The nurse pointed down the long hallway. “He’s in room 202.” She looked Elle over head to toe. “He told me he didn’t have a girlfriend.”
“I’m just a friend,” Elle said.
The nurse relaxed, her accusatory tone replaced by a gentle smile. “He’s a sweetheart, isn’t he?”
“Yes, he is.” Were nurses allowed to hit on patients? At the same time she thought, good for Raff.
The nurse leaned over her desk, inviting Elle to bend over so as to hear her better. “I like ’em chunky sexy,” she whispered. She sat back in her chair and laughed.
Elle smiled, hoping her discomfort wasn’t too obvious. “202 you said?”
The phone on the desk rang. “Yep. Don’t tell him I said anything, right?”
“Not a word.” She adjusted her purse on her shoulder, started down the hospital hallway and tried to shake the phrase chunky sexy from her mind.
Passing patient rooms on either side of the hallway, she refused to be tempted to look into any of them. Illness ought to be a private affair, yet in a hospital everyone hears the multitude of ways patients suffer. Groaning. Moaning. Weeping. Even stoic silence has a sound to it, a pull into a cavernous dark. Private conversations with loved ones are constant background noise to doctors being paged, alarms sounding, the clatter of medical equipment shoved from one crisis to the next. A closed door never stays shut for long. Nurses in, nurses out. Meals delivered. Doctors. Visitors. She walked with her eyes focused on the end of the hallway, trying not to think how it had once been her lying in one of those stale, industrial rooms trying to fake having faith everything would indeed, be okay.
She was angry at Brian for asking her to do this for him. Angry for making her walk the hallway, alone, and remember. And angry at herself for how her heart raced. Like she had only been diagnosed yesterday when in fact it had been nearly a year ago now. It didn’t feel that way though. It felt raw and fresh, like an open wound on a car accident victim rushed into the emergency room on a gurney.
If Raff had a steady girlfriend to sit vigil by his bedside, she wouldn’t have come at all. Really, she didn’t know him well enough to be visiting. He was Brian’s friend. They had known each other since high school and got together on the occasional weekend to watch football or basketball, season depending. They burned burgers on the grill and drank the imported beer Brian now preferred. They complained about their jobs and talked about their wild days back in school, which were not so wild, though Elle never said as much.
It wasn’t that she didn’t like Raff. He could tell a joke, laughed easily, and she couldn’t think of a time she hadn’t seen him in a good mood. He always struck her as one of those people who held onto a genuine belief life wasn’t to be taken all that seriously and would likely work out for the best.
The truth was he was Brian’s friend and she was Brian’s girlfriend. Laws of association, in her opinion, dictated Brian could visit Raff in the hospital or she and Brian could visit him together but for her to be there alone wasn’t quite right.
Or she simply didn’t want to be inside the hospital and laws of association had nothing to do with anything. Still, Brian shouldn’t have asked her to come alone. It meant something that he had.
She focused her attention back on the beige placards screwed into the wall beside each room.
“Please,” Brian had said on the phone earlier in the day.
She had been between clients. Her day had been full of familiars—women who returned again and again to New Beginnings for Women to sit in her small office and talk. About their lives falling apart or already fallen, some of them beaten, most of them afraid they might be. Nearly all of them with bigger problems than a boyfriend or husband quick to anger. Problems like drug addiction. Alcoholism. Undiagnosed mental health disorders.
When she had been well enough to return to work after the surgery to extricate the melanoma from her shoulder, she’d walked into her office feeling relieved. Cancer had changed many things, but not everything. Not what counted. She had been at New Beginnings since she graduated with her master’s in social work. Almost a decade.
Welcome back! the balloons and cards her co-workers had piled on her desk shouted. She had truly believed she could pick back up where she had left off. Life would go on.
But you can’t go back. No one told her. Not when they were discharging her from the hospital. Not during follow-up appointments with her oncologist. This was the thing that still made her so angry—doctors could tell her all about her survivability percentages, side effects to drugs, the likelihood of recurrence, but they cannot tell her a thing about how to go on living after she had been told she might die.
It didn’t take long after returning for Elle to realize she cared a little less about her clients, their stories, their fears and needs. She had never before felt like the work took from her more than it gave. What had once anchored her—helping others—now made her want to cry out what about me? Who is helping me?! And without meaning to she had started to ask, is this why I survived? This?
Now, when she came home in the evenings to Brian, who had moved in to help her after surgery and then never left, she asked the same question. This? Feeling nothing but guilt for doing so.
In response to Brian’s please she said, “He’s your friend. Why can’t you go?”
“I’ll go this weekend. I promise. I just think one of us should check on him tonight.” There was a pause. She could see him leaning over his desk, one hand holding the phone to his ear, the other hand massaging his forehead. She had seen him in this posture more than once when she woke in the hospital, and without letting him know she was awake, she had watched his worry and his exhaustion. They had only been dating six months at that point. All she could think then was why don’t you leave?
She should have made him go.
“I hear it’s pretty bad,” he finally said, which she didn’t think was a statement regarding the urgency one of them should feel to be by Raff’s side, but rather a confession: It’s bad and I can’t face it. Had it not occurred to him it wouldn’t be any easier for her?
“He won’t be the last person you know who gets sick.” This was obvious and cruel, but she said it anyway.
He ignored her tone and her words. “Five minutes. That’s all I’m asking. Poke your head in, let him know we’re thinking of him and tell him I’ll be by on Saturday.”
“God, Elle, why are you making this such a big deal?”
How many times had he asked her over the last several months, you okay? And how many times had she lied. I’m fine. He wasn’t the only one who couldn’t say what he actually meant.
“I have to go,” she said instead of answering him.
Her next client, Janet, stood at her office door. Janet had been married for ten years, an alcoholic for at least twenty by her own admission and always wanted Elle to tell her it was her husband who caused her to drink, which Elle couldn’t do. Yet, Janet returned again and again to her small office looking for what? Elle wasn’t exactly certain.
She motioned to Janet to take a seat in the chair wedged in the corner, held up a finger to indicate she needed one more minute.
Wasn’t that a form of abuse, Janet had often asked. Abandonment?
Yes, Elle would say, but it depended on the context.
“Please, Elle,” Brian had repeated. “I will go see him this weekend.”
“Fine. I have to go.” She hung up the phone. She heard him say I love you.
She had taken Janet’s file from the stack on her desk, thinking, as she pretended to read over her notes from their last conversation, how fifteen years into a marriage, cancer can remind two of a love they might have started to forget, renew commitments to the idea of in sickness and in health. But in a sixth-month relationship? Cancer lodges like the malignant infestation it is—eating away at the hope which constitutes new love and replacing it with reality. Reality cannot exist too early in a relationship, she now knew. It breeds indebtedness, bitterness, regret and an inability to say goodbye.
Standing outside of room 202, she hesitated. The door was open only a few inches. From inside she could hear the murmur of a television, but no other voices. She had hoped he might have visitors already, making her appearance unnecessary and by consequence, brief.
She knocked softly. Maybe he was asleep.
Not so lucky.
“It’s Elle.” She pushed the door open, asking at the same time, “Is it okay to come in?”
“More than okay.” He clicked off the television. “I’m so bored I’ve been thinking of pulling one of these IVs out just to watch everyone come running.”
To say Raff was a big guy was an understatement. Two fifty was a generous guess on the low side. He looked even larger in the too small bed and gown. She tried to see him the way Nurse Madison saw him. Chunky sexy. It wasn’t easy, but neither was it impossible.
“I think they’d frown on that,” she said.
“They frown on pretty much everything around here.” He adjusted in the bed in order to look around her out into the hallway. “Brian with you?”
“No, just me. Sorry to disappoint. He couldn’t get away from work. He’ll come by Saturday.”
Raff did look disappointed but hid it with a casual shrug of his shoulders. “Tell him to bring cards and to plan to stay for a b-ball game or two. If he can sneak in a couple beers, I’ll put him in my will.” He winked.
“You sure you’re sick?” she teased, then regretted it when she saw his face tighten.
He glanced down toward his leg, moved a hand like he might touch his thigh, but then pulled it back. “It’s crazy. Thought it was a spider bite. Next thing I know they’re cutting out chunks of my leg and telling me I might die of blood poisoning.”
It’s bad, Brian had said. She hadn’t thought to ask for details at the time.
“Necrotizing fasciitis,” he continued, enunciating each syllable. “It’s taken the better part of a day to learn how to say it right.”
“What’s it mean?” she asked.
“My flesh is rotting. Eating itself.”
She remembered all the times people had said to her, “I’m so sorry.” Sorry for what, she’d always wanted to ask, but didn’t because regardless of the cancer it had still felt important, at the time, to be gracious. “People just don’t know what to say,” her mother had said when Elle had confessed one afternoon. “Then maybe they shouldn’t say anything,” Elle countered. Her mother had pulled the thin and crisp blanket, which the hospital apparently considered adequate, up to her chin, kissed her on the forehead and said, “Don’t be angry at people for loving you.”
“Sounds scary,” she said to Raff.
He nodded his head, fussed with the remote control to adjust his bed, the noise of the motor momentarily distracting them both. When the bed fell silent, he said, “Yeah. Scary is a good word.”
She felt it was possible this was the first time he had said it out loud. Scared. The word had held position on her tongue for a long time as well before she had been able to say it out loud. Confessions of fear mostly inspired automatic good-intentioned responses. Don’t talk like that, sweetie. You have to stay positive. You’re a fighter. You’ll beat this.
“You want to sit?” he asked.
She was surprised to realize she did.
Brian was in the backyard when she got home from the hospital. She watched him a moment through the French doors. He watered the vegetable seeds he’d planted in their small garden the weekend before. The lawn mower was out. Half the grass cut. He was taking a break. Brian was the sort of guy who finished what he started. He’d never leave the lawn half mowed.
He would, however, let his friend sit in the hospital alone.
He glanced up from his watering, saw her and waved. She tried to smile and give a quick wave in return, but she knew the gesture looked half-hearted. She took off her coat and tossed it over the back of the couch. She dropped her purse on the kitchen’s bar.
“How is he?” he asked as she stepped outside.
The garden was nothing more than an eight-by-eight patch of dirt at the moment, but Brian promised lettuces, beets, carrots and tomatoes before the summer was over.
“He’s okay. He wants you to come watch some games with him on Saturday.”
“Yeah,” Brian said. “For sure.” He leaned over and straightened one of the sticks marking a row.
She waited, giving him a chance to ask for more details about Raff, but he didn’t say anything further.
The frustration she had felt on the phone with him earlier in the day returned. “He needs to see you.”
He started to walk away from her, winding up the hose as he went. “You know how much I hate hospitals.”
This was always how he preferred to have uncomfortable conversations. Distracted.
“Everyone hates hospitals,” she said, not hiding her exasperated tone. “But he’s your friend and he’s scared.” She didn’t know if Raff would like her saying that last part.
“He’ll be out of there in a few days, I’m sure.”
“They’ve cut pieces of flesh out of his thigh, Brian.” This caused him to stop, the rolled portion of the hose hanging over one arm. “You need to go see him.”
“I thought it was a spider bite?”
“Well, it’s worse than a stupid spider bite. You’re the one who told me it sounded bad. What did you think bad meant?”
“Well, obviously not that they’d be cutting out pieces of flesh, as you so delicately put it.” He turned and started coiling the hose again, only this time faster and with less consideration for whether the coils were twisted or of the same size as the one before. By the time he got to the porch there wasn’t much to do but toss the hose under it in a heap, which is what he did.
She took a deep breath. It never worked to attack Brian. He wasn’t a fighter. Neither was she, to be honest. It was a defect in their relationship, in her opinion. Whereas Brian liked to brag, “We never fight.”
“I’m sorry,” she said, stepping up onto the porch.
He shook his head. “No, I’m sorry. You’re right. I should have gone.”
“I feel like a glass of wine. You want a beer?”
“Sure,” he said. “One beer and then I’ll finish the lawn.”
In the kitchen she told herself to let it go. It wasn’t the day or the time. Being at the hospital had gotten to her was all. She’d shake it off—the hospital’s smells and sounds, the memory of the blue socks the nurses had put on her feet before her surgery. A gesture meant to be comforting, but which had only struck her as too little too very late. She hadn’t allowed herself to think of her gurney ride to the operating room in months. She wished she could talk to Brian about what it had felt like being there again (suffocating, overwhelming, infuriating). What was stopping her? Nothing. Everything.
She poured a full glass of malbec, drank a little off the top, refilled it. From the fridge she grabbed a beer.
She told herself she wouldn’t, but as soon as she stepped back out onto the porch she said, “I want to talk about it, Brian.”
He’d taken a seat at the small outdoor table where they ate dinner when it was warm enough to be outside. He folded his hands, leaned forward on his elbows, dropped his head as if he was too tired to listen. When he looked up he said, “I said I’ll go see him.”
She set the beer down in front of him. “Not about Raff.”
“What then?” He twisted the cap off the bottle.
She took a seat across from him, setting her wine glass on the table so she could wrap her hands around the stem to keep them from trembling. The question had been formed for such a long time it now felt almost too big to speak out loud.
“Why did you stay with me?” she asked and then drank from her wine, closing her eyes, not wanting to see his immediate reaction.
When she opened her eyes he had sat back in his chair and was watching her. A soft breeze blew his hair—a little too long, in an attractive way—across his eyes. He brushed it back with one hand. “You know why I stayed. I love you.”
“We’d only been together six months. Neither of us had even said I love you.”
“So?” he offered with a shrug. “I was falling in love with you, and I am in love with you now.”
“Of course I am.” He narrowed his eyes, a questioning look lined his face. “You were sick, Elle. What sort of asshole would have left you then? Maybe I didn’t know I loved you, but I knew I cared. So I stayed, and now here we are.” He gestured with an open hand to the house, the garden, the yard. “What we have is good.”
She looked around her. A stranger peeking over the fence would see tulip and daffodil bulbs blooming in the border beds. The garden tilled, composted and marked with rows. Bird feeders hanging from the blooming ornamental plum tree. The lawn mowed and line trimmed. A barbecue on the porch. Curtains in the windows. Who wouldn’t assume the people living inside the house were anything but happy?
“What we have is guilt,” she said. “You were too guilty to leave when you should have, and now I feel too guilty to ask you to leave.”
“You’re talking about leaving me?” He stood up, shoved one hand into his pocket and gripped the beer with his other, holding it to his chest like it might protect him from whatever she said next. “Jesus, when did this happen? What are you talking about? Is this all because I asked you to go see Raff?”
The faster he rattled off questions the closer she came to crying. Why couldn’t he sit down and listen? Why couldn’t she say what she most wanted to say? Her breath caught in her chest.
“It’s not about Raff. You shouldn’t have asked me to go. Not alone. But that’s not the point.”
“We’re too young to know so much about death, Brian. Doesn’t it bother you? How can you not hate me for it?” She paused. “Because I hate it.”
He set his beer on the table and knelt beside her, taking her hands. “Look at me.”
She did, and saw nothing but determination in his eyes. She knew what he was going to say. The same words he’d said a hundred times over. All that matters is you lived.
It wasn’t all that mattered.
“You didn’t die,” he said. “Neither will Raff.” He presented these statements as if they were backed by solid evidence only he possessed. Everyone would survive. See.
She touched his cheek. “But the only thing being with me reminds you of is death.”
“That’s not true.” He gripped her hands tighter. “I look at you and think about how lucky I am. You think I wish you had died. That somehow it would have made my life easier, but you’re wrong.”
“I wish you hadn’t been there at all.”
He dropped her hands, stood, took several steps back from her. “Nice, Elle. That’s real nice.” He shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “I’m so sorry I didn’t abandon you like some jerk. If I had known that’s what you wanted maybe I would have spared myself the trouble.”
She picked up her wine glass, traced a finger around the rim. “I’m grateful for everything you did for me.”
“Grateful? You’re grateful? I didn’t bring you flowers, I’ve built a life with you.”
“A life built on death,” she said. It felt like the simplest way to say it.
He let out an exasperated breath, raised his arms up and let them drop back against his thighs. A small bit of beer sloshed from his bottle onto the deck, but he didn’t notice. “This doesn’t have anything do with me. It’s you who can’t get over it. I’m right here trying to help and you’re talking about leaving me. I don’t get it, Elle. You want to blame it on me, fine. I remind you of the worst time of your life, fine.” He lifted his hand clutching the beer, holding it and pointing a finger at the same time. “But if you want to end this relationship you have to be the one to say so because whether you want to believe it or not, I’m happy and I love you and this is a bunch of bullshit.”
He turned toward the house.
“You can’t even look at it,” she blurted out, though she knew the right thing to do was to let him go.
He stopped and turned. “Can’t look at what?”
“My scar.” She stood and started walking toward him, unbuttoning her blouse as she went. She kept her eyes locked on his. She thought about the flesh missing from Raff’s thigh, and the flesh they had taken from her shoulder. Where did it go? Sick and decaying pieces of the body.
Cool air brushed her shoulders. She closed her eyes again. Smelled the grass he had already cut.
“What are you doing?” He stepped toward her, reaching for her blouse to pull it back up. “Stop it. Someone will see you.”
“I don’t care if someone sees.” She twisted away and undid the last button. “You won’t look at it. You won’t touch it.” The blouse fell to the porch. “This isn’t bullshit.” She turned her back to him, forcing him to look. “This is who I am.”
She heard the French door open. “I’m the only one of us who has ever touched it,” he said, and walked into the house.
She left work early the next day and went back to the hospital. She had slept on the couch the night before, gotten up early, showered and dressed all before Brian got out of bed. If he had heard her, he pretended to sleep.
She felt weak.
Raff was sleeping, but she woke him with her knock. He pulled himself up in the bed, tried to straighten his gown and then his pillows.
“Here.” She slid a hand behind his head and pulled both of the thin pillows higher on the bed.
“Thanks. I didn’t expect to see you again today.” It was a question as much as a statement. “You okay? You look, I don’t know, funny.”
“Didn’t sleep well,” she said. She sat in the same chair she had the day before. She didn’t intend to tell him about the fight. That’s not why she had come. It was hard to explain. The need she had to be back in the hospital. To talk to Raff.
“How’re you feeling?” she asked.
“Been a bit of a rough day to be honest. They changed my bandages for the first time. You wouldn’t think a few tufts of cotton and some tape would hurt so much.” He tried to smile, but only managed to look tired. “I’d give you the all the gory details, but it would make you throw up. I almost didn’t get through it.”
For a month after her surgery, the football shaped incision the surgeon had cut into her right shoulder had oozed fluids, requiring the bandages to be changed daily. Brian was the one to do it. He never said a word. Not about what it looked like. Not about how it made him feel. He peeled back tape, took off the gauze pads, cleaned the wound as the nurse at the hospital had instructed, dried it, fit on new gauze and taped it all to her skin. She knew he was done when she heard him tie off the plastic bag he put the old pieces of gauze in so she wouldn’t have to see them.
I’m the only one of us who has ever touched it.
“You can tell me about it if you want,” she offered.
Raff looked down at his leg, ran a hand over the air above the wound. “They have to vacuum out the drainage. That’s the worst part. Then they stuff it full of gauze again.”
“Do you want to show me?” Why would she ask that? Because she wished someone had asked her? She had stepped over some cancer-survivor line. A threshold between sanity and trauma-induced craziness. Maybe she was a year late. Maybe other cancer patients fell apart sooner, closer to the diagnosis. But she had been strong. She hadn’t wanted to bother anyone. Besides no one had given her a guidebook. There was no map. There was only her in a room with a man she didn’t know well and the scars they both now carried.
She felt safe there with Raff, and she wanted to see what had been taken from him.
He looked at her with raised eyebrows. “You want to see it? I don’t think the nurses even like lookin’ at it. Besides, you’ve never even seen me with my shirt off.” His tone was teasing even if his eyes were still questioning.
“Tell you what.” She leaned forward in the chair. “You show me yours and I’ll show you mine.”
His question caught her off guard. “My scar. From the cancer.” Maybe he’d forgotten. It had been a year after all, and he was hooked up to a morphine drip. It wasn’t as if he had been intimately involved, but surely Brian talked to him about it.
“You had cancer?” His surprise was genuine.
“Melanoma. Stage 3. A year ago.” She slouched back in the chair. “He never told you,” she said more to herself than to Raff.
He shook his head, looking embarrassed. As if he had just walked into the middle of an argument and was trying to pretend he hadn’t heard a word. “Brian can be sort of a private guy, I guess,” he offered by way of an apology for something he didn’t do.
“They told me I might die, Raff.”
“I’m sure he was just relieved you were okay. You are okay, aren’t you?”
“So the doctors tell me.” But no, she thought. I am anything but okay.
“Good, that’s good.” He paused. “Well, if you want to see it, you’re going to have to come to this side of the bed.” He patted the metal railing on the far side of the bed. “Try not to sneak a peek at my junk.”
“Junk?” she couldn’t help but laugh, which forced her to breathe, which felt good. She stood and walked around his bed.
He tossed the blanket down to his knees, and pulled his gown up from the bottom exposing his thick legs and his belly, which was round and large and rolled over onto the top of his legs. He had on a pair of plaid boxer shorts, and he hooked his right thumb under the waist and pulled them down.
“There you go.” He leaned back so his belly lifted away from this thighs. He closed his eyes.
The wound was larger than she had imagined. Eight to ten inches easy, running horizontally across the top of his thigh, disappearing into the shadows. Thick wads of gauze were stuffed into what was best described as a trench. Some of the gauze was damp with yellow-ish fluid. Some of it was tinted with blood. The edges of the wound were pink as only wounded flesh in the early stages of healing can be.
She resisted the urge to touch an edge, so exposed, raw, new.
“How deep is it?” she asked.
“They say two inches. The infection had spread further than they thought. They had to make sure they got it all.” He spoke with his eyes closed. “Is it disgusting? I actually haven’t looked.”
Oh, she knew how it was to not want to see. It had taken her nearly two weeks to accept the nurse’s offer at a checkup to take a hand-held mirror, turn her back to the full-length mirror on the doctor’s wall, and look at her scar. She had regretted doing it immediately. All she could think was how Brian had been changing her bandages, looking at the wound almost every day, remembering how she had once been. Undamaged.
“It’s interesting,” she said to Raff. “Beautiful in its own way.”
“Beautiful?” he repeated as if it was the last word he’d expected her to say.
She looked again. The pink edges like an early morning sunrise just starting to break on a horizon. The length and depth of it like his own personal canyon. She thought of the deeper layers of flesh now exposed which had never before felt the brush of a current of air and the nerves now truncated, trying to reposition themselves, feeling with phantom fingers out into the space newly opened by the surgeon and his tools.
He opened his eyes and started to lift his head to look.
“No,” she placed a hand on his chest with enough force to push him back. “Not yet.”
“I thought so. You’re just trying to make me feel better.” He closed his eyes again.
She squeezed his shoulder. “I’m not. I promise. Wait. Trust me.”
“You’re not making a lot of sense.”
She pulled his gown back down. “I’ve been hearing that a lot recently.”
He opened his eyes and watched her as she pulled the blanket back up over his lap. “You know this is the most we’ve ever talked,” he said. “Why is that?”
“I guess because you’re Brian’s friend not mine.”
“That’s a stupid reason.”
She smiled. “I agree.”
He clapped his hands together, “Well, now we don’t have any choice but to be friends, given you’ve nearly seen my junk and all.”
She hit him playfully on his arm. “I promise I didn’t look.”
“You still going to let me see yours?”
“Yes,” she answered with hesitating.
He pressed the button to lift his bed so he was more upright. “I promise not to look at your junk.”
“I’m not offering to show you anything but the scar, you dirty old man.”
He shrugged. “Hey, thirty-two isn’t old.”
No, she thought, it’s not, but it can feel old.
“You can’t blame an injured guy for trying. Don’t tell Brian I said that.” He actually looked worried.
“Don’t worry about Brian,” she said.
She turned around and slid her right arm out of her sleeve, pulling her shirt up to her neck, exposing her back. She shivered.
“Back up,” he said. “I can’t see.”
She took two steps backward, moving closer to the bed, to him.
He was quiet. She closed her eyes as he had done only a few minutes earlier.
She jumped when his fingers touched the top of the scar.
“Sorry,” he said, taking his fingers away. “Does it hurt?”
“No, it’s okay. Go ahead.” She took a deep breath.
He ran the tip of a finger from the top of the scar to bottom. Then his hand was pressed flat over her shoulder, warm.
Her physical therapist had told her it was important to retrain the nerve memory in the area so the nerves wouldn’t always assume there was trauma forthcoming every time someone touched her there. The therapist had instructed her take a dry washcloth and each day, before getting in the shower, run the washcloth back and forth over the scar for several minutes. She had tried it once, made one pass over her shoulder, turned to the toilet, dropped to her knees and thrown up.
Now Raff’s hand made the same nerves scream with alarm. She placed a hand over her stomach, and gripped the bedrail with her other hand. She wanted to pull her shirt back down and step away. She wanted him to leave his hand there forever.
“There are lines,” he said. “Like a map.”
She didn’t know what to say, but she smiled.
“Does it bother you?” he asked as he went back to running one finger over it.
“It remembers.” She didn’t know if he would understand.
“Yeah,” was all he said.
She pulled her shirt down and slipped her arm back into her sleeve. She walked around the bed and bent to pick up her purse, but he reached out and took her hand.
“I should go,” she said.
He didn’t let go. “Brian loves you,” he said. “You can’t ask him to understand all this. I wouldn’t understand if it wasn’t happening to me.” He nodded toward his leg. “He’s doing the best he can.”
“I have to go.”
“Elle.” He continued to hold on.
She gave up trying to pull away. “The thing is, it’s not over, Raff. Brian has moved on. I don’t know how.”
He pulled her closer to the bed, reached up and wiped her face. She rested her cheek against his warm open palm. It was good to rest.
“Ask him for help,” Raff said.
She leaned over and kissed him on the forehead. “I like you,” she said.
“Only because I’m wounded, like you.”
“Yes.” She picked up her purse, draped her jacket over her arm. “That’s exactly why.”
“You can’t make a whole with two broken pieces. That’s all I’m saying.”
Brian was sitting on the front porch steps when she pulled into the driveway. He stood when she stepped out of the car. At the bottom of the steps she stopped. He looked as tired as she felt.
“You’re still here,” she finally said.
“You came home,” he answered.
“It’s not about the scar,” she said.
“I know.” He held out his hand, she reached up and took it.