I find the card nestled in-between a pink and purple flower. It’s typewritten and reads:
Thank you for a wonderful evening.
It’s not a gushy, romantic card. At all. It’s pretty neutral. I mean, in some ways, it may as well be a letter to his plumber or something:
Thank you for a wonderful job fixing my toilet.
And the flowers are nice, but I sort of wish he’d gotten me a more romantic flower. I know I said I love azaleas and I do, but red roses would leave less doubt in my mind about his intentions. Azaleas could totally be a friendship flower.
I’m pretty much determined to drive myself crazy about this, huh?
By the evening, I’ve completely worked myself up about this date. I keep going over everything that happened, remembering all the stupid things I said, till I get to the point where I’m certain, flowers or not, that Chris will never call me again in a million years.
But my insecurities are for nothing. That night I get a call from a number that pops up as belonging to one Chris Barrett. My heart leaps and I answer as sexily as possible, “Hello?”
“Hi. Samantha?” Chris sounds adorable on the phone. “Hey, it’s Chris. From last night.”
I love how he always reminds me where I know him from. And the way he’s so nervous that his voice cracks a little. “Of course. Hi there.”
“I know we just went out last night,” he says, “so you’re probably sick of me, but…”
No! I’m not!
“I had these reservations for an amazing Spanish restaurant tomorrow night,” he goes on. “Best paella in the city, really. And my friend who was supposed to go with me had to cancel. So I just thought…” He pauses then completes his own sentence: “But it’s really short notice and I’m sure you’re busy.”
“I’m not,” I answer quickly. “And I love paella.” Note to self: Must google “paella” and figure out what it is.
“Really? That’s great.” Chris sounds thrilled and I renew my hopes that maybe I’ll get a kiss out of this relationship. “It’s only ten blocks from the Apple store. Would you like to meet up at the store and we’ll go together?”
“Sure,” I say.
I have to admit, there have been a lot of moments since my break-up with Patrick that I’ve regretted my decision, but now I feel with 100% certainty that I’ve done the right thing. In all my years of dating, I’ve never been this excited about a date. The whole thing sort of makes me regret all the time I’ve wasted dated able-bodied men.
I arrive at the Apple store the next day dressed in a cute little pink dress that was a present from Kate. You know I’m excited about a guy when I break my green and brown rule. For the longest time, I’ve shied away from wearing pink, because it makes me feel like I’m about five years old. But lately, Kate has been attempting to convince me that it’s all right for a grown woman to wear pink. Anyway, it’s not like I’m wearing hot pink like it’s the eighties or something.
When I enter the Apple store, Chris is nowhere in sight, and I get scared that maybe he’s an asshole and decided to stand me up. But while Chris may have some negative qualities, I’m pretty sure that’s not one of them. If nothing else, he’s a nice guy.
I approach the counter. There’s a young guy with curly dark hair wearing an Apple T-shirt who smiles broadly when he sees me. His nametag reads Doug. “What can I do for you today?” he asks.
“I’m here to see Chris,” I mumble.
“You got a broken phone?” Doug asks me.
“No,” I say. I somehow can’t bring myself to say that I’ve got a date with Chris. I’m scared that this guy will see right through me and know that I’m a devotee and that’s why I’m dating him.
Doug looks confused. “What’s the problem you need to see Chris about?”
Before I’m able to stammer through an answer, the back door opens and Chris wheels out. His face lights up when he sees me. “Hi, Samantha.”
Doug looks from Chris to me, the realization slowly dawning on his face. Finally, he gets this grin on his face. “Good for you, man,” he says to Chris. Then he adds, “She’s way hotter than what’s her face.”
Chris’s ears immediately turn red. He mumbles something that sounds like “thanks,” then tells me we should get going. Even though it’s preposterous to think that I would be Chris’s first girlfriend and that’s not even something that I would want, since most people suck at their first relationship, I can’t help but feel a spark of jealousy. Who is What’s Her Face? Did he love her? And am I actually hotter than her, or is Doug just being nice?
“So… What’s Her Face, huh?” I say, as we get outside. I know I’ve pulled another dating no-no, but I can’t help myself. Jealousy is definitely one of my weaknesses.
Chris gives me an uncomfortable smile. “Her name was Jenna. And that was months ago.”
I almost say something snarky like, So did you kiss her? But I check myself and instead just say, “Oh.”
There’s silence between us and Chris finally says, “Jenna had CP.” When I look at him blankly, he clarifies: “Cerebral palsy.”
He doesn’t say anything more about it, and I find myself desperately curious. Of course, since he’s disabled, it makes sense that he’s dated women who are disabled. But I know that cerebral palsy could range from severe to mild. Was he dating a girl with a slight limp or a girl in a full on power wheelchair who could barely move? And moreover, did he prefer dating disabled women? It was probably easier, at least in some respects. She understood more about what life was like for him.
I’m so lost in my thoughts that I only vaguely respond to Chris’s attempts to start a conversation on the way to the restaurant. One thing I do notice though is the way people respond to us in the street. You’d think Chris was dressed as a circus freak or something, the way everyone is staring and jumping out of our way. He’s getting much more attention than I ever got in my tightest, shortest skirt.
The restaurant is one of those places that are made to look like a Spanish villa. We’re led to our seats, at a small wooden table alongside an artificial stream with actual fish swimming in it. It’s just starting to get dark and I see a candle lit at our table. This is going to be crazy romantic. Although that makes me wonder who Chris originally intended to come here with.
We get our menus and I looked at Chris’s face across the table. His skin glows slightly orange under the light of the candle, which somehow makes him seem younger than he is. I haven’t quite pinned down Chris’s age yet, but I’ve guessed early thirties, based on his appearance and what he’s told me of his career.
“So I’ve got something for you,” he says, reaching into the bag attached to the back of his wheelchair. He pulls out a clumsily wrapped box and hands it to me.
I turn the box over in my hands. “Did you wrap this yourself?”
“Sort of,” he admits, his ears turning slightly pink. “I don’t really know how to wrap stuff.”
I tear open the wrapping paper and it’s… an iPhone cover. Okay…
Chris’s face falls. “You hate it.”
“No,” I say quickly, still staring at the box. “I’m just… surprised, I guess. I expected chocolates or… I don’t know. I didn’t expect an iPhone cover from your store.”
“Well, I paid for it,” he tells me, now clearly blushing. “I’m sorry. My father always taught me that you’re supposed to bring a girl something on a date, and I already got you flowers last time, so I thought… well, since you dropped your phone in the toilet, maybe this would help make it less slippery so it wouldn’t fall in the toilet again.”
No more romantic words than those have ever been uttered. Hey, honey, here’s a gift to keep you from dropping stuff in the toilet.
“I’ll take it back,” he says, grabbing it out of my hands. “I’m really sorry, Samantha.”
“No, don’t,” I say, reaching for it. “I like it.” Actually, I really do. Now that I’m over the initial surprise, it’s a pretty good gift.
He doesn’t let go of the box right away and our hands are touching. I get that crazy tingle again, and I hope he’ll never let go of the box. But then he raises his eyebrows at me and says, “Are you sure?”
I nod. “Definitely.”
He lets go of the box, finally looking sort of pleased with himself. It’s sweet that he’s trying so hard, at least. It’s unusual to be with a guy who’s trying hard to impress me and not just trying hard to get in my pants.
“Do you want to get some guacamole as an appetizer?” Chris asks.
“Absolutely,” I say. “I spent my whole childhood hating guacamole, and now as an adult, I love it. Isn’t that weird?”
“I feel the same way about tomatoes,” Chris says.
“I still hate tomatoes,” I say. “Raw tomatoes, at least. If they’re cooked, I love them. I would spit out a raw tomato but if you put it in a frying pan for like one minute, I would gobble it up. Why is that?”
“It’s probably because cooking kills the acidity in the tomatoes,” Chris says.
“Is that true?”
He smiles. “I have no absolutely idea. Sounds good though, right?”
The waiter comes by and we order our guacamole, chips, and paella, as well as two glasses of wine. With our menus gone, there’s silence between us. Awkward silence. Chris is making patterns with his finger on the condensation on his water glass. I can’t help but wonder what Chris’s dates with Jenna were like, and what was the reason they broke up. And then I start chewing on my thumbnail.
“I hate second dates,” he finally says.
“I’m not talking about you,” he says quickly. “I just mean, in general, second dates are rough, right?”
I frown at him. “Worse than first dates?”
“Yeah, I think so,” he says. “On first dates, you’ve never really talked before, so you’ve got a zillion topics to choose from. But then by the second date, you’ve kind of talked about everything, so you just end up talking about stupid stuff.”
“Like avocados and tomatoes?”
He blushes. “Yeah. Sort of.”
“I guess you’re right,” I say thoughtfully. “So… what do you do?”
“Don’t laugh,” Chris says, “but when I want to impress a girl, I write down a list of topics I can bring up when there’s a lull in the conversation.”
That’s so nerdy that it’s kind of adorable. “Is that what you did before our date tonight?”
He hesitates. “Yeah, well, sort of…”
I shake my head at him. “Omigod, you have got to show me this list.”
Chris looks around the restaurant. “Where’s our wine and guacamole?”
“Here’s a tip for second dates,” I say to Chris. “When the girl asks you to do something, you do it.”
Chris sighs and pulls his ‘Droid out of his pocket. “This is really embarrassing,” he says as he hands it over to me.
I look at the list of conversation topics that Chris devised for our date. I can’t help but smile as I read them aloud. “Favorite Olympic sport,” I say.
“Snowboarding,” Chris says.
“Gymnastics,” I say.
“That’s pretty clichéd,” Chris remarks.
“Okay, how about the iPhone hurdle?” I say.
“Can you sink your phone into the toilet from the fifty yard line?”
“If I can’t do it, then nobody can.”
Chris laughs and I read off the next few items off his list. “Favorite movie of all time… best Saturday morning cartoons as a kid… number of brothers or sisters…”
“One older brother,” Chris says.
“Me too,” I say. “Are you close?”
“Very,” he says. “If you’re mean to me, he’ll kick your ass. Are you close with yours?”
“Depends what you mean by close,” I say. “Geographically, yes. Do I see him all the time? Yes. Is he as annoying as hell? Yes.”
Chris grins. “I bet he’s protective of his little sister.”
“You’d think,” I snort. “I guess he’s too busy being awful to me that nobody else has a chance to do it. So in that sense, yes, he protects me.”
I scroll down the screen, laughing at the next item: “Favorite scientist?”
He blushes and shrugs. “I thought you’d be the first girl I’ve ever dated who could give me an answer other than Dr. Evil.”
“That’s a lot of pressure,” I say. “Because I was totally going to say Dr. Evil and now I can’t. Who’s yours?”
“Probably Isaac Newton.”
“Well, he invented calculus and developed the basis of all of physics.”
I wave my hand. “What? You mean you don’t think you could have invented calculus? You’re just at a disadvantage because it’s already been invented.”
“You’re probably right,” he says with a grin. “All right, who’s yours?”
There’s a small part of me that wants to say Stephen Hawkings just to see how he’d react. Would he think I was patronizing him? Much like Rob, Hawkings in an example of a disabled man who I do not think is physically attractive. Yet at the same time, I can’t help but think there’s something sexy about all that intelligence in a body that can hardly move. But the more I think about it, the more sure I am that Chris will think I’m making an unflattering comparison, so instead I say, “Marie Curie, of course.”
“A female scientist picking another female scientist…” Chris shakes his head in mock disappointment. “What a cop-out.”
He has no idea.
I continue reading down the list until I get to the last item: “And finally: why second dates are bad. Wow, you sure covered that one.”
“Yeah, and it’s worse now that you stole my list,” he points out as I slide his phone back across the table.
“But there’s one thing you’re missing,” I say, raising my eyebrows suggestively. “Yes, we might not have as much to talk about. But we can fill the time with… other stuff.” Chris’s eyes widen. “If you’re interested, that is…”
“I am,” he coughs. He clears his throat. “I mean, yes. I’m interested. God, yes.”
We stare at each other. I notice his right hand is on the table, toying with his fork. I move my left hand closer, so that’s it’s nearly touching his but not quite. Chris doesn’t move his hand, but he moves his thumb so that it gently rubs against the back of my hand. As he does this, a tiny smile plays on his lips. Even though it’s not a kiss, somehow it’s about a thousand times hotter than any kiss I’ve ever experienced. I think if we ever actually do kiss, I might overload and burst an aneurysm in my brain.
Chris’s list is completely forgotten and the two of us just sit there, mesmerized by each other. The spell is finally broken when our paella arrives, although it’s obvious all we want to do is get the hell out of here. This might be the best paella in the city, but I can barely taste it.
“We can go back to my place,” I suggest to Chris, somewhat breathlessly.
“Okay,” he says simply.
He pays the check in cash and we hurry out the door. Part of me is hoping he’ll offer to give me a ride back to my apartment in his chair, but I know he won’t. Chris is very reserved, I’m learning.
I’m too excited to even be embarrassed about the fact that my apartment isn’t as clean as it could be, or that I don’t have any wine in the house to drink. I invite Chris inside and as he wheels across my hardwood floor, part of me can’t even believe this happening. I always thought being with a wheeler wouldn’t live up to my expectations, but so far, it really has.
“Nice apartment,” he comments.
“Yeah,” I say. “I mean, thank you. Do you want some water or something?”
“Sure,” he says.
I go to my kitchen and pour a glass of water from my water filter with shaking hands. I bring it out to Chris, who has transferred out of his wheelchair onto my couch. And I missed it. I can’t believe I missed seeing that. Of course, maybe he was waiting for me to leave the room just so I wouldn’t see it.
I sit down next to Chris and hand him the water. “Your water, sir,” I say.
“Thank you.” He takes a sip then sets the glass down on my coffee table. Before I have time to think about what’s going to happen next, he leans forward and starts kissing me. He presses me gently against the couch as I feel his tongue enter my mouth. His breath is hot and tastes like wine and paella.
I’ve been waiting for this moment all night, maybe my whole adult life, and it doesn’t disappoint. Chris’s lips are soft, his touch gentle, and moreover, he is just so hot. I almost can’t bear it. I could kiss him for hours, like I’m in high school again.
He separates from me for a second to catch our breath, and I gasp, “Oh my god, please don’t stop.” He gives me a surprised look, then smiles and starts kissing me again. There is nothing that could ruin this moment. Nothing.
Except my damn phone ringing.
“Let’s get it started… ha. Let’s get it started in here. Let’s get it started… ha. Let’s get it started in here.”
Chris pulls away from me. “Uh, do you need to get that?”
“No,” I say. I glance at my purse, sitting on the coffee table. It’s so late… who could be calling me now? “Maybe I should just see who it is.”
He nods and I fumble within my purse for my phone. It’s my brother Tom. What the hell is Tom calling me about at this hour? Omigod, could it be something about Mom or Dad?
“It’s my brother,” I say. “Let me just make sure there’s no tragedy.”
Chris nods again, and I see the sheen of sweat on his brow. I really don’t want him to cool down. “Hello?” I say into the phone. “What’s going on, Tom?”
“Sam, thank god,” Tom says. “I’m downstairs. You’ve got to buzz me up.”
“Is someone hurt or dead?” I ask.
“No,” Tom says.
“Then fuck off.”
I’m about to hang up on him but I hear him almost screaming on the other line. “Sam, please! I need your help! Please let me up!”
I narrow my eyes at my cell phone. “What’s going on?”
“I’ll explain, I promise. Just buzz me up.”
“I’ve got company…”
“Five minutes, that’s all I need.”
Because I would feel like a heartless bitch leaving my only brother out in the cold in the middle of the night, I relent. I turn to Chris, who seems to have figured out that make-out time is over. “I’m so sorry,” I say. “I’ll get rid of him. Give me five minutes, I promise.”
“I understand,” he insists. “It’s family.”
And then he transfers back into his wheelchair, which kills me only because I’m worried the mood is lost. He does it so quick, if I’d blinked, I almost might have missed it. He just leans over, grabs the wheels of his chair and shifts his butt over, then moves both his legs over at once. Once he’s in his chair, he lifts his head and I see his cheeks are slightly pink. “Sorry,” he says.
“It’s okay,” I say, even though I have no clue why he’s apologizing.
A second later, I hear a pounding at my door. Tom, that fucker. I fling the door open, ready to give him a piece of my mind, when I’m temporarily rendered speechless by the fact that my brother is completely naked.
Well, he’s not completely naked. Somehow he’s found a newspaper and wrapped it around himself like a skirt so as to conceal his genitalia. Thank God… I haven’t seen my brother’s wee-wee since we were little and I have no desire to now. But it’s clear he’s not wearing a stitch of clothing, and he's holding onto the newspaper with one hand and his cell phone with the other hand. And all I can think of is one of my neighbors stepping into the hall and seeing this.
“Hey, Sam,” he says.
“Get in here!” I hiss at him.
I yank him by the arm and he stumbles a little, but thankfully holds onto the newspaper. At this point, Chris has caught sight of my brother and vice versa. I can’t say which of them looks more surprised. “Hey, man,” Tom says to Chris.
“Hey,” Chris says, looking incredibly uncomfortable. Rightfully so.
As awkward as this situation is, I feel obligated to do introductions. “Chris, this is my brother Tom,” I say. “Tom, this is my… friend, Chris.”
The second the word “friend” comes out of my mouth, I’m sorry I said it. Chris looks hurt, which is the last thing I need after I just brought a naked man into my apartment. Speaking of which…
“Why in hell are you naked?” I say to Tom. I’m still hissing at him, but it’s hard to stop.
“It was horrible,” Tom moans. “I met this girl tonight, right? She was really beautiful. I mean, just the sexiest piece of ass I’ve ever seen.”
“Asian?” I can’t help but ask.
Tom eyes Chris. “You should talk,” he says. My stomach suddenly turns to ice. What the hell does that mean? I’m relieved when he doesn’t elaborate. “Anyway, yes, she was Japanese. So we go back to her apartment and she is not about the foreplay, you know? Right away we’re in the bedroom and she’s pulling off my clothes and I can’t even believe how lucky I am. And then all of a sudden, this guy bursts into the bedroom screaming. Sam, he had a fucking gun.”
A gun? “Holy crap,” I say.
“Exactly,” he says. “I thought he was going to kill me. I literally thought I was going to die tonight. But then he yells at me to get the fuck out, so I do, and honestly, grabbing my underwear was the last thing on my mind.”
"You grabbed your phone but not your underwear??"
"You grabbed your phone but not your underwear??"
"Sam, give me a break..."
Despite how angry I am at Tom for busting in on me, I can see how scared he is. His hands are shaking as he tells the story. My brother can be a jerk, but the thought of him being killed scares me a lot.
“Anyway,” Tom says. “I remembered you lived about a mile away from her apartment, so I walked here. I was hoping you might have some of Patrick’s clothes that you could lend me.”
I glance over at Chris. I hadn’t mentioned Patrick to him before, although the subject was bound to come up. “Patrick and I broke up,” I say, hissing a little bit again.
“Whatever,” Tom says. “Then maybe you can give me some of this guy’s clothes?” He jerks his thumb at Chris.
“There’s probably some stuff in the back of my closet,” I mumble.
“Thanks, Sam.” Tom heads off in the direction of my bedroom.
I turn to Chris, who has his hands on his wheels and is dangerously close to the front door. “Look, I think I should go,” he says.
“No, please don’t,” I say. I put my hand on his shoulder and he doesn’t shrug me off. “Tom won’t be long.”
At that moment, I hear Tom’s voice from my bedroom: “I can’t find any male clothing, Sam! I’m not walking out of here in one of your dresses!”
“It’s okay,” Chris says. “It sounds like he needs your attention. I’ll call you later, okay?”
Seized by desperation, I say, “You promise?”
A smile touches his lips. “I absolutely promise.”
I guess I have to accept that, because it’s obvious I’m not going to convince him to stay. I want to get a goodbye kiss but I feel weird bending down to him, and we end up just sharing a hand-squeeze. Better than nothing, but definitely disappointing after our former make-out session. I am so going to kill Tom.
When I get into my bedroom, Tom is rifling through my dresser drawers. He pulls out a slinky black lace nightie and holds it up. “You really wear this, Sam?” he laughs.
“That is none of your business,” I say, yanking it out of his hands and shoving it back into the drawer. I start digging through the back of my closet, where I’m certain Patrick left a couple of shirts and underwear.
“Hey, did your ‘friend’ take off?”
“Yes, he did,” I say, pulling out a faded gray T-shirt with a hole in the breast pocket. I throw it at Tom. “Thanks a bunch.”
“I’m sure he’ll be back,” Tom says. “You’re pretty irresistible. Hey, how about some underwear?”
“You don’t deserve underwear,” I say, although I’m still looking for a pair. Because seriously, I don’t want to keep looking at my brother’s junk.
“Let me be the first to say,” Tom begins, “good for you, Sam. After all these years, you’re finally dating the kind of guy you always wanted.”
There’s a pair of boxer shorts wedged under a suitcase. I yank it out and hand it to Tom. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Cut the crap, Sam,” he says as he puts on the boxer shorts. “I know about those books you kept under your bed at college.”
I feel the blood draining out of my face. Yes, in college, after I discovered my interest, I started collecting romance books where the male love interest was disabled. I had at least a dozen of them, which I hid under my mattress. Truth be told, they were all terrible, and in retrospect, very unrealistic. But there wasn’t much else, so I read them over and over until they became dog-eared. “You were snooping through my bedroom?” I almost scream at him.
“Relax,” Tom says. “I was just looking for some weed. Anyway, that’s a terrible hiding place. Mom used to change your sheets when she visited… weren’t you worried about her finding them?”
“Now I am!” I screech. “Omigod, do you think she knew?”
Tom grins. “Probably. You know she always was snooping through our rooms.”
I groan. “Fantastic.”
“Anyway, I’m proud of you,” he said. “I never thought you’d actually date a cripple.”
I smack him in the arm. “You better not tell Mom and Dad about him.”
He frowns at me. “Why not? You going to keep your boyfriend a secret forever?”
“I just… need some time.”
“You need time and I need cab fare home.” Tom holds out his palm to me and waggles his fingers.
“I can’t believe this,” I say. “I come through for you in your freaking hour of need and now you’re blackmailing me.”
“I’ll pay you back,” Tom promises, even though we both know he won’t. “Come on, Sam. I can’t ride the subway in boxers and no shoes.”
I end up giving him the money, and then he calls a cab from my apartment because it’s pretty certain nobody will stop for him without pants or shoes. If you don’t have a brother, count yourself lucky.
After Tom leaves, I pull out my iPhone and debate if I should call or text Chris. Maybe he isn’t home yet and would like to come over again. Except that kind of smacks of desperation, doesn’t it?
I have no idea how much what happened freaked him out. I mean, it’s our second date and a guy showed up naked at my door. Yes, that guy was my brother, but it’s not clear if that makes it better or worse. What if he thinks I’m a weirdo and never calls me again?