Part I. Confessing
She spent several moments studying her reflection in the glass of the front door before knocking. She was dressed, as usual, casually; faded jeans that hugged her slim hips, a T-shirt baring the slogan Goodbye Blue Monday and a pair of red, glittery flip-flops with stacked soles that made her almost three inches taller. Work kept her from growing her nails out for the French manicures of her early twenties, but she directed the energy to her toenails; they were a shimmering chrome-violet. Casual, she supposed, but pretty. It was important that she look pretty since this was her first time. She was going to fire a client. Butterflies struggled madly against the walls of her abdominal cavity as she rang the doorbell.
Mrs. Prescott answered the door immediately. Jasmine wondered if the older woman knew how long she’d been standing there staring at her own face?
“Hi, honey,” Jane Prescott said as she leaned in to plant a fluttery kiss on Jasmine’s cheek. “You’re early today, aren’t you? It isn’t two already, is it?” She smiled a coral-lipped smile and cocked her elegantly highlighted head.
“Um, no, no, it’s about one, actually,” Jasmine sauntered inside under the weight of the heavy bag slung over her right shoulder; she had all necessary tools with her to perform the job she was, in her client’s eyes at least, there to do. She wanted to get in without any suspicion from Mrs. Prescott; suspicion could lead to a very awkward conversation Jasmine wasn’t prepared for. “Is Alex here, or is he still at his place?”
Alex was the twenty nine year old son of Mrs. Prescott and her second husband, the Honorable Judge Michael Seaborne Prescott. He lived in the guest cottage at the back of their property, a two minute walk from the back veranda.
“He’s in the sun room, or was.” Reaching for the hand bag on a table beside the door, Mrs. Prescott excused herself, instructing Jasmine to show herself to the sun room, and waltzed down the front walk in her Gucci heels toward the waiting car.
Jasmine tried not to look at her surroundings as she made her way through the expensively furnished ground floor of the Prescott’s six thousand square foot home. The Persian rugs and chandeliers made her unspeakably nervous; she was a suburban girl from lower middle-class Mississippi and doubted she knew enough about flatware to be in the Prescott home in any capacity other than as a servant of some kind. Outside the sunroom, the glassed in chamber that housed his Honor’s many pieces of home exercise equipment and his wife’s extensive collection of potted Tropical plants, she stopped and set down her bag, rubbed her shoulder. Alex was sitting on a sofa the same color green as the five foot palm beside it. His crutches were on the floor beside him, his braced legs motionless in front of him, and there was a book on his lap. His hair was hanging in his face, obscuring his expression. When she walked in he looked up and smiled.
“You’re early,” he stated simply.
She smiled back, weakly; she was nervous, though she was known for her unflinching desire to speak truthfully, and hadn’t been scared to tell anyone anything since she got caught spending several hours of a tenth grade school day in a cow pasture picking mushrooms. Walking over to him she noticed a large pink spot on his arm, just below his right elbow; his right leg was the more damaged, he wore a long brace on it to support his knee and ankle – without it he wouldn’t be able to stand even with the crutches. She bent down and poked his arm just above the offending portion.
“That arm band is too tight. Again. You get an infected sore and you’re back in the chair until it heals, Alex; you don’t want that.” She made her scolding face at him.
“Nice to see you, too, Jasmine.” He closed his book and dropped it to the floor beside the crutches. “I’m scared I’ll drop it if it’s not tight enough.” The idea sent a look of painful anxiety across his face and she softened.
“You won’t drop it. I promise you won’t drop it. And if you did, you’ve still got the other one. You can just bend down and retrieve it; you can do that without falling.”
“Practically always. I’ve never seen you fall. It’s been almost two years, Alex—you’re fully competent...”
“Fully competent at being crippled. Oh, good! I was working on my resume earlier and I needed something to put under ‘special skills’. That will be perfect.”
Jasmine sighed and sat down. She feigned smacking him on the cheek. “You’re so cute when you’re a sarcastic ass.”
Mrs. Prescott had hired Jasmine nearly nine months earlier, after her son came home from a rehab center in Atlanta where he’d been sent after a car wreck almost killed him. Jasmine was, at the time, working in a salon that catered to rich, middle-aged white women who felt the pressures of the high life were causing migraines, tendonitis and muscle spasms only to be relieved by hour long rub-downs; she was trained in therapeutic massage, had spent nearly her whole life obsessively studying the human body (fully intending to be a doctor, until college lent her a peek at the course load and she balked) and had worked briefly in a physical therapy clinic before quitting for the more lucrative, less satisfying, position at Chez Ruthe. Currently Jasmine was being paid twice her usual rate to spend a few hours each week easing the pain in Alex’s legs and in his shoulders from the stress of the crutches. It meant that she was free on Thursday nights and got to sleep in on Fridays since Alex was her only client and refused to get up before noon. She enjoyed this part of her job more than any other; she would have done it for a fraction of what she was paid. Alex didn’t know that; it wouldn’t have occurred to him.
When she first met him, Alex was having trouble sleeping, then with getting out of bed in the morning because of the pain in his legs. But, he was reluctant to let her touch him; she was a pretty girl, his age, and not a nurse or, technically, a physical therapist and he was highly self-conscious about his scar-crossed, damaged legs. (The left one was actually missing nearly the whole calf muscle and that foot was full of pins; he had feeling but almost no muscular control over his right—both legs had been all but crushed in the accident.) He was cagey and he snapped at her, refused, for awhile, to admit that her work on his shoulders helped immensely to relieve the pain. He didn’t trust anyone, certainly not women. There had been times, in the first weeks of their acquaintance, when he was mean enough to bring her close to tears; she felt sorry for him, and he intrigued her, so she stuck it out. One day, Alex had attempted to cross the short distance between sofa and massage table without using his crutches; he stumbled almost immediately and would have hit the ground if she hadn’t quickly slipped her arm around him, supporting almost his entire weight on her small shoulder as they slowly walked to the table and she helped him sit down. In the split second of their standing there together, tears had sprung into his eyes and his cheeks burned as he mumbled an apology. Jasmine smiled at him, said, “Don’t worry; I’m stronger than you think I am.”
Now it was time for them to end their professional arrangement. Jasmine was terrified he was going to fly into a rage before she was finished explaining it to him. Lately he had opened up to her a little bit, they had talked about things besides his injuries and therapy; she knew he had grudgingly come to accept to, to depend on her. He was going to feel rejected and he was going to defend himself. Steeling herself for the anger, she took a deep breath and reached into her back pocket for a business card. She proffered it and was quiet as he looked it over.
“What’s this for?”
She sighed. “Her name is Julia...”
“Yes, I see that. What’s it for?”
“I went to school with her. She’s great—actually, she has more experience than I do with PT patients, and… and I think you need to call her. I want you to say that you’ll call her, ok? I want you to promise.”
“For what?” Alex’s body was tense; he stared at her. “Are you running off with the circus or something?”
“Not quite; not just yet. I just think…” she looked around for help and found none. “Alex, I think you should just call her and see how it works out. I’m not going to be able to do this anymore.”
He made a face that was a distant, deformed cousin of a smile and nodded. “Ah. Found something more important to do with your self, then? You’re going back to foot rubs for heiresses? Facial massage to ease Botox paralysis? Is the pay better, Jasmine? Or are you just tired of listening to the little rich boy whine about being crippled?” Not very gracefully, he grabbed his crutches and pushed himself up into a standing position. Leaning on his left-hand crutch he used his right hand to lock the knee joint in place on his KAFO. He went to the window across the room from her and turned his back.
“This isn’t what? Isn’t you dumping me off on someone else? Isn’t you leaving, just like Carrie did, when I need you so much?” Pivoting with some difficulty on his stronger, left leg, he turned to look at her. “I should have expected it, you know? I should have learned—fuck, even the massage therapist doesn’t want to hang around a bitter fucking cripple all day.” He paused. “At least with Carrie, she was scared maybe I wouldn’t be able to fuck her anymore, didn’t want a man she couldn’t dance with at her goddamn charity balls or go riding on her goddamned horses. What is it that I’m not able to give you, Jasmine? What’s not good enough about me this time?”
She was torn between the heart-wrenching desire to comfort him and the intense urge to shake him, tell him to shut up and listen.
“I thought the self-pity was winding to a close, Alex,” she said bravely, taking a step toward him. “You were doing so well for awhile— talking to your friends, starting to contemplate leaving the house like a normal person and all…”
“I’m not a fucking normal person.” He stabbed at the floorboards with a crutch to emphasize his point. “Am I? It takes me fifteen fucking minutes to climb eleven stairs, Jasmine. You’ve seen it—do normal people lurch and stumble like that? Do they tremble when they’ve stood up for more than fifteen minutes? Do they have scars longer than the bones in their legs? I’m fucking Frankenstein’s monster, not a normal person. I’m not even thirty yet and it’s been a year and a half since I had sex, is that normal? And I’m rich—even old rich men get laid, my grandfather married a twenty two year old when he was 56—of course, he could fucking walk.” His face was red, so were his eyes. He wasn’t trying to make her feel sorry for him—he was actually expressing worries and fears he’d only skimmed the surface of before. The bitterness in his voice pulled at her. She took a step closer. He got louder.
“I was starting to believe that you gave a shit about me, Jasmine—you’ll have to excuse the self-pity for a moment—I thought that I could depend on you. You know, if it’s money, if you’ve got another offer… what?”
“I said, asshole, that I don’t care about your fucking trust fund.” She stepped closer again, got so that their faces were only inches apart; he was taller than she was, which was why she preferred stacked heels when she visited him.
“Then what is it? I’m just that disagreeable? Am I that fucking pathetic, you just can’t stand to see it anymore?”
She reached a tentative hand out to his face and he shook his head violently, growled, “No pity affection, Jasmine; I get enough of that from my mother.”
He made a move to walk away from her and she stepped in front of him, put her hands over his on the grips of his crutches and said quietly, “Will you please listen to me, Alex?”
Surprised by the gentleness and faint quavering in her generally brash voice and noticing the moisture standing in her dark eyes, he relented, stood still.
“You make everything so hard,” she whispered, then raised her voice. “I’m not abandoning you. I wouldn’t do that. I wish you knew that, but that’s not the point. I want you to call Julia, and I want you to see her once a week just like you do me. She’s better than I am, Alex, it’ll be more effective. I’ve been working on your legs for months and you’re still hurting every night—you deserve better treatment, you don’t have to have so much pain. That doesn’t mean I want to leave. I still… I still want to know you; I want to take you out, Alex—to help you learn to drive again, to regain that cocky self-confidence I can see in your mother’s photos; I want to see you really smile for once. I want to do more for you than give you a massage once a week, although I’ll be glad to do that, too. I just don’t want to do any of that as one of your therapists. Do you understand?”
He was silent, biting his lip. He shook his head, “No.”
Her tears, let loose by a nervousness she’d never imagined, started flooding her cheeks as she stood there looking into his green eyes. “I want,” she began, then cleared her throat. “I want to do things with you as your friend, not an employee of your mother.”
He was still staring. Her throat was constricting. “Fuck,” she breathed, turning away from him. She walked back to the sofa and plopped down onto its damask surface. “I don’t know what I’m doing, I don’t know what I’m doing…”
“Are you fucking with me, Jasmine?” There was such thick self-doubt in his eyes she wondered how he could see through it.
She hid her face in her hands and shook her head of black curls. “No,” she moaned. “I’m just..”
“Where does it say that you can’t be my friend if I’m a client? I don’t understand.”
His voice was quiet in a way that made her even more uneasy. He was making his way toward her; first the left crutch, then right, then left leg, then right. He was moving faster than he usually chose to. After a moment of only the noise of his braces moving she regained some of her composure. As he reached the sofa, she stood up and put her hands on either side of his pale face.
“Alex, I can be friends with my clients, there’s no rule. But professionally, and morally, I can’t...”
“I can’t be with someone and treat them, too. And I want to be with you. I want to be with you.” Moderately surprised the words had come out of her mouth, she sighed, dropped her hands and looked away.
He said her name, and she turned her tear-streaked face back to him, murmuring, “Please don’t laugh at me.”
He didn’t laugh. He just looked at her. Then he looked down at his legs, and at his crutches. Pulling his forearm from the cuff of one of them, he let it fall so he could slide the freed arm around her shoulder. She steadied herself as half his weight came to rest on her; it was a rare moment for him, allowing himself to depend on someone when he had the remotest choice. And then he kissed her. He kissed her mouth, her wet cheekbones and the bridge of her nose; he kissed her eyelashes and her forehead and her glossy curls that smelled like strawberries. She stood with her arms wrapped around him, her face turned up to receive his kisses like they were sunlight. Eventually, when she felt him get weak, she helped him sit down; it was still hard for him to do things without the support of the crutches.
Now on the sofa he had both hands at his disposal and used them to brush away half-dried tears. “Are you sure, Jasmine? Are you completely sure?” There were any number of men clambering over themselves to be with her, and he knew it; he’d overheard her on her cell phone various times giving them let down speeches of one sort or another. He never thought she’d give him a second glance, crippled or otherwise. He’d thought her attention to him was love of the job, or pity, or both, the ghostly outline of a friendship at the very best.
She pressed her forehead to his and smiled. She nodded and said, “I just want a chance, Alex; just to get to know who you are, to feel the way you make me feel more than once a week. I want to show you things; I want you to start your life again and…”
“Stop hiding out in my mother’s house,” he chimed in with her; a small part of this discussion was not new. He kissed her cheek again. “Okay. Whatever you want. You wanna go skydiving? Climb a mountain?”
“You could start with dinner. We can go into the city one night…”
She beamed. “Tonight. You haven’t done anything but go to the doctor for so long, Alex; it’s not good for you to be so isolated. And it’s not fair to the rest of the world. I think it probably misses you.”
“Just don’t go too fast, Jasmine.” There was trepidation in his voice when he let go of bitterness and joking.
She shook her head, leaned in and kissed him again.
To be continued....