“That was a really nice song, Erick” Jules whispers.
She’s lying on my bed, next to me. She got there faster than I can sit up, so I just turned my head towards her and now we’re both lying flat facing each other.
“Thanks,” I blush, I’m hoping she can’t see it though, since she didn’t turn the lights on.
“Would you sing it again for me?” She keeps her voice quiet.
“Come on Erick, please,” she begs.
“What if Sean hears us?”
“Nah, my son sleeps like the dead.”
We’re speaking in hushed voices, as if we were a couple of teenagers sneaking in the house after a party.
“What if he’s still awake?”
“How do you know?” I press.
“I checked before I came here,” she mutters.
“Yes,” she nods in the darkness. Some of her hair falls over her face and I’m oh so tempted to run my hand across her cheek and part it.
“Yes!” She accidentally raises her voice and immediately covers her mouth with her hand to drown the sound of her beautiful laughter. “Please,” she says quietly again and kisses my cheek. I think she might’ve had a little too much to drink.
“Ok,” I agree.
“Yes!” She lifts a fist in triumph.
I can see her dazzling smile in the darkness.
I start singing in a whisper. She stares at me the whole time. Her eyes shine on me. I close mine briefly and dare to sing a little louder. When I open them back up, she’s still staring. She takes my breath away. I finish the song in a murmur.
“It’s sooo beautiful!” She utters softly.
I’m lost in her eyes. I’m breathing hastily. She stares at me in silence for what feels like a long time.
“I love you, Erick,” she says and my heart stops.
She turns on her side to rest her head on my shoulder and places her arm across my chest. I can’t feel her elbow, but I can feel her hand on my shoulder. I think I’ve forgotten how to breath. I stay there frozen for a while, smelling the lavender scent of her shampoo, treasuring the moment, fearing the instant when it will inevitably end. God, please let her stay like this, please, just a little longer, I beg in my mind.
And she does, I slowly feel her breath ease, until she falls asleep. Shit. I don’t move an inch nor make a sound, fearing Sean will walk in on us, fearing even more that she will wake and leave me. After a few minutes of lying in the silence, I forget about Sean or Tony or the whole world for that matter, I get lost in the warmth she casts over me, her smooth breaths on my chest, the feel of her fingers over my shoulder. I dare to lift my hand and run it over her hair. I can’t feel it though, and I want to feel her so badly. Oh, how I’d wish that she were mine and we would sleep like this every night. How I’d wish that her words meant something different. It hurts so bad not to have her. I lift my neck and kiss her hair. I take a deep breath, or as deep as I can take it, trying to keep my feelings in check. I breathe in lavender and wine, I breathe Jules in and let the pain wash off. I’m holding her in my arms, my angel, my beautiful Julia. If this is all I get of her, this moment, I’ll take it and treasure it forever.
When I wake up, she’s still on my bed, although not in the same position. She’s lying on her side, facing me, her head rested on her arm, her lips are slightly parted. I look down and find her knee over my leg. The sun’s out but it’s probably still early. It’s not a working day so I don’t have to get up just yet. And I know Sean always wakes up late. I seize the opportunity to watch her. I do so shamelessly. She’s wearing pajamas, white satin pants and a matching button up shirt I’ve never seen her on before. She usually wears something warmer during winter. Her hair is smoothed out partly on her shoulder and partly over the mattress. She looks cute with her eyes closed. I’m fantasizing what it would be like to wake up next to her every morning when my cell phone vibrates.
I try to get it in a hurry because I don’t want Jules to wake up, but who am I kidding, I’m super slow at everything, answering my phone included. I struggle to grab the phone and swipe my knuckles over the screen. It’s Tony. I look back at Jules, she’s still sleeping.
“Hey man, are you awake?” He says across the line.
“Uh huh,” I keep it down.
“Do you wanna have breakfast with me?”
“Uh… sure,” I whisper.
“Why are you whispering?” He asks. Damn it.
“I’m not,” I raise my voice slightly and look at Jules. Tony’s quiet in the line. “I just woke up, I’m hoarse,” I lie.
“Ok,” he says finally. “So, can I pick you up?”
Tony is not a spur of the moment type of guy. He usually sticks to his schedules. He likes plans, it’s weird that he’s calling me like this without previous warning. Besides, I’m even less spontaneous than he is, because it takes me forever to do the simplest things. He knows this.
“Uh… An hour?” I say. “I’m still in bed,” I explain.
“I’m actually already outside your place, but I’ll wait for you, no rush.”
Oh shit! He has a key. Why oh why did we give him a key? I mean, I know we gave it to him because he was helping with the renovations, and then we were all embarrassed to ask for it back, so he just kept it. Damn it.
“Ok, let me get out of bed to open up,” I say, praying he didn’t bring it.
“Oh, I have my key,” he says. Shoot.
“Ok,” I hang up in a hurry. “Jules,” I shake her. “Tony’s here.” She opens her eyes just barely. “Jules, wake up, Tony’s here,” I repeat.
“What?” She sits up abruptly.
“He’s right outside and he brought his key,” I say. Then, I strain my ear trying to hear if he comes in.
“Shit!” She jumps out of bed and opens the door slowly, she tilts her head outside and looks back at me. She nods and then walks out in a rush.
Damn it, I fall on my back again.
A few minutes later, I hear the door open and Tony’s footsteps on the hallway. He walks all the way to my bedroom and knocks on the door, which is not closed all the way.
“Can I come in, Erick?”
“Yeah,” I say, still from the bed.
“Morning,” he walks in the room. “Sorry to come by so early.”
I shrug. I’m sitting halfway up, held by my elbows. He walks to me and plummets on the bed. He ends up lying face up at the exact same spot where Jules was just a few minutes ago. It’s weird. I mean, I don’t have a chair in my bedroom for him to sit on, and we’ve known each other for years and surely we have slept together before, probably when we were younger, but this is definitely weird.
“Tony?” I ask.
“I’m so tired,” he says looking straight up at the ceiling.
“Why did you get up, then?”
“I couldn’t sleep,” he shrugs.
“Are you ok, man?” I try to sit up further.
“Yeah, yeah, I’ve just been having trouble sleeping for a few weeks,” he says and yawns. Then, he turns to his side facing me. “Did I wake you up?”
Now his face is at the precise place where Jules slept. I’m getting really paranoid here. What if he can smell her scent on my sheets? I stare at him. For some reason, I feel like I’m cheating with my best friend’s wife. We didn’t do anything though, and she’s not his wife anymore. Still, I feel really guilty.
“No,” I shake my head at him. “I’ll get up now so we can go,” I say hoping he’ll get up too.
“Is it a long morning or a short one?” He asks so matter of factly. I know he’s referring to my daily care routines, if it’s a bowel care day, it takes me forever to be ready.
“Short one,” I say embarrassed.
He nods. “Do you want me to help you?”
“I’m ok,” I shake my head at him.
I finish sitting up and start the long process of getting out of bed. I throw my legs off the mattress and set them on the footplate so I can transfer to the chair. I wheel myself out of the room and into the bathroom. When I come back, he’s still lying down on the same spot. He bought this bed for me, right after my accident, when he took me to live with him after rehab. His eyes are closed and I wonder if he fell asleep. I take out my clothes and set them on the bed.
“Do you need me to move?” He says with his eyes still closed.
It would be easier, and yes I want him to move away from the spot Jules slept on.
“Uh…, I think I can manage.”
I transfer back into bed but it’s weird having him there while I dress. He’s watched me get dressed a thousand times before. Hell, he’s dressed me plenty of times. But he’s never been lying next to me while I do it. At least he has his eyes closed. I carry on.
“Do you think Jules is still asleep?” He asks me when I’ve almost finished.
“I guess,” I feel the heat rise to my cheeks. I turn to look at him, he’s opened his eyes but he’s staring up at the ceiling again.
I start putting my socks on. This is the hardest part of getting dressed. It still takes me ages. I fold over, letting my torso fall over my legs. I hook my fist inside one sock and try to get it to go in. It’s hard on a usual day, and Tony’s making me nervous. Besides, I have to admit, Jules has been doing this for me for the past couple of weeks. Am I out of practice so fast? I struggle at it for minutes. Tony sits up. I look up at him from my strange position.
“Can I?” He asks and I nod. He gets up and squats at the foot of the bed. He takes the sock away from me and slips it on. I press my hands down on my thighs to sit back up. He takes the other sock and does the same. Then, he gets my shoes and puts them on like I’m a toddler.
“Thanks,” I mumble. Like so many other aspects of my disability, I’ve made my peace with getting help continuously.
He sits back on the bed and waits for me to transfer. When I’m finally set to go, he gets back up and I follow him to the living room. Once there, he stops.
“Do you wanna have breakfast here?” He turns to look at me. “We could have leftovers.”
“Sure,” I agree.
“I’ll make coffee.”
He goes into the kitchen and turns the coffee machine on. I open the fridge and take some tupperwares out. He takes them from me and heats some of the food up. We go to the table. But then, he doesn’t eat. He just drinks his coffee in silence. I’m starting to get the idea he just didn’t want to be alone. He looks really sad.
“Tony,” I say. “Are you ok, man?”
He nods and takes a bite of his cold food.
“What’s on your mind?” I press. This is my best friend, the guy who’s always been there for me. The guy who was at my room every single day while I was in hospital. I can’t bear to see him so down.
He shakes his head and stays quiet.
“I… I’m just…” He shrugs.
I wait, looking straight at him, giving him a chance to speak up, but he doesn’t.
“What is it, brother?” I insist.
“Nothing, I guess I must be getting old, that’s all,” he disregards it and starts eating.
We’re still at the table when Jules comes out of her room. She’s dressed in yoga pants and a sweater. Her hair is a little disheveled. She looks beautiful. Tony’s face lights up when he sees her.
“Hey, Jules,” he smiles at her melancholically.
“Hey guys,” she walks to us and Tony catches her waist. He looks up at her.
“Come sit with us,” he says. “I’ll heat up something for you. I made coffee.”
She looks at me nervously, and I get anxious that Tony might notice. However, my friend is none the wiser. He gets up and pours her a cup of coffee.
“Want some turkey?” He asks her.
“Let’s wake Sean up,” he says. “Please,” he adds at Jules's look.
They both go into Sean’s bedroom and a few minutes later Sean walks out still in his pajamas.
“Hey uncle Erick,” he sits next to me and steals a loaf of bread from my plate.
“Morning, Sean,” I smile.
Jules sits across from me, and Tony serves them some leftovers from yesterday. He doesn’t look so grim anymore.
“So, what are your plans for today?” Tony asks.
“Sleep,” Sean answers.
“Clean up,” Jules says.
“We’ll help you,” Tony offers.
And we do, or they do. I try my best to cooperate, but the truth is I’m not much help.
“Play some music, Sean. Let’s hear what you like,” Tony says.
And Sean plays Nirvana on his phone.
“Good taste, son.”
“What, did you think I liked Justin Bieber?” Sean mocks him.
“Of course not, you’re my son.”
“Uncle Erick´s taught me well.”
Damn it Sean. But Tony doesn’t look offended. He pats me on the shoulder.
“Thanks for that, Erick,” he says. “You’re a good teacher.”
“Can I sleep now?” Sean asks when we finish cleaning up.
“Yeah, kiddo, you’ve earned it,” Tony grabs his shoulder and stops him from going though. “Can we watch a movie later this afternoon?”
Sean considers it for a minute.
“Ok.” He starts to turn around to leave, but Tony doesn’t let go of his shoulder.
“I love you, son,” he says.
Sean’s frozen in place. He holds his father's gaze for a minute and then nods. Tony lets go of his shoulder and Sean walks away.
“I think I’ll take a nap too,” Jules says. “Have I earned it?” She smiles at Tony.
“Sure, honey,” he hums the word in that tone. It’s an inner joke, I know he calls her “honey” because of an Aerosmith song. Jules’s cheeks turn bright red.
“What are you gonna do?” She asks.
“I’m gonna hang out with my best friend,” he says, still giving her that look. “I can’t let you steal him from me completely.”
She laughs. “Have fun, guys!” And walks away.
“Wanna watch TV?” I ask once we’re alone.
“I was hoping you’ll come with me to the cemetery,” he says.
I look up at him surprised. I know he visits his father at the graveyard two or three times a year, but he’s never asked me to go with him before. I nod.
The cemetery is a good thirty minute drive away, there is no traffic. It’s a nice day, the sun’s out, yet it’s cold. We’re both quiet all the way. Tony parks at a handicap spot and kills the engine. He stays in place though. I stare at him, is he going to say something? He’s acting really strange today. Finally, he gets out of the car and gets my chair for me. He sets it in place for me to transfer and then stays there looking towards the chapel, in the direction of his father’s grave. He’s holding my chair, which I don’t need him to do. I set the breaks and look up at him but he doesn’t notice. So I just transfer while he’s still got his hands on the small handles. He feels me unlock the breaks and move my wheels, and finally steps back.
We go over the main path and past the garden all the way to the chapel. Then, we use a ramp to get on the yard. If I want to go all the way to Sean’s grave, I’ll have to wheel over the grass. I can do it, but I really dislike the idea of rolling over graves. I try my best to keep off of them, but then we have to make a left and the space is barely wide enough for me to roll between them. Sean’s grave is two lines ahead. I stay put. Tony looks back at me, but doesn’t speak, he nods and keeps going without me.
“Hi, dad,” I hear him say. “Merry Christmas.” He squats down and clears some dry leaves from the headstone. I know he asked me to come with him, but I feel like I’m intruding. So I turn my chair around and wheel a few graves away.
Still, his voice carries with the wind all the way to me. I can’t hear him clearly but I can still make out some words. I hear Jules’s name, but he leans in and I can’t make out what he says about her. It’s better that way. The trees are whooshing and they hide Tony’s conversation amongst the rustling of their leaves. Then suddenly, the breeze stops and his words sound clear to me.
“Sean’s playing the guitar, and singing. Dad, he’s great,” he says in a lively tone. “I’d wish you could hear him. And he likes Nirvana, and Led Zeppelin,” he chuckles softly. “I didn’t teach him though. It was Erick.” I consider rolling farther away, but I don’t want him to realize I heard that. “Sean likes Erick better than he likes me,” his tone is now sad, defeated. “I don’t blame him. I like Erick better than I like me. So does Jules. Dad…” A flock of birds flies over us and his next phrases are lost to me. “...if you had been with me, you wouldn't have let me behave that way. I know that,” he goes quiet, for a long time.
I turn my chair around to face him because it’s been a while. I see him standing, staring at the grave. He’s pulled his collar up to protect himself from the wind. His back is turned to me, so I can’t see his face, maybe he’s still talking but in a lower volume. I don’t know. In this position, the wind hits my face directly, and it’s freezing cold. My cheeks start to get numb. A few more minutes go by before he turns around. He’s lost track of me and I watch him look around until he finds me. He walks towards me.
“Do you wanna say hi?” He’s still a few graves away from me.
“Sure,” I struggle to push my rims. Wheeling over grass is difficult. He stares at me and then walks the last few steps that separate us. Suddenly, he leans down and takes my hands in his. What the hell?
“Tony?” I ask.
He lets go and takes his coat off. He puts it over me.
“You’re cold,” he explains. “Let’s go.”
“I’m fine,” I say, although I am cold, very cold.
“Erick, you’re freezing,” he gets behind my chair. I pull my arms out from under his coat and place them on my rims. He arranges the coat to cover me again. “Keep your hands under the coat,” he says. “I’ll push you.”
I look up at him. My body doesn’t regulate temperature anymore, so it can rise or, in this case, drop drastically. I am cold, but I don’t think I’m in trouble though. I take my hands out from under the coat again and stare at them. The tip of my fingers are paper white.
“I’ll be fine,” I say.
“Damn it, Erick!”
I start wheeling forward but it’s hard, a lot harder than it was on the way here.
“Ok, push me,” I say.
He gets behind me again and pushes my chair the way we came. We go down the ramp into the pavement.
“I’m ok here,” I say.
He lets go but looks down at me with a frown.
When we get to the car, he takes his coat off me and opens the passenger’s door, but then, he doesn’t wait for me to transfer like he usually does. He goes around and gets in the car to turn the heat on. Then, he comes back out. I’m struggling to transfer. He must be right because my legs are extra stiff.
“Can I help?”
“I’ve got it,” I refuse.
So he waits, it takes me longer than usual, but I get my butt inside the car. He closes the door and takes the chair away to store it in the back. Then, he gets into the driver’s seat next to me and throws his coat on me once more. My cheeks start getting warmer.
“Can I take your shoes off to check your feet?”
“Tony, I’m alright.”
“Ok, do it,” I say.
He leans down and first pulls my seat all the way back. Then, he takes one of my feet and gets the shoe and the sock off. He’s right. My foot is really white, except for the tips of my toes which are abnormally read. He doesn’t say I told you so. He puts the sock back on and rubs my foot inside his hands.
“Put your hands near the heat,” he instructs. I do as he says. He spreads the coat to cover all of my legs. “You’ll be fine in a minute.”
“I’m sorry,” I apologize for my stubbornness.
He shakes his head at me. “No, I’m sorry. I didn’t think it’d be so cold.”
I shrug. “I’ll warm up in a minute.”
He nods. Then he throws his head back and rests it on the back of the seat. He lets out air.
“Tony, are you ok?”
“What do you mean?” He turns to look at me.
“You’ve been… I don’t know, man, you look kind of depressed.”
He lets out a heavy breath and looks away.
“I just… I’ve been thinking a lot about things lately,” he goes quiet and I wait. “About Jules, about Sean… about my mother,” he stops again. “I know Jules won’t ever forgive me for the way I treated her back then, but I…” He swallows hard.
“Tony,” I have to tell him, even if it hurts like hell to admit it, I have to. “I think she would.” He turns to look at me. “If you talked to her, if you tried to fix things. I think she would forgive you.” I know she would, I’m sure of it. She would take him back in an instant if he just apologized. She loves him, there’s no doubt in my mind she does.
His eyebrows curl down and he parts his lips.
“You think so?” He asks with such hope in his tone that it breaks my heart.
He gasps and looks away again.
“Can I show you something?”
“Of course,” I nod.
“Let me see if you’re ok first,” he leans down again and puts his hands under my jeans to touch my calves. I wait for his verdict. “Your hands?” He asks. I show them to him. He touches them and examines me. “Better, but keep them in the heat.”
We drive back without speaking again. Tony turns the stereo on and Led Zeppelin’s “Ten years gone” fills the car. We go past the old neighborhood where we grew up, and through the main street. The company is to the left. During a red light, Tony touches my hand again to check my temperature and then he turns the heat down. We keep going past the exit for the new apartment. He goes two blocks down and makes a right. “The rain song” is playing when he stops the car.
“We’re here,” he announces.
“Here where?” I ask.
He gets the chair for me and I get out of the car.
“Put your coat back on,” I tell him.
He reaches inside the car to get it, but he sets it on my legs again like a blanket. I look up at him.
“I have my sweater,” he says and turns on his heels. I follow him to the end of the street and into a small commercial property. He takes a key out of his pocket and opens a glass door. I wheel behind him and enter the place. There’s an empty space and a kitchen in the back with an old counter. The painting on the walls is washed off but the wooden floors are new. Tony’s tool box is on one corner.
“Well?” He asks me.
It’s a café, or it will be, for Jules. I smile.
“I made a deal with the owner. Sweet old lady,” he smiles back at me. “I fix the place up and she freezes the rent for two years,” he announces in triumph. “It’ll be pretty much what she was paying before. So, what do you think?”
The place is great, albeit it needs a lot of work.
“I know what it looks like, but everything works,” he goes to the kitchen and turns the faucet. Then, he switches the lights on and off. “I just finished the floors, I’ll start with the kitchen tomorrow.”
“When have you been doing all this?” I ask in awe.
“I quit the gym,” he says. “This is better exercise.”
“This is great, Tony, awesome. She’s gonna love it.”
“Once I paint the walls, it’ll look brand new,” he turns around looking at the place. He’s got a smile on his face, and I share his happiness.
“Why hadn’t you told me?” I ask.
“I wanted it to be a surprise.”
“I won’t rat on you,” I attempt to slug him on the shoulder, which of course I can’t reach. He laughs and stares down at me for a moment.
“This is thanks to you, man,” he says.
“I did this with your money,” he looks me in the eye intently, and I can see he’s really grateful, the fool, as if he hadn’t done miles more for me. “I’m gonna pay you back though.”
“Tony, you fool,” I laugh. “Don’t you know I’ll always end up in your debt?”
He shakes his head at me smiling. “I’ll say we’re even.”
We go back to the apartment and Tony watches that movie with Sean. Jules makes popcorn and sits by them. I watch them from my chair. They look good together. Soon, Tony will show her the new café and he’ll ask for her forgiveness. She’ll take him back, I know she will. I’m happy for them, because I know they belong together. But I’m also sad because I can’t lie to myself. I’m in love with Jules, have been for years now.
Jules was so close to me at such a hard time in my life. And she was so great. She is so great, my angel. I watch her laugh next to Tony and lay her head on his shoulder.
“Uncle Erick,” Sean calls me. “Aren’t you gonna watch the movie?”
I smile at him sadly. “Uncle Erick.” That’s what I am, that’s what I’ll always be. And I’m grateful for the place I have in this family, because it’s my family too. And they’re great, the best. I would be so alone in the world without them. But he’s not my son, and she’s not my wife. At least Tony is my brother. I can definitely call him that, and I’ll be happy that he’s happy, I could not be anything else.
I nod to Sean, but I stay put watching them rather than the movie. Jules is beautiful with her hair loose. She moves so gracefully. She tilts her head back laughing. She deserves that smile on her face more than anyone. She’s been through a lot in her life.
“So, everything’s ready for the transfer tomorrow morning,” the social worker lets us know. Tony and Jules are standing in my hospital room. I’m being discharged and moved to a Rehabilitation Facility. I hear her from the bed, but I’m in a zombie state at this point, I tell myself I should care, she’s talking about me after all, but really, I don’t give a fuck where I’m going. “We just need some signatures and we’ll be done,” she carries on. “Who’s the primary caregiver?”
“We are,” Tony says.
“I need one, this person will need to be there full time,” she explains. “They’ll be teaching you how to look after him, so it should be the person who will be responsible for his care once he goes home.”
“Me,” Jules speaks up and Tony nods.
“Ok, do you have a steady job, mam?”
“No,” Jules says.
I look up now. Jules has a job as far as I know, although now that I think about it, she’s been here a lot lately.
“Good,” the social worker says. “This is a full time job.”
“Tony?” I speak now.
“We’ll both take care of you,” he walks closer to me. “But I have to work, so Jules will be there with you during the day. Is that ok?” He says. Tony asked me to come live with them after I leave the hospital, and since my only other option is to end up at a nursing home, I agreed.
“Don’t you have to work too?” I ask Jules.
She shakes her head at me and takes a few steps towards the bed too.
“What about your job?” I insist.
Jules looks at Tony before answering and he nods. “I quit,” she explains.
“Jules,” I start, but what the hell can I do? I would like to tell them I’ll hire someone but I don’t have any money. Hell, I’ll like to tell them I’ll take care of myself, but it seems like that’s out of the question.
“It’s ok, Erick,” she puts her hand on my shoulder.
I let my head fall back on the pillow frustrated.
“Ok, sign here, mam,” the social worker hands her some papers.
Tony’s got his arm wrapped around Jules. She takes some popcorn and puts them in her mouth one by one. I watch her enjoying that moment and I’m glad for her. She has done so much for me, and the only thing I can do to pay her back is encourage Tony to fight for her, because deep down, I know nothing would make her happier.
She keeps watching the movie with a smile on her face. I've no idea if it’s a comedy, but I’d be willing to bet it’s being within Tony’s embrace that makes her face look like that. I wish it were me who could make her smile that way. If I were her husband I would try my best, I would spend every day of my life fighting to keep that smile on her face. But I’m not. She loves Tony, not me.
“I love you, Erick,” I play her words back in my mind and remember the feel of her body lying next to me just last night. “I love you too, Julia,” I say inside of me, and then I wheel away.
I go to bed early that night, leaving Tony with them in the living room. I wake up the next day feeling down. It’s Sunday and it’s cold outside. My windows are fogged. It’s really early, the sun is just starting to come out. Why the hell can’t I just sleep until a decent hour like Jules or Sean do? Today is a long morning, like Tony would put it, so I might as well get started. Since we moved in together, Jules has been helping me by getting my supplies ready, unwrapping some of the things I need. So today of course I struggle without her. I’m hating my routine more than usual. I’m in a mood and that makes it all the worst. I start thinking about what my life will be like when Jules and Tony get together again. Will it be like when I first got injured, me living at their house like a third wheel? Will I end up back at my parent’s? Well now I’m just feeling sorry for myself. I gotta stop.
I take a deep breath and start over. I’m usually much better at taking the rough with the smooth, or at least I have been for the last few years.
“Ok, ready?” Jules asks as if we were about to skydive together. I squint at her. Tony asked me about ten times if I was ok with Jules taking care of me, and I said yes. But really, what else could I say? Beggars can’t be choosers. It’s not like I could ask Tony to quit his job to look after me. And it wouldn’t really be that much better, perhaps a tiny bit, but having anyone stick a suppository down your ass when you’re a grown man is bound to be awkward no matter who’s doing it.
She has everything ready but she’s not moving, I guess she’s gathering up the courage to start. I close my eyes, at least I won’t be able to feel it.
“You know?” she says. “I’ve always wanted to touch your butt.”
I open my eyes back up, I guess she’s attempting a joke.
“You have a good butt, Erick,” she shrugs. I do, or so I’ve been told by several women. “Don’t tell Tony I said so,” she laughs.
And despite of me, I laugh too. She hugs me and kisses my cheek three times as if I were Sean. I hug her back, half laughing, half crying.
“It’s gonna be ok, you’ll see.”
I do everything I have to do every other morning, and end up exhausted, when I finish dressing myself, socks included, I consider staying in bed for the rest of the day, but I’m thirsty and I don’t have any water left in my bedroom, so I finally transfer back into my wheelchair and wheel out of the room, as I’m coming out, I run into Jules, still on her pajamas, the new ones. She looks beautiful in them.
“Morning handsome,” she leans in to kiss my cheek. I freeze. “You’re all dressed up. It’s early,” she looks at her watch. “Are you done with everything?”
“You didn’t want my help?” She yawns in such a cute way.
“I didn’t want to bother you.”
“You never bother me,” she runs a hand through my hair with a sweet smile. And it makes me feel miles better.
Tony’s left for work and Sean’s at school. It’s just her and me. We’ve settled into a routine for the last couple of weeks since I’ve been living with them. Right now, I’m sitting on a shower chair completely naked. She’s adjusting the water for me before I roll in. Is this going to be the rest of my life? I’m nothing but a burden to everyone around me. I’m miserable.
“It’s good now,” she takes her hand away from the water stream. She steps back and I roll in. She’s wearing shorts and an old tank top because she will end up getting wet. She pours some shampoo on her hand and starts washing my hair. She looks so sad. I know Tony has been sleeping on the sofa for months now. I just found out though. She told me a couple of days after I moved in, when I noticed she was as depressed as me. And on top of everything she’s going through, she has to take care of me. I feel so useless.
“Erick, will you come with me today to Seans’ science fair?” She looks down at me with sweet eyes while she lathers my body. “I don’t want to be alone with Tony.”
I’d rather not. I don’t feel like going anywhere. But how can I refuse?
“Sure,” I say.
“Oh, thank you, Erick,” she smiles at me. “I don’t know how I could go through all of this if you weren’t here for me. You’ve been so great, really, I couldn’t do this without you.”
And she sounds so sincere. It pulls at me. It makes me feel a little less useless. It gives me a reason to hang on.
Her words comfort me because she really sounds like she means it. She has this way to never make me feel like a burden. She’s so sweet. If only I could comfort her as she does me. I look up at her. I wish I were standing so I would be taller than her like I used to be. Damn it, I don’t want my thoughts to go there. I’ve been through this before, I’m over it. I’m short now, I’ve accepted it, why do I dwell on this now?
“Want some coffee?” She offers.
“How come you’re up so early? It’s Sunday.”
“I was just going to the bathroom, but you’re up.”
“You don’t have to get up just because I’m up.”
“Then let's lie down together,” she smiles at me. “Let’s watch a movie or something.”
“I’m going out,” I lie for some strange reason.
“Oh,” she says. “Is Tony picking you up?”
Of course she assumes I’m meeting Tony, there’s not even a possibility I’m going out with anyone else, or on my own. I really need to get myself a car, so I’m not so fucking dependant on him, or anyone else for that matter. I need to learn how to drive again though, but I know I can do it. I also need to practice how to take my chair apart and store it on my own, because Tony always does that for me. I think I can do it though, with practice like everything else. Then, I would just need to get myself a life, I innerly roll my eyes at myself.
“No,” I say. “I was just going down to the store to get something.”
“What do you need? We could send Sean.”
I throw my head back with a heavy sigh. Lying is so fucking hard.
“Erick?” She asks.
“I just want some water,” I tell the truth.
“From the store?”
“Nah,” I shake my head. “From the kitchen,” and I know how ridiculously I’m acting.
She stares at me for a second. Then, she goes to the kitchen and pours me a glass of water.
“Thanks,” I take the glass from her with both hands.
She settles on the couch and pads the space next to her.
“Sit with me,” she asks.
I park my chair next to the couch and transfer to the spot Tony was at yesterday. We choose a movie and she lies down with her head on my legs. I gasp. I put my hand down on her arm. She stays there for the entire two hours it lasts.
Afterwards, she makes breakfast and we eat together. Sean is still asleep so it’s just the two of us.
“Do you think I could play your song on the piano?” She asks when we’re done eating. “I know you wrote it for a guitar, but could you adapt it?”
She looks excited with the prospect so I nod.
It ends up being a perfect day. Jules and I adapt my song for piano and I sing it with her like five times. Sean comes out of his room but when he notices what we’re doing, he pretends to have something else to do and goes back into his room. We do end up having lunch together, and then we play some poker. I love that damn kid, he’s so great. In the afternoon, Sean disappears again and Jules and I do laundry together. Of all the things one can enjoy in life, I swear every single chore is bliss when I’m next to this woman.
Later in the evening, after dinner, we settle on the couch again and watch another movie. Once more, Jules lies down with her head on my legs. I love it, maybe she’ll do it every day now, when I come home from work, at least until she gets back together with Tony. I sigh.
“I should go to bed now,” I say. “It’s back to work tomorrow.”
She nods and then follows me to my bedroom. She sits on the bed.
“Today was a really good day, Erick,” she says. “I love living with you.”
I smile. “Me too, Jules, you’re the best.”
I wheel closer to her.
“Thank you for doing this for me,” she continues. I shake my head at her. “I’ll get a job after new year, I promise.”
“Don’t you worry about that, Jules,” I lean in to be closer to her.
She leans in too. Her hair falls over her face when she does so and I can’t resist the urge this time, I use my knuckles to part it from her cheek. She catches my hand in hers.
“Erick,” she leans in even closer. “I…” she locks her eyes with mine. I can see her breathing through her parted lips. She runs her tongue over them and then bites on her lower lip. We’re but an inch away from each other now. I could just…
She closes the breach between us and presses her lips to mine.