The Secret of Ella and Micha Chapter 6
The pain in her eyes nearly kills me. If it were possible, I’d go back in time and stop her from climbing down that tree that God awful night. Maybe then, I’d still have my best friend.
I decide to make a sporadic stop to try and get Ella out of her own head. I park the car in an open space in front of the small coffeehouse located in the heart of town, between the Stop n’ Shop and Bubba’s Sports Barn. I shut off the engine and wait patiently for her to scold me.
Her face reddens as she takes in where we are. “Micha, I’m really not in the mood for this right now. I have things to do and so does Lila.”
“Come on, you haven’t seen me play in ages,” I coax, using my best seductive voice. “I’ll just do one song. In and out and we’re done.”
“Sounds cool to me,” Lila says from the backseat, finally relaxing a little now that we’re far away from Grady’s trailer. “I love hearing bands and lead singers are always sexy.”
“Micha plays the guitar and sings by himself,” Ella says with a flicker of possessiveness in her eyes. “He’s not a lead singer. He’s a solo singer.”
“It’s all the same to me.” Lila pats Ella’s head and in a way I think she’s making a private joke with her. “Band or not, a guy who can sing and play is hot.”
I grin charismatically and incline over the console. “Come on, pretty girl.” I wind a strand of her hair around my finger. “You know you want to come in and watch me be all hot and sexy, singing up on the stage. You know you’ve missed it.”
Her eyes narrow at me as she fights back a smile. “You know that voice doesn’t work on me. I’ve seen you use it too many times on too many girls.”
“I haven’t used it on a girl since you left.” I let the truth fall out. I used to come and go as I please with whoever I wanted, but once things started to change with our friendship, it became clear the void I was trying to fill was in her. “And I don’t want to use it on anyone – “
She conceals her hand over my mouth. “I’ll go in with you, but only if you stop talking about stuff that makes me uncomfortable.”
“Wait. What about my car?” Lila scoots forward and fixes her hair using the rearview mirror. “It’s getting late. Won’t the shop be closed soon?”
I move Ella’s hand away from my lips and entwine her fingers with mine. “We’ll make it back in time. I promise.”
Ella hesitates, staring at the coffeehouse like she’s a mouse about to walk into a lion’s den.
I squeeze her hand. “Come on, let’s go in. You’ll be okay.”
She looks at our hands, and then her gaze lifts, giving a fleeting glance at my lips before resolving on my eyes. “Is everyone still hanging out here?”
“Kelly and Mike do and Renee and Ethan,” I say. “Grantford doesn’t really come around here anymore, though.”
Her plump lips curl to a grin. “Because you punched him in the face.”
“That might be part of it.” I return her smile and let go of her hand to climb out of the car. It feels like I might be getting somewhere with her.
She hops out and stretches, arching her back and sticking out her chest. It makes me want to rip off her shirt, pull her in the backseat, and do things to her I’ve never done with anyone I’ve cared about before.
“What are you looking at?” She pulls the bottom of her tank top back over her stomach.
She really has no idea how beautiful she is. She never has. Even back in her punk/goth faze, she rocked the look.
I shake my head, unable to take my eyes off her. “Nothing. Just thinkin’.”
She slams the door and we head across the packed parking lot. I rest my hand on her lower back, but she wiggles away and sidesteps around Lila, putting her between us.
I frown. Maybe I’m not doing as well as I thought.
If he keeps looking at me that way, my restraint is going to melt into a puddle of hot, steamy liquid. Micha has the most piercing eyes in the world, aqua blue, like the sea, waved with equal intensity. He’s flirty with me, which he used to do jokingly all the time, and I’d play along.
But this is different somehow, more intense and real. It’s like he’s throwing his heart into the open, which isn’t how he used to be. At least with me. Except for the day I left.
The coffeehouse is cramped with people, even for a Saturday afternoon. Every booth and table is occupied and there’s a guy with floppy brown hair playing the keyboard on stage, his voice a little off-key. The baristas are working hard on the long line that extends all the way to the door and in the corner, people are working on their laptops.
“Where are we going to sit?” Lila scans the room. “There’s no empty tables.”
Micha spots Ethan and Renee at a corner table and waves at them. “Seat situation solved,” he says, taking my hand and leading the way to them.
Renee is a short girl that wears heavy eyeliner and has dark red hair. Her hazel eyes zone in on Micha’s hand tangled with mine. I attempt to pull my hand away, but Micha strengthens his grasp.
“Hey, Ella.” She fakes a smile with her dark red lips. “What ya been up to?”
“Nothing much,” I keep it simple, because simple is always better with Renee.
“And so we meet again.” Ethan flashes a dimpled grin at Lila and pulls out a chair for her. “You decided to stick around here for a while.”
Lila looks up at him as she takes a seat. “Thank you. I kind of had to since my car was trashed last night.”
Micha drops down in the last empty chair at the table and starts to pull me down to sit on his lap. My eyes sweep the room in search of an extra chair, but it’s so packed that people have to stand near the walls.
“I don’t bite, Ella May.” There is a challenge in Micha’s eyes. “Unless you ask me to.”
Everyone at the table is watching me. Not wanting to make a scene, I sink down on his lap. Ethan targets Micha with a bewildered look, which Micha ignores and steals a scone out of a basket in the middle of the table.
He pops it into his mouth. “So what time’s Open Mic?”
Ethan’s dark eyebrows plunge together. “Why? Are you thinking about playing again? Cause’ all I can say is it’s about freakin’ time.”
“What do you mean again?” I ask, grabbing a scone myself. “Why hasn’t he been playing?”
Ethan shoves up the sleeves of his shirt, crosses his arms on the table, and directs Micha with their secret-code look I have never been able to crack. I revolve my body to look at Micha, but instantly regret it. His eyes are too intense and I’m thrown out of my element for a second.
“You stopped playing?” I ask him. “Why would you do that? Isn’t it your dream still?”
He shrugs, snaking his arms around my waist. “It’s not the same without you here watching me.”
“There were times I didn’t watch you play.” I put my hands on his shoulders. “Even when I lived here.”
He shakes his head and wisps of his blonde hair fall across his forehead. “That’s not true. You never missed one.”
I think back, knowing he’s right. “I don’t want you to stop living your life because I’m not here anymore.”
“And I don’t want you to be anywhere but here.” He squeezes my hip and I instinctively jump at the tingling heat that spirals down between my legs.
“What can I get you?” The waitress interrupts us. We all read off what we want, and the waitress gets particularly giggly when she writes down Micha’s order, even though I’m sitting on his lap.
Her name is Kenzie and I’ve never liked her. She used to help Stacy Harris torment this girl we went to school with, who was in a wheelchair. I casually lean back against Micha’s chest, as if I’m doing it by accident. No one seems to notice except for the waitress. And Micha. His heart beat speeds up as if the nearness of my body is driving him mad.
She frowns and tucks the order book into her apron. “I’ll be right back with your drinks.”
I wait for Micha to call me out, but he stays quiet and keeps his hands on the tops of my bare thighs. I know it’s wrong and that he’s not mine. I made that clear the day I bailed, but I can’t seem to help myself. Ever since we were kids, I always felt the need to keep him away from girls who aren’t good enough for him.
Old habits die hard.
Ethan is looking at me like I’m an idiot. Probably because I’m smiling like an idiot, but I can’t help myself. Ella got territorial with the waitress. She’s never done that before, not even before she left.
“This band’s interesting,” Lila hollers over the banjo band playing up on stage. “Is this the kind of music you play?”
Ethan, Renee, and I burst out laughing. Even Ella covers her mouth, trying really hard not to laugh.
“No sweetie, this isn’t what I play.” I gulp my coffee. “Mines more…”
“Hot and sexy,” Ella says and I stare at her. She ignores my gaze and adds, “Think more along the lines of Spill Canvas.”
Lila brushes some crumbs off the table. “That band you’re always listening to when you’re studying?”
Ella nods, but shifts awkwardly. “That’s the one.”
It makes me feel better that she still listens to the same music. At least that hasn’t changed. I keep one hand on her leg, afraid if I release her completely, she’ll run off again. I steal another scone from the basket and pop it into my mouth. Lila starts chatting with Ethan and Renee gets on her cellphone.
I sweep Ella’s hair to the side and put my lips to her ear. “So you think I’m hot and sexy, huh?”
She bites back a smile, pretending to be deeply immersed in the banjo song. “No, I said your music is hot and sexy.”
“It’s all the same.” I dare a kiss against her shoulder, relishing the softness of her skin, wanting her so God damn bad I’m getting a hard on just thinking about it.
Ella notices it too and squirms around in my lap, making it worse. “Down boy,” she jokes with a nervous laugh, then presses her lips together and starts to stand up.
I trap her down by the hips and conform her backside onto my lap. We fit together so perfectly it’s mind blowing and all those feelings I felt for her before she left come rushing back to me. I need more of her. Now. Oblivious to everyone around us, my hands gradually slide up her thighs.
“Micha.” She protests with a quiver in her voice. “Don’t. There are people…”
I silence her as my fingers brush the edges of her skirt. I can’t stop – I’ve been carrying this sexual tension for ages. I started having these feelings for her when we were about sixteen. I ignored them for as long as possible, because I knew she’d freak if she found out. There were a few stolen kisses that I played off, but the night on the bridge, when I finally put it out there, changed everything. She freaked out just like I thought.
Right after she left, I slept around, trying to get rid of the hunger inside of me, but after a while, I realized there was no point. Ella had taken something from me and there was no getting it back, unless I had her.
So I let my hands sneak up the edge of her skirt and her fingers knead into my thighs. I wonder how far I should take this, since we’re sitting in a booth in a crowded room, and I almost pull back, but one of her legs falls to the side, and I view it as an open invitation.
“Alright, it’s time for open mic.” The waitress that undressed me with her eyes speaks into the microphone on the stage. “If you already haven’t signed up, you can sign up with Phil over there.” She points her finger at the owner, a middle-aged man sitting in the corner next to the speakers.
“I think that’s your cue.” Ella quickly gets up, thinking she’s off the hook.
Before I head up to the signup sheet, I spread my fingers across her lower back and whisper in her ear, “Don’t think this is over because it’s not.”
She shivers and I strut off to the table with a satisfied smile on my face.
“Well, son of a bitch,” Phil says from behind the table. He’s an ex-band member of an 80’s cover band and still looks like he belongs in that decade with his mullet and neon clothes. “Look what the dog dragged in.”
“Miss me that bad, huh?” I jot down my name on the signup sheet.
“Are you kidding me?” he asks. “All we’ve had to listen to for the last few months is banjo music and a couple of hippies playing on the bongos. I swear it’s like Woodstock all over again.”
I laugh, dropping the pen onto the table. “Well it’s nice to know I’ve been missed, I guess.”
Phil fiddles with the volume of the amps. “More than missed. Please tell me you’re going to start playing here again. I’m in desperate need of some draw-in. This place is going downhill.”
I smile politely, backing toward the table. “Nah, probably not. I don’t think I’m going to be sticking around here much longer. I’ve got places to go, people to see.”
On my way back to the table, I cross paths with Naomi. She is Phil’s daughter, tall, with long black hair, and she’s an awesome singer. I used to play with her back before she went on the road with a band. We were actually pretty close, but I haven’t talked to her since she left.
“Oh my God, I’m so glad I ran into you,” she says and there’s a little bit of red lipstick on her teeth.
“Isn’t everyone?” I tease walking backwards.
She laughs and swats my arm. “I see you still have that whole cocky attitude going.”
I drop the act. “So you’re back in town?”
“Yeah, but only for a few weeks. Can we chat up after you play? There’s something I really need to talk to you about. Something huge actually.”
“How’d you know I was playing?”
She points a finger at the table. “I just saw you sign up.”
“Alright, I’ll catch up with you later.” I wave good-bye, wondering what she could possibly want.
Damn Micha. He’s killing me with his touches and longing gazes and now he’s going to sing. I’ve always had a soft spot for his voice. We’d sit on his bed and he’d strum his guitar while I sketched. Those were some of the perfect moments in my life.
“Ella, what’s the matter with you?” Lila asks with an accusation. “You look a little flushed.”
I sip my latte and realign the holder in the center of the table, so I can’t see my reflection in the stainless steel. “It’s just a little hot in here. That’s all.”
“Yeah, sure it is.” She won’t stop looking at me, like she’s trying to crack open my head.
As Micha steps onto the stage not too far from our table, my heart starts to chant unspeakable words.
Sitting on a stool with his guitar on his lap he puts his lips up to the microphone, nibbling on his lip ring. “This one’s called ‘What No One Ever Sees’.”
He strums a chord with his eyes locked on me,
“I see it in your beautiful eyes, like a spot on the sun.
The things you want to hide, buried deep inside you.
Blinded by your light.
It almost hurts to look at, almost hurts to breathe.
Never can you look at the things no one ever sees
Shaded by your light.
Please take me inside you, please take me in.
Never will I whisper, never will I give in.
Even when I’m dying, your heart will always win.
Shielded to the sightless, isolated from the naive.
Breaking you in pieces, that can only ever grieve.
Veiled by your light.
Passionate for the world, yet overlooked by most.
Your soul flickers in you, desperate to shine for the world
But blinded by your darkness.
Please take me inside you, please take me in.
Never will I whisper, never will I give in.
Even when I’m dying, your heart will always win.”
With one lasting note, he ends the song. The crowd applauds and my eyes dart away from his penetrating gaze, and to the door. I want to run away like the room is on fire.
“Holy crap,” Lila breathes, fanning herself. “You were right. That was HOT.”
“I can play the drums.” Ethan taps his fingers on the table, and makes drum noises. “And I’m pretty good.”
“Don’t let him fool ya.” Renee sips her coffee and a smirk curls at her lips. “He can play the drums on Rock Band and that’s it.”
Ethan shoots Renee a dirty look. “Would you quit it? It’s not funny anymore.”
Lila looks at me for an explanation.
“This is how they are,” I explain with a heavy sigh. “They fight like cats and dogs.”
Lila props her elbows onto the table and rests her chin on her hands. “El, doesn’t your brother play drums?”
“Yeah, Dean did,” I say. “A little bit, anyway.”
“Now Dean’s hot,” Renee remarks, aiming to get under my skin.
Micha collects his guitar and clears the stage for the next singer, a girl with pink dreads who looks like she has a grudge against the world. A tall girl with long legs meets Micha at the corner of the stage. Her wavy black hair flows down her back, her grey eyes are striking, and her smile is bright. Her name is Naomi and she’s the daughter of the owner of the coffeehouse, who Micha played with a few times.
She says something to Micha and he laughs. A flicker of envy burns in me, but I suppress it quickly. She leads him off the stage and Micha’s hand roams toward her back. He flashes me one last glance, before he ducks behind stage. I can’t read him at all and that frightens me more than when I can.
Lila drinks her soy latte and peeks at me over the brim of her cup. “I don’t care what you say. That boy is in love with you.”
I stay silent, tearing up a napkin until it’s shaped like a heart. “He might be, but not the kind of love you’re talking about.”
“So, Ella,” Ethan interrupts and I swear he does it intentionally. If he did, I’m thankful for it. “How’s the city life?”
“Stupendous.” I ruffle up the napkin and toss it into the empty scone basket.
“That doesn’t sound very convincing.” Ethan drapes an arm on the back of Lila’s chair and places his foot on his knee. “Don’t you like it there?”
I force myself to cheer up and sit up straight. “Actually, it’s pretty nice. There’s a lot to do and the school is great.”
“You’re acting weird.” Ethan eyes me, rubbing his chin. “Something’s got you all wound up.”
“I’m completely okay,” I say in denial. “Although, the excessive questions are a bit much.”
Lila peers over at me as she licks froth from her lips. “He’s right. You look upset or something.” She feels my forehead. “You’re not getting sick, are you?”
Micha returns to the table and the coffeehouse has cleared out a bit. He grabs a vacant chair, pulls it up to the table, turning it backwards, and then sits down in it.
“So what are we up to for the rest of the night?” Ethan asks while Micha checks his messages on his phone.
“I got to take this pretty lady over here to get her car fixed by you.” Micha nods his head at Lila.
Ethan looks pleased. “Wow, I’m honored to be the one to fix it.”
Micha slides his phone into his pocket. “We have to swing by Ella’s house and pick it up, so meet us at the shop in like a half-an-hour.”
“Absolutely.” Ethan waves the waitress over to give us the check.
“What do you think?” Micha asks me. “Does it sound like a plan?”
I shrug, distracted by where he went with that girl. “Yeah, sure.”
Everyone takes their coffee’s to-go and we head for the door. I leave mine behind, along with something else, but I’m not sure what.
Perhaps a piece of my new identity.
Micha and I don’t speak the entire drive home. It freaks Lila out a little and I worry that the more time she spends here with me, the less time she’s going to want to spend with me on campus. When we pull into the driveway that routes the side of my house, there is a painful reminder of another reason I didn’t want to come back waiting for me near the garage.
“Whose car is that?” Lila scoots forward in her seat. “It’s gorgeous.”
“Why is he here?” I grimace, scowling at the shiny red Porsche with Ohio license plates.
“Now be nice,” Micha warns, his voice dripping with sarcasm. “He’s your brother.”
“But it doesn’t make him less of an asshole,” I mutter. “And he swore when he left, he was never coming back here ever again.”
“That’s your brother’s car?” Lila asks. “Good God, what does he do for living?”
I press the tips of my fingers to the sides of my nose. “Who knows?”
“Well, how does he afford a car like that?” she requests interestedly.
“It’s not his car,” I say. “It’s my mothers.”
Micha and I swap an oblique look, recalling the day the car mysteriously showed up in the garage. She never would tell anyone how she got it, and for a while, Dean and I expected the police to show up and arrest her for car thievery. It never happened and as time went on, it became like a game to my mother. Not just with the car, but with life. We never knew if she was telling the truth or not.
After she died, Dean took the car. He acted like it was his right and maybe it was. He wasn’t the one who’d snuck out of the house that night and left our mother alone.
“And that gorgeous car over there is yours,” I remind Lila, diverting her attention elsewhere. “You should probably go get it fixed, before Ethan wanders off from the shop.”
She slumps back in the chair. “I’d really like to meet your brother first before I go.”
“I’m sure he’ll still be here when you get back.” Actually I’m hoping he’ll be gone.
“Come on, Lila, we’ll make it quick.” Micha opens the door. “We can drop it off and walk back. It isn’t too far.”
When I climb outside, he captures my gaze over the roof of the car. “Are you coming with us?”
“I think I need to stay.” My eyes travel to the back door. “Who knows why he’s here and what he’ll say to dad? And I don’t think dad can handle his crap.”
Pressing his hands to the roof, he leans over. “But can you handle his crap?”
“I’ll be fine,” I assure him. “Just get her car fixed. She needs to get out before she gets sucked into this place.”
“This town isn’t that bad.” Micha closes the door. “You used to think the same thing.”
“I also used to believe my mom would get better,” I say. “And look what a crashing disappointment that was.”
From the back of the car, Lila blinks at me, stunned. “Ella, I didn’t know your mom was sick.”
Micha’s expression is guarded. “Let’s go, Lila. Ella’s right, if Ethan gets too bored, he’ll bail.”
They head for Lila’s car and I head up the driveway, wishing I could run back into Micha’s arms and alleviate the hole in my chest.
I worry about Ella the entire drive to the shop. Dean was never a good brother and at the funeral, he blamed Ella for their mother’s death. He basically tore her to shreds. Maybe it was his way of mourning, but it was still a shitty thing to do.
“So what’s up with Ella and her brother?” Lila asks, resting her arm on the console.
“I think that’s something you should probably talk to her about.” I turn the car into the parking lot of the shop. “It’s not really my story to tell.”
Lila unclips her seatbelt. “But Ella’s never really told me much about her life. She has always been so quiet about it and I just thought it was her personality, but the way everyone talks about her around here, I don’t think it is.”
“She used to be pretty loud spoken.” I reach for the door, but hesitate, needing to get it off my chest. “The Ella I knew was not the prim and proper girl you’ve been hanging out with. She had this fire in her and she didn’t put up with anyone’s crap. It got her into trouble a lot, but she was also the kind of person who would take the fall, even if it wasn’t her fault.”
“I think I saw that part of her when we stopped at a bathroom when we first got to town,” Lila muses. “There was this guy there who was giving me crap and Ella nearly beat him up.”
I try not to smile. “She did, did she?”
“Is that how she was when you knew her? Like a total badass?” Lila grins and I realize she’s not as bad as I originally thought.
“Yeah, she was always kind of a badass.” I shove the door open and my boots scuff the gravel as I climb out.
There are a few cars parked in front of the metal building and both the garage doors are open. A truck is parked inside and the owner of the shop – Ethan’s dad – is working under the hood.
“So what do you do?” Lila asks as we head to the entrance.
“A little of this,” I joke. “And a little of that.”
“So it’s a secret.” She picks up on my vibe.
I swing the chain attached to my jeans. “For now, it kind of is.”
“Gotcha.” She doesn’t press and I like her even more.
Ethan is waiting for us in the lobby, slouched back in a chair with his shoes kicked up on the counter and his head slanted back. “It’s about damn time. I was about ready to leave.”
Lila starts to giggle as she takes out her phone from her purse. “You guys weren’t lying.”
Ethan lowers his feet to the floor and stands up. “What’s so funny?”
“Nothing.” I shrug him off, resting my arms on the counter. “Ella and I just told her that if we didn’t hurry up you’d get bored and leave.”
“So you were talking about me behind my back.” He walks around the counter by Lila. “You got the keys or did you leave them in?” I toss him the keys and he catches them. “Where’s Ella?”
“Her brother showed up,” I explain. “She’s back at her house.”
Ethan’s eyebrows shoot upward. “And you left her there alone with him?”
“Only to drop this off,” I say. “Lila and I are going to walk back.”
Lila glances back and forth between Ethan and me. “Is something wrong with Ella’s brother?”
“She’ll be fine.” I lean against the glass door with my arms folded and check my watch. “But we should get back.”
“I think I should stay here,” Lila says, frowning at her phone.
“Are you sure?” I ask. “Ethan will take good care of it.”
She looks upset as she tosses the phone into her purse. “Yeah, I need to make sure everything’s taken care of properly.”
“Alright, can you find your way back to the house?” I nudge the door open.
“I’ll make sure she gets there,” Ethan offers with a shrug.
Lila adjusts her purse on her shoulder and gives him a small smile. “Thank you.”
“Alright, if it’s okay with the both of you, then I guess I’ll see you later.” I hike across the parking lot, toward the street. It’s getting late, and the odds of Lila’s car being fixed by the end of the day are pretty fucking low. I take out my cell phone and text Ella.
Me: Just wantin to make sure ur ok?
I walk down the sidewalk fenced by houses and dried out lawns. There is a drug exchange going on at the corner between a group of kids that still look young enough to be in high school. This side of town is pretty crappy, which I’m okay with now, but when Ella and I were kids, it was harder to deal with.
Ella was always so curious about stuff. There were many times we got chased down for sticking our noses where they didn’t belong and I got my ass kicked defending Ella quite a few times.
But I’d do it again in a heartbeat because when it all comes down to it, it’s just me and her against the world. Always has been.
My phone buzzes inside my pocket and I check the message, surprised to see Ella’s name on the screen.
Ella: No, I don’t think I am.
Without a second thought, I run as fast as I can toward her house.