Sunday, October 21, 2018

NEW STORY: How the Grinch Stole My Heart

Hi all!  This is my latest Christmas story.  I was going to wait until November to post, but it's SO QUIET here, I decided to go ahead and start posting now.  It's a cute Christmas story with an enemies to lovers theme.  It's a work in progress and you guys have been soooo helpful with your suggestions, so would love to hear them or just if you like/dislike!  In the meantime, please enjoy.....

How the Grinch Stole My Heart


Jeremy

Thump.

I close my eyes, trying to shut out the sound of a ball hitting the wall just outside my apartment.  It’s the second time in two days.  The second goddamn time.

Thump.  Thump.

I feel a seedling of a headache starting in my left temple.  I open my eyes and stare at the computer screen in front of me, filled with code.  If I get a migraine, there’s no way I’ll be able to get any work done.  I’ll be lucky if I can get out of bed.

Thump.  Thump.  Thump.

I grit my teeth.  I know it’s a lot to expect absolute silence at three o’clock in the afternoon on a Sunday, but there’s something about that sound that gets me.  The fact that it’s not quite rhythmic.  The way sometimes there’s a gap in the thumps and I think it’s finally stopped, but nope, there it is again.

I know who’s doing it.  It’s that kid. That goddamn kid. I don’t know his name, but his family moved here a couple of months ago, and ever since winter hit for real, he’s been playing out in the hall with his rubber ball.  He throws it against the wall as hard as he can, then he catches it.  You’d think he’d get bored of it eventually, but he never does.  He never.  Fucking. Does.

Thump. Thump.

I don’t want to be the asshole who yells at a little kid for tossing a ball around in the hallway.  I don’t want to be that guy.  Nobody likes that guy.  Remember Dennis the Menace and his grouchy old neighbor, Mr. Wilson?  Dennis the Menace was always messing up Mr. Wilson’s lawn or knocking down half his house or pulling down his pants to reveal polka dot boxers, but somehow Dennis was still the hero.  Did anyone root for Mr. Wilson?  No, nobody did.

I don’t want to be Mr. Wilson. I don’t. I’m just really sick of the sound of that goddamn ball.  I’m not going to be able to pay my rent if the kid keeps it up.

Thump!  Thump!

To hell with it.  I’m going to say something.  Maybe the kid can go throw a ball on the floor above or below.  Or anywhere else besides right outside my fucking door.

I take a breath, steeling myself for the effort it will take to stand up.  I reach with my left hand for the forearm crutch I always keep leaning against my desk when I work.  I lace my left arm through the metal loops, then slowly haul myself to my feet like I have hundreds of times before.  I have a false start, where it seems like I’ll fall right back into my chair, but I don’t. 

I’ve gotten good at this over the last several years.  I barely remember a time when standing up from a chair didn’t involve any effort at all.  It feels like that was a whole other life. 

I guess it sort of was.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Update to The Consolation Prize

Hi everyone! 

Please enjoy this week's update. It ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, unfortunately, and there's a good chance I won't be able to post next week because of work travel with limited access to internet. I will try my best, but if not, I'll see you guys two weeks from today. I'm sorry! 

Can't wait to hear what you think though on this week's installment—please comment and let me know! 

Have a great weekend! 

Chapter 20 

Table of Contents 

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Update to The Consolation Prize

Hi everyone—

Happy Thursday! This week's chapter uncovers a bit more about what happened last week, and gives us some Scottie and Will 1:1 time. 

Hope ya'll enjoy—please comment and let me know what you think! 

Chapter 19 

Table of Contents 

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Update to The Consolation Prize

Hi guys! 

Here's this week's update of The Consolation Prize where things start to unravel a bit. Hope you enjoy and can't wait to hear your thoughts. 

Chapter 18 

Table of Contents 

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

More Devo Diary

As promised, I'm back with another bi-weekly chapter of Devo Diary. In this chapter, I tell another friend about being a devotee, and try to date another AB guy. Plus lots more Mantis!

Devo Diary Chapter 46: The Mantis, Coda

Thank you all for reading and commenting! It's good to be back.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Last update to Mr. Trouble

This is close to all I've written of Mr. Trouble (there's maybe enough for one or two more chapters), and since I'm not feeling overwhelming enthusiasm lately, I think I'm going to stop there.  I've been sort of feeling blah lately, maybe it's SAD, but I might just take a month off from posting.  In any case, for those who are following, here is:

Chapter 3

Entire story

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Update to The Consolation Prize

Hi guys—

Hope everyone's weeks are good. I think that ya'll are really going to like this chapter—I know I certainly liked writing it. We get to see a little bit from Pete then end with some Scottie and Will 1:1. Can't wait to hear your thoughts! 

Chapter 17 

Table of Contents 

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Update to Mr. Trouble

Thanks to everyone for the encouraging comments last week!  I've got a few more chapters written, so at the very least, I'll post those.  For those of you who read last week, you realize this is a different kind of story for me, in that both of the main characters have disabilities.

Chapter 2

And for those of you who didn't read last week, Chapter 1 is here.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Update to the Consolation Prize

Hi everyone—

Hope ya'll are having a good week. In Chapter 16 we get to see the aftermath of last week's chapter and we get some more 1:1 time between Will and his dad (who I know ya'll love).

I think you'll enjoy :) Excited to hear your thoughts—please comment! I love hearing from you guys. 

Chapter 16 

Table of Contents 


Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Devo Diary is back!

Hi everyone, I'm finally back from my extended hiatus. Sorry about that! I have several more chapters ready to go. I'll be posting every other week on Wednesdays.

Devo Diary Chapter 45: William, coda

I know it's been a long time, and by now there are a ton of names to keep track of. Here's a quick recap: At this point, it's 2004 and I've just returned from my 6 month stay in Taipei, where I experimented unsuccessfully with being a lesbian and checking out the local BDSM scene. Now I'm back in the US, trying to finish up my graduate degree, and still singing in a semi-professional opera company.

Here are the main people who show up in this chapter:

K: the blind guy I dated in college, who broke my heart. After years of no contact, I suddenly stumbled across him online and re-initiated contact, only to discover he's living not far from me. We promised to met in person when I returned to the US.

The Mantis: paraplegic guy I met at a BDSM club. We had a Mistress/slave relationship for six months before I left, in secret because he was cheating on his wife. While I was away, they amicably divorced and he's now living openly in the scene, with a new girlfriend named Titania.

William: the dashing, handsome bass in the opera, who I dated briefly before leaving town. I'm still in love with him, even though we're not dating.

Sarah: my best friend from grad school, with the curly red hair and sullen disposition.

Ariel: another friend from the opera, in charge of wigs.

Lulu: my best friend in the opera company. She's also into BDSM in a big way, and we've gone to many events together.

Marty: in the men's chorus, also the head of the local BDSM social club. Lulu's ex-boyfriend.

Suzanna: the lead soprano in the opera company, but friendly with all the women in the chorus.

Kara and Nam: a married couple, my two best friends from college, living in the Midwest.

Here is the Table of Contents, if you want to read from the beginning.


Sunday, September 16, 2018

New Story: Mr. Trouble

So this is a story I started during the summer, and every time I got really motivated to work on it, I got pulled away by life stuff.  And eventually, I realized I'd completely lost my motivation.  I was TRYING to write it and it was just so hard, and honestly, I can never tell what you guys are going to like till I post it here.  So I didn't finish it, but I figured I would put it out there and see if it's worth continuing.

All right, now that I've babbled on for a full paragraph, here is....

Mr. Trouble

Maddie

Trouble.  This boy was trouble.

T-R-O-U-B-L-E.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Update to the Consolation Prize

Hi everyone! 

I hope ya'll are having a good week. In this chapter we spend a little more time with Will's family and see them out in a public setting. 

Hope you guys enjoy—excited to hear your thoughts. 

Chapter 15 

Table of Contents 

Monday, September 10, 2018

NEW RELEASE: Love Bites

As I mentioned in my post yesterday, my book Love Bites is currently live on Amazon!


It's only $2.99 on the Kindle, and FREE if you have Kindle Unlimited!  Here is the blurb:

Is it possible my sweet, handsome, charming boyfriend could be a vampire?

I know, I know, vampires aren’t real, except in fiction and folklore, but hear me out. I’ve got some convincing evidence…

Let’s start with the obvious. His name is Hunter. HUNTER. That’s a vampire name if you’ve ever heard one, right? And his white, sharp teeth are clearly capable of piercing the thickest of skin.

Then there’s his pale complexion. We’re talking get-this-guy-to-a-tanning-booth-ASAP pale.

And he has a weird tendency to compliment my “intoxicating scent,” especially when I get home from work. Did I mention I’m a phlebotomist?

Most concerning, I’m starting to suspect he killed and drank the blood of one of my closest friends.

My neighbor Jamie warned me to stay away from him or risk becoming his next victim. But Jamie may have his own ulterior motives.

Anyway, I’m taking my chances. What’s the worst that could happen?

Buy it now on Amazon!  And please be sure to let me know what you think when you finish!

Thank you!!!!!

P.S. A big thanks to Avery Kingston for the above graphic :)

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Final update to Love Bites

In this final extra-long chapter, Hunter finally gets introduced to Brooke's friends.  And it doesn't go quite as planned....

Chapter 9

Table of Contents

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Update to The Consolation Prize

Hi everyone—

Happy Thursday!

This week we'll explore Will's family life a bit more and we get a glimpse into Scottie and Will in the very beginning of their relationship. Plus, they both have a breakthrough that I think ya'll will like.

Hope you enjoy and really look forward to reading your comments!

Chapter 14 

Table of Contents 

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Free Novella

I hope it's okay to post this, but since some people have expressed a lot of eagerness in reading my books for free, I just wanted to let everyone know that my novella Santa Crush will be free on Amazon from today until 9/6.  And after that, I'm removing it from Kindle Unlimited, so this will be the last chance for it to be free on Amazon.  So please download a copy while it's available!

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Update to Love Bites

OK, the release of Love Bites is coming up very soon.  Please enjoy another chapter in which Brooke learns a little more about the hair she found in Hunter's apartment:

Chapter 8

Table of Contents

And for those of you reading the story that takes place in 1907, here is:

Tom Blake, Part 4

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Mr. Trouble, Chapter 2

Maddie
 
For the first time in my life, I’m living with a boy.

Well, I suppose it might be more appropriate to refer to him as a man, since he’s thirty-five years old.  Anything over eighteen is technically a man, and definitely when you’re over thirty, there’s little debate.  Other man-like qualities Tyler Hendricks possesses include: facial hair that can be grown out to beard length if required; a deep, masculine voice; a hairy chest; and man-sized genitalia.  He is definitely an adult male.  No question about that.

Which makes sense, since I am an adult woman.  We are two adults in a totally normal, healthy adult relationship.

For the most part.

Tyler is cooking dinner when I come into our apartment.  Or he was, before he dashed across the foyer to open the door for me while my key was still in the lock.  This is his new thing, which is some combination of sweet and irritating.  Granted, it does take me longer than most people to unlock a door.

“I told you, Maddie,” he says as he holds the open door to allow me to wheel inside.  “Just text me when you’re in the elevator and I’ll have the door open for you.”

“And I told you,” I say patiently, “that I’ve been unlocking doors for myself for my entire life.  I can handle it.  Honestly.”

“But why should you have to?”

Like I said—sweet and irritating.  But I’m not going to start a fight.  Not tonight.  He means well.  He’s never dated a woman in a wheelchair before and definitely never lived with one.  He’ll learn.

As I wheel into the apartment, a delicious aroma enters my nostrils.  Tyler is one hell of a cook.  It would be easy enough to grab some takeout from downstairs or else pop a TV dinner in the microwave like I used to do pre-Tyler, but he loves to cook.  So I’m not going to stop him.  Well, if he were bad at it, I would.  But fortunately, he’s not.

“What are you making?” I ask.

“Teppenyaki.”

Last week, Tyler and I went to a teppenyaki restaurant.  He’d never been to one before, and he got such a kick out of it when they tossed a piece of zucchini into his mouth across the table. Even though he’s technically a man, there’s something very youthful about Tyler sometimes.  Maybe that’s what I like about him.

“So are you going to cook the food in front of me?” I ask.

“No.  How could I?” 

This is a fair point.  Much to my aggravation, my wheelchair barely fits in the kitchen of our shared apartment.  I can make it inside just enough to reach the fridge, but it’s a C-shaped kitchen and I can’t get to the stove, or really, half the kitchen.  Our microwave is outside the kitchen, so for the most part, it’s fine.  My old apartment had plenty of room in the kitchen for me to spin 360-degrees, but Tyler was the one with the two-bedroom apartment and also with nine months left on his lease.  So we’re here.  For now.

“So what makes it teppenyaki then?” I ask.

“Well, it’s fried rice and vegetables with shrimp in teriyaki sauce.”

“That doesn’t make it teppenyaki.  That just makes it Japanese food.”

Tyler lets out an angry huff.  “What are you—the hibachi police?”

I laugh.  “Okay, fine.  I can’t wait to taste your teppenyaki.”

He winks at me.  “Oh, I’ll give you a taste of my teppenyaki all right.”

Whatever that means.  I think he’s alluding to his ejaculate.

My phone starts buzzing so I leave Tyler to his hibachi cooking.  (Although seriously, that’s not teppenyaki.  I think teppenyaki actually refers to the griddle it’s cooked on, but no matter what, fried rice cooked in a pan on our stove is not teppenyaki.)  When I fish my phone out of my purse, I see Liam Murphy’s name on the screen.

I smile, like I always do when my best friend calls me.  And even though I hate myself a little bit for doing it, I go to the living room to talk, to a place where Tyler won’t hear.

“Hey, Maddie.” Liam’s voice comes through the phone, several notches lower and more serious than it usually is.  Liam is rarely serious, so this worries me something is wrong.  “What are you up to?”

“Tyler’s making dinner.”

“Tyler,” he repeats.  I wish he wouldn’t say my boyfriend’s name like that.  Like it’s something distasteful to him. 

Liam and Tyler don’t like each other.  No, that’s an understatement.  They hate each other.  They don’t even pretend for my sake.  They’re willing to be in the same room together and even form a foursome for dinner with whatever girl Liam is dating, but it’s clear they’re never going to be “bros” or BFFs” or whatever the current lingo is.

“Listen,” he says in that low voice, “I need to talk to you.  I need… your advice.  Do you think you could get away tonight?”

“I really can’t.  Tyler’s working hard on making dinner.”

And it smells great, even though it’s not teppenyaki.  If I tell my boyfriend I’m blowing off dinner with him to see Liam, it won’t be good.  At all.

“Maddie…”

“I’m sorry,” I murmur into the phone.  “I really can’t now.”

“Shit…” he breathes.

“How about tomorrow?”

He sighs.  “Okay, fine.  Tomorrow at six.  You know where.”

I do know where.

After we hang up, I wheel out to the kitchen, where Tyler is finishing up with the teppenyaki (but not really).  He puts the rice and vegetables on two plates, then follows it with the giant shrimp.  He looks down at the plates for a moment, then picks up a knife and starts cutting up the shrimp on the plate that’s presumably mine.  He’s not just cutting the tail off either—he’s mincing it into tiny pieces.

“What are you doing?” I ask.

He grins at me.  “Almost done.”

“I don’t need you to cut up my shrimp for me.”

“It’s no problem.”

I grit my teeth, but don’t point out that I’ve been living with cerebral palsy for thirty-two years and am perfectly capable of eating shrimp without having it cut up for me like a toddler.  We’ve only been living together two months.  It’s normal for there to be growing pains.  Besides, I don’t want to piss him off when I’ve got to tell him I’m seeing Liam tomorrow.

Tyler brings the food out to the dining table, a proud smile on his face.  He loves recreating food we’ve had in restaurants.  And he’s actually very good at it.  I’m lucky.  Tyler is a great guy in so many ways.  I haven’t had many boyfriends in my life, and the others have all had their issues or else had difficulty dealing with my disability long term.  Three years ago, I would have bet the farm I’d never end up living with a man.

But Tyler is wonderful, and he’s made it clear he’s in it for the long term.  After all, you don’t move in with someone you’re not serious about.  A lot of his friends have gotten engaged recently, and he’s been hinting at it a bit.  Tyler could be the one.  In fact, it’s very likely he is.  This could be it.  He could be it.

Tyler watches me take a bite of the food, his brown eyes intent on my face.  “So?”

“It’s great.”

His face lights up.  “As good as the teppenyaki place?”

“Better.”

White lies never hurt anyone.

“By the way,” Tyler says as he digs into his own food.  “I told Nina and Claude we want to get together on Saturday night.  To celebrate their engagement.”

“Oh, great!”  Nina and Claude are our couple friends.  Claude works at Tyler’s start-up and they were friends first, then we got friendly as couples.  Well, I can’t say Nina and I are BFFs or anything, but we all hang out together at least a couple of times a month.  And their engagement has ramped up the relationship pressure on the two of us.  “Weren’t they going to have an engagement party?”

Tyler chews on the shrimp loudly.  “Yeah, it was last weekend.  But it was at Claude’s apartment and he’s got all those stairs, you know?”

I wince.  The thing is, I’m used to missing out on things because of stairs.  Liam and I have spent hours upon hours griping about all the freaking stairs in the world.  But stairs serving as an impenetrable barrier is a new thing to Tyler.  I hate to think of him missing out on things because of me. 

I’d really hate for him to start thinking about all he’s missing out on by having a girlfriend in a wheelchair.

“You could have gone without me,” I say as I push the tiny chunks of shrimp around my plate.  Why did he cut them so small?  Does he think I don’t know how to chew?

Tyler’s eyes widen.  “Without you?”

“Sure.  That would be okay.”

“Maddie.”  He frowns.  “I would never do that.  If you can’t go, I’m not going.  I wouldn’t even consider it.  End of story.”

He is really, really sweet.  I’m very lucky.

 

Liam

If I weren’t planning to end things with Erin, I’d be trying to convince her to move.  Her building—her goddamn building—it’s the worst.

The building is technically wheelchair-accessible.  It has to be—that’s the law.  That said, you couldn’t ask for a more annoying entrance to the building for a guy who can’t get up a bunch of stairs on his own steam.  It’s insulting.  I feel like her building is giving me the finger every time I visit her.

There’s a ramp to get inside, so that’s fine.  But once you’re inside, there are four more steps to get to the elevator.  But instead of doing something reasonable like attempting to put in another ramp, they instead installed a mini lift.  Like the kind in the wheelchair van I used to have or a city bus. 

I can deal with it if it’s in my own van, but I hate it on buses and I hate it here.  I have to wheel onto it, wait for the goddamn doorman to come over and he has to operate it for me.  If he’s busy, it could take five minutes easy to get up those four stairs.  It’s almost enough to motivate me to get on my feet again.

If there were a railing, I might attempt to bump myself up the stairs, even though it kills my shoulders.  But there’s no railing, so getting up the stairs would involve some sort of defiance of the laws of gravity.  But on the way out, I always bump myself down the stairs, even though without any railing to hold onto, it’s fucking scary.  I fell once.  But still, it’s worth it not to have to take the lift.

This is one of those times when I wonder about the other half.  What’s it like to not have to deal with this shit? To be able to get into any building I want without having to stress about a few stairs.  To not have to call ahead places to ask about accessibility or make special arrangements.  Listen, I’m in a wheelchair, so… is there an elevator? Then the uncomfortable fumbling as they try to figure it out.  It’s exhausting.

I can’t imagine what it’s like to not have to worry about that.  It must be nice.

Anyway, this is one of the last times I’ll be on this goddamn lift.  I need to end it with Erin ASAP.  I wanted to get Maddie’s advice.  Or if not advice, I wanted to see her and know I’m doing the right thing.  But I can’t wait.  I know how to break up with girls.  It’s not you—it’s me. Let’s stay friends. You get the idea.

When I get up to Erin’s apartment, she’s dressed to the nines in a clingy black thing.  Her blond hair is in an elaborate twist which looks like you’d need a graduate degree to unfurl.  I’m not gonna lie—Erin’s really hot.  When we’re out together, people give us funny looks, trying to figure it out.  After we have dinner here, we’re going to a party tonight at the house of a friend of hers, and I guarantee at least one guy will try to hit on Erin right in front of me.  I’d bet the price of a new desk for Father O’Brien.

“Liam.”  She beams at me when she sees me at her door.  “Come in.”

She won’t kiss me in the hallway.  Because… I don’t know.  She wants people to think she’s a kiss virgin too? 

Once I’m inside, she kisses me though. Big time.  She’s all over me, actually, which… well, usually it’s great.  But not today.  Today I’m breaking up with her, so I feel like a makeout session isn’t a great idea.  But as sits in my lap and kisses my neck and runs her hand over my chest, it’s hard to push her away.  Most of our evenings together conclude with us in bed, which says a lot, considering she was a virgin before me.

As I said before, my success rate with women is really good, which surprises people because it’s obvious from looking at me that I’m not able to do any acrobatics in the bedroom.  On top of that, the sensation in my lower body is impaired thanks to my damaged spinal cord.  I have maybe half of normal below my waist (and my lower legs not at all).  It means actual intercourse involves medication and a lot of coaxing and sometimes prayer. (Good thing I got practice during all those years of Sunday School.)

But actually, that works in my favor.  I’m not as focused as most guys on sticking my dick in a girl, which means I can do other things she might like better.  I don’t want to brag but I am really, really good at oral sex.  I might even throw another “really” in there.  I’m really, really, really good at it.  I’m the fucking Coby Bryant of cunilingus.  Part of it is that I love doing it.  I love teasing the girl, making her squirm and eventually scream—there’s nothing sexier.  I go really, really slow, so even someone like Erin, who had her reservations about doing anything sexual, let me do everything I wanted to do.  And then by the time we moved on to actual intercourse, we were already so hot and heavy, it seemed like no big deal.

“You look handsome tonight,” Erin breathes in my ear.

I pull away from her, resisting the urge to push her out of my lap. “For a change?”

She laughs.  “A rare treat.”

She seems to get the message that I’m not in the mood to fool around so she climbs off my lap.  I run my wheels over her welcome mat a couple of times, trying to get the crud off my wheels—yet another thing I hate about coming to Erin’s place is her wall-to-wall carpeting.  She always walks around barefoot, but that won’t help me out much.  I can’t get out of my chair and crawl. 

“Smells good,” I say.  Erin cooked for me.  I get a pang—I can’t dump her when she’s gone through the trouble of making me a home-cooked meal, can I? “What did you make?”

“Lasagna.”

“Wow.”

Lasagna is a serious meal.  I could break up with her after, say, spaghetti, but not lasagna.  I bet it’s delicious too.  Erin’s a great cook.  She’s the whole package.

I must be out of my mind.

She lets out a yawn as she heads into the kitchen to check on the lasagna.  I watch her ass fill out her skintight jeans as she bends down to peer into the oven.  “Maybe ten more minutes.”

“Awesome.  How was your day?”

She straightens up and pats her elaborate blond knot.  “Rewarding.”

“Oh yeah?”

“I went to the homeless shelter and spent the whole afternoon serving lunch and sorting canned goods.”  She lets out a tired sigh.  “It was so rewarding.”

“I’ll bet.”

“You should come with me next time, Liam.”

“I should.”

Erin is so good.  She works hard all week as a teacher, then she spends her free time volunteering.  I work hard all week, and I spend my free time watching TV or surfing the web.  If there’s a heaven, I’m sure she’ll go there.  I don’t know want to think about where I’ll go.  But I’d like to think I’ll be okay.

“Tire tracks,” she points out, her finger indicating two light gray lines I made on her carpet. 

Shit.  I’m breaking up with her and I screwed up her carpet.  I really am going to hell.  But to be fair, her carpet is insanely white.

“Sorry,” I mumble. 

I go back to the welcome mat and work on getting the dirt from my wheels although it’s a lost cause.  Erin gets out her vacuum to clean up my tracks before they set in. Every time.  I hate coming here.   

“So how was confession yesterday?” she asks.  “Wasn’t Father O’Brien the best?”

“Yep.”

Yep, he’s the best.  And P.S., he convinced me to dump you.

She smiles as she stuffs the vacuum back in her closet.  “Wasn’t it cleansing?”

“Cleansing?” I repeat.  I don’t know what to say to that.  “Sure.  I guess.”

Her light brown eyebrows furrow.  “I do worry about your soul sometimes, Liam.”

She’s worried about my soul?  “What does that mean?”

She gestures down at my legs.  “Isn’t it obvious?”

I look down at my legs, trying to figure out what the hell she’s talking about.  I’m wearing my good pants—expensive and light gray in color, although baggy on my skinnyass legs.  White dress shirt that’s not unacceptably wrinkled.  I’m on my best behavior.

“I don’t know what you mean,” I finally say.

“Every sin has a consequence.” She blinks at me as she wipes her hands on her jeans.  “If you don’t cleanse your soul, your body will suffer for it.”

I frown at her, trying to work this one out.  I can’t. “You know I have spina bifida, right?  I didn’t do this to myself from sinning.  I didn’t get drunk and smash my car into a tree.  I was born this way.”

“Well,” she says, “it wasn’t your sin.”

I narrow my eyes.  “So whose sin was it?”

She’s quiet, not answering.

“Hang on.” I stare at her.  “Are you saying my mother did this to me?  That my mother committed some awful sin and because of that, she got punished?”

She shrugs.  “It’s the obvious conclusion.  Don’t you think so?”

No, I don’t think so.”  Holy shit, what’s wrong with this girl?  I didn’t see this one coming at all. I’ve been dating her six months—how did she manage to hide this crazy? Now I don’t feel so bad about what I’ve got to do—you don’t diss a guy’s mom.  “You’ve met my mother.  You think she’s a sinner?”

“I think everyone gets what they deserve.”

“So she’s a terrible person and she got what she deserved—me.”  I shake my head.  “Is that about right?”

“Don’t get angry, Liam.”  She rests a hand on my shoulder, but I shrug her off.  “Maybe she simply… didn’t have enough faith.”

“No, fuck that.”  My hands ball into fists.  Not that I’m going to punch a wall or anything, but it’s not out of the question.  “My mom prays every night.  She dragged me to church every Sunday—and believe me, that wasn’t easy.  You can’t question her faith.”

“I’m just trying to help you, Liam.” Her voice becomes gentle.  “Don’t you want to be normal like everyone else?”

 I grit my teeth.  If Maddie were here now, she’d get it.  If there’s one thing I hate, it’s when people use the word “normal” to refer to everyone else.  Except everyone does it.  They don’t have any idea how insulting it is.  I’ve heard it a million times.

You’d be surprised how much it used to happen at church when I was a kid.  Some old friend of my mom’s would come up to us who hadn’t seen us in a long time, and the patronizing questions would start:

“And this must be your son, Liam,” the friend would say.  “He’s getting so big!”

My mother would get that weary look on her face, because she knew what was coming too.  “Yes…”

“What a handsome young man,” they would always comment.  And then shake their head, like, gee, what a shame.  “Where do you send him during the day?”

“He goes to the local elementary school,” my mother would say.

The look of surprise was always identical.  “He goes to a normal school?  How does that work?”

 What happened next depended on how I was feeling that day.  Sometimes I let my mother handle it diplomatically, explaining I had no trouble following the curriculum at a “normal” school.  If I wasn’t feeling so nice, I’d say loud enough for other people to turn and look, “I’m not retarded.”

But that meant I’d go straight to bed that night without dessert.  Other people might have gone easy on me, but my mother never did.  She couldn’t.  I would have rolled all over her.

I still hear it all the time though.  Normal this, normal that.  I didn’t expect it from Erin.

“I’m sorry,” Erin says gently when she sees the look on my face.  “I didn’t mean it like that.  I just meant…”

“Yeah, what did you mean exactly?  I’d love to hear.”

“I just…” She sighs.  “I love you.  I’m trying to help you.”

But I don’t love you. And now I finally know why.

“Look.”  I grab my pushrims with both hands.  “I don’t think this is working out, Erin.  I think… I’m going to go.”

Her blue eyes widen.  “You mean… you don’t want to go to the party?”

“No, I mean…” This is hard.  Even though she accused my mother of being a sinner, it’s hard.  Erin is nice—I don’t want to hurt her.  “I don’t think we should see each other anymore.”

Her mouth falls open.  She’s shocked.  It’s not like Erin hasn’t been dumped before, because she has.  But it’s always been because she wouldn’t put out.  I’m the one guy she broke her rule for, and I’m still breaking up with her.  I don’t feel good about it.

Sometimes I think I must be out of my mind. 

“You’re breaking up with me?” she whispers. 

I rub my eyes with the balls of my hands.  “I’m sorry, Erin.”

Like I said, I’ve broken up with my fair share of women before.  It’s never fun or easy, but usually it goes mostly as expected.  There are tears and hurt, or else they take it fine and we agree to stay friends (but we obviously don’t).  And that’s how it always goes down.  Just like with most things, I get some amount of leeway because I’m disabled.

So I don’t entirely expect the way Erin’s face goes beet red and her eyes start to bulge out.  And I definitely don’t expect her to pick up a ladle from the kitchen counter and throw it at my head.  It barely misses.

“What the hell?” I yelp.  “Are you out of your goddamn mind?”

“How could you be breaking up with me?” she screams.  “I let you fuck me!  I let you do everything!  How could you break up with me?”

To be fair, she didn’t let me do everything. If I got my way, I would have loved to… well, this probably isn’t the time be arguing semantics.  I fucked her, and that’s something no other guy got to do.  She figured I’d be worshipping her at her feet.

“It’s not about you,” I say weakly.  “It’s me.”

“You bet it’s you!”  Now she picks up a pasta strainer and throws it at me.  This time I’m expecting it and swerve out of the way.  Good thing because the strainer is made from metal.  That would have hurt. “You act like you’re nice, Liam Murphy.  You smile at people like you’re so harmless, but it’s all a goddamn act.”  Wow, she’s taking the name of God in vain.  She must really be out of her mind with anger.  “You’re a terrible person.”

Ouch.

“Get out!” she shrieks.  “Get out of my apartment, you piece of shit!”

She picks up a bowl, preparing to hurl it at me.  She doesn’t have to tell me again.  I back up, tire prints and all, and then I’m gone.

Holy shit.

To be continued...

Mr. Trouble, Chapter 3

Maddie

Liam’s still Trouble.

Those are my first thoughts when I see Liam sitting at a table at Chelsea Clinton, our favorite bar in the city.  This bar has been here for fifty years—before the birth of the eponymous daughter of Bill Clinton—located in the intersection between two neighborhoods in Manhattan: Chelsea and Clinton.  Chelsea is on the west side, going from about 14th street into the twenties, whereas Clinton (known less favorably as Hell’s Kitchen) goes from 34th street up into the fifties.  Therefore, Chelsea Clinton.

It’s Friday night, so not surprisingly, Liam didn’t get a great table.  He’s sitting in the back, nursing a beer while he flirts with a waitress even though he’s got a girlfriend who’s downright gorgeous.  I’ve yet to go to a restaurant with him where he doesn’t flirt with the waitress—I think it’s automatic for him—but when we’re together, he never tries to get their phone number.  He has fantastic success with getting phone numbers from waitresses in spite of being in a wheelchair, at least partially because in the last twenty-seven years since we met on the school bus, he’s gone from cute to sexy.  The freckles are mostly gone unless you get really close, but he still has that adorably tousled red-brown hair, now more brown than red.  He still has the impish grin and that’s what does it for him.  When he smiles like that, he gets whatever he wants.

Well, except for a table at Chelsea Clinton that doesn’t suck, apparently.

I wonder if he’s trying to get the waitress’s number now—he often tries, even when he doesn’t even want it.  The first time he ever successfully got a number was when we were eighteen.  He called me up after, all excited.  “Maddie, I got her number!” he said.  “And I called it and she picked up!  It was her real number!”

“So are you going out?” I asked him.

“No,” he said sheepishly.  “I got nervous when she picked up, so I hung up.”

Of course, that was a long time ago.  He’s been out with lots of waitresses since then.  He doesn’t get nervous when he asks for numbers anymore.  I don’t know what makes Liam nervous these days.  Probably nothing.

When Liam catches sight of me, he stops talking to the waitress and waves maniacally.  “Maddie!” he shouts over the sounds of Ke$ha on the radio.  “Over here!”

He is very excited to see me.

I repeat to myself that if Liam made it to that table, I can too.  My chair has the same width as his.  But then again, he uses a manual chair, which has more maneuverability than mine.  Still.  As Liam always says, “If I did it, so can you.”

It’s not easy, that’s for sure.  There’s a point where I’m stuck and I have to ask two people to get up and move their chairs, but just as the song comes to a close, I’m at Liam’s table.  I’m not sure how I’ll make it out though.  I’ll have to sleep here.

“Maddie!” Liam’s face alights in that grin I’ve come to love.  “You made it!  I was worried Tyler was holding you captive.”

I don’t know if he’s referring to the fact that I made it to the bar or made it to the table.  While Chelsea Clinton’s used to be a regular thing for us, our meetings here have become more and more infrequent.  But it’s not entirely Tyler’s fault.  He’s got Erin.

Of course, while Tyler hates Liam, Erin loves me.  I’m not even exaggerating.  Every time we meet, Erin finds something new about me to tell me she loves. 

Maddie, I love your haircut. 

Maddie, I love your necklace. 

Maddie, is that a new shade of lipstick?  I love it!

Liam always rolls his eyes at Erin’s over the top professions of love.  He knows as well as I do when someone is being patronizing.  You don’t spend your whole life in a wheelchair without learning to recognize it.  But I forgive her.  She’s not the worst girl he’s dated.

“So,” I say, “what was so important you had to talk to me right away?”

Liam considers my question.  He traces a pattern in the condensation on his beer.  “It’s… complicated.”

“Something about work?”

He shakes his head.  It’s hard to believe, but Liam is wildly successful.  That sounds mean, but he always struggled in school.  He never took his classes seriously.  He got away with it more than some kids, but plenty of teachers lost patience with his laziness.  In tenth grade, our English teacher called him out while he was pretending to have read Hamlet but clearly hadn’t: “So is your plan to just spend your life being supported by the government?”

“You have to admit,” Liam said with a grin, “it’s a pretty good plan.  I think it would definitely work.”

He never meant it.  Liam never wanted to be an invalid who had to rely on welfare to get by.  Luckily for him, he developed an interest in computers early on and became obsessed with them.  He showed off for me that he could take his home computer apart and put it back together.  Even though my mother didn’t like Liam that much, she was grateful that he came by to help when their PC was acting up.  (I’m convinced my dad was downloading porn.)

And then Liam and his friend Jack developed some software that is now used by a huge number of companies.  Even my company uses it.  I’d never ask how much money Liam made from his software, but I know it’s a lot.

I suspect that’s another reason Tyler and Liam don’t get along.  Because Liam’s been more successful than Tyler in similar fields.  With men, everything is a pissing contest.

“Work’s great,” he says.  “No complaints.”

“So is it about Erin?”

He sucks in a breath, which I suspect means the answer is yes.  He confided in me soon after he and Erin started dating that he discovered she was still a virgin.  He was shocked by that one.  I lost my virginity on the late side, when I was twenty-four, but I was still younger than Erin.  “Does it bother you?” I asked him.

“I’m not too worried.”  He winked at me. “Give me two months.”

Two months later, I asked him if Erin was still a virgin and he grinned like the cat who got the canary.  The boy is persuasive.  And the thing about Liam is they never see him coming.  Women think he’s harmless.

I didn’t see it coming either.

But that’s something I don’t think about anymore.  Not if I want to keep my friendship with him.

Before Liam can fill me in on any details about Erin, the waitress arrives to take our orders.  It makes me realize how long it’s been since I’ve been out at a restaurant without Tyler and been able to order a Sam Adams without him giving me a disapproving look.  I’m going to order whatever I want tonight, even if it’s fried and disgusting and fatty.

“So what’s going on with Erin?” I ask.  A thought occurs to me: “Are you thinking about asking her to get married?”

He snorts.  “Hardly.”

I don’t want to admit it, but his answer fills me with relief.  I don’t want Liam to get married.  I know eventually he will, and I’ll deal with it then, but I’m not ready to lose him to another woman.  I know it sounds silly, but we’ve never been apart for very long.  We’ve always lived in the same town.

He looks up at me, as if considering something.  Then he looks down at his hands, which are deeply calloused from all his years of wheeling.  Mine, in contrast, are very soft.  Operating a joystick control doesn’t cause too much wear and tear.

“Actually,” he says, “I don’t really want to talk about it anymore.  If that’s okay.”

I frown at him, but I don’t push him. When he’s ready, he’ll talk to me.  He always does.

Somehow I never run out of things to talk about with Liam.  We spent a good hour reminiscing, then I tell him about my promotion at work, to the lead engineer on this radar project.  Liam tells me about how the principal at our old high school called to invite him to talk to the kids about careers in computer science.

“I was like, maybe you don’t want me to motivate your students,” he says, “after I almost got expelled at least twice.”

I can think of at least a dozen times when there was concern Liam wouldn’t be invited to come back to our school.  He couldn’t help himself—it was one thing after another.  I only saw it for the first time when I was in fourth grade because even though Liam and I attended the same elementary school, we were always separated because it would be “too much” to have both of us in the same class.  I’m not entirely sure what that meant—I was easy.  Liam was the one who was a handful.  But I guess they thought if there were two disabled kids in one room, the place might explode?

When we were in fourth grade, the hand of God stepped in and we ended up in the same class.  I’d overheard our mother’s talking about Liam’s issues at school, but it was something to see firsthand.  Liam was always thinking up some new way to disrupt the class.  My personal favorite was when he brought in a bottle of fake blood and drenched his pants with it, then came back from recess moaning in pain.  Our seventy-year-old grouch of a teacher Mrs. Baker nearly spit out her dentures.  If she had been a nicer person, I might have felt sorry for her.  But she was the kind of woman who I believe specifically became a teacher because she hated children and wanted to torture them, so the class rallied around Liam’s antics.  And by the end of the school year, she really hated Liam.

As one of his punishments, she assigned him an oral presentation on Benjamin Franklin.  On the day he was to give the presentation, it was clear he was utterly unprepared.  (He had also confided in me that he thought the whole thing was stupid.)  But when she called on him, he grabbed his forearm crutches and dutifully headed to the front of the room.

He stood there for a minute, swaying on his crutches.  Over his childhood, Mrs. Murphy was always trying to get Liam to walk more, something he also deemed to be “stupid.”  She believed it was good for his bones and flexibility, but he hated the effort it took.  (I secretly think his mother made him use them just to wear him out and take some of the fight out of him.) The minute he turned eighteen, he stuffed his crutches and braces in a closet and only uses them when absolutely necessary. 

“Hello, friends and classmates,” Liam said to the room, clearly stalling for time.  “I’d like to give a talk for you today about a great man named Benjamin Franklin.  Who was Benjamin Franklin, you ask?  Well, it might be easier to tell you the things he was not.  For example, he was not a president.  He was not a chef.  He was not a circus clown.  He was not George Washington.  He was not—”

“Liam, please stop this nonsense,” Mrs. Baker interrupted him.

He blinked at her. “I’m just giving my presentation, Mrs. Baker.”

“Liam, this is your last warning if you don’t want to go to the principal’s office.”

Liam had made good friends with everyone in the principal’s office that year, but it seemed like it was enough to convince him to move on.  “So now that we’ve talked about everything Benjamin Franklin didn’t do, let’s talk about the things that Benjamin Franklin did do.  So before Benjamin Franklin came along, it was always very dark at night.  People couldn’t read or sew things or milk cows or churn butter or whatever they used to do back then.  So Benjamin Franklin thought this was a bad thing.  And that’s why he decided to invent… the lightbulb!”

“Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb,” Mrs. Baker hissed at him.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes!”

Then Liam looked at me, sitting in my wheelchair in the front of the room as always, and I nodded. 

“Oh,” he said.  “Well, in that case—”

“Liam, go back to your seat.”

We manage to demolish a plate of onion rings, as well as a plate of French fries and sliders.  Chelsea Clinton’s has the best onion rings.  No other place compares.  They’re crispy on the outside, and the onions on the inside melt in your mouth.

After we finish our food and our beers, I look at my watch and cringe at the time.  It won’t be long before Tyler starts wondering where I am.  He also might wonder why I smell like cigarettes, but I have the entire trip home to come up with an answer for that one.

“I better go,” I say.

“Why?  It’s not even eight.  When does your PCA come?”

It’s a relief to be with someone who knows I need a care assistant to help me at night, which limits how late I can stay out.  Even our couple friends, Claude and Nina don’t know about that.  We always mumble an excuse about being tired.

“Nine-thirty,” I say.

“So you’ve got time!”

“Tyler’s expecting me back.”

He makes a face.  “Oh, it’s like that.”

“It’s not like that.”

“So stay with me.”

His blue eyes are on mine, pleading with me.  I feel like there’s something more going on here—something he hasn’t told me yet in all the time we’ve been sitting here and talking.  I want to stay with him, but it’s not fair to Tyler—he worries when I’m out too late, even though I tell him not to.  I’ve got to get back.

“Let’s head to the bus stop,” I say.  “Maybe we can grab ice cream.”

He chews on his lip, as if contemplating how hard to push me.  Finally, his shoulders sag.  “Okay.”

It’s summertime, so even at seven in the evening, it’s still light out.  Sharing a sidewalk with Liam is a bit of a challenge.  The sidewalks in Manhattan are already not terribly wide, and on top of that, are broken up by trees planted on the side of the road and littered with dozens of pedestrians.  The two of us are parting the crowd like the Red Sea, and every single person who passes has to gawk at us.  There was even a blind guy with a white cane who turned to look at us—I guess he still had some vision. 

But to be fair, people stare nearly as much when I’m with Tyler too.

“Maddie!” Liam gasps out of nowhere.  “Maddie, look!  It’s a sex store!  We have to go in there!”

I turn my neck to see where Liam is pointing, which is at a store with grayed out windows and the words “Good Vibrations” written in script lettering over the door.  There’s a neon “OPEN” sign on one of the grayed out windows.

“How do you know that’s a sex store?” I say.

“Um, it’s called Good Vibrations.”

“It could be a record store.”

“A record store?  What is this—1975?  Come on, it’s obviously a sex store.”  He grins at me.  “I haven’t been in one of those in a really long time.”

“Is that a big gap in your life?"

“Look, I’m just saying, sex stores are few and far between these days.  Good Vibrations could be gone this time next year. Gone. And you’ll say to yourself, ‘I wish I had listened to Liam and gone in while I still could.’”

I’ve never been in a sex shop before and I’d be willing to bet he hasn’t either.  Not that Liam’s any saint—I still remember overhearing Mrs. Murphy bemoaning to my mother when we were thirteen that she had found porn on Liam’s computer.  I really wish his mother hadn’t relayed that story to my mom, because my mother was already lukewarm on Liam.  After she found out about the porn, there was a strict rule that we had to stay out in the living room when he came over. 

It was a pointless rule though.  Liam never tried anything with me.  He never even touched me.

Well, that’s not entirely true.  But it was back when we were thirteen.

It also didn’t matter because I spent far more time at Liam’s house than he did at mine.  He had Nintendo, and after doing my best with his controller, he saved up his money to buy me a special controller that you could operate with one hand.  He was so excited when he gave it to me.  Now you can stop sucking so bad, Maddie.

“We’re going inside,” Liam says decisively.  “We’re going in the sex store, and I’m going to buy you some gummies shaped like penises.”

It’s hard to say no to Liam sometimes.

If people were staring at us on the street, it’s nothing compared to the looks we get in what turns out to be most definitely a sex store.  Liam’s wheels immediately knock into a mannequin positioned on the ground, but it’s only the bottom half of a mannequin, and the legs are pointing straight up.  A salesgirl rushes over to help him right the mannequin. 

“Can I help you, sir?” she asks him.  She’s looking between the two of us, trying to figure the whole thing out.

“Yes,” he says with a straight face.  “We’re looking for dildos or strap-ons for men with extremely small penises, because Maddie here’s boyfriend is unfortunately not very well endowed.”

“Liam!” I hiss at him.  I look at the salesgirl.  “We don’t need that.”

“She’s being kind,” he sighs.  “She definitely does. If you have anything for micropenises, that would be ideal.”

I feel a bit sorry for the salesgirl, who is standing there awkwardly.  But then again, if you work in a sex shop, you’re sort of asking for it.  “So… do you…?”

“We really don’t.  He thinks he’s funny.”  I glare at Liam, who is laughing into his fist.  “But he’s not.”

“I’m a little funny,” he says as the salesgirl wanders off.

“Not even a little.”

We wander into the S&M area, which was never something I was into.  Obviously, being a dominatrix is out for me since I can barely hold a whip, much less brandish one.  And as for being a submissive—well, when I already need someone to help me to get in and out of bed, it takes some of the fun out of pretending.  Liam seems fascinated by the whips and ball gags, and he pulls a pair of fishnet stockings off the shelf.

“I bet Tyler would like you in this,” he says.

“Hmm.  I’m not so sure.”

I would like you in this.”

He winks at me when he says it, which makes my stomach do a strange flip.  There was a time when I was searching all of Liam’s words for hidden meaning, but that time is long since passed.  He’s just being playful, that’s all. 

I don’t buy the fishnet stockings.  I don’t have the legs for it.  There are plenty of girls in wheelchairs with great legs, but I don’t count myself as one of them.  Of all my limbs, my legs are most severely affected by my cerebral palsy.  My calves and thighs are stick-thin, the joints of my knees like giant balls attaching the two bones.  I always stick with pants or skirts that go nearly down to my ankles. Even on the hottest days, you won’t catch me in shorts.

If I said anything along those lines to Liam, he’d try to convince me his own legs are worse.  It’s not true though.  His legs are actually functional—he could walk if he wanted, albeit with braces and crutches.  I’ve never walked and I never will.

“If I buy the penis gummies, will you be happy?” I ask him.

He grabs the pushrims of his chair, shifting his weight.  “Okay, but you have to eat… five of them.”

“Only if you eat five of them also.”

“I’m not gay, Maddie.”

“Okay, four then.”

“Deal.”

He reaches out his hand and we shake on it.  His fingers linger on mine for a moment longer than necessary and my heart skips in my chest.  I still don’t know what he wanted to talk to me about tonight. 

 
Liam

I love you, Maddie Colson.

I almost said it a dozen times tonight.

I almost said it a million times in my life.

I only actually said it once.  And it fucked things up like you wouldn’t believe.

I don’t remember a lot from my early childhood—meeting Maddie was one of the first things I remember clearly.  I remember how pretty she looked.  Blond hair that curled around her chin.  Big eyes.  A dimple on her right cheek.

I didn’t like girls then.  I mean, I was five.  Girls had cooties, for the most part.  But it was different with Maddie.  I couldn’t shut up about her that year.  My sisters started teasing me I had a crush on her.  I didn’t even deny it.  What was the point?

She was the only kid at school who used a wheelchair like I did.  I’d never known anyone well who had a disability like mine—my parents made a point of getting me “integrated.”  All the other kids treated me weird, but Maddie never did.  She was like me.  Any time I talked to her about things that frustrated me, she always understood.

I assumed Maddie and I would eventually get married.  She was my best friend, I was absolutely in love with her, she was in a wheelchair just like I was, and she was conveniently located next door.  It seemed like an obvious match. 

It eventually dawned on me that Maddie didn’t think of me the same way I thought of her.  I still remember being in her living room, watching a movie about a dog superhero when we were about eight or nine years old, and I said something like, “When we get married, we should have a dog.”

Maddie laughed.  “No,” she said.

“Why not?”  I frowned.  “Dogs are great.  You can train them to do anything.  And we could probably get one of those helper dogs, I bet.”

She laughed again.  “No, I meant we’re not going to get married.”

I was shocked.  In retrospect, it’s embarrassing how surprised and upset I was when she said that.  “Why not?”

She looked at me like I was being dumb.  “Because we’re just not.”

I shifted in my chair, feeling suddenly uncomfortable.  I always had a hard time keeping still as a kid.  I got frustrated a lot by the things my body wouldn’t let me do—and on top of that, the things my mom wouldn’t let me do.  Like going to the top of that giant hill on Pine street in my chair and going down as fast as I could.  I didn’t get why I couldn’t do it in my chair when other kids were allowed to do it on skateboards.  So I did it anyway.

But usually I was okay around Maddie.  I got restless a lot, but it wasn’t as bad.

“Well,” I said, “I didn’t say we’d definitely get married, but… we might.”

Now her blue eyes were incredulous.  “You don’t really think that, do you?”

“No,” I mumbled.  “I was just kidding.”

That’s how I played it from then on.  I pretended like I wasn’t in love with Maddie, because it was the only way we could keep being friends.  But I had no intention of spending my life without her.  Someday I would convince her we were more than just friends—I wasn’t just her honorary brother.  I could be something more.

Then about seven years ago, that day came. 

It’s hard to think about.  Maddie and I never talk about it.  But suffice to say, I managed to fuck it up expertly.

I’ve got to fix it.  I’ve got to win her over. 

This loser she’s dating—Tyler—he can’t give her what I can.  He can’t love her as much as I do.  It’s not possible.  Yes, he is able-bodied, but so what? 

If I can build a multi-million dollar company from scratch, I can convince Maddie Colson to be my wife.