How could someone be so self absorbed, I thought to myself as I drove into the office. Even the pretty face couldn’t make up for the fact that I was apparently so unnoticeable to her. People get stuck on the chair often, I’ve become used to it by now, though my aggravation in the moment didn’t show it. I had broken my own record re-entering my truck as she stood there, trying to apologize, edging closer until I slammed it in reverse. I wasn’t in the mood for any excuses, not from a pretty girl with the most beautiful blue eyes I’d ever seen anyways. Mentally I tried to erase those eyes as I pulled into my parking space. Last one to arrive as usual, I thought as I dropped down into my chair. I took stock of my appearance, feet straight, pants not twisted, shirt still tucked in, yep presentable.
Slamming the door I wheeled into the reception area trying to make myself smile, even just a little. The chatter that welcomed me was as familiar as going home. My Father’s practice had been around as long as I could remember and all I’d ever wanted was to be just like him. For what felt like a brief moment I was, just like him, that is. Then it all went to hell. Everything changed. Sure, I am still a physician but I haven’t been the same since. I come in and consult, read results, and usually I’m the one on call for emergencies after hours. Something else happened when I got hurt though, I lost that drive to be like my father, I lost my bedside manner, my finesse, my ability to look past myself. For that small sliver of a moment, when I wheel through that waiting room, I feel something from before. Just a fleeting breath of fresh air of what it used to be like, what I used to be like, then it’s gone. Just like that, the door closes behind me and I squirrel away in my office while Mark and my father see all those patients. No one usually comes in and bothers me until the first patient break, unless they can’t figure something out, so I didn’t think it strange that there were no knocks on my door. By lunchtime though, when still no one had checked on me, I wheeled down the hall to Mark’s office. I knocked lightly on the closed door waiting for his answer.
“Come in,” he said coolly.
“Hey, busy day today, huh?” I half ask, half state wheeling through the door.
“Yeah, a little,” he answered, looking up from the file on his desk.
“I’m sorry I stormed out yesterday… I just… this is…” I stammered.
“It’s ok, you don’t have to explain. I just pushed the wrong button last night,” he said, holding a hand up to stop me because he wasn’t finished just yet. “I have a habit of doing that, I’ve always been able to push your buttons El, but I’m getting tired of having to watch what I say around you. You are a grown man and I can’t tell you how to live your life any more than mom or dad could tell me but it’s been almost three years now. One day you’re going to look back and wonder where your life went while you were stuck on something bad that happened. You are missing out, man, and it breaks my heart to see my brother like this.”
I didn’t know what to say to that so I quietly wheeled out of his office and back into my own. I sat there just staring off into space thinking about what he had just said. My family had all tried at different times over the last couple of years to bring me out of the rut I was in but no one had succeeded, no one had put it quite like Mark just had.
I knew the moment it happened, I knew what type of injury I had, what the after effects would be, I knew what to tell the medics on scene. As the sensations faded from my legs I knew it wouldn’t ever be coming back. No one knew how I remained conscious as long as I did, especially with a concussion as bad as I had. It didn’t matter though, because as soon as they had me secured, I let go. Even still, I can’t remember having a conversation with the medics, or anything for a few days after the accident. It’s the moments right after it happened though that won’t disappear; they haunt my dreams and even some of my waking moments.
After the things Mark said I couldn’t seem to shake those memories. Of course it doesn’t just include the accident or the time I spent relearning how to do things or the grueling physical therapy sessions but also the moment when Meagan walked out of my room that last time. “I just can’t do this Elliot, I love you…but I want more…I want kids and adventures. You aren’t going to be able to do those things now; you can’t give me what I want. I haven’t had a moment alone with you in weeks, your family won’t leave us alone and I can’t be bombarded like this from now on… I just can’t…” Her words swirled around my head like a tornado picking up everything I’ve tried to hide in the last two and a half years, bringing it to the surface. The words she spoke that day had done me in. She had broken me more than any accident ever could. I told my family that I’d broken up with her but the look in their eyes told me differently. They knew that she was the one who walked out on me whether I lied about it or not. At the time, I didn’t care though, I didn’t want them to pity me any more than they already were. Slowly pulling myself from those horrible memories, I realized the music I was hearing was the ring of my cell phone. Sliding it to the right I picked up the call.
“Hey, man,” I said trying not to sound as upset as I was.
“You want to meet up tonight? Its wing night at Davy’s,” Brian asked.
“I guess, what time?” I answered smugly.
“Six thirty. It’s accessible so you don’t need to Google it,” he chuckled, reading my mind.
“Alright, I’ll see you there,” I said pressing to end the call.
I didn’t get much work done the rest of the day due to the fact that my mind was reeling. Both from the encounter at the coffee shop and the mental lashing I’d given myself after talking to Mark. I left the office without saying a word to anyone around six with my stomach growling.
“I hate wing night,” I whined to Josh, as the first order of wings dropped.
“Yeah, I hear ya kid,” he joked.
In reality, wing night was good for business, it meant we would be slammed until around nine and then mostly just regulars would stick around till last call. Dave had asked Josh to come in on special nights and wing nights to help out behind the bar along with two servers. It pulled from the profit a little but not enough to hurt. It helped me immensely because at first I was slinging wings and serving the bar by myself but it got to be too much.
I liked working with Josh because I’ve known him since I can remember. There was no pressure there, he’s one of Dave’s best friends and like another older brother to me. When he came back from the war he was different, he’d been gone six years and his head was all over the place but Dave and I had remained a constant for him. Little by little, he’s coming back though, his smiles more frequent, his jokes returning. I liked that I got to see that happening, I didn’t like to see the people I loved suffering and lately that was all I happened to see.
Before I could psychoanalyze anymore, we started to get really busy and then I saw him. Shelly was removing a chair from the last open table and he fluidly wheeled into where it once was. I stopped, shocked that he had come in. I hadn’t ever seen him here before. I tried to hide myself away behind Josh but with as busy as we were it just wasn’t going to happen. Josh looked over to me with a questioning look on his face before he followed my glance to the two guys sitting by the jukebox.
“You know them?” he quizzed.
“Uh, not really no. I kind of bumped into one of them today at Starbucks,” I blushed.
“Which one? The blonde? It’s the blonde one right?” he teased.
“Ugh…” I said twirling behind him to grab the kettle one. “Please can we not make this a thing?”
“You are the one making it a thing, kiddo,” he laughed.
“Just work…please,” I begged, wishing I were invisible.
Two hours and countless wings later Elliot was still here. I couldn’t avoid him for much longer as there were quite a few tables that needed bussed and the waitresses were still busy. I bit my lip and headed for the closest table first, hoping that he would be engrossed in his conversation enough not to notice. I tried very hard not to look at them but I caught myself stealing little glances here and there as I made myself busy wiping down the tables and clearing into a pan. At first he wasn’t even aware of my presence around them until as luck would have it I dropped a glass. Unable to catch it before it fell, I leaned down in an attempt anyways while I looked to see if he had noticed and ended up slamming my hand right into the shards shattered around my feet.
“Don’t move…” I heard from somewhere in front of me. “You really need to keep still till I can take a look at it.”
“What?” I asked, looking right up into Elliot’s eyes.
“I’m a physician…you have…Taylor?” he said realizing who I was. “You have a shard in your palm there,” he finished, pointing to my now bleeding hand.
“Oh my god…” I answered just becoming aware of what was going on. “Holy shit, I’m bleeding!” I said, the room starting to ripple.
“Hey Taylor, look at me. Don’t look at your hand, just focus on my voice,” he said soothingly.
“I’m bleeding…” I said almost in a whisper as his large warm hand connected with mine.
“Who is your buddy behind the bar there Taylor?” he asked gently turning my injured hand over to get a better look.
“Josh, he’s Josh,” I answered, trying to keep my eyes on Elliot.
“JOSH, I need a few towels and some vodka,” he yelled before winking at me.
He winked at me. Of all the times to have a person wink at you this was not it. Not while I was crouched down blood dripping from my hand and glass protruding from my palm. It worked though because all of my focus went to him, away from the pain that was now spreading through me.
“Taylor, oh man, Dave is going to flip! You ok, kiddo?” Josh asked, setting the items he brought Elliot onto the table next to us.
“Hey Josh, I’m Elliot. I’m a physician,” Elliot said looking up to meet Josh’s skeptical smirk.
“Taylor you want me to call Dave?” Josh asked.
“I think she is going to need to get checked out but let me try to stop some of the bleeding first,” Elliot spoke directly to Josh.
“She is right here…bleeding…” I mumbled as I felt the room start to spin.
“Whoa, Taylor, I need you to sit in that chair right there,” Elliot said soothingly as he slowly guided me back a few inches. “There, now I’m going to turn your hand over and I want you to look at Josh, can you do that?”
I nodded silently as I reluctantly broke contact with those blazing brown eyes. I could feel the pressure of his hands gently turning mine over again to get a closer look. Without a word as I stared up at Josh, he inspected the damage pushing here and there until finally I started to feel the pain as his rough fingers danced near the shard in my hand.
“Ouch,” I said sucking in sharply.
“Okay Taylor, we are definitely going to head to the ER. But first I need to do something to keep the glass in place. Do you guys have a back room or an office? I’d hate to do this while all these customers are staring at us,” Elliot said, calmly drawing my attention back to him.
“Back through the kitchen man. I’m going to call Davy. He can come down and take you in,” Josh said sternly.
“I’ll go when we close up. I’ll be fine. I don’t want to bother him,” I said nearly begging Josh not to call my brother.
“I really think you need to get there sooner than what two AM?” Elliot remarked on the way through the kitchen.
“Yeah, Kiddo,” Josh agreed.
“Nope. Not going to bother Dave. I can hold off till close,” I said defiantly.
“I can take you in,” Elliot nearly whispered behind me.
“What?” I said, turning so quickly that he almost ran into me.
“I know some of the docs in the ER and we could get in and out pretty quick,” he said, redness creeping up his cheeks to my surprise.
“I don’t even know you…and this morning…” I questioned.
“I was a jerk. I know. I’m sorry. Doesn’t mean I want you to bleed to death,” he tried to joke.
“Josh, the fine doctor here said he would take me to the ER.” I said, turning and entering the office behind Josh.
“How do you even know he’s a doctor Tay?” Josh questioned, coming to stand between Elliot and I.
“I have my ID right here in my wallet, you can call the hospital and check,” Elliot answered confidently, pulling a wallet from the bag on his chair.
“Josh, just go take care of the bar, I won’t go till I talk to you first okay?” I tried to ease his mind some.
Reluctantly Josh slowly left Elliot and I alone in the room. “Boyfriend?” Elliot questioned.
“Nah, more of an older brother type. What about you, that your boyfriend out there wondering what the heck is going on?” I teased.
“Uh, no…I’m not…I don’t…I am straight,” he stammered as I let the smile grow across my face.
“Gotcha,” I chuckled wincing at pain that was starting to take ahold of my hand and arm.
“Sit. That wasn’t even funny Taylor,” he smirked.
“Oh it was. And it was deserved too. I hate when people assume things,” I shrugged.
“Touché. Listen this is going to hurt. I’m going to have to wrap this towel here tight around your arm and then I’m going to use this one to try and hold the glass in place,” he said again resuming the quiet calm tone he had before.
“Can’t you just pull it out?” I asked.
“I could, but I’d rather make sure you haven’t sliced through anything super important first. You really did a good job slamming your hand into this three inch piece of glass Taylor,” he said softly.
“Oh. Okay. I’m ready,” I said, waiting for him to get started.
“Alright then,” he said taking one of the towels and ripping it apart, the muscles in his arms rippling when he did. “First we are going to tie this one, try to keep some of the blood back.”
I watched teeth clenched as he tied a makeshift tourniquet around my forearm and then started to wrap two other sections of the towel around my wrist and hand. It did hurt as he tried to gently work around the protruding glass. He kept looking up at me questioning whether it was too much or not with caring eyes that didn’t quite match the person I’d met this morning.
This Elliot was different than the one who took off like a bat out of hell, the one who wouldn’t even give me the opportunity to explain. This man in front of me was gentle, kind, and compassionate, and also knew what he was doing. He didn’t look at me with a scowl on his face, or assume that I didn’t think he was capable to help me. I found myself getting lost in the contrast between the two sides of him but also the way his tight blue shirt stretched across his broad shoulders. The stubble that covered his chin, the laugh lines that creased the corners of his eyes while he concentrated and the light woodsy scent that was coming from him was definitely enough to keep me occupied.
His hands were rough but gentle in a way that suggested they weren’t always that strong and as he worked around the glass, he moved swiftly. There was a faint scar under the stubble on his chin and another barely visible under his left ear. He kept the sides and back of his hair tightly cropped and the top a little longer, enough for product. It was easy to get lost in his features as I sat there watching him.
“Taylor, you still with me?” he asked, looking me in the eye, a hint of a smile forming.
“Yes, it’s really starting to hurt now though. Can we go?” I asked, not sure how bad the pain was going to get.
“Yes. Let me call ahead and let them know we are heading in and let me tell Brian I’m ditching him for the pretty damsel in distress,” he said jokingly. “Just wait in here for now, I need to clean up my hands but I’ll be right back.”
I nodded as he turned to go. I could see the muscles in his shoulders and arms pulsing with the movement as he grabbed the rims of his wheels, that blue button down looked like it was going to explode with his every push. He must be well built, I thought silently as I dialed Dave with my free hand.
“Hey, I am going to the ER. I cut myself pretty bad on a glass that I broke. Luckily there was a doctor in the house. Josh is going to close up,” I said cheerfully into the machine, not wanting to upset him any more than I already would.
“Ok Taylor, we can leave now. They are waiting for us at Memorial Central,” Elliot said, breaking me of my daydream about him.
“Okay. I need to grab my bag,” I said, wondering what had taken so long.
I quickly found my bag and as I went to put it over my shoulder I felt Elliot’s strong hand over mine. “I’ll get it,” He said softly, almost embarrassed. I waved to josh who didn’t look thrilled and we left. I looked around for his truck and it wasn’t hard to miss. The big blue beast was parked in one of the first spots in the lot to my surprise and not in one of the handicapped spots by the door. Before I could even try and open the door Elliot’s hand had grabbed the handle and he was already pulling it open for me.
“Thanks,” I said softly, watching him wheel around the front of the truck.
I waited as he opened his own door only able to see his head at first. Then as he reached up and lifted himself in he turned to me offering a slightly crooked smile before he began pulling in pieces of his chair and stowing them behind us. After that smile he got quiet, silently making the drive to the emergency room. I was trying to ignore the pain that had only worsened over the last hour as we pulled into the parking garage when he finally spoke.
“I really am sorry about this morning Taylor,” he said, not quite looking at me.
“It’s okay, Elliot. I was just so preoccupied with all the thoughts in my head that I never realized you were in a… that you…” I trailed off unable to say the word.
“Wheelchair?” he half stated-half questioned.
“Yeah,” I said sheepishly.
“Look Taylor I get that it makes people uncomfortable. People stare, pretend it isn’t there, and even treat me like I can’t do things. You know what though, they don’t know how I landed on two wheels, so I can either act like I did with you this morning or I can try my best to be the better person. After I left the coffee shop, I felt like a total ass for reacting the way I did,” he explained.
“I really didn’t see your wheelchair, and I couldn’t believe I had missed it and then you wouldn’t let me explain. It wouldn’t matter to me that you were in a chair,” I responded not sure why I added the last part.
“So what had you so preoccupied that you missed the two wheeled wonder?” he chuckled.
“The bar, work, life,” I answered through gritted teeth as he reassembled his chair beside the truck.
“Is the pain getting bad?” he asked as he lowered himself down.
“Yeah a little…” I answered, reaching to open my door.
“Hang on a second, I’ll get it open for you,” he said before closing his door.
I waited as he wheeled around and opened my door. Again, he took my bag and as we headed into the emergency room, I felt this calm come over me. He was taking care of me, this person he barely knew at all. It was like he was a completely different person than the jerk who peeled out this morning. One of his doctor buddies was waiting for us to arrive so I didn’t have to go through the whole waiting room process or registration. The nurse unwrapped my hand once we were in an exam room and asked for my insurance info. She was able to register me right from the room and before I knew it Elliot’s friend was there introducing himself to me.
“Taylor I’m Doctor Tabin, Elliot and I go way back,” he said, offering me a smile. “Let’s take a look here.”
“I don’t think she hit anything important but I wanted her to have an X-ray,” Elliot offered.
“Janice will bring in the portable after I take a look, how is the pain?” Dr. Tabin asked.
“Probably an eight?” I answered.
“Can you maybe give her some local?” Elliot asked, his hand finding mine to my surprise.
“Taylor, do you need something for the pain or can you hold off a little longer?” The doctor asked with a questioning look between Elliot and I.
“I could go a little longer I think,” I answered, trying to concentrate on the warmth coming from Elliot’s rough hand around mine.