My internet connection gets fixed by the cable company two weeks later. Thanks to Jacob I could connect to the internet even before that, at least from time to time. I think about calling Jacob, thanking him or asking him how to enable the reboot functionality again now that everything should work fine but I don't. In fact, I am terrified. Jacob appeared at my doorstep like some ghost from the past and triggered old feelings in me, kindled a desire I had thought long forgotten.
A few days later I receive a hundred red roses and a sealed envelope with Marcus’ name on it. I ask the bewildered delivery woman to take back the roses. I burn the envelope unopened.
I meet with Jenna, my best friend and co-worker, at a bar, thinking it will help talking about Marcus. At least I think this is what you are supposed to do when you go through a relationship crisis. Talk to someone and get drunk. The latter comes easily to me. I am tipsy after two cocktails but although Jenna is giving her best at gauging my feelings and trying to make me feel better the first becomes impossible. As I throw back glass after glass, I realize that my problem is not that Marcus cheated on me. It hurt and it ultimately destroyed my trust in him. The real problem is that a particular part of me wanted him to cheat.
I do not know what I am thinking when I type in the number. Presumably I am not thinking at all. It is late at night, I am alone in my apartment after I came home from the bar and I am definitely pissed. But sitting here, hearing the clock ticking in the quiet room and pondering about my fucked up love life makes me feel incredibly lonely.
The odds of Jacob working and me getting through to him instead of one of his colleagues must be pretty low. So I guess it is my lucky day when I get channeled through to tech support after monotonously demanding it first to the machine voice and then to the person from the service hotline I speak to. Someone picks up after two signals and his deep voice sends shivers down my spine.
“… hello, is anyone there?”
“… Cait?” I don’t know if I imagine it or he indeed sounds happily surprised.
“Can you… can you come over?” My hand holding the phone trembles from the force with which I am pressing it to my ear.
“Is… there a problem with the internet?”
“Cait…” There is a small, sad sigh. “I am at work.”
“I- I know. It’s just… I meant maybe after work?”
“Oh… okay? But it’s going to be real late.”
I hear his breathing. “Okay.”
My guts twist and I fear I might throw up.
“Thanks a lot. Really… Thanks…” I say, the words slurring into each other.
“No more drinking.”
“Wha-? Y- yeah… okay.”
I jerk awake when the doorbell rings and flail around on the couch without orientation for a few seconds. Then my thoughts clear a little and I stare at the ceiling. He actually came. I feel considerably sobered down after sleeping and I start to feel horribly ashamed about calling him while drunk in the middle of the night. What had I been thinking? That fucking a random guy would make me happy again? I am suddenly glad that Jacob was on night shift and could not come over earlier.
My eyes fall onto the clock on the wall. It is 4am. A headache begins to make itself known at the back of my head. God, what now? For a second I consider not opening. But then I feel like such an asshole that I pick myself up and shuffle to the door to buzz the entrance downstairs. I listen while he starts to make his noisy ascend and then I guiltily retreat to the living room again. I should not stare. It is bad enough that I forced him to go up the stairs to my apartment again just because I cannot get him out of my head like any normal person would. Plus, I get dizzy just from standing.
I hear his uneven steps and the thump of the cane as soon as he is at the top of the stairs.
"It's open!" I call from the couch. He stops for some time before entering to, I assume, put his shoes and brace off and I picture him tucking his cane under his left arm to close the door with his right.
A few seconds later he is standing in the doorway to the living room. He has not even taken off his black jacket.
"Hey," he says, timidly with his voice full of concern and continues lingering leaning on the cane.
I do not know where the tears came from but suddenly I realize my throat is tight and my face is wet and at the same time Jacob notices it, too.
"Oh no... No, don't- don't..."
He hurries over to where I am sitting, surprisingly fast. When he drops on the sofa next to me his left leg remains in an awkwardly twisted position. He lets go of the cane and lifts his right hand, letting it hover in the space between us.
“Cait, I… please, don’t cry.”
Somehow that makes me cry even harder and he scoots closer and pulls me in a one-armed embrace. I cry in his shoulder while he pats my back and murmurs soothing words in my ear. I smell his jacket, partly of fresh rain, partly of office dust.
After a few minutes in which I cried all the tears I seem to have, I calm down slowly, hiccoughing into his shoulder. “I… I’m sorry.” I pull away a little and his hand drops from my back. He leans to the other side and reaches into the right pocket of his pants to hand me a paper tissue.
I blow my nose and dry my face. My head is pounding now and I feel empty and exhausted but somehow I feel better than before.
“I… thank you. For coming. And… You are all wet.” I point to his shoulder.
He chuckles. “Don’t worry. It’s just water, I assume.”
I feel a grin tuck at my lips. “Um… I guess.”
He chuckles, then pulls himself in a straighter sitting position and reaches down with his right hand to his left leg. He hooks his hand under his knee and lifts his leg to sit next to the other. “Do you… want to talk about it?”
My eyes return to the tissue in my hands and I take a deep breath before I shake my head. I cannot talk to him about it. I just cannot. I am a selfish person for calling him to comfort me and not confiding in him the true reason, but I know he would leave if I did. If he knew what I am. I do not want him to leave.
His blue eyes are searching mine. "Just sitting here, then?"
I nod and he smiles, leaning against the backrest of the couch, right arm draped over it, bringing more of an appropriate distance between us without losing the connection. He is calmly watching me and I feel warm and safe in his presence.
“Thanks for fixing the internet,” I mumble.
He laughs a breathy laugh. “You’re welcome. Sorry… for leaving like that.”
“It’s okay. I understand.”
“Hm…” The couch dips as he shifts.
I lift my head, sleepily. “I’m a woman. I know all sorts of reasons why people think I cannot code. Must be similar to…” I clap my mouth shut. I am such an idiot, how can I compare these things? I do not even know anything about him but I know I sound ridiculous.
“Similar to having one functioning leg and arm in technical support? Yeah, totally!” He scoffs but his voice is kind and his right hand briefly squeezes my shoulder.
After some time my heartbeat slows down and my breathing evens out and with the picture of his blue eyes in my head I steadily drift towards sleep. I barely notice he pulls one of the blankets over me and I do not remember hearing him leave. When I wake up in the middle of the next day, curled into a ball on the couch, I am alone again, a glass full of water pointedly placed on the table the only reminder of his presence earlier.
The entire block of embarrassment – and dread – does not hit me until after I have showered and the events of last night are slowly tickling into my brain. What in all hells had I been thinking, calling him in the middle of the night? Why did I do that? A certain part of me marvels about the fact that he did not take advantage of my situation last night. I was drunk, I was obviously desperate when I called him. If he had made a move and if I had managed to stay awake... I am sure the night had ended differently. I am glad it did not come to this because I do not want to be that kind of girl. Deep within me, though, I catch myself wondering about what could have been and mourning my lost chance a tiny, little bit...
I have always known I was different. When everyone at school got crazy about a particular singer or actor I was left pondering what all the hubbub was about. For a long time I assumed I was homosexual, until I experimented with a girl one night and found out I was not. I guess I have always known what I was but did not realize it fully until my father had to change workplace and we moved. I got into a new school and there was this guy, this one guy I totally fell for. Later I googled and today I know that the way he talked and the way he walked was because he had cerebral palsy. But back then, at first, I had no clue, all I knew was that I was entranced by his limp and his slight speech impediment.
His name was Josh. Josh was two years older than me but I was friends with his younger sister, so we naturally met a few times outside of school. He had long brown hair, wore skinny jeans with holes ripped into the knees and listened to rock music that he never turned down even when his sister banged her fist against his locked door. His disability was rather mild, he did not use any mobility devices, but from the notes on the door of the refrigerator I could tell that his writing was shit. I was starry-eyed and had a massive crush. To him, I was the stupid friend of his little sister and he never looked at me twice.
For months I could not speak a single word in his presence. It probably took me more than one year to be able to start a conversation with him. By then I had found out about the mysterious power of a well-placed cleavage or a barely existing skirt and I had had a few relationships with some guys. Nothing of it had ever been serious though. I worked up all of my courage, build it up over weeks actually, to ask him out to his prom.
When he said yes, I thought this would be the happiest day of my life.
It started out fine. He got quite drunk early into prom night and I learned that alcohol nearly eliminated his stutter. We danced a lot and ended up kissing and fumbling in the background. I was thrilled. I was in heaven. Until he would not stop suggesting sex. A friend of him had his car in the parking lot and had given him the keys. He kept playing around with them and showed me the condoms in his pocket. He told me I was the most beautiful girl he had ever met, how he loved touching my breasts and did I not enjoy touching him as well?
I did. But I had not had any thought about sex yet. I felt not ready. And I had certainly pictured losing my virginity different than doing it in a borrowed car in the backyard of the prom venue with a guy I barely knew, who was older and apparently much more experienced than I was.
In the end he succeeded in persuading me. He cupped my cheek with his hand, fingers twitching slightly, and asked me if I wanted to become a woman or stay a child. Needless to say what I answered.
It was not extraordinary. Neither bad nor good. I should come to experience even worse sex later. But it was not what I had expected as my first time. When the effect of the alcohol wore off the next day and I was only left with a raging headache and no message from him, I felt used, soiled. Still, I did not think of him as the one to blame. In contrast, I had already planned our lives ahead, to the point when we should die hand in hand in old age. It annoyed me that he did not answer my mails or calls the next days but I did not really worry about it. He probably was just busy, I thought. When I managed to get a hold on him however, cornering him in his own home on a visit a few days after prom, he made it pretty clear that I had only been a one-time thing. He did not think of us as more than that.
I was crushed and deeply hurt. And I made the biggest mistake I have ever made in my life. I wrote a flaming love letter, hoping to be able to change his mind when I only showed enough of my love for him. I spent a lot of time to make sure I included every detail of what I liked about him, what made my knees weak and my head swim when I only thought about it.
He was disgusted. He said that much to me, right in my face. That I was sick, maybe even dangerous, certainly worthless, and he never wanted to see me again or have his sister be my friend anymore. I lost him, his sister and most of my friends because on top of everything he saw it as his duty to inform everyone who would listen at school what a crazy mind I was.
In the end, when the bullying did not stop, I had to change schools again and once more started from scratch. But this time I had learned something and sworn to me never to forget it. This is not normal. I am not normal. And I could not trust anyone with it.
What was I supposed to do? As I grew older I knew I had to teach myself to fit in, for my sake and for others’. At university there was one man, able-bodied, with whom I really clicked and I soon realized that he adored me way more than a normal friendship would warrant. I gave in to him and hold on to him and with time I even learned to enjoy sex with him. This is how Marcus turned from a best friend to being my lover.
In the evening my phone rings and I briefly consider not taking the call because I am already on my way to bed and I do not know the number. But then I force myself to pick up.
It is Jacob.
His voice makes me all warm inside. "Oh, hi... Jacob."
"Uh... just wanted to make sure you are okay."
I feel my cheeks heating up. "Yes, I... I am fine, thanks. I… sorry, Jacob, for… I was drunk and, well… stupid. I’m sorry."
"You have nothing to apologize for.”
I have, believe me. I do not say anything.
“Um... yeah well... I should probably go and... Anyway, have a nice-"
"Are you at home?" I cannot think of anything else to say to stop him.
"What? Oh, yes, yes, I call from my place. It's... um... not entirely legal, that is. Calling a customer from a private phone, I mean. Customer data protection and stuff."
“Oh… okay. Wow. Uhm… Jacob?”
I swallow. Get it over with, coward. “I just want to make sure that you know that last night… it does not mean anything, okay? I was very pissed and not thinking.”
There is a long stretch of silence. When Jacob speaks his voice sounds dead, ripping my heart open. “I get it.”
“I’m so sorry.”
For someone who cries seldom, I have a hell of a lot of tears stored within me.
One month later Marcus moves back into my apartment.
--> Chapter 4
--> Chapter 4