Jill agrees to take me to work on my first day back, because my car is still being repaired, and also, Walt says he’s nervous about me driving. She shows up in a smart skirt suit, which makes me feel all the more dumpy in my own clothes. My wardrobe has had a complete turnover in the past three years to compensate for my weight gain. It’s all dark colors and baggy shirts and pants. Today I’ve got on a navy turtleneck and black dress pants. All I need is a beret and I’d look like Yoko Ono.
“You’re teaching a class in the afternoon,” Jill explains to me as she drives to the Ohio State campus. “It’s a creative writing class. Should be no problem for you.”
“Right,” I say. I’ve taught that class many times before, although considering it’s the middle of October, I’m going to have to fake knowing who all the students are.
“I think you keep the syllabus on your computer,” Jill says. “I’m sure the grades are on there too.”
I nod, beginning to feel a little overwhelmed. How in hell am I going to pull this off? Someone is sure to realize that I have no memory of what’s been going on all semester.
Jill catches the expression on my face and says, “You don’t have to do this, Maggie. If you feel uncomfortable about it…”
“No,” I say quickly. “I was supposed to be at least an assistant professor by now. I’m not going to do anything else to jeopardize my career.”
“Fine.” Jill sounds reluctant. “But if you need any help, call me. Send me a text message and I’ll be at your side in five minutes. I promise.”
Thank God for Jill. I don’t think I could make it through this day without her. Of course, I might not be able to make it through the day even with her help.
My office, at least, is in the same location. It’s in a small building on the edge of campus, where they put overflow offices for instructors who are new or unimportant. I still have the same tiny office with old furniture that’s about to fall apart if you lean on it too roughly. I do have a window, at least, but it’s small and just faces the building right next to us.
“I don’t think it’s changed much,” Jill says, looking around.
Unfortunately, she’s very right. I sink into the chair behind my desk and start up my computer. It’s the same exact computer I had three years ago and it’s correspondingly slower. “Jill,” I say, while I’m waiting for it to start up, “can I ask you a question?”
“Of course!” Jill says.
I bite my lip. “Were Walt and I happy together?”
I’m hoping Jill will laugh at me and say that of course, he and I were deliriously happy together, that we called each other “schmoopy” and made everyone else nauseated with our lovey dovey-ness. But instead, she averts her eyes. “Why do you ask?”
I feel tempted to tell her all about my conversation with Riley yesterday. Then again, I hadn’t told her about Riley before my accident. Jill has a bit of a big mouth—maybe it’s best not to share my suspicions that I might have been having an affair. “Just a feeling, I guess.”
“Every couple has its problems, right?” Jill says.
What kind of answer is that? I’m about to tell her that, except the computer has loaded up and is now prompting me for a password. I have no idea what my password is, so I type in MARGARET. No good. MAGGIE. No. WALT. No.
“Hey, Jill,” I say. “Do you know my password?”
She shakes her head. “It’s not the same as before?”
“I didn’t have a password before.”
She grins at me. “Guess you were doing some top secret work on there.”
I try a few more passwords, including my mother’s name, my father’s name, the name of my first dog, and the name of my first boyfriend in high school: Jonathan. I’m not having any luck.
“I bet you could call IT and have them reset it,” Jill suggests.
That’s my only option, I guess, considering I apparently don’t know myself well enough to guess my own password. I wonder if IT is any better than it was the last I remember.
“Listen,” Jill says, “I have office hours now, but I want you to text me if you have any problems at all. If you need me, I’m there. Seriously.”
“Thanks, Jill,” I say. For a moment, I almost tear up. It’s good to know that at least with all the crap that’s changed in the last three years, at least I have my friendship with Jill. “I’ll be fine.”
After Jill leaves, I call the operator and ask for IT, at which point I get put on infinite hold. I guess there are a few other things that haven’t changed in the last three years. I put the phone on speaker and listen to their hold music while I try other passwords that come to mind. At least the music is pleasant. I think it’s Mozart.
“When did you start getting music piped in here?”
I look up and see Riley is hovering at the open door to my office. I sort of want to tell him to go away because I really can’t deal with him now, but then I notice he has two coffee cups balanced between his legs. I didn’t manage to get my morning coffee yet (he was right—it does require a PhD to use my home coffee machine), and Lord, I could use some caffeine right now.
“Can I come in?” he asks.
I nod. The door to my office is pretty narrow and Riley knows it, so he lifts his hands off the wheels and grabs the edges of the doorway to propel himself inside. He pushes himself over to my desk and sets the two cups of coffee down in front of me, nudging one of them in my direction.
“They’re pretty hot,” he says. “So if you could avoid throwing it in my face, I’d really appreciate it.”
My cheeks flush slightly before I grab the cup of coffee and take a heavenly sip. Once again, he’s made it just the way I like it. “Where’d you get this?” I ask him, after another swallow. “It’s really good.”
“Got a coffee machine in my office,” Riley explains. “I’m a coffee junkie too, probably worse than you even. I used to bring you a cup every single morning.”
“Oh.” The Mozart piece on the speakerphone ends and loops around to start the song once again.
“Who are you on hold with?”
I shrug. “IT. I can’t figure out my password for the computer.”
Riley winks at me. “Maureen.”
“Maureen. That’s your password. M-A-U-R-E-E-N.”
I stare at him for a minute, trying to decide whether to take him seriously. Finally, I type “Maureen” into the password prompt and the computer unlocks. Riley presses a button on my phone to hang up my eternal hold with IT. “Am I your hero or what?” he says, grinning triumphantly at me.
“Wouldn’t you like to know...”
I would. But I’m not going to give him the satisfaction of begging him to tell me who she is. I have to admit, I’m a little perplexed that he knew my password, especially when even my best friend didn’t know it.
“I know you’ve been lying to me,” I say to him, staring him straight in those hazel eyes.
“Excuse me?” Riley says. I think he may be mocking me slightly, but I don’t care.
“You and I are not friends,” I say. “I went through all my texts and all my emails, and we never even communicated. I’m not sure how you got to know all this stuff about me, but I find it hard to believe that if we were... you know... I wouldn’t have any messages from you whatsoever on my phone.”
“Do you?” Riley raises his dark eyebrows. “Your husband is a lawyer. Do you think it would have been a great idea to have tons of emails and texts on your phone from the guy you’re sleeping with? Don’t you think there’s a good reason you have zero messages from me?”
Hmm. He may have a point. “So how did we communicate then?”
“Oh, we had a way,” he says vaguely.
“And that way was...?”
He grins at me sort of devilishly, a glint in his hazel eyes. I have to admit, there are moments when Riley Samuels is pretty darn cute. Don’t tell him I said so. “You really want to know?”
“I asked, didn’t I?” And also, who’s Maureen?
“Well, then you’re going to have to come with me...” Riley backs up, lining himself up with the door to my office so he can squeeze through.
“Hang on a minute,” I say. “I’ve got a lot to do here. I can’t just be running off for no reason. I’ve got to teach a class this afternoon and I have no idea who any of my students are.”
“I could help you with that too,” he says. And you know what? I actually believe him.
I follow Riley down the hallway and into the elevator. I haven’t the slightest idea where we’re going and he stubbornly refuses to tell me. I swear, I don’t see how I could have been having an affair with this man, only because he’s just so annoying. Although he does make good coffee.
We get outside and there are a bunch of students on the lawn playing a game of ultimate frisbee. There are always students playing something right outside my building. It’s a miracle I never got a window knocked out.
The frisbee goes wayward, and before I know what’s happening, Riley quickly pushes his wheels forward and grabs it in midair in what I have to admit is a pretty impressive catch. One of the students jogs forward to claim the frisbee. “Great catch, Dr. Samuels,” he comments. “Wanna join us? You can be on my team.”
Riley glances in my direction. “Maybe later.”
As the student rejoins his game, Riley taps my elbow. “Impressed by my amazing frisbee-catching skills?”
I roll my eyes at him. I don’t think there was ever a time in my life when I would have been impressed by a game of frisbee. “Could you be any dorkier?”
Riley looks like he’s thinking over my question. “I think I could be a little dorkier.”
I roll my eyes again.
We aren’t going far, apparently. Riley is leading me to the building right next to mine, the one that completely obstructs the view from my office. As I follow him into the elevator again, I notice that it’s about half the size of the elevator in my building. I notice that Riley’s knee is almost brushing against mine, and I quickly jump away before there can be any accidental contact. He clearly notices my reaction.
“You know,” Riley says, eyeing me across the tiny elevator. “You were a lot easier to win over the first time.”
“No, not really.”
I have to smile at that, despite myself. Of course, that was a mistake because now Riley seems terribly proud of himself for getting me to crack a smile.
Once we get out of that cramped elevator, he leads me down a long, dim hallway until we get to the very end, where there’s a door that reads: “Riley Samuels, PhD” and underneath, “Department of Computer Science.” From his office location, it’s clear he isn’t any more of a big cheese than I am. This office location is possibly worse than mine. Then again, he’s been here only a couple of years, whereas I’ve been here over a decade.
Riley unlocks the door, which is at least wide enough for his wheelchair to fit through. And his office is bigger than mine, although I suppose that’s also an accommodation for his disability. I expected his office to be a complete mess, considering his generally unkempt appearance, but it’s actually fairly tidy. There are a few file cabinets, a single desk with no seat behind it, and of course, a coffee machine.
“You’re surprised how clean it is,” he observes.
I stare at him. “How did you...?”
He grins. “The first time I brought you here, you said, ‘Riley, how come your office is so neat when you’re such a slob?’” He laughs at my reaction. “I have to keep it clean. If I started accumulating piles of junk on the floor, I’d never be able to move around in here.”
I look around, studying his diplomas on the wall, including his doctorate from Case Western. Then I look down at his desk, which contains his computer, a mug with a few pens inside, and no photos.
Riley places a hand on the center of his desk. “You would lie right here while I ate you out.”
Did he really just say that? I stare at him in horror. Then I stare at the desk in horror. I imagine myself lying on the desk, feeling the cold wood against back as Riley spreads my legs apart...
No, that never happened. No way. He’s such a liar.
“Anyway,” he says, wheeling over to the window. “You see that office one floor up, the one with the dying plant in the window?”
I move over to the window and see which office Riley is talking about. “That’s my office!” I cry. I can’t believe I let a plant die in my window. How embarrassing.
“Good view, right?” Riley says. He reaches into a file cabinet and pulls out a bunch of white sheets of paper with writing on them. He hands them over. “I used to put these in the window for you to see them.”
I flip through the sheets which contain crude drawings, presumably by Riley. One is a picture of a tree. One is a square. One is a triangle. One is an almond-shaped figure.
“I have no idea what this is,” I say, handing them back to him.
He smiles a little sadly at me. “The tree means we should meet at this field on campus under the biggest tree,” he explains. “The square means I’ve got coffee for you. The triangle means we should meet up at this cafe that serves really good pecan pie. And this one...” He holds up the almond picture and stares at it fondly. “It’s just my drawing, of course, but that’s supposed to be your... well, you know.”
I stare at the drawing, horrified. I wish I had some coffee to throw in his face, I truly do. Instead, I yank the drawing out of his hands, and rip it into shreds.
“Hey!” Riley exclaims. “That was mine!”
“Here, take it!” I throw the pieces in his face, and he blinks his hazel eyes a few times fast.
“You sure like throwing things in my face.”
“This is disgusting.” I shake my head at him. “I can’t believe you would… I mean, that’s just…” I shudder slightly. “You should not have a drawing like that.”
He shrugs. “Maybe if your husband had any ability or desire to please you, I wouldn’t need a drawing like that, Margaret.”
“Walt pleases me just fine!”
He snorts. “Whatever you say.”
He is just so wrong on this. It’s not like Walt and I didn’t have sex before we got married, so I’m not flying blind on this one. Walt is very decent in bed. I suppose he doesn’t blow my mind or anything like that, but he’s completely decent. Yes, admittedly, he doesn’t have a lot of intimate face-to-face experience with… the organ that Riley’s drawing depicted. But I can’t blame him for that. Lots of guys don’t like going down on their wives. It’s not a prerequisite for a good sex life.
I’m not saying it wouldn’t be nice if he did that more often. It would be, of course. But just because he doesn’t, that doesn’t mean I’m not totally satisfied in the bedroom. Because I am. Totally satisfied.
In any case, I highly doubt that a geek in a wheelchair is able to satisfy me more than my handsome, virile husband. There isn’t any stereotype about disabled guys being great in the sack, that’s for sure.
“So what are you saying?” I shoot back at Riley. “That you satisfy me more than Walt? I find that very hard to believe.”
Riley looks at me like I just threw something else in his face. “You asked me how we communicated.” His voice is a little more quiet and subdued all of a sudden. “I’m showing you.”
“Well, thank you,” I mutter.
“Also,” he says, “you had your own set of pictures for your window. My favorite was a W with a line through it. That meant Walt was going to be home late and I could come over.” His eyes cloud over slightly as he remembers. Or at least, pretends to remember.
“So where is my set of pictures?” I challenge him. “I didn’t see any this morning. Where are they?
He frowns. “I don’t know. The whole point was that you held them up when I wasn’t in your office.”
“So this could all be a big lie, couldn’t it?” I’ve got you now, Mr. Computer Scientist. That’s what you get for drawing my vulva. “How do I know you didn’t just draw these this morning?”
Riley looks down at the remaining pictures that I haven’t ripped up. “I don’t think you appreciate the amount of time that goes into fine artwork such as this.”
To be honest, I don’t know what to believe anymore. Riley sure seems to know a lot about me and he’s got a convincing story. But I just can’t imagine having an affair with someone like him. He’s just about the opposite of everything I like in men. And Walt’s so great. None of this makes any sense.
“So…” I clear my throat, wishing I could also clear my mind. “You told me you had something that would help me for my class.”
“Oh, right.” Riley’s face brightens as he wheels over to his desk and plucks a two-page document out from under his stapler. He hands it over to me and I see that it’s filled with photos of students. “These are the pictures and names of all the students in the class. I also added a little blurb about each of them to help you remember who they were. There were a few of them that you used to talk about a lot.”
I look at the first name on the list: Audrey Miller. She’s a horse-faced blond girl. Under her name, Riley has written: “Huge front teeth, always writes about her boyfriend.” Under a photo of a guy with bright red hair named Louis Adams, he’s written: “Eats all his pencils.” In fact, he’s managed to come up with a blurb about practically all the students in the workshop.
“I guess I talked about the class a lot,” I murmur. “But how’d you know who was who?”
“Pieced it together,” he says with a shrug. “I may be wrong about a few of them.”
I swallow. “It must have taken you a long time to do this…”
He shrugs again. “I love you. I’d do anything for you.”
It’s clear from the way he’s looking at me that he means what he’s saying. He loves me. It’s really hard to wrap my head around the fact that this man who I barely know seems to be desperately in love with me. It just doesn’t make sense.
“It’s weird for me too,” he says, as if reading my thoughts. “A week ago, you were in love with me, and now you act like I’m a stranger. You won’t even let me call you by your name.”
“Are you sure?”
“Pretty sure,” he says. “When I called you Maggie, you threw coffee in my face.”
I roll my eyes. “No, I mean, are you sure I was in love with you.”
Riley hesitates for a minute. Then he says, “You were going to leave Walt.”
“Yes, for me.” He looks at me pointedly. “And that was before your brain injury.”
Honestly, I think he’s gone too far this time. I can believe maybe it’s possible that he and I had a little affair, a little nothing that was meaningless to me but maybe he took as something more than that. Even that didn’t seem likely, but I thought that maybe it was possible. Mistakes happen.
But now he’s claiming that I loved him so desperately that I was planning to leave my incredibly handsome husband. For him? No. Not possible.
“You look skeptical,” Riley observes.
“Look, I appreciate your help with this.” I hold up the sheets with my students on it. “But I really think it’s best if we don’t talk anymore. I feel like this is getting a little creepy.”
“I knew I shouldn’t have told you.” He runs his hand absently through his messy black hair. “You weren’t ready to hear that.”
There’s something in those hazel eyes that makes my heart speed up. Not because I’m in love with him or anything, but it occurs to me suddenly that Riley Samuels knows stuff. He somehow seems to know everything that happened to me for the last three years. Even the stuff that Walt and Jill don’t know—or at least, that they won’t tell me.
But at the same time, I realize he may have a point. Maybe I’m not ready to hear certain things yet. In any case, it’s clear that there are things he’s chosen not to tell me.
“I’m leaving now,” I say. I’m about to tell him not to contact me again, although I suspect that will be an exercise in futility.
Riley holds out his hand toward the door. “Good luck, Margaret.”
Unfortunately, I know I’m going to need a little more than luck to get through this day.
To be continued....