Nora was pretty sure that the place she was in probably wasn't the best one for her. However, a support group for disabled veterans never is, especially when you're both not a disabled veteran, and eleven. She sat in the corner of the room on the edge of a table, nonchalantly swinging her legs and trying to siphon the last few drops out of a juice pouch that was probably finished (she was just making sure.) She'd barely been there for half an hour, but it may as well have been all day. Yes, she had been told to bring her homework, or a book to read, but she'd pooh-poohed that advice, and was now paying the price for it. She had resorted to playing around with her hair, trying and failing pathetically to weave her frizz into those little braids that her mom's was in (she wished that she could do hers like that, but every time she asked, she just got a dismissive 'When you're older...') but that had gotten tiresome pretty quickly, and she had since resorted to listening in on the group discussion.
She knew most of the faces already (on the weekends when she was at her mom's, this was always where she came on Saturday afternoons - the one redeeming thing about it was the promise of going for ice-cream afterwards), and mentally went through her knowledge of them in her head as she went round the circle. There was Adrian, who had been a pilot, and was blind - he always had a plus-one with him in the form of Gracie the service dog; Dan, who was a double amputee with a tendency to come off snarky and unsociable, but underneath all of that exterior was nothing short of a kitten; Jessica, who had a thing called PTSD which Nora heard about all the time, but had no understanding of; Sam, who was deaf, and almost always stopped on his way out to chat to her for a moment or two - that was another silver lining; Nora was somewhat of a 'social butterfly' as her mother put it, and would talk to anyone just to hear the sound of her own voice - sure, she had friends, but everyone here was just so much more interesting than the other girls from school, or basketball - not that she would ever tell her friends that. Her mom, who ran the group, started it a few years ago; she had been an army doctor during the Gulf War (something else talked about in front of her all the time that she didn’t get,) and became a psychologist once she came home, and shortly thereafter had realized the need for one in their local area, in one of the suburb areas of Oklahoma City.
Scanning the faces, it took Nora a while to figure out that the person she had sat for at least five minutes trying to put a name to was one who she didn't know. She was kind of old - maybe about forty - but still really pretty in a sort of unexpected way - she looked sort of like she had woken up five minutes ago, and gotten ready in a hurry – but like she was trying to look that way at the same time. Her hair was blonde, mid-long, and really messy - in a deliberate sort of way, though. It fell to just about her shoulders, with a chunk on the right side of her head shaved short - maybe about half an inch. She had a whole load of silver rings and bars in the ear that wasn't covered by her hair, and dark liner around her eyes. Her clothes were plain and reasonably simple - black tank top, camo pants, and Doc Martens - with no sort of jewellery other than the metalwork in her ears, and a silver bracelet around one wrist. Nora pondered this as she moved her wrist in a circular motion, listening to her own bangles jangling, plastic beads clicking together. Her thoughts then strayed to trying to figure out why she was there. It didn't take that long for Nora to notice that she was in a wheelchair. It also appeared that she was making no secret about the fact that she didn't want to be there, at all, face like a wet weekend while she seemed to be ignoring all conversation entirely.
She had lost all thread of the conversation within the group, but her ears pricked up again when she heard her mom's voice. "...And today, we do have a new face in our midst, if you would like to tell the group a bit about yourself," her mom smiled, gesticulating towards the surly blonde.
"Sure...Where do I start?" Her accent was thickly Illinois, with slightly southern twang to a few certain words, and her voice somewhat sandpapery and harsh. "Okay, my name is Lance Corporal Lori Marshall and I'm forty-two. I served with the US Marines for nine years, and I toured in Afghanistan seven times. I have also been paraplegic for the last two years, and suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder."
"Is that it?" Her mom smiled again, and Lori ran a hand through her hair, huffing a sigh.
"Isn't that all you wanted to know?"
"Well, you could say a little more - hey, what brings you here?"
"According to my therapist, I need to get out of the house more often."
"Any reason you picked our little group?"
"I was given a list, and this place looked..." She paused for thought, before settling on; "...The least objectionable."
Nora's mom laughed, and Lori smiled too, solidifying the fact that she was probably joking. "Okay, Lori, thank you for sharing with us. I'm glad that you decided to come along today and open up to the group, because that in itself takes courage, and I really hope we'll see you back in the future."
"Okay. Thank you."
Two hours, three juice pouches, and an inordinate amount of boredom and playing with her hair, the serious part meet was out, and Nora was finally free to flit around and chat. Similarly, Lori was bored shit out of her mind and dying to get home so she could take a shower (maybe), change her clothes (probably not) and go back to bed (that one was a definite.) However, social convention dictated that she couldn't walk out yet (well, the lack of use of her legs dictated that she couldn't walk out at all, but wheelchairs exist for a reason, thus her point still stood) while others were making conversation with her, or at least trying to.
"So, are you married?" Dan, the black guy with prosthetic legs and the most stereotypical New Orleans accent she had ever heard in her life was attempting to drum up a conversation with her, much to her chagrin. She'd had a horrendous night by way of dreams, leaving her running on fumes and half an hour’s proper sleep; she was dead from the neck up because of it, making her moodier than usual.
"No, but I'm also a lesbian, so no, I don't want to meet up for coffee sometime," she spoke with a deadpan tone, unable to possibly make it any clearer that she wanted to leave.
"Wow, friendly..." he rolled his eyes. They sat in silence for a moment, and just as she was about to break out an excuse and leave, he spoke again. "If you don't have a problem with me asking you, what happened? Y'know, with the..." He gestured to her legs, unable to say the actual words from fear of awkwardness.
"I got shot in the back," dry and toneless again; now she wasn't even making eye contact. "I can't feel anything from about here downwards," she gestured to a point in her torso just below her ribs.
"Nobody knows how to respond to that; I'm used to it," she paused, a voice in her mind telling her to stop being so fucking rude. "As I guess you are."
"I guess, but at least I got a...well, second chance, I guess," he half-smiled, and Lori sighed as the uncomfortable tension became almost a physical presence crammed in between them. She scanned the room with her eyes, desperate to get home. It wasn't like she had anything to freakin' do there, but at least it wasn't like being assfucked by awkwardness, which was all she could liken her current situation to.
The silence continued on and on until they were both drowning in it, when Dan finally broke it. "Listen, it was nice talking and all, but I gotta go, I..."
"No, it's fine. See you next time," Lori grumbled under her breath, face-palming. That was code for 'you're being a frosty bitch and I don't want to talk to you for any longer than is absolutely necessary' and she wished it didn't happen as frequently as it did. She pissed herself off sometimes; she had the nerve to complain about being lonely, but whenever anyone made an effort with her, she'd either tell or want them to fuck off. Unsure of whether or not she should leave or stay so she could bug someone else with her moodiness, Lori stayed sitting where she was, gritting her teeth. She stared at the ceiling, trying to come to some sort of decision, until...
She looked to her side, and, surprising her no end, there was a kid in front of her. She was maybe eleven or twelve years old, with pretty, mocha-coloured skin and dark eyes, her hair left natural and curly, highlighted by the summer sun and exploding in all directions; a relation of the woman who'd been running the group - what was her name again?...Charline...Cheryl...Something like that, anyway...Chanel. That was it. She was guessing that based on both the likeness in their faces, and the fact that she basically had no other reason to be there. "Hello."
"Your name's Lori, isn't it?"
"Yep...aren't you a little young to have been in the forces?"
The kid giggled, her nose wrinkling. "See that woman over there?" she gestured to Chanel, who was now chatting to the guy with the Seeing Eye dog, and Lori gave a slight nod. "That's my mom."
"Did she never teach you about not talking to strangers?"
"Yeah, she did."
"Then what are you doing talking to me?" Lori's face still hadn't shifted from her neutral expression (i.e. 'resting bitch face') but somehow the kid was still smiling and bubbly, twittering on about something else now.
"Well, I know your name's Lori, and my name's Nora - now we're not strangers anymore."
"Great logic, kiddo," Lori smiled a little. "So, you like this with everyone, or is it just me?"
"No, I talk to everyone."
"Why?" Lori rolled her eyes, Nora pulling up a seat next to her. She was wearing a garish explosion of savagely bright colours, with beaded bracelets up to her elbows and an orange shirt emblazoned with tiny purple dinosaurs. Lori looked down at herself, to her almost-monochrome wardrobe choice (she forced herself into the darkest possible shades of green and blue so she didn’t look like some sort of Goth, as her half-Mohawk and industrial bar seemed to suggest she was trying to be.)
“Because I’m interested,” she grinned, displaying crooked front teeth and a wire retainer. “I like your hair,” she remarked, toying with one of her bangles. As is the way when somebody compliments your hair, Lori ran a hand through her overlong sidecut, blushing a little.
“Thank you,” this kid had come out of nowhere, and was being such a damn sweetheart; shame that she couldn’t bring herself to exhibit the same or at least basic manners in return.
“You’re welcome,” Nora cocked her head, thoughtfully blinking her dewy brown eyes as if she was trying to recall something. “Hey, what does ‘porapelagack’ mean?” Lori chuckled slightly at her bizarre mispronunciation of the word which she heard so frequently it made her want to puke – at physio and hospital appointments; from her therapist; from her dad (sweet and well-meaning though he was trying to be, he was still dumb and tactless in everything he did); fuck, it was even written in bright red on the MedicAlert bracelet she wore round her wrist in the same permanent fashion as she had her dog tags when she’d been in the military that her stupid pandering ex-mother in law had forced her to get (along with the stupid penicillin allergy which had almost killed her on numerous occasions.) Fine, two years wasn’t long in comparison to the life sentence that the shot had given her, but it’d already been too much. She freaking hated the word which summed her up (‘paraplegic’, in case Nora’s demented garble of the word hadn’t done it justice) but she couldn’t escape it.
“I heard you say something about it, but I didn’t get it,” Lori had derailed entirely from the almost one-way conversation, but Nora’s voice brought her back.
“It’s a stupid medical term that basically just means half-paralyzed – you know what paralyzed means, don’t you?” She was met with a blank stare, before Nora shook her head, her curls bobbing. “Look, it just means that I can’t feel anything from about here down,” she gestured again to the sort of mid-point in her torso, under her lower ribs. Nora looked mildly horrified for a moment, before shaking it off for another question. This was turning from casual chit-chat to kill time into an interview.
“Really? What happened? I-“ She stopped short, a worried look coming over her face. “I’m not trying to be rude, I swear – I’m really sorry, I just-“
“Don’t worry about it,” Lori half-smiled, cracking her knuckles – she did this unintentionally, by tightly balling up a fist - it was one of her stupid nervous tics; she hadn’t noticed that she did it until someone had pointed it out a while ago, but apparently she always did if she was made to feel particularly awkward in a way that she didn’t know how to respond to. “Seeing as you asked, some asshole shot me in the back; it damaged something in my spine, and to make a really long story really, really short, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to walk again.”
“Wow,” Nora was wide-eyed, soaking in the words of the former soldier. She was noticeably staring at Lori’s lower half, trying to seek out some miniscule difference between her functionless legs and those of an ordinarily mobile person (a difference which didn’t exist, Lori had been told; she still wasn’t convinced.) “Was that when you were a Marine?”
Paging Captain Obvious, Lori thought for a moment, before killing her original response of dry cynicism. She’s a kid – give her a break. She’s just being nice. “Nora, has anybody ever told you that you ask a lot of questions?”