I was out of place. Not appearing so, but in spirit, in charisma, I was out of place. Conversation was catchy and light, salty one liners and over reaching compliments abounded. I smiled, nodded, but did not join in. I didn't belong. Not here, not in this world. My friend had assured me I would have fun, meet people, explore the new life that was now hers. Silky blonde hair, long legs and a thin silhouette, Prim was part if this world in every way. Her full name was Priscilla, but Prim was far more "now". She took me shopping so I would fit in, so I would be comfortable, she said. And so she didn't have to excuse my "last season" shoes. I went along with it well enough, I loved new shoes. She wasn't shallow when it mattered, but neither were the rest of them. They were like an in-ground pool: most of the water was in the deep end, with a diving board and a water feature, maybe a slide or grotto. Whatever made their lives worth knowing was always fronted by the first steps; the shallow end. The smiles, the wit, the double takes. All about getting your feet wet.
I was not a pool. I had no shallow end, or at least not more than a smile and a congenial nod in agreement with how lovely these curtains are with the lighting. It was the metal bars to hold on to before you jumped all the way in.
A man brushed against me and smiled. An intense smile, with more meaning than an obligatory "hello, stranger". A smile that said we had history, but I had not seen his face before. A smile that said he wanted to get to know me, but only if I was worth knowing.
"You are with a friend, yes? I haven't seen you before. I tend to know everyone at these things."
He spoke smoothly but abruptly, as though he wasn't sure if he had already wasted too much time on me.
I made his mind up for him that yes, he had lost 30 seconds of his life for no reward and walked out of the room. Slowly, calmly, without regard to his pursuit. I caught his reflection in a window as I turned a corner and it was clear he was not familiar with rejection.
The night went on quickly but at the pace that it felt as though we must be nearing sunlight. Introductions and awkward pause-filled mini conversations. An interesting song sparking dance moves typically saved for the end of the night. It was only midnight when the man brought his force against my arm and pushed me onto a quiet hallway wall.
His kiss, wet but chapped lips tightly pushing their way onto my unwelcoming mouth, his kiss was over quick enough as I brought his face flat against the wall he had crushed my head against moments earlier. His arm twisted from my chest to behind his shoulder blade as I spoke closely into his ear.
"You are not welcome."
Firmly yet quiet, as the hallway was not empty but provided respite for the few that found true conversation to be had away from the crowd. Humiliation was not my intent. I gave it no more concern. He was a bully and bullies do not enjoy having their faces smashed.
The party did become more enjoyable, be it the alcohol flowing in the glasses of those around me or that I had felt empowered by my encounter. We danced, we sang, we laughed, we danced some more. Conversation was now a secondary form of communication. The party had become more alive, words were not needed.
Prim had slipped me the look of achievement as she walked out the door with her conquest. It was time for the night to give way to peace, if only for a few hours before the daybreak caused the energy to flow once more. As I pulled my jacket over my shoulders in a liquid motion that did not interrupt my stride across the front driveway, an engine whirled and my body flew to the well manicured lawn. Moments of time passed before my mind regained control of memory, and I was being questioned by a man that looked like the Bully, but not identical. His eyes were real, full of thought and purpose. As he repeatedly asked for my response, his eyes screamed out his concern.
"I think I'm a level of okay. I won't die, so that's good, but I do think I'm hurt. I can't tell where..."
I felt pain, all over but it was building specifically in my shoulder. Yet, I didn't feel anything. There was searing, paralyzing pain. And there was nothing. I think it was the adrenaline. I am fairly certain I was in shock. I looked into the blue eyes that ached for more.
"I think my shoulder is out or broken or whatever happens to shoulders that feels like they were ripped off."
He brushed my hair off the side I was reaching for. I used my left arm to push myself upright in a determined and calculated move. My head felt light and stomach turned, but Blue Eyes kept me level. He was kneeling on the dewy grass as the Bully came over to us.
"Game over, bitch, I win."
He was anxious and angry. Nervous with the consequences of his hissy fit. As though he knew this was a gross overreaction to the earlier assault in the hallway, but he was making it known that he was not to be messed with. I got to my feet and for a moment was strong again.
"You hit me with a car. The car did this, not you. You did not win, and if you force me to play this game with you, the next move will end it and it will be mine."
His face filled with a confused mix of aggression and panic. The step forward held only empty threat though it was halted nonetheless.
"Stop. Go home, Evan."
His blue eyes turned to mine. Apologetic and ashamed, as though he drove the car.
"I'm sorry, my brother is an idiot."
Brother. My heart truly sank and my pain-free bubble felt small, the membrane growing thin and frail.
"Do you know how to pop this back in?"
I pulled at my arm as I asked for his help. Hesitantly he squeezed me tight, pushing the joint back into place. I gasped.
"I think that was too much."
It was more than my bubble could handle. The pain overwhelmed me and I collapsed, though I felt his arms keep me from hitting the grass before the night went black.
I woke in a warm room on a soft pillow. It was blue, or maybe gray. The walls. They weren't well lit, but not hard to see. Just in their appropriate place of notice. They held the room together, provided privacy, kept out noise and unwanted weather. Their color was important in that they were not important and should not demand more attention than that they existed. Yet, it was what I noticed first. They made me comfortable, safe, calm. His hand was gentle but the walls had held such a spell over me I was startled as he cupped the side of my face.
"I'm sorry, I didn't expect it to hurt like that."
"A doctor will be here soon, but from what I can tell your shoulder is your only major injury. Just some scrapes to clean up. You shouldn't be sorry for feeling pain from an injury. And I am the one that is sorry, my brother is out of hand and obviously at fault."
"I don't understand what this game is. I didn't sign up to play, and it certainly doesn't seem very fun."
"Evan doesn't like being ignored. Hess brat, and usually gets what he wants. I was in the hallway earlier, I know he wanted you, though why he thought hitting you with a car would get you into any bed other than a hospital ..."
He trailed off, incapable of completing a train of thought originating in his brother's mind. I couldn't tell if his concern was for my well being or his brothers. If his nurturing was intended to help me feel better for my sake or so I wouldn't involve the authorities. I hadn't thought about it, and as it crossed my mind it seemed more of a hassle than it was worth. Vehicular assault was serious. I could have died. I didn't. And so I didn't know if I cared or not. My head couldn't get a grasp on the issue. My mind didn't have enough resources to spare, it was too busy trying to battle the immense pain surging through my body as I tried to sit up.
"Wait, stop, let me. -"
This was genuine. The deep end. Quickly his hands grasping to support me, strong forceful hands cradling a delicate broken body.
"Is that better, do you need anything? Another pillow? Our you cold? Do you want a drink?"
He motioned his glass forward, filled with an auburn colored something.
"No, no pillow or blanket. And while a bottle of vodka sounds lovely, I'd prefer to avoid any drug interactions should your doctor bring relief in a prescription form."
He smiled. I sweet smile, though small, just a slight upturn if his lips. A dimple peaking through a two-day old beard.
"This isn't all the plan, is it? Your brother causing such havoc, you swooping in as the hero? Because I think you've taken it a but far, I can give you some pointers on talking to women, no cars running anyone over necessary."
I waited a second longer than he was comfortable with to show my sarcasm.
"Evan doesn't usually team up to get a girl, and I'd only go to this length of effort for someone far too special to actually hit with a car. Maybe just a close call."
He returned the delayed smirk.
"I guess it doesn't help my case that this wasn't a scheme after all, but I'd dare say I would go to these lengths for you..."
I was speechless. Not as much as his words, though this had crossed the line from witty banter to meaningful dialogue. It was his eyes. Those piercing, cool, endless blue eyes. They told me his boundaries were crossed, his guard was down. They told me he was honest. At least at this moment.
"If this is a scheme, it worked."
"Yes. If you had a priest, a ring, and some pain killers I would marry you in this moment."
We didn't let go of each others gaze. Hours had passed before either of us took a breath.
"Are you saying you could love me forever? I could have you at my side till I die? Just for some Vicodin? Are you in that much pain?"
"Maybe. I might be saying that. I might be saying I already do love you. I might be saying I see it on your face and feel it in your touch, you love me right back. I might be saying that."
I left it at that. I was done playing coy, I didn't have the energy. I felt the blue in the walls fill me with their calm. Their unflinching steadiness. I could see he wanted me to add a lighthearted "or maybe it's just the pain making me delusional" or something to that effect. He wanted that, but he didn't. He liked this train of thought that originated from my mind. It scared him, but he didn't jump off. He wanted to see where it went.
"How could you love me? What about me do you know enough of to love?"
I brought my left hand up to the conversation.
"This is my wedding ring. (He was confused and uncomfortable with this train). I'm a widow. (Less confused, more uncomfortable). I know love the way few people our age do. The way only couples that spend decades together understand. Occasionally they might try to explain it to a younger relative, to a granddaughter recently heartbroken by her high school boyfriend or a newly engaged nephew. Often in vain. I loved my husband because he made me laugh, or he treated me right, or his nose was not ugly. That's what we say. But what we write on paper, that's not love. You love Evan, right? (Nodding, slightly more comfortable but also less) Why? Because he is your brother. Brothers love each other, family. Family just does. There is no option. That is how it is. That is love. You don't have a choice and it's ok because they love you back. If you think that's not true, you never loved that girl in the first place. Maybe you were in love, but it wasn't real love. You chose her, she chose you, you both chose wrong. Love, real true permanent love. It is not optional."
His face was studious. He was deeply exploring this idea of mine. His gaze drifted as though he was looking through notes jotted down trying to understand every word I said.
"An hour ago I would say you're wrong, that I have loved before and it was a choice and there was a reason. You would have sounded crazy or delusional, I would've brushed you off as an over-romantic."
He kissed me. A gentle kiss, sure and firm but not aggressive. Not forced. Natural. Real. As though it was the only possibility. He had no choice, he had to kiss me. It was not optional.
I didn't know his name. At that moment, I was unsure of my own. But I loved him. It was permanent.