Elliot's presentation was scheduled for ten o'clock the next morning. He slept fitfully in his hotel room bed the night before, distracted by his anxiety about the presentation. He envisioned all sorts of scenarios, in which he screwed everything up and was ostracized by the mathematical community. What if he collapsed on the podium? What if people didn't like his presentation?
Elliot was glad to have Lise's company during the taxi ride to the convention center. She chatted brightly about mathematicians she wanted to meet and presentations she was interested in. It kept him sane.
"You look a little nervous," Lise noted.
"A little," Elliot admitted. It was the understatement of the century.
"Don't be," she said. "Your presentation is amazing. Everyone will love it."
When they arrived at the convention center, the taxi driver unloaded Elliot's wheelchair from the trunk. As he was making the transfer, he couldn't help but notice the impressive flight of stairs leading to the entrance. "Hey, does this place have another entrance?" he asked the cabbie.
"You mean a handicapped entrance?" the cabbie said.
"Yeah." What an idiot--no wonder he's driving a cab.
The cabbie shrugged, "There's probably one around back."
"Don't worry, we'll find it," Lise assured him.
They circled the building and finally saw the wheelchair sign for the handicapped entrance. It seemed like everything so far on this trip was a reminder that he was different from the rest of the mathematical community.
They found the auditorium where the presentations were to take place. As Elliot wheeled through the entrance, he saw three men standing in front of the stage. He recognized two of them from the photos on their books. One was Kenneth Yu, an extremely well known differential geometer, and the other was the famous Joe Sanford, chairman of the AMS.
Lise gripped Elliot's shoulder. "Oh my god," she breathed, "is that Joe Sanford?"
"I believe so," Elliot replied.
"Wow," Lise said. "He's so brilliant. I have like five of his books."
Lise was acting like a teenager at a rock concert. It would have been comical if he hadn't been so nervous.
"Can I help you?" Joe Sanford was peering at the two of them over the rim of his spectacles.
Elliot wheeled a little closer. His heart was slamming in his chest. "Yeah, um... I'm here for the... um, convention."
Sanford glanced at his watch. "The convention isn't due to start for half an hour. Come back then."
Elliot bit his lip, "Yeah, but... I'm giving the first talk."
"You?" Sanford stared at him. "What's your name?"
"Elliot Meyers." His face was burning. This had been exactly what he was afraid of.
"You're Elliot Meyers?" He watched Sanford exchange looks with his colleagues. "You didn't mention you needed... accommodations."
"I don't," Elliot said through his teeth. "I just need help getting on the stage, that's all."
"You need the podium lowered," Sanford observed.
"No," Elliot said. "I'll be standing up for my presentation."
Joe Sanford looked skeptical, "You sure about that?"
"Yes," Elliot said through his teeth. Sanford shook his head at his colleagues. This was even worse than what he had feared. His whole reputation was going to get destroyed today. Once they saw he was disabled, nobody would give a shit what he had to say. But it was too late to back out now.
"Come on, Elliot," Lise said in her soft, calming voice. "Let's go set up."
He turned to look at her. If not for Lise, he wasn't sure what he would have done. He wouldn't be here right now, that was for sure.
"Joe Sanford is an ignorant prick."
Lise spoke the words with utter conviction. Elliot never would have guessed that an hour earlier, she had practically been drooling over the man.
There were five minutes left until Elliot was set to give his presentation. Five minutes to realize he was making a huge mistake. Five minutes to get the hell out of here through a back exit.
"You can't leave, Elliot," Lise said, folding her arms across her chest. "I won't let you."
"You won't let me?"
"You want to take me on, Meyers?" she challenged him, her fingers balling into a fist. "You haven't been to a gym in ten years, I'll bet. I could pin you in five minutes."
Elliot smiled despite himself. "I'm not about to fight a girl."
Lise handed him his crutches. "It's the only way out of here. You're on in a minute."
He looked down at his legs, wrapped in the heavy braces. "What's with the fucking cheerleader act, Lise? What the hell does it matter to you?"
"Because," Lise said quietly, "I love math."
Elliot looked her straight in the eyes. "Oh, is that what you love?"
"Get the fuck out there," Lise hissed.
Out on the stage, he heard Joe Sanford introducing him. Sanford went through all his achievements in his brief career. He didn't mention Elliot's disability, of course. Nobody knew yet. One more minute.
Elliot struggled to pull himself into a standing position. For a second, he felt himself falling, but then Lise's hand was behind him, rescuing him. Sexy... how could she have called me 'sexy'? She must have thought he was so goddamn pathetic right now.
He took a deep breath, trying to keep steady. I can do this, he told himself. One step at a time.
The noise of Elliot's crutches sounded almost deafening in the large auditorium. He pulled himself onto the stage, taking careful steps so as not to fall. A murmur spread amongst the audience and he could only imagine what they were saying... I didn't know Elliot Meyers was a cripple! That poor guy! He willed himself to make it across the stage, to not fall flat on his face.
And by the grace of god, he made it. He gripped the podium and wiped a layer of sweat from his forehead. Jesus, what was everything thinking of him? He rested one of the crutches against the podium, picked up his laser pointer, and directed it at the slide up on the large stage screen. "Thank you for coming," Elliot said, clearing his throat. "As you can see from this title slide, my talk is on enumeration of algebraic geometry via techniques of symplectic topology. I'm going to introduce a lot of new computational tools, but I'll talk slow for the applied mathematicians out there."
A hearty chuckle came from the audience and Elliot felt himself relaxing a little bit. Just 62 slides left to go...
"...These applications can also be expanded to problems in the field of symplectic geometry, but since I've already gone five minutes over my allotted time, I'll leave that for another discussion. Thank you."
The audience was silent for a moment, then suddenly erupted into a thunderous applause. Elliot felt his heart jump in his chest. They didn't applaud like this for everyone, did they? The applause continued and Elliot even saw a few people rising to their feet. He knew the stuff he had talked about was revolutionary, but he hadn't expected this sort of response. He wondered if part of it was a sympathy applause.
As the applause died down, Elliot saw scattered hands raised in the audience. One of those hands belonged to Joe Sanford. "Yes... Dr. Sanford?"
Sanford stood up from his seat, "I'd just like to say that this was the finest presentation I've been privileged to attend during my tenure in the AMS. Phenomenal work, Mr. Meyers."
The applause erupted in the audience once again. Elliot was blown away. For a second, he felt that he couldn't even speak. In his wildest dreams, he hadn't imagined it going so well.
He fielded a few questions, then Sanford had to call an end to the discussion. Elliot grabbed his crutches and hobbled away from the podium. He immediately saw Lise standing just offstage. As soon as he saw her face, he felt a rush of affection. He loved her, he really did. If not for her, he wouldn't be standing here right now. She was the most wonderful person he had ever met. And if she didn't want a relationship... well, it would be disappointing, but at least he had her friendship. He couldn't imagine living his life without her.
As he approached her, he noticed that she was looking at him very strangely. He wasn't sure what to make of it. "Elliot..." she said.
"What's wrong?" he frowned.
She didn't answer him. Instead, she grabbed him and pressed her lips against his. Elliot was so surprised, he dropped his right crutch. This turned out to be fortuitous, because it allowed him to have his hand free to pull her closer to him.
"I can't wait another second," Lise breathed. "I want to be your girlfriend, Elliot Meyers."
He grinned, "This is the best fucking day of my life."
"Let's get out of here," Lise said, her lips close to his.
"But what about Hans Swensen's talk on string theory?" Elliot asked, wide-eyed.
"Fuck string theory."
"Blasphemy," he gasped, as she kissed him again.
Lise had intended to wait. She had intended to get Brent completely out of her system and give him time to forget her as well. She wasn't sure how much time that would take, but she vowed not to rush into anything.
But when Lise saw Elliot up on the stage, talking about his life's work as the greatest minds of their time listened in rapt attention, she realized she had never been so attracted to a man in her entire life.
Elliot seemed surprised and pleased by her change of heart. She had told him she wanted to take things slow, but she couldn't keep her hands off him on the taxi ride back to their hotel. She pushed him against the door of the car, trying to get as close as possible as she kissed him. He kissed her back, but she could tell he wasn't quite sure what to do with his hands. He didn't know the proper etiquette yet.
The driver unloaded Elliot's wheelchair from the trunk and offered it to him. "No, I'm walking," Elliot said, gripping his crutches.
"Are you sure?" Lise was surprised. She knew he was exhausted from the speech and she figured he'd want to sit down.
"Yeah, definitely," he said. "I want to be able to look you in the eyes."
They made out as they rode up in the elevator. Elliot was having a lot of trouble hanging onto his crutches, as she pressed against him, threading her fingers into his hair. She remembered that old Aerosmith song: Love in an elevator. Lovin' it up when I'm goin' down. She had never felt passionate enough about a guy before to pounce on him in an elevator.
Back in Elliot's hotel room, he practically collapsed onto the bed and dropped his crutches onto the floor. Lise parked his wheelchair by the bed, and for the first time since they left the convention center, she hesitated. Elliot was sitting on the bed, looking up at her, waiting for her next move, but she wasn't sure yet what it would be. Yes, she wanted to make love to him right now. But he was so inexperienced. He was still a virgin, for god's sake.
"Lise," Elliot said, "there's something I have to tell you."
She sat down next to him on the bed and picked up his hand. "Yes?" His eyes looked scared. She had no idea what he could possibly say.
"I didn't tell you the real reason I wanted to give this presentation today," he began, squeezing her hand in his. "The thing is, something... happened."
Lise frowned. "What?"
Elliot's eyes filled with tears. He bowed his head down. "Lise, the tumor is back, and... and I have to have surgery as soon as we get home."
Oh god. Lise couldn't imagine how he had kept this from her for so long. "Elliot..."
He held up his hand for her to stop talking. "Let me finish," he said. "The doctors told me that they can remove the tumor. They think they can get all of it, but..."
"But?" she prompted him.
The tears were running down Elliot's cheeks now. "I won't be able to use my hands anymore..."
The moment of sexual passion was over. Lise put her arms around him and held him as his shoulders heaved with sobs. "It's okay," she cooed, even though she knew it wasn't.
"It's so fucking stupid too," he hiccuped. "I shouldn't be this upset, right? It's not like I'm a... a painter or something. I'm a fucking mathematician. All I need is my brain."
"Fuck... I mean, if Stephen Hawkings can't move his whole body, then I can deal with this, right?" He rubbed his eyes. "I just... I wish I were normal..."
Elliot looked up at her and she could see how terrified he was. She gently wiped the tears from his cheeks and kissed the residual dampness. She tried to support him as he lowered himself backward onto the bed.
Elliot watched as Lise lifted his shirt and kissed him on his chest, above where the brace ended. Her lips felt so soft and wonderful. He touched her hair as she continued kissing him, tugging at the straps on his braces to get them off. He tried to help her, but she pushed his hands away. Apparently, she wanted to do it herself.
He closed his eyes as he felt her tugging and pulling to get his pants and braces off. He didn't want to watch this. He hated dealing with his legs in any way and he couldn't believe that Lise could look at his legs and still want to be with him. It wasn't sexy, that was for sure.
When he felt her fingers on his bare legs, he finally opened his eyes. He propped himself up on his elbows and watched Lise as she ran her hand over the length of his calf, then massaged his foot gently. "Can you feel me?" she asked him.
"Yeah, mostly," he said. The sensation in his lower body was intact, but not particularly reliable. If he closed his eyes, he often wasn't sure where he was being touched. Sometimes a pinprick felt no different than a poke, and sometimes he felt things that weren't there.
He moved his foot a little bit, just to show her that he could. She smiled at him, "Can you lift your leg?"
He grunted as he lifted his left leg a few inches off the bed. It took a lot of effort on his part and the second she touched his leg, he dropped it back down against the bed. "Feels like I'm lifting a lead pipe with my leg or something," he said. Of course, she only had to take a look at his legs to know they weren't good for much. The muscles were very atrophied, much worse than his fingers. "I know my legs are pretty disgusting."
"That wasn't what I was thinking," Lise said. She bent her head and kissed his knee. Then she pulled her shirt over her head, exposing her two pert breasts, covered by only a thin bra.
Elliot felt his heart pounding in his chest. "Jesus," he said. He had honestly believed that this might never happen to him.
She undid the clasp on her skirt and let it slide off. Now she was in only her bra and panties. Her bare skin looked so soft, but he was afraid to touch her yet. He didn't want to screw this up by being too forward.
She straddled him as he lay down flat on the bed. She undid the buttons on his shirt and pulled it off him. Now he was completely naked. He knew he didn't have a good body—between his thin legs and his flabby gut, it wasn't a pretty sight. His upper chest and arms were in a little better shape, but he was still no bodybuilder. He knew before even looking at his penis that he was really hard. How many guys had Lise been with before him? No way she was a virgin too.
"Take off my bra," she instructed him, as she lay down on top of him.
"Okay," he agreed.
He reached behind her chest and felt the strap of her bra. It felt like there was some kind of clasp in place. He tried fumbling with the clasp, but it didn't seem to give that easily. He felt a little hook and he assumed it was going through a hole, but he couldn't tell where the hole was and he didn't have enough dexterity in his fingers to get it through the hole. Moreover, it seemed like there were at least two separate hooks he had to undo. He had mastered abstract algebra in a few weeks, but this seemed impossible. "I can't do this," he finally said.
Lise laughed gently. She reached behind her back with one hand and her bra snapped open. "What the fuck?" Elliot said, amazed.
Her breasts were exposed to him now. He had seen a lot of pictures of naked breasts, but this was his first time seeing them up close. Her nipples were very hard, which he hoped was a good sign. "You can touch," she whispered. "It's okay."
Elliot reached out and gently touched her breast. He ran his fingers along the curved surface, amazed at how soft it was. When his fingers touched her nipple, she gasped slightly and arched her back. He traced circles around the sensitive skin. "I'm sorry I don't know what I'm doing," he said bashfully.
"You're doing great," Lise assured him.
Encouraged, he touched her other breast. I can't believe I'm touching Lise's breasts! He was more aroused than he had ever been before in his life. Still, he couldn't push away this feeling in the back of his head that Lise couldn't possibly be enjoying this as much as she seemed to be. How could she possibly be so turned on by him?
Lise reached down and pulled out his penis. She began to stroke it gently and the slight touch of her fingers was almost enough to make him cry out. He wondered how his penis compared to others. He noticed he didn't get quite as hard as he did before he had the surgeries, and his penis didn't look as impressive. He wanted to ask her, but he was afraid it might kill the mood. "Relax," she said to him, "you look anxious."
"You know I've never done this before," he said, swallowing hard. "Uh... should we... use a condom or something?"
"Why? Do you think I'm diseased?" she asked, but she was smiling.
"No, but... you don't want to get pregnant..."
"I'm on the pill," Lise said. "And I promise, I don't have any STD's."
"How many guys have you been with?" Elliot blurted out. Fuck, that was the wrong thing to say. His face flushed. "Sorry... it's just that, you know I've never been with anyone before... and... look, never mind."
"Just one," Lise told him.
"Really? That's it?" Elliot was surprised. "But you're so... I mean, every guy must want to..."
"My first time was a mistake," Lise explained. "It was my freshman year of college, I was going out with the guy for a few months, and... I knew I didn't love him, but I figured what the hell. I thought it wouldn't matter, but I felt very empty after the experience. After we broke up, I decided that I wasn't going to have sex with another guy I didn't love."
Elliot stared at her, not sure what to make of this. "I don't understand, Lise," he said.
"It doesn't take a particle physicist to understand," she said, "I love you, Elliot."
"But..." he frowned. "Why?"
She laughed and hugged him. "God only knows," she said.
He hugged her back. "I love you too, Lise."
When he entered her, it was like nothing he had ever felt before. He couldn't believe that he had spent half his life masturbating, never knowing pleasure like this existed. He wished he could be more active, that he could get on top of her and pin her to the bed, but his legs were like dead weights, preventing any moves like that. He kept one hand on her leg and with the other he attempted to rub what he could only guess was her clitoris. The sensation was too intense and he couldn't concentrate on what he was doing to her. After only a few minutes, despite his best efforts to hold out, he felt a blinding orgasm shake his entire body. "Oh my god, Lise..."
Afterward, Elliot felt completely drained of energy. He lay against the pillow, knowing it was soaked in sweat. Even though his erection had deflated, Lise stayed on top of him, riding him as she touched herself. He watched her as she quickly brought herself to climax and collapsed on top of him.
"I'm sorry," he said to her, "I should have done that for you."
"Oh really?" she said teasingly.
"Yeah, I could have... um, eaten you out."
Lise laughed. "I don't think I've ever seen someone look so uncomfortable saying those words."
He blushed, "Well, I'm not used to saying it. But that doesn't mean I don't want to."
"You want to?"
"I really want to."
"Next time," she promised him.
Elliot smiled at the thought that there would be a next time. Don't fuck this up, he told himself.
To be continued...