Gabriella Ch. 03bysoular©
Ella watched the steam roll off Simon's coffee cup. In a moment of insane weakness, she felt the urge to press the cup to her lips over the spot where his had rested only moments earlier.
Had she made a mistake by pushing him away? Was she letting pride overrule happiness? Which was more important?
Soon he'd arrive at the airport to pick up her mother and when he returned, he would pretend everything was great while she reverted back to being nothing more than a tenant in his home. Months ago that deal had been good enough. But something had changed. Her feelings for him consumed her, made her feel lost and she didn't know which path to follow. No one had ever affected her this way. She would never be the same person after him.
The sound of the doorbell pulled her attention from the cup. Nolan. He was supposed to pick her up on his way to football practice—a practice he was already fifteen minutes late for.
"I thought you would have by-passed me to get to practice on time," she said when she opened the door.
Nolan gave her a quick onceover and smiled. "Coach cancelled practice. I'm all yours today."
"Well lucky you." Ella smiled back, taking in his large boyish presence. His backward ball cap and full smile warmed her.
Once inside, Nolan shook off his jacket. "I've never been in your place."
"Well, I would give you a tour, but only one room matters," she said, showcasing her flirtatious smile as she led him down the hallway to her room. She didn't know how to classify their relationship but she did enjoy spending time with him.
"Is that Mr. G's room?"
Ella glanced at the door. Less than twelve hours ago she had lain in bed with him. She turned to Nolan. "Mr. G? Simon would ignore you if you ever called him that."
Nolan laughed. "You don't think it sounds cool? And it's so weird you call him Simon."
"Only in private," she said, pushing her bedroom door open. She shielded her face from Nolan as heat flushed through her cheeks. Simon... She had whispered that name many times in private, their bodies locked together. He told her he loved it when she cried out his name.
"But I bet you get good grades from him."
"Not really. He doesn't work that way. He's one of those 'hard work will take you further' types of people."
"Oh, that sucks," Nolan said as he scanned her walls and touched the little trinkets her mother had given her throughout the years. His large frame seemed to dwarf everything in her bedroom. Ella wasn't sure if she liked that or not.
"No it doesn't," she replied. "It's nice to have someone expect something of you."
She tried to ignore his clumsiness as he knocked over two picture frames. One was a photo of her guidance counselor in middle school. Mrs. Meetchum, her 'other mother' who actually helped her when she needed it. Grades, boys, periods...all things that Ella had been unsure of and hesitant to ask her own mother.
The second picture was the only one of Simon and her together. A waitress had snapped the shot at some cheesy Mexican themed restaurant for Simon's birthday. It was right after their affair had begun and neither of them had been smiling.
Nolan shrugged. "Kinda of a bummer we don't have practice."
Ella shook her head and stepped out of her shoes. "Why on earth are you pissed about not having to run in the cold until you pass out or throw up?"
"Because it's fun."
"Well, our ideas of fun are much different." She sat down on her bed and crossed her legs.
Nolan flashed a devilish smile. "Well, maybe you need to show me what your idea of fun is," he whispered.
She cocked her head to the side. "Maybe."
He plopped down beside her. "That's promising." Lust brewed in his voice as he pulled off his shirt. He reached into his pocket and when his hand resurfaced, he was holding a condom. He bit down on packet, ready to tear it open.
"Hey!" Ella said, placing her hand on his thigh. "That's not what I had in mind right now." She silently cursed herself for flirting so hard with him. Even though they had had sex in the past, she wanted to start their 'friendship' off the right way. They hadn't been intimate since they started hanging out.
He paused, confusion displayed across his face. "Oh. I just thought—okay, sorry." He shoved the condom back in his pocket and pulled his shirt back on.
Ella tried to think of something to say, but the mood had shifted. She sighed and leaned back. Why was she trying to take it slow when they hadn't started off that way? Maybe it didn't make sense to Nolan, but sleeping with a guy for the sake of boredom had lost its appeal.
"Hey, wanna get high?" she heard him ask.
She focused on the broken ceiling fan above her bed. Simon had promised he'd fix it one day while they were lying in bed together. She needed to forget him. Even if it was temporary.
"Absolutely," she answered.
The faculty meeting turned out to be more useless than Simon anticipated. His thoughts drifted from the University president's monotonous lecture to his conversation with Gabriella this morning. They were really going to end it. He wanted to shout from the roof tops that the spell had been broken, but all he felt was a knot forming in his chest, one that he tried to rub away, unsuccessfully.
Being with her stirred the strangest feelings. Being beside her...inside her, had become his drug with relaxation and freedom being the unexpected side-effects. He tried to absorb every second because the inevitable moment would sneak up when he'd open his office door to, or roll off Gabriella's bed, or scoot out of the backseat of his car to let the rest of the world in. And when he did, he felt like the lowest human being on the planet because he had failed Patricia. Again.
At the two hour mark, Simon slipped out of the back of the auditorium. Even Frances' raised brow didn't deter him. He tried to shake off his heavy mood as he reached his office.
"Hey honey, I—" Patricia's stricken expression cut him off. "Is everything okay?" He glanced around his office to the DVD menu screen and then back at her. There was no hello-kiss or hug. "Are you okay?" he asked as he switched off the TV.
"Yes. I'm just tired." She grabbed her handbag, never looking at him as she walked toward the door. "You ready?"
Simon locked the door behind them and hurried to keep up with her as she strode down the corridor.
"Hey Professor Graham!" he heard a woman call out behind him in the faculty parking lot. Patricia froze, causing him to bump into her.
"Oh, hey Lydia," he replied while he caught Patricia by the waist, steadying her.
"Who was that?" she asked as her eyes followed Lydia.
"She's a student in my one of my classes," he explained. Her back tensed beneath his hand. "Are you sure you're okay?"
"I'm fine," Patricia said in a flat tone. She flashed him a weak smile as he opened the passenger door for her.
He got in and looked over at her as she fastened her seatbelt. "Would you rather go home instead of hanging out tonight?" Despite her reassurances, Simon sensed something was off.
"Actually, I would rather go home now, if you don't mind. I don't feel so hot."
"Whatever you want, honey," he told her as he brushed the back of his hand across her cheek. He frowned when she shrank back from his touch.
They drove home in silence.
Ella held the smoke in, hoping it would cleanse her mind from all other thoughts. She wanted to forget everything. The past year. Or the past nineteen years. Just let go and drift above the world in a peaceful state.
"I bet you had a wild childhood," Nolan said, interrupting her attempt to float above herself. He was leaning against the headboard, his eyes cloudy as he smoked, something he clearly wasn't used to doing.
"Me?" she asked innocently before she rolled onto her side. "Why on earth would you ever think that?"
Nolan laughed. "Just a hunch."
Wild was not the word she would have used to describe her early years. Ella remembered her small two bedroom apartment on Hemley Street. She used to sit for hours on the puke orange carpet reading Judy Blume and Sweet Valley High books. Some days she read so long that the daylight faded and before she knew it she could no longer read the words on the page. The room would be dark but she would sit there, refusing to turn the lights on.
"Well, it wasn't as wild as you probably think."
"When did you lose your virginity?"
'Stoner' Carl. "Fourteen. How about you?"
Nolan shook his head. "I'm not telling and see? I knew you were a wild one. That's pretty young."
"Not really. I knew girls in middle school who had several sexual partners." She had even known a girl who became pregnant and didn't know who the father was.
"Wow, that's crazy," he whispered in a raspy voice.
But her childhood wasn't without interesting moments. "Oh, but I did watch a lot of porn when I was in the sixth grade."
"What?" Nolan coughed out. He beat his chest for a moment before he finally got a handle of his lungs. "Mom leave some sitting around?"
Ella pulled at the seam in her covers. "Not exactly."
"Wait, you have to tell me this."
She rolled over and stared at the ceiling. She had only told the story once before to a group of girls in her ninth grade high school class. Back then when she had talked about it, she held an air of maturity and sophistication that the other girls admired. But she wanted Nolan to know the whole story without any embellishments. "Well, it was the day before picture day at school." She turned to him. "Do you remember how cheesy all that shit was?"
"Anyway, my nicest clothes were dirty so I hauled all my stuff to the laundromat down the street."
Nolan slid away from the headboard and lay beside her. "Fuck, I don't even think I knew where the laundry room was in our house at that age. How old were you?"
Sixth grade. The year her grandmother died. She had never even met her nor did she attend the funeral. "Eleven."
"Damn," Nolan whispered.
"But that's where I met Tim."
Ella slowly nodded. "Yep. He was this tatted up twenty-two year old. Married, with a kid on the way. He just started talking to me and wouldn't shut up." She laughed softly. "Found out we lived in the same building. Said he had something to show me so I went back to his place."
"Didn't you ever hear of 'don't talk to strangers'?" His innocent joke reminded her of all the times an adult pointed out a lack in her upbringing, like she was some castoff.
"Of course I did. But my mom was working two jobs. And all I could think was his apartment was probably more fun than mine. But oh man, he had a collection of porno that could rival some stores. He had an entire storage room full of it. And because he was unemployed, that's where I spent my afternoons."
She had been fascinated with this world. She had seen and read a few racy things, including this romance novel in her mom's room about a duke who fell in love with the queen. It was the first time she had ever read the word 'cock'. But nothing had prepared her for Tim's videos. Full nudity, explicit language and the graphic nature of their grunts stunned her. Girls with toys. Girls with other girls. Threesomes. Gangbangs. Ella had seen it all.
"I guess you could say watching porn stars go at it was my version of an 'afternoon special'," she said with a smile.
Nolan's eyes went wide. "Holy shit. Was this dude a perv?"
Ella remembered the first time Tim masturbated in front of her. She was in total shock while she sat on the couch beside him. "Yeah, you could say that. The whole thing was pretty fucking trippy."
"I bet." Nolan twirled a strand of her hair around his finger. "Dude must have been crazy."
"Yeah," she whispered. "But you know, I was mesmerized by the girls. That's why I kept coming back. They were so lively and beautiful. I thought: wouldn't it be nice to drive guys crazy like they do."
"That explains a lot," Nolan said with a laugh. "You definitely mastered the art of driving guys crazy."
"You think so?"
Nolan playfully tugged her hair. "Um, yeah. I mean, hello, look at me."
She giggled. "Well, I learned a few tricks."
Nolan sat up and stretched his long frame. "So what happened with this guy? Did your mom ever find out?"
Ella shook her head. "Nah, my mom stayed busy, so I was kind of free to do whatever I wanted. And besides, the whole thing only lasted about a month or so." Ella still got chills when she remembered the look on Tim's wife's face when she came home on lunch break one afternoon.
The voices from the porno had overpowered the key turning in the lock. Ella jumped up from the couch, unsure what to do. Tim, with his hand down his pants and head titled back, was in a more compromising position. It wasn't until his wife had screamed that he snapped out of his triple X-rated fantasy world. Ella bolted for the door. Outside in the hallway, she heard them screaming at each other. Him yelling that nothing happened and her screaming for him to get out.
Ella shrugged. "A few days later they moved."
"Wow, that's a crazy story. That never would have gone down with my mom. She was like a warden. Fuck, my brother and I can't do shit."
Ella laughed and inhaled.
"I'm serious," he said. "Okay, I'll tell you this but you have to promise not to say anything."
"Scout's honor," she teased while trying to give the correct salute. "Fuck, which one is it?"
Nolan laughed. "Um, I think its two fingers. Like this," he said, demonstrating.
Ella held up one finger...the middle, causing more laughter from Nolan.
"Okay, back to my story. I was a virgin until halfway through freshman year."
"Shut the hell up." There was no way. Nolan was a good-looking first string athlete.
"My mom didn't allow girls around us. I mean, I couldn't even sneak out to get to them. It's like she could tell if I was on the hunt for pussy. But, I made up for that when I got here," he said grinning from ear to ear.
Ella flashed him a sideways smile. "Oh, I bet you did. Which lucky girl got the honor?"
"Do you know Hanna Dorstein?"
She shook her head. She didn't know a lot of females at the university. She and girls never mixed well.
"Well, we hooked up. I never told her though. Didn't want her to think I was a loser."
"She wouldn't have thought that. She would have thought it was sweet," Ella said. She sat up and straddled his waist. She didn't want to mislead him but she was feeling lightheaded and relaxed.
He looked up at her. "Can I ask you a question?"
"Did you know that Bryan's my best friend?"
Ella removed his ball cap and placed it on her head. "No."
"Yeah," he said with a sigh.
"You're so sweet though. How did you end up being friends with that dick?"
Nolan laughed. "Since elementary. He was a dick back then too, but we just click I guess."
"I thought you were just teammates." Ella dodged eye contact, wondering what Nolan really thought of her. She remembered a similar situation back in high school, but this felt different. She had never meant to hurt him. "What did he say about me?"
He looked away and shrugged, his hands rubbing over the top of her bare thighs.
"Come on, you can tell me," Ella teased, running her hands underneath his shirt.
He stilled her hands and looked directly at her. "I don't want to talk about him."
"Because I don't."
"Okay. But people say a lot of things, you know. Most of it isn't true."
Nolan smiled. "I know."
She smiled back. "Good."
Her entire body had gone numb and her stomach hollow. Simon was sleeping with another woman. What other explanation could it be?
Was she a teacher?
She felt sick.
More questions flooded her brain. Questions Patricia wasn't sure she wanted to know the answers to.
She revisited Simon's interaction with Lydia. Her 'hey Professor Graham' was flirtatious—much like a young girl wanting to entice a man. Could she be the one? Thin Bohemian-styled redheads with freckles didn't seem like Simon's type. But then again, until thirty minutes ago, Patricia didn't believe he cheated either.
Her head ached after she replayed the last days, weeks and months in her mind, searching for warning signs. Maybe she had read too much into Lydia's greeting. But that still didn't explain the pile of condoms stashed in the back of his drawer.
"Are you sick or just tired from the trip?" Simon asked, interrupting her thoughts.
She glanced at him, his face worried. He looked very much like he had the first time she laid eyes on him. Back then his dark hair had been a little longer, sweeping over his forehead and ears. He had the same long, lithe yet sturdy body, although years of cardio and weight training had filled out his shirts more.
It was his eyes that first caught her attention. Piercing azure eyes that had been friendly and less intense than they were now.
She had been checking in new Darby University students all morning, relieved to help out with freshman orientation. Anything to keep her mind from wandering to the rumor swirling around the cafeteria during breakfast: Rodney had been getting cozy with another girl at an off-campus frat, this time with some cheerleader from a rival school.
She operated on autopilot as the eager young students offered her their names.
"Hi, what's your name?" she asked the next guy in line. Most students had at least a mom, iff not both parents with them, but he stood alone. He was handsome. Very handsome with mesmerizing blue eyes.
"Simon Graham." His accent held a hint of New York.
He braced his knuckles on the table, distracting her while she scanned through the list of G's on her paper.
"What's your name?" His boldness stunned her for a moment
She looked up at him and offered her name.
"Nice to meet you, Patricia," Simon said, extending his hand.
She accepted before quickly drawing her hand back. Up until that moment, Patricia hadn't met any freshmen who would approach a junior. "Nice to meet you too, Simon. Are your folks here with you?"
"Nope, just me."
She handed him the welcome packet. "Alright, well just take this into the room and in an hour we'll be breaking off into groups to show you around campus."
"Are you leading any groups?"
"Yes, but I'm only taking group five. You're in group four." She smiled, placing his name tag in his hand with the number four written below it.
He glimpsed at it then back at her. "May I borrow your pen?" When she handed it to him, he leaned over the table and traced a five over the four she had written. "Nice to meet you, Patricia. See you in an hour."
Patricia glanced around the car, falling away from the past and back into the present. A present that confused her. She thought Simon had been happy with their marriage. At least he seemed that way. He was happy, wasn't he?
"What?" she asked, turning to him.
"We are?" she said to herself. How did they get here?
Simon's expression questioned her sanity.
Simon rubbed the back of his neck as he got out of the car. Nolan's black SUV sat in their driveway, placing the perfect cherry on his unperfect day. Patricia's somber mood and lack of conversation had him concerned. Maybe she had picked up a bug on her trip to Atlanta or maybe something bad had happened during her meeting. He wished she'd give up playing superwoman and let him take care of her.
Music blared throughout the hall, rattling the windows when they entered the foyer. The fact that Gabriella and Nolan weren't in their usual spot on the couch made him uneasy. He peeked down the hallway, his skin growing hot at the idea of them together in her bedroom. He damn sure knew they weren't playing Monopoly.