Jen made me clumsy. Before I met her, I was as well put together as anybody, but ever since we started seeing each other I was always tripping over my feet or getting a fingernail stuck in a doorjamb. She didn’t see that change of course. To her, I was the charming boy who couldn’t seem to do more than one thing at once without taking a fall.
When I first asked her out, I spilled my drink all over myself. Her friends scowled, but she laughed, and I did too in spite of myself. My success with her was always in spite of myself, it seemed.
We saw each other on and off for a year. The commitment wouldn’t come, because she thought it would kill her youth and I thought she would kill me. Each night with her brought another handful of scrapes and bruises that I could add to my collection, and underlined the question mark that seemed to hover over our futures.
It changed the night I took her out for her birthday. Twenty, old enough to have to make the hard decisions but not old enough to feel comfortable doing so. We got vegetarian food, because no matter how much my minor cuts bled for her, she never wanted to hurt anyone.
It was a nice night, right before school was about to start up again, and our friends hadn’t flown back into town just yet. It felt like the calm before the storm, just us walking down the street holding hands and hoping that we could stay in stasis for a while.
“Thanks for dinner,” she said, standing on her toes to kiss me lightly.
I pulled her back, kissing her harder. “So I guess I’m into older women,” I said, feeling my chest ignite at her smile. She pushed me softly, laughing, and I stepped off the curb.
There was a horrible crunching sound, and then I was flying, quite literally airborne with the taste of her still on my lips.
Then I landed, and I was staring up at the black sky, wondering how my body had managed to take flight and why it hurt so much to do so.
But then Jen’s face filled my vision, blocking out the moon and stars.
“I love you,” she said. She was crying.
She could’ve said anything to me at that point. For all she knew, I was dying. Hell, it felt like I was already dead, but I didn’t know if that was from the purple flower blooming on my flesh or the words that had just tumbled out of her mouth. Accidents and revelations both had a way of blurring the passage of time.
So I sat up and asked, “Really?” and she laughed, her hair hanging in front of her face as she crouched over me in the middle of the road, her skirt pooling around her as the boy she loved felt his tender ribs to see if any of them were broken, because it was now of vital importance to keep his heart safe.
The cab driver had gotten out of his car now, stammering out something about broken streetlights.
“Actually, can we get a ride?” I asked.
“Sure, of course, anything,” the cabbie said, wringing his hands. “No charge, no charge.”
We folded ourselves in the back seat, her hand on my arm. “Are you sure you’re okay?” she asked.
“I think so,” I said.
“You’ve got a scrape,” she said, reaching out and wiping my cheek. I flinched, but she smiled and did it again. She held her hand to my face until we got home, and then she led me upstairs as I tried my best not to limp.
I watched her undress in my room, deliciously naked in the dark with a startling rapidity as I did my best to not move in a way that would cause my ribs to scream out in pain.
“Are you coming to bed?” she asked.
“You’re so beautiful,” I said, smiling despite the burning sensation it rose on my torn cheek.
“You don’t have to sound so sad about it,” she said.
I shook my head and stood there a moment longer. The sound of voices laughing together wafted through the window. She rolled over to face the wall, and I slid beneath the sheets behind her. I wrapped an arm around her, just underneath her breasts, and held her close until we fell asleep in the middle of that perfect August night.