I AM DEVOTEE by Jo

Jenna had decided to take her break outside at the food court in the street mall. Her book lay on her lap forgotten as she thought of her latest break up and wondered what was wrong with her. No matter how well the men in her life treated her, she could never return their feelings. They called her the ice princess in bed because she just went through the motions and didn’t seem to really ever feel anything special. She was brought out of her thoughts when a little flash of light caught her attention.

She looked and saw a man who could have easily been a model. He had white blond hair and his eyes were like sparkling sapphires. His face was strong, he had a great smile, and he was presently laughing and talking with the workers at the Chinese restaurant. For some reason it looked like he was having trouble grabbing the bag and they were joking with him about it. As some people moved out of her way she saw where the light had come from. The sun had reflected off the spokes on the wheels of his wheel chair. As she continued to watch him she saw that his legs were very thin and he was having trouble with the bag because his hands didn’t look right either. She also noticed a distinct tingle in an area where she didn’t think she was capable of those feelings. As he was situating his bag he looked up and saw her staring. He gave her a grin and a wink as he turned around and wheeled off.

She thought of him and how cute he was, even with the chair, the whole day. And every time she thought of him, she got those tingles. He seemed to be familiar with the guys at the restaurant, maybe she’d see him there again and could figure out a way to meet him. She was still thinking of him as she got on her bus to go home. As she headed toward the back of the bus where there were more open seats she heard someone say, “Hey, you’re the cute girl who caught my eye today! I was hoping to see you again.” She stopped and lifted her head up to see who was talking. At first she didn’t see anyone, but then she looked down and there he was! On her bus! And wow, his voice was just another part of the perfect package. Deep and husky, it sent little tingles all through her body. Up close, he was just as cute as she remembered. Now she could see that his legs were very still as his feet rested on his foot plate and they were very thin, so it was very obvious they didn’t work. He had on fingerless gloves and his fingers curled in a bit as he rested his hands on the wheel rims. But that face and smile were to die for.

As she just stared at him, he started to wonder if he should have said anything. The gorgeous redhead with flashing green eyes had gotten his attention when he caught her staring at the mall. She seemed to be interested in him, but maybe she hadn’t seen the chair, or maybe she hadn’t noticed the extent of his injury. After a little while of her just continuing to stare at him with that goofy smile, he decided she was just going to pretend he wasn’t there. But then she spoke. “Hi, I’m Jenna. I just can’t believe that cute guy I saw earlier is on my bus!” She saw that the seat next to his wheelchair was empty so she sat down next to him. He smiled and said, “I’m Josh, nice to meet you.”

“I noticed you watching me earlier today so I didn’t think you’d mind a total stranger talking to you,” Josh said. “Sorry about that,” said Jenna, “I’m normally not so rude. I just really thought you were cute and I got busted looking.” She laughed. He gave her a funny look then asked “and do you still like what you see even up close? Most girls won’t give me a second look once they realize the whole package isn’t as handsome as the face.” He looked sort of unsure of himself at that point and Jenna quickly shook her head. “I’d actually really like to get to know you” she said. “I liked the first glance and I’d be interested to find out more about you.” She wasn’t sure how he’d react to her statement and looked down at her hands that were clasped in her lap. All of a sudden, she realized he’d shifted in his chair and he laid one of his hands against hers. It sent shivers down her spine as she looked up at him. “You seem different than any other girl I’ve known and I’d like to get to know you too.” She covered his hand with hers and gently squeezed. “So, we should exchange phone numbers before we reach our stops,” he said. “That way I can phone you tonight.” He wiggled his eyebrows at her and she started laughing. “Sounds like a plan. I’d love to have a phone date with a gorgeous guy tonight,” she giggled. “It beats doing laundry any time!”

They’d just finished exchanging numbers and again she noticed that he seemed to use his knuckles rather than his fingers to hit the numbers on his phone and then he wedged it between his thumb and first finger to put it back in his backpack he had with him. Just as he finished zipping his backpack by catching a big loop with his thumb and pulling it closed, the bus came to a stop. “This is my stop” they both said at the same time, then they just looked at each other and laughed again. “It looks like this meeting truly is fate” he said as the driver came to release the straps on his wheels so he could wheel onto the ramp that would lower him to the ground. She just shook her head as she smiled and said, “well, maybe we can walk together for a while if we are going in the same direction and keep talking since fate seems to keep pushing us together.” He gave her another funny look and said, “You are the first new person I’ve met that really seems to not notice I’m in a wheelchair and treat me just like a normal guy. Most people stumble over words like ‘walk’ and they certainly never actually touch me. They don’t even seem to know how to have a normal conversation with me. Do you know another quad? Is that why you seem so comfortable with me?”

She didn’t know what to say. To tell him that the chair and his wasted limbs actually turned her on just as much as his great personality and looks just sounded way too weird. Maybe later, if they really connected on a deeper level she could tell him those things. But not yet. She wasn’t even sure why she was having those feelings. And what did he mean by quad? She’d never heard that term before. “No, I’m not even sure what a quad is. I just think you are cute, and you seem very independent and obviously you are more than capable of doing things on your own, so I am treating you like I would anyone else. I would hope that if I said something wrong or did something inappropriate you would let me know? I try to judge people by how they are on the inside and not make snap judgements on their appearance.” She stood quietly and waited to see how he would respond.

Josh was sure he was dreaming. Jenna was truly gorgeous, and she seemed to like him as a man, even seeing him as he was now. He was used to having the initial interest if they saw a photo of him that was just a head shot or maybe they were drawn to his voice on the phone. But as soon as they found out he was a quad, they gave him some flimsy excuse and he never heard from him again. He hadn’t been with anyone since his accident, and he was a little worried about whether he could perform well enough to hold her attention if she decided to continue with him. But what the hell, nothing ventured, nothing gained. He took a deep breath and decided to give it a shot.

“Jenna, your attitude is definitely giving me renewed hope in humanity. I’m a quadriplegic, otherwise known as a quad. I’m a low level injury, so I am lucky to have some mobility in my arms and hands. It allows me to be mostly independent, I only need help with a few things. I obviously can’t move my legs, and I have no feeling from about mid chest down. I can’t really use my fingers, but because I can move my thumbs, I’m able to modify most things to make them work for me. It just may take me longer. If you are still interested, I will call you tonight and we can see where this goes.” Now it was his turn to wait for her response and his mind wandered the path that brought him here.

The summer after graduation he had wrecked his motor bike doing a dumb stunt, trying to look cool for his girl of the month. No question, he’d played the field, acting every bit of the storybook star quarterback. Looking back, it was incredibly stupid, and he’d learned his lesson in a very permanent way. He’d absolutely hated being completely dependent on people for everything for the first few months after the accident. He’d worked like a demon to get everything back that he possibly could and as soon as he could. He knew that he’d never walk again, but he really pushed to train his remaining usable muscles to work in a new way. He regained use of his arms and at least the ability to use his thumbs, although he only had minimal strength there it opened up a whole new world in terms of being independent. The hardest thing to master was training his new body to manage his own bladder and bowel movements without the need for a permanent catheter. Only occasionally did he have to don the dreaded diaper or leg bag to avoid messy situations when he couldn’t adhere to his routine. There was nothing more degrading than someone else cleaning him up like a newborn.

He worked through all of that and had moved out of his parents’ home. He now shared an accessible apartment with his roommate Tim. Tim was an old friend from childhood and they had reconnected after finding themselves both working for the same company in recent months. Tim was blind from birth and Josh helped him with the few things he needed someone with sight for and Tim helped him with the things that required fine motor skills. Tim was one of the top programmers for their company, and he specialized in accessible computer programming. Josh had taken up web design while in rehab, having given up his dream of flying in the Air Force. He found he enjoyed it and was very good at it. Technology was amazing and allowed him the creative ability to do what he envisioned and he was in high demand from clients for his leading edge web pages. They were both able to the majority of their work from home and they loved it. The only thing currently missing in their lives was girls. And Josh was hoping that was about to change for him.

Jenna was smiling as she said, “Earth to Josh, anyone home?” Josh gave her a sheepish smile and told her he had been trying to convince himself she was really interested in him and wasn’t a figment of his imagination. At that she broke out in full scale laughter and said, “We should make a great pair. We’ll both be thinking we are dating an imaginary person.” He started laughing with her and said, “So it’s a phone date?” “Absolutely!” she said. “I can’t wait to find out everything about you.” They had been moving towards the apartment complex that was near the bus stop, and as he stopped to say that he was at his place she started laughing again. “We are truly being brought together by fate. I live in this complex too! I’ll be waiting for your phone call.”

They were both wondering if they had met the person they were fated to be with. He was concerned she wouldn’t be able to handle everything that went with his injury if they took the relationship further. She was worried he would drop her in a heartbeat if he ever found out she was just as drawn to his wasted limbs as she was to his personality. Would it work out? Could they each come to terms with the true realities and move forward? Or would it be too much for one or both. There was only one way to find out. Jenna curled up on her bed dreaming of her fantasy man. The phone rang in the middle of some particularly steamy thoughts. “Hi Josh, I’ve been waiting….”

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