Now that I’ve subjected Chris to my friends, he feels the need to return the “favor” by inviting me to a party at one of his friends’ apartments. “No big deal,” he tells me. “It’ll mostly be a bunch of guys standing around, drinking beer. What do you say?”
Of course, I say yes. I’m dying to meet more of Chris’s friends, although I’m a little nervous about them meeting me. Not that I’ve ever had a boyfriend’s friends dislike me, but I’ve never had a boyfriend quite like Chris.
In any case, I’m mostly looking forward to meeting his friends and not even that nervous. Then when we get out of the cab in front of the building with the party, he says to me, “Listen, there’s something I need to tell you.”
That is never a good sign. Especially the way he says it. “What is it?”
“It’s not a big deal,” he says.
“For God’s sake, tell me!”
He flashes me a nervous smile. “Jenna… you know, my ex? She’s going to be at this party, as it turns out. I just figured I should warn you.”
My stomach sinks. As much as I wanted to meet Jenna, I feel like somehow she’s being sprung on me.
“You’re angry,” Chris observes, his brow furrowed. “I’m sorry, Samantha. I didn’t know until yesterday. She called me and…”
I’m just staring at him now. “So you talk to Jenna a lot, huh?”
“No!” he insists. “I really don’t. Look, I’ve known Jenna since college. She used to be one of my closest friends. So, yes, occasionally we still talk.”
“She was your closest friend and you dated her?” None of this is making me feel any better. It’s making me feel worse. It was better thinking Jenna was just a fling.
“Yes, and it didn’t work out,” he says. “We decided we were better off being friends. Come on, haven’t you ever dated a friend?”
I have, actually. Although in retrospect, I always realized that the guys were never really my friends, but were actually trying to get in my pants all along. So immediately, I suspect that Chris always had a thing for Jenna. Meaning, he’s been in love with her for… ten years? Shit.
“Anyway,” Chris says, “she hates these parties so I never thought she’d go, but she just went through a terrible break-up so she wanted to get out of the house to take her mind off it. Don’t tell anyone, but she discovered the guy she was dating was a complete pervert.”
“What did he do?” I ask, my curiosity getting the better of me.
“Apparently, he was only into her because she wears legbraces,” Chris says, lowering his voice to a confidential tone. “He had a fetish for women with disabilities. And he took some compromising photos of her and put them on some sick sex website about girls with disabilities. She found the website and all these freaky comments about her legs, and it was pretty upsetting. Can you believe that?”
“Um,” I say.
“Apparently,” he says, “there are guys who get off on looking at women struggling to walk or wearing braces. They’re called, like, devotees or something like that. Can you imagine? What a bunch of sickos.”
It’s obvious now that I can never tell Chris I’m a devotee. Because, in his mind, I’m a pervert. Jenna’s made very sure of that. He can’t even suspect it. If we get married someday, I’ll have to keep pretending that his disability is just something I’m willing to overlook, not the thing that makes him oh so hot.
This day just gets better and better.
I try to put all of that out of my head when we go upstairs to the party. Chris squeezes my hand tight in the elevator and I try to remind myself that he does seem to really like me. Jenna may be his friend but he’s dating me. We’ve exchanged I love you’s. She can’t just snap her fingers and take him from me.
At least, I hope she can’t.
There was a tiny part of me that was scared that everyone in the room at this party would be disabled. But that’s clearly not true. It seems like a relatively normal group of people, who, like Chris said, are standing around and drinking beer. The door is opened by a guy with immaculate black hair and a salmon-colored shirt who introduces himself as Ray. “You must be Samantha,” Ray says. He looks me over quickly. “Wow, Chris, she’s absolutely gorgeous. How the hell did you manage that?”
“Honestly, I have no idea,” Chris says, reaching out to squeeze my hand again.
“May I get a drink for the lovely Samantha?” Ray asks. “Beer? Cider? Hard lemonade?”
“Lemonade’s good,” I say.
“Beer,” Chris says.
As Ray runs off to fetch us drinks, I quickly scan the room for signs of Jenna. The party is overwhelmingly male with a few scattered women (likely girlfriends, like me), but then I see a girl on the couch and somehow I’m almost certain it’s her. She’s distracted in a conversation, so I take a moment to study her. She has a pixie haircut, deep-set brown eyes, and a square jaw. She’s not pretty, that’s for sure, but she’s far from ugly. I wouldn’t know she had CP just from looking at her on the couch, but I do see a single forearm crutch leaning against the arm of the couch.
Before I can study her for very long, she looks our way and I have to quickly look away.
Chris introduces me around to his friends, most of whom seem very nice, if a touch nerdy. I loosen up as I sip my hard lemonade, and I get engaged in a pretty animated discussion about what the best teenage movie from the eighties is. I’m arguing for Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Chris thinks it’s Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, and a married couple named Beth and Derrick are arguing for Heathers and Fast Times at Ridgemont High respectively. We’re both trying to appeal to our respective genders:
“Chris, I can’t believe you,” Derrick is saying. “Phoebe Cates in a bikini! I mean, come on!”
“I think any movie with time travel should automatically win,” Chris says. “I’d also accept Back to the Future as the winner.”
“Sam,” Beth says, “you must like Heathers. Young Christian Slater, right?”
I shake my head. “Nuh uh. Young Matthew Broderick wins out over young Christian Slater. Plus, Ferris Bueller is much more quotable than any of those movies.”
“That’s completely untrue,” Derrick says.
“Bueller…” Chris says it in a monotone. “Anyone, anyone… something-doo economics?”
I laugh and wrap my arms around Chris’s shoulders. He’s totally on my side.
I’m deeply entrenched in a hug when I hear Derrick’s voice saying, “What do you think, Jenna? Best teen movie from the eighties?”
I straighten up and come face to face with my boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend. Well, not exactly face to face because Jenna is actually really short. I’m not tall by any means but Jenna makes me feel like a gangly giant. She’s probably barely five feet, leaning slightly on a metal forearm crutch for support. And from her expression, she doesn’t seem thrilled to be meeting me. She has a bit of a scowl on her face.
“Sixteen Candles,” Jenna says.
“Ugh,” Derrick says. “Molly Ringwald is such a spoiled brat.”
“I agree,” Chris says, and I want to hug him all over again.
Jenna glares at Chris. “You told me you liked Sixteen Candles!”
He shrugs. “If I said that, I was definitely lying. Why would I like that movie? It’s such a chick flick.”
Jenna seems so infuriated that I feel a need to reach out an olive branch. “I like Pretty in Pink,” I say.
“That’s the worst one,” Jenna snaps.
Well, you know what, Jenna? Screw you! And I’m dating your ex-boyfriend!
“Jenna, this is Samantha,” Chris says to her. “I don’t think you two have officially met.”
“Hi, Jenna,” I say politely. It feels a little stiff and forced, which I guess it is.
“Hi,” she says back, still giving me the evil eye.
“Awk-WARD…” Derrick says in a sing-songy voice and Beth smacks him in the arm.
Just when I think things couldn’t get any worse, our host Ray calls Beth and Derrick to help him with something in the kitchen, and now I’m alone with Chris and this evil little witch Jenna. I can still hear Derrick singing, “Awk-WARD!”
"Are you doing okay, Jenna?" Chris asks her. I'm glad my boyfriend is sweet and compassionate, but I wish he wouldn't be so sweet and compassionate to his ex.
Jenna shrugs. "I suppose." She eyes me, probably wondering how much I know about her situation. Even though I was hoping she wouldn't, she decides to take me into her confidence: "I just broke up with this guy who was a total dirtbag. He had some sicko disability fetish and he put photos of me up online. Without my permission, of course."
I paste a horrified look on my face. Not that I don't think what that guy did was horrible. It was. It would suck for any guy to put up compromising photos of any girl online without her permission. But I do sort of take issue with the whole "sicko disability fetish" part. "That's awful," I say. And I add, "I had this friend in college whose boyfriend posted naked pictures of her online without her permission." And that friend was Kate. And she wasn't nearly as angry as I thought she should have been.
"No offense," Jenna says, "but this is a little different. I mean, it's like if a parent sent someone a picture of their child, and then they found that photo on, like, some pedophile website."
Great. So now I'm just like a pedophile.
"It's not really like that," Chris says, and I feel a hint of relief. "I mean, looking at a photo of you and getting turned on isn't like getting turned on by a photo of a child. Last I heard, it's legal for disabled people to have sex. Do you really think it's sick for people to get turned on by looking at you?"
For a second, I feel a sprig of hope in my chest. He’s defending devotees! Go, Chris!
"You're missing the point, Christian," Jenna sighs. "It's fine if a guy thinks I'm attractive. But to just be attracted to my braces and nothing else, that's sick." She looks at me, "You know what I'm talking about, right?"
"Of course," I say quickly. Maybe too quickly, but Jenna doesn't notice.
"You're right," Chris says, much to my dismay. I was hoping he might stick up for devotees a little bit more, but that's not going to happen. The best I can say is that it doesn't seem to be something he has much experience with. "And anyway, any guy who would put a photo of you online without your permission is a real creep."
Jenna seems to be about to argue with him a little more, to hammer her point home, but then Chris holds up his hand and says, “Excuse me, I’m going to get another beer. Do you want one, Samantha?”
I shake my head, pleased that he asked me but not Jenna. She seems less pleased, and after he wheels away, she’s almost glaring at me.
“So how’s it going with Christian?” Jenna asks. I’m shocked she’s so bold as to say something like that. I look away, feeling very uncomfortable. Her eyes seem to bore into my very soul.
“Great!” I say. I hope she doesn’t ask about our sex life.
“How long have you been dating anyway?”
“Six months,” I say. Six sex-free months.
“It’s kind of surprising,” she says.
I raise my eyebrows. “What?”
“You’re just not his type,” she says. “At all.”
Yes, the bitch really said that to me. I’m at a loss for words, like the way I was when my one of my college roommates inexplicably slapped me when I admitted I ate the last Nutrigrain bar. “Oh,” I finally say.
“I guess stranger things have happened,” she says with a shrug. “As long as you two are having fun, that’s all that matters.”
I hate you, Jenna. Hate. You.
I can’t bear even one more second of this horrible conversation so I mumble something about needing to use the bathroom, and I get the hell away from her. And amazingly, it turns out I really do need to use the bathroom. I’ve finished an entire bottle of hard lemonade and that stuff always makes me need to pee like whoa.
When I get out of the bathroom, I can’t find Chris anywhere in the room. I’d just go mingle or something, but I’m a little disturbed by the fact that I don’t see Jenna anywhere either. So clearly they’re together someplace secluded. And it’s not the bathroom, because I was just in there. I wander around in the back, until I hear voices coming from behind a closed door (the bedroom, I assume). The walls are very thin and I can hear Jenna’s high pitched whine perfectly.
“…totally ridiculous,” she’s saying. “Honestly!”
Chris’s voice: “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Well, she’s pretty, I’ll give you that,” Jenna says. It’s painfully obvious that they’re talking about Jenna’s favorite person: me. “But she’s completely wrong for you. You have nothing in common.”
“You have no idea,” Chris says. “Samantha’s great. Really great.”
“So what?” Jenna says. “You love her now or something?”
Chris says something back and I can’t make it out, even though my ear is now practically plastered to the door.
“We’ve been friends for over ten years,” Jenna says. “You’re my best friend. Doesn’t that mean anything to you?”
I feel sick with a sudden revelation. I’m the bad guy here. If this were some chick lit novel, Jenna would be the sweet protagonist who’s been in love with Chris half their lives, and I’d be the stuck up bitch trying to steal him away from her. Not just a bitch—I’m a pervert! That’s even worse! In any novel, the happy ending would be that Chris realizes that he’s been in love with Jenna all along and dumps my sorry perverted ass to be with her.
I don’t want to be the bad guy. I’m not a bad person, I’m really not. I always leave big tips for waitresses because I figure they don’t make much money. I hold doors open for old people. I even adopted a cat from an animal shelter, except I had to give her away when I found out I was highly allergic. Maybe the right thing to do here is to step aside and just let Jenna have him.
Except I so do not want that.
As if confirming my decision, Chris sounds angry when he replies to Jenna: “I don’t know what your problem is. We dated and you dumped me. You didn’t want to be with me. And that’s fine, but you don’t get to tell me who I can and can’t date.”
Jenna’s next sentence is so soft, I can just barely make it out: “And what if I do want to be with you?”
I hold my breath, desperately waiting to hear his answer, but almost too scared to hear it.
I jump away from the door, my face burning with the humiliation of being caught eavesdropping. It’s Ray, the host of the party. He’s smiling at me, an amused look on his face. “The bathroom is over there, dear,” he says.
“Oh, right,” I mumble. “Uh… thank you.”
Ray’s smile widens and he hooks his arm into mine. “Why don’t you come out here and enjoy the party with us?”
I allow Ray to pull me back into the living room, where he introduces me to his partner Mark, and then goes to get me another hard lemonade. I try to relax, but I really wish I had heard the last line of that conversation. And they’re still freaking in there! Are they making out or something?
“So do you go by Sam or Samantha?” Ray asks me.
“Sam usually,” I say.
“You introduce yourself as Sam,” he observes, “but I noticed Chris calls you Samantha. So I wasn’t sure.”
“I like it when he calls me Samantha,” I admit, coloring a little.
“Aw!” Mark cries. “Look at her blush! It’s love! She loves him. She lurves him.”
“That’s adorable,” Ray says, nudging me in the arm. “You couldn’t find a nicer guy, Sam.”
“Yeah,” I say, glancing in the direction of the bedroom.
Ray sees the expression on my face. “Don’t worry yourself about Jenna,” he says. “The only thing you need to know about her is that she doesn’t want him herself, but she doesn’t want anyone else to have him.”
“Great,” I mumble.
“He was in love with her for years,” Ray says. “But she was always just stringing him along while she dated other guys. Finally, he was going to move in with this nice girl Stacy…”
“I never liked Stacy,” Mark speaks up.
“Whatever, Stacy was adorable,” Ray says. “Anyway, when Jenna thought there was a chance she might lose him, she freaked out and convinced him to dump Stacy and date her instead. But it backfired because then she decided she didn’t want to be with him, and he finally figured out she was a manipulative bitch. I don’t think he’s forgiven her.”
“Okay…” I say, taking a long swig of lemonade. I want to believe Jenna is a manipulative bitch. If she is, then maybe I can still be the good guy in this story.
At that moment, the door to the bedroom swings open, and Chris and Jenna come out. Chris’s eyes immediately catch mine, and he knows he is so busted. But at least he doesn’t look tousled in any way. He quickly wheels over in my direction. “Hey, Samantha,” he says, looking very nervous.
“She knows you were in the bedroom with your ex,” Mark informs him. “I think you have some explaining to do, Christian Barrett.”
“I know,” he says. He places his hand on the small of my back. “Can I talk to you for a minute? In private?”
Oh no. Is he breaking up with me? He can’t break up with me. Oh shit, I’m going to cry. Please God, don’t let him break up with me.
Chris leads me into the kitchen, which is pretty quiet and isolated from the rest of the party. I’m almost shaking when he says to me, “I swear to you, nothing happened in the bedroom between me and Jenna. I would never, ever do that to you.”
“Oh,” I say, feeling weak in the knees.
"I don't feel anything for Jenna," Chris says. "I don't even know if I consider her my friend anymore. I mean, if she were my friend, she'd want me to be happy, right?"
I swallow. "So I make you happy?"
"Are you kidding me?" he says. "Samantha, you make me so happy. You're the greatest thing that's ever happened to me."
I get that warm, fuzzy feeling. Even Patrick, when he was asking me to move in with him, didn't make me feel this loved and appreciated. As sexy as I think he is in the wheelchair, I love him. And when he holds out his arms, I fall into them, settling down in his lap and cuddling close to his chest. The moment isn't even ruined when some drunk guy wanders by the kitchen and yells out, "Get a room, you two!"
"Maybe we should take his advice," I whisper in Chris's ear.
He grins at me. "I think you're right."
Then I whisper: "I want you to make love to me."
The words sound so cheesy, like something out of a romance novel (one where I'm not the bad guy). And I guess it is sort of cheesy, although what's not cheesy is the way Chris's body stiffens slightly, he bites his lips, and says, "Um, all right. I guess we can."
You wouldn't see that reaction in too many romance novels.
But fuck it. I haven't had sex in way, way too long.
To be continued....