The next morning I’m still flying high although I try to do it incognito. I’m not a teenager and this is not high school. Grown women do not fall head over heels in love with men they really don’t know—yet. However, they do probably fall in lust, and I ‘m slightly embarrassed to be so swept up in feelings so based on things purely physical. But let’s face it, from the moment I laid eyes on him, the attraction was not about Eli’s brilliant oratory which I had not heard, or his public persona which I still only barely know; it was about how good he looked in that tweedy brown blazer.
And that was in a wheelchair. What must he have been like before he got hurt? And nagging around in the background of my mind is another question: would he have given me a second thought if he were still the Captain America in the video clip. Am I in the running because his running days are over? And does the answer matter?
The truth is I really do like him. And he seems to really like me. That kiss last night—he wasn’t kissing my brain. And the kiss on my wrist—it made me feel like a beautiful heroine in a Gothic novel. Did his Moroccan mother teach him to do that? Maybe he was just copying Jean Paul, and kicking it up a notch. In any case, God only knows what more could have happened if he hadn’t gotten that leg spasm when he did. Tammy used to just ignore hers. It’s not like they can help it.
I can’t help it either. None of these thoughts are sufficient drag against the thrust of my take-off. Even if I am terrified of a crash landing. What’s it been twelve hours, and nothing? Not even a smiley face text. I like it when guys call you the next day, even if I don’t want to see them again. Maybe I should send Eli a text. But I don’t want to appear desperate. Maybe I should just calm down and get to work. There’s a stack of grant applications on my desk in need of technical review, and a deadline of COB to go with them. Losing a whole half-day was not the most responsible thing to do, but no, I would not change a thing.
Later I admit as much to Alonso, in the Starbuck’s around the corner from the office, where he insisted we go so I could tell him todo.
“So it was a date!” he declares with such enthusiasm one might think it was his date. “I knew it! When are you seeing him again? Tonight?”
I’m embarrassed to confess that I don’t know, so I do what the folks in my parents’ church do, I claim this weekend.
“Let’s see where he takes you this time,” Alonso replies fooled by my answer. “What are you going to wear? You went with the black suit last time so a little black dress is out. But you do have to wear a dress of some kind. Men like it for women to show a little leg. A little cleavage too.”
I sip my coffee and keep quiet as Alonso thinks through the various articles of clothing he has seen me wear to work, disqualifying most of them. Am I really this frumpy? Whipping out his phone Alonso begins to browse the Internet for the right outfit for the next date which does not yet exist. He’s never gone this far before, and after a while I tell him so.
“M’hija, you have finally taken it to a whole new level,” Alonso’s tells me. “He’s not just some Joe-Schmo you picked up at Chili’s. We’re talking cocktail parties and receptions.”
I wonder what Alonso would say if he knew the new level required a ramp. I haven’t shared that little detail yet, about how Captain America flies but cannot walk. Alonso would be cool with it I’m sure, just like me, and I’m not deliberately not telling him. It just hasn’t come up. I mean people don’t lead with their health conditions, do they? Hi, I have heart disease. Please to meet you, I’m a diabetic. Tammy resented being defined by her condition, and I can’t say that I blame her. Why should she be summed up by what happened to her? Eli is not his injury either.
“I think probably we’ll start with the movies,” I say to Alonso, keeping the other thoughts to myself.
I recall the separate sections I’ve seen in movie theaters for persons with disabilities. Usually they are located in the back of the auditorium with only a handful of regular seats for the able-bodied persons who came with them. Is Eli even the kind of man who goes to movies? When would he have the time? Politics is a 24/7 operation. My God since Thursday he’s been in D.C., Dayton, Ohio, and now back in Atlanta. It wears me out to think about it.
“Here,” Alonso says, handing me his phone. “What about this one?”
He has pulled up an indigo-blue dress with a scoop neckline. It’s modest and sexy at the same time. On the model the flowy skirt ends just above the knee. I must admit I like it, and the thought of Eli’s hand wandering beneath it contracts the warm places between my legs again.
Should I schedule an appointment with my gynecologist? You know—just to be sure everything’s copasetic. Mother doesn’t like it that my virginity is a thing of the past, and she often reminds me that I must never let Daddy know it, but that’s because they’re living in another century, and in Red River Parish, where only bad girls willingly share their jewels without benefit of betrothal.
“And it’s on sale,” declares Alonso triumphantly about the dress, as if he is the one who has found a treasure. “You can have it sent express shipping and have it in two days.”
“Alonso--” I sigh, trying to reel him in.
“I’m sending you the link,” he interrupts me taking back his phone.
Well at least I can wear the dress to work, assuming I have an interview, I smile wryly at myself.
“Alonso, it was one date,” I finally say, emphasis on the one in an attempt to dial it down a little and curb some of this enthusiasm, Alonso’s and mine.
“One of many,” he says unfazed. “I see the way your eyes light up when you talk about him. You’ve got it bad, Lorna.
Yeah, I do and I hope it’s good.
The day proceeds. I get my work done. The only text is from another friend, Stephanie, who wants to go for drinks after work on Friday. What if Eli wants to do that? It’s the age-old female dilemma, the balancing act of managing girlfriends when there’s a boyfriend. Not that there is one. And I’m not about to tell Stephanie that I’d rather sit by the phone waiting for a man to call instead of going out. Besides Eli does have my mobile number. It’s not like I would miss him all together. I text Stephanie back, “Sounds like a plan,” I tap in. “But not too late Mr. Freddie needs his supper.”
“Put some extra kibble in his bowl,” Stephanie texts back.
“Not too late,” I text again.
I make it home a little before six, and feed Freddie, before making myself a dinner of roasted-red pepper hummus and blue-corn tortilla chips and a Diet Coke. On Wednesday nights I attend choir rehearsal which begins at seven, so a light fast supper is in order. While I’m brushing my teeth after the meal I hear my mobile phone ringing in my purse. I want it to be Eli but, no, I don’t drop everything and run to catch the call. A few minutes later when I do check, the call is from him. I am ridiculously ecstatic, and he has left me a message. However, I’m scared to listen to it. What if he wants to see me? I can’t skip rehearsal without notice and for such a reason. We are a small choir. I have a responsibility to show-up. As I go out the front door, the house phone rings. Yes, I’m still one of those people who has two phone lines: mobile and land. I continue out the door. It might be Eli too, but whoever it is will have to leave a message.
Somehow I make it through rehearsal without one: listening to my message, and two: telling folks about this wonderful new guy I have met. I focus instead on mastering the choir anthem we are singing on Sunday. Going over and over the parts to perfect the harmonies is tedious but necessary, and at least it’s distracting. When we’re done with practice, we close rehearsal with our usual group prayer, while the phone burns a hole in my shoulder bag.
At last back in my car, I listen to the message: “Lorna, hi,” Eli begins in that magical voice of his that would make such a beautiful baritone in a choir. “Hope you had a good day. I wanted to say thanks again for dinner last night, and I’m wondering if maybe you’d like to get together tomorrow.”
Before I get too excited I question the Thursday night date. Does this mean his weekends are reserved for somebody special? A lot of men do that, work in their jump-offs and jump-offs-in-training during the week, all the while spending the weekends with the women they truly care about. Still, it is a date. And God knows I want to see him. And what do I think—that I’m supposed to move to the front of the line after one kiss? We’re friends, right? Just friends.
By the time I get home it’s a little after nine, and still I stall before calling Eli back. I only have a mobile number for him. And that used to be a bad sign, a hint, that calling the man’s house was not a good idea, or was just down right prohibited. But nowadays lots of people don’t have home phone numbers in the traditional sense; and a man like Eli who is so often on the road, why would he? What’s the matter with you, Lorna, I ask myself. Just call the man already. You know you want this.
His phone rings. My palms sweat. And butterflies take flight in my stomach. Eli doesn’t answer on the first ring and for a few more afterwards. I begin to think I’m on my way to voicemail in a game of telephone tag, which would serve me right. Then he answers.
“Hello,” he says.
“Hi!” I chirp. “Sorry I missed your call. I have choir rehearsal on Wednesday nights, so I get home kinda late.”
Why am I explaining myself?
“No problem,” Eli replies. “Thanks for calling me back.”
“Of course. Hope I’m not disturbing you. Is this a good time?”
I can’t seem to reign in the cheerleader voice or turn off the apologetic tone. I guess that’s what happens when you fake a hard-to-get play.
“Lorna,” Eli says, as if intent on setting the record straight. “I’m glad you called. I’m always glad.”
I take a deep breath which I hope he doesn’t hear.
“I’m glad you called too,” I say.
There is a momentary silence before Eli speaks again, “How was your day?”
“It was good,” I reply and finally sit down at the dining room table. “How ‘bout you?”
“Busy. I don’t suppose you happened to catch the evening news.”
“Not tonight, no. I took care of Freddie, then I was back out the door.”
“So you like animals?”
“Please don’t tell me you don’t.”
“I had a dog growing up. But I’m on the road so much these days, it wouldn’t be fair to have a pet. What kind of cat is Mr. Freddie?”
“A domestic short-hair. In other words, an alley cat. He’s a rescue.”
“It figures,” Eli chuckles.
“What?” I chuckle too.
“You’re a social worker. Rescuing is your business.”
“Not exactly. At least not all the time.”
“Well in this case it worked out perfectly. Freddie has a home now.”
“You’re not allergic, are you?”
“That’s good. I keep a clean house, but Freddie lives all over it.”
And there we have it. Eli now knows he’s invited to come here. But an instant later I remember he can’t. My condo’s on the second floor of a building with no elevators. It was the same for Tammy. I could never invite her over, and I always felt bad about that. But the words have already left my mouth. I can’t take them back.
“I’m sure,” Eli says about Freddie.
“I keep those sticky rolley-polley things all around,” I prattle on down this stupid path.
“Good to know,” Eli says, and totally useless, I think.
Fortunately for my sake, Eli has a way of turning me into a chatterbox. So before long it’s happening again, I’m droning on and on, this time about funding opportunity announcements and objective review panels, and I’m not thinking about the mountain of stairs between us. He kindly assures me that this part of my work really interests him, because after all this is how government functions; how campaign promises eventually become programmatic reality.
“I have to admit,” he does say at a point, “I do wish things happened a little faster. But maybe it’s better this way. It probably keeps things stable. The ship of state should turn slowly.”
“I guess,” I ruefully agree. “But sometimes election day and change are painfully far apart.”
It takes a bit of determination on my part but I do redirect the conversation to Eli’s day, and to what it was I missed on the evening news. He’s currently consulting on a couple of the state races, one for a democrat and the other for a republican. When I wonder aloud how his firm can be on both sides of the aisle, he explains how Forward Vision, the firm where he works, always aims to support the best candidate: red or blue.
“So you’re purple,” I conclude.
“Maybe we’re just red, white, and blue,” he replies.
“It’s a bit cliché,” I say, tongue in cheek. “But I do like it.”
“I’m glad, Lorna. I’ll admit it can get a little complicated. But the founders stick by their motto: may the best man win.”
“Or woman,” I quickly add.
“Or woman,” Eli agrees.
Eventually we get back around to the Thursday evening invitation, and I tell him that I’d love to meet, whatever the heck that means as to my relationship status. Alonso’s blue dress will just have to wait.
“I’m happy it works out,” Eli says. “I’m flying out to Phoenix Friday morning and I won’t be back until late Sunday.”
So it’s not about the true love of his life then.
“Are you working?” I ask.
“Yep,” he says.
“Oh wow. Like last weekend.”
What must his frequent flier miles look like? How on earth did he end up in Coach?
“I work a lot of weekends, Lorna,” Eli informs me.
“It’s our busy time.”
“That sounds a little bleak.”
“No!” I hastily respond. “No. That’s not what I meant.”
“I do live here,” he says. “And I do come home.”
“Okay,” I say, and it’s like he can see me through the phone because he can tell I’m smiling.
“That’s better,” Eli says. “What time shall I pick you up?”
Oh my, I’ve got a gentleman caller who actually calls for me. Yet the offer regenerates an image of the staircase outside leading up to my unit, and looking something like Mount Everest. Once again Eli picks up on the hesitation.
“Is there a problem?” he asks.
I’m not hiding a husband I want to tell him just in case, you know, make it into a joke, but I don’t go there because in Eli’s life stairs aren’t funny.
“I live on the second floor of my building,” I confess almost as if by doing so I am doing something wrong.
“And there’s no elevator,” Eli surmises.
“No elevator,” I confirm.
There’s a long pause and I’m tempted to fill in the space with an offer to meet him somewhere. It would probably be easier anyway. He lives in Midtown and I live on eastern side of the city. But I refrain from doing so. Eli doesn’t need to be rescued.
“Well I guess the mountain will have to come down and meet Muhammad at the curb,” he says.
“The mountain can do that,” I reply and I’m smiling again. “Just tell her what time.”
“Shall we say seven?”
“No, no,” I correct him. “More than that—perfect.”