In Between Shadows

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Chapter 14

The sky seemed to be turning blacker and the wind was coming up again. Edmund and Irene were going to leave straight after tea-time, but Brad persuaded them to stay for dinner, much to Sarah’s delight. Irene went to help all the ladies bath the children ready for bed, leaving the males, including the twins, in the lounge. During tea, the boys had hardly spoken, both of them busy texting on their mobile phones. Brad would normally have put a stop to that, but he appeared to be, once again, lost in his own morbid thoughts.

However, when Jamie pulled out his phone again, and started texting, instead of helping Ian and Kyle set up the Monopoly game that they were going to play, Brad eyed him irritably.

“Hey! That’s rude! Who are you chatting to?”

“Just a friend.”

“And does this friend have a name?”

Jamie swallowed, but his face became pink with embarrassment and he muttered, “Jordan.”

“Really? A boy in your class?”

When Jamie didn’t answer, Ian laughed. “No Brad. Jordan is a girl from my riding school. She and Jamie are - good friends!”

Kyle grinned. “Jamie has a girlfriend!” he teased, but Jamie gave him a look that threatened dire consequences when they were alone, so he added hastily, “She seems a nice girl.”

Brad raised his eyebrows, seeing Jamie’s awkwardness. “I see. Well, I’m sure your friend Jordan will understand that you and your brothers are about to start a game, so finish your text and put your phone away. Maybe you can see her at school tomorrow?”

“She’s not at Fairview,” Kyle said. “Jamie says she does home schooling.”

“Her father owns a car dealership just outside of Silverton,” Ian told them quietly. “Jordan started show-jumping a couple of years ago apparently, but she only started with me about a month ago. Some trouble at her previous riding school! She’s pretty good on a horse, but Jamie is the only one who has ever heard her speak.”

“She’s just quiet,” Jamie mumbled, keeping his head bowed. He had put his phone away now and was sorting the monopoly money.

Ian sighed, coming close to the wheelchair and whispering so only Brad heard. “Touchy subject.”

For a moment Brad sat watching the twins. He felt so guilty! He had hardly acknowledged them over the past few weeks, and realised that they were growing up, and away from him. Once, he had been their hero, but now they no longer came to him with their problems. It was all his own fault, of course! He rarely saw them nowadays. They no longer brought their friends over to watch movies, or play soccer or cricket on the lawns. They were too embarrassed by their silent, miserable brother!

It was very hard to stay focused on being positive, he thought. Especially when Carrie was out of his sight. She was the light in this darkness that was overwhelming him right now. She gave him the courage he needed to face up to whatever the future held. When she was with him, he could even believe that he would one day walk again!

He glanced across to where Mark, Luke and Edmund were laughing about something that Max had told them, and he realised that he had to stop this habit he had fallen into of being self-absorbed. There were many people in this world who could not walk, he told himself. And he was more fortunate than most! His blessings were actually too numerous to count. But somehow, even that realisation could not ease the ache in his heart. Only Carrie could do that, and he couldn’t even perform his husbandly duties towards her anymore! Yet, she hadn’t complained! His wonderful, darling wife!

“Feeling ok, Brad?” Max asked as he came towards the wheelchair. “You look a bit peaky.”

He shrugged. “Just a headache. Over-thinking I suppose!”

Max smiled. “More likely fretting over nothing. You do have a tendency to blame yourself for silly things, you know. Anything I can help you with?”

Brad’s eyes narrowed and he lowered his voice so only Max would hear. “How about those blue pills you once spoke about?”

For a second Max seemed confused, then his lips curled in a grin, and he shook his head. “The only remedy you need, my boy, is to stop stressing! In any case, with all your allergies you can certainly not take anything like Viagra, so get that out of your head right now! You don’t need pills, - you just need to relax.”

Brad scowled. “I need to be able to satisfy my wife!”

That made Max guffaw out so loud that everyone looked over at him, even the twins, and Brad lowered his head as he felt the flush creep to his face.

Sobering, Max said quietly, “Carrie will agree with me that you are stressed out. Have you spoken to her about how you feel?”

“Yes. She - she does agree! But how the hell am I supposed to relax if my whole body is letting me down?”

“It’s not your body. It’s your mind, your conviction. You are too convinced that you’ve lost the use of your lower limbs, and that is not true. Time to change your attitude!”

“I don’t know how!”

“Carrie will help you with that. If you’re prepared to let her.”

Brad swallowed back a lump forming in his throat. “I don’t want her to see me fail.”

“Why do you think failure is an option?” Max asked lightly. “There is nothing wrong with your legs, Brad, and God hasn’t left you. So, stop thinking in terms of failure and start telling yourself that you can walk!”

As Sarah, clad in pyjamas, chose that moment to bounce into the lounge, and run towards him, Brad said nothing else. He lifted the child onto his lap, making her giggle as he hugged her.

“I clean now, Daddy. Mommy put bubbles in.”

“Mmm, you smell lovely,” he said. “Did you come downstairs all by yourself?”

“She came down with Nanny and me,” Carrie said as she came into the lounge. “She was getting herself wet again by leaning over the bath while Julie was busy bathing Erin, so I thought it best to get her out of the way. Irene and Jess are helping Vicki with the triplets.”

“Ellen came down with you?” Max asked, looking towards the door.

Carrie smiled. “She’s gone to the kitchen to check how the dinner preparations are doing. She’ll be here soon.” She ruffled Sarah’s damp hair, and bent to give Brad a quick kiss, looking into his face. “Feeling ok, love? You look a bit flustered.”

He forced a smile. “I’m fine. Missed you.”

“Oh, Brad! I was only gone a few minutes."

“A few minutes too long!”

Their eyes met, and she cocked her head on one side, her brow furrowing. “Negative thoughts again?”

He knew he didn’t need to answer. She knew him so well! He reached for her hand, pressing her fingers against his forehead, and he closed his eyes, trying to relax.

Carrie looked up at her uncle, her frown deepening. “He feels hot. I think he might have a temperature!”

“I’m fine, Carrie,” Brad muttered, keeping her hand in his, but opening his eyes again “Just a headache starting. I can’t seem to unwind anymore when you’re not here.”

“I’ll get your meds,” Max said. “Any other aches and pains I should know about?”

Brad scowled at him. “I’m not ill. Just grumpy!”

Max grinned, and winked at him. “Probably getting a cold. You did get pretty wet yesterday.” He lifted Sarah down. “You coming with me to fetch Daddy’s medicine, chicken?”

“I not a chicken,” Sarah retorted, laughing. “Daddy got ouchie, Grandpa?”

“No sweetie, he just needs your mommy!”

She went off with Max, jabbering all the time, and Carrie took her place on Brad’s lap.

“So, tell me. What thoughts are going through that head of yours that are making you grumpy?”

He nuzzled his face into her neck. “You already know. I need you here with me to keep me positive. I can’t do this without you.”

She pursed her lips, and lifted his chin with her finger so that he was looking at her. “Have you been thinking again about those things Barbara said to you? I thought I made it clear to you that that woman didn’t know what she was talking about! Is this about what …”

“No! No Carrie. It’s nothing to do with that! I - I just don’t know if - if I’m up to what you expect from me. Max says it’s all in my head. He says there’s nothing wrong with my legs. But - but I’m not lying, Carrie. I can’t feel them anymore. Am I - delusional? Am I going crazy?”

“You are stressed out, that’s what you are! I can help you relax. Remember those breathing exercises we did when I first came here? And the massage? Maybe after dinner we can go up and try that again?”

He gave a quick smile, and whispered, close to her ear. “Of course I remember! Those massages made me - well, let’s just say that I wanted to do things to you then, of which I’m not capable right now.” He grinned, and added, “You could always send my hormones rocketing! I think I loved you from the moment Max brought you here! And I still do!”

She smiled, her eyes twinkling in mischief, and she stroked her hands through his hair. “I know. The whole estate knows too!”

“Which is exactly what I like! I’m proud of having the most beautiful woman in the world.” He paused, then said softly, “Your uncle says I can’t take Viagra because of my allergies. He says I don’t need it, but…”

“Brad!” she gasped in sudden horror. “You didn’t ask him to give you something to boost your sex- drive, did you?”

He laughed. “Well, he is my doctor!” He kissed her on her forehead. “No, I didn’t exactly ask him, my love. But he does know that I can’t get it up at the moment. He says it’s stress.”

Carrie’s cheeks had taken on a distinct pink tinge, and she glanced around the room to make sure that no one was paying them any attention. But Luke had joined Ian and the twins at the table and they were already into their game, and Mark and Edmund were deep in conversation at the far side of the lounge.

“It is stress,” she muttered. “And you don’t need Viagra! Tomorrow we’re going to start in the gym, get your legs moving. You can do this, darling!”

“I - I don’t want to let you down.”

She kissed his cheek. “You are not going to let me down. You can do it! Just like before.”

He bit his lip nervously. “Before was different. I could feel my legs. My back hurt, a lot! But at least I could feel that my legs were there. Now, it’s not my back, I wish it was! I’m - I’m scared Carrie!”

“I know, love. But we don’t have to rush anything. Uncle Max will help, so you won’t fall.”

“I’m not scared of falling. I’m scared of… Well, I’m not sure what I’m scared of. I just don’t want to let you down.”

“I am not going to be let down, Brad! Get that into your head. If it doesn’t work the first time, we’ll try again, and again, - and again! As many times as it takes.”

“What if - it doesn’t work at all - ever?”

“You’re being negative again!” She bopped him playfully on the nose. “It will work. Don’t even think that it won’t!”

Before he could argue any further, she clamped her lips on his.

He groaned as she kissed him, and his arms tightened around her waist, pulling her even closer. His tongue probed the inside of her mouth, and she could feel his heart pounding, stronger and stronger as the kiss went on. But very suddenly he pulled away, gasping, and a cry of pain escaped as he pushed her off his lap, as carefully as he was able. Her eyes widened in confusion as she saw how his face contorted, his eyes tightly closed, gulping in air, in obvious pain.

“Cramps!” he gasped. “My God! Cramps in my legs! How the hell….”

At the sound of his cry, everyone gathered around, as Carrie fell to her knees in front of the wheelchair. She pulled off his shoes, and slid her fingers under the bottom of his jeans.

“Try to relax, Brad. Is it both legs?”

He gulped, and nodded. “G-getting worse! But - I - I can’t move them.”

Mark poured some water into a glass and held it out to him. “Here, drink this. It might help. I don’t think you’re dehydrated though. Probably lack of muscle use.”

Brad gripped the arms of the wheelchair, and Edmund took the glass, holding it to Brad's lips as he took great mouthfuls of the liquid.

“We need to get him on his feet,” Carrie said quietly, as she gently massaged his calves, watching his face as she did so. “Can you help hold him up?” she asked his brothers.

She moved the foot rests of the wheelchair aside, and stood upright. Ian positioned himself on one side of him, and Mark on the other, but Brad cried out, shaking his head.

“No. I can’t!”

Carrie turned his face to look into his eyes, and her voice was stern as she said, “Come on. You know the drill. Just like in the gym! Trust me Brad.”

She hooked her arms under his armpits, and she could feel the fear mixed with pain, but she didn’t take her eyes off his. “Clasp your hands around my neck, love. It’ll be fine. Just let yourself relax. No one is going to let you fall, I promise.”

“It hurts, Carrie. My legs - hurt. But I can’t move them!”

A single tear trickled down his cheek, but he did as he was told and clasped his hands together around her neck. And as Mark and Ian held onto his elbows, she straightened up, and carefully pulled him forward onto his feet.

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