Gabriella Ch. 06bysoular©
Ella kept running through Grayson Hall until she reached the glass exit doors. It was the word 'please' that she had drawn and Simon had traced over, that stopped her from rushing outside. She stared as the condensation beaded up and rolled down the glass like teardrops. Just minutes before he had trapped her between the door and his warm body. Had they remained frozen in time, maybe she wouldn't be fighting back tears. Tears she refused to shed because it didn't matter.
The cold enveloped her as she burst through the doors; it prickled her skin, reminding her she had left her jacket behind. There was no way she would go back to retrieve it. She dashed down the steps until she reached the car. The air burned her lungs while she fumbled with his keys.
She jerked open the car door and slammed it shut behind her. If only the world would remain still long enough for her to catch her breath and gather her thoughts. She closed her eyes and leaned her head back but beneath her eyelids, a random image of Simon watching a football game appeared.
She sat on the far end of the sofa where she pretended to study, but kept stealing glances at him. His feet were propped up on the coffee table; his hands were behind his head as his eyes focused on the flat screen. He didn't watch sports like most guys, who would whoop and howl when their teams were winning or losing. He didn't belong to the group that got down on their knees and begged God to intervene when the referees were clearly working for the devil. Simon never said a word as he concentrated on each play.
She had glanced back down at her notebook, trying to sketch his profile, to no avail. She had not inherited the artistic gene like her mother, who was quite good at painting, even though Ella had never told her so. When she gazed at his face to try and fix an ear that was made too small, she was met with two deep blue eyes. Eyes that were slightly narrowed. In irritation or lust, she couldn't tell. She had never been able to read Simon. Perhaps that was where she messed up; thinking that he was in love with her, when it simply came down to sex.
She had quickly shifted her focus that day, and tried to concentrate on her work, but that look stayed etched into her brain for whatever reason.
Ella opened her eyes and glanced back at the building. The burnt reddish brown blocks created a barrier he would not cross. He wouldn't come to her. He was done. And now so was she.
Though she could have driven from Darby to her house blindfolded, Ella didn't recall how she got there. Everything passed by her in a whirlwind until she found herself unlocking the front door of their house.
In the shower, she scrubbed every trace of Simon from her skin until it felt as raw as her heart. Maybe the water would wash away every look, every smile, every touch. All of it. She didn't want those memories anymore.
Ella crept down the dark hallway until she reached her room. The master bedroom door was partially open. Light snores hummed a tune through the silence. She peeked inside before she walked in.
Her mother looked like a child as she lay cuddled on the far side of the king-sized bed.
Ella reached out to touch the cool silk fabric of Simon's pillow. She imagined his reaction if he saw her now.
This room was supposed to be off limits to her. This room was part of his other life, the one that really mattered to him. Her eyes stung. She was nothing more than an intruder in the life he wanted to protect and that's why he never liked seeing her in here.
Images of the three of them together and of Simon and her alone shuffled through her mind. Ella couldn't recall a time in the past three years that she and her mom were together without him.
She grabbed his pillow and hugged it to her. His warm, masculine scent lingered there. The same scent she had tried to wash away. She squeezed her eyes shut and tightened her grip on the soft pillow.
What are you doing?
Ella froze. Here she stood in his bedroom, heartbroken over a love that could never be hers while his wife—her mother—slept on. How did she wind up like this? Her life seemed so surreal, she didn't recognize it anymore.
She set down the pillow and watched her mother sleep. What could they possibly talk about now especially with all the secrets she was carrying inside? The sadness and confusion she tried to wash away was back again, only different.
Simon stared at the cluttered wall of accomplishments behind his desk, all proof that he had been a success. Academically speaking anyway. Personally was another story.
He hadn't slept a wink after Gabriella left. She had provided him a welcome distraction from his self-inflicted misery...until he had sex with her. Now he sat alone in the dark again with nothing but thoughts. His eyes ached with dryness. He rubbed them before glancing at his watch. It was already seven in the morning, and as if on cue, the loud roar of the buffer machine sounded down the hallway. Students would start entering the building closer to eight when the first of the morning classes commenced.
He stood and stretched, running his hand over the stubble on his chin. There wasn't enough time to shave, but a drug store run for a toothbrush and other toiletries to avoid the I-slept-in-my-office look was doable.
"Shit," he mumbled when he noticed evidence of what he had done with Gabriella on his desk. His stomach turned while he remembered that minor detail he missed. Condoms. She was on the Pill. He didn't have anything to worry about...unless God decided to play a cruel joke on him, but even still, he had never wanted to risk an unwanted pregnancy. Ever.
He rummaged through the desk drawers for something to clean with and found a bottle of anti-bacterial hand gel. He continued to wipe down the surface long after all traces of his betrayal had vanished.
He wiped harder and faster until the joints in his arm burned. He broke into a sweat, but he couldn't stop.
"Goddamn it!" he shouted, slinging the bottle and napkin across the small office and into the wall.
He was slowly unraveling. Or he had finally hit rock bottom.
His thoughts drifted to Patricia. The sweet, beautiful woman he was hurting again and again. A part of him hoped that with her knowing, it would ease the guilt he had felt about sneaking around for almost a year. But it hadn't. It had only grown worse because he had done what he so desperately had tried to avoid—he hurt her more.
He was supposed to be the one she never had to worry about causing her pain. A man was supposed to protect his wife. He had felt a connection with her when he first saw her sitting at freshman orientation. He had snuck out of two lines to be in hers. That same connection drew him in just as fast the day she drifted back into his life sixteen years later.
A life with Patricia was worth fighting for and it was all going to break apart if he didn't get a hold of himself. He checked his watch again and grabbed his helmet.
Patricia rolled over with her eyes closed. Her body ached, from her throbbing head to her cold toes. During the course of the night, humiliation, anger, confusion and sadness kept her company until she finally passed out.
Simon wouldn't be next to her when she opened her eyes so she waited and waited until she felt strong enough to face her new reality. Slowly she peeked beneath one eyelid, then the other.
A tear slid from the corner of her eye and into her hair. The first tear she had been able to produce since finding out about the other woman—no, girl. She always fought so hard just to gain the tiniest ground in every aspect of life but her relationship with Simon had promised to be different. Now their marriage had become another example of where she'd come up short. She headed for the bathroom, knowing that she needed more than to get by this time but she had no clue what to do.
She swiped her hand across the misty mirror, her reflection staring back at her. The warm shower boosted energy. She dropped the towel and examined her body. Her breasts still sat relatively in the same place they once had when she was in her twenties, give or take a little bit. Her waist had remained trim through the years, minus the nine months she carried Ella, which resulted in no stretch marks. She had never been satisfied with her legs because she couldn't get them as toned as she wanted. But Simon had joked that he couldn't think of anything better than her legs wrapped around him.
All in all, she wasn't that bad. Her trendy chin length cut matched her face and many had complimented her smile and hazel colored eyes. She had been more critical of herself as a young girl, but what had she known then? Nothing.
Simon had always called her beautiful, and he had seemed sincere.
She felt the need to look extra good today for some reason and paired a white fitted blouse with a black pencil skirt. A wide belt accentuated her curves, making her feel confident and pretty. The outfit resembled a sexy throwback to the secretaries in forties. She even decided on lipstick, which she hardly ever wore.
She walked into the kitchen to find Ella finishing up a bowl of cereal. She looked awful, which wasn't an easy feat for her daughter. Her hair was a mess covering the left side of her face and she wore dark blue track pants with what appeared to be a long-sleeved pajama top. Not only was her getup mismatched, but Ella had class in thirty minutes.
"Good morning," Patricia croaked while pouring coffee. When Ella didn't respond, she sighed and sipped from the mug, scalding the tip of her tongue.
She sat down at the table while Ella remained hunched over her bowl, flipping through a magazine.
"Do you have Simon's class today?" Patricia asked, but doubted Ella would dare walk out the house in that ghastly ensemble even if she did.
Patricia tapped the ceramic coffee cup with her fingernail. She had always worn the referee jacket between Ella and Simon, ready to diffuse the explosive clashes between his stern, no-nonsense style and her headstrong, troublemaking ways. But with Simon gone, she realized he was the one who offered the cushion. Without him, she and Ella were women of few words.
Patricia tucked Ella's heavy hair behind her ear. Ella turned to glare at her then picked up her bowl and stalked out of the kitchen.
"Sorry," Patricia mumbled out of earshot.
The sound of the TV carried through the house. Patricia ran her hand over the flat cool table top wishing for Simon's guidance. How was it that she didn't know how to talk to her daughter? She had never been preoccupied with hard liquor and keeping track of a man, like her own mother. If that were the case, she could understand Ella keeping her distance, like she had done. But Patricia had refused to take her mother's path. So why was she so nervous and tentative every time she approached Ella, as if speaking would only make things worse, widening the gap between them?
She understood Ella's resentment over her work schedule when she was younger. Children couldn't grasp the pressure of trying to make rent every month. And they weren't supposed to know the feeling of being so overwhelmed that a 16 hour work day was welcomed because it left you too tired to face how your life had turned out. But Ella would turn twenty in a few weeks and every year she withdrew more and more. Patricia was lost on how to reach her and when Ella did eventually move out, the chance may pass her altogether.
She found Ella on the living room couch scooping up a mouthful of cereal while her eyes remained glued to the TV.
Patricia waited for Ella to glance in her direction, but when she didn't, she cleared her throat and spoke. "I was wondering if you and I could have that girl's night out that I mentioned a few weeks back."
Ella continued to chew and stare at the screen.
"Hello?" Patricia said, waving her hands out.
Ella's lips tightened. She picked up the remote and clicked the TV off.
"Is there something you want to ask me?" Her tone was lifeless and her eyes never left the screen.
Patricia shook her head and stepped further into the room. "No."
Ella snapped her head in Patricia's direction. "Then I don't understand why we need to have this girl's night out."
Patricia stared at Ella. This is where Simon would have inserted, 'Because I said so'. An answer Ella begrudgingly accepted. But that would never go down between them. Ella would just look at her as if she sprouted a second head. Or not acknowledge her answer at all.
"Because you're my daughter and I'd like to spend time with you. I know you have a life of your own, but I don't think one day with me will kill you."
Ella turned away and shook her head. Patricia wasn't sure if that was an answer of if she was fed up with her talking.
"We can do something fun, you know," Patricia continued as she stepped closer. "Get our hair and nails done, or something like that."
"I told you, because you're my daughter."
"Yeah, I know. But I've been your daughter for nineteen years. So why now?"
Patricia sighed. Maybe she could get Ella to understand that every day presented challenges and life didn't always go according to plan. Had her life turned out the way she pictured it before Ella was born, she would be married to Rodney who would have been a high level executive at some corporate firm. She would have had the job of her dreams and her daughter would be her best friend, sharing everything from secrets to makeup. That was how life had looked at nineteen. But by twenty, she was alone, pregnant and a college dropout.
It wasn't until years later that she thanked her lucky stars for not pressuring Rodney to marry her. He was a tall, beautiful man with the smoothest brown skin she had ever seen and a gorgeous smile. But he was beyond weak, and it took time to realize that. His grief over the end of his basketball career kept him from being a good father and partner. And if he was going to let one setback ruin the rest of his life then she and Ella were both better off without him.
Patricia had no choice but to move on because she had a baby to provide for. She never believed she would love someone the way she loved Rodney, her first love so she never let a man get close to disappointing her again. But Simon erased all her romantic beliefs she had held fast to over the years and settled himself in the center of her heart. She had never been treated so wonderful. He would sit for hours and just listen to her drone on about any and everything. He would wake her up in the middle of the night to make love. He left notes underneath her pillow like a lovesick school boy. In her eyes, he had been perfect. Exactly what she needed. Exactly what Ella needed.
Maybe all good men had a flaw. For some it was golf. Others gambling. Maybe for Simon it was screwing his students.
The smile Patricia had been toying with quickly died as her tongue dried out.
She pulled herself from thoughts of him before looking at her daughter. "I think now is better than never, right? Ella, I know because of my work schedule, I wasn't always able to be there for you. But life sometimes doesn't turn out the way you expect even when you give it your best. You have to make the most of it. I mean, you act as though I abandoned you or some—"
"Oh, my God! Do you really want to do this now?" Ella asked, wild-eyed as she shot up.
Patricia unintentionally took a step back. "Wha—?"
"Don't kid yourself, the only reason you're even talking to me right now is because he's not here. Period. If he was, you would go right on pretending we were the perfect family."
"That's not true!"
"Mom, it is! It is true. But you know what, its fine. Really. I. Don't. Care. I'm okay. You don't have to try to make up for anything. Or explain anything. Or fix anything. And besides, I'll be gone soon and you can have Simon all—I mean you can have that happy fuss-free home you've been wanting."
Patricia shook her head. "I don't understand why you hate me. You treat your father better than you do me."
"What? I don't even talk to him!"
"You don't talk to me either!"
"Well...that door swings both ways."
"I try to talk to you."
Ella smiled and nodded. "Thank you. The past month that you've been trying to get to know me, I really appreciate it." She crossed her arms and looked on with surly satisfaction at winning the argument.
Patricia opened her mouth with no defense. But only for a moment. "And what about the months before that?"
"You're gonna be late," Ella said then walked past her and down the hall.
Patricia grasped her earring, hoping to find the words that would mend years of hurt. "I do love you, Ella, whether you believe that or not," she said with her eyes to the floor.
A door slammed in response.
She grabbed her purse and coat but turned around when she got to the front door. After setting down her things, she headed for Ella's bedroom with quick, purposeful strides.
"Ella?" she called out as she knocked the door. "Ella?"
"Are you going to class today?"
Patricia opened the door a crack and peeked in to find Ella sitting on her bed. "Is Nolan picking you up? What's wrong?"
"Nothing," Ella replied quickly and started straightening the sheets. She probably had a fight with Nolan and the last person she was going to confide in was her mother.
"I'll take you to school." Before Ella could protest she said, "Hurry up."
For the first time in a long while, Ella simply did as her mother asked.
Dressed in baggy track pants and an oversized top, Ella didn't look like her normal self and she didn't feel like herself either. So the attire was appropriate. She sent a text to Nolan earlier that morning saying he didn't have to pick her up because her mom had dropped her off. He immediately called her back but she didn't answer.
Were she not skating on thin ice with a few professors, she would have bailed on all her classes. She just didn't care today.
She had walked past Simon's office once, but the door was closed and no light shone from beneath. But that was because he was in class. She knew his schedule by heart. There were many times in the past year that she had snuck down to his office when she knew he had fifteen minutes between classes. She should have known then that those days were numbered. There was no way for them to last forever unless he left her mother. And that was an option she should have known was never up for discussion.
Ella sat in the school cafeteria picking at a bag of Doritos that was supposed to act as a decoy while sat in a corner and stared off into space. She had gotten two more calls from Nolan but she ignored them.
The conversation with her mother had come as a shock and Ella still didn't know what to make of it. She couldn't understand her mother's response to their life together. She really acted as though it were okay that her not coming home was only about work and not because she sometimes didn't want to be around her own daughter.
Maybe her mother was delusional. She had seen an episode of Oprah while she waited in the doctor's office a few years ago, about moms who abused or neglected their kids, and years later when the children finally confronted them, they acted as though nothing was wrong and that their children were crazy. It was hard to watch and it had Oprah in tears. But Ella had been more worried about the pregnancy test that she was there to take courtesy of the principal's son and a broken condom, so she tuned out the rest of the show.
But maybe her mother didn't remember those nights she wasn't at work. Or how long she would sit in the car parked down below their building. Ella would watch from the window, the apartment dark, just staring down at her mom's broken blue Datsun. Her mother would sit there for over an hour sometimes. When she finally entered the building, Ella would sprint back to her room, hop in the bed and pretend to be asleep.