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with a little help (from my friends)

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“And – she’s – in! Yay! You have a new bed!” Lea exclaimed, putting down her drill.

It was Sunday afternoon. Shaun’s new bed had been delivered that morning, and Lea had built it, with some assistance from Shaun.

Shaun had plucked out the Allen key from the bag of fasteners, and offered it to Lea. She had shaken her head and left the apartment briefly, returning with a tool bag and wielding an electric drill.

She had motioned for Shaun to get his earmuffs, while she drilled and hammered the parts together. They had communicated mostly in gestures, as he passed her the fasteners she needed.

“Thank you, Lea,” Shaun said.

“Oh, no prob, I like building things. Let’s roll out the slats, throw the mattress on top, and have a drinks break, huh?”

“I’ll put the sheets on. You go have your drink.”

When the bed was made, and before he could lose his nerve, Shaun crept up behind Lea, who nearly tossed her drink in fright.

Not the most auspicious start.

Putting his hands on her shoulders, he whispered in her ear, “Do you want to...?”

“Yeah... do you wanna shower first?” Lea asked, knowingly, hopping off the stool and reaching for Shaun’s hand, tugging him to the bathroom with her.

“Shaun, sweetie, can you please pass me the nearest item of clothing that isn’t underwear? I wanna bury my face in it,” Lea requested, a little breathlessly.

“Why?” Shaun asked, looking up at Lea, worried he was doing something wrong. He stopped touching her.

“Because... as long as you’re doing these wicked, wicked things to me... I really need something to scream your name into,” Lea elaborated, reaching out to get his hand back where he’d last been touching her – at last count, there had been two or three very inquisitive fingers involved, one of which was making a certain... beckoning motion. From the inside.

What do you know? It’s not a myth! she thought, happy little aftershocks coursing through her.

“Oh. Okay. That will be a shame,” Shaun replied, eyes downcast. His hand stilled again, after he’d withdrawn his fingers, very gently.

“A shame?” Lea queried, confused.

“Yes. I would miss looking at your face. Watching you climax is fascinating. And also, intensely arousing to me.”

“Out of interest, where the hell did you learn all of... this?” Lea asked, gesturing vaguely at her bottom half. She was still mostly boneless and hazy.

“When there’s something I want to understand, I research it obsessively,” Shaun explained, patiently. “I want to understand what I am doing to you, and how it makes you feel. I want to know what it is I’m doing that makes you feel like you need to scream my name.”

“How do you not have, like, a hundred ex-lovers? You’re incredibly considerate, and the communication is honest and refreshing.”

“I do not like to be touched. Touch seemed to be a non-negotiable, inextricable requirement for achieving some sort of romantic or sexual congress with others. I opted out.”

“Wait – what?” Lea asked, worriedly. “You don’t like to be touched? Where does that leave us, then?”

“I do not like receiving physical contact I have not explicitly asked for.”

“Oh, okay.”

“Yet, you’re worried you’ve done something wrong,” Shaun noted. “Why?”

“Like I said earlier: I see you suffer through things, Shaun. I don’t want you to do that with me. In fact, I’m gonna beg you not to,” Lea said. “If there’s something you’re putting up with – if you’re making trade-offs – if you’re compromising yourself for me, I need you to tell me, sweetheart. Please, tell me. If you’re scared, don’t be — ”

“No — ”

“We can slow down, if you want to. Sex hormones make people crazy with lust. They do. Then the dust settles, and it’s like ‘Did I do this for the right reasons?’”

“Lea, please listen. I have had a lot of time to think about being in this relationship. Autism doesn’t have to preclude friendships, attraction, romantic relationships, or a sex drive. Perhaps it does, for some autistic people. But I can only speak for myself, and autism doesn’t preclude those things for me. So, speaking for myself: I want this. I want you, more than I can explain. I have wanted you since before I even knew the feeling actually had a name.”

“Including the physical aspect?” Lea pressed.

“Including the physical aspect. I’m not going to like everything physical that we ever try. And you’re not going to like everything physical we ever try, either. Here is a list of things I know I don’t like: I don’t want you to bite me; I don’t want you to dig your nails into my back; and I don’t want to have sex in the shower – I’ve treated people who hurt themselves doing it. There are things you don’t like, either. Tell me some of them.”

Lea thought for a few moments. “I don’t like anal. For me, personally, that’s an exit, not an entry. Um, I really don’t like being choked. Sex on the beach is a nightmare. Sand in so many places.”

Shaun nodded, as though he was making mental notes. “Is there anything you don’t ever want to try?”

“Golden showers. Scat. Pegging. Threesomes. Group sex. Facials. Open relationships. Swinging. What can I say? I’m a serial monogamist. Uh... usually,” she added, self-consciously, a little bubble of sorta-kinda cheater’s guilt forming in her stomach.

“I stole a kiss, and I asked for a kiss. I’m just as complicit, Lea.”

“Did I push you away? Tell you I couldn’t? Noooooope. Guilty, guilty, guilty. I think a part of your innocence died that day, and it’s all my fault.”

“Oh, Lea, a lot of my innocence has died this week. In general,” Shaun proclaimed. “But I’m okay.”

Lea snickered. “You. I like you.”

“Yes. I like you, too. Are you hungry? I’ll fix you something.”

“If you’re cooking, I’m gonna request that awesome macaroni cheese you made the night I came back. God, it was good. Do you want help?”

“I have to go to the supermarket. I think we have the macaroni and nothing else.”

“Okay. Are you up to driving?”

“Yes. It’s not far. I’ll tell you if I’m nervous.”

“Okay, let’s get dressed and go.”

Returning from the supermarket, Shaun set out his ingredients and tools (‘mise en place’, he explained to Lea, again with that accent).

In hindsight, Lea thought, Jake’s accent on the same phrase had been... pedestrian, at best. She was starting to understand why some women commented: ‘He could literally read me the Goddamn phone book, and I’d still drop my knickers’, when they heard certain accents.

Shaun set a pot of salted water on the stove to boil, and while that was happening, he chopped the bacon, cut open the two bags of cheese (Parmesan and cheddar), set out another pan for putting the bacon on to fry first, and then tore aluminium foil to wrap the cooked bacon in, to keep warm. Finally, he poured milk into a small saucepan to heat.

“I’ll make the roux from the rendered bacon grease,” he explained to Lea. “Possibly a little butter, if I need it.”

“You sure that’s all in hand? That’s three burners going, and heating milk is finicky sometimes. I’m happy to help,” Lea protested, jumping up from her stool.

“Okay. Could you take over the pasta, please?” Shaun relented, after pouring dried macaroni into the water, then moving away and passing the wooden spoon to Lea, who started stirring and taking occasional glances at the clock to time the cooking.

She felt – and saw – Shaun eyeing her, furtive little stares. He pressed down on the bacon with a spatula, listened to it crackle for a few moments, and then turned the burner off. He also turned off the burner with the milk shortly after.

“What?” Lea said, self-consciously touching her hair, like it was out of place, feeling shy under his gaze.

“I’m finding joy in the ordinary,” Shaun said, simply, kissing Lea on the top of her hair, and lingering there for a moment.

“You speak French, don’t you?” Lea asked suddenly, as he pulled away to make the roux, remembering she’d wanted to check on that. “Like, fluently. Or at least conversationally.”

“How do you know that?” Shaun asked, now stirring flour into the pan.

“Your accent is noticeable, even just from short phrases. Do you use it much? I wish I knew a different language. I tried to learn Spanish with Duolingo once. It – uh, didn’t go so well.”

“I can teach you Spanish,” Shaun said, off-handedly. “My Spanish is better than my French.”

“I’m starting to think I dreamed you up. You’re an attentive and generous lover; you speak at least two languages other than English – that I know of; you can cook; you like to clean, for heaven’s sake! Oh, and you went to Harvard, to become a surgeon,” Lea added at the end, almost as an afterthought.

“I’m real,” he replied, shaking pepper into the roux.

“Oh. And just so you know, if I find out you wear glasses occasionally, well, stick a fork in me, I’m done. Then, you can stick something else in me, while wearing said glasses. Thank you!”

“I have considered them,” he replied. “Glasses are something I’m aware I might benefit from, in the future.”

“Anytime soon would be fine. How’s your cheese sauce going? Pasta’s done,” Lea said, turning off the burner.

“The sauce is nearly ready. Just have to add the pasta and the bacon.”

“God, it smells delicious.”

Shaun stirred the hot milk and then the cheese into the roux, letting it bubble and melt for a few minutes. After that, he added the cooked pasta, followed by the bacon, and let the whole thing heat for a few more minutes.

Meanwhile, Lea set out bowls, glasses, and a trivet, then took out flatware and a ladle from a drawer. She poured La Croix into their glasses.

“It’s not the healthiest thing I can make,” Shaun said, almost by way of an apology, lifting the pan and bringing it to the counter island, setting it down on the trivet.

“Hey, it’s home-cooked. I’m calling it ‘healthy’,” Lea pronounced, ladling pasta into a bowl. “This is yours. Say ‘when’.”

“Thank you,” Shaun said, accepting the bowl from Lea, and sitting down at the counter. Lea served herself next, then took a seat next to him.

“So, the French, and the Spanish,” Lea began between mouthfuls, waving her fork around. “How’s that?”

“I studied them to distract myself when I spent too long with my medical textbooks,” Shaun explained. “And this is California: speaking Spanish may help me in my job. The French was in case I worked in Canada.”

“Can you say something? I mean, it’s good I’m sitting down now, you know. It might... do things to my knees when I hear it.”

Shaun thought for a moment. “Vous êtes la plus belle femme que j'aie jamais vue. Soy el hombre más afortunado del mundo.”

“That was both French and Spanish in there,” Lea noted. “Are you trying to make me collapse? Keep going: you’re almost there.”

Shaun shrugged, nonchalantly. “You weren’t specific about which language you wanted to hear.”

“Are you going to translate?” Lea asked.

“Hmm. No. Not now,” Shaun answered politely, gathering up their empty bowls, glasses and flatware, plus the cooking pots, and loading the dishwasher.

Much later that night, when they were settled in Shaun’s new bed, he leaned over to Lea, and whispered in her ear, “You are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. I’m the luckiest man in the world.”

Lea felt her face go warm, and in reply, she expressed some sentiments of her own, by way of kisses, cuddles, and a few other little things she wanted to offer up.

Shaun understood exactly what she was trying to say.