CHAPTER II -- Wouldn't You Like to Know
“If you’re still planning on drinking that,” she pointed at the half empty bottle that had been sitting there forever. “Don’t. Hot beer sucks.”
Alex placed the condensation slicked bottle on the table with a loud thud. The man looked at her with a set of deep blue eyes, framed by rimless glasses she hadn’t noticed from afar. She liked them better than contacts. He had a Clark Kent kind of vibe to him, which was good—she was a Superman kind of gal.
“Uh, thanks.” He flashed her a surprised smiled. Dimples. Double dimples. That, my friends, is a gift from the gods.
“Is this seat taken?” She sure as hell hoped not. If so, she was afraid she’d have to fight for him, like a medieval knight or something. She’d go for the hair, obviously— a woman’s greatest weakness.
But fortunately for her—and the imaginary woman about to get her hair pulled—, he nodded.
“Be my guest.”
Only then, as he gestured at the empty chair in front of him, Alex noticed his hands,— he had those fingerless gloves on, covering only his palms, black leather, and his fingers were slightly curled up against his palms, slightly atrophied. Quad hands. Alex wanted to study them out forever, but she couldn’t stare, so she made sure that all that didn’t take longer than a fleeting second as she sat down in front of him with her best flirty smile, flipping her hair over her shoulder.
He was even more handsome up close. Too good to be true. What was wrong with her? There’s no such a thing as too good to be true. There’s good and true, and he was both. At least she hoped so. What an awful thing would it be if she woke up and realized it had been all a dream, after all, she had dreamed about it — the casualness in which she’d find… well, she wasn’t sure what. Him. Whatever that meant. It fit the fantasies she drew in her mind after dark, when she was having trouble closing her eyes and needed to trick her brain into slowly slipping her into one of those rare peaceful, dreamless sleep. She almost pinched herself, but the butterflies in her stomach left no doubts — it was real. She just had to act like a fucking normal human being for once, not the nuclear ogive ready to explode she felt like deep inside.
Alex noted how physically drained he looked, slightly hunched over the table— although lack of core stability might have had more to do with that—the top buttons of his dress shirt undone, the blue tie draped around his broad, rock solid shoulders. She wondered how he managed to tie it himself with his limited hand function, but she didn’t muster around it too much; she was sure there was some way — not someone, if that was her lucky day. Nothing on his fingers, but men didn’t use engagement rings anyway— plus, she’d think wearing a ring when your hands don’t work quite so well would be more of a nuisance than anything, so it wasn’t as if the absence of it was indication of anything. God, she hoped there wasn’t anyone.
“Tired?” She asked, protecting the beer with both her hands.
“It’s that obvious?” He snorted, raising the clear blue eyes to her again. He shrugged. “Yeah. More like frustrated.” He brought the bottle closer using his wrist and hooked it between his thumb and curled index finger, simulating a grip. When he raised it, balancing the bottle in his palm by positioning his wrist, it looked like an unusual combination of precarious and stable.
Her insides twisted and she had to take a big sip before continuing, as he wasn’t very helpful at keeping the conversation going, and that was a red sign. But it wasn’t like Alex to give up so easily.
“Tough day at work?”
He laughed. “More like tough week. The law gives no break.”
Spoken like Superman. “I see, a lawyer. Or a criminal, but I don’t think too many of those wear a tie to work.”
“Oh, you’d be surprised.” He sipped at his beer again, his eyes still smiling, as if just now warming up to her. “What about you? Is buying drinks to strangers a thing you do often?”
“Only when I’m babysitting” She looked above his shoulder to where Callie and her date seemed to have fun and he followed her gaze. “That’s my friend’s Tinder Date. I’m here as a witness.”
He frowned, returning his attention to her. She noticed he took the cue to quickly do a weight shift in his chair, suspending himself in the air using the wheels for a couple of seconds. She didn’t think the cold beer was having any effect — Alex needed some fresh air. Or a fresh shower.
“To what? Bad online dating?”
“To a potential crime, of course.” Alex cocked an eyebrow before adding with a conspiratory voice. “Kidnapping.”
He laughed. It was the kind of throaty laugh, silent but big at the same time, and she loved it.
“I see. Well, if you ever need a criminal lawyer, I happen to know a pretty good one.” He winked.
“Isn’t he cocky.”
She leaned closer, forearms crossing over the table, not entirely seated in the chair anymore. It gave her a very nice cleavage in that shirt and much to his credit—while at the same time not going against the heterossexual male instincts she was counting on—he only looked for a fraction of second, one that could have easily been mistaken for him looking at the rotule of his beer had Alex not been consciously provoking, much like she had done to his hands. He brushed his knuckles in his chin, raising it to adjust his glasses and she thought she’d seen flushed cheeks.
“And what’s his name?” Alex asked, lowering her voice.
“Wouldn’t you like to know.” His blue eyes had this mischievous gleam to them, his voice following hers, but so low that it sounded more like a rumble in his chest than anything. Alex found herself happy that he was answering to her shameless flirting.
It wasn’t her birthday for another couple of months, but she felt as if it was right there, right then. Alex felt like she might explode. She had to thank Callie — speaking of which, Alex’s phone began to vibrate in the pocket of her jeans and when she checked, a desperate row of messages from Callie.
Great timing, as always. Alex rolled her eyes and couldn’t help the loud sigh that left her lips.
“Is something wrong?”
And then she hated to look back at him and say that she had to go. She wanted to ask Callie to put up with Tinder Date for just a little bit longer, because something inside her could not just let go. That was definitely not how the fantasy ended, if it ever did— it ended in a one-store house with white picket fence, ramps, bars in the bathroom and lowered countertops, two kids and a dog. Or just a dog. Maybe not even a picket fence, as Alex had always found that so incredibly tacky. But definitely a lot of rounding-the-wheelchair-to-get-to-the-bathroom-in-the-middle-of-the-night, lap-sitting as a second mean of transportation, cuddly mornings and, well, that. Lots and lots of that.
Leaving him after only a few minutes of flirting was never an option in her fantasy. But it was in real life.
“It’s Callie. My friend.”
He nodded, as if expecting Alex to say that, a grim look on his face.
“She wants to be rescued.”
“And that’s your job, right? Preventing her from, you know, being kidnapped. As we know it happens so very often.”
She couldn't read him.
“Y-eah.” Alex was more hesitant this time. She couldn't read him. He seemed to be an odd combination between cynical, disappointed and amused, which made her wonder if he was thinking Alex was finding some excuse to leave.
More messages were coming in and he was right. That was her job. She pressed her lips into a thin line and closed her eyes for a moment before opening them again. She took a deep breath in and nodded at him.
Much to her surprise, he interrupted her pathetic attempt to save the interaction.
“Then I’m afraid I won’t be able to get you a beer. In retribution.”
She blinked twice, as if awaking from a hazy dream. Alex smiled. “You might, actually. Just give me a moment.”
She fumbled around her purse and found a business card, in which she scribbled her personal number in a font larger than life, so not to have any mistakes. Alex gave it to him, feeling his soft and warm fingers brushing against hers when he took the card between his knuckles. Oh Lord.
“Call me.” She got up, about to rescue an impatient Callie. “I mean it.”
He studied the card and flipped it around before looking up at her, a smirk placed on his lips.
“ Ms. Alexandra Harrington. It was nice to meet you.”
“Well, you haven’t yet. But you do owe me a beer, so let’s only hope that you will.”
She thought she’d heard a chuckle when she turned around in her heels, walking to Callie’s and Tinder Guy’s table as if butterflies weren’t provoking havoc inside her, not only in her stomach anymore, desperately looking for a way out.
Alex sat in her L-shaped leather couch. She’d long since given up in looking for a decent movie on the Netflix catalogue. Well, decent was a bit of a stretch — what Alex really wanted was a ridiculously sappy romantic movie, the kind she’d never admit watching or even enjoying. Her Guilty Pleasure to mask another one, even more guilty, even more pleasant. Clark Kent.
No. It wasn’t about superheroes, although she wished it was. People would get it. She wouldn’t have had to hide it as a dirty little secret her entire life, the guilt eating her from the inside since she was too young to tell, but old enough to know not to. In many ways, it was so deeply entwined to her sexuality, — perhaps even more, considering her bissexual adventures in college, while this never faltered, not for a second, not when it was numb and asleep —, because if there was one thing in this world Alexandra Harrington was absolutely sure about herself, was of her attraction to men in wheelchairs.
It wasn’t as simple as the wheelchair, though. She wasn’t even sure what it was about. It was about the guy — the silhouette different from anything she’d ever seen, the defined arms doing the job of the legs, feet so still on the single footplate, shoes that were never dirty but calloused hands that always were. Sometimes the pull was so strong she wanted to cry. Like an itch needing to be scratched.
It was such a shame he hadn’t called her. Yet. Hopefully.
Her phone buzzed against her thigh and Alex had her heart in her mouth when she took it. Unfortunately, it was just Callie announcing she was waiting outside her building. Alex quickly changed from her gray sweatpants into shorts and put her practice sneakers inside the same gym bag her knee and elbow pads were, swinging it over her shoulder and took the stairs instead of the elevator so she could warm up before practice.
“I really need to sweat this out.” Callie said once she hopped inside the car.
“It was really that bad, uh?”
“The guy was eighteen, Lexie. Not even legal drinking age. I’d say It was badder than bad.”
Alex couldn’t help a chuckle.
“It’s the price you pay for online dating.”
Callie banged her fists against the steering wheel and heaved a sigh.
“Why things have to be so complicated these days?” she looked at Alex before returning her eyes to the road. “I wish my mom could pick me a husband, like they did in the old days.”
“Yeah, I’m sure it was great.” Alex snorted.
“You’re hilarious, Callioppe.”
“I’m serious. But anyway. Who was that?”
Alex didn’t have to give a second thought to know who Callie was talking about. She couldn’t help but smile at the thought of the guy from the bar.
Callie narrowed her eyes. “I could see that. Who was he?”
“I didn’t get his name.”
“What do you mean you didn’t get his name? Did you get his number?”
“You dragged me away before I could. I did give him mine, though.”
Alex rested her head against the window, “Radio silence.”
“That’s bad.” Callie pulled the car into the parking lot and parked close to the entrance. “Let’s go, sister. You need to sweat it out too. Although for very different reasons.”
Volleyball had the ability to make her powerful, as if she could jump and run and be overall invincible. She was feeling victorious when she stepped outside of the court bounds to the bleachers.
“Girls, hurry up!”
She opened the sports bag looking for the water bottle. Just as she reached for it at the bottom, her phone buzzed with a new message from an unknown number. She didn’t unlock to read it, as the girls kept rushing her, but she did catch a glimpse of it through the lock screen.
Hey, do you still need a lawyer?
“Alexandra, c’mon!” Callie threw the ball at her and Alex caught it just last second as she stepped inside the bounds, grinning ear to ear. “What are you so happy about?”
She spun in front of Callie, barely able to contain her giggles, and jumped into position, ball in hand as she prepared to serve and hopefully score the first point.