Notes: I've read a lot of New Moon AUs of one type or another. Sometimes I get frustrated by what seems to be bad research -- but my mama used to say, "Put up or shut up." So I'm putting up. I should admit at the outset, I'm pretty new at this. I have no idea how long this is gonna be, or how often I'll be able to update. Patience? I do, actually, have an end-point in mind. It's not just drifting.
"Yeah, uh, I just, um, wanted to talk about my grade."
The boy raises his eyes. They're a pretty light blue, framed by long dark lashes. He offers a winning smile. In reply, Bella lifts an eyebrow. Silence stretches . . . breaks. Uncomfortable, the boy babbles to fill it. "I was wondering if, you know, you might look at my short answers and stuff again, because, well, I thought my grade . . . it was sorta harsh. I mean, this is an intro class and all." The smile deepens as he sidles in the door of her glorified-closet-cum-office. T.A.s -- teaching assistants -- can't expect much, and Bella barely has room for a desk and filing cabinet in addition to her chair.
Ignoring the undergrad's attempt at charm, Bella holds out a hand towards him and he lays his exam in her palm. Taking it and turning her back on him, she sets it on her desk and flips to the identification questions at the back, then must bite her tongue to resist snorting. "Well," she says, glancing down the series of 'answers' -- "it might be a good start if you took the 'Give two to four sentences identifying the terms' part of the instructions seriously. Two to four words doesn't equate to two to four sentences." Slamming the exam closed, she unceremoniously hands it back to him. "I think your grade is justified. If you want to contest it, see Dr. DeSanti."
He doesn't take the exam. Instead, a frown replaces the smile and he comes a little further into the office so he towers over her. "It's an intro class!" he repeats. She's not sure if he's trying to intimidate her or not.
"Yes, and? These are introductory level questions."
"I was an A-student in high school! I've never had this stuff before! It's hard! The professor expects us to remember too much!"
"Hmm. That must be why the class average was, oh, a 78 while you got a ..." she glances at the upper-right-hand corner of his test, "56. Clearly everybody else thought it was too hard, too."
Snatching the exam out of her hand, he turns on his heel and stalks out. "Bitch," she hears him mutter from the hall. For just an instant, she considers calling him back but then just sighs. Why bother? His sort is all too common -- frat boys who don't want to study for a gen-ed class they think a waste of time. They're used to trading on a pretty face for a passing grade. He'd certainly had the charm on full-bore when he'd first come to her office. But Bella Jackson neé Swan is automatically skeptical of pretty faces, has been since seventeen when she'd first discovered the earnest professions of pretty boys couldn't be relied upon. That, however, is an old chapter. She thinks of it only fleetingly these days.
It's 5:30, and her office hours are over for the day. Shutting down her laptop, she stores it in the sack on the back of her chair, then unlocks her brakes. Executing a perfect three-point turn from long practice, she wheels into the hallway, closing her door behind her. Fishing out her cell phone, she hits Speed Dial One and waits for the other person to answer as she winds her way out of the maze of Religion and Philosophy into the main building hallway. She needs to pee; or at least, her watch tells her that her body needs to pee even if she can't feel the urge.
"Hey, pretty woman," comes a tinny voice over the Bluetooth attached to her ear.
"Hey, handsome man."
"You done for the day?"
"Yup. Need to take a little bathroom break, then I'll head for the bus stop. I should be home by five."
"See you then. I'm making shrimp Szechuan stir-fry."
He knows she loves shrimp. He also knows how she hates to cook after cooking for one parent or the other for most of her young life. "You spoil me."
"You need to be spoiled, babe."
She laughs. "See you soon, sweetheart."
She cuts the connection as she approaches the women's room, then backs up her chair to the wall so she can reach the handle and perform the complicated little pull-and-spin to crack it open, caught on her wheel. Then she shoves it wide enough to zip inside. "Handicapped access" usually isn't, she's learned, and thinks any architect who designs for wheelchairs ought to spend 48 hours in one first. It might prevent stupid things like heavy doors, or sharp L-turns, or those damn industrial-strength toilet-paper rolls set so close to the floor she can't REACH them. She has to get toilet paper before she gets out of the chair. Once upon a time, things like that would've sent her into a paroxysm of rage, slamming fists against the aluminum walls and screaming. These days, she takes it in stride.
It's a complicated process but she has long practice, and her body's been trained to evacuate even if she can't feel the muscles. She pushes down on her abdomen until she hears the hiss of urine hitting the water. It's called Crede evacuation, better (to her mind) than intermittent or permanent catheterization. This is the unromantic side of paraplegia. She is a T-12/L-1 SCI. The good news is she's only a T-12/L-1 SCI. Had the break been higher, she might have to worry about more than bladder and bowel control.
Finished, she cleans herself up, then climbs back into her chair and heads out of the building. On the horizon, the sun is lowering and gold light glitters through turning leaves, the rich pinks of sugar maples and the yellow of beeches and poplar. The oaks haven't turned yet, but the Leaf Peepers will be coming soon, traveling I-75 in waves up from Atlanta, headed for Helen, or Cherokee, or Ashland, and then the Blue Ridge further north. It's lovely weather, cool enough that she's not even sweating by the time she reaches the bus stop. She has five minutes to wait and might have pulled out a book to pass the time, but the sky is too perfect a shade of quartz, and two fox squirrels are having a battle over territory. She watches as they bark and chatter and chase each other at top speed over the autumn campus lawn, empty benches, and finally up a pair of neighboring trees where they occupy opposite branches and scold each other non-stop. It makes her laugh.
The rumble and hiss of the bus arriving diverts her attention and she waves to the driver, who's opened the center disabled-access door and lowered the ramp. She rolls aboard and it lifts her up as the doors hiss closed. "Hello, Bella!" the driver calls.
"Hello, Ben," she calls back.
"Have a good day?"
"Pretty good, pretty good," he says, nodding his gray head as he pulls out into traffic. He's been driving this route since Bella and Mark first moved to town and started graduate work at the exclusive liberal arts college in northern Georgia. In larger towns, bus drivers sometimes pretended not to see disabled passengers, zooming by stops, not wanting to be bothered -- she remembers Jacksonville too well, and Atlanta was worse. But in a small town like this it's not so bad. Ben will even wait a minute or two if she's not there when he expects her to be. She's made certain to call the public transportation office and compliment him, so he stays on her route.
It's not a long trip from campus to her apartment complex, but in Dawsonville, nothing is very far from anything else. She tells Ben goodbye and heads up the sidewalk towards the complex.
She knows something is wrong before she passes the first building. In the distance, there are flashing lights and emergency sirens. Heart in throat, she rolls faster even as she tells herself she shouldn't be worried. After all, how many people live in this complex? Moreover, even if the place does cater to the disabled, there are a lot more disabled over 60 than under 30.
Yet the closer she comes to the ground-floor apartment she shares with Mark, the faster her heart beats. The sirens are too close, too close. She turns the last corner, wheels flying over the concrete. She's making little panty-squeaky noises she's barely aware of . . .
. . . and oh, God, oh, God, the ambulance and fire truck are right in front of her building, right in front of the access hall to her apartment, and she sees the uniformed, fluorescent-jacketed emergency personnel dashing to and fro coming out of her apartment.
She screams. It's an instinctive, panicked response. She stops on the sidewalk, hands to face, and screams and screams.