GAVIN: The lake water fills my ears and I flinch, lifting my head.
"You good, buddy?" Trent asks.
"Yeah," I say after a moment, allowing my head to drop back onto the inflated headrest of the yellow raft.
Trent and DeShawn stand on either side of me, holding the raft steady. Of course there's no surf, but it's Memorial Day weekend and the motorboats that speed by every thirty seconds or so have made the water choppy.
Yup, I'm back in a lake on a Memorial Day weekend. I'm wearing sunglasses and I'm with my best friends and I'm happy.
We shoot the shit, talk about racing. DeShawn brings up Team Hoyt. Again. It is not a new topic.
"No," I say, for the dozenth time.
"Think how fun it could be."
"There is nothing you can say to convince me to let you haul my ass through a triathlon. Sorry, brother."
In response, he flicks water onto my chest. But what do I care? I can't feel it. Allison calls to him from the shore. Something about dinner tonight, which the guys are in charge of and DeShawn is heading up. He wades out of the lake, leaving me and Trent alone.
"How's that going?" I ask.
A pause. "We're making plans."
"Really?" I ask, raising my head and looking at him in surprise. I knew things had been going well, but Trent had always had major commitment issues.
He smiles shyly, the look of a man in love. I nod approvingly. "Making an honest man of him, huh?"
"You should talk."
I huff quietly and close my eyes, the sunlight bright even through my sunglasses and eyelids.
"You love her, right?" Trent asks.
"Yes. And that's exactly why I'm not asking her to marry me."
"Yeah, sorry, but you're going to have to connect those dots for me."
"I'm not saddling her with this for the rest of her life. No way."
Trent is quiet so long I open my eyes to make sure he didn't swim away, stranding me on the raft. Of course he hasn't. But I don't love the pinched look on his face. "Don't say shit like that," he finally growls, and I'm surprised by the ferocity in his tone.
"Not you too, Trent."
"Not me what?"
"Do not be giving me the speech about how I still have so much to offer, and there's still plenty to love, and I can overcome."
"But that's all true."
"Would you want to marry DeShawn if he were a helpless quadriplegic?" I challenge.
He hems. Caught him. "That's different," he protests.
I say, "Bullshit."
"And you're not helpless."
"Says the guy who feeds me lunch every day."
"Yeah, at your job. The job you're fucking great at. The job where the kids love you and your bosses worship at your feet. Or, at your wheels."
"Look, all I know is that Melissa loves you, man. And if you want to make that beautiful, smart, kickass woman happy, you'll marry her."
"You're talking out of your ass, Trent. You don't have the slightest clue what it would be like to be married to me. I can't do anything for myself anymore. I probably can't have kids. I don't even know if I can have sex."
Trent inhales sharply. A gay man's worst fear. "But haven't you and Melissa..."
"No," I say. "Not since before I got hurt."
He whistles low. "Bro. I had no idea." I listen to a motorboat pass and prepare for the water that fills my ears ten seconds later. As it drains, Trent makes a thoughtful noise.
"Well," he says. "I guess that makes it even more meant to be. Because I'm telling you, Melissa wants to marry you. Limp dick and all."
I can't help myself. I laugh.
MELISSA: I watch from the shore, hand shielding my eyes, as Trent drags the raft holding Gavin back in. Gavin's body wobbles and for a brief second, it looks like he might wobble right into the lake. My jaw clenches, my hamstrings prepare to sprint.
And then in one swift motion, he's in Trent's arms, cradled like an infant against Trent's well-developed chest. Gavin used to have a chest like that. I can't say I don't miss it, even if I like the one he has now just fine, too.
I trot down to the boys with a comforter in my arms. When I reach them, I snap it into fullness, and let it flutter to the ground, where Trent lays Gavin. I pull the beach towel from around my neck and begin patting Gavin dry as Trent shakes the water from himself like a golden retriever.
"Nice swim?" I ask.
"Very refreshing," Gavin answers.
When I'm done drying Gavin off, Trent loyally picks him back up. Though we decided it would be easier to bring only Gavin's lightweight manual wheelchair to the cabin, even it can't manage the tangle of jagged rocks that extends from the cabin's deck all the way to the sliver of sandy beach where we dried Gavin off. So Trent muscles him up the incline, finally depositing him in his wheelchair on the deck. I strap only his chest harness, just to hold him upright on the way to the bedroom. Trent follows us. I need his help.
GAVIN: It's a concerted effort to get me into the tub. It's a big tub, a spa style, and that's great, but it's miles from accessible like my roll-in shower back home.
Step One is Trent heaving me out of my chair and onto the bed, where (Step Two) Melissa quickly undresses me. Trent has the grace and good sense to look away as Melissa peels down my trunks and then the royal blue vinyl swim diaper, working carefully to get both off without traumatizing my fragile skin. She unstraps the mini-leg bag I use for swimming from my thigh and places it over my crotch. She throws a towel over my middle to hide the bag and my junk and crosses my arms across my chest.
"Okay. Ready for you." Step Three.
Trent turns back around and again lifts me, placing one arm under my shoulders and another under my knees. He turns sideways as we pass through the bathroom door, careful to not knock my bony knees against the jamb. I can see myself in the mirror. It's been three years and I'm still weirded out by the way my feet hang straight down now, floppy as a doll's.
Melissa scrambles into the tub for Step Four, starting the water and bracing herself to help Trent lower me down into it. She tucks in behind me, and Trent leans me against her.
"All right," Trent says, not even winded, the bastard. "I'll leave you to it." And he does. Melissa removes the towel before it gets wet.
As the water pours over our necks and backs, Melissa wraps her long arms and legs around my body. It's incredibly sexy; my cheeks roar like a furnace. But a quick glance at my penis reveals that it, as usual, has no idea that my girlfriend is trying to seduce me. When the tub is half-full, Melissa reaches behind her and turns off the taps. We sit quietly, the romantic vibe kind of ruined by my piss bag floating in the water with us. Melissa begins to run her hands down my chest. This is not Official Step Five.
"Hey," I say quietly. "I feel like I should be out there with the guys when they start dinner." And I hear the tiniest of exasperated noises escape Melissa's throat.
Melissa and I have been back on--officially back on, anyway--for four months. But we haven't had sex in three years. The fault lines around the issue grow wider and more threatening every day, stranding us on opposite sides, but I can't bring myself to address it. I don't know how. Not how to address it, not how to give her the physical pleasure I know she's craving, not how to be a man in that way in a body that doesn't work anymore.
"All right," Melissa sighs, sitting up slightly and taking me with her. She grabs for the shampoo at the side of the tub and begins massaging a dollop into my scalp, the start of Actual Step Five.
MELISSA: Trent comes back in after our bath and helps me reverse our earlier process to get Gavin out of the tub. Once he's on the bed, Trent can leave. I am strong and getting him into his chair is not a problem for me; it's only the full-body carries that I can't manage on my own. The guys insisted they'd be happy to assist with lifts, since we felt like hauling the Hoyer up the mountain was overkill. But other than that, I'm on duty for the long weekend. I dress Gavin. I've never done all of Gavin's care for days at a time like this, but it just didn't make sense to have a PCA come with us on this trip to Chris's family's cabin on the lake. For one, there weren't enough bedrooms. For two, Gavin and I both felt it would create a weird dynamic. For three, I'm his girlfriend. And a doctor, damn it. Neither of us wants me to be his primary caregiver, but I should be able to take care of him sometimes. I'm not going on my honeymoon with a fucking PCA, that's for damn sure.
Oh, shit. I had the marriage thought again. I've got to stop doing that. He didn't ask before; he hasn't asked after.
He'll probably never ask.
I wrap my arms around his chest in a bear hug, bring him to sitting, then lift and pivot him into his seat. I gently lift each of his legs and place them in their spots. I secure his harness and his seat belt, arrange his hands in his lap. Then I push him out into the living room, where the rest of the group has gathered around a college football game on TV.
At our entrance, DeShawn stands up. "Okay, boys. Playtime's over. Time to hit the kitchen." He walks over and hip-checks me to replace me at the handles of Gav's chair. I laugh and cede control. It was weird between me and DeShawn for a long time, but it isn't anymore, and I am relieved and grateful. As he wheels Gavin to the kitchen, I'm also touched that, as always, the boys are including him, even though Gavin obviously can't help them prepare dinner. Well, maybe he could read the recipes to them. I don't know what their plan is.
GAVIN: After dinner, we sit on the deck around the firepit and have more drinks. And after more drinks, Melissa is hornier than I think I've ever seen her. She's all over me, which might embarrass me if I knew any of the people at this gathering less well than I do. She runs her hand through my hair, keeps leaning in and softly kissing my neck, and holds my hand in my lap. (I strongly suspect she's doing other things in my lap, though I can't seem to catch her in the act). So I know a confrontation is coming. That is, if I don't let the woozy feeling I myself am getting from the alcohol take over.
But maybe I will.
When the fire flickers low, Melissa murmurs a question. Would I like to go to bed now?
She stands and takes the handles of my chair. We bid everyone a good night.
MELISSA: I finally have him alone. I swear, if we don't have sex tonight, I will die. I will just die. I've been turning on maximum sexiness all night, and I don't stop now. I kneel before him, seated in his chair. He cocks an amused eyebrow and I want to slap it off his face. Or kiss it. Mmm. Kissing it suddenly sounds nicer, so I do. I'm a little drunk. He breathes a little laugh.
Then I strip for him.
His eyes bug as I drop my shorts and tease out of my tank top. I'm wearing a black lace thong and matching bra. I put my hands above my drunken head and I spin for him, giving him a 360-degree view. I approach him and clip him out of his chest harness, unhook his lap belt, and lift him into bed. And then I straddle him.
"Melissa," he protests, lifting his head.
"I don't care. I want you. I need you."
He drops his head and squeezes his eyes shut, sighing.
GAVIN: Though I can't feel my heartbeat, I suspect it's thumping. As unreasonable as it is, I guess I was kind of hoping that Melissa and I could just enjoy a few great years together without sex, until she finally found the guy she deserves. I mean, don't get me wrong. I'm incredibly sexually frustrated. My body is paralyzed, but my brain still craves the release of sex and orgasm. Orgasm is permanently off the table, but even sex just seems so...out of reach. My erections are unreliable, my sensation is totally gone, and I just can't seem to get a handle on what sex looks like when one partner can't move.
I hear a quiet sob and open my eyes. I'm horrified to see that Melissa is crying.
"Hey," I whisper. "Hey. Come here."
Head low, shoulders down, tears streaming, she lies down beside me, drawing my thin arm around her like a cloak. She turns and cries against my chest. I'm such a shithead. Not only that, but it finally dawns on me that I have a beautiful woman in bed with me. A woman who has fed me, bathed me, dressed me, done my fucking bowel program...and still wants to have sex with me.
I'm not just a shithead. I'm a colossally stupid shithead.
So I turn my head as far as I'm able, feeling the resistance of my surgically-fused vertebrae at about forty-five degrees. But it's enough. I place a soft kiss on the crown of Melissa's sweet-smelling head. She stills. Sniffles. Looks up at me with guarded, hopeful, gorgeous brown eyes.
"I love you," I say.
"I love you, too."
"I want to have sex with you."
She eyes me suspiciously, waiting for the "but..." When it doesn't come, she sits up, hope beginning to brighten her tear-streaked face. "Like...tonight? Now?"
I nod. "Yes."
Her smile is a rainbow.
MELISSA: I unsnap my bra and lean low over Gavin, presenting my right breast to him like a gift. He takes the nipple in his mouth and I swear I've never experienced anything that's ever felt so good in all my life. It's been a long, long time. He sucks at it hungrily, lapping and nipping with his teeth until it's erect and fanning waves of goosebumps across my naked back and belly. I collapse on top of him and we make out like the teenagers we were when we did this for the first time. The only difference is the stillness of his body underneath mine as I writhe against him. Well, and also, the softness of his unresponsive penis under the denim of his jeans.
Without breaking our kiss, I reach down and unbutton his pants, pulling down the zipper. I reach into his diaper and grab hold of his dick. It is completely flaccid, but that doesn't necessarily mean it will stay that way. Not if I have anything to do with it.
But after a minute, Gavin realizes where my hand is and asks, "Anything?"
I bite my lip. I go for optimism. "Maybe we need some lube." I register the worry in his eyes as I leap up and walk to our bags. Looking through the one that holds his cath and bowel supplies.
I find the lube. I undress Gavin. The lube doesn't work. Fuck. We're both getting frustrated.
Then he offers shyly, "There's this thing we could try."
"I'm open to any suggestion, babe. Really. What do you want me to do?"
He looks away.
"Pete told me about it. He can't get erections, because he fucked up his lumbar spine."
"So what do he and Larissa do?" I wonder.
Gavin has a hard time getting the word out. I'm game for anything, though. "What?"
"It's called 'stuffing.'"
"Yeah, you, you know. You, like--" Gavin cringes and says the rest of it with eyes closed against the embarrassment. "You just sort of stuff it in. God, that sounds unsexy."
When he opens his eyes, I'm grinning.
GAVIN: I'm having sex. We're having sex. Melissa and I are having sex. And yeah, it's different. But it's not bad. I watch her lean thighs flex as she rides me like a cowgirl, her tight little tits bouncing up and down, her mouth an "O" of ecstasy. I can't do anything but lie here and watch her, but yeah--it's not bad at all.
Thank you, Pete, you fucking bro. Stuffing worked. Melissa was a champ, working my limp penis into her. As she did, pulling it into herself with internal muscles, I got hard enough to be fun. But after three minutes of exuberant bucking, she slows to a stop and I know I've lost the erection. That's okay, though, because I have another good idea.
"Here," I say, nodding at each of my shoulders. "Kneel here."
She scrambles up until she is perched just above my mouth, her wet center inches from my lips. I nod and she lowers herself. I finally have control. I work her clit, kneading and massaging it, then create a suction with my lips, drawing it into my mouth, sucking rhythmically. Above me, she shudders and moans and her nipples could cut glass and I'm only a little sad that I'll never cum again.
I thrust my tongue as far as I can go, and she cries out as I penetrate her, her fingernails working deep grooves into my shoulders. I can feel that. It hurts. But in the best possible way.
We did it. We did it.
We fucking did it.