Jared slumped back in his chair after Mary left to answer the door. His hand clenched the sea glass, his knuckles turning white from his grip. He couldn’t believe he had almost kissed Mary Divers, all because she had kept a bit of rock he’d given her thirty-odd years ago.
The pain must be affecting his brain. That was all there was to it. He had no business getting involved with anyone right now, not with his head screwed on crooked. He also had to figure out what was going on with Wildcat to protect Mary. She didn’t need another disappointment in her life, not after what her parents did. Kissing Mary would be a complication he didn’t need right now. Besides, since she was an active member on the Soul Believers site, she probably had someone or several someones who would be willing to kiss her.
He squirmed in his chair at the thought of someone else kissing Mary. The movement jarred his leg and escalated the pain. Mary reappeared in the doorway, drawing his attention.
“Amy is setting up in the exercise room for you. Do you think you can walk there?”
Jared gently placed the sea glass on the table and heaved himself to his feet. He reached for his cane, hung on the back of his chair. “I think I can manage.”
Mary eyed his progress toward her. “Come along, then. I’ll introduce you and leave you two alone.”
Jared followed her slowly down the hall, each step a challenge. But he made it to the room without falling, a minor victory. A tall brunette with short-cropped hair and a generous figure spread a sheet across a portable massage table.
“Amy?” Mary waited until the woman turned around. “This is Jared. Jared, this is Amy Donavan, who’s nearly a full-fledged massage therapist. I’ll be in my upstairs office if either of you need me.”
“Thanks,” Jared said as Mary squeezed past him near the doorway. She smiled up at him briefly and was gone. Jared turned around and saw Amy sizing him up, her head cocked to one side.
“Your left leg, then?” She moved briskly toward him and stopped when they were practically nose to nose.
Jared squared his shoulders and concentrated on not taking a step back, which was his first inclination. “Yes.”
“Strip down then. Underwear’s optional, but it usually gets in the way. I promise not to look,” she winked as she exited the room, pulling the door closed behind him.
Jared closed his eyes. He’d forgotten about the undressing part but his leg cried out for relief. No time to be shy now. The door popped back open before he even had time to rest his cane against the table.
“Lie on your back under the sheet, head at that end,” she pointed to the correct end of the table. “Ta, ta.”
He pulled the top sheet back before undressing. It took some maneuvering but he managed to take off his clothes and boxers fairly fast. He saw the small step stool on the side of the table and used it and his cane to climb up on the table. He was snugging the sheet up to his chin when she knocked on the door.
At his affirmative reply, she entered wearing a small tool belt with various lotions sticking out of the pockets. “Let me put on some music and we’ll begin.” She moved out of his line of sight and Jared could hear several clicking sounds as she placed a CD into a portable player.
Soft Indian music tinkled in the air. She returned to the table, snapping open a lotion bottle and oiling her hands. Jared waited for further instructions, fervently hoping this wasn’t a bad idea. He’d only had massages at the hospital and rehab centers by big strapping men with names like Ivor and Gunther. He willed his muscles to relax but tension from the night and his almost-kiss with Mary had turned his body into a surf board.
“I’m going to start with your shoulders and neck to ease some of your overall tension and then work on your leg.” She reached for the sheet and folded it down across his chest, encasing his arms underneath. “If ever something doesn’t feel comfortable or hurts too much, you let me know.”
Jared nodded as her hands, warmed from the lotion, touched his shoulders and began to press his flesh. He closed his eyes and her strong fingers kneaded knotted muscles, the pleasure and the pain warring with each other until the relief of released tension won over the slight discomfort of the massage.
His thoughts wandered back to his incomplete conversation with Mary about her birthday, the day she came to live with her Aunt Geraldine in this very house. He hadn’t known her parents well as a child. He only knew that Mary spent far more time in his kitchen than he had in hers. She was quick to push going to his house whenever possible and always wanted to play far away from her own.
The few times he could recall interacting with Mary’s mother shed no light on past events. Mrs. Divers had been pleasant but preoccupied, practically ignoring them both and shooing them outside quickly after their snack. Of Mr. Divers, he had only one encounter but had instantly grasped the impression of a hard man, one who brooked no nonsense at home or at work. He couldn’t recall now what exactly Mary’s father had done for a living, but Mary had said he worked long hours.
“Time to move on to your leg, Jared.”
He kept his eyes closed as Amy moved down the side of the table to his left leg.
“I’m going to uncover your leg now.”
A puff of colder air hit his leg as she moved the sheet off his leg, tucking it securely around his upper body and groin area. She paused as if surveying the twisted flesh. “Bullet?”
Jared was glad his eyes were already shut so he didn’t have to see the look of pity he thought he detected in her voice. “Yes.”
The bullet had torn through the muscle, ligaments, and tissue, becoming lodged next to his upper thighbone. The doctors managed to remove most of the bullet, although one or two fragments remained in the bone. Removing them would have taken too much bone with it, and the surgeons decided that would be too risky. The result left a mass of scar tissue crisscrossing his thigh. The four surgeries to fix the bone and muscles had contributed to the scarring. Two plastic surgeons recommended extensive remodeling surgery to restore the surface skin, but Jared had had enough of hospitals to last a lifetime. He declined the cosmetic surgeries, deciding to concentrate instead on relearning to use the leg.
Jared gritted his teeth as Amy’s strong fingers dug deep into the muscles on his upper thigh. As she stroked, pushed, and kneaded his leg, his fists loosened and he concentrated on relaxing his jaw. He lay hardly breathing, the tension beginning to ease around his mouth. He let his mind drift along a river of remembrance.
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Phantom Love is copyrighted and cannot be used in any form without permission from Sarah Hamaker.