“The wedding is in four weeks.”
Isabelle is watching my face as she speaks. She’s talking to me in a slow, sweet voice, like I’m some kind of fucking mental patient. Lot of people speak to me that way these days, but I don’t expect it from Isabelle. She knows me better. She should, anyway.
Or should I say, she used to.
“We’re having it in Las Vegas,” she goes on, as if I had responded in some way. A smile touches her lips but not her eyes. Isabelle turned thirty a few months ago, but she doesn’t look any older than she did when we first met. I, on the other hand, hit the big three-five six months ago and immediately noticed a few strands of gray at my temples.
But let’s face it—that’s the least of my problems.
“We just thought it would be fun to have a big party in Vegas with our friends,” Isabelle babbles on. She’s nervous. I can tell by the way she’s gnawing on her lip. She’s sexy when she’s nervous.
Why am I thinking about how sexy Isabelle is? Why torture myself?
“And of course, you’re invited,” she finishes.
Of course I’m invited. Of course you ask your ex-fiance to your wedding. That’s a perfectly normal thing to do.
“Alex?” Her light brown eyebrows knit together. “Can you please… say something?”
“Something,” I say uncreatively.
“Fine,” I spit out. “Congratulations, Isabelle, on your upcoming nuptials. I’m so happy for you.” I raise my eyebrows at her. “Is that better? Is that a little more in line with what you were hoping I would say?”
And now she’s crying. Well, not exactly crying. But there are tears gathering at the corners of her eyes and she gives a brave little sniffle. “This isn’t my fault,” she whispers.
In the old days, this would have been a sign for me to reach out and give Isabelle a hug. That’s not happening today. It won’t happen ever again.
“Look,” I say, trying to get the anger in my voice under control. “I’m not sure what you want from me. You’re getting married, so…”
And now there’s a goddamn lump in my throat. I swallow it down, squaring my jaw. I’m not going to let Isabelle know she got to me today. I can’t tell her when she walked into the living room, all I could think about was how she’s just as sexy as she was the moment I first saw her. And how every word she says reminds me of the reasons I fell in love with her.
That’s not shit you say to your ex-fiance. I don’t need anyone to tell me that.
“I still care about you,” she says, swiping quickly at her left eye with the back of her hand. Good thing her mascara is waterproof. “I want to be friends again.”
I don’t point out that we can’t be friends again if we were never friends in the first place. We were boyfriend and girlfriend, then we were engaged, then we were nothing. Friendship was never on the table.
“Yeah,” I mumble. I catch her eye, feeling a pang at the tears. “Look, don’t worry about me, Isabelle.”
She manages a tiny smile.
“The truth is,” I say, “I’ve been seeing someone new. A woman. So, you know.”
Her eyes light up. “You have?”
I nod. “Yes.”
“Oh, that’s…” Her smile is more genuine this time. “That’s wonderful, Alex. I’m so glad to hear that.”
She doesn’t ask me the name of my new girlfriend, which is a damn good thing since she doesn’t exist. There are no women in my life other than my mother. Nobody since Isabelle. There’s not even a possibility of a relationship right now. Not even a girl I know who I’m thinking about asking out for drinks.
“Anyway, I’m heading back to London tomorrow,” she says. Yes, Isabelle still loves to travel. Of course she does. She’s the same as she always was. “I’ve got a bunch of business trips I’m squeezing in before the wedding. But if you decide you want to come, just shoot a message to me or Parker.”
At the mention of Parker’s name, I see red. Parker fucking Ashmont. How could Isabelle be marrying Parker? What universe am I living it where something like that could come about? A pulse throbs in my temple, and all I want to do is punch the wall.
I look down at my right hand, half-expecting to see it balled into a fist. No, that’s a lie—I don’t expect to see a fist. Three years ago, I might have made a mistake like that, but not now. Now I know when I look down at my right hand, it will be exactly where it was this morning: lying quietly in the armrest of my wheelchair. A Velcro strap secures both my hands in place, because they have a frustrating tendency to curl up on their own volition.
If my hand were to ball into a fist, it would only be because my aide didn’t stretch me out enough this morning. It wouldn’t be because I chose to make a fist. I don’t make choices like that anymore. I can’t make a fist. I can’t move one millimeter, much less punch a wall.
“Anyway, I should probably go,” Isabelle murmurs, rising off the sofa in my parents’ living room. She brushes imaginary lint off her skirt. As if perfect Isabelle would ever have actual lint. She’s wearing a black pencil skirt paired with a crisp white blouse in a combination that’s patently Isabelle.
As for me, I’m wearing my eternal outfit of a T-shirt and sweatpants because I had no idea my ex-fiancée was going to show up at my door today. I never used to be a sweatpants kind of guy before, but now I’ve got a pair in every color on the grayscale. They’re the perfect clothes—not likely to rub against me in a place I can’t feel and easy for whoever is dressing me to pull on over my rigid limbs. And it’s not like I need to dress up for the company I never entertain.
“It’s been good seeing you again,” Isabelle says.
“Yes.” I lift my head to look at her now that she’s leaving, which is hard because my neck is fused and the muscles in my shoulders are weak. Lucky for me, I’ve got a sturdy headrest. “Great seeing you, Isabelle.”
I didn’t mean for it to sound sarcastic, but somehow it came out that way. Oh well.
“Um…” Isabelle clutches her Prada purse. I wonder if that asshole Parker bought it for her. Or maybe she got it as a freebie from Macy’s. “Do you need… help with anything?”
I shouldn’t be angry at that one, but I still am. It’s not an unreasonable question though. My mother went out to do some shopping and give me and Isabelle a little privacy, which means when Isabelle leaves, I’ll be all alone. I can be alone for short periods, but not before having things set up for me.
The truth is, I’d love to ask Isabelle to put on my Bluetooth headphones. But I’m trying to maintain a little dignity here, so instead, I say, “I’m just fine, thanks for asking.”
My phone is mounted on the chair and I’ve got “Hey, Siri.” I’ll be fine.
Isabelle nods. “I guess I’ll go then.”
“Yes, you already said that,” I say through gritted teeth. I’m trying to turn over a new leaf and not to be an asshole to her. I swear it. But I can only take so much.
Isabelle heads in the direction of the door. I lower my lips onto the control for my chair, which is a tube that I blow into or suck air out of to get it to me. Puffing air hard into the tube means the chair moves forward, while a hard suck moves backward. A soft puff turns right and a soft suck turns left. I can also use the sip and puff controls to operate my computer or the television.
If you think this is easy, let me relieve you of that delusion. It’s really fucking hard. I ran over my therapist’s foot once because I thought I was going right but I went forward. (She was in a walking boot for a month.) I’ve turned in circles when all I wanted to do was go forward. After three full circles in a row, you can bet I wanted to punch a wall.
But now? I’m good at it. I puff into the tube and follow Isabelle across the living room, where the furniture is sparse for just this reason. An ordinary living room would be a nightmare for me, but as long as the spaces aren’t too tight, I can manage without a problem.
“You’ve really gotten good at that,” Isabelle remarks.
“Yeah,” I say, looking up at her. I used to be half a foot taller than she was. The days of me being taller than people are long gone.
A smile plays on her lips. “Really! Remember how you kept running into the walls?”
“I remember,” I say, but I can’t smile. I’ve come a long way since then, but this isn’t happy nostalgia for me. I doubt it ever will be.
Isabelle just stands there, her fingers gripping that purse so tight, they turn white. What is she waiting for? Does she want me to hold the door for her?
“It was nice seeing you,” I finally say. “Congratulations to you and… Parker.” Fucking Parker.
She nods, still not saying anything or budging. I wonder if there’s something else she wants to say. Because there’s so much more I want to say.
I pushed you away.
I was an asshole and you had every right to call it quits.
I don’t have a girlfriend. You’re the only woman I’ve ever loved.
It should be me you’re marrying next month.
I fucked up, Isabelle.
I’m sorry. I’m so fucking sorry.
But why say it? It won’t change anything. She’s still going to be Isabelle Ashmont at the end of the month.
“The assholes have landed. Table Seven.”
I groan as Eve, the hostess, gives me the information with a smile plastered on her pink lips. Not again. I’m not in the mood for this tonight.
“Why do you always put them in my section?” I complain to her. “You could put them anywhere else…”
Eve’s grin widens. I think she enjoys seeing me get tortured. “What can I say? They like that table. They specifically requested it.”
I groan again as I survey the corner table I cleared off only moments earlier, now filled with men in their thirties wearing expensive suits. The investment bankers. That’s the problem with waitressing at a sports bar within throwing distance of the financial district. All the damn bankers. It’s nonstop on weekdays.
I tug at my skirt, which is too short, but a required part of my uniform. But that’s not the worst of it—at barely five foot two inches, my legs don’t tend to attract too much attention. The bigger problem is the light blue T-shirt, which is so agonizingly small, I’m certain my nipples are going to rip holes in the material.
Fine—it’s good for tips. And Table Seven will probably help me pay a good chunk of this month’s rent, because standup comedy sure ain’t paying the bills yet. But there are limits to what I’m willing to endure to make money. I mean, prostitution is a pretty firm line in the sand, but there’s a bunch of gray area between that and my job description.
I approach the table, reminding myself over and over it’s only temporary. It’s all only temporary. I’m getting more and more paying gigs—maybe soon I can give up waitressing for good. My buddy Jake got that gig on Jimmy Kimmel and now he’s turning people down. I just need one big break. One break and I can kiss this stupid job goodbye.
And that’s my daily pep talk. It’s what gets me through a night serving jerks at a sports bar.
“Hey, it’s Wednesday!” yells one of the guys at the table. That’s Chief Douchebag. Okay, that’s not his actual name. I’ve heard the other guys call him Parker, but Chief Douchebag somehow just fits so perfectly. There’s always one guy who is worse than all the others, and usually it takes me all over five seconds to figure out who it is.
This guy is particularly obnoxious though, partially because he’s so damn good looking. I feel like people ought to resemble their personality, so we know straight away what sort of person they are. Chief Douchebag should be butt ugly with ear hair coming out of his nose, a giant bald spot, and a pot belly hanging over his belt.
Instead, he’s gorgeous. He’s all white teeth, gleaming blond hair, and a perfect jaw. I was never into jaws, but whenever I see this guy in profile, I think to myself, “Wow, look at that jaw!” He looks like he ought to be in movies.
“What’s up, Wednesday?” he asks me.
The Wednesday thing. It’s because last time he was here, he decided look like Christina Ricci, who played Wednesday in the Addams family movies. I suppose it’s not an unfair comparison, but that doesn’t mean I enjoy being called Wednesday.
“Hi, Cousin It,” I say to Chief Douchebag, trying to be a good sport and play along. “Hi, Pugsley. Morticia. Uncle Fester.”
And now I’ve exhausted all my knowledge about the characters from The Addams Family. I think there might have been a hand who had a name. And wasn’t there a Frankenstein’s monster? Or maybe that was The Munsters. I can’t keep it all straight.
Chief Douchebag doesn’t take his eyes off me while I’m joking around with the other guys. It’s disturbing. “I like your top, Wednesday. It’s a nice touch.”
“It’s my uniform,” I say. “I didn’t pick it out.”
And now every single one of them is staring at my tits. Lovely.
I clear my throat loudly, hoping to bring their attention back to my face. Or anywhere else besides my nipples, even though it’s probably a lost cause. “So what drinks can I grab for you guys?” I ask.
“I don’t know about these guys…” the chief of douchebags flashes me a wide grin that I bet most women find very hard to resist. “But you can grab my dick for me.”
The other guys think his comment is hilarious, not surprisingly. Is it too much to ask that there be one decent guy in the bunch, who might tell his buddy to shut up? Or am I going to have to take care of myself yet again?
I smile sweetly at him. “I’m so sorry. I forgot to bring my tweezers.”
So much for a big tip.
On the one hand, I’m grateful for voice recognition software. Without a program like Dragon Naturally Speaking, my prospects for employment would be a lot more limited. I can’t type, obviously. But over the last four years, I’ve gotten adept at navigating a computer with voice software, which has allowed me to land a sales job that I’ve had for a year now. I wouldn’t be able to do that without Dragon.
One the other hand, sometimes I think Dragon might give me a stroke.
At the moment, I’m trying to write an email. “Trying” is the key word here. I want to discuss a prospective sales client with my boss, Zachary Milton. But I’m stuck on the first line.
Hi Zachary, is what I want to say.
Hi snack machine, is what is on my screen.
My boss is not going to understand about an email riddled with errors. For starters, he doesn’t know I’m a quadriplegic with zero use of my arms. I’ve never met the guy, and since I do all my work either online or on the phone, I found no reason to disclose it. It’s not in any way relevant to the work I’m doing. So if I send him an email with lots of mistakes, it just looks like I’m sloppy.
“Correct ‘snack machine,’” I say. The program highlights the words, and now I have to say the correction. “Zachary.”
Hi that’s great, is what it now says.
“Shit,” I say aloud, which Dragon helpfully dictates for me. Damn it. “Scratch that. Correct ‘that’s great.’ Spell that.”
It would be really helpful if I could reach out and quickly type the word “Zachary.” I know there are people with carpal tunnel syndrome who use Dragon, but they’re capable of typing if the need arises. I’m not. I have to use Dragon for absolutely everything I need the computer to do.
“Z…” I begin. “A… C… H…”
The cursor is hovering on the screen. I hold my breath, hoping this doesn’t mean it’s crashed. If any other program crashes, I can use Dragon to open the task manager, shut it down, and restart it. If Dragon crashes, I’m fucked.
Dragon has crashed.
I do have a stick with a mouthpiece without reach, so I can use that to hit the power button. The CPU is pushed all the way to the front of the desk just so I’d be able to reach it in this situation. But thankfully, my mother strolls into the room at this moment, which is the best option. She can restart Dragon for me without needing a reboot.
“Mom,” I say. “Can you restart Dragon?”
“It’s dinnertime, Alex.” Without asking, she reaches over to pull the Bluetooth I use as a Dragon headset off my ears. “The food is ready.”
There’s no arguing with my mother.
Okay, I’m not going to lie and say it’s been an easy transition to living with my parents after having my own place since college. But my insurance is only willing to pay for twenty hours of personal care assistant (PCA) services per week, and I need way more than that. I essentially need around-the-clock help. So when I got out of rehab, I had three options:
1) Move back in with my parents.
2) Figure out a way to pay for the extra help.
3) Live in a nursing home.
Short of finding a gold brick in my ass, I didn’t have the money to pay for a PCA. After the medical bills, I was wiped out and then some. As for living in a nursing home… well, who wants that at age thirty-one? Nobody.
Most of the time, I’m grateful to my parents for how much they’ve given up to take me in. My mother loves her job working in HR at a hospital, and she’s cut back significantly on her hours so she can be home for me most afternoons (and we’ve got a retired neighbor who stays with me periodically on the days she can’t be there and helps me with lunch).
There are other times, however, when…
Well, fuck it.
It’s not like I have much choice. No point in complaining.
To be continued....