About fifteen minutes after I text Kate about the break-up, she arrives at my apartment armed with a giant tub of Rocky Road ice cream. My face is already red and splotchy from crying, and seeing Kate brings on a fresh wave of tears. She hugs me and then grabs two spoons from my kitchen. That’s how you measure a true friend: if she’s willing to ruin her diet to eat ice cream with you after a break-up.
“So what did the bastard do?” Kate says as we settle onto the couch with the ice cream.
I tell her the whole story, about Rob and him blowing my secret, and how horrified Chris seemed. I can see her face turning judgmental for a moment, but she hides it well. I guess she was right. Maybe if I had told him sooner that I was a devotee, he would have been fine with it, like Rob was.
“So you’re just on a break then,” she says thoughtfully. “Maybe he’ll be okay with it?”
“You didn’t see the look on his face.” I shake my head. I can’t get that expression to fade from my memory. He was so astonished, so hurt, so betrayed.
“Yeah, but he really loved you,” Kate says. I don’t appreciate her use of the past tense. “And who’s he going to get that’s better than you?”
“That’s really insulting,” I say. “He’s not some kind of leper.”
“He’s in a wheelchair,” she reminds me. “You think most women are okay with that? I wouldn’t be.”
“Well, he’s not a redhead.”
I take a big bite of ice cream. It doesn’t help. I don’t feel any better. “What should I do, Kate?”
“Just give him time,” she says. “I bet he’ll forgive you.”
“Kate, he’s moving in two weeks,” I say. “Once he’s gone…” I can’t even finish the sentence. When Chris leaves for D.C., he’ll be able to forget me pretty easily.
Kate seems at a loss for what to say. We continue eating ice cream in silence together, while I think about the fact that the love of my life doesn’t love me anymore.
Less than a week after my fight with Chris, I get the phone call. When I see his number on my iPhone screen, I’m both happy and terrified. Happy that maybe he’s forgiven me. Terrified that maybe he’s calling to break up for good.
I answer the phone with a timid: “Hello?”
“Hi, Samantha.” Chris’s voice. Soft, comforting, sexy. I really miss him, damn it.
“Hey,” I say. “Um, what’s up?”
He lets out a sigh. “I just… I want to apologize for the way I stormed out the other day. That was kind of… I don’t know. I feel like… I should have given you more of a chance to explain.”
A grain of hope. He’s not dumping me. He feels like maybe I deserve a chance to explain. “Okay…”
“I’m trying to be okay with this,” he says. “I really am.”
“It’s not even that big a deal,” I try to reassure him. “Really.”
“Can I… ask you some questions?”
“Yes,” I say eagerly.
“You promise you’ll be honest?”
I hear him taking a deep breath. “So, um, what do you like about it?”
He sounds super-uncomfortable about the whole thing, but at least he’s trying. Which makes me feel like I ought to give him a real answer to that question, although I have no idea what that would be. So I give a kind of copout answer. “I don’t entirely know,” I say. “I think wheelchairs are sexy. It’s sort of the same way a guy might be attracted to big boobs, I’m attracted to… that. It’s exactly the same.”
Chris is quiet and I’m not sure if he’s accepted my answer, but he asks a second question: “How many disabled guys have you dated?”
“Three,” I say. “But the other two were just… dates. You’re my first relationship.”
“So is that why things didn’t work out with Patrick?”
“Yeah. Kind of.”
“Do you look at pictures of, like, disabled guys on the internet?”
“Yes. But nothing pornographic.”
“What do you mean?”
“Like… it’s just photos or videos of guys doing stuff, like cooking meals, going shopping, stuff like that.”
“And you find that… hot?”
“Well, yes. Kind of.” Very.
“Who took the videos? Another… devotee?”
“No,” I say. “Usually the guy took them himself. I don’t know why.”
I hear him considering my answers. Are they the right answers? Am I making things better or worse? I have no idea.
“So aside from the wheelchair,” Chris says, his voice a bit strained, “do you find me physically attractive?”
His question makes my chest ache. How could he ask me that? “Of course I do! You have really nice eyes, a really cute smile, and you’re really sexy.”
“I am not sexy,” Chris says. He sounds almost angry.
“Yes, you are,” I insist.
“I’m really not,” he says. “I mean, no other woman in the world would think that. I’m not sexy, I’m not good looking, I’m not charismatic, I’m not… I’m nothing.”
I don’t know why he’s getting so aggravated. Is his self-esteem really so bad right now that he can’t believe any woman would find him sexy? I mean, I’m not completely blind. From the chest up, he’s objectively cute. I’m being as shallow as possible here. Believe me, it’s not all about the chair—otherwise, I’d be with Rob right now. “What about your other girlfriends before me?”
“That doesn’t even…” He coughs into the phone. “That’s completely different. I mean, they were just… whatever. Listen, Samantha, I don’t know if I can do this.”
No, please don’t say that! “What do you mean?”
“I just…” His voice breaks slightly. “I’m having more trouble accepting this than I thought I would. Maybe… it really is better if we don’t talk for a while.”
I feel sick. Sick. “Are you breaking up with me?”
There’s a long silence on the other line. When I feel like I can’t take it another minute, Chris says, “I don’t know. I really don’t want to, but…”
A lump rises in my throat. I don’t even trust myself to speak, but I manage to eke out a small: “Okay.”
“Okay,” Chris says. His voice sounds very, very sad.
We stay on the phone silently for what feels like a really long time. Eventually, one of us hangs up, although in retrospect, I couldn’t tell you who.
I go over that phone call in my head about a million times. I screwed up. I know there’s something I could have said differently to change the outcome. There’s something I could have said to make him think devotees are just peachy. But whatever that was, I apparently said the opposite.
And now he’s leaving town in one week.
Every time I pick up my phone, I think of him. First of all, he bought me the damn phone. That’s how we met, because I dropped my iPhone in the toilet. And he saved it. He rescued my phone. And I know it sounds crazy cheesy, but he kind of rescued me.
When I see his name under my iPhone favorites, my eyes well up with tears. It sucks so much that we’re not together. I don’t know if we’re officially broken up, but it’s clear we will be. As soon as he leaves for D.C., that’s it. A clean break.
Finally, I can’t stand it another minute. Even though I know I shouldn’t, I click on his name to call him. I have to talk to him. Even just to hear his voice on the voicemail would be something.
I hold my breath as I hear ringing on the other line, and I’m beginning to think Chris is going to screen my call. But then I hear a click as someone picks up. I’m almost relieved until I hear the female voice on the other line: “Yes?”
“Oh.” I’m temporarily rendered speechless. Had Chris changed his number? “Um… is Chris… there?”
“He doesn’t want to talk to you, Samantha.” And now I recognize the voice. It’s Jenna. What the fuck is Jenna doing with him? At… seven o’clock at night! We’re not even officially broken up yet! He’s not supposed to be hooking up with other girls!
“Is that what he says?” I retort.
“Yes,” Jenna says simply. “And frankly, you have some nerve calling him. After you… you lied to him.”
My cheeks burn. “Fine,” I say. I swallow a huge lump in my throat. “I won’t call again.”
I hang up, feeling my eyes fill with tears. That really sucked. I wish I had the nerve to say something different, like that she only wants him because someone else wants him, and she doesn’t love him like I do. That she can’t love him like I do. Nobody can. I appreciate him so much more than any other woman, because to me, his flaws are sexy.
But it doesn’t matter. I mean, if Jenna is with him and she’s answering his phone for him, that’s a bad sign. A really bad sign. The worst. I think it may be over. Maybe I should just give up.
Jenna called me a liar, like she thought it was the worst thing in the world. But she didn’t call me a devotee, which I’ll bet is something she thinks is even worse than being a liar. Does that mean that Chris didn’t tell her the truth about me? And if not, what does that mean?
All I know is that he’s leaving soon, and I don’t think I’m ready to give him up for good.
Next chapter: The conclusion....