Much like Paul, most of the staff at the subacute had kind of a “good for you” attitude about me and Deanna. The nurses declared we were a “cute couple” and helped us to get alone time as much as possible. This was what I had been hoping for when I first came to the subacute: an awesome relationship with an awesome girl. Okay, I admit, I had been picturing someone who looked more like Casey, but Deanna was just as if not more awesome than Casey.

The only person who wasn’t happy for us was Dylan. He always had it out for me, but now he looked at me like he wanted to kill me. Deanna admitted she knew that Dylan had a little crush on her, but told me that he was harmless. Yeah, maybe he was harmless to her. But I was worried.

When I woke up one morning, Dylan was in his wheelchair at my bedside. Lying in my bed, I was basically completely helpless. Dylan had this look on his face that freaked me out bigtime. If I hadn’t already done so, I would have definitely been shitting my pants. “What is it?” I managed to say.

“I don’t like you, Mitchell,” Dylan hissed. “You’re not one of us.”

“Oh,” I said. I was scared to say anything else in this compromising position. I glanced around for my nurse call button, but Dylan had wisely twisted it out of the reach of my lips.

“You don’t deserve Deanna,” he said. “She’s a goddess. You’re just using her.”

“So who should she be with? You?” I tried not to smirk, but I couldn’t help myself.

“Eventually, she’s going to figure out who really cares about her,” Dylan said.

He brought his face closer to mine and I was considering yelling for help. I didn’t want to seem like a wuss, but I was really scared. I felt ridiculous for being scared of a guy with CP in a wheelchair, but well, here I was. I was getting ready to yell when Dylan backed away and left the room without another word.

It was a few days later that I overheard a conversation between Dylan and Deanna. It’s pretty damn hard to eavesdrop when you’re in a wheelchair that’s the size of a tank engine, but I know Dylan’s hearing isn’t the greatest, so I managed to get to the door of Deanna’s room without either of them noticing me. At first, I could only hear whispers, but then the conversation got more heated.

“—friends… I’m sorry, Dylan,” Deanna was saying.

“You and I have a connection,” Dylan said. “You can’t deny that.”

“We do have a connection,” Deanna admitted. “But I just don’t think of you that way. I’m not attracted to you. I’m attracted to Ethan.”

“Why? Because he’s good looking?”

“Yes, I do like the way he looks,” Deanna said calmly. My self-esteem jumped a few notches. “And I also think he’s a sweet guy. He doesn’t have a chip on his shoulder.”

“This is bullshit,” Dylan said. “Deanna, I’ve… I’ve been in love with you for the last ten years. You can’t…”


There was a long silence and my heart started to pound. What was going on in there? Was she kissing him? I felt a flash of jealousy, which kind of surprised me because I was never the jealous type. Deanna wasn’t the type to cheat, but I really wished I knew what was going on in that room.

Without warning, Deanna came out through the door and saw me sitting there. Busted. I smiled apologetically. “Uh, I was just… uh, looking for you.”

I was a little worried she was going to ream me for eavesdropping, but she didn’t. She got this soft look on her face and lined up her chair with mine. She placed her hand on my arm and stared into my eyes. “Ethan,” she said. “There’s something I have to tell you.”

Crap, she’s dumping me. “Yeah?”

“I… I think I’m falling for you.” This time she was the one who offered an apologetic smile.

My shoulders sagged in relief. I don’t think I realized until that moment exactly how much Deanna meant to me. I’d been dumped before and never cared. I didn’t care much about anything before I got injured. But I cared about Deanna. I cared about her a lot.

“I’m falling for you too,” I said, glad that she was already at the perfect distance for me to press my lips against hers.


Thanks to Paul, Deanna and I managed to have a couple more late night rendezvous but mainly our physical relationship was limited to making out while we were in our wheelchairs. I thought a lot about taking her out on a date or doing something outside of the hospital, but there just weren’t any opportunities for that. Still, it was the best relationship I’d ever been in. To my surprise, I found was falling for Deanna bigtime.

When Casey came in to dress me one morning, I noticed she held something behind her back. “I’ve got a surprise for you,” she said.


Casey pulled a photo of Deanna from behind her back. It was actually a fantastic photo. It was just from the neck up and I thought Deanna looked really cute. “I took it a few days ago,” Casey told me. “I told Deanna not to tell you because I wanted it to be a surprise.”

“Cool,” I said. “Thanks, Casey.”

“Do you want me to put it up for you?” she asked.

Many of the other patients had photos of their family and friends pasted up next to their beds. I had no photos whatsoever. I loved the idea of having a picture of my girlfriend up next to my bed. “Definitely,” I said.

After she hung the photo, Casey got me dressed and into my wheelchair. I had to admit, I was really getting used to life in a wheelchair. Being disabled takes a certain amount of patience and I think I was slowly developing that patience. I couldn’t do anything fast anymore, but I knew I could still lead a full life.

“Dr. Palmer wants to see you before breakfast,” Casey told me. “He asked me to have you wait in your room.”

Dr. Palmer was probably my least favorite person at the subacute. Fortunately, he wasn’t around very much. I saw him maybe once or twice a week. He didn’t have much of a personality was all. He spoke in a monotone, and he mostly just talked to me about when I was going to leave. Not my favorite subject in the world.

Dr. Palmer came into the room and flashed me a thin smile, “How are we doing today, Ethan?”

“We’re doing great,” I replied.

He flipped through my chart and clucked his tongue when he reached a page in the back. I knew from my work with the dietitian that this was my weight chart. “You gained five pounds this month.”


“That’s a lot.” Dr. Palmer raised his eyebrows at me. “You following your diet?”

“I don’t have much of a choice, do I?”

The doctor didn’t laugh at my little joke. “We need to cut back on your calories,” he said. “This weight gain is unacceptable. We don’t want you to leave here obese.”

Shit, neither did I. But I was already basically eating celery and carrot sticks. What was it going to take? Having water for breakfast, lunch, and dinner? And air for dessert?

Dr. Palmer went through the motions of pulling out his stethoscope and listening to my chest. There was one question that I did want to ask him but I hadn’t yet worked up the nerve. Then again, now or never.

“Dr. Palmer?”

“Yes, Ethan?”

“Um, I was wondering if…” I inhaled deeply. “Do you think I’ll get any movement back in my arms?”

Dr. Palmer didn’t answer my question right away. He flipped through my chart a little more. “How long ago were you injured?”

“About nine months.”

“And you haven’t gained any movement in your arms?”

I shook my head.

Dr. Palmer undid the straps on my forearms and wrists and told me to try to bend my elbow. I’d done this test a million times before so I knew what the result was going to be. But I was still kind of hopeful he might feel a muscle twitch. He didn’t.

“I’m going to be honest with you, Ethan,” he said. “Although recovery can occur up to a year after an injury, most recovery occurs in the first six months. The fact that you’ve regained so little movement at this point indicates that it’s extremely unlikely you’ll regain anything further. I would say the chance of you ever having any kind of meaningful movement in your arms is less than one percent.”

I tried to ignore the sinking feeling in my chest. “What do you mean by ‘meaningful’?”

“Well, you might regain a twitch,” he said, “but you’ll never have enough movement in your arms to be able to, say, feed yourself or perform any kind of hygiene ritual. The overwhelming likelihood is that you’ll be completely dependent for all your care for the rest of your life.”

It’s funny because I thought I had accepted being a quad, but I didn’t realize until that moment that I had really been expecting I might improve, at least a little bit. It seemed surreal to think that I’d never be able to move my arms or legs ever again. I was only twenty, but I’d be 100% dependent on others for even the most basic activities of daily living for the rest of my life. I’d be completely dependent for getting into my wheelchair, eating, dressing, going to the bathroom, brushing my teeth, bathing, and brushing my hair.

“The good news,” Dr. Palmer said, as I perked up my ears, “is that you seem to be doing excellently with your wheelchair control. And of course, you’re able to breathe on your own.”

He was right about that. I remembered having my trach in, relying on a vent to breathe for me. That sucked. I was so glad to have it out. And yes, I could control my own chair, which was nice. But I honestly kind of hated the sip and puff controls. As much as I worked at it, I felt like it was impossible to master. I was still getting stuck in corners all the time and needing help from others. Plus if there was even a small step in my way, it was an impenetrable barrier. I wished there were some other kind of power wheelchair I could use, but my therapist told me that due to the fusion in my neck which made it hard for me to turn, sip and puff was the best option (and the most affordable).

“What about my, um, diaper?” I asked.

Palmer raised his eyebrows. “What about it?”

“Well, I was reading that most quads don’t need to wear one,” I said. As much as I tried not to think about it, I hated being an adult with a diaper.

“Well, what happened when they tried to do your bowel training?” he asked. He was flipping through my chart while he asked the question, but I suspect he already knew the answer.

“It didn’t work out too well,” I admitted.

Dr. Palmer nodded. “Yes, it looks like your bowels are very sensitive. I know many quads don’t need to wear protective undergarments, but I think you do. Ultimately, if you don’t wear it, you’re going to have accidents. And I’ll tell you now that the nursing home is not going to go for that.”

“But what if—”

“Ethan,” Dr. Palmer said, “you should trust me on this. I think you’re stuck with the protective undergarments. Really, it’s not such a bad thing. There are plenty of adults who need to wear them. Nobody knows you have them on.”

I doubted that. I felt like everybody knew I was wearing them. If they weren’t actually sticking out of my pants, I felt like the bulge was really obvious. Then again, who cared? I was going to be in a nursing home for the rest of my life anyway.

“You’ve adjusted remarkably well so far,” Dr. Palmer said. “I think you have an excellent prognosis in terms of living a full life.”

I didn’t know what he meant by full life. But I was always one to try to roll with the punches (literally, now). Losing control of my body was a blip in the road. A speed bump. I still had my brain, I was still me. I just needed to try hard to accept my situation, as much as it kind of sucked ass.

“Thanks for being honest with me,” I finally said.

Dr. Palmer smiled. “Is there anything else I can do for you?”

I thought of Deanna, the best thing in my life right now. She was into me, even though I was severely disabled. “Is there any way that Deanna and I can, like, go out somewhere?”

The doctor’s brow furrowed and he crinkled his nose at me in a way that was sort of hilarious. “You mean like a… date?”

Yikes, turns out his quad patient can actually attract women. This is one to write up for the New England Journal. “Yeah,” I said.

“Well, um… yes, sure,” he stammered. “Actually, I know of a great activity for the two of you. A nearby elementary school is having an event at the park to discuss disability and I was thinking maybe you could be one of the speakers, talking about spinal cord injury. Deanna could come as a guest.”

And event at the park to discuss disability? Hmm, that was a new one. But if they wanted to have a cake and streamers to celebrate disability, that was fine with me. I had been thinking I’d never get to go to a park again, so this was pretty awesome. “Sure, I’ll do it.”

“Fantastic,” Dr. Palmer said.

I smiled, trying not to think about the news Palmer had given me, and rather about the day out with my girlfriend.


I would have preferred something a little more secluded, but the school sent a small schoolbus to pick us up. I hadn’t ridden in a schoolbus since I was a little kid, so there was something kind of nostalgic about that little yellow bus. It wasn’t a bus for kids, though. On the side, it said “Adult Transportation Vehicle” and it had a power ramp that lowered to street level so that we could board. On the inside, there were few seats, but rather spaces for us to park our wheelchairs. Ah, accessibility.

Deanna and I weren’t the only ones going to the field day. Two other patients were going with us. One was Brad, a guy a few years younger than me with a brain injury. The other was Edward, another guy with a brain injury, although much worse than Brad.

A little game I sometimes play with myself is to look around and rate the degree of disability the people around me have. (Hey, I get bored.) Like Edward was clearly the most disabled of the four of us. He couldn’t talk and just sat strapped into a manual wheelchair, drooling away and dependent on the staff for everything. I’m not even sure if he could eat at all. Brad, on the other hand, did have a pretty bad brain injury, and he had a trach and a tube in his stomach, but he was able to talk, feed himself, and control his wheelchair with his good hand. His speech was kind of messed up and he wasn’t able to move one side of his body, but I would have to say he was probably less disabled than I was. Okay, he was definitely less disabled than me, but it’s sort of hard to admit that a guy like that has got one up on me. And Deanna was probably the least disabled of the four of us. My girl.

Before we left for our field trip, Deanna clued me in to the first rule of being a crip: kids stare. When we got to the park, I realized that boy was she right. I could have had my hair on fire and I wouldn’t have gotten stared at any more. As the nurses loaded the four of us off the bus, the kids were standing around and gawking really obviously. I don’t know why one of the adults didn’t tell them how rude it was. I didn’t think I got self-conscious that easily, but these kids were making me feel really self-conscious. I could actually feel my face turning red.

“So what?” Deanna said to me, noticing how uncomfortable I looked.

“Yeah,” I mumbled.

“You know what will really make them stare?” Deanna said with a smile. “If you kiss me.”

I had never ever felt self-conscious about kissing Deanna, but suddenly I did. I knew what the kids would be thinking: look at those two crippled freaks kissing. I didn’t want that. “I… um…”

Deanna rolled her eyes, “Okay, be a baby. I’ll forgive you because you haven’t been out much yet. And because you’re sexy.”

I couldn’t help but smile. Deanna had this amazing ability to make me feel better when I was down.

I was used to moving my wheelchair on an even terrain, so I was finding it a little difficult to maneuver on the park’s grassy terrain. My chair was not quite going where I wanted it to go and it was a little frustrating. Going straight was a huge challenge… a bump in the road made me swerve to the side and I had to turn to correct it. Finally, the inevitable happened: my front wheel got wedged in some mud between two rocks and I was stuck. I really made an effort to get myself loose because I didn’t want to call for help, but I was just spinning my wheels in place.

“Hey, Louise?” I called to the aid.

She was still helping Edward get unloaded from the van. I waited patiently for her to come over and get me loose. I had attracted the attention of several more gawking kids before she finally worked my wheels out of the mud. I had been excited about talking to the kids today, but now I wished I hadn’t even come.

Deanna found me right after I had gotten loose. I was being very slow and attempting to be careful now about navigating my chair. I was paranoid about getting stuck again when an aid was out of earshot. “Hey, there’s sandwiches!” Deanna told me.

Even though I was starving, I thought about what eating a sandwich would involve: an aid would have to cut it into pieces for me and feed it to me. There was no fucking way I was doing that in front of all these goddamn kids. I would rather starve. “I’m not hungry,” I said.

Deanna saw right through me, of course. “Ethan,” she said, “I know you’re feeling self-conscious, but they’re just a bunch of kids. I mean, what are you going to do—never eat in public for the rest of your life?”

I didn’t say anything because I didn’t know what to say. More than anything, I was embarrassed about the fact that I was embarrassed.

A man in an uncomfortable-looking suit and tie approached me with a big shit-eating grin on his face. He bent down a little when he got over to me. “Are you Ethan?” he asked me. His voice had that slightly patronizing tone to it that I was beginning to think every able-bodied person was going to have when they spoke to me from now on.

“Yeah,” I said.

“I’m John Bonner, but you can call me John,” he said, sticking out his hand for me to shake. I just stared at it. He gave up after a minute and didn’t even look embarrassed. “I just wanted to thank you for agreeing to come share your story with the kids.”

“No problem,” I said. I considered asking him if there was any way I could get out of it.

“It’s really brave of you,” he continued in that patronizing voice. “But it really helps kind of… you know, scare the kids straight.”

“What?” I said. All I could think was, Scare the kids straight? But I’m not gay.

“Well, they just don’t realize what the consequences of drug and alcohol use can be,” John said. “We can tell them a million times and they don’t listen. But when they see someone like you, then that hits home.”

I felt like I was being strangled. I opened my mouth to speak but nothing came out. John flashed me this look like he thought I was retarded too, which probably wasn’t a bad guess considering I wasn’t the most articulate person in the world right now and I knew how I looked. I wanted to protest, but I just couldn’t get the words out.

“Are you okay?” John asked me, his brow furrowed.

I actually suddenly did feel very short of breath. I shook my head and John ushered over Louise, who got out the suctioning machine to suction my throat and to help me quad cough. The kids saw the whole thing. Boy, were they going to be scared straight.

“Are you okay?” Deanna asked me after my airway had been cleared.

“No,” I said. “I was duped. Those fuckers didn’t invite me here to talk about disability. They invited me here to talk about how I got drunk and paralyzed myself.”

“Yeah, so?”

I stared at her. “So… I wasn’t drunk when I got in my accident!”

“You weren’t?” Deanna looked surprised.

“What the fuck?” I had gone from embarrassed to furious. “Why does everyone think that? I had one beer. One beer is not drunk.”

“I overheard Dr. Palmer talking to one of the nurses,” Deanna said with a shrug. “I mean, it’s not a big deal if you were drunk. You certainly paid for it. And I know you don’t drink anymore.”

“Except I wasn’t drunk.”

“Listen, Ethan,” Deanna said with a sigh. “I overheard Palmer say what your blood alcohol level was. You were drunk. Everyone knows it.”

Two drinks at the most,” I amended. “I was not drunk.”

I was 100% sure that I didn’t have more than three drinks that night. There was no way. I still remembered that I had one beer when I came in, then I had another when my buddy Jack came in, then I had one when I was buying for that cute redhead, then I had another round with Jack….

So four drinks, that was the most it could have been.

But then I remembered Jack saying, “One more for the road…”

Okay, so five drinks. But I wasn’t a lightweight. I could handle five beers. After all, I went out drinking almost every…

“I don’t care what happened in the past,” Deanna said. “You told me your dad and your brother are alcoholics, so it’s understandable if you had a problem. But you need to face up to it. You had a part in your fate.”

“I wasn’t drunk, Deanna,” I said through my teeth.

Before things got any more heated, John started shushing everyone so that he could start his whole Drugs Are Bad presentation. He got the kids to sit down on the grass and he had a microphone set up. “It’s great to see so many of you here today,” John said, pulling at the tie around his neck. “I know your teachers made you go, but I think this is going to be one of those days you remember forever, that changes your life. You’re going to hear stories today from real people who struggled with drugs and alcohol.”

I winced. Please don’t call me first, please don’t call me first…

“Our first speaker is Ethan Mitchell,” John said. Of course. “He’s twenty years old and he was in a serious motorcycle accident due to alcohol abuse. As a result, he suffered a severe brain injury.”

I felt my jaw tense up. He got everything wrong. I had a spinal cord injury, not a brain injury (at least, not a severe one… just a concussion), and my accident was not due to alcohol abuse. I didn’t want to move, but all of a sudden everyone was clapping and staring at me expectantly.

“You need some help, buddy?” John asked me in that patronizing voice.

“No,” I said softly, but he wasn’t listening. He wheeled me to the front of the audience and held his microphone under my lips.

“So Ethan,” John said gently, “can you tell us about the day you were injured?”

I glanced over at Deanna, who was nodding at me. I stared back at the sea of young faces. A few of them were nudging each other and giggling. Suddenly, I kind of hated these kids. Not one of them had any idea what it was like to be disabled like I was and they probably never would. They’d go on to go to college and have a career, while I was going to go to an old folks’ home for the rest of my life. It wasn’t fair.

“Ethan?” John was looking at me expectantly.

I wanted to scream that I hadn’t been drunk that night and this was all a load of bullshit. But I couldn’t make myself talk. I just stared at the crowd, feeling more and more self-conscious. I looked down at my lap, at the bulge of my diaper that I would wear for the rest of my life. I didn’t want to do this. I just wanted to go home.

“I… I can’t,” I murmured.

John didn’t question my refusal, which actually made me feel even worse. He put his hand on my shoulder and said to me, “That’s okay, Ethan. You made a difference just by coming here.”

He was probably right. None of these kids wanted to end up like me.

He wheeled me back off the stage, where Deanna was waiting. I couldn’t even look at her. “I’m not good at public speaking,” I said, attempting to smile and failing.

“Ethan, look at me,” Deanna said.

I lifted my eyes and saw hers were filled with tears. I had a really bad feeling about this.

“You know I had reservations about having a relationship with you,” she said. “I felt like your injury was too new and you were still in denial. You hadn’t adjusted yet.”

“Right, but I overwhelmed you with my charm,” I joked.

“The thing is, you’re actually pretty good at being a crip,” Deanna said. “But I didn’t realize until today that you’re still in denial.”

“I’m not in denial,” I insisted. “Look, Dr. Palmer told me I’m not going to move my arms again. I accept it. Old puff and I are buddies… real tight.”

“Yes, but you’re in denial about your disease.”

“My disease?” For some reason, all I could think of was VD. But I’d been tested and it’s not like Deanna and I had sex anyway.


I stared at her. “You’ve got to be kidding me. I’m an alcoholic? Even if I had a few beers when I got hurt, I haven’t had a drink since my accident.”

“One you’re an alcoholic, you can’t be cured,” Deanna said. “It’s a chronic illness. You’re just on the wagon. But you have the potential to fall off again… unless you admit you have a problem.”

It was bad enough that my stepfather was always saying that I had a drinking problem… I couldn’t believe that Deanna was doing it to me too. I was really angry and there was no fucking way I was admitting I was an alcoholic. Keith was and my dad was, but I was not. And if she didn’t believe me, then I was better off without her.

“I don’t have a problem,” I said. “And I never did.”

“You told me you flunked out of college…”

“Yeah, because I’m a fuck up,” I said, “not because I’m a drunk.”

A tearful Deanna shook her head at me, “I can’t do this anymore, Ethan.”

My chest tightened. “Are you serious?” I was just kidding when I said I would be better off without her. I wasn’t. I needed Deanna. I was crazy about her. I was…

“I’m in love with you,” I said.

“I’m in love with you too,” she said. “That’s why this is so hard…”

I couldn’t fucking believe it. She was really doing this. She was really breaking up with me over this. And I knew all she wanted to hear was for me to admit I had a drinking problem, but I couldn’t give her that. We barely said a word but I knew it was over. This was the worst I’d felt since my injury, even worse than when my mom rejected me.

As Deanna headed back for the bus, I stayed to watch Brad and Edward on stage. Brad was talking into the microphone about all the speed he had taken before he crashed his car, while Edward just sat there, his head lolling around in the headrest, drool running down his chin. I tried to focus on what Brad was saying, but all I could think about was Deanna. I felt tears welling up in my eyes, and before I could stop them, they were rolling down my cheeks. I was becoming such a pansy lately, crying over every little thing. All the kids were staring at me now, the weird guy in the power wheelchair, sitting there and crying.


So I blew it with Deanna. She wasn’t angry at me, but she made it clear that we were done. I felt awful about it. She was all I could think about. She was the first girl I ever really loved. I had even, in the back of my mind, but kind of thinking we might someday get married. I mean, not really, but I considered it once or twice.

I tried everything I could think of to get her back, although I was limited in my options. First I just tried hanging around her looking pathetic. That didn’t work. I told my occupational therapist Maria that I wanted to make Deanna a card. She gave me a kind of “aw, that’s so sweet” look. We worked on making the card on the computer with me typing it out using a stick in my mouth. I really was not great at typing with the stick, but I was trying my best. I wrote out a little letter of apology to Deanna.

“You’re getting much better at typing with your mouth,” Maria commented.

“Thanks,” I said, accidentally dropping the stick from my lips. “Whoops.”

“Have you ever thought about going to college, Ethan?” she asked.

I laughed. I had already flunked out of college when I could use my arms and legs. I didn’t think I was going to do any better this time around. I was just… I don’t know, dumb, I guess. Most people say they’re bad at math or bad at history… well, I was bad at everything. I wish I could blame it on a learning disability, but it’s nothing like that. I’m just plain dumb. “I wasn’t very good at college,” I said.

“Yes, but you’re clean now,” she said. “I think you could do really well.”

My face turned red. I hated that ever since I went to the drug and alcohol field trip, everyone seemed to think I used to be a drug addict. That and Deanna dumped me. Damn, what a mistake that was.

The truth was, I would have loved to go to college. As a quad, it wasn’t like I was going to be able to get a job drilling holes or tending a bar. If I ever wanted to be able to work at all, it was going to have to be a job where I used my mind. But I just didn’t see any possible way for me to make it through college. I mean, I was going to be living in a nursing home, so what were they going to do—bus me over for classes? I guess there were correspondence colleges, but I’d need so much help with that too. Even thinking about all the effort it would take made me feel sleepy.

Maria helped me print out the card, then she put it on my tray so that I could give it to Deanna. I wheeled around the subacute, looking for her, but she wasn’t anywhere to be found. All I found with Dylan, who unfortunately noticed the card on my tray.

“What’s that?” Dylan asked. I tried to back away from him, but he managed to grab the card from me. “Is this for Deanna?”

“Yeah,” I admitted. “Can you please put it back?”

He didn’t listen and instead read the card. I really wanted to punch the guy. It really pissed me off that someone like Dylan was able to bully me around. “You’re too late,” he told me, tossing the card back onto my tray. “She’s with me now.”

“No fucking way,” I said. “She’d have to be out of her mind to choose you over me.”

Dylan looked amused by my statement. He was looking at my body and I followed his gaze to my gut, which was big enough now that my T-shirt was stretching over it. It flopped down over the seatbelt across my lap. It looked pretty gross, I guess. But I had to believe I was still a hell of a lot more attractive than Dylan.

“You lost your chance, Mitchell,” Dylan said. “Deanna wised up and realized that I’m her soulmate.”

I snorted, but I didn’t feel quite so confident. What if he was telling the truth? Deanna and Dylan were always really close and what if… no, she wouldn’t. I mean, she was always saying that she found him really unattractive. There was no way she would… or maybe…

I was having an anxiety attack by the time Deanna resurfaced. She came out of the yellow schoolbus and I nearly hugged her when I saw her, despite not being able to use my arms. I still had the card on my tray, but that was the last thing on my mind as I wheeled towards her. “Hi, Ethan,” she said in a guarded tone.

“Are you seeing Dylan now?” I asked her.

“What?” She stared at me.

“He told me you were…” I couldn’t complete the sentence. I felt too awful thinking about her and Dylan together.

For a moment, Deanna looked like she was considering telling me it was none of my damn business, but then her face softened. “No, I’m not,” she said. “I wouldn’t do that to you, Ethan.”

I felt relief wash over me. Deanna was a really good person, that was part of the reason I fell for her so hard. All the girls I went out with when I was able-bodied were skanks. Deanna was amazing. I felt angry at myself, because I knew I was the one who blew it. Dylan was right about one thing: it was too late. Card or no card, I wasn’t going to win Deanna back. But at least I didn’t have to see her with another guy while I was here.

Deanna glanced down at the card on my tray. “Is that for me?” she asked.

“Yeah,” I admitted, with a crooked grin. “Some dumb scheme to win you back.”

Deanna picked it up and read my heartfelt letter to her. I felt embarrassed by what I had written but also glad she was reading it. When she finished, her eyes were filled with tears. “Oh, Ethan,” she murmured, putting her hand on top of mine.

“It’s… stupid,” I muttered.

“No, it’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever written to me,” she said. She gave my hand a squeeze, even though I couldn’t feel it. “You know we’ll always be friends, right?”

I nodded, not trusting myself to speak.

“And maybe someday, if we’re both in the right place in our lives…” She trailed off, letting it be at that. I knew that this was more than just an empty promise from Deanna. I felt convinced that someday Deanna and I would give it another go. And in the meantime, I had an amazing friend.

To be continued...