I’m glad I bought a variety spare cables with me, because after Julie helps me replace the two that are clearly damaged the register actually boots up when I push the power button. I hear an excited squeal next to me and turn and see Julie beaming.
“Wow! It worked,” she exclaims.
“Well, we’re not all the way there yet, but it’s a good sign that it boots.” I don’t want her to get all giddy for nothing. Before I can say anything else a middle-aged man wearing a red uniform shirt walks up to us with a slightly annoyed look on his face.
“There you are, Julie. I thought you were going to finish unpacking that pallet and go to lunch. That was almost half an hour ago.”
“Oh, crap!,” Julie says, clearly flustered. “Ben showed up and I’ve been helping him with the register.” Before I can make a move to introduce myself Julie takes the initiative. “Aaron, this is Ben from tech. Ben, this is Aaron, the manager here.”
I extend my hand to Aaron and am rewarded with a firm handshake and to my relief Aaron seems a bit less annoyed now. “Good to meet you, Ben. Are you making any progress?”
“I’m cautiously optimistic. Julie helped me check out the wiring under the counter and we replaced a couple of damaged ones. It just finished booting up, so I guess we’ll know in a few minutes.”
“Good,” Aaron says in a slightly dismissive tone and then he turns his attention to Julie. I turn to the register and get back to work.
Aaron is clearly annoyed that I abandoned the pallet and haven’t gone to lunch yet. I guess I don’t blame him, since that was what we agreed on earlier. But Ben showed up and I got distracted. I hope the fact that we, well Ben, seems to be succeeding in fixing it helps his mood a little.
“It seems like Ben has everything under control here, so go finish that pallet and take your lunch break as soon as you’re finished. Got it?”
I nod. “I only have a couple of boxes left, so it shouldn’t take more than half an hour. Probably less.”
“Good. Get to work.”
“Ok,” I reply. I want to say something to Ben, but he’s got his back to me and appears to be focused on his work. I reluctantly turn around and walk back to the pallet I abandoned half an hour ago.
I give myself a mental pat on the back. The register is up and running again and Aaron thanks me for the help and walks back to the office to fetch a cash drawer. I quickly pack my backpack before I put my scarf, jacket and gloves back on.
For a second I consider heading into the store to find Julie and thank her for helping me, but two things hold me back. The first is her awkward reaction when she realized I’m in a wheelchair and the second is that Aaron didn’t seem too pleased about her spending half an hour helping me instead of unpacking the pallet she was working on when I arrived. I don’t want to get her into more trouble by interrupting her again.
I grab my backpack and put it on my back. Just as it was when I arrived it’s a bit of a challenge to squeeze past a pallet next to the counter, but by grabbing the counter with my left hand and pushing my right wheel with the other I manage just fine. I guess my wheelchair skills are improving. Go me! I know I should be happy about that, but I’m not there yet. I still wish I didn’t need the damn chair in the first place.
As I wheel out of the front doors of the store the cold air hits me. Damn it’s cold outside. And a loud growl from my stomach makes me realize I’m hungry and I’m tempted something to eat before I head back home. The trip takes almost an hour and I actually don’t have much food at my place because I’ve been putting off grocery shopping for a couple of days.
When I spot a Shake Shack sign about half a block away I can’t resist the temptation to grab a burger there, so I turn my chair and head in that direction, which is opposite of Grand Central Terminal.
I finish unpacking the pallet in about 15 minutes and head to the back to grab my coat and purse from my locker. I stop by Aaron’s office to let him know I’m taking my lunch break. I’m pleasantly surprised when he tells me I can take a long lunch break since I came in early today, if I’m back by one o’clock it’s fine. Since it’s a few minutes past noon now it’s great news. It means I’m getting almost an hour-long break and I have the time to get a proper meal somewhere.
As I walk out of the store I’m a bit disappointed to see that Ben has left, but it’s great to see both registers working for the first time in almost a week. Fingers crossed it’ll stay that way for the next few weeks, ’till the Christmas rush is over.
It only takes me a couple minutes to reach the Shake Shack down the block. I love their food and decide I deserve a treat today. Especially since Aaron has granted me almost twice the time normally have for my lunch break.
After ordering I look around for an open table and I stop when I spot a familiar face at a table not far away. It’s Ben. I’m tempted to join him, but I’m hesitant since he got so annoyed with me when we met and although he was friendlier at the end it wasn’t like he acted like he was interested in getting to know me. And he never thanked me for helping him. I had kind of hoped he’d come into the store and say goodbye and thank me for the help when he was done, since Aaron interrupted us and sent me away kind of abruptly.
I’ve just settled in at my table after grabbing my tray of food from the counter when I get the feeling someone is staring at me. Great. I’m starting to regret my decision to have lunch here before I head home. I look up and almost immediately I’m face to face with Julie. Her cheeks redden and she looks embarrassed as she lifts her hand and tentatively waves at me.
Before I can think more about it I gesture for her to join me and point at the empty seat across from me. She hesitantly comes over, placing her drink cup on the table, unzips her parka and hangs it on the chair before she takes a seat.
“Hi,” she says with a smile. “Thanks for letting me join you.”
“No problem,” I reply. “I don’t mind some company.” Truth is I crave company (yes, I've been kind of a hermit lately, but that's not normal for me, I'm normally a very social person), even if it’s the girl that got all awkward when she saw my wheelchair for the first time. The awkwardness kind of faded away when we worked together and I am grateful for her help. I couldn’t have done the job successfully without her assistance. “And I really appreciate your help.”
“Oh, don’t worry about it,” she says before she takes a sip of her drink. I take a bite of my burger and have to restrain myself to not audibly groan with pleasure as the flavors hits my mouth. Damn, this is good. “Um, Ben?” Her voice has a nervous edge to it when she gets my attention again. I swallow the piece of burger I’ve been chewing before I answer.
“Yeah?” I wonder where this is going.
“I’m sorry for the way I reacted when we first met. It had nothing to do with your wheelchair, my cousin’s a para in a chair and I’m not flustered by disabled people.” Ben looks puzzled and somewhat dubious. God, this is embarrassing. “I wasn’t expecting you to be as hot as your voice made me imagine. I was prepared for you to be a total dork like the other tech guys.” My face is burning by the time I finish my not-very-well-thought-through-apology.
Ben is leaning back in his chair with a mixture of disbelief and a pleased smile on his face. He takes another bite of his burger followed by a couple of fries and his silence really unnerves me. Before I can say anything else my name is called and I get up to grab my food. Saved by the bell?
Wow! I didn’t see that coming. I replay Julie’s words in my mind a couple of times while I have a few more bites of my burger and some fries while she goes to the counter. Did she really say she thinks I’m hot? Yes, she did. I know my looks aren’t exactly against me, heck, before the accident I was actually pretty successful in the dating game, but lately my confidence has taken a beating. I don’t expect a woman to see past my chair when I find it hard to do so myself.
Julie returns with a tray with a burger and cheesy fries on it and sits back down. She looks shy and flustered. She grabs a fry and starts playing with the cheese topping. I have a sip of my beer (yes, I’m treating myself to a beer, maybe two, with my lunch today, it’s past noon and I’m an adult, so don’t judge).
“So, are we going to finish this meal in an awkward silence and pretend like this never happened?” I ask her, hoping I appear braver than I feel.
Julie looks a little more at ease. “Well, I hope not. I hope we can at least be friends. You probably already have a girlfriend, so I’m not getting my hopes up about anything else.”
I smile at that. She’s definitely attracted to me. Unfortunately, I’m not sure I’m ready to get back in the dating game yet, but something tells me I need to be honest and do something to make sure this girl doesn’t disappear from my life, that she’s something special.
“I’m single, but to be perfectly honest with you I’m not sure I feel ready for more than friendship. I’ve only been out of rehab for a couple of months and this is all pretty new to me,” I say, gesturing to my wheelchair. Since she mentioned a cousin with a similar disability to mine I hope she gets it.
I pop a couple of fries into my mouth and use the seconds it takes me to chew and swallow them to think about what to reply to that. If he’s only been out of rehab for a couple of months it’s probably been eight to ten months since he was injured. I know it took Jason more than a year to adjust to his situation and accept his injury, so I’m prepared to give Ben time. At the same time, I want him to know that I’m interested in more than friendship when he’s ready.
“I can live with that,” I say with a smile. “But I hope I get to be the first girl you ask out on a date when you feel ready for that.”
“Deal,” Ben replies with a grin as he reaches across the table and grabs my free hand, giving it a squeeze.