Isabel closed the door and felt her insides shatter. She rested her forehead against the cold wood and closed her eyes as they flooded with tears. Damn him, damn you, Eli. Not you. She heard the bip of the elevator and the distant sound of it opening and closing again. Then the devastating silence that followed announced an empty hallway that echoed in her empty heart. He was gone. Gone. And with him all her hopes, all her happiness vanished and suddenly she was drowning again in the untamed ocean; her head underwater; her body being dragged by a storm that drained her will to live. The world turned around her in big waves that swallowed her, pulled her to the ground beneath. And she fell, fell into the deep sea, her legs unable to hold her up anymore. She covered her face with both hands and wept. Crumbled on the floor, holding her knees, she gasped for air but all she could take in was sadness, she couldn’t breathe. She felt her weight whipped by the current and her body swirling under as the liquid swamped her lungs. All her dreams slipped from her grasp like water and there was nothing to keep her afloat, her hands helplessly reaching out for something, but there was nothing to hold on to and everything was dark. Her beacon of light had gone off.
She cried herself to sleep, that night and many that followed. She would wake up with an emptiness inside her throat that suffocated her. What a terrible feeling of need, of actual necessity. The abstinence of his touch made it hard to breathe, as if he was the very air that had kept her alive this long. She felt hopeless, quite literally so, because Eli’s image represented hope to her. Hope was what she had felt the first time she had laid eyes on him. Hope that she had finally found him, the one she had been waiting for. Hope that she would finally feel happy and complete.
At that moment she had felt so lucky, because she already liked him, even before she’d met him. First she had liked his building, then she had liked his voice. She had played a game of imagining the features behind that voice for weeks. Starting with the mouth, what his lips would look like, straight and white teeth to go with them, and the wrinkles around his mouth as he smiled, -she could hear him smile shyly across the line- then his hand over his cheek as he talked over the phone, elbow on the desk, black suit jacket and white shirt. Two fingers close to his ear, his earlobe which she would nibble on with her words. Short brown hair, and then she would take a step back and watch his strong back as if she were standing behind him, because she could never quite picture his eyes or his look.
And it had been precisely that what she had noticed first when she had finally met him, his hazel eyes and deep look. Yes, she had noticed that before noticing the chair. And those eyes had made her smile right then and there. Then she had tried hard to keep the smile in because… well. He was perfect for her. Perfect. For. Her. So when she saw him, she knew it was hope, and luck. And she wouldn’t screw it up. She had waited long enough to find him.
But now he was gone and it had all been for nothing. She hadn’t been that lucky after all. Had he not been the one? He had to be because there could be no one else, and that was what made it so unbearable. The fact that she knew that she would never like anyone else the way she had liked Eli. No, not liked, loved, she corrected herself. She loved Eli, utterly and without mistake, she loved him.
But did he love her? She had thought so, she had been certain and yet… It had caught her so off guard, that’s why it had knocked her off her feet, made her lose her balance. She checked her phone for the third time in only a few minutes, hopeful, and found nothing but disappointment on the screen. After a few days she told herself to stop expecting, yet her hand shook when she touched the cellphone inside her pocket. Why didn’t he call? Did he not feel this same need? Did he not love her? Why hadn’t he come to find her? Had she been too rough on him? Maybe she had overreacted. Maybe she shouldn’t have told him to leave. Maybe she should be the one to call him, but every time she picked up the phone, she just couldn’t do it. What would she say? Did she want him to apologize? Did she want him to beg? No. What she wanted was for him never to have thought that about her. She was so disappointed, so hurt. No. She didn’t want to call him. She didn’t want to talk to him. And yet, she couldn’t bear not hearing his voice.
She spent a few days without even attempting to get out of bed. She kept her pajamas on. She had no appetite. She let work accumulate in her computer and ignored phone calls from her company not caring about anything else in the world, thinking about nothing but Eli, feeling nothing but the pain.
She considered quitting her job not to have to face Eli ever again but she cared about her boss way too much to leave him hanging. Apart from Eli, Mr. Yamada was the only other person Isabel cared about in the world. He was a sweet old man that had come to think of Isabel as a daughter and it seemed heartless of her to repay him like that. Finally, she forced herself to resume working, but it costed her all of her willpower to get up and work. She couldn’t bring herself to see Eli though, so she did everything she could to avoid him.
At nights however, when there was no work left to distract her, all she wanted to do was throw herself in bed and weep. Lately it was easier to lose herself in the fantasies. Indulge in the images from her mind and see his face, his hands and strong arms. His big shoulders, his shy smile. To imagine to touch, casually, perhaps even inadvertently, his leg, or to slide her hand down from his strong chest to his abdomen.
Her hand sled down under her panties instead.
To lie down next to him, pressing herself against his thighs.
And she applied that pressure with her hand.
To feel his body.
She moved her hand a bit, lower.
To put one leg over his.
Her fingers submerged inside her.
To have him in front of her, to touch him.
She touched herself instead.
To actually kiss him and be kissed back.
She moaned as her pelvis sway.
To have him.
Her fingers travelled deeper.
To have him.
She moaned louder. She felt the pleasure beating inside her and she turned sideways against a pillow, mimicking the feel of his skin and his relaxed muscles.
To hug him.
She felt the waves taking over her.
To love him.
She let go with one last push of her fingers and gave into the sensation of completion.
To be loved back.
She let go of the pressure in her hand but kept her fingers inside and she cried. The tears shook her following the rhythm of her orgasm, and then the pleasure was gone but the shaking continued and she cried harder, drowning her tears in the mattress, turning on her stomach to control the weeping. She pressed her face against the soft sheets and wrapped her free hand around the fabric. She couldn’t touch him, couldn’t feel him. He wasn’t there.
The following days Eli felt like he was running on automatic. He wasn’t terribly depressed; sure, he was sad, but not suicidal sad. He was drinking a couple of scotches a day, but he hadn’t gotten drunk. He didn’t feel like getting up in the mornings, but he did anyway. Every day he got out of bed, did his morning routine, had coffee, sometimes toast for breakfast, then he’d go to work and used all of his willpower to focus his mind in the building and nothing more.
He hadn’t talked to Matt, but he knew from Jenna he had called his office every day. He didn’t ask to talk to Eli; he simply asked Jenna if he was doing ok, which made Eli even angrier because it had tipped Jenna on the whole thing, the fight with Matt, the break up with Isabel, and now Jenna was acting vigilant, as if she was expecting Eli to drop crying at any time.
Surely Matt was expecting the same thing. He was probably worried Eli would try to kill himself, a fact that also insulted Eli. He hadn’t tried it before, when he was first told he’d be a cripple for the rest of his life, and he sure as hell wasn’t going to kill himself now, not over a woman, not even over Isabel. Matt had sent Sarah to check in on him, both to the apartment and to his office. But Eli had just sent her away, as politely as possible. He didn’t want to talk to her either.
He did however feel a tad of guilt about what he had yelled at Matt; just not enough to apologize. In his defense, Matt definitely had it coming. Eli was still outraged every time he thought back at that moment, and he felt anger rise up again as he remembered Matt’s nerve. The one thing he regretted was having told him Isabel was the only person who had been there for him, because that was definitely not true. Actually, what Isabel had done didn’t exactly qualify as being there for him. She had never actually helped him with anything, unlike Matt and Sarah who had pretty much taken care of him in every possible way, not just related to his disability, but even before that. It had been really cruel to say that to Matt, cruel and ungrateful.
As for Isabel, she had avoided seeing him, checking the building progress mostly through Jenna and a few emails which were cold and distant. Eli was surprised of how fast and slow, at the same time, days seemed to go by, and how easily it appeared Isabel and he were drifting apart; as if the two of them had just been casual acquaintances whose lives didn’t converge further than the common work project at hand. He tried not to think too much about it, although, to be honest, Isabel’s face appeared in his mind constantly. He usually managed to push away conscious thoughts about their relationship, but the plastic image of her was stuck in his brain as if it were carved inside him and he was unable to remove it.
It was useless to deny that he felt a sting of pain in his chest every time he heard Isabel’s name come out of Jenna’s mouth, or as the six letters appeared on his screen when he received an email. In the few reflecting moments he would allow himself, mostly at nights, he had decided that she was right about almost everything: he had been a coward to doubt her, and he had insulted her and –perhaps more importantly– himself, by not believing her love was honest. Yes, she was too beautiful for a cripple, but that thought diminished her; it simplified her only to a pretty face, when in truth Isabel was so much more than that. She could not be defined by her physical appearance and that’s what she had meant when she had kept repeating that Eli didn’t see her, that he had never really seen her.
He regretted that most of all, the fact that he had set aside everything Isabel was, her candidness, her affable ease, the childish way in which she experienced the world, her passion; all the things he loved about her. Loved. He loved her and he couldn’t foresee a near future in which that feeling would go away. He’d have to wait it out. In the end, time would do what it always does, and bury the feeling enough for him to be able to go on living. Living? Was this life, this continuous string of meaningless events that filled one day after another, in a tiresome passing of irrelevant and yet relentless succession of time?
Perhaps it wouldn’t always be like this. Perhaps, after a few months or maybe a couple of years had gone by, he would slowly start to feel alive again. He wondered if there was anything he could do to speed the process and, one morning, he drank a glass of scotch in one gulp and put on his old swimsuit. It didn’t fit him entirely well, his legs been too bony now and his buttocks almost completely gone; but he left it on anyway and threw a towel over his skinny legs before riding the elevator to his building’s pool.
It was early and the pool was empty, a fact he was grateful for. It took him a few minutes to figure out how to get in and out of the pool, at least in theory, he’d have to try and see if it worked. Worst case scenario he would get stuck inside and have to call out for help. He was really hoping that wouldn’t be the case. So finally, he pulled himself together and threw his helpless body onto the ground. From there, using the stairs rail as support, he pulled himself to a sitting position at the edge of the pool. He had to use his hands to carry his legs and throw them into the water. He didn’t feel them getting wet, which still baffled him. It was so weird not to have sensation of things he should. Finally, making use of all his courage, he simply tipped forward and let gravity do the rest. He felt a moment delay before the water wet his chest and face. That, he could feel, and he went under the water for a few seconds before he started moving his hands to pull himself out and hold on to the edge.
Ok, he was inside. He took a deep breath before letting go of the safety of the edge and swing his arms back and forth to keep afloat. When he felt sure enough he wouldn’t sink, he tried moving around the pool and finally he felt secure enough to take a few laps. After about only twenty minutes, he was exhausted and dragged himself towards the spot where he had dug in. He grabbed the rail again and pulled his upper body up on the edge of the pool. Then he used his arms to lift his abdomen and ended up flat on his stomach over the tiles surrounding the pool. His legs were still down on the water. He had some trouble turning around, but finally he managed to fall on his back and then sat up by pulling on the handrail once more. Finally, he lifted his legs out of the water and arranged them bent down on the floor.
Over the next few days he perfected his technique until he was able to get in and out of the pool in a series of routine movements that felt, if not easy, at least safe. He also swam for a little while longer each day. By the end of the month he could be in the water for an hour. It felt good. Swimming had always helped to get his mind off things. And even though the pool reminded him of Isabel, it was a good memory and not the torturing thoughts that often assaulted him during the rest of the day. Every morning –as he went into the pool and also once he was out and while he returned to his chair and dried himself out – Isabel’s image appeared in front of him, her perfect body touching his in that one moment when he had made her his, completely.
In his memory he was free to feel her. Even though he knew he hadn’t felt himself inside her, in his mind, he was somehow able to fabricate what it would’ve felt like to have her, really have her. The sensations his body should’ve experienced, even an orgasm. It was a nice fantasy, one he was becoming addicted to.
While he was in the water though, he didn’t think of Isabel or anything else for that matter. As he pushed his arms and chest across the current his mind was blissfully blank.
About a month after their fight, Matt finally came to see him. Eli was surprised he had waited this long. He saw his car in his building’s parking lot and considered going back to the office rather than coming in. But as stubborn as Matt was, he would probably wait for him all night on the doorway. Finally, Eli braced himself and rode the elevator knowing he would find him at his doorstep. He saw him as soon as the doors opened, leaning in against the wall and he watched him sigh as he rolled towards him.
“Hey man,” Matt said lowly.
“What are you doing here?” Eli felt resentment crawling up despite himself.
Matt took a deep breath. “I came to apologize,” he said. “Can I come in?” he added when Eli didn’t answer.
It took Eli a moment, but finally he nodded. He unlocked the door and they both went inside.
“Eli…,” Matt started after a moment of uncomfortable silence. He was standing in the middle of the living room and Eli had to look up at him to meet his eyes. “I’m so sorry I messed things up for you with Isabel. I’ll go talk to her and apologize…”
“Don’t,” Eli caught him of. “Just don’t,” he said harsher than he had meant to.
“Stop meddling,” Eli couldn’t restrain himself. He was still so angry.
“Look man, I get it, ok. I’m really sorry I interfered. I’ll fix it.”
“How? By meddling again? Why don’t you just mind your own business for once? I can deal with my own problems.”
Matt took another deep breath and he looked at Eli the way he had for the last year and a half, with visible pain in his eyes.
“Stop it! Stop looking at me like that!”
Matt didn’t seem to understand. He curved his eyebrows upward even further and Eli feared Matt would start crying. Eli breathed in to calm himself down. He wanted to apologize for what he had said that day, but the words just wouldn’t come out of his mouth. He was still too angry.
“I know you’ve been there for me,” he started, but he couldn’t stand to look at Matt, if only he would stop looking at him like that, he couldn’t bear the pity in his eyes. He felt anger rise up again across his chest, crossing his throat, all the way to his mouth. “But that doesn’t give you the right to patronize me and treat me like a child. Just ‘cause I’m paralyzed it doesn’t mean I’m stupid. I can make my own decisions. It’s my life!” The image of Matt ramming at Isabel in that same living room clouded his sight. The look of disappointment on her face, the pain in her eyes. “My life,” he yelled, “and I don’t want you in it!”
Matt stared at him, his mouth was slightly opened. He seemed as if Eli had just punched him. Eli held his gaze though, blinded by anger.
“Do you mean that?” Matt asked barely above a whisper.
“Yes,” Eli answered too soon, too roundly, too angry…
Matt turned around just as Eli started to quiver, he walked to the door before he managed to take his hand to his rims and walked out just as Eli began to regret his words.
About a week after that, Eli heard his doorbell ring. Sarah hadn’t shown up in the last week, not since Eli had told Matt he didn’t want him in his live. For a second he hoped, almost begged that it was her, or Matt, or… No, Isabel wouldn’t come. But Matt might. He hated the way they had left things. He hated himself for what he had said to Matt, and yet he hadn’t called him. Eli wasn’t ready to deal with him yet. He rolled to the interphone and picked up.
“Eli, darling, it’s Gretel,” he heard Ms. Mason’s voice.
“Gretel?” Eli asked back into the interphone surprised.
“Can I come up?” He heard her voice again after a second of silence.
“Oh, yeah of course,” Eli buzzed her in wondering what she was doing there. Had Matt told her about their fight?
He rolled to the door and opened it before she arrived. A few minutes later, Gretel Mason came out of the elevator. She was as impeccable as always, dressed in a simple blue dress and matching jacket. She gave Eli a disapproving yet tender smile and then she leaned in and hugged him.
“Hey, Gretel,” Eli greeted her and his voice faltered. He was glad when she let go, afraid he might’ve started crying if she had held her embrace any longer. “Come in,” he invited her and moved out of the way.
Gretel Mason had only been in his apartment once before, right after he had moved back after being injured. She took a quick look around and sat on the couch. Eli took a deep breath.
“Can I get you something to drink?” he offered.
“Water, please,” she nodded.
He heard her get back up and follow him as he wheeled to the kitchen. He poured her some water and turned around to hand it to her. Then they went back into the living room and she sat back down on the couch. Eli parked in front of her but kept his distance.
“So, what’s going on, Eli?” Gretel asked him without further ado.
“Matt’s a wreck,” Gretel continued once she noticed Eli wasn’t going to talk. “I don’t know what happened between the two of you but I can’t let it go on.”
“Matt and Sarah didn’t tell you?”
Gretel shook her head. “Sarah said you and Matt had a fight,” she looked straight at him with inquisitive eyes. “Over Isabel,” she added.
Eli snorted. Then he debated whether to tell her or not the rest of the story. “Matt thinks Isabel is a gold digger,” he let out and it was as if the dam had broken and suddenly he felt the need to tell her everything. “He thought so from the first moment he laid eyes on her, ‘cause she’s too pretty to go out with a cripple.” Gretel’s eyebrows curled up but he didn’t stop speaking. “Sarah thought so too at first, but then she changed her mind, I think, after Christmas, I’m not sure. Matt had backed off from the subject but then he ran into someone and he actually had the nerve to confront Isabel about it. But none of that is the problem, the problem is that I thought Isabel was a gold digger.” Gretel frowned, but he didn’t give her a chance to interrupt, he had to keep going. “Now Isabel is gone and I was awful to Matt, awful, but even though I feel terrible about it, I’m so angry at him that I can’t bring myself to apologize, I can’t even look at him!” Eli finished and huffed again. He wasn’t sure he had made much sense, but he was glad to have it off his chest.
Gretel sighed. “Well, that’s a lot. What do you mean you thought she was a gold digger?” She asked him curling up her eyebrows in disapproval.
“I… well I just wondered why she was with me, you know. She’s so beautiful and I’m…” He stopped.
“Oh Eli!” Gretel shook her head.
“I didn’t think she was with me over money per se, but Matt kept bringing it up and I didn’t want to add to it so I didn’t tell Isabel about the money I inherited. Then we ran into an old college friend and it turned out he and Isabel knew each other, they had gone out and she neglected to tell me about it. I thought he had told her about the money but I asked him about it and he denied it. It just… It didn’t make sense to me, why she would’ve preferred me over him, it didn’t make sense.” Eli shook his head not knowing what else to say.
“Eli, you are an amazing man. Just because you can’t walk it doesn’t mean you can’t be loved by a woman, even one as beautiful as Isabel,” Gretel reached out and grabbed his hand.
“Gretel, I appreciate you thinking so, but the fact is that I’m disabled. I can’t offer her… you know, I can’t be a whole man for her,” he looked down embarrassed.
“Eli, that’s not true. And I’m pretty sure Isabel doesn’t think so either.”
“Melany thought so,” Eli said still keeping his sight down.
“Melany was… She is a cold hearted bitch,” Gretel spat out and Eli looked up at her surprised. It wasn’t like Gretel to speak ill of anyone, let alone use that language. “I’m sorry, but she is. She doesn’t deserve you wasting a moment’s thought on her.”
“Ahh!” Eli sighed. “I know that. And I know Isabel is different but still…”
“She gave me the impression that she sees you for the wonderful person you are. In fact, I would swear she’s head over heels in love with you,” Gretel squeezed his hand in hers.
“I…” Eli shook his head. “It doesn’t matter anyway, because I screwed up big time, and now Isabel won’t speak to me.”
“Well you have to apologize, explain to her…”
“I tried,” Eli interrupted. “I did, but she was so angry. I… She said some pretty hurtful things.”
“We all say things we don’t mean when we are angry. You need to tell her the truth and explain to her why you doubted her, I’m sure if she understood where your insecurity is coming from, she’ll…”
Eli shook his head again stopping her. “I told her. I told her I was scared because she is perfect and I’m… disabled, but that made her even angrier. She said I didn’t get to play the pity card on her. That she had told me over and over again that she didn’t care about me being paralyzed and that just because I couldn’t walk it didn’t make it ok for me to have thought she was after my money. And she’s right. Ever since I was shot I’ve been doing everything I can to get people to stop pitying me. That’s the main problem with Matt, that he acts like I’m a wounded animal. He looks at me like he’s about to cry every time and I… I can’t be with him and not remember that I’m crippled. It wasn’t like that with Isabel. She doesn’t pity me and I love that. How can I ask her to pity me now just because I screwed up?”
“You’re not asking her to pity you. You’re asking her to understand where you’re coming from,” Gretel countered and she put Eli’s hand between both of hers. “Eli, you can’t do everything alone. Nobody could deal with what you’re going through on their own. You need people, Matt, Sarah, Isabel, not because you’re paralyzed, but because you’re human. You have to talk to her again. And to Matt.”
“Oh but I can’t. I can’t Gretel. What if she doesn’t forgive me? What if she rejects me? I couldn’t… I can’t take that…” There, he had said it out loud and it was a revelation for his own ears. He was afraid of Isabel rejecting him, he wasn’t strong enough for that. “If she rejects me, if she doesn’t love me anymore…” He stopped, feeling his voice falter again.
“Oh Eli, darling. Of course, she still loves you. You don’t stop loving people overnight, no matter what they do. She’s just angry.” She rubbed his hand with hers and Eli felt short of breath wishing so hard her words were true. His sight deemed and he used his free hand to wipe the tears. Gretel scooted over in the seat to be close enough to him and she threw her arms around him.
She left about an hour later leaving Eli exhausted. In a way, he felt relieved to have talked to her, but then again, talking about it had made all the feelings he had tried so hard to bury resurfaced. He poured himself a drink feeling overwhelmed. Isabel’s image raw in his mind, consuming him. He took out his cellphone meaning to call her. Half a bottle later he still didn’t have the guts to do so. He went to bed completely drained and sank into a restless sleep.
In the last weeks, Isabel had started going to the construction site usually in the middle of the night or very early in the morning, to avoid running into Eli. That way, she watched the building slowly grow, a metallic skeleton rise from the ground, concrete walls emerging around it, large pieces of glass replacing the emptiness of the windows, pavement cover the uneven ground, a ceiling locking the sky away as summer released its heat upon it. She would park her car in front of it and stare at the enormous building for hours, sometimes through the entire night. Out there, with his creation in front of her, Eli’s absence was more tolerable and it was easier to breathe, easier not to drown in the ruthless storm that she was trapped inside of. While she was looking at that magnificent work of art, she could keep from crying. Out there she could almost stand the pain.
She would let her mind drift back to the good times, fall back into the comfortable ease of being in Eli’s arms, in bed, on the couch, resting her head over his legs and looking up at his face as they talked or listened to music; eating his food, watching him cook, touching him. What she missed the most was being able to touch him, all of Eli’s body, while they were making out, but also casually, for no particular reason.
One morning, dawn found her still gazing at that one last piece of Eli she still had. She took one more breath of it before retiring and giving way to the tempest. She started the car and drove away from it, feeling air escape her grasp once more. As the image shrank in her rearview mirror, tears blurred her sight again. Why wouldn’t the pain stop? Time had gone by but the loss still stung as much as that first day. Cars had their lights on under the dimmed sunrise. She watched a distorted image of the road in front of her. She was so tired. She had stayed awake all night, but it wasn’t that kind of tiredness she felt but the lingering fatigue of pain that made her limbs weight a ton. She moved the gear shift and that simple movement represented an extreme effort. Her eyes were swollen from crying and all she wanted to do was close them and fall asleep. She wanted the pain gone, if she slept she wouldn’t feel the pain. She let her foot fall over the accelerator pedal and she felt like she wasn’t strong enough to lift it again. She felt so weak, she was exhausted. All she wanted to do was sleep and forget about the pain. Lights merged inside her wet eyes as the drowsiness sucked her in. One red circle of light called her from the road ahead and she squinted as the darkness set in. She was helpless as her eyelids gave out. The only light was gone.
The phone rang on Eli’s office as he was coming in. He had arrived early and Jenna wasn’t on her desk yet. He gave a hard stroke to his rims to get to it.
“Can I talk to Elijah Brown?”
“This is he.”
“I’m calling from Boston’s General Hospital.”
“We have you listed as Isabel Auburn’s emergency contact.”
Isabel! He felt a blow on his chest.
“Is she alright?” He held the phone tight begging.
“I’m afraid she’s been in an accident.”
The pressure on his chest tightened.
“Is she alright?” He repeated because the voice on the line had gone quiet.
“I don’t have information about her condition. All I know is that she was admitted earlier after a car accident.”
“I’m on my way.” He put the phone down shaking.
No, no, no. Please let her be alright. Please, he begged in his mind. He threw his body forward in a thoughtless impulse trying to get up, forgetting for a second he couldn’t walk. Damn! He put his hands down over his legs to stop from tipping over. Shit! He tried his wheels this time and rolled as fast as he could towards the elevator. He got to the parking lot and threw himself from the chair to the car sit hard, his legs banged against the side of the car and started shaking. He yanked the wheel from the chair using too much strength and the rest of the chair fell over. Damn! He leaned over to get it but he couldn’t reach. He held onto the car’s wheel with one hand and tipped his body as far out as possible to reach it, he held on to it but then he couldn’t get back up. He had to pull it closer to him before lifting it. He let go and pushed back from the floor to straighten his position. He grabbed the chair again, took another try and was finally able to lift it. He let out air, closed the door and hurried to the Hospital.
Eli wasn’t a religious man but now he prayed. Please, please God, let her be alright. He got to the Hospital and felt his stomach turn. Flashes of the day he was shot kept appearing in his memory. He shook his head to get rid of them as he wheeled to the front desk. It was a high desk with glass around it with just a little window on it. Eli couldn’t see above it from his position.
“Excuse me,” he said but no one seemed to listen. “Excuse me!” he almost yelled.
An old woman dressed on a nurse uniform appeared from behind it, apparently standing up to see him.
“Isabel Auburn,” he uttered but the nurse didn’t seem to understand. “I got a call saying she was brought in after a car accident,” he managed to explain.
“Let me look her up,” the woman finally answered and disappeared from his sight again.
After a few seconds that seemed like an eternity to Eli, the nurse reemerged and spoke again.
“Yes, she was admitted earlier, she’s still in the ER, you can wait over there,” she said pointing to the waiting room.
“Is she ok?” Eli asked feeling short of breath.
“I don’t have any information, you’ll have to wait for a doctor to come out. Someone will call for you shortly.” She said all so very calmly, as if the world wasn’t tearing apart.
“Please, can’t you call someone to find out,” Eli begged.
“I’m sorry. You’ll have to wait,” she refused and disappeared again.
Eli took a deep breath that didn’t fill his lungs, and turned his chair around to go to the waiting room. Oh Isabel, please be ok, please. He took his phone out feeling the urge to call Matt, but then he stopped, remembering they weren’t on speaking terms. He parked himself in the middle of the waiting room and rubbed his legs feeling anxiety crawling up his chest.
The longest hour went by and Eli was going crazy. People kept passing by around him, stumbling with his chair. He was in the way, he could tell, but there was no space next to the walls because it was all occupied with long lines of metallic chairs. Finally he decided to wheel back to the front desk.
“Excuse me,” he said again, speaking louder than normal, but still he had to repeat himself. “Excuse me!”
Matt’s mad skills with nurses would sure come in handy now. A woman approached the desk and Eli swallowed his pride and asked her for help.
“Sorry, can you call the nurse for me, I think she can’t hear me,” he said clenching his teeth.
The woman looked down on him with obvious pity in her eyes. “Oh, sure.”
“Excuse me,” she said and Eli heard the nurse answer.
“How can I help you?”
“Oh… eh…” The woman looked back down at him. “What do you want me to ask her?”
Eli sighed. “Can you please ask her if there are any news about Isabel Auburn’s condition?”
The woman nodded and turned back to the glass.
“There’s a man here asking about… Isabel Auburn,” she looked back at him for confirmation on the name. Eli nodded.
Finally the woman’s face appeared into the little window.
“I told you to wait over there, someone would call you shortly. I don’t have that information here,” she said.
“It’s been over an hour. Please I just need to know if she’s ok,” Eli struggled to keep his tone down.
The nurse’s expression softened. “I’m sorry, but I don’t have that information, a doctor needs to come out. Wait over there, they will call you.”
Eli snorted. “Thank you,” he said to the nurse behind the desk and then repeated the word to the woman who had helped him. She gave him a sympathetic look.
Eli wheeled back into the waiting room. He took his phone out again. Perhaps he could call Sarah instead of Matt. He desperately needed to talk to someone, he was going out of his mind. Sarah had become Isabel’s friend, she would come. But he had turned Sarah away, time after time, acting like he didn’t need anyone, resenting her too for what Matt had done. Now he wished he hadn’t pushed them away. He was aware he was being too rough on them, but still, every time he considered apologizing, the words would choke on his throat. Ahh! He put his face between his hands.
“Isabel Auburn’s relatives?” a doctor on blue scrubs walked into the waiting room.
“Here,” Eli pushed his wheels towards him. The doctor looked down to meet his eyes.
“She’s got a concussion and two broken ribs but, all things considered, she was very lucky,” the doctor’s voice seemed to fill Eli’s lungs with air again.
“Oh, thank god,” he let out air relieved. “Can I see her?”
“She’s still unconscious, but they’ve moved her up to a room. There is something else we need to discuss though,” he frowned. “How are you related to her?”
“I’m her… uh…, ex-boyfriend,” he said looking away.
The doctor’s frown accentuated. “I’m afraid I can only let family in,” he said shaking his head.
“She doesn’t have any family,” Eli explained. “Please.”
“It’s hospital policy,” the doctor refused.
“But she’s got no one, I’m her family.”
“I thought you said you were her ex,” the doctor shook his head again.
“Please, I’m listed as her emergency contact,” Eli insisted. He hadn’t known Isabel had listed him as such, but he was grateful. “Please,” he repeated at the doctor’s expression. “I don’t want her to be alone, no one else will come, please.”
The doctor seemed to ponder over it for a few seconds, but finally he nodded.
“Well, since you’re listed as her emergency contact…”
“What else did you want to discuss?” Eli reminded the doctor of his previous words. He hesitated before answering, he seemed to be deciding whether it was appropriate to discuss Isabel’s condition with him or not.
“So she doesn’t have any relatives?” the doctor asked.
“No, I’m afraid not. Just me. She only has me,” Eli said and the sudden realization hit him. He hadn’t thought about it before, but it was true, as far as he knew, he was all Isabel had.
“Ok, then. Are you aware of her feeding disorder?” The doctor asked bluntly with that detached tone he was sadly familiar with.
“At first we thought she had fallen asleep at the wheel. But after seeing her labs, I’m pretty sure she must have fainted from starvation.”
“I’m pretty sure she’s an anorexic.”
“No, she’s not!” No, Isabel was no anorexic. He’d know, she had seen her eat, all the time, she had watched her enjoy everything he cooked for her. She had a healthy appetite… while she was with him… oh no! Isabel’s words echoed in his memory. “I don’t really eat when I’m not with you.” And she wasn’t with him anymore. Oh no! Had she not being eating anything at all?
“Well, she… It’s not like that. She eats… uh… when she’s with me.” Oh no!
“When was the last time you saw her eat?”
“From her lab results I’m pretty sure she hasn’t eaten anything in weeks,” the doctor frowned again.
Oh Isabel! Eli shook his head.
“People who suffer from feeding disorders are often good at hiding it from their relatives and friends. I recommend signing her in for an inpatient program when she wakes up.”
“It’s not like that… Isabel’s not an anorexic. She just… She doesn’t eat when she’s not with me, she… uh…”
“You broke up,” the doctor completed his sentence.
“Yeah,” Eli sighed.
“So, it’s depression?” The doctor had a strange look. Yeah, thought Eli, how could a woman like her be depressed from breaking up with him? He could see the question implicit in the doctor’s expression.
“We… uh… she lost her family… they died…” Eli explained.
“Oh, I see,” the doctor nodded and now he seemed to believe him. “In that case, there are also programs that can help her,” he added. “I’ll send someone to talk to her when she wakes up.”
“Uh… maybe I shouldn’t have told you about that,” Eli thought out loud. The doctor frowned once more. “Can I talk to her first?”
“Yeah, of course. When she wakes up. She’s in room 214.”
“Ok, thank you.”
He went up to the second floor and from there found the room she was in. He took a deep breath before going in but still he was baffled when he saw her. She looked so pale. And skinny. It was obvious she had lost weight. She was lying with her beautiful red hair arranged over the pillow wearing a hospital rub. Her lips had almost no color in them. Oh Isabel! He approached her and parked his wheelchair next to her bed. Then he grabbed her hand. She was cold.
“Oh Is, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry I ever hurt you,” he said out loud knowing she couldn’t hear him. “That was the last thing I ever wanted to do. I’m such an idiot. Please forgive me.” He picked up her hand and kissed it. Then he rubbed it inside his to warm it up.
About twenty minutes later, Isabel opened her eyes. Eli had rested his forehead over her arm and he felt her move under him. He lifted his head up and found her sad eyes staring at him.
“Is,” he whispered relieved to see her awake. She blinked but said nothing. He used his free hand to push a wheel closer and turned to face her without letting go of her hand. Isabel finally parted her big blue eyes from him and looked around. “You’re in the hospital. You were in a car accident,” Eli explained.
Isabel tried to move and he saw her gasp in pain.
“Don’t move,” he urged her. “You have two broken ribs, that’s why it hurts to breathe.”
Was that why it hurt to breathe or was it because he was so close to her? Isabel thought.
“Eli,” she said his name with a soft moan. He could see her chest lifting up in shallow breaths.
“Oh Is,” he whispered and rested his head again against her arm wishing he could stand up over the bed and hug her. “I was so scared. Thank god you’re alright,” he added to himself.
“Eli,” she repeated louder this time. “You’re here,” she said in a strange tone, as if she wasn’t sure if she was dreaming. Eli pushed his right wheel again attempting to get closer but he hit against the frame of the bed.
He stretched his arm out to caress her face. “Is, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” he started but then he stopped, knowing this wasn’t the right time to get on the subject. He forced a wry smile on his face. “The doctor says you haven’t been eating.” Isabel looked away. “Oh Is, I wish I could take it all back. I would do anything to… I’m sorry,” he stopped himself again when Isabel turned back to look at him. “We need to get you better now, ok? You need to eat something, please.” He squeezed her hand.
“Will you cook for me?” She said after a few seconds of silence, in a very low voice, sounding like a scared child. Eli picked up her hand and kissed it softly.
“Of course, baby. Oh, thank god you’re ok,” he replied. He rubbed her arm up and down, she was so cold. He felt her shiver under his touch. “Are you cold?” He asked her.
Isabel nodded so he took his jacket off and covered her with it as best he could. He wasn’t able to reach her other side to fully extend the jacket. He considered circling the bed on his wheelchair but he didn’t want to let go of her hand. He put her arm around her, careful not to hurt her and hugged her side gently, resting his cheek over her arm. Isabel took her other arm out from under the jacket and caressed Eli’s hair.
They stayed that way for a while, until a nurse came in. Eli lifted his head up, and pushed from the bed with his free hand to straighten his position against his backrest. The nurse stared at Eli, and then at Isabel before speaking.
“I’m going to check her vitals now,” she said before moving closer to them. Eli tried to let go of her hand to get out of the way, but Isabel tightened her grip, stopping him. The nurse took the jacket off Isabel and picked up her wrist to check the line that was inserted on her hand.
“She’s cold,” Eli addressed the nurse. “Do you think you could get her a blanket?”
The nurse nodded. Then she approached them and made a gesture with her head for Eli to move.
“I need to check the machine,” she said almost like an apology.
Eli let go of Isabel’s hand, feeling her press his reluctantly, and he backed away. The minute he let go he saw Isabel part her lips and gasp for air. She squinted at him longingly. As soon as the nurse was done, Eli wheeled back to her and grabbed her hand again.
The doctor came in a little after that and talked about her injuries. Then he jumped right in to her feeding habits and started talking about an inpatient program for anorexia and depression. Shit, Eli hadn’t had a chance to talk to her about it yet. Then he mentioned a grief counselor to help dealing with the loss of her family. Isabel turned to look at Eli and he gave her a look trying to apologize. Great, another thing he had to apologize for.
“When can I leave?” Isabel asked when the doctor was done lecturing her.
“Miss Auburn, you’re very lucky to be alive,” the doctor chided her. “You put yourself in serious danger. I can’t let you leave until I’m sure something like that won’t happen again.”
Isabel sighed. “I’ll eat. But I don’t want to be here. You can’t keep me here without my consent,” she said in that unforgiving tone Eli was acquainted with. He was almost glad to watch her speak like that after having seen her lying there so helpless, even though he knew leaving the hospital was reckless.
The doctor stared at her in disbelief.
“I’ll take care of her,” Eli jumped in to settle the doctor.
“I strongly advise against it,” the doctor replied giving them both an angry look. But Isabel seemed to consider the matter settled because she started to get up.
“Hey, Is, hold on. I’ll take you home...” Isabel squinted at him. “With me,” he added at her look. “But not right now, ok? You need to regain your strength, besides, you don’t have any clothes here,” Eli tried to stop her. She gave him a deep stare for a few second but finally she rested her head back on the pillow.
“I’ll go to your apartment to get some clothes for you,” Eli said after the doctor had left, but Isabel shook her head.
“Don’t. Please don’t leave me,” she begged with a shaky voice and pressed his hand.
It was strange to watch Isabel behave like this, so fragile. She was always so strong, so sure of herself. Eli nodded.
“I’ll have Jenna go,” he suggested.
“Thanks,” Isabel replied in a soft tone, and then she looked up at the ceiling, and Eli could tell she was trying not to cry.
“Oh, Is!” he said touching her face and a single tear rolled down her cheek. No, no, was she crying over him? Did she… need him? He had always felt it was the other way around. It was he who needed her so badly. He who should be begging her to stay with him. “Please don’t cry,” he said, and as if he had asked for the opposite, tears wet her face. “I’m right here,” he felt strange to suggest his presence could comfort her, but it seemed that way.
“I’m sorry. I just… I just don’t want you to leave,” she sobbed.
“I won’t leave. Isabel, I’ll always be with you if you let me,” he tried to reassure her but his words seemed to have the opposite effect because she cried even more. “I’m so sorry for everything. I’m so sorry I hurt you. Please forgive me. I was a jerk. I… have no excuse…” he stopped. There would be time to get into it later. “Just, please don’t cry. I can’t bear to see you cry,” he said and wiped her tears with his thumb.
He took Isabel home with him that night, against doctor’s orders. They got to his building parking lot and Eli was sorrier than ever he couldn’t get out of the car before Isabel to help her. Jenna had packed a small bag for Isabel and Eli took it out of the trunk and rested it on his lap. He looked at Isabel. She was hunching down, sort of hugging her own body with her arms. She still looked pale and thin, too thin. Eli wheeled towards her and reached for her hand, Isabel didn’t refuse him but held out her hand for him to grab and looked at him with sad eyes. Could she really be that sad over him? He gave her a reassuring look before letting go of her hand to be able to push his rims. He wondered if he should just ask her to sit on his lap because she looked like she could hardly walk.
Once inside the elevator, he grabbed her hand again and they silently stared at each other until the doors opened with a chime.
Eli unlocked the apartment’s door and then he rolled back to let her get in first. It had been nearly two months since she had last set foot on that apartment. She walked in slowly as if she was struggling to get her bearings. She just stood in the middle of the living room looking around. Eli put the bag down and caught up to her. He grabbed her hand again and gently pulled her down to sit on his lap. She complied. He took a few strokes to wheel them both into the bedroom, close to the bed, but once there he didn’t set her down but covered her with his arms as if he were protecting her. They stayed like that for a while, until Eli kissed her hair and broke the silence.
“You must eat something," he reminded her.
Isabel looked up at him and nodded. She reluctantly got up from his lap and sat on the bed.
“Lie down, I’ll be back in a minute," he said and headed for the kitchen.
Barely a minute later, Isabel joined him.
“I’m sorry, I don’t want to…” be alone, Eli finished the sentence in his mind and answered with an inviting smile.
“Come here you,” he looked around trying to figure out a way to get a chair into the kitchen. Usually, when they were in the kitchen , Isabel would just sit on the counter, but she had two broken ribs and she looked so weak she could barely walk. He had trouble imagining she could just jump up into the counter as swiftly as her usual self. “Hold on, I’ll get you a chair," he said still not knowing how he would do so.
Isabel shook her head. “It’s ok, I’ll sit on the counter," she said and placed her back to it and both her hands over it ready to lift herself. But even speaking had caused her effort and Eli could tell every gasp of air hurt her because of her broken ribs. He wheeled up to her and placed both his hands on her hips and lifted her.
Isabel stared at him. Her lips slightly parted, her chest rising and falling in shallow breaths. What was she thinking? Eli tried to guess, was she still mad or had she forgiven him already without him doing anything to fix things? She was panting and he wasn’t sure if it was on account of her injuries.
Eli’s hands on her hips had sent a shock of electricity through her body. His strong biceps and his shoulders had tightened as he had pushed her up, with his back firm against his backrest for support. Isabel knew it took twice the strength to do that without ab control. Eli was really strong. His shoulders looked broader now than when she had last seen him. He looked good, really good on that white dress shirt. He had taken his jacket and tie off. He was still wearing a formal shirt though, but he had unbuttoned the upper part and Isabel could see some of his chest and the tank top he was wearing beneath. He had grown a short goatee over his strong chin. His hazel eyes shone on her. Boy was he sexy!
She imagined herself pulling down her jeans right there and Eli approaching her in that position, with her sitting over the counter, his mouth was at that precise height. His strong hands pressing her thighs upwards slowly until he reached her panties. She would lift her legs and place them over Eli’s so he could wheel in as close as possible and pull her lace panties down. Then he would use one finger first, to make sure she was ready, slow and accurately as he always did, moving inside her up and down, caressing her inner walls, then two fingers as she got wetter and then his mouth, with both his big hands over her hips strong, marking his fingers on her white skin as she sway with the rhythm of his tongue.
“Is?” his voice interrupted her fantasy. “Are you in pain?”
“Uh…” it took her a second to get back to reality. “No,” she denied. But she was panting and Eli put his hands on her thighs in disbelief.
That only made it worse. It had been so long since he had touched her. she wanted to jump back down from the counter and kiss him, place his hand over her breasts and nibble at his earlobe before taking off his shirt. She wanted to sit on his lap with her blouse off and feel her skin against his as he grabbed her butt with both hands. She loved that position, being on top of him, still on the chair, their bodies grazing, him in control to take her anywhere with a stroke of his strong arms.
She tried to lean towards him and shit, she was in pain. She felt as if there was a knife stuck across her chest and it dug deeper with every breath.
“Is…” Eli let out air with a grimace. “You should be in bed. Do you want me to order in so we can lie down?”
“No,” Isabel shook her head. “I want to watch you cook. It’s been so long…” she sighed.
“I will cook for you tomorrow, and the day after that, and every day for the rest of your life if you let me, but right now you gotta rest."
“I’m fine,” she attempted a smile. “I just gotta stay still," she said almost out of breath.
Eli stared at her. She figured he was trying to decide if he should force her into bed or not. Finally he nodded and got to work.
Isabel loved watching Eli cook. She loved watching him period, but when he cooked she could watch shamelessly. She suspected she had made him feel uncomfortable with her gaze at the beginning of their relationship, but after a while he had gotten used to it and it had become kind of a routine for them for her to follow his every move while he cooked.
Although now they had been apart for a long time and she didn’t really know where they stood. He kept looking back at her, maybe just to make sure she was ok, or maybe because he was uncomfortable with her presence again.
When he was done cooking, he wheeled over to her and help her down in the same way he had helped her up. Once more Isabel felt a lightning travel across her. His hands were big enough to cover most of her hip and part of her butt cheeks. He set her down on the floor and she held his eyes struggling to keep from kissing him. She had missed him so much. She had wanted so badly to see him again, to be able to touch him.
Eli placed his wheelchair across from Isabel in his usual spot at the table, where there was no chair in his way. He watched her eat expecting to see her savour the food as she usually did. But she seemed to be having trouble with every mouthful. He watched her lift the fork as if it weighed too much for her to bear and slowly place the food inside her mouth. She chewed slowly and willinglessly while she stared at a blank point in the wall. At some point she just stopped. she looked too tired to continue. She looked devastated.
Eli was really worried now. He wondered if he had at some point looked like that himself. Perhaps in the hospital after having been told he would never walk again. Had he had that hopeless expression then?
“Is…” he reached across the table for her hand once it was clear she wouldn’t eat anymore. “I know this is probably my fault and I am so very sorry for that, but you gotta eat some more. Please.”
Isabel took the fork and put another bite in her mouth.
Eli sighed. “I should’ve never left you alone. I’m so sorry for that. I should’ve checked on you. I just… I figured you didn’t want to see me.”
Isabel struggled to swallow and then she squinted at him.
“I didn’t… and I did. I was so angry at you and yet I missed you so much. I’ve been … I…” her eyes filled up with tears and she closed them.
“Is…” he said squeezing her hand.
“You seem ok,” she didn’t let him speak. A tear rolled down her cheek when she opened her eyes again. “You seem just fine and I’ve…” She swallowed hard. “you’re fine without me, but I’m not fine without you," her voice cracked at the end of the phrase.
Eli felt ashamed. He wasn’t fine, far from it, but she definitely look worse than him, and that baffled him.
“Is, I’m so sorry I hurt you. It was the last thing I wanted to do. And I’m even sorrier I didn’t try to find you sooner. I just didn’t know how to fix things. I…” he stopped because Isabel was shaking her head with her mouth clenched. He touched her cheek with one hand and dried a tear. “I’ve spent all this time trying to come up with a good enough excuse for my attitude, but the truth is I don’t have one. I was a jerk. I let my insecurities get the best of me, but I need you to know that you’re wrong, I didn’t think you were with me over money, except for that one awful night and day after we ran into Jayson.” He took a moment to evaluate her face and see if he should continue. “I admit I considered it then, but half of me kept telling me it couldn’t be so, while the other half was shiting my pants in fear that it was so. I got really drunk that night to stop the trail of my thoughts. Uhmm…, I did go to see Jayson and asked him about you. He set my mind at ease, at least in regards of the money. I’m so sorry the thought even crossed my mind, but at the time nothing made sense, why you hadn’t told me you knew him, and all my other insecurities. I… I don’t want to pull the cripple card again,” her words still stung when he repeated them. “I don’t want you to feel sorry for me, but I feel sorry for me sometimes,” he let out air when he admitted that. “I guess for you it must get tiring to have to keep on reassuring me that you’re ok with all of this.” He moved his hand to signal the whole of his body. “I know you told me again and again, and most of me believed you, but a small part, you know, that dark part that keeps me awake some nights, it just kept telling me it couldn’t be. And I know it sounds like an excuse but it had nothing to do with me not trusting you and everything with me not trusting myself.”
She covered her face with both her hands and sobbed. Eli circled around the table and placed his chair next to her so he could hold her. Then he pulled her to his lap and wheeled again to the bedroom. He helped her onto the bed and asked her to wait for him.
“Just give me a minute” he said before rushing to the bathroom. When he came back out she was still in the same position that he had left her in. She was lying on her side in fetal position hugging her own body as if she were cold, her feet were hanging off the side of the bed and she still had her shoes on. He wheeled to her and took her shoes off and pushed her feet to the bed, then he covered her with a blanket and rolled to the other side to transfer next to her. She had given no indication as to whether or not she forgave him, but he wasn’t going to back off this time around. He pushed his body on the bed using his hands to get as close to her as possible, and then he pulled her to lay her head on his chest as she always used to do. She obliged and fell asleep almost immediately.
Eli stayed awake for a while just listening to her shallow breaths and pondering over things until he finally fell asleep as well.
The next morning, he woke up startled by her absence on the bed. He grabbed the wheel of his chair and used it to pull himself up, afraid that she had left. He checked the clock on his bedside table, 6:50. Maybe she just went to the bathroom he told himself but felt a whip of anxiety across his spine. He threw his legs off the bed and they kicked and started shaking, he wanted to hurry into his chair, but this was just the way it was, he’d have to wait them out. A few seconds later, they were steady enough and he was lifting his body to transfer when Isabel walked in. She caught him halfway and Eli got stuck thinking whether he should get back in bed or finish transferring, finally he dropped his butt right in the middle and almost tipped the chair over. He leaned his upper body to land on the bed instead of the floor, and ended up sideways over the mattress. Isabel walked up to him as if this was just his normal way of getting into bed, and she stared at him while he lifted himself on his elbows and adjusted his position to something slightly less awkward.
“I’m sorry about last night,” she said in a low tone but with a determined look closer to the normal Isabel. “I was feeling... “ she shook her head. “Anyways, it was wrong of me to put that on you, I wasn’t trying to emotionally blackmail you or anything. I think it would be best if I left.”
“What? No,” so she hadn’t forgiven him after all. “I promised the doctor I would look after you.” He finished sitting up on the bed as he said that because it was ridiculous to promise to look after someone when you can’t even sit up straight in bed.
“I’ll eat, you don’t have to worry,” she stated casually.
“Yes, I have to worry, you fainted because of starvation, Is, they wanted to hospitalize you!”
“Yeah, that was a mistake. I’m sorry about that. It won’t happen again,” she said as if they were discussing the most casual issue.
“Is, look…” he started and then decided to finish transferring to the chair before continuing, in case he had to chase after her. “I get that you’re mad at me,” he continued as he landed on the chair’s cushion. “And I’m probably the last person you want around right now, but…” he adjusted his legs and released the breaks. “I won’t leave you alone again.”
He wouldn’t, not this time around.
Isabel looked away. she was feeling a moral hangover for the way she had behaved the night before. It had been almost two months and Eli hadn’t tried to find her, now he had been forced to take her to his house because she had starved herself, crashed her car and cried like a little girl begging him to stay and not leave her alone. She had humiliated herself and she had guilted him into taking her back.
“Is?” Eli tried to get a hold of her hand, but she took it away.
“I’m sorry I made you feel guilty, but I’m not your responsibility. I’m thinking about heading back to Washington for a few weeks,” she hadn’t really thought about it but it was probably a good idea. “The building is coming along great and I could use the time out.”
Eli frowned. “When are you leaving?”
“Uhm…” she didn’t have a car anymore so she couldn’t just up and leave. Maybe she would buy a train ticket. “tomorrow, I guess… Yeah, tomorrow is good.”
“Ok,” Eli narrowed his eyes. “Stay here ‘till then.”
“No, Eli, I should go.” She hoped her words had sounded convincing enough because she didn’t feel convinced at all.
“Is…” he sighed. “Sit for a minute, please.”
She felt like she had to get out of there right that moment or she wouldn’t have the will to leave at all.
“Please,” Eli repeated.
“Eli, I can’t,” It took all her strength to keep her emotions from her face. She didn’t want him to notice that what she really wanted to do was collapse into his arms and cry again. She turned around and started walking towards the door.
“Is, please,” Eli rushed behind her but she kept walking. She crossed the door and then the hallway into the dining room and finally the living room was wide enough for Eli to roll ahead and caught her off. “Isabel, stop, just stop, please.”
She stopped and stared at him seemingly helpless. Eli didn’t know what to say to her now, his plan was only to stop her from leaving. He had apologized last night, had she even listened? What more could he say? He wasn’t sure if she was still mad at him, or if she wanted to forgive him but was being too proud to accept his apology.
“I love you,” suddenly the words were clear in his mind, what he needed to say, the only thing left unsaid.
She had longed to hear those words. She took a moment and breathed in as deep as her broken ribs allowed her.
“I don’t want you to be with me because you think I’m a mess without you,” she finally spoke. “I don’t want you to ask me to stay because you found out I haven’t been eating. I’m sorry about that, I’ll eat, I swear, I just got so… “
“No, no,” Eli interrupted her. “How can you think that? Is, I love you. More than I’ve loved any woman in my entire life. I know I screwed up bigtime, but that doesn’t change how I feel. And maybe I’m being terribly conceded but I think you still love me back. Don’t you?” He waited for her answer.
Isabel nodded, and Eli let out air relieved before continuing.
“I’ve been a jerk, for doubting you, for letting you go, for everything and I’m so sorry. But Is, please don’t leave me. I’m miserable without you. You are the best thing that’s ever happened to me, you make everything better. Stay, just please stay.”
Isabel took a step towards him and grabbed his hand before letting herself down slowly into his lap, where she let him hold her. Then they kissed, long, tenderly.
“I’m so sorry I hurt you, baby. Do you forgive me?," he asked.
Isabel nodded and smiled shyly. Eli let out air, immensely relieved. “Thank you," he smiled back and kissed her forehead. “Oh, thank you. I’ll never do it again." He kissed her softly. “Now let’s get you back to bed.”
Later that day, Sarah showed up at the apartment. Apparently, Jenna had told Matt about Isabel’s accident. Surely Matt had charmed her into keeping him informed. Eli went into his study and let Sarah and Isabel talk. A while later, he heard the main door close and Isabel stepped in. She was looking better, thank god. She had had a good breakfast that morning and some color had returned to her cheeks.
“So, you and Matt are not speaking?” She approached him.
“No, I…” He stopped and ran a hand through his hair. “We had a terrible fight after you left. I can’t believe how he behaved with you, I… I can’t even look at him, I’m so angry at him."
“Eli, he was just worried about you."
“I know, but I’m not a child. I lost the use of my legs, not my brain," he said feeling anger rise up again.
“Eli, Matt loves you,” she pursed her lips together. “He loves you so much. Granted, he is overprotective and even condescending sometimes but it’s because he doesn’t know how to handle what happened to you."
“Did Sarah say that?” Eli didn’t keep the anger out of his tone.
“No, of course not," Isabel took a step towards him and after a brief pause she continued. “Eli, your injury didn’t just happen to you, it happened to them too. You may think you’re going through everything on your own, but that’s not true. It affected Matt as much as it affected you, because Matt cares so much about you he can’t bear to see you hurt. They’re your family, and you’re so lucky to have them. They worry about you all the time, they have never left you alone, they’re in this with you.”
Eli felt a sting of pain at her words. It was true, they had never left him alone. Even after that awful fight, Matt had still checked up on him every day through Jenna, while no one had bothered to check up on Isabel. He knew Matt had been worrying crazy about him all this time, even after the terrible things Eli had said to him, but still...
“I can’t believe you of all people are defending him,” he snapped because he was still so angry at him.
“Me of all people?” she asked raising her eyebrows.
“Yes you, after the way he’s always treated you. I don’t understand how come you don’t hate him."
Isabel shook her head.
“Hate him? How could I ever hate him when I see how much he cares about you? Honestly, I’m rather moved by him. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a man love another man that much."
Eli squinted at her, but after a few seconds he nodded.
“It’s because I’m the first person he ever cared about," he yielded. “He had it rough as a child," Eli explained sadly.
“Eli, you have to talk to him. I know you love him too.”
“Of course I love him but he… He’s so infuriating!” He pulled at his right wheel to turn around and sighed. Isabel circled around to meet his eyes and she gave him one of those childish looks he couldn’t resist. “I’ll talk to him,” he finally agreed.
The next day, Eli headed out to Matt’s office. He had been playing back Isabel’s words all morning. She was right, they had to fix this. They were family, the only family each of them had. He didn’t know what he would say once he saw him, how he would apologize, but he had to go talk to him.
He ran into his assistant as he came to the front desk.
“He’s in a meeting,” she apologized. “But I probably should let him know you’re here. He’d want to know," she added after a second thought.
“No, don’t interrupt him. I’ll wait," Eli stopped her as she was walking away.
“I really should let him know. He’s always instructed me to put your calls through no matter what he’s doing or who he’s with," she said.
Of course he had. Oh Matt. He felt even guiltier for how he had been treating him.
“Please don’t," he insisted. He didn’t want to pull him out of a meeting. “I’ll wait in his office." He said and pushed his rims towards the hall. As he wheeled through the broad hallway, he rolled past a meeting room and saw through the large glass wall Matt was sitting down amongst four other people. He was resting his chin on his hand, elbow over the table, eyes down. He looked grim.
Matt saw him before Eli could roll away. He got up immediately and walked out the door to meet him, letting the glass door close slowly behind him.
“Hey Matt," Eli looked up at Matt’s wrecked expression.
“Are you ok?” Matt’s anxious tone almost made Eli smile. Ever protective Matt. He was looking at Eli with brows curled up and worried eyes.
“I’m fine, Matt," he tried his best to set his friend’s mind at ease with a wry smile. “I came to apologize."
Matt gasped and briskly covered both his eyes with his large hand.
“Matt, I…” He was caught off by Matt’s large body over him. He had fallen on his knees and thrown his arms around him. Eli sighed and hugged him back.
Matt held him as if he feared Eli would vanish if he let go, he was squeezing him so hard. A few seconds went by, but Matt didn’t soften his embrace.
“Come on, Matt, people are gonna think we’re gay. I’m pretty sure everyone’s staring," he joked to lighten the mood. He slowly felt Matt ease the pressure of his arms, but another moment went by before he released Eli.
“No one would ever think I’m gay," Matt countered with a grin as he pushed back falling into his heels. His eyes were wet though. “Are you ok?” he asked again with a serious expression.
“I’m fine, really. Go back to your meeting. We’ll talk later. I’ll wait for you.”
“We can talk now.”
“I don’t want you to drop everything for me, I can wait," Eli urged him.
“It’s fine, it’s nothing important."
“I’ll wait in your office until you’re finished," Eli insisted but Matt just stared at him. “Matt, get up," Eli asked him softly. He hated having to look up at people while they talked, but right now he didn’t like seeing his best friend on the ground, completely disarmed and with such a helpless expression on his face.
Matt took a deep breath and again used his left hand to cover his eyes, before rising to his feet.
“Of course, I’ll be in your office," he said and pushed his rims. “I promise," he added because Matt still didn’t move.
“Ok," he finally accepted.
Eli wheeled the rest of the hallway trying to ignore the stares from behind the glass walls. He got inside Matt’s office and closed the door. It was a large office with a mahogany desk and two chairs in front of it. To the side, near the entrance, there was a cabinet and a bookshelf, and on the other corner of the room there was a sitting area with two armchairs and a sofa. Eli wheeled to the center of the room; barely a minute later Matt came in.
“All done," he announced.
“Matt, I told you I would wait, you didn’t have to ditch the meeting," Eli objected.
“I couldn’t concentrate anyway,” Matt said as he took out a scotch bottle from a cabinet and poured two glasses. “Let’s have a drink," he offered and handed Eli a glass. Then he sat down on one of the armchairs that were arranged in the corner.
Eli put his glass between his legs and wheeled closer to him. Matt drank half of his scotch in one big gulp and then turned to look at him with tender eyes. After a second, he sighed in relief.
“I’m so glad you’re here," he said, and again, Eli felt so guilty for the way he had been treating him.
“I’m sorry for what I said to you," Eli started but Matt shook his head disregarding it.
“It doesn’t matter, I get it. It was my fault. I was a jerk."
“It does matter, I never should’ve said those things. And yeah, you were," he sighed. Matt’s lips pressed into a line and his eyebrows curled up again. “But I should’ve talked to you before it got out of hand. Matt, I’m sorry. You’ve been there for me in so many ways…”
“It’s ok," he interrupted him waving his hand. “You were angry, with good reason. You don’t have to apologize."
“I do, man, I really do. Please let me, I need to say it," he held Matt’s gaze until he nodded. “You were there for me through everything and it was terrible of me to say those things to you. Really, Matt, I don’t know what I would’ve done without you. I wouldn’t have… I couldn’t have gone through all of this without you. I'm so grateful for everything you’ve done for me, for not leaving me alone in the hospital, for rehab, for the way you looked after me when I was released, for the way you care about me. You are the best of friends, my brother, my family.”
Matt looked down shaking his head. “I made you feel worse," he almost whispered.
“No, Matt, no. I…” Eli sighed and rolled closer to him. “Look at me, Matt. Please," he added and waited for Matt to look up. “You never, once, made it worse for me, you have kept me together all this time, you have helped me bear all the crap," he made a pause and looked into Matt’s eyes intently. “Sure, you are overprotective and you treat me like I can’t do anything, and I want you to stop," Matt looked away again. “Look at me, Matt," he touched his arm, and Matt raised his eyes to him. “But I know you do it because you love me. All this shit, it didn’t just happen to me, it happened to you too," he repeated Isabel’s words because they were true. “You’ve gone through all of it with me, every last bit of it. It’s affected you as much as it affected me. It was unfair of me to ask you to get over it so fast. I know you hurt for me and everything I’ve been feeling you’ve been feeling too. I want you to treat me like you did before, because I don’t want to feel like a cripple, but I know you act that way because you wish you could make me walk again and you feel impotent that you can’t.”
Matt nodded. “I would give anything to make you walk again.” A tear rolled down Matt’s cheek. “The day you got shot was the worst day of my life." Matt swallowed hard. “When the doctor came out and told us you…” He closed his eyes and shook his head. “I’d rather it had been me. It should’ve been me.” He covered his face with both hands.
Eli pushed his rims until his knees grazed Matt’s. He pulled Matt’s hands down gently. “Don’t you ever say that again. Don’t you ever think that. It wasn’t your fault. Not in the slightest. It was their fault, those stupid kids. Think about it, would you feel any better if we had been driving my car?”
After a moment, Matt looked up at him and shook his head. “If I could give you my legs I would do so in a heartbeat. Eli, I’m so sorry this happened to you. I’m so sorry." Two lines of tears streamed down Matt’s cheeks.
“Oh, Matt," Eli sighed. “I’m sorry for all I’ve put you through.”
Eli placed his hands on his rims, he pushed up and scooped to the front of the chair to be able to reach Matt better, then he hugged him. He felt Matt sob silently in his arms.
They stayed that way for a few minutes until Matt took a couple of deep breaths and raised his face from Eli´s shoulder. Eli pressed a hand over his own knee for balance before letting go of Matt. Then he lifted his body by pushing up from the wheels and arranged his position on the chair.
“Anyways, it sucks that I’m paralyzed but you know what, man? I think I’m gonna be ok," he said once both of them had dried their eyes. “Really," he added to convince Matt. “I’ve started swimming again."
“Really? Where?” Matt asked now with a more relaxed expression.
“At my building’s pool."
“Who helps you?” Matt asked.
“No one does. I can do it on my own," Eli said proud of himself.
Matt raised his eyebrows. “Not to be condescending again, but how do you get out?”
“I grab the stairs’ rail and pull up to get my body out of the water and I lay belly down on the floor, then I turn around, sit up, and from there it’s a floor to chair transfer like they showed me in rehab. Not that hard anymore," he smiled to reassure Matt. “I’ll show you some day if you promise not to help," he smirked.
Matt smiled back and nodded. “Deal."
They stared at each other for a second before Matt let out air. “How’s Isabel?”
“Not so good. But she’s getting better," Eli frowned at the memory. “She has a couple of broken ribs and she…” he sighed and shook his head. “She hadn’t been eating. That’s why she fainted and got into the accident.” He finished and turned to look at Matt’s expression to weigh his reaction.
Matt frowned. “I’m so sorry I tried to split you guys up. I was wrong. I thought that because she acted so cool and never tried to help you with things she didn’t care about you, but I realize now that she got you better than I did. She tried to tell me about it, you know? I went to talk to her after I first found out you were together. Please don’t be mad again," he added at Eli’s surprised expression and put both his hands up in front of him. “I’m sorry, I know now that I was being a jerk.” Eli sighed so Matt continued. “She said that I should back off and that if you needed help you would ask for it because you trusted me. I tried to, I really made an effort to back off. Even then I knew she was right because at Christmas you asked me to push you through the snow. But still, it’s really hard for me to see you struggle with things and not help. I’ll try harder from now on, I promise.”
Eli nodded. “Thank you, I’ll appreciate that.”
“Is it ok if I talk to her now? I know I’m probably the last person she wants to see, but I’d like to apologize," Matt asked.
“Actually, she’s not mad at you.”
“Not one bit," Eli shook his head. “She made me come and talk to you."
“She did?” Matt asked astounded.
“She’s always told me I should caught you some slack and give you time to realize I can do things on my own. Yesterday, when she found out you and I weren’t talking, she actually defended you. She convinced me to come here and work things out with you. And I’m glad I did.”
Matt huffed with a grin. “Who would’ve thought?”
“I’ll tell you what, why don’t you and Sarah come to dinner tonight? I’ll cook something special and I can apologize to Sarah as well," Eli suggested.
“Sure," Matt agreed with a sweet smile.
“I’ll get it," Eli yelled when he heard the doorbell ring later that evening. He reached the door in two strokes of his rims and opened up to Sarah and Matt.
Matt was carrying a bottle of wine, he leaned in and gave Eli a quick hug. He had a big smile on his face and Eli grinned at the sight of his old friend back to normal, no more tortured Matt.
“Welcome," he said and turned to Sarah. She greeted him with a kiss on the cheek. “Sarah," he started and grabbed her hand. “I’m sorry I’ve been a jerk lately," he apologized.
“It’s ok," Sarah grinned. “But, put my husband through that again and I’ll kick your ass," she said goodnaturedly. “I know he can be a jerk sometimes but he loves you, we both do," she said a little more seriously.
Eli smiled back. “I know. I love you guys too," he replied.
Sarah leaned in and hugged him. “Glad to have you back. We’ve missed the hell out of you," she ran a hand through Eli’s hair tenderly.
“Me too," he agreed and turned to Matt. “Let’s cool that bottle," he said and held out his hand to get the bottle.
“I’ll do it," Matt said and Eli gave him a look. “Sorry," he smiled and handed him the bottle.
Eli shook his head at him smiling. Then he put the bottle between his legs and wheeled to the kitchen. “Sit down," he said without turning around. “Dinner is almost ready."
“Where’s Isabel?” Sarah asked right as Isabel was coming out into the living room. Eli wheeled back behind her.
“I’m here," she said and walked towards them.
Matt dropped his smile at the sight of her. He ran his eyes through her demeanor, examining her from head to toe, and frowned. Then he looked at Eli, and once more he had that wrecked look.
“Hey guys," she greeted them. Eli looked at her too. She had dropped at least 10 pounds in the last couple of months. Her clothes hanged loose around her figure as if they didn’t belong to her and she was still looking pale.
Sarah took a step forward and greeted her with a kiss. Then she stepped aside leaving her facing Matt.
“Isabel, I…” Matt said after a moment of silence. He stretched a hand out but didn’t touch her.
Isabel looked down at herself and blushed. Eli wheeled towards her and grabbed her hand from the side.
“Isabel," Matt repeated her name in a plead with intense eyes but said nothing.
“I’m sorry," Isabel said at no one in particular and Eli squeezed her hand.
“Let’s sit," Eli suggested to break the uncomfortable silence but Matt caught him off.
“God, I’m sorry," Matt started, he shook his head and he finally grabbed Isabel’s arm. “Shit, I was such an idiot. I’m such an idiot! I don’t know why I didn’t see it before. God, girl, I’m sorry. Please forgive me," he finished with a grim look.
Isabel shook her head too and smiled sadly. “It’s ok. I’m not mad at you," she said shyly.
“I know. Eli told me. He said you convinced him to go talk to me. For that, I’m in your debt. But god, girl, why are you not mad at me?” He stepped even closer to her and held her by the shoulders.
It took Isabel a moment to answer but finally, she spoke at Matt’s intense look. “Because I know you meant well. You were just looking out for him," she explained.
“Yeah, I was, and I was the biggest jerk doing that. I behaved like a total idiot and I put you guys through hell. Why didn’t I see it before? You really love him, don’t you?”
“Yeah, I do," and she gave him a candid smile.
Matt finally released her arms. “I’m sorry," he said again, this time in a low voice. Isabel shook her head at him with a shy smile before stepping forward and hugging him. She pressed her head against Matt’s chest and he wrapped his strong arms around her and buried his face in her hair.
Eli grinned at them.
“Well, he’s one lucky bastard," Matt said once he released her.
“I’m the lucky one," she countered.
“Yes," Matt nodded. “You’re lucky too. That’s one hell of a man."
“I know," she smiled fondly and looked to Eli.
“Well, enough of this," Eli said to lighten the atmosphere. “Let’s eat.”
The following months were of quiet content. Isabel never went back to her apartment, and Eli reveled in the certainty of going to sleep and waking up next to her. Every morning, they would wake up early, Isabel would help with his range of motion like she had before, then Eli would take care of his body, meaning cathing and bowel routine, with Isabel still in the room. He had had the talk, full disclosure, and revealed his last secrets because he could not bear to ask her to leave the room while she was hurt and weak. She had listened to him in respectful silence, no awkward gestures or shock expression in her face, while Eli’s cheeks turned bright red.
“Ok, thank you for telling me," she had said casually once he’d finished, giving Eli the impression that she had already known.
After having breakfast together, Eli’s day was spent amongst orange vests and yellow helmets. Now that the ground was leveled, he had gotten rather good at navigating the construction from the chair. Since it was a busy site, with over three dozen workers rushing to his every command, he rarely stayed still, but rather whooshed through the beams and cranes with heavy strokes to his rims, yelling instructions, supervising the crew, proudly watching the building grow, take form, gradually becoming what he had envisioned.
Strangely enough, his crew seemed to have gotten used to him. After several months of working with them, he rarely got any awkward stares anymore, and he had stopped sensing pity in people’s eyes while they talked to him. Now, he felt pretty normal while on the job and it was a welcomed feeling.
At night, he would come home to Isabel. Her presence had given the word a whole new meaning. “Home." Not a set of walls anymore but the place where she was waiting for him, where they shared their lives together.
He was also swimming every day, and that made him feel so much more independent, stronger, almost like he was back to his old self.
Matt and him were in good terms again, which was definitely a relief. He had even given him back his key, with the clear remark that it was for emergencies only, but which Matt had taken with huge gratitude. He could still see Matt stress out and bite his tongue not to offer help all the time, but he could tell he was making an effort, so he figured he would just wait it out, in the hope that in time, his friend would relax.
When the building was almost finished, Eli decided it was time to have the surgery for the baclofen pump. He wanted to get it done before the inauguration because he felt that being spasm free would be the last thing left for him to feel completely happy when he finally beheld his creation complete.
“God, I think every nurse in this hospital is infatuated with my husband," Sarah said to Isabel as she watched Matt charm his way with the staff while they checked Eli in.
“They’re just touched by how much he cares about Eli," Isabel tried to set her mind at ease.
“Yeah, well. When you only care about three people in the entire world, you care about them a lot," Sarah nodded. “Although I guess it’s now four people," she added with a smile when Matt approached them taking an apple out to hand it to Isabel.
Isabel took it with a grin and Eli smiled at them.
It was an easy surgery, but Eli would stay overnight. He watched the three people he loved most in the world disappear behind the glass doors as they wheeled him on a stretcher towards the operating room. Then they put a mask over his mouth and nose and he slowly fell asleep. He woke up to dim lights and a rhythmic bip sound in the hospital room. He opened his eyes just barely. He could see Matt and Isabel standing by the window. They had their backs turned to him and they were talking in low voices.
“So, did you bribe someone to get us both to come in?” Isabel asked in a playful tone.
“Well, I figured Eli wanted you here, but I couldn’t just wait outside," Matt attempted to emulate Isabel’s carefree tone, but Eli could hear a worried edge in his voice.
“I would’ve let you come in, you know? If only to keep you from having a stroke," Isabel chuckled. “You know it’s an easy surgery, you don’t have to be so worried," she added more seriously.
“I know," Matt admitted wryly. “It’s just…” He sighed. There was a moment of silence before he continued. “Did he tell you how we met?” He asked.
Isabel nodded. “In the foster home where he was sent after his parents died. He said you used to pick on him before you became friends."
“Oh yeah," Matt nodded and looked out the window. “Boy, did I pick on him. I would hide his stuff, put dirt in his food, lock him out of the room, lock him in the bathroom," Matt laughed nostalgically. “I made his life miserable," he shook his head and turned to look at Isabel again. “Until one day…” he ran a hand through his hair. “I was an angry teenager back then. He wasn’t the only one I bothered. I would pick a fight with everyone. So one day some guys jumped me outside school... I’m good in a fight, real good. But these were three guys and they came at me with pipes. I took a few swings but one of them got me with the pipe in the head, hard. He opened up my skull and I was bleeding. I went down and they all started kicking me on the ground. Suddenly they stopped and I looked up and saw Eli. He started throwing things at them," he chuckled. “A trashcan I think, and then a goddamn backpack," he laughed some more. “He threw a goddamn backpack at them. Oh Eli. And they would’ve kicked the shit out of him, but some teachers came out and they ran away.” Eli could tell he was smiling even without looking at his face. “So Eli leans over, and I’m thinking, ok, this guy wants a piece of me now, he’s gonna have his revenge and get a few blows at me while I’m on the ground. But instead, he offers his hand to help me get up. So I take it, and he helps me run out of there, well, he ran, I sort of limped holding on to his shoulder all the way back to the house. And then he drags me to the bathroom, takes out the first aid kit and starts patching up my wound. And he has no idea what he’s doing and pours alcohol on my head and I’m trying to get him off of me so I start calling him names, saying I don’t need the help of a spoiled rich kid and suddenly he bursts out and says “Why do you have to be such a jerk? My parents just died.” So I go quiet thinking yeah, I’m a jerk. His parents just died and I’ve been making his life even more miserable. And then our foster mother comes in and starts yelling at me. Clearly, she got a call from the school and she starts saying she’s had it with me, she’s fed up and now I’m dragging Eli into this shit and he’s a good kid and she’s not gonna let me mess him up and then… Eli snaps at her. Oh god," he chuckled. “Eli, this quiet kid with good manners who’s all tidy and always picks up his room and does his homework, he turns to her and yells “Would you back off of him? It wasn’t his fault. Those guys jumped him and you don’t even ask for his side of the story.” And he just keeps on putting the gauze over my head," Matt huffed. He made a pause and shook his head. When he continued there was something different about his tone. “No one, no one had ever stood up for me before. I was the bad kid. If something broke everyone would just assume I’d done it. And this kid, who I’ve been torturing for the past months when, as he said, his parents just died and his whole life has been turned over and is probably going through the worst time ever, has somehow found it in himself to defend me. And I’m… baffled," Matt went quiet for a minute and then sighed heavily. “He probably doesn’t know this. I’ve never told him," he continued in a very low voice. “But he changed my life right there. He thinks he changed my life because he got me to go to college, but no. That’s the moment he changed my life. What he did…” he hesitated. “You’ve no idea what that meant to me. If he hadn’t done that, I would’ve gone right back to been a jerk to him… and everyone. And right now I wouldn’t be a lawyer, I would’ve never met Sarah, I most certainly would’ve ended up in jail or dead. But he stood up for me that day, and then he cared about me, enough to make me study for the LSAT’s, to make me join the freaking debate team, made me start boxing. Everything I am right now is because of Eli, because he cared about me when no one else did. He didn’t only change my life, he saved my life, and if I had seen that bullet coming I would’ve taken it for him."
Eli beat his leap to stay quiet. He couldn’t see Matt’s face, but he didn’t have to in order to know he meant every word of it.
“I know you would’ve," Isabel whispered and put a hand on his arm. “I’m pretty sure he knows it too."
Eli barely closed his eyes in time before they turned to look at him. He felt the two of them get closer and sit by his side, but he waited a few minutes before pretending to wake up.
“Hey there," he said and Matt got up from his chair and grabbed Eli´s forearm. Eli turned his hand up and pressed Matt’s arm too. “I’m still alive," he jocked. But then he let Matt bring him water, help him sit up, and do a dozen other little things for him throughout the next couple of days. He knew it made Matt feel better so he figured the hell with it, he could do this for his friend, at least for a few days while he recuperated from the surgery.
“What’s the verdict?” Sarah asked while Eli counted the points after a domino’s match. Isabel and him had gone to dinner at Matt and Sarah’s because it had been the only way Eli figured to get Matt out of his apartment, where he had been camping out for the past weeks after the surgery.
“Damn it," Eli said without anger. “You win by two points.”
“Yes!” Sarah celebrated.
Matt slugged Isabel in the shoulder. “Let’s hear it for the champions, girl!” He smirked.
“I wouldn’t get used to it if I were you. You know we’ll get you next time," she grinned.
Isabel got along pretty well with Sarah, but as it turned out, she got along even better with Matt. They both had the same sense of humor and were always making jokes and messing with each other. Eli was truly happy about that.
“You know what I can beat you at?” Eli smirked. “Arm wrestling."
“What?” Matt laughed. “No way.”
“Oh yeah!” Eli held his ground.
“We both know you’ve never beaten me at arm wrestling," Matt reminded him. Matt had been boxing school champion during his college years and he was pretty strong. They hadn’t played for years, but it was true, Eli had never beaten him at arm wrestling.
“I bet I could beat you now," Eli widened his grin.
“Oh, Eli could beat you at arm wrestling any time," Isabel agreed with complete certainty.
“Care to put money where your mouth is, girl?” Matt challenged.
Isabel got up to get her purse and then placed a fifty dollar bill on the table with a big smile.
“Easy money," she said.
“Oh really?” Matt chuckled. He took out his wallet and matched her bill on the table.
Eli shifted his chair, hit his brakes and placed his right elbow on the table. He placed his other hand over his left wheel for support. Matt doubted a second but finally, he did the same. They entangled their hands and started wrestling. At first, Matt didn’t push hard, but when Eli started bending his arm, he rearranged his position and pressed back. Eli could feel Matt’s full strength against his palm, but he pushed harder. It took him about a minute, but he finally bent Matt’s wrist until his arm caved in and smashed against the wood of the table.
Isabel smiled broadly. “I told you so. Eli is super strong," she said to Matt and then leaned in and kissed Eli in the sexiest way. He was blushing when they parted.
Matt eyes were wide. “God, man, what’ve you been doing?” he asked astounded.
Eli released his breaks and pushed his rims back and forth a few times. “Pushing a wheelchair," he smiled. “Great for upper body strength," he shrugged.
“Hell yeah!” Isabel stood behind him and ran her hands over Eli’s strong biceps. Eli blushed some more. He looked up to meet her stare. She was smiling broadly, beaming with pride.
“Need another round, Matt?” She smirked and then grabbed Matt’s glass and her own before disappearing into the kitchen. Sarah got up too, still smiling. She picked up some dishes and followed Isabel.
“Feeling better, huh?” Matt said once they both were out of sight.
“Oh yeah," Eli grinned. “I’m feeling pretty good. I’m happy," he looked Matt in the eye intently. “Maybe even happier than before," he added in a serious tone.
“Before what? The surgery?” Matt asked not following his meaning.
“Before the shot," Eli clarified.
Matt narrowed his eyes.
“I mean it," Eli held his gaze. He wanted Matt to believe him. He needed him to know. “I’ll be even happier tomorrow," he added thinking of the small black box he had hidden at his studio back at home. “At least I hope I will," he said with a nervous smile.
Matt’s lips curled up slowly into a grin. “She’ll say yes," he nodded now smiling broadly. “That girl is head over heels in love with you," he finished just in time before the girls stepped back into the room.
Isabel handed Matt his glass and put hers down over the table before sitting on Eli’s lap and kissing him. He pushed his rims back to allow her more space and kissed her back.
“You know what, guys," he said with a smile. “I think we’re heading home now.”
The day of the inauguration, Eli parked his wheelchair outside his building. His building, finally complete. He looked up and beheld his creation. Four stone pillars welcomed him. Behind them, tall glass walls reflected the dim sunlight as the sky shifted to deep blue with beams of purple and red. Glass and stone abreast, rising like a giant.
He felt Isabel’s arms wrap around his chest from behind and he turned his face to meet her deep blue eyes, like the sky. She kissed him softly.
“Magnificent, isn’t it?” She said.
She stepped to his side and contemplated the building. Eli set his eyes on her instead. She was glooming. Her hair was down, with slight red curls framing the outline of her face. Her shoulders were naked and her fair skin shone against the twilight. Just a few hours ago, he had slid his fingers over that soft bare skin and ran his hands freely across her body, following her silhouette, all the way from her chest, down her slim waist, through her hips and buttocks. He had felt her tongue circling his nipples, her short nails scratching his shoulders as he encompassed her round breasts with both hands. He had nibbled at her neck and she had kissed him avidly in return, while his fingers submerged inside her wet depths. He had felt her tighten under his grip, goosebumps on her skin, as she moaned softly in his ears. Her breasts had pressed against his chest as she ran her hands over his shoulders and biceps, hard, passionately. Her wet lips tracing a path from his earlobes to his neck, down towards his chest as every inch of his skin tingled with thrive and expectation.
He had watched her rise from his lap, that ivory body, bare before his eyes, the small triangle of red hair around her sex, long legs parted with desire as she laid across the bed to receive his mouth.
He could still hear her gasp as he approached her, and feel her writhe beneath him as his tongue released a wave of pleasure in her insides. He had leaned back against the rest of his chair to contemplate her still savoring the orgasm, his hand over her sex to feel her pulsate with pleasure. Then she had stood up and knelt before him. Her hand had slid down from his chest, disappearing from his perception all the way between his legs. He had injected his penis and watched it grow inside her small hand, which moved with even strokes up and down.
He closed his eyes and savored the memory. He watched as Isabel sat astride him and led him inside her. He felt her shiver under his hands in the precise moment he had penetrated her. And he shivered too, right before he let himself get lost in the sensation her closeness awakened in him. She made him feel so much, that all he couldn’t feel faded into oblivion. All of his senses heightened with desire, every fiber of his being aroused. His eyes wide open taking her image in, his skin tender under her touch. Their cries merging together as their pleasures picked.
Now, she was wearing a shimmering dark blue, mermaid cut gown, which hugged her perfectly curved body. She had gained back the weight she’d lost when they were apart and she was looking healthy, her cheeks brighten by a light pink, her big blue eyes dazzling under those long lashes. She was gorgeous, mesmerizing and his, his. He smiled and grabbed her hand where a diamond ring circled her finger.
Matt and Sarah walked up to meet them. Grettel was with them, and Eli hugged them one by one feeling an utter sense of completion. He was happy, in the full extent of the word.