Saturday, August 25, 2012

Meet the Parents

Story by Michaela


“Darling, you are looking absolutely gorgeous. You should wear that shade of blue more often. It really suits you.” Rosanna kissed her daughter on the cheek. 

“Thank you, mommy. You’re looking well too.” Abby turned to her father. “Hi dad. Nice to see you again.”

“You too, honey.” They kissed, again on the cheek. “Your young gentleman not turned up then yet?”

Abby could not help smiling at her father’s rather-too-formal and old-fashioned description of the guy whom her parents were about to meet.  “What, Alex? No, he’s here. He’s in the living room, waiting for you.”

“Oh?” Abby’s father sounded surprised. “No car on the driveway,” he observed.

“No. Alex doesn’t drive at the moment.”

“Oh.” That was strange. Abby had definitely said on the phone a couple of weeks earlier that Alex was an MD who worked in a family practice.  An MD who didn’t drive was unusual. “So how did he get here then?”

“He got a cab over. His place is not far away. I’ll take him home myself later.”

“Oh.” A suspicion made itself felt in Richard’s head. Alarm bells began to ring. He realized that his daughter had said that Alex wasn’t driving ‘at the moment’. It sounded rather like Alex might have lost his license. Richard jumped to the conclusion that his daughter was dating a drink-driver. It made him feel most unhappy, and if it was indeed the case, it would be necessary for him to have a word about it with her later on. Was this young man going to turn out to be completely unsuitable for his daughter? Richard did not want the family name tarnished in any way. He was surprised at his daughter too… being a lawyer, she really could not afford to be connected with a law-breaker in any way at all, as it would be most damaging to her career. Richard was worried.




“Let me take your coats.” Abby held out her hands and her parents took off their outerclothing. Abby hung the coats in a cupboard in the hallway and then led the way to the sitting room. She opened the door and entered the room first. “Mom, dad, this is Alex.”

Rosanna entered the room ahead of her husband. What she was most definitely not expecting to see was a young man sitting by the window in a wheelchair. She did a double-take but managed to compose herself immediately. The man was grinning broadly at her… and she had to admit, he did have a rather gorgeous smile… in fact, he was very handsome, in black jeans and a blue shirt, left casually open at the neck. She went over to him. They shook hands.

“Hi, pleased to meet you,” he said, still smiling.

Richard too, having entered the room behind his wife was startled but he also managed to retain his composure. On the one hand, he was relieved to be able to dismiss his notion that his daughter was dating a drink-driver… but Abby had said nothing about her new young man being in a wheelchair. Richard wondered why not. However, as it would have been rude to make such a comment, he merely followed his wife’s example and warmly shook Alex’s hand. 

“Hi, pleased to meet you,” Alex repeated, this time to Richard. 

“You too. Abby’s told us… quite a bit about you.” But not the fact that you… you’re in one of those things, thought Richard. He tried not to stare at Alex’s chair, still feeling surprised to say the least. Was this guy really an MD? Richard was delighted with Abby’s choice when she had told him that she had a new boyfriend who was an MD… a good, respectable profession, thought Richard. But this guy… was… Richard didn’t even like to think the word ‘disabled’… wasn’t he?

“Have a seat,” Abby spoke to her parents. “I’ll make some coffee. Unless anyone would prefer something a bit stronger?”

“No, coffee would be lovely, thank you dear.” Rosanna sat down. Richard sat on the sofa next to her and murmured his agreement too.

“Alex?” Abby enquired.

He grinned at her. Of course he’d been nervous about meeting her parents, but now that things were underway, he felt more relaxed. “Yeah, coffee, thanks.” 

“OK. Won’t take a minute. You just chat amongst yourselves.” Abby left the room. Alex smiled at Rosanna and Richard, keen to put them at their ease now.

“I’m sorry… about not telling you about… this.” He lightly touched the sides of his chair. “I guess it must have been a surprise, but I asked Abby not to say anything. I didn’t want you to pre-judge me before you’d even met me. I wanted you to see me for yourselves… well… as I am.” Alex paused. He’d told people his story so many times by now that he was used to it… how much detail to go into… what people wanted to know. He usually kept things brief though. Too much information could lead to just pity really. He didn’t feel sorry for himself anymore, as that was a useless emotion… he knew he just had to get on with life, and all that it threw at him. “I expect you’re wondering why I’m in a wheelchair. I was in a car crash last year. My spine was damaged. There is a chance that I might walk again… but no-one can say if, for sure, or even when. So until then… well, this is it…” He gestured with open arms. 

Rosanna immediately felt full of admiration for Alex. He sounded so matter of fact about the whole thing. She wanted to know more about the accident though.

“Gosh, how awful… for you. What kind of accident… what happened exactly? If you don’t mind me asking?”

“No, not at all.” It was such a long time ago now, that Alex was almost emotionally detached from the whole thing… it was like telling a story about somebody else. It was somebody else, in fact, as he had been a different person then. He had matured so much since. “I was driving a friend to the airport.” These days, he only bothered to tell the scaled-down version of events. He usually omitted the fact that the ‘friend’ was in fact his ex-wife, who had unexpectedly showed up in town and had called him to ask if they could meet up one evening for old times’ sake, over a drink or two and how, after she had consumed a few glasses of wine, he had offered to drive her back to her hotel. “A dog ran out in front of the car… I swerved to avoid it and hit a parked truck.   Head on.”

“Oh my god. How awful.” Rosanna said the first words that came into her head. “But what about your friend….?” She was fearful for a moment that Alex might say that his friend had been killed outright. A truck was a pretty solid thing to crash into.

“She was fine apart from a few cuts and bruises.”

“She was?”

“Yes.”

“Lucky woman.” Rosanna wondered if the friend had been something more… a former girlfriend perhaps? 

“Lucky indeed. These things happen.” Alex shrugged his shoulders. There was no point in brooding or wallowing in things, nor thinking about how unfair life could be. He had done all that by now. It was pointless going over it all over again in his head. Nothing could be changed and the clock could not be put back.

Again, Rosanna marveled at how matter of fact Alex was about the whole thing. But she found herself curious about the driver. If the driver was an ex of Alex’s, was the crash connected in some way to the break-up of the relationship? “So… you came off worse, then.” It was a statement more than a question, but she hoped Alex would enlarge in some way.

“Looks like it, yes.” Alex managed a small smile. “Jenna… my friend… found the after effects pretty hard to cope with though. It was traumatic for her too, in a psychological sense.  I suppose I was too busy concentrating on my physical recovery to take in the emotional side as well.” He sounded slightly reflective, Rosanna noticed. She wanted to ask more questions, but felt that that would be prying. It would be best to ask Abby later, if she could get Abby on her own. 

The door opened. “Coffee’s ready.” Abby came in with a tray and placed it on the low table in the middle of the room. “Here you are dad… two sugars. Have a cookie as well.”

“Thanks.” Her dad accepted the cup offered to him and took a cookie from the plate.

Rosanna watched Alex place his hands on the wheel rims of his chair and wheel himself closer to the table. Poor guy, she thought. Especially as he was so very handsome.
 


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Alex sipped his hot coffee.

  “So Abby tells me that you’re an MD…?”  Richard tried but failed to keep a questioning note out of his voice.

  Alex smiled, partly in amusement to himself.  He had detected the inflection in Richard’s words.  It was always the way.  No-one believed that a disabled guy, a guy in a wheelchair could be a doctor as well.  Not unless they had seen Alex at work for themselves.  Which Rosanna and Richard obviously hadn’t.  Now Alex was proud of himself. He was indeed something special, though it had taken months for him to realize it.  In the past other people had tried to convince him but he hadn’t believed her at the time.  Besides, back then, he didn’t want to be seen as ‘special’ or ‘different’ in any way.

  “That’s right.”  Alex waited to see what line of questioning Richard took next.  Sometimes it was the direct approach… how do you manage… how can you get out and about to visit people in their own homes… how can you treat patients… how can you examine them?  Sometimes though, if it was someone who was uncomfortable or embarrassed by his disability, people tried to skirt around the issues.  They still wanted the same answers, but were almost too afraid to ask the questions outright.  Alex wondered which of the two, Rosanna and Richard were likely to be.

  “Working locally?”

  Alex smiled.  Richard was evidently the latter.  “Yes, here in Greenville.”

  “That’s very convenient for you.”

  “Yes, it is.”

  “So what size practice?”

  “Small to medium, I suppose you could say.  We have four fully qualified MDs, a couple of trainees, nurses, an office manager… receptionist…” Alex shrugged.

  “Alex is one of the senior doctors.”  Abby chipped in, keen that Alex should not be overly modest about his position in the practice.

  “Really?”  Richard sounded impressed.  Alex went up in his estimation.

  Alex nodded.  “Yes.”  Although Richard might be curious about the disability aspect, Alex sensed that his suitability as a partner to Abby was also being assessed.  He supposed that was only to be expected.  Abby had told him that her father had very high standards.  Alex hoped that he could live up to them, though he was aware that his disability might be seen as a drawback.  But he was also confident that it was only Abby who really mattered… as she was the one whom he loved.  What her parents really thought was probably irrelevant, though of course it would be nice to have their approval of the relationship.  Abby knew her own mind and if she loved Alex back for what he was, and was not bothered by the fact that he was dependent on a wheelchair, then that was enough to make Alex feel like a very contented man. 

  “So did you train and get qualified locally?”

  “No.  I trained in Atlanta.  Worked in a couple of hospitals in the city, built up my experience, then decided that I wanted to move into general practice.  I started here in Greenville as a locum, before getting a permanent position.”

  “Did you always want to be a doctor?”

  “Yes.  In fact it was the only thing I ever wanted to do.”  Alex smiled.  “Sure, the training is tough, very tough.  It’s true, the long hours working as a junior doctor in hospitals really are very grueling.  But I consider myself to have been very fortunate.  I’ve been lucky to achieve everything I wanted in my career.”

  Richard nodded.  His eyes wandered in the direction of Alex’s chair.  The guy considered himself lucky… but he hadn’t been so lucky in other ways, had he?  Yet Richard sensed that Alex was strong, not so much physically of course, but he had a strength of character that Richard admired and respected.  He was beginning to like Alex.  It was just a pity about… the wheelchair thing, he thought. 

  “More coffee, anyone?”  Abby spoke up.

  “Not for me, thanks,” her father replied.

  “No thanks,”  Alex and Rosanna spoke in unison.

  “I’ll just take this out to the kitchen, then.”  Abby stood up and picked up the tray.

  “Oh, do let me help you,” her mother made as if to get to her feet.

  “No thanks, Mom.  I don’t need any help.”  Abby replied quickly.  She knew her mother only too well.  There would be questions, lots of them probably, but right now, Abby was not ready for the inquisition.  She wanted to put it off until later.  It was more important, Abbey considered that both her parents spend as much time as possible with Alex, so that they could begin to see what a truly remarkable and amazing guy he was.  At least that was the way that Abby saw him.  The wheelchair was by now just an incidental thing to her.



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  Alex was left alone again with Rosanna and Richard.

  “Abby told me that you met each other in… a downtown diner?”  Rosanna tried to keep the conversation going, as any silence felt awkward.  She picked what she hoped was a safe subject.

  Alex nodded.  “That’s right.  Kacey’s Place.  It’s a diner and bar not far from where I work, so it’s a convenient place to go for lunch.  One of Abby’s clients had taken her there for a drink and a bite to eat.  She just happened to be at the bar at the same time as me… we got chatting briefly, and arranged to meet there again a couple of days later.”

  Again, Alex kept the details to a minimum.  He did not tell Rosanna and Richard that in fact Abby had nearly tripped over his wheelchair, and had then apologized profusely.  It wasn’t that unusual in a bar for him to be overlooked in that way.  If it was busy, it was difficult for Alex to get close to the counter.  It had happened several times before… someone had turned round suddenly, and of course, they had certainly not expected to find a guy in a wheelchair right behind them.  Luckily, Abby had only placed a food order and was not carrying any drinks.  Alex had smiled and had assured Abby that there was no need to apologize.  She must have seen something in that smile though, as she had insisted on buying him a drink, even though no damage had been done.  Alex of course initially refused, but then he accepted… she was damn attractive after all.  Of course she wanted to stay and chat to Alex.  But it would have been rude to her client, a fact that she pointed out to Alex.  She had however asked him if he went there often.  The words made her cringe as she spoke them, as it sounded like a terrible chat up line.  But Alex had only laughed and said yes, he was there at least once a week, and would next be making a visit on the following Friday.  Sure enough, he did indeed put in an appearance.  So did Abby… this time alone. 

  Rosanna nodded and smiled.  She felt a mixture of emotions.  She was of course delighted that Abby had found such a personable young man.  Abby had been single for some time and Rosanna had hoped for a while that soon her daughter would meet someone just like Alex.  From what Abby had previously told her, Alex obviously made Abby very happy.  But the ‘wheelchair’ aspect of him was something that Rosanna hadn’t bargained on, at all.  She tried not to be judgmental.  Perhaps Alex was right… if she had known beforehand about him not being able to walk, she might have had preconceived ideas about him, ideas which would have turned out to be completely incorrect.  But it would still have been nice to know beforehand.

  Abby returned from the kitchen and sat down in an armchair.

  “Alex was just telling us about how the two of you met,” her mother commented.

  “Oh?”  Abby glanced at Alex, wondering if he had told them how she had practically fallen over his chair in the bar.  At that point, if they had been alone, Abby would have usually teased Alex, claiming that he had undoubtedly done it deliberately… parked his chair right behind her, to make sure that she noticed him… in other words, to draw attention to himself.  The right kind of attention, that was.  Ordinarily, Alex did not need to make any effort to attract attention, as his wheelchair was conspicuous enough as it was.  Alex though would simply retort that if it was true, then it had worked, hadn’t it?  But now, in the presence of her parents, she was sure that he wouldn’t embarrass her by telling them what had really happened at that first meeting.  She and Alex could laugh about it now, but Abby still remembered the embarrassment that she herself had felt at the time.

  “Yes.”  He smiled at her.  “I was just saying how we met in Kacey’s Place.  How you ‘fell’ for me immediately…”  he spoke teasingly and gave Abby a knowing look, with just the two of them understanding the irony in his words.

  She laughed to hide her embarrassment.  “Sure.”  Sometimes she would tease him back, making reference to his disability, but only in an affectionate manner, calling him “the hottest thing on wheels” or something similar.  But she would never do that in front of anyone else.  It was a strictly private thing between them.

  “Well there’s nothing wrong in meeting in a diner.  Nothing at all.  Perfectly respectable places, most of them,” Richard commented.  “Of course, it was nothing like that back in my day… I don’t think that my folk hung out in diners the way kids do these days.  When I met your mother…” Richard began to recount the tale of how he had been introduced to Rosanna at a dance… how he had immediately identified her as the loveliest girl in the room, but, being a young man in his early twenties and suddenly overcome by shyness, how it had taken him the whole evening to pluck up the courage to ask her if she would partner him for the last song played by the band.  Abby had heard the tale before of course, but Alex wouldn’t mind hearing it for the first time, she knew.  She smiled at Alex, guessing that he might be somewhat amused, as Richard did not seem the type to be struck by shyness.  She was glad that the topic of conversation had switched away from Alex.  Sometimes, if he was conscious of being the center of attention, she knew that it made him feel a little prickly.

  Being reminded of the dance prompted Rosanna to begin telling Abby and Alex all about the recent Caribbean cruise that she and Richard had been on, and how she and Richard had admired the ship’s magnificent ballroom.  Alex listened politely, though he was more interested in hearing about the various ports of call that Richard and Rosanna had visited, than what life had been like on board.  One day, Alex would like to take Abby away on a holiday, but he was sure that it wouldn’t be on a cruise.  He supposed that a cruise ship would be well fitted-out to accommodate a wheelchair-user, but disabled or not, it wasn’t really his idea of a holiday.  He would have to discuss with Abby what kind of things she would like to see and do on a holiday and then they would be able to come up with something that would suit both of them.  But that would be some way off.  Because of the uncertainty about his recovery, it was difficult for Alex to plan anything much for the future, so instead, he had got used to living each day as it came.         

  After Richard and Rosanna had recounted the events of the cruise, the conversation turned to other subjects.. Abby’s work… Richard’s golf tournament… Rosanna’s flower arranging course… what Abby’s brother and her cousins had been up to… It was a general catch up time for Abby and her family, but Alex was happy to listen in and learn more about the family. 


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Presently Abby stood up.  “I’d better start getting some supper ready.  Otherwise we won’t be eating until it’s really late.”

  Rosanna turned to her daughter.  “Is Alex staying for supper too?”

  “Yes of course he is!”  Abby sounded annoyed.  It wasn’t just because her mother had made that classic mistake in her treatment of Alex… he might not be able to walk but that didn’t mean he’d lost his voice as well, but also it was almost as if her mother hadn’t expected Alex to be eating with them.  Honestly… what was Rosanna thinking… that Alex had just been ‘wheeled out’ to be put on show but now it was time for him to be hidden away again?  Abby knew that she was probably over-reacting, but she was feeling a little on edge.  It was important to her that her parents’ visit proceeded smoothly.  “I’m sorry… I didn’t mean to snap…”  The tone of her voice softened.  “But Alex can speak up for himself, you know.”

  Although she realised her faux-pas immediately and regretted it, Rosanna glanced up at her daughter, more surprised about Abby’s reaction.  Abby was repentant about the tone of her comment, thinking that maybe she’d been a little harsh.  But she so wanted her parents to not only like Alex but to treat him as ‘normal’.  She’d seen for herself, when she had been in his company in public, that not everyone managed to do that.  But she knew that it was something that mattered to Alex, even if he always put a brave face on it and pretended not to mind too much.

  Alex grinned at Rosanna.  “Yes.  I am indeed staying.  If that’s alright with you.”  He seemed a little amused, rather than offended in any way.  It wasn’t just Abby who wanted her parents to like Alex, but Alex too hoped that he would make an overall favourable impression on them.

  “Of course it is.”  Rosanna wanted to reassure Alex.  She reached out and patted him on the knee, a gesture which he observed rather than felt.  “We’d love you to stay.  After all, you’re Abby’s guest too.”

  Alex merely smiled back.  He hardly thought of himself as a guest in Abby’s house these days.  He’d been there enough times now to know that he could make himself at home whenever he liked.

  “So will you let me help you in getting the supper things ready?  Please?”  Rosanna urged her daughter.

  Abby hesitated.  There wasn’t much that her mother needed to do, as she had already prepared as much of the meal as possible in advance.  But she knew that what her mother really wanted was to talk to her about Alex.  Abby knew that there was little point putting it off.  It was bound to happen sometime… if not now, then later, or subsequently in a phone conversation.  It was probably better if it happened face to face.  “Sure.”


--------

The two women left the room and headed into the kitchen.

  “There’s not very much that needs doing… though you could make the salad, if you like?”  Abby suggested.

  “Of course.  Anything that I can do at all.”

  While Rosanna removed some lettuce leaves from a bag and started chopping tomatoes, Abby started laying out some napkins and crockery to be put on the dining table.  There was a few moments of silence.  As Abby had expected, it was Rosanna who broke that silence.

  “Well I must say that Alex seems delightful.  Very charming, a really personable young man.  And he’s obviously very fond of you.”

  Abby smiled briefly and concentrated on trying to find a jar of salad dressing in one of the cupboards.  “Thanks.”

  “But you could have told us…” Rosanna paused.

  “Told you what?” Abby glanced up sharply at her mother.  “Oh… let me guess.”  There was a slightly sarcastic edge to her voice.  “ I know what you’re going to say.  I should have told you about the wheelchair?  That Alex… needs to use a wheelchair to get around?”  She didn’t always like to use the term ‘in a wheelchair’ because technically it wasn’t true.  Alex wasn’t in his chair all the time.  Quite often, the two of them would sit together, on the same sofa, whether in his house or hers.  Then he would put his arm round her as they watched a movie together.  He always made her feel safe and protected when he did that, and she would snuggle up to him.

  Well… yes…” Rosanna felt hesitant about how to approach the matter with Abby, but she wanted to know more about Alex and his disability.

  Abby shook her head.  “No.  We thought…”  She broke off.  It had been Alex’s request, after all.  “Alex specifically didn’t want you to know in advance.  And I supported him in that.” She paused.  “Why should I have told you?  I don’t see what difference it would have made if you had known beforehand.  Besides, I don’t think that you and I ever discussed Alex’s physical appearance in anyway… you never really asked me anything about it…”  Abby now recalled that she had in fact once showed her parents a photo of Alex, so perhaps there had been no need for her mother to ask what he looked like.  She had seen for herself.  But Abby had been particularly careful to select a picture in which his wheelchair was hidden from view.  It had been when he had invited her out for a drink with some of his friends from work.  She had suspected that he had been keen to show her off to those friends.  Abby could not remember what the occasion had been, but someone had produced a camera, and later, Alex had e-mailed a couple of photos to her.  They were all group shots, and just before she had made one of her infrequent visits to her parents, Abby had quickly scanned through the pictures and had printed one out, so that her parents could see Alex for themselves.  But it hadn’t been a particularly clear one of Alex, as it just depicted a selection of people sitting around a table in a bar, with Alex pretty much in the background, and certainly no evidence of his wheelchair.   

  “Well darling, I was hardly likely to enquire whether he could walk, was I?!”  Her mother couldn’t resist interrupting, but she sounded quite hurt.  “It’s not something you say, is it?  You just take it for granted that everyone can do it, don’t you?  It’s a pretty basic human function, after all…”

  Abby knew that her mother was right.  Absolutely right.  Walking was something that everyone did take for granted… until meeting somebody like Alex.  Watching him in his chair made Abby realize that Alex would, and could… never again take walking for granted… that was if he ever actually did regain the use of his legs. 

  “No, you’re right.”  Abby was a little contrite, but she still felt prickly about the issue.  “I guess the subject just never came up.  But what did you expect me to say, anyway?  Give you Alex’s vital statistics and add that he’s a cripple?”  She deliberately used the word ‘cripple’ to be hard-hitting, even though she hated it when other people described Alex as ‘crippled’.  She knew he hated it too, and he only used the word in respect of himself when he was speaking mockingly or was being self-depreciating.  Abby realized that she was sounding more defensive than perhaps she had intended.  She took a deep breath.

  Rosanna looked at her daughter.  “Well, of course not, no.  It’s just that… if we had known in advance, we might have been… well… better prepared…”  She tailed off.

  Abby smiled.  “ ‘Better prepared’?  Better prepared for what?  You don’t need to be ‘prepared’ in order to meet Alex.  He only wants to be treated the same as anyone else.”  She realized that she wasn’t really being very helpful.  “Listen mom.  Alex can’t walk.  OK.  Of course he wishes that he could, but he can’t.  But apart from that, I can assure you that he’s a normal human being, just like the rest of us.  He can still do more or less anything he wants to.  And if he can’t manage something, then he’ll either say so, or he’ll ask for help.  OK?”

  “OK.  Sorry.”  Rosanna spoke meekly.

  “No.  It’s OK.  It’s just that I really want you and dad to like Alex.  He’s such a special guy, and he really means a lot to me.”

  “Yes, I can see that, dear.”  Rosanna hesitated.  “I don’t mean to be interfering, of course…”  Rosanna broke off.  She wanted to say that she was full of admiration for her daughter, for not being afraid to ‘take on’ a disabled man… and she had to admit, that apart from the fact that Alex was disabled, the two of them did seem to make a perfect couple.  But at the same time, she hoped that her daughter had considered all the implications… the problems that she would no doubt face if the relationship was to be a long-lasting one.  Rosanna did not know though how to voice such thoughts without the risk of offending Abby.  She decided to try a different line of questioning.

  “So how much do you know about Alex’s… injury…?”

  Rosanna shrugged.  “All I know is that his spine was damaged in the accident.  At the moment, he doesn’t really have any movement or sensation in his legs, but it may not be a permanent injury.”  Alex had of course told her more details than that, but Abby did not feel inclined to discuss them at any length with her mother.

  “So basically he’s… paralyzed…?”

  For some reason, that was a word that Abby never liked to use or even think of, in relation to Alex.  It sounded too… ‘final’… somehow.  But technically, it was correct.

  “I guess you could say that.”  She kept the tone of her voice even.

  “So do you think he’ll walk again?”

  “Who knows?  No-one, in fact.  I don’t know, Alex doesn’t know… even the doctors can’t tell him one way or the other. There’s nothing that anyone can do or say that will make a difference at the moment.  It’s just a waiting game.”

“But doesn’t that… bother you… or him?”

  “What’s the point in worrying, or even thinking about it.  Sure, I wish it would happen, and of course Alex does too.  But it’s something that we don’t have any control over, so in the meantime, we just have to get on with living our lives as they are.”

  “But supposing he never walks again?”

  “So?”

  “Well… then Alex would be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life… Have you considered that possibility?”

  Rosanna suddenly realized what her mother was getting at.  She was both amused and annoyed at the same time.  “Mom!  For god’s sake.  We’ve only been together for six months.  We’re hardly walking down the aisle just yet!”

  Rosanna looked at her daughter, wondering if she understood the irony of her words.  “Well perhaps that’s exactly what you should be considering.  Because maybe Alex will never be able to ‘walk’ down the aisle with you.  Have you thought about that?  I’m not trying to put a spanner in the works… but being with Alex isn’t like being with any of your other boyfriends in the past, you know?” Rosanna wondered if perhaps she had already said too much.

  But Abby merely shook her head slowly.  A ripple of irritation ran through her.  Her mother knew only a little about Alex, nothing about what it must be like being him… and certainly no idea what it was like to be his partner.  How could she?  But Abby did not feel that this was the time to give a lecture on the subject.  Rosanna was probably just trying to be helpful, in a motherly kind of way.   “Mom.  Like I said, I have known Alex for six months now.  We are very happy together as we are.  No-one is even talking about marriage yet.  We take each day as it comes.”  But at the back of her mind, Abby knew that she had indeed wondered if Alex was the man who would be one day become her husband.  In her heart of hearts, she admitted to herself that it was something that she would like very much.  The past six months had been long enough for her to get to know the real Alex, and she had come to realize that he was indeed someone very special, someone really worthy of her all her love for him.  In those months, she had learnt that it was easy for her to forget about his disability because his wonderful personality had outshone everything else about him.  But she knew that any marriage proposal, if it happened at all, would be a long time in coming.  There would indeed be no walk down the church aisle…not because of Alex’s disability, but because as Alex had already been married before, and so there could be no church wedding.  Her mother in particular, would be disappointed by that, but Abby had no intention of mentioning the fact just yet.  A simple registry wedding would suffice anyway, as she was sure that Alex would not want a fancy do.  She knew that his first marriage had ended unhappily and no doubt it would have made him cautious and therefore he probably had a tendency to shy away from the risk of that ever happening again. But Abby also suspected that deep down, actually walking down the aisle, albeit it the aisle of the registry office, might just be important to Alex.  And so, all the while that the status of Alex’s recovery was uncertain, they would both bide their time. But whether or not she and Alex ever actually got married, Abby could most definitely envisage their lives spent together.  As things were at the moment, he obviously could not live in her conventional house, but she would be thrilled to move into his place someday… she admired and adored his designer house almost as much as she admired and adored Alex himself. 

  Rosanna nodded.  She knew that everything Abby said made perfect sense.  It always did as she was such a level-headed daughter.  It was something that Rosanna was proud of.  Besides, from the way that Abby and Alex obviously felt about each other, it was likely that Rosanna and Richard would be seeing Alex again in the future.  So there would be plenty of time for the two of them to get to know Alex better and find out more about him… plenty of time too, to think about what it would be like to have a disabled son-in-law as a member of their family.  There would no doubt be a number of implications to consider, as well as how all of their lives might be affected in some way.



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Whilst Rosanna was trying to elicit from Abby as much information as she could about Alex, in the living room Richard and Alex were finding conversation a little easier than either of them had expected.  Richard was content to leave his wife to discover all the finer details about Alex.  As far as Richard was concerned, OK, so the young man sitting before him was disabled, which meant that as the partner of his daughter, it maybe wasn’t ‘ideal’, but Abby was an adult and had made her own choice… and if Alex was the one, then Richard knew that he had to respect that decision.  The fact that Alex had a successful career in a highly respected profession counted in Alex’s favor, of course.  Because of that, in particular, Richard found it easier to talk to Alex than he might have anticipated. Besides, apart from his disability, Alex seemed like a pretty regular guy… knowledgeable, and easy to get on with.  Richard figured out for himself that probably all that Alex wanted was to be treated just like anyone else.        

  “So what do you do in your spare time, Alex?”  Richard spoke casually.

  Alex had to think for a moment.  Since he had started seeing Abby, most of his free time had been spent in her company.  “Well mostly I’m with Abby.  I come round here, or she comes over to my place… we might watch a movie… have a carry-out or cook dinner for each other.  But we like to go out as well.  She’s taken me to the art galleries a few times whenever there’s been a new exhibition on.  Abby likes art… as you must know, of course.  Or sometimes we might just go into town together…”  Alex recalled how he used to hate going out in public in his chair, but with Abby it was different.  Sure, people still stared at him but as Abby didn’t seem bothered either by the fact that she was in the company of a disabled person, nor the fact that Alex was attracting unwanted attention, it made it easier for Alex to bear.  It was almost as if she had helped him to grow a thicker skin.  He had asked Abby about it once, and she had replied that ‘if people are going to stare, then let them.  There’s nothing that you can do to stop them, so don’t let it bother you.’  She was right, of course.  Alex paused.  “And when I’m not with Abby…”  Alex realized that Richard was asking about his hobbies.  “I like sport… football of course is a favorite…” he smiled.  “That is watching on TV, of course.  But I used to play it as well… before… this….”  Alex raised his hands and gestured at his wheelchair.  

  “Yeah?”  Richard felt a mix of emotions.  Respect and admiration for Alex, as football was a real man’s game, but sympathy too.

  “You must miss it, then.”  Richard wondered how Alex would respond.  He felt a little wary in case he had said something that might touch a raw nerve with Alex.

  “Well of course.”  Alex shrugged in a matter of fact way.

  “What position?”

  “Quarterback, usually.”

  Richard nodded, thinking that Alex must have once been a very fit kind of guy.

  “But even though I can’t play any more… at the moment,” Alex added, “watching it is the next best thing, I guess.  In fact, Abby’s agreed to come with me and see the Atlanta Falcons play next month.”  He grinned.

  “She has?”  Richard spoke with some surprise.  His daughter had never shown any interest in football before.  Maybe she really was that much in love with Alex to encompass all of his hobbies too, Richard speculated.

  Alex laughed in amusement.  “It was Abby’s gift to me… as a surprise.”  Alex had been thrilled when Abby had presented him with the tickets.  He knew of course that she wasn’t that interested in the sport really.  But she knew that it would mean a lot to Alex.  She would be able to drive him to the game, would be at his side throughout the match and then would take him home again, plus being in a wheelchair meant that Alex qualified for a place in the front row of the best seating area in the stadium.  He was looking forward to the occasion very much, and both he and Abby were sure that he would have a great time.  Richard was even a touch envious, Alex could tell.  Being in a wheelchair did have a few advantages.

  Alex continued.  “Yes, before… I ended up in this thing, I was quite active… rock climbing and mountaineering, especially.  I still do a bit of indoor climbing… but it’s not the same, of course.”

  Not the same… in what respect, Richard wondered. Not the same as outdoor climbing, or not the same as if it would have been for Alex before the accident?  Probably a bit of both, he concluded.

  “Climbing?”  Richard could not keep the surprise out of his voice.  Alex must surely mean… watching others do it, as he couldn’t actually participate himself, could he?  Then again, climbing wasn’t really a spectator sport, was it?  Could Alex go climbing?  No, it would be impossible, surely.  The guy was in a wheelchair.  Earlier, Alex had said that he could not walk.  So if he couldn’t walk, then logically, rock-climbing must be completely out of the question.  But to what extent was Alex really disabled?  Could he perhaps… maybe just about stand up…?  Perhaps he could take a few steps, with some assistance?  Richard was confused.  On the one hand, he wondered if Alex really was reliant on a wheelchair all of the time, but it was not something that Richard could ask without sounding accusatory, almost as if he was questioning Alex’s dependency on the chair.  Then again, with a spinal injury, it was much more likely that Alex’s whole lower body would be affected, and there was indeed a fair chance that he might even be paralyzed.  Perhaps Alex’s comment that he might walk again had just been wishful thinking.  Either that, or he was deluding himself.  Richard’s eyes flickered in the direction of Alex’s legs.  They looked ‘normal’ of course, but that was only to be expected.  It was his spine that had been injured wasn’t it?  Not his legs themselves.  But surely, if Alex didn’t need to be in that wheelchair all of the time, then wouldn’t he rather be sitting on the sofa right now, Richard speculated.   

  “So how do you manage to do that, then?”  Richard’s intrigue and curiosity got the better of him.            

  “Well, with a few additional ropes for support… and extra fellow climbers to help me out.”  Alex wondered what Richard was really getting at.  Did he not believe that it was possible?  “Obviously… for me… it all comes down to arm strength… as my legs are of no use at all…no movement… no sensation… nothing,  in fact.”

  “Oh.  I see.”  Richard felt moment of shock and then a little guilty at underestimating Alex’s disability.

  “It’s OK in a controlled environment, such as at the indoor climbing center, though of course it’s not as challenging as a real outdoor climb.”  Alex missed that challenge, so much so that since meeting Abby, his priorities had changed and he visited the center much less frequently these days.  “But it’s good to be doing something physical,” he added as an afterthought.  Maybe if he could have persuaded Abbey to try climbing as well, then his interest might have been rekindled.  But much as she loved Alex, Abby drew the line at rock climbing and had flatly refused to even give it a go, as she did not like heights.  She had said that she was willing to drive him to the indoor center, and would be happy to wait for him in the coffee shop.  She was even prepared to be a spectator and watch him on the climbing wall but somehow, that idea did not appeal to Alex.  He knew that it would only make him wish that he could have shown Abby how accomplished he had been at climbing before the accident.  Sometimes, he really wished that she had seen for herself the ‘old’ Alex. 

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  “There, I think we’re ready.  Could you just bring the salad?”  Abby picked up a bowl of new potatoes and also a dish of mayonnaise.  Rosanna followed her daughter into the dining room, where Abby had already laid the table.  Four place settings were impeccably laid out  but there were only three chairs at the table, the fourth chair having been moved to one side against the wall.

  “Do you want to call dad and Alex in, whilst I get the tart out of the oven?”

  “Yes, dear.”

  Rosanna went into the living room.  “Supper’s all ready.  If you’d like to come and… take a seat…”  She wondered if she should have phrased that better, and hoped that Alex either wouldn’t notice or wouldn’t mind.  She had taken note of what Abby had said in the kitchen… Alex didn’t want to be treated any differently, so apologizing for any faux-pas would only make things worse.

  “Great.”  Richard stood up.  “Something smells good.”

  “Yes, Abby’s made a delicious salmon tart.”

  “One of my favorites.”  Alex placed his hands on the wheel rims of his chair.  For a moment, Rosanna was on the verge of offering her assistance.  It was on the tip of her tongue to say ‘can I help’ or ‘can I give you a push’, but then she remembered Abby’s words… ‘if Alex needs any help, he’ll ask for it’.  So instead, she stood back and held the door open.

  “After you,” Richard gestured that Alex should lead the way.

  “Thanks.”  Alex wheeled his way past Rosanna and Richard, knowing that they would be scrutinizing him as he made his way down the hallway and, as if to demonstrate his competence in the chair, expertly negotiated the ninety-degree angle of the dining room doorway.  That scrutiny was again just something that he was going to have to get used to.  But likewise, his disability was also something that they were going to have to get used to, all the time that he was with Abby.  Deep down, Alex felt sure that Abby was the one, but it was still early days and he didn’t want to rush into anything just yet.  Not until he was one hundred percent convinced that she felt the same way about him.  He was pretty sure that she did, but there were a lot of uncertainties ahead… his recovery in particular.  If that didn’t come about, then Abby would have to be convinced in her own mind about continuing the relationship.  Alex himself needed Abby to be sure that Alex-in-a-wheelchair really was the man for her.  Plus there would be quite a few practical issues that would need to be worked through.  Alex was therefore content to wait a while longer.  He was just enjoying life with Abby as it was… in fact he was a lot happier than he had been in a long time.


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  Abby was already in the dining room, placing her home-baked tart on the table.

  “Can I do anything to help?” Alex asked as he wheeled himself into the room.  He was aware of his own limitations but there were still a lot of ways in which he could assist.  But Abby was just grateful that Alex had kept her father entertained whilst she had been in the kitchen with her mother.

  “Er not really… just take your place…” she watched as Alex positioned his chair at the vacant space at the table and applied the brakes. Richard and Rosanna entered the room.

  “…although you could just open this for me…”  Abby handed Alex a bottle of wine and a corkscrew.

  Richard held out his hand.  “Oh… I can do that…”  He suddenly was aware that Rosanna was frowning at him and shaking her head.  Alex politely pretended not to have heard Richard nor noticed Rosanna’s gesturing.  It was sometimes the most tactful thing to do, in order to avoid a scene.

  “Sure,” Alex replied.  As he uncorked the wine, Rosanna and Richard seated themselves, with Richard opposite Alex at the far end of the rectangular table, and the two women on either side.  Abby sat down and began cutting into the tart and serving it out.

  “Richard?  Would you like a glass of wine?”  Alex held up the bottle. 

  “Er… yes, thank you.  I’d better stick to just the one though, seeing as I’m driving.”  He managed to refrain just in time from adding, ‘you don’t have that problem, do you?’, as that would have just been tactless.

  Alex held out his hand.  “Would you like to pass your glass over?”

  “Oh… yes…sorry.”  For a moment, Richard forgot that Alex was not able to stand up and reach out for the glass.  He pushed it to within Alex’s easy grasp.

  Soon everyone was served and they were ready to begin eating.

  “Wait a moment.  I think this occasion calls for a toast…” Richard hesitated, and looked at Rosanna as if for confirmation.

  “Yes,” she said, suddenly as inspiration came to her.  She picked up her wine glass.  “To Abby and Alex.”

  Richard beamed at his wife.  An excellent choice of subject matter.  “Abby and Alex,” he repeated and raised his own glass.

  Abby and Alex both looked a little surprised and embarrassed.  They smiled in appreciation.  Alex felt secretly pleased.  It was the endorsement of his relationship with Abby that he had been hoping for from Richard and Rosanna.  He picked up his own wine glass.  “Cheers… and thank you very much.”


THE END

 

10 comments:

  1. Too much in one hit I think.. No time for anything to build..

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  2. I really enjoyed this, thank you.
    If you feel like adding further instalments then they would be very welcome, though it's an excellent self-contained story.

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  3. I really enjoyed this there was some "info dumping" in the exposition. It would work well as a multi-part story.

    You're British aren't you? The friends I write and edit with have editors who "Brit pick" or Yank it up.

    The education/terms for interns, residents, and arrending physicians vary here.

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    1. Well-spotted - yes I am British, but I figured that the majority of the readers live in the USA, and so I tried to use terms and expressions that I thought Americans would be more familiar with - maybe that was a mistake?
      Michaela

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    2. Not too many worries. I am truly lucky in my fan fiction that i have beta readers and edirors on both sides of the Pond.

      I DO want to see more of yourr work .

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    3. Lucky indeed - I obviously need help in converting British English into American English - not sure though where to find someone though - does anyone have any ideas?
      M.

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  4. Good story, thanks

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  5. Very enjoyable story. If you are inclined to write more, I would love to see a bit more of the relationship between Abby and Alex.

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  6. As someone who lives in the Greenville area, I loved reading about this great couple knowing that they are my neighbors! I agree with the others--more installments, please!

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