Goodness, Ariel certainly seems to like this young man.
I can tell by the way she’s humming. For my daughter, there is no surer sign that she’s in love. Even when she was only five years old, I was certain she had a crush on little Ryan Denning by the way she’d hum in the back seat of the car on the drive home! Of course, then it was tunes that I could recognize—now I’d be hard pressed to identify a song from the radio, aside from one or two songs from that nice Taylor Swift.
Ariel hums as she helps me with the dishes. I have not asked her to help me, but bless her heart, she knows that my arthritis has been acting up lately in my fingers, so I don’t refuse her help. Also I worry about that poor young man of hers all alone with her father. I hope Rick isn’t giving him too hard a time.
“So you’ve been with David for… eight months now?” I ask her. I try to sound casual, because Ariel most certainly doesn’t enjoy being grilled about her love life. God forbid I should say the M word! Or suggest that at thirty-one, I’d already given birth to her. And it wasn’t as if I had an easy time of it. I tried for five years to get pregnant before I had Ariel, and then could never manage to do it again.
A secret smile spreads across my daughter’s face. “Yes. Eight months.”
For as long as I can remember, Ariel has had a penchant for handsome young men. Not that Rick is ugly by any means, but I’d daresay I’ve never dated a man as physically attractive as some of the boys my daughter has brought home! That Eric especially was quite striking, with the blond hair and the cleft in his chin. He looked just like a young Robert Redford. Don’t tell Ariel, but I actually felt my heart speed up a bit when he shook my hand.
Rick adored Eric. The two of them talked about guns and hunting, then watched football together. If Ariel didn’t want to marry Eric, I think Rick wanted to adopt the boy! And he spoke so well. If Eric had wanted, he could have won the election for President of the United States.
But you know what the funny thing was? The whole time when Ariel was visiting with Eric, she didn’t hum once.
And now, one year later, here she is with David.
I won’t lie—we were surprised when she mentioned that he was one of the handicapped. I’m not so naïve to think that people with disabilities don’t have needs of their own, but somehow I thought they would date other people with disabilities. That makes more sense, doesn’t it? Or perhaps a very homely girl who was desperate might date a boy in a wheelchair. But certainly not my beautiful Ariel.
Now that I’ve met David, I understand though. Perhaps he’s not Robert Redford, but he’s still quite handsome. And when he looks at my daughter, I can tell how much he likes her. I never saw that with Eric. Eric seemed more interested in himself than anything else.
“So things are serious with this boy, then?” I ask her.
“Oh, Mom!” she laughs. “Why do you always call them ‘boys’? He’s not a boy, you know. He’s thirty-two.”
Thirty-two seems like a baby to me now. She may as well tell me he’s two. “You’re changing the subject, Ariel Marie, and you know it.”
She can’t quite wipe the smile from her face. “It’s getting serious, yes.”
“Does he feel the same way?” I ask her.
“I think he does,” she says softly.
Rick won’t like this at all. He was raving about how Ariel could have the nerve to “bring home a cripple.” I was holding my breath through the whole dinner, hoping he wouldn’t express his thoughts out loud.
But even if Rick won’t support Ariel, I will. I’ll be at her wedding to this nice young man. I would love for David to be my son-in-law. And maybe they can finally make me some grandkids.
Rick is trying to read the label on one of his bottles of pills. I recently convinced him to start seeing a doctor regularly again, and now he blames me for the fact that he carries a diagnosis of high blood pressure and high cholesterol. He takes one pill of one and two of the other, but the bottles are identical, so Rick has to read the label to know which is which.
Unfortunately, my husband is badly in need of reading glasses. He is holding one of the bottles at arm’s length, squinting as he tries to make out the writing. He needs longer arms is the problem.
After several minutes of this, Rick thrusts one of the bottles in my direction. “Which one is this?”
“Lipitor,” I read off the bottle.
Rick nods as if he knew it all along! Honestly, I don’t know what he’d do without me.
“Linda,” he says. “Where’s that cup I had on the sink?”
“I washed it,” I tell him.
Rick’s face screws up. “Why would you wash it? It was clean!”
“Rick, it was covered in grime.” That cup was sitting on the sink for at least two weeks. I had hesitated to wash it for just this reason. “I didn’t want you to get sick drinking from that cup.”
“Well, you didn’t put a new one here,” he pouts.
I sigh and wipe a glob of toothpaste off the edge of his jaw. “I’ll get you a new cup, sweetie.”
I can tell Rick feels guilty that he’s sending me downstairs to the kitchen, so he quickly adds, “You should have replaced the cup when you took it.”
And I suppose he’s right.
I carefully walk down the dimly lit carpeted stairwell to the first floor. On the way to the kitchen, I pass by the den that converts into a guest bedroom if needed. When we bought this house, I liked the idea that there was a potential bedroom on the first floor, given that Rick and I aren’t getting any younger. Who knows when one of us will have a stroke and need a bedroom on the first floor? It was good luck that we had it ready, since David can’t possibly get up the stairs.
I notice the door to the bedroom is slightly ajar. I don’t mean to peep, but I can’t help but my eyes are drawn to the opening as I walk by. And I see the two of them—David and my daughter.
They’re not doing anything illicit, thank goodness! Naturally, I don’t have any delusions that in this day and age, my unmarried daughter has had intercourse with several men, David surely among them. It bothers me when I think about it, so I banish that idea from my mind. But nothing of the sort is happening in there now. David is sitting in his wheelchair and Ariel is on his lap, her arms around his neck, and they’re kissing.
No, they’re not just kissing—they’re necking. David’s hands are sliding up Ariel’s back and she’s got fistfuls of his hair. I’ve caught my daughter kissing boys before, but never with quite so much… gusto. I hear her moan slightly and he pulls her tighter. The passion emanates from them so strongly that I can almost feel it in the hallway.
I can’t remember the last time Rick kissed me like that. It’s been years. Goodness, maybe even since before Ariel was born. Married people don’t kiss that way. Or at least, these married people don’t. I suppose somewhere there are two married people who might kiss that way. Who knows—maybe Ariel and David will someday.
It is the first time in my life that I can ever remember feeling jealous of my daughter.
You learn a lot from a person when you go hunting with him.
You can tell how impulsive they are by how quick they pull the trigger. You can tell how smart they are by where they position themselves to watch for prey. You can tell how patient they are by how long they’re willing to wait out in the woods just for the chance to catch one buck.
We haven’t even gotten to the woods yet, and I already know all I need to know about this kid Ariel brought home. And I don’t like any of it.
First, he doesn’t know how to shoot in the first place. I ask you, what kind of grown man has never shot a revolver? You tell me.
Second, when I wake up at five in the morning to get ready to hunt, he isn’t even awake yet. He’s still sound asleep in his cozy little bed. And when I went into his bedroom and told him it was time to go, he looked at me like I was the crazy one. That’s a laugh.
Third, before he even got in the car, he started spraying himself down with bug spray. Bug spray? What kind of a man carries around a spray bottle of bug spray? He offered me some and I considered taking it just so I could toss it in the trash.
Fourth, the kid can’t even walk.
I could deal with his inability to shoot, his sleeping in, and the bug spray, but I don’t know what my Ariel is doing with a man who can’t even stand up. I didn’t think I brought her up to respect a man like that. Fine, she can donate money to one of those charities that helps people with disabilities. The telethon that Linda is always watching on PBS. That should be enough. She doesn’t have to date the guy.
His wheelchair is in the back of my truck while we drive to a clearing where we can go hunting. I got a treestand all set up, but it’s plain that David isn’t making it up there unless I carry the boy on my back. So we’re going to find another place to hunt. We surely won’t bring home any deer, but at least I’ll see what this kid is made out of.
“You really never shot a gun before?” I ask him. I can’t get over it. What’s wrong with this kid?
David shakes his head no. “Never. My parents… they didn’t believe in guns.”
“Didn’t believe in guns!” I can’t believe what I’m hearing. Is he the son of a couple of hippies? “How can you not believe in guns? The right to bear arms is our second amendment right. It’s in the constitution. It’s our goddamn right to have a gun to shoot animals and to protect our families.”
“Yeah,” David says.
He looks like he’s got more to say, but he doesn’t say it. So I say, “What? You think we shouldn’t be allowed to have guns?”
“No!” He shakes his head emphatically. “I’m just saying, I’m not sure guns make you more safe. You know that if you have a gun in your home, you’re more likely to shoot a family member than shoot an intruder.”
“Liberal bullshit propaganda.” Jesus Christ, that Ariel really knows how to pick them. Bad enough the boy can’t shoot, but he doesn’t even believe in it? “That’s not true at all.”
David looks out the window, and finally just says, “Yeah. Maybe you’re right.”
And now I respect him even less. Can’t even stand up for what he believes in.
We pull up to the clearing in the woods that I was told had a path to an area that was good for hunting. Not only can’t David get up in the treestand, but he can’t hike through the heavy woods either. Useless. I had to ask around at the general store to figure out a place I’d be able to take him. I had to tell them that my daughter was bringing home a boy in a wheelchair. They all looked at me like they felt real sorry for me.
I have to get David’s wheelchair out of the back of my truck. I can tell we’re higher up than he’s used to and he’s slow and careful about getting back in his chair. I gesture at the clearing. “You think you can manage this?”
He looks at the clearing than back at me. “Yeah, probably.”
He’s able to manage it, but just barely. I can see him struggling with each yard we travel. It’s a smooth path, but there are stones and branches and… well, shit, it’s the woods. But we manage to make it to the area that my buddy at the store described. When I tell David we can stop, he looks relieved.
“All right,” I say to him. “You up for shooting a rifle?”
“Yeah,” he says, but I can tell he means no.
I think the easiest way to learn to shoot is flat on your belly on the ground, but I can tell that’s not happening with this kid. Instead, I hand him my rifle and show him the proper way to hold it. I can see right away that he wasn’t lying about never having shot one of these things before. He’s having trouble holding it the right way, and when he practices aiming, he’s shuts his left eye and squints with his right.
I remember taking Ariel’s last boyfriend out hunting a year ago. Eric. Now that was a standup guy. A real man. Unlike this loser. Eric knew his way around a gun and he wasn’t a great shot. We stayed in my treestand for two hours together, not even talking once. And we brought home a buck—bigger than any I’d landed in years. It wasn’t my fault that the sight of the deer made Ariel cry. Eric thought she was being ridiculous too.
I fix David’s grip on the gun. “Keep both eyes open. You’ll aim better.”
David opens his other eye, but he still looks scared shitless.
“Squeeze off a shot,” I tell him. He hesitates and I say, “Go ahead. Do it. Aim for the oak tree just ahead.”
His finger rests on the trigger. After several seconds, he pulls it. The shot resonates in the air, scaring away any bucks that can’t already smell us, considering the wind is taking our scent right to them. The shot actually hits the tree, which is surprising.
David gasps at the kickback. My rifle has a hell of a kickback—bad enough that when my buddy Bill borrowed it a few weeks back, he complained about a bruise on his shoulder after. David rubs his shoulder as he lowers the gun. I watch him, knowing whatever hurt he’s feeling isn’t a tenth of the hurt I’ve been feeling since my only daughter brought him home.
“You hit the tree,” I tell him, in case he’s blind also.
“Yeah.” He smiles crookedly. “I played a lot of shooting games when I was a kid.”
I don’t roll my eyes but I’d like to.
I take the gun back from David. I didn’t need to take him on this trip because I want to figure out what he’s like. I don’t care what he’s like. I just want him out of my daughter’s life.
“Tell you what, David.” I look him in the eyes. I know the kid’s a high school teacher—he can’t have much money. “I’ll give you ten-thousand dollars if you break up with Ariel.”
David’s mouth falls open. “Wh… what?”
It’s not enough. I hope I didn’t ruin the whole thing by lowballing him. But while we’re well off, we’re not rich. “Make it fifteen-thousand.”
He’s shaking his head. “Mr. Rhodes…”
Christ, what’s it going to take to get rid of this kid? “Twenty-thousand. Take it or leave it.”
He doesn’t answer at first. I take that as a good sign. When he finally speaks, he says, “Does this usually work?”
I hear a dog howling in the distance. “Sometimes.” My right hand grips the gun. “You know it’s going to end anyway. Just take the money.”
He shakes his head again. “I’m not going to break up with Ari for twenty-thousand dollars. If it doesn’t work out, then it doesn’t work out. That’s life.” He looks me in the eyes. “But I’m hoping it does work out. Because… I love her.”
“You love her,” I snort. “Boy, you don’t even know what love is.”
“I think I do,” he says. “And with all due respect, sir, if she stays with me, I’ll treat her really well. I’ll take good care of your daughter. I promise you that.”
“Someday you’ll regret not taking the money,” I grunt.
“I will never regret not taking the money.”
David is still looking me in the eyes. I remember Eric’s eyes—blue and cold and hard. David has kind brown eyes. It’s probably something Ariel likes about him. It makes me hate him just a tiny amount less.
I sit down on a tree stump next to David. He shifts in his wheelchair, but he doesn’t say anything. He’s said all he needs to say, I suppose.
“If we saw a buck,” I say, “would you have shot at it?”
David eyes the rifle in my hands. “No.”
Well, at least he’s honest.
I sigh and lay the rifle on the ground. “You healthy, at least? Aside from… well, the obvious.”
“I am,” he says. “I play basketball twice a week at the gym. I’m pretty good, actually.”
I snort. “Basketball. That’s not a game. Football—that’s a man’s sport.”
He smiles crookedly. “Well, I watch it.”
That’s a start, at least. “What did you think of the Superbowl this year?”
He thinks it over then shakes his head. “Can’t believe the Patriots took it. I’m thinking at halftime, when they were so behind, Tom Brady went and deflated all the balls.”
I can’t believe I’m actually laughing. The kid’s got a sense of humor. Well, fine. Maybe he’s not so bad. Maybe I can live with him dating my daughter. Looks like I’ll have to, because twenty-thousand bucks is my upper limit.
There’s a part of me that’s worried David will come back shot dead from the hunting trip with my father.
I think it’s unlikely. Very unlikely, even. But possible.
So it’s a relief when my father’s truck pulls up to the house and they’re both alive and well inside. And it’s also a relief that there’s no bloody deer in the back of the truck. My father never hunted when I was a kid—this is a new things he’s taken up in his retirement years—and I can’t wrap my head around him bringing home dead animals. All I can think about his Bambi’s mother. Poor Bambi. That’s such a sad movie.
But they come back and not only is David alive, but they both seem to be in good spirits. It’s a miracle.
David’s wheelchair is in the back of the truck with the rest of the hunting gear. I grab it for him because I know he can’t reach it himself. I put it down beside him, but he needs a little extra time to make the transfer because the cab of the truck is so high. He has to do it in two parts, resting his butt on the edge of the truck before he lowers himself into the chair. “Remind me not to buy a truck,” he says.
“Trucks are cool,” I say.
He rolls his eyes.
I look over at my father, who is grabbing his gear from the truck. “How did it go?” I ask him.
Dad shrugs and smiles over at David with what almost looks like affection. I can’t believe it. Maybe David’s the one who killed my father and brought back a robot version of him. “The kids not a bad shot,” he says.
I raise my eyebrows at my boyfriend. “Is that so?”
“Sure. Don’t you remember how I killed all those dinosaurs in that Jurassic Park game we were playing at the mall?” He grins at me.
I laugh. “Oh, right.”
“You were terrible though,” he says. “If dinosaurs were loose in your apartment building, you’d be in big trouble.”
“I tell Ariel she should come with me to the gun range,” Dad says, warming to this game. “But she won’t do it.”
“Come on, Ari,” David says. “You should do it. Dinosaurs could be on the loose.”
“Or aliens could attack,” my father adds.
“Next time,” David says, “we’ll go to the shooting range.”
And my father looks the happiest I’ve seen him since I told him that Eric and I were done.
When my father goes into the house, I’m left alone with David outside. He’s smiling up at me, and I want to crawl into his lap, but I’m afraid of undoing all the good work he did on that hunting trip. But then he opens up his arms and I sit down in my favorite spot.
“There will be a next time, right?” he whispers in my ear.
I kiss his neck. “There will definitely be a next time. But next time, we’re spending the night in the same room.”
He nods. “We can broach the subject.”
I wrap my arms around him, resting my head on his shoulder. “I thought there was a decent chance my dad was going to try to shoot you during that trip.”
He laughs as he holds me closer. “I can’t say the thought never crossed my mind.”
“Or, I don’t know,” I say, “bribe you with a big wad of cash to break up with me. Or something clichéd like that.”
David laughs again.
“I think you might consider it.” I poke him in the arm, loving the feel of his firm biceps. “If he offered you, like, five-thousand dollars to dump me. You might do it.”
“I might,” David says thoughtfully. “Five-thousand bucks is a lot of money, you know. That’s three months’ rent.”
“Oh my God!” I say. “You’d trade me for three months’ rent?”
“It would be tempting,” David teases me. “Unless, of course, my rent went down because, you know, I had a roommate…”
I pull away from him. The laughter has faded from his face and he’s staring into my eyes. My heart is pounding. “What are you saying?”
“I’m saying…” He bites his lip. “Move in with me, Ari.” He adds, “Please.”
I don’t even have to think about it. After all, I’ve already got a drawer and a toothbrush there. And my current roommate is a total slob. “I’d love to.”
He kisses me in a way that makes me hope my parents aren’t watching from the window. But it doesn’t matter. There are going to be a lot more kisses between me and David they’re going to have to watch in the future.
Maybe even one at the altar.