Her dancing is what convinced him that she was the one, that she’d be up to a challenge, and he only saw himself as a challenge. She was confident, and moved to her own rhythm, without care for the music or how he tried to keep up. He couldn’t keep up, not with his damn leg the way it was, plastic and rusty and full of disjointed, cobbled-together parts.
No, he told himself. Don’t go down that road again. Don’t pity yourself or your leg or what’s missing. Just keep moving. Don’t worry about keeping pace with her. She won’t let you stray too far behind.
And she didn’t.
That night, after the wedding, she casually strolled through the hotel lobby and talked the tipsy talk of a woman who’d had three wines when she told herself she should only have two. But Frank thought it was all okay, since he’d had five beers instead of his usual daily limit of two. He could at least listen, and keep up with her conversation. Or monologue, as he thought of it.
“…Never thought I’d see that much of the country, but the trip was the only thing that got me past the end of school. You know what that’s like. School’s over, you just don’t know what’s coming up next so you fill your time and then your best friend says, ‘Let’s go on a road trip’. So you do, only to find that your best friend can’t go so it’s just you in a car with a couple of useless tents and a backpack. Not that I don’t like a challenge, because believe me I love a challenge. I think that’s what’s great about life especially now that school’s over and — oh my gosh, I’m babbling and you’re just trying to tell me what button to push.”
“Well what floor are you on?”
“I’m on six.”
“I’m on five. Let’s go to six.”
“I was just about to say the same thing.” And she kissed him.
Her lips tasted sweet and minty, but her breath wafted into his nostrils with a hint of red wine and was warm enough to knock him back off his feet. He almost slipped down the wall of the elevator, but managed to keep his lips locked onto hers for another few seconds before she pulled away.
They both gasped for air. “But I’m drunk and your drunk and maybe we should just talk tomorrow. We could get a coffee. Something tells me we’re both going to need it.” She pointed at her temple, indicating a rough morning ahead.
She said goodnight outside her room, and Frank just watched as she slowly shut her door. Then he leaned against the wall and used it as a crutch on his way back to the elevator.
On the fifth floor, he hobbled to his door and made it into the hotel room by falling to the floor and crawling over the threshold. Remaining on the floor, Frank pulled off his pants and with them went his prosthetic leg. He sat up and pull the leg to stand on its own.
He stared at it: the plastic, metallic piece that would serve as his lower leg the rest of his life. He wondered how long it would stand on its own there, no pressure from his knee holding it in place. He wished he could convince someone to build a new leg from scratch, an organic piece like an organ from a stem cell. Something real.
This is the present, not the future, dimwit.
Still, he didn’t like this piece of plastic, and wished he’d never lost his leg “over there”. That was a place he’d never mention to her, he assured himself. Oh, he’d bring it up, maybe — something to explain his lack of dancing skills — but he’d never talk about it no matter how much she asked. One run-through of that experience was enough, he’d decided.
No reason to re-live it again and again.
In the morning, he awoke to sunlight on his face. He’d forgotten to close the shades fully, probably never even tried. He was still on the floor, and when he looked to the leg, it, too, was laying on its side. A spring looked to have come loose, and Frank knew that today would be a day for crutches and pinning back his pant-leg.
Can’t very well fake the walk on a leg that would crumble under my weight.
In the bathroom, he looked at his sagging eyes and his belly, wondering where the months had gone. It’d barely been a year, and was still a shock that it had been even that long. But the wedding had made it seem longer.
Last night, Frank had watched his best friend get married and the guy had barely said more than a few words to him all night. Other than a hug and “we missed ya”, Frank figured that he’d be forgotten in a day or two. But who cares, because he’d also met HER at the wedding.
As Frank dressed, he thought again of the feel of her body under the dress. And the dress itself, a dark violet that clung to her curves with a voracious appetite. That was a feeling his fingertips would never forget.
In the lobby, Frank watched person after person leaving, hungover and eyes barely open. But they all gave him curious looks as they passed him and got a glimpse of the space under his leg. A few of the older men nodded in Frank’s direction, an understanding between them; these guys had likely served, and had seen similar things if not worse. One old man came by to shake Frank’s hand, and again, no words were offered, but instead a look of hard, cold memory.
Frank thought he felt a tear hit the back of his eyes, but blamed it on dehydration.
By early afternoon, he decided that she forgot, that she’d left without even realizing they’d met the night before. As he hobbled out the front door, someone called his name. He turned, and it was her. He could hardly recognize her with her hair down, wearing jeans and a loose t-shirt. “I knew that was you!” she said.
She hugged him, lips barely brushing his ear but spreading a wave of goosebumps down to his fingertips. “Look, I’ve got to go, so a rain check on that coffee?”
“I, I guess so. Was looking forward to it, to be honest.”
“Me too, but my mom, she’s waiting. Here’s my number though, so call me soon?”
He nodded, speechless and feeling his empty stomach growl. Before she reached the door, she turned to face him again. “‘Soon’ as in tonight, even. I love coffee, Sargent.”
Yeah, he could still feel it: she was the one.