Saturday, February 20, 2021

Some Things Never Change Chapter IX

 Her lips are fleshy and her breath warm. At first, it’s just the pressure of them over my mouth, but then gently they move, and our lips dance. I don’t have to think about it, they respond at leisure, following her lead.  Her soft palm presses my cheek impatiently, pulling me to her. Her mouth is moist, and I feel her tongue glide inside, her teeth scratch softly on my lower lip.

My heart is pounding. My mind is blank. A shiver runs over every inch of flesh I can still feel. I’m holding my breath suspended in time. She parts her mouth and a whip strikes me back to reality. I open my eyes, I don’t remember closing them. She’s breathing heavily, less than an inch away from me. Her cheeks are flushed. Her eyebrows are curled up. She’s mesmerizing, girded by the light of the room. Her hair shines under a beam, or perhaps I’m imagining it. 

We’re mutually hypnotized, our gazes lost in each other’s eyes. I lift my hand to touch her face, but I’m shaking. I stop just barely brushing her skin. I swallow hard. 

She leans in again to close the gap between us, but my brain has resumed motion. I rend my heart and turn my face away. 

She gasps.

“Jules, I can’t,” I whisper breathlessly. “God, I’m sorry, but I can’t.”

I don’t dare to look at her. I cowardly close my eyes. I hear her stand up and a second later, the sound of the door closing slaps me.

I hit my forehead with the heel of my hand repeatedly. Damn it!

I stay in my chair for a long time, too overwhelmed to do anything else. My head is a storm, my feelings are worse. 

“Julia and I are getting a divorce,” Tony announces. 

We are alone in the house because Jules went to her mother’s. She hasn’t mentioned anything about divorce to me. I’m sure he hasn’t told her yet. “We have to move out of the house, probably by the end of the month. I’ll get an apartment. You’ll come with me of course.” God, will they have to sign who keeps me as part of the divorce settlement like I’m a kid or a pet? 

“Tony, are you sure about this? I know you’re angry but…”

“I’m sure,” he interrupts me, his expression is ruthless. “I can’t be with her right now.”

“But Tony. You can’t blame her for...”

He doesn’t let me continue. “I told her, I warned her about that woman!” He gets up. He’s so angry he’s shaking. “If she had listened, my father would still be alive!”

Oh Tony. 

“Why don’t you let things cool down a little? Don’t do anything right now. This isn’t the time to make any permanent decisions.”

He turns around and grabs his hair with both hands. 

“I’ve already called the lawyer.”

“Tony, please think things through. Live apart for a couple of months. Give it some time.”

“It’s done!” His tone doesn’t leave any room for arguing. 

I wheel to the bathroom before going to bed. Everything that requires a reasonable amount of hand dexterity is really hard for me, since I can’t move my fingers. Today it’s even harder. I drop my bag twice. I can’t focus on what I’m doing. My mind is all over the place. I’m thinking about Tony, about Jules, about me. I try again, attempting to quiet my thoughts. But it’s useless. 

Jules sets the brakes of my wheelchair and gets the blankets out of the way before transferring me to bed. Usually, it’s Tony who carries me in and out of bed. But Jules can do it, they taught her how in rehab. Tony hasn’t come home tonight. He hasn’t called either, so neither of us knows where he is. Jules gets my legs off the footplate and leans in. I put my arms around her. She sets her hands on my hips. I wait for her to move me, but she doesn’t. After a few seconds, I feel her whimpering in my arms. 

“Jules,” I say. I know why she’s crying.

“He wants a divorce,” she mumbles against my shoulder. I’m not wearing a shirt and I feel her tears wet my skin. 

“I’m so sorry Jules. Give him some time. I’m sure he’ll come around.”

She crumbles to her knees and I can barely hold her. 

“He won’t. He’s never going to forgive me,” she cries harder. 

I finally get it done. I wash my hands, brush my teeth, and wheel back into my bedroom. I stop in front of Jules’s door. Should I knock? Oh Jules! The last thing I ever wanted to do was hurt her too. Finally, I decide against it and go into my own bedroom. 

I turn the lights off and the darkness embraces me. I hear muffled sounds from the apartment above. In ours, everything is quiet. And the night stretches, time slowly passing by, tiring me, but I can’t sleep. Julia’s face haunts me. 

I’m waiting in my chair at my parent’s house. I decided not to move in with Tony after the house was repossessed. So I’m back here. I have a new room, one they built in the backyard for me. But Jules and Tony still look after me, because my mom feels incapable of it. She hasn’t even tried. Neither has my father. He’s old, eight years older than my mother, so I can’t really ask him to try to lift me. I don’t think he would do it even if he were younger though. He and I have never gotten along. Neither of my parents was young when they had me. They thought they couldn’t have any kids, but then my mom got pregnant at thirty five. I don’t think my father ever wanted children. He hasn’t spoken more than ten words to me since I’ve been back. 

It’s getting late and neither Tony nor Jules have shown up. I’m starting to fear they’ll abandon me today. I wouldn’t blame them though. They signed the divorce this afternoon. But if they don’t come, what will I do? I stare at the bed which is less than two feet away from me, yet it might as well be a mile away. I’ve no way to get on it. If I call my mom, I’m sure she could undress me and even change my bag for me with a little guidance, but there’s no way she’ll lift me. So I’m stuck. If they don’t come, I’ll spend the night on the chair. I sigh, this is so fucking frustrating. 

About an hour later, Jules finally shows up and I let out a breath. Her eyes are puffy, she looks devastated. 

“I’m sorry I’m late,” she says instead of hello.

“Jules, I’m so sorry you have to do this tonight,” I stare at her helplessly.

She shakes her head at me. And then she sits down on the bed quietly. A few minutes later, like he was waiting for her, Tony walks in. 

“Hi,” he says lowly. 

Jules looks away. I’ve no idea what to say. Usually they do this together, Tony carries me and Jules undresses me. But perhaps now, one of them should leave, they can take turns so they don’t have to meet. However, I can’t bring myself to say anything. They carry on. They avoid looking at each other but they do everything the way they always do. I’ve never felt worse about them having to look after me, not even the first days after leaving the hospital. It takes them over half an hour to get me ready to sleep, and the whole process is painful. They’re doing everything slowly, rather than rushing like I would expect them to. They stretch my legs like we’re at the gym. Really, they could skip that tonight, but they’re extra thorough instead.

When they’re done, they both stay in place staring at me. 

“Thanks guys,” I say to break the silence and get them to leave. 

“Night,” Jules says after a few seconds.

“We’ll see you tomorrow,” Tony says, implying they’ll keep doing this together. 

“See you,” I say, and they both turn around and leave.

I can’t shut my eyes for half the night, and when I finally give in, it’s a restless sleep. I wake back up at four in the morning and just stare at the ceiling until it’s time to get up. 

I wheel into the dining room and find breakfast set for me, but no Jules. She’s been cooking breakfast for me since we moved in. I didn’t expect her to do it today though. I wheel back across the hallway and knock on her room. I need to talk to her. I can’t leave things like this. It takes her so long to open the door that I fear that she won’t. Perhaps she’ll never speak to me again. But then she opens and says good morning like nothing happened last night. She’s fully dressed, yoga pants and a jacket. 

“Jules, can we talk?” I start, but she cuts me off.

“I’m going out for a run,” she announces. 

Jules doesn’t run. She actually dislikes exercise, except for yoga. I think the last time she went jogging we were still in college. 

“Jules, I’m…”

“I left breakfast for you on the table. I’ll be back later,” she tries to go past me, but I don’t move. “Erick,” she says.

“Please,” I stay in place. “We need to talk.”

“There’s nothing to talk about,” she doesn’t meet my eyes. Then she scoops in the tiny space between my chair and the doorway and walks away. 

I decide to give her some time. I watch her leave and roll to the table feeling exhausted. I stare at the coffee mug and bread she left for me. I’m not really hungry but I fear not eating this will be yet another rejection for her. Damn it, I need to fix things with her. I can’t let this screw up our relationship. 

I can’t imagine my life without Jules. I can’t. I won’t. We may not be meant to be with each other as a couple, but I’ve been sharing my life with her for the past eight years and I’d like to keep doing that until we’re both old. At least we live together, so I know I’ll find her here tonight so we can talk. Right now, I have to go to work, even though I really don't feel like it. For one, I’m exhausted on account of barely sleeping last night. Moreover, I really don’t want to see Tony. Jesus, I really don’t. But he’ll show up to pick me up any minute. I take my phone out and text him.

“I’ll meet you at the office. Got an errand to run.”

A minute later, my phone rings. Damn it! I don’t pick up. It’s childish, I know. And Tony will wonder what’s wrong. But I can’t, I can’t talk to him right now. 

So I finish my breakfast and wheel out. The company is close by. I’m calculating it will take me about twenty minutes to roll to Cross Transports. It’s cold outside, as it is to be expected at this hour. I think back about Tony putting his coat over me at the cemetery, then I imagine what hiss face would look like if he found out Jules and I kissed, and I shiver. I dressed up warmer today, but I pull my jacket’s zipper all the way up to make sure I stay warm. I push my rims hard to move forward. Today is not a good day to exercise, I’m feeling really tired. I make a left at the avenue and run into a working site. They’re repaving the intersection and they’ve closed off the street. Shit, I’ll have to wheel around it, it’s gonna be at least three extra blocks.

I end up arriving late to work. 

“Good morning, Erick,” Betty greets me. “Mr. Cross asked me to tell you to stop by his office.” 

I’ve always wondered how come I’m Erick and Tony is Mr. Cross for Betty, since she’s known us both since we were teenagers and we both own the company. It doesn’t usually bother me though. But today, it nags at me.  Am I not professional enough? Am I too nice? 

I don’t go by Tony’s office. Instead, I get straight to work. I need something to distract me. However, a few minutes later, Tony shows up at mine.

“How about you answer your phone?” He sits down in front of my desk. 

“You called?” I pretend I didn’t notice and take my phone out to have an excuse not to look him in the eye. I actually have two missed calls from him besides the one I did notice before leaving home. “I forgot to turn the sound on.” I fumble with the phone some more to give myself a few more seconds of looking away. 

“What errand did you have to run anyway? I could’ve driven you.” 

I decide right then and there that I need to get myself a car as soon as possible, maybe today. 

“Did you need something?” I change the subject because I stupidly didn't prepare a lie in advance. 

Luckily, Tony doesn’t push it. He shrugs and starts talking about work. I want him to leave already. I try looking at my computer screen instead of him, and then at the papers he hands me. But finally, when he’s about to leave, I carelessly lift my eyes and find his. Tony’s got deep grey eyes, they can be kind or they can be daunting. He smiles at me, a few wrinkles that weren’t there when we were younger encompass his look. We may be older now, but it’s the same gaze he’s always had.

“Race you to the end of the street,” he challenges me with the same eyes he has now.

“Just ask her out, Erick!” He slugs my shoulder in highschool. I’m looking at Katy Willson. 

“Why don’t you ask Jules out?” I reply smirking.

“I will,” he smiles sure of himself. “When it’s time, I will.” 

And it’s still the same eyes.

“Yes!” I cry out staring at our acceptance letters. 

He smiles from ear to ear, a special glow on his grey eyes. 

“I’m gonna ask her to marry me,” he leans back on the armchair without parting his eyes from me. The grin on his face broadens.

“You fractured a vertebrae on your neck,” he chokes on the words. He’s leaning over the bed to be able to look me in the eye because I’m laying down and I can’t move. I can’t say anything back, I can’t talk. I can’t even breathe on my own at this point. Then, he disappears from my eyeline and I hear him moving. He comes back into my field of vision and holds my gaze. He’s got big grey eyes. “We have to wait for the swallowing to go down before we know the extent of the damage,” his voice doesn’t waver this time, but his eyes do. 

I watch him mumble something unintelligible now and he lifts his eyebrows playfully.

“Ok?” He asks and I nod without knowing what he means.

He walks out and I let out a breath. 

A little before lunch, I leave the office to avoid him in case he decides we should have lunch together. We don’t always do, but if neither of us is too busy, he steps in my office and we eat together. I don’t buy myself any food though. I’m not hungry. I get a cup of coffee to go and wait until lunchtime is over. I haven’t been able to get Jules out of my head all day, so I decide to text her. 

“Jules, I’m so sorry about last night. Can we please talk when I get home?”

I don’t get an answer. I spend the afternoon uselessly trying to concentrate on work. I keep checking my phone but she doesn’t text me back. 

“I don’t wanna get up today,” I say to the ceiling wishing I were dead.

I feel Jules get on the bed next to me. She scoops close enough that I can feel her breath on my cheek. I reluctantly turn to look at her. She’s a bit pale today, but she looks beautiful. I don’t think she was ever this beautiful before. Her hair is loose over the left side of her face. She uses her delicate hand to tuck it behind her ear.

“Ok,” she whispers. “So, we’ll stay in bed all day.”

“Hey man,” Tony stops by my office again before closing hour. “Wanna come with me to the new café? Help me around?”

Help him around? Like I could do anything other than watch him work. I shake my head at him.

“Sorry, I’ve somewhere to go.”

“Where?” He leans against the wall. 

“I’m going to go check out a car,” I say. 

“To buy it?” He straightens, squinting at me.

I nod. 


“Because…” Do I need a reason? “I’d like to have one.”

“You’ve never told me you wanted a car,” he sounds offended.

“I… you wouldn’t have to drive me around all the time if I had one.”

“I don’t mind driving you around.”

“It’d be nice not to have to bother you,” I shrug.

“You don’t bother me, Erick,” he frowns. “We live five blocks away. What’s the point of us coming in separately?” He stares at me for a while. I adjust my position in the chair uncomfortable. “You don’t want to ride with me anymore?” He asks in a low tone. 

I shake my head. “It’s not that,” I say. “But maybe I could pick you up for a change.”

His expression changes when I say that. He nods at me with a grin. 

“Ok. So where’s this car? I’ll take you.”

“Nah, you have things to do,” I say nervously, because I actually don’t have any car to see yet.

“What car are you thinking about? Are you going to an agency?”

Shit, I suck at lying!

“I’m going to meet Joshua for tips on hand controls and stuff,” I come up with after a minute. Joshua is a guy I met at rehab. He’s a paraplegic and he drives. In reality, it would be a good idea to talk to him before getting a car.

“Good idea,” Tony nods. “Is he picking you up?”

“I’m meeting him down the street,” I lie again.

“Ok, then, I guess I’ll see you tomorrow,” he buys it.

I wait until he’s gone to leave the office. I’m feeling really tired by now and the prospect of wheeling all the way home doesn’t appeal to me. The alternative is worse so I just get on with it. My shoulders start hurting after the first few blocks. And then, I reach the construction site at the intersection. Wheeling three more blocks sucks. When I get home, I feel drained, utterly exhausted. I just want to lie down and try to sleep, but I need to talk to Jules. 

“Hey uncle,” Sean greets me. He’s having a bowl of cereal on the couch. 

“Hey Sean. Is your mom home?”

“I think she’s not feeling well. She hasn’t left her room all day,” he says. 

Oh Jules. 

“Want some cereal?” He offers. 

“No, thanks,” I shake my head at him and wheel to Jules door. 

I knock. No answer.

“Jules, it’s me,” I say. 

The room is quiet.  She’s probably just sleeping. Should I be worried?

“Sean’s eating cereal for dinner.” I say across the closed door, hoping she’ll open if she thinks I’m acting normal. “So, I was thinking of ordering a pizza. Or do you want chinese?” It works. I sigh relieved when I see her. 

I look up at her and examine her face. I bet she’s been crying. 

“I’ll cook dinner,” she says and walks past me. 

“You don’t have to,” I wheel behind her. 

She goes into the kitchen and opens the fridge. I don’t want her to cook right now, that’s not what I was trying to do.

“Sean, do you want pizza or chinese?” I yell from the kitchen. 

“Pizza,” he yells back. 

Jules stops. 

“Jules,” I start. 

“Ok,” she says. “I’ll be in my room.”

“Jules, stop,” I grab her hand with both of mine but she doesn’t look at me. “Please,” I add. 

“Erick, don’t,” she closes her eyes.

I let go of her hand and let her walk away. 

“I can’t fix this, Erick,” she sighs heavily. “We’re gonna lose the house, probably the company too.”

I reach for her hand across the table. 

“Erick?” She asks softly. “Would you hold me?”

I close my eyes and nod. She gets up and looks down at me. I pull her to my lap for the very first time. She sits down gently and buries her face on my shoulder. 

She doesn’t come out to eat pizza with us. I desperately want to talk to her, although I’ve no idea what I’ll say. but I can’t leave things like this, I just can’t. So I wait until Sean goes into his room and I knock on her door again.

“Jules, will you please talk to me?”

She opens the door. “I don’t want to talk, Erick. Please,” she says and her look kills me. She’s so sad. God, she’s been through so much, the last thing I want to do is add to it. 

“I’m sorry, Jules. I…”

“Let’s just forget about it, ok?” She says. “Please!”

I nod because she looks like she really means it. And that’s what we should do. I know she loves Tony. The whole thing was probably just a moment of weakness on her part, due to everything that has been going on lately. 

She goes back into her room and leaves me sitting there. I stare at the door for a full minute before wheeling away. I feel like shit. I’m so tired. I go to bed and fall asleep right away. I dream of her. At first, it’s a good dream. We’re standing at the kitchen of the new apartment. She’s cooking. I stand behind her and hold her by the waist. I’m tall. She turns her head to look at me and she has to tilt her face up. It’s such a nice feeling to look down and find her sweet eyes shining on me. She dips the ladle in the pot and then brings it up to my mouth. I taste her food. She smiles. But then, I notice she’s not smiling at me. Her brown eyes are fixed on something behind me. I turn around and see Tony. He’s taller than me, just a couple of inches at first, like he actually is, but then gradually, he gets taller and taller until I’m craning my neck to see him. He’s like a giant. I look down and realize I’m on the floor. I can’t stand! I try, but my legs don’t answer. 

I wake up panting. Damn it! 

It takes me a minute to catch my breath. When I do, I look at the time, eleven thirty. I didn’t even sleep for a full hour. And then I just lie there for the longest time. I try everything from counting sheeps to meditation, but it’s useless. I keep thinking about Jules, her sweet smile. 

“How are you?” I ask her the morning after the divorce when Tony leaves for work and it’s just her and me. She sighs. 

He came in this morning like he said he would. He just carried me to the shower chair and then he left. It’s ridiculous. Jules will have to carry me back to bed to dress me, and then back again to the chair. So really, he didn’t have to show up at all. But I guess he feels like it’s unfair to let Jules do all the work alone. Afterall, she only ended up having to look after me because they were married and Tony asked her too. He’s the one who took in the responsibility of his quadriplegic best friend. 

“Jules,” I start. “You really don’t have to keep doing this. My mom could do it if I got a hoyer lift.” 

I hate the idea of being lifted in that thing, but if I got one, my mom could get me in and out of the chair. Or perhaps she’ll put me in a home like she meant to in the first place. Either way, it’s not fair to Jules to have to take care of me. 

“Erick,” she closes the water tap that she had just opened to shower me. She looks me in the eye intently. “Being with you is the only thing keeping me together right now,” she says. “If your mom did all this for you, I’d need another excuse to hang out with you all day.”

And so she does. Even though we’re not living together anymore, she spends all day with me. At first, we’re just miserable together, which is miles better than being miserable alone, but then we start watching movies, playing board games with little Sean, and slowly, we get back on our feet, more figuratively than literally, but still. I start to get the hang of doing some things on my own. She’s so fucking patient with me. And we talk. Man, we talk for hours. About what we’ve lost, about what we still have. About stupid things like TV shows or neighborhood gossip. About important things like love or our parents. We talk about everything. I’ve never talked so much with anyone in my life, not even with Tony.

“Being with you,” she said. And that’s what she is. She’s with me and I’m with her. Whatever else is going on in our lives, we have that.

Then I think about Tony and how much I know he wants her back. But I want her too, I want her so badly, it physically hurts. 

Jules. I think about the way she moves in the kitchen while she cooks, her hair swaying over her back while she walks. Julia. I think about her playing the piano. I think about her singing with me in the mornings before opening the Valhalla. She’s my entire life. If only I could be with her. If only she’d choose me. 

It’s half past two now and I’m still awake. I’m not even trying to fall asleep anymore. I let the feel of her kiss in my mind after pushing the thought away for so long. It felt so good to kiss her. What would’ve happened if I hadn’t turned away from her? Would she look at Tony a few weeks from now, when he shows her the new café and tells her he’s sorry for everything, and just let me down easy?

“I’m sorry Erick, but I love Tony,” I imagine her words in my head and they shatter me. I shake my head. I don’t want to hear it. If only time would’ve stopped the moment she kissed me. While her lips were still entangled with mine, while our breaths were one. While her mouth was on my mouth and I received her warmth. 

I sigh.

So the next morning I’m even more exhausted than the previous one. I get a repetition of yesterday, breakfast on the table, Jules out for a run. And I don’t want to see Tony, I so fucking don’t. Yes, I feel guilty that I kissed Jules. Yes, I’m afraid he’ll notice. But even more so, I’m scared shitless that I’ll take one look at him and resent him, for having her love despite the fact that he had her and let her go, for taking so fucking long to claim her back, for making her look after me and letting me fall in love with her. Damn it!

Perhaps I should skip work today. Besides, finding an excuse not to ride with Tony to work is impossible. But I can’t stand the idea of being in the car alone with him. What will I say? I’m such a bad liar. In the end, I give him the same excuse as yesterday. I tell him Joshua is giving me a driving lesson before work, and I wheel again to the company. 

I barely make it. The last couple of blocks, I feel like I’m going to pass out from exhaustion. And it’s definitely not worth it, because the minute I walk in the company building, Tony’s there, waiting for me.

 “How did it go?” He asks me cluelessly.

“Fine,” I say. I wheel away from him and into the elevator. He catches up.

“Is something wrong?”

I shake my head at him. He keeps staring at me. Thankfully the doors open and I wheel out feeling a little claustrophobic. 

“Erick?” Tony calls but I keep going towards my office. I wheel inside and think I managed to avoid him, but a few seconds later, he walks in.

“Wanna talk about it?”

“About what?” I ask. About kissing your wife?

“Whatever went wrong in that driving lesson.”

“No,” I turn my computer on. 

“Look man, if you weren't able to do it today, just keep in mind it’s your first try.” 

Damn it Tony! I decide to let him think I’m frustrated because I wasn’t able to drive a hand controlled car in my first try. Really Tony, you should know me better. But it works for my advantage so I nod at him.


And he leaves it at that. Thank god.

But when work is over, I have to do the whole thing again.

“Are you avoiding me?” Tony walks faster in order to catch me. I tried to leave before he would, but it didn’t work.

“No,” I lie poorly.

“Out with it, Erick. What is it?”


He laughs. “You sound like a woman.”

I look up at him. He has no idea. My best friend doesn’t have the faintest idea I kissed the woman he loves just two nights ago. He doesn’t even imagine I’ve been in love with her for years now. I feel like such a fraud. The worst kind of traitor. 

“I’ve to go,” I say and leave him standing there.

I don’t go home though. I need a drink. I wheel into a bar, yeah on a Tuesday, and order a neat scotch. I’m too short to sit at the bar so I go to a table, but there are chairs on every side and I can’t get one out of my way on my own. I hang my head back. 

Two scotches later I wheel back into the street. It’s dark now, and once again, I’m exhausted. I stare at the construction site at the intersection. The workers are gone. I don’t want to wheel three more blocks. I can’t. My shoulders are killing me. I gaze at the sidewalk. It’s mostly clear. I can just lift the tape and go through it. So I do it. I use one arm to lift the tape and the other one to push my chair forward, I struggle to get past the damn thing, but I manage it. I go down the sidewalk but when I get to the end of it I notice the ramp is blocked by some equipment. I’ll have to jump down the curve. but I can do it. I’ve done it dozens of times. It’s not that high. I lift my casters into a wheelie and let my chair fall down to the unpaved street. I don’t fall, but the minute the wheels hit the ground I hear a sound. Shit. I look down and see I’ve wheeled over a pointy rock. Damn it! I hook my right arm over my backrest to lean in the opposite side without falling and, although I can’t see it very clearly, I’m pretty sure I’ve got a flat tire. Shit! I wheel forward but it’s hard. It’s flat for sure, and not just a little bit. My tire is slashed. 

Shit, shit, shit! I bury my face in my hands. Of all the days for this to happen to me. I spend about ten minutes considering my options but I come out blank. I try to wheel forward but there’s no way I’ll make it, not with a flat tire and over this uneven street. I sigh. Fuck, I want to punch something. 

Finally, I swallow hard and call Tony. I guess I could call Jules instead, but I’m not sure she’ll answer, and what would she do anyway? I get his voicemail and I curse loudly. But a second later, my phone rings and it’s him. 

“I didn’t get to the phone in time,” he says. He’s probably still working at the new café. I get an image of him on the top of some ladder with a tool in his hand. “What’s up? Are you talking to me now?” He jokes. 


“Are you ok, man?” He asks, concerned, and I want to die. 

“I’ve got a flat tire,” I blurt out.

“Oh, where are you?”

“At the intersection near the company.”

“What are you doing there?”

“I was… I was going home.”

The line is silent for a second.

“Ok, just… I’ll be right there. Wait for me,” he hangs up.

Yeah, I’ll wait for you Tony, like I could go anywhere. This sucks! This sucks so badly. 

I stay in place for about fifteen minutes until I see his car at the end of the street. He parks at the roadblock and gets down. 

“Hey man,” he crouches down next to me. “Let’s check it out.”

I wait looking away from him. This is so fucking embarrassing.

“Ok,” he stands back up. He looks around weighing alternatives. “So, I can try to wheel you with the slashed tire, or I can carry you and then get the chair,” he says. 

I meet his eyes reluctantly and take a deep breath. We’re about twenty yards from the car, and there are road barriers at the end of the street and plastic tape blocking the corner. 

“Whatever is easier for you,” I look down.

He rubs his forehead with one hand. 

“Let’s see if I can push you,” he says. “Hold on, ok? I don’t want you falling over.”

I do as he says and secure my position on the chair. But I don’t really have anything to hold on to, so I just set my hands on my lap strongly to keep from tipping over. He pushes the chair, but a couple of feet ahead, I get stuck again. He tips the chair backwards to lift my front casters and tries again. The ground is uneven and the right wheel bumps down on a small slope, it must be only a couple of inches deep but it’s enough to tilt my chair to the side. I hold on tighter as he struggles to keep me straight.

“I don't think this is gonna work,” he says once he gets the chair stabilized. “I’ll carry you,” he looks down at me.

“I’m sorry, Tony,” I meet his eyes this time. 

He chuckles. “What the hell were you doing here, man?”

I shrug. 

“Ok, wait. Let me get the door first.”

He walks away and I watch him open the car’s door and then rip the tape that is blocking the street. He comes back and looks at me. 

“On my back?” He asks. I nod. 

He squats with his back turned to me and I put my arms around his neck. This is tricky because my arms are not strong enough for me to hold on to him tightly enough, and I definitely can’t do anything with my legs. He pulls my arms forward and crosses them over. I have to rest my head over his shoulder. Then he sets his hands under my butt.

“On three,” he says and I brace myself. 

He gets up, lifting me. I hold as tight as I can, but I feel like I’m about to fall over. He has his arms under my butt holding me, my legs dangle as he takes the first step. He bends his legs and pushes me up with an upward jolt of his entire body. He starts walking. I close my eyes. If I fall, at least, I won’t be able to feel it, as long as I don’t fall on my head or shoulders. I hold my breath the entire time it gets him to cross the twenty yards. We reach the car and he turns around and crouches down slowly.

“Watch your head,” he says, and leans backwards to drop me on the seat. I’ve no idea if I landed on it or not because I can’t see from this position and I can’t feel it. I fall backwards and pull Tony with me. We both end up inside the car, Tony on top of me. 

“You can let go now,” he laughs. “You’re choking me.”

“Sorry,” I unwrap my arms from his neck. 

He stands back up and turns to look at me. 

“Are you ok?” He examines me. 

I nod with a sigh. I’m lying over both seats of the car, my head on the driver’s place. He leans in and grabs my forearms to help me up. Then he holds my back with one hand and waits until I set my hands down to hold my position. I’m still sideways, so he picks my legs up and puts them inside the car slowly so I don’t fall over again. I do the rest and lift my hips to get them in the right place. 

He goes back and carries my chair. 

“We won’t be able to fix it tonight. But I’ll take it to that bike place in the morning,” he gets in the car and we drive away. 

“So,” he says a few blocks down the road. “Are you gonna tell me what’s going on?”

“What do you mean?” I play dumb.

“You’ve been avoiding me,” he looks at me while the car is still moving. 

“Keep your eyes on the road,” I say. 

He smirks.

“Erick?” He insists.

“I’m sorry, man,” I say finally. “I was trying to be more independent.”

He doesn’t push it and we drive silently all the way to the apartment. Once there, he leaves me in the car and goes inside. A few minutes later, he comes back out pushing the shower chair. Jules and Sean are behind him.

I stare at the chair. I’m so fucking tired, I’m not sure I’ll be able to transfer on my own. I carry my legs out of the car and try to get the chair closer to the car, but this damn thing is huge and not very practical. It’s also taller than my normal chair and the car is lower than the bed. 

“Want me to do it?” Tony asks.

I let out air through my nostrils. 

“Please,” I hiss.

So he leans in and hugs me. I put my arms around him and he transfers me swiftly. Then I push myself inside. It’s hard and I’m tempted to just ask him to push me, but I’ve been humiliated enough for one night and decide to just hold on to my last shred of dignity. 

“Tell me you have some food, Jules, I’m starving,” Tony says once we’re inside the house. 

Jules turns to look at me. I avert my eyes. I feel like shit right now, I don’t want her to see me like this. It’s foolish though, she’s seen me much worse. 

“I can’t do it,” I say to the physical therapist. He’s trying to teach me how to transfer but really, it’s easy for him to say. 

“Just lean forward, gravity will do the rest,” he says. Yeah, it will do the rest and pull me to the floor. 

“I can’t!” I raise my voice exasperated. Jules is standing at the corner of the room, watching us. 

“You can’t say you can’t do it if you haven’t tried,” he says, a stupid grin plastered on his face. 

“I’m fucking paralyzed! I can’t do it!” I yell. I’m acting like a spoiled child, but I don’t give a fuck. I just want everyone to leave me the hell alone. 

“Look,” the therapist says faking an empathic expression. “I know it’s hard…”

“No you don’t. You’ve no fucking clue!”

“I know you think that,” he says. “But I’ve watched dozens of patients like you learn this. You can do it.”

Oh, just shut up!

“Just try it,” he pushes. 

I lean forward just to shut him up, I rest a fist on the mattress and I crane my neck to lean in.

“Again,” he says and I oblige. “A little more.”

I lean in hard, lose my balance, and my upper body collapses forward. The rest of my body follows, he tries to grab me but he’s too slow. I end up face down on the ground. He kneels on the floor and tries to lift me.

“Get the fuck away from me,” I hiss.

I don’t see him step back but I guess he does because I’m just lying there alone now. A minute later, Jules lies down on the ground next to me. 

“Ashole, right?” She says. 

I look up at her, breathing heavily. She stares at me and her gaze softens my mood. 

“Wanna get out of here?” She touches my face with her warm hand. “Go home, get drunk?”

I curl my eyebrows trying to suck my tears in. 

“I can’t do this,” I say and hang my head down. “Jules, I can’t live like this.”

She puts her arms around me and I breathe even heavier. We’re both lying on the floor. We’re not alone. There are other patients, other therapists around us. I’m pretty sure everyone’s staring.

“We’ll do it together.” I feel her hands on my hair. “We can do it together, you’ll see,” she whispers to me. 

“Erick, are you ok?” She crouches down in front of me. I meet her eyes now. Tony has disappeared inside the kitchen. 

I shake my head at her. 

“Hey,” she touches my face. Her hand is soft and warm against my cold skin. Jules touches my face all the time. It’s one of the things I love most about her. 


We stare at each other. Her eyes are kind and loving. She doesn’t look at me with pity. I’ve never seen her pity me. 

“Bad day, huh,” she smiles at me ever so slightly. 

“The worst,” I say. 

“Wanna drink?” Her hand is still pressed to my cheek. 

What if Jules loves me back? What if she fell in love with me the same way I did? Not willingly but inevitably, because we were there for each other during the hardest time of our lives. What if every time she touches my face or kisses my cheek it means more? What if when she said she loved me, lying on my bed, hugging me, she meant it the way I do? 

Perhaps all the evenings we’ve spent together are as important to her as they are to me. Maybe she cherishes our little conversations as much as I do, and she relishes my company like I treasure every minute spent by her side. Could it be?

If Jules loves me, that changes everything. If she loves me, I have to fight for her. 

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