A few days later, when I’m helping Brody make copies of my notes, something totally weird happens:
We’re so deep in conversation going to the copy machine that he takes a turn too sharply and bashes himself slightly into the wall. He laughs it off, saying, “Damn, I should go back to Jersey,” but the second the footplate of his chair touches the wall, his left leg starts to shake. It’s actually fairly violent. And when he tries to rub his arm against it to calm it down, the right one starts to shake too. It actually really freaks me out.
“Are you having a seizure?” I’m trying to hide my shock but it’s hard.
“A seizure? No, it’s just muscle spasms.” He keeps trying to rub his legs, and the spasms do start to quiet somewhat.
“I never saw it happen before,” I say.
“Yeah,” he mumbles. “I usually get them in the morning.”
I’m not sure what to do but I see he’s trying to rub his legs the best he can. So I figure I’ll help by reaching out to massage his left leg. I put my hand on his knee, but somehow that just kicks the spasm off much worse. Obviously, I have no idea what I’m doing, so I yank my hand back away.
“Sorry,” Brody says, his cheeks pink. He continues to rub his legs and the spasms gradually calm down. “I hate my stupid legs.”
“It’s okay,” I say. “Um, isn’t there, like, a medication for that?”
He nods. “Yeah, but it makes me so damn tired, it’s not worth it. It doesn’t even help that much. There’s an implanted pump that could put the medicine directly in my spine, but I hate the idea of going in for a surgery. I should probably just do it though.”
“I don’t blame you.” Last year, my parents told me they’d pay if I wanted to go in to have a stomach stapling. I really didn’t. For starters, I’m terrified of surgery. Second, I’m not interested in any surgery that won’t let me eat what I want. If I want to diet, that should be my choice. It shouldn’t be because I feel full after eating anything larger than a peanut.
“Okay, I think they’ve calmed down,” Brody says, lifting his eyes to look at me. “Thanks for being understanding, Emily.”
I shrug. “It’s no big deal.” On top of everything else, it really isn’t. What’s a few muscle spasms?
“It didn’t freak you out too much?”
“No.” Well, a little. But he doesn’t need to know that.
Brody lets out a breath. “Good,” he says. He holds out one of his arms to me, his hand hanging limply from his wrist. “Come here.”
And then he kisses me. Although not before I check the hallway to make sure nobody is watching us.
I assume that at some point, Brody will probably expect to see me naked.
I don't look good naked. I hate the way I look so much that I don't even own a full length mirror. I don't even want an accidental glimpse of myself. The only positives I could list would be that my breasts are big—they pretty much have to be. But they're overshadowed by rolls of fat and cellulite. My stomach sticks out more than my boobs do, and now it’s started hanging down over my thighs a little bit.
I'm not sure how long I can avoid taking my clothes off in front of him. Honestly, I could probably get away with it for a while. He's not going to be ripping them off, to say the least. And he can't undress himself either, so I'm thinking we're going to stay in our clothes for quite a while.
Before Brody came along, I really didn’t care. I know there are people (including my mother) who would say to me, “How could you not care about looking that way?” Well, I didn’t. After all, even if I busted my ass and dropped fifty pounds, I’d still be the fat girl. Kids would still tell me I needed to buy a second fare on the bus. So what possible difference would it make?
But now Brody’s going to see me naked, and it really might matter. I looked better a hundred pounds ago—I know that even without a full-length mirror. Maybe it’s time to put in an effort.
A couple of days after my date with Brody, I come home to find Abby cooking in the kitchen. I watch Abby’s lithe body dancing around the stove and feel a flash of envy. My life would be so much easier if I looked like her. I wouldn’t have to worry about people shouting mean things at me when I walk down the street. I wouldn’t have to endure stupid comments from family and friends every time they see me eat so much as a French fry.
I wonder what she’s cooking. It smells horrible, but I’m sure it’s healthy. It will probably help me lose weight, if only because it makes me vomit up everything I’ve eaten today.
“Abby?” I say, before I can change my mind.
Abby looks up at me and smiles. “Hi, Emily! What’s up?”
I take a deep breath. “What are you making? It smells… good.”
Abby’s eyes light up. “Does it? It’s bean curd with Brussels sprouts.”
It looks like diarrhea. “Oh,” I say.
“Would you like some?” Abby offers.
I push away a wave of revulsion. “Um, sure.”
Abby waves her hand over the pan of food to allow the smell to waft up to her nostrils. "Mmm... this smells so good. It's making my stomach growl."
She has got to be putting me on. This food smells awful. It smells like somebody left some beans out for a few months, they rotted, and then someone mixed the rotted bean curd with garbage.
Abby spoons her concoction onto two plates and also pours me a great big glass of... water. I sit down at the table and just stare at my plate. I do not want to eat this. But at this point, I’d be hurting Abby’s feelings if I don’t eat it. How did I get myself into this mess?
"Try it," Abby encourages me. “Honestly, Emily, it’s amazeballs!”
Well, if it’s amazeballs. Whatever the hell that means.
I cautiously dip my fork into the food. Oh God, I really don't want to eat this. I take a deep breath and push the forkful of bean curd into my mouth. Then I force myself to chew and swallow.
I clamp my hand over my mouth. It’s the only thing keeping me from vomiting.
"Isn't it good?" Abby asks me.
I'm saved from having to give a response by the ringing of my cell phone. I pull it out of my pocket and see the number Brody gave me popping up on the screen. Abby frowns and I can see the twinge of jealousy in her eyes, "Is that… the guy you’ve been dating?"
I nod and turn away from her to answer the call: "Hey there."
"Hey!" It's Brody's voice. "I'm calling you on your phone! First time!"
Sometimes he's too cute for words. "You sure are."
"Can you talk? Am I interrupting anything?"
I look up at Abby, who seems miffed at me. But as far as I'm concerned, this call is a godsend. "Abby," I say. "Would you mind if I ate the rest of this in my room?"
Abby shrugs sulkily—I guess she wanted us to bond over bean curd. I take the opportunity to grab the plate and run to my room. There’s absolutely no way I’m eating this plate of food—I’ll dump it in the garbage disposal tonight, when Abby is in her room. For now, I pull out a big bag of caramels with sea salt from my dresser drawer.
I know I said that chocolate is the best thing ever, but caramels with sea salt are a close second. I know it’s really overdone lately… like, I was at the supermarket yesterday, and I saw caramel with sea salt popcorn and caramel with sea salt oatmeal. Probably tomorrow I’ll catch Abby cooking caramel with sea salt bean curd. So yeah, it’s not like I would eat any of that crap, but caramel in its purest form, coated with a few crystals of sea salt—so good. Just when you’ve been chewing the caramel and you’re about to swallow it, you get that little extra burst of salt. Salt brings out the natural flavor in all foods—ask any chef. (Maybe it would have saved Abby’s bean curd—but probably not.)
"Thank you," I say into the phone. "You saved me from dinner with my roommate."
“You never told me you had a roommate,” he says.
“Not much to tell,” I say, popping a caramel in my mouth. “I have a roommate. She’s annoying.”
“Why is she annoying?” he asks.
“Let me put it this way,” I say, “she uses the word ‘amazeballs.’ Like, not sarcastically.”
“I didn’t know women used that word.”
“Are you kidding me? Only women use that word.”
“Yeah, but it has the word ‘balls’ in it.”
I laugh into the phone. “I don’t think the ‘balls’ in ‘amazeballs’ necessarily refers to testicles.”
“I always just assumed it did.”
I’m pretty sure it doesn’t. But I’m going to mention this to Abby. Maybe I can get her to stop saying it. That would be amazeballs.
“So here’s the deal,” Brody says. “Unfortunately, Mike’s girlfriend is coming in to town this weekend from Colorado, so I don’t think he’s going to be able to help out. Actually, I’m getting my brother to cover for him on Saturday night, so he won’t be around at all.”
“Oh,” I say.
“I know—it’s really frustrating,” he sighs. “But I was thinking, if you’re free, maybe we could do something outside on Saturday? It’s supposed to be a really nice day. Like… the Central Park Zoo?”
“All right,” I agree. I haven’t been to the zoo since I was a child. I kind of remember that it used to smell like animals and animal poop.
“Great,” he says. “Do you want to meet by the front entrance at three?”
“I can’t wait,” he says.
I love how Brody doesn’t play games. Even though I’ve never been in a real relationship before, I’ve been in plenty of online ones and it seemed like there was usually never a good balance of how attentive the guy was. Either he’d be way too aloof and act like he didn’t care at all if we talked, or he’d be way too needy. Brody doesn’t seem worried about waiting X number of days before calling me, or not letting on that he wants to see me. Yet he doesn’t bother me every two seconds with texts and calls. I like that.
“Hey, Emily,” Brody says. His voice gets a little husky. “What are you wearing right now?”
I look down at my T-shirt and sweatpants. “I’m in my nightie,” I say. I have no idea what a nightie is, but it sounds way sexier than a T-shirt and sweatpants. Especially since I bought the sweatpants about thirty pounds ago, and they are digging into my belly, making a really unsexy red line.
“I wish I were with you,” he says. And he sounds like he really, really means it.
I stuff another caramel in my mouth and taste that little salt burst. It gives me courage. “I could come over now,” I say tentatively. “I mean, if you’d like.”
“Seriously?” Brody sounds some combination of nervous and excited.
“Well, sure,” I say. It’s only eight o’clock. I usually don’t go to sleep till at least midnight, so I could definitely hang out a few hours at Brody’s apartment.
“The thing is,” he says thoughtfully. “Mike comes at 9:30 to help me get ready for bed, so… I mean, by the time you got here…” I can hear the frustration in his voice. “Maybe it’s not the best idea, Emily. I’m really sorry. I do really want to see you. I mean, it would have been awesome. It would have been amazeballs.”
“It’s okay,” I say.
“I’m really sorry,” he says again.
“Don’t worry about it.” And I pop two caramels into my mouth at once. Double salt explosion. So much for losing weight.
We talk about this and that for a while longer as I finish off the bag of caramels. He finally gets off the phone when Mike comes in and it’s time for him to get ready for bed. I’m not even close to ready for bed, so instead, I got out and get myself some real dinner, surreptitiously tossing my bean curd down the garbage disposal on the way out.
Saturday turns out to be a really nice, hot day. Maybe the last hot day before fall sets in for real. The truth is, I hate hot days. Rain would have been preferable.
If you have a cute little body, I’m sure it’s tons of fun to dress in skimpy clothing and trounce around the city. When you’re morbidly obese, it’s less fun. Gigantic, puffy winter coats are the great equalizer, but during the summer, everything in on display for passers-by to critique.
And of course, I can’t cover up when it gets hot because… big surprise: I sweat. Even in a T-shirt and shorts, I get sweaty. If I wore anything warmer than that, I’d be drenched. I don’t think I want to have pit stains during my date.
So for our date at the Central Park Zoo, I go with a black T-shirt, and shorts that come nearly down to my knees. It’s the best I can do. It’s the skimpiest thing I’ve worn around Brody, and it makes me edgy.
When I get to the zoo, Brody is already waiting outside the entrance. He’s wearing jeans and also had to opt for the rare short-sleeved shirt. I guess I’ve never seen his arms before, because every other time, he’s been wearing a sweatshirt or some sort of over-shirt… or a dress shirt on our two dates. I had no idea how thin his forearms were. He does have biceps, but his forearms are just completely devoid of any sort of muscle or fat or anything. They don’t look functional at all, which I guess is accurate.
“Hey, Emily!” Brody calls out when he spots me. He’s wearing a pair of Ray Bans, and from the neck up, he looks pretty darn adorable.
I walk over to him, he tilts his head up to me. I realize he wants to kiss me, so after a second of hesitation, I lean in. When I’m close to him, he whispers in my ear, “I had a really nice dream about you last night.”
I feel my cheeks grow warm. I’ve never had a guy talk to me this way—at least, not in the real world. It makes me some combination of excited and embarrassed. I’m sort of grateful that he doesn’t tell me any more details of his dream.
The line for tickets is absolutely insane. I guess everyone else thought the zoo would be a good idea today too. It’s one of those lines that’s held together by a maze of ropes, and Brody curses when he sees it. “I hate these things.”
Sure enough, he gets in all right, but as he attempts to turn as the line moves forward, he knocks down one of the metal poles. I jump over to quickly grab it, while Brody apologizes. “These things do not allow for a big enough turning radius,” he grumbles. I don’t say anything about it, but I hate those poles too. My butt has knocked over maybe dozens in my lifetime.
As I’m fixing the pole, a young man jogs over to us wearing a staff member shirt. He addresses Brody directly. “Sir,” he says anxiously. “You can go ahead and enter the zoo free of charge.” He looks over at me. “Your caregiver can enter free of charge as well.”
It’s hard to read Brody’s expression due to his dark glasses, but he just looks up and stares at the guy. “What?”
“We now allow handicapped patrons and their helpers to enter the zoo for free,” the man clarifies, smiling generously.
Brody shakes his head. “I… she’s my girlfriend.”
“Oh!” The staff member seems taken aback. Christ, is it really that hard to believe? “Well, that’s okay. You can still both enter for free.”
Brody looks like he’s debating saying no, but the line isn’t shrinking quickly, and there’s a toddler right ahead of us who just started shrieking. Finally, Brody mumbles, “Okay, thanks.”
We get off the line and follow the man to the front entrance, and he waves us through. “You and your girlfriend have a good time!” he calls to us. “Enjoy the animals!”
An awkward silence hangs between me and Brody as we travel through the zoo. I don’t know why exactly—I mean, the zoo is expensive and we got in for free. Not that he seems to care about stuff like that.
We’re nearly at the sea lions when he finally breaks the silence: “I didn’t mean to tell him you’re my girlfriend.”
I feel my cheeks flush. Why did he say that? He just said that thing about having a dream about me, and I thought he really actually liked me. Did my shorts and T-shirt change his mind?
“Okay…” I murmur.
“Um…” Brody looks up at me. I wish I could see his eyes. Stupid sunglasses. “That’s not what I meant. Like, we’ve only been on a few dates, so… I mean, I don’t consider you my girlfriend yet or anything.” He rubs his chin with his wrist. “Unless you want to be. If you do, then… I mean, that would be okay… more than okay… it would actually be great. But like I said, it’s only been a few dates, so I don’t want to pressure you.”
“I do want to be,” I say quietly. “Your girlfriend, that is.”
A smile creeps across his face. “Yeah?”
I return the smile. “Yeah.”
Brody nods, pleased with himself. “Well, then, I’m glad that guy was such an idiot.”
I lean in to kiss him, and my heart is pounding in my chest. Brody is my boyfriend. I have a boyfriend! It’s just so freaking surreal. Of course, it’s not quite the way I pictured having a boyfriend. Brody isn’t the guy I fantasized about when I was a kid. But he’s pretty cute anyway.
The first animal exhibit we see are the sea lions. We stop and watch for a little while, and inevitably, I hear some little kid say, “Mommy, that lady is fatter than the sea lions.”
I hate kids sometimes. They always say what they’re thinking. And they always seem to be thinking that I’m fat. Or else pregnant.
Anxiously, I glance at Brody, to see if he heard. But he seems to be concentrating on fumbling through the pouch on his wheelchair. A minute later, he comes up with a tube of sunscreen.
“I didn’t realize how sunny it was going to be,” he explains. “I don’t want to get fried. I don’t tan well.”
He brings the tube of lotion to his mouth, and uses his teeth to pop the cap. He lays the tube on his lap and gives it a squirt, aiming for his other hand, but largely missing and dousing his jeans.
“Crap,” he comments.
“Do you want me to help you put that on?” I ask him.
“No, that’s okay.” Brody looks down at the tube of sunscreen, then back up at me. “Um, well. If you help me, would that be sexy or weird?”
“Sexy,” I assure him. It would be a little weird too. But it’s truly painful to watch him battling with that tube of sunscreen.
“Fine then,” he says, and he lifts his arm to allow me to pick up the sunscreen.
I squirt some of the white sunscreen onto my hands and Brody holds out his left arm to me. He is really white, which I guess makes sense since he’s Irish and apparently hasn’t gotten much sun lately. I spread the cream over his arm, rubbing it into his skin. His lower arms are so withered that I can palpate every single bone. His skin is smooth, but I notice when I get to his wrist, the joint feels a little stiff, as do his fingers. Although as I creep up to his upper arms, I notice that his biceps are still pretty much intact.
“Do you want me to do your face?” I ask him, when I finish with his arms.
“Yes, please,” he says.
Brody gets this kind of dopey expression on his face as I spread the cream over the bridge of his nose, then his cheeks, and forehead. When I get to his chin, I feel the sharp stubble of his beard under my fingers. I can tell that if he grew a real beard, it would probably be redder than his hair.
“Thanks,” he says, as I put the cap back on the sunscreen and replace it in his pouch. “That was actually… kind of hot.”
You know what? It really kind of was.
The zoo is fairly accessible, and we end up visiting most of the exhibits. Brody’s favorite seems to be the polar bear. There’s a flight of stairs to get up to see it from above, but we can watch it swimming around through glass on the ground level. He pulls off his sunglasses and watches that polar bear in fascination for several minutes.
Don’t laugh, but I’m kind of glad he likes the polar bear. Because that polar bear is definitely fatter than I am.
My least favorite exhibit has always been the Tropic Zone. It’s this exhibit that’s set up like a rainforest, complete with stifling humidity. I remember going there as a kid with my parents and my sisters, feeling the sweat accumulating under my armpits, hearing the wooden planks groaning beneath my weight. I remember how narrow the pathway was and how there were always freaking kids everywhere. As we get closer to the Tropic Zone, I start to grow seriously anxious that I might not be able to fit down the pathway. Or that the planks might actually break under my weight.
“Um,” I say, once the Tropic Zone looms in front of us. “Did you… want to go in?”
“Hell, no,” Brody says. “Sorry. I know they have the little blue wheelchair sign, but I really don’t trust my wheelchair to fit down those pathways. I’d probably get stuck or something.”
I think we must be soulmates. Not only is he worried about not being able to navigate through the Tropic Zone, but when it comes to kids saying what’s on their mind, he has gotten it way, way worse than I have today. At least half a dozen kids have loudly asked their parents what’s wrong with him. While we were in the snow leopard exhibit, one boy came right up to Brody and said to him, “Mister, why do you need a wheelchair?”
And that time, the parents didn’t even stop the kid. They just stood there, like this was a totally appropriate question.
“Because I can’t walk,” Brody told the boy. Duh.
“What’s wrong with your arms?” the boy pressed him.
At this point, the boy’s father said, “He’s very curious about things! You don’t mind answering, do you?”
Brody glanced up at me. Somehow I got the idea that if I weren’t standing right there, he might not have been quite so polite or patient. “Uh, sure,” he said. He looked down at the little boy. “I had an injury to my spinal cord, so my arms and my legs don’t work very well.”
“But how do you go to the bathroom?” the boy asked. I swear to God, he really asked that. And at that point, the parents realized he’d gone too far, and pulled him away. Although to be honest, I was kind of wondering about that myself. I made a trip to the ladies room and Brody just waited outside for me. How the hell does he do it?
We get dinner at the Dancing Crane Café. Brody orders chicken fingers, which he manages to eat surprisingly easily. He just scoops them up in this hand, and somehow they stay in there. I got myself a hot dog. Just one hot dog. Don’t be too proud of me—this is only Dinner Part One.
While we’re finishing up our food, I hear a phone going off. Brody reaches inside his pouch, pulls out his cell phone. He lays it down on his lap and presses a button with his knuckle to answer.
“Hey, Bro!” A loud, tinny voice booms out from the phone. “What took you so long to answer? You making out with your girlfriend?”
“Shut-up, Sean,” Brody says, rolling his eyes at me. I guess it’s his brother. “Where are you?”
“Dad gave me the keys to the van,” Sean says. “Do you want me to pick you up at the… what fucking lame place did you take her to? The pussy museum?”
“Fuck you,” Brody says good-naturedly. “Emily and I are at the zoo.”
“The zoo!” Sean busts out laughing. “Wow, she’s already got you whipped. Hey, can she hear me?”
“Yeah,” Brody says, glancing up at me nervously.
“Hey, Emily!” Sean calls out. “Tell Brody to pick you up some tampons and bras, okay?”
“Will do,” I say. It’s easy to be playful on the phone. It’s sort of my expertise.
“Oh, I like her!” Sean laughs. “She sounds hot. Nice job, Bro.”
“Thanks,” Brody says, rolling his eyes at me again. “Look, we’ve seen every animal on the freaking planet by now, so I think we’re ready to go. Can you pick me up?”
“Sure. Does Emily need a ride home?”
Brody looks up at me. I would love a ride home, but my stomach clenches up at the idea of meeting Sean. I don’t want to meet Brody’s smartass brother, and hear the comment he makes when he finds out that I’m not actually hot.
But now that Brody and I are officially boyfriend and girlfriend, it seems unavoidable. He’s Brody’s only brother, after all. And the last thing I want to do is wait at the bus stop for the next half hour.
“Okay, thanks,” I say and I give him my address.
“All right, give me like twenty minutes,” Sean says. I hear honking and cursing in the background. Where is he?
Brody and I make our way slowly back to the entrance of the park. It’s sort of frustrating how the schedule of other people seems to dictate everything we do. Brody must sense I’m thinking about that, because he says to me, “Next weekend, we’ll spend some time alone together. I promise.”
I see a gray van careening down Fifth Avenue at an almost alarming speed. The van narrowly avoids a collision with a taxi, and there’s an exchange of angry honking and swear words, only about half of which are in English. The van then screeches to a halt in front of us.
The passenger side window slides open, and I see the face I recognize from the photo on Brody’s bookcase. Ruddy complexion and red hair. Sean. He’s grinning out at us. “Record time, right?”
“How many little old ladies did you hit on the way over?” Brody asks.
“Hey, if they can’t leap out of the way, they have no business crossing the street.”
The back door of the van opens automatically, and a platform starts extending slowly. When it’s fully extended, the end lowers to turn it into a ramp onto the van. Brody pushes his hand into the joystick of his chair and boards the van. I open the passenger’s side door next to Sean and climb inside.
“Whoa,” Sean says as I plop down into the seat next to him. He smirks and I feel my cheeks getting hot, waiting for his commentary. “Quite a woman you got here, Bro.”
“Shut the fuck up, Sean,” Brody says. He doesn’t say it like he’s joking around either.
“Easy there, tiger,” Sean laughs. He winks at me. “Nice to meet you, Emily. I’m Sean.”
“Hi,” I mumble.
“Now I’ll just drop you off first,” Sean says. “And then I’m going to take your boyfriend to a strip club, if that’s okay with you.”
“He’s joking,” Brody says, shaking his head. I’m glad he said it because I wasn’t entirely certain. “I forgot to tell you, Emily. My brother’s a complete jackass.”
“I take that as a compliment,” Sean says.
I pull on my seatbelt, and for one horrifying moment, I’m frightened it won’t reach around my belly. I can’t even imagine having to explain that one to Sean. Well, I wouldn’t. I’d just pretend that it was closed, while secretly holding it in place—I’ve done it before, believe me. Fortunately, it snaps shut, just barely, although I’m not left with much breathing room.
Sean turns back to look at Brody as he starts up the engine. “Nice Ray Bans, Brody. They look a little familiar.”
Brody fingers his sunglasses, then grabs them between his thumb and forefinger to pull them off. I missed his clear blue eyes. “Oops, sorry. You want them back?”
“Nah, keep ‘em,” Sean says. He glances at me as we move into traffic. “That’s the problem with having a little brother. He steals all your shit.”
As Sean speaks to me, I can’t help but get a whiff of his breath. Even though it’s early and he’s driving, he stinks of alcohol. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a car before with someone who appeared to be drunk. And Sean is driving like a maniac. They say cab drivers are crazy, but Sean is a million times worse. I’m actually frightened.
I’ve never had a panic attack before, but I start to feel one coming on. I look back at Brody, who seems entirely unconcerned, for some reason. Well, he’s already paralyzed. I grab onto my seat, trying to figure out what to do. Finally, I blurt out, “Actually, can you drop me off right here?”
Sean looks at me in surprise. “What?” he says.
“She’s probably terrified of your reckless driving,” Brody says from the back.
“No, it’s not that.” I’m just terrified of his drunken, reckless driving. “I just remembered I have… something to do.”
They both probably think I’m crazy, but I can’t relax till I’m out of that car. By the time Sean pulls over at the curb and lets me out, I’m physically shaking. I watch him drive away, feeling guilty that I didn’t do anything to stop him from driving drunk. Was there some sort of intervention I was supposed to do? Take away his car keys?
But I just met the guy and he’s my boyfriend’s brother. I don’t want him to hate me forever. Or worse, Brody to hate me forever.
I stop at McDonald’s on the way home. I’m starving after that teeny tiny hot dog that somehow cost five bucks. (Apparently, they only give free admission to disabled patrons—not free food.) I know this sounds weird, but when I go to McDonald’s, I always pretend like I’m ordering for two people. Like, I’ll order myself a sandwich and fries, then I’ll say something like, “Um, and for my friend, I’ll get a ten-piece chicken nuggets and another large fries.”
Dumb, right? But I can’t stand the idea of getting judged by the McDonald’s cashier.
McDonald’s French fries are one of the best things in the world (although not as good as chocolate). No matter how many times Burger King revamps their fries, they will never be as good as the ones at McDonald’s. I love that crispness on the outside, the saltiness, the way they just melt in your mouth. It makes me feel a lot better about the experience in the car with Brody. For the period of time when I’m eating the fries, all is right in the world.
And then Brody doesn’t call me and all is no longer right.
It’s not until 11:30 that my phone rings and I see Brody’s number pop up. I nearly crush the phone in my eagerness to answer it. “Hi,” I say.
“Hi,” he says. His voice is low and serious. “Um, Sean is gone. I wanted to talk to you.”
I realize that if Sean is gone, then he must be in bed since he told me his brother was going to help him with his night routine. But presumably, he can still make calls, even if he’s in bed.
“Sure. What’s up?” I say, trying to sound casual. Oh my God, is he going to dump me?
“I’m so sorry, Emily,” he says. “I know why you left the van.”
“You… you do?”
“Yeah.” Brody’s voice is husky. “I didn’t smell Sean’s breath till we got out of the car. I mean, he always acts like that, so it’s hard to tell from his behavior if he’s been drinking. I’m so fucking pissed off at him.”
“Yeah,” I mumble.
“Well,” Brody sighs. “Now you know what we fight about.”
I stare at the phone. “Are you saying he has a drinking problem?”
“He used to,” Brody admits. “It used to be a huge problem. But he’s been good for a really long time. His girlfriend of like three years broke up with him a few months ago though, and it’s been… hard. Not that it’s any excuse for driving drunk. I mean, especially after what happened to me…”
He trails off, and I get this bad feeling in my stomach. I haven’t asked him many details of how he got injured, because I wanted to be respectful of his privacy and all, but I can’t not ask this question. “Brody,” I say. “Was Sean driving drunk when you had your accident?”
He’s quiet for a long time. Finally, he says, “Yeah. He was.”
I’m completely blown away. Brody’s brother is responsible for him being a quadriplegic. How is it possible they’re still speaking to each other? If someone did that to me, family or not, I would never, ever forgive them. “Don’t you hate him?” I blurt out.
“Why?” Brody asks. “Because he ‘ruined’ my life?”
I don’t know what to say, so I keep my mouth shut.
“My life isn’t bad, Emily,” he says. “Yeah, I wish I didn’t have that accident. It makes things harder for me, to say the least. But I’ve got a good life in a lot of ways. I’ve got a great job, great friends, a great apartment, and now I’ve got… you.”
I swallow. “That’s true,” I manage.
“So yeah, I forgive him,” he goes on. “Plus… well, being angry isn’t productive. And Sean helps me out a lot. I’d be in a lot worse shape if I didn’t have him to pitch in when my PCAs need a vacation or something.”
Except he wouldn’t need those PCAs if not for Sean. But I’m not going to point that out to him. If Brody’s made peace with it, then I’m not going to begrudge him that. But for the record, I really don’t like Sean Nolan.
To be continued....