Time seemed to move incredibly fast after Jane's confession to me. Nothing more happened physically between the two of us beyond a lot of meaningful looks, but rehab was definitely a lot more pleasant.
Sooner than I would have liked, my discharge date was approaching. I was going home tomorrow. I would be leaving the sheltered world of the rehabilitation hospital for the real world. I was pretty nervous about it, but at the same time, I was glad to be getting out of here. I was ready to be a real person again.
Mason came by to hang out with me, since we weren't doing all that much therapy anymore. We got tired of talking, so Mason swiped a candy bowl from the nurse's station and put it on my lap. He sat across the room from me, crumbling up little balls of paper and attempting to toss them in the candy bowl, usually banking them off my chest. He was actually pretty terrible at it, which was amazing considering Mason was the quintessential athlete. He must have been getting soft with all this studying law.
"So," Mason said, as he tore large square of paper and started balling it up. "You got any plans for your first week home?"
"Not really," I said.
"Excellent," he said. "Then you can come with me to a pre-law party I got invited to."
My stomach clenched up at the thought of going to a party. What would that be like now? For sure, I'd be the only person in a wheelchair and definitely the only quadriplegic. Would people even talk to me? It didn't sound very fun.
"That's all right," I said. "Why would I want to hang out with a bunch of loser wannabe lawyers anyway?"
Mason threw the paper and it hit me dangerously close to my face. I had a feeling that wasn't an accident. "That doesn't sound like the Nick Edwards I know," he said. "You always said there's no girl who's too unimportant to fuck, right?"
I managed a crooked smile. I didn't know how much Mason knew the details of my unsuccessful attempt to fuck Savannah. "Well, maybe I was wrong," I said.
"Come on, Nick," he whined. "It'll be fun. You want to get back out there, right?"
Did I? Some part of me did, I guess. But some part of me believed it wasn't possible. "How would I even get there?" I asked. "No fucking way my wheelchair will fit in your dinky car."
Mason thought for a minute. "I could borrow your parents' van. Or they could drop you off."
The thought of arriving to a party in my cripple-mobile or worse, getting dropped off by my parents like I was eight years old, was too mortifying for words. "I don't know," I mumbled.
"For fuck's sake, Nick," Mason groaned. "Just get over yourself. I've been going to parties for like a year all by myself or with the douchy friends I have left, and I'm sick of it. You're coming to this party. How the fuck am I supposed to hit on girls without my wingman?"
"Aren't you engaged to Ramona?"
Mason frowned. "Oh yeah. Okay, fine. How are you supposed to hit on girls without your wingman?"
"I'll think about it," I said, knowing full well that Mason wasn't going to let up until I agreed to go to this party. He was pretty persistent when he wanted something.
At this point, Jane came into the room and witnessed Mason throwing a piece of paper that hit me square on the chin. She saw the candy bowl and our little game of lapketball, and she looked horrified. "Mason!" she cried. "What are you doing to him?"
"It was his idea," Mason said quickly, looking very guilty.
Jane punched her fists into her hips and faced me. Her scrub top was just a little too big and I could see a bit of her bra strap and it was just so hot. "Is that true, Nick?"
"Well, he didn't want to throw the paper in my mouth so this was our only option," I said, shrugging.
Jane shook her head as she yanked the bowl off my lap. She rested her hand on my shoulder for a minute, and I got this good, warm feeling in the parts of my body I could feel. "You behave yourself, Nick," she said.
I watched Jane's ass as she marched out of the room. I don't know how she managed to make those shapeless scrubs look so fucking sexy. When I turned back to Mason, his jaw was hanging open.
"You're fucking her!" he hissed.
"No, I'm not," I insisted. My face felt hot.
"You are!" he cried, a grin spreading across his face. "You're all red! I can't believe it!"
"Shut the fuck up," I said, glancing at the nursing station. "You're going to get her in trouble. Anyway, I'm not fucking her. We're just... we kissed. One time."
Mason leaned back in his chair, looking impressed. "Holy shit," he said.
He shook his head. "I asked her out, you know. A long time ago, back when you first got here. Before Ramona."
I felt a twinge of jealousy. "What did she say?"
"She said yes. We're getting married next week." Mason rolled his eyes. "What do you think she said? She said no. Said I wasn't her type."
I felt pleased with myself. I couldn't help it. Even though I was a quadriplegic, I managed to get a girl that Mason couldn't get. It was kind of amazing.
"So are you two dating then?" Mason asked.
I shook my head. "No. She told me that I needed to wait a year to adjust to my disability at home, then we could start dating." I smiled. "She said she'd wait for me."
"No wonder you don't want to go to my lameass pre-law party," Mason mused.
"So does that mean I'm off the hook?"
"Fuck no," Mason said. "I'll pick you up eight o'clock next Friday night. Be ready on time. Remember, just because you're crippled, that doesn't mean I won't still kick your ass, Edwards."
Mason had never kicked my ass in all the years I'd known him. But I had no doubt he'd do everything in his power to get me to go to this stupid party. It was good to have friends.
I was going home today. You know that dumb saying: today is the first day of the rest of your life. Well, it kind of felt that way. It felt like I was starting over as someone completely new, a brand new life.
And not necessarily in a good way.
Suffice to say, it was a rough day. Mary thought it would be a good idea for my mother to get me out of bed, and of course, that was a big fail. She wasn’t terrible at it, but she was still fumbling a lot with the Hoyer lift. Mary kept yelling at me, “Direct your care, Nick! Tell her what to do!” And I tried, I really did. But my mother is just dumb. Or else she just doesn’t listen.
In any case, I was very relieved when I was safely strapped into my wheelchair. The chair I was in now was my chair. It had been made custom for me, and it would be the chair I’d been using all the time for many years to come. It was a sip and puff, and I’d traded larger wheels for more maneuverability. I preferred being able to get around my own home easily or indoors places, rather than any kind of rough terrain.
I have to admit, I liked the wheelchair a lot. It moved much smoother than the loaner chair I’d been using. I had also spent an embarrassing amount of time on the web, looking at different wheelchairs. Right now, my only other wheelchair was a manual chair that was just for emergencies, but my goal was to design a cool new custom wheelchair for myself. I’d been thinking about different features I wanted, and I was hoping to convince my parents to let me find someone to make it for me.
There were even a few moments when I convinced myself that I didn’t look too bad in my wheelchair. Of course, that delusion always got ruined every time I came across a mirror.
Mary and my mother worked together to pack up all my remaining stuff, like equipment and clothes, into plastic bags, which they placed on my bed. I just sat there and watched, because what else could I do? I was also given a list of doctor’s appointments for after I went home. Or should I say, the list was given to my mother. It was a fucking long list. Especially considering before this happened to me, I went to the doctor about once every few years. Mostly for STDs.
And then we were given a bunch of prescriptions for all my medications. I was on a whole bunch of pills, about half of which were for my bowels. The only good thing was there was a pretty strong pain medication on the list, the kind that would have cost me a fortune to score before my injury. Back in the old days, I knew guys who actually used to fake disabilities to get pain meds. Lucky me, I didn’t have to fake it.
“We’re really going to miss you, Nicky,” Mary said to me, her eyes getting a little teary.
“I’ll miss you too,” I said. And I meant it. I’d really gotten to like this place. More importantly, I felt comfortable here. I had no idea what the real world was going to be like for me with a severe disability.
“Come visit us,” Mary said.
I nodded, knowing I probably never would. “Where are Cam and Jane?”
Asking about Cam was a decoy. Not that I didn’t want to say goodbye to Cam, but Jane was the one I really wanted to see.
“Cam will be here in a minute,” Mary said. “Jane’s off today though. She worked over the weekend, so this is her comp day.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. How could Jane not be here on my last day? She knew I was leaving today! Was this her way to somehow avoid seeing me? The whole thing made me very uneasy, but I tried to play it down, shrugging and saying, “Oh well.”
“I know you were very close with Jane,” Mary said, although I’m fairly sure she had no idea how close. “I bet she’ll give you a call when you get home.”
“Sure,” I said, shrugging again, even though I felt pretty sad about it.
Cam came out to say goodbye to me, repeating Mary’s words about how I should come visit. He put his hand on my shoulder as he looked me straight in the eyes, “You’re going to do great, Nick. Just remember I told you.”
Mom stacked two of the bags on my lap, and called for Godfrey, the servant who drove her here, to come carry the rest. Mrs. Edwards did not carry bags. I hadn’t met Godfrey before, but I had a feeling I’d get to know him soon. It seemed like caring for me was going to be a communal effort. It takes a village.
As I wheeled out of the rehab center, something changed in me. I was no longer a rehab patient. I was now just another disabled man.
And I would be for the rest of my life, in all likelihood. Until the day I died, I’d have to keep my eye out for those blue handicapped sign. I’d be on the lookout for curbcuts, elevators, and I wouldn’t go anywhere if it wasn’t in an accessible van. I would, most likely, never take a step on my own again. I’d probably never be able to bathe myself, dress myself, or feed myself ever again.
I knew I was struggling. Part of me desperately wished there was some way I could turn back time and be my old self again. And part of me knew that I had to accept myself the way I was, because I would never be my old self again.
Godfrey opened the back door of the van and lowered the lift so that I could board. I turned back and looked at the rehab hospital, whispering a quiet goodbye.
I lifted my head at the sound of the familiar voice. Jane! It was fucking Jane!
I saw her racing over to us, wearing jeans and a sweater rather than her usual scrubs. The jeans were worn and fit the contours of her thin legs like a comfortable old glove. Her red hair was loose around her face and somewhat disheveled. I’d never seen her in anything but scrubs before and I thought she looked beautiful.
“I caught you!” she said, panting slightly. “I’m so sorry. My fucking alarm didn’t go off.”
“Hello, Jane,” Mom said politely. “I’m so glad you were able to come to say goodbye.”
“Of course, I came to say goodbye,” Jane said, looking indignant at the thought that she would have done anything else.
“I’ll give the two of you a minute,” Mom said. “We’ll just load up the bags into the van.”
As Mom and Godfrey fumbled in the back, Jane leaned over me and put her hand along my jaw. “You doing okay?” she asked me.
“Better now,” I said.
“Today is going to be the hardest,” Jane said. “But it will get easier every day after today.”
“It would be easier if I didn’t have to leave you.”
A flash of something that looked like regret passed over Jane’s face. She glanced at the van, making sure my mother was occupied, then quickly lowered her lips onto mine. We shared a kiss that practically made my hair stand on end.
“I love you,” I breathed in her ear.
“I know.” Jane grinned. “I love you too, Nick.”
My mother reappeared and Jane was forced to straighten up and resume the role of the good therapist. Mom still had a few questions for Jane, which she answered with the utmost professionalism, although all I was thinking about was how great her breasts looked in that sweater.
“You ready, Nicky?” Mom asked me.
I nodded. Jane reached out and gave my shoulder one last squeeze.
“I’ll see you in a year,” I said to her.
Jane’s fingers lingered on my skin, just before she let go so that I could get into the van and start my new life. “I’ll be there,” she promised.