A Hopeless Case


I was feeling pretty ropy when we left the pub, but as I settled into the passenger seat of his car, I realized Ray had been keeping a closer watch on me than I'd thought from the way he and Grete seemed to be eyeing each other all evening. I wanted to make some sort of protest, and to tell him not to bother about me, that Murphy'd see I got home safely. But we were already out on the main road before I'd sorted the thought out from various aches and pains that kept wanting my attention. My head ached and I still felt vaguely sick, and being thoroughly selfish, I didn't want Murphy around - I wanted Ray.

Being partners for three years meant we hadn't many illusions left about each other. You can't keep up the cool, he-man bit when you both know you've come bloody close to shitting yourselves from sheer fright. Mind you, I'd tried, and so had he in his own way. The first year was often difficult while we tried to keep up the various pretenses.

But we were past that now, comfortable with each other. We could let the images slip a bit without losing respect for each other, or ourselves.

I wanted to say some of this but whatever the painkillers were they'd given me, they'd slowed me right down. When they'd agreed to let me out of hospital after twenty-four hours, I'd promised them faithfully I'd take it easy for a few days more, but both Ray and I - and probably the doctor - had known I couldn't stand to stop indoors as long as I was reasonably mobile. At least I'd been good and stayed off the alcohol since it doesn't mix well with painkillers.

Never let anyone tell you a dislocated shoulder isn't painful. I'd never passed out in my life before - the broken wrist was nothing. And that reminded me - I looked at the time.

"This bloody thing isn't even accurate," I complained disgustedly. "It's over an hour slow."

"Nah." I could hear the grin in Ray's voice even though I wasn't looking his way. "Guaranteed to a second, that is. Works on krypton or summink."

"Well, look for yourself." I held my left wrist up. "It says quarter to ten."

"That's about right."

"A quarter to ten?" I did turn my head then in spite of the agony it caused. I'd thought it was closing time when we left and I was faintly shocked at the idea of being seen going home to bed before ten o'clock.

Ray chuckled - the little bugger knows my thought processes far too well these days - but I'd seen through him. "You told me it was closing time," I said with great dignity (well, as great as I could manage over a headache that was splitting my skull in two and a shoulder that felt as though a herd of elephants had been using it for a trampoline), "so that you could dump me in my cold and lonely flat and get back to a hot 'n hungry bird."

Honestly, sometimes you could rake his laugh round your rose bushes! There were several replies I could think of to that dirty chuckle, but I hadn't decided on which one when I saw his face gazing at me through the side window and realized we'd stopped outside my place. "Must've dropped off," I said apologetically.

"Yeah. Come on, mate. We can't stay out here all night."

I eased myself out of the car as delicately as I'd handle a royal baby. I wasn't planning on going anywhere in a hurry tonight, not even bed. Slow and easy, that was the idea.

As I stood outside the door, it was brought home to me how difficult life is when you've suddenly only got one serviceable arm. The nurse had put my keys in my right-hand pocket and I couldn't for the life of me see how I was going to get them out. I didn't exactly relish the idea of asking Ray to do it, either, but I couldn't see a way out. I explained the problem.

Just as I'd known I would, I flinched as soon as his hand slid into my pocket, but I stifled whatever sound was going to come out and ended up sounding like a sparrow with a cold. I saw Ray give me a sharp and very odd look, and stared back as blandly as I could. Let him think what he bloody-well liked. He could think I fancied him for all I cared, just so long as he never found out I've got the most ticklish hip-bones this side of Watford.

He opened the door and ushered me in. I held my hand out for the keys. "I'll put 'em on your chest-of-drawers," he said, following me in. "Go on, get in before you fall down."

He was in the sitting-room before I began my protest, so I shut the door and went through after him. I made for the kitchen and a glass of water: I hate taking pills without. I thought I'd put the phial in my top pocket, but I couldn't find them until a hand come over my shoulder holding two tablets.

"You'd never get the top off tonight," Ray told me. "It'll be a day or two before you can use that right arm much, you know."

If I didn't know, I'd guessed. I poured myself a glass of water, exasperated at the number of extra moves you have to make doing things one-handed: put glass down, turn tap on, pick glass up, fill it, put it down, turn tap off, put pills in mouth, pick glass up. You get the picture. I decided to leave rinsing it until I felt stronger.

"Come on." Ray was behind me, an arm round my waist, leading me out of the kitchen and towards the bedroom. I didn't need an escort and I said so, rather forcibly.

There was a look of sheer, evil delight in those pale, pond-scum eyes when he confronted me. "How're you gonna undress then, superman?"

Since I hadn't planned on taking off more than my shoes and jacket, the problem wasn't going to arise. In any case, taking it slowly I knew I could manage on my own, if I wanted. Only, my evil genius persuaded me it might be fun to see just how far Ray would go in looking after me.

I managed a pathetic expression - not easy when you want to grin - and said, "Actually, I'm dying for a pee."

Not even mildly fazed, he said practically, "Well, you can have one as soon as we get you stripped off," and proceeded to lay his hands on the pins in my sling.

Keeping my mouth very firmly shut, I let him take my sling, jacket and shirt off. I must give him his due, he was as gentle as a mother - a damn sight more gentle than some nurses that I've known; they can be cold-hearted bitches at times, I've discovered. Even so, I was sweating by the time he'd done and though I wouldn't have admitted it even to Ray, my legs were beginning to shake.

He didn't say anything, just looked at me, brushed a finger slowly down the side of my mouth and then said, "You're wonderful Technicolor."

He was right. My right arm and shoulder were a symphony in blues and purples by now, swollen so it looked as if I was wearing a balloon under the skin. I shrugged and immediately wished I hadn't. Ray grabbed me by the waistband, steadying me.

"That was a damn-fool thing to go and do," he said shortly.


I was too busy fighting waves of sickness to notice he'd got my cords undone and half-way down my legs until he nudged at me to step out of them. I did so obediently, steadying myself with my left hand on his shoulder. When he reached for my underpants, I stopped him. "Those," I told him curtly, "I take off."

"Go on, then." He sat back on his heels, grinning and staring at my mid-section with as much anticipation as if he'd just switched on for Miss World.

It took a long time to inch them down one-handed with every muscle protesting every move, but I made it. And I made the most of it, too, wincing artistically with every twitch. By the time I'd finished, he'd stopped grinning and was frowning in sympathy. I'd've been pleased with myself if I hadn't had a lowering suspicion it had been easier to act hurt than it would have been to act normally.

Of course, I had to catch my toe as I stepped out of the bloody things. I really let out a yell of fright when I thought I was going to fall on that shoulder but - bless him - Ray was there to catch me, both arms going round my waist and holding me up.

You've no idea how wonderful it felt, being held securely by him like that, and I told him so as I hung on tightly to that mop head pressed against my stomach.

To my surprise, he looked away as he got to his feet, told me not to be a bloody fool and go and have my pee.

Feeling distinctly shaky, I went off suitably chastened, not even in a mood to protest when he followed me and leant against the door jamb, waiting. Then he took the cap off the toothpaste for me, replaced it (a nicely brought up fella, Ray Doyle) and refused my request for a shower.

"You can bathe tomorrow," he said, filling the basin and handing me my flannel. "I know you, if I let you shower, you'll get that plaster soaking wet."

I wasn't really arguing, but I splashed a little water round us as I washed to show my independence. Just as well he'd taken that white jacket off before he started the ministering angel bit. He was looking distinctly irritated by the time I'd requested him to do the places I couldn't reach with my left hand... and then made him dry them as well.

Smiling my best and most charming smile, I trotted into the bedroom, let him turn back the duvet and got into bed very, very gingerly so's not to cause even the slightest twinge.

It's amazing how impossible it can be to lie down sometimes. I swallowed hard, several times. I didn't really think I was going to throw up, but I desperately didn't want to. I didn't like to think what it would do to my shoulder and I hate to be sick in company, too. Even when I was young, I always locked my mother out of the bathroom.

I could hear Ray fussing around a bit, picking things up and so on, but he seemed to be taking an awful long time about it. I opened one eye to see why he wasn't rushing off to go back to Grete and found he was just taking off his tee-shirt. "What the hell are you doing?" I asked stupidly.

He lowered his arms, looked down at me owlishly and said kindly, "It's called undressing."

"What for?" No, I know. My brain really wasn't working that night.

"Because," he said in the bright sort of voice Joyce Grenfell used to use to talk to small children, "I'm going to bed."

If you thought I'd already qualified for stupid question of the week, you were wrong. "Here?" I asked.

"Or on the sofa," he conceded. "I don't want to make your shoulder worse."

Well, I'd slept with Ray before a couple of times, and my sofa really is too short and narrow unless you're under five feet and built like Olga Korbut. What I didn't understand was why it should suddenly be different, why I wanted Ray close with quite such intensity. Maybe I'd been more shaken up than I knew. I grunted and closed my eyes again. He knew what I meant though, and when he came back again from his shower, climbed in beside me very, very carefully. I barely had time to notice his presence before I was asleep.

When I woke up, I felt much better. So much better, it was like being a different person. You know the feeling? Sort of new-minted, fresh and ready for anything.

Ray on the other hand looked distinctly bleary-eyed. "Well, I couldn't sleep, could I?" he said protestingly. "I was terrified in case I rolled over and hurt you."

"Aaah," I said with false sympathy, propping myself up a bit on my good arm so I could see him properly. He just looked at me.

I looked back - really looked at him, I mean, seeing things I'd never noticed before like the slightly wistful look about his mouth and its clearly-defined outline. Suddenly, I wanted to touch that mouth, bend close to it...

I gulped a bit, wondering if my crazy thought had shown on my face and said the first thing that came into my head. "Why did you touch me last night?"

"Touch you?" Ray tried to look unselfconscious. "What do you mean, you bloody idiot? I undressed you."

"No - like this." I drew my left index finger down the side of his mouth.

His eyes dropped and lifted again. "You'd gone white there."

I grinned. "Kissing it better, were you?" My heart was pounding like a trip hammer, but I wouldn't ask it why.

Ray shook his head. "When I kiss you, you'll know..."

"When?" I demanded evilly.

He blinked. "If... I said if."

I shook my head. "When," I confirmed. "So - when's it going to be?"

The moment seemed to stretch - I don't suppose it was more than a few seconds, really, but our eyes had sort of got locked and we could neither of us look away.

"How about now?" I heard the words - didn't even realize I had spoken them until I was moving forwards and his head was turning to meet mine, a sort of mute agony in his eyes as they closed. I wanted to cry as our lips met, his so soft and shaking just a bit, but not quite drawing away, and yet, I wanted to laugh and sing at the same time. I still can't quite believe I had the courage to do it but, believe me, I'm glad I did. I don't regret it for an instant - not any of it.

He was very easy to kiss, so I went on doing it for a long time. He was the first to draw away.

"Don't hurt yourself," he said worriedly.

"Hurt myself?" I laughed shakily. "The ceiling could have caved in just now and I don't think I'd've noticed."

We lay back again, just looking at one another. I was still trying to let my thoughts catch up with what my body was doing but it was awfully difficult while my body kept thinking up new things it wanted to do.

Eventually, I said, "Ray, are you thinking what I'm thinking?"

He swallowed and gave me a sort of sideways look without being discouraging. "What are you thinking?"

I had to say it now. "I want you to make love to me."

I heard him catch his breath and I added quickly, "Actually, I rather desperately want to make love to you, but I've a feeling I'm not quite up to that at the moment."

He didn't laugh as I was still half afraid he would, nor did he argue or protest. He just came slowly closer to my left side, rolled over and tucked his left leg over my thigh, his knee brushing my groin.

Sensation washed through me. I was dizzy, suffocating in a breathless delight. I tried to reach out to him, moaned my frustration as my shoulder protested painfully, and his free arm went round me.

"Don't try and move. Let me do the work," he said huskily.

"Not work," I said muzzily as his mouth caught mine again, muffling the words. "Not work, pleasure," I gasped out as he let me go again minutes later. I wouldn't have believed one's mouth could taste so good when he'd just woken up. The touch of his tongue stroking at mine had sent another lance of glorious wanting through me. I jerked at my left hand, trapped underneath us and he understood, shifting up far enough to let me get it free.

"Oh, god, Ray, love me."

I've always been glad our first loving had to be gentle. We'd both been holding back on this for so long, either consciously or otherwise, flaunting our ability to pull the birds and maintain our macho image. If we hadn't been forced into taking it slowly, we might well have destroyed each other's trust in the first half-hour of letting go. As it was, we made love euphorically, his hand on my body, his own hardness pressed against my thigh and my one usable hand caressing his buttocks, fondling, encouraging.

We lay in a comfortable bundle of sweaty stickiness without talking for what felt like ages, just clinging for mutual comfort and reassurance and then I said, "Why the hell have we waited so long, Ray?"

"I wasn't sure you wanted it before," he said quietly.

"I didn't know I did." Then into the long pause I said, "Did you?"

"I've known a long time."

There was such a quietness about him I felt myself melting, a sweet aching in my chest and gut, an exquisite tenderness. I'd been so thick about this, so blind to my needs and I wanted to make it up to him somehow.

"Ray," I said, and I knew I was shaking and I didn't care, "Ray, I want to say all sorts of stupid things, idiotic, sentimental, rubbishy things. D' you want to listen?"

I felt his smile against my shoulder. "Of course."

So I said it all, all the words of love and commitment and the promises for the future that I'd been saving up all my life. I never knew they'd be given to a curly-headed, evil-minded, obnoxious, bad-tempered, sensual and wonderful little bugger like Ray. And he didn't even chuckle, just lay and held me tighter and tighter until I could hardly breathe and then he kissed me gently and said, "Me too."

I was disappointed and said so. "Is that the best you can do?"

His eyes glinted. "When my bladder's this full, yes."

But he didn't move and eventually I said uneasily, "I thought you wanted a pee."

"Getting worried are we?"

"Well, it is my bed."

"Our bed," he corrected.

You know, that was the most wonderful thing anyone had ever said to me. Shocked that I had got that deep into mushiness, I pushed him away.

"Go and have your pee and run me a bath," I said firmly. "I'm going to get up now and you'll have time to do both before I actually arrive in the bathroom. I'll need lots of looking after so I can get better quickly and make wild passionate love to you."

He slanted a crocked grin at me as he clambered out of bed. "That'll be nice," he agreed.

We didn't say much during breakfast but we looked at each other an awful lot and we both kept smiling - not at each other but at our plates, the sink, each other's back. It must have been hilarious to watch if there had been anyone privileged to see it, which there wasn't, thank god. I'm not sure I could have stopped even if Cowley himself had been there. Does love always get you like that at first?

Cowley had given Ray a couple of days off to look after me. I accused him of being over-protective but he promised me the Cow had the idea first and when I just grinned at him, he had the grace to blush and amend that to Cowley having said it first.

It was amazing how comfortable and settled it all was during those couple of days. We played Scrabble, of all things, drove out into the country and sat in the car on the South Downs just talking and reveling in being together. We neither of us thought it was going to be all plain sailing. We're neither of us that easy to live with for a start, and add that to the necessity of not making our relationship a field day for the press, and we could both see the potential for destruction.

"Cowley'll have to know," Ray said.

"Yes." I smiled a bit. "He thinks I've got initiative, but I'll bet he never thought I'd be capable of this."

"What d' you think he'll say?"

I shrugged, noted in passing that my shoulder was definitely getting better and said, "He can only chuck us out."

"Will you care?"

"Not if I've got you." Well, I know we were both a bit much but isn't everybody at first if they're honest?

On the way back, Ray stopped at his flat to collect some clean clothes, and when he got back in the car, he handed me a small, flat package.

I'd been caught before and I stared at this suspiciously. What had the evil, little sod thought up this time? "Mickey Mouse?" I hazarded. "Puff the Magic Dragon?"

He just grinned. "Open it."

It was a watch, just the same as the one I'd broken. I stared at it. "Did you buy this?"

"Yes." He knew what I was getting at. Ray likes to moan about money, but he has these crazy attacks of generosity as well.

He was smiling when he said, "I knew I was a hopeless case when I had to buy it for you to make up for the other one."

I re-wrapped it carefully. "Let's go home," I said. "I want to say thank you without getting arrested."

-- THE END --

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