Mike ever so slowly eased the door more shut. Then folding his arms across his chest he shifted his standing position to obstruct Ellen’s view into the slightly ajar door.
"What’s going on?" Ellen asked noting his strange behavior. "Why are you blocking the door?"
"What brings you here Ellen?" he said purposely avoiding her question.
"I told you, I got a call from here. Is Matt in there?" she asked approaching the door.
Mike placed his hand on the doorframe to block her path.
"Mike what are you doing?" her curiosity of his strange behavior slowly making way to irritation. "Get out of the way."
"Ellen I can’t let you in there," he said slowly shaking his head from side to side.
"Why not?" she inquired defiantly. "You were just in there," she pointed out.
"I’m the landlord. I was checking a problem. There was a leak in the kitchen of the Recovery Room and I wanted to see if there was any damage done to Matt’s apartment."
"Okay, but that doesn’t explain the phone call I got from here. Did you call me?"
Deciding to jump on what he perceived as an opening, "Yeah," he answered. "I was in there and got to thinking about how worried you were so I was going to call you to see how things were and see if you had heard anything."
"What went wrong?" she asked, her eyes becoming tiny slits.
"The caller didn’t say anything," she shared studying his shifty demeanor.
"Yeah that was because uh…I figured why worry you needlessly. If you had heard from Matt you would have called me right, so I decided to end the call."
"Mike why are you lying to me?" Ellen asked her tone now extremely edgy.
Before Mike could finish his sentence Ellen had pushed his arm aside and entered Matt’s apartment.
"Oh my god, Matt!" she said rushing to his side as tears welled in her eyes. "What happened to you?"
Having heard Ellen’s voice outside the door Matt managed to find the strength to button his shirt and arrange it more securely as to hide the hideous wound along his shoulder blade. However the cuts, abrasions, and streams of sweat on his face he couldn’t conceal.
"Matt I tried to keep her…" Mike tried to explain.
"It’s okay Mike, you go on," Matt told him, knowing full well if Ellen wanted to come in there was no way Mike could have stopped her.
"Alright, I’ll be back," he said before leaving the two alone with the hope that Matt would come clean to her and not push her away.
Why couldn’t she stay away, Matt thought. Now he has to break his own heart and hurt her to keep her alive. "Ellen what are you doing here?"
"I’ve been very worried about you and it appears for good reason," she said pressing her open palm against his forehead. "You should be in the hospital. I’m calling an ambulance," she said reaching for his phone.
"No you’re not. I’m not going to the hospital and I really think you ought to leave."
"I’m not going anywhere until I get some answers. Where did you disappear to and more than that what happened to you? You look like you were in an explosion."
"Very perceptive of you," he snickered through his pain as he began to put his plan into motion.
"You were in an explosion?"
"Yeah, reality blew up in my face. You see the scratches don’t you?" he said derisively.
Not at all amused, "Would you just tell me the truth?" she implored. "Why did you go over my head to get this time off? You said you had a family emergency. I didn’t really think about that until you had left and then it hit me. You wouldn’t have any family emergency because you have no contact with your family. You also said that if you did hear from them it wouldn’t be good. Now here you are after said ‘family emergency’," making quotes with her index and middle fingers, "looking like something the cat dragged in and making flip comments about where you’ve been. What’s going on? Tell me the truth!" Ellen demanded.
"The truth. Here’s the truth." Steeling himself for what he had to do and praying his true feelings would stay buried and not bubble to the fore. God how he didn’t want to do this, but then he had to. "I’m tired of knocking my head against a brick wall and getting nowhere. I did everything I could and yet you would never give it up," he sneered.
"Your rigidity was charming, it turned me on even more than you already did. You have no idea how sexy you are do you?" he grinned. "Your kisses were so electric. Too few and far between for my liking, but potent and they fueled me. I mean if your kisses were like that what would you be like between the sheets. I couldn’t wait to find out."
Ellen couldn’t believe what she was hearing. She somehow found the ability to speak. "You have a fever so I’m going to chock all this up to you being a little delirious."
"What I am is a red-blooded man and you’re a beautiful woman who hasn’t been with a man in a long time. I imagined once you let yourself go again you would really let yourself go. I wanted to be a part of that and I tried, God knows I tried but you were the one woman I couldn’t break. The others weren’t much of a challenge but you were different."
Tears cascaded down her rounded cheeks. "You’re feverish. That’s the only reason you’d behave this way. You wouldn’t talk to me like this. This is not you Matt."
This was killing him, but to keep her safe he had to keep her away from him and this was the only thing he knew would work. "Oh but it is me. I’m too tired to play the Matt you want me to be right now. You were a hard nut to crack but I managed to get you to put your guard down…just not enough. I was spending so much time trying to get it on with you I was forgetting about me. You know I do have needs. Sure there was a surplus of warm bodies but I needed someone who would really rev up my engine. So when I got a call from an old friend who could help get those needs fulfilled I couldn’t very well say no."
"You’re telling me you wanted time off from work to be with a woman?" she asked incredulously. This could not be happening. Did she have a fever too she wondered.
"Don’t say it like that Ellen. This women is…let’s just say she is definitely worth a week," he said with a lecherous smile. "She got a little carried away," he said touching one of the several cuts on his face.
"This doesn’t make any sense," she whispered. "Matt you’re hurt and…"
"Oh yeah I’m hurting baby," lowering his voice as he leered hungrily at her. "It hurts real bad."
"Dammit Matt would you stop this," she angrily spat as her hands came down on his shoulders to somehow shake him out of this delusional state he appeared to be in.
The groan of agony that passed Matt’s lips shook Ellen to her very core as he recoiled from the tremendous pain.
Ellen immediately pushed aside the shirt and removed the blood-covered bandage to find the wound Matt had sustained. "What happened to you? Matt tell me what’s wrong," she pleaded as her tears of hurt and confusion transformed into tears of palpable fear for Matt and his life.
The urge to spill his guts was hard to resist. Even with the intense pain that wracked his body all he wanted to do was comfort Ellen and assure her that all those hurtful things he had said to her were all lies but he had to resist. Now was not the time to think about him or even her pain. What mattered was her life, that was the most important thing and saving her meant hurting her and he couldn’t turn back now.
"It’s nothing Ellen, it’s just a scratch."
"It’s a hell of a lot more than a scratch. You’re burning up with fever and you can’t convince me you’re not delirious from the things you’ve been saying which means you’re probably septic too. You need to be in a hospital."
"For the last time I am not going to a hospital. I’m just tired. Why do you insist I have to be delirious to want to sleep with you? You don’t give yourself enough credit Dr. Burgess. What do you think all the dogging I’ve been doing of you has been about? I’m not used to being shot down but you did it…constantly. What do you think I kept coming back for?"
"I don’t know," she murmured softly. "Maybe because you …"
Silence hung in the room as Ellen abruptly stopped mid-sentence.
She didn’t have to finish her words for Matt to know what she was going to say. Yes he loved her and she knew it. Trying to convince her it was all a ploy to his own selfish ends was ripping him in two but he didn’t see any other way.
"You thought I what? I loved you?" he asked chuckling in a demeaning way.
Ellen said nothing. The tears streaming down her face spoke volumes.
Matt closed his eyes for a few seconds to keep the tears that stung his eyes at bay. Affixing the bandage against his wound Matt summoned the strength to sit up. Using the pad of his right thumb he brushed away her tears. It felt so good to touch her. She had the softest skin. This hurt so bad. "Hey Ellen don’t cry," he offered his voice full of sincerity. "Unless I’m mistaken, I get the distinct impression that you are about ready to give me some. That’s a good thing. Absolutely nothing to cry about."
Ellen just stared at him as if he’d lost his mind.
He’d come this far he had to keep going. "Unfortunately I’m in no condition to make beautiful music with you tonight, but in no time I’ll be back to my wonderfully fit self. I’ll tell you what since I’m all but a shoe in for the Quartermaine why don’t we wait the three months for the official announcement and we can celebrate my good health and the award. With \\$50,000 I can buy you something real pretty to wear for the big moment. We can make it a real night to remember. What do you say?" he asked wriggling his eyebrows while his hand continued to stroke her cheek.
"I say you go to hell," Ellen managed through her sobs as she pushed his hand from her face. "I thought you were different. I thought maybe…" Releasing a deep breath while her tears flowed freely. "I can’t believe I didn’t see this before." Rising from the sofa she backed away from him. "You need to be in the hospital, but I can’t force you to go and I can’t force you to tell me what happened to you. Who knows, maybe one of your ‘warm bodies’ can talk some sense into you, as for me I wash my hands of you. I don’t deserve this and what’s more I can’t believe I thought it was what I wanted. That you were what…" not being able to finish Ellen fled toward the door.
"I guess that means no huh?" Matt called out behind her, delivering the final nail.
Ellen shot him a look that could sustain the Arctics for centuries to come and then walked out, slamming the door resoundingly behind her. Blinded by her tears Ellen managed to make it to her car where she could handle the hurt, confusion and disappointment she was feeling the way she always did…alone.
The look of pain on Ellen’s face that he caused was seared into Matt’s memory. Mere moments after she left Matt fell back against the sofa as if everything within him had been zapped away and in actuality it had been. Alone now with the huge void that consumed him he allowed his cries of hurt and despair to wash over him as he silently prayed that somehow, someday she would understand. "I’m sorry Ellen," he choked out between his violent sobs. "I’m so sorry."