When they parted he looked into her face and watched her slowly open her eyes and breathe in deeply as if she was still savoring their kiss, much like the way she lingered with the taste of food she liked, and this time it was quiet enough for him to listen to her soft moan. She was still kneeling over the seat and she sat back over her heels keeping her right hand on him, her blue eyes locked on his.
“Would you like to come up?” she invited him.
“Uh… Isabel I…” he stuttered, his breath still fastened by the rush of their kiss. Of course he wanted to come up with her; of course he wanted to undress her with his mouth and peel off every inch of her soft skin with his tongue and leave not a shred of her untouched. Of course he wanted to, but he couldn’t.
“I don’t mean to have sex,” she said bluntly. “I know it sounded like that, but I mean like for a drink maybe. It’s still early,” she clarified.
It took him a moment to answer. Part of him was barely resisting the urge to grab her again and kiss her until dawn. He wanted her so badly it physically hurt. And yet, another part of him was so scared he was seriously considering running away.
“I’d love to,” he agreed finally.
She lived on a second floor, but there was an elevator. She unlocked the door to her apartment and led the way to a small living room. There were still boxes around the place and it was clear she hadn’t finished moving because there weren’t any furniture except for a couch and a small table with two chairs. There were some books piled up around the floor and also some paintings, photographs and sketches, architecture sketches and pictures from famous buildings he recognized. She probably hadn’t gotten around to hanging them yet.
“Wow, so you really like architecture,” he said as he looked into a photograph of Gaudi’s work. “Did you take these photographs?”
“No, I’m not an artist, but I really love art, all kinds of it. Music, literature, photography, painting and yes, I love architecture. I could look at these buildings all day.”
“Is that why you like me?” Eli said smiling because for the first time it didn’t seem so unbelievable that she would. He was after all a great architect; he had no insecurities about himself in that regard.
“Partly, I guess,” she nodded. “But for the record, I usually like art, not artists, they’re typically snobs and I hate the pose. You’re actually the first artist I’ve liked.”
“So you think I’m an artist?” Eli ventured.
“Of course you’re an artist,” she replied picking up some photographs from the ground. “The Newton building, mmm, totally a work of art. But this one is my favorite,” she said pulling out a photograph from the first building he had ever built on his own. “It has its flaws. It’s not perfect like the Newton building, but I guess that’s why I like it so much. It’s so natural, so human. Look here, this line that stretches up and then the way it sort of catches the light over this curve. A building with curves, it’s like a woman. I find this building really sexy,” she smiled.
Eli laughed, what a strange description of a building, and yet it was as if she somehow understood his vision of it. He took the photograph from her hands. “I can’t believe you have this”, he said surprised. “I didn’t think anyone even knew that building.”
“Oh I know all your work,” she said.
“You’ve done your homework,” Eli spoke guessing she had researched him before hiring him.
“I loved this building long before I ever considered hiring you.”
“Really?” Eli asked skeptic.
“I stumbled across it by chance, but the minute I saw it I fell in love with it. I even came to Boston to look at it. It was the first time I was here,” she confessed.
“You came to Boston just to see my building?”
“I did,” she nodded.
“Wow. I’m flattered,” he said rolling closer to her.
“Can I get you a drink? I don’t have so much variety, but I have scotch,” she offered.
“Sure”, he accepted.
Isabel walked over to the kitchen while she took her coat off and left it over a chair. Eli followed her with his eyes watching the thin fabric from her dress sway over her body as she moved. She opened a cabinet that he could see was empty except for two glasses. Then she opened another one that only had a bottle of scotch inside. As she reached up, her skirt lifted enough for him to see her leg straightening from the back of her knee to her firm thigh. She poured their glasses before heading back to the living room and sitting down. She set the glasses down on the floor and used her hand to invite Eli to sit next to her. She took off her boots and socks and put her legs sideways over the couch. He rolled over and parked his wheelchair next to the sofa, before transferring in one swift move. Then he grabbed his legs with his hands to set them in place and finally pulled his chair to the side. He looked up at her and found her watching. Isabel had a way of staring unlike anyone else; she rarely did so, most times she would find something to occupy herself discreetly while he went through this awkward moments that made him feel so self-conscious; but from time to time, she would just watch, bluntly, without pretense. Eli had spent a fair amount of time staring at her as well, analyzing her gestures and looks, and right about now, he could swear she was staring at him the same way she did at pictures, at the sketches he’d shown her, at the photograph of his first building, like something she liked and not something strange or awkward.
She handed him his glass and they toasted. She took her sip slowly as he had watched her do so often, and then parted her lips from the glass and smiled at him invitingly. Eli wanted to kiss her again so badly. He wanted to touch her hair and her long neck. He pictured himself taking her dress off slowly as he kissed the line of her naked shoulders. But he didn’t, he just sat there watching her, silently holding her gaze.
Isabel took another sip from her glass and set it back down on the floor. Then she took Eli’s hand and tangled their fingers as he had done in the car. Eli took a big gulp from his own glass and then set it down over a box that was next to the couch. His hands were sweaty again. He felt his back held straight by the cushion behind him, a soft comfortable feeling that ended midway down his back and then he felt nothing. Isabel’s knee was slightly grazing his right leg, but again he couldn’t feel that. His left hand was supported against the arm of the sofa, his right one tangled on hers. She was expecting him to kiss her again, right now; he could tell. She was leaning towards him, flirting now without mistake with her deep blue eyes and long lashes. But he was too insecure to move. He hadn’t been with anyone since he was paralyzed. Melany hadn’t even tried to touch him after he was injured. And right now, sitting in this couch, next to this beautiful woman, he felt even more paralyzed, as he had the first days in the hospital, when he couldn’t attempt even the simplest of movements without tipping over or feeling wobbly and insecure even in bed. He didn’t know how to reach over to her, how to touch her, how to engage in the passion he so clearly felt for her, without his body standing like a constant obstacle. He was breathing heavily and for a second he feared he was about to have a panic attack. What the hell was wrong with him? Why couldn’t he just relax? He had just kissed Isabel; she had kissed him back; and my god, in what way had she kissed him. He should be thriving with happiness.
“Eli,” Isabel’s voice snatched him from his tortured mind. She kneeled over the couch to be closer to him and she touched his face with her right hand releasing her left one from his. Eli took a deep breath.
“I’m sorry,” he apologized not exactly sure what for.
Isabel shook her head and then gently pecked him on the lips before getting up. “How about some music?” she suggested.
She plugged an Ipod to a small speaker and played a soft song, it was a duet and as always, Isabel started singing along.
“Who sings that?” said Eli as an attempt to seem more relaxed.
“Alex and Sierra”, Isabel replied. “It’s a couple from one of those contest shows.”
“I can’t remember which one, like America’s got talent or the X factor,” said Isabel as she sat back down next to him.
“You watch those shows?”
“Not really. I don’t even own a TV”, Isabel laughed. “But I confess I like watching the auditions online.”
“The auditions, really?”
“Yeah. Like that Paul Pott’s audition video that became really famous.”
“Yeah. I saw that,” Eli remembered.
“Well, there’s something kind of exiting about the moment a new talent is discovered. I like watching the faces of the judges when they weren’t expecting it. I like how the artists are so very nervous, some of them not confident at all even though they have great voices. It’s like once they’re famous, all that honest stuff is gone, but at that first approach they’re so naturally human. I also like watching that Simon guy, the judge.”
“The one who’s mean?”
“He’s not mean. He’s honest. And his face absolutely lights up when he sees someone he likes. It’s like it makes his day; his eyes get all shiny, he smiles like a kid. You can tell it’s what he loves most in the entire world, and I’m kind of like that. I like watching talent and art. I like watching you.”
He had to give it to her; Isabel sure knew how to make him relax.
“So, did these guys win?” asked Eli shyly trying to ignore her last comment.
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know? But I thought you liked them so much.”
“I do. Listen to their voices. But I don’t want to find out if they won. I tried googling once if another girl I liked had won and I got very disappointed about what they tried to turn her into. She was so perfect in her audition and then they made her wear all this make up and high heels she couldn’t even walk in. She was just a kid, fourteen I think. It seems to me, that at that first approach is the best they’ll ever be, because they’re unpolluted. I don’t mean to say I don’t want them to win. It’ll be a real nice story, but I could just never like them that much again.”
“Because what I like is that fist moment, you know. When they go out there feeling insecure and yet bravely facing all those people. When they’re still regular guys even though they’re incredibly talented. That’s why I only watch the auditions and not the show.”
Eli wondered for a moment if she was really talking about those artists, or if she meant him, if what she was really saying was that she liked the fact that he was so insecure.
“So you really don’t own a TV?” he asked her pushing the thought away.
“Nope, feel free to check,” said Isabel using a hand to gesture he was free to look around the apartment. Eli had to admit he was curious to see the rest of her place.
“I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who didn’t own a TV,” Eli said seriously considering her offer to look around.
“Well, it’s not that I don’t like to watch TV. It’s just that a while back I got used to watching shows online so I would always end up using the computer instead of the television. Mine died still in Washington and I just didn’t see the point of getting a new one.”
“They have smart TV’s now, you know. You can watch the Internet on TV, even your auditions in YouTube.”
“Oh really?” she laughed. “I guess one of these days I’ll buy one.”
“Yeah, one of these days I’ll buy furniture too,” she laughed.
“Why didn’t you just bring your stuff from Washington?”
“This is my stuff from Washington,” she replied.
“This is all you’ve got?” he said and then he got worried he might have sounded insulting. “I mean…”
Isabel laughed. “It’s ok. This is all I’ve got. I move around a lot. I guess it’s easier this way.”
Eli’s expression suddenly went sad. “I thought you said you were planning on staying,” he said.
“I think this time I will,” she said smiling and then leaned in and kiss him gently, slowly, and then parted. “I think this time I found something I really like.”
Eli grabbed her face with his right hand and pulled her closer to him, without releasing his other hand from the grip of the couch’s arm, and pressed his lips against hers. He took her taste in as he kissed her softly at first and then passionately. She then threw one leg around him and sat astride him. Eli placed both his hands over her thin waist as Isabel started kissing his neck and then his mouth again, then she ran her tongue gently over his earlobes. Both their breaths fastened as Eli touched her curved back and then kissed her long neck and the two bones that marked the beginning of her chest, then he followed the line of her dress across her naked shoulders, not daring to pull it down, but savoring the expectation. She caressed his chest arching back and moaned slightly as he tightened his grip over her waist and then up across her back while nibbling her earlobe subtly.
Eli kissed her again in the mouth and then he stopped to look at her. Her face was inclined to the right making her red hair fall down over that side, her wet lips slightly opened and her breath fastened. Was it possible that she wanted more? Did this beautiful woman really want him? He looked at her; she was still sitting on top of him, her legs parted around his hips, her body so close to him that every inch of them was touching. And he suddenly felt so impotent, literally impotent. He wanted to lift her up and carry her to bed. Laid her down slowly and mount her; rip her dress off and make love to her. But he couldn’t, not any more, not ever. He would never feel himself inside her. Never again would he feel a woman’s hips tightened around him, pressing him as they sway together.
“Eli,” Isabel’s voice again called him back from his tormented mind.
“I’m sorry,” he apologized.
“Don’t be,” she said holding his face with both hands. “You don’t ever have to be sorry for that with me.”
What did she mean by that? Was his expression so obvious she could guess what he was thinking? She stood up from him, kneeling again over the couch while pressing her body against his right arm, slightly hugging him. She then kissed his shoulder and looked up at him smiling.
“What would you like to listen to?” she asked.
“Uh… anything,” replied Eli trying to shake away the sudden sadness that had stroke him. “Show me something else you like. You’ve been through my entire collection.”
She stood up and played another song. It was a kind of music that Eli had never heard before. A man’s voice sang in a strange tone, like a loud cry, that somehow sounded the way Eli felt right then.
“It’s gipsy music,” she explained. “It’s a Spanish guy called Zigala. And the piano is played by a Cuban musician, Bebo Valdez. He was eighty years old when he played that.”
Eli listened to the piano strokes and the man’s hoarse voice.
“Do you like it?” she asked.
“I can’t decide if it’s a sad song or a happy one,” Eli replied.
“He’s talking about a woman who left him and he’s saying he should hate her, but he doesn’t. Instead of cursing her he blesses her. I think it’s neither sad nor happy, but sensual,” said Isabel returning to the couch and leaning her head over his shoulder while resting one hand over his chest and the other on his arm.
Eli touched Isabel’s hand that was on his chest and he kissed her head. He breathed in the scent of her hair that was now a little disheveled. It felt so good to be close to her like that, to have him hold him. Her presence comforted him, but at the same time, Eli knew it was her same presence that made him feel so sad.
They stayed that way for a while, listening to music, mostly quiet. He didn’t try to kiss her again and neither did she; although she didn’t separate herself from him for the rest of the night. She kept one hand on him at all times, either on the arm or the chest, and at some point she laid down on the couch and rested her head over his legs and stayed there while he caressed her hair.
He left almost at three AM, not sure how he felt. She had kissed him softly as a goodbye and Eli thought back at all the times she had lingered an extra second when she kissed his cheek. Had she always liked him? It was hard to believe. It made sense that she would be attracted to his talent as an architect, perhaps she had flirted with him over the phone after all; but then she had met him. Had she really still been attracted to him after seeing he was disabled? Or had she already known? Suddenly Matt’s words rang in his ears. Maybe she looked you up and saw an opportunity. Eli pushed the thought away. She wasn’t a gold digger; no way. She was kind and honest, she wasn’t playing him; she couldn’t be.
All night he kept waking up and by dawn, spasms kept him from falling back asleep altogether. He had drank too much the night before. He should know better by now. Alcohol triggered his spasms. He started stretching in bed to distract himself from his thoughts. He didn’t really want to get out of bed, but by seven AM he knew he had to. Life as a paraplegic was obliged by routine. He forced himself to make the uncomfortable movement of swinging across the bed to grab a tip of the mattress and pull himself up. Then he reluctantly transferred into his wheelchair and rolled over to the bathroom.
He had just finished getting dressed after showering when he heard the bell ring. He looked at his watch, it was half past eight. He picked up the interphone to hear Isabel’s voice. It wasn’t the first time she had surprised him, but things were different now, or weren’t they? They had kissed last night, or perhaps she had come to her senses by now. She had had over half a bottle of neat scotch after all. He pictured Isabel apologizing for the night before, telling him it had all been a mistake and that they should go back to being friends. The thought scared him. Then he dared to picture the opposite, Isabel greeting him with a passionate kiss and trying to make out with him. He wasn’t sure which option was more frightening. He hesitated before buzzing her in, trying to settle his legs with his palms. On top of everything he was still having spasms.
“Hey,” she greeted him. “I’m sorry to stop by unannounced, I hope you don’t mind. I come baring coffee,” she smiled holding out two cups.
His legs jumped a little and he forced himself to smile back while pressing them with his hands.
“It’s fine. You’re always welcome here,” he replied.
She leaned down and kissed him on the cheek, not the mouth, the same way she always did when they met. Eli didn’t know what to make of that and yet he somehow felt relieved. Then she handed him his coffee.
“Would you like some breakfast?” he offered.
“Are you cooking it for me?” she asked in her usual flirty tone. At least she wasn’t acting strange.
“Sure,” he said and rolled towards the kitchen. She followed him. “What would you like?”
“Surprise me.” She was wearing some kind of gloss over her lips and as she grinned, Eli had trouble parting his eyes from her mouth. He thought back about the way she had kissed him and felt anxious at the memory.
He cooked eggs and they sat down to have breakfast. As always, Isabel loved his food, she enjoyed it slowly while she complimented him. Eli usually liked her compliments but today he was too restless. His mind was all over the place, wondering did she like him or didn’t she. Was she playing him as Matt thought? He felt guilty to even consider the possibility. Isabel was so great, but then again, was she too great? Some things are just too good to be true. He tried to make small talk to hide his nerves, and halfway through their meal he found himself talking about the weather. Ever since he’d first met her, he had found half the things Isabel did strange. Why had she shown up this morning? It wasn’t that he didn’t want to see her. He had to admit he loved having her around. But it also seemed a bit too much. He pushed the thought away making some comment about how cold the morning was and then he stayed quiet not knowing what else to say.
“So, I was thinking we could watch some TV,” she suggested when they ran out of small talk and food.
“Uh… sure. But my only TV is in the bedroom,” he replied shyly.
She smiled. “Is it a smart TV?” she joked.
“Well then, I don’t mind if you don’t,” she teased him.
He led the way to his bedroom, pushing his wheels with steady strokes. He hadn’t made the bed, but as he rolled in the room he was a little more concern with checking that he hadn’t left any awkward items lying around like a catheter. He gave the room a quick glance before inviting her in.
“I’m sorry about the mess,” he apologized, even though the only thing messy about his room were the covers over the bed. Eli was actually very tidy.
Isabel smiled. “May I?” she asked pointing towards the bed.
“Sure,” said Eli feeling his heartbeat fastening.
She sat down on the bed and then doubted a moment before taking her shoes off and putting her legs over the mattress. Eli circled the bed and positioned his wheelchair in front of it. A little over a year ago, he wouldn’t have hesitated a second to jump into bed next to this woman. Now, he looked at her before transferring, worried that the moment he did, his legs were likely to start shaking again. Then again, his legs had spasm in front of her other times before, and if that freaked Isabel out, she hid it well. Come to think about it, she had never reacted awkwardly to any aspect of his disability, which was part of what he found so intriguing about her. It wasn’t only that Isabel was beautiful, he also happened to really like her. She was odd sometimes, but Eli actually enjoyed that; her character was unexpected and refreshing. To be honest, were he not in a wheelchair, he would have no doubts about her at all.
She looked away while she pulled herself to rest her back against the headboard. Eli reached down to take his shoes off too, still in the chair. Then he placed a fist over the bed and swung his body. He picked up his legs and placed them as gently as possible over the mattress; but –as predicted - they shook uncontrollably. He took a deep breath waiting the spasm out. Once they stopped, he picked up the remote and turned to her.
“So, what would you like to watch?” he asked her.
“What do you usually watch?” she asked in return.
“Well, I like series.”
“Criminal minds, Castle, Crossing lines… usually thrillers.” He felt so awkward in bed next to her.
“Ok, so pick one.”
He used the remote and chose a random chapter of Crossing lines. She then pulled herself closer to him and placed her head on his chest. Eli swallowed hard and forced himself to put his arm around her, afraid she was going to try to make out with him now. She didn’t, she just laid there. After half a chapter of lying in the same position he started to relax. It was kind of nice to be lying with her that way. She smelled so good, her hair just underneath his face, her warm body pressed against his chest. Eli hadn’t realized how much he missed that human contact, how much he actually needed to be held like that; how good it felt to not be alone all the time.
Since she had never watched that show before he explained the basics to her, and then she made some questions along the way. By the second chapter, she was really into the plot and Eli finally started to believe she actually wanted to watch TV. She hadn’t tried to kiss him, and although she was holding his chest, she hadn’t touched him in any way that suggested she was expecting more from him.
“This is a really good show,” she said at the end of the second chapter. “I can’t believe I’ve never watched it before. I didn’t even know it existed.”
“Well, you don’t own a TV,” he joked, now feeling almost completely relaxed, enjoying her presence. He had had a few spasms but she had ignored them, and he was happy to see she hadn’t changed her attitude towards him after last night. She still treated him with complete casualness, as if they had known each other for a lot longer than they actually had.
He played the next chapter but halfway through the first scene they heard the main door open and someone walk in. Isabel sat up on the bed. Shit, it was probably Matt, thought Eli. It wasn’t the first time he had regretted having given him a key.
“Eli?” he heard Matt’s voice calling from the living room.
“Is that Matt?” asked Isabel.
“Yeah. He has a key,” said Eli as he hurried to transfer into his chair. Isabel watched him for a second but as he rolled out to meet Matt, she got off the bed too and started to put her shoes on.
“Hey, I thought maybe you weren’t home,” Matt greeted him. “I called you.”
“Sorry, I didn’t hear it,” said Eli looking for his phone, he had probably left it in the dining room.
“I brought you leftovers from dinner,” said Matt and then he noticed Isabel coming out of the bedroom. Eli turned around nervously. “Oh, sorry. I didn’t realize you had company,” said Matt awkwardly.
“Hi,” said Isabel.
“Hello, Isabel”, replied Matt. So he was back to his rude tone, thought Eli, as Matt looked down towards his feet. He hadn’t had time to put his shoes back on.
“Thanks,” said Eli taking the food from Matt’s hands and placing it on his lap to roll to the kitchen.
He was expecting Matt to leave it at that and go, but instead, he took a sit at the table. “So, have you guys had lunch yet?” he asked.
“We had breakfast kind of late,” said Eli and then regretted it because he wasn’t sure he wanted Matt to know he had had breakfast with Isabel.
“Oh! Did you stay up late last night?” Matt asked bluntly.
“No,” Eli lied and then tried his best not to turn around to look at Isabel; he could feel her eyes on him though.
“I brought pumpkin pie, Isabel. Don’t you want some? Since you like it so much,” said Matt.
“We’ll have some later,” Eli jumped in.
“So, what were you two doing?” said Matt taking the tone of a parent who had just walked in on two teenagers.
“Nothing,” said Eli before Isabel could speak. “Isabel just dropped by for a bit,” he said nervously looking straight at Matt who had his eyes fixed on her.
“So you won’t mind if I stay for a while, will you?” said Matt. “Unless I’m interrupting something…?” he added in a conspicuous tone. Eli robbed his forehead with his hand.
Isabel walked around Eli and sat down at the table across from Matt. Now Eli couldn’t avoid her gaze anymore.
“You’ll never guess who called this morning, Eli,” said Matt.
“Who?” asked Eli annoyed.
“Melany,” replied Matt. Isabel finally parted her eyes from Eli and turned to look at Matt.
“Could care less,” said Eli while lifting his body with his hands and adjusting his position in the chair. Matt point blank hated Melany. Eli had always thought Matt was angrier at her than he was; a fact that he had made more than evident since she walked out on him. It had been him who got rid of all her stuff and he had vanished her name from every conversation. Any time someone would mention her, Matt would swear or make some insulting comment. Eli even remembered him hitting the table once angry at Sarah for saying her name. So why the hell was he bringing her up now?
“Well, she seems to be under the impression that you two are… involved.”
“What?” asked Eli nervously.
“She said she met Isabel at the inauguration party for the Newton building. Funny how you didn’t want me to go with you that day.”
Ok, that was it, thought Eli as he felt anger building up inside him. He was done cutting him slack. He was done letting Matt treat him like a child and embarrassing him this way. So he had been his best friend for 19 years; so he had been there for him after his injury, so he hadn’t left his side at the hospital, and he had taken care of him when he was released, while he was still learning to be independent. So he had cleaned his ass, dressed him, carried him. So what? Did that give him the right to humiliate him? Eli took a deep breath considering, maybe, it did.
“So… are you…?” he heard Matt’s voice as a hoarse echo from behind the trail of his thoughts. Eli squinted at him. “…involved?”
“No, we’re not,” said Eli bluntly and without hesitation.
Isabel had been looking at Matt at the time, but the moment the words left Eli’s mouth, she turned around slowly to look at him. Shit. He could see her chest rise a little as she breathed in locking her eyes on his for just a second and then she looked down, her eyebrows curled slightly up as she did that and then she rested her chin over her hand, setting her elbow over the table, and looked away.
“I wondered how she got that idea,” said Matt. “So were you guys going out or something?”
“No, actually I was just leaving,” Isabel finally spoke. “As Eli said, I just dropped by for a bit”, she added getting up.
“Oh, don’t leave on my account,” said Matt without sounding honest.
“Isabel,” uttered Eli. His anger towards Matt and Melany subsiding now, he realized he was being a jerk and was suddenly whipped by a lash of guilt.
“It was nice seeing you again, Matt. Say hi to Sarah for me.”
Isabel’s tone seemed normal; she didn’t sound upset, she wasn’t being ironic. Eli considered stopping her, but he didn’t really want to do so in front of Matt. Instead he just let her go, feeling even guiltier, but determined to apologize to her and make things right the minute Matt was out of the house.
“See you, Eli”, she said as she walked out the door and now she sounded sad. Shit, he was a total jerk, Eli scolded himself.
“So… not involved ha?” said Matt a minute later.
Eli’s eyes were still fixed on the door. He used his left hand to turn his chair around and face Matt with bolting eyes.
“She didn’t spend the night if that’s what you’re thinking?” said Eli now ready to put a stop to Matt’s stupid attitude.
“I wasn’t thinking that,” replied Matt dropping the attitude, his tone back to the normal condescending way he had talked to Eli in for the past year.
Of course Matt wasn’t thinking that, he didn’t think Eli could lift a dish, let alone sleep with a woman. It was a damn miracle he hadn’t hired a nurse like Melany thought. And now what? Was he siding with her?
“Of course you weren’t,” Eli smiled wryly. “You know, Melany came to the party to share her happiness with me. It turns out she’s engaged. Big diamond ring on her finger and all,” Eli started saying in an exaggerated tone. “Oh! But get this. She’s talked it over with her fiancée, and they both feel like she should come to visit me from time to time to keep me company. So I won’t be so lonely,” he said ironically, stressing the words. He could see Matt’s eyes filling with sadness or pity as he spoke and that spiked him further, pissed him off. “She’s actually such a good person that she wants to help take care of me, to keep the weight off your back ‘cause you must be so tired. She was thinking of supervising a nurse. Is that what you two talked about this morning? Are you going to split expenses or maybe you convened that I’ll be better taken care of at a home?”
Matt’s expression went from gloom to furious. He got up from the table and grabbed his hair as he turned his back on Eli. He could hear him breathing heavily, but Eli was angry too. He had been holding things in for too long.
“That bitch is gonna listen to me,” Matt hissed and headed for the door.
Eli’s anger dissipated as fast as it had built up, and he pushed his wheels to caught Matt off. Matt had a temper, he was a good guy and the best of friends, but he would lit up in fury in a second and measure no consequences. And right now he was going to go find Melany, no doubt about that. Not that she didn’t deserve a little yelling, but Eli didn’t want that. So, Matt also thought he had to defend him from big bad Melany, which was again embarrassing, but mostly, he didn’t want Matt to get into trouble, which he had a neck for.
“Matt, don’t.” Eli parked his chair in front of him.
Matt tried to dodge him and Eli turned his wheelchair to the side hitting Matt’s leg with his footplate. Matt looked down at Eli’s feet that started shaking with the blow. His nostrils swollen from anger, as he tried to control his breathing. Unlike Isabel, Eli’s spasms always made Matt uneasy.
“I can’t believe her nerve,” Matt hissed after a while. “I’m sorry I brought her up, man,” he said lowering his tone.
“Not your fault,” replied Eli.
Matt turned around and dropped himself on the couch. He was clenching his fists and he threw his head back still breathing heavily. Eli rolled closer to him, positioning his chair in front of the sofa.
“Do you want to come over to the house? We could hang out,” Matt suggested.
“No, thanks,” refused Eli. “I’ve got some stuff to do.”
Matt looked at him, analyzing his expression. He then fixed his eyes on Eli’s legs that were shaking just a bit now.
“Are you sure? Or I could stay,” he insisted.
“I’m fine, Matt, really.”
When Matt finally left, Eli picked up his phone to call Isabel. He was afraid she wouldn’t pick up but she did.
“Hey, Isabel,” he said nervously into the phone.
“Hey,” she said back.
“Look, I’m so sorry… It’s just that Matt…” he didn’t know how to explain. Matt thinks you’re a gold digger, so I didn’t want him to know I kissed you.
“It’s ok, you don’t owe me an explanation,” she caught him off.
“I do. I acted like a jerk. I’m so sorry,” he apologized. “Where are you?”
“Home,” she said and Eli wasn’t sure if it was sadness on her tone.
“Would you like to maybe go somewhere?” he asked.
“I’m just going to lie down for a while. I’m kind of tired,” she refused him.
“Oh… OK,” he replied trying to figure out what else to say.
“OK, bye,” she didn’t give him an opportunity and hanged up.
Ok, so a beautiful woman had kissed him back, tried to make out with him, then acted perfectly understanding at the fact that he couldn’t quite make out with her, then stopped by to see him the next morning, brought him coffee, laid down with him to watch TV, not acted weird at his spasms and he had just blown it big time. He was such a jerk.
He rolled to the kitchen and stored the food Matt had brought in the fridge. Then he headed towards his bedroom thinking he should just lie down and try to sleep, but he was too upset. Finally he made up his mind; he picked up his car keys and decided to drive to Isabel’s place. The least he could do was apologize in person.
When he got there, he almost chickened out and turned back; but he forced himself to ring the doorbell instead. It took her a while to answer and Eli feared she wasn’t actually home, but finally he heard her voice on the intercom.
“It’s Eli,” he said shyly on the speaker. “It’s Eli,” he repeated lauder into the speaker realizing he was two feet down from it.
After a moment that seemed like an eternity to Eli, he finally heard her voice again.
“Oh… I’ll buzz you in,” she said.
Her door was opened when he left the elevator. She was standing at the entrance waiting for him. He took a deep breath before looking her in the eye.
“I’m sorry to drop by like this. I know you probably don’t want to see me, but I couldn’t leave things like that,” he said fighting not to look down, almost unable to hold her gaze.
“Come in,” she invited stepping away from the door. “Coffee?” she offered once they were both inside.
“Sure, thanks,” he accepted. His mouth was dry.
He followed her to the kitchen and watched her pour him a cup from a glass French coffee maker. As she opened a cupboard, he noticed again, she only had one mug in it, identical to the one she was already drinking from, the rest of the space was empty. They headed back to the couch where they had sat the night before and she sat down with her legs curled up over it, before handing him his mug. This time, she didn’t invite him to transfer.
“So, look… I’m sorry about Matt. But mostly I’m sorry about the way I acted,” he started. She stayed quiet so he continued. “I didn’t mean to deny we were… I just didn’t know exactly where we stand and I didn’t want to assume… maybe you don’t want people to know… we…” he was stuttering like the first times he had been around her.
“Are you still interested in Melany?” she interrupted him.
“What? God no! Of course not.” At least he was certain about that. If that was what Isabel was thinking he could set her mind at ease.
“Then what’s the matter?”
“Nothing… I didn’t know if last night… was a one time thing…” he almost whispered. That part was true; he had no idea if it had all been a moment of weakness on her part, perhaps she had drank too much.
Isabel stared at him. “Was me coming over this morning too subtle?” she laughed all of a sudden changing her expression. “I was kind of worried it was too blunt.”
“Uh… I… So you…? I thought you might regret last night,” he said feeling so very stupid.
“What? No,” she said smiling at him with that beautiful mouth. “Last night was amazing.”
“Really?” he couldn’t help but ask. “I thought it was kind of a disaster,” he said bluntly and her smile faded. “Oh, I don’t mean it like that, I just mean I didn’t, I wasn’t…” he took a deep breath. “Kissing you was amazing,” he said building up the courage to roll closer and grab her hand. “You’re amazing. Me on the other hand, I’m… well…,” he said looking down at his dead legs.
“I’m on a wheelchair,” he spat out as if it was some big revelation, a secret he had been keeping from her.
Isabel smiled. “I’ve noticed.”
“Have you really?” he insisted. Isabel stopped smiling. “I mean, of course you know I’m on a wheelchair, but I ‘m not really sure you know what that means.” She looked at him as if she didn’t understand what he was saying. Truth be told he wasn’t making much sense so he tried to explain. “I think it’s absolutely amazing that you’re willing to overlook it, but the fact is I’m not sure you’ve thought things through.”
“You think I overlook the fact that you’re in a wheelchair?”
“I can’t walk.” Dah! He was aware he sounded ridiculous but he had to say it out loud. “I can’t move or feel anything from my chest down.”
“I know that. You think I don’t know that?”
“I…,” boy, this was harder than he anticipated. “Obviously you know that, but…”
“Do you think I somehow trick my mind into believing you’re… simply sitting down?” she said making a strange gesture that implied that was ridiculous.
“Well… yeah.” Yes, that was exactly what Eli thought. The way she acted so naturally around him, he was pretty sure in Isabel’s mind, he was just a normal guy who just happened to be always sitting down. He was sure she had never stopped to think that he was completely useless from the chest down, that he had to use a catheter to pee, that he had to grab on to the edge of the bed just to be able to sit up, that he was… crippled.
Isabel leaned over and put both her hands over his legs. She was looking him straight in the eye with that intense gaze he was familiar with by now. “I don’t think that,” she started. “I know you can’t move your legs, I know…” she hesitated. “I know you’re paralyzed.” She paused again. “Ok granted, I might not know everything that implies, but I have an idea, I’m not completely ignorant. I figure there’s more to it than just the fact that you can’t move, I hope you’ll trust me with it as we get to know each other, but I thought we could figure that along the way.”
“And you’re ok with that?” Eli asked incredulous.
“Of course,” she said as if it were obvious.
“You like me despite that?” he repeated not sure he believed her words.
“Not despite that,” she said narrowing her big eyes. “I like you, Eli, period. All of you, exactly the way you are.”
“What?” he asked now absolutely not believing her.
“I like you. I like your talent and your intelligence, I love the way you look at the world and how you’re able to transmit it in your buildings and your drawings. You’re an incredible cook, that’s sexy. And I adore that you don’t know how handsome you are, and you’re so humble even though you’re incredibly talented. But I also like your determination. It has been barely a year and you’ve got your life back together. I admire the fact that you’re dealing with it even though it must have been unimaginably hard, especially at first, it likely still is, but I have not once seen you feel sorry for yourself. I like the fact that you’re so strong, both mentally and physically… The way you can pull your body using only your arms, I think that’s kind of hot. I pretty much like everything about you. Most of the times I actually have to restrain myself from showing you just how much I like you.”
What? Had she really just said all that? Had she actually used the words sexy and hot to describe him? Was it possible that this gorgeous woman liked him? He leaned forward keeping his balance by resting his hands over hers that were still on his legs. Isabel was still looking straight at him, her big eyelashes framing her eyes. She was wearing no makeup on her skin, Eli could tell because he got to see a freckle on her nose and the natural way her cheeks had redden. She was blushing, her eyes were fierce, not a shred of doubt in them, but she had blushed saying those things and Eli looked down to see her chest quickened by her breath. Was she nervous? Eli smiled, letting her words sink in. She liked him! He felt himself jump inside his mind, arms in the air, head back. Isabel liked him!
Not a second later he was kissing her. Hesitation completely gone. He grabbed her hair hard with one hand, while keeping the other one on his lap and he let go into her mouth. No wondering thoughts or insecurities clouding the moment. Just the intense feeling of her closeness, her heat, the flesh of her lips pressed against his. When they parted he smiled broadly at her, feeling pure and complete happiness.
To be continued...