“I’m not trying to corner you, you can relax,” she says with a chuckle, “I just… I want to tell you that I’m glad you’re here. I’m glad he met you. From what my husband says he’s different since he met you. I know you probably wonder why that matters, and I want to tell you. Before… Before he got hurt he was this kind wonderful person who did for everyone, he was the glue that held them all together at times. I’ve been around them for almost fifteen years and in that time I can tell you they’ve had their fair share of heartache. More than one family should. I’m not going to tell you though because that is up to him. After, though, he was this dark angry person and I don’t think that any of them knew how to take it. They floundered when his fighting spirit disappeared and was replaced by nothing. Sure he fought hard to recover, to walk, but that was all he fought for. And let me tell you no one was safe from his rampages. He would verbally assault even my son. We never once asked him to stop coming around, he just decided for himself. It nearly killed their mother to go through a holiday without him but they all stepped back hoping that one day he would realize…that he would get that spirit back. I watched as mark and Ethan tip-toed around him these last few years, how he has pulled away from all of us. You know, he asked if he could bring you today, basically asking if he was still invited. He has never, once not been. I want to see him happy, I want to see them all happy. I’m not trying to scare you away, I just wanted you to know what this means for us. He looks happy Taylor, happier than I’ve seen him in years. I don’t know how much you know about spinal cord injuries, or what he’s told you but he needs someone who isn’t afraid to tackle that. It’s not like he’s some invalid, but there are things that I’m sure he won’t want to tell you, like how badly he’s hurting today, or how badly he wants to have kids. He’s been scared since that wench left him and I can understand why. They were engaged. Their wedding was only three months away when he got hurt. She dropped him so fast, I’m sure it did a number on him. You are the first person he has ever even talked about, let alone bring you around us,” she said pausing.
“Listen one of my best friends is a paraplegic. I know enough to get me through till he can trust me enough. I really like him. I know it’s only been a few days, but he is one of the best people I’ve ever met. I feel like I’ve known him forever. I can’t even explain it. I’ve seen a glimpse of his nastiness and let me tell you, I’ve seen exponentially worse. I haven’t lived the same experiences but I’ve had things, a life I thought was perfect and had it ripped from me too, so I kinda get that. Do I know how this is going to play out? No. Do I want to take my time and invest in Elliot? Yes. He does something to me that I can’t describe…” I said before she started again.
“Okay. Taylor I wasn’t trying to scare you away or grill you for the correct responses, really. I just don’t want to see him get torn to shreds again. For a lot of reasons, but I also don’t want to see anyone else on the receiving end of his rage either.” she finished.
“I appreciate that. I do. You want to know the funny thing here, I wasn’t even nervous about meeting all of you. He on the other hand nearly had a seizure trying to ask me. It was heart-warming really.” I laugh a little.
“I can imagine, Taylor. He really is one of the best out there. All three of them are, even Ethan.” she laughs hard then and I watch as she relaxes some.
“He’s a trip isn’t he?” I ask.
“You ain’t seen nothing yet! Just wait, you haven’t even seen him at his best,” she flips her hair as we move from the hallway through to go outside.
I shake my head, sure that I’m in for it with him.
I’d been changing in Alex’s bedroom when I heard Jenna knock on the bathroom door where Taylor was changing. I knew that I shouldn’t be listening just behind the buzz lightyear postered door but I couldn’t help myself. I sat there wondering what exactly my sister-in-law was going to say. I could sense the hesitation in Taylor’s voice, and in Jenna’s as well, but she also had the stern mom thing going. Her words pierced my heart as she skims the surface of the last fifteen years and each heartbreak stabs little nicks in the already fragile tissue there. Even after she’s moved on and then Taylor speaks, I’m flashing through the memories. I hear the last bit of Taylor’s response and smile again thinking how amazing she is, matching with Jenna. I knew eventually she would be faced with either my brothers or their wives interview questions, I just thought she’d get a few more experiences with them first. I shouldn’t have been so naive in that thinking, though, Jenna is the poster girl for us Turner boys, has been for quite a while now. She’s been around us for a long time, so it doesn’t bother me that meddles in my life, she’s earned it. As much as she talks about us all having been through so much she has stood right there with us. She’s this strong person, who compliments my brother in a way that no one else ever could. He’s mild and she’s the hot sauce that sits on the top of the list with all the caution signs, it’s why they work so well together. I’d wondered what she saw in him when they first got together but it didn’t take long to see how they fit. I chuckle to myself silently when they begin talking about Ethan, he is the most obnoxious of the three of us. When their voices disappear down the hall I wonder what life she lost, who took that from her and it makes my blood boil. Without thinking I move to swing the door open and wince as the sharp pain causes sweat to bead on my forehead. Instantly I still, as the pain subsides, and I wonder how I’ll be able to hide this from my father. He can read me like no one else and he will see right through the smile I’ve been plastering on my face today. I slowly make my way out to the backyard where I see Becca, Jenna and Taylor just getting into the pool.
“Nice of you to join us…” Ethan claps my shoulder and the pain is back.
“Easy,” I seethe through clenched teeth.
“What?” he asks looking at me in that way he sometimes does when I’m about to lose my cool.
“Just a little sore…” I answer and place the smile back on my face.
“Go, get in there with your girl, it should feel good then,” he says knowingly.
I’m still for another few minutes watching their interactions until finally, I force myself to move. I half-hazardly cover a lounger with my towel and wheel over to the side noticing Taylor watching me closely. I wonder if she sees me moving slower than normal, does she notice my deliberate movements or is she just watching. Mark is watching too, he won’t bother me about it though because he isn’t one to push me about this stuff. I click my brakes and lower myself down as easily as I can, stopping briefly to steady myself before I scoot forward and put my feet in the water. It’s definitely not my most graceful, but it will get the job done. As I’m lowering myself in Alex jumps in beside me splashing water in all directions. I hear Becca’s squeal as I’m finally submerged, now racked with another wave of pain. As I’m sinking further down under the water all I can think about is how I should have taken something. When I break the surface Taylor is right beside me.
“Do you need me to get you something for the pain?” she asks.
“I… I…” I try to think of something but realize even if I did I probably wouldn’t win this, “Yeah… yes, please. There are some painkillers in my bag back in Alex’s room.”
“Why didn’t you say something?” she asks me, a small frown turning down the corners of her mouth.
“It wasn’t this bad before, the more I’m moving around the worse it’s getting, though,” I answer honestly.
“I’ll be right back…” she says before planting a peck on my cheek then disappearing.
Before I can even ask, an inner tube bounces off of my head, “Thought you might need that,” Ethan says with a smirk.
“Good aim,” I say flipping him the finger when I pull myself into the center of the tube.
“Hey, I saw that, can we refrain from the non-G-rated hand gestures, impressionable eyes and all that,” Jenna yells at me.
“Sorry,” I answer with a grin as I see Taylor come through the door.
After grabbing a bottled water she drapes her towel on the back of a lounger and heads in my direction. As I make my way to the side to meet her I stop to dunk a distracted Alex as I pass.
“Here ya go, handsome, two enough?” she asks, I can hear the concern in her voice.
“Any more than that and I’d be down for the count, cupcake,” I joke.
The afternoon goes on and as the painkillers kick in I can feel my tense muscles relax, leading to as many pool shenanigans as Ethan and I can manage before Jenna starts rounding us up for dinner. I’m a little surprised as Taylor follows me into Alex’s room when we go into change.
“Can I change in here with you?” she asks.
“Uh, sure,” I answer nervously, not sure that I’m ready to bare it all, but not really wanting to send her away either.
Her arms come around my shoulders gently then and I can feel her breath on my cheek, “I won’t look I promise,” she says softly.
“You’ll see it eventually, I mean… if you want to,” I stutter.
“Right back at you…” she answers and I wonder if she feels the same about that scar as I do about my body.
Sitting here with her warm skin pressed against mine, thoughts are running wild through my mind. I want her, I’m beginning to need her, if this goes south I’m screwed, god her skin is soft…
“Elliot?” she breaks my mental hiatus.
“Sorry, what did you say?” I ask.
“Nothing, you just disappeared there for a minute…” she trails off.
“I was thinking about how soft your skin feels here,” I whisper as I bring her forearm to my lips, “and here,” I continue along until I’ve brought her around to my lap, “and how I want to feel those lips on mine…”
She didn’t hesitate to fill my request and we stayed like that until I felt her shivering against me, “You’re freezing.”
“Only on the outside,” she smirks as I pull her in close and wrap my arms around her.
“Let’s get dressed before they send in a search party,” I say softly in her ear.
As soon as she is gone from my arms, i miss her, but I know that if she is shivering I’m more than likely getting cold too. I dig around in my bag a while trying anything to distract me from the beautiful woman probably half naked behind me. I can’t help but sneak a sideways glance and sure enough, she catches me.
“Hey!” she squeaks out.
“You are beautiful,” I say, turning back around.
“I can’t believe you cheated,” she giggles.
“Every part of you is beautiful, Taylor…” I reiterate.
“No, Elliot…” she practically chokes out.
“Yes, to me… everything about you, your smile, the face you make when you want to ring my neck, the way you tuck that piece of hair behind your ears…” I finally trail off as she comes to stand in front of me in nothing but her bra and underwear and my breath hitches.
“Even this?” she asks lifting her hand from over the scar that I’d felt.
“Especially that,” I answer, letting my hand come to rest over the raised area of skin, “It’s one of the most beautiful parts of you.”
She shakes her head and tries to pull herself from my reach, but I let my hands circle her waist, “Elliot…”
“It means you’ve survived something,” I say trying to convince her.
She doesn’t try to move away but she doesn’t say anything either, she just stands there, eyes closed. I let my eyes come to rest on the puckered skin barely contained under the large palm of my hand. My fingertips trace its edge softly as I take it in, not only does it seem that there was an incision but it also looks to be burned in some spots. I have to turn away when I realize the pain it must have caused her, the trauma that she must have gone through.
“I don’t remember it really…” she whispers, her hand coming to rest over mine.
I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding then, “Thank god for that…”
“Ok, let’s get dressed,” she says spinning out of my reach and the moment is over.
In my mind, though it isn’t over.
My parents arrive just before dinner from their weekend away. When I get a glimpse of my father it looks like he is ten years younger. The mountain air seems to have done him good. The focus at first goes to Alex, but I see my mother’s eyes dart to the third female in the kitchen. She looks at me and then back to the kitchen a smile spreading as she moves towards me.
“Who is that?” she asks, placing her hand on my shoulder as she leans down and kisses my cheek.
“Taylor. Currently, there is no relationship designation, mother, but it’s progressing,” I state vaguely.
“Elliot, what is that supposed to mean?” she looks at me irritated.
“What? We haven’t discussed it yet, I don’t want you mucking it up,” I say, knowing that’s going to get me a smack on the back of the head.
“See Ma, aren’t you glad that I’m the golden boy?” Ethan smirks at me as I rub my head.
“Ethan, please, you are far from golden…” she says laughing.
“Taylor, come in here for a minute?” I call to her.
I watch my parents watching her, I can see the curiosity and joy in their expressions when they take her in.
“Taylor, these are my parents, Helen and Everett. Mom, Dad, this is Taylor,” I introduce them, not able to stop smiling.
“It’s really nice to meet you,” Taylor says as I notice a blush spreading across her cheeks.
My mother can’t help herself and I know it’s coming, so does Ethan as I hear him counting down from three in my ear as she pulls Taylor in for a hug.
“Helen, let the poor girl go, you’re going to scare her off. Taylor, you’ll have to excuse her, she’s a hugger,” my Father laughs as he pats Taylors shoulder.
Sitting down to dinner with the Turner’s I couldn’t help but look around the table and think about how easy it was to feel welcome with them. Even with Jenna’s mini inquisition, it has been a nice relaxing day full of laughter and good conversation. My only concern is that I can tell Elliot’s pain is returning. The crinkles around his eyes are becoming deeper by the second and the smile that was so vibrant just an hour before is looking more and more strained. I place my hand on his forearm and give him a little squeeze, waiting for him to look at me.
“Hey, you okay handsome?” I ask quietly as I lean into him.
“Yes,” he says but I know it’s a lie.
I excuse myself and dip into Alex’s room where I drop out another two pills into my hand for him. I know that if he did it, it would start up a barrage of questions from his family. When I return to the table everyone is in a loud discussion about salt water pools versus chlorinated. I sneakily take Elliot’s hand and drop the pills into it as he looks at me like I’ve just given him the cure for cancer.
“Thank you,” he says with a small smile before giving me a peck on the lips.
“Anyone want dessert yet?” Jenna asks, getting up.
Elliot takes the opportunity as the commotion begins to toss the pills into his mouth and takes a swig of his water, but it doesn’t go as unnoticed as he planned as I see his father’s look of concern.
After dinner as I’m helping with the dishes I hear his dad question him as they sit watching tv. Elliot’s response is truthful and the matter is dropped but I can still see the concern on his father’s face. I wonder briefly if he has pain often before I feel two small hands tugging at my arm.
“Taylor, can we play legos now?” Alex asks me with a hopeful smile.
“Let me finish up her little man and then we can build something,” I answer flicking a bit of water at him.
“Okay,” he says with a giggle.
“Hey Al, come on I’ll get started with you and when she’s done she can join us,” Elliot says coming up behind him.
I watch as they disappear down the hallway to his bedroom.
“You know, Alex misses him. It’s been a while since he’s been around,” Helen says softly coming to rest next to me while I’m drying dishes.
“Did they spend a lot of time together?” I ask.
“Alex was only three when Elliot… when he got hurt, but yes, he was around a lot. He’s Alex’s godfather,” she says stuttering at the mention of his accident.
“The past few years have been rough for him, though…” Becca states bluntly.
“He’s talked to me a little bit about it but not much yet,” I say.
“That’s good dear, he will eventually,” Helen says.
Conversation steers away from Elliot as quickly as it started and when we finish up I trail after them down the hallway, pausing to listen to them before I go in.
“Uncle Elliot, does it hurt?” I hear Alex’s small voice ask.
“No, not usually,” Elliot responds softly.
“So the wires are crossed in there?” he asks.
“Yeah bud, why the sudden interest?” Elliot asks.
“Daddy was talking about it the other day with pop, and he said you could work again, that it was time, that nothing was wrong with you…” Alex pauses, “I asked him if you were going to be able to walk then, and he said no, the wires were still crossed.”
“Dad’s right bud, the wires are still crossed but he was right about going back to work. I did too,” Elliot answers.
“I’m glad it doesn’t hurt,” Alex says.
I choose to enter then, not surprised to find Elliot sprawled out on the floor with Legos surrounding them and a few small buildings started.
“Hey boys, can I play too?” I ask with a smile.
“Come on down, nothing girly like a hair salon, though, we are building Gotham City,” Elliot says searching my face.
“Cool!” I answer finding a spot next to Alex, flashing a smile to Elliot.
After playing with the little man for a while I see Elliot look at his watch, it’s nearly eight and I can tell he’s getting tired. Ethan has come and gone from the room a few times threatening total destruction of our makeshift Gotham and on his last tour through he takes out the Batcave. Alex tackles him and as I watch them wrestle around on the floor I catch a glimpse of Elliot’s face, dark and sullen. I see the longing there, as though in that moment he wishes it was him wrestling around with Alex. I slide in closer to him and rest my hand on his arm, trying to break him from that thought, and when his eyes meet mine I’m sure I never want to see the hurt in them like this again. The normal whiskey color is gone and it’s been replaced by deep brown and the pain across his features is almost too much for me to take.
“Elliot…” I say stunned still by that expression.
“You about ready to head out?” he says, his voice cracking a little.
“If you are,” I answer and quickly peck his cheek before I get up.
I hurry out of the room, trying to compose myself before I make it to the rest of his family. Not long after he is at my side at the counter starting his goodbyes. His mother hugs me and tells me not to be a stranger and as we go through the garage I stop him.
“Are you okay?” I ask softly.
“Yeah,” he says flatly.
“Don’t do that, Elliot,” I say.
“Do what, Taylor?” he asks irritation in his voice.
“Don’t snap at me when I am just wondering what that was in there,” I tell him, turning away.
“What do you want me to say here, Taylor?” he asks.
“I want you to tell me about it, whatever it was you thought about when Ethan came in Alex’s room…” I pause, “How quickly we left… I just want you to tell me.”
“You want me to tell you about it? Fine. I was pissed, I was frustrated that I can’t have that. I can’t just let my nephew rough house with me…” he says angrily.
“I know you wish it was you. It isn’t though. Nothing is going to change that. Do you think Alex cared that you couldn’t toss him around? No. He was more than happy to just be spending time with you,” I say softly.
“I know that… I do,” he says sounding defeated.
“Then let that go, let the idea that it should be you go. Is that why you don’t come around?” I ask before I can stop myself.
“What?” he asks roughly.
“Your mother said you don’t come around much now…” I answer.
“Taylor,” it comes out almost strangled, then taking a deep breath, “I… partly yes, but it wasn’t because I didn’t want to, I wanted to more than anything, I missed this, days like today. But I felt like I couldn’t stop those feelings and then it would just get ugly. I was keeping them from me. From what I could say and do to hurt them…” he says letting out a sigh.
“Why would you need to keep them from you?” I ask, knowing from my inquisition with Jenna that he can get nasty.
“I’m done talking about this, Taylor,” he says through clenched teeth as he pushes past me to the truck.
I stand there for a few seconds before I follow, not sure how this escalated so fast. When I get in he’s still breaking down his chair and while he’s careful not to bump me with it, he tosses it in the back angrily. The ride back to his house is silent except for the low murmur of Dropkick Murphy’s coming through the speakers. I get out and walk to my car, wondering if this is it, if he is going to push me away.