She went home to her parents' house once she'd been released from the hospital. To be expected, he supposed. She'd want to be somewhere familiar and safe. Her mother wanted her close, also something Erik could understand.
Unfortunately, that somewhere familiar and safe was quite a distance from him. They talked every night, but she didn't seem to want to visit him at his house. He couldn't blame her for not wanting to go back to his garage anytime soon. She didn't ask him to come see her either.
Weekends, the two days since at least May he was assured to see her came and went by a few times without seeing her. It gave him time to work on the car he'd bought to fix up, but he didn't want as much time as she was giving him. He wanted to understand.
"I think you should go see her," John said. John was watching him work on the car. He wasn’t sure when it was exactly that he realized John was very lonely and Erik no longer was. Somewhere over the course of the past few months anyway he'd realized his life was pretty good with someone in it.
"If she wanted me to come see her she'd ask me."
"I'm supposed to guess then what she wants?"
"She's a woman, Erik. They're a mystery. You think I would have wasted my time on my ex if I understood them?"
He had a point there. John had stuck it out with his cheating ex much longer than Erik ever would have. Erik wasn't sure why he had, John evidently wasn't either.
"I'd still have to see her parents."
"I'm not sure why you're avoiding that. You'll have to meet them eventually."
"Unless you're lying to me about the seriousness of what you feel for her, you'll meet them eventually."
"Maybe. That's assuming this doesn't change everything."
"Why should it?"
"Come on, John. She was coming to see me. It was very possibly someone I know."
"That's not your fault."
"She may not think that."
"Erik," John said.
"What? I'm not going there when her parents are home. I'm not letting our first conversation since she was discharged be with them hovering around."
"Then go there when they're not home."
"And I'm supposed to know when that is?"
"They work, don't they?"
"Most people I know who work normal jobs, ones I imagine her parents have, work during the day. Every weekday."
"I don't know, John."
"Maybe she doesn't think you want to see her."
"Why would she think that?"
"I don't know. I've heard stories over the years, you know, women in her situation. She might think you think she did something wrong. Or that it's her fault somehow."
"I don't say I understand this way of thinking, but I've heard that it happens."
"Well, it doesn't matter. I work when her parents work."
"You don't have to."
"I have a business to run. People need their cars."
"Sure. They're all done, aren't they?" John glanced around the garage to the cars that were there, Erik looked, too. Of course they were done; he always worked on his project last.
"So, you need to be open to get people their vehicles, right? Collect their money. So you get someone to help you out who you trust to lock up when done and not steal from you. You put up a sign saying you're closed for incoming business or whoever you get to sit here for you will tell anyone that their vehicle won't get looked at until the next day."
"You have someone in mind."
Erik didn't trust many people, certainly not with his garage. John was about the only one. John had keys to the garage and the alarm code for nights he was on wrecker duty. He had nothing to go home to anymore, so he typically stayed out until at least the bars closed before he stopped searching for business for the night. He'd never asked him to collect money, though. Of course, most people paid with a credit card or check anyway.
"You going to go see her if I do?"
"Bring her flowers or something if you do."
"That seems so dumb. I got her some in the hospital, but God it gave me a terrible feeling to buy them for her after that."
"Yes, well, it doesn't matter how they make you feel now does it?"
So, here it was Monday and he was driving to Oak Park. He didn't have much reason to drive into the suburbs. He couldn't even remember the last time he'd done so. This year? Probably not. Last year? Maybe.
He found her house with a little effort. He knew her address beforehand, looked on a street map before he'd left. A couple of wrong turns caused a bit of trouble, and made him realize that he was really, really out of his league even being here. Christ, what her parents would probably think of him when they did meet him.
He parked on the driveway. It was long and wide enough that he doubted anyone would have any trouble getting into the garage if they needed to. He grabbed the flowers and the book he'd bought her before making his way to the front door. The book was something he'd heard her talk about wanting to read.
He had no idea who Harry Dresden was, only knew from the clerk at the bookstore that the book was set in Chicago and about a wizard. He knew she was looking forward to the next Harry Potter book coming out, too, so he guessed she was into that type of story. It shouldn't surprise him, he supposed, that she liked fantasy-stuff given her infatuation with Thor as a kid.
He rang the bell, wondering what on earth he was doing here. And just what he would do if her mom or dad answered. She'd been home for almost three weeks now, so certainly they weren't still sitting home with her. Then, he didn't really know how protective and loving parents behaved typically.
She answered, eyes widening in surprise. She wasn't upset, though. That made him feel better.
"Hi," she said.
"Um, hi." She looked much better. "I thought I'd come see you."
"You're supposed to be at work."
"John Pruitt's helping me out, watching the garage until the cars due to be collected today are gone. Then he'll lock up for me."
She hadn't invited him in yet, and he wasn't sure what to make of that. Couple that with the fact their conversations had been getting shorter and shorter the last few days. Well, he wasn't sure what it all meant.
"Listen, if you don't want. I mean, I just dropped by unannounced. I can go. I just wanted to see you and give you these," he shrugged. He handed her the flowers and the book. God, that was hard to admit even to himself. To think he found it difficult to go only three weeks without seeing her. He would never have imagined it.
"No, sorry, I'm just surprised to see you here. Come in," she said, stepping aside.
"You're sure, Sara. I mean, if you don't want me here."
"I do. I just wasn't sure you'd want to come."
"Why not?" he asked.
"Well, I didn't think you'd be able to come during the week. That leaves weekends when my parents are home and I know you don't want to meet them."
"Is that what you think?"
She shrugged, closing the door behind him. He fell into step beside her as she led him to the living room.
"You think I don't want to meet them?"
"I don't know."
"I met your brother."
"He told me."
"Then he must have told you my reason for staying away from the hospital when I knew they'd be there."
"And you took that to mean I don't want to meet them? I just didn't want to meet them at that time. Not after that. They'd see me forever and think of that day."
She walked to the kitchen after he said that, returning a few minutes later with the flowers in a vase. It wasn't until now he took the time to notice what she was wearing. It was July in Chicago and she had sweatpants and a long-sleeved shirt on. Not at all what he'd picture her wearing on a warm day like this.
"They're beautiful. Thank you." She took a seat on the chair next to the couch he'd sat on.
"The ones you gave me in the hospital were, too."
"Thanks. How are you?"
"I've missed you."
"Me, too," she said. "My mom thought I'd be better off coming here instead of going back to the house."
"She's probably right."
"I'll go back before school starts. Dad said he'd keep my part of the rent current for this month and next."
"That's nice of him."
"Yeah," she said.
God, this was hard. He really had no idea what to say to her exactly. His instinct was to hug her and keep her safe, but he'd evidently failed on that account.
He stood then, kneeling in front of her chair. He set his hands on the arms of the chair, avoiding touching her. He wasn't sure she'd want him to.
"I'm sorry," he said finally.
"This, what you're going through, it's my fault."
"Your fault? I don't think so."
"I shouldn't have let you come down there after that first night at Bill's. It's not a great neighborhood, I knew that."
"Like you could've stopped me if I wanted to, Erik."
"No, I suppose not. I'm still sorry."
"It's not your fault. It's not mine either."
"Of course not!"
She laughed softly.
"Why did you come here, Erik?"
"To see you. Three weeks is entirely too long. God, that's crazy, isn't it? I mean, four months ago I didn't even know you."
"I don't think it's crazy. I'm glad."
"I would have asked you to come stay with me, but I didn't think that'd go over."
"No," she said quickly.
"Maybe. I don't know. My mom would've been upset no matter how in control she seems to be knowing we have sex."
"She knows that?"
Sara shrugged, setting a hand at his head. She ran her fingers through his hair. He hadn't taken the time to trim it in the past few weeks so it was a little more unkempt than he usually wore it.
"She figured it out, I guess. Calls to my house to find out I wasn't home more than just one morning."
"Oh," he said.
"And you still think meeting them is a good idea?"
"Well, sure, they're not going to bite you."
He chuckled softly, setting his head on her lap so she could touch his hair easier.
"I've never felt so helpless or incapable of doing something before in my life."
"Erik, it's not your fault."
"That may take me a while to wrap my head around, but I do know one thing I realized because all of this."
"What?" she said.
"I love you, Sara."
"I love you, too. But I knew that I did thirteen years ago."
He chuckled. "Yeah, well, it's probably a very good thing I can't say the same."
"I know, too that I want to do everything in my power from this day forward to be sure you're safe and taken care of and no one can ever hurt you again."
"Erik." Her hand stilled in his hair at that.
"What? I do, Sara. I'm not saying you know tomorrow or anything, but I want you with me always. I want to come home to you."
"Stop. There are things."
"Brad told me."
"What your doctor said. The possibilities."
"Yes, he was, in a roundabout way, finding out if he should tell the nurse not to give you that morning-after pill."
"Well, if you were already pregnant that baby would have been lost."
"I told him I couldn't say for certain, but even if you were I wanted you to worry about yourself not about a pregnancy."
"I wasn't," she said quickly.
"Good," he said softly. He wasn't pro-life or anything, but he'd be a liar if he said there wasn't more than one time he questioned his telling Brad to give her the pill. What if she had been and she couldn't have any more? Would she hate him?
"I may not ever be able to."
"You act like it's no big deal."
"It's not to me. I want to be with you, kids or not makes me no difference."
"You say that now."
"I say that as someone who had no plans on having them to begin with, Sara. Besides, they said possibility. It's not one hundred percent. And you haven't seen a specialist, have you? I mean, he told Brad it was too early to tell what scarring there may be. So, you find out what information you can. I'm certainly not going to take their phrase of might as a reason to throw away my supply. I know a guy who got the chicken pox when he was twenty-one or twenty-two. He ran this super high fever and he was told that fevers that high could cause sterility. Four kids later obviously that wasn't an issue."
"Yes, that's a guy and totally different than what happened so I know that doesn't mean anything. I'm just saying, doctors aren't always right. They probably have to give you all the possibilities so you're prepared or not surprised if the worst happens."
"You can touch me, you know."
"Your hands, you haven't moved them."
"I didn't want to just touch you," he said, sliding his hands off the arm rests to her thighs.
"I know, but I want you to at least like this is okay."
He was quiet, touching her lightly while she did the same.
"Have you left the house since you got home?"
"Not really, no. I've gone into the backyard to read."
He'd thought somehow that would be the case.
"Hungry. Want to get something to eat?"
"I haven't showered."
"So, go shower I'll wait."
"What? You can't go out to eat?"
"No, I can. I just haven't really. I had bandages until last Friday."
"People get hurt, Sara, no one would have looked at you and assumed what happened to you."
"I know. My mom just thought it was best."
"Well the bandages are off. I'm not suggesting Le Francais or anything, just pizza or a burger."
"Le Francais is a little far."
"You've been there I'm sure."
"That doesn't surprise me. Was it as good as they say?"
She shrugged. "I was like ten. Dad had a client in town who wanted to eat there. I think at one point it had been rated the best restaurant in the country or something, so people from everywhere wanted to say they'd eaten there. It was okay, but I would rather have had a hot dog or something at the time. My parents and the client seemed to really enjoy it, though."
He chuckled. "I bet."
"You really want to take me to lunch?"
"Of course. Why wouldn't I?"
"I don't know. I know you should be working."
"Seeing you today was more important."
She leaned down, kissing the top of his head. "Thank you."
"I'll be down in a few minutes."
"Take your time. I'm in no hurry."
He returned to the couch and then decided to look around a little. He'd towed cars from houses like this over the years, but hadn't ever really had a reason to be in one beyond standing at the front door to collect keys.
It was nice, as he expected. Sara's father obviously did well. He was an architect, and apparently a pretty good one.
"You can come up if you want to," she said a few minutes later. Obviously out of the shower. He walked up the stairs, following the sounds that led her to what was obviously her bedroom.
"Definitely nicer than your other one."
"You think so?"
"My mom hasn't changed it since I was like twelve and got new furniture. So, I feel like a kid again when I stay here."
She was dressed and everything, just sitting at her vanity to do her hair and put some makeup on. He always liked watching her do this stuff, even though he tried telling her at least fifty times now she didn't need to do it. She was beautiful the way she was.
"Wow," he said, taking a look at a bulletin board that had a whole bunch of drawings of Thor. "You really did have a thing for him growing up, didn't you?"
"Some of these…"
"Look kind of like you?"
"Yeah, once I met you Thor had a very real face for me to associate with my hero."
"Flattered and not creeped out?"
"Why would I be creeped out?"
"I don't know."
"You were a kid. If you were still drawing me like this, well, maybe."
She laughed. "I haven't drawn a Thor picture since I was in junior high."
"That late in life?"
"Yes. What can I say? He was a hard hero to forget about."
"I wish I could say I had someone like that."
"No one? Not even Superman?"
"Nah. Batman, I suppose, because he had a cool car and stuff, but even as a kid I was more curious about how to take something like that apart and fix it than anything else actually going on."
"I'm ready," she said.
As it turned out, she'd just put her hair up in a ponytail, which he preferred anyway. He loved her hair long, sure, but it was so much nicer without hairspray or mousse or whatever else she put in it.
Lunch turned into them spending time at a forest preserve not too far from her house. He wasn't ready to bring her home and so when she'd made the suggestion he'd jumped at the chance to spend longer with her. Bringing her home would mean he'd have to leave and, man, he didn't want to do that.
"Can I see you this weekend?" he asked once they'd gotten back to her parents place.
"If you want to."
"If I want to? I do want to. I'm just not sure what you want. I don't want to seem pushy or too possessive. I get that you might need some space."
"You're not pushy and I don't need that much space. Just maybe some, um, physical space."
"Hey, you held my hand, that was more than I was expecting today."
"Thank you," she said, opening the front door.
"You don't have to thank me."
"Sara, there you are. I was worried about you."
"I'm fine, Mom," she said. "Erik came to take me to lunch."
"This late in the day? And why didn't you leave a note?"
"I wasn't expecting to be gone this long. We went to Trailside Museum for a while. You're not even supposed to be home yet."
"I came home in between showings to see how you were doing."
"I'm sorry I worried you, Mom."
"Well, as long as you're okay and I guess you haven't been out much." Erik felt pretty on the spot. He supposed it was better than meeting both of them at once. "You must be Erik."
"I am," he said, taking her offered hand.
"Were you coming in?"
"I was really just walking Sara to the door."
"Come in, have some lemonade before you go."
"Sure," he said, following Sara inside.
"Brad tells me you were at the hospital when we were."
"I was a little upset you didn't come talk to us."
"I'm sorry about that. I just didn't want…"
"I said I was. I'm not now that I've thought about it."
"I'm sorry?" he said, taking the offered lemonade. It was a nice kitchen with a nice counter and stools to sit at in addition to the regular table. He could picture Sara sitting at the counter as a little girl, coloring pictures of Thor while watching her mom cook dinner. They were well-off, but she'd never mentioned things that the really rich people he knew of grew up with like cooks and stuff. Though he was sure they had cleaning help come in and clean this place.
"Well, I understand now is what I'm trying to say. It would've still been nice to meet you."
"I didn't want that night in your mind every time you saw me from that point forward."
"Sara says you own a garage."
"And have for some time?"
"Since I was eighteen. Not the same building, it took me a while to get the capital together for the place I have now."
"How long ago was that?"
"The first building."
"I, well, about sixteen years ago."
"She said it's quite impressive."
He glanced at Sara who shrugged.
"Well, I'm happy with it and proud of what I've accomplished. I think my mom would be, too."
"Uh, yeah, she died when I was pretty young and I bought my first place with some life insurance money of hers my dad gave me. I figured she'd like me to do what I was good at and love, too. So, can't get much better than that."
"Oh, I see. I'm sorry to hear about your mother."
"It's all right, but thank you."
"And you have no help?"
"So you closed your garage today to visit Sara?"
"I closed it to anything incoming, yeah. I have a friend who drives a wrecker for me. He opened up the garage today to get people their vehicles, but he probably locked up long ago."
"Well, I'm glad you were able to come see her."
"Me, too. I'm not used to going days without seeing her for a little while let alone weeks."
"We thought she'd recuperate at home better."
The conversation was relatively painless. He finished his lemonade, thanked her for the beverage. It was homemade, too, not the stuff out of a can he had at his house. He didn't have company over very often to offer such things to.
She seemed to understand when he said he needed to go to get ahead of the traffic. She even let Sara walk him to the door without watching them.
"Thank you for coming," she said.
"You don't have to thank me, Sara. I wanted to before."
"I know. I'm sorry."
He slid a hand to her cheek, brushing some hair away from her face. "You have absolutely nothing to be sorry for."
He leaned down, kissing her forehead lightly. She looked confused at that, really he was kind of testing to see if she'd flinch or something if he got too close to her. He brushed his lips over hers lightly.
"I meant what I said earlier, Sara."
"I love you."
"I meant it, too."
"Just making sure you know I wasn't just feeding you a line or telling you what the conversation called for. I'll see you this weekend?"
"My place maybe? I can pick you up if you want and have you home early."
"I can drive. My car is here."
"Right. Okay. Call me tonight before you go to bed?"
"And try not to argue with your mother."
"Me. She was nice, but I suspect that was a show."
"She's not evil."
"No, but you're her baby, twenty-one or not, and she's not just going to roll over and give up on all of the dreams she had for you."
"I've already shattered most of them with my choice in careers."
"I know, just don't fight with her."
"I won't," she said with a shake of her head.
She stood in the doorway, watching as he pulled out of their driveway. He waved one last time before turning onto the road.
Sara shut the door. She was beyond relieved he'd come. She wasn't sure he was ever going to. She understood not wanting to meet her parents and everything, but God it had to be his idea to come out here. She wasn't playing games or anything, but she had to know he really didn't think what happened was her fault somehow. Men were weird when it came to this stuff. She'd seen it working at the shelter she volunteered at, fathers treated their daughters a little differently thinking that somehow the violence was their fault.
"How did you two meet anyway?" her mother asked from the hallway.
"Mom," Sara said.
"What? You never told me. I think it's a logical question. Where on earth would your paths cross?"
"I was with a friend who needed her car fixed one day. Hers broke down on the expressway or near it anyway, his friend John towed us back to Erik's garage."
"And what? You just started dating a man fourteen years older than you?"
"I, Mom," she said. "I liked him. I don't care how old he is."
"And you don't see this as opportunistic?"
"You think he knew we had this house or anything like it when he asked me out? He has his own house. Not as nice as this one, but it's paid for. I certainly never thought I'd fall in love with him Mom, but it is what it is."
"You realize I'm not going to be the only one questioning these things, don’t you?"
"Mom, it's not like he's fifty or on his death bed."
"Your father deals with some very judgmental people."
"And that should affect my love life how?"
"Well, they'd find out."
"Who cares? Mom, really. This is why he didn't want to meet you. He knew you'd say this stuff. He's a good person and he works hard. Isn't that what you taught me was most important about life? It wasn't what someone did but that they did the best job they could while doing it? Or was that for anyone but someone I love."
"You've known him for a few months."
"Mom," Sara said.
"There is no such thing as love at first sight, Sara. It's just what people want you to think so you don't think things through logically. Your dreams."
"Are still my dreams. I'm not giving them up and he knows what they are."
"You don't think splitting your time between school and him won't interfere with your schoolwork?"
"No, because I didn't have a problem last spring studying for my finals or anything."
"You've never really had a boyfriend before."
Sara laughed at that. "That should tell you something about him, Mom."
"As long as he treats you decently."
"Did you tell him?"
"Yes," she said softly.
"He said it doesn't matter."
"Yes. Why does that surprise you? You, what? Think he's out to get me pregnant and leave me?"
"No. You said you were being careful and I know you're smart enough to know what that entails."
"He kissed you goodbye?"
"I'm asking because you haven't seen him since. How are you?"
She walked up to Sara then, hugging her. Sara hugged her mom back. "I don't know what you're going through. I can't begin to, but you have to be honest with him, Sara."
"I am, Mom."
"I mean about boundaries now. If you need time he needs to know that."
"Mother, he kissed me he didn't shove his tongue down my throat or try to have sex with me in the hallway."
"Don't be crude, Sara."
"You make it sound as if he wouldn't know I have boundaries right now, Mom."
"I'm just saying if you really love him and want to see this through you have to be honest with him. Don't assume he'll know this or that. It's very likely he won't."
"You're going to see him this weekend?"
"Why haven't you before this weekend? You're not a prisoner here."
"I know. I just kind of felt like he had to come here first."
"Well, I'm glad for your sake he did."
"You're not going to make him meet Dad anytime soon, are you?"
"No, I think one of us is enough for the time being. At least I have a face to put with the name. He is a rather large man, isn't he?"
Sara gave a soft laugh at that. "Yes."
"Well, if nothing else at least I can be assured he can keep you safe when he's with you."
Sara rolled her eyes a little at that, but she supposed there was truth in that statement.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com