Second Chance with the Single Mom(8)

By: Annie Claydon

She gave him a searching look. ‘And I’d be right in saying you’ve seen someone about this?’

‘Yes, you would.’ However much he wanted her to stop caring, he felt it warm him. ‘I went to get it checked out as soon as it happened.’

He could almost see the cogs turning in Raina’s brain. As they did so, a look of determination crept across her face. ‘It’s none of my business...’

Then he’d make it her business. The urge to tell her was fast overcoming the feeling that he didn’t want to betray what seemed to him to be a weakness.

‘It’s SSHL.’

‘When did this happen?’

‘Almost exactly two months ago. I felt a bit of pressure in my ear and thought I might have a cold. Then I heard a pop, and realised I was completely deaf in my left ear. My hearing’s impaired in my right ear but it’s not as bad. I’ve had all the tests and there’s nothing else wrong...’ Just that he was deaf. That was wrong with him, although no one could see it.

‘So you’re a textbook case for sudden sensorineural hearing loss.’

Alistair nodded. ‘It improved a little during the first month, but I’m reckoning that what I have now is...pretty much what I’ll always have going forward. I’ll be getting a hearing aid soon, and that might help a bit with directionality.’

Raina nodded. ‘You have tinnitus?’

‘Yeah. That seems to be improving.’ Alistair wasn’t sure whether it was or not. It was probably just wishful thinking, born of the loss he felt over the thought that he might never be able to appreciate silence again, because of the high-pitched ringing in his ears. That, combined with the faraway bubbling sound and the occasional ticking that seemed to come from about two inches behind his right ear, turned silence into an almost unbearable clamour.

‘Your ability to focus on other things will improve when you get your hearing aid.’ Raina’s tone was matter-of-fact, but the look in her eyes...

It was the look that could make him forget about everything else and believe that there was nothing else in the world but her. No sound but the sound of her voice. No feeling that didn’t emanate from her touch...

‘Yeah. That’s what my audiologist says. I’m not getting my hopes up too much.’

She nodded, thoughtfully. ‘We should have gone somewhere quieter to talk.’

‘I heard what I needed to hear. And I have to get used to functioning in any situation.’

‘So you’re throwing yourself in at the deep end?’

Alistair was about to protest that he was doing nothing of the sort, and that he could hear her perfectly well now. But that was because Raina was doing exactly what he usually had to ask people to do—facing him and speaking clearly. She’d always given him what he’d needed...

And he hadn’t given her what she’d needed. He’d let her go because someone else could give her the family that she’d so wanted and that he just hadn’t been ready for. But now, even if he was struggling to find his place in a world that suddenly seemed strange and remote, he could give her something.

‘I want you to go back to the office. Ask to see Heidi Walker, she’s Gabriel’s and my assistant. Give her your application and ask her to pass it to Gabriel to read this evening. I’ll give him a call later.’

‘That can wait until tomorrow, Alistair. I need to get you home first.’

He was already beginning to shiver in the afternoon sun, and despite himself Alistair wanted Raina to make a fuss of him. But he’d already revealed more than he wanted her to know, and he just wanted her to go now, before he was tempted to let anything else slip.

‘Pass me the envelope. And do you have a pen?’

Raina shot him a look that made it very clear that her compliance didn’t mean she agreed, and plunged her hand into her bag, producing a plastic ballpoint. She balanced her application on the top of her bag to provide a makeshift writing surface and Alistair scribbled a note to Heidi, trying not to get any drips onto the envelope.

She was staring at him dumbly, clearly about to argue with him. But there was no point in listening to Raina tell him that she wouldn’t leave while he was wet through, bleeding and confused by the sounds around him. They were the exact reasons he wanted her to go.

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