Over the next month and a half leading up to Ted’s bachelor party, I start hanging out with John more and more. Usually Amy is my go-to person to spend a lazy evening with, but she’s gotten to be kind of a bummer recently, so when John called me a week later to ask if I wanted to go to a John Waters film festival, I jumped at the chance. And that led to me calling him to ask if he wanted to check out a new restaurant in town.
Ted was right that John is actually a really nice guy. He has a really dry wit and can be bitingly sarcastic, but the truth is, I find him super funny. I actually sort of love verbally sparring with him, and it doesn’t hurt that we seem to like and hate a lot of the same things. We even discovered that we went to the same high school in New Jersey, three years apart. I dig out my yearbook, and we spend like two hours poring through the photos—John informed me that two of my former teachers got canned for sexually harassing students.
“Mr. Gregg apparently told the whole class this dream he had about raping a chambermaid,” John said. “Slightly inappropriate, if you ask me.”
“I can definitely see Mr. Gregg doing that.”
“Telling the class about a sex dream or actually raping a chambermaid?”
John grinned. “Did he ever make a boob grab with you?”
I snorted. “No way, I wasn’t boob-grabbing material back in high school.”
John glances down at my chest and snorts. “I’m going to have to respectfully disagree, Kirby.”
Yes, I do have pretty big breasts. When I was in high school, I was this skinny little waif, and all of a sudden, when I hit college and started putting on weight, my boobs blossomed into these enormous double DD’s. I’m afraid that when I get pregnant, my boobs will need a seat of their own on the bus.
“I wish I still looked the way I did in high school,” I said wistfully. “I would give anything to be a size zero. Hell, I would give anything to be a size eight.”
“That,” John said, “is overrated.”
“And what were you like in high school, Mr. Yang?” I asked. “I’ll be you were a total ladies man.”
“Oh yeah,” John agreed. “Because girls totally dig computer geeks. And if that wasn’t sexy enough, I was also on the math team. The girls were tripping over themselves.”
I laugh, but it’s hard to believe he didn’t get a lot of attention in high school. John might be a nerd, but he’s hot. Objectively. If he didn’t have the wheelchair thing going on, there’s no way he’d be single.
Even though John doesn’t seem to mind coming over to my house, he absolutely will not attempt transferring to the couch again, so we’ve spent a lot more time at his apartment. He owns a one-bedroom apartment in Jersey City that’s been heavily modified to fit his needs. He said that the person who owned it before him was also a wheelchair-user, so he already had the widened doorways and lowered sinks and mirrors, but he had to modify things due to the fact that he can’t really use his hands either. All the doors have handles on them rather than knobs, and he has a bench in his shower.
Given he can’t move his fingers, it’s amazing that John is as independent as he is. He’s able to get some use out of his fingers, I’ve noticed, by bending his wrist backwards. And they’re stiff enough that objects just stay in them. He basically doesn’t need any help at all getting through the day, but he does have a woman named Maddie who does some of his shopping and cleans his apartment.
One afternoon when John and I were at his apartment, watching a movie, we heard the door unlocking.
“Are you being burglarized?” I asked.
“Possibly.” He shrugged, looking really unconcerned about the potential burglary. “But it’s probably just Maddie with the groceries.”
Maddie turned out to be in her mid-twenties, and was sporting a bullring through her nose and pink hair. When she walked into the room and saw the two of us sitting there, her face registered surprise for a minute, then broke into a smile.
“Hi!” she said brightly. “John, I would have come later if…”
“No, it’s fine,” John said quickly. “Don’t worry about it.”
Maddie held out her hand to me. “I’m Maddie. You must be Kirby.”
That threw me. How did she know my name? I looked over at John, whose eyes were bugging out slightly.
“I mean,” Maddie said quickly, her cheeks reddening, “I know about the wedding coming up, and how cool it is that John’s going to be the best man. I mean, that’s awesome. You must be so excited, Kirby. Do you have a dress yet?”
“Yes…” I said.
“Awesome,” Maddie said again. She put her hand on John’s shoulder. “Johnny, I’m going to put away the groceries. You want me to make dinner for you two?”
“Uh…” John glanced in my direction. “Kirby probably has, you know, plans for dinner.”
I didn’t. Actually, my night was completely free and I would have loved to stick around for dinner. But there was something about the way John was looking at Maddie that gave me pause. Maddie was a really attractive girl—maybe he wanted to be alone with her. Maybe that’s why he volunteered that I probably had plans.
Also, I felt horribly self-conscious about the fact that John had obviously been talking to Maddie about me. I can’t even imagine what he must have said. When John and I first me, he told me I wasn’t Ted’s type. Did he tell Maddie he thought Ted and I weren’t right for each other? After all, I wasn’t getting any blonder or skinnier. If anything, I was getting darker and fatter.
I decided to take off before things got awkward.
Ted, on the other hand, has been absolutely thrilled about my friendship with John. “I told you he was a good guy,” he keeps saying.
More and more, Ted’s absence has been frustrating to… well, both of us. There’s only so much closeness you can have with other person via Facetime. I think that, in a way, Ted thinks of John as the ultimate gay friend—he’ll keep me company, and there’s no chance John’s going to steal his girl.
“Do you think he might like Amy?” I suggested one night.
“You might, like, to date?” Ted sounded so horrified. I wasn’t sure whether to be offended on John’s or Amy’s behalf.
“You need to stop trying to set my friends up with your sad sack friend Amy,” Ted said. Okay, I guess I was offended on Amy’s behalf.
“John just seems like he’s been single a long time…” I said. I wasn’t sure if Ted could tell I was hinting for the whole story. Ted hates to gossip, but John has been so close-mouthed about his personal life. I was dying for information.
“Yeah,” Ted finally agreed. “He was with this girl Becky for a couple of years, and I really thought maybe they were going to get married or something. Then they just suddenly broke up. That was maybe three years ago.”
“That’s a long time…” I point out.
“Maybe,” Ted admitted. “But he’s never asked to get set up. Really, it’s none of our business, Kirby.”
What he meant was that it’s none of my business. But I know John pretty well by now and I know he’s not happy being single. And I’d be a pretty shitty friend if I didn’t do anything to help him out.
Well, it’s happened. I’ve fallen completely for Kirby Matthews, just like I knew I would. I love her. I flat out love her. Stupidly, completely, and painfully.
I can’t say no to her. All she’d have to say would be, Hey, John, can you run out in that hurricane and pick me up some Coke? And I’d be swept up in the hurricane. It’s pathetic. Awful.
But she’s so great. I’m not going to start listing her attributes, because I’d be lying if I said her tits weren’t on the list, but so is her sense of humor and the fact that she’s the only other John Waters fan in a fifty mile radius. When I’m not with her, I miss being with her. It’s ridiculous.
What’s hilarious is that Ted is thrilled about our friendship. Thrilled. He called me up yesterday to talk about tuxedos or something crap like that I’ve got to deal with, and he said to me, “By the way, man, thank you so much for looking after Kirby all the time.”
At first, I was scared shitless. Was he being sarcastic? But he wasn’t.
“I worry about being so far away from her,” he went on. “That some other guy’s going to move in on her. So I’m glad you’re keeping her safe.”
Yes. She’s entirely safe with me. I’m basically a eunuch.
It’s true though. She is safe with me. Nothing has even come remotely close to happening. There hasn’t even been a moment between us. It’s just me one-sidedly lusting after her.
Tonight I’m having dinner with my friend Simon from work. Burgers. Simon is three cubicles down from me at work and around my age. He’s also chronically single, thanks to a stutter that becomes incredibly pronounced whenever he’s nervous. It takes him five minutes just to spit out his name to a woman he’s attracted to. Not that I can throw stones.
Simon knows me well enough that he barely stutters at all when we talk. Which is good, because it’s really pretty painful to listen to.
“Do you want to s-see a movie tomorrow?” Simon asks me as he chews on a bite of his burger.
“I can’t.” I take a bite of my own burger, which is wedged between my thumb and the rest of my fingers. I can’t feel it there, but it stays put. “Kirby and I have plans for tomorrow.”
“Well, how about the next day?”
I think for a minute. “Sure. What do you want to see?”
“How about the new Leonardo DiCaprio movie?”
“I probably shouldn’t,” I say. “Kirby said she wanted to see it and her friend Amy wasn’t into it, so I want to wait to see it with her.”
Simon puts down his burger and gives me a look. “John, this is getting a little out of control.”
I frown at him. “What’s out of control?”
He lets out an exasperated sound. “This thing you’ve got for Kirby, that’s what.”
“I don’t have a thing for Kirby,” I lie.
Simon shakes his head.
“Fine,” I huff. “I like her. I can’t help it, okay? She’s the greatest person I’ve ever met in my entire life.”
“The greatest person you’ve ever met in your entire life?” Simon sounds skeptical.
It’s true though. She is. “Look, I know it’s not reciprocated. I’m not fucking delusional.”
Simon is quiet for a moment. He’s a lot like me, in some ways. He’s average-looking, reasonably intelligent, has a good job—the sort of guy who’d have no trouble at all meeting a nice girl if not for the stutter. It’s a pretty bad disability. Okay, I’d win in a contest—hands down. It’s painfully clear between him and me who’s more crippled. But when he’s with a woman he likes, he can’t even spit out a sentence. I had my time with Becky and a few other really short-term relationships, but Simon’s had nothing.
Finally he says, “I’ve been thinking about trying one of those dating s-s-sites again. Maybe we should do it together?”
I think of Allison and my stomach turns. “No. No thanks.”
He sighs. “I’m lonely too, you know. But… it’s not healthy to fix-fixate on a woman that nothing will ever happen with.”
“Thanks for the tip,” I say through my teeth.
I know that Simon is right. I’m acting like a complete fucking moron. This crush I’ve got on Kirby is only going to make me feel worse and worse as her wedding approaches. But I just can’t seem to quit liking her. I don’t even know if it’s possible anymore.
One really unexpected bonus of my friendship with John is that it’s been good for business. He’s fallen in love with Minnie’s scones, and comes in every single morning to buy one. On days he works from home, he just buys one, but on days that he goes to his company, he buys a whole box of baked goods for everyone. The result is that we’ve been getting a lot of guys coming in, saying that they loved the muffins that John brought in the other morning. We’ve gained like a dozen regular customers.
The other bonus is that John comes in early enough that sometimes I can use him as a sounding board for my latest cupcake creation if I’m not certain about it. He’s brutally honest, which is a good thing. Well, mostly good.
Today I’m in the back room, folding some dough when Minnie comes to get me. “Your friend John is here,” she tells me in a sing-song voice that I don’t entirely appreciate.
When I come out, John has already got our trademark pink bag on his lap, which means that Minnie has already served him. He’s wearing baggy jeans and a long-sleeved hoody sweatshirt that hides his arms but can’t hide his bony hands. His right shoelace is partially untied and the shoe is slightly askew in the footplate, but I don’t point it out considering he’s unlikely to trip on it—I wonder if he was rushing when he left the house. The way his almond eyes light up when I walk into the room mirrors how glad I am to see him. I self-consciously wipe flour off my face and pat my hair.
“You didn’t have to bother her,” John says to Minnie, although he never takes his eyes off me.
“Of course I did.” Minnie winks at us. “The two of you both just seem so crushed when you miss each other.”
John’s ears turn pink, and I quickly say, “Well, I do need his help with my newest cupcake.”
“Oh yeah?” He averts his eyes to the Kirby’s Kupcake display. His lips curl into a smile at the array of green-frosted cupcakes. “Is it St. Patrick’s Day?”
“They’re mint cupcakes,” I say.
“No, these are real mint cupcakes,” I explain. “I really just wanted that mint flavor to come through. The color of the icing comes from mint leaves.”
John appears skeptical. “Okay, I’ll try them.”
I take one of the cupcakes off the display and use a knife to cut a piece for him. I place it in a napkin and he holds out his hand to take it from me. He can’t really grab it, so I just lay the napkin in his hand and he pops the whole thing in his mouth.
I watch him chew for a second, then his eyes go wide. He brings the napkin to his mouth and spits out the bite of cupcake, followed by a gagging sound. I think if he could, he’d be wiping his tongue off.
“It tastes like mouthwash!” he manages, shuddering slightly. “Mouthwash that I licked off a tree.”
Well, I guess he doesn’t like it.
“Too much mint, I guess,” I mumble.
“Sorry, Kirby.” He wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. “They can’t all be winners, right?”
“I told you that cupcake was disgusting, Kirby!” I hear Minnie yell from the back.
John wiped his mouth, but there’s still a bit of frosting on his nose. I smile at him. “You’ve got frosting on your face.”
“That’s okay,” he says. “It’s so minty that it will probably clean itself off.” When I don’t respond, he adds, “I’m joking, obviously. Can I have another napkin?”
I pull a napkin from the dispenser, but instead of handing it to him, I reach out and wipe the frosting directly from his face. He looks surprised but not upset. He shifts in his wheelchair, his eyes on my face.
“Maybe if you added some other flavor,” he says. “Like lemon or raspberry. Or bubble gum.”
He grins. “I don’t know. You’re the cupcake expert. I’m just throwing out ideas here.”
I remember when we first met, he told me that bubble gum is passé and I’ve noticed since then that you really don’t see people chewing gum much anymore. I look over at my mint cupcakes and decide to scrap the batch. But the bubble gum idea sticks with me.