The Secret of Ella and Micha Chapter 16
I don’t know why I’m in here. I started to run down the street with so much adrenaline lashing through me it felt like my chest was going to explode. The rain was pouring down and all I could think about was getting as far away from Micha’s house as possible, but my mind caught up with me and I pulled myself back somehow.
My clothes drip on the bathroom floor, which is still stained red from her blood. I sit down and hug my knees to my chest, staring at the bathtub.
Something died in me when I found her, but I’m not sure what. Maybe my soul. That night, I’d been so determined to go to that stupid party that I left her at the house alone, even though my dad had left me in charge of her.
There was one simple rule: keep an eye on mom. And I couldn’t even follow it.
“Ella, what are you doing in here?” Micha observes me from the doorway, his clothes and hair drenched with rain.
I cuddle my knees against me and squeeze my eyes shut. “I saw you go to your bedroom with Naomi.”
“Okay…” he sounds confused. “Why do you sound upset, though?”
“It doesn’t matter,” I say. “None of this matters.”
“Of course it matters.” He sits down beside me and drapes his arm over his knees. “Otherwise you wouldn’t be in here.”
“You’re right, it does matter.” I run my finger between the cracks in the tile. “I don’t want you to be with Naomi.”
“Wait a minute. Do you think I hooked up with her?”
“Isn’t that what you normally do when you take a girl back to your room?”
“Naomi and I were just talking,” he mutters quietly. “And I haven’t taken a girl back to my room in months.”
Hearing him say that makes me feel better and I start to face the inevitable. I can run all I want and try to shut myself down, but my feelings for Micha will always be there – they control me.
“You know, you scared the shit out of me that night,” he says, staring at the bathtub. “The way you looked when I found you… I don’t ever want to see that look in your eyes again – that emptiness.”
“It was my fault.” I let it fall off my chest and crash into the world. “I was supposed to watch her that night, but I was selfish and thought that stupid party was more important.”
He turns my head toward him and looks me in the eyes, so I can see how much he means what he says. “You’re not selfish. You were seventeen and you made a mistake just like every other seventeen-year-old out there does.”
“She died because of my mistake.” The words scratch at my throat. “If I would have just stayed home like I was supposed to then she wouldn’t be dead.”
“You have to let this go,” he says, his voice strained. “You can’t keep blaming yourself for something that was out of your hands.”
“I wish I could have a redo.” Tears sting the corners of my eyes. “I want to do it over again.”
He covers my hand with his. “I think you might need to talk to someone about this. Otherwise it’s going to haunt you forever.”
I suck the tears back and wiggle my hand away from his. “You think I’m going crazy.”
He shifts in front of me onto his knees, takes my face in his hands, and forces me to look at him. “Look at me. No one thinks you’re crazy. You’re strong, but you’ve been through a lot of shit and you might need some help working through it.”
“I think I’m more fucked up than you realize,” I say. “I can’t even look in a mirror anymore.”
“That does sound crazy.” He tucks my hair out of my face and takes a good look at me. “You’re beautiful.”
I shake my head slowly. “It’s not that. It’s something else. Like if I look in the mirror I have to see what’s really inside.”
“What’s inside isn’t bad.”
“Yes, it is. If you knew the truth, you wouldn’t want to be with me.”
He assesses me closely and then helps me to my feet, pulling me up by the arms.
“What are you doing?” I ask as he steers me by the shoulders to the mirror on the medicine cabinet. I wince at the girl staring back at me; big green eyes, wet hair stuck to her head, and mascara running down her face. I begin to recoil, but he holds me in place and forces me to look at myself.
His aqua eyes lock on my reflection. “When I saw you that night, I felt completely helpless. I loved being able to help you, whether it’s if you fell off the roof and needed to go to the hospital or you needed help climbing up a tree. It has always been my thing since we were kids and I loved every second of it, but that night there was absolutely nothing I could do to help you. I never want to feel that way again.” He takes a deep breath and lets it out gradually. “I love you, Ella May and nothing will ever change that. You can push me away – run away – and I will still love you.”
Hot tears pour out of my eyes and down my cheeks. My shoulders start to shake as I turn to him and bury my face into his chest. His arms circle around my waist and he lifts me up. My arms and legs fasten around him like he is my lifeline, and maybe he is.
He carries me into my room as I continue to sob and he lies down with me on the bed. It’s dark and the music from next door drifts through the open window. Tears spill continuously to downpour from my eyes, and I place my hand over his chest, feeling the beat of his heart. I keep crying years of tears that have been bottled up until finally my eyes run dry.
Then I breathe again.
I wake up early in morning in a state of panic. Ella is fast asleep in my arms, her eyes swollen from crying, and she’s clinging onto me like I’m everything to her. It’s what I’ve always wanted, but something feels unresolved within me and I need to fix it before I get in too deep with her. She needs someone strong and until I face the thing plaguing me, I can’t be that for her.
But I will be.
Carefully, I raise her head from my shoulder and slip out of her room. Her dad’s snoring on the couch, there’s a broken bottle on the kitchen floor, and the back door is wide open. I lock up and then jump the fence. My yard is trashed with beer bottles and cigarette butts and my mom’s car is parked in the driveway.
The inside looks just as bad and I feel like a dick for leaving it for my mom to clean up, but if I don’t go right now, I’ll chicken out. So I hurry to my room, where Ethan’s passed out in my bed with his arms and legs hanging over the side. He still has on the clothes from last night and the whole room stinks of stale booze and cigarettes.
I stuff some clothes into a bag and collect my keys from the dresser.
“Are you going somewhere?” Ethan sits up from the bed, rubbing his eyes.
I swing the bag over my shoulder. “I’m going on a little road trip. I’ll be back in a few days.”
He gapes at me. “By yourself?”
“Yeah, this is something I have to do by myself.”
He considers something. “You’re going to see your father, aren’t you?”
I let out a loud breath. “Yeah man, but don’t say anything, okay?”
Ethan nods. “Alright, if that’s what you want me to do.”
“It is.” I open the door. “And hey, help my mom clean up… and keep an eye on Ella.”
He falls back into the bed. “Alright man, will do.”
I grab my wallet and leave the room, wondering who I’m going to be when I come back.
I wake up to an empty bed, but try to stay calm. I text Micha and ask him where he is because I’m sure there’s an explanation.
“I’m sure it’s nothing bad,” I say, but there’s an unsettling feeling squeezing inside me.
I slip on a pair of shorts and a tank top and go downstairs to head to his house, but Dean, Lila, and a girl with short black hair are sitting at the kitchen table with coffee mugs in front of them. There’s a box of doughnuts on the counter and someone’s taken out the garbage and cleaned the dishes.
“Oh my God, it’s so nice to finally meet you.” The girl with black hair stands up and meets me in the middle of the kitchen.
“Likewise, I guess…” I shake her extended hand, glancing at Lila and then Dean.
Dean gets up and brushes crumbs off the front of his button down shirt. “Ella, this is my fiance, Caroline.”
My mouth forms an “O.” She’s not how I pictured her; short and slender, with tan skin and shoulder length wavy hair. She has a vest on over a t-shirt and a pair of black jeans. There’s a butterfly tattoo on her wrist and her ears have multiple piercings. I pictured her more prim and proper, by the way my brother showed up looking.
“Dean’s told me so much about you,” she says with a genuine smile. “And I’m finally glad to have a face to attach to the stories he’s been telling me.”
My eyes wander to Dean and my eyebrows arch up. “Stories, huh? I’d love to hear these stories.”
She doesn’t miss a beat. “Like how you like to draw and how you love cars. He also said you attend UNLV, which is so cool because that’s where I went.”
“I thought you said you didn’t know where I was,” I say to Dean.
He shifts uneasily. “Dad told me once during like a five minute conversation. But anyway, it’s not a big deal, Ella, for me to tell my fiance about my little sister.”
“It kind of is.” My voice carries an underlying meaning that only he will understand. “All things considering.”
Dean hisses through clenched teeth. “Ella, can you not start this shit. It’s too early in the morning.”
Caroline glances from Dean to me then back to Dean. “You weren’t lying. You guys’ relationship is a little intense.”
Removing myself from the conversation, I pull my hair into a ponytail and pour myself a cup of coffee. Breathing in the aroma, I stare out the window, noting that Micha’s car isn’t next door.
“Where the hell is he?” I mutter to myself.
Suddenly, I’m being yanked by the arm out of the room.
“Hey,” I protest as hot coffee spills onto my foot. “What is your problem?”
“Look.” Dean says once we’re in the living room. “I didn’t invite her here. She just showed up to surprise me.”
“So you don’t want her here?” I take a sip of my coffee, hiding my amusement.
He rubs the back of his neck tensely. “There’s just stuff she doesn’t know about me yet and I don’t think I’m ready to tell her.”
“You told her about me.”
“But not dad. And not mom either.”
I set the cup down on the table and wipe up the coffee from my foot with a towel. “Okay, so what do you want to do about it?”
“Could you hang out with her for the day, while I pack up the rest of my room?” he asks. “And then I can get her out of here by tomorrow morning.”
“You should just tell her the truth.” I toss the towel on the couch. “Avoiding the problem will only catch up with you.”
He pulls an annoyed face. “You’re one to talk.”
“I know and I’m working on it.” My voice shakes a little and I clear it.
His face is turning red. “Would you please just keep her busy?”
“I guess.” I shrug. “But where do you want me to take her?”
“For a drive around the lake or something,” he says. “I don’t care just as long as you keep her away from here.”
I collect my coffee and proceed for the kitchen, while he heads for the stairs to finish packing.
“And Ella,” he calls out from the stairway “You look different today – happier.”
I give him a small smile, and then I turn away, wondering what looks different.