Graduation Night, continued...
They said he needed X-Rays taken of his spine.
One of the nurses, Michelle, wheeled Adam out of his room and down the hall toward the elevator. The last time Adam had changed floors in the hospital, he had been in a stretcher being brought to surgery. The wheelchair was less cumbersome than a stretcher, but it was still hard to squeeze into the crowded elevator. He noticed one woman rolled her eyes at the annoyance of having to move into a corner so that he could fit in. Everyone backed away, trying to avoid touching him. If everyone was so intolerant in a hospital, for god’s sake, what was it going to be like in the rest of the world?
They arrived in radiology and Michelle parked Adam’s wheelchair in the waiting room. Since it was after hours, the room was nearly empty. The only person there was a pretty girl about Adam’s age in a wheelchair of her own. She was flipping through a copy of Cosmo.
“I’ll come get you later,” Michelle told Adam. “Don’t wander off.” As if he could.
Adam folded his arms across his chest and sighed. He wondered how long he was going to have to wait. There were some magazines in the corner, but he didn’t think he could navigate his chair across the room. Instead he focused his attention on the girl. He wondered if she was a paraplegic too. He studied her legs for signs of movement.
She noticed him looking at her and flashed a bright smile. Now that she was looking up, he could see that she was really quite beautiful--almost as pretty as Maggie. “Hi!” she said. “I’m Julie.”
“I’m Adam,” he mumbled.
“This your first time in radiology?” Julie asked.
“Yeah,” Adam said.
“It’s no biggie,” Julie assured him. “They’re really nice here.” She winked at him then leapt out of her chair to look through the piles of magazines in the corner. Just as he had thought--she could walk. “Wow, these are pretty bad magazines.”
She was flipping through some magazine with a red cover. “You like cars?”
“You should look at this article,” she told him, holding it up.
“That’s okay,” Adam mumbled.
“No, really,” Julie said. “They’re gonna keep us waiting, like, forever.”
Adam sighed and attempted to spin the wheels on his chair. He immediately crashed into a table. He looked up at her, “I can’t…”
Julie giggled. “You don’t have to stay in the chair. Just as long as you don’t fall and kill yourself.”
Oh god, she thought he could walk like her. “It’s all right,” he said quickly. He didn’t know what the point of pretending was. Somehow it let him keep a little bit of his dignity.
“Adam,” Julie was waving her hand. “Come on!”
She stood up, possibly with the intention of pulling him over to the magazine pile. Adam decided it had gone far enough. “No,” he said, “I mean, I can’t walk.”
Julie stopped short. “Oh,” she said quietly. She sat down. “I didn’t realize…”
“It’s okay,” Adam said. He felt his face burning.
They sat in awkward silence for a few minutes. Finally, a nurse came out and called Julie’s name, and she disappeared into the other room.
They took several X-rays of Adam’s spine as he lay on a rather uncomfortable table. The technicians weren’t as nice as Julie had promised. The two men barely said a word to Adam as they lifted him onto the table. And then when they were done, they just left him lying there while they went into another room. His wheelchair was nowhere in sight. He figured he was going to be lying there until Michelle got back.
Adam turned his head and saw Julie leaning over him. He quickly propped himself up onto his elbows. “Uh, hey.”
“So how long have you been in the hospital?” Julie asked him.
“A couple weeks,” Adam replied. He felt very self-conscious of his bare legs, lying limply on the table. He wondered if Julie realized that his dick was as useless as his legs. He sometimes imagined everyone knew.
“You know anyone here?” she asked. “Like, besides the nurses and doctors and stuff?”
“Um, not really.”
Julie smiled. “Then tomorrow I’m going to take you around to meet my friends. It’ll be fun.”
Adam’s face flushed. “That’s okay. You don’t have to.”
“I’m going to,” Julie said. “So you may as well be agreeable.”
Adam smiled despite himself. “Okay then.”
She tugged at his hospital gown. “And put some real clothes on, for god’s sake.”
To Adam’s surprise, he found that he and Julie became good friends. She came by the next day and they went to the cafeteria for lunch. He had been hesitant about pushing his chair, but Julie confidently took charge and pushed the chair for him. They ate lunch with some of Julie’s friends--a bunch of teenaged guys who hung on her every word. Afterwards, they went to the lounge and played board games and watched television until the evening.
This became their daily routine. Adam found that he was actually looking forward to each day now. He didn’t even mind being out in public with his wheelchair, as long as Julie was with him. Ever since that initial awkwardness, she took his chair in stride. Julie was very physically affectionate with all her friends and one time she even touched Adam’s knee. He had shivered at the sight of her hand on his paralyzed leg, and silently willed her to never touch him there again. She hadn’t.
Julie had cancer. It wasn’t something she liked to talk about. In fact, he had found out from her friends. From what he could gather, she was having some sort of complication with her treatment, which was why they were keeping her in the hospital. Mike, who was 21 and the oldest of Julie’s posse of boys, confided a few other details about Julie to Adam. He said that he thought Julie had been skipping out on treatments, which was why they were keeping her in the hospital. He also told Adam that Julie wore a wig, although he never would have figured it out.
Adam suspected there was something going on between Mike and Julie. Mike was a serious, quiet guy, and Julie seemed to respect him a lot. A few times Mike mentioned casually that he and Julie had been “hanging out” the night before.
Adam asked her about it rather awkwardly. “So are you and Mike…uh…”
Julie raised an eyebrow. “Huh?”
“I mean, are you guys, you know… together…?”
Julie giggled. “What do you think?”
“I don’t know,” Adam replied honestly.
“Why are you so curious?”
“Oh, come on!”
“Forget it,” Adam mumbled and looked away.
Julie touched his shoulder. “Don’t worry, Adam. You’re still my favorite guy.”
He couldn’t help but blush. Julie was a hopeless flirt and he was falling for it. He knew she was manipulating him, making him fall for her like all those other boys. Back before the accident, he would have had a girl like Julie in the palm of hand, but now things were different. Now he was no different than all those other pathetic losers who believed they had a chance with her.
Ever since that meeting with Dr. Firth, girls had become a source of frustration. He knew that he would never be able to satisfy a girl sexually, so it seemed like there was no point in even trying. Even if Julie somehow decided she liked him, what could he do for her?
Julie was a great girl. She was pretty and sweet and fun. But it was wrong of her to flirt with him and make him believe he had a shot. It was unfair of her to make him fall in love with her.
On Tuesday morning, Julie was almost an hour late meeting Adam in his room. That sort of thing wasn’t like her--she was usually very prompt. “I snuck out,” she confided to him as she wheeled him toward the elevator.
“Snuck out?” Adam asked.
“Oh, you know,” Julie said.
He had no idea what she was talking about, but he was worried she meant that she had skipped out on her treatment again. Adam wondered if Julie was avoiding treatment so that she could stay sick and stay in the hospital. According to Mike, she was doing pretty well and was supposed to go home soon.
“Pizza or chicken?” Julie asked Adam as she pushed him into the cafeteria, toward the table where her friends were sitting.
Adam had lost a lot of weight. Even though his sweatpants, he could see how thin his legs had become. “Whatever you’re having,” he replied.
Despite the late time, the usual crowd was eating: Mike, a weasely guy in his late teens named Rick, a guy with a broken leg named Tom, and Danny, who seemed a lot younger than 18 with the baseball cap covering his bald skull.
“Yo Adam,” Rick said. “How’s life?”
Adam couldn’t stand Rick, but nodded politely.
“I guess you heard Julie’s news,” Mike said.
“News?” Adam frowned.
“She’s going home this week,” Danny spoke up.
Adam felt his heart speed up. Julie was going home? Why hadn’t she told him?
“You okay, man?” Mike asked him.
“I’m fine.” What the hell was he going to do without Julie around? He couldn’t even wheel his damn chair around, for Christ’s sake. “That’s great news.”
“You liar,” Rick laughed. “Come on, you’re going to miss that piece of ass as much as the rest of us.”
Adam was quiet. If he could have, he would have walked out right then.
“So we were wondering, Adam,” Rick said, “did you and Julie hook up? You can tell us now that she’s leaving, right?”
“I mean, shit, we all tried to get into her pants,” Rick went on. “And we all got shot down, even Mike here. But you two seemed to have a thing going. I don’t know what you’ve got that I haven’t got. I mean, maybe she has a thing for cripples or--”
“Shut-up, Rick,” Mike said.
Rick smiled. “Nothing personal, Adam. I’m just impressed, that’s all.”
“Stop talking about me.” It was Julie’s voice from behind Adam’s shoulder. He turned his head and saw her smiling and holding a tray of food.
He stared at her for a second. “Why didn’t you tell me you were going home?”
For only the second time since they had met, Julie was speechless. Adam stared down at his lap, blinking to keep tears from coming. Suddenly, he felt himself moving. Mike had seized the handles of his chair and was pushing him out of the cafeteria.
When they were out of the cafeteria, Mike handed Adam a tissue and pulled up a chair next to him. “Thanks,” Adam sniffled.
Mike pointed to the wheelchair. “You’ve really got to learn how to use this thing.”
Mike waited a few minutes for the tears to die down. Adam wondered why Mike was in the hospital--he never even looked sick. Some medical problems were easy to hide, unlike being paralyzed. “You know, we’re all in love with Julie,” Mike said. “It’s hard not to be, right?”
“Did you ever tell her?”
Mike nodded. Adam could tell from his expression that she hadn’t given him the answer he wanted. “She likes you more than she ever liked me,” Mike said.
Adam smiled wryly. “Come on.”
“How do you know?”
“She told me,” Mike said. He smiled at the look on Adam’s face and punched him gently in the shoulder. “Don’t let it get to your head, man.”
“Wait, what did she say exactly?”
Mike shrugged. “You have to ask her.”
Adam didn't see Julie again for the rest of the day. He sat around his room and watched television, trying not to think about the fact that he might never see her again. First Maggie had broken his heart, now Julie was finishing him off. And it wasn’t like there were going to be a lot of girls around to comfort him. What girl would want him now?
He went to sleep after lying awake for what felt like hours. He didn’t feel like going to bed, but the nurse insisted. She moved his wheelchair across the room, as if he could have gotten into it if it had been right by his bedside. Eventually, he drifted into a fitful sleep.
Adam’s eyes fluttered open. His eyes adjusted to the darkness and he saw Julie’s pretty face leaning over him. He pulled himself into a sitting position with some difficulty. “What are you doing here?” he demanded.
“I came to see you,” Julie whispered.
Adam remembered what Mike had said. He had implied that Julie might be in love with him, but Adam found that very hard to believe. They were friends, nothing more. To believe differently would only hurt him. “Did you come to say goodbye?”
Adam looked away. “I wish you had told me.”
“I’m telling you now.” She took his hand in hers. “I’m going to miss you a lot.”
“Is this what you said to the other guys?” Adam couldn’t hide the bitterness in his voice.
“No,” Julie said.
“I’m glad you had fun at least,” Adam said.
“Oh Adam,” she murmured. “Do you think that’s all this is to me?”
She shook her head, “Not even close.”
Julie leaned forward and pressed her lips onto his. Adam gasped slightly and pulled away. “What are you doing?” he asked.
She frowned. “What do you think I’m doing?”
“I mean, you don’t have to do this just because you feel bad you’re leaving.”
“Is that really what you think?”
Adam hung his head. “I don’t know.”
She touched his cheek. “I love you. I want to make love to you.”
He stared at her. “What?”
“I want you to be my first.”
“Julie,” he swallowed. “I...”
She raised an eyebrow seductively. “Don’t you want me?”
“I do, believe me,” he whispered. “But I...I can’t...” He didn’t know how he could explain to her the things that Dr. Firth had told him. How he would never be able to maintain an erection or ejaculate. He wanted so badly to make love to her but it was physically impossible. And he couldn’t hide it. He gently took her hand and moved it down toward his underwear, over his flat genitals. She looked at him questioningly.
“Julie,” he choked, “I can’t get hard.”
He saw the momentary surprise on her face. “Because of the accident?”
“Yeah, I... I can’t even feel it.”
Julie moved her hand away from his crotch, sliding it up his stomach. She slipped under his undershirt and he felt her fingers grazing the tip of his nipples. “That’s okay,” she said.
She leaned forward to kiss him again. He reached out and pulled at the buttons that held her blouse together. His fingers were shaking badly and he couldn’t even undo the first button. He wanted her so badly, in some ways worse than he ever wanted Maggie. He couldn’t believe that such a beautiful girl would want to be with a guy in a wheelchair, who couldn’t even fuck her. Yet she was kissing him just eagerly as he kissed her back.
They groped at each other, awkwardly pulling off clothing. Julie tried to pull his boxers off, but he stopped her. “There’s nothing there,” he told her, and she quietly accepted this. She was completely naked, lying on top of him. He felt the curves of her breasts pressing against him and they kissed. He reached down and touched her between the legs—she was very damp. “I want you, Adam,” she whispered. He couldn’t penetrate her, but there had to be something he could do for her.
He stoked her clitoris as she moaned softly and rubbed against him. He continued doing this until her moans grew load and she gripped his hair until his scalp ached. Finally, she collapsed against him, drenched in sweat. He held her tightly against him.
“My first orgasm,” Julie mused.
“You like it?”
“Not at all,” she said with a smile. “But what can I do for you?”
“Don’t worry about it,” Adam said. “Just come visit me after you leave.”
A secretive smile played against Julie’s lips. “Okay.” She rested her head against his chest and sighed. “I knew it was going to be you, Adam. From the moment I first saw you, I knew.”
“What about when you found out that I’m...”
“Disabled?” Julie smiled. “I still knew it was going to be you.”
“So you’ve been scoping out guys in the hospital to lose your virginity to?”
“Hey, I wanted to be with one guy before I die.”
Adam laughed. “That’s pretty melodramatic for someone who’s going home this week. I wish I were going home.”
“Actually,” Julie said, “That’s not quite true.”
“The truth is, I’m going into hospice.”
He stared at her. “What?”
“You heard me.” She shrugged. “The cancer...got out of control. I’m dying.”
“You don’t look sick at all,” Adam protested.
“I don’t feel sick either,” Julie said. “But they say... pretty soon I’ll start to feel it.”
Before Adam knew what was happening, he feel the tears gushing from his eyes. “Julie, no...”
She frowned. “Hey, I didn’t want a big scene. Listen, I’m going to leave if you keep crying like that.”
“I can’t help it, Julie.”
She stood up and pulled her bra off the floor. “I’m going back to my room.”
Adam quickly wiped his eyes. “No, please don’t. I’ll stop. Come back.”
Julie examined his face. “You’re not going to get all mushy on me, are you?”
“No, I promise. Just come back.”
Julie put down her bra and cuddled up next to him as the tears dried on his cheeks. Adam eventually fell asleep with Julie in his arms. When he woke up the next day, she was gone from his bed and gone from the hospital.
The trial for the murder of Shannon Richards took place three months after her death. By that time, Adam was already in rehab. The rehab center was a half-hour drive from his home and an hour drive from the courthouse. Adam plead guilty to vehicular manslaughter.
Adam’s lawyer, George Walsh, had visited him in rehab and coached him on how to act during the sentencing. Walsh had advised him to appear as pathetic as humanly possible. It started with wearing a suit that was several sizes too large, which wasn’t a problem since Adam had lost nearly twenty pounds since the accident. He didn’t even need the make-up Walsh suggested to make him look paler.
Adam’s parents had bought him a wheelchair of his own. It was a light machine that Adam was slowly learning how to control and manipulate on his own. However, Walsh had forbidden him from wheeling himself around during the trial. Walsh had also provided Adam with a different wheelchair to use: a squeaky machine that looked like it might collapse at any minute. Walsh was probably hoping it would collapse, since that would mean more sympathy from the judge. Adam was hoping the chair would stay together—he didn’t feel much like being sprawled out all over the floor.
Shannon Richards was 27 years old when she died. She had been married and they had a 4-year-old son. Adam felt awful knowing that their recklessness that night had taken this poor woman’s life and left her child without a mother. He almost wished the judge would throw the book at him so that he could ease the guilt he felt.
Walsh personally helped Adam out of his parents car and into his wheelchair. Adam put his hand on the wheels, preparing to move forward, and Walsh clucked his tongue: “I told you not to do that.” Adam folded his hands in his lap and let Walsh push his chair for him. “The wheelchair entrance is in the back,” Walsh said. Adam knew he faced a lifetime of looking for wheelchair entrances.
The courtroom was smaller than Adam had expected. Besides the judge and the court employees, the only other people there was the family of Shannon Richards and the prosecutor. And in the row behind the defendant’s table was Roger Jacobson, dressed up in a suit, facing straight ahead.
“Sorry we’re late, Your Honor,” Walsh said. “We had some trouble with the handicapped entrance.” In actuality, they were late on purpose. Walsh said it would be more effective if the judge saw Adam being wheeled in.
The wheelchair Walsh had given him was so bulky that Adam couldn’t fit behind the defendant’s stand. Adam suspected this was purposeful and was annoyed that Walsh never said anything to him about it. Walsh helped Adam transfer into one of the regular chairs and they moved his wheelchair off to one side.
Roger leaned forward in his seat. “How are you doing?” Roger whispered to Adam.
“I’m great,” Adam said. “Thanks for visiting me.”
Roger turned a little red. “I’m sorry... I’ve been busy with college and...”
“Forget it,” Adam muttered.
The judge called the court into session. It wasn’t a trial in any real sense of the word—Adam had already plead guilty and the only thing left to determine was the sentence. The only witness was Adam’s doctor, who testified to the nature of Adam’s condition.
“My question is,” the judge said to the doctor, “what is the chance that Mr. Harding will be able to walk again?”
“There’s no chance,” the doctor said, without hesitation. “Of course, there are always miraculous advances in research. I suppose in, say, thirty or forty years he might be able to walk again with braces, although I think even that is rather unlikely.”
It seemed, in a way, that it was the doctor giving him his sentence rather than the judge. Maybe on his sixtieth birthday, he’d be able to walk again. Good fucking deal.
Finally, the moment came when Adam was to receive his sentence. His heart was pounding in his chest, and he knew that no matter what the sentence was, Roger was never going to step forward and take the blame. Not a chance.
“Mr. Harding,” the judge said. There was a harshness in his voice that Adam found unsettling. There was no sympathy there. “Are you able to stand for the sentencing?”
Adam shook his head.
“You may remain seated then,” the judge said. “Would the defendant’s counsel please rise?”
Walsh stood up, smiling confidently.
“Mr. Harding,” the judge said, “is there anything you’d like to say?”
Adam glanced at Walsh, then looked nervously back at the judge. “I just... I want to apologize to the family of Mrs. Richards. If... if I could give my arms too to bring her back, I’d do it. I... I’ll never forgive myself... for as long as I live.”
“Mr. Harding,” the judge began, “I suspect what you just said is a lie. No doubt you think you’ve suffered enough for what you’ve done. Perhaps you even think that your punishment is too harsh, to lose the ability to walk because of one careless act. But if I can give you one piece of advice, it is that you must be accountable for all your actions.”
Oh god, Adam thought. This doesn’t sound good.
“Adam Harding, I hereby sentence you to two years in prison.”
Adam’s mouth fell open. He gripped the table, fighting off the sickening sensation that rose in his throat. This couldn’t be happening. He couldn’t go to prison...
“I’m going to suspend your sentence,” the judge went on. “But believe me, Mr. Harding, if I ever see you in my courtroom again, you will serve those two years.” He banged his gavel.
Adam looked at Walsh. “What...?”
“You’re a free man, my friend,” Walsh said. “He scared you for a minute there, huh? I told you he’d let you off.”
Walsh retrieved the wheelchair from the corner and helped Adam transfer back in. He wheeled himself a few feet and the chair squeaked threateningly.
“Congratulations,” Roger said, standing in front of him with his hands shoved deep into his pockets.
“Thanks,” Adam murmured. “You’d have done the same for me, right?”
Roger nodded. “You seem to be doing... pretty good.”
“Not really,” Adam said with a shrug. “But thanks for asking.”
Roger stood awkwardly, shifting his feet. “Listen, I’ve got to—”
“Got to go?” Adam smiled. “Well, don’t let me keep you. I’ve got to go back to rehab to learn how to fucking get out of bed and stuff, so I’m pretty busy too. It was nice seeing you though.”
Roger looked like he wanted to say something, but instead he dropped his head and turned away. “Seeya, Adam.”
Adam realized he was probably never going to see Roger again. And he was surprised to find that this idea didn’t bother him at all. Roger was only a reminder of what had happened. Two paralyzed legs was enough of a reminder for him.
As Adam was wheeling out of the courtroom, a sharp voice caught his attention: “Let me talk to him!” He wheeled around and saw a young man struggling against the hold of another, older man. The young man broke free and ran over to where Adam’s chair was parked. He was breathing hard and his eyes were red. “I’m David Richards,” the man said. “Shannon was my wife.”
Adam instinctively backed his chair up, although he knew if the man wanted to, he could have easily reached out and tossed Adam across the room. “I... I'm sorry,” Adam said.
“You’re sorry?” David Richards’ right hand balled into a fist.
“David...” a tearful older woman came to the man’s side. “Please just... let’s go...”
“No,” Richards said sharply. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet. “I want him to see the woman he murdered!”
Before Adam knew what was happening, Richards shoved a wallet-sized photo of what appeared to be the Richards family: Mommy, Daddy, and baby. Shannon Richards was smiling as if she didn’t have a care in the world. Nobody should ever be that happy, Adam thought.
“I’m sorry,” Adam repeated, gripping the arms of his ancient chair.
David Richards’ eyes filled with tears. “You’re fucking sorry. Fuck you, kid. I hope you piss in a bag for the rest of your life.”
David Richards sighed loudly. “There’s no point anyway. You’ll never get it.”
The Richards family left the courtroom, but Adam stayed where he was. He felt that he had somehow lost the strength to move. He remained in the courtroom until he felt his mother’s hand on his shoulder: “Adam, it’s time to go.” She took the handles of his chair and wheeled him out of the courtroom.
to be continued....