My parents are going to some black-tie event with the prince and princess on Friday night. You should come over and I’ll cook you dinner. I’m not a great cook, but I’m up for some science experimentation. Alex finished his nondescript text and hit send, knowing cell phones can get misplaced and picked up by parents. Hopefully no one would recognize the coded message behind his text. Experimenting with a dinner recipe was a lot more common than healing a spinal cord injury.
I’m not a very good cook either, but I’m definitely willing to conduct science experiments. Her text came back quickly, which meant she was just as excited about Friday night as he was.
Alex wondered how they were going to make it through a week of physical therapy with her father while anticipating finally being alone together for the first time probably since they’d met six months ago, and definitely the first time since making the decision to heal his spinal cord using a science experiment.
Alex shouldn’t have been nervous. Ellen knew more about the inner workings of his mind and heart than any other living person. He’d admitted things to her that he’d barely admitted to himself. In a lot of ways they were closer as a couple than most married people celebrating their twentieth anniversary.
This nervousness was beyond anything physical. He was still working through forgiving himself for the things he’d done before his accident. He needed to heal his mind as much as his body and he had an idea how she could help him with that also.
They had decided that Friday evening was a perfect time to exchange shirts as well, since they planned to remove them anyway. Alex wore her chosen hoody when he answered the doorbell right at 7:00 p.m.
Ellen arrived wearing the shirt she would be loaning him. He promised not to cry on it this time.
“Hello, my future wife,” Alex said as he opened the front door to his parents’ spacious home.
“Hello, my future husband.” Ellen leaned forward and met him in a lingering kiss then kicked the door shut with her foot and sat on his lap, adjusting her position on his wheelchair.
“Do you want me to make you dinner?” Alex asked between kisses.
“No, I just ate a few minutes ago.” She barely pulled her mouth away long enough to answer.
“Me too.” He used muscle memory and instinct to wheel himself toward his bedroom, closing that door behind them as well. They continued forward until he bumped his wheelchair into his king-sized bed.
Alex needed to slow down, physically and metaphorically. Because there was one more important thing Alex wanted to do and he wasn’t sure how Ellen would respond.
He pulled away from her kisses and pressed his forehead to hers, trying to slow down his breathing. “Will you do something with me? If I ask pretty please?”
“Another science experiment?” Ellen asked provocatively.
“Uh… sort of.” Alex swallowed his nerves and laid out his heart. “Will you pray with me?”
Ellen pulled back but kept her arms around his neck, cocking her eyebrows and wrinkling her nose. “I didn’t know that you were into that sort of thing.”
“Well, I’ve never prayed before, but I think now would be a good time to start, especially if we want to get married and create a future together.”
“I don’t really know how to pray,” Ellen admitted.
“Me neither, but…” Alex took a deep breath. “If praying is anything like my experience in paradise, we’re both going to really love praying.”
“Alex, I’m willing to try anything with you.” The sincerity in her words shone through her eyes and countenance.
“Good, because what I’m going to ask you to do later is going to take just as much faith and vulnerability as baring our souls to God.”
“I’ll repeat my statement from a moment ago,” Ellen said. “I’m willing to try anything with you.”
“Thank you.” Alex leaned forward and pulled her in for another kiss before gently encouraging her to climb off his lap.
Ellen stood beside his wheelchair and straightened her clothes. “How do you want to do this? Like, get down on our knees or something?”
“My legs won’t support me if I try to kneel on them,” Alex said. “Let’s lay down on the bed together and hold hands.”
“Probably should leave our clothes on for the prayer thing, though, right?” she asked with a nervous chuckle.
“Yeah, probably.” Alex pulled himself closer to the bed and grabbed the railing for leverage.
“Do you need any help?” Ellen reached as if to help him up onto the bed.
“Nah, I’m good. I do this every night by myself now.” In one swift move Alex swung himself onto his bed. “Asking mommy and daddy for help to get in and out of bed each night is not fun. I was motivated to gain some independence. Come here.” Alex reached for her hand as he scooted over to the middle of the bed.
Ellen climbed into his bed and laid her head on the pillow beside him with a content sigh.
“My sentiments exactly.” Alex reached out and smoothed his hand across her hair, enjoying the feathery softness. “I want you in my bed every night.”
“Okay.” Her eyes closed halfway, and a smile played across her lips.
“I don’t think my parents will let you move in with me until we’re married, but I’ll dream of you laying here just like that.”
“Okay,” she said again. “Let’s get married tonight. Because I don’t want to go home.”
“I don’t want you to go home either.” Alex moved closer and reached for Ellen’s hands. She seemed to realize his mood had shifted because her eyes gained intensity as they met one another’s gaze. Alex wasn’t sure how to do this so he just kind of started talking without preamble. “God, it’s me again. Alex. I guess you know that though, don’t you?”
Ellen giggled, and Alex chuckled along with her.
“I want you to meet Ellen,” Alex continued. “You probably know her too. But maybe you didn’t know that we want to get married. Actually, you probably do know that. I love her, God, like, a lot.”
“I love Alex too, God,” Ellen whispered.
“See, she loves me too. I’m not making this up.”
Ellen laughed again but then pulled her face into peaceful stoicism.
“God, we’re not asking for miracles. Okay, we’re kind of asking for miracles.” Alex felt his throat choke with tears. “Because nothing short of a miracle is going to heal my heart and my mind.”
Ellen moved closer and touched her forehead to his, closing her eyes as soft tears fell across her face and down to his pillow.
“I know that you’ve forgiven me because you’ve shown me that when I was visiting you a few months ago. Now I need to learn how to forgive myself. Can you help me with that? I don’t know how to even start.”
That was about the time that Alex started sobbing, clinging to Ellen like a lifeline.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. God, please, I’m so sorry. I don’t know how to fix this. I don’t know how to make it right. I can’t go back in time. If I could, I would. I wish I could go back to the first day of high school and treat every single girl with the respect she deserved. I wish I had waited. I wish I had waited for Ellen.”
Ellen released Alex’s hands and pulled him into her arms, letting him bury his face in her hair and sob. After a few moments of crying together, Ellen spoke. “Hey, God, it’s Ellen. Please help me to help Alex. I don’t know how to do this whole prayer thing, and I don’t know what you said to him when he was visiting you, but it really had an effect on him. He’s a totally different guy now and I really love him. I know that the man he is today would not have done the things he did a few years ago. You changed him, God. You changed him.” Ellen had to stop talking also, crying and holding Alex.
The powerful love that flowed between them was unlike anything Alex had ever felt on earth. The only comparable love was that which he felt in paradise. He knew they were on the right track with this whole prayer thing. When told he had to come back to earth, he fought to stay in the presence of God. If he had known this love was waiting for him, he would have gladly returned to earth. Alex took a couple of deep breaths, trying to calm down enough to speak again.
Ellen beat him to it. “Alex?”
“Yeah?” He sniffed and considered reaching for a tissue but didn’t want to release the passionate grip around her.
“I want you to repeat after me word for word, okay?”
“Uh… okay.” He pulled back and looked her in the eyes, then realized they both needed tissues, so he sat up and grabbed the box off his bedside table. They each wiped their eyes and noses and laughed a little at how much mascara came off Ellen’s cheeks. Then they laid back down and took each other’s hands again. “Okay, I’m ready.”
“I, Alexander Stephenson, junior…” Ellen waited for him to repeat her words.
“I, Alexander Stephenson, junior…” Alex waited for her next prompt.
“…do hereby forgive myself.”
“…do hereby for—” He choked on the words and squeezed his eyes shut, not sure he could do what she was asking him to do.
“I, Alexander Stephenson, junior do hereby forgive myself,” she repeated. “Say it.”
“I, Alexander Stephenson, junior do hereby forgive myself.” He rushed through the sentence, not sure how sincere he was being.
“Now say it again like you mean it,” Ellen prompted.
Alex took a couple of deep breaths and met her gaze again, then said quietly, “I, Alexander Stephenson, junior do hereby forgive myself.”
“Good… now mean it this time.” She was testing him. He needed this push. This time he didn’t stop.
“I, Alexander Stephenson, junior do hereby forgive myself for treating my body with disrespect, and for treating girls’ bodies with disrespect, and for using girls’ bodies for my own pleasure, and for giving my body to any other girl besides Ellen Alaunus, the love of my life.”
Ellen’s soft smile encouraged him to keep going.
“Ellen, will you please forgive me for disrespecting my body? And for using girls’ bodies for my own pleasure, and for giving my body to another girl besides you?”
“Yes, Alex, I forgive you,” Ellen whispered, then closed her eyes again. “God, we need your help. You see, Alex did something stupid. Okay, he did a lot of stupid things, but one stupid thing he did was to climb into a car with a friend who had been drinking alcohol.”
“Yeah, God, let me interrupt for a second. If I had been sober, I could have taken the car keys from Gus and this never would have happened. So that was the first stupid thing I did that night. Okay, sorry Ellen, keep going.”
“As I was saying, God, Alex did some stupid things and those stupid things led to him getting crushed in a car and it totally messed up his spinal cord. And the thing is, this might seem like a really silly reason to ask for healing, but we’d kind of like to have you fix his spinal cord so that he can maybe walk, and so that he can make love to me on our wedding night.”
Alex opened his eyes, and Ellen opened hers and they gazed into each other’s souls. “Hey, God, it’s me again. Have you seen how beautiful this woman is? Have you seen her heart and the way she loves me? Do you blame me for wanting to share my body with her, and only her, from now until eternity?”
Not sure if God was going to answer with words or not, Alex waited. A warm peace came over his heart but no booming voice from the sky. He met Ellen’s eyes and she met his and they just stared at each other like that for a long time.
Finally Ellen whispered, “I want your shirt.”
Book Club Discussion Questions: Super long chapter today, but an important chapter. This is a pivotal moment in Alex’s healing. He needed this time to pour his heart out to God, and he needed Ellen to be a part of his forgiveness. I look forward to your opinions about this chapter.