Navigating Through Lost Time and Space, A Novel

Chapters 1-3

A bold stillness enveloped the lab that night as Tom and Ellie looked out of the window down at the sprawling Los Angeles Metropolis. Decades of research and experimentation had culminated in a success that until today only seemed like a dream they were forever chasing. A far off vision they held and nurtured together, by each other’s side, since that day they were in medical school and Ellie looked over to him and said something flippant about Back to the Future not being entirely based in science fiction. From that moment forward, their lives chartered a new, audacious course.

“Time travel in a capsule, not a DeLorean.” Tom said as he reached for Ellie’s hand. He looked over at her, her eyes made bright by the glow of the street lamps and traffic below. She still looked stunned, even after they had verified their results hours ago. After years of failed trials, negative results, and pleading to The Lab to continue funding their research, they finally had reached what they had originally defined as the apex of their career.

“Where do we go from here?” Tom said, returning his gaze to the window. From his view, he couldn’t see any single person, but knew they were down there, enjoying life unaware that many feet above them Thomas Royce and Ellie Ramos had finally found a way to return to the past by navigating the channels of the mind. A feat only described and outlined in science fiction movies was now possible and would soon be available for mass consumption.

“Where we go, there are no roads.” Ellie said, gently. A wry grin stretched across Tom’s face and he held Ellie’s hand a little tighter. Enterprising and full of hope, Tom and Ellie were prepared to restructure and redefine how people both collectively and individually experience reality. Holding hands in the dark, not allowing another word to pass between them, they accepted that they were now the architechts of a new reality.

One Year Later

No Overture

Holding his fork inches before his mouth and his glasses sitting off kilter on his face, Thomas Royce said flatly,              

“Will you marry me?”

“Jesus, Tom.”

Ellie Ramos said, laying down her plastic fork and closing the Styrofoam box that contained her burrito dinner.

Tom looked up, confused, “What? I thought this was good?” He said having already eaten the food off his fork, he reached for a paper napkin and cleaned his mouth.

“For God’s sake, your mouth is full.” Ellie pushed her seat back away from the dinner table and allowed it to stumble over to the side as she stormed off.

It is a Wednesday in May and the sun is obscured by a thick marine overcast that never burnt out. Thomas Royce and Ellie Ramos live in a comfortable town house in busy Santa Monica, California. So comfortable, in fact, that they are walking distance from the pacific ocean and can see the iconic Santa Monica Pier Ferris Wheel from their back yard. Thomas has just popped the question to his girlfriend of fifteen years, Ellie, over their take out Mexican food dinner.

Ellie had picked up their dinner that day, even though her dietary restrictions were such that Mexican food could portend a perilous after dinner experience. Thomas loved Mexican food and they had it at least once a week from the same take out place that Thomas swore had the best Chicken Tacos in the Los Angeles county. The staff at Pajaritos knew Thomas and Ellie by name and always greeted them enthusiastically as “Tom and Ally”. Tom always ordered Pajaritos’ chicken tacos with rice and beans on the side with extra cheese in his beans, while Ellie had a plain bean burrito. Not beans and cheese. Just beans. Boring beans.

Ellie was in the middle of inspecting her burrito for evidence of cheese (or any dairy product, a rogue dollop of sour cream, for instance) when Tom dropped his taco and blurted out abruptly, “will you marry me”. Pushing aside her pinto beans with her fork, Ellie was overcome with  nothing short of a mild rage upon hearing those words tumble out of her boyfriend’s mouth so carelessly. His proposal, if one could call it that, was so impersonal it might as well been transmitted via fax. Thus, Ellie felt her reaction was more than warranted, in fact, she felt it was necessary to react strongly to such a sloppy, haphazard proposal.

By social conventions, proposals are typically a good thing, a harbinger of good fortune. However, this particular proposal of marriage lacked an overture characteristic of most proposals, and seemed to not only fall flat, but fall with astounding velocity in Ellie’s lap like a concrete cinder block. As a result, she couldn’t help but feel indignant, if also incredibly puzzled at Tom’s timing and delivery.

 She fumed as she made her way to their home office and slammed the door, standing with her arms crossed over her chest, she never expected for Tom to propose. They were proud in their belief that marriage wasn’t necessarily the end goal of a relationship, it wasn’t a milestone they were pressured to reach. Ellie was confident their relationship was a durable one and didn’t require the construct of marriage to determine it. After all, they had spent years defining their relationship together, taking time to carve out the sleek contours and integrate the fine details that when taken as a whole comprise “Ellie and Tom.” What Ellie, furthermore, never anticipated was Tom dumping a sorry ass proposal over Pajaritos seemingly out of nowhere.

No context, no overture.

 As Ellie paced inside their home office, she mumbled under her breath, which she did when she was trying to solve a problem. She needed to hear herself sort out the problem, the minutia, as she searched for a solution.

“Nothing, just “will you marry me?” Short of being shipped off to war, being diagnosed with a terminal illness a la Mandy Moore and Shane West in A Walk to Remember, there really isn’t any excuse for such an lame proposal of marriage.”

She stopped pacing and looked over at their individual work stations. Tom’s station was neat and tidy. Every night, he dedicated the extra few minutes to put away any and all paperwork into file folders in his desk drawers. He made it so it looked like nobody ever worked at his station. While Ellie’s, although not a mess, had a few stacks of paper lined up along the side her keyboard. She had sticky notes on her computer screen, helpful reminders, she told herself. She had a system for organization, and it definitely wasn’t immaculate like Tom’s. She felt her face flush as she mumbled to herself,

“This isn’t Tom! He’s normally methodical and strategic. He’s my research partner who has devoted his life to making painstainkingly careful decisions only after considering all the data. He was slow to judgement, slow and careful to a fault. Tom is a scientist! A man of cold steal reason. Each step he takes is not only planned, but carefully weighed against the consequences and all other variant options. Scientists don’t just fling around marriage proposals at the drop of a hat.”

 Thomas Royce was such a wary, methodical individual that he alone was the reason they hadn’t published their most recent and exciting findings. It had been a year since their breakthrough and Tom still needed more time to look over the data. Ellie could have murdered him for his fastidious and abundantly cautious nature.

Ellie massaged her temples and sat down in her work chair. She couldn’t reconcile with the way he asked her to marry him, as though she could have been anyone sitting across from him as it completely belied his character. It made Ellie feel as though she were an afterthought, someone who didn’t necessitate taking up any more of Tom’s precious cognitive bandwidth. This only angered Ellie more. She reached out her legs and kicked Tom’s work chair from under her desk. It went rolling into the wall and crashed with a less than impressive thud.

It was a rough day for chairs in their household.

                                                                        Springfield, Ohio and From Whence they Came

Ellie and Tom began dating when they were seniors at Olympic high school in Springfield, Ohio. They technically qualified as band geeks, even though Ellie and Tom only joined the high school band because they loved music. They didn’t share adoration for the high school football games they marched in, or the collective school pride that was required of all band members. What they loved was the feel of their hands on their instruments as they played music into the night air.

 Situated smack in the center of the Blue grass region, were scarcely a few miles south, lay Kentucky, the townsfolk of Springfield was settled in a deep valley, surrounded by large dusty hills and steep drops. People’s accents ranged from full on drawls to a combination of the iconic flat accent of the Midwesterners and a southern drawl where the word “pop” meant soda and pronounced “pap”. Springfield was not the metropolis of Cincinnati or Colombus, but the Reds still reigned supreme and people charmingly referred to themselves as Springfielders while clinging to their conservative traditions. In the land of baseball and pap, the local high school housed two hundred students, about fifty in every grade and you were either an athlete, cheerleader, or a nerd (nerd was more of an umbrella term that contained subgroups like band geeks, mathletes, and drama freaks). Traditional gender norms typically dictated whether you could be an athlete or a cheerleader, while nerds were inclusive of all walks of life.

Tom transferred from a similar rural school in Athens, Ohio to Olympic high school in the spring of their sophomore year after his mom decided she was going to live out her entrepreneurial dreams and open a bakery in Springfield. This meant that she and Tom were going to pack up their lives and move. It wasn’t lost on Tom that his mother realized her previously unknown vision of becoming an entrepreneur weeks after his parents’ divorce was finalized. As much as his mother couldn’t bear to live in the home that she had shared with her husband of two decades, she was equally resistant to openly admitting that the pain from the divorce, initiated by her husband seemingly out of nowhere, was fueling her move. Around this time, Tom became interested in pop psychology and threw around terms like “sublimination” and “transference” liberally, even though he only had a vague understanding what those terms meant (and Tom, truthfully would never openly admit the limits of his understanding). Nevertheless, Tom felt the terms that cleanly, precisely categorized human behavior were a comfort, and afforded him some agency over his rapidly changing reality.

Luck struck Tom and his mother in Springfield. Within weeks of her bakery opening, she earned the title of “best coffee cake in Springfield”. Her bakery, aptly named Luck’s Pasteries and More, was always busy and would remain so through Tom’s graduation. Interestingly, the frequency at which Tom employed his pop psychology noticeably vanished by the time he was a senior in high school. He had moved on to more important things.

The minute Ellie laid her eyes on Tom, the six foot tall Trombone player with floppy hair and soft brown eyes, she was smitten. Ellie was fifteen with brash red hair, skinny limbs and a non existent bosom who played the flute in the school band. She didn’t have any school spirit, but loved music, and Springfield being Springfield, didn’t offer orchestra, therefore she was forced to settle for band and wear the bulky uniform, pretend to watch the football games while she snuck in chapters of The Bell Jar when her Band director wasn’t watching.

Ellie sat in front of Tom during band class. She looked forward all day to seeing him in class, everyday after lunch, and found it cute that he never seemed to be in short supply of Star Wars T-shirts. He was a quiet student, who was neither an athlete or cheerleader, and who seemed completely okay with being a nerd. Ellie let a month pass, as she secretly monitored who he spoke to, what his daily schedule looked like, and where he ate lunch. After a month, it appeared to Ellie that Tom was an archetype loner. He didn’t speak to very many people, he traveled from class to class, carrying his clunky trombone case in his right hand and his back pack on his left shoulder and he ate lunch alone. He didn’t seem troubled by his solitude, in fact, he seemed at ease with it, and everything else. Tom never seemed tense or anxious, he always had a content expression on his face, his friendly brown eyes never furrowing under his brow. He smiled at other students, said hello to them in the hall, in fact, he seemed downright amiable. Tom seemed to find peace in being on his own, which made Ellie find him even more attractive.

Ellie was a smart girl and at the time ranked number three in their graduating class (in a dramatic turn of events, she would eventually lose out the valedictorian spot to none other than Thomas Royce). She knew that in order to produce the desired outcome (Tom speaking to her), she needed to introduce a new variable. The new variable was fairly obvious: Star Wars.

In 1996, there was nothing Mark Hamil, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford couldn’t do, as the SciFi trilogy was experiencing something of a rebirth. A New Hope was re-released in theaters to a new generation of nerds, and it was received with the same cult like zeal, as the previous generation had in the late 70s. Although not a huge fan of Star Wars, Ellie watched the movies and appreciated its ingenuity and plot creativity. In addition, she secretly had a major crush on Han Solo. The bad boy who didn’t play by the rules, but still managed to have a heart of freaking gold, pandered to teen girls everywhere and their unconscious proclivity to date someone who challenged their worldview. She decided to buy a Star Wars T Shirt, hoping to increase the possibility of Tom talking to her.

It was a Wednesday when she first donned the shirt that featured Luke Skywalker in A New Hope fashion holding a blue lightsaber up to the sky, with Princess Leia on his right shoulder and Han Solo pointing his blaster to his left. Her heart beats thunderously as she held her flute in her right hand, sitting up upright in her seat, waiting for Tom to enter class after lunch. Around her, other students were assembling their instruments, setting up their music stands, adjusting their sheet music all while chattering on about their day and the latest gossip. Ellie was sitting as erect as the Washington monument, watching the door with rapt attention.

“Your chair, can you move it?” Someone asked her. Ellie shifted her chair in one swift movement without turning her head in response.

“Thank you.”

She continued to watch the door as the bell signaling the beginning of the class period rang and her band director, a balding man in his late fifties, a horrible stickler for timeliness, closed the door and took his place at the podium.

Ellie was crestfallen. Was Tom late? In the month that she’d been monitoring him, he’d never been late. She had seen him at his usual spot in the morning before school, sitting on the bench just outside his first period class, and knew he hadn’t been absent that day. Perhaps he went home ill?

Maybe there were just some things Luke Skywalker and Han Solo couldn’t make happen.

 She felt a little foolish in the shirt and wish she had brought a sweater that she could pull over herself. While her band director gave instructions for the opening piece to be played that day, Ellie remembered that she had a cardigan stuffed at the bottom of her backpack. She turned in her seat to grab her backpack, but it was stuck. She pulled harder, she really didn’t have patience for this today.

“Your chair, it’s on one of the straps of your backpack.” Someone whispered to her. She looked up and met the gentle gaze of Thomas Royce.

                                                                                                When Harry Met Ellie, Revisited

Eyes closed. Now, scene:

“Yeah, I knew she was watching me. How do I know? Because I was watching her.”

Thomas put his arm around the back of Ellie’s chair at their college graduation dinner hosted by Stanford Medical School in an attempt to attract as many Stanford pre-med graduates as possible. They had told the story of how they first met so many times, they had the timing down to a T.

“I’m new to the school, to the town really, and only people from Ohio will understand that Southern Ohio is a completely different world, even if it’s only a few miles from the big cities. So I’m more than a little freaked out by the change in scenery and about a week into starting my new school, I notice this girl. She’s not following me, per se, but she’s definitely around. And I’m not complaining because, well, look at her.” He looks over at Ellie admiringly and Ellie returns his gaze, a soft smile across her face, perfectly timed.

“Not many fifteen year old boys are going to pitch a fit about a cute red head being around. She wasn’t always around, mind you, and after a week or so, I realize that I want to see her more, so I start finding out what I could about this one here. I learned her schedule, found out she was actually really smart and was taking Advanced Calculus as a sophomore. I, a lowly commoner, was only taking Calculus at the time.” He puts a hand to his chest in mock modesty and the people around the table all laugh.

“I ask around for her name, kids say it’s Ellie. When I first learned her name I asked if it was short for Eleanor, and they shoot me looks like, No, it’s just Ellie. She doesn’t talk to very many people and reads a lot. Does she have a best friend? Not really. She’s not disliked, but she doesn’t have a lot of people that she calls friends. I find this incredibly intriguing. We have band together everyday after lunch, and she sits in front of me and all I can do is watch her red hair bounce ever so slightly as she plays the flute. She’s the first chair, which means she’s the best player. Shocker, right? Well, after a few weeks, I’m basically head over heels for this little vixen, who by the way, is incredibly intimidating. She may be petite but she carried this austere expression around, as though she was calculating everything about you in her head, you know, silently. It was like she probably knew things about you that you didn’t even know about yourself. And those eyes. I’d never seen eyes that blue before, they were like glaciers. She was all eyes, red hair and brains. So, I try to figure out a way to talk to her. There are a couple of failed attempts. One time I almost tapped her on the shoulder as she was fixing her music sheet before class, but she turned her head to the side quickly and I acted like I was catching a bug in mid air.” Thomas mimes the movements of catching a bug with his left hand, laughter erupts from the table and Ellie scoots in closer to Thomas’ embrace. Her favorite part is coming up.

“And then one day, as though the heavens took pity on my fifteen year old soul, the leg of Ellie Ramos’ chair was stuck in my backpack strap. This was the moment, I was going to casually ask her to move her chair and then ask her about Star Wars. She was wearing a Star Wars shirt and I knew the timing was absolutely perfect. So I clear my throat and I ask her to move her chair, with the perfect combination of insouciance so as not to appear too eager or too aloof. And I expect her to turn around, look at me, and then I would follow up with something completely ground breaking like, cool shirt. But here’s the thing, she just moves her chair. Doesn’t turn around or anything. Now, I realize I need a contingency plan. So I follow up with a considerably less groundbreaking line and I say thank you. But she’s so intense on that day, more so than usual, and she doesn’t say anything. The bell rings, my heart breaks.”

Ellie kisses his cheek and Tom looks down at her and kisses her forehead.

“I begin to think that maybe it’s not meant to be after all. It shouldn’t be this hard to talk to a girl and, you know, maybe a girl like Ellie Ramos isn’t meant for me. Maybe I should aim lower and work my way up. Then the heaven’s grant me one more reprieve, because she turns in her chair and starts pulling on her backpack. She doesn’t realize that when she moved her chair, the leg of her chair landed on the strap of her backpack. So I lean in and tell her and the moment she looks up at me, my heart just melts. She’s not just beautiful, she’s gorgeous. I move forward and yank the strap quickly and she shifts in her chair as it releases. She shyly smiles and whispers thank you. She starts looking through her backpack and I whisper again, I like your shirt. She pushes her hair behind her ears and smiles at me. Then she says the four words that would seal our fate: I like Star Wars.”

People around the table applaud and smile. Ellie and Tom love telling the story of how they first met and people love hearing it. Upon hearing their story, people usually say things like, true love does exist and that makes me believe in love again. Ellie returns to her chicken dinner and a woman on her right elbow whispers over to her.

“Do you think he’s going to propose at graduation?” Ellie, whose bright red hair has dulled in its intensity over the years and is now a russet auburn laughs and says aloud,

“Oh god, no.”

The head of the Stanford medical school takes the podium and asks for their attention. But for Tom and Ellie, the two most promising pre-med students in their entire class, it’s a done deal. They were heading back to Stanford to medical school in the fall to study chemical engineering. They hold hands under the table as the department head drives on his pitch about the prestige of Stanford and its ability to open doors and create opportunities.

Okay, open your eyes now.

                                                                                                                        The Impasse

Ellie is still fuming when Tom knocks on the door. She wants to punch his computer screens, and spare hers. Their desks are across from each other and they each have three screens and the latest Mac desktop money could buy. They didn’t drive fancy cars, own fancy clothes, or own any jewelry, but they did splurge on two things: their home and their computers. They were research partners and along with contracting with an independent private company and maintaining a lab at work, their home offices were used on a daily basis. The wall facing the east side of their home was one giant white board that contained inchoate thoughts, equations, and a smattering of arrows connecting one thought to another.

There was one word written in the upper right hand corner in bold black marker: Ellietonin.

Ellie looked up at the word and sneered, the distain thick in her throat. It was a stupid name for their discovery and really, only a placeholder, as The Lab would likely construct a multisyllabic and important name to market to the pharmaceutical industries. Which would only happen after the FDA gave their stamp of approval, and that single act would take years. Right now, Ellie and Tom were sitting on Ellietonin at an impasse.

For the past year, they’ve had hellish debates over the danger of turning Ellietonin over to the public. In his quiet, but intense voice, Tom said he needed to run more animal trials and collect more data. He entreated to his lab partner, to comb the current research on memory and neurobiology and find any indication that Ellietonin might impact the human body in a way they hadn’t already anticipated. Ellie begged Tom to see the positive impact Ellietonin could have on the world and accused him of being a coward when he refused to do so. She asked him over and over what happened to her daring, brave and ingenious partner that made the discovery with her a year ago, who pursued their mutually held vision so doggedly that Ellie often felt she had to double step just to keep in time with his ambition. Tom shrugged, always, and maintained that he wanted to make sure what they had on their hands was first and foremost, safe.

“First do no harm, Ellie.” He would say, as though that was all he needed to offer in his defense.

Over the past year, Ellie spent most of her day at their home office, while Tom traveled every day to the company they worked for, conveniently name The Lab. Tom continued to run excruitiating tedious trials while Ellie read every single word she could find on memory and the brain. She read every article on the Hippocampus, prospective memory, implicit memory, declarative memory, and semantic memory. She read about the mirror effect in recognition memory over and over, even though she wasn’t sure if it had any direct application to Ellietonin. Her eyes ached as she mined the research, unsure of what she was looking for, but positive she’d know it once she found it. Most days, however, it felt like she was chasing a ghost.

Ellie gets up from her work chair and walks up slowly to their white board wall. Ellietonin. They synthesized the compound and late one night, did something they swore they’d never do. It was Ellie’s idea, and Tom was adamant they move forward with animal trials before endevouring on human trials (which took years and government approval). But once Ellie swallowed the capsule, and Tom’s eyes widened in terror, there was really nothing he could do.

So, he swallowed one too.

That was the night they realized Ellietonin worked. They had successfully not only retrieved a long term memory but experienced it, again.

Time travel in a capsule.

Ellie grabbed a marker and circled Ellietonin again, then she rested her head on the cool surface of the white board.

Ellie closed her eyes. That night she had chosen to re-experience seeing the ocean for the first time. After Ellie swallowed the capsule, she had about sixty seconds to conjure images in her brain of the memory she wanted to revisit. There are no guarantees with Ellietonin, a limitation both she and Tom had already identified, and you could find yourself reliving any memory stored in your Hippocampus, however, Tom and Ellie hypothesized that if one was intention about retrieving the desired memory, one could increase the likelihood of reliving it.

The last thing Ellie remembered before closing her eyes was Tom staring down at the capsule, deciding whether to join her or not.

When you are from the Midwest, the first thing you want to see is the ocean. Ellie found herself, seventeen years old again, and looking upon the expanse the ocean for the first time. It was just vast and majestic and the waves broke feet from her. She ran her hand through the sand, and felt each granule as they escaped her fingers. Sand felt like sand. The ocean both looked and sounded like the ocean. She even felt what it was like to be seventeen again. She was brimming with emotion and hope and her chest felt full with pride. Ellie looked down at her seventeen year old hands. They looked seventeen and felt as much. The wind blew and Ellie laughed. Wind was wind. She didn’t expect to feel the wind during her visit. Her seventeen year old thoughts populated in her head: I want to always be near the ocean. I will buy a home with Tom one day and we will live near the beach.

Before Ellie could have another thought, her eyes opened and she found herself back at The Lab. She ran her hands under her and instead of finding sand, she felt stiff carpet. Tom was sitting up and shaking his head. Ellie propped herself up on her elbows and said,

“You’re welcome. Now we know it works.”

Tom slowly made his way over to Ellie, put his arm over her shoulder, and started to sob.

Now he’s knocking at the door, softly.

“Ellie, can I come in?”

“Do whatever you want, Tom!” Ellie shouted as she crossed her arms over her chest and turned her back to the door.

There was a beat of silence and then Tom’s voice, uncertain and quietly, “So, does that mean I can come in?”

Ellie groaned in frustration and went over to the door and swung it open. Tom was taken off guard and took a step back, his glasses slid down his nose and he pushed them up with his index finger.

“Thank you,” he said as he recomposed himself.

Ellie rolled her eyes and turned back to the room. Ellie loved many things about Tom: his relentlessly analytical mind, large brown eyes, capacity for kindness and understanding. There was, however, one thing about Tom that absolutely drove Ellie crazy: his selective cowardice.

He wasn’t a cowardly man, necessary, however, in the face of intense confrontation where he had to take a difficult, definitive stand, more than often he’d balk. For example, when he and Ellie had successfully synthesized Ellietonin, Ellie wanted to make their achievement public. Going public would take their careers to new heights, and the implications of having this compound available would be nothing short of transformative. But, both he and Ellie needed to agree to go public as they were partners. Ellie had taken a stance. Tom, however, wavered. They’d been sitting with this compound on their hands for over a year now, and Tom still wouldn’t agree to take it public. Ellie chalked it up to his selective cowardice which was rearing its annoying head right now as he cleared his throat and nervously pushed his classes up, as though they were slipping off the bridge of his nose.

“Ellie, you see, lately I’ve been thinking,” he cleared his throat again, “Well, it’s not that difficult to see. We’ve been living alone for over a decade and have been together for half our lives already and it’s clear to see, you know, why not.”

Ellie turned around and looked askance at Tom, “What the actual fuck are you trying to say? Tom? Are you having a stroke because what you just said was incoherent bullshit.”

“Okay, okay,” he shifted uncomfortably where he stood, “Obviously, I could’ve had better timing when asking you to marry me.”

“You think?”

He ran his hands through his pin straight brown hair, “I’m sorry. I really am. But, aside from being abrupt, it’s still a perfectly good proposal to which you have completely cast aside. Now, I took a big risk out there just asking the question.”

“Did you? After being together for half our lives, you thought proposing marriage was such a huge risk?”

“Absolutely, Ellie. There aren’t any guarantees in life.” He said in earnest, hands cast upward, as though offering an entreaty.

Ellie sighed and shook her head gently. She brought her thumb to her lips and started biting on her nail, as she wont to do when she was upset. The sun had long begun its descent behind the ocean and the room was flooded with orange and a majestic purple light. She turned her attention to the window and thought about the first time she’d seen the ocean.

 “It isn’t just the timing,” Ellie said as the dusk light made her blue eyes look nearly transparent, “It was a proposal of marriage that felt so impersonal, as though you were simply going through the motions of a proposal that were more like inconveniences than anything else.”
“I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. I thought marriage wasn’t really a big deal. You have to know how much you mean to me. I mean, I couldn’t be without you.”

Ellie took a pause on his last refrain.

I couldn’t be without you.

From the time they were fifteen, they had been together. They were each other’s first kiss, first real relationship, had taken each other’s virginities. They went to the same college, same medical school, and had become partners in medical research and development. Tom’s claim had a stinging ring of truth. To date, Tom and Ellie had proven that they really couldn’t be without each other. Something dangerously vulnerable had come to light and Ellie pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes.

She didn’t want her existence to be contingent on that of another’s. She didn’t want her life to be stalled, her spirit to become stagnant as she waits for another. She had to learn how to simply be. She walked over to the white board across the room. She stopped in front of it, with both planted delicately under her, and raised her finger to a word that had been circled, underlined, and had a question mark following it.

The word: Ellietonin.

She looked over at Tom, who released a long slow sigh. He’s placed his hands on his slender hips and dropped his head. Shaking it gently, he said quietly,

“What’s that got to do with anything?”
“Our entire lives, Tom.”

“It’s not ready, Ellie. You know that.”

“Is that so? Well, neither am I.”

“Don’t be so arbitrary, Ellie.”

“Sounds like something you should have told yourself while we were at dinner tonight.”

“Stop it!” He shouted. As though frightened by the sound of his own raised voice, Tom looked upon Ellie with wide eyes as his bottom lip quivered slightly. They held each other’s gaze for a minute before Tom continued, “Just… stop. I don’t know how this got so out of hand. It’s not a big deal! Look, if what I asked upset you so much, then forget it. Just, forget it.”

“You and I both know the limitations of the human memory. There are some things you can’t forget, even though you wished you could.” Ellie looked up at the word written on the board again.

“So, what would you like to do?”

Ellie looked at Tom curiously, “We’ve crossed a bridge in over relationship that we’ve never crossed before. It’s conjured intense reactions and I think we should take the night to reflect on this, and then come together in the morning to discuss. Agree?”

Defeated, Tom threw his hands up and said, “Agreed.”

That night, Tom was relegated to the couch as Ellie slept fitfully in their bed. When Ellie woke the next morning, it was dawn, and sensing she wasn’t going to get much more sleep, climbed out of bed and made her way quietly to the kitchen where she found Tom fully dressed and in the kitchen, his hands clasped in front of him.

“I may have a solution.” He said.

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