Sansara stood at the entrance of the apartment for a long moment to stare at Diego like she’d never truly seen him before. He had no idea what to do as the gorgeous woman stared at him, the epitome of plain curiosity on her face. Her eyes searched his before sliding from his face to the rest of him, sweeping over the entirety of his form before meeting his eyes once more.
“Thank you, Diego . I know we’re just getting started with the move, but I am already incredibly grateful. I don’t know what I’d do without you,” she told him.
He wondered if now was the right time to kiss her, but he wasn’t sure. She didn’t light up like a Christmas tree upon his arrival. He assumed the circumstances of her move were the reason why. He still didn’t want to pry. He believed that Sansara would offer whatever she wanted him to know when she was ready to tell him. He waited, keeping his expression inviting. He even paused a moment before replying, biting his lip to facilitate the silence, since she sometimes had something to add. Her eyes went to his lips when he did that and he got the impulse to kiss her again. Still, he waited, his expression unguarded so she knew he wanted to. He knew how he felt already and he wanted her to feel the same way before anything happened. She was the one to solicit a kiss to begin with via text message, anyway. She knew how to ask for what she wanted or needed. If she didn’t, she’d learn to.
As if she’d read his mind, she came closer to him just then. To his utter surprise, however, she leaned against him and kissed him on the cheek. Now, he was completely baffled. Before she moved away, he returned the gesture, kissing her on the cheek as well. She parted from him unhurriedly and smiled at him. It was the first time he’d seen her smile in months and it was finally at him! He thought he felt his knees going weak on him but he stood still nonetheless. No one had ever had this effect on him before.
“Would you like me to decide the order in which we move your things, Sansara?” he asked gently, reaching out to brush some hair out of her face. She had a maddening hair style that deposited half of her hair over one eye, like one of those damn emo chicks. Fortunately, she was far from being an emo chick. He’d never want to be in the same room as her if she was one, to be perfectly honest. No offense intended to emo chicks, of course; he just could not keep up with the sullenness they always exhibited at him in particular. She looked amused with him when he half-expected her to bite him for it. It must have shown on his face. The two of them didn’t always get along and she was often aggressive when her personal bubble was invaded. He would know… he tried to hug her once upon a time without her permission early on in their friendship. She damn near threw him like a Judo master.
“Diego, you’re the boss today. I literally can’t plan anything right now. I tried and I failed. The best I could do was box most of my things up, baby. I only need my clothes and my pets in the short term… oh, and I separated some things out to go to Goodwill. Maybe that would be the best place to start, or we could always do it last… I really don’t care as long as it gets done.” The whole time she was speaking to him, her eyes moved between his eyes and his lips, but still he waited.
Suddenly, she shook her head as if dispelling her desire to press her lips against his, he thought. She looked him straight in the eye then and said, “You know what? I’ve had a question I’ve wanted to ask you for a very long time now…”
“Go on…” he prompted when she paused and failed to start again. She was notorious for telling him she wanted to say something and then going quiet and ceasing to speak.
“May I touch your bicep?” she asked finally. He guffawed suddenly. How long did she want to touch his arm, he wondered? She stared at his mouth as he laughed and smiled, half in defiance and half in open curiosity, then returned her eyes to his. “Well, may I?” she repeated.
He nodded, grinning like a damn fool. The woman of his dreams certainly had noticed him and he had no idea when. How long had he been on her radar?! How did he fail to notice her attention? She gingerly poked his bicep once he stopped laughing, pressing the tip of her finger into it with a slow and steady pressure.
“I knew it! You must eat rocks since you are what you eat!!!!” She crowed with mischievous glint in her eye. He kept laughing, tickled pink at her joke and compliment rolled into one. Too bad you couldn’t combine “joke” and “compliment” into a great portmanteau, he thought. Where was the girl he came to know hiding? She had always been as serious as they came… usually, anyway!
He felt at complete ease now due to her banter. She is autistic and he always tried to keep that in his mind when interacting with her. That joke wouldn’t please most neurotypical people but he loved it. She was implying his biceps were rock hard. Who wouldn’t like that? That’s the way it was with her, though. She’d tell you why she wanted to do something after she asked permission to do it. But only whenever she wished to share her reason. He found himself thinking she must be a shy girl. It definitely was not the first time he’d thought that might be true. It suited him just fine since he was also shy.
“You may kiss the girl,” she said suddenly. He relaxed even further as her words sank in. He pulled her close with as much gentleness as he could muster, lowering his lips slowly to hers until they pressed together in complete tenderness. She slid her arms around his neck as a little noise escaped her, though he couldn’t tell what kind of noise it was because it was short and soft. He hoped it was a happy indicator of her appreciation. He didn’t wonder long because her lips parted just as he began to overthink. He knew it was an invitation for more, but something told him that he should wait. Instead of deepening the kiss, he broke it off just as slowly as it had started.
“There will be time for that later, you minx… Now, show me to your chambers,” he said, trying to sound formal. If he was being honest with himself, he was in the same boat as she had been with the question about touching his biceps. He was dying to know more, but unwilling to ask until the invitation to do so appeared in his hand, sealed envelope and all.
Sansara took her time sliding her arms from around his neck to show Diego into her apartment. Thankfully, she had been living separately from the rest of the entities in her care. It was obvious to him that she did not want him to meet her relatives pretty much ever. He couldn’t really complain after hearing about her turmoil via text the night before. He, too, was a smoker, but he already went out to an enclosed porch to do it while at home instead of stinking up the entire house each time he lit up. He hoped she couldn’t taste it on him.
She was an ex-smoker herself, he knew. He’d found that out by offering her one once while they stood outside in the shade of a tree together. She had declined, saying that was a vice she’d never pick up again. She smoked nearly as long as he had, too. He admired her for it, really. He kept trying to kick the habit and so far he’d gone from a pack a day to half a pack of day. He’d felt really good the day he told her that. She smiled at him brightly and congratulated him for his efforts. No one else had ever congratulated him on reducing his dependency, even though it was truly a struggle.
The cats looked up sleepily from a cuddle puddle on the floor. They were lying in a room full of cat furniture. They quickly resumed their cat nap in the sunshine, ultimately disinterested in their arrival. He was happy to see them in the sunshine because his home was full of sunshine, too. If the cats ended up happy, he thought it’d make it easier for Sansara to be happy, too. He wanted all of them to be happy together, though he thought his home might be a little small once again.
She showed him fifteen totes, packed to the brim. They were clear and he could see everything inside. He gulped when he saw a pair of fancy crotchless nylons in one of the clear acrylic totes. They’d never even been opened… that much was very clear due to unopened packaging. He wondered why she owned something she’d never used. Maybe she never met the right guy. Maybe they were a gift she didn’t like but somehow was too embarrassed to get rid of, too. Maybe they were there to tease him. He figured he should ask later.
“Earth to Diego! Are you ready for blast off?” She said, grinning mischievously as his gaze focused on her instead. He blushed a little bit, caught red-handed staring at her junk… and she had to know it was those that drew his eye, too. The rest of the box was indeterminate shapes, mostly smaller boxes and some cloth or perhaps blankets. He was a uncomfortable because he was ready for blast off, but it looked like he would have to wait.
He should wait, he reminded himself. She had told him all about her ex, Benjamin, whom she called Psycho Boy Ben. He’d raped her many times and she didn’t even understand it completely until he’d pointed that out to her. She wasn’t slow by any means when it came to comprehending things most of the time, so it pained him to have to spell it out… She told him she’d felt obligated to sleep with the asshole in the latter half of their trauma-bound relationship of over four years. That alone made it rape. It’s exactly what made him vow to be the perfect gentleman.
“Ahem. Yes, my dear. Now, besides these, what do you have that you need moved?”
“These six trash bags are full of things for Goodwill,” she said, waving a hand over them. “The cat litter boxes must move with the cats. Your SUV is much better suited, but if you don’t want them in there, I understand that, too.” She moved to another room that he hadn’t noticed yet and pointed to an antique dresser, “And this is probably the most expensive thing I own. It’s got a single piece marble top and I think it might be from Ireland. I can move the clothes myself…”
He reached out and touched her waist, turning her toward him again as kindly as he could manage. He was being careful not to dig into her flesh or exert uneven pressure. He was always careful when he did touch her since in the past, he used too much force, which gave her bruises. “Hold on, my lady! I’m going to help you with everything. Even if it’s not packed yet!” She melted into him before he finished speaking. Before he knew it, her arms were around his neck for the third time. He found her soulful eyes boring holes into his own soul. Moving hadn’t been on his mind since she touched him the first time and it was definitely getting further and further away.
“I think you might be the kindest man I’ve ever met,” she declared, holding his gaze steadily. He gulped as he stared back into her eyes.
“Why, thank you, m’lady,” he said, gingerly removing her arms from around his neck. He could definitely get used to that, he thought. “I think I’d better do the work I promised you before we kiss again, because I don’t want to stop once we begin.”
She nodded and took a step backward. “I agree. I won’t want to, either. I might stop you just the same. I want to be married.” She emphasized that word heavily. Hell, she emphasized the whole sentence. His heart nearly stopped as she spoke. That meant she wanted to marry him and he knew it. She’d been single the whole time he knew her, or at least he thought so. He supposed she could have had someone online somewhere, but she didn’t spend any time obsessively checking her phone ever. She always spoke directly to him, even if her eyes weren’t on his, especially when they watched the games together at the bar where they initially met. She always rebuffed anyone who tried to buy her a drink, too. She was as polite as she dared about it. In fact, she refused to let him buy her a round this whole time. He figured she just liked being alone, after a while, so he didn’t push it.
He wondered if she was saving herself for marriage as well now. He knew she had been in relationships before, but only one had involved marriage. She saved his mind from overdrive as she spoke again. “Marriage is not a prerequisite to physical intimacy. I think you should know that there will be no going back once we do the deed. People always look for a second chance with me after I leave them. I really don’t think they’re merely lonely; ladies of the night cure mere loneliness, if you ask me.”
He had no idea why anyone would want to break it off with her at all, honestly. She was lovely through and through, if occasionally despondent or moody. We all have bad days, he thought to himself. He had them, too, of course. If she could put up with him, he could certainly put up with her.
“Baby, we can wait until we’re married. We could even get married tomorrow if you want to; they perform civil union ceremonies on Tuesdays at the courthouse. There’s no appointment. I’d take off work for it if you’re ready to do it tomorrow.” His eyes were on her the whole time he spoke to her. Even though he thought she looked about as vulnerable as can be, her expression softened even further.
“I’d like that, Diego.” That was Sansara, alright. Just like that, she said she’d marry him the next day. It seemed too fast for him, suddenly. They had known each other for two years… but did he really know her? She was showing a more charming side of herself to him for the first time since the day they met.
What if she had a less charming side? The thought slid away as quickly as it came. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say he opened the trash can lid and shoved it into the bin, throwing it away unceremoniously before he replaced the lid and hit the recycle button. He decided he didn’t care and that was that. He’d figure out how to handle anything she threw at him, curve ball or otherwise.
“There is one condition…” she said, breaking into his reverie. He went slack-jawed and just stared at her, waiting. That twinkle was back in her eye suddenly and she opened her mouth to say… “I demand an onion ring.” She held out her left hand and wiggled her ring finger at him. He burst into laughter and promised her it was a deal. Down side, indeed. He was sure there was one, but it was nowhere in sight.
He had to hand it to her: the woman knew exactly what she wanted. He even caught her appreciating his figure several times while he lugged the totes to his SUV, which put a little extra pep into his step, he had to admit. Because she never bothered to follow him down from her apartment to his SUV, he took an extra moment or two and peered into each individual tote as he went, especially at the one with the enticing nylons. He wondered if she’d packed it that way just to entice him or if she literally did not care if the world saw that she owned those. He wanted to repack the tote to put them out of sight. After a moment, he gave into that urge and moved it so it was hidden within.
He noticed she was limping today. She didn’t say a word about it, but her gait was off and she was favoring her right side over the left. He wondered about that as she did her best to stuff her clothes into more garbage bags to move them from point A to point B: his place. No… their place, now. Nothing of hers was really all that heavy except the marble top dresser and bed they left behind for another day. He’d call one of his buddies to get help carrying those. They were too bulky for a party of one.
Ultimately, it took just four SUV trips to move everything except her furniture out of the place. He assumed he’d be spending the whole day moving her in or putting things into storage. It was much less arduous than he expected, really, coming in under two hours total. Each tote was about thirty pounds, which any pansy could carry with ease. There was no mountain of stuffed animals at all. He was a little disappointed because he thought for sure she’d be into that sort of thing. He wondered if those were in the Goodwill bags or not. He thought about asking her if he could see what she was parting with since they were resting in the back of his SUV.
He was surprised she had next to nothing. What she did have was a computer, a few gaming consoles, some video games, movies, clothes, and cats. Those cats were so sedate, too. He wondered about Max being too much for them again. He was relieved to think about how Max came to avoid grams’ room altogether, figuring he’d probably leave the cats alone because of that.
Boy, was he wrong. Max was all hard nose and forceful cuddles when he finally brought him in to witness the changes that happened while he played in the yard for a few hours. He was completely interested in the cats. “Max!” he declared at the canine with a note of reprimand in his voice. “We have to be gentle,” he said to the pup and then held him back from Sansara, who had flinched from his attention. She was standing in Max’s way to keep him from mowing down the cats. The pup had nearly knocked her over in his excitement.
Sansara looked grateful to have a referee hold the animal back. She slowly crouched down and three loud pops came from her left leg. At least, he thought it was her left. Diego was alarmed; that is not normal! She sighed a bit with a grimace before she held one hand out to the pitbull terrier in front of her. “Hi, Max. My name is Sansara,” she said to him as she started to rub his muzzle.
Diego melted again. He thought for sure she wouldn’t be a big fan of dogs. He thought about whether or not he’d have to get a dog house and keep Max as a primarily outdoor pet or, worse yet, give him up for adoption again. This gave him hope that they could be one big happy family.
As Sansara rubbed the bridge of Max’s nose, he calmed down. Before long, he sat down when Diego bid him to do so. He told Max to stay. The clever pup turned his own soulful eyes between the two humans before he tried to peek around Sansara at the new fuzzy friends in the house.
“Max, I have to tell you something very important,” Sansara said in a serious tone to the doggo. “The cats don’t like being prodded; you’re going to have to be gentle. If you can’t be gentle, I’m going to close the door until you learn how.”
She knew Max didn’t understand English. Did any pet really understand what their owners said? Still, Sansara hoped to impart some gravity to the pupper. With that, Sansara unsteadily rose from her crouch, making a noise as another loud pop came from her. Diego understood in that moment that this is half the reason she couldn’t keep up with anything, if not the entire reason.
Curiously enough, Max sat still for another minute or so before walking over to the cats in a sedate manner. He prodded each one with his nose, rearing back as one of them swatted him on the nose with a hiss. Sansara watched the four of them, trying not to smile as Max gave up and wandered to his food bowl, looking dejected.
“That was fast,” Diego said, breaking the silence first. Sansara nodded a little in response. She was avidly looking around his place — she’d never seen it before. She’d kept herself busy packing as he took her belongings to his place, so she hadn’t laid eyes on it until just now. She had let him take everything away in complete trust. Truly, he was extremely curious. Maybe it wasn’t trust. Maybe she just didn’t care anymore. There was a darkness to her countenance today, something he’d only seen once before in Suicide Mike. That was right before he earned that nickname. It was insensitive and he knew it, but as a survivor of the incident, he didn’t feel like being sensitive anymore on behalf of Mike.
He knew that suicide is utterly the most selfish thing a human being can do in this world. Every person who committed suicide left behind hundreds, if not thousands, of people who would never understand why, even if they left a note or letter. People who cried and mourned and were disrupted. Then, because one person got away with it, others start thinking about taking the easy out themselves. Then, before you knew it, millions would be upset and grieving. The power to stop this action lies in the hands of the person who took it.
It solved nothing, anyway. It removed one’s body from the equation, but that did not account for the immortal soul. Diego wondered if Sansara was indeed at the end of her rope. If she’d considered this selfish action, choosing to be short-sighted instead of embracing her typical architect’s mind, he would be sorely disappointed. He’d always known in his heart that a part of him would live on beyond death, whether or not he liked it. He knew that he could never run away from the consequences of his life and the actions he took. He could try, but he would never succeed. Nobody would ever succeed.
He decided to ask the most difficult question that had ever crossed his mind. He stared at the woman he thought was the loveliest creature in all creation and asked softly, “Sansara… are you okay? Are you feeling suicidal?” He schooled his features to be openly empathetic and waited for her. She’d been looking at the dining room table when he asked that. Her head whipped around to look at him and the next thing he knew, she was on the floor. She’d collapsed and it was possible she had passed out. He couldn’t tell as he went to her, quick to scoop her off the floor and take her to his couch. She was a bit hefty but he didn’t complain. Nobody was as light as a thirty pound tote. Nobody full grown, anyway.
She was still breathing steadily so that wasn’t a problem. He thought about calling an ambulance, but she’d kick him in the shins because she didn’t currently have health insurance. He was irritated yet again by the country’s policy of forcing the poor to suffer. She wasn’t exactly poor, but she wasn’t currently working, either. He checked for her pulse, which seemed steady to his inexpert opinion. He decided to hold her hand. He’d give her five minutes at most to come to before he called for an ambulance, he promised himself.
She opened her eyes and looked bewildered. She didn’t bother trying to sit up immediately. Her eyes were kind of glassy and he’d wondered if she’d taken something illegal. Her eyes came back into focus quickly, however, as he watched her. She looked to one side and saw a couch cushion, then at her hand that was currently in his own, then at his face again. “What just happened?” she asked him.
“I asked you if you were suicidal and you crumpled to the floor,” he said, both concerned and annoyed. He hated repeating himself. He couldn’t help it; his tone had been harsher than he intended because he was both scared and annoyed. Collapse isn’t normal!
She squeezed his hand very lightly as she stared at him from where he’d laid her on the couch. She touched the very tip of his nose with her fingertip and said peaceably, “Don’t get cross with me, please. The answer to your question is that I’m not going to hurt myself. Ever.” He was relieved and he knew it showed. Tension he’d been ignoring left him just then, he felt it leave as she answered.
“I have been suicidal all my life, Diego, on and off.” He swallowed and tried to focus on her words, but he was becoming increasingly aware of her lack of a bra under her shirt. This was not the time for that kind of observation! He silently reprimanded himself. She misinterpreted that, perhaps, and kept talking… or she intended to say more all along, but her eyes scanned his face when he gulped.
“I have a borderline personality. It kind of means I’m de facto suicidal. I’ve always wanted to die, essentially. Something holds me back. I tried once, as I might have already told you. I don’t remember if I did or didn’t.” He shook his head and used both hands to hold hers instead of just one. “I tried… I watched a stupid movie called Coyote Ugly and there was a song playing in the credits. When I heard that song, I cried uncontrollably. I hated myself so much in that moment. I went into the bathroom and tried to break apart a disposable razor while I was unable to see straight.” She paused a moment and he rubbed his thumb over the back of her hand to try to reassure her. He didn’t want to wait but he knew she took time with her words, so he had to.
This time, she gulped, and her eyes shot back up to his. They had wandered away while she had been speaking… they had wandered to look at his hands. Her gaze slid away from him all too often, really, and he’d always thought she did it because she was uninterested in him. That couldn’t be the reason, if she wanted to marry him, he thought in the silence she left. One more point in the ‘shy’ category, he thought as the silence continued.
“I felt like a light of some kind turned on inside of me before I could break that razor open. I knew that I was special, to have a light of some kind like that. I’ve only asked one other person if they felt similar. I don’t think it’s a good sampling, but I hope all people feel that way. Anyway, ever since that day, I have never tried again. I just wish I’d die instead. Or, better yet, never been born.”
A tear escaped his eye. He pulled her hand up to his lips and kissed the back of it. “I love you. Please stay with me instead.” His eyes were glued to hers. Her eyes did not leave his this time, though she looked back and forth between each one. She nodded after a moment, her own eyes glistening from unshed tears.
She raised the hand he wasn’t holding up to touch his face, her fingers curving along his cheek to cup it. Her touch was feather light. He wondered some about what she’d said earlier, that after she touched people, they always came back. He wondered if it was more about her personality than her physical touch.
“Diego… I have feelings I won’t name, but they are deep and vast and soft. I do not know the name of feelings. I never have. I agonize over trying to choose the correct name, but it never feels right. I do not want to leave you. Besides, what kind of thanks would that be for my knight in shining armor?” She smiled as she added some flirt to the situation.
Boy, did she have a way to turn an incredibly serious moment into a romantic one, he thought. Where had this woman been all his life? She never acted like this before he had slipped up and called her his love without thinking twice. Ultimately, he was relieved it happened. He was tired of holding it in, trying to be stoic in her presence, whether it be online, in text messages, or in person.
He smiled at her before turning his head slightly and brushing his lips across the palm of her hand.
“Now, if I might be so rude… what do ya got to eat around here?” she asked, struggling to sit up. It would have been difficult for him, too, considering he was crowding her on the couch at this point. He stood up, giving her the option to let go of his hand as he did. She instead gripped his hand firmly in order to raise herself up. She was definitely stronger than she seemed, he thought. It had to be her leg keeping her from functioning. It just had to.
“Nothing, at the moment. I could order in?” he offered. She grimaced and went to his fridge with her slight limp and opened it to look inside. There was a half gallon of milk inside and that was it. He tried not to smile as she shut that door and looked in the freezer next.
“You’re not kidding… how do you live with this?” she asked coquettishly, leaning up against the appliance as she gazed at him once more.
“What is wrong with your leg?” he asked suddenly. She looked to the side with a bit of a grimace at his question.
“It’s my hip, Mr. Holmes. It’s dislocated presently,” she replied.
He rocked back on his heels. He was surprised by her answer. He wanted to ask her if she was sure, but he knew that would earn him a stare full of daggers. He’d made that mistake once before and she looked ready to kick the shit out of one of his shins when he did.
“Okay, clearly you need food and maybe a chiropractor,” he responded. “Can I take you out or order something?”
“Eating is… difficult. But since there are only two options: poison and more poison, I’ll let you choose.” She had no trace of mirth or mischief on her face when she said that, which made him gulp. He knew she had problems with food, but she had not divulged the reason she’d call it poison just yet. He resolved to ask her that over dinner.
“Okay, what’s the most likely thing you can eat in a restaurant, then?” He wondered again just what exactly was wrong with her. She wasn’t being flirtatious at all now, which meant she was dead serious. Whatever it was… well, any challenge is conquerable with cooperation. He decided to cooperate fully and hoped she would, too.
“Somewhere that doesn’t serve dairy anything, which is nowhere. Next best choice is somewhere that serves a steak without butter brushed over it (or any hunk of dairy-free meat, really) and a plain vegetable or two on the side. I don’t give a damn where we go and I’ll be glad to buy you dinner, He-man,” she looked inviting again by the time she got to the end of what she had to say.
He was getting dizzy from the hot-warm-hot-warm flip flop she was doing here. He didn’t know what to think, but he reminded himself that if her hip was dislocated, she was most likely in excruciating pain. Pain that would have another person lying in bed, crying in agony. A dislocated hip was nothing to joke about. And it did explain her collapsing when she moved her head too quickly, honestly.
“Okay, babe. I’m taking you out for a steak dinner and it’s on me. And I’m buying you a beer or something… it would help your hip, I suspect. Has it been dislocated long?” He decided to take the safe route and accept her self-diagnosis. It was always better to validate someone’s reality, even if one did not agree.
“Only about ten years,” she replied.
His eyes nearly popped out of his damn head. He sputtered, “Wh-wh-what did you just say?! TEN YEARS?!”
“Well, yeah. I had a chiropractor for most of them, sweetie pie. I went weekly for ages. I’m trying to do therapy to correct it, but it’s tricky to do alone…” She moved to stretch, he thought, noting that she contorted her body in a strange way. He looked away quickly, too, because it made her breasts all the more prominent. There was most definitively temptation to touch. However, the priority was food. You can’t take a woman who just collapsed straight to the boudoir. That would be an asshole’s next move. The only bed she should be in is a hospital bed, he thought.
“Would you let me try to help with it after dinner, then?” he asked, gathering up his keys and her purse both just in case she demanded to pay for his dinner. He assumed she would, but he hoped she would allow him. It was a matter of pride, you know. Besides, she tended to get carded whenever she wasn’t served by a regular at The Red Fox Inn… somehow the forty year old woman looked like a teenager. They’d probably card her at Longhorn, too.
“Hmm… would I let the sexy Sir Deli Man touch my body after he feeds me steak and broccoli? Let me think about it…” Her eyes flashed as a smile threatened to return to her face as she shut the door to her new room, putting a physical barrier between the dog and the cats. “I think you’d better feed me before I really think about it,” she said suddenly, linking her arm with his. “I’ll allow you to escort me to your SUV in the meanwhile, though.”