Jasmine gnawed at her thumb nail and stared at the bookshelf. Multiple copies of Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams stared back at her. The office was cold, clinical—the art on the walls bland, designed not to overly excite patients.
“I think something’s wrong with me. I mean, obviously there are things wrong with me, but I think I’m really becoming some kind of weirdo. Fetishist or something.”
“What do you mean?” Dr. Thomas inclined his head and tapped his expensive ballpoint on the desk blotter.
“With Alex. And sex. Sex with Alex.”
“You think you’re back-sliding by becoming sexually active again?”
She shook her head, annoyed. “No. It’s not like with the others. It’s totally different, in fact.”
“In what way?”
“In every way. He can make me come, for one thing.” She grinned into her balled fist, then shook her head. “But, what I’m saying is that, before it was like I was into him and I thought he was hot and all, and the disability part didn’t matter—didn’t make him less attractive or anything. But, now, it’s not like that?”
“Now it bothers you?”
Why is this man so dense?
“No, Dan; fuck—are we even having the same conversation?” She sighed and stood up, stretched and then sat back down, cross-legged, on the dingy couch. “It makes it better. I think it’s sexy.”
“What else do you want me to tell you? Like, when he stands up, the way he moves his body so differently from the way I do, the way certain muscles strain and tense and others… others are just still, or not right in whatever way. The way the muscles in his forearms flex when he puts his weight on his crutches. Some of the movements he make seem very… what’s the word? Deliberate. Strained. But it makes him seem graceful, too, since he’s able to function around that difficulty.” She shivered suddenly, although she was warm and her face flushed. “I can’t explain it. And, the worst part, or the best part, I don’t know—it’s when he’s tired, when we’re just going to bed or something and he leans on me, and I have to make myself slow down, ‘cause I walk so fast…” she trailed off, lost in recollection.
“And you think this is a bad thing?” Dan tapped his ballpoint on his desk blotter to get her attention.
“Well, Dan, it’s not normal, is it? Who the fuck is attracted to something like that? Have you ever heard anyone say, ‘yeah, those guys with the braces really do it for me’? I mean, what would he think? If I told him that the result of the worst thing that’s ever happened to him, the disability that he hates so much is something I think is sexy?”
“It happens. Why don’t you look it up on the internet?”
“Under what? Some sex freak index? Why don’t you just fix it?”
“I don’t think it needs to be fixed, Jasmine. You’re attracted to a man you love and who treats you well. Unless I’m mistaken that’s been one of your goals for the past five years, one you once thought was unattainable. Now you have what you wanted and you don’t know what to do with it. It’s cliché—but it’s not a crisis.”
Her eyes jumped to the clock behind his head and she smiled sarcastically. “Time’s up, buddy. Where’s that ‘script?”
Alex squinted in the sunlight. “And you’re quite sure this is a good idea? There’s nothing better we could be doing with a Saturday afternoon?”
He was looking up at her from the passenger seat of his car. She leaned against the open car door with his crutches in her hands. She smiled sweetly at him and promised him a prize for being a good boy.
“You’re evil.” He moved his legs so that his feet were outside the car, on the asphalt of an industrial drive a mile outside the city limits. He locked the knee joint of his KAFO and reached for one of the crutches. With one hand on the armrest of the door and the other on the hand grip of the crutch, he pushed himself into a standing position. Sighing, he took the other one from her and made his way around the car to the driver’s seat. There, remarking sardonically that he’d just spent a lot of time accomplishing nothing at all, he put one crutch into the back seat and took hold of the door frame as he threw the other one in behind it. Then he lowered himself carefully into the seat, brought his legs into the car and closed the door.
Jasmine was watching him from the other seat, chewing her lip expectantly. As soon as he was settled into the car she leaned over, grabbed a handful of his hair and kissed him very hard on the lips.
“You’re so sexy, Alex,” she said as she pulled back.
“I’m glad you think so.”
Alex turned the key in the ignition without hesitation. Then he was still.
“So, what’s the deal again, with the pedals? Switched around, or something?”
“They’re the same. You’re switched around—driving with the wrong foot. But, it’s easy—I got used to it backing out of your driveway. You’ll be fine.”
“For your sake, you should hope so.” He grinned. Using humor to mask anxiety as was his habit.
Jasmine smiled, leaned over and kissed him lightly on the cheek. “I trust you.”
“Was it really so bad?”
Alex exhaled smoke and looked out at the street. “It wasn’t horrible,” he consented after a moment’s consideration. “It was just… trying.”
She touched his knee where it showed itself between the leather straps of his brace and smiled. “I’m really proud of you. I realize how cheesy that sounds, but I am.”
Beneath them was downtown and all its activity; students sucking every drop of freedom from their weekend, the occasional tourist with a disposable camera, service industry folk hurrying to or from work. Jasmine and Alex sat in spray-painted steel chairs at a table on a balcony one story up, nursing beers and watching the traffic.
He took a long swallow of his beer and looked at her silently until it started to make her nervous.
“What?” She reached for a smoke and raised an eyebrow.
“We’re going to have company.”
“Oh, baby, I’m not really in the mood for Monica right now.” She grimaced, imagining the deluge of teenage chatter and hormone fluctuation.
“When you were in the bathroom earlier I called Geoff. They live right around here, down on 22nd. He’s gonna come have a beer. You don’t mind?” He raised an eyebrow at her not in challenge, but to let her know he was generously not going to remark on the fact that she’d assumed his only other contact in the world was his sister.
Pleasantly surprised, she shook her head. “Not at all. Where’s Becky?”
“Yoga class.” He sipped his beer.
“Of course she is.”
“That’s what I said.”
They’d had a productive, if somewhat tiring, day. She was pleased overall; and he seemed to be, though she wasn’t looking too closely. After a session with the head-shrinker (as she invariably called Dr. Dan Thomas in his absence) she had a tendency to over-analyze—a tendency she was trying to do away with, cultivating an oblivious air.
She had spent the previous night at home, answering long-neglected emails and doing her laundry. Since that afforded her the chance to go to bed early she got up at nine in the morning and drove to Alex’s. She woke him up with a blow job, putting him in a good mood and effectively buttering him up for the activity she had planned. Then she took him to the massage table for a thirty minute shoulder rub; it was there she dared broach the subject of taking out his car. He’d resisted initially, but finally she was able to win him over and so they showered together, dressed and drove out of the city talking about the days ahead of them.
“Why, Jasmine,” Geoff said in the voice she imagined he’d learned for purposes of reading literature to students. “You must be proud of yourself.”
He walked out onto the balcony in hiking boots and a thick corduroy jacket, as if it were not early autumn in Alabama, but mid-winter in Nebraska. His beard was going the way of an un-tended lawn and she concluded suddenly that his literary affectations were decidedly annoying. He was like a college Freshman with an inflated sense of self-worth.
“Good afternoon, Ernie,” she said, remembering his distaste for Hemingway and being unable to resist the barb. “How are you today?”
Goeff sat down with a grunt and extended his hand to Alex, who shook it and grinned. “I am splendid.”
“Are you coked up, Geoff? Why are you so happy?”
He waved at the waiter, ordered a beer and rummaged for cigarettes in a coat pocket before answering. “I sold the book this morning.”
Alex leaned forward. “The biography?” He looked over at Jasmine. “Geoff’s been writing a bio on Carson Mc Cullers for like, what, six years?”
She nodded, sipped her beer and hoped she seemed enthralled.
Geoff shook his shaggy head. “No, no. Poetry. Hourglass of Whiskey.”
He sounded very pleased with himself; Jasmine tried not to choke on repressed criticism.
“Who bought it?”
“Black Sparrow. I’d originally…”
Shop talk ensued for what seemed like a year or two. Jasmine made a mental note to invite Julia to dinner one night soon and engage her in a deep conversation about Grape-seed Oil and Accu-Pressure. Eventually she had the feeling that she had been spoken to and came out of her stupor with a shake of her curls.
“I’m sorry, what?”
Alex was making a face at her that she couldn’t quite read. It was Geoff who had said her name, asked how her half of the driving experience had gone.
She smiled. “I had a good time. I’m glad he decided he was ready so I can quit nagging him about it.
“Well, I’m sure it was for the best, wasn’t it, Alex? You seem to have come through it well. Now maybe you can start thinking of working. There’s an opening next semester for third year Romantic Literature; Anderson was sleeping with a Freshman whose parents evidently disapproved, so he’s out. You’d be a shoe in.”
Alex shook his head almost imperceptibly and looked down into the street. “No.”
Jasmine saw his mood changing and was helpless to prevent it. She thought about strangling Geoff, decided his neck was much too thick.
“Actually he’s planning to take me around the world for Christmas,” she said, batting her eyelashes in Alex’s direction. “He has no time at all for such frivolity as teaching poetry to college kids.”
“It’s true,” Alex said. “She’s never been on a plane, raised by carnival folk.”
“My mom was the lobster man.”
Geoff looked from one to the other. “You’re both very amusing.”
Jasmine and Alex laughed, reached for each other’s hands under the table. For a moment she thought she had successfully evaded his shifting mood. Then he pulled his hand back, motioned to the waiter for another beer, and she knew she’d missed her mark.
Geoff continued the career talk. “I heard Samford is revamping their creative writing program next year. They have the best benefits in the city, you know.”
Alex just looked at him. Then excused himself, pushing his chair back and standing up slowly, locking the knee joint in place. Jasmine smiled at him, but he was distracted and didn’t return it. She watched as he walked back into the restaurant; he was moving more slowly than usual, and she noticed the muscles in his right forearm straining. Professional concern momentarily outweighed erotic interest and she saw that he was in pain.
“We should probably go soon,” she said to Geoff.
“You two have plans tonight?”
She shook her head. “Something’s wrong with him. His knee, or his shoulders. He’s hurting.”
“He seems fine.” There was a question in that statement somewhere. He was regarding her solemnly, with cocked head and still hands.
“It’s the way he’s walking—it’s different from usual. I think it’s his knee; he’s trying not to take the painkillers, so…”
“Mmm. Carolyn had a thing with Percosett once. He’s probably nervous.”
“Carolyn.” Jasmine’s eyes rolled involuntarily and she took a long swallow of her beer.
Geoff laughed. “Sore subject, Jasmine?”
Liking him less every second, she answered, “It’s just that she’s a subject at all. It makes me uncomfortable. And… I sound like a total lunatic, but I think that I hate her. I really do. Not because they were together, just because I know how much she hurt him. You know? She really damaged him, leaving him like that.”
“Well,” he sipped his drink. “She’s not his problem anymore, thank God. She’s getting married soon, does he know?”
“I’m not sure. He hasn’t said anything.”
“I’m sure Jane knows; surely she told him? I don’t expect he’ll care at all. But, you know how he is. You never can tell how he’s going to take something.”
Suddenly she felt guilty for considering her obvious ally in such an unfair light earlier. He wasn’t annoying at all; he was just eccentric. He was wonderful.
He put a hand lightly on her knee and smiled. “She was never good for him. Not for a single moment of their relationship was he as happy as he is now, with you. Has he told you?”
Then he asked about her party, scolding her for not thinking to invite him and Becky and making her promise not to repeat such a mistake. By the time Alex returned they were having another drink and laughing together. Alex seemed amused by this and came out of his darkening mood for another brief instant.
“I’m glad you guys get along,” he stated simply, smiling at them both as he lowered himself carefully into the chair and leaned his crutches on the wall behind him.
Later, as they lay together in his bed, he asked her what she thought about his friends.
“I think I’d like to meet more of them,” she said.
“There really aren’t more of them. I know people; or I used to know people. But it was really just Becky and Geoff I was close to. And Carolyn.”
An unintentional sigh came escaped from her at the mention of the other woman’s name. He caught it, leapt at it in his love to pick at things.
“Poor Jasmine. You hear that name all the time, don’t you?”
She was immediately uncomfortable. He was going somewhere and she knew she wasn’t prepared for wherever that was. “Sometimes. Enough to make me think about her, I guess.”
“Do you read the society page in the paper?”
“I don’t read the paper. It’s depressing.”
He snorted. “She’s getting married. In two months. I saw it yesterday afternoon.”
“Does it bother you?”
“It certainly shouldn’t. Should it?”
“That’s not what I asked you.”
He was quiet for a moment. “I think what I still have is the resentment. She said I wasn’t good enough for her, basically, when she left. That even the money and my good family, her parents’ approval and my step-father’s connections, our history and the promises she made weren’t enough to… I don’t know. It wasn’t enough to make me worth it; I was damaged, just a cripple who would have tied her down, wasted her time. There’s no retaliation for that, no way I can get back at her, or show her she was wrong. I think that’s what I’d like.”
Lost on the tide of mixed emotions, clinging only to her desire to offer comfort despite her wounded pride, Jasmine took his hand in hers. “I’m sorry, I don’t know what to say.”
He stroked her hair. “I don’t know what I want to hear.” He kissed her head lightly then continued. “You make my life so much better, Jasmine. I’ve told you, but I don’t think you can ever really know. There shouldn’t be anything else on my mind, but you. Nothing in my past, certainly not her, is important enough to distract me from you.”
She shrugged. “Some things are hard to shake off, I guess. I just want you to be happy.”
“You know what would make me happy?”
“No. Not right now, I don’t.”
“It would make me happy if you would marry me.”
Her heart fluttered, stopped, then sank. “Are you kidding?”
“No, I’m not. I want to marry you. I can take care of you, you know that. And you say you love me.”
“Alex, I do love you, but…”
His defenses rose immediately at the tone in her voice. “But, no one wants to marry the cripple.” He pulled away from her, pushed himself up with his left leg and his arms and moved to the edge of the bed.
“Would you quit that? Why is that the answer to everything? I don’t know that I want to marry anyone—it’s not about you. It’s not about… anything about you. I’ve never thought about getting married before.”
“So you can’t think about it now? Why not? You’d be happy, I could take such good care of you.”
“I can take care of myself,” she snapped. “And what are you going to do? Move me into your mother’s house? Buy me a new car with your trust fund? You can’t even take care of yourself.”
She regretted her words as soon as they left her mouth. He nodded, looked at her out of the corner of his eye.
“Did you enjoy that?”
“Alex, I’m so sorry. That’s not…”
“It is. It is exactly what you meant.”
She started to cry. He ignored her; took his pants off the floor and pulled them on. Without putting on his braces, he took his crutches in his hand and pulled himself into a standing position. His right leg buckled, all of his weight was suddenly on his left leg and he stumbled. Instinctively, her hand shot out and he pulled away from her. Very slowly, dragging his right leg as he went, he walked to the bedroom door, leaned heavily on his crutches as he pulled it open.
“You can go home, now, Jasmine. I don’t want to look at you.”
To be continued....