I’m wearing only a T-shirt and panties. I lift my hips so that I can grab at his pajama bottoms and pull them down. He springs free, and as soon as he does, he pushes my panties aside in a single swipe, and slides me down onto him.
“Oh shit,” I say. “If you had another one of these things, you could walk on them.” He smacks my butt, and it’s so dark I can’t tell if he’s smiling. After that we don’t talk. We just move … the ugly girl and the cripple guy.
The next morning, we lie in bed until my phone begins to incessantly ring. I try to ignore it, but when the caller tries several more times, I gingerly pick it up and look at the screen.
“It’s Johan,” I tell Judah. “He wants to meet up to talk.”
I chew on my nails, feeling the weight of Johan. He must have woken up with renewed perspective after my outburst last night. But I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t want to spend hours mopping up the mess our feelings have made. It’s kaput, as Johan would say. A dead dog.
“Maybe you should,” he says. I shake my head.
“Right now you’re here, and I want to be with you. He can wait.”
He searches my face, but I’ve become better at hiding my expression.
“Do you want to talk about what happened last night?”
I breathe in the smell of his skin. My cheek is pressed to his chest, and I shake my head. “I’d rather do it again actually, and not talk about it at all.”
“Okay,” Judah says. “But first you have to make me breakfast.”
“Perfect. I have frozen waffles and canned orange juice.”
DESPITE THE CONSTANT DRIP OF RAIN, thunder in Seattle is as rare as the sun in winter. When it rumbles, shaking the windowpanes in my apartment, I run for the window to see what’s happening. Judah, fresh from his bath, is reading a book in the living room. He laughs at me when I trip over a pillow and crawl the rest of the way to the window to look out.
“It’s thunder,” I say incredulously, still on my knees.
“Yes,” he says. I turn and sit with my back against the wall. Because my bathroom is not equipped with the hoist that Judah needs to lift himself in and out of the bath, I helped him instead, surprised at his upper body strength and how little he actually needed me. I think on this now, as I sit staring at the maleness of his beauty—the wet hair, the broad expanse of chest. It was shocking to see his legs. It looked as if two pieces that did not belong to him were hastily placed on his body. Frail and thin, free of hair, I averted my eyes when I helped him out of the bath, and then I felt ashamed. What right did I have to avert my eyes from his body when I was naught but a monster underneath my skin?
“How come you’re so good at being in a wheelchair?” I say softly. Judah sets his book aside, folding his hands on his lap.
“I decided very early on that I wanted as little help as possible,” he says. “There wasn’t always going to be someone around to do things for me, so I taught myself to do them.”
“She was tough … loving, but tough. She didn’t do anything for me unless she had to.”
I think about the day he called to me from the window, how I crept into his house in the dark and held his hands while he sobbed. It was the only time Judah showed weakness, and I wonder now if it’s still there, his feelings of ineptitude buried under the bravado of capability. The tarnished silver.
“But you don’t complain. You never look burdened by it.”
“I’m not,” he says. “Other people are though, when they have to wheel me off the airplane, or bend down at the Starbucks counter to hand me my change. When someone has to hold a door open for me, or pack my wheelchair into their trunk. That’s when I become a burden.”
I think about what it would be like to have to depend on others for all of the little things, and I instantly know I’d never be like Judah.
“I’d be angry and bitter,” I announce.
He laughs. “You’re the most hopeful person I’ve ever met, Margo. That’s untrue.”
I jump up and run to him, pressing my lips against his, holding his face in my palms. Just because I can.
We stay inside for most of the day, ordering Chinese and watching movies like we used to. This time I have a long list of things I want him to see.
“Well, that was depressing,” he says. I eject the movie from the DVD player and slip my finger through the hole in its center while I look for the box. The Stoning of Sorayah M is one of those films that leave you in a funk for days.
“How did you go from sappy chicks flicks like The Wedding Date to something like that?”
“It’s meaningful,” I say. “I want to fill myself with images that mean something, not ones that placate my fears.”
“How did The Wedding Date placate your fears?”
I sit on my heels in front of the TV and stare at him. “I’ve always been afraid that love isn’t real. So I watched movies that assured me that there can be happy endings and shit.”
“And shit,” he says. And then, “Okay … okay … I get it. What else you got for me? Let’s see how far we can slump into depression.”
I pick up the next movie I have lined up and wave it around. “The House of Sand and Fog,” I say.
“Bring it,” says Judah. “I’m super in touch with my feelings right now.” He rubs a palm over his chest.
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