Alex woke to sunlight streaming in through the filmy curtains. He stretched and allowed a cheesy smile to play across his face. The events of the night before flashed into his mind and he rolled over, expecting to see Ellen. No Ellen.
Bacon? The aroma permeated even through his closed door and down the hall. His mom made breakfast. What the heck?
Alex sat up and glanced around for some clothes. His sweatshirt was gone. Pants? No idea. Boxers were where they were supposed to be. Good thing.
He scooched to the side of the bed and hoisted himself into his wheelchair, then made a beeline for his closet to locate some clothes. His favorite Adidas athletic shorts were missing, so he grabbed a different pair and struggled them up and over and around his numb, barely functioning legs.
No longer angry about his broken body, but no longer resigned to a lifetime of numbness, he poked at his legs, wondering if he really could heal himself.
Forgiveness. That was the first step, Malik had said.
I forgive myself. Alex played the words back in his mind, no longer afraid.
“Hey, God, are you still there?” Alex whispered, then snorted. “Of course, you’re still there. What a stupid question. I kinda like this prayer thing. If it’s okay with you, I’d like to keep talking to you every once in a while. I sort of miss you. Thanks again for being so understanding about… ya know, everything. And thanks for making me come back to earth.
“I really love Ellen. I hope we can get married soon and I hope we can have a real physical relationship. But if we can’t, I’m okay with that. I’m okay with everything.
“Maybe, if there’s something you need me to do while I’m waiting around to get married, that would be cool. You know, a distraction. Just… let me know. I’m gonna go find some of that bacon now so I’ll talk to you later, okay?”
He kind of waited, not sure what he was expecting. God had never spoken to him with words while Alex was visiting paradise. More that Alex just knew God was there. Alex sat in his wheelchair in the quiet of his walk-in closet relishing a moment of just knowing that God was there. Then he wheeled himself around to go find the bacon.
What he found first was a lively conversation between his girlfriend and his mom. He crept down the hall, listening as Ellen regaled his mother with a female perspective of the events from last night.
“—and then we just laid there and stared into each other’s souls, and he dried my tears, and oh my gosh, I love your son so much.”
“I didn’t even know Alex knew how to pray,” his mom said, not even suspicious or questioning why she walked into the bedroom and found them half-dressed.
“I know, right? I mean, I was totally blown away about him even asking me to pray with him.”
“Well, gosh, what did you think he wanted to do when he invited you into his bed?” His mom’s snort was comical in its irony. Alex wasn’t sure how much longer he wanted this conversation to continue, but he was curious about Ellen’s answer.
“Um, you know, um, he can’t exactly, well… we want to wait until we’re married for that.”
“Sure you do. Trust me, I was your age once, and I’m not stupid. If he could, you guys would.”
“We would what, mom?” Alex wheeled himself around the corner into the kitchen maintaining a perfect mask of innocence as if he hadn’t heard what they were talking about. “Eat some of this incredible bacon I smell? That would be great, thanks.”
Ellen turned to meet his gaze, her expression sincere and unrepentant. “Hi.”
“Hi.” Alex wheeled right up to the kitchen table where Ellen sat with a glass of juice and an empty plate showing remnants of eggs, bacon, and crumbs from toast. He glanced down at her lap. “So that’s where my shorts disappeared to.”
“They looked comfy,” Ellen whispered, again, completely unrepentant.
“They are. That’s why I was looking for them.” He leaned forward for a tiny kiss.
His mom clunked a plate on the table in front of him and Alex took that as his cue to avoid the PDA in front of her. He turned to the plate and snagged a piece of bacon.
“Well, guys, we need to talk.” She sat across from him and glanced back and forth between Alex and Ellen.
“I know, I know, we shouldn’t have been sleeping together.”
“Or naked together,” his mom added. Alex nearly choked on his food.
“We were not naked,” Alex said around a mouth full of eggs.
“We weren’t completely naked,” Ellen offered as clarification.
“How do you reconcile pouring your heart out to God and then a passionate make-out session afterwards?” his mom asked.
“Have you ever prayed before, mom?” Alex took a drink of juice before continuing. “I have never felt more full of life and happiness as I did after praying together. I can totally understand why religious people have so many babies.”
“Okay, but you are eighteen and living under our roof so you kinda need to follow some rules.”
“I can’t exactly move out right now, mom. I can’t even walk.”
“Lots of handicapped people lead independent lives in their own homes. You can move out any time you want to.”
“Is that really what you want, mom?” Alex set down his fork, suddenly no longer hungry. “For me to live somewhere else?” His heart crashed into his stomach.
“No, of course not,” his mom backpedaled. “I’m just saying, we have rules in this house and one of them is that you don’t have your girlfriend over to spend the night.”
“Why? Ellen and I needed some time together. Where would you have us go? Sit in her car somewhere? I haven’t learned to drive a handicapped-accessible van yet. Besides, what were we gonna do? Climb in the backseat. We had the house to ourselves. Comfort, security, a place where we could cry together and no one would judge us, or hear us, hear our private conversation. If we’re going to get married someday, we need to work through some things and there was no better place to do that then lying in my bed.”
“You’re too young to get married.” His mom picked at the tablecloth, losing this argument.
“Gus got married last month. Why can’t we?”
“Gus got his girlfriend pregnant,” his mom reminded him, as if he wasn’t very aware of that. “He had to get married.”
“One, he didn’t have to get married,” Alex said. “Lots of people have babies before they’re married. Two, Gus and Phoebe probably would have gotten married soon anyway. And, three, if Ellen and I decide we should or should not get married, we’d better have some serious conversations before deciding that. Last night we needed to have a serious conversation.”
“I agree,” Ellen said softly.
Alex turned from his mom and reached his hand out for Ellen’s. “Personally, I think we need to wait a little while longer. I’ve got some healing I need to do. Mentally and physically.”
“You know I don’t care if we can never, you know…” Ellen bit her lower lip.
“Well, I do care.”
“Alex, this isn’t exactly an appropriate conversation,” his mom interrupted.
“Why?” he asked with a little more anger than he wanted to show through. He reined himself in. “Why is it so difficult for everyone to talk about the elephant in the room? I broke my back and messed up my spine. I may never walk again. Whatever. But I can’t believe, no, I won’t continue to believe that I can never be healed. I want to have sex on our wedding night. Why is that too much to ask. You and dad had sex on your wedding night. Everybody does. Why can’t we?”
His mom sighed and her cheeks turned pink. “I’m not saying you can never be healed. I just don’t want you to get your hopes up.”
“Well, too bad, I am getting my hopes up. Malik said if I could work through the mental crap, he’d teach me how to heal my body.”
“I hope he’s right, Alex. I really do.” His mom choked back tears and got up from the table. Grabbing a tissue from the box on the counter, she hurried from the room.
Book Club Discussion Questions: Alex makes a lot of really valid points, but I can totally see this from the mom's perspective, and frankly from the girlfriend's perspective. There's no easy answer. What do you think?