Recap of Chapter18
Still enjoying their romantic getaway, Matthew shows Cassie his swimming skills. They only have eyes for each other and celebrate New Year’s Eve in the intimacy of the private island. They return to Cassie’s parents for a few days and they receive an upsetting phone call from the ex-boyfriend’s father. Cassie accepts to grant his request and drops the charges against his son.
I’ll try to forget the flight back to Chicago; otherwise I’ll never travel by plane again. Nothing major happened except for a few spasms. Nevertheless, for me the flight was the most unpleasant part of our trip. I think I developed a fear of flying. Well, my bladder mainly did. We both resume our activities, but after ten days of heat, sun, idleness and luxury, it’s a bit hard to get back on tracks and go back to work. The weather is terrible with a temperature below 30. It is snowing and cold. I am happy to return to the center though and it is mutual. My fellow sufferers, as I got used to call them are waiting for me with sincere impatience.
“Wow Matt! Where have you been to get this tan? It really fits you well. You look like a playboy.”
“Thanks guys. I was in Florida with Cassie and we had a good time.”
They all know her by now and they like her.
“I am back now and I’ m going to make you work hard.”
“It’s not really work with you Matt. We enjoy it and you are an inspiration.”
“Enough with the compliments! It is not going to keep you away from your ROMs and lots of stretching.”
They all laugh and we start our session. As I inquire about Tim’s absence I sadly learn he is in bed with mumps. I decide to pay him a visit after work. In order to do so I will leave earlier than usual. I take a break from the exercises to call my parents who just got back from their European trip, and they seem really enthusiastic about it. They already planned a video and photos showing for the next week-end. Abby came twice during the week to have dinner with us, and I am looking forward to meet my hockey buddies after tomorrow’s game. My last call is for Cassie to let her know I’ll pick her up at six as scheduled. Her car broke down two days after our return. She can’t afford a new one right now and she refused categorically my financial aid. She has a pride too. If I didn’t have to come here every day, I would leave her mine but it is not that easy to take a cab twice a day, in the cold, and have the drivers put my chair in the trunk for me. I will always have a problem with that. My chair being handled by some strangers is another invasion of privacy, of my intimacy. At least my car is in the building garage, and I don’t have to go out on the street; same for the Rehab center which has a covered parking and…lots of handicapped spots.
I am thinking about a present to bring Tim. I recall he asked several times for one of my hockey sticks as a trophy. I think it’s a good idea but he will have to wait until next time. I have quite a bunch of them in one of my closet.
I call his mom and realize I don’t even know her name, “Hi… Hmm…This is Matthew Vincent calling.”
“Oh, hi Matthew! How are you?”
“I am good thank you, but I heard Tim is sick and I would like to visit him, if it is possible of course.”
“Oh! He would be thrilled to see you, but he has mumps and it is contagious. I don’t want you to catch it.”
“I have been vaccinated and I am immune to the disease.”
“You are sure?”
“Yes, I called my doctor and he said it’s ok.”
It is true. I called the surgeon who fixed my back and has all my records. He told me the infected person is not contagious after five days of swelling. With my condition he still advised me not to get too close. A bad infection could have drastic complications on my weaken immune system. Tim missed two rehab sessions. That’s already two weeks, so I wisely assume he is not contagious anymore. I am safe.
“Ok then. That’s very nice of you. I am not going to tell him you are coming so you can surprise him.”
She gives me her address and I park in her driveway forty five minutes later. The weather has worsened. It’s colder and the snow froze on the ground leaving patches of black ice here and there. The ride which shouldn’t take more than twenty minutes took me twice the time.
It is a simple but pleasant house in a humble neighborhood, and I am sadly wondering how they financially manage with a deceased soldier’s pension. I know Tim’s mother works as a school teacher, but with her son’s accident she had to quit until he was able to return to school himself, which he does now. I hope they still make ends meet and I wish she will find someone nice to share the future. It’s unfair to be a widow so young and after Tim’s accident she shouldn’t be lonely. She needs support, kindness and a man’s affection. Tim also needs a father figure and sometimes I have the feeling he is getting too attached to me. We have a special bond and I like him a lot but I don’t want him to have expectations I can’t fulfilled. I know a few bachelors from the Center who commented highly on Tim’s mother and asked me about her. Maybe I should investigate further how serious they are and try some introduction without being a matchmaker. One of them is a military veteran and I saw him talk with Tim’s mom a few times. They seemed to like each other and they probably have a lot to talk about. I am not sure if it’s good or bad though to have another soldier in her life but time will tell. This patient is retired from the army anyway. He had a Hummer accident in Afghanistan. His vehicle hit a land mine and he is lucky to be alive. He was ejected during the blast and suffered a shattered pelvis and numerous leg fractures. Fortunately he is recovering well and if he will keep a limp he won’t need a wheelchair or crutches forever. He already can walk on his own with a simple cane. Everybody has the right to a second chance and maybe those two are a match.
Lost in my thoughts I assemble my wheelchair and transfer as fast as I can because it’s really freezing outside. Low temperatures have a negative effect on my legs and I became very sensitive to the cold myself. I notice the temporary ramp leading to the door, and I am puzzled because Tim doesn’t need a wheelchair anymore. I wheel myself up and I have my answer. Tim’s mother opens the door before I have time to ring the bell. She is dressed like she had recently been outside in the freezing cold. She has no hat on, but disheveled hair as if she just removed one. She still wears a padded jacket and I see wet gloves on the entrance side table. Her nose is all red and her eyes are tearful. I am upset, “Did you just put the ramp back, out there in the cold?”
She looks embarrassed like a child caught doing something foolish, “Yes, but the neighbor helped me.”
“You make me feel bad. You didn’t have to do that.”
“You seem to forget I had a wheelchair user here. How would you climb those six steps without the ramp?”
She has a point. Surely not on my ass in this weather, “Well…we would have asked for the neighbor’s help!”
We laugh and she escorts me to Tim’s bedroom which is at the far end of the house. He didn’t hear me coming, and when I roll into the room he screams with joy, “Matt! You came to see me, in my home!”
“Yes, I wanted to know how you were doing.”
He answers with a sorry voice, “You can’t come near me because I am contagious. I don’t have a fever anymore, but I am still swollen. Don’t you think I look like a pear? That’s what Mom tells me.”
I chuckle because it is true. His cheeks and neck are still a bit swollen and it gives him a funny face.
“Don’t worry, I can’t catch it but I won’t hug you just this time.”
Saying so, I wheel next to the bed and high-five him.
“So what are you up to buddy?”
“I didn’t come for my exercises because I was sick, and I don’t like the therapist who replaced you anyway.”
I chuckle, “I am back now and you have a few more sessions left.”
“Yes, but I will be very sad when they will be over.”
“Don’t say that. You should be happy. It means you are much better and you don’t need them anymore. And we can still see each other elsewhere. How about coming to watch a hockey game one day?”
“Yay! I’d love that.”
“Then it is a deal.”
“I can’t wait feeling better. I am so bored in my bedroom all day.”
I look at the small TV set on a chest of drawers facing his bed. There is a Play Station connected to it. I nod at the screen, “You want to play a game?”
“Oh, that will be awesome! My mom doesn’t know how to play and my friends are not allowed to see me yet.”
“Ok. So let’s do it.”
By the console there are a bunch of CDs that I list out loud, “Tomb raider 1, 2 and 3, Gran Turismo, Need for speed, Crash Banditcoot and Tetris.” They are old games because I know them all, but it’s an old Play Station. Tim is elated, “Do you like racing cars?”
“Ok, let’s do a race. Pick up Gran Turismo.”
I smile at his overjoyed enthusiasm and insert the disc in the console. Then, I wheel backwards beside the bed. His mom who left us alone in the room is back with cookies, snacks and beverages.
“Matthew, would you care for something hot?”
“Coffee would be great, thanks Mrs…. I am sorry I don’t even know your name.”
“Mitchell, but please call me Joyce as you are only Matthew for me.”
We smile at each other and she leaves us alone.
I have never been a video game addict, but I played like any other kids with friends when I was in middle school. Ok, I confess, even in high school. I get caught in the game with Tim and we play intensely for over an hour. I let him win but it’s tight. He is a good player.
“Let’s play another game.”
“Well, I can’t. It is time for me to go Tim. It’s already late.”
He looks truly disappointed, “You’re sure you have to leave now? I was really having a good time.”
“I was too Tim. But I have to pick up Cassie at work and I don’t want her to wait for me. Do you?”
“I guess not. So she is your girlfriend for real now?”
“She is indeed.”
“Do you live together?”
I chuckle, “Nope, but we see each other very often.”
“Are you going to marry her and make babies?”
I am totally caught off guard with this one. Even if I wanted to answer his innocent but nosy question, I wouldn’t be able to, because I don’t know about that myself.
“You are a very curious little dude, you know that? I really have to go now. See you next week at the center.”
I ruffle his hair and wheel myself out waving at him over my shoulder. His mother escorts me to the door.
“Thank you so much for coming Matthew. I didn’t know how to entertain him anymore. You made his day.”
“No problem. It brought me a few years back for a while and I enjoyed myself as much as he did.”
As she opens the front door for me, thick snowflakes find their way in the house.
“Please stay inside. No need to catch a cold. One sick kid is enough in the household.”
As I’m ready to wheel down the ramp I turn my head slightly to her, “Joyce, thank you for this. It was very thoughtful of you.”
“You are very welcome. It’s the least I could do after all what you did for my son.”
She smiles shyly at me, waving me goodbye.
It is five o’clock, so I have one hour to drive back to the city and be on time for Cassie. It is already dark and snowing hard, and I am very cautious on the way back because the visibility is very bad. Fortunately there are not a lot of cars driving tonight, and we are not one after the other, stuck in traffic.
I reach the city center ten minutes before Cassie’s day of work is over. I know she is very busy and she will be tired. I plan on ordering a takeout dinner which we will eat cuddled in front of the TV. Or maybe in bed? I take advantage of a red light to look for the number of the Chinese restaurant close to my building on my car display screen. The light turns green and I am ready to make a right on Michigan, when I am blinded by headlights flashing through my windshield. The vehicle is moving very fast and is getting closer without slowing down. As the distance reduces, I notice it’s a truck and its trailer is zigzagging abnormally, swerving from side to side. The driver who obviously lost control is honking like crazy and sliding on the icy surface straight to me. I speed up but with a screech my rear tires skid and continue to spin uselessly in the middle of the intersection. Shit! Come on Matt move out of here! Now my driver’s side is facing the unstoppable truck which is about to T-bone me. It all happens in seconds but I have time to see my life pass before my eyes. I tell myself I lived it well despite an unfortunate twist of fate, and my last thought is for Cassie who is going to wait for me. Helpless I brace myself for the impact. I feel my body slam violently against the door in a terrible noise of crushed metal. My head bumps against the side window which smashes to pieces. The airbag pops out while I lose consciousness.