Three months had gone by. I didn’t see her at Starbucks, I sure as hell didn’t go to Davy’s. I had however been spending a lot of time with Ethan and the rest of my family. I would never get those three years back but I was making progress. Something Ethan had said that night three months before had opened my eyes. “You get by on the bare minimum with us and now that’s not enough anymore.” He was more than right. The whole time I was trying to pretend I was this whole person I’d never realized that I wasn’t that guy anymore. I had worked really hard to create this idea that I was dealing, that I had come to terms with what happened when in reality I wasn’t anywhere near it. I couldn’t deny that in all those years of pretending, I’d kept myself away from the people who would know that I was full of shit.
When I had answered her call after he had handed my ass to me I didn’t intend on breaking it off… it just kind of happened as I explained to her what I had felt that night. I came to the realization that if I couldn’t be okay with myself I was just going to keep doing the same thing to her over and over. That, I wasn’t prepared to do, I couldn’t even imagine having to see that look on her face ever again. So I told her the truth and did what I thought was best for her.I stopped us before she could say another word because i knew that if she spoke I wouldn’t be able to go through with it. That one week was one of the best in my life, and as much as it killed me to say goodbye, I had to. I know that she’s talked to Ethan, he told me. He wouldn’t say what they talked about except that Becca had wanted her to do her maternity photos and that she was doing good. I’d asked him countless times if she asked about me, or how she was or what they talked about but he wouldn’t tell. He knew that any little information he let slip could tear me apart.
I missed her, the girl I met in a coffee shop and spent an amazing weekend with. I missed her laugh and her eyes, the way she didn’t let me get away with anything. I missed her jokes. I think I missed her more than I ever had Maegan and we’d been together for years. I’d been talking to a therapist once a week about everything, and while at first, I thought it was stupid, now I could see the differences. I’d always be a little bit angry about what happened to me, but I was learning how to deal with that. My father had suggested it after about a week of me shirking my patients at the office. “Listen, son, I’m not trying to tell you what to do but I think you need to talk to someone and if that can’t be your family then you need to find someone else.” Ethan had pretty much told me the same thing and so I did. I made the appointment and have been going since. It took me a while to open up, to talk about what it was I needed, wanted, wished for and missed but when I finally started sometimes I felt like I couldn’t stop. I still thought about her though and talked about her frequently during my sessions. Joe never once told me to contact her or stop thinking about her. I think he knew it would have been pointless.
As the months went by though I wondered more and more if she was with anyone else. I’d gone out with Brian a few times here and there but never even felt like striking up a conversation with anyone. Ethan prodded me to just get out there, just see what happens. But I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Sure I was coming to terms with my life, little by little but I still didn’t know if I was ready or not.
Three months to the day and I still sat staring at the large box taking up a good chunk of my living space. When they called me to pick it up I almost choked. But here it still sat, unopened reminding me of what almost was. I’d turned to Luke a lot in those first few weeks, trying to gain any insight into Elliot and what might have been going on with him. His answers were never the ones I’d expected, I thought for sure he’d tell me that I was too good for Elliot or that I should just let it go. Never did he say those things. He was secretly rooting for Elliot I’d surmised after about the sixtieth conversation we had.
“Listen, Tay, maybe he was right to break it off like he did. Maybe he wasn’t ready and until he was presented with the possibility he didn’t know. This was hard. At first, it was pretty hard but then when things started getting normal again it was hard all over again. At least he was honest with you…” he’d say every time I brought it up.
“Yeah, I don’t know, though, I feel like I’d want all the support I could get to get through it…”I answered the last time we spoke of it.
“Maybe he didn’t want to put you through that? Or maybe he knew that you weren’t supposed to be the support he needed. Seems to me like without even trying he alienated himself from almost everyone. That would be a hard thing to realize. Think about it. When you met me I was already five years post injury. I’d been through some shit that I’ve never told you about. I wasn’t always full of rainbows and unicorns you know,” he smirks popping a little wheelie as we walk.
“I can’t even imagine. I’ve seen you pretty down…” I laugh.
“Please, that was nothing. I’ve never even told Gemma about some of those days,” he admits.
“Why, I mean, keep it from her, you guys are getting married in a few weeks,” I ask.
“Because she deals with me every day. Good or bad. I never thought I’d be so lucky. He probably is feeling that way and it scared him a little. You don’t know that even opening up a little that he wasn’t keeping the worst from you,” he says pausing on the sidewalk to face me.
“You know you never bash him, I really expected a different reaction from you and it kind of scares me a little…” I say honestly.
“I’ve been there Taylor, I’ve wheeled in his wheels, and for a lot longer. For me, this has been normal since I was seventeen. He’s lived a life before this, so he has a lot more to compare his new normal too. I want to root for the underdog here, and I know that he hurt you by doing what he did, but I kind of respect that he didn’t drag you through it too. He could have, and we could be having a whole different type of conversation right now,” he answers, a flicker of sadness crossing his face before he’s smiling again.
“I know,” I answer giving him a small smile.
“Can we not talk about it anymore today?” he then asks.
“I guess…” I answer with a sigh as we stop in front of the restaurant.
Even with all of Luke’s insight, it hurts a little. There was just something about Elliot that stirred me up. Brought all my hopes back from where I’d kept them stored away. It was just easy to be me with him, easier than it had been in my entire life.
I was coming through town when I saw her, standing there in front of a restaurant with who I presumed to be her friend Luke. I’d almost wrecked my truck because I couldn’t look away. She didn’t’ see me, but I took my time and then watched her some more in my rearview. It was like I took a drink after not having one for days. Her hair was different, and the smile on her face was small, not wide and toothy. I had to force myself not to turn the truck around. She looked good. I’m not sure what I expected, I mean three months had gone by but after that glimpse of her I missed her more. I talked a lot about that glimpse of her with Joe that night, and then he said something that surprised me, “You know for only knowing her for a week she seems to have made an incredible impression on you Elliot, maybe she came into your life at just the right time. Perhaps seeing that someone would be willing to share your life despite your limitations has opened your eyes to what you’ve been missing. She seems like a really great woman, I’m wondering if it would hurt for you to contact her. I think you’ve been making some really great progress.”
I sat there staring at him for a few minutes before I spoke, “I don’t know if she’d be okay with that…”
“You won’t know if you don’t even attempt it. I’m not saying whip your phone out right here, but really consider reaching out to her. Explain the last few months and what’s been going on with her,” he said.
I left that appointment in a shambles. My mind was all over the place with indecision. Almost every part of me wanted to hit send immediately but then there was that sliver of doubt that kept me from it. I rationalized that maybe in a few more weeks I would do it as I pulled into my driveway. I wasn’t even phased as I passed Ethan on my porch. He’d been coming by a lot the last few months.
“You look like crap El,” he said with a smirk.
“Thanks…” I responded turning the key in the lock.
“Becca was wondering if you’ll be coming over next week?” he asked.
“You could have called to ask that…” I said wheeling through the house.
“I know,” he said.
“Then why did you come over to ask?” I asked him pulling out a beer for each of us.
“You’ve got better beer than me…” he laughed twisting off the top.
“Okay, why are you really here?” I prodded, knowing that he was up to something.
“What a guy can’t just come have a beer with his big brother every now and then?” he faked hurt.
“Conveniently it’s every Wednesday after my therapy session so it’s becoming a bit of a sign that you want to make sure I’m okay or that you guys won’t find me hanging from my shower rod, by my belt or something…” I said, giving him the look.
“First of all, you can’t even reach the shower rod so that option would be out of the question for you. Besides I know that you wouldn’t do anything like that, no matter how bad it got El,” he pauses getting a serious look on his face, “I wanted to see if you would come to the cemetery with me tomorrow.”
Like a ton of bricks slammed into my chest I can’t breathe, I didn’t even realize what the date was. It had been twelve years. “No,” I answer trying to find air.
“What do you mean no? It’s been almost four years since you’ve gone. I don’t want to go alone and it doesn’t mean the same to Becca,” he says angrily.
“I said no. Ask Mark, or go with mom and dad,” I reply coolly.
“She would hate you sometimes you know that?” he says before he can stop himself.
“Don’t you dare tell me what she would feel. You have no idea,” I almost scream at him.
“Don’t pretend that you knew her better than anyone else, don’t act like you are the only one who gets to have that privilege,” he says his face getting redder by the second.
“You think that’s your right then? Where were you that night when your phone rang?” I ask him, knowing the answer.
“Not where I should have been that’s for sure. But I was just a stupid kid then. You were a man out racing his stupid motorcycle for money, trying to prove just how much of a badass you were… look where that got you…” he says, immediately stepping backward.
I can see the regret on his face the moment the words are tumbling out of his mouth, I see the pain etching its way across his face as he takes a step away from me. Before I even realize what’s happening I’m staring at the broken glass and beer on the floor beside the doorway as my hands tremble with rage.
“Get out,” I say in barely a whisper.
“I shouldn’t have said that…I…I…” he mumbles not moving.
“GET OUT!” I scream not even recognizing the voice coming out of me.
We stare at each other for a few seconds before he gives in and walks out. I hear the door slam, his truck tires peeling out and then nothing before I even move a muscle. Memories of her face flash in my mind as I wheel around the kitchen grabbing a towel and the broom. She’d tried to call both of us. Neither of us answering. I’d been at this old stretch of road racing my motorcycle, he’d been at some party. There was no service until I got closer to town, one of those random dead spots where all reception was lost. I didn’t get the alerts till I was home. Two messages from her, three from my father. It was the last time I heard her voice, the last time she ever teased me. “Listen Smelliot, I need a ride… where the hell are you? You better not be racing that stupid motorcycle, I hate that, one of these days a deer is gonna pop out and make you wreck…call me back!” was the first one and the second one only a half hour later broke my heart, “I know you’re doing something I wish you weren’t, but I can’t get ahold of Ethan either, please El, be careful, Matt is taking me back, love ya, I’ll see you Sunday at dinner.”
She never made it back, her friend Matt had fallen asleep at the wheel and wrapped his car around a tree, she died instantly, my little sister, my gorgeous, smart, funny little sister was gone. I was twenty-three at the time and Ethan was only seventeen. She had just turned twenty-two. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about her. Of all us kids we were closest in age, and while I’d always been close to my brother’s nothing could ever compare to the closeness I shared with her. When we were little, people always thought we were twins, we shared the same color hair and the same color eyes. I can remember once when I was about seven or eight asking my dad if we were twins, he just laughed at the thought. “Elliot, it may seem that you two are perfectly matched in almost every way, but I assure you, Emma did not refuse to leave your mother’s belly so she didn’t have to share a birthday with you…”
My mind flashes to just a few days after my accident, I was kind of in and out but I remember my mother asking Ethan if I’d been racing again. I recall wanting to scream at them NO!, I wasn’t… that night anyways. I’d gone out three days after Emma’s funeral and sure enough, there was deer, I’d barely layed the bike down in time to save myself and the stupid doe but it woke me up enough to put an end to that. For a while anyways, until I met Meagan. Then I needed a release and she egged me on over and over. Funny thing was, my accident, I wasn’t racing that night, I was just late getting home because I was at the jewelers picking up her wedding present. She’d called me and we were arguing about my mother just dropping by earlier that day with some things for the bridal shower. I was trying to keep my cool when the gray and red truck pulled out in front of me, leaving me no chance to stop or swerve out of the way. I vaguely remember the relief that I saw on my mother’s face before I was out again.
We had gotten through Emma’s death as a family, my accident, though, I didn’t want help, I didn’t want to give anyone the opportunity to say “I told you so.” Weeks after my accident after Meagan had left, I had a dream about Emma, like she was right there beside me talking. She’d said that. With a grin only a little sister could get away with she said I told you Smelliot, the deer wasn’t enough to scare you I guess. When I woke from that dream it was like I’d been injured all over again. That was when everything started to get worse. Joe and I had talked about that dream briefly, talked about how her death had affected me, about how I never talked about her, distanced myself from my family. Now Ethan had said it. Here I was sitting with a towel full of broken glass and all I wanted was to call Taylor. The desire to call her was so strong that even after I got ready for bed I lied there staring at the phone trying to work up the nerve to call her. I finally hit send around midnight…