It was nine in the morning, which was painfully early for a math grad student. Elliot was still in his boxers shorts and just had time to pull on a T-shirt when he heard the doorbell ring in his apartment. He wheeled over to the door and opened it. Despite being very tired, he smiled when he saw Lise's face.
"Got your index cards all written up and organized," she said, holding them out to him.
"Wow, thanks," he said, taking the cards from her. "Uh... do you... want to come in?"
"Sure," Lise agreed, walking past him into the apartment. With his sparse furniture and empty refrigerator, he knew his place wasn't a friendly environment for visitors, but that wasn't a problem most of the time. Even his parents very rarely came by.
Lise sat down on his secondhand futon couch as Elliot flipped through the cards. The talk started out with a discussion of the enumeration of rational curves with a cusp of specified nature in projective spaces, then went on to explain a general approach for counting positive-genus curves with complex structure fixed. Elliot was halfway through the cards when he felt them slipping out of his hand. He let them fall into his lap, trying to keep them from scattering.
"Are... are they okay?" Lise asked.
"No, they're fine," he assured her quickly. "It's just... too early in the morning to focus, I guess. But they look great, Lise. And your handwriting is very readable."
She laughed. "Thanks. I loved working on them. Compared to grading calculus problem sets, it was a blast."
"You don't have to grade those anymore," Elliot said. "I was a dick to even suggest it."
Lise waved her hand in dismissal. "It was a good review. I was sixteen the last time I was in an intro calculus class."
"I was fifteen," Elliot said. "But I taught it to myself the year before. I got bored." This isn't a competition! What are you doing?
"I know what you mean," Lise said, taking his arrogance in stride, "I think half the math I know, I taught to myself. Back when I was in high school, I loved number theory, so I had about a shelf of number theory books."
"Oh yeah, I went through that phase," Elliot laughed. "Number theory is fun when you're young because you don't need any background for it. Any Joe Schmo off the street could understand a proof of Wilson's theorem."
"I sort of doubt that," Lise said, making a face at him. "Especially when I look at some of the mistakes some of the students in your section are making."
"Don't get me started on those kids," Elliot sighed. "I remember back in high school, I thought I was going to be the one to prove Fermat's Last Theorem. It seemed doable, considering the more advanced mathematical techniques weren't available in the 17th century when Fermat claimed to have the proof." Back in high school, he had thought he could do anything. Mathematically, at least. He was still confident, but he realized there were limitations to what a single person could accomplish.
"You got beaten to the punch, I guess," Lise said. "Otherwise, I'm sure you would have gotten the proof."
Elliot smiled wryly, "Thanks for the vote of confidence. I have to admit, I was a little disappointed when Wiles came up with that proof. Although if Fermat really had a proof, I don't think it was the 150 page monster that Wiles came up with. Maybe there really is a shorter, elegant proof of the theorem."
"There's always hope," Lise said. "And if not, there's always the Riemann Hypothesis left to prove."
"Oh boy," Elliot sighed. "I think my days of number theory are over. I'll leave that one to you, Lise."
Lise giggled and Elliot couldn't help but smile. It was fun talking to Lise about math. She was a really smart girl. Brent was so fucking lucky to have her.
"So," Lise cleared her throat. "Did you want to, um... try out the braces this morning?"
He didn't really. The last thing he wanted right now was for Lise to see him struggling with his braces. But he only had two weeks, so it was either now or never. "Yeah, let's do it."
It had been a while since Elliot had used the braces, which were hidden in his bedroom closet. His old braces had been KAFO's, but now he needed hip stabilization too. Lise asked him if he needed help putting them on, but he refused the help. He still remembered how to do this part and he didn't want her to help him until it was absolutely necessary. He transferred to the bed to give himself more room.
When Elliot had secured the braces across his chest and let his shirt fall back down, covering them up, he asked Lise to hand him his forearm crutches. He slid his arms into them, and used them to help scoot down the end of the bed. Then he placed them flat on the ground and grunted, trying to stand up.
It took him a minute, but he was able to stand. He quickly reached down and locked the knees, in the same swift motion he used when he wore the braces all the time. He leaned heavily on the crutches, allowing them to support most of his weight. Damn, this was harder than he remembered. He looked over at Lise, who was watching him with a worried expression on her face. For the first time, he was taller than she was. That pleased him, at least.
"Are you okay, Elliot?" Lise asked.
"Don't I look okay?" he said. It was a joke. Elliot knew he was sweating profusely and it was just going to get worse when he started walking. He could see in Lise's eyes that she didn't understand why he was doing this and he couldn't tell her the truth: that in two weeks, he wouldn't be able to walk at all anymore.
Leaning on the crutches, Elliot took one step forward. Then another. Then a third. By the fourth step, he felt like he was going to die. "Please get my wheelchair," he gasped.
Lise hurried over to his chair and brought it over to him. Elliot unlocked the knees and collapsed backwards into the chair. "Fuck," he breathed. "That wasn't so good."
"I think you should give the talk without the braces," Lise said, sitting down on his bed.
"No... I can do this," Elliot insisted, wiping sweat from his forehead. He didn't feel as confident as he sounded though. When he had his last surgery and tried out the braces for the first time, he remembered thinking that he was much too disabled to use braces anymore. Maybe he had been right back then... maybe this was a mistake. He looked at Lise, "Do you think I'm really pathetic?"
Lise shook her head. "No, I think you're... really sexy."
At first, Elliot wasn't sure if he had heard her right. Then he laughed, "Yeah, right."
She picked up his hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. "I... I mean it."
Elliot's heart started pounding in his chest. This couldn't be happening... he must have been dreaming or something. He was used to being praised for his mathematical ability, but no girl had ever told him he was sexy before. He couldn't believe she could think of him that way, especially after watching him try to walk. "Lise..." he whispered. "Um... I...."
"I really like you, Elliot," she said, sliding along the bed to get closer to his chair. She still had her hand on his and he hoped she didn't notice how badly he was shaking. "I don't know how you feel about me, but I had to tell you. I'm sorry if this messes up our friendship."
"I like you too, Lise," Elliot said, glad he could finally tell her how he felt. He knew the thing to do at that moment was to kiss her, but it wasn't that easy for him. He decided to be honest with her. "But... you should know that I'm... very inexperienced. I... I've never done anything with a girl before."
"It's okay," Lise said.
She was trying to be nice, but he could tell that she didn't understand what he was saying. She thought he was trying to tell her he was a virgin. He wanted to tell her the truth, but he was afraid she might lose respect for him. Finally, he decided to just blurt it out: "Lise, I've never even kissed a girl before."
His face burned and he looked away before he could see her react. Fuck, it was embarrassing to admit that. But how was a young, wheelchair-bound math nerd supposed to meet women to go out with? It's not like he went bar hopping or anything. No girl had ever showed any interest in him... and even if they had, he would never have had the balls to make a move.
Elliot felt Lise's fingers on his chin. She turned his face toward her and pressed her lips against his. Her lips was surprisingly soft compared to his. His lips parted slightly and he tasted her minty breath. When she pulled away, she looked at him with wide eyes. She was so goddamn beautiful. "Okay?" she said.
She kissed him again, but this time her tongue entered his mouth slightly. He wasn't sure what to do, so he let her caress his tongue with hers. He put his arms around her, bringing her closer to him. He felt her hands sliding under his shirt, which excited him tremendously, even though he knew most of what she was feeling was his braces. He wanted to do the same to her, touch the soft skin under her sweater, but he was too scared she'd push him away.
"Elliot," she gasped, when they parted for air. "I... I think we should take things slow. I don't want us to mess this up."
He nodded. He would have nodded if she asked him to get up and dance the mamba.
It was obvious at this point that Elliot had a huge erection. He didn't even make an effort to hide it. After all, Lise was his girlfriend now. Lise is my girlfriend! The thought brought a smile to his face. He leaned over and kissed her on the cheek.
"I have a class now," Lise said. "I've got a problem set due."
"Okay," Elliot shifted in his chair, trying to get comfortable with the braces on. His erection was still painfully obvious and he knew he was going to have to masturbate the second she left. "Um... should I... meet you somewhere or something?" Fuck... what the hell were you supposed to do in a relationship? He was clueless.
Lise smiled at him. "Why don't I come by your office later? We can go over the index cards and you can let me know if you want to make any changes."
"Sure," he said, glad to receive any instructions. "I've got to teach a section today, but I should be in the office after three."
"Sounds good." Before she stood up to leave, she kissed him again on the lips. He felt her hands sliding into his hair, caressing his scalp. It was amazing to feel another person touch him like this. He had resigned himself to never having a relationship with a woman, but he hadn't realized until now how much he was missing out on until today.
If only he didn't have to have that surgery. But all good things had to come to an end.
Lise felt like she was floating on a cloud when she left Elliot's apartment. She hadn't meant to say all those things to him, but when she did, she was glad. It felt right.
After all those years of reading Elliot's papers and idolizing him, it was unbelievable to actually be kissing him. Every time she thought about Elliot, she grinned to herself. This was Elliot Meyers. The great Elliot Meyers, the smartest man alive under the age of thirty.
Lise was surprised when Elliot admitted the extent of his lack of experience. It had thrown her for a second. How could he be 26 years old and never have even kissed a woman before? But she supposed it was hard for him, being in the wheelchair and all. It didn't necessarily have to be a bad thing. The fact that he was shaking when she first kissed him made her even more attracted to him, if that was possible.
It was difficult for Lise to concentrate in her classes that day. All she could think about was Elliot. She couldn't wait to see him again. She abandoned taking notes and barely heard two words during her complex analysis class, because she knew Elliot was teaching a section right next door. The class let out five minutes early and Lise hurried next door so that she could meet Elliot when his section ended.
She watched him facing the students, his hands on his lap as he fielded their questions. She could tell by the shape of his pants that he was still wearing the braces from this morning, probably to try to get used to them. She noticed he hadn't written anything on the board--Elliot never used the blackboard during section. "If you take the integral of x plus three, can't you just include 3 with the constant?" one student asked.
Lise saw Elliot looking at the kid like he was the dumbest person he'd ever met. "Are you kidding me?" Elliot said to the kid, sounding completely incredulous. "Have you even understood one thing they've taught in this class?"
Lise shook her head and smiled to herself. She knew the undergrads were all terrified of Elliot's temper and hated his arrogance. Landing Elliot as a TA was probably the worst fate an innocent freshman could suffer. But he was right--it was a pretty dumb question.
Before Elliot could finish berating the student, he saw Lise at the door and quickly dismissed the class. He wheeled himself out of the room and rewarded Lise with a big smile, "Hey, what are you doing here?"
Lise didn't get a chance to answer. She felt an arm slide around her waist and she looked up in surprise to see Brent standing next to her. He pecked her cheek. "Hey Lise. May I treat you to some hot cocoa, m'lady?"
The smile instantly faded from Elliot's face as he stared at Lise and Brent. Lise felt her stomach sink. What was she supposed to do? This was really bad. She had never dumped one guy for another before. She couldn't break up with Brent right here, especially not after he told her he loved her.
"Oh, hey Elliot," Brent said. "How's intro calculus going?"
"Fantastic," Elliot said tonelessly. He spun his wheels hard and turned away from them. "I'll talk to you later, Lise."
Lise already felt guilty, but her guilt doubled when Brent drew her close to him and kissed her gently. "Where have you been hiding yourself, Johnston?" he whispered in her ear.
"Just busy," she said, pulling away from him.
Brent smiled, unaware anything was wrong. He looked in the direction Elliot had gone to. "You know, believe it or not, I'm actually not mad at that asshole anymore."
"Yeah?" Lise prayed he'd say something to make this easier.
"Sure, he fucked up my year last year," Brent said. "But that was last year. This year I have you." He grinned, "I bet Meyers would give anything to be in my shoes--I see the way he looks at you. But you're all mine."
Oh god, I can't do this. Lise felt sick. She couldn't tell Brent she was breaking up with him to go out with the guy who continually fucked him over. It would destroy Brent. Maybe she didn't love him, but he was a good guy. She couldn't do that to him.
But what was she going to tell Elliot?
To be continued....