Being with Isabel was amazing. He could sleep better, work better. He was simply happier. His doctor had attempted to prescribe him antidepressants on more than one occasion during the past year, but Eli had refused stating he wasn’t depressed. He wasn’t happy about his injury, but he wasn’t depressed. And yet, now that he was happy, he was beginning to realize he had been definitely and without mistake clinically depressed. Now he couldn’t believe the extent of his denial. He had been miserable; he had actually accepted that he had absolutely no chance of ever being happy again. He was certain he would always be alone. He never wanted to get up in the mornings. To be perfectly honest, the only reason why he hadn’t killed himself was that the day he had lost his parents and found out he was alone he had brainwashed himself into believing he was a fighter. Thinking back to that time, he now realized he had gone through the better part of his life priding himself of a self-imposed stoicism.
Isabel had changed all that. Oh, it was such a nice feeling to be greeted with a peck on the lips, her sweet eyes lighting up at the sight of him. Sure, he still had his insecurities. He wasn’t a hundred percent convinced she didn’t mind about his disability. Half of him kept expecting her to realize how crazy she was to engage in a relationship with a paralyzed man. But then his other half had really dived into the pleasure of her company. To have her head resting on his shoulder as they lied down and watch TV, or sitting on the couch while she held him. He couldn’t believe he had gone over a year without being held by someone. Sure Sarah had hugged him often when he was at the hospital. Even Matt had done so, but this was different. This wasn’t a pity hug; it wasn’t someone giving his condolences. It was… he stopped himself before even daring to think the word.
Could it be? Did he love her? Did she love him? Wow, it was a scary thought. He had never felt this way about anyone before; that was for sure. He had never lingered quite so much while watching someone do the most routinely stuff, like doing dishes, or combing her hair. He found every one of her movements beautiful; the way she took her shoes off; how she threw her hair back; the way she would lie down over his legs, face up watching him. Oh shit! He was in love! It hit him while he watched Isabel savor a mouthful of a simple chicken he had cooked for her. Out of all the small details that mesmerized him about this woman, this was by far his favorite. The way she seemed to enjoy every taste, as if it was the last thing she was ever going to eat in her life. The way she ate so very slowly, placing the fork inside her mouth with thriving expectation. The joy with which she took a sip from her wine, or scotch, because mostly, Isabel drank either coffee or scotch, which he adored too, although he thought it was kind of manly.
“You know Eli,” she said after gobbling the last piece of her chicken. “If you weren’t such a talented architect I would suggest you opened a restaurant.”
Eli smiled. He had to admit that another lovely trade of Isabel’s personality was the fact that she always had a compliment for him. Whether she was talking about his sketches or a blueprint, or a sweater he was wearing or the simplest of his recipes, Isabel always found something nice to say that made him feel so much better about himself. They weren’t the usual compliments, like “oh, how nice” or “you look good.” No, she had a talent for it; she would say something rather specific, like “I’ve never seen any architect capture the reflection of the surroundings into his design,” or “there’s that subtle taste of laurel in your pasta that makes it so much better than anyone else’s,” or “oh, I love how that shirt tightens around your biceps.” Yeah, Eli laughed, she had actually said that to him, one of his personal favorites, because it had been one of the few times when he had actually believed she thought he was sexy. He had good biceps, he knew that, he had had them before his injury, and maybe yes, they were even better now.
“What?” asked Isabel. He was smiling, smiling at his thoughts, yeah, but also simply smiling out of sheer happiness.
“Nothing, I’m happy that’s all,” he said reaching for her hand across the table. She smiled back at him.
So what if he was in love? So he had fallen for her despite his fears and insecurities; so she would probably end up breaking his heart once she realized she was too good to be with a disabled man, and he would likely end up finally taking antidepressants, so what? He might as well enjoy it while it lasted, because right about now, it felt fucking great!
The one thing that clouded his happiness was that Matt wasn’t quite supportive of his relationship. Most of the times he would keep it to himself, but Eli could tell he was still set on thinking Isabel was a gold digger. When his parents died, Eli had inherited a large sum of money. Which he mostly hid, he had never been an ostentatious kind of guy. The money was in a trust fund in the bank, and he rarely ever used it, because he did pretty well as an architect. He had used it to pay for college though, for himself and Matt. Eli had put Matt through Harvard and then law school. A fact that he knew weighed on Matt, who had tried to pay him countless times. But Eli didn’t want the money; he had shared it gladly with his best friend, because he considered him a brother, and had no doubts about Matt’s honesty.
Other than Matt and Sarah, Eli’s wealth wasn’t of common knowledge. So he was pretty sure Isabel had no way of knowing about it. He had even tried to google himself to see if there was any information about it online, a fact that made him feel a tad of guilt because it showed that he had at some point distrusted her. But now he had no doubts about her. It was a little too farfetched to think that she could’ve actually hired a private investigator to look into him. So no, Isabel was not a gold digger. As unbelievable as it sounded, as crazy and incomprehensible as it was, for some illogical and irrational reason, this woman actually liked him.
Work had been going excellent as well. He had made considerable progress with the blue prints and, my god, was he loving the outcome. The Newton building, great; but this one was going to be his masterpiece. It was completely different from any of his prior work, most likely due to the fact that he was different too. He had completed the design for the Newton building before being hurt and had been halfway through the construction when he was injured. He hadn’t even been present for the better part of the interiors. But this time, the project for Isabel’s company, he was going to take responsibility for every last detail and it was going to be magnificent. Ok, maybe he sounded conceded, he always did in his mind when he was thinking about his designs; he laughed.
That afternoon they visited the piece of land Isabel had purchased for her company’s building. Eli’s team was coming along to check on some measurements. Eli had to admit his newly found happiness sometimes seemed to be restricted to a little bubble he would build around Isabel and him. Being around other people was still almost always awkward. There were so many things he couldn’t get used to and he sensed people hadn’t gotten used to him. He hated the fact that he was now shorter than everyone around him and was often stuck looking at their backs. Also, the plot wasn’t the most accessible of places; the land was uneven and there were weeds all around. He kept getting stuck with his wheelchair and people kept trying to wheel him; he hated that. He wanted to make a sign that said “hands off my chair” and hang it around his back.
Isabel seemed to help in that regard. People tried to help him less when she was around. He had noticed she would sometimes intentionally stop them, without speaking but blocking them with her body or giving them one of those intense looks of hers. She had never actually said anything, but he could tell she was aware that it bothered him when people assumed he couldn’t do things and tried to do them for him. He even suspected it bothered her as well.
They were planning on going out to dinner after visiting the land so Isabel was wearing a nice red dress that emphasized her beauty. It had no cleavage but a straight line that stretched just below those two cute bones where her neck ended and her chest began, and reached all the way to her shoulders. From there it hugged her body, without being too tight but definitely following her natural curves and then tightening around her hips and down her legs all the way to her knees, where there was a small aperture on either side that aloud her legs to part. Eli was wearing a suit and tie. He had made reservations at this restaurant Sarah had recommended. Ok, not recommended; because Sarah wasn’t happy about his relationship either, but mentioned she had really enjoyed and described it as a romantic spot.
He took his Ipad out to take notes. He wanted to get things done as fast as possible and just head out to dinner. Isabel glanced down at the picture of his screen, the one with the Irish lighthouse, and Eli ran his finger through the screen fast to make it disappear at her sad look. She took a few steps away from him, staring at the horizon. He hurried to get the measurements down, as the three guys that were with him did the heavy work. Josh, an intern who was working for him, called him from the other side of the plain, and Eli turned his chair around without noticing a damp in the terrain. His right wheel sank in and the entire chair tipped over to the side. He tried to hold on to his left wheel in a desperate attempt to keep his balance. It was useless. He flipped over and the momentum threw his body into the ground. He landed on his side, his feet still strapped to the footplate, and then bounced to fall flat on his belly. His first instinct was to check if anyone had seen him. Stupid, of course everyone had seen. Josh was literally running towards him; Greg, an older guy, was stumbling across a small dirt mount to reach him, and Simon, his usual wingman, a thin squalid young guy, was crossing the land in big hops. Isabel was the only one who wasn’t moving. She was standing a few yards away looking like she couldn’t decide which of the three of them to stop first.
Simon was the first to get to him. Even if Eli had wanted him to, there was no way this guy could ever lift him; he was skinny as bone and looked weaker than a child. Eli saw him lean over him to grab him. He meant to push him away, but his position didn’t really allow him to.
“Mr. Brown, are you ok?” Josh yelled when he finally reached the site. “I’m so sorry,” he apologized as if it had been his fault that Eli had fallen down. He kneeled down to relieve Simon who had given up after trying to carry him. Shit, thought Eli. He wanted to disappear, magically turn himself invisible. This was beyond humiliating. Josh stopped for a moment to assess the situation, he was apparently deciding which part of the body to grab Eli from in order to pull him up when Isabel touched his back and gently pulled him backwards.
“Don’t,” she said softly. Then she turned to Simon and used her hand to signal him to stand back. Greg had stopped out of breath a few feet away.
Isabel kneeled next to Eli. “Do you need help?” she asked using a serious yet unworried tone.
“No,” Eli replied. His cheeks were burning with shame, but he found Isabel’s voice reassuring. “I can do it.”
Isabel nodded and then she turned her back on him facing the others. “Let’s get on with it,” she said. “The sun will set soon, we should hurry.”
“You’re not going to… We should help him,” Josh said outraged.
“He doesn’t need help. He can get up on his own,” she said.
Eli lifted his weight on one elbow and then turned and pulled himself with both arms to a sitting position. Everyone but Isabel was staring, shifting their looks from Eli on the ground to her; eying Isabel as if she were a heartless person refusing to help a disabled man.
“I’m fine. I’ll be up in a minute,” Eli said to set them at ease.
“Let’s go,” she repeated and then she touched Simon in the arm to get him to back off. They didn’t seem convinced but finally they yielded to Isabel’s intense look and resumed what they had been doing. Isabel stepped back too, keeping her distance and looking away, which Eli appreciated. He didn’t want her to see.
He used his palms on the ground to pull his hips backwards and his chest forward far enough so he could lean in and reach his feet to release the strap that bound them to the footplate. Then he picked his chair up and arranged it at the right angle. He then set the breaks and placed his cushion back on the seat. He bent his legs and tried to keep them together while placing one hand on the chair and his fist on the ground to push up from; then he tried to lift himself up onto the chair but he failed and dropped his butt back on the ground. He looked around and found Greg staring and Simon debating whether to help. Eli took a deep breath. He could do this, it was just another transfer; he had practiced a hundred times. But he was nervous, even shaking a bit. He tried to settle down first before giving it another try. He repositioned his legs, using his chin to keep them from spreading and placed his hands as before. He pushed down from the ground and this time managed to fall over his cushion. He let out air relieved.
Then he lifted his body pushing up with both hands and pulled himself backwards on the chair until he was leaning comfortably against the back. His legs started bouncing. He used his hands to get them in place but they jumped right out again. He wanted to be done with it, strap them back down and be set to go, get out of there. But they kept shaking. He’d have to wait the spasm out. Isabel was patiently waiting. She was looking away but Eli could tell she was somehow aware of him, paying attention from the corner of her eye, in case he did in fact need help.
When his legs finally settled down, he leaned forward on his elbows and reached down to place them back on the footplate and strap them. They shook again as he did that but he still managed to get them in place. He had never been so glad to be on that wheelchair before. He sighed. He rolled towards Isabel, paying extra attention to the ground beneath him this time. She turned to look at him and Eli looked away. He was so embarrassed. Isabel took a step to stand closer to him and she silently put a hand on his shoulder. He placed his hand over hers and squeezed it.
Eli felt an eternity go by as his three companions packed up the gear so they could leave. He didn’t try to help them. As a matter of fact, he didn’t move at all until everyone was ready to go back to the cars. Then he rolled slowly and carefully towards the street. No one had said anything after the incident which Eli was glad of, but as he said his goodbyes, Josh walked up to him and spoke with a serious tone.
“Are you ok, Mr. Brown?” he asked with a concerned look.
“I’m fine, Josh, thank you,” Eli replied.
“We could drive back with you,” he suggested eying Isabel as if she were evil.
Eli considering explaining Isabel’s behavior to him, telling all three of them that it was far more respectful to let him struggle on the ground on his own that attempting to lift him up. That he was glad she thought he wasn’t a useless cripple. But saw no point in it.
“That’s not necessary, Josh. But, thank you,” he said instead and opened the car door to transfer.
He didn’t wait for them to get in their own car. He was sure they were going to stand there and stare as he transferred, and they did, while Isabel stood around the other side of the car looking at them with bolting eyes. Eli got the impression she was restraining herself from scolding them like little children and telling them staring was impolite.
He was glad to watch them disappear in the rearview mirror. He seriously hoped he didn’t have to see them again at the office, at least it was Friday and they’d have the whole weekend to forget about the episode. Once they had advanced a few blocks in the car, Eli looked at the exit he was supposed to take for the restaurant, but then he looked down at himself. He was a mess. His suit was covered in dirt; he hadn’t even tried to shake the grass off his jacket. There was a green stain in his elbow, perhaps he could wipe that, but there was definitely nothing he could do about his white shirt, or should he say brown. He sighed.
Isabel placed a hand on his arm, then up at his neck and finally over his hair from the side.
“I have to go change,” he said looking down at his watch. His apartment and the restaurant were in opposite directions. It was already late; they wouldn’t be able to keep their reservation. “I’m sorry,” he apologized.
“You don’t have to apologize to me,” she said.
“We’ll lose our reservation.”
“So? We’ll go next weekend,” she shrugged.
“But you’re all dressed up,” he said looking away from the road to meet her eyes.
“I’ll wear the same thing next Friday,” she smiled.
Eli turned the car around. Once home, he headed straight for the bedroom; he hated been dirty. He wasn’t one of those guys that dwelled too much on their appearance, but he didn’t deny he cared about the way he looked. He had given up on looking actually good since he was in the chair, but he could at least be clean.
He rolled inside and took his jacket off while still in the chair. He threw it to the ground, he was pissed off. Then he turned his chair around and found Isabel at the threshold.
“Sorry,” he said, wheeling over to pick it up. Isabel shook her head at him. She then bent down, so very slowly, and picked the jacket up with the tip of her finger. Eli looked up at her surprised. She was grinning when she threw the jacket away and then walked around his chair to stand behind him and started kissing his neck and earlobes as she loosened his tie and unbuttoned his shirt.
Eli’s breath hitched. They had been together for three weeks now, but they had done little more than kissing. Things had gotten heated before but the moment she would start pulling his clothes off, Eli would back off. He had told himself repeatedly to get over it, stop being such a wuss. But at the end of the day he was just afraid that Isabel would take one look at his body and run for the hills. He pulled away now, as gently as possible –he didn’t want to be rude- and turned his chair around to face her.
“Is, I… just let me get changed, will you?” he whispered. Isabel backed off and sat on the bed. Eli looked at her anxiously. Was she staying to watch? “Is?” he said her name lowly.
“Oh, I’m leaving,” she smiled and stood up to kiss him again before heading for the door. Eli let out air relieved.
He came out a few minutes later and found her sitting on top of a kitchen counter with two glasses of scotch poured. Her legs swinging like a child’s as she greeted him back with a broad smile.
“Would you like me to cook something special for you?” he offered as she handed him a glass. He didn’t really feel up to it, but figured it was the least he could do.
She shook her head and jumped down from the counter to kneel before him. She placed her hands on his chest and started kissing him. Eli kissed her back. He wanted her. She looked so sexy in that dress, it felt so good to kiss her. He pulled her to his lap where he could touch her waist and hips as he kissed her shoulders. Isabel made a sound that reminded him of a cat’s purr. Eli touched her breasts and she threw her head back with a moan. She then turned around and lifted her hair for him to pull down the zipper of her dress. Eli hesitated. She smelled so good, the line of her back beautifully straightened, one arm up exposing her long elegant neck. Damn it! He pulled the zipper down slowly and kissed her back as he slid her dress down from her shoulders. She was sitting on his lap, with her back turned to him, but he could tell she was enjoying it by the sounds she made and the way she leaned her head to the side uncovering her neck, inviting him. He turned her around and kissed her hard before wheeling the both of them to the living room.
She sat on the couch and continued to pull her dress down, stopping at the waist but unveiling a black lace bra. Eli transferred next to her, for the first time not even considering how he looked when he did that. He had stopped thinking altogether as a matter of fact. He leaned towards her and followed the line of her bra over her breasts with his finger, then with his tongue. He grabbed her with both hands and kissed the part of her chest that led down to her breasts as he pulled the straps down and caressed her shoulders. He had spent three weeks on those shoulders, and he loved them, but oh boy, had he been missing out. The bra’s clasp was on the front and as Eli opened it, he felt a year of repression break lose all at once. Her breasts were firm and her pink nipples hardened as he sucked them gently in his mouth. He pushed her to the back of the couch and took his time with them making her moan as his right hand travelled up from her knee, across her inner thigh, pushing the thin fabric of her panties out of the way and feeling her, oh, so wet. Eli moaned too as she curved back, her hair falling over the cushions, her lips parted in pleasure.
Her hips were swaying with the rhythm of his hand, her fists clenching the fabric of the couch. He looked up at her face, she was biting her lip, eyes closed, head back. Her abdomen curved upwards and then down as he pressed her harder and then she just tensed up before letting out a blissful sound. Eli watched her cover her mouth with one hand as she smiled surrendering back, her body now relaxed, her chest rising from her hitched breath.
Eli watched for a few seconds while she caught her breath. He was smiling broadly. Isabel was laying back, her upper body completely naked, her flat stomach moving with every stroke of air. Eli bent over to kiss her just above the navel. She grabbed his hair between her fingers and kissed him. She then reached to pull his shirt up. Eli stopped her hand in his, and then pushed back from the sofa away from her. Isabel took a deep breath.
“Oh, so you did that for me and I get to do nothing to you?” she said.
“Is, I…” Eli started.
“What? I can’t even take your shirt off?”
She had been patient, Eli considered. He couldn’t put it off forever, not if he wanted to be with her, really be with her. He had to let her see him and then he would know if she could handle it. Eli let go of her hand, and she slowly took his shirt off. He straightened up on the couch, tensing his upper body, trying hopelessly to conceal his tummy that was now exposed. She started kissing his chest; she gently bit his nipples and then circled around them with her tongue. Eli started moaning, forcing himself to forget about the rest of his body, centering his attention on this spot. She put her hands on his arms and caressed the muscles of his biceps. She then pressed her naked body against his chest as she lifted her face to kiss his mouth, hard, passionately. She pulled the skirt of her dress up to throw one leg over him and sat astride him while kissing his neck and earlobes, and then his chest again and his nipples. It felt so good. He let go into his senses, slowly relaxing the tension in his muscles, throwing his head back and feeling her skin rub against him and her wet lips travel across him, touching him everywhere he could feel. His breath hitched.
He touched her breasts again as she kissed him. He was really starting to relax now. He should’ve let her do this a long time ago. Perhaps it was that he hadn’t been with anyone in over a year, or maybe not feeling the rest of his body enhanced the sensations she provoked. Perhaps it was her, Isabel, the fact that he had such intense feelings for her that made this all so very good. He felt her passion as she touched him and he touched her back with that same thrive.
He was at the peak of his pleasure, his earlobe in her mouth, when he felt the couch shake beneath them. Shit, he looked down to see his legs bouncing under her. Isabel didn’t stop. She kissed him on the mouth and bit his lower lip as she moaned. Eli looked down again. The spasm hadn’t stopped, if anything it had worsened. Now Isabel was shaking on account of it. Eli pushed her back gently to get her to move. She sat back over the couch.
“I’m sorry,” he apologized reaching for his shirt and putting it back on.
“You don’t have to apologize,” Isabel shook her head at him.
“I do,” he disagreed. His legs were shaking badly now, he tried to settle them with his palms.
“I don’t care about that,” she said resting her hand on his thigh. Eli breathed heavily through his nostrils.
“I’m sorry,” he repeated and pulled himself to the edge of the couch to grab his wheelchair. He had to lean over holding the couch’s arm to keep his balance, to be able to reach it. When he had it in the right position he pushed from the couch to transfer. His legs bounced harder, the right one kicking forward involuntarily. He fought to get it back in place and bent down to set it on the footplate.
Isabel put her bra back on and then pulled her dress up as Eli wheeled to the kitchen and poured himself a glass of water. His feet bounced out of place again, and he had to bend over to fix them. Isabel showed up behind him and placed her arms around his neck. She kissed his cheek sweetly before stepping away.
“Should we order take out?” she suggested as if nothing had happened.
“Sure,” Eli said lowly.
“Anything you want,” he replied.
They ordered over the phone and sat back on the couch to wait. Eli’s spasms continued. She leaned over him from the side and hugged his chest with one hand and his arm with the other, while resting her head on his shoulder. Eli kissed her hair, but what he really wanted was to push her away. His legs were bouncing. How could she be touching him while this happened? Why did she pretend as if there was nothing strange about it?
She seemed to sense his tension because she backed off. They just sat there quietly doing nothing and Eli threw his head back uncomfortable.
“Can I ask you something?” she finally broke the silence.
She was going to ask how he ended up in the chair, Eli was sure. It was only fair, she had waited long enough. He appreciated that she hadn’t brought it up right away, but now they were together. It was only natural that she was wondering. No matter, he was ready to tell her.
“You can ask me anything you want,” he said.
“Is there anything to make it better?” she asked looking down on his shaky legs. “I mean like a medicine you take or massage or something?”
This was what she was asking? He looked up at her.
“I take a pill. It’s called baclofen, but it doesn’t always do the trick,” he replied. “Stretching also works, but it makes them worse at first.”
“Stretching?” she asked.
“Yeah, like some exercises, a range of motion I’m supposed to do every morning” he explained feeling strange talking about it.
“Yeah well… I don’t always…uh…” He didn’t always do it. He should, but it was hard to do it by himself. Matt would gladly come over every morning to help him, but Eli would never ask him to. He sighed.
“I know you don’t believe me, but I need you to know that I don’t mind at all. I only care that it makes you uncomfortable. I don’t want you to be ashamed. I don’t want you to feel like you have to apologize. You don’t, you really don’t. I know that trust isn’t built overnight, but I would really, really like it if you could feel comfortable around me, even when that happens,” she said looking him straight in the eye.
“I’m sorry Is. I didn’t mean to make you feel like I don’t trust you. You’re so great with all of this. I just…” he stopped and sighed.
“You’re apologizing again,” she said grabbing his hand.
“I am,” he smiled wryly.
“Do you want me to leave?” she asked with a sad glow in her eyes.
“What? No,” he turned to her.
“I don’t want to, but maybe I’m hovering. Maybe you don’t want me here,” she ventured.
Eli touched her hair with his hand.
“No, Is. I want you here,” he pulled her close with his left arm, pressing her head against his chest. “I want the spasms gone, not you. You’re the one thing that makes all of this bearable.” As soon as he finished the phrase he felt the full weight of his words sink in. It was true; Isabel was the one thing that made this… existence –he didn’t dare call it a life – bearable. He wanted her here, but the spasms gone, the wheelchair gone, he wanted to get up and walk, lift her up in his arms, carry her to bed and make love to her. But that would never happen. He was never going to walk again. He was humiliated on the ground, covered in dirt, all the time. He didn’t need to fall down for that to happen. Part of him wanted to lie on that dirt alone, no judging eyes close, no one to see his misery. He wanted to push her away, get rid of her. It would in so many ways be easier, and yet...
He felt an overwhelming sadness taking over him and suddenly the air around him seemed to thicken. He gasped. Here he was, with this beautiful woman by his side, her whole body touching his, and yet he couldn’t feel it. He was only physically aware of her head that lay over his chest and her arm that was around him at the same height. Everything else, her breasts that were pressed hard against his stomach, her legs that were grazing his, was as if it didn’t exist, his dead body unable to sense them. It was the same with everything else in the world; he could only experience half of it. It would be this way forever. His eyes were wet and he closed them tight to keep from crying. He pressed them with his free hand, taking small deep breaths, every stroke of air a hard effort.
Isabel stood up from his side and kneeled over the couch. Eli didn’t dare open his eyes, all his energy tangled in an effort to keep the sadness in, enclosed behind his eyelids. She threw her arms around him and hugged him tightly.
He kept his eyelids clenched a long time, as long as it took him to push the tears away. He couldn’t let them out. He wasn’t going to cry. Isabel kept hugging him until he was finally able to breathe without effort. He slowly released the tension from his eyes and hugged her back now with both arms. He blinked several times, still being held by her, clearing his vision that was now, thank god, dry.