We worked until 5:30. After lunch, there had been no more personal conversation. I was floored when Kellan asked me to join him for dinner.
“Haven’t you tired of my company yet?” I teased. He struck me as the type of person who preferred to do things by himself.
He rolled his eyes. “You are my shadow this week. We are in serious trouble if I am already tired of your company. Short answer, no.”
That was encouraging. I was beside myself.
“I know you like salads. What else do you like? There is a really good Japanese place close by. There is also Italian, Mexican, pretty much anything you like.”
“Is there a good Thai place?” I had gotten spoiled with really good Thai food during the three years I lived in Seattle. I hadn’t found a comparable Thai place in Charlotte yet. I hadn’t been to a Thai place with Carrie, but we never visited this end of town.
“Not in my estimation, but there is a decent Thai place not too far away.”
“That is a ringing endorsement.” I grinned. “Japanese it is.”
He grinned back. “I’ll drive. I will bring you here to pick up your car.”
I didn’t mean to look skeptical.
“Hand controls.” He explained. “You will see.”
He excused himself as I packed up my things. My cell phone rang. It was Carrie.
“How’s it going? What do you think?”
“It is going great. He is wonderful. We are going out to dinner. I will call you later, okay?”
“Is he there?”
“He will be right back.”
“Okay. Call me as son as you can.”
“I will.” I promised and snapped my phone shut. I swung my briefcase over my shoulder as Kellan crutched back into the office.
He leaned his left crutch against the desk, leaning heavily on his right as he put his things into a large messenger bag and swung it over his shoulder, never releasing the right crutch. He couldn’t stand without support. I wondered how he did things at home, like cooking or even getting something to eat or drink if he couldn’t use his hands to carry things.
“Ready” he asked.
“My car is very easy to find. One of the few in the handicapped spaces out front. I will even let you guess which one is mine.” He smiled.
I followed him out to the parking lot. There were only three cars in the accessible spaces that had permanent plates, one minivan, one large van that could accommodate a lift and a black Subaru Outback.
“The Outback?” I ventured.
“Yes.” He led me to it.
“I have a Civic. Dark green.”
“I like Hondas. I need the extra space to haul my chair, though.”
I saw the wheelchair in the back seat then. Or I should say the pieces of it. I wondered what he looked like sitting in it.
He popped open the trunk. “You can put your briefcase in the trunk, if you would like. More room back there.”
“Okay.” I stowed my briefcase then climbed in the car.
He put his bag on the seat behind him and got into the driver’s seat in the same manner he had gotten into the booth at lunch. He stowed his crutches in the floorboard behind the driver’s seat. “Supposed to be a five passenger car.” He commented, looking at the back seat. “Unless the driver is a paraplegic, then the seating capacity is radically reduced.”
“So what do you do when you have more people in the car?”
“One of my passengers gets the honor of sticking my gear in the trunk and bringing it to me when we reach our destination.”
He explained the hand controls to me as he drove. He directed me to the CD in the console between the front seats and asked me to pick out something. I got nervous. CD collections, in my mind, divulge an awful lot about personality. What if our tastes in music were so diverse that I knew we wouldn’t get along, although it seemed to be going so well so far?
I breathed a sigh of relief as I began to flip through the discs. We liked a lot of the same stuff. He was a little more into industrial music than I am. I picked out a Chevelle CD and popped it into the player, after refilling the Cake CD that he had been listening to on his way to work, apparently. I wouldn’t have minded listening to that, either. The bass player for Cake was amazing.
The restaurant was pretty close to the business park. We didn’t talk much, both enjoying the music and the comfortable silence. I didn’t feel any of the nervousness I usually felt on a first date. But then again, I wasn’t sure this was a date. Kellan was a genuinely nice guy. It made sense for him to have dinner with a visiting coworker.
He parked the accessible space directly in front of the entrance. I waited for him to get out of the car and I walked in at his side. People looked at us like we were a couple. I liked that feeling. I didn’t like it when they looked away from Kellan. I could understand why it still bothered him. They were essentially dismissing him without knowing anything about him beyond his disability. It was rude and unfair.
We waited in line for a few minutes until our table was ready. A middle-aged man and woman offered to let us have their seats on one of the carved wooden benches in the lobby. Kellan smiled and thanked them politely, letting them know that he was fine. He handled himself well. The woman gave me an indulgent smile as if to say, “You poor things. What a good person you are to stay with him.” I couldn’t be as gracious as Kellan and gave her a hard look in return. He saw it and raised an eyebrow.
The waitress looked flustered as Kellan got seated. I was becoming painfully aware of just how much attention he received, just for doing everyday things, because he had to do them differently. Once the waitress walked away, he smiled at me and I relaxed.
“Are you sure you have never met my sister, Brianna?”
“Positive. I didn’t’ know you had a sister.” I also didn’t know where this was going. “Why?”
“ I do. Kyle and Brianna are twins. Whenever I am out with her I am always waiting to have to pull her off of someone whom she feels has insulted me or treated me badly. I saw the look you gave that older lady. Remind me not to get on your bad side.” He chuckled at me.
“She was condescending, Kellan. You don’t deserve that.”
He studied me for a second. “I am going to ask you a question and I want you to answer honestly. If you had never met me, never worked with me before this morning, what would have been the first thing that went through your mind when I stepped off the elevator?”
I turned red. I knew what I would have thought. And I knew I had to answer honestly. “He can’t walk.” I said in a very small voice.
He nodded. “Exactly. That is all people see at first glance, Heather. Some people take that information and file it away in the same space as ‘he has blue eyes.’ Others can’t get past it and it colors every perception they have about me. It took me a long time to understand that and even longer to find the best way to handle it. Funny how I revert to the basic principles my mom taught me when I was in preschool. Smile and use good manners. It works every time.”
I laughed appreciatively.
“Even on you.” His smile was shy now.
Something had just changed between us. My heartbeat sped up a little. He was cute and smart and funny. The three basic requirements for a relationship. I knew I could easily adore him. Would he ever adore me?
To be continued....