From "L. DeBard and Aliette," an O. Henry Recommended Story
The girl's name is Aliette Huber. She is sixteen, and she is a schoolgirl, or was before her illness. She won her school's honors for French, Composition, Rhetoric, and Recitation for three years in a row. She can read a poem once and recite it perfectly from memory years later. Before the polio, she was a fine horsewoman, a beautiful archer, the lightest dancer of any of the girls at the Children's Balls society had delighted in staging in the heady days before the war. Her mother died when she was three, and her father is distantly doting.
She knows L. from his book of poetry, which she read when she was recuperating from her illness. She feels she knows him so intimately that now, freezing on the dock, she is startled and near tears: she has just realized that, to him, she is a stranger.
And so, Aliette does something drastic: she unveils her legs. They are small, wrinkled sticks, nearly useless. She wears a Scottish wool blanket over her lap, sinfully thick. L. thinks of his this sheet and the dirty greatcoat he sleeps under, and envies her the blanket. Her skirt is short and her stockings silk. L. doesn't gasp when he sees her legs, her kneecaps like dinner rolls skewered with willow switches. He just looks up at Aliette's face, and suddenly sees that her lips are set in a perfect heart, purple with cold.
After that, the swim lessons are easily arranged. When they leave--the brunette pushing the wheelchair over the boards of the docks, her trim hips swishing--their departure thrums in L.'s heels. The wind picks up even more, and the waves make impatient sounds on the dock. L. dresses. His last nickel rolls from the pocket of his jacket as he slides it on over his yellowed shirt. The coin flashes in the water and glints, falling.
("L. DeBard and Aliette" was first published in The Atlantic Monthly. Copyright © 2007 by Lauren Groff. Excerpted by permission of the author.)