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The day before Christmas Eve is no time for any sane person to be shopping, unless they have some masochistic instinct. I said sane person, remember? I would not be in the mob, if I had been able to buy a few extra bulbs for the tree lights, but none were to be had in the size I need. So when a friend told me she had seen some yesterday in K-Mart, I came out this morning to brave the crowds.
I picked up four packages to make sure I didn't have to come back and joined the check-out line. There's a black haired guy I guess to be a year or so younger than I in a wheelchair in front of me. I look down at him and wonder at his bravery in trying to maneuver his chair in this mob. He has several large items in his lap which he's trying to balance as he pushes his chair forward a bit. It's then I notice the tattoos on his arms. I've never understood the attraction, because I think them disfiguring, but my eyes travel down to see no legs extending from under the large boxes piled head high in his lap. I would like to get a better look at him, but I don't dare step out of line, because there's an impatient couple behind me who have already tried to push in front of me.
He moves forward and starts to lift his purchases to the counter, but a large box containing a microwave oven starts to slip. I drop the packages of lights on the conveyor belt and catch the box before it slides off his chair, putting it on the counter for him and getting to see he has two short stumps. His right stump looks to be about three or four inches longer than the left.
He gives me a smile and says, "Thanks."
"No problem." Now that I can see him, he's more handsome than I first thought, tattoos not withstanding.
The clerk at the register must be reaching her stress limits, because she hands him his credit card and turns to ring up my bulbs without offering to call for help with the microwave, or handing him the huge plastic bag containing everything else he's bought. He's zipped his heavy jacket and is struggling to lift the bag over the ledge of the counter when she hands me my little bag of bulbs and gives the poor guy a sour look, saying "Merry Christmas" in a tone of voice that Scrooge would envy.
Since I have on a car coat with large patch pockets, I drop the bulbs in one pocket and hand him the bag, then pick up the microwave. "If you can you manage everything else I'll be glad to carry the microwave out for you."
He gives me a surprised look. "Thanks, again. They usually offer to help with big things, but I guess they're too busy. Sure you don't mind?"
"Not at all. I'm headed home anyway. Can't stand this mob."
"Same here. I wouldn't be out, but I just moved here yesterday and needed that stuff. I wanted to get a little tree, but there's no way I can do one alone." He shrugs. "Silly idea, I guess. I mean tomorrow is Christmas Eve, so it's too late to really enjoy it. I've always liked Christmas, but this one is going to be lonely."
"No family?" I ask as we're crossing the parking lot.
He shakes his head. "Not any more." He rolls up to a nearly new Saturn and pops the deck of the boot with the remote on his key-chain. "Just dump this stuff in the boot if you don't mind."
After I do and close the deck, he smiles and holds out his hand. "Thanks a lot. Have a merry Christmas."
I shake his hand. "Happy to do it. I'm Craig Sanderson. I hope you have a happy holiday."
"Nick Wells. Thanks again for the help."
I watch him swing from his chair into the low seat of the Saturn, then easily fold his chair and push it behind his seat. He closes the door with another smile at me and reaches forward to start the engine.
On impulse, I tap on the window. He lowers it and looks at me questioningly. Suddenly I feel awfully foolish and full of doubt. I know nothing about this guy, but I've gone too far now to back out gracefully. "You said you were alone, so I wonder if you might like to spend Christmas day with me? I'm alone also, so I'd welcome your company, especially at dinner."
"I'm quite serious."
His smile lights up the whole parking lot. "How can I refuse? My Christmas dinner was going to be something frozen I could throw into the microwave. I really appreciate this. Where do you live?"
"On Park Lane. Number 58."
He grins. "I'll be damned! I'm almost across the street from you. I have a first floor flat at 51for the time being, but I'm looking for a place without a step to negotiate."
"Excellent. I sleep-in during holidays, so don't come too early."
"No problem. Eleven okay?"
"Perfect. See you then."
Christmas morning I've just gotten my first cup of coffee and started to look for the morning paper when I hear something hit the storm door. Paper's late, but it's Christmas, so what can I expect, I think as I open the door to see Nick sitting in his chair.
"Sorry, about throwing the paper at the door," he says, "but I had to think what to do. I couldn't get close enough to knock."
"I should have told you about the steps, but I forgot." I step out and tilt his chair enough to get the wheels on the little stoop, then tilt it again to get it in the hall. He follows me to the library and looks at the fire I've got going, then at the tree. "Nice. Really looks like Christmas." He sniffs the air. "Real tree, too, not one of those fake things. Smells wonderful."
"Thanks. I like the smell of a fir tree. I know the artificial ones are more practical, but that scented spray they sell to use on them smells like toilet cleaner to me."
"To me, too. This is a great place to relax. You must enjoy it."
Nick wheels himself over by the fire. When I return from the kitchen with his coffee, he's gotten into the companion chair across from the one I always use and settled in.
He smiles. "Hope you don't mind, this is a hell of a lot more comfortable."
"Of course not." I'm delighted, because now I have a great view, without appearing to stare at him.
"You're really great to share your Christmas with a total stranger. I wasn't looking forward to a day alone."
"When you said you'd just moved here and had no family, I had an idea it would be lonely for you."
"It would have been. I lucked into a good job here as a systems analyst." He grins. "Something I can do while sitting on my butt."
"You don't use legs?"
"Nah. Got 'em, but I have a long way to go before I'm comfortable on 'em. Stumps are too short." He gives me a questioning look. "You don't mind them? They seem to make a lot of people uncomfortable."
"Can't see why they should. You look very nice."
"Good. You seem to like looking at them."
This guy is sharp, because I was trying hard to be circumspect in my admiration of them. "To be honest, yes. You're a good looking guy, and your stumps add to the attraction I feel."
His grin grows broader. "I'll be damned! I've found myself a devotee. They told me in rehab people like you existed, but I didn't believe it."
"You don't mind?"
"No way. I've learned several things about myself in the past six months, I didn't want to admit, but now I'm comfortable with who I am."
"I'm glad you have come to terms with it. I've met one or two amps who were bitter as hell."
"I was for the first couple of weeks, but then I saw it wasn't going to get my legs back for me, so " he shrugs, "I finally wised up and moved on. I've learned to make a few accommodations, like keeping everything low enough to reach, but nah, the only problem is my butt gets sore from sitting all the time."
"I can imagine. I get restless sitting for long periods. How do you manage at work?"
"Okay. The computer classes I took while I was in rehab gave me a chance to make something of myself. If I'd gone on to school like my old man wanted, I would probably still have legs."
"May I ask what happened?"
"A stupid accident with some heavy equipment when I was in the navy. I guess you figured I had to be a sailor with my tattoos."
"I thought perhaps you might have been. I've never quit understood the attraction of tattoos for sailors."
"Wish I hadn't gotten them now. I mean they're okay for a sailor, but when he's trying to get a decent job on the outside, they're a hold-back. I wear long-sleeve shirts most of the time."
"Then why'd you get them?"
He grimaced. "Got drunk a couple of times and my buddies thought I should have them. Wish I could get rid of them now. But not much chance of it."
"I suppose not, unless you had skin grafts or laser treatment. Expensive I imagine."
He shakes his head. "Had enough of hospitals for a while."
"Make yourself at home. I'll be in the kitchen."
I like turkey, but I hate eating left-overs and a turkey would last forever, so I've a small roast in the oven. I hope he likes it medium well, because I hate raw meat. I put the broccoli on to steam while I cream the potatoes, and make a sesame-seed sauce for the broccoli.
"Need some help?"
I look over and see only the top of his head. He's not in his chair, but is walking with his hands, swinging his butt between his muscular arms. I manage to keep my composure. "No thanks, just got to carve the roast."
"Sure smells good."
"Why don't you take a seat." I point to the small table by the window at the far end of the kitchen, where I habitually eat.
He swings over and hoists himself into the chair with ease. He sees me watching and grins. "Lots of practice."
I set our dinner on the table and watch him eat with obvious enjoyment. I'm glad that for once, when I have company, everything has turned out well. He displays manners I hadn't expected.
After seconds of everything, he finally leans back in the chair. "That's the best meal I've had in I don't know when."
"I'm glad you enjoyed it. Desert?"
"I sure wish you had warned me. I can't eat another bite right now."
"Then we'll have it later with a cup of coffee, unless you have to go somewhere."
"That's fine. I got nothing else to do."
"Good. Go back into the den if you like, it won't take me long to put the dishes in the washer."
He drops to the floor and swings over to pull the dishwasher open. "You rinse them off and hand 'em to me. I'm just the right height for this."
He loads the washer more carefully than I do, then closes it and starts the cycle. I fill our mugs with coffee and follow him down the hall, admiring the way he swings his cute buns along.
I put another log on the fire and we talk the afternoon away. After I tell him I'm a stockbroker and am hopelessly confused by computers, except for the on-line programs I use to stay abreast of the market and make trades, he offers to help me out.
When we've finished our desert, slices of cheesecake I make for a treat on holidays, I refill our mugs from a fresh pot of coffee. I almost drop mine when he looks at me and says, "One of the things I found out about myself while I was in rehab is that I like men better than women. I guess I was trying to convince myself I didn't, because of the way the military feels about gays, but I had lots of time to think while I was in the hospital."
I set my mug down with a trembling hand, not knowing how to reply. I'm hoping he likes me. He keeps looking into my eyes, and when I say nothing, he says, "Guess I've just worn out my welcome, so I'll say thanks and be going."
"The hell you will!" I blurt out. "The only place you're going is to bed with me." Then I realize that maybe he doesn't find me interesting. "Sorry, Nick. I didn't mean that to sound like a demand. I really like you guy."
"Oh, man! After you said you liked my stumps, I was hoping you were gay. But I'll tell you up front, I'm not interested in a one-night stand. Think we can develop some kind of relationship here?"
"I'm willing to give it a try if you are. I'll get a ramp built for the entrance and you can move in."
He holds up a warning finger. "Let's not rush this. I've got a month's rent paid on my flat, but I'll be over here a lot. It'll give us time to see if it works out. If it does, then we'll take it as it comes. But for now, yeah." He grins and waggles his stumps. "These could sure use some loving."
When he's gone home and I'm turning off the Christmas tree lights, It dawns on me I'm sometimes slow to recognize Santa's unexpected gifts.