“That guy you texted… Jacob… he is disabled.”
It is not a question Marcus fires at me as he blocks my way out of the kitchen in the early morning. I suppress a sigh. I guess we need to go through this right now. I take a deep breath, bracing myself and trying to clear my sleep-hazed brain.
“And you find him attractive.”
“In a way… yes.”
“There was one kiss. But not more.” Not like you and her. I do not feel any better than Marcus must have felt, though. “I’m sorry, Marcus,” I whisper.
Marcuse scratches the stubble on his chin. There are dark shadows under his eyes. “I… uh… did some online reading yesterday night.”
That makes two who barely slept.
“There is actually a name to it. You might be a devotee.”
I nod. Of course I know how to google as well. I have stumbled upon the word before, have read blogs and message boards. Knowing I was not the only one, knowing there were people out there like me has helped me a lot.
“Is he in a wheelchair?”
“No, he uses a cane.” I say reluctantly. “He had a stroke. He is our age,” I add when Marcus makes a face.
“I don’t really understand… What is it about his disability that turns you on? What does he have that I don’t?”
I suppress a sigh. If only I knew. “I have no clue, really.”
He shakes his head, dazed. “Are you breaking up with me?”
I am a little perplex. When Marcus had told me he had fooled around I had totally freaked out, including yelling and throwing things and the whole dramatic program. It is remarkable how calm he is. “Marcus…”
“I love you,” Marcus says, taking my hands in his. His are warm and soft, hands that are rarely used for anything else than typing on a keyboard. “You know that. I have done stupid things and I hope you can forgive me. I have been the dumbest man on earth for hurting you.”
My eyes grow moist as my heart swells and I swallow. “I’m sorry, Marcus. I am. And I already forgave you, you stupid oaf.”
Marcus moves closer and carefully thumbs away the tears that will not stop running down my cheeks. He wraps me in his two, healthy arms while I dissolve, holding me tight like Jacob never could. We make love on the kitchen table, right there and then, and our cries probably wake up the whole building.
The thing is, I believe Marcus when he says he loves me. I love him, too, I guess, only not in the way he deserves. And although I also meant it when I said I had forgiven him, I do not know if he loves me in the way I deserve.
“You did what?”
“I sold your stupid couch.”
“Because it is a terrible waste of space and insult to my butt and back?”
“And you would never have gotten rid of it yourself so I took a picture and put it online and voilà.”
“Huh… okay,” Jacob laughs hoarsely, his breath crackling through the speaker. “You are sure they really want to have it?”
“They want to collect it next week. The price is decent considering the poor guys won’t have the chance to actually try sitting on it before they pay.” I grin.
“I like that couch…”
I laugh. “No, you don’t”
Jacob groans. “Argh… I guess you are right… how is it that you are always right?”
“I’m a woman, in case you forgot.”
He chuckles. “Well, thanks. Woman. Um… I don’t know if I want to know but it seems like I should ask. What else did you put online?”
“Oh, I tried the entire house but the owner of the site said buildings where not allowed.”
Jacob is silent for a little while before he says: “That’s a joke, right?”
“Hm… yes, but now that you mention it-“
“No, no, no, forget about that immediately, Miss. The couch, yes, but I actually would like to still have a home at the end of this month.”
I laugh. “Okay, okay. Got it. So… we need to buy a new couch for you--”
“And you are going to make sure I get myself something decent.”
“Right.” I grin triumphantly although it is pointless since Jacob cannot see it on the other end of the line.
“Well… I think I cannot stop you.”
This is how I end up at Jacob’s side when we enter a large furnishing house after having had the first ice cream of the season. It is a wonderful, sunny spring day and Jacob is in his best of moods. He indicates a mock bow leaning on his cane with his right foot against the door to the entrance to hold it open for me and I attempt to make a curtsey before I walk through.
Marcus and I are still a thing and we did not really talk about my revelation to him anymore. I do not exactly know what he thinks of it. It seems like he decided to not want to know any more details and he told me he needs some time for processing. I start to think that maybe this is the best arrangement: we stay in a relationship that has worked for so many years and the twisted parts of my sexual attraction stay in my head. It might be better that way, for everyone.
It is just hard to keep anything in my head with Jacob nearby.
“How can I help you?”
We have barely entered the section for couches and beds when a tall, middle-aged woman appears in front of us, her dyed hair slung tight into a high bun on her head and the smile in her heavy made-up face overly polite. It flickers a little when she registers Jacob’s cane.
“I would like to buy a couch,” Jacob says, maintaining a friendly attitude.
“One large enough to sleep on,” I add.
The shop assistant nods, visibly flustered. “For uh... one person?” She looks from me to Jacob and back.
Jacob’s gaze scrapes me before he hastily directs it away. “I guess for two is more convenient… in general.”
I nod, purposely not looking at him.
“Oh...” The woman frowns a little. “Okay, I am sure we have something for you,” she exclaims hurriedly and turns to lead the way down the hallway past a few smaller couches and side tables. She is already several steps ahead in her high-heels when she realizes we are not directly behind her and waits, pink-faced, for Jacob and me to close up with her before continuing slower. I catch Jacob's raised eyebrow and shrug, rolling my eyes. Whatever it is that is wrong with that woman.
The shop assistant stops in front of a few larger couches and brings her hands together in a somewhat apologetic gesture. “These are the models I would usually recommend. They are large enough to be converted into a bed for two people. But…” she glances at Jacob, staring a second too long at his left arm, “in your special situation I would maybe consider something else-“
“These are fine,” Jacob interrupts her, scowling now, his voice a few edges sharper than usual.
The woman closes her mouth, visibly shocked that he dares to undermine her expertise. For several seconds I am witness to a prime staring contest; the shop assistant tight-lipped, Jacob's face not exactly friendly anymore.
“Well… take a look around if you want,” she clips in the end.
Jacob and I wander around the couches, sit down on a few and I even try my best at converting one into a bed following Jacob’s instructions. To our relief, the shop assistant remains hovering around in the background, sulking openly. Jacob manipulates his left leg so that it is straightening out on the couch’s surface, his shoes on the part of the upholstery that is clad in protective plastic. He leans back, halfway twisted on his side and looks up at me.
“Try this, it’s really comfortable.”
We both lie still side by side on our backs, staring at the rather boring ceiling. I am the first starting to giggle. “This is the worst shop I have every been to!”
Jacob starts laughing, too. “Hell, yes! I thought maybe I had ice cream stains somewhere on my sleeve or leg, judging from that terrible person's staring... I don't, do I?”
I feign scrutinizing him, then shake my head, shaking with suppressed laughter. “No. Don't know what's her problem...”
“Ah... maybe it's just my stunning looks then.”
That makes me laugh out loud. “What are we even still doing here?”
Jacob shrugs. “I don’t know! I think I am searching a couch? Or a couch might be searching me. I guess I am supposed to feel a connection like – ding, magic! The couch chooses the wizard, you know.”
I am laughing so hard, tears are streaming down my face and I notice a second too late that Jacob has repositioned. He is hovering a little above me, contemplating me with a more serious expression.
I sober down. “What?” I ask mockingly, in an attempt to revive the light mood.
“Thanks for accompanying me. This is so much more fun with you,” he says, still grinning a little.
“Um... you're welcome.”
“Have I ever told you how beautiful you are?” Jacob whispers. He is leaning on his good arm, the other tucked in between us.
I swallow and squirm a little to get more distance between us. “Jacob...”
“What? Am I not even allowed to state the obvious?” He teases and rolls away, effortlessly using the momentum to hop on his feet and catching himself on the back of the next couch. He chuckles to himself but does not turn to look back at me anymore.
We test various models, without actually getting closer to buying one and there are also no sparks flying between Jacob and one of the couches. I would not swear that there are no sparks at all, however. Every time Jacob carefully lowers himself into one or tugs at his pants to adjust his left leg I feel the hook behind my navel and every time he looks at me, smiling a little, a hint of a glint in his eyes, there is something warm exploding in my stomach. That smile edges itself into my memory and later, only a few weeks later, I will think back to it and marvel about the ridiculous weightlessness of the moment.
“Did you find something that aspires to you?” The shop assistant asks me, after all this time suddenly appearing at my side. Jacob is further away from us, currently expertly testing the cushioning of a model by slightly bobbing up and down while sitting on it, his right arm braced on the seat.
“Um… Yes, I think we slowly develop an idea of what we are searching for,” I say and smile politely.
“As I said, we have other solutions. Upstairs there are medical beds which are adjustable in height to make getting in and out of bed easier. I mean, in your professional opinion, wouldn’t it be better… Don’t you think this would be more suitable for your… um…” she stops and bites on her cherry red lips when she sees my face.
I nearly choke on a laugh as I watch the woman stumble over her words. Does she really think I am Jacob's nurse? “May I tell you a secret, Ma'am?”
The woman blinks, her heavy eyelashes fluttering. “Yes?” she breathes as she bows down to me a little since I have started to talk in a lower voice.
“Please don't make him buy one of these beds. He might handcuff me to the grab bars again and I don't think I would survive another night of endless sex.”
The shop assistant looks like she has swallowed a toad, gawking at me, her mouth slightly open and her eyes bulging. Her lips move a little and her skin grows an alarming deep shade of red before she turns around abruptly with a choked sound and stalks away.
Although the shop has atrocious service, the couches are actually good quality and in the end we settle for a dark eggplant colored model that I chose because of its color and Jacob because he could not find anything to object. Plus It is big enough for Jacob to sleep on even without converting it. He signs the contract with another shop assistant that we find after several minutes of searching through the shop and who has no explanation for the absence of her co-worker and Jacob orders the couch to be delivered to his address. I do not mention my conversation with the other shop assistant earlier to Jacob, but I have to suppress a mad giggle all the way out of the shop.
For several weeks I regularly meet with Jacob, we go to have lunch or dinner together on some days during the week, spend our weekends at the ranch or the surroundings of the city and we have an amazing time while I still sleep with Marcus when I come home. Jacob and I could have been just good friends and we act exactly like that, but inside of me there is something that desperately wants more. Jenna thinks that my subconscious only developed this crush because it wants to make Marcus pay for what he did to me but that is not it. It is also not the disability although yes, that is definitely a part of it, I guess. No. Marcus is funny, adventurous, the carefree boy whom I have known for such a long time now and although he has not always been loyal I am convinced he tells the truth for once when he says he loves me. Jacob on the other hand is gloomy but gentle, thoughtful and definitely more mature than Marcus will ever be. I want to take his hand and see how long it takes to make him smile.
“I love them both!” I declare one evening with Jenna and bury my face in my hands.
Jenna laughs. “Honey, you cannot love both.”
I open one eye and glower at her. “I sure can. See, it's already happened.”
“You have to decide, eventually,” she just says, eying me above her cocktail.
“You didn't kiss him again, did you?”
“No! God, but I want...”
Jenna shakes her head. “Come on girl, let's have some fun tonight. Tomorrow's the big, big day!”
Tomorrow we are invited to an Assessment Center of a very hip and awfully successful start-up company that also happens to have one of their new offices within an hour drive from my home. The Assessment Center however is in the capital.
“Oh my, don't remind me.”
Jenna takes my hand and pulls me on the dance floor.
The Assessment Center is as terrible as expected with a lot of very good-looking, very young men and women and I feel totally out of place while Jenna seems to mix in flawlessly. She wears her favorite dress and although I always thought to myself that it is much too short for her weight and the pink color much too bright for any occasion, it is the perfect thing to wear as it seems. I look down at my navy skirt and white blouse and feel like my own grandmother.
As the day wears on I decide I will just go for it. I do not think I have any chance against the other applicants, and there seems no point in trying to impress anyone. I have rehearsed job interviews both with Jacob and Marcus and I remember some of their good advice while completely ignoring others. Do I like to work in a group or alone? I like both, it depends on the kind of work; when I have to get into something new quickly, I prefer being alone; for a more complex job, I like to have a team. What has been my biggest failure in life? Never managing to learn the flute properly when my parents forced me to have classes when I was little.
In the afternoon, we have to plan, construct and sell a brand-new airplane in China. The company we are applying for has nothing to do with airplanes, or constructing anything and no one applied for sales, but I am at a point where I do not question anything anymore.
When Jenna and I board the train back home in the early evening, we are both exhausted. I have to admit, in the end I even enjoyed it a little. I can still see the look on the face of my project partner as I presented my calculations for how much freight volume, mass and in the end money we could save on short-distance connections by forgoing toilets on the plane and instead committing passengers to take a piss right before boarding or, in desperate cases, hand out empty bottles. Jenna seems pleased with herself, too, and she cannot stop talking about that one manager.
“Gosh, he is ho-ot! Do you think we will see him more often if they take us? I mean, they only have so many employees, we might actually meet them frequently, right?”
“I'm sure you can sit on his lap all day, if they hire you.”
Jenna balls the napkin of her bagel in her fist and throws it against my head.
When we arrive at the main station a few hours later and walk towards the subway, tired and ready for a good night's sleep, I nearly ran into Jenna who has unexpectedly stopped in her tracks.
“Hey, watch it!”
Jenna turns around. “Uh huh... You are awaited, I think” she hisses.
I sneak a look around her big form. “Shit!”
Jacob and Marcus are waiting on the other end of the platform, not exactly side by side but also not as far away from each other that I could hope to greet one without the other seeing. I can only hope they have not noticed each other yet. Marcus is next to the end of the tracks, kicking a can against a vending machine. Jacob is sitting on a bench with other people waiting for a train, his cane between his knees, his right hand nervously kneading his left. There is no chance to sneak past them unnoticed, either. Why did they come to pick me up? I thought Marcus had to work long hours and Jacob is not even supposed to be in town, he told me he would be out meeting relatives again. Damn!
“What do I do?” I do not know why this is such a big problem, either. Marcus knows about Jacob and the other way around, I have not really made a secret of them. Still, I find myself panicking at the idea of both of them meeting.
Jenna scans the quickly emptying platform. “Excuse me, sir?”
“This is not going to work.” I mumble, as I hug the suitcase in front of me tighter to prevent falling off the cart.
“Shut up, we are getting close,” Jenna says, her heels clacking loudly on the cement floor. “Better pray that Marcus does not remember me from last year’s Christmas party.” She is pushing the cart that is loaded with suitcases. I am squatting on it, too, hiding behind the luggage and trying not to make an even greater joke out of myself by falling out and on my ass in front of everyone. The train employee is jogging alongside us, completely failing at hiding a grin. I do not know what story Jenna told him to convince him to surrender the cart to us, but he seems to greatly enjoy himself.
“We are passing them,” Jenna whispers, her lips barely moving as she walks behind the cart that is going faster and faster now. Jacob and Marcus have to be on the other side of the pile of suitcases I am hanging on right now. I do not dare to breathe.
“We made it,” Jenna hisses, turns around a corner and stops the cart, which is swaying dangerously. I hop off and thank the train employer who has jumped to rescue the luggage.
“Always glad to help.” He grins at me lewdly.
I stare at him quizzically before Jenna grabs my arm and pulls me along with her. “Come on. Let's get out of here.” She giggles and I laugh hysterically as we run towards the exit.
“What did you tell him?”
“Oh, the truth! That your two lovers showed up to greet you home. I might have added that you have in mind to ditch them both in favor of me.”
The people in the subway turn their heads at our loud laughter.
I text Jacob and Marcus that we have decided to spent the night in the capital and sleep at Jenna's place. We have a long breakfast the next morning after which Jenna pulls me close to her.
“You are okay, aren't you?” she asks, crushing me against her.
I look into her big brown eyes and smile weakly. “Yeah, I am.”
“You are not only hurting yourself, remember that.”
I swallow. I know, oh I know.
--> Chapter 14
--> Chapter 14