His laughter was like someone had lit a match in a dark room. It exposed him in a way that I had not seen yet and was deep and throaty, and full of life. It was the most real I’d seen him since we met and I vowed to myself that I would make him laugh every day just to feel that warmth spread around me. We clicked in a way that I’d never experienced before and it was easy. I know what you’re thinking, yada yada yada, girl meets boy, falls in love in two days and they live happily ever after. But I didn’t anticipate that being the case at all, our lives had crossed and he didn’t know my story nor I his, and his story, I was sure would come out eventually but today wasn’t that day. As he patched me up, not having to replace any stitches, by the way, we talked about little things, lighthearted things. It was that getting to know you type of conversation that you have with someone on your first date. I began to mentally file away each of his features, the little creases at his eyes when he smiled, the faint scar by his left temple, the warmth of his hands on mine, the way his eyes brightened when he spoke of his family. Each little piece of him coming together to form that brilliant man I’d known was in there. I didn’t want to return to the bar but after forty-five minutes of stalling Josh came to find me.
“Tay, Davy is on the phone for you,” he said startling both of us with his interruption.
“Oh, yeah I’ll take it in here. Thanks, Josh,” I said less than enthusiastically.
I picked up the handset and mentally prepared myself for an ear full. First off he was mad that I went with a strange man to the ER, and then he was angry because I got hurt and then he was upset that I even came in to work tonight. All the while I muttered out yeah’s and ok’s while I watched Elliot packing up his bag until finally, Davy caught on that I wasn’t paying attention. “What?” I asked when even I couldn’t keep up the façade of listening. “No I’m listening, yes, I’m fine. I’ll be fine to work, I just can’t do any dishes,” I muttered into the phone as I watched Elliot chuckling at me. “I’ll stop by tomorrow before my shift and you can see for yourself that I’m fine. Yes, I’m going back out in a few minutes. He was just checking one of the stitches and it was fine I just overreacted. Alright, big brother, I’ll see you tomorrow,”
I finished the conversation and placed the handset back in its place.
“Protective big brother, I get it,” Elliot smiled knowingly.
“I can think of a few better descriptive words than those,” I joked.
“Taylor I have one of those big brothers and I am one of those big brothers too. I’d be saying the same things to my little brother. It doesn’t matter that we are grown; it’s instilled in us at a young age to nag and worry. Cut him some slack lady, I can’t imagine what having a little sister is like, but I’m sure it’s a hell of a lot harder than a little brother,” Elliot said, wheeling closer to me.
“I’m sure it’s no picnic, but I am a grown adult woman. I have managed to survive this long…” I said trailing off; he had gotten a sullen look about him that I hadn’t seen yet. “What’s going on in that head of yours fine sir?”
“Nothing…nothing important anyways,” he answered, faking a smile.
“It doesn’t look like nothing,” I shot back.
Instead of speaking he reached for my arm and easily pulled me onto his lap so that our faces were nearly touching, his breath warm on my skin. “Can I kiss you Taylor?” he asked shyly.
“I’ve wondered when you were going to ask me that…” I said honestly.
Before I could say another word his lips were on mine, softly at first and then with a hunger I wasn’t expecting. It was one of the most passionate kisses I’ve ever had in my life and I didn’t want it to end. “Elliot…” I managed to breathe out, after a few minutes.
He pulled back and the little smile on his lips was almost too much to bear. His eyes were on fire, the whiskey color almost glowing. “Yes, princess?” he muttered.
“As much as I could sit here all night and do this with you, I need to get back to work. I don’t want to, but I have to,” I said, really afraid that Josh would walk in on our mini make out session.
“Yeah… I need to get to the gym anyways…I’ll let you get back to it,” He stuttered, not making a move, though.
“You don’t have to go, but I need to work at least a little bit,” I laughed, rubbing my head into the crook of his neck so I could get another whiff of his masculine scent.
“Ok princess. I get it,” he said, sucking in a deep breath.
I reluctantly climbed from my perch on his lap but before I could get too far he was pulling me in close again so that his forehead was touching mine. “Just one more,” he said, before cupping my chin and letting his lips find mine.
I don’t know exactly how long we stayed like that but it was no quick peck, that’s for sure. And wordlessly I watched him gather his things from the doorway in a haze. His face was soft now, his little worry lines having disappeared at the calm that had found its way into his body. “Princess I’ll never leave if you keep blocking the doorway,” he said with a smirk.
“Maybe that’s the plan…” I replied with a wink.
“Maybe I might like that plan,” he said, his fingers trailing from my elbow to my fingertips.
“Taylor, are you ever coming back out here?” I heard Josh call from behind me.
“I’ll be right there,” I said, “If I don’t go out there he’s going to come back here,” I smiled.
“Alright, then princess. I’ll really leave you to it. You can call me later if you want…” he said shyly as he moved to leave.
“I think I can do that,” I smirked, as I fell in behind him admiring the strong muscles in his arms as he propelled his chair forward.
“See ya Josh,” Elliot nodded as we passed him at the bar.
Josh just grunted in response but I could feel his eyes boring holes through me. I ignored them and walked Elliot to the door and watched him wheel out to his truck. With a little wave to me, he began the process of getting in and I headed back to the bar. My body was humming with excitement but I tried to tone it down or else I’d have to face the third degree from Josh.
“That was cozy…” Josh remarked.
“Shut it, Josh!” I shot back at him.
“Just callin it like I see it, Tay,” he laughed. “So you two…?”
“Just getting to know each other,” I replied shortly.
“Each other’s tonsils maybe,” he snorted.
“Seriously, were you spying on us?” I quizzed.
“Ha! So you were getting a little tonsil action!” he exclaimed.
“Damnit… I walked right into that one didn’t I?” I said realizing that he played me.
“Sure did sister. That was almost too easy,” he laughed.
“Ugh!” I grunted.
I finished out my shift and left josh to close up after a night of teasing and torturous joking from him. I didn’t care though because I could still see the smile on Elliot’s face when we pulled away after our first kiss and it was worth it. I couldn’t wait for our date on Saturday and wondered if he would enjoy what I had planned. The whole way home I thought about our conversation and wondered how hard it had been for him to open up to me even that little bit. I could tell he was a little bit ashamed at having to mention he hadn’t had a relationship since his accident. I mean come on what 35-year-old man likes to confess something like that, let alone one who is still adjusting to new limitations. I tried to imagine what he was like before his accident, was he cocky, was he full of himself, was he just as he is now but a little less guarded. I may never know the answer to that question but I know that whatever relationship he was in before it messed with him something fierce. Sure we’ve all had relationships that have broken us in ways that we will never recover from but if he went through that at the same time as he was dealing with his accident it would be infinitesimally worse.
As I settled into my nightly routine I checked the time before staring at my phone for a few minutes debating on whether or not it was too late to call him. Deciding that he wouldn’t be sleeping yet I pressed send, nervously waiting for his voice to break the silence of my empty apartment.
“Hey princess…” he said, his voice thick.
“You weren’t sleeping were you?” I asked shyly.
“Not yet. But I was getting close. How was your night Taylor?” he said.
“Pretty uneventful after you left, just Josh ragging me about you…” I laughed.
“So I’m pretty popular then?” he chuckled.
“Seems that way. How was the gym?” I said softly.
“Nothing special. Saw an old friend, had a chat, came home, waited for this beautiful girl to call,” I could almost hear him smiling through the phone as the redness swept its way across my cheeks when he called me beautiful.
I stayed quiet for a few seconds fidgeting with the lens of my camera before he spoke again.
“You didn’t fall asleep on me did you?” he asked, in almost a whisper.
“No prince charming I was just thinking about Saturday,” I answered.
“And what about Saturday has you so preoccupied?” he quizzed.
“Just thinking that I hope you like what I have planned,” I smiled.
“I think whatever we do will be just fine,” he said easily.
Our conversation continued to flow easily but after almost an hour I could tell he was fighting sleep.
“Listen handsome, I can hear you yawning through the phone. It’s almost midnight so I’m going to let you get your beauty sleep okay?” I said, yawning myself.
“I’m going to take you up on that princess, I’m beat. But will you call me tomorrow? Between shifts?” he asked, hope in his voice.
“I think I can make time to do that…” I laughed sleepily.
“Goodnight then Fair maiden…” he whispered.
“Goodnight Elliot…” I said, waiting for the phone to disconnect.
I don’t think I lasted more than ten minutes after he hung up the phone before I was out cold. Drifting off though I couldn’t help thinking how nice it was to have someone to say goodnight to.
As I hung up the phone I found myself smiling sleepily wondering if she was doing the same. Every fiber of my being was excited at the possibility of her. Wheeling into the coffee shop I wasn’t surprised to find her at the same table she had been at yesterday, two tall to go cups sitting in front of her. I had tried not to get my hopes up that she would be here but I couldn’t hide the smile spreading across my face as her eyes found mine, as I got closer.
“You’re late Elliot…” she said, standing and then pecking my cheek.
“You see there was this girl who kept me up past my bedtime…” I laughed, reaching for her hand and brushing a kiss across her knuckles.
“I’m hurt. Another woman already?” she joked.
“Nah just this little bartender, usually wears her hair in this messy bun…” I played along.
“Well I don’t know if I can compete with that…” she said playfully, smacking my shoulder before leaning in and touching her forehead to mine.
“Either Taylor suits me just fine,” I breathed out before pulling her face in close for a nice kiss.
I felt her hand grip my arm tighter like she was holding on for dear life before she pulled herself away.
“Elliot you can’t keep doing that when I have things to do or those things will never get done…” she breathed heavily her mouth still inches from mine.
“I can’t help it,” I smiled, trying to breach the gap.
“One more and then I have to go, I mean it. Besides we are not love-struck teenagers…” she smirked.
“Maybe you aren’t…” I breathed as I let my mouth crush onto hers. “But you have turned me into one…” I said pulling away, watching her face and the reaction she had.
“Don’t you remember about the boss, and the job, and the frowning upon the lateness? Really I have to go, I waited too long for you already…” she frowned.
“Sorry, no really though I don’t want you to be late… let me follow you out,” I said, feeling bad.
“You must be tired prince charming to give up so easily!” she laughed.
“No, I just figure this way I get another kiss or two at the car,” I said wagging my eyebrows.
“Let’s go then Romeo,” She smirked.
I secured the cup between my legs and beat her to the door so I could hold it open for her and followed her to her car, which ended up being across the lot. I waited for her to get in and then she rolled down the window as I positioned myself as close as possible to rest my arms on the door, a little thankful that she had a car.
“Have a good day Taylor…” I said, leaning in even further to give her a kiss.
“You too Elliot,” she smiled, then put the car in gear.
I checked that no cars were coming before rolling back across the lot to my truck and stashing the coffee inside before scooting forward, lifting my right leg in and reaching for the handle to pull myself into the truck. I thought briefly about how long it had taken me to get to this point as I disassembled my chair and put it behind me. The first year after my injury was rough, to say the least. I resisted the change in my body, the will that I would walk again blocking out any desire to learn to live with my new reality. I didn’t want to get good at cooking in a wheelchair or learning how to cope. Even though I knew as a physician, I thought I would be different, that the specialists and doctors were all wrong. Sure my body had started to heal but my mind was on a rampage to fight it at any cost.
I would spend hours at night, lying in my bed trying to make any muscle below my incomplete injury move. I would stare at my body sometimes imagining a twitch or a flick of a muscle. I never got anything more than a few inches of feeling on my left thigh and a decent bladder and bowel program out of all those hours of watching. Being incomplete, I was convinced that during that first year that I would regain all kinds of mobility, that I would be able to walk with a cane or even crutches and that would be enough. When none of that happened, even as I struggled to drag my legs across the parallel bars begging for more time, I didn’t believe it. I fought all the therapists, I fought my family of medical professionals, I fought myself, and in the end here I sit, still in a chair. I wasted that whole year fighting a war that I wasn’t going to win. I’m not proud of myself for all that wasted time but at least I can say I never gave up. I still Google any new research that comes up promising the next best thing but that is my only form of rebellion these days. I ended up being pretty lucky in that I have decent control of my bladder and bowel, something most guys in my situation aren’t blessed with. I spent the last two years dealing with all my emotional demons and while I haven’t always been successful I’m getting there. I just hope that if this thing, whatever this is with Taylor, goes anywhere she is willing to deal with my stubborn ass.
Pulling into the office I noticed that my brother was here but not my father, which was odd. I hurriedly reversed my earlier process and was wheeling through the door only to find Mark waiting for me.
“Where’s dad?” I asked, nearly skidding to a halt at his feet.
“Sick. Going to be out the rest of the week. I’m going to need you to see patients Elliot. Really I can’t handle this by myself,” he said sternly.
“I haven’t seen patients in almost three years except the occasional emergency Mark. I…” I sputtered before he cut me off.
“I don’t really care today Elliot. You are a part of this practice and I need your help, dad needs your help. You’re just going to have to suck it up little brother,” he said before disappearing into his office, leaving me staring at the floor.
It had been a long time coming. Every day I hoped that I wouldn’t have to see patients, every single day for the last three years. No one ever pushed me to do it either. I guess canceling thirty patients wasn’t going to happen anymore. I wheeled to my office and found a patient list taped to the door. I snatched it off the door and headed in to start going over charts. My hands were shaking as I quickly began looking through the patient records and reasons for their visit. I was going to have to do this, I couldn’t get out of it even if I wanted to because in ten minutes my first patient would be in exam room 7, the exam room that had been modified for me when I got hurt. As I continued to review the list I noticed only 15 patients, and silently thanked Mark for at least easing me back into it. Those ten minutes flew by and before I knew it Janice was buzzing me. “Elliot your first patient is in exam 7.”
“Thank you, Janice. I’ll be right there,” I answered feeling the sweat starting to bead on my forehead.
“You are going to do fine Elliot,” I heard from behind me as I slowly wheeled down the hall.
“I don’t have a choice do I?” I said flatly, willing my voice not to crack.
“Not today,” Mark said, smiling as he disappeared into another exam room.
I knocked on the door and entered as fluidly as my near shaking body would allow.
“Good Morning Mrs. Jones, I’m Dr. Elliot Turner, I’m filling in for my father today, I don’t think we’ve previously met,” I said extending my hand, hoping she wouldn’t notice the tremble.
Kind 86-year old eyes met mine with a smile “Oh dear I remember when you were just a little thing running around the office here. It’s nice to meet you.”
I instantly relaxed and felt all the anxiety wash away. I could do this, I thought to myself and started the visit. By the time lunch rolled around I was in a groove that I didn’t think I’d ever get back. I silently ate my lunch realizing for the first time in all these years how much I missed doing this. I checked my phone quickly before the next patient arrived to find a message from Taylor.
Hey there, hope you are having a good day…
I replied with a smiley face and an emoji pulling its hair out and a fill ya in later. I put the phone back in my pocket and swung by Marks office.
“Thank you,” was all I could say.
“For what?” he asked, looking puzzled.
“I didn’t realize that I could still do this, that’s what,” I laughed.
“We knew you could, that’s why Dad took mom on a long weekend,” he smirked.
“He’s not sick? You knew?” I asked.
“He said you were ready. I disagreed just so you know but he was right. I don’t know how he knew, but the old man knew,” he chuckled.
“So I’ll be seeing patients regularly?” I asked.
“Not a full load just yet, we figured we would ease you into it. You know Dads not getting any younger El. I think he is ready to retire. Or at least thinking about it but he wasn’t ready until yesterday for some reason, to push you back into it,” Mark looked at me skeptically.
“I know, I know he is ready. I just didn’t think that…I didn’t want to let myself believe that I could do this,” I answered honestly.
“I know Elliot. It’s been a rough couple of years for you, but now it’s time to get back into it. You did fine this morning and you’ll continue to do fine. This is what you were always meant to do,” Mark said quietly.
“I’ve never wanted to do anything else,” I whispered.
“Well, it’s a damn good thing you’ve finally realized that,” Mark chuckled.
I just shook my head, and silently spun around and out of his office to the patient waiting for me in exam 7. It had been a long time since I’d felt this rush of accomplishment where my professional life was concerned. Sure I had days where just managing not to dump myself out of my chair, or riding a mile on the hand-bike had been huge but those were personal. This, this feeling right now, made me feel invincible like I could really be this fake functioning person I had been pretending to be for so long now. I wasn’t just poor Elliot, he’s going through a tough time, now I could be Dr. Turner, a true functioning member of the big blue planet. Between every patient break, I chastised myself for waiting this long, for believing that this chair would make the difference I imagined it would. It didn’t, I did that all on my own. By the time the end of the day rolled around I was still grinning ear to ear and while sure I was mentally exhausted I couldn’t quite shake the feeling of elation. I slowed to a stop at my desk to briefly review my patient list for the following day and pulled out my phone.
Uh-oh… Hope it’s getting better <3. – Taylor
I didn’t reply immediately, I wanted to tell her how awesome and exhausting and refreshing and tiring the day had been but I had to stop myself. She has this picture of me in her head, this dashing, handsome doctor (at least I hope so), and if I let her in on today’s achievement, I was scared I would burst that shiny, Elliot’s the bees knees, balloon. Maybe I wasn’t ready for her to see those demons just yet, so instead I texted back:
It did get a lot better pretty girl. How is your day, about to start round two?
Looking at the clock it was nearly six-thirty before she called to interrupt my last patient file.
“Hey,” I answered softly.
“Hey,” she mimicked, sounding tired.
“What if I told you to call Davy and tell him you aren’t coming in? What if I said let’s go to my place and order dinner? What if I told you I had a really great day and I want to see you?” I blurted out, cringing immediately surprising myself.
“My whole being would want to tell you yes, I’ll call him, but then my mind would override that and say I just can’t prince charming. I’m sorry,” she said softly.
“It’s okay Taylor. I know you have responsibilities and I shouldn’t have even tempted you it wasn’t fair,” I replied, instantly regretful of my lack of filter.
“I really would have loved that though Elliot…” she trailed off.
“Well if you aren’t too tired when you get done call me, pretty girl. I’ll take a raincheck,” I said, smiling to myself, imagining her snuggled up next to me on the couch with half empty Chinese food containers surrounding us.
“Hopefully, soon all these double shifts will come to an end,” she said.
“I can imagine you probably are getting wiped out, especially since this handsome guy keeps you up late chatting on the good old telephone,” I laughed.
“You’re 50% right, there Elliot,” she chuckled.
“So you aren’t wiped out?” I snickered.
“Oh man you’re so full of yourself Elliot,” she laughed, and my heart wanted to explode at the sound.
“You wound me, Taylor. Really. I thought you just liked me for my good looks…” I said chuckling and then “Why else would you want to settle for me…” I said starting out as a joke but easily allowing myself to dive into that snake pit.
“Elliot… what?” she said shocked.
I didn’t quite know how to explain that little bit of word vomit that slipped past the filter.
“Elliot, are you still there?” she questioned the new dark tone of our conversation weighing heavy in her voice.
“Yeah. I’m here…” I said flatly. “I’m sorry I said that Taylor.”
“You should be. I would never settle for anyone Elliot. Never. I know what I bring to the table and it’s worth a lot more than settling. And for you to even think that someone should settle for you is ridiculous. What I’ve seen in the brief time I’ve known you proves otherwise,” she said, her voice rising with anger.
“I’m sorry,” I said again.
“Good. Apology accepted. Now as much as I want to keep talking to you I have to go into Davy’s. I’ll call you later okay, prince stupid?” she said laughing softly.
“Wow how quickly the cute nicknames can change…” I laughed at her calling me on my bullshit.
“It was fully deserved. Talk to you later Elliot,” she said and then hung up abruptly leaving me staring at the phone.
I packed up and left the office, the dark turn my mind had taken while talking to Taylor hanging over my head. After such an awesome day I couldn’t believe that still somewhere in my mind that doubt was threatening me. I worked myself hard at the gym, probably a little too hard in attempts to quell that inner demon that was trying to take over while I berated myself for my lack of filter. When I transferred from the weight bench back to my chair I knew I’d overdone it by the way my arms were shaking with my weight. The trainer who was working with me eyed me suspiciously as I adjusted my feet on the footplate.
“You did too much Elliot. Have a bad day?” Zander asked.
“Yeah and yeah. I’ll pay for it tomorrow I’m sure,” I murmured.
“You need a good soak when you get home, it should help,” he said before disappearing to another machine.
He was right. What I needed was a good soak to ease the muscles I’d overworked but my mind was still on Taylor. We hadn’t even had a date yet and my stupid mind was already trying to sabotage me. I slowly tossed my bag into the truck, before placing my feet on the ground, grabbing behind my right knee and lifting it into the truck, reaching for the handle to pull myself in I winced at the sore muscles in my arm as I hoisted myself up onto the seat. Tomorrow was going to be a long day.