CHAPTER V — Dinner & a Movie
“Oh my God.”
Her voice cut through the silence, interrupting the water flow in the kitchen.
“What?” He asked.
“Oh my God, Elliot.” She spun in her heels to find a clueless man. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Tell you what?” He frowned, drying his hand in a World's Best Uncle little towel he had in his lap.
Alex put her hands in her hips.
“This is first date content, you don’t omit something like that.” He wheeled around the kitchen island, still oblivious and concerned. “It’s a serious matter.”
“What are you talking about, for God’s sake?”
A smile tugged at the corner of her lips and she decided to finally put him out of his misery. “You’re a nerd! Nerd with a capital N.”
The sigh he released was almost audible across the room. “You nearly gave me a heart attack for that, woman?”
She couldn’t suppress the laughter. “What? It’s fun making you sweat.”
“I don’t sweat.” He retorted.
“Look at this! You could’ve at least mentioned. It’s not like we didn’t have the time.” Alex turned back to the bookshelf. Differently from the others, this one didn’t have huge law books and general classics, the boring kind, and neither was it full only from the bottom to the middle, at his eye level—it was filled all the way till the top with comic books, squeezed together so it could fit more, hundreds of them. “A Nerd. I still can’t believe it.”
“That.” Elliot rolled up to her, having finished the dishes. She had offered to do it, after all he’d cooked, but he didn’t let her. And Alex wasn’t about to insist—watching him moving around his fully adapted kitchen was far more interesting. “I believe the correct term now is geek.”
“Nerd,” she teased him. She walked a step further, seeing the miniatures in front of the comics. She picked up a little Superman and showed it to him. “Now that…”
She bursted into laughter and he ran his knuckles through his hair, looking embarrassed and surprisingly boyish for a moment.
“That draws a line.”
“Funny.” He elbowed her thigh. “We have a movie to watch, don’t we?”
“If it’s Trek Wars–”
“Did you just seriously…?”
“–I swear I’m getting out of here faster than Han Solo can pilot the Millennium Falcon.”
“I’m done with you, Alex.” Elliot chuckled under his breath and followed her to the leather couch.
From the moment she walked in, she made sure to pay careful attention to his apartment. As an architect who got increasingly involved with building conversions and age-in-place house projects, Alex noticed right away how absolutely and completely accessible his place was, and not in a rushed, obviously last-minute way made to accommodate without a second thought. No. Elliot’s apartment was built accessible, thought accessible, without a single trace of ever not being that way—it had an open floor plan, with wide spaces that allowed him to spin his chair just about anywhere and easily wheel through the hardwood floor. The countertops in the ample kitchen were all wheelchair height, roll-under. It didn’t sacrifice design for accessibility, like old-school once thought, just the opposite; it made accessibility a design, the best of modern-contemporary architecture. It made Alex want to congratulate the person behind the project, from one architect to another, but it also made her heart skip a—yet another—beat. It made her wonder if he’d been lucky enough to find it that way or —the more likely alternative—, if he’d done it himself.
Now, watching as he positioned his chair slightly in an angle in front of the leather couch, she noticed things that her architect eye couldn’t have possibly catched at a first glance—or, hell, ever—because this wasn’t taught in architecture books but in physical and occupational therapy ones. It was how his cushion was the exact same height as the seat—so he could transfer easily. Alex wasn’t sure how she knew that last piece of information, but she was sure it definitely mattered for a quadriplegic such as Elliot; it was independence.
“Can you take that pillow?” he asked, pointing his head at the brown decoration pillow in his way. Alex promptly moved it to her lap.
In the month they’d been dating, she’d seen him transferring a couple of times, in and out of the car, so it shouldn’t be any news. Except this time he wasn’t wearing a long sleeved shirt, so when he scooted forward in his cushion and positioned his fist in the top cushion of couch, she truly saw how the mechanics behind it worked. Alex even noticed—much like the couch height—things she hadn’t before about his body, such as how his left arm had muscles all over, but his right seemed to lack triceps and was overall more atrophied than the other, so a most times he favored his left. After he transferred, using a combination between technique and strength, eased by the even height between his wheelchair and the place he was transferring to, Alex thought he looked kind of slumped when he fell back. She’d noticed, perhaps for the first time, how his chair made him look so in control of his body, and how outside of it he was really not.
“Put that here?” Elliot fell forward, his chin almost touching his knee, and nodded again at the throw pillow, gesticulating to the empty space between him and the back of the couch.Again, Alex complied and he pushed against his thighs back into a sitting position, finally looking more comfortable. “Sorry,” he muttered under his breath, without meeting her eyes.
“For what?” She blinked.
He didn’t answer. He reached for the remote and pressed the play button with his knuckle. The movie started. She paid attention, maybe, for the first five minutes, but something else was bugging her. Thankfully, from his side of the couch, Elliot gave her a sideways look that read her mind, “Why are you sitting so far away?”
Thank God. She couldn’t help the smile that took over her lips as she kicked off her ballet flats and pulled her legs up in the couch, scooting closer to him. He raised an arm, inviting her in and she leaned against his chest with no hesitation, curled up at his side just like she wanted to be. He gently brushed his nose against her hair and murmured, “Much better.”
Indeed. As she laid there, Alex felt aware of the closeness of their bodies. She thought about how long it’d been since she was with someone just for the sake of it—the last time she’d been so close to a man in a couch without clothes flying around. The last time she’d snuggled. Had she ever? In her vocabulary, watching a movie had been code phrase for having sex for so long she almost forgot that wasn’t what it really meant. She had to keep reminding herself that the thing Richard offered her wasn’t the norm—people definitely called each other for dinner and a movie meaning dinner and a movie, and that was okay. Even great. Surprisingly refreshing.
It’s all about breaking unhealthy patterns, right? Richard—unhealthy. Elliot—healthy.
“I can’t feel that,” he said in a low voice, midway through the movie.
Confused for a second and unsure of what he’d meant, Alex looked down. Oh. Only then she noticed how she’d been playing with his hand for the past several minutes, setting the fingers apart, opening and closing them. She shot him a guilty look and stopped.
He didn’t say anything for a long minute and she assumed he’d returned his attention to the movie.
“It’s fine.” Elliot nuzzled behind her ear, his nose tickling her skin and sending shivers down her spine. His voice was a low rumble she felt in his chest, “I kind of like it.”
Alex smiled and slipped her hand under his, massaging his calloused, rough palm, contrasting with the softness of his fingers.
“That I can feel,” he said without taking his eyes off the screen. “Sort of.”
It was the first time either of them addressed his disability like that, an open window in which talking about it was natural—and fearing it would shut down as quickly as it opened, afraid it would take a long time before it did again, Alex leapt through it.
“Not your fingers, though?” She asked, brushing her thumb around his knuckles in circle motions.
“Nope.” He watched as she played with his fingers and lifted his right arm. “I can’t feel anything with my right hand either, not even the palm. Makes writing hard. Most times I sign with my left, it’s pretty much the same chicken scratch anyway.”
She reached for his right hand with her free one and took it too, separating his fingers and entwining them with hers. Soft yet rough, with deep creases where the muscles were obviously lacking. This hand, unlike the other one, was closed almost in a fist.
“I had a pretty handwriting.” He said it with a chuckle, as a joke, but she thought she could hear a longing undertone creeping in.
Alex waited a long minute before she spoke again.
“Each year I buy myself a three thousand dollar fountain pen,” Alex said, almost like a confession. “and I still don’t have a perfect handwriting.”
He was quiet for a moment and then looked down at her win a raised inquisitive eyebrow.
“Did you just say you spend three thousand dollars a year in pens?”
“Not in plural. One pen. A year.”
“This better be solid gold,” he gawked at her.
“Not yet. But it does have gold in the nib,” Alex quickly added. He shook his head and gave an incredulous laugh. “What?”
“This is so much worse than a comic book shelf, Alexandra.”
Alex grinned. Like a dog, she reacted when people called her by her full name. She liked when he did it.
“Shelves, plural.” She shrugged, “Well, I guess we all have addictions, don’t we?”
“Except mine barely costs me a dollar,” he gesticulated at his shelves, their fingers still entwined.
“C’mon, I bet you have some pretty rare editions.”
“Only like eight. Even then, a few hundred dollars each.”
Elliot laughed again. At this point, neither of them seemed interested in the movie anymore—if they ever were. Without any warning, he crossed his arms around her. He kissed her neck, causing her breath to get caught inside her lungs. A ticklish feeling bursted from her insides when his scratchy chin brushed against her skin. Alex almost melted against him when the his left hand she was holding slipped under her shirt and caressed her stomach and so she tried to even her breath—without much success.
He had her trapped in his embrace and she felt like going insane, contorting inside his arms as he did as little as breathing against the sensitive skin of her neck. Alex released a breath and finally turned around to face him and meet his lips with hers. Elliot shivered when she playfully bit his earlobe and much to her surprise, his left leg started bouncing up and down. He didn’t seem to notice because he kept kissing and teasing her, unfazed, and so Alex moved again to straddle him, feeling his spasming leg between her thighs. She noticed he using his right weaker arm as support, completely extended at his side.
Alex’s fingers found a vertical line of raised skin in the back of his neck and she trailed along it. All of sudden, she felt his stomach contract and his breath get caught in his chest, his legs both bounce up and down, violently and uncontrollably. A low groan escaped his lips.
“The scar...” He opened his eyes, pushing her away for a moment. “Is super, super sensitive.”
“Oh, sorry.” Alex quickly moved her hand away and back to his left shoulder.
The spasms in his trunk hadn’t subsided, if anything they’d gotten worse, making him slide to the side over his extended right arm, bending it in a strange position and trapping it between him and the arm of the couch.
“Good sensitive,” he clarified with a chuckle.
Alex grinned, sliding her hand up his neck again, this time digging her fingers in his tousled hair.
By then, he'd fallen to the side almost completely, but his legs were still in front of him in a natural sitting position. It looked uncomfortable, (even though she was fairly sure he couldn’t feel any of it), and slightly awkward, like a rag doll, and as soon as he noticed he was sliding to the side, he took his left arm off of her and braced himself onto the back pillow of the couch, his right arm still squeezed under his weight and, she supposed, trapped. He released a grunt between her lips, and not a pleasure one, caused by the effort of keeping himself from falling all the way to the side.
“Wait,” he asked and she pulled back, brushing her hair off her face.“I just need to-”
He let go of the back of the couch and quickly propelled himself up in an elbow, releasing his right arm from his weight and setting himself in an inclined position, arranging the throw pillow under his upper back. Alex wasn’t thinking too much when she unclimbed his lap and grabbed his ankles, bringing his legs to the top of the couch. She didn’t give him any time to comment or protest or even think, because soon she was framing his torso with her thighs as he supported himself with both elbows, raising his upper body just enough to meet her halfway for a new round of kisses.
Definitely, neither of them was paying attention to the movie anymore. If they ever were.
Alex’s head snapped up at the sound of Callie’s voice.
“What?” She asked, worried she had missed half of her friend’s rant again, thinking of a clever, yet neutral, general sentence to keep her going and not making her disinterest plain obvious.
“Who are you talking to?” Callie narrowed her eyes.
Alex narrowed her eyes back, moving her screen out of her friend’s line of sight, immediately locking the screen. “No one.”
“Ohh, it is someone.” Her eyes lit up and she clapped her hands excitedly. “Who is it, Alexandra?”
“No one.” she insisted, shielding herself from Callie with her shoulder . “Go back to your seat.”
“Are you seriously not telling me? How long has it been?”
“It’s not been anything, calm down.”
But she wasn’t buying it and neither was Alex trying to hide it. Honestly, she’d been hoping Callie would ask because she wanted to talk about Elliot—her friend had the ability to smell relationships, like a sixth sense. So she didn’t hold back the smile that took over her lips, giving her away and granting a high pitched squeal from Callie.
“I knew it!”
“Calm down, woman.”
At this point, Callie was singing. “How long has it been?”
“About six weeks, I guess.”
It wasn’t a guess, though. Alex knew exactly how long it’d been and she actually rounded it down, because it’d been six weeks and three days. If she checked a clock, she could probably tell you the hours too—he’d picked her up what, 8pm? So if she actually did the math...
“You mean a month.” Callie interrupted her thoughts.
“You know my theory.”
“Which one?” Callie came up with so many conspiracies that Alex often found it hard to keep track of all of them.
“Y’know. When people are in love, they pretty much become new moms: ‘how far along are you?’ ‘Oh, it’s thirty two weeks.’ How the fuck am I supposed to know what thirty two weeks are?!”
“That would be eight m-”
“Don’t turn this conversation around with your quick mathematical thinking, Alexandra.” Her index finger was way too close to Alex’s nose. “What’s his name?”
“Elliot. From the bar.” Callie’s clueless face was enough to get her rolling her eyes. “Tinder Date bar.”
“Oh.” Callie frowned. “I don’t remember him.”
Alex shrugged, even though the knot in her stomach had just been loosened with relief. Since that day, she had thought maybe Callie was just holding back on saying anything, after all, dating a disabled guy once was a surprise, twice could be a coincidence, but three times? Something ought to be wrong with her, right? Alex had always had this thing looking over her shoulder, judging her, telling her that everyone would just see right through her if she did as much as saying—even hearing—the word ‘wheelchair’ in public, as if neon signs would shine over her head and give her away.
Of course Callie would have to know at some point. Not now.
“Well, I guess I’ll just have to meet him soon.” Callie waggled her eyebrows, and even though she laughed, Alex felt that inner voice kicking her right in the ass. She secretly hoped they wouldn’t meet for a long time. “So, have you done it yet?”
Alex slapped her shoulder. “Is this a thing you should be asking?”
“A healthy sex life is a healthy life, it’s what I say”
“You’re the doctor.”
She moved her eyes back to the court, where the male volleyball team had just started their second set. Alex’s hair in the ponytail was still damp from the shower and all she could think about was the ice pack waiting for her sore ankle, but Callie was driving her and she wanted to have a look at the guys and not to assess their technical quality. It made Alex wonder if the situation was inverted, if that wasn’t a volleyball game with hot guys but a wheelchair basketball game with hot guys, if Callie would be willing to wait with her so she could check them out. It made her wonder how nice it would be. Almost like a one of those fantasies that made her insides fuzzy.
“So?” Callie asked, once again bringing her back to reality.
Alex looked at her hands, at the phone, and leaned forward, resting her elbows over her things, and slowly shook her head. “No. I went to his place yesterday for dinner and a movie, and that was all there was.” And a lot of making out, but she omitted that last part. “I wasn’t sure I even wanted anything else.”
Her reaction was just the opposite of what she’d expected; Callie jumped up, raised a fist in the air and gave a victorious yelp. Some of the guys at the court got distracted by her and missed a point.
“Oops.” Callie sat back. “I’m really glad for you.”
“It means it’s serious.”
“What are you even going on about?”
She took Alex’s hands in hers, staring at her as if she’d just made a huge scientific breakthrough.
“It’s Alexandra Harrington for Dummies,” Callie laughed. “You always jump ahead. Let’s be honest, you don’t have a three dates rule. Not even a one date rule. You follow your pleasures.”
But her best friend’s knowing look was enough to get her to let the protest die in her throat.
“And we all know how it ends.” In fire and dust? “It’s been a month and you haven’t fled the opposite way. I’m glad that dinner and a movie was enough, sister.”
Alex toyed with the tip of her ponytail for a long time before saying, more to herself than to anyone who could possibly hear:
“It was, wasn’t it?” More. It was actually more than enough.