When he called that night, Alex figured the chances he was cancelling again were drastically low, but still there. Especially after she’d called him that morning, still staring at the great flower arrange—roses. Roses were never cliché, they could never be overdone. Roses were roses, the same way passion was passion, just never quite enough; somethings could transcend time unharmed, like fine wine—better with time. Classy. Traditional. Consistent. Alex loved them. But roses were a long way from washing away her personal vendetta. She’d make him squirm a bit.
“I see you got my flowers.” He’d chuckled.
“They’re astounding. But I eat lunch-.”
“At your desk.” Elliot finished. “Do you also eat dinner at your desk?”
Alex took a rose from the arrange and brought it close to her nose, then brushed a petal between her fingers, soft like she imagined his fingers to be.
“Then you’ll be having it with me.”
“Too authoritarian. Rephrase.”
He chuckled, “Will you have dinner with me?”
“Too pleading. Try again.”
“Have dinner with me, Alexandra.”
“It’ll be my pleasure, Mr. Masters.”
And when she picked up her phone that night, what Alex could think about was how afraid she was he’d bail on her like the last time.
“Hey. I don’t think I’ll find any parking around your building...”
“Yeah, nobody does.” She said and couldn’t help the relieved smile. “I’ll meet you downstairs.”
Only then she understood Elliot probably wanted to pick her up at the door — which wasn’t the best idea, considering she’d have Aunt Elida looking over her shoulder —, romantic style and all, but couldn’t find a handicapped spot to park. She hadn’t really thought about that, but the intention was nice enough to make her stomach warm in the sweetest ways.
“Not a problem. I’ll be down there in a sec.”
Alex grabbed her jacket from the couch and kissed Aunt Elida’s cheek. “Have a good night!” she shouted as Alex ran to the door.
As soon as she left her building, Alex looked around and found Elliot; he was driving a Civic Touring and she had to smile as she ran to the sedan and knocked on the window. He looked up and put his phone away, his eyes lightening up at her sight.
“Hey.” Alex closed the door behind her. She had butterflies in her stomach. They hadn’t paid her a visit in a while, but now seemed to be a regular.
“You look great.” He said.
“Oh, this old thing?” She grinned. “You don’t look so bad yourself.”
Not so bad at all. If she had thought he was sexy the first time she saw him, he was ten times sexier now. He’d clearly put some thought into looking terribly good, and his perfume was taking over the car, but not in a way that made her beg for fresh air — just enough to get her desperately filling her lungs every second and leaning slightly toward him to get more of that inebriating male, yet sweet, scent. The sleeves of his white dress shirt were rolled up his elbows, but in a way that was carefully thought not to cause any wrinkles, not like it had been back at the bar. She could see his exposed toned arms, — not only toned, but really muscled — and she noticed a tattoo popping out along his left bicep, but she couldn’t make out what it was. Alex was left curious, but not enough to ask. She’d rather find out at the right time, if you get what I mean.
“Shall we?” He asked, as if waiting for her to do her check up.
“Yes, sir.” She nodded. Alex hoped she wasn’t smiling like an idiot the entire time. “Nice ride”
He turned the key in the ignition and turned to face her with a grin. “Oh, this old thing?”
She couldn’t help the giggles. Alex couldn’t tell if it was from nervousness or something else. “It’s just funny.”
Alex touched the familiar headboard.
“We drive the exact same car.”
He raised his eyebrows in genuine surprise. “It’s fate, I’m telling you.”
It sure was. If only the car was the only ride he owned that gave them something in common.
“I’d think I was getting inside my own if it wasn’t for the…”
Alex felt her cheeks heat. As soon as she got inside, she’d noticed it, a black lever right next to the steering wheel, almost unnoticeable to someone who wasn’t looking for it, like she’d been. She’d also noticed the disassembled wheelchair parts in the backseat, and supposed he usually put them exactly where she was sitting. Her heart fluttered inside her chest, even just thinking about it.
“That too, but I was going to say the cross.” She pointed to the inconspicuous pendant hanging on the rearview mirror, a simple silver cross she wouldn’t have noticed if she hadn’t been really paying attention.
“Oh. That. My grandma gave it to me when I took my driver’s license, for protection or something.” Elliot seemed to blush too, but since the light was dim, she couldn’t be sure. “It’s worked so far.”
That also meant it hadn’t been a car accident, right?
“Are you a Christian?” The question escaped her lips before she could stop it.
Religion. Doing great, Alex.
Elliot seemed to ponder for a moment. “Sometimes. You?”
“I went to Sunday school… Twice. But I’m baptized. Don’t worry, you won’t burn.” She patted his shoulder mockingly, possibly an excuse to touch him, and Elliot felt solid beneath her hand, which she quickly retracted, afraid he’d notice the way the blush in her cheeks got darker the longer she had her hand on him.
He gave her a sideways glance.
“I wasn’t worried about that.”
He had picked the place before she could give any suggestions. It was a nice strategy, Alex supposed, to prevent her from suggesting an inaccessible place and making their night an awkward dance around the proverbial elephant, or just outright impossible. Again, she wondered if it was a thing that happened with a certain frequency—if someone had ever invited him to a place and asked if he couldn’t just climb the four steps, as if he’d been using the wheelchair all along just for chillin’. But the same way Alex would never miss it, he’d soon find out she would never disregard it or forget it either. It was probably best that way, though— it didn’t matter how much she thought she knew about that matter, there were things she couldn’t really predict herself. So when he parked in the handicapped spot of a french restaurant, she at least didn’t regret his choice.
“It’ll probably be easier if you get out first.” He said as she unbuckled, already fully expecting him to say so.
Alex hopped out of the car and went around it to meet him at the driver’s side. He was attaching the wheels to the frame, still buckled to the seat to—she supposed—compensate for his weak trunk muscles. Then he put one of his fist on the cushion of the chair and transferred in one smooth move, pulling his legs from under the knees and adjusting his feet onto the single footplate. Just then he raised his eyes and caught hers, and she probably looked as if she’d been staring. She hadn’t meant to, but what was she supposed to do? Whistle and pretend she wasn’t seeing him? Instead of quickly looking away, Alex smiled at him and to her surprise, he smiled back.
“Let’s go.” Elliot pushed back and closed the door with his elbow, then expertly spun his chair around in one fluid movement that made her wonder just how long he’d been using it.
Alex followed behind him, having some trouble to keep up with his powerful strokes, but enjoying looking at the way his muscles moved beneath the white shirt. His backseat wasn’t as low as she’d seen before, but a little bit too low for a quad, not even reaching his armpits, no handles. He seemed to notice how she was staying behind and slowed down a little. Alex felt her ankle throb in protest and tried to favor her left leg as they went up the ramp to the restaurant.
A beautiful, long legged hostess greeted them at the entrance— or better yet, greeted Alex, not even acknowledging his presence.
“Do you have reservations?” The hostess asked. “Maybe in a table closer to the entrance, in case he has some trouble when you push him.”
Alex was taken aback. She blinked, utterly shocked by the woman, and looked down at Elliot, who didn’t look insulted and outraged, much like Alex herself felt. He looked almost indifferent, except for the way his jaw was set and the extreme amount of pressure he applied to the push rims of the chair.
“He’ll do just fine and is able to answer his own questions, thank you very much,” Elliot answered in a clear, constrained voice that almost made Alex feel ashamed in the woman’s behalf. “Reservations under Masters, if you will.”
The woman blinked, completelu flustered, apparently taken aback both by his ability to speak and the cutting words he’d said, and checked her tablet, her long, manicured nails tapping loudly and nervously against the screen.
“P-please, follow me.”
Elliot exchanged a look with Alex before pressing his lips together in a funny smile she quickly shared with him. He lowrred his eyes for a fraction of moment, “Sorry.”
For what? She wanted to ask, but soon they were moving inside the restsurant. This time Elliot was behind her, probably admiring her exposed legs just as she had admired his back. At least she hoped so.
The table was right next to a big corner window and had one chair moved out, where Elliot parked his chair. The place was dim lit, with a terrific view of the city. She could easily imagine the woman next table drinking sparkly champagne and feeling something slightly different at the end of the glass, like a ring. It felt intimate enough, even though there were several other couples around them.
“Nice place,” she told him, wondering if he had taken many women there. Maybe at that very same table. It made her slightly jealous, although for no reason at all. “Have you been here before?”
“Yeah. I came here a while ago,” he had a smile taking over her lips. Having good memories, Elliot? She moved uncomfortably in her chair.
“And did you find the service to be satisfactory?” she had tried to come up with a teasing line.
“Well, my company certainly liked it better.” He added with a teasing smirk: “She’s keen on being coddled for Mother’s Day.”
She lowered her eyes, a soft blush creeping up her neck and a sheepish grin taking over her lips.
When the garçon arrived, speaking with a strong french accent, Alex answered him in his mother language, hers too, and his eyes lit up. When he left with their order and she looked over at Elliot again, he was smiling.
“You speak french.”
Alex shrugged. “One of my two talents.”
“What’s the other one?”
“A lady doesn’t tell.” She batted her eyes, crossing her fingers under her chin. She received the sweet sound of his laugh as music to her ears. It was contagious. Her smile seemed permanently etched onto her face, so wide that at times she could feel her gums exposed.
When their meals arrived, Alex watched, but trying not to, as he took off the fingerless gloves by hooking his thumb under the velcro straps and using the edge of the table to pull it off. He hid them out of sight, under the table, on his lap, and then locked his blue eyes with hers, as if challenging her to look elsewhere, guilty like a child caught doing something she wasn’t supposed to, maybe even put off by how impaired his hands looked. But Alex held his gaze, defiantly. She might have even shot him a sideways smile of her own, and was met with a low chuckle and an almost imperceptible head shake. Maybe realizing he would have a lot of trouble scaring her away.
Elliot seemed to have plenty of function in his wrists and he used it and his curled, paralyzed fingers to grab the fork. The wine glass was easier, as he only had to fit it between his knuckles and raise it to his lips like a chalix, or a wine snob, or a quadriplegic. The meal was great, but his company was even greater. The more they talked, the more Alex wanted to talk—they went through every subject that weren’t supposed to be discussed on first dates, and then Alex monopolized their entire conversation on art —which was great, because they could talk about politics, history and religion all in one.
“You’d think an architect would spend more time around art, but these days it’s mostly designing the same houses, the same buildings, over and over again. It can get repetitive.”
“Why did you choose it, then?”
“ I love to think that architecture is our fingerprint in this world. Look at the Pyramids, or l’Arc de Triomphe, even the Empire State Building. It’s art and history and politics. It’s just hard to connect to this side sometimes, when we’re not looking back.”
He was staring at her with a funny look.
“You’re one of a kind, Alexandra.” Alex averted her eyes to her dessert. “And now you’re blushing. Which is interesting, considering how confident you are.”
“I’m not that confident.” He cocked an eyebrow as to remind her how they’d met and she added with a chuckle. “I mean. I guess I am. I wasn’t even drunk.”
It took a moment for her to realize how that last sentence had sounded—as if the only way she’d approach him was if she had had a drink or two. And judging by how he lowered his eyes to his lap, where his hands sat quietly—she’d noticed, after having tried to hold the tiny dessert spoon but not quite managing to grasp it between his fingers like the bigger cutlery, and just discreetly not eating his dessert at all—, his smile partially gone.
She needed to save herself. Quickly.
“It’s just the first time I do that. Approaching a guy, I mean.”
He seemed to analyze her face.
“It’s a lot of firsts.”
Not as many as you’d like to believe.
When the check arrived, again Alex observed as Elliot balanced the pen between his index and middle fingers, moving his arm to sign his name. She followed behind him in silence as they crossed the restaurant towards the exit; he expertly maneuvered his chair around the tables, attracting some looks as they passed by. Alex could tell they were wondering, and she quietly placed her hand over his shoulder, as not to raise any doubts of where they were at. She got a fuzzy, warm feeling inside her stomach by being seen as his date. He glanced at her, a look in his eyes she couldn’t quite make out.
“It’s annoying at first, but you get used after some time.” Alex supposed he was referring to the stares. It also meant he was thinking about her in the long term, which was more than fine.
She smiled and felt the powerful muscles in his shoulder move from under her hand when he gave the first push down the ramp, popping a wheelie and then just let gravity do its work, the push rims rolling freely and smoothly through his palms, touching it only to slow down as he got close to the end of the ramp and set the caster wheels on the ground. His right knee began to jump up and down and he discreetly placed his fist over his bouncing thigh, as if massaging it, as he waited for her to come down as well, as Alex was kind of slow because of her ankle. She noticed how his feet were misaligned now, one shoe slightly over the other because there wasn’t much space for it to move around instead of forward; his chair was definitely made to fit his measurements, better than a glove, the single footplate placed in a way that made his legs stay close together and his feet slightly under the chair, his knees in an angle.
“Needing a ride, slug?
“Funny.” she held onto the railing, almost completely finished with the ramp.
Shs shook her head. “It’s just the high heels.”
He rolled his eyes. “Women.”
“More like Alex.”
Alex felt her ankle throb in protest and silently hissed in pain when she rushed to follow him in the parking lot. Instead of making his way to the driver’s side, much like a gentleman, Elliot opened the passenger door and gestured her in. She smiled, knowing it had been some time since someone had opened doors for her, but couldn’t help the wince when she stepped inside the car.
“What’s wrong, Alex?” He insisted, noticing the grimace on her face.
She shook her head. “It’s nothing.”
“It’s something.” Elliot insisted, eyebrows drawn together in what she thought was the cutest concerned face she’d ever seen. “You’ve been cursing at every step since we got here.”
“I’m pretty sure I haven’t.” he gave her a look and so she rolled her eyes. “It was mostly in my head.”
“I didn’t think you’d hear it.”
“Every breath you took was a fuck fuck fuck fuck. Pretty hard not to.” He smiled and she smiled back.
“I’m just thinking that maybe the high heels weren’t such a good idea.” Alex admitted. “I think I hurt my ankle yesterday. It was fine today, but I probably shouldn’t have pushed it.”
“For high heels.” He shook his head. “Alex. Let me see it.”
“No, it’s fine. It happens to the girls at the team all the time, I’ll just-”
“Let me see it, Alex.” His voice wasn’t pleading, but it was asking. A little voice inside her head told her it was for the best if she didn’t argue.
She swallowed hard and lifted her foot off the ground, grateful for the relief but not quite—her heart seemed to look for a way out of her chest, beating so loud she was afraid he could hear it too. He closed the distance between his chair and the car and parked right in front of her at a slight angle. Alex was biting the insides of her mouth in anticipation when she raised her right leg and rested it over his lap. Elliot again got rid of the fingerless gloves, this time without the help of the edge of the table, using his teeth to do the job. She swallowed hard, feeling the cold night breeze send shivers up her arms and exposed legs. When he touched her ankle, she felt a shiver going down her spine too and couldn’t help the twitch of her leg.
“Sorry. It’s really swollen.” He said, barely a whisper facing her with a sheepish look. She wanted to tell him it wasn’t the pain, but his rough but warm, delicate but calloused palms touching her skin He glanced down again, this time at the lace of the stilettos around her ankle, the clasp clearly an obstacle to his paralyzed hands. She hadn’t predicted this. Elliot fiddled with it with his knuckles, soft and warm, brushing against her skin, unsuccessfully trying to open it. “May I?”
She nodded, even though she didn’t know to what she’d just consented. Alex was surprised when he used one of his arms as leverage and bent down, leading his mouth to her ankle. Every inch of her body was alive when his lips touched her skin in a soft kiss, his breath lingering for a moment. She was no longer aware of her absence of clothes—rather, she wanted to be wearing less, much less, than that tiny black dress. He used his arm to push himself up again, blue eyes on hers, a mischievous look on his face.
“Oh.” Was about all she could say. He chuckled, then pulled her shoe off without meeting the resistance of the lace around her ankle. Silly Alex. He hadn’t kissed her leg—he’d undone the clasp. “Oh!”
He cupped her heel with his palm, then moved her feet in circular motions. She hissed, the pain shooting up her leg.
“Sorry. You should see a doctor, Alex.”
He chuckled again. Alex closed her eyes as he moved his palms up and down around her ankle, almost reaching her knee. She wished for more, but they were outside a restaurant. That was their first date. They couldn’t-
His palm reached her thigh. She opened her lids and found his blue eyes staring straight inside hers, a smile still playing on his lips.
And Alex did. She scooted to the edge of the car seat, where he wrapped his strong arm around her waist, urging her to his lap. And there she was, exactly where she wanted to be, sitting across his still, bony legs, resting her hand on his strong, muscled chest. It felt oddly comfortable, with his hand placed on her thigh, eyes still on hers, vivid as ever, looking for something in her face. A trace of hesitation? He could look, but wouldn’t find it.
“Are you going to kiss me first?” She asked, inebriated by his perfume, his shampoo, his aftershave, his scent—whatever about him that could have that effect on her.
Elliot chuckled and his breath smelled of the good wine they’d had earlier. She could feel him with every fiber of her being—how his hand trailed its way from her back to her neck, then her cheek, leaving a burning, chilling trail behind where his knuckles touched her skin. Alex leaned into his touch and to her pleasant surprise, he caressed her lips with his thumb.
“Then rush before I take the chance away from you.”
He smiled. Okay, he mouthed. Alex didn’t even have time to think about how adorable the expression marks around his mouth were when he smiled that wide, or how his thigh twitched with a spasm under hers. All she could think about was how he closed the gap between their mouths in a kiss that seemed to last a million years.