Page 9

 Penelope Ward

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“Ok, very good. I have to tell you though, while Bright Horizon’s does offer services to kids and adults, the only openings we have right now are in our adult services program, which places employees with adults in their homes and also in group homes. You would be trained initially and after a background check, you would be assigned to an adult, mostly likely with autism, helping with things like job assistance and daily living. Would you be interested in working with an adult?”
I hadn’t really expected that. Without thinking, I said, “Absolutely. I believe it would still be good experience and training for me. I think I would be up for the challenge.”
Three weeks later, those words would bite me in the ass, quite literally.
I completed the intensive training, which included CPR and restraint classes over three weekends, shadowed two employees after work at the diner, passed the background check and was now a part-time therapist for a twenty-year-old non-verbal autistic man named Lucas. I say Lucas is a man, but he acts more like a boy.
I was assigned to go to his house in Cambridge three afternoons a week, leaving straight from the diner. He’s chubby with shaggy blonde hair and almost six feet tall, but he seems to have a baby face with rosy red cheeks.
The job requirements were to spend time reading books to him, helping him do chores like taking out the recycling and helping with his dinner and bath. I would then leave right before his bedtime.
Lucas is basically in his own world and loves comic books.
On the first day, Lucas ran from me and hid in his room. His mother, Pat, finally got him to come out by telling him I was Wonder Woman. Apparently, he was obsessed with the character. So much so, that his mom suggested that I dress in costume, because this worked with a previous therapist in getting Lucas to respond. Apparently, he only bought the act when the worker had dark hair, so she told me I was lucky. I guess I was the closest match physically so far. Evidently, there had been many wonder women who came and went in his life. She happened to have a costume lying around.
So, here I was on my first day on the job, wearing the red and blue Wonder Woman costume, crown and all, bathing a grown man. At one point, I bent over to get a towel and he reached out of the tub and bit me playfully in the ass. (I told you it literally happened!) When I turned around, he was laughing and splashing me with water. I couldn’t help but break out in hysterical laughter myself, splashing him back. When the ruckus died down, his mother reported that this particular evening was the calmest and most content she had ever seen him with a new worker.
Later, she told me that he slept through the night for the first time in weeks that day. Maybe I had finally found my calling: Lucas’ hot piece of ass superhero.
It had been a few weeks since that night in the car with Allison. Business trips and deadlines at work had kept me busy and unable to visit her during the weekdays at the diner.
Not one hour of any day went by when I didn’t think of her. The feel of her soft skin in my hand replayed in my head over and over as I held onto the memory of the only actual physical connection we had.
I considered emailing or calling her, but never got up the nerve to deal with the repercussions, at least until things calmed down.
Then, came the weekend when I realized that I couldn’t hold out any longer.
We had spent Thanksgiving weekend with Karyn’s parents in New York City. They had rented three rooms at the Ritz Carlton. Karyn and I stayed in one room, her parents in another and her sister in the third.
Friday afternoon started off innocently enough with breakfast at the hotel and then a long day of walking through Central Park and shopping on Fifth Avenue.
We somehow ended up right in front of Tiffany’s. Karyn and her sister, Krystina stopped in the window, which displayed a handful of diamond engagement rings, and Krystina started blatantly asking what kind of ring she liked, right in front of me. I immediately stepped away from them and faced toward the street, but my ears were still in tune to them.
“Princess cut, two carats,” I heard Karyn say, loud enough for me to hear.
I got the impression the conversation was some kind of set up to let me know what type of ring she wanted when that time came.
Princess cut, two carats.
This was my first realization that Karyn and I were on two totally separate tracks, because I knew that time would never be coming…with Karyn.
Then it all really came to a head later that night. During dinner in the hotel dining room, the pianist played a rendition of Billy Joel’s Always A Woman. It was beautiful, but haunting and melancholy at the same time.
As I sat listening to this song in the candlelit room, I drowned my sorrows in scotch and realized how lonely I had been the entire weekend, just going through the motions robotically. A volcano of emotions seemed to fly out of me with every chord of the song, pouring out the things I had been harboring for the past month.
I missed the sight of Allison so much.
I didn’t deserve her.
I could never have her.
I hated myself.
I didn’t love Karyn.
Why was I here?
Princess cut, two carats…Princess cut, two carats…
I was losing my mind. Karyn was oblivious, chatting with her sister about our plans to visit the Guggenheim the next day.
I stayed in my own little world, until Karyn abruptly suggested we go back to our room for an early nightcap. I was half-drunk and numbly followed her out of the restaurant, neglecting to say goodbye to her family.
In the elevator, I remember her nibbling on my ear, undoing my tie and grabbing my crotch as I stared numbly at the numbers at the top of the elevator door.
When we got to the room, she immediately went to the bathroom and put on a green and black lace and satin lingerie set she had bought with her sister at Barneys earlier that day.
When she came out, she pushed me down on the bed and started to unzip my pants. She grabbed a condom from the nightstand and started to pull down my boxer briefs, when I began having what felt like a panic attack.
My vision blurred, my heart pounded and my breathing became rapid. We hadn’t had sex in weeks, so you would think I would have wanted it badly. Instead, I felt nothing except guilt, as if I was being unfaithful because my heart was somewhere else entirely.
My heart was with a woman who didn’t even know she had it.
I started panting, pushed Karyn off of me, and got up off the bed, zipping up my pants.
Sitting on the bed with my head in my hands, I became ashamed of what I was about to do.
“Cedric? What the f**k is going on?” Karyn stared at me with daggers in her eyes, which were starting to well up with tears.
“Karyn…I…I…don’t know.” I really didn’t even know how to explain what I was feeling: why all of a sudden, being with her no longer made sense.
I certainly couldn’t tell her the truth: that I thought I might love someone else, someone I had only spent barely an hour with and by the way, she has no clue, I have been stalking her for weeks while I lied through my teeth to both of you.
Karyn’s mascara ran down her cheeks as she cried out. “Well, you better f**king figure it out! You have been so distant this past month, Cedric. I have tried everything to get you to come out of this funk, but apparently you don’t want to be brought out of it. I seriously hate you right now.”
Not more than I f**king hate myself.
“Karyn, I don’t blame you. I am so sorry. I think I need to go back to Boston tonight. I need some time…I didn’t mean to hurt you…I just…I can’t do this anymore. I am so…so sorry.”
I truly meant it. I never wanted to hurt her. I never meant for things to turn out this way with her.
“Fuck you,” Karyn spewed as she went toward the bathroom and slammed the door. I could hear her crying gasping for air then she turned on the water, possibly to hide the sound.
I felt horrible, but grabbed my suitcase anyway, packed it as fast as I could and left.
I was determined to see Allison come hell or high water the Monday after I abandoned Karyn, along with our relationship, in New York City.
The weekend seemed to drag on as I sat unshaven in my condo, my ass glued to the leather couch, as I smoked and listened to old discs. At one point, I freakishly came across the song Allison by Elvis Costello, which nearly put me over the edge.
With that, I had an intense urge to see her and almost drove to her apartment in Malden without a plan. I thought I could make up a story about why I was there, but nixed the idea because I didn’t think I was of sound mind to see her and couldn’t come up with any excuse that made a lick of sense.
I was still exhausted since I had driven late Friday night back to Boston from the Ritz after I sobered up and rented a car. Karyn and I had originally planned to fly back together on Sunday.
By now, I hadn’t gotten any sleep, looked like ass and I reeked.
On Sunday, I decided I couldn’t keep my thoughts to myself any longer; I needed to talk to someone. The only person I could trust with this was my older brother Caleb.
Caleb and I were two years apart and he was the only one in my family that actually knew what happened in Chicago.
I could never bear to tell my parents anything. They were going through so much with my sister Callie at the time and then as the years went by, I continued to keep the past in the past and away from my family…except Caleb.
To this day, my mother knows very little about my time in Chicago, including the sordid intern years after graduation. But Caleb had come to visit me shortly after everything went down senior year and was a huge help in getting me back on track to finish school, keeping in touch by phone every single day after he left. I couldn’t have graduated from Northwestern without my brother.
Caleb lived about ninety minutes away in New Hampshire with his wife Denise. They owned a large new colonial style home that sat on three acres of rural land. I liked to go to Caleb’s whenever I needed to clear my head. They had no kids, so it was a peaceful place away from the noise of the city.
Denise had been trying to get pregnant for a few years with no success. They had planned on kids, which is why the house they built is so big. The echo in their house is like the elephant in the room. I am still hoping it will happen for them one way or another because they are both such good people and would make great parents.
After the hour and a half-drive to my brother’s door, I pulled up to the circular driveway of their house, which was located on a quiet cul de sac.
Denise greeted me at the door with a warm hug and I could smell the pumpkin and turkey--aromas of Thanksgiving leftovers heating in the oven. It was nice to have a home cooked meal after the cold Thanksgiving I suffered through in Manhattan.
“Hey little brother! You look…tired. Come on in, sweetie.” Denise hugged me. I liked that she thought of me as a brother. She was a great girl and had been Caleb’s college sweetheart at UNH. Denise was petite with medium length dirty blonde hair and the kindest eyes you have ever seen.
“Saying I look tired…is that another way of saying I look like shit? It smells wicked good in here,” I said, tending to resort to Boston-speak when in the presence of my family.
Caleb ran down the stairs and we gave each other the usual quick manly hug. It was good to see him. It had been a couple of months.
Caleb was two years older than me, about fifteen pounds heavier, three inches taller and worked as a contractor. We shared the same brown hair and blue eyes, but while I typically wear dress shirts and designer shoes, Caleb was often seen in a brown Carhartt Jacket and boots. Today, I was unshaven and dressed more like Caleb, wearing jeans and a hooded black sweatshirt.
“Hey, man, let’s go into the garage and talk while Denise finishes up dinner,” Caleb said as he opened the fridge and grabbed two bottles of LandShark beer, leading the way to the heated three-car garage off the kitchen.
“First of all, you look like absolute shit,” Caleb said once we got into the man-cave.
Giving him the finger, I said, “Yes…Denise already made that clear, thanks, shithead.”
Caleb took a swig of his beer and after letting out a huge belch, turned serious. “Ok, you sounded upset on the phone when you said you needed to talk. I know it’s important, because you never say you need to talk.”
Caleb took another sip and sat down on one of the swivel chairs next to his tool bench.
The room was quiet as I looked at my brother, leaning against Caleb’s pickup truck and sighed. “Yeah, man…something major’s happened. I think you know what I am gonna say.”
He nodded slowly. “You found her…you talked to her?” Caleb whispered.
Denise didn’t know anything about what happened in Chicago either because I swore Caleb to secrecy. If my mother ever found out I kept something like that from her she might never forgive me.
“Yeah,” I said, not knowing where to begin.
“What’s she like?” he asked.
I paused, not knowing how to sum up all the feelings Allison conjured up.
“She’s amazing, man. But the problem is…my brain sort of misfired when I actually laid eyes on her that first time. I forgot all the reasons I was looking for her in the first place and now…I can’t stop thinking about how much I want her…for myself…which is all kinds of wrong. I have been f**ked up ever since that first day.”
I then filled him in on all of the details from the first diner meeting to the car ride to my freak out with Karyn.
Caleb burped and pointed his beer in my direction to make a statement. “First of all, Cedric…I am glad you finally broke it off with that cold bitch. That’s all I am gonna say about that. No one in this family liked her and if it took this situation to do it, then so be it. Second, I will say that given what happened twelve years ago, I think the feelings you have for this Allison are completely normal. You can’t help how you feel. I don’t know why you are beating yourself up about it. Any man in your shoes would feel the same way.”