where wheelchair users and BIID/transabled unite!

The Old Brace Maker XXX

Chapter One

They sat at the small table in a quiet corner of the restaurant, gazing at each other in the light of the candle flame. The evening had gone so quickly, there had hardly been a break in conversation since they sat down, they were both completely immersed in the delight of getting to know each other and discovering how much they had in common. She sat very upright on the edge her chair and he leaned close as they talked.

The place was very quiet now. It had been fairly full when they arrived and as he followed a few paces behind her to the table he had noticed how almost every head had turned to stare at her as she passed, he heard the hushed whispers, some diners even nudging their partners discretely or jerking their heads in her direction to punctuate a whispered comment about her. He knew that most, particularly the men, had noticed her because she was so strikingly beautiful, but he also knew perfectly well that all eyes had immediately shifted to the formidable steel brace visible at her neck that was the cause of her erect posture. It would have been difficult for anyone to miss it, and hardly surprising that it should draw comment on such a beautiful woman.

He had been mesmerized by her all evening, and not just by her physical beauty. She was charming, funny and intelligent. She had a natural shyness which he found absolutely enchanting. She seemed to be a very private person and he was enjoying the challenge of slowly earning her trust. He could feel her responding to him, beginning to open up to him a little at a time. Initially whenever the conversation shifted to more personal matters she had tended to break off eye-contact with him, but as the evening progressed he noticed he could hold her gaze more easily, as though she was more willing to allow him to see inside her.

As they waited for their coffees he had placed his hand casually near to hers on the tablecloth and now, judging this to be the right moment, he edged his fingers towards hers and touched her gently. To his dismay she recoiled and withdrew her hand, abruptly dissolving the relaxed atmosphere they had been enjoying. As her face began to redden she tried to apologise. “I’m so sorry Dave, I didn’t mean it like that it’s not you it’s just…”

He cursed himself inwardly for being too hasty with her but she interrupted his thoughts.

“There’s something you should know, something I have to tell you” she said, “before you, before this goes…..”

His face barely concealed his apprehension as he waited for what would come next.

She chose her words slowly and carefully: “Look, I’ve enjoyed this evening enormously, really I have Dave, I like talking to you … I like being with you, more than you could imagine… it’s just … that … I don’t think we should be doing this. I wasn’t thinking very far ahead when I accepted this invitation. It must look as though I was leading you on”.

His worried look changed to one of incredulity. “What do you mean? I thought you felt pretty much the way I feel. Was I wrong?” he asked.

“I don’t think there’s much future in … in our … well, … I don’t think there would be much point in us … ” her words trailed off.

“In our getting a bit more serious? Why ever not, Claire?”

There was a long pause. Then she said “It’s this thing… it’s my brace…”, blushing visibly even in the candlelight, “… it doesn’t … um … well, I can’t … what I mean is we … oh, boy, this is going to be difficult!…” She gave an awkward little laugh and tried to look away, to gather herself, but the brace held her head firmly and only her eyes moved.

He looked at her sitting there so poised, so erect and so beautiful. The golden reflections of the candle flame danced brightly on the wide polished steel bar that emerged from the front of her blouse and ran up to the sculpted silver form which curled up the around the sides of her jaw. His eyes followed the ring of steel encircling her very slender neck to where he could just glimpse one of the struts behind. Her sandy-blonde hair was twisted up into a loose knot high on her head and the few stray curls which hung softly down her cheeks contrasted beautifully with the rigid steel of the brace.

Her eyes, lashes and eyebrows were quite dark considering her blonde hair. This meant that although she was wearing very little make-up she still looked as though she was ready for a photo-shoot. She had beautiful skin, and she was at that age when he felt a woman is at her most beautiful, when a few subtle little lines make an appearance around her eyes and mouth when she smiles, enhancing them and giving her a sort of interesting sparkle. When she laughed that wonderful deep velvet laugh he noticed that her mouth widened slightly asymmetrically, exposing her even bottom teeth more on one side than the other. He loved that. He made her laugh just so he could see it again and again.

“Okay, here it is…” She began again, jolting him back to the present. There was no laughter in her voice now. “You see, Dave, I wear this thing all the time … so … I don’t think it would be fair to you … I’m sure you wouldn’t …”

“Wait Claire, please …” He touched her hand as he interrupted her “I honestly don’t mind your brace at all. It really doesn’t bother me in the least. Actually, I’m hardly aware of it … “. He was lying. He was very aware of her brace, it was the second thing he had noticed about her, the first was that he found her very attractive, but the brace was what made him stop the car and approach her, so it was probably the main reason they were here tonight, but he would never tell her this.

Yes, he often noticed attractive women, his eye seemed to be quite practised at scanning a crowded place and fixing on the most attractive woman there, he couldn’t seem to help it and it didn’t do any harm. “Beauty is there to be appreciated,” he told himself, “that’s the whole point of it, and there’s nothing quite as beautiful as a beautiful woman”. Nothing much ever came of it of course, he liked to let his eye linger on her, just for as long as she was in view, and then she was gone and that was that.

It would have been the same when he first noticed her waiting to cross the street as he drove by, he saw her turn slowly at the waist to look for traffic. “Mmmm! She’s nice. Carries herself regally, elegantly, like a cat”. And that would have been that, but then the sunlight glinted off the brace supporting her chin. Suddenly everything changed. He had to get a good look at her, try to meet her, talk to her. He always likened this moment to those movie scenes inside a submarine under attack, all the klaxons and sirens and red flashing lights and wildly tilting decks. This required drastic action. Fast! He looked for her again in the rear-view mirror, then pulled the car quickly into a side street and parked it. His heart was pounding and his legs felt weak. He was sure he could feel the chemicals surging into his bloodstream, must be adrenaline and morphine together or something. He felt that strange and yet familiar feeling, his focus razor-sharp but somehow woolly and detached at the same time.

No time to feed the parking-meter, he’d have to take a chance on that, and he’d miss his business meeting, but that would have to take care of itself. Trifling matters in comparison with the task at hand. As he headed for the place he had last seen her he could hear his pulse thumping in his ears.

There! She was moving between the cluttered stalls of an open-air street market. Perfect! He slipped into an adjacent row, from here he could watch her without her noticing. Late twenties, no, more like early thirties, slender, well dressed, sort of casual-but-elegant, just a hint of makeup, hair loose and natural, no rings on her left hand. And she looks comfortable on her own, so she’s not waiting for someone. Wonderful! He watched as she wandered slowly amongst the stalls, occasionally touching garments on hangers here, looking at artwork there. When she stopped to look at some earrings laid out on a table he got an idea of how restrictive her brace was because she could only see them by bending way forward at the hips, keeping her head and body absolutely rigid as she leaned over the table. Then, selecting one she straightened up and held it up in front of her face as she examined it. She never moved her head even slightly, and he couldn’t see any sign of flexibility at the waist either. So it wasn’t just the neck brace he had guessed it to be, it went all the way down to her hips. He tried to get a better look at it, but her blondish hair hanging onto her shoulders concealed all but the front of it. He could clearly see the big silver chin pad, rising quite high at the sides and wrapping very closely round her lower jaw, and below that a single front support running down close to her throat. He could also make out what looked like a neck-ring extending back from that and disappearing into her hair. He’d never seen anything quite like it. This didn’t look at all like the sort of brace one would wear for a few weeks after an accident or surgery, the ill-fitting one-size type with stiff white adjustment straps poking out in all directions. This looked very much like a custom fitted thing, and a long-term commitment. He felt a stirring in the front of his trousers at the thought.

He knew he had to approach her before she left the market and got on her way again or he would have to follow her in the hope of some opportunity to speak to her. He knew from experience that it never works to try to actually stop someone in order to strike up a conversation, so he might have to follow her for quite a while waiting for his moment, and that would look as though he was stalking her. He wasn’t into stalking. He was sure it was always blatantly obvious, if not to the subject then at least to anyone watching. And it was demeaning, it bordered on harassment and it probably made the “subject” feel extremely uncomfortable. No, he had decided his motto in these situations should be “Talk, don’t stalk”.

So he had to move right now, or risk never getting another chance to speak to her – ever! If he thought about it too long he’d find some reason why he should delay. Or he’d rehearse so many possible conversations in his head that he’d panic when she finally spoke to him. No, he must act immediately! So, trying hard not to rehearse anything, he made his way closer as she moved slowly along, his mouth dry, his heart thumping and his knees threatening to fold under him at any moment.

She paused at a table laden with old hand-tools and garage junk. He pounced. Actually, he walked over to the table as casually and disinterestedly as he imagined one would normally approach a table laden with blunt saws and bent screwdrivers. She was bending low over a box of old brass odds and ends as he pretended to study the stuff on display. He picked up one of those oddly shaped wrench things you find where lawnmowers go to die and said “I’ll bet most of these didn’t fit anything the day they were made – destined from birth to end up at junk stalls like this”. Just sharing a simple observation, suitably un-‘pick-up line’-ish, he thought.

She had to straighten up and turn towards him completely in order to see his face. As their eyes met she gave him a friendly smile “Yes, these tables always seem to be full of them, don’t they?” She was truly beautiful, and had an enchanting smile and a lovely voice. He was in heaven! Then she turned towards the table and tilted her body forward again, resting one hand on her knee while she dug around in the box. He couldn’t help staring at her, and he felt sure that she could feel his eyes on her. He thought he could see a slight reddening of her cheek and wondered if he was imagining it.

He emerged from his trance long enough to realise that this was the critical moment. The next few seconds would determine the future, so he had to do it right first time. Although she couldn’t see that he was watching her, she must have been almost expecting him to because her present awkward pose was so very unnatural it couldn’t fail to attract attention. Now if he pretended to ignore it, as most people would, as his parents always insisted he do with their urgent tugs at his arm “don’t stare darling, come away”, she would know that he was pretending, and he would be doing nothing to make her feel more comfortable. For to ignore means to withhold acknowledgement, and without acknowledgement there can be no acceptance. “Don’t stare at the freak, come away!”

But if he acknowledged it gently, without causing her embarrassment, he stood to gain some common ground, establish some trust, a sense of acceptance. A freak, once acknowledged and accepted, is no longer a freak. He took the plunge.

“Looks like they made the tables a bit low” he said, trying include an unpatronizing compassionate smile in his tone.

To his relief she replied with a deliciously low giggle, followed by a relaxed pause. She didn’t straighten up. He knew he had succeeded, she must have heard that smile.

“I’m looking for another one like this” she said, holding up a chunky brass door-hinge, dark green with age, “but you can never find two the same”.

Chapter Two

And that was how it began. They rummaged together until they found a matching pair, then on her suggestion they went for coffee to celebrate her purchase and afterwards exchanged phone numbers. They spoke a few times on the phone and then he asked her out on this dinner date. Her brace was never mentioned again by either of them until now, his indirect reference to it at the junk table and her response had been sufficient for both of them. Until now. Now she wanted to discuss it, something about it was clearly troubling her, and his assurances hadn’t seemed to pacify her much.

“Dave, I don’t think you understand”, she went on, “I wear it all the time, I have done for years, and so I’ve never … it would be a problem to … well, it would be a problem for you to…”

There was no easy way to say it, so she got straight to the point: “The thing is, … you see, I’ve never… slept with anyone… ” She was blushing so much that he thought her cheeks almost appeared puffy under her eyes. ” … um … there, I’ve said it …” she gave a nervous laugh and because she couldn’t turn away or hide her face she just closed her eyes in a vain effort to escape from the discomfort of this moment.

He didn’t know quite how to respond. Her admission had triggered a flurry of questions in his head and he was wildly guessing at possible answers.

What was she saying? That she hadn’t had sex or couldn’t at all? Or that she hadn’t yet but she wanted to now? Was she just nervous? Or maybe she hadn’t yet and she still didn’t want to? Why not? Was it simply that she wanted to remain a virgin until she married but was a bit embarrassed about it? Not a bad idea these days, and becoming quite fashionable too. Or were there other issues here? Was it a privacy problem? Just shyness? Was the brace just an excuse, a smoke-screen? Or was there a real medical problem, somehow related to the brace?

She opened her eyes to see him looking at her quizzically. He had been quiet for some time and with horror she realised that she might have misread the situation completely and that her intensely embarrassing admission may have been quite unnecessary.

“Oh, no, I didn’t mean to come across as being quite so presumptuous… I mean … I didn’t mean to imply that I expected… that you wanted … um … Oh dear … I’ve really blown it now… I’m not very good at this, am I?”

She seemed on the verge of tears. He took her hands in his and squeezed them. Then, while she sat there stiffly with her head held erect and eyes squeezed tightly shut again, he leaned across the table and kissed her softly on the lips. “Hush now, Claire” he said “a little presumption isn’t a bad thing at all. I have to admit to being a bit presumptuous myself. Now what’s all this anxiety about? Why are you so tense?”

She breathed in slowly before she replied “Because this is the moment I’ve been dreading all my life. For as long as I can remember. I haven’t even had a serious relationship…. because I wanted to avoid this moment, this conversation”. Her eyes were still closed, but now a single tear rolled down her cheek.

“Claire, help me to understand. What are you so scared of?” He wiped the tear away gently, then allowed his fingers to linger against her cheek.

She took his hand and moved it down until it rested on the steel neck ring. “This” she whispered.

“The brace is what makes you scared of intimacy? Are you very self-conscious about it?”

She half shrugged, half nodded, or she tried to anyway, but her head barely moved. “That was always a huge problem when I was younger, when I first got it I was a spotty teenager and with it on I just felt so ugly and awkward and shy that I was probably quite unapproachable. Then as I got older my self-confidence never really caught up, even when people said nice things about me I never really believed them or felt good inside, I’ve always felt like “the girl in the brace”, I still get distrustful of men who are nice to me, I never let them get too close. Well, I haven’t until now”. She smiled at him and gave his hand a little squeeze.

“But surely you must have come to terms with the brace by now? Claire, you’re a very beautiful woman, your brace doesn’t alter that in the slightest, does it still bother you, are you still so self-conscious about it?”

She seemed to be relaxing somewhat. “Oh, no, that’s not really the problem now. No, I made friends, sort of, with this brace ages ago. I had to, I realised that we are going to be companions for a long time. I’m resigned to that now”. She paused, then she gave her deep giggle again, as though she had just seen the funny side of something. “The problem now is more … um … physical?” She was smiling.

He looked puzzled. “Physical? Do you mean your condition… is there something … I mean are you not able to … have sex? Is it your back? Are you in a lot of pain?”

“Not at all, my back is fine, … well, as long as I wear this thing it’s fine. No, the problem is with the brace itself. You see, … part of it … well it gets in the way …”

He decided to take advantage of her lifting spirits. “I’m sure a bit of creativity would go a long way to solving a problem like that” he joked, “and there’s always the Karma Sutra if we run out of ideas”

“No, it’s worse than you think, it’s an issue of … access. Even the Karma Sutra wouldn’t help”

He considered this for a moment. “What, d’you mean it’s … like a chastity belt?” he asked, smiling now, beginning to understand at last, but puzzled as to exactly how.

“Precisely! The way the brace is made makes it quite, … well I’m sure it would make it just about impossible, and I’ve always dreaded the humiliation of having my partner find that out in the heat of the moment.”

In spite of everything she had just said, he was encouraged by this admission. If she had always avoided intimacy but had now come as far as to share these secrets with him, it must be because she was ready for a change and felt comfortable enough with him to try to explain. He certainly hoped so. He decided to try his luck: “You could have been wrong all this time, you know.”

“Wrong about the sex? How do you mean?” she asked.

“Well, You don’t sound completely certain that it is impossible, and if you haven’t actually tried it, you can’t know for sure. How would you feel about a … shall we say …. a second opinion? Let’s go to my place for coffee, and you can show me exactly what you think the … um …. mechanical … problem is. Nothing funny, just an objective, well, …a fairly objective second opinion on the matter. Would you feel okay with that?”

She was caught rather off-guard by the directness of this suggestion. To her utter amazement she realized she could probably cope with being “inspected”, that it might in fact be the best way of dealing with this. She took his hands in hers and looked at him.

“Dave, I’ve had nightmares about this moment for years and years. I’ve been physically sick with anxiety in anticipation of it more than once. And now here we are. And I haven’t died of humiliation. I’ve told you about this and you haven’t run a mile or tiptoed around as though this was all some “sensitive issue”. You can’t imagine what a relief this is.” She tried to lean across the table to kiss him but the brace made things awkward so she settled for pulling him towards her instead. Their lips met in a searching kiss, and their hearts touched.

They were now the only people in the restaurant. He paid the bill and they prepared to leave. He moved behind her to pull out her chair as she stood up. Through her blouse he could clearly follow the line of the two straight rear supports of her brace as they ran up from her waist and emerged from her collar, connecting with the neck ring and ending at the metal piece that pressed upwards against the back of her lovely head. With her hair up it was completely exposed and he could see that it extended quite a long way upwards from her neck, curving round towards her ears and shaped to match the contours of the bone.

He could hardly contain his excitement at the thought of taking a good, close look at this beautiful woman modelling nothing but this brace for him. What a woman. And what a brace! If the parts he hadn’t yet seen were anything like those that were showing above her collar he knew he was in for a real treat.

Chapter Three

At first she didn’t offer much in the way of conversation on the drive home in his car, perhaps because she was apprehensive about what lay ahead, but perhaps it was simply because she couldn’t turn to face him. She had the backrest of her seat set vertical which placed her head somewhat in front of his, and the high sides of the chin piece of her brace prevented any sideways movement of her head, so she just sat there staring straight ahead and listening to his chatter as they drove. On several occasions he watched her curl the fingers of both hands into the neck ring and pull down on it, extending her neck and opening her mouth as she did so. She seemed to be in some discomfort, and it made him wonder how difficult it would be for her to drive.

“I haven’t driven in years” she replied when he asked her. “Not since I got this chin thing.” She pointed to the shaped steel support under her jaw extending from the front of her chin almost to her ears. “It wasn’t always like this. It used to be much smaller, barely more than a bump on the front of this neck ring. I could turn my head quite a lot and look down quite far if I had to, it would just press up into the soft part behind my jaw, which wasn’t too uncomfortable. If I sat up straight I barely felt it. But my back muscles have been getting steadily weaker and my brace maker was worried that it allowed far too much movement in my neck and not enough support. So he put this on.”

“He’s such a dear old man. He has a short leg and he wears a heavy brace on it, and a back brace too I think, so he knows how all this feels. He’s very kind to me, didn’t even charge me for this. He’s done that quite often actually, over the years he’s removed a lot of old parts of my brace and replaced them with more effective and more durable pieces, all beautifully made. And he seldom lets me pay the full cost. I must admit though, it took me a long time to get used this new addition. Well, I suppose I’ve had trouble getting used to just about every new part of this brace. And I cried for ages almost every time it’s been changed. But this bit really is restrictive. I mean, I haven’t been able to look directly at my knees since he fitted it. I cried a lot over this, I can tell you, but I understand now that it’s the best thing in the long run. Poor old Franz, that’s his name, I always take my frustrations out on him as though this is all his fault, but he’s only doing what’s best for me. Sometimes I forget that.”

He could see what she meant about it being restrictive as he looked across at her in the darkened car, the brace extended her neck and pushed her chin up so much that her knees would remain at the very edge of her vision, even if she leaned forward. He wondered how she managed walking up or down steps or over rough ground where she needed to watch where she placed her feet. Her vision of what was around her was quite seriously limited. When they got into his car he saw her groping blindly for the seat-belt which she knew must be somewhere beside her shoulder, but she couldn’t turn to look for it. Then she pulled it across and down and felt again for the socket beside her hip, unable to see that either. He noticed that she didn’t even make any effort to turn her head, as if she knew there was no point, and turning her whole body was not worth the trouble, so she just felt for things just as a blind person would.

But the brace affected more than just the way she related to what was around her. It also determined the way she communicated. He had noticed, as he had watched her during the meal, his whole being focused on her eyes and her lovely mouth, how well she expressed herself when she spoke, and it had struck him that she was managing entirely without that complex language of body movement which we all take for granted. All the subtle things we say with changes in posture and movements of the head and neck, a tilt this way or that, up or down, a nod, a shrug, a thrust of the chin – all these things were denied her by the brace’s firm grip on her body. She relied instead on her masterful use of language, and on facial expression, her eyes, mouth and brow were constantly alive as she spoke. Looking at her at the table he had been reminded of one of those “have your photo taken” things at funfairs where a life-size body is painted on a board with a hole for you to put your face through from behind.

She didn’t even use her hands for emphasis much, and on those occasions when she did they seemed strangely detached, her torso and head were so still, the moving hands looked as though they belonged to someone else. He had noticed that she didn’t even touch her face much, or play with her hair as women so often do, probably because to do it one needs to be slouched forward resting an elbow on the table – her posture was held too erect for that.

In fact the only movement he had been aware of was the way she had seemed to lift her head out of the brace in order to open her mouth while eating, her lower jaw barely moving in its steel cradle. Come to think of it her selection from the menu had all been things that didn’t require too much heavy chewing. He wondered if it was coincidence. He was pleased that the waiter had been thoughtful enough, after fussing with her chair for what seemed like ages, to move around the table to a position opposite her while addressing her, sensing that she couldn’t see him otherwise. On second thoughts maybe the waiter just wanted to get a really good long look at her. Who could blame him?

He had also noticed the difficulty she had in seeing what she was eating, the plate on the table being at the edge of her peripheral vision most of the time. When she wanted to get a good look at it she would scoot back on her chair, lean forward and slide the plate away from her slightly, all in one fluid, practised movement. She was obviously quite used to it.

On the subject of peripheral vision he realised that he was staring at her, his eyes shifting reluctantly to the road ahead from time to time. He really ought to focus more on the road and less on her. There would soon be plenty of time to stare at her and take in every detail. Actually, he was wondering if actually seeing everything would be as much fun as he was having imagining it. He was looking now at her shapely breasts, thinking how pert and well shaped they looked and yet he had seen her nipples pressing against her blouse several times during the evening, so he knew she wasn’t wearing a bra. He imagined the shiny steel bar of the brace passing down between those lovely breasts – what a contrast!

They pulled up at his home and he helped her out of the car, taking care to protect her head with his hand when she bumped against the edge of the roof. As they moved towards the house he was pleased to note that she seemed to be in no great hurry to let go of his arm. The way she had recoiled from his touch at the table only half an hour before seemed like a distant memory, things were definitely looking good.

They went inside and he showed her around, making the usual bachelor’s excuses for the mess and the unfinished construction projects, in spite of it being tidier than it had been in ages in anticipation of her possible visit. She was clearly impressed by the house which pleased him enormously. He was proud of the work he had done on it and it was important to him that she liked it.

He enjoyed watching her turning at the hips as she looked around her and leaning backwards to look up to the mezzanine and the exposed roof structure above. When she asked if she could look upstairs he got to see exactly how tricky she found negotiating an unfamiliar staircase, and the fact that his was not quite finished didn’t make it any easier for her.

She accepted his offer of assistance so he placed his hand on the back of her far hip and steadied her near side elbow as they climbed. Almost as soon as his hand touched the unyielding armour of her brace he felt a corresponding increase in activity in the front of his trousers. He knew she couldn’t feel his hand in its present position so he took the liberty of moving it round a bit in an effort to establish the extents of the brace. Only when he had moved it upwards quite a bit did he feel her soft flesh through a gap in the shell just below her ribs, so he held her there until they arrived at the top landing. After he had guided her gently down again he noted that if the current state of her nipples was anything to go by she hadn’t minded the brief contact too much at all.

While he put the coffee on she excused herself and went to explore a little more on her own and to use the bathroom. By the time he carried the tray through to the lounge she had returned and was browsing through his collection of CDs.

“You’ve got some really lovely stuff here, mind if I put something on?” she asked without turning around.

“I like it all, so anything you like” he answered. She flicked along the row and pulled one out. “Marc Cohn okay?”

“Good choice.” He saw her lower herself onto her knees to get a good view of the controls of the CD player.

“Where would you like to sit?” he asked as she got to her feet again. “The couch is really low. Would one of those work better for you?” he indicated one of his Morris style armchairs which had wide flat arms.

“Perfectly” she smiled.

While she was settling herself into the chair he fetched some pillows and without a word placed them behind her back so she didn’t fall too far backwards. When he placed her coffee on the arm of the chair within easy reach she touched his hand, and looking up at him said quietly and rather earnestly “Dave, …thanks … for …”

He knew she wasn’t referring to the coffee. He touched her lips as if to silence her, then gently stroked her cheek and bent to kiss her on her forehead.

He fetched his coffee and seated himself opposite her. They sipped in silence for a long while, both having plenty to say but neither having a suitable way to start.

As always seems to happen in these situations, after what seemed like an eternity they both suddenly spoke at once, and there followed the usual flurry of apologies and insistence that the other go first. She began.

“I was just going to say that from the little I’ve got to know you and looking round your place I’m really surprised that you’re still single. You’re quite a catch, you know? I’d have thought there’d be hordes of women beating down your door. If it’s not terribly rude to ask, why are you still single?”

“It’s not rude at all. Good question really, the short answer is just that I’ve never met the right person. The long answer is really long, so better not to ask”

“Okay” she giggled. “Have any been close?”

“There’ve been a few, … yes. Each seemed for a time like she was the one, but it didn’t work out. No regrets though, it’s all grist to the mill as they say, good learning experience. I’m more sure now of who I am, what I can offer and what I want.”

“Did you live with any of them?”

“Just one, for three years.”

“And casual flings?” there was an unhappy edge to her voice.

“Naah. They always seem to get complicated. I’ve broken off one or two relationships which were started just for fun, nice and comfy but had no real hope of working out for me. I don’t like doing that, I don’t like the hurt that goes with it. So now I don’t even think about getting involved unless I’m pretty sure it could work in the long term and I feel it’s worth it.”

Then he guessed at what was unsettling her “Hey, I hope this isn’t sounding as though I’m proudly waving this huge list of conquests at you. I’m not. There really haven’t been that many, and the bottom line is that I’ve been unsuccessful so far in finding the right person. It’s more a list of failures than of successes, I suppose.”

“Thanks, I’m sorry, it’s just that I feel so completely inadequate and inexperienced in matters of relationships and intimacy. I feel like a nun. Hearing about yours makes me so much more aware of it.” She was quiet for a moment, then she asked “I know you said earlier that there wasn’t anyone at the moment, was there anyone recently?”

“Nope. I’ve been alone for a while now. I just make a point of dating a beautiful woman once in a while so my friends don’t think I’m gay”.

“Hey!” she pretended to be deeply offended. “So that’s all this is?”

He smiled at her “You know very well it isn’t, Claire. If it were, I would have showed you off at a suitable cocktail party or something, I wouldn’t have kept you all to myself.”

She could see the logic in that. “Okay, so what were you going to say back there when we interrupted each other?”

He laughed. “You’d never believe me if I told you that I was going to ask you why a beautiful, charming, bright woman like you wasn’t attached. But I remember what you said in the restaurant tonight, about being afraid, and avoiding relationships. Is that really why?”

“Yes, …it is. Or …was. I must admit that I feel really foolish about having built it up into such a big thing over the years, and here I am and I can’t believe how easily you accept… things, and how comfortable you make me feel.” Then she fell silent as they both remembered the real purpose of her coming back here with him tonight.

He detected a hint of her former tension returning so he moved over to her and took her hands in his. “Claire, I’ll do everything I can to make sure you continue to feel comfortable with me, you know that, don’t you?”

Her eyes were moist as the brace permitted her a barely perceptible nod. He pulled her gently to her feet and kissed her, delicately at first but with increasing passion as she responded. They embraced tightly and stood there in silence, no words were necessary. He couldn’t help noticing that an area of her brace just below her breasts was digging into him rather uncomfortably, and he could feel the rear supports under her blouse.

Then slowly, very slowly, he pulled back from her so they could look into each other’s eyes.

He placed his hands on her shoulders, then slowly trailed his fingers in towards her neck until they met the steel neck ring. Still watching her eyes, he explored the whole of the neck area of her brace with his fingertips. Then he began to slide his hands gradually downwards. As he neared her breasts he saw her tense and halt her breathing so he slowed until his hands were barely moving, but he didn’t stop his exploring caress. Neither of them uttered a sound.

Eventually she exhaled as he knew she must, and he continued his progress, tenderly tracing the shape of her breasts and her nipples before continuing down her sides to her hips, feeling the alternating areas of hard brace and soft flesh as he went. His fingers worked their way right to the bottom edge of the brace, then slid slowly round behind her buttocks in their hard carapace and gradually upwards again noting every ridge, every edge until he reached her shoulder blades. His eyes had never left hers. His hands now revisited her breasts, her nipples hardening under his thumbs and her breathing becoming faster and deeper.

Abruptly he stopped and stepped back. “Claire, I’m sorry. This is no good.”

Her eyes widened in shock. “What? What’s wrong? Is it… is…?

He interrupted her, his face expressionless “This isn’t going to work at all. I asked you here so I could give you an objective second opinion on the problem you mentioned …and…, well it seems to me…”

“… it seems what…?” A quavering in her voice said that tears were not far off.

He broke into a grin, pulled her towards him and hugged her tight “You silly girl, how exactly do you s’pose I’m going to be objective about anything? The most beautiful, desirable woman in the whole world has me thoroughly bewitched and smitten, and she wants me to be objective!” He laughed at her stunned expression as he kissed her.

She was still spluttering her relief as he began to slowly unbutton her blouse. “That was really nasty! I thought you meant… for a horrible moment I … I thought you were going to say…” She was smiling now, and beating playfully at his chest but he could see in her eyes that he had almost gone too far joking with her, she was just too sensitive about it. “You’re awful, you really had me thinking you’d already decided it was…”

Her words trailed off and her smile faded as he slid her blouse off her shoulders and it dropped from her arms to the floor. She was silent and apprehensive as he looked directly into her eyes again and felt gently for the fastening on the side of her skirt. “Okay?” he whispered. She half-nodded a nervous reply. He undid the skirt and it fell away too.

Then he kissed her again before stepping slowly back to get his first look at her brace. What he saw before him was more than he could ever have imagined.!

Chapter Four

She stood before him in the soft light, naked but for the brace.

She wore no underwear and her figure was quite simply breathtaking. But he barely noticed. He was looking at the most exquisite brace imaginable, something beyond his wildest fantasies.

“My god Claire, …you’re… it’s…” He was speechless.

The brace was made entirely of stainless steel, He could see no lining or padding of any kind. There weren’t even any straps anywhere. Both the broad curves of the contoured girdle gripping her hips and abdomen and the pads under her jaw and the back of her head were polished steel in direct contact with her skin. There were also two wide shaped pieces of steel that wrapped closely around the sides of her ribcage from behind, one pressing high up under her left arm, the other lower down on her right side. These were both fixed to the rear uprights.

He was moving slowly around her, drinking in every detail of this extraordinary device. From it’s lack of symmetry he supposed it must be treating some sort of spinal deformity, not an injury of any kind. There was nothing to indicate how it opened, or indeed whether it opened at all, and nothing seemed to be adjustable, it had obviously been made precisely to her measurements and it was made to last, it was going to be there for a while. As he surveyed the gleaming chrome-like curves flowing almost seamlessly into her honey-coloured flesh the thought which came to mind was “Girl meets 1960’s Cadillac”, it was as though her body had become fused with an expanse of automotive chrome.

At last he spoke. “Phew, I … Er… sorry Claire, I don’t mean to be treating you like a museum exhibit, I’ve just never seen anything … like this. That’s quite a brace. I’m no expert but …it’s not usual to have no …padding, is it? Isn’t the steel really hard? And it must be freezing in winter.”

She had been growing more self-conscious by the second as he had circled her, staring in silent wonderment. It was made worse by the fact that she couldn’t move her head to follow him. She was reminded of images of soldiers at attention being inspected on a parade ground, only they had it easier, they didn’t have to take all their clothes off. Now she seemed relieved to be able to answer his question, it distracted her from the bizarre situation she was in.

“No, …it’s not too bad. It’s best this way. This sounds awful but I sweat quite a bit under it when it’s hot and any kind of padding soon gets smelly. It really is better like this, easy to keep clean. I used to wear a stretchy cotton thing under it, from my armpits down to my thighs, but I don’t bother with it anymore. I don’t think it would be any more comfortable with padding. It fits me so well it doesn’t need it, I don’t have problems any localised pressure spots any more. I sometimes think my bones have actually learned to fit the brace. And cold isn’t a problem because it’s always under my clothes and next to my skin, so it’s always warm.”

“But what about when you first put it on?” He was imagining cold mornings after a nice hot bath.

She looked puzzled “But it’s always on. I never take it off, … I can’t.”

He was stunned.

“You mean …you’ve had it on… continuously, ever since you first got it?”


“And …how long is that, Claire?” he asked, almost whispering.

“I got it when I was fourteen, so I must have had it on for … seventeen years now” she said, matter-of-factly, “…well, a lot of this is new, of course it started off a lot smaller, only this neck ring is original, everything else has been replaced along the way as I grew. And these bits were plastic at first, until I stopped growing completely” she was stroking the girdle which gripped her stomach and pelvis.

As she continued her explanation he reeled at what he was hearing. The brace was designed so that it could be loosened for washing, but it could never be removed, for the neck ring was made in one piece, without any form of hinge or opening section. That ring had been fixed in place around her neck when she was a child of fourteen, and she had never had the brace off in all the years since then. Even when the brace had been modified, it was done with that ring still on her neck.

The girdle part was made from thin steel, moulded to fit her body perfectly. The brace-maker had made a plaster cast of her torso and had given it to an expert sheet-metal craftsman whose usual job was hand-beating curved metal body panels for vintage car and aircraft restorations. The workmanship was outstanding, not a wrinkle or a dent to be seen.

It was in 2 parts, left and right, the left extended across her belly, curving inwards and up to the base of her ribs and meeting the right in front of her hip.

The sides were rolled sharply inwards over her hips and up into what seemed a very small waist, and the rear of the girdle extended low across her buttocks, pressing them forward while the front pressed her stomach inward quite severely. She explained that she had found this to be the most unpleasant feature of the brace initially because she had great difficulty keeping her balance while walking or even standing with her pelvis held in this unnatural position. She had to stand with her knees bent very slightly to accommodate it. The front bottom edge of the girdle was curled outwards slightly but still pressed into the tops of her thighs when she sat down, uncomfortably so if she leaned forward.

He saw that the shaped parts were dotted here and there with small holes “I can imagine it getting hot under there in warm weather. Do those little holes allow it to breathe much?” he asked.

“They don’t really make it cooler inside, no. They were added as an afterthought to let air in and out but for a different reason. The problem was that there were pockets of air trapped around my buttocks and my tummy which were making really embarrassing farting sounds as they moved around or escaped from the edges, it happened every time I sat down or stood up or walked up steps. It was terrible, worse when I was sweaty. There was no way people would have believed it wasn’t me personally, so I never bothered to explain. People always seemed to leave a lot of space around me when it happened, I was very aware of it. It was months before he drilled the holes, that fixed it, but it was a really awful time.”

Now he could see why her breasts stood so proudly upon her chest, the brace incorporated two shining steel half-cups fixed to the front upright and projecting out, one under each breast dipping lower in front to clear her nipples. That’s what had pressed into him as they hugged. A nice detail though, he thought. She said she had never worn a bra, had never even owned one. She also said that she didn’t often wear panties either, she couldn’t easily get them on and off under the brace, and she couldn’t wear them over it. She showed him why.

Two curved steel bars ran from the front of the brace, down to rounded points nearly three inches below her pubic bone, then back between her legs and up to the back of the girdle. She explained that these were the girdle locking levers, one hinged to the front of the girdle and the other to the rear. To release the girdle so that she could wash herself she had to stand with her legs wide apart and reach down and swing the left lever down and forward until it stuck out in front of her. This released the front of the girdle near her right hip. Then she swung the right lever down and back until it projected behind her, releasing the centre rear fastening. Now she could spread the two halves enough to wash and dry her hips and under the broad pads round her ribs. But the brace was extremely awkward and uncomfortable in this open position as she could only stand, with the considerable weight of it hanging painfully on the neck ring. She could neither sit nor lie down because the opened locking levers projected at such awkward angles.

The levers were a relatively new addition. When the brace was first fitted she had great difficulty learning to tolerate its cruel grip on her young body. She knew it couldn’t be removed because the neck ring didn’t open, but she would still have tried to leave it open or at least loosened as much as possible, particularly during the long hours in bed, but this was not to be. The brace had been designed so that she couldn’t open it herself. The fastenings were on the back and required a special tool which her parents kept. They would loosen the girdle, which was plastic in those days, every evening to allow her to wash under it in the shower, and they would fasten it firmly again exactly forty minutes later in a grim ritual which was acted out daily for nearly a decade.

When she moved away from home in her early twenties the brace had been modified, with the addition of the levers, to allow her to open it herself, but she still wasn’t able to escape from it’s tight grip for long periods. Before long she realised that as restrictive as it might be, it was even more uncomfortable when hanging loose than when tightly fastened. As the muscles in her back had become weaker over time, she found it increasingly difficult to stand or bend with the brace open and she learned to wash, dry and powder herself quickly and then to close the brace and pull the levers up into the locked position. Basically it gave her no choice in the matter.

But even in the closed position she was constantly reminded of the presence of the levers. They were spaced about four inches apart where they passed between her legs, widening behind no doubt to minimize interference with bodily functions, but they caused her to walk with her knees spread slightly apart, both to ease the friction in her groin and to reduce the unpleasant jolting that the brace transmitted to her head as her thighs bumped against them.

The bars also made sitting in the brace both difficult and extremely uncomfortable. Because they extended several inches below her groin they contacted the seat just before her buttocks could take her full weight, pushing the brace upwards and making it difficult and exhausting to open her mouth against the pressure of the chin-plate. Not only this, but the lowest point on the bars’ curve was right at the very front which meant that when she sat down on a firm surface the brace made her topple backwards. If the seat had no backrest her only option was lean far forward until she could balance on the front points, her buttocks completely suspended an inch or so above the seat. Apart from looking very awkward and worsening the upward thrust on her chin, this position upset her sideways balance and made it difficult for her to see anything other than the floor in front of her feet.

She explained that one solution was to carry an inflatable ring cushion with her, although she had to learn to ignore the stares this inevitably drew from strangers because in most people’s minds the cushion evoked images of really severe piles.

And clearly it was these same bars that were the cause of her concern about the difficulties of lovemaking. In the locked position they would prevent anything more than very shallow penetration and would make things very uncomfortable for him. Their shape would also severely limit their choices of positions. The rather sharp angles they formed at the lower front would make the missionary position impossible, or any entry from the front for that matter. Then again, the way the curves ran closer to her body as they ran back between her buttocks meant that rear entry might just be possible, although probably by no means comfortable, and anal sex wouldn’t be much problem, in fact it might just be the answer, but he didn’t mention this as a possibility to her.

In the open position, the way the levers projected outwards, the added clumsiness of the loose brace and the lack of support it gave her all seemed to conspire against her. With the brace open, they decided, unless they managed some pretty spectacular balancing acts it would be quite impossible for him to get anywhere near her at all. They discussed all this with much giggling and joking, for there seemed no other way to deal with such a difficult subject, and so she felt only slight embarrassment and none of the humiliation she had so feared.

It suddenly occurred to her that she had been standing naked in his lounge explaining the intricacies and intimacies of her brace for what seemed like hours. “Sorry Dave, I’d never looked upon this brace as much of a conversation piece, and yet it really seems to dominate our conversation, doesn’t it? Poor thing, you must be bored stiff.”

He smiled inwardly. Stiff yes, but not bored in the least. If only she knew that he enjoyed this subject more than almost anything else in the world! He kissed her. “Of course not, silly, not at all” he was careful not to sound too interested. “It obviously affects how you live your life. And since I’m just a teeny bit interested in you, Claire, I’d like to know more about it. ” He didn’t think that would get him into too much trouble.

He returned to the subject at hand. “Why exactly do these levers have to be this shape anyway? I mean, it doesn’t seem very practical at all, does it? Are you sure the man who made this knew what he was doing? One wonders if he had any grasp at all of the mechanics of intercourse” His mind went back to his comment about chastity belts. He had been half-joking but the comment must have hit a nerve because the tone of her reply was noticeably defensive.

“Of course he knows what he’s doing. The orthopaedic specialist who prescribed this brace was perfectly happy to put my treatment fully in the hands of my brace maker, he said there’s no-one better qualified, he’s the best in his particular field of specialisation, treating complex conditions like mine. So I have complete confidence in him. He’s explained the whole thing to me in detail, many times in fact, I used to ask him so many questions. It’s all to do with how the brace actually does its work as I wear it. The locking levers are a very important part of the whole thing, mainly for the way they help when I’m sitting. You see, sitting is about the worst thing you could do to a back like mine, and the way the brace works is it sort of puts my spine in traction every time I sit down. It also lifts the bottom edge of the girdle here off my thighs a bit which makes sitting less uncomfortable.”

But the relaxed mood was gone, she now seemed hurt and almost insulted. “Well, I think I’ve done quite enough talking, and I’ve had enough standing too actually.” She bent with difficulty and reached down to pick up her blouse and skirt.

“Claire, I’m sorry if I sounded critical, I didn’t mean it like that, I was just being facetious, so please forget it. Do you want to sit down? More coffee?” he asked.

“No thanks, I’ve been sitting rather a lot. No, it’s late, I should get some clothes on and then I should probably go. Will you take me?”

He helped her into her blouse, wanting desperately to rekindle the warm and affectionate mood of earlier that had changed so suddenly. If she left in this mood now it could cause a rift between them that could take ages to repair. Time was short, in few short minutes they would be in the car. He decided to take the plunge and try the direct approach, it had worked for him already this evening, it might work again.

He took her hands and looked her in the eyes “Claire, I’ll take you home with pleasure if that’s what you want, but if you’d like to you’re very welcome to spend the night here.”

The look in her eyes showed that she really hadn’t been expecting this and she didn’t know quite how to deal with it “Gosh, Dave, Er… I think maybe another…”

He interrupted her “Claire we can leave our “access” experiments for another time, I’d just like to be close to you tonight … to cuddle up to you, nothing more. If you go home now I won’t sleep a wink, I know it. But if you want to go I’ll take you. There’s no pressure.”

Her nipples tingled again at the memory of his unfinished caress. “Well I don’t know, I mean, leaping into a man’s bed …on the first date, I didn’t think I was that kind of girl, and I’ve condemned girls who do, but I have to admit … some …closeness… does sound tempting.”

“Second date. We had coffee together the other day, remember?” He finished buttoning her blouse and kissed her. “After the market. That was a sort of a date wasn’t it, technically speaking?”

She giggled and kissed him back, joining in his game “Oh, of course, second. Well, that’s okay then. But if it was first it would have been out of the question, for a nice girl like me.” With a flourish she tossed her skirt onto the chair behind her.

He took her hand and without another word they made their way carefully up to his bedroom on the mezzanine.

Chapter Five

It was a beautiful Saturday morning and he woke from the most wonderful dream of his life. He opened his eyes to see that the dream was still here in his bed. She was real. She was lying on her back, displaying her stunning profile to him, her hair spilled carelessly around her. She had no pillow under head, she had asked him to place it under her knees last night, saying that although it seemed a silly place to put a pillow it was the most comfortable for her.

She must have been awake already because her eyes opened as she felt him stir. She felt for his hand and tried unsuccessfully to swivel her eyes far enough to see him, her greeting coming out in typical first-thing-in-the-morning croaks.

He took her hand “Hello gorgeous, what a perfect sight you are to wake up to” he said, meaning it. “Have you been awake long? How’d you sleep? ”

“Not long” she yawned without opening her mouth much “but I couldn’t turn over to see if you were awake or not. I slept really well, and I had a lovely dream about you. Thanks …for asking me to stay. I’ve never shared a bed with anyone, I reckon I could get to like it.” She smiled.

“I’m really glad you did. Yes, as a very wise little stuffed bear once said “It’s friendlier with two”, and definitely cuddlier.” He placed his hand on the warm steel shell encasing her belly, feeling his morning erection respond instantly.

She must have felt the movement of his hand on the steel girdle because she said “I should have warned you last night, I’m about as cuddly as a log in this thing.”

“Nonsense, you’re doing fine. And of all the logs I’ve ever cuddled you are, madam, without doubt, quite the most beautiful” he raised himself up on his elbow and slid his hand across the steel girdle, finding a gap on her side where he could feel her soft skin. He stroked her there.

“Flattery will get you everywhere sir. Hmmm. That’s nice… it’s so wonderful to be touched like that, …it’s another new experience for me.”

He continued to massage and stroke softly at the small areas of her torso that were not covered by her brace, intending his touch to be more sensual than sexual. It seemed she had other ideas. “Please touch my breasts,” she whispered huskily “I really like it when you do.”

“And quite the most permissive log too.” he joked as he bent over her and traced around her nipple with the tip of his nose. “Mmmmm … and look at these, not something you see on your everyday log…”

They lay there together for a long while, talking, laughing and exploring each other with touch. They were both highly aroused, but he knew there would be plenty of time to find release in the days ahead. Things had progressed extremely quickly by any standards. He realised that this must all be very sudden for her too, and had right now he felt it was more important to build her trust and dismantle her emotional barriers, rather than sweep her insecurities aside under a wave of passion and have her question the wisdom of it afterwards and perhaps retreat from him.

“Fancy a cup of coffee?” he asked her as they lay together listening to the birds.

“Hmm. I was hoping we could just lie here together forever, can’t we?” she protested weakly.

“Come on lazybones, it’s a really beautiful day.”

She was still flat on her back, as she had been all the time “If you want me upright you’re going to have to help, I’m about as nimble as an upturned tortoise.”

At her suggestion he dragged her legs off the side of the bed, turning her crossways, then he took her hands and pulled her to her feet. He wondered how she would have managed alone.

He lent her a big tee-shirt which she pulled on over her brace and he helped her down to the kitchen, noticing that she was finding the staircase easier now that she was more familiar with it.

He got busy making the coffee and she had a look out at the garden for the first time in daylight, then seated herself at the table. “You’re welcome to use the shower if you like” he offered.

“Er …I don’t suppose you have a hairdryer, do you?” she asked. He shook his head. “It’s not for my hair so much, but so I can dry inside my brace properly. Since you haven’t I’ll wait till I get home.”

“What can I offer you to eat, cereal, muesli, there’s some fruit there, or I can make us some porridge?”

“Hey, you eat porridge too? Would it be a hassle? I’d really love some, I hardly know anyone else who likes it. I find muesli takes too much chewing, and chewing isn’t such fun in this thing.”

So he had been right about her choices off the menu last night. He put the porridge on and poured the coffee. Then he went through to the lounge to put on some music. Returning to the kitchen he halted in the doorway to savour the wonderful sight before him. There, sipping her coffee and enjoying the morning sun on her bare legs was the woman he had always dreamed of. She was seated at the small table with her back to him, her hair was twisted up into an untidy knot exposing the top of her brace.

“Hey, what’s this?” he said, feigning astonishment, “there’s a beautiful woman in my kitchen! How very odd. I wonder who she could be? How did she get here? I’d better have a closer look at her. Boy, she’s really quite a looker.” He approached her slowly from behind, she began to giggle but couldn’t turn to see what he was up to.

“She’s even more beautiful than I thought, but what could she be doing in my kitchen? She can’t be a gift, it’s not my birthday. Where could she have come from, wearing only a tee-shirt? I suppose I should report this, hand her in, someone may have lost her. Yes, that would be the responsible thing to do…”

He slipped his fingers between the rear uprights of her brace and gently touched her slender neck. He felt her breathe in sharply and he saw her put down her coffee cup and close her eyes, she was enjoying this little game, it seemed.

“Then again, seeing as she’s here… and nobody’s looking…” He stood behind her and began to cover her cheeks and ears with small nibbling kisses, and his stroking fingers found her nipples through the cotton of her tee-shirt. Any other woman he knew would have squirmed and ducked or even angled her head to present an easier target, but it was different for her. Her delicious giggles, squeals and purrs told him that she was clearly enjoying his attentions but the brace wouldn’t allow her any active participation, she could neither escape nor direct his focus to where she wanted it. She was forced to sit stiffly as though she had been firmly bound to the chair while he teased her with his tiny kisses.

Then he kissed her passionately on the lips and she looped her arms around his neck and held him. He said quietly “She’s quite nice actually, and friendly too, I think I might just keep her, I’ll keep her hidden and see if anyone comes looking for her…”

She giggled again and jabbed him playfully in the ribs, muttering about having somehow been unlucky enough to find herself attracted to an eccentric half-witted clown.

Then, as he moved to check on the porridge, a more serious expression came over her face. “Dave? Can I ask you something? You said last night that you weren’t showing me off at a cocktail party because you wanted me for yourself, d’you remember?”

“Yerrss…,” he replied in the uncertain manner of one who is wondering just where a line of questioning is heading.

“Well, I don’t mean to be presumptuous again, but do you think you would ever… I mean supposing, hypothetically speaking of course, we were to keep seeing one another and the time comes when you don’t feel you need to keep me to yourself anymore… do you think you’d ever want to …show me off, to your friends, as your date or even as your partner? What I’m asking is would it embarrass you … you’ve seen how everyone stares at me in this …thing? You heard them whisper last night as we went into the restaurant, you saw them staring and pointing. It’s always like that, and it’s not going to go away. I’m sort of used to it, it doesn’t get to me too often any more, but how about you? Would you cope with that or would it embarrass you terribly? Or would it make you angry? Would you prefer to hide me away, keep me to yourself as you said, so you don’t have to deal with the way people look at me? …I’d understand.”

“Claire! For heaven’s sake! What brought this about? Stop talking like this. We need to get a few things cleared up here. For starters, I definitely plan to keep seeing you, unless you can think of a very, very good reason why I can’t. Okay? And secondly, if I want to hide you away it’s only, and I mean only, so I don’t have to share you or divide my attention. I can’t imagine ever being embarrassed about you in any way at all. If it would make you feel better we could spend all our time with people around us but you’d have to be prepared for a bit of embarrassment yourself.”

She looked puzzled.

“Well, I’d probably ignore everybody else all the time, fondle you and stick my tongue in your ear a lot and try to get your clothes off at inopportune moments. It might be construed as being a bit antisocial, so I think we might be better off in private, but we can always try it at dinner parties if you’d like.” Her expression said that she didn’t find the prospect altogether disagreeable.

“Claire, hasn’t it ever occurred to you that people are just looking at you as a truly beautiful woman? Movie stars and models get the same treatment, you know. The men all look first and the wives all look to see who he’s perving over, and then they have a little chat about it. You can be sure they’re all suitably envious.”

“Oh, come on Dave, nice try, but you know it’s this brace they all look at, you can’t pretend otherwise.”

“Sure, people notice it, but so what? It’s unusual, that’s all. If you wore a sombrero on your head or grew a handlebar moustache people would look at that instead. It doesn’t mean anything Claire.”

But he could see from her face that she was dismissing his reassurances, her insecurities were very deep-rooted and they would have this same conversation again many times in the weeks and months ahead before she would even begin to believe him.

He went on “All they’re thinking is “Gee, what a beautiful woman, and what a lucky bloke that is with her” and some of them notice that you are wearing a brace, but it doesn’t change their impression, they have no reason to think any less of you. Claire, I was very proud to be seen with you at the restaurant last night, but quite frankly what other people think isn’t the point. What matters to me is what I feel about you, I like being with you and I want to spend a lot more time with you, if that’s okay with you.”

She pulled him towards her for a kiss “Of course it’s okay with me, silly”.

Then, after a pause, she asked in a small voice “So does that mean you might …just possibly… take me to a cocktail party with your friends one day?”

“Well, …I suppose …I might, if you were very nice to me” he teased, and then he added “actually, it just so happens that a very talented sculptor from Barcelona has a new exhibition opening at the waterfront art gallery next Sunday evening, and I’ve been invited. I’m sure I’ll know quite a few people there. Are we ready to do a bit of showing off?”

Her face lit up “D’you mean Espinal? I read about it. Oh god, Dave I’d love to go!”

“Perfect. You’re on.” Then his expression became serious “Er… there’s just one condition though, Claire, something you’ll have to understand if you want me to ‘display’ you in front of my friends and at social gatherings and important functions.”

“A condition…?” She looked uneasy. Would he want her to choose outfits to conceal the brace as far as possible or that she avoid attracting too much attention to it?

“Yes. All the rest of the time I’ll still want to keep you hidden, all to myself, in case the people who lost you come to find you and take you back.”

This earned him another playful swat from her. She was clearly going to have to learn to be less gullible or get used to his good-natured teasing.

He dished up the porridge and sat down opposite her. She had, by now, been sitting for quite a while and he watched as she pulled herself up on the neck ring, opening her mouth as she had in the car.

“Are you okay?” he asked “Is it uncomfortable?”

“No, not really. Restrictive, but not uncomfortable as such. Although I can remember a time when I couldn’t have said the same.”

His pulse quickened as he sensed that she was going to talk about the brace again. She didn’t seem to mind talking about it, which was fine by him. More than fine, it thrilled him. He had been wondering for a while now whether he should tell her about his special interest in her brace. Was it a good idea? Would it help her confidence? Or would it be the biggest mistake he ever made in his life?

She was describing a less comfortable time. “Old Franz made a modification to my brace once when I was younger which made it almost impossible to wear, there were these two steel bars which came up here from under my arms” she indicated a curving line up the front of each shoulder to the height of her collarbones “pulling my shoulders back and pushing them really high, and I couldn’t relax on them because I got pins and needles in my arms. I had to strain upwards to relieve the pressure on them. He said it was very good for my back, but it was hell. The worst part of it was … ” she laughed a little nervously “sorry, this probably isn’t such a great breakfast table topic … that I couldn’t touch my … bottom.” She blushed a little as she continued “With my shoulders pushed up so high I couldn’t reach down to wipe myself on the toilet – it sounds silly but it made my fingers about an inch too short. I had to be helped every time, which was unbelievably embarrassing, I can tell you. It was just too ghastly. Franz was really sympathetic, he was even kind enough to make a gadget for me with a handle, but it didn’t really work.” He could almost see a shadow pass over her lovely face as she remembered.

“I found I simply couldn’t deal with the whole thing, it was just too much, too many embarrassments … it lead to some of the most humiliating situations of my life. I begged and pleaded with him and eventually, after months and months, he lowered them a bit, which solved that immediate problem, but at the same time he moved them further back so they were almost more restrictive and still really uncomfortable. When he removed them a few years ago he said he was very happy with the effect they had had. I think my back does seem better for them. And my posture has benefited, makes me stick my boobs out more.” She swivelled playfully from side to side, as if modelling a brassiere for him.

“I must say this fact has not gone unnoticed, nor indeed unappreciated” he smiled “I think I speak for mankind as a whole when I say your Franz has done a fine job. I should like to shake his hand someday.” But he didn’t want to interrupt her, he couldn’t be sure it would be possible to get her to talk about this same stuff again in the future, so it was better to keep her rolling while she was at it anyway. “It still looks bloody uncomfortable I must say, having that thing jammed up under your chin all the time.”

“My chin used to go numb from the pressure, but it’s okay now. It’s not too bad really, but if I want to be able to open my mouth to eat I have to cheat a bit, either by sitting on the ring cushion I told you about or by sitting right on the front edge of the chair, like I’m doing now. I was doing it at the restaurant last night too. It’s not really the answer though, the bottom edge of the girdle bites my thighs here when I do it.”

He decided that the time was right to ask the question that had been on his mind all along, although he was beginning to think he already knew the answer. “Claire, seventeen years seems an awfully long time to wear a brace. Will you have to wear it much longer?”

She gave a half-shrug “Franz says that normally, for scoliosis by itself anyway, treatment only lasts a few years, it’s just a matter of getting everything into a straight line and holding it there until you stop growing. That’s what we thought when my treatment started, but every time the brace was due to come off there were worsening signs of a new complication, disc degeneration, which required monitoring for another few years and more uncomfortable additions to the brace. It seems to have been going on like that forever, and it’s clearly not getting better. It’s been very upsetting I can tell you. He says my condition is very unusual, they don’t know what causes the disc degeneration because it isn’t normally associated with scoliosis, but it’s fortunate that he’s had a lot of experience, apparently he’s treated a number of the reported cases. He said that if it had been left untreated or even if he’d had stopped treatment I would have been in a wheelchair by now, in constant pain with collapsed discs and pinched nerves, even spinal cord damage. He said I’m remarkably fortunate to have no pain at all now. He should know, he’s seen other cases.”

“The last time I went to see him he was pleased with the way things were going. He told me that my back is now holding its alignment at last but that that it wasn’t very stable and the disc degeneration seemed to be slowing. The brace will have to stay on for the foreseeable future to limit movement, without it things will progress very rapidly. He said as long as I keep my weight constant the brace will continue to fit me and do its job. I don’t even need to go back to see him, unless something breaks, but as you can see it’s very solidly made”.

“Yes, I suppose gaining weight would certainly cause things to get pretty crowded in there” he laughed.

“It’s not a problem really, I never snack between meals, and I can’t eat a lot in one sitting,” she patted the front of the girdle where it curved inwards, pressing into her abdomen “with this thing I feel full after tea and a sandwich. I can feel it if I put on even the tiniest bit of weight, most people only notice when they’ve already gained ten pounds.”

“I was going to ask you if you had to exercise your back, to keep it flexible, but from what you’ve told me I suppose it wouldn’t be a clever idea”

“No, since this brace isn’t going to be coming off anytime soon there’s not much point in trying to maintain flexibility, and the flexibility exercises themselves would probably just hurry the degeneration along and cause me a lot of unnecessary pain, which I’m happy to avoid, I can tell you. Apparently the pain from this condition can be really terrible.”

“Have you met any of his other patients? Is their treatment much the same as yours?” he was wondering if he could gently lure her into describing other braces she might have seen.

“No, I always thought I would bump into someone else at his workshop when I went for fittings, but it never seemed to happen. But there were often things in his workshop, braces for other people. I think I’ve got off lightly with my treatment, looking at some of those contraptions.”

“Oh, how so?” asked casually, trying to sound only mildly interested, but in reality he felt as excited as a schoolboy alone in a roomful of dirty magazines.

“God, some of those braces looked too horrible for words, I can’t imagine having to move around wearing some of them. I think that’s partly why I tried never to complain to him about mine, even when I thought it was all too much to bear. What some of those people must have had to endure…” She shuddered involuntarily at the images in her mind.

But she didn’t elaborate, perhaps she didn’t think he’d be interested. Most people probably wouldn’t be. He was desperately curious, but he knew better than to press her for more detail. He sensed that this was precisely the sort of moment which, if it occurred once too often, would alert her to the fact that he had much more than a passing interest in such things. And he didn’t want that to happen, not until he was ready to tell her.

He felt quite flattered that she was comfortable volunteering even this much information about her brace and her treatment and the effect they had had on her life. But a big part of him also felt guilty because he so enjoyed hearing it, in fact he got very turned on when she discussed the details of it. He wasn’t being turned on directly by her suffering was he? He certainly hoped not, but what was it then? He knew he was going to have to work out exactly what processes were at work here, before the guilt began to eat at him.

Chapter Six

It wasn’t long before they were seeing each other almost every day. Sometimes he would drop in to see her after work and they would go for a walk along the waterfront or the beach or they’d just sit watching the sea and talking. Or he’d come round to her place later and they’d cook together. On Fridays he’d pick her up after work and she’d spend the weekend at his place.

So when the lease on her apartment came up for review it wasn’t difficult to see the advantages of her moving in with him. She couldn’t drive a car because of her brace and he was having to do all the travelling when they saw each other. This way they’d have more time together. Her job as a freelance writer and editor allowed her to work from home, he had a spare room she could turn into her study and when he was out at work she could have the whole house to herself. And the rent money she saved would go towards a ‘weekend away fund’, either for fun trips together or, if the need should arise, for either of them to escape for some time alone.

It looked to be a good set-up and it was. Their relationship flourished under the new living arrangements and the future looked bright for them. Her self-confidence was slowly responding to his careful nurturing and with it every aspect of her being began to blossom.

She told him regularly about new compliments she received from friends and business acquaintances who could see the positive changes in her. Love was clearly good for her.

He, in turn, was living in a dream-come-true, he was happier here with her than he had ever been in his life. Except for one thing. He still had a secret. He still couldn’t decide how to tell her about his very special interest in her brace, or whether to tell her at all. He wanted to. To tell her about how much he loved to watch the way it held her, the way it made her move. He wanted to tell her that he couldn’t take his eyes off it when she walked around the house naked. At first she had been self-conscious about appearing in the nude but at his suggestion and with much gentle encouragement she was leaving her beautiful braced body uncovered for longer periods when they were alone. He told her often how much he adored her body and she was feeling better about herself and growing more confident, but she clearly had no idea just how much her brace turned him on.

If she knew how appealing he found the brace it might help to make her less insecure about it. Perhaps he owed it to her, for just that reason, to tell her. He had even considered going all the way and telling her everything, spilling the beans about his various secret fascinations with all sorts of orthopaedic apparatus, braces, casts, crutches, wheelchairs, even orthodontic braces, and some bondage and gags. But he wondered if there was anything to be gained by telling all this. There was certainly a lot to lose if she didn’t like what he told her. Too much to lose, and no way of retracting it once he had told her. And too many perfectly good reasons why she might not understand or appreciate it, hell, he wasn’t even sure he understood it. And the most wonderful woman he had ever known might very possibly call him a sick pervert and walk out of the door forever. No, it definitely wasn’t worth the risk. Not until he could be sure of how she might react.

So he would have to carry his secret a while longer. But he was also carrying a burden of guilt associated with his fascination, and the gnawing discomfort of it was beginning to tell on him. It was time to address it.

Meeting Claire had been a dream come true for him. In the short time he had known her they had connected better than he had ever done with anyone, on any level he could think of. They shared such similar values and sensibilities it was as if they had grown up together, and yet they could look forward to spending the rest of their lives discovering each other and growing together. She was perfect in every way.

And then there was his special interest, his fetish, although he hated that label. For as long as he could remember, since very early childhood anyway, he’d had this interest, so deep-rooted it seemed to border on instinct. He had always been drawn to images and descriptions of braces and medical contraptions and treatments, it had just always been so. And on the rare occasions he saw real examples of them the effect on him was always so strong he felt as though he had been drugged, shot with a tranquilliser dart at the instant his eye fell on the subject of his attention. Even single words could stir something in him. Words like ‘traction’, ‘harness’, ‘wheelchair’, ‘corset’. And ‘brace’.

Most of his erotic daydreams had featured some element of it, restriction of movement, inconvenience or restraint, usually with a medical flavour. It’s not to say that ‘ordinary’ plain-vanilla sex held no appeal for him, just that when it came to fantasy the ‘enhanced’ stuff gave him more bang for the buck.

And Claire wore a brace, a very special brace, and had done for a long, long time. Not only was she his perfect woman, she seemed also to be his erotic fantasy come true. Things should have been perfect. But they weren’t.

Instead he found that he couldn’t reconcile his love for her with his fetish. The two seemed to conflict with one another. In short he felt guilty when he got turned on by her descriptions of life inside her brace and he wished that Claire didn’t have to be the one who had to wear this brace that fascinated him so.

He knew very well that he was turned on by the sight of Claire in her brace. He wasn’t really questioning that, it didn’t seem too weird or too complicated. He was a very visual person, with clear tastes. It was a visual attraction, a visual preference, not very different from the way he liked to look at women in certain fashions or certain styles of shoes. A lot of men enjoy the fact that a woman in a tight skirt and high heels moves in a distinctive way. A woman in a brace moves in a different but no less distinctive way, and a woman on crutches in a different way again. A woman with long hair moves and tosses her head differently from a woman who has never worn her hair long, and a woman in a neck brace must move her whole body to move her head. His visual preferences weren’t mainstream, but that didn’t make them less valid.

No, his guilt came not from the way she looked, but from her descriptions of how the brace felt, of the discomfort she had endured in it, of her suffering. Those descriptions turned him on. Was he sick? How could he derive pleasure from hearing her describe something which she found so unpleasant? She had suffered in the brace. Her life had been changed by it. She had been denied opportunities and forced into unpleasant situations by the brace. How could he be turned on by her suffering? He was in love with her, he wanted to nurture and protect her. So how could he find pleasure in her pain?

But he felt quite sure that he didn’t get his kicks directly from the unhappiness the brace caused her. On the contrary in fact, if Claire told him she was uncomfortable right now he’d make every effort to alleviate her discomfort and he certainly wouldn’t find it erotic in the least. But he did get very aroused when she launched into detailed descriptions of her brace and her treatment, particularly uncomfortable treatment. Why was that? Why should there be a difference? What was it?

He thought back to his youth, to the hours he had spent in the medical section of the public library. He would page through books about hospitals and orthopaedic procedures, or search encyclopaedias and even dictionaries for words like ‘Iron Lung’ and ‘Artificial Limb’ and ‘Orthodontics’ in the hope of finding a fuzzy photo or perhaps a bad line drawing or at the very least a technical description. But his favourites were always the firsthand personal accounts. They were much better than the dry technical stuff. When he found a book or an article containing some unfortunate woman’s story of her unpleasant medical treatment he would hungrily scan the pages for more detailed descriptions of her experiences, the more detailed the better, of what it was like, what it felt like, how confining she found the brace, how painful the traction, how embarrassing the catheter, how restrictive the casts or how difficult her rehabilitation. And he’d be aroused by it. Very aroused.

But he was sure he didn’t associate his arousal with that woman directly, only with the description she gave. It was as if she wasn’t important. Sometimes the patient was old and fat and wrinkly, sometimes it wasn’t even a woman, he still enjoyed the account. And it occurred to him that he was taking that description away into his imagination and picturing the scene in his mind, with a faceless abstract ‘patient’ in the lead role, the real patient almost forgotten. True accounts were for him like instant, pre-scripted erotic fantasies. They were story-fantasies.

He thought about his other fantasies, his daydreams. He had noticed that even in sleep dreams you know who people are, even if you can’t see their faces. But in his erotic daydreams the ‘patient’ never had a face and she was never anyone he knew, she was somehow abstract, a non-person, less real even than a dream character.

Then it struck him. Could it be that while he was reading a description of some procedure or device he was imagining himself in that situation? Himself! Were the faceless patients who replaced the writers actually himself? And the ones in his fantasies too? Is that why he could never recognise them? They couldn’t be anyone else because they were him, he was in them, straining against the contraptions they were wearing, experiencing the restrictions, enduring the procedures.

Could this be his problem? His fantasy suddenly had a face, and the face was Claire, beautiful, sensitive Claire. He didn’t want that. He wanted Claire, and he wanted his story-fantasies. But he wanted them separately. If he imagined Claire’s face suffering in one of her stories it didn’t turn him on at all, in fact it upset him to imagine her pain. But her stories turned him on if he didn’t see her in them, because then he could be in there, feeling what she was describing.

Claire wasn’t his fantasy. She much more than a fantasy, she was real. She was his love. His fantasies weren’t for falling in love with, fantasies would come and go. He was in love with Claire, and he could continue to enjoy the way she looked and moved in her brace, even the fact that she wore it. And he needn’t feel guilty when she described her suffering, she would just be providing the scripts for lots more story-fantasies for him.

Well, that was a nice clean, sanitised theory and it made him feel a lot better. He didn’t know if the head shrinkers would agree with it, but they only worked on theory anyway, and who was to say theirs were more correct than his? He also wasn’t sure if his theory would stand up to every situation he encountered, but at least it was a start and it would allow him to enjoy the unique opportunities this relationship would offer without feeling guilty.

Chapter Seven

Moving in with a new partner is always an exciting time of discovery and surprises, but he was to find that Claire’s brace and the limitations imposed upon her mobility added a whole extra dimension to the adventure.

One of the first things he learned was never to leave things lying around on the floor as he had in the past, she simply couldn’t see them. On one occasion she slipped on a sock he had dropped onto the bathroom floor only moments earlier when he stepped into the shower. She fell heavily, almost breaking her elbow and striking the back of her head on the floor hard enough to knock herself unconscious. He emerged from the shower completely unaware of what had happened just as she was coming to. He would never need another reminder of this lesson. It would never happened again.

They did notice, though, that during the years she had spent in her brace she had developed an interesting way of reducing the inconvenience caused by its restriction of her field of view. She had a way of scanning her surroundings rapidly on entering a room and memorising the positions of things around her while she could see them and before she sat down. She had not even been aware of doing it, and realised it only when he commented on it. He had been looking for the TV remote and she told him it was behind him, but there was clearly no way she could see it from where she was sitting. It took her a while to work out how she had known. He even had fun testing her from time to time and she was always right.

Her brace also required an extensive rearrangement of the contents of all the cupboards in his house, particularly the very lowest ones in the kitchen. It was almost impossible for her to look into a low cupboard for something and very difficult to reach in to get it. Looking under a bed to find something and pull it out was even more impossible. She couldn’t bend forward at the hips and then look sideways as one normally would. Once she had bent down she could only see the floor beside the bed, nothing more.

He also noticed that when leaning far forward, whether she was on her knees or standing, the muscle weakness caused by spending more than half her life in the grip of the brace meant that she needed at least one hand to support herself. He had seen this for the first time when he noticed her resting her hands on her knees at the market. In fact his comment to her about the table being too low had been somewhat prophetic. There were several things in his home which had worked fine for him at knee level but had to be raised to make them accessible to her, the VCR and CD player were now on a new shelf at chest height. The telephone too was now fixed high on the wall.

Bedtime was still not as close for them as he would have liked. She was forced to lie flat on her back, it was simply too uncomfortable for her to lie on her side, however many pillows they tried to pack around her. So no matter how much she wanted to curl up against him she had no choice but to lie there ramrod straight, facing the ceiling, moving only her eyes and arms. She relied on him to hold her, to lie against her, to lay his thigh across hers, and to lean over her when they made eye contact or kissed. He also found that he had to read her moods in bed very carefully because even when she was desperate to cuddle him she gave the outward impression of one who was completely indifferent or sulking, and conversely, on those rare occasions when she was hurt or angry and might have wanted to turn her back to him there was no way she could.

She had once told him that the brace was only really comfortable when she was lying down or, to a lesser extent, when she was standing. But getting from the one position to the other wasn’t easy for her. The brace’s rigidity and the weakness of her torso muscles made it difficult for her to lift or move herself on the soft mattress using her elbows. She had relied on a handle suspended over her bed at home and he had transferred it when she moved in with him. She used it to pull herself up into a sitting position and to lift her buttocks clear of the bed so she could use her legs to scuttle sideways like a crab when positioning herself.

If it was difficult for her get in and out of bed, seemingly small things were even more difficult. Something quite simple like sitting up and turning around to adjust pillows or propping up on one elbow to reset the clock-radio or have a sip of water were almost impossible for her and required huge effort. Even if she pulled on the bar to sit up she still couldn’t turn around so it was usually easier for her to get out of bed completely, which she couldn’t do without waking him.

Sharing a home and spending time together was working well for both of them but it was causing a very worrying problem for her, a problem he knew absolutely nothing about.

He always left for work straight after breakfast and returned at six. But one day he arrived home unexpectedly to collect some documents he had forgotten. He parked in the street and let himself in, calling out to her as he picked up the folder he had left on the kitchen table.

“Claire?” She didn’t answer.

“Claire? Where are you, gorgeous?”

He knew she was home because the kettle had just boiled and she was halfway through making herself a cup of tea. He went to look for her, calling as he went.

“Claire? You’re not seducing the postman again are you?”

He found her standing in the bedroom. “Ha, there you are. Why didn’t you answer?” He went over to kiss her but stopped in his tracks. She was facing him, blushing crimson and wearing the terrified expression of an animal caught in the headlights. He had never seen her like this.

“Claire? What’s wrong? What’s happened? Claire? Speak to me!”

She still didn’t answer. He was by now genuinely worried about her, he couldn’t imagine what would cause her to behave this way. She was wringing her hands in front of her mouth.

“Claire, say something.” He made to move towards her.

“Wnn Nnnn” she answered in a small voice, her frightened eyes avoiding his.

“Claire? What’s happened? Why can’t you speak to me?”

She looked at him and opened her lips in an exaggerated humourless grin revealing something in her mouth which covered her teeth. Then she burst into tears and fled past him into the bathroom, locking the door behind her.

His gentle pleading outside the door brought no response from her but he could hear rustling of clothing and the familiar sounds of her locking levers opening, she was opening the brace, but why? She only did that to shower. A few minutes later he heard her blowing her nose, then the key turned and the door opened. She stood stiffly in the doorway with tears streaming down her cheeks.

“Sorry” she said, almost whispering between sobs.

He went to her and put his arms around her. “Claire, what’s wrong? Whatever it is you can tell me.”

She took a deep sobbing breath and led him to the kitchen, saying it was a long story and she needed tea. When it was poured and she had composed herself she began.

“The way my brace pushes up on my chin might be good for my back but it’s hell on my teeth. I have a mild overbite and the brace was making it steadily worse. So I have to wear a moulded plastic thing in my mouth to spread the force through my jaws and keep my teeth aligned.”

“You’ve never told me about it. How come I’ve never seen it?”

“Before I moved in here with you I always slept with it in, and since I did my writing work from home I wore it during the day too, mainly because it makes sitting much more comfortable.”

“But you’ve never worn it here, have you?. Don’t you need to anymore?”

“I do need to, I wanted to, but I was too shy. I just couldn’t bring myself to wear it in front of you. I came close a few times but I always lost my nerve at the last moment. I’ve started putting it in while you’re at work because I can feel my teeth starting to move from all the sitting.”

“But Claire if it’s bad for your teeth to go without it why haven’t you worn it here? Why won’t you wear it in front of me?” He remembered that he had seen her pulling herself up on her neck ring more frequently, but she always dismissed his concerned questions, saying she was fine.

“I didn’t want to wear it because I can’t speak at all with it in. Can’t even make a sound, it fills my whole mouth, right down under my tongue and everything, and round the front of my teeth too. Here, look.” She took a plastic object from her pocket and held out to him.

It was huge, almost taller than it was wide, and moulded from clear pinkish acrylic plastic. There were small wire clips embedded in the plastic adjacent to some of her teeth. He could see that it would cover her teeth and gums completely, extending into every corner of her mouth. It was hard to imagine any empty space at all once it was in position, it would even surround her tongue.

“God, Claire, I’m amazed you can even get this whole thing into your mouth! Frankly I’m not surprised that you’re not very chatty with it in.”

“It took a lot of getting used to, at first I got really claustrophobic and panicky with all that in my mouth. I used to start retching the moment I put it in. It still makes my mouth water an awful lot. The thing that makes it awkward is that I can’t get it in or out until I’ve loosened my brace, it’s just too big, I can’t open my mouth enough. I’ve even had to learn to sneeze with it in because I can never get it out in time. That wasn’t fun at first, I always thought my head would explode.”

“So is that why you didn’t answer the phone when I called here the other day? You were …plugged up?”

“Yes, sorry about that. Force of habit I suppose. Before I moved here I just used to let the machine take a message when the phone rang, it was easier than rushing the whole procedure to get it out in time. Then I’d just return the calls when I was having lunch. I was sometimes uneasy about wearing it when I lived alone though. I had an awful experience one night, I think it must have had a bit of food poisoning. I woke up in a sweat, knowing I was about to be violently sick, but I didn’t want to throw up until I got that great thing out of my mouth, and I couldn’t do that until the brace was loosened! First I lost precious time when I tried feeling for my pull handle above me in the dark, but I got so frantic I somehow unhooked it and it came off in my hand. So I had to push myself up without using it, on my elbows, but in this thing it’s terribly hard work, and then my elbow slipped off the bed and I nearly fell out on my head, I really am like a tortoise when I’m on my back, as you’ve seen! I eventually made it off the bed and managed to get my pajama-bottoms off, but then in my haste I fumbled with the back catch and got it jammed, at which point I really panicked! So I was trying unsuccessfully to prise this thing out of my mouth with the brace still on when I started vomiting. I really thought I was going to suffocate, it was ghastly! I think I stretched my neck by about three inches that night, trying to open my mouth! I wouldn’t want to go through a night like that again!”

He smiled at her “Well if I have anything to do with it you won’t be living alone again, ever.” He suddenly looked at his watch “Crumbs, I must go or I’m going to be late for my meeting” then he looked at her “Claire, …put this in before I go.” He held out the bite-plate.

She looked bashful “Oh. Can’t we start tomorrow, please, I…”

“We should have started ages ago. Put it in now, please Claire. Do you need help?”

“Do I really have to? …okay, you can do the back lever if you don’t mind.” She dropped her pants and they opened the brace, letting it drop a few inches so she could get the plate into her mouth. He imagined her sliding her tongue into its smooth plastic recess as the device settled into place. She pursed her lips and worked cheeks this way and that until she was comfortable, then she lifted the brace and they closed it and he pulled her pants up.

“Okay?” he asked.

“Mm” she replied softly.

He smiled and kissed her, but she wouldn’t open her lips to his probing tongue.

“Claire …?” he said, his deadpan face only an inch from hers, “I bet you can’t say ‘sixpence’.”

She chased him all the way to his car, making an exasperated mewing sound and hitting him repeatedly with an oven-glove.

Chapter Eight

The intrusion of the bite-plate into their relationship required some significant changes in the way they interacted. She was completely mute while wearing it and quite unable to make any intelligible sounds other than one nasal grunt for yes and two for no. Since the brace already prevented any expressive body movements she was limited to using scribbled messages when she needed to communicate with him. She had a number of notepads and small white-boards scattered around the house and would write a short sentence, grunt to get his attention and then hold the message out to him.

He, in turn, found himself talking to her more than he had before, largely perhaps in an effort to alleviate her isolation. In the same way that two people who know each other well will sometimes finish each other’s sentences he was learning to anticipate her side of the dialogue and saying it aloud on her behalf, phrasing things in the form of questions which could be answered with a grunt or two. But most of their important conversation took place at mealtimes, during which time she talked almost incessantly. Throughout the day she would be compiling a mental list of things she wanted to say and then when she removed the bite-plate for meals she said them all in one long stream. He got used to having delayed, out of context conversations long after their moment had passed, and he seldom interrupted her when she was enjoying her brief periods of vocal liberty. They also did their showering and bathing together to extend her talk-time.

Apart from making her lips and cheeks appear a bit fuller, the plate was hardly visible while in place. When she smiled its bulk tended to make her lips part involuntarily but it wasn’t noticeable to anyone who didn’t know to look for it. He loved the way she sometimes pursed her lips and moved them from side to side while she was wearing it, as though she was enjoying the sensation of her cheeks sliding over the smooth plastic. It was clearly an unconscious act and he didn’t want mention it in case she became self-conscious and stopped doing it.

She liked wearing the bite-plate in spite of the fact that it prevented her from speaking. Her teeth and jaw were far more comfortable and the brace functioned better when she was sitting. The edge of the girdle didn’t cut into her thighs so much when her weight was taken on the chin pad and she could get the full effect of the gravity traction on her spine which would help her condition. It was also having an interesting side-effect on their relationship in that he was forced to be more perceptive to her needs and moods. Their communication seemed to have transcended mere talking and moved to a more subtle and intuitive exchange of feelings.

At first she only wore it in bed at night and between meals if she was at home, but she was soon so relaxed about wearing it in his presence that she would leave it in when they went out walking, and sometimes even shopping. Communication was a lot more difficult in public. She didn’t much like grunting with people around and they could only make very limited use of eye contact because she could only see him if he was standing directly in front of her. Their solution was that on these outings they would hold hands as they walked and she would communicate through his hand, squeezing it in different ways to express things or ‘steering’ it to point things out or indicate her wishes to him.

She was soon bold enough to try leaving it in when they went out to movies together. She hadn’t enjoyed movies much before, the long periods of sitting hurt her teeth, but she found wearing the bite-plate made a huge difference, both in the car and during the movie. Out in public her mute condition required him to be close by her at all times. If a stranger asked her a question or tried to strike up a conversation he had to be ready to jump in immediately on her behalf and try to steer things away before anybody suffered embarrassment. But one evening things didn’t go quite as planned.

There had been a particularly long queue at the ticket window and he badly needed to answer a call of nature. He asked her to hold a place in the line while he dashed to the men’s room, sure that he would be back long before she got to the window. He had only been gone for a moment when disaster struck. An elderly man, clearly hard of hearing, standing with his wife in front of her turned around and asked very loudly if she knew the name of the lead actor in the film they were about to see. Because she couldn’t answer him or shake her head much she shrugged and smiled, raising her eyebrows as if to say “beats me”. But the old man wasn’t satisfied. He asked her again, and this time she tried pointing at her mouth as she shrugged her shoulders again.

He didn’t get it. “I’m sorry, you’ll have to speak up, my dear” he said, almost shouting.

Several other people had now turned to watch. She parted her lips wide and pointed at the plastic covering her teeth.

The old man turned to his wife “Is she mute?” he said loudly.

“She can’t answer you dear, she’s got something in her mouth” she replied, just as loudly.


“I think she’s got braces” she observed.

The old man was irritated by his wife’s stupidity “I can see she’s got a brace, Mary, that’s pretty obvious. I’m asking if she’s mute too!”

“Braces on her teeth, you old fool, she can’t open her mouth” his wife shouted.

“Eh? Oh!”

By this time there were very few people in the crowded foyer who had not turned to stare at the beautiful blushing woman who was the subject of this loud exchange. If she’d had a lot more self-confidence she might have been able to turn embarrassment into humour, to smile boldly at all the onlookers and perhaps take a bow, to indicate that the little performance was over and they could kindly get on with their own business. But her confidence was nowhere near that stage.

She was sobbing when he returned, almost paralysed with humiliation, and with her nose running she could barely breathe and was beginning to panic. She wanted to run home and hide, to get away from this staring crowd, but with the bite-plate filling her mouth she knew that trying to explain to him the reason for her distress would take too long and only cause her more embarrassment. So she fled instead to the relative safety of the cloakroom to compose herself, leaving him facing a sea of staring faces and wondering what had happened.

When she emerged some while later most of the patrons had taken their seats in the cinema and every head turned to stare at her again as they entered and walked up to their seats near the back. He still knew nothing of what had happened and knew that she couldn’t explain but he could sense her tension and noticed more whispering than usual around them as they waited for the film to start. He would have to wait until they got home and she could undress to remove the plate before he got the full story from her. She didn’t blame him directly for what had happened but he felt responsible for the humiliation she had endured. He swore that he would never leave her alone wearing her bite-plate in public again.

But while he could help in some ways to lessen the difficulties posed by the brace he couldn’t change the fact that it held her body and her life in its grip every moment of the day and night. It was something she could never escape from even with all the help he could give her, and rendered at once immobile and silenced as she was, sometimes the smallest things could be the biggest nuisance.

He awoke one night to feel her patting him awake and mewing her frustrated sound as she lay beside him flat on her back held rigid in her brace staring upwards into the darkness.

“Mnnnnn!! Mnnnn!!”

He turned on the light and leaned over her to place his face inside her field of view and help with communication. She was frowning an exaggerated, frustrated, angry frown and darting her eyes this way and that. “Mnnnnn!! ” She pulled her lips back in a snarl, revealing the plastic of her mouthpiece.

“Well, you look very grouchy. What’s up? Desperate for sex?” he teased, sensing that her anger wasn’t directed at him.

She quickly adopted a deadpan expression and rolled her eyes back into her head in a mocking reply, then she smiled at him and held up a curled index finger as though spraying with an imaginary aerosol.

“Aah, mosquito?” he asked.

“Mnn!” she replied in the affirmative.

“Okay, I’ll get him.”

She hated mosquitoes because she couldn’t track them. Unable as she was to move her head, she had to wait for them to fly into view, and the only way she could successfully swat them in the dark was to wait for them to land on her face, which this one had persistently refused to do. Her limited movement meant that even when she was standing up mosquitoes were still a problem. Almost the only parts of her body that she could see were her forearms and her shins. There was simply no way for her to see any part of her torso, her shoulders or the backs of her legs and mosquitoes biting her seemed to know they could do so with impunity.

He chased the creature around the bedroom briefly before dealing the death blow, then he climbed back into bed and leaned over her again, presenting his lips to hers for his reward. She couldn’t lift her head at all to meet him so she pulled him down gently and kissed him.

“You’re most welcome, madam, it’s all part of the service” he smiled. Then he gently pulled back the covers, revealing her beautiful body, naked as usual except for the steel brace.

“Just a moment … must just check for bites … let’s see … Ouch, I see the villain got you! Several times in fact!”

Her face bore a quizzical frown as she strained against the unyielding chin rest, trying in vain to see what he was looking at. She hadn’t noticed any bites.

“These are two serious bites ma’am, I’ve never seen anything quite like them…” his voice trailed off as he took her nipple in his mouth and began nibble slowly at it with his lips.

She giggled the wonderful deep giggle he remembered from their first meeting and gave him a playful slap on the head, but as he brought his tongue into play she pulled him closer and began to purr contentedly through the plastic filling her mouth.

Chapter Nine

It soon became clear to him that she was even more of a novice in the matters of physical intimacy and her own sexuality than she was in romantic relationships. She told him that she had never discussed these matters with her rather conservative parents, apart, that is, from her mother sometimes hinting that boys and sexuality were not things that she’d ever have to concern herself with “on account of her condition” which she always took to mean the brace. He guessed that she had grown up believing that there simply wouldn’t be a sexual side to her life and that’s all there was to it.

And so he realised that just as he had worked so carefully and gently towards helping her to build her self-confidence and improve her self-image in the relationship, he now needed to encourage her to allow herself physical pleasures beyond the sensual caresses she was already enjoying. She clearly liked his playful touching of her nipples, he had found this out very early on, but if his hands strayed to the area below the brace girdle she tended to become tense and self-conscious. She was clearly uncomfortable with the idea of being touched intimately. He had tried to discuss it with her on the occasions he had noticed it, but each time she seemed to have retreated into herself, out of his reach. He began to wonder if this was more complicated than just shyness.

One day he took her by surprise and asked her while they were sitting quietly together after dinner watching the fire. “Claire, something’s troubling me and I need to talk about it. I understand that the two of us are destined to remain pretty much celibate, your brace will see to that, won’t it? The thing is, …I really want to be able to please you in bed in other ways, to touch you. And I can see that my rather clumsy attempts are making you very uncomfortable, I’m aware that I’m doing something wrong here, and it’s giving me quite a complex.”

“You’re not clumsy at all Dave. It’s not you at all, I promise it isn’t.”

“Is it the brace then? Are you concerned about it getting in the way and spoiling things?”

“No… It’s not the brace this time, …it’s my past …getting in the way. There are associations from my past that I just can’t seem to shake off. But you’re right, we’ve got a future ahead of us, this is something I need to sort out. I want to sort it out”

The problem, it seemed to her, was that she associated her private parts with anxiety and embarrassment, even ridicule and discomfort, it was difficult for her to see them as a source of pleasure, either for herself or for others. It all stemmed from that terrible period at school during which a modification to the brace made it impossible for her to reach her own crotch to attend to bodily functions. Consequently she had been required to suffer violation by other peoples’ hands on a daily basis. Tears were soon streaming freely down her cheeks as she told him of the hell she had endured .

She had attended a strict and conservative religious school for girls and when her parents had explained the problem caused by the uncomfortable new additions to her brace, a teacher was assigned to accompany her to the toilet. She was discreet and kind and made an effort to minimize Claire’s embarrassment but she soon went on long leave. Another teacher, a certain Miss Stocks who had a reputation for her coldness, took over. She was less than enthusiastic about the task, she didn’t like Claire, called her a weakling and appeared to derive pleasure from humiliating her in front of her peers. She refused to allow her to use a private staff toilet, forcing her instead to use one of the cubicles in the students’ washroom. She would sometimes wait outside, forcing Claire to call out to her when she was ready to be wiped. News of this daily performance soon spread around the school and there was often a group of girls loitering in the washroom waiting to hear Miss Stocks’ terse commentary of the proceedings. She seemed to enjoy the audience and played up to them “Come, come girl, bend over, more, more, I haven’t got all day. Now hold still… Ugghh! Curse you! You’ll force me to wear rubber gloves in future.”

And use rubber gloves she did, a huge black pair which she carried for all to see. Then, just when Claire thought her troubles couldn’t possibly get any worse, her periods started. It was little coincidence that it was at about this time that Miss Stocks began to delegate the task of cleaning Claire to other girls as a punishment. If any single thing ensured that Claire never had a single friend in school it was this. Most girls openly despised her for it, there was constant whispering, teasing and giggling when she passed by a group of them. “What’s that smell? Oh, here comes Bracegirl, haha!” Any girl who sympathised with her was careful not to show it in case she became a target of teasing herself. “Look who’s friendly with Bracegirl! I bet you like taking her panties down, hahaha!”

And then there were the bullies one finds in any school who took full advantage of the situation, a fact which couldn’t have escaped Miss Stocks. These girls would volunteer their help to Miss Stocks and then dare each other to test various irritants on Claire’s most sensitive parts, either applying them directly or to a sanitary pad, knowing she couldn’t do a thing about it. She could remember among her various tortures fresh and powdered chilli, wintergreen, turpentine, nail-varnish remover and itching powder. She often had ice-cubes inserted into her bottom and her vagina, and many was the time she wore a clothes-peg clamped to sensitive flesh for several hours until shower-time when the brace came off and she could reach down to remove it . The word would be spread around her next class and all attention would be focused on “Bracegirl”, watching for any signs of tears, or sweating and trembling at the very least. Around this time her brace sported a number of leather straps, buckles and belts and would betray her instantly with loud, leathery creaking if her discomfort caused her to writhe and squirm in her seat. She was thus understandably self-conscious about bad smells and fearful of damp patches on her skirt which she couldn’t see. And on top of all this she was plagued by frequent bladder infections, caused no doubt by clumsy and careless wiping, and often had to ask permission to leave the room several times during a class, much to everyone’s amusement.

She sobbed in his arms as she recounted this abuse, this was the first time she had ever talked openly to anyone about it. Puberty is a difficult time for any girl, for Claire it was a living hell. She couldn’t even talk to her parents about it, she was afraid that they would see it as a rebelling against the brace, and even if they believed her and understood what she was going through, any intervention could cause the victimisation to get worse. Once the brace was modified again and she was once more able to attend to her own toilet hygiene the physical bullying stopped but the teasing continued and she remained unpopular and friendless. She had never really come to kindly terms with her womanly body after this episode, the memories and associations were too unpleasant.

Even as she got older and might have been tempted to experiment on her own, her religious upbringing led her to believe that touching yourself wasn’t something a nice, self-respecting girl did. She had been convinced that there was no future in it for her and it would only lead to frustration and unhappiness. To some extent then, she had been afraid of awakening her sexual appetite which had thus far been conveniently dormant.

His task was therefore rather more complicated that it had at first seemed. This wasn’t just a bit of shyness, here was a lot of old pain to heal, old associations to erase and replace with new, more positive ones. He wondered seriously if he was qualified for the task, this probably called for professional counselling. But he believed that even the longest journey starts with a single step and he wanted to take that step with her. And she wanted it too.

Their approach centred around a few simple principles. Firstly, she had come to see her body as something dirty, others had approached it unwillingly with rubber gloves or as punishment. To ensure that they were both spotlessly clean and fresh when they touched, the shower became an almost ceremonial ritual. Secondly, because of the constrictions of her brace, she couldn’t see what he was doing while he touched her, and if she closed her eyes the memories of gloomy washrooms and rubber gloves came flooding back to her. He installed a big mirror over the bed, they left the lights on and he reminded her often that she shouldn’t close her eyes. And they talked while he touched. They talked constantly, he reminding her of how special she was to him, and she giving him feedback to guide his exploration of her body.

They had been prepared for an extremely slow and gradual process and they were both surprised at how soon real changes appeared. It wasn’t long before she was guiding his hands with her own as she began to allow herself to feel what was pleasurable for her. The perspiration of arousal soon replaced that of anxiety. Her first orgasm with him, when at last it happened, was the most beautiful thing he had ever witnessed. It left them both weeping in each other’s arms and Claire hungry for more. Much more. It was as though she wanted to make up for lost time.

It seemed that he had successfully awakened the beautiful tigress in the stainless steel cage. His new problem, one he hadn’t forseen, was just how to feed her rapidly growing sexual appetite through the bars of that cage.

Chapter Ten

Claire’s desire for sexual fulfilment, at first tentative and almost apologetic, had grown into an almost constant, growing hunger. Under any other circumstances this would have been a dream come true for him but the brace was relentless in it’s restriction of the pleasures he could give her. She needed more, but there didn’t seem to be too many options open to them. He had some ideas but he was reluctant to suggest them, he wasn’t sure how well they’d be received. What he didn’t know was that help was at hand, from an unexpected source.

Clare was already preparing supper when he got home one evening. As he entered the kitchen the first thing he noticed was that she was bent forward at the hips so she could see the cutting board in front of her. He loved the way she did that, it brought back memories of his first meeting with her at the outdoor market. She was looking particularly beautiful this evening, but it was not just her pose, there was something else. She looked like a movie star.

Then he remembered that she’d had an appointment with Sharon, her hairdresser this afternoon.

“Wow! You look good enough to eat. Sharon’s been a busy girl I see, those highlights look wonderful! Did you girls have a fun afternoon together?”

“Mmmmmm!” she smiled in reply, straightening up to embrace him. She was still wearing her bite plate. Then she gave her wonderful giggle and he thought he detected a flicker of mischief in her eye as a hint of red spread across her cheek. Intrigued, he wanted to hear more about this but he knew he’d have to wait till later, during the meal, when she could talk.

Clare had a very special relationship with Sharon who was more than just an understanding hairdresser, she was a friend as well. Sharon had been cutting Claire’s hair for years and was particularly sensitive to her special needs. When Claire was scheduled for a lengthy procedure such as today’s Sharon would fix her appointment for last thing in the afternoon and send the staff home early so that Claire could wear her bite-plate without embarrassment. It made sitting in the brace much more comfortable and she could relax and enjoy being pampered without feeling self-conscious. Sharon would chat away to her as though there was nothing strange about her enforced silence or her grunted responses to questions. Claire had often told him about how “naughty” Sharon was, there didn’t seem to be much that could embarrass her, and he was curious to know what they had talked about today.

He didn’t have to wait long. All through the meal he could see she had something on her mind but he knew there was no point in probing, she’d get to it when she was ready. As he cleared away the dishes her face took on an earnest look as she spoke.

“Dave, if I ask you something will you answer completely honestly? I mean will you tell me what you really feel, not what you think I want you to answer?”

“Of course I’ll answer honestly”. He hated these kinds of questions, they always felt like a sort of test in which the wrong answer was a definite fail.

She hesitated for a long while before she spoke again. “How do you feel about … anal sex?”

Sheesh!! He knew that women shared all sorts of interesting secrets with their hairdressers, but he never realised that they got quite this intimate! How the hell was he going to answer this one? There was clearly a right and a wrong answer here, which one was she hoping for? Fortunately he was out of her field of view and she hadn’t seen the look on his face, so there was time to compose himself. The fact was he had thought about this very thing frequently since he had first seen that her brace would make conventional sex impossible, but he knew she was quite conservative and he was afraid even to mention it in case she thought he was suggesting it.

“Phew! … well, I don’t know really, I’ve never actually tried it, but I will admit I’ve been curious, just never had the opportunity I suppose. I know some people are horrified by the very thought of it. Why do you ask?” He wondered if this was the moment he had been anticipating and held his breath.

“Well … I was chatting to Sharon today, or rather she was talking to me because I had my plate in the whole time, and … she’s given me rather a lot to think about.”

“How do you mean?” he asked. She had given no indication of how she felt about it.

“Well I was paging through this magazine while she was doing my hair and I saw an article about it … anal sex I mean. She peeped over my shoulder and asked me, straight out, if I’d ever tried it! Can you believe how direct that girl is!? She was watching my face in the mirror and she must have seen how stunned I was. She must think I’m such a prude! It was almost a relief to have my plate in so I didn’t have to answer, I wouldn’t have known what to say, I think I would probably have tried to change the subject and shut her up. I just sat there blushing like a beetroot while she went ahead and told me all about it, in a quite a bit more detail than I was ready for.”

He still didn’t know whether Sharon had been advocating it or warning against it, nor did he know what Claire’s feelings on the subject were, and the suspense was killing him.

“Um, Dave … I hope you don’t mind but I’ve told her … just about everything, about this brace, about the limitations it puts on what we can do, so she knows most of the details … I hope that’s okay … we don’t talk about personal stuff like this if there’s anyone else there. Well anyway, she basically told me that I’d be a fool not to at least try it, she says it gives pleasures you don’t get any other way, and since for me there really isn’t another way she says she’s amazed I haven’t explored it already or at least talked to you about it.”

Well! He never realised he had such an ally in Sharon, perhaps he should think about having a chat with her himself sometime, he could learn a lot more about Claire.

He thought about the nature of their sex together, essentially it was pretty much limited to just touching one another and bringing each other to climax. Even oral sex wasn’t really pleasurable for either of them. The bars between her legs wouldn’t allow him to get his face close enough to her to stimulate her with his tongue. He had tried it, unsuccessfully, and each time the underside of his tongue had ached for days afterwards. She in turn found it uncomfortable to please him orally. She found it too much of a strain to hold her mouth open against the pressure of the chin pad to avoid biting him.

Penetrative sex might have been possible if he’d been a grotesquely over-endowed superman with astonishing reach, but the fact was he was pretty normal and the bars meant he just couldn’t get in far enough to make it pleasurable for either of them. And so he developed masterful dexterity with his fingers, and when she lay on her back and her breasts flattened against her chest he could massage them too without the steel half-cups of the brace interfering too much. But he often imagined anal sex which he was sure would offer the most enjoyment for the least contortions and the least conflict with her “cage”, he was just very nervous about suggesting it. He was concerned that she might feel somehow obliged to go along with it because she couldn’t offer anything else and he didn’t want to push her into anything she wasn’t fully in favour of.

“Sharon certainly doesn’t beat around the bush, does she?” he chuckled. “And what did the article say? Did you get a chance to read it?”

She blushed and looked embarrassed. “Actually … I’ve got the article, she tore it out and gave it to me, told me to go for it if you agree. It’s quite explicit, lots of do’s and don’ts, you know, safety precautions, comfort considerations, health and hygiene hazards, what to expect the first time, that sort of thing. Basically it says that some women who try it like it so much they wonder why it’s a taboo thing, and others really hate it. Depends pretty much on the individual, how you look at it and how you go about it.”

She showed him the article, he read it and then they talked about it some more. She was still a bit apprehensive but quite excited by the idea, while he in turn was trying to conceal his delight and show just the right amount of enthusiasm, neither too little which would make her think he was doing it just for her, nor too much which would put pressure on her to please him. Anyway, it looked as though she was going to need more time to think it over so he decided that he would wait for her to raise the subject again when she was ready.

A week passed, then at bedtime one evening he had dozed off, stretched out on his back on the bed waiting for her to finish in the bathroom and join him. He woke as she knelt between his legs and began to stroke him purposefully. The sight of her glowing, freshly showered skin against the gleaming contours of the brace would have been sufficient to bring him to attention, the added sensations as she touched him made it almost instantaneous. He began to sit up to return the caress but she stopped him with a firm hand on his chest and a finger on his lips to silence his protests.

When she reached for the condom and the tube of lubricant on the bed beside her he knew that she had done her thinking, she had made her preparations and this was the moment. He watched in silence as she rolled the condom onto him, he had always enjoyed that sensation, particularly when it was someone else’s touch, then she coated it liberally with lubricant. With some difficulty she turned around until she was kneeling astride his thighs with her back to him, then she took a deep breath and began to lower herself very slowly, using her fingers to guide her way.

He cupped his hands under her buttocks, stopping her gently.

“Claire, are you quite sure this is what you want?”

She answered with just a single grunt and he realised that she had her plate in. During her preparations before this moment she must have taken a conscious decision to put the big plastic bite-plate in, knowing it would render her unable to speak. Perhaps she didn’t want to answer questions or talk about this, perhaps this was a way of dealing with this in her own way, without interruptions. In a way he was relieved because it meant he needn’t talk either.

He relaxed his hands gently and she began to lower herself onto him again but she stopped abruptly with a sharp intake of breath as he felt a wave of powerful involuntary spasms overcome her. Not unpleasant at all for him, quite the contrary in fact, but probably excruciating for her. Gradually he could feel her relax as she became accustomed to the unfamiliar sensations and soon she was sliding slowly down again until he could feel the bars of her brace pressing hard, almost painfully against his pubic bone.

As she rested there for a few moments he could hear her breathing deeply and he was sure she sounded more at ease and less apprehensive. Then he watched as she began to raise and lower herself slowly and rhythmically using her thighs, with her hands on her breasts. As her tempo increased he was pleased to see that she appeared to be really getting into this but he was also a little concerned as to how long his pubic bone could take the pounding from the steel locking levers. Before long he could see her thigh muscles, unaccustomed to this effort, beginning to tremble and abruptly she lifted herself off him and straightened up, rubbing her legs and running her fingers under the lower edge of her steel girdle. Clearly she was finding the position uncomfortable in the brace.

Then, still kneeling and with her back to him, she leaned forward and dropped to her elbows. When she placed a hand on his foot and gave it a squeeze he knew what it meant.

“I just want you to be sure this is what you want, promise me you’ll stop me if it isn’t good for you”.

She grunted yes again.

He got to his knees and knelt behind her, stroking her inner thighs, then he reached for the lubricant and reapplied it before easing himself very carefully into her. He moved gently, pausing and holding her until her initial spasms passed, then as he slid further in he leaned forward and reached around to touch her breasts which were spilling over their steel supports. When she began to move against him, slowly at first and then faster and harder, he straightened up and placed his hands on the steel girdle where it curved sharply into her small waist.

He could hear her panting through her nose, faster and faster, her breathing becoming a rhythmic grunting, and through the steel under his hands he could feel her twitching and jerking as she hovered for a long while on the brink of ecstasy. When she finally came the stifled moans and squeals of her shuddering, convulsive climax were enough to send him over the edge along with her.

He leaned forward onto her back with his arms around her steel-encased body and held her tightly until the last twitching muscle was still and her breathing had returned to normal. Then he withdrew, wiped her gently with a towel and disposed of the condom. Sweat streamed freely from under her brace which made loud squelching noises as she straightened up and got off the bed so she could turn to put her arms around him. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she kissed him.

“Claire? What’s wrong? Was it awful”

She smiled her widest plastic smile and tried to shake her head, then she kissed him again.

She was already reaching for the locking levers, she’d clearly had enough self-imposed silence, she wanted to get the bite-plate out so she could talk to him. Opening the brace released more rivulets of sweat.

“Oh, Dave! I never thought such sensations were possible” she said when she had deposited the bite-plate, along with a considerable flood of saliva, into the sink. “It was a bit of a shock at first, I’m sure you must have felt that part, but after that it was incredible!”

“And the tears?”

“I don’t know, to be honest, my emotions are all mixed up. That last part was just so strange. I couldn’t feel your hands at all, just this pelvic girdle pulling me back and the penetration, I couldn’t feel that it was actually you. It felt somehow as though my brace was pulling me back, as though it was making love to me, this … steel … thing.”

“And was it horrible?”

“No, that’s what’s so unsettling, I suppose it probably should have been, but it wasn’t unpleasant at all…”

He locked her brace to get the levers out of the way, then hugged her tightly.

“Well it was pretty great for me, I can tell you. I think we need to send Sharon a big bunch of flowers in the morning! She’ll know exactly what it’s about. And next time you go and see her you’d better not have your plate in – she’ll make you undress and take it out right there in the shop so you can tell her all about this.”

Chapter Eleven

“Dave, would you promise to answer absolutely honestly if I asked you a question?” She had just applied toothpaste to her toothbrush and was standing in the doorway of the bathroom, naked but for the shining steel curves of her brace.

“Of course, absolutely” he replied, thinking that if the question touched on his special interest he might just have to be selectively honest.

“Dave, do you ever wish I didn’t have to wear this brace?”

Was she on to him? A trick question perhaps? Was she trying to lure him into saying that, on the contrary, he was actually glad she had to wear it because he liked the way it looked on her, liked the way it restricted her? Was that the honest answer? Was this a good opportunity to be frank with her? No. Not yet, perhaps not ever. He needed a more careful answer, to side-step the issue.

“Come now Claire, that would be a silly thing for me to wish, wouldn’t it? You don’t choose to wear that brace, it’s just something you’ve accepted as a fact, part of your life. I think I can honestly say I’ve accepted it in the same way, there’s no point in even considering how things would be if it were not so, because it is so. The only time, and I really mean the only time, I resent your brace is when I see it upset you for some reason, because I want to see you happy. So if I ever wish it away it’s because I see it making you unhappy, but the brace itself has never bothered me in the slightest. Does that answer your question?” There, that was pretty honest, considering.

She smiled at him “You’re really special, you know? That really helps more that you’d imagine. I’m so used to it now that I can hardly remember what it was like without it. But I sometimes get very conscious of it when I worry about what you think. I keep trying to see it through your eyes and all I see is this impenetrable steel shell that makes me awkward and won’t let you get close to me. And my bite-plate seems to make it worse, I feel cut off from you, I can’t express what I feel for you when I want to. I’m sure I come across as some sort of emotionless ice-woman. I find myself waiting for the day you give up and leave me when the realization hits you that it isn’t going to miraculously improve or disappear.”

“I promise it isn’t like that Claire. Please don’t think that. I’ve never seen it as a problem, ever. And it doesn’t make you awkward, in my eyes it makes you elegant and graceful.” She made a face that showed she didn’t believe him. “And your plate isn’t an issue either, our relationship isn’t any the worse for it, it might even be stronger because it has caused us to concentrate more on how we communicate. I can honestly swear to you that your brace would never cause me to leave you.”

But he had to admit she was right about her brace having quite an influence on their physical togetherness, it was certainly far more than just something she wore to keep her spine straight. It reminded them constantly of its presence, it was as though they couldn’t be quite alone, it was there with them like a third party. When they were in bed it was perhaps at its most invasive because she could barely move at all, but it was there at other times too. Even when they hugged she couldn’t nestle against him or turn her head to the side and rest it on his shoulder. Instead she could only stand there impassively as one might if one didn’t really enjoy hugging.

When they went to movies they learned to adjust their arrangements because of it. They always tried to be seated early so she didn’t have to endure the scrutiny of those already seated as she negotiated the unseen obstacle course of handbags, legs and feet. During the film she couldn’t turn to look at him, and her bite-plate meant she couldn’t speak, so all communication was through touch as she held his hand in hers. Sometimes he would try to pull her close as they sat side by side in the darkness, but the in confines of her brace all she could do was topple stiffly towards him like a tin soldier, trying to swivel her eyes to see him.

The brace placed itself firmly between them at bathtimes too, a time many couples associate with gentle intimacy. She couldn’t sit down in the bath with the brace on nor could she open it in the bath, and in the shower once it was opened the projecting locking levers made it quite difficult for him to get near her, and tricky for her to turn around in the confined space.

Because of the restrictions it placed on her field of vision, she couldn’t look down at all, the brace also affected her choice of activities with which she kept herself busy. Until he met her he hadn’t realized just how many of our daily activities are focussed low down in front of us, in reach of our hands with elbows at our sides. Just by turning or tilting our heads slightly we can vastly increase our useful field of view to where we can actually look at something, not just have a sense that it is there. Her entire world was limited to directly in front of her at her own eye level. If she couldn’t lift tasks up into view, which was tiring on her arms, or bend forward at her hips, which took its toll on her back, then she couldn’t see what she was doing at all. Mundane household chores like cooking and cleaning were exhausting for her because she was always having to strain forward to look down at her hands. Hobbies involving handwork such as sewing, drawing and crafts were not really practical as she had to be able to see her hands easily. Music was thus her main passion and creative outlet, she was a talented pianist and had already begun to play as a child before she was put into the brace. She was also good writer and an excellent typist. She had to be, she couldn’t look squarely at the keyboard unless she pushed her chair back and leaned forward, so she had had to learn to work without looking down at all. Her computer was set up with the screen high in front of her.

The rigidity of the brace meant she could never really ‘let her hair down’ and really relax, the closest she could come to it was to settle into an old Morris armchair with the adjustable back set straight up, its wide flat wooden arms an ideal place to put things like a drink and the remote. Even reading was difficult, as she had learned at school where even with her earlier, less restrictive chin supports, she couldn’t comfortably look down at her books on the desk in front of her. She had soon found that the only solution was to support the book high in front of her on a music stand which she carried with her between classes. She still used the stand, in spite of the memories of teasing she associated with it, it was simply the most comfortable way for her to read while seated. In bed she used a different support for the book, this time a clear perspex window on legs which held the book face down above her so she could read it from underneath without having to hold it.

Her social interaction too was affected by the brace. Quite apart from her bite-plate causing her to become something of a recluse, when she did choose to be social the brace still influenced things. At dinner parties she couldn’t easily turn to see those seated on either side of her, so she was invariably seated at the head of the table like some object of interest. When invited out they had to check with their hosts to see that she would cope with everything on the menu and that there was a suitable chair for her in the lounge, a low soft sofa was almost impossible for her.

It was therefore hardly surprising that she was very conscious of how the brace might be affecting their relationship and why she had asked him tonight. She seemed reassured by his earnest answer, but he couldn’t resist the urge to tease her. “I have no problem with your brace, but I can think of quite a few of other things that would make me leave you though, let’s see… there’s the fact that you never put the toilet seat up when you’re finished, that’s a big one, and the way you mangle this poor thing, I mean, just look at it …” He was holding up the toothpaste tube for her to see, and already ducking the retaliatory splash which was sure to follow.

“You’re impossible!” she laughed “Can’t you ever be serious?” Then she was earnest again “No really, it’s nice to hear you say that. So you’re okay with this brace as long as I am, and I’m okay about it because I know you are. Looks like we’ll get along fine, just the three of us.”

She put her arms around him and kissed him, smearing him with toothpaste. The edges of the steel breast cups pressed into him and he didn’t mind the discomfort in the least.

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