It was on Saturday when we had plans to meet up with Nadine and Rob for dinner and afterwards go check out the club.We were getting ready at my place and just when Shane was done with his braces I asked him if he wanted to bring his wheelchair.
“I don’t know. What if the restaurant is not accessible for wheelchairs?”
“Well, you can always not use the Quickie if it’s not. I think we should bring it anyways.”
Shane usually used the Quickie in the apartment so he didn’t have to get into his braces. But anytime we went somewhere he had to wear his braces just for the fact that he had to get downstairs. He also used the wheelchair at the shelter when he went to work with me.
I grabbed the Quickie and we made our way downstairs. Shane had been getting good at stairs for sure but even though he still had to be careful he now had a way to make it somewhat quickly.I stashed the Quickie in the trunk of my car as Shane was getting in.
It was a warm night in March as we drove downtown to meet Nadine and Rob at Marcela’s Creole Kitchen, a cozy restaurant that had just reopened again in February after it got flooded badly during hurricane Katrina.
The city was still recovering and in some areas it was continued to be bad, neighborhoods were left behind as ghost towns, people having fled during the hurricane and houses abandoned in bad states. In the weeks and months after the storm help had only slowly been coming in. The shelters were still crowded with people who had no homes anymore and even at the shelter in Metairie we never had empty beds. No one knew how long it would take and everyone felt abandoned by the federal government. The assistance that had been established had not nearly been enough. It would take years and years for New Orleans to recuperate from this disaster. People were still missing and here and there bodies were still being found. Everyone had to fight for themselves.
Even Nadine and Rob had used up all their financial resources to rebuild the club. For a while Rob had considered moving away from the city and maybe heading toward Houston or Dallas to start fresh there. He had changed his mind. Nadine and Rob were born and raised in New Orleans and they just couldn’t leave the city they loved.Rebuilding the club was a way for them to help the city come back to life, bring in tourists and locals again. We were excited to reopen soon.
We arrived at the restaurant and found parking. Shane had decided to use the Quickie. We left his crutches in the car. I saw Rob’s Audi parked out front on the street.
We went inside and a girl at the hostess desk right as we came in smiled at us, “Hi folks, Welcome to Marcela’s. Did you have a reservation?”“We did but I think our friends are already here.”
I looked past the girl into the restaurant to find Nadine and Rob and spotted them in the far corner.
The girl followed my eyes and when she saw me wave at them she said, “Okay, looks like you found your friends.”
I smiled at her, “Yes, thanks.”
Shane had just enough space to wheel through the restaurant. I saw people look at him which was really the norm any time we went somewhere. It was one thing when he only used his braces and crutches and another thing when he was in his braces and in the wheelchair. People always looked at him, it was something people didn’t see very often.
Nadine and Rob smiled at us as we approached the table. It had been a few weeks since I had last seen them.We hugged warmly and Nadine almost cried seeing me, “Oh Lord, I missed you, sugar.”
This was the first time Nadine and Rob saw Shane using his Quickie.
Nadine turned to him, “Shane, honey…look at you. You got your wheelchair.”
Shane smiled, “Yes ma’am.”
She leaned down to hug him.
Rob smiled at Shane, “Looks like a nice ride. How do you like it?”
“I like it. It makes some things easier.”
Rob reached out to shake Shane’s hand and turned toward the table, “Which chair do you want me to move Shane?”
Shane pointed to the spot he wanted to sit at and Rob moved the chair and handed it to a waitress who had been standing by.
In the process of getting the chair from Rob she turned to us and smiled, “Good evening folks. Welcome to Marcela’s. I’ll be right back.”
She took the chair and walked away. Shane pulled the Quickie up to the table next to Rob and I sat between him and Nadine.
Nadine put her arm around me again and pulled me to her side, “Anna, I’m so glad to see you guys.”
I smiled, “I’m glad to see you.”
The waitress came back and placed menus in front of all of us. Shane and I ordered our beverages.
Rob asked, “So, what’s been happening?”We started talking about everything that had been going on and I was excited to tell them about the house. They were happy for me and Nadine said she couldn’t wait to see it.
Rob turned to Shane, “So you’re ready to move in with that Anna?”
“Yes sir, very much so.”
We had a nice dinner, the food was delicious and the atmosphere in the restaurant was cozy and comfortable. We talked about Shane and his wheelchair, we talked about the house, the city and the club reopening.
Rob eventually asked, “So Anna, we do hope that you want to come back to the club then.”I looked at Shane, then back at Nadine and Rob, “I do want to come back if you have me but I…”
I was nervous at telling them and took a deep breath.
Shane moved his hand over onto my thigh under the table. I felt him glance at me from the side.
After another deep breath I continued, “I can’t dance at the club anymore though. So if you have me any other way I’m happy to come back but I understand if you don’t want to hire me back since I don’t want to dance anymore.”
Nadine took Rob’s hand on the table and they both looked at us with warm expressions.
I explained, “I can’t dance anymore with Shane in my life. It’s not fair to him and it doesn’t feel right. I’m happy to keep doing the administrative stuff for you in running the club but I can’t dance anymore. I can maybe go part time if that’s something you want to consider. I can also keep working at the shelter and help you out at the club on the side.”
Rob nodded and Nadine then took my hand on the table, “Anna, sugar, we understand and we actually expected this. You were one of our top girls. I know many customers loved seeing you up there but we understand that it’s not possible anymore. We still want to keep you on at the club and you can help me with the books, the hiring, the girls, and all the administrative stuff like you did before. I really would love to have you help me with that.”
She squeezed my hand and then looked from her husband to me and Shane, “Rob and I want you to stay at the club with us but if you also want to keep working at the shelter we can possibly offer you part time. That would probably work out great.”
I was very relieved to hear this. Even though I knew Nadine and Rob liked me very much I was also aware that I had been one of their top girls at the club and in the past we had customers that came especially on the nights I was dancing. People would call ahead to find out if I was going to be on any given night and they would only come if I would be up there on stage. So losing me as a dancer could cause a loss in profit.
I looked at them, “Thank you so much you guys. I do want to stay at the club, it has always been like a second home to me and I would have been sad if I wouldn’t have been able to come back. I would love to help run the place again and I’m so very relieved you understand.”I looked over at Shane, his eyes were dark and he smiled at me warmly.
“Shane and I are very serious and I just can’t do the dancing anymore.”
Shane lowered his eyes and Rob stated, “I fully understand Anna. I wouldn’t want Nadine dancing up there. Our story was a little bit like yours. You know that Anna, right?”
“Yes, I know.”
Rob had met Nadine when she was a young dancer in a club in New Orleans. He used to be a regular customer and they eventually fell in love.
Rob added, “So, yes, Anna, we want you to stay with us and maybe we can even find something for you Shane. We do still need a light person and a DJ.”Shane looked up somewhat surprised and Rob met his eyes, “Yeah, we lost our guy from before. He moved away like so many people did. Maybe we can talk about this Shane.”
Shane sounded hesitant, “I don’t know anything about those things even though I very much appreciate the consideration.”
Rob smiled, “It’s not too difficult. You can learn it quickly.”
Shane smiled, “It’s not?”
“No, son. I think we should talk about that some more.”
Shane looked over to me, then back at Rob, “Yes, sir.”
Under the table Shane took my hand and squeezed it.
We eventually drove over to the club. The parking garage was accessible again. The whole French Quarter had been under water for weeks and with that the parking garage had also been flooded.Now we were able to park our cars again and got out.
Rob came over as Shane and I contemplated to get the Quickie out or not.
Rob made our decision easier, “So Shane, you should easily be able to get around with your wheelchair because the club is now fully wheelchair accessible.”
I was surprised at that, “Really?”
Nadine explained, “Yes, with the remodel we also changed things to make the club fully accessible for wheelchairs, even the bathrooms, and two private dance suites. We have spacious areas for weelchairs by the stage, and no more steps in the club, only easy ramps.”
I was excited, “That sounds so awesome.”
The back door to get into the club from the garage was still there, it did look like it had been replaced by a heavy new door. Rob punched in the code, he held the door for us and we went in.Shane was able to wheel through the door swiftly and I followed him passing Rob with a smile.
Inside the club it smelled like new paint, new wood and very clean and sterile. Here and there items and materials from the work crew who had been busy in the club for weeks were still standing or laying around.
As we entered the main area Rob turned on the lights from somewhere. I was amazed, everything was brand new, lots of mirrors, awesome lighting, and exciting ambience. The bar had been completely remodeled and was now really a piece of art with modern décor and stained glass all the way up to the ceiling. The seats were new all around the club, leather lounging areas in the corners and all the tables and chairs were new and contemporary. The club was like a whole different place. The main stage had the two stage extensions going out into the main lounge with seating all around it. Toward the end of the extensions each one had a pole from the stage floor reaching up where they were mounted and bolted into the ceiling. Very soon girls would be sliding around on those poles once again with their acrobatic poses and moves.
As we stood there looking around Rob remarked, “We’ll have to charge a bit more for people to get in.”I walked around and Shane wheeled behind me.
I touched the new furniture and let my hands run over the soft leather, “It’s beautiful and amazing.”
There were no steps but merely slanted easy ramps making it possible for wheelchairs to get around easily. The carpet was very thin and it caused no issues for Shane to maneuver his Quickie over it. He wheeled around and he wheeled up and down the ramps, almost a little excited and like he had fun.
Rob laughed, “So what do you think Shane?”Shane stopped in the middle of the lounge, “It’s very easy to push the chair over the floor. Not a problem at all. It’s awesome you made it all wheelchair accessible.”
I was walking around by the stage and looked up at it. The walls of the club had mirrors and stained glass separating walls, keeping some areas more private from the open space around the stage. I could imagine the place packed again with customers and beautiful girls doing their choreographies. The poles on the two stages were so shiny I could see my face in them as I walked by. Shane came behind me and we made our way to the private rooms in the back. They were beautiful and furnished scarcely but very tastefully. Shane had not been in any of those rooms back when I had brought him here for the first time which now seemed like ages ago.
He stopped in the door frame, sitting there in his wheelchair and I turned around to him.Our eyes met and I said softly, “I won’t be in here anymore very often, maybe just to vacuum.”
I laughed and Shane smiled, lowering his eyes. He then looked up again and I walked over to him.
I leaned on the doorframe, “What are you thinking?”
He said softly, “I don’t want to keep you from doing the things you love to do.”
I took a deep breath and looked around the room again, “I’m okay just vacuuming in here…”
Shane smiled again and added, “You know what I mean.”
I smiled, “I know, and no, you’re not keeping me from doing what I love because you are who and what I love and that’ll never change.”
I squatted down next to his chair and we looked at each other.
I held myself steady on the rims of the Quickie, “I love you Shane and even though I’m super excited about the club I’m perfectly fine with not dancing here anymore. I don’t want to do it anymore. I think it’ll be all right with me helping Nadine and Rob run this place and maybe you can work here too.”
Shane smiled, “Yeah, we’ll see.”
Just then we heard Rob’s voice, “Anna, Shane, look at this!”We went out to the front again and Rob had turned the main lights off and now had only the club and stage lighting on giving the place a whole different vibe. The floors had tiny light trails running along showing where people would walk. Disco balls and show lights were flickering over the stage in a variety of colors. Nadine stood by the bar and admired the light show.
Rob was over in the small room opposite the stage next to the bar. It was the lighting and DJ room, the place where Shane could possibly work.Rob called out to us, “Come over here Shane!”
Shane put his hands to the rims and wheeled over to the room and disappeared inside it. There was a large glass window making it possible to look over the main lounge of the club all the way to the stages. I saw Shane appear next to Rob behind the window. He waved at me as I stood next to Nadine by the stage.
“The club is amazing Nadine.”Nadine smiled in the flickering of the lights, “It is, isn’t it? I’m so excited that we’re going to open again soon.”
“Have you found all the girls again?”
“Some of them, not all. I still have some calls out and some letters. I hope they’ll contact me soon.”
The lights changed in the club and we turned to look at Shane and Rob and Shane smiled and gestured at the lights, then at himself.I laughed and waved at him. Apparently he was operating the light already.
Nadine asked, “Do you think he’d like to work here?”
“Well, he needs a job for sure and if Rob wants to give him a chance with a job, I guess it would be good.”
“You could both work for us Anna. I personally would love to have you guys with us always. You know we love you Anna and you mean a lot to us. Now that Shane is in your life, he’s just as important to us.”
She then hugged me and held me tight for a few moments.
Rob and Shane were in the equipment room playing with the lights and all the sudden music came on too. Nadine showed me the bathrooms and it was all very modern and tasteful.
When we met up with Rob and Shane again in the main lounge, Rob laughed, “Shane already knows what he’s doing in there. We just need to practice a little with everything and I think he can do the job if he wants it. We can talk about pay and all of that if you are interested Shane.”Shane looked from me to Rob and replied, “I guess I’ll talk it over with Anna and then let you know.”
Rob patted his shoulder, “Sounds good.”
We finally left the club around midnight and stood in the garage telling each other Good Bye with hugs and kisses. The plan was to get in touch in the next few days to get everything ready for the grand reopening and I was going to help Nadine with the finishing touches and in contacting the girls she was still trying to find.
In the car I looked over at Shane, “So do you think you want that job?”“I don’t know. It was fun playing around in there with all the lighting and the music. But what do you think about it?”
“Well, as far as my job, I would have a job again at the club if I wanted it. I know Nadine and Rob will pay me well. And I think they would pay you just as generous. Do you think you could do it?”
Shane shrugged his shoulders next to me, “I guess so.”
I then explained softly, “You would possibly see me talk to other men or sit with them if you work there too.”
Now Shane was quiet for a moment and I added, “But you would also deal with the girls and their music requests for their dancing and their choreographies. You would make sure the right music is playing for the girls and their shows.”
Shane took a deep breath, “So we’d both be in contact with lots of people…”
I added, “People of the opposite sex and in situations that may be a little…I don’t know…may be a little intimidating and trying for our relationship.”
I had not started the car yet. We still sat in the parking garage. Nadine and Rob had already left.
Shane turned to look at me, “It would probably be something we both have to get used to but if Nadine and Rob can do it, so can we I would think.”
I shifted and Shane reached over and took my hands in his, “I know who I belong to and I expect the same from you. I love you Anna, you know that. I love you more than my own life so it’s not an issue for me to be around other girls. You’ll be there too and I’d never do anything to endanger what we have. You’ll always be the only one for me. Forever.”
I felt my eyes get blurry and I replied, “And I feel the same way. You’re the only man I want to be with forever. I love you so much and I just don’t want to hurt you. Yes, Nadine and Robert have been doing this for many years already and they are still so in love and so good together. I think we can do it too.”He nodded, “So, let’s do it. We both work there and things will be okay.”
I smiled and Shane pulled me over to him and we kissed a very long time.
I drove the long way through the city, looking around the French Quarter and just taking in the vibe. It was in the middle of the night. Here and there people were still hanging around on the street corners and some of the bars had already been open for weeks and business had slowly picked up again. The French Quarter really never slept and we needed the tourists to come back soon, so opening the club would be just another stone turned over in the revival and recovery of the city.
We drove out of the city and my route took me close to Charity hospital.It was Shane who asked, “Isn’t Charity around here somewhere?”
"Yes, just two blocks from here.”
Without saying anything else I found my way to Charity.
Slowly I pulled the car up to the sidewalk right in front of the path to the main entrance which was now boarded shut. We sat in the car and looked at the dark abandoned building. A high fence surrounded the whole area.
Without saying anything Shane opened the door and got out of the car, just with his crutches and in braces. I followed his lead and did the same. I heard his crutches on the concrete and the low squeak of his braces on his legs.
He came around to my side and we both leaned on the car and looked up at the impressive abandoned building. There were only a few street lanterns on along the lonely road, no other car around at this time of the night, no other car parked in the area. It was empty and eerie and except for crickets chirping and from somewhere frogs croaking there weren’t any sounds. A very light warm breeze brushed over us as we stood there and just stared at the gigantic hospital which had once housed hundreds of patients at any given time and had treated thousands over the years.
It looked like a forgotten lonely giant with hundreds of dark eyes, its concrete wings left and right of the entrance stretched out like huge arms reaching out for help.
Shane set his crutches next to him on the car. He had enough support leaning on the car with his butt and back and I felt his arm around me. He pulled me to him and we stood there together just looking at the building. I felt a slight chill on my arms looking at Charity and I felt an enormous sadness overcome me. I rested my head in Shane’s embrace and felt him pull me a little tighter.
My thoughts travelled back to May almost a year earlier and I saw Jay in my mind at how I had last seen him at Charity and I remembered the first time I had seen Shane in the courtyard at Charity.I asked him softly with a trembling voice, tears trying to form in my eyes, “Do you remember last year?”
Shane’s voice sounded sad too, “Yes, I remember like it was yesterday.”
We were quiet again and the first tear ran down over my cheek.
Shane spoke again, “I never thought I would meet the love of my life at Charity and especially not with the way I was.”
I smiled but another tear rolled down, “I never thought I would meet the hottest guy on this planet at Charity, the guy in braces and on crutches, the guy I fell for so hard and so fast.”
Shane smiled as he was still looking up at the dark building, “We have a lot to thank Charity for.”
Another tear escaped my eye, “It’s so sad that the hospital is now abandoned. It makes me so sad seeing it like this.”
Shane must have heard the tears in my voice because he shifted and looked at me, “Are you crying Anna?”
I nodded and he asking me made it worse, more tears were running down both my cheeks now. He pulled me closer and I felt his warmth go over into me.
I looked up at him and his eyes were shiny in the dim light of the street lantern close by. Shane was still as beautiful as the day I had first seen him, maybe a bit skinnier now but still a dream come true for me. I moved my body closer to him and my leg touched his. I felt his brace on my leg trough the thin material of my dress.
Shane then said softly, “Anna, I’m thinking about something.”“What?”
“I know it’s maybe not the right time nor the right place and I don’t have yet what I actually need for this but here…”
He shifted and I moved away from him as he turned to get his crutches from the side of him.
I was very surprised when he handed me his left crutch, “Here, take this one and put your right arm in it.”
I had never actually put my arm into Shane’s crutches nor used them so this felt awkward but also exciting. I had no idea what he was going to do.
He had his right arm in his right crutch and shifted to face me. He now was leaning somewhat sideways with his hip on the car.
“Look at me Anna.”
I turned to face Shane with my right arm in his left crutch holding the handle and wondering what this was about.He smiled as he stretched out his arm with the crutch and said, “Here, bring your arm over here.”
I moved closer to him and watched as he lined up his right arm in the crutch with my right arm in his other crutch. It was a little unsteady for Shane standing like this but he had enough support with his left side leaning on the car.I smiled under tears, “What are you doing baby?”
He laughed nervously, “Actually, I don’t really know what I’m doing but I thought this would be an idea…let go of the crutch handle and move your hand over onto my handle and I’ll move my hand onto yours.”
I did what he suggested and our hands were now holding the other one’s crutch and were basically crossed. Our forearms touched as we held on to each other’s crutch handles.
Shane lowered his eyes and laughed softly. I wiped another tear away and felt my heart beat faster and my whole body tremble.
Looking up at me then with his dark eyes, Shane started softly, “Anna, a year ago in May everything changed for me. Meeting you here at Charity was…it was…”
He paused as his voice started to tremble.
He swallowed, “You changed my life Anna. You changed me and everything I had known before. You were a light in my dark life. I was like Charity is now, I felt abandoned and broken like no one cared anymore. Then you came into my life and I still thank God every day for you and I can’t imagine ever being without you in my life again. You showed me real love, passion and so much more. We’ve been through so much but we made it through the storm together. I want to be with you forever and even though I don’t have a ring right now, I promise I’ll get one with my first paycheck. And it seems only right to do it here exactly in front of this place that was the reason for all of it. Anna, I want to ask you from the bottom of my heart, will you marry me!”
I saw a tear run out of his eye and he shifted nervously trying to steady his stance.I cried now and I pressed my free hand against my mouth as I nodded quickly and then answered, “Yes, I want to marry you.”
Our arms were still awkwardly interlocked with the crutches but Shane pulled me closer and he smiled at me, “I love you so much.”
I still cried, now more tears of joy mixing in with less tears of pain, “I love you Shane and yes, I want to marry you.”
We kissed standing right there in front of this obscure giant watching over us and being the witness to everything past and present, being witness to the deep love Shane and I shared and would always share for a long, long time to come.
We stood in an embrace for a while and again we both looked up at Charity hospital, our hearts filled with joy and love. Warm wind brushed over us as we felt our hearts beating as one.
Out of nowhere toward the top of the right wing of the dark huge building, probably around the tenth or eleventh floor, a bright light came on in one lonely window.
We stared at it and even though we both saw it we didn’t speak but stood in silent understanding and knowing our love would always shine on. It was a time of new beginnings.