"He's nice, Liv." Tib pokes my back with the condensation-slick beer bottle.
I've been trying to solve my 7 year old cousin's Rubik's cube for longer than I'd like to admit, so I frown at Tiberius in confusion. What comes after the corners? I’m trying to remember my middle school tricks, the ones I used so I could solve the entire thing in under a minute. I used to be a beast at this, pure muscle memory, and my parents briefly deemed me a genius for it. Briefly. Obviously.
"Who?" I ask, absentmindedly.
I lift my eyes off the diabolical toy. It's Sunday and grandma's place buzzes with life — the walls here have ears, and they definitely can't know all about how my brother met Ben the other night.
"Oh." I take some of his beer. "He- well, I'm glad you…"
"Why didn't you invite him over today?"
Which would be only natural, right? Sundays at grandma's are holy in the Nakamura clan—beer and food are endless, plenty. Everyone is in good spirits and it's the perfect opportunity to introduce boyfriends, my cousins have been doing it for years, it's almost a running joke—who's the new short term family member? Everyone does it. Everyone but me.
"Because…" I can't think of a good enough excuse, but I give him the eye. He's perhaps the only one who would understand.
“She’ll find out.” He says, matter-of-factly, a statement. “Just like in middle school, when she found out that you kissed Leo.”
I roll my eyes and hand him the cube, exchanging it for the beer. A fair trade, since he seems to be the one doing all the hard work.
“That’s only because you told her.” I lift an accusing eyebrow. “Will you now?”
He shrugs, noncommittally, and I swat his shoulder for it. He won't—I know it. Still, the possibility drives me insane.
“All I’m saying is that you can’t do it on your wedding day.”
I know he's right, still a small part of me can't help but wonder Can't I?
“I’m not getting married.” I’m not a fucking childbride. Jesus.
It’s his turn to shoot me the look, right as mom walks in from the backyard followed by Nina and startles me back to a straight position, knowing that she couldn't have heard anything but still fearing that she did. She assigns me to the vegetables, like we're a mass production line, simply placing the knife and the cutting board in front of me and not waiting to hear my protests. I don't, not this time. I need her in a rare condition of good mood if I'm gonna do this.
Nina settles down next to me, cutting some vegetables herself. I can't help but think how weird and awkward she acted around Ben the other night, during our double date. Tib was great—they joked around like old friends, talked about sports and stocks, an endless topic prompted by my brother who couldn't seem to go five minutes without talking about his new startup and Ben, who was nice enough to entertain him even though I know that's not exactly where his interests lie. They seemed to like each other, and for that I was beyond relieved. Nina, however…
"Can he drink?" She'd asked, appalled, loud and obnoxious.
To which Ben, sitting right in front of her, promptly answered, not batting an eye: "He can, but he won't, because he's driving. But thank you for your concern."
Tib had had the decency of being embarrassed for her. She didn't speak again, but I could see the look she was giving us, puzzled, maybe even a little disgusted. It irked me. Couldn't she fucking stop?
Apparently no, she couldn’t. Not even right here—right now. Ben nowhere in sight.
"Is Leo coming?" Mom asks, no one in particular but me in particular, even as I'm sitting right between his sister and his best friend. She just can't help herself. "I made the fudge just the way he likes it."
I pretend I'm not the one she's referring to, shrugging as if I couldn't care less. I couldn't care less. Still…
"He had a date." Nina says, almost as if trying to poke me right in the ribs.
Mom directs her accusing gaze over to me. I shrug once again, dropping my shoulders from higher up this time. "Good- for him." She lets out a little sound in the end, just so I know that she doesn't approve of it.
"Yeah." Nina says, then turns around to face me. "He told me he saw you at the movies the other night. With your boyfriend."
Ever-loyal to Leo, who she obviously found so endlessly superior to Ben. I can't blame her entirely—her loyalties lie with her brother. But I don't like the way she says it, as if questioning me for picking one and not the other, because it should be obvious, because...
Mom's ears perk up and her eyes follow me in close inspection. She won't say anything about not even knowing I had a boyfriend in the first place—what kind of mother and daughter duo miscommunicate that much? No. We're in perfect harmony. She would never give anyone the pleasure of family gossip, not with her own daughter anyways. She acts like it's old news, a useless piece of information. And if I didn't know her any better, I might have bought it. Except that I do know her, and her look lingers on me just a little bit longer.
I shrug, "We just said hi."
And so the seed was sown. And if there was one thing my immigrant family knew, above all, was how to wait for the right time to reap.
I know better than to run for my life after most people have gone home. Knowing mom, she'd sprout from my living room floor before I even unlocked the door to my apartment, because even though São Paulo is a city of impossible traffic, it's no match for mom's will. I've been preparing, sometime after lunch Ben texts me something funny and endearing, and I hold on to that for the rest of the day, telling myself that it's all worth it. I've also had a few too many beers. I'm not drunk, but I'm also not necessarily sober either.
Tib hangs around too, maybe sensing my need for emotional support, maybe eager to watch the entire confusion unfolding, maybe both. Likely both. Having a sibling is taking a bullet for someone who would find it funny if you got shot, isn't it? Either way, I'm grateful.
We're cleaning the grill, gathering the forgotten, endless beer cans that have been piling around the house over the day, making grandma's home habitable and cozy again. Bachan is watching an old novela rerun from the 80s she's probably seen a thousand times over and dad has joined her in the couch, eyes glued to the screen even though if you asked, he wouldn't admit that he likes it. I wait for the inevitable — when mom stops in front of me, wearing a world's best nana apron, as she grips a towel between her hands. She doesn't say a thing. Tiberius, sitting next to me, pokes my ribs with his elbow. I wait. Shit.
"So Liv has a serious boyfriend." Tib bursts out next to me.
"Tib asked Nina to marry him." I say back.
He looks at me, horrified. Mom shifts her eyes between the both of us, like when Tib played table tennis back in the 90s.
"He's disabled." His voice is vengeance.
I narrow my eyes. "—And Nina said no."
It's like she wasn't expecting any of this. She opens her mouth several times, going back and forth in her head, debating with herself. I know that Ben isn't what someone pictures when they hear the word disabled, especially not my mother. I know from pictures, because he died before I was even born, that she grew up with a sibling with Down's Syndrome. I know this doesn't make the whole thing any easier.
"What do you mean—disabled?" She begins to say to me, then she throws her hands up in the air, facing Tiberius, "—and she said no?!"
Ok, this is good. Better than expected. We're sharing the burden. In an asshole, fucked up way. If he had laser eyes, I'm sure I'd be toasted right now, which is fine — I would rather be a pile of ash on the floor than alive right now.
"She didn't technically say no." He crosses his arms in front of his chest, looking exactly like a 7 year old explaining why he deserves chocolate right after brushing his teeth. "She didn't say anything."
"But she has doubts?" Mom seems so shocked that she isn't throwing her questions at me.
"She…" he trails off with a shrug.
Tib and Nina’s relationship has fluttered around for years. On and off, highs and lows. Ultimately together. It's all I've ever known and all we've always been used to. Still, if I'm being entirely honest, I'm not sure why they're even together anymore; Nina doesn't seem to like my brother a whole lot. It's ridiculous. She's ridiculous. We were almost sisters once, but now I wouldn't even call her my friend anymore. She's — clearly — not loyal to us.
And I somehow sound exactly like my mother.
Who has shifted her appalled, disapproving look over to me. I wait.
"I don't get you, Livia. What are you doing with your life?"
"Mom-don't." I was so set in having this conversation and yet I can't stop myself standing up, ready to bolt, but Tib holds me back. I shoot him an annoyed look and mutter under my breath- “It’s ridiculous."
"This?" Her voice sounds high, almost like a shriek. "I'm your mother, Livia Helena. I've the right to be worried."
She also has the right to micromanage, right?
"He's disabled. That's it. There's nothing else to it." Except that there is.
I can see the tiny expressions on her face. I see judgement, disgust, worry. She's not even trying.
"How disabled?" In her head, she's picturing my uncle. She's picturing Telethon. I wanna tell her that Ben is a handsome, sexy, smart adult, and he's swept me off my feet in a way no able bodied guy ever did.
"He's in a wheelchair." Now she's picturing Stephen Hawkings.
"He was in an accident." I suppose.
I don't even know, do I? So I shrug.
"He's cool, ma'." Tib speaks up.
"You've met him?"
She grabs the small towel off her shoulder and grips it. Her lips pressed into a tight line of consternation that she isn't able to, or wants to, hide. She isn't happy about this. She doesn't like Ben. She inflates her lungs, like she's ready to fight, and her knuckles turn white. And then, like a pressure cook ready to explode, she blows off.
"You know better." She shrugs. Pretending not to care, but caring. Feeling like sending me to a nunnery, but not being able to. I know everything she wants to tell me before she does, and it holds a kind of power over me that I wish I could ignore, but can't. "I sure hope you do."
Tib drives me. There's understanding in his silence when I peck his cheek before being dropped off.
"What's up with you?" Ben asks me with a quizzical look once I'm in his arms. He’s just left my shower, and a steam cloud emerges from the bathroom, smelling of my fresh minty body wash. I use the towel that’s around his neck and run it through his still damp hair, getting some chuckles in return.
“Nothing.” I say, placing a kiss on his neck instead of talking. I see the hairs on his arm reacting and feel him shying away from my mouth. “Sensitive today, huh?”
“Always.” His voice rumbles in his chest almost like a purr. I feel compelled to run my lips down his ear. He tilts his head to the side and I keep going, sliding my hands down his naked chest with my nails. I like mulling over what little gestures will get me a moan, which parts I can touch to turn him on. I’ve never had to think about this before—men are usually pretty straightforward.
“Fuck, Liv.” He draws in a breath.
“Yes, fuck Liv.” I giggle, my mouth on his neck.
Ben grabs me and spins around, knocking me down on top of his knees. He looks dishevelled, the wet hair I did a poor job at drying poking all around—he has a lot of hair. “Do you want to?”
“What?” I lean closer, rubbing his extremely nice chest.
“What? Do you want me to fuck you?”
I’m taken aback by his question. I frown. “Of course.” I say, perhaps a little too eagerly. “Unless… I mean, I’m good with what we’re doing.”
He smiles and lifts a mischievous eyebrow. “You’re good with it?”
“You know what I mean…” I groan, my insides twisting with fire streaks running all the way from my chest to between my legs. “I’m fantastic with it.”
“Yeah.” He puts his hand behind my head and pulls me in for a kiss. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of being kissed by Ben. He looks at me once we stop. “I took a pill.”
“You did what?” I pull back again in surprise.
“Viagra, Liv, I took viagra.”
“I know what the pill is.” I roll my eyes. And then point them down. “So…”
“C’mon.” He releases his arms from around me and grabs his wheels, giving me a ride all the way to his bedroom.
He gets me up on his bed and transfers over in one swift move. Excitement consumes me from the inside. He pulls his legs up, grabbing from under his knees and dragging his butt back on the mattress, and nods with his head.
"Come here." He says and I comply, nearly bursting. "You've done your research, haven't you?"
My research on SCI sex? You bet. I'm sure my face is burning right now. "...yes."
"Ok. So no abc’s. That's refreshing." He says matter of fact, but also amusedly. "Lay down."
It's like I'm his trained dog, because I do, right next to him. He could ask anything right now. Then Ben lowers down on his side, with his elbow propped up. He runs his fingers down my face, watching me with a sideways smile on his lips.
"You've read all about it… but everyone is different. It's not an exact science." Ben moves his hand to my hair. "I'm different. Ok?"
When he says it, I get a shiver down my neck. "Ok…"
"I can lead it… if you want gentle." He says, drawing my shirt up. I'm braless, and he smiles once he finds out. I wriggle out, eagerly, glowing. With his elbows framing my waist, Ben kisses a trail all the way up to my nipples, and I don't dare say anything. "You know how it goes."
I do. He buries his face on my neck and works his tongue on my ear. I gasp. He quickly reaches down to his leg with his free hand and pulls it up so that his hip isn't rotated out and dragging him to his back. I feel his groin pressed against my side, but there's no sign of him being hard yet.
Which I'm good with—he slips his hand under the waistband of my pyjama shorts, and finds out that I'm also not wearing any panties. Oh well. His fingers tease gently the outsides of my lips, massaging my clit exactly the way he knows I enjoy, the right pace and pressure. He always manages to get me there pretty quick, but I know he likes to take his sweet time. I do too. The gentle waves of pleasure are building up, and I grip Ben’s arm with my nails. This man…
So I do something—I reach underneath his sweatpants, past the loose waistband, and grab his dick; it’s limp, at first, and Ben gives no sign of even noticing—but his unfeeling parts sure do. It’s not hard-hard, but he’s halfway there and it feels nice in my hand, nicer than most. Before I can think much of it, Ben reaches down his pants and my hand, as if catching me, and chuckles against my mouth. He guides both our hands to his waistband and we pull it down together, releasing all of the parts he’s kept hidden so far.
“Now if you want rough…” He tells me, taking his hand off my pussy and moving it to my waist. He falls to his back and takes my hips; he’s almost fully naked, his pants down to his knees, and as much as I feel like drawing them all the way off, I don’t. Ben brings me on top of him, my legs apart, pressed against him—that now seems a lot more aware of me there. “You’ll have to lead.”
I don’t want rough, but I do want him inside me. So I lead it. I pin his wrists above his head.
“How do you like it?” I ask him as I grind his hips, lowering down to him. “Tell me.”
“I like it the way you like it.” I feel his minty breath from his mouthwash. God, it turns me on so much.
“No game.” I take his earlobe between my teeth. “Tell me.”
“I mean… it.” He struggles to get the words out.
I suck it, gently, taking small bites. I insist. “Tell me.”
He whimpers a bit before finally saying: “I gotta feel it.”
“You, my dick, your pussy, everything.”
“Yeah?” I unpin his wrist, bringing his hand all the way down to my wet spot.
“Mmmmhh.” Ben rubs me gently while feeling his now two-thirds-there cock. “It helps me wire my brain if I know what’s going on.”
“Ok…” I keep grinding him, that intense urge I was feeling earlier with his fingers coming back, each time more and more demanding.
“Keep going, Liv.” Ben tells me, and I can’t possibly do otherwise.
I grab him, hard, even responsive. He twitches and his thigh muscles spasm when I pull it; he’s feeling it, I know, with his hand right around mine and near the shaft. He gasps for some air, and that surprises me—how he’s getting so in the moment that I could almost say it’s all bullshit and he is, in fact, feeling everything. He is different. And that’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen; arousing, even.
I slip some fingers inside myself, knowing already that I’m so, so wet and ready. Ready.
“Do we need…?” I ask as a tiny bit of consciousness downs on me.
His answer is immediate. “No.”
And for the first time ever, I actually believe a guy who tells me so.
I slide him inside me easily, his fingers following my every move. He uses his free hand to grab my breasts and pinch my nipple. I take it easy, letting him guide my hips, taking as long as I need or want to, letting only the gentle waves of pleasure fill up my chest and holding out for the big tsunami. There’s no need to rush this; the imminent threat of him coming before I do isn’t there, the pressure to get it done—even though I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to come quicker.
My nails on his chest will probably leave a mark, but I'm not exactly trying to be gentle and he isn't complaining. He guides me, takes me, and even though it's different, just like he warned me, it's every bit as intimate—maybe more. Because he needs to be fully there, talking me through it, breathing as hard as I do. And I come from the friction, collapsing on top of him after enjoying every bit of pleasure I could squeeze out of him.
We're both breathless and chuckles emerge easily as our chests go up and down as if we'd just ran a marathon. He places his hand on my head, lacing his fingers through my hair and giving my scalp a gentle scratch, his free hand on my butt. I stay there, and if I could, I wouldn't move ever again. Wordless.
Except a few minutes later he pats my back. "Babe." He tells me. "I gotta use the bathroom."
I press him closer, as if that were possible. Only if we’d merge.
He chuckles and his head falls back, but he's moving my leg around his waist so that I'm no longer trapping him.
"'twas not a suggestion." He mutters past my protests.
I finally roll over, letting him push up with his arms. With my face pressed to my white sheets, I watch, quietly, as he gathers his naked legs from under the knees with his forearms and brings them to a bent position and then to the side of the bed. I've seen this particular transfer hundreds of times before, but never naked. It's weird, and not in a bad way, how limp and disconnected they are from his upper body, how he has to use his shoulders to get the momentum and balance he needs to sit at the edge of the bed, his bony hips also clearly not following the instructions, and then swing his body to the chair carefully positioned by the bed, the muscles in his arms doing all the work. It's beyond me how he does that transfer look so effortless, like he has more going for him than he actually does.
And then, just as I think I'm getting away with my ogling, right as he's lifting his feet to the footplate, Ben's eyes find mine and he blows away a strand of hair from his eyes, a sort of smile playing on his lips. I smile back, because it's truly been entertaining. He unlocks the wheels and seizes them, pushing straight to the bathroom in a couple powerful, even strokes.
I stay there, my nose pressed to the mattress, smelling the sheets full of our sex. And it could be the crazy, animal pheromones talking right now, but I really do love Ben. I suppose he's using the cathing supplies under the sink he left here a couple weeks ago, the ones I've been diligently replacing ever since. He's gotta have noticed—either that or he thinks it's a magical, self replacing bag of catheters. But he hasn't said a thing, which is a relief because I'm not sure I'd be able to handle him accusing me of nursing him again.
Ben doesn't take long in my bathroom, and he's still naked when he wheels out, allowing me to have a good look; he has a nice figure and looks objectively hot by anyone's standards. It's different, sure. The way his chair compliments his lean upper body, making up for the atrophied lower half, and softness around his navel line which neither his posture nor his nonexistent abs can hold back. The effortlessness of his moves like he's as comfortable with his wheels as most of us are with a pair of legs. It's been about ten years, right? At this point, it's him. Which is terrifyingly sexy.
He wheels next to the bed again and places his chair right in front of me, then easily bends over his knees all the way down to my eye level. His eyes are the brightest, prettiest brown I've ever seen against the light, like pure honey. I hope our baby gets that from him.
I almost choke with that thought.
Ben strokes my face, gently, and runs his fingers around my hair. So close it tickles me.
"Sorry." He says. Out of the blue.
"What for?" He doesn't say. For the bathroom break? The performance? "It's the best sex I've ever had."
He snorts and looks to the side like he can't take me seriously.
"It's not even half of what I-" he holds back the last part of the sentence in the back of his throat and chuckles instead, finding my eyes again. “I’ll tell you a secret.”
I raise an eyebrow, curious. “What is it?”
“I’ve been taking the pill almost every day you've slept over.”
I wanna slap his shoulder and say no way. But yes way. I know he wouldn't joke about that.
"I wanted it to happen… spontaneously." By popping a blue pill every time we sleep together? But I don't say it. Instead, he seems to read my mind: "For you."
I smile and reach his face with my hand, scratching his stubble.
"Viagra is expensive."
"Spontaneity is expensive."
His words get me pensive for a moment.
"Thank you, Ben." For thinking everything thoroughly so I don't have to. "But next time, tell me. So we can plan and wait together. It can be a sexy wait."
"Or a very long and boring one you'll regret dearly after we're already cold and naked." He sounds vaguely bitter. "Spoken from experience."
Yikes. Is that what happened with Suzanna, the orthopedist?
"Or a very long and sexy one." I repeat. "Understood?"
He nods yes.