Gabriella Ch. 09bysoular©
Ella held her shirt beneath the scalding water as she scrubbed furiously at the smelly beer stain that soaked the front. The material darkened and transformed the thin white cotton tee into transparent material.
There was a reason she had avoided these types of parties like the plague. She had been there less than fifteen minutes before some dumb sorority girl 'accidentally' spilled her drink down the front of her shirt. A favor Ella would gladly return as soon as she made her way back downstairs. She knew girls like that. A little buzz and egging on from their cronies gave them the courage to do something daring...or stupid. But they were all bark, no bite. The threat of a real fight left them wide-eyed and shaking, too scared to get their pretty little faces bruised.
But in case Ella had read the girl wrong, she still could take her, with or without her friend who had laughed as she was doused with the alcohol. And being a girl other girls hated, she'd been outnumbered in worse odds before.
Ella shut the water off and wrung out her shirt as she stared at her reflection.
She had hoped that the rumors of her so-called porn star night with Bryan and Josh and God knows who else had died down, but from the moment she walked into the frat house victory after-party for the basketball team, she was sadly mistaken. Some of the girls openly sneered while others whispered and exchanged looks they thought she didn't see. And the guys didn't bother hiding the sinister thoughts written across their faces as they nudged their friends and flashed predatory grins that chilled her skin.
For a millisecond she had considered fleeing, but the thought of another night alone as a fixture on Steven's couch, rolling her eyes at how easy breezy life was on Gilmore Girls reruns helped to regain her poise. She shook off her jacket and made her way through the packed room, ignoring the eyes that had lingered on her.
But now a marathon of reruns didn't seem so bad in comparison to standing in her black bra and jeans in a stranger's bathroom waiting for her shirt to dry.
This situation was more familiar than she cared to remember. Mix equal parts boredom and alcohol and there had rarely been a weekend in the past that she wasn't half naked in some stranger's bedroom or bathroom. Only then there was usually a guy...or two involved.
Generic hip hop blasted through the floor boards, vibrating under her feet. She brushed her hair up into a messy ball and patted her face with warm water. Her shirt was still cold and soggy at best, so she buttoned up her jacket and gave herself one last look before she rejoined the crowd.
Downstairs another girl bumped into Ella but this one stumbled to the floor like the drunken mess she appeared to be. She had short, wet brunette hair plastered to her face, smeared eye makeup that resembled a raccoon and one strap on her short purple dress was torn, dipping low enough to expose a dark pink nipple. She tried to push herself up before a big blonde guy hauled her up from the floor and tossed her over his shoulder.
Flashbacks of Bryan and what she probably resembled that night came tumbling forward.
"Where are you taking her?"
Blondie gave Ella a onceover and grinned. "Why? Want to join?"
"No. I'm trying to figure out if I'm going to call the cops on you."
His smile dropped. "Chill. She's my girlfriend, okay?"
The girl pushed herself up and giggled through half-hooded eyes before she went limp again.
Ella wasn't sure if she believed him but before she could protest he turned and strode off towards the back. She shook her head and made her way outside where the scene wasn't much better.
Groups of students were scattered around the front lawn of the two story house. Two large shirtless guys wrestled each other while loud music mixed with the drunken cheers from the crowd gathered around them. Ella didn't recognize either guy, but the champion beat on his chest like Tarzan while another partygoer dumped beer on his head. He shook himself like a wet dog slinging beer and mud everywhere, eliciting squeals of delight from the girls on the sidelines.
Ella stood off to the side, the night air wrapped around her, freezing her jacket's metal zipper that pressed against her bare skin. These parties felt much different at seventeen. College boys had seemed older, more sophisticated than the high school boys she was accustomed to. She'd hear about the college parties through various girls who shared her appetite for sex and trouble. And they had been fun for a while, but like most things the magic wore off and reality set in. There really wasn't that big a difference between high school and college boys.
The big difference had come when Simon entered her life, forever altering her perception of love, sex...soulmates, which until then had only been in sappy fairytales. From the beginning, their intense relationship had been far from the norm, but no less real than the one he shared with her mom. And at times when their eyes locked onto each other, speaking more than a thousand words could, it seemed even more real than their marriage.
But now so much had changed.
After she moved in with Steven, she poured herself into school and work, desperate to wear her mind and body down in an attempt to cover the massive hole that Simon had left in her life. But within the first month she was back to checking her phone every other minute for a sign from him that all would be okay. When someone buzzed Steven's condo from downstairs, she would drop everything and sprint to the intercom. And whenever it was Steven's turn to host 'guys night', she'd pace back and forth, chewing her nails down to the quick, hoping Simon would come.
But he never did. There were no visits. No calls. No emails. Nothing. All she had was the disappointment and regret that settled into her chest and left her nauseated most days.
But his absence from her life wasn't entirely his own doing. Their last night together at the rundown Gaslight Motel, he had come for her, admitted he loved her and said he would do whatever it took to make it work. But she chose pride over love and in return broken her own heart. She pushed away the one person who she held more faith in than anyone else. And now she was forced to swallow the consequences of her decisions that haunted her every single night as the hole left in her heart...her soul...painfully widened.
And now four slow torturous months had passed without one word from Simon. As if she had just imagined everything that they had once had. And a numbing blur of routines for which she had no recollection were all that was left to fill the void.
The 'clumsy' sorority girl broke Ella from her thoughts as she zoned in on her. She was laughing and hanging onto her friend as the two of them watched more horseplay from the drunken fraternity brothers.
Ella started toward her direction to repay the 'accident' when a large hand grabbed her wrist.
"Damn, shorty. Every time I get close to you, you move again."
Ella kept her eyes on the girls as they stumbled back into the house, her chance of revenge slipping further and further away. She turned back and directed her glare up at the tall guy holding her wrist. Judging on his height and build she assumed he was on the basketball team.
"What do you want?"
He had a wide toothy white smile that complimented his dark chocolate skin. "Well, for starters a congratulations would be nice."
"And who would I be congratulating?"
He quirked a dark brow. "You don't know me?"
"No. Should I?"
"A lot of people do."
She gave him a deliberate onceover then looked away. "Well, I'm not a lot of people."
"I'm Terrence. Harris."
She glanced back at him. "Ella."
He nodded. "Foster, right?"
She tensed immediately. If he knew who she was then she knew exactly what he wanted. Guys were too transparent. She gave a slight nod and focused on the wrestling match between the current winner and one of the basketball players.
"So, are you going to give me that congratulations or not?"
"Why should I?"
"Because I won the game for us tonight."
"Well in that case, congratulations."
She stared up at him. "Now what the fuck do you really want?"
He laughed. "Damn, why do I have to want something?"
"You're a man. You always want something."
His eyes roamed over her. "Well maybe all I wanted was to talk to the finest girl here."
"And maybe if you were honest about what you wanted, you just might get it."
The grin he'd been toying with remained locked in place, but his eyes lusted over her. Ella looked back out at the crowd when he licked his lips, his intentions more than apparent at this point.
"Honesty, huh... It's that simple?"
He nodded and looked back out at the crowd. More people began piling out of the house as the level of wrestling intensified. This was really not her scene anymore. But she just wasn't ready to go back to Steven's. Maybe she could catch a late movie. She was about to walk away when Terrence's lips brushed against her ear.
"So what if I told you that what I really wanted was to fuck ...what then?" he whispered.
Then maybe you could distract me from the hell I'm in. Maybe you could bury yourself so deep inside me that I could forget the emptiness. That for a moment I could just forget.
Those were all the answers to his question, though way deeper than he probably cared to hear.
Ella looked up at him. "Then I suggest we get out of here."
Ella blew smoke up at the sky and watched as it created a fog over the stars before the night wind carried it away. She wished she could be carried away, like dandy lion seeds into the wind. Steven's balcony had become her personal sanctuary. The one corner of the world where she could be left alone, a luxury she hadn't had Thanksgiving Day. She'd spent the majority of the afternoon on Steven's parent's deck with his fourteen year-old cousin, Kelsey, who followed her from room to room talking a mile a minute about how mortifying braces were and the lack of maturity in high school boys. Ella informed her that it didn't disappear with age.
And Steven spent most of the day explaining to his inquisitive family members that she wasn't his girlfriend, which made his evasive answers even more suspicious to his family. But his mother refused to buy any excuses, and whispered to Ella after dinner, "He says that now, but he rarely brings anyone home." She followed it up with a wink and hopeful squeeze of her hand. Steven apologized profusely for his family trying to marry them off and his Uncle Bart who kept giving her hugs and calling her Elsa, but she knew it was all her fault for the intrusion on their warm family gathering.
She'd never seen a family that size that all laughed and got along. Simon never talked about his family and her mom had nothing to say about hers. In a way, that's why the three of them fit. But after that, she worked both Christmas and New Year's to avoid the holiday awkwardness.
"Luu-cccy, I'm home," Steven called out in a spot on Desi Arnaz impression. She looked over her shoulder as he made his way to the balcony.
"Jesus, it's cold out here." He sat down beside her. "What is it with you and cold weather?"
"I can think better. Heat..." She remembered Simon's warm body engulfing hers, "...drives me crazy." She turned to him, taking in his gray blazer and dark jeans. "You look nice. Good date?"
"Yep. Natasha was very good to me. Super hot and super French. Squint just right and she resembles Naomi Campbell."
"She sounds like fun, but what happened to..." The days blurred together as Ella searched through her memory bank of women he had taken out since she'd become his roommate. "...Dawn, strawberry blonde that giggled constantly."
"Giggles had to go."
"Why? She was cute."
"Yeah, but she didn't stop giggling the whole night. And I do mean the whole night. I don't know about you, but in certain..." he hesitated over his words, "...compromising positions, I don't want to hear a girl giggling."
Ella looked back out at the city. "I'll keep that in mind."
"How about you? Do anything fun?"
Images of Terrence above her, battering her insides with clumsy off-tempo strokes while he expressed how tight she was and how his dick was probably the best she'd ever had. She had kept her mind busy with random thoughts during their one-sided pleasure fuck, and was halfway out the door before he could dispose of the soiled condom.
"Lame. You should be out partying every weekend. Hell, I did when I was your age."
"Steven, you still do."
His brow furrowed. "True... But you should go out, have fun and get into some trouble." He grinned. "But not too much trouble. Don't call me from jail or anything. It's not a fun place."
Ella laughed. "You've been in jail?"
"Yep. Ten terrifying hours courtesy of Simon when we were your age."
Her body tingled at the mention of his name. "Why? What did he do?"
"Fucker," Steven said with a laugh. "Some cops had us and a few other guys lined up outside of a bar after a brawl, chastising us on underage drinking and respecting other's property. But he was prepared to let us go when Simon and all his drunken wisdom decided to tell the officer to go fuck himself."
Ella gave a shocked snort and covered her mouth.
"Yeah, well the cop didn't think it was so funny, and we spent the night in county. My dad bailed us out, but he took his sweet time doing it to teach Simon a lesson in keeping your mouth shut and me a lesson in not letting my friends get me into trouble. I think that's the maddest I'd ever been at him." Steven looked away. "But then I remembered his dad was a cop, so it all made sense later."
She followed Steven's eye line and took in the bright lights in the distance.
Most days she felt like a burden on him, even though he ensured her time and time again that she wasn't. Even her mother had bothered him for updates, and she appreciated his friendly yet vague answers on her life when she pried.
And then there were the calls he took out on the balcony with the door closed. Calls she could only assume were from Simon and she wondered what they talked about. Did he ever ask about her or did they avoid any talk of her?
From the corner of her eye, she caught Steven staring at her.
"What's on your mind, princess?"
They never discussed the night she was dropped off, but she often wondered how much he knew about her relationship with Simon.
"Nothing. Just tired."
"Okay." He stood and stretched. "Well, get some rest."
She nodded and he slid open the door.
He looked back at her.
Her hands felt like warm sponge as the words settled like blocks in her throat. She was desperate for anything. Just one mention that Simon had thought about her over the months they'd been apart. A few words from Steven could ease her suffering and maybe she could fully let go.
Does he miss me?
Those four words fell to the tip of her tongue, as she weighed the decision. If he didn't know, it gave too much away. He continued to stare at her as her mind and heart warred against each other.
She quickly turned from him and swallowed. "Goodnight."
She closed her eyes and sighed as the door slid shut behind her.
Predawn spilled through the blinds as the sounds of Mr. Schulman's sprinkler filtered into the room. Simon's shallow breaths tickled the back of her neck and the steady cadence was proof of his heavy slumber. She mindlessly ran her fingertips over the hairs of his forearm that was locked tightly around her waist.
It was in the still of the morning when her decisions came to haunt her and she questioned whether she had done the right thing by moving back in with him. But after nearly a week of walking on egg shells and avoiding the pink elephant in Myra's tiny apartment, she chose to leave and keep some shred of their friendship intact. It had already suffered a permanent strain after the accusation and there were only so many times they could discuss safe topics like the weather or new recipes before wanting to pull their own hair out. She missed her friend, but after the bomb Myra detonated, things couldn't be the same again. At least not for a while. A quiet hotel room sounded promising, but she needed to face things head on, not rely on old comfortable habits.
At first she had traded egg shells at Myra's for land mines that she and Simon tiptoed around. Their reunion was awkward and neither knew exactly what to say. But soon an accidental bump here and a soft touch there, led to friendly conversation until they were able to fall back into a somewhat normal routine of married life.
But the decision to move back in had weighed heavily on her because she didn't want Ella to see it as a betrayal. She had reached out to her several times, but was only able to leave voicemails that went unreturned.
Steven said she had gotten a job at Walton's Cineplex shortly after moving in, and between work and school, he hardly saw her, but believed she was doing well. Patricia had driven by the rundown theater a few times catching glimpses of her daughter working at the cash register or sweeping the lobby. The black pants, burgundy shirt and ponytail were such a foreign but welcome sight for Patricia.
Maybe this awful thing had to happen to change her. At least that was the optimistic version she held onto. She didn't want to be like her mother, thinking the worst of everything and everyone.
Simon's lips brushed the nape of her neck and his hardness rested heavy and firm against her rear. Her body shuddered, craving the physical intimacy they once shared. Early mornings when the world melted away leaving their own private utopia made of warm Egyptian cotton and plush pillows. Her insides would combust again and again as she writhed beneath her husband, leaving bruises and teeth marks on her own bottom lip in a useless effort to quiet her cries of ecstasy.
But since she'd been back, her body and mind fought a private war, one pulling towards Simon's hungry eyes and kisses and the other backing away, confusing her, confusing him and leaving their reunion unconsummated. Leaving their mornings quiet. Too quiet.
And now Simon had taken to jogging at random hours of the night, leaving those quiet as well.
"Good morning, beautiful," he whispered.
The bed dipped slightly when he rose and walked into the bathroom. His morning routine was etched into her brain as the toilet flushed and the shower came on.
In the kitchen, she leaned against the counter and watched the coffee brew, the aroma a constant reminder of past mornings when she was a part of the working force. Through the window the winter winds had scattered their neighbor's plastic Nativity set all over and one of the three Wise Men had blown into their yard. She'd already returned it twice, but now that Christmas had passed, she felt less in the yuletide spirit and the one bearing Frankincense would just have to stay put.
She glanced over her shoulder when Simon entered the kitchen, his dark hair still damp as he straightened his collar. The contrast of his lightly tanned skin against the white button down shirt tugged at the nerves in her upper thighs. She exhaled and poured his coffee, watching the smooth dark liquid fill his cup leaving a puff of steam.
"Thank you, honey." He took a quick sip before tossing his phone into his briefcase.
"Welcome." She blew the steam from her own mug and sipped, the coffee sliding down her throat slowly thawing her soul. Over the past few months, she'd accepted that it was the small comforts she had to seek solace in.