Why does he voices? It's the beginning of the end, and if Aidan doesn't figure out his destiny soon, the world will pay the price.
He hadn’t slept. Voices in his head warned him to be ready. Soon the Guardian would be needed. The dreams had gotten more frequent since he’d lost his eyesight.
The sound of the doorbell interrupted his thoughts.
It seemed louder to him now, as did all sounds. Darkness surrounded Aidan Campbell like a shroud. He still hadn’t come to terms with it.
There wasn’t just one kind. No, he had the worst of the two. Dry Macular Degeneration.
The doorbell rang again. He didn’t want visitors. Street noises filtered in through the window, idiots running here and there, in a hurry to get nowhere. Never one to be in a big rush, Aidan sat perfectly still, hoping whoever it was would go away. He heard a soft rustling then a timid knock.
“Mr. Campbell, are you there?”
Aidan turned his head to the right, tuning in a female voice with the hint of a southern accent. She cleared her throat and knocked a little stronger this time.
“Aidan Campbell, I’m your visiting nurse.”
He frowned. “Why doesn’t she announce it to the world?” he mumbled and rose from his favorite chair by the window.
Another ring and two more knocks followed. He cursed under his breath when he tripped over a stack of magazines or newspapers, he wasn’t sure which.
“Dammit, woman, I’m blind, not deaf!”
Frozen with her hand in mid air getting ready to knock again, Lily Portell’s wide-eyed astonishment was hers alone when the door swung open. There stood six-foot-two inches of classical-boned man, with dark hair, a surly scowl and the most beautiful blue eyes she’d ever seen—her next appointment. Breathing deep, she recovered. “Aidan Campbell?”
“So it seems,” he replied dryly.
“I’m sorry, I heard you stumble. I didn’t mean to make you hurry.”
“I stumble often these days. What is it you want?”
“Oh, I’m sorry.”
“You keep saying that. What is it exactly you’re sorry for anyway?”
At first, Lily didn’t know how to answer. She cleared her throat and glared at the striking man as he leaned his shoulder against the doorjamb.
”Uh, I’m with the home health agency. I’m here to check on your progress and discuss how you’re coping.”
He straightened. “Lady, how do you think I’m coping? One day my doctor informs me my eyesight is diminishing, gradually. Two months ago, I open my eyes, and all I see is black. Black!” he growled.
“Mr. Campbell, I—”
“Go away. I don’t need you here.”
He turned to slam the door, but it didn’t catch and bounced open. Lily caught it and walked into the foyer before gently closing it behind her. Aidan moved away from her, down a small hallway, which led to the kitchen. Carrying her black bag, Lily followed. He mumbled something she couldn’t make out.
She stared, amazed at the magnificent paintings that lined the soft green walls. Light spilled into a huge breakfast area off the kitchen. Both rooms were extremely bright, and bold colors jumped out at her when she stepped onto the wood floor. “Oh, my.”
Aidan, who’d been fumbling in an effort to make some coffee, halted. The woman’s breathless whisper was like a trumpet to his ears. “Didn’t I tell you to go away?” He heard her feet shuffle.
“Yes, but I didn’t think you really meant it. I have a job to do.”
“Go do it somewhere else.”
Aidan heard the exasperation in her voice. His temper rose a notch. “I don’t need your pity. I don’t want you here. Leave!”
“If you would quit grumbling and being rude, you’d notice that I have no pity for you.” Her voice stronger now, more in control.
He dropped the coffee pot in the sink and moved around the corner of the island toward the French doors that led outside.
“I’ve one more stop to make after this, and I’d like to be home by six, so I can spend time with Rocky. If you will sit down, I’ll take your vitals, ask you a few questions, and be on my way.”
Lily stood with her arms crossing her chest, not believing how she’d just spoken to this patient. He had reason to be upset. She was a fool to think she could go from being a trauma nurse at Los Angeles Community Hospital, to a quiet country-style setting without there being a few rough edges to smooth out.
Campbell had his hands in the back pocket of his jeans. She couldn’t help but notice how snugly they fit him in all the right places. The indigo shirt he wore pulled taut across his chest, highlighting well-toned ribcage and lean abs.
Lord, she was tired, and sizing this guy up, literally.
She shook her head. “Mr. Campbell?”
He cocked his head to one side pinpointing her location, she guessed. Lily slid a barstool away from the island and opened her bag. It took several seconds, but he slowly worked his way over to the stool, lightly touching it with his fingers before he sat down.
Her breast brushed against his shoulder when she twisted around to get the blood pressure cuff off the counter. A jolt tore through her body. Her head swung in his direction, but he just sat there calmly, frowning.
Something had happened and he wasn’t quite sure what to think. Unsettled though he was by her appearance on his doorstep, he found it hard to threaten her to leave. He’d done all he could but she refused to be intimidated by his shit. A soft buzzing on the edge of his consciousness distracted him. For the first time in weeks, he saw color—her color. The shade shifted from goldenrod to apricot and back. Only his imagination he thought. A phantom condition similar to what amputees go through months after having a limb amputated. And was that a soft breast that bumped his arm? That brief contact livened up feelings and sensations he’d not had in a long time.
She smelled wonderful. Not only had his sense of hearing heightened, but all the others as well. Coffee smelled better now and the flowers that bloomed outside his bedroom window woke him in the morning with their sweet scent. What would she feel like? Was her skin soft and smooth? If he nuzzled her neck, would she purr? Would she taste tart or like honey?
“What’s your name?”
“Where is your next appointment?”
“And how far from there to home?”
“You won’t make it by six.”
Curious, Lily glanced at Aidan’s wrist to find no watch. She scanned the room and found no ticking clock. “How do you know I won’t make it?”
“Because it’s after five already.”
Again, she looked around but saw nothing that would give him the time. Her own watch showed five-twenty. “How did you know?”
“Excuse me, the sun?”
“Yes,” he replied calmly.
“Would you care to elaborate?” She finished taking his blood pressure and wrote down the results interested in what he had to say.
“I know because of the position of the sun shining through the window.”
Still not totally understanding, Lily glared at the Palladian windows for a moment then stuck her tympanic thermometer in his ear for a temperature. “The sun,” she chuckled finally understanding.
“It is the ancient way of telling time,” he commented wryly. “You know, before there were clocks or watches.”
Lily took a closer look at the kitchen. She had to admit Aidan Campbell had good taste. From what little she’d seen of his home so far, she determined him to be sophisticated, intelligent and somewhat arrogant.
“I’m going to take your pulse.” She laid her fingers against his wrist, noting the jump in his pulse. His breaths came more rapidly. He stared straight and when her leg skimmed his thigh, he flinched.
Curious, his thigh, like the rest of him, felt rock hard. Lily couldn’t quite figure out the exact color of his sightless eyes. A blue, definitely, but the shade shifted, an odd flowing color, ancient.
The paintings on each wall drew her attention. They were incredible depictions of landscapes, people, places and things.
While she marked more information on his chart, Beethoven’s Fifth blew out of her purse in short bursts.
“Hello? Yes, Lisa, I’m almost finished here then I’ll go by and see Mrs. Peters. It did? Great. Okay, tomorrow then, good night.”
Lily tossed her cell phone back in her purse before noticing the lopsided smile on Aidan’s face. “You’re smiling.”
She shifted her position to look at him. “Just because I wear mismatched earrings, a ponytail, and have a tattoo, doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate culture, Mr. Campbell.”
He seemed stunned. Lily Portell gave as good as she got. Of course, she’d forgotten that he couldn’t see what she looked like. “I’m done with the vitals. Would you like to stay here and talk or should we go somewhere more comfortable?”
“You’re quite the package, Ms. Portell.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Your temper, your stubbornness, and any number of other reasons, I’m sure.”
Lily chose to ignore his sarcasm. She scanned the sink full of dirty dishes, the magazines and newspapers that littered the floors as though he’d just thrown them wherever, and the two empty bottles of Jack Daniels laying on the counter. “By the look of these surroundings,” she said as she walked a circle around the stool where he sat. “You’re not adjusting well to your new life.”
“I have no life.”
Despair and anguish tainted his voice. At that moment, a tremendous urge to caress his face overwhelmed Lily. She wanted to run her fingers across his brow and down the line of his strong jaw. Before she lost all control, she cautiously wandered through heavy steel doors into the next room. One had a keypad on it. Alarm system or locking mechanism? She found easels, and canvas piled in corners and against walls, each picture or project at a different stage of completeness. Paints, brushes and sponges lay haphazardly on a worktable. She toyed with colorful tubes and swaths of material draped across wooden forms.
“What do you call this room?” she hollered out to Aidan.
“Unnecessary,” he answered softly from close behind her.
Lily hadn’t realized he’d followed her into the room. “You’re wrong. I believe it is stimulating.”
“I thought you wanted to get home,” he said.
“My next appointment canceled. I can stay a few more minutes. Besides, I haven’t asked all my questions yet.”
He stood silent. She didn’t know what compelled her to stay. She wanted to learn more about him. Aidan Campbell seemed as lost as she was, and that appealed to her in a nurturing way. “What is this room?”
Aidan’s jaw clenched. “It was my work place.”
“And what do you do here?”
He lazily handled one of the brushes from the table. “I don’t see the point in this interrogation.” The brush slipped through his fingers and clattered to the floor. “There’s nothing here of any use to me now.”
The quiet intensity in his voice gave Lily a glimpse of the passionate nature simmering under the surface. She moved up next to him, closing the hand which had held the brush, between her fingers. He jerked, but didn’t pull away. His amazing eyes turned toward her.
“What did you do here, Aidan?”
He closed his eyes and sighed heavily. Turning his back to her, he walked to the center of the room like a path he’d walked a hundred times before. “I unearthed beauty and restored it to its natural state.”
Confusion, a definite companion for Lily since she’d arrived, again made her feel like an idiot. She couldn’t say whether Aidan had sensed it, but he provided further explanation.
“I restored paintings for museums and private collectors.”
Now Lily understood the reason for the Q-tips, cotton and various chemicals lying on the tables. She counted ten different sized brushes and several boxes of surgical gloves, along with glasses that magnified and lamps with softer bulbs at the far end of the long table across the room.
Perched on an easel under the light was an exquisite abstract painting. She stared silently for a while, imagining herself there in the scene. “This one is beautiful.”
“It’s a Renoir,” Aidan offered.
“I can almost imagine being there, walking along the Seine with my hand hooked in the elbow of a smart dressed gentleman.”
“His work draws you in with its imagery.”
Lily marveled at the wondrous tone now lacing Aidan’s voice while he spoke about the artist.
“I’ve yet to call the owner to return it.”
“It fits here.” She smiled and tore her gaze away from the painting to look at Aidan, but he was gone. He’d left so quietly. She hadn’t heard him go. Or, was it because she’d been so ensnared by the painting?
The sun dipped lower in the sky. She ventured into the kitchen, but Aidan did not reappear. She gathered her bag and her stethoscope, and let herself out.
Lily slouched on the couch in her ratty pink sweatpants and purple tank top watching “I Love Lucy” reruns. She poked at her food, her appetite non-existent. Renoir, Van Gogh, Monet. She’d forgotten beauty and hope. Years of dealing with inhumanity and death stripped away her ideals, the desire to help people and do something good—gone. She’d been ready to give up nursing, exhausted by the never-ending tragedy, so much bloodshed and senseless death. Laurel talked her out of quitting. Her sister convinced her to move out of LA, to a quieter place.
“You need a break, Lily. Move up here by me. It’ll be fun. We can shop and hang out.” Laurel had worn her down until she agreed. Now, here she sat, staring at the bare walls of her modest one bedroom apartment. Her thoughts slipped back to earlier when she’d admired the beautiful pictures displayed in Aidan Campbell’s house.
Aidan Campbell, a brooding, skulking, bitter person. Who could blame him? It was a hell of a way to lose his sight. No wonder it seemed to him as if his life was over, constantly surrounded by exquisite beauty then thrown into darkness, never to experience that again. It had been part of him. She’d seen it in the painting he’d been restoring, in the canvases on the floor.
Lily set her fork down and closed her eyes. Although the television was muted, she heard static. In the distance, she picked up a faint hum. As she angled her head, she could tell it came from the kitchen, probably the refrigerator. The grandfather clock tapped out a steady rhythm. In the corner, the oscillating fan clicked as it shifted positions. The traffic outside grew in volume, and she heard an intense argument between a man and a woman on the street as they passed her building.
Mrs. Burn’s cat Chloe meowed soulfully wanting her dinner. Another cat responded from the alleyway. Each sound specific and more pronounced the longer her eyes stayed shut.
How amazing. Is this what Aidan heard? Is this what he felt when suddenly he had supersonic hearing? No, not him. This hadn’t been a silly experiment for Campbell; it had been a judgment, a sentence, and a punishment.
Lily slowly opened her eyes again, certain that somewhere inside, Aidan Campbell felt guilt or remorse. His anger justified in his predicament. Eyes, the color of a soft blue sky, would never again experience the joy of looking at a piece of art assessing how best to begin the cleaning.
A sudden urge to learn more about art restoration sent Lily to her computer. She accessed the library site. A couple of books on techniques would help her understand what Aidan Campbell missed then she could find a way to help him.
Thrown by this immediate need, Lily propped her feet on her square wooden table next to her computer terminal and leaned back. Why did it matter so much? She’d been drawn to him from the beginning, even though he’d been an ass. She’d dealt with worse. Yet, something she couldn’t put her finger on made her want to know him better.
After requesting three books, she found some articles on the net which offered a rare glimpse of the unique talent. You truly had to be some kind of artist to restore works of art. It wasn’t just a brush here, a swipe there; the restorer visualized the completed work then unveiled each section.
Excited, she shut down her computer. A little giddy to think she’d learned something about him, she ran to her bedroom and dug through her dresser drawers for an old bandana. To more fully understand the condition he dealt with everyday, she needed a test. She tied the lavender cloth tightly across her eyes and turned to walk back down the hall, her sight impeded by the cover. Right away, she plowed into the door, squashing her nose. With her hands straight out in front of her, Lily maneuvered herself down the hall by feeling her way. It wasn’t as easy as she’d imagined. Turning left into the kitchen, she jammed her knee on the chair and kicked the potato bin, cursing under her breath.
Stopping at the counter, she stood motionless and allowed her other senses to come alive. The ceiling fan rattled as it tossed warm air about the room. She heard a tin can clang across the concrete outside her window as an evening breeze whipped around the brick structure. Rocky, her two-year-old Boxer, stretched out under his favorite end table, soft snores drowning out the static from the television. A neighbor’s window unit air conditioner kicked on, sputtering for the first few seconds as though its motor didn’t have enough juice to keep going. These sounds were interesting, but the smells were what captured her attention.
The rich smell from the fresh ground coffee beans and Hazelnut creamer wafted her way from under the cabinets where they were stored. Scents of vanilla candles and strawberry jam that she’d left on the counter overwhelmed her. Lily even swore she smelled the Oreo cookies in the cookie jar near the end of the counter next to the stove.
She removed the blindfold and plopped down on the chair. Resting her chin on her hands, she blew out a breath. Aidan Campbell wouldn’t accept help easily. Driven by a desire she didn’t understand, Lily was determined to help him. It would be her quest.
“Stephen, I’m sure you’ll get another conservator,” Aidan assured the manager of The Rhoten Gallery.
“But not like you, Aidan, no one like you.”
Aidan switched the phone to his other ear. “I appreciate your support, but this is a turning point.” For both of us.
“I’m truly sorry, Aidan.”
“Please don’t apologize anymore. I don’t need it.” His voice sounded harsh even to his own ears. “I’m sorry too, Stephen. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful.”
“I understand. I’ll speak to you again soon.”
Tomorrow would have been the biggest grand opening for the whole year at the museum. One more day that would have been a thrill to see, his restored work unveiled and showcased for everyone to enjoy.
Another reason to regret.
With his fingertips marking the spot, Aidan gently placed the receiver. This call had not been the first and would certainly not be the last. As word spread of his condition, well-wishers flooded him with calls. Fumbling around until he found the answering machine, he counted up to press the button that turned on the message center. He’d had enough of people today, back to quiet and solitude where he would wallow in self-pity and contemplate how cruel that bitch, Fate.
Maneuvering back to the study, he’d managed not to run into or break anything. A moment of triumph was quickly followed by a cold realization, him adjusting to this new life.
The weather had taken a turn and the temperature dropped enough to make him close the window he’d been sitting by these last weeks, listening to life go on outside.
He stiffened. The hair on his arms rose and his fingers tingled for only an instant. Perhaps he hadn’t shut the window tightly and the whispered voices were coming from outside. Lightly touching familiar things, he felt his way and counted the number of footsteps it took to work his way to the credenza where he flicked on the stereo. The soulful sounds of Kenny G wrapped around him like a warm blanket, distracting him from the uncertainty.
He spun around, that sounded closer. His ears strained to hear over the wailing saxophone, but it was gone. “First the eyesight, now my mind. Inevitable.”
The sun had almost set by the time Lily reached Aidan’s house. Without the sun, her teeth were chattering. The night air bit her skin and stung. Damn, I left my jacket at home.
Grumbling, she trudged up the steps and rang the doorbell. Amazingly, he opened it without the gruff greeting she’d gotten the other day.
“I thought I told you I didn’t want or need you here?”
“And I thought we resolved that this is my job and I’d do it whether you wanted me to or not.”
He crossed his thick-muscled arms over his chest, forming a blockade in the doorway.
“How did you know it was me anyway?”
“I heard a car drive up. I heard you grumbling, your teeth are making an awful racket, and I recognized your scent.”
Although she’d been ready to give him a stinging retort, the last thing he’d said stopped her. It had been soft and she wasn’t sure he’d said it, but she knew he had.
Sighing, he moved aside. “Come in before you freeze to death.”
“Thank you,” she said and scooted in between his body and the door. Her hip brushed his and a wave of heat washed through her. Another strange reaction to her patient, fueling an urge of lust.
“How is it that you can remember your bag of goodies, but not a jacket?” he asked as he led her down the hall to the kitchen.
“I haven’t lived here very long. I’m not familiar with the weather patterns, so I forgot it.”
He pulled out the stool for her as he passed by it and continued on around the counter without breaking stride, heading straight to the coffee pot which had just finished brewing.
Lily smiled and sat down. She watched Aidan pull two mugs out of the cabinet and move three steps to the refrigerator for creamer. He didn’t hesitate or falter and probably didn’t realize it either. He felt his way to the handle of the pot, laid his finger on the rim of the cup and poured the hot liquid. She almost jumped up to help him but decided against it when she saw how confident he was in his actions.
“Do you use creamer?”
Aidan brought her cup to her and set it down on the counter, and went back for the sugar and creamer. She poured a dollop of vanilla creamer in and several spoonfuls of sugar before appreciatively bringing the steaming contents to her mouth. Warmth ran down her throat into her stomach and into her veins and lower when he gazed at her with those incredible eyes…artist’s eyes.
“Better?” he asked.
“Yes, thank you.”
“Where did you live before?”
She’d been staring at his mouth, watching him drink and wondering what those lips would taste like after being warmed by coffee…or kisses. “What?” she stammered and felt the blush heat up her face.
He frowned. “Before, where did you live? You said you hadn’t lived here long.”
“Oh, um, I moved here from LA.”
“My sister lives here.” She put her almost empty cup down and grabbed her bag. “So let’s get started.”
He sighed. “I’m not going to get rid of you, am I?”
“Not until we’re through.”
“You’re becoming an irritant,” he said, but made his way to the stool she’d just vacated. Again, he did it without hesitating.
“It’s not the first time I’ve heard that.”
“I’m sure,” he replied dryly.
Aidan had the sleeves of his shirt rolled up on his arms making it too thick to put the blood pressure cuff on.
“Can you slip your arm out of the shirt, please?”
He grunted but undid the buttons and took his left arm out. He straightened it letting it hang down. Her jaw dropped. His chest was the kind you saw in magnificent stone sculptures. The light dusting of dark hair tantalized her, coaxing her to touch him. Lily gently grabbed his arm to wrap the cuff around it and a slow, steady heat like the flow of lava, worked its way through her fingers and up her arm until it got to her breast where her nipple puckered out against the fabric of her shirt. His hand was nestled between her thighs and if either of them moved, she’d feel his intimate caress. Her breath caught in her throat and then sped up when she released it. What kind of woman was she to want to feel that, and from a patient no less? Still she admitted—if only to herself— that she did long for it.
Aidan leveled his sightless eyes but his clenched jaw and stiff shoulders told her he felt something, maybe it was just anger from having to go through this so-called humiliation. His blood pressure was fine and his respirations were steady, but when she laid her fingertips against his wrist, his pulse beat fast and strong.
“So I’ve noticed that you are taking steps to function somewhat normally.”
“You mean adjust.”
“Well, you were upset when I suggested it before, so I didn’t want to bring up an unpleasant thought.” She backed away from him to write down the information on his chart.
“If you are trying to ask if I’m past the denial stage, yes.” He put his shirt back on. “Am I past the anger, no!” He got up and walked a few steps away from her. “If you’re done, I’ll show you out.”
“I’m not done.” She knew this part would be more difficult. “I still have my questions.”
“I’ve answered everything I intend to.”
“Then I’ll be doing a lot of talking by myself,” she said and started toward the other room where he worked.
“Where are you going?” He came after her.
“I love this room and since I’m going to be doing all the talking, I thought I’d like to talk in here.”
Stopping in the doorway he said, “You’re quite forward for being a guest in my home.”
“What do you really want, Ms. Portell?”
She sighed. “You’re very suspicious.”
“Am I?” He threw her words right back at her.
She shuffled through the canvases lying around the room until she found one that caught her interest. “This is incredible.”
“Call me Lily, Aidan. Since we are going to be working together, I think it would be better to be on a first name basis.”
“Who says we’re going to be working together?”
“I do.” She lifted the canvas onto the table so she could see it better in the light. “Now tell me about this painting of the mother and child at the park.”
“You’re finished for the evening. In fact, you don’t need to come back. Good day, Ms. Portell.”
He’d done it again, walked away. “You’re a very stubborn, obstinate man,” she whispered. Venturing back into the kitchen, she loaded her supplies in the bag and left.
He heard her leave.
Aidan didn’t flinch this time or try to figure out where the voice was coming from. He knew it came from his own mind.
He ignored it.
Why did he feel so angry toward her? He pictured her looks in his mind, beautiful. When she’d taken his blood pressure, the closeness of her body ignited a desire that speared its way to his groin. If he’d had moved his fingers at all, he would have caressed her. He’d almost done it just to get a reaction out of her. She’d reacted though, he knew it. He’d felt her erratic breathing. She smelled great. He’d fought the urge to lay his face in the hollow of her neck and just inhale her. L-i-l-y.
That threw him.
***(See more of this free story on my website)***