After walking in silence for several blocks through Manhattan, we’d arrived at our destination, a high-rise apartment building that my friend Vinny from work managed part-time. He’d set it up so that we could have full use of one of the elevators for as long as necessary.
After I introduced Nina to Vinny, she probably figured I was taking her on an elevator ride. What she didn’t know was that it would be so much more than that.
The second I pushed the up button, her panic set in. “Jake, listen, I don’t know if Ryan ever said anything, but this whole thing…all of my problems…they started in an elevator. It was where my first panic attack happened. I was in high school and got stuck in one and—”
“All the more reason to get past that. If you get in one right now, you can help undo the damage created by your own mind.”
She grabbed me by the arm. “Please…I’ll do anything else but this.” The fear in her eyes was like nothing I’d ever seen before.
She looked like she was about to cry. Shit. I had really picked a doozy of an inaugural exercise.
The bell dinged, signaling that the elevator had arrived to the ground level. The doors opened, and I stuck my arm inside to prevent them from closing.
The first teardrop fell down her cheek.
“Fuck. Nina, don’t cry. Come on, I promise you that nothing will happen to you in there.”
It was amazing how an irrational fear could take hold of someone’s common sense. She needed to overcome this, and I’d be damned if I let her chicken out. But I couldn’t force her to do anything. Ultimately, she had to be the one to make the decision to step inside.
The black backpack I’d brought with reinforcements was weighing me down, so I placed it on the ground, figuring I would need all my strength in case she spazzed out on me. I stepped inside and reached my hand out to her.
After several minutes, she finally took it and let me pull her in.
Her voice was shaky. “Leave the door open.”
“Okay. We can take this slow.”
I continued to hold the door open but knew she was never going to tell me to close it. “You tell me when you are ready to take a ride.”
“I won’t ever be ready. Don’t you understand? I won’t ever be ready for that door to close.”
“Then, you need to let me decide when, okay? You trust me, Nina?”
She squeezed my hand tighter. For a petite girl, she sure as hell had a lot of strength when she was clinging on for dear life.
Then, something amazing happened. She looked me in the eyes, and there seemed to be a shift in her expression. I knew it was the exact moment she decided to put all of her trust in me. For the second time since our adventure began, I had to squelch the urge to pull her into my chest.
“I probably shouldn’t trust you, Jake, but the truth is, I do. I’m just scared.”
If it was the last thing I did, I wanted to eradicate every last bit of the fear that lived inside of this girl. I wanted her to be happy and wanted to be the one to make that happen even if I couldn’t understand where that need was coming from.
“Nina, I’m going to let the doors close now, okay?”
I released the button, but when the doors closed, Nina started shaking. I kept with the plan and pressed the button for the highest floor. She caught me off guard when she grabbed a hold of me, wrapping her arms around my waist and placing her cheek on my chest. Every muscle in my body tightened to resist the feelings that were rocketing through me. My heart thundered against her cheek. I looked down to find that her eyes were closed. Her nails dug into my sides, and I silently willed her to do it harder. I wanted her pain. I wanted anything she could give me in that moment and relished her touch even if it wasn’t meant to be enjoyed. I breathed in the clean scent of her hair to calm my sensory overload. She likely had no clue that my own body was in flux for an entirely different reason than her own.
My mouth lightly touched her ear when I said, “You’re doing good.” I looked up at the digital numbers. “Look. We’re on fifty now.”
She refused to move her face which was still buried in my chest. “Don’t tell me! I don’t want to know how high we are.”
As much as I never wanted to let her go, we’d reached the top floor. I reluctantly backed away from her, my body instantly craving the return of her warm breasts against my chest. “You want to walk around up here for a bit or do you wanna go right back down?”
“Go back down. Please.”
“You got it.”
You got it, dude.
She grabbed a hold of my shirt again as the car descended. While I was tempted to bring her closer into me, it was better that I didn’t because in seconds, I was about to become the most hated man in her universe.
Nina, I promise. It’s for your own good.
I took a deep breath and pressed the red button.
The elevator came to a grinding halt, and Nina screamed like a banshee.
“Jake! Jake? We’re stuck! What’s happening? What’s happening?”
With one hand on the stop button, I kept my cool and held my index finger to my mouth. “Shh.”
The look on her face transformed from fright to rage before my eyes. “Please tell me…you…did not just stop this elevator?”
“Calm down, Nina. Calm dow—”
She’d used all of her strength to smack me in the chest.