“Elliot, what’s wrong?” she answers after the second ring.
“I… I… I’m sorry…” I barely manage to squeak out.
“Are you okay?” she asks, a hint of panic in her voice.
I hesitate, not sure how to answer the question as the emotions of the night and hearing her voice are messing with me, “Not really, I mean yes and no.”
“I’m just leaving Davy’s… can I call you back when I get home?” she asks softly.
“It’s fine, it’s late Taylor, I’m sorry I bothered you…” I say feeling foolish for calling her so late and even bothering her.
“Don’t hang up…” she says.
“I shouldn’t have called you, I’ll be fine,” I say feeling like the biggest dummy there is.
“You should have called me sooner…” she lets out with a breath, “You should have called me three months ago, Elliot. If you need to talk I’m here…”
“Why, why would you still want to talk to me after what I did?” I ask honestly wondering.
“Because I miss you…because I didn’t understand why you broke it off before it even got started. Because I do still care about you, despite that,” she says.
“I’ve wanted to call you every day since then. I wasn’t lying when I said I wasn’t ready. When you looked at me in Alex’s room that night, the look on your face, and then when you asked me things I wasn’t ready to talk about in the garage, that look right there, I hated myself for putting that look on your face…” I started, “I hated that I didn’t stop you from walking to your car, that I didn’t just tell you all the things that were going on in my head, I hated that I couldn’t let you in…that I couldn’t allow myself to let you see me.”
“Elliot, didn’t I tell you that I would be there for you? Didn’t I show you that? Did I not explain that everyone has issues, myself included? I opened up to you, I showed you… I showed you something that I’ve never showed anyone, that day. I was ready to lay it all out there for you…” she says, a mix of anger and sadness in her voice.
“I know…” I say, not having any excuses.
“I understand that you might not have been ready, but why not just tell me that? You just blurted it out and that was it. I would have understood, I would have backed off…” she says angrily.
I deserve that anger directed towards me, I deserve for her to just hang up the damn phone and never speak to me again…but I want her in my life. I probably don’t deserve her. I know I don’t deserve her, but it makes me want to work that much harder to have her in my life. I want to be the one to make her smile, to make her feel safe, to pamper her, to give her anything she would ever want, I want to be the person she deserves.
“Elliot? Are you still there?” she asks softly, as I realize I’ve been silent for a while.
“I’m here,” I answer, thinking to myself that I would always be there… “I saw you earlier,”
“What? Where?” she questions.
“I was driving to an appointment and you were standing outside a restaurant, I almost wrecked my truck,” I chuckle.
“I’m glad you didn’t…I was meeting Luke and his fiance for dinner. They wanted to talk about their upcoming wedding,” she says honestly.
“You changed your hair…” I say, picturing her shorter brown locks.
“Yeah, I needed a change. I talked to Ethan…” she admits.
“He mentioned that you will be doing Becca’s maternity photos… he wouldn’t tell me anything else, though,” I say.
“I asked him not to. He told me that you’ve been seeing someone, that you have been doing better…” she says sheepishly.
“I’ve been talking with a therapist. It was hard at first, to open up to a complete stranger, to bare all. It’s gotten a lot easier, though, I’m definitely seeing a difference. I fought with Ethan tonight…” i blurt out.
“Is that why you called?” she asks, a little bit of irritation creeping in.
“Partly. Is it horrible that the only person I wanted to talk to about it was you?” I asked.
“What did you fight about?” she says, the irritation gone.
“My sister…” I say, knowing this is going to lead in a darker direction than I wanted it too, but she is the only person I want to talk about it with.
“You never mentioned having a sister, are you not close with her?” she wonders.
“We were very close. She died. It will be twelve years tomorrow…” I nearly whisper, talking about Emma is still hard for me.
“Elliot I’m so sorry…I couldn’t even imagine how hard that would be,” she says softly.
“Thank you. We never really talk about it much. I’ve talked to Joe, my therapist, about it but my family… We don’t bring it up. She would hate me for the person I’ve become, Ethan said it tonight. She would too. It was easy after her death to grieve with my family, be with them, be strong for them… This has been different, though,” I say barely holding it together when I hear a male voice in the background, “who is that?”
She hesitates a second too long for my liking, “Taylor, I didn’t realize you were with someone…” I say abruptly.
“It’s Jeff. The new bartender Dave hired,” she says, a little too quickly.
“I’ll let you go. I’m sorry I bothered you,” I respond my heart breaking a bit more.
“Elliot, no it’s fine. I’m just giving him a ride home,” she says but the damage is done.
“No really, you’re busy, you’ve moved on from… From this,” I say quickly hitting the end call button.
I’ve done it again, I didn’t give her a chance to tell me otherwise. I don’t know why I thought she would still be single. She’s the complete package. How could I have been so stupid? Setting my alarm I’m not surprised that she doesn’t attempt to contact me after I hung up. I stare at the ceiling for nearly the entire night before eventually finding sleep, if you could call it that. Wretched dreams tear at my soul and by five I give up. I muddle through my morning routine, now quite aware of the date and all it brings with it. I don’t even bother to shave before I head into the office. I half aware pull into the drive-thru at Starbucks a little earlier than normal and order my usual. I’m so completely lost in thought that the barista has to knock on my window to get my attention. I politely apologize and am on my way. Pulling in I realize I’m first to arrive. I sit there for a while before even attempting to get out. Trying my best to not let Ethan’s words play on repeat in my mind, I nearly slam the door into my father, who has been standing outside my truck for I don’t even know how long.
“You coming in, or are you going to see patients out here today?” He asks, the creases on his face looking deeper and more set than normal.
“Sorry, I didn’t realize you were there, dad,” I answer as he grabs the frame of my chair from me.
It’s been a long time since I’ve let anyone help me put my chair together but with the night I’ve had and my endless self-torture this morning I give him the pieces.
“Elliot, what’s going on? Why do you look like hell?” he asks, treading carefully.
“Couldn’t sleep, it was a rough night,” I answer truthfully, wondering if he’s talked to Ethan.
“I can understand that. You gonna be alright today?” he asks watching as I lower myself down and arrange my legs.
“I’ll be alright,” I answer, not sure it’s the truth.
He clasps his hand on my shoulder before I start to push my chair, “I’m here if you need me.”
With a nod, I push out of his reach and we silently enter the building. How could I ever talk to him about this today, he’s living in his own version of this hell, I think as I enter my office and close the door. Numb, I go through the day and before I know it I’m wheeling through the door to leave. I barely take notice of the other cars in the lot, but when I get to my truck, finally looking up I’m staring into her eyes.
“You… what are you doing here?” I ask, emotions fighting to get out.
“I came so you could introduce me to Emma…” she says, completely flooring me.
“I… How… don’t you have work?” I wonder aloud, confused at how she even knows Emma’s name.
“You know that guy you heard last night? Dave hired him to replace me. His wife is doing better and I’m not really needed now. Business is up. It’s a win-win situation for me really. Now are we going or not?” she says with a soft smile.
“Did Ethan put you up to this?” I ask, not really angry but not sure if she’s here for me or because of my brother.
“Nope. He did call me today though and tell me that he was a horrible brother and that you might need a friend right now…” she says easily, “I’ve been waiting three months for you to figure it out, Elliot. Three months for you to realize that I want to be a part of your life…”
“Even after?” I ask.
“Yes, surprising. See I have this friend and his situation is similar, yet so different from yours, but he said something that I couldn’t dismiss. He told me that it was actually a good thing that you disappeared, that maybe because of meeting me you finally had to deal with some of the things you weren’t dealing with. He was impressed that you had enough sense to realize that maybe you and I shouldn’t go through that right off the bat,” she said.
I looked at her then, really looked at her and thought about all the times I’d wished she was there and how horrible it would have been if she was. I’d have to thank this friend someday.
“I know I didn’t do it right…if I could do it again I would change so many things, Taylor. Not just with you, but with everyone. Just because I can see that now, doesn’t mean that it was right though, and last night, I did it again…” I say, unable to look away from her.
“I know. I’m telling you now that your free passes are non-existent. If you can’t deal with something, if you feel like you need space, if you just want me to sit and stare at you… I will. But you need to tell me. I won’t have you holding back. I can’t do that. I don’t want to jump right back in without some kind of understanding…” she says, her body conveying the sass in her words.
“I can promise to try… I can’t promise that it will be easy, but I will try my damnedest to make it work,” I say, imagining the trials ahead.
“I guess that will do for now…” she says, walking around my truck to get in.
I sit there in utter shock, disbelief washing over me as I climb in, carefully tearing apart my chair. The thought of where we are going weighs heavily on my mind. I don’t know how much Ethan told her, so I know I’m in for a long night. She’s going to ask questions and expect answers that I may not want to give. I will, though, I promise myself in this moment that I will give her what she asks for. I can barely look in her direction, but god, do I want to. I want to take in every second and never forget it. I want to show her that I can be the person she wants.