I stood in front of my closet, trying to decide what I should wear. He had never seen me in anything but running shorts and a t-shirt. Anything else would be an improvement, but what would be appropriate? I am not a dress-up person. I work from home. I have a closet full of comfortable clothes. I finally settled on a mini-skirt, clingy shirt and sandals. Casual enough yet feminine enough to take me almost anywhere. I painted my nails the same antique rose color as my shirt. Lipstick to match and just a touch of mascara. Still me.
Hoshi and Percy watched these proceedings. They knew something special was going on because I never took the time to put on makeup, as minimal as it was.
“I have a date.” I said to Percy as he rubbed against my ankle. Running in the sun gave me legs that I could leave bare. He rubbed his cheek against my anklebone, marking me with his scent, as if he sensed competition. I had to laugh.
“You are still the only men in my life.” I reached down to scratch Percy’s head then Hoshi’s.
I left the bathroom and began to pace the apartment. I had 20 minutes before I was to meet David. My stomach churned and I wondered if I would be able to eat anything. I felt like I was going on my first date. In a sense, I was. My first date with my knight in shining leg braces. I felt that familiar tingling as I pictured David walking. Would I be able to keep my hands off of him? I wanted to touch his legs in the braces. I wanted to touch his legs bare of the braces, to feel the thinness of paralyzed muscles. I wanted to touch myself, lost in that warm place inside me. Instead, I switched on the TV, pushed the pictures of David out of my head with the images on the screen, and mindlessly filled my remaining 15 minutes of waiting.
I tried not to look at my watch as I waited outside on the front porch. But I did look. 6:28 and I was telling myself I had been stood up, although I knew I was being silly.
Precisely at 6:31, the blue minivan turned the corner. I wanted to jump up and down in excitement. My stomach did the expected somersaults as I left the porch to meet the van. He surprised me by getting out of the van and coming around to meet me at the passenger door.
“Hi Kaida.” He smiled as he opened the passenger door for me. “You look beautiful.”
I had been watching his every move, transfixed. The compliment shook me out of that place in my head. I didn’t know how I was going to make it through the evening. Being with him, being that close, felt like the answer to everything and the tiny thread that, when pulled, would unravel it all. I blushed and managed to thank him as I got settled in my seat. The car was cool from air conditioning and the radio played ambient jazz music. Very soothing. I needed soothing as my heat rose again watching him move around the front of the van to get into the driver’s seat. I watched as he stowed his crutches behind us then used his hands to help swing his legs around. He didn’t say anything as he did this. Part of me wanted to look away, mindful that he might be uncomfortable being watched. But the stronger part of me couldn’t turn away. The way he knew his body, the way he had to manipulate his legs to perform tasks I took for granted, was a beautiful thing to watch. I resisted squirming in my seat. I had never been so turned-on by such an everyday occurrence. I looked out the window as he turned his attention to the hand controls and the steering wheel. I needed to pull back before I could meet his eyes again.
“Do you like jazz, Kaida?” he asked as we pulled away from the curb.
I nodded mutely as my guilt began to coil in my stomach. First date. Should be starting clean, but I already had something to hide. Damn.
“Good.” He kept his focus on the road as we wound out of the Fan. “I am not going to be so cliché as to take you to a Japanese restaurant.” He chuckled a little. “I know a great place uptown. It is a little trendy, but the food is excellent and the house band is better.”
“Surprise me.” I smiled, catching some of his mood. If he was nervous, it didn’t really show. He seemed happy to be with me.
He laughed again. “As you wish.”
The place turned out to be Thibodaux’s, a New Orleans-style jazz bar and café. I had heard good things about it, but had not ventured out to try it.
I watched with the same intensity as David got out of the van and then got out myself before he could crutch around to my door. It was very polite of him and my mother would have been oh-so-proud, but I was ready to get inside and be part of a couple with this handsome man. I wanted to hear everything he had to say, look into his eyes and try to divert my attention from the braced legs under the table. He was more than that. I was attracted before I had any clue he could be my para Prince Charming.
The restaurant was dark and cool, festooned with Mardi Gras masks and beads and artwork and colors. It was festive and moody all at once and was a good fit for the way I felt.
The tables were well spaced on the black and white tile floor and we moved quickly to a little two-top to the left of the stage. Chairs seemed to cause David more difficulty than the booth seats at Starbucks. I busied myself with the metallic party confetti strewn over the white tablecloth while he got settled – stars, masks, hats, in gold and purple and green. Festive indeed. A jug candle sat between us. I looked up as he came to rest. Candlelight turned his brown eyes golden. I smiled and rubbed a purple star between my finger and thumb.
“You are fidgety.” He indicated the piece of confetti.
“Not really. I like the way it feels. I like stars. I have a cat named Hoshi, which means – “
“-star.” He finished for me. “I am fluent in Japanese. I spent four years there in my twenties, working at a satellite office for the company I worked for at the time. After being there full time, I went back every quarter for several years. I enjoyed it.”
I, myself, had never been to Japan. My grandparents had immigrated to the United States in their early twenties. My mother had been born in California. I knew enough Japanese to understand my grandparents when they spoke it, but I was by no means fluent.
“I am impressed.” I opened my menu. “I am second generation and can do no better than simple conversations with my grandparents.”
He nodded. “If you don’t use it, it’s hard to retain. I would have to listen for awhile to pick it all up again should I ever return to Japan.”
My turn to nod. “So what did you do there?”
“Mechanical engineering.” He smiled. “I worked for one of the big auto companies.”
He shook his head. “Not the body styles.”
“Oh.” I knew nothing about cars or the automobile industry. I didn’t even drive a Japanese car. I loved my little Jetta. So was he interested in me only because I was Japanese? Had that been what attracted him to me, after all? Did he have the same type of secret I had? Deep sexual attraction to a specific trait?
I pondered that while I perused the menu. I decided on shrimp and grits. David ordered jambalaya. We both ordered sweet tea, not a staple in Richmond, but destined for this restaurant.
There was no band on stage yet. I looked at its emptiness.
“The band will start up around 7:30. We should be nearing dessert by then.”
“Are we on a schedule?” I bristled at the implication that he had allotted a specific amount of time to our first date.
My tone conveyed my ire and he looked flustered for a second. “No. Not at all. Just thinking aloud.”
With the flare of my temper came that sinking feeling. I was going to tank this date. Out of fear? Out of habit? I couldn’t pinpoint it, but I could feel it coming. I couldn’t keep this man engaged. There wasn’t enough of me. Not enough interesting and quirky bits.
We sat quietly for a moment. I opened my mouth to say something to fill the silence, but David beat me to it.
“I am rather surprised you don’t have us scheduled. My impression of you is that everything in your life has a place and a time.” He had regained his composure and the intensity was back in his eyes and voice.
“You have to have me home by 10:00. I watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer reruns on Tuesdays at 10:00.”
He laughed. Then he realized I wasn’t joking. He cleared his throat and got quiet again. The waitress came back with a basket of cornbread and our glasses of tea. We both took long swallows of tea and reached for cornbread. The taste was wonderful, but it felt as if the man ingredient was sawdust. as I swallowed the bite and put the remainder of the piece on my plate.
“I am sorry, David.” I looked up. “I am not much of a talker. I am very much a listener.”
“That’s okay. I am a listener, too, most of the time.”
His golden-brown eyes studied me. I didn’t see any sense of Oh shit, this date is going down the toilet, anywhere in his expression.
“But if we are both listeners, who do we listen to?” I asked. “Doesn’t seem like much of a date if we aren’t telling lively stories to impress each other.”
I got that quirky eyebrow. “We aren’t that couple over there.” He nodded his head toward a two-top in the far corner by the window. I turned around quickly to see a couple at least 10 years younger than we were. She seemed to hang on his every word and he seemed to be intent on making sure his words were the right ones.
“I have never been part of that couple over there.” I winced at my own indignant tone.
“Nor have I. If I wanted that kind of vapid pseudo-worship I would have asked out someone else. Words matter to you. You say what you mean and little else. I can respect that. So if you don’t talk my ear off, I’m not offended. You will tell me what is important for me to know. I just have to wait.”
I smiled a little. Waiting to hear what was important would certainly tank the evening if I didn’t manage to do that by other means. How would I ever be able to tell him that his disability turned me on like nothing else ever could?
Our food came and it was excellent, just as David had said. Shrimp and grits is one of my favorite low country dishes. But I did little more than pick at it. Guilt took up too much room in my stomach.
“Is something wrong with your meal?” He asked, with genuine concern.
I smiled again, tried to brighten up. “The food is great. I am just a little nervous.” That was true. It didn’t feel wrong.
“Don’t be, please.” His voice took on a hushed tone I hadn’t heard before. “You have nothing to worry about.”
No, but you do.
My cheeks got hot under his gaze. I felt conspicuous and exposed. I slid forward in my seat and my knee brushed his. My bare skin contacted the fabric of his pants and he did not react. It was too much. I looked up.
“Sorry.” I mumbled.
“I bumped your leg.”
“I didn’t notice.”
That hushed tone again. He was embarrassed and so was I. He hadn’t felt my touch. Damn. The heat moved from my face. Lower. Much lower.
“David, I can’t do this.” I heard the words before I realized I had said them.
“What?” The hurt in his face was obvious.
“I can’t date you. I am sorry.” My voice caught in my throat. I had never wanted anyone so much. I couldn’t deal with it.
I stood up, and bolted from the restaurant. He couldn’t move fast enough to catch me. I had finally gotten what I wanted and I had no idea what to do with it.
To be continued...