Jim and I carpooled to work this morning. We were doing that every morning for a while, but he’s been working late a lot the last month and he says he doesn’t want me to have to wait around. Not really really late, but he’s definitely been at the office past six. And once even past seven last week. “That’s why they pay me the big bucks,” he said, when he came home exhausted.
Anyway, he promised that he didn’t have any late meetings or anything today and he told me to meet him at the computer help desk area at 5:30. When I arrived, he was sitting in front of one of the computers, working. He looked so cute and focused, staring at the screen in deep concentration, his palm on the mouse. There was another guy in the room named Karl, who I’ve met a few times before.
As I came into the room, I heard Jim say, “Fucking asshole…”
I didn’t think he had seen me. I came over and put my hands on his shoulders. He jumped slightly in surprise and turned to look at me. He flashed me a weary smile. “Hi, Tessie.”
“What’s wrong?” I asked, sitting in a chair next to him.
“Goddamn Vincent Alton,” he muttered, looking back at the computer screen.
I froze. What was he talking about? Did he know about Vincent and me? (Not that there was anything to know.)
“Sorry, Tessie,” he said. “I know he’s your buddy from school but he’s just been such a pain in the ass. He’s treating us like we’re his personal slaves or something.” Jim turned to Karl, “Listen to this: ‘Hey Jimbo, I know it’s late but I need you to update some software on my computer.’ I like how he calls me ‘Jimbo,’ like he’s my buddy or something. Who the hell does he think he is?”
“I know, what a dick,” Karl agreed. “He made me drop everything I was doing and come help him yesterday.”
“I was already here past seven last Wednesday installing crap for him,” Jim said. So that explained his really late night last week. “Why can’t he do anything himself? Or at least wait till the morning?”
“He’s too important,” Karl said. “Obviously.”
Jim looked back at the computer screen and sighed. “I really, really don’t want to do this.” He rubbed his temples. “But if I don’t, he’s going to complain to my boss.” He leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. “I’m really sorry, Tessie. Can you wait for me?”
“Sure,” I said. I didn’t really want to hang around work, but I didn’t want Jim to get in trouble.
“Aw, don’t worry about it,” Karl spoke up. “I’ll take care of it for you. You go home. You’ve been here late practically every day this week.”
Jim frowned. “You sure?”
“No problem,” Karl said. “Vincent doesn’t care who comes anyway. He’s just going to take off as soon as I get there.”
Jim thanked Karl and we headed out to the car. Jim didn’t say anything else negative about Vincent, but just the fact that he said anything was surprising. Jim isn’t the kind of person who badmouths people behind their backs. Vincent must have been really pissing him off. It didn’t seem like anyone liked Vincent very much, which didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. He seemed like a really nice and charismatic person. But I guess the way you get to the top is by being kind of pushy. Another piece of evidence that I’m never going to get to the top and will probably never even get my own damn office. Not that I want to get to the top, but I would love to actually work in a room with a window someday.
Jim and I went to see the movie Up this weekend.
We go to a lot of movies. I love movies and so does he, so that works out well. I am not that tall and I still remember how happy I was when movie theaters started to be built with stadium seating. Finally I could see movies without someone’s head in the way. It was a wonderful thing.
I’m sure when Jim was a teenager, this wasn’t an issue for him, since he’s probably just under six feet tall. But since he’s in a wheelchair now, his options for seating in a theater are more limited. Or I should say, OUR options, since we’re obviously going to sit together. The multiplex we usually go to has stadium seating and in the middle of the theater are the handicapped seats. I’ll generally sit in one of those seats and Jim will park his wheelchair next to mine.
I have to admit, it’s a little closer than I’d like. If I could sit anywhere, I’d probably sit at least three rows back. But it’s not awful. Actually, it’s fun being closer to the screen. It’s more exciting. But it would be nice to have some flexibility. Also, one time we were going to a really popular movie on its opening night and by the time we got to the theater, all the handicapped seats were taken by people who were obviously not disabled. And the people taking them up were totally uncool about giving up their seats. I’m sure we could have whined to an usher, but we ended up just sitting apart.
Anyway, we didn’t have this problem with Up. Even though it just opened, it’s a cartoon, so it wasn’t super crowded late in the evening. Yes, it’s a cartoon for kids, but we both heard good things about it, so we decided to give it a go.
For those of you who have not seen this movie, it starts out with this sort of sappy intro about a couple that gets married and grows old together. It sounds sort of dumb, but it was actually quite touching. I found myself tearing up, all the while feeling foolish for crying during a cartoon about balloons. Then I glanced over at Jim and to my surprise, he had pulled off his glasses and was rubbing his eyes. He kept his arm around my shoulders for most of the movie.
I brought it up to him when we were driving home. “Hey, were you crying during Up?” I teased him, poking him in the arm.
“No, of course not,” he said.
“Liar,” I said. “I saw you wiping your eyes.”
“All right, all right,” he said, grinning sheepishly. “It was just… the whole thing where they were growing old together. It reminded me of you and me. That’s what I want.”
“You want to lift your house into the air with balloons?”
“Shut-up,” Jim laughed. “You know what I mean.”
Even though I was teasing him, I did know what he meant. Of all the guys I’ve dated in my life, Jim is the only one I’ve ever imagined growing old with. I think he’ll look really cute with graying hair and wrinkles. (Actually, I’ve located a few strands of gray in his hair and he reacted with mock horror.)
I do worry sometimes that he won’t age well because he’s a quadriplegic. I mean, old people get decrepit and it’s probably worse if you’re starting out already in a wheelchair. But this is not something we talk about or something that Jim seems to be worried about, so I try not to let it worry me. As of now, he’s in pretty good shape and a whole lot more health conscious than I am. At this rate, he’ll probably outlive me by twenty years.
Jim said to me tonight: “What about November?”
“Huh?” I said. I was lying in bed reading and he was at his computer, as usual.
“I mean for the wedding,” he said, pushing himself away from his desk to face me.
“Oh,” I said.
“I know the summer is more traditional,” he said. “But we haven’t really been on the ball about planning this. I think November will give us enough time.”
“Yeah,” I mumbled.
“We’ll be together a year in August,” he pointed out. “Maybe once we’ve been together for a year, your mother will be more accepting of the whole thing.”
“Don’t count on it,” I said.
Jim looked pained by my comment. “Tessie, I know she hates me,” he said. “But seriously, do you think there’s anything I can do? Anything?”
I had been trying to think of the answer to that question myself. Aside from getting up and walking for her, I couldn’t think of anything he could do. Even if he suddenly became Greek, I don’t think that would do it. I imagine that sometime, years down the line, my mother will eventually accept him. In the meantime, I’m guessing there will be a lot of uncomfortable situations.
“It’s not such a big deal,” I said.
Jim wheeled over to where I was lying on the bed. I folded over a page in my book and put it down at my side. He looked kind of sad. “You still want to marry me, right?” he asked softly.
“Why are you asking me that?” I said in surprise.
“I don’t know,” he sighed. “You just don’t seem very enthusiastic whenever I bring up the wedding. I don’t want to feel like I’m forcing you into anything. If you want to wait longer, that’s fine. Just tell me.” He took a deep breath. “And if you feel like you can’t go through with it because of your mother…
His voice was breaking. I felt awful. I didn’t want him to think I didn’t want to marry him. “No, November sounds fine,” I said quickly. “I guess it’s just that the idea of planning a wedding seems overwhelming.”
He looked really relieved. “I know,” he agreed. “Maybe we should go with the civil ceremony after all.”
“We could be married in a week,” I pointed out.
He grinned at me. “It’s tempting.”
That would be wonderful. We could just get all this engagement bullshit out of the way and just start our lives together. But I knew Jim wasn’t going to go for it. The same way my family was pressuring me not to marry him, his family was pressuring him to have a big wedding. Like it or not, I was going to have to get married with hundreds of people staring at me.
I really, really hate myself right now. I just did something really awful.
For the record, the reason I went to Vincent Alton’s office today was completely business. We had a meeting this morning and Vincent mentioned some numbers he wanted to take a look at. And he asked me if I’d swing by his office to bring them to him. Except when he said it, he winked. And also, I had no idea why he wanted that data anyway.
But I printed out the Excel spreadsheets for him and came to his office as he requested. I held up the papers when I passed by his secretary Cheryl’s desk, just to prove I had a reason to be there, that this was all totally legitimate.
When Vincent saw me, he stood up and smiled. If I really had to think about it though, I guess I was the one who closed the door to his office.
“Hi, Tessie,” he said. “Thanks for coming.”
“Here are the numbers you asked for,” I said. I held the papers out to him.
Vincent took the papers from my hand. His fingers brushed against mine really blatantly as he did it. He glanced at the papers for a second, then tossed them in the trash bin next to his desk.
“Hey!” I said.
“Come on,” he said. “You know that’s not why I asked you to come here.”
My mouth felt dry and it was suddenly really hard to swallow. He stepped closer to me, so close that his cologne was almost overwhelming. So close that he easily reached out to touch my cheek.
“I can’t stop thinking about you,” he breathed.
I’m sure you’ve been to movies before where the heroine was about to do something really stupid. A guy who’s wonderful in (almost) every way is madly in love with her, yet she’s contemplating kissing some other guy who she really barely even knows. Who her best friend suspects is just a player who’s trying to get in her pants. And in the movie theater, you yell at the screen, “What’s wrong with you, you idiot?! Don’t kiss him! Don’t do it!”
I knew this was that kind of situation. But in real life, it’s not so simple. There are a lot of other factors that come into play that might not be totally obvious to the movie-going public. Like the fact that the other guy is unbelievably sexy and charming. And the fact that when you had an unrequited crush on someone at age 15, the idea of actually getting to kiss them for real is beyond amazing.
So yes, I let Vincent kiss me.
And if this really were a movie, this would probably have been the start of some torrid love affair. It would have somehow involved a trip to Paris and making love on a boat or something. And then when Jim and I were at the altar, Vincent would come running in at the last second, just as the priest was asking if anyone had knew any reason why we shouldn’t be married. (They don’t actually ask that during real weddings.) And I would have lived happily ever after with Vincent, my schoolgirl crush.
Except the reality is that when I kissed Vincent, I just felt awful and cheap. No fireworks went off like the first time I kissed Jim. All I could think about was how hurt Jim would be if he found out about this. I love him so much and I would be totally devastated if anything got in the way of our relationship. The thought of him discovering what was going on in this office was enough to make me realize how wrong what I’d been doing with Vincent was. I don’t know what I was thinking. I guess I just got carried away.
Of course, Vincent didn’t pick up on any of this. He tried to kiss me again and I pulled away. “What?” he said.
“I can’t do this,” I said.
He frowned. “Why not?”
“Vincent, I’m ENGAGED.”
“Oh, right,” he said with a grin as he tried to kiss me again. I stepped far enough away from him that he had to know I meant it. “Are you serious, Tessie?”
“Yeah, I’m serious.”
“You’re really going to marry Jim?” He looked almost incredulous.
“Why?” I smiled wryly. “You want to marry me?”
Vincent laughed and his reaction served to make me feel even worse. Vincent never cared about me. Sandra was right. I was just a conquest to him. How could I have risked destroying my relationship with Jim for this douchebag?
“I’m leaving,” I said.
Vincent shrugged. “Your choice,” he said.
I felt my face turning red. I decided the best thing was just to get out of there before I started yelling at him. Vincent was a jerk. A suave jerk maybe, but definitely a jerk. I don’t know how I ever thought otherwise. I was embarrassed that I hadn’t realized it sooner.
Jim had a doctor’s appointment today and I was honestly so scared. It was about the sore on his heel, which he hasn’t let me look at in a long time, and he won’t talk about it either. He keeps saying he doesn’t want to “burden” me, but it kills me that I don’t know what’s going on. He could either be completely healed or on the brink of losing his foot.
After what happened between me and Vincent, I was scared that there was going to be bad news. That it was going to be the universe’s way of paying me back for what I did. Of course, it hardly seemed fair that Jim should get punished for me cheating on him. But who knows how the universe works?
I couldn’t sleep last night thinking about it. I looked down at his bandaged heel and I felt like crying. What if Jim really lost his foot? I couldn’t even imagine it. I’m sure he’d be upbeat about it because that’s the way he is about everything, but I feel like I’d fall apart.
Anyway, he left early from work to go to his appointment. I offered to go with him, but he refused. I wondered if that meant he thought he was going to get good or bad news. If he thought there was bad news, wouldn’t he want moral support? Or maybe he’d want to shield me from that?
I left kind of early and got home just after five. The lights were on in the apartment, but I couldn’t find Jim anywhere. I finally got into the bedroom and I realized he was asleep in bed. Did I mention that Jim is the only grown man I’ve ever met who takes naps in the middle of the day?
I crawled into bed next to him. He looks so peaceful when he sleeps. I ran my hand along the stubble on his cheek and his eyes fluttered open. He smiled when he saw me. “Hi, Tessie,” he said. He leaned forward and kissed me.
I swallowed. “So… how…?”
“All healed,” he said.
Thank GOD! I was so happy, I almost started crying. I can’t believe I had done anything to jeopardize this relationship. I’m so lucky Jim never found out. I am never going to speak to Vincent ever again. I am going to be the best fiancée any man has ever had. And then I’m going to be the best wife ever. I’ll even go through with the gigantic wedding he wants. I just want to make Jim happy. Whatever it takes, that’s what I want to do.
“You have this look on your face,” Jim murmured. “What are you thinking?”
“I’m just happy,” I replied.
He smiled and pulled me into his arms and I lay next to him in bed. I love him so much. This was the most perfect moment of my entire life.
God, I hope Jim doesn’t find out what I did.
To be continued....