This is the lovely Miss Abigail Hoff, a 25 year old biology teacher from Rhode Island. Abby has been looking to find Mr. Right for a long time and tonight she’s hoping to meet him for the first time. In the next room are twenty men, and over the next few days, these men will compete for Abby’s affections as well as the grand prize of a hundred thousand dollars.
Abby: “I’ve had a lot of bad luck with men. I’ve dated a lot of guys who were just players looking for a good time. When I was in college, I didn’t mind so much, but now I’m looking for someone to have a serious relationship with. I’m really excited about meeting these guys tonight.”
That’s right, Abby. You have your choice of any one of these attractive men you’re going to meet tonight. But there’s something we haven’t told you yet, Abby. You see, all of the men in the next room are physically handicapped.
The room looked sort of like a rehab center. Harrison sat in a corner, at a table alone, watching the other men interact. The vast majority of them were in wheelchairs, but a few used crutches instead. Most of them seemed pretty excited, chatting animatedly and drinking the beers that had been provided. Harrison, on the other hand, felt content to sit by himself.
He glanced up and saw his nurse, Steve, was still in view, standing just outside the door to the room. The network people wanted Steve to be seen as little as possible, but Harrison insisted Steve accompany him at all times. After all, Steve was the only one who knew how to take care of him. If Harrison didn’t have Steve or his parents around, he began to feel a sense of panic.
It had not been easy for Harrison to convince his parents to let him be on the show, especially his mother. Mrs. Burke still couldn’t understand why a dating show would even want him on it. She didn’t know what the premise of the show was and Harrison made sure she didn’t find out. The HBC people were very convincing though and assured them that all expenses would be paid.
When Harrison first heard about the show, he had been horrified. The thought of being on television alone was enough to send shivers down his broken spine. It sounded like the show was just going to exploit disabled men. But then the more he thought about it, the less he cared. The sad truth was that Harrison hadn’t done anything fun and exciting since the night of his accident two years earlier, when he had drunkenly steered his motorcycle into a tree in a head-on collision. Most days he didn’t even leave the house. And as much as he tried to deny it, he missed women. Maybe this girl Abby would be nice.
Harrison noticed that two men in wheelchairs were approaching his table. One of the men was a heavyset Indian guy in a motorized chair and the other was a redhead in a manual chair. They both seemed to have full use of their arms—probably paraplegics.
“These seats taken?” the redhead asked with a grin.
Harrison didn’t laugh. He shook his head and the men pulled their chairs up to the table. The redhead stuck his hand out to Harrison. “Nice to meet you. I’m Noel.” Noel had long eyelashes and hair that was a color too red to exist in nature, but his roots revealed that it was indeed natural.
Harrison looked down at Noel’s hand and didn’t move. Noel realized what was going on and laughed, “Oh, you’re a quad.”
“I’m Deepak,” said the other man, with a smile that made it clear he was sorry for Noel’s behavior.
“So have you seen a picture of that chick Abby?” Noel asked. “Man, she is really something. She’s going to get the surprise of her life tonight. Poor girl.”
“She seemed like a really sweet girl,” Deepak said.
“I know,” Noel said, nodding enthusiastically. “That’s what I like about her, with the freckles and all. It’s fun to corrupt the nice ones. I’ll tell you, if she picks me, I’m going to show that sweet girl a really good time. She’s not even gonna be able to get out of bed in the morning.”
Noel looked like a nice guy, and Harrison was surprised by the words coming out of his mouth. He hoped that Abby was smart enough not to pick him, and he wondered if she’d even have the choice. He remembered how Cheryl had guaranteed he’d be picked and thought that a good looking guy like Noel might have been given the same guarantee.
“Do you think she’ll pick you?” Deepak asked him.
Noel shrugged. “Why not? Unless she’s got something against redheads.” He took a swig of his beer. “You want a drink, uh…”
“Yeah. You need a drink, Harry?”
Harrison looked down at his arms. His left arm always rested in his lap and his right arm was positioned on the armrest so that his index finger could work the controls. He had managed to get a small amount of movement back in that one finger, which had made a huge difference in his independence. Now he didn’t have to use a mouth-operated wheelchair. “It’s a little hard for me to drink,” Harrison said.
“Your loss,” Noel said with a shrug. “You know, there’s another quad here.”
“There is?” Harrison asked. It was the first thing Noel said that had interested him. He looked through the mesh of metal chairs, searching for the other man.
“Yeah, but he’s more fun than you,” Noel said. “He’s actually talking to people.”
Harrison didn’t respond.
“Don’t worry,” Noel went on. “You’ve definitely got it over that guy. He’s got a weight problem, I don’t think she’d pick him unless she’s into that. You must really watch what you eat, Harry.”
“I guess,” Harrison said. He wished Noel would stop talking to him.
“Oh wait,” Noel said. “I know what it is, how long have you been in the chair?”
“A little over two years,” Harrison answered through his teeth.
Noel nodded. “Yeah, that’s it. Hell, I got all emaciated in the couple of years after my accident.”
Harrison looked Noel over, wondering what kind of accident it was. Noel’s upper body seemed in pretty good shape, probably from wheeling himself around all day. His legs, however, were covered by a quilt. Harrison found this a little odd. Steve sometimes covered Harrison in blankets when it was cold out, because he was unable to shiver and didn’t want to wind up with frostbite. But the weather was warm today, plus they were inside. So why did Noel have the blankets over his legs?
“What sort of accident were you in?” Deepak asked.
“Run of the mill motor vehicle accident,” Noel replied. “I was fourteen at the time. So it’s been… what, twelve years? How about you, Deep?”
“High school football,” Deepak said. “Five huge guys piled on top of me. I was unconscious for almost a week.”
“No kidding, you played football?” Noel asked. “See, that’s the problem with being in a wheelchair all through high school. Not too many quarterbacks who can’t walk. Not that I’m big enough to be a quarterback, anyway.” He laughed. “How about you, Harry? How’d you break your neck? Wait, let me guess: it was a motorcycle.”
Harrison nodded, surprised.
“See, I knew it,” Noel said. “You’ve got that whole James Dean thing going.”
Harrison had always hated it when people said stuff like that. Now that he was paralyzed, it seemed even worse.
“The two year anniversary is really tough,” Deepak said sympathetically. “I think that’s the worst one. It’s gets easier, Harry.”
“Yeah, soon you’ll be an old cripple like us,” Noel chimed in. “Still, I was AB longer than I was crippled. But… in another two years when I’m 28, I’ll have been crippled longer than I was walking. That’s an anniversary to look forward to, huh?”
Harrison was getting very sick of Noel’s comments. He was debating moving away from table, but at that moment a hush came over the room. The bachelorette had entered.
Harrison could barely see her from his table and Noel and Deepak were both straining their necks to get a better view. A crowd of wheelchairs was surrounding her.
“Think we should go over there?” Deepak asked.
“Why bother?” Noel said. “She’ll come over here, trust me.”
Noel was right. About five minutes later, the lovely Miss Abby Hoff approached their table. When Harrison looked up at her, he felt his breath catch in his throat. Abby was just the sort of girl he had been looking for his whole life. She was beautiful in a simple, clean and natural way. Harrison thought that if he had met her before his accident, he would have swept this girl off her feet. Now his only chance with her was as part of this sick game.
Abby smiled at them. “May I join you?” she asked.
“We insist,” Noel said. He pulled back the one normal chair at the table and Abby sat down. He took her hand in his and kissed it gently. “I’m Noel Stevens.”
“Noel, I’m Abby,” she said.
“We know,” Noel said, “we’ve been waiting for you all night.”
Noel: “Abby is… well, she’s gorgeous, what else can I say? Definitely my type… I mean, that girl is everyone’s type. Me? I wouldn’t say I’m a player or anything. Yeah, I get a lot of women and I try to show them a good time. I like the challenge and I love the women. Does that make me a player? Hmm… maybe it does.”
Abby: “Noel is… haha, he’s very cute. But I don’t know. He looks really sweet but I get the feeling he’s just trying to get me into bed. I’d probably have to get to know him a little better.”
“Now how about the other gentlemen at this table?” Abby said, looking at Deepak and Harrison.
“I’m Deepak,” Deepak said shyly.
“I’m Harrison,” Harrison mumbled. He looked at Abby and saw that her pretty brown eyes were gazing right into his.
“So, Abby,” Noel said. “Was this the surprise of a lifetime for you? When you saw that the guys you had to choose from were a room full of…”
“A room full of what?” Abby asked, smiling sweetly.
Noel laughed and winked at her. “Well, I can’t speak for the others. I’m a paraplegic.” When he saw the quizzical look on Abby’s face, he held his hand at belly button level. “I can’t feel anything below here.”
Harrison thought all three of them caught the brief look of shock on Abby’s face. Even Noel faltered for a second. “It’s okay,” he said softly. “I’ve had twelve years to get used to it.”
An awkward silence followed and Harrison was grateful when Noel broke it. “So are you getting an idea of who you want to pick?” he asked her.
“Maybe,” she said mischievously. She turned to Harrison. “How about you, handsome? What’s your story?”
“My story?” Harrison stammered. “I… I don’t really have a story.”
“He’s a quad,” Noel said. “Motorcycle accident.”
Harrison glared at Noel, hoping that Abby would find him as obnoxious as the rest of them did. “What do you do for a living?” Abby asked him.
“I was a bartender,” Harrison said awkwardly. “Before… Now I’m just sort of… finding myself.”
“That’s great,” Abby said earnestly. “I still don’t think I’ve found myself. Maybe you could help.”
Harrison: “Yeah, Abby is really really beautiful. She seems like a very nice person too. I liked her. I… um, I don’t know if we’ll wind up together… probably not, I guess. But it would be nice to just have a date with her. I haven’t had a date in… a while.”
Abby: “Harrison… mmm, he is really fine. I wish he were a little more outgoing, but I guess he’s more of the quiet, brooding type. I would definitely like to get to know him better.”
When Abby left the table, Noel clapped Harrison on the shoulder. “Nice going, Harry,” Noel said. “She was crazy about you, you lucky son of a bitch.”
Harrison disagreed. Even if she was taken in for a few minutes by his looks, she’d soon realize what she was getting into with a guy who couldn’t move. He looked up and saw his nurse Steve, still hovering at the periphery of the room. Harrison would always be dependent on others for every aspect of his daily life. What woman would want a man like that?
Who does Abby choose? Wheelchair Joe continues.