On the road to New Hampshire, Isabel seemed happier than ever. She turned the volume up and sang along with the stereo, smiling, touching Eli’s shoulder, leaning over to kiss him on the cheek several times while he drove. She was wearing a brown dress with tall boots and a wool coat, her hair was down and it waved when she tilted her head smiling at him. Outside, snowflakes fell over the windshield, slowly painting the road white. After over an hour of highway, they reached Portsmouth and stopped at a red light, she seized the opportunity to kiss him deeply until a car behind them nocked the horn because the light was now green.
Sarah’s grandmother owned a big house in the old part of Portsmouth. There was a golden gate and then a large garden before the house appeared in front of them with its tall pillars and white colonial look. It was an old house that had been the main manor of a large state in the nineteen century, and Sarah’s family was proud of their lineage dating back to the independence war, when they had allegedly fought alongside Paul Revere. Eli thought they were all snobs, all but Misses Gretel Mason, who was a stand up lady, 78 years old and still beautiful, elegant and slender, with her white hair always up and sweet blue eyes; she had surely been a real beauty in her youth. Ms. Mason loved Eli as a grandchild and Eli loved her as a grandmother, because she had always embraced Matt and him, from the day they’d first met. She had come to visit him at the hospital every week when he was hurt, something not many people had done. She was the real reason why they came year after year to spend Christmas at the Manor.
As for Sarah’s parents, they hadn’t gotten over the fact that their daughter, a Mason and the heir of their lineage, had married an orphan boy with no last name, who didn’t even know where he came from. By now it was clear they never would, no matter how smart he was, how successful he’d been since, or how much money he’d made; in their eyes, he would always be an orphan with no family and no roots. They had even made the rude comment once that they’d preferred it if Sarah had married Eli, because at least he knew who his parent were and they had been decent people, while’s Matt’s mother could very well have been a prostitute. Matt had stood up from the table and left, so had Eli and Sarah, and they had never set foot inside that house again. However, Ms. Gretel Mason was a completely different deal, and they couldn’t refuse coming to see her in Christmas, even if it meant dealing with Matt’s in-laws.
“Don’t take it personal if Sarah’s parents are rude,” Eli warned Isabel as they crossed the terrain that led to the house. “They’re like that with everyone.”
“Don’t you worry. I never take things like that personal,” she responded with a grin and leaned in to kiss him on the cheek.
There were two valets parking the cars so the guests wouldn’t have to cross the yard under the snow. One of them, a young guy wearing a red vest, approached Eli’s car. Eli pulled the window down.
“I’ll park it myself,” said Eli.
“Sorry, sir. I should do it,” replied the valet.
“I’m afraid you won’t know how,” insisted Eli pointing to the handle next to the wheel. “It’s got hand controls.” The guy looked at the car’s controls and then at Eli for a moment. He didn’t seem to understand. “I’ll appreciate it if you made sure no one parks too close to it, ‘cause I need some space to get my wheelchair in and out.”
The guy looked to the back sit where Eli’s chair was and then again at him, particularly at his legs, quite obviously examining him. Finally he nodded. “Oh! Of course. Sorry, I didn’t realize,” he apologized backing away from the car so Eli could drive past him.
Once the car was parked and Isabel got out, Eli put on a pair of winter leather gloves and buttoned his grey wool coat. Then he pulled his chair out form the back sit, part by part before finally transferring. Once he was in the chair he closed the car and tried to roll to Isabel who was standing with the trunk open, taking out a bottle of wine they had brought as a gift for Misses Mason. Eli put his hands to his rims and pushed them. His front wheels got stuck in the snow making the chair tip to the front, and Eli had to hold on hard to the chair not to fall out. Shit. He had feared this as winter approached. So far he had managed to avoid wheeling in the snow. He had spent most of last winter in the hospital or rehab, and when he had finally been released he hadn’t left Matt’s house for over a month. Snow had come late this winter and Eli’s building had an underground parking as did his office, so this was actually the first time Eli had tried his chair out in the snow. So far it wasn’t going too well. At least he hadn’t fallen out. He couldn’t let that happen, he hadn’t brought any clothes to change into. He couldn’t get wet. He looked up and saw Isabel closing the trunk.
“Hey, Is,” he started shyly. “Could you do me a favor?”
“Sure, baby. What is it?” She said and Eli grinned because she had never called him “baby” before.
“Uh… Would you stand close to me… maybe grab my chair, make sure I don’t tip over?” he asked her feeling like a child who needed to grab his mother’s hand.
Isabel took a step towards him and squatted in front of him. “Because of the snow?” she asked and Eli nodded. “Sure. I’ve got you,” she replied standing back up.
Eli made a wheelie to lift his front wheels and began advancing slowly. Isabel placed a hand on his shoulder, not his chair, as they moved forward, sort of hopping with the chair, lifting his feet and then letting them fall back before making another wheelie. Isabel’s hand pushed him back slightly when the chair got stuck and the momentum threw him forward, and it also held him down no to fall backwards when he lifted his chair in a wheelie. He supposed he could’ve just asked her to push him instead, and save himself the trouble, but he didn’t want to do that. Isabel would never push his chair if he could help it. It was probably stupid to pretend to be so independent though; he reminded himself that being paralyzed pretty much shattered one’s dignity, suddenly remembering the five steps that stood as an insurmountable obstacle at the entrance of the manor. He would have to call Matt to help him, and Isabel would see him get lifted or pulled as dead weight up the stairs.
He was frowning over the thought of it, when he noticed with a smile a brand new ramp over the side of the stairs. Bless you, Gretel Mason, you’re amazing, Eli thanked her in his mind. Once they reached the ramp, Isabel let go of him and followed him as he wheeled over it towards the front door. At the same time, another couple had just turned their car over to the valet and climbed the stairs. It was Sara’s aunt and her daughter July, who had always had a bit of a crush on Eli. When she saw him, she practically ran the rest of the way up but stopped right in front of him and covered her mouth with one hand.
“Oh my god, Eli! She approached him looking down and curling her eyebrows at the sight of him. Two years ago, at these very steps, July had greeted him with a kiss and a flirty look. She had made some comment about how much she wished he was single and how she loved those amber eyes. Now she had stopped a couple of feet away from him, with that pity look that was now, sadly, so familiar to Eli.
“Hi, July… Ms. Lambert,” said Eli in a low, cold tone, forcing a grin.
Ms. Lambert nodded with the same look her daughter had. “Hello, Eli. It’s good to see you. We were so sorry to hear about what happened to you,” she said.
“How are you holding on? I wanted to go see you when I heard. It was so awful. We all prayed for you, still do,” said July without giving Eli a chance to respond.
“Isabel, these are Ms. Lambert and July. She’s Sarah’s cousin,” he explained turning to look at Isabel, who had used the ramp next to him. “This is Isabel, my girlfriend.” He said that last part with a proud smile. They hadn’t had the talk, the one to define their relationship. And he had never had to introduce her before, not since they were together. Still, he was pretty sure, especially after that morning’s events, that she was indeed his girlfriend.
“Oh…” July uttered glancing up and down at Isabel who was smiling looking straight at Eli in an evident response to his introduction. Their eyes met and Eli returned the smile.
“Hi,” Isabel greeted her, reaching her hand out, finally looking up at July.
“Hi,” responded July, and then, instead of shaking her hand, she walked over to Isabel and hugged her. “I’m so glad Eli found someone to take care of him,” Eli puffed as he heard her words. Isabel looked at him from over July’s shoulder and rolled her eyes smiling.
“Well, I guess we better get inside before we freeze,” said Ms. Lambert.
“Of course,” said Eli signaling with his hand for them to go in first. The two women crossed the entrance and Isabel leaned down to hug Eli from behind his chair, throwing her arms across his chest and squeezing him as she gave him a kiss in the cheek.
“If only they knew it’s you who takes care of me,” she said to his ear. Eli smiled wryly, but held her arms with his hand, before letting go and rolling inside.
The minute they crossed the door, Matt launched at him.
“You’re here,” said Matt crossing the hallway in big steps. He had a glass of scotch in his hand and a stressed look on his face. “What the hell took you so long?”
Eli smiled. “That bad, ha?” he laughed. Matt grabbed Eli’s shoulder, and Eli padded his arm.
“You know I need a wingman at these things,” Matt’s voice came out more relaxed.
“Yeah, yeah, stop whining, I’m here now,” Eli joked.
“Drink?” Matt suggested. Eli cleared his throat and Matt looked up at Isabel. “Hello, Isabel,” he said in an almost natural tone.
“Hi, Matt. Merry Christmas,” she responded candidly.
“Merry Christmas,” Matt replied and then he looked back at Eli. “Have you seen Gretel yet?”
“We’ve just crossed the door, don’t pretend like you weren’t waiting next to it,” Eli joked.
“Ok, let’s go find her,” said Matt with a smile.
To cross the hall, Eli had to go over half a dozen condolences. “I’m so sorry.” “What happened to you was terrible.” “Such a tragedy.” Eli had been dreading that all week thinking about today. But now he almost didn’t hear the words, focusing on Isabel’s hand over his shoulder and enjoying people’s reaction when he introduced her. When he looked up at Matt however, he felt a pressure in his chest to see his friend’s downcast face, pressing his lips together and frowning with a thorn expression of pain.
“So, where’s Sarah?” said Eli to get Matt to think about something else. “Did she finally come to her senses and dump you?”
“She’s helping her mother out in the kitchen,” replied Matt still looking devastated.
“So we should seize the opportunity and hit the bar,” said Eli smiling, hoping to snap Matt out of it. Matt forced a wry smile.
That moment, Ms. Gretel Mason, Sarah’s grandmother, came into the room. When she saw Eli, she walked over to him and leaned down to hug him. Eli was sorry he couldn’t stand up, because it was clearly not easy for a 78 year old woman to bend like that.
“Merry Christmas, Gretel,” said Eli when they parted. “Thank you for the ramp,” he added trying to convey with his eyes how much that simple gesture had meant to him. Gretel nodded with a grin.
“Merry Christmas, Eli,” she returned. “And this must be Isabel,” said Gretel before Eli could introduce her. She grabbed both of Isabel’s hands in hers. “You’re every bit as beautiful as he described.”
“So are you, Ms. Mason,” responded Isabel and Gretel smiled. Isabel was giving her a sweet look and she had spoken with that frank tone that Eli thought made her sound like a child.
“I’ve heard so much about you. I was eager to meet you,” said Gretel sounding so much younger than she was. “I hear you like art.”
“I do, ma’am. Very much.”
“Well, we share that passion.” Gretel used her arm to turn Isabel around and face the wall of the salon where a painting was hanging at the center.
Isabel let go of her hand and walked over to it. “Degas,” she smiled. “It’s an original!”
“It is,” Gretel nodded although it hadn’t been a question.
“Wow,” Isabel examined the painting for a few seconds.
“So, do you like Degas?” asked Gretel.
“I didn’t use to. Honestly, I thought his dancers were kind of corny,” she started, and Gretel raised an eyebrow. “I was very ignorant back then,” said Isabel at her look. “The first time I saw an original Degas, well really an original of anything, I’d just come to America, and I was living in New York. My first trip to the Metropolitan Museum was when I got hooked with art. I admit it wasn’t until then that I realized how different it is to stand in front of the original paintings, how much more they transmit, how Van Gogh’s brushes come out of the canvas and Monet’s colors are so very unique, how the real thing has something a copy could never have. There was a room filled with Degas and I looked at them, really looked at them for the first time. As I walked around the room I started picturing the painter watching the dancers at the studio, drawing them as they got dressed, spying on them kind of like a voyeur. When I see a Degas, I can sense the painter clearly as he watches and then captures those girls, you can feel him liking them, devouring their curves and their movement with his eyes. I think, in Degas’ paintings, the artist is more present than in most self-portraits, and that’s what I love so much about him now.”
Gretel grinned staring at Isabel for a second. “What about his technique?” Ms. Mason asked.
“I was eighteen then, I knew nothing about technique. Now I know enough to know it can be learnt, perfected. But to get a painting to transmit what you see, to place the viewer in the painter’s eyes, that can’t be thought or learnt, and that’s what makes a painting worth millions,” responded Isabel and Gretel laughed out loud.
“I like her,” said Ms. Mason turning back to look at Eli. “I was afraid she was just a pretentious snob, but it turns out she really likes art, Eli.” Eli smiled at Gretel’s approval. “Why don’t you two cool that bottle while I show Isabel around? I want to get to know her,” she suggested pointing to the bottle of wine over Eli’s lap. “And I also want to try that wine. What did you get for me this time?”
“It’s a new one. Peter Michael. You’ll like it,” Eli smiled. He wasn’t afraid to leave Isabel alone with Gretel. He knew she would never be rude to her. Besides, apparently they were off to a good start. So he just rolled away with Matt while Gretel took Isabel to another room.
Matt poured Eli a scotch and they navigated through Sarah’s relatives towards the quietest corner of the room. There was a rug that covered most of the surface of the wooden floor and Eli had to push his rims harder to get through. Matt noticed and he grabbed his chair to push him but then stopped.
“Do you want me to…?” he asked looking at Eli. That was a first! Matt considering if he actually needed help, asking before doing things for him.
Eli looked up at him surprised. “I can do it, but thanks for asking,” he replied.
They were halfway through their drinks when two identical twins walked in the room. They were thin and tall and had slightly long brown hair. To be fair, not all of Sarah’s family was terrible, Matt and Eli got along pretty well with the twins, Tom and Clay, who were still hard to tell apart, even after all this years. They had visited Eli after his injury, when he was still staying at Matt’s house, so there would be no uncomfortable condolences from them. Eli smiled as they approached.
“Hey, Matt, are you drunk yet?” said Tom as he reached Matt.
“No, he needs our help for that,” said Clay. “’cause Eli’s always trying to keep him sober”, he finished as he held out a hand to Eli with a smile.
“How’re you doing, Eli?” Tom asked using a more serious tone as he shook Eli’s hand.
“I’m good,” replied Eli.
“So where’s that new girlfriend of yours?” asked Clay scanning the room.
“Right there,” said Eli as he spotted Isabel and Gretel returning to the hall.
“Where?” Tom stretched out his neck looking for her.
“Over there with Gretel,” Eli pointed at her with his chin.
“Which one?” asked Clay with his eyes already fixed on Isabel. Tom was staring too.
“The only woman here you don’t see every Christmas,” said Matt sounding fed up.
“The one in the brown dress?” insisted Tom yet skeptical.
“Yep,” nodded Eli smiling.
Clay looked down at him frowning. “Wow, man! You’ve done well for yourself.”
“You have,” concurred Tom with his eyes slightly widened at Isabel.
Isabel spotted him from across the room and she gave him a candid smile before heading over there.
“Guys, this is Isabel,” Eli introduced her. “Is, these are Tom and Clay.”
“Hi,” she greeted them.
“Hi!” said Clay and Tom.
Eli made a gesture to Matt to make him turn around because Sarah and his mother were approaching them. Matt held his breath at the sight of his mother in law.
“I’m glad you could join us, Eli,” Sarah’s mother approached him with a serious expression. “I’m so sorry about what happened to you. It was so terrible!”
Eli nodded uncomfortable. “It’s nice to see you too, Ms. Mason,” he replied, hoping she would leave it at that.
“How can there be such bad people in the world?” Ms. Mason continued as if she hadn’t heard him. “And to think it wasn’t even your car they were trying to steal.”
“Mom!” Sarah burst out.
“That really makes no difference, Ms. Mason,” Eli interrupted her with a serious tone.
“Oh, I didn’t mean to imply that Matthew…” Ms. Mason turned to look at Matt apparently regretting her comment.
Matt gritted his teeth and breathed heavily through his nostrils. He was looking down, his eyes fixed on the floor.
“Of course not. No one would think that,” Eli declared strongly, just a decibel short of being rude to Ms. Mason.
Sarah grabbed Matt’s arm but he remained stiff in the same position. Eli knew Matt felt guilty about what happened to him, because it had been his car they had tried to steal. Eli had told him repeatedly that it had in no way been his fault, but Matt didn’t seem to listen.
“Well,” Ms. Mason continued. “It’s awful. But you’re such a resilient young man.”
“I’ve had a lot of support,” said Eli looking at Matt who refused to meet his eyes. “From Matt and also from your daughter, Ms. Mason.”
“Oh, yes. Sarah’s always been into helping others,” Ms. Mason replied. “I’m always telling her how she should’ve been a doctor or a social worker. I keep asking her to help me out with my charity but she seems to have her own projects.”
Eli stared at Ms. Mason for a moment. Did she mean he was Sarah’s charity project? Or maybe she meant Matt. Either way, he better end this conversation now, before his friend lost it. Matt didn’t usually restrain his temper; but he tried his best around Sarah’s family, withstanding their constant attacks for her sake, making an effort not to make the relationship worse, mostly because Matt knew, better than anyone in that room, the importance and the value of family, and he would never, no matter how tempted he was, take Sarah away from hers.
“Have you met Isabel?” Eli attempted to change the subject.
Ms. Mason’s eyes shifted from him to Isabel and she suddenly seemed startled, as if she hadn’t noticed Isabel’s presence before.
“Uh… no,” she shook her head.
“Is, this is Ms. Mason, Sarah’s mother,” Eli introduced her shifting his chair halfway to look at Isabel, clearing the way between Ms. Mason and her. “Ms. Mason, this is my girlfriend Isabel.”
It took Sarah’s mother a moment to reply. Finally she looked back at Eli. “Sarah told me you were bringing someone. Pleasure to meet you,” She added stretching her hand out to Isabel with a smile.
Isabel shook her hand without speaking. She had a serious expression on her face, Eli wasn’t sure why. Was she angry? He had warned her Sarah’s mother might be rude, and Isabel had claimed she never took those things personally. He had believed her because he had never seen her get upset at Matt’s or Sarah’s attitude. And yet Ms. Mason hadn’t been rude to her –or even to Eli, for that matter –and Isabel looked… he wasn’t sure. Vexed?
Thankfully the twins intervened and took Ms. Mason away before the situation got any more awkward. Once she was gone, Eli rolled towards Matt.
Matt turned around releasing himself from Sarah’s grip and attempted to walk away. Eli pushed his rims to catch up.
“Remember our first Christmas here?” Eli let out abruptly and Matt stopped.
The first time Eli and Matt had spent Christmas at the manor, Sarah’s parents had been rude as always and Eli had had to pull Matt away to stop him from making a scene. They had hid in the wine cellar and drank an entire bottle. Sarah had found them and as they stood up, ready to apologize, she had cracked another bottle, a much better one, and drank a third of it in one gulp. She had gotten drunk, for the first and last time in the 15 years they’d known her, and acted crazy for the rest of the night until Matt had carried her to bed. The next morning, a terribly hung over Sarah, had made Matt promise never to walk out on her again, or else she would go down to the cellar and get drunk. The idea of it and all the things Sarah had done that night, like sing a love song to Matt in front of the entire family, always made Eli and Matt laugh.
“Do you seriously want Sarah to go to the cellar?” Eli joked and Matt turned around. The two friends stared at each other for a while. Eli’s warm hazel eyes trying to soften Matt’s tortured look. Finally, Matt nodded and walked back to Sarah. She threw her arms around him. It took Matt a while but eventually he returned her hug, wrapping his big arms around his wife’s waist.
Once they parted Isabel approached Sarah. “Can I get you a drink?” she offered, probably thinking Sarah could use a drink after the whole ordeal.
“Sarah doesn’t drink,” Eli laughed.
“She smokes,” Matt chuckled.
“I do not,” denied Sarah.
“She does,” said Eli still in a playful tone.
“You do,” Matt agreed looking at his wife.
“Every year she picks it up during the holydays,” Eli explained to Isabel.
“And every January she quits as her New Year’s resolution,” Matt finished with a laugh.
“Well, not this year,” Sarah argued with a smile.
“Oh really?” asked Matt.
“Forgive us but you’ve lost all your credibility,” teased Eli.
“Well this year is different,” Sarah insisted.
“How’s so?” asked Matt sounding amused.
“Well, the twins quit and I’m not about to ask uncle Saul for one,” she admitted.
Eli and Matt both laughed. Then Matt took his hand to the inner pocket of his jacket and pulled out a brand new cigarette pack.
“Ah!” Sarah let out air surprised. “You brought cigarettes?” she asked.
Matt nodded proud of himself. “I knew you’d need them.”
“Oh, what the hell!” Sarah jumped to get the pack from Matt’s hand that was holding it up. “Let’s go.” She led the way to the kitchen and then a back door to a small porch.
Matt sat on the wooden banister that framed the deck, next to a couple of steps. Eli parked his chair in front of them as Sarah opened the pack. Isabel looked down at Eli and then up at Sarah before sitting down on the first step of the small stairs. Eli wheeled closer to her and she placed her arm over his legs. Matt and Sarah both looked down finding it awkward for her to touch his legs. They looked at Eli maybe expecting him to react. Eli caressed Isabel’s hair instead, to make them see he felt comfortable with her touch.
Sarah held out the pack for Matt to grab one and then to Eli.
“We all have to smoke with her,” he explained to Isabel. “It makes her feel better about her vice,” he laughed.
“Ha, ha,” Sarah mimicked.
Eli took his cigarette and then Sarah reached the pack out to Isabel. She took one and Sarah pulled a lighter out.
“You’re not gonna cough on me or anything, are you?” asked Sarah before lighting Isabel’s cigarette, as if she were speaking to a teenager.
“Not a chance,” smiled Isabel. “My brother Liam used to make me smoke with him since I was eleven. We used to climb up to the roof of the house and smoke while he waited for his girlfriend to sneak out to meet him. Then he’d ditch me once she arrived.”
“You have a brother?” asked Sarah surprised. Eli had turned to look at her surprised as well, because she had said she didn’t have any family.
Sarah didn’t answer though. She had a sad look all of a sudden.
That moment the twins opened the door abruptly and Sarah jumped startled as if they had caught her smoking pot.
“We knew we’d find you here,” they laughed.
“You scared the shit out of me,” Sarah burst out at them.
“We thought you quit,” they laughed some more.
“Yeah well, who can quit with this family,” she replied and handed them the pack.
“Really, Sarah. Why do you still care? You’ve been married for almost a decade. Why do you let it get to you?” asked Tom.
“Because,” Eli jumped in, “no matter how they behave, they’re still her family and she’d wish everyone could just get along.”
Sarah looked at Eli, fixing her eyes on his for a few seconds as if a sudden realization had just hit her, finally she nodded with a wry smile. Then she turned to look at Sarah, then at Matt and again at Eli. She sighed and did something Eli hadn’t expected. She sat down next to Isabel.
A little after ten, Eli approached Isabel to tell her they should leave. She had been talking and laughing with Sarah for the better part of the night. Eli smiled at the image of the two of them getting along.
“Are you sure you can’t stay?” Sarah asked Eli with a pleading look.
“Sorry, Sarah,” Eli refused.
“Ok,” said Sarah and she leaned in to hug Eli. “Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas,” he echoed.
“Oh! Watch out, here comes July,” Sarah warned Eli and then she grabbed Isabel’s arm like they were girlfriends. “I hope you’re not the jealous type. July has had a crush on Eli since forever”, she whispered to Isabel.
“Really?” asked Isabel surprised.
“Yeah, she’s gonna be totally jealous of you.”
“Are you leaving already?” July showed up behind Eli who was already wearing his coat and had Isabel’s on his lap.
“Yeah, we are,” Eli nodded.
“Oh well,” she said looking down at Eli as if he was an injured puppy. “It was nice meeting you,” she turned to Isabel and hugged her again.
“You’ve met?” asked Sarah.
“Yeah,” Isabel nodded.
“Ok, that was weird,” said Sarah once July left. “I thought she would at least give you a scorned look.”
“Not likely,” Eli huffed and Sarah looked at him confused.
“Why not? She’s been waiting for you to be single for years.”
“Yeah, things are different now.”
Sarah squinted at him.
“It’s more like she had a crush on me,” Eli explained. “I don’t look so hot in a wheelchair.”
“Oh, Eli! I’m sorry,” said Sarah looking embarrassed.
“I think you look hot in your wheelchair,” Isabel caught in.
Eli smiled at her and grabbed her hand. “Yeah well,I think it’s safe to say you have the worst taste in men,” Eli joked and pulled her in for a kiss. “But I’m grateful you’re crazy.”
Isabel kissed him again, deeply, until Sarah cleared her throat.
“Get a room, you two,” she joked.
They said their goodbyes with a candid smile and went to find Gretel to thank her again before leaving. Usually, Eli would spend the night, as did most of the guests. It was a big house and there was plenty of room. This year however, things were different and Eli didn’t feel he could sleep in a place that wasn’t modified to meet his needs. He was sorry to leave Matt behind but he needed the accessibility of his apartment, especially his own bathroom.
Matt walked them out into the white carpet of snow that covered the entire garden. As they reached the end of the ramp, Eli looked up at Matt who had silently followed him down.
“Hey Matt,” Eli started.
“Would you push me to the car?” he said looking up at his friend who stopped cold at the spot. Usually Eli would ask Matt not to push his wheelchair. “I haven’t mastered the snow yet,” Eli offered as an explanation.
“Sure, man! Of course,” he agreed sounding joyful, as if someone had just given him some great news, and then he looked at Isabel and smiled at her. Isabel smiled back as if they were sharing a private joke, something that only the two of them understood. Eli looked up at Isabel surprised. It was pretty weird considering Matt didn’t exactly like her, but he didn’t say anything afraid to sound jealous. Eli would never be jealous of Matt. His friend would never do something like that to him, or Sarah, no matter how beautiful Isabel was.
“You have to lift the front wheels a little,” Eli explained shaking the thought away.
Matt leaned the chair backwards and Eli grabbed on to his legs to balance his weight as they crossed the white land towards his car. Once there, Matt leaned in to hug Eli.
“Drive safe,” said Matt as a goodbye.
“Merry Christmas,” said Eli before transferring.
They reached the city at midnight and Eli dropped Isabel off at her place. They kissed and hugged for about ten minutes before she finally got out of the car. He was sorry to watch her leave. The last 24 hours had been so intense; he felt a knot in his stomach as she disappeared behind the building’s door. It had been so nice to go to sleep holding her and wake up with her next to him. Was it too soon to ask her to move in with him? It probably was, he smiled to himself as he started the car with her candid image fresh in his mind, her taste still on his lips and her touch pounding on his skin.