I was a little nervous as I pulled into the drive to Kellan’s apartment complex. The place looked pretty new, nice landscaping, very clean, very young professional. I don’t know why I was surprised by the accessible space in front of his apartment or the level entrance and wide doorway, but it seemed odd somehow. It only made sense that his apartment was wheelchair accessible. I wondered what modifications there were on the inside. I parked my car in a non-accessible space next to his; took a deep breath, grabbed the tiramisu I had picked up from Ukrop’s and made my way up the walk.
I rang the bell and Kellan answered. I was a little surprised that he was in his wheelchair. I still wasn’t used to seeing him in it. I was more comfortable with the crutches and braces. I liked looking up at him instead of him looking up at me.
His beautiful smile helped me relax some and I followed him into the apartment.
“Something smells wonderful.” I said, honestly.
“Chicken with sun dried tomatoes, mushrooms, basil and garlic to go over pasta. Steamed broccoli for a side.”
“Sounds lovely. And tiramisu for dessert.” I held up the Ukrop’s bag.
“You have a sweet tooth.” He took the bag from me and put it in his lap.
“Yes. Tiramisu is probably my favorite dessert.” I followed him into the kitchen.
I had already seen differences that made the apartment accessible. The doorknobs and light switches were lower and the doorways were wider. The floors were hardwood and vinyl. No carpets or rugs anywhere. The kitchen was really different. It was U-shaped, so that everything was lined up around the walls and there was plenty of space in the center to maneuver a wheelchair. The cook top and oven were separated, with the oven in the wall where he could reach it easily and the counters had space underneath where he could wheel right up to work . The counters were lower, too.
He put the tiramisu in the refrigerator. “Would you like something to drink?”
“Water is fine.”
He got the glass from the cabinet, placed it between his knees and wheeled back over to the refrigerator to the water and ice dispenser.
“Thanks.” I took the glass from him. “What can I do to help?”
“Keep me company while I finish up.”
I nodded. I hadn’t expected to feel weirded out by an environment that was designed for him, but I did. Everything around me seemed to point out that he is disabled and I am not.
“You are quiet.” He didn’t look at me, focusing instead on chopping broccoli.
I was right there with him, but my mind was far away. I had waited for this, to be alone with him. Why was I so damned uncomfortable now?
“Just watching. Left-handed people are fun to watch.” I teased, trying to put myself at ease.
“Left-handed and disabled. Maximum entertainment value.” He scooped the broccoli into a bowl, waiting for the water on the stove to boil.
“Question: How are you going carry the pasta pot to the sink to drain it? You need your hands for the wheelchair and I don’t think you want to put a hot pot in your lap.”
“Hot pad on the counter in-between the stove and the sink. The pot goes on the pad, I wheel over to the sink and pull it over. Or you could drain the pasta and save me the trouble.”
The colander was already on the counter by the sink and I was glad for something to do. “Sure.”
I drained the pasta as he put the broccoli in the steamer.
“You can’t figure out how I get things done, can you?”
He asked this as we had our backs to each other. It was easier to answer honestly when I wasn’t looking at him. “Sometimes I really can’t. But you obviously get things done. You live by yourself...”
He interrupted me. “No I don’t. Kyle is my roommate. I thought I had told you that. I kicked him out for the evening.”
“Oh.” I shook the colander to get out any remaining water. “Could you live by yourself?” Still so much easier not facing each other.
“Yes. But I do need help with some things and I prefer not to live by myself.”
“Is the blue bowl for the pasta?” I asked, satisfied now that the pasta was properly drained.
He was doing something with the chicken. I still kept my back to him, pouring the pasta in the bowl.
“I need to toss the chicken with the pasta.”
I set the pasta bowl on the counter beside him and he poured in the chicken sauce mixture. It smelled and looked fantastic.
He got plates out of the cabinet and served the pasta and broccoli. “Do you mind carrying the plates out? The table is set.”
I took the plates from him and carried them into the dining room. There was a small round table, nice wood, set for two. It seated four and one chair was off by itself in a corner, making room for Kellan’s wheelchair. He joined me in the dining room, with our drinks and a basket of bread balanced on a tray in his lap. He unloaded the tray and set it aside, then pushed up to the table. He picked up the stereo remote and turned on some soft music. Classical.
“My mom is a cellist. I grew up listening to classical music. My love of loud, angry music is probably in direct response to that. Kyle teaches orchestra. Cello is his primary instrument, but he can play anything with strings.”
“What do you play?”
“I have no musical talent. Could I convince you to play for me sometime?”
“I didn’t say I had talent.” He grinned. “I said I played. I can read music and make the right sounds come from the piano. I don’t have a feeling for it like Kyle does. I have a keyboard here. Do you sing?”
“Absolutely not.” I was horrified at the thought. “Do you?”
“Better than I play piano.”
“Let’s see: cute, smart, athletic, artistic. Where is the deep dark secret, Mr. Tierney?”
“No deep dark secrets. My defects are out in the open.”
His eyes searched mine and I looked down at my plate, spearing another bright green broccoli crown.
“Your mom did teach you well. You don’t overcook broccoli and the pasta is excellent.” I smiled and popped the broccoli in my mouth.
The conversation stalled a bit as we focused on eating. I didn’t want to bring up work. I knew that would get him talking, but I already knew Kellan’s work persona. Faced with Kellan at home, I wasn’t sure what to say. My confidence was gone. I didn’t know music, I didn’t know cycling. But that would be a place to start.
“How long have you been a cyclist?” I finally asked. It was safe and would get him talking.
“As long as I can remember. I rode for a team from my early teens to my early twenties, before I was injured. My dad coached Kyle and me. He is a cyclist, too. He might have gone pro if he hadn’t gone to med school, or so he likes to say.”
“Your dad is a doctor?” With a cellist for a mother and a doctor for a father, his upbringing had no doubt been very different from mine.
“Yes. Orthopedic surgeon.”
An orthopedic surgeon with a disabled son? That seemed like a cruel twist of fate. The look on my face must have told him what I was thinking.
“My situation would have been worse if my dad hadn’t known what I needed for acute care and been there to push my therapy.”
I looked up from my plate. The food was good, but it was hitting my stomach hard. He was watching me with that serious look again.
“Heather, I think we need to talk about my disability. What it means. Every time I have tried, you switch the subject and I am not sure if it is because you are uncomfortable with it. You seem comfortable with me, but I am getting the feeling you are a little wigged out by the wheelchair.”
I felt him slipping away from me. This was the conversation I didn’t want to have. I really didn’t want to know what he couldn’t do. I was taken with him for what he could do. That was the important stuff, right?
“We don’t need to talk about it, Kellan. I am fine with it. I am not uncomfortable, not so much anyway. I just don’t want to step on your toes by asking the wrong question or doing the wrong thing.”
He shook his head. “That is the definition of uncomfortable. And I wouldn’t feel it if you did step on my toes.” He pushed away from the table, so that I could see him in the wheelchair. “From here down, I can’t feel or move anything.” He held his hand just below his hip.
My eyes were drawn to his lap, to the crotch of his jeans, as inappropriate as it was.
“That too.” He said quietly, looking to meet my eyes.
I couldn’t meet his gaze and stared at his paralyzed feet. “It doesn’t matter.”
“It does matter. That is all too clear on your face.”
I put down my fork and pushed my plate away. I met his gaze then. I couldn’t stand the look in his eyes. He looked defiant and scared at the same time.
“It doesn’t matter.” I repeated. I stood up and leaned down, pressed my lips to his. He responded and I felt that heat again.
He pulled me into his lap and I shivered slightly, knowing he could not feel my weight on his legs, but I could feel just how thin his legs were under me. How fragile was he?
“I don’t want to hurt you.” I pulled away from him long enough to voice this fear.
“You aren’t going to hurt me.” He put his hand behind my head and brought me into another kiss.
My arms went around his neck and I broke away to move down to trace kisses down his throat. He leaned back his head and slid his hands under my shirt, stroking my back. I nipped at the little bit of his collarbone I could get to without removing his shirt, and then went back up his neck to nibble his earlobe.
“Mmm...” he said, moving to cup my breasts.
His touch was the right touch. I had no other way to explain it. All he had to do was touch me and I was wet. “Jesus, Kellan.” I whispered.
“Do you want me to take you to the bedroom now?”
That was exactly what I wanted, but I wasn’t sure what would happen once the clothes came off. “Please.”
“Are you sure?” he asked. “We haven’t finished dinner.”
“Leave it.” I put my hands on his shoulders and stood up. “I want you.”
I did want him. More than anything. I followed him to his bedroom, excited and scared. I wanted to hold him, to love him, to have him love me. Just seconds away from this experience and I didn’t know what it was going to look like. That was the frightening part.
His bedroom was like the rest of the apartment, very neat, nice furniture. The keyboard he had mentioned was in one corner opposite the bed. His computer was beside the keyboard. There was nothing on the floor. No clothes, no shoes. I guessed he was neat out of necessity. The queen-size bed was lower than my sleigh bed, covered in a dark blue comforter.
“I need to do something first.” He wheeled toward the adjoining bathroom.
I sat on the edge of his bed, waiting nervously. It seemed like everything with Kellan turned into a production that took twice as long.
He came back from the bathroom and saw me just sitting on his bed. “There isn’t much spontaneity to sex with a paraplegic, Heather.”
It sounded like an apology. I stood up as he transferred from the chair to the bed, watching as his strong arms pulled his body over, watching his lifeless legs follow and watching as he lifted and straightened his legs. When he was finally comfortable I climbed beside him from the other side of the bed and turned on my side to look in his eyes, tracing my hand along his chest as he ran his fingers through my hair. The heat of the previous moment had faded. I knew we would get there again. I also knew he wanted to talk to me. I looked at his legs; they lay so still against the dark blue comforter.
“How did it happen?” I asked.
“I was 24. Great job, engaged to marry the girl I had fallen in love with in school. I was USCF nationally ranked and my father was over the moon. Then I crashed my bike. The rider in front of me went down and took me with him. I flipped my bike, bounced and rolled down a steep downhill into a rocky creek bed. I shattered my spine, broke three ribs, punctured a lung, and broke my left wrist and my right ankle. I knew I was messed up. I was tangled up in my bike and I couldn’t move, my mouth filled with blood and I was having trouble breathing. Kyle was two riders behind me. If he hadn’t been there and if our dad hadn’t taught us some about managing injuries, I don’t know if I would have made it. He got my airway clear and he stayed with me. I can still remember what his face looked like as he fought back tears, holding my head out of the water. I didn’t lose consciousness until the paramedics lifted me out of the water on a backboard. I woke up in the hospital. My father explained to me that my lumbar spinal cord was severed. I would be permanently paralyzed from the hips down. I adjusted very, very badly. I hated being so dependent, unable to take care of myself. My fiancée left me before I even entered rehab. So there I was, paralyzed and alone. It took me almost a year to get it together. I went back to my job. I started cycling again with the handcycle.”
“You were engaged?” After all he had just said, that was what stuck with me.
He nodded, pressing his lips together. “Not to the right girl, as it turned out.”
“Wow.” Profound response on my part.
“Very few relationships survive a spinal cord injury.”
“Don’t be. It hurt a lot at first. I eventually came to understand it was for the best. She is married to another cyclist now.”
“So you still see her?” I was horrified for him. I never saw my ex-fiancé.
“That must be awful for you.”
“The first time was. Since then, I just ignore her.”
“I started going to races with Kyle and the team. We were at a race. There were only 4 riders in the handcycle division. I won pretty easily and was feeling pretty good about coming back. And then I saw Anna, my ex-fiancée. She had married someone else on the circuit and she had seen my ride. She came over not to congratulate me, but to tell me how awful it had been to watch me riding the handcycle. She started to cry, telling me how beautiful I had been and how sad it was to see me like this. How much it hurt her to know I would be alone for the rest of my life, because she had loved me so much and not even she could be with me anymore. That was the first and last time I ever wanted to hit a woman. I yelled at her instead, which made her cry. After the race, back at the hotel, everyone else went out for dinner. I begged off, telling Kyle my back was bothering me and that I was going to lie down. He understood and left me alone. I had a good wallow in self-pity, thinking I would be alone for the rest of my life. By morning, I got back into my routine and tried to make myself believe it didn’t matter.”
“You don’t have to be alone, Kellan.” I leaned over to kiss him.
He took me in his arms and pulled me to him, his kisses with mine asking for more. I straddled him, pressing my body against his, my hands in his hair, down his neck and shoulders, down his back, feeling the strength of him as his hands slipped under my shirt, releasing my bra, squeezing my breasts. The combination of his kiss and his touch was pulling me to the edge. I took my arms from around him to peel off my shirt and my bra. His mouth found my nipples and I gasped, my head tilting back. He kissed my breasts, my throat, and my lips again. I moaned.
“I want to feel your skin next to mine.” I unstraddled him and I knelt beside him and lifted the hem of his shirt, kissed the flat stomach I had just exposed. He shivered and pulled me to him again. I ducked from under his arms and continued to remove his shirt, kissing the skin I exposed. His abdomen was firm and flat and the pecs were everything I imagined, well-developed and hard. I teased his nipples with my tongue and he arched beneath me, tilting his head back. I sat up to look at him and saw the scars on the right side of his chest. I touched them gently.
“One rib went through the skin.” He touched the scar. “One went through my lung. They had to put in a chest tube” He touched the other scar.
I kissed the scars and lay my head on his chest, listening to his heartbeat. I turned my head and began kissing him again. God, he was beautiful. I traced a line to his navel and down to the waistband of his jeans.
He pulled me up against him and surprised me when he flipped me over so that I was on my back and he had me pinned under his chest. The feel of his skin against mine brought my every cell to life. I had never thought it could be like this. He moved a little and took my left breast in his mouth, his left hand moving down my stomach into the waistband of jeans. I quickly unbuttoned them to give him easy access. His fingers found my clitoris and in seconds he had me wet and panting. I opened my eyes. He looked up and smiled and kissed me again, then turned his attention to my right nipple and I moaned.
“I want you inside me, Kellan. Now.”
He froze. “I cant.”
“What?” I didn’t understand. “I know I have to be on top.”
He rolled onto his back away from me and stared at the ceiling. “I can’t feel my penis. I can’t get an erection. I can’t be inside you. On top, on bottom, it doesn’t change anything.”
I sat up and knelt beside him on the bed. I wanted to cry. “Kellan, I am sorry. I didn’t understand that. You are going to have to help me.”
He laughed. It was a harsh sound. “Help you how? There are other things I can do, Heather.” He pulled into a sitting position, glaring at me now, his eyes filled with hurt and anger. “There are ways around a useless penis. Is that what you mean? Will that be enough to satisfy you?”
I reached for him, to touch his cheek and he caught my wrist, holding my hand away from him.
“Kellan, please. That isn’t what I meant. I need you to help me understand. I want to be with you, but I don’t know what to do.”
“I am not prepared to give lessons in cripple sex. I am not ready for this, Heather.” He ran his hand through his hair, causing it to stand on end. “I thought I was. I am not. And neither are you”
I stared at him stupidly. I had no words for this.
He leaned back against the headboard. “Go back to Charlotte tomorrow, Heather. Tell Jack I can handle the rest of this project myself. You have what you need for your requirements.”
“No.” I couldn’t believe the word as it came out of my mouth, especially since my better judgment was telling me to run for the door. “You are not going to shove me away, not like this. You don’t get it. I like you. I want to be with you. But I don’t know how to be with you. I have never been with someone who was disabled…”
I sounded desperate and pathetic, even in my own ears.
His blue eyes flashed and his jaw tightened. “I am going to shove you away. Now. I can’t make you happy. Go home, Heather. Please.”
The “please” got me. I grabbed my shirt and my bra and turned on my heel and left as I pulled them on. He was right. I wasn’t ready. That didn’t stop me from sitting in my car and crying for about five minutes before I was composed enough to pull away from his apartment.
To be continued...