Recap of Chapter 14
After a distressful flight for Matt, they arrive at Cassie’s parents. The welcoming and introducing are somewhat awkward and tensed. Matthew understands better Cassie’s relationship issues with her parents, but advises her to put things into perspective and cool down. The atmosphere seems to relax more and more thanks to Matthew’s laid-back personality.
I wake up alone in the bed and I have a shock looking at my watch. It is nine in the morning and I usually never sleep past seven. I was really beat or the Sunshine state has soporific effects on me. I didn’t have any spasms and my aching hip and leg are giving me a break. I transfer quickly into my chair and wheel to the bathroom. After catheterizing I splash my face with cold water to open my sleepy eyes and I flatten my unruly hair, combing it with my fingers. Heading towards the kitchen I hear a fairly animated conversation that I maybe shouldn’t hear. I stop dead in the hallway. Helen is trying to keep control of herself while Cassie is furious.
“Calm down Cassandra. This is for your own good. You are our only daughter and we want what’s best for you. I don’t say he is not a nice man. He is even good looking I have to admit, but for Christ’s sake he is in a wheelchair!”
“So what? Don’t you think I can be happy with him? Actually I’ve never been so happy in my whole life. He is good to me and we have a special bond you will never be able to understand.”
“Please listen to me for once. You are both young, but did you think about the future? Even if he is now active and independent, I am sure he has health issues which will worsen in time. How about your intimate life? Is he even capable of…?”
“Of what? Having sex? Yes he is.”
Cassie is shouting now. I am not sure I want to listen anymore. This conversation is getting very embarrassing. However, I don’t move or make a sound.
“Cassie! Keep your voice down, please.”
“Let me give you some update about our intimate life. Yes, we have sex, plenty of sex and he is a hell of a lover. He is tender, passionate and caring and you know what? I love him just the way he is, maybe more since he is disabled.”
“Oh, please Cassie! I don’t need specific details. I am just concerned about never being a grandmother.”
“Ah! If this is your main worry, be reassured he is also able to father children. He is not a lesser man because he can’t stand up or walk.”
This one is news to me. I didn’t go into this specific aspect with the doctors on my ability to procreate, but I know it is a tough call. I will never father children the conventional way, but luckily I still have sperm count which is an indicator of my potential male fertility. It won’t be easy and could be a strenuous process, but I will try everything in my power to make it happen when the time is right.
I know Gary is in the room too because he clears his throat several times as if he is going to intervene.
“Mom, stop interfering in my life and trying to rule it your way. Don’t you understand you smother me since childhood and I can’t take it anymore? You are doing the same with Dad. Let me be myself and make my own choices. I am a grown girl who can take care of herself. And ask yourself why I left with Jeffrey so long ago; the biggest mistake I ever made because of you!”
I can hear fury and despair in her voice. I want to go so badly in that room to comfort her and soothe her inner turmoil. On another hand it’s time for her to stand up against a crushing authority and she needs to vent. In her interest, I stay in the background a little longer.
“Cassie, don’t talk to your mother like that! We are just giving you a piece of advice. We are worried about you. I think Matthew is a good guy, smart and all but he is disabled and that’s a big issue. He doesn’t even have a real job at thirty years old, and now in his condition what can he expect? We don’t understand why you broke up with Jeffrey. He lives here, he is educated, he has a home, a career, and he could provide for you.”
At this moment I am seething and dying to rush in the kitchen, but I let Cassie answer.
“Oh! Ok. Let’s talk about your dear future ex son-in-law. You should never judge people by their physical appearance or the crap talks they feed you with. I lived an ordeal and was miserable for four long years with that so called educated man. I hate myself so much for having been weak enough to go on and bear his cruelty. He is a perverse narcissist, selfish, violent and wicked. Plus he is cheap. All the presents he ever bought were only for you both. Flowers, good wine, free smooth talks, all this to buy you off. Maybe he was nice the first few months, but I don’t even recall any of it. After he invited me on a few dates, he let me pay for my meals and all the places he decided we will go to. I want to forget the numerous times he stood me up forgetting to inform me he had better places to be while I was stupidly waiting for him. At the beginning I found it romantic he would pick me up at work every day, but I quickly understood it was a way to control me and keep me away from my friends. I never told you anything about our terrible relationship, because I knew you didn’t agree at the beginning and you would have given me the ‘I told you so’ lecture. I didn’t need that nor did you with Dad’s health issues. And I had enough on my plate dealing with the police and the court.”
“What?” Both Helen and Gary cry out at the same time. They look baffled.
“Yes. I am sorry to tell you this, but your little girl was harassed, molested and even sexually abused. How is that for a scoop? You never would have known if you didn’t start comparing this bastard with Matthew.”
“Did he beat you up? Hurt you?” Because if he did, he will have to deal with me.”
Gary seems totally confused and shocked by the news.
“Yes he did hurt me, but more mentally and emotionally though. Before it got out of hand, the first time he laid a hand on me I went to the police. I had a few witnesses from work who backed me up. I filed a complaint and the judge issued a restraining order. This bastard was so upset and angry; he kept harassing me with phone calls for weeks even with police and court warnings. I guess his lawyer father pulled some strings to avoid an arrest. That’s why I decided to leave and start over in a different state. I couldn’t take it anymore and I didn’t want you to know.”
There is an awkward stillness for a while, when Helen’s desperate voice abruptly breaks the silence, “How horrible! How could we not see he was such a mean person? He looked so compelling and forceful... Is it why you chose someone disabled, so he won’t be able to harm you again?”
“You really don’t get it Mom, do you? I am with Matthew because I love him and I don’t even see his handicap. He is a real man with the biggest heart I can wish for, and mentally stronger than a lot of people who have two healthy legs. And Dad, before making assumptions and wrong judgments, google ‘Matthew Vincent’ and you will be surprised. It’s not that I knew when I met him, but I know what is not important for me is for you.”
Without seeing her and despite her anger I know Cassie is crying. Bringing back those unpleasant memories is painful for her, and I can feel the fragile mental state she is in right now. At least she told her parents and it’s going to take a huge weight off her chest. There is not a chance I could hold such a secret from my parents or even Abby. That’s the big difference between our families. Cassie is an only child and it is obvious she is loved and cared for, but they don’t have the right way to show it. Their love became a burden from which she needed to free herself. This is a private matter and I shouldn’t interfere, but Cassie needs me and I don’t like when people talk about me behind my back. I can’t deny the fact I’m handicapped but no one discusses my intimate life and my potential health problems, except for doctors and my girlfriend. I barge in and create confusion. Three pairs of eyes stare at me as if I just landed from another planet. Cassie is the first to compose herself and she rushes at me lowering her voice, “Oh, Matt you are finally awake. I was getting worried. You usually never sleep so late.”
“True. I slept like a baby and it didn’t happen since my injury. I guess my back found your bed comfortable, and maybe the close contact had a soothing effect.”
I wink at her. She still has tears in her eyes and I pull her down on my lap. While she kisses me in the neck she whispers in my ear, “Have you been here long?”
I reply the same way, seriously in a low voice, “Long enough to hear what you had to say to each other...and what you all think of me.”
“Matt, I am so sorry again for making you witness this. I should have known better. It doesn’t predict a Merry Christmas, does it?”
“Don’t mention it. I don’t care about Christmas. I just want to be with you and thanks for standing up for me. It’s comforting to know I’m a strong man…a decent lover …and a potential father.”
I gently glide the tip of my fingers over her cheeks and wipe her remaining tears. Her parents watch us in a religious silence, apparently embarrassed but moved. Suddenly I see panic in Helen’s eyes. She is looking at her daughter in fear. She starts speaking fast and in a remorseful tone, “I am so sorry Cassie. We had no idea. What he did to you is unacceptable. How could he play us all like this? I feel so ashamed of being such a naïve person. As a mother I should have known something was wrong.”
Cassie stops her. In my arms her anger and emotions seem to have simmered down, “Mom, it’s not your fault. I should have told you. I am the one responsible for letting this happen. There is no need to feel guilty now. It’s over. I have Matthew in my life and he helped me move on.”
“No, no, listen to me. I have something else to tell you. I kept in touch with Jeffrey. He calls me regularly to ask about you… I didn’t know… He didn’t mention anything about the police or the court order. I just thought he was sincere and missed you and I felt sorry for him. As you wanted I didn’t tell him you moved to Chicago, but last week I told him you will be coming for Christmas and he is supposed to show up tomorrow.”
We are all looking at each other speechless. Gary is obviously as shocked as we are. Cassie is clinging to my shoulders desperately. I take control of the situation for her sake.
“Helen, you have to call him right now and let him know he’s getting himself into big trouble if he shows up anywhere near Cassie or me.”
My peremptory tone is efficient. Helen has already the phone in hand.
“There is no answer and his voice mail is full.”
“Call his father. I bet you also have his number.”
My sarcasm is also unequivocal. She complies without hesitation.
“The message says he’s abroad and will be back in January.”
She looks helpless and questions me with pleading eyes. Gary seems angry at his wife and Cassie is slouched against my chest with no reaction. I cup her chin with my hand and lift her head, “Baby? I know it’s upsetting but I’m here. He won’t come near you, I promise. And he should remember me.”
I can’t hide a smirk.
“You met him?” That’s Cassie’s father surprised voice.
“Yeah. I’d rather say my knuckles met his jaw.”
“You hit him? But when? Where?”
“He paid an unwanted visit to your daughter in Chicago, and I happened to be in the neighborhood.”
Both Cassie’s parents look at her, awestruck as if they needed a confirmation.
“Yes. Matt knocked him down and scared him away. So you see his wheelchair doesn’t prevent him from protecting me or defend himself. What are we going to do Matt?”
“Well, we have two options. The first one is leave today but we would miss the Christmas meal, your parents will be disappointed and we are no quitters. I’ll be inclined to choose the second option which is: wait for him. I know it’s not your favorite choice but let’s face him one more time, and I can assure you it will be the last.”
“I can’t see him Matt. Just the idea makes me sick to my stomach.”
“Cass, you won’t even have to see him. I’ll take care of it.”
“No I will. I’m her dad and I want to confront this SOB. He tricked me, he hurt my daughter and he made her leave us.”
“Ok then, we’ll be two to greet him.”
“Three. He owes me some explanation. And Matthew, thank you for being here for my daughter.”
Now Helen seems as determined as ever. Even Cassie is astonished by her sudden will power.
The Christmas Eve’s dinner is delicious but nobody is in the mood to fully appreciate it. Despite this fact, I have the impression Cassie’s parents are not looking at me the same way. They are friendlier and seem appreciative or is it just a figment of my imagination?
“So Matthew, you are famous in Chicago; in fact, in the entire state and beyond. You are quite a celebrity. I am sorry if I don’t know anything about hockey.”
It means Gary consulted the web on Cassie’s advice. I chuckle and for once I am glad my ex fame can put aside the previous arguing and the issues to come, at least for now.
“No offense. Anyway my career ended a while ago. Well…it feels more like ages. I moved on and I don’t complain. I still have a good life.”
I take Cassie’s hand in mine under the table and hold it on my thigh.
“…and things have been easier since I met your daughter. We complete each other.”
“When Cassie said you have been injured in a hockey game, I had no idea it was your profession.”
“Then why didn’t you correct me?”
“What for? To give you a better opinion of me without letting you judge by yourself? No, I am not that type of guy. I am not Jeffrey. I don’t need to show off. And even if I wasn’t someone famous I would provide for your daughter no matter what. I am not retired or on welfare or a useless impotent. I can’t play hockey anymore because I am paraplegic, but I still have my arms, a functioning brain and I can work, so you don’t have to worry about that. Cassie is in good hands.”
I squeeze hers and she smiles at me. It is a pale and sad grin and I can’t wait for tomorrow to be over and take her away on a carefree vacation.
“I like sport so maybe if you teach me the hockey rules I might enjoy it.”
“I’d be happy too.”
I mean it. Gary is a good guy and a loving father. He is just a little weak and lets his wife boss him around. She may have more reasons now since his health is fragile, but their couple seems to be based on solid grounds and they both get something out of it. They are good people and caring parents. Even if Cassie is blaming them for many of their actions, she was well raised and looks like them. I would just have to agree with her on the smothering and overprotecting part, because I sometimes feel overwhelmed myself by my somewhat over caring mother and sister. On another hand I can understand that bringing a crippled boyfriend home is not the dream of any parent, especially if it’s their only child. I can give them that. We are making progress tonight though and ironically I have to thank Jeffrey for that. I’m not the unwanted guest or the intruder anymore.
For the second night we just cuddle and kiss, not in the mood for a further exploration of our bodies. Unlike the previous night I barely sleep due to a terrible spasm attack. As soon as the first convulsions start, I move to the living room sofa in the middle of the night not to wake up Cassie. Early morning she finds me in the kitchen cupping my third mug of coffee. I don’t have a good feeling about the way she looks at me.
“Please don’t say anything. I know I look like crap.”
She takes the mug away from my hand and sits down on my lap. My legs are still shaking but Cassie’s weight bring them back to their flaccid state.
“I heard you leave last night, but I thought you were just going to the bathroom and I fell back asleep. So I guess you had a rough night. Why didn’t you tell me you had spasms?”
“There is nothing you could have done, so there was no need to be both awake.”
She fondles with my thick tousled hair and with the back of her hand she gently brushes my morning stubble. You really look tired Matt. Why don’t you go back to rest for a couple of hours?”
“No. I’m good now. This coffee could raise people the dead. Anyway I couldn’t sleep while this pervert intends to show up. Your mother told me he always comes early, probably before going to work.”
“You talked to my mom since yesterday?”
“Yes, she was up early too and tried his cell a dozen times without success.”
“But it’s Christmas today. He doesn’t work. Why would he come early?”
“To make sure he won’t miss you before you leave but don’t worry, he won’t even have a chance to get to the front door. Your dad and I will be there. I heard you mother talk to the police a few minutes ago and they promised her they’ll send a patrol car on the watch.”
I can see from her anxious look she is not totally reassured.
“Cass, don’t stress out. It will be over soon. Then we can enjoy our first vacation together. Ok? Please give me that bewitching smile which made me fall for you. I hate seeing this beautiful face so sad.”
She eventually cracks a smile and melts in my arms. Our kissing session is interrupted by Gary who appears tired as if he didn’t get much sleep either.
“Oops! Sorry you too. I’ll come back later.”
“No please. I am the one who should apologize. This is your house and I didn’t mean to be disrespectful.”
I feel ashamed of being caught kissing his daughter in the middle of the kitchen as if we were alone in the place. We act like two childish adolescents.
“I hope we didn’t wake you up. I was up early and I helped myself with some coffee. I hope it’s ok.”
“Oh, please! Of course it is. Feel free to help yourself with anything. Our home is yours.”
Fresh coffee is brewing and I timidly offer him a cup he gladly accepts.
As soon as her father entered the room, Cassie jumped up from my lap and busied herself in the pantry to pick up stuff for breakfast. It is strange how she can be so inhibited and reserved in front of her parents, while she is so sexually liberated with me. My disability would make most of the women flee. The thought of having sex with a cripple is not a very appealing consideration and probably scary for a conventional relationship, but not for Cassie. I don’t imply she behaves irrationally, but the fact that she is not repelled by my impairment is still a mystery to me. I have to keep in mind it’s her devotee side standing out. When she seats on my lap, on my lifeless but sometimes restless legs and cuddles in my arms, she revels in these simple moments. Of course I do too because it makes me forget I can’t walk anymore. She acts in such a natural way, she makes me feel almost normal, like an able-bodied man who can hold his girlfriend cuddled in his arms and be loved.. When she told me once she thought my wheelchair was sexy I was shocked. How can someone find this steel frame on wheels to which I am prisoner attractive? Maybe I shouldn’t get too worked up over those philosophical considerations and just feel lucky to have such an understanding girlfriend. After all, my wheelchair is part of me. It’s vital in my life and we are inseparable. If Cassie likes it too I take it as a bonus.
I spend some time in the bathroom with my daily routine and my paraplegic chores. I am dead tired and I could use a few hours rest, but my legs are giving me a hard time again and I need to be fit to get rid of the unwanted jerk forever. Having a lawyer in the family doesn’t allow him to be above the law and I intend to prove him my point. For this matter I decide to wear my braces to be tall, when Cassie enters the room, “What are you doing Matt?”
“What does it look like to you?”
I’m exhausted, a bit tensed and I regret my nasty sarcasm. “I just want to stand up and look at him in the eye to tell him to go f….hmm…to get lost.”
“Maybe with your spasms it is not recommended to wear your braces.”
“I want to and at least it will keep my legs still. They can’t move an inch in those things. They will give me a break.”
“Ok then. Let me help you put them on.”
She doesn’t seem to like the idea for once, but she assists me skillfully as usual. She would make a good therapist. She helps me get up and stabilize on the crutches. I am not very supple this morning and I am afraid to fall. My whole body doesn’t seem to cooperate. My back is stiff and tensed; my right foot is stuck in a weird angle. To depress me more I have a hard time to lift my pelvis to rearrange my position. I let out a curse. Cassie kneels without a word and gently puts my numb foot straight back. She gets up and our eyes lock. No word is necessary. Tenderly, she caresses my face and my hands which are literally crushing the forearms of my crutches and I instantly relax. When we meet her parents in the living room they stare at me speechless. Gary is the first to recover from the surprise, “How do you do that? Are your legs strong enough to hold you?”
I shake my head, “Nope, I cheat.”
I lift my pants’ leg to uncover the brace. Even if the weather is nice I didn’t dare to wear shorts for the first time in front of them yet. Helen seems uncomfortable while Gary seems interested,
“Why use a wheelchair if you can stand? Don’t you feel better this way?”
“Of course I do, mostly for my pride but I’m not very fast or deft in those, and it is a hassle to put them on and off. It is also painful after a while because of the fusion I have in my lower spine.”
Helen asks shyly, “A what?”
“That’s a metal plate fixed with screws on five of my lumbar vertebrae.”
“Oh! That sounds terrible.”
She has a horrified look that reminds me of Melissa when she looked at my scar.
“You must suffer a lot. Maybe you should sit down.”
No. I’m ok. It's not that bad. I only feel it when I am very tired or have been seated for too long, or when I strained myself too much at the gym. And with those things around my legs it’s hard to sit and get back up. There is a knee lock which is wedged to keep my legs securely fastened and straight, and the goal is to stay up to let the blood circulate better.”
They both look impressed but Gary is more curious, “You work out?”
“Yes, almost every day to stay in shape. I lift weights; do push-ups and crunches and I hand-cycle. I also assist and consult disabled people like me to help them recover some strength after their injury. We have to support one another and keep a physical activity. That’s a big part of the therapy.”
“That’s good son. You look fairly fit to me and I didn’t imagine you were that tall.”
I chuckle and I glance at Cassie who smiles at me. I move a few steps forward and lean my back against the kitchen counter. Today I don’t trust my standing ability.
“Can I have another cup of coffee? I am sorry if I can’t help myself this time. I’m clumsy with my crutches, but also helpless without them.”
Helen seems meditative and I can decipher a hint of pity in her eyes, “Oh, of course! Let me get you one. We are ready to have breakfast anyway. Let’s go sit at the table.”
I’m sure she is already picturing me spread out on her kitchen floor. To be able to sit I have to keep the braces locked, and what comes next is a tedious process. While Gary watches me with unconcealed curiosity, Helen turns her back with extreme modesty and discomfort and hurries to the coffee pot. Holding on tight to the table I hand my crutches to Cassie, then clutch at her shoulder to keep my balance before literally dropping my butt on the chair. Better Cassie that anyone else, plus she likes it. Then I can unlock my bulky devices and readjust my legs in a more natural position. It is not a graceful drill, but being able to stand and sit on a regular chair is good for a paraplegic self-esteem, even if it is just a temporary illusion. Now I feel ready and more confident to challenge this douchebag.