Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Lies, All Lies Part six



Lies, All Lies
Part Six

“I love you too,” Lisa whispers. 
They talk for a long time after that. 
Well, Jesse talks, his knuckles running over her prickly fuzz, his breath warm on her neck. Lisa holds him tightly. Her bare chest presses against his, and under the blanket, they are still. 
Carolyn is dead. Lisa’s hurting badly. At the same time, she knows that she can let go, that she can crash and that Jesse will be there when she does. It’s such an immense relief that she cries as he talks, quietly and continuously. The laws of physics dictate that no two things will ever truly touch. Well, she’s getting as close as she can. 
Lisa has wanted to have sex with Jesse from the day she learnt his name. It had been a desire of curiosity, at the beginning, a kind of what would that be like? The want is still there, but now it’s all encompassed in Jesse, Jesse the person, and Lisa knows she’d take him in whatever shape he’d come in. 
But her body is exhausted now. Her mind is exhausted. Her eyelids droop, her body slackens, and she falls into a state of half-awake, half-asleep where the only thing real is the man beside her. 
An electric clocks beeps, somewhere far in the distance. “I’m gonna be back soon,” Jesse murmurs a while afterwards, leaving her with a warm peck on the shoulder. Before Lisa even opens her eyes she can sense him being lifted away, leaving a cold, empty space beside her. The shower turns on, pounding steadily behind a closed door. Lisa drifts into fitful sleep. 
×××
When she wakes up, Jesse is there, watching her with a wistful smile on his face. His face is inches from hers. Tendrils of hair peek out from under his cheek. 
“How are you?” he whispers. 
Lisa isn’t a morning person. She waits a few seconds for her brain to defog, but then she remembers everything that happened last night. 
“I don’t want to talk about it,” she says. “Let’s talk about you.”
Jesse shifts so that he’s staring up at the ceiling. “Okay,” he says. “Ask what happened to me.”
“Fine,” she says, her voice rusty. “What happened between you and Ruby?”
He sighs. “That’s not what I meant.”
The window behind them is open, and it brings in a salty ocean breeze. Lisa shivers, and pulls the covers up to her chin. “I know. But I think… Something happened when the two of you dated. Or afterwards, I don’t know. Something that changed you.”
Jesse is quiet for a moment, as if he needs time to think, but from his grimace Lisa knows he’s just pushing off the inevitable. 
“You can say it,” Lisa says, running her fingers through his hair. “I won’t judge.”
“Well, she cheated on me,” Jesse says. “But that wasn’t it. It was…” he squints, like it hurts to say it. “When I confronted her about it, she laughed and said, ‘what, you think we were in a relationship or something?’”
×××
Jesse doesn’t know what to do. Everyone mourns in their own way, and his way has always been to Avoid the Subject at All Costs. If you don’t think about it, then it doesn’t exist. Lisa might be different, though- she might be the type who likes to flesh everything out, to go over the details until they become numb to her. 
She’s asleep when he wakes up, and when her lashes flutter open he has a moment of anxiety. 
God, she’s so beautiful. There are beauty marks dotting the underside of her chin, clustered like a hazel constellation. Her lack of hair makes her eyes the more prominent, their shining coffee irises peeking out. He asks her how she is. She won’t say. The pain is too fresh for her. 
So, like a complete idiot, he begins to talk about himself. Lisa asks about Ruby, and he blubbers out the entire story. 
After six months of casual kissing, Ruby wanted to step it up a level. Jesse never ‘casually kissed’ anyone, but Ruby did. She gave out kisses like politicians give speeches. 
But everything changed last summer. She became his, and he became hers, exclusively. Or so he thought.
They would sleep together every night, really sleep, in the literal sense of the word. They never had actual intercourse, because back then, Jesse didn’t know if he could. Ruby never set him straight, anyway. It was Ilana who enlightened him. 
 For a while, Ruby and Brian were Jesse’s primary caregivers. The three of them did everything together. After Brian’s being AWOL from Jesse’s life after the accident, he’d returned full force, with nary an apology and nary a bad word. He learnt how to do strengthening exercises with Jesse and and how to switch his catheter. He did everything for Jesse, short of changing his diaper and doing his bowel program. Those were the only limits. 
Ruby was the one who had no limits. She put him to bed every night, all on her own. Sometimes, she even showered together with him, which she claimed to do because it was more efficient. Once Jesse was naked and in his shower chair, Ruby would strip in front of him and throw her clothes in the pile with his. She would borrow his Axe soap and somehow, the musky, startling smell of it made her more alluring. She’d soap him up and then soap herself up, and take the shower head off its hook and wash them both at once. Ruby looked right at him when she scrubbed under his arms, over his legs and around his penis, and when she shaved him or massaged shampoo into his hair. She made him feel like a sexual being again. Sometimes they would even make out under the steady drum of the water. 
The day after she cheated on him was one of the most humiliating in Jesse’s life. “I don’t have feelings for you in that way,” Ruby Mitchell Kim said flippantly, when Jesse confronted her over breakfast. 
“What the hell does that mean?” Jesse said, feeling crimson rush up his neck and onto his face. “We’ve been together for months. You… we’re together all the time.”
She had looked at him condescendingly, sadly, somehow shifting all the blame into an unfortunate misunderstanding. “Jesse, that wasn’t anything official. I mean, I’ve been seeing other people all year.”
“But since the beginning of the summer…” Jesse said, refusing to believe what she was saying. The conversation quickly escalated into yelling. 
“So I was, what, just a fling for you?” Jesse said. 
“No! You weren’t a fling, you weren’t anything! That’s what I’m trying to tell you.” Ruby took his limp hand in hers. “I’m sorry, Jesse, but take a look in the mirror. Most people like you have to hire prostitutes because no one will come near them. At least you have me.”
Jesse had no retort. Somehow, he landed up on the defensive side in that argument- trying to convince Ruby that he meant something to her. It was becoming clearer and clearer to him, the more he thought about it, that he didn’t. He was a warm body to her, something to hold at night. Nothing more. He should have seen it coming- the way Ruby and Brian playfully bumped shoulders when they dressed him, the smiles they shared over his head. Hell, Jesse was the one who introduced the two of them. They bonded over him. It happened right in front of his nose, but he was too infatuated with Ruby to notice. 
Gossip on the Sierra spread quickly, and anyway, Ruby and Jesse’s voices were pretty loud, because that night Jesse got a phone call from his mother. She admonished him for ‘having delusions about the people who work for you. They’re getting paid to do it. Don’t pretend it’s anything else.’”
When he finishes the story, Lisa stares at him solemnly. Half her face is covered in sleep lines from the pillow. “I don’t understand,” she says. “How was Ruby able to explain away all the... all the intimacy the two of you shared?”
Jesse shrugs, turning his head toward her. “To her, it didn’t count. As in, she didn’t see me as a boyfriend. She didn’t see me as an actual man.” He closes his eyes. He can’t believe he’s saying these things out loud. 
“That’s why you don’t want me to do things for you,” Lisa says softly. He opens his eyes and she’s scooted closed to him, so that their noses almost touch. “I promise never to do anything that will make you feel uncomfortable,” she whispers. “But helping you isn’t going to change the way I feel about you. I won’t be your primary caregiver, if we can afford it.”
“Thank you,” Jesse says. “That means a lot to me.”
“I’m gonna ask for one thing, though,” Lisa says. She sits up and stretches. “You have to be honest with me about yourself. Don’t be embarrassed of your body. This is who you are, this is your body now, and I love you. Okay?”
 “No more lies,” Jesse says, echoing her sentiment from the night before. 
He gets a full view as Lisa clips on her bra, then cups each breast and lifts it into place. Paul comes in to get him dressed, and Lisa protests that she can do it. Jesse shoots her a look, but softens immediately. 
“I guess we’ll have to work this out,” Jesse says, and Lisa nods in agreement. 
×××
Dustin and Jean-Robert get married in a looming church, hidden by leafy oak trees in a quiet neighbourhood in Quebec City. 
“Jean-Robert’s parents are very traditional,” Dustin explains to Jesse in the minutes before the ceremony starts, while the two of them share a bottle of orange juice. “Which meant that all we had to do was find a non-traditional church that would marry us.”
 Bridesmaids, groomsmen, and assorted relatives are bustling around them, pinning dresses and straightening ties and generally freaking out. Dustin is hiding in the corner with Jesse, sprawled out on a scratched leather sofa, because he claims to hate being around nervous people. 
“Ever try having a conversation with a nervous person?” Dustin says, and takes a swallow of juice. “You say, ‘hi,’ and they’re all like, ‘ah! Go away! Don’t talk to me now!’”
Jesse follows Dustin’s gaze, and sees Jean-Robert hopping around with only one shoe, cursing in French. “Are we talking about your fiancé?”
Dustin crosses his legs. “Yeah. He’s really, really scared. Like I said, his family is very traditional. A lot of them are giving him a hard time. But me, I’m excited, not nervous. Why would I be? I love him.”
Jesse smiles. “You, my friend, are a lucky man.”
“Lisa’s not such a bad catch herself.” Dustin hands Jesse the bottle. “Hey, have you made up with Brian yet?”
“Dude, you’re gonna be at the altar in ten minutes. You’ve got more important things to think about.” Jesse takes the bottle in both hands, and tilting his head back, manages to lift it high enough to get some liquid into his mouth. 
Dustin uncrosses his legs. “Fuck. I think I am nervous.”
Behind Jesse, someone clears their throat. Jean-Robert stands there, looking handsome in a gray suit that offsets his chocolate skin. “Je n’ai jamais embrasser quelqu’un en publique,” he says bashfully, in his deep, deep voice, as he clenches his fists and unclenches them. [I’ve never kissed anyone in public.]
“Pratiquons-nous?” Dustin says, standing up. [Shall we practice?] 
Jean-Robert hesitates for a moment, then grabs a fistful of Dustin’s hair and brings his groom’s face to his own, working Dustin's mouth like no one’s business. 
Jesse sets down the empty Tropicana bottle, and backs away gracefully. He looks up, and there she is, across the room, breathtaking in a skin-tight coral dress. Lisa winks at him, and they share a little smile. 
×××
Jesse rolls into a spot in the back, farthest from the aisle. It isn’t a spot, really, just a gap between the rows of chairs and the wall. Brian sits next to him, stony faced. 
The organ music starts, and Jesse frowns at the woman who stands at the altar. “She’s not even an ordained priest,” he says. “I talked to her just before. She works for the government and she officiates marriages. Huh. Well, maybe she’s a two-in-one.” 
The heavy double-doors open, and a line of little girls crowned in flower wreaths float down the aisle. They giggle and scatter rose petals that the janitorial staff will have to spend a half hour cleaning up. The procession continues, and Jesse can’t understand why there have to be bridesmaids when there is no bride. There should just be double the amount of groomsmen. Aren’t gowns more expensive than suits, anyway? 
“Jesus Christ, shut up,” Brian says. “It’s like a running commentary, with you.”
“Shhh!” A woman in a large floppy hat and rouged cheeks scolds them from behind. 
Dustin walks in first, his face unreadable, followed by Jean-Robert, who looks flushed and happy. The music stops, and the priest/officiator begins reading what are definitely not Bible passages, aloud, from a lined sheet of paper. She repeats each paragraph in English after she says it in French. 
Jesse leans forward. “Hey, isn’t that a quote from Grease?”
Brian mimics shooting himself in the mouth. “Who wrote this crap?”
They look at each other. “Dustin,” they say in unison. Brian guffaws. 
“Shhh!” says the woman behind them. 
“You may now kiss the groom,” the priest/officiator announces. The wedding guests around them lean forward in anticipation. 
 Jesse smirks. “Imagine if we got married. What a nightmare.”
“We’d kill each other,” Brian agrees. 
They watch as Dustin and Jean-Robert give each other a quick peck on the lips. It reminds Jesse of Prince William and Kate’s wedding kiss, which was just for show- the real stuff comes after. 
Brian nudges him on the shoulder. Jesse looks over at his friend expectantly, and Brian looks at his lap, then starts to finger his tie. “Hey, I’m sorry, man. About what I said in the pool.”
Jesse sets his jaw. “Don’t be. I started it.”
“No, really. You aren’t a wimp, you’re just… cautious. After what happened last year, who can blame you?”
Jesse keeps his eyes fixated on the front of the chapel. “Dude, forget about last year. I forgive you. You and Ruby together, that was... inevitable. Just forget about it.”
“I will. But you have to forget, too.”
“What do you mean?” Jesse says sharply.
“You’ve finally come around and realized that Lisa isn’t like Ruby,” Brian says. “She’s not some girl fooling around with you to pass the time. She likes you.”
“So?”
“I’m not Ruby, either,” Brian says quietly. “I’m not going to run off the second I deem you useless to me. That’s not how this works.”
Jesse chews the edge of his lip. The ceremony is over, and people are starting to push back their chairs to leave or give the new couple their best wishes.
“I was scared, at the beginning,” Brian continues, pinching his tie. He runs a hand over his dark hair. “That’s why I deserted you after the accident. I freaked out.”
“So what changed?” 
“You didn’t. That’s the point. You were- you are- exactly the same as before. Stubborn as ever. You didn’t want to cut your hair even if it would be easier to take care of if it was short. You didn’t want to stop wearing contacts, even though they’re a pain in the ass. You wear your stuck-up dress shirts every day, even though t-shirts would be a lot easier.”
“I’m a sophisticated guy,” Jesse says. He fiddles with the joystick on his chair.
“Look, I know I’m a little obsessed with your recovery,” Brian says. “It’s just… I’ve done you wrong, man. I bailed on you when you needed me. I’m trying to make up for lost time.”
Jesse shakes his head, and smiles. “You don’t have to. You already have.”
Brian shrugs, and laughs nervously, seemingly at a loss for words. “Cue the theme song for My Little Pony,” he says, rolling his eyes. 
Katie, sitting next to her brother, perks up. “I love that song!” She says. 
Jesse blinks. He hadn’t noticed Katie there. 
“My Little Pony,” she sings, “I used to wonder what friendship could-”
“Okay, thanks Katie,” Brian interrupts. “We all know the song.”
“Twenty bucks and I won’t tell everyone that that’s your favourite TV show,” Jesse says. 
“I hate you,” Brian says, punching him in the arm, lightly, this time. 
×××
The New England tour aboard the Sierra is officially over. By now, all the passengers will have disembarked, and the cleaning staff will wax the floors and clean out the entire ship in preparation for the next cruise and the next batch of fake-tanned passengers. 
For most of the staff, there is a two-day work gap, a time they can use to rest up or tour. Lisa is going to a wedding. 
The ceremony is appropriately stretched out with choirs and emotional speeches and whatnot. Lisa had no idea Dustin knew so many people. She overhears conversations switching seamlessly from English to French and back, and she is introduced to the concept of Franglais, or Frenglish, as it's sometimes referred to. 
The reception is held in the Marriott, downtown. Apparently, the new couple rented out an entire restaurant. Lisa carpools with nine people she doesn’t know, in a dented minivan driven by one of Jean-Robert’s brothers. By the time they leave the church, the sun is hanging low, glinting against the windows that they pass. Her face is pressed against the window, and every few seconds the van jolts, sending everyone into nervous titters. Lisa’s trying not to fall into the lap of the girl beside her, who just so happens to be none other than the infamous Ruby Mitchell-Kim. 
While most of the passengers in the car are already cranky, complaining about creased suits and cramped legs, Ruby seems unflappable. Her French-manicured hands are folded daintily on her lap, and her hair is swept up in a complex updo. 
“When they said transportation was included, I didn’t think they meant this,” she complains, rubbing her nail. “I should have ordered a taxi.”
“Casse-toi,” the driver says, making a face in the rearview mirror. 
Lisa keeps sneaking Ruby glances. They’ve been on the road for five minutes before Lisa works up the courage to speak. 
“Hey,” she says lightly. “Can I… ask you something?”
“About Jesse?”
Lisa clears her throat. “Yeah.”
 Ruby yawns, stretching her arms over her head. She settles back comfortably against the grimy leather seat. “Are you sure you don’t want to talk about the weather first?” 
“Yes.” 
Ruby yawns again. “Then I’ll be blunt, like you. I don’t know you, okay? But I’m going to tell you this because you like Jesse, and you should know what you’re getting into.” She holds up a small package. “Gum?” 
“No. Thanks.” 
“Okay then," Ruby says. "I bet you want to know how I did what I did. How I was horrible enough to cheat on a poor, disabled boy."
"I never said-" 
Ruby flares her nostrils. “Don’t judge me,” she says. “Wait until you’re in my place. Wait until you’re stuck with a boyfriend who can’t walk or dance or go anywhere, who you have to shower and feed and dress. It didn’t exactly turn me on, okay?” She shakes her head in disgust, flyaway hairs shaking with her. “He can’t even have sex.” 
“Of course he can,” Lisa says, lowering her voice. “I looked it up. There are ways for quadriplegics to do it.” 
“You looked it up?” Ruby laughs. “That's adorable. Anyway, he never wanted to. He knows he isn’t exactly attractive anymore.” 
“He knows?” Lisa shoots back, gripping the back of the seat in front of her. “Or is that something you told him, that he’d never be whole or happy again if he was in a wheelchair?” 
“Please. You met him just this week," Ruby says. "What right do you have to say that? We took good care of him. I was with him twenty fours a day.” 
“No wonder he won’t let me near him!” Lisa says. She leans forward, needing space. “When I first kissed him, he pushed me away. Right afterwards.” She stares up through the front window. The minivan is catching the trail end of rush hour traffic. “I can’t blame him, I guess.” 
“You’re so self-righteous,” Ruby says. “Listen to what I’m saying. It makes sense. You wouldn’t fly in a broken plane, would you? Doesn’t matter if you love the plane. The benefits aren’t worth all the malfunctions and bumps. You just wouldn’t do it.” 
Lisa smirks. “We are all broken, Ruby, some more than others. Haven’t you ever dated any able-bodied, nasty people? Any ‘normal’ guys who were boring or rude or uncaring? Because I have.” A small smile forms on her lips. “And I can’t think of anyone I’d rather be with than Jesse.” 
Ruby snorts. “Wait until I tell him that we’ve had this conversation.”
Lisa narrows her eyes, searching Ruby’s face. “You won’t,” she hisses. 
Inside, she’s trembling. But Ruby just shrugs, and turns away. 
×××
The group of guests at the Marriott restaurant is considerably smaller than the group at the chapel. Jesse was surprised when Dustin invited him, since they’ve only known each other for a week, but Dustin seems to like him, so it’s all good. The restaurant has been rearranged into one continuous table, in the shape of a boxy letter C. Jesse’s got Brian two seats away, and an empty spot between them, reserved for Lisa. He hopes that he can make up for last night’s dinner with this one. He hopes that she’s okay. 
The lighting in the restaurant is low, an ambient, warm orange with soft shadows. It’s making Jesse feel horny. He’d never admit it, but even before his accident, he was never the kind of guy who would just drop his pants with a girl under the bleachers. He could have done it, but he never did. He likes candles, music, all that soppy shit. Still, he regrets all those opportunities for casual sex that he rejected. He wonders if Lisa will even be willing to go that far with him. 
She isn’t here yet. He’s got a great view of the door, and every time it opens, he looks up. 
Someone raps on the side of their glass, and everyone quiets. It’s Jean-Robert’s father, who stands up and raises his slender glass of champagne. He makes a toast in French, and it must be some real good stuff because all of Jean-Robert’s family are wiping their eyes. Everyone claps, there are a couple more toasts, and then the grooms start making rounds. Bow-tied waiters bustle around, pushing trays lined with creamy vegetable soup. 
Jean-Robert pulls out Lisa’s chair. He starts  a conversation with Brian, who has a basic grasp on French (he had a huge crush on a Quebecois girl two summers ago, and practically learnt the language so he could talk to her. It was the sad story of unrequited teenage love.) 
“I have a question,” Jean-Robert says, slowly and haltingly. “In H'english, de word for leenen is also a curse word, no?”
 “What are you talking about?” Brian says. He isn’t relinquishing his plate to the waitress, taking his time with the entrée, arugula salad. 
Jean-Robert looks both ways before whispering, “sheet.”
Jesse checks the door. Where is she, already? 
“That’s not a bad word,” Brian says through a mouth full of lettuce and croutons. “You mean shit?”
Jean-Robert’s browse creases. “It’s the same, no?”
“No, no. Say ‘shit.’” Brian takes a sip of water. 
“Sheet,” Jean-Robert says. 
“No. It’s more of an Ihhhh. Shihhhht.”
“Sheht?”
“No!” Brian brings down his hand to the table. “Shit! Shit!”
The people around them cease conversation to stare. Brian’s Adam’s apple bobs up and down. “Sorry,” he mumbles, picking up his fork. 
There is a commotion at the front of the restaurant. Of course, it’s Ruby Mitchell Kim sweeping in. Behind her are a jumble of guys, and among them, there she is: the girl of his dreams, her arms held close to her chest, her arresting eyes searching for him. 
Jesse rolls up front to greet her, and Lisa leans down to kiss him. 
“How are you doing?” he says, as he leads her to the table. 
“I’m gonna be okay,” she says bluntly. Whenever he’s asked her about how she’s coping with Carolyn’s passing, she gives him the cold shoulder.
They stop at the sink outside the bathrooms. Lisa turns on the tap to wash her hands. “I know you think I’m being unfeeling,” she says, reading his mind. 
Jesse shakes his head. “Not at all. Everyone grieves in different ways.”
Lisa turns off the tap and dries her hands. She takes his hand and laces her fingers through his, doing it for him because he can’t. “I don’t know how,” she says quietly, and her voice breaks a little, a small crack where her emotions seep through. She takes in a shaky breath. “So far, I’m just trying not to think about it.”
“Don’t do that,” Jesse says. “Trust me. It might work for a while, but… you have to let yourself be sad. Remember your teacher, and remember what she meant to you and how you’ll miss her. I know it hurts. But you have to.”
Lisa says nothing. Dustin saunters up to them, oblivious, and clamps a hand on both of their shoulders. “Are you two taking a room?”
Jesse blinks. “Sorry?”
“A hotel room,” Dustin repeats. His cheeks are flushed and the top button of his shirt is open. “It's on me. I reserved a whole bunch on the sixth floor, for whoever wants.”
“You can afford that?” Lisa says, aghast. “Oh, right. You’re rich, all of you.”
“I’m a famous journalist,” Dustin says, shrugging modestly. 
“I’m not rich,” Brian comments, approaching them. He pokes Lisa so she should move over, and he turns on the water. “Reserve me a room,” he says. Surveying the restaurant, his gaze falls on the group of girls congregating by the front desk. “Now all I have to do is find someone to share it with.”
Lisa heads to the table, with Jesse at her heels. On the way, she stops suddenly, and he almost runs her over. 
“Can we sleep together tonight?” Lisa says. Before Jesse can open his mouth, she continues quickly, “look, I know understand if you aren’t ready for it, but-”
“Are you kidding?” Jesse says. “You can’t imagine how much I want to do it with you.”
Lisa smiles shyly. “We’d better reserve a room then. Jesus, how am I gonna sit through an entire meal now?”
Jesse laughs. Then he excuses himself to call Paul Garneau, his temporary PCA. He’ll need some equipment brought over to the Marriott. 
×××
They kiss in the elevator, all the way up to the sixth floor. When the bell dings, Lisa staggers into hall with Jesse on her arm, both of them giggling at nothing but the wonder and anticipation of what is to come. She fumbles with the hotel key card, and once inside, takes in the room with one giant swoop- queen-sized bed, cream-coloured linen, lots of pillows, textured maroon walls. Jesse reaches for her arm, tugging at her, and she straddles him and holds onto his auburn locks and kisses him hungrily. Jesse begins to wiggle out of his jacket, when there is a knock on the door. 
It’s a man Lisa recognizes as Jesse's new carer. He’s squat, with graying hair and deep crow’s feet around his eyes. “Âllo,” he says. He’s clutching a plastic shopping bag. 
Lisa steps aside to let him in, and shoots Jesse a questioning look. 
“There are some stuff I need,” Jesse says, looking thoroughly embarrassed. He scratches behind his neck. Lisa takes the bag from Paul. 
“I will leave you two, eh?” Paul winks. 
Jesse clears his throat. “Wait, but-”
“Can’t we-”
“Paul, one second,” Jesse says. He eyes the shopping bag nervously. “Maybe you should get me ready. I don’t know, Lisa, but I think there are some things you won’t want to-”
“I do want to,” Lisa says. “You can trust me, Jesse.”
Paul puts his hands on his hips, bemused. “Perhaps that is a good idea. ‘Ow do you say it? Foreplay?”
“Out of the six English words he knows, that has to be one of them,” Jesse says darkly. 
“We’ll see you later,” Lisa tells Paul. Paul winks again, and backs away into the hall, the door clicking shut behind him. 
“There should be a sort of ring in there,” Jesse says, tripping over his words in his haste to get them out. “It goes over my- you know, so I can keep an erection. I’ve never-”
“Jesse.” Lisa drops the bag onto the bed. She crouches in front of him, so that she’s looking up at him, and presses a finger to his lips. 
“Every part of you turns me on,” she says. Deftly, she starts to unbutton his shirt. “So calm down, okay? We can do this.”
“My diaper turns you on?”
Lisa smirks. She heaves Jesse onto the bed, and with her arms still around his back and his knees draped over her lap, she leans into his ear and says, “especially your diaper.”
She sits him up, and Jesse shrugs out of his jacket and open shirt. He falls back against the pillows, and Lisa turns her back to him, lowering herself and dangling her zipper until she hears it click against his teeth. She hears the zip, and a gust of cool air travels down her back as her dress falls off her shoulders. Jesse licks at the skin around her pastel bra, and he bites at the straps, anxious for it to come off. Lisa reaches down and pulls her bra over head. His shoes, her shoes, they all go flying over the side of the bed. Jesse reaches up and tugs her panties  down himself, his face creased in concentration. She is completely bare, hovering over him, her body laid out in the open, and Jesse looks like he’s seeing paradise for the very first time. Lisa shimmies his pants down his legs, revealing knobbly knees and frail legs, thin from underuse. His privates are clothed in a disposable undergarment, held firmly on his hips with white straps. The tube from his catheter snakes out the top. 
Jesse inhales sharply, and Lisa wishes he could understand the way she feels, and she wishes she could show him how much she loves him and his skinny, gaunt, beautiful arms and legs. She knows she's going to try. 
After making sure that an absorbent pad is securely beneath him, Lisa climbs on top of him, lowering her face to his chest. He’s propped up with pillows so he can see what she doing, and Lisa smiles mischievously, and plants kisses all down his chest and stomach. His skin is warm, pulsating beneath her with his shallow breaths. He’s got that scent of pure man on him, mixed with the soft smell of clean skin. When Lisa’s chin brushes material,  she props herself on her elbows and glances up at Jesse, and he smiles, giving her the go-ahead. 
Lisa peels the straps of his diaper slowly, hearing that scratchy noise and extending it in time, drawing out the anticipation. Somewhere low down inside her she’s burning up, her body tingling and trembling. Her heart beats like a hammer, and although Jesse can’t sweat, she can do it enough for the both of them. Lisa lifts the flap slowly, then tugs and pulls his diaper from beneath him. She strokes his penis and sucks at it gently.  
Jesse, in a hoarse voice, says, “I’m hard,” and they revel together in the beauty of it, of the intimacy and love-making that they will do the same way humans have for millions of years. Wetness leaks from Lisa's vagina and onto his leg. 
Once Jesse is prepped, Lisa lowers herself, and then, he is inside her. Jesse whispers her name, again and again, in grunts or whispers as roaring euphoria floods them, riding like waves through their connected bodies. She must touch every inch of him, like an itch that must be scratched, so she explores his arms and his legs and over his waist with her fingers or her tongue. 
“Come here,” Jesse says, and she scoots forward. Then Jesse’s tongue comes up into her, and oh, she’s going to die, she’s going to die. Every pressure point inside her sings, and when he lets her go she collapses beside him, and they kiss and kiss until their mouths are sore. 
“You are perfect,” Lisa says, closing her eyes and feeling the curl of his hair, the tenderness of his cheek against hers. "Don't you ever believe otherwise." 
She holds his wrist against her beating heart, and they listen, together. 
×××
Eight AM, and already the car horns are blaring. New buildings lopped onto old ones, cool stone next to red brick, pine-green railings and colourful awnings. People talking in fast-paced, colourfully-pitched French. Quebec City in the morning. 
 Jesse’s hair rustles as a bus whips past him.
“Sure you want to do this?” Brian asks for the third time, hands crammed into the pockets of his University at Buffalo sweatshirt. 
“Yup,” Jesse says. He stops at the curb of the sidewalk to check the street name, and then swivels his chair to the right and keeps going. He looked up the directions at the hotel and he’s fairly certain he can remember them. 
“So, who’d you sleep with last night?” Jesse says. He winces as he bumps over a patch of grass. 
“You’re only asking so I’ll ask you about your hot sex with Lisa,” Brian says, walking beside him. “But to answer you, I spent half the night flirting with this girl at the restaurant only to find out that she's asexual. And in a relationship.”
“Sounds like an excuse, if you ask me,” Jesse says. 
“Please. No girl can resist this.” Brian lifts his sweatshirt to show Jesse his perfect abs, as if Jesse doesn’t know what they look like already. 
“I think you’re misunderstanding what ‘asexual’ means,” Jesse says. Brian flops Jesse’s hair into his eyes. Jesse protests and shakes it away. 
But then he stops, right where he is, in front of a storefront with a sign that reads 'coiffure d’homme' in punky lettering. The barbershop has no steps, thankfully. 
Brain snorts. “Okay, okay, I’ll ask. How was she?” He holds open the door for Jesse to roll through. 
“It was… God, it was amazing. The best sex I’ve ever had in my life.”
“Oh, Jesse, please, let us hear all the gory details.” Brian puts on a high-pitched falsetto voice. He plops into a seat by the waiting area. 
“No, really. It was good. We talked about the accident, after.”
“You told Lisa how I pushed you into the pool?”
“Jesus, Brian, not you too.” 
After his accident, Jesse had to deal with everyone’s guilt complexes. He was with five guys when it happened, fooling around near the pool in his backyard and roughhousing as usual, except this time he ended up face down in the shallow end. 
Afterwards, it seemed like everyone he knew took responsibility for what had happened to him. That’s including his mother, the cleaning lady, and his grandmother, none of whom were even there at the time. 
“It happened so fast,” Jesse says, pulling up next to his friend. “I don’t even remember what happened.”
Brian shrugs. “Are you coming with me to New York?”
Jesse grins. “Hell, yeah. If the offer’s still open.”
“Great,” Brian says, his face lighting up. 
One of the barber's chairs becomes available, and Jesse rolls up to it. Brian doesn’t even have to ask or count down to three; he simply leans forward for Jesse to drape an arm around his shoulder, and lifts him into the raised seat. The hairdressers busy themselves with their scissors and hairspray, and the clients stare into space in their effort not to stare.
Jesse hates it. He’s always going to hate being the cripple, the guy whose eyes no one can meet, the guy whose very presence is the elephant in the room: Jeez, wonder what happened to him. The poor guy. 
But right now, the terrible feeling melts away, just a little bit. As he watches Brian push his chair to the wall and strike up a conversation with the hairdresser, he thinks damn, I am the luckiest man alive
It’s been right in front of him all this time. 
Brian appears beside him, looking pensive. “Are you sure you don’t remember who pushed you in?”
Jesse frowns. “Dude, I said I don’t. Give it a rest.”
Lies, all lies. Of course he remembers. Someone had nabbed Brian’s phone, and was holding it out of his reach, taunting him. It had been only a tiny push. Brian’s elbow in Jesse’s chest, not even seeing what he was doing, tumult all around them. That was all it took. 
The hairdresser giggles at something Brian said. She answers back with a heavy accent, a touch of shyness in her voice. A spray of water tickles Jesse's forehead, and he relaxes as he hears the thick snipping of scissors, and Brian’s best I’m-trying-to-impress-a-girl voice. 
Some truths are best forgotten. 
×××
Lisa wakes up to an empty bed. She lets herself lie there for a few minutes, basking in memory of last night. Sleeping with Jesse was… she can’t even put it into words. She’ll have to pore over a dictionary to find the right ones, but even then, they may not be there. 
She chuckles at her own melodrama, and texts Jesse. Then she gets dressed and goes downstairs for breakfast. 
Jesse texts back that he’ll meet her in ten minutes. Meanwhile, she picks up a Montreal Gazette newspaper that she finds lying on one of the couches in the lounge. 
She opens to the first page, and her eyes widen. 
When Jesse shows up, he’s with Brian, and he’s wearing a beanie- the one that she bought for him. Her heart beats just at the sight of him, and after saying hello she pulls his face toward hers and kisses him deeply. 
Brian makes vomit noises, and Jesse leans back and scowls at him. "Grow up, Brian."
“Look at this,” Lisa says breathlessly, remembering the newspaper. She holds it up for the two boys to see. 
“Journalist awards?” Brian says, making a face. 
“Read it,” Lisa insists. 
THE INTERNATIONAL REESE-MARTIN AWARD

The Reese-Martin Award, the most prestigious Journalism prize given to this day, was awarded to a Canadian journalist this year. The prize winner is globally recognized as one of the world’s most impacting, far-reaching journalists, deemed worthy of the award by a panel of five previous prize winners. 
This year’s prize went to Dustin Hoffman, a Montreal-based journalist who has written for the New York Times, the Toronto Star, and numerous other publications across North America and Europe. Hoffman is well known for his educational pamphlets, made in association with… 
“Well, fuck me,” Brian says, scanning the article. “This is our Dustin?”
Jesse shakes his head. “Wow. And the guy can't even spell.”
Lisa looks over the article again. By now, Dustin and Jean-Robert are on the way to the airport, where they’ll be flying first class to Vegas. 
Brain goes to get coffee, and suddenly Jesse’s goofy smile drops. He rolls up to the table. “Pull off my hat,” he tells Lisa. 
She gets serious at the sound of his voice. Slowly, she tugs at the black beanie, and off it comes with almost no resistance. She gasps. 
Jesse’s ample waves of hair are gone, and all that’s left is a thin layer of fuzz. 
“I know you keep your hair short because of your teacher,” Jesse says quickly, reaching for her hand. Lisa sits immobile, frozen in place. 
“You said you don’t know how to grieve,” he continues. “Neither do I. No one does, really, but just know that I'm here for you. We can grow our hair back out together, whenever you’re ready.”
Lisa swallows, and rests her head on his shoulder. 
“Say something,” Jesse says softly, and she can feel the rumble of his words on his neck. 
“I love you,” Lisa says, as her eyes well with tears. Through them, she kisses him on the cheek, and she knows it's gonna be okay.

» THE END«

9 comments:

  1. Very romantic ending. Loved this story a lot. I hope you have more stuff like that in store for us :)

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    1. Thank you for your kind words. I'm currently throwing around some ideas, so we'll see...

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  2. Oh I loved this story. Perfect ending. I just fell in love with Jesse. Thanks so much for sharing with us.

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  3. I'm going to miss Jesse! Thanks so much for the great story.

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  4. Absolutely beautiful! Thank you so much for your story, I enjoyed it immensely!
    You created realistic characters with their strengths and flaws who just grew on me... You also managed to address truly serious issues in the story and handled them so well. I also liked the way how well everything in your story was connected: for example, at one point you mention how important it was for Jesse not to cut his hair and in the end he has it cut for Lisa; and how the title of the story is explained in the final part of the story, etc. This shows how nicely you had thought everything through and it made reading especially enjoyable!
    What do you think about writing a sequel because you already have so well-developed characters? :) If not a sequel, I would be really glad to read ANYTHING by you!
    Thank you once again for sharing the story with us!

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    1. Thank you! I might do a short story featuring Jesse and Lisa, a kind of epilogue... Stay tuned!

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    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  5. WOW--that was the most incredible story. Thanks so much for sharing it.

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