Hi all! This is a little short story I wrote. It'll be about three parts. Please let me know what you think!
The New Boyfriend
Chapter 1: Ariel
David is nervous with a capital N.
I’ve seen him nervous before but never quite this nervous. He’s clutching the steering wheel with his left hand so hard that all the blood has left his knuckles. I can see his teeth grinding together and he hasn’t spoken a word in the last twenty minutes. The pop station we’d been listening to has mostly turned to static as we crossed state lines ten minutes ago, but David hasn’t even seemed to notice until I finally reach out and change the station, allowing Maroon 5 to blast through the car.
“Oh,” he says, smiling sheepishly. “Thanks. I… I’m a little distracted.”
“I hadn’t noticed,” I deadpan.
David glances at me out of the corner of his eye. “I’m just a little nervous. It’s not every day that I meet my girlfriend’s parents.”
“So?” I say. “I told you, they’re nice.”
Well, my mom’s nice. My dad can be… intense. But David doesn’t need to know that. We don’t need to make things worse.
“And they know?” he says. “They know the whole situation?”
“Yeah, they know you’re a teacher.” I wink at him. David teaches math at the local high school. That’s how I met him—through my friend Cindy, who teaches at the same school.
“Ari…” he sighs. David’s not in a playful mood right now. “You know what I mean.”
“They absolutely know,” I say. “When I called them, I said to them, ‘Mom, Dad, I am bringing home my disabled boyfriend. He’s disabled, you know.’”
David rolls his eyes at me, but he manages a tiny smile. It’s actually sweet how nervous he is. Usually he’s a very easygoing, laid back type of guy. Unlike my last boyfriend, Eric the Investment Banker. Eric the Investment Banker was so high strung, I was convinced he was doing lines of coke in the bathroom in secret. (I’m still not certain.) But my parents loved Eric the Investment Banker, and I stupidly mentioned that fact to David.
I get the feeling David would love to postpone this meeting indefinitely. But we’ve been dating for eight months now and things are getting Serious. Serious, like I’ve got a toothbrush and a drawer at his apartment and his spare key. Serious, like maybe I won’t need a key to my own apartment soon. Serious, like I’m thirty-one years old and I’ve finally met a guy that I’m crazy about who I’d like to spend the rest of my life with, and he feels the same way.
Yeah, that kind of Serious. So I have to introduce him to my parents. It’s non-negotiable.
“What did they say when you told them?” he asks me.
“They both fainted dead away.”
He gives me a look. Try as I might, I don’t think I can joke him out of this one.
“They didn’t say anything,” I say. “They just said they wanted to meet this wonderful guy that I’m so crazy about.”
He flashes me a skeptical look. Rightfully so. That wasn’t what they said all. My mother’s exact words were, “Oh my goodness, why would you date someone like that?” And my father said, “Is this some kind of joke, Ariel?” Again, David doesn’t need to know this.
For a few minutes, I watch David driving. God, he’s cute. Handsome. Good lookin’. The first time he ever smiled at me, my stomach flip-flopped. Honest to God, flip-flopped. Maybe he’s not the kind of handsome where he’d be a movie star, but he’s cute enough that he’d never in a million years have been single at thirty-two if not for…
Well, you know.
I reach out to touch his neck, but the muscles are so tense that he jumps, causing the car to swerve. Thankfully, we’re the only ones on the road.
“Sorry,” David mumbles. “You startled me.”
“So…” I say. “Your strategy is to kill us both so you don’t have to meet them?”
“No, just to damage the car enough that we can’t get the rest of the way there,” he says. He glances at the GPS. One hour and change left.
“Pull over at the rest stop coming up,” I tell him. “I gotta pee.”
“The number of times you’ve peed during this trip is impressive,” David says. “I feel like I’ve got my four-year-old niece in the car.”
“I gotta go,” I whine. He’s probably right. I’m the worst when it comes to these road trips. This is our third stop in two hours. The driving does something to my bladder.
Luckily, the next rest stop is only five minutes away. It’s a small rest area with a few picnic tables set up, a vending machine, and some toilets that thankfully aren’t port-a-potties. It’s quiet, with only a couple of other people sitting at one of the picnic tables.
“I’ll just be a second,” I tell David.
He shrugs. “Take your time. I think I’m going to get out and grab something from the vending machine.”
It’s a little more of a pain for David to get out of the car. Once I get out, he grabs his wheelchair out of the backseat and has to pop the wheels into place. Then he transfers himself from his seat into the chair. It’s actually very quick—quicker than you’d believe—but slower than me just jumping out of my seat.
“The grass is wet,” David comments, looking critically at the way his wheels have sunk into the wet soil. I’m not thrilled either with the way my white tennis shoes are now covered in brown muck. His loafers are going to stay dry, obviously—they’re safe on the footrest and definitely not going anywhere near the mud.
“If you can’t make it to the vending machines, I can grab something for you,” I offer.
“Just go pee, Ari,” he says.
He doesn’t have to tell me twice. I race over to the ladies’ bathroom, which has one two stalls—one normal-sized and one handicapped stall. I never really gave much thought to the handicapped stall before. I’d use it if it was available, just like any other stall. Since I started dating David though, I’ve avoided it. Because if David needed a stall, that would be the only one he could use. You know?
When I get out of the bathroom, David has successfully navigated the mud, although his wheels look covered in it. He’s sitting at a picnic table, drinking an iced tea Snapple and eating from a bag of potato chips. He smiles up at me when he sees me, looking the happiest he’s been since we got in the car.
“These potato chips are really good,” he says. He shows me the label, which reads Smoked BBQ. “They taste just like barbeque ribs. It’s like being at a barbeque.”
I slide into a seat next to him. “I don’t usually like barbeque flavored potato chips.”
“Me either,” he says. “But I’m telling you, these are crazy good.”
“If you don’t like barbeque chips,” I say, “then how come you bought ‘em from the vending machine.”
He shrugs. “The ‘smoked’ bit got me. I decided to take a risk.”
I reach into the bag and pull out a chip. Hey, not bad.
He grins and nudges my arm. “Told you so.”
His smile gets me like it always does. I’m about to lean in to kiss him, but then I notice these two women at the picnic table next to us are Staring. David doesn’t even notice these things anymore. It’s to the point where if we went to a place and people weren’t staring, he might be like, “Hey, how come nobody’s staring at us?”
But these ladies really have got their Stare on. They’re looking at him like Big Foot just sat down and started eating Smoked BBQ potato chips at the table next to him. So it doesn’t surprise me one bit when the two of them get up and approach us.
One of the women is middle-aged and the other is elderly. Mother and daughter? Who knows. Both are wearing T-shirts and identical shorts that slice in their mid-sections and fall just above the knees. The middle-aged woman seems to be the spokesperson.
“Young man.” She touches David on the shoulder, and he drops the potato chip he’s holding in surprise. It falls on his lap. “We just wanted to tell you how much we admire you.”
David blinks a few times. “Um. Thank you.”
“You’re so brave,” she says, “to be out and about like this. A lot of people in your situation probably just stay home, feeling sorry for themselves. But look at you!”
“Yep,” he says.
“What happened to you?” the woman asks him. “That is, if you don’t mind me asking.”
I mind her asking. But David has been dealing with stupid people like this for over a decade, so he’s not nearly as irritable about it.
“I was on a safari in Africa,” he says, “and on my tenth night, in the jungle, I was woken up to this terrible rumbling sound. I got out of my tent and I saw a stampede of elephants coming toward us. Everyone else in my tent was killed—I was the only survivor. It was awful.”
He was in a car accident when he was twenty. But I appreciate his creativity.
The elderly woman clutches her chest. “My God, what an amazing story.”
David nods soberly. “I’m lucky to be alive.”
The middle-aged woman regards me. “And are you… his nurse?”
A flicker of annoyance passes across David’s face before I answer, “I’m his girlfriend, actually.”
“Girlfriend!” Both women look astonished. And then the elderly woman actually leans in and gives me a hug. A hug.
“Bless your heart,” the elderly woman says to me. “You are such a good soul. A saint.”
David is covering his mouth with his hand and I can tell he’s trying not to laugh. It’s a really good thing that he’s got a sense of humor.
“Bless you both,” the middle-aged woman says to us. “We’ll be praying for you.”
The couple ambles back to their car, the elderly woman struggling to walk in the rainy soil, her sensible shoes sinking deeper and deeper into the mud. At one point, I’m certain she’s going to face-plant, and we’ll have to go rescue her. But she makes it.
David turns to me, his eyes wide. “So… was that your mother?”
I smack him in the arm.
Over the next hour, the tension that had dissipated during our rest stop returns to the car. By the time David is driving along the dirt road that leads up to my parents’ house, he’s gone completely silent again. Also, I can tell he’s nervous about wheeling on this landscape, because I’m nervous about him wheeling on this landscape. I forgot how uneven the terrain was around here. But it’s okay in the area immediately around my parents’ house.
This isn’t the area where I grew up, but after I left home for college, my parents got all woodsy. They gave up their house on Elm Street and bought this place out in the country. I’m not sure if I like it. It’s big though. And quiet. Dad loves that you can see the stars at night. He always comments on it when I visit.
David parks in front of the house and his eyes widen when he sees the steps to the front door. “Ari…”
“There’s a back entrance, okay?” I say. “Cool it.”
He’s still gripping the steering wheel, and I take just a second to admire the taut muscles in his arms. No high school math teacher has any business having muscles like David does. That’s what over a decade of doing everything with your upper body will do for you.
“I bet right now you’re wishing you were here with Eric,” he comments.
“No,” I reply honestly. I don’t wish I were anywhere with Eric the Investment Banker. The last thing I want is to be with a man who calls me a “stupid cunt” when he’s stressed out.
“We don’t have to do this,” David says, turning his brown eyes on me. “It’s not too late.”
“And do what?” I retort. “Break up?”
“No.” David frowns. “No way. Not break up.”
“Um, then I don’t think you can avoid meeting my parents indefinitely.”
He glances up at the front door. I can see it starting to crack open—my parents must have seen the car pull up. Now I wish we hadn’t dawdled because I’d rather my parents didn’t see David do his transfer. I didn’t explain to them the extent of his disability or the fact that he can’t move his legs at all. But they’re going to notice the way he pulls them out of car with his arms and pulls them into the chair with him. No matter how fast he is, they’ll notice that.
But it’s a lost cause. Mom is coming out of the house, waving eagerly to us just as David is getting himself out of the car. She’s plastered a big smile on her face. “So this is the new boyfriend! You must be David!”
“That’s right.” David holds out a hand to her once he’s gotten his body situated in the chair. “It’s really nice to meet you, Mrs. Rhodes.”
“Please call me Linda,” she says, taking his hand in hers. “Can I… help you with your bag?”
He shakes his head. “No, I’m good. But… Ari says there’s a back entrance?”
“Yes, but why…” Mom frowns, perplexed. Then she looks at the stairs to the front door. “Oh. Of course. Yes, we’ve got a back entrance. But there is one step…”
“That’s fine,” David says quickly.
Even though the ground is more even here than it was on the dirt road, I can tell that David is struggling to push his chair. But we’re only staying the night and we should be in the house most of that time. It should be fine.
Except then David gets stuck. I don’t even know exactly what in the ground is making him be stuck, but he’s pushing and not going anywhere. His face turns pink with either effort or embarrassment. Maybe both. I hear him swear under his breath, and I hope my mother didn’t hear it.
“I need a push,” he murmurs in my direction.
He doesn’t have handles on his chair, but I can still place my hands on the backrest of his chair that comes up to his mid-back. He’s told me that’s the lowest the backrest can go and still give him the support he needs for his weak lower trunk muscles. I give him an inconspicuous push, and that frees him up to get him the rest of the way to the back door. Where, as promised, there’s only one step that he manages to jump without a problem.
The back door leads to the kitchen. And it’s no surprise to see who’s waiting for us in there.
“Hi, Daddy,” I say.
(P.S. If you haven't already, please buy a copy of my newest book, The Best Man!)