Even though I hadn’t gotten any movement back in my arms, Cam attempted to hook me up to an electrical stimulation (e-stim) machine to try to get me to feed myself. I’m embarrassed to admit how excited I was when he said we were going to do this. I was sick of being fed all the time.
We went to a special room during lunch one day. An aide brought my plate of food along and placed it in front of me at a table. Cam put a splint on my right hand that had a fork attached to it, although that part wasn’t as easy as he thought it would be. “Wow, your hands are really tight today, Nick,” he said.
It was true. My fingers didn’t seem to want to stretch out of a fist, but Cam eventually coaxed them into the splint. Then he attached a device to my right biceps that was hooked up to a machine that provided the e-stim.
As excited as I had been about this trial, it was immediately obvious that it was an exercise in futility. Yes, the e-stim got my arm twitching a little bit, but it was completely useless. Cam had to help me scoop up the food with my fork, then he basically guided the food to my mouth. I wasn’t helping in any way.
“Great job,” Cam said after the food was in my mouth.
“What are you fucking smoking?” I said. “I didn’t do anything. You basically just fed me with my own hand.”
“Well, yeah,” Cam said. “But it’s good exercise for the muscles in your arm.”
“But how am I supposed to use this to feed myself?”
Cam frowned at me. “Well, you can’t. I mean, you’re always going to need help feeding yourself. Unless you get some movement back in your arms.”
“So basically, this was all a tease?” I said, growing angry.
Cam shook his head. “I’m sorry if you misunderstood, Nick.”
I looked down at the plate of food in front of me. “Could we please just not do this? I’m not even hungry anymore.”
I thought Cam was going to give me a hard time like everyone else, and tell me that I had to eat or else I was going to waste away to nothing, but instead he told the aide to take me back to my room, where I got into bed and refused therapy for the rest of the day.
While in rehab, I played poker twice a week. It wasn’t a serious game, but basically just another rehab activity to help us develop real life skills. Usually Brett, the other guy with a spinal cord injury, played and one or two other people. Today it was Ralph, a guy in his forties with a head injury, and also Mason was joining us. Alexia, one of the therapists, was helping out and serving as the dealer. She was mostly helping Ralph, who was in all honestly kind of out of it and needed a lot of help.
We were playing five card draw and my cards were set up on a card holder in front of me. Alexia put them in the card holder for me and I looked at my hand: pair of aces and three random cards I didn’t want.
“Okay, Ralph,” Alexia said gently. “Which cards do you think you want to get rid of?”
Ralph just stared at the wall. This was kind of agonizing.
Finally Alexia picked out two cards for Ralph to give up, and spent about five minutes trying to get him to pick up the cards to throw them into the middle. He sort of did it eventually.
Then it was my turn. I had a stick with a mouthpiece in a cup attached to my wheelchair, and I got it in my mouth. Despite all the voice activated equipment there was out there, there was no getting around the fact that there were some things that required physical contact. So I actually ended up using the stick a good amount. I was getting a little better at it, and it helped that my neck muscles were getting stronger.
I leaned forward and pushed at one of the cards I wanted to get rid of. It took me a few tries, but the card eventually toppled over. Face up, yes, but I did it. Then I started working on the second card, which was being a little more stubborn. Mason reached out, looking like he was ready to help me, but I shook my head at him. I poked it again, really hard, and it toppled over.
“I would keep the King.”
It took me a few seconds to place the voice from behind me. I turned my head to the right and the stick toppled out of my mouth, into my lap. (Not the worst place it could go, but essentially irretrievable for me.) But that was the furthest thing from my mind. Because standing next to me was none other than Savannah Mills.
“Hi,” I croaked.
“Hi, Nick,” she said. She stepped forward so that I could get a full on view of her. Man, I don’t know how I ever could have thought she wasn’t pretty. Right now, Savannah looked like the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen in my entire life. She was so beautiful, it seemed like she ought to have wings and a halo (not the kind of halo I used to have, but the kind that doesn’t immobilize your neck after breaking it). The short, skintight white dress she was wearing didn’t hurt either.
“You’re here,” I said dumbly.
“Yes, I am,” Savannah said. Her blue-green eyes softened. “I missed you, Nicky.”
“More like you missed his money,” Mason mumbled. He had a dark look on his face. I was surprised, considering Mason never had anything bad to say about Savannah when we were dating.
Savannah ignored Mason’s disapproving gaze and moved closer to me. “I missed you, Nicky,” she said again. “How are you doing?”
“Uh, been better,” I said.
“If you’re so crazy about Nick, where have you been for the last six months?” Mason spoke up. “How many times did you visit him in the hospital? Once?”
“For your information,” Savannah said, “I was shooting a movie in Utah. It’s about Mormons, you know.”
“What’s it called? Bigamy and Bullshit?”
Savannah pursed her lips together. She had figured out that she wasn’t going to convince Mason of anything, so she focused her attention on me. “Nick, can I talk to you?” she asked. “In private?”
Mason was shaking his head at me, but I ignored him. I sipped on my control to pull away from the poker table and followed Savannah down the hallway. A few weeks ago, I would have been embarrassed to maneuver my wheelchair in front of her, but now I was fairly comfortable with it. We went far enough away that Mason and the poker game were within sight but out of earshot.
Savannah placed her hands on her hips. She was so incredibly curvy. Really, she was a beautiful girl. I was struggling to figure out why she had so much trouble making it as an actress until I remembered she was total shit at acting. “Nick,” she said. “I miss you. I really do.”
“I miss you too.” A voice in my head said, No, you didn’t! I told that voice to shut the fuck up though.
“I’ve thought about you so much,” Savannah said. She reached out and traced her finger down the side of my face. Nobody had touched me like that in a long time and it was all I could do to keep from groaning aloud. “Have you thought about me?”
“All the time,” I lied.
She took a deep breath. “I heard that… that your injury is permanent. That you’re going to be in the wheelchair for the rest of your life. Is that true?”
I nodded. “There’s a chance I might get some movement back in my arms, but…” I looked down at them, lying motionless in the armrests. I couldn’t finish that sentence.
“I still want to be with you, Nick,” Savannah said. “I still have feelings for you.”
Did I have feelings for Savannah? Hard to say, really. Right now, all I could think about was that a beautiful girl was wagging her perfect body in front of me and saying it could be mine. A day ago, I’d been worried I was never going to have a girlfriend again. Savannah still wanted me. That might have been my only chance to be in a relationship. How could I say no?
“I feel the same way,” I said.
A slow smile spread across Savannah’s face. She leaned in to hug me, although it was kind of awkward. We couldn’t get the right angle and the controls to my wheelchair were sort of blocking my face. I felt annoyed and discouraged by how difficult it had become for me to do something as simple as hug my girlfriend. “Can I move this out of the way?” Savannah asked me, her hand on my sip and puff controls.
I nodded and Savannah twisted my controls all the way to the side. Her arms enveloped my shoulders and she lowered her lips onto mine. I had forgotten how soft Savannah’s lips were, how warm and sweet her breath was. It was the most amazing kiss and I wanted it to last forever, but she pulled away after about a minute.
“I have to go,” she said. “But I promise I’ll stop by tomorrow, okay?”
“That would be great,” I said.
I watched Savannah leave, admiring the curve of her perfect little ass. I had a girlfriend again. And not just a girlfriend… she was a really hot girlfriend.
I was about to go back and join the poker game when I realized Savannah hadn’t put my controls back in place. I made a half-hearted attempt to reach them by craning my neck, but they were just too far away. I was stuck. “Mason!” I yelled.
Mason glanced up from his cards and gave me a dirty look, then turned away.
“Mason!” I yelled again. “Stop fucking around, fucker! I need help!”
He did get up, but he took his sweet time walking over to me. He wasn’t smiling and he looked pretty pissed off. “Savannah moved my controls,” I explained to him. “She forgot to put them back.”
“What a shock,” Mason said, putting the controls back within my reach.
“For fuck’s sake, Mason,” I said. “Why are you so angry at Savannah?”
“Because she’s a shallow bitch who only ever dated you for your money and your connections,” Mason said.
I frowned. “You never told me that when I was dating her before.”
He shrugged. “Nick, 99% of the girls you dated were shallow bimbos. Usually you dumped them within a month or two, so what was the point of saying anything? By the way you were looking at Denise, I figured you were going to break up with Savannah within the week.”
Mason knew me pretty well. “No, I wasn’t.” He gave me a look. “Fuck you, Mason. You’re such a hypocrite. Like Denise was any better.”
“She wasn’t any better,” he admitted. “That’s why I’m not dating her anymore.”
“So what bimbo are you dating this time?”
“Nobody,” he said. He got this really thoughtful look on his face. “I’m not going to date anyone anymore. Not unless she’s the right girl. Someone that I could have a real relationship with.”
Wow. I’d always thought of Mason as being as big a skirt chaser as me. Hearing him say he was waiting for “that special someone” was the most shocking thing I’d ever heard him say. And Mason once described in detail to me a three-way with his 40 year old MILF of an English professor and a homeless girl he met in downtown LA. It involved something he called “fingercuffs.”
“So you’re all serious now, huh?” I said. “What’s up with that?”
Mason looked at me pointedly. “When someone you care about almost dies, it sort of changes your perspective on things.”
It was unsettling that Mason would change his whole life just because of something that happened to me. I guess he figured that if I hadn’t dived in the water, he might have done it first. And then he’d be a quadriplegic instead of me. Don’t tell Mason this, but I sort of wish it had happened that way.