“Can we go back to where you were describing how everyone in paradise thinks instead of speaks, or something like that.” Ellen held her pen above her notebook, ready to capture Alex’s musings. “Did anyone speak English?”
“We didn’t speak at all.” Alex found his mind hovering near the edge of remembrance. “We more like, uh, how can I describe this? It was like we understood each other’s thoughts.”
Alex shifted in his wheelchair to pull himself a little closer to the patio table. The all-seasons garden room at the back end of his parents’ elegant home provided a view of the forest from three sides. Plus, the greenhouse roof offered living space under the canopy of the trees. This was Alex’s favorite room in the house, which was good since his physical therapy table was set up beside the therapeutic hot tub.
This was the perfect place to bring his girlfriend now that they could no longer meet in the library after school. As much as he’d been excited to graduate high school, there were certain advantages to going there every day. Now that it was summer, he needed an excuse to get together with Ellen. If he could drag out the writing of their book just a little while longer, that was the perfect reason.
Did she ask the same questions more than once? Maybe. Did he drag out his answers more than necessary? Maybe. Should they just make this official and get engaged? Probably. There was still the matter of his insecurities about her marrying a man who was broken, wounded, scarred, unable to walk or do much of anything from the waist down. How could he ask his girlfriend to commit her life to him? He tried to remind himself that she wouldn’t be here if she didn’t want to be here with him. She could have finished writing this book a long time ago.
“And not everything was peaceful, right?” Ellen was scrawling words so quickly Alex wondered how she could keep one thought straight while asking about another.
“That’s correct. For quite a long time I was wracked with guilt for the things I’d done.” He didn’t wait for her to ask what those things were. He just continued. “I rebelled against my parents, using our wealth and privilege to obtain anything I desired. I toyed with girls’ hearts. I led them down a path none of us should have been walking. The competitions between me and Gus and his brothers were absurd. Which one of us could snag the most girls in one weekend, the most in one night, the most at one time, in the strangest location… which one of us could take their innocence first.”
Alex lowered his head to the table and gripped his hands into his hair, remembering how it felt to stand in the presence of God and justify his actions. There was no excuse for what he’d done. What they’d all done.
“But you know what was even more stupid?” He raised his head to meet her gaze, not waiting for her to answer his rhetorical question. “The girls were playing the same games. Which prince would give her his attention? Which prince would win the prize? Which prince would call the next day? We never did. That was part of the game. Never twice in a row. Maybe a few weeks later, but not right away.”
“I know for a fact the girls were playing your games right along with you,” Ellen said. “I was so jealous of the pretty girls. The popular girls. None of you would have wanted me anyway.”
“Why do you say that?” Compassion filled his heart and Alex took Ellen’s hand across the table.
“I was so frumpy with my Coke-bottle lenses, wispy hair, acne, and braces.”
“Well, your braces must have worked because your smile is beautiful.”
“Thank you,” Ellen whispered, glancing down at her notebook and tucking a lock of hair behind her ear.
“Your hair is soft and delicate, and the only thing wrong with your glasses is that they get in the way when I want to make out with you.” As if to prove his point, Alex reached over and slipped her tiny frames off her face then pulled her over to sit on his lap.
Ellen wrapped her arms around his neck and Alex wrapped his arms around her back, pulling her close. Their lips met in a slow, careful kiss that grew in intensity until her hands were gripping into his hair and his were creeping closer to places they shouldn’t be.
And that’s how her father, Malik, found them when he walked in the door to the garden room. “How many times am I going to walk in on you two making out?”
As Ellen scrambled to climb off Alex’s lap, he unapologetically turned to her father. “That’s a good question. You could start knocking before entering the room and you’d be less likely to walk in on us making out.”
“That, or I can hoist you onto the table to torture you, and my daughter can go find a book to read or something else tame and innocent that won’t raise my blood pressure.
“I don’t know, dad, you should see some of the books out there nowadays. Some are way more inappropriate than anything Alex and I would ever do.”
“No, thank you. I’m happy with my nice, peaceful life of torturing people.” Malik held out his arm for Alex to use as leverage. “Speaking of which, hop up on the table and I’ll get to work torturing you.”
Before Ellen left the room she walked over and leaned down to kiss Alex, who now lay on his back on the therapy table. She mouthed the word, “Goodbye,” and Alex winked up her.