Michael walked into the sterile lobby of the hospital, the white walls and white-uniformed nurses making his fingers itch with the need to paint them. He walked uncertainly towards the front desk and asked, “Hi. Um…I’m here to see a patient…Elizabeth Parker?”
The nursed pursed her lips and said, “About time you came, we must of gotten the date confused, poor girl,” she led him to a sort of waiting room and indicated he should take a seat. “Wait a second here, someone will take you to her room shortly.”
Michael didn’t have the chance to explain that he’d never actually met Liz, that in fact, he wasn’t quite sure what he was doing there, but he figured that if he started talking they might not let him see her. And he was determined to see her. He saw the disapproval on the woman’s face and knew they thought he was Max. He seated himself uncomfortably on the sofa and looked for something to occupy himself with. But there were no rumpled magazines, worn books, or even sad watercolors to look at. So he shifted and tapped his foot anxiously.
What on Earth was he going to say to her? Sorry your boyfriend’s a dick and I felt bad, didn’t seem to cut it. Everything he knew of Liz told him that she was beautiful, funny, smart, and strong. She had to be. So why did he feel this urge to save her?
“Follow me. I’m so glad you finally made it out to see our Elizabeth. She’s been waiting on you.” A friendly elderly nurse interrupted his musings and ushered him through a stretch of bare hospital hallways, dotted with doors that looked into small rooms furnished with beds and machines that blipped and beeped steadily. Stopping in front of one, she knocked quietly on the door before opening it, saying, “Elizabeth, your young man is here to see you,” she smiled encouragingly at Michael and left them alone.
“Max?” her face lit up with joy, as her gaze looked unseeingly at the doorway.
Michael was stunned. Nothing Max had said could have prepared him for the beauty he was seeing before him. She sat on the edge of her bed, her silky straight brown hair cut in a chin-length bob, her beautiful bone structure, and the deep coffee-colored eyes that were as spectacular as they were empty. He struggled to keep his emotions in check, he ached for a canvas or clay to put all the beauty he saw before him into a medium that could truly express how he felt.
He cleared his throat before saying, “Um…no, sorry…I didn’t mean to confuse you…um the lady never asked my name. I’m Michael.”
“Michael?” she repeated disappointedly, confused as to why the name seemed familiar to her. “Who are you? Why are you here?” she added cautiously.
“Listen, will you hear me out? I don’t mean to impose or anything…” Michael trailed off. He knew he had to get her to listen to him and the crazy reasoning that had brought him there.
But what had brought him there? He’d known about Liz for years, he’d even spoken to her on the phone once, and as far as he knew there’d always been an angry resentment on her part for his place in Max’s life. But when he’d heard about the accident, when he’s seen Max’s indifference, something had moved him to act. He’d needed to make sure she was all right, because he knew that if he’d lost what she had, he wouldn’t survive.
“Well, it’s not like the masses are beating down the doors of this place to see me." She shook her head, "I’m sorry. I guess it’s been a long time since I’ve entertained.” Liz said wryly. “Take a seat, I’m pretty sure they’re both empty,” she motioned towards the general vicinity of the empty wall, where two rickety chairs stood rather precariously. “It’s been a while since my parents were last here. They’re too busy with the restaurant to see their useless daughter…um but you were going to tell me something.”
Liz wasn’t sure why she had blurted out her bitter thoughts. Or even why she was so willing to hear this stranger’s story. Although she supposed that liking the rich texture of his voice made her want to listen for some inexplicable reason. He smelled like rain and turpentine, the odd contrast between the chemical and raw earthiness—slightly heady but reassuring in a way she couldn't explain. Nothing in her life made sense at the moment. It was easier to roll with things as they happened rather than fight it. She'd be fighting everyone otherwise.
She wondered idly what he looked like, she sensed that he was tall, he seemed to occupy the entire doorway with his breadth and height. There was an energy that crackled in the air around him, like he wasn’t only physically imposing, but his emotions created a force field that surrounded him and made it seem like he occupied three-quarters of the room, even though she knew he was sitting in the chair to her right.
Michael had been staring with growing horror at what surrounded Liz. Hearing that not only had she been neglected by her boyfriend but her very own parents, set him on a new path. She was trapped in this horrible empty bland world and he was determined to get her out of there. But how?
After a moment’s reflection he realized how simple the answer was. He’d just purchased a new studio, and he’d considered moving into it briefly before deciding to continue living with Max. He hadn’t really wanted to live alone. But if he convinced Liz that he needed her…maybe she would stay with him there. And he did need her, he needed to put everything he was feeling because of her on paper. And maybe he could help her heal, the artist’s soul in him sensing the tortured soul residing in her. And his warm studio had texture, it had personality, because the spare clinical space she was occupying now wouldn’t breathe life back into that gaze, not the way he was sure he could, the way his home could.
“Michael? You’re still here right?” Liz asked unnecessarily. She knew he hadn’t physically left the room, but he seemed to be a million miles away in thought.
“Yeah, yeah. I’m sorry. I’m Max’s friend.”
“Michael? The artist right? We spoke once on the phone didn’t we, I thought you sounded slightly familiar.”
“Yeah.” Michael nodded.
“He isn’t coming is he?”
“Yeah. He isn’t ever coming for me.” Liz said sadly.
Michael gripped her small hands in his, “I’m sorry Liz. I don’t think so. He may be my best friend but I still think he’s a dick.”
Liz gave a short bark of laughter before asking, “Why’d you come out here? To confirm it? I’d have figured it out on my own you know. I kind of already had.”
“He’s not why I’m here.” Michael gripped her hands more tightly, but she didn't complain or try to take them back. She looked up at him askance. Her raised eyebrows and scrunched up nose expressing her confusion even as her sightless eyes looked through him. She couldn't stay here. Michael had to convince her that she could trust him. That even though they were strangers he wanted more for her.
“You." He took a deep breath, "I know this might be difficult to believe, having just met and all—”
“Michael, why?" She cut him short pulling her hands out of his grip, "I don’t need roundabout avoidance tactics and I don’t need your pity. I can do this on my own. I’ve been managing it just fine on my own. This place may not be much, but at least I know it. I'm safe here.”
“Really, so you’re satisfied, happy, you want nothing to change?”
“Why do you care? What is it to you?" Liz humphed, "God.”
“Listen, I just know that you need more than this, more than what this place can offer you.”
“What gives you the right to judge what I need? You barely even met me. Michael, I won't say this again. I am safe here. Do you even understand what it feels like? I can't see anything. I have to rely on my other sense to put together what is around me. And all I want to do is open my eyes and see something, anything again. Even a blur of light. But I can't. It's not going to happen. So what do you think you have to offer me? Friendship? I'm not really looking for a friend at the moment. I'm just trying to stay sane.”
“No. I can’t pretend to understand. I don’t even want to. But listen to me. I have been stuck lately, but seeing you here, seeing you has inspired me,” even as Michael said the words, he cringed, knowing them to be true and yet utterly crazy.
“I what? Are you insane? I inspire you, like I’m some sort of muse or something. Michael, I am hardly a muse, I am not the sort of woman to inspire much but abandonment, particularly now. You realize I’m blind don’t you?” she said bitterly.
“You’re breathtaking. Blind isn’t all you are. Right now you aren’t listening to me. Look, I know this sounds crazy. But I have a show in three weeks, and I need you to stay with me. I have this great place—“
“What you’re offering me is impossible.” Liz said flatly. Frozen by the sudden image of leaving the only place she felt comfortable in. It had been an accomplishment to figure out how to get around by herself. Having to relearn a new place was a frightening thing to contemplate.
“Why are you so afraid to leave this place? Liz, there isn’t any reason for you to lock yourself away here.”
“There’s every reason. God. Aren't you listening to me? I feel safe here. Who do you think you are? My savior or something, taking pity on the poor blind girl. I didn't ask for your help. I don't need your help. You can't save me from this."
“No. that’s not why—"
“Don’t patronize me Michael. I agree Max is a dick, but at least he’s honest. He isn’t here because he won’t pretend.”
“I’m not pretending. I want you to come with me.” Michael insisted. This wasn't going well. He hadn't expected Liz to be so feisty. But maybe this was a good thing, it was good that she still had her spirit. It proved that she deserved more than what this place could give her.
“Why? And don’t bring up the you inspire me crap again. Give me the truth.” Liz crossed her arms around her middle. Her posture was defensive even though her words were not. Michael knew he needed to tread carefully.
“What if that is the truth? What if I really want to spend time with you? What if I think I can help? What if I can give you freedom?” God he hoped he wasn't giving her false hope. But he really thought this would make things better for her. Of that he had no doubt.
“What are you saying? Those are questions not reasons.”
“Liz, honestly I don’t have any other reason than I want you to. Please, just one week. Try it just one week and if you hate it then you can come back and stay here.” Michael cautiously leaned forward and again took her hand in his. And using his voice to convey his sincerity, he repeated, “Please, just one week. Stay with me.”
Liz sighed, “One week.”
“And then we’ll take it from there.”
“If you say so,” Liz said doubtfully.
“So who do I talk to, to get you out of here?”
“Doctor Dupris is in charge of my case, and you may want to talk to my parents. Um…if you don’t mind telling them some story about how we’ve known each other for a while, I’d appreciate it. That also might make them more willing to believe this," Liz closed her eyes, feeling ridiculous as she made the request. It wasn’t as if her parents had been too careful with her lately, she didn’t know why she was even bothering to make it any easier for them. It was already hard enough for her. She was not only blind, she was walking blindly into what could be a dangerous situation. "How do I know I can trust you?” Liz asked her voice catching as she posed the question.
Michael squeezed the hand he held in his grasp, “You’ll just have to believe in me I guess. I promise you’ll never regret it.” Michael was ecstatic. She had accepted his invitation, and over the next week he promised to show her the world. He knew that it would never be the way it was for her, but he was sure she’d find beauty in other ways. And he would paint her in all the vibrant colors she could not see.
“I already do.” Liz smiled his way shakily. She felt a rush of terror as she realized that Michael would do as he said, he would take her away from what had become her home. But at the same time she realized that she would be away from the place that had seen her nightmares some true. She wouldn’t wake up to the smell of disinfectant and rubbing alcohol in the mornings, she wouldn’t go crazy with the many blipping and beeping machines that blipped and beeped their way throughout the night.
“Liz, believe me when I say I only want to make things right. Listen, I’m going to go find this Dupris guy, I’ll be back in a little bit.”
Liz nodded and whispered to herself once he’d left the room, “That’s something you’ll never be able to do.” Things would never be right again for her. She’d have to live relying on her sense of hearing, of smell, of taste, of touch. Because she would never see light or color again. Her optic nerve had been severed in the accident, the damage was irreversible.
She still wasn’t sure why Michael was offering to do this for her, especially considering that it was the one thing even her parents failed to do. She was even less sure about why she had accepted. But she had, because no matter how safe she felt here, she wanted to feel more than that. She wanted to feel danger and excitement and wonder, and in order to do that she needed to be outside of the haven she was trapped in.
Only Michael had given her a chance to get out of the prison that the hospital had become. And it had proved to be a chance she had to take. She just hoped that the doctors allowed her this chance.