“That’d be 11.50 for you, sir,” the lady behind the counter says in a voice that is flat with boredom. She doesn’t look at me, though, instead she talks to Lauren who is standing right next to me.
Lauren hesitates, her purse in her hands.
“Aides get a free pass,” the lady explains with a fleeting look at me, frowning suspiciously at the fact that Lauren doesn’t seem to know that.
“Oh, uh… right…” Lauren blinks and hurriedly hands over the money that Romina gave her for my entrance ticket. She cocks an eyebrow at me while she receives the change. “Too weird,” she whispers into my ear, leaning down a bit as I roll through the wheelchair entrance and deeper into the large, well air-conditioned museum building.
I smile up at her and inwardly shake my head. Well, if she thinks that is weird…
Lauren picked me up in front of my hotel shortly after noon just as we’d agreed. She had changed from her business dress and was wearing a flowing, green summer dress, carrying a red leather bag around her shoulders and pulling her already packed suitcase behind herself. Her dark brown hair was tied into a pony tail, the tips swinging into her neck. She gave me an adorable smile as a greeting and kissed my cheeks, her perfume enveloping me as she bent down.
Romina and Lauren had had a long discussion on the phone before. I know because I had been in the adjacent room, working on my nutrition shake that Romina had placed into the cup holder on my wheelchair and positioned high enough so that I could reach the straw myself. They had spoken about certain details of my condition, what I’d need assistance with (almost everything) and what I’d manage on my own (not much), and a couple of warning signs at which Lauren had to immediately call one of the emergency numbers that Romina dictated her.
As I overheard the crash-course I was almost ready to blow it all off. Who would go out with someone who could choke on their own vomit while being fully conscious? Just hearing Romina talk about all catastrophic eventualities made me sick. No one in their right mind would want to have to bother with that.
Before we got into the wheelchair-accessible taxi, Romina had explained to Lauren how the attendant controls of my wheelchair worked and I had tried my best not to get disgruntled as the two woman manipulated my chair, making it jolt forward and halt abruptly, the strap around my chest digging into flesh and the fingers of my right hand twitching to stop them messing around. Thankfully, Lauren had proven herself a fast learner. She also passed the questionnaire that Romina fired at her without a single error while the taxi driver stood next to us with the doors of his car already open, unashamedly staring at me.
If she doesn’t think that all of this was weird, I don’t know what’s wrong with her. But I’m not complaining. The taxi driver stood around uselessly while Romina steered my wheelchair over the ramp into the van and fastened the chair using the various straps in the car. Lauren turned around on the front passenger seat, smiling at me with a happy sparkle in her eyes as soon as I was settled. I still can’t get over the thought that maybe she indeed enjoys looking at me as much as I do looking at her.
That has been the only reason why I’ve not bailed this afternoon. I want to see Lauren again, even if it’s a pain in the ass for all of us to make it possible and although I feel terribly self-conscious and a bit scared, but I want to be able to look into her face and see her smile, just for a few more hours.
Plus, I also like art. I would probably not have used my last afternoon at the conference to visit a museum but I’m not completely opposed to it.
As it turns out, the exhibition is in fact really interesting even from a scientific point of view. Basically every single piece of art in the exhibition is made out of food: food in various stages of decay and rot, some partly conserved and others left to waste away on purpose, the exhibition changing with every day as a result of it. In parts it has a certain morbid quality to it that I find very fascinating.
Lauren and I spend a long time in front of a large glass frame filled with chocolate that was first melted and then congealed. It takes me a while to steer the wheelchair close to the frame without ramming the wall behind it. We stare at the various types of chocolate forming long strings and globs, black and white and brown melting together, swirling and glistening and ending up in the strangest shapes on their way to the bottom, where a thick layer of chocolate has pooled. It’s strangely dark and terrifying, and the longer I look the more detail I discover inside the frame, tiny sculptures and entire landscapes made of chocolate, formed by gravity and pure chance, frozen in time.
It’s also slightly disgusting.
“Like looking into a monster’s dietary tract,” Lauren comments in a whisper, shuddering a bit next to me.
I chuckle. “A three year old’s stomach after Halloween,” I counter.
Lauren looks down at me from the side for a few seconds, then laughs. “Yes, exactly. A monster, as I said.”
We’re still figuring out the best way of communication between us two, without Romina to relay for me. Typing is much too slow, from my experience. It may be appropriate for very short discussions or more complex topics, but the talker just isn’t made for dating purposes. So talking it is, and I work really hard on enunciating as clearly as possible, hoping Lauren will get the gist. So far it has worked out alright. When Lauren doesn’t understand my meaning at all, she tells me the parts that are clear, and I can repeat the words that she missed. I feared it could be awkward but that’s not the case with Lauren. When the guessing game gets too wild, she laughs at herself and waits for me to use the talker.
Walking around the exhibition with Lauren is fun and relaxing. We seem to have the same interests and take similar amounts of time to enjoy a certain piece of art. When we move, Lauren keeps close to me and sometimes briefly places a hand on my shoulder or the underarm that commands the joystick. Every time she touches me I feel a soft tingle in my skin, like electric current and I wonder if it feels the same for her.
The exhibition has a room with a giant rotating kitchen in it. It is one large box which is open just on one side and is suspended in a way that it can rotate around itself the entire time. The furniture inside is fixed to the walls of the box but everything else that must have been on the kitchen table, inside the stove or in the cupboards and shelves, has fallen out and is rumbling around in the box, being tossed from wall to ceiling to wall to floor as the kitchen does another circulation around itself. The noise is indescribable. A microwave, battered pans and pots and broken china in various forms, shapes and colors, cutlery, soup ladles, food leftovers, carving boards and plastic containers are sliding along the surfaces and tumbling down the walls, creating a never ending cacophony of kitchen utensils. The majority of what was inside the kitchen has been transported outside by now, shards and broken parts littering the floor around it, reaching well beyond the line marking the safe distance for visitors.
I’m careful not to get too close to the rotating kitchen and the broken china strewn around it, least I may damage one of the wheels on my chair. Every time the kitchen drawers roll shut or the larger cabinet doors bang close, I jump, startled. The air reeks of spoiled food which is mostly stuck to the insides of the kitchen or spread over the floor close to the rotating box, forming splatters in different shades of red, orange and brown.
Lauren looks at me, wrinkles her nose, and together we quickly leave the room again.
The next room is full of sculptures made of butter. It is cooled down a lot more than any of the other rooms to preserve the displays. The low temperature is a bit troubling for me, as is the narrow space between the display cases. Lauren slows down with me and trails behind me as I maneuver the wheelchair into the aisle between the sculptures.
We don’t get far before I narrowly miss the heels of a visitor blocking part of the way. He’s almost smudging his nose against the glass of the display case in front of him, which shows a naked woman bathing in the light of an invisible sun. I avoid rolling over his feet with the wheels but my armrest slightly brushes against his side.
The guy turns around, agitated. “Watch where you're go-” His eyes grow wide as his gaze falls down on me. “Oh... Sorry, sir…” His face turns a funny shade of red. “I'm really sorry, I wasn't-”
“My fault,” I say.
The guy closes his mouth and stares at me in horror. “Uh...” It’s obvious he didn’t understand me.
Lauren isn’t my aide. I wanted this to be clear before we left. She’s only going to assist with things I absolutely can’t deal with on my own. Like doors. Or narrow spaces. But that’s basically where her duties at helping me end. This is supposed to be a date of sorts. At least I hope it is.
But although Lauren is not my aide, she’s actually rather good at substituting Romina.
“He said it’s his fault,” she explains to the guy and steps closer to me, almost casually slipping one hand on my shoulder.
“Oh um…” The guy looks from Lauren to me and back again, confusion on his face. He gets his base cap off and wipes sweat from his forehead. I’ve no idea how he can be sweating in this room that is more some kind of oversized fridge.
“Um… well, anyway. I wish you a good day…” The guy has stumbled from the room before I could even start to answer.
Anger about myself makes me blush. “I’m sorry,” I tell Lauren, not meeting her eyes.
She just shrugs. “This guy’s problem.”
I shake my head and barely manage to suppress a sigh, glancing at the narrow aisle in front of me. “No, I should have… Guess I need…” A situation like this was the entire point Romina and Lauren practiced steering my wheelchair with the attendant controls, but somehow I can’t bring myself to ask for Lauren’s help.
I don’t want her to be my caretaker. I want her to be my friend. And much more than that.
“Come on,” Lauren says, squeezing her hand on my shoulder. “The sculpture over there looks like someone covered Trump in butter. I want to marvel at that.”
Instead of folding out the controls behind my headrest, though, Lauren slides her left hand over my right on the armrest. Her skin is soft and feels warm compared to mine. My fingers twitch a bit as I try to relax despite the thrumming of my heart and I stare up at her, afraid she might be taken aback.
Lauren smiles, her eyes sparkling mysteriously. She moves my hand to the joystick, her fingers closing firmly over my stiff ones, and tips the stick forward gently. The wheelchair hums and rolls forward slowly and Lauren walks next to it, grinning happily, her hand still on mine. Together we steer the wheelchair to a sculpture that indeed has astonishing resemblance with the American president, although the object label doesn’t specifically say whose head is modeled.
“Hm…” Lauren says, leaning over my shoulder to look at the head. “Tempting idea indeed…” With her help I steer the wheelchair down the narrow aisle to the next sculpture.
The cooled-down room couldn’t be large enough and have enough sculptures for my taste. I love having Lauren’s hand on mine and her being so close to me, so close I can smell her perfume and study her beautiful brown eyes when she bends down to look at a sculpture. I'm afraid I can’t tell you what other people are chiseled in butter in there, because the whole time we’re in this room my mind is entirely somewhere else.
Much too soon, though, have we passed the last glass case in the row and are approaching the passageway leading into a wider corridor, where there’s no need for Lauren to help me steer the wheelchair. I want her to continue holding my hand, but I know it’d probably be weird. She lets go reluctantly, brushing her fingers over my knuckles, and then increases the gap between us by half a step, to make it easier for me to avoid bumping the wheelchair into her.
I still feel the warm patch on my hand for minutes afterward.
Both Lauren and my most favorite piece is a small painting of sorts. It appears to be a rather convincing sunset, possibly set in water colors, until one takes a closer look and realizes it’s in fact a circular slice of sausage on blue and white paper, with the fat soaked into the material and spread out, to make it look like the rays of the sun over an ocean.
“This is um... romantic, eh?” Lauren jokes quietly. She slips her hand in my tense neck, her warm fingers settling down casually like they belong there.
I can barely suppress a moan as a full body shudder runs through me. “Uh-huh...” I turn my head up to meet her gaze and am surprised to see the heat flashing in her eyes. Her hands are magic, the fingertips sending little thrills down my spine and I feel my entire body reacting instantly. I want her so much it’s almost unbearable.
“Truly captivating…” Lauren whispers. I’m not sure if she means the art in front of us but I’m very aware that my left arm is tightening at my side and my legs tremble more than before, my shoes clanging on the footrest. My head stays turned to Lauren, thankfully. We continue staring at each other for so long that a queue forms behind us. Other people want to see the small piece of art that is hanging all alone on this wall. So I finally break eye contact, bring myself to move the joystick to the side and then forward with all conscious effort I can muster, and we leave the area.
I can’t think about anything or anyone else than Lauren for the rest of the exhibition. Her walking next to me, her touching me occasionally, her ponytail swinging into her long neck and the glimpse of her naked thighs under her green dress, it all makes me constantly teeter on the edge of madness. Just shortly before the end of the exhibition I roll past a rather small, somewhat hidden opening in the wall and notice a dark room behind it. I react instinctively and knock the joystick to the side. The armrests of the powerchair almost scrape the doorjambs but I make it fit through with sheer luck. Lauren, who has had her hand on my shoulder, follows with a surprised gasp.
The room we enter is almost completely dark. It seems to be used as a storage for either art or cleaning utensils. In fact, I don’t really care and I don’t wonder about who left it open. Some distance into it I turn the wheelchair around abruptly. It can go in very tight circles and Lauren obviously didn’t expect that. She more or less falls into my lap with a small yelp, but she doesn’t seem to object.
“Geez, Patrick,” she giggles and slightly wiggles around until she’s almost straddling me in my chair. “That’s-”
Lauren inhales a gasp when my right hand touches her lower back. It requires some effort but I manage to land it softly with most of my fingers splayed out. I don’t pull her toward me, for once because I lack the strength and also because I’m not entirely sure she wants the same thing as I do. My heart is thrumming in my chest as I stare into her face and pray that I’ve not misread all the signs. She reaches with her hands to my face, framing it gently and leans closer. I don’t dare to move consciously although I know it would probably be my place to close the last inch but I don’t have enough faith in my body’s abilities not to screw things up now. I can count Lauren’s long eyelashes and smell the sweetness of her breath before her lips meet mine.
I’m not the best kisser. I wish I was but there’s no way to make kissing enjoyable when one party is constantly jerking away, even if it’s involuntarily. But at least I made sure that there’s no spit on my face anywhere. That was my greatest concern during the entire afternoon. Not because I thought Lauren and I would kiss eventually, I don’t think I believed I could get this lucky. No, simply because I didn’t want her to have to clean saliva off me again. Although I have the small suspicion she wouldn’t mind.
My head stays still for the entire time we kiss while the world seems to hold its breath with me. I feel my hand tighten on her back and my legs writhe under hers but mostly I feel the unbelievable softness of her lips against mine, and her fingers digging into my scalp. She pulls back slowly and reluctantly, not a second too early before my face is contorting with sudden spasms and my head is thrown back against the headrest.
“Oh fuck…” Lauren watches as most of the strongest spasms pass and then presses her body closer. She places soft kisses along the side of my still mildly twitching face and my neck, making me shudder and gasp. It feels incredible. Her hands slide over both of my arms, following the bent shape of my left until she cups my quivering fist that’s leaning against my chest. I squint at her in the darkness as she stills, afraid I might see repulsion in her face but there’s only trembling anticipation.
“Patrick, please…” she hisses. “T-touch me…”
I stare at her. A second of inattentiveness makes my left fist slide out from under her hand and my arm jerks through the air uncontrollably. My right hand has slipped from her back already before and is writhing in my lap. I clench my teeth. I can’t do it, can’t she see? I might get lucky from time to time and get enough control over my right arm to move it somewhere close to where I want it to be, but it’s not permanent. The brief moment of power was gone the second she kissed me, and replaced by foggy arousal that makes all voluntary movement feel hundred times harder than it usually already is.
Out of some reason, though, all of that doesn’t seem to matter. I don’t really need to be able to touch Lauren properly to make her breath speed up and her cheeks heat. I don’t know what it is that gets her going but it must be something I do because she surges in and captures my lips with hers again, moaning into my mouth. We kiss for a longer time than I’ve ever kissed anyone, regularly interrupted by my head jerking away. It seems like neither of us cares much about it, anymore. Lauren nips and sucks at my lower lip and draws a low groan out of me. I barely notice her taking my right hand in hers, but suddenly I can feel the perfect curves of her breasts under my fingertips and I can sense the nipples hardening beneath the light fabric of her dress as she leads my twitching fingers over them. I don’t think I’ve ever experience anything this beautiful.
I guess we would’ve gone much farther than this, had a spasm not forced my head back violently again, knocking it into the headrest. For a second I’m not looking at Lauren’s blown eyes and brown strands of hair falling into her glowing face but at the ceiling of the room we’re in.
Lauren’s hands have lowered and she’s fiddling with my belt, breathing heavily over me.
Her fingers still although I’m not sure she understood me. “What…? Patrick, are you okay?”
I grunt and nod. “Yes, I’m… This isn’t a storeroom.”
Lauren stops, halfway about to kiss me again. “What?”
“This… isn’t a… storeroom,” I repeat, consciously slowing my speech down even more. I’m still staring at the ceiling and at what appears to be stars in the sky. For a second my mind even tricks me into believing I’m looking at the Great Bear, which is the only constellation I’d recognize. But this is clearly stupid since it’s still too early to be night.
“It’s not a… what…? I don’t—Holy shit!”
Lauren is looking up at the ceiling with me. Now that our eyes have adjusted to the dimness, we see that the room is much larger than it appeared on first glance. The ceiling is arching high over us and from above dangle what must be several hundred-
Lauren is right. Hundreds if not thousands of sausages are hanging on long threats from the ceiling, emitting a faint blueish glow. I giggle against Lauren’s side as she moves to sit sideways on my lap and leans into me to get a better look up.
“Sausages, my ass,” Lauren mumbles unbelieving and laughs as well, her back shaking against my chest.
We sit like this for a while, staring at the mysterious wonder above us. A few visitors find their way through the small opening into the room, some with their phones illuminating leaflets from the museum. If we’d picked them up at the entrance we’d known there was a room showing sausages glowing in the dark. But we didn’t. I’m glad we didn’t but I’m also sad at the same time that I noticed at all that the room was part of the exhibition. Of course it was lucky, too, because although I very much enjoyed what we did yesterday, having sex in a public exhibition room is maybe a bit too much too soon.
I may be open for adventure but I’m not really sure I’ll ever be ready for something like that.
“Should we go?” Lauren finally whispers into my ear. She has made herself comfortable in my lap, her head resting on my shoulder and one hand splayed on my stomach. We’re far enough into the room that most visitor do not even spot us before they leave again. I’ve wondered if the mild jerking my body does from time to time bothers Lauren, but it doesn’t seem to be the case.
“Mmmh…” I answer and swallow against the sudden tightness in my throat. “Okay.” I’d like to stop time here and never leave this room again. I could keep Lauren close to me, forever, feeling her heart beat through the layers of fabric between us and heat radiating out from her body. But I realize we should probably leave. We both have a plane to catch.
The sound of my voice attracts attention from a group of visitors who has just entered. They look over to us, some shining their phone lights into our direction. Lauren shifts but before she can sit up straight, I manage to place a kiss into her neck, making her giggle softly.
It’s worth the scandalized whispers that follow us outside.
--> Chapter 8
--> Chapter 8