Josie meets Tania (Part 1 of 3)

By JohnA

Hi; I'm Josie, and I'm a legbrace pretender who wore her braces too often and for too long, and ..... instead of talking about me, let's hear some more about Neil's girlfriend.

Up until this point I had not yet met Tania, though Neil had often mentioned her in loving terms.
Then I got a call from Aunt Emma: "Neil is coming to visit next week, and bringing his girl-friend Tania with him -- I know it's rather short notice, but I expect you'd like to come and meet her?"
Quite apart from that simple invitation being as good as an order to join them, I wanted to meet Tania anyway, so rushed around trying to organise freeing up the week.

Neil would be staying with his Uncle Arthur, and I would be staying with Aunt Emma as usual; and Tania would be staying with our friend Audrey.

On the first morning there I was waiting outside Aunt Emma's house for Neil to collect Tania from Audrey's and bring her along.
Tania looked as pretty as Neil had enthusiastically described her!
She was also walking extremely well: because of my particular interest in the way legs work (or don't, as the case may be) I could spot the tell-tale signs of an above-knee prosthesis wearer; but I doubt if most people would even have noticed.
Neil introduced her to Aunt Emma and me. Tania seemed a little reserved towards me for the first minute or so, as if weighing me up; but then she relaxed and we soon got to chatting.

For the first couple of days we got to know each other, and also went out and about to allow Tania to explore the local area. Neil even bought some large-scale maps of the locality; it was quite impressive how good he was at folding and unfolding them with his hooks -- but then, I remember he had taken up origami for practice in using them.
Although Tania was very friendly and companionable, there were a few times when she and Neil seemed a somewhat withdrawn together. Knowing how close the two were, I wondered whether I might be intruding on their time together; but whenever I suggested I would leave them alone to themselves, Tania assured me that they certainly didn't want to exclude me -- so I just let those feelings pass.

The first evening we spent indoors at Audrey's, and the second evening with Aunt Emma.
During our expedition on Wednesday, we discussed where we might spend that evening. I remembered the Wodin Club, and suggested we went along for a fun night out -- and Neil and Tania liked the idea.

We covered quite an area during the day, and had developed a good appetite for tea back at Aunt Emma's at the end of the afternoon!
After we had finished eating, and it was approaching the time to get ready for our evening's clubbing, I noticed Tania shifting uncomfortably in her chair. "I'm sorry" she said, with a downcast expression "I don't think I'll be able to go out tonight after all. I've been overdoing the walking today, and my thigh and stump are aching, so I'd better stay in with Audrey and rest it. But don't let that stop you two from going".
Neil and I looked at each other. Much as we were both looking forward to a bit of night life, there was no way we were going to leave Tania behind. "Don't worry about that" I said "My arms are beginning to notice all the crutching I've been doing today; so if you're feeling tired, we'll just have a quiet night indoors together".
"Oh, I'm not tired" Tania replied "and I would love to go out. But my stump is so uncomfortable, I'll have to take my prosthesis off. I'll be able to make it back to Audrey's all right, but I certainly wouldn't be able to last out wearing it for the whole evening" she finished sadly.

Neil paused in thought. "If it's only your stump that's tired" he suggested "why not take your limb off, and come along on crutches? I know you prefer to use your limb now you've got it, but you look just as nice one-legged on crutches".
"I won't be able to" Tania sighed "Normally I take my prosthesis off late evening after I've finished for the day and am back indoors, and then just hop around. But I'm afraid I've been too over-confident for this visit; I didn't bring my crutches with me -- so I can't go out without the limb".
"If it's just a matter of finding a pair of crutches" I said "there's no problem; I don't know what style you're used to -- but if these will suit, you're very welcome to use my crutches".
"Don't be silly, Josie!" she countered "If I take your crutches, you won't be able to go!"
"Oh yes I will!" I replied with a smile "There's a spare pair in the broom cupboard here -- they're a bit old, but I've used them before, and they'll do me fine".
Aunt Emma must have overheard the comment, because I heard a clattering sound coming from the hallway, and then she came in to the room carrying the crutches I had been referring to.

Tania thought it over, but still seemed to have slight reservations.
"But if it's a club for young people out to have fun" she said with a worried look "they might feel inhibited by a stranger on crutches, and I might be a bit of a damper on the party".
"I shouldn't worry about that" I replied with a smile "They're all quite used to me swinging in on crutches! In fact" I continued, warming to the theme "I've trained them to believe that any girl coming in on crutches is looking for an evening of fun and laughter -- and I'm sure you won't let any of us down on that score!"

Relieved by that reassurance, Tania relaxed with a smile. "Thanks for those ideas" she said "I really was looking forward to a final fling of 'making whoopee', and now I can!"
I couldn't quite understand her reference to a 'final' fling -- but I didn't bother trying to question her enigmatic words.

Tania set off to Audrey's to prepare for the evening, taking my crutches with her and using them to take some of the weight off her sore stump.

Now it was time for me to get ready; I decided to wear my aerobics exercise kit, as the folks at the club were now used to my idea of colourful dressing, and its metallic lustre made up for the dullness of the old crutches I would be using.

When we all met up again, I could see why Neil liked to see Tania one-legged on crutches -- she really did look attractive! She must have put on the least short of the skirts in the collection she had brought with her. When she was standing still, it only just about covered her stump. But when she moved, there were tantalising glimpses of it -- either she hadn't realised, or else she was simply quite unconcerned!

So the trio of us made quite an impressive entrance!
The people there were naturally surprised to see not just one but three disabled people coming down the steps; but they immediately recognised me, and were only too willing to be introduced to Neil and Tania.
As I had predicted, they treated Tania exactly as they treated me, and made her just as welcome.
They were not so prepared for the sight of Neil's hooks; but Mandy was the first to notice that Neil was not selfconscious about them in our company, and that Tania and I were equally unperturbed; and so they all realised that they too could take a relaxed attitude towards them, and accepted him fully.
In fact, being new faces, Tania and Neil were the 'stars' of the party!

Walter was there, but I couldn't see any sign of Karen -- I hoped they hadn't split up, because they seemed to be getting on so well together last time I had seen them. Walter noticed me looking around; "If you're looking for Karen," he said "she's gone off to college. It's quite a long way away, so we haven't seen much of each other recently -- and I miss her terribly! But at least I won't feel so lonely tonight with you to talk to."

Since the previous day had been such a full one, ending with a late night, we all had a lie-in on Thursday, and did not meet up until mid-morning.
I had to do a double-take when Tania arrived: at first glance she appeared to be wearing a brass peg-leg -- except that it wasn't a peg because it had a shoe on the end, and it had a hinge at the knee.
"I didn't realise you had an alternative prosthesis" I commented. "Oh no, it's the same one," Tania explained "or rather, this is the 'innards' of it. Up until yesterday you'd only seen it with its outer foam cosmetic covering. When I took it off yesterday afternoon in the daylight, I noticed that it had got rather grubby; and Audrey very kindly offered to wash it for me. In fact" she continued with a grin "Audrey is wondering what her neighbours will make of the sight of a human leg hanging out to dry on her washing-line!"

Tania was not the least bit self-conscious about having what was so obviously a 'mechanical' leg; and I suppose that it's not too surprising that I felt more at home with its metalwork than with imitation flesh.
"I reckon we've got more in common than I thought" I suggested "You have a metal rod that you use to stand and walk on, and around it there is some pink squidgy stuff which looks nice but doesn't actually do anything; whereas I have metal bars that I use to stand and walk on, and between them there is some pink squidgy stuff which looks nice but doesn't actually do anything either!"
Tania giggled at my description. "We have got a lot in common," she said "which makes me feel rotten that I used to hate you so much -- I really do apologise". I was perplexed by that comment: "But you've never been the least bit unpleasant towards me" I queried "What are you on about?"
"Oh, you wouldn't have known about it," Tania assured me "but when I first met Neil and he was describing how he got back into social life, everything he said seemed to be 'Josie this' and 'Josie that' -- and I really built up a huge resentment, even though I'd never even met you! But I realise that it was mainly jealousy; and don't forget that at that time I was still so fearful of rejection that I was terrified that Neil would prefer you and leave me. Now I know and understand why Neil thought so much of you; and I also know that Neil loves me. And it's wonderful to have you as a friend!"
"And it's wonderful to have you as a friend too!" I assured her.

"I really liked that aerobics gear you were wearing last night" Tania continued "Where did you get it?"
"From the local sports shop" I replied. "You might not have noticed it before, because from the window it looks as if it only has serious sports equipment; but it also has a wonderful range of leisure clothing too -- and the people there are very nice. Well..... perhaps I ought to expand on that: the manager seems to be petrified of disabled people; but there's no such problem with the young assistant -- that's Walter, who you met last night!"
"That's a good idea" Tania said "Let's go shopping!"
But then her smile faded slightly. "Though it could be a waste of money if I never have a chance to wear whatever I might get" she muttered to herself. I couldn't understand the significance of her doubts; but then she put a smile back on her face: "But let's go and see Walter anyway!" she ended enthusiastically.

When we arrived at the sports shop, the manager was arranging the window display. The colour drained from his face and he almost went catatonic at the sight of not just one, but three young people, all showing shiny metal - plus one plastic thigh and two plastic forearms - where healthy limbs should have been!
On the other hand, Walter was overjoyed to see us, and only just managed to remember to greet us as customers rather than as personal friends.
On a whim, I swung towards the rear of the shop as fast as I could. By the time the manager unfroze and made a bolt for the safety of his office, he found me blocking his way. "Why do you always try to avoid me?" I sweetly asked him. "Of course I'm not trying to avoid you" he blustered "It's just that ..... ummm ..... it's more appropriate for young Walter to serve customers of his own age group".
"That's not the real reason, is it" I countered with a smile "You don't know how to handle disabled folk, do you?"

He started to try to defend himself; then realised that I was quite right and that there was no point in denying it. "I really do apologise" he admitted "I'm ashamed to say that you are perfectly correct. Head office training has only ever dealt with serving active people, and never covered customers who were ..... less able".
"Well, it's never too late to learn," I reassured him "and it doesn't have to be difficult. Look at Walter -- he doesn't have any problem. I've no doubt it was you who gave him all his basic training in customer relations; but do you think you could swallow your pride and learn from him on this particular issue?"
The manager could tell that I was not trying to make fun of him, and we made our way slowly towards the other three. I timed my next comments so that Walter would overhear them and realise what I was up to. "It's clear that you place great importance on impeccable politeness," I said "which is admirable of course, though probably less important to young people than the older generation. But you do tend to be too formal, and that can sometimes work in the wrong direction. For example, one thing that we disabled find very hurtful is to be treated as if we were just a social security number, not a real person; and if I'm already in a bad mood for any reason, I may perceive an overly-formal approach as belittling. So it's much better to concentrate on being friendly on a more personal level. So please call me Josie; and don't be surprised to discover Walter talking on first-name terms too."

Tania had told Walter that she was looking for some snazzy gear suitable for her aerobics and also as eye-catching leisure-wear, adding "And I'll be pleased to hear your comments on what you think suits me!"
With those two deeply engrossed, Neil had wandered off around the shop. The manager and I watched him rummaging through a rail of tee-shirts; and then he looked at the manager and back at the shirts again. "Is that the sign that he's ready for your attention?" I asked. "Oh dear" the manager gulped "Yes it is".
"Well, go on then" I urged "He doesn't bite! I'll come with you and keep him under control if you like" I joked. The manager took a deep breath and walked over to Neil. "Good afternoon Sir" he said "May I be of assistance?"
"Hello" Neil replied "yes you may be able to; but my name's not 'Sir', it's Neil".
"Then..... hello Neil" he responded, trying out this new approach "Was there anything in particular you were looking for?"

"I'll try to explain:" Neil said "My new prostheses with wrist control have a bulkier shoulder-harness. I've been wearing two tee-shirts: a small one underneath so it doesn't chafe; and an extra-large one which is easier to put on over it. But I'm wondering if you might have something more suitable?"
The poor manager's eyes started to glaze over with this unexpected technical detail; but he pulled himself together, and drew on his professional knowledge. "For the under-shirt next to the skin" he mused "I would have thought a sleeveless shirt would be better, or an aerated one - the modern equivalent of a 'string vest' -- or have you considered a running singlet? We've certainly got all of those in stock. For the over-shirt: I confess I'm not familiar with the harness you describe; but do you think a football shirt might be suitable?"
"Those all sound good ideas" Neil replied with a smile "Can we look at some of those please?"
Satisfied that the manager was now in control of the situation and that Neil would not play any tricks on him, I left the two of them together.

By the end of the visit, both Tania and Neil had amassed bagfuls of goodies and were well pleased with their purchases. "Thanks for being so helpful" Tania said to Walter "I did appreciate your views of what looked nice on me". "And thank you too" Neil said to the manager "You're the first shop person who's stopped to try and understand what I wanted".

As they left, I was not bothering to keep up with them, so was still within earshot as the manager turned to Neil. "You know Neil, I've been thinking" I overheard him say "Perhaps it's about time we thought of ourselves as a team, instead of a 'junior' and a 'senior' -- hmmm?"

On the Friday we found ourselves again meeting up at Aunt Emma's; it always seemed such a welcoming and uninhibiting place to be.

After a lull in the conversation, during which Tania seemed to be thinking deeply on something, she suddenly turned to me and asked "Josie, do you ever move with a 'four point gait' - or whatever it's called -- you know, one leg at a time alternately?"
"I used to in the beginning" I replied "but I haven't done so for ages; not since I found a 'swing through' to be more efficient. The only way to find out is for me to try it and see!"
I levered myself upright, checked my knees had locked, and then tried to remember how to do it. I could remember all right; but I seemed to be sadly out of practice -- either that, or my hips aren't so good now at moving my thighs independently. But I soon managed to rediscover the technique. "The answer seems to be: yes -- after a fashion!" I finally responded.
"Now can you do it with the knee unlocked?" Tania then asked.

"Oh no, definitely not" I replied "I'd collapse in a heap the moment I put any weight on it".
"I only meant unlocked while you're moving a leg forward" Tania persisted "Doesn't your knee-hinge automatically lock once it's straight again?"
"I think I see what you mean" I said "You're considering the way your own limb works, where the knee bends while it's moving forward, but is safely straight by the time your foot hits the ground? It doesn't sound very likely -- but I'm willing to have a go".
I positioned myself ready to try to swing an unlocked right leg forward; but immediately discovered a problem. "This isn't going to work" I said "My right hand will have to let go of its crutch to release the knee lock; and with that knee no longer braced, I'll fall over sideways!"
"Would it help if I release the lock for you" Neil asked "so that you don't have to let go of your crutches -- I think I can remember how the release lever works".
"OK, we'll try that" I replied "But whatever you do, don't release it until I shout 'Go'!"

Neil knelt on the floor behind me, and reached for the release lever with a hook. As soon as I had positioned my crutches correctly, he pulled on the lever, and taking my weight on the right crutch, I tried swinging my leg forward. "It doesn't work" I said to Tania "I can make my knee bend all right, but I can't straighten it again -- how do you do it?"
"You have to swing your thigh a long way forward first" she explained "Let your lower leg swing like a pendulum -- and then jerk your thigh backwards a bit to make the leg straight, fractionally before you lean forward to put your foot on the ground".
This was all a brand new technique for me, and it made me realise that I seem to have lost a lot of strength in my thigh-moving muscles; but at the third attempt, I had managed to swing my right leg forward, bending as it went, but straightened and weight-bearing again as I put it down. "How's about that?" I said with a slight touch of triumph.
"Great!" Tania replied "Now do the same with the other leg, please".

"I don't know what I've done to deserve this punishment" I joked "But if that's what you want me to do ....."
We discovered that it was difficult to get the timing right: it all went wrong if Neil released the lock either too early or too late. "It would be easier if I could control the timing myself" I mused. With the aid of Aunt Emma's little drawer of 'odds and ends', we fashioned two pieces of string, with one end tied to the release lever and the other end looped over the 'trigger finger' of each hand. That solved the timing problem -- but it was still an incredibly difficult way of moving, as my hips seem to have forgotten how to make my thighs make such exaggerated movements.
We had cleared a path diagonally across the room - much as when Jamie was first learning how to walk in braces -- and I had several goes. With each run, I seemed to be getting the hang of it more, and could envisage how to do better next time. I found it quite exhilarating, and it took me right back to my early days of legbrace-pretending, and the thrill of each new achievement. In fact, I became completely engrossed in this fascinating experiment, and forgot all about Neil and Tania!
I suddenly realised that I must have been lurching around for ages! "I'm so sorry" I said to Neil and Tania, quite expecting them to have lost all interest by now, "I got quite carried away then!" But Tania hadn't lost interest at all -- she was still keenly watching my every move! "It's me who should apologise" she replied "I found that absolutely fascinating; but you must be tired by now -- do sit down and have a rest".

"I've no idea why you should have been so interested" I responded with a smile "but I certainly found it a novel interlude!"

On the Saturday morning, Aunt Emma suggested we should not tire ourselves out too much, but keep some energy to go to the village dance with her in the evening. This time, and remembering the near-disaster on the Wednesday, Tania decided to heed the warning. In fact, we did very little walking at all; Arthur took us for a drive around the countryside, and we stopped for lunch at a cosy little pub.

When we got back to Aunt Emma's to prepare for the evening, I was surprised and delighted to see Jamie sitting there chatting to her!
As you may remember, he had not been able to fulfil his legbrace-wannabe desires until he had left town, to avoid problems with local gossips; and for the same reason, he had not been back to visit before. But now that his father had retired from the centre of the town and moved out to a cottage in Aunt Emma's part of the outskirts, Jamie felt 'safe' to visit in his legbraces -- which was just as well, as he was by now as dependent on them as I am.
Most of the people in the town centre had either forgotten him or else didn't recognise him now; and those few who did remember him also realised that they had been very remiss in not keeping in touch during his absence at college, and so felt they could hardly now interrogate him as to what had happened.

When we arrived at the village hall, we were all greeted with the usual friendly welcome: I was well accepted as a regular, and they all remembered Neil from his last visit.
The folk in the rural community just assumed that 'something' had happened to Jamie while he had been away; but it was not in their nature to pry -- they were only interested in giving him a hearty homecoming welcome.
And everybody made Tania feel very welcome!

Tania was obviously enjoying the spirit of the affair, and was soon up on the dance floor with Neil. I was very impressed watching her; this was no slow number, but a fast energetic one! I was initially puzzled by her style of dancing on her prosthesis: in some ways it seemed 'unusual', yet it also seemed perfectly 'natural'. After a little while I worked it out: her dance steps were adapted from her 'movement-to-music' aerobics exercises, and Neil's expertise as a partner enabled him to mirror her movements. In fact, it was a good example of exhibition dancing, and was warmly applauded by the other dancers when the music stopped.
As Tania and Neil returned to our table, I added my congratulations. "I really did enjoy that" Tania said happily "I didn't have any opportunity when we were at the Wodin Club, and I love leaping around a dance floor!"
But then she frowned and bit her lip: "Oh, I'm so sorry Josie" she said "I shouldn't have said that -- I take it you aren't able to dance?"
"Don't presume too much" I replied with a smile "I have been on that dance floor before; but I admit I can only manage slow shuffles, and even then only with the support of a good dancing partner such as Neil. But I shan't be doing any dancing tonight: I doubt if they'll play any more slow numbers until the Last Waltz -- and you'll be Neil's partner for that! And anyway, Jamie and I have got far too much news to exchange and catch up on!"

"The Last Waltz....." Tania repeated softly, with a faraway and slightly sad look in her eyes "How appropriate that will be".
Then after a moment she pulled herself together again: "I've thoroughly enjoyed every minute here so far" she said brightly "and I intend to enjoy the rest of the evening just as much!"

Sunday morning was just spent lazing around. Neil's mother was coming to collect Tania and Neil and drive them back home. There wasn't a country bus service on Sundays, so I was going to stay one more night with Aunt Emma and return home on the Monday.
Mrs Carter arrived just in time to join us for lunch, which - by Aunt Emma's standards - was 'light' and early.
Conversation over the meal was just small-talk as we 'wound down' from our exciting week.
After lunch was finished, Neil's mother suggested that after a brief rest to "let their meal settle", they should set off so that they could get home in the daylight without being in any rush. Tania didn't seem to want or need any rest, so got ready to leave.

"Thank you all so much for a wonderful week" she said "I shall never forget what a lovely time I've had, and it will be so good to have such happy memories to look back on and cherish".

I was very puzzled by the way she had expressed herself; it seemed to have such an air of finality about it -- surely she wasn't about to renounce life and enter a nunnery? I looked over to Neil and Mrs Carter; but they seemed to be intently studying the floor as if to dissociate themselves from the comment.
It was Aunt Emma who broke the silence. "And it's been wonderful to have you here and get to meet you" she replied warmly "I really have enjoyed your company and the little chats we've had"
"But I have the feeling that there's something you haven't told us" she continued, putting on her hypnotic 'tell me all about yourself' look "Isn't it true that 'A trouble shared is a trouble halved'?"

Tania stayed silent for a moment, then looked at Neil as if requesting his permission and support.
"I wasn't going to say anything" she started hesitantly "but it was Neil and his family who organised this holiday specially for me, so that I could have a nice time while I prepared myself for next week"
"You see ..... A few weeks ago I started to get some pains in my knee. At first I thought it was due to walking unevenly, but it didn't seem to get any better. It had been stressed to me that I must look after my only leg, so I went to the doctor. He couldn't find anything obviously wrong, so he sent me to the hospital for some X-rays. As a result of those, I was referred to a specialist who took some more X-rays -- and then sent me for a bone scan"
"When he looked at those results, he said he 'Didn't like the look of some shadows' on the images. So at the beginning of last week, they did a key-hole biopsy on my right leg and took samples of bone and tissue to be analysed. The analyses were due to be completed at the end of this week; and I have an appointment tomorrow morning, when they'll go through the results with me"
"If the tumour turns out to be benign, there'll be big sighs of relief!"

"But if it is what they suspect . . . . They'll admit me there and then, and the operating theatre is already provisionally booked for later the same day -- and they expect to have to remove my remaining leg."

Josie meets Tania (Part 2 of 3)

"But if it is what they suspect . . . . They'll admit me there and then, and the operating theatre is already provisionally booked for later the same day -- and they expect to have to remove my remaining leg."

I was shocked speechless.

"Oh Tania dear!" I eventually blurted out "Why didn't you tell us about this earlier? I might have been able to..... to . . . . . "
And then my voice trailed away into silence.
What could I have done? What do you say to a girl in the situation when, in just twenty-four hours time, something as unpredictable as the toss of a coin will determine whether she keeps her one and only leg, or ends up with none at all?

"You would only have worried all week" Tania replied softly "and I didn't want to spoil your holiday"
"Of course, everything may turn out to be all right after all; but I had to prepare myself for the worst. It would have been no good if I just hoped for the best, and then been unable to cope with any bad news".
"But you have done a lot to help me" she continued "though you wouldn't have realised it at the time. I think I've just about accepted that I might have to spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair like a sack of potatoes, though I admit I'm not looking forward to it. But the doctor said that there was a good chance that they might be able to leave enough of a stump of thigh to operate a prosthesis"
"I know that walking on two artificial limbs will be not just twice as difficult as with one, but a whole new battle altogether -- I was afraid I wouldn't have the determination or perseverance to learn how. But you remember that silly experiment I asked you to try on Friday? When I saw you were willing to have a go at what you thought was impossible, and how much you achieved in such a short space of time -- that's given me the motivation to put in whatever it takes to learn to walk without legs, however difficult it may be"
"So I actually have a goal to look forward to now!"

We had now reached the point where it was impossible to find the words to express what we meant and how we felt. Sensing this, Mrs Carter stood up and put her coat on, signalling that now would be a good time for them to set off for home; and our parting was very emotional and very subdued.

After they had gone, Aunt Emma and I sat in the two facing high-backed armchairs and looked at each other.
"What are we going to do -- what CAN we do?" I asked in anguish.

"You could try praying" she gently suggested.
"Praying?" I said in surprise "I've never known you even go to church, let alone beseech Divine intervention".
"Oh, I'm not talking about cold stone buildings for gatherings of the self-righteous" she replied softly "nor about bargaining for miracles. But surely you have come across situations when you walk into a room, and can just 'feel' the mood of the people in it, whether it be love or sadness? Try radiating thoughts of hope and strength and courage; and be open to feeling a lot more of the same goodness permeating the ether"
"Wish for courage for Tania; pray for strength for yourself"

"Pray for strength for all of us" came a voice I hardly recognised.

I looked up at Aunt Emma, to see her lower lip quivering and trembling.
"Oh Aunt Emma -- you're crying!"

"You must know by now that I think of you as the child I never had, and I love you as if you were my own daughter" she replied, making no attempt to hide her emotions. "And it's not just you I feel so deeply about: all your lovely young friends you bring to meet me have given me an enthusiasm and brought purpose into my life -- without you I would have faded away by now. You are like an adopted family to me, and I love you all dearly"
"Of course I'm crying!"

To this day I don't know how I got out of the chair and crossed in front of the hearth; but there I was, kneeling in front of Aunt Emma and leaning into her lap. We had our arms around each other; and I can't remember ever having had such a loving hug, not even from my own mother. And even more amazing, I could FEEL the love and strength radiating from her frail old body.

That night I tossed and turned in bed, unable to sleep. But I remembered Aunt Emma's suggestion, and tried to avoid dwelling on sadness, but tried to focus on hope and strength; and she was right -- it is there if you're open to it.

The following morning the bus seemed to encounter every traffic-jam and roadworks-diversion imaginable, and I didn't get back indoors until early afternoon.
I immediately tried to phone the Carters -- but got no reply.
I kept trying at regular intervals, but it wasn't until early evening that I got an answer. "Can I speak to Neil please?" I asked breathlessly. "I'm sorry, he's not in at the moment" came his mother's voice: "That's Josie isn't it? I'm afraid Neil hasn't got back home yet -- he's still at the hospital".
"Still at the hospital?" I gasped "But that must mean......"

"I'm afraid it does" she replied gently "Tania should just about be in the operating theatre by now. Neil says he won't leave until he knows she's all right".
"I can believe that" I commented "Neil thinks the world of her".
"I know" Mrs Carter replied "But unfortunately we're beginning to get concerned about him -- he hasn't got his tablets with him".
"Tablets?" I repeated in puzzlement.
"He probably hasn't said anything to you about them" she explained "For some reason he thinks of it as a weakness. He has a minor circulation problem which the tablets alleviate. In most people the condition would be of no great consequence; but with him wearing his prostheses all day long, the tight-fitting sockets aggravate the situation. It's not life-threatening; but he will be feeling uncomfortable by now, and without his tablets his forearms will soon become painful".
"Oh how I wish I could be there to do something to help" I said "But I'm already one day late back from my holiday, and I can't very well ask for even more time off work".
"Don't worry yourself" she said reassuringly "There isn't anything you could do; and anyway, Tania is in the best of hands at the moment. But of course we'll keep you informed of any progress".

Then followed another sleepless night.
But I tried to practise Aunt Emma's suggestion again; and after a while I got an image of Tania's face showing resolute calmness. I tried to 'pump it up' with courage; and as her expression grew stronger, I became aware that my thoughts were by no means the only ones willing her recovery.

Next day the people I work with were all eager to hear how I'd enjoyed my little holiday. Well of course, up until Tania dropped the bombshell, it had been great fun; but I couldn't keep the sadness off my face, so they realised that something was amiss, and pressed me to explain why I appeared unhappy. I didn't really want to burden them with my worries; but equally, I realised it would do me no good to bottle it up inside.
When they heard, they were shattered! They went into a quick huddle, and then came back to me: "If you want to see Tania, just go -- we'll cover for you somehow for a few days or however long you need. And make sure you tell her we're all rooting for her!"

Much relieved by their kindness, I quickly phoned the Carter's.
This time, Neil's mother answered immediately. "How's Tania?" I asked.
"Much as we feared, they amputated her leg above the knee" she replied "But the good news is that there were no other complications, and the doctors are very pleased that she has come through the surgery so well".
"It seems that I will be able to come and visit after all" I told her.
"That would be lovely!" Mrs Carter said "We have a spare room, so you won't have to worry about where to stay"
"It really would help if you could come as soon as you can" she continued "as things have gone terribly wrong here".
"Gone wrong?" I gasped "But you said....."
"Let me repeat that Tania is recovering well and not in any danger" she reassured me; "But it's Neil we're desperately worried about now!"

"But what .....?" I began; then the clock on the wall caught my eye.
"No: hold it there;" I said quickly "If I rush now, I might just be able to catch the next bus -- but if I stay talking, I'll miss it".
"You'll be met at the station" she replied, before hanging up.

Fortunately one of my friends could drive me back to my place, and waited outside while I threw a few things into my knapsack; then he drove me to the bus station. The bus was just about to drive off, and he had to pull in and park in front of it to stop it leaving without me -- and I scrambled and clattered inelegantly aboard.
The journey seemed frustratingly slow; but at least each minute that passed was a minute nearer to seeing Tania and finding out what had happened.

When the bus finally arrived and I got out into the busy station, I suddenly realised that I didn't know who was meeting me nor who I should be looking out for!
But then a fair-haired man stepped out from the crowd and strode briskly over to me.
"Hello Josie" he introduced himself "I'm David Carter, Neil's father. My car's parked on the side just over there".

As I swung along beside him, I looked at him in puzzlement: "How did you recognise me? We've never met before, and I didn't have time to tell your wife how I'd be dressed. And Neil's descriptions - though invariably flattering - are never much good for identification purposes!"
He furrowed his brow and smiled as he replied "The bus station isn't exactly thronging with attractive girls who also have crutches and two long legbraces!"
I chuckled at myself for having missed the obvious! Mr Carter gave me a boyish smile -- and I recognised where Neil got his cheeky grin from! Anyone who knows my childhood background will understand why I'm sometimes uncomfortable with 'father figures' -- but I could tell immediately that I would get along well with Neil's father.

He helped me into the passenger seat of his car, then went round and got into the driver's side. As I was trying to position my legs more tidily, he handed me a packet of sandwiches. "I expect you're ready for some lunch" he said "But if you don't mind making do with eating these while we drive, we'll go straight to the hospital".
In between mouthfuls I tried to ask him what the problem was that Mrs Carter had mentioned earlier. "We thought we had arranged a rota for visiting Tania" he explained "But the Pomeroys had a major crisis in their business, and we had a sudden domestic calamity too -- and as a result, nobody from either family has been able to get to the hospital yet"

"Neil has steadfastly refused to leave her side until someone turns up -- he's still there from yesterday morning!"

We arrived at the hospital and made our way through the corridors -- one of the rare occasions when I wished I could move a little faster.
We entered Tania's room, and I saw her lying there facing us with her body propped up on pillows. Her face looked a little weary, and her eyes were missing their usual sparkle -- but she brightened up immediately when she saw us. In fact, she looked amazingly well for someone who had only just undergone such major surgery.

By contrast, Neil looked absolutely dreadful!
His face was drawn and ashen, and his eyelids were drooping. Despite being blond-haired, he looked in need of a shave, which emphasised his haggard look. He had removed his right prosthesis, which was lying on a table beside him in an untidy heap of steel, plastic and webbing. He was still wearing his left prosthesis, but the hook was resting motionless in his lap.

"How are you feeling?" we asked Tania. "It's probably because I'm drugged up to the eyeballs" she replied "but actually, I don't feel too bad at all. And I certainly feel a lot better for seeing you again Josie!"
After we had exchanged a few pleasantries, Mr Carter turned to me: "Is it all right if I leave you here for a while?" he asked. "But of course!" I immediately replied.
"Come along son" he said to Neil "I'll take you home now".

"I can't leave Tania" Neil blearily but doggedly insisted.
"Yes you can" I assured him "I'll stay with Tania -- that's what I'm here for. You look all in -- give yourself a break!"
Neil relented slightly: "Perhaps I should take this opportunity to pop home for half an hour to freshen up a bit" he sighed; then turning to Tania, added "But then I'll be straight back -- I promise!"
"I'll be all right, Neil" Tania tried to assure him.

Neil stood up, and reached with his left hook for the prosthesis that he had removed -- and whimpered in pain at the movement. Wordlessly his father picked up the prosthesis, put his other arm round Neil's shoulder, and guided his son out of the door.

I started chatting to Tania again -- and she seemed to be getting brighter minute by minute.
A nurse came in to check on her: "Just stay still for a moment while I take your temperature" she said, as she popped a thermometer into Tania's mouth. Tania was in mid-conversation, and obviously didn't intend to stop: "Thif ith mmm fwiend Jothie" she lisped, with the end of the thermometer waggling alarmingly.
"Hello Josie" the nurse said, as she took Tania's pulse "I'm so glad you came to take over from Neil; I was beginning to wonder whether I would have to call the Emergency team to resuscitate him! So it's nice to see a visitor who is so cheerful, and..." - she glanced at my legbraces - "...so understanding."
She finished whatever she was doing and marked up the record card. "Am I still alive?" Tania asked with a grin. "Very much so" the nurse replied with a smile "And make sure you stay that way, or my job will be on the line!"

The bed-sheets came up to Tania's waist and covered her hips. Below them I could see the shape of her thighs -- and then from halfway along her thighs, the sheets just flattened for the rest of the length of the bed.
I noticed that Tania kept looking down at the point where her legs ended.
"I'm so glad to see you feeling so cheerful" I said carefully "But how are you doing at coming to terms with the loss of your leg?"

"I'm getting used to it" she replied calmly "Poor Neil ran out of conversation hours ago, so I've had a lot of time getting used to my 'new look'. The surgeon came in this morning and said that he'd made my right stump match my left -- that'll be nice and neat if he has, although I can't tell yet, as it's all swathed in dressings and bandages". She rubbed one hand over her left stump, and gingerly touched her new stump. "Come to think of it" she continued "I don't feel anything like so alarmed as I did on my previous time in hospital -- seeing the shape of one leg, and then wondering and panicking where the other one had gone"
"And I've just realised that I'm not going to say 'the new me' any more" she continued confidently "From now on, this shape is 'the real me'!"

She leant back on the pillows with a contented look, and closed her eyes. I assumed she was going to have a snooze, and so relaxed myself too, and my mind wandered.
Suddenly Tania opened her eyes: "Josie: do you ever use a wheelchair?" Caught off-guard, I replied without thinking: "Not if I can help it -- I don't really like them".
"No -- I don't like the idea either" she said mournfully; "Last week I thought I had accepted being in a wheelchair; but the truth is, I don't like the idea of being confined to a wheelchair at all".
I was inwardly cursing myself for failing to 'engage brain before putting mouth into motion'; and scrabbled desperately to retrieve the situation.
"Don't get me wrong" I pleaded "There are lots of people in my position, who could wear legbraces, but find that a wheelchair is much more convenient for getting around, and so prefer it. I'm really the wrong person to ask: it's just that I've always persevered in trying to do everything in my braces, and so don't even think of a wheelchair unless I have to".
But it was too late -- I had already lost the argument.
"It's HAVING to be in a wheelchair that gets me down" Tania said sadly "They're such ugly clumsy things!"

I was still trying to think of a counter-argument, when the door opened and a man bustled in. Tania's glum look was instantly replaced by a beam of delight: "Daddy!" she cried joyously.

So this was Mr Pomeroy. He was dressed in a very smart business suit, but it was now looking a bit crumpled. My first impression was of a man who was normally in full control of things, but collapses when a situation goes out of control.
"This is my friend Josie" she announced, indicating me. "Hello Josie" Mr Pomeroy said, giving me only the briefest of glances, before - quite rightly - turning all his attention to Tania.
I was sitting on the one comfortable chair, and Mr Pomeroy was initially heading towards a less comfortable stool on the other side of the bed; then he changed direction, intending to come round to my side.
"I'm so sorry I couldn't get here any earlier" he said to Tania "But let me come and sit beside you" he continued, giving me another brief but pointed glance.
I reached down to where I had laid my crutches on the floor, and prepared to vacate the chair. It was only when he rounded the end of the bed that he saw me properly for the first time. If he had been flustered before, he was now completely thrown. "I'm dreadfully sorry" he stammered "I didn't realise you were ..... No: stay where you are -- I'll find somewhere else to sit".

"Come and sit on the bed, Daddy" Tania calmly replied "There's plenty of room -- the bottom half is quite unoccupied".
To my relief, the logic of that poignant statement had a calming effect on him, and he was soon in deep and loving conversation with his daughter.

After they had caught up with their separation, I was re-introduced to Mr Pomeroy. "Thank you for relieving Neil" he said "I've just discovered what an unselfish and heroic amount of effort he put in to be with Tania".
"Neil thinks the world of Tania" I assured him.
"I've also had to re-appraise my opinion of him yet again" Mr Pomeroy continued, turning to Tania "This may not be the right time to say this ..... or perhaps it is"
"When you first met Neil, I was as distrustful of him as your Mother was. I'm ashamed to admit that; but fortunately I soon realised that he was actually a fine and honourable boy. But in the last twenty-four hours or so, he has rocketed in my estimation. I think the best way I can describe my regard for him is to say that, if he should ever come to me asking for my daughter's hand in marriage, I would unhesitatingly be proud to have him as a son-in-law."

"Daddy! I love you!" Tania cried out, stretching her arms towards him.
But then the joy on her face was replaced by panic: "I can't sit up!" she wailed "Why can't I sit up?"
I had glimpsed her stumps thrashing under the sheets, though the significance didn't sink in immediately. Instead, I found myself answering automatically: "Just put your arms behind you, then press upwards with your elbows and forearms".
Tania did so; she ignored a stab of pain as her weight went on to her new stump, and soon had her arms around her father's neck and her head on his shoulder.
After they separated, she turned to me: "That was clever of you to come up with the instant answer" she smiled. "It actually took me a moment to work out what was happening" I admitted; "I think most people sit up by simply bending their body in the middle, and relying on their legs staying put by their own weight, so it's their body that lifts up -- but you haven't got any weight in your legs"
"I said 'I think most people'," I continued "because, although my braced legs are plenty heavy enough, my waist muscles don't seem to be as strong as most people's -- so that's the way I always sit myself up".
"I can see there are a lot of new tricks I'll need to learn" Tania said "but if I've got teachers like you, I shouldn't have any problems!"

The door opened, and Mr Carter came into the room. "How are you feeling?" he asked Tania. "I'm fine!" Tania replied "But ....."
"How's Neil?" we all chorused.
"Fast asleep in bed!" he replied "At least, he was last time I checked".
"You have a fine son, David" Mr Pomeroy said "and you can be proud of him".
"I'm glad to see you made it here, Charles" Mr Carter said. "So am I!" Mr Pomeroy replied "Having had my manager fall sick over the weekend and so unable to to do any of my jobs that I thought I'd offloaded on to him, the under-manager has volunteered to curtail his holiday and come back in. So I'm now completely clear: I intend to stay with Tania for the rest of the evening, or until they throw me out; and similarly to be back here again first thing tomorrow morning".
"In that case" David Carter said, turning to me "I can take you home with me now Josie -- I expect you're ready for a break yourself".
Part of me wanted to insist that I'd only been there for the afternoon; but in truth, I was unaccountably feeling a bit weary, and so agreed.
"I'm staying tonight" I said to Tania "So I'll see you again tomorrow".

I hadn't actually been into the Carter's house before. You may remember that when I first visited Neil's town, he had taken me out to dinner as his parents had been preparing for a function.
But when we arrived this time, I was surprised to discover that their house was even larger than I had anticipated. Mr Carter led me into what I discovered later to be the smaller of two dining rooms.

Neil was sitting at the table, wearing a dressing-gown, with a plate of food in front of him. He was only wearing one of his prostheses, and the socket of that was well-padded with soft bandages to cushion his tender stump. That meant that his hook was not working properly, and so he could not hold cutlery normally -- instead, a spoon had been jammed into the mounting base. Despite that handicap, he seemed to be shovelling food into his mouth quite successfully -- and the thought crossed my mind that if he ever needed a motto for a coat of arms, "Greed conquers all adversity" might do well!
"He woke up and said he was hungry" Mrs Carter explained "I realised that he'd had nothing to eat, so decided I'd better feed him"
"I've made some for you too" she continued; "I haven't had a chance to cook a proper dinner, so it's just whatever I could throw together" she added apologetically. Well, I for one was certainly not going to complain about a large plateful of brunch, even if it was nearly supper-time!

It didn't take Neil long to empty his plate. He leant back with a satisfied smile, licked his tongue round his lips, and wiped his mouth with his other stump and elbow.
"Feeling better now?" I enquired with a smile.
"Much better, thanks" he replied, getting to his feet "So I'll just get dressed again, and then get back to the hospital".
"No you won't" his Mother said firmly "You're going straight back to bed".

His father stood up, and Neil meekly allowed himself to be shepherded out of the doorway.
I turned to Mrs Carter: "Although I would never think of Neil as ever being downright disobedient" I said "I am surprised that he didn't put up more of a fight just then?"
"We did have to cheat a little bit" she replied with a wink "The family doctor dropped by to prescribe what boost dose of his vasodilatory tablets Neil should take; and recognised that although his body was fatigued to dropping point, his mind was still racing and would prevent him sleeping properly -- so we slipped a sedative into his drink!"

"You must be ready for bed too" she said to me when I had finished eating. By now I had realised why I had felt weary earlier: two sleepless nights had finally caught up with me.
"I'll show you to your room" she said, leading the way out into the hall. She stopped at the foot of the stairs: "I'm afraid the spare room is upstairs" she said "Do you want David to help you?" In fact, the staircase was in keeping with the rest of the house: it was wide, with broad treads and shallow risers, and a good solid hand-rail. Tired as I was, it was just about the easiest flight of stairs I'd come across. "I'll be able to manage all right" I assured her "But if you're coming up too, you could carry one of my crutches for me so I can hold the banister".

At the top of the stairs, she handed me back the second crutch, and I swung across the landing after her. "I hope this will be all right for you" she said as she opened a door and showed me in. I was flabbergasted! A mattress in a cubby-hole would have been enough for me; but this was a fully-furnished twin-bedded guest suite, complete with en-suite bathroom! "This isn't a 'spare room'," I said "this is the Hotel DeLuxe!"
"It is convenient if David has any visiting business associates who need somewhere to stay" she explained modestly "Particularly if it's at short notice, such as if their flight has been delayed. So you'll find that as well as the usual towels and things, there are bath-robes and a variety of toiletries -- and even a selection of pyjamas and nighties. Do please help yourself to anything you want".

It had been my intention to just strip off and flake out; but I confess I did pamper myself with the luxury of massaging some perfumed lotion onto my thighs where the cuffs had chafed with all the sitting I had been doing that day -- and couldn't resist borrowing a dainty little nightie!
And then I fell fast asleep.

The following morning I woke up feeling very much refreshed.
Just as I was fully awake, I heard a knock on the door -- or to be more accurate, a sharp 'rat-a-tat-tat'.
"Come in Neil" I called out "I'm reasonably decent!"

The door opened and he came in. He was fully dressed, complete with both hooks, and looked so much better than he had yesterday. "Good morning Josie" he sang out "Do you want a hook - I mean, a hand - with anything?"
He'd surely fully recovered if he'd got his flippant sense of humour back! His mother must have heard him, and followed him into the room. "Now Neil" she said good-naturedly "Don't be so impertinent! I'm quite sure Josie can manage without your help. But if you want to make yourself useful, you can go down and lay the breakfast table".
Neil grinned, and went out of the door and downstairs. Mrs Carter pushed the door to behind him and moved into the room. "I expect you're just as determinedly independent as Neil is" she said quietly "But is there anything useful I can do?"
"Just one small thing" I replied, appreciating the way she had offered "When I came in last night, I just dropped my knapsack over there by the door. There are some clean panties in there that I'd like to wear -- but I can't put my legbraces on until after that, which is too late to walk across he room to fetch it!" She nodded with a smile, and brought my knapsack over; then looked around to check that everything else was within reach. "If you're organised now" she said "I'll go and make breakfast. There's no hurry this morning now that everything is back under control".

We had breakfast together; and then Mrs Carter drove us over to the hospital and dropped us off at the entrance.

As we were making our way along a corridor, we met Mr Pomeroy walking towards us. "Oh dear" Neil said "Are we late in taking over from you?"
"No, not at all" he replied "Tania already has a visitor: a young lady in a wheelchair. She says her name is Pauline, and claims to know you two! Other than that, I've no idea who she is -- but Tania's getting on so well with her, that I decided to stretch my legs."

Pauline! What was she doing here? We hurried along the corridor and burst into Tania's room.
Pauline rolled forwards to meet us. She was looking as exuberant as ever; the only difference I noticed was that instead of her usual style of dressing in skirts, she was wearing patchwork jeans. "How lovely to see you again!" I exclaimed "How did you get here?"
"Aren't you supposed to say Hello to Tania first?" she replied with a grin. She turned her chair, and wheeled herself back towards Tania. Halfway along the bed-side, she performed a manoeuvre that I would only have associated with roller-blading or skateboarding -- she spun her chair round by 180 degrees, so that she was still moving in the same direction, but now backwards; and came to rest side-by-side with Tania.
"Wow!" Tania gasped "That's a neat trick!"
"You should see Pauline playing tennis!" I commented enthusiastically.
"Will you teach me how to do stunts like that?" Tania asked wide-eyed.
"It won't be the first time I've given 'driving lessons' for a wheelchair" Pauline smilingly replied "But I'll warn you that handbrake turns and wheelies don't come until the advanced course!"

We quickly ascertained that Tania was feeling even better today; and were bursting to hear what had brought Pauline.
"I discovered that I had a few days leave that I had to take before the end of the month" Pauline explained. "I thought of you Josie, and decided to give you a ring -- but got no answer. I asked Olivia if she had another number for you; she hadn't, but her mother gave me your Aunt's number. I rang there, and she told me where you were"
"When she told me you were at Neil's, I thought it would be a marvellous opportunity to catch you both at the same time. And when she told me WHY you were here ..... well, I just knew I had to come."

"And you all know each other?" Tania asked.
We explained how we had first met, literally as the result of an accident. In fact, we got quite carried away, chattering and reminiscing about past escapades, and wondering what new adventures we could get up to.
"I'm sorry Tania" I apologised "We shouldn't be talking among ourselves all the time -- we're supposed to be sitting looking at you, and eating your grapes!"
"Oh no, I'm really enjoying listening to you" Tania said enthusiastically "It all sounds so exciting, and I can't wait to join in with your games.
And anyway -- I reckon you're a real fun gang to be with!"
"Hey!" Pauline exclaimed "That was my line when I first met Josie and Neil and Jamie! We do have great fun, and I look forward to you joining us!"

About mid-day, Mrs Carter turned up with both of Tania's parents. This was the first time I had met Mrs Pomeroy; she didn't seem anything like the 'wicked witch' that she had been described as when Neil first met Tania -- the Carters must have been working hard at softening her up!
And of course, Pauline needed introducing to the two mothers.

The Pomeroys stayed with Tania while Mrs Carter took the three of us out to lunch nearby. "If you want to spend time with Neil or Tania" Mrs Carter said to Pauline "you're very welcome to stay with us -- that is, if you and Josie don't mind sharing a room". Pauline and I were quite happy with that!

When we returned to Tania, Pauline made quite a show of gliding effortlessly into and around the room; Tania had now lost all of her fears and dislikes of being in a wheelchair herself.
"If you're sitting in that chair all day" Tania asked "is it nice and soft and comfy?"
"I wouldn't really notice" Pauline replied off-handedly "I haven't got any sensation below my waist. But I think the appropriate answer is that the seat shouldn't be too hard, or I'd risk pressure sores; and it shouldn't be too soft, or I'd wobble around and risk falling out. I suppose I'd say it was 'firm' and supportive"
"Actually" she continued "I've just treated myself to a new gel cushion".
"What's that like?" Tania asked.
Pauline re-positioned her chair, and put the brakes on. "I'll show you" she said, and transferred herself on to Tania's bed. I knew that the action of moving her entire body by arm-power alone required both strength and balance; but with years of practice, Pauline made it look so easy.
"You can get out of your chair!" Tania said in pleased surprise.
"But of course!" Pauline replied "Any time I want to -- providing I don't want to go anywhere. I hope you haven't been dwelling on that silly phrase 'confined to a wheelchair' have you? It doesn't apply to me, and it certainly won't apply to you!"

Tania was feeling the gel cushion on the vacated seat. "Can I have a sit in it to feel what it's like?" she asked.
The nurse happened to be in the room at the time, and cautioned her: "Not just at the moment please Tania" she said "We don't want you stretching your skin too early and risking pulling the stitches. But we do want to get you mobile as soon as possible; when we change the dressing tomorrow, the doctor may well let you out of bed".
"I'm staying at Neil's tonight" Pauline said "And I'll be here again tomorrow; so if the doctor allows it, you can certainly have a play!"

Late afternoon the Pomeroys arrived again. It was now getting rather crowded around Tania's bedside; so by mutual consent, the three of us would return to Neil's house, leaving Tania with her parents. "I've got my car here" Pauline said "and I can squeeze you two in along with my wheelchair; in any case, I'll need Neil with me to give directions".

When we arrived, I realised another advantage of the large scale of the Carter's house: all of the doorways were plenty wide enough for wheelchair access. Mrs Carter was eager to ask how Tania was, and we were able to tell her how well Tania was doing. Neil was eager to ask "What's for dinner?" "I'll just make you a snack for the time being to keep you going" Mrs Carter explained "By the time the Pomeroys leave the hospital tonight, they won't have had anything to eat -- so the arrangement is that they're coming here for supper".

When Tania's parents eventually did arrive, the seven of us all went into the larger dining room. Remembering what a plateful Neil's mother had provided the previous evening when she had 'just thrown something together', I should not have been surprised at the banquet she served up!

As we were finishing, Mrs Pomeroy spoke. "I really must thank you three young people" she said "for putting in so much time and effort in visiting Tania until Charles and I were able to get to the hospital". "What makes it even more humiliating for me" her husband continued "was that you should have been the ones least expected to go to such lengths, being disabled yourselves. I know that Neil suffered tremendous personal discomfort during his all-night vigil; and Josie had to make a long and uncomfortable bus journey to get here. And Pauline must have set off long before dawn -- to visit someone she didn't even know! What is it with you people?"
Neil was looking embarrassed about the eulogy, and I couldn't think what to say. "But it was all so natural" Pauline tried to explain "I know only too well how lonely and frightening it is to wake up in hospital first thing in the morning. Don't you understand just how strong a 'common bond' can be?"

By now it was quite late. Without Mrs Carter actually having to say 'Come along children -- off to bed', we realised it was time to turn in.

At the foot of the stairs, Pauline stopped. "That's torn it" she said "I've been spending all day playing the part of 'Little Miss Go-Anywhere Do-Anything'; but now my bluff has been called. My paralysis level is higher than Josie's -- a staircase is an absolute no-go area for me. One of you strong men is going to have to carry me up".
Both Mr Carter and Mr Pomeroy started to move forward, but Neil was there before them. "Allow me" he said "I'm quite good at that".
"I can vouch for that" I concurred "and Neil likes doing it too. You'll understand why, when he starts with the instruction 'Put your arms around my neck'!"

"We haven't been thinking far enough ahead" Mr Pomeroy said with a worried look "How will Tania manage when she gets home?"
"I expect she'll find a way eventually" I guessed "But probably not when she's first out of hospital -- she'll need carrying then".
By now, Neil had Pauline in his arms. "I must be getting stronger!" he said "I'm sure Olivia was a lot heavier than you when I lifted her out of a wheelchair".
"Don't forget that Olivia had a heavy plaster cast on one leg" Pauline reminded him "Whereas by contrast, I haven't got much meat on mine"
"You might need to bear that in mind with Tania" she continued, turning to Mr Pomeroy: "You'll be quite shocked how light she will be with no legs the first time you lift her. I'd hate you to drop her in surprise!"

Neil carried Pauline up the stairs, and I followed. By the time I got into our room, Neil had lain her down on the spare bed. Pauline lifted one of his hooks to her lips, and gave it a little kiss. "Thank you, Sampson" she said with a smile "Good night!" Neil hesitated for just a moment; and then accepted that his services were finished with, and left the room.

We prepared ourselves for bed, but began to realise the problems. From the time that I had stayed with Pauline in her house, I knew that she had no difficulty in undressing or anything like that. Her house was all on a single level, so that everywhere was wheelchair-accessible; but upstairs here, without her chair, there was no way she could get to the wash-basin or bathroom.
We were in the process of trying to work out whether it would be possible for me to unlock my braces and crawl on my hands and knees with Pauline riding on my back; when there was a soft knock at the door, and Mrs Carter's head appeared. "I meant to get up earlier" she apologised "but I had to say good-night to the Pomeroys". She walked into the room with a businesslike yet caring air. "With your wheelchair still downstairs" she said "We're going to have to think of some 'Plan B' improvisations. I think we'll leave the menfolk out of this -- I know when Neil first came home from hospital and could do nothing for himself, there were still some things where he didn't want his mother involved".

And so, we were soon both in bed.

The following morning, Mrs Carter came in to wake us up. "I've found a way to keep Neil occupied and out of the way for a while" she said "So let's get Pauline looking attractive!" This time, Pauline dressed herself in a sporty skirt and tennis shoes. "Not knowing Tania before yesterday" she explained "Nor how she would be reacting to having no legs, I decided not to flaunt mine. But now we're on the same wavelength, I can be my more usual self". And very confident and attractive she looked too!
When we were both ready, Mr Carter carried Pauline down to her wheelchair, and we all went in for breakfast.

"You're not still messing about in the kitchen are you Neil?" Mrs Pomeroy called out in mock annoyance. Neil appeared carrying a plate in each of his hooks. "Of course not" he snorted "I think it was a cheek of you to make the accusation 'You males are useless around the house, you can't even make breakfast'!"
"It was easy, even though I've never done it before" he continued, placing a burnt offering in front of me "I can't think what you make such a fuss about!"
From where he was standing, he didn't see his mother giving Pauline a long slow wink -- so that's how she'd kept Neil out of the way earlier!
I will admit that he'd tried to pay attention to detail, for example by warming the plates; they were actually red-hot, but Neil wouldn't have realised that.

When we arrived at the hospital, Tania was looking even more cheerful! Her doctors were very pleased with her progress; both in coming through the surgery, and with her positive attitude towards the future. Much to our embarrassment, they ascribed this to the support we had been giving.
In a subsequent conversation, it transpired that at that point, Neil and I had vowed - and Pauline had re-affirmed - that whenever we heard of anybody in a similar position, we would do our best to help if we could -- and Tania made the same commitment somewhat later on when she was in a position to do so.

Pauline was going to stay with the Carters again that night, and wanted to wait in case Tania was allowed into a wheelchair in the afternoon.
Now that all the crises were over, I was free to return home. After all, I was not 'officially' on leave, but had only been able to visit as a result of my friends kindly offering to cover for me while I was away -- and anyway, they would want to hear all the good news about Tania's recovery!

The bus journey back home was much more relaxed than the anxiety-ridden one that I had made only two days earlier.

It was comforting to reflect on how well Tania had accepted the loss of her second leg; but that still left me with one worry:

How will she cope when she leaves hospital for the outside world?

Josie meets Tania (Part 3 of 3)

It turned out that Tania's recovery continued to be rapid, at it wasn't long before she was discharged from hospital and allowed to return home.

I got a phone call from Neil one day: "Would you like to come and stay this weekend? That is, if you don't mind sharing the room with Tania".
"I'd love to!" I replied "But what's Tania doing in your house?"
"She's been back with the physiotherapist at the Limb Centre recently" Neil explained "And to save her parents having to bring her all the way into town each day, it was arranged that she would stay with us, as we're much nearer the Centre".
"That would make sense" I commented "But how did you get her parents to agree to her living under the same roof as you?"
"Dad assured them that she'd have a self-contained room to herself" Neil explained "And he promised them he would keep a careful ear listening for sounds of creaking floorboards at night. Mind you," he added with a chuckle "he forgot to mention that our floorboards don't creak anyway!"
"The Pomeroys are away this weekend" he continued "so that's why Tania will still be here".

I had at long last managed to get myself a car. It had taken long enough to find a second-hand automatic that I could afford, and then get it converted to hand controls. But then came all the paperwork of registering those changes with the Vehicle Licensing centre before I could get it taxed -- sheesh, what a hassle that was! Fortunately Jamie's contacts were able to guide me through the minefield of red tape, otherwise I'd never have been able to get it sorted!

When I'd finished on the Friday, I went home to pack a few things for the weekend, and then set off. The journey took me longer than I expected; partly because I was still new to driving, and partly because the only way I knew of getting there was to follow the bus route!
Eventually I arrived, crutched up to the front door, and rang the bell.
The door was actually slightly ajar, as if they had left it open for me, so I heard Tania's voice calling out "That'll be Josie -- I'll get it" followed by "Come in Josie -- the door's open".

I opened the door, and saw Tania rolling smoothly along the hallway in a smart lightweight wheelchair. She was wearing the 'smiley' sweater that Neil had bought her, and jeans. But these were not just jeans with the empty pant-legs folded and pinned up out of the way: they were skin-tight ones, which had been cut short, and the ends sewn up to make 'pockets' for her stumps -- the overall effect was very smart!

She spun the chair round, and we went along the wide hallway together into the lounge. Tania rolled up to the settee, and I assumed she was going to stop the chair, and transfer herself on to it. But oh no! She didn't stop the chair at all, but just jumped forward out of it, pivoted with one hand on the arm-rest of the settee, pirouetted in the air, and bounced backwards on to the cushions -- all in one non-stop movement!

She sat there smiling, and wiggled her denim-clad stumps a little to re-position herself. She looked so natural, I got the distinct feeling - from the combination of the content look on her face and her custom-tailored stump-pants -- that she was the only one in the room with the 'perfect' body shape, and that it was the rest of us that had grotesque growths protruding from our lower bodies!

It wasn't long before Mrs Carter called out "Supper's ready!" As I might have expected, Neil was quickly on his feet; but Tania was instantly back in her wheelchair, and beat him to the table!

After supper was finished, it was obviously time for bed, so we made our way to the foot of the stairs. As that particular wide staircase is an 'easy' one for me, I confidently set off up it. In fact, I thought I was making very good progress by my standards -- when much to my chagrin, Tania overtook me and shot past on the other side, scrambling up on her hands and stumps.
She sat at the top of the stairs waiting for me, then scooted across the landing towards our room. She stretched up from the floor for the handle, and opened the door for us.
By the time I had got into the bedroom, Tania was already over by the far bed. I didn't quite catch the start of her next trick, which seemed to be something between a handstand and a cartwheel -- but I did see her energetic torso perform a mid-air somersault and then flop down on to the bed, where her face beamed up from the pillow.
"You seem to spend a lot of time airborne" I joked "Have you taken up learning to fly?"
"Yeah!" she replied with an exaggerated drawl "Ground-walking is dead boring -- aerobatics is much more fun!"

I lowered myself on to the other bed, and we started to undress. Tania began to unzip her jeans, and then turned to me. "I have to remember that you're not an amputee" she said, with a look of concern "Would you prefer me to undress under the bedclothes, so that my stumps won't upset you?"
"I don't think they will" I assured her "Neil tells me you have the most gorgeous pair of stumps -- and I can't imagine I'll disagree with him!"
"But while we're on the subject" I continued "perhaps I'd better warn you: you've only seen me in my braces, when my legs are restrained and well-behaved. But when I take my legbraces off, they go all dangly and floppy, and don't do as they're told at all!"
Tania giggled at my description. "Isn't it wonderful" she smiled "that we love our bodies just the way they are, and aren't the least bit ashamed of them?"
I really did smile back; it was so heartwarming to see that Tania had so completely accepted the unfortunate loss of both her legs -- at least I could be said to have had some sort of choice in my situation, whereas she had had no say in the matter at all.

Mrs Carter popped her head round the door: "I hope you two aren't going to stay awake all night chattering" she said; "Don't forget, Tania, that you're supposed to be resting after all your strenuous exercises; and remember that Josie has had a long drive on top of a full day's work".
Happily, Tania demurred to the request: "Goodnight Josie".
"Goodnight Tania".

The next morning when we woke up, I decided to wear shorts to make a change from the weekday skirt I had arrived in the previous day.
I noticed that Tania had also chosen to wear shorts; she seemed to be working on the principle that shorts were a good way of showing off a pretty girl's thighs -- and the only concession she made to the fact that her thighs stopped halfway down was to wear shorter-than-average shorts to make up for it!

I was beginning to get used to her exuberant style of locomotion, so was not too surprised when she started bouncing down the stairs. It's in my own interests to watch what I'm doing when coming down steps on crutches, so I wasn't watching Tania too carefully. But I'm pretty sure that when she was about three or four steps from the bottom, she launched herself into space, grabbed the newel-post with one hand, and swung round it to land in her wheelchair which was still parked at the bottom!

She rolled herself rapidly into the breakfast room, and I crutched along behind her.
I was relieved to find that Mrs Carter had decided that, although Neil made a very good waiter, it was better to release him from chef duties!
After breakfast, we made our way back to the lounge, where Tania 'transferred' on to the settee in the hyper-active manner I was now getting used to!

The three of us were sitting together on the settee, with Neil in the middle between us.
After a pause in our conversation, Neil turned to me. "I hope you won't mind" he asked carefully "But when Tania and I are relaxing together ..... and seeing as we're both amputees ..... I usually don't wear my hooks ..... Will that be all right with you?"
"But of course" I replied "Go ahead -- be natural".
Neil started the shoulder contortions to shrug off his prostheses, and I noticed that he made a special exception for Tania by allowing her to help him, instead of his usual insistence that 'I can manage by myself'.
Tania gave his forearm stumps a brief and caringly gentle massage.

Then Tania looked across to me: "Would you like to make yourself more comfortable, Josie" she asked "Don't you feel rather 'over-dressed'?"
I didn't understand what she meant; I was only wearing a tee-shirt and shorts, the same as they were.
Neil noticed my puzzled frown, but slightly misinterpreted it. "Josie may not want to remove her legbraces" he said quietly to Tania "I know she can't move without them, and I don't think she ever takes them off until she's getting into bed".
"Oh -- so that's what you meant!" I said in relief "For one moment I thought you wanted me to strip down to panties and bra!"
"What Neil said is factually correct, and I do feel a bit 'naked' without my legbraces. But I don't mind being without them in a nice safe environment such as this" I continued "So, 'When in Rome.....'!" and started to take them off.

When Neil first mentioned removing his hooks, I assumed that it was in order to be more like Tania who had not yet got any prostheses. But as I was taking my braces off, I noticed Neil caressing Tania with the stumps of his forearms, and it suddenly hit me: Neil had no sense of touch or feeling through his hooks -- the only way he could appreciate the soft skin of Tania's face was by stroking with his stumps.
This time, Neil did correctly interpret the expression on my face. "Do you remember the first time we met" he asked me "when you let me touch your thigh with my hook?"
"Yes I do" I replied, with a wave of guilt at how unintentionally cruel that well-meaning offer could have been. "I had to guess what your skin felt like then" he continued, putting a mischievous look on his face "Can I try again now to see how close my guess was?"
"But of course you may!" I replied, with a surge of relief that I could at long last make up for what must have been such a frustration for him back then.
I'll admit that I'm never averse to a caring fondle at any time; and I remember that the thrill of the touch of cold steel is an even more exhilarating experience. But the gentle loving caress of his stump on my thigh was a new and wonderful experience altogether -- and I would have been jealous of Tania for being a regular recipient of that sort of attention, if it were not for the fact that I knew she deserved every expression of his love for her.

Tania crossed one stump over the other, and gave Neil a playful dig with the end it, as if to say "That's enough -- it's my turn now!"
Tania understood that there would always be a special friendship between Neil and me; but we both knew that it would never diminish the total love Neil had for Tania.

Well ..... apart from a time in the evening when Neil showed me the internet searches he'd done on amputees and admirers on his computer - which I wasn't so good at working because Neil uses a modified graphics tablet instead of the more usual mouse -- I'm almost ashamed to say that we spent most of the weekend together like that: whether we were sitting on the settee indoors or lying on the lawn in the garden, we remained in our 'natural' states, devoid of all 'artificial aids'!
The strange thing was that because of our 'togetherness', we had absolutely no sense of disability or handicap: whatever we wanted to do, collectively we had enough working limbs between us to do it -- it was a completely novel experience for me, which I absolutely adored!

I didn't see Tania again for a while after that; but I did manage to be kept informed of her progress.

Alan and Betty, the prosthetist and physiotherapist, were working hard to ensure her new stump was stabilised, and her back and waist muscles were sufficiently well developed, as they would be the only muscles available to her to operate prostheses with her stumps.

And then her new limbs were ready, and she had her first day of fitting, and learning to walk on them.
She had expected it to be much more than just twice as difficult as having one artificial leg; but even then, she had under-estimated just how different it would be. Before, if she felt unsteady, she merely had to shift her weight on to her good leg until she regained her balance -- but that was no longer a possibility. Although she had become very proficient at walking - and a whole range of other activities - with one prosthesis, she now realised just how much she had in fact been relying on her good leg: not just for things like getting up from a chair, but even for simple things like turning round. And as for stairs ..... !

At the end of that day, she fell into Neil's arms and burst into tears.
"It's no good Neil" she sobbed "I'm useless at it; I'm a failure! I must be a terrible disappointment to you".
"You could NEVER be a disappointment to me" Neil replied, kissing her gently, and wishing he could brush away her tears. "I think you've done incredibly well in such a short space of time; please don't give up just now. I believe that if I asked you to keep trying 'just for me', that you would -- but that wouldn't be fair for me to force your pace. But if you chose to persevere, and to do it for yourself ..... that would make me even happier."
Tania could tell that Neil's love for her would be just as strong, whether she learnt to master her new limbs or not; and her tears subsided. She also decided that she would keep trying.

The following day, she went back to the Limb Centre. "Can we try again please?" she asked "I'm sorry I was so negative and defeatist yesterday -- I spent all my time dwelling on all the things I couldn't do. But if just forget about the impossibility of recreating a two-legged person, setting myself up for disappointment; and instead try to concentrate on what I CAN do, and keep trying to do a little better each day ..... perhaps I'll make more progress".

With the combination of the excellent professional help from Alan and Betty, and with Neil's non-stop support and encouragement, Tania DID get better and better -- and slowly, one by one, the actions she had previously believed impossible were achieved!

And then there was another invitation for the three of us to meet up again at Aunt Emma's: I didn't even bother to stop to consider whether it was an 'order' to attend -- I was so looking forward to seeing Tania again!

As before, I waited outside the door for Neil and Tania to arrive; and it wasn't long before they appeared, walking steadily along, hand in hand (though I'm sure Neil would have preferred me to write "hand in hook").
Tania was wearing a figure-hugging bare-midriff top, and short denim shorts which showed off her new legs in all their glory.

And what legs they were!

These made no attempt to look "natural" -- they were very obviously "no-nonsense" functional prostheses. The two stump sockets were a rich cream colour, clearly not intended to emulate flesh tones at all. There was a short stub on the end of each, and then came the knee-joints: they were no simple hinge, but a complicated linkage of levers.
The black-anodised lower leg sections were not circular rods, but more rectangular in cross-section; and they weren't even parallel-sided, as there was a sort of swelling where the upper part of the calf would have been, which appeared to enclose a further part of the knee mechanism. There was an additional shiny strut down by the bottom half, looking vaguely reminiscent of my calliper ends; but I think they were part of some shock-absorber system.
And it didn't strike me as being the least bit odd that these mechanical contrivances were wearing a pair of very up-market sporty trainers!

I have to admit I stood there gaping in open-mouthed amazement!
Fortunately Tania realised that it was a gaze of pure admiration: "Aren't they just wonderful?" she sang out happily.

We made our way indoors, and Aunt Emma made a big fuss of Tania -- she too had been longing to see Tania again.
We all sat down together; Tania - like me - had to lower herself into a seat; but unlike me, she did it without the aid of crutches, but as an obviously well-practised move.
We all chatted for a while as Tania brought us up to date with all the events that had taken place since I had last seen her; and then Aunt Emma left for the kitchen.

As I think I said in a recent account, I didn't feel entirely comfortable with the flesh-emulating single prosthesis she had had earlier; and I suppose it would be more in my nature to accept the sight of metalwork where legs should be. But Tania's beaming smile of contentment really made her look as though that was exactly the way she should be!
"So they don't have cosmetic coverings like the last one?" I commented.

"They can have foam covers" Tania replied "But I don't bother with them"
"To begin with, while I was still learning" she explained "the covers were off because Alan was still checking everything, and making re-adjustments as required. Even when he had finished, it was still convenient for me to be able to get at the knee mechanisms: if I flip this little tab here, they lock rigid -- which allows me to safely walk stiff-legged in some awkward situations. There are also some spring tension adjustments which I can make -- though Alan doesn't like me fiddling with it too much in case I unbalance them"
"So I became quite used to them in their 'skeletal' form" she continued "and so when Alan said that he was ready to fit the covers on whenever I wanted ..... I wasn't particularly interested. I asked him to show me how to wrap them on; but then put him off by saying that I didn't want them on straight away, otherwise I'd only make them grubby"
"But I soon realised that the truth was that I didn't really want them to look like real legs. Even if they have a silicone skin - or I wear opaque tights - so that they appear to be real, the moment I start to move in them, it's obvious that they're not -- and I don't want to deceive anybody into thinking that I've got two legs, when I know perfectly well that I haven't!"
"I've completely accepted that the 'real' me doesn't have any legs, and I don't want to pretend to be anything other than that -- but what I do have are these wondrous devices on which I can participate in a two-legged world!"

I had to agree that I could think of no better attitude to take!

"So you've finished with the wheelchair?" I asked.
"Oh no" she replied. "They say that 'variety is the spice of life' -- and I like a spicy life! When I'm indoors at home, I don't bother with either the limbs or the wheelchair -- I can get around much easier without. When I'm walking on these 'legs', you may have noticed that although they flail about a lot, I still only make quite short strides; so my walking pace is quite slow -- nothing like as fast as yours. In practice, there are plenty of occasions outdoors where it's much quicker and more efficient - and less tiring - to use the wheelchair ..... and that's fine by me. But I still like walking on these lovely things whenever I can; I get lots of opportunities to face little challenges, and it's a lovely feeling each time I find a way of achieving them -- I suspect you know what I mean by that, when each new success is a wonderful boost to self-confidence?"

And then Aunt Emma called us to table to eat. Tania got up by first bending right forward until she was about to topple out of her seat; then regained her balance by straightening again, which levered her upright. That required incredibly strong back and waist muscles -- the result of Betty's gruelling physiotherapy.

When we had finished eating, we sat around again.
After a lull in the conversation, Neil spoke up: "I'm hoping to use this visit as an opportunity for me to prepare myself for Monday".
Those words evoked a sudden memory of the similar ones that Tania had used on the last time we had met up at Aunt Emma's; I felt a stabbing chill and gave an involuntary gasp.

Neil caught my expression, and replied quickly: "I shouldn't have put it like that" he said "It's only in my own mind that I'm exaggerating the 'ordeal' I'm dwelling on! You see" he continued with a smile "We have a formal invitation to dinner at the Pomeroys; there's one little 'ritual' I want to perform there, and it means so much to me that I need some practice to make sure I don't make a hash of it -- it means so much to me"
"It also means that you'll be the first to know" he added "but I feel that's somehow entirely appropriate".
"First to know what?" Tania asked, genuinely puzzled.
Neil stood up without replying. With one hook he pulled open one pocket of his jacket so that he could peer inside; then reached in with his other hook, pulled out a small rectangular leatherette-covered box, and put it down on the small table at Tania's side.
Then he knelt down on one knee in front of Tania and picked up the box.

"I spent all day yesterday practising opening this" he explained "It's got a ridiculously tiny catch on it, and in the end I had to cheat and bend it a bit". Between his two hooks, and using the edge of the table, he managed to hinge open the lid of the dainty box, and put it down on the table again.
Now we could see that inside it, nestling on a velvet cushion, was the most gorgeous engagement ring! Tania's eyes - and mouth - were wide open, and she was speechless!
Neil slid his closed left hook under her wrist, and without gripping, gently lifted her hand off her lap.
It took him three attempts before he got the angle of his right hook's wrist mounting just right -- and then, with brow furrowed in concentration, he took the ring out of the box and slipped it gently on to Tania's finger.
Tania was still motionless and speechless -- so he repeated the action a few more times until he was satisfied that he would be able to do it without risk of fumbling or dropping it.

And then it was congratulations, and hugs and kisses all round!

As we sat down and relaxed again, I turned to Neil:
"Next time you bump into my Jamie" I suggested "Do you think you could give him the name of your jewellers -- and then I'll just have to hope that he takes the hint?"

Josie on Campus (Part 1 of 2)

Hi; I'm Josie, and I'm a legbrace pretender who wore her braces too often and for too long..... which you all know about by now!

You'll remember when I described one of my visits to the Dennys to see Olivia, when it became apparent that she was a wheelchair-wannabe.
Her mother Joan already suspected something along those lines -- she had certainly guessed about Olivia's wheelchair pretending. Her father Rupert - who had by then accepted and admitted that he was a disability devotee - was not only attracted to the sight of his daughter in a wheelchair, but could fully understand the look of contentment on Olivia's face which further enhanced her attractiveness.
Of the happy families I have got to know, the Dennys were probably the closest and always open with each other; which helped the two parents to understand and accept Olivia's deep longing.

So when Olivia had been accepted for college, and announced to her parents that she wanted to go there in a wheelchair, they were willing to discuss it; and finished up not only by not objecting, but actually helped her to buy a suitable chair!
Olivia wrote to the college, simply asking them to confirm the wheelchair-accessibility claims in their prospectus, as she would be using one. They wrote back with a very positive response, assuring her that the recently-built college had full disabled access to all parts; and thanking her for informing them so promptly, as it meant that when arranging for her accommodation in a Hall of Residence, she would be assigned one of the many rooms on the ground floor which also had additional hand-rails in the bathrooms. They also recommended that she arrive one or two days early, so that she could explore the campus at her leisure before the term started.

A little while after she had started at college, I got an invitation from her to visit during the coming half-term break. I was a little unsure about that, as the college was quite a long distance away, and I was still new to driving -- I didn't fancy trying to drive both there and back all in the same day. But Olivia explained that most of the students would be going home for that weekend, including the girl in the room next to hers, who had said that she was quite happy for a friend of Olivia's to use it while she was away; and they had cleared that arrangement with the Warden of the Hall. That meant that I could stay there overnight; so I happily agreed, as I was keen to see Olivia again and hear how she was getting on.

When I arrived, I had no problem in parking or finding Olivia's room.
The door opened to reveal a smiling Olivia in her nice new wheelchair. She reversed away from the door, and invited me in. She was not alone; there was a young man there, who she introduced as Steve -- a student on her course. From the comments and looks between them, Steve was obviously much more than just a friend. I also noticed that Steve was taking quite a lot of interest in me and my legbraces!
"It's lovely to see you Olivia" I said "How are you getting on in and around college? Particularly, in the wheelchair for most ..... I mean, all the time?" I was beginning to get tongue-tied; presumably everybody believed her to be a paraplegic, not a pretender -- and I was worried I might accidentally say something wrong.
"Don't worry between the three of us" Olivia cut in "Obviously everybody else on campus assumes I'm paralysed, and the whole idea would fall flat if they knew otherwise. Only Steve here knows the truth; we're too close to hold secrets from each other. So he knows I'm a wannabe -- and I know he's a devotee."
So my guess about Steve had been right! But I was pleased to discover that he really did care deeply for Olivia in all aspects; it wasn't just a wheelchair fetish -- and I was very pleased for them both, as they obviously meshed so well with each other.

"I think it's great that you've found such a smashing boyfriend" I said "But how do you get on with the other students?"
"I've got a wonderful social life!" Olivia replied happily: "The advantage of coming up early, before term started, was that when the rest of the freshers arrived, I was in great demand as being the only girl who knew her way around and where everything was! That was an excellent ice-breaker, and now I make a point of participating in all the social events. Not only do none of them feel the least bit uncomfortable about me being disabled in a wheelchair, but some of them actually feel they can be even more open and friendly with me than they might otherwise have been"
"There's even one girl who is very interested in me and often chats, asking me what it's like to be in a wheelchair all the time; last week she even asked me if I had ever tried to use legbraces! She's also staying behind in college this weekend, and I gather her home-town boyfriend is coming to visit her. I shouldn't be the least bit surprised if she invites herself over here some time -- in which case you'll get to meet her".

What impressed me the most was how absolutely natural Olivia looked sitting in her wheelchair: animated and enthusiastic above the waist, but completely motionless below it -- and 'topped off' with a radiant smile of satisfaction and achievement on her face, which made her so attractive to all her friends.
We chatted for a little more, during which time Olivia told me that her parents were also visiting her, and would be arriving later that day.

There was a knock at the door; Steve went to move to answer it, but Olivia was already wheeling smartly over, and opened the door.
"Hi Karen!" Olivia said "I was just wondering whether you'd be over -- do come in! And you must be Walter? I'm Olivia. Let me introduce you to my boyfriend Steve, and my visiting friend....."
"Josie!" they cried out in unison.

That knocked be back for a second; I certainly wasn't expecting to bump into Karen and Walter, here of all places! But I quickly recovered from the surprise.
"Isn't it a small world!" I replied with a smile.
"You know Karen and Walter?" Olivia asked me in puzzlement.
I explained to Olivia how I had met first Walter, and then Karen, during my visits to my Aunt Emma. I also explained that I had been told on my last visit that Karen had gone away to college -- but had no idea that it would be the same one as Olivia's! But I had to be a bit more careful and be vague about details when telling Karen how I had met Olivia -- and was quite relieved to be interrupted by another knock at the door.

Again, Steve was going to answer it, but Olivia still got there first despite having to wheel herself across a now more crowded room. This time it was her parents, who were pleasantly surprised to discover that their daughter was far from lonely!
We were all introduced to each other (though of course, the Dennys already knew me). Olivia's little single room was now rather crowded: Olivia of course was in her own wheelchair, and Karen and I were sitting in the only other two seats in the room; Steve was squatting down by Olivia's side, and Walter was perched on the edge of the writing desk. Naturally, Karen and I both stood up to give Joan and Rupert Denny our seats -- and I happened to notice Karen watching me carefully as I got myself upright.

I decided to make a comment about the room getting crowded; and then said to the Dennys "Karen and I haven't seen each other recently, and so have quite a lot to chat about. It'll leave a bit more space for you if I ask Karen to show me around the Campus". The Dennys were probably glad of an opportunity to get more comfortable with just Olivia and Steve; but made a point of asking us to come back and see them again.

Karen, Walter and I made our way outside; but after only a short walk along a path, I sat down on a handy bench -- and so they did too.
"I'm not really all that interested in exploring the campus" I said to Karen: "I was more interested in an opportunity to talk to you".
I had noticed earlier that she was again wearing some leggings with a stripe down the side, just like she was when I last saw her at the Wodin Club; not literally the same pair, but much the same legbrace-lookalike style.
"When I last saw you, we planned to have another quiet meeting" I said, giving her legs a meaningful look to indicate what I was alluding to; "But we never got round to it. I know that Walter is listening in now; but do you think this would be a good time to have the conversation we meant to have?"
Karen did make the connection; she thought about it for a moment, then looked at Walter -- and then quietly replied "Yes please Josie".

"I could hardly fail to notice that you are fascinated by my legbraces, and can't keep your eyes off them" I began "Though I'm not the least bit upset or embarrassed by that. Earlier this afternoon I was asking Olivia how well she was doing socially; and among all the friends she had made, she singled you out for a special mention. She also told me - without attaching any particular significance to it - that you had asked her if she had any legbraces".
Karen's mouth was gaping slowly wider as she realised just how much I had noticed about her. She put me in mind of how I must have looked when Aunt Emma first confronted me with her observations -- I hoped I could be as gentle with Karen as Aunt Emma had been with me.
"At this point I'm going to hazard a guess" I explained "If I guess wrong, it'll be terribly embarrassing, and I'll have to spend the rest of the weekend apologising to you -- but I hope I'm right, because I think it will be helpful to you"
"Shall I go on?"

Karen nodded silently.
"It's my guess" I continued "that you were hoping that Olivia would say that she did have some legbraces, but never used them. And if that had been her answer, your next move would be to think of a way of asking her if you could see them -- and possibly borrow them, and try them on to see what they felt like"
"How close am I?"

Karen was dumbfounded. Finally, she recovered her breath. "You're not just close" she admitted "you're spot on! How on earth did you manage to follow that train of thought so accurately, right down to the last detail?"
I gave her a little smile: "Because that's almost exactly the same way I first managed to try some legbraces myself; which then led to my subsequent brace-pretending"
"You're a legbrace pretender?" Karen gasped in wide-eyed astonishment.
"Yes ..... or rather, I was" I replied with a smile.
And then I told them my full story: how after that first encounter, I had been so excited that I was determined to try again; how I had eventually got hold of a pair of legbraces for myself; and how I wore them ever more and more until I was wearing them all the time ..... and finally became committed to being a permanent wearer through need.

"That would explain why you were so laid-back about your braces!" Walter commented "Which means I don't have to feel guilty that I thought you looked so attractive in them".
"This has been wonderful for me too" Karen said "To discover that I'm not alone in my fascination with legbraces! If only I could find out if Olivia does have any that I could borrow -- do you think she has?"
"I believe she did try legbraces once" I replied carefully "but I rather think you'll find it was only on a 'trial' basis"
"But talking of Olivia" I added "I think it's time we went back, otherwise they'll think we've got lost!"

We made our way back to Olivia's room; Karen no longer had any need to be 'furtive' when observing my movements -- and I noticed she registered the fact that I preferred to use the two steps up into the entrance rather than the wheelchair ramp.

When we got back in, the Olivia said she hoped we'd had a nice time.
"We're just about to go into town to take Olivia and Steve out for dinner" her father said "I expect you'd like to join us, Josie -- and Karen and Walter could come along too?"
I was looking forward to talking to Joan and Rupert Denny again; but the way Karen had been admiring my legbraces was still on my mind.
"I'm sure your original plan was only for a quiet meal with just Olivia and Steve" I replied "And it's not fair to expect you to treat half the Campus to dinner! Not knowing my way around, I would have been grateful to tag along with you; but I'm sure Karen can show me where we can eat -- and anyway, we haven't run out of gossip yet!"

We all left the Hall together, and then split up as the Dennys moved towards their 4x4. I noticed that Steve was keen to push Olivia's wheelchair; but Olivia insisted on wheeling herself -- presumably to demonstrate to her parents how independent and self-sufficient she could be.
I waited until they were out of earshot, then turned to Karen. "I think that Walter is about to strangle me for doing him out of a chance of a free slap-up meal" I joked "Come and stand here between him and me!"
As she stood beside me, I was able to compare our heights, and guess her shoe-size.
"Is there anywhere quiet and secluded we can go?" I asked; then put an innocent look on my face, and added "I take it you would like to try on my legbraces?"

If Karen's eyes had opened any wider, they would have fallen out! "Oh Josie! Can I really? Oh yes -- I'd love to!"
"Let's go to my room; there's nobody else on my floor this weekend. My Hall of Residence isn't far away -- and we can grab a take-away pizza on the way there!"
I can usually keep up with an average walking pace; but it took all of Karen's self-control to refrain from breaking into a run!

Well..... once we got to Karen's room, there was no stopping her! And I was more than happy to help her. It was also just as well that Walter was there too: from time to time, if either of us opened our mouths, he would pop a piece of pizza in -- otherwise we were so engrossed we would never have stopped to sit down and eat!

To begin with, although - as a result of having watched me so carefully - Karen had a pretty good idea of what to do, she found the 'how' to be completely unlike anything she had expected. But she turned out to be a quick learner; which was just as well, because I could only give her verbal instructions -- I couldn't demonstrate anything while she had all my 'hardware'.
"I don't seem to be able to manage such a smooth 'swing-through' as you" she commented after a while. "You shouldn't really expect to inside a confined space" I explained; "It's only really suitable when you've got plenty of room. Where you'll only be moving a small distance, you should try to move one leg at a time -- it's only after a great deal of practice that you'll be able to do a 'short' swing like I use indoors".
"In that case" she responded "I'll have a go outside in the corridor -- there's no-one around to see me". She crutched over to the door, opened it, glanced up and down the corridor -- then started off down it. Walter had followed her, and was standing just outside watching her. He turned round to see me crawling across the floor, with my limp legs dragging uselessly behind me. "Oh I'm sorry Josie!" he burst out "Let me carry you!"
"Don't worry about that" I assured him "I've reached the doorway now. And there's no need to look so concerned -- this is my normal way of moving around indoors if I haven't got my braces on, and is perfectly adequate for me. In fact, and to let you into a secret, I hate having to be carried: that's the one thing that makes me feel like a helpless invalid -- which I refuse to be!"
"Mind you" I added, quickly wiping the frown off my face "If Karen decides to go outside the building and take a walk in the grounds, I will have to ask you to give me a piggy-back ride!"

It didn't take Karen long to get the rhythm of a fast swing-through, once she'd realised that the trick was to not keep the legs exactly together, but to allow just a tiny differential between them. Then it was back into the room to try again ..... and then she wanted to see how many different ways there were of getting into and out of a chair ..... and then she wanted to know how to get up off the floor if she fell over.....
There always seemed to be 'just one more thing' she wanted to try -- I was almost beginning to worry that I'd never get my legbraces back off her!
More to the point, it was beginning to get late; I would have to get back to Olivia's Hall by a sensible time, so that she could let me into the room I would be sleeping in. "Don't overdo things" I said to Karen "Your leg muscles aren't used to relaxing completely yet, and will instinctively fight the restraint of the bracing -- I can assure you that the last thing you want is an attack of muscle cramp whilst they're strapped rigid!"

Reluctantly, oh so reluctantly, Karen removed my legbraces and let me have them back ..... and I bade a starry-eyed Karen "Good night".

When I got back to Olivia's Hall, she was already preparing for bed; but still in her wheelchair -- she clearly intended to 'pretend' properly!
"I was beginning to wonder where you'd got to!" she commented as she let me into 'my' room. "Although I'd met Karen a couple of times before" I replied "We never had a chance to get to know each other -- and we've been discovering we have an awful lot in common to discuss" ..... which was pretty much the truth!

Olivia's parents had stayed the night in a local hotel; but instead of having breakfast there, they came over to the college early the following morning to have breakfast with Olivia, Steve and me in the Campus dining room. Rupert Denny joked to Olivia "We took you out to dinner last night; so it's your turn to treat us to breakfast this morning!" I have a suspicion that Joan Denny was just trying to make sure that Olivia fed well on Campus -- that would fit with my idea of what a devoted mother would do.

It also gave me a chance to chat with the Dennys, as we hadn't had much opportunity the previous day. I also discovered that not only were her parents quite satisfied that Olivia was getting on well - both academically and socially - in her wheelchair, but that they 'approved' of her boyfriend Steve.

After breakfast, I decided I ought to visit Karen again to say goodbye before I left. I found her in her room -- and Walter too. "So you managed to stay overnight" I said to him "But I thought each Hall had a single-sex rule?" Walter blushed slightly; and I spotted a sleeping-bag rolled up in a corner of the room. "Don't worry" I said with a grin "I'm sure nobody noticed!"
"And how are you this morning?" I asked Karen. "Still overjoyed from wearing your legbraces last night!" she replied "Thank you so much for the opportunity!"

"That's what I was going to discuss" I said: "There have been a handful of occasions when someone has shown concern for me in my legbraces, and has asked me what it feels like to wear them. In those cases, I don't mind letting them try them on themselves if they want to. Most times, they are so appalled and horrified by the restraint and 'crippling' effect, that after only a few minutes they practically wrench them off again, ashen and panting, and hoping they never develop a need for legbraces themselves"
"But your response wasn't anything like that, was it?"

"I absolutely loved it!" Karen replied with a misty-eyed look "I can't wait for another opportunity to try again. Are you sure Olivia hasn't got any? You seem to know all about her; I think she was able to walk once -- what happened to her?"
I didn't want to spoil anything for Olivia, so had to reply carefully: "I expect you've found that Olivia is quite happy to talk openly about any aspect of being in a wheelchair" I responded "But if she hasn't said anything to you about exactly how she came to be in one ..... that must mean she'd rather not talk about it. I'm sure that as long as you respect her privacy on that one detail, you'll be able to remain good friends".

"Oh well" Karen said, a little sadly "That's killed off that approach as a possible source of legbraces. I've been thinking about it on and off for quite a while, and I've heard rumours that there are places where it's possible to buy properly-made braces without any medical prescription; but I assume that must mean they'd be full-price and terribly expensive".
"We talked about it last night" Walter chipped in; "I'm due for a salary increment at the end of the month; and if the sales figures in the shop stay up, I may be due for a bonus as well. I'll willingly put all that towards a set of braces for Karen -- but I'm sure it would still be nowhere near enough".
"You really do want to get your own legbraces?" I said softly.
"More than anything else!" Karen replied fervently.

"In that case" I replied slowly "I may be able to help. Your eagle eyes have probably noticed that these legbraces are not the same ones as I was wearing when you first saw me. After all my leg muscles were ..... ummm ..... down to no function at all, I was fitted up with these new braces. I keep the old ones as a spare; but since they were only an approximate fit before, and don't give me the total support I need now, they are only 'emergency' spares. So I recently arranged to have a second set made, all to my preferred specifications -- that's the advantage of having an orthotist who's also my boyfriend!"
"Once I've got that new second set, the original old ones will become truly redundant. I was going to keep them just for old time's sake; but I'll happily let them go to a good home if you want them".

"Ohhh would you Josie?" Karen exclaimed "That would be WONDERFUL!"
"I wouldn't be able to wear them on Campus, because all my friends would know that I didn't need them; but next term, I shall probably be spending one day a week off campus -- and then I will be able to wear them!"
"When do you think they'll be ready?" she ended eagerly.
"I can't give an exact date" I replied "because the new ones aren't being done as a 'priority' job, and Jamie is doing some of the work in his own time. But I would guess they'll be ready about a couple of weeks after the end of term, when you should be back home on vacation. We'll keep in touch; and then we can arrange to all meet up at my Aunt Emma's house -- Walter knows where that is".

I was a bit embarrassed at being kissed so passionately by another girl!

In fact, the timing worked out quite well, and we arranged to meet up at Aunt Emma's on the first Saturday after Karen had got home from college. I packed my old legbraces into my car on the Friday evening, and then drove to Aunt Emma's for the Friday night.
And then Saturday morning was to be the big day!

Karen and Walter arrived soon after breakfast. Aunt Emma knew Walter from the time he had first brought me home from the mid-week Wodin Club; but this was the first time she had met Karen. Karen found herself subject to Aunt Emma's rather prim scrutiny for just a few seconds; and then she relaxed completely and made Karen very welcome. "I do enjoy meeting Josie's friends" she said with a warm smile "and I think Walter is very lucky to have such a charming girlfriend!"
Although she knew she was welcome, it took Karen quite a few minutes before she could feel completely at home -- but then, Aunt Emma does take a bit of getting used to!
Karen waited until Aunt Emma had gone into the kitchen and had closed the door behind her before looking around the room -- and immediately spotted my old legbraces where I had left them out ready.

"There they are!" she cried out excitedly "I just can hardly wait to put them on again!"
She was so bursting with eagerness that I couldn't resist teasing her: "Hold your horses! I only promised you could have them after I got my new ones -- but my tame orthotist is bringing them over, and will be here soon".
At this, Karen started to look worried: "A REAL orthotist coming? Oh dear: He surely won't approve of me 'playing' with your legbraces -- I'll have to wait until after he's gone".
"Don't worry about Jamie" I countered cheerily "He knows all about me, and is looking forward to meeting you. He'll also make sure my old braces are a satisfactory fit on you. Seeing as it's a nice day, let's go outside into the garden to wait for him -- he shouldn't be long".

The three of us went outside to wait; and indeed it wasn't long before Jamie's van drew up and parked outside the gate. Jamie opened the door and waved across to me.
Karen watched as he manhandled each of his legs in turn out of the door, pressed his thighs down to lock the knees, and eased himself out. There was an ever-growing look of horror on her face as he teetered round to reach inside for his crutches.
"You didn't tell me he was disabled!" she blurted out "I wasn't expecting this -- I can't go through with it now!"

Karen's reaction was so involuntary that she hadn't appreciated that Jamie was well within earshot and had heard every word!
He now had both his crutches, and was standing stably upright facing us. "Hello -- you must be Karen?" he called across with a winning smile "I've been looking forward to meeting my new 'client'! You're supposed to be specially pleased you're getting my services, as I know far more about wearing legbraces than my colleagues who've only read about it in textbooks. And let me promise you that I fully understand ALL the reasons why someone might 'require' braces!"
"Since you're all out here, you can help me unload the van". He handed a long cardboard carton to Walter, and gave a small shoe-box to Karen.
He reached back in and pulled out another pair of crutches, giving one each to Walter and Karen to carry. "I found these at work" he explained "but they don't seem to be on our stock inventory -- they must be free samples from the manufacturer. So I decided to 'liberate' them and bring them along, thinking they might come in handy". That was a good idea; there's a spare pair of crutches in Aunt Emma's broom cupboard -- but they've been so useful on a number of previous occasions that it would be a shame not to keep them available for the future.
Finally Jamie picked up a satchel of tools; and we all went back indoors.

We introduced Karen and Walter to Jamie properly, as they had never met before. Now that we were all together, Aunt Emma made a fuss of welcoming Jamie; she seems to be cultivating him as a future son-in-law (or ought that to be 'great-nephew-in-law'? ;-)

"I've made you all lots of sandwiches and cakes" Aunt Emma announced "but I think I'll just have to bring the plates in here and let you help yourselves; I'm sure I'll never get you all to sit down quietly at table -- you're just like little children on Christmas morning, all bursting to open your presents and play with your new toys!"
Although the comment was made generally, she was looking straight at Karen as she said that. Karen dropped her head sheepishly ..... then blushed furiously as she realised that she had been unconsciously caressing my old legbraces lying beside her!

"There's no need to look so coy!" Aunt Emma said with a smile "I can guess exactly what you're up to -- and I'm looking forward to seeing if you look as pretty in legbraces as my dear Josie does!"
Aunt Emma disappeared into the kitchen, and Karen looked at me, stunned.
"Look: I told you everything would be all right" I said "Will you please trust me?" Karen was still shaking her head in bafflement: "From now on, even if you said that black was white, I think I'd have to believe you!"

"Now let's get down to business" Jamie said "Which of my two customers is first in the queue? Strictly speaking, it should be Josie".
"Don't worry about me" I grinned "At this moment, Karen's 'need' seems to be much greater than mine!"
"Fair enough" Jamie replied "I know you're quite capable of putting them on yourself. My only concern is that the fit is perfect; I've checked all the measurements, so they should be -- unless you've gained or lost any weight since they were taken". He pulled a tape measure out of his satchel and looped it round each of my thighs in turn. "That's fine" he said "I'll let you carry on".

Then he moved over to Karen, who had already removed her shoes and was now reaching for the first of my old legbraces. "Just a moment" Jamie said "Those are still Josie's old shoes mounted on them -- are you sure her shoes are the right size for you?"
"Yes -- well, pretty close anyway" Karen replied. "Merely 'close' may not be good enough" Jamie responded "Remember that the middle two letters of 'KAFO' stand for 'ankle/foot': the shoe is supposed to become part of the overall bracing, so has to be a good fit. Look inside that shoe-box I gave you to bring in".
Karen opened the box. "These are a pair of my shoes!" she exclaimed "I remember now that Josie asked for them". "That's because I asked her to get them from you for me" Jamie explained "I've modified them with mountings so that they will fit on to the ends of the callipers. Do you know how to change shoes over?"
"No I don't" Karen admitted. "So the first thing to do is to teach you how to do that" Jamie replied -- and showed her how to take the old shoes off, and fit Karen's own ones on.
"Now they're really beginning to look like 'my' legbraces" Karen commented with a smile after they had been fitted with her own shoes.
I looked up from where I was busy changing into my new braces: "If Jamie says the fit is adequate, and you still want them -- they are your braces from now on" I called across cheerfully.

"At least I know the shoes fit, which is a good start" Jamie commented. "Now to see about the calves, knees and thighs" he added to Karen.
Karen promptly bent one leg and started to thrust a foot into a shoe. "Stop right there!" Jamie said sharply. Karen looked up in slight alarm. "Sorry -- I didn't mean to startle you" Jamie apologised "But if you really did have paralysed legs that needed braces, you wouldn't be able to move them like that. I was just wanting to point out how a 'real' brace user would put their legbraces on". "Oh -- yes, please show me" Karen replied "I really do want to do everything 'properly'."
And so Jamie lifted one of her legs into its legbrace while Karen copied his actions with her other leg.

By now, I was just finishing fastening up my new legbraces -- they were absolutely gorgeous! Just as I'd asked for, the side bars were gleaming chrome and really stood out. The leather cuffs were a lovely rich colour; they were wide enough to comfortably give me the positive support I needed -- but no wider than necessary, so that as much as possible of my legs were still visible between them. I also noticed that the bottom section of the callipers appeared to be removable, and also that the very top ends of the bars seemed to have additional fixing holes; I suspected that Jamie had made them to be capable of taking extra accessories in the future -- which sounded very exciting!

Karen now had both braces on, and Jamie seemed happy that they were a satisfactorily good fit. "I gather you're not a total beginner to this" he said "so let's see how well you can move in them". He handed her the crutches he had brought for her; then pressed down on her thighs and knees until the joints auto-locked, so she wouldn't be able to accidentally use her own knee-power to get up out of the seat -- and leant back to see how she would manage. Karen furrowed her brow in concentration as she tried to remember how to get herself standing with rigid legs; then pushed on the crutches and got upright -- not very elegantly, but she did it. "Not bad" Jamie commented encouragingly "Your technique was correct -- you just need a bit more practice to make it into a smooth movement".

She then started moving around the room, rapidly remembering her previous practice session, with Jamie monitoring her progress. He then suggested Karen tried a 'walk' outside in the garden, to get used to the difference between a level floor and uneven ground. I was moving around too, to get the 'feel' of my new braces; they were perfect -- a secure feeling of support, but no feeling of discomfort.

When Karen and Jamie returned from the garden, Aunt Emma scolded us a bit, reminding us that we'd hardly touched the sandwiches, and that the tea was getting cold -- so we tucked in!
Aunt Emma complimented Karen on her 'new look', and Karen beamed happily.
I turned to Walter, who had been sitting quietly and watching all the goings-on: "This may be a bit much for you to take in" I asked him "but what's your reaction to all this?"
"It has been quite an eye-opener -- in more ways than one!" he admitted "I still find it a bit strange that you can be so cheerful about your need to wear legbraces -- though I'm also very glad for you that you can be so happy about it. And I have to admit that Karen DOES look attractive in legbraces too -- though I'm sure it's got a lot to do with the wonderful smile on her face".
"I hope you do get to like seeing her braced" I said "because I suspect you're going to see her in legbraces quite often from now on!"

"Mind you" I continued, turning to Karen "Your next problem will be to work out when and where you can feel free to wear them".
"I'll smuggle them to back to college with me next term" she mused "although I'm sure I won't be able to wear them on Campus, because I can't think how I would ever explain them away. But as I said before, I'm changing my course slightly next term: on one or two days each week I'll be attending extra classes which are not on the main Campus, but over on the auxiliary site. Nobody knows me over that side -- so I will wear my legbraces whenever I'm off the main Campus, as no-one over there will have seen me before".

"I can find a way of taking them with me when I go back" she continued, starting to look a bit sad "But the trouble is, I don't know where I'm going to hide them until then".
"You could always keep them here" Aunt Emma suggested "The walls of this old cottage are not only good at keeping the cold out -- they're also very good at keeping secrets in! And then you - and Walter of course - can come over whenever you want to, and have some privacy to yourselves".
"Oh, thank you Miss Wilkins" Walter said "That is so kind of you".
"Could we really?" Karen added joyfully "That would be so wonderful! Especially if I could practice my legbrace and crutch walking -- I really am grateful for your offer, Miss Wilkins".

"There's another little thing" Aunt Emma said gently "I know I have to maintain my local reputation of being an intimidating old dragon -- and I'd appreciate it if you played along with my little game should we meet in the town. But here indoors, we can drop the formality, and I'd much prefer it if you treated me the same as Josie's other dear young friends. Do you think you could bring yourselves to call me something a little more 'homely' -- such as . . . . . 'Aunt Emma'?"

I felt a lovely warm glow inside: my dear Aunt had just added two more 'children' to her chosen 'adopted' family!

Josie on Campus (Part 2 of 2)

I didn't have a chance to see Karen again during her vacation, but I gathered that she and Walter made regular visits to Aunt Emma: Karen could practise with her legbraces, and Aunt Emma enjoyed their company.
In fact, I didn't get to see Aunt Emma either for a bit: Jamie was now so busy and tied up with his work in the Orthotics Department, that the only way for me to see him was to go and visit him and track him down!

Shortly after Karen returned to college the following term, I got a message from her inviting me to visit during the next half-term weekend. She was also able to arrange for me to stay on campus, much as Olivia had on my previous visit, even though fewer students would be away that weekend. I had enjoyed my previous visit, so readily accepted the invitation.

I was now more used to driving, and made good time on the journey.
I arrived, parked outside her Hall, and made my way to her room -- but she wasn't there. I looked at my watch and realised that I had arrived well ahead of schedule, so she wouldn't even be expecting me yet.
That was no problem -- I just went back out and sat on a low wall outside the front to wait.

After a little while I saw a small group of students coming along a path, laughing and joking among themselves.
But what really grabbed my attention was that the girl in the middle of the group was on crutches -- and even at a distance, I could tell that she was wearing two full-length legbraces.
I was intrigued, and felt drawn towards this mystery girl: so obviously crippled, yet so gregarious and well-liked. I wondered if Karen knew who she was; and more to the point, whether there might be a chance to be introduced to her at some time during the weekend.
The group paused at a fork in the path, and exchanged hugs. Then the rest of the party carried on across the grounds, while the legbraced girl swung confidently along the path towards the Hall.

And then I recognised her -- it was Karen!

She spotted me too: "Sorry I'm late, Josie!" she called out "Have you been waiting long?"
"Don't worry" I called back "You're not late -- it's me that's early!" I certainly hadn't expected to see her in braces; but we just chatted about my journey until we had got indoors and to her room.
"It's lovely to see you in legbraces, and looking so happy in them" I said "But I thought you said you wouldn't be able to wear them except when you were off campus?"
"That was the original idea" Karen replied "I was only going to wear them on the days I was on the other site. And then I got 'caught out' -- but as it happens, everything turned out all right".
And then she proceeded to relate what had happened.

Karen had brought her legbraces and the crutches to college at the beginning of term, and kept them hidden in her room. As all her friends knew her as being able-bodied, she could hardly suddenly appear in them, and so couldn't wear them in her usual circle of activities (though occasionally, if the desire to wear them became irresistible, she would put them on late in the evening, and sneak off somewhere out of the usual where she hoped she wouldn't be seen!)
But on one or two days a week, she went to the other site for classes, where nobody knew her from before -- and then she did wear them.

On those days, she would get up early, and dress in a short skirt or shorts. She would put on her legbraces; but tape up the release lever of the knee-hinges to keep them unlocked, so that her knees were free to allow her to walk 'normally'. Then she would pull on a pair of baggy jeans or loose jogging-pants to hide them. Her forearm crutches were telescopic-adjustable, and so could be separated into two halves -- which she put into a canvas holdall, along with whatever books she might need for the day.
And then, so disguised, the able-bodied 'Karen One' would leave her room, and walk across the campus to the main gate.

Halfway to her destination there was a convenient ladies toilet. She would pop in there, open her holdall, and remove and re-assemble her crutches. Then she could take off her jogging pants, and put them into the holdall. Finally, she removed the tape from the release levers so that the knee joints would auto-lock straight.
Then, shouldering the holdall, the crippled 'Karen Two' completed her journey to the day's classes.

All the other students at those classes had already had a whole term to develop their friendships with one another. Karen was very much the 'new girl'; and as most of the time she was either in lectures or studying alone in the library, she did not have much opportunity for socialising. She was initially perceived as being slightly shy and apprehensive; which would be natural for a student who was a latecomer to the classes -- and a disabled one at that. But they also perceived that Karen was not withdrawn or anti-social, but obviously wanted to make friends -- and they soon began to make her feel welcome.

As they were leaving a lecture one day, Hester - one of Karen's new friends - walked up alongside her. "That was a singularly 'dry' lecture" Hester commented jokingly "What say we go for a coffee and some cream cakes?"
Karen already liked Hester, and was pleased to have an opportunity to get to know her a little better. They walked over to the student cafeteria, ordered coffee, and giggled as they selected two of the most wickedly cream-filled pastries they could find. With Karen crutching along behind, Hester carried their tray over to a table for four.
"Let's put our bags on the two spare seats to reserve them" Hester suggested; "There are two other school-friends of mine from my home town here at college; but they're not in this part of the campus, so we don't see much of each other. But they're coming over today and meeting me here -- I'm sure you'd like to meet them too".

The two girls became so engrossed in demolishing their cakes and chatting away together, that Karen forgot all about the two expected visitors, until Hester suddenly looked up. "Here they are" Hester said "my two friends George and Vicky. Hi you two! Meet my new friend....."
"Karen!" they cried out in surprise.

At that point, Karen wished the ground would open up and swallow her. She already knew George and Vicky -- they were good friends of hers back on the main campus!
"But you're wearing legbraces!" George gasped.
Hester shot him a reprimanding glare: "I told you my new friend Karen wore braces" she hissed "There's no need to draw attention to them!"
"But I've never seen you in legbraces" Vicky said "Not in all the time I've known you -- and that's right up until yesterday".
Now it was Hester's turn to be confused: "But I've never seen Karen except in braces" she said "What's going on?"

Karen must have had a nagging premonition that an 'accident' such as this might occur. Her subconscious mind must have been preparing a story to explain things away -- and she now found herself trying to tell it.

"Oh dear, this is horribly embarrassing for me " she started falteringly "You see . . . . . I have weak legs, which need the support of these braces. I can manage without them for short spells -- but not for very long. I've got used to my need for legbraces; but what really got me down was when people shunned me because of them, and I felt sure that the same would happen here"
"So when I first came to college, I decided to try and do without them if at all possible, so that people would think I was normal, and accept me as being just an ordinary girl. If I was very careful, I could just about last out for most of the day; but whenever my legs gave out, I either had to shut myself away in my room, or else put my legbraces on and then keep away from my usual haunts and hope nobody would see me. It was a big struggle; but at least that way I could make and keep friends".
"But when I started coming to this part of the campus" she continued "where nobody had met me before, and where none of my existing friends would see me, I realised that I could wear my legbraces over this side, and give my poor legs a chance to recuperate for a couple of days each week. The relief at being able to wear my braces, and not having to worry about muscles hurting or my legs buckling under me, was more than enough to make up for the fact that I didn't expect anybody to make friends with me -- though I must quickly say that a number of people such as Hester have been very kind to me"
"It was all working quite well; but I feel terrible at being found out".

Karen bit her lip and lowered her head ..... and wondered whether any of them would be fooled by her story.
In fact, she had told it very convincingly; her look of apprehension - the fear of being found out - had been absolutely genuine ..... but her listeners interpreted it as a fear of being found out to be disabled, and only pretending to be able-bodied.
And they believed her implicitly!

"Oh you dear thing" Vicky said compassionately "We never knew! And that would explain why you sometimes didn't come to the disco with us: you said that the music was too loud for you -- but obviously the real reason was that your legs were too tired".
"I did once catch a glimpse of a girl on crutches" George added "I thought she looked like you; but it was late in the evening and quite dark, so I decided that it couldn't possibly be you, and that I must have been mistaken -- but now I presume it probably was you after all".
"And it would explain another thing" Hester commented "I got the impression that you seemed to be moving much more smoothly on the second of each pair of days -- and I think I can now understand why".

Emboldened by the success of her story, Karen decided to push her luck one stage further -- and burst into tears. "Oh PLEASE don't tell the others back on the main campus" she sobbed "It meant so much to me to feel part of the social life -- but I'll lose all my friends if they find out I'm really nothing but a cripple!"
"But you won't lose any friends!" Vicky reassured her "We all like you far too much for that!"
"If anyone makes any rude comments about your braces" George said sternly "they'll have me to answer to!" And considering that he was a muscular and well-built sportsman, that would have been no idle threat!

"Are you really sure?" Karen said plaintively "If only I could wear my legbraces whenever I wanted to, yet keep all my friends and still be accepted -- that would make my dream come true".
And that plea was perfectly sincere and genuine!

The following day Karen was on the auxiliary site again; but by the time she got back to her usual circle of friends on the day after that, her 'secret' had spread like wildfire!
They all made a point of welcoming her, and assuring her that her braces would not change anything. "We love you just as much as ever" they said "and we think you've been very brave. But we don't want you to strain or hurt yourself any more; you mustn't feel ashamed of your legbraces, but feel free to wear them as much as you need".
With her friends practically pleading with her to wear her legbraces, Karen certainly wasn't going to refuse!

That had enabled her to wear braces among her friends; but how was she going to explain them away to the teachers? It had been one thing to spin a harmless rôle-playing fairy-story to her friends; but Karen couldn't imagine how she could look her tutor straight in the eye, and tell such an outright fabrication.
But as it happened, she didn't have to.

To begin with, and to be consistent with her story, Karen would start each day without her braces; and then put them on sometime during the afternoon - which soon crept forward to lunchtime -- for the rest of the day.
Since the lectures were normally all in the morning, that meant that Karen attended them unbraced, just as she had done before. She also had a weekly afternoon appointment with her tutor; and made a point of leaving her legbraces off for that. So none of the academic staff should have seen her in braces.
But then came the occasion when she had put her legbraces on quite early in the morning, forgetting that there was a late lecture to attend. It was too late to change, so she went to the lecture braced -- and the lecturer noticed.
Later on that afternoon, her tutor happened to be looking out of her study window -- and spotted Karen crutching across the campus grounds.
That evening the two academics compared notes; and decided they'd better find out what was going on!

The following morning, they went round to Karen's room; but they had forgotten that Karen was due on the other site that day. Karen had already left, so they didn't find her in. Instead, they asked the other girls in the Hall - and several of her other class-mates - if they could shed any light on the subject.
Although Karen's weak legs and braces were supposed to be a secret, none of her friends perceived any shame in that -- so they told the two teachers the full story. And because those friends all believed the story to be true, they told it with far more conviction than Karen could ever have mustered.
Having heard exactly the same account (give or take a few minor embellishments) from so many independent sources, the teachers had no alternative but to assume that it must be the truth!

The following afternoon Karen was due for a tutorial, and went - as she had been going before - without her legbraces.
After she had sat down, her tutor looked across her desk at her: "Karen: shouldn't you be wearing your legbraces?" she asked softly.
Karen was not sure how to reply, and lowered her eyes.
"There's no point in trying to keep bluffing" the tutor said gently "I've now heard all about your need for braces to support your legs; I only wish you had told me earlier. Remember that I'm not just responsible for your academic progress, I'm also responsible for your moral welfare. I'm not going to be cross with you -- but you really should have declared this at the outset. I can understand that you might not have wanted your condition to be 'common knowledge'; but medical details would only have been kept in the confidential section of your student records"
"The college prides itself on its facilities for the disabled; so now we just have to catch up on a few things. Do you want a 'disabled parking' permit for your car? And are there any other special-needs facilities or equipment that would of help to you?"

On the first point, Karen did not have a car at college, so did not need a disabled parking sticker. And on the second point: "Please, I don't want to be treated specially" Karen replied "It means so much to me to learn how to cope with everyday situations in my legbraces, and to be accepted as just an ordinary student".
And of course, that was a truthful statement!
"I admire your attitude" the tutor responded "and I will respect your wishes -- just remember that the offer of assistance is still open, should you ever need it. And while you're here, I can tell you that I'm quite pleased with your progress in college so far, both in your studies and in your social integration".

"That's all I wanted to see you about this afternoon" the tutor concluded "Run along now Karen".
Karen went to get up from her seat - wondering whether she should show signs of weakness in her legs -- when the significance of her tutor's closing words dawned on her. She glanced up to see her tutor looking at her carefully, watching for her reaction. "I'm sure some of my colleagues would accuse me of using a 'Politically Incorrect' phrase just then" the tutor said, with a softening of her look "But I have the feeling that you would not have wanted me to contrive a clumsy alternative?"
Karen's responding beam of gratitude was completely genuine!

"So there we are!" Karen finished joyously "Now I can wear my legbraces as much as I want to -- and I do!"

"That's wonderful!" I replied, genuinely pleased "I remember how much anguish I went through trying to get the courage to 'come out' and wear mine in public -- I'm so glad everything has worked out so well for you!"

But then I realised I needed to be a little bit more serious.
"In your original plan" I said "You would only be wearing your legbraces for two days a week at the very most. But if you're now wearing them every day - and by the sound of things, for the best part of every day -- that does put things in a different light".
"Remember that I told you when I started wearing mine more often than not" I explained "My leg muscles started to weaken through lack of use. If your legs do start to lose their strength, you'll find yourself tempted to put on your braces ever earlier in the day for support -- and that means you'll be using your muscles even less, and your legs will get weaker still".
"I hear what you're saying" Karen replied plaintively "But it isn't so much a matter of what point in the day I feel I need the braces -- I really want to wear the legbraces. Oh Josie, can you PLEASE try to understand how I feel?"

"Oh but I do understand" I assured her "I know exactly how you feel! It's just that when I was at your stage, I had absolutely no idea that my leg muscles could become so feeble through disuse. Once the process starts to accelerate, the 'point of no return' can come far sooner than you might have anticipated, and I don't want you to be caught unawares".
"In order to guard against that" I continued "You would need to 'reverse' the way you're doing things. If you're now publicly disabled, you would need to 'secretly' do some very intensive muscle-strengthening exercises -- for at least one hour every day, if not two. It may even be a good idea to find a body-building or fitness gym that you can sneak into regularly: if you were just starting out, I'd recommend some arm exercises to strengthen them for crutching;  but I suspect you've already built up those muscles -- the ones you need to concentrate on now are your legs - your thighs and calves".

Karen looked at me pensively, and replied slowly: "Thank you for your suggestions and advice, Josie.
I'll ..... I'll think about it".

We were interrupted in our discussion by some of Karen's friends knocking on her door -- she was a very popular girl! We went back out with them to meet up with the others; including George and Vicky who had been the ones who had inadvertently triggered Karen's acceptance as a brace-wearer -- and who had been joined by Hester who had come over from the other part of the campus. I did enjoy meeting Karen's friends, and there was an additional bonus for me: Sometimes when meeting people for the first time, particularly if they have a tendency to be shy anyway, I have to spend the first couple of minutes assuring them that I'm not a delicate invalid, that I don't have any hang-ups about my legbraces, and that I just want to join in the fun. But Karen's all friends had already accepted her, and immediately accepted me without any hesitation; presumably assuming that I was 'just like Karen' -- which was pretty much true!

At one point when we were crossing the grounds, we spotted Olivia in the distance rolling along in her wheelchair with some of her friends. Our paths didn't actually converge; but we all exchanged cheery waves -- obviously they were all mutual friends.

At a later point, when Karen and I were alone again, I had an opportunity to confirm that. "It seems you're still friends with Olivia?" I asked. "Oh yes" Karen replied "We're actually closer friends now; probably because Olivia now perceives me as being disabled too, and feels we have more in common. But the trouble is, I do get twinges of conscience about that -- considering that I'm only pretending, but poor Olivia is confined to a wheelchair all the time".
Of course, I knew that Olivia was a wannabe too; but I certainly didn't want to let on about it and ruin Olivia's dream.
"I shouldn't let that get in the way of a good friendship" I advised her "I know that some handicapped people never really accept their disability, and can be quite bitter; but surely you've noticed that Olivia's outlook is nothing like that? I feel sure that you can help each other develop your respective positive attitudes".
"Thank you for that, Josie" Karen replied "I admit I do feel quite a strong bond with Olivia, and it's reassuring to hear that it could be worth developing".

"That only leaves one small worry I have now" Karen continued "Everybody on campus believes my story of 'weak legs', which is fine. But at the moment, you are the only person who knows the truth about me, and you're the only one that I can talk openly with. Occasionally I feel very 'lonely' because there is no-one I can share my secret with, which can sometimes even make it feel like a burden".
I thought about that carefully before replying. "You would want to choose your 'confidant' with care" I suggested "Someone whom you could trust absolutely; but also someone who would understand".
"If you ever find you do want to talk openly to someone" I continued "I would recommend you tell Olivia".

"Olivia?" Karen replied in astonishment "But surely she's the very LAST person I could be that honest with!"
"Don't jump to conclusions" I said "We've established that Olivia hasn't got any negative attitudes towards disability; and remember that she knows me very well, and we both get on fine together".
Karen mulled over what I had said. "Well....." she finally commented "I have to admit that up till now all your predictions and assurances about other people have turned out to be absolutely correct . . . . . the more I think about it, the more I feel that I ought to find an opportunity to have a long talk with her".

I just smiled encouragingly, but said nothing.

I also wanted to see Olivia again during this visit; and was then free to do so. She had appeared to be wheeling towards her own Hall when I had spotted her earlier, so I made my way over there to see if she was in.
She was; and welcomed me into her room. "I'm so glad you've come over" she said "When I saw you earlier, I hoped we'd have a chance to chat!"

As I went to sit down, I made a clumsy mistake: I completely misjudged the height of the chair I was about to sit in! My bottom hit the seat hard, and one crutch tip skidded across the floor, hit into one of Olivia's legs, and knocked her foot off the wheelchair's foot-rest.
"Oh I'm terribly sorry!" I blurted "I didn't mean to hit your foot!"
Olivia seemed quite unconcerned: "Have you? Oh yes -- never mind, it was only an accident" she said, as she leant forward, grasped her calf with her hands, and placed her foot back on its rest.
My mind was racing as it tried to play back the event in slow motion. The slip had been so sudden that Olivia couldn't possibly have anticipated it, so her leg should have given some sort of reflex reaction to the blow; but there had been no such response -- her foot had just flopped lifelessly off the rest!
"But you didn't even twitch" I gasped, only slowly regaining any composure "How on earth did you manage to steel yourself against flinching?"
"That's a 'trade secret'!" Olivia replied with a smile "Though you are the only person - apart from Steve - that I can tell".

"As you might have guessed" she explained "it is hard work trying to remember not to make the slightest movement of my legs, and to be permanently 'on guard' against allowing instinctive reactions. Some inadvertent movements might be explained away as 'involuntary spasms' -- but they're not really the same thing. So I wanted to find some way round that".
"I said I participate in all the college activities" Olivia continued "and there are all sorts of clubs and societies here. I started investigating Relaxation Classes and also Meditation Circles. It was the meditation techniques that turned out to be helpful. I don't know if you know anything about meditation? There are three quite different styles, and dozens of sub-divisions of each; they vary from making your mind a complete blank, to becoming ultra-alert at the other extreme. There are techniques for becoming very 'aware' of everything inside your body; though it's more usual to start by relaxing the body completely so that it doesn't 'interfere' -- and those were the techniques I concentrated on"

"I switched around, and combined techniques, until I could get my body utterly relaxed, but my mind still in full control of everything. Then I mentally 'drew a line' across my waist. The next step - and this is where it's difficult to find the words to describe it -- was to 'separate' my body into the two halves above and below the line. Then I would start the 'coming back' stage -- except that I would only wake up my upper body, and my legs were 'left behind', still fast asleep!"
"Actually, that's a slight exaggeration" Olivia admitted; "The first time I managed it, they were more in a 'light snooze', and it only took the slightest touch or movement for them to 'wake up' -- but it was a fascinating effect!"
"I persevered; and after a bit of practice, I could get my legs to stay 'asleep' for hours on end. That was wonderful: instead of having to concentrate about keeping my legs still, I could simply forget all about them! I soon got to the stage where I could 'paralyse' my legs first thing in the morning; and they'd stay that way for most of the day, or until I chose to wake them up".

"That sounds fascinating!" I commented "So you can actually turn yourself into a para before you leave your room each morning, and then return to normal after you get back each night?"
"Yes, that's my procedure" Olivia replied "Or rather, it was originally. There was an occasion towards the end of last term when I'd been out to a party. It was late when I got back, and I was tired -- and I may have had a bit too much to drink. Anyway, I just couldn't seem to focus my mind properly to go through the routine. Being a bit muzzy, I just thought 'Oh, sod it, I don't care!' and crawled into bed, dragged my legs in after me, and passed out. My body and legs must have sorted themselves out overnight, because when I woke up the following morning, I'd got my legs back"
"So from that point onwards, I never bothered to wake my legs up at the end of the day -- and I felt much more 'realistic' undressing and getting into bed as a para".

"So you now only perform the first half of the trick" I asked her "each morning after you've got up?"
"Until recently, yes" Olivia replied. "Earlier this term, there was a Monday morning when I woke up -- but my legs were still 'asleep'. I'd already been practising getting dressed as if my legs were paralysed -- though doing it 'for real' still took me longer than usual. But on the other hand, I saved the time I would otherwise have taken on the 'paralysing' routine -- and I now felt I really was doing everything 'properly', and I really enjoyed my first day as a 'full-time' para!"
"The following day when I woke up, I'd got my legs back again, so I didn't see any reason to worry. If I remember rightly, I had legs again on the Wednesday morning, paralysed on the Thursday, back again on Friday, but paralysed on Saturday. They were still asleep on Sunday morning too; but having more time to spare, I made a point of waking them up -- and then put them back to sleep".
Olivia had a big smile of triumph on her face. "I've been a continuous para for two weeks now!"

"But you can get your legs back whenever you want?" I queried.
"Yes ..... well, I think I could if I needed to" she responded. "Last Sunday we were due to have an all-day party; but then it got cancelled at the last moment. At first I was furious, because it meant I'd got nothing interesting to do that day. But then I realised that I'd been leading such a hectic social life that this was the first time in ages that I'd had a chance to just relax and do nothing! So I thought it was a good opportunity to get back to some relaxation and meditation exercises, as I was beginning to slip out of practice. Indeed, it did take me longer to get into the meditation state. I 're-connected' my legs to my body, and started the process to wake my whole body up -- but nothing happened!"
"It was as if my legs were determined to stay asleep; and if the rest of my body was connected to them, it wouldn't wake up either".

"That must have been frightening!" I exclaimed.
"Not really" Olivia replied "Remember that I was on a mental plane that is one of sharp awareness and calm, so there was no panic. So instead, I thought about it logically. Since my mind was still in full control, I decided to try to wake up 'from the inside outwards': my mind, my brain, my skull, my head, and my face. After a short time, that much was working again: I could open my eyes, and move them and look around; I could hear all right; I could move my mouth and lips and tongue -- and I think I could move my head. But from the neck down . . . . . nothing!"
"It was a fabulous experience" she continued, with a look of utter bliss on her face; "Everything looked sharper and more colourful; the background noises sounded melodious; even the faint smells in the room seemed so fragrant -- and there were no distractions from the rest of my body to interfere with that peace"
"I must have stayed in that state for at least an hour, soaking up the beauty of the experience. Then I made one half-hearted attempt to wake up my whole body; but settled for 'disconnecting' at the waist, and returning to my usual para state".

I could see that the experience had made a deep impression on her. "I suspect you will want to try it again sometime?" I asked.
"Oh yes, definitely" Olivia replied enthusiastically "And for much more than just an hour! I've been looking through the catalogues, and have come across a lovely electric power chair, with everything controlled by a suck-blow system operated by mouth, that really takes my fancy"
"But it will take a lot of organising to get everything to suit. Ideally we want to get the college to allow Steve and I to live together in shared accommodation. They claim to be 'modern' and 'free thinking', but I'm afraid they're going to dig their heels in and refuse the request. It might help if I claim Steve is my 'carer'; but even then, I'm not too optimistic. But we can still make plans!"

"The cautious part of me has realised that, for safety, I ought to have Steve around the next time I try it" Olivia continued. "I need to repeat the experiment to clear up two uncertainties. The first is that I said I only thought I could move my head; I need to be sure, to decide whether I'll need a neck-brace or a supporting head-rest on the chair"
"The second thing is that although I know I could move my lips last time, because I was on my own, I didn't think to try to say anything out loud. So I don't know whether I'd actually be able to speak -- it simply means that, if not, I won't bother looking at any fancy voice-operated gizmos"

Bits'n'pieces: Josie's new Toys

Hi again! You all know me by now: Josie the one-time legbrace-pretender who's now permanently dependent on them out of very real and total need.

But I don't let that restrict my activities; my life is very full!

So much so, that I've got disorganised in describing my adventures; and I've just realised that I've missed out some details ..... so I'd better try to catch up on some bits and pieces.

You'll remember the time I visited Olivia, and had to be rescued when I broke my crutches while I was out shopping? During the first day it became apparent that Olivia was infatuated with Pauline's wheelchair; and by the end of the day, it was pretty clear that Olivia was a wheelchair-wannabe.
That did not come as too much of a shock to me, and I could see how happy and 'natural' she felt and looked when in the chair.

But it worried me how Pauline would react; after all, Pauline had no choice in the matter, being confined to her wheelchair ever since her early teens when her lower spine had been smashed in an accident.
As I was staying with Pauline that week, I had a chance to delicately raise the subject with her.

"I don't have any problems with seeing Olivia in your wheelchair" I said carefully "But does it upset you in any way?"
Pauline thought for a moment before replying. "I think I would have been up until a few years ago" she said slowly "I was very 'sensitive' - if not downright touchy - until I'd fully accepted my paralysis. If I was still being negative about my disability, then I would feel very hurt that Olivia uses my wheelchair so lightly. Her 'playing' has meant that I've had to concentrate a bit more on taking a positive attitude -- but that's probably no bad thing".

"If someone wants to experience what it's like to be in a wheelchair" she continued "then I don't have any problem with that. Indeed, I sometimes wish that some of the so-called architects would try spending a day in a wheelchair, before declaring their latest monstrosity of a building to be 'wheelchair-friendly' -- when it's really nothing of the sort!"
"Olivia seems to actually like and enjoy the wheelchair -- does that mean I'm supposed to dislike my chair? Obviously I can't be expected to like my need for a wheelchair -- although that's not something I dwell on. But my chair gives me a wonderful degree of mobility which I wouldn't otherwise have -- and so in that sense, I DO 'like' my wheelchair".
"I know there's more to it than that" Pauline added "Olivia actually wants to be in the chair. The way I look at it, just because I don't have any choice in the matter, that's not a valid reason for begrudging Olivia that choice".

I was feeling much more relieved now that I knew Pauline did not feel hurt by Olivia's actions.
"There's a further aspect" Pauline continued "which I expect you will probably understand. It's when I meet able-bodied people who get tongue-tied when they try to talk to me, and say things like: 'Oh you poor thing -- I'm so thankful I'm not like you'. Now I'm sure they're only trying to indicate that they are showing sincere concern for me -- but that isn't the way it comes over! That's one of the few occasions nowadays when I can get a feeling of 'poor me', and think I'm somehow less than a real person"
"But when someone like Olivia does want to be like me ..... that makes me think that I must be an okay person after all, and then I feel much better about myself".
And that scenario I did understand!

I also knew that there was no need for me to feel any sense of guilt while with Pauline, as I was no longer pretending, but had been truly disabled for some time by then. But if we were to be close friends, I did not want to keep the origin of my need for braces a secret from her.
There wasn't another opportune moment during that particular week; but I did have a chance on a later occasion.

It was when Pauline and I stayed at the Carter's while visiting Tania in hospital immediately after her operation. After Mrs Carter had helped us to put each other to bed that night, we chatted for a little while before going to sleep.

"At the bottom of the stairs a few moments ago" Pauline mused "I said that my paralysis level was higher than yours. But the truth is, I don't actually know the exact extent of your paralysis -- indeed, I've been puzzling over it for a little while".
"And what sort of conclusions have you reached?" I asked conversationally.

"It can't be spinal cord injury" Pauline replied "because you still have sensation in your legs -- and in any case, I would have recognised SCI instantly. And for the same reason, I reckon it can't be spina bifida".
"I'm sure you told the Dennys" she continued "that you lost the use of your legs over the space of a year or so. That would fit with multiple sclerosis; except that it would be unusual for you to lose all your motor nerves without losing a significant amount of sensory nerves too. Of course, it might not be neurological at all, but one of the muscular dystrophies -- but it would be unusual for you to only lose leg muscle function without accompanying atrophy in your upper body and arms"
"The most likely candidate would be polio; but even then, although I can't quite put my finger on it, something doesn't ring quite true".

Pauline paused at that point. Her appraisal had been rather like one of Aunt Emma's dénouements -- and equally non-judgemental!
"Perfect logic so far" I said "Do carry on".

"I suppose it could be some unusual and rare neuropathy" Pauline murmured "but if it was very rare, that would make it the least likely explanation"
"That exhausts all the medical conditions I can think of; so I have to think of some other alternative explanation ..... such as a pretender?"
"But I've watched you without your braces" Pauline continued "and I can't imagine how anyone could 'pretend' their legs didn't work -- yours really do seem to be completely useless. If we eliminate all those possibilities, that only leaves one thing left: I've heard of the term 'Successful Wannabe', but I've never come across any definite example of one . . . . . until now, perhaps?"

Pauline was looking across at me with a soft smile on her face.
"If I'm right" she said, gently and encouragingly "I'd love to hear all about what happened".

And so I was able to tell Pauline 'all about myself'.

I also dearly wanted to 'come clean' with Tania, particularly as she had been so friendly and trusting towards me. But I also wanted to be very careful, knowing how much of a trauma she must have gone through, tragically losing first one leg and then the other.
On one of my later visits to see Neil and Tania, I had an opportunity while our little 'ménage à trois' was relaxing in our 'unadorned' states.
I told Tania how there had been nothing wrong with my legs, but that I had such a strong desire to wear legbraces -- and went on to describe how I had progressively lost the use of my legs through wearing my braces continuously, and so now wore them through need.

I stopped, and waited with some trepidation to find what her reaction would be to someone who had 'allowed' themselves to become so crippled.
Tania must have read my thoughts: she rocked her hips and buttocks to snuggle up close to me, and put her arm round my shoulder.
"We really are so alike" she said gently "You couldn't have halted the progression of your legbrace-dependency any more than I could have stopped my bone cancer" ..... and gave me a loving squeeze.

So now I'm not deceiving any of my closest friends, nor deliberately keeping any secrets from them.

We are all now so close, that if any of us have any worries troubling us, we know that we can talk to any of the others, and know that we will always be listened to with love and understanding -- it's wonderful!

But the REALLY exciting 'bits and pieces' were all the 'extras' that Jamie had brought along to go with my new legbraces that I got between my two visits to Olivia and Karen on Campus!
We had spent most of the Saturday getting Karen 'kitted out'; but Jamie was staying the night with his father, so we were together again on the Sunday -- when he showed me the accessories.

The first were a pair of foot-plate inserts, as an alternative ending to the lower callipers. "These fit inside your shoes" Jamie explained "which means that the shoes don't have to be modified in any way -- and that should let you wear a wider range of styles".
"Oooh!" I exclaimed excitedly "Does that include high heels?"
"It depends on how 'high' a heel you had in mind" Jamie replied cautiously "I'm afraid that stilettoes are still out! Remember that your shoes were an integral part of the overall bracing to support your feet and ankles -- and that must continue to be the case. The difference with these is that it's the foot-plate which is fixed to the calliper, and the shoe has to hold your foot firmly against it. It also means that the shoes will need to be about one size larger than before, in order to have room for the thickness of the plate"
"I can see one application already" I said happily "I've often wanted to get some sporty shoes with air cushioning, but I couldn't because the calliper fixing holes would puncture the air sacs -- but now I can!"

"The top ends of theses new legbraces are different too" I asked him "What else have you got for me?"
"This is a pelvic band" Jamie said, pulling out what looked like a wide leather belt with metal parts sticking downwards on each side.
When we had finished fitting it on, my brace bars became continuous from my feet to my waist, with an additional free-moving swivel at my hips.
Apart from a constraining sensation around my waist and upper hips, at first I thought they wouldn't make much difference. But then I tried rocking sideways, and found they did. "I like this!" I said to Jamie "Sometimes I feel rather unsteady if I lean sideways too much; but with these, I don't feel the slightest risk of slumping over".
"Yes, that's one of the intentional effects" Jamie explained to me "and it also prevents 'scissoring' -- it stops your legs from accidentally splaying apart. But it also makes it impossible to move a leg sideways even when you DO want to -- which can be an additional limitation when negotiating steps. Those disadvantages probably outweigh any advantages -- though you may find that they're useful on certain occasions".

"There's still one more item to go" I said, peering into the box.

"It's the next stage up from the pelvic band" Jamie explained "so you'll need to remove that first".
"This is actually an experimental one from work" he said, as I detached the pelvic band and he fetched the parts out; "We probably won't pursue this particular version, but we're still interested in feedback on it -- and I felt sure it was something you'd like to 'have a go' at".
Jamie continued to describe the orthosis as he assembled it around me. There were two semi-circular shells which clamped together around my waist, and spanned from my hips to my rib-cage just below my breasts. Again, it connected to the top ends of the bars of my legbraces; but this time, the hip-joints were much more complicated, with locking levers.

It was only when he helped me to raise myself on to my feet that I realised just how different this new device was!
My waist and lower body were now stiff and rigid: I couldn't bend or lean, or even twist. My knees had of course auto-locked when I got up; and so I was left with just one 'hinge' movement at my hips -- but no other movement anywhere else at all!
My first immediate reaction was to feel 'trapped' . . . . . and then that disquieting feeling faded, to be replaced by a comforting sense of support and security.

"So what's with these levers?" I asked.

"They're the experimental part" Jamie replied "and they can be set to four different positions: In the first position - where they are now -- the hip swivels are completely free-moving, just like the previous one"
"In the second position, the hip-joints are still free, but an indexing mechanism identifies three different angles: in a straight line, for standing; with one foot a small amount in front of the other, for crutching; or at ninety degrees for sitting".
"In the third position" he continued "it's much the same, except that the indexing spring force is much stronger: once it's clicked into the indent, it should hold that angle -- until you move the lever back to the second or first positions to release it"
"And in the fourth position, the joints are locked completely rigid".

Jamie repeated the explanation as I tried out all the combinations.
It was a weird experience to find that my body became a single rigid block from tits to toes. And to move on crutches, I had to swing my whole body like that, not just my legs. That was really difficult and hard work ..... but fascinating.
"This is kinda eerie" I commented "But I think I could get to like it!"

"That's what I have to warn you about" Jamie replied, with an unusually serious look on his face.
"On two or three occasions recently it's become apparent that your abdominal muscles are not as strong as I would have expected -- and it's not very obvious why that should be so. It can't be down to lack of use; though it might be related to 'limited' use. With your track record, if you took to wearing this body brace and stopped using those muscles, they might rapidly weaken even further. It takes quite a long time to learn how to crutch around fully-braced; I know that, because I've tried it ..... and your waist muscles might be affected by being unused for sessions that long".
"So you mustn't wear it for long periods" he cautioned "It would be all right to wear it just at the end of the day if your muscles were aching after some strenuous activities; or perhaps if you were going to be standing for a couple of hours at an open-air concert".

"But you mustn't wear it on a regular basis" he stressed.

Back at home a few days later, I tried this wondrous contraption on again.
The constraints it imposed made so many simple actions become awkward and difficult -- but that fired up my enthusiasm to take up the challenge. In fact, it didn't take very long to begin to feel 'accustomed' to this new limitation; but it became quite apparent that it would take a lot of practice to master it.
But then Jamie's cautionary words came back to me, and I thought I'd better take it off again. I moved the hip-lock levers back to free movement, and swung towards the couch to sit down to dismantle it. As I did so, it dawned on me that with the hips free-moving, it wasn't really all that different to the simple pelvic band arrangement -- and Jamie hadn't forbidden me to wear that. So perhaps it wouldn't do any harm to wear it a little bit longer providing the hip joints still allowed me to bend at the waist?

I had been wearing a leotard to make it easier to fit the body brace; so I went and got a large tee-shirt to put on over it. As I swung past the mirror in the hallway, I looked at my reflection. The body brace itself was no longer visible; but it was quite obvious that my legbraces did not stop at my thighs, but that the metalwork continued up to disappear under my tee-shirt -- I thought the overall effect looked really good!

And then a further thought crossed my mind. Even if I didn't wear the body brace at all, my waist muscles just might continue to weaken anyway. And if I left it until they'd fizzled out completely before trying the body brace again -- and then discovered that I hadn't learnt how to move in it ..... that would put me in real trouble!
I moved the levers a couple of notches, and rocked on my thighs. Two audible clicks and there was no doubt in my mind: the leg positions that the indexing mechanism deemed to be 'correct' were also the ones where I felt most comfortable.

I grabbed the shoulder-bag containing my house keys, swung the levers full down into the permanently locked position, pulled the hem of my tee-shirt down halfway over them, and set off for an afternoon around town.

Josie has a Party

Hi again! You all know me by now: Josie the one-time legbrace-pretender
who's now permanently dependent on them out of very real and total need.

Do you remember the time when Neil took me out to dinner, and we met Tony the devotee and his pretender partner Sally? He's the one that has a small hotel, where he periodically throws get-together parties for devotees and disabled friends.
Although we didn't bump into each other very much after that, we did keep in touch.

Recently Tony asked me "How are you getting on with your boyfriend Neil, the boy with the hooks?"
"We see quite a lot of each other" I replied "but Neil's just a very good and close friend; my real boyfriend is Jamie".
"I don't think I've met him" Tony said "From the look on your face when you mentioned his name, I'd guess he loves you deeply. Would he be..... ummm ..... a devotee?"
"I suppose you could call him that as well" I replied with a smile "but Jamie's actually a legbrace-wearer, just like me!"
"Then I think that Sally and I would like to meet him too!" Tony responded "As well as seeing Neil again -- is he still 'unattached'?"
"He's just got engaged to his girlfriend Tania" I replied. "This Tania:" Tony asked cautiously "I don't suppose she wears legbraces too?"
I could see that Tony was getting excited about hearing about my friends; and I was barely halfway through the list yet! "No she doesn't....." I replied, forcing a sad and disappointed expression, until his face also dropped. Then ".....She doesn't have any legs" I continued brightly "Just the two most gorgeous stumps!"
"I didn't realise you had so many so desirable friends!" Tony exclaimed "We'd love to meet them!" I could see that Tony was getting quite excited, and couldn't resist teasing him a little more. "And then there's Pauline" I said with a teasing wink "And Karen..... and Olivia....."

"Wow!" Tony said "We just must have a party! We're coming up to the quiet season, and I've been looking for an excuse to hold one of my weekends for disabled people and admirers, and pretenders and wannabes to get together! We don't really need to have an excuse, though it's always nicer if there is one. You mentioned Neil and Tania getting engaged; have they had a party to celebrate it? More to the point, how about you and Jamie -- are you getting engaged?"
"I think Jamie and I are engaged" I replied, a little uncertainly.

"You only 'think' you're engaged?" he asked in slight surprise.
"Well..... Jamie is a bit slow to get to the point" I tried to explain "The last time we were together at my Aunt Emma's, she looked him straight in the eye and demanded to know "When are you going to 'make an honest woman' out of Josie?" Jamie just said "Oh..... does that mean you'll allow me to propose to her?" "That IS what Josie and I have been waiting - with ever dwindling patience - for you to do" Aunt Emma had replied. "Oh well, in that case" Jamie said "If Josie doesn't mind..... yes, I would love to propose to her".
"So I think we're engaged" I concluded.

"That's it!" Tony said gleefully "A double engagement party: Perfect! You must invite all your friends; and I'll invite some of mine to..... ummm..... make up the numbers".
Obviously Tony would be inviting some of his devotee friends; that was fair enough -- there would be no point in turning down some additional admiring appreciation!

As you might have guessed, Tony's hotel was fully wheelchair-accessible, with all the disabled facilities you could need. Although the hotel itself was only of moderate to small size, it had a very spacious lounge -- and that was where all the activities were to take place.

Tony was very much the attentive host; and Sally was a wonderful hostess! She was also very much a participant: Tony had just bought her a new toy, which was a dual leg-spreading brace! She had deliberately spent comparatively little time beforehand in practising how to move around in it; and now she was really revelling in the weirdness and awkwardness of the constraints it imposed on her, and the difficulties in learning to 'walk' in it.

Not surprisingly, everybody was fairly minimally attired; and Jamie was wearing shorts, which showed his legbraces in all their glory. He had the opportunity to make his own braces, exactly how he liked them -- which in his case meant acres of black leather and strappings, almost completely enveloping his legs.
He then systematically undid all the straps, and removed his legbraces.
That may not sound like much; but unlike me, Jamie normally never removes his braces during the day-time -- so this was quite a big thing for him.
It was also quite a big thing for me to see him like that: He looked so handsome and manly; yet at the same time, so crippled and helpless -- it really turned me on!

Neil looked at the legbraces, and then at Jamie. "I'm always seeing you and Josie in braces" he said "and have sometimes wondered what it feels like to be wearing them. Do you mind if I try yours?"
"Be my guest!" Jamie replied.
Neil removed his shoes, and started to strap on the legbraces. I thought he was doing very well at doing up all the straps and buckles with his hooks; but after a while he started to look frustrated. "The party will be over before I can get all these straps buckled" he muttered. "That's because Jamie has a bit of a fetish about leather and straps" I explained "You only actually have to do up the first and last of each group of five!" Much relieved, Neil soon had his legs held tightly enough in the legbraces.
He contemplated his new look for a moment. "I rather think I'm a bit overdressed now" he commented; and began the shoulder contortions to shrug off his hook prostheses.
Neil briefly massaged his stumps by rubbing them together; then leant back with a satisfied smile on his face. "Right:" he said "I don't know what I'm going to do next - let alone how I'm going to do it -- but I think I'm ready to join in now!"

Tania had enticed her friend Kathy along to the party, as she had noticed that Kathy had always seemed fascinated by her legs, and even more by Neil's hooks.
Kathy had been watching Neil fitting the legbraces with rapt attention; and was now looking at the hooks he had just taken off.
She turned her eyes shyly towards him: "Neil ..... . . . . . ?"

"I thought you would!" Neil said with a cheeky grin "You've always been fascinated by my hooks, and I was sure you would want to try hook-wearing for yourself. And so you shall....."
Kathy's little face lit up with a great beam of delight.
"..... but I'm afraid you can't wear mine" Neil finished.
Poor Kathy could not prevent a great wave of disappointment flooding across her face; and then she pulled herself together. "I'm sorry, I wasn't thinking" Kathy said "I should have realised just how important your 'hands' must be to you".
"Don't worry, that's not the problem" Neil responded, cheerfully and reassuringly "It's just that the sockets are shaped to fit my stumps, but won't fit over your arms; if you just perch them on your hands and wrists, you'll never get the split-hooks to actuate properly"
"But guessing what you would want" he continued "I have brought along something specially for you, in this carrier bag".
Neil went to get up; and then realised that he couldn't. His legs were completely immobilised by Jamie's legbraces, and he had no idea how to move in them. He twisted round clumsily, and reached awkwardly behind him, to pick up a plastic carrier bag gripped between his stumps.

Obviously it would have bit a bit difficult anyway for Neil to manipulate a shiny plastic bag with no hands; but he deliberately took his time - and heightened the sense of anticipation - as he explained:
"I was the first bilateral amputee that Alan - my prosthetist - had ever fitted with hooks. He was so determined to help me as much as possible, that as soon as I had been referred to him, he got a spare pair of hooks and mounted them on holders that would fit over his own arms. That way, he could learn how to use hooks himself, and be in a much better position to teach me how to use mine when I'd got my own"
"Here are Alan's hooks" Neil finished up "and they should fit you too".

With a little assistance from Neil, Kathy soon had the harnesses over her shoulders and the 'prostheses' on her forearms. Her hands were now completely invisible, and her arms now terminated in hooks instead. With a radiant smile on her face, she bent her elbows and inspected her shiny new hooks.
Next she tried various shoulder contortions and shoulder-blade tensing to try to open them -- but nothing happened.
"You're smaller than Alan" Neil worked out "so the actuator cable from the harness is too slack -- it needs tightening"
"Hmmm, I should have thought of that earlier" Neil continued "while I still had my own hooks on. It's quite fiddly to adjust the cable; and with my legs 'paralysed' in these braces, I can't use my feet and toes. I shall just have to use my teeth".
Although his comment could have been construed as a catalogue of the most horrendous combination of disabilities and helplessness, that wasn't the way it came over at all -- his only concern was to help Kathy.
Reassured by his approach, Kathy giggled shyly "I don't mind being nibbled by a handsome boy like you!"

It didn't take long to get the hook actuators working properly; and then Neil devoted a lot of time to teaching Kathy how to perform all sorts of tasks with the hooks. I suppose that amount of attention could have given Tania grounds for feeling jealous -- but she certainly wasn't. We all knew that this would be something of a 'partner-swapping' party as well as a 'disability-swapping' party. Also, Tania and I had become aware that there were occasions when Neil felt a bit the 'odd man out' when in the company of artificial and braced legs and wheelchairs -- and felt very pleased for him that he had this opportunity to be with 'one of his own', even if Kathy was only a pretender.

Kathy was rapidly getting very proficient with the hooks. "This is so wonderful!" she exclaimed "Something I've wanted to do so much!"
Neil looked at her carefully. "Although these belong to Alan" he said "he doesn't use them these days. We now have an arrangement that, whenever he has a patient who needs a hook-instructor, he calls me in. When I asked him if I could have his 'demonstration' hooks, he gave me a bit of an odd look -- and I think he's guessed why I asked for them. But he said that, as long as they're going to be put to a good use, he doesn't mind letting them go"
"So if you like them, and want them -- you can keep them".

Kathy flung her arms around Neil and gave him a bear hug! I saw Neil's eyes and mouth involuntarily jerk open -- and then his face relaxed into a blissful smile. I remembered the very first time Neil had hugged me, and worked out what it was: It wasn't shock or embarrassment -- Neil was experiencing for the first time the literally spine-tingling thrill of being hugged by a hook-wearer, complete with the unique 'bonus' of the erotic feeling of a hook-tip digging into the small of his back!

Although Kathy had felt a little unsure of herself when she had first arrived at the party, she now saw herself as having a mission and purpose in life: to go round all the others who, for reasons of various actual or self-imposed handicaps, would need assistance with their clothes and undressing.
This meant that she had an excellent opportunity to get to know all the other people there.
It also meant that the rest of the evening was punctuated by the occasional yelp as one of her hooks slipped and pinched a tender part of someone's anatomy -- but everybody took it all in good fun!

Olivia had arrived in her mouth-operated quadriplegic's power chair, and Steve had carefully lifted her on to a sofa. As I was complimenting her on the attractive frock she was wearing, she nonchalantly crossed her legs into a more alluring pose. "You managed to get your legs back!" I exclaimed happily.
"I took some courses in self-hypnosis" Olivia explained "And in combination with the meditation techniques, I now have much more control over my ability to 'switch off' any part of by body at will. I recently decided to 'wake up' my legs for a few days, so that I could get a bit of 'tone' into them -- I like them to look nice and shapely! But I haven't got round to trying to re-learn how to walk again".
"I'm sure there'll be no problem in borrowing some crutches" I suggested.

"They wouldn't be much use to me at the moment" Olivia quietly replied.
She bent her head forward and down, gripped a bangle on her right wrist in her teeth, and lifted her arm on to the armrest of the sofa; then repeated the exercise to position her equally lifeless left arm demurely in her lap.
"That's about the extent of what I can do for myself at the moment" she said by way of explanation. "Most of the time up until now I've spent trying to be as independent and self-sufficient as possible; but this weekend's invitation is a wonderful opportunity to be totally helpless and completely reliant on the kindness of others to do absolutely everything for me".
From the look on Steve's face - and the faces of the other devotees -- she would certainly have no shortage of volunteers!

Tony had made available a whole range of 'props' and accessories; and Pauline was making good use of them! She had doubled-up her slender paralysed legs, and was now lacing some black leather stump boots over them. She wouldn't be able to 'walk' in them of course, but that wasn't the point -- they were a perfect match for the tight-laced shiny black bodice she was wearing!
"I spend all my time being 'Little Miss Squeaky-Clean'," she explained with a devilish look of glee on her face "But I've always had a secret fantasy about playing a 'Madame Whiplash' rôle!"

I wondered to myself what Tania would do to be 'different'; after all, I knew she was equally comfortable whether rolling around in her wheelchair, walking on her 'mechanical' legs, or simply 'au naturel'.
Despite her leglessness, Tania is almost infuriatingly mobile; and she was also raiding Tony's wide selection of 'props' and accessories. She found some peg-legs; wisely, she didn't try to walk in them -- but it was quite a sight to see someone propped up or sprawled out with two splayed pegs! She also found some purely cosmetic artificial legs, with no function at all, and had a brief play at being a paraplegic. In fact, she became quite a 'quick change artist', and seemed to be in a different guise every time I looked!
She also made use of her gymnastic skills: Later on the evening, quite a number of us thought we must have drunk too much, when Tania suddenly appeared, upside-down and walking on her hands, with a pumpkin face balanced on her bum, and with an under-bra which was inadequately supporting two enormous boobs which were really her stumps!

I arrived in my new legbraces, complete with the body-brace and hip-locks, and I 'paraded' around in it for a bit.
Karen had arrived in her KAFOs, and had been gazing wide-eyed at me in my 'full' kit. I hadn't intended to wear bracing for the whole time, so after all the various introductions were over, I took it off. Karen was soon by my side! "Wow! That looked fantastic!" she said "Please can I try it?" I must admit that I wasn't too surprised at the keen interest she showed; and I was perfectly happy to let her experience what it was like to be completely rigid like that.
Eager as she was, she showed great restraint and self-discipline: instead of standing up to change braces quickly, she did the whole thing sitting or lying down, carefully lifting her legs out of her own braces and into mine, and rolling her hips into the body brace. She really was paying attention to detail in pretending that her legs were useless!
At least, I assume she was pretending.
And she loved it! Of course, she didn't have much chance to learn how to move around in it, but Karen wasn't worried -- it gave her a great opportunity to be well and truly 'disabled'.
And she really did look good: from her breasts to her feet she was 'dressed' in imprisoning chrome steel -- and not much else!

Not surprisingly, Tony and Steve, and Tony's devotee friends, all had their tongues hanging out at all this!
We decided that we weren't going to put on a show for them unless they too had some form of 'handicap'.

Some of the devs had a reputation for being unable to 'keep their hands to themselves'; so we tied their hands behind their backs, so that if they wanted to do any groping, they'd have to do it tenderly with their tongues and lips!
There were some others who had a reputation for being 'Peeping Toms', lurking and hiding behind bushes with binoculars, but never making contact; so we blind-folded them, so that if they wanted to know what was going on, they'd have to find out by touch and feel!
However, we were going to let Walter off; after all, he's not really a dev -- he just loves Karen, whatever she's doing. But he was adamant that he wanted to participate properly: "I spend all week having to be impeccably well-behaved" he said "so this is my only chance of breaking out and going wild -- I'll submit to anything you want to do to me!"

Oh ..... I suppose you want to know what I got up to?

To be 'different' to usual, I decided to be in my wheelchair (which you know I hardly ever use).
I made a list in my head of all the sensual and pleasurable activities which - logically - ought to be impossible to experience in a chair: and then, having got rid of any superflous clothing that might have 'got in the way', systematically set about finding a way of achieving each of those enjoyments!

If you're expecting a graphic blow-by-blow account ..... tough!
If the various descriptions I've given so far aren't enough to trigger off your imagination -- frankly, it's about time you booked yourself into the mortuary!

I bet you wish you had been there too!

Come to think of it ..... most of Tony's friends were people I'd never met before .....
I wonder if some of you WERE there?

Go to part 4

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