After dinner, Irene persuaded Brad to play the piano for them. He was reluctant at first, but the urging from the others convinced him that they merely wanted a casual presentation, and not a perfect recital. He played a few well-known classical and modern pieces for about half an hour.
Edmund and Irene left before it started raining again, promising that they would pop over when Christopher arrived back from Germany the next day, and once again, Brad invited them for both lunch and dinner.
“Dining here is getting to be a habit,” Irene laughed. “I’m sure Edmund is in seventh heaven when he doesn’t have to put up with my culinary mistakes!”
Edmund gave her a hug. “You don’t make mistakes, my love. Your food is perfect!”
She gazed at him lovingly, but her eyes twinkled in merriment. “Yes dear, and I suppose it’s the stove’s fault that I always seem to overcook everything?”
Brad laughed. “Well, you know that you’re always welcome here. There’s always enough food in this house to feed an army. Between chef and Nanny, we could run a restaurant.”
When they had gone, Carrie took Brad upstairs to their room and helped him with his ablutions before settling him in bed.
“I’m going to have a quick shower,” she said. “Then, we’ll get to that massage, if you still feel up to it.”
He gulped, and his breathing suddenly quickened. “I thought you’d forgotten.”
She gave a brief laugh. “It’s been quite a day for you. But you’re making progress and we haven’t even started the programme yet.”
“The plan to get your mindset right. The course of action to get you up and about again. We’ll start with the breathing exercises and the massage. You want your miracle back, don’t you?”
He lifted her hand to his lips and kissed her knuckles. “Only God can give me the miracle back. And He’s fed up with me at the moment.”
“Really? How do you know?”
He gave a sheepish grin. “Well, it feels that way. I used to think that He and I were - friends. Does that sound audacious? I know that I’m no more special in His eyes than anyone else, but He has always been there for me. Even when you ran away to Scotland. I wouldn’t have been able to cope without Him. I was convinced that I’d always be alone, but - but I could feel His Presence even then.” He sighed. “Now I don’t have that feeling anymore!”
She was silent for a moment. Brad’s relationship with God was something no one had ever been able to understand fully, and certainly no one could ever dispute that he was, in fact, a walking miracle. Or had been! She ran her fingers gently along his arm, trying to think of something encouraging to say.
He met her eyes, and he smiled. “Go and shower, love. I can’t wait for that massage! Your healing hands on my body are sure to help me relax.”
She stood under the warm water of the shower, trying not to wet her hair. It was still not long and thick enough when it was wet to hide the scars from the accident. Her whole body was scarred, she thought, but Brad had always insisted that she was the most beautiful woman alive. His obsession with her was not good, she knew, but she couldn’t help being thankful for it. Her own self esteem was given a boost whenever she was out with him, knowing that the other women vying for his attention were definitely no threat. Yet, it was a dead woman whose cruel words were stuck in her husband’s mind right now, and she wasn’t sure how to help him remove them.
After she dried off, she reached for her towelling robe on the back of the door, but smiled to herself as she left it hanging there. She brushed her teeth, and opened the bathroom door, stepping into the bedroom, completely naked.
Brad was leaning back on the pillows, his eyes closed, but when he heard the bathroom door open, he opened them, - and shot upright in the bed, as he felt the immediate stirring of an erection as he gazed at her.
A lustful groan burst from his lips. “My God, Carrie! You’re ravishing!” The words were barely audible, and he drew in his breath sharply, his heart racing.
She smiled. “Ready for your massage?”
“Not anymore,” he groaned again. “Come here. You’ve just woken up part of me that I thought had died!”
Her eyes widened, but she went towards the bed, and he reached out to grab her hips, drawing her close and allowing his lips to brush her smooth flat stomach.
“Get into bed, darling. Please!” He threw back the comforter and she fixed her eyes on his manhood, a smile on her lips.
“I told you it was a temporary condition.”
He drew her down to him, and she straddled his body, kissing his lips.
“Oh God, Carrie. I don’t know how this is going to work, but I want you so much,” he gasped.
“Relax, love,” she whispered, guiding his member inside her, closing her eyes and gasping a little herself. She wanted him just as much, but she told herself that this was going to be all for Brad.
But he had other ideas! Those magical fingers moved slowly and purposefully over the most sensitive areas of her body, drawing her closer and closer to her climax.
“I - I can’t move my legs,” he panted breathlessly, trying to thrust his hips upwards.
She lowered herself more, feeling every muscle in her body contract as she hit her climax, and within seconds she felt the rush as he pulled her even closer with his own release.
They lay for some minutes, quivering in the aftermath, her body on top of his, wrapped in his embrace, both of them breathing heavily. Then his lips found hers in a long, passionate kiss.
“I love you so much,” he moaned against her mouth. “Thank you, my beautiful darling. You are so wonderful!”
She raised her head and looked down into his eyes, smiling softly. “I think I must be the luckiest woman in the world, being the wife of a lover like you. You never see my scars. You make me feel beautiful all the time.”
“You are beautiful.” He gave a contented sigh. “I’ve been so scared that I would never be able to make love to you again, and some other guy would come and take you away from me, and I’d be stuck in that blasted wheelchair and not be able to fight him for you. But that’s never going to happen, is it? I am going to walk again!”
It was a statement that made Carrie beam in pride. “Yes, you’re going to walk again. Soon! But get it into your head that I do not want any other guy. And I never will! Is that what has been adding to your depression? ”
He didn’t answer, at first, just swallowed as he gazed into her eyes, and she kissed him again.
“Why on earth would I want another guy, when I already have someone who will move heaven and earth to make me happy? No one else could ever love me the way you do, Brad. I’m the most blessed woman alive!”
“I couldn’t even get an erection!” he groaned. “How the hell was I going to satisfy you? I - I think I was dozing while you were in the shower, and then when I opened my eyes and saw you, it - just happened! I don’t understand. It isn’t as if I didn’t want to make love to you before. And - and with my lack of sensation below my waist, I thought everything down there was dead! And then with Barbara’s words in my head all the time…”
“Are Barbara’s words more important to you than mine are?”
He looked at her in disbelief. “No! Of course not!”
“Then, let me help you to try to forget what she said! Those words were just cruel, and not even true! I married a man who preached self-esteem, not self- loathing! You are still that man, Brad. You’ve had a bad couple of months, but you’re getting better now.”
“My legs still won’t move. Even when I get cramps.”
“Lack of muscle use. We need to get you on your feet soon.” She frowned. “Have you had cramps in your legs before today? You never told me!”
“The night your uncle ranted at me for - for taking those pills, that was the first time I’ve had cramps. You - you weren’t there, and I didn’t know what to do! It hurt like hell. But I still had no feeling when the pain finally went away.”
“Oh gosh! I wish I’d come in when I heard you scream. I’m so sorry, love.”
He gave a gentle smile, and kissed her lips softly. “I hate it when I scream. That’s not very manly, is it? Even the blasted nightmares make me scream like a girl, and they don’t even hurt! I’m such a wimp!”
Carrie gave a short laugh, and ran her fingers down his cheek. “You’re no wimp. And I’ve told you that if you tell me what the nightmares are about, I can help you realise they’re not real.”
“Too embarrassing to tell you about! And I already know they’re not real. It’s just memories!”
Something in his voice made her look deep into his eyes curiously. “Something to do with Barbara?”
His arms tightened around her, but he didn’t answer.
She smiled. “You do understand that she’s not a threat to our marriage? Don’t ever be afraid - or embarrassed - to tell me about the things she said, or the things you did with her. She’s dead, Brad!”
“I know. And the nightmares I’m having lately are nothing to do with her, per se! It’s - it’s my own memories that scare me!”
“Do you want to talk about it? I’m not pushing you, Brad. I just think it might help to get someone else’s perspective on it. If not me, then maybe Uncle Max, or even Nanny, - or Mark!”
He gasped. “Hell no! It’s not something I could ever tell Nanny or Mark!”
“No! He - he’d laugh!”
Carrie’s eyes widened. “Your dream makes you scream, but you think Uncle Max would laugh?”
His face became pink with discomfiture. “It’s - awkward. It - happened so long ago.”
“Something funny, but scary? Gosh, now I’m intrigued.”
He bit his lip. “You - you might laugh too! But - but it wasn’t funny at the time! It’s only now when I can’t - couldn’t - ” he swallowed. “I don’t know, Carrie. It was humiliating enough then, and now - now I’m even having nightmares that could be caused by it, in a way.”
She frowned. “I have psychological training, Brad. I would never laugh at your nightmares! But I won’t push you if you don’t want to talk about it. I need to get my pyjamas on.”
She rolled off him and headed for the bathroom, leaving him lost in thought. Carrie had asked him to tell her about the nightmares before, and he had always refused. But that was when he had been afraid that he would never make love to her again. He had told himself that she would ridicule him, but now he regretted his fear. This was Carrie, loving, gentle Carrie. Why had he not trusted her? Why had he been so terrified of her scorn? Maybe if he had told her, she could have helped him, saved him from the shame of those nightmares that had left him shaking and degraded.
She came out of the bathroom, smiling as she donned her warm pyjamas. “Still feel like a massage, darling? It might help to relax you, help you to sleep.”
“I’m sure of it,” he muttered. “Sounds glorious. But aren’t you tired? And - and I think I need a trip to the bathroom too.”
He pulled himself into a sitting position, and Carrie helped him lift his legs out of the bed. But she stepped back and watched as he transferred himself into the wheelchair, making no effort to intervene. He didn’t use his legs at all, relying on the strength in his arms to lift his body from the bed into the chair. She pushed him through into the bathroom, and left him there, going back to straighten the bed, and when he came out, she made sure the wheelchair was close to the bedside and the brake was secured.
“Let me pull you up onto your feet, and swing you around onto the bed. I want to see if you can do it.”
His eyes widened, and he stiffened, but after a moment he nodded. “Ok. I’ll try.”
They had done this before, many times, when he had been learning to walk again after his spinal ops, so he knew exactly how it worked. She hooked her arms under his armpits, pulled him to his feet, and swung him around, and he sat down on the edge of the bed. This time there was no pain in his lower back to hinder the movement, and he suddenly grabbed her by the hips and pulled her close to him.
“It’s going to work, Carrie. I can feel it! I’m going to walk again!”