversation, not just banalities. I'm not a great fan of mushy love stories, so I'll skip all the intimate bits; for me, it's the outcome that matters.

"This morning I accused you of all sorts of things" I said, "so I'll risk just one more: Are you a devotee?"
He looked at me softly: "Both times I glimpsed you this morning, I got the same impression. I saw the face of a girl radiating a warm personality and a connectedness with her fellow humans; and I was attracted to that. I also perceived an aura tinged with unhappiness, which tugged at my heartstrings. I saw the crutches, and they added to your attractiveness. And I saw the legbraces; and yes, they added further to the attraction. So you could say that I am a devotee of all I've seen of you; then, since, and now."
He's not just a fetishist, he likes all of me, I thought. As I let his loving answer sink in, I remembered that he was always very careful in his choice of words. I felt tears welling: "You didn't say anything about my horrible misshapen crippled legs" I blurted.
He paused for a moment, squeezing my hand gently. "This morning I seemed to do everything wrong to upset you, and I'm determined not to upset you again. I'm quite willing to tell you anything you want me to say; but I don't think that would be honest for either of us. There is no way that I am going to pass judgement on your legs; as far as I'm concerned, they are as they are, and they are part of you. But I said I detected an unhappiness in you; and somehow I believe that you are not unhappy with your crutches, and you are not unhappy with your legbraces....." He tailed off, and sat looking at me, waiting for a reply.
My feelings raced: This man knows, this man understands, this man CARES! I knew I could confide all my feelings in him. I told him I was a wannabe; I told him my whole story, from the very first time I'd secretively tried on a pair of borrowed legbraces, through the stages of wearing them continuously until I permanently needed them, right up to my near-suicidal thoughts when I got out of bed this morning.
He took it all in and mulled it over. "So you were quite happy right up until your legs visibly deteriorated; which means that a shapely pair of legs, curvaceous and attractive, would restore your happiness?"
"Yes, that just about sums it up."
Another pause. "You may have noticed that I didn't bring you the bouquet of flowers I promised this morning" (I hadn't noticed, actually) "I assure you I hadn't forgotten; it was rather that I didn't know if you even liked roses, and I thought it better to wait and find out just what would really make you happy. Now it just so happens that I know of a clinic that could restore your legs to their former prettiness so you could show them off again. Please don't think me arrogant, but you won't have heard of it: the fees are ridiculously expensive. Please will you accept my offer to send you there for treatment; It will make me very happy to see you lose your sadness."
Now it was my turn to be silent: I was dumbstruck!
"But you can't!" I blurted. "Yes of course the only thing I dream of is the shape of my legs, and a restoration would be fantastic; but I can't expect you to pay for anything like that: I can see that you could probably afford not just one rose but a whole florists shop; but you said that it was not just expensive, but ridiculously so!"
"Ah, but you see, that actually works in our favour....." He had that boyish grin again: "It just so happens that I own the outfit".
"I'll take you home now, and let you get some sleep. Tomorrow we'll organise booking you in."

The place was so exclusive that I don't think it even had a name; it was just "The Clinic".
The staff and consultants were so caring and gifted; and the other "clients" I met were fascinating. There was a lot of opulence, but equally a lot of almost spartan "no nonsense" attitude.
I ran the gamut of emotions while there: from hope as the process started, to despair when intermediate stages were not at all as I had anticipated, wonderment at what was being achieved, joy as progress was made; and, not to put too fine a point on it, some periods of excruciating pain.
I reckon a full account would make a complete story in itself -- for some other time perhaps.

But the important thing - with or without the intermediate details - is that when I left there, my legs had been restored to being in perfect shape, with all the right curves in all the right places.

I had been back home just under a week, when a long-time friend called round.
"I'm out in the garden" I shouted, "come on through."
I'm doing some sunbathing; there were some sun-lamps at The Clinic, but I want to top up with the real thing.
Liz came through to where I was lying on a recliner in a bikini.
"You look stunning! It's wonderful that you're so happy again, and I can see why: your legs are more shapely than they've ever been. In fact, I don't think I've seen so perfect a pair of legs on anyone before."
This was rare praise indeed: Liz is not one for ogling other girls, so it was clear that she was really impressed and meant every word she said.
She squatted down beside me and felt my calf and thighs. "Wow! Your muscles have a superb tone: at the gym, I've met girls who were sprinters, and their muscles felt too hard; and models whose muscles were too soft -- but yours are just perfect. You must be very pleased."
"I'm more than pleased" I replied, "I'm overjoyed! The people at The Clinic did a wonderful job, beyond my wildest dreams."

I must admit that I had been looking forward to a little bit of flattery, but Liz's enthusing over musculature was beginning to be more than I could take. "Oh silly thoughtless me" I interrupted, "here's me dressed for sunbathing, and you're sweltering in your street clothes; let's go back indoors where it's cooler."

She turned and took a couple of paces towards the house, then looked back to see me reaching over for my brand-new legbraces on the other side of the recliner.

Her face dropped and went ashen: "Oh No! Please don't tell me you're going to go through that self-crippling pretender business all over again, not now you've got a decent pair of legs back!"
"I'm not a pretender, I'm a wannabe" I smiled sweetly as I positioned one brace on the recliner and lifted a leg into it.
"Don't play with words" she choked brokenly, "I've known you ever since you first started your silly game. I was appalled to see you struggling with the immobility you caused yourself so unnecessarily; it broke my heart to watch you become more and more dependent upon them as your legs got weaker, and I cried every time I saw you helpless and crippled; and I couldn't bring myself to look at your poor legs as they wasted away. You've got a chance now; I BEG you not to throw it away. Surely with the contacts you made, you could find a therapist or someone who could help you overcome your insane obsession with destroying yourself?"

I finished strapping the first brace and reached for the second. "Oh dear Liz" I said, "you really don't understand, do you? There are unhappy wannabes and contented wannabes: A sad wannabe is someone who wants to wear legbraces, but for some reason such as social pressure find they can't; and that is unbelievably frustrating. But I'm a happy wannabe, as there is now nothing to thwart my lifelong desire."
"You admired my new legs, and jumped to the conclusion that The Clinic had magically managed to build my atrophied muscles back up to full strength; but you haven't had a chance to hear the real story."
"That place wasn't a muscle-building gym; it specialises in cosmetic surgery. The thigh and calf and all the other muscles you were admiring and prodding don't actually work, because they are all just inert silicone implants; they were inserted as substitutes after the remains of my own degenerated muscles were all stripped out. They are dummies with no function other than purely cosmetic; there isn't even the tiniest sliver of muscle tissue left anywhere in my legs now. They will never wither again; and no-one can tell me I don't need legbraces or stop me from wearing them. That's why I'm so happy."

Poor Liz was still dumbstruck; but despite her bafflement, she's really a truly caring person, and still was willing to help me to my feet: It's hard enough to get up from a low recliner at the best of times, and I was badly out of practice, having spent so much time in bed at The Clinic waiting for all the incisions to heal, so I'll need to re-learn some of the skills of a brace-wearer -- but that's half the fun of it anyway, and I'll never get any of the twinges of cramp or aches that I sometimes got from my old muscle remnants.

Go to Part 2

Back home