“It was a little weird. – No, not too weird, obviously she meant well, and I could tell she wasn’t a hundred percent sure she should be telling me, anyway. But I think it had been bothering her that she hadn’t said something about it before. – Yeah, it was maybe a little maternal. No, I didn’t tell her I already have a mom, Mom.”
Asher moved the phone away from his face to grimace disapprovingly at me as I laughed silently at him from where I lay on his living room floor. It was the Sunday after the arraignment, the first day we’d gotten to ourselves since then – until his mom had called.
Asher tilted his face back to the phone. “It’s really okay. I am more than prepared to forget about it. Yes, I’d rather forget about everything else, too. – No. No, I haven’t. Mom, I told you yesterday, I’ll figure it out. I will. I promise. – Okay, you too. I love you. Bye.”
He tapped his thumb to the screen to hang up, and then dropped the phone into his lap, exhaling. “Oy. Layers on layers.”
I gave him a questioning look.
“Yeah, basically as expected. Dad couldn’t help telling her about the call that Ms. Ganon made the day after, and Mom must have been pretty wound up about everything still because she got sort of offended about it. Normally I don’t think it would even have occurred to her to act that way.”
“Like half annoyed at the implication that they weren’t doing enough to protect me, or get me to advocate for myself, whatever. And half annoyed that anyone was trying to take up more of my time over this.”
“Ah.” I got both halves.
The day after the arraignment, Ms. Ganon had called Asher unexpectedly, while he was at work. He’d immediately feared the worst – the men had somehow gone back on their guilty pleas – but after hurried reassurances, it had turned out that she really just wanted, in a strange way, to scold him. “To be a better citizen in general or more of a disability advocate in particular, ideally both,” was how Asher had summed it up to me when I had checked in on him that night.
“Obviously,” he said now, working his hand through his hair in exasperation, the fingers of his other hand slowly curling and uncurling, “everyone agrees that I should have called the police earlier. But I’m still not totally sure what she wants me to do now. Go chasing after a personal injury case to really make a point? Get the local paper to write an article about it all, so the people who read it can pat themselves on the back for not being terrible enough to try to steal someone’s wheelchair?” He made a face. “Awful.”
I was probably making the same face. “Weird way to g-g-get on someone’s case.”
“Yeah, I don’t get it. She was so cool every other time we talked with her.”
I reached my arms up so I could rest my head on them, wondering how often Asher’s disability made people not know where to draw the line when it came to being protective. I repressed a grimace at the thought that it had probably made me weird that way at least a few times. After a moment, I offered, “She was a little b-bossy.”
Asher laughed. “Fair. But in a cool way, most of the time… Oh, well,” he concluded, clearly making an effort to end that train of thought. He pressed his hand down on his armrest, leaned to stretch his back first in one direction, and then the other.
I sat up, crawled to where I could sit and rest my chin on his knees. As he finished stretching, making a satisfied sound, I looked up at him with a “now what?” kind of expression.
He laughed again, and then leaned forward to wrap his arm around my head. I closed my eyes with happiness as he kissed my hair, ran his cool fingers along my neck. “I can’t think straight if you’re going to look at me that way,” he murmured.
“Don’t think,” I suggested. “Works great for me.”
“Very helpful,” he said, releasing me, still smiling.
The truth was, I really didn’t know what the answer to “now what” might be. Asher’s distress during the arraignment had been obvious and intense. Afterwards, his parents had politely made it clear that they wanted to spend as much time as possible alone with him in the following days, so I’d made myself scarce except for phone calls after work, during which Asher was reassuring but vague. I didn’t know how his nightmares had been, whether or not he planned to give in to his mother’s repeated pleas to find a therapist, what, really, he thought about the arraignment. And – it was a silly thing to wonder about, but, not having a real relationship with my parents, I couldn’t even imagine what exactly the Kleins managed to fill up so much time together, so many nights in a row. (Part of me still couldn’t stop worrying, selfishly, about how much or what Asher might have told his parents about me.)
Asher reached forward again to the side of my head, pinched his fingers together to tug my earlobe gently. “You look so worried,” he said. “Let’s get out of here.”
“What do yyy – you want to do?”
“Mmm, as little as possible involving thinking. Let’s give your prescription a try, Dr. Roy.”
I laughed and pressed my face against his legs in a brief hug, before clambering to my feet and heading to grab my jacket.
We took the bus downtown, getting off a few stops before the hilly old town district, and setting off with a vague agreement to meander till we hit Charleton, and then go up from there. It was a blustery, fast-changing autumn day. Every minute, the wind seemed to swing around in direction, tearing a succession of thin grey clouds past the sun so that now we were in shade, now we were in sunlight. It was so windy that it was hard to talk without almost shouting, so we just moved, looking at each other to confirm direction anywhere we might want to take a turn, crossing to the sunny side of the street whenever possible. I rested a hand on one of the handles of Asher’s wheelchair and let the wind buffet my head empty, enjoying the changing light, the contrast between the air slicing by me and the comfortable warmth I was working up as we made the gradual uphill climb toward Charleton.
Asher had wrapped a scarf around his face almost to the bottom of his nose. (I had had to restrain myself from commenting on how cute it was, not wanting to embarrass him about how sensitive he was to cold.) I glanced down every now and then to see the tip of his nose gradually reddening with the chill, his bright eyes darting as he watched all the other people out trying to enjoy the day, pushed around by the wind, scarves and coats flapping. The sidewalks were narrow in the old part of town, so a lot of people had to step aside into the street to get around Asher’s wheelchair. But for once, he didn’t apologize to everyone; I smiled to myself when I first noticed.
Maybe it was the pleasant physicality of working against the wind, maybe it was just being with each other after what felt like a long separation, but as we neared the intersection where Charleton began, veering off from another street, I started to be conscious that I was getting aroused – flushed, anticipatory. I moved my hand to Asher’s shoulder; he looked up me, and his eyes creased with a smile.
We turned onto Charleton, Asher rocking his head from side to side cheerfully in a little celebration of the “accomplishment.” A few blocks in, we passed a tiny brick-paved courtyard, fronting a restaurant that hadn’t yet opened for lunch; the mouth of the courtyard was half-shielded by two large potted boxwoods, dense with small dark glossy leaves. I paused, pressing my hand into Asher’s shoulder to draw his attention, and then jerked my head in the direction of the courtyard when he looked at me. I started in, and he followed me, eyebrows raised inquisitively.
As soon as we were behind the boxwoods, I bent over him and pulled his scarf down to reveal his smiling mouth; I cupped his face with my hands and kissed him again and again. He reached up, grabbed on to the front of my coat. It was quieter in the courtyard, sheltered from the wind. When we finally broke, I savored the warm touch of his exhalation. His eyes glinted as they moved over my face, and he left his hand fisted on my coat for another moment before withdrawing it to his armrest. He tilted his head to the side a fraction, challengingly.
I inhaled harshly and dropped one hand to his lap, grasping one of his thin thighs, dragging my hand up until – both of his legs kicked – I was cupping his groin. He leaned forward, and I heard him groan, low in his throat.
There was a space of suspended time where I slowly, slowly moved my hand against him, leaning my other hand on his armrest, both our heads bent and almost touching. Asher gave a long sigh.
But finally, he gently put his hand to my wrist, grasped it until I stilled. We looked at each other, and he smiled regretfully. I pulled one side of my mouth back. “Later,” he promised.
This time, I sighed. I kissed his temple, he pulled his scarf back up, and he led the way back onto the sidewalk. Suddenly nervous, I couldn’t help glancing back over my shoulder, but the windows of the restaurant were dark and still; there was no one there to see us.
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