It’s been a while since I posted a free story. When I was in high school, one of the seniors there was in a wheelchair–he’d wrapped his car around a pole shortly after learning to drive. And I remember at one of the school dances, he’d pulled his date onto his lap on the wheelchair to slow-dance with her. (My only real experience with watching a lap dance actually…. Okay, c’mon, that was funny–give me a courtesy laugh…mom.) It amazed me how little he let the wheelchair get in his way, and I still remember seeing him at that dance and thinking it was romantic.
Leather and Leotards
In the annals of doomed relationships, ours would have made the first volume. What could a dancer find in common with a guy in a wheelchair?
Speaking from the perspective of the guy in the wheelchair, I could find a lot of things I wanted to have in common with Justine Lewis. First of all, I wanted to have a shared residence and a couple of kids. I’d never seen anyone and wished they could have my children. I’d never even wanted children. I looked at Justine, watched her bend over to talk to my niece, and knew she should be the mother to my children. If it took years of attention to the task for her to get pregnant, I was available every night, most mornings, and I’d ditch out of my home office during the afternoons whenever possible.
“Dude, Parker, you gotta know this is a hopeless cause,” my brother-in-law said.
“Shut-up, Trent,” I muttered, watching Justine from the light booth, as they did another rehearsal for the dance recital.
“You volunteering to do the lights, required me to volunteer,” Trent said, leaning on the handle of my wheelchair.
“So? It’s your daughter in it. You should have volunteered.”
“She asked for volunteers the day we’d asked you to pick her up. It’s not like you gave us the opportunity.” I backed up my wheelchair—right over an obstacle behind me. “OW! Damn. That was my foot and you know it.”
I hid a grin as I reset some lights.
“Has anyone talked to you about this thing you have…?” Trent asked, annoyed.
“No, this ego of yours that seems to forget the wheelchair.”
“Yes, we’re doomed, Trent. Do you think I don’t know that? I know that there is absolutely no way I’ll end up with a Justine Lewis in this lifetime.” Using my arms on the rests, I lifted my still lower body up and readjusted in the seat of the wheelchair. My spine still felt stiff every so often…even after five years. Five long years. Still, I was lucky to be alive. Out of habit, I made the sign of the cross and sent a prayer up for my friend, Eddie. Five years dead. God rest his soul.
“What was that?” Trent asked, gesturing at my hands.
Trent and Becky weren’t religious. When you’d wrecked and lived, you found religion. Something had to make sense of losing your best friend and the use of your legs. It’s not that I was deeply religious, but there had to be a greater purpose to tragedy, didn’t there? Well, maybe not.
Justine and I not getting together was a tragedy, though.
“Do those parts of you even work?” Trent asked.
“Probably better than yours do,” I said, smirking.
Trent laughed. He gestured at the stage. “Do you see how fertile your sister is? We’re spending a fortune on dance classes with four girls. I think I can safely rest my case in regards to my virility without the burden of proof.”
“Burden of proof?” I repeated.
“Bec has become a Law and Order addict lately. She kept me up until two in the morning last night watching them.”
I snickered. “I think I know why you haven’t had any kids for four years now.”
Justine was ushering the youngest group off the stage and getting the final group of kids up. She had waist-length, black hair that I fantasized about wrapping my hands in. It looked soft. She started off each class session by winding it into a bun. She glanced up at the booth and shielded her eyes, smiling at us. A few hand motions from her had me adjusting the lights. I’d run the lights in high school theatre—in this high school actually. That was back when I could do all the rest of the work on my own two legs. When the soft blue lights fell across the stage, she gave me a thumbs up and a wink.
“You are so stuck on her. That is the dumbest grin I’ve ever seen,” Trent said, leaning against the wall—too far from my wheel.
“Mine or hers?” I asked, making a note beside the schedule she’d given me.
“She winked,” I pointed out.
The silence dragged out between us…before I realized that Trent wasn’t just messing around anymore. I glanced back at him. He was staring at me with a frown.
“You do know what you’re doing, right?” he asked.
“Yeah.” No, I was playing it by ear—living in the moment. Carpe diem. You never knew how many of those moments you had. One day, you were driving home with a friend after a college seminar and the next, you were in a wheelchair making deep grooves in the ground near his grave…two months later when you finally got out of the hospital.
“Check out Lani’s jazz moves,” Trent said, pointing at the stage at his eight year old. “I’m telling you, I think she might have a future there.”
“Are there a lot of careers in jazz dance?” Lani was pretty good—for an eight year old.
“If there are, Lani will kick some ass. Check that out! Did you see that?”
“I think you ought to write that in your journal,” I said. “Predicted that someday Lani will kick some ass in jazz dancing.”
Trent cuffed the top of my head.
“How does that come about specifically? Are we thinking a Thriller scenario where all there is between being eaten and surviving is a good solid jazz dance?”
He ignored that…and pointed again when Lani did some sort of complicated leap. “See! See! Check that out! Tell me she isn’t amazing?” He glanced at the rest of the class. “I think she is much better than the others in the class. We should totally see about getting her moved up. She probably isn’t being challenged, you know? They might even be dragging her down.”
I sat back and stared at Trent with my arms crossed. He was mental. Were all fathers like this? Maybe I’d wait to have fantasy children with Justine for a while until I was sure I wasn’t going to get all freaked out like this.
“What?” Trent asked me, seeing my look of disbelief. “Oh, you know she’s better.”
Rather than answer that, I turned and set up the lighting for the final number with all of the classes combined. A moment later, it was all over, and Justine was handing out information for her students to take home. One of the other teachers was with her and trying to match kids with parents quickly.
“I can’t be here tomorrow for the last rehearsal. It might be Becky, or you might need to have Lani help you,” Trent said, grabbing his coat. “You’ve got your van?”
I nodded, watching Justine.
“I’m going to ask her out,” I said just as Trent’s hand touched the door.
He went still. “Are you sure?”
“Seize the day, Bro.”
“You can’t wait to seize the day until after the recital is over?” he asked.
I rolled my eyes. “Whatever happens won’t affect your daughter’s jazz dance career. She’ll probably politely tell me she’s sworn off dating until Elvis is proven to be alive.”
Trent laughed. “Then it’ll work out, because we all know Elvis is alive.” He waved over his shoulder and was gone.
It took a while for all the kids to disperse. Man, there were a ton of kids in dance. Becky had told me how crippling financially all those little outfits were. I kept trying to do the math on how many thousands of dollars’ worth of spandex were running around, but it was too mind-blowing. Finally, it was down to just a couple of parents and Justine when I rolled out of the small room, locking it behind me. I pulled the fingerless gloves out of the backpack that hung on the back of my wheelchair. “Chicks love leather,” I muttered to myself. I had so much leather. Leather seat. Leather bag. Leather gloves. Some of the placement did negate the sex appeal—admittedly, but I was really trying to overlook that.
I sat at the top of the aisle’s ramp second-guessing myself. My bravado couldn’t withstand the twenty minutes it took for the kids to get sorted out to arriving parents. There was no way. What was I thinking?
“Hey, Parker,” she called, just as I was getting ready to bail. The parents were leaving through a side entrance, and it was just Justine and me in the big echo of the high school theatre. She strode up the aisle, grinning at me. “You know, you’re either the most devoted uncle I know or you have ulterior motives.”
I grinned at her. I loved that about her. She always spoke her mind. “Guilty,” I said.
She had a black leotard on, but she’d pulled a sweatshirt overtop of it. Her body was so gorgeous and lithe and…entirely functioning.
She raised her eyebrows as she stopped four or five feet away. “Which are you guilty of?” Her eyes were dark brown but tipped at the edges—as if she had a slightly wicked sense of humor. I bet she did. Her smile agreed with that assessment. She’d teased me a few times about things, and it had been sexy as hell.
“Well, my nieces are all gone. It’s just you and me,” I said, pointedly.
To my surprise, she glanced around, looked surprised, and swore.
I felt my stomach drop…which made me wish that wasn’t a sensation I’d kept. I felt sick to my stomach like someone had punched me. Wow. I had totally misread the signs of mild interest.
Her eyes returned to mine, and she frowned before her eyes widened. “Oh no! No, Parker. That sounded horrible. I’m sorry. It’s just that the other teacher, Nadia, was supposed to be my ride, but she must have forgotten.”
“I can give you a ride,” I said tentatively. Yeah, I wasn’t going through with this asking her out business. That had cut. If there was a chance of her saying that again—for real—it wasn’t worth the miniscule chance I had of a relationship with her. Who was I kidding? No. I’d give her a ride, do the lights for two more nights, and then go back to my cave to lick my wounds.
“You can give me a ride?” she asked, her eyes flicking to the wheelchair.
“I have a van. It’s got hand controls, so I can drive.” I smiled. “I wasn’t suggesting we go for a cross-country spin on my wheels here.”
She laughed, and I could feel my resolve melting. Maybe I could ask her out….
“Well, I’d appreciate a ride, then,” she said. She opened the door for me.
It made sense for her to get the door, but those kinds of things still bit into my pride even after five years.
“So, you’re not just a devoted uncle, huh?” she asked.
It was gutless, but I backpedalled. “Well, I am fairly devoted. Trent says that Lani has the makings of a professional jazz dancer, so I figure we ought to grease the way for that.”
“I’ve never been greased,” she said as we walked down the hallway toward the school’s parking lot.
I nearly choked on my tongue. Had she really said that? I glanced at her.
She smiled down at me. “I don’t know. I might like it.”
I stopped and turned to face her. What should I say to that? I couldn’t think of a thing. So, I said something on a completely different topic that sounded moronic and out of place. “I used to go here, you know.” I gestured with my head at the school around us.
“Oh?” she asked, looking around. “I went to school in Pittsburgh. It must be nice to be close to where you grew up.”
I shrugged. “It’s weird. I used to walk these halls…now….” I patted the armrests of my chair. “Not so much.”
“Am I allowed to ask what happened?”
“A driver—fell asleep at the wheel—crossed the center divide and hit a buddy and I head-on.”
“Your friend?” she asked, her eyes resting on my legs.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
She shoved my shoulder lightly. “You like to brush off things like they don’t matter, Parker. Some things matter.”
I didn’t meet her eyes. She was right, but it was weird to have someone call me on that. “It was a long time ago.”
“That doesn’t matter.” Sighing, she looked away toward a mural on the wall, and I felt comfortable watching her again. “You know, it’s not the same, but my parents had always planned on sending me to New York to go to school. I’d managed to find a scholarship for most of the money. Then, my dad lost his job and my college fund went to keeping the house. The money I made waitressing went to putting food on the table for my family. A year later, when things were better, it was too late. Sometimes, when you lose something that matters to you…time doesn’t fix it. You just learn to cope.” She turned to face me. “Some things still matter.”
“You’re really good at your job,” I said. “You seem to like kids.”
She smiled. “I do. I like my job.”
“New York would have eaten you alive.”
She shrugged. I was tempted to point that out. She’d just shrugged too. Justine raised an eyebrow, daring me.
I smiled and spun back toward the exit to the parking lot. She fell into step beside me. “So, am I allowed to ask how serious it is?” she asked, gesturing at my legs.
I stopped, and faced her again, smiling. “Justine, you’re allowed to ask whatever you want.”
She took a few steps forward, leaned down, and put her hands on the armrests. She looked directly into my eyes. “Well, then, Parker, why haven’t you asked me out yet?”
That…I was not expecting. My face must have shown it.
“You can’t tell me you haven’t been flirting with me for weeks now,” she said. “They asked me at the school why you’ve come to so many dance classes when you’re not a parent, and I told them you’re my boyfriend. They were wondering if they should do a background check on you.”
My mouth dropped open. “Why didn’t you tell them I was there picking up my nieces?” I asked. I could feel my heart pounding. Was she serious? This was…bizarre.
She looked thoughtful for a moment and said airily, “I guess I was just hoping it’d get back to you, and you’d quit being so shy.”
“I’m not shy,” I said.
Her eyes met mine. “No?”
“I’ve been meaning to ask you out, but I wasn’t sure how you’d feel about….” I glanced down at my legs.
“I’ve been reading about that.”
“Paraplegics,” she said. “Are you complete or incomplete?”
“Incomplete. My L1 and L2 are a mess,” I said.
“I figured it had to be really low from watching you.”
“It’s the best kind of spinal cord injury to have. I have some sensation. It’s basically just my legs don’t respond. I don’t need much help. If Eddie had lived…I think I’d have called myself lucky.” I kept waiting for her to put on the pity face that I was so accustomed to.
“You have a very strong upper body.” Her eyes trailed down to my chest and stomach. I did keep in as good of shape as I could. It was a key point to being stubbornly independent.
“Yeah, well, I try,” I said offhand. Where was she going with this?
“I like it,” she said, grinning.
Her eyes met mine, and she leaned forward and kissed me. The height difference felt uncomfortable almost immediately—more because her body was so far away from mine than anything. I grabbed her sweatshirt and pulled her onto my lap.
“It’s okay?” she murmured between kisses.
“Yes. Very okay,” I said, settling her across my legs. I wrapped my arms around her as one hand quickly tugged her hair free from its twist and let it fall around us. Her kisses were hungry and insistent, and it was a balm to my ego to let her be the aggressor. Justine’s slim fingers tugged my shirt from my waistband so she could slide her hands inside my shirt. Amazing. Her fingers were tracing my ribs and muscles. Her nails teased me with soft scratches. Meanwhile, our tongues mated in long, deep kisses. My hands pulled her head closer. Deeper. I needed her. I needed her so much.
A cough and a clearing of a throat brought us back to reality, and we both slowly turned to see the school janitor eyeing us with amusement.
He squinted at me. “Parker?”
I grinned. “Hey, Chuck.”
Justine tried to get up, but I held her against me.
Chuck scratched his head. “I don’t think I busted you for PDA in the halls when you went here.”
“Some of us really didn’t come into our own until after high school,” I said.
He nodded and gestured at the door. “Well, go grope your girlfriend out in the parking lot like the rest of the horny boys around here. I have this hallway to mop.”
Justine smothered her face in my shirt, trying not to laugh, as I turned us around and sped toward the door.
“You got me in trouble,” I said in accusation, going through the door backward so she wouldn’t have to get up.
“I’m sorry,” she said, pulling back to meet my eyes. She wasn’t sorry. Not at all. Her grin looked more proud than sorry. I liked that about her.
“Hmm,” I said. “You want to see how fast I can go?”
“I was hoping you’d go slow,” she said, her eyes trailing down the front of my body.
I pinched her side. “I knew you were wicked. I was talking about this ramp out here.”
She glanced at the ramp. “Oh…sure.”
Her arms were wrapped around me, and she was squealing by the time we hit the bottom of the ramp.
“That was awesome,” she said, laughing. “We should do that again.”
I kissed her upturned face. “Okay.”
“If I push you up, we can get there faster,” she suggested as I turned around to go back up the ramp.
“Kids these days…always wanting things faster.” I rolled my eyes.
Justine laughed and then kissed my neck in slow wet kisses…with a few bites. “I don’t know. This way does have some advantages,” she said.
“Yeah, it does.” Speed definitely wasn’t one of them. The distraction and the motivation to take my time meant that it took four or five times as long to get to the top of the ramp. I was breathing heavy, and it had nothing to do with actual muscle exhaustion. “Ready?”
Justine snuggled into my chest and nodded.
We flew down the ramp just as quickly, and she was laughing as we coasted through the parking lot.
“I can’t believe you didn’t ask me out weeks ago,” she complained, settling on my lap. She wiggled slightly.
“Well, you’re a dancer and I’m….”
She wiggled again. The friction was definitely providing me with ample proof that certain parts of me functioned just fine.
Tipping her head against my chest, she traced my jaw with a finger. “You’re sweet…funny…handsome…really good at kissing.”
“In a wheelchair.”
“…that goes really fast and doesn’t bother me in the least,” she said.
“Hmm.” She didn’t seem bothered at all. “Justine, will you have my children?”
“Okay. When do you want to get started on that? I’m free tonight.”
We both laughed.
Justine did, indeed, have a wicked sense of humor…and a wicked tongue…and hands…and really she was just gloriously wicked in beautiful ways.
Copyright © 2013 by Wendy Sparrow