Monday, July 31, 2000

In/Exhale - October 31, 2000 - Part II

October 31, 2000 -Part II

The party was apparently in full swing by the time Kai arrived, and he ended up having to park in the far back corner of the secondary lot, hoping he wouldn’t get boxed in. He grabbed the earplugs he’d purchased at Walmart earlier--with all the other junk, Renee hadn’t even noticed, and stuffed them in each ear, hoping they’d suffice to insulate him from the epically loud music he knew would greet him once he made it inside the school’s gym.
Then he popped open his glove compartment and pulled out a pair of leather gloves; if he was going to wheel all the way in the cold and manage to have his fingers limber enough for signing once he got to the party, he needed to be prepared. He slipped them on, sucked in a breath, and pushed the door open, an icy wind hitting him in the face. The temperature had dropped significantly since he’d been out earlier with Renee, a cold front that threatened to bring with it the first legitimate ice storm of the season.
Kai twisted, pulled out the pieces of his chair one by one and quickly attached the wheels to the frame. He could already feel the cold seeping through his jeans, and he hadn’t even transferred yet. It wasn’t too late to change his mind and go home, but the prospect of being among an entire party full of native signers, and maybe, as terrifying as the idea was, running into David again, forced him to pull himself out of the car and into his chair, adjusting his legs, leaning over to pull down his jeans to minimize the chance the wind would bite his skin.
This far out, the parking lot was unpaved, a mixture of flattened, dying grass and bits of gravel, meaning every few feet Kai had to lean back and wheelie to prevent his casters from getting stuck. It was harder work, but it kept him warm until he reached the main parking area with its smoother asphalt. This close, Kai could already sense the music, even if he couldn’t quite hear it with the earplugs. If he really was going to get back in the Community and start going to more Deaf events, he was going to have to invest in better hearing protection than 2/$1 at Walmart.
It was even stranger, in some ways, to be rolling around the grounds of the school for the deaf than it had been returning to County House. Kai had left CH behind only four years ago, but the last time Kai was heading toward this gym was 1992. Nothing had changed, except everything looked a little more rundown, the cracks in the sidewalk leading toward the gymnasium larger. The pathway had been decorated for the holiday with graves and skeletons and pumpkins, with a large banner draped over the doors, announcing Happy Halloween in fingerspelled handshapes.
Kai spotted a few stray people hurrying inside, costumes concealed by coats and jackets. Kai took in a deep breath. Still time to turn back, but he felt something in his stomach--excitement?--that made him press forward, pulling the heavy doors open and squeezing inside.
The shock of the cold burning off hit him, mixed with the intense bass that he could feel rattling his chair. It was like a sauna inside, between the heat and all the dancing bodies, but Kai spotted a coat check off to his left, so he drifted over, pulling off his gloves and then his coat, stuffing them in the pocket.
It was strange, yet wonderful when the attractive young girl--who looked like she was still in high school--greeted him in sign, welcoming him to the party, wishing him a happy Halloween, and taking his coat in exchange for a claim ticket. She also reminded him that they were raising money to paint the gym and resurface the floor, so he could donate, or all proceeds from the food and beverages were also going toward those projects.
Did you go to school here?
Class of ‘96,” Kai responded, which was true, even if he graduated from Jonesville High instead.
She smiled. “Welcome back!” And offered him an alumni Halloween button.
Kai smiled and thanked her, waiting until he’d wheeled off before shoving it in the pouch behind his legs. He scanned the room, wondering if this was a mistake. Being in the chair put him at an automatic disadvantage at any party, but particularly one in which most of the communication happened literally over his head.
He wandered around, carefully weaving through the crowd, getting a few looks from people obviously wondering who he was. Perhaps he’d changed too much for any of his former classmates to recognize him. Wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. Half the crowd was sandwiched together on the dance floor, the rest gathered in circles along the sides, engaged in animated conversations. Everyone was in costume of some kind.
Kai was debating getting a drink when he saw someone frantically waving at him; at first, he assumed the woman had to be trying to get someone else’s attention behind him, so he swiveled, only to realize, when he turned back around, that she had been trying to signal him after all.
She was tall, narrow, blond and bubbly, a cheerleader or soccer-mom type, though she was about his age, dressed in a 1950s poodle-skirt. “Kai? Dr. Taylor’s brother?
Kai’s eyebrows dipped as he nodded his fist in a yes.
The woman practically exploded into a smile, literally jumping up. “I’m Megan Younger! I’m tutoring your brother in ASL. You look so much alike!
Oh. The idea of Jon learning ASL from someone so . . . effervescent was amusing.
Where’s your costume?
Kai looked down, an evil thought popping into his head, before returning eye contact. He indicated his wheelchair. “This is my costume.”
Her eyes widened for a moment, clearly not sure what to do.
Kai sighed; messing with Megan was even crueler than messing with Pam the other day. “I’m joking.

Her face transformed as she battled between laughing and being intensely uncomfortable. “You’re terrible. You remind me of my fiance.” She glanced around, signalled to someone.
Soon, a broad-chested man, about Megan’s height--which made him shorter than most of the men at the party, and definitely shorter than Kai if he were standing, pushed his way through toward them. He had a shock of red hair cropped short so that it stood up, and he also was uncostumed.
Kai drifted backwards a few inches. The man before him had changed a lot in the intervening years, but there was no denying it. “David?” he said, mouthing the name while signing WRONG on his chin, Kai’s private namesign for David he’d given him when they’d first met at County House. Kai had been scared, not feeling well, and upset, recently separated from everyone he knew, placed in a home where no one knew his language. Until David had drawn his attention and looked at Kai, eyebrows drawn down in concern and question, his hand in the handshape identical to SAME, knuckles on his chin, asking Kai, “What’s wrong?” In that instance, Kai’s world changed: suddenly, he wasn’t isolated and alone anymore, because he had a boy his age who knew sign.
A brother. “Kai!” David echoed after a blink of shock, greeting Kai with his own original namesign, a variation on the sign for BROTHER, a K drawn down from his forehead to his “L”-shaped hand.
Before Kai could take in another breath, David dropped to his knees and embraced Kai tightly, as if trying to squeeze the life out of him. As uncomfortable as David’s intense grip was, the hug felt like coming home. Jake had taught Kai in his first few days in the hearing world that hearies do not like to be touched, and men do not hug. It was a huge wake up call for Kai, who was used to the Deaf norms where touching was not only allowed, but necessary. If you ended a conversation without a hug, the other person would be deeply offended.
Kai choked, and finally, David released him, crouching to keep at eye level, grasping Kai’s face and studying it for a few minutes. David’s eyes were full of emotion, and when he finally pulled back to sign, he wiggled his fingers in the air as if he couldn’t even find the words.
God! You’re still alive! I thought you were dead!” David didn’t use the euphemism sign PASSED-AWAY, but instead fingerspelled the word, sharp, intense movements, practically throwing the final "D" in the air for added emphasis.
Kai shrugged, smiled.
David let out a long breath. “You look great. Healthy. You’ve gained weight! But you’re not walking anymore.” Ah, that was something else Kai had missed: Deafie bluntness. Another cultural difference Jake had tried to teach him, though that had been a hard one for Kai to overcome: Deaf people told it like it is, getting straight to the point. It wasn’t considered rude to be honest. It was baffling, at first, to Kai, how hearing people used so many words because telling the truth was considered rude. A culture of lying, Kai had explained to David after his first few months at the hearing school.
Before Kai could reply, Megan tapped David on the shoulder to draw his attention. He stood back up, visibly annoyed, though he tried to contain it for her sake. “You two know each other?
David’s eyes darted to Kai’s before he replied, “We went to school together, but Kai transferred to a different high school, so we haven’t seen each other in years.
Kai noticed David didn’t mention County House, so he said nothing. In fact, Kai wondered if Megan even knew about CH. Just because Deafies could be blunt didn’t mean they couldn’t withhold information. Kai and David were alike in that way: what someone didn’t know couldn’t hurt you.
We’ve got a lot of catching up to do,” David explained to Megan. “Think we’ll go somewhere private to talk.” He gestured with two fingers, first pointing at his eyes, then around the room to indicate all the prying eyes privy to their conversation. “I’ll find you later? OK?” He kissed his fiancee’s cheek, even though Kai could see in her face she was less than thrilled by his hasty exit and lackluster explanation. Kai was pretty certain David didn’t greet everyone the way he had Kai, and Megan had to suspect there was more to the story.
She reluctantly disappeared into the crowd, and once she was gone, David looked Kai over again. “Who are you supposed to be?
Tony Hawk after he missed a major trick,” Kai signed facetiously, mimicking a skater taking a really bad fall, his facial expressions following the journey to the final splat. He furrowed his brows, pointed at David. “You?
David laughed. He pulled on his white T-shirt. “White shirt and jeans to go with Megan’s Grease theme. Told her it was the closest thing to a costume I’d do.
Kai signed in acknowledgement, nodding the handshape for SAME. “Can we go somewhere to talk?
David looked around, then nodded, signaled for Kai to follow.


#


David led the way through the crowd, glancing back every couple minutes to make sure Kai was still behind him. They wove through the groups gathered around the food and beverage tables, circles of chatting people grateful for a place to rest their drink while they signed.
David exited the gym, immediately feeling the shift in air temperature. The vibration of the music began to fade as he headed down a hallway toward a classroom with an easily pickable lock. He pulled his keys from his pocket, flipped till he got to his tools, crouched, and in a minute had the door open. He grinned, waving Kai inside.
Kai just shook his head, but he was smiling.
David pulled a desk toward the center of the room and sank into it, leaning back. He watched Kai roll in, moving smoothly to face him. It shocked David how much Kai had bulked up since they’d last seen each other. He was wearing a long-sleeved T-shirt a size too big, but David could still see the outline of strong shoulders and biceps as Kai maneuvered his chair. The skinny little “brother” David remembered was gone, and though he worked out regularly, he wondered if Kai would beat him on the bench press or chin-ups. Maybe he should have unlocked the weight room instead so they could have found out.
David never could resist a contest.
But then it hit him: his little “brother” really was here, in front of him, alive. So very alive. Kai looked better than ever, and for a moment, David was transported back sixteen years to the day they first met.


#


David had landed at County House after a disastrous series of foster homes and a failed year of hearing kindergarten in which he’d been placed in Special Ed as they’d attempted to teach him English. Mouth-movers, he’d thought of hearing people, because they were always looking at him, their mouths moving, moving, moving, sometimes trying to get him to make his mouth move, too, though he could never figure out exactly why. His father--whom he’d thought of as Red-neck because that’s what would happen to him whenever his mouth moved in large motions, spit flying, teeth showing, usually right before he slapped David’s cheek--had tried over and over to get David to imitate him. Pointing to something and moving his lips, then encouraging David to repeat the motion, holding David’s fingers to his throat because apparently forcing air out when you moved your mouth was part of the game.
David loved games, but that was never one he liked. Because he could never win it. He couldn’t understand why the mouth-movers wagged their lips and blew air out, when pointing and gesturing made so much more sense. David’s mother--whom he’d thought of as Smiley-warm-nice-smell--had understood that, and she had never made him imitate the mouth-movers. But she went away one day and never came back.
County House was a strange place. The good thing was he’d finally gone to a school where there were no mouth-movers; instead, everyone there was a hand-mover, and over the past year he had learned that there were signs for things. Like Red-neck was his “half-man,” thumb of his spread hand only touching his forehead instead of also going down to his chest. Father, they’d taught him. And Smiley-warm-nice-smell, even though she’d gone away, was his “half-woman,” thumb only on his chin. Mother.
David still didn’t always understand the other hand-movers, because they used signs for things he didn’t know, but he learned quickly, because this was a game with rules he could comprehend.
But he was the only hand-mover at County House. No one tried to make him like them, but they still wagged their lips at him, and the white-haired lady always seemed to be angry with him. He wondered if it was because he was supposed to try to imitate her but he wasn’t. But he didn’t want to play that game again, never again.
He’d only had a couple weeks of kindergarten, and he was older than the other kids in his class, because he was still learning to sign, when he returned to his room surprised to find someone there. The entire year David had lived at County House, he’d roomed alone, which was fine. It was nice after all the foster homes, most of which where he lasted only a few weeks and were filled with annoying mouth-moving children.
The boy was tiny, frail, sitting on the bed, his legs pulled into his chest, his face buried in his knees, his yellow hair a tangled mess. A pair of crutches leaned against the wall nearby, and the boy’s legs were trembling, his back shaking. Cautiously, excited that maybe this boy was a hand-mover too, David approached and tapped his legs to try to get his attention.
But the boy didn’t respond, and David wondered if maybe he was like the older kid at County House he called Smashed-face, because his nose was all messed up. He couldn’t walk because he couldn’t feel his legs, and White-hair-old-lady had grown particularly angry at David when he’d experimented with how far he could go before Smashed-face would feel anything.
So David had tried again, tapping the boy’s shoulder this time. This made the boy look up. His face was puffy, his eyes red, his cheeks wet, and he was panting, his chest working hard, like breathing was difficult, like he’d just run around and around and around and was trying to catch his breath. But what really struck David was how incredibly blue the boy’s eyes were: bluer than any he’d ever seen before, and he wondered if Blue was his name, since David’s name was Red because of his hair. They’d taught him his real name was D-A-V-I-D, but that didn’t mean anything to him.
David’s eyebrows dipped, and he tapped his knuckles on his chin, thumb and pinky standing out, “WRONG?” Though if the boy was a mouth-mover, like most people, he probably wouldn’t understand.
Instead, the boy had released his legs, and they’d fallen to the bed like discarded toys. His eyes had widened and shimmered with fresh tears before he threw his arms around David and embraced him tight.
Finally, the boy pulled back, his hands moving rapidly in the air. He was a hand-mover, too! David was so excited, he didn’t even pay attention to what the boy was saying, and had to ask him to repeat himself.
The boy explained his name was K-A-I and that he’d lost his family, and he was particularly sad about his brother. Did David know where he was?
Family was a concept David struggled to grasp, but he knew he didn’t have one, not anymore; no one at County House did. If this boy was here, his family was gone, too. “The mouth-movers,” David explained, using the sign they’d taught him, index finger rotating out at his mouth, which mimicked the silly way they were always wagging them, “put you here when your family doesn’t want you. Forget about them.
David did know what “brother” meant, on a certain level, anyway: there were twin brothers in his class, and they were best friends. “I’m your family now. Brother.


#


David finally realized Kai was waving at him to try to get his attention. “You OK?
David nodded. “SORRY. TIRED. I still can’t believe you’re alive. I left Jonesville for years, and when I came back, everyone told me you’d gotten very sick, that you’d disappeared from the Community. What happened? Some kind of miracle?
David watched the heavy rise and fall of Kai’s chest as he sighed. Then Kai shook his head. “Transplant, both lungs. Last year.” He lifted his shirt just long enough for David to see the long scar in the center of his chest.
WOW,” David said, shaking his hand off to his side. “I’m glad you’re all right.
Kai laughed. “Still alive, right? What you been up to?
David spread his arms, gesturing around the room. “Subbing here, when I can, believe it or not. Odd jobs. Whatever pays the bills. After I aged out of CH, I bounced around from family to family for awhile, but I couldn’t deal. Dropped out. You know me. Always angry.
Kai laughed. “And taking it out on the world. You made it your mission to know every dirty sign there was.
It’s one reason I learned to pick locks, so I could steal stuff to bribe the older kids to teach me. I knew the signs before I even really understood what they all meant.
Kai shook his head, still laughing. “You always have to win at everything.
Hey, if they didn’t call me Red, they’d probably call me Stubborn. Remember the contests we used to have? To see which of us could sign the worst possible thing and convince the staff at CH it was perfectly innocent?
Kai had to pause to wipe tears from his eyes. “The best one was that time you convinced that horrible orderly, Ken, you were asking for another pillow when you were really telling him his mother was a great fuck.
They reminisced for a while, swapping stories, until finally Kai admitted, “I missed you.
Don’t get all sappy on me now.
Fuck you. You cried like a baby when you thought I was dead.
David shrugged. “So what if I did? How did you survive after CH? You didn’t go into the Community, like me. How . . . ?
Kai took a deep breath. “My brother. My . . . real . . . brother came for me.
David picked up on Kai’s hesitance in his signing, though David wouldn’t deny how it hurt to see the signs TRUTH and BROTHER juxtaposed. “Unlike your fake brother, who abandoned you?” David tried to play it off as a joke, but knew he failed before he’d even finished signing. “I’m sorry. I meant to come back, once I’d gotten some money, but I’d forgotten how much the hearing world sucked. No one would hire me, or if they did, I wouldn’t last. They’d always find some reason other than my deafness, but . . .” David shrugged. “I ended up in Council Bluffs, worked as a janitor, managed to get my GED. Lived across the border so I could establish residency, got into UNO--
University of Nebraska?” Kai asked in clarification.
David nodded. “That’s where I met Megan. She was doing her internship and interpreted for me a few times.
I can’t believe my brother’s ASL tutor is your fiancee. I can’t believe you’re engaged. And to a hearie.
David shrugged. “My opinion of hearing people hasn’t changed. But Megan’s good for me. Keeps me out of trouble,” he said with a grin. “And you’ll always have Deaf heart,” David signed, the letter “D” handshape tapped on his heart, “no matter what anyone says.


#


Inez was on her feet before Jon had even completely emerged through the curtain. “Gracías a Dios. I never imagined you’d be the consulting doctor they’d send us. Usually it’s someone like that Dr. Kainer.”
Jon smiled faintly at Inez before approaching the bed. Martin was lying in it, the bed angled high so he was sitting up, a high-flow oxygen mask on his face. He was alert, though Jon could see by the rapid movement of his chest, how his shoulders rose and fell with each harsh breath, his neck muscles engaged, that even the oxygen wasn’t relieving his dyspnea. A quick glance at the monitors confirmed Jon's initial assessment, but he forced a smile as he took Martin’s hand and made eye contact.
“Overdid it with the trick-or-treating, huh?” Jon asked as he carefully counted Martin’s breaths.
“He was with his friends when he started having a lot of trouble breathing and had to rest,” Inez explained. Jon angled his head so he could hear her, but kept his focus on Martin, who was clearly not breathing easily, his respiration rate almost double his normal. “But after a few minutes, his lips turned blue and he started shivering, so I brought him in.”
Jon nodded as he checked Martin’s fingernails. Jon nibbled his lip to hide a frown; like Kai’s, Martin’s fingers were clubbed on the tips, and the beds were pale, faintly blue. Cyanosis. Martin, despite the oxygen, despite how hard he was working for each breath, wasn’t getting enough oxygen into his blood.
“I shouldn’t have let you go. It was too cold. It was too much walking.”
Martin shook his head, lifted the mask away from his face to argue. “You drove me door-to-door, Ma,” he said, his words halting and breathy. He had to pause a moment, putting the mask back in place and breathing for a few seconds before adding, “Como un niño.”
Jon checked the oxygen setting at the wall to ensure it matched what had been recorded in the orders. It was unlikely that bumping it up any higher than it already was would benefit Martin much, but Jon turned the flow rate up anyway.
Jon paused to record the change in the file, along with a few quick notes, but in reality, he was giving Martin some time to adjust to the higher flow. “Did you dress up? Or are you too cool for that?”
Martin laughed faintly, and Jon observed his breathing had eased slightly. “Marty McFly. Back to the Future.” Jon was relieved to see Martin talking a little more fluently.
Jon laughed as he noted Martin’s heart rate had calmed noticeably. “Were you even alive when that came out?”
“It came out the year he was born. It’s his favorite movie. He likes to tell people I was watching it when I went into labor with him, and that’s why I named him Martin, but it’s not true.”
Jon laughed, set the file aside and pulled out his stethoscope. “You know the drill,” he said, warming up the head before sliding it along the skin of Martin’s back, carefully listening to each lobe and bronchus, occasionally encouraging Martin to take a deeper breath, hold it, then release. Jon was particularly concerned by the diffuse crackles throughout Martin’s lungs, which sounded less like the congestion that often accompanied FS or pneumonia and more like scarring. The areas of Martin’s lungs with abnormal bronchial breath sounds had spread, with a complete absence of breath sounds in the lower lobes of Martin’s right lung.
“OK, say, ‘Apples are awesome,’ a few times for me,” Jon said. “You don’t need to take off the mask.” Jon placed the head of the stethoscope in the areas he suspected were newly fibrosed, listening for how Martin’s voice sounded. As he’d suspected, the “E’s” had transformed to “A’s” in far more of Martin’s lungs than they had even a few weeks before. Everything suggested that the affected tissue from Martin’s last hospital stay hadn’t healed, but scarred.
“You did great,” Jon said, taking off his stethoscope and draping it around his neck, checking Martin’s fingernails again. Still pale, but less blue. “How have you been feeling lately?”
“OK,” Martin said.
“He’s been pretty good. He gets tired faster. He can’t walk as far, and he has more trouble catching his breath, but he hasn’t had as much mucus or coughing since you put him on that medicine.”
Martin had been on an immunosuppressant regimen, not quite as intense as Kai’s, but similar, which had pushed his ABPA into remission, but it sounded like the damage had been done.
Jon nodded. “I want to get a CT to confirm what the X-ray and my exam showed, and I’d like to keep you overnight, just to make sure we’re not dealing with something more serious,” Jon said, alternating glancing between Martin and his mom.
“No biopsy, right?” Martin said without lifting the mask, his words muffled.
Jon shook his head. “It shouldn’t be necessary this time.” Jon found his hand reaching up for his hair and tucked it in his pocket instead. He patted Martin’s shoulder, offering him an encouraging smile, before turning to Inez. “Puedo hablar con usted un momentico?
He led Inez out of the curtained area, toward one of the actual exam rooms he knew was empty, so they’d have a place to talk outside of Martin’s earshot. Inez’s face was worried; Jon had a policy, in general, of being honest with his patients if they were old enough to understand, so he knew she was wondering what it was he felt he couldn’t say in Martin’s presence.
I want to wait until I get all the test results back, but I think it might be time to consider putting Martin on oxygen full time,” Jon said in Spanish as soon as they were ensconced in the room.
Inez took in a slow, deep breath, nodding subtly.
I didn’t want to say anything to him yet, not until I’m certain that’s the treatment plan I’m going to give him, but I wanted to tell you first.
What does this mean for him?
Jon sighed, crossed his arms on his chest. “He’s got a lot of scarring in his lungs. From years of living with FS, from previous pneumonias, and now a significant amount from this ABPA. I had hoped he would heal, but everything suggests Martin has lost a lot of functional lung tissue recently.
And that’s why he’s been having so much trouble, even though he’s not coughing or wheezing like he was before?
Jon nodded. “Once the tissue is damaged, it can’t be repaired. It’s gone.” Jon smiled faintly. “Pero el oxígeno puede mejorar su calidad de vida.”
Inez broke down when she heard the words “quality of life,” and Jon had to reach to help her to her seat. “That’s what doctors say when someone’s dying.
Jon sighed heavily, sank down into the other seat so they were at eye level. “I’m still fighting the transplant committee. One by one, trying to convince one of them to call a new meeting to reconsider their decision. I won’t give up on him. I promise.
Inez nodded, laid a hand on Jon’s arm. “I owe you an apology. For the way I treated you the other day. You’ve done nothing but good for both of us, and you didn’t deserve that.
Jon shrugged. “It’s forgotten.” He smiled, gripped Inez’s hands in his, looking her directly in the eyes. “I’m going to have someone come talk to you. She’ll help you deal with your insurance in getting Martin his oxygen supplies, and she’ll explain how to use it. And I will talk to Martin myself if that’s what we decide to do, all right?
Inez surprised Jon by rising and throwing her arms around him in a tight embrace. “Que Dios le bendiga, Doctor Taylor. Gracías por todo.
Don’t thank or bless me yet, Jon thought. Take away the ABPA and replace it with pneumonia, and Martin’s case looked almost identical to Kai’s, four years ago. The oxygen would make Martin feel better, but he didn’t have much time.


#


As Kai exited the school, he immediately felt the temperature had dropped a few more degrees, and a light, cold drizzle had begun to fall. Kai paused to zip his coat up further, but he still shivered. He’d get to his car as fast as he could, get home, and sleep forever. Still, it had been surprisingly nice to see David again, and to chat with some of the other Deafies who were none the wiser about who he was or his history, which was fine. It would come out eventually, but for one night he could just enjoy being surrounded by the language and culture he loved and missed desperately.
A few cars had left, making Kai’s path through the paved portion of the parking lot more direct, and faster, to his relief, but as he carefully wheelied through the unpaved lot, nearing his car, he let out a string of English curses. An asshole in a large pickup (complete with cattle guard) had parked illegally on the driver’s side of Kai’s car, leaving him blocked in on both sides. He pushed around, but it was no use. It’d be hard enough for an able-bodied person to squeeze in; there was no way his chair would fit. Kai shivered as some rain snuck down the back of his neck between the collar of his jacket. It was a long way back to the school, and since it was still early, relatively, it wasn’t likely anyone else was going to come along in the immediate future.
“Fuck!” Kai screamed, slamming his hand on the hood of the truck.
He rubbed his fist, glaring at the car, as if the power of his stare could move it, when an idea occurred to him. He pushed away, studying the situation. He could potentially use the proximity of the truck to his advantage. He snorted at the thought. At least as much of an “advantage” as he could in this predicament. He wasn’t wearing his braces, but if he could get his left leg to cooperate enough not to buckle, he could potentially leave his chair in front of the truck, using the hood for leverage, then the body to support his own while he gripped the luggage rack on the roof of his car to help pull himself along. It wouldn’t be fast or easy, and it was a risk: if he slipped or fell or moved wrong, he could legitimately fuck up his right leg, which was nearly healed, and he hadn’t worn his knee brace.
Kai turned his head to gaze out at the dark parking lot toward the lights of the school. His only options were to go back, find someone--David maybe--to pull his car out enough for him to get in since it was too cold to wait out here, or attempt his acrobatic feat and hope for the best. A shiver tore through Kai’s body again.
“No guts, no glory, right?” he said out loud, positioning himself as close as possible to the gap between the two cars while still ensuring he wouldn’t hit his chair once he pulled out of the space. He stared hard for a few more minutes, calculating, then lifted his feet off the foot rest, one by one, testing his left leg. “What the fuck am I thinking?”
Double-checking the brakes on his wheels (and that he had his car keys in his pocket), Kai reached out for the top bar of the cattle guard, using it to pull himself to his feet, trying his best not to bump his right leg or lean on it too heavily, praying his left leg would hold. His knee wobbled and tried to buckle, so he pulled himself tighter to the grill of the truck, using the bumper to help support him, taking a few seconds to catch his breath. Then he reached for the side mirror, grateful for his long arms, managing to pull himself along the side of the pickup, half hopping and half dragging his left leg, gripping tightly to the truck, praying he wouldn’t fall. Hesitantly, he released his grip on the truck’s mirror, reaching out for his car, holding his breath as he felt himself start to slide. The rain wasn’t helping, making every surface slick. Kai hurriedly shifted his right arm to the truck’s mirror, then his left to the bar on the roof rack of his car.
His body wobbled, and for a moment, he sank down, his knees beginning to give out, leaving him half-hanging between the mirror of the truck and the rack of his car. Thankfully, because of the narrow space, he was able to angle his hip, leaning into the side of his car, which gave him the chance to adjust his hold on the bar of the luggage rack and pull himself up. Leaning against the edge of the driver’s side door, he moved his other arm to the rack, bowing his head and breathing heavily. The rain was coming down harder now, but he was overheated from the effort, his skin that strange mix of hot yet chilled you only get from exertion in cold weather. But he was almost there, and though his left knee was screaming at him, his right seemed to be OK.
He used his grip on the luggage bar to pull, slide, and hop his way a half foot down the side of his car, which would give him room enough to unlock it and open the door. Kai adjusted his hold, leaning on the roof of the car so that his left forearm was braced against the bar, his hand gripping one of the supports tightly. Once he was sure he was as secure as he could be in the situation, he released his left hand, pulling out his keys carefully, making sure he had a firm grip. If he dropped them now, he’d be fucked.
Thankfully, he was able to get the car unlocked on the first try without slipping down, though getting the door open from this angle was a little trickier. He managed to pull the handle, inching the door open. Shoving his keys back in his pocket, Kai then was able to get his hand on the edge and pry it open as far as he could in the confined space. One hand on the top of the door, the other slid to the top edge of the luggage rack, Kai was able to twist just enough to awkwardly drop into the seat, his legs a little tangled. He paused for a moment, shivering, his cheeks hot but burning with chill, his hair plastered to his face from the rain and sweat, regaining his breath. At least his new lungs didn’t react to the cold air the way his old ones would have, he thought, relieved. Finally, he pulled his legs in, massaging his left knee--he’d have to ice it before bed--relieved his right seemed to be OK, and hurriedly turning the engine and blasting the heat.
Now that he was no longer grappling, his body decided shivering would be an excellent course of action, his teeth chattering. Kai was tempted to sit for a moment in the enclosed car, letting it warm up, but his chair was standing out in the cold rain, and he needed to get home. Once he was sure his hands had stopped shaking enough to trust them, Kai carefully eased the car forward, watching for his wheelchair. Once he had pulled past it safely, he opened his door, and gripping the steering wheel with his right hand, leaned over and yanked his chair closer, since the wheels were locked. He popped them off, tossing them one by one, then the frame, in the passenger’s seat.
He was exhausted, his shoulders and arms burning with fatigue, soaked and cold, but he’d done it. He tried not to think of the irony that if he’d invited Renee along, she could have easily squeezed through and pulled the car forward in less than five minutes instead of the nearly half-hour ordeal it had taken him.
As Kai headed home, he decided there was a lesson in there somewhere, but he was too tired to give it much thought.

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Continue to November 2, 2000 ------->

5 comments:

  1. Wow--you had me on the edge of my seat, as Kai was struggling to get into his car. Superb writing.

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  2. Great addition, Chie! I liked the glimpse into Kai's past and the detail you used in getting Kai into his car. Can't wait for more!

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  3. Fabulous, Chie! I'm with Pepper and Michelle--I was holding my breath for Kai, scared to death that he was going to fall. And the reconnection with David was really good too. Really great chapter.

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  4. Thanks for another great chapter - loved the part with Kai and David, but also really enjoyed the scene with Jon at work - hope that you also develop this side the story as I am now interested in how Martin and Jon's relationship continues.

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    1. :D Thank you! I'm really glad you're enjoying it, including the scene with Martin. Don't worry: you'll see more of him and that storyline as the season continues. :) We'll also see more of David as well.

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