As easy and brainless as his job was, Sam found himself fumbling the next day at work. There were at least three occasions when he forgot to put the return card in the books and it took him multiple tries to tally up late fees on his calculator. It was the sort of stuff he had trouble with when he first started out, but had become routine over the last two years.
He knew why he was having trouble keeping his mind on his work. He couldn’t stop thinking about Marie. Every time he closed his eyes, he could see her sweet, round face. Even though he didn’t get sexually excited the way he used to, he got a thrill in his chest every time he thought about her.
He tried his best to put those thoughts aside for the sake of concentrating on his work. The mistakes were embarrassing and Sam found himself mumbling several apologies. He preferred when the library patrons got annoyed at him to the ones who noticed he was sitting in a wheelchair and offered him a patronizing, “That’s okay, take your time.”
The whole thing was a reminder that despite all the work he had done with speech therapy and in his class, he still had to concentrate a lot just to do a very basic job. The reality was that this was the most brain-intensive work he was ever going to be able to do.
Sam had hoped to see Marie at the library and he started to become mildly agitated when she didn’t show up. Every time the front doors opened, he looked over expectantly, but it was never her. He wondered if maybe his good impression of the date had been completely one-sided. Maybe he had come off as pathetic and she was trying to avoid him.
“Waiting for someone?”
Sam didn’t realize he was staring at the door until he heard Dean’s voice. He quickly turned back to his computer. “No,” he said.
“Wasn’t your date with Marie last night?”
Dean raised his eyebrows, “So how’d it go? You get any action?”
“Let me put it this way: she had a flight of stairs to get into her dorm.”
“Ah.” He grinned. “Maybe your place next time?”
“If there’s a next time…” Sam glanced at the door again.
“Aw, Sammy… you didn’t screw things up, did you?”
He sighed, “I didn’t think so, but… I don’t know. I keep going over the night in my head. Maybe I read her wrong or something.”
Sam was hoping Dean would say something reassuring, but he could tell his friend thought he probably screwed it up too. It was his first date in five years, so he guessed it wasn’t too surprising. He wondered if it would take another five years to get another date.
Dean offered to close for him, but Sam said he’d stay. The last thing he wanted was to go home to his empty apartment and mull about what he might have said or done wrong during his date with Marie. As he was checking out the last of the books and herding the final students out the door, he saw a familiar face at the entrance to the library.
“Hi,” Marie said, looking very pretty in blue jeans and a black sweater. “Can we talk?”
Talk. That didn’t sound good. Talk about what? About how he was a nice guy and all, but et cetera, et cetera? “Um, sure.”
Sam wheeled over to the entrance and locked the door so they could have some privacy. The last thing he wanted was any kind of public rejection. He spun his wheels to turn to face her, but he found that he couldn’t look at her. He looked down at his knees, which somehow seemed off kilter in his chair.
“Sam,” she said. She crouched down to get into his line of sight. He waited for the words of rejection, but they never came. Instead he watched her slide her hands up his thighs, up the bulge of his abdomen, and up his chest. He couldn’t feel it, but it was incredibly sexy to watch. “I’ve been waiting all day to get you alone.”
“Yeah?” He tried to hide the shock in his voice.
She leaned forward and he felt her lips press against his. She seamlessly transferred her body into his lap and he pulled her close as she kissed him. He ran his hands over her back, reveling in how amazing it felt to be close to a woman again after all these years. Especially a woman who seemed to want him as much as he wanted her.
She sat on his lap as they kissed gently for what seemed like an eternity. When their lips parted for a second, he looked down and saw that her fingers had snaked under his shirt and were caressing his bare abdomen. He tried not to feel self-conscious about the size of his gut and the dimpled scar from the feeding tube that had been placed back when he couldn’t swallow. He instead took this as a license to slide his own hand under Marie’s sweater and up the smooth skin of her back. He felt the clasp of her bra, but he wasn’t about to attempt that without permission.
It was inevitable, he supposed, that Marie’s hand was going to go south. He kept glancing down nervously to monitor, but she didn’t venture down there. He wondered if she knew things didn’t work too well in that department. He didn’t want to ruin the moment by explaining to her that while he could get an erection, it wasn’t going to be one that would result in any kind of spectacular sex. At best, he could hold it for a few minutes.
The make-out session lasted for the better part of an hour and left them both breathless. Finally, their lips separated, and Marie whispered, “We can go to your apartment if you want.”
He desperately wanted to. But Marie was the first girl he had been out with in over five years and he didn’t want to screw things up. He sensed that anything that happened in the bedroom was going to end up disappointing her.
Marie could see the hesitation on his face. “It’s okay, Sam. We can take things slow.”
He nodded and kissed her gratefully. “I really like you a lot, Marie,” he said. Once the words were out of his mouth, he felt stupid saying it. But it was true.
“I like you too,” she said and gave his hand a squeeze.
Please god, he thought to himself, even though he didn’t have any sort of religious beliefs, don’t let me screw this up.
For the next two weeks, Sam closed the library every day and Marie was there to assist him. For the first hour or so, they actually worked for real. Marie helped Sam put away the loose books and clean up in order to speed things along. All the while, they exchanged glances and grinned as they accidentally/purposely brushed past each other on the way to the next row of books.
Then after the books were put away, Marie fell into Sam’s arms. After all the anticipation, she felt like she couldn’t get enough of him. Sometimes she sat on his lap, sometimes he transferred to the floor or a table. It wasn’t comfortable, but damn, it was hot.
Things had stayed exclusively above the belt so far. Marie had made only one attempt to unbutton his pants and he grabbed her wrist with such force, he left red fingerprints behind. Even though she was dying to take things to the next level, Marie remembered that Dean had told him that Sam hadn’t been with a girl for five years, so he was undoubtedly nervous about moving too quickly.
Marie finally broached the topic when Sam lay on his back on the thin carpeting of the library floor with his shirt unbuttoned. She kissed his neck then made a line down his chest with her tongue. He propped himself up on his elbows and watched her, grinning the whole time. “You’re so beautiful, Marie,” he breathed.
She ran her fingers along the flaccid muscles of his abdomen along his beltline. She could see his shoulders start to tense. He didn’t say anything but she saw that he was shaking his head.
“It’s okay,” Marie whispered.
He stayed tensed as she gently dipped her fingers into his pants. She glanced up and saw that his hands were shaking.
“Sam, what’s wrong?” she asked, sitting up.
He relaxed and his head dropped down against the floor. He sighed, “Marie, you know I can’t… you know, feel anything down there.”
The truth was, she didn’t know. She knew he couldn’t feel his legs or chest, but it hadn’t occurred to him that he had no sensation at all. She guessed the movement thing held true too. “You mean, you can’t get hard?”
“I can,” he replied as she inadvertently breathed a sigh of relief. “But it’s not very… impressive.”
“You don’t need to impress me.”
“Trust me, it’s less than anything you’re used to,” he said. “I mean, there’s no way we could have sex. At least not for more than like thirty seconds.”
“Aren’t there medications?” Please let there be medications.
“Yeah, there are,” Sam said. “I just haven’t tried them before because… well, there wasn’t ever any point. But now…” He took her hand. “The meds will work. I just need to get in to see my doctor.”
“Okay, I can wait,” Marie said. But it won’t be easy. All Marie could think about was making love to Sam. She had never felt this way about a guy before. The three other guys she had sex with had all been the ones to pressure her, not the other way around.
“You know I’m crazy about you, right?”
Marie looked into Sam’s slanted brown eyes and smiled at him. She lowered her head onto his shoulder and let out a satisfied sigh.
Every six months, Sam paid a visit to Dr. Chester Allen, a rehab doctor who had been addressing issues related to his brain and spinal cord injuries since his discharge from inpatient rehab. In Dr. Allen’s lobby, wheelchairs were the rule rather than the exception. When he looked around the waiting room and waited for the receptionist to call his name, he noticed that the fact that he was in a manual wheelchair rather than a powerchair made him one of the least disabled patients in the room.
Sam’s mother had given him a ride to the appointment, like she always did. The drive had been somewhat tense, to say the least. She brought up his refusal to act as his brother’s best man and started doing what mothers did best: the guilt trip. After everything they had done for him in the last few years, the least he could do was be there for Ben on his big day. And furthermore, his mother added, who do you think is going to help you when your father and I aren’t around anymore?
That last comment stung. Even though his parents still did a lot for him now, somehow he had envisioned that he’d be able to manage on his own once they were gone. He hated the idea of being in his forties and needing his brother’s help just to manage his finances. But clearly, his mother believed that he was never going to be completely independent.
She seemed to realize that she had upset him and thankfully didn’t mention it again. He looked over at her now, sitting in one of the uncomfortable wooden chairs and flipping through a copy of an old magazine. On every single visit for the last five years, she had come into the examining room with him. It had always just been understood that she’d be there with him. He wondered how she’d take it when he asked her not to come in with him this time.
Now or never.
She looked up and smiled at him pleasantly. He had been noticing lately how gray her hair was becoming and it upset him. She was getting old, but he knew a lot of those gray hairs were his fault. “What is it, honey?”
“I think I’m going to see Dr. Allen myself this time,” he said. He quickly amended: “If that’s okay.”
Her brows furrowed. He could tell she thought he wasn’t capable of transmitting his medical information to the doctor. The truth was that he wasn’t nearly as impaired as his mother seemed to think he was. If it were her call, he’d still be living at home.
“Do you remember the results of your bladder studies?” she asked.
“Mom, he’s got all that information,” Sam sighed.
“Are you going to show him that burn?”
Sam had burned his leg several weeks ago when he had brilliantly placed a plate of food from the microwave on his lap. It had been an angry red when he had shown it to his mother three weeks ago, after she noticed his spasms were worse. He supposed stunts like that were what caused her not to trust him. “That’s all healed,” he told her.
Her eyes narrowed, wondering what her son wasn’t telling her. Finally, she reached into her purse and pulled out a plastic bag of his pills. When they were all bunched together like that, it looked like so many medications. “You give this to the nurse and tell her this is what you’re taking,” she instructed him.
“I think I can handle it,” Sam said, trying not to roll his eyes.
Sam took the bag of pills from her just as the nurse Angie called out his name. He dropped the bag on his lap and wheeled toward Angie. Angie knew him well and gave him a big smile, “Mom’s not coming with you today, Sammy?”
“Not today,” he replied. He wasn’t about to explain that he couldn’t ask the doctor what he needed with his mother in the room.
He wheeled himself into the exam room and Angie took his blood pressure. She clucked her tongue as she read off the number. “Nervous?” she asked him.
He mumbled something unintelligible.
Sam passed the time waiting for the doctor by tapping his fingers against his knees and reading literature on the walls. He read through an entire poster about cholesterol and how heart disease was more prevalent in spinal cord injured patients. He wondered what his own cholesterol was.
“Sam Ziegler!” Dr. Allen entered the room with the familiar broad smile on his wrinkled face. Sam thought the doctor had a few years on his own father. “How are you doing today?”
He gripped the bag of pill bottles on his lap, suddenly wishing his mother was here to help him. As nice as Dr. Allen was, doctors made him extremely anxious. “I’m… fine.”
Dr. Allen flipped through his chart, which was very thick for a patient under age 30. “Here a couple of months early?”
“Yeah…” He wrung his hands together.
“Mom not with you today?”
“She’s… in the waiting room,” Sam told him.
“How are you handling your job?” Dr. Allen asked. “Are you still working in the library?”
“Uh huh. It’s… fine.”
“And how are your spasms?” Dr. Allen asked. “You’re taking the baclofen three times a day?”
“Yeah…” Sam looked down at his legs. “It’s fine. No problems.”
“And you’re cathing your bladder every four hours?”
“No leakage in between?” Leakage had been a problem in the early days after his injury, to the point where he was self-conscious about going out in public. But medications had cured that problem.
Dr. Allen sat down on the stool next to Sam. He folded his arms across his chest and a concerned look settled onto his face. “Sam, should I get your mom from the waiting room?”
Sam’s face turned red. He hated that everyone in the doctor’s office seemed to think that he couldn’t manage on his own. Maybe they were right. He knew he was coming off as an inarticulate brain injury patient. “No, that’s okay,” he said.
Dr. Allen frowned. “Is there a reason you’re here today?”
He took a deep breath. “I was wondering if… maybe I could get a prescription for Viagra?”
Dr. Allen raised his eyebrows. “You have a partner?”
“Um, yeah, I do.” Shocking, I know.
“Are you sexually active with your partner?”
“But you plan to be?”
“Are you able to get erections at all?” Dr. Allen asked.
“Yes, but they don’t last,” Sam explained. “And they’re not… you know… as good as they used to be.”
“Like what percent of before?”
“I don’t know. Half?”
Dr. Allen nodded and made some notes in Sam’s chart. “You understand that if I give you this medication, you’re going to have to use condoms, right?”
“Yes, I understand.”
Dr. Allen got out his prescription pad and Sam let out a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding. “So the side effect,” he began, “is that this could drop your blood pressure. Maybe give you a headache.”
Sam nodded. He was willing to accept a headache if it meant he could have sex with Marie.
“You’re T1, right? Do you get autonomic dysreflexia? High blood pressure with headaches and flushing?”
“Every once in a while.” He shrugged.
“Having an orgasm can set off an attack,” the doctor told him. “You need to watch out for it.” He ripped the prescription off the pad and hesitated, “Maybe you’d like me to explain this to your mother too.”
Sam stared at him.
Dr. Allen grinned sheepishly, “I guess that’s the last thing you want, huh?”
“I gotcha,” Dr. Allen laughed. “Boy, oh, boy…” He shook his head. “Sam, it looks like you’re doing okay for yourself finally. You got a job now, your own apartment, a girlfriend… am I right?”
Sam considered the doctor’s words. He had first met Dr. Allen three months after he was injured, when he was still living with his parents and needed assistance for almost all his activities of daily living. He had been told there was no way he’d be able to hold down a job and the idea of living independently seemed like an impossible dream. And now, five years later, he actually was doing okay for himself. He wasn’t crazy about his job, but at least it was work. And his apartment was too small, but it was his. And Marie… well, she was amazing.
“Yeah,” Sam said. “I’m doing okay.”
To be continued...