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This Is How It Happened - Chapter 1

A woman afraid to live. A man determined not to let his disability define him. Love stories happen everyday, but to them this is everything.
I met him on a Sunday in June in an outdoor mall.

He was serving lemonade slushies at a vendor, and my first thought when I saw him was "can he make that with one hand?" I'd like to think I wasn't a total douche, you know. It was a legitimate question with no intentional malice. Later of course, I'd learn that he was in no way handicapped, he can do everything I can and more, but at the time my teenage mind couldn't process an one-handed guy being able to do much other than be a source of discomfort for others. Harsh I know, but I was young.

"One strawberry lemonade." I say hesitantly, trying to look anywhere but toward the space where his right hand should be.

He nods, "Iced or cold?"

"...aren't they both cold?"

"Ah no, sorry, I mean like frozen or liquid. Sorry."

"Frozen, I guess." He nods again then disappears into the small hut.

I hear Michael behind me chuckling and I know he's being immature. I look back at him and my other friends and narrow my eyes. It's weird for me too, but I don't want to hurt the guy's feelings by being those people.

"What? Can he even make that?" Michael is so loud I'm sure the boy hears.

I don't remember looking at his face. I focus on his left hand, mostly, the normal hand that was going to make the frozen beverage I was dying for.

"Here." He slams the cup down and abruptly slashes out his good hand for the money. He stares down hard at the ground. My stomach clenched in guilt because it was obvious he had heard Michael.

I dug clumsily through my bag and pulled out the twenty my mother had given me this morning. I remembered feeling embarrassed that I only got a twenty when my friend's parents gave them all at least fifty with little regard for the amount. Now I felt even more ashamed.

He took it and handed me my change in record time. His hand was sweaty and he ended up dropping a few of the coins mumbling "sorry" over and over like a robot. I wanted to leave as quickly as possible. I didn't want to see this boy and have to feel sorry for him because he was disabled or whatever. Still I heard myself asking the group, "Are you guys getting anything?"

Michael, already walking away piped up, "Nah I'll get one down there." He pointed to another frozen lemonade vendor a few feet away and mentally I accosted him with every dirty name I could.

I turned back meaning to apologize, but the boy's eyes look so, I don't know, tired and irritated. He just wanted us to go. He didn't even look at me or say anything, so I caught up to my group. And that was that.

A moment that was nothing more than a funny story about an one-handed lemonade stand worker that lasted about a week. We all forgot. And that boy disappeared like he had never existed, like a minor character in a story.

I met him for the second time on a Sunday in June.

My small graduation party had turned into a rager. I recalled a few extra people then suddenly there's about fifty people in a one bedroom apartment and oh my god my poor home.

"Animals, all of you." I whispered to the still passed out partiers on my floor and couch. Thankfully most of them went home.

My best friend Lydia and her roommate Sasha were on the couch. Of course Michael is in my bed. I won't dwell too much on that right now. Cameron and Benny, my two best guy friends other than Michael, are both cuddled up to some random girls on the floor. I watch my step as I tiptoe past them on my way to the kitchen, careful not to step on them.

Red cups and empty bottles of so many kinds of alcohol infested my kitchen worse than cockroaches. I'd actually prefer the cockroaches; at least they would get out of my way. And something smelled really weird. I prayed to my lord and savior that there wasn't vomit in my sink. Please oh god anything but that.

"They tried to make chilly."

I thanked the lord once that it wasn't bodily fluid.

I thanked him again that I didn't scream my head off when some tall guy suddenly appeared behind me.

"Oh. Great." I was too surprised for real sentences. He smiled at me, I did not return it.

"Who are you?"

He nodded, like my statement had answered an unvoiced question. I wonder if I had met him last night and just didn't remember. Very likely.

"Andrew." He said, and presented me with his left hand. I smiled. I'm always happy to meet another lefty.

"Did we meet last night?" I said, taking his hand. "Who do you know here? You're not a creeper are you?"

He smiled again. "No we didn't. I'm Michael's TA from psych. I'm not a creeper. At least I don't think so."

I nodded. Michael's mentioned him once or twice. Super smart guy apparently.

"So chilly huh." I said after a prolonged silence, turning toward the sink to see it covered in beans and other chilly type dried liquid.

"And Rum. Mostly Rum."

"You watched them?"

"I helped them."

"What why?"

He smiled, "They asked me to." He dropped down and opened one of my cabinets, producing a bottle of cleaning solution.

"You're a creeper."

"Hmm," he didn't seem surprised by my conclusion, spraying the gunk in my sink.

"And you let them mess up my kitchen. I don't care if you were drunk you're a TA you should know how to handle youths." I grabbed a roll of paper towels on the counter.

"Oh, I wasn't drunk. Actually let that sit for a minute. And sorry I'm not a good babysitter."

I watched the yellowy concoction slide down my sink towards the drain. Some of the chilly went with it.

"So what you just helped them make Pirate chilly? Sober?"

He stared. "Pirate chilly."

I stared. "Rum."

He blinked. "I understand the thought process. That wasn't funny." Though he smiled, reaching across the sink and past me to grab the paper towels. I leaned away after realizing I was talking to this guy sans bra, and darn it if I wasn't wearing my long white T. Thank the good lord and savior it wasn't see through.

"I can do that." But he was already scrubbing.

"And you should. It's your house."

"Then, give me the towel." He handed me the dirty one covered in chilly, pulling off a clean one for himself and started scrubbing again.

"Oh thanks."

"No problem."

I tossed the towel in the trash and watched him clean for a moment before breaking the silence again.

"So you're his Psych TA?"

"Mmhm."

"Have you already graduated?"

"I'm in graduate school. I'm working on my dissertation."

"Oh. Neat."

He threw the towel away, grabbing another one. "Are you in college?"

"Just graduated actually."

"Grad school?"

"Probably."

"Oh. Neat."

We continued polite conversation like that. Andrew was a twenty-four, getting his Masters at the same university I went to and where he got his Bachelors. He wanted to be a psychiatrist.

"Are you hungry?" I asked, all out of general questions and too hung over to think of anything more substantial.

"Hmm? You want to get breakfast?" He ran the faucet to get the extra chilly out and to wipe off his hands.

Or hand.

"Ah..." It's a rare occasion when I don't know what to say, but in my defense I was a bit caught off guard.

It's better to ignore disabilities anyway, right? Pretend like you don't notice. Or is that worse than staring?

"You can ask, you know." He said it quietly like he was used to this song and dance.

"I just noticed is all..."

He shot me a dubious look.

"No really! When you were washing your hands...or..."

He sniffed a laugh. "I was born with Amelia which is a birth defect. I did have a hand but it was shriveled and useless anyway so I had it removed when I was thirteen."

"Oh, I'm sorry. That sucks, huh?" It is way too early for this kind of conversation; both in the day and the relationship.

"Yea, thanks."

"..do you want a hug?"

He laughed out loud at that. "Uh-"

"No, come on, hugs are nice! They make people feel good. Plus we might as well make this even more awkward."

"Physical contact makes people feel good because it connections us and makes us feel safe. Hugs are a bit repetitive for me." He dug through his pocket and fished out his keys. "So food?"

"Here." Andrew was handing me a coffee.

Whoa. Déjà vu.

"What?" Oh I think I said that out loud.

I took the coffee and placed it in a surprising empty cup holder. The guy's cleanliness was disconcerting.

"Nothing. I feel like I've been here before."

"You've been in a similar situation and your brain is recognizing that."

"I know you're a therapist."

"Thanks, but I'm a student."

Andrew reached out his hand as someone handed him our bag of food at the drive through. We had three bags, as we got enough for everyone at the apartment, and my lap felt uncomfortably warm as we drove off, but the delightful smell of pancakes and hash browns were welcoming.

I watched Andrew as he drove. Not that I was nervous or anything, but I liked it when guys drove. He was particularly satisfying to watch because despite being one handed he drove confidently. Left hand on the wheel right arm in his lap, though he occasionally used it for turning.

"Are you uncomfortable?"

My eyes snapped to his. "Of course not." I said, and for some reason I added as a joke, "I just think you're cute."

"Hmm." Was all he responded. I shook my head.

"Not in a patronizing 'oh how sweet' way. Like cute. You're a cute guy, you know."

I originally said that as a joke, right? Because this is turning into me awkwardly flirting with a stranger.

It was true, though. He wasn't the type you pick out of crowd; dark hair, dark eyes, pale skin; typical white guy, you know. Not my type at all. But it was something about his overall look that made me think he was really cute.

Too bad he was sorta handicapped. Honestly I've had to remind myself every once in a while that his right hand wasn't there, but I'm sure he has a complicated dating life because of it. One of those things that doesn't matter until you bring romance into it.

We were back at my apartment and parked and he was staring at me. Like full on staring. No real emotion showed on his face. It was unsettling as I could tell he saw things in me normal people didn't and was presently ripping my character wide open. I hated perceptive people.

"You're too honest." He stated finally.

"Is that bad?" I said, smiling. He grabbed all three bags in one hand.

"I didn't say that." He opened his door with the same hand and glided out.

He had a steady inner pace, too. Therapist was a good occupation for him because he basically radiated security. I followed him up the flight of stairs towards my door on the 2nd floor.

"Hey guys, we have food!"

Michael and Sasha were already up and sitting on the couch in deep discussion. My stomach flipped.

Was I too naive to think this wouldn't turn into a thing, I wondered. Probably. But I'll deal with that later.

Michael hopped up like I couldn't already see them talking, "Hey Ray. What's up?"

"Food's up, boy. Have some pancakes."

Michael walked over stiffly and I internally sighed. He slapped Andrew on the back who was busy at the table unpacking all the food.

"Hey man didn't know you stayed."

"Yea I wasn't wasted but I didn't want to risk driving-"

"Yea, yea man I'm glad you stayed. I actually wanted to talk to you about Mr. Goro's lecture, but I went hard last night."

Andrew laughed, "Yea I noticed."

"Inviting my TA might not have been the best move," Michael laughed. "but seriously whenever your free let's get drinks and you can make sure I don't flunk."

"That's what I'm here for."

Michael slapped him on the back again and offered a wide smile. "You're the coolest TA I've ever had. Dead serious."

And lord in the sky the guy actually blushed.

He's adorable.

Michael and I made eye contact again and he quickly looked away, making a show of pouring syrup over his pancakes. Now I was getting seriously annoyed. He acts like he's brand new to our consistent drunken hookups.

Michael was probably my best guy friend. I'd known him since middle school so we're practically brother and sister...well we were. Just recently our relationship had taken a complicated turn. A few too many drinks one night and I woke up half-naked with him in my bed, needless to say I felt like the worst human alive. Not that he wasn't incredibly good looking. He's the suit and tie; all around put together, educated, black frat guy type, not to mention one of the funniest, outgoing guys I knew. And it wasn't even that I regretted the hookup, the opposite actually, but he's a good boy.

Needs a commitment, you know, which wasn't in my current plans. What we were doing was one thing, dating him would just be weird. The problem is it keeps happening, like it's turning into a weekly thing, and he's slowly but surely dropping hints that he wants a more meaningful arrangement. I felt anxious just thinking about it.

I don't want to lose him as a friend, but I think that ship has long since sailed and sank to the bottom of the ocean, thanks to me.

"Do you want something, Ray?"

I turned and flashed Andrew a grin.

"Just hash browns, Andrew. Be a dear and fetch them for me. Chop, chop."

He narrowed his eyes but his was smile easy. With exaggerated slowness he reached behind him and grabbed a plate of hash brown off the table and handed it to me.

"Ketchup. I'm not a barbarian."

He snorted, reaching behind him as Michael handed him the ketchup. He eyed Andrew and I strangely, and I felt evil urges rise in me. Call me a sadist but nothing entertains me more than messing with a guy's delicate emotions, especially their inclination to jealousy.

"Thanks, Andy. Such a gentleman." I gave him pretty smile and allowed my eyes to linger on his.

He didn't look away or laugh. He stared right back with that easy smile, totally not letting me off the hook. I wasn't one to be easily flustered, but he wasn't like most guys who looked right through you, when he looked he saw you, you know. Needless to say the staring contest, as this was going on too long to be a cutesy fleeting glance, made even me uncomfortable. And that's saying something.

There was a sense of defeat when I finally looked away. I glanced at Michael and his face contained what seemed to be the wounded pride of all men concentrated on his beautiful face. He won't be happy with me for a while. I was secretly relieved, however, and hoped he'd been dissuaded from trying to further our relationship.

Just to drive the point home I insisted on walking Andrew out once we had finished with breakfast, because I'm an awful person in case no one knew that already.

"So, Ray..." He began, leaning against the banister at the end of the stairs. I was a few steps up, but he was still taller than me.

I tilted my head, "Yes, Andy."

He shook his head, a bemused expression playing across his face.

"You never told me your name."

My eyes widened, genuinely confused.

"Are you serious?"

He smiled.

"Wow sorry, I'm Rayleigh but most people call me Ray." I extended my hand though we shook before.

He stared blankly.

"Oh!"

I switched and presented him my right hand.

"Sorry, I'm a lefty."

"Such a strange coincidence." He joked dryly.

He had a funny character, I noticed. He wasn't goofy but he joked a lot in the most non-expressive way possible. I wasn't sure if I liked it.

I dropped his hand but he didn't make a move to leave.

"Was there something else?" I asked, suddenly wondering if I went too far with my flirtation.

He looked at me in that deeply penetrating way, again. I could tell he was wrestling with something.

"Would you mind if I take your number?" He said it with this funny inflection as if he was going off a previous thought in his head. I actually chuckled, and maybe that disarmed me enough to agree to give him my number despite it being out of character for me.

He slid his phone back into his pocket with a smile when he saw I had named myself in his phone as 'Ray (black girl I got breakfast with)'.

I shrugged, "Just so you won't forget."

"Forgetting you would be impossible." He replied.

I wasn't sure if it was empty flirting, but his frank expression portrayed his sincerity. I had to admit I was flattered.

With a wave of his hand he walked back to his car. I watched until he backed out and headed towards the road before I headed back up the stairs. This wasn't going anywhere, I knew, but I wondered if he would call.

I wondered if he did whether I would bother to go.
By
Published: 10/15/2016
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