I am seated in my wheelchair by the bed. With a breakfast tray dangerously balanced on my lap I watch Cassie sleep. It is 9.30 a.m. and I have been awake for two hours. She must feel a presence, as she opens her eyes sleepily and stretches out on the pillow.“Matt? Have you been watching me like this for long?’
I smile at her, “Not for long but enough to notice you snore.”
“No, I don’t!”
She is ready to throw a pillow at me, and I stop her with a warning hand.
“If you want your breakfast in bed you’d better behave.”
I wheel toward her to deliver my load.
“That’s so thoughtful of you Babe, but I can get up.”
“No, you stay right there because I intend to join you to have my breakfast in bed too.”
“Ok then. I won’t complain about this wise decision.”
She gathers some pillows against the headboard on my side of the bed, and I hand her the loaded tray, “Be careful coffee’s hot. And by the way I lied, you don’t snore. You sleep without a sound like a newborn.”
We eat our breakfast with the bay windows wide open on the quiet and almost foamless waves and a clear blue sky. We lazily lie in bed after emptying the entire pastry basket, and we are having our second cup of coffee when my legs decide it’s time to get up. “Shit! Cass, can you take the tray away before I spill what’s left on the sheets?”
One of the cup overflows from the shaking and spreads on Cassie’s lacy underwear, “Tabernac!” That is Cassie cursing in French Canadian with an American accent. This so funny I can’t suppress a laugh and I spill more coffee including on me this time. We laugh out loud for at least two minutes before she is able to put the tray away, and before I can drag my spastic legs out of the stained covers. Not in a million years would I ever have imagined I could laugh so openly at my spasms. Well, just to make it clear it is not a sweeping statement. Right now I am in a very good mood; however it is not always the case. When it comes to painful cramps I suffer like everyone else and I am not a masochist.
Today is my bowel routine protocol which I hate more than anything else in my paraplegic life, but I am lucky enough it’s a rather fast-acting process thank to some miraculous glycerin suppositories. It is not so bad compared to others who have to use much more fastidious tricks and devices, and I only do it every other three days. Well, enough with specific unpleasant details; to make it short, today I have to spend more time in the bathroom. With a small mirror I also check my skin thoroughly to look for any pressure sores, and then I catheterize and put my bathing suit on. To be honest I’m a bit anxious for my first post-injury attempt in the ocean, yet I ask cheerfully, “Ready for a swim?”
Obviously she is. She is also dressed for a beach day, and she is delectably sexy in her striped blue and white bikini. She is wrapped in a see-through pareo, but I can easily guess her perfect curves with well defined hips and behind, perfectly shaped legs and…cute sexy breasts; so perfect when I cup them in my hands. I give her a whistle of admiration.
“You are not bad either Matt, just a little pale. You should take some sun. Did you fully recover from last night?”
“Yes I did, and I intend to get tanned for the next four days.”
I bump down the stairs again and I wheel as far as I can go in the sand. Cassie lay our towels and things on the lounge chairs a little further down and looks behind her. I am halfway to the shore, but my wheels are now stuck and I struggle cursing under my breath.
“Need some help, Babe?”
“No I got this; one way or another.”
What I intend to do is not conventional but I don’t give a damn. Nothing could prevent me from enjoying a swim in the ocean, and Cassie’s blissful look stimulates me. I lean my body on the side, put my hands forward and I plump down heavily in the sand. I sit upright, pull my flabby legs apart, stretch them out and turn my back to the sea. With my arms strength I slide on my butt dragging my lower body backwards. Cassie seems to revel in my unorthodox way of moving without missing a thing, and I am not the least embarrassed. I am almost there, just a few more feet. When I feel the coolness of the water lap my back, I flip on my stomach, crawl for a few inches and I am in. Oh man, what a ball! I am in the ocean, my body floating above the surface like any regular swimmer. I can’t stop moving my arms, I have to swim harder and faster but it’s so much better than in a pool. I have nobody around to tell me what to do or hold me. I’m a free man. Cassie is watching fervently and I see her raise her thumb up.
“JOIN ME!” I have to shout because the shore is already distant. Maybe I shouldn’t go too far for the first time, and get accustomed to my body’s ability in the moving sea. While I swim back a little bit I meet Cassie in my path. Where we are she can touch the bottom and has water above her breasts. I clutch at her shoulders and try to stand, but my legs are uncooperative and still float in the current. After a few attempts I am just about standing in Cassie’s arms wondering where my feet are.
“Am I touching the bottom?”
“Yes. I am stepping on your toes.”
“Good. Don’t let go before I kiss you and hold you in my arms.”
“But I am already in your arms.”
“No. I am in yours and it is not the same.”
Clumsily and not too confident I let go of her shoulders sliding my arms along her back, down to her waist, and I can pull her to my chest eventually. I never held her so close standing up.
She did though, but with the braces and the crutches it doesn’t count. I look down at her and being tall without any help, well just a bit, I feel a pang, yet a very pleasant one. We kiss as long as she can hold my feet prisoners under hers, but the slight motion of the waves makes me lose my balance little by little and I feel my hips swaying. Ruefully I have to let her go. We swim together for a while in the lukewarm waters of the Gulf Stream. Cassie who is not a swimming addict returns quickly to her lounge chair. As I miss my daily sport activities I stay in the water for an extra half hour until my arms give up. I swim back to the shore exhilarated but exhausted. I get out of the water carried by the waves and crawling for the last meters. I stay lying in the wet sand for a while until I can catch my breath. I am looking at the cloudless sky, my eyes blinking from the sun and I see Cassie face leaned on mine. She is holding a towel and she crouches on her knees.
“Let’s wipe all this sand away.”
“Forget about the sand and come closer.”
I tug her down on my chest and squeeze her in a tight embrace, “I am completely beat but it feels such a good exhaustion.”
“You really are a great swimmer Matt. Your stroke is so strong, it is worthy of an athlete. You amazed me out there. No one could tell you weren’t using your legs.”
“I know. The water has an increasing factor on paralyzed bodies. We compensate with our lung capacity and arm strength, although with the rods and pins in my back I am not as supple as before. I can’t do the butterfly stroke anymore.”
“Well, you do much better than me, and you can still embarrass a lot of able bodies. Mine to start with.”
“I don’t care about others; just happy to impress you!”
We hug each other and make out again. Then Cassie lies by my side and rolls my body over hers, so I can be on top for a change. She is so intuitive and thoughtful I can’t get enough of her. I love her so much it scares me sometimes. For now I revel in the feeling of looking down at her, face to face, my body resting on hers and not the opposite for once. I whisper lovingly in her ear, “I love you Cass. Thank you for making me feel like a man.”
“All the pleasure is mine and you are my man.”
She kisses my favorite spot, between my neck and shoulder. Even though I am balanced on my arms making sure I am not crushing her, now it is time for me to free her from my 193 pounds embrace, “Let’s go lie down on those recliners. They look more appealing to me than the layer of sand that’s scratching my back.”
She cracks a smile and nods vigorously. She gives me some space to sit upright, and I resume my previous exercise which consists in dragging my worthless legs, pelvis and butt along. I forcefully push on my arms and leave a deep furrow in the sand. As I am moving backwards I have to glance over my shoulder frequently to see where I’m going. My wheelchair is still in the middle of the beach, but for now I head to the side where Cassie is waiting for me by the beach chairs. If it doesn’t look like a strenuous activity, believe me it requires a lot of energy; my tensed back, arms and shoulders can prove me right. I am panting when I finally brace myself and hold onto the chair. Cassie wipes the sand off my body and lays a beach towel on the lounger. It takes me three attempts before I can haul myself onto it, and let my upper body rest on the back of the chair. I don’t have enough strength left to lift my legs up and Cassie spontaneously does it for me. She extends them gently in front of me, pecks me on the lips and hands me a bottle of water.
“Thanks Cass. I don’t know what I would do without you. I am sorry to let you down, but I think I need a little nap for now.”
“Rest, you deserve it. Don’t worry about me, I brought a magazine to flip through. Just let me put some sunscreen on you. You don’t want to get sun burns.”
She starts with my legs and I watch her apply the cream as if she was doing it on someone else’s body. I know she has a thing for my emaciated thighs and calves, but I still don’t quite understand how she can find them attractive or somewhat worthy of interest. For a longtime I tried hard to avoid looking at them, even showering. Since I’ve been with Cassie my reaction is completely different. I don’t hate my legs so much anymore. It took me a while, but I’ve accepted them as an integral part of my body. I like seeing Cassie’s hands enjoying touching, caressing and pampering them. However, it made me realize I dislike one thing about them. For the past year, one became much thinner than the other. As an incomplete paraplegic, my left leg kept some limited function due to a thigh and calf muscles cramping a lot. Because of the reflex activity, that leg seems healthier and stronger compared to the other which is completely limp with no muscle left. Anyhow I made a lot of progress accepting my fate thanks to Cassie. I can wear shorts without second thoughts and I’ve being doing so twenty-four hours a day since we got in this haven of peace.
Now she is working on my chest and arms which I can definitely feel this time. I close my eyes with a sigh of well-being. The heat of the sun softened by a light breeze on my skin, the lulling sound of the recurring surf and Cassie’s closeness are paradise. When she is done with my body, I secretly wish she’d start all over again. I do the same for her the best I can, and without further ado I fall asleep from exhaustion. This moment of rest turns out to be a two-hour nap.
And that’s about all we do for four days: swim, snorkel, lie under the sun, take naps, eat and make love. I just avoid one thing…the Jacuzzi tub. We only go once in the resort’s restaurant, because we prefer our romantic table on the beach with our red candles, fire pit and discreet waiter. Every morning we have our breakfast basket delivered to the bungalow, but after the mess we made on the bed we have it on the terrace or in the dining room. I take Cassie on a boat tour once to see dolphins and she is delighted to watch a whole pod for thirty minutes. They follow the boat very closely for a while, and we have the chance to witness a female dolphin nursing her calf. This is an amazing experience and we have this other thing in common: we are animal lovers. She calls her parents once and I call Abby a few times. She is enjoying herself at her friend’s house, and she gives me some news of the parents who are right now in a cold and rainy Paris, but having a great time.
It is our last night in our love-nest and we almost forgot today is the 31st. Since our arrival on the island, it’s New Year’s Eve every night. We don’t feel like going out or watching the traditional Time Square ball drop on TV. We just want to be left alone and have another romantic dinner on our private beach with a bottle of chilled champagne. We didn’t even dress up for the occasion, even though Cassie looks delectable in a plain strapless light green dress. I wear beige cargo pants, a linen white shirt and I once again I leave my chair behind. Cassie knows the drill and parks it behind the same tree. We are both barefoot and it made my life easier here, because I only wore shoes twice to leave our bungalow. We ordered a special upgraded meal and we savor it, barely looking in our plates, only having eyes for each other. Cassie is radiant and I love everything about her, even the funny habit she got into during our every night dinners. She digs her feet in the sand and she does it without thinking and so discreetly, it took me a while to notice. I chuckle looking at the already impressive hole under the table. We just finished our dessert and I ask her, “Give them to me.”
“Your feet. Give them to me before we turn up in China!”
I extend my hand under the table. She looks puzzled but when she follows my amused look at the crater that’s under her, she laughs and complies.
“They are dirty Matt.”
“I don’t mind.”
I pour my glass of water on each foot and I let them rest on my lap.
“Now they are wet!”
“I don’t care either.”
I start massaging them tickling the sole and making her giggle.
“You know you have sexy feet Miss Miller.”
“And you know you are irresistible Mr.Vincent. Never look at another woman with that seductive smile, or you will be in big trouble.”
My supposedly seductive smile is replaced by an ear to ear one.
“Duly noted. I won’t take any risk.”
“Hmm…It feels so good Matt. I love foot massages, especially on the beach at night with the love of my life. You’re an expert.”
“Cassie, I’m so happy with you.”
The atmosphere is suddenly charged with intense emotion. In those moments I long to be my former self again. I so much wish I could get up and lift her in my arms as a whole man. I can only lean over the table to take her hands in mine and kiss the back of them. Again, she senses my regrets and reads my mind. She stands up and comes to my side to sit on my lap. I hug her in a loving embrace and kiss her like a ravenous man. The night sky is lit up by a full moon, perfectly round and glowing, and the revitalizing marine fragrance mixed to the smell of the scented candles makes my head spin. Cassie’s lips taste like champagne and our gentle longing becomes more intense. My mouth is demanding and our tongues entwine in a mutual exploring quest. I forget I am seated on a regular chair. I move sideways to have a better grip at Cassie’s waist and my back is no longer supported. Only the muscle strength of my upper body helps me keep straight. The frail balance of my waist and pelvis eventually gives up and we both fall sideways in the sand, still wrapped in each other’s arms.
“Matt, are you ok?”
“Yes. I’m fine. I’ve actually never felt so good.”
Her anxious gaze turns into a bright smile and we burst out laughing.
“As there is not a chance I can sit back on that chair, and as I am already down, let’s have a midnight swim!”
I give her a mischievous smile and she doesn’t hesitate a second. We help each other undress in a rush almost ripping off our clothes, and my appealing proposition is brought into play.
And this is how we celebrate the change of year; naked in the cool Atlantic Ocean under a sky lit up by thousand of stars and fireworks. Everything is for the best but all good things come to an end and it is time to go back to reality.
On our way back we don’t talk much, unusually silent. I am driving and focused on the road while Cassie’s hand is caressing my numb thigh unconsciously. She needs to keep constant physical contact and I like it, even if I can’t feel that. As I can’t let go of the hand controls, I am unable to return the favor and it sucks. In this beautiful and soothing place where I didn’t have any pressure, I almost forgot the restraints of my disability. It really was an incredible stay, because I have never been spoiled that much by a woman. Surprisingly enough I enjoyed it. And believe it or not I am still a humble guy who doesn’t have expensive tastes; for me this luxury getaway was also a first.
We arrive at her parents in the evening for two more nights but only one day, because we have an early morning flight to Chicago. We are welcomed by a boisterous Gus, and Gary and Helen who seem really happy to see us back, “Well you two, you look good. From your tans I bet you had lots of sun.”
Cassie nods at her father with a forced smile, her thoughts still lost on a specific island. Helen hugs me as if she has known me forever. I don’t complain and I think we made tremendous progress in a short period of time. While Cassie is busy in the kitchen with her mother, I am relaxing from the driving and having a drink with Gary on their patio. The sky is heavy and grey and the air filled with humidity, however the temperature is high even for a tropical winter. The still canal waters give a peaceful and soothing touch to the scenery.
“Matthew I didn’t want to mention it in Cassandra’s presence, but Jeffrey’s father called us.”
“The lawyer?” Now I’m being less relaxed, “What did he want?”
“He wants Cassie to drop the charges against his son and he wants to talk to her.”
“Not a chance.”
“I thought so. Could you call him and see what he is really up to?”
“I am indeed going to do that. Let’s handle it right now.”
“I am sorry Matthew to get you into this again, but I assumed you would be concerned.”
“And you assumed perfectly well. Give me his number.”
As I am taking my phone out of my wheelchair pouch, Cassie appears on the patio.
“What are you up to guys?”
She is smiling, having no idea of the topic of our conversation.
We both answer at the same time and from our fake enthusiasm she knows we are hiding something. As there is no need and no way to lie to her, I pull her down on my lap and explain, “Jeffrey’s father called and he wants to talk to you.”
As I thought, she is upset and shakes her head vigorously, “I don’t want to. I have nothing to say to him other than the fact his son is a freaking jerk!”
“So I figured and I was about to call him back myself. We want to know what he has to say, don’t we? Playing dead is not a solution.”
She gives me a distressed stare but nods, “Ok, but you call him.”
While dialing I cup my hand on the receiver and ask in a low voice, “What’s his name?”
“…Hmm, hello Mr. Sanford. My name is Matthew Vincent. I am calling on behalf of Cassie Miller.”
“…Can’t I talk to her directly?”
“…I am afraid not. I am her boyfriend and I guess I am your only contact regarding this matter.”
“…I know who you are. You are the man who gave my son a beating twice.”
“…That would be me Sir.”
“…Well, I can’t blame you. He deserved it. He has been acting strange for a while and with everyone. I told him to see a shrink but he refused, making a scene and calling me names. At first I didn’t pay too much attention to his behavior thinking it was due to stress, but when he had this… incident with Cassandra…”
“Incident? Are you kidding?”
“Well…I am sorry. Yes, it was bad and that’s when I started to worry. He promised me he will behave and seek medical attention if I could keep him out of legal trouble. I can assure you I didn’t know he went to Chicago and to her parents, until the police called me again. My son is sick Mr.…Vincent. He has been diagnosed with an antisocial personality disorder. His mother and I divorced when he was six years old, and he took it hard. It was a nasty separation and I didn’t see him for years. He grew up with his mother who is an artist, exposing her paintings all over the country and abroad. She wasn’t really there for him either, and he was left under the care of his grandmother most of the time. He was very attached to her, and I think her death four years ago triggered his disorder. I know it is not an excuse for what he did but …”
I let him talk without interruption patiently, but now I have to cut him off, “Yes you’re right. Harassing, molesting, being jealously ill, bullying and controlling are no excuses.”
“Please… listen to me. I know all this, but I promise you will never hear from him again if you drop the charges against him. He checked himself into rehab in a private clinic in Switzerland on my advice. Her mother opened an art gallery in Geneva a few years ago so he is not alone. She has to make amends. He is far from you trying really hard to cope and willing to change and get better. The judge requested some jail time when he comes back, but he will be exempted if the complaint is withdrawn… Can you please ask Cassandra to be lenient?”
He says the last sentence lowly in an almost begging voice. My phone is on speaker and everyone including Helen who joined us is listening. We are all looking at Cassie who is still on my lap biting her lower lip. It takes her a while to react and the silence is heavy.
Her indecisive look crosses mine pleading for advice.
“Mr. Sanford, let me put you on hold for a second.”
I lay the phone on the coffee table to be able to take Cassie’s hands in mine, “Cass…you don’t have to if you don’t want to. Whatever decision you take, I’ll back it up.”
She nods. I don’t know if she is agreeing to my statement or if she is saying yes to our caller’s demand. I ask her gently, “Do you want to drop the charges? Is it what you wish?”
She nods again shyly, “If it’s ok with you.”
“I told you. Whatever you decide is fine with me as long as you feel good about it. Shall I tell it then?”
I take my phone back, “Mr. Sanford? I asked Cassie and she agrees to be merciful. But there is one condition on my side. I keep the option of refilling if your son shows his face.”
“He won’t, I promise. Please thank Cassandra for being so understanding and tell her I am truly sorry for all this mess.”
“She is right here with me and she can hear you. Her parents are here too and they deserve an apology as well.”
“Oh, of course. On behalf of my son please accept my deepest apologies. Your daughter is a very good girl and she deserves better than Jeffrey.”
Helen and Gary nod in silence, but I sense a bit of artificial affectation in his blandly tone. Is it genetic? Would his son get this condescending side from him? He goes on addressing me, “You sound the right guy for her, Mr.Vincent. I heard about your disability and I am sorry my son hit you.”
“Well thank you, but I hit him first and my handicap has nothing to do with our dispute. As you could noticed I can defend myself.”
“Yes right, but not a lot of paraplegic boyfriends would fight like you did for a girl. You know Jeffrey broke a tooth?”
I would have laughed if he didn’t stupidly comment on my paraplegia, but he doesn’t know how sensible the subject is for my overly sensitive pride, and now I am deeply offended, “Ok, I think we are done now. There is nothing to add. Good bye Mr. Sanford and good luck with your son.”
“Good bye and thank you again.”
I am the first one to hang up. I raise my eyebrows and sigh. Everyone is silent but seems relieved.
“How about another glass, Matt?”
Gary is trying to cheer up the atmosphere.
“I need one too.”
With that, Cassie grabs my glass of whisky from the table and gulps it down without a frown. Then Helen asks shyly, “Can I have one too?”
I chuckle but when Gary bursts out laughing, it has an infectious effect and we all end up laughing.
“My wife hates whisky and I never saw her drink one sip.”
“Well your daughter hates it too but it is her third time. I hope she is not becoming an alcoholic!”
Cassie nudges me in the ribs.
“Ouch! That hurts.”
“Of course it does! Do I have to remind you, you’re the one who forced me to my first glass?”
“You are right. I am the culprit.”
She is all smiles now and it warms my heart. She hit me hard though and I rub my side.
“Oh Matt! I am sorry. Did I really hurt you? I didn’t mean it.”
“Yes you did, but I’ll survive. I’m a tough guy you know and blows below the belt don’t affect me.”
Making a pun I realize it is literally true. A few inches below I wouldn’t have felt it. I give her a smirk and whisper in her ear, “You owe me a massage for this.”
“With pleasure. If you think you are punishing me you’re totally wrong Mister!”
Not ashamed, we kiss in front of her parents and the disturbing phone call is forgotten.