Monday, February 15, 2021

Some Things Never Change Chapter XV

 I live in fear for the next few days. Every time I look at Erick, I’m expecting him to spill the news to me that he’s with Jules now and I’m forever cast away from her heart. When I pick him up in the mornings, when we have lunch together at his desk, as he wheels into my office for a random errand, there are always those tense seconds during which I look into his eyes questioningly. Then, he picks up a conversation about a trivial topic, and I relax, mildly.

I feel a nearly overwhelming sadness, more so as the days go by. In the back of my mind, the tiniest bit of hope tugs at my entrails. I’m waiting for some sort of indication that Jules wants me back, or at least that she wants me to try to get her back. A text message, her finding an excuse to see me and just smile at me, a peak of her brown eyes through the door when she knows I’m standing right outside, anything will do. But it doesn’t come. And every night that finds me alone in bed, I lose a little bit of that hope. A piece of my heart dies with every hour of her silence. A shadow is cast over my soul with every passing day. 

Friday morning, Erick gets into the car and struggles more than usual to fasten his seat belt. He’s nervous, I can tell. My stomach sinks. I stare at him before starting the car, compelling him to fess up, just put me out of my misery. 

“I’m going out with Jules tonight,” he rushes out under his breath. 

He doesn’t meet my eyes while he speaks the words. He only looks up at me after I’ve stayed in silence for too long. 

“Ok,” I speak then under his gaze. The word seems to me as if it was spoken by someone else. 

I turn away from him and start the engine. We drive quietly to work. Once there, I park, but I don’t get out of the car. Instead, I turn to Erick.

“How did you get over being paralyzed?” I ask him out of the blue. He looks at me like he doesn’t understand the question. “How did you…” I struggle to find the right words, “...accept it?”

He sighs, understanding the motive behind my question, I’m sure.

“Well…, it’s not something I did consciously. I didn’t have any choice, really.” He thinks about it for a minute before continuing. “I don’t have any grand piece of advice, no secret formula to accept the bad stuff in your life. I do make a conscious effort not to dwell on the things that I lost. But that came afterward.” He looks at me like he feels for me and wishes he could give me more than that, some wise revelation that will help me find the resignation I crave. “I guess I just got tired of feeling miserable. And I didn’t want everyone around me to be miserable too. I…,” he hesitates like he’s afraid to confess to the next part. “You guys were going through so much too, and I tried to focus on helping you. This is going to sound terrible but…,” he gives me an apologetic look. “The fact that you were both suffering is what actually helped me... because I had to keep it together for you.” He sighs again. “At first, I just faked it. I would put on a smile for you or Jules when I knew you were feeling down. Then, gradually, very slowly,” he stresses, “I actually began to feel better. It was just a slight difference in the beginning. Like I would be able to brush off on the frustration faster each day, just move on to the next thing rather than beat myself up about it for hours when I couldn’t do something. And then, I guess it just became a habit, to think about something else when my thoughts started torturing me.” He stops and then his mouth curves into a tender grin. “It was you guys, mostly, watching you try so hard for me, your support every minute of every fucking day, the fact that you never left me alone, that’s what made all the difference in the end, it’s what gave me the strength to carry on.”

“Do you honestly never think about it anymore?” I ask, afraid that I might be rubbing salt on the wound. “Are you completely ok with it?” I feel ashamed to bring it up, to be so selfish that I want the answer even though I know it may hurt him to talk about it. 

He chuckles. “I think about it all the time, Tony.” He smiles. I look at him confused, but his smile seems genuine. “I just don’t always do so with pain. I can even laugh about it sometimes. And when I’m with you guys, I usually don’t stress about it. Being around new people is harder because they always treat me differently, like they don’t know how to act, or they either stare at me or look away afraid that I’ll think they’re staring. But you guys are used to me, so you don’t act awkwardly around me. Especially Sean,” his smile broadens. “I never feel disabled when I’m with Sean.”

“Sean?” I ask surprised. “Sean makes you feel better than me or Jules?”

He nods. “Sean never acts weird around me.”

“And we do?” Do we? When do I act awkward around him? That’s not possible. It’s been eight years, I’m certainly used to him being paralyzed. 

“Well,” he says. “Sometimes you still tiptoe around me. I know you mean well, you’re trying to spare my feelings, but it’s unnecessary.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well… this is no reproach, Tony,” he raises his hands in front of him as he makes the clarification. “But for example, you’re still reluctant to play the guitar in front of me. Sean couldn’t care less. He knows I used to play before, he knows that I can’t do it anymore, but he doesn’t feel guilty that he can. And I like that, I like that he speaks freely about it, he’s never worried that I will sink back into depression if he mentions playing or something else I can’t do anymore like walking or running or exercising.”

I frown. 

“You seriously don’t care about it? You’re not sad anymore that you can’t play?” I ask, skeptic. I would swear that he still is. I am. I always get sad when I think about the way he used to be so good at playing, and how now his fingers… I stop myself. 

He shrugs. “Sure, I’m sad about it. I wish I could play. I still feel the urge of it often. But I can’t, Tony, so I don’t dwell on it. And I’m certainly not sad about you being able to play. I like to hear you. I don’t want you to feel bad about it. It’s ok, really,” he insists at my look. “I actually feel better about it when you or Sean play.”

I stare at him for a long moment. “Really?” I can’t help but ask again.

“Yes, really,” he laughs. 

“Ok,” I nod. “It’s good to know.”

I open the car’s door.

“Tony,” he says before I can step out. I turn to look at him again. “I’m sorry for everything you’re going through right now. I’m not with Jules, if that’s what you’re thinking. We’re just going out to dinner.”

I nod. “But you might be… after tonight.” I’m unable to keep the sadness from my voice. 

He lowers his eyes. 

“It’s ok, Erick. I know you don’t want to hurt me, you just…” I sigh. “I can’t really blame you for being in love with her. Jules is…”

He nods in acknowledgment. Jules is beautiful and kind. She’s easygoing, loyal, and simply the best person in the entire world. There are a million adjectives that could finish that phrase. Jules is an angel. 

“I’m sorry I didn’t give you the answer you were looking for,” he says with equal sadness in his tone.

“Yeah, I don’t know what I was looking for. I guess time…,” I start, but really, I’ve had plenty of time to get over her. It hasn’t done the trick so far. Although, if I’m being honest, this is the first time I’ve actually felt that I’ve lost her. 

I step out of the car then. I get the frame of the chair for him and he pops the wheels in himself. We go into the building and climb the elevator to the first floor. I walk away from him then, but he stays put, staring after me. I step into my office, fully aware that he has stayed frozen sitting on his chair in the middle of the hallway. I sit at my desk and turn my computer on, making an effort to tune out his frozen image still in my line of sight. About five minutes later, he finally wheels away. 

And the morning drags, every second of silence a painful reminder of my loneliness. 

It’s almost noon when Lou steps in to hand me some papers. 

“I’m off to lunch now,” she says before leaving. 

“Leave the door open,” I ask her. “I’m heading out myself.” 

“Ok, boss,” she steps out. 

My phone rings as I’m closing my laptop. I pick it up half hoping that it will be Jules, although I know it can’t be. If she decided to call at all, it would be my cellphone ringing and not the office phone. 

“Anthony Cross?” The voice in the line asks. 

I feel a jolt of fear in the pit of my stomach for some unexplained reason. 

“Yes,” I reply, discarding the feeling.

“I’m calling from St. Johnes Hospital,” a female voice says unsteadily. And I know now why I felt that fear, it’s what they said when they called to let me know my best friend had been in an accident. I grip the phone tighter. 

“What’s wrong?” I ask, starting to panic. 

“We’ve just admitted a woman named Audrey Cross…” She didn’t change back to her maiden’s name, I think stupidly. “We have your number…” The woman on the phone continues after I keep quiet. It’s not the same as when they called about Erick; back then, the voice sounded detached, professional, like she had made the same call dozens of times before. This woman sounds young and nervous like it’s her first day on the job. “It was… Are you still there?”

“I’m here,” I snap out of my nonsense thoughts. “What happened?”

“Uh…,” she hesitates. “I’m not sure, but it seems…”

“What?” I urge her. 

“It seems like she might have tried to commit suicide.”

I spring to my feet. 

“Your phone was written on a note,” she mumbles. 

“Is she alive?”

“Yes,” she replies quickly. “But she was unconscious when they brought her in so I don’t know if she’s ok,” the girl finishes in a whisper. Not professional at all, I think irrationally, comparing the words to the memory of that other call. “His state was listed as critical. I don’t have any more information.” 

“I’m on my way,” I hang up the phone. 

I regret it almost immediately because I’ve never heard of this hospital before and therefore have no idea where it is. I’ll have to google it. I can’t bring myself to move, though. I’m standing behind my desk as still as a statue. The image of that woman, my mother, cornered up against the wall as I strike a fist at the bricks, flashes before my eyes. 

“Erick!” I yell still from behind the desk. 

My door is open, and our offices are only about thirty feet apart. He’ll hear me. Everyone else does. I watch their faces sticking out from behind their desks to see what happened. Lou steps back into the hallway. 

Erick is the last one to appear. He looks at me from his door, and although I can’t see his expression clearly from this distance, I know he too knows something’s wrong because he pushes his wheels to roll fast towards my office. 

“What’s wrong?” He asks before he reaches me. 

“My mother tried to kill herself,” I hiss. She tried to kill herself because of what I said to her the other day. I don’t say that part, but I’m sure Erick will know that. 

“Is she ok?” He asks, craning his neck to look for my eyes which are staring at the void in front of me. 

“I don’t know,” I lower my sight to meet his eyes. “They called me from the hospital.”

“Which hospital?”

“St. Johnes,” I lose the remaining air from my lungs.  I’m unable to take another breath to refill them. I see her eyes as they water at my words. I hear the tone of my voice, so filled with hatred, as I spit to her what she has done. I see the tears falling over her white cheeks as I ram at her with the full force of my anger. I gasp because I’m out of breath. 

“Tony?” Erick’s voice seems to be coming from far away. 

“Have you heard of it? Do you know where it is?” I whisper, trying to focus on something practical, anything that will help distract me from the disgust I feel at the memory of myself. I grimace. 

“Uh…, no, but I’ll look it up right now.” Erick takes his phone out and swipes his knuckles across the screen. A moment passes, long enough for me to replay the entire scene of when I last saw her. I feel a sudden urge to look at my father’s photograph. I have one in my office too. One of him and Sean, when he was little. It was taken on a fishing trip. I turn around looking for it. It’s on my desk, but somehow, it takes me a few seconds to find it. When I do, I pick it up and hold it in front of my eyes. But then, I drop it back on the desk because, although I crave to see my father’s face, I don’t want him to see mine. I turn towards Erick, he’s looking up at me over his phone, acutely aware of all my movements. 

“Let’s go,” he says, putting the phone down. 

“Erick,” I call, still frozen in place. How long has it been since I got the call? How long before that since they brought her to the hospital? Long enough for her to die? “What if she… dies?” I collapse back on my chair. Have I driven my own mother to suicide? I think of Sean now, I hear him hiss at me that day, shove me; I see the hatred in his eyes as he looks at me like I’m a monster. I am a monster, a monster capable of killing his own mother.

Erick wheels around the desk to me. And I remember then too the fear in his eyes when he thought I was going to hit him. 

“She was at the hospital. They’re taking care of her now. Let’s go. I have the address,” Erick tries to calm me down. 

It takes me a minute, but I finally stand up and follow him. Everyone in the office stares at us in complete silence as we wait for the elevator. We reach the car and I wish, for the first time, that Erick had his own car and could drive now. 

“Do you want us to take a cab?” He asks me because I’m still standing a few feet away from the car. 

“Did you hear what I said to her?” I mumble. “Were you able to hear me?” A shiver goes down my spine as I imagine Sean listening to me while I’m callously cruel to my own mother. 

Erick doesn’t nod, but he doesn’t deny it either. 

“This is not your fault,” he says, and I know he heard every word of it. That means Sean did too. 

I get in the car then, and Erick hands me the phone so that I can follow the directions on it. We drive silently to the hospital. It’s a charity hospital, a shitty one. It reminds me of the place they took Erick to. Except this one is worse. 

I need to make an effort to get out of the car. I fight against the memories when we reach the front desk. 

“Erick Sanders?” I blurt the name out to the woman at the desk praying they’ll say he’s ok and that it was just a small accident. 

It feels like an eternity while the woman looks up the name on the computer. 

“He’s in surgery,” she finally announces. 

“Is he ok?” I ask frantically. 

“Someone will call you when he comes out.”

“Is he alright?” I ask again. That didn’t answer my question. She stays quiet. 

“His state was listed as critical,” she finally replies. “You’ll get an update from a doctor soon,” she looks back at her computer and continues working. 

“What happened?”

“Traffic accident at the one fourty.”

“How bad?” My voice sounds begging.

“I don’t have any more information. Someone will call on you shortly.”

And the wait seems endless. I pace around the room restlessly. 

“Tony,” I hear my name and turn in time to see Jules running up to meet me. I called her from the car. 

“How is…” She starts but cuts off mid sentence at my look. 

“They won’t tell me anything,” I look down at her.

She circles my waist with her arms. “He’ll be ok,” she whispers. 

But he wasn’t. 

And my very realistic mind, perhaps even pessimistic, knows my mother won’t be either. 

“Audrey Cross?” I ask at the front desk with a slight tremor in my voice.

A girl in her early twenties looks up at me. “They haven’t told me anything new.” I recognize the voice from the phone. “A doctor should come out soon,” she promises. 

And I know this part well. I’ll have to wait, perhaps for hours. Unless she’s already dead, in which case they’ll let me know quickly. 

“Is she… your mother?” The girl asks with sympathy in her tone. 

“I’m your mother.”

“Are you?”

I look away from the girl’s kind eyes. 

“I’m sure she’ll be ok. Dr. Martin is a great doctor,” this stranger tries to comfort me. She doesn’t know it’s my fault she’s in here. “Here,” she hands me a folded paper. “Paramedics found this with her.”

I don’t take it. I can’t. 

Erick reaches out then and grabs the note from her. She’s reluctant to hand it over to him for a second, but then she lets go. 

“Let’s sit down, Tony,” he says. 

He doesn’t try to give me the note. He places it on his lap and wheels backwards slightly, waiting for me to react. 

I don’t sit, but I follow him to the corner of the waiting room. The place is crowded. There’s people with anxious faces, others just look tired. A few of them are sleeping cuddled up on their seats. There are some free chairs but none in a corner where I could sit by Erick. An old woman moves to another chair, signaling for me to take her place so I can sit at the edge of the line of metallic chairs, by the aisle. 

“Thank you,” Erick says. 

I sit. 

We’ve been there for only a few minutes when Erick’s phone rings. The sound is loud in the muffled silence of the room. The only voices around seem to be whispers, as if trying not to disturb the sick… or the dead. It takes Erick a long time to get a grip on the phone and answer. 

“Oh, hi,” he says into the line. “Yes, uh… Oh, she heard that? Yes… We don’t know yet.” He looks towards me. “St. Johnes,” he answers a question I don’t hear. “You know,” I can’t guess the last question he answered. 

I want to ask if that was Jules on the phone, but I can’t find the will to speak. 

We wait. My eyes are set on a blank spot across the room. Erick’s are set on me. I can feel his gaze, but I don’t turn around to meet his eyes. I’m wrestling against my memories. Some recent, some eight years old. 

Jules and I are waiting. The room’s walls are an institutional white that sickens me. It seems like we have been here for hours, but in reality, it’s been barely twenty minutes. A doctor comes out. 

“Sean Cross’s relatives?” He asks. 

I’ve already reached him when he finishes the question. Jules follows and stands right next to me, although she had been keeping her distance before. The doctor looks at me in recognition, and he takes a deep breath like bracing himself for the conversation. I hold my breath. 

“I’m sorry,” he says, and I gasp then, absorbing pain like it was just spread around the room waiting for me to inhale it. “We did everything we could, but his heart gave in.”

The doctor keeps talking, but I don’t hear him. Jules turns to me. She stretches her hand towards me, but I raise my arm to stop her. Then, I rest the other arm on the wall to support myself. I’m only partially aware of the doctor stepping back. Jules reaches out again, to steady me this time. I push her away without strength, but it’s enough to let her know I don’t want her to touch me. I show my back to her and start walking in the opposite direction. I don’t get far, though. I grab the wall again and slowly crumble to the ground. I’m not sure if it’s my body or my inside that has shattered, perhaps it’s the world around me. My sight has blurred. I make no attempt to clear it. I just sit there, my head bowed down, staring at the floor. 

“Tony,” the pressure on my knees startles me. 

I raise my eyes to find Jules crouching down in front of me, both her hands resting on my knees. I throw my arms around her impulsively. I almost knock her out of balance. I pull her closer to me to keep her from toppling over. Once she’s no longer falling, she returns my hug. I should’ve let her hold me when my father passed. I’m not sure it would have made it better, but I should have. 

After a couple of minutes of embracing her, I regain my composure. I let go of her slowly and lean back on the chair. I take a second to look into her deep brown eyes. She touches my face, still crouching down. I lean into her hand. As I do so, I raise my sight and find Sean standing behind her. 

I stand up in a jolt, abandoning her touch. I miss it instantly. 

“You brought him?” I gasp without looking down at her again. She stands up after me. 

Sean is staring at me. I avert my eyes. 

“We stopped by the company to get you guys lunch. Sean has been helping me to try out the new kitchen,” Jules says apologetically. She doesn’t understand why I don’t want Sean here. She didn’t hear me drive my own mother to suicide. Of course, she knows first handed how cruel I can be, so perhaps she doesn’t need to have heard me to know this is my fault. “Betty and Lou told us what happened,” she continues explaining. “And Sean wanted to come…”

I turn around to keep them from seeing my face. I find Erick’s when I do so. He looks up at me helplessly.

“Tony,” he shakes his head at me. 

“Will you please leave, Sean. You don’t need to see this,” I say with my back still turned to them. 


“Audrey Cross’s relatives?” A doctor comes out then. We haven’t been waiting long, she must be dead. I turn back around and walk towards the double doors where the doctor is standing. 

“Here,” I say.

From the corner of my eyes, I see that they have followed me. 

“She’s stable. It was lucky they found her so fast. If it had been longer, we wouldn’t have been able to save her.” He gives me a chance to speak then, but I stay quiet so he continues. “She’s still unconscious. We had to pump her stomach. I expect she will be waking up in a few hours.” He keeps quiet again, but no one says anything. “When she wakes up, I’ll have someone from the psychiatry department come down to see her. You might want to consider hospitalizing her. It’s clear that she hasn’t been taking her medication.”

I cut him off then. “What medication?”

“Uhm,” the doctor hesitates. “Lithium is best, I’m not sure if she was prescribed something else. The psychiatrist will review her prescriptions anyway, adjust them to her current situation. They’ll let you know so you can supervise that she takes them. People with bipolar disorder often stop taking their medication.”

“Bipolar?” I say under my breath, more to myself than to the doctor.

He stares at me.

“Are you her son?”

I give him the tiniest nod. 

“You didn’t know?”

“We are not close,” I whisper.

“I see,” he says, his voice tainted with pity. “Well, it’s not unusual for people with bipolar disorder to attempt against their lives.”

I cringe when he says that. I turn to look at Sean because I’m not sure if he knew that’s what happened. He doesn’t seem surprised. 

“I’ll let you know when you can see her,” he starts to turn around.

“She might not want to see me.” Or I might not want to see her

“We’ll see,” he leaves then.

I step back and crumble on the chair, feeling worse than before. She has a disease? How could I’ve not known this? Did my father know? I’d be willing to bet he didn’t. 

Erick, Jules, and Sean are all next to me again. I can feel their stares on me, but I don’t look up.

“Tony, you couldn’t have known,” Erick is the first to talk. 

“You’re not feeling guilty about this, are you, dad?” Sean says next. “Don’t you see this is what she wants?”

I look up then.

“She wants you to feel guilty so you’ll forgive her. That’s why she did this,” he continues. He sounds angry, ruthless, not the least bit of compassion in his voice. I recognize his ruthlessness as an echo of my own. “Don’t fall for her game, dad,” he finishes roundly.

“Sean,” I get up again. 

He doesn’t let me speak. “Of all the things she has done to you, this is the worst!”

“She tried to kill herself,” I breathe.

“And made sure they found her in time,” he hisses exasperated. “Tell me, dad, how did they find her so fast if she lives alone? She probably called the paramedics herself.”

I swallow hard.


He turns around and walks away. It takes me a second to react, and then I follow him. He stops at the front desk. I watch him lean in and smile at the girl there. Jesus, he looks so much like me, and he’s acting like me too. It scares me. I watch him charm the girl into answering his questions. Not that the girl wasn’t eager to share information in the first place. 

“Do you know how they found her?” He asks.

The girl leans in too like they’re girlfriends gossiping. 

“The paramedics told me they got an anonymous call,” she says in a hushed voice. “The door was unlocked. They found the note right next to her.”

I listen astounded. Is he right?

“Erick,” I turn to my friend who has also followed. His chair is parked a few steps behind me. “Let me see the note.”

The folded paper is still on his lap. He struggles to pick it up, using both hands. Jules grabs it from him and hands it to me. I take a deep breath before I open it. My name and phone number are written on the outside of the note. I unfold it. 

“Son, my handsome boy,

I know I’ve done terrible things to you. I know now that there is no possible way that you will forgive me. But know that I’ll always regret hurting you. You are the one good thing I did in my life. Since you won’t listen to me, this is the only thing I can do to atone for my mistakes. I won’t be bothering you anymore. 


Your mother”

I snort.

So Sean might be right. It doesn’t make his callousness scare me any less. I have to do something about that. It does make me feel a little less guilty, although not quite all the way. She has a disease; that’s something new I have to consider. I can’t think about it right now, though. I’m suddenly very tired. These last few days have been exhausting. I have an urge to get out of here, go to my apartment, curl into my bed. But my whole family is here. I look at Jules, Sean, Erick. 

“You said you stopped by to get us lunch?” I ask Jules. I’m hungry all of a sudden. I have barely eaten for the past couple of weeks. 

“Uh… yes,” she sounds confused. 

“So, what did you bring us?”

“I gave it to Betty and Lou. I didn’t think we’d be eating.”

I shrug. 

“Let’s go to a restaurant,” Sean suggests. 

Erick and Jules both frown at him in unison. 

“Yeah, let’s go,” I agree with him. I’d much rather eat what Jules cooked. Whatever it was, it’s comfort food. But I’ll settle for a quiet meal with them by my side. I don’t want to stay here. I need some time to think, to prepare myself before seeing my mother. 

I start walking away without pausing to check if they’re following me. After a few seconds, I hear them behind me. 

When we get to the car, I toss Sean my keys. I don’t want to drive. He helps Erick in the car, getting a surprised look when he sees him pull out the wheels of the chair. 

“Way to go, uncle,” he lifts a fist and Erick bumps it with his own. 

I get in the back, and Jules sits next to me. Sean starts the car and backs away from the driveway. I close my eyes for a second, but I open them back up almost immediately when I feel Jules hand press my thigh. I stare at it for a moment and then I rest my hand over hers. Is this the signal I’ve been waiting for?

I leave my hand there for the entire journey, which is short. Her skin feels cool under my palm. It warms up after a while. Sean spots a dinner and pulls over. 

“Is this ok?” He asks.

“Sure,” I say.

We get out of the car. 

The place smells nice. I skipped breakfast today, and dinner last night, I think. I’ve been skipping a lot of meals lately, except for lunch which I have with Erick everyday. I pull away a chair so Erick can roll under the table, and we all sit. Erick is on my left, Jules at my right, Sean across from me.

I order a burger, so does Sean. Jules orders a sandwich. Erick gets a chicken salad. I watch as Jules helps him with the condiments and to open up his soda can. Erick thanks her quietly. We start to eat in silence. The three of them keep shooting worried looks in my direction. 

“So, the new Valhalla is ready for the grand opening,” Sean breaks the silence. “I designed some flyers and the menus,” he says proud of himself.

“Did you?” I encourage him. My son is usually not chatty, at least not around me. 

He nods. “We sent them to the printers this morning.”

“That’s great,” I say ignoring Erick and Jules's looks. I’m not sure if they’re expecting me to snap in fury or maybe just sulk in silence. But Sean’s voice is comforting; it makes me not want to do either. “So have you set a date?” I turn to Jules.

“We were thinking next week,” she answers still weary. “Next Friday.”

“Perfect,” I try to sound normal. “We’ll be there.”

We finish our meal and as we wait for the check, I take a long look at the three members of my family. 

“Thank you for being with me,” I say to all of them. “Sean, will you take Erick to the office and your mother home? You can keep the car. I’ll take a cab back later.”

“You’re going back to the hospital?” Sean arches a brow in surprise.

“Yeah,” I nod.

“We can come with you,” Erick offers.

“Thanks, man, but I think I need to do this on my own.”

“Will you be ok?” Jules gives me a preoccupied look. 

I grin sadly at her concern. Then without thinking, I reach out for her hand. Her eyes fly to Erick’s immediately, but she leaves her hand in place. I watch her hold Erick’s gaze for a few seconds, and my friend’s expression crumbles, slowly, understanding dawning on his face. I pull my hand away, not because I’m yielding Jules, but because I can’t bear the sadness that has suddenly taken hold of Erick’s entire body. It seems to cripple him, more than his injury ever has. 

I stand up abruptly, looking away from him. I take my wallet out and fish a couple of bills. 

“We’ll give you a ride,” Sean stands up too. 

I shake my head at him. 

“I think I’ll walk,” I raise a hand to stop my son. “See you tomorrow,” I give them a final nod and walk away. 


I look after Tony while he walks out of the diner, following the elegance of his movements, his shoulders square under the wool coat I gave him, his back straight, taking confident, long steps towards the exit. His stride is so masculine, so sure of himself, his body strong, his size alluring. I struggle against the pull he still has over me, wanting to follow him. He’s quickly out of sight, though. I stare at the empty doorway for a few more seconds, before I return my eyes to Erick. 

Sean has sat back down. He’s staring at me too, squinting. I shake off his recriminatory gaze and stand up. 

“Let’s go,” I urge them. 

Sean stands up too, but Erick doesn’t move. It takes him a very long moment to get his arms to his rims. He finally lets them drop like they weigh a ton, and pushes his chair backwards to leave the table. Sean starts walking and Erick follows, he wheels heavily forward, as if he had been on that chair only for a few days and not over eight years, the way he used to before he made his peace with being paralyzed. He wheels past me without looking up, with short strained movements of his shoulders. 

When we get to the car, he tries to open the door but fails on his first attempt. The door’s handle bounces back to its original position. He tries again, getting the door opened this time, but when he pulls it, it slams into his knees. His legs start trembling with the blow. My hand reaches out for him, but Sean beats me to it. He grabs the handle and looks at Erick, waiting for him to wheel back to allow the door room to open. 

Erick told me he was now able to open the door and take his wheelchair apart on his own. Yet, now, he makes no attempt to. He’s barely able to transfer inside the car. Sean has to help a little to keep him from losing his balance. Then he stares at Erick for a minute, waiting for him, but Erick just looks away and starts struggling with the seatbelt. Finally, Sean closes the door after him and takes the wheelchair away to store it in the back. I climb into the back seat. 

We drive silently back to the company. By the time we are there, Erick seems to have regained some control over himself. He opens the door on his own. Erick hands him the chair and he transfers to it without incident. Once on it, he pushes up from his lap to straighten his position. I get out of the car then and look down at him. He doesn’t meet my eyes.

“I’ll see you tonight,” I say as a goodbye, or a see you later. 

He nods, his eyes still fixed on his lap. He wheels away toward the building. 

I get back in the car, on the front seat this time. Sean circles around and sits behind the wheel. 

“Mom,” he says to me. I turn to look at him. “Are you and dad back together?”

I shake my head. I feel very sad all of a sudden, almost as sad as the first days after the divorce. It must be because I know the time has come to make a decision. I can't have them both.

My son places a hand over my thigh. “Whatever your choice is, I’ll support you,” he announces. “Just make sure you choose for you. Choose whoever makes you happier. Don’t think about what dad is going through, or about what uncle Erick… will feel,” he gets stuck at the last phrase. “You deserve to be happy, mom. I want you to be happy. Be with whoever you love the most.”

I shiver at the maturity of my son’s words. He’s only sixteen, and although he has acted like a spoiled and selfish teenager at times in the past, he’s been behaving like an adult, an old and wise adult, since all of this started. Have my problems made him grow up too fast? He sounds like his grandfather, Sean Senior, who he is named after. I smile wryly at him, and place my hand on his cheek. 

“Thank you, sweetheart. That means a lot.”

We go home and I step into the shower. I let the warm water wash over my confusion and my sadness. I feel like, no matter what happens, no matter who I choose, I will be losing something extremely valuable tonight. Either way, I can’t keep stalling. It’s not fair to anyone, and I’m only hurting them both with my indecision. I take a deep breath and raise my face to let the water fall straight at me. With my eyes closed, I summon the faces of the two men I love. 

Tony, so handsome, so attractive, his shape towering over me in a protective manner. The face of the protagonist of my life, as a boy, as a young man, now. My husband. I imagine myself wrapped up beneath his strong arms, my cheek rested on his chest, his heart beating warm under my ear. 

Erick, with his kind blue eyes that dazzle me. His sweet, welcoming smile that makes me feel so loved, cherished, like there’s no better woman in the world. His grateful words, his appreciation. I picture myself sitting on his lap, his week embrace stretching around me, his knuckles on my cheekbone, wiping my tears and all the bad things away. I smile at the comfort his image brings to me. 

I step out of the shower and pick my clothes. For the first time ever, I want to look my best for Erick. I know he doesn’t care what I’m wearing, he thinks I’m beautiful either way, but I still want to look nice for him. I brush my hair more than it’s necessary. I pick my nicest earrings and apply a layer of pink lipstick. I’m still staring at my reflection in the mirror when I hear Sean and him come in. 

I take one final look, accompanied by a deep breath to fill my lung with courage, and walk outside to meet them. 

“So, where to?” I say cheerfully to Erick.

He looks up at me, the same wry, desolated expression on his face from this afternoon. Then, his look changes to confusion, like he doesn’t understand the meaning of my words. He does a double-take, absorbing my whole image with a flutter of his eyes across my body, and finally, his lips part in what is clearly astonishment. 

“Jules,” he breathes into the room. There’s a certain reverence in the way he says my name, he makes it sound like a prayer. 

From the corner of my eye, I see Sean walk away, smiling. 

“So?” I prompt.

“Uh,” Erick hesitates, confused again. He seems to be having trouble focusing his thoughts. “I thought… after what happened…” His words have a double meaning, he could be referring to Tony’s mother trying to kill herself, or to me letting Tony hold my hand at lunch. I sigh.

“We have a date, don’t we?”

His eyebrows curl up, and his eyes tremble like he’s about to cry, but he smiles that Erick sweet smile I love. 

“We do,” he nods weekly. 

I return his smile, feeling the edges of my mouth tilt up so naturally. There’s no effort in my happiness. When I’m with Erick, everything feels like it’s the way it should be. I smile even wider at the realization. 

“Do you need a minute?” I say. He might want to change or go to the bathroom. 

“I do,” he lets out in a whisper, but he stays frozen in place, gazing at me like I’m a wonder of the world he can’t take his eyes away from, the ancient Alexandria’s lighthouse, the Colossus of Rhodes. 

I keep my smile in place and gaze at him in the same way. He’s sitting, like he always is, on this chair. His back is hunched down, a slight tummy prominent under his shirt. His hands are curled up resting on his lap, his legs, leaning to the left, awkwardly placed over his footplate, his ankles secured by a belt that keeps them in place. My eyes fill with love, threatening tears just barely hidden under the surface of my loving gaze. He’s perfect. 

“I choose you,” I can’t wait another second to say it. As the words come out, I notice my decision was made a long time ago. I feel an ease wash over me with the acceptance, Sean’s advice echoing in my mind. This is what will make me happy. He is the one who makes me happy. 

I watch his chest contract as he gasps. 

I take a step to him, giving him time to grasp my words. He lifts a hand to me and I take it, letting him use the other one to press my palm and pull me down. I sit on his lap, knowing this is where I belong. He wraps his arms around me carefully, like he’s afraid I will vanish into thin air; like he fears I will turn out to be just a figment of his imagination. When I’m thoroughly tugged inside his grasp, he leans his head to me and lets out a heavy breath. 

“Jules,” he worships my name again. “Julia,” he presses his forehead to my temple. Oh, I love the sound of my full name on his lips. 

I place my palm on his face, and he leans into it. His brows are curled up even more now, as he takes in heavy breaths. 

“I love you,” I whisper in his ear. 

“Ahh,” I hear him moan. 

He lifts his hands and encompasses my face inside his fists, his knuckles caress my cheeks. Then, very slowly, he bows his head and presses his mouth to mine. We kiss. 

His lips are soft on mine, I taste the sweetness of his love in them. Although this is not the first time our mouths have touched, this kiss is different, there’s no fear, no doubt, no hesitation. There are no questions, only answers. The past vanishes, replaced by an absolute certainty, a promise, a new life. I surrender myself to him and feel him intrust his entire being to me in return. 

“I love you, too,” he breathes into my mouth, the sound of his low voice so precious to me, so endearing. And he kisses me again. I wrap my arms around his neck and relish the closeness. “I love you so much,” his voice is stronger when we part. He kisses my cheeks then, several times, my jawline, my eyes. His knuckles pad my hair, my shoulders, my back. It's like he needs to make sure I'm really here, that I'm real, corporeal. He pulls me to him, and I rest my head on his shoulder, pressing my lips to his neck. He holds me as tight as he can master.  “Ahh, Jules, ahh!”

I laugh, not at him, but because I’m so happy I feel like I will burst if I don’t let it out. I hug him back with all my strength. 

We stay that way for a long time, silently enjoying our newfound happiness, letting the chips fall in place like we should have done a long time ago. 

A noise wakes me from my bliss and I turn around to find Sean staring at us. Erick drops his arms from me abruptly, like a child who’s just been caught doing a mischieve. Sean chuckles. His smile is even broader than mine. 

“Sorry," he says sheepishly. “I thought you left already. Uhh… I was going out,” he presses his lips together holding the smile in. He looks around like he’s looking for something. He spins on his feet and then runs to his room, he comes back out a second later with his coat in his hands. “See you later,” he yells from the door. “Don’t wait up.”

I turn back to look at Erick when the door closes behind my son. His mouth is open, his face embarrassed. I burst out laughing, and after a second, he joins me. 

“Well, he’s been rooting for that,” I say still giggling. 

“I know,” he shakes his head. He’s still simpering, but I notice a flash of grieve crossing his face. 

I stand up from him. I don’t want to, but I’ve been sitting on his lap for way too long. It’s not good for his legs. He lifts his arms slightly as if to stop me, but he doesn’t. He pushes down from his rims instead to do a pressure lift. 

He looks up at me again and our eyes lock. The atmosphere in the room has changed. It feels warmer all of a sudden, electrified. We are alone. 

I feel my breath hasting. His does too. And then suddenly, without thinking about it, I’m in his arms again. We kiss, stronger this time, passionately, hungry. I bite his lower lip and he moans. His lips move to my neck, and I run my finger through his hair. I start unbuttoning his shirt without asking for permission. He nibbles at my ear and clumsily tries to push my shirt away from my shoulder. I uncover his chest and trace a path of kisses across his collarbone. I run my hands over his arms as he kisses me again, deeply. I separate my mouth from him only to take a breath, and then I stand up from him again. 

I take my shirt off in one swift move. His breath catches in his throat. 

“Bedroom,” I say. His eyes widen. I smile at him before turning around. He stays put for a second and then follows me. 

I walk inside his bedroom and after a short hesitation, I turn back around to face him. I start unbuttoning my jeans, with my eyes fixed on him. His lips are parted as he stares at me apparently in shock. 

“Jules,” he speaks in a low voice. He clears his throat before continuing. “I can’t… I mean, I can… but I don’t have what I need to…” His brows curl up again. He lowers his eyes.

“Shh,” I hush him. “It’s ok, Erick. It doesn’t matter. You know it doesn’t.” I crouch down in front of him and place my hands over his legs. “I want to feel you close to me. I want you to touch me.” He raises his eyes to me again. “We’ll figure out the rest later.”

He still doesn’t look sure about it, so I kiss him again. His lips move reluctantly at first, but after a second they relax. He places a hand on my hair and pulls me closer to him. I help him out of his shirt. He lets me take it off of him sitting very still. I straighten and resume taking my pants off. He's ogling now, his blue eyes wide open, his lips parted with accelerated breaths. It occurs to me then, that while I've seen Erick naked plenty of times, he's never seen me. I feel a wave of heat climb to my cheekbones, pausing for a minute, but the utter adoration I find in his eyes is enough to keep me going.

When I’m just in my underwear, I lay across the bed, and pad the mattress next to me, inviting him. 

I watch him swallow hard before wheeling around. He leans down to release the strap from his ankles. Then, without looking at me, he lifts one leg with both his hands and sets it on the floor. He repeats the procedure with the other one and leans in to place a fist on the bed. He starts scooping forward on the chair by jolting his shoulders. I wait patiently for him, watching. He pushes from the chair with one hand letting his torso fall to the front until he’s close enough to lift his hips and land on the mattress. He lifts his legs again, one by one, and throws them over the bed, then he lets himself fall backwards on his elbows. 

He turns to look at me then. I smile at him reassuringly. I reach my hand to his waist and ask permission with my eyes. He gives me a tiny nod. I kneel on the bed and lean in to kiss his stomach. I know he can’t feel it, but I want to do it anyway. I want him to know how much I like him, how much I don’t care that he’s disabled. I unbutton his pants - he doesn’t wear a belt - and pull his zipper down. He holds his breath like I don’t know what I’m going to find. I look up at him and shake my head, grinning. 

He looks so tense, so scared that I won’t like him. 

“Erick,” I say. “You’re perfect.” I kiss my way up from his navel to his collarbone. I stop there and look into his eyes. “Absolutely perfect.”

I kiss him on the mouth now and wait for him to relax, letting my lips convey what my words can’t. “I like you,” I move to his neck. “So much,” I nibble at his earlobe. 

He drops completely on his back and places his arms around my back in surrender. I go back to his waist then. I pull his pants down with practiced moves. I take his shoes and his socks off and discard them on the floor. I pull one leg out of his pants and then the other one, resting each calf back on the mattress with both hands. Then, I run my palms up his legs, all the way from his ankles to his hip, not stopping over the strap that holds his leg bag in place. I look up at him and find him staring at me in awe. 

I sit astride him and release the clasp of my bra. I take it off and he gasps. He moves his hands to my breasts, running his knuckles over them. But I know this is not enough for him, he can’t feel what he touches. I move up, close enough for him to be able to press his lips against the skin of my bare breasts. He lifts his mouth and kisses them gently at first, then he circles the areola with his tongue and finally traps my nipple in his teeth, softly. I moan. 

I don’t think about how long it’s been since anyone has touched me this way. I don’t think about it, but I feel the urgency on my skin, when he takes his mouth away, I miss it instantly. He moves to the other breast, taking shallow breaths as he does so. 

“Oh Jules,” his breath tickles my nipple. 

He kisses my mouth then again, and I know he’s not feeling self-conscious anymore. I’m pretty sure he’s stopped thinking altogether as he kisses and touches my body everywhere he can reach, with a reverence like the one he used when he said my name. Like there is no greater pleasure to him than holding me within his grasp. And I feel the same way. I kiss his shoulders, his neck, his mouth, his earlobes, everywhere I know he can still feel. I also touch the rest of his body, I want to feel him close, relishing in the fact that we are together now. 

I rub my pelvis against him as I touch him and he touches me. Neither of us is fully aware of the path our hands take as we travel throughout each other’s bodies. My insides explode with an almost unexpected orgasm, throbbing with a wave of heat that brings out a moan. He moans too, and I feel his heart quicken under my palms and then my cheek when I press it against his chest. 

“I love you,” I say again gasping for air as I collapse to his side. He gasps like he still can’t believe my words.

He holds me tightly, breathing in my scent. 

“You can’t imagine what this feels like,” he whispers as I settle myself next to him, my head on his shoulder, my arm wrapped around his chest, my finger caressing his face. I throw one leg over him. He strokes my jawline with his knuckles. “To hold you like this, to be touched by you,” he continues in a soft murmur. “In my wildest dreams, I never imagined I could be this happy.”

I turn my face to kiss his neck.

He presses his lips to my hair. “Oh Jules, my angel Jules.”

It's not over yet...


  1. Damn.
    It is getting hot in here

    1. You need to give me more than that Sweet Angel ;)

  2. Thank you so much, that was wow, just perfect and even more

  3. Oh, this chapter was beautiful in so many ways.
    Firstly, it's great that you are giving a closure on Tony's mum's front. Her diagnosis explains at least somewhat her behaviour and if you let Tony sort out things with his mum, it will put the reader's mind at rest.
    Secondly, it was such a nice surprise to get into Jules's head once more!! I believed that the finale will be playing out in Tony's head but now it feels as if you have closed the circle - the story started with Jules and ends (?) with Jules.
    Also, Sean being so mature about Jules's decision made my heart grow warm.
    And finally the scortching tension about who Jules is going to choose. I still wasn't sure in the beginning of the chapter who you'll choose. The first nudge to Erick's direction came from Sean's question about how he accepted his disability - but I still wasn't sure. The second sign was the moment when Erick saw Jules and Tony's hands joined and then the sentence: "It seems to cripple him, more than his injury ever has." I thought that you can't let Erick remain so devastated. And this sentence "For the first time ever, I want to look my best for Erick." made me finally believe that Jules really chose Erick.
    I'm happy to know that there is one more chapter ahead, where you hopefully mend what's left of Tony and his mum's relationship and show us how Tony copes with Jules's decision.
    Thank you very much for writing and sharing this emotional and heart-felt story!

    1. Wow, thank you for letting me know everything you think. I’m really glad I was able to convey everything I wanted to. The fact that you have stayed with me throughout the story is beyond valuable to me.

  4. That was so good. Poor Tony but glad Erick getting the girl and hope they can all remain friends and support

    1. Thank you Blueskye for seen the story through. It means the world that you have kept on reading.