When my phone rings, and I see my sister Camille’s number pop up, my stomach sinks. Camille hasn’t called me in… I can’t even remember how long. It’s painfully obvious what this is about. Mom couldn’t talk me out of dating Brody, so they’re sending in my big sister to see if she can do the job.
“I’m going to be in the city for lunch,” Camille tells me on the phone. “Can I take you out to lunch? It’s been ages since we talked.”
Camille has moved out to Long Island with her husband the bigshot lawyer. She’s only lived there for a year and she already seems to be developing a Long Island accent. I foresee a future in which I only see Camille during major holidays, and maybe not even then.
Camille is older than me by two and a half years. She got married about two years ago to this super handsome lawyer and had the most extravagant wedding of all time. Denise was her maid of honor and I was a bridesmaid. I wore this flashy purple dress that made me look more like a centerpiece than a bridesmaid, although it flattered Denise’s lithe figure perfectly.
That wedding was probably one of the most painful experiences of my life. I had just recently gotten out of college, and everyone knew I didn’t have any dates on the horizon, so the big plot was to fix me up at this stupid wedding. I don’t know if Camille was entirely on board, but my mother probably nagged her until she gave in.
The lucky “chosen” one was guy named Alan, who walked with me down the aisle. Now I may be fat and Brody may be crippled, but this guy Alan was just downright unattractive, starting with the fact that he was missing his chin—at least, I didn’t see any sign of one. There was literally a straight line going from his lower lip to his neck. I felt zero attraction to him, yet at the same time, I was oddly hopeful. At the point that you’re almost 23 and have never had even a whiff of a date before, men without chins start to seem more and more appealing. When I found out that I was seated next to Alan at the reception, I actually got pretty excited. My palms got all sweaty.
I swear, I made an effort this time. I quickly downed two cocktails, which made things easier. I tried to talk to Alan and got mostly one-word answers. Once we finished our dinners, he said to me, “Excuse me.” Then he left the table and never returned.
Stupid me, I started working up my courage to go ask him to dance (it involved two more drinks). But when I was about ten feet away from him, I overheard him saying loudly to the groom, “Thanks a lot for seating me next to your fat sister-in-law.”
So apparently, even a man without a chin thought he was too good for me.
I meet Camille in front of a bistro in the city on a Saturday. I arrive late, and I find her standing by the entrance, looking hopelessly glamorous in her skinny jeans and oversized sunglasses, with her auburn hair loose down her back. She looks like an actress who’s trying not to call attention to the paparazzi. Camille is seriously very pretty—even if I lost all the weight, I wouldn’t look like her.
“Emily!” she says, pulling off her sunglasses when she sees me. We haven’t seen each other in a good year, and her eyes widen when she gets a good look at me. I guess I’ve gained some weight in the last year—I’m sure Camille will find a way to comment.
“Hi, Cammy,” I say.
Camille smiles awkwardly. “I go by Camille now,” she says. “Only Mom calls me Cammy anymore.”
I know that. But I also know it irritates her when I call her Cammy. What can I say—I have a gorgeous, skinny sister, and that’s the only thing I can do to even the playing field just a little bit.
We find seats in the restaurant, and the waiter is practically tripping over himself to be nice to Camille. That’s nothing unusual, but it’s interesting to see that the giant diamond on her finger doesn’t seem to deter men in the slightest.
As we study the menu, I already decide that I’m going to order whatever the hell I want. I’m already going to get lectured by her about Brody, so what’s one more lecture? I can’t endure this lunch if I’m starving.
So I get a steak sub, slathered in caramelized onions and mushrooms and two kinds of cheese, with a side of onion rings, and a Coke. Why do foods taste so good when you caramelize them? As far as I’m concerned, all foods should be caramelized. Camille, who ordered a side salad, gives me a look when I tell the waiter what I want, which makes me think she wouldn’t appreciate my wisdom on caramelization.
“So what’s this I hear about a boyfriend?” Camille asks me when the waiter brings over our drinks. She got mineral water—I’ve literally never seen Camille drink anything but a bottled variety of water, even when she was a child.
I shrug. “I have a boyfriend. Is that, like, a huge deal?”
Camille takes a delicate sip of her water. “Of course not, Emily. Mom is just concerned that… well, that this guy could be taking advantage of you.”
“Did she worry about that when you started dating Rob?” I retort. God, when is my steak sandwich coming out? I need sustenance for this conversation.
“Please don’t compare Rob to Brody Nolan,” Camille snorts. She flips her auburn hair over her shoulder.
There’s something about the way she says Brody’s name that makes my stomach churn slightly. “What is that supposed to mean?”
“Emily…” Camille bites her lip, as if debating her next words. “I, um… I knew Brody in high school.”
I almost spit out a mouthful of Coca Cola. Camille knew Brody? That is pretty much the last thing I expected her to say. “You did?”
“Of course,” she says. “We were in the same year. He, uh…” She averts her eyes. “He asked me out once, actually.”
Seriously, where is that goddamn steak sandwich? “He asked you out?”
She nods. “It wasn’t a big deal or anything. The strap on my bookbag broke in math class, and he carried my books for me to my next class. It was sweet, actually. And he was… well, he was really hot. Then he asked me to go with him to a party that night.”
My heart is pounding in my chest. Oh no, is this a story about how she had sex with Brody? Please God, let that not be the case. “What did you say?”
“I said no,” Camille says quickly. “Of course I said no.”
Of course she said no? “What does that mean?”
Camille receives a brief reprieve when the waiter comes with our food. I take a gigantic bite of my steak sandwich, while the waiter tells Camille that if there’s anything else she needs, absolutely anything, she should speak to him immediately.
Before I can ask her anything else, Camille’s cell phone starts to ring. She holds up a finger to me, then pulls it out of her purse, and says, “Hi, Rob.” She pauses for a moment, then shakes her head. “No, it can’t be tomorrow. It has to be tonight. I’m ovulating—that’s a one day window!” She pauses again. “Listen, I expect you home at a reasonable time. You can hang out with Steve some other night.”
Camille sighs and shoves her phone back in her purse. “We’re trying for a baby,” she explains to me.
Great. I had hoped I was off the hook after Camille got married, but now there will surely be a baby shower I’ll be forced to attend. And I’ll probably have to see her when the baby comes too. But I’ll worry about that some other time.
“So what was so wrong with Brody?” I press her.
Camille takes a tiny bite of lettuce while she contemplates her answer to my question. “He was wild,” she says. “Nice girls did not go out with Brody Nolan, that’s for sure.”
“Yeah, and you were a real nice girl,” I mutter.
Camille gives me a sharp look. “Listen, Brody was a mess, okay? I don’t even know how he managed to graduate. He was high at least half the time at school. One time in class, he fell asleep at his desk and actually fell onto the floor. He got suspended during our junior year for having a fistfight in the hallway.” She shakes her head. “Is that the kind of guy you want to have as a boyfriend?”
I remember the photo of Brody in the yearbook, where he was kissing that girl he couldn’t even remember. Apparently, there’s a reason he couldn’t remember who he was kissing.
“He’s different now,” I tell her. “Mom told you about his… injury, right?”
Camille nods. “It doesn’t surprise me in the least that Brody got in some awful accident because of something stupid he did. It wouldn’t have surprised me if I found out he was dead.”
Actually, it was something stupid his brother did. But I doubt it would make much of a difference to Camille.
“He’s not like that anymore,” I insist. “He’s serious about his education. I mean, I met him in a Masters-level computer science class. He’s a good guy.”
“People don’t change,” Camille says firmly. “I’m sure Brody saw you as a target. That’s just the way he is.”
I finish off my steak sandwich, but I don’t feel any better. I just feel like crying. I know Camille is wrong, but… what if she isn’t wrong? I can’t believe Brody was ever the kind of guy nice girls had to stay away from. Maybe I don’t know him at all.
“Could I get anything else for you, miss?” Our doting waiter has returned to the table and is now practically slobbering over Camille. “Anything at all?”
“I’ll have a slice of chocolate cake,” I tell the waiter.
“Really, Emily?” Camille shakes her head in disgust.
“With whipped cream on top,” I add.
Our waiter looks unsure what to do for a moment, but then he goes off to fetch me my cake. What is she so worked up about? At least I only got one slice of cake.
“You’re better than this, Emily,” Camille says to me.
You know what, Camille? I’m really not.
That night, I meet Brody at his apartment for our Saturday night date. It’s an implied Saturday night date, meaning we don’t have to ask each other if we’re free on Saturday. It’s just understood that we’ll be spending the evening together. Even if we haven’t yet spent the night together.
But when I come to Brody’s apartment tonight, I’m not as excited as I usually am. Even though I wish it wasn’t the case, the things that Camille said really got to me. Do I think that Brody is playing me? Absolutely not. It’s inconceivable. Yet… I don’t think she was making stuff up. It bothers me that Brody asked my sister out on a date back when he was still able-bodied. It’s one of those things that once you know, you can’t un-know.
“So here’s the thing,” Brody says to me as we eat our dinner. “Mike needs to come early tonight. So I thought maybe… like, if you wanted to… maybe after he gets me ready for bed, you could, like, stick around? Not necessarily all night, but just… for a bit.” He raises his eyebrows. “I mean, you’d have to wait a bit after he comes, so I completely understand if you don’t want to do it…”
I look down at my plate of salmon. I wish Meg were a better cook. Maybe after I leave here, I’ll hit up McDonald’s. “I don’t know…”
“That’s okay,” Brody says quickly. “I understand. It was just an idea. Because we sort of talked about you and me in bed…” His ears turn slightly pink. “But it’s fine. Some other time maybe, okay?”
“Yeah,” I mumble.
Brody is quiet for a minute as we both chew our food. “Is everything okay, Emily?” he finally asks.
I look up and meet his blue eyes. I can see a little furrow between his brows. I should just be honest with him—it’s the right thing to do.
“Did you ask my sister out on a date?”
Brody stares at me, his jaw slack. “No! Are you kidding me?”
“Not, like, recently,” I amend. “I mean, in high school.”
“In high school?” Brody still seems baffled. “Why would I have asked your sister out in high school.”
“Her name is Camille Davison,” I say, to jog his memory.
Brody just shakes his head.
“She used to go by Cammy.”
Brody’s eyes widen. “Cammy? Oh shit… I mean, yeah, I knew Cammy. She’s your sister?”
“I didn’t realize… I mean, you don’t really look like she…” He frowns. “I never asked her out though. I never wanted to… I mean, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have asked her out.”
“Why not?” I press him. “Don’t you think she was pretty?”
I know he must have thought she was pretty. Everybody does.
“Yeah, but Cammy was…” He shakes his head again. “I just wasn’t into her. That’s all. Not my thing.”
I raise my eyebrows at him. “Not your thing?”
He hesitates. “Yeah. That’s all.”
He’s avoiding my eyes. Obviously, there’s something he’s reluctant to tell me. Finally, I say, “I don’t like her. If that makes a difference.”
Brody smiles crookedly. “Fine. You want the truth? Cammy was a stuck up bitch. I didn’t like her at all, and I’m sure I wouldn’t have asked her out. She acted like she was always above it all, even though…” He pauses and lowers his eyes again. “Never mind.”
“You cannot stop in the middle of that sentence,” I say. “Even though what?”
Brody lets out a breath. “Okay, so one time we were in the locker room after gym, and we got to talking about Cammy, and… well, let me put it this way: five guys apparently took Cammy’s virginity.”
I laugh, feeling some of the tension releasing from my neck. That’s awesome. I always knew Cammy must have been a slut in high school. “Are you serious?”
Brody nods. “Yeah. That’s how she was. Always acting like she was so good and sweet and perfect, but really, she was just like everyone else. I mean, one time we were at this party, and she took me aside and said, ‘You’re better than this, Brody.’”
Wow. That’s exactly what she said to me at lunch today. Maybe Cammy’s right—people don’t change. At least, she doesn’t.
“Why did she say that to you?” I ask him.
He shrugs. “I don’t know. I was kind of messed up in high school, and I’m sure I was doing something dumb. But it’s not like she was some great friend of mine who was so worried about me. She just said it to be patronizing. I don’t like people like that.”
I stare across the table at him. All I can think right now is that I’ve never felt this close to another person. Not my friends, not my family. Brody is great. It really helped to bond over hating my sister.
“So what awful stuff did Cammy say about me?” Brody raises his eyebrows.
“She said you were after me for my money,” I say.
Brody throws his head back and laughs. “No offense, Emily,” he says, “but I’m pretty sure I make more money than you do. Hey, maybe you’re after me for my money.”
“I guess we’re both a couple of gold-diggers,” I giggle.
We stare across the table at one another, both of us grinning like idiots. I’ve forgotten all about my McDonald’s run. I don’t want to leave this apartment. Ever.
“I’d like to stay,” I say. “I mean, after Mike comes, I’d like to stay with you in bed. If that’s okay.”
“Really?” He looks some combination of thrilled and nervous. “That would be awesome.”
Because I think I love you, is what I want to say. But I don’t say it. I’ve never been in a relationship before, but even I know it’s too soon.
I get relegated to the living room while Mike helps Brody get ready for bed. Brody absolutely will not tell me what’s going on in there. Whenever I try to ask, he always waves me off. I suppose I’m going to find out everything on a need to know basis.
It’s after nine o’clock when Mike comes out of the bedroom and winks at me. “He’s good to go.”
Brody is alone in his bed, his lower body under the covers. He’s wearing an undershirt, and I’m guessing he’s also wearing boxers or something. I notice some tubing snaking out from under the covers, leading to a bag hung from his bedframe. There’s a tiny bit of yellow fluid in the bag, which makes me think the tubing is his catheter. He’s lying flat on his back, but he rolls his head partially to the side when I enter the room. “Hey, Emily,” he says.
“Hi,” I say, feeling suddenly shy. I don’t know how much clothing Brody expects me to take off. I sort of want to keep it all on, but I guess that would be weird. Maybe I’ll take my socks off and call it even.
“Aren’t you going to get undressed?” he asks me as I start crawling into bed, fully clothed. When he sees me hesitate, he adds, “I mean, I don’t want to pressure you or anything. But… could you take off just your shirt? Like you do when we’re on the couch?”
I nod. He has, after all, seen me without my shirt several times. I have to get over this weird shyness around my boyfriend.
After I pull off my shirt, I get into bed and cuddle up close to him. Brody sighs and puts his arm around my shoulders so I can wedge myself in the crook of his arm. It’s a really nice place to be.
“I wish I could stay like this forever,” I say.
“Me too,” he says, grinning at me seconds before he kisses me.
We make out for a little while, and I get my hand under his undershirt at some point. I’m not clear on what he can and can’t feel under there, but I get the sense that he doesn’t love it when I’ve got my hand under his shirt. And I have absolutely no idea what I’m supposed to do below his waistline. Most guys want you to head in that direction—but Brody is obviously a lot different than most guys.
At one point, I venture my hand down below the waistband of his boxers. I hear Brody suck in a sharp breath, but I don’t stop. At least not until my fingers touch a piece of plastic tubing. Too late, I remember the catheter and yank my hand away. But now I’m completely confused. Isn’t a catheter supposed to go into his penis? This tube seems to be coming out of his belly.
“What was that?” I can’t help but ask him.
“I told you that I use a catheter, right?” he mumbles.
“But…” I frown. “It’s going into your stomach.”
“No, it’s going directly into my bladder,” he explains as his ears turn pink. “Listen, if you want to have sex, I don’t know if now is a good time. I didn’t know that you… I mean, I need a little heads up. I would have asked Mike to—”
“I don’t want to have sex,” I say. I watch his shoulders drop with relief.
“Listen,” he says. “I think maybe it’s better if we keep things above the belt. Okay? I just… I can’t feel anything down there and I don’t have any control, so if we’re not having sex, I’d just prefer that we stay where I can feel.”
“Sure,” I say, feeling a little relieved myself. “That’s fine.”
Brody smiles at me. “You’re the best, Emily. I’m so lucky to have you.”
We cuddle on the bed, mostly just kissing and staying close to each other. When I touch him, I focus on his face, neck, and scalp, which he seems to love. At midnight, he warns me that his PCA will be in at six in the morning, so I decide to hightail it home.
As I ride the bus home, I feel like I’m glowing. Although I have to admit, there’s a tiny part of me that wonders if the Brody who asked out my sister ten years ago would have thought he was lucky to have me.
To be continued...