Recap of Chapter 22 and last Chapter 23
After Cassie admits she has financial issues, Matthew proposes her to move in with him.
She accepts and it makes them both happy. Cassie became a hockey fan and accompanies Matt to the games. They even decide to fly out of state to support their team. It leads to an incident in New York when Matt’s wheelchair is damaged. After some worries and concerns, all ends well. Matt gets his chair back after a ‘braces-crutches-stand-up session’.
I am seated in the NHL office in Chicago, after being called in by Coach Michael. I am a bit nervous fearing some warnings, because of my involvement in the trainings and my constant presence in the lockers. I am greeted by the team owner and some important NHL members, and I don’t have a good feeling about it at all. They look very formal, ceremonious and they show me to the conference room. I notice they removed a seat from the table to accommodate my wheelchair. They all sit around the oblong table and I park my chair in the empty spot. I know them all except one, the new NHL CEO. He takes the floor,
“Good morning Mr. Vincent. I assume we never met before, but if you don’t know me I, for one, know well who you are. Your name and your brilliant career have been associated with the National League of Hockey and the city of Chicago for more than ten years. I am truly sorry for what happened to you. Those past years must have been tough for you, your family and the Black Hawks, but we are not here to linger on the past. Do you have any idea why you are here today?”
That’s it! I’m in for a warning. Better keep a low profile.
“Hmm…not really. Well… Maybe I shouldn’t distract the players so much. If I have been out of line, I am sorry.”
I scratch my head in embarrassment and they all smile.
“Quite the opposite Matthew, if I may call you so?”
“Yes Sir, you surely may.”
I am a little bit confused now.
“You are aware Mr. Michael Rafferty is retiring soon, and he mentioned your name as a substitute. We had a meeting to discuss the matter and as you are already practically assisting the Coach and…the team, you are in first position for the job. I guess it is news to you, but I hope you will consider our offer. What do you say?”
I am stunned, overwhelmed, moved and exhilarated. I need a few seconds for the idea to gain grounds. If I accept this proposition it will make me the official head coach after being a player and a captain.
“Whoa, if I was contemplating the idea in my dreams, I never imagined it could be a possibility or more, a reality. It never occurred to me you could consider hiring a coach in a wheelchair.”
“I admit this is a first and furthermore, you would be the third youngest coach in hockey history. As per your handicap, you don’t need your legs to coach. You already proved that point. Most of the coaches are former players, either retired or not fit to play anymore because of an injury. We noticed the scores of the team improved, since you made your comeback in the field. We don’t know if there is a causal relationship here, but we think you will make a good coach and we wish to give you that chance. Oh, and as it involves lots of traveling, the assistant coach can represent you when it’s too frequent and too far, so you don’t have to attend all games. We just count on you here in Chicago, one hundred percent.”
That’s more than I hoped for and such a proposition is hard to decline.
“I will be honored to accept the position and I thank you for your confidence in me.”
They all rise and come to shake my hand. I get a big hug from Coach Michael and another one from the assistant coach. He doesn’t seem to be mad at me, but I feel bad for him regardless. He probably thought he would be next for the job. He hasn’t been with the team long but I know him well too and he came to visit me a few times in the hospital. His moved look and kind words tell me he is sincerely happy for me. I barely hear the other congratulating words and support, and I follow everyone in a haze to the arena, to announce the good news to the team. It is speeding test time, and they are all rushing on the ice from one side of the rink to the other in a screeching noise. I watch them full of pride, realizing I am going to be there for them still, but not only as a supporter and a friend, but as their official new coach.
When they are done with their race they skate in my direction, and I can see big smiles on their tired and sweaty faces, “So what’s your answer Matt?”
“Of course we did! We have been talking about it with Coach Michael for a while and he asked us our opinion. He was afraid you could say no. We were sure you wouldn’t, you couldn’t. We know you. That’s your life; your drug to stay strong and we need you here.”
“But who told you I said yes?”
I take a condescending and stern look, but my lopsided smile says otherwise. They all laugh and jump over the board to congratulate me. Suddenly I sense a longing creeping up on me, “Take me on the ice.”
“I need to feel it, touch it. Help me on the rink, please.”
I wheel to the players’ entrance and pop a low wheelie to access the rink. There I am, on the ice. I try to move but my wheels spin helplessly. I have four pairs of gloved hands on my back and shoulders, “A ride around the rink, Coach?”
I nod in silence, too emotional to speak. They push me for awhile and I close my eyes. I try to imagine I have my skates on as I am gliding on the ice. I am fast and I feel the cool air on my face. The sensation is almost real.
“Hey Matt, care for a few goals?”
I open my eyes. I am in front of the goal cage and the goaltender resumes his position. Without waiting for an answer, Greg is already slipping my hands into his gloves. He puts his stick in my right hand, dropping a puck in front of me while Rob covers my head with his helmet. It feels weird to play seated in a chair and being steered from behind, but I manage to score a few goals just for fun. I move the puck fast and Greg has to hold onto my chair tight to follow me in the right direction in order to anticipate my next goal. It is a real challenge and probably hasn’t been done before, but I become more and more confident and give the guys cold sweats when I fall twice on the ice. In the thick of the action, I throw myself forwards and land in front of the goal. The second time I lean way too much on my right side and get carried away by momentum. I end up with my arms spread-eagle on the ice and my legs entangled under my wheels. All the players come to my rescue and put me back in my chair cautiously.
“Are you ok Matt? Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea after all.”
They look nervous as if they were blaming themselves.
“I’m tougher than you think guys. It was my idea and I’m not done yet!”
That’s when my spastic legs decide the game is over. As I lift them to put my feet on the footplate, the shaking becomes impressive. I need to put my friend’s mind at ease,
“No worries. I am good. My legs just don’t like to be disturbed, and they can have anarchic mechanical reflexes. I guess they didn’t appreciate the little stunt and the uncommon activity. Thank you guys, I enjoyed it. You made my day.”
While Greg pushes me back toward the exit, I remove the gloves, bend over and let my fingers glide on the ice.
Cassie sits on my lap in the car, on the parking lot squeezing me and smothering me, “Matt I am so happy for you! I knew it. I knew that someday you would be back in hockey one way or another. I was dreaming of this day and it is happening. I am so proud of you. I saw you interact with your team, and I know you will be the best coach they’ll ever have. You already are. Everyone loves you. Did you tell your dad yet?”
Phew! Now I can talk. I just picked her up from work and announced her good news, but if I expected a warm welcome to my new position, I wasn’t ready to be jumped on, suffocated by kisses and praised to the skies.
“Not yet. You are the first to know.”
“He is going to be so thrilled. I can’t wait to see or hear his reaction.”
I chuckle, “Well, hopefully not as intense as yours or I’ll need an oxygen mask.”
She smiles at my joke, but withdraws from my lap. I pull her back, “Come here, I am kidding. I love being smothered by your kisses. I am so happy Cass. It was my dream too, and I couldn’t wait to tell you.”
She is suddenly silent and wistful. I kiss her lips, her nose and her eyes, “I know what you are thinking. It means a lot of travelling and less time together. I cannot lie to you because it is true, but I promise you I will protect my private life from this new job. I will spend as much time as possible in Chicago to be with you, and I want you to travel with me as much as you can. You know, I thought maybe you could quit your job. I will make enough money, so you don’t need to work anymore. I want you by my side Cass. You are the most important person in my life, and I won’t let anyone or anything, even hockey to affect our relationship. You know that, don’t you?”
She is still silent and I don’t like that at all. Suddenly I am scared. If I have to renounce this great opportunity, there is not a doubt in my mind; I will do it, for her. But I need to know now, “Cassie, please talk to me. I didn’t sign any agreement yet. If you want me to say no, I will. Maybe I was too exhilarated and we should have discussed it before accepting. But it is not too late. I want to have your insight and your thoughts. We are in this together.”
She raises her head and her wet eyes meet mine. Her look is charged with tension and emotion at the same time.
“Matt, it is the opportunity of a lifetime. I truly think this is your destiny, the same that brought us together. Both are an integral part of each other. Yes, we are in this together, so let it be. I will follow you to the end of the world if it is to be with you. I am aware it’s going to cost us a few sacrifices, but we’ll be fine. As you told me once, you need your independence, and I need mine too. I struggled enough with my parents to get it. It is very thoughtful of you to offer me to quit my job, but I can’t and I don’t want to. I need this for my peace of mind as bad as you need hockey for yours. I don’t think it is a bad thing to be away from each other from time to time. It will make our relationship stronger, sweeter, and I kind of like the idea of longing for each other, and then revel in the pleasure of being together again. I know we will make it work, and I intend to travel with you every opportunity I have. You turned me into a hockey addict, remember? And I am addicted to you. I also have to check up on your female fans and officially show them your heart is already taken.”
I smile slightly at her last comment, but I am the quiet one now. I couldn’t ask for more. Everything has been said. I want her in my life as bad as I want hockey, and I can have both. I am so touched inside I can’t add anything to that. I just whisper in her ear, “I love you so much Cassie. I will do anything in my power to make you happy the way you make me.”
Then, it is my turn to smother her with kisses and squeeze her in a tight embrace.
On the way home, we don’t speak much, both being lost in our thoughts. My new status is still a lot to process. When I am about to park in the garage, I change my mind, “Let’s eat out tonight, I don’t feel like going home yet.”
I stop at a restaurant close to my building. When we are seated at our table after a ten-minute wait, Cassie takes my hand in hers and asks me, “Matt you were so enthusiastic a while ago, and you seem so distant and preoccupied all of a sudden. I hope it is not because of me. What’s on your mind?”
“I am just realizing now so many things are going to change in my life, our lives. I have to tell the rehab center I won’t work with them anymore, and I feel a bit sad about it. I got used to helping people with disabilities like me, and I enjoyed doing something useful and bring some comfort and moral support. I won’t see my family as often as during those recovering years, and we got used to that too. My schedule will actually be back to the same one I had when I was a player. But instead of playing on the ice, I will be coaching from the bench this time. It is again another adjustment period for me, but I think I will adapt quicker to these changes. Coach Michael has six more months to go, and I will be his assistant until his retirement. That’s plenty of time for me to feel comfortable in the new position. My biggest concern is the plane trips which will be numerous during the season. The longest is to Vancouver with a four hours and twenty minutes flight. It is not that bad, and I won’t attend all games, especially when I am not fit. The NHL knows that already, and I will have the option to delegate my powers to the assistant coach. I think I can handle all that, but I am not so sure I can stay away from you. I expect you to be by my side for most of my trips, yet I cannot ask you to spend hours in each city to watch the team practice and prepare mentally. And you have your work too. I am a bit confused right now.”
“Wow! You have done a lot of thinking in a very short time. I can see you have a lot on your mind. If it can be of any comfort I have done the same thinking, and I came to the conclusion that everything will fall into place in the end. We will make it work Matt, as long as we love each other. It will be a little hard in the beginning, but look at you after all you’ve been through you bounced back and changed a tragedy into something good. It’s the new start you wished for and you can have it now.”
She is now gently caressing my cheek and tenderly stroking her fingers on my scar. It is a very endearing and sensual gesture and my heart goes out to her, “Thanks to you Cass. It wouldn’t be the same without you. You have enlivened my life so much that sometimes I fear it’s too perfect to last. You gave me strength and courage and you make me feel like my former self again. With you I feel whole, normal and deeply loved.”
“You were always whole and normal and lovable to me. You didn’t need me to make this things happen. You were already strong-willed and brave when I met you. If I could add some reassurance and confidence I am glad I did.”
“You did much more than that Cassie and I love you for it. I always will.”
My voice is filled with emotion and my last words are barely audible. She gets up and without any shame she gives me a long and passionate kiss in the middle of the restaurant. I notice a few curious looks around, knowing smiles, and I also hear some clapping. Cassie’s face reddens and she returns to her seat embarrassed, “I am sorry.”
“I am not.”
“Matt, I don’t want to see this stern look in your eyes. It’s a great day. Let’s celebrate. Please call your family. It will cheer you up.”
“I’ll call them but not to tell them. I decided to wait a bit. The NHL leading members will make a public announcement at the next game, and my dad will be there. It will be an opportunity.”
“Oh! That’s a good idea. Maybe we could make your mom and Abby come as well.”
Her sparkling eyes gaze into mine and I smile at her eagerness. All my concerns and worries are swept away by her spontaneity and the trust she has in me. All I am thinking about right now is go home to bed and make love to her.
She is waiting for me under the sheets when I wheel out of the bathroom.
“I missed you. You were there for a longtime. I was about to come and get you.”
“I was away for only fifteen minutes impatient girl, but I am here for you now, and only you.”
“What’s that mischievous grin for? Do you have special plans for tonight, naughty Coach?”
“Maybe. We’ll see what I’m up to.”
I transfer and I slide down under the sheets by her side. I long for her body pressed against mine. I need to have her close to my chest where I can feel the most. Her heat, her softness and her love send tingles and shivers to my upper torso, my shoulders and my back. I don’t need to be physically aroused to feel the pure harmony and lust that fill my heart and spirit. In those precious moments the bond we share together turns into addiction. Cassie is my soul mate and I could hold her in my arms forever. I was never that possessive with Melissa and I thought I deeply loved her. It wouldn’t be honest of me to say I didn’t love her because I did, but I guess there are different levels of love. With Cassie it’s just more powerful, emotional and passionate.
She interrupts our cuddle session raising her head suddenly. I can see her hand under the sheets fondling around my lower abdomen.
“Matt! You… you have an erection.”
“Good? That’s all you have to say?” She looks dazed.
“I was expecting that. I am a cheater Cass. I took a pill.”
“Oh, Matt! You didn’t do it especially for me, did you?”
Her voice is a mix of emotion and embarrassment.
“Who else for Cass? But it’s not going to be a regular thing, so don’t get your hopes up.”
“I don’t and you know that.”
I offended her.
“I’m sorry Cass, I know.” I kiss her softly to apologize. What am I thinking? I didn’t take that damn pill to spoil the mood.
“What about the unpleasant side effects you told me about? Matt you really didn’t have to. You know I am perfectly fulfilled with our love making. I don’t want you to take any risk with your health just to have a hard-on you can’t feel.”
“I hear you Cass, but I had to try at least once, not only for you but for my pride. If you like it and if I can handle it, we might do it again.”
I give her my utmost charming smile and she kisses my mouth lovingly in return. I pull the covers off our bodies to assess the new activity between my still legs. It’s definitely hard and erected, and Cassie seems to enjoy the sight and the touch of my revived penis.
“I hope you like to be on top and in charge, because I am all yours tonight.”
She looks at me very seriously, “I don’t know. I have never been.”
“Well, I am glad we are going to share this new experience together. You can do whatever you like with me. I am a slave at your mercy. If it lasts as long as my previous test, we are ready for a long active night, so let’s get the most of it.”
I let her discover this part of me for the first time in a passive way. It feels awkward to watch her touch me, stroke me, caress me there and not feel a thing, but I realize I get off on this too, mentally if not physically. She is straddling me now and she takes my hard shaft in her hand. She has to do all the work, because there is no thrusting, no pushing, no coordination on my part, even if I’m dying to. My brain can order whatever it wants; only half of my body obeys. All I am able to do is hold her firmly by the waist and pull her up and down to me. The sight of her sexy bottom and soft thighs over me is exciting enough to make me want her badly. I cover her body with wild kisses, while she slowly moves back and forth, and sways her hips on my pelvis. Each time she leans on me, her long silky hair grazes my chest sensually and stimulates what’s left of my libido. When it touches the tip of my nipples I moan. Cassie feels my desire and lightly skims her fingers around them. It sends a jolt in my stomach down to my belly button. Beads of sweat trickle along my forehead and I can hear my heart thump. I let out a groan. Cassie stops moving, “Matt, are you ok?” She seems anxious.
As she doesn’t seem totally convinced, I comfort her, “This is new to me, but imagining me into you and watching you move all over me is very arousing. I just wish I could feel it. Please, don’t stop and touch me there again.”
I put both her hands back on my chest and relish the sensation. She is gentle, affectionate and attentive to my needs and my own pleasure. She plants little kisses below my ear, down on my collarbone. She knows my most sensitive parts. Then she is back on my chest, nibbling my nipples with her lips, sucking and licking, and I can’t hold the groans and whimpers that are coming out of my mouth. I feel hot and I am quivering at the same time, my upper chest and arms covered in goose bumps. My para-orgasm is so powerful, it leaves me breathless. I assume Cassie came too from the satisfied sighs she lets out while resting her body peacefully on mine.
As expected, although I don’t suffer from too serious side effects after this challenging test, I can’t sleep for hours until the chemical drug is completely out of my system. It involves my hard-on which tenaciously last for a couple of hours, and the fast heart rate which is difficult to regulate. I bet my blood pressure went sky high. Cassie stays awake with me for a while, concerned about health issues I could encounter, but she finally falls asleep from exhaustion. We are still in each other’s arms and I use the heat and softness of her body to relax mine. Her quiet breathing in the hollow of my shoulder also helps calm down my racing heart.
“Matt are you sure you really want to pick up my parents from the airport?”
“Yes, I am one hundred percent sure. You don’t want them to take a cab, do you?”
“No, but they were about to take a shuttle, since they know I work and I don’t have a car anymore.”
“What about me? I don’t count?”
I frown a tad offended, but I give her a lopsided grin.
“Of course you do, but I thought you had to be on the rink this morning.”
“Nope. Today is a rest day, so I’ll entertain your folks until you come back.”
We are in the kitchen having breakfast and she is late for work. She sits on my lap regardless, puts her arms around my neck, and I am rewarded with a deep French kiss.
“You are the best boyfriend and potential son-in-law on the planet!”
I chuckle and as much as I want to keep her cuddled in my arms, I help her stand up and give her a pat on the butt, “Go, you’re late, and if you kiss me like this again, I’ll keep you hostage.”
I send a text to both Cassie’s parents asking them to wait for me at the airport if I am a bit late. They land in a few minutes and Cassie just told me their arrival time thinking they will take a shuttle. Fifteen minutes later I park my car on the curb right in front of them. I am only five minutes late. Opening the passenger window I greet them,
“Welcome to Chicago. I am sorry I can’t get out for the luggage. Trunk is open.”
Gary sits on the front and Helen behind me. I made sure I gathered all my wheelchair parts in the same place. As it is usually only Cassie and me, I have a tendency to throw the wheels, the frame and my gel cushion in all directions. I have a firm handshake from Gary, and Helen plants a shy kiss on my cheek from behind. We definitely made significant progress and I feel good about it.
Before taking them home, I drive around the city for a quick sight-seeing tour. I show them the main attractions passing by the historic district, then the Paseo Boricua Puerto Rican district marked by its two huge arching steel flags. As it’s a pain in the neck for me to get in and out of the car many times, I keep driving around Grant Park, Millennium Park, and show them where their daughter works. I make a quick stop at the Art Institute and the John Hancock observatory, but I still don’t get off.
“Please go. I don’t mind waiting for you here while you visit.”
As they are too shy and embarrassed to keep me waiting, we move on to the Sky deck of the Willis Tower. This time I take them up to the 103rd floor to see the views. On the way home, as I am sure Gary will love it, we visit the Judy Istock Nature Museum. We navigate in a 2,700 square-foot greenhouse filled with pools of water, flowers, tropical trees and 75 different species of exotic butterflies. I keep the Loop, the Navy Pier, the Aquarium and a boat tour for later, as I live very close from those attractions. They will have better views of my neighborhood with Lake Michigan and its marina from my balcony.
They seem delighted with their first hours in Chicago and Gary is grateful. As I guessed he enjoyed the butterfly Haven a lot.
“Whoa, this was a nice tour we did here. Thank you so much Matthew. You live in a beautiful city full of history and culture. The architecture is amazing and I am surprised you have so many parks.”
“As it is almost spring and not too cold, I am sure Cassie will take you for a walk in the parks we have all around. There is much more to see, but I think it’s enough for today. Your daughter will be home soon.”
We just entered in the garage, and Helen watches me assemble my wheelchair with the same compassionate look for the fifth time. Gary proposed his help when I got out of the car the first time, which I evidently turned down.
“I am sorry Matthew. You must be exhausted from all the driving and this painful exercise. We feel bad to give you so much trouble.”
Even if she is starting to accept my disability, Helen still has a hard time to see me transfer in my wheelchair, readjust my position and settle my limp legs on the footrest.
“Helen, please don’t apologize. You know, I drive and go to work every day and I mostly do the same activities as everyone else.”
Cassie just texted to tell me a colleague of hers is dropping her off, so I don’t need to pick her up.
“Bonsoir René. Vous allez bien? Je vous présente les parents de Cassandra.”
(“Good evening René. How are you ? Let me introduce you to Cassandra’s parents.”)
“Oh, bienvenue à Chicago messieurs dames. Je suis enchanté de faire votre connaissance. Vous avez une fille vraiment adorable.”
I am a bit embarrassed because I stupidly let him assume they would understand, “They don’t speak French René.” Then I turn back to them, “Sorry for my rudeness. It is a bad habit I have with René. We always speak French.”
Right away, René translates his words politely, “Oh, I am sorry. Welcome to Chicago Sir and Madam. I am pleased to meet you. You have a wonderful daughter.”
“So that’s where you live. This is such a beautiful apartment.”
Helen and Gary are stunned to discover my two thousand square-foot condo with breathtaking views. They are shy to walk around.
“This is where your daughter lives too.”
I know Cassie already told them she moved in with me a couple months ago, but I prefer to clarify that point.
“Let me show you to your room.”
I wheel to the guest room with Helen’s bag on my lap. I had to practically take it from her by force. What did she wrongfully think again? That I am too weak to carry a small suitcase? As we walk close to the windows, I see Gary give an interested glance at the balcony and Helen frowns in a mystified way, “This is very high. I am surprised Cassie can stand this balcony. She is afraid of heights since she is a little girl.”
I smirk, “I know and believe me she doesn’t go near the windows. She stays ten feet away. I don’t give up on the idea though of curing her from her phobia one day.”
“Well, good luck. We never could and she is a stubborn girl.”
I want to tell her it is not a question of stubbornness but an uncontrollable fear, but it would lead to a controversial discussion that I am not ready to ignite.
“Make yourself at home and don’t hesitate to help yourself in the kitchen if you’re hungry or thirsty. If it’s alright with you, we will go out for dinner in a few hours. You can rest in the mean time or watch TV. I have a few phone calls to make, so if you will excuse me.”
The layout of the unit is very convenient when we have guests. The two bedrooms are completely separated from one another with the dining room and living room in the middle. I can have my privacy protected which is good, because it’s one of my main priorities.
They are here for a week and Cassie and I organized a visits schedule for them. As we both work, they are on their own during the day, and we try to entertain them at night. They are people easy to please and they manage to do plenty of activities using the Orange line and the Rapid transit. It brings a knowing smile on Cassie’s face and mine when they tell us about their day following our plan down to a T. I am really happy to see they are enjoying their stay, and the much more peaceful mother and daughter relationship is a lesser trouble for everybody.
For tonight I planned a dining cruise on Lake Michigan, and I please Cassie as much as her parents, because it is her first time too. I wanted to take her in summer time to enjoy the outside deck, but I guess we’ll do it sooner with her parents visiting.
The evening looked promising if an unforeseen incident hadn’t cast a chill on our cruise.
For once it has nothing to do with a mother daughter argument.
To board the ship there is a ramp, which never has been a problem for me, so why am I having this mishap tonight? It only happened in rehab during my wheelchair training. Curbs, sidewalks, stairs are never an obstacle in my everyday life since I am paralyzed, but right now…“Tabernac!” I curse and blame my wheelchair, my stupid useless legs, my paraplegia, my broken back, and Yuri Wasilov for putting me in this embarrassing situation. So this damn ramp is a bit askew and wet from a recent shower. I pop a wheelie as I did a hundred times to wheel across the gap. One of my rear wheel slips and I fall backwards. I try to hold on to the wood railing, but one of my feet dangles gets stuck in the frame, and I have to let go. I hear Gary swear, Helen shouts a ‘OMG’ and Cassie is already crouched down by my side. As I was the first to board there is a line behind me, and I create an emotional disturbance. I am lying down on the floor, out of my chair, groggy from the impact. I fell hard on my back and bumped my head on the ground. Of course I have a dozen hands surrounding me and trying to pick me up with my chair, but they are not helping at all. First they don’t know where to hold me, and secondly I hate to be touched. Cassie waves everyone aside in a commanding way, “Thank you but he needs space, and I’ll help him if it’s necessary.”
A middle aged man walking with a cane seems upset and looks at Cassie with a severe look, “He mostly needs a doctor. Can someone call 911? Don’t you see he is in no condition to get back in his wheelchair by himself? Who are you young lady to decide what he can do or cannot?”
I am still on the floor but I manage to sit. With my hand pressed on the ground I am trying to keep my balance and with the other one I rub the back of my head. This blow really knocked me out for a few seconds. Nonetheless, I could hear the conversation and it is time for me to get involved, “She knows because we live together, and I don’t need a doctor. It is just a fall and I can handle it myself. It is not necessary to have the whole street out.”
My bossy tone startles the crowd. Maybe they thought I was deaf and dumb on top of paraplegic. I really create a sensation of unease around me, and I have to get out of the way to let people on the boat, “Cass, can you please stick my chair behind me and put the brakes on?”
She does it swiftly and I feel piercing stares behind my back.
“Let me help you Matthew. Just tell me what to do.”
Quite edgy, I am thinking to myself, Oh, please! Not again. Spare me the shame and the sympathy. Even Gary is heavily insistent without realizing he is offending me.
“No. Nobody is putting me back in that chair other than myself.”
I realize I am blunt and harsh, but that’s the way I react in such situations. My friends and my parents know it for having tried before. The last time I had to accept to be picked up from the floor is when I fell off my hospital bed, trying to transfer on my own in the middle of a spasm attack. Cassie knows me well enough not to intervene unless I ask her.
I lift my knees up with my hands and wedge them together under my chin. With both hands behind me I grab the frame of my wheelchair and heave myself up and down on my seat. I hear sighs of relief and a few cheers. Relieved but embarrassed by the incident, I signal people to go ahead. This time I wait for the last passengers to board to use the ramp and I hold on to the railing just in case. We finally take our seats around our table, and a few people come to me to kindly ask me if I am alright. I thank everyone with a smile, even if I want to be left alone. After a while people seem to have forgotten me and my wheelchair, and we can move on to the cruise and our dinner. It turns out to be an enjoying evening and we come back home late and tired. I am rewarded by half a dozen thank yous by the Millers on the drive back, and a long and tender kiss from Cassie when we are in bed.
“Matt, tell me the truth. You hurt your back didn’t you?”
“Yes. I feel a bit sore. How do you know?”
“I saw you shift up and down a lot tonight, and I know you do that when you are uncomfortable or in pain. Let me take a look and give you a massage.”
She has a way of asking, you can’t turn her down. I willingly remove my t-shirt and I roll on my stomach painfully.
“So what’s your diagnosis Doc?”
“It’s red around your scar. Can you feel here?”
“Ouch! Hell yes!”
“Ok. It’s just above your fusion and you would put my mind at ease if you go have an X-ray tomorrow.”
“Ok Cass, whatever you want. So can I have my massage now?”
I smile mischievously.
“I am serious Matt.”
“I am too!”
The pain is not that bad, because it subsides under Cassie’s expert hands, and I fall asleep on my stomach, until I feel her roll me back on my side in a gentle move. She bends one of my legs across the other, so I can’t flip on my back. She knows this is my favorite position to sleep in. I mumble sleepily, “Thank you Babe, it was awesome.”
“You are welcome. Sleep tight.”
I feel a kiss on my temple and the lights are turned off.
I work hard all week long at the United Center with Michael and the assistant coach who doesn’t hold a grudge against me. He is an early retired player from Canada due to an extensive shoulder surgery. He knows my father and I guess our origins make us close. We make a solid team and I have high hopes for the coming games.
As Coach Michael is still leading the team for a few more months, I don’t have to travel yet and I can stay in Chicago for the time being. Cassie’s parents left, but not without meeting mine twice. I can say they get along and have a few things in common, hobbies for both our fathers and they talked for hours. I managed to spend some time with everyone and bring Gary to a game he enjoyed. He might become a Black Hawks fan or choose another team. Maybe the Florida Panthers would be more logical, but secretly I hope not. I won’t hold it against him regardless. What matters to me is that I gave him the ice hockey vibe. I am just a bit disappointed they had to leave before tonight’s game.
Today is a big night. It is my first game as an official coach and I have my spot just behind the player’s bench, but this time on the other side of the glass wall, closer to the ice. I have two surprises for everyone tonight, and I can’t wait to see their reaction. This day is so important to me, I am as nervous as a teen on a first date. Abiding the NHL rules, I have to wear a suit as a coach, and believe me, it feels kind of weird not to have my jersey on. I was never a suit fan, but I guess I will have to review my clothing tastes, at least for the games from now on. I change in the locker room with the team, and I have the feeling to be dressed like a business man. While they slip their uniform and protections on, I put a white shirt, a black tie and a grey suit on. I even bought new black suede shoes but I need a little help to slip my feet in. While Henrik is giving me a hand with that, I tighten the knot of my tie, “Well, how do I look guys?”
I hear a few chuckles here and there and I feel laughing too. I know I look strange all dressed up in the locker room. I would rather trade the suit for a jersey, but in whatever uniform, I am thrilled to be back.
“That’s how you respect your new coach?”
‘You always look good Matt!”
Cassie, my parents and Abby are seated in the first bleachers one level up behind me. I was supposed to meet in the Arena and I know my family must be worried not to see me yet, but Cassie told them I have been delayed by a call of nature. The players enter the rink, cheered by a loud and excited crowd. Coach Michael Rafferty and the assistant coach follow right behind. I am the last one to wheel and park my chair at the end of the team bench. The box is narrow and not made-up to welcome a handicapped coach, but I will try to avoid the kicks and the sticks of the players when they jump hastily over the boards. I slightly turn my head over my shoulder and I see my dad’s dumbfounded face. It doesn’t take him long to understand what I’m doing here and he raises his arm and fist in sign of victory. Then I hear him shout in French Canadian and he nudges Abby and my mom, signing at me with a look filled with pride. Their first reaction is surprise to see me in a suit. Then they wonder what I am doing in the players’ box. Maybe they think I am some kind of guest of honor. For a few seconds it is like in a silent movie. They frown at my dad, he points at me again with his chin, he has an ear-to-ear smile, and he wiggles his eyebrows showing me an extended fist again. When they finally realize what is happening, Abby jumps in the air and throws herself in our father’s arms. Then it’s my mother’s turn and Cassie joins the circle. They all hug, kiss in a joyful embrace and looking at me they mouth words of congratulations and love through the glass wall.
I cannot concentrate properly the first part of the game. I bark orders and give tactical advice in a daze. Fortunately I am not the only coach tonight and I warned everyone this game will be special for me, and that I won’t be totally myself. I just broke the news to my family I have a new job, but I also have another announcement to make. As soon as the referee blows the end of the first period, we all leave the bench and the ice to return to the locker room. I wave at Cassie and my family. It’s a twenty minutes break, time for ads, interacting with the audience with quizzes, and the dance and kiss sessions captured on the giant screens. It is also a possibility to pass on personal messages and since a few seconds, one is displayed and flashing in big red letters,
“The Black Hawks have a new coach named Matthew Vincent, ex-captain of the team...”
People who read the screens clap and cheer in approval.
“He has a personal announcement to make and he chose the United Arena to do so tonight…”
My family and Cassie become very attentive to what’s scrolling on the monitors…
“Cassandra Miller, I love you, will you marry me...”
There is a wave of whispers and awes among the spectators. Cassie has both her hands pressed hard on her mouth. She is staring at the screen completely stunned. Then she looks at my parents and Abby who are as stupefied as her. They look around and I am right at the end of their bleachers. Cassie is standing up but I guess she is unable to move. I cannot wheel to her, but I transfer quickly in the first seat. Predicting my next move, everyone kindly and quickly stands aside to make some room. I slide my body over from seat to seat, dragging my legs, helping with my hands until I reach the spot where my parents and Cassie are. She drops heavily on my lap with tears in her eyes. She kisses me hard not paying attention to her surroundings. We are both speechless too moved to talk. She finally raises her head to me, her shiny emerald eyes drown in mine. Feverishly I take her hands in mine. I can feel they are trembling, “Is that a Yes?”
…“Yes, yes and yes!”
Her cry of joy is muffled by the Yays of the Arena. I clumsily take out a little red velvety box out of my suit pocket. I open it with shaking hands and put the diamond ring on Cassie’s finger. We kiss again and again and we are smothered by all the Vincent’s hugs. Believe it or not, for the first time in my career history, I don’t give a damn who will win the game tonight.