Authors: Robin Stevenson
Copyright Â© Robin Stevenson 2008
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system now known or to be invented, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
Stevenson, Robin H. (Robin Hjordis), 1968-
Big guy / written by Robin Stevenson.
Issued also in print format.
I. Title. II. Series.
PS8637.T487B52 2008 jC813'.6 C2008-900186-9
Derek thinks he might be falling in love for the first time ever.
The problem is, he hasn't been entirely honest with his online boyfriend.
First published in the United States, 2008
Library of Congress Control Number:
Orca Book Publishers gratefully acknowledges the support for its publishing
programs provided by the following agencies: the Government of Canada
through the Book Publishing Industry Development Program and the Canada
Council for the Arts, and the Province of British Columbia through the BC
Arts Council and the Book Publishing Tax Credit.
Cover design by Teresa Bubela
Cover photography by Getty Images
Author photo by David Lowes
Orca Book Publishers
PO Box 5626, Station B
Victoria, BC Canada
In the United States:
Orca Book Publishers
PO Box 468
Custer, WA USA
11 10 09 08 â¢ 5 4 3 2 1
To Katrina and Toby, with love.
I'm whistling as I walk in the door, still buzzing from finding out I got the job. It's the only decent thing that's happened in months. Wellâthat, and meeting Ethan.
I haven't told Dad about either one.
He's home, but something seems odd. It takes me a moment to realize: the house is too quiet. For once, Dad hasn't turned on the television. Instead, he's standing staring at a picture on the wall of the three of us: himself, Mom and me.
I'm trying to decide whether to say hello or just sneak past when he turns. “Derek.”
“Hi, Dad.” I start to edge by, wanting to get to my computer.
He nods at the picture. “You still think about her?”
I stare at him. We don't talk about Mom. I nod, warily. “Sure. Sometimes.”
“She'll be back,” he says. “It's only been a couple months. She's been gone longer than that before.”
“Sure, Dad,” I say.
No, you idiot. It's been a year, she hates you, she's off chanting mantras with a bunch of orange-clad cult freaks in California.
I look around for a glass or bottle, wondering if he's been drinking.
He glares at me. “What do you know about it?”
“Nothing,” I say. I miss her like hell, but I half hope she doesn't come back. At least one of us got away.
I slip past him and into my room, turn on the computer.
, I think. And my heart
speeds up, dances in my chest. He sent me a picture of himself a few days ago. I keep it under the mouse pad in case Dad snoops in my room. While the computer boots up, I slide it out and study it carefully, even though by now I can see it with my eyes closed.
Brown eyes, olive skin, straight dark eyebrows and an easy white-toothed grin. He's hot. I know I'm biased, but he really is. Even Gabi thinks so.
Yes! He's online.
about time you got home
yeah. what's up?
missed u today
I grin. I probably look like an idiot, sitting here by myself at the computer with this big grin on my face, but I can't help it. My fingers fly over the keyboard.
missed you too
at least you have a picture of me. Hint
My grin freezes on my face. I was half hoping he'd forget. But to be honest, I
knew he wouldn't. So I'm ready. I've been waiting.
sorry. keep forgetting to send one.
here u go
It's my favorite picture. My friend Gabi took it and I actually look pretty good in it. I'm leaning against the brick wall of the high school, wearing jeans, black T-shirt, leather jacket. My expression is kind of serious and my hair's a bit shorter than it is now. I'm squinting just a little and the sun is on my face. I've always been tall, always looked older than my age. I study the picture, wondering what Ethan will think.
My fingers pause, hover over the keyboard.
Last chance to change my mind.
Then I send the picture.
Ethan is still chatting away, saying I look just how he imagined, but somehow I don't feel like talking anymore.
I type a quick reply, make an excuse.
eth? dad's yelling something. gtg.
I log out and walk down the hall to the bathroom. I slide the dead bolt, locking the
door behind me. Slowly, I pull my black T-shirt off over my head and stare at the reflection in the mirror. Rolls of fat, white slabs of blubber and misery. I grab fistfuls of it, dig my fingernails in hard enough to leave sharp red crescent-shaped marks.
That picture I sent? It was taken last year, before Mom left. Before I packed on all this fat. That was a good eighty pounds ago. You wouldn't even recognize me if you saw me now.
I barely recognize myself.
Since ninth grade, I've bagged groceries after school, down at the A & P. I don't know why, exactly, but when I dropped out of school a few months back, I felt like I should do something different. Move on, you know? Plus, the pay was pretty crappy. But now, first day of the new job, I'm wishing I was back at the A & P with the rest of the guys.
To be honest, this job's a little freaky. I thought I could do it, but now I'm not so sure.
I'm standing in the middle of the living room in one of the residents' apartments. It's bigger than I expected. It's a large square room with a gray carpet, not much furniture, a narrow window overlooking a parking lot.
I glance down at my file and read her name again. Aaliyah Manon. I don't have a clue how to say it. I should've paid more attention during the orientation. I dredge through the mud of my memory and come up with an image of Francine's mouth opening and closing as she drones on and on. I can remember her smoker's breath and the way her red lipstick bled into the little wrinkles around her mouth, but I can't remember anything that's going to help me get through this next hour.
“Hello?” I call out.
I cross the living room and gaze out the window. Eight in the morning and barely light out. Pouring rain. It's rained every freaking day this month. Cars pull in and out of the parking lot, an occasional pedestrian hurries
by, clutching an umbrella. Above the street, red brick buildings meet a greasy gray sky.
I look at my watch. My stomach is a tight twisting knot.
“In a rush, are you?” a voice says.
I look up, wondering how she managed to enter the living room so quietly in that bulky wheelchair. The first thing that strikes me is how young she is. Not more than thirty. Maybe even younger. I'm surprised. Francine told me most of the residents were old. The woman is very thin, and one side of her face is pulled downward, mouth and eye drooping slightly. It makes her expression hard to read.
“I told them not to send a guy,” she says. “Francine knows I don't like male care workers.” Her speech is slurred, but despite this her voice has a sharp edge that adds to my nervousness.
“I'm sorry,” I say. “Do you want me to call Francine? See if there is someone else?”
She shakes her head. “No,” she says. “I have to be somewhere in an hour. I need to get ready.”
“Okay then.” I think back to Francine's words this morning. Just be matter-of-fact, Francine said. Remember, the residents are used to having assistance with personal care. If you aren't sure about something, ask.
“What can I help you with, then?” I realize I've forgotten to introduce myself. “Ahh...I'm Derek.”
Aaliyah struggles to push her long dark hair off her face. Her movements are stiff and jerky. “I need to shower. I need help washing my hair and getting dressed.”
“No problem,” I say. I manage to keep my voice light, but inside I'm freaking out a little. I'd take my old job back, right now, if I had the chance. Screw the three-dollars-an-hour pay difference. I dig my fingernails into my palm and follow the wheelchair down the hallway.
The bathroom is large and a sling hangs from the ceiling.
Aaliyah sees me looking at it. “I'm not using that anymore,” she says. “You just have to help me move onto the chair.”
Chair? Then I see it, in the shower: a
plastic chair with little holes in it for the water to run through. “Okay.”
She sighs. “Are you new? I mean, I know you're new here, but please tell me you've done this before.”
Here's the thing: I had to lie a little to get hired. Okay, more than a little. I told them I was twenty and that I'd done a couple of college courses. Told them I took care of my aunt who has MS. No one ever checks up on stuff like that. Truth is, I'm seventeen, just dropped out of high school, don't even have an aunt.
I shrug. “I've, ahhh, done some...”
Aaliyah's eyes are scalpel-sharp and I look away. “No. Ahhh...no, I'm new.”
“Damn it,” she says. Francine warned me that some of the residents could be difficult. Just stay calm, she said. Talk slowly. Be aware that you may have to repeat the same information several times.
Repeating that I'm new doesn't seem like a good idea.
Aaliyah sighs. “Sorry,” she says.
I don't meet her eyes. “Shall I...”
“Yes. Help me get undressed.”
She is wearing flannel pyjamas, blue with a pattern of soft yellow flowers. I undo the small pearl buttons with cold fingers and try to slip the top down over her shoulders. It's not so easy freeing her stiff arms from the sleeves. She's really skinny, and I'm clumsy and awkward and scared of hurting her. At last the pyjama top comes away in my hands. Aaliyah sits half naked in her wheelchair, her arms folded across her chest. I look away, my neck and cheeks flaming.
I can't think how to take the pants off with her sitting down. I remember her saying she hated having male care workers, and I wonder if she'd feel any better if she knew I was gay. Maybe I should tell her. Then again, maybe not. Who knows what she'd think?
Aaliyah gestures for me to come closer. “Look, you have turn on the shower, let it warm up. Then you have to help me up. I can walk a couple of steps, with support. Help me get the pants off and transfer to the chair.”
I nod numbly, turn on the shower and hold my hand under the spray until it runs warm.
I turn back to Aaliyah, put one arm around her back. Her shoulder blades jut out. Bird bones. Her spine is a chain of sharp bumps. She flinches and shivers, skin jumping, and I realize that my sleeve is wet from the shower and has dripped water down her back.
“Sorry,” I say under my breath.