The Mathematician, continued...

Elliot didn’t know why he asked Lise to marry him. It was dumb. Really dumb. He just couldn’t stop thinking about Arnie and his proposal to Karen getting shot down. He couldn’t shake the thought that Lise wasn’t with him for the long haul. So he had put it all out there on the table.

Then when Lise said “no”, he felt his world falling apart. He had pushed her and he had gotten his answer. But it wasn’t the answer he had hoped for. Maybe she did love him now, but no way she wanted to spend the rest of her life with him. Who would? At least now it was out on the table. No more kidding himself.

“I see,” Elliot said quietly.

“That was a shitty thing to do, Elliot,” Lise said. “You put me on the spot.”

“You didn’t even think about it.”

“You really want to marry me?” she said. “You’ve never even dated anyone besides me and you want to tie yourself to one person the rest of your life?”

Elliot nearly laughed. “Come on, who else would go out with me?”

“So that’s why you want to marry me? Because it’s me or nobody?”

Elliot was quiet for a few moments. “No, that’s not why.” But as he said it, he realized she had a point. Yes, he loved her. But he wouldn’t have been throwing around marriage proposals if he felt more sure of himself. That was why Arnie had proposed to Karen, after all.

“I’m 22 years old and I’ve been dreaming about getting proposed to my whole life,” Lise went on, “and never once did I fantasize about it happening like this. I’m not about to be bullied into getting married because you feel insecure. When you want to propose, you go out and buy me a ring and you do it right.”

Elliot looked into Lise’s eyes and saw that she was earnest. He also saw somebody that he cared about very deeply. He didn’t want to fuck that up by pushing her into something she wasn’t ready for.

“Okay, I take back my proposal,” Elliot said. “I don’t want to marry you.”

“Good.” She leaned forward and kissed him on the lips. “And I know you don’t believe me, but you’re a desirable guy.”

“Yeah, sure,” Elliot snorted. “But you know, it doesn’t even matter to me, Lise. Even if they were falling over themselves for me, which would never ever happen in a million years, I wouldn’t want anyone but you.”

Lise’s face lit up. Maybe his proposal hadn’t been entirely sincere, but he realized at that moment that this was the girl he was going to spend the rest of his life with. He was more certain of this than he was of the fact that complex numbers are algebraically closed. Someday I’ll marry you, Lise Johnston.

“Come here,” he said.

Lise straightened out her skirt and sat down on his lap as he held her in his arms. She toyed with his right hand splint, undoing the Velcro to pull out his hand. He watched as she laced her fingers into his. As she squeezed his hand, her eyes widened. “Hello!”

He knew what she was responding to. He smiled, “Yeah, I know. Not much we can do about it with the fucking catheter in there.”

“Can I take it out?” Lise asked hopefully. Her hand was stroking his hard penis. He couldn’t get over the fact that the catheter didn’t freak her out.

“Not unless you want to rip a hole in my bladder,” he replied. “There’s a little balloon that needs to deflate before you pull it out.” He raised his eyebrows. “Are you disgusted yet?”

“No, just horny,” she said, pressing her lips against his. “Promise you’ll teach me how to do it.”

“I promise.”

Elliot didn’t know at that moment that he’d successfully defend his thesis that spring. He also didn’t know that he was only three years away from winning the prestigious Field’s medal. He didn’t know that he was four years away from being the youngest person ever to land tenure at the university where he’d complete his doctorate; the same university where Lise would eventually have bestowed the same honor.

He didn’t know that the tumor would stay in remission, that he’d never have a recurrence of his symptoms ever again. He didn’t know that he’d attend the funeral of his good friend Brent Armstrong, who would die at age 38, leaving behind an impressive body of work in elliptical structures.

He didn’t know that he and Lise would get married two years later, have a few kids, and spend their evenings talking algebraic geometry in front of the TV. He didn’t know that as they got old together, they’d still fuck like grad school students.

Elliot didn’t know any of those things, but he was still happy. He was happy because he had Lise now and that was all that mattered.


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