Prowl sat down heavily on the wooden bench, grateful there had been one available. The park wasn’t far from his house, but the piddling distance still tested the limits of his meager endurance. He could only make it one way before needing to rest.
He winced at the ache radiating up his left leg and reached down to massage the twinging muscles through his slacks. His doctor promised it would get better, but so far Prowl had yet to get through a day without pain in the stump below his knee. It wore on him, dragging him down like the weight of his new prosthetic. The doctor promised that would get better too, but Prowl couldn’t imagine ever being used to the heavy, unnatural thing. For all that it was designed to give him back some of his lost mobility, every time he put it on he felt disfigured and crippled.
Had the accident really been months ago now? Prowl wouldn’t have believed it if the calendar didn’t remind him every morning. It was still so fresh in his mind — the call, the chase.
Prowl stared off into the distance, wishing he could just enjoy the nice weather. There were plenty of other people out in the park doing just that: a mother walking along behind a stroller, a businessman with a briefcase walking up to the coffee stand, a young couple walking hand-in-hand down the winding path… Walking. Everyone was walking. Everyone but him.
Everyone but him, and the dark-skinned man skateboarding in the section of the park equipped for the purpose. Prowl’s previously aimless gaze caught and held on him as he hopped up onto one of the rails, grinding the length of it effortlessly on a board covered with the same colorful neon pattern as— Prowl blinked, rubbed his eyes, looked again. Yes, he was seeing that right. The skateboard matched the socket of the prosthetic limb attached to the man’s right thigh. It was more than twice the length of the one Prowl wore, the knee joint and pylons bare and glinting in the sun, completely unhidden, and it wasn’t holding him back at all.
He was staring, he shouldn’t be staring (he hated it when people stared at him, it made him feel like a freak), but he couldn’t help it. The other man flowed from from one ramp to the next with strength and grace, performing tricks that looked like they’d be hard to land without the added difficulty of a false limb with ease. How? How was he doing that? How had he turned the inert chunk of metal on the end of his leg into something that moved with him like a natural part of his body?
After one last spectacular flip, the man kicked the board up into his hand and landed solidly on the ground, then looked directly at Prowl.
Prowl froze. Crap. He’d been caught.
Before he could worry that he’d offended him, however, the man smiled and walked up to Prowl’s bench with a smooth, comfortable gait. “Hi,” he said as soon as he was close enough. “I’m Jazz. What’s your name?”
“Prowl,” Prowl responded on autopilot, somewhat taken aback by the man’s — Jazz’s — casual friendliness. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be rude.”
“What, by staring? Trust me, man, I get lots of stares. Yours,” Jazz said, “wasn’t rude. If anything, it was kinda sad and longing. Thought I’d come over and see if you were alright.”
Alright? He hadn’t been alright since his cruiser had gone off the road, but he didn’t want to burden a stranger with his problems. “I’m fine,” Prowl lied. “Don’t let me keep you from your…” Workout? Practice? Fun? “That,” he finished vaguely with a gesture at the skateboard tucked under Jazz’s arm. Was it a custom board, made to match the prosthetic, or had the prosthetic been customized to match the board? “You looked like you were enjoying yourself.”
“But you look like you’re not.” Jazz looked Prowl up and then down, his gaze coming to rest on his mismatched feet. His eyes were full of sympathy and understanding when he raised his head again. “It was recent for you, wasn’t it?” he said softly.
Prowl had to swallow hard around the lump in his throat before he could answer. “Yes. It was.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.” Without asking for an invitation, Jazz sat down next to Prowl on the other end of the bench. “Do you want to talk about it?”
“Why?” The question came out more bitter than he’d intended and Prowl grimaced. “Forgive me. I’m sure you mean well, but I don’t need another therapist.”
Jazz laughed. “I hear you! They mean well too, but sometimes a therapist is the last person you want to talk to. I got so fed up with the string of shrinks and counselors they kept shoving on me I wanted to scream.”
“I have screamed at mine,” Prowl admitted. “It didn’t do any good.”
“Pro tip: neither does throwing things.”
“You threw things at your therapist?”
“Just stress balls.” The muscles in Jazz’s shoulders rolled as he shrugged. He really was in fantastic shape. “Anyway. I’m not out to analyze or evaluate how well you’re ‘coping’ and tell you what you should be doing differently to ‘facilitate your recovery’. I can listen though, as someone who’s been where you are.”
Someone who’d been were he was… He’d had the chance to talk to a few others who’d lost digits or limbs in the hospital, but Prowl had yet to find anyone who truly understood where he was coming from. His friends from the station certainly didn’t, not even the ones who’d been there at the scene with him. Would Jazz really be any different?
“Did you skateboard before— before?” Prowl found himself asking. It wasn’t what he really wanted to ask, but coming out with how did you lose your leg? right off the bat would have been rude.
“I thought I was going to be the next Darrell Stanton when I was younger,” Jazz grinned. “Delusions of grandeur, really. I was alright, but nothing special. Believe it or not, it took losing a leg to get as good as I am now.”
“Let me guess: something about reclaiming yourself?”
“In a way. Learning to skate with this,” he rapped his knuckles on his neon-patterned socket, “started as an attempt to reclaim something I used to be able to do, but it turned into a means of learning what I’m capable of now. Which, as it turns out, is a lot.”
“But is it as much as you were able to do before?” Prowl looked down, frowning. “I’m sorry. It’s great that you’ve had such success, really.”
“Hey.” Jazz’s face appeared in Prowl’s peripheral vision. “You will too. I know it doesn’t feel like it right now, but it’s true.”
“I already told you, I don’t need another therapist.”
“And I said I wasn’t going to do that, didn’t I? My bad.” Jazz leaned back, out of Prowl’s line of sight. He heard his skateboard tap against the ground. “Can I ask you something?”
“You just did.”
“Pfft. Okay, something else,” Jazz chuckled. “I know this’ll sound weird, but bear with me — you wouldn’t happen to wear a size 11.5 narrow shoe, would you?”
What? “Yes.” Prowl looked up, once again caught off guard. “Why?”
“Do you really? Yes!” Jazz did an enthusiastic fist pump. “That’s the size I wear! See?”
“I’ll take your word for it,” Prowl said, edging away from Jazz and the foot he was waving at him. “Why does that matter?”
“Becaaaaause,” Jazz drawled, “they sell shoes in pairs, and I’ve got a stack of brand new, perfectly good right shoes at my place just sitting around waiting for me to find the right person to give them to. I was beginning to think I’d never find you.”
“Me?” This guy wanted to give him a bunch of shoes he’d been saving for who knew how long? They’d just met! “Why me?”
“Why not you? If you can use them, you should have them. It would be wasteful to just throw them out.”
“You could donate them.”
“I am. To you.” Jazz’s smile faltered a little. “Unless you don’t want them? There aren’t a whole lot of places that’ll take unpaired shoes. I figured there was a better chance of them not going to waste if I could find someone to pass them on to directly. You know, kind of like,” he paused, waving his hand as he searched for the words, “paying it forward.”
That was an interesting way of putting it. “Why? Did someone give you shoes too?”
“Not shoes, but… Okay, I’m not trying to be a therapist again, I promise,” Jazz said, hands raised defensively, “but getting involved in things and meeting other people made a world of difference in my recovery. I was lamenting my growing shoe collection one time and a good friend suggested I find someone to shop with if it bothered me so much. He was only half serious, but it sounded like a great idea to me.”
Find someone to shop with—? “That sounds like you’re asking more than if I want your extras.”
“Yes,” Jazz answered without any apparent hesitation. “Would you like to start buying shoes together?”
Prowl could hardly believe this was really his life right now. It was so surreal… and at the same time, undeniably practical. He didn’t like the idea of wasting shoes (or money on shoes he had no use for) either.
“If you’re sure,” he said, unable to think of a reason not to agree besides “that’s weird”, which wasn’t good enough. Not when Jazz was being so earnest and genuine. Weird though it was, this was clearly important to him. “Yes. We can buy shoes together.”
And just like that, Jazz’s smile was back brighter than ever. “Awesome! We’ll have to set a date,” he said with a wink. “Solemate.”