Elaine Tryston was beginning to wonder about the price of being popular. Kirsten Grant was certainly popular, perhaps the most popular girl at Manchester University. But as Elaine sat in the dining hall at a table with Kirsten and her popular friends, she felt a distinct sense of isolation. These people seemed very shallow, as did their relationships.
Kirsten’s friends were interesting and very attractive. There was one guy named Trevor who was almost blindingly handsome. Every time Trevor looked in Elaine’s direction, she felt herself blushing. But still, she couldn’t see herself forming any sort of close friendship with any of these people. She had spent her high school years avoiding people like this.
Elaine eyes wandered to the rest of the dining hall. She caught a glimpse of a metal wheel and looked over to see Kirsten’s cousin Jordan wheeling across the dining hall with a tray on his lap. Elaine couldn’t help but smile—Jordan had seemed so sweet the other day when they first met. He was awfully cute too, in a harmless sort of way (unlike Trevor).
Jordan’s eyes met Elaine’s for an instant and he flashed a small smile at her. She expected him to wheel over to their table, but instead he pulled up to an empty table and began eating by himself. Before Elaine could have a chance to feel hurt, she remembered how Kirsten had treated Jordan yesterday in his room, how cruel she had been. Obviously, Jordan and Kirsten didn’t like each other very much. Still, Jordan was new to the school and he shouldn’t have to eat alone.
Elaine nudged Kirsten gently, “Hey, I’m going to invite your cousin over to sit with us.”
Kirsten’s eyes widened. She was really beautiful—perhaps the prettiest girl Elaine had ever seen. No wonder guys were always falling all over themselves for her. “Absolutely not,” Kirsten said.
“But he’s all alone,” Elaine pointed out.
“He’s used to it,” Kirsten said flatly.
Elaine frowned. “Why are you so mean to him?”
Kirsten sighed and took one of Elaine’s hands in her own. “Elaine dear, there’s something you need to understand. I didn’t get where I am socially by befriending the lowest dredges of the university.”
“But Jordan’s your cousin!”
“He’s a leper,” Kirsten said. “If you hang out with him, nobody will want to hang out with you.”
Elaine looked across the room at Jordan, quietly eating his dinner alone. It’s not right, she thought. But then again, there seemed to be consequences to crossing Kirsten Grant. “I want to say hello, at least,” Elaine said.
Kirsten shot daggers with her eyes, but forced a smile. “Do what you want. But believe me, he’s not very good company.”
Elaine left her food and walked across the dining hall to the table where Jordan was eating alone. He was staring down at his food and he didn’t even notice Elaine until she was standing right over him. His eyes lit up when he saw her.
“Mind if I sit down?” Elaine asked.
“Sit down?” Jordan blinked at her, confused for a second. Then he blushed. “Yeah, yeah, of course!”
She took a seat across from him. He put down his fork and looked over at her. Obviously, he had no idea what to say. And neither did she.
“So how are your classes?” she asked him.
“Oh, um... good, really good,” Jordan said.
“You’re a math major, right?”
“Right, right...” Jordan bit his lip. He was so cute. “Um, how are your classes?”
“Okay so far,” Elaine said. “It’s kind of cool we get to pick our classes. Unlike in high school, where they force you to take the same boring stuff.”
“Oh, I, uh... I wouldn’t know...”
Elaine blushed. She remembered now that Jordan had been homeschooled. God, this was really awkward. It was so bad that she figured she couldn’t make it any worse by asking the question that had been nagging her. “So what’s with you and Kirsten?” she asked. “Why do you guys hate each other?”
“We don’t hate each other,” Jordan said. “She hates me. I don’t hate her.”
“So, uh... why does she hate you?”
Jordan smiled wryly. “Because everything in Kirsten’s life has to be perfect. When we were kids, it ruined her perfect little world to have her handicapped cousin hanging around all the time. Believe me, I didn’t want to hang around her house. My father thought it would be good for me to... I mean, I didn’t really have any other friends...”
Impulsively, Elaine reached out and put her hand on Jordan’s. He looked at her with surprise; he blushed and pulled his hand away. “It’s okay,” he said quickly. “I just... I think you should watch out for Kirsten. I know she’s really pretty and wonderful, but... she’s got a dark side. If you’re not exactly what she wants you to be, she’ll turn on you too.”
Elaine shivered slightly as she realized the truth in his words. “Thanks for the warning,” she said. “I better get back to my table.”
Kyle found himself growing increasingly mortified during his shopping trip for Jordan at the drug store. The contents of his shopping basket included a jumbo package of Depends adult undergarments, urinary catheters, rectal suppositories, and a couple of enema bags. Not exactly the sort of stuff he wanted to be seen purchasing.
Just his luck, as he walked down aisle seven, he saw Elaine Tryston’s lithe figure examining hair products. He nearly turned and made a run for it, but she saw him before he could escape.
“Kyle!” Elaine exclaimed. “Hey, it’s good to see you again! Do you remember me?”
Kyle quickly dropped the shopping basket behind his back. “Sure I remember you. Elaine, right?”
Her face broke into a grin. “That’s right. How are you doing? How are your classes?”
“Oh, fine,” Kyle replied. He wished she’d get his body language that he didn’t want to talk. “How about you?”
“Calculus is a bitch,” Elaine said. “I feel so dumb, you know?”
“Oh, you’re having trouble with calculus?” The wheels began to turn in Kyle’s brain. “I could help you with that...”
“Really?” Elaine’s face lit up. “That would be awesome. Are you free today?”
“Sure,” Kyle said. “I have to buy some things now, but... maybe we could meet back in my room in half an hour?”
“Awesome!” Elaine said. “Thank you so much, Kyle! You’re so sweet.”
“My pleasure,” Kyle said.
Kyle went through the awkward task of purchasing the items he picked out in the drug store. The cashier gave him the strangest look as she scanned in the enema bags. Probably wondering what the hell was wrong with him that he was buying all this stuff. Kyle wasn’t about to volunteer any excuses—it was nobody’s business but his own.
When he got back to his room, Kyle was relieved to see Jordan was sitting at his desk studying. He was wearing his glasses and reading a thick textbook with lots of symbols that Kyle couldn’t understand. Kyle was beginning to think Jordan didn’t do anything besides studying.
“Jordan, I’ve got a surprise for you,” Kyle said, grinning. “Guess who’s coming over? Elaine Tryston.”
Jordan didn’t look as pleased as he would have hoped. “She is? But... why?”
“Because I told her I was going to give her some help with calculus,” Kyle explained.
“You? But you don’t know any math. How are you going to help her?”
“I’m not. You are.”
Jordan’s eyes widened. “Kyle, I don’t know...”
“Don’t be a wuss,” Kyle said. “The poor girl needs your help.”
“Aren’t there professional tutoring services?” Jordan asked.
“For crying out loud,” Kyle said. “She’s going to be here any minute. Go put on cologne or something, okay?”
Jordan smiled nervously. “I, uh... I don’t own any cologne.”
“Well, you can use mine then,” Kyle said. “And lose the glasses. No wait, they make you look smart. I don’t know... how well can you see without them?”
Jordan took his spectacles off. “I’ll be okay.”
Kyle seriously doubted that, but there wasn’t much else he could do. He gave Jordan a spritz of his lucky cologne just before Elaine knocked on their door.
“Hey, Kyle,” Elaine said enthusiastically. She saw Jordan behind him and flashed a wide grin. “Hi, Jordan!”
“Elaine, I’ve got bad news,” Kyle said in a somber voice. “I just realized I have... a meeting with... my adviser.”
“Oh.” Elaine looked down at the calculus textbook in her arms. “Well, maybe another time...”
“But I asked Jordan,” Kyle said, “and he told me he’d be happy to help you out. He’s a math major, you know—he’s wicked smart.”
Elaine’s eyes lit up. “That would be great! That is, if you don’t mind, Jordan.”
Jordan was staring at her in a way that was so obvious, Kyle wanted to smack him upside the head. “I don’t mind at all,” Jordan said.
“Awesome!” Elaine said. “Then let’s get to it.”
When Kyle returned home a few hours later, he was disappointed to find that Elaine had left already. Jordan was sitting at his desk, as usual, reading a book entitled “algebraic geometry.” Kyle winced at the title—Jordan was obviously a very smart guy.
“So how’d the tutoring session go?” Kyle asked.
Jordan looked up and smiled, “Pretty good. She’s going to come over every other day to review stuff from class.”
“Nice!” Kyle exclaimed, pulling up a chair next to Jordan’s desk. “Nice job, Grant.”
Jordan shook his head. “Kyle, I hope you’re not implying that I would use this opportunity to try to hit on Elaine.”
“There would be nothing wrong with that.”
“There’s a lot wrong with that,” Jordan fingered the cross around his neck. “I mean, she asked me for my help. It would be sleazy to take advantage of her.”
“It’s not taking advantage,” Kyle insisted. “She likes you.”
“Whatever,” Jordan muttered. “Anyway, thanks for getting that stuff for me from the drug store. But you forgot to give me the prescription meds.”
“Oh, right.” Kyle reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out the bag of medications he had picked up. It was quite a list. “What are all these things for, anyway?”
Jordan raised an eyebrow. “You really want to know?”
“Well, I don’t want to make you uncomfortable...”
“I’m not uncomfortable,” Jordan said with a shrug. “I’m been on most of these medications for ten years. Lots of time to get comfortable.”
Kyle pulled out a small bottle of little white pills. “What’s this... ditropan?”
“It’s for my bladder,” Jordan explained. “Keeps it from contracting too much.”
“So I don’t have to wear the Depends all the time,” Jordan said, blushing slightly.
“Sorry,” Kyle said quickly. “I shouldn’t have...”
“No, it’s really okay,” Jordan said. “It’s not really a big deal anymore. I mean, it was a big deal, back ten years ago when I was first injured. Back then, I had to wear the protective undergarments all the time. You know what that’s like, being a ten year old kid having to wear diapers again?”
Kyle couldn’t imagine. He was surprised that Jordan was even able to talk about it so comfortably. Kyle didn’t think he ever could have adjusted to something like that. “It must have been hard.”
“Kirsten didn’t help much either,” Jordan said. “I remember the first time I saw her again after I was in the wheelchair, she noticed I had the diapers on. She made fun of me the whole night. Like I didn’t feel bad enough about it already...”
“Wow,” Kyle murmured. “You know, I always knew Kirsten had her bad moments, but until I talked to you, I never realized what a truly terrible person she is. I feel like I shouldn’t have anything to do with her.”
“That’s okay,” Jordan smiled wryly. “I know you’re in love with her.”
“Oh, please,” Jordan sighed. “I’m paralyzed, not blind. I see the way you look at her. And I know the effect Kirsten has on people.”
“I’m not in love with her,” Kyle said. Now he was the one blushing. He didn’t think he was in love with her, at least. But she did seem to have some sort of crazy power over him. “I think she’s hot, that’s all. Even you have to admit she’s a really sexy girl.”
Jordan shrugged. “I suppose. But I know her very well and there isn’t a kind bone in her body. If you let her, she’ll take you for all you’re worth.”
“Thanks for the warning,” Kyle said, “but I think you’re being a bit melodramatic.”
“I wish I were,” Jordan said. “But I guarantee, if she associates with you, there’s something she wants. So Kyle, tell me, what is it she wants from you?”
Kyle was amazed at how well Jordan knew Kirsten’s patterns. But he wasn’t about to admit anything. “I... I don’t know.”
“I bet I can guess.” Jordan studied Kyle’s face. “You’re a pretty good looking guy... what does she do—have you seduce girls for her?”
The look on Kyle’s face gave him away before he could deny it. “She only did it once,” Kyle admitted. “She was interested in some guy so she asked me to... distract his girlfriend. She didn’t want people to think she was responsible for breaking up a couple.”
“Typical,” Jordan muttered. “Why did you do it?”
“I thought it might be fun,” Kyle said. “Plus I guess I wanted to get on her good side.”
Jordan shook his head. “Just a word of wisdom: You can never win with Kirsten. She’ll always win. Even when you think you’ve won, she’s really gotten the better of you.”
Kyle thought of his bet. He had been so certain he would win, but now he was beginning to regret it. Jordan was probably right—Kirsten had a way of manipulating people. Kyle reached into Jordan’s bag of medications and pulled out another bottle. “Paxil. What’s that?”
Jordan took the bottle from him. “It’s an anti-depressant. And it helps me sleep.”
“Oh,” Kyle said. “I didn’t realize you were...”
“I’m not depressed,” Jordan said with a crooked smile. “That’s what the pills are for.”
Kyle handed Jordan the bag with the rest of the pills. He didn’t want to know what the rest of them were for. It was obvious that Jordan had major problems, not the least of which was his cousin. Kyle knew there was no way he could change Jordan’s life, but maybe if he could help him out with Elaine, it would make things better for him.
Elaine returned the next day for another tutoring session with Jordan. Jordan was incredibly smart and when he explained things to her, it somehow made sense. But more than that, she found that she truly enjoyed spending time with him. Jordan was so sweet and genuine, unlike most of Kirsten’s crew. He was very nervous around her and around people in general, but she could see him starting to relax a little bit as they got to know each other better.
Elaine found Jordan’s nervousness to be very endearing. But in addition to that, she also found him to be very attractive. He wasn’t drop dead handsome like Kirsten’s friend Trevor Danziger, but he was awfully cute, even in the most objective sense of the word. Kirsten, after all, was very beautiful, and there was no mistaking that Jordan was related to her.
Of course, Jordan’s disability kept Elaine at an arm’s length. She still wasn’t sure what to make of it. She could never muster up the courage to ask Jordan why he needed that wheelchair, but she noticed that his legs never moved. Finally, she asked Kirsten about it and she told him that Jordan was a paraplegic—he couldn’t feel or move anything below the waist.
At first Elaine had been horrified, but gradually she became intrigued. What was it like for Jordan not to be able to feel parts of his body? She wondered about the wheelchair too, such as what it must feel like to have to rely on a machine to get around. Every morning Elaine hopped out of bed without a second thought, but for Jordan it must have been quite a chore to get into his chair in the morning. And what if the chair broke or needed repairs? Was he just confined to his bed until it was fixed?
Elaine started noticing things about Jordan. She noticed that every once in a while, he grabbed the wheels of his chair and lifted himself off the seat for a few seconds. She finally asked him about it. “Just shifting my weight so I don’t get a sore,” Jordan explained. “Think about how you’d feel after sitting for an entire day.”
Another time Jordan dropped his pen on the floor and he reached down for it before Elaine could beat him to it. He was able to reach the pen all right, but the stretching caused his left leg to start jumping a little bit. He grabbed his leg and held it and eventually it became still again. But after that, every ten minutes or so, it would start jumping again. “Sorry about that,” Jordan said, as he tried to calm his leg. He looked very embarrassed.
“Don’t worry about it,” Elaine assured him.
On their third study session, Jordan transferred to the couch from his wheelchair. In the back of her mind, she wondered if he had done it so that she’d forget he was in the chair over the course of the session. And she did forget about it to some extent, but every time she looked up, there it was. Her eyes were strangely drawn to it.
When the session was over, Jordan grabbed one of the wheels to transfer back, but Elaine stopped him. “Hey,” she said, “would you mind if I tried sitting in your chair?” As soon as she said the world, she cursed herself. Why did she say that? He’d surely be upset or at least embarrassed.
To her relief, Jordan looked surprised but he didn’t seem offended at all, “Uh, sure...”
As Jordan watched, Elaine carefully lowered herself into the wheelchair. She felt the seat cushion against her legs and she positioned her feet in the rests. She pretended for a second that she couldn’t move her legs and a tingle went down her spine. She placed her hands on the wheels.
“So you just move the outer wheel and that turns it,” Jordan explained.
Elaine wheeled herself forward a few yards, then turned to look back at Jordan. She was surprised to see he was smiling. “Good job,” he said. “Now if you want to turn left move the right wheel... and vice versa.”
Elaine followed his instructions and went back and forth across the room a couple of times. She found it was harder than she thought to push the chair. “I don’t know how you do this all day,” Elaine admitted. “I suppose it’s easier than calculus though.”
“Yeah, I’d say so,” Jordan agreed. “Believe me, after ten years, you get used to it.”
“Ten years,” Elaine murmured. “Wow. How... how were you injured, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“Fell out of my treehouse when I was nine,” Jordan said. “Pretty dumb, huh?”
“Is there any smart way to get hurt?”
“Guess not,” Jordan smiled sadly.
“It must have been hard... to have to start using a wheelchair as a kid,” Elaine said sympathetically.
Jordan shrugged. “I think it was easier on me, being so young when it happened. I was too young to really question anything. All I knew was that I couldn’t walk anymore and that was the way it was. They kept me in bed for so long that I was actually pretty psyched to finally get into the chair.” He frowned. “It was probably harder on my dad than it was on me. He really wanted me to walk again. They tried practically everything, but my legs are dead. He never really got over it, me being confined to a wheelchair and all.”
“But he must be proud of you,” Elaine said. “I mean, you’re so smart...”
“Thanks,” Jordan said, flushing slightly. “But he doesn’t care about stuff like that. Don’t get me wrong, he loves me... but he hates that I need the chair. He’d rather I were a C-student and a football hero than a math geek in a wheelchair.”
“You’re not a math geek,” Elaine said softly.
Jordan pulled off his glasses and smiled sadly. “I know what I am,” he replied. “And I know why Kirsten’s ashamed to be seen with me.”
Elaine stood up from the wheelchair, aware of the fact that Jordan couldn’t do the same. He pulled the chair closer to him and she watched him transfer in. He had to pick up his legs to put them into the footrests. When he looked up at her, she realized she had been staring and she looked away quickly.
She wished there were some way she could let him know that she wasn’t uncomfortable around his wheelchair or his legs. She contemplated reaching out and touching him on the knee one day, but she wasn’t sure how he’d react. She didn’t want him to get upset. Plus, she knew Jordan had a little crush on her and she didn’t want to do anything to lead him on. She didn’t want him to think she liked him if she didn’t.
If she didn’t.
Or did she?
Elaine didn’t know how she felt about Jordan. She didn’t have much experience with guys. She went to an all-girls school and her parents were fairly strict, so she had never really dated before. She certainly never had a boyfriend. And the truth was, she had never really wanted one. Most of the guys who hit on her seemed interested in only one thing.
But Jordan was different. She could tell that he respected her, despite how awful she was at calculus. And he was very sweet. And cute. But she also knew that Jordan had a lot of problems and maybe he wasn’t a great choice to be her first boyfriend. Still, she loved spending time with him and she didn’t intend to stop anytime soon.
Kyle came home from the gym hot and sweaty, ready to jump into the shower. As he walked into the suite, he saw Jordan was sitting at his desk. But this time, rather than studying, he was staring at an open copy of the freshman facebook with Elaine Tryston’s photo in the upper right hand corner.
“Wow, you really like her, don’t you?” Kyle said.
Jordan nearly jumped out of his wheelchair. He slammed the facebook closed. “Huh?”
Kyle shook his head. Poor Jordan. He was a walking advertisement against homeschooling your kids. He had absolutely no idea how to deal with the opposite sex.
“Elaine Tryston,” Kyle said. “You’re really into her.” It wasn’t a question.
“No,” Jordan protested. He wheeled back from his desk. Jordan was wearing a T-shirt and boxer shorts for bed that he had apparently managed to change into by himself. Kyle was impressed and wondered how long it had taken him.
“It’s okay to like a girl,” Kyle assured him.
“What’s the point?” Jordan muttered. He looked down at his bare legs, which were painfully thin.
“The point is, don’t you want a girlfriend?” Kyle studied Jordan’s face and he could see the answer was yes. But Jordan’s self-esteem was too low to ever make a move. Maybe Kyle could do a good deed for his roommate and in the meantime win his bet against Kirsten. “Elaine likes you, I can tell.”
“She likes me as a friend,” Jordan corrected him. “And that’s all we’ll ever be.”
“Only if you keep acting like a pussy.”
“Look,” Jordan said irritably, “the only thing I can ever be with a girl is a friend. That’s it. I can’t...”
Jordan’s face was flushed and Kyle suddenly realized what he was saying. Jordan was paralyzed from the waist down and that included the most important organ of all. “You can’t have sex?” Kyle gasped.
Jordan shook his head.
“Can you... get hard at all?”
Jordan bit his lip. “No.”
It was almost too perfect in terms of the bet, but Kyle couldn’t celebrate. Jordan was a good guy and he didn’t deserve to be impotent. Hell, no guy deserved that.
“It’s not a big deal,” Jordan said, which was the single most ridiculous thing Kyle had ever heard in his life. “I mean, it’s not like I’m missing something I used to have. That’s just the way it is and I’ve know it since I was a kid.
“Shit,” Kyle breathed. “I mean, you’re right, but...” He cleared his throat. “Look, there are plenty of other things you can do with a girl. I mean, you can kiss, you can feel each other up, you can eat her out.”
“Eat her out?” Jordan raised an eyebrow.
These Christians... “Sure,” Kyle said. “Just write the alphabet with your tongue. They love it.”
Jordan managed a small smile. “You really think Elaine likes me?”
“Definitely,” Kyle said, speaking with more confidence than he really had. “Come on, chicks love rich guys. And you’re loaded. You’ve just gotta wait for the right moment and make your move.”
“Yeah, maybe...” Jordan said.
But Kyle could see in Jordan’s eyes that he was never going to make a move. He was too scared of being rejected. Somehow Kyle was going to have to convince Elaine to go first.
Kyle was at the bookstore purchasing a text for his physics class when he noticed Kirsten Grant’s slender profile in the art history aisle. He couldn’t resist attempting to sneak up behind her. “Boo!” he said, tapping her on the shoulder.
Kirsten turned around and rolled her eyes dramatically. “God, what are you—eight years old?”
Kyle smiled. Seeing Kirsten always put him in a good mood. “I can’t believe you’re buying books, Kirsten. I thought a little of the old in and out with your professors was enough to maintain your GPA.”
“You’re so witty,” Kirsten sighed. “They don’t have the book I want anyway. I’m going home.”
“May I accompany you?” Kyle asked.
“And be seen in public with the likes of you?”
“You can think of me as your personal bodyguard. A beautiful girl like you shouldn’t be walking around campus alone.”
“I can protect myself. Who’s going to protect you?”
“You are,” Kyle winked. “Come on, Kirsten. I can lend you my notes from last year from your art history course.”
“Fine,” Kirsten agreed reluctantly.
As they got outside, Kyle posed the question that had been running through his mind all week: “How are things going with Elaine?”
“Right on schedule,” Kirsten said confidently. She was always confident. “This Saturday I’m throwing the hottest party of the year in our room. There are going to be at least a dozen guys that any self-respecting college girl would be happy to lose her virginity to. And lots of alcohol too.” Kirsten smiled slyly. “Kyle dear, would you mind if I took my new car out for a ride.”
“Kirsten,” Kyle said, “the only thing you’re going to be riding is me. I think you’ll find that Elaine is developing quite an attachment to our Christian friend Jordan.”
Kirsten laughed. “Oh, please. You think Jordan is any match for Trevor Danziger?”
“Jordan’s in love with her. Trevor isn’t.”
“Sadly,” Kirsten said, “all Jordan’s loves are destined to be unrequited. Have you seen Trevor?”
“You’re so hard on Jordan,” Kyle said. “Why don’t you give him a break?”
An unfamiliar dark look came over Kirsten’s face. “You don’t know what I’ve been through with Jordan,” she said through her teeth. “Never a moment’s peace. Every goddamn party I had in high school, Jordan had to be there. Sitting in the corner, looking so damn pathetic in his wheelchair, making everyone feel guilty. And those were the good parties. At my sweet sixteen, he wet himself. Do you know how much of a mood killer that was?”
“Yeah, that must have sucked for you,” Kyle said sarcastically. He couldn’t get over how selfish Kirsten was. Jordan must have been forced to attend Kirsten’s parties, just as she had been forced to invite him. It must have been hell for him, watching all the other kids his age having fun together and being too shy to participate. Kyle could only imagine how mortifying it must have been for him to piss his pants in front of all of Kirsten’s friends.
As Kyle opened the door to his room, he knew exactly what was inside and how Kirsten would react. Still, he enjoyed the shocked look on Kirsten’s face when she saw Jordan and Elaine sitting side by side at his desk, studying calculus problems. Kyle was pleased to see they were sitting very close so that their heads were nearly touching.
“What the hell is going on here?” Kirsten snapped.
Elaine looked up startled. “Oh... uh, hey Kirsten! Jordan’s just been... tutoring me in my calculus class. He’s really smart, you know.” Elaine flashed Jordan a look that Kyle would have described as “loving.”
Kirsten’s face was very red. “Why didn’t you tell me about this?”
“I didn’t think I had to tell you everything I do,” Elaine said defensively.
Kirsten’s eyes flew open. No measly freshman talked to Kirsten Grant that way, even if she was heir to Tryston Hotels. But Kirsten was trying real hard to control herself. “Of course you don’t. But... I could have helped you get a real tutor. So you wouldn’t have to hang around here all the time.”
“I don’t mind hanging around here,” Elaine said, flashing a quick smile in Jordan’s direction.
“Well, you should,” Kirsten said.
Elaine rolled her eyes. “Look, I’m going back to my room. We’ll finish up later, okay Jordan?”
“Yeah, sure,” he breathed, watching her intently as she went out the door.
After Elaine was gone, Kirsten placed her hands on her hips and glared at Jordan. Jordan had a pleased grin on his face. Kyle was proud of him. “I’d like to know what you think you’re doing,” Kirsten addressed her cousin.
“Tutoring calculus?” Jordan offered.
Kirsten shook her head. “What do you think, Jordan? Do you honestly think you have a shot with that girl?”
Jordan looked over at Kyle who nodded in encouragement. “Yeah... maybe,” he said.
“Then let me correct your misconception.” Kirsten walked up to him and leaned in close to his face. “You don’t.”
For what might have been the first time in his life, Jordan actually stood up to his cousin. “Well, why not?”
Kirsten sighed, “Kyle, what fantasies have you been filling this poor boy’s head with? Jordan, think about it: Elaine is a beautiful and fantastically wealthy young girl. What interest could she possibly have in you?”
Jordan had no answer for this. He simply stared at Kirsten, frozen. “I think Jordan has a lot to offer Elaine,” Kyle spoke up.
“Oh really?” Kirsten said. She locked eyes with Jordan. “Does she know how you wear diapers when you might not be able to get to a bathroom for a few hours? Does she know you need to stick a tube up your penis in order to take a piss? Does she know that you’re as impotent as an old man? Does she?” Kirsten raised an eyebrow. “No, I’m sure she doesn’t.” She smiled at the look on Jordan’s face. “Maybe I should tell her...”
There was an agonizing silence. Jordan bit his lip and fingered the cross around his neck. “You’re right, Kirsten,” he said quietly. “I made a mistake.”
He adjusted one of his legs in the footrests and wheeled out the room, closing the door behind him. Kirsten sat down on their couch, a triumphant look in her eyes. “Nice try, Kyle,” she said. “But you’re going to have to do a little better.”
“What the hell was that?” Kyle demanded angrily. “Why did you do that to him?”
“Me?” Kirsten frowned. “You’re the one who’s been getting his hopes up over a girl he’ll never have. I know Jordan. He’s not getting anywhere with Elaine.”
“I think he has a good chance.”
“That’s why you’re stupid.”
“Why don’t you just leave him alone?”
Kirsten folded her arms across her chest. “Look at you, taking Jordan’s side,” she said. “Just like my parents always did. He’s so sweet and good, isn’t he? Why even bother talking to me when you have someone like him around?”
“Come on, Kirsten...” Kyle said.
“Don’t you even love me anymore?” she asked in a genuinely hurt voice. “All you and Elaine care about is Jordan. Don’t I get to have feelings too?”
“Kirsten, you’re being ridiculous,” Kyle said. He sat down next to her and put his hand on her shoulder gingerly. “You know I care about you.”
Kirsten shrugged away his hand and turned to look into his eyes. “You think I’m this evil person and Jordan is so wonderful? Well, I’ve got news for you. He has the same blood as me and the same money as me. Despite what you might have deluded yourself into thinking, Jordan’s nothing but a spoiled rich kid, just like me.”
“But he’s had hardships in his life,” Kyle pointed out. “You haven’t.”
“The wheelchair?” Kirsten smiled. “That’s just a bump in the road. He’s gotten everything else he’s ever wanted. And people who are used to getting what they want can be dangerous.”
“A perfect example,” Kirsten said.
“What about his mother?” Kyle said. “She abandoned him when he was just a kid.”
“Yeah, and don’t you think that’s fucked with his head?” Kirsten said. “Just a warning: Jordan isn’t as nice as he seems. I know him very well.”
Kyle stood up. “I’ll take my chances with him over you any day.”
Elaine was having trouble concentrating on calculus. Jordan was explaining a problem to her in the calm, patient way he always did, but she couldn’t focus. She was thinking about the party Kirsten was throwing tomorrow night. It would be her first party at Manchester University and she was nervous.
“Elaine?” Jordan was looking at her, waiting for the answer to a question he had apparently asked.
She blinked. “Oh, I, uh... I don’t know.” She blushed. “Sorry Jordan, I can’t focus today.”
“Is anything wrong?” he asked in a concerned voice. He was so sweet.
“No, not really,” Elaine sighed. “Are you... coming to the party tomorrow night?”
Jordan smiled wryly. “I don’t think I’m invited.”
“Big surprise, right?” Jordan shook his head. “Come on, we both know Kirsten hates me. She doesn’t want me at her party and to be perfectly honest, I don’t want to be there.”
Elaine was disappointed. Jordan was fast becoming her best friend at this place and she didn’t want to go to the party without him. She spent a lot of time with Kirsten’s friends and they all made her feel somewhat uncomfortable. Around Jordan, she could be herself.
“Maybe I won’t go either then,” Elaine decided.
“No, I think you should go,” Jordan said. “This is your first college party—you don’t want to miss that. Kirsten throws great parties. I’m sure you’ll have fun.”
“I’d just... I’d feel better if you came too,” Elaine said.
“I wouldn’t have fun,” Jordan assured her. “I’ve been to enough of her parties to know it. Kirsten’s friends aren’t my kind of people.”
“And you think they’re my kind of people?” Elaine felt mildly insulted.
Jordan shifted his weight in his chair. Elaine remembered how he explained he did that to relieve the pressure. He told her he had to do it roughly every fifteen minutes. Often she barely even noticed when he was doing it.
“Look, I’m sorry,” he said. “But maybe Kirsten is right. We both know you could do a lot better than hanging out with me every day doing math problems. You’re supposed to have fun in college.”
“So what are you saying?” Elaine frowned.
“I’m just saying... are you sure this is where you want to be right now?”
Elaine rolled the question around in her head. Jordan had a point—this was her chance to be popular. Kirsten was handing her a once in a lifetime opportunity and she was too scared to grab it.
Then again, when Elaine looked into Jordan’s eyes, she saw another opportunity she wasn’t so sure she wanted to let go.
To be continued....