Gabriella Ch. 08bysoular©
The porcelain sink chilled Ella's scorching skin as she leaned against it and splashed water onto her face. She was burning from the inside out. A sharp pain gathered behind her eyes and rushed to the back of her head causing her to sway for a moment.
Her hands balled into fists before she shook them out and repeated. Anything to halt the tremble that had taken them over from the moment she tossed the glass at Simon. The shatter still echoed in her mind before she went numb.
Ella inspected her reflection. Her face appeared drained of color and her bone straight hair slightly waved around her forehead and temple as a result of sweat. The eyes staring back at her belonged to a stranger. Sunken exhausted eyes, only familiar by the hazel hue, a shade darker than her mothers. Barely twenty and she felt as worn down as a woman three times her age who had experienced a full life.
The whoosh of flushing behind her reminded Ella that she was in a McDonald's restroom. A mother and a little girl in an Elmo shirt and two pigtails emerged from the stall. The mother lifted the toddler to the sink, and her eyes widened as she became mesmerized with automatic liquid soap dispenser.
Ella kept her eyes on them through the mirror. The mother's hands enveloped her child's while she cleaned them.
When they left, she splashed more water onto her face. She looked back in the mirror hoping the image had changed, but it hadn't. She flicked water from her hands at her reflection, blurring herself.
In the dining area kids were screaming and running around. And old couple sat in the corner scowling at the Play Place.
Ella rubbed her temples as she approached the counter. "Can I get a medium drink?"
"That's it?" the cashier asked. He was cute, around her age and looked to be of Hispanic descent with a slight accent. He twirled the cup in his hand before setting it in front of her.
She hadn't thought much about money and the cab driver had half of it, mostly because he circled around waiting for her to give him an address. When she left the house, she had no clear plan of where she would end up, only that she needed to leave. Things were getting worse with her being there. It could be due to her fever or just her conversation with Simon the night before, but when he entered the kitchen and kissed her mom, for the first time she saw what they could have were it not for her. He was fighting for her mom, not her.
She held the button while the Coke dispensed into her cup. She looked behind her when she heard someone hiss. The guy from the counter waved for her to come back over. She stuck a straw through the lid and walked up to him.
He slid a tray with a large order of fries and a Big Mac toward her. "Your order," he said with a wink.
Ella's stomach growled on cue. "Thank you."
"Welcome. Now smile, pretty girl."
She tried unsuccessfully to bite her lip before a smile broke through.
In the back of the dining area, she nibbled on fries and scrolled through the address book on her phone. She hadn't lived her life in a way that presented many people to turn to in a time of need. The first name was Steven Ashbury. She hadn't seen him since she spent the night and she wasn't sure he would be able to help her now due to his fight with Simon.
She waited to feel some sort of emotion when she deleted her father's number, but nothing came. Even though they were related, he was no different than any other Foster who shared her last name in a phone book.
Next, she paused over Simon's number. Those seven digits were etched into her brain. She had dialed them more than anyone else's. And sometimes when she knew he was alone, she would call just to hear his voice.
Ella jumped and spilled half her drink onto her tray. A small freckled faced boy stood beside her, smiling from ear to ear. His mother called him and he was gone almost as if he had been a ghost. She turned away from his retreating figure and watched the kids running in and out of the play area, laughing and shouting as they slid down slides and tossed plastic balls at each other.
She closed her eyes and rested her head on the table as she listened to the joyful sounds around her.
Rain pelted Simon's car, pouring down like hard balls of hail while he sat in the driveway of his home. Through the windshield the house that should have been a sanctuary for his family blurred and resembled an abstract painting, but his eyes barely registered it. Snapshots and images of that morning played over and over in his head, until his mind drifted above the scene and watched it unfold in front of him.
He couldn't recall the last time fury had scorched his senses so quickly that he leapt before he thought. But it was fleeting when he saw the shocked, scared expressions on Patricia and Gabriella's faces. Faces that mirrored his mother's.
It was all falling apart. The cracks were transforming into craters and the secrets were pushing through the surface. He had failed his family. Again.
He got out and leaned against the car, letting the rain baptize his outer shell praying it would wash away the man he was and leave behind a better one. Maybe he could find the same serenity in these storms that his father had. He hoped for peace to engulf him, but nothing came. There was only the crackle of thunder in the distance making him stress about Gabriella's whereabouts even more.
She was nowhere to be found. Her usual "cool down" spots, Lake Torrance and his office, showed no signs of her. He had even driven to Nolan's apartment, but the lights were out and no one answered the door.
She didn't want to be found. At least not by him like she had in the past.
He walked up the driveway like a zombie, into the house, down the hall and quietly opened their bedroom door. Patricia was curled up on the bed asleep, her tiny fingers wrapped around the phone. She had been quiet when he left the house to look for Gabriella. She wouldn't look at him. He wondered what she thought of him. Did he appear to her as much a stranger as he did to himself? If she awoke now and looked at him, what would she see? Her husband? The man that drove away her daughter? He didn't want to stay to find out. He didn't want to disturb what little peace she'd found on this God awful night.
In the shower, he closed his eyes under the stream of hot water. He braced his arms on the tile in front of him as the water rained down onto his neck and back. Every limb on his body felt heavy. The water felt as though it weighed a ton and his muscles ached under the weight of it. But he refused to move from its path until he took the well deserved battering it delivered.
Once the ache had vanished, leaving nothing but numbness in its wake, he shut the water off and stumbled out of the shower. He slid on a pair of boxers and carefully sat down on the edge of the bed. She was still in the same position although the phone had slipped from her hand and rested against her stomach. The bed dwarfed her frame, making everything about her seem so small. So fragile. Again he was struck by the familiar need to hold her, to be her rock. He was tempted to wake her and let her know that he was here, that he was still the man she loved and trusted. Protecting her from the outside world had come so easy to him before all this. But it never occurred to him that he could be more lethal to her spirit than anything out there. It never occurred to him that what she really needed protection from, was him.
"I'm so sorry," he whispered. He fought the urge to touch her gently, squeezed his eyelids shut to halt the burning sensation of his tears, and slowly came to his feet.
He quietly tiptoed out of the bedroom and made his way to the kitchen. Glass was still scattered on the floor, forgotten in the aftermath of the fight. That and Gabriella's absence were the only signs that their world had been turned upside down. He swept up the small slithers of glass, the swish of the broom mingling with vivid recollections of the fight. He dumped the fragments into the trash while their voices haunted him. He heard Gabriella crying and Patricia screaming for him to stop. Simon dropped the dustpan and slid to the floor. He knocked his head against the cabinet door three times, hoping the last one would clear his mind. But it only left him with a mild headache.
He dialed Gabriella's number again. It went straight to voicemail.
"It's me again. I just want to know if you're okay. Gabriella, I...please call me." He shut his phone and rested his head against the cabinet. Evening slipped into darkness, and he ached for rest, but he didn't move. He remained an untouched statue on the kitchen floor, moving every so often to dial Gabriella's number again.
Ella took a deep breath when the black 4Runner pulled into the McDonald's parking lot. Rick, her Big Mac benefactor, let her stay inside the dining area past closing due to the storm. But now that the lights from Nolan's SUV were blinding her, she wasn't so sure she had done the right thing. She couldn't make out his face, but over the phone, he hadn't said more than two words to her when she asked if he could pick her up.
She grabbed her bags and walked outside. The strong rain and wind whipped around her. She cursed when she stepped into a puddle before reaching his car.
"Thank you," she whispered when she sat down in the passenger seat.
He didn't look at her as he backed out of the parking space. "Just tell me where I'm taking you."
Ella had hoped she could talk to him and stall a bit until she knew the answer to his question, but his clipped tone was less conversational. He reached the edge of the parking lot and waited. His wrist dangled over the steering wheel while he ran his other hand through his hair. "Where am I going?"
Ella squeezed the strap on her seatbelt. "I don't really have any place particular in mind."
He stared out the driver's side window with the engine idling. The windshield wipers swished back and forth creating a sense of urgency.
"Maybe I could stay with you just for tonight and we can discuss—"
"You've got to be kidding me." He cocked his head to the side as his eyebrows gathered. "You fuck my best friend and I'm supposed to take you in? Are you crazy?"
Ella shook her head. Diving into the events of that night would open up more questions than letting it go, but she knew he deserved an explanation. "Nolan, I didn't—"
"Didn't what? Didn't sleep with him?" Nolan's eyes looked hopeful for a second as the stoplight turned green. The car behind honked, but his eyes remained glued to her.
"I mean, I didn't—the lights green."
"Didn't what?" His eyes remained on her.
The car beeped again before it sped around them. The light flashed from yellow back to red. "Can we talk at your place?"
"No. We can talk now. Didn't what?" he asked again.
Ella's throat constricted and her mouth went dry. Images of Bryan cut her eyes making them tear up. "I didn't—he forced me," she choked out. She couldn't bear to look at Nolan.
Several seconds passed. When he said nothing, she glanced at him.
The light turned again and the green reflected off his face. His jaws clenched. More time passed before he said anything.
"Why would you say that?"
Ella wasn't sure what he meant.
He shook his head and stepped on the gas. "Just tell me where I need to take you."
She stared at his profile. "You don't believe me." She wasn't sure if she meant it as a statement or question, but she tried to hide her shock.
"No, I don't believe you."
"Why would I lie about something like that?"
"Some girls do."
"Well I'm not 'some girl'. I'm not lying to you. Whatever Bryan told you—"
"This isn't just about Bryan's word! Josh said you were all over Bryan at that club. That you gave him a lap dance and made out with him. That his hands were all over you when you left together. And now you want me to believe that he raped you after you basically dry fucked him in a club in front of everyone?" He scoffed. "You must think I'm dumb, huh? Like I don't know how you get."
"What does that mean?" She tried to remove the hurt from her voice.
"Don't play innocent. You know what I mean," he said. She could see him pause for a moment, but his new persona won out and he made his meaning clear. "Even with me you were a fucking nymphomaniac most of the time, and now you get caught and want to blame it all on him."
"I can't believe...Nolan, he held me—"
"Bryan has girls chasing him left and right. He doesn't have to do something like that."
Ella faced forward as she tried to swallow the large lump in her throat. This had been her fear from the beginning, and if her own boyfriend didn't believe her, she had no hope in anyone else believing it.
"Just tell me you weren't doing those things," he said in a softer tone. "Tell me Josh is lying and I'll believe you."
She didn't move.
"That's what I thought," he said. He pulled the car over. "I have class at nine, so I need to know where to drop you off. I just want to be done with you."
Ella pushed open the door and got out. The rain soaked her as she tried to pull her bags from the backseat but the door was still locked.
She ignored Nolan when he got out and walked around to her.
"I just want to get my stuff and then I'm leaving."
"Where will you go?"
"None of your fucking business! Unlock the door!"
He leaned against the car and stared down at her. "Ella, what am I supposed to think?"
"Think what you want. I don't really give a shit."
"So now it's my fault?"
"I just want my stuff and I'll be out of your way." The cold droplets felt good against her burning skin.
Nolan sighed and opened the passenger door. "Get in."
She wanted to fight. She wanted to walk away. But she was too drained of energy. She folded her arms and stood defiant, even though she knew she had exhausted all other ideas for a place to go.
"Get in," he repeated. Softer this time, almost like he was his old self again. Like he cared what happened to her, thought she was worth protecting.
She didn't look at him as she sat down in the car. She couldn't meet his eyes and see that worse than hating her, he pitied her too.
The familiar ride into town gave her too much time to think. She watched the dark windows of the shops go by. Everything was quiet. Everyone was asleep and where they belonged. Everyone except her. She pushed away the thought of Simon and her mother quietly resting in their bed, already noticing how much better life was without her. She doubted she'd get the same kind of rest, but her body couldn't help but relax when they pulled up to Nolan's apartment. She really was exhausted.
He turned the engine off and they sat in silence. Her eyes remained focused on the marble fountain. He was quiet for what seemed like forever. He seemed to be waiting for her to say something, waiting to say something himself. But she was all out of things to say. She gripped the door handle when he finally spoke.
"I really liked you," he whispered. She was glad she couldn't see his face, but it didn't stop her from hearing the hurt in his voice. "I thought what we had was special. I thought..."
She turned to him, wanting to speak, but she knew he didn't want to hear. He got out and slammed the door. 'It was special,' she wanted to call out to him. But instead she remained silent and followed behind.
Inside, Nolan's strong cologne scented the air. He tossed his keys onto the counter and removed his shirt as he walked to the back. The slam of his bedroom door caused her to jump.
Ella clutched her bag to her chest and sat down on the couch. Her mouth was dry and her head felt heavy as it fell against the back of the sofa. So many events had taken place that she had forgotten how sick she had become. Cold beads of sweat clung to her brow.
Her mind warred over her feelings for Nolan. She was grateful that she had a place to stay tonight, but wounded by his words and disbelief.
It had taken her inebriated mind a few moments to grasp what was happening to her, but in the haze of her being pushed back onto the bed and Bryan climbing on top of her, she realized something was wrong. This was not the guy she wanted to be with. This was not what she wanted. She pushed at him and told him no, but his grip was powerful as he pressed her wrists above her head and inched his jeans down to his thighs with his other hand.
But it was his smirk that dug its way into the pit of her stomach. It remained plastered on his face the whole time he had hurt her.
She opened her eyes to rid herself of the upsetting images that burned themselves deeper into her mind. A ticking Cannabis leaf shaped clock on the far wall mocked her as it counted down the hours to when she would have to leave.
Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.
The taunting rhythm kept her awake for several hours. Her mind couldn't rest.
She walked to the bathroom in the hallway and closed the door. In the shower, the lukewarm water rolled down her body emitting shivers from her. But the cool water was a welcome change to the burning her skin had felt earlier.
She reluctantly stepped out and wrapped a towel around her body. She reached for the door when it pushed forward and Nolan appeared in the doorway rubbing his eyes. It took him a moment to focus as he stared at her. Then his eyes lowered down her body.
He was wearing only navy blue boxers. She took in his tall, slightly pale but muscular frame.
His eyes connected with hers again. "What happened at home?"
She immediately went on the defensive. "Do you care?"
"I asked, didn't I?"
Ella stared at him for a few moments. "It's just not a good idea for me to live there anymore."
He narrowed his eyes. "Maybe Bryan will take you in." The instant the words left his mouth, his expression changed from smug to ashamed. "Shit, I ..."
She held his gaze.
"...didn't mean that—"
"I need to get dressed."
He nodded and turned to walk away. For a moment he paused. Perhaps he was going to apologize, or maybe he was going to take it back and say he meant every word. Ella didn't give him the chance to speak. She was already slamming the door on him, his words, and this awful night.
Patricia sat up in bed. Her head throbbed and her body ached. Outside the harsh pitch black indicated it was night, though the actual time of day seemed to escape her. Not that she cared.
Through the dark, she ran her hand over where Simon slept and felt just the sheets. She pulled her legs up and rested her chin on her knees. Her ears strained to hear if Simon was moving around. Maybe Ella was back.
But she heard nothing. Only headlights lit up the window as a car passed by.
She didn't bother turning on lights as she walked through the house. Only a small speckle of light down the hall caught her attention.
In the living room, Simon was sitting on the couch with his head back. She realized he was asleep as she drew closer. His phone rested in his hands.
She gently pulled it from him and checked his missed calls. There were none. She went to set it back beside him, when she stopped. The urge to snoop would eventually go away, but right now it hadn't.
She scrolled through his dialed calls, mostly to her, Steven, a few to the school and the last six which were placed today, all to Ella.
She quickly checked his received calls and came up with the same result, minus a call or two from Pete, Tek and a few of his other friends. No Sarah. There was an unknown number, but it was a New York area code. She hoped it was just some old friend from high school. Then she got caught by a pang of guilt. Her daughter was out there somewhere, and she still couldn't help but let her thoughts roam towards the infamous Sarah.