As Carolyn walked away, the waiter, slightly confused at the date exchange, dropped off Alex’s dirty martini and asked Jasmine what she would have. She said she’d have nothing and thanked him for asking.
“She’ll have one of those fruity pink martinis,” Alex told him.
“I will not,” she said.
Alex looked at her. “Are you sure? I think you should have a drink with me.”
She sighed, “Fine. Washington Apple. One, and then I’m going home.”
The waiter walked away shaking his head and the couple sat looking at each other in silence. Jasmine took a cigarette from the pack on the table and he lit it for her.
“This was fortuitous, wasn’t it?” Alex asked pleasantly.
“That you narrowly avoided making a huge ass out of yourself? I don’t know what you’re doing,” she said, exhaling smoke in his direction. “And I don’t think I want to. I just don’t want to be involved in it.”
The drinks arrived. She took a gulp of the frothy pink liquid and settled down a little. He sipped his, plucked the olive from the bottom of the glass and popped it into his mouth. He chewed and watched her smoke.
“Jesus, Alex, are you even going to speak to me?”
“I don’t know what you want me to say.” He slammed his drink, lit a cigarette and looked away from her.
She opened her mouth to speak, realized she had nothing to say and shut it again.
“I should tell you I’m sorry.” He sighed and looked at her briefly. “Because I am. I’m… I’m not good with apologies. Most of the women I’ve known consider jewelry an appropriate substitution, but I didn’t figure you’d go for that.”
“Did it take you two weeks to come up with that?”
“No, actually; that was totally impromptu. It took me two weeks to realize I had a serious problem I needed to address.”
“Alex, I really didn’t mean it—what I said about…”
He waved his hand dismissively. “You didn’t do anything wrong. I’ve spent a very long time trying to pretend that I didn’t have some part of that woman in my head; admitting it was admitting weakness and that I can’t control my emotions the way I think I should. I didn’t want to do it. Maybe I never would have had to, but… but whatever psychosis I had for her got in the way of my relationship with you, and that was too much.”
“And that’s what this was?” She indicated the chair recently vacated by his former fiancé.
“I don’t know what this was. I wasn’t intending to get drunk and belligerent. I just thought I needed some kind of closure and seeing her face to face might do it.”
He laughed. “And I’m actually embarrassed now. That I ever had a feeling for her in the first place. I knew she was a bitch, but, really. As for you, Jasmine, I know how I feel about you and I know why. And I would marry you, right now, if you’d let me. But I can wait. At the moment, I’m happy you’ll speak to me, let alone be seen with me. It’s very magnanimous of you.”
“So, then we’re okay?” She felt tears on her face, wasn’t sure what feeling brought them out. She reached across the table for his hand.
He squeezed her fingers and said, “I hope so. I miss you.”
“I miss you, too.”
Getting back to his house was an ordeal. He’d come in a cab, she in her Jeep which he couldn’t get into. So she changed cars with Susan, which involved lugging her work bag from her car to her friend’s, and Susan’s pile of school books in the opposite direction. Alex sat in the passenger seat of Susan’s car, watching.
“Sometimes,” he said, sucking on his Marlboro, “it’s nice to be crippled. If you’re lazy, which I am.”
Slamming the door of her Jeep shut, Jasmine flashed a huge fake smile at him. “I’m glad you’re having a good time.”
On the twenty minute drive to his house, Alex amused himself by singing along to the worst songs he could find on the radio, including a very loud, slurred rendition of “Downtown Train”. When they pulled up in front of the Prescott’s guest house he stopped singing and reached for her hand.
“I’d like another drink,” he said sweetly.
“I’m sure you would. Can you even walk, Alex?”
“Well, not very well, Jasmine, but we’ve been over this. See, I was in this car wreck, and…”
“Alex,” she put her hands on his cheeks and shook his head gently. “I’m going to hurt you. Shhh.”
She took the key from the ignition and stepped out of the car. He almost hit her with his crutch as she walked up on the other side of the car to help him. He mumbled oops as he thrust a crutch at her; then he lifted his right leg out of the car, using his hands to place his foot firmly on the ground. After he moved his left leg out of the car he handed her the other crutch and started to raise himself up by pushing on the armrest of the car door; then he stopped and sank back into the seat.
“I don’t think I can do this,” he told her.
“Yes, you can. Here,” she leaned the crutches against the car and held out her hand.
Alex pushed himself up out of the seat and the immediately put her arm around him. His weight was distributed evenly between her shoulder and the door of the car, so she could reach down and lock the knee joint of his KAFO. Then she handed him a crutch and he slipped his left arm through the cuff. She held onto the other as they took a few steps, slowly, together.
“The car door’s open,” he murmured as they made their way to the front door.
“I’ll get it later.”
There were seven steps to the front door. Alone it would have taken her a second to cover that distance, flat and well-lit as it was. With him leaning on her and depending on her to guide him, it took almost two full minutes. Their faces were close together and she could smell the alcohol on his breath; he wouldn’t make eye contact with her. When they did finally get to the front door, which Alex had absent-mindedly left unlocked, they stepped inside together and made their way to the couch.
There the process of getting out of the car was carefully reversed. He hung on to her as he lowered himself onto the couch and dropped the crutch on the floor. He reached down and fumbled with the lock on his brace, but in the end his coordination was lacking and she had to do it for him. Then she went back out to close Susan’s door. When she came back inside he was unlacing his shoes. He still wouldn’t look at her. Not ready to brave his mood yet, she opted to kneel down silently in front of him and pull off his shoes. While she was doing that he pulled at the buckles on the long brace until they were loosened, then undid the ones on the AFO. He lay back against the couch and closed his eyes as she removed the braces and laid them gently on the floor. Without waiting for him to ask, she went into the bedroom and retrieved his wheelchair, which she parked beside him before she sat down on the couch.
“It used to be so much easier,” he said. “Everything just used to be so much easier.”
She put her hand on his thigh. “I know.”
“Why do you do this to yourself?” he asked her.
Thinking she might ask him the same thing she answered, “Because I don’t have a choice.”
He opened his eyes and turned his face toward her. “What do you mean?”
“You mean why do I put myself in a position of needing to do things for you, right? Well, I don’t have a choice. I want to be with you, and part of being with you is sometimes going to be helping you do things you can’t do by yourself. I don’t like that you got hurt because it makes you unhappy; I don’t like the braces because you don’t like them. I’d like to be able to make it all better, to make you as able-bodied as you were before the accident because I know that would make you happy, but I can’t. I just want you to be happy, and to let me be with you. I’m glad… I’m honored that you ask me for help when you need it. There are millions of other girls in the world; it didn’t have to be me.”
“Oh, yes it did.” He sighed deeply and smiled at her, nodding. “It really did.”
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