Lise went for hot chocolate with Brent, who seemed to be in a rather affectionate mood. She tried to get away from him as soon as she could, but she felt wracked with guilt every time he kissed her. Elliot had probably gone back to his office and was steaming inside. Or worse, he was expecting that Lise was busy breaking up with Brent. She knew he wasn't going to be happy with what she had to tell him.
When Lise reached Elliot's office, she saw he was on his computer as usual. He was leaning forward in his wheelchair to look at the screen. She knocked on the door to get his attention. When he turned and smiled at her, she knew he thought she had broken it off with Brent. "How did he take it?" he asked her.
Lise took a deep breath, "I... I didn't tell him."
Elliot grabbed the wheels of his chair to adjust himself. He frowned at her, "You didn't tell him?"
She swallowed hard. "No."
"Well, when do you plan on telling him?"
"I... I don't know..."
"What the fuck, Lise?" Elliot's eyes were very dark. "Are you ever going to tell him?"
She didn't answer. Elliot swore under his breath, "Goddamn it, Lise. You can't date both of us."
Lise knew what she wanted to say, but she couldn't get up the nerve to say it. She could see Elliot struggling to deal with what she was telling him.
"So you're choosing him over me," Elliot stated.
"No, I'm not," Lise insisted. "I... I just need time to tell him. Look at this from Brent's point of view..."
"Oh right," Elliot said. "I guess I wasn't considering Brent's feelings in all this. Poor Brent. He'll never find another girlfriend."
"Look, you don't know what it's like to get dumped for another person," Lise said. She had been dumped by her boyfriend in high school for another girl and it still hurt. Even if she didn't want to be Brent's girlfriend anymore, she still cared about him.
"You're right," he said. "I have no fucking clue. You're the only girl I've ever been close to."
Elliot's words tugged at her heart strings. But it still wasn't enough to make her do something she knew was wrong. She wasn't going to break Brent's heart and she wasn't going to cheat on him. The only way she could be with Elliot was if she had a clean conscience. "I just need a little time," she said. "Please, Elliot..."
He sighed and rubbed his face in his palms. "Whatever you want, Lise. You know I'll do whatever you say."
Lise took his hand in hers. She gave him a squeeze, but he didn't squeeze back. She could see in his eyes that he didn't believe she was going to leave Brent. "I still want to help you get ready for the conference," she said.
"Sure," Elliot said, looking away from her.
Lise felt awful. All she wanted was to do the right thing and now she would be hurting two guys. She wished Elliot had a little more experience with women, so this wouldn't be so damn important to him. She wanted to be with him, but it had to be on her own terms.
It was the best and the worst day of Elliot's life. In the morning, all he could think about was Lise and how great it was going to be to have her as his girlfriend. Then when she refused to break up with Brent, it was like his world fell apart. He was back to being the same pathetic crippled loser he had been the day before. Except now he knew what he was missing.
The incident made him even more resolved to give his AMS presentation standing up, with or without Lise's help. He had been wearing the braces all day, and even though he hadn't walked since the morning, he felt himself getting used to them again. He knew he could do this.
As soon as he got home, he got out his crutches to try again. He remembered after the first surgery, how much he hated those damn braces. He hated the way they made his legs look, he hated the way they slowed him down, and he hated the way people stared at him when he walked with them. Now he was envious of people who could walk with braces. He didn't realize how good he had it back then.
He managed to get on his feet and he felt a lot steadier than he did this morning. He tried to put less weight on his arms and use the braces to support him. It really wasn't bad at all; he was doing much better this time. He took a few very slow steps and found that he wasn't even that tired.
That's when Elliot looked up and caught a glimpse of himself in the full length mirror on the wall. He remembered how Lise had called him "sexy." Sexy? Was she shitting him? Looking at himself now, he knew there was no way anyone could ever think he looked sexy like that. He looked like what he was: a severely disabled young man trying to walk with heavy braces.
But even so, he looked worse in the wheelchair. At least this way, he was standing up and he could look at people eye to eye. They didn't avoid looking at him the same way they did when he was in the chair.
After the surgery, I won't be able to do this anymore. Dr. Black told him he'd lose all motor function in his legs and hips. Walking with braces would be impossible. He would be completely dependent on the wheelchair for the rest of his life.
Elliot was getting tired. He walked back over to the chair and carefully sat back down. He leaned his crutches against the bed and rubbed his sore biceps. It was still a lot of work trying to walk.
He wheeled himself over to the phone and dialed his parents' number. As he punched in the phone number, he realized that in another two weeks, he would need help just to make a phone call. He still hadn't told his parents about the surgery and that he would have to stay with them afterward. He dreaded making the call. He had always been very independent from his parents, even as a child, and he didn't like the thought of having to rely on them to help him.
As he expected, Elliot's mother was thrilled to hear from him. She was a schoolteacher of fairly average intelligence, and she never knew quite what to make of her brilliant son. "How are you doing, sweetheart?" she cooed into the phone.
"Mom, the tumor's back," Elliot said tonelessly. He didn't want her to realize he was holding back tears.
There was a long pause on the other line. "Oh, Elliot..." she said. "Is... is it bad?" As if there was any way for a tumor in his spinal cord to be good.
"Yes," he said. "They scheduled me for surgery in two weeks."
"Okay..." He could hear his mother's voice breaking. "Just tell us where and when it is, and we'll be there."
"Another thing," Elliot said, "would... would it be okay if I stayed with you after the surgery?"
"Of course!" his mother agreed immediately, but her voice was still tinged with concern. "You can stay with us as long as you need, sweetheart. Why do you ask?"
It was almost too hard to say, but she was going to find out sooner or later. "The doctor told me that my hands would be paralyzed after the surgery, so... I'll probably need some help."
His mother was quiet again. After the first surgery, when he couldn't walk on his own anymore, she had said to him that maybe there was a price to pay for his kind of great intelligence. At the time, Elliot had thought bitterly to himself that he had never asked to be crippled in exchange for being a genius. If he had the choice to trade being able to walk normally again for eighty IQ points, he would have done it in a second. And now, ten years later, he was paying the ultimate price: the loss of more than half of his body.
"I won't be staying with you permanently," Elliot said quickly. "The doctor said that I'll get occupational therapy and I'll still be able to manage on my own eventually, even without my hands."
"I'm sure you will," his mother said. She sounded like she didn't believe it any more than he did.
Maybe he was making a mistake having such a drastic surgery. He wondered if there was some way that they could get rid of the tumor without his hands being so severely affected. Then again, maybe if they had cut the tumor out more effectively the first time, he might have wound up in a wheelchair at sixteen, but he wouldn't be in this position right now. If he didn't get rid of the whole tumor now, in ten years from now, he might wind up paralyzed from the neck down. It wasn't worth taking that kind of risk for anything.
To be continued....