I'm not gonna be the one to raise the white flag. The rendition flag.
Almost an entire week goes by of radio silence between Ben and I. I do reach for my phone more than once (a day) to text him something funny or naughty or both, but I catch myself before I can send anything. I delete more messages than I can count, redacted versions of the first one—a long apology—until it's just "Can I come?". But I don't send that one either. If he doesn't wanna talk to me, then too bad. His loss.
I'm not the weaker link; that would be Tib. I can recall so many times when we were kids when we'd do something we weren't supposed to, and mom would interrogate us in the living room, standing side by side. She'd offer rewards to the first one to rat the other out—I never did. But Tiberius didn't even need a reward or a threat, even when trying to keep his own secrets; he'd crumble under mom's death glare, the pressure and guilt eating him from the inside out as we stood there, waiting for the consequences. I think mom respected him less for it, and we both ended up grounded and punished together—me for refusing to talk, him for not being loyal.
So yes. If Ben wants to talk, he'll have to call me. Because he's unfortunate enough to be dealing with the weird Nakamura sibling, the kamikaze one. I'll die on this hill.
I get three days off after working my ass off. You can say I'm self-punishing. I might be. I should be.
I stay in my room through most of it, I feed on ramen and watch more old Doctor Who episodes than I'd like to admit. It's my comfort series and I'll rewatch it as many times as it takes so I can forget I'm feeling so shitty. This isn't about Ben—nope. It absolutely isn't. I'm just tired and…
Tired. And perhaps a little bit hormonal too.
Mom calls me around the second day and suggests we meet at grandma's for tea—I pass. I never pass on that stuff, because as it turns out I'm also the responsible Nakamura sibling. But that gets old sometimes.
Again, I reach for my phone. I press my message log with Ben. He was the one who sent the last message between us, the winky face. I know he wouldn't answer if I sent him something, and I wouldn't, couldn't, handle it. Being the last one to text. The one left hung out to dry.
I won't crawl. Nope.
"Pride is a sin, Livia."
"Thank God we're not religious." I pull my feet up on the couch, as if pressing my thighs to my chest might shield me from being attacked.
Mom is standing right in front of me, "If you need money, you tell me."
I close my eyes, "Mother, I don't need any money."
"Why do you keep working like that, then?"
"Because I've nothing better to do!"
"I told you nursing school was insanity! A fever dream." She holds my clothes up in the air. "If you were a doctor…"
"Can we skip that?" I pull my hair back, ready to pull it off my head. "We've been having the same argument for over ten years, fu-"
I stop myself before I can- "Watch your mouth."
And so I do. I sit back as she rants about my job, my working hours, my pay, my pride. Then about my dishes piling up in the sink and the fact that she thinks the apartment needs some urgent moping, and the furniture has too much dust in it. Why won't you behave like an adult?! She asks me at some point, not really expecting an answer.
I don't say anything. She brews us some of my shitty coffee and we sit at the kitchen table without saying anything else. She leaves with the last word.
I shift from one foot to another, staring at the dark wide wooden door.
"How did you get in?"
"The intercom wasn't working."
"I told the doorman I was the nurse." I say. "Showed him my badge."
"I'm not gonna kick you out, Livia." He stares at me. "I can't kick."
I was an ass. That's what I wanna say so bad, but when I open my mouth no words come out. I stare at Ben. He doesn't look too happy to see me, but he doesn't look unhappy either. I can take that.
"Are you gonna politely ask me to leave?" I risk it.
"Are you going to run away as soon as I turn around?"
Silence. Ben is blocking the doorway with his chair, dressed in sweatpants and a dri fit long sleeved shirt that's tight around his body and allows me to see the definition of his chest and shoulders, and undefinition of his lower abs, slightly above his navel. I'm overcome with the sudden urge to touch him, but my hands are busy already. His are too, there's a sports bag on his lap and he's also wearing shoes. He's about to leave—I almost missed him.
I swallow, my throat dry.
"I brought you food."
It's a peace offer. My compromise. Because I am not proud. I can reach out sometimes, too.
Please meet me halfway, I beg him. I hope my thoughts are loud enough that he can hear them.
He doesn't answer straight away—he sighs, his hand goes over to his hair and he blinks, grabbing one of his wheels and pushing it back, unblocking the doorway. My chest is immediately filled with the feeling of victory.
"Did you cook that?"
"Yes." He catches my eyes and raises an eyebrow. "....no."
For the first time today, he looks amused and not impassive.
I walk inside. I feel like this is the first time I'm actually seeing Ben's apartment—that night I'd been too tired to notice anything other than where his bedroom and bathroom were. Now I can admire the gorgeous parquet floors, the wide living room with the City's most desired view behind the floor to ceiling window in the most interesting wave-form I've ever seen. There's personality in the architecture, nothing like the new cramped apartments we see getting built these days, like my own overpriced matchbox. This is definitely not a new building, 1950s Modernism pouring off of every single detail, even in the way it's decorated—the sexy, creative lines of his wooden furniture in earthy tones. It's original in every aspect it can be.
"It's the thought that counts, right?"
He's looking at me. "Yeah, Liv. I suppose."
He wheels to the kitchen, the colorful tiles along the wall above the counters making it seem cozy and modern—I can tell that it's been through renovations. It's not a big kitchen, but it seems accessible enough that he can reach most things and easily spin his chair around. I lay the lasagna I ordered from my elderly neighbor on top of the stone counter and then find that without it my hands have nothing to busy themselves with. But I've pockets.
"Are you going somewhere?" I ask, looking at the bag on his lap.
He looks down as if only now reminded that he does in fact have somewhere else to be. He pats the bag and nods, "Ah, yeah."
"Oh." I try not to feel too disappointed. Of course he wouldn't have sat around his apartment this entire time, waiting for me to call or show up or something.
What kind of loser would do that?
"You can come…" Ben says, looking straight into my eyes, one eyebrow slightly raised as if challenging me. I suppose I deserve it. "If you want to."
"What about-" I glance over at the untouched lasagna sitting on the counter.
"We'll be hungry enough when we come back."
Still, even though I'm relieved beyond words, honestly so much more than I'd admit, there's this thickness in the air between us—and not the kind of thickness I'd actually like. I want that easiness back, the strange familiarity of being around him and acting as if we'd known each other for years.
But I'll take what I can get.
We don't talk much on the way. The small talk feels robotic and stagnated. I wanna scream.
"How's work?" He asks me.
"Busy." I say, staring at the street ahead.
"So busy you couldn't text? Got it."
"You didn't text me either."
"But I always do, Liv." He pulls the handbrake a bit too aggressively for my taste. "We're here."
Saved by the bell. I look around, trying to get a clue of where he's taking me—he's parallel parked in front of the only handicapped spot in what looks like a crowded street. It's almost a miracle that it isn't taken. To my right, there's a sign.
"Is this a gym?" I narrow my eyes at him in betrayal. No one has tricked me into going to a gym in years. Besides, I'm wearing sandals and a skirt. "Shit, Ben."
"It's a dojo."
And that it is. He assembles his chair next to the car and transfers as I wait for him. I don't watch as he does it, holding the phone and pretending I care about something else. I stand by the door and he pushes in first and holds it open for me. I can see the judo people throwing themselves on the dark tatami in the far back.
"What do you do here?"
"Crip fight every Saturday night." He locks eyes with me. "It's a Paralympic event."
"I hate it when you do that."
"Why, it makes you uncomfortable?" I roll my eyes. Maybe I shouldn't open my mouth anymore—maybe I should just leave and take the nearest bus home and be done with it. Fuck it. "It's Jiu-jitsu, Livia."
But I'm not a proud person, so I follow him past the reception, curiously looking around for any other wheelchair users.
An older guy in a dark blue martial arts uniform pats Ben's back warmly like they're good friends. He introduces him as Lucas.
"Did you bring us a newbie, man?" He shifts his focus to me, giving me an up and down look.
"Yeah…" Ben lifts his hand to his hair. "This is Livia."
"I'll try to find a gi your size so you can get started." Lucas winks at me.
"Make it bright pink if you can." Ben adds, humoured.
I shoot him my dirtiest look.
The man walks away and Ben directs me to the seats near the changing rooms.
"I'll go get changed." He tells me. "Takes a while, as you know."
And I do try to keep my mouth shut and accept the blow I know I probably deserve, but I can't.
"Ben." I'm down to eye level with him. "C'mon."
We stay there in silence for what feels like an eternity but only really lasts a couple seconds. Just let it go, I almost whisper at him— at myself. Then Ben brushes his face with his hands and releases a sigh. When he looks at me again it's almost like that tension has dissipated in the air. He rolls closer.
"Ok, fine." He puts his hands on top of my knees and leans forward, catching my lips with his. "We're good."
"Yeah?" I try to make it last for as long as I possibly can, closing the distance with more kisses each time he tries to pull back. "Mmh."
"Yeah." He lets me go on for a bit before holding my shoulders back. He's properly grinning now. "I need to get changed."
I go past his hands to whisper in his ear: "I'll undress you if you want."
"Men's only locker room." He shrugs apologetically.
When Lucas returns not with a bright pink gi but a sensible white one, I feel almost disappointed.
I do all the stretching and warming up on the tatami with Ben and the other guy, Lucas. I learn that the floor exercises Ben is doing are adapted to what he can and can't do—Lucas shows me the able-bodied version and I get to use some of my natural flexibility. I like it better than the gym, but I still hate it. I also feel so tired by the end of it that I don't wanna get up at all.
Then I sit to the side of the mat, next to where Ben's chair is parked, and watch as both men train. Brazilian jiu-jitsu isn't a pretty fighting style; they're basically choking each other endlessly until someone taps out and concedes the win. It's a tangled mess of arms and legs, and I find the way Ben moves to be absolutely mesmerizing, using momentum to roll over and overpower, his arms and weight doing all the job while his legs limply follow his upper body around the tatami. He's actually way more mobile on the ground than I'd expect—seems to win most times, but I suspect it's because Lucas doesn't use his legs the way he could, like the other people around us are doing.
"Liv, come over here." Ben waves at me after the other guy gets up to get some water. I scoot over.
He's lying on his side, propped up on his elbow. His legs are folded and they haven't moved much at all aside from the eventual spasm. They're long, even folded like that, and there's no muscle tone around his calves, or anywhere really—I can tell by the way he keeps having to pull the pants up after each session with Lucas because they keep sliding down his narrow lower body. He even wears shorts underneath the gi, I suppose so he doesn't accidentally and unknowingly flash his butt to everyone else in the dojo. Even though everyone is lying on the tatami, and visually there's not much difference since it's all grappling anyway, it's pretty obvious to me he's the only one who's disabled.
Ben pats the mat next to his chest and I crawl my way over there.
"What do you want me to do?"
"I could teach you some basic stuff."
"Yeah?" I chuckle, putting my hand down on his body. His black gi is almost fully open across his chest, only the belt keeping the ends closed. He looks unbelievably sexy in a flushed, tousled way. I wanna caress his defined pecs, but that would be inappropriate. "Ok. I'll let you do that."
Ben proceeds to happily show me some basic grabs. Jiu-jitsu makes me feel like a boa with all the wrapping around someone's body, and I don't mind wrapping myself around Ben. At all. Lucas joins us again and sits to the side and instructs us.
"Ok, wanna try that now?" Ben asks, kneeling in front of me. He directs my hand back to his chest and wills me to grab the gi.
I lock eyes with him. "I don't wanna hurt you."
"C'mon, you've seen Lucas' size," he jokes. "Go on."
"But I say that because…" I close my fingers around the hem of his gi and flip my body around in one fast single strike before he can even see it coming or react fast enough, closing my thighs around his neck in a triangle choke. "Juvenile state champion 99, orange belt."
"Shit, man." Lucas is laughing now, past the surprise.
I hold Ben down on his back with my legs, climbing on top of his body and loosening the choke. I really don't wanna hurt him. He's recovered from the shock now, his eyebrows shooting up.
"You're a judoka." He states accusingly but also clearly amused. I nod.
"I hate grappling, it's claustrophobic." I say. His chest is fully exposed now. "So I always make sure I'm on top. I liked Capoeira better."
"Me too." His head falls on the tatami, defeated. "How did you find out that I like to be overpowered by pretty women?"
And with that, I could explode in something that's quite a bit more than just satisfaction. Having him popping jokes again after two weeks of radio silence, after giving me the cold shoulder and nearly driving me nuts with the short, cold comebacks, is like color has suddenly bled into the world again.
I'm not being dramatic.
"Ippon, baby." I say after he's been on his back for a while. I win. I really do. So I release his neck but don't climb off of him. I say near his ear so Lucas doesn't hear it, but also not caring one bit if he does: "I can do it in the bedroom too, in case you're wondering."
I gather both our dirty plates and take it to the sink.
"You don't have to do that." Ben says.
"It's ok." I don't know what's wrong with me. I struggle to do the dishes in my own place, but right here with him I feel like I could do a million dishes. I sway to the sides.
"I should probably tell you-" I feel Ben approaching me from behind. "I do have a dishwasher. But I kinda like this angle."
"Kinda?" I smile. "Ouch."
"Mmmh, it needs close inspection." He knocks his knees behind mine and I not-so-gently drop into his lap.
The sink is still at perfect height, and I try to be done with it as quickly as I can; Ben keeps his arms around my waist and his chin over my shoulder, his stubble caressing my skin. Like a cat. I put the clean dishes to the side and then reach back to his neck with my cold, wet hands.
His body tenses up and he recoils like a turtle.
"Easy there." He warns me, hugging my waist tighter with his powerful jiu jitsu arms.
I move my hand up his neck and into his scalp, and I hear it when he catches his breath and softly releases it in a moan into my own shoulder, moving his mouth to my ear and pulling the skin with his teeth. I keep moving my fingers around his hair, the way his breath sounds letting me know I'm doing the right thing. Ben kisses my neck, sucking the skin gently and then leaving a trail of bites there. I release the border of the sink and take one of his hands off of my waist and guide it under my shirt, up my body; he knows exactly what to do, cupping my chest and rubbing my nipple at the exact same rhythm I'm pulling his hair.
I'm on fire. We're so close to his bedroom, but so far away. If he could pin me to that wall right now, right now… I can't really move, not beyond this. He'll have to take me right here. The way he can.
His remaining hand leaves my waist and climbs up my skirt.
"Ben…" I swallow hard, unable to say anything else. I grab his hair tighter—his chest pressed against my back moving up and down like he's been exercising. He moves my panties to the side so nothing is covered anymore; his fingers find me so wet already that he chuckles in my ear.
And he's so exceptional at this; the way he caresses my neatly trimmed hair before teasing the outer lips of my pussy with the tip of his fingers, making me wriggle around his lap—go for it, goddammit. I could almost beg. I lay my head over his shoulder and close my eyes; he keeps teasing the insides of my thighs, playing with the outsides of my intimacy while my clit begs for the extra attention he's denying. I try to use my hand to reach myself, but Ben uses his fantastic reflexes to grab my wrist and hold it perfectly still against my chest.
"Not yet." He says.
Fuck. He'll kill me.
I don't think I can breathe anymore. I can feel my heart beating like an ancient drum all over my body—I think he can too. So he slips a finger inside, then two and three, eased by the fact that I'm so, so wet. And he presses my clit with his thumb, moving it around as he keeps the penetration movement steady. He's building me up so well I could spill. Ben still holds my wrist tightly and I find that so insanely alluring for some reason. He can't press me against this counter or the wall, but right here, sitting on his lap, this feels a lot better.
"Please." I say in between gasps. "Ben, I'm-"
He moves his hand faster, still working on my neck with his mouth. I feel like exploding. I've never taken this long, not with a guy. I'm always on top, and I'm a fast bouncer. I ride them until I'm done, or they are; whichever comes first. And I've had guys saying I fuck like a man—I don't stay around for the caresses and slow build and slow burn. And it's good but it's never mind blowing. It's just what animals do.
This is not what animals do. Here I'm on top, but I'm not really; the pace Ben has picked for me isn't uncomfortable the way these warming-ups usually are, there's no weird, forced intimacy. It's like he knows what I do in my bedroom at night, and he does it better. It's almost insulting—if it weren't so fantastic.
He drives me further over the edge, picking up on the cues my body is giving him. I'm not loud during sex, but damn it if he doesn't hear me whimpering and breathing in with every involuntary twitch. His thumb barely moves, just pressing my clit, but his fingers inside go back and forth, exploring around. See, I've never actually believed in a g-spot. But I might now.
I won't hold it for much longer. I dig my short nails further into the skin of his neck and grab his hair as if that's gonna drive him to release me.
Ben isn't silent either. He likes it. If it's either me wriggling against his body, or the way I'm pulling his hair, or maybe both, I don't ask. I need him to finish me off.
"I'm coming." I let him know. As if he didn't already.
And I do. In waves of pleasure, breaking all the way from my lower belly to the tip of my fingers.
Ben. Oh my god, Ben.
After the rush settles and my muscles are all twitchy and numb, I collapse. He lets my wrist go and I just let it drop down. It's a good thing I'm already in a wheelchair.
He's still gently rubbing my so-very-wet pussy, caressing my clit. Whispering words I can't even make out while brushing his nose on my neck.
"You'll tip us back." He warns me as I recline back against his torso. It's the first intelligible thing I hear.
"Would that be so bad?" I groan, settling down. I turn my face around and kiss his lips.
I feel his chest rumbling against my back when he chuckles. "Yeah, it would."
"I'm not moving, Monteiro." I kiss his chin. "You deal with it."
"I've missed you." He says, wheeling us back and out of the kitchen.
"Me too." It's barely a whisper.
"We'll still talk about that "
"We just did." And I love the make up sex.
"We'll talk about it, Liv." He repeats in a serious voice.