I tended to fancy myself a lover of lyrics over melodies, devoted to the words delivered by the music. Madison was kind of the opposite, preferring the seemingly omnipresence of classical pieces or jazz instrumentals for his background. As the evening had progressed the ethereal guitar had become the gentle piano, bringing us now to the warmth of the saxophone as John Klemmer whispered through Madison’s high-end speakers. He did have a point, music without lyrics gave inviting space for conversation, wherein we could write our own lyrics as it were, in soft quiet voices. Curled up next to him, my arms around Madison’s waist, my head on his strong shoulder, I was supplying little more than the refrain to his verses.
“I’m a C7/C8,” he said. “Incom--”
“That’s your diagnosis not you,” I interrupted him.
“Okay,” he made a short dry chuckle.
“It’s like saying I’m a laid-off. It’s something that happened to me. But it’s not me.”
“You were going to say your injury’s incomplete.”
“So you have feeling below the break?”
“Some. Some movement too.” Madison lifted my chin so that our eyes met. “But it’s not functional, Paige. There aren’t going to be any miracles.”
He was wrong about that, I thought to myself. It was pretty miraculous to me to be with him. But that would have been selfish to say, since I understood what Madison was talking about.
And although his facial expression was impassive, Madison’s golden-brown eyes had darkened, providing a clue to sorrow. He was so well-adjusted, and adapted, that I was certain he had successfully made his way through Kübler-Ross’ stages of grief, and that he had arrived at acceptance. But acceptance was still just a stage in the process of grieving, meaning maybe sometimes you never got to stop. I had gone through those stages in my failed marriage and my changed life. But in spite of everything I was better off without Derrick and the lies I had had to tell myself to be with him. Madison couldn’t say that about the loss of his legs and his hands, and whatever else he would eventually tell me about. So I didn’t dare try to offer him some platitude to carry us through the pain of the fact that his loss was permanent. One of Pam’s church members had confidently assured me that losing my husband, my job, and my home, was all part of God’s great plan for me. “You’ll see,” she had said. “You’re going to come through the fiery furnace pure gold.” And okay, maybe I was better off, and maybe it wasn’t so hot anymore, even in Ted’s house, but why did there have to be a furnace in the first place? And why must there be scars, charred places in the gold? Such places I couldn’t just kiss and make go away, even though I was beside myself with the anticipation of kissing Madison everywhere.
So I kept quiet and settled for trying to transmit as much love as I could through my eyes. Then I snuggled in closer if that was possible, since with one thigh already across his lap and my arms still around his waist, I had pretty much covered him like a kudzu vine.
The saxophone smoothed and soothed the space all around us. The Duraflame log in the fireplace was burning low. Feeling yet another wave of intense desire wash over me I suddenly kissed Madison ravenously, and he gave the passion back to me until I was straddling him once again, pressing myself into his lap, wondering only briefly if he could feel my heat because selfishly I just needed to feel him, against me, at my center. Where his arms were strong, Madison’s arms were the strongest I had ever known. He held me tightly as I clung to him, and slowly rocked back and forth to the music I heard with my head and the rhythms I felt with my desire.
“My naked isn’t very pretty, Paige,” said Madison after a time as if he would discourage me.
“No,” he cut me off, holding me still. “Let me say it. You’ve never been with a man like me. Big belly, boney legs. And a dick I can’t feel.”
I can feel it I thought to myself, but kept myself from saying because it sounded so self-centered. And if I reminded him that he was more than a penis then maybe that would sound like consolation. There was still so much I needed to learn about him, but here he was making a closing argument, and not for my side.
“I want you, Madison, however and whatever that means,” I murmured into his ear before unwinding myself from around him to stand up. “You said I could push you,” I said looking down at him and holding out my hand. “This is me pushing.”
Arching a brow quizzically, Madison studied my hand before smiling crookedly.
“’Fraid I need both my hands to get into my chair,” he said.
“Oh,” I replied bringing the outstretched hand to my lips thoroughly embarrassed. “Of course. I’m sorry.”
Now he chuckled, appearing to enjoy himself at my expense as he scooted forward on the sofa, and reached for his chair to position it for his transfer.
“Not a problem,” he grinned as he swung himself over into the wheelchair and lifted his feet into place on the footplate. “Just one of those whatevers, right?”
There it was, right in front of me, Madison’s bed. It was queen-size, with a dark wooden headboard, a plush burgundy comforter, and enough pillows to remind me of a bed in a hotel. What did he do with all those pillows? The bed was only accessible from one side as it was placed against the wall on the other side. At the foot of the bed was a leather bench-length ottoman. In another corner of the room was a big piece of white exercise equipment that looked something like a Nautilus machine that had been designed for a person in a wheelchair. I imagined Madison using it, his muscles pumping, glistening with sweat, as he maintained his lovely chest and glorious shoulders. The legs had been removed from a matching dresser and chest-of-drawers so that they were lower. Next to the bed there was a single night-stand with a closed cabinet beneath. A large reading lamp sat on the night-stand and currently provided the only source of light in the room. Sharing the space with the lamp was a clock radio, a large remote control, presumably for the flat screen TV mounted on the wall across from the bed, and more books.
Madison’s bedroom was also as clutter-less as a hotel room. The man I loved must be a neat-freak. I sorta was one too, now that I shared a room with Jessica and Jennifer, and slept in a single bed. Space could be a precious commodity and order protected it. Madison lived alone, but clearly he also valued order. But you couldn’t say the same for family photos. There was not a single one in here either. Were it not for all his books I could almost think he was some kind of alien life form newly arrived to Earth.
I wondered if I should take off my clothes. Would that be too presumptuous? Maybe Madison would want to take them off, but then again the hooks on my bra might be too challenging and spoil the mood. And if I kept my dress on maybe he’d think I was hesitant. Well at least I had lost my shoes in the living room and didn’t have to debate myself about that. Eventually I settled on removing my bra and putting my dress back on, wearing it now like a robe I guessed. I took off my thigh-high hose too but kept on my wet panties even though they absolutely smelled of lust, because, well so did I, with or without them. Maybe I should have gone to the other bathroom and done my own things but it was too late for that now. I folded back the comforter and perched on the side of the bed to wait.
In a little while Madison emerged from the bathroom. He was naked, and beautiful; naked, and just like I wanted. I was embarrassed to be wearing the dress. I stood up as he rolled towards me.
“No,” he said. “Sit down.”
He parked himself in front of me. Leaning forward he placed his hands on my thighs, and as if drawn by magnetic force I leaned forward too and we kissed.
“I didn’t-I didn’t know,” I started to explain about being dressed. “If-if you wanted to be naked yet.”
“You want naked,” said Madison stroking my inner thighs. “And I want to please you.”
I beamed at him and then began to pull my dress over my head. Once it was off Madison took it from me and taking his time he carefully folded it before moving to place it on the ottoman. He returned to me and slipped his thumbs inside the waist of my panties and began to pull them down. Raising my butt to expedite their trip, I felt his calloused palms against my skin.
Now I was naked too, fully exposed to the golden-brown eyes. I could remember times when this moment had made too nervous to savor a lover’s gaze. Weren’t we all at least a little bit ashamed of our bodies? Of course I wished I had done more crunches and ate less ice cream but the expression on Madison’s handsome face made me feel worthy of love and worthy of him.
And he was oh so something special. My own eyes saw a magnificent masculine feast. His belly was not big. It was soft, yes, but it would have to be given his injury, yet it was also mostly flat. The broadness of his shoulders further emphasized the way his waistline tapered into a classic V. And yes, his legs were thinner than what they must have been before since Madison used to be a long-distance runner. And yes there was the wheelchair, inescapable to both of us, but so not inhibiting, not to me anyway.
And perhaps finally not Madison either. At last I was having my full-on frottage. We were having it. How lovely it was without clothes. It was as if my breasts danced in his hands and when I sucked his nipples, gently squeezing them between my lips Madison’s groans of pleasure filled me with joy. He cupped my vagina again, massaging it and this time there was absolutely nothing between his hand and my center-place. Writhing against him I came ever closer, until I was nearly in his lap again.
“Lay back,” Madison said.
Which made no sense to my yearning body since all it wanted to do was go towards him. He must have read this reaction in my face because smiling softly as he pushed me back he added, “It’s okay, baby. I’m coming with you.”
Following his instruction I lay down. Madison placed his feet on the floor and scooted forward in his chair. Pushing his legs apart first, he placed his hands on my hips and guided me to come towards him again, leading my feet to rest on the wheel rims of his chair.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
I nodded, eager for whatever the whatever was going to be.
Smoothly inserting his thumb into my flooding vagina Madison softly touched my clitoris, slowly drawing circles around it as he pushed his palm against me. My throbbing walls closed in around his thumb pulling it deeper. Soon I was spinning in those circles, delirious, as waves of desire flowed through me. Then I felt the touch of his lips, where his thumb had been. These new kisses were soft at first, only gradually becoming demanding as if to pull everything out of me through this one spot. Now frantic to give myself to him I pushed towards him, my back arching upwards, until a primal cry burst out of me, and I collapsed, trembling, tears streaming from the corners of my closed eyes.
Tenderly Madison stroked my belly, before resting his damp forehead against it. I lay still, afraid to move, not even actually sure I could, feeling all quivery like so much Jell-O. Madison sighed deeply and his breath was warm on my skin. He kissed my navel before sitting upright in his chair. I looked up at him, ridiculously distraught to have him even this tiny distance away from me. Then Madison opened his arms to me, and I went to him, sitting in his lap, and finding perfect sanctuary in his embrace.
After a time he suggested we lay down together. With childish reluctance I let go of him and crawled back into bed, watching him make his own transfer from the chair. Seated at an angle on the side of the bed he used his wrists and forearms to pull his legs onto the bed, throwing them out in front of him. His legs went into spasms briefly, then his feet fell away from each other. His toes were much like his fingers, curled forward and close together. He pushed himself back towards the headboard before tucking his wrists underneath his upper thighs and lowering himself to rest on the pillows. I cuddled up next to him pulling the sheet up over us.
“Cold?” asked Madison.
“A little,” I admitted. “We’re naked, you know.”
“You can turn up the heat if you like. The thermostat’s in the hall. I’m not always good with gauging the temperature. It’s one of my symptoms.”
“I’d rather just snuggle with you. You can keep me warm. Hot even.”
My ear pressed to his chest I heard a chuckle rumble inside of him. But as we were lying still for the time being I decided it was better to pull the comforter over us too. It was still winter after all. Madison rolled onto his side, pulling his left leg over the right one. The comforter covering us we lay together, his arm around me, my arm around him, our faces close.
“Happy Valentine’s Day,” I wished him softly, smiling.
“Happy Valentine’s Day,” he returned.
“I wanted to buy you a card but I couldn’t find the right one. They all either said too little or assumed too much.”
“And you wouldn’t want to push me,” Madison grinned a little wickedly.
“Not in writing, no.” I smiled back. “This way it’s just your word against mine. In case you want to sue me or something.”
“And I’m a damn good lawyer.”
“You’re a damn good a lot of things.”
He smiled. I did too.
Madison had programmed the IPod playlist to repeat, and I could hear the classical guitar once more. A month ago my life had been an American tragedy and now here I was in the arms of this fabulous man, a damn good lawyer, who shared my politics and liked my cooking, and who could send me whirling through the stars, like one of those NASA satellites on its way to Venus or some such place.
But still we should be responsible. Even if we were only friends with benefits we each had a past. And this was the kind of thing I used to counsel against, this getting caught up, swept away, overwhelmed, without the facts. So I began this way:
“After my divorce I got tested.”
Madison’s brow furrowed.
“For HIV. I don’t have it. I haven’t been with anyone in almost five years. Derrick and I stopped sleeping together way before we called in the lawyers. But still, I wanted to be sure, so I had the test twice, six months apart. Derrick was unfaithful a lot and he didn’t care for condoms and refused to wear them with me. So I figured he was that way with everybody.”
“Derrick was a fool,” said Madison.
“We just weren’t right for each other,” I replied, remembering what I had read somewhere about how it was bad form to complain about your ex to the new person you wanted to be with. “At least we realized it before we had to share joint custody of something more than debt.”
“Yes. This way it’s just easier.”
“Do you want kids, Paige?”
Oh God! How were we having this discussion? This was way worse than blathering about your ex. Way to go Paige Robinson, scare the man off, why don’t you?
“Yes,” I confessed because looking into Madison’s eyes had to be more effective than any truth serum. “I always thought I did.”
“But?” asked Madison detecting the uncertainty in my voice.
“You gotta find the right father first.”
“And that wasn’t Derrick?”
“No. Not for me anyway.”
“From the sound of it, probably not for anyone.”
“Okay,” I said very much wanting to change the subject. “Your turn.”
“To do what?”
“Your history, Madison. I told you mine.”
“Not all of it,” he replied with a grin. “Just the last five years.”
“Okay. So tell me that much.”
Was Madame Denise a part of the picture?
“You don’t have anything to worry about, Paige.”
“Seriously. I’ve been in that chair for four years, which puts me at pretty low risk for lots of reasons. And before that, Karen and I lived together, and I’m basically your one-woman kind of man. They may have tested me in the hospital but I didn’t know about it. If it means that much to you, I can get myself checked out.”
“So I’m the first woman you’ve been with since Karen?”
“Is Denise one of them?”
“I can tell by the way she is with you,” I plowed ahead. “She has feelings for you.”
“I did some legal work for her. She’s just a good friend.” He kissed me. “Who happens to like you very much.”
Madison drew me closer to him, rubbing my back tenderly. Returning the gesture my fingers accidentally grazed the slightly elevated ridges of the surgical scar that ran from the base of his neck to midway his back, and he flinched. I pulled back.
“Did I hurt you?” I asked concerned.
“No,” he assured me. “I’m just extra sensitive in some places that’s all.”
“Are there places where I shouldn’t touch?”
Breathing deeply Madison stroked my cheek softly.
“You can touch me anywhere you want,” he said.
I scooted in closer and began caressing his leg with my foot.
“I wish I could feel that, Paige.”
“I know. It feels wonderful.”
He smiled crookedly.
“So you haven’t asked me the big question yet,” he said. “It’s gotta be coming.”
“What question is that?”
“What happened to me.”
He was right. I hadn’t asked it. Just a little while ago it had seemed too prying, now it kind of seemed incidental. Four years ago was the past and I wasn’t a part of it. But maybe the telling was not just for me. Sometimes people needed to talk about a thing just for themselves. Maybe my only place in this instance was to listen. And so I did.
Madison had loved running. He said he had been completely addicted to the runner’s high, the kind of person who almost go into a trance as the endorphins flowed and the miles added up. I liked aerobics class and Zumba was great, but whatever I did there had to be music. Madison talked about being content to run without a sound around him other than the pounding of his feet and heart, and the even exchange of oxygen for carbon dioxide as he breathed. He would run in the rain, in the heat and the cold, any and every day that he could. He called running his portable hobby because he had been able to do it anywhere; although it had been more than a hobby.
He had preferred to have his runs early in the morning, at first light, “When most people are pulling the covers over their heads to keep back the day.” Morning was Madison’s primetime. Even now, he preferred to rise early to do his reading and writing. He reasoned that he had picked up the habit from his father, who as a union organizer often made it his business to be in position at a factory gate to shake hands with the workers and pass out leaflets.
That was when the accident happened; during Madison’s primetime, on a perfect autumn morning, when the air had been crisp and cool, and the leaves just beginning to turn. He described himself as being buoyed by a green traffic light as he approached the empty intersection. He would not have to break his stride. “I think people look so silly jogging in place waiting for the light,” he said. “It always feels like forever.” He said he hadn’t been running fast just maintaining an even pace. “I felt like I could run forever. I wasn’t even sweating.” A delivery man, who had been checking an address, had missed the light change, and had arrived in the intersection precisely when Madison did. “He told the police he never saw me,” Madison said. “I never saw him either. Just the green light.”
There had been weeks in the hospital, and for a time they had wanted to believe that Madison would make a full recovery. Early on the signs had been good: sensation and faint motor function below the level of the break. However over time the belief had given way to the hope that he’d be able to walk with crutches. It was during the four months in rehab that the first phase of acceptance had come.
“That’s when Karen went into action,” Madison said. “She put our house on the market, got it sold for a profit and purchased this condominium. She found an architect who specialized in disability accommodations, and by the time I left rehab everything was ready for me. She said it was going to be like it never happened and I wanted to believe her. We were going to work things out together. We even saw a fertility specialist. There was no reason in the world we couldn’t have a normal life, meaning the one we had planned. Not the new one. A year later, Karen couldn’t do it anymore. But she had been a real trooper, everybody said so. We weren’t married. She didn’t owe it to me. In fact I owed her. I was making the adjustments, they were just my own. I wasn’t looking after her. I guess I had too much on my plate.” He laughed dryly. “It had to be all about me. But that means I was pretty selfish. You think you’re a control freak, you’re looking at the sensei of control. But I have to be. This new body doesn’t do surprises very well. Spontaneity can’t really be my thing.”
“I know,” I said with a little smile.
“You know?” he smiled wryly. “Yeah, I guess you might.”
“But it’s not all because of the chair, Madison. You’re a lawyer for God’s sake, not to mention a government official. You must live by policies and procedures, timelines and due dates. I bet you even say Happy New Year on October 1st.”
Madison laughed, and I loved the way it sounded, deep and real, and inviting. I crawled over him again, straddling him and brushing my genitals against his.
“I wish I could feel you,” he said again.
I pushed the comforter and sheet back, revealing us to each other.
“I can show you what it feels like,” I told him and ran my tongue over one of his nipples, then pulled at it softly with my lips as I moved back and forth against his penis, fire filling my veins and arteries, swelling my capillaries. I moved up to his throat, kissing, sucking, nibbling, then onto his face and ears. “You feel that don’t you? You feel the heat.” He groaned softly. “It’s the fire we make,” I whispered Alicia Keys' lyrics. "Getting hotter and hotter." His penis responded to my movements, stirring, swelling. Reaching down I grasped it gently, bringing its head to my opening, all the while still kissing him, his mouth, his ears, his neck, his chest. The tip of his penis was soft and warm, wet and slippery now from my own fluids flowing freely over it. It wasn’t even inside of me, only a form pressed against me, and the spinning feeling was back again. Oh God—had I fallen in love this much? This fast? I was terrified and overjoyed at the same time. Then came the sudden rush of delirium once more, and once again I cried out only it was into Madison’s mouth this time as he had covered mine with his. I crumbled on top of him, weeping again, trembling.
Then I realized that beneath me Madison’s legs were shaking violently. “Madison? Are you okay?” I asked trying to get up. He wouldn’t let me go, clutching me in vice-like embrace. So I covered his face with kisses, calling his name over and over again, until he growled a deep almost savage groan and his arms fell away from me. As his legs quieted, I moved to lay next to him again. He opened his eyes and looked at me. Beads of sweat covered his forehead and ran down the side of his face, but also in his face along with exhaustion was a mixture of amazement and pleasure too. Smiling at him I took his right hand between my own and pressed it between my breasts, holding it there, as if it were Cupid’s arrow.