Dec 3:

One thing that's a little hard to get used to is how much people stare at me and Jim when we're out together. I mean, they're staring at him, not me. I don't tend to get stared at. I may be ugly, but I'm not Elephant Woman ugly where all the townspeople gather 'round to see.

I guess the wheelchair attracts attention. I'm sure I probably would have stared too. Especially since it's a guy in a wheelchair on a date and they want to check out what kind of girl he's with. Honestly, it makes me pretty uncomfortable.

Jim doesn't seem to be even remotely bothered by the stares. He acts like he doesn't even notice. When we go out, he acts like the restaurant is completely empty and we're the only two people there. He doesn't seem to notice that when he kisses me, everyone in the room's eyes are bugging out.

Kids are the worst. Adults will stare, but at least when you look at them, they'll quickly look away. But kids will just keep on staring. Last night we were out at dinner, and this five year old kid at the next table was really gawking at us. I took Jim's cue and ignored him, but then on the way out, the kid stopped at our table.

“Why are you in a wheelchair, mister?” the kid asked.

I felt my face burn, although not as much as the kid's mom, who was bright red. Jim just smiled good-naturedly and said, “Because my legs don't work. So I use the wheelchair to get around.”

It would have been great if that were it, but then the kid said, “What's wrong with your hands?”

At that point, the kid's mom started apologizing and pulled the kid away before Jim could answer. I think if the mom hadn't been there, Jim would have been happy to answer the kid's questions for the next hour. He's so patient about that kind of stuff.

When the kid was gone, Jim turned to me and said, “It really doesn't bother me anymore. I'm used to it.”

I didn't know what to say.

“I know people stare a lot,” he said. “But that's okay. They're just curious, especially the kids. I know it still makes you a little uncomfortable though.”

“It's just... hard to have everyone staring,” I admitted.

He laughed. “Yeah, I know. I mean, I was a teenager when I got hurt and the last thing I wanted was to have everyone staring at me every time I went outside. I think I refused to go out in public for about a year.”

“How did you get over it?”

“My older brother Eric pretty much dragged me out kicking and screaming,” he said. He grinned. “He made me try to hit on girls too.”

I was jealous of Jim, having that kind of relationship with his brother. Tina and I weren't like that.

“Anyway, you'll get used to it too,” he said. He looked into my eyes. “If you stick around long enough.”

He kissed me then and everyone in the restaurant was staring, but I knew I was going to get used to it.

Dec 4:

Jim's older brother Eric called a few days ago and told him he was driving in for a visit today. I got the sense that there was something wrong and I asked Jim if he wanted me to come along when they went out and Jim said definitely yes. It's nice that Jim wants to include me in everything, but he's allowed to have a private night out with his brother. To be honest, I kind of wish I hadn't gone.

Eric is three years older than Jim and they're really close. Eric lives up in Oregon with his wife and two kids, and I know Jim's driven out there at least twice since we've been dating, although I didn't come with him either time. (My choice... he invited me.) My sister Tina is exactly three years younger than me, and Jim never seems to get why Tina and I aren't that close. I tried to explain to him that when you look like I do, being BFFs with your sister The Beauty Queen isn't really a possibility.

"You're as pretty as Tina," Jim insisted. Of course he'd say that.

I am actually pretty jealous of the relationship Jim has with his brother. Jim told me when they were kids, Eric kept the bullies away. And he told me yesterday in a vague "I don't want to talk about it" kind of way that Eric did a lot for him when he was first injured. "He quit college for a year," Jim said like he still didn't totally believe it. Apparently, when Jim first came home after he broke his neck when he was 17, he couldn't do much on his own.

"Like what?" I asked him.

Jim shrugged. "You know."

"I thought I was allowed to ask you anything and you were going to answer me truthfully."

Jim raised his eyebrows at me. "What are you, a lawyer?"

"No, I'm an actuary. Remember? That's how we met. Now, spill, Matchett."

Jim made a face. "I don't even know why you want to know about this anyway."

I wanted to explain to him that when you love a person, you want to know everything about them, even the bad stuff. I wanted to know everything about him. I wanted to know what it was like for him to be a teenager and coming home for the first time from such a big life change. I wanted to understand how he became the person he was right now. "I just do."

"Well," Jim said slowly, like if he took long enough to answer, I might change my mind and say forget it. "I couldn't move my hands at all back then and my arms were weaker. So I had some trouble with things that you the medical folks call activities of daily living. Like, you know. Bathing, going to the bathroom, stuff like that."

He turned away from me then and changed the subject. I was still stuck on the idea of Jim being 17 years old and needing help to go to the bathroom. He was really independent now, despite his disability. It must have just about killed him back then.

Anyway, I met Eric at Jim's apartment. I can now rest easy knowing that if anything ever happens to Jim, there's a spare walking around. By that, I mean the two brothers look a LOT alike. I think Jim has the cuter face, and Eric has some added lines and gray hair, and Jim wore glasses while Eric had contacts I think, but in general, they look very similar.

"So this is the infamous Tessie," Eric said as he shook my hand. He was about 5'11" and as I stood next to him, I got the feeling that this was how it would feel standing next to Jim, if he could stand. Actually, it made me feel kind of short.

"Infamous?" I made a face at Jim. "What are you telling him about me??"

"Sorry, I let on about your life of crime," Jim said, pulling me into his lap so that I could be eye to eye with him instead of his brother.

As I sat on his lap, I noticed something unfamiliar and hard pressing against my thigh. No, not an erection. I can recognize one of those, thank you very much. This thing was kind of rough and poked me a bit. All right, I know, I know... I swear, not an erection.

Jim noticed me noticing and got a little uncomfortable. When Eric went to the bathroom, he quickly explained. "It's a legbag," he said. "We're going to be drinking a lot, I think, and I don't want to have to worry about it."

I think Jim was hoping that explanation would completely clear things up for me, but I still had no idea what he was talking about. Finally, he quickly pulled down his pants and showed me what almost looked like a condom on his penis with a tube coming out of it, which I guess led to the bag that was poking me. I always forget that Jim doesn't have any control over when he goes to the bathroom and having accidents is something he actually worries about.

For the first time in our entire dating relationship, Jim let me drive. I think he and Eric were planning to get completely plastered, and I got to be the designated driver. I was actually sort of intrigued because Jim doesn't drink much and I'd never seen him close to drunk before. I wondered what he'd be like.

We got to a bar and had to park in a non-handicapped spot because we took my car, so I had to let Jim out before pulling into the spot. Parking spots in California are tiny, mostly because there are so damn many cars. I admit, I've scratched a few cars while pulling in or out, then made a break for it. Oh, don't act so shocked. Everyone does it.

The bar was moderately crowded, but we managed to get a table that didn't involve being perched on barstools. There were a lot of girls at the bar and they were all really hot. I felt immediately self-conscious, like I shouldn't even be in the same room as these girls. I half expected a bouncer to tap me on the shoulder and tell me I was too ugly and I'd have to leave.

Even though Eric was married with kids, I noticed him checking out the girls. I was proud of Jim that he didn't even look vaguely interested and still had all his attention directed at me. "I like this place," Eric commented.

"I thought you might," Jim grinned.

Eric turned to me: "Did you know that I was the one who showed Jim how to pick up girls? Everything he learned, he learned it from me."

Jim groaned, but he was still smiling. "Yeah, yeah..."

"It's true," Eric said. "I dragged him out to a bar on his 21st birthday and I told him we weren't leaving until he had six phone numbers. I swear to god, he had six phone numbers in fifteen minutes. Charming bastard." Eric laughed. "I'm sure you know what I'm talking about better than anyone, huh Tessie?"

Boy, did I.

Jim wasn't kidding about the drinking. Before the food arrived, the guys had both had two double shots of whiskey each. Jim slowed down after that, but Eric didn't. He was drinking a LOT. Before I finished my burger, Eric was starting to slur his speech. I knew something big was coming and I could tell Jim knew it too. Despite all the drinks he'd had, Jim looked nervous.

"I lost my job," Eric said, as he downed another shot. "I'm two months behind on mortgage payments. Fucking economy."

Jim told me Eric was a lawyer. I'd heard a lot of lawyers were getting laid off.

"I'll lend you money," Jim said instantly.

"No," Eric said. "I am NOT taking money from my younger brother. No. Way."

"You've lent me money before. I'm paying you back."

"I said no. What if you lose your job too?"

"No, our company's doing great, right Tessie?" Jim looked at me. I nodded, not really wanting to get involved in this moment between brothers.

"Dad is lending me money, it'll be okay," Eric said. "But Alicia... she doesn't respect me anymore. She thinks I'm a loser because I don't have a job."

"Alicia is crazy about you!"

"Then how come we haven't had sex in six months?"

Oh god. I couldn't be here for this. I mumbled something and got the hell out of there. I went to the bathroom, trying to figure out what I was going to do to kill some time. I checked my hair, my make-up... both terrible, but nothing much to DO about it. I paced a few times, back and forth, until some girls came into the bathroom and gave me weird looks.

I went back out into the bar and spotted my table. Now Eric was crying. Shit, I couldn't go over there. Jim seemed really calm and reassuring to his brother. I somehow got the idea that the two of them were used to providing support for each other. I guessed that when Molly dumped Jim, there'd been a similar dinner, except Jim was probably the one getting alcohol poisoning. I wondered if he'd cried. I've never seen Jim cry before. I couldn't even imagine it.

I went to the bar counter and sat down. I really wanted a drink. I've driven before with one beer in me and I'm not exactly a lightweight, so I figured I could still be the designated driver if I had one beer. I ordered a Guinness from the bartender.

"Gotta respect a girl who can order a Guinness," commented this guy sitting one stool away from me. He was chubby and wearing a little hat that I swear looked like a beret. I guessed he was gay.

"It's a good beer," I replied.

"See, here's the problem," the guy said. "When a girl orders a man's drink, it's cool. But a guy can't order a girl's drink."

"What do you want to order?" I asked him.

"A fuzzy navel," he said. I laughed, unable to help myself. "Don't laugh. It's a delicious drink. But if I order it, at best, I'll feel emasculated. At worst, I might get my ass kicked."

"Life's hard."

"It sure is. I'm Steve, by the way."

"I'm Tessie."

"Nice to meet you, Tessie," Steve said. He got up and sat down in the stool next to mine. "I don't suppose you could be persuaded to order a fuzzy navel for me? I'd compensate you by paying for your Guinness."

"I guess so," I said. I tried to get the attention of the bartender, who was very absorbed by some 20 year old hottie. Before I could order the drink, I felt a hand on my arm. I turned and was startled to see Jim.

"Tessie," he said. "Come back to the table."

"Oh." I blushed. "I was trying to..."

"I know," he said. "Come back. It's okay."

I told Steve I was sorry and that I had to go. He told me he'd still pay for my drink, but Jim waved him off and told the bartender to put it on our tab. Jim looked kind of tense till we were back at the table. Eric had stopped crying and actually looked amused.

"Do you believe that?" Jim said to his brother. He put his arm around me possessively. "Two minutes she's at the bar and some douche in a beret is already trying to pick her up."

"He wasn't trying to pick me up," I protested. "Actually, I think he was gay."

"Uh huh." Jim rolled his eyes. It was flattering he didn't believe me, but I knew he was wrong.

"He wasn't hitting on me," I insisted. "I mean, he still wanted to buy me the drink even after you came over."

Jim laughed and shook his head at me. "Yeah, that's because he couldn't believe you were actually dating the guy in the wheelchair. Come on, Tessie. Stop being ridiculous."

Eric, of course, totally backed up his brother's opinion. Oh well. The good thing was my little embarrassing ordeal seemed to have perked Eric up a bit. He was still clearly drunk, but a little more optimistic. Well, until about twenty minutes later, when he started barfing. I drove everyone to Jim's apartment and helped get Eric onto the couch in a prone, vomit-friendly position.

Jim told me I ought to go back to my place because his brother was likely going to be hungover bigtime the next morning. I kind of hope that tomorrow Eric doesn't remember most of the night, because geez, what a way to meet your brother's girlfriend.

To be continued...