Monday morning’s daylight discovered me still in Madison’s bed, all happy and tingly with excitement. Hmmm…I loved making love with him. All I wanted to do was stay here forever but my Romeo was ready to get up.
“You can use the guest bathroom,” said Madison in the most dreamily hoarse morning voice. “It’s fully stocked.”
“Do we have to get up?” I whined, snuggling closer.
“Yes, baby we do,” he laughed softly. “I take a little longer to get dressed.”
Of course. I knew that. Even though I wanted to suggest we take a shower together.
“It’s kind of a production, Paige,” Madison felt he needed to add.
His tone was abruptly flat. I had read enough to have some idea about what his morning routine might entail. Another set of things he wasn’t ready for me to see. I rose up and kissed him gently.
“So that’s how come you’re so hot,” I teased him grinning mischievously. “You’re a bathroom-hogger. Good to know.”
His smile was tentative but real.
“Well not all of us are naturally beautiful, Ms. Robinson.”
“Yeah, right,” I dismissed the hint of a compliment as I deliberately crawled over him, pausing a single second to let our naked bodies touch one more time.
His smile grew stronger, and as I gathered up my undies and black dress, I could feel the golden brown eyes watching me. So much so that it could have been a little bit embarrassing, the things about my body that were not Victoria’s Secret-perfect, but Madison’s gaze made me feel desired even in the morning light. As if afterglow might actually last all day. I pondered that lovely possibility while I showered and got dressed in the guest bathroom.
Of course I did feel a little risqué making morning coffee in the same bad-girl dress I had worn the night before. Ted and Pam were going to have an issue about me not coming home last night. I had sent Pam a text just now to say I was fine but I’d be late to which she had immediately replied although I had not read it. They did fully realize that I was a sexual being, marriage license or not, but the spirit of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell prevailed between us just so long as I was careful not to show it. By now Jessica and Jennifer would have totally blown my cover so to speak. I could just imagine the pleasure Jessica was getting from reporting my obvious transgression. Maybe it was time for me to find a roommate, or rent a room or something. To be honest, my sister and brother-in-law had every right to shield their children from the facts of life if that was what they wanted to do. Since they had taken me in, I was obliged to respect their values, but—and this was a big but—a) I was a grown woman and b) Madison was the best thing that had happened to me in a very long time.
As I waited for Madison, sipping the dark delicious beverage I myself had brewed in the most magical coffeemaker of all time, all I really cared about were my memories of last night and my fantasies for the new day.
When Madison reappeared he was wearing what was obviously office attire, and at least my fantasy of both of us skipping out on work today went poof. I might have known he was too responsible to play hooky. And after all he had a job he loved, or at least cared about. I on the other hand was quite ready to call-in with an excuse labeled personal reasons and stay home—especially if I could do so with my lover. The personal reasons would not be a lie and it wouldn’t be a confession either. I supposed I could have called-in sick. It would just be love-sick. In the words of Diana Ross I had the sweetest hangover.
Ah, but the same could not be said about the source of my affliction. Madison looked absolutely fresh in his blue dress shirt and gray slacks. His shoes even had a shine.
“How ‘bout some eggs?” he asked rolling into the kitchen.
“Okay,” I replied.
“That’s good,” he sort of shrugged sheepishly. “All I have is EggBeaters.”
“I noticed,” I smiled at him.
“I basically have to watch what I eat,” he explained as he retrieved a frying pan from a lower cupboard.
“Don’t we all,” I replied.
It was fascinating the way Madison did things, how he effectively put it all together: the wheelchair, his uncooperative hands, and any task in front of him. I realized we were presently in his space and Karen had tried to design everything around his disability, but still I couldn’t help but to be impressed. He made it all look so routine.
And back to last night…Karen had simply given up too soon. I wondered if she had any idea. I wondered if she wanted to change her mind and come back to him. I wondered if Madison wanted her to.
After breakfast, while he went back to his room to finish getting dressed, which I assumed could only mean tie and jacket, I washed out Pam’s Tupperware containers and repacked them in one of the grocery bags. Then I went to the foyer closet and put on my coat. At least my sexy dress would be covered up for the bus ride home.
Seated on the sofa, I was all ready to go when Madison returned to the living room wearing a tie and a jacket. My goodness he looked so out of my present league. I just had to keep reminding myself that I was in fact not Eliza Doolittle. I, too, had carried a leather briefcase and worn elegant pumps to the office, and someday I would again. And have my own place. And maybe my own car. And, and, and.
“I see you’re ready to go,” said Madison.
The smallest hint of regret about that in his voice made me smile happily.
“I don’t want to make you late,” I replied.
He crossed the room and kissed me, his freshly minted tongue filling my mouth, sweetening my own. Instantly the deep places inside me rose up greedily but I fought to suppress them, even pulling back from him a little.
“I better go,” I said, feeling a bit proud of myself for being the practical one.
“So, I’ll be a little late,” replied Madison.
“Creature of habit, remember?” I smiled at him and stood up. “I bet you’ve never been late for anything in your life.”
“I wish I’d met you sooner,” he said stroking his hardened palm against the inside of my thigh.
No fair, Madison Reese, I thought, sensing passion pulsate throughout my body. Instinctively I brought my thighs together tightly, squeezing his hand.
“We can always make up for lost time,” I said, the tremor in my voice betraying the cool composure I was trying to maintain. “Just not on a work day.”
“Okay,” he exhaled deeply, taking his hand away.
We were both quiet as we left the condo and took the elevator down to the lobby. When we came off the elevator I stopped. I so did not want to say goodbye, not even for a little while. I wondered when we would get together again. Surely I couldn’t expect every day, or rather every night. Besides work, Ted would either throw me out of his house or organize a prayer vigil to imprison me in it.
“What’s the matter?” Madison asked. “Forget something?”
“No,” I replied. “It’s just I don’t know how you feel about PDA.”
“PDA?” he asked. “What’s that?”
“Public displays of affection,” I schooled him. “I mean, I want to kiss you bye, but you know, some men don’t like that.”
“I think we do pretty well in the car, if you don’t mind me saying.”
“I’m talking about now, here. There’s a bus-stop just on the corner, and I was--”
“Bus-stop?” he frowned. “I’m taking you home.”
“No, no, that’s okay. The bus is fine. Really.”
“Why not, Paige?” Madison asked abruptly cool. “Why don’t you want me to drive you?”
The accusation was obvious in his face, his stiffened posture, and I felt a little offended by the implication but I was sorrier that I had given him something to doubt about me. Madison had made it pretty clear that he was sensitive about his disability. I’m not exactly the pick of the litter, Paige.
“Madison, it’s not about you,” I said. “It’s about me.”
“Well not me really,” I stumbled. “It’s just my sister…I mean, look, my sister and her husband, they’re very…very strict about things. Religious I mean. I’ll probably get the full treatment when I get home. I don’t want you to be part of that. That’s all. When you meet them I want things to be right.”
“I wasn’t aware that things were wrong.”
”They’re not,” I said exasperated. “Not to me. But to them--”
“I thought we were being more open with each other, Paige,” replied Madison but his face had softened.
“Well then don’t protect me.”
“I’m not protecting you.”
“Yeah, I think you are.”
“Well it’s not because of your chair,” I said defensively.
“Okay,” he said.
“It’s not, Madison,” I insisted. “It’s just that my brother-in-law can be so holier-than-thou. I’m a total screw-up to him. I swear, he’ll wonder what’s wrong with you for even getting involved with me…He could say something…something really stupid.”
Madison rolled closer to me and tucked his right hand into my left palm. I caressed the soft skin of his fingers.
“You know,” he began looking up into my eyes. “If we do this, chances are there’s going to be a lot of stupid things said. We might even say some of them ourselves, and to each other.”
I wanted to shake my head no even though I knew he was telling the truth. He might only buy EggBeaters but there were still plenty of eggshells to contend with. Such was life, right?
“So we’ll work through it, okay?” said Madison.
I supposed they didn’t call lawyers counselors for nothing.
“Okay,” I nodded.
“So I’m taking you home then?”
“Yes,” I hesitated. “But--”
“There’s these two front porch steps.”
“At the back door too?” asked Madison.
I thought for a moment.
“No, I don’t think so,” I said.
“Problem solved.” He smiled warmly. “That’s assuming I get invited in, having totally corrupted you.”
In the best possible, most desirable way I thought but didn’t say. Really I had to learn to keep the fawning in check.
“You’re invited,” I said with a conviction I was pretty sure I wasn’t entitled to. “But you have to stay for at least one cup of coffee. Otherwise, my sister will think I was just a quickie for you or something.”
Madison laughed which made me very happy. It wouldn’t be like I had planned, his meeting Pam this way, but at least Ted was probably already gone to work and the kids would be at school. It should be okay. Pam wouldn’t scold me right in front of him.
“I can be a little late,” Madison winked at me and grinned. “I’m open.”
I waited while Madison unloaded his wheelchair and transferred into it. Maybe Pam was watching. Ted usually kept the side gate leading to the patio and ultimately the sliding glass doors locked so I told Madison I would go in through the front and them come around and meet him. I had researched portable ramps on the Internet and was thinking that if we worked out I would invest in one. It would just be nice to have one handy.
As soon I entered the house, Pam set into me.
“Who is that?” she demanded.
“Good morning, little sister,” I replied.
“Don’t you little-sister to me. You’re the child. You couldn’t text me last night?”
“You knew where I was, Pam,” I said with cooler appearance than was actually true.
“With him? That’s your lawyer? He’s in a wheelchair?”
“Not too shabby, right?”
“Pam. Please. I think I really have feelings for him. Please don’t mess it up.” I headed to the kitchen to deposit my grocery bag.
“Don’t mess what up?” demanded Pam following me. “You’re not serious. I mean I know you’ve hit a rough patch, but--”
“Pam, Madison Reese is the best thing that’s happened to me in a long time. He’s great. Really. And the chair’s not important. Please don’t make a big deal out of it.” I went over the patio door. “And don’t act surprised about it either. I told him I’d already told you.”
“It was his idea to bring me home. I told him I could take the bus. I was going to tell you first, before you met, but here we are. It really is no big deal unless you make it into one.” Sliding the door open I happily stepped back out into the cool morning, trusting that my sister, who was not unkind, would quickly get herself together and be cool too.
Madison, with his powerful shoulders and arms easily bumped his chair over the sliding door threshold and was soon in the middle of my sister’s kitchen.
“Hello Madison,” Pam said brightly, reaching out to shake Madison’s hand.
“Pam, it’s nice to meet you,” replied Madison courteously returning her gesture.
But Pam hesitated, her eyes fixed for an instant on Madison’s hand. I saw the hesitation. Madison did too. And making matters worse, Pam bypassed his hand completely, briefly squeezing his jacket-covered wrist instead, in what must have been some kind of awkward attempt to offer a handshake alternative. Stupid human trick number one, I thought, my heart sinking. Seemingly unfazed Madison allowed her gesture, then returned his right hand to the push rim of his chair.
“Paige has told me a lot about you,” he said, which wasn’t all that true but was just a commonly used tool for facilitating polite conversation. What else was he going to say—My hand isn’t dirty merely paralyzed?
Pam looked at me. Lie back, I willed her. It was such a throw-away line: Paige talks about you all the time too. I was furious with her and disappointed, yet I couldn’t totally blame Pam. She and I were different. One of her church’s faithful missionaries my sister eagerly baked plenty of cookies and cupcakes for the sick and shut-in, she just didn’t do the visiting. Even when it had come to our own parents, Pam had sent more flowers than she had shown her face. “Your sister does the best she can,” our mother had excused her. “She doesn’t like hospitals.” Madison was no patient, but truth be told I had forgotten to see him through Pam’s eyes. I just saw him. If this introduction was a train wreck, then I was the switchman at fault. I hadn’t prepared her.
“My sister likes you very much,” she said.
Okay—that would do.
“I hope you enjoyed your special dinner,” added Pam.
“I did,” replied Madison. “It was great.”
I moved to stand next to him, wanting badly to take the rejected right hand into mine, wanting to hold onto it forever.
“She doesn’t do it often,” Pam reported. “But Paige is a very good cook.”
Had we almost made it to normal, I marveled, feeling the tension ease a bit in my body. Finally I could relax enough to take off my coat.
“Can I get you a cup of coffee?” Pam asked Madison while I draped the coat over the back of one of the chairs at the kitchen table.
“I’m sorry,” Madison replied just as I was removing another chair to leave space for his wheelchair. “I’d like to stay but I just got a message from my office. I’m gonna need to get going. Just wanted to come in and say hello.”
“You have to go now?” I asked leaving the chair in the middle of the floor.
“Yeah,” he said. “Sorry. But next time.”
Nothing in Madison’s demeanor or expression suggested anything more than duty was calling, but I was certain his immediate exit was due to Pam’s funky handshake. I couldn’t blame him either. I just wished he had allowed me to take the bus.
“Pam,” he smiled. “Nice meeting you.”
“I’m glad you stopped by,” Pam replied. “Maybe you can come for dinner sometime, meet the rest of the family.”
“I’d like that.”
Niceties all done, Madison backed up his chair, “I’ll call you later,” he said to me before turning towards the sliding doors.
“I’ll walk you out,” I replied, hurrying to get the door for him.
“See you later, Pam,” he tossed over his shoulder and rolled out onto the patio.
As a security precaution when the kids were much younger, Ted had installed the gate latch high upon the gate so that they couldn’t reach it, making it pretty much out of Madison’ reach too. He waited while I opened the gate. I was definitely buying one of those portable ramps. No backdoors for Madison Reese, not on my account anyway. I would consult him about the best kind to buy but I would pay for it with my own money.
Following him back down the narrow paved path leading to the driveway, the silence was distressing me. Should I apologize for Pam or just let it go? I was anxious for a clue from him. An apology might make too much of it. And she would never do it again, I was going to make sure of that. But was he upset? He had agreed to have coffee with us. Had there really been a message from the office? Maybe it just didn’t matter. We had had the most wonderful Valentine’s Day. Nothing could change that. And he was a one-woman kind of man.
“Will we see each other tonight?” I finally asked when we reached his car, as I rubbed my arms against the morning chill.
“Are you working today?” he wanted to know.
“No,” I smiled guiltily. “I thought I’d play hooky.”
“How ‘bout I call you later? I may work a little later since I‘m going in late.”
That hurt. But surely this was not the morning-after-brush-off. No, this was about what had happened in the kitchen. He just wasn’t admitting it. When Madison reached to open the car door, I jumped in front of him, pressing my hip against it to keep it closed.
“You said we could work through it, Madison. The stupid stuff.”
“It’s fine,” he replied.
“No it’s not. You’re upset. I should have warned you. Pam’s always been like that--”
“I’m gonna be late, Paige. Let’s talk about it later.”
“Just a little while ago you weren’t so worried about being late.”
He let go of the car door.
“Okay. You want to talk about it right now. Let’s talk about your sister’s face when she saw me. She didn’t know, did she? You didn’t tell her.”
Guilty as charged, I was silent.
“Why didn’t you tell her, Paige? Were you embarrassed? Because your boyfriend’s a gimp?”
“I didn’t tell her because it’s not important.”
A dark smile twisted Madison’s beautiful mouth as he shook his head.
“It’s not, Madison,” I said earnestly. “I’m not disconnected from reality if that’s what you’re thinking. It just doesn’t matter to me. It’s not a flaw. I don’t have to explain it, or apologize for it. Oh Madison, being with you…I think I’m in—I think I’m really lucky. So no, I didn’t tell them. I should have. I told you I did. And I was going to.” I shivered. “But if you’re going to be mad at me about something be mad about the fact that I didn’t tell the truth at first. Don’t be mad because you think I’m embarrassed by you.”
“You’re cold,” Madison said.
“Then give me your coat, Sir Walter Raleigh.”
A brief dry chuckle left a smile behind on his face.
“How ‘bout we just get in the car?”
Once we were inside, Madison started the engine and turned up the heat. Soon the air was warm all around us even if things were still frosty between us. I had had my turn, now it was his, and I waited with the forced patience of a trained professional.
“I tend to get kinda hyper about these things, Paige,” Madison eventually said staring at the dashboard. “Maybe I’m just still getting used to it, you know. What it means. They can teach you how to do things without your hands, without your legs, but the hardest part is how to be without them. Every morning when I wake up, for a single second I’m still that guy that used to jump out of bed and hit the streets. A second later this body says that’s not me anymore. But it’s wrong, Paige. I am still that guy.” He looked at me. His golden brown eyes were darker, somber. “And I know you've seen him. You saw him the first night I met you.”
Smiling softly, remembering that night, I nodded.
“I want him to be with you, Paige. That guy deserves you. But this body…I know it can get in the way. I need to be sure you can see him still. The man I really am.”
“I see him,” I said in a voice husky with emotion. “More clearly every day. And now night.”
I smiled a little again.
“Be real with me, Paige. Don’t make believe.”
“I don’t need to, Madison.”
At last I took his right hand between both of mine. His damaged body was beautiful to me because he was that man of the first second and the next, and the next… Not now, but someday I would help him to appreciate his body and admire it. For now, I was happy to do it for him.
“You’re not perfect though,” I reminded him. “You’re a little lecturey sometimes, and I’m pretty sure you think you’re the smartest person in the room. And you’re definitely a control freak. Although that might be good, so it can keep me in check.”
A splendid smile filled Madison’s face.
“Now see here, Ms. Robinson,” he responded. “If we’re going to start listing faults--”
“Save it for later, counselor,” I cut him off with a kiss. “You are very late for work.”