Jasmine woke up alone with her head on a pillow that smelled like Alex’s hair. She rolled over to look at the alarm clock and saw that it was barely eight thirty in the morning. She wasn’t aware Alex was capable of getting out of bed so early. She noticed that his braces were lying on the floor where he’d left them, along with the braces; the wheelchair that usually sat parked at the head of the bed was missing. She stood up, curious, pulled last night’s discarded t-shirt over her head and wandered out of the bedroom to investigate.
Alex was sitting in the wheelchair at his computer. His elbow was on the edge of the desk, his face leaned against his hand; he was staring at the screen with furrowed eyebrows. Jasmine crept up behind him and put her hands on her shoulders.
“Did I wake you?” he asked, turning to look up at her.
“No; I just don’t think I’m used to sleeping in your bed yet.” She kissed his cheek.
“You’ve slept here like ten times.”
“Well, maybe I can’t sleep without you, then. What are you doing up so early, are you sick?”
“I’m reviewing my resume.”
“Really?” She was almost stunned. He hadn’t said anything to her about going back to work. Over the past few weeks he’d even resisted her offer of taking him out to drive his car. They had a fairly set routine of public appearances worked out, but that seemed to be as far as he was ready to go.
Alex shrugged. “I’ll work again sooner or later; I never wanted to be one of those trust fund kids, you know?” He rubbed his thighs and sighed. “Although, I’ve got other things on my mind right now.”
“Your shoulders still hurt?”
“Not this early, no. But by five o’clock… it worries me. It’s not going to get any easier as I get older, is it? This is pretty much as strong as I’m ever going to be again.”
“You should have Julia come out twice a week; she’ll do it.”
His face was far away. He was worrying now and no practical advice was going to distract him. Jasmine recognized the look on his face. He was picturing himself at forty, in the wheelchair all the time instead of just late nights and early mornings at home; he was seeing his legs with the muscle tone gone, wasted from disuse. He had nightmares about it—twice in the past week he’d woken her up, shaking and covered in sweat. He hadn’t yet come to terms with his disability and was terrified by the inevitable fact that it would become even harder for him to walk as he got older.
She could have told him to focus on the present and not freak out over what he couldn’t control, but she didn’t. Instead she pulled the discarded computer chair over to her and sat down beside him. Putting her muscular hands on his shoulders, she told him to relax a little; then she ground the heels of her hands into his muscles, squeezed him with her fingertips. He made small, content noises every so often as she worked on him, and it made her smile.
“Should you be working before you go to work?” he asked.
“You’re not work. You were never work. I do need to go, though. Give me a hug.”
They embraced tightly, kissed, and then Jasmine stood up to go. He held her hands as she did so, and as she pulled away the sleeves of his shirt were pulled up. She reached down and snatched up his right wrist, turned the arm over for a closer inspection. There was an ugly red splotch in the same place it had been a few weeks earlier; it had gone away when she adjusted the cuffs on his crutches, but it was coming back.
He pulled his arm away from her before she could say anything, looked back at the computer screen. “I’ll have it looked at.”
“Later. When I can fit it into my busy social calendar.”
“Mmm, no, lunch with the mayor today, honey—maybe tomorrow.” He jerked away from her as she pinched the top of his ear between two fingernails. “Damn it, Jasmine, that shit hurts.”
“Go to the doctor. Today. Promise.”
“And spend the rest of the month in this chair because I’ve got a fucking spot on my arm.” Displeasure was evident in his facial features; he reached for a cigarette.
She rubbed the back of his head and spoke more gently, affecting a consoling tone to mask her frustration. “It won’t be that long. Not if you take care of it now.”
He exhaled smoke noisily and looked up at her. “I’ll call him this morning. The nurses get in at nine. Alright?”
“Thank you. What about tonight—do you want to go to dinner?”
“That depends on what the doctor says, doesn’t it?” The tone in his voice told her it was patently obvious that he wasn’t going anywhere in the wheelchair. She accepted his dismissal and hurried out to her car; it was a twenty minute drive to her house and another ten to work. She was late every time she stayed at his house; luckily for her, she was being teasingly referred to as Little Miss Prescott, which bought her quite a bit of leeway.
Alex was prescribed Amoxicillin, told to stay off his crutches for a week, shown photographs of infected ulcers and admonished to pay more attention to his body. The last part of the doctor’s diatribe, of course, struck him as particularly amusing, since he’d been doing very little besides thinking about his body for the past year. Jasmine was obliged to pick up Chinese take out and a twelve pack of Mexican beer on her way home. Jane approached her as she was getting out of her car in Alex’s driveway.
“He’s sulking,” she told Jasmine as she stood twisting the many rings on her thin fingers.
Jasmine nodded. “I figured. Is he okay?”
Jane shrugged. “Maybe you can do something with him.” Abruptly, she crossed the few feet between them and hugged Jasmine tightly. “I’m so glad he’s got you. I think God gave you to him; I told him so.”
Wide eyed and extremely uncomfortable, Jasmine nodded and forced a sickly smile. “Oh. Thank you. I’m, um, I’m going to go in now.”
“Oh, you think I’m crazy, I know.” Jane smiled. “I don’t mind. You two have a good night, dear.”
She didn’t bother knocking, just walked in and set her bags down on the kitchen counter. Alex was on the computer where she had left him ten hours earlier. She opened a beer, put the rest into the refrigerator and went to sit beside him. He took the bottle from her happily and asked how her day was.
“Fine,” she said dismissively. “Alex, did you know that God sent me to you?”
He snorted. “I did; I’d placed a personal ad with the Divine dating service, apparently.”
“I think your mother’s insane.”
He took a long swallow of beer and grinned at her. “And you are the expert, aren’t you?”
She slapped his arm. “If you think I’m above beating your ass just ‘cause of the wheelchair you’re sadly mistaken.”
“Oh, I was counting on it.”
He logged off the computer and wheeled himself over to the couch as she went into the kitchen. From her position, standing at the counter beside the stove, she could see into the living room but he couldn’t see her. She watched him park the chair, reach over for the arm of the couch and then pull himself onto the cushion; when he was seated on the couch he then reached over, took his right leg under the knee and lifted it so that his foot was now on the floor in front of him. He hadn’t bothered with the braces since he came back from the doctor’s office, and without it his leg was thin and limp, lying slightly crooked against the front of the couch. He pulled his left leg over to the right and it, too, lay there still and limp. Using his hands, he tried to position them in a more natural looking manner, but was unsuccessful. Jasmine tried to change places with him mentally—imagining not being able to move her legs, or stand up without help; she wasn’t sure she would deal with it as well as he did, and Alex was no master of coping skills himself.
She went back to the living room with one plate, piled high with rice and sesame chicken, and two more beers. She handed the plate to Alex and opened the beers. He greedily sucked down the rest of the initial beverage and reached for the next.
“Ahh,” she smacked his hand. “Solid food first, please?”
He shoved a piece of chicken in his mouth and she released the bottle in her hand.
“You’re a manipulator,” he told her.
“You’re a man,” she retorted as she sat down. “It’s easy.”
They ate dinner and watched mindless television programming. When they were down to the last two beers he asked her if she could drive to the store for more. She shook her head.
“Hmm.” Plans dashed, he settled back into the cushions of the couch, cradling his beer in his lap.
“But, while we’re on that subject,” she raised a hopeful eyebrow. “What about this weekend? Do you feel like going out driving?”
He shook his head and shudder almost imperceptibly. “No.”
“Alex, at some point…”
“Why? People don’t, I’m sure.”
“People in cities with reliable public transportation; poor people; old people…”
“Would you stop thinking that way?”
He laughed shortly. “You’re trying to fix things again.”
“I am… oh, fuck it, Alex, fine—I want to fix this. You were talking about going back to work. Don’t you think you’ll need to start driving again for that?”
“I was going to worry about that when it came up. I’m not ready yet, Jasmine.”
She opened her mouth, then shut it again, lay back and sighed. “I’m sorry.”
“I forgive you.”
They were quiet for a few minutes, watching television. Alex lit a cigarette and watched it burn down a little. Then he reached for the remote control to turn off the tv. In the newly created silence he looked at her and asked, “You want to know what happened?”
She nodded. “Yes.”
He took a drag off of his cigarette.
“It was a Wednesday, sometime just after dark. It was getting dark early, because it was October. I was teaching an early evening class in twentieth century poets; four to seven fifteen. I was supposed to go out with Geoff that night, to some gallery where one of his students had a show. But I cancelled—called him from my cell right after I let my class go. Carolyn and I had been up late fighting about god knows what and I was tired. So I get in the car, leave campus the back way—you know, down Fourth Avenue? We had this townhouse a few blocks away—she hated it, of course. I don’t know, I just didn’t want to go home. So I didn’t.”
He shifted his weight and pulled her closer against him. “I drove until I was outside the city. I remember crossing the river, looking at the reflection of all the red leaves in the water. Then I turned off the highway, onto some little tree-lined, curvy street. And there was a blue truck—just a truck, not a diesel or anything, just like a pick up—and it was way too close, I thought if I reached out I could touch the headlights. There was this horrible, horrible noise—grinding metal and ripping. After that, I just see a second of flashing lights, and I can hear voices talking to me, I think they’re talking to me—I don’t know what they were saying but I guess it was paramedics. Maybe the guy that pulled me out of the car. I remember the asphalt under my shoulders, and turning my head and my foot being beside my face. Everything hurt. There was blood in my mouth. The next thing is the hospital—have you ever been in traction? Well, I don’t suggest it.”
He was quiet, but she didn’t feel that he was finished. She felt as if she’d rubbed salt into her eyes and didn’t trust herself t o speak. So they sat together silently for a few minutes. She squeezed his hand in hers, lifted it to her lips and kissed the knuckles. He reached down and rubbed absently at the thigh he couldn’t feel.
“So it was apparently these two fifteen year olds in one of their dad’s truck—which ought to teach you a lesson about driving in the country. They were just fucking around, you know? They weren’t drunk or anything—just driving around. Jane and the judge were in a frenzy calling every lawyer in the Southeast. I think it would have made it all much easier on them to sue somebody.”
“But you didn’t?”
He shook his head. “No. The kid that was driving, his parents’ll be paying my hospital bills until they die; that’s enough. I’m not vengeful. And, I was tired, you know? In the hospital forever, and then they want to parade me around in front of some judge and jury—put the little cripple on display so everyone will feel bad and I can have some more money. Money wasn’t going to fix it.”
“What about Carolyn?”
“What about her?” he laughed. “She was very supportive. A model of perseverance and compassion.”
He crushed out his cigarette.
“She wasn’t really around,” he said. “My mom said that for the first couple of days, when I was all drugged up, half comatose, Carrie would show up in the morning and interrogate the nurses, start crying and then run out; then she’d come back later, in just enough time to get thrown out when visiting hours were over. Once I was more lucid… well, I was kind of a dick, honestly. I didn’t want anyone there. Of course my mother didn’t care, she was there. The judge was there and poor Monica. Carrie would come in and say the wrong thing and I’d scream at her until she left. I don’t blame her for that. But later, when I had calmed down, mostly—then she just couldn’t deal with it. You could see her straining just to make herself look at me, at my legs. She developed a sudden dire need to visit her sister in L.A. the last week I was in the hospital. She came back when I was in rehab, but I only saw her once; she was all agitated and teary, and then she stopped coming. She came over here the day I came home from Atlanta. And I knew. I knew why she was here, so it wasn’t necessary. She could have just left it; I didn’t care. I cared, I mean, I was pissed off, I was offended—but I wasn’t going to try and talk her out of it. Fuck her, you know? What worried me,” he took a drag off his cigarette, then a deep breath. “Was, if she’s gone, after all those years… I didn’t think I was going to trust anyone for the rest of my life. I felt betrayed.”
He smiled; his cheeks were damp but his eyes were clear and bright. “Good. It seems to have worked out.”
She took the empty bottle from his hand and set it down on the table. She moved her body onto his, straddling him and taking his face in her hands; she kissed his forehead, his cheeks, and the lids of his eyes. He was getting hard underneath her; the pressure from his dick pressing against her turned her on. She put her teeth on his earlobe and pulled slightly until he moaned. He tried to reach around her for the arm of the wheelchair, but she stopped him.
“It’s not necessary,” she whispered.
Her hands moved down to his pants, undoing buttons and zippers. She rolled off of him to help pull off his jeans. As she undressed him she ran her hands along his legs, kneading gently into the muscles the way he liked. Then she pulled off his boxers and kissed the insides of his thighs; she put her mouth on his dick, licking slowly around the head as she squeezed his nipples with her lithe little fingers. He pulled frantically at her shirt until it was off, made quick work of removing her bra and then pulled her up to him so he could suck on her nipples. They both tugged at her panties until they were off and then she threw her legs across him again; this time he slid inside her and she let out a heavy sigh.
“You feel so good,” he murmured into her ear.
She dug her fingers into his shoulders, moved back and forth on top of him so that they both started to sweat. In this position he was able to push into her with more force—by putting his palms on the seat of the couch and pushing his body up with his arms as well as his hips. She pressed her legs into the sides of his so that he was also rubbing against her clit. In a few moments she wrapped her arms around his shoulders and cried out as she clutched at him wildly. Having fulfilled his intentions, he came, too, and they lay together exhausted for several minutes.