I AM DEVOTEE by EJ Griffeth

My hands are sweaty. I rub them on my navy dress pants and glance at the clock. 2:26. My heart starts beating faster, and it’s so loud that I’m sure he’ll hear it the moment he arrives. I bounce my knees up and down, trying to get the nerves and the jitters out of my system before he gets here. Three minutes later I hear the door alarm sound. Any second now he’ll be walking through that door. 

Well, not walking, per se. 

At exactly 2:30 the door opens. I want to make this introduction as least awkward as possible, so I remain seated in my chair, and wait for him to come to me. I look everywhere in the room but directly at him as he slowly makes he’s way towards me. Finally, he stops. I hear the little electric motors disengage. And for the first time, I look up. 

To my surprise, the first thing I notice are his eyes. They’re an intense, icy blue. Our gazes lock for a moment and I’m taken aback by the depth and complexity of emotion concealed within them. It’s doubtful that anyone else would notice such a thing, but I do. After all, that’s why we’re here in the first place.  

Without looking away, I extend my hand. “I’m Dr. Andrews. You can call me Ruth.”  

The smile on his face is rueful and hard, borderline to a sneer. He gives my hand a pointed look. “Mine don’t work too well, you know.”  

Heat immediately rises to my face. So much for not making this awkward. I lower my hand.

Suddenly he laughs. The sound of it penetrates the uncomfortable silence between us. “I’m joking,” he tells me as he raises a shaky arm and extends it slightly towards me. His fingers are soft looking and curl into a loose fist. Hesitantly, I reach out too, and take his pro-offered hand. His grasp is weak, but feeling his limp fingers against mine sends chills running down my spine. “Well, kind of. I’m Mack Lucas.”

All it takes are those few little words for me to realize I’m smitten and doomed.

***

For the next six weeks I try to tone down my little…quirk.  

But then every Thursday Mack comes into my office and every day I just want to sit there and drink in the sight of him. He’s broad shouldered and his legs are long. I bet if he could stand he’d be well over six feet. I try to imagine him rock climbing, scuba diving, running—all things that he told me he used to love—but I can’t. Because those are the images of a Mack I didn’t know…and images of a guy I would never have lusted for.

I much prefer the man sitting in front of me right now: reclined in an electric wheelchair, sporting a thick black strap across his chest and lap to support his limp body since he lacks the muscle strength to even sit up on his own.

As he vents to me about his latest dating mishap and confides in me his fears about life and love—what’s a therapist for, right?—my heart constricts. I’m reminded why I began a therapist: to help people. While Mack continues to talk and the cadence of his low voice washes over me like a smooth scotch, I have never wanted to share my secret with anyone as badly as I do now.  

It’s all about acceptance. This will show him. First-hand experience. For both of us.  

If only.  

I don’t share it though. The fallout from that little confession would be disastrous. Like, destructive and life-changing and scary.  

Hah. I sound like one of my patients.  

I just continue to listen to Mack, pretending to pay attention as my mind wanders into territory it never should. Guilt floods my being as I watch him, animatedly telling a story, and just when I think I can’t take it any, a timer sounds and our session ends.  

Just like I do every week, I remain seated and watch while Mack maneuvers his way out of the room. I feel dirty and voyeuristic as I feel the heat intensifying between my legs as he uses his wrists grasp the knob and open the door, but I don’t look away.

I can’t.  

Because I’m a devotee.   

***

Another four weeks pass; another four sessions go off without a hitch.  

It’s at the end of our twelfth session that I finally come to my senses. I watch him as he tries to procure his phone from a small pouch on the side of his chair. I know he can pretty much only move his elbows and he’s struggling a bit with it. Finally, he manages to grab it between his wrists. When he drops in his lap a moment later, he seems relieved.  

As I watch I him grapple with something so simple, I feel the familiar stirring in my body. Heat rises to my face. Whether it’s from shame or desire, I don’t know.

But I do know something. “I can’t do this anymore,” I hear myself suddenly blurt.  

Mack’s head jerks up. A mixture of confusion and alarm flashes across his face. “What?”

“You’ve got to find a new therapist,” I tell him. His face falls, and then hardens. Being pushed away because of his disability is his biggest fear—and that’s exactly what I’m doing. If only he knew the reason why.

***

I exist in a perpetual state of self-inflicted misery for another week before finally giving in. I debate for a long time on whether or not to do it. Tick marks quickly collect in the “not” column; only one gets placed under “do.” I take a good long look at my only reason, my only justification: that it might make us both happy, and dial the contact number from his medical file before I lose my nerve.  

“Hello?”

The voice on the other end of the line is low and gravelly. It sounds thick, like my phone call might have woken him up. Normally, I would apologize profusely. I’d probably hang up. But tonight I don’t. Instead quickly start speaking before I chicken out. “I’m sorry.”  

Mack sighs. “There’s no way that this is legal.”

“It’s extremely unethical,” I assure him. I take a deep breath. “But really, the entire thing was unethical from the start.”

To my surprise, he begins to laugh quietly. “Ruth, you’re a terrible actress. You know that?”

“What?”

“Yes,” I hear a faint rustle in the background and I realize he’s nodding. “You wear your heart on your sleeve and your poker face sucks.”

“You knew the whole time?” an edge creeps into my voice. “How did you know?”

“Please.” He laughs full out this time. It’s a pleasant sound that reminds me of the first day we met. “Your face flushed and your breath hitched every time I moved. Hell, every time I even entered the room.

I can’t believe what I’m hearing.

“I thought it was embarrassment or discomfort at first.” Mack pauses then, and I hear a faint rustle again that I take for a shrug. The silence between us is long and heavy. When he speaks again, his voice is low and husky; his words intentional. It feels like our first meeting all over again, because with two small words he’s consumed the part of me that yearns for this—for him. “Come over.” 

***

“Come over.”

He repeats the words to me again as I hesitate in the doorway to his bedroom. Mack’s wheelchair sits empty and he lies in bed right before my eyes. He gestures with his wrist and motions for me to come forward. My palms are sweaty and my heart is beating fast. If I were not so tightly coiled right now I would laugh because in a way we’ve come full circle. The only difference now is that I’m the one walking in.

Mack watches me with heavy eyes as I cross the room in four steps. Once I’m beside his bed, he tries to push himself up, but his arms are too weak. He barely manages to lift himself an inch off the bed. Glancing up at me with hooded eyes, whispers “Prop me up a bit.”

I swallow hard.

Mack instructs me on what to do. I lift his shoulders and gently stuff some pillows behind them. His chest is naked underneath the covers—much to my delight—and his shoulders seem even broader than they did originally. Just touching him sends an electric buzz through my body. As I make sure the pillows are secure underneath him, I hear my breathing grow ragged and feel the space between my legs grow warm.

Mack hears it too. He smiles lasciviously.

Slowly, I lower his shoulders back onto the pillow. I’m leaning so close over him, surely violating every ethics clause that exists…and fulfilling every fantasy I’ve ever had…and I can feel his own breath, hot on my neck. Without saying a word, he hooks his wrist around my arm and gently tugs. He can’t do much, but it’s enough to indicate that be wants me to come closer.

Our gazes meet and the intense desire in his eyes shocks me.

He wants this as much I do.

A sense of acceptance mixed with relief washes over me as I process that; meanwhile, Mack nods and smiles up at me encouragingly. And suddenly, a renewed sense of confidence enters into my being.

This will show me.

I place my hand on his chest. Underneath it, I can feel his heart beating rapidly.

This will show him.

I lean forward slightly so that our lips are centimeters apart. I close my eyes slowly, preparing for what’s to come.

Mack tugs me down a bit closer, finally closing the distance between us. His lips are strong and supple, in direct contrast with his thin and atrophied body. I curl my fingers into his hair. “Say it,” he moans.

It’s all about acceptance.

The words come out in a whisper, as they leave my lips for the first time ever.

“I’m a devotee.”

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