The day I had been dreading, yet hoping for, had finally come. I was going home. Back to a home I hadn’t seen in over five years. After all this time, it really didn’t feel like it was even ‘home’ anymore. Going back to Dallas would have seemed more fitting. But I knew that it was just ridiculous to think of Ollie and the guys trying to take care of me. Hell, you had to take two flights of stairs just to get into the apartment. They were going to be coming up to Stockbridge, once I was settled, to bring me some of my stuff from the apartment.
When I was just waking up, Sid and my parents were already downstairs talking to Tuck about final preparations for my homecoming. Kitty, a pretty day nurse, came in to help me get ready to leave. After I was bathed and shaved, she pulled a pair of soft jeans over my thin legs and now huge knees. Next she held up one of my t-shirts that Zane had brought me from home. While she was pulling it over my head I tried to help get my arms through the sleeves. After a short struggle I stopped. I knew I was just making it harder. She slid on my now ever-present white socks and stood back to see if anything needed adjusting.
Since she was the only nurse available at the time and my parents were still downstairs, Kitty rolled a huge sling over to the right side of my bed. It was a hygiene sling, so after I was positioned in it and ready to be transferred, my butt stuck out through a hole in the bottom. I guess that’s so whoever’s in the sling can get their ass washed good. The sling even supported my neck. I had been in several slings before and had never felt really safe. I was always afraid I was going to fall or something. But in this one I felt really secure. Every inch of me, except my butt and my legs hanging in front of me, was being cradled.
Kitty moved the sling over to my wheelchair and lowered it. Once I was safely seated in my chair and strapped in Kitty left, knowing I could handle myself from there. I looked down at my body. This was the first day I had worn anything other than sweats or work-out shorts since my accident. It felt good but strange at the same time. I noticed no one had bothered to bring me shoes. Maybe nobody wanted to mention my feet because it made them feel awkward, or maybe everyone just assumed I didn’t need shoes anymore. But so what if I didn’t need them. I didn’t like everyone being able to see my feet all the time. I had become just as self-conscious about them as I had my hands, which were now reduced to tight fists with braces around my wrists for support. Without those braces, I couldn’t even operate the joystick on my wheelchair or feed myself.
Thinking I looked pretty good, considering everything else, I maneuvered my power chair through the door of my room (something that had taken me weeks to finally manage without bumping into the wall) and left it behind forever. It was strange to think I wouldn’t be going back there at the end of the day after therapy. I thought I might have gone crazy when I realized I was actually going to miss the hospital and rehab center.
Going back home scared me. Being in the hospital with Tuck and all the other nurses and therapists who understood my needs had become my safe haven. I knew I was going out into the real world now. The people there wouldn’t be so understanding or the places always accessible. It made me a little sick to think about that. I never thought I’d have to worry about the relief of seeing a little, blue handicapped sign. Before my accident, I never would have noticed if a restaurant or store had a wheelchair ramp. I grew even more uneasy when I realized that every time I went anywhere outside of the rehab center was going to be like the awkward elevator trips.
My heart quickened and I felt a little light-headed. I didn’t want to be in public like this. My friends and family understood. They knew about my condition and what I had to go through. I dreaded thinking about running into old friends of the family or even my own friends back in Dallas. Having to explain over and over again what was wrong with me and why I was in a wheelchair. Amidst my overwhelming panic, I suddenly realized I had stopped my chair in the middle of the hallway. I immediately pushed my numb fist into the joystick and resumed my journey to the loathsome elevator for the last time.
Astonishingly enough, I actually got to take the final ride by myself. Being in there completely alone gave me time to gather my composure before having to say goodbye to Tuck. I had waited for Tuck to come see me before I left my room. I’d even hoped he would be the one to bathe and change me for the last time. But I guess my parents deterred him, so I had to settle for Kitty.
As soon as the elevator door opened I could see my family. Sid’s shaggy black hair was the first thing I noticed. I really hated it. Nowadays I had been keeping mine only inches from my scalp. And though we were still twins, we were no longer identical in every way. Although an onlooker could tell we were related, because of my thinning body and Sid’s toned arms, plus the whole wheelchair aspect and the hair, we now just looked like regular brothers. I never thought that would actually make me sad. But the truth be told, I always liked having a twin brother. It was just a waste since Sid was such a dick most of the time.
Tuck noticed me first and motioned for me to come over. He was still talking to my mom, who looked just as gorgeous as ever, and dad. When I came rolling up, all I caught was something about pressure sores. I shivered. I’d gotten to experience one of those first-hand when Tuck noticed a sore on my butt. I had to stay flipped over on my stomach with my ass in the air until it healed. That wasn’t so bad since Tuck was always around to ‘cheer me up.’
Tuck’s attention was still directed at my parents. “Now both of you are going to have to take turns resituatin’ Skelly every two hours while he’s asleep. If he stays in one position too long he’ll run the risk of gettin’ another bed sore.” That was something I never thought I’d get used to but eventually did. I actually used to yell at whichever nurse happened to be unfortunate enough to have the night shift every time she’d disturb me.
My mother looked down at me. “Are you ready, Skell? I think Tuck’s told us just about everything we need to know for the time being.” She waited expectantly for me to answer her, and when I didn’t she knelt down so that we were face to face. “Honey, are you okay?”
I could sense her worried gaze but all I could focus on was Tuck’s face. My eyes were already starting to water and my bottom lip trembled. I firmly bit it, trying to hide my affection for him. My mother’s attention switched to Tuck. She peered up at him questioningly but soon looked away. I think she finally understood what was going on between us.
My father and Sid only looked sympathetic. I knew they were thinking, “Poor kid, being a cripple’s made a pussy out of him.” I wasn’t sure exactly what their reactions would be if they ever knew about my relationship with Tuck, but I knew it wouldn’t be good.
My father broke the silence by telling everyone it was time to get going. He and my mother started walking to the front entrance, waving goodbye to Tuck from the door as mom went to bring the car around. Sid’s eyes looked away as he mumbled, “Do you need any help?”
Tuck took that last opportunity for us to be alone and told Sid, “I think I can handle it from here. I’ll bring Skelly out in a minute. I have to help him with some private matters right now.”
Assuming it had something to do with toiletries, Sid blushed a little before continuing on outside. And though we were still in the lobby, just the lack of my family’s presence put us at ease. I regretted the public setting, though. I couldn’t say goodbye to Tuck the way I wanted. With watery eyes Tuck put his hand on one of my knees. “I’m gonna miss you, Skell. You’ve really made me happy these past few months. I don’t know what I’m gonna do without you.”
I couldn’t stand it anymore, and tried my best to pull my arms open to hug him. All my weak shoulders allowed me do to was limply spread them apart as my hands hung uselessly from my braced wrists. Tuck reached down and embraced me, hugging tightly enough for the both of us. I wanted so badly to be more than just a flaccid torso with paralyzed arms pressed into his chest, but he didn’t even seem to notice.
Seeing the tears that were now streaming down my face, Tuck gently wiped them away with his soft hand. I loved the feel of his fingers on my face and moaned quietly, thinking this would be the last time it happened for a while. Looking around to ensure that no one was looking, Tuck daringly kissed me on my mouth for only a moment before pulling away and straightening back up. “You don’t be too hard on your parents, Skell. They’re gonna do the best they can for you. Sid too.” I didn’t say anything, fearful my voice would be choked with emotion. “I’m gonna see you around. Sooner than later, okay?”
Not wanting to prolong our tearful goodbye, I turned my wheelchair around and headed to the car waiting for me outside. As I reached the exit I heard Tuck softly say, “Love you,” just barely loud enough for me to hear. And then the automatic doors slid shut as I joined my family outside.
Once outside, I didn’t dare turn back around to see Tuck. I knew I would get way too emotional and my family would surely know something was up. I kept my eyes on my feet as Sid opened the back door to my mom’s silver Toyota 4Runner. From a seated perspective, the back seat was a long way up. My mother spoke first. “Well…there’s only one way to do this. Sid, help your brother out of his wheelchair.”
Sid obediently bent down and started unstrapping my feet. After the last strap across my chest was pulled away, my father hesitated for only a moment before scooping me up and cradling me just long enough to move closer to the car. Sid rolled my chair around to the trunk as my dad gingerly placed me on the back seat, quickly pulling the seat belt across my lap and chest to keep me from slumping forward. He looked a little embarrassed when he noticed my legs were all tangled from the transfer. Blushing lightly, my dad fixed my feet and legs so that both were facing forward. All they did was shift over to the left after he took his hand away.
That was the first time he’d touched my legs since he’d been coming to see me. He always seemed a little uncomfortable around my body, especially when I wore shorts and my legs were completely exposed except for the support stockings. My father looked down at me in concern. “Is that okay? Are you comfortable.”
I wanted to scoff and tell him I wouldn’t be able to tell if I was uncomfortable anyway. But I held my tongue since I knew this was a chance for us to start over. I gave him a small smile and told him I was fine.
Before my dad carried me to the car I noticed a powered wheelchair carrier had been installed on the back of the 4Runner. Sid had already loaded my chair onto it and was climbing onto the seat next to me. From the driver’s seat, my mother spoke. “Is everyone in? Skell, you okay? You look a little pale, sweetie.”
My father leaned over and quietly murmured, “He’s probably just a little nervous about traveling. The last time he got in a car he ended up a quadriplegic.”
But that wasn’t the case at all. I was afraid of actually getting to our destination. Sure, my family had been okay during the few hours of therapy every few days, but what was going to happen when I was living with them? I knew that if things soured at home there would be no place else for me. Because a nursing home just wasn’t an option I was even willing to consider, I resolved to do whatever it took to live peacefully with them. I’d still have Ollie and the guys as an outlet whenever they’d come over.
Noticing the car was completely silent, I looked around at the expectant faces surrounding me. I cleared my throat. “Uh…I’m fine. Really. I’m ready when you guys are.” I faked a smile before turning to look out the window. I could feel my mother’s worried gaze penetrating me through the rearview mirror. Slowly, the car pulled out onto the main road, taking me away from the hospital…and Tuck.
To be continued...