Three and a half months had passed since Meaghan had moved in with Bryan and after the rocky start to their co-habitation things had been pretty smooth sailing, apart from the occasional minor disagreement.
Bryan was in a good mood when he wheeled into the kitchen Friday afternoon. He had started the research part of his fellowship three weeks earlier and instead of working shifts at the hospital he now worked in a research lab and was mostly able to keep regular office hours; eight to four, Monday through Friday which was Meaghan’s normal work hours as well. They were usually able to spend the evenings and weekends together, which was a very welcome change.
Bryan's new work schedule allowed him to regularly attend the wheelchair basketball practices at the gym and he was having a blast playing the game he had loved before his injury. Before he’d given it a shot his main objection had been that it would not be like it was pre-injury. Which had proven to be true, but it didn’t mean it wasn’t rewarding and he’d soon discovered that his fellow players were as competitive as he was.
Another good thing that had come out of being on the wheelchair basketball team was his friendship with his fellow players, especially Mark had become a close friend and to their delight Mark’s wife, Shannon, and Meaghan got along really well. They had clicked the first time they met and the two couples had soon found out they had several common interests.
For Bryan it was a new experience to have friends that were wheelchair users; after rehab he’d been so hung up on staying his old self and he’d shot down every idea his therapists and trainers had that involved activities for disabled people.
It hadn’t taken him long to realize how valuable it was to have disabled friends and it felt great to be able to share stories and it had helped him become more comfortable with his disability. Despite being almost three years post injury his was the most recent. Most of the other guys on the team had been injured 10 or more years ago.
“Hey you,” Meaghan’s voice broke his reverie, he hadn't heard her entering the apartment. Bryan grabbed the pushrims on his wheelchair and turned around to face her, she was leaning against the doorframe with a smile on her face. “How was your day?”
“Pretty good. How was yours? Did you finish that big project of yours?”
“We pretty much wrapped it up. Just some finishing touches on Monday and we’re ready to present it for the client.”
“Awesome!” Bryan smiled mischievously. “You forgot something…”
“What?” she asked with mock puzzlement.
“This,” Bryan said as he wheeled over to her and pulled her down to his lap. Then he wrapped his arms around her and kissed her soundly. She eagerly deepened the kiss and it escalated until Bryan pulled away a few moments later. “As much as I’m enjoying this I think we’d better save it for later. We have dinner guests coming in two hours.”
“You’re no fun,” Meaghan fake pouted as she stood up and playfully smacked his shoulder.
“You know I’m plenty of fun, but I will not be the one that tells our friends that we’re serving Chinese take-out or pizza because we had sex instead of cooking. But if you feel like having that awkward conversation I’m game.”
“When you put it like that…” Meaghan laughed and walked over to the fridge. Her friend Kelly was coming for dinner with her boyfriend, that she had dated for almost three months to Meaghan’s amazement. Bryan’s brother Josh was also coming, but without a date as usual. The final couple that would be joining them was Mark and Shannon. It would be the first time they met Josh, Kelly and her boyfriend.
Bryan found it amusing that after he’d gotten involved with Meaghan their mother was now pestering him to find Josh a date. Before it had always been the other way around. Bryan could just hear his mother pestering Josh; “Oh, Josh. Can’t you find poor Bryan a date. It’s not easy for him, wheelchair and all.” He’d be lying if he claimed it hadn’t boosted his confidence a bit that he had beat Josh to finding a woman he was pretty sure was ‘the one’.
“Oh, have you sorted out the accessibility issues in the lab?” Meaghan asked as she pulled ingredients for the lasagna they had planned as the main course out of the fridge.
“Somewhat…” Bryan sighed and raked a hand through his hair. “They got me a power chair from the rehab unit. The seat can be raised so I sit at the correct height and can access the counters that are at standing height. There’s no way they’ll rebuild the lab just to accommodate a fellow that will be working there for ten months, so it’s the best they can do. I hate using a power chair, I feel so fucking crippled in it.”
“I know it doesn’t fit your image as a fit and independent paraplegic, but if it enables you to do your lab work without struggling I guess you’ll have to deal with it.”
“I know,” he sighed heavily again. “I’ll get used to it and it actually worked well in the lab, so I shouldn’t be grumbling.” Then he added, changing the subject; “Let’s get cooking, what do you want me to do?”
“Maybe you can do the starter platter?”
“I can handle that,” he said with a small smile.
Bryan wheeled over to the fridge and grabbed a basket of tomatoes; a container of mozzarella and a packet of basil leaves and placed everything in his lap. Then he wheeled over to the counter next to the sink and deposited the ingredients there before he headed for the cupboard that held cutting boards and then the knife block to grab a knife.
Meaghan watched as he placed the cutting board in his lap and started to slice the tomatoes and mozzarella into thin slices with the precision of a surgeon and layered them neatly on a platter. Suddenly he looked her with a cocky grin.
“Enjoying the view?” he asked.
“It just amazes me how thinly and evenly you manage to slice the tomatoes and mozzarella. My slices always come out at least twice as thick.”
“A sharp knife and a few years of med school come in handy.”
“Har har,” Meaghan laughed as she pulled the ingredients for the béchamel sauce for the lasagna from the fridge and pantry and headed over to the stove. She’d made the ragú the previous evening, as well as a Tiramisú for dessert.
“Seriously; a steady hand and a sharp knife is all you need. It took me a few attempts before I got it right.”
Two hours later the table was set and Meaghan was putting the finishing touches on a salad when Bryan wheeled into the kitchen.
Meaghan thought he looked devastatingly handsome; dressed in a pair of charcoal dress slacks and a white shirt with the two top buttons undone and the sleeves rolled up to just above his elbows, showing off his strong arms.
“Looking good tonight, Dr. Norfleet,” she said when came up to her.
“Well, Ms. Barnes, you look amazing. I love this dress.”
Meaghan had chosen to wear a classic ‘small black’ dress that hugged her in all the right places. It stopped just above her knees and the neckline was cut deeply enough to show off a little cleavage. She had a pair of black Louboutin stilettos on her feet. Her long, dark hair was pulled into a loose bun.
“I know. That’s why I wore it.”
Bryan smiled warmly at her before he asked if there was anything he could help with.
“I think the only thing left is to open the wine and light the candles. I’ve set the oven to pre-heat so we can put the lasagna in when we serve the starter.”
“I’ll take care of the wine,” he said and wheeled over to the wine cabinet.
“Then I’ll light the candles.”
“There’s something I’ve been meaning to talk to you about, Bryan,” Mark said as they were eating the main course. So far the evening was a success; the food had gone down well and the wine seemed to make Kelly’s boyfriend, Christopher, more comfortable to be in the company of two wheelchair users. He had been incredibly awkward at first; it was clear that he wasn’t used to being around disabled people.
“What?” Bryan asked between mouthfuls of food.
“Well, not that you’re actually working normal hours instead of crazy shifts at the hospital I figured you’re might be interested in joining the competitive team. We have an open spot and I wanted to ask you first.”
“Hell yeah,” Bryan exclaimed without thinking, a huge grin spread across his face. He’d be lying if he said hadn’t hoped for a chance to join the competitive team since his schedule now allowed it.
“That’s the answer I was hoping for,” Mark laughed. “You’re damn good for a rookie and I’m sure you’ll be a great asset to the team. I’ll email you the practice and game schedule tomorrow.”
“I don’t think I’m that good, but I enjoy it a lot and that’s what’s important to me. If I can help the team it’s an added bonus.”
“You are very good, Bryan. Trust me. It’s rare to pick up the game as quick as you have,” Mark said firmly and slapped Bryan’s shoulder.
“Thanks, man!” Bryan replied with a smile. “We can talk more about this when you’ve sent me the schedules tomorrow.”
Then he turned his attention to Christopher, who had been very quiet for most of the meal and looked a bit lost. Meaghan, Shannon, Kelly and Josh were deeply immersed in a discussion about a move they all wanted to see.
“So…what do you work with, Christopher?” Bryan asked, he figured it was a safe subject that would hopefully start a conversation.
“I’m a math teacher.”
“So you and Kelly are co-workers?”
“No, we work at different schools. We’re taking the same evening class.”
“Oh, I didn’t know Kelly is taking classes.”
“We’re both working toward Masters degrees in teaching, we attend evening classes two times a week.”
“That’s awesome. I take it you like being a teacher?” Bryan asked, his interest piqued.
“I do. It’s not about the pay; to me the reward is when I see my students succeed. My favorite part of my job is working with students that struggle for different reasons.”
“Sounds like you’re a good teacher,” Mark complimented. “Unfortunately teachers that care about their job as much as you seem to do are few and far between.”
“I think there are more good ones than bad ones, actually. Unfortunately the ones that don’t give a damn give teachers in general a bad reputation.”
“I guess that’s true,” Mark agreed. “People are much better at focusing the negatives than the positives.”
“What’s this team you’re talking about?” Christopher asked curiously.
“We play wheelchair basketball together. Mark’s one of the coaches and he plays on our competitive team.”
“Sounds cool. I have to admit I’m not very familiar with wheelchair basketball, but I played basketball all through high school and college and now I’m a basketball coach at my school. I hope to be the head coach next season.”
“I played in high school and college too. Stopped when I entered med school, my schedule didn’t allow it,” Bryan replied.
After they found common ground in their love for basketball conversation flowed easily between them. They discussed favorite teams, strategies and Bryan and Mark eagerly told Christopher all about wheelchair basketball.