You’ve got it bad, Abbot. Parked in front of Lorna’s building, I’m waiting for her to come down and wondering if I can haul my gimp-ass up what looks to be about twenty steps to her landing. I’ve seen videos of other guys like me climbing up staircases strapped to their chairs, using one arm to lift themselves with the railing while using the other arm to roll a wheel. I have taken on a couple of steps sitting in my chair as part of rehab. They’re always trying to prepare us for anything. I might have to escape from a burning building someday without the benefit of an elevator. But getting myself up a flight of stairs in order to meet my girlfriend’s cat, well let’s just say I never thought it would come to this.
But she is my girlfriend, as corny as that sounds. I had considered myself beyond that stage. Grown men do not have girlfriends I used to think. But that was before I met the girl next door. Who, though she will never say it, out of respect for my feelings, would like for me to see her place, and meet that cat she gushes over. She’s told me all about her home, about the art on her walls, how she painted her bedroom herself, and finished furniture pieces she bought at flea markets, and of course how gorgeous Mr. Freddie is, who came to her door as a kitten and found a home. A home she describes like a sanctuary. I imagine that it is. She would make it that way.
It’s late in the afternoon, and I’m guessing Dad is already hovering over his grill, wearing that silly chef’s hat and apron that Nancy’s kids gave him for Father’s Day. However, Nancy will not let us eat until sunset so that the candle-decorated cake will look its best when it’s brought out at the end of the meal. But Mom has asked me to come early with Lorna, I suspect because she’s planning on a little grilling of her own. Rarely have I brought women around my folks. Before, I was seldom that serious, and afterwards I didn’t think they were. But yes, it’s different with Lorna. It is serious, and they are anxious to meet her.
When she comes out I see that she’s carrying a large bouquet of flowers which I’m guessing are for my mother. I told her no presents, but Lorna’s undoubtedly too traditional to arrive empty-handed. Before locking her front door, she waves to me. I still can’t get over how the simple sight of her gives me a happy feeling, like I’m some kind of middle schooler in the throes of my first big crush. In other words, I’m goofy, and to prove that point I tap my horn to say hi back. Oh yeah—I’ve got it bad. But I think I’m beginning to know why. She has it bad for me. She did from the start. In that gate area she couldn’t keep her eyes off me. That’s why she’s irresistible. For some incredible reason I’m irresistible to her. And today I’m taking her home to meet the parents. I invited her and I still can’t believe it. One day Susie Sunshine shows up, all fresh-faced and bright-eyed, and Mr. I’m Good On My Own has his world completely changed—again. Who knew Sleeping Beauty would be the one to wake up the prince—such that he is.
Prancing down the stairs, she looks perfectly adorable in a short-sleeved, deep blue dress with one of those modest necklines that completely covers the breasts and tempts the looker at the same time. While the bodice hugs her torso, the flowy skirt flares out as she comes down the steps, revealing her strong, bare legs that gleam in the late-afternoon sunshine. Her matching blue sandals come equipped with the most sensible wedge heels. And as usual she carries a cardigan sweater on her arm. This time it’s white.
Lorna’s wardrobe color palette tends to be on the dark side. My guess is since she believes she’s heavy she subscribes to the philosophy that big girls should not wear bright colors. It’s not true. And in Lorna’s case her smooth brown complexion would set off just about anything she put on. Besides big is a subjective concept, and it’s not necessarily bad. Lorna’s not thin, but her thickness is in all the right places. Time was when I would have relished those long athletic legs wrapped around me. She has the kind of body that’s built for a hot, wild ride. But those days are behind me.
All she needs is a little making over from someone like Cindy, who would know exactly what to do with Lorna’s raw materials. Her Red River Parish plain, as she says, could easily be transformed into Hotlanta, and all points beyond. And I almost hope it never happens. A gilded rose would no doubt draw the eyes of other men, lesser men, who might not know how special she is. A part of me wants to keep her my secret so I can keep her. At least until I get to meet Freddie, the cat.
Lorna gets in the car, and being careful of the flowers, leans across the console to give me a kiss. She’s wearing her glasses today. I’m used to them now, and I think they suit her, although I prefer her face without them. She knows I usually wear contacts, but she isn’t even a bit interested in doing the same.
“Are those for me?” I ask, nodding towards her bouquet.
“Is it your birthday?” she quips.
“I told you you didn’t have to bring anything.”
“No one comes to a birthday party empty-handed, Eli. No one raised right, that is.”
I smile at her, “Suit yourself,” I say. “And by the way that’s a pretty dress.”
Although it’s not so much the dress that’s pretty as it is the woman wearing it. With her arms full of flowers, Lorna reminds me of one Mom’s bucolic paintings from the French countryside.
“Thank you,” she says. “It’s new. My friend, Alonso, helped me pick it out.”
Alonso? I rapidly run through my mental files of the people in her life, but this is a new name; a man’s name and I instinctively dislike it.
“Who’s he?” I ask out loud, and why is he picking out your clothes I ask in my head.
“Just a friend,” she says obliviously buckling her seatbelt.
“And your fashion consultant.”
“Sort of. But really he’s just a very good friend with very good tastes.”
She smooths the skirt of her dress. Why can’t I just start the car and let this go?
“So your gay friend,” I say, really needing him to be gay.
Lorna looks at me, “My friend,” she says.
I feel petty but I’m pouting too. I start the car.
“He’s like a brother to me, Eli,” she tells me as I’m backing us out of the parking space. “He thinks you’re very hot too, but I told him you’re off limits.”
I glance over at her just in time to see her smile break into a giggle. I’m fucking jealous and she knows it. But I have to laugh too. How does this Alonso person know I’m hot? What has she been telling him about me? I’m starting to think that Cindy’s got it right with her rules regarding silence being the best policy. At least it’s an easier one.
I drive us across town while Lorna tells me all about her latest project at work. Her words come rapid-fire which I’m learning means she’s nervous and unsure of herself. Talking about her work is her go-to safe place, where her confidence is strong, rightfully so. She kind of reminds me of me.
When I pull the BMW into my parents’ driveway, I hear Lorna murmur a soft, “Wow.” It is a big house I suppose, located in a nice a neighborhood replete with big houses, and perhaps a little intimidating. Dad had become a high-ranking diplomat so Nancy and I grew up in lots of embassy-approved houses similar to this one, and frequently behind tall walls and security gates which at least is not the case here. When Dad retired he and Mom decided on settling in Atlanta. It was not surprising that they would purchase a house large enough to host out-of-town guests, elaborate dinner parties, and, according to Mom, many, many grandchildren. Which Nancy and her husband, Drew, are well on their way to producing. They have two boys and a girl already, and number four is on the way. Shutting off the car engine, I say, “Yeah,” with a hint of apology. “It is kinda one of those McMansion-types. Mom and Dad like having people over, especially my niece and nephews. They need a lot of bedrooms which gets you a lot of house.”
“It’s very nice,” Lorna says.
Before I was discharged from the hospital, Dad had hired a contractor to install access ramps at every entrance to the house. They quickly went on to remodeling a downstairs bathroom to make it accessible for me; and were prepared to put in chair-lift along the main staircase until Nancy told me about it and I put a stop to that renovation. “It’s not a problem, son,” Dad said. “Me and your mom are getting up in age, we’ll probably need it someday too.” Someday. Yeah, right. The truth is they had given up on me already. The specialists had been consulted. The prognosis was grim. And true, as it turned out. But at least I had stopped them from further disfiguring their house for the sake of their disabled son.
They’ll never confess to it, but I know that Mom and Dad expected me to move in with them once I got out of rehab, but that wasn’t happening. Maybe I was only half of the man I used to be, with the bowel and bladder control of a baby, but I was still a man and determined to live that way. When I was discharged I demanded they take me to my own home, the new condominium they had purchased and prepared on my behalf. I was scared to death, and I covered that terror with rage, but Mom and Dad basically moved in with me undaunted by it, and Nancy always hovered close by. I didn’t want any of them around, and let them know it, but they loved me enough to ignore my foolishness. My disastrously acquired cyborg body in the real world outside the rehab center required some getting used to. There seemed to be a hundred ways a day I could get myself into trouble in the beginning. I wouldn’t have made it without them in those early days, and maybe that’s still true.
And is probably why Lorna is about to meet them. I don’t know what I’ll do, and can’t actually imagine a reason why they wouldn’t, but I need for them to like her and for her to like them. At the front door, Lorna is looking a little nervous. Putting myself in her place, I catch her hand in mine and give it a little squeeze of reassurance. “They’re going to love you,” I say before ringing the bell. Because I do, I think but don’t say. Yeah, it dawns on me. I’m in love with her. The musical chimes are audible from outside the house. I smile. Bells are ringing.
Mom, the birthday girl, opens the door, swinging it wide. She wears her sixty-six years very well, and looks vibrant in a golden sundress which she has topped off with short-sleeved red cardigan. Stepping quickly across the threshold she bends to give me a kiss on the cheek, and then turns her attention to Lorna.
“Happy birthday, Mrs. Abbot,” Lorna says offering the flower bouquet to Mom.
“This is Lorna,” I say.
“Merci!” Mom says accepting the flowers, and then taking Lorna’s hand she draws her into the foyer. “Please, to my friends I am Nadia. And we will be friends, oui?”
“Oui, Madame,” Lorna replies.
In seconds it seems my parents’ foyer fills with Abbots, and Abbots-by marriage, all of us surrounding Lorna who looks a little shy yet very pleased to meet everyone, including Nancy and Drew’s kids, Asil, Hank, and Zohra. Easily Lorna squats down low to shake little Zohra’s hand, the youngest among us, and my niece seems quite charmed by this nice stranger. My entire family does.
Once the initial round of please-to-meet-yous is completed, Dad announces, “Alright, everybody, Enough with the greeting line, let’s let the poor girl sit down.”
“Bien sûr!” Mom agrees, hooking her arm with Lorna’s. “Come, cheri, we go to the family room.”
Zoie, short for Zohra, crawls up into my lap for her traditional ride, and the two of us, along with Nancy bring up the rear.
“Very nice,” Nancy leans down to whisper to me.
“What’s nice, Mommy?” Zoie wants to know.
“Uncle Eli’s friend,” Nancy says.
“Is that lady your girlfriend, Uncle Eli?” my niece asks me.
“Yeah,” I answer. “I believe she is.”
“Woohoo!” whispers Nancy.