"What sort of deviance he might be exposed to? Oh Jesus, she actually said that?" Kim said, shaking her head. "God, I can't remember the last time I heard someone use that word. That's a good one."
"You should have stuck around downstairs. The old woman could've come up with a few more for you, I'm sure."
They sat side by side on the deck, looking out at the lake. The glow of the sunset was colouring the horizon and making the water a bottomless azure.
"And you actually called her an old bat?"
"A self-righteous, narrow-minded old bat," Kerry said. "And to tell you the truth, I think she liked it."
Kim shook her head and laughed. "Well, at least Finn can still visit."
"Yeah and hopefully we won't have to go back for tea anytime soon," Kerry said. She shifted in her wheelchair, wincing as she moved.
"Are you sore?" Kim asked.
Kerry nodded and Kim saw the toll the day had taken in her face. She got to her feet. "Need some pain pills?"
Kerry sighed and rubbed her forehead. "Yeah, I do," she said finally.
"I'll be right back," Kim said and she slipped into the house.
Kerry sat watching the oranges and golds swirling slowly together in the eastern sky. Such a beautiful place and she never would have seen it, never would have been here at all today if it hadn't been for that insane giant in the ER that night and her own incalculable bad timing. Karma, fate, destiny, whatever, here she was and it was a lovely sunset. Which would be even lovelier if she wasn't in so much pain all the time.
Inside, she heard the phone ring. She cocked an ear and could just make out the tone of Kim's voice as she greeted the caller. She laughed at little and it sounded like she knew whomever she was talking to well. Kerry's stomach dropped like a stone. Surely it couldn't be Rachel? But then, why not? She had been nice enough to lend them the place, it would only be natural to phone and check on them, make sure everything was all right.
But would Kim sound like that talking to Rachel? Laughing and sounding so familiar?
She gave her head a shake. What possible right did she have to be jealous, especially considering how she'd let Kim down when she'd needed her. As much as Kerry wanted to point fingers, she'd done her own betraying. In a way, she was no different than Rachel.
Kerry was so absorbed in her mental flagellations that she was surprised, a few minutes later, to look up to see Kim standing beside her, Kerry's pills and a glass of water in hand.
"That was Luka on the phone," Kim said and Kerry wanted to smack her forehead at her own paranoid thoughts.
"Oh," Kerry said, accepting the pain medication and the glass. She tossed the two Percocet into her mouth and sipped. "What did he want?"
"Mainly to know how you were," Kim said, "but he happened to mention that he has a couple of days off and so I invited him to drive up and spend the night tomorrow. I hope that's okay with you," Kim said tentatively.
"Sure," Kerry said and it was. In fact, she sort of looked forward to seeing him.
"You're certain you're up to it?" Kim asked.
"If I'm not, I'm sure he won't mind if I slip away for a nap or something."
"All right," Kim said. "If you're sure." She let herself be pulled back into the hypnotic draw of the waves, down on the shore. "Kerry?" she asked, after a while.
"Nice work today, with Mrs. Ryan. You did good."
Kerry shrugged and looked at the water. "It was for Finn."
Kim nodded and said nothing.
Although she was in the shade, a fine sweat had broken out on Kerry's face as she methodically raised and lowered the weights. Biceps, triceps, delts and trapezius, three sets of fifteen reps, twice a day and dammit, it was starting to feel good. It got the tension out of her neck and shoulders and it was helping her with the crutches. The main problem there was still her weak leg, but there wasn't much she could do about that except keep the muscles from atrophying any more than they all ready had.
Finn got up from the patio table where he'd been working and came up beside her, leaning against her wheelchair.
"I'm done," he said. "I did the whole page."
"Good for you," Kerry said, switching the weight to the other hand. "Let me just finish doing this set and I'll correct them."
Finn watched her for a moment, then reached down and picked up the other weight. He studied Kerry's form carefully, noting the movement of her forearm as he tried to mimic it. His wrist wobbled with the effort, but he persevered, trying to go as slowly as Kerry.
"You know, maybe I should start doing these with you," he said, straining to repeat the motion and steady his wrist at the same time. "If I got stronger, maybe the big kids at school would leave me alone."
Kerry watched him curl his bicep, saw the childish muscle underneath his skin tense and relax. "Do you get picked on, Finn?"
He let the arm holding the weight drop and he gave her a look. "I'm small for my age and I'm breathing. Of course I get picked on."
Kerry fought back the smile that came. "What do the big kids do?"
He shrugged. "They push me around, take my stuff. One time a couple of them lifted me up and hung me on a hook in the change room. They got in trouble for that. Mostly though, they just call me names."
He did another slow, methodical curl, his eyes on the weight. "Mostly they call me a sissy fag."
Kerry's eyebrows shot up and when Finn risked a glance at her face, she could see the conflict in his eyes.
"It's not like it's a bad thing, being a fag ... or, I mean, like being gay," he said. "It's just that ..."
Kerry watched him intently. "It's just that they don't mean it as a nice thing."
She nodded. She'd spent enough of the past year worrying that someone, somewhere was going to call her a dyke to understand.
"Hey," she said, suddenly, "you know how your tutor wants you to do a book report next?"
Finn's shoulder's sagged. "Yeah," he said.
"Well, I think you should go see if Kim has brought in the mail yet."
Finn gave her a puzzled look.
"Just go check," she said.
He put down the weight and jogged across the deck to the house. He was back, scarcely a minute later with a box.
"Hey, there was a package for me!" he said. "How did you know I would get a package here?"
"Because I'm the one that ordered it," Kerry said. "Hurry up, open it."
He made short order of the packing tape and soon there were white foam peanuts all over the table. He pulled half a dozen books out of the box, one by one.
Kerry wheeled herself closer as he began to inspect the titles. "Now, I got you the first two Harry Potters," Kerry said. "I haven't read them, but Kim has and she says they're great. If you like them, we can get the next two. And then there's two Hardy Boys because when I was your age, I read those and I thought they were pretty good. And these two, they're kind of older. They're the first two books of the Chronicles of Narnia. There are seven books in all, but I thought we'd start with these. My mom read them to me when I was little."
Finn looked over at her. "Really?"
Kerry nodded. "It took us almost two years to read all of them, but I loved every minute."
"What are they about?"
"They're about a magical land that girls and boys can visit sometimes and where they grow up to be kings and queens and have adventures. There's a wonderful lion in it who is very wise and powerful."
Finn listened with wide eyes. "That sounds cool."
Kerry cast a glance at the books on the table. "I think there should be a couple more in there," she said. Finn rummaged around in the packing and pulled out two more books - The Eyewitness Guide to Astronomy and A Kid's Guide to the Night Sky.
Finn's mouth fell open as he stared at the covers, then he quickly turned and threw his arms around Kerry's neck and hugged her fiercely.
"Thank you, Kerry! These are so great! All of them! Thank you so much!"
"You're welcome," Kerry said, but she had a hard time finding her voice over the lump that was forming in her throat. "I'm really glad you like them."
Finn studied each of the covers again with intense concentration, then pulled The Magician's Nephew off the table.
"Could we start now?" he asked, holding the book as if it were made of very precious material.
"Well, sure," Kerry said. "You can read it any time you like, Finn. They're yours."
"No, I mean, could you read it to me? Please? I'll do another book for my book report, maybe Harry Potter, but could you read this one to me?"
Kerry paused, struck by the look in his eyes. A look no one should have, least of all a child. Loneliness.
"I would love to read it to you," she said. "You pull your chair up with mine here and you can follow along if you want."
Finn scurried to carry out her suggestion, then snuggled up close to her wheelchair and waited while she opened the book.
"Chapter One, The Wrong Door," Kerry read. "This is a story about something that happened long ago, when your grandfather was a child. It is a very important story because it shows how all the comings and goings between our own world and the land of Narnia first began ..."
Finn leaned on the arm of Kerry's wheelchair and listened.
Kim heard a car door slam and she twisted around in her chair to peer out the window. Luka was standing beside a rented Ford Taurus, stretching his arms and back and looking around at the yard and house. Kim smiled and turned off her computer.
He had the trunk open and was unloading a box of groceries when he spotted Kim coming out the front door.
"Oh, good, I do have the right place," he said, with a grin.
"Yes you do," Kim said. "How was your drive?"
"It was wonderful," he said, pulling out an overnight bag and placing it on the gravel driveway. "Very peaceful and quiet. Unfortunately, I spoiled it by turning on one of those radio stations where they talk to people on the telephone."
"Oh," Kim said. "A little aggravating?"
He rolled his eyes theatrically. "It was like bamboo under the fingernails! I can't believe that people in this country are really that ... that ..."
"Bigoted? Racist? Republican? Am I getting close?"
"All of those things! I found myself doing sixty miles per hour through a little village that the highway went through, yelling at the radio at the top of my lungs," Luka said, getting a cooler out of the trunk. "And then I remembered that I was on a holiday and I turned the radio off."
Kim laughed. "Good choice," she said. She gestured at the collection of bags and boxes at Luka's feet. "What is all this stuff? I told you just to bring a bathing suit."
"Oh, I brought that too," he said, seriously. "These are just some other things I thought we might need. A few groceries in case you were low and also some beer." He checked items off on his fingers as he spoke. "And, in the cooler are six steaks. I went to the butcher near Abby's apartment and asked him for something really good for a barbecue."
"Wow," Kim said, picking up the box of groceries. "It looks like we're all set."
"How is Kerry today? Is it all right that I came? She won't be too tired for a visitor?"
"Are you kidding? I think she's so sick of looking at my face that if Romano dropped by, she'd invite him to stay a week."
Luka raised a skeptical eyebrow at that thought.
"Seriously," Kim said, "she's holding her own these days and I know she's looking forward to your visit."
Luka picked up the rest of his things and followed her up the driveway. "And how are you doing, Kim?" he asked.
She glanced over at him, smiled and ducked her head. "I'm doing all right, I guess. Coping fairly well with the patient."
Luka laughed. "Has her mood improved somewhat?"
Kim shrugged. "She still has her moments."
"Well then," Luka said with a big grin, "it sounds to me like she's back to her old self."
Kim laughed and nudged open the front door with her hip. "You know, you might be right."
Kim closed the door to the deck and sighed at the feeling of cool air against her skin. What an incredible luxury, she thought as she headed to the kitchen, a beach house with central air. Well, today, she was grateful for it. Even wearing nothing more than a bathing suit and a straw hat, she was slowly baking out in the sun. Of course, she had been chasing a Frisbee all over the beach, playing with Finn and Luka. And that got to be thirsty fun after a while, so she'd volunteered to go get another round of cold drinks, leaving Finn to explain the finer points of Frisbee throwing to his confused Croatian student.
Kim almost veered to Kerry's bedroom door to check on her, then at the last moment, decided against it. If she checked and Kerry was sleeping, she might wake her up. And if she checked and Kerry was awake, Kerry would tell her to stop hovering. She shook her head as she got plastic glasses out and lined them up on the counter. This was one she couldn't win and her father had always told her to choose her battles carefully. That and something about rotating her tires, but the former had really served her better, she thought.
She was pouring Finn's Kool-Aid (and what on earth was with this neon blue stuff anyway?) when she heard the crash. It could only have come from Kerry's room.
Kim sprinted around the counter and across the living room to Kerry's bedroom and burst in to find Kerry half-sprawled across the bedside table, a broken lamp on the floor beside her.
"I'm all right, I'm all right!" Kerry said before Kim could even get to her. She was still standing, her weight on her weak leg, her cast suspended inches above the floor.
"What happened?" Kim asked, quickly steadying the smaller woman. "Did you hurt yourself?"
"No, I'm fine," Kerry said. "I was trying to get up and get my crutches and I lost my balance." She nodded towards the mangled lamp. "I hope Rachel wasn't too fond of that." "Oh don't worry about that," Kim said, helping Kerry to move backwards to sit on the bed. "Hang on, I'll get your chair." Kim hurried to the living room. "You know, you still shouldn't try to get up by yourself." She returned wheeling the chair in front of her. "You could hurt yourself."
"Not to mention the furniture," Kerry said flatly.
Kim chuckled as she helped Kerry seat herself on the padded seat. "I'm serious, Ker. You should've called me or something."
Kerry sighed, in spite of herself. "Kim, you still have to help me undress and get into the tub, hell you nearly have to bathe me. You make all my meals. Every time I stand up or walk, you have to help me. I can't even pee without your help."
Kim crossed her arms and regarded Kerry with a puzzled look. "Your point?"
Kerry shook her head and sighed again. "I have no point, I suppose. Other than the fact that I feel bad being such a burden on you." She glanced at Kim's face then looked away. "Especially ..."
Kim waited. "Especially, what, Kerry?"
The front door slammed and was followed by Finn's voice. "Hey you guys, aren't you coming down to the beach?"
Kim tried to squeeze the words out of Kerry with her most intimidating look, but Kerry's grabbed the escape.
"We're in the bedroom, Finn," she called.
He appeared at the door, his face pink from the sun. "You've got to see Luka do his catching the Frisbee behind the back trick. It is awesome."
"Okay, we'll be right there," Kim said. "Your Kool-Aid is on the counter."
"And put some more sun block on, you're getting burned," Kerry added as she started to push herself out of the bedroom.
"Kerry," Kim said, and the annoyance and the reproach in her voice made Kerry stop.
"We can talk about it later," Kerry said. "I want to visit with Luka."
Kim sighed and followed her out of the room.