The Best of What’s Left by Mike Coyle
Would an able bodied man choose a paraplegic woman . . . if he can look beyond the wheelchair and see the soul of the person in it?
When paraplegic Mandy Sorensen, who is an engineer for the Air Force, meets Lew Pecci she doesn’t expect love or adventure. His warning of a serious flaw on an experimental fighter plane sends them on an adventure to stop the first test flight and save the life of the pilot. They fail and the pilot is seriously injured. Mandy helps the pilot’s wife understand his predicament and reactions to the injury. As they work together they fall in love. Lew’s friends and family don’t understand his attraction to Mandy. His mother would prefer a South Philadelphia girl who is Italian and Catholic. Lew’s old girlfriend, Jessica Marrozi, fills the criteria and is more attractive. Mandy wonders if her limitations would prevent her from being the right choice for Lew. Will his tenderness and affection for Mandy let her choose The Best of What’s Left in her life?
Mandy shook her head and looked at Victoria. “That’s when I thought he was an idiot. So many people just ignore me. But, after we talked awhile, I got the feeling he has a deep concern for the pilot. I like that.”
Victoria waited momentarily before making up her mind. She seemed skeptical.
“This time I’ll take a hunch. You’re a reasonable person. If you suspect something, I can ask for a test. I’m surprised he ignored you. I’d think you would be more attractive than a teenager.”
“Most men ignore me. They just don’t see women in wheelchairs as real people. If they have to talk to us, they’re polite, but they never see potential dates. I’m used to it, but it bugged me.”
“You thought he was a jerk, and you still believed him.”
“It annoyed me that he couldn’t see that I was a twenty-seven-year-old woman. I wasn’t expecting a boyfriend. Life is lonely when nobody wants to date me because they think I’m helpless.”
“You would like to have a boyfriend, wouldn’t you?”
“I would, but I’ve adjusted to the idea I won’t.”
“Could this guy be a prospect?”
“I doubt it. He ignored me until he was told who I was. I expect Lew went back home to Philadelphia. He might call, but I won’t be seeing him again.”
“Making a life for yourself is important. I tried marriage twice. Men don’t like women who are bigger than they are. My two husbands were both taller and stronger than me. They thought I should be a retiring little pipsqueak. I don’t want to be dominated. I want someone who will be an equal. I haven’t found it.”’
“An equal sounds good, but I don’t know that I’ll ever find that either.”
“Don’t underestimate yourself, Amanda. You’re an attractive young woman.”
“Not to most men. They look over the girls, and if they see nice bodies, then they see date material. They can’t evaluate my butt because I’m in the chair, and I don’t have what you would call an ample bosom.”
“You have a decent figure.”
“I’m not ugly, but I’m not any spectacular beauty. My bra size sounds like it belongs in the Air Force museum, a B-34. There is nothing about me that makes them look past the wheelchair.”
“You have a pretty face. It’s symmetrical. Symmetry is supposed to be the essence of beauty, isn’t it?”
“Men aren’t into geometry. They don’t see me as a suitable partner.”
“How did your game go over the weekend?”
Victoria often changed the subject to relax her employees. Mandy knew the tactic worked with her.
“The kids won.”
“You never take credit for a win.”
“The coach can lose a game, but the kids have to win it.”
Mandy went back to her desk. In about two hours, Victoria was back with the letter. She had a few changes to Mandy’s letter.
“I think you shouldn’t say why you want this done. Without proof, you shouldn’t accuse Quaker City of anything.”
“You’re right. A subtle approach is better.”
Later in the afternoon, she got a call from Lew.
“How did you do?”
“I put in a request to test the system. It will be awhile before I get an answer.”
“What are you doing for dinner tonight?”
“I was planning to fix something at home. Are you still in town?”
“I’m staying at a motel. I’m going through the want ads. I need a job. Do you want to go somewhere to eat?”
“Okay. Something light. Is there a restaurant near your motel?”
Mandy thought it might be fun. Lew had probably asked her because he was in town by himself and a little lonely.
“I thought I’d pick you up at your place.”
“It’ll be easier if I drive. That way I won’t have to transfer the chair.”
Although he seemed nice, Mandy preferred not letting him know where she lived. She wished she had used a better excuse than transferring the chair.
“If it will make it easier, you can pick me up here. It’s off Interstate 675, near a college. I’m across the street from their arena.”
“Rose, you’re home at last,” Tony Pecci said to his wife. Lew and his sister, Ann, walked into the house behind their parents.
“Take me up to the bedroom. I want to sleep in my own bed.”
Tony lifted Rose off her feet. She put her arms around his neck and he had his left arm around her back and the right one under her knees as he ascended the stairs.
Ann and Lew went to the kitchen.
“Dad looked like a newlywed carrying his bride over the threshold,” Lew said.
“He is carrying his bride.”
Lew laughed a little and said, “He is.”
They sat across from each other at the kitchen table.
“Mom told me you’re dating a handicapped girl.”
“I am, but I wish people would stop looking at the wheelchair and see the person. Mandy is a delight. She’s kind and sensitive. You should have seen how hard she worked to try to save the pilot I was telling you about.”
“Kind and sensitive describes you too, little brother. Be careful, Lew. Your compassion could get you into trouble. If you fall in love with her, make sure she fulfills your needs too. I remember Father Lebonte telling me that marriage is a sixty-forty relationship. You have to think you’re giving more than you’re getting if you are going to have it work out close to even. But if you think you’re giving all the time, you’ll get resentful. You have to be getting something for yourself.”
“I remember when he first came to Saint Catherine’s. Mom was so upset that we had a Frenchman instead of an Italian.”
“Stop avoiding the issue, Lew. I’m sure Mandy is a nice girl. You have always chosen the good girls over the sexy ones. I can see you being so concerned over this lovely girl with the handicap that you marry her without paying attention to all the consequences.”
“Mandy takes good care of herself. She has her own condominium. She has a good job at the airbase. Mandy often tells me the same things you’re telling me. She cares more about my happiness than she cares about her own.”
“I believe she’s a good person, Lew. Like I said, you choose the nice girls. Listen to what she says. Think about how her handicap will affect your everyday life. Will her limitations get to you over time? Be sure you want her enough to deal with all that.”
She looked up and said, “Hi, Dad.”
“Keep talking,” Tony said. “You’re doing a better job than I do of putting my thoughts into words.”
“Are you going to gang up on me? I should bring her back here so you can get to know her. We love each other.”
“We aren’t against Mandy,” Tony said. “She seems like a good young woman. I liked her. It’s like Ann said. You need to get something out of this relationship. Just think it through. If Mandy is the girl for you, we will welcome her into the family. We want the best for you.”
“Exactly,” Ann said. “I’d like to see my brother married to a woman who will be good to him. I want to meet her.”
“She isn’t helpless. Mandy has done her own carpentry work to make a used table fit her. Dad can tell you what I told him about her swimming skills. She doesn’t need a caretaker.”
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Mike Coyle is retired from a career with the US Department of Defense. He lives in southwest Ohio with his wife. They have been married for 43 years and have two sons, two daughters-in-law, and one granddaughter.
He is an enthusiastic reader. He likes contemporary and classic fiction, history and science non-fiction. He is an avid skier and enjoys hiking, playing chess, and writing. The Best of What’s Left is his first novel.
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