I found Shane’s name in the phonebook. He still lived in the same one-bedroom apartment where the two of us resided until the divorce. I hated to go back there—there were so many memories, I don’t know how Shane could stand it. But I had to talk to him alone.
I didn’t call him. I just showed up. I figured he’d be home, because he clearly wasn’t working anymore. I was right.
The old apartment looked mostly the same, but I noticed some modifications had been made for the wheelchair. A couple of the doorways seemed wider and the shelves had been lowered. He still had the same blue couch with the stain on the middle cushion.
He looked up at me from his seat in the wheelchair. I wasn’t used to him looking up at me. He had been about six inches taller than I was. “I knew you’d come,” he said.
“You were dying of curiosity yesterday.”
He knew me very well, even after so many years. “So?” I said. “How’d it happen?”
“Don’t you want to have a seat?” he asked. “A drink?”
I gingerly took a seat on the couch and accepted a glass of wine, which I downed in one gulp. I watched Shane lock the wheels on his chair and use the strength in his arms to transfer himself to the couch beside me in one swift motion. “You’re going to love this story,” he told me.
“Yeah, it’s full of irony,” he said. He took my wine glass from me, filled it up with the bottle he had left on the coffee table, and drank the contents himself. “I was with this woman and her husband came home… in the middle. And… he shot me. Right in the spine.”
“After he shot me, I was lying on the floor, bleeding everywhere,” he went on, “and I thought I was dead for sure. I decided that if I lived through this, I was going to change. I wasn’t going to keep messing around.” He sighed. “As it turned out, it was easier than I thought to change.”
“What do you mean?” I asked. Although I had a bad feeling I knew what he meant.
“I mean, I’m paralyzed from the waist down,” he said with a crooked smile. “I can’t feel anything. Anything. So that’s that.”
I didn’t know what to say to that. What do you say when the guy you used to be in love with tells you he’s dead from the waist down? “Aren’t there are… um, medications?”
“They don’t work,” Shane said with a shrug. “Nothing does. I went to doctors, tried everything. The longest erection I’ve had since my injury lasted about five seconds. Look, it’s okay. I’ve already dealt with it.” He looked down. “There was never going to be any other women anyway. I was never going to get over you.”
He was rubbing his thighs self-consciously, averting his eyes from mine. I still felt the tension between us, even after having been divorced for six years and him telling me he was unable to have sex. It would probably always be there.
“Why didn’t you tell me when it happened?”
He shook his head. “No way, I couldn’t do that to you. You had just gotten married. I had already fucked up one of your marriages, I didn’t want to do it again.”
I couldn’t deny that if he had told me what happened, I would have ended up spending all my time at the hospital with him. It would have definitely screwed up my marriage.
“Anyway, Bob seems like a good guy,” Shane said. “I’m happy for you. Really. You guys should… go make lots of babies together.”
“I don’t see any babies popping out of me in the near future,” I said.
“Well, I’m grateful that you helped me,” he said. “I mean, I don’t know what’s going to end up happening, but at least now I’ve got a fighting chance.” He closed his eyes. “I don’t want to go to jail, Judy. I really don’t.”
“Bob’s a great lawyer. You won’t go to jail.”
He took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. “I’m just trying not to think about it.”
Without thinking about it, I put my hand on top of his. He blinked and smiled sadly at me. I remembered the first Christmas after our divorce, I was all alone, and Shane came by with a holiday meal he picked up from the deli. We spent the evening eating, drinking, and laughing together. He was always there for me when I needed him, even though he was an awful husband. Then when he needed me, I disappeared from his life.
“I want to be your friend again,” I blurted out. The words sounded so lame, but I had to say it.
“We’ll always be friends, Judy,” he said gently. He gave my hand a squeeze.
I hadn’t realized how close we were sitting on the couch. He leaned forward and our faces were inches apart so that I could count the freckles on his nose. For a second, I thought he might kiss me. And the evil truth is that I wanted him to. I’ve never been as attracted to a man as I was to Shane. I would have cheated on my husband in a second.
But he stopped and pulled away and the spell was broken. I jumped up from the couch. “I, um… where’s the bathroom?”
I needed a moment alone to catch my breath. Shane’s bathroom looked like it had been remodeled after a hospital bathroom. The walls were painted white, spotless and sterile, except for a few scuff marks that I guessed where from wheels scratching against the extra-wide doorway. A small white, plastic chair had been set up in the shower, equipped with a handheld nozzle that hung from the wall. The original shower nozzle was still there, adjusted for Shane’s standing height of 5 feet, 10 inches.
The grab bar alongside the toilet reflected the subtle red of my lipstick. I was surprised when I could still see the crumpled yellow pages in the crevice between the toilet and the wall. I couldn’t help but smile. Even back when we were married, Shane kept his hidden copy of Hustler. I tried to reach behind the toilet and pull out the magazine, but it had been so long since it was used, that the pages had melded with the ceramic tiles on the wall. It was stuck.
I hunched over to use the sink, craning my neck to catch a glimpse of my face in the medicine cabinet mirror that had been hung level with my boobs. My face looked pale. I splashed water on myself and pinched my cheeks to bring a little color into them. When I straightened up, I could still see slight indentations high up in the wall from where the mirror had been hanging the last time I had been in this room. I wondered how much the renovations to the apartment had cost him. A lot, I guessed.
I was momentarily seized by the temptation to open the medicine cabinet and peek at the contents. I nudged open the hinged door with the tip of my pinky finger and caught a glimpse of rows of orange pill bottles with white labels. God, there were a lot of pills. I wondered what they all were. “Don’t,” I told myself. “None of your business.”
I could just barely see the label on one bottle: Vicodin. I knew from when I had surgery on my knee that this was a strong pain medication. Where was Shane having pain?
I left the bathroom without intruding further into his medicine cabinet. When I came back into the living room, Shane was sitting in his wheelchair again. I looked him over, checking for signs of him being in pain. I couldn’t ask him because he’d know I was snooping. “Maybe you should go,” he said.
“Yeah, that’s probably a good idea.”
“But it was nice seeing you,” he added. “And… we’re friends now, so we can get lunch sometime. Or something.”
“Yes,” I said. But as I looked into his eyes, I knew what we both wanted, and it wasn’t lunch.
I knew Bob had an appointment with Shane on Friday at 10AM, so I made up an excuse to come by the office. I was a little peeved that Bob refused to buzz me in and made me wait until the appointment was over. I supposed the stuff he was discussing with Shane was private, but I would have given anything to hear it.
Shane was still in the office when I came inside. He was wearing a blue button down shirt and a brown tie that brought out the color in his eyes. I hadn’t seen him dressed up in years and I was struck by how handsome he looked. I also couldn’t help but notice the way the pants hung loosely on his atrophied legs. How could he have been in a wheelchair for three years and not told me?
“Yes, Judy?” Bob’s voice jarred me and I realized I had been staring at Shane.
I thrust forward the paper bag I had been clutching for the last half hour. “I brought you lunch, honey.”
Bob raised his eyebrows. “You… brought me lunch?”
It was a little suspicious, I guess. In our entire marriage, I had never once brought him lunch.
“That’s very sweet of you, Judy,” Bob said, although I detected a note of sarcasm, “but I’m eating out with some clients.”
“I’ll take the food,” Shane volunteered. “I miss your cooking. What is it?”
I averted my eyes. “A ham sandwich.”
Bob laughed, as if the whole thing were too ridiculous for words. I guess it sort of was. Shane dutifully took the sandwich and I nearly followed him out, but Bob crooked his finger at me. I would have been scared except for the fact that he was still chuckling. “Ham sandwich,” he snickered. “You’re so transparent, Judy.”
“I… I am?”
“I guess I don’t blame you,” Bob said. “You want to know what’s going on with the case.”
He folded his arms across his chest, “Well, I can’t divulge any details. Attorney-client privilege and all. But I have to be honest with you, I spoke to the D.A. and his case is pretty strong. I don’t know how much I can do for him.”
My knees suddenly felt weak. I sunk down into one of the leather chairs in front of my husband’s desk. “Are… are you sure?”
He shrugged, “Maybe we’ll get lucky, who knows. But the evidence is rock solid.”
I shook my head, “But there must be something that can prove he didn’t do it.”
Bob gave me a funny look. “What are you talking about, Judy? He’s guilty.”
“Yes. He is.” The conviction in my husband’s voice was troublesome. If Shane’s own attorney thought he was guilty, what chance did he have with a jury? “He did it. He embezzled millions of dollars.”
“Did he tell you that?”
“He didn’t need to. The evidence is all there. It’s irrefutable.”
“I don’t believe it,” I said. “Shane wouldn’t do those things.”
“And I’ll tell you something else,” Bob went on, “the guy’s still in love with you.”
That one shut me up.
“It’s really obvious,” he shook his head. “The way he looks at you… Christ. Poor schmuck.”
I tried to smile, but my lips felt like putty. This was dangerous territory.
“He must have been destroyed when you left him,” Bob commented.
“Yes,” I answered truthfully, “he was.”
“I guess it’s hard to get over something like that,” he mused. “And I’m sure he doesn’t get much action these days, being disabled and all.”
I remembered what Shane had said to me earlier in the week: I had already fucked up one of your marriages, I didn’t want to do it again. It had taken me years to get Shane McGrath out of my system… one week and he was back in again. Bob was a good husband and I loved him. No, he wasn’t the love of my life, but he was good to me. He didn’t cheat on me and he provided a good home for me.
I blinked. “Huh?”
“What’s wrong with you? I just said I had a client who would be here any minute.”
“Oh,” I blushed. “Sorry, I’ll… uh, I’ll go then.”
I leaned over Bob’s mahogany desk to peck him on the lips a goodbye kiss. I couldn’t help but glance down at the expensive material in his suit. Bob spent a lot of money in order to look good. I guess in his line of work, he needed to look like a million dollars.
I got outside the building and was raising my hand to hail a cab when I noticed a bus station out of the corner of my eye. The usual mix of homeless people and old people were waiting for the bus, but there was one familiar face in the bunch: Shane. I abandoned my quest for a cab and hurried over to the bus station.
“I didn’t miss the bus, did I?” I asked breathlessly.
Shane looked up at me in surprise. “What are you doing here?”
“Trying to get home,” I replied, attempting to sound casual.
“I think you can afford a cab,” he said, amusement in his voice. “There was a paperweight on your husband’s desk that looked like it cost more than everything I’m wearing.”
“Well, I like the bus.”
“Don’t you live in the opposite direction?”
“What are you—a detective?”
Shane laughed. “Okay, I’m not arguing. I’m glad for the company.”
The timing worked out well. Just then the bus pulled up to the stop, screeching to a very loud halt. I was face to face with an extremely large ad for cologne.
The vehicle sunk down further as the back door popped open. I watched the ramp lower down to the level of the street and it took me a second to realize that this was all for Shane’s benefit. I had taken the bus a fair amount in my poorer days and I never saw any wheelchair-bound passenger who weren’t old and infirm. Or at least extremely obese. Nobody as young and fit as Shane, that was for sure.
Shane positioned his chair in the lift and I watched with the rest of the impatient passengers as he was lifted into the bus. He quickly spun the wheels to pull into the space provided for the wheelchair.
I was lucky that the bus wasn’t too full and I managed to get a seat right next to Shane. It seemed like people were avoiding this area of the bus. “A bit of a production, huh?” he commented. “Now you can understand why the girls aren’t falling all over themselves for me.”
Bob’s comment rung in my ears: The guy’s still in love with you.
“Oh, come on,” I said.
“I mean, come on, quit acting like you’re such a loser.”
“I’m just being honest.”
“There must have been a few girls,” I insisted. I hoped the answer was yes.
“In three years, one date,” he sighed. “I tried, you know, those online dating sites. When I told the women I was disabled, they backed out pretty fast. You don’t get it, women don’t want a guy in a chair. They really don’t.”
“I’m a woman,” I pointed out.
“Yeah, and you don’t want me either.”
He was really wrong about that. Did he really have no idea how attracted I was to him right now? I felt like it was plastered all over my face.
“Look, it doesn’t matter,” Shane mumbled. “According to your husband, I’m going to spend the next twenty years in prison anyway.”
I didn’t know what to say, so I was quiet.
“Twenty years,” he muttered. “I’ll be, what? Fifty-three. More than half my life gone. The best half gone. It’s over, Judy.”
Shane’s shoulders were sagging. He looked defeated. I had to admit, Bob made it sound pretty hopeless.
My heart went out to him. Sure, he had cheated on me and singlehandedly destroyed our marriage. But there had been a lot of good times too. I had loved the guy, more than I had ever loved another person. He was my first everything.
So that’s why it was hard to watch the man I had once loved and dedicated my life to bury his face in his palms and start to sob. Right in the middle of a public bus, no less. I guessed this had been coming since his conversation with Bob, he had been trying to hold it in till he got home.
I put my hand on his knee to comfort him. “Shane…”
“I can’t feel that,” he whispered.
He lifted his face from his hands and stared up at me, his brown eyes rimmed with red. I had only seen him cry once before—on the day I told him I was leaving him. I don’t know what came over me at that moment, but suddenly his lips were on mine. I felt his hand on the back of my head, hungrily pulling me closer to him. I was married and this was really wrong. On a public bus, no less. Oh, the scandal.
But I didn’t care.
“Judy, Judy…” he murmured as his lips parted from mine. “I can’t do this to you.”
Now there were tears welling up in my own eyes. I hadn’t realized in the last four years how hard it was not being married to the man I loved. Shane was the one I was supposed to be with. Not Bob.
“I don’t want to get you in trouble,” he said.
“I don’t care,” I said.
He leaned back in his wheelchair and rubbed his knees. “I think you should get off the bus. Get a cab and go home.”
I couldn’t even imagine the self-restraint it must have taken for him to say those words to me. But he did have a point. Shane’s life was a mess. Life with Bob was so much easier, so comfortable.
I glanced around the bus and saw that several people were staring at us. I guess we were quite the spectacle. I’ve seen a couple of people making out on a bus before, but I never saw the wheelchair passenger making out with anyone. If I had, I’m sure I would have stared.
The bus came to a screeching halt, so abrupt that Shane’s legs were thrown out of place. He reached down and adjusted them, his eyes never leaving my face. The back door to the bus flung open as a few people descended to the street.
“Go,” he said.
And I did.
To be continued...