Thursday, August 31, 2017

Shadowboxing, Chapter 2: At the Bus Stop



“Your stop’s on Fairway?” I asked as we moved off down Charleton. After a quick glance to confirm the absence of cars in either direction, Asher had abandoned the sidewalk for the street itself; I guessed he wasn’t a fan of the stretches of cobblestones. I paced alongside him; his wheelchair could go at a good clip.

“Yeah, the Ridge St. stop,” he confirmed, which put us at about a 10-minute walk, and then however long it would take the bus to come. Thanks to taxpayers with an enthusiasm for public transit, buses ran every 30 minutes even this late at night, but that still meant it could take an hour end-to-end for him to get home. He must have been thinking about the same thing, because he said, gesturing vaguely at the sky overhead, “Honestly, I think I could use the air and stuff. I need to chill out after that. I don’t think I’d be able to settle down if I called a cab, went home right away.”

I shrugged, not comfortable making a recommendation either way. At that point we hit Fairway, turned left onto its broad, well-lit expanse. I noted, as he regained the sidewalk, that his shakes had subsided.

New Beginnings Chapter 34

Hi friends,
this was a busy week for me and I almost couldn't get the chapter edited on time but I won't leave you hanging especially when we are nearing the end of NB. I hope the editing was sufficient for this chapter.
Thanks for everyone who is reading along still and thanks for all your comments. You guys mean a lot to me.
I give you Chapter 34 of NB. It starts out "wet" as someone called it before and hope you enjoy Anna and Shane getting close once again.
Thanks everyone,
Hugs, Dani
TOC   New Beginnings

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Consolation Prize—Chapter 13

The night before they were set to leave for Will’s parents’ house, Scottie found herself awake, wide-eyed, staring at the blank white ceiling. She wished sickly that her mind could be as blissfully blank. Steadying herself with a few deep breaths and scrunching her eyes closed, she hoped the tighter she squeezed them the better chance she’d have of slipping into a sound dreamless sleep. No such luck. 

She wasn’t actively nervous. The adrenaline had come and gone throughout the day like a steady unrelenting tide—and would undoubtedly return tomorrow—but she was just anxious enough to be uncomfortable and jittery. She felt as if she’d had a few too many cups of coffee right before trying to sleep, despite having exactly zero. 

Unable to quiet her hamster-on-a-wheel mind and irritated that she couldn’t get comfortable, she sat up abruptly. There was a part of her that hoped she’d wake Will in the process, but if the last few months had taught her anything, it was that he was a sound sleeper. She used to be a sound sleeper. She remembered the distant days with both fondness and an acrid bitterness. Cory used to joke that she could fall asleep anywhere, and that used to be true. She wasn’t sure why this tiny little thing could send her into a spiral. Meeting Will’s family was something she wanted, something she craved, and something she needed. She needed him, and this came with him. 

Will stirred ever so slightly, but dipped back down into the folds of sleep, his breathing as steady and reliable as a metronome. It was comforting—his stability and predictability—but she wanted him to hold her in his strong arms, pressing her against his chest, and tell it was going to be all right. But she wouldn’t wake him. She was embarrassed at her own sudden sprouting of insecurity. It felt childish and foreign and she was angry at it in the same way a kid would be angry about a mandated bedtime. She had no control and that truly pissed her off. 

She also felt a twinge of frustration for him. His shoulder had been bothering him all day, a niggling kind of ache that roped it’s way around his arm and over his upper back, and it surprised her how excruciating it was to see him in pain. She could see through Will’s façade. It was about so much more than the acute discomfort. 

He was fiercely—fiercely—independent. He absolutely relied on his arms and shoulders. They had to compensate for him losing half his body. If anything permanent or debilitating ever happened to his shoulder he wouldn’t be able to transfer on his own. He’d need help. And he’d go from a man who simply used a wheelchair to a man stuck in a wheelchair. And Scottie wagered that was something that he would never be able to accept. 

Biting her lip, she forced herself to lie back down. Pulling the covers up to her shoulders she lay on her side, staring out the window at the Manhattan skyline. The lights twinkled over the dark water as she took a deep breath. Unexpectedly, she heard Will shifting, rolling over toward her. She felt the mattress compress as he leaned down to adjust and untangle his twisted legs with his hands, pulling them behind him as he pressed himself against her back and kissed her neck. She felt her cheeks flush and her stomach flutter as he settled in beside her. He was only half awake, spinning wonderfully in a dreamy haze as he absently rubbed her back. Even in that state of mind, he sometimes couldn’t believe she was in his bed with him. 

Scottie relished his touch, the rough pads of his fingers running down her spine, feeling the still whole part of her that he had broken—her skin smooth and unscarred. She looked back at the lights and felt incredibly small, but the warmth of his body reeled her back in and kept her afloat. She steeled herself for tomorrow. She wasn’t small to him. 


<>

The sun was bright—too bright. That kind of chilly white light that made it feel even colder outside than it was. The city had disappeared and morphed into thickets of trees as they drove north through New York state. 

Scottie knew all too well that she was a flight risk—a bona-fide flight risk—but there wasn’t really anywhere for her to go. She was belted into the front seat of Will’s speeding car. She didn’t even know if trains came this far up. She’d have to find some kind of bus station. No. She had nowhere to run to, and that oddly unsettled and gave her some slight peace of mind at the same time.   

Pete was running his mouth, going on and on about something as the trees on the rural road clipped by, Lise laughed sweetly and muttered something back. Her voice sounded like tinkling bells. Will had one hand on the wheel and the other on the brake as they rounded a particularly sharp turn. Scottie felt like she was hearing everything from the bottom of a well. 

“Scottie?” Her name was hollow and far away. 

“Scottie?” There it was again. She opened her mouth and blinked. They weren’t moving any more. Pete and Lise were climbing out. How long had she disassociated? That hadn’t happened to her in years. It was almost as if she’d blacked out and now there was a hole in her memory—wide, white, and blank. She blinked again and then turned to face Will. His blue eyes were like beautiful complex marbles staring back at her. She wished, almost desperately, that they were in a getaway car. 

“Scottie?” he asked again, leaning closer, reaching for her hand. Her instinct was to pull away from him and clamp down on herself, but she fought against it like a rabid dog. She wouldn’t do it. Not again. 

“Yea?” she asked, her mouth so dry she couldn’t finish the word. Swallowing and wetting her tongue she spoke again. “Yea? Sorry.” 

“Are you okay?” His voice was gentle and careful. A thickness hung between them, as if someone was pressing saran wrap over her mouth and nose. She thought she might cry. Pete’s knocking on the window sliced through and Will whipped his head around, clearly startled. Pete gestured to Will’s chair—still in pieces—by the driver side door. He’d pulled it out of the trunk but failed to properly assemble it. 

“Christ,” Will muttered peeved, “it’s not that hard.” He shifted his weight and opened the door. “Pete,” he shouted at his brother’s back. Pete answered, “Yeah?” without turning around. Will sighed and laughed because he felt like screaming. Shaking his head he looked sideways at Scottie. Her expression sent a calming ripple through him. She was here with him. Everything was going to be fine. 

“You forgot the seat cushion, asshat,” Will snapped, running his hand through his hair before he reached down to put one of the wheels on the frame. 

“I’ll get it,” Scottie said quietly, reaching to undo her belt. She had to stand up and shake herself out. Her legs were jelly. 

“No,” Will replied quickly, “Pete can handle it. He’s a big boy. He should be less careless. I mean, what the fuck is this?” Will’s voice clicked from calm to exasperated as he leaned down almost horizontally to hook one of the wheels which had been placed slightly out of his reach. Scottie felt herself giggle and loosen slightly. Keep breathing, just keep breathing. Pete trundled back to the car, making a great show of his shambling gait and shooting Will a dirty look. 

“Oh, I’m sorry I can’t fucking walk,” he said sharply, more to himself than to Pete or Scottie, but both of them caught it and didn’t acknowledge it. It felt like the two brothers were angling for a fight, and Scottie wondered, for the first time—pulling herself out of her self-centered and apparently impenetrable bubble—if being back home brought up difficult and painful memories for Will. Her throat tightened, and she closed her eyes to keep from tearing up. Of course, it did. What was she? Some kind of fucking idiot? 

Reaching over she squeezed his shoulder as Pete tossed the seat cushion at him without a word and continued up the driveway to where Lise was waiting for him. She smiled nervously and held out her hand. He took it and pulled her in close just as the front door opened. 

“Ready?” Will teased, but his voice gave him away slightly. Scottie forced a smile. 

“Ready,” she assured him, trying to convince herself just as much in the process. She reached for the door handle and hopped out of the car just as Will’s dad stepped onto the porch. 

Giving a slight wave and timid smile as she turned to the back seat to grab their bags, she heard his father clap Pete on the back. 

“Slugger, good to see you, son.” John had a deep voice that boomed commandingly over the yard. Scottie walked around the back of the car just as will was pulling his legs out  and adjusting them on the footplate. She handed him his bag, which he situated on his lap, and he pushed himself back so she could shut the door. He looked considerably paler than he had when they had both been inside the safe haven of the Volvo. 

“Are you okay?” she asked quietly, and almost immediately regretted it. She didn’t want him to think she assumed he wasn’t okay coming home. They hadn’t really covered his feelings about home just yet. She held her breath for a second as he looked up at her, his goddamn blue eyes cutting her to her core. He was smiling, and it threw her a little. 

“Just returning to the site where my parents and I almost killed each other after I got hurt. You know, it’s bound to stir up a little of the old dirt.” He was full on smirking now and she reached for his hand hungrily, leaning down to kiss him on the lips. She lingered a little too long, considering his dad and brother were a captive audience, but she couldn’t compel herself to pull away quickly, and he, frankly, didn’t seem too disappointed. His honestly gave her a refreshing burst of relief and it flooded through her. 

“Well, well, well,” a woman’s voice floated over to them haughtily. Scottie righted herself sharply and wiped her lips with the back of her other hand. Will wouldn’t let go of the one he was holding—in fact his grip tightened like a screw. “This must be the mystery girl mom has been going on and on about.” 

“Wynn,” Will’s voice was earnest as he squeezed Scottie’s hand once and let go to wheel over to his sister, gliding swiftly across the pavement, his arms working so smoothly that Scottie couldn’t help but admire his finesse for what had to probably be the millionth time. He still had the same chair from when she had met him, and she had yet to see him use anything else. It was a sporty chair, all black and gunmetal grey with a seat back that barely brushed his lower back. Fitted to him like a glove, it was a sexy and a sleek extension of his upper body. The way he moved made her legs once again resemble the consistency of jelly. 

Wynn leaned down, her dark smooth hair draping over Will’s shoulder as she pulled him into an aggressive hug. She kissed his cheek and whispered something in his ear that Scottie couldn’t hear but he laughed his rich chocolatey laugh and pushed himself back from her as she stood. He swiveled his chair and held out a hand. 

“Scottie, this is my little sister, Wynn, and Wynn, this is my girlfriend, Thea Scott, but she prefers to go by Scottie.” Scottie’s palms were sweating, partially because she couldn’t help it when she heard Will call her his girlfriend, partially because Wynn was really beautiful—marked by a dark glossy waterfall of hair with golden highlights, freckle-free lightly tanned skin, and warm brown eyes. Scottie took a deep breath and turned to Will. His dimple was on full display and it cracked a smile on her face. 

“Wynn,” she replied warmly, leaning into a hug, “It’s so wonderful to meet you and the rest of Will’s family.” It’s funny, Scottie thought as she inhaled the floral scent of Wynn's still damp hair, in better light, everything changes. 


<> 

John watched his son hug his two daughters. Wynn came first, the over exuberant and effusive of the two, words tumbling out of her mouth a mile a minute. Next her boyfriend Sean, a nice but effectively bland shorter guy with wavy blonde hair and skin the color of milk, leaned in to hug Will awkwardly. Olivia hovered in the background, a quiet and pensive shadow, leaning down to hug her brother only after he pressed. She gave a hug in the kind of way you knew came from a loving place, but it certainly wasn't tossed in your face. She stood self-consciously to the side as Will made quick work of introducing the striking woman at his side. 

She was very tall, a good match for Will’s own expansive height had he not been confined to a sitting position for the rest of his life. She had olive skin, like Ari, but it was a touch darker and richer. But it wasn't her skin that stood out— it was her hair that caught his eye most. Wild waves and curls cascaded down her grey sweater as she hugged Wynn and Olivia. She tried to brush some of it behind her ears as she reached for Will’s shoulder and squeezed but it seemed to disobey, blowing into her face as the wind picked up. Will placed his own hand on hers and looked up at her, beaming. He looked inexplicably happy, but the only thing John could think about was that he shouldn’t be looking up at her at all. Frustrated, he zipped his navy fleece at the chill and turned his attention to his other son who stood tall in stark contrast. The disparity made his chest ache. 

“Dad,” Will said, drifting toward the bottom of the front steps. He looked up at his dad and steeled himself for a tough hello—it never felt easy between them, and he could tell simply by the way his dad was standing, that it wasn’t going to be any different this time. 

“Will,” Ari’s voice echoed coming out of the house. She was coming down the stairs and from her vantage point she couldn’t see Pete standing off to the side. Will smiled. His mom was always his mom, and hearing her say his name made him feel like a kid again in the best way. 

“Mom,” he said, voice soft as pudding. Ari took the porch steps in two steps and fell into her son’s arms. She kissed him on the forehead as she pulled away, ruffling his hair as she took him in. “You look good darling.” 

“Thank’s mom,” Will replied quietly, turning to glance over at Scottie, who’d felt that familiar swallowing of words as she looked at Ari. Ari was a well-tuned sports car—as sleek as a Maserati. She had thick black hair cut bluntly at her shoulders, a lithe toned body, light brown eyes, and the kind of skin that wouldn’t wrinkle easily. A long cream sweater draped over her skinny jeans and a large turquoise pendant gave her a kind of cozy chic Colorado mom vibe. Scottie reached self-consciously for her face. What did she expect to be able to do? Wipe off her freckles? 

“Mom,” Will continued tenderly, reaching for Scottie’s hand. She shakily took it and stepped forward. “This is Scott—“ But Ari cut him off, pulling Scottie into a hug that was equally as aggressive as the one she’d given Will. 

“I know who she is, Will,” she snapped, pulling out of the hug and holding Scottie at arm’s length, examining her head to toe with a microscope. Her sneakers, black jeans, and waffle grey sweater suddenly felt drab, plain, and over worn. “My god, Scottie, you’re beautiful. Will, you didn’t tell me she was beautiful.” 

“Mom!” Will shouted, scandalized. Scottie felt her cheeks color dark red. She laughed nervously. 

“I take offense to that Mr. Nash,” she replied to her smirking boyfriend. Ari hit Will on the backside of the head and he yelped, rubbing the spot with his hand. 

“You call me Ari,” she insisted, and then gesturing at her husband, “and call him John.” Scottie nodded and bit her lower lip. 

“I guess I’m chop liver, huh mom?” Pete asked with snark. 

“Oh hush, Peter,” she rebuked as she walked up the steps toward her other son. “You’ll get your turn.” She hugged him and Pete introduced her to Lise, whom she wrapped in a tight hug as well. Her smile was absolutely contagious, and Scottie was starting to feel breath coming a little bit easier than before. 

“Let’s all go in and eat,” Ari hollered, gesturing to the girls and Sean, who were over by the car. But as she spoke, she slowly turned back to Will, a frown buckling across her forehead. 

“John,” she chided, “Why isn’t the ramp up yet?” She spun and crossed her arms over her chest. 

“I was getting to it,” John argued. But Ari’s face didn’t shift. 

“We talked about this,” she hissed, voice deadly quiet, but not quiet enough to keep the family from hearing from their exceptionally close vantage points. 

“Mom,” Will insisted, embarrassment seeping out in between his words. “Seriously, it’s fine.” 

“It most certainly is not fine. This is your home. You shouldn’t have to wait for your father to set up a fucking ramp.” Her voice was ice cold and sharp as a cleaver. 

“Ari, easy, I’m getting it now,” John barked as he pressed past her and lumbered down the steps toward the garage. Ari huffed and looked down at Will, sincere shame written across her beautiful face. 

“Everyone, go inside and get settled, I’ve got appetizers. Wines on the counter. Dig in, make yourself at home.” She gestured to everyone, and her urgency drove people through the front door. Scottie walked her bag up to the porch and returned to grab Will’s from him. Usually he wouldn’t mind her tossing it up on the steps for him but when she reached for it he visibly recoiled as if she'd been trying to scald him with her hand. 

“No,” he said quick and awkward, “I’ve, uh, I’ve got it.” 

“I just thought with your shoulder you’d,” she started but she quickly felt the words dry up like ash in her mouth. This wasn’t about the bag at all. 

“What’s wrong with your shoulder?” Ari probed, voice suddenly urgent and soaked in concern. 

“Mom, really, it’s nothing. It’s fine, I’m fine.” Ari was about to protest, but John came around the house, putting on the grand performance of dragging a large metal folded ramp. Grunting, he dropped it over the bottom steps and unfolded it over the top two, shaking it into a locked position. It was pretty narrow and was situated at an extremely steep angle. Scottie thought Will could probably do it, but it felt like a bad idea with his shoulder and now his bag on his lap. She aggressively wrestled with the urge to offer a push like she had all those months ago at Cory's beach house. She knew if they weren't in front of his parents Will would ask. But they were, so he wouldn't. She bit down lightly on her tongue as an insurance policy. 

John held out his arms and gestured for Will to proceed as if he were the king of goddamn England. Will balled his hands into fists to keep from punching something—most likely his father in the jaw. His mom had tried to put in a permanent ramp but his dad wouldn’t hear of it. He’d built the house with his bare hands back when his own dad had still been alive. The two of them had done it together when Will and Pete were only five, Wynn was three, and Olivia had just been born. It was a labor of love. Putting a ramp on the front would, according to John in hushed conversations with Ari behind closed doors, ruin it.  Although Will wondered in his annoyance, if that wouldn’t have been, in fact, the biggest labor of love of all. 

Readying himself, Will put his hands on the push rims of his chair and took a deep breath. It would be much easier to be pushed, but asking for help in front of his parents was absolutely one million percent out of the question. He’d worked so hard to gain respect in his dad’s eyes and independence in his mom’s, and one false move could topple the whole house of cards.  So, he gritted his teeth and pressed upwards, ignoring the jolt running down his shoulder at every rotation. 

As Scottie watched Will struggle then finally crest the top of the ramp onto the porch, she realized, in order to understand the dynamic at work here, all she had to do was observe Ari and John’s faces while they watched what she’d initially gifted her attention to. It explained everything. 

Will skated across the porch and bumped himself over the threshold of the house, purposely averting his parents' gazes. After he was safely inside he took another deep breath before pivoting to face the three of them stalk still, staring, and standing out in the cold. 

“Are we not eating?” Will asked playfully. Ari’s trance was broken and she followed him into the house. Scottie walked delicately up the steps, coming face to face with John over her bag. 

“I’ve got it,” she heard herself say shyly. 

“No, no, I insist. A man always carries a woman’s bag,” he asserted with a genuine smile. “I’m John, Will’s dad, as I’m sure you’ve gathered.” Scottie felt hot under the collar as she forced a smile and produced her name and hand for a shake. She couldn’t help but think that his comment was a round directly aimed at Will. 

And then she realized, suddenly, that John had forgotten—or avoided—hugging one of his sons. 

In/Exhale Continues

I apologize that it took so long for this final episode of the day to get to you guys. I'm also sorry it's being posted so late.

For those of you who don't know, I live in the Houston metro area, which was recently hit very hard by Hurricane Harvey. Fortunately, our home didn't flood, but we had power go in and out and water come far too close for comfort (especially for someone who lived through Hurricane Katrina).

The bad news is I haven't been able to work much lately on any of my writing because of my health. So I don't know if I can promise a new episode of I/E next week or even in two weeks. But I'll do my best.

Previously on In/Exhale: Kai has had a long weekend. He went to Omaha to visit the hospital there, and although he agreed to check himself in in a couple days, he has his reservations. Despite his anxiety, he went to dinner at Frankie's house and was hit by a rush of emotions about the fact that he wasn't adopted. The dinner capped off with Frankie kissing Kai and revealing his long-time crush, that set Kai whirling.

This Week on In/Exhale: Kai reacts to the dinner and everything he's been struggling with lately. When powerful suicidal thoughts hit him, he makes some potentially devastating decisions.

Next time on In/Exhale: The aftermath of Sunday night. David has his important job interview with the Deaf man he met at the meeting, but circumstances in Kai's life may prevent him from making that interview despite its significance....

I hope you won't hate me too much after this episode!!

In/Exhale - February 11, 2001 - Part IV

I have to admit I'm really nervous about how you guys will receive this episode... I'm looking forward to your comments... (or maybe not?)

Thank you again for those of you who continue to support my crazy stories despite how erratic my posting has been. I have been feeling better relatively with my current med regimen and I'm hoping this will mean more time to write. As always, your comments and support really help motivate me to keep going.

-CA

PS: If you need to catch up, check out the Table of Contents. Or, if you'd like to try reading my other story, try Love UnSeen's Table of Contents.

Shadowboxing, Chapter 3: Scheherazade

“Once upon a time,” Asher said, “on the – what is it? – the seventeenth day of the tenth month of the year, a young man found himself in the happy circumstance of having arranged for himself a date. Now, this young man, being a big ol’ queermo – “ I snorted, and his smile widened “ – had resorted to use of the magical rite known as Grindr to find himself said date. He had also, for the very first time, made himself a dating profile – magical, of course – that didn’t mention the fact that he was in a wheelchair, because he was sick of not getting any dates.

“It felt like giving up, but also like not that dumb of a move. Also, I did use one photo where you could see pretty much the whole situation, so.” I had been wondering about that, and pulled my mouth to one side. Asher sighed, with heat, and thrust his hand back through his hair before composing himself again.

“Lo,” he continued, with a desultory prophetic gesture, “came the night of the date. The other guy had seemed cute and smart and interestingly employed, and they had exchanged many a humorous missive via the mystical Grindr. Our young man was way excited, got himself dressed up real nice, but not nice enough to look like he was trying too hard, and headed out early for the tavern they had agreed upon for their amorous encounter. This meant he had many, many a minute to find a seat that would sort of but not totally hide the wheelchair, and to freak out over how this guy was going to react when he saw it, the arm, etc.”

Asher paused here. Somewhere along the way he had stopped meeting my eyes. I gave him a little while, before deciding that he might appreciate a push. “So?”

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Shadowboxing, Chapter 4: View from the Morning

Of course I ended up falling asleep right before the sunrise; so much for that romantic notion. Luckily, somewhere along the way I had ended up having the sense to tuck a pillow under my knees, so I didn’t completely hate myself in the morning. Still, my back and neck were killing me when I woke up, not to mention my wrist; it had to be from the stress of last night. It was also 11 AM, later than I could remember waking up in at least a year. Outside, the sun was shining weakly through an even, milky haze of cloud, which was about how I felt.

I swore to myself for a while before I even tried getting up, just feeling the deep, pulling pain as I shifted my back and arms minutely. Finally I got myself up onto my one elbow, levered up from there to a sitting position, groaning continuously. The only good thing that I could immediately see was the fact that I had gone to bed in nothing but boxers, which meant there was very little between me and a scalding-hot shower.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Shadowboxing, Chapter 5: Nolite te bastardes carborundorum

On the bus ride over, I learned that Asher was 26 – four years younger than me. (That was how much he’d been forcing – no, coaxing – me to talk about myself at the café, that I hadn’t learned even his age till then.) He was an only child, and hadn’t moved out from his parents’ until just last year, but not for lack of encouragement. He was close with his parents, not just of necessity, and they’d always pushed him to be independent. But it had taken him a bit longer to finish college, and after that, it had still taken him a few more years to feel ready to leave home. Once he did, his parents had helped him find an apartment – one closer to his job, and reasonably accessible – and had helped him negotiate renovations with the landlord that would help bring it to fully accessible.

He worked as a web developer for a large company. I didn’t understand entirely what that that entailed, which hardly offended Asher; he admitted that he was in it largely for the job security. “I’m not ashamed to admit that good medical insurance is slightly more important to me than being passionate about my job right now. It would be nice to find something I’m more excited about in the future, but for now I’m happy to work with nice people, at a steady job.”

I nodded slowly. I was savoring the process of building out a picture of Asher’s daily life, his family, how he thought about things. It was already clear that he was more of a thinker than me, or more of an intellectual, I guess the word would be. (After all, I spent most of my time thinking to myself, even if I hadn’t bothered finishing college.) He read a lot, for example, which I didn’t have that much patience for, and especially about art, which had always intimidated me. But it struck me that even when he went somewhere in conversation I couldn’t quite follow, I liked the nimbleness and excitement with which he thought and spoke, the way he could sort of dance back and forth across a topic, come at it from different angles. I could almost see his thoughts moving over his face like a flickering light.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Update to The Girl I Didn't Kill For

Hi all!

Thank you a million to everyone who commented on the last chapter.  I'm not sure if I'll be able to post next weekend, so I'm going to make this one extra long.  Jessie and Nick finally meet up again for the first time since his injury.

Chapter 4

Please let me know what you think!

And I finally made a Table of Contents!

Shadowboxing, Chapter 6: Night

It took me a while to realize that the way Asher had said “we’ll do it in the morning” implied, even assumed, that I was going to stay over the night. We had just about finished cleaning up after dinner, so it would have been a natural point for me to start saying good-night. Perplexed, I turned to him, working out what to say next.

“Asher, w-were you interested… in me staying over?”

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Shadowboxing, Chapter 7: Amy Opines


The next morning, when we’d finished filling out the online crime report form – Roy ended up having to take the lead, typing in half of my responses for me when I shamefully but not surprisingly wilted before the challenge of, for example, enumerating physical descriptions of the gang of four – I felt a sudden jolt of superstitious fear. Everything that had happened since I’d met Roy had been so improbably good that I had the sudden conviction that signing off on this would bring it all to a close, seal off the freak outgrowth of space-time that had allowed us to briefly coexist.

(The back of my mind also observed, helpfully, that it was likely that I was once again using this imagined crisis as a distraction from attempting to reckon with the men in the alleyway.)

As Roy and I kissed good-bye at the threshold of my front door, the question is this the last time formed itself clearly in my head, sent a chilly wave of unease through me; my back contracted uncomfortably, tilting me back and to the right. I felt as if I couldn’t look him in the eye, either. I think he noticed, too, because a look of puzzled concern crossed his face as he stood up. He said nothing, though. After he’d headed off down the sidewalk, with his rolling, ground-eating gait, I cursed myself bitterly for wasting the moment.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Shadowboxing, Chapter 8: Past is Present

That Sunday afternoon, Roy and I met up at the public library. I’d wanted to pick up a few new books that I was excited about, Gilded Age histories, and we’d agreed that a walk in neighboring Crown Hill Park sounded like a good idea afterward.

A curious thing happened on the way out. We were rolling out through the front lobby, Roy’s footsteps and those of other patrons echoing off of the polished stone around us, and before I could hit the handicapped button for the double set of glass doors out front, a man started holding the first set open for me.

He was quite striking – almost Roy’s height, lean, swimmerish in build, with sandy hair, a wide mouth, and an eyebrow piercing. As I turned to say “thank you,” I looked him over, as you do, but his pale, cattish eyes had already moved behind me and up to Roy. I saw his brows lift slightly in recognition. Then his eyes moved down to Roy’s hand, which he had rested lightly on one of my shoulders, and the pierced eyebrow flickered up fractionally. “Hey,” he said to Roy. The slight smile on his lips was hard to read.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Shadowboxing, Chapter 9: And the Night Came On


Shortly after the day at the park, when I had started to tell Asher about the worst of my past, we were sitting on his couch together, doing not much – I had been asking him about the book he was reading, one of the ones we’d picked up together from the library – when his phone rang.

He picked up, frowning slightly when he saw the number. “Hello?”

I could hear a woman’s voice on the other end.

“Yes, this is Asher Klein,” he confirmed, a little warily.

I watched as he listened for a little less than a minute. I couldn’t make out more than the occasional word. Asher’s face got tenser; I could see that he was steeling himself. “Yes. Okay. Okay, I see. No – okay, yes, I think I understand. Great. Yes, thank you. Have a good morning.”

He exhaled hard when he hung up, and paused for a moment before turning to me, tilting his head back a little to look up at me – even sitting, the difference in our heights was significant. Asher had mentioned once that his doctors were sure he’d have been small even if he hadn’t had CP. “They’ve arrested all four of the men from the alleyway,” he said, his voice carefully even.

New Beginnings Chapter 33

Hi NB friends,
I hope you enjoyed last week's long chapter. Thanks to all my loyal NB readers for commenting and reading.
I give you another long chapter this week as Anna convinces Shane to look into getting a wheelchair.
Here is Chapter 33 of NB. Let me know how you like it and as always thanks for reading.
Hugs, Dani

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

No story today

I'm sure you guys are tired of hearing that. I will have the next episode of I/E next weeek... after that, it'll depend on how I'm doing. I'm really sorry... I miss Kai and Jackson too, lol.

Thanks for understanding.

-CA

Shadowboxing, Chapter 10: Aftershocks


That morning I woke up twice, the first time just around dawn. I lifted my head, looked around a bit. The outlines of the room, the furniture, looked a bit ghostly, flat, in the greyish light; it must have been overcast outside. I felt blank, fuzzed out, myself. What did I do? said a blank, confused voice in my head; it sounded young. I ran a hand over my chest under the covers, found it tacky.

You had sex, said another voice: flat, accusatory.

I felt an automatic surge of sick heat in my gut. Oh.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Shadowboxing, Chapter 11: Bobbing and Weaving


There was a step into Roy’s boxing gym. Just a small one, about four inches of pitted concrete before the dented metal door into the gym (which was clearly a repurposed industrial building, maybe a small warehouse) – but still, it was a step.

“I hope this isn’t symbolic,” I said, looking up at Roy.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Shadowboxing, Chapter 12, pt. 1: Meet the...


It was mid-November, an overcast Saturday, though not too cold. Eduardo and I were finishing up a job for a client, replacing a few beds of mums and late pansies with dwarf yews. It was easy, systematic work, spading up the clumps of flowers – personally I thought they’d been planted too shallowly, though now it only made my job easier – and pulling out the conical little evergreens from their flimsy plastic pots to dig in instead. My head remained restfully thoughtless as the pair of us bent and dug. Sweat ran down my neck into my t-shirt, pleasantly icy when the wind ran over it, and the mound of discarded flowers in the wheelbarrow behind us grew. The pansies were still blooming, though straggly; I thought I might rescue one to repot for Asher, along with a yew that wasn’t fit to be planted.

As we neared the end of the last bed, the client, Mrs. Petersen, came out on her front doorstep to watch. She was thin, blonde, in her late twenties, and slightly pregnant. I guess “a few months in” was the phrase for it. She had on an oversized hoodie – I wondered vaguely if it were her husband’s – and leggings. There were purplish shadows under her eyes, and the corners of her mouth seemed naturally downturning. She said nothing after an initial exchange of hellos, and as Eduardo and I continued, I became uncomfortably aware of the intensity of her gaze.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Shadowboxing, Chapter 12, pt. 2: Meet the...


“Do you want to…?” Asher nodded his chin in the direction of the bathroom. I nodded quickly, gratefully, and darted away to wash my hands and face.

When I emerged, they had resumed chatting and eating; I moved to the table, bobbed my head, and seated myself. They all smiled; Asher’s smile had recovered some of what I now saw as his habitual mischievousness, though I could still hear his legs kicking against his chair. He slid an empty plate to me. The food looked and smelled good: some kind of grain salad with parsley and tomatoes chopped small, spiced chicken, peeled oranges, fresh bread. I wondered who had made the food, and then, again belatedly, Asher’s voice filtered back into my head, explaining his monthly lunches with his parents: We swap off places, and whoever hosts does the cooking, too…

Slowly, I relaxed, just watching and listening; after a few minutes I felt settled enough to reach for food. Asher’s mother had been telling a story about one of her students; she worked as an art teacher, and an art therapist, I remembered – something I’d never heard of until Asher had explained it to me.

This student – from the way Rebekah talked about him, I got the sense he was really young, kindergartenish – liked to draw chickens, red feathered blobs, and Rebekah was gradually working out that there was a particular chicken, one with a flower in its “hair,” that represented him. “So I was wondering,” she said animatedly, “if perhaps there was something he was trying to say about gender, although he’s certainly too young for us to jump to any conclusions, though really, so many children do start feeling that out so young, you could say many already have convictions about that…”

“So what did you do?” Asher said, smiling, his eyes bright; I could tell his legs had stopped kicking, and, since he was taking a break from eating, he had moved his hand on the table so that his little finger touched my arm, which sent a curl of warmth through me.

“Well, I started encouraging him to show me more about the chicken with the flower, what would the chicken like to do this weekend, where does the chicken like to go, etc.”

“And?” said Asher’s father this time. His voice sounded so much like Asher’s, just roughened and deepened with age. I couldn’t resist looking back and forth between the two of them, seeing all the little things that made them look alike: the shape of their ears, the way their hair curled, the long bones of the face and nose. Asher was just much smaller than his father, sized after his mother, and with her large eyes.

“Sports cars!” Asher’s mother burst out, laughing at her own story. “It turns out the chicken likes sports cars.” Asher was laughing, too. “Also, carrots. And back doors. I’m not quite sure what to do with the carrots, I confess, but there is something interesting about the back door – he started to say something about sneaking around, needing to sneak around like a spy. That’s where I’d like to pick up again next week.”

“I love it, Mom,” Asher said, leaning back in his chair. “Kid detective. Their brains are so weird, I just love hearing these stories. Does he actually like carrots?”

“No!” said his mother, laughing again, at about the same time that his father put in, with his mild voice, “I don’t think our brains get any less weird. We just get better at knowing what we’re supposed to hide.”

“How much did Mom pay you to say that?” Asher said with a grin; his father leveled one back at him, brows raised, while his mother laughed and gave Asher’s shoulder a reproving tap.

I looked back and forth among the three of them. Asher-people, the thought came into my head. It was so easy to see where Asher had come from, his patience, his bright inquisitiveness, his humor. I couldn’t imagine my parents talking about any of the things that had just been talked about; I couldn’t imagine them laughing so easily together over little things.

And they had, all three of them, accepted me so easily, silent in their midst, but not ignored; one or another would occasionally look at me to see if I needed anything, if there was anything I wanted to say (not yet, although I was working up to it), or just to include me in a smile.

I had also belatedly remembered that Asher had told me that some of his friends with disabilities couldn’t talk with their own voices, had to use tablets or other devices to speak for them – I would have liked to see how that worked, figured I would at some point in the near future, if things kept going the way they did. (And when did you become a guy who actually got introduced to friends? To family? said a voice in my head.) So, it stood to reason that his parents would hardly blink if he had a friend who just took a while to talk – even if he did also interrupt lunch while sweaty and filthy. Working through thoughts like this, I was gradually cooling the shame and embarrassment I’d felt.

Asher moved his hand onto my arm. His mother’s smile might have widened a little, but otherwise, his parents didn’t react: also a new, previously unthinkable thing for me. “Roy,” he said, his look gently teasing, “is your plant getting hungry on the doormat?”

“My p-plant?” I said, startled. I set down my fork, and then I remembered the yew. “Oh! Oh, yes. That was ggg-going to be a present for you.” His mother’s smile widened even further. “No, he’s g-good,” I said, “he’s a ppp-patient little guy.” It had taken me a little while to pick up Asher’s gentle style of bantering, when we were first getting to know each other, but now it was easy, especially with two other Kleins in the room.

“What did I do to deserve a present?”

I wanted to say, just being you, but resisted while his parents were here. I wiped my mouth with my napkin. “He wouldn’t have gg-g-gotten any love b-back where he came f-from. I thought he would be h-happier with your other trees.” I pointed to the two in the corner.

“Oh, hey, thank you,” Asher said, grinning with real pleasure; the fingers of his small hand flexed slowly. “I can’t wait to meet him. Neither can my trees.”

“Did you come straight from a job?” Asher’s mother said. “Asher tells us you work in landscaping.” I looked at her gratefully; she was giving me a chance to excuse my muddy arrival.

“Yes, I did,” I said. “So, sorry about – “ I gestured to encompass my t-shirt and so on. Everyone murmured that it wasn’t a problem, and I felt infinitely better.

These people, I thought.

“Everything went well with the job?” said Asher’s father.

“Yes,” I said automatically, “it was easy, just ss-switching out s-seasonal plants. Only…” The image of Mrs. Petersen came back into my head, her darkened, unhappy eyes. I paused, unsure if I wanted to talk about this, but felt I needed to. “There’s s-s-something s-strange about the woman we worked for today. She’s pregnant, and young, and she has a bb-beautiful house, but she sssss… suh… she seems very sad.”

Asher looked at me with a troubled expression; I think he could sense some of what I wasn’t saying.

His mother made a sympathetic noise, her eyes soft. “Does it feel strange to know you can’t do anything about it?”

I thought about it. “Yes,” I realized. I opened my mouth to say more, and then realized I didn’t have anything more to say about it, that that was how it made me feel: strange, and helpless. Her coming on to me did give me a slight sense of the wrongness, the kind of impatient discomfort that I always felt when women took interest in me; but in her case it hardly seemed to have anything to do with me. I, and Eduardo, had just been there. I looked at Rebekah and nodded once, emphatically.

“You’ve probably seen quite a lot of strange things in your time, working around people’s houses,” she said, more lightly.

I laughed, shaking my head. “T-t… too many.” And, only a little haltingly, I was able to get out the story of the time I’d found a “tame” raccoon being kept by a teenager in the mildewy toolshed that his mother wanted demolished, which had ended in tears and rabies shots.

Afterwards, I still found myself prickling with occasional waves of nerves – these were Asher’s parents, they knew that I was… with their son, had to be sizing me up, asking themselves all sorts of questions about how on earth I made sense as a match to their college-educated, computer programmer son. But, looking at their faces – I seemed to have pulled the story off, they were chuckling incredulously – I felt a sense that I had performed enough.

The word “perform” did occasionally pop into my head when I was with Asher, to my regret. It was hard to escape the sense that as patient as he was, he was always waiting for me to say more than I felt either capable of or interested in saying. Talking was his element, he’d told me so, directly, but to me it was like fire: untrustworthy, unreliable. I wasn’t sure how often I’d imagined a look of disappointed expectation in his eyes when I’d said what felt, to me, like enough, a complete thought – but maybe (I needed to ask him sometime, hadn’t yet had the courage) only left him with more unanswered questions. For a moment I thought back to our conversation in Crown Hill Park, about my past; immediately I flinched away.

You can do better, I thought to myself, with a deep stab of shame and anger.

I pulled myself out of the spiral, glanced around the table. Asher’s parents were talking softly to each other – it sounded like they were sorting out other weekend plans. Asher gave the appearance of listening to them, while slowly starting to stack the emptied dishes that he could reach. But I could tell he had his eye on me.

When he saw that he had my attention, he leaned towards me. “Doing okay?” he said softly.

I gave him a one-sided smile, and raised my eyebrows questioningly: I don’t know, am I?

“They like you,” he said immediately, and even more softly. And he smiled.

My stomach flipped; I couldn’t tell if it was his smile, renewed nerves, or both. I raised my eyebrows again, made an “if you say so” face, and then gently nudged his hand aside from the stacked dishes to make it clear that I’d take charge of the washing-up. He gave me an appreciative look, and turned to listen to his parents’ conversation.

I listened in carefully as I scraped off bits of food, did the rinsing and racking in the dishwasher. They were just talking about an event that one of Asher’s cousins was holding soon (I didn’t totally get what, maybe because it was a Jewish thing) – but I wanted to understand their patterns, how they thought about things, what they expected of each other. The last time I’d spent any time with somebody else’s family was probably in – Jesus – high school, back before I had to quit the soccer team. I felt like a street dog trying to remember how to sit, roll over, shake, speak.

I was listening so intently to everything in and around the conversation that it took me a moment to register that they had actually asked me a question, had all turned to look at me expectantly. I shook my head quickly and widened my eyes in apology.

Asher repeated, “November 18th? What do you think, Roy?”

I took a pause, a long one. First of all, I still wasn’t sure what I was being invited to, and was embarrassed to ask them to repeat themselves, again.

Second of all: November 18th – three days away – was the arraignment date for the four men who had assaulted Asher in the alleyway. And from the innocent way that Asher was asking about it, I couldn’t tell if he had genuinely forgotten about it – which I couldn’t believe – or if he was putting on a front because he still hadn’t told his parents about it.

Which, the more I thought about it, seemed more and more likely the case, because I could not believe that parents like Asher’s wouldn’t have commented at least once about the court date.

I opened my mouth, but couldn’t say anything. I could tell that Mrs. Klein was getting ready to say something nice – probably she just thought that I was being shy again. I moved my gaze to Asher and raised my eyebrows at him slightly. Did you…?

When he couldn’t hold my gaze, my stomach sank. Mrs. Klein stopped whatever she was going to say; both of his parents looked back and forth between us curiously as the silence stretched on and on.

I had no intention of forcing Asher to do anything in front of his parents. And it wasn’t as if Asher had even planned to attend the arraignment, so for him there wasn’t even a timing conflict with his cousin’s event – just the symbolic weight of the date. (But I sure as hell wanted to see the four standing in front of a judge.) So there was still no reason I couldn’t just play this whole thing off as me being perpetually socially incompetent.

Except that – and I’d tried not to subject Asher to this line of thinking too much, but it was often at the back of my mind – if the assholes didn’t all take plea bargains, the case would go to trial, and then Asher would be stuck lying to his parents about the nonexistence of multiple future court dates, stretching out over months, all while his stress went through the roof.

And, Asher was sitting there now with a crushingly clear look of guilt on his face, his legs so tense that they were trembling continuously, hovering a few inches out of the seat of his chair, while his mild, kind parents continued to look back and forth between us in confusion.

I had to say something. Physically, I forced out the words: “I’m really sss – sorry –”

“Oh, no no no, honey,” Rebekah rushed to say, leaning forward so quickly that her glasses shifted half an inch down her nose; distractedly she pushed them back up again. “If it’s at all an issue for you, please don’t worry about it, it’s just a little get-together.”

“Honey”? part of my brain remarked incredulously.

“Actually…” Asher said slowly. I looked back to him, worry twisting through my stomach. He didn’t look up at any of us, and I could tell he was holding himself very carefully in his chair, trying to minimize the distraction of his trembling legs. He continued deliberately, “I think… Roy is hesitating because there’s something I didn’t tell you about that date. The 18th.”

I crossed one arm across my chest, put my other hand to my jaw to rub it. My heart was pounding, I couldn’t escape the sense that I had no idea what was going to happen next – except that Asher had to be feeling twenty times worse than I was right now. I wanted to go to him and hold his hand, but didn’t want to distract.

The next time he looked up, I did my best to give him an encouraging smile. He returned it with sudden and astonishing warmth. I blinked in surprise – and Asher began to tell his parents the story of how we’d met.

UPDATE to The Girl I Didn't Kill For

Thank you so so much to everyone who commented on the last chapter. It really means a lot to me, honestly. I know it seems silly that someone just writing "Hey, I enjoyed this" would be motivating, but I promise it is.

And to anyone who felt the last chapter was too short, this one is definitely longer. And involves a massage....

Chapter 3

For those of you who haven't read the beginning, here's the first three chapters together.

P.S. Crazy in Love is supposed to be on sale today for only 99 cents in US and UK.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Shadowboxing, Chapter 13: Killing Time till the Day of Execution


I was flat on my back in the alleyway. Cold, damp asphalt pressed into my back; darkness muffled my vision past a few feet away. I felt thick, cold, sick. Somewhere nearby I could hear voices: hard, mocking, incomprehensible. The sounds came in snatches, sudden harsh syllables jabbing into my hearing. Sometimes they floated nearer, as if the men were coming back, and my heart pounded; then they faded off again.

With my good arm I reached for something to help me, feeling around for anything, but all my hand encountered was empty air, and the chill, pebbly asphalt. I couldn’t push myself up, I felt so cold and weak, as if pressed into submission by the darkness.

Suddenly the voices blared close and loud, as if the men were standing over me in a circle and shouting into my face. But I could see nothing but darkness. They were shouting and shouting, broken, nonsensical syllables.

The confusion was so total that I woke up, panting with fear.

I blinked up at the ceiling and ran my hand over the comforter over and over, working to convince myself that I was here, not there. Under the covers, my legs were kicking frantically, my bad arm was snapping in and out, and my wrist felt excruciatingly tight, the pain bright and urgent. In a way, the pain was nice: it proved that I wasn’t in the dream.

As my head slowly cleared, I registered with a sinking sense of regret that Roy wasn’t there; he hadn’t been able to stay over for several nights. I craved his touch, the sound of his breath, so badly that my heart seemed to ache.

Having him there was the main reason I had said no, not yet when my parents had asked me if I wanted to see a therapist, after I had told them about the nightmares, after I had told them about the men in the alleyway. But of course, he couldn’t always be there.

I had to breathe, slowly, for what felt like hours before I could fall asleep again.

The next day at work, Francis asked me if I was coming down with something, and I almost said yes, because I felt that miserable.


***


The third time Amy was mean to Roy, I had to call her out on it. Conveniently, about fifteen minutes later, Roy excused himself from the table to take a client’s phonecall. As soon as he was out of earshot, I leaned toward her, and put my hand on her upper arm. “Amy.” We were at a downtown restaurant; she appeared to be distracted by a large party of sorority girls exiting noisily into the night; when the door finally closed behind their clattering heels and stream of bright chatter, we could feel a ghost of the cold air they’d let in.

“Amy!” This time she swung around to look at me, with an expression of mild amusement. The warm lighting filtering down from the shaded pendulum lights overhead was a color that I thought of as particularly “Amy:” a coppery-gold that made her curly hair and pale eyes glow, like a foxy Renaissance angel.

“Hm?”

“Amy, I feel like you’re being… snippy to Roy.”

For a moment she looked blank, and then a slightly wary look came into her eyes. “What makes you say that?” she said, with careful neutrality.

“It’s – I’m sorry to badger you.” I was already doubting myself, but pressed ahead; I didn’t know how soon Roy’s call would end. “It’s – something about the way you keep saying ‘oh?’ back at him, no matter what he says.” I replicated the subtly challenging, contemptuous tone I’d heard, and the slight lift of her left eyebrow that went with it. Afterwards I had to stop myself from smiling nervously, undercutting what I was trying to say.

Amy looked aside a few moments, before lifting one hand to prop her chin on it; with the other she started slowly stroking the plastic cuffs of her forearm crutches, propped on her side of the table. “Don’t apologize,” she said a little absently. She returned her gaze to me, looking serious, almost severe. “I honestly don’t remember doing that, but you’re right that I probably did. Sorry. Mea culpa.”

Internally I relaxed a little. I started rubbing my hand over my right hip; both had been uncomfortably tight since the nightmare, which always made me a bit paranoid of having to have hip surgery done again. Worries on worries.

I was so used to Amy that when getting ready to introduce Roy to her, I had forgotten – maybe conveniently – that her high spirits could also come out as prickliness, which I was sometimes exasperated by, and sometimes actually admired; between the two of us, I was definitely the pushover.

I could tell she was also looking around now to make sure Roy wasn’t coming back imminently; at about the same moment, we both located him outside, a few windows down from where we were sitting. He was standing with his back to us, clearly still on the phone. Reflexively I admired the way the column of his neck looked when his head was bent down, the way that his hair came to a point at the nape of his neck, which I liked to kiss when I could.

Amy looked at me again. “I do like him, you know.” I almost let out an audible phew. “But, like… you know I have insanely high expectations for anybody who expects to be with you.” Unprompted, we exchanged identical, deliberately awkward grin-grimaces, stretching our lips away from our teeth, then laughed at the simultaneity.

“I appreciate it,” I said after we’d composed ourselves, “you know I do. But go easy on him. You know he’s super shy –”

“You don’t say,” she said with rich sarcasm.

“Come on!” I said indignantly. “You’re doing it again.” It had been painfully obvious that Roy had been intimidated by Amy as soon as the night had started, taken aback by her quick glances and remarks, which was why I had been set on edge by even the very subtle mockery that had seeped into her handling of him.

“Sorry, sorry –” She looked genuinely guilty, her cheeks flushing a bit. She started making a circular gesture with both of her hands. “It’s just, you know, I’m used to our back-and-forth, I have high expectations for this guy, and he’s sweet, it’s so clear that he’s crazy about you, but he’s like…”

“Not what you expected,” I finished bluntly; I was trying to steel myself, on Roy’s behalf. Again she looked guilty, and glanced out the window at his back. “We talked about this already, Amy.”

“I knowwww,” she said, swaying side to side in her seat. “It’s just - he’s such a jock, Asher! It’s bizarro!”

“I think you mean ‘super hot,’” I corrected her, primly. We were both enjoying letting humor loosen us up again, without losing honesty.

“Fine, yes, he is an excellent specimen of the masculine form.” She batted her eyelashes at me. “I admit – it’s not that I wasn’t listening when you told me he was huge and buff and huge, but… yeah. It’s like my mental picture frame couldn’t go that big. Does he like, carry you around your apartment and shit?”

I had to smirk. “Actually, yes. Buff boyfriend -” I stopped rubbing my hip to sketch a large “greater than” symbol in the air “- assistive technology.”

“God!” Amy flung her head back, rolling her eyes. “Where did I go wrong? Akshay won’t carry me.”

I burst out into incredulous laughter. “Is this a problem for you?” Inwardly I felt a twinge of happy relief that Akshay was still in the picture; it had felt like Amy’d been avoiding mentioning him for a while.

“Yeah, he says it’s demeaning to women -“

“Oh my god, what?”

“Well you know he’s all up in arms about resisting his super patriarchal upbringing – also he says I’m ‘too long’ -“

“Wait, what? Oh, crap, Roy is coming back in. Anyway, can you please work on being less, like, reverse-ableist now?”

“But jocks deseeeerve it, Asher –“

It was nothing we hadn’t joked about before, but – “This one is my jock.”

She reached out and touched my shoulder quickly, her eyes soft. “Yes, I’ll be good. Thanks for calling me out.”

Gratefully, I smiled back at her.

My brain was still working furiously as Roy strode back in and made his way back to our table. What we hadn’t had time to get to – the world doesn’t have infinite time for your neuroses, Asher, I reminded myself sardonically – was just how oddly put-together a puzzle Roy was, which I thought had to account for a good part of how edgy Amy had gotten with him.

The truth was that Amy and I both liked things to go fast, when it came to conversation; that we liked to talk a lot, and quickly, was a central pillar of our friendship. “I’m used to our back-and-forth,” she had said just now. Neither of us had ever directly acknowledged it to each other, because it felt unworthy, but we both knew that it took each of us a very deliberate mental switch, an almost physical resetting of expectations, to engage with disabled friends who were low-verbal or nonverbal. Slow down, chill out, wait and listen. With each other, there was a guilt-tinged relief in getting to go as damn fast as we pleased, while still enjoying the comfort of not having to explain any disability stuff.

Roy, on the other hand, was a weird inversion: able-bodied as hell, the picture of red-blooded American masculinity (minus the being-gay part), but also close to nonverbal, under the wrong circumstances. I had a pretty firm sense that that uneasy, paradigm-breaking combination was why Amy hadn’t been able to stop herself from needling him. And while Roy’s difficulties with his stammer made me feel incredibly tender towards him, it would have been a lie to say I didn’t, sometimes, feel impatient.

I had worried intensely and often about us being completely mismatched: why the hell would a guy like Roy want to date a guy who couldn’t run, hike, climb, or really do anything other than sit? But as time rolled on, I was starting to have the sense that all of these weird asymmetries created a kind of momentum in our relationship – the sense that we would be able to keep finding each other interesting for a very, very long time.

Roy pretty perfectly capped that frantic train of thought of mine by running his hand around the back of my neck as he walked around me and back to his seat. I smiled up at him, probably fatuously, and he smiled back. And out of the corner of my eye I saw Amy quirk half a smile, too.

The rest of the dinner went great, to my immense relief; I could even feel some of the tension ease out of my legs, so I felt like I was actually sitting in my wheelchair instead of balancing precariously. Amy’s veiled needling disappeared, replaced by the tenderly serious attitude she took on when she was really listening to someone, and Roy even relaxed enough to make her laugh with a quietly mischievous remark, which I knew would be a big step forward for him in her mind, compared to the tense, awkward, almost cringing Roy she’d seen at the beginning of the evening. When that happened, I gave her a challenging little smile: See? He is fun. And she gave me back a chastened grin.

Afterwards, we shared an accessible cab back to Amy’s and my apartment block, and it was fun, incredibly so. All riding along together in the dark, the streetlights sliding by outside, Roy holding my hand – the night took on a giddy, loose quality, especially when Roy cracked one of the windows to dilute the oppressive odor of pine car freshener, and chill air began streaming in. It felt like we laughed the whole way home.

On the sidewalk outside our apartments, Amy surprised Roy by lifting up her crutches to give him a big, long hug, squeezing him around his middle; I ducked my head and grinned at how big his eyes got. Then she crutched over to bend and give me a hug of similar duration, finishing it off with a peck on my cheek. “G’night, babe.”

“G’night, Amy. And thanks.” We exchanged a last smile before she waved and turned off towards her apartment.

Inside my kitchen, Roy shut the door behind us; while I was looking around, letting out a long breath, I heard him make a distinctly animal sound behind me, and then his bootsteps came at me swiftly, and his arms wrapped around me from behind. “Whoa! Hi!”

“Mmmm –” As I laughed helplessly, he kissed his way up and down my neck, nipped at my ears, slid his heavy hands up my chest and face to run fingers through my hair, then back down again to unbuckle my seatbelt.

“Oh, hi –” Now he was sliding his hands down my back, gently pressed his fingers against the backs of my hips and down to my ass.

“Ready?” he asked softly.

“Yes – I think –” I thought I knew what he was asking, and then he did shift to one side, slid one arm behind my shoulders and one under my knees, and picked me up smoothly and swiftly.

Now we were face-to-face, something I otherwise never got to experience when the other person was standing. I looked deeply into his eyes and smiled, my heart pounding with happy excitement. “Hi,” I said again.

“Hi,” he said this time. His smile made my stomach feel like jelly. I kissed him for a long time, feeling light and easy and safe in his steady arms.

When we broke, he cocked his head in the direction of the bedroom. “Shall we…?” I grinned and nodded, and he strode off.

“Amy’s jealous that you carry me around, ‘cause her man won’t,” I murmured teasingly in his ear. He snorted. “I got the best one…” I said in a sing-song, and kissed his neck slowly. He made another animal sound, flipped off the kitchen lights with his lower hand, and we passed into the bedroom in darkness.


***


Again I’m in the alleyway. This time I’m in a chair, not mine: a shitty metal chair, like in a movie interrogation scene, and they fan out around me like movie interrogators. I feel profoundly homeless, in alien territory. Again I can’t understand their voices. They gabble harsh, excited sentences that echo off of the brick walls enclosing us. Now there’s no alleyway, just a little box of brick with the dark figures circling me around; it’s not clear now whether they’re figures, or shadows on the walls.

I’m struggling to move, kicking my legs, struggling to straighten my contracted arm. I don’t know what I’ll achieve, but there’s a sense that rocking, knocking over the chair will break the spell, the dream.

After another interval of distorted time, the alien voices echoing in my ears, I realize what the issue is. They’ve tied down my good arm, my only arm, to the arm of the shitty metal chair. When I realize that, that I have nothing, that I’m nothing but a stream of panicked thoughts in a useless body, the fear is so profound that I want to sink down and die.

I wake up, and this time Roy is there. He holds me while I cry.