Zooey rolled her chair up the Las Vegas Strip. It was a beautiful warm winter morning in the gambling capital of the world, the streets and sidewalks already bustling. She was on time for work and looking forward to her day. Rolling her way carefully through the pedestrians, she was not at eye level. Being short and in a chair, inattentive eyes went over her head. A collision with a mobile steel chair could get ugly real fast. At the moment, she was focused on a confused panhandler stumbling about in the middle of the sidewalk. Using her thumb, she rang her bell and steered a wide course.
She had four chairs, each with a purpose: a motorized chair for when she was sick or low on energy, a race chair for marathons, a super comfy sit around the condo chair, and this one, her work chair. It was a twenty minute roll from her condo to the casino. She was working a day shift today. Work was expected to be routine. But it was not a routine day. Not in the least. After work, she was headed for the gym where she hoped her workout was going to be anything but routine. A particular guy had been paying attention. They hadn’t spoken, but the eye contact and smiles had been increasing for several weeks. When you lived in a chair and a sexy guy was paying attention, it was a big deal. A real big deal. Zooey was focused.
They were on the same workout schedule, so she was pretty sure he’d be there tonight. She’d been contemplating approaches but hadn’t been able to pull the trigger. But tonight, the trigger was going to get pulled, for better or worse. She didn’t know if he was married, or partnered, or gay, or not interested, but she was interested and had nothing to lose. It was definitely go time. That was decided. She woke that morning on a mission, and she had a plan. But she was also nervous. Might make a fool of herself, but she was beyond that now.
She rolled by the premier casinos and made her way down to the Fremont District, old Las Vegas, turning into the small but exclusive casino where she worked. The Jade Princess had the feel of a private club but was open to the public and relied heavily on local patronage.
“Hey Reggie.” Reggie toggled the door so Zooey could roll through.
“You on the day shift?”
“Yeah, but today’s my Friday, then two days off.”
Zooey rolled through the automated door to the sounds of computerized gambling machines.
“Hey Zooey. Congratulations on the Player’s Club.”
“Thanks. Had a nice payday.”
“Sweet. Come down to the bar later, I’ll help you spend it. I get off at seven.”
Amber danced in the starlight lounge and was a casual friend.
“Going to the gym tonight. Next marathon is only three weeks out. Gotta pump some iron.”
“I recommend skipping the workout and eating donuts instead.”
“Yeah, right. Let’s have that drink next week.”
Zooey rolled through the casino, bantering with fellow employees. She’d worked there ten years and was a fixture, popular and respected for good reasons. She’d been climbing the ladder in wheelchair races, mainly marathons and half marathons. After her last race, a top ten finish in LA, the casino put up congratulatory banners at the entrance and she was greeted with champagne and cheers when she arrived at work.
She went into the dressing room, put on her dealer outfit, and rolled to her station.
* * * *
As an elite dealer, she worked the high stakes tables; today blackjack, but other days conventional poker. The high stakes tables featured comfortable chairs rather than stools, single deck blackjack, better liquor and food, tighter security, and, of course, an elite dealer, one skilled with shuffling, play by play banter, and exceptional card handling. Players from the main
floor wandered over to browse the higher stakes games mainly to watch the dealer. Zooey was in her element, a natural extrovert, a born entertainer. Serious players liked her professionalism, observers enjoyed watching her handle the cards and announce the play.
A modest placard announced Zooey as the dealer and the table was already half full when she rolled up.
“What’s up, Z-girl?”
“It’s my Friday. Life’s good.”
“Yo, Bonnie, you still hangin’ with this piece of loose change?”
“Yeah, Brad’s with Angelina tonight.”
One by one, Zooey greeted the regulars, and nodded her head toward a new player.
“Welcome. I’m Zooey.”
“Hi Zooey. Frank Dilley. Heard you took them to school at The Player’s.”
“Not exactly, but nabbed a top five. That’ll get me back next year.”
Zooey spread six new decks on the surface and offered Herbie honors. He pushed one deck forward, Zooey broke the seal for all to see and started the ceremonial deck opening shuffle, several times spreading the cards face up. All eyes were on her hands as she ran through a routine perfected by ten years of professional shuffling. The regulars knew the drill, but she appreciated the smattering of applause from bystanders. One of the best card handlers in Vegas, she never tired of strutting her stuff.
With antes on the table, she dealt everyone a card down, another face up, and the game was on. All business, she kept her trained eyes on the cards, the players, and the game. It was her job and she took it seriously. She dealt each player in order, not proceeding until that player was pat, but always jabbering an entertaining line, waiting patiently for each to play.
* * * *
As the end of her day approached, she felt the tension building. She’d been thinking about her mission that night. She got off at five, and wanted to arrive at the gym before six, about the time her guy had been showing up. She planned to change at work and van to the gym. In case she ran into him at arrival, she wanted to be looking her best. She didn’t eat before working
out. She’d drink a twelve ounce power drink at the casino, have a protein bar in the van, and eat at home later.
Her replacement arrived a few minutes before five and she was off. She changed into her exercise outfit in the dressing room. She studied her image in the mirror. She liked her dark hair short, full, and wild. It was a good feature, and she fluffed it until it was just right. She didn’t have an uncommonly pretty face, but she wasn’t homely. Her teeth were beautiful and she got compliments on her smile. She was naturally short, even before the childhood accident, and her frame was petite. Due to her aggressive workout program, her shoulders were muscled and square, neck and face lean, arms toned. They’d be on display at the gym. She’d worn her pearl earrings that day. They looked classy and made her face more interesting. She touched up the light makeup on her eyes and added a natural lip gloss.
She dropped her eyes to her best feature. Well, they weren’t big, but she did have boobs, nice natural small breasts. She wore a push up bra and a black spandex tank top that revealed a mild swell. Not cleavage. Not racy. Just a soft, subtle suggestion. It wasn’t like she could feature the legs or her rear end. Her modest breasts were really all she had to offer in a gym
setting, so that was a no brainer. Had to pump the girls up just a bit. She surveyed the result, flashing her biggest smile. It was the best she could do.
She ordered up the mobility van, gathered her things, and rolled out the front door just as the van was pulling up. One of the best features of Las Vegas is a free van for people with disabilities. Twenty-four hours a day. Take you anywhere in the city. No charge. The side doors opened and the automated ramp extended to the curb. She rolled in and parked her chair.
“Hey Zooey. Where to?” She was a regular and knew all the drivers.
“Hi Jonny. To the gym, please.”
“Got a race coming up?”
“Yeah, three weeks. The Tahoe Hilly Willy, a half-marathon.”
Jonny pulled out in traffic, Zooey the only passenger.
“Yikes. Sounds tough.”
“It’s a brute. Thirteen miles of up and down.”
“You better on the up or the down?”
“When you weigh eighty three, you’re at a disadvantage going down. The racers who weigh a buck fifty pick up a lot more speed. So, they pass me going down and I pass them going up. It’s a lot easier to move eighty three pounds up a hill.”
“Interesting. How fast you get going downhill?”
“Forty miles an hour on a long, straight run. And, believe me, that’s an adrenaline rush.”
“Hope your brakes are in good shape.”
“How do you control speed?”
“Special heavy gloves and patting patterns on the wheels. If you need to veer to the right, you lean right and pat lightly on your right wheel. It slows the wheel just enough to help make the turn. If you need to slow down, it’s a double patting motion on both wheels.”
“Amazing, but I can’t picture that chair going forty down a hill.”
Zooey laughed. “I have a specially designed race chair. A titanium ultralight with a long front wheel. Helps with stability and steering.”
“How’s driving today?”
“Bad accident right on the Strip. Been a mess for two hours. I’ve been on the back streets all day.”
The conversation quieted as Zooey’s thoughts focused on the moments ahead. She pulled a hand mirror from her pouch and studied herself. She was ready, nervous, but ready. Her heart was mildly elevated and she was regularly wiping her moist hands on her workout pants. She quietly rehearsed her planned lines. She wasn’t sure how far to push it on the first effort. The main focus was breaking the ice. She’d play it by ear from there. Wanted to confirm he wasn’t wearing a ring but understood that meant nothing. Lots of guys were partnered up and didn’t wear a ring. But the way he’d been checking her out – the friendly smiles – suggested he was interested. She knew that meant nothing, too. Lots of guys enjoyed window shopping. Still, she was trying to stay positive. She’d know soon.
Jonny pulled the van up to the front door and activated the ramp.
“Good luck at the Hilly Willy.”
“Thanks, Jonny. See you later.”
She rolled out, punched the button to activate the door, and rolled into the gym, using her phone to scan her membership at the desk.
Once past the desk, she immediately surveyed the floor of the best gym in Las Vegas. She didn’t see him on the first pass and her heart sank. Maybe he wasn’t coming today. She hadn’t seriously considered that possibility.
He’d been a regular at this time for several weeks. She was sure he’d be here. She stopped her chair and took a second scan. Nothing. Shoot. Disappointed, she rolled toward the barbells for her warm up, her eyes still scanning the floor. No sign. After psyching herself up for this, she was crestfallen.
She rolled up to the barbell section, pulled two starter weights, and began a light, slow series of stretching exercises for her shoulders and arms, watching herself in the mirror, and using the mirror to scan the room. Her heart jumped. There he was. He was just rolling out of the dressing room and was looking over at her. Oh my God. He was looking at her. His eyes went directly to her when he came out the door. Now she was in a quandary. She was right in the middle of a set of reps and he was rolling to the other end of the gym. Shoot, this was going to be awkward. She’d been hoping to run into him.
She finished her warm-up reps toggling her eyes in the mirror between her routine and where he’d settled. He was working specially designed Nautilus machines for chair users. She made her decision. It was now or never. He was alone and she was on a mission. She backed up her chair, steered through the free weights, and rolled directly toward him. He didn’t see her coming until she was half way across the floor. She was looking right at him, a big smile on her face. She saw him glance both ways to see if she was smiling at someone else. Nope. She was focused on him and rolling his way. He couldn’t escape now.
Zooey’s heart was pounding against her tiny chest box. She pulled her shoulders back, sat as straight as she could as she rolled right up to him, and stopped. She extended her hand and said, “Hi, I’m Zooey Fredrickson.”
Surprised, he extended his hand and said in a light Spanish accent, “Hi Zooey. Rodrigo Sanchez. My friends call me Roddy.”
She had her next line ready, but was having trouble pulling the trigger. The entire focus had been on mustering the courage to make the approach. And here she was. The approach made. She knew his name. He was smiling at her. She was extroverted. It was time, but the words weren’t coming. They were smiling at each other, and he rescued her.
“Thanks for coming over. I was planning to introduce myself today. I’ve noticed you working out. Looks like we’re on the same schedule.”
Zooey’s heart was pounding. He wasn’t wearing a ring. He’d been noticing her. He was planning to introduce himself. Good signs. He glanced at her breasts. Thank you God, that was a rush.
“Thanks for saying that. You look like a kindred spirit. Nice to meet you.”
“Can I help spot you or anything?”
“I’m pretty self-sufficient, but thanks for asking.” Why was she tongue-tied. He just offered to help. She should have said yes. She changed directions, “I usually get some help on bench, but that might be awkward for you.” She was referring to the fact that he was in a chair. Usually spotters stood over the lifter who was lying down.
“How much do you bench?”
“Don’t laugh. One twenty.”
“I could spot that if you’d like.”
“Okay, then. Why don’t you finish your routine here and when you make your way to free weights, I’d appreciate the help.”
“See you in a bit.”
Zooey turned her chair and rolled back to barbells, her heart pounding. She did it. She broke the ice. He’s definitely interested. They had a date. He was going to spot her bench press. Okay. She arrived back in barbells and moved to heavier weights, still studying her motion in the mirror and keeping her eyes on his routine.