Jan headed over to Jake’s dorm room early in the morning. He lived two flights below her and Cindy, in a similar-appearing room that he shared with a roommate of his own. She knocked on the door and waited for him to answer.
Jake came to the door quickly, already dressed, showered, and clean-shaven. Jake always looked good, no matter what the time of day. She felt a surge of resentment as she looked him over. That guy had it all, even without having to threaten to destroy her.
“What is it?” Jake asked.
Wordlessly, Jan handed him the copy of the final exam.
Jake looked surprised as he lifted the exam from her hands. He flipped through it as she tried to look away. “Nice job, Wright,” he said. “I had my doubts but you really came through.” He grinned at her, “You saved your ass.”
“Don’t ever speak to me again,” Jan managed to say.
Jake laughed as he shut the door in her face. As she stared at the closed door, she felt a twinge of regret. Even though she herself hadn’t cheated, she knew that Andy wouldn’t approve of what she had done. But her reasons for doing it were the right ones. Their relationship couldn’t be made public until after the anatomy class was long over. This was the only way.
Andy wasn’t teaching any of the anatomy lectures that morning, so Jan decided to skip them and go straight to his office. He was usually working there in the morning. He sometimes scolded her for missing lectures, but he had to admit that none of the other professors were nearly as good teachers as he was. And he was usually glad for her company.
Jan saw the light on under his office door and knocked gently. “Come in,” he called.
She gingerly opened the door. She saw him working at his computer and for the second that she studied him, her heart swelled. “Hi,” she said.
He turned away from the monitor and looked at her. “Hi,” he said. She noticed there was something guarded in his tone.
“I just came by to see you,” she said, her voice dripping with suggestion.
“Uh huh,” he said.
Her stomach sunk. Something had changed. Did he know? But how could he?
“Sorry I skipped class,” she said.
“It doesn’t really matter, does it?” he said, raising his eyebrows at her. She was quiet as he reached into his desk drawer and pulled out a sheet of paper. He held it out to her. “You left something in my printer yesterday.”
She took it from him, her hands trembling. It was the last page of the final exam.
Jan didn’t know what to say. As she stared down at the page, the whole world around her went black. She sunk down into the chair in front of his desk so as not to fall to the floor. She couldn’t even lift her head to look at him. “I’m sorry,” she mumbled.
“Don’t be,” he said. “I’m the one who was stupid. Your old professor even warned me about you and I didn’t listen.”
“It’s not like that,” Jan tried to say, but she knew her words sounded lame.
“Then what’s it like, Janice?”
When she lifted her eyes to meet his, she expected to see anger, but all she saw was hurt. She wished he was angry at her. That would have been easier to deal with. “I’m sorry,” she said again.
“Please stop saying that,” he said. “I feel stupid enough as it is. I can’t believe I fell for your bullshit act.”
“It wasn’t an act,” Jan said.
“Please.” He held up his hand. “Enough with the lies. Let’s just say we both lied, okay? You lied about being interested in me. I lied when I pretended I wasn’t the lonely, pathetic loser you knew I was all along.”
“You’re not a pathetic loser,” she said.
“Let’s not kid ourselves anymore, okay?” he said. “We both know what I am. I’m a paraplegic anatomy geek who hasn’t had a date, much less a second date in years. You know the last time I’ve been with a woman before you? I don’t even want to think about it.”
Jan didn’t know what to say. Her mouth felt dry.
“You were absolutely right about my fiancé,” Andy went on. “Jessica dumped me as soon as she found out I’d never walk again. She didn’t want to marry a guy in a wheelchair. Of course, she made up some bullshit story just the way you did, that we had grown apart or some crap like that. But it was so damn obvious. That’s the way it is for me. But then again, I’m sure I’m not telling you anything that’s much of a surprise.”
It was a surprise though. The truth was that she had been the one who was fooled. She had never believed that Andy had been lonely or that the relationship meant more to him than it did to her. She had believed every one of his lies. She had always thought that he was the one with the upper hand. He was her professor, after all… she was just a student.
Jan wanted to try to explain to him what had happened. She wanted to tell him about the blackmail and how she had just done it so the two of them wouldn’t get caught. But every time she tried to form the words, they sounded so phony to her.
Andy sighed and closed his eyes, “You really got me, Jan, I have to admit it. I really believed that…” He shook his head and opened his eyes again. “Look, I’ll let you keep the A on the last midterm and let’s just forget this ever happened, okay? I’ll change the final exam questions and we’ll just call it even.”
But that wasn’t what she wanted. She didn’t care about the grade anymore. All she wanted was him. “Andy,” she said, speaking through a lump in her throat. “You have to believe me, I never faked anything with you. I swear.”
He glanced down at the exam paper still in her hand, “Yeah, okay.”
“I know how it looks,” she admitted, “but you also know how hard I studied for that last midterm. I mean, we studied together. You were quizzing me—I couldn’t have faked that. And I wasn’t faking my feelings for you either. I… I love you.”
Andy shook his head again. “Please just get out,” he said, his voice breaking on the words.
She had no choice but to comply. At that moment, Jan was grateful for the fact that she had never been in love before. She was glad that she never before in her life had to feel this kind of pain.
Andy hadn’t wanted to believe it when he saw the paper in his printer. It looked familiar to him right away, but until he reached for it and actually saw the final page of his exam staring back at him, he would never have believed Jan was capable of anything like that. But there it was in black and white ink: proof that Jan had been using him from the start.
He felt humiliated. Everyone had warned him… Linda had warned him, Douglas Fenmore had warned him… but he had been too stupid to listen. He prided himself on being a good judge of character and he had really believed that he saw something in Jan Wright. It turned out all he saw was a talented actress. If he hadn’t been so horny, maybe he would have seen through her.
He thought back to all the moments they had shared together, his confessions about his insecurities, the times when he had held her in his arms and the world had somehow seemed right. He had been inches away from telling her that he loved her. He couldn’t believe it was all an act. He felt like such an idiot.
He was half-hoping she’d deny that the paper was hers. Maybe he or Linda had printed the exam out earlier and left that last page behind. But the second he handed it to her, he saw the guilt on her face and he knew the truth.
What he really wanted to do was cancel lab for the afternoon and go home to raid his medicine cabinet. He felt like crap and he knew there were pills in there that would make him feel better, even if that wasn’t their intended use. A few extra Vicodin would not only numb the pain in his shoulders but also in his chest. It was really tempting. In the year after his injury, he had taken a few extra pills more than once when the depression got to him.
But as usual, Andy felt roped in by his responsibilities. There were over a hundred students in his class who were counting on him and he didn’t want to let them down. Maybe his social life was nonexistent, but he had successfully turned several students into the surgeon that he had wanted to become, so he couldn’t count himself a complete failure. He just had to push on.
Andy spent most of the morning rewriting the exam and trying not to think about Jan. By one o’clock, he started heading over to the anatomy lab. He hoped to god that Jan wouldn’t be there. He couldn’t deal with seeing her right now.
Fortunately, the only student at Jan’s cadaver was Jake Masterson. Jake was undeniably one of the best students in the class, which was requisite if he wanted to go into plastics. Jake was also one of his secretary Linda’s favorites, probably mostly because he was good looking and suave. Linda always liked the handsome med students. As far as she was concerned, they could get away with murder as long as they were cute.
Even though Andy had wanted to be a surgeon too at that point in his career, he didn’t think he had been much like Jake when he was a med student. Jake had a lot of charisma and a way with the ladies. Andy was generally well liked, but much more serious and more of a nerd than Jake was. Andy was slow and steady and careful when he did his dissections, while Jake was fast and more reckless. Still, Jake seemed like a good kid. Andy trusted that he’d end up doing well in medicine and certainly well in anatomy class.
Andy leaned over to see Jake’s dissection of the shoulder. It was immaculate. “Nice job, Dr. Masterson.”
“Thanks,” Jake beamed.
“Too bad you had to do it all alone,” Andy observed.
“Yeah, well…” Jake shrugged.
Andy was glad to see Jake wasn’t badmouthing his fellow students. It showed good character. “I’ve been noticing your dissections,” Andy said. “You have some of the best skills in the class. I think you’re going to be a really good surgeon someday.”
Jake’s face lit up. “You think so?”
“Definitely,” Andy nodded vigorously. “If you keep up your strong performance on the final exam, I would be happy to write you a letter when you’re applying for surgery programs.”
“Wow, Dr. Callahan,” Jake murmured. “That would mean a lot to me. Thanks so much.”
“I’m happy to do it,” Andy said. Somehow it made him feel better about himself to do something nice for a student. Made him feel like less of a loser. “By the way, Jake…”
He took a deep breath, “You’ve spent a lot of time in lab with Janice, haven’t you?”
“Yeah, of course,” Jake confirmed.
“So… let me ask you something,” Andy said. He bit his lip, not sure he wanted to hear the answer to the question he was about to ask. “Do you… do you think she knows her stuff?”
Jake raised his eyebrows. “Huh?”
Forget it, just forget it, Callahan. Drop it.
But he couldn’t just drop it. He had to know. “Does Janice know the material or not?”
“Honestly?” Jake hesitated. “No, she doesn’t.”
Andy felt sick to his stomach. He watched Jake continuing the dissection, feeling a deep sense of envy. This 22 year old kid had it all. He was going to be a surgeon, like Andy had wanted, and he could obviously get any girl he wanted. Jake didn’t have to worry about making it to the bathroom in time to catheterize his bladder, or how he was going to transfer to the toilet when his shoulder was out of commission. Andy couldn’t even remember a time when his life had been that simple.
When Andy got home that night, his phone was ringing. He was worried it was Jan and he considered unplugging it for the night. He didn’t want to hear Jan’s lame excuses. He felt like an idiot for ever having believed she was interested in him in the first place.
But part of him hoped that maybe she’d come up with a good explanation for him. He didn’t know what, but he figured she was smart enough to do so. Even though Jan had been scamming him, he had been happy when he was with her. Happier than he’d been in years. He missed that, even though it turned out to all be an illusion.
Finally he picked up the phone. “Yeah?”
“Andy, it’s me.” It was his mother.
“Oh, hi.” He wasn’t in the mood to talk to his mother. He didn’t feel like her sympathy right now.
“Andy, don’t be angry at me,” his mother said. His shoulders immediately tensed. “But remember that girl Beth that I told you about?”
“Well, she’s available for dinner tonight and I told her you’d meet her.”
“Please, Andrew…” his mother’s voice was almost breaking. “How long since you’ve been out with a girl? I can’t stand to see you lonely like this.”
“I’m not lonely,” Andy lied through his teeth.
“Honey, I’m your mother,” she said. “I know you.”
Andy rubbed the bridge of his nose. He couldn’t believe he was actually considering this. But maybe another woman would be just what he needed to feel better about Jan. It would be nice to be in a relationship that wasn’t illicit, where they could actually go out to a restaurant or something without there being a scandal. But then again, a blind date had the potential to be a disaster.
“Does she know I use a wheelchair?” Andy asked. He wasn’t going near this date if she wasn’t pre-informed.
“You say that like it’s such a big deal, honey.”
“Does she know or not?”
Andy took a deep breath. How long had it been since he’d been on an actual date? He couldn’t even remember the last time. There was some point when he stopped thinking about it. “All right, I’ll do it.”
Andy didn’t date much before his injury either. Even though he felt that he was decent looking enough, he always felt very anxious about approaching the opposite sex. He never could imagine a scenario where he wouldn’t get rejected. And he was always so wrapped up in his studies that dating took a back seat. He didn’t date at all in high school, then he had a couple of girlfriends in college, all of whom had made the first move. Then in med school, he had Jessie.
He remembered when things started up with Jessie. They had been studying together, as usual, because it was a lot easier to ask her to study with him than it was to ask her to go out with him. They had been going over some physiology and Andy had been reciting the pulmonary function tests from memory while Jessie looked on in awe.
You’re such a nerd, she had said, slugging him in the arm.
Sorry, he said, blushing.
Don’t apologize, it’s sexy. And as he stared at her in disbelief, she had kissed him.
When Andy proposed to Jessie, he was relieved he’d never have to go through the awkward process of trying to meet girls ever again. He never thought he’d be 35 years old and staring into his closet, trying to figure out what to wear for a blind date.
He finally decided on the same blue shirt and tan slacks combination he wore to work most of the time, sans tie. Jessie used to tell him that blue was his color because it brought out his eyes He was kind of an idiot when it came to fashion, so he trusted what she said and bought blue shirts and ties. As for pants, he just bought generic slacks that were loose enough not to put pressure on his skin or show off his thin legs, but tight enough that they weren’t going to bunch up under his butt and thighs.
Of course, what he wore or how he combed his hair was pretty inconsequential. The first thing his date was going to see was his chair and how she reacted to that would determine how the evening would go.
Andy transferred into his white Ford and loaded his chair into the back as usual. Jan always joked that he had an “old man car” and he guessed she was right. He never felt a need to impress anyone with his car. Driving a shiny red Ferrari wouldn’t make him any less crippled. Not that he could close to afford a car like that.
He drove slow, as usual. Andy had never gone above the speed limit in his life, and usually well below it. He never once got a ticket. Jessie used to tease him about his driving, calling out, Andy, there’s an old man with a walker who’s passing us! He had always been so careful about everything… that was just his nature. He had friends in college who jumped out of airplanes with parachutes, yet he was the one who ended up in a wheelchair.
Andy was supposed to meet Beth at the restaurant. It was a Chinese place he’d never been to before, which made him edgy. He didn’t know if there was going to end up being a flight of stairs to get to the entrance or something that would end his date before it began. He no longer wasted energy on being surprised or irritated by the inaccessibility of certain places. If a place wasn’t accessible, he just didn’t go in.
He was relieved to see that although there was no ramp, there was only one step to get to the main entrance. He could handle one step with a wheelie, no problem. It occurred to him as he was hopping the step that if he got a powerchair, he wasn’t going to be able to do this anymore. A single step or a curb would become an impenetrable barrier.
The hostess told him that his party had already arrived and she led him to a table that was far in the back. As he knocked into a few chairs in navigating his way to the table, the hostess apologized to him repeatedly. He assured her it was all right, even though he found himself growing progressively more irritated.
Beth Gibbons was seated at a two person table. He vaguely recognized her from his mother’s description of reddish hair and a curvy figure. She wasn’t as sexy as 22 year old Jan and he could tell she had five years on him, maybe more, but she was pleasant looking enough. The only thing really unpleasant about her was the look on her face when she laid eyes on him. It was painfully obvious that his mother had either lied to him or been misinformed, and Beth had no fucking clue that he was disabled. She looked shocked.
Andy took a deep breath and pulled off the leather gloves with the fingers cut off that he had been wearing to protect his hands, then stuck out his palm for Beth to shake, “Hi, I’m Andy.”
For a moment, she just stared at his hand, as if it were a foreign object. Finally, she took it gingerly, as if she thought his disability might be contagious. “I’m Beth.”
Andy picked the napkin up off the table and laid it down on his lap, although he had a bad feeling that he wasn’t going to need it. Beth was looking down at her own lap, carefully avoiding eye contact. “Um, I hear you work at a bank?” he said, hoping she’d relax once they got into a conversation.
“Uh huh,” Beth said. She still wasn’t looking at him. She was looking around the restaurant now, as if searching for the waiter. Or an exit. “Do you… uh, work?”
“I’m an anatomy professor,” he said.
“Oh… that’s… wow, good for you.”
Andy sighed and folded his hands across his chest. He leaned forward in his wheelchair. “Look, Beth… honestly, if you want to get out of here, it’s okay.”
Beth blinked, “Um… I wasn’t…”
“Obviously your mom didn’t tell you I was in a wheelchair,” he noted. “And I think it’s making you uncomfortable.”
“No, it’s… I mean…”
“If you want to stay, I’d love to have dinner with you,” Andy said. “But if you want to leave, don’t feel bad about it. I’d rather you go now than tell me you’re going to the bathroom and not come back. Or have your friend call you with a made up excuse to rush out.”
That was the nicest he could possibly be about it. He was a little surprised at himself, actually… at how calm he felt in spite of the fact that she clearly at one foot out the door. But it was better this way. He’d had a couple of blind dates take off on him and it was just painful to have to wonder each time they went to the bathroom whether they’d be coming back. Better to know now.
Finally, Beth looked up at him for the first time since he had wheeled into the restaurant. “You seem like a really nice guy, Andy,” she said, “but I don’t want to waste your time. This isn’t going to work. I’m sorry.”
With those words, she stood up. He hadn’t realized until that second how much he had been hoping she’d change her mind and stay.
“I’m sorry,” she said one more time, then she hurried in the direction of the exit.
Andy glanced behind him at all the chairs he had navigated his way past in order to get to this table. He didn’t want to eat here alone, but he was already here. So what if the waiters thought he was a pathetic cripple who got ditched by his blind date? At least he’d get a decent meal.
He was suddenly overwhelmed with the urge to call Jan. It had been so nice when they were together—not just the great sex, but just having someone to be intimate with. He had to keep reminding himself over and over that she never cared about him. She had been using him all along. It was all a lie.
But he still missed her.
To be continued...