Recap of Chapter 9
Cassie meets the Vincent family and feels at ease. Matthew surprises them arriving standing up on his crutches and braces for the first time, for Cassie’s greatest pleasure. They all have a nice family gathering with birthday presents distribution, until Matt unfortunately has to face the consequences of his straining exercise.
I’m awakened by the doorbell. Did I fell asleep again? For a guy who never slept much I’ve changed. I guess I really needed some rest, but I am stupefied I passed out for more than one hour. I am more surprised to find Cassie still by my side, half leaned on my chest. She gives me a sensual smile and I can’t resist planting a kiss on her tempting mouth.
“Was my shoulder comfy enough for you Mr. Vincent?”
My sleepy state disappears quickly when a minute later I hear my mom’s voice and two others I recognize. It’s Melissa and Ted’s and I become extremely nervous. I haven’t seen or talked to my ex-girlfriend since I was transferred to rehab, and that is over a year. Of course, Ted and I stayed in touch on a regular basis, but we both deliberately skipped the subject about her until recently. I had my friend on the phone a few times since they came back from Europe. I heard they became very close, but Ted wanted me to know they were now living together. He was probably afraid of my reaction because it took him a while before he could admit it, as if he was at fault. I cleared his conscience. It is the way things were supposed to be, the outcome I had planned and hoped to happen. I have no problem with that and even feel good about it. I know I should have gotten in touch with Mel and talk to her months ago. I guess I was a coward, but she didn’t try to contact me either. Now it is not really a good time, not with Cassie here. I’d wished I could talk to Melissa alone. Did my parents tell them I will be here? I am a bit angry with them feeling trapped and tricked. I know they liked her and treated her as their daughter-in-law to be, so our breakup was also a hard blow for them. When I see true astonishment on my mother’s face and clear irritation as well, I guess we share the same thoughts about not being the right timing. Apparently no guests were expected today. Nevertheless she greets them politely,
“Look who’s here! Ted and Melissa came to say Happy Birthday to your dad and they brought a bottle of champagne to celebrate and a few souvenirs from their trip.”
My dad and Abby don’t seem to be thrilled about the unannounced visit either. After all, they are both holding a grudge against Mel, wrongly blaming her for abandoning me because of my handicap. They were never convinced it was my own decision. As for Cassie I see panic in her eyes and she clings to my chest possessively. I can’t repress a grin and I squeeze her hand tightly. She has nothing to fear. If we haven’t been together for long, I am certain of my love for her, and I would never on earth make her suffer. I’m going to prove her right now we belong to each other. The situation is even though awkward. Ted seems embarrassed and stays silent in the back. I feel bad for him. He has always been welcome in this house and I am truly happy to see him. I feel the need to lighten the mood, even if I overdo it,
“Ted, Melissa! It’s good to see you after so long. You must have a lot to tell about your trip.”
I want to seem casual, but I have to admit Melissa’s presence is not helping. Against all expectations, she is the one to step forward. She hugs alternatively my mom, Abby and my dad.
“We wanted to be there on your birthday Patrick. We missed last year because… Matt was… in the hospital. We didn’t want to miss this one again.”
Then she lays eyes on me and I have mixed feelings. I perceive emotion, sadness, regrets like she still cares about me and it upsets me. I would lie to say I don’t feel anything. I’ve known her for over twenty years, but one thing for sure; it is not love anymore, maybe still a strong friendship with fond memories.
I push on my fists to sit back up straighter. I make sure Cassie doesn’t leave my side, and I put my arm around her shoulder.
“I am glad to see you Mel. It’s been a long time and I feel guilty for not having called you or try to see you earlier… I thought about it on many occasions but… you know … when you wait too long it sounds unnatural or hypocrite, and I didn’t know what to say. Well… You look really good. You’ve cut your hair? I like your new style.”
And I really mean it. She is still a lovely woman and she seems radiant despite the general tension.
“You look pretty good too…” She quickly glances around stunned, “You don’t use a wheelchair anymore?”
My dad stored it behind the couch while I was sleeping, and it can be confusing to see me without it. The last time Melissa saw me I could barely get out of bed by myself. Didn’t Ted tell her? Or is my name completely wiped out of their conversations?
“Oh yes. It is a part of me more than ever, but clearly enough I can fool people. Dad can you get my chair please?”
“Coming right up, son.”
I have to let go of Cassie for a brief moment while I transfer. As I was deeply relaxed, sunken in the sofa, it takes me some time to pull my lazy butt out of the cushions. I watch at Melissa’s reaction closely, and I notice she lowers her eyes to the floor. She is still uncomfortable with the process and I’m cynical enough to enjoy it. As I rearrange my floppy legs and feet on the footrest, I’m also back to my sarcastic comments,
“As you can see my legs didn’t resuscitate, but I’ve done a lot of progress. I can be very fast since I mastered my device on wheels.”
I do a 360 degrees wheelie and defy the laws of gravity on my rear wheels longer than usual. I detect fear and uneasiness in her eyes while I see admiration and attraction in Cassie’s. Why am I doing this? I have been mean enough to her and there is no point trying to make her more nervous. She doesn’t deserve it, and all I wish for us is to stay good friends. I get back to my old self and stop being a jerk,
“You are not giving me a hug? Come over here.”
I know it’s not going to please Cassie, but it’s the least I can do after all those months of silence.
“Of course, Matt.”
She complies but it looks awkward again for both of us. When she straightens up I notice her eyes are wet. She whispers quickly, “I am so sorry Matt. I’ve missed you, you know.”
I respond in a low voice too, “I am sorry too Melissa, but let’s not stir up the past.”
Then I speak louder, “Let me introduce you to Cassandra. We have been together for four months and I found my perfect match.”
I know that’s a bit hard to say to her, but I want to show her I really moved on and I turn toward the future. I take Cassie’s hand as a living proof. While Melissa is a bit miffed, Cassie seems less tensed. Much to my surprise it is her turn to make the first move and hold out her hand,
“Nice to meet you Melissa.”
“Same here Cassandra.”
Then, it’s Ted’s turn to shake hands and pat me on the back. He didn’t say much until now, and I can see he is evaluating the situation and everyone’s reaction, Melissa and mine in particular. He seems relieved and becomes more talkative.
“How have you been Matt? I heard you went back to the rink and found a new job?”
“For the rink yes and I intent to go on every occasion I have, but for the job it is temporary. I am just helping, waiting for something more in my line of work to come up. And I spend a lot of time with my new neighbor.”
I give Cassie an endearing gaze and I take her hand back in mine,
“So…enough about me. We want to know all about your stay in Europe in details. Tell us all about the Venice gondolas, the Doge’s Palace, the Rome Coliseum… Did you go to the Vatican? What about Saint Peter’ square? Is it still invaded by pigeons? ”
The atmosphere lightens up and the moment of uneasiness fades away with my mom cookies and cakes and a cup of strong coffee. I’m dying to drink one to wake me up, but I choose not to in order to avoid more spasms. Caffeine is not the best to put my unruly legs at rest. We talk for a while interrupted by questions and more presents for my dad. Among them is another miniature ship to build. They bought a replica of the Christopher Columbus’ Santa Maria. I feel sorry for my mother who is going to spend more lonely evenings, while my father will spend hours in his workshop to glue those hundred wood pieces together. I am glad Abby is still leaving at home to keep her company. As our guests are up and ready to leave, I feel Ted has something important to tell us. He has been looking questioningly at Melissa for a while and she nods at him shyly.
“We also came to announce you we got engaged in Venice and we would like to have you all at our wedding next summer.”
No one speaks for a while. It is such unexpected news. I don’t know what to think about it, even if I am the matchmaker. It feels weird to know my ex-girlfriend of a twelve year relationship is going to marry my best friend instead of me. After thinking it through and seeing Cassie’s triumphant and relief look, I decide it is a good thing. My parents are not so enthusiastic hearing the surprising news, but realizing I am not upset about it reassures them. It is more hugs and words of congratulations, but Ted tells me in a low voice with a reproaching tone, “You wanted this Matt. I hope we are still friends, because I want you to be my best man.”
“Of course we are. It doesn’t change anything between us. It is true I wanted this and you have my blessing. I will be honored to be by your side, only if it’s ok with Melissa.”
“Yes it is. I know it looks kind of odd, but we talked about this and we agreed. She has no problem with it now.”
Melissa kisses me on the cheek but she also whispers in my ear, “Things could have been different Matt, but you didn’t give me a chance. You know I loved you.”
Everyone understands we need a minute to talk in private. My parents head discreetly to the kitchen followed by Ted, and my sister hooks Cassie’s arm, “Come, I want to show you some outfits I want to wear for my date.”
After looking at me unhappily, I watch Cassie reluctantly comply.
Now it’s only Mel and me and guiltily I want it to be over quickly. I know I owe her a one-to-one moment, but I don’t want it to be too intimate.
“Mel I loved you too, you also know that. I guess we had our time, but obviously it had to come to an end. We have known each other for so long; we didn’t even look around us and ask ourselves if we were really meant for one another. We both needed this accident to question our feelings and choices.”
She looks down at me focusing on my face avoiding my legs. I feel sorry for her and ask her in a joking tone, “Will you sit for a moment? I forgot how tall you are and you give me a crick in the neck.”
She smiles shyly and sits on the chair next to me. It is not an understatement to say she is tall for a girl. Cassie is much smaller, but in my situation it’s rather an advantage. Anyway she is perfect the way she is.
“Mel, I need you to tell me the truth. I made peace with myself and got back on tracks eventually. I accepted my fate, but look at me the way I am now, wheelchair-bound. I want you to touch my legs and tell me I’m the same man you fell in love with. Tell me that you could live with a paraplegic; that you could deal with the whole package that comes with. Please just tell me that.”
Her eyes look down again fearing to meet my gaze. I gently take her hand and rest it on my thigh to make her feel the twitching kicking off in my left leg. She raises her head and shows me a heart-breaking face. I have my answer because I know her so well. We never had any secret for each other and honesty was our motto. We hate lie. Suddenly she bursts into tears and hides her face on my lap, grabbing my jeans.
“I’m so sorry Matt. Watching you drugged, immobilized on your hospital bed, flat on your stomach, and in so much pain was torture. I couldn’t take it … Please forgive me if I let you down…I feel terrible but believe me, in a long run I would have stayed with you. I needed more time to get it over with …”
She stops talking for a few seconds because of the sobs she can’t control. Both my legs suddenly jerk hard and it startles her. She removes her hands from my lap and looks back at me with more tears,
“I am so ashamed of myself because even now, seeing you like this tears me apart. I can’t stand to see you suffer…oh Matt!”
My heart goes out to her and I caress her hair softly to ease her grief and her guilty conscience. She just confirmed me that even after a year she could never be with me the way she was when I was whole. I don’t feel bad about it anymore, and weirdly enough I can understand her moral dilemma.
“Hush…Please, stop crying Mel. I don’t suffer anymore. It’s over. I feel good and I am happy in this new life now. You didn’t let me down. You were by my side every day. I was probably too demanding. I know it was very hard for you too. I am the one who should apologize for my harshness and the mean words I said to you. It was totally out of line and unfair.”
“No, I was weak. You needed me and I failed you.”
“Stop blaming yourself. It was a rough patch for everyone and I asked you too much. I wanted you to be strong for both of us and I had no right. It was too overwhelming for you, I understand that now. We are what we are and I don’t hold it against you. All I want is you to be happy in your life.”
I hesitate but I have to ask her and make sure she is sincere,
“Is Ted making you happy?”
I wait while she raises her head and wipes her teary eyes with the back of her hand. I can see my pants are wet from her extended crying.
She whispers shyly, “I think so.”
Seeing my bewildered look she feels the need to be more confident, “No, I am sure. He is a great guy and he is very good to me.”
I squeeze both her hands in an intimate gesture.
“That’s what I want to hear. You and Ted are two very important persons in my life, and I wish you all the best.”
Hesitantly she asks, “Matt…, do you think we can still be friends after all this?”
Her anxious and pleading look hurts me. How could I forget her and let her think I can wipe her off from my past so easily. I still have her hands in mine and I pull her to me.
“Come here. Of course we can be friends. I know it is hard to ask you this and maybe premature, but I would like you to know Cassie better and make friends with her too. Would you accept to have a double date with Ted and us sometime?”
As I am uncertain and a bit afraid of her response I regret the impulse, but I gladly see a smile lighten her face. Then she laughs nervously through her tears.
“Yes, I can try… I’d like that. She seems nice and…she is also good looking.”
“You are not bad either you know.”
I plant a kiss on her forehead and I feel relieved by the whole conversation. We hear footsteps coming back, and she quickly glides her hand along my imperfect cheek and gives a peck on my scar for the first time in years. It feels weird and I shift in my chair. The intimate moment is over as voices fill up the room again.
“Mel, we should get going. It’s dark now and the forecast predicts more snow.”
“I am ready Ted.”
Everyone is giving us anxious side glances. They don’t take any comfort seeing Melissa’s red and puffy eyes and my shaky legs. Their minds are however put at rest after we give them smiley faces in return. We shake ends, hug and say our goodbyes with the promise of a future meeting and more frequent phone calls.
After a light dinner and some TV watching, I yawn several times making everybody realize it is already past midnight.
“I guess I’ll call it a night. It was a long day. See you tomorrow guys.”
Cassie, who didn’t leave my arms since Melissa left, stands up and wheels my chair close to me. She is always attentive to my needs without being over protective and I like those small details about her.
“I’ll go with you. I’m exhausted.” Addressing my parents and Abby she adds, “Good night and thank you for the lovely day. I really enjoyed it and it’s been a pleasure meeting you. You are a great family.”
Both my parents get up and warmly hug her good night.
“The pleasure is all ours. Good night you two. We’ll also go up soon.”
I know Cassie likes my family but I am not so sure she enjoyed the meeting with my ex-girlfriend. I sense she is tensed since Mel and Ted left, probably dying to know the content of our private conversation. Anyways, this encounter had to happen one day or another. It’s a good thing it’s done and they met each other. It wasn’t so bad after all. At least better than what I expected.
We have my parents’ master bedroom again, and I don’t have the energy to get into the tub. I catheterize and wash succinctly. I’ll do better tomorrow and I give way to Cassie. When she crosses my path I pull her to me and kiss her hard.
“Come to bed fast. I can’t wait to touch your naked body.”
“Hey I thought you were tired Mister!”
“I still have strength for cuddles.”
“That sounds promising. I’ll be quick.”
I hear the water run down in the bathtub for a while. The muffled sound has a drowsy effect on me, and I can’t keep my eyes open. Even though I am seated in the bed I drift off against the pillows. Cassie wakes me up when she slips under the sheets beside me trying to be careful.
“Oh, I am sorry Matt. I didn’t want to wake you up.”
“I am glad you did. I need to kiss those sexy breasts of yours good night.”
I slip under the sheets myself with a mischievous smile. She shivers, “Matt! Your feet are so cold.”
“Really? It doesn’t bother me.”
“Well it should. It may be a sign of bad blood circulation and we have to do something about it.”
I feel a little bit disappointed by the change of plan, but I let her put some lotion on my legs and feet and rub them to warm them up. Strangely again, although I can’t feel her hands, the sight of her caressing and massaging my pale limbs turns me on. I sigh in pleasure.
“Oh, it feels good Cass.”
She gives me a stunned look,
“You can feel that?”
I chuckle. “Nope, but I can see your sensual hands on my body and I still have imagination.”
I close my eyes to relish the feeling. When she touches my left foot it sends like an electric shock in my upper body and I flinch. She stops instantly.
“Matt, what happened?”
“You just hit an oversensitive patch in the sole of my foot and if can’t move it, I feel it. It is not painful, just an automatic reflex of the few nerves I have left in this area, so don’t tickle me too hard because I can’t defend myself. You can go on. Don’t mind my body’s strange reactions.”
“Ok. But is it good at least?”
“Everything you do to me feels wonderful.”
I close my eyes again. Later on I sense her hand on my left butt, right on the other sensitive spot below my hip, and right there I can feel a discomfort. At the same time Cassie asks me concerned, “Can you flip on your stomach? I think you have some kind of wound here.”
I’m upset because I can foresee what it’s going to be. Alarmed I ask her curtly,
“Can you get me the small mirror from my medical case on the bathroom counter?”
She comes back quickly and hands me the mirror. I turn back on my side, point it on my rear end and curse, “Tabernac! It’s a bed sore. I didn’t have one of those since the hospital. Shit, shit, shit!”
“Is it painful?”
I answer a bit bluntly, “No Cassie, I can’t feel a thing there either, but it is a hard and long process to heal. If it gets worse I can be hospitalized to have it drained.”
“What can I do?”
“I have an ointment to put twice a day, but it also means I won’t be able to sit on my left butt for a while or sleep on my back, and I’m not going to be in good mood!”
I add the last words with a more humorous tone.
“Good to know Matt. I’ll try not to upset you. Let’s start the curing treatment now.”
She is so understanding and caring. I regret my harshness, but it is really a pain in the ass, literally speaking. I don’t want to go to the hospital again. They’ll stick me to an IV, flat on my belly for days until the sore is gone. I hope Cassie’s magical touch will do the work. She applies the cream on the wound and patches it with sterile gauze and some surgical tape.
“Thank you nurse, and forgive me for my bad temper.”
“Apologies accepted naughty patient.”
I try not to think too much about this new concern and I surely don’t want to worry Cassie. Still lying down on my stomach I shoot one of my best irresistible smiles at her,
“Oh, but I have good news for you. This sore will force me to stand more to reduce the pressure, so I’m going to use the braces and crutches more often in the coming days.”
I see a sparkle in her eyes followed by a heartfelt pout,
“I definitely like the idea, but I’d rather you didn’t have any sores.”
She nestles against my chest and we kiss for a long time before I sneak my hand between her thighs. She stops me embarrassed.
“No Matt, not here. Not at your parents. I don’t feel comfortable. And what about if I am loud or if I scream?”
“I’ll gag you!”
“You wouldn’t dare.” She pretends to be shocked, but I can see in her eyes she is not totally faking, and I think about her abusive ex.
“I’m just kidding Cass. It was a stupid thing to say. I’ll never be rough or harm you. You know that, don’t you? Anyway you’re right. Let’s wait until tomorrow it can only be better. Oh, and by the way I confirm: you’re loud!”
She throws a pillow at me laughing. We fight for a while like boisterous children and we finally stop both panting. I smother her in my arms and my chest is submerged under a deep emotion. I murmur in her ear,
“Cassie I love you so much. Don’t ever leave me. I want to spend the rest of my life with you.”
She doesn’t answer but a kiss seals my lips and I find out she’s crying. I kiss back her mouth, her watery eyes, her salty cheeks, her neck and my discovery path leads me to her breasts which I tickle with the tip of my tongue. She moans and I join her with a grunt. I have to control myself, because my heart starts racing and drops of sweat form on my temples.
“Don’t worry I’ll be wise. I save myself for tomorrow.”
I still glide my fingers along her generous chest as if I am addicted to touching her soft and velvety skin. Then we start dozing off and I find myself on my back. I ask with a sleepy voice, “Can you do me a favor? Wedge two pillows behind me, so I can stay on my side.”
She almost builds a separation wall between the mattress and my back and I fall back to sleep with a smile on my face.