Summer had been slightly nervous all day. She even forgot to put milk into her coffee, which did not really make it any better. Thinking back, she actually spent the whole day either starting things while already intending not to finish them or looking at her watch. She checked the subway time table three times and was at the station almost half an hour before she should have been. There she had spent the rest of the time trying to hypnotize the elevator doors to finally reveal Vince instead of old ladies or daddies with strollers.
Just as she was about to give in to the worrying feeling of her possibly being in the wrong place, the door opened again. She could see the back of Vince's wheelchair and half of his back head. The speed and accuracy with which he drove backwards and turned the vehicle around indicated how much experience he had with maneuvering it. Of course, he was using it every day. Vince almost ignored her, giving her just a quick smile and a short "Hi", leaving it to John to make some short conversation with her. She liked how it was not like in the hospital where a colleague would have talked to her about the patient like he was a little child, explaining every personal detail from the day no matter how irrelevant it was. Instead he just handed her the keys for Vince's apartment and a cell phone, giving her some short explanations on how to use it and that he would usually just let it ring twice if he needed anything.
John must have sensed that she was a bit puzzled by Vince completely ignoring her: "Don't mind him. Imagine you would have someone around you every minute, you would probably also want some time for yourself." Summer was taken aback a little but tried to not show it. Of course it made sense but that did not make it any better. She said bye to John and went to stand next to Vince. At first he looked the other way but when she came closer he turned his head gave her a warm smile. Her heart made a quick jump. She smiled back and said "If you need anything, you let me know, right?" "Right. Thanks." His eyes went back to his mobile. After a few moments Summer decided he would not be looking up to her again and faked interest in an ad on the other side of the train tracks. She would have him around all weekend.
Another bump in the train track made her look up from the magazine she had pretended to be readying for the past hour. Vince still had his eyes closed, the head leaned to the backseat of his wheelchair. His foot tapped on the ground, mimicking the rhythm of the music only he could hear. His slightly crooked fingers held his mobile tight. His fragile body was relaxing the comfortable seat. He had a light smile on his lips. Summer realized her throat had become a bit dry. She folded the magazine and reached into her bag, fishing for the bottle of water she had bought at the train station.
Outside green hills rushed past, occasionally interrupted by a small village that was not even big enough for the train to slow down. She did not even have a clue in which direction they were going. In her mind she was going through the things she had packed and decided for the tenth - or maybe eleventh? - time that she was missing something but simply could not remember what it was. Maybe it was just the nagging feeling that something is always wrong. Her fingers found the bottle cap and while slowly undoing it, she glanced back at Vince. Whatever it was she forgot, it was not that important after all.
All of a sudden Vince opened his eyes and was looking straight at her. A shiver went down her back spine and she hastily lowered her gaze. Did he realize she had been watching him for almost the whole time? After entering the train with a special ramp the service staff provided at the station he had taken out earplugs, diligently connected them to his mobile and then started to fumble them into his ears. As he seemingly could only lift his lower arms, he always had to tilt his head to the respective side. Crushing her hopes to help him with that, he almost intentionally had turned a little away from her. He had taken is time but in the end he had managed and was out of reach for her ever since. A bell disturbed her thoughts and she heard the voice of the train driver announcing the next stop. "That's us. Don't forget my stuff, I would rather not wear this shirt all weekend." He accompanied it with a playful smile.
She stood up and took his rucksack from under her seat. She had half expected him to have a lot of luggage, including some assistive technology, adjuvant and other stuff she was used to from the disabled people she had been working with. But it turned out her own bag suitcase was almost twice the size of his rucksack. Vince had already disappeared in the direction of the exit. Did he even notice she was there? She tried to swallow down her disappointment, grabbed the handle of her suitcase and followed him. If only he would take out these damn earplugs so she could talk to him.
Opening the door of the van and feeling the last rays of evening sun gently touching her face, Summer took a deep and liberating breath. She felt immediately appeased, if only for finally having escaped the endless talk of the taxi driver. The drive from the train station to the house had taken long enough for him to introduce her to his entire family, including several cousins and brothers-in-law whom he had tried to pair her off with. Furthermore she had learned about the beauty of Romania's lush meadows, why vacation in Constanta was so much better than at the Mediterranean Sea and several other bits of information she was not necessarily interested in. She cursed him silently for not having a seat next to the rear part of his car where the wheelchair was placed.
Vince finally had grown tired of his music, at least for the moment as he still held the earplugs with a slightly tilted hand, when the driver unfolded the ramp to let him out. Summer realized how steep it was and quickly made a few steps towards the ramp. "Vince, should I support the wheelchair while you go back?" He slightly turned his head but since he also seemed to have very limited mobility in his neck, could probably not even see her. "I think it will be fine but maybe you can guide me a little? Can I go straight?" She checked "A little to the left... Yeah, now you're good." He professionally drove backwards, trusting her to be fast enough that the taxi driver had to make a quick step aside in order to not get run over. Summer snickered to herself.
While Vince paid the driver, she took her time to look around. They were standing at an opening in the middle of a deciduous forest, the last part of the street had been more like a dirt road. The first thing she noticed was how silent it was. She could only hear the twitter of the birds and a distant woodpecker. The car engine made some sizzling noise. The low voices of the guys seemed more like an ambient background sound. It was a peaceful place. The house itself was entirely encased in wood, making it almost look like a log cabin. Vince's father obviously put lots of effort in it - there were flowers in front of it, a little bench to enjoy the sun that was now half covered in shadow already and ivy embracing a high wooden fence that kept her from seeing what might be a garden. All the tension fell off her and she felt how her smile widened a bit.
"I see you like it?" Despite the noise his wheelchair made she did not hear him coming this time. "Like? I love it! What a perfect place for vacation." He grinned and pointed to his which rucksack she was carrying on her back. "The key is in the front, there is a little red plastic cap around it. I'm sure you will find it just as lovely inside." While searching for it, she heard how the taxi was turning around and the driver shouting a goodbye. She did not bother to look up. Taking out the key she went to the door to open it. When she had turned the key in the lock, she realized that she was now all alone with Vince. With a tingly feeling in her belly she stepped aside to give way for him to enter the house.
She watched how Vince carefully loaded the last grains of rice onto his fork. His hand was shaking a little, some of the unused muscles in his hands delivering tiny spasms to his hand now and then. Summer could see how much was focusing to not lose a single bit of it on the way to his mouth. Still he had already dropped some rice on his shirt earlier. She found it kind of cute how he had very quickly swiped it away with his hands when he noticed her glancing to it. Summer herself had finished her own dish long ago and was enjoying the delicious white wine they found in the storage room earlier.
The cozy atmosphere and the slight dizziness in her head made her enjoy the moment even more. It was very dark in the garden already but their table was illuminated by some candles, making it a small isle of light in the dark forest around them. The mosquitoes swarmed around them but so far did not attack, the spray she had brought seemed to work. Now that they were alone Vince had finally been much more approachable. He talked about how he spent his childhood here, playing in the garden and swimming in the lake. Summer had tried to not pepper him too much with her questions but could not keep herself from wanting to know some details. Obviously it was much easier for him to move in water. His dark eyes were glowing when he talked about how he swam in the Pacific Ocean while being in Malaysia. She admired how much he embraced his life and seemed to take the opportunities as they came along.
While eating Vince had grown very silent but, after noticing her confusion, explained that it cost him a lot of time to eat and talking meanwhile would mean that halfway through he would have a cold dish in front of him. She gave him her most understanding smile and took the opportunity to explain a little how happy she was to have gotten the job for this weekend - claiming she needed the money - and that she was very impressed with how independent his life was - comparing it to the hospitals she had worked in before. He threw in a short comment here and there and showed a genuine interest in how she experienced working with disabled people so far. It was a bit hard to not get too much into it but very exciting to watch his reactions. He seemed to not mind talking about disabilities in general or his own in particular.
Now he put down his fork, swallowing the last bits of his food, and turned a bit away from the table. In the dim light she could see his still legs. Summer looked into his eyes again. His gaze touched something inside her. Even though she could not see much more than the glowing white of his eyeballs in the dark, it was like there were something fiery in it. It made her feel uncomfortable in a very exciting way. She put down the glass and decided she definitely had had enough wine. "That was really delicious, Summer. Seems you are quite the cook." Damn that look. And that cute, slightly provoking grin! "Thanks a lot, your compliments are highly appreciated." "Yes, I figured that." Was he flirting with her? She was too baffled to reply but luckily he went on "I will go to the lake now and meet up with some friends. I think I won't need anything for the moment. It might get late, so you probably want to go to sleep already. Will call you when I'm back." He turned around and was gone.
She picked up the dishes and went inside to clean them, not sure how she should feel. She had fantasized so many times about being part of a disabled persons private life, being there for him all the time, helping him with anything. The reality was so much different. She was just not sure whether in a negative or a positive way. And she could not help but feel a very strong attraction to Vince. The sound of his approaching wheelchair disturbed her thoughts.
"Hey, Summer, just realized one thing. I'm actually not sitting that well in the chair anymore. Can you please adjust that a little?" She had been noticing that whenever he needed help that would require her to interact with him, he always asked very politely and sometimes even quite indirect. "Sure, just tell me what to do." She stood right next to him and knelt down so he could see her without having to put his head back. "Okay, it's very easy. You just stand in front of me and lean me forward. But you have to watch a bit so I don't fall. If you are comfortable with it, the easiest way is to hold me with you own body by standing in front of me." She was very comfortable with that.
"Then you grab my trouser waistband with your hand and pull me a little bit to the back." She gave him a short nod to indicate that she understood. Then she got up and stood right in front of him. His legs touched her own and she could feel how, even though they did not move, they were pleasantly warm. She touched his skinny shoulders and carefully bowed his body forward, positioning his head against her hip. "Is it okay like that?" She heard a muffled affirmation. Her fingers went searching for the trousers. She could see how his back was twisted, as he had explained, due to the inability of his muscles to support the spine. She was partly proud and partly scared she actually knew not only the word scoliosis but also how this stage of it would lead to his organs being compressed in his body, limiting his lung capacity and probably inducing some pain now and then. She gently grabbed the waistband and tentatively started pulling. "That's fine! Now, please sit me up again." She enjoyed the warmness of his body against her own for a moment longer while retreating her hands to his shoulders. She would have loved to run them up and down his back a little but managed to suppress that thought. Instead she bent him back to sit upright and held her hands there for a moment, making sure he was comfortable. "Perfect. Alright, see you later!" One last smile for her and off he sped. Slowly getting up and dusting the dirt off her jeans, Summer took a deep breath and turned back to the sink.