“I need you to take this back,” Alex said, handing the shirt to Ellen.
“Why?” Her crestfallen face made him clarify his request.
“I had to wash it because I cried all over it and now it doesn’t smell like you,” Alex said. “I need you to wear the shirt for several days and then give it back to me.” Passing through his bedroom on the way to the garden room gave Alex and Ellen a few seconds alone without his parents or her father overhearing their conversation.
Ellen laughed hard. “Okay, I’ll do that under one condition. I want you to find your most comfortable hooded sweatshirt and wear it for several days and then give it to me. We can trade.”
“I love that idea. Why don’t you go into my closet and pick which sweatshirt you want me to wear.”
“Do I get to take my clothes off in front of you again?” Ellen backed toward the closet with a come-get-me look in her eyes.
If she knew about the internal chastisement he’d flogged himself with the previous night she probably wouldn’t be teasing about that. No matter how terrible he felt for the way he’d acted in the past, he was still an eighteen-year-old guy and wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity to flirt with the one woman in the world he did want to see without clothes.
Growing up he wasn’t sure he would ever get married. He wasn’t sure he wanted to narrow down his selection of conquests to just one woman. Now he couldn’t imagine being with anyone but Ellen. He marveled how it would feel to have her lying next to him in bed every night as his wife.
But they had a lot to work through before getting to that point, and he needed to talk to her about that.
“Gosh, you know, if taking your shirt off is the only way for you to try on my shirt to make sure it fits well, who am I to argue?”
“And you don’t mind watching me do that?”
“Oh, I look forward to it.” Alex wheeled himself forward, following her.
“You are such a bad boy, Alex.”
“You have no idea.” Alex was prepared this time and made sure he was close enough that he could help her remove her shirt. In the process he was able to graze his fingers across her stomach admiring her creamy skin and defined muscles. “You must work out.”
She laughed again. “Just a little bit. Not obsessively or anything. My father preaches to us about physical fitness and using core muscles and cardiovascular exercise.” Ellen changed her cadence and voice to mimic her father. “When a patient is physically fit at the time that they have an injury their recovery is much faster.”
Alex jumped on the opportunity to springboard their conversation toward recovery. “Your father told me that I might be able to heal my body if I can learn to forgive myself.”
“What the heck makes him think that you forgiving yourself will help your body heal?” She turned to his clothing racks to search for the right hoodie.
“He says that focused energy work can heal the body, but the only person who can use that is me.” Alex hesitated. “But I don’t know if I deserve to be healed.”
“Why do you feel you don’t deserve to be healed?” Her voice was soft and compassionate. She turned back toward him, already with a Navy blue hoodie draped over her arm.
“I told him about the conversation you and I had yesterday when we were talking about all the girls that I had been with.” Alex gulped, remembering all his tears from the night before and fighting back emotions. “I feel like I’m being punished for using that part of my body so inappropriately, and now I’ve lost the use of that part of my body as a punishment.”
“I don’t think it works that way, Alex.”
“That’s what he said too.”
“My father is a very smart man.”
“I also told him that I want to marry you.”
“You told him what?”
“I told him that the reason I want my body to be healed is so that I can make love to you on our wedding night.”
“You told my father that?” Her voice was almost a squeak. “And you lived to tell about it?”
“He loves me like a son and he’s going to help me heal just as if I were his son,” Alex said. “Even though he wants to beat the crap out of me for saying that about his daughter.”
“I’m surprised he didn’t beat the crap out of you for saying that.”
“But it’s true.”
“It’s true that one of the reasons I want my body to be healed is because I want to make love to you on our wedding night.”
“And what makes you think that I’m going to marry you?”
“Will you marry me?”
“Are you officially proposing to me Alex?” Ellen asked softly.
“Well I kind of hoped to have a diamond ring in my hand when I asked you that, but this is kind of a unique situation.”
“In what way?”
“I don’t know if I will ever be able to have a physical relationship with you,” Alex reminded her. “Would you still want to marry me even if I can’t have sex with you?”
“That’s a pretty bold thing to ask,” she said. “But I think the answer would be yes. I will want to marry you even if you can’t have sex with me.”
Alex didn’t realize he’d been holding in a breath until it whooshed out of his chest.
“But I think you’re not seeing the big picture about sex,” Ellen continued. “There’s more to sex than intercourse. I may not have any experience, but I know enough from health class to have a general idea. Even just kissing you I get all fluttery inside.”
“This is a very scientific discussion to have standing in my closet half naked.”
“I’m the only one half naked,” Ellen said. “You haven’t let me take your clothes off of you yet.”
“We should probably close the closet door if you want to do that.”
“Knowing that my father is going to be here any minute is motivating for me to not close the closet door and take your clothes off of you.”
“Maybe some other day then.”
“I want to conduct an experiment sometime. I want you to touch me.” There. He’d said it. No take backs.
“I want to see if you touching me will elicit any type of response from my body.”
“Do you think it will?” She took a tentative step forward.
“I sincerely hope it does. I’m in love with you Ellen and I’m ready to be your husband even though we’re young and stupid and injured and recovering from a spinal cord injury and a devastating accident and probably PTSD.” Alex reached for her hand. “If knowing all of that about me, you’re still willing to marry me, then you are the most incredible woman in the world.”
“So… this science experiment?”
“Sure, that’s what we can call it. A science experiment.”
“How is that supposed to work exactly?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never exactly been in this position before.”
“Well, I’ve never been in any position with a man before so this is completely a first time for me.”
“That’s actually to my benefit because you have no expectations.”
She laughed again. “I wouldn’t have any expectations anyway.”
“Well, I will. I don’t want to let you down. I don’t want you to be disappointed.”
“Alex, you’re missing the point,” Ellen said. “I’m not disappointed anyway and I never will be disappointed. Still, just because I don’t know what to expect doesn’t mean I don’t want to find out what I’m missing. I want to try this experiment, but I want to try it at a time when we aren’t under a time constraint and when the person who is about to walk into this room is my own father. So, can we maybe go on a date or something and try it then? You know when we’re alone someplace where he won’t be disturbed?”
“Did you have a particular place in mind?”
“No but I’ll think about it.”
“I will look forward to it. In more ways than you can possibly imagine.”
“I have a vivid imagination.” Ellen leaned down and kissed Alex lightly. “Come on, let’s go write for a little while until my father gets here.”
Book Club Discussion Questions: A lot happened in this chapter. Alex is riding an emotional roller coaster right now dealing with the very human aspects of being an eighteen-year-old in love, wanting to take the next steps into adulthood, being limited by his physical handicaps, working through guilt, physical healing, emotional trauma from his accident, and all the normal everyday challenges in life. Yet, Alex also has one more huge thing in the forefront of his mind. His near-death experience provided a very real glimpse into what God expects from him. Have you ever known anyone who had a near-death experience? I'm trying to capture that without making it hokey or unrealistic.