She barely made it across the threshold of her doorstep before she burst into tears.
“Idiot!” She cried out loud. All at once the feelings that she’d buried deep down -- shame, disgust, hate -- washed over her and enveloped her in a dark cloud of negativity. She felt her knees buckle beneath her and she involuntarily sank to the floor.
This one was a secret -- a dark, embarrassing, and frightening secret -- that she’d never told anyone. Not her mom, not Liz, not even the countless journals that she’d meticulously kept since she was nine years old. For her entire life she’d kept a tight lid on how she felt, repressed that part of herself as much as she could, and pretended that she wasn’t a freak, that she was normal.
And there was good reason for that. How could she possibly convey to someone else the deep craving inside of her, the emotional intensity of the thing, manifesting itself in a deep fascination for the marred physical features of men with disabilities? She couldn’t possibly begin to describe the beauty of being not “beautiful”, the allure of the imperfections, how enchanting the mixture of strength and vulnerability were, and her attraction to it.
She’d become acutely aware of it during her teenage years, but in retrospect she realized the attraction had always been there. From the start, there had always been shame attached it. Once, in fifth grade she’d told her best friend Jenna that she hoped they’d get a new kid in their class -- a boy in a wheelchair. Jenna had looked at her weirdly, furrowed her eyebrows, and gone off to play with someone else. They’d continued to be friends, but Margaret never forgot the way Jenna had looked at her and how she had staunchly proclaimed, “That’s weird.”
Obviously, Finn had felt the same way. Like he would feel any different. Note to future Margaret: if you ever have a date with a disabled man again, don’t disclose your devotee status. You should also consider staying away from alcohol too.
“Get up,” she told herself. Her voice was thick with tears and snot.“You’re won’t feel so pathetic once you’re not crumpled in a heap on the floor, Mags.”
But then she saw the shocked look on Finn’s face as the words came spilling out of her mouth. She remembered how his look of attraction turned to one of hurt and revulsion. She recalled how her stomach had churned and her face had burned and how immediately she’d wished that she could take the words back.
With a jolt she realized that what bothered her more than the divulging of her secret, was that Finn was the person she’d finally told. Finn: the subject of story upon which her career hung on, her best friend’s brother-in-law, and the man who she’d repeatedly made a fool of herself in front of, yet who continually gave her a second chance.
Margaret knew that there wouldn’t be another chance this time, and suddenly her humiliation outweighed her pride. She stayed on the floor.
Finn wasn’t sure how long he sat at the table after Margaret left. Long enough though to garner dirty looks from patrons who were standing, as well as pitying ones from the table of middle-aged women sitting next to him. Finally, with a small grunt, he stood. Before he left, he picked up the cash Margaret had left and replaced it with his own.
By the time he left the brewery the afternoon had turned to evening. The air held the slight chill that accompanies springtime and the city seemed quiet for a Friday night. The traffic was minimal and the restaurants and bars seemed sparsely occupied. It was as if everyone else but him had been warned of the impending implosion of his personal life and had run for cover.
He’d missed the memo.
“I like all of that though.” That’s what she’d said. Finn wandered the streets aimlessly, thinking. He could see the cheeky grin playing on her face now.“The lack thereof all of that, honestly.”
She liked what? That he was an amputee?
That couldn’t be it. How could anyone like the part of himself that he hated the most? Finn shook his head, trying to clear it with a physical shake. Bad idea, he realized when the world kept spinning even after he’d stopped shaking his head. You’re not twenty-one anymore, English.
They were supposed to be eating at Central right now. It was a neat and local farm to table restaurant that had opened a few months ago in downtown, not far from where they’d been getting drinks at Railyard. That was what he’d planned anyway. But things don’t always work out like one wants them too.
Finn knew that firsthand.
Instead of Central, he quickly ducked into a Subway. He was going to need food, a level head, and a heavy dose of patience. After the sandwiches were ready, he left and started walking towards Court Street. He walked slowly, trying to ignore the dull ache that pulsed through his right leg every time his foot impacted with the sidewalk. There was enough to focus on without having to think about that too.
Although, that was exactly what the subject at hand was. The irony almost made him laugh.
Finn kept walking. Eventually, he found himself standing in front of a sprawling historic brick building. Steeling himself, he picked up the large brass knocker and knocked.
Nothing. He knocked again.
Still nothing. “Margaret?”
From behind the door finally came her muffled response. “No.”
Finn sighed heavily. “Come on, Margaret.” He leaned forward and pressed his ear against the door, but didn’t hear anything. “We should really talk.” Still, he was greeted by silence and a closed door.
Come on, English. Get her to open up. He tried a different tactic this time. “And, I’ve got two footlong cold cuts. Way too much food for myself.”
He waited. After a few moments, Finn heard the click of locks. Yes. Despite the seriousness -- and awkwardness -- of the situation, he smiled as Margaret finally opened the door.
Margaret eased the door open. “You’re a growing boy,” she said lightly, not meeting Finn’s eyes. “Have both.”
“I'm almost thirty. Time to keep a watch on my girlish figure.”
Despite herself, Margaret chuckled. She looked at Finn (and his figure) appreciatively: broad shoulders that tapered into a small waist, without an ounce of unwelcome fat. She avoided looking at his left side and her gaze didn’t linger on his right leg either. When she finally worked up her nerve to look at his face, she was shocked to see that he was smiling gently. Even though eyes were hesitant and unsure, his face was laced with compassion. Her own face, by comparison, was puffy and red and splotchy, she was sure. Low down on the list of things to be self conscious about at the moment, Margaret. Very low down.
She stepped aside to let him in and then started towards her living room. Nervously, she called over her shoulder, “Figure you might want to sit on the couch instead of the floor, which is where I’ve been.” When she realized what she’d said, she flushed. “Oh God. I need to just shut up for the rest of the night.”
Finn lowered himself gingerly onto the couch beside her. He shook his head. “That is the last thing you need to do.”
Margaret shrugged. Finn sighed. Then he reached into the Subway bag and offered her a bag of chips and a sandwich. They ate in a heavy silence, the sounds of chips crunching and their chewing filling the air and practically echoing off the walls of her small apartment.
Sometime after they had finished eating, Finn eventually turned to her. He leveled a stern looking gaze at her, one that she wondered if he gave his students. “What did you mean back there?” he asked, getting straight to the point.
The question she’d been dreading. “I…it’s...,” she trailed off, searching for the right words. She what? Liked disabled men, especially amputees? For some reason that she couldn’t fathom, Finn had actually been scared off. But that statement might finally do him in. She had to be tactful, both for her sake and his. “I like this stuff.”
Finn furrowed his brow. “That’s what you said earlier.”
“Yeah, because that’s all there is to it. I like it,” she took a deep breath, “you know, in...a particular kind of way.”
The aha moment was clear on face. He finally got it. His face, which until that moment had been purposefully blank, flushed a deep red. His expression was bewildered, a mixture of shock and curiosity.
“I’m sorry,” Margaret added quietly. “I know this is all like an unwelcome bombshell.”
Finn grinned wryly. “Me and bombshells are actually old friends.”
Margaret felt heat rising to her cheeks. Foot meet mouth.
They lapsed into silence again. Margaret couldn’t imagine what Finn might be thinking. Probably planning the easiest and quickest escape route. After a moment, he asked in a pained voice, “Is that the only part?”
What? “I don’t understand.”
Finn looked up at her, and when he did his eyes were filled with bitter resignation. “Is that the only part you like?”
He sounded miserable and his voice shook, betraying the emotion she was certain that he preferred to keep hidden. Her heart swelled as she suddenly realized that he thought the only reason she was attracted to him was because of his disability. She spoke up quickly, trying to change his mind and assuage his fears. “Finn, not at all.”
It was a lame reassurance, but it must have worked because relief flooded his face. Poor Finn. For the first time she realized that this was equally tortuous for him.
She looked up at the ceiling and sighed. That was a just the million dollar question. The one that she had no answer to. “It’s hard to explain.”
“Well, it’s not exactly easy to grasp on this end either.”
He didn’t sound harsh or angry, just matter of fact. But still, the words cut her to the core. She felt waves of shame wash over her.
Her face must have betrayed how she felt because instantly, Finn began to backtrack. “I didn’t mean it like that. I only meant,” he paused, choosing his words carefully. “I only meant that it’s hard to imagine someone -- anyone -- could be attracted this part of me at all.”
Finn took a steadying breath, and then went on. In a low voice he added, “I just can’t believe that the least attractive part of me would appeal to a woman like you.”
“A woman like me?” She tried not to scoff. “I’m just--”
“--just beautiful, clever, and fairly bullheaded,” he interrupted her with a small smile. Then he shook his head. “I just don’t believe it. Or understand.”
“Me either, Finn,” she said softly, almost apologetically. But after his words sunk in, Margaret suddenly felt cautiously optimistic; her stomach filled with butterflies. Slowly but surely, she reached out and grabbed what remained of his left arm, just above where it ended above the elbow, and held it just as she could have held his other hand. She hoped it was comforting because that’s how the gesture was meant. More than anything, she wanted to show him exactly how little it bothered her and how much it excited her; she wanted to show him it was okay and she wanted him to reward her with the same reassurance.
Finn looked taken aback at her touch, but not alarmed, so she didn’t let go. His left arm was surprisingly thin -- thinner than she had expected. Five years of little use had reduced it to being soft and much less musclely than its counterpart on the right. She rubbed the area with her thumb, and as she did she could feel the stump twitch underneath her touch. The feeling sent shockwaves of pleasure through her body.
Beside her, Finn sat on the couch with his eyes closed. He swallowed hard. “That feels nice.”
“On this end too,” she whispered back. Finn opened his eyes and looked at her. His face held still held tendrils of confusion and curiosity, but it finally also held a faint look of acceptance and relief.
Simultaneously, they both let out long breaths, exhalations of adrenaline, nerves. The thick tension was replaced with tenderness, and Margaret saw flash of the same hungry, intense look that she’d seen in the brewery earlier in Finn’s eyes. She knew without a doubt that her own eyes reflected the look, but somehow, the night's revelations had instilled timidity within her -- a trait she usually didn’t possess.
“Come here,” Finn whispered in a voice husky with desire, breaking the silence. He gently tugged her towards him with his left arm. She fell against his chest. But Finn wasn’t done. With his right arm he grabbed Margaret around the waist and, with some effort, lifted her onto his lap. Her stomach tightened and she felt a familiar heat rise within in as she felt his prosthetic through his jeans underneath her.
He winced as she put the slightest amount of pressure on his right stump; so she shifted, putting most of her weight on his left leg instead of the right. Then she looked at Finn and slowly matched his smile. For the first time that night, the silence didn’t hang heavy between them; instead, it cocooned them in a swath of warmth and comfort. Gently, he rested his forehead against hers and looked deep into her eyes, and they stayed like that, looking at each other with mutual intensity until he cupped her chin in his hand.
Margaret’s eyes slowly lulled shut as she waited for their lips to touch. When they did, a warm feeling spread throughout her. Suddenly, the emotional turmoil of the night fell away and, she was suddenly unable to focus on anything except their slow tango, how comfortable the moment felt, and how soft Finn’s lips were.