I have no friends at work.
I was never a social butterfly when I was growing up, but I’ve always had a small circle of friends. I feel pathetic that I’ve worked at my company for almost two years and have not made even one friend. That’s a low, even for me.
It’s not entirely my fault. The big problem is that I’m a programmer. And most of the other programmers at work are men. And when I try to talk to men, I start to have a panic attack.
There are other women that work at my company, but they mostly do other kinds of jobs. They work in reception, office management, human resources, etc. The point is, for the most part, they don’t see me as “one of them.”
I was, very briefly, friendly with a woman in human resources named Lexie. We went to lunch a few times, and it was sort of fun. But after our first meal, Lexie started making comments about what I was eating. Like, I would order a cheeseburger, and she would say, “No, you should get a salad instead, Emily! Don’t you think that would be better?”
I just don’t need friends like that.
Another growing problem I’ve noticed is that women in my general age group seem mostly interested in marriage and babies. In fact, every single interaction I’ve had with other women (aside from Lexie) has been during an office bridal shower or baby shower. I’m always throwing five dollars into a big white envelope full of cash. Just in the last month, I’m certain I’ve contributed at least twenty bucks for various showers for women I barely know.
In case you hadn’t guessed, I’m not on the verge of being showered for anything besides the one I take every morning before breakfast. I’m happy I had my first kiss and all, but let’s be real: I’m about as far away from any of that stuff as is humanly possible—and they all know it. And that just serves to make me even less “one of them.”
Today we’re having a baby shower for a woman named… crap, I can’t even remember her name. But when Candice, the office shower-organizer (who presumably also does some sort of work for the company) came around with the envelope, I threw in my five bucks. I don’t want to be known as the fat, stingy girl.
The shower is scheduled for three o’clock in the break room. As much as I hate these stupid things, I’m actually looking forward to it. By mid-afternoon, I’m usually starving, and there’s always decent food at these showers. There will definitely be cake, sometimes nachos, and sometimes there’s a whole mini-buffet. My mouth waters just thinking about it.
About an hour before, Candice blocks the entrance (which is the same as the exit) to my cubicle, flanked by her friend Robyn. For several seconds, neither one of them says anything, and I wish they would move. I get incredibly claustrophobic when people stand at the entrance to the cubicle. I feel like I barely have breathing room in this stupid cube without having the entrance blocked off by two people.
“Hi, Emily,” Candice chirps. She got married about a year ago and she wears the biggest diamond ring I’ve ever seen. The diamond is big, that is, not the ring. The ring is tiny, of course, because Candice has little slender fingers. “You know it’s Keely’s baby shower today, right?”
“I already contributed, didn’t I?” I say. I distinctly remember handing over my five bucks two days ago.
“Yes, you did,” Candice says, and she exchanges looks with Robyn. They don’t want more money, do they? I thought five dollars was enough. Isn’t that what everyone gives? Have I been inadvertently cheaping out?
“The thing is, Emily,” Robyn begins. She got a pixie cut a few months ago and it looks awful. I strongly suspect nobody’s told her so. “The cake at the party? That’s for people to enjoy during the party. And if there’s any left over, that’s for Keely to take home.”
The truth is, even though there’s always a lot of food during these showers, I can’t exactly eat the food during the shower. Like, if there’s cake, I always just take a teeny, miniscule piece because I don’t want everyone to be like, “Hey, look at the fat girl eating cake!” So generally, I wait until after the shower is over, then I sneak back to the break room and eat the leftovers out of the fridge.
At the last shower, they served this absolutely delicious cookies and cream cake, and barely a quarter of it was eaten during the shower. The sliver I took only whetted my appetite, so much so that it was all I could think about when I went back to work. Until I went back and got a decent slice of cake.
Although in retrospect, I guess I took more than just one slice. Actually, I ate a good amount of cake.
Fine. I ate almost the whole thing. I had no idea anyone realized I did it. I can’t believe everyone knew and were probably gossiping about it for the last week.
“I’m sorry,” I mumble. I can’t even look at them.
“It’s all right,” Candice says, her voice growing perkier by the second. “We just wanted to clear that up.” She hesitates. “I’m glad we had this talk, Emily.”
I nod. If I say anything, I’ll probably start crying.
When Candice and Robyn leave, I’m left with this sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. It’s not fair. I’ve paid all this money for showers and what happens? I get yelled at.
The worst part is: all I can think about is the cake at the upcoming shower and how I can’t wait to eat a big, heaping piece of it.
I end up skipping the afternoon shower entirely. Instead, I take a trip to the corner store, and buy myself ten brownies. I shove them into my purse, then go back to work, where I hide in a bathroom stall and eat the brownies one by one. After they’re in my belly, I feel much better. My mother always says I ought to go see a psychotherapist, but there’s no therapy better than chocolate.
When work is over, I take the subway to my Monday evening class. After the shitty day I’ve been having, at least I can look forward to seeing Brody.
I get to class early and Brody isn’t there yet. There are only a handful of students in the room, so I sit in one of the outer desks and wait. To my surprise, another woman in her late twenties slides into the seat next to mine. She’s a little chubby, with brown hair in a layered cut that isn’t particularly flattering. She smiles at me and I smile back.
“Hi,” she says. “I’m Patricia.”
Another girl in a computer science class. Potential friend? It would be nice to have a girlfriend.
“I’m Emily,” I say.
“Is this your first class here?” she asks.
“No, it’s my second. And I’m taking a second class on Wednesday nights. Operation Systems.”
“Is that good?” she asks.
I shrug. “It’s Operations Systems.”
Patricia laughs. “Touche.”
I love that she said touche. In my opinion, that is an extremely underutilized word.
“Hey, Emily,” she says, scrunching her eyebrows together. “Can I ask you something?”
“Sure,” I say.
Patricia glances at the door, then back at me. She lowers her voice a notch: “I was just wondering, what’s the deal with that guy in the wheelchair?”
Wow. That’s just about the last thing I expected her to say. “What?”
“I was just curious,” she says. “He just kind of sits there every day and I saw you talking to him. Do you know him? Is he, like, mentally impaired or something?”
“Um,” I say. “If he were mentally impaired, how could he take a graduate class?”
“Who knows?” Patricia snorts. “Maybe he’s just auditing or something.”
“I don’t think so,” I mumble.
“Jason told me he has cerebral palsy,” Patricia says, referring to some guy I’ve never heard of. Some buddy of hers in the class, I guess. “He says he can tell by his arms. Do you know him at all?”
“A little,” I can’t even look at her. “I mean, he asked to copy my notes after class a few times. That’s all.”
“So he can talk?”
I nod. I hate this conversation. And I hate myself even more.
“Well, I guess it’s good that people like that can take a graduate class,” Patricia says.
I’m awful. I know it. Maybe Patricia had no right to start asking me all those questions, but I should have been honest. I sold Brody out. He’s not just a guy who copies my notes. I went out on a date with him. I really like him. And I obviously know he’s not retarded.
I wish I were the kind of person who could feel proud of my relationship with Brody. I wish I could stand up and say, “For your information, I am dating him and he’s really cute and funny.” But I’m not even remotely that kind of person. So I just feel embarrassed. Thank God people start filling into the room and Patricia doesn’t say anything further.
Brody wheels into the room a few minutes later. His blue eyes light up when he sees me, which is really flattering. I’ve never had a guy look at me that way before.
I can’t help but look at him through the eyes of a person like Patricia. I have to admit, Brody in his Facebook profile photo is much hotter than Brody in real life. When you see all of him, he looks like what he is: a quadriplegic in a power wheelchair. Or maybe not a quadriplegic necessarily, but a guy with some sort of severe disability. This is not something that’s sexually arousing to someone like Patricia. People don’t lust after disabled guys (well, except for people who are into that, I guess). Brody as a whole is objectively not attractive.
But I find him attractive. In fact, just looking at him is getting me really turned on. All I can think about is talking to him after class.
Nobody needs to know I went out with him.
I try my best to focus on the lecture and take good notes, both for my sake and for his. When the lecture is over, he wheels closer to me. “You’re still gonna let me copy your notes, right?” he asks me with that endearing smile.
“Of course,” I say, glancing nervously over at Patricia, who is watching us as she packs up her own belongings. For a moment, I’m scared he’ll try to kiss me or something. But he doesn’t.
It’s a relief when we’re out of the room, away from all the stares. I think I have a sixth sense for when people are looking at me. I can practically feel eyes boring into my back. I wonder if Brody notices things like that too. I think he may get stared at even more than I do, but probably not for as long as I have.
“I had a great time the other night,” he says to me as we make our way down the hall.
“Me too,” I say.
“I know it’s really short notice,” he says, “but would you like to have dinner with me tomorrow night?”
Patricia’s comments flash only briefly through my head before I answer, “Yeah, sure.”
“Great.” He beams at me. “Would you be okay with coming over to my apartment? We could go out if you’d like, but it’s much easier for me at my own place.”
“Sure,” I say again.
“And this way we can have some privacy,” he says, and then he blushes. “Not that I expect us to… I mean, I’d just like to be alone with you, that’s all. No waitresses interrupting us.”
“It’s okay,” I say. I smile at him. “I’d like to be alone with you too.”
Brody looks totally floored by my comment. It’s flattering, really. I should have started dating quadriplegics ages ago.
Brody lives in the East Village, in a new-appearing building that has a tall, imposing doorman guarding the entrance. He buzzes me up right away when he hears my name, which makes me think that Brody alerted him that I was coming.
When I get upstairs, Brody greets me at the door. He looks completely adorable and I love the way his blue eyes light up when he sees me. He’s dressed pretty nice again, in a black button-up shirt, and dark brown slacks. I wonder who dressed him. No matter what else, there’s no way he could do those buttons.
“Come here,” Brody says as I step inside. He tilts his head up slightly and I can tell he wants to kiss me, so I lean in for it. It’s not a big dramatic kiss, but I still love the feel of his lips on mine, his freshly shaved chin grazing against me. His breath tastes like spearmint, which makes me wish I had popped a tic tac before I came up here.
“So dinner is on the table,” he tells me.
“Did you cook?” I ask.
Brody laughs like I was making a joke, even though I wasn’t. I guess there’s no possible way he could have cooked us dinner. That was probably a dumb question.
The dining table is made up with two plates of roasted chicken with sides of mashed potatoes and baby carrots. I can tell which side is meant to be his because there’s no chair there, the chicken is already cut up into pieces, and there’s a straw in the water glass. Again, no hint of alcohol at the table, dammit. But I’m not as nervous as last time, at least.
I look at him questioningly, and he says, “It was a joint effort. My cleaning woman slash cook brought the food this morning… usually she just makes me something simple on a plate that I can pop in the microwave. And I had my PCA come in to help me get ready and get the dinner on the table.”
I frown. “Your… what?”
“My PCA,” he repeats. When he sees the confusion on my face, he clarifies: “Sorry, I forget that everyone doesn’t know what a Personal Care Assistant is. I have three of them that alternate coming in to help me with… stuff. I always need them first thing in the morning and at night, but they can usually come in if there’s some extra thing I need during the day.” He adds, “But that’s rare. I don’t usually need them during the day.”
That’s good to know. If things get more serious with Brody, it’s probably better if he doesn’t have a personal care assistant hanging around us.
Eying the plate of food, I slide into the lone seat, and Brody positions himself across from me. Instead of the cuff he used in the restaurant, he apparently has a cuff with a fork already attached to it. It’s much easier for him to slide that onto his hand and be ready to eat.
I take a bite of the chicken. It’s okay—not great. I’m not a fan of chicken breast. I get why people eat it if they want to be healthy, but I can’t imagine anyone out there would actually prefer white meat to dark meat. Dark meat is so much juicier and more flavorful.
“This is great,” I lie.
Brody nods. “Yeah, Meg is a really good cook.”
I push my chicken breast around my plate, and find myself looking up at his bookcase. The wooden bookcase is only half-height, and has a couple of framed photos resting on it. I point to a picture of a cute middle-aged couple. “Are those your parents?”
“Uh huh,” Brody says. “My mom brought me the photos and made me put them there. I’m not that big on pictures, to be honest.”
“I think it’s sweet to have photos of your family in your house,” I say.
“Oh?” Brody raises his eyebrows and grins crookedly. “In that case, I totally put them up there myself.”
I laugh and study the photo more carefully. “You look like your mother.” Mrs. Nolan is very pretty—or at least, looks like she would have been twenty years earlier.
“Yeah, that’s what people tell me,” Brody says.
There’s one other photo, of a redheaded guy about Brody’s age who is balanced inside a canoe on some sort of camping trip. “Who’s that?”
“My brother Sean,” Brody says. “He’s eleven months older than me. We’re literally Irish twins.”
Despite Brody’s comments the other day about having an Irish face, his brother’s features much more resemble someone from the old country. He’s got red hair, a ruddy complexion, a broad face, and a prominent chin. While Brody looks like a sweet guy, I can’t help but think his brother looks like the type that you’d see in a barroom brawl. “He looks more like your dad,” I say.
Brody nods and takes a bite of mashed potatoes. “That’s what they say.”
“Are you guys close?”
Brody hesitates. “Yes. I mean, he’s my brother and I love him. He’s like my best friend, but… we fight. A lot.”
I’m guessing he’s not referring to fist fights, but rather more cerebral disagreements. “What do you fight about?”
He grins. “Dunno. Brother stuff.”
Brother stuff. Cop out. But it doesn’t seem like Brody wants to tell me what the topic of his fights with his brother are, and I can only begin to imagine. I wonder if they ever fought over a woman. Isn’t that what guys fight over?
“How about you?” he asks. “Any brothers or sisters?”
“Two sisters,” I report. “One younger, one older. And no, we’re not close.”
I shrug. “We fight. Sister stuff.”
Brody stares at me for a minute, then laughs. “Touché,” he says, and I smile.
And neither of us shares why we don’t get along with our respective siblings. Which is fine by me.
I end up clearing the table after dinner, even though Brody firmly insists that his PCA will take care of it. I’m not anal or anything, but I just can’t bear to leave a table full of dirty dishes. I know he does it every night, but I’m not disabled. I feel like it’s shameful to leave dirty dishes on the table.
“Meg said she left some pastries in the kitchen too,” Brody calls to me as I carry the dishes to the kitchen. “I’m not hungry, but you can help yourself if you’d like.”
I shouldn’t. I really shouldn’t.
But I’m starving. I ate most of Meg’s dinner, but it left me still feeling hungry. I need something. So I rifle around the kitchen counter, looking for the pastries. After a less than exhaustive search, I find a Tupperware bowl of about twenty raspberry tartlets basically sitting on the microwave.
I pop one in my mouth. And oh my God, these are freaking amazing. How come this woman messed up a simple piece of chicken, but she can make the most delicious tartlets I’ve ever eaten?
Okay, I need another one. Just one more. Okay, two more. And that’s it.
I’m not sure it happens, but a minute later, all the tartlets are gone. I’ve finished the whole bowl. And I don’t know what the hell to do. I can’t tell Brody that I just ate twenty tartlets. That’s just a major turn-off.
But why does anyone need to know?
I quickly rinse out the Tupperware, and put the bowl on the drying rack. I’m sure Meg will assume Brody ate them. And Brody… well… I’ll work that one out on the way to the living room.
“Meg’s a great baker,” Brody says when I come back into the room. “Did you try the pastries?”
“Um, no,” I mumble. “Actually, I dropped the bowl and they spilled on the floor. I had to throw them away.
“Oh, man,” Brody says. “That sucks. Meg makes great pastries—I really wanted you to try one.”
“That’s okay,” I say, unable to look him in the eyes.
“Do you want some dessert?” he asks me. “I think there’s ice cream in the freezer.”
I can’t believe he just offered me ice cream. Nobody offers me ice cream. Everyone figures I shouldn’t be eating it. How is it possible that he could be so okay with my weight?
“I’m pretty full,” I say. Even though, in truth, I sort of want the ice cream. But I don’t think he’s going to buy a story about the ice cream falling on the floor also.
“Do you want to watch a movie?” he asks, nodding at his TV. “I’ve got a ton of DVDs. Pick out whichever one you want.”
I raise my eyebrows at him. “Are you sure you want to give me that kind of power? What if I have terrible taste in movies?”
Brody shrugs and smiles. “Well, they’re my movies. I’m pretty sure they’re all good.”
I check out the selection. It’s not a bad collection, but they’re definitely all “guy flicks” like Old School, The Godfather, Swingers, and Tropic Thunder. I see he’s got a copy of The 40-Year-Old Virgin, which is a funny movie, but I think might be awkward considering that… well, I’m a virgin. Brody’s not. I’m almost certain of it. Finally, I select The Matrix.
“Awesome,” Brody says. “Long movie. Lots of time to feel you up.”
I laugh and load the movie up in the DVD player while Brody goes to dim the lights. I sit down on his couch and he pulls up next to me in his wheelchair. He’s right next to me, but not as close as I’d sort of like him to be. “Do you want to sit with me on the couch?” I ask him.
Brody eyes the empty space on the couch next to me. “Yeah, I would,” he says. Then he sighs. “Look, Emily, I’ll be honest with you. I’m not able to get in and out of my wheelchair on my own. So while I’d truly love to sit next to you, I just… can’t.”
“Oh,” I say. I guess I should have realized that but I really didn’t. “Um, could I help you?”
He shakes his head. “You’re not trained and I’m not sure how strong you are. I have a bad feeling I’d end up on the floor and then I’d really be stuck.” He puts his arm on the couch armrest between us, where my hand was already resting. “We’re still close though. Is this okay?”
“Of course,” I say. I mean, what else am I supposed to say? He can’t get out of his wheelchair. So this is the best we’re going to get.
“You could sit on my lap?” he offers.
I cringe. I think of my weight on his legs and it worries me. I don’t want to injure him. “I probably shouldn’t,” I say. “I’m sort of a… big girl.”
I half-expect Brody to start reassuring me that I’m not, but instead he just frowns and looks a little troubled. “Yeah.”
“Sorry,” I say quickly.
“No, I’m sorry,” he says. “I’m the one who can’t even sit next to you on the fucking couch.” He takes a shaky breath. “Next time, maybe I’ll… I don’t know…”
“Well, what have you done with other girls?” I ask him.
Brody’s ears turn red. “There haven’t been, you know, many. Honestly? I’ve only had one serious relationship since my injury and she was my former PCA, so she knew how to help me out with this kind of stuff.”
He seems really embarrassed about his lack of experience, although he’s still way ahead of me. I don’t want to tell him that though. If he knew that he was my first kiss, he’d probably freak out.
“This isn’t my favorite second date conversation,” Brody sighs. “Next time I’ll get Mike, my evening PCA, to come hang out in the bedroom in case we need anything. He told me he’d be willing to stick around, but I thought I’d be okay. He already promised he’d help out in the future if we ever wanted to, you know… be intimate.”
Now he’s really red. Another downside to his fair skin tone. I guess it’s hard on him that he needs help just to have a basic romantic relationship. I want to reach out and give him a hug, but I feel like that might be more awkward than reassuring. I really do like the fact that Brody is planning for future dates already… and maybe more. I still can’t get over that he thinks of me that way.
“Let’s watch the movie, okay?” Brody says.
I nod and I give his hand a squeeze. The skin of his palm is surprisingly soft, although his fingers feel a little stiff. He smiles over at me, so I keep my hand there. Maybe it isn’t as good as cuddling on the couch, but it’s definitely nice.
I have my hand on his through most of the movie, except twice he has to pull away from me. "I have to do a weight shift," he explains, and then his wheelchair tilts backward in space about 45 degrees. "Sorry about that."
"Can you still see?" I ask him.
"Mostly," he says. "Don't worry, I've seen this movie about a million times. Just... don't pay attention to me."
I'd never seen him do anything like that before, but I guess he must have done it right before and after class, so he could pay attention to the lecture. And I guess he didn't want to do it during our first date, which is understandable. It would have been really awkward if he suddenly had to tilt his wheelchair back in the middle of our meal.
It occurs to me that he's got a routine that works for him and allows him to be entirely independent during the day. He's been doing this for like eight years. And now because he's dating me, he has to break that routine and ask for extra help. Yet he obviously still feels like it's worth it to be able to go out with me and be close to me. It's actually very sweet.
And then after the movie, I sit down on a chair next to him and we kiss for a little while. In some ways it’s a relief that Brody’s disability limits how fast we can move in this relationship. I need to take things slow, and slow is the only way he can go these days.
To be continued....