The Secret of Ella and Micha / Chapter 18

Chapter 18


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Ella

Micha won't text me back and it's eating away at my mind. I need to find out where he is, but Caroline's making it difficult. She's a photographer and wants to take pictures of the different views of our town. I take her to the lake first because it's the sunnier side of town, and pull over in a few different turnouts that give her various views. When we reach the bridge, she gets really enthusiastic and wants pictures of it too.

"It has so much history to it," she says. "And it probably carries a lot of memories for people."

I wonder if Caroline is a mind reader on top of a photographer.

A thin cloud of dust surrounds us as I tap the brakes and park the car just at the brink of the bridge and she hops out with her camera bag on her shoulder. Lila and I trek after her, taking our sweet time, but I halt at the line that splits the road from the bridge.

"So is this the bridge?" Lila asks, watching me through her sunglasses.

I stare at the spot on the ground where Micha and I stood kissing in the rain. "Yeah, this is the bridge." With a quiver in my heart, I step onto the concrete and walk up to the railing. Gripping the bar, I gaze out at the lake, glistening in the sunlight, so much brighter than that rainy night.

Caroline clicks her camera, getting the lake at every angle while Lila roams to the other side. The wind blows through my hair and I shut my eyes, going back to that night. I'd been cleaning out my mom's medicine cabinet earlier that morning and had come across the bottle of pills she'd taken to keep her delusions under control. I'd wondered if they'd worked for her and how they made her mind see life. So I took one to see for myself and then headed off with Micha to a party.

As soon as I'd climbed in his car, he'd sensed something was off with me. "You look out of it," he said. "Maybe we should just stay in tonight."

I shook my head and motioned for him to drive. Frowning, he drove us to the party, but he kept a close eye on me almost the entire night, following me like a puppy. Usually, I didn't mind, but I grew restless with the desire to figure out what the hell my mother was thinking. So when Micha got preoccupied by a girl, I cornered Grantford and asked him to drive me to the bridge. He had happily obliged, thinking he was going to get some.

When we arrived at the bridge it was raining buckets of water. I thanked him politely and told him he could go. He was pissed and started yammering something about why the hell did he drive me out here.

I shrugged and slammed the door shut, stepping out into the rain. He spun away from the bridge, the tires of his pickup kicking up gravel and mud all over my boots. I walked over to the railing and stepped up onto the curb, observing the water through the veil of rain. But it wasn't close enough, so I stepped up onto the beam just like I remembered her doing.

It still didn't make sense why she did it - why she thought she could fly and I don't think it ever will.

I jerk away from my reminiscing and concentrate on Caroline, who's still snapping pictures, with the long lens of her camera close to my face.

"You're a deep thinker," she remarks and clicks her camera again. "And you photograph well."

I shake my head. "No, I'm not. Not really."

She snaps another picture and moves the camera away. "As a photographer I get to see through a totally different eye. I think it makes me see people differently - more clearly."

"Like a mirror?"

"Yeah, kind of."

She turns the lens toward the lake and starts snapping pictures of it. I recline against the railing and scroll through my messages. I only have one, Micha's voicemail from a few weeks ago. I decide maybe it's time.

I press dial and put it up to my ear.

"Hey Ella, it's Micha," he says nervously, unlike himself, and sighs "Well, that was a stupid opening line, so pretend you didn't hear that."

A smile tugs at the corners of my lips. That sounds more like him.

"Anyway, I'm kind of irritated that you just took off and haven't called." He pauses and I can hear Ethan in the background. "Actually, I'm fucking pissed off. I don't even know what to say. You just bail after everything we've been through. Do you know how crazy I've been wondering where you were or if you were even alive?

My heart compresses in my chest. I've never heard him so upset.

"You just bailed out on everyone and people need you, even if you don't think so. Grady's sick - he has cancer and..." He inhales a shaky breath. "I still love you... I don't know what else to say and there's probably not even a point of saying anymore... you won't call me back."

It clicks and the message ends. It's not what I was imagining. I'd never once looked at it from his side - how worried he must have been. I send him another text, but again, he doesn't respond.

***

One week passes and I still don't hear from Micha. He won't call me or answer my texts, and his phone is going straight to voicemail. His mom has no idea where he is either and she's starting to get really worried.

Ever since I returned from the bridge, little images of what happened when Micha picked me up that night have been flickering through my head. Something infinite happened that night, not with Micha, but with me.

I arrive at the conclusion, while I'm sitting out on my porch, staring at his vacant driveway, that it's time to get to the bottom of what's going on with Micha. There is only one person I could think of who might know where he is. Ethan. And I need backup.

"What are we trying to get out of him?" Lila asks as I drive up to the shop Ethan works at.

"Where Micha is." I tell her, putting the shifter into park. "And I think Ethan might know."

Her forehead scrunches as she eyes the open garage door. Ethan is behind a car being worked on, tossing a screwdriver and catching it like a baseball. "But why am I here?"

"Because you're my backup."

"And what exactly is it you want me to do?"

"I'm not sure yet." I bite my nail, assessing the situation.

Ethan is dressed in a nice pair of jeans and plaid button-down shirt, not his work clothes, which means he can leave if he wants to and he probably will, making this as difficult as possible. Especially if Micha told him not to tell me.

He tips his head back and laughs at something his dad said. Then his eyes find my dad's Firebird and his expression drops. I open the door and he throws down the tool and runs through the shop. I jog across the gravel and swing open the front door, leaving Lila behind.

Sitting behind the counter is Mrs. Gregory, Ethan's mother who has the same dark hair and brown eyes as Ethan. She looks up quickly from a magazine and her eyes brighten.

"Ella, is that you?" She gets up from the stool and rounds the counter to give me a hug. "I didn't know you were back, honey."

"For the summer, I am." My eyes skim the room and the shop. "Is Ethan in there?"

She points over her shoulder. "He just ran back into the storage room. You want me to go get him?"

"Would you mind if I did?" I ask politely.

"Sure, hun." She steps aside and lets me behind the counter.

The storage room is lined with rows and rows of shelves holding parts for cars. It's quiet, dark, and the sink has a drip.

"Ethan," I say, shutting the door quietly behind me. "I know you're in here."

"I hear a shuffle from the back corner diagonal from me. I hurry down the tire aisle, peeking through the shelf, and catch him running up the other side. I skitter backwards, hoping to cut him off at the end by the door.

"Ethan will you please talk to me?" My voice echoes back at me. Looking left then right, I exit the aisle. "Look, I know he told you where he went, so will you please just tell me... or at least tell me if he's okay."

He suddenly reveals himself from an aisle a few rows down. "He told me not to tell you where he was."

I press my lips together at the sting in my heart. "I need to know. I'm worried about him."

He props his elbow on the edge of a shelf. "Well, now you know how he's felt for the last eight months."

The painful feeling of reality sinks in. "Please, please, will you just tell me where he is. It's killing me not knowing."

He eyes me over, like he's hunting for my sincerity. "He went to see his dad."

My jaw almost hits the floor. "When did he find out where his dad was?"

Ethan sighs and leans against the shelf. "He started calling the house a few weeks ago, asking to talk to Micha. Micha wouldn't talk to him, but then a few days ago, he finally decided it was time to go see him."

"Is he still with his dad?" I ask.

He hesitates. "No... Let's just say the visit didn't go very well."

I force the lump in my throat down. "Is he okay?"

"I'm not sure....He was staying with some of our old friends over at Farrows Park the last time I talked to him."

"Is he coming back?"

"Again, I'm not sure."

I sink to the cold concrete floor and let my head fall into my hands. "Why didn't he tell me?"

Ethan puffs out a loud breath and sits down beside me. "Because he didn't want you dealing with his problems on top of your own. He worries about you all the time. It's kind of annoying." I raise my head and scowl at him. He chuckles and nudges me with his elbow. "What? I'm the one who's had to listen to him talk about you for the last eight months. At one point, I almost stabbed my ears out just so I didn't have to hear it."

I give a gentle pat to his knee. "Pretend all you want. You're not as bad of a guy as you want people to think."

He comprehends the deeper meaning to my words. "Yeah, yeah, say what you want, but deep down, I'm just your average douche bag, like every other guy out there."

Laughing, we get up and go out to the lobby, where there's a guy waiting at the front counter. He walks me to the door and stares out at Lila sitting out on the hood of my car examining her watch.

"So what are you going to do?" he asks as I push open the door.

"I'm not sure yet," I say. "I doubt you're going to tell me where the house is that he's staying at."

"I don't think it'd be a good idea for you to go there. He needs to clear his head." He backs up toward the register with his hands stuffed into his pockets. "I got customers to take care of."

I meet Lila at the car and she slides off the hood. "Did he tell you anything?"

We climb in the car and I quickly explain to her the vague details of what happened.

"So where are we going?" she asks, buckling her seatbelt.

The sunlight sparkles through the windshield and into my eyes. "We're going home."

***

A couple more days drag by and I still don't hear anything from Micha. It baffles me how much I miss him, but I do my best to keep busy, not wanting to get sucked up in the loneliness and worry.

Dean and Caroline went home about a week ago. Caroline told me they'd come back to visit before the summer was over or she would at least see me again at the wedding, which is in October.

Lila is out for the day with Ethan, not on a date, something they both insisted when I brought it up. My dad is locked in his room. He had a rough night and got into a fight. I received a call from Denny at two o'clock in the morning telling me to come pick him up. Deciding I need a break from my house, I peek in on my dad who is fast asleep, and then drive over to Grady's house. Amy's car is parked in front of the trailer and the front door is wide open, swaying in the wind a little.

I hop out of the car as she walks outside with a bag over her shoulder and a box of Grady's stuff in her arms.

I fear the worst has happened. "Is everything okay?"

She sighs, transferring the box to the side of her hip to free her hand so she can get the car door open. "He caught a bad case of pneumonia and he's been taken to the hospital over in Monroe."

I brace my hand on the trunk of the car for support. "Is he okay?"

Shaking her head, she sets the box on the seat and slams the door shut with her hip. "His body's already fightin' cancer. This just makes things worse."

"I need to go see him," I mumble and turn for my car.

"He can't have visitors right now, Ella," she says empathetically. "His immune system's too low."

I frown. "Will you let me know when he can?"

She gives me a small smile, but there's something in her eyes I don't like. "Yeah, hun. I will."

As I back down the driveway, watching her lock up, I feel helpless and out-of-control. I want to run away, back to Vegas, or somewhere else equally as far away, so I won't have to feel it.

But I don't.

***

I try not to stress too much about Grady, but my thoughts keep drifting to him. Whether he's in a hospital bed with sterilized walls? Or did Amy take a box of his stuff to fix it up for him?

"What song is this?" Lila is lying on her stomach in my bed, flipping through the pages of a magazine.

"'Black Sun' by Jo Mango," I say, sharpening one of my charcoal pencils over the garbage in my bedroom.

"It's sad." She frowns, resting her chin in her hand. "It makes me want to cry."

"It's a good song to draw to." I return to my drawing on the floor. The dark lines of it form pieces of a shattered mirror and I start sketching a picture of a guitar inside one of them. When I'm done, each piece will hold something about my life, but it might take me a while to finish it.

Lila raises her head away from her hand and glances at the window. "Did you hear that?"

There's shouting coming from outside, loud enough to be heard over the music.

I shade one of the corners with my pinky. "It's probably just the neighbors."

The yelling gets louder and Lila sits up nervously and draws back the curtain. "Ella, there's a man and a woman fighting out in front of the driveway."

I set my pencil down on the floor and go over to the window. There's a short, fat man and a tall, slender woman yelling at each other just outside the boundaries of my front yard.

"That's the Anderson's," I explain. "They always do that."

"We should stop it," she says worriedly. "He might hurt her."

"I'll take care of it," I tell her. "You stay here."

I pad down the stairs, barefoot and in my boxer shorts and tank top, and poke my head out the door, but the Anderson's have vanished from the street.

The lyrics and music of "Behind Blue Eyes" by The Who is blasting from the stereo in Micha's room next door. It's his sad mood song, the one he lets play over and over again when he's depressed.

The lights aren't on in the house, but the one in the garage shines brightly into the night. Sticking out of the open door is the back end of his Chevelle. There's a large dent in the bumper that wasn't there when he left and a scratch on the corner of the fender.

Walking down the steps the concrete is ice-cold against my bare feet. I spot him through the window of the garage, searching the shelf for something with a cigarette in his mouth. I watch him move, my pulse instantly speeding up, and I have to work to keep breathing.

As he pulls away from the shelf with a box in his hand, he turns his head toward the window, like he senses me out here. Our eyes lock and collide. He sets the box down and disappears out of my view.

A few seconds later he walks out of the garage. His jeans ride low on his hips and the porch light hits his chest, highlighting his well-defined muscles and the cursive font of the tattoo on his rib.

"When did you start smoking again?" I inquire from my driveway.

He takes the cigarette out of his mouth with his eyes on me. "I slipped up a few days ago... There's just too much going on, I guess."

I take a few small steps across the driveway and my heart thuds in my chest. "Is it because of your dad?"

Micha reaches the grass, just before the fence divides our houses. "How do you know about that?"

I stop just short of the fence and wrap my arms around myself to keep warm. "Ethan told me."

He shakes his head, annoyed. "He's worse than a girl."

"Hey." I feign offense, attempting to lighten his mood. "Not all girls are bad. I've always been an excellent secret keeper. You know that."

He places his hands on the fence and clutches at the links. "I don't know if that's true anymore." He gestures his hand at me. "Maybe this was who you always were. Maybe this place was just getting in the way of you."

He's upset and I need to get to the bottom of why. "You could have told me about your dad."

"Could I of?" The front of his thighs push against the fence. "I don't think you can handle it right now - you can barely handle your own problems."

I reduce the small gap left between the fence and myself. "Try me."

His eyes examine my face, looking for something deep within me. Then his head falls down, defeated, and he lets out a slow breath. "It was almost as painful as that day you ran off. I mean, he has a whole other fucking family...." His voice cracks and he clears his throat. "Like we weren't good enough or something."

The ache in his voice nearly kills me. I close my eyes and tell myself I can do this - that I'm the strong one at the moment. My eyes open and I put my finger under his chin, forcing him to look at me. His eyes are glassy, like he's about to cry, and he tries to look away. I place an unsteady hand on his cheek and maintain his gaze.

"I know it hurts right now," I say, grappling my voice even. "But it will get better. It'll just take some time and I'll be here for you this time. I promise."

He looks unconvinced. Not knowing what else to say, I stand on my tiptoes, lean over the fence, and lightly graze my lips across his. Heat caresses my mouth and skin.

"I need you right now," Micha murmurs against my lips with so much desire in his eyes that my knees buckle. "I need this right now."

His hand cups around the back of my neck, much gentler than the intensity in his voice, and he crashes my body against his. He tempts me with a soft brush of his lips and every ounce of sexual tension between us explodes. I can't help myself - I fall into him.

My lips part willingly, lost in the mind-numbing moment as he slips his tongue deep inside my mouth, devouring me thoroughly. He tastes like cigarettes mingled with mint and the scent of his cologne is intoxicating.

My hands trace up the front of his bare chest, and I loop my arms around his neck. The links of the fence dig into my skin as we crush it between our bodies, trying to bury ourselves into one another. Micha pulls away for a second and my lips falter in protest, but he lifts me up over the fence and encourages my legs around his waist. My inner thighs burn as they graze his hips. Every part of him touches me and it makes my body flame. I arch into him, moaning as his lips return to mine even more ravenously.

"Oh my God, this feels so good." He groans, before heading toward his house.

"What are you doing?" I whisper against his lips, knowing where he's going, but I'm not sure I'm ready for it yet.

"Shh..." His warm tongue slips deep inside my mouth and I forget about arguing.

His hands hold me up by the ass as he kicks the back door open and stumbles into his kitchen. He knocks over a lamp and bumps into the wall as he carries me blindly down the hall and into his room. Then we collapse on the bed, tangled together. The music is loud and he reaches over to the stereo and turns it down so it filters through the room softly.

"Ow," I squeal, squirming. "Something just poked me."

"I'm pretty sure that's supposed to happen," Micha jokes with feral eyes.

I swat his chest and reach underneath me, retrieving a drumstick. He snatches it from my hand, laughing softly as he chucks it over his shoulder and it lands somewhere in the dark.

His face turns serious as he smoothes my hair back, looking into my eyes so passionately, my nerves crack through. "Do you know I realized I loved you when we were like sixteen? But I didn't want to tell you because I was afraid you'd run away."

I prop up on my elbows, making our faces inches away. Strands of his hair hang in my face. "But I was normal back then. Or at least partly normal."

He lets his forehead rest against mine. "Yeah, but I thought that's how things were supposed to happen when people were in love."

I realize how bad I must have hurt him when I ran off after he tried to tell me he loved me. "Micha, I'm sorry."

His jaw spasms and he tips his head back up. When he kisses me again, it feels different somehow - more intimate. My apprehension starts to emerge, but I choke it down and let my head fall back against the pillow. His lips follow mine and he kisses all the fear out of me. My chest presses into his as my neck arches against his trail of kisses along my skin, sucking and nipping at it all the way down.

"Fuck," he groans when his mouth reaches the curve of my breast. The fabric of my tank top is thin and I don't have a bra on. Hesitantly, his tongue lightly slides between my breasts. Instantly, my nipples harden and an irrepressible moan escapes from my lips as desire takes over my body.

I sit up, stunning him, and he moves back.

"What's wrong?" he asks.

Sucking in a deep breath of air, I shut my eyes and wiggle my shirt off. My chest heaves, bare and exposed, as my lungs strain for air. I've never been this far with a guy before - never wanted to. Getting close to someone meant getting attached and getting attached has only brought me hurt in the past. But Micha's different. He always has been. I just didn't realize it until now.

He takes me in deliberately and then covers his body with mine, colliding our bare chest together as we collapse back onto the mattress. My fingers tangle in his soft hair as his hands travel down my shoulders to my breasts. My back bows up, seeking to feed a starvation inside my body, but unsure how to do it. Pausing, I curve my hips and rub up against him. A shot of ecstasy swells through my body and a gasp fumbles from my lips.

Hearing the unrestrained noise sends me into a state of anxiety and I fall back to reality. I'm not sure if my mind is ready to go where my body obviously wants to - whether I can allow myself to completely let go.

"Micha wait," I say in a strained voice.

He jerks back quickly, his hand still cupping my breast. "What is it?"

"I'm sorry. I just can't... I don't think I'm ready yet."

He kisses my forehead tenderly and boosts up on his elbows, his body still hovering over me. With his fingertip, he sketches a line from my temple to my jaw and my eyelids flutter. "Will you let me try one more thing?"

I open my eyes, dazed from his touch. "I'm not sure if I can go any farther tonight."

"Just trust me, okay?" he says. "And if it gets to be too much, just say and I promise I'll stop."

I bite at my lip, knowing where he's going with this. "Okay."

Unhurriedly, with his eyes fastened on mine, he moves his mouth and kisses the hollow of my neck, sending shivers over my skin. His lips move downward and linger just above my breast. My eyes shut as his mouth touches my nipple and his tongue slips out over it. He sucks on it hard and I swear to God I can't breathe. My legs vice-grip around him and the longer he devours me, the fiercer his mouth gets. With each movement of his tongue, my thighs burn hotter.

I need... something. "Micha, I..."

"Shh..." he whispers and trails rapturous kisses up my neck. "I'll take care of it."

His fingers slide down my bare stomach and to the bottom of my shorts, leaving a path of heat along my skin. As his lips find mine again, his finger slips deep inside me. The lyrics of the music fade away as my panic bursts into a thousand blissful pieces.

Micha

When Ella screams out my name, with her head tipped back, her eyes lost, it's unlike anything I've ever experienced before. She trusted me enough to do things to her that no one else has and it makes me feel alive again.

Of course, my dick is so hard it actually hurts.

"Behind Blue Eyes" by The Who is stuck on repeat and fills up the moment. It's the song I turn on when I feel down, but I don't think it's going to be that anymore - not after tonight.

I brush her hair away from her forehead. "Are you okay?"

Her green eyes are glazed over as she nods her head up and down. There's a look on her face that brings a smile to my lips. "I'm better than fine." She leans up and kisses me.

I draw her in, intensifying the kiss, then let her go, needing to cool down. "You should stay here tonight."

I expect her to protest, but she nods as she tugs her shirt back over her head. "Okay, but I'll have to use your phone to text Lila. I didn't bring mine with me."

I kiss her forehead, then her temple, breathing her in. "I'm gonna go take a shower. I'll be right back."

Confining a laugh, she reaches for my phone on my nightstand. "A cold one?"

I grab some clothes out of my dresser and back out the doorway. "You better watch it, Ella May. Or I may decide against it and you'll just have to deal with me for the rest of the night."

She flops back on the bed as she sends a text. "Maybe that's what I'm hoping for."

Shaking my head, I throw my clothes on the floor and jump onto the bed, putting a knee on each side of her. She laughs as I playfully trap her arms above her head. I move my lips next to her ear and gently take a nip at her. I breathe on her neck, letting my warm breath cause her to shudder, teasing her and driving both our bodies crazy. She lets out a moan and I feel her legs start to move around me.

Sighing, I pull away before I get even more wound up. "Okay, I have to go take a shower." I climb off the bed, watching her all the way to the door.

Once I'm out of the room, all of the pain I've been feeling about my dad smothers me again, but all I can do is keep breathing.
    
 


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