I collect the plants we did not manage to bring into the earth and our tools while Jacob carefully limps over the lose earth back to the house. He proposes I take a shower before he drives me back home. I very much appreciate the offer and take a long time scrubbing all the dirt from the stable and the garden off me in Jacob’s huge walk-in shower. The bathroom is monstrous and a little intimidating in all aspects. First, it is larger than my living room. Second, it is entirely clad in black marble. The indirect light is more of an illusion and the room stays mysteriously dark, the shining armatures glittering menacingly.
It does not look like the bathroom of a disabled person at all. A single plastic chair shoved into one corner of the walk-in shower is the only indicator towards the inhabitant’s impairment.
Jacob has handed me a huge, soft and white towel to dry myself off with and a set of clean clothes that obviously belong to him. I chuckle as I slip into the oversized pieces, having to turn the sleeves and legs over several times so they don’t hang over my hands or drag on the floor.
“Much better.” I step from the corridor back into the living room, feeling strangely vulnerable in the wide clothes. Jacob is waiting, without his cane.
“I’ll quickly take my turn, too,” he says. “Make yourself at home. You can get coffee from the machine…” At the look on my face he chuckles lowly and smiles. “Or I’ll make you one as soon as I’ve finished showering.”
Before he vanishes into the corridor he turns again towards me, right hand grabbing the edge of the wall. “Just… uh… I would appreciate if you stayed down here… It’s… I don’t know. I haven’t been up there and… it’s still weird for me, okay?”
My gaze goes to the metal staircase in the corner and I feel a chill running through my bones. His old life is upstairs. “Don’t worry. I expect I’ll find space for myself down here.”
I stand at the glass front and look over the city, with its lights gradually growing stronger as the sky gets darker. I try to imagine how it is living with that view every night. I am so absorbed in thoughts that I do not hear Jacob returning from the shower. The first thing I notice as he approaches from behind, his steps slow and shuffling, is the scent of his shampoo. And coffee. He carefully draws up to my left.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” he asks in a low voice. His damp hair is sticking out to all sides and there is a still wet spot at the left side of his neck, glistening in the low light.
“Yes, it is…” I breathe.
I take the tiny cup from the tray that he is carrying. The twitch of his lower lip is enough and I place it back to take the entire tray from him. He smiles a little, takes his cup and I place the empty tray on the floor. The espresso is delicious.
We stand next to each other, enjoy the hot drink and watch the city lights in silence. After what seems like an eternity Jacob clears his throat.
“Thanks for today.”
“I enjoyed it a lot. It’s been a good one.”
I study his face, the thousand tiny lights reflecting in his eyes. How many bad days have there been, lately?
“I guess it is time then,” Jacob says.
“Yeah…” I say, trying not to feel the stab of disappointment in my stomach, and move the empty cup around in my hands.
Jacob attempts to turn and grimaces as he tries to shift weight on his left leg, hissing through his teeth.
I flinch and step forward to take the cup from his tight grasp. “What is it?”
“Nothing… too much activity today,” he mumbles. He braces himself with his right hand flat against the glass wall behind me, standing stiff and still. “I’m sorry. Give me a few seconds.” He is very close. His eyes are wide and darker than usual and I think deep down I can see the pain in them.
I taste coffee before our lips meet. At first, it is tentative, no more than the softness of his lips on mine. After a few seconds his left leg buckles and he stumbles into me. My back against the glass, I steady him and he readjusts his right hand on the window. His lips never leave mine, growing stronger, eager for more. His left hand lifts slowly until it rests in my neck, the knuckles of the curled fingers grazing my skin. Jacob hesitates and pulls back when he realizes it and I open my eyes and look at him.
I do not speak. I stand on tiptoes to crash our lips together again, hungrily. I can sense his body stiffen reflexively but after some time he leans softly against me once more. My skin tingles in all places, I am aware of every square inch where our bodies are in contact, only our clothes between us. I feel hot when we surface again, his head tipped so that our foreheads are touching, breathing each other’s ragged breath.
Jacob suddenly pushes back from the glass pane and grabs my shoulder to catch himself. He angles his body away from mine and I immediately suffer the loss of his body heat.
“I should drive you home,” he rasps.
I nod, my throat tight. My brain defogs. What did we do?
“Walk me to my cane?”
We pick our way across the room, past the bigger plants that we did not manage to bring into the garden yet. Jacob has told me that Vito will come and help with the rest during the week. He walks slowly next to me, the tiredness evident in each of his small steps. His left leg barely moves forward and his weight on my shoulder tells me he is using me for more than balance. I hand him his cane when we reach the other wall and try to propose that I could drive his Jeep, at least to my apartment, or even take my bike that we put in the trunk of the jeep but he has none of that. We are silent until we part in front of the multi apartment complex.
The next time I meet Jacob to give back the clothes he lent to me, we both try to act like nothing has happened. We do not talk about it. If we had I would not have known what to say anyway. Sorry I kissed you but I really have someone else to love already, although you make my world spin every time you so much as look at me, so I am a little confused, but I am sure you understand? Somehow, without having to talk about it, Jacob indeed seems to understand.
A few weeks later Jacob is absent from home again. He tells me he will be out over the weekend and subsequent days visiting relatives, and asks me to water the newly planted garden. I clutch the keys to his designer house while I sit alone in the now nearly empty living room, with my toes curled into the deep and soft white carpet. I look out into the garden and the city below and think of Marcus and Jacob.
I whirl around, my heart hammering. But it is only my co-worker, Jenna. She gestures with her coffee mug to the screen.
“Um… he’s… he’s just an acquaintance,” I lie quickly and attempt to close the browser window. I have just given in to curiosity and googled photos of Jacob Barnett. It brought up quite a few, not so surprisingly they are all from the time before his stroke. As Jenna entered and ripped me from my dreams I was studying a picture of him in an anthracite suit. Both feet planted firmly on the ground and his arms parallel at his side, he looks right into the camera with a confident expression on his face that seems to say that he is ready to change the world.
“Is he, huh?”
I try to come up with a clever response to distract her when she places her coffee mug on her desk and leans a little towards me, her flowery perfume enclosing me. “I thought you and Marcus were okay again?” she asks in a low voice.
I cannot come up with an explanation quick enough because Jenna suddenly frowns and knocks my hand off the mouse. “I know that building.”
Jenna points at the building in the background of the photo, visible through the large window in front of which Jacob is standing. The picture is taken from the inside of an office building, several stories high. Jenna pulls the second office chair in front of my computer, places her wide frame onto it and pushes my hands from the keyboard.
“I don’t only know that building, I know the view. I’ve been working here for some time longer than you, honey,” she says and opens an application. “And I have visited some of the offices higher up, at times.” She points with her finger at the ceiling.
“There’s got to be an archive,” Jenna mumbles. Her long nails on the keyboard sound like rain on a tin roof.
“Yep.” A window opens with an older version of the company’s website, I guess. The corporate design has barely improved since then. “Here he is.”
I stare at the screen. There is Jacob again, this time only a portrait of him, smiling into the camera.
“Director of Operations...”
Jacob has worked at Recom. Jacob has worked for the company for which I work now! Of course! 'One of the biggest software companies in the country.' I should have put one and one together long ago. Why did he never say anything to me? He knows I work here… I ran into him right here…. He could have become CEO of this firm if not-
Jenna squeezes my shoulder. “You look like you could use a coffee.”
My head is swimming when I sit down with Jenna in the cafeteria. For an hour I tell her how I really love Marcus but find Jacob damn attractive as well. I leave out the detail about Jacob's disability, though. It feels like it would have raised too many questions for now and I am not sure I can answer them, yet. Anyway, it feels so good to get rid of some of what has been suffocating me for the last weeks. I feel a ton lighter afterward.
However, I know I have to make a decision, sooner than I like, and the longer I wait, the more complex everything becomes.
--> Chapter 11
--> Chapter 11