“Oh boy, here we go…”

Ethan’s sigh filled the soon-to-be invaded peace of his bedroom, as pop music permeated the single-story house, from roof to floorboards. Despite having a pitiful stereo in the family room, the walls still rattled with muddy bass. The 25-year-old could only rub his temples and try to relax after the initial blast, desperately hoping the party wouldn’t get too crazy, and more importantly that he would have no part in it.

Victoria, or rather, Vicky had called every single one of her friends to come over for the “best grad party ever held in Rainier,” a pitifully low bar, and yet still one he had no interest in competing for. She had bribed Ethan with a night for himself, alone in this house, for him to invite friends, or a special someone else. Of course Ethan had accepted, only for his date to cancel on him last minute, so a quiet evening with chips and beer was all he got out of that deal. Had it been worth it?

The thin walls shook as the bass dropped, and Ethan spotted the time: only 7:12pm.

Definitely not.

Ethan hoped he’d have no reason to exit his room and be forced to interact with Vicky’s friends. No good story started with a college dropout wasting his night with a bunch of high school seniors — well, graduates now. Besides, Ethan knew he’d feel old just hearing them talk. So here he was, a pizza box on his bed, his mouse in his right hand and the WASD keys in his left as he tried to drown it all out.

Of course, he had seen this coming as soon as his parents announced they’d be leaving for the weekend for Aunt Dorothy’s funeral. They both trusted their children to be responsible adults during that time, but Ethan knew Vicky was teetering on the line. A bunch of minors in a big house party like this? Coming-of-age movies had writ the plot in stone at this point. He just hoped it wouldn’t come to that, for his own sake.



Sitting in the back of her van, Nora’s chair jostled and rattled, the long metal arm holding her tablet bouncing up and down with every pothole they hit on the long-neglected forest roads.

Her mom turned down the pop-country and glanced into the rear-view mirror. “I’m surprised Vicky would hold a party like this, her parents always seemed so buttoned-up to me.”

“Aaaaahhhh,” Nora moaned in agreement, glancing up at the van roof. An old habit.

Looking at the unwieldy tablet mounted in front of her, Nora scanned each button with her eyes, searching in subsets and folders for what she wanted to say, all the while her fists clenched with concentration and her knees squeezed the foam divider between them, her cheek pushing not so gently into the headrest arm to the left.

“I am. Surprised. Invitation!” eventually erupted from the tablet’s speaker, in the sweet voice of a girl from Wisconsin, resimulated and slightly digital, but better than Siri or Alexa, and a far cry from Microsoft Sam. It was Nora’s voice, even if it had been donated.

Her mom nearly looked back but thought twice and kept her eyes on the road as the one town cop drove past. “Oh Nora, don’t say that! You deserve to let loose as much as any of your classmates. You graduated just like them, same tests, same marks, no easy road. Work hard, play hard, as I always say! Now… are you sure you don’t want me to come in? In case you have an acc–”

“NNNNNNNNNGGGG” Nora nearly wailed, if her throat would untighten for just a second. Her mom was sincere, generous, selfless, but wow could she be overbearing, and tonight that’s the last thing Nora needed.

Besides, they had done a full bowel routine right before putting this fun forest green v-neck and black tights on under all her braces and security straps. You could still see the bulky pad of her diaper, but looking down at herself with a not-inconsiderable bit of struggle against her body’s various pulls and spasms, Nora realized the clear acrylic tabletop her wrists were tethered to made the bulge pretty hard to make out.

Thank God. Nora thought to herself, her mouth hanging open yet silent. Her head pressed to the left again when they hit another bump, stressing her out as the heavy communicator bounced on the end of its mast. Nora couldn’t track her eyes properly until it settled down.

“I am. I will be. Fine. Mom. Thank you.”

“Of course, sweetie.” her Mom lilted, pulling up to Vicky’s place, top-40s faintly audible from the street.

Nora’s body twisted in her chair as she waited, slowly, but ceaselessly. It was her first high school party… and since graduation had been only a few days back, she wasn’t even in high school anymore. Better late than never!

With the van parked, door opened, ramp lowered, and quite a few hooks and anchors released, Nora was finally free to eye the ‘forward’ arrow on her screen, but not before her Mom replaced the damp bandana bib under her gaping mouth and gave her a peck on the forehead, causing her to moan “Guhhhh!” with her cheeks glowing beet red, hoping no one saw from the window.

It was somewhat exciting for Nora to drive her chair up the street to the nearest driveway curb, down the sidewalk, and up to Vicky’s door. Her mom had of course offered to ensure she got inside, but Nora asserted she was a big girl, that it wasn’t too far, that Vicky and her friends would help her without a doubt!

By only a few minutes, though, Nora was wishing she had said yes, her attendant joystick on the handlebar behind her always made for a smoother ride than relying on her eyes to drive. Moving forward, not-quite parallel to the sidewalk, drifting left, stopping, turning a hair right, correcting too far the other way; Nora made a lazy zigzag all the way to the source of the music. A few bumps and barriers made her nervous, never at risk of actually getting stuck, just for the strangeness of being without someone, anyone, for this brief moment. It was so freeing for the teenager, who had only a few years earlier been without a voice or a way to direct her own chair, to now be able to drive her own uncooperative body up the street to a friend’s house.

By the time Nora got herself to the unfamiliar front door, the nervousness and excitement and focus had taken its toll. Her body was spasming hard, as it always did when she didnt let it have its way, her knuckles white as they gripped the fuzzy braces tightly. If they hadn’t been tethered down by the soft cuffs on her wrists, those fists would have been straight out, back, forward, reaching all around, getting in the way of her eyegaze; and besides how much Nora hated hitting people, the last thing she needed was more attention. With those troublesome appendages anchored down, though, just like her legs and chest and the rest of her, Nora was pretty confident, sitting there looking at the door. Sure her mouth was half-open, drooling a bit onto the cloth below, but Nora had been doing that all her life, and Vicky had never had a problem wiping that up in class, had she?

Nora was confident, until she realized she didn’t have someone with her to reach out and hit the doorbell. Why didn’t I think of this?

Discouraged, Nora didn’t need head control to know that her Mom’s van and all its safety was somewhere behind her, watching, waiting for her to get inside, and she almost turned around to head back, to go home.

‘No.’ A little voice told her. ‘You can do this.’

Nora steeled herself, her face twitching and slack-jawed, yet her eyes fiery; determined not to run away from something so simple.

Those eyes — the only thing Nora had confident control over, and only when she asserted it — they razed her Connect menus, drilling into each icon until they opened up and spilled their contents on the display, finally landing on her phone’s remote control. The phone itself was pinned to her thigh by her tight leggings, where Nora could feel it buzz, but she wrote on-screen, “Hey V!!! I am just chilling outside your front door, can you open up?”

No answer.

The music blared and Nora couldn’t hear anyone coming, nor the familiar buzz of a text. She shot off another message, but still the same null response. Where was she?

‘If Vicky knew I was coming, why wasn’t she ready? She knows my situation.’ Nora worried. Yet it wasn’t long before she had devised a backup plan. She could knock, if she really wanted to.

Nora eyed the arrows and nudged her chair closer, gently, until her footrest was close to the door, the one her pretty, unscuffed shoes were strapped firmly to, and then Nora nudged her chair hard! Twice! It was clumsy, but the closest she could make to a “knock.”

Just when Nora was about to try again, the door finally opened and there stood Cole, the hottest guy in their graduating class, standing like a deer in headlights, looking down at her with a red solo cup in his hand.

Nora blushed hard, looked at her tablet to say “Hi”, but didn’t have the time before Cole shouted the worst thing she had heard in months…

“Vickyyy!? What the fuck?! YOU INVITED THE VEGETABLE?!”


Ripping a bite out of his third slice, Ethan was locked on his monitor.

He really wished he had the concentration to listen to some loud music as he played, just to drown out the party, but then again that was Ethan’s problem, wasn’t it? Focus. It was why he couldn’t get through his second year of architecture, why he had to come home, why he had to deal with his kid sister’s parties and irresponsibility.

“You show so much promise,” was what they always said, only for Ethan’s attention to wander halfway through a single lecture.

He eyed the other open window, minimized. AutoCad. His project to get back into school, or just an internship, his last ditch effort to show them how proficient he could be, if only he could focus. Ethan knew better than to open it now, the blaring music would only distract him again, so his eyes grew rapt with fighting the monsters on his screen.

Ethan tried his best to ignore the girly sounds of celebration outside his door as the fight got tougher in his little world behind the screen. He got tense as he played, his hand curling around the mouse and his simple office chair suddenly uncomfortable.

A small cutscene with dialogue interrupted the gameplay before this new enemy attacked. She was fast, and hit like a truck too! Ethan just needed to play it cool, keep his shield up and not get distracted. The enemy flapped her wings and rushed towards him! Now or never!


A single voice cut through the pop music and broke Ethan’s hair-thin attention, drawing his eye towards the closed door in complete dumb surprise as the boss’ swords dealt a killing blow.

Glancing back at the screen, Ethan knew this run was over. His character respawned in the first level, at which point he muttered “nope” and closed the game, revealing his medium-density community design, which he quickly minimized again for the millionth time, almost muscle memory to avoid what he should be working on. He needed to breathe, maybe play something less stressful.

Ethan leaned back… then eyed the door again. ‘Vegetable.’ Had he heard that right? Maybe zoomers were being zoomers again. He didn’t know. Maybe ‘vegetable’ suddenly meant something else, like ‘fruit’ had kind of evaporated. Ethan sighed; he didn’t miss high school one bit. He was curious what was going on though, and at the very least he needed a drink.

He really didn’t want to be a creep, slipping out of his room so timidly, but then again having to deal with introductions, judgemental glances, and the general stress of trying to act aloof enough to impress a bunch of kids wasn’t really worth it. Sliding into the kitchen, it seemed the party was concentrated in the living room, a surprisingly responsible choice from Vicky. Then again, the sun was still beaming over the mountains. Plenty of time for this to get properly crazy.

An eye over his shoulder, Ethan opened the fridge to find all his beer missing, save for the cardboard. Eyeing a bottle of Orange Crush and swearing, he grabbed that instead and closed the–

“Hey Ethan.”

Fuck! He bit his tongue and smiled thinly at the small figure behind the fridge door. Suzie, his sister’s BFF was standing there, sipping one of his cans! How did she get there, how fast? Always loitering around Vicky, Suzie had this indescribably awkward presence, and a talent to get close to Ethan whenever possible.

“Oh. Hey. Party’s going well, I hope,” he offered politely.

“It can always get better. Why don’t you join? We could all hang out and chat and…” she started, but Ethan was suddenly hit by a glare of the sun, from a car or something, hitting him square in the eyes. He squinted towards the hall, spotting the silhouette of a stocky guy standing in the doorframe in front of… it looked like an equipment cart on the front porch.

“Why is the front door open?” he squinted.

Suzie followed Ethan’s line of sight, “Oh my god, that’s Nora. I can’t believe she actually came!”

The guy shifted, and sure enough, there was a face among the apparatus, and Ethan was embarrassed to finally recognize a very elaborate wheelchair there, with a desktop tray thing, and a computer, and straps and… it was a lot.

“We call her robot girl.” she added under her breath.

Ethan gave Suzie a sharp look.

“What?! It’s better than ‘the vegetable!'”

Ethan couldn’t disagree, suddenly remembering his sister whining about having to take care of “some stupid special needs idiot” at school to buff up her college applications. It had been through those thin walls, to Suzie or another friend, definitely not to him or their parents, or he would have remembered her being chewed out for being so insensitive.

Though, had he been any better at eighteen? Ethan couldn’t answer that question.

Shaking his head, he grabbed a glass.



The girl Ethan had noticed was actually on the verge of tears by the time her helper pushed past the jock.

“Hey asshole… she’s not deaf! You want her dad stomping your ass?” Vicky warned, getting up to Nora’s chair to grab her joystick somewhere behind, by the push bar.

Furious, embarrassed, deflated, Nora sat there, trapped, wishing for the millionth time that she had Vicky’s sharp tongue. The disheartened girl could plainly see all the words she had bottling up in her throat, spread across icons and buttons on her screen, just out of reach. The eyegaze was acting up, the pointer dashing all around so she couldn’t hover over what she wanted to say. Her teary eyes instead drilled into Cole, who wouldn’t look at her directly, instead focusing on Vicky, above, behind.

“Who the hell are you waving at?”

“Her mom! Who could also stomp your ass, lifting this one every day.”

Vicky’s defense tasted a bit sour to Nora, hurting her pride, but she knew she was a burden, so stomached the slight. Her cradling headrest keeping her tense neck pointed forward, Nora only heard her Mom start the engine and drive off. She was on her own now.

“Fuck, man, get out of the way!” Vicky spit at Cole. “I need to get her inside.”

And he did, with a disgusted glare which Nora returned, best she could, as her chair was pushed and driven over the threshold, albeit clumsily, and parked in the far corner of the living room. There were maybe twenty people already there in the house, music blaring, and they were all quiet, staring for an uncomfortably long moment.

Nora looked at the screen again, trying to blink away the tears and try again. Even if it were responding, Nora’s “voice” wasn’t really built for quick comebacks. Besides taking half a minute just to string a sentence together on the best of days, the tablet didn’t even allow saving swear words into buttons for quick-access. Sometimes Nora felt like such a child, being pushed around and cleaned up after, even as her tongue-tied mouth wanted to tell Cole to ‘fuck right off!’

Looking at the screen again, it was a bit better. Her cursor hovered over “Thank you”….before wandering away.

Damn it!

Still Nora kept her real voice silent; she didn’t like how people looked at her when she tried to speak. Sometimes it was too loud, other times embarrassingly deep or squealy; but never, not after years of speech therapy, never had it resembled intelligible words.

She tried the eyegaze again, almost usable.

Vicky picked up the cloth bib draped across her chest and wiped Nora’s chin, before crouching down beside her chair. “I’m sorry about Cole. Too many tackles to the head, you know how boys are! You ok? You came all prepared to have a good time?”

Nora looked up for ‘yes’ and her caretaker for the night smiled.

“Yeah, you look… cute! And I saw your changing bag hanging behind you. You’re not gonna make me pull a school nurse routine tonight, are you? Please? No messes?” Vicky intoned a bit too loud for Nora’s liking.

She frowned but not much of it showed on her shifting face.

Nora knew she was a burden… but that was a kind of mean way to say it. Still, the guest strapped into her chair looked down for ‘no’, and Vicky piped up, “Spectacular! So glad we are on the same page!”

The host of the party jumped to her feet and Nora could get a full view of the cute, shoulderless top and jean shorts she was wearing, the heels, simple gold accents too. It was altogether a pretty little ensemble that Nora unfortunately thought looked better on her friend than it ever would have on her twisted body.

Of course, Nora thought herself pretty enough; sandy blonde hair and big cute wire-frame glasses firmly hooked over her ears, but it was undeniable that she didn’t look like everyone else. Deformed slightly from the strange mix of spasticity and paralysis that her brain ordered up for her nervous system all day long; the lack of weight-bearing made Nora’s feet twist oddly; her joints (knees especially) didn’t bend all the way, too used to sitting in chairs; her muscle tone was irregular, her slim frame softer in some places of total atrophy and rock hard in others from endless searing tension; and her face was passably cute until she tried to use it. She thought her breasts were nice at least, perky and soft, and hopefully someone would like what they saw… someday…

Nora took relaxants, of course, along with a bevy of other medication, but growing up her whole life in a chair; Nora had to be realistic. She was cute, maybe pretty, but not shoulderless-crop-top-and-short-shorts pretty.

It was tough not to be jealous of Vicky. All her friends were here, and even though Nora had been invited, she had only passed by these people in the hall, sat across from them in classes, maybe exchanged a few words here and there when a teacher forced them to.