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The first day of spring brought with it the first bit of really good news I’d gotten in almost three months. It couldn’t have come at a better time, considering my beloved Kentucky Wildcats had just been eliminated in the first round of the NCAA basketball tournament, and Howie’s dad had just been diagnosed with cancer.

“I met with your team this morning,” said my case manager, Louisa, when she came to see me that afternoon. “They all agreed that you’re ready to go home. Dr. Bayatmakou cleared you medically for release, and Dr. Austin said it sounds like you’ll have plenty of emotional support.”

I nodded. “My mom’s planning to stay in town as long as I need her, and one - well, maybe two - of my friends are moving in with me to help out.”

Nick had sprung this news on me earlier that day, as we were watching the game. I was fine with him moving in, too, if that was something he really wanted to do, but I wasn’t sure if it had been his idea or if AJ had put him up to it. I wanted to talk to Nick about it sometime in private, when none of the other guys were around, and find out the truth.

“How wonderful!” gushed Louisa. “I also talked to your mother, and she said you have two part-time caregivers lined up to help with your morning routine?”

“That’s right.” Greg and Erik were on standby, just waiting to find out their start dates. I couldn’t wait to call them and tell them when I would be needing them.

“Terrific! She told me your home renovations should be finished by tomorrow, so we’ll set your discharge date for Saturday.”

It was Thursday. I only have to spend two more nights here, I thought happily. I couldn’t wait to sleep in my own bed, to kiss my baby boy goodnight and be there when he woke up in the morning. Better yet, I would be home for his first Easter on Sunday. I wondered if my mom had bought anything for an Easter basket yet and made a mental note to ask her.

Meanwhile, Louisa was still talking. “You’ll continue your rehab on an outpatient basis. Charisma and Ellis both have room in their schedule to see you a few times a week if you want to continue working with them here at Rancho Colina, or I can set you up with a home health agency that will send therapists to your home. Most insurance plans will pay for in-home physical or occupational therapy for a limited number of hours per week.”

“I don’t mind coming here,” I said, quickly deciding to stick with the same therapists who had gotten me to this point. I was already comfortable with Charisma and Ellis; it would be easier to keep working with them than gamble on someone new and unknown. Besides, the rehab center had more advanced equipment than I had at home. I would need it if I was going to continue making progress as an outpatient.

“Great! I’ll let them both know and have them reach out to set up a weekly schedule with you. Do you have any questions so far?”

“Yeah… What about my wheelchair? When will I get that?” I had been measured for my first custom power chair a couple of weeks earlier. Ellis had helped me order it, going through all the different options and giving his expert opinions on what would work best for me, so I could decide exactly what I wanted. The finished product cost almost as much as the van I had bought to haul it around, but it would be much lighter and better-looking than the behemoth I’d been stuck using for the last month or so. I had been looking forward to test-driving my new chair in the rehab center, where I was already comfortable getting around, before I took it home.

“Oh, not for at least a few more weeks. Custom wheelchairs can take months to come in,” Louisa said matter-of-factly. I blinked at her in disbelief. Maybe I should have just looked on Amazon. “In the meantime, you can bring this one home with you and borrow it until you have your own.”

“Wow… well, that’s good, considering I can’t exactly get around without it.” I was disappointed, but it didn’t matter. The most important thing was that I was finally going home. I felt like a fledgling bird, about to leave the nest for the first time. It was a little scary, but mostly exciting.

I called Nick the next morning. “Hey, wanna come watch a basketball game with me tonight?” I asked him.

He chuckled. “I thought you weren’t watching any more March Madness now that your Wildcats are done.”

“I’m not talking about the NCAA tournament.”

“Oh. NBA?”

“Nope. NWBA.” When he didn’t say anything, I added, “Wheelchair basketball, Nick.”

“Ohh! Duh! Yeah, sure, bro. What time?”

“Why don’t you be here by six-thirty? And don’t bring AJ, okay? Just come by yourself.”

He laughed. “Are you kidding? AJ was bored out of his freaking mind watching college ball with us yesterday. The last thing he’d wanna do is watch a bunch of crip-” He caught himself before he could finish the word, coughed, and blurted, “Well, anyway, that works for me. See you tonight!”

I just smiled and shook my head as he awkwardly hung up. It was funny because I’d heard a lot of the guys in rehab call themselves “crips.” It was almost like a club: If you had the misfortune of being initiated into our particular gang, you could use that term. If not, you couldn’t. It was only offensive when able-bodied outsiders said it. But I wasn’t offended; I knew Nick hadn’t meant anything bad by it. He was just being Nick.

I thought inviting him to a wheelchair basketball game would be a good way to break the ice and give us a chance to talk one-on-one. Nick had always loved basketball. I was hoping he would get into the game.

“Damn, these guys are good!” he exclaimed that evening, as we sat on the sidelines, watching the players race up and down the court in their chairs.

I glanced over at him. His eyebrows were raised high on his forehead, as if he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. “I know,” I agreed. “And they’re amateurs. You should see the professional teams! I saw some videos on YouTube. Pretty impressive.”

“Yeah? I’ll have to look those up.” I wasn’t sure if he was really that interested, or if he was just humoring me, but I appreciated his enthusiasm either way. “Have you ever tried playing?” he asked me.

I chuckled. “No. I don’t have the hand function to be able to dribble a ball while wheeling myself around. You don’t see any power chairs out there, do you?”

“Oh… yeah, I guess not.”

“These are mostly paraplegics, so they still have full use of their arms.” I paused to watch as one of the players wrestled the ball away from his opponent and passed it to his teammate, who took off in the opposite direction, dribbling the ball down the court. He took a shot and sent the ball swishing through the net for two points. Despite his athletic ability, I probably would have pitied him before my accident, thinking what a shame it was for him to be confined to a wheelchair. Now I envied him.

“Oh,” Nick said again. “Well, is there a different version that quadriplegics can play?”

“No, but we do have quad rugby. They don’t let paraplegics play that; you have to have impairment in at least three limbs. Did you ever watch Murderball? The documentary? Or should I say ‘document-tary?’” I winked at him, making fun of the way he used to mispronounce the word.

Nick went red in the face. “I’m never gonna live that down, am I?” he muttered, shaking his head. “No, I never saw Murderball, but I remember hearing about it.”

“Yeah, well, that was about quad rugby.”

“Rugby’s kinda like football, right? I bet you’d be good at that, since you played football in high school.”

I shrugged. “I dunno, maybe… I’d need to figure out how to use a manual chair first.” My eyes moved across the athletes on the court, observing their broad shoulders and muscular arms as they gripped the angled wheels of their chairs. “My occupational therapist said I might be able to eventually, once I build more upper body strength.”

Nick nodded. “Well, that sounds like a good goal to start working towards when you get home.”

“Yeah...” Seeing my opening, I smiled at him. “You know, Nick, I never would have gotten this far without the support of my friends and family. Thanks for being here for me these last few months.”

He blushed again. “It was no big deal,” he replied, looking down at his lap. “I didn’t do much; I wasn’t even here half the time.”

“But you did,” I insisted. “You were. Whether it was in person or on the phone, you were here for me, and I can’t tell you how much that’s meant to me. I may not have always shown it, especially on my bad days, but your visits and phone calls gave me something to look forward to and made me less lonely. So I thank you, brother.”

“You don’t have to thank me,” he said with a shrug. “I just did what anyone else would do.”

“Not just anyone. Not all of my friends have visited, and some of the ones who did only stopped by once or twice.” I pictured the wall of my room that was covered with get well cards. Only a fraction of the people who had signed those cards had actually called or come for a visit. “I’m not judging them,” I added quickly. “I know it’s not easy to see me this way. And that’s okay because, if I’m being honest, I don’t necessarily want everyone to see me this way. You and the fellas will always be welcome, of course. You’re family. But I don’t ever want you to feel obligated.”

It was taking me longer to get to the point than I had intended, but finally, I had arrived at what I was trying to say. I took a deep breath before I went on.

“I appreciate you offering to stay in L.A. and help me out around the house, but it’s a big responsibility to take on. I know you were trying to start a new life in Tennessee, and the last thing I’d wanna do is take that away from you. So if… if AJ talked you into this, or you start having second thoughts, it’s okay to back out. You’re not gonna hurt my feelings. Understood?”

Nick looked over at me, his forehead creasing as he frowned. “Where’s this coming from? AJ didn’t talk me into anything. I make my own decisions.” But I could tell by his defensive tone that this wasn’t entirely true. I remembered what AJ had told me about catching Nick with drugs and hoped he hadn’t somehow coerced him into helping me.

“Okay.” I kept my own voice mild, trying to calm him down before he flipped out on me. “I was just making sure. Like I said, I would hate for you to feel like you had to stay and help. I can hire more caregivers if I need them, and my mom’s made it more than clear that if it doesn’t work out for me in California, I can always come back home to Kentucky and move in with her.”

“But you don’t wanna do that,” Nick said, the furrows in his brow deepening.

“No. I don’t. But as the last few months have shown me, life doesn’t always work out the way I want it to.” A lump rose in my throat. I swallowed hard. “I’m willing to do whatever’s best for Mason and me. Right now that means staying in L.A., but that may change down the road. You may change your mind down the road, too… and if you do, it’s okay. I don’t want you to feel trapped here.”

“I won’t,” he replied quickly, “and I don’t. I’m here because I chose to be. I’m here for you, bro - as long as you want me to be.”

“I do,” I said, smiling at him. “Of course I do. You’re welcome to stay as long as you want. Mason will love having two of his uncles in the house.”

Nick smiled back. “I told AJ it’ll be like Three Men and a Baby.”

I laughed. “Yeah, I guess it will. So does that make me Ted Danson?”

“No way, dude! I’m obviously Ted. You’re Tom Selleck.”

“Magnum, P.I.?” I shrugged. “I’ll take it. So then AJ would be…” I trailed off, trying to remember who played the third man in that movie.

It came to me at the same time it did Nick: “Steve Guttenburg!” we said in unison, sharing a laugh before we turned our attention back to the game.

I still wasn’t sure Nick was being one hundred percent honest with me about his feelings, but I decided it didn’t matter. I had given him an out. If he didn’t want to take it, that was on him. Either way, I was going home the next day. All things considered, I couldn’t have been happier.


In the morning, Nick and AJ rode to the rehab center with my mom in my new van. They boxed up all the cards, flowers, and gifts that had accumulated in my room, while my mom filled a suitcase with my clothes and personal items. After one last check to make sure we’d packed everything, we headed for the exit, stopping to thank and say goodbye to every staff member we passed in the hallway. “Good luck, Kevin!” I heard people say over and over again.

When we finally made it out to the parking lot, they loaded up the van and strapped me and my chair into the back. But we didn’t go straight home. First we had to stop by the pharmacy. I waited in the van with Nick and AJ while my mom went in to pick up my prescriptions: pills to raise my blood pressure, muscle relaxants to reduce my spasms, painkillers to prevent neuropathic pain, and antidepressants to regulate my mood. I had never been on so many medications in my life.

I had thought going home after three months in the hospital would feel like returning from a really long tour, but it didn’t. It felt very different. As the accessible van crawled up the driveway and I caught my first glimpse of the house, a hard lump rose in my throat. The last time I had laid eyes on this place, I was backing out of the garage in my luxury car with Kristin by my side, looking gorgeous in her gold dress. When we went out that night to ring in the new year, I never could have imagined I would return without her - or that I would be in a wheelchair.

I noticed changes to the house immediately. The garage looked empty with both cars gone. Mine had been totaled in the accident, and Kristin’s dad had sold hers, knowing neither of us would need it anymore. My mom parked the van right in the middle, giving me plenty of room to go down the ramp to get out. Another ramp had been constructed right over the two steps that led into the house.

Our babysitter, Rachel, was waiting with Mason in the kitchen when I rolled inside. “Welcome home!” she cried, her voice higher-pitched than usual.

“Thanks,” I whispered, overwhelmed with a sudden flood of emotions as I remembered it was Rachel who had been there that night, Rachel who had stayed with Mason until the rest of my family arrived. I cleared my throat. “I can’t thank you enough for everything, Rachel. You’ve been a huge help.”

“Oh, it’s no problem,” said Rachel, smiling awkwardly at me. “I’m happy to help out anytime. You know how much I love this little guy.” She turned her attention back to Mason, whom she was holding in her arms. Hitching him up higher on her hip, she cooed, “Look, Daddy’s finally home! Can you say hi to Daddy?”

Mason broke into a slobbery grin, which brought tears to my eyes. “Hi, buddy!” I said, holding out my arms to him. “Daddy has missed you so much!”

Rachel set Mason down on my lap, and my mom strapped him in with the makeshift harness Ellis had fashioned for him. He rode with me as she took me on a tour of the house, showing me all the renovations that had made it more accessible. The cabinets under the sink had been removed, giving me room to roll my wheelchair underneath so I could wash dishes or prepare food, and there was a small wooden table where the tall kitchen island had been. The doorways had been widened and the thresholds lowered to make it easier for me to go from room to room. The old-fashioned door knobs had been replaced with handles that I could push down to open doors myself, and the furniture had been rearranged to create wider pathways through each room.

As I rolled through the dining room, living room, and family room, I looked around with a lump still firmly lodged in my throat. Some parts of the house looked exactly the same as I’d left them, yet others were very different. I smiled at the “Welcome Home” banner that was stretched across one of the living room windows, but went right past the closed door to my home gym without opening it. I didn’t want to see the mirrored wall with the ballet barre I had installed so Kristin could keep dancing, or the workout equipment I would never be able to use again.

Behind me, Nick cleared his throat. “Aren’t you gonna go in there?”


“Well… maybe you should.” Something in his voice made me wonder.

“Why, what did you do?”

“Go in and see.”

For a moment, I felt panic-stricken, worried they had taken down Kristin’s barre. But there was only one way to find out. I took a deep breath and held it as I pushed down on the handle and opened the door.

As it swung open, I let out my breath in a sigh of relief. The barre was still mounted to the wall of mirrors. Kristin’s treadmill and elliptical machine were also still there, along with my weight bench. But that wasn’t all.

In the corner, I noticed a new piece of equipment: a standing frame, like the one I’d used in rehab, which would give me the support to “stand” in an upright position and stretch my legs. A freestanding punching bag was positioned in front of it. And hanging on the wall adjacent to it were a pair of boxing gloves and the personalized tour robe the guys had given me.

“Wow… this is awesome,” I said, a lump rising in my throat as I looked at Nick and AJ. “Did you guys do this?”

They both nodded. “We thought you could use a new way to work out at home and, you know, get back on your feet,” said AJ, winking. He must have known how much I had come to hate that phrase, but in this case, it was okay because the standing frame would allow me to literally get back on my feet.

“Yeah, I dunno about you, but when I get upset, it helps me to hit something,” Nick added with a shrug. “Maybe it’ll help you, too. Plus, it’s a good arm workout. And the height of the bag is adjustable, so you can also hit it from your chair.”

“Thanks, guys. This is all so thoughtful of y’all. I…” I trailed off as I suddenly noticed the hand-painted sign on the wall above the boxing robe. My throat closed up completely. I couldn’t speak.

Written in big, bold letters was a quote: “Show ‘em what you’re made of.”

It was something my dad used to say to me before I went out on the field for football practice as a kid. There was no way Nick or AJ could have known that, though. As my vision blurred, I looked back at my mom. She was smiling, with tears in her eyes, too.

“I’m so proud of you for the strength and perseverance you’ve shown over the past few months,” she said, bending over to kiss the top of my head. “I know your dad’s proud of you, too. If he were here now, he would tell you to keep pushing yourself forward and never give up.”

I nodded, wiping my watering eyes with the backs of my balled hands. Tears trickled down my face, falling onto the top of Mason’s head. I wrapped my arms around my son, hugging him tight to my chest, and imagined my own father doing the same to me. I may not have been able to feel much, but I hadn’t forgotten the warmth of my dad’s hugs. It had been almost seventeen years, but in that moment, the pain of losing him felt as raw as the pain of losing Kristin. I missed them both so much.

It took me a minute to compose myself, but once I had, we continued on our tour. The coolest addition to the house was a narrow elevator, which had been installed near the staircase to take me up to the second floor. It was just big enough for one person to fit in with me and my wheelchair. My mom rode up with me the first time and followed me into the master suite.

The first thing I noticed was that my bed, the big, beautiful California king I’d slept in with Kristin, was gone. In its place was a glorified hospital bed, complete with rails on both sides. With a sinking feeling, I stopped my chair just inside the doorway and stared at it. “Where’s my bed?”

“Don’t worry - we didn’t get rid of it,” my mom replied quickly. “We just moved it into one of the guest rooms for the time being. Ellis said it would be better for you to have something smaller and more adjustable. This one can go up and down with the push of a button - watch!” She picked up a remote from the bedside table and demonstrated all the different ways the head, foot, or entire bed could be raised and lowered to various angles. “It’ll make transferring in and out of your chair so much easier! It also has a special pressure relief mattress to prevent bedsores.”

“And rails, just like a toddler bed. Couldn’t you at least have gotten me one that looks like a racecar?”

My mom sighed. “You can stop with the sarcasm. I’m sorry you don’t like the bed, but in this case, your health matters more to me than your happiness. Just think about how much a pressure sore or an injury from a fall could hold back your recovery.”

She was right, of course, even if I didn’t want to admit it. I felt bad for complaining, after all the time and effort she had put into getting the house ready for me. She couldn’t have known how much I was looking forward to sleeping in my own bed or how disappointed I felt.

“I know,” I said with a sigh of my own. “I was just kidding. It’s fine.”

I turned away from her and went into the bathroom, afraid of what other surprises were in store. To my relief, Kristin’s beloved clawfoot soaking tub still stood in the corner by the window. It was nothing but a conversation piece now, since I could no longer get in and out of it, but I was glad they hadn’t gotten rid of it. What they had done was replace the vanity with one I could fit the front of my chair under to use the sink and convert the shower to the roll-in kind. Sitting outside it was a shower commode chair, which was waterproof and had a hole in the seat so it could go in the shower or over the toilet. It looked out of place in the otherwise old-fashioned, country-style bathroom, with its wooden beams and floorboards. Like the bed, it reminded me of the hospital. But more than that, it made me realize that even though I had left rehab, my life was never going to go back to normal. As much as I hated the phrase, this clinical-looking commode on wheels represented my “new normal.”

“How do you like the shower?” my mom asked, as she came up behind me.

“It’s nice,” I said, nodding. “Thank you for doing all this for me.”

“You’re welcome, honey.” She slid her arm around my shoulders and gave me a little squeeze. “I know it’s not exactly what you wanted, but I hope it will make things easier for you.”

None of this is what I wanted, I thought as I went back into the bedroom. I thought I would be happy to get home, but it wasn’t the same without my wife. There were reminders of her everywhere, from the ballet barre downstairs to the bathtub up here. Her face filled picture frames throughout the house. Her clothes were still hanging in the closet. I couldn’t help putting my face close to a pair of her jeans and inhaling. The denim still smelled faintly like her - fabric softener mixed with her favorite perfume and whatever pheromones had attracted me to her in the first place. It was a scent I associated with making love to her on freshly-washed sheets, and it made me miss her - and sex - more than ever.

“I wasn’t sure what you wanted to do with Kristin’s things,” my mom said apologetically when I came out of the closet. “Whenever you’re ready to go through them, I’d be happy to help.”

I swallowed hard. “Thanks, but I think I’ll just leave them there for now. I don’t know what I wanna do with them yet.”

“That’s perfectly fine. Take all the time you need.”

I rolled toward the glass door that led out to our private balcony, one of my favorite places in the whole house. When I heard her start to follow me, I stopped. “Can you take Mason downstairs, please?” I asked her. “I’d like to be alone for a few minutes.”

“Okay…” I heard the hesitation in her voice, but she must have sensed I was getting tired of her hovering over me. She unhooked Mason’s harness and scooped him off my lap. “Holler if you need anything.”

“I’ll be fine. Thanks, Ma.”

I fumbled with the door handle and finally managed to open it by myself so I could go out onto the balcony. One of the selling points of this particular house was its location, high in the Hollywood Hills overlooking the heart of Los Angeles. It had a spectacular view. On a clear day, you could see all the way to the ocean. Sure enough, there it was, sparkling in the distance.

Home sweet home, I thought, gazing wistfully toward the water.

It was a beautiful spring day in L.A., with a bright blue sky and temperatures in the low seventies. I tipped my head back and closed my eyes, enjoying the warmth of the sunlight on my face and imagining it was Kristin’s radiant smile beaming down on me from somewhere above.