I’d never been in love before, so it was odd to discover my feelings for Jane. Jane, of all people. I’ve been on dates with models and actresses (almost exclusively) who were objectively about a million times more attractive than Jane. Yet at this moment, I couldn’t imagine a woman being sexier than athletic, freckled Jane.
It didn’t change a lot though. No matter what I felt for Jane, nothing would happen between the two of us beyond friendship. Even though Savannah was a bitch, there was a lot of truth in what she said to me during our “date.” I could look at my body and realize that there was no way Jane would ever feel any sexual attraction for me. Maybe it was possible that some woman might, if I had on the right clothes or something, but Jane had seen me naked. Shit, Jane had seen me shit myself. Nothing was going to ever happen there.
But it wasn’t entirely my imagination that Jane was flirting with me.
For example, whenever I’d make it through a very difficult obstacle course she put together, she’d lay her hand on my shoulder and give me a squeeze. And it seemed like she was giving me more massages than were warranted given my pain complaints. We joked around a lot, and I felt like she was incredibly easy to talk to.
Since Mason hadn’t returned since he punched Jeremy, Jane started getting a wheelchair and racing against me outside. This wasn’t part of my therapy and I knew she was doing it in her free time. The fact that she was spending time with me during her breaks meant a lot to me.
Most of the time, Jane got herself a manual wheelchair to race against me. What’s funny is that I found Jane easier to talk to when she was sitting in a wheelchair herself. And the manual wheelchair was much smaller than mine, so I was taller than her that way. Considering I wasn’t taller than pretty much anyone anymore, I liked that.
“I’m going to kick your ass today, Edwards,” Jane told me one day as we were getting ready to race.
“Not a chance,” I said.
Jane was actually pretty competitive. She definitely never let me win.
We started out a few yards from the entrance to the hospital. I looked over at Jane, whose red hair was pulled back with a spider clip today, but there were tendrils falling around her face and down the back of her slender neck. There was a look of determination in her light blue eyes. “You want to do the countdown?” she asked me.
“Sure,” I said. “Three, two, one… GO!”
We took off. Even though I’m competitive too, I found myself holding back a little, not letting my wheelchair go as fast as it could. Not because I wanted to let Jane win, but because I wanted to watch her race. I wanted to watch her red hair flying in the wind, that adorable look of determination on her face, and her boobs jiggling with each push of the wheelchair. I knew I only had a short time left with her and I wanted to enjoy it.
We had a corner coming up, and it was a sharp one. Usually Jane took corners with no problem while I still struggled a little, but this time she took it too sharp, and her chair turned, spilling her to the ground. She screamed and I quickly braked and backed up to make sure she was all right. My heart was pounding. If Jane was hurt, what could I do? I couldn’t even help her to her feet.
Jane was sprawled on the pavement, looking slightly dazed. When she saw the worried look on my face, she laughed. “I’m fine, Nick,” she said. “Just a scraped elbow.”
She held up her elbow, which she had skinned on the cement. There were little droplets of blood rising to the surface, and I winced at the sight of it. “You should get that cleaned off,” I said. “Put some iodine on it.”
“Okay, Mommy,” Jane said, struggling to her feet. She brushed her hands off on her scrub pants and took a few unsteady steps. “Damn, my knee kind of hurts.”
“Can I give you a ride back?” I asked her. I almost regretted saying it as the words left my mouth. She’d say no, of course, and it would be awkward.
“I probably shouldn’t,” Jane said, not surprisingly. Then she hesitated. “But I guess this is a special circumstance since I’m injured.”
My heart was pounding as Jane gingerly lowered herself onto my lap. I prayed to God that the pressure of her body wouldn’t give me an erection. I wanted to put my arms around her, but I couldn’t do that, so she put one arm around my neck to keep from falling off.
“Okay, let’s go!” Jane snapped. “I don’t got all day, Nick.”
I was so anxious that I couldn’t even find the breath to reply. I put my lips on the controls and took us back to the hospital. Jane acted like the whole thing wasn’t a big deal and I know it wasn’t, but just the same, she insisted on my letting her off my lap far enough from the front door that nobody would see us together.
I had been dreading my 26th birthday for months. My 25th birthday had been the social event of the year. I’d rented out an entire two-floor club and filled it with the most beautiful people in Hollywood (and Mason). I’d also taken the precaution of inviting people who would ensure a healthy supply of drugs for the party. Most of my friends did Coke, especially the models who wanted to stay bone thin, but plenty of my friends were into E and some were into meth or weed or heroin. We had it all.
I got incredibly drunk and high during that party, so I only remember pieces of it. I’m pretty sure I had sex with at least three different women that night. At some point, someone OD’d and had to be dropped off at the entrance to the local ER, which I always say is a sign of a great party.
I got the feeling my 26th birthday wasn’t going to be nearly as big a success.
Mom suggested inviting a few of my friends, but I begged her not to. I didn’t think they’d show up, and if they did, I didn’t want them to see me like this. It was better to keep it small, just me and my parents, and maybe Jane and Cam and Mary.
I’d been wearing sweatsuits since I got here, so my mother decided to make the occasion special by having me dress up a little. She brought some nice dark slacks and a crisp white shirt. Jane helped me get into my new outfit on the afternoon of my birthday, and I had to admit, it was nice to wear something besides sweatpants.
Once I was dressed and in my wheelchair, Jane stepped back to examine me. She let out a low whistle. “You clean up good, Nick,” she said.
I tried to laugh, feeling embarrassed by the heat that rose in my cheeks. I didn’t have a tan anymore to hide my red face. “Yeah, sure.”
Jane ran her fingers through my short hair to brush it out. “It’s true,” she insisted. “You’re actually surprisingly good looking.”
Maybe it was my imagination but Jane’s fingers seemed to linger extra long in my hair. Long enough to make my heart flutter. “I’ve got a special surprise for you, you know,” she said in a low voice.
I swallowed hard. “A surprise?”
She winked at me and then skipped out of the room without another word. It couldn’t be. There was no way my fantasies were going to get realized tonight.
I didn’t get much of a chance to think about it because a few minutes later, my parents were coming in with a cake brimming with lit candles. Mom, Dad, Jane, Cam, Mary, a few other nurses, and even Dr. Greenly came into the room to sing happy birthday to me. It was almost a little touching if I didn’t think too hard about last year’s birthday.
“Blow out the candles, Nicky!” Mom said, which only made me think of Jane and her lit candles, which maybe I’d be “blowing out” tonight. Nah, probably not.
I took a breath, but I didn’t have the muscles to take a really deep one, so it took me like ten tries to blow out all the candles. Everyone was cheering me on at first, but I could tell by the end, everyone was a little uncomfortable.
Mom cut me a slice of cake and scooped some onto a fork. She started to hold it out to me and I shook my head, “Not now, Mom.”
“Why not?” she said. “It’s good cake. From Angelina’s.” Angelina’s Bakery: Cakes for the stars.
How could I explain to her that I didn’t feel like being spoon-fed in front of a large group of people, even if all those people were involved in my care? I’d rather eat nothing than have a room full of people watch me be fed. What I said instead was, “I’m not hungry.”
“Don’t be silly,” Mom said, raising the fork to my lips insistently.
I caught Jane’s eyes, and she got it immediately. She put her hand on my mother’s shoulder. “He had a huge lunch, but I’ll make sure he gets some cake later.” When my mother looked skeptical, Jane added, “I promise.”
Mom put down the cake and I let out a breath. As she walked away to have her own slice of cake, I said to Jane, “Thanks.”
Jane winked. “No problem. Hey, how about that surprise now?”
Well, the fact that she was willing to give me the surprise now, in front of everyone, showed that the surprise wasn’t what I’d been hoping it was. But I knew that was unlikely anyway. “Sure,” I said.
Jane clapped her hands together and bounced a little. “Fantastic. I’ll be right back.”
I really couldn’t imagine what the surprise Jane was going to give me could be, until I noticed the hulking figure moving toward the doorway to my room. About a second later, Mason Lunt had smashed his forehead against the top of the doorway. I stifled a laugh, thinking of all the times Mason had smashed his forehead against doorways. If Jane’s surprise wasn’t something sexy, this was a pretty good one.
“Mason!” Mom exclaimed. “Sweetheart, are you okay?”
Mason pushed his palm against his forehead, looking sheepish. “I’m fine, Mrs. Edwards. I’ve got a pretty hard head.”
“That’s for sure,” I spoke up.
Mason and I looked at each other. He hadn’t come by in over a month, after he had stormed away, but I knew he was sorry. And he knew I was sorry. That’s the thing with me and Mason. We’re brothers. More than brothers.
“Happy birthday, man,” Mason said.
“Thanks,” I said.
Believe it or not, the party didn’t end up being that bad at all, mostly because I spent the whole time talking to Mason. He had started applying for law school and he was telling me about all the assholes in the prep class he was taking for the LSATs. “I hope I don’t end up in a class with any of these douchebags,” Mason said.
“I can’t believe you’re becoming a sellout lawyer,” I said.
“How do you know I’m going to be a sellout?” Mason said. “Maybe I’m going into environmental law? Did you ever consider that?”
And then we both laughed, because obviously Mason wasn’t going into environmental law. Only losers do that.
“So tell me,” I said. “Have you fucked any of the pre-law girls? Are you seeing anyone or still celibate?”
I saw the red creeping up Mason’s neck. “Not really,” he mumbled.
“You’re not really seeing anyone or not really still celibate?”
Mason mumbled something again and I knew the answer to my question. He was seeing someone. I guess he felt weird telling me because of my recent break up with Savannah.
“Listen,” Mason said. “I better head out. It’s getting late and I’ve got my class at nine in the morning.”
“Yeah, okay,” I said. It was obvious that Mason didn’t want to talk about this girl he was fucking. In the past, Mason and I never kept secrets about girls, although we didn’t talk about them all that much either, not after we’d already fucked them.
“I’ll come later this week,” Mason promised. “We’ll race, okay? I miss kicking your ass.”
“You wish,” I said. “I’ve been practicing a lot. You’re going to eat my dust.”
Mason laughed then got up from where he’d been sitting, on my bed. After a second’s hesitation, he patted my shoulder and said, “Take it easy, man. We’ll talk more later.”
That struck me as an odd thing to say. Was there something specific he wanted to talk to me about?
Mason lumbered out of my room, making sure to duck his head down this time to get out without further injury. I watched him go past the nursing station, where Jane was sitting, writing a note. I couldn’t hear him out there, but he said something to Jane and she smiled up at him.
Then, as I watched in horror, Jane stood up and kissed Mason on the lips.