A law professor gets a family and a bookstore owner offers advice.
Previously in "Par Anusta Ad Auusta":
After his brother and sister-in-law are killed in a car accident overseas, NYU law professor Jefferson Thomas brins his youn nieces and nephew to live with him in Manhattan. Meanwhile, local bookstore owner Monique Vasquez runs her family's business while recovering from a recent robbery.
Jefferson, who had been getting ready for work up in his bedroom, stopped when he heard a blood-curdling scream from below. With his shirt half-buttoned and only one sock on, he hurried off to investigate and soon ran into Abigail, who was running up to her bedroom as fast as she could, Anya not far behind her.
"What's wrong?" he asked, managing to stop the little girl in her tracks.
"There's a monster outside!" Abigail wailed, trying to keep running.
"I have been in the kitchen, making lunches," Anya reported. "I do not know what she means. There is someone in the yard. The one you told me would come, I believe."
"No," Abigail insisted. "It's a monster. In the backyard."
"All right," Jefferson told her. "I'll go take a look."
He let her hurry off to her bedroom and continued on downstairs, fixing his shirt along the way. He crossed through the den to the rear sliding door.
"Hello?!" he called, opening it and stepping out into the backyard.
"Oh hey Mr. Thomas," someone responded. "It's Craig from Poop-and-Scoop. I came early today because we're trying to beat a bad storm that's supposed to come later."
"Oh okay," Jefferson said, now understanding. "My niece saw you and panicked."
He'd gotten a text from the company early that morning and had updated Anya, but not the kids.
"Sorry about that," Craig said. "I forgot you once mentioned you now had some kids living with you."
"No problem," Jefferson said, heading back inside. "You have a good day."
He first explained the situation to Anya, who had met Craig on previous occasions as he normally came when the kids were in school. She relaxed, finding the circumstances somewhat amusing.
"I suppose a child might find that uniform scary," she concluded, looking out at the man as he worked. "I have never thought about it."
Jefferson nodded in agreement. He knew the Poop-and-Scoop employees wore thick, dark-colored overalls, matching gloves and caps, and facemasks. How there wasn't a rash of heat strokes among them during the summer was a mystery.
Jefferson went back upstairs and found Abigail hiding in her closet. Once he convinced her to come out, he was able to explain what was going on. Craig was from Poop-and-Scoop, a service which came to the house once a week to clean up Presley's business in the small backyard. To do this, they wore thick coveralls and had a vacuum-like device strapped on to their back, giving them an unusual appearance, possibly making a child think they were seeing a monster.
"But there's no monster," Jefferson said. "I swear."
Abigail seemed to accept this explanation and calmed down.
"Come on now," Jefferson told her. "We've gotta finish getting ready or we'll be late."
He hoped that, in his haste to respond to her earlier cries, he hadn't knocked his other sock off his bed. That would only delay him further.
* * *
"Hello," Joan said, entering the bookstore. "I thought you might want to do some standing up for a while."
"Okay, sure," Monique agreed.
"Where are Frank and Kathy?" Joan asked as she moved the standing frame into place behind the cash register. She would be needing help from at least one of them to get Monique up into it.
"Frank's got an appointment to get new glasses," Monique explained. "And Kathy's daughter is visiting from Ohio. So I'm a bit short-staffed today."
"Is anyone else here?" Joan asked. She almost immediately noticed the twinkle in Monique's eye.
"Samuel!" Monique called.
The young man soon emerged from between some shelves to answer the call.
"Hey Samuel," Monique said. "Joan wants to get me up into my standing frame. She needs a second set of hands though."
"Em ... sure," Samuel said, hesitating. "What would I have to do?"
"Come on around here," Joan said as she started to undo the straps holding Monique in her wheelchair. "Grab her shoulder and keep her sitting up while I get the straps on her legs."
Samuel did so and was not prepared for when Monique's upper body fell forward, no longer supported by the straps. He quickly pulled her back up and tightened his grip.
"Didn't see that coming, did you?" Joan asked with a grin.
Samuel said nothing as she undid the last ankle strap.
"Okay," Joan instructed, "put your hands under her arm there. Get a good grip on her. On my mark, we're gonna lift her into a standing position and get her over into the frame. Get her shoulder into the molded foam and hold her there until I can get her strapped in. Got it?"
"Yeah, I think so," Samuel said.
"All right. Lift her up ... now."
They lifted Monique out of the chair and maneuvered her around to the frame. As he lifted her a little higher in order to get her shoulder into the mold, Samuel let out an involuntary grunt.
"Heavy, isn't she?" Joan asked as she began strapping Monique in.
Samuel didn't reply, probably out of fear for losing his job.
"Relax," Monique told him with a nod in Joan's direction. "I'm more likely to fire her first."
Samuel still said nothing as Joan came over to his side and continued securing the straps over Monique's torso and legs.
"You can let go now," the nurse said about a minute later, tightening the last strap over Monique's shoulder. "She's all set."
"Yes," Monique added. "I'm one step from becoming Hannibal Lecter."
Samuel let go of Monique's shoulder and stepped back. At Joan's instruction, he moved Monique's wheelchair aside so no one fell over it if they wanted to get to the register. He then headed back into the shelves.
"Hey," Monique said. "Thanks."
Samuel glanced back and nodded before he disappeared.
"He's still nervous around you," Joan remarked in a whisper.
"He's learning," Monique said. "This was a nice lesson for him."
Joan nodded in agreement.
* * *
"There you are," Joan said. "Professional and sexy all rolled into one."
Monique, who still refused the idea of wearing one of the few skirts she owned, looked at herself in her bedroom's full-length mirror and felt she had to agree. True, the straps across her slack-covered legs looked a bit off, but she would have to live with that. And besides, Joan had done a good job with making sure everything looked right. And, there was always the hope the blouse and jacket Monique was wearing would distract anyone from noticing her legs too much. The white blouse wasn't that revealing, but it's shimmering threads did draw attention.
"You're gonna knock his socks off tonight," Joan told her.
Monique hoped so.
* * *
The Uber pulled up to the Natural History Museum's main entrance and Monique was unloaded and, at her insistence, left to fend for herself. She headed inside, finding Brad waiting for her in the lobby. The way he looked at her gave her hope that he maybe saw her as more than just a person in a wheelchair. There was definitely a hint of lust in his eyes as he surveyed her.
"Hey," he said.
"Hello," Monique replied.
"You look nice."
Monique couldn't help beaming.
They headed over to where a museum employee was checking tickets for the gala, which was immediately followed by a security checkpoint.
"Ma'am," one of the security guards said. "we'll need to check your chair. Can you walk at all?"
"No, she can't," Brad said just as Monique was opening her mouth.
"All right," the guard said, speaking directly to Brad now. "I'll need to wand her and the chair."
Brad nodded and the guard set to work while Monique sat quietly, absorbing the scene and fuming.
Eventually, neither Monique nor her chair were considered a threat and they were allowed to move on into the gala itself. With Brad leading the way, they mixed into the crowd of people standing around and talking or looking at exhibits set out for the event.
Brad soon located some of his colleagues and introduced them to Monique, assuring a few of them she could shake hands.
"I can speak for myself," she told him as quietly as possible while still being sure he could hear her, but he didn't seem to be listening.
"So, Monique," one of his colleagues said, "do you work?"
"Yes," Monique replied, keeping her emotions in check. "I run a bookstore."
She hated it when people assumed she didn't work due to being disabled. The clothes she was wearing cost a couple hundred dollars. That ought to be an indicator.
"She does it well too," Brad said. "She's got it all set up so she can get around by herself."
How would you know? Monique thought with some bitterness. he'd never been to her store.
But she held her tongue.
A waiter came by, offering champagne. Taking over again, Brad quickly told him to pour the contents of one glass into the plastic tumbler on Monique's wheelchair. As he did this, the waiter nudged the suction tube aside. As Monique raised her hand to readjust it, Brad reached over and pushed it back.
"Thanks," she said somewhat coldly. She told herself to relax and have the drink. After all, Brad was clearly no longer worried about offending her. He had moved on to believing she was incapable of doing anything. Wonderful, she thought, sipping her champagne. For one brief moment upon her arrival, she'd considered the possibility of them going to bed together. That seemed so long ago now.
Brad and his friends began talking about work, and though Monique had taken a few accounting and finance classes in college, she was quickly uninterested and turned her attention to one of the nearby glass cases. It contained a stuffed monkey. Despite never having been much of a history buff, Monique was nevertheless interested and moved in for a closer look. Reading the plaque below the case, she learned that the monkey was in fact a howler monkey. The brief blurb went on to explain a bit about the species, but Monique quickly grew bored and looked at the monkey itself, sure she had seen photos of the animal before. Another waiter came by and offered her a bruschetta, which she took and ate while admiring the exhibit. A few minutes later, Brad came over.
"We're moving over to the other room," he told her. "You wanna come?"
"Sure," Monique said, deciding to take a chance. "Listen. Don't always speak for me. I can express myself, all right?"
Brad almost looked offended by her request.
"I'm just trying to help," he said.
"I know," Monique said, "but I'm a big girl. I've been living like this for over thirty years. I know what I'm doing."
"Thanks. Let's go."
Feeling better, Monique followed him into another room, which had more visitors and more exhibits. She got a refill on her champagne while she examined a few more items in glass cases and continued to mingle. Brad was busy talking to colleagues or clients and thankfully not treating Monique like an incapable moving statue. She was beginning to enjoy his company again.
Soon, everyone's attention was directed towards a nearby podium, where a well-dressed gentlemen was preparing to address the crowd.
"Some hotshot from the museum," Brad explained in a low voice. "It's that time to thank all the big donors."
Monique nodded, half-listening to the man's speech. It was pretty boring and she hadn't contributed anything to the museum.
After the speech and promises of more speakers to come during the night, the guests all began talking with one another again and Brad found a friend of his who worked at the museum. He introduced him to Monique, calling her his guest.
"So you're his special lady," Brad's friend, Wade Swane, remarked. "He's said good things about you."
"Did he now?" Monique asked with a smile.
"I bet he helps you out with all sorts of things, right? I mean, strapped in that chair all day, it's gotta be a nightmare to get a thing done. Good thing you've got my boy Brad now."
To her horror, Monique noticed Brad chuckle along with his friend as he received a pat on his shoulder.
"I manage just fine," she said, keeping herself in check, but they weren't listening, instead talking about a recent basketball game. In a split-second decision, Monique turned her chair around and headed for the exit, pushing her joystick forward a little harder than necessary. Thankfully, while people did notice her as she made her way through the crowd, no one really paid her any mind except to step out of her way.
She made her way outside and managed to pull her cell phone out of her jacket pocket. Why had she allowed it to be put there to begin with?
Not wanting to risk waiting for a wheelchair-accessible Uber she summoned at the last minute, she dialed the number of a cab company and waited. A part of her wondered if Brad had noticed her absence yet and hoping he wouldn't until she was gone.
When an operator finally answered, Monique gave him her location and stated that she was in a wheelchair. After giving a few more bits of information, including her cell phone number, Monique hung up and waited anxiously, wanting to go home. She noticed there was some champagne left in her tumbler. She began drinking it, watching the traffic go by and noting the many yellow cabs among the organized madness. It was relatively easy to get a wheelchair-accessible cab in New York City, but it sometimes wasn't easy enough.
* * *
Since Linda's ex-husband had taken their kids for the weekend, she came to visit Jefferson a little while after Matthew, Taylor, and Abigail had gone to bed. They immediately retreated up to his bedroom and locked the door, a bottle of wine and two glasses in hand.
* * *
"Monique!" Brad called, coming out of the museum, a somewhat bewildered guard watching him. "Monique!"
Monique cast a brief glance back before continuing to watch the traffic, willing her cab to appear.
"Hey," Brad said, coming up next to her. "I've been looking everywhere for you."
"Really?" Monique asked sarcastically. "Was your search perimeter wide enough. I mean, I couldn't have gotten that far on my own."
"What are you talking about? Wait. Is this about what Wade said?"
Monique was angry now.
"No," she snapped, "it's about the fact you basically agreed with him. No ... actually, it's everything. You went from constantly worrying about offending me to trying to do everything for me to letting people believe I'm incapable of doing anything without you. I told you before that I am perfectly capable of living my own life. You didn't listen, so now it doesn't include you."
"So you're breaking up with me?" Brad asked.
Monique wondered if this accountant was really that dense.
"Yes," she said, "because you're clearly too stupid to realize what you're doing wrong. So do one intelligent thing and go away and never call me again ... burn my number and believe that I will burn yours."
A large van with the cab company logo then pulled up to the curb. The driver stuck his head out the window and looked at Monique.
"You call for taxi?" he asked in broken English.
At that moment, Monique couldn't tell where he was from, and she didn't care.
"Yes," she confirmed.
"Where you go?"
"Right now," Monique replied, coming over to the side of the van, "just get me away from here."
Brad stood there while the driver lowered a ramp. Monique rolled her chair up into it and he strapped her chair down to prevent it from moving during the ride. Once the doors were closed and the driver was back behind the wheel and Brad couldn't hear, Monique recited her address.
"Okay," the driver said and then yelled in a foreign language at a sedan which attempted to prevent him from rejoining the traffic flow.
Monique kept her eyes locked straight ahead in order to avoid seeing Brad through the van's windows as she left.
"Rough night?" the driver asked.
"You could say that," Monique replied. For her, it was the understatement of the year.
* * *
Sipping some more wine, Linda leaned against the headboard of Jefferson's bed, shutting her eyes and relaxing. She didn't protest when Jefferson reached over and gently pinched one of her nipples.
"You wanna go again?" he asked.
"When?" she queried, surveying him.
* * *
Joan arrived at Monique's apartment to find that her patient was already home and had successfully managed to overturn a bowl of fruit in her fit of rage. Rather than ask, she simply cleaned up the spilled produce and took Monique into her bedroom. She changed her into her pajamas and got her into bed. Deciding to still not try to press the matter, she wished her a good night and left.
* * *
Jefferson lay in bed, Linda lying next to him. Their empty glasses stood on the nightstand next to the partially empty wine bottle. Both were sleeping peacefully, enjoying their time together before they'd have to wake up early so Linda could slip out without the kids knowing she was ever there.
* * *
Monique lay awake in her bed, alone. The room was dark and her blinds were shut, so she couldn't even see the moon. Her blankets were tucked all around her, keeping her warm and effectively trapped. Her water bottle stood on the nightstand, the plastic straw protruding from it.
"Little paralyzed girl," Monique murmured, "safely tucked into bed,"
At that thought, she began to cry.