Josie catches up with Jamie

By JohnA

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.

You'll remember that I first met Jamie while visiting (great-)Aunt Emma.
He was fascinated by my legbraces, and wanted to try them on. After the first time, there was no doubt that he was a legbrace wannabe; but he had no opportunities to fulfil his desires, except for brief occasional chances thanks to Aunt Emma's understanding and hospitality.

But then he left his home town to go to college ..... and I missed him the next time he had a weekend at home ..... and we somehow lost touch ..... and then I was away for a spell (in The Clinic) ..... and I was missing him terribly.

And then one afternoon I got a phone call: "Is that Josie? It's Jamie Henderson here -- do you remember me?"
"Jamie!!" I said with joy "It's so lovely to hear from you again! Where are you at the moment?"
"About three blocks away from you!" he replied "I've just arrived in town, where I'll be staying for a few months. Father has been helping me to move in today; he's decided to stay overnight before returning home tomorrow, and has said he'd like to meet you again before he leaves. Can we come over to see you this evening?"
"That would be wonderful" I said "Do come over as soon as you can!"

I had barely got my place looking reasonably presentable, when there was a ring on the door-bell. I crutched quickly along the hallway and threw the door open. There stood Jamie's father, looking just as I remembered him, with Jamie's face smiling over his shoulder. "Mr Henderson" I cried "It's so nice to see you again!"
"And it's lovely to see you looking as pretty as ever" he replied "But now we've found you, I'll go back to the little hotel where I'm staying tonight, and leave you two love-birds together."
"Oh no, you can't leave so soon" I insisted "You must come in for a drink or something". "Well, that would be nice -- but just for a few moments" he replied, and moved into the hall by my side.

Now I could see Jamie properly. He looked so happy! And then I saw that he was on crutches; and it being a warm summer's evening, he was wearing shorts ..... and a pair of full-length legbraces!
"You got some!" I yelped in admiration.

We all came inside, and I was bursting to hear Jamie's account. I'm ashamed to admit that I just grabbed the first can of drink that I found, and thrust it into his father's hand -- I was so impatient to find out what Jamie had been doing!
Mr Henderson opened his drink; and Jamie and I unlocked our knees and lowered ourselves on to the settee.

"Yes, I've got my legbraces" Jamie started "It's all thanks to you in the first place -- but it's also thanks to father and his support".
He stopped and looked across to his father with a smile of gratitude in his eyes; and Mr Henderson -- probably sensing that this would be his only chance of getting a word in -- set the opening scene.

"Just before your first visit" he started "I had begun to consider the possibilities for the future of my little shoe-repairing business. Naturally I had hoped that Jamie would take over the family firm; but equally I realised that an adventurous young man might well not wish to spend the rest of his life cooped up in such a one-horse town, but prefer to seek his fortune out in the big wide world -- and after your visit, and my better understanding of Jamie and his desires, it became obvious that he would want to leave.
But shortly after that, the little town received quite an influx of new residents, and started to turn into a commuter dormitory town. This was good for local businesses -- estate agents in the first instance of course -- but also gave a boost to the shopping area. That street of shops you knew took on a new lease of life, and the shopping area grew -- expanding into the little side street, which became ripe for development. It turned out that my little shop was a prime site -- and an investing businessman made me a very generous offer for the premises. I realised that, although I had previously hoped that Jamie would inherit the business, a perfectly good alternative would be for him to inherit the proceeds of the sale of the business. The money enabled me to retire, and to send Jamie away to college."
"Jamie's doing very well at college" he finished up "passing all his exams with flying colours; and by carefully changing courses, has become ..... " he stopped and pointed to his son .....
"A trainee orthotist!" Jamie announced with glee.

"The course started with a lot of medical lectures on anatomy and orthopaedics" Jamie continued "but eventually we got to the practical course. One of the projects we could undertake in the student workshops was to measure ourselves up for legbraces, make them, and finally try them on for fit. Naturally, I jumped at that option! The instructors were quite happy with my chosen project, as not only did it give them something to award marks for, but they felt that it emphasised to the students the need to get the measurements spot on to ensure a good fit.
Mind you, they did look a bit puzzled when, after I had tried them on, I kept them on all day. I told them that I was making sure that they would not become uncomfortable or chafe even when worn for long periods -- and they agreed that that was an important point.
They were even more puzzled when I was still wearing them a week later! This time I said that I believed I would would be able to have better rapport with clients and patients in the future if I actually had some first-hand experience of what it was like to actually live and work in braces. They were surprised that a student would think that far ahead, but had to admit that I had a point -- and anyway, they thought I was a promising pupil and so did not want to discourage me.
So now I could keep and wear my legbraces all the time; and if any of my friends - who knew I had no medical need for them - should question me, I had a perfectly acceptable explanation!"

"In our final year, we get a six-month work experience placement with an actual firm of practising orthotists. I applied for a firm located near to you, and since I had got good marks in all my exams so far, the college allowed me my first choice of firm -- providing I passed the acceptance interview.
I decided to take a gamble, and turned up for the interview in my legbraces. While they were going through the initial formalities, I nonchalantly asked them if they had any company policy against taking on a trainee who did himself wear legbraces. That caught them on the hop, and they shuffled their papers around in confusion. One of them remarked that there was nothing in the reports from the college about me being a brace wearer; I bluffed by saying that I didn't know the standard form had a tick-box for that status, and did it say that I didn't? They had to admit that it didn't say anything one way or the other.
They then asked me how long I had been wearing legbraces. I side-stepped that question by saying that I'd only been wearing these legbraces for less than a year, as they were the ones I had made for myself in the student workshops. That grabbed their interest, and they started inspecting them. In all modesty I have to say that I'd made a good job of them; after all, it had been a 'labour of love', not just the bare minimum effort to scrape a pass mark. Also, thanks to the training from father in his shoe-repairers, the leather-work was well above the standard they'd expected.
They were so impressed by it all, that they signed me up on the spot -- and had completely forgotten to ask me what medical condition required me to wear braces!"
"That meant that I was no longer just a trainee orthotist who happened to wear braces for the sake of experience; I was now 'officially' a disabled person who needed legbraces!"

"I'm so pleased for you" I said "I know only too well how frustrating it was for you while circumstances made it impossible for you to be seen round home in braces -- and now you're free to do so!"

"But be careful" I continued "Remember that once I started wearing mine continuously, my leg muscles weakened and atrophied quite rapidly: When you first met me, I could barely walk unbraced -- that deterioration continued, and my legs have been completely useless for quite some time now. You must appreciate that the same thing could happen to you".

"But that's just what I want, and what I'm trying hard to achieve!" he replied, his eyes wide with enthusiasm "I'm doing everything I can to accelerate the process; I don't want to have functioning legs inside these braces -- I want to be totally dependent upon my legbraces for everything!"

His father's eyes had a look more of bemusement than sorrow: "I can just about understand Jamie's infatuation with braces and people who wear them, which is why I promised to support him in every way I could -- a promise I shall continue to keep. But I have to admit to being baffled by his desire to actually be a cripple."
"But then" he continued, in brighter vein "I just have to admire the way Jamie's personality has progressed: He's now so assured and outgoing and confident -- far more so than I'd ever anticipated. And now he's about to embark on a good professional career". "What more could I ask for in a son?" he finished, with a beam of fatherly pride.

"But now I really must be leaving" he said. "I'm quite sure that there's lots more you want to say and do together that won't keep until tomorrow" he added with a wink and a smile.

Josie dines out

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 an opportunity to take a cheap "Away-break" weekend, travel and hotel all included, to a city I hadn't been to before; and decided it would make a pleasant change. When I telephoned Aunt Emma to explain why I would not be visiting her that weekend, she recognised the name of the town: "That's where Arthur's nephew Neil lives" she exclaimed "I'm sure he'd love you to look him up while you're there".
And so I did; and he was overjoyed when I called him: "Josie! This is wonderful!" he said "Our house is in a bit of chaos at the moment as my parents are preparing for a function -- but that gives me the perfect opportunity to take you out to a restaurant for dinner. Will you accept the invitation?"

Quite apart from the fact that I wasn't too impressed with the hotel's dining room, and hadn't found anywhere else interesting to eat that night, my heart rose at the implication: When I first met Neil, he was desperately self-conscious and ashamed of having hooks instead of his recently-amputated hands, and couldn't face the idea of eating with them in front of anyone -- yet if he was now inviting me out to a restaurant, he must have made great strides in overcoming his fears!
"That sounds wonderful" I agreed happily. "Do you like chinese?" he asked "I know of a very good one within easy reach". I had eaten chinese food before, and enjoyed the taste, so I agreed to his suggestion.

He collected me from the hotel, and had a taxi waiting to take us to the restaurant.
When we arrived at the restaurant, and Neil was helping me to swing my legs out of the cab and straighten my legs and lock the knees, I could see that the place was small but smart; "This will make a pleasant change from the usual round of burger bars and pizza parlours!" I thought, with my mouth watering.

Neil had booked a table; and I noticed the waiters were very attentive to detail -- for example, when sitting us down, the waiter moved the table away from my chair, rather than the chair away from the table; so he must have realised that once I'm sat down, I can't lift my weight off the seat to slide the chair forward.

I recognised some of the dishes on the menu, and Neil was able to describe and recommend some others that I hadn't encountered before -- I guessed he'd eaten there before.

We had arrived quite early, and the restaurant was far from full, so I could see across to the kitchen door when the trolley of dishes destined for us appeared. At that point, I also noticed that our table places did not seem to be fully laid: apart from a little vase of decorative flowers and some condiments, we each had only a side-plate and napkin, but no cutlery.
But another waiter appeared first, put a plate and finger-bowl in front of me -- and placed a pair of chopsticks by the side of the plate.
"Oh dear!" I thought "The last time I tried chopsticks, I didn't manage at all well -- I hope I do better this time".

Then my heart almost stopped: "Good grief! If I'm going to have difficulty in handling chopsticks with my otherwise nimble fingers, poor Neil doesn't stand any chance at all!" I thought in panic.

The waiter had a second pair of chopsticks, but was not pressing them on Neil. "If you don't mind" Neil said calmly "I'll use my own".
He reached across to his top pocket, and pulled out a pair of chopsticks; I hadn't noticed them there before -- I suppose I must have assumed they were pencils.
Unlike the disposable catering chopsticks I had been given, Neil's appeared to be the real thing: made of ivory, and with chinese characters engraved on their wider ends. The waiter nodded approvingly; and our meal was served.
"I remembered you describing how you had your shoes modified to fit on to the ends of your callipers" Neil explained "and decided I could do the equivalent thing". He showed me the two spring clips that had been fixed to the handle end of each chopstick; and then clipped them on to the "fingers" of one hook. "There!" he said, clicking the chopsticks apart and together "It works a treat!"

Well, they may have worked a treat for him, but I wasn't having much success at all! By the time his plate was half-empty, the table-cloth round mine was discoloured by bits of rice and food morsels, and the napkin in my lap was soggy with much the same; but I hadn't even managed to get a decent whole mouthful past my lips!
"This is no good" I finally said "I loved the taste of the one piece I did manage to swallow, but I'm still starving! I'm going to have to admit defeat -- could you ask a waiter to get me an ordinary fork or something?"

Neil looked at me with a smile; "Or I have thought of an alternative" he said, with an ever-growing twinkle in his eye. "Do you remember the first time we met, when you offered to sit on my lap and 'pop morsels into my mouth'?" he asked.
"Yes" I remembered, almost cringing at the thought of how that well-meant offer could so easily have been misconstrued as being patronising.
"And later that evening, when you asked if I wanted to get my own back on you?"
"Ummm ..... yes?" I replied slowly, now slightly apprehensive about what this might be leading up to.
"Well I'm certainly not 'getting my own back'," he explained "But there's one thing I've always wanted to do! So; put your chopsticks down on the table, drop your arms down by your sides, and sit on your hands" he instructed.
I did so; and he deftly picked up a shelled prawn between his hook-operated chopsticks, and popped it carefully into my waiting mouth.
In some ways I felt such a fool, being fed like that; and it also made me realise just what it must have been like for Neil when he first lost his hands and could do nothing for himself with his bandaged stumps. But I also realised that Neil was not trying to humiliate me at all; he was genuinely trying to be helpful -- and I soon found it to be a very caring and intimate experience.

"I'm beginning to dribble" I said at one point "I must wipe my mouth", and started to shift my weight off one hand. "No; don't move!" said Neil quickly; and lifting a napkin with his other hook, he delicately dabbed my lips.
"Well" I said "I know a girl likes to feel 'looked after', but this is really going to extremes -- mind you, I must say I rather like it!"

"This really is a reversal of roles!" I mused.
He gave me a mischievous wink, and whispered "Say that last bit again, only a bit louder".
I realised that he wasn't at all embarrassed by past or current events, and seemed to want to make a game out of it -- so I played along:

"Oh Neil" I said, more clearly this time, and thinking that I'd never make an actress "To think that the first time we met, I was the one that was caressing you, and using Aunt Emma's best silverware to cut cakes; and now ..... now ..... " and let my voice trail away.
"There there, dear Josie; please don't cry!" Neil responded, really hamming it up: "My love for you has never diminished, despite ..... I know how terrible it must be for you, reduced to sitting there as helpless as a baby, having to be fed and wiped ..... You will get used to it ..... in time ..... My whole heart hopes and prays you'll learn to come to terms with it!"

I thought this was getting a bit 'over the top': "This is..." I began, but he cut in with a quick "Shhh!"
"What's going on?" I whispered. "I don't know if you realise" he whispered back "but with your arms tight by your sides, your hands invisible, and the way the material of your dress folds and drapes -- it looks just as if you haven't got any arms at all!"
"But more to the point" he continued "I was trying an experiment. There's a man sitting at a table across to your right, and his eyes have been popping throughout the whole scene. It can't be just nosiness; I reckon he's a devotee!"

That caught me with a jolt: what did Neil know about devotees? I'd never told him about me being a pretender-come-wannabe, so where could he have got that idea from?
"Hmmm?" I asked innocently "A what?"

"Something I found out about" he explained. "After you'd bucked me up and got me out of my depression, I realised that I'd been offered all sorts of counselling previously, but had been so negative and defeatist that I hadn't even bothered. So I decided to catch up on what I'd been missing; and also to investigate the various amputee and disabled support groups, particularly ones like PH-AB dealing with relationships between able and handicapped people. While searching the web, I followed some links -- and stumbled upon the world of devotees".
"And what did you think?" I prodded cautiously.
"At first I thought it was ghoulish" he replied "but then I came to realise that it wasn't voyeurism or schadenfreude at all; that these admirers were really genuine. By then I had accepted that, although there were plenty of cases of people who had a problem with my hooks, there were plenty more who were willing to accept me as a person regardless of them.
But to discover that there were people who not only saw nothing negative about disability, but actually saw it as an added attraction -- that helped me to take an even more positive attitude about my hooks.
And then there are pretenders and wannabes!"

"And.....?" I prompted, even more cautiously.
"Well" he replied "I'm still rather baffled by them. At first I was aghast to think that anybody might actually want to be disabled -- God knows, I never asked to lose my hands! But again, they all seemed to be quite sane and normal people in all other respects. Perhaps they have such strong feelings for disabled people, that they really want to identify with them? Or perhaps they're a bit jealous of the attention they get from devotees, and want to have the same? I doubt if either of those guesses are right; I really don't know at all. But it intrigues me; I really would like to find and meet a pretender or wannabe, to try to get some understanding".

I had to think before replying. Should I tell him the truth, and risk him thinking of me as a fraud and lunatic? Or should I deny it, and forever carry the guilt of deceiving this boy who had always been so honest and open with me?

"Look no further" I said quietly "there's a real live one sitting right in front of you".

His look was of astonishment; but not alarm, I was relieved to see. "You a pretender?" he said in surprise "You certainly gave a brilliant impression of having no arms; though I'm sure you did it just for me, and gave no indication of having always wanted to. And I've seen you struggling in your legbraces, especially when your knees are unlocked and you can't use them; I can't believe that's a pretence -- that must be genuine".
I briefly explained how I had always had an inexplicable fascination with legbraces, and how I started out as a pretender. I described how my muscles weakened with disuse as I wore the braces continuously; and tried to explain how the progressive loss of use of my legs had seemed "right" rather than wrong.
"I'm not a freak who's been cruelly taking advantage of you" I finished: "But if that is how you see me, I will quite understand".
"No, you're not a freak at all!" he replied firmly and reassuringly "You were genuinely crippled when you first met me, so there was no deceit there; and even if you had been pretending, I know for sure that the love and care you showed me was pure and genuine. And I love you even more for telling me".

Much relieved, I asked "What's our suspect doing?" I tried to sneak a look without turning round, but could only just make out the shape of the man out of the corner of my eye. But I did notice he had a young lady with him; and oddly enough, although she must have noticed where his gaze was directed, she didn't appear concerned.
"He's still got his eyes riveted on you" Neil replied "What shall we do next?"
"Has he noticed my legbraces yet?" I asked. Neil estimated the sight-line: "He would be able to see your legs" he replied "except that they're fairly well under the table, and the edge of the table-cloth is hanging down and obscuring them".
"Right" I said "I'll swing my right leg outwards a bit -- though if I can't use my hands, you'll have to give it a bit of a helping push under the table; and then you'll have to fold the drape of the table-cloth inwards over my knee into my lap".

I did my best to swing my right thigh over, while Neil groped under the table for my knee. "Pssst!" I whispered "Wrong leg! But take your time finding the other one, I'm quite enjoying it!"
"Whoops!" replied Neil "I can't feel what I'm doing with my hook, and was just working off the resistance to movement of my arm. But you knew that all along -- you just wanted a quick metallic fondle, didn't you!"
Neil then "accidentally" knocked a salt-cellar off the table, and bent down towards the floor to pick it up; in "looking" for it, he lifted the hang of the table cloth out of the way, so my right legbrace was exposed.
"Well?" I asked after Neil was upright again "What response?"
"I don't want to be indelicate" Neil grinned "but I think he's just erupted in his pants!"
"I'm not surprised!" I giggled "To suddenly see a girl with no arms at all, and wearing at least one full-length leg-brace -- that would drive any devotee wild!"

We had both finished our meal by now, and Neil said "Would you excuse me for a moment? I want to wash my hooks".
I raised one eyebrow quizzically: "I know you've adapted amazingly well to using hooks instead of hands; but I didn't think that extended to rewording common phrases too!"
"Hmmm?" he replied, trying to remember exactly what he'd just said. "Oh -- I see what you mean! As it happens, I do also want to 'wash my hands' as the euphemism goes; but I actually meant it literally. My hooks are sticky with sweet-and-sour sauce, and I want to clean it off before it glues up the pivot -- remember that it's the only 'finger' function I have, so I don't want it sticking. Just stay put -- I'll be back in a moment".

Since I was still sitting on my hands, I couldn't twiddle my thumbs or fiddle with the flower vase, so I looked around the room at the decorations. This meant that eventually my gaze got round to the "devotee suspect". He was still looking over at me; but this was the first time our eyes had actually met. He was obviously bursting to make more than just eye contact, so I affected a brave 'I'm-trying-to-pretend-to-be-normal' expression, and commented "Nice decor in here, isn't it?" His Adam's apple bobbed in agitation: "Absolutely gorgeous!" he exclaimed -- though I doubt if he could even tell what colour the wall-paper was, let alone describe its pattern!
The lady with him gave me a friendly look; and merely smiled good-naturedly at her companion -- so she must surely know and understand him.

It then dawned on me that I didn't know how much time I'd wasted trying to use chopsticks unsuccessfully, nor how long we'd been in the restaurant. On a whim, I called across to the watcher: "Do you have the time on you please? You see, I ..... I don't wear a wrist-watch these days". Again, I could almost hear his heart pounding as he replied!
But I didn't want to develop a proper conversation, so I just smiled a "thank you" and looked away.

Then I started to feel slightly uncomfortable: the food had been quite spicy, and the membranes in my nose had begun to react -- my nose was beginning to run in a most unladylike way. "That's awkward" I thought "If I release a hand to wipe my nose, it'll spoil the illusion". I tried twitching my nose and sniffing -- but to no avail. "If only Neil were here, he could wipe it for me" I thought. The man might have read my mind, but more probably could easily see my discomfort. In no time he was out of his seat, and beside my side. "I hope you'll forgive me for intruding" he said, breathlessly but apologetically "but may I be of any assistance?" and delicately dabbed my nose with a serviette. "Oh ..... thank you" I said weakly. At that point Neil reappeared from the cloakroom; and the man scuttled back to his own table,.
"What was that all about?" asked Neil with a grin. I explained what had happened in his absence; and his grin grew wider.

"Would you like anything else?" asked Neil "Some dessert? Or coffee?"
"Thanks to your skilful baby-feeding" I replied "I'm quite full up and couldn't eat any more. I'm not too fussy about a coffee; but if you want one, we could have one back in the hotel lounge".
Neil motioned the waiter over, and paid the bill. "If you're ready to leave" he said "I'll fetch your crutches".

"Just a moment" I said "Are the devotee and his partner still here?" Neil looked across: "Yes; they seem to have finished eating, and it looks as though they've just ordered coffee".
"That's awkward!" I said "When I get up and move, he'll see that I had hands and arms all along! Much as I'm more than happy to keep talking to you, I don't want to sit here like this until they've finished and left. For one thing, my hands are beginning to go to sleep; and anyway, we're well overdue for a cuddle! There's nothing else for it: we're going to have to pass quite close to them on the way out, and I'll just have to apologise for winding him up".

Neil fetched my crutches, and I manoeuvred my other leg out from under the table. I didn't notice the man's expression as I got up, as I was too busy concentrating on keeping my balance and not knocking my chair over.
We started on our way out, and as I swung towards him I could see a whole range of expressions flooding over his face.
I stopped when we reached their table. "I really do apologise" I said "for upsetting you with our silly game: it all started with me being so incompetent at handling my chopsticks ..... and we sort of got carried away".
"Oh please don't apologise" he replied "It was me who was doing all the staring; but then, you are very attractive!"
"Even with no arms?" I asked teasingly. He paused, then replied carefully "You were certainly no less attractive ..... and yes, I admit I did find you looked even more attractive".

"Then I'm sorry about disappointing you now!" I joked.
He didn't appear cross or upset, so I became a bit bolder: "My friend and I were just discussing pretenders and wannabes; and he wants to know if you are a devotee?" I asked.
He didn't appear shocked; but certainly looked very surprised at such a direct question. He didn't reply immediately; but his partner smiled and broke the silence: "Yes he is!" she replied "Go on Tony, these are a nice couple, not the thought police -- why don't you admit it?"
His face began to relax as he realised that this was not going to be a disaster: "Yes, I am“ he said gently, and added "And if I may be so bold: when you said you were discussing pretenders, were you talking about the subject in general ... or about any one person in particular?"

"Touché!" I replied with a grin "Yes, we were talking about me -- I'm a pretender-become-wannabe".
He grinned back at me, and then turned to his partner: "Well, Sally, seeing as how you just dropped me right in it, I reckon it's your turn for a disclosure!"
She smiled, pushed her chair back from the table, and swung round to face us. Until then, I'd only seen her right leg: long and slender, and wearing a fashion shoe with a very thick platform sole and even higher wedge heel. But now I saw that her left leg was wearing a long legbrace; and when I say long, I mean long!

Despite her wearing a short skirt (too!), I could not see the top of her brace; and the lower section continued down well past her heel to a stirrup-shaped rocker where it met the floor. There was a small strap around her ankle; and that foot was wearing a dainty ballet shoe, which was not connected to the metal bar. I realised that it must be a Perthese weight-bearing support brace; which intrigued me greatly.
On closer inspection, the laced thigh cuff looked rather unusual; and I hazarded a guess: "Did you make that yourself?" I asked.
"Yes..." she replied with a smile "or rather, Tony did. I rather like walking with it; although Tony prefers me to crutch one-legged".

They then both looked at Neil; he hadn't spoken yet, and he was so engrossed in absorbing all these revelations, that he didn't realise they were waiting for a comment from him.
"What a wonderful chance meeting this is!" Tony said "Will you join us for liqueurs?"
I hesitated in replying: "If I was on my own, I'd be delighted to; and I'm sure Sally and I have much to talk about. But I'm Neil's guest tonight, so I'm letting him make all the decisions. And perhaps I ought to point out - in case you hadn't realised - Neil is not pretending".
"Don't worry Josie" said Neil "I hadn't made any specific plans for the rest of the evening; and I'm sure I'll learn a lot if I listen in".

"It was a rare enough event for Sally and I to come together" Tony said "but the coincidence of meeting up with yourselves tonight is incredible -- I thought that only happened in fiction!"

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

And of course, dear reader, this IS all fiction; you didn't think it was true, did you?
But if you've got "into" any of the characters, especially if your imagination is fired up ..... And I tell you that Tony owns a small hotel; and in the quiet season, he closes it to bookings, and invites some special friends ..... devotees, paras and amputees, pretenders and wannabes, all interacting for a weekend to fulfil their mutual desires -- free from the petty restrictions of a narrow-minded world ..... ..... then let your imagination run riot!

Josie hears Sally's story

Hi; I'm Josie and I'm a legbrace pretender who wore her braces too often for too long .....
oh, never mind about all that -- you've heard enough about me already!

But remember when Neil and I met Tony and Sally? Well, we all
had a long conversation -- and here is Sally's own account:

Sally's Story

It all started when I was very little, and took a tumble while playing, and broke my left leg, which needed to be set in a plaster cast.
No big deal in that; a common occurrence in boisterous kids.

To begin with, I was given some crutches to walk with; and I was lucky in that it stopped hurting after only a very few days. At the same time, the frustration of the awkwardness of walking also faded away: I got quite used to the cast and the crutches, and was soon able to walk on the cast leg with or without crutches -- and actually enjoyed this new adventure.
I also found I got a lot more attention -- and I loved that too!

But there was one complication -- which was entirely of my own making.

My parents were rather over-protective, and certainly did not approve of some of my more "tomboy" escapades.
My accident had happened because I was climbing on the roof of some out-buildings, and slipped and fell off on to hard ground. In fact, I was very lucky to have escaped with no more than a broken leg, as I could easily have killed myself falling from that height. But I did not dare to admit that to my parents; so I told them that I had tripped over while running.
This meant that the doctor was puzzled as to how such a severe injury could be caused by such a trivial fall. My mother assured him that that was exactly how it had happened, as "My dear little Sally always tells the truth".
He therefore suspected - despite the lack of any supporting evidence - that I might have weak or brittle bones; and that the bone might not heal as well or as quickly as normal. He therefore wanted to keep my leg in a cast for longer.

By now, I was getting so much fun out of "having a bad leg", that I was perfectly happy about that; but the doctor was convinced that I would hate it, and so practically pleaded with me to remain cast for longer. He explained that the original cast had only been intended to be on for a relatively short time, so he wanted to remove it and then immediately replace it with another -- and was "ever so ever so sorry" that it was necessary.
Although I was perfectly happy about that, I also realised that this was an opportunity to influence events. I complained that the little rubber bumper in the cast under my foot was too small, and my exposed toes hurt when they scraped on the ground, and could I have a taller lift please?
Thinking he would need to "bribe" me into letting my leg be re-cast, he showed me the various styles of rocker that could be fitted. One was a "walking iron": a metal bar bent into a square-U shape -- and that incongruous device looked exciting! "When I walk through long grass" I lied "it tickles my toes, which is horrible! Can I have an ever-so tall one of those please?"

And that's what I got!
Of course, that additional lift meant that my right leg now didn't reach the ground if I was wearing an ordinary shoe on that foot; so various types of built-up shoe were investigated. A "surgical boot" looked dreadfully ugly -- but I didn't mind, because it accentuated that I was "special and different". At one point, I was the youngest girl in the area wearing high heels; and I even managed to get a lightweight AFO with a matching stilt extension. This was partly because I could twist my father round my little finger to buy me all these lovely 'toys'; my mother on the other hand kept wailing "Oh, my poor little girl!" and bursting into tears.

When it was eventually announced that the cast would be removed in a few days, and I would be able to walk normally again, I tried to tell them that I didn't mind the cast at all, and didn't particularly want to have it removed -- but of course, they took no notice.
On the morning of the appointment, I wanted so much to keep my cast that I ran away. Yes -- in a full-leg cast with high rocker, an immobilised ankle and patten on the other foot, and a crutch -- I ran away!
They caught me of course, and carried me kicking and screaming to the out-patients department, and the cast was removed.
Not surprisingly, my left leg and foot were a little weak and flaccid after their extended time in a cast; and I tried to insist that my leg wasn't better yet, and that I needed the cast back on -- but this time, no-one would fall for it.
I was reluctant to walk normally again; but the physiotherapists worked hard on me, and I was soon as active as ever before.

But for the next ten years, I was haunted by a persistent fixation that something was still wrong. Although I knew perfectly well - in my head - that my leg never had been fragile, that my bones had healed completely, and that there was absolutely nothing wrong with my leg ..... my heart still told me that I still had a bad leg and that I should not be walking on it.
At one point I tried to complain that my leg hurt and it was painful to walk. My parents sent me for a large number of tests, at the end of which the doctors assured us that, apart from a barely-discernible thickening of the bone at the old fracture site, my bones, joints, muscles, ligaments - in fact, every part of both legs - were all in perfect order.
They could only suggest that I was experiencing teenage "growing pains" and that it was nothing to worry about at all.
So nobody would believe my fantasy of having a bad leg.

Then one day I found the crutches I had been given at the outset. They were not proper "kid-sized" ones, but more of a "youth" size which could be adjusted for a range of heights. They had been set at their shortest; but I found that, if re-adjusted to their tallest, they still suited me.
And suit me they certainly did! If I was alone in the house, I took my left shoe off, put high heels on my right, and crutched around my bedroom with my left leg dangling. At last I felt "right": this was exactly how things should be!
But the opportunities for indulging in this were frustratingly rare; and I had given up hope of convincing my parents that I still had a bad leg. Nevertheless, just in case an opportunity should arise, I tried to prepare them for it by dropping comments such as "My leg doesn't feel as stiff and painful today as it did last week; but if these aches which come and go are supposed to be normal, I suppose I'll just have to learn to put up with it for the rest of my life" ..... but my parents just put it down to me being a "moody teenager" and took no notice.

By now, I was emerging from my teens, getting out and about a lot, and meeting lots of people -- including Tony. We liked each other a lot, and got on very well together; and there seemed to be an additional invisible attraction which neither of us could put our finger on.
Despite being so over-protective in the past, my parents had nevertheless steeled themselves for the eventuality that their darling baby girl would one day "fly the nest"; and so did not put up any resistance to me leaving home, provided I kept the company of "nice well-behaved young men".
Tony and I then spent ever more time together, and built up a good relationship.

But if we were out in the town together, I noticed that there were times when his attention was no longer focussed on me: If he saw another woman on crutches, or walking with difficulty, he became completely fixated on the sight, and seemed to be soaking up the experience of watching her.
One evening when we were alone together, I plucked up the courage to bring up the subject; and before he could reply, I quickly added "Please don't reply too hastily: note that I am not accusing you of anything; and if my suspicions are true, I assure you that I do not disapprove in any way. I'm only asking because, if we are to get to know each other better, we should not be keeping secrets from each other".
He was relieved that he could talk freely; and admitted that he always felt an overpoweringly strong attraction to women with disabled legs.
I realised that it was time to tell him about my secret longing; but he beat me to it by gently asking "But I'm not the only one to stare: I've seen a look of intense yearning coming over your face too on those occasions -- is there anything you want to tell me?" And in a rush, I told him all about my years of frustration.
At that point, our love and devotion were sealed! I could act out my "bad leg" for him, and he loved me even the more for it.

His parents had been running a small hotel; or rather, had been mis-running it, as their heart wasn't really in it; and the business had declined. They admitted that they weren't really cut out to be hoteliers, so retired and gave Tony the chance to "have a go". With a burst of intensive effort and enthusiasm, and fresh new ideas, Tony quickly rejuvenated the place, and it became thriving and successful -- so much so, that Tony could employ a full-time manager to do the actual running, leaving himself plenty of free time which he devoted to our relationship.

From that point on, I could indulge in my "bad leg" fantasy as much as I liked: which meant pretty well all of the time -- and Tony never tired of it either.
As lovers do, we experimented with variations on mutual pleasures. We discovered the possibility of "recreational casting" -- and I soon tried a full-length plaster cast on my leg again. That brought back some gloriously happy childhood memories!
But I soon removed it, as it didn't seem quite right: I liked the way the plaster cast restrained and immobilised my left leg, and made me hobble on it; but by now, I didn't want to walk with a cast -- I specifically did not want to put any weight on my leg at all.
Then we discovered sources of legbraces. At first, I did not think that they would fit the bill; their purpose seemed to be to support a weak leg and keep it straight so that it could be stood upon. But then we found out about braces for the Perthese condition: Their ischial ring at the top of the thigh - and extension and rocker beneath the foot - took all the weight off the leg and foot -- exactly what I was looking for!
We found we could get a custom brace made; or we could start with a standard one, and add the various accessories to customise it ourselves.

Tony still prefers to see me crutching one-legged; while I prefer the Perthese brace which leaves my hands free. We don't fight over it -- I just alternate between the two on a 50/50 basis, and we're both happy!

We both love the idea of the ballet shoe: it makes such an eye-catching contrast to have such an athletic gymnast's shoe accentuating the uselessness of the foot!
My unused ankle and foot tend to droop down; and I even encourage it, with my toes pointing vertically down. That means that the rocker extension on the brace needs to be at its highest to keep my toes clear of the ground; which in turn means that I wear an exaggerated platform shoe or ridiculously high heel on my right foot to even up their lengths.

The same right-foot lift is needed when crutching. I got an AFO with an exactly-matching extension rocker for my right foot, and sometimes wear it as a special treat for Tony. The first time I tried it, I almost wished I hadn't: I was so used to utilising my right ankle to put a spring in my step so that my crutching was a fluid movement -- and now that function wasn't there. But this was merely a challenge; so I played a game of "I'm a poor little girl who has to use crutches because of my bad leg; and it's such a bad bad leg that it must never ever be allowed to even touch the ground. And I'm a very brave little girl, because when they said I had to wear this horrible leg-iron on my other foot; I didn't cry ... very much ... at all"
And of course, the combination has Tony drooling!

Ever since I got the first brace, I've had this wonderful choice: crutches and a limply dangling leg, or hands-free and the legbrace -- the thought of walking "normally" on both legs has never crossed my mind.
Actually, I don't think I could, even if I wanted to.

No ..... that's being a bit vague -- I should be more factual.
I said that I allowed and encouraged my foot and ankle to droop; whether the calf muscle has contracted, or the opposing muscles have weakened, I don't know -- but it's become uncomfortably impossible to put my foot down flat on the floor. High heels would match the angle of my ankle; but I can't wear them -- my toes are so curled down that it's painfully impossibly to bend them up to fit inside a high-heeled shoe. We did try once to take the unused half of a pair of shoes, build up the heel for extra height, and cut away the toe end; but then I found that, quite apart from the sole and heel of my foot now being soft and tender, I still couldn't put any weight on the leg because my muscles were now so weak through disuse that my knee buckled and my leg collapsed under me.
So the truth is: I definitely can't use my left leg at all now.

But I don't see this as a loss at all: for years I'd been believing that I shouldn't walk on that leg, and saying "I can't walk on my bad leg". So in a sense, nothing has changed; except that now I don't have to -- which is what I wanted all along!

Josie and the accident

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.
But that doesn't stop me getting out and about, and making friends -- including legbrace-wannabe Jamie, and DBE amputee Neil.

Jamie had by now got himself a van modified with hand controls.
One day he and I had collected Neil, and were on our way to visit my Aunt Emma and Neil's Uncle Arthur.

Less than halfway through the journey, we were driving along a country road, and noticed a girl on a bicycle coming out of a lane on the opposite side of the road. She was coming down a hill, and as she tried to slow down, her cycle skidded on some gravel from under her, and she fell heavily.
Jamie stopped his van, and we dashed out.
Well, when I say "dashed": it takes a little time for Jamie and I to manoeuvre our braced legs out, lock the knees, and get upright. In his haste, Neil's hooks fumbled a bit with his door-handle -- but he was by her side just before me.
"I ..... fell off my bike" the girl said faintly. That was a good sign: she was conscious and aware of what had happened. "I'm Josie" I said "What's your name?" "I'm Olivia" she replied "Olivia Denny. Ohhh -- my arm's bleeding!" Jamie joined us, having collected the first-aid kit from the van.

As he started to clean the cut on her arm, he noticed a small jagged stone in the flesh. "Are there any tweezers in the kit?" I asked. "'Fraid not" Jamie replied. "Well there should be some antiseptic?" Neil said "Splash some on my hooks -- I can see the stone well enough to get it out". He turned to Olivia with a reassuring smile: "Be brave, as this may sting a bit. Ummm ..... you might want to close your eyes or look away". In fact, she didn't look away, but watched him insert a sterilised hook into the wound and pull out the stone -- I think she was so absorbed in the sight that she "forgot" to feel the sting of the antiseptic.
Jamie finished cleaning the cut, and bandaged it up.

"Thank you" she said, and tried to sit up: "Owww!! My leg hurts!" Her right leg did indeed look 'not quite right'. "Hmmm" said Jamie "now to see if I can remember anything from the lectures on leg and bone structure" and gently felt along her leg. "I rather think" he said "that it may be broken". "That means it'll need a splint" said Neil "But more to the point, it means she'll need an ambulance. I'm sure I saw a telephone in the village we passed through about half a mile back -- I'll go for help" and he stood up and ran off back down the road.

"That's awkward" Jamie said "How can we make up an emergency splint?" "Well; I can see four legbraces" I suggested "would they be any help?" "But of course" Jamie replied "How silly of me not to think of that! Ummm ..... She's a bit younger than you, but seems to have quite long legs. I don't want to sound ungallant, but I think that one of yours would be more suitable". "That's fine by me" I replied, and removed my right legbrace. I knew perfectly well how to lift my own leg into its brace; but Jamie was better trained in how to put someone else's leg into a brace -- and so we explained to her what we were doing, and soon had her leg safely immobilised.

"Have you both got bad legs?" she asked us. "Yes -- sort of" Jamie answered "But with braces on, they're quite 'good' really". This was a strange conversation to be having -- but at least it confirmed that Olivia was alert. She turned to me: "But now you've given your leg-iron to me, you won't be able to walk" she said with concern. "Don't you worry yourself about that one little bit" I replied -- meanwhile trying to postpone worrying about it myself!
She looked around: "Where's the boy with the metal fingers?" I didn't think this was the proper time to discuss bilateral amputees! "He's gone to call for an ambulance to give you a ride to hospital" I said quietly "where they'll make you much more comfortable".

And then the ambulance arrived, and the two paramedics jumped out.
As the first knelt down by Olivia, the second asked us what happened. "She was coming down that hill on her bicycle a bit too fast" I explained "and skidded on the gravel and fell off". He looked puzzled: "A girl in a long legbrace riding a bicycle?" he queried. "No, that's my brace" I replied. "I suspect she may have broken her leg" Jamie explained "and a legbrace was the nearest we could think of to a temporary splint".
The first paramedic was feeling Olivia's leg, and looked up: "That was very fortunate" he commented "Most people don't know how to recognise a broken bone -- but I too suspect that it's broken. I've seen some strange things used for an emergency splint in my time -- but never a legbrace before!" "Oh dear" I said "I hope we haven't done anything wrong?" "Not at all" he replied "We've got splints in the ambulance of course -- but the brace is doing such a grand job that frankly I don't see any point in replacing it".

"It was lucky you had a mobile phone to call for help" the first said. "But we haven't" I replied "There were three of us -- and Neil ran back to the last village to phone". As if on cue, Neil appeared jogging round the corner. "Then on second thoughts" the paramedic said "It was lucky you had one able-bodied member in your party". "Well ..... " I responded slowly, and waved to Neil. Neil, now closer, waved back -- and the ambulanceman could not fail to notice Neil's hooks flashing in the sunlight. "On third thoughts" the paramedic said sheepishly "I wish I hadn't made that last comment!"

Neil was now with us: "Will she be all right?" he asked. "She's going to be OK" was the reply "thanks to your prompt actions. We're just about to transfer her on board". He turned to me: "We would like one of you to ride in the ambulance with her" he said "and you, Miss, are the obvious choice -- if only to ensure we don't abscond with your legbrace!"
Now I had to work out how to move: one braced leg and two crutches make a stable tripod for standing -- but I didn't see how I would clamber up into the ambulance. I needn't have worried of course; it had a tail-lift, and the paramedics were perfectly used to that sort of thing.
Meanwhile, Jamie and Neil had got Olivia's bike into the van.
"Where are you taking her?" Jamie asked, as he hauled himself into his seat. "To St Margaret's Hospital" the ambulanceman replied; then seeing the look of non-comprehension, added "It's only five miles along this road. Just follow us; and even if you lose us, you'll find it's well sign-posted". He looked at the disabled sticker on Jamie's windscreen: "And you'll be able to park right next to the ambulance bay".

They were able to park next to the ambulance bay all right; but by the time I had struggled out, Olivia and the paramedics had long since disappeared inside. But one of them must have thought of me, and had sent a porter out with a wheelchair. I think I probably could just about have managed without; but on this occasion, I was happy to accept the 'luxury' of a chair -- especially as the porter pushing it was rather dishy!

We didn't quite know what to do once we were inside; but we were soon ushered over to the Casualty Receptionist, who needed to take all the details of what had happened.
That meant that we didn't have to wait too long after that before a nurse came out of the plaster room carrying my legbrace. "I expect you've been lost without that" she said, as she saw my look of relief as I strapped it back on. "That's better!" I said "Now I can get out of this wheelchair and move around normally".
"We've contacted Olivia's parents" the nurse continued "and they're on their way over here. In the meantime, although she isn't strictly speaking 'ready to receive visitors', the poor girl is a little frightened, and is asking for you three. So I'll bend the rules and let you pop in to her for a moment".

Olivia was lying on a trolley: her arm had been bandaged properly, and her right leg was in still-moist plaster from instep to thigh. She wiped a tear away with her unbandaged arm: "I've never been in a hospital before" she murmured, then brightened up and added "So I'm so glad you're here to keep me company". She looked at my braces, and then at her cast: "My 'legbrace' is all-white" she said impishly "I bet you're jealous of that!"
The nurse popped her head in the door: "Sorry, I'll have to ask you to leave for a moment" she apologised "We're just going to transfer her into a proper room". "Don't go away" Olivia called out after us as we left.

We sat back down and watched Olivia being wheeled out of the plaster room and into another room further along. The nurse came back out to us: "Her parents are expected shortly" she said "but it would be nice if you could wait to meet them".
We continued to watch the comings and goings; and it wasn't long before we saw an anxious couple arrive at the reception desk and be directed to Olivia's room.
The magazines lying around the waiting room were well out-of-date. Neil started tearing pages out to make paper aeroplanes: The folds were creased to perfection, but he wasn't so successful at launching them into the air.

Then Olivia's parents came out and over to us. "I'm Joan Denny, Olivia's mother" the woman said "We do owe you a tremendous debt of gratitude for all you've done -- how can we thank you enough?" "It was nothing" Jamie replied embarrassedly "Anyone would have done the same -- we just happened to be there at the right time". "That's very modest of you" she responded "but you really went out of your way to help. We really do appreciate it, don't we Rupert?" she added, turning to her husband.

I had been puzzled by the father's stance during this. He had been looking at his wife, nodding enthusiastically with everything she said -- but quite deliberately not looking at us at all. He seemed to steel himself, and turned towards me. His eyes were initially downcast, but jerked upwards as his view reached the hem of my skirt. "Thank you very much Miss" he said gruffly, and shook my hand. "And you too Sir" he said, turning to Jamie and shaking his. "And you ....." he started, turning to Neil, who casually proffered his right hook.

Mr Denny stopped in mid-sentence, the colour drained from his face, and he started shaking uncontrollably.
"You'd better sit down" Mrs Denny and I said in unison.
"Oh God! I'm sorry young man" he blustered "I can't help it".
"Oh dear" said Neil, looking crestfallen "I'd forgotten that some people are upset by the sight of my hooks".
"Please don't worry, Mr Denny" I said "We're all well aware that some folk don't feel comfortable with disabled people. Please don't give yourself a bad time over it".

"I think this would be a good moment to be on our way" Jamie said "We've still got some distance to drive". I looked at the clock: "Aunt Emma would have expected us to arrive by now" I said "I'd better give her a ring to explain why we're late". "And Uncle Arthur" Neil added "and Jamie's Dad too".
"Oh goodness me" Mrs Denny said "I hadn't realised you were so far from home. Yes, of course you must let your folks know you're all right! I think there's a telephone along the end of the corridor".
Just then, the doctor emerged from Olivia's room and spoke to Mrs Denny: "As I explained earlier, we want to keep Olivia in overnight for observation. In all cases like this, we want to make sure she hasn't had any concussion. I hasten to add that there are absolutely no signs of it -- but it's always better to be safe than sorry". He turned to us and continued: "We want her to get some rest and sleep now; but she keeps asking for her young friends. I'll let you pop in -- but only for a moment please".
I was now undecided which I should do first: phone Aunt Emma or comfort Olivia. "Can I start making calls for you?" Mrs Denny asked. That seemed a good idea: "If you could just ring my Aunt Emma" I replied "she'll organise contacting the others" and gave her the phone number.

We went into the room, and wished Olivia good night. "Please come again tomorrow" she pleaded. A lump came to my throat: we would probably never see her again. "Just go to sleep" I murmured "and everything will be better in the morning".
And then we tip-toed out (well, that's an inaccurate description of Jamie and me -- but you know what I mean ;-)

The doctor was still talking to Mr Denny, who was now a little more relaxed and didn't jump too much when we re-appeared. I could see down the corridor that Mrs Denny was still talking on the telephone; and then she put the receiver down and walked back. "Did you get through all right?" I asked. "Yes" she replied "and just as you said, your aunt will contact your other folks. I'm afraid I was a bit flustered when I started talking, but she quickly interrogated me to establish that it wasn't you who had been hurt. And I must say she was very thoughtful: first she wanted to know how Olivia was; and then she offered her comfort to Rupert and me!"
"And did she give you any instructions?" I asked. Seeing a slight look of puzzlement, I continued "They may have sounded like suggestions, or they might have been outright orders for us -- it all comes to the same thing". Mrs Denny smiled and chuckled "You obviously know your aunt's mannerisms well!" she said "As it happens, yes she did. She says that she is not happy with the idea of you driving so late in the evening, and would prefer it if you could find somewhere to stay tonight, and continue tomorrow. And then I realised that you could stay with us! Olivia's bed will be empty tonight; and our two boys are away camping this weekend. And your Aunt was agreeable to that idea".
I thought that sounded like a pretty clear order; but said nothing.
"That's very kind of you" Jamie said "But we really shouldn't impose on you, especially after your upset with Olivia's accident".
"On the contrary!" Mrs Denny retorted "We can't have you stranded so far from home; it's the very least we can do".

"I think there's a bigger problem" I said slowly "I appreciate your kindness; but it wouldn't be fair on your husband to have three disabled people in his house and upsetting him".

Mr Denny was sweating, but the wild panic had left his eyes.
"This phobia of mine is ridiculous" he stammered "And today is only the tip of the iceberg. A young girl in a wheelchair started work in our office a fortnight ago, and I've frozen rigid every time I've caught a glimpse of her. We're supposed to be working together; but dammit, I haven't even been able to say as much as 'Good morning' to her yet!
There's nothing else for it. I fully endorse my wife's invitation -- as she said, it's the very least we can do. And though you may have to put up with a gibbering wreck, I've just got to face and confront my phobia".
"But we do understand how you feel" I said quietly "Each of us has had to go through a similar form of battling with our self-image and preconceptions of how others might feel towards us. We're not trained therapists, but I think we may be able to help". "Josie's being modest there" Jamie said "she was able to help me tremendously to adapt". "And they've both helped me" added Neil "Before I met Josie, I could have beaten you in a gibbering wreck race hands down -- if you'll pardon the expression".
Mr Denny still looked very uncomfortable; but I felt that he was beginning to realise that disabilities need no longer be perceived as a threat.

"Olivia will be asleep by now; so let's all get home before we change our minds" Mrs Denny announced smartly.

When we arrived at the Denny's, the lights were already on, and we were met at the door by a cheerful woman who - I learned later - was their neighbour and held their spare key. "I heard about poor Olivia's accident" she confided "and realised that you wouldn't have had anything to eat. So I took the liberty of letting myself in and making you some sandwiches".
"Oh that is kind of you Mary" Mrs Denny said "We did have to leave the house in a rush".
"Oh goody!" said Neil, who can sometimes display a certain lack of tact "I'm starving!"
I thought that neighbour Mary would fit in well with Aunt Emma's semi-rural community: she was the bustling motherly sort who always seems to know the right thing to do, and never gets thrown -- she hadn't even batted an eyelid at the unexpected sight of four legbraces and two hooks! "I didn't know you would have guests" she said "so I'll just make some more sandwiches while the kettle's boiling".

We sat down round a large dinner table, and Mr Denny was able to relax a little more now that he was in the familiar environment of his own home. I noticed he did keep stealing a look at Neil's hooks and then looking quickly away; but I must admit that Neil was eating with more greed than finesse! But with our legbraces safely hidden from view beneath the table, he found it easier to talk with Jamie and me.
We actually didn't need to say very much; we just gave him an opportunity to unburden all his years of fears that he'd kept as such a horrible secret for so long. And as can happen, many of those fears disappeared as soon as they were aired. Since we showed no shock at what he had thought so shameful, but were even able to relate similar feelings ourselves, he began to feel he could converse more normally.

"How did you become ..... ummm ...... disabled" he tentatively asked "or have you always been that way?" I realised that this was not the time to confuse the issue by mentioning wannabes, that we had lost the use of our legs through wearing legbraces rather than the other way round -- but I was able to give a factual answer. "Jamie and I" I answered "lost the use of our legs progressively over a period of a year or so -- and in our case, it was not difficult to become acclimatised to it. But there are some people who have never walked; and yet others who lose the use of their lower bodies in an instant in an accident. What do you know about the girl in the office you mentioned?"
"Pauline Sanders" he replied; then added in embarrassment "I don't know what happened to her or why she needs a wheelchair -- as I said, I haven't even managed to exchange a single word with her yet. Wait a moment ..... I'm sure I overheard somebody mentioning her condition -- it sounded something like 'essy eye' to me".
"S.C.I." I explained "It's short for spinal cord injury".
"At some time" Jamie expanded "she must have injured her spine, and broken the nerves of the spinal cord at that point. That means that her lower body will be paralysed from approximately that point down".
"That sounds serious" Mr Denny said "How on earth should I approach and treat a young lady such as that?"

"Just like any other girl in the office!" I replied brightly "Just because she's disabled, that doesn't mean you have to walk on eggshells when you talk to her".
Neil had now gobbled up the last sandwich, and decided it was time to join the conversation: "You wouldn't be much good at walking on eggshells!" he cheekily said to me. I noticed Mr Denny wince at the uncalled-for remark, although it didn't bother me. "Neil knows me well enough to know that a silly comment like that won't upset me" I said to Mr Denny "Though I can't imagine you making such a crass remark to anyone, disabled or able-bodied!"
I also thought it might be time to lighten up a bit after what had probably been a bit of heavy going for him. I gave Mrs Denny a conspiratorial wink, and continued to her husband "By the way: if you fancy yourself as the office Romeo, you'll be wasting your time trying to fondle Pauline's thigh -- she won't be able to feel anything". "I wouldn't dream of doing any such thing!" he spluttered; "Nor with any other female members of staff, of course" he hastily added for his wife's benefit -- and then realised that she knew it had been just a joke. "So there you are" I added with a smile "You treat Pauline just like any other girl in the office!"

He was now more relaxed. "Thank you all" he said "This has been most helpful to me -- and I hope it will indirectly help Miss Sanders too".

"It's not just you and Pauline I'm thinking of" I said softly "but Olivia too". He looked puzzled, and Jamie started to explain: "You will get the accurate details from her doctor, but I suspect Olivia's leg has quite a serious break, not just a minor fracture. You should have faith in the doctors and that she will recover fully and be up and walking perfectly again ..... in the fullness of time. But while the bone is mending, Olivia will be wearing that plaster cast for several months".
"And during that time" I continued "you will have to cope with having a cripple for a daughter. Of course, 'cripple' is not the right word to use; but especially for the first week or two, she is going to look very ungainly and helpless, and she may appear as cruelly 'disabled' to your eyes.
For example, if you watch Jamie or I using crutches, we make it look dead easy. Up to a point, it is -- once you've got used to it. But at least my legs are 'symmetrical', whereas a heavy cast on one leg makes it much more difficult to balance. I have no doubt that you love your daughter dearly; but it would be such a tragedy if you found yourself unable to give her that love."
Mr Denny allowed the significance of my words to sink in. "You've really opened my eyes to a potentially disastrous situation" he said sombrely "So I fervently hope that with the help you have given me so far, and the love I have for Olivia, I will have the courage to give my dear daughter the support she will clearly need".

I don't know whether Neil was getting bored with the narrow subject of legs, or whether he had eaten too much, or whether he was just plain tired; but Mrs Denny had noticed his eyelids start to droop.
"I don't want to sound like a bossy mother" she said "but you've all had a tiring day, and I really do think it's time for bed".
Neil stood up, and yawned; and as he stretched, his hooks opened to their fullest extent, and then closed again. I knew it was an unintended consequence of him tensing his shoulders; but it can be a disconcerting sight the first time if you're not expecting it. Fortunately, Mr Denny hadn't noticed.
Jamie and I levered ourselves upright and checked our knee-locks.

Mrs Denny was standing by the door with a slight look of concern: "Ummm, the bedrooms are all upstairs" she said "will that be a problem?"
"No problem at all" I assured her "It's one of the first things we learn to negotiate. We may not look very elegant, but we'll get up them all right". I turned to Mr Denny: "This will be a problem for Olivia too, at least to begin with" I said "I won't insist you watch us; but it might warn you of what to expect". The staircase was quite large: wide enough to swing a rigid leg sideways and up a step -- and Jamie chose to climb them forwards like that, using the handrail and one crutch for leverage. "Olivia will find it safer to go up backwards on her bottom" I explained, and reversed myself on to the stairs "Again, I'm well practised at this, whereas Olivia will have to learn; though she will have the advantage of being able to push upwards with her left leg".
Mr Denny did watch: I was relieved to notice that his eyes showed pain, but not horror or revulsion.

The decorations in Olivia's bedroom confirmed that she was a few years younger than me; but I felt quite comfortable and at home in it.
I noticed that the lights were still on downstairs, and that Mr and Mrs Denny were deep in conversation. I couldn't make out their words; and the soft murmur soon lulled me to sleep.

The next morning, I was awakened by Mrs Denny knocking on the bedroom door. "Come in" I called, as I positioned my legs ready to put on my braces. "Did you sleep well?" she asked. "Yes thank you" I replied, as I reached for my first brace. "Is there anything you need" she asked "Or ..... any help?" "No thank you" I replied cheerfully "I can manage everything by myself. But you were right to ask: Olivia will certainly need some help getting dressed for the first few days".
"Thanks for that tip" she said "Should I send Rupert in to the boys?" "They'll be able to manage too" I replied "Jamie will probably offer to help Neil, even though Neil can manage quite well on his own. However, they may need waking up!" As she turned to leave, I remembered something: "If your husband does go in, you'd better warn him that Neil won't have his hooks on until after he's finished washing. I don't find the sight of Neil's residual forearms repulsive at all; but then, I've seen them before. But it'll be a bad start to the day if Mr Denny freaks out at the unexpected sight of two stumps!"

When we got downstairs, Mrs Denny had made some breakfast, and her husband was already seated at the table. We all exchanged 'Good mornings', and sat down.
"You're looking bright this morning" I said to Mr Denny "Did you stay up long last night?"
"The moment you were all upstairs" he admitted "I practically broke down with information overload -- or more accurately, emotional overload. But my dear wife helped me to quietly replay the events of the evening, and fit the jigsaw pieces into place. I'll admit I still feel uncomfortable; but it's nothing like as bad as yesterday, I'm grateful to say".

"Could you pass me a slice of toast, please?" Mrs Denny asked, of no-one in particular. Neil lifted a slice out of the toast-rack with his right hook; then used his left to wrench its mounting round by ninety degrees to turn the toast horizontal. Unfortunately, he did this right under Mr Denny's nose -- and I saw him stiffen and shudder. "Neil!" I hissed "You know how sensitive Mr Denny is -- this is no time to flaunt your party tricks!" Neil started pouting: "Just because you've got proper wrists" he sulked "there's no need to make fun of mine". Then I felt rotten. "I'm sorry, Neil" I said softly "You do so well with them that I forget that it's not so long ago that you were so self-conscious about them". Neil stopped sulking, brightened up, and apologised to Mr Denny: "Before I met Josie, I wouldn't even feed myself if anyone might see; but nowadays I sometimes over-compensate by showing off. I didn't mean to upset you".
Mrs Denny smoothed the incident over: "You're so much like Olivia's elder brother" she said "One day he's as shy as a mouse; and the next he's a real exhibitionist!"
I saw Mr Denny's lips moving; but he seemed to be talking to himself: "Just two ordinary boys" I heard him say, as if to establish the point in his mind.

"We mustn't hang around chatting" Mrs Denny said brightly "I expect Olivia is pining for us".

The Dennys drove in their 4x4, and we followed. When we reached the hospital, they turned into the visitor's car park, and we continued on to the disabled bay; one space was already taken, but there was room for us. By the time Jamie and I had got ourselves out, they had caught up with us; and we all went into the entrance together.

Although I know we should have allowed Olivia's parents to go in first, I was so eager to see her again that I was right next to Mr Denny when we reached her room. He held the door open for me -- so I was the first in.

Olivia was sitting up in bed with a smile.
But what really grabbed my attention was that she already had a visitor -- a pretty girl in a sporty wheelchair. She was wearing a sports skirt, and her legs were very slim -- by which I suppose I mean that they were thin, but attractively so. She was in cheerful animated conversation with Olivia.

I heard Mr Denny's startled voice over my shoulder: "Miss Sanders!" Her smile instantly vanished: "I apologise for intruding" she said expressionlessly "I'll leave immediately".
"Please don't go, Pauline!" Olivia wailed.
"Please stay, Miss Sanders" Mr Denny said, regaining some of his composure "I'm sure there's room for all of us".

My usual image of hospital visiting is of a small group of people looking glumly at each other, unable to think of anything to say; but that morning, everybody seemed to be talking at once!"

Obviously, Olivia was pleased to see her parents ..... and us too!

In between talking to Olivia, we learnt how Pauline had come to be there. Her brother was a porter at the hospital, and had noticed the somewhat unusual accident referral the day before. That evening he had mentioned it to his sister, who recognised Olivia's surname, and had made a point of coming over to the hospital early, knowing full well the practice of many hospitals of waking their patients up at the crack of dawn, then leaving them with nothing to do except feel homesick.

A nurse came to the door: "Can I squeeze in?" she asked "It's a bit full in here!" The Dennys happened to be nearest the door at that moment, so backed out to let her in. She was a cheerful bubbly young lady; she looked round the room and absorbed the mood: "Which of you five is supposed to be the patient?" she joked. "The one who's very impatient to get home!" Olivia laughed back.
"The doctor is on his way to look at you" she said "and after we've changed the dressing on your arm, he'll decide whether you can go home. So if your visitors could clear the decks, please ....." ..... so we all trooped out.

Outside, Mr Denny was coping quite well with the unexpected addition of another disabled person in the form of the new girl from his office. "I really must thank you for taking the trouble to visit Olivia" he said "you certainly cheered her up". "Oh that's all right" Pauline replied "I know how depressing it can be in hospital first thing in the morning.
Besides" she continued more slowly "Though I don't know whether to say this ..... I was desperately hoping to do something to please you, so you'd stop disliking me so much".
Mr Denny took a deep breath: "I never had disliked you in any way" he tried to explain "The problem was with me ..... I have an irrational inability to cope with the presence of disability. Olivia's rescuers gave me a crash course in trying to deal with my problem last night -- I'm still uncomfortable, but I hope I can be more civil in future". "That's a relief to hear" Pauline replied, relaxing "I very nearly handed my notice in on Friday, I was so miserable ..... but it was my first ever proper job, and I wanted so much to make a success of it". "I'm sure you will be a success, ummm ..... Pauline" he replied "It was quite apparent that you got on well with everyone else there. And if I do appear awkward towards you in the office, please remember it's me that's the problem, not you -- just remind me whenever I behave incorrectly towards you".

The doctor came out of Olivia's room: "I'm pleased to say that all the news is good news" he said to the Dennys. "There is no sign of any concussion; and as we knew last night, we had no problems in setting Olivia's broken leg -- thanks to the very prompt and correct action by her friends here. The cut on her arm, though deep, is clean and free from infection; so we expect it to heal quickly, without even leaving a scar. Incidentally, she told us that there had been a stone inside the wound; how did you first-aiders manage to hook it out?" "You've answered your own question!" Neil said with a cheeky grin. "We didn't have any tweezers" he added; and then his look became more defensive "I did put antiseptic on them first!" and then, a little more worried: "Did I do anything wrong?" "Not at all!" the doctor assured him "Excellent hygiene! You may or may not know that smooth inorganic surfaces are the least likely to harbour bacteria; far cleaner that even well-scrubbed hands.
So I'm pleased to say that Olivia can be discharged and return home".

As he said so, a porter appeared with a wheelchair: the same dishy young man who had assisted me the previous evening. As he passed Pauline, he smiled and said "Hi, little Sis!" "Hi, big Bruv!" she replied with a smile. "Good morning, Miss" he said quietly to me "But I'm afraid it's Miss Denny's turn for a ride today!" and went into Olivia's room.
And soon after, he re-emerged with Olivia sitting in the in the chair with her cast leg propped up on one raised foot-rest, and a pair of crutches stowed behind its back-rest -- and the party of us variously walked, crutched, and wheeled out to the Denny's wagon.

It became apparent that Olivia would have difficulty transferring herself from the chair into the rear seat. Mr Denny attempted to help his daughter -- but quite obviously didn't know quite what to do. "Please allow me" said Neil, stepping forward "This is one thing I'm quite good at, which doesn't need any hands". He bent down in front of Olivia, and asked her to put her arms round his neck. Then with one arm under her knee and the other behind her back, he lifted her carefully, and gently slid her lengthways across the rear seats.
Pauline and her porter brother showed Mr Denny how to fold the chair, which was then stowed in the rear. "If you want any driving lessons for that wheelchair" Pauline said in through the window to Olivia "I'll be only to happy to come round and assist. That is, if it'll be all right?" she added, turning to Mr Denny. "But of course Pauline" he replied "You will always be welcome".

Turning to us, he continued "And so will all of you: if you're ever passing this way again, please visit us -- we'll always be delighted to see you!" He shook me warmly by the hand: "You have helped not just Olivia, but the whole family". Turning to Jamie, he added "And you too Sir" and shook his hand.
He turned to Neil, and in a level voice said "It will be a privilege to shake yours too". Neil carefully proffered his hook and put it in Mr Denny's outstretched hand, keeping his shoulders still so that his hook would not make any unexpected movements, and let him pump it. After Mr Denny had released his grip, he turned his hand over, looking back and forth between his open palm and Neil's hook, with a mixture of disbelief and triumph on his face. "There" said Neil softly "It wasn't too bad, was it?"

Mr Denny then climbed into the driver's seat beside his wife; and the family drove off, with Olivia waving to us out of the rear window.
When they were out of sight, Jamie turned round and said "Well, I suppose we'd better get back on the road".

"Oh don't go just yet!" Pauline exclaimed "We haven't had a proper chance to get to know each other! There's a coffee bar close by -- I've just had my very first pay packet, so the cappuccini are on me! I'm sure we've got lots to talk about .....

And anyway -- I reckon you're a real fun gang to be with!"

Josie needs rescuing

You know all about me by now: a legbrace pretender who wore her braces too often for too long and lost the use of her legs.
And you've probably met my two friends, legbrace-wannabe Jamie, and Neil who wears two hooks (for real).

The three of us had helped Olivia Denny when she broke her leg in a bike accident; and also met her new friend, wheelchair-using para Pauline.
More to the point, Olivia's parents gave us an open invitation to drop by any time we were passing.

As it happened, we did have a few opportunities to visit Olivia during the months she was pretty much immobilised with her heavy leg cast.
It would be natural for any active girl to be frustrated by those limitations; and even more so for a middle-class girl like her, who had been used to a relatively easy life without any major hardships previously. But having met us - and Pauline - at the start of her recuperation, she had a much more positive attitude towards her temporary disability, which restricted her to a wheel chair for all but short distances. Whenever we visited, we and Pauline made a point of encouraging her out on little expeditions -- including going to local galleries and fun-parks which she'd never bothered to visit before!
It was also nice to see her father slowly losing his fear of disabled people which had plagued him before; he even managed to cope with the sight of Neil's hooks 'doing things'.

Then on our last unplanned visit, Olivia had finally had her cast removed, and - after a brief spell of physiotherapy - was fully recovered, and up and about again.
"It must be a huge relief to be back to normal again!" I said.
"Well....." she replied slowly "Up to a point it is, in that I'm not slowed down any more; but after all the exciting challenges of the last months, I'm finding that 'normal' seems terribly boring!"

We didn't see any more of Olivia for a little while after that; but then I got a call from her asking me if I would like to come and spend a week staying with her. In fact, it was arranged that I would actually be staying with Pauline in her spare bed, and we would all meet up each day.
I readily accepted, as Pauline and I got on together well, and I always enjoyed her company.
On the first day, Pauline drove us both over to the Denny home, and then Pauline got out her chair and wheeled the short distance along their drive and in through the front door, with me crutching along behind.
Olivia welcomed us in; and was bursting to show Pauline a video that they both wanted to watch.
"I've already seen that one, quite recently" I said "I don't want to appear to be unsociable, but do you mind if I take this opportunity to do some shopping?" They both admitted that they'd probably be so absorbed in the video that they wouldn't be great conversationalists -- and hoped I had a nice time in the town.
"Have you got a knapsack or similar that I could borrow?" I asked Olivia "It's easier than carrying shopping bags". "Sure" she answered "there's one in my bedroom by the chair -- shall I fetch it for you?" "Don't worry" I replied "I can get it myself -- I remember where your bedroom is from the first visit".

When I returned, Pauline had transferred out of her wheelchair, and was draped languorously over the settee facing the TV; but she was alone in the room. "Where's Olivia?" I asked. "She's in the kitchen" Pauline replied "raiding the larder for some snacks!" Then Olivia reappeared through the doorway ..... wheeling herself in Pauline's chair!

"So that's how you relieve the boredom of being 'normal'!" I grinned. "Do your parents know what you're up to while they're out?"
"Daddy doesn't know" she replied "and I've not told Mum. Though come to think of it, I've just noticed that she's been re-arranging all the shelves in the larder -- all the things I like are on the bottom shelf now, so I didn't have to cheat to reach them ..... I wonder if she's guessed?"

I left her to ponder that; and for the two of them to settle down to watch their video -- and went out to catch the local bus into the town centre where the pedestrianised shopping area was.

I did quite a bit of 'window-shopping' first, crutching leisurely along the traffic-free street to see what was available; and then went back along the street, making a bee-line for the shop which had interested me the most.

And then, I was swinging rapidly along, when somehow I caught my crutches in a drain grating, where they jammed -- and the damn things snapped! I still don't quite know how it could have happened: I know they were only lightweight aluminium crutches, but they should have been strong enough -- I think I must have been swinging diagonally at the time, so they took my full weight, but sideways instead of vertically.
Anyway -- I fell down in a sprawl of legbraces and bits of aluminium!

I was promptly helped to my feet again by the nearest shoppers passing in the street -- a young couple with a little girl. They were very concerned about me; I was a bit shaken, but fortunately I wasn't hurt in any way. Then I tried to see if I could move stiff-legged without using crutches, as I used to in my early days of pretending; but found I couldn't any more -- at least, not without someone's shoulder to lean on. Using the longest of the four pieces of broken crutch as a very inconvenient walking stick, I found I could just about shuffle around -- but not very well, and certainly not for far.
There was a bench seat fairly close, and I made it over to that, and sat down. The young couple were now very worried about how I was going to get home. I explained that I was visiting, and staying with friends. "Are they likely to be at home now?" the man asked "Because if so, I've got a mobile phone, and you could call them". So I called Olivia's number, and briefly explained my predicament. Then I handed the phone back: "Thank you very much -- my friends are coming to collect me" I told them.
The couple stayed, wanting to know if I was really all right; I managed to assure them that I was.

They hadn't noticed that during this time, their little girl had been scrutinising my legbraces with childish inquisitiveness, tracing the steel bars with her fingers. By now, she was even trying to peer up my skirt to see how far up my legs they went! "Why have you got metal bars tied to your legs?" she asked. "Shush, darling!" her mother promptly scolded.
"They make my legs strong enough to stand up in" I replied gently.
"Why don't you just stand up without them?" the tot piped insistently, much to her mother's anguish. "Because my legs don't work" I explained.
"I really must apologise" her father said "I'm afraid she's too young to understand how embarrassing this is for you". "Please don't worry" I replied "My only embarrassment is in the stupidity of managing to break my crutches; but I don't mind talking to your little girl at all. Besides, if I give her reasonable answers, she might not grow up to join the ranks of those people who assume that anyone disabled - particularly in a wheelchair - must also be deaf, dumb, and mentally retarded too!" He gave me a wry look: "I'm afraid to say that it's a sorry comment on society that you have a valid point there" he admitted.

"But I mustn't delay you or interrupt your day any longer" I continued "I'll be quite all right now until my friends arrive". The couple tried to take this opportunity to leave before their little girl asked any more awkward questions -- but they weren't quite quick enough:
"If you've got bad legs" the little girl suggested "you should ask your Mummy to kiss them better". I pretended I hadn't notice her father wince. "My mummy lives a long way away" I replied "But I did hurt my knee when I fell over -- you must have heard me shout 'Owww!' when I fell. Would you kiss the hurt away for me?" and pointed to an arbitrary spot on my knee. The little cherub inspected my knee with an intent look -- then planted a tender kiss on it. "Oh that's lovely!" I smiled "It doesn't hurt at all now. Thank you so much for kissing it better!" With a great beam of satisfaction on her little face, she slipped her hand into her mother's, and allowed herself to be led away.

That had passed away a few minutes; but now I was beginning to feel such a fool, stranded purely because of clumsiness in crutching.
I started blaming the crutches ..... and then it was all the fault of the municipal engineers (or whatever they call themselves) ..... but that only made me feel worse, and certainly didn't help the situation any.
I also wanted to go to the toilet; I was sure there must be one somewhere, but did not relish the thought of struggling to find it. I did contemplate keeping the knee-hinges of my braces unlocked, and using the upper halves of the crutches to help me 'walk on my knees' -- but I couldn't abide the thought of the humiliation I would feel doing that. "I'll just have to contain myself until they arrive" I thought -- and was grateful that I was not a high-level paraplegic, but had control over my bladder.

Then I noticed a commotion at the far end of the street -- people seemed to be jumping sideways out of the way of a wheelchair hurtling through the crowd. I could well imagine Pauline taking part in wheelchair racing; but I didn't think she would practise in a crowded thoroughfare! Then I saw that it was not Pauline, but Olivia sitting in Pauline's chair and propelling it with more energy than accuracy!
She screeched to a halt opposite me, and nearly fell out of the chair -- indeed, if she had been a high-level para and not strapped in, I'm sure she would have been thrown out. "Are you OK?" she asked breathlessly. "Yes, I'm perfectly OK" I assured her "The only things that are damaged are my crutches and my pride! But you should have had flashing blue lights and a siren, the way you raced along here! -- It would have been quite sufficient to have just walked along pushing it". "But not as much fun!" she replied with a look of devilish glee.
Olivia went to stand up; then seeing that there was no panic, sat down again and relaxed. Then she put the brakes on the chair, and with one hand on the arm-rest and the other on the back of the bench seat, carefully transferred herself to beside me using her arms only. "You've been watching Pauline transfer!" I commented. "Yes" she smiled impishly "How did I do?"
"You did quite well" I replied "At one point I noticed one leg tense to keep your balance; but otherwise you kept your legs relaxed and limp, and looked pretty convincing".
Then we moved the chair round towards me, and I lifted myself into it. "That's a relief" I said "Now we can get back".

"Don't leave me here stranded" Olivia cried plaintively "I can't walk!"
"Of course you can -- really" I retorted; but I must admit that the way she was sitting, with one leg at a slightly unnatural angle where she had dragged it, and the other ankle turned over sideways, she rather did look the part of a cripple.
"All those people who saw me coming for you will believe I can't walk -- and it wouldn't be fair to confuse them by walking now" she said with a cunning look. "But I might, just might, be able to walk if I had legbraces -- you're not using yours at the moment, are you?"
This was getting silly; but on the other hand, it was a harmless bit of fun, and I didn't need my braces at that particular moment -- so I took them off and let her put them on. We got some strange looks; but fortunately nobody asked any awkward questions.
As she started to stand up, I stopped her: "You're not allowed to stand up by knee-power" I chided "You have to straighten your legs, and then lever yourself upwards with your arms. You would normally use crutches to push yourself up with; but since they're broken at the moment, I'll let you cheat just a little bit there".

Olivia got herself upright. "Now I want my knee to be bent, not straight" she said "how do I do that?" "Just pull up the levers that loop round behind your knees" I replied. "That's better" she said; and took a pace forward. There were two loud clicks. "Hey!" she cried "That's not fair -- they've locked themselves straight again!"
"But that's exactly what they're supposed to do!" I replied "They'd be no use to me if they didn't. Now, do you want to change your mind and take them off?"
"No!" she said defiantly "I'm determined to see this through!"

And so, with me wheeling slowly, and Olivia walking stiff-legged with one hand on the chair handle to keep her balance, we made our way back along the street to where Pauline had parked on the edge of the traffic-free zone.

"I wondered what was taking you so long!" Pauline exclaimed as she saw Olivia's braced legs. "I'm sorry Pauline" I said "we got carried away and weren't thinking of you" -- and I felt rather rotten when I realised that Pauline had been trapped in her car all this time, unable to even get out with no wheelchair to get into. "Never mind" she said, cheerily now that everything was secure again "We can get home now". I hauled myself up into the passenger seat beside her, Olivia clambered clumsily into the back with the chair -- and we set off.

When we arrived back at the Denny's, Olivia clambered out and opened up the chair. "Right" I said "Time for you to let Pauline have her chair back, and for me to have my braces -- I'll be able to make the short distance to the house".
"There's no need for that" Olivia countered "It'll be quicker if I just ferry the chair back and forth for each of you, and make two journeys".
I couldn't be bothered to argue, as there didn't seem much point in swapping braces over outside in the drive-way.
I got in the chair first, and wheeled over to the house. Once inside, I slid out of the chair down on to the floor. "I'm bursting for a pee" I confided "I can crawl to the loo OK; so you can take the chair back out for Pauline".

By the time I got back into the room from the toilet, they had both completed disembarking. Pauline had just transferred on to the settee -- and Olivia immediately climbed into the now-vacant wheelchair. Sitting on the floor, I recounted what had happened, and was able to laugh about it now that I was safely back indoors.
Then I looked at Olivia: "I've just realised why you're looking so smug and happy" I said "You've got all the toys, and Pauline and I have none! Don't you think that's being greedy?"
Olivia started to look defensive; then changed her mind: "Actually" she admitted "my legs are beginning to ache with this unaccustomed restraint, so you can have your braces back -- anyway, I've decided I don't like legbraces anything like as much as a wheelchair" ..... and started to remove my braces.
Pauline turned to me: "Josie" she asked "Do you feel uncomfortable without your legbraces on?"
I thought about it: "Not exactly uncomfortable" I replied "I'm so used to wearing them continuously all day, that they seem part of me, so I feel almost 'naked' without them. But in an environment like here, I don't feel the least bit worried or insecure. Why do you ask?"

"I was wondering" she said hesitantly "if I could try them on?" "Why not!" I joked "Just form an orderly queue!"
"But seriously though" I continued "are you sure you want to? I mean, they suit me perfectly of course, and Olivia was just playing; but it doesn't follow that they'll be suitable for you, let alone of any use".
"Don't worry about that" Pauline explained, as she took the first brace from Olivia "Early on in rehab I was assessed for legbraces, and provided with some to try -- so there isn't any medical reason why I have to avoid them". She lifted one paralysed leg into the open thigh-cuff, and started to do it up, and I attended to her foot; and she continued: "The trouble was, at that stage I hadn't yet accepted that I was permanently paralysed. I hated the legbraces they put me in -- partly because they reinforced the truth I didn't want to believe. As a result, my heart wasn't in it, and I didn't even try to learn to use them and certainly didn't persevere. Of course, the brace sessions were short, and most of the day I was in a wheelchair. Eventually, I did accept my disability, and started a new and different way of life; but I've never tried legbraces since -- until now.
The other thing was that I thought the legbraces were appallingly ugly; but they don't look the least bit ugly on you, Josie -- if anything, quite the opposite". "Thank you!" I smiled "But then, I just feel 'right' in braces -- and so I suppose that shows". "I think you've got a point there" Pauline considered "I suspect the ugliness I perceived was not the braces themselves, but the scowl on my own face".

By now, both braces were on Pauline's legs, and she was looking down at them: "I think I'd need some time to get used to the different look" she mused "but they don't look too bad at all -- what do you think?"
"I think you look great!" I replied "In fact, I really like the look of them on you a lot -- though you'll appreciate I might be a bit biased, seeing as they're my braces!"
"They do rather accentuate how thin my legs are" Pauline said doubtfully.
"But they're not skinny thin" Olivia interjected "They're just gracefully slender. I've often thought how graceful and delicate your legs looked; but the braces make them look safe and protected -- rather like in an art gallery, where you see a strong glass case enclosing some priceless necklace". I smiled at them both: "Exactly my sentiments!" I added.

"Now how do I stand up?" Pauline asked.
"You need to lock both legs straight" I replied "and then use a pair of crutches to push upright -- unfortunately, we're plumb out of crutches at the moment!"
"No we're not" Olivia responded "I've still got the ones I used when my leg was in a cast -- I'll go and fetch them". She wheeled herself out of the room, and I heard clattering sounds coming from a broom-cupboard off the hallway (now, where have I heard that sound before?)
She soon wheeled back in with a pair of crutches across her knees. "Hey" I said "If you had a spare pair of crutches all along, that's all you needed to bring out to me earlier -- there was no need for the dramatic wheelchair dash!" She looked at me sheepishly: "We were in such a rush, I forgot all about them"; and added with a grin "and it wouldn't have been as much fun!"
Olivia had given the crutches to Pauline. "Be careful" I warned "Although your arms are probably strong enough to take your weight, there's still a knack needed, and by your own admission you're out of practice -- and I can't help you or catch you if you fall". "Don't worry about that" Pauline replied "I've had a few falls in my time -- and at least there's some soft furnishings in here".

She pressed upwards with her strong arms -- and my heart was in my mouth as she swayed precariously. Finally, she got a stable balance, and was standing fully erect. I looked up, and saw tears begin to well in her eyes. "I'm so sorry, Pauline" I choked "I really shouldn't have encouraged you. I never meant to have you build up your hopes of walking again, only to have them cruelly dashed".
She went to wipe a tear away; but realised in the nick of time that she needed to keep a firm grip on both crutches, and blinked it away instead.
"I'm not disappointed" she said softly "It's just that I'd forgotten what it was like to stand tall; to be able to look people straight in the eye, instead of just gazing at their navels or having a permanent crick in my neck craning to peer upwards. The truth is, I'm overcome with joy at just being the same height as the rest of the world!"

She was standing stably, with her right foot just behind her left. She pressed down harder on her right crutch to take the weight off that foot and try to get it to clear the floor. Her heel lifted off the ground, but her ankle drooped and her toes were still on the floor. She pressed down harder and rocked her pelvis -- her foot dragged forward about an inch, and then stopped. It didn't look as though she was going to get any more movement than that.
"I'm beginning to get vertigo at this rarefied altitude" she said with a forced smile "I think I'd better sit down again"; and lowered herself awkwardly back on to the settee.
"There's a phrase running through my mind" she said, as she put the crutches aside "which is 'Don't try to run before you can walk'; I had done my best to banish that saying from my mind ever since my accident -- but for the first time since then, I realise it does apply to me right now. I've still got my original legbraces somewhere at home -- though I'll have to hunt for them, as I hid them out of my sight. I remember they were adjustable for growth, so they should still fit. I'll contact the rehab centre tomorrow, and ask if they'll have me back as an out-patient. If I can repeat the joy of being able to stand tall again, that will be wonderful! And even if it turns out that I won't be able to actually move around in them, I still won't have lost anything".
Olivia and I just smiled our best wishes at her, but stayed silent.

Our reverie was broken by the sound of the front door opening. We looked at each other, then at the clock at the wall -- and then in panic at each other again. We had completely lost track of the time -- and that would be Olivia's father returning home!
There was absolutely no chance of us getting back to our "normal" states, so we just stayed where and as we were. I dreaded what would happen: Mr Denny had barely got over his phobia of disability -- how on earth would he cope with the unexpected sight of three girls all exhibiting the "wrong" disability?
"Good evening girls....." his voice started as he came in the door ..... and then he trailed into silence.

His eyes scanned the room, and slowly took in the scene:
There was me: whom he'd only ever seen in legbraces before, either standing with crutches or sitting normally in a seat -- but now I was down on the floor, propped up on one elbow, with my unbraced legs sprawled at arbitrary and unnatural angles;
There was Pauline, whom he'd always seen sitting in a wheelchair -- now perched on the edge of the settee, with rigidly steel-caged legs angled stiffly and diagonally down to the floor;
And his own able-bodied daughter: now sitting in a wheelchair in a perfectly "natural" pose for a paraplegic. Her hips were slightly angled, and she was not wearing any shoes -- one white ankle-sock was resting not-quite-square on one foot-rest, and the other was dangling limply and drooping between the two rests.

After a long pause, he took a couple of steps into the room, and cleared his throat ..... but still said nothing.
I risked a look at him: he was obviously battling with his emotions, but seemed to be in control of himself. Finally, he did open his mouth: "May I sit down and talk to you all?" he asked quietly.

Pauline shifted her body sideways to one end of the settee, and dragged her braced legs across to make room for him to sit down.
"I think it's time I had an adult talk with you" he began hesitantly.
"You all know of the irrational phobia I had regarding disabilities: thanks to Josie's intervention, and the continuing help from all three of you, that fear has at long last subsided. In fact, I now begin to realise its origins in the rather narrow-minded attitude in which my father brought me up: not only was it 'rude to stare', it was forbidden to even glance at any 'crippled invalid' as he put it."
"But the truth is" he continued "I never did feel any distaste at all at the sight of a disabled person -- if anything, quite the reverse"
"So my 'fear' was not that I might feel repulsed by the sight; but rather that I might - against my father's orders - actually feel attracted to the person. But I now see that I just do not fit my father's mould -- nor do I wish to any more".

After a pause, he continued: "This is getting more difficult for me to explain, and I do beg of you to try to understand. I am fully aware that a father should feel affection towards his daughter - as I do -- but that it is taboo to feel any attraction to her. Similarly, a married man is not supposed to be attracted to other women"
"But I have to say that I find all three of you to be exceptionally beautiful and attractive young women".
He fell silent; and the look on his face seemed to be saying "There, I've done it now -- and I throw myself on your mercy for what I've said".

Pauline and I looked at each other. Her expression exactly matched my own thoughts: of admiration for Rupert Denny in baring his soul, and bashful gratitude for his flattering comments -- but neither of us could think of anything to say.

It was Olivia who broke the stillness. She wheeled herself smoothly right up to her father, and - moving only above the waist - put her arms around his neck. "Oh Daddy -- I love you" she said softly. "I know you've always indicated your love by calling me 'Daddy's little girl' -- but you don't know how much it means to me to hear you call me 'An attractive young woman'!"
I don't think he had dared to expect such a positive response, and he turned his eyes away in slight embarrassment.
As he did so, he caught sight of his wife Joan standing in the doorway.

"Oh, hello dear" he faltered "I was just saying......".....
"What you really think and what you truly feel" she said, continuing where he had stopped "I heard everything you said -- and I adore you for doing so! I have always accepted your tendency to be a rather reserved and 'private' person, because I loved you ....."
Her eyes were shining brightly, and I felt I was seeing the face of the girl Rupert Denny had courted and wed some twenty years ago. Olivia had let go of her father, and Joan Denny stood behind her husband with her arms now around his neck.
"But to see and hear you open your heart like that" she continued "makes my joy complete. I feel that this room is suffused with the harmony of a truly happy family".

Rupert Denny's face was now completely serene, with the relief that the last barrier was down, there were now no secrets left to hide, and no reason to feel embarrassed.
Olivia had moved backwards slightly to make space for her parents, and the movement of the chair made her dangling leg swing limply.

Rupert bent slowly forward, cradled the calf of that leg in his hands, and gently lifted the foot to his face. He tenderly kissed her toes inside the sock, then carefully lowered her still-limp leg and placed it delicately on the empty foot-rest.
A touching gesture which declared -- far more elegantly than any words -- that he fully accepted his daughter's wheelchair-wannabe desires.

Neil finds a girlfriend

Hi; I'm Josie, and I'm a legbrace pretender who wore her braces too often and for too long, and ... you're all bored of me by now!

So this is an account of how my DBE friend Neil met his girlfriend, although I didn't get to meet her until quite a bit later.

Because Neil had lost both his hands, he had been fitted with hooks at the earliest possible opportunity; far sooner than if he had been only a single amputee.
This enabled him to start being able to look after himself earlier; but it also meant that while his stumps were still changing shape and stabilising, he needed to have frequent readjustments and re-fitting of the stump sockets of his split-hook prostheses, and so was a regular attender at the Limb Centre.

At one of these visits, he noticed a girl that he hadn't seen before, sitting waiting in the reception area.
He felt that she was very attractive, even though her external appearance didn't show it: Her hair was combed but not styled, and she was wearing an old-looking crumpled grey sweater. Her jeans just looked grubby rather than fashionably faded; and her face looked so miserable as she sat there with downcast eyes looking at the crudely pinned-up empty left pant leg.

He sat down on a chair near to her. "I'm a bit of a regular here, but I haven't seen you before" he said conversationally "my name's Neil".
She looked across to his hooks, then back to where her left knee should have been: "Oh, hullo; I'm Tania" she replied disconsolately "It's all a hell of a bummer, isn't it".
He looked at her softly. "You're new to this?" he asked gently.

"Yes I am" she replied sadly "It seems such a short time ago that I was out partying every night with all my friends, and keeping fit with gymnastic classes ..... and now my whole life has ended" she finished, almost in tears.
"You still look alive to me" Neil said, trying to sound cheerful.
"You know what I mean" she sighed "Nobody wants to have anything to do with a dismembered cripple, no boy will ever want to look at a one-legged girl -- there's nothing left to live for".
"Yes I do know what you mean" he responded "but it doesn't have to be that way. You are very pretty, and there will be lots of people who will be friends".
"Oh, the people here in the Centre are friendly enough" she said "but then they're paid to be nice to patients. And you seem friendly and even content -- so I would guess you were born like that, have never had hands, and have had plenty of time to get used to it".
"That's not the case" Neil replied "I only became an amputee about a year ago -- that's why I said I know how you feel. To begin with, I too believed that I would be an outcast, and certainly that no girl would ever speak to me again. But it hasn't turned out like that at all: I have just as many friends and just as much of a social life as I had before" he said encouragingly.

She looked at him with a frown of disbelief: "Really?" she asked, in a voice which seemed to desperately want to believe him.

The receptionist answered a buzzing intercom, then called across to them: "Tania -- the physiotherapist is ready for you. It's the second door that I pointed out to you earlier".

Tania stood up and grabbed her crutches from beside her seat. "I'd better go" she said "Bye ..... and thanks for talking to me".
Neil watched her move across the room. She was crutching despondently with the air of someone who hated the need for crutches and so couldn't even be bothered to learn any energy-saving techniques. Yet she seemed to have an innate sense of balance, and did not look at all clumsy as a new user might.

And then Neil was called in to see Alan, his prosthetist. It was only a short appointment to check some fitting measurements, and he was soon finished and back in the reception area; there was nobody waiting there now.
He went across to the receptionist. "That girl who was in here earlier - Tania -- has she left yet?" he asked. "No, she should still be in the building" she replied, and consulted the appointments book; "Let's see -- Tania Pomeroy -- she's not due out from her exercises session for another twenty minutes. Why ..... do you know her?"
"No I don't" Neil admitted "but I think I'd like to".

The receptionist looked at him carefully. "You know full well that we never discuss patient's details" she said "but you can hardly have failed to notice that Tania's having a tough time coming to terms with being an amputee. I've tried to talk to her; but with all the interruptions from the telephone, I haven't been able to establish any rapport with her".
"But I've noticed a wonderful improvement in you over the last few weeks" she continued "ever since you got back from that holiday with your Uncle -- the country air must have done you a power of good! I do believe that you may be able to help her -- but please remember to be very gentle".
"I promise" Neil assured her.

Neil idled the time way; and a little over a quarter of an hour later, the door he was watching opened, to reveal Tania emerging with the physio behind her saying "Goodbye Tania; I'll see you again tomorrow".
Tania was a little flushed with the workout exercises she had been doing, which put some colour into her cheeks which confirmed to Neil that she really did have a pretty face hiding underneath her sad looks.

He was wondering how to strike up a conversation with her again before she left; and was overjoyed when instead of heading for the exit, she crutched back to the waiting area and sat back down in a seat!

"You've been working hard" Neil said to her "I expect you need a rest".
"I'm not tired at all" Tania replied "but I now have to wait for my mother to come and collect me, and she won't be able to get here for at least half an hour". And then a look of concern crossed her face: "Hasn't anyone seen you yet?" she asked "It must make you feel even worse when they keep you waiting a long time".
"Oh, I've already had my appointment" Neil replied cheerfully "But I thought I'd stay on in case I saw you again. I was hoping we could continue our conversation" he continued shyly.
For the first time, he saw a hint of a smile on her face. "Would you keep me company until my mother comes?" she asked "I get terribly depressed just sitting here on my own with nothing to do but stare at this pant leg pinned up over my stump".
Neil was only too willing to keep her company!

Tania's fears were all about the future, so Neil postponed that subject as they exchanged details of their recent past, up to the present time. Tania was not suffering any post-operative complications, and was making reasonable progress in accepting - or at least, becoming resigned to - her physical disability. But the far bigger perceived handicap was the social and psychological one of her fear of rejection. Neil could identify totally with that, and so knew that he did have the personal experience which would be relevant to Tania -- he desperately hoped he would be able to help her overcome her fears.

Time passed all too quickly; and then a tall, somewhat harassed-looking woman strode into the room. "I'm sorry I couldn't get here any earlier" she said to Tania. "Hello Mum" Tania replied "Don't worry about me, I've been all right. This is Neil, and he's been keeping me company"
"He's an amputee too" she added, as if Neil's all too visible hooks didn't make that blatantly obvious.
"Oh Tania!" the mother said in exasperation "I have enough to do looking after you all the time, without having to rescue you from dangerous situations as well". She gave Neil an icy glare which implied 'How dare you take advantage of my poor defenceless daughter!'
Neil very nearly burst out with an indignant response that he could hardly molest any girls when he didn't even have any hands; but just managed to hold his tongue in time. He reflected that if he thought he was going to have any difficulties in getting through to Tania, he would have far more problems with her mother!

As soon as he had calmed down, he spoke to her. "Good afternoon Mrs Pomeroy" he said politely "I can understand your concern over Tania; my parents were very worried about me to begin with too. At least there are counselling services available for us amputees; but there don't appear to be any self-help groups for parents or families. Perhaps you would like to meet my parents, as they may be able to help you cope with your situation?"
Mrs Pomeroy shot him another icy look as if to say 'Don't interfere with our private tragedy!' Then her steely expression faded slightly. "Her father and I do find it so difficult when there's no-one we can talk to about our problems" she admitted "so perhaps we would feel less alone if we knew other parents in the same predicament -- but I wouldn't want to add to the burden your parents already have".
It took all Neil's self-control not to explode at the implication that he was a 'burden'. Fortunately, he did succeed -- and that gave the perfect excuse for exchanging telephone numbers.

"Come along Tania" the mother said "let's get out of this depressing hospital atmosphere, and back to the comfort of home".
As Neil watched them leave, he got the distinct impression that Mrs Pomeroy had got those two environments entirely the wrong way round. But he was pleased to see Tania giving him a smile as she left.

After they had gone, we went over to the receptionist again. "If I overheard rightly" he asked "Tania will be here again tomorrow; what time is her appointment?" She raised an eyebrow at him. "That's confidential information" she replied, "but in this case, I'm willing to bend the rules" she continued with a wink; and told him. "That was quite a tricky situation just then" she added "and I must say I think you handled it very well".
"Don't you mean I 'hookled' it well?" Neil responded with a cheeky grin. "Now now Neil" she replied with a smile "I've come to realise that flippancy like that is your 'defence mechanism' for defusing uncomfortable situations -- but please don't make jokes like that to Tania!"

The following day, Neil was waiting for Tania when she emerged from her session. Her eyes lit up when she saw him, and she crutched confidently over and sat down beside him. "This is a nice surprise to see you again" she said "Do you have to come here every day?" Neil thought it would be better to be truthful rather than to start their relationship with a lie: "Actually no" he replied "I haven't got an appointment today; but I came in hoping to see you again".
"Oh that is so kind of you" Tania smiled "I did enjoy your company yesterday. I reckon we mutilated freaks will have to stick together -- after all, nobody else will want to have anything to do with us".

"That's not true" Neil countered "though I admit I thought it would be -- up until a few weeks ago, when I was on holiday with my Uncle, and his neighbour's niece made friends with me".
"I suppose she was a lonely amputee too?" Tania suggested. "No she wasn't" Neil replied, ".....Though she was on crutches and in legbraces" he finally added. "Hah!" Tania snorted "So she was desperate to find someone who wouldn't reject her".

"But she wasn't sad or lonely at all" Neil explained "On the contrary, she was happy and outgoing -- it was me that was withdrawn and miserable. In fact, if she had been fully able-bodied, I would probably have assumed she was some sentimental do-gooder who couldn't possibly understand how I felt, and I would have refused to have anything to do with her. But as it was, I felt I could trust her; and by the end of that day Josie had invited me along to the local social, and introduced me to lots more people -- all of whom accepted me and were very nice!"

Tania's eyes opened wide as she struggled to believe that such a thing could ever happen to anybody, let alone to her; and Neil noticed the first faint glimmering of hope on her face.

Their conversation was curtailed by the arrival of Tania's mother, who glared at Neil, and led her daughter away.

By now, the Carters (Neil's parents) had contacted the Pomeroys, and started to talk to them about adapting to having an amputee son and daughter respectively. They were having difficulty in getting over to Tania's parents that their attempts to "protect" their daughter was having the opposite effect and making it harder for her to rehabilitate back into life. But at least they had managed to convince them that Neil was a "well brought up" boy and would not pose any "threat" to Tania!

Whereas the Limb Centre was quite close to the Carter's home, the Pomeroys lived further away; and with both Mr and Mrs Pomeroy being tied up with their business during the day, it made it difficult for them to collect Tania after each of her appointments.

The following day, Tania's physiotherapy appointment was much earlier in the afternoon, and her mother had agreed - with a touch of reluctance - that Tania should go back to Neil's house afterwards, and be collected from there at the end of the afternoon.

Tania emerged from her session looking even more confident than she had the previous day. "I don't know if it's because of the way you've cheered me up" she said to Neil "but Betty my physio says I've become more 'teachable' and has been showing me some energy-saving tricks for using crutches".
"In that case" Neil replied "may I suggest we go for a short walk past the shops, instead of going straight home?"
"That's sounds like a good idea" Tania agreed "I could do with some fresh air -- my mother wants me to stay indoors all the time, but I get so bored".

They set off, and Neil noticed that Tania was moving very smoothly on her crutches. Her innate sense of poise had enabled her to avoid looking clumsy before; but now that was combined with a more 'correct' technique, she was moving much more effortlessly and very gracefully.

The only thing that seemed to be letting her down was that she was still wearing the same shapeless sweater as she had when Neil first met her, and the same grubby jeans with the pinned-up left leg.
Neil tried hard to be sensitive as he broached the subject. "I can see that you are a very attractive girl" he said carefully "but it seems a shame that your style of dressing doesn't do you justice. I'm sure any girl feels better when she knows she's dressed nicely; I even found that was true for me".
"I used to love dressing up whenever I went out" Tania replied sadly "but what's the point now? I can never look attractive like this".

"I thought much the same too" Neil responded "and stopped bothering about my appearance. But in fact, all that did was to make me feel as dowdy as my clothes, and it wasn't until it was suggested to me that I tidied myself up that I began to feel better about myself".
"I suppose it was your precious Jezebel's idea" Tania said with a trace of sarcasm in her voice "and you just said 'Yes dear, anything you say dear' and went along with it?"
"Not quite" Neil replied with a smile "it was actually her Aunt who made the suggestion 'smarten yourself up, boy'; though as it was too late in the day to go shopping, Josie did talk her boyfriend into lending me some clothes to go out in that evening".

"Well ..... these jeans are rather grubby" Tania admitted "But I won't be difficult to satisfy -- just any old pair of long pants and a packet of safety pins will do for me".
Neil was hoping for something more attractive than that; but he realised that he'd have to work on that a bit more carefully!

The first shop that they looked in seemed to specialise in screen-printed tee-shirts. Neil noticed a sweatshirt which had a huge 'smiley' icon across its front. He picked it up and showed her: "This may not be something you would have bought for yourself" he asked "so can I buy it for you as a present?" He was right: Tania would never have chosen it, and didn't really want it; but she could see that Neil was sincere in his wish to buy her a present, and didn't want to be so rude as to refuse it.
Neil paid for it; then asked her "Aren't you going to wear it then?"
"Do I really have to?" Tania said uncomfortably "I'm not really in the mood for smiling". Neil tried to put on his most appealing look: "Will you wear it just for me?" he pleaded -- and so, with much misgivings, she did.

Thereafter, every time they passed a shop window, or a mirror inside a shop, Neil would deliberately look sideways at her reflection. Tania's eyes automatically followed his, and so she kept seeing herself with the big smiley on her chest, and Neil's equally appreciative smile in the reflection as well. After a few such times, she found the smiles so infectious that she could not help but smile herself too. And of course, as she smiled at the world, so the world smiled back -- or at least, that was the way it seemed!

"Perhaps I should look for something a bit smarter than 'just any old pair of jeans', to go with this sweater" Tania said, now that she had started to feel better. "That sounds good" Neil said, looking at her carefully "but I was hoping to see you in something more feminine, such as a dress or a skirt" he added quietly.
"Don't be silly!" Tania said in horror "I can't possibly wear a skirt -- I've only got one leg!"

Neil looked at her softly: "Just because you've lost one leg" he said gently "that doesn't mean you have to hide the other one; especially as it's very shapely, and has a cute little dimple on the knee".
She stopped dead, and swung round to him. "How do you know that?"
Neil gave a mischievous smile. "Remember that I'm a bit of a regular at the Centre and know most of the staff" he replied; "I met your physio during her coffee-break, and asked her!"
"Oh, how I wish I could wear a skirt again" Tania said sadly "But....."
"Let's have no 'buts' about it" Neil said encouragingly "This large department store has a huge range of ladies clothing -- they're bound to have something that you would feel comfortable in".

As they entered the store, an alert shop assistant noticed them. "Is there anything particular you're looking for that I could assist you with?" she asked.
"Nothing special -- just browsing" Tania replied noncommitally.
"We're looking for a nice skirt" Neil contradicted firmly.
The assistant noticed the apprehensive look on Tania's face and the supportive look on Neil's, and rapidly appraised the situation. "The central aisle starts with classic styles at one end, through newer fashions in the middle, and our 'Modern Miss' range at the other end" she said; "Once you've seen something that takes your fancy, I'll be only too happy to assist you in any way I can".

After some time looking at the wide range of styles available, nothing seemed to appeal directly to Tania, and she seemed to have settled for a black skirt that she was least uncomfortable about. "That's quite a nice skirt" Neil said cautiously "but isn't it rather long? I mean, I will hardly be able to see your ankle under it" he added disappointedly.
The assistant had been hovering discreetly in the background, and now came quietly forward. "I think what you're looking for" she suggested "is something definitely feminine, yet smart rather than ostentatious. How about this one?" She showed them a simple pleated skirt in a warm grey colour, which was clearly very well tailored. As a skirt, Tania could not fault its classic 'college' lines, yet it was modern enough to suit someone of Tania's age. The assistant sensed that Tania was interested in it; "Would you like to try it on?" she suggested "The changing rooms are right here", and she guided them towards the cubicles.

"I would like to see what it looks like on me" Tania said with a look of embarrassment "but its not easy for me to step in and out of things".
"I'll help you if you like" Neil promptly offered "although I'm afraid I'm not very good with buttons and button-holes".
The assistant gave him a reproachful look, but spoke with a smile: "We do have a policy of segregated changing rooms, young man!" She turned to Tania and continued: "The end cubicle is the roomiest, and has a convenient chair inside it. Please let me assist you -- after all, that is what I'm here for!"
The two of them went inside, and Neil waited impatiently.

The curtain re-opened, and Tania emerged and was guided by the assistant towards a full-length mirror. The skirt really did look nice on Tania; the hem was just above the knee -- which did indeed have a cute little dimple! "Ohhh YES!" Neil exclaimed "You look absolutely gorgeous!"
The assistant gave Tania a smile: "Don't take any notice of him" she said with a wink "he's just an over-sexed boy with symptoms of Spring fever! But let me tell you - in my capacity as fashion buyer for this section of the store - that I think you look very smart, graceful and attractive".
Tania was looking at herself in the mirror. She was still a little unsure of her front view, but was quite happy with her side view. "I must admit it is a nice skirt" she finally said "so perhaps I will take it after all".

"If you'll give me a hand again" she said to the assistant "I'll take it off and change back into my jeans".
Neil's face fell. "Please don't cover your lovely leg up again!" he pleaded "Can't you keep it on now and wear it home?"
The assistant again correctly interpreted the situation. "That will be no trouble at all" she said, quickly popping into the cubicle and coming out again with Tania's jeans under her arm "I'll come across to the cash desk with you, and they'll give you a bag to carry your jeans home in".

As they left the shop, Neil felt very pleased. There was a magical transformation in Tania, and he could hardly believe it was the same girl as he'd first met in the Centre. With her cheerful sweater, smart skirt, and shapely leg, she really did look beautiful.
Tania did look happier, but was still trying to get used to the idea of not hiding her one-leggedness. "In some ways I feel a lot better" she said "but I keep thinking that everybody is looking at me".
"And I don't blame them!" Neil replied encouragingly "I can assure you that you really are worth looking at!"

By the time they arrived at Neil's house, they had passed away most of the afternoon, and so it wasn't long before Tania's mother arrived to collect her. As Tania rose to leave, her mother's eyes gaped: "Good grief, child!" she gasped "What on earth have you been doing!"
"I've just been getting some new clothes" Tania replied defensively.
"Well I hope you haven't been flaunting yourself in public like that!" Mrs Pomeroy exclaimed in a voice of shock and horror.
"Oh please Mum!" Tania replied "I'll admit I felt a bit self-conscious at first; but this is the first time I have not felt downright ugly!" she ended defiantly.

Mrs Pomeroy glared at Neil, and led her daughter away.

The next day, Neil met Tania again at the Limb Centre. He was pleased to see that she was wearing her new skirt that showed her cute knee and shapely calf! "So your mother allowed you to wear the skirt after all?" he asked. "Well, she didn't exactly 'allow' me to" Tania replied with a grin "We had a raging argument about it -- but I refused to give in to her!"
"Good for you!" Neil grinned back "Because you look so much nicer dressed like that. But I don't want to be the cause of any arguments between you and your mother".
"It's too late for that" Tania replied "She's already convinced you're a bad influence on me -- but I know better than that!"

The day after that, Tania did not have an appointment at the Centre, but Neil did have one with Alan, his prosthetist.
"Last time you were here, we replaced the socket of your left prosthesis" Alan asked "How has it been this last week?"
"It's been fine" Neil replied "It fits perfectly snugly, neither too tight nor too loose, and I've had no problems at all".
"Good, that's what I hoped" the prosthetist continued "But we know the right socket needs correcting, which is what all the previous tests were about. Just take it off, and we'll do a final check".

Neil went through the contortions to shrug off his right prosthesis; and Alan inspected both it and Neil's exposed stump. "I've got the cast of your stump we took a week ago here" Alan said "just slide your forearm into it and see what it feels like today". Neil did so, and gave his verdict: "My stump has got quite sensitive during the short time I've been wearing the prosthesis so far today" he said "so this is quite a critical test -- and this cast feels perfectly uniform all over".
"That's a good sign" Alan explained "It means that that cast - and the positive mould we took from it - are fine to use. In fact, the difference in the new shape is surprisingly small -- it's because you use your prosthesis so much that the misfit is so noticeable"

"So we don't need to make a new socket; all we need to do is to reshape the existing one. Just leave it here, the lab will get straight to work on it, and you can collect it tomorrow".
"Leave it here?" Neil queried in alarm "But..... but . . . . ."
"It'll only be for a day" Alan reassured him "I'm sure you'll be able to manage until tomorrow".

Neil left the consulting room feeling very awkward and vulnerable, and with his eyes downcast.
"Hi Neil!" came Tania's cheerful voice from the reception area.
He looked up in surprise. His first feeling was one of selfconsciousness that Tania should see him with one prosthesis missing, but that was immediately replaced by happiness at seeing her so unexpectedly.
"What are you doing here?" he asked "I know you haven't got any appointment here today".
"That's right, I haven't" she replied "But I knew you had!"
Neil was dumbfounded: "How did you know that?"
Tania gave a mischievous smile. "Remember that I'm a bit of a regular at the Centre and know most of the staff" she replied; "I met your prosthetist during his coffee-break, and asked him!"
"Touché!" Neil grinned "You've been copying my tricks!"

"Actually, it was more than just wanting to see you" Tania said sweetly "I also knew that you would be without one of your hooks, and that you might be a bit worried about coping. I thought I could try and cheer you up, and do a few practical things like opening doors for you -- after all, you've done so much to help me, that it's time I tried to do something for you".

Neil put his arms around Tania and kissed her; and the receptionist smiled and looked discreetly away.

The next time they met, Tania had had her hair styled; it was an immense improvement over her barely-combed look when he had first met her. The style now framed her pretty face and made her look even more beautiful.
Neil complimented her enthusiastically; but that was not the only change in her appearance!

Tania was wearing a very attractive dress, with a hemline significantly further above her knee; Neil was very pleased to see a bit more of her leg, and complimented her on the dress. "I very nearly threw all my skirts and dresses away when I lost my leg" she admitted "but now I'm glad I didn't".
"So am I!" Neil commented with an appreciative smile "And I can't wait to see what other more revealing clothes you may have!"
"Don't expect me to wear any shorter ones" Tania replied with a worried frown "I don't think I can bring myself to let my stump become visible".
"Fair enough" Neil responded "I must try not to be so selfish!"

"I've been thinking" Neil started conversationally "that although I said that I have plenty of friends, you haven't had a chance to meet any of them yet. I'm going to a small birthday party tonight -- would you like to come along with me?"
Tania looked rather apprehensive. "Oh dear, I'm not sure about that" she said hesitantly "Just because they're used to you, it doesn't follow they'd want someone like me along".
"I'm sure they'd love to meet you" Neil assured her "Trust me!"

In fact, Neil had chosen the event with care. He knew that the people who would be there would all be ones who had accepted him without embarrassment, and whom he could rely upon not to make Tania feel uncomfortable; and he had already forewarned them that he might be bringing a friend who was a recent amputee, so that they would not have to go through the initial surprise.

And they were delighted to meet Tania! They would have made her welcome anyway; but their flattering comments were perfectly sincere and genuine, and they congratulated Neil on having such an attractive girlfriend.
Tania was initially nonplussed that everybody was so friendly, as she had a preconceived notion that they would be merely polite and formal; but she soon loosened up and relaxed as she was made to feel very much a part of the crowd.

As they left, Tania was brimming with happiness. "Oh thank you Neil" she said "That was a wonderful evening! And to think that I was convinced I'd never be able to go to a party again -- how wrong I was!"

"Aren't you going to introduce me to your friends?" Neil asked Tania.
Tania dropped her head. "I haven't got any friends" she mumbled.
"Don't tell fibs" Neil retorted "You told me you had loads of friends!"
"Oh, I HAD lots of friends" she sighed "but they won't want to have me around now".
"What makes you so sure?" Neil persisted "Have you visited any of them?"
"Well ..... actually, no" Tania admitted "I haven't gone looking for any of them ..... I suppose I was afraid of their reaction".
"Though now I come to think about it" she continued after a pause "they all sent me their love and best wishes when I was in hospital -- I suppose I owe it to them to thank them personally for their kindness. But I still feel trepidation about facing them again -- would you come with me to give me some moral support?"
"Of course I will" Neil replied immediately "I'd love to!"

Tania tracked down where a bunch of her friends would be gathering that evening, and she and Neil went along.
Much as Neil had expected, Tania's friends had never been deliberately avoiding her at all -- it was Tania who had been hiding herself away from them!
They were initially a little shocked -- after all, it's one thing to be told that someone is an amputee, but quite another to actually see the reality of the truth. But that hesitation was only for a split second, to be immediately replaced by genuine pleasure at seeing Tania again.
"Oh Tania dear!" they all exclaimed "It's wonderful to have you back -- we've missed you so much while you've been away!"

On the other hand, Neil was a stranger to them, and he knew from experience that people took longer to become comfortable with the sight of his hooks. But his only real embarrassment was the way Tania introduced him, gushing about how kind and helpful he had been to her!
As Tania drifted off with her friends, Neil noticed that a shy girl was clearly fascinated by his hooks. That did not upset him -- he was used to people staring, and accepted that it was to be expected. He caught her eye before she could look away, and gave her a big smile. "Don't be shy or embarrassed" he said cheerfully "I'd never seen hooks until a year ago either -- if you want to look at them, you're very welcome to". Kathy shyly admitted that she was rather fascinated in how they worked, and Neil was quite happy to show her. That demonstrated to all the others that there was no need for them to have any inhibitions about interacting with Neil, and in no time he was being treated as though he'd always been a member of the group.

As they left, Neil smiled at Tania: "What lovely friends you have!" "I know" Tania replied "I'm kicking myself for having misjudged them -- I'm so glad you prompted me into getting back with them".
"I'm glad too" Neil said "Now I've met them, there'll be twice as many parties to go to!"
"That's a good point" Tania agreed "And to think that I believed I had no friends left at all; yet now, between yours and mine, I've got twice as many as I had before!"

It was now time for Tania to reap the rewards of all her gruelling sessions of physiotherapy exercises: the stump of her left thigh had firmed up, its shape had stabilised, and the cast for the socket of her prosthesis had been taken; and her physio was satisfied that her hip and back muscles were strong enough to operate a limb with confidence.

Neil and Tania arrived at the Centre mid-morning. Tania was ushered into the exercise room by Alan and Betty - the prosthetist and physiotherapist - for the first fitting; and Neil waited impatiently in the reception area.

After what seemed an eternity, the door opened and Tania came out; still one-legged on crutches and wearing a trainer on her foot -- but with the biggest beaming smile of triumph Neil had ever seen on her face. "I've been walking Neil!" she cried out with joy "I've actually been walking!"
And there was more for Neil to take in than just her exuberant face: she was wearing running shorts, and not only could he now see her lovely right leg in full -- but Tania seemed completely oblivious and unconcerned that this was the first time she had ever exposed her stump for him to see!

"They said we were to take a lunch break while they make a few small adjustments" she explained "and then I'll have another go to see how many steps I can take without falling over!"
An all-day session had been anticipated, so they had brought sandwiches with them; and they went out into the little courtyard, sat down together on a bench seat, and enjoyed their picnic as Tania related how she'd taken first one step, then two, then three......

It wasn't until they were preparing to go back inside that Tania realised that her stump had been in full view all this time, and suddenly became embarrassed. "I'm dreadfully sorry Neil" she stammered "I completely forgot that you might be upset by the sight of this..... this..... thing!"
"But I'm not!" Neil assured her "Don't forget that I have two stumps of my own! That should make me a connoisseur of such things; and if you don't mind me saying so, I think that your stump is every bit as beautiful as any other part of you -- don't ever feel ashamed of it!"

They returned inside the centre, and Tania was guided back into the exercise room. As her two mentors followed her through the door, Betty turned round to Neil. "At this stage after we've completed the initial fitting and adjustments" she said "if her parents had been here we would have invited them to give her some support and encouragement. Tania would like you to come in -- will you?"
Neil was only too willing!

As Tania eased her stump into the socket, Neil marvelled at her limb. The covering was not yet on, so he could see the intricacies of the mechanism that was the knee joint.

With Neil offering encouragement all the time, Tania practised walking between the parallel bars, holding on to them for support. Next she tried walking across the room using her two crutches for balance ..... and finally with just one crutch.
"You're doing very well" Alan told her "Are you getting tired yet?"
"No; I'm ready for more" Tania replied confidently.
Alan turned to Neil: "Come and stand beside Tania" he asked. Turning to Tania he continued "Now grab hold of Neil's arm, and try again with no crutches at all". Neil felt even more proud that he was actually taking part in the process, not just watching and talking.
"Arm in arm" he whispered to Tania "Just the way we should be!"
"I feel sure I'll do it with you beside me" Tania replied confidently. She took a deep breath of determination, and they set off across the room -- to everybody's pleasure, she didn't falter once.

"Excellent!" Alan congratulated her "Now position yourself at the end of the parallel bars".
"I may need to lean on you a bit for this" Tania said to Neil "Walking in a straight line isn't too bad -- but I'm still trying to get the hang of going round corners!"
When she got there, Alan told her to steady herself on the bars and relax for a moment. He then asked Neil to go to the other end of the bars. After they were both positioned at opposite ends facing each other, Alan gave his instructions to Tania: "Now try to walk along with your hands just hovering over the bars. If you feel the least bit unsteady, just grab hold of the bars again for balance. Let's see how far you can get without any support at all".

Tania gritted her teeth, lifted her hands just off the bars, and started to move forward. After a couple of steps, she moved her hands further away from the bars, rocking her arms and shoulders to help keep her balance. Neil's eyes shone encouragement as he silently mouthed "Great ..... one more step ..... and another ..... you're doing well ..... and again ..... you're going to make it!"
When she was nearly at the end, Neil opened his arms as a final encouragement. Tania responded by lifting both arms up clear of the bars and forward towards Neil, and confidently took the last two steps into his arms. She threw her arms around his neck and buried her head on his shoulder. "I did it Neil!" she sobbed through tears of joy "I DID IT!"
"I'm so proud of you darling" Neil said, tears welling in his own eyes.

Alan and Betty busied themselves discreetly in the corner.

The prosthetist waited until the emotion had subsided, and then spoke to them again "You've both earned yourselves a tea-break. Take your limb off again Tania, and while you're resting, we'll put the outer cover on it, and then we'll be nearly finished".

When they returned from their break, Tania's prosthesis was no longer just a metal pole, but a real leg-shaped leg. When she had put it on and stood up, Neil looked in admiration: "It's just as shapely as your right leg!"
"We do our best to match them up" Alan modestly replied.

"I've made one last minor adjustment to the knee" Alan explained "and you'll find that the foam cover will make the knee just marginally stiffer. That shouldn't give you any difficulties -- but I'd like you to go through the same sequence of exercises as before". And so she did: using the bars; with two crutches; just one crutch; on Neil's arm; between the bars but not using them; and finally ..... entirely on her own!

Alan was very pleased, and let her sit down and rest as he gave his final instructions: "From now on, it's just a matter of practice. Frequent short sessions are better than long tiring ones. Don't expect to keep the limb on all day to begin with; just a couple of hours at a time to start with, and then gently extend it. So you certainly won't be throwing the crutches away; and you'll find you'll need one the first time you try walking on uneven ground instead of a level floor. If you want to go to keep-fit or aerobics classes, that'll be fine and will help a lot. I can't promise you'll get back into competitive gymnastics, but your previous work at that has definitely not been wasted: the secrets of smooth walking with a prosthesis are timing and balance -- and your gymnastic training has given you both of those"
"I'd like you to come back in a week's time to see how you've been doing; but in the meantime -- go out into the world and enjoy yourself!"

For the first couple of days Tania was hesitant about wearing skirts; although her prosthesis was quite lifelike at first glance, it could never pass a close scrutiny as being 'real' -- and she took to wearing slacks or trouser suits. Neil was a bit disappointed by that, but didn't want to force her into any embarrassment.

When she next visited her friends, they were all delighted to see her walking on two legs again and were very pleased for her. But they also all wanted to see what her new leg looked like! After spending the whole evening pulling up her trouser-leg to show them -- and receiving nothing but praise and admiration of it -- she decided that there was no need to be ashamed of it or hide it at all.
Thereafter she took no consideration of the prosthesis at all when choosing what to wear, and dressed in whatever clothes suited her mood and the occasion.

It also meant that, whereas she had only worn just-above-the-knee skirts before to hide her stump when crutching one-legged, that restriction no longer applied; and Neil was delighted to discover that her wardrobe also contained some VERY short dresses, skirts and shorts!

Go to Part 3

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