No sooner had Joel hung up the phone with Kyra than he heard a timid knock on his door. It had to be Ann. He closed his eyes, trying to push out the negative emotions Kyra had riled up in him. He needed to have his wits about him in order to deal with Ann. “Come in.”
Sure enough, Ann peeked her head through the crack in the door. Her blue eyes were wide. “Is this a bad time?” she asked meekly.
“Come in, Ann,” Joel said.
She slid through the open door and closed it quickly behind her. She was wearing her short white coat and a light blue blouse. Her hair was pinned on top of her head in an effort to appear older and more professional, but in some ways, it just made her look like a little girl playing dress-up. She squeezed her hands together as she shifted her weight from foot to foot. “Would it be all right if I left early today?” It was respectful that she was asking his permission, but it served as yet another reminder that he was her superior and he had taken advantage of that fact. “My car broke down and I have to get my roommate to drive me down to pick it up. The garage is closing at 5 and I don’t even know where she is.”
He frowned. “I could give you a ride if you need.” He cursed himself the second the words left his mouth.
“You drive?” She looked shocked.
He sighed. He had known this offer was a mistake. “Hand controls. Do you want a ride? Are you ready right now?” He hoped she’d say no.
She followed him out to the garage. She walked a foot or two behind his wheelchair nearly the entire way, even though she knew how to get to the garage as well as he did. She always treated him with the utmost respect and reverence.
His car was parked close to the hospital, since his permanent handicapped plates entitled him to one of the best spots. As he wheeled over to his car, he was dismayed to see that there was another car parked next to him. The car didn’t have handicapped placards, but the worst of it was that it wasn’t parked directly in the spot. It was parked in the small space between the two handicapped spots, completely blocking any chance of Joel getting into his car. It was barely enough room had he been able-bodied, nowhere near enough room for his wheelchair to fit. “Shit,” he said.
“Is that legal?” Ann said, frowning at the situation.
He couldn’t hide his irritation. “Obviously not.”
If he had been alone, he would have had to get a parking attendant to help him, but he supposed that Ann could move the car for him. Of course, she didn’t know how to use the hand controls and he didn’t feel like giving her an impromptu lesson. He rubbed his knees, trying to figure out how to best handle this situation.
He was about to give up and find a parking attendant when a man in civilian clothing strode over to the illegally parked vehicle and unlocked the door. Joel would have yelled at the man, but he held back because Ann was standing there. Better to just wait and not make a big deal out of it.
The man opened the door to his car, removed a bag from the front seat, and then to Joel’s complete surprise, slammed the door shut and began walking away. Enough was enough. “Hey!” Joel said. “I need you to move. I can’t get into my car.”
The man didn’t even stop walking, “I’ll just be a minute, okay?”
Joel wheeled after him. “No, you’re parked illegally. You have to move right now.”
That got the man to stop. He turned around to show his wide, unshaven face and shaggy hair. He was a big man, easily over six feet and two-hundred pounds. “Look, what’s your problem? I’ll move it in a minute. I’m not even in the handicapped space.”
Joel had faced too many characters in his career to allow himself to be intimidated by this man. “If you don’t move the car now, I’m going to call to get it towed.”
The man folded his arms. “Just because you’re crippled, you can’t wait five seconds?”
Why does it always have to come to this? “Listen, move the car or I’m calling the cops.”
The man took a step forward, trying to intimidate him. Joel didn’t flinch. He noticed his heart was beating faster, but he didn’t really believe that this man would hit him. Still, there was always that chance…
Finally, the guy went back to his car, mumbling barely audible obscenities the whole way. Joel waited until the car was gone before unlocking the doors to his own vehicle. Ann slid into the passenger seat, while Joel did his transfer into the driver’s seat. It took a little time for him to transfer out of the chair and get a good grip on it so that he could toss it in the back seat. Ann had already seen him transfer before, but he still felt a little embarrassed by the whole ordeal.
“Sorry about the brawl back there,” he said to her as he started the engine.
“That guy was terrifying,” Ann said. “I thought he was going to attack you.”
“Do you know how much it takes to get the average man on the street to hit you?” Joel retorted. “Most people really don’t want to start a fight.
“What if he did?”
Joel backed out of the parking space carefully, keeping his eyes pinned on his rearview mirror. “So I’d get my ass kicked.”
Ann had no response to that. When he glanced over at her, he saw that she was gazing out the passenger’s side window and twirling a strand of loose black hair around her finger. He watched her while he waited for a red light to change color, but she didn’t look at him. It was so awkward between them lately.
“You drive slow,” she commented.
“I broke my neck in a car accident,” he told her. “I fell asleep while driving home from the hospital. It took me two years before I was willing to even try to drive again.”
Ann’s eyes widened. “Oh… I’m sorry. I didn’t know…”
He shrugged, trying to play it down. He remembered how his hands had shook the first time he laid them on the steering wheel, how his heart leapt in his chest when he first turned the key in the ignition. He couldn’t go faster than 40 miles per hour without feeling sick to his stomach. He never ever drove in the rain anymore.
When he pulled into the auto shop, Joel had already decided he wasn’t going to get out of the car with Ann. Back when he had been dating Kyra, he always went into the store with her when she was getting her car fixed, just to make sure she didn’t get cheated. Not that he knew a great deal about car repair, but he knew just the presence of a man would probably keep her from getting ripped off (and keep her from getting hit on, which was his other major worry). But he figured his presence in a wheelchair wasn’t going to help Ann at all. It was easier just to stay in the car.
“Thanks for the ride,” Ann said, but she didn’t make a move to leave the car.
“Do you want me to wait around?” he asked her, wondering if that’s what she was waiting to hear.
“No, I’m sure it’s okay.”
“I’ll wait,” Joel said.
He watched her sprinting over to the garage to retrieve her car. He saw how the wind tossed her dark hair and pressed her blouse against the curves of her breasts. He suddenly remembered the way Kyra’s scrubs used to curve over her body.
Kyra’s the last woman I’ve been with, he realized. He felt embarrassed of this fact, considering he was meeting with her tomorrow. He had nothing to show for the last six years. It was pathetic. She’d take one look at him and she’d know what a loser he was. Since they’d last seen each other, she’d gotten married, and he hadn’t even had so much as a date.
Ann sprinted over to his side window and he rolled it down so that she could speak to him. She bent down slightly to be level with the window. “My car’s okay.”
He looked up into her blue eyes. He took a deep breath and said words he never imagined he’d be saying, “Ann, do you… want to come over to my place?”
She stared at him for a second and he was terrified he had gone too far.
“Where do you live?” she asked.
Even though she had been fantasizing about Joel inviting her to his apartment for weeks, as soon as she got home to change, Ann began to feel twinges of anxiety and doubt. Joel was a brilliant man and she sincerely couldn’t figure out what she had to offer someone like that. Except meaningless sex, of course. But Joel didn’t seem like the type who was looking for meaningless sex. She hoped not anyway.
Ann agonized over what to wear. She tried on five different shirts of varying levels of sluttiness, but none of them seemed just right. She wanted something that looked a little bit more mature, but she also didn’t want to look like she was on her way to work.
She finally settled on a tight, black shirt that had a zipper running down the front. She liked the fact that the shirt had no buttons and Joel would be able to remove it for her. She wore a short skirt that showed off her legs, which were a little too short and stubby in her opinion. It was hard for someone who was five feet tall to have really great legs.
She applied her make-up in the bathroom and emerged just as Lori was coming home. Lori gave her a once over and grinned, “Hot date, Annie?”
“Sort of,” Ann mumbled.
“Who’s the lucky fellow?” Lori asked, raising an eyebrow.
Ann wasn’t sure if Lori could keep a secret—in fact, she knew that she couldn’t—but she was dying to tell someone. “It’s… uh, Joel Dergan.”
It was worth anything to see the look on Lori’s face. He jaw dropped open and a flush filled her cheeks. “Oh my freaking god!” she exclaimed. “Are you serious? You’re going out with Dr. Dergan?”
“Not going out,” Ann corrected her, grinning to herself. “I’m going over to his apartment.”
Lori stared at her. “Wow, I never would have expected that from you, Ann. Do you know how much trouble you could get into?”
“I know,” Ann said quietly, her excitement slightly dampened.
“So tell me this,” Lori said. “When are you going to break it to him that you’re a virgin?”
Ann inhaled sharply at Lori’s words. She had been sorry the second she made that confession to Lori last year. Ann wasn’t proud of being a 25 year old virgin and it wasn’t something she had planned. Somehow it had just happened. She kept waiting for “the right guy” and rejecting the ones who weren’t absolutely perfect. After a while, it got to the point where she had waited so long, she had become filled with anxiety at the thought of having sex. She wound up ending most of her relationships after only a couple of dates, before the issue had a chance to come up.
For the last couple of years, all she could think about was losing her virginity. She was tired of wondering what all the fuss was about. Having sex might actually give her a chance at having a normal relationship. But she still didn’t want to fuck the first loser she met… she wanted to give herself to someone who was intelligent and attractive. Someone like Joel.
“I’m not going to tell him,” Ann said. “I’m just going to see what happens.”
“Wow,” Lori murmured, shaking her head. “Do you need a condom?”
“You have some?”
Ann thought for a minute. “Yes.”
To be continued...