“I’d like to cook you dinner tomorrow night,” I tell Brody on the phone one night. We’ve been talking for two hours. Flirting, followed by phone sex, followed by more flirting.
“That would be great,” Brody says. “Do you want me to tell Nancy to go get you some groceries?”
“Actually, I was thinking you could come over here,” I say.
Brody has never been to my apartment before. We’re coming up on six months, and he’s never once even been in my neighborhood. I get it—it’s hard for him. But he could come here once, for Christ’s sake.
He hesitates. “I could, I guess…” He doesn’t sound thrilled at the prospect.
“Well, you’ve never been to my apartment before,” I point out to him. I try not to let my irritation show.
“Is it accessible?” he asks.
“Yes,” I say. “I mean, there aren’t any stairs or anything.”
“Yeah, but…” Brody sighs. “Stuff you might think is accessible might not really be. I mean, like, how wide is your doorway?”
“I don’t know…”
“My wheelchair is pretty wide,” Brody reminds me. I don’t point out to him that I’m pretty wide too. “You should measure it. If it’s at least 32 inches, I should be okay. If it’s a little less, I might be able to manage.”
“I don’t have a tape measure,” I say lamely.
“Emily, listen,” he says. “This has happened to me before. Do you know how much it sucks to come all the way over there and not be able to get through the door? It will pretty much ruin our evening.”
I can sympathize. I know what it feels like not to be able to fit somewhere. I feel a twinge of guilt, but I push it away. Brody and I have been together long enough that he should come over to my apartment at least once. “I’ll buy a tape measure,” I say.
“Okay,” he says.
The doorway to the apartment measures 31 inches and the bedroom is 30 inches. Abby catches me with the tape measure and gives me an odd look, but doesn’t question me about it. She probably thinks I’m trying to figure out how much weight I can gain before I won’t fit through the door.
I report the numbers to Brody, who gives his approval, saying he may not be able to get into the bedroom but at least he’ll most likely make it into the apartment. Sure enough, it ends up being a little tight, but he makes it through.
“Whew,” Brody says, grinning up at me. “Okay, now that we got through that, what’s for dinner, woman?”
I laugh. “You don’t want the grand tour?”
“Okay, okay,” he grumbles good-naturedly.
I show him the rest of my small apartment, which is tiny because, hey, this is Manhattan. I’m just lucky I don’t live in one of those shoebox apartments where my bed has to fold into the wall. Even though Brody fits through the door, he can’t fit through the space between my bookcase and my couch, which in all honesty, I’d always found a little tight as well. It isn’t that big a deal, considering all that’s behind there is my bedroom and we already determined he wouldn’t be able to fit in there. But I still feel bad, so I huff and puff and move the couch about three inches to give him space to squeeze through.
“Thanks,” he says, looking slightly embarrassed by the whole thing.
Then lo and behold, a great miracle occurs, which is that he’s able to get through the doorway to my bedroom. He swore he wouldn’t based on the width but I guess I must have measured wrong, because he makes it inside. When he sees my bed, he wiggles his eyebrows at me. “Getting any ideas?”
“Um, unless you’ve got Mike tucked away in your backpack, I don’t think so,” I say.
“Really…” Brody says in that husky voice he uses when we’re having phone sex. “You think that I can’t do anything for you without Mike’s help? I think you’re wrong.”
I stare at him, my heart thumping in my chest. The way he’s looking at me is just so freaking hot. “Sit down,” he says, gesturing at my bed.
I obey, wincing only slightly as the mattress creaks under my weight. Brody pushes his hand into his joystick to come closer to me. He puts his hand on my knee, and I feel grateful that I wore one of my few skirts today. The skirt lifts as his hand slides underneath, creeping up my bare thigh. He’s still gazing at me with his bright blue eyes, and I’m actually having a little trouble breathing normally.
I feel what I’d guess is his hand pressing into my groin. He rubs it back and forth, up and down, as I bite my lip nearly hard enough to draw blood. “I can only do so much with my arms,” he says quietly. “I can do a whole lot more with my tongue.”
Oh my fucking God.
I’m just about to suggest that maybe we explore that possibility when I hear the sound of keys in the lock of the front door. It takes me another few seconds to realize that we left the door to the bedroom open several inches. Brody realizes it at the same moment and yanks his hand out from under my skirt. I almost trip over him trying to get to the bedroom door, but I’m too late. Abby is right outside my room.
Shit. Well, at least she didn’t see anything dirty.
Abby is staring at us, her mouth hanging open. She couldn’t look more shocked if she found out I was dating a baby zebra. “What… what’s going on here?”
“Um,” I say brilliantly. I force a crooked smile. “Abby, this is Brody.”
“This is your boyfriend?” Abby gasps. She looks like she’s having trouble breathing normally. I guess I don’t entirely blame her, but seriously, she could try to have a little more tact.
“Yes,” I confirm.
“Oh,” she breathes. He clears her throat and manages to plaster this great big smile on her face. “Well, that is just… wonderful! So, so wonderful! Good for you! Both of you!”
Gee, thanks, Abby.
Abby takes a few tentatively steps into my room, even though I wish she’d leave. “Hello, I am Abby,” she says to Brody in this really slow, exaggerated voice. “It’s very nice to meet you, Brody.”
“Nice to meet you too, Abby,” Brody says politely. I can see a few beads of sweat still on his hairline from the activities of a minute earlier. I don’t think Abby notices. Or if she does, she doesn’t know why he looks flushed.
She holds out her hand for him to shake, which of course, he can’t really do. Apparently this has come up before because he just holds out his hand to let it brush against hers. Abby actually audibly gasps when he does this. I can’t imagine this being any more mortifying.
“I am Emily’s roommate,” she says, continuing in that slow voice. “That means that we live together here.”
Oh God. Somebody please shoot me.
“Yeah, I know what a roommate is,” Brody says. He doesn’t sound as pissed off as he probably has a right to be.
“You do?” Abby claps her hands together. “Well, good for you.”
I can’t tell if it would be more or less humiliating for everyone if I inform Abby that Brody is not retarded. I finally decide against it. The sooner this awkward encounter is over, the better.
“How did you get here to visit us?” Abby asks him. She glances around. “Is there someone who helped you?”
“No,” he says with impressive patience. “I just took the bus.”
“All by yourself?” Abby gasps.
“That’s right,” he confirms.
“Listen, Abby, Brody and I were about to have dinner…” I say.
Please, Abby. Take the hint and leave.
“How nice,” Abby says, cocking her head to the side. I may strangle her. “Um, so… I guess I’ll just leave you two alone then.”
She backs out of my room super slowly. So slowly that I’m tempted to shove her out the door. As soon as she’s gone, I slam the door shut, my face burning red. I turn to Brody, “Christ, I am so sorry about that. She’s a total idiot.”
“No problem,” Brody says. Amazingly, he doesn’t even sound angry.
“I’m really sorry she acted that way,” I say. “I don’t know what the hell is wrong with her.”
He shrugs. “Eh, it happens. Definitely not the first time. Won’t be the last.”
How can he be so cavalier about someone assuming he’s retarded? Granted, he’s been dealing with people’s idiocy for a long time. But then again, I’ve been fat my whole life and it still humiliates me when someone gives me a hard time about it. Maybe he just doesn’t get embarrassed as easily as I do. Which is probably a good quality to have if you’re a quadriplegic.
In any case, Abby sort of killed the mood, so we go back outside and have our dinner. And it’s delicious, but I just can’t stop thinking about what Brody would have done to me with his tongue if he didn’t have to get back in time to meet Mike.
Brody calls me on Friday night, sounding some combination of nervous and excited: “Hey, Emily. Are you busy tomorrow afternoon?”
He knows I’m not. He has literally not once called me to ask if I was busy on a Saturday or Sunday and discovered that I was, in fact, busy. Nobody has a less exciting social life than I do.
But still, it’s sweet that he asks.
“I’m not busy,” I assure him. “What’s going on?”
“I thought we could get tickets to the new X-men movie,” he says. “I can reserve them in advance.”
“Sure,” I agree. Sounds good to me.
“Also,” he adds, “my mom is going to be in the city and was wondering if you’d like to have lunch.”
“Oh.” That prospect sounds less good to me. I’ve never gone through meeting the parents. What will Mrs. Nolan think of me? I feel myself breaking out in a cold sweat.
“My mom is really nice,” Brody says quickly. “She’s completely crazy, but she’s nice. And she really kind of wants to meet you.”
I open up the drawer of the dresser next to my bed and retrieve a bag of miniature Milky Way bars. “She does? Why?”
“Well, because you’re my girlfriend…” Brody sounds a little embarrassed.
I peel off the wrapper of the first Milky Way and pop it into my mouth. I’m very good at talking while I chew without sounding like I’m talking while I’m chewing. “Are you close with her?”
“Sort of,” Brody says. He takes a breath. “I mean, when I was a teenager, I never listened to a word she said, so that didn’t make for the best relationship. But then after my accident, she and my dad took me in, and… they did a lot for me. She did a lot for me.” He pauses thoughtfully. “But it wasn’t so great in a lot of ways. I got a little too reliant on them. When I was 23, Sean basically told me that I had to move out, and my mom was really against it. I think she’s still sort of irritated that I moved out.”
“Why did Sean tell you that you had to move out?” I ask.
Brody snorts. “Um, because you can’t have a decent social life when you’re in your twenties and living with your parents? Especially if your mom is the one dressing you.”
We’re supposed to meet Brody’s mother at noon on Saturday. The amount of time I spend deciding what to wear is a little ridiculous, especially since my clothes are all pretty much the same, and all varying shades of black. I actually wear a skirt again, pairing it with black stockings. Unfortunately, I’ve yet to find a pair of stockings that don’t cut into my waist like a knife. Why do they make stockings so goddamn tight? I’ve tried thigh-high stockings, but those never stay up.
So I’m only mildly uncomfortable as I stand with Brody in front of a restaurant, waiting for his mother to appear. Before Brody even points her out, I recognize her immediately from the photo. Even without the photo, I’d recognize her. She looks so much like Brody—same clear blue eyes, same nose, same infectious grin when she starts waving at us. She’s definitely an attractive middle-aged woman, and I bet she was really pretty when she was young.
“Emily!” Mrs. Nolan cries. And before I know what’s happening, she’s enveloping me in a huge bear hug. I don’t get hugged a lot, even by my parents, and this completely throws me off balance. And then she kisses me too. Kisses me! What’s wrong with this woman?
“I’ve heard so much about you, sweetie,” Mrs. Nolan says, pulling away from me, although still stubbornly holding onto my arm. I glance at Brody, who is bright red. “It’s just so great to finally meet you.”
“It’s nice to meet you too, Mrs. Nolan,” I reply automatically. Well, at least she seems to like me.
“No, you’ve gotta call me Maggie!” she says. I notice she’s got a New York accent that’s as thick as my mother’s. It’s weird how a lot of people in my parents’ generation seem to have that accent, while Brody and I don’t, even though both of us have lived here our whole lives. Then again, if we met someone from Georgia, they’d probably know we were New Yorkers the second we opened our mouths.
I force a smile. “Okay. Maggie.”
Mrs. Nolan (er, Maggie) descends on Brody next. She throws her arms around him while he tries to return the hug best he can. She kisses him on both cheeks and musses his hair. It’s actually a little bit adorable.
“My mother is very affectionate,” Brody points out unnecessarily.
“Well, I haven’t seen you in ages!” Maggie complains. She puts her hand on his shoulder and gives it a squeeze. “You used to come home every weekend.”
It occurs to me that the reason Brody isn’t coming home every weekend anymore is probably because of me. “Sorry about that,” I say.
“Don’t you apologize!” Maggie snaps at me. “This is the happiest I’ve ever seen Brody since he was a little kid. You think I got a problem with my son being in love?”
And now both of us are blushing bright red.
The hostess has a table for us, although it’s not as close to the entrance as either Brody or I would like. Brody has issues with navigating a crowded room with his wheelchair. My issue? My butt. I swear to God, sometimes it’s like my goddamn butt has a mind of its own. My butt has an amazing ability to knock things over without my even realizing that it happened. At work, my butt has typed on other people’s keyboards. One time, I swear to God, my butt stapled something.
I hate my butt. I think even Sir Mixalot would think it’s too big.
Anyway, we’re two tables away from our final destination when I hear someone yell out, “Hey! My drink!”
I turn around, knowing how everything will unfold before it even happens. There’s a guy standing up, his shirt splattered with water, his glass overturned on the table.
“Your butt just knocked over my drink!” the guy yells at me.
He’s so angry, like I did it on purpose or something. It’s amazing how people something seem angry at me just for being fat. Does he think I gained all this weight just so I could come over to this restaurant and knock over his drink?
“I’m really sorry,” I mumble.
Fortunately, a waitress hurries over, assuring him that she’ll get him a new water. I wish I could say that ended the whole ordeal, but the guy still seems pissed off. “It’s all over my shirt,” he whines.
“Calm down—it’ll dry,” Maggie snaps at him.
The guy settles back down in his seat. But as I’m turning to go to my table, I hear him mutter loudly: “Why don’t you go on a diet or something, lady?”
Nice. Real nice.
I don’t feel much like talking after that. Thankfully, Maggie doesn’t say anything more about the incident, and she fills the silence with loud chatter. She’s even more outgoing than Brody is. It’s sort of endearing, and sort of intimidating.
“Brody was impossible as a teenager,” Maggie confides in me.
“No, I wasn’t,” Brody says, grinning. “I was delightful.”
“Actually, he was delightful,” Maggie agrees. “Sean used to tell us to go to hell, but Brody was always very sweet and nice—used to always say he loved us and all that. But then he’d go do the opposite of anything we told him. Like, we’d say he was grounded and couldn’t leave his room. Then we’d go to his room and find out he climbed out the window.”
“You shouldn’t have given me a bedroom right next to a tree if you didn’t want me to climb down it,” Brody says.
Maggie rolls her eyes. “Anyway, thank God he grew out of that phase. Now he’s sweet and nice and he’s a good son.”
Of course, it’s probably easier to keep your son from going out against your wishes when he’s confined to a wheelchair. I’m betting after Brody broke his neck, he didn’t climb out the window anymore. Part of me wonders how frustrating it must have been for a rebellious 19-year-old kid to be stuck living with his parents and having to do everything they told him to do.
“Are you close with your parents, Emily?” Maggie asks.
“Not really,” I admit.
Maggie’s face falls. “No? How come?”
I can’t very well explain to her that every conversation I have with my mother involves her nagging me relentlessly about my weight. So I just shrug.
When the check arrives, Maggie snatches it up quickly and pulls out her purse. Brody sees her do it and frowns. “I wanted to pay,” he complains.
“Too late,” Maggie says as she plunks her credit card down.
“You always pay,” he grumbles. “I’ve got money. Why can’t you let me treat my mother to a meal sometimes?”
Maggie’s eyes twinkle slightly. “Okay, tell you what. Next time I eat with you and Emily, I’ll let you pay.”
I get what she’s saying. She wants to turn this isn’t a regular thing—me, her, and Brody going out for meals. At the very least, I’m going to have to do this on a monthly basis. I wonder what my butt will knock over next month.
“All right,” Maggie says, as she signs the bill. “You two go on to your movie. I don’t want to keep you.”
“Thanks, Mom,” Brody says. He flips on the control panel on his wheelchair, which juts just off the joystick that he uses to drive the chair. He frowns, then fiddles with it a little more. Which isn’t that easy for him, because he can only hit the buttons using the joint of his little finger.
“What’s wrong?” Maggie asks.
“Controls just died,” Brody mumbles, still frowning.
Maggie rolls her eyes. “Let me take a look.”
Maggie gets up and leans over Brody, looking down at his control. He puts his hand in his lap and watches her fiddle with his control panel, arguing with her about what she should try pressing. At one point, he shoves her away, and starts messing with it himself. But after a few minutes, it’s obvious that they’re not having any luck.
“Did you charge it last night?” Maggie asks him.
“Of course I did.” Brody sounds fairly irritated. “Mike plugs it in to charge every night. You think I want my chair dying on me randomly?”
“Well, it looks like the battery is dead,” Maggie says.
Brody sighs. “Yeah, no kidding.”
Brody swats at the controls on his chair, although I can tell what he’d really like to do is give it a good punch. But he can’t do that.
“I can push your chair for you,” Maggie offers.
“Yeah, fine.” Brody hangs his head. “I’m really sorry, Emily. I don’t think this movie thing is going to happen.”
“Don’t be silly,” Maggie says. “I’ll help Emily get you to the movies.”
“No,” Brody says firmly. “I just need to get home and get this fixed.” He looks between the two of us. “Please.”
“Of course, no big deal,” I say quickly. “We’ll go some other time.”
With the controls on Brody’s wheelchair now dead, his mother has to push his chair out of the restaurant. I can hear her grunting with the effort, because his chair is obviously pretty heavy, but when I offer to help, she waves me away.
“I don’t think I can push this thing all the way back to your apartment,” Maggie puffs. “Can we get on the bus?”
“Sure, whatever,” Brody agrees, looking down at his lap and appearing generally miserable. “Emily, you should just go home. I’ll call you later, okay?”
“Okay,” I agree, because it’s obvious that Brody would rather me not be here for this ordeal. I want to lean in to kiss him goodbye, but I feel weird about it with his mother here and the fact that she’s controlling his wheelchair right now. So I just sort of wave and take off. When I look back, I see Maggie pushing Brody in the direction of the nearest bus stop.
That night, Brody calls me as promised. He’s full of apologies. “I would have called you earlier,” he says. “My mom insisted on sticking around for a while to make sure everything was okay.”
“It’s fine,” I say. Despite the fact that I had been sitting at home, waiting for him to call for the last three hours. “Did you get your chair working again?”
“Yeah, it was the battery,” Brody says. “Hopefully, Mike just didn’t plug it in right or something. If it starts dying all the time, that’s going to be really annoying. I just got this wheelchair two years ago, and I really don’t need to start having problems with it.”
“Do you want to meet up for dinner somewhere?” I ask him. Even though I’ve peeled off my uncomfortable skirt and stockings and have put on my most gigantic pair of sweatpants. The waistband is practically non-existent.
“Um…” Brody hesitates. “It’s just that my chair is still charging, and I’m using my spare, which isn’t the greatest. I don’t think I’d feel comfortable going out. But… you could come here, if you want. Or we could just talk on the phone. Or…” His voice lowers a notch. “We could do something else on the phone.”
I grin and slide my hand into my baggy sweatpants. “Something else sounds good…”
“That would be really awesome,” he says eagerly, then he clears his throat. “I want you so bad, Emily. I’m ripping open your shirt, then I’m climbing on top of you…”
For some reason, I feel suddenly uncomfortable and pull my hand out of my pants. He’s doing it again. Telling me all the things he would do to me that he can’t really do. Ever. I mean, what’s the point of having a real boyfriend if the sexy stuff is all just made up?
“Brody,” I interrupt him.
“Yeah,” he breathes.
“Look,” I say quietly. “It’s okay if when we have phone sex if you’re, like, a quadriplegic in the story. Because, you know, you are.”
Brody is silent for a minute. Finally, he says, “But that’s not sexy.”
“Yes,” I insist. “It is sexy.” I feel my cheeks grow warm as I add, “You’re sexy.”
Brody heaves a sighs. “I’m just not used to… I mean, girls mostly aren’t into…”
“I just want it to be real,” I say. “Please.”
There’s another long silence on the other line. “I rip your shirt open,” he begins again. I feel my face fall, and then he adds, “With my teeth…”
I smile. And my hand slides back into place.
To be continued....
To be continued....