The drive to my old high school is almost identical to what it used to be 10 years ago. Mostly because I only live 10 minutes from my parents’ house. That’s not an accident. After I got hurt, I lived with them through all of the rest of college, and while I wanted my independence, there are times when I still need help and it’s been a lifesaver to have them so close.
I had a car the last year of high school, and I remember I always had to park way in the back of the student lot. The difference tonight is even though the lot is packed, I get a spot right near the entrance. These handicapped plates are good for something.
I spend a couple of minutes sitting in the car, trying to psych myself up. I know tonight is going to be a pain in the ass. It’s always hard when I run into somebody I knew back in high school. Some of them heard about my accident, but most of them don’t know the extent of what happened to me. The permanence of it. They always look shocked. Then they make a patronizing comment about how great I look.
I’m sure tonight I’m going to be told how great I look a lot.
But it could be worse. Like I said to Ethan, I’m independent. I’ve got a great job. I think I look at least halfway decent in my blue button up shirt and khaki slacks. I didn’t cut myself shaving. I’m not losing my hair. There are plenty of positive boxes checked off for me. Tonight is going to be fine. I’ll get through it.
Maybe it’ll even be a good thing. I avoid going places in town because I’m so worried about running into people I used to know and seeing the reaction to what happened to me, so this will take care of that problem. Like ripping off a bandage.
And then I see the four steps to get into the school.
I have no memory of there being any steps to get into the school. I’m sure when I was a student, I just darted up them every day without thinking about it. It’s the sort of thing you don’t notice when you’re on your feet. But now I’m looking at these stupid steps, and wishing I had never made that promise to Ethan.
I can jump one step. Barely. If I were a paraplegic, I’m sure I could do one step easily, but without any strength in my hands, it’s challenging. It usually takes me a few tries and it kills my shoulders. But four steps? Forget it.
There’s got to be a handicapped entrance. It would make a lot of sense if the entrance were next to the handicapped spot in the parking lot, but whatever. I have long since given up trying to make sense of accessibility.
I watch as people in their late 20s make their way into the building. Some of the faces look familiar to me. Maybe it won’t be so bad to make an entrance through the back.
I circle the building until I find a ramp leading to the door with the square handicap button next to it. I let out a sigh of relief. I had been sure I’d find an entrance around somewhere, but I wasn’t sure about the door situation. Opening doors is really difficult. If the door has a handle like the one I’ve got at home, I can manage, but it isn’t always pretty. A doorknob—forget it. I can’t turn doorknobs.
Between my wheelchair accessible home and the hospital where I work, the two places where I spend most of my time, I’m spoiled. I start to forget how inaccessible the entire rest of the world is. Nothing is designed for people in wheelchairs. A few weeks ago, a colleague at work invited me to a dinner party he was having at his house. I wanted to go and socialize with him out of work, but when I asked him about stairs, his face turned red and he admitted he had six to get into his front door and four in the back. I had to turn him down. Just one reason why my social life sucks.
I push myself up the ramp to get to the back door, and discover it’s steeper than regulation. Like, much steeper. This might not be a problem for a guy with full arm function, but for me, it’s a problem. I don’t even know how they got away with this. Doesn’t anyone inspect these fucking ramps?
So I get halfway up the ramp and roll right back down to where I started.
I’m cursing under my breath when I feel a hand on my shoulder. I look up and see a familiar face. It’s Mr. McIntyre, who I had for math two years in a row. He was middle-aged back then, and now he has more gray than brown in his hair and a lot more wrinkles. But I still remember him. He was a really good math teacher.
“You need a push, son?” he asks me.
I do have small handles in the back of my chair, but I fucking hate it when people push me. At least he asked permission. There’s nothing worse than when somebody just grabs my handles and starts pushing me. But in this case, I need it. Given my limited arm strength, there are times when I need a push. That’s why the handles are there.
“Yeah, thanks,” I breathe. I hesitate, thinking he probably has no idea who I am or what I’m doing here. “I’m—”
“I recognize you,” Mr. McIntyre interrupts before I can introduce myself.
“Oh.” I can’t say I’m not surprised. Maybe the teachers heard about my accident.
Mr. McIntyre pushes me up the ramp easily, then helps me with the door too, because the stupid handicap button doesn’t seem to work. I don’t know what I’m gonna do when I need to get out of here, but I don’t worry about that then.
“Are you OK now?” he asks when we’re inside the school. “Do you need help with anything else?”
Christ, I hope not. “No, I’m fine. Thanks.”
He nods. “Where’s your mother? Is she coming too?”
I blink at him. I didn’t expect that question, but again, I’m not entirely surprised. When I’m out in public, people not infrequently ask if I have a parent or a nurse helping me. “No. I’m here myself.”
“Really? Good for you.”
I flinch as he pats me on the shoulder again. But at least it’s better than patting me on the head. When people do that, I want to punch them in the nose. If I could land a punch anymore, which I can’t.
“Well, it was good seeing you again, Kenny.” he smiles at me. “Have fun at the reunion.”
Kenny? What the…?
Then it hits me. There was a kid named Kenny in the class below me (not even in my fucking class, for chrissake) who had pretty severe cerebral palsy and used a power wheelchair to get around. I didn’t really know him, because the only kids I knew who weren’t in my grade were the ones who played football, but you had to notice the kid zipping around the halls in a power chair. From what I remember, his speech was pretty affected too. We had some assembly once where he spoke, and we were kind of laughing about the fact that they had this kid giving a speech and we couldn’t understand one word he was saying.
Mr. McIntyre thought I was that kid.
Well, all my confidence has just flown out the window. I really, really hope they have alcohol at this thing, because I need a drink like an hour ago.
I push myself to the entrance of the gymnasium, which is set up with tables and folding chairs inside, which reminds me of prom 10 years ago. I went with Ashley DiMarco. And she sucked me off after it was over, which may have been part of the reason I went with her. There was another girl I would have preferred to go with, but she blew me off. At least I got the blowjob. Especially since I can’t feel my dick anymore.
I hang back at the door, too chickenshit to actually go inside. I’m glad Ethan isn’t here to see this. He’s right. He’s fucking right. I’m embarrassed about how I look in this chair. You can’t tell anything is wrong with my hands when they’re lying in my lap, but the second I try to do something—anything, even push my chair— it’s obvious they don’t work. My fingers are too curled and soft. When I look down at my blue button up dress shirt, I can see the way my belly juts out. We’re all about 28 years old and most of the guys are still in decent condition. Nobody has a gut like I do. Like somebody’s overweight dad.
I adjust my position in my chair, trying not to slump. It’s hard because I have no abdominal muscles. Laura was telling me I should get a new chair because she thinks this one is not great for my posture (because just what you want is the girl at work you think is hot to tell you that your posture sucks), but I’ve only had it three years and the insurance won’t pay for a new one yet. And a decent wheelchair is not cheap.
I look around at my former classmates, deep in conversation. Well, I’ve got to go in eventually.
I wheel over to the table just inside the gym, where two guys from our class are signing people in. I recognize one of them, but I couldn’t tell you his name. He wasn’t on the football team. I clear my throat and they look up with me.
“Hey!” one of the guys says. “Kenny! I didn’t realize you were in our class!”
You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. “No.” I clear my throat again. “My name is Ryan Porter.”
The two guys exchange looks. “Oh,” the one on the right says. His nametag says Owen. Again, it all seems vaguely familiar. “Ryan Porter. I remember you. Weren’t you… I mean, you didn’t used to…”
“I was in an accident,” I mumble. People are starting to stare. I just want to get this over with. “So… Do I take a name tag or…?”
“Oh, sure.” Owen grabs one off the stack. He picks up a marker and hesitates. “Do you need help or…?”
I’m not going to lie. My handwriting is shit. It wasn’t great before, but now it’s barely legible. But I think I can handle writing my four-letter name with a big magic marker. if it’s not legible, maybe that’s for the best.
“I can do it,” I say.
I realize a second too late that the marker still has a cap on it. Damn it.
I bite off the cap of the marker, then spit it out onto the table while Owen pretends not to gawk at me. (When you don’t have use of your hands, your teeth become an important tool.) I write “Ryan” on the sticker in big block letters. It looks like my name, more or less. I affix it to my chest and wheel myself into the gym.
By now, I’m aware of the fact that half the room is staring at me. I’m used to being stared at. I don’t know what is so goddamn interesting about a guy in a wheelchair, but obviously something, because people look at me like my hair is on fire. So the staring is nothing new, but usually not this many people at once. More than ever, I want to leave.
I turn my head in the direction of the voice calling my name. At least it wasn’t somebody else calling me Kenny. Thank you, name tag.
The voice belongs to Jim Doherty. Jim was one of my best friends back in high school. He knew I got hurt and came to visit me in the hospital when he was on spring break. Once.
“Hey,” I say. I lift a hand to greet him, which only draws attention to my disability. Oh well.
Jim scratches at his dark hair. Back in the day, we were about the same height. He towers over me now. He’s kept in good shape too. “I didn’t realize that you were still…”
You might have realized it if you bothered to come visit me again. It was really hard getting abandoned by all my former friends after my accident. But I didn’t come here to confront anyone. So I bite my tongue and say, “Yeah. I’m in here for the long-haul.”
“Man, that sucks…” Jim shifts awkwardly from foot to foot. He looks like he wishes he didn’t come over here. “I, um… I’m sorry.”
I shrug. Like I couldn’t care less.
Jim flashes me the phoniest smile I’ve ever seen. “Anyway, you look great!”
And so it begins.
Jean is driving way too slowly.
I just want to get there already. I’ve been waiting for this moment for 10 years. I’ve been waiting to hurt Ryan Porter the way he hurt me. I mean, I do want to see my old friends, catch up on the last 10 years, blah blah blah, but I’m not going to lose sight of my main goal here. Ryan is going to pay.
“Do you think you’ll recognize him?” Jean asks as she (finally!) pulls into the school parking lot. We are late, and we’re probably going to have to park way in the back. Which means I’m going to have to hoof it across this giant parking lot in the most uncomfortable pumps known to man.
“Of course I’ll recognize him. It’s only been 10 years.”
“People can change a lot in 10 years,” she points out. “Maybe he’s fat and bald now.”
I literally cannot picture Ryan Porter being fat and bald. He was gorgeous in high school. I’m sure he’s still gorgeous. Of course, if he isn’t, that will make what I need to do so much easier.
You’re probably wondering what the bastard did to me.
I don’t want you to think that I am so shallow that I would just fall in love with one of the hottest and most popular guys in school for no reason. When Ryan sat down behind me in Mr. McIntyre’s calculus class during the first term of senior year, I couldn’t have cared less. Yes, he was eye candy. But so what?
It surprised me more than anyone when I actually started to like him.
The thing was, Ryan was actually nice. During the course of the semester, we became friends. Also, Ryan wasn’t great at calculus, and it was cute when he used to ask me for help. I never minded, and he would always crack little jokes while we were doing math together. When he saw me in the hall, he would always wave so enthusiastically.
And then he started inviting me to football games. I’ve never been friendly with anyone on the football team, but he seemed so excited for me to show up. And even though I never particularly liked football, I started going to all his games at our home field. And after the game was over, he’d always come over and talk to me. He was always kind of dirty and sweaty and so sexy.
So yes, I developed a crush on him. I was a cliché – the nerdy girl in love with the football hero. But in my head, I genuinely thought it wasn’t one-sided. I really believed he felt something for me.
I was disappointed when I didn’t end up in any of the same classes as Ryan during the spring semester, but it wasn’t that big a surprise since my schedule is packed with advanced placement courses, and that wasn’t his thing. But it seemed like more than ever, Ryan was stopping in the hallway to talk to me. One time he walked me to English class, and when the bell rang, he took off running in the other direction, which made me think that he made himself very late for fifth period.
And then on Valentine’s Day, I got the rose during homeroom.
Every Valentine’s Day, people could purchase roses to give to their boyfriend or girlfriend during homeroom. Over four years of high school, this was my very first rose. And when I saw the name Ryan on the tag, I was floored. Even more so when I read the note:
Meet me at Pete’s after school.
Pete’s was a diner a few blocks away from the school where kids hang out. I had always fantasized about having a date at Pete’s. And now it was coming true.
Or so I thought. I showed up at Pete’s promptly after school ended, but Ryan wasn’t there. I waited an hour, and he still didn’t show. I finally ordered a milkshake so I wouldn’t look quite so conspicuous sitting there by myself.
I waited a full hour and a half. I was sure Ryan got hung up at practice, and maybe he wanted to make sure he showered before he met me. When he finally walked in with his football buddies, I was relieved. Until I realized he wasn’t coming over to me. He was just looking at me. And so were his friends.
And they were snickering.
That’s when I finally got it. Ryan wasn’t in love with me. He didn’t want to meet me here for a date. This was all an elaborate prank on his part to make me look stupid. And I had fallen for it. I bet his friends got a good laugh out of the whole thing. This dorky girl is so into me, I bet she’ll wait for hours for me to show up.
After 10 years, it still hurts to think about that day. When the boy I loved made a fool out of me. That’s part of why I was so motivated to lose all the weight and reinvent myself. I didn’t want to ever be the subject of mockery again.
But the idea of getting revenge didn’t occur to me until I got the invitation for the ten year reunion.
It’s so perfect. I’m going to do to Ryan exactly what he did to me. I’m going to make him think that I like him. I’m going to make him think he is going to score. And then at the last second, I’m going to leave him with a pair of blue balls.
My feet are aching from my stupid high heels by the time I get to the gym. Whoever designed these shoes must hate feet. I limp over to the table by the entrance, where two guys from our class have a sign in sheet with a bunch of name tags.
I recognize one of them as Owen Johnson. He was my senior prom date, after things exploded so spectacularly with Ryan. It was not a great night. After a couple of drinks, Owen turned into Grabby McGrabberson. I had to slap him to get him to stop. Funny how I’m not really that mad at him anymore though, not like I am at Ryan. I guess I can’t blame the guy for trying to get some on prom night.
Owen’s eyes widen when he sees me. A big smile spreads across his lips. “Wow. You can’t possibly have been from our class. I would definitely remember you.”
“I’m Hannah Leonard,” I mumble.
Owen looks stunned. “Oh my God. Hannah, you look amazing.”
“Thanks.” I scribble my name on the name tag, but I have no intention of using it. You don’t pay this much money for a dress then put a sticky name tag on it. “Um, by the way, do you know if… If Ryan Porter is here?”
“Ryan Porter?” Owen raises his eyebrows like I’ve said something really meaningful.
“That’s right. He used to be the quarterback on the football team…”
“Uh…” He frowns. “Yeah. He made it in. Surprising, huh?”
Why would that be surprising? “OK, thanks.”
Owen scrambles to his feet. “Wait. I’m almost done here, we should get caught up or—”
But I don’t have the energy to deal with him right now. I came here to see one person and it’s not Owen Johnson.
The gym is filled with a bunch of tables, but thankfully no cheesy decorations like there were for prom. I guess there wasn’t a reunion committee with nothing better to do than put little cutouts of fish all over the walls. (The theme for our prom was “the ocean.”) I glance around at the vaguely familiar faces of my former classmates. I definitely had friends back in high school, but it’s funny how I don’t have much desire to talk to any of them anymore.
“Do you see him?” Jean asks me as she materializes by my side. She has written her name on that white name tag and stuck it square on her dress.
I scan the room more intently. It’s funny how everyone has grouped off similarly to the way they did in high school. The nerds are together, the art kids are together, and there are the football jocks by the food. I look at their faces, but Ryan isn’t among them. But he’s here. He’s definitely here. Owen said so.
And then I catch sight of him. He’s sitting at one of the tables, talking to some girl that I’m pretty sure used to be a cheerleader. And…
Oh my God, he’s still just as gorgeous as he used to be.
No. That’s not true. He’s more gorgeous than he used to be. He was handsome before, but now he’s gotten really sexy. His face has filled out, and the shorter, more professional haircut suits him. He smiles crookedly at the cheerleader and my heart flutters in my chest. My heart hasn’t fluttered in my chest in over 10 years. What the hell is wrong with me?
My legs feel a little rubbery. My whole plan is going down the drain. Ryan can’t be this much hotter than me. If he is, then he might reject me, and not only will I not get my revenge, but he’ll have done the same damn thing to me that he did in high school. He’s probably planning right now to hook up with the cheerleader. I have no shot.
“Hannah?” Jean says.
“God,” I murmur. “He’s…”
“I know,” Jean says. “I didn’t realize he never recovered.”
“Recovered?” I look at her and frown. “What do you mean?”
She glances over at him and then back at me. “I mean, I heard he was in that accident playing football. I didn’t realize he...”
I look across the room back at where Ryan is sitting. There is something different about him. About the way he sitting. He’s...
Oh my God.
Ryan Porter is sitting in a wheelchair.
I clasp my hand over my mouth. “I had no idea…” The Jell-O feeling in my knees has only gotten worse. “Do you think it’s… permanent?”
“Well, I heard about the accident freshman year in college. So I’m guessing by now, if he’s still in a chair, it’s permanent.” She narrows her eyes at me. “So you’re going to call off this crazy plan now, right?”
I look at Ryan, sitting in that wheelchair across the room. All of a sudden, he doesn’t seem out of my league anymore. He seems like somebody who would be extremely grateful if I showed him some attention.
The game is still on.
To be continued...