Recap of Chapter 21
Matt is out of the hospital but still healing at home under the good care of Cassie. He has the visit of his friends, but also an unexpected one of his father. The latter is a bit angry at him, mostly upset. After spending some time together and Matt’s genuine remorse, they quickly sort things out.
Cassie finds me on the balcony and from her distraught face I’d better get back inside fast.
“Matt, what are you doing? It’s freezing out there. Shouldn’t you be in bed?”
I have a glass in my good hand and raising it to her I say in a quite dispirited tone,
“I slept all morning, then my dad paid me an unannounced visit which would be totally fine in other circumstances. I lied to him and hurt his feelings. I just needed some fresh air to clear my head, and as you can see I am dressed appropriately for the cold. Do you realize I didn’t go out for ten long days now? Does that answer all your questions?”
“Whatever. I’ll leave you to your moment of solitude then.”
She turns away, looking exhausted.
My irony and bad mood are swept away by her resigned reaction. I swallow my drink in one gulp to hurry back inside. I wince when I hastily grab my wheel with my wounded hand I forgot all about.
She is in the kitchen filling a glass from the fridge’s water dispenser.
“I’m sorry Cass. I didn’t mean to be nasty.”
“You weren’t. You have the right to yearn to be alone sometimes.”
She gives me a forced smile. I pull her to me for a kiss. She kisses me back, but I can feel something’s wrong and it has nothing to do with me being a jerk or her fear of heights. She looks exhausted. Of course she didn’t sleep well because of me, but she also seems worried and down.
“Cass, what’s the matter?”
“Nothing. Just a ton of work, new patients, too many appointments and difficult cases.”
“Well, it sounds like you have your hands full. Let’s go out for dinner. Just down the building. I don’t think I can go further and you might have to push me.”
I wink at her mischievously, trying to cheer her up. She sighs, “I don’t feel like going out Matt. I am tired and I prefer to stay here with you.”
She is always up for a night out, and she should especially be after spending a week indoors and mostly by my side in a hospital.
“Please Cassie; tell me what’s on your mind. I know something is bothering you. Are you upset with me?”
She shakes her head.
“Did I do something wrong?”
“No! Of course not.”
Suddenly an upsetting thought crosses my mind, “Did your ex try to contact you again?”
“No! Not at all.”
“Ok. Now you are scaring me. Are you reconsidering to have a cripple as a boyfriend?”
“Oh Matt! Don’t be stupid and stop calling you a cripple. I hate that. You know I love you, but…”
“I have to move out.”
“Move out? From where? Chicago?”
“Why? What's going on?” I am confused and anxious.
“I can’t pay the maintenance anymore. It’s too expensive for my salary. All the days off I took for vacation and the hospital were deducted. I don’t want to call my uncle to ask him for an extension or a discount. Let’s be realistic, I have been too confident or too naïve and I just can’t afford this place anymore. In fact I never could. I send a monthly check to one of his companies, and he doesn’t even know how much I pay and when. He has other preoccupations than my insignificant stupid self.”
Whoa! I am so relieved. I was afraid it was going to be a more serious matter. I give her a lopsided smile. I like when she has this childish pout on her lovely mouth.
“Matt, please there is nothing funny about this. It means we will be separated. I won’t be able to see you as often as now, and maybe I’ll have to move to the suburbs, far from here.”
“Ok. First of all, sit down. To look up at you is not good for my self-esteem, and it gives me a crick in the neck, then we’ll talk.”
She sits on the edge of the sofa and I wheel in front of her touching her legs with my bony knees. I take both her hands and keep them in mine.
“You like Chicago, right?”
“You like the building?
“You like me?”
“More than like and you know it.”
“So, problem solved. You move in with me.”
She looks at me somewhat distressed, and once again doubts invade my mind.
“Matt, I know you like your independence and intimacy. You had a girlfriend for many years and you never lived together, so why would you change that with me on such short notice? We’ve met not long ago and I don’t want you to feel tied down with me.”
“Cass, we have been together long enough and more than close those past few days. I will always keep my independence as long as I can, especially more since I am bound to that chair, but you never took it away from me or interfered. I don’t feel compelled or obligated in any way and surely not tied down. You already share my intimacy with my paraplegic issues, and I don’t feel bad about it. You know all my strengths and my weaknesses. I’ve wanted to ask you to live with me for a while, but I was afraid of your answer. I didn’t want to pressure you. I wanted you to be sure and assess all the implications before going any further. For me it is a big step forward in my new life, and I don’t want to fail. My wish is to spend the rest of my life with you, and for this we need to be under the same roof. Do you have the same wish?”
This time ‘the big step’ is not a cynical pun. I am not in a joking mood. I am gazing at her, serious and stern waiting for her to say something, something I wish to hear. Her eyes are wet; she leans on me and slowly rests her head on my lap, “Yes that’s what I want Matt.”
We don’t speak for a while. My good hand brushes her cheek and strokes her hair tenderly. I am the happiest man on earth.
“What about my furniture?”
I grin. The change of subject is so radical, it sounds out of place in this particular moment,
“You can put it in storage if you wish to keep it, but I don’t think you’ll ever need it. You can sell it, or if you want some of your stuff here, it’s ok with me. We can replace whatever you like.”
“No, I like your apartment the way it is. I don’t want to change anything. I’ll sell it and use the money to share part of your monthly fees.
“Oh, please Cassie! Don’t offend me. You are not moving here as a roommate or a tenant. We are an official couple starting this minute. Besides, I told your parents I can provide for you and I am a man of my word.”
In the blink of an eye, she is on my lap.
“Ouch!” I wasn’t ready for this, neither were my ribs.
She jumps up embarrassed and concerned. Rubbing my painful flank I smile at her, “You took my breath away, but literally this time!”
She smiles back and the joy and happiness I see in those big green mesmerizing eyes of hers are the best healing remedy. I motion her to come closer with my index finger, “Come back here, Baby. I’m not done with you yet. You have to make it up to me.”
Her sexy smile is back and she looks all perked up.
“How about you lie down on the sofa for a gentle massage? Would that be a good way to be forgiven?”
I raise my eyebrows playfully, “Will see, but that sounds like an enticing start.”
I suddenly feel much better and I transfer more than willingly.
My friends and Abby give us a hand to move her personal things in, and she easily sells her remaining belongings as a package, putting an ad on the Internet. I can’t help much because of my arm and still painful ribs, but I manage to make room in my closets and drawers for her clothes. As she was already spending a lot of time in this apartment, she granted herself a few shelves, so I just add more space. Knowing it’s for good is a new feeling for me though. But I like the idea, I like it a lot.
A few weeks after Cassie’s moving, the accident is just a bad memory. My ribs are healed, the cast is gone, and if my wrist is still a bit weak I can push my rims just fine. I also got my car back so I can drive again, go out and work. Abby passed her nursing exam and Cassie seems to have better relationships with her parents. I proposed her to invite them for a few days in Chicago, and I am surprised to learn that not only she asked them, but they accepted to come and stay with us. Everything is for the best except for Cassie’s car which is not worth fixing. When she got the estimate from the mechanic, she almost had a heart attack. She doesn’t really need a car in Chicago. We use mine and I take her to work and pick her up every day. I made my schedule at the center match hers. I know she doesn’t like to rely on me for transportation, but I don’t mind to be her ‘chauffeur’ until she lets me buy her a new car.
Hockey is back into my life and I don’t miss a game. I also go to most of the trainings, and I hang out a lot in the locker-room. I practically became a voluntary coach assistant, and head coach Michael seems to be ok with it. I know he likes me a lot and I was his best player for years. If he chose me ten years ago to be the youngest captain in the Black Hawks history, he had his reasons. I passed on my addiction to Cassie and we really enjoy going to the rink together. If we were satisfied with the Chicago games up to now, Cassie convinced me to travel out of State to follow the team. I am a bit reluctant at first, but I try to overcome my recent fear of flying and Cassie is my motivation, taking care of all my needs. In my particular case it’s just a matter of strong discipline and organization. That’s how we fly to Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Boston to root for our team. Those are close cities from Illinois, and for now I don’t take the risk to exceed
three hour flights yet. Pittsburgh is a hard test for me because this is where
I was injured, and it brings back difficult and painful moments. I am a bit
edgy during half the game, especially when Yuri Wasilov, the Russian player, is
on the ice, and I am glad to have Cassie by my side. I never replayed the
action that cost me my legs and my career, but she did. She asked me permission
before, and then we never talked about it. I know she feels exactly what I feel
just holding my hand, and she gives me comfort. At the end of the game, which
we win, and as I am finally relaxed, I have the strangest encounter of my whole
hockey career. Before leaving the stadium, the Russian player, still on his
skates comes in the bleachers and approaches me with a serious, but embarrassed
look on his sweaty face, “I know you hate me and you have good reasons for
that, but believe me, I think about you each game I play, and I will be sorry
for the rest of my life. You were one the best players and I was told to stick
to you like glue. I was too rough and aggressive and I regret it. You know I
didn’t mean to harm you that bad. I was just doing my job, trying to score. I
hope you will forgive me one day, but I couldn’t leave the rink without talking
to you, and let you know I am deeply sorry. I came to see you in the hospital
to tell you, but your friends never gave me a chance.”
I am speechless for long seconds because I didn’t expect this, but I hold his gaze and see true and sincere remorse. I also notice a scar on his jaw and I know where it comes from. I point at it with a smirk. He brushes his fingers along his chin and flashes a nervous smile, “Yeah, they beat the shit out of me.”
“I know you didn’t mean it, and after all that’s part of the risks we take. Unfortunately I am not the first and the last player to be badly injured. It is the course of the game. I gave a few nasty blows in my career myself, and I could have been in your place or you could have been in mine. You know, I’ve made peace with myself, so I guess I can make peace with you as well.”
I extend my hand and he shakes it with emotion. Then he bends over me and gives me a bear hug. I can see Cassie is upset and doesn’t agree, and there are mixed feelings in the audience and among the other players from the clapping and the boos. What matters is I feel good, relieved of a burden.
Tonight we are on our way to New York, but there is an incident which dampens my enthusiasm a great deal. At the JFK airport we are still on the plane waiting for my wheelchair to be brought up. Because it is a small plane they had to check it in the baggage hold, and I obviously had a reason to be uncomfortable with the idea. The senior flight attendant comes to me with a concerned look,
“Mr. Vincent, we are terribly sorry but there was a slight incident. We had technical issues with the aircraft carousel. Some luggage fell on the tarmac, and your wheelchair is among them.”
I am totally dismayed, “How bad is it?”
“One of the small front wheels is broken. The big ones were pulled apart so they are fine. We never had that kind of issue with a wheelchair, and we are making all the necessary efforts to resolve the problem.”
Damn it! I need my four wheels in good condition to be able to get around. These things never occur, but it happens to me. It is totally impossible to use the chair with a missing wheel. I am pissed off, but there is nothing I can do about it, and I take a deep breath to relax. Before I can speak again, a very irritated Cassie anticipates my next question, “And what are you going to do about it? He needs his chair to move around.”
“I understand Miss. He can use an airport wheelchair for the time being; we will take care of the taxi fare and the repair, and we will deliver the wheelchair at your hotel as soon as possible. The company is calling shops right now.”
I sigh and take Cassie’s hand in mine to calm her down, “Ok, I guess I don’t have many other options.”
“I am afraid not Sir, unless you can use the braces and crutches you also checked in.”
“No I can’t. I use them only for very short distances.”
Obviously the woman doesn’t realize the extent of my disability. If I am upset about it I also feel a hint of pride that she could assume I can stand and walk with my crutches.
“On behalf of the company, I apologize again and we will recredit you the cost of the flight as a courtesy.”
Unfortunately their goodwill gesture is not going to settle my technical problem. I am helpless without my wheels. I am nothing. Nonetheless I try to suck it up and regain my self control, “Thank you. I appreciate it. I would like to exit the aircraft now if possible.”
“Of course. Someone is already there to assist you.”
First I have to sit in the aisle chair, which we, paraplegics call a human dolly, then a crew member is waiting for me in the walkway. I transfer in a regular wheelchair, which I also deeply hate, but at least I have my gel cushion for more comfort. The back is too high, the footplates are humongous and the armrests a total nuisance. I want to move on my own, but the airport rules don’t allow it. I have to let someone push me all the way to the exit, and I feel humiliated. I have the unpleasant impression of being a senile old man. We only have two small bags that I stashed on my lap with my braces, and Cassie carries the pair of crutches. When we pass the exit door I sigh in relief, “Let’s get a cab fast. I can’t wait to be at the hotel, and get rid of this horrid chair. I am so glad I took my braces. At least I can wear them while we wait for my chair. The good thing is we left Chicago early, and we have all afternoon before the game. Can you imagine me in that bulky, heavy, shapeless thing rooting for the Black Hawks?”
“Matt, I reckon it is not the most esthetic wheelchair, but we didn’t have any other choice. We have to deal with it and be patient.”
“It’s very nice of you to say ‘we’ but I am the one who’s ridiculous. My TiLite chair is my legs, an integral and inseparable part of me. I feel naked without it, and I am freaking out just thinking I won’t have it back.”
Cassie must have heard real panic in my tone, because she wraps her arms around me, and kisses my neck and collarbone several times whispering in my ears, “Calm down. Everything’s going to be ok. You don’t have to tell me how important this chair is for you because I know it. If we don’t have an answer in the next hour, I’ll go buy you a new one. You can customize it afterwards. Does that make you feel better?”
She is as upset as I am, but she wants me to relax and she is ready for anything to get that.
“Yes, I feel better but I will feel even better if you give me one of those kisses again.”
She smiles broadly and she grants me my wish.
As this chair can’t be dismantled and is heavy to handle, I let the taxi driver fold it and store it the trunk.
“Phew! I have never been so happy to transfer on a bed!”
The flight, the bad news, plus the ride in this foreign object made me tired and the mattress is welcoming for a nap.
“Would you care sharing it with me?”
Cassie jumps on the bed by my side giggling like a little girl. I take her in my arms and we decompress. If I am the tired one Cassie is the one to crash, and I watch her sleep with a hint of smile. When she wakes up I have my braces on and I already crutched back and forth to the bathroom. I forgot how good it feels to be tall again. Because of the car accident I wasn’t able to stand up for a while and it is my first time in weeks.
“I thought you were in for a full night. I am hungry and I’d like to grab something to eat in the hotel restaurant.”
“Why didn’t you wake me up? I hate sleeping during the day.”
She sounds sorry.
“Maybe my warm chest and my strong arms were a cozy nest?”
I am seated on the edge of the bed and I turn my head around to show her an innocent grin.
“Could be Mr. Wise guy!”
She gives me a smirk and I chuckle, “Come here and help me stand up instead of being witty.”
“Oh! Because I’m the witty one now?”
She gets up in a graceful move, and is beaming at me when she sees my braces, “No wheelchair to go out?”
“Not in this one for sure.”
I overestimated myself and forgot how hard it is to balance my pelvis and lifeless legs in those orthopedic devices, and I struggle a little bit before finding my pace. I wobble and almost fall getting in the elevator. My right foot gets stuck in the slight gap on the floor, and two pairs of helping hands on top of Cassie’s catch me at the last second. My pride takes another hit, “I am sorry. Thank you.”
Two young girls all dressed up and apparently ready to go out on a date were the ones to rush to my rescue. They both give me a once-over and I lower my eyes, humiliated as hell. From the killer look Cassie is giving them, I am not sure I should be so shameful. I lean against the cab wall and raise my head. Both women are still watching me, and I can decipher in their eyes cheek and audacity. They can’t see my braces well hidden under my dress up pants, and my crutches may suggest I am a daredevil recently injured in some kind of outdoor activity. Cassie moves closer to me and hooks her arm on my elbow in a ‘he is mine’ undeniable statement. The elevator stops on the lobby level and one of the girls shows me the open doors, “After you.”
“No please go ahead, I’m slow.”
“That’s ok, we don’t mind. We are not in a hurry.”
What? Do they want to see me make a fool of myself again, or do they wish to get a glimpse of my rear end? Well, I go first with Cassie behind me on the lookout. When they pass us I am entitled to a warm, “Have a nice evening.”
“Thanks, you too.”
“Did you see how they were staring at you? They’ve got nerves!”
“Well, I am a bit noticeable with my equipment.”
“Stop playing dumb Matt. You know what I mean.”
I chuckle, “Yes I know but believe me they wouldn’t look at me the same way if I were in my wheelchair. So you are safe.”
I brace myself on the forearms of the crutches to give her a quick kiss on the lips.
“I am not so sure.”
She has this hesitant but serious unfocused stare which tells me how jealous she can be. I really have to pay attention to whom I look at.
Considering how bad it started, the day ends well with a nice dinner, no more tripping, and I get my chair back just before the game.