The Price You Pay
The next morning when he arrived at the hospital, Nate found Eli sitting up in bed looking considerably better. He'd already cornered his doctor outside and discovered that his blood pressure was coming down as hoped, and he would be released that morning. Reassured that his condition was stable, Nate felt no guilt in confronting him.
Eli looked up from the Jell-O cup he was consuming and smiled in greeting, but Nate said nothing as he snatched the container out of his brother's hand.
"Hey!" Eli protested.
"You're a dumb ass, you know that?" Nate thundered.
"Well, hello to you too, Nathan. I'm feeling much better, thanks for asking."
Nate held up a finger in warning. "No. You get no niceties from me this morning. Not when I find out it's your own fault you're in here."
"You know, your bedside manner's getting a little rusty," Eli said. "What are you talking about?"
"Do the words 'Dark Truth' ring a bell? Frank told me all about your little dabble in the dark side of acupuncture." Nate stared at him, hard, until Eli had the sense to drop his gaze. "How could you, you… you ignoramus? You must have known you were putting yourself in danger. You have an aneurysm, for God's sake."
"It was a risk I had to take," Eli replied in a low voice.
"Why? So you could see that Beth was going to dump me? What good could possibly come of that, considering you didn't even tell me so I could've spoken to her about it?"
"I was trying to work out how to stop it, Nate. I did stop it, the part I could control anyway."
"Eli, you may have been trying to do what was best for me, but endangering yourself in the process is so ludicrously counter-productive. Can't you see that?"
Eli looked sheepish. "Well, to be fair, the first time I went to Dr. Lee I was trying to find out about my love life, not yours."
Nate hadn't expected that and smiled despite himself, his anger draining rapidly. Eli returned the grin, then slowly grew more solemn.
"I did it because you and Beth belong together, Nate," he said. "I had to try and fix it."
Nate shook his head slightly. "It's not your job to fix our relationship, little brother. It was ours. And in this case there's nothing to fix. Beth loves you, and that's all there is to it."
"Maybe, but she's in love with you. And as much as I care about her, I don't love her that way. She knows that."
Nate paused, his eyes dropping to his feet. "It's not that simple."
"Yes, it is. You have to talk to her."
"I'm serious, Nate. Don't let your pride get in the way of your happiness. Or Beth and Ben's happiness. They belong with you, I know it."
Nate crossed his arms. He wanted to believe it, as if it were that easy. "Don't tell me, you had another vision," he said derisively.
"I don't need to have a vision to tell me you should be together. You're a family. Anyone can see it."
"Except Beth," Nate said with a sad smile. "How can I blame her for loving you, Eli? You've always been better than me at just about everything. And I accept that."
Eli's head tilted to the side as his eyes narrowed. "Oh please, that's not true. That's never been true. I'm not the good guy you think I am. No good guy is envious when his brother gets engaged because he's afraid he'll end up alone."
"A selfless decision you made when you asked for the aneurysm back."
"It was the right decision. And I'd make it again in a heartbeat." Eli's mouth curled in a warm smile. "You're the one who gets the girl, Nate. You have to forgive her. You have to trust the fact that she loves you, and not be afraid."
"I don't think I know how," Nate murmured after a moment. "After everything that's happened, I don't know how to be with her again."
"Can I make a suggestion? Start at the beginning."
Nate contemplated this as he took in the sincerity of Eli's words. He wasn't exactly negating the better man theory. "I'll consider it only if you promise me you won't do this Dark Truth thing again, Eli. It's too dangerous."
"I promise," Eli said after only a brief pause to show he meant it.
"Can I have my Jell-O back now?"
Nate considered withholding it, then eventually handed it over. Eli gave him a look before eating another large spoonful.
"Where did you get that at this time of morning?" Nate asked with a laugh.
Eli, his mouth still full, was about to answer when there was a faint knock on the open door. He swallowed the Jell-O with a gulp when he saw who was there.
"Maggie," he said, wide-eyed like she was an apparition.
"Hi." She tried to smile but both men could see the worry in her eyes. "I called the office… I, ah, wanted to talk to you… and Patti told me you were here."
Nate looked at his brother whose gaze was fixed on Maggie. He leaned away from the bed so as not to come between them.
"Are you… are you okay?" she asked, her voice catching in her throat.
"I'm fine. It's nothing to worry about," Eli replied. When he smiled she let out a relieved breath and returned the expression.
"You know what, I forgot to check something with your doctor," Nate said cautiously when neither of them had spoken for several moments. "Eli, I'll check in with you later."
Eli glanced at him but didn't respond. Nate smiled at Maggie when he passed her but she didn't say anything either. As he left the room, Nate looked back briefly as she walked towards Eli. He didn't linger so as not to eavesdrop. But he wondered if Maggie had a little something to do with Eli not having feelings for Beth. He wondered if Eli even knew himself.
He wandered into the corridor. There was no sign of Eli's doctor at the nurses' station where he'd spoken with him earlier, but there wasn't much else he could talk to him about anyway. They'd given Eli a battery of tests which had all come back normal, so Nate was assured that there was no other sinister cause of his collapse.
He had decided to tempt fate and try the cafeteria's coffee when he saw Frank walking towards him. His steps slowed and his face was wary but Nate smiled faintly.
"Nate," he said evenly. "I wanted to check in on Eli."
"He's fine," Nate replied. There was no animosity in his voice. He couldn't blame Frank for Eli's poor decision making. "They're letting him out soon."
"Oh. That's good. I'm glad." He glanced away.
"Listen, Frank, I'm sorry about last night. I was worried about Eli…"
"It's okay. I know."
"I didn't mean to take it out on you. It's just with everything that's been going on…"
"Nate, don't worry about it."
Nate smiled again, relieved. "We're good?"
Frank grinned. "Yeah, we're good." He looked past him down the corridor. "Is that Eli's room on the right? I owe him an 'I told you so'."
"Yeah, it is. But you might need to wait a while. He has a visitor."
Frank didn't miss the glint in Nate's eyes. "Really? Who is it?"
"What does the journal say?" Nate countered. He smiled when Frank pressed his lips together purposely. "You already know, don't you?"
The expression faded from Nate's lips. "Did you read something like that about anyone else?"
"Maybe," Frank replied more seriously.
"You're not going to tell me, are you?"
Frank shook his head. "The future is always changing, Nate. You have more control over it than you think. You don't need a line in your Dad's journal to tell you what you already know."
Nate exhaled, half relieved, half frustrated. "Nothing's simple, is it?"
"Not the important stuff."
He knew he wasn't going to get the answer handed to him. Nate decided to let it go for now. Whatever was going to happen, it wouldn't be that day. Eli was coming home, healthy, and for now that was all he wanted to concentrate on.
"Come on, I'll buy you a cup of crappy coffee." Nate said.
0 0 0 0
He waited for three weeks. Nate worked every day on his building, readying his new medical practice. He was a frequent visitor to Eli's of an evening, even after he'd returned to work. Nate would take a blood pressure reading before reminding him to take his medication. He had the occasional beer with Frank when Eli hinted that he didn't need babysitting.
During that time Nate spoke to Beth on the phone only once. She'd accepted the fact he wanted some time and space, and didn't argue when he said he didn't know if he could get past what had happened. She hadn't brought up the subject of Ben even though she must have known how much Nate missed him. He liked to think it was because she didn't want to hurt him further.
He waited for three weeks and then he was standing outside her front door. He contemplated waiting longer, to go over the situation a few more thousand times in his head, but instead he rang her doorbell.
Beth's mouth formed an 'o' when she opened the door to him.
"Hi," he said. It was hard to not break into an automatic smile when he saw her but he managed to remain composed.
Beth took a step forward. "Is everything okay?"
"Everything's fine." Nate felt the twinge of jealousy he knew he would, but he ignored it. "Eli's back at work, he's okay."
Beth looked embarrassed which helped a little. Then she just looked confused as to why he was there.
"I was hoping we could talk… about us," Nate said hesitantly.
"I'd like that," she replied with a faint, hopeful smile.
He held up the bag in his hand. "I brought buffalo wings. From… you know, the bar."
Beth's smile was more pronounced as she opened the door wider to let him in.