It happens so goddamn fast. One minute I’m wheeling down the street, the next I’m tasting pavement.
At first, I can’t even figure out what happened. I’m dazed by the crash to the ground and I think maybe I hit an obstacle in the road and my chair lost its traction. But then I hear the guy yelling at Kirby to give him her purse and I know exactly what happened.
I’ve landed on my stomach and my wheelchair is toppled over next to me. Getting back into the chair on my own is an impossibility. Hell, rolling over is an impossibility. In bed, I use rails on either side of the bed to help me roll and maneuver. On the street, I don’t have that. Also, I landed on my bad shoulder and it hurts like a mother when I make even a halfhearted attempt to roll over.
I’m totally fucking helpless down here.
The man is threatening Kirby, a knife glinting in his hand. “Give me your purse, bitch! Or else I’ll kill you and the cripple!”
I wish I could save her. I’ve actually got mace in my wheelchair, but even if I could somehow get to it, fat lot of good it would do me down here on the ground. All I can do is watch this man threatening the woman I love while she inexplicably clutches her purse. And now I can see his eyes flicking down to her breasts—this isn’t going in any sort of good direction.
“Give him the fucking purse!” I scream at her from the ground.
Kirby blinks a few times, as if coming out of a trance. She shoves the purse at the man, who thankfully starts running away. She’s lost her purse, but that’s just stuff. She’s not hurt. He didn’t rape her. I did having to lie here on the ground, watching him violate her.
Kirby falls to her knees beside me. “John? Are you okay?”
Only my left shoulder and my pride. “Yeah. I’m okay.”
“Can… can you get up?”
“No,” I admit. “You should probably call the police now.” Then, realizing she probably lost her phone to the mugger, I say, “My phone is in the pouch on the side of my chair.”
Kirby manages to find my phone and call 911. The police say they’re on their way, although the guy with her purse is likely long gone. But they’ll come to take a report and also help me back into my wheelchair.
I try again to roll over while she’s on the phone. When I put weight on my left shoulder, it feels like a knife is stabbing me. All I can do is lift my upper body partially off the ground, but even that is a struggle. I feel like an insect that got flipped over and can’t right itself.
“Kirby,” I say when she hangs up with the police. “Could you…” I avert my eyes. “Could you help me roll over onto my back?”
I still remember that day at her house, when she refused to help me make that transfer from her sofa back to my chair. But today, she’s all in. “Of course. What do you want me to do?”
I give her instructions on how to lift my hip and fold my left leg over the right. With her covering the weight of my leg, I’m able to make it the rest of the way. Once I’m on my back, I can use the strength in my upper arms to sit up. I find my balance, mostly slumping forward as I use my arms to support me. I’m sure I look ridiculous and my shoulder is on fire, but it’s better than lying on the pavement.
“Are you okay?” Kirby asks me again.
“Fine,” I lie. “Are you okay?”
She snorts. “I’ve been better.”
I look down at my lap, at my gut jutting out in the awkward position I’m keeping myself in just to stay sitting up. “I’m sorry I couldn’t help.”
“John, come on…” she says. “I mean, the guy had a knife… what were you supposed to do?”
“He wouldn’t have attacked you if you weren’t with a guy in a wheelchair. If you were with some six foot tall guy with big muscles.”
Kirby doesn’t disagree.
I’m feeling really sorry for myself by the time the cop car pulls up. Two guys around my age get out of the car dressed in police uniforms. They see Kirby with her arms wrapped around her chest, and then me on the sidewalk, my wheelchair next to me.
“Everyone okay here?” the taller of the two men asks. “Do we need to call for the paramedics?”
“I’m fine,” I say quickly. Fuck, the last thing I want is to get more people involved. “I just need help getting back in my wheelchair.”
The taller officer holds me under my arms and the other one holds me under my legs, and they position me back in my chair. I hate being lifted that way. But Christ, what a relief to be back in my chair. It’s the typical love-hate relationship of a quad with his wheelchair—wish I weren’t stuck with it, but what the hell would I do without it?
The shorter officer squints down at me. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
“I’m fine,” I say again, as I adjust my legs in the footrests.
“So what happened here?” the taller officer asks Kirby. “You said you got mugged?”
Kirby nods and tells him the story. I wince when she describes how I got thrown from my chair. I’d give anything to not have to relive this humiliation with the cops. The worst part is that they don’t even seem surprised that the mugger took me out that way. Of course he did, right?
They don’t seem terribly optimistic about retrieving Kirby’s purse. The only positive thing is that her cell phone was in there, so they think maybe they can locate it that way. Who knows? At this point, I just want to get the fuck out of here.
“Do you need a ride home?” the taller officer asks us.
“No, we’re good,” I say. My car is only a block away. Hopefully, we can manage to make it there without getting mugged again. My biggest worry, actually, is how my shoulder is going to feel when I do that transfer.
Sure enough, the second I start wheeling toward the car, my shoulder starts hurting like a mother. I can’t fucking believe this shit. Wasn’t I in bad enough shape without this happening to me?
That’s the problem when less than half your body is functional. Just about any injury is enough to fuck up your life and take away your independence. If I can’t wheel my chair, then what am I supposed to do? If I can’t transfer myself, then I’m really screwed. I’ve got the number of a home health agency that I used once when I first came home from the hospital after a bout of pneumonia, but it sucks being dependent on an aide just to get in and out of bed. And bathing—if I can’t transfer, I can’t get onto my shower bench, which means I’ll need help for that too.
No, fuck that. I’ll just deal with the pain. It’s not that bad.
The transfer into my car is awful. The pain is so bad that I almost start tearing up. It takes me a few seconds just to breathe through it after I’m in the car. Kirby is sitting next to me, watching me. I know I’ve got to break down my chair to throw it in the back, but I can’t make myself do it. At least, I need a minute.
Kirby touches my shoulder—not the one that hurts. “John…”
“I’m okay,” I manage.
She seems to recognize that’s not actually the case. “What can I do to help?”
Well, she already helped me roll over. May as well go for broke. “Can you put my wheelchair in the back seat?”
I tell her what to do to break it down. I’m worried she’s going to fuck it up and break it, but she’s careful and does a good job. Once it’s in the car, I relax a little bit. And the pain has subsided enough that I can drive Kirby home.
“What do you think you’re doing?” she asks me as I start driving in the direction of her house.
“Driving you home?”
“Yeah? And how are you going to get your chair back out of the car?”
She’s got a point.
“Let’s go to your place,” she says. “I’ll help you out, then I’ll grab a taxi home.”
“I’ll pay for it,” I say weakly.
Kirby just shrugs. I wish she’d let me do something for her tonight. I couldn’t possibly feel more emasculated than I do right now.
I have to admit, it really helps to have her get my chair out of the back. I manage the transfer on my own, all the while praying that the pain will be improved by tomorrow. Kirby follows me into the elevator, then up to my apartment. Once we’re safely inside, I hand her my cell phone.
“I’m good now,” I say. “You can call a cab.”
She raises her eyebrows at me. “Are you sure?”
I hesitate, thinking about my entire nighttime routine and having to go through it with my shoulder hurting this much. Then again, what is Kirby supposed to do? Is she going to help me with my bowel program? Is she going to detach my leg bag and replace it with the larger bag that I hang off the side of the bed during the night? And she’s sure as hell not going to help me get undressed. In my dreams, right?
Goddamn it. This sucks. One idiot topples me out of my chair and my whole life is fucked up for God knows how long. Maybe forever.
“I don’t mind staying,” she says. She plops down on my sofa. “Hell, I can stay the night if you don’t mind. You’ve got a really comfy sofa.”
I wheel over to the sofa and it hurts like hell, but not as much as transferring back into bed will hurt. But I’ve been in pain of one kind or another pretty much since the day I got injured, so what’s a little more?
“John,” she says quietly. “Are you… okay? You look like you’re in agony.”
I shrug. And even that fucking hurts. “I’m fine.”
Kirby reaches out and her fingers just graze my shoulder. I flinch, anticipating pain from her touch, but she doesn’t end up touching me there. Her fingers rest on my jaw, where a five o’clock shadow has sprouted in the last few hours. I may be half-Asian, but I grow a beard like a white guy.
“John…” she says again.
“I’m fine,” I say, although my voice wavers. That’s not because of pain though. It’s because Kirby’s touching my face. And because she’s leaning forward on the couch so that her own face is less than a foot away from mine.
I’m within kissing distance. All I’d have to do is lean forward and my lips would be on hers before she’d think to pull away. The last time I was within kissing distance with a girl I liked, I didn’t go for it, and that was probably a good thing, because in retrospect, I would have gotten slapped. I’d probably get slapped if I tried to kiss her now. After all, Kirby doesn’t want me kissing her. She’s gorgeous, she’s engaged to my friend, and I’m a fucking quadriplegic. She definitely doesn’t want me kissing her.
But then I’m not sure what it is. Maybe it’s the scent of bubble gum cupcake that clings to her skin, or the way her lips curve into the tiniest of smiles, or the fact that her tits are just… well, great tits is all I’m saying. I don’t know if it’s one of those things or if it’s something completely different. Something I can’t put my finger on. Something that I noticed the first time I saw her eying that apple tart at Barnes and Noble and fell instantly in love.
But anyway, I kiss her.
For the first minute, all I can think about is how goddamn soft her lips are. They’re so soft that I feel like I could kiss her for hours, maybe for several years, and not even notice that a minute had passed. She’s so fucking soft.
And after I get over the wonder of how soft she is and how amazing it is that I’m kissing her, it occurs to me that she isn’t pulling away. She is, in fact, kissing me back.
Kirby is kissing me back.
I think maybe that asshole mugger killed me and I’ve gone to heaven.
John is kissing me.
If someone told me a few hours ago that this how my night would end up, I wouldn’t have believed it. I mean, yes, I like John. I find him attractive. But I’m engaged. And the idea that he’d just lean forward and kiss me like this when I’m engaged to his best friend is pretty insane.
Yet it’s happening.
And oh my, it’s a nice kiss. John acts like he’s a pariah when it comes to women, but you don’t get to be this good at kissing without a little practice. Or maybe it’s us. Maybe we jut having the right chemistry. Maybe it’s because both of us have wanted this for so long.
I move from the couch onto John’s lap and things get a little more hot and heavy. He can’t move his hands, but he’s using his forearms to press me against him, and my fingers are all up in his thick, dark hair. I can’t get enough of kissing this man. I never want to stop. Ever.
“Stop,” John gasps, his lips pulling away from mine.
At first, I feel like I must be imagining things. Why is he telling me to stop? This is the best kiss I’ve ever had in my life. And I have to believe it’s pretty damn good for him too.
“Ted…” he manages.
Oh, right. Ted.
I look at him for a moment, at the slight slant of his almond eyes. Everyone has been telling me for months that I rushed into things with Ted, that he might not be the right guy for me. I brushed everyone off, never believing it could be true. Until now.
“I can’t do this to Ted,” he says, more firmly this time.
And that’s when I realize that he’s right. Ted is coming her in a few days to interview for a job so that he can be closer to me. How could I cheat on him with his best friend? What kind of bitch does something like that? I feel my cheeks turning pink, wondering what he must think of me. I scramble off his lap, getting up on my feet.
“You’re right,” I say.
“Yeah.” He lowers his eyes. “This was… a mistake.”
“Right.” I nod, even though it pains me. “It was a mistake.”
“Glad we’re in agreement.”
“Total agreement.” I nod again. “Huge mistake.”
John gives me a wounded look, and then I think maybe I went a little too far. Especially since I’m not sure it was a mistake at all. It was the best kiss of my life—how could that be a mistake?
“You should probably call a taxi now,” John says in a clipped tone that makes me think I probably did go a little too far. “It’s late.”
“Right,” I agree.
I call a taxi using his phone, and we spend the remaining ten minutes together basically avoiding talking to each other. And for the entire taxi ride home, I think about what John’s lips felt like on mine.
To be continued...?