Part 2: Erick
I hold the pencil with both my palms and do acrobatics to get it to go under my thumb and between my index and middle fingers. Then, I use my left hand to push my right thumb and close the gap as much as possible so the pen will stay in place. With both hands pressed together, I scribble notes on the staves. I’m writing a song. Or at least attempting to. I’ve tried to discard the idea of it for the past couple of weeks, but it just kept coming back, so this morning, I decided I would give it a shot. I can hear the music in my head, insistent and noisier with each passing day. Today, it’s like I’m playing a record loud and clear.
I summon Julia’s image in my mind as the lyrics start to take form. I picture her long brown hair swaying with the air under the oak tree behind the school, it looks so smooth. In my lyrics, I can feel it, although I never have in real life. I never touched her hair when I could still feel it, or if I did, I don’t remember what it felt like. I can only imagine now. The rhythm flows slowly in my imagination, tender like her eyes. Then livelier like her personality.
I write a verse, then play it in my head. I scratch an E minor and replace it by a D flat. The words are chasing me, they come much faster than I can write them down. I finish a line and then realize it’s unreadable. I try again. The notes go slowly as I try to translate the sound into symbols over the pentagram. I make believe I’m playing the melody, my fingers swift on the chords, then scribble the notes I hope will replicate it.
My legs start to bump under the notebook, slightly at first, then hard enough I have to stop. I’ve written about half the song. I check the time, 10 AM. I’ve been at this for a while. I woke up early as usual, did some stretching exercises and mechanically lifted my arms twenty times, with wrist weights wrapped around. Then I had some coffee and toast, came back to my room and started writing. I press my palms over my thighs trying to settle them, but they don’t stop spasming. My leg bag must be full. I head for the bathroom to empty it. The process is slow, and the trail of the song doesn’t stop in my mind. Perhaps I should do a voice recording.
I come out and grab the sheet again. I struggle to put the pencil in place. I’m so eager to get the song in paper. I sing a verse out loud, make some corrections to the notes, and try again. I’ve got the whole thing written down by noon. I’m in a bit of a high from composing, and I desperately want to hear it for real and not just in my mind. I sing the whole thing a cappella two times, but I’m missing the guitar to go with it. I’ve an uncontainable craving to listen to the damn thing. I check the watch again. Will Julia be home already, or will she spend the day at Tony’s? Why did Sean’s phone have to get stolen? I think I might get him a new one just to avoid this kind of situation.
Finally, I can’t resist the urge any longer. I grab my keys and head outside. I wheel down the street all the way to Jules house. I stop at the gate and ring the bell. I wish Sean would open, but I know he won´t. As predicted, it’s Martha who comes to the door. She squints at me.
“Julia is not home,” she says coldly. What did I do to her?
“I wanted to see Sean,” I say awkwardly.
“Oh,” she mutters. She starts to turn around and then stops. “Why?” She turns back to me.
“I was hoping he could help me with something,” I say.
“With what?” She wrinkles her nose. What, does she think I want him to empty my leg bag? I take a deep breath. I have to make a conscious effort not to dislike this woman, after all, she is the mother of the most wonderful person I know, although how this woman could have spawned that angel is beyond me.
“Uhm,” I hesitate. Do I tell her the truth? I want Sean to play a song I wrote because I can’t play it myself.
Luckily, Sean shows up behind her that moment and spares me.
“Uncle Erick!” He’s clearly happy to see me. I smile at him.
“Mom’s not here,” he frowns.
“Actually, I was looking for you,” I say.
“Really?” He goes past Martha and steps outside. “Do you wanna come in?”
I shake my head. “Are you free right now?”
“Can you get your guitar?” I try my best to ignore the look Martha’s giving me.
He smiles broadly.
“Give me a minute,” he says and runs inside.
Martha stares me down, and yeah, I cowardly avert my eyes and look around.
“Your roses are really pretty,” I say stupidly. She doesn’t buy it.
“What do you want with Sean?” She asks accusingly.
“I…” I’m trying to come up with a polite answer to such a rude question, but she interrupts me.
“I know what you’re trying to do.”
What am I trying to do? I stare back at her dumbfounded.
“It won’t work,” she says smugly.
“What won’t work?” I ask honestly because I don’t have the faintest idea what she’s talking about.
“It won’t!” She repeats.
Ok, I grin at her because what else is there to do.
Sean jumps across the step of the front door with his guitar case over the shoulder.
“Let’s go,” he says excitedly.
I follow him.
“Have a nice day, Martha,” I leave her gawking.
We go in my house and all the way to my room in the back. I grab the sheet music and hand it to him without an explanation. He goes through it. At first, he looks like he doesn’t understand a damn thing and I fear my handwriting is worse than I thought. Then, understanding slowly tranfigurates his gesture, and I know he’s hearing it in his mind.
“This is good, uncle,” he says looking up from the paper.
He takes his guitar out of the case and sets the sheet in front of him. He starts playing. He gives it a few tries, struggling with the notes at first, but getting the hang of it pretty quickly. I close my eyes to listen to it. I grab the paper from him and set it on the dresser -I don’t have a desk in my room-, then I get the pen in place and correct a couple of notes. I give it back.
He plays again.
Sean’s really good with the guitar, maybe not as good as me, but he’s only sixteen. I hold my breath while he plays the whole song without making any mistakes. I nod at him smiling.
“With lyrics this time,” he says and sets his hands in place.
“I’ll sing,” I say. I can’t play but I can sing my own song. He nods.
I sing the whole thing with my eyes closed, imagining it’s my hands on the chords. It feels good. When I open them back up he’s smirking at me.
“Is this about my mom?” He narrows his eyes.
“No,” I lie, hastily and poorly.
“It’s a great song, uncle Erick. Really good!
I blush, but at least he doesn’t press me any further.
“Wanna play it again?” His words make me happy because I want to sing it like ten more times.
“I wish I could write something like this for Ana,” he says after we play the song a couple more times. Ana is the girl he likes. He’s told me about her before. “I need your advice. She’s… complicated.”
I laugh. “Yeah, women are like that.” Except for Jules. “I’ll give it a shot, but I’m not sure I’m the right person to ask for advice when it comes to girls,” I shrug.
“Who else am I supposed to ask?” He says in return.
“I don’t know, what about your dad?” I try him out.
He puffs. “I don’t wanna be a player,” he frowns. “I really like this girl.”
“Your dad is not a player,” I defend Tony. I’ve been wanting to talk to him about it because of what Jules told me about their fight.
He rolls his eyes at me. “I’m pretty sure he is.”
“Your dad spent eighteen years with the same woman. He never cheated on her, not once. Trust me, I would know. I’m his best friend. I don’t think that qualifies as being a player.”
“Yeah, and then he treated her like crap and kicked her out the house.”
I don’t know what to say to that. It wasn’t exactly like that, but I can’t really say it was not like that either.
“He did,” I end up granting him. “And he regrets it every single day. Sean…” I start to say. I want to tell him Tony is a good father, miles better than mine, and that he should hear him out. I want to tell him because it’s true, and because I care about Tony and don’t want his kid to hate him. But most of all, I want to tell him because I love this kid. I love him as if he were mine, and I don’t want him to live his life consumed by resentment. I want him to be as happy as he can be.
However, I don’t get a chance to tell him anything because at that moment, my phone rings and interrupts me. It’s Tony of course.
“Hey man,” he says through the phone. “Martha says Sean’s with you.”
“Yeah,” I say. “We're at my place.”
I look up at Sean.
“My mother?” He asks.
I shake my head. “Your dad.”
“We’ll be right there,” Tony says and hangs up.
A few minutes later, Jules shows up at my bedroom door. Tony is with her, but he’s been held back by my mother. I can hear her telling him how we’ve been having problems with the kitchen sink. I wheel out of my bedroom to stop her.
“Mom, come on. I told you I would call the plommer tomorrow,” I try to get her off Tony's back.
“I’ll take a look at it, Mrs. Sanders,” Tony says and my mom’s face lights up like a Christmas tree. My mother loves Tony. I’d like to say it’s because of all he’s done for me, but the truth is, she loves him because he’s always helping her around the house with all the stuff I can’t do.
“I’ll get the tools,” she smiles.
“I’ll do it,” Tony cuts her off and heads for the garage. He knows where everything is, of course. Actually, he bought half the tools in that box.
“Will you help me, son?” He says to Sean who’s standing at my doorway.
Sean doesn't look happy about it, but he obliges. The two of them get the tools and go in the kitchen. Me and Jules follow, not that we’ll be much help. I want to seize the opportunity and steal Jules away for a minute, because I want to show her an ad for a three bedroom apartment I found last night. It’s on the ground floor and it looks accessible enough, plus it has a huge kitchen I think she’ll really like. I’m hoping she’ll fall in love with it and say yes to my proposal.
“Jules,” I start.
“Uh huh?” She says without looking at me.
Her eyes are fixed on Tony. He’s rolled up his sleeves and is crouching down under the kitchen sink.
“Hand me the pipe wrench,” he says to Sean. Sean selects the tool from inside the box and passes him the correct wrench.
“Want to give it a try?” Tony asks him. “It’s an easy fix,” he adds. “I’ll walk you through it.”
Sean takes a second to consider it, but finally he agrees. He lies down flat on the tile floor and grabs the wrench from Tony’s hand.
Tony starts explaining what to do, slowly and patiently, giving Sean enough time to follow his instructions, guiding his hand when he gets stuck. Both my mother and Jules are watching him mesmerized. I could fix the sink if I still had full use of my hands. Although, to be fair, it was Tony’s father who taught me how, with the same patience and love that Tony’s using now. My own father was never the handy kind, so Sean Senior took over that part of my education. That old man was a better father to me than mine ever was. I miss him. Probably not as much as Tony does, but I do.
I don’t try talking to Jules again because she’s clearly swooning over Tony right now. I’ll show her the apartment later. I lean back on my rest and wait. I’m tempted to leave, just so I don’t have to watch her or Tony for that matter, but for some reason I stay put.
When the sink is fixed, my mother thanks Tony as if he’d just built her a new kitchen. She offers him a glass of lemonade and asks him three times to please stay over for lunch. Tony refuses though, I bet it’s because my father is sitting in the living room and Tony knows he wouldn’t be happy about it. Finally, Tony excuses himself by saying he had plans to take his family out to a restaurant.
“I’ll stay with uncle Erick,” Sean says.
“Erick’s coming too,” Tony announces. “I said the whole family,” he ads.
“I…” I hesitate. “I’d have to change,” I say looking down at the old sweat pants I’m wearing.
“Oh, come on, Erick. I’m not taking you anywhere fancy. Let’s go to Al’s Burgers,” Tony presses.
I know he wants to spend time with Sean, Al’s burgers are his favorite. I also know Sean doesn’t want to spend time with him, so if I refuse, chances are Sean will too. So I nod.
They wait for me while I grab the stuff I need to carry with me every time I leave the house. Then we head to Tony’s car. If I move out, I’ll buy a car too. I haven’t needed one so far, but I know I could drive with hand controls. They let me take the front seat as I always do. I park my chair next to the car and throw my legs inside one at a time. I transfer inside without much trouble by scooting to the front of the chair and placing one hand on the car seat and the other one on my chair to push up from. Sean takes my chair and puts it in the trunk for me.
It’s a short drive to Al’s burgers. We’ve been coming here for years. There’s another burger place a block down that is actually much better, but it has five steps to get inside and a tiny bathroom I could never get into. So we come here. Tony hasn’t stepped foot inside that other place since I got injured. I know he’s changed a lot of things in his life to accomodate me. He rented an apartment with an elevator even though it was more expensive, and he did a lot of renovations in the company building. He doesn’t go to places that are inaccessible. I don’t think he even stops to consider it anymore. If I can’t get in, he doesn't either, not even when he’s alone.
Sean gets my chair for me and sets it in place so I can transfer. Jules picks a table by the entrance so I don’t have to cross the entire place. Tony pulls a chair away and I roll in under the table.
“So, how’s school?” Tony tries to engage Sean in conversation.
“Fine,” Sean opens his menu.
“Anything interesting?” Tony tries again.
“Nah,” Sean shakes his head.
The waiter comes by and we place our order.
“There’s a game on tonight. Wanna watch it?” Tony tries a new subject with Sean.
“I don’t know,” he says.
“It’s your team.”
Tony frowns. I know he’s trying to come up with something else to say. He’s interrupted by the waiter who sets our drinks on the table. Jules opens my soda can for me.
“Thanks,” I say.
“So, what music are you into these days?” Tony asks his son.
“Got any recommendations for your old man?”
Sean takes a sip from his soda.
“Come on, help me out. I need to get updated,” Tony doesn’t give up.
Our burgers arrive. Jules pours in some ketchup in mine because those damn sachets are impossible.
“Anything you like to play in the guitar?” Tony continues. It’s painful at this point. I feel for my friend. I try to figure out a way to help him but I come up blank.
“So what do you guys want for Christmas dinner?” Jules asks.
“Loin,” Tony smiles at her.
“Turkey,” Sean counters.
“And maybe lasagna?” I put in my own request.
Jules raises an eyebrow in the cutest way.
“Apple pie,” Sean and Tony say at the same time.
“Ok,” she laughs. “I'll cook all that but you’re singing carols with me.”
“No way,” Sean shakes his head.
We always spend Christmas together. My parents aren’t really big on celebrating. My mom cooks a small dinner and they both go to bed early. Martha likes spending the whole week at her sister’s, so we’re left free to celebrate as we want, and we all love Christmas because of Jules. She makes a big deal out of it, no matter what the budget is. She’s an amazing cook and she likes singing Christmas carols. Before Sean senior passed away, we used to spend Christmas at his house. Even though he was rather serious, the old man really liked it when Jules sang carols, he would actually request them, and made the rest of us sing with her. Tony hasn’t sung a carol since he died, but he listens to them with nostalgic embrace.
I often wonder if Tony and Jules would still be married if Sean were still alive. His heart attack was the final nail on their marriage coffin.
I’m waiting at their place. The voices of their argument still bounce on the living room walls.
“You should’ve told me!” Sean looks old. He’s never looked this old before. His voice is grave, not angry but hurt, devastated. “How could you keep this from me?”
“I couldn’t tell you, dad.” Tony looks so helpless. “How could I tell you this? How could I tell you that she…?”
“You should have!” Sean repeats. His hands are clenched into fists. “How much?”
Tony stares at him in silence.
“How much did she take?” He raises his voice.
“Everything,” Tony finally whispers.
“The personal account?”
“Everything,” Tony speaks louder this time.
“The investors’ money?”
“She used the house computer. The passwords were loaded in.”
“She was staying with you?” Sean’s run out of air. I can barely make up the phrase.
“It was me,” Jules speaks up. “I let her in the house.”
Sean turns to look at her. He’s holding his arm, rubbing it up and down.
“I’m so sorry Sean. She said she didn’t have anywhere to stay. Tony was staying at the hospital and she said…,” Her voice cracks.
“Oh, sweet girl,” Sean whispers.
I sit on my chair, the wheelchair I still hate, and I wait for hours. Jules called me from the hospital. Sean had a massive heart attack. He’s in surgery. I want to be there, for Sean. for Tony, for Jules, but I can't. I’m stuck in this wheelchair, unable to go anywhere. My best friend’s father is dying, and I’m here. My legs are twitching and my head is killing me. My leg bag is full. I can’t empty it. I can’t do fuking anything! My blood pressure is rising dangerously. I can feel it. I can’t feel anything else, but I can feel that. Perhaps I’ll finally die. What a relief that would be.
Jules opens the door and I can see right away from the look on her face that Sean is gone. She stares at me, two streams of tears rolling down her cheeks. My legs bounce harder. I can’t even let her have this moment. She runs to me, knowing what’s going on. She wheels me to the bathroom and takes a pill out of the cabinet and puts it under my tongue. She empties my bag and waits.
She’s squatting in front of me, her hands on mine.
“Are you ok?” She finally speaks but I don’t answer.
She fumbles in her pocket looking for her phone with trembling hands.
“I’m ok,” I say and she drops the phone. It crashes against the tile floor but she doesn’t even look at it.
“Are you sure?” She says with panic in her voice.
“I’m fine, Jules. I’m fine. Sean?”
She crumbles on my lap and her sobs shatter me.
“I’m not gonna sing any carols, mom,” Sean Junior says with a grin.
“Oh, come on!” Jules hums. Her voice is like a mockingjay. “One carol. I’ll let you choose it.”
Tony's eyes are fixed on her. He’s holding a smile in, watching her, mesmerized.
“I’m too old for that!” Sean complains.
“One’s never too old to sing carols,” Jules chuckles. Her laughter is music to my ears. I want to see her smile like this always.
“Jesus, mom,” Sean rolls his eyes.
I smile, contempt.
Monday morning I show up at the Valhalla for what will probably be our last week here. The contract is up tomorrow and Jules will most likely have to vacate the place. I’m looking forward to our little morning routine. One last time of setting those damn tablecloths and listening to music. I also want to get her alone to show her the apartment since I didn’t get a chance yesterday. I’m hoping the prospect of moving out of her mother’s will cheer her up despite losing the cafe.
She shows up early too. I watch her approach me, her hands buried in her pockets, her long hair loose over her shoulders. Her nose is pink from the cold. She’s beautiful under the dim lights of this winter sunrise. I stare at her.
“Morning, handsome!” Her melodious voice makes me grin.
“Morning, Jules!” My phone is resting on my lap. I pick it up and swipe on the screen with my knuckles. “I want to show you something.” I bring up the ad for the apartment and hand her my phone.
She meets my eyes when she notices what I’m showing her. I’m nervous as hell, and the look in her eyes makes me even more anxious.
“It’s an apartment,” I say flurried. “For us,” I ad.
“Erick,” her voice is lost in a gust of wind.
We stare at each other.
“Hey guys!” Tony shows up behind her. I’ve no idea when he got here. “What are you doing standing out here in the cold?” He startles Jules with a kiss on her cheek. “Give me the keys,” he asks.
Jules hands me back my phone and gives him the keys. Tony crouches down and lifts the iron curtain in one swift move. I make a point out of not dwelling on the things I can’t do, but this is one thing I really wish I could, lift that damn iron curtain Jules struggles with every morning.
Later, when Tony leaves to get the car around, I wheel to Jules.
“Do you think you could come over for lunch today?” I ask her.
“I don’t want to leave the café today. In case Mr. Cohen shows up,” she says.
“Of course,” I nod. “Call us if he does, would you?”
I wheel into my office and see the pile of papers on my desk. I have to call Lou to give her the routes for the week. Assuming that she hasn’t quit after that fiasco Friday night.
“Oh,” her face flushes. “I thought it was a work dinner,” she says awkwardly. She fidgets with a napkin, sitting across from me in a romantic restaurant.
Who the hell asks an employee for a work dinner on a Friday night? Why the hell would we need to go on a work dinner? This is a transportation company, not PR. In her defense, I did say “Lou, would you have dinner with me?” Was I supposed to say, “Lou, would you go on a date with me?” Jesus, talk about embarrassing moments.
I put the papers on my lap and wheel out of the office to go find her. I could just call her, but it’s better to face her now, get it over with, in the hopes that things won’t be awkward forever.
She’s in her office, wearing a skirt suit and a pink satin blouse. She’s always dressed up and wearing makeup, not too much, but some blush and light pink lipstick. She’s pretty. Jules' image appears in my mind on her jeans and sweater, no make up, looking prettier than Lou ever could. I shake the image away.
“Good morning, Lou,” I say in as natural a tone as I can manage.
“Good morning, Erick!” I hope my tone was better than this because hers is awkward as hell. Her voice is overly chipper and she looks uncomfortable.
“Here are the routes.”
I just have to ignore this for a few days and with any luck, she’ll forget about it by the end of the week.
“Thanks,” she tucks a strand of hair behind her ear. “I’ll email you the orders when they’re ready.”
She always takes them to my office, but I guess she’ll be emailing them now.
“Sure,” I say and roll out.
At lunch time, Tony shows up at my office.
“Hey man,” he sits down in front of my desk. “Got a minute?” He looks on edge which is very uncharacteristic of him. If someone’s good at keeping feelings in, it's Tony. The look on his face is making me nervous.
He sighs audibly.
“I found my mother,” he announces. I know she showed up at the Valhalla. He mentioned it but didn’t elaborate, and he didn’t tell me he was looking for her. Tony never talks about his mother. Never. “She’s staying at a hotel downtown.”
“Have you seen her?”
He shakes his head and sighs again.
“Do I call the police on her?” His voice is low and grave.
I’m at a loss of words, so I stay quiet for a minute.
“Do you want to?” I finally ask. It may seem like a stupid question, but I think it’s a fair one. For a while, he was so incredibly furious at her. I’m sure if she had shown up in the first year after the theft, he would have pressed charges without a second thought and sent her to jail. And who could blame him. He doesn’t look angry now, though. His brow is furrowed but the look in his eyes is strange.
He stares at the wall for a while in silence. Then he looks back at me and shakes his head. “I don’t.” He takes a deep breath. “I really don’t. But if I do, the police could investigate, maybe she still has something. What if she bought a house or has a bank account? If they recover some of the money, I could give it to Jules,” he leans in and sets his arms on the desk. “Erick, I can’t let her lose the café. I can’t!”
He’s clenching his fists but not in anger, I’m sure it’s frustration. He wants to help her so badly, like I do, maybe even more. We can’t bear to see her hurt.
“When we lost the house, I told her that if we saved the company, in time, I could get her another house. It was never my plan to leave her with nothing. I was supposed to fix things. I’m supposed to take care of her. She shouldn’t be struggling with money, it’s not fair!” He runs a hand through his hair and stands up. “I wish I could give her more money. If I didn’t have to pay rent…” He turns around. “I also have to think about Sean’s college. I could sell the car, but it wouldn’t be all that much, I’m not sure it’ll be worth it.” He paces around the office. “I would rather never see that woman again, never think about her again,” he hisses. “But if dragging her to court can help Jules… I think I have to.”
I stare at him. He’s not looking at me, he’s facing the window now. His shoulders are tense. He puts his right hand over his head.
I wheel out from behind the desk. “Then do it,” I say.
He turns to look at me. He holds my eyes for a minute, breathing heavily.
“What if she doesn’t have anything left?” He speaks again in a low voice. “Don’t you think that’s why she came back?”
“Maybe.” I think that’s likely to be the reason.
“We’ll find another way to help Jules,” I say mainly to comfort him because I feel he really needs it. I’ve thought about it too, and of course I wish with all my being there was a way for Jules to keep the café she loves so much, but deep down I know that it’s a fools battle. It’s already lost, and all we can do is be there for her through it. I think she’s accepted it too.
“But then…” He whispers. “If there’s no money left… I would’ve sent my mother to jail for nothing.”
He plummets on the chair defeated.
“No one would blame you for it,” I say although I get where he’s coming from. That woman was never a mother to him. She left him when he was six years old and since then, she’s brought him nothing but sorrow. Still, I get that it can’t be easy to send your own mother to jail.
He sighs yet again. “I would blame me. I…” He leans in on the desk and buries his face in his hands. “Erick, I’ve made so many mistakes in my life… There are so many things I’m guilty of. I know I’m a drastic man. I’ve made some rash choices in the past,” he looks up then. “I can’t even look at myself in the mirror sometimes.”
“Man, don’t,” I wheel to him. “Everybody makes mistakes. I think yours are fairly justified.”
Sometimes I get mad at Tony when I think about the way he treated Jules back then. But at the end of the day, I really can’t blame him. He was going through so much, and I don’t think anyone could’ve acted differently under the same circumstances.
He shakes his head at me and stands back up.
“If I send my mother to jail for nothing, if Jules ends up losing the café after all, I won’t be able to live with myself.”
I look up at him. I have to crane my neck to meet his eyes, Tony is so fucking tall. He’s strong too, physically and mentally. Yet now, he looks so helpless.
“Erick,” he looks down at me. “If I apply for a loan, would you back me up? The only way the bank would approve it would be to sign the company as collateral. You’d have to agree. It would be difficult to make the payments but I’d try my best. We could get Jules the money she needs to keep the Valhalla.”
“Of course Tony. You don’t even have to ask. I would do anything for you and Jules. But I don’t think it’s what she wants.” He squints at me. “I’ve talked to her about it,” I continue. “I have some money saved. I offered it to her as I offer it to you right now. You take it and do with it as you see fit. But she refused it. She knows it would be a bad investment. We all want to save the Valhalla, but paying that amount of rent would be foolish. The café doesn’t make enough money. Jules knows it. Still, if you want the money, it’s yours. You don’t have to get a loan from the bank. It’s not enough to buy a house, but it might be enough to get her a new business. You use it to do whatever you want for her.”
He shakes his head and walks past me to face the window again.
“I can’t take your money,” he speaks without turning around. “I know I have before, but it was an investment then. You were partnering up in the company.”
“Come on, man, seriously? You can’t take my money?” I turn my chair around. “You paid for all my medical bills when you didn’t know if I would ever pay you back. You were by my side at the hospital for months. You took me into your house. You carried me from the bed to the chair and back for over two years. You dressed me, you bathed me, you helped me in the bathroom, and you can’t take my money?”
“I…” Tony turns to look at me and shakes his head again. “That was nothing. You would’ve done the same for me,” he shrinks his shoulders. I can’t believe him!
“Nothing?” I say outraged. “You know what you did for me, man? You saved my life! I would’ve killed myself were it not for you and Jules. That’s your nothing!”
I’ve never said it outloud before, but it’s true. I would’ve killed myself! I thought about it enough times and I would’ve done it if this man hadn’t been next to me every fucking day since I broke my neck. He keeps shaking his head at me. I want to smack him.
“I didn’t do enough for you,” he says. “I left you at that shity hospital. They didn’t stretch your arms, your hands… If you had gone to a specialized…”
“Oh stop!” I interrupt him, raising my voice. He’s unbelievable. “Really, Tony? Really?”
He stares at me like I’m speaking chinese. I hold his gaze hoping I will magically shake the stupidity out of him. If I could stand right now, I would shake him. I take a deep breath to calm myself down.
“You ashole,” I say in a lower tone now. “I broke my neck. All the stretching in the world wouldn’t fix that. I can’t extend my arms, big deal. It is in no way your fault. You did more for me than anyone could hope for. You’re a fucking saint, Tony!” He takes a step back at my words and now it’s me who shakes my head at him. I can’t believe he doesn’t know this! “Man,” I sigh and run my bent fingers across my face and hair. “You’re fucking mother Teresa,” I laugh. “Tony, for God’s sake!”
He’s looking at me like I’m crazy and it makes me laugh even harder.
“You must be stupid, man if you think you failed me somehow. Sit down,” I smile at him now. “I’ll write you a check.”
It takes him a few minutes. I let him brood over it, standing rigid by the window. I wheel behind the desk and take my checkbook out.
“I’ll pay you back,” he says after a while and sits down.
I laugh again.
I call Jules that night. Her landlord didn’t show up today, but he surely will tomorrow. I ask her over to my place and she says yes. I wait for her with the door open. I watch her walk down the street towards me. I can’t make her face out from here, but her hair sways with the rhythm of her steps. Her jeans are tight around her hips. She’s wearing a warm sweater, blue. Blue looks so good on her.
“Hey there, handsome,” she meets me with a kiss on the cheek. Her lips are warm on my skin. I flash her a smile and lean back on my rest.
I let her go into the house first, and wheel behind her. My eye line is straight to her buttocks, she has a lovely body. I look away. Like I said, I make a point not to dwell on the things I can’t do, or can’t have in this case.
She goes into my room and sits on the bed. I close the door behind me feeling like a teenager. I take my phone out and hand it to her with the apartment ad on it like I did this morning.
“Erick,” she says. “Are you really serious about this?”
I nod, a big smile winning over my face. I’m really excited about this. I could live alone if I’d set my mind to it. But it would be hard. I won’t kid myself and think I don’t need help with plenty of stuff. I would need to have everything adapted, lots of technology to compensate for the things I can’t do. And that would mean more money. Still, it’s doable. But living with Jules would be so much better. It would be easier, yes. Jules could help me when I’d needed it. But that’s not why I want to move in together. I would do everything in my power so she didn’t have to help me so much. I want to live with her because it would be great, fucking awsome. I would get to see her every night. We would talk about our day and watch random shows on TV. On Sundays, we could have breakfast together, and then we would do something with Sean, like play a boardgame or mess around with the guitar. Besides, I know Sean and her would like it too. I could finally reciprocate a tiny bit after everything she’s done for me.
“Please, say yes,” I can’t help myself from asking.
“What do you think Tony would say?” She brings out the one thing that rains on my parade.
I’m not making a move on her. We wouldn’t be a couple, we would be roomies. Yet, to be honest, I’ve no idea if Tony would dislike the idea. I feel for him, because I know there’s nothing he would like more than to get his family back. But he also wants Jules to be happy, and this will make her happy. Tony has to know that.
“Do you want me to run it by him?”
Jules stares at me. She bites on her lower lip, like she always does when she’s nervous. She sighs and stands up.
“I don’t know,” she finally speaks.
I don’t like looking up at her while we talk, especially about something important. I’d wish she’d sit back down. But there’s nothing I can do about it, so I shake it off.
“Do you want to live with me?” I ask her.
She nods and that smile floods my face again.
“I’ll talk to him tomorrow,” I say.