An acquaintance at the shelter with one of the other volunteers became somewhat close. He was a guy my age and what started out as working together quite often turned into a closer friendship as we shared the destiny of having been brought up in foster care.
Josh was from Northern Louisiana and had moved to New Orleans for a job as a sports news writer a few years earlier. He was employed with a sports magazine and his main focus in his writing were the Saints. With the hurricane having hit he had stayed in the Superdome for a couple of days writing about the chaos there and also the damage that had occurred to the Dome. At the time I met him his writing had been on hold as the magazine was not operating and this situation had brought him to volunteer as well.
He was charming and friendly, always in a good mood and he lightened up the days at the shelter with his jokes. Aside from that he was not bad looking at all. I knew he had taken a liking to me and I couldn’t bring it over myself to tell him that I actually had a boyfriend, even though I wasn’t even sure about that anymore. So I spent my days at the shelter hanging out with Josh during our breaks, we had coffee or lunch together on many occasions.
I was pleasantly surprised when Josh also volunteered for the same nightshifts I had volunteered for. When the topic of my work life came up I told him about the club but I told him I was only an assistant manager there, I didn’t tell him I was also a dancer. He was obviously surprised and curious about the club but I kept the information minimal. I also told him that the club had been flooded and we didn’t know what the future would bring.
Josh did make my days fun and in his company I did forget about all the bad things. Unlike Shane everything about Josh was fun and good. He had his life together, he had a job, he had his own place, money, a car, he was stable and apparently also had a large family connected to his foster parents. There was nothing about him that made me sad. Just his coming in to work in the mornings was like a ray of sunshine. As much as I enjoyed being in his company and getting lots of attention from him the only thing that was missing to make him the perfect man for me was a disability. I felt bad for thinking about these things and imagining how he would be so very hot if he would be disabled like Shane or maybe in a wheelchair or something. I hated myself for thinking of Josh in that way and I kept thinking about why I couldn’t just go for this guy even without a disability.
Now I also knew that the men I had dated in the past had all been lacking this special something, the special something I could never really pin point but now with having met Shane in my life I knew exactly what it was. A perfect man for me was a man with a disability, preferably a Spinal Cord Injury which caused him to be in a wheelchair or like Shane with the low incomplete Spinal Cord Injury still able to walk with the braces and crutches. Shane had really opened up all these emotions I had felt inside but didn’t really know what they were until I met him. It all seemed so strange how I could be attracted to these things but I didn’t know why. He had come into my life which such a force of overwhelming feelings with the way he was and the way his disability made me feel about him. I sometimes imagined Shane not being disabled and how I would have felt about him then and yes, I did find him attractive either way but I also knew he was probably a very different guy before his injury so I didn’t know if we would have ever hit it off. As far as I knew the way he was before, he probably had had quite a reputation of having been a wild one.
It was shortly before Thanksgiving when I sat in the TV room at the shelter during an evening shift.Josh walked in and plopped into one of the lounge chairs close to me, “Are you on break Anna?”
“Yeah, just waiting around ‘til dinner is done. How long are you going to be here tonight?”
Josh smiled, “As long as you will be here I guess.”
I was slightly nervous, “You don’t want to go home? You got here earlier than I.”
“Nothing at home for me. I’ll hang around and walk you out to your car.”
With that he shifted forward some and looked at me with his green eyes, “Anna, can I ask you something?”
I moved in my chair some and was very nervous at what was coming, “Hhm.”
His expression was warm and he started with a trembling voice, “Anna…I don’t know if you realize, but…”
He paused and took a deep breath, then continued, “I really like hanging out with you and I…” Another pause and another deep breath, “I was wondering if we could maybe go out sometime, maybe dinner or a drink.”
I had feared this for a while now and so far I had been dodging his attempts to come closer or get to know me on a more personal levelWhen I didn’t say anything, Josh stuttered, “I’ve been thinking about asking you before but I just didn’t know.”
I looked down and then back up at him, but I didn’t know what to say.
Josh laughed lowly, “Anna, you make me nervous, but maybe if my asking you out is too early, then I’m sorry…I just…”
His hands were locked and he stared at them for a moment, then continued, “I just…I like you Anna and I wish…”
I felt bad for him now but he finished, “I wish you would say something.”
I felt my hands get sweaty and thought about my reply. I felt sorry for Josh and as much as I liked him I didn’t want to lie to him.I started with a shaky voice, “Josh, I’m flattered, really…You’re a great guy but…”
He laughed lowly and cut in, “But I’m not your type.”
I was surprised at his comment because he wasn’t all the way wrong but I couldn’t say that to him. I did like him and he was very attractive.
“Josh, any girl would go for that drink or dinner with you but I actually have…I have a boyfriend.”
Now his expression changed to surprise, “A boyfriend?”
He exclaimed softly, “You’ve never mentioned him.”
I shook my head, “I haven’t…but yes, I do have somebody.”
Now he sounded curious, “So where is he?”
My mind was racing at what and how much to tell him about Shane.Josh was waiting for an answer and looking at him I felt bad for him. He was an attractive, athletic guy with bright green eyes and short dark blonde hair.
I lowered my eyes and then looked back up at him, “He’s in prison.”Josh stared at me in disbelief for a few moments, then he shook his head and said, “Anna, I’ve known you since we started here in September and it’s now almost Thanksgiving. Not once have you talked about a boyfriend or even mentioned anything about talking to someone. He’s in prison? So are you waiting for him or what is the deal?”
I replied softly, “Yes, I am actually waiting for him. It’s complicated but yes, I do have a boyfriend and I…I do love him.”
Josh shook his head again and I saw the sadness in his face, “Well, I just made a complete idiot of myself.”
I shifted in my chair and leaned toward Josh some more, “Josh, no, you’re not an idiot. I’m flattered you asked me and I wish I could just say yes but I’m waiting for him. I do hope we could still be friends.”
Josh leaned back in his chair and rubbed over his chin with his eyes on me, “Damn, you really love this guy?”I nodded, “Yes, I do.”
“What’s his name?”
“His name is Shane.”
“So, what’s he in for?”
“It’s a long story, maybe for another time.”
Josh nodded in defeat and said warmly, “I do want to stay friends with you Anna. Maybe we can just forget about this whole thing.”
I smiled at him, “Friends?”
He smiled at me, “Yes, friends for sure.”
We ended up hugging and Josh still stayed and he still walked me out to the car where we hugged again and Josh said lowly, “Shane’s a lucky guy. I hope he knows that.”
I smiled, “I hope so too.”
Josh and I were able to move on after this incident. We were friends and we maybe grew a little bit closer. He told me about his ex-girlfriend and I told him bits and pieces about Shane but never mentioned the disability. We still worked together and we still had nightshifts together. We laughed and we talked and in an ideal world we would have definitely been together. We would have been perfect together but we weren’t in an ideal world.
But every time I talked to Jenny or Jordan and they didn’t have any information on Shane I felt more and more doubtful if we were even still a couple. And that is when I looked at Josh and watched him interact with the families and the children in the shelter and my heart hurt a little at how I had passed up such a good guy. Sometimes our eyes would meet and I could see it in his eyes that he felt the same way, how could she have passed me up.
Thanksgiving I spent with Al and Cindy. It was a nice day with some extended family and the food was delicious and everyone was more than thankful for what we had. I was glad to be surrounded by love and laughter. I did talk to Jenny who had also invited me to come down to their house but I had declined. She was understanding and we decided to meet after the Christmas holidays.
December came around and the city was only slowly recovering some. The destruction and loss of lives had impacted everything to such an extent that the holiday spirit came only slowly. It was the little things that happened in the shelter or things we heard or read about in the news that brought a little bit of hope to everyone and belief that maybe New Orleans could make it through this.
I decided to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas day at the shelter, helping with the Christmas dinner and the gifts for the families. We had been getting an influx of financial assistance from people all over the country and also for Christmas lots of toys came in for donations.
It was on Christmas Eve in the morning when I was busy in our warehouse with all of the gift wrapping and making sure we kept track of all we had to give to the children. All of this would take place on the nightshift when we would place the gifts with name tags under the large tree we had set up in our community room.
It was Josh who came in, “Anna, hey!”I looked up from taping a bow on a package, “Hey, what’s up?”
He walked up to me and his expression was warm and again I was reminded what I had passed up.
Softly he said, “There’s someone out in the lobby here to see you.”
I quickly looked up from my task and dropped the bow with shaking hands. It fell to the floor.My whole body started to tremble. I couldn’t move for a moment, I felt like I was glued to the floor. My hands were shaky and sweaty now.
I lowered my eyes for a moment, then looked up again at Josh.
He nodded and smiled weakly, “Yes, it’s your boyfriend.”
I felt my vision get blurry and with my fingers like pudding I slipped my apron over my head.
I pressed my lips together and shrugged my shoulders, “I’m so sorry Josh.”
Josh shook his head, “No, don’t be, Anna. I’m sorry I didn’t meet you before Shane did.”
He smiled and I smiled. A tear was running out of my eye and he held his arms open for a hug.
I fell into his embrace and he said lowly, “Go see him.”
We let go and I slowly walked by Josh and out toward the lobby. I had to pass through the kitchen and the dining room and I felt like I could barely walk. I felt like my knees would buckle at every step.
I came to the door out to the lobby and took one deep breath before I walked through the door. I saw Jordan first, leaning on the wall, his arms folded in front of him.When he saw me he moved away from the wall and he smiled with a nod, “Anna, hey!”
Without hesitation I fell around Jordan’s neck and we hugged for a few seconds.
Jordan mumbled, “It’s good to see you Anna.”
“You too Jordan.”
I let go of him and nervously my eyes moved toward the chairs lined up on the other wall and there was Shane.
He was sitting on one of the chairs and my heart was racing in my chest at seeing him. He had his arms in his crutches and he got up with difficulties. I heard the all familiar sounds of braces locking and crutches squeaking.
Shane stood there and I quickly scanned him from top to bottom and our eyes then locked. His dark eyes were sunken in, his cheek bones were more defined. He was skinnier than what I had seen him like the last time.
For a moment I saw all the sadness and suffering on him, I also saw his balance off some, his knuckles white from gripping the crutch handles. He tried to get a sturdy stance but I saw he had trouble with it.
I walked up to him and he looked nervous and shy.
A tear was streaming down my face and all I brought over my lips was a soft, “Shane?”
He nodded and replied just as soft, “Anna…”
I was stunned at seeing my boyfriend so weak, “Shane, I…”
I really didn’t know what to say, I choked but all I wanted was to hold him. I walked up to him and I touched my hands to his hands on the crutches. I felt the tension in his hands holding the handles.
We looked at each other and his eyes were shiny. I saw him swaying slightly and I moved my one hand from his and softly touched his bony cheek, and looked into his deep dark eyes.
“Shane, I’m…I can’t even begin to explain…what I’m feeling right now.”I could see he definitely had a difficult time standing there.
Almost in a whisper he said, “I’m so sorry Anna.”
I stroked my hand over his cheek, “There’s nothing to be sorry about.”
Now a tear ran down his cheek, “I didn’t know if…if it would be…right to come here. Jordan told me…”
I nodded, “It was right. Shane…”
He stood there holding on to this crutches tightly and I glanced down at his legs and when I looked up and met his glistening eyes again he brought a shy smile over his face, “Yeah, still not working and still in braces.”
I really wanted him to be more comfortable and I didn’t like seeing him struggle to stand there.For a few seconds I thought and then said, “Just sit down again.”
He seemed relieved when I said that and he slowly let himself down again, slid his arms out of his crutches now and unlocked his braces.
I wanted to hug him and fall into his arms but I wasn’t sure and I felt awkward. Shane wiped over his eyes quickly and I just looked at him.
Jordan behind me said, “He wanted to surprise you.”I smiled now under tears, “It worked.”
Shane met my eyes and even though there were no more tears running down his face, his eyes were shiny.
Jordan said softly, “I’m going to give you guys some time.”I turned around to him and explained, “You can hang out in the community room or have a coffee in the dining room.”
Jordan nodded and we let go of each other and he walked away into the direction I pointed to.
I turned to Shane again. He looked fragile and weak sitting there. His eyes flickered nervously as I pulled a chair closer and sat down. His eyes were fixed on me and I met his gaze as I was seated and looked up. He seemed hesitant and nervous.I looked at him for a moment and then I took his hand and I felt it tremble in mine. It was cold and skinny.
“Shane, I can’t believe you’re here.”
He nodded and very lowly he said, “I’m a free man again.”
“So, the charges were dropped?”
My heart was racing in my chest and I felt like it would burst.Tears were now streaming quickly out of my eyes. I wanted to cry and I wanted to fall into his arms.
He started softly, “Anna, I understand if you moved on, but I just wanted to…I wanted to see you.”
I cried and I laughed and I shook my head, “I moved on but there was not one second of the day you weren’t on my mind.”
Shane lowered his eyes and looked at our hands interlocked, “I never meant to hurt you.”
I still cried and I said, “I know but it was so very painful when you shut me out. And Jordan and your family.”
He nodded, “I know, I couldn’t handle seeing you in there and I didn’t think I could do this every Saturday, it hurt like hell for me too Anna. And it didn’t matter what choice I made, shutting you out or not…I still only barely made it through this. I don’t know…”
He took a deep breath and swallowed, “I don’t know how you feel about me now…but…I…”
Tears were slowly streaming from his eyes now, “I just wanted to see you and tell you how sorry I am.”
I took his other hand in mine and our eyes were locked on each other, shiny and glistening with tears as I said, “Shane, I still love you just as much as I loved you from the beginning. Nothing changed.”He looked down and I saw a tear drop from his eye onto our hands.
He sniffled his nose and then looked back up at me, saying lowly, “Anna, I love you so much and these last couple of months were the hardest thing I ever had to do. I want to be good now, for you and for us. I dreamt about being with you every moment of the day and night and I missed you so much. I was so scared that they would lock me up again all the way because I couldn’t have done it. But the only way for me to somehow cope I guess was to not see you again because…because I didn’t want you to deal with me and everything. I almost hoped you would forget about me and move on…”“I moved on but I didn’t forget about you.”
We looked at each other again, both crying and unlocked our hands and finally fell into each other’s arms. We held each other for a long time and we cried and it felt like our hearts were racing against each other. Shane felt skinny under his T-Shirt, I could feel his ribs and I felt the vertebrae of his spine. My arms were covered with chills, my heart almost hurt now.“I love you so much Anna.”
He mumbled into my hair next to my face and I replied, “I love you too. Everything will be okay now.”
We held our embrace for a long time until we could finally let go.
Again we looked at each other and I said lowly, “You lost so much weight.”
He nodded, “I got sick in there. I was in the hospital for three weeks with a kidney infection. Started out as a urinary tract infection, then turned into a kidney infection. I’m not all the way good again but I’m here. I got out of the hospital two weeks ago.”
“Shane, why didn’t you call Jordan?”
He shook his head, “I had to go through this by myself. I didn’t want anyone involved in my mess. I called him yesterday to let him know he can pick me up.”
“You literally just got released yesterday?”
We didn’t say anything for a few moments until I picked up the conversation again, “So, this is where I work now…my second home.”Shane looked up and around, nodding, “That’s great. I’m sorry to come in here like this. I know you’re probably busy.”
“I am, tomorrow is Christmas and I have a lot to do. I’m actually supposed to pull a nightshift tonight. We have to play Santa.”
“What about the club?”
I sighed, “So much has happened…we have a lot of catching up to do.”
“So, I’ll probably best go back to Morgan City with Jordan. With Christmas and all. Maybe after the holidays you can come down there.”
I didn’t like hearing this at all but I did think about how we could do this.
“Did you bring overnight stuff?”
He nodded, “I kind of did…but I don’t want to…I don’t want to interfere with your work here.”
It wasn’t a question for me, “Shane, I want you to stay here. We have beds and I…”
I stopped and wiped over my eyes gently, “I don’t want you to leave again.”
“I don’t want to keep you from doing your job.”
I shook my head, “I don’t want you to leave Shane. I want you to stay!”
He nodded, “Okay…I’ll stay. Of course I want to be near you but I don’t want to interrupt what you do here. I’ll stay out of your way and all.”
“Don’t worry about it. I’ll put you to work.”
I really couldn’t believe we were sitting there together again. He still made me crazy, my heart had not stopped racing since the moment I saw him. I wanted to be with him, and I didn’t want him to leave. But I could also sense that Shane wasn’t all the way well.