Eventually we joined Jordan in the dining hall where he was sipping on coffee and had a pastry on a plate in front of him. I saw how Shane had trouble walking steady, he had to stop a few times to catch his balance and when he realized me glancing at him he looked away. He sat down at the table with Jordan and I brought him some coffee.
Josh came walking out from the kitchen and when he saw us there he smiled. I wanted to make the moment less awkward.“Josh, so I don’t know if you already introduced each other but this is my boyfriend Shane and his brother Jordan.”
Jordan got up and reached his hand out to Josh in a friendly manner, “We already met earlier but again nice to meet you, Josh.”
Shane obviously didn’t get up and I could see the flicker in his eyes as he also greeted Josh with a handshake.
Josh was friendly, “Nice to meet you Shane. I know Anna has been waiting patiently.”
“Nice to meet you.”
With that Shane looked from Josh to me questioning most likely how much Josh knew about our relationship.
I explained, “So Shane is going to stay with us tonight. I want to assign him a bed.”
Josh smiled, “Oh cool, yeah, I’ll get him a bed then. We have a few open ones. Some people actually left today to spend Christmas with family members or friends.”
Shane stated, “If you guys need your beds for people, please don’t worry about me. I can sleep on the floor or a chair or something.”
Josh smiled, “No, it’s really no problem. You’ll have a bed for tonight.”
Shane nodded, “Okay, thanks man.”
Josh walked away and Shane’s eyes scanned my reaction when he said, “He seems like an all right dude.”
I nodded, “He is.”
In a way Jordan was disappointed that Shane wasn’t going back to Morgan City with him but he had expected him to stay with me anyways. I didn’t really have a chance to talk to Jordan in private about Shane and how everything had occurred but as I walked him out to his truck we talked just a few moments.“He wanted to come here as soon as he could Anna.”
I nodded, “I’m glad he’s here. Thanks for bringing him down. I’ll get off tomorrow afternoon trough the 29th. He can stay here and we’ll come down then maybe.”
“Yeah, sure. Just see how things are going to be with you guys. Are you happy to see him?”
“Very much, I’m overwhelmed with him here but in a good way. I really didn’t think that day would ever come again.”
“I didn’t either but he got out. The nurse dropped the charges. He can tell you about the whole deal. He’s a free man again, but still on probation.”
“I’m so relieved. I really had almost lost hope.”
Jordan’s expression was weary, “Well, he was really nervous to see you again because he was scared of course that your feelings had changed. He’s not in great shape though. He’s on a bunch of meds now. Anti-depressants, anti-anxiety, he still has spasms in his legs almost constantly now. He’s also got pain meds for when he needs it I guess. I think he’s still on antibiotics as well and some kind of bladder medication and stuff for constipation. So you may want to make sure he’s on track with all of that. I don’t really want to leave you with all this responsibility Anna. I was going to take him back home with me today and I can still do that.”
I shook my head, “No, it’s fine. I want him here with me. I’ve been waiting this long for my boyfriend to be back in my life and I’m not letting him go anymore. Jordan, you know I love him!”
Jordan nodded and smiled, “I know. It’s been a rough couple of months for all of us. Time to straighten things out and move on in a more positive way.”
“Right. Everything will be okay now.”
Jordan sighed, “Well, gotta get back home. Christmas tomorrow, kids are super excited of course.”
“I bet. Give Jenny and the kids my love. Also everyone else tomorrow when you see them.”
“I will. Call me if anything is up. I’m glad he’s out and back with you. And I guess I have to thank you for not giving up on him. He loves you very much Anna.”
“I know, and I love him.”
We hugged and I watched Jordan climb in his truck and drive off. Shane’s bag was already inside and when I came back in I just saw Josh and Shane make their way toward the dormitory where the beds were located, separated by portable walls so people could have a little bit of privacy.I saw Josh carry Shane’s bag and I caught up to them, “Did you find a bed for Shane?”
Josh answered, “Yeah, I’ll give him 23 over by the wall.”
Even though Josh walked very slowly ahead I could see Shane struggling making his way with his legs locked in the braces. He was actually swinging them through to keep up with Josh but his eyes were on the ground in front of him. He was fully focused on his gait and I could see he had a hard time.
When he stood at the assigned bed, Josh sat Shane’s bag down, “Okay, here we are. I hope this’ll do for tonight Shane?”
Shane looked at Josh and replied somewhat out of breath, “It’s perfect. Thanks man.”
When Josh turned around our eyes met and I saw questions and curiosity.
I smiled at Josh, “Thanks Josh. I’ll be back in the warehouse shortly to keep wrapping the presents.”
Shane was in the process of letting himself down on the bed. I watched him and when he finally sat there with his hands by his side on the bed I saw his chest rise up and down quickly.I sat down next to him, “You seem like you’re having a hard time with walking.”
He was unlocking his braces, his head hung, and his eyes were on his feet, “Yeah, it’s kinda hard now. I wasn’t in my braces for a long time because I was in the hospital. And even before I didn’t get to be in them a lot. They said it took too long to strap them on just for me to go out in the yard or eat in the mess hall. I maybe got them once or twice a week for thirty minutes or so.”
“So they actually left you in your cell without being able to get up or out?”
He didn’t say anything because he knew how I felt about this.Softly he said, “I’ll get used to it again.”
“You seem weak Shane.”
At that I realized his arms were shaking.
He nodded again, “I am…but I’ll get better again. Just takes some time. I’ll have to work on my upper body strength again and stuff.”
He looked up at me, “You still live in that apartment?”
I pressed my lips together and nodded.
He laughed lowly and looked back down at his feet, shaking his head, “Shit…that’ll be interesting.”
I thought about the wheelchair option once again but I didn’t say anything about it at that time. I couldn’t even picture how Shane in his current condition would get up the three flights of stairs to my apartment now. I dreaded this already.
“Well, maybe you can get some rest now. I’ve to go back to work again but I can get you for dinner.”“Okay, yeah…where are the bathrooms?”
I told him the direction to the bathroom to another part of the building.
“Shane if you need me, here.”
I handed him my cell phone and showed him the number to touch dial so they could transfer into the warehouse.
He took it from me and dropped it onto the pillow.
We looked at each other again and he reached over and pulled me closer.
For a moment he just scanned my face, “You’re still so beautiful Anna. I missed looking at your face so much.”
His hand softly stroked over my cheek and he touched a few strands of my hair that had come undone from my pony tail.
“That beautiful golden hair…”
His eyes were searching and scanning over my face, dark and deep. I put my hand to his baseball cap and looked at him for affirmation. He nodded and I took his cap off. He quickly ran his hand through his hair and looked down. Shane’s dark hair was still the same, it was still curling into his neck, and strands of bangs were falling right back into his forehead.He moved closer now with his face and softly ran his finger over my lip, “I want to kiss you so badly.”
I lowered my eyes for a moment, then looked back up at him and pushed myself closer to him until our faces were close enough that our lips touched. Then there was the kiss we had craved for such a long time and we made it last for several minutes. Whilst kissing, I let my hands run through his hair.
He held me tight to him as his tongue pushed into my mouth, circling my tongue and exploring my mouth. His lips were cold on mine. He held me close and he didn’t let go.
As we somehow unlocked our lips his face stayed right by mine and he hushed under his breath, “Gosh Anna, I missed you so damn much. I longed for this moment and I thought it would never come again.”Our noses almost touched as he said the words, his hand was still at the back of my head and I whispered, “I missed you more than you know, everything about you Shane.”
He gently took my hand and pulled it down to the leather thigh cuff of his brace.
The leather was warm as always and my hand trembled as he pushed it down onto the cuff.
He looked into my eyes and asked softly, “How about those?”
I could only nod and he added, “You still like them?”
I nodded again, my hand getting sweaty as I felt the buckle of the cuff strapped around his thigh.
“I can’t wait for you to help me take them off or put them on.”
My head was spinning at his words and the thoughts of the act he was describing. I felt my loins pulsate with longing.
Shane had more for me, “To keep them snug on my legs I have to buckle them in the fifth hole now because my legs got skinnier too.”
I trembled all over and said softly, “What are you doing Shane?”
He smiled, “Just wanted to see your reaction to these guys. I imagined it every night in my cell before I fell asleep.”
He let my hand go and I pulled it away from his brace quickly.
His hand stroked over my cheek again and he said softly, “I love you Anna and I want to do everything to make you happy and I’ll make up for everything I put you through with me over the last few months. I never want to be without you again.”I wrapped my arms around his neck and whispered, “We’ll be together always now. I love you so much.”
We kissed again long and hard until I finally had to detach myself from Shane and get back to work.
Shane looked into the direction of the bathrooms, “I’m going to make my way over there. Then I’ll probably just lay down for a bit.”
I nodded, “Yeah, I’ll get you for dinner.”
I eventually made it back to the warehouse and continued with wrapping presents. Having Shane there seemed surreal and I couldn’t really believe it all the way. He would have to stay at the shelter with me throughout the night and on Christmas day.
Focused on my task I was startled when Josh came in and said, “Hey!”I looked up from my work, “Oh hi Josh.”
Josh leaned in the door frame and folded his arms in front of him, “So he is here now.”
I stopped and nodded, “Yes, I still can’t believe it.”
“You had no idea he was coming?”
I shook my head, “No, I had no idea about anything that was going on with him.”
“Are you just going to pick up where you left of? I mean he did shut you out for a few months.”
I looked at Josh with a serious expression, “Yes, we’re just going to pick up where he left of. We love each other very much and he had his reasons for not letting me in while he was in jail.”
Josh nodded, “So what’s going on with him? He doesn’t look too healthy.”
“He’s been sick while he was in jail.”
“But what’s going on with those leg braces? What is wrong with his legs?”
“He was in a car accident over a year ago and he came out of it paraplegic. The level of the Spinal Cord Injury was relatively low and incomplete so he can still walk somewhat with the braces and crutches. His brother died in the accident. And no, it wasn’t their fault. A big rig pushed them off the road.”
Josh shook his head and said with a sigh, “Anna, I was for once surprised when you told me you had a boyfriend but I really thought you would have more a guy who could take care of you. Shane doesn’t strike me like that kind of guy.”I held my gaze on Josh, “Listen Josh, again I’m sorry we didn’t hit if off the way you wanted to. You’re a great guy and any girl would take you in a heartbeat but what I have with Shane is pretty deep and special in its own way. I can take care of myself and I don’t mind helping him get back on track with his life which has been all but easy. I love him, that’s all that there is to it.”
Josh nodded, “I’m sorry Anna I didn’t mean to sound ignorant. He must be a special guy and is definitely a lucky one to have you in his life. Yes, maybe I’m still dealing a little with you turning me down but at the same time that showed me that you really care for this guy. I wish you all the best with him and I hope we can still be friends. I wouldn’t mind getting to know Shane better.”
I smiled at him, “I appreciate that a lot Josh. I want to definitely be friends with you always.”
I walked over to him and hugged him warmly.
My day was spent wrapping presents. When I checked in on Shane he was actually sleeping on the bed we had provided for him. I didn’t wake him up but just watched him for a moment and my heart was pounding for him.
I did wake him up when it was time for the Christmas Eve dinner. The dining room looked beautiful and was decorated festive on the tables making this a very special dinner. Our residents slowly gathered around the tables where we had Sparkling Cider and Eggnog ready for them. After a prayer and an evening and Christmas greeting by our local Salvation Army Sergeant Winkler the residents were allowed to line up for their dinner. I was helping behind the food counter and filled mashed potatoes on the many plates that were handed to me. The atmosphere was peaceful and quiet but also joyful. I heard so many deeply meant Thank You’s and appreciation for what we were doing. Shane sat at a table not too far from the food line and every once in a while I would glance over and he met my eyes and he smiled.
He soon was joined by some residents and they offered to get him a plate when they realized his predicament.I heard him explain, “It’s all right but thanks so much. I’m actually waiting for Anna.”
Josh was also walking around amongst the residents and tables and was pouring beverages and making sure everyone had what they needed. Kids excitedly chattered and I heard talk about Santa Claus hopefully showing up.
I finally had served all the residents and we had a break in the line and we were going to take turns to eat. I filled two plates for Shane and myself and carried them over to the table he was sitting at.There was a spot across from him and he thanked me as I set the plate in front of him. We had cider and water.
Margaret, an older lady and her husband were sitting with us and Margaret took my hand in hers and started, “Miss Anna, we’re so thankful to be here. This is wonderful what ya’ll are doing here.”
I smiled at her and I saw Shane out of the corner out of my eye watching us.
“We’re here for you and all other residents and there is no other place we should be tonight.”
“No, you’re right, no other place. God led us here and he’ll make sure we have what we need. It’s all in his hands.”
“It sure is. I’m happy to be here right now.”
Margaret smiled and squeezed my hand, then looked over at Shane, ”So this young man here mentioned that you’re his girlfriend. Is that right Anna?”
I nodded and smiled at Shane, “Yes, I am. I’m very glad he can be here with me tonight.”
Margaret laughed, “That’s wonderful.”
We ate and enjoyed the dinner with everyone. Shane was mostly quiet and he ate slowly. Every once in a while he would glance over at me and our eyes would lock. I was so tremendously happy to have him right there across from me and I still couldn’t believe it all the way.
I helped serve some more, Shane just stayed in his spot and was entertained by Margaret and her husband George and here and there his eyes would just search for me across the room.
Dinner was done around eight that night and some people still hung out in the dining area and others retreated to the TV room to watch Christmas movies, the kids were entertained by Christmas movies in the kids room. The usual bustle in the shelter calmed down. It was around ten that night when some new residents arrived and we served them a meal and Josh assigned beds and areas. Shane hung around where I was. He apologized that he couldn’t help more and I assured him that we had it under control. I was cleaning up when I saw Shane over on one of the arm chairs holding his leg down and adjusting his brace.
I walked over to him and squatted in front of him, “You all right?”“My legs are constantly acting up nowadays. I already took some Baclofen this morning. I don’t think they like being strapped into the braces anymore.”
“Maybe you should lay down again?”
“I probably will.”
I leaned a little closer, “I have to stay up for a while still and play Santa’s elf. We have so many presents we need to move from the warehouse to the tree in the common room.”
Shane nodded, “Yeah, I guess I’ll go to sleep too so maybe Santa will bring something for me too.”
He smiled from under his bangs.
“I’ll walk with you to your bed.”
Shane was slow and I saw his leg jerk a few times, but not able to buckle with the brace locked straight. We made it and he let himself down.I asked him, “Do you want to get out of them for a bit?”
He shook his head but pulled himself up on the bed and leaned on the wall behind him. I sat on the bed and looked at him.
He took my hand and said lowly, “You’re doing a real good thing here Anna. For all those people.”I nodded shyly, “I guess. I love doing it. And I love that you’re here.”
He smiled, “Me too. I’m glad to be near you.”
He yawned, “I kind of need to make my way to the bathroom before I crash.”
I nodded, also a bit disappointed I couldn’t take his braces off for him yet.
He must have read my mind, “I’ll stay in them. It’s all right. I’m kind of pissed at my legs right now for letting me down with those stupid spasms. That’s why they’re staying in the braces.”
I laughed lowly and he pulled me closer, “You’ll get to take them off sooner or later. I know you want to.”
I lowered my eyes and said softly, “You know me so well.”
We kissed again and I had to go back to work.
It was almost midnight now and it was when finally it was quiet in the shelter that I and some of the volunteers including Josh started transporting all the wrapped presents from the warehouse to the large tree we had in the common room. We had at least 200 presents with names on them. The area around the tree was covered by colorful gifts and it looked magnificent when we were done and it was also four o’clock in the morning. I was expecting the first kids to wander into the room early.
I was exhausted from the day and night without any sleep and soft footed walked over to Shane’s bed. He was lying on the bed without a shirt but still in his jeans and braces. Only the laces on his boots were undone. He was breathing quietly and I carefully sat on his bed. He moved and moaned and even though I didn’t want to wake him up he opened his eyes and whispered in the darkness,
“Anna?”He pushed himself over slightly and said in a whisper, “Lay with me.”
I scrambled onto the bed and even though this was a twin size bed I squeezed myself next to Shane. I laid in his arm and he pulled me close. I smelled his skin, and I saw the dark outlines of the tattoos on his chest and arms. I laid my leg over his and felt the roughness of the brace through my yoga pants. It made me shiver to feel this.
I hushed lowly, “I’m so tired right now.”
He whispered sleepily, “Just close your eyes.”
I quickly set the alarm on my cell phone and stuck it back into my hoodie pocket. Shane held me close and he softly kissed my forehead and it didn’t take long and my eyes just fell shut.