A week later, we arrange an evening with Mike for him to teach me how to transfer Brody in and out of his wheelchair. When I show up, Brody is wearing comfy-looking sweatpants and a T-shirt, which I guess is to make things easier. He looks incredibly nervous, to be honest. About as nervous as I feel.
“Relax, Brody,” Mike says to him. “Emily will do great. She’s a smart girl.”
We go into the bedroom together and it’s almost like we’re about to have an odd ménage a trois rather than learn how to transfer my boyfriend in and out of his wheelchair. Brody lines himself up behind the lift like last time. Mike waits for him to undo the Velcro across his chest, which he again seems to struggle with.
Mike gives me instructions on the best way to get the sling under Brody. Brody mostly doesn’t say much through this—honestly, I think he’s a little embarrassed. I am too. But we both know it’ll be worth it to learn how to do this.
Once we hook the sling up to the cradle, Mike shows me the button to press on the sling. It elevates, suspending Brody’s body in the air. “She did a good job, right?” Mike says to Brody. “You feel secure?”
“Yep,” Brody says.
He shows me how to push the lift over to the bed, and then lower it so that Brody’s body comes to a rest on the bed. Then he has me unhook the sling and pull it out from under him. And then we’re done—Brody’s in the bed.
We do it in the opposite direction, then he has me do it all on my own with no instructions from him. It really isn’t all that hard, I guess. In all honesty though, it’s a little weird. I know if we’re together long enough, it will probably feel more normal to me, but this obviously isn’t something most people have to do in relationships.
Once he’s back in his wheelchair the third time, Mike says to him, “So I guess I can take off for now?”
“Sure,” Brody says. “Come back around ten?”
“Maybe I could take care of the bedtime stuff so you don’t have to come back?” I suggest.
Brody and Mike exchange looks. “No,” Brody says finally. “It’s a little more… involved. Anyway, it’s not appropriate for you to be my caregiver, Emily.”
I don’t know what he means exactly. Maybe he’s talking about showering and stuff. Also, Mike mentioned he has a catheter. He’s right—I definitely don’t want to have to deal with that. Or whatever else that I can’t think of. Anything involving pee is not sexy.
After Mike takes off, Brody is still in his wheelchair. We’re both quiet for a minute and I’m having trouble reading the expression on his face. “Do you still like me?” he finally asks. He says it jokingly, but his voice wavers slightly.
“Of course,” I say. “You’re really sexy.”
He rolls his eyes, but still manages to smile crookedly. “Do you want to get into bed together?”
“Sure,” I say. “It’ll give me a chance to practice.”
I go slowly, making sure I do all the steps because the last thing I want is for him to fall. When he’s suspended in the air, he looks at me for a second and then quickly looks away. I manage to successfully lower him into the bed, then remove the sling out from under him.
“Great job,” he says. “Now come here.”
I cuddle up beside him. We kiss and I run my hand up and down his chest and neck, getting under his shirt. He watches me do this for a minute, and I raise my eyebrows at him. “Do you like this?”
Brody smiles crookedly. “I can’t really feel my chest. But I love watching you.”
“Oh.” I don’t know exactly what to say to that. “Is there something that you’d like me to do?”
“Well…” He sounds shy all of a sudden. “You know what really turns me on?”
“What?” I ask eagerly.
His cheeks color slightly. “When you touch my hands. That’s really hot, for some reason.”
I frown at him. “But you said you can’t feel them?”
“Right,” he confirms. “But… I don’t know. It’s just really sexy to watch you touching my hands. I’m not sure why.”
With Brody’s blessing, I lift his left hand in the air between us. I wouldn’t say he has the most manly-looking hands in the world. His hand is thin, nearly devoid of any muscle, and his fingers curl gently. As I massage his palm and fingers, I can’t help but notice how soft they are—there are none of the callouses that most adults have on their palms.
I glance up at Brody’s face and see his eyebrows are scrunched together. “Is this okay?” he asks me.
“Of course,” I say. “Is it okay for you?”
“Yeah, of course. But… you’re okay with doing this? It’s not too weird?”
“It’s not weird. As long as you like it.”
“I like it,” he assures me.
So I keep massaging Brody’s hand and I can tell by the look on his face that he definitely likes what I’m doing. It occurs to me that we’ve been dating for about eight months and I haven’t even attempted to touch him below the belt. If he were any other guy, we probably would have been having sex months ago. The truth is, that area scares me a little bit. Not just because he’s a quadriplegic, but at least partially. I have no idea what tubes or whatever is down there. I know since he has a catheter, there must be a bag of pee somewhere. I’m scared of how I’ll react to a big bag of pee.
“You are so hot, Emily,” he whispers in my ear. And I can’t help but wonder if he means it or if it’s like when I tell him he’s sexy when he’s hanging in the air in his Hoyer lift.
Brody works from home most days, but he goes in at least one day a week. And as it turns out, his office is not far from where I live. So if I know Abby isn’t going to be around, we sometimes meet up at my apartment after he goes to work, although I can tell Brody doesn’t love coming to my apartment. Even though he can fit through the door, I know he feels more comfortable in his own space.
It’s the little things, you know? Like at his apartment, the remote for the television has these large buttons that are easy for him to press, but mine has these teeny tiny buttons. So he can’t control my remote at all. And obviously, since we don’t have his lift here, there’s no chance of him being able to get in and out of his wheelchair.
Still, it’s nice not to have to trek all the way over to his apartment. Also, Brody looks so cute when he’s all dressed up from work. Like today he shows up and he’s actually wearing a tie. It’s a simple dark blue tie that somehow makes his eyes seem bluer. I’ve seen him in dress shirts many times before, but never a tie. It’s sort of adorable. “I love ties,” I say.
“Oh?” Brody says. He stops in the middle of his attempt to hook his fingers into the loop and pull it off.
“Yeah, they’re sexy,” I say. “But you don’t have to wear it.”
“I don’t mind,” he says, although he loosens it slightly.
We decide to order a pizza. Much like all New Yorkers, Brody and I are both pizza snobs. We both have a very definite idea of what makes up the perfect pizza. When I went to college in Boston, I suffered through some mediocre pies from chains like Little Caesar’s (ugh), Dominos (okay) or Pizza Hut (better, but still not acceptable). You just can’t get a decent pie in Boston. And don’t even get me started on the deep dish Chicago pizzas. Just…no. A perfect pizza is thin crust.
Brody and I have solemnly agreed that Mike’s Pizza is the best and only place to get pizza. And best of all, they deliver in twenty minutes or less, or else the pizza is free. Which is perfect, because we’re both starving.
At the 12-minute mark, I hear the buzzer and I applaud the pizza guy for being early. I buzz him up and unlock the door, ready to fling it open the second I smell that distinctive oil and cheese and tomato sauce aroma. I ordered a large pie with pepperoni and extra cheese, but I know I can only eat a maximum of two slices in front of Brody. Even that is kind of pushing it. But he’ll also eat two, which is half the pie, and then I’ll put the other half in my fridge to eat after he leaves.
I hear the doorbell ring and I hurry over to answer it. I fling the door open, but unfortunately, it’s not the pizza guy. It’s someone entirely different, someone who is the last person I’d want to see standing at my door. I recognize him immediately from his photos. It’s Norm.
Oh shit. What the hell is Norm doing here??
I just stare at him, unable to speak. Unlike me, he looks pretty much identical to his photos, although he’s slightly shorter than I expected. It’s not like he’s a heartthrob, but there’s nothing ugly about him. He looks at me with a pleasant smile on his face, and that’s when I notice he’s carrying a small bouquet of roses. “Hi,” he says. “My name is Norm. Is Emily around?”
My first instinct, of course, is to lie. Emily moved. Yes, she used to live here, but she’s long gone. No forwarding address, sorry. Except at that moment, Brody comes wheeling over to me and says, “Emily? Who’s at the door?”
There’s this horrible moment when I can see the wheels turning in Norm’s brain as he figures it all out. His eyes widen and he stares at me. “You’re… Emily?” he manages.
If only Brody weren’t here. I could fix this if I were all by myself. Goddamn Brody. Of course, now he’s staring at me just as intently as Norm is. “Yes,” I croak.
“Emily Davison?” he asks. He still can’t believe it. Poor schmuck.
“Yes,” I say again, my voice barely a whisper. Please leave, Norm. Please.
He blinks a few times. “Are you the one that I…”
I can only nod.
Norm’s face goes from stunned to furious. I can see a vein start to bulge out in his forehead. “If you’re Emily Davison, then who the fuck was the pretty girl in all those photos you sent me?”
My cheeks burn. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to…”
“All this time,” Norm mutters. “All this time I was in love with you and you’ve just been playing me. I can’t fucking believe this.”
Brody wheels closer to us, his eyebrows scrunched together. “Emily, what’s going on here?”
“This must be the boyfriend,” Norm sneers. He looks at Brody. “You should probably know that your fat girlfriend here is messing around with guys on the internet, acting like she’s into them, and sending them photos of other girls. Hot girls.”
Brody looks really rattled. I don’t want him to think I’ve been cheating on him, even on the internet. I haven’t—not even once. “It was before you and I were together,” I say desperately. “I swear.” I look at Norm. “We haven’t talked in almost a year. Why are you even here?”
“Because I thought I was in love with you,” Norm says. His lips twist into a grimace. “Of course, that was before I knew you were a big fat liar. A big fat disgusting lying pig.”
Even as my eyes fill with tears, I know that I deserve this. I lied to Norm. He was in love with me and bared his soul to me, and I bullshitted him. All I can say in my defense is that I didn’t do it out of maliciousness. I did it because I was lonely, and I knew he wouldn’t love the real me.
And now it’s all exploding in my face. Brody is going to hate me now.
“Hey,” Brody says to Norm. “You can’t talk to her that way.”
Norm looks at Brody in surprise. “What?”
“I said you can’t talk to my girlfriend that way,” Brody says. His voice is calm but there’s a menacing edge to it. Something I’ve never heard before from him, since he’s always been nothing but sweet around me. He’s staring down Norm, an intense look in his usually mild blue eyes. “I want you to apologize to her right now.”
“Hey, buddy,” Norm says. “She’s the one who lied to me.”
“I don’t fucking care,” Brody says, moving his chair closer to Norm. “You’re going to fucking apologize to Emily and you’re going to do it right now.”
I look up at Norm’s face. What’s crazy is that he actually looks frightened. Why, I can’t imagine. Brody’s clearly in no shape to take him on in a fight. Yet I have to admit, the way he’s talking is a little scary. Menacing. Honestly, I wouldn’t have guessed Brody had it in him.
“I’m sorry, Emily,” Norm mutters, staring down at his feet. Wow. I can’t even believe he apologized. This is amazing. I feel like I should apologize too, but my mouth feels glued shut.
“Good,” Brody says. “Now get the fuck out of here.”
Norm lifts his eyes. “You know, she might be lying to you too.”
“I missed the part where that’s any of your business,” Brody says, raising his eyebrows. “Now get out before we call the cops.”
And Norm is gone like a lightning bolt. I see him practically sprinting down the hall. I shut the door behind him, my hands shaking. I lean against the wall, still blinking my eyes to hold back the tears. I’m afraid to even look at Brody. I can’t even imagine what he must be thinking about me.
“I wonder where the pizza is,” Brody says.
I stare at him. How could he be thinking about pizza right now? Even I’m not thinking about pizza right now. “You’re not… angry at me?”
Brody shrugs. “Why would I be angry? He’s the one who came here acting like a maniac. You obviously haven’t talked to him since we’ve been together.”
“But…” I bite my lip. “I lied to him.”
“Yeah, so?” He shrugs again. “I mean, you messed around a little on the internet. Big wow. It’s not like you’re the first person in history to do that.” He takes a breath. “I mean, to be honest, I’ve done it before too.”
I frown. “You have?”
“Well, yeah, of course,” he says with a shrug. “Look, I’m a guy in a wheelchair. You think girls on the internet get super excited when I share that information? So, you know, I don’t.”
Somehow it never occurred to me that Brody had ever done the same thing I’d done. But I guess it makes sense. I still feel like I want to be completely honest with him. “It wasn’t just online though,” I admit. “I talked to him on the phone… we were almost going to meet up but I… well, obviously I didn’t go through with it.”
“Yeah,” Brody nods. “Been there, done that.”
I stare at him. “Are you serious?”
“Emily,” he says in a calm, sensible voice. “You think guys don’t get lonely too? Most girls… like 99% of them are not going to be interested in me for… well, for obvious reasons. Online relationships are easier. You can… you know, tell them only what you want them to know. They don’t need to find out that I need help to take a goddamn shower or get dressed, that’s for sure. I even spent like an hour getting the perfect angle for the camera on my computer so that my wheelchair wouldn’t be visible on Skype.” He rolls his eyes. “It sounds so dumb when I say it out loud, but… I don’t know. Anyway, I’m glad I don’t have to do that shit anymore.”
Wow. That is a surprise, to say the least. But what he’s saying makes sense. He’s right that 99% of girls wouldn’t date a guy as impaired as he is. But something about it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. “So, um, can I ask you something then?”
Brody smiles. “Sure.”
“When you asked me out,” I begin, “was it because you liked me, or was it only because you thought there was a chance I’d say yes.”
The smile fades from Brody’s face. He sighs loudly and rubs his chin with his wrist. “You know, I could ask you a very similar question about me. But I’m not sure if either of us really wants to know the answer.”
And that is an answer in itself.
“Emily,” he says quietly. He wheels closer to me so that he can run his hand over my chest. “I find you incredibly attractive. I think about you all the freaking time. The thought of being close to you just… it floors me. I love you.” He lifts his blue eyes to look into mine. “Is that enough of an answer?”
“Yes,” I say honestly. “And I have to tell you, it was pretty damn sexy the way you stood up to Norm for me.”
Brody grins. “Oh yeah?”
“Yeah,” I say, running my fingers along his jawline and feeling the stubble of his beard. “Weren’t you worried that he’d, like, hit you or something?”
Brody laughs. “That guy? Are you serious? First of all, nobody who meets their girlfriends on the internet is getting in a fistfight. And second of all, there was no way that guy was hitting anyone. Not a chance in hell.”
“How did you know?”
“I just knew,” he says. “I’ve been Sean’s brother long enough to have seen my fair share of fights, believe me.”
I raise my eyebrows at him. “You know, my sister told me you got suspended for being in a fistfight at school.”
Brody laughs. “Oh, right. I remember that. Junior year. This guy Evan Rogers got all pissed off at me because I made out with his girlfriend at some party. He came right up to me in the hallway and shoved me. It was entirely his fault, but everyone loved him, so I got suspended and he just got a slap on the wrist.”
I smile. “Did you win the fight, at least?”
“No, I got the shit kicked out of me. I mean, the guy was on the football team.” He shakes his head. “It was probably a stupid move making out with his girlfriend.”
I try to imagine Brody in a fight, but it’s hard. Aside from that one photo in the yearbook, I’ve never seen him as anything other than a quadriplegic. His brother in a fight though—that I can definitely imagine.
The buzzer rings again and we both jump slightly. “That’s probably the pizza,” I say.
Brody winks at me. “You sure it’s not some other boyfriend of yours?”
I laugh, but this was a really close call. Norm came so damn close to ruining everything for me.