The Secret of Ella and Micha / Chapter 4

Chapter 4


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Micha

"She's already got you all hot and bothered." Ethan sips on his soda. "Look at you. Drunk after eight months of sobriety and I don't believe it's a coincidence it happened on the same night she showed up."

I slam another shot back and wipe my lips with the back of my hand. "I'm fine man. And I can't blame what I do on anyone else but myself. This isn't Ella's fault. "

Ethan laughs, tipping his head back, bumping it on the edge of the cupboard. "Who the hell are you trying to convince? You know just as well as every single person in the room knows that you two are each other's problem and it's never going to be fixed until you fuck and get it over with."

I punch him in the arm, harder than I planned. "Watch it. You're walking on thin ice tonight."

He holds up his hands, surrendering. "Sorry, I forgot how you get when you're like this."

I grab a fist full of his shirt and jerk him toward me. "Like what?"

Again, he forfeits up his hands. "Micha man, calm down and go drink some coffee or something. You're trashed out of your mind."

I release him and rake my fingers through my hair, frustrated with something I can't grasp. "Coffee's a myth... And I need something else." My eyes travel to the back door window, and suddenly I understand what I need. I pat Ethan's shoulder. "Clear everyone out before my mom gets home, okay?"

"Alright, man will do," he replies confoundedly. "But where are you going?"

"On a walk." I knock people out of my way, and stumble out the back door. Regaining my balance, I trip across the grass and climb over the fence. Ella's dad's Firebird is parked in the driveway, so he must be home from the bar. Doesn't matter, though. He won't notice or care if I sneak in. I've been doing it since we were kids.

Although, my intentions did get a bit dirtier the older we got.

I stare up at her bedroom window until I reach the tree. After a drunken struggle, I make it to the top and I inch along the branch to the window. Cupping me hands around my eyes, I peek inside. The lights are off, but the glow of the moon lights a trail to her bed. She's fast asleep. I inch open the window, slicing my finger on a rusty nail. "Mother..." I suck on my finger tip, the taste of blood and vodka bitter against my tongue as I head dive through the window and hit the floor with a soft thud.

Her friend shoots upright from the bed on the floor, her eyes wide. "Oh my God."

I put my finger to my lips as I get to my feet. "Shh..." She still looks worried so I dazzle her with my most charming smile.

That seems to win her over and she settles back in her bed. As carefully as I can, I step over her bed and crawl in with Ella. She's always been a heavy sleeper and doesn't stir. I press my chest against her back, drape my arm over her waist, and feel the rhythm of her breathing. God, I've missed this way too much. It's not healthy. I burrow my face in her neck, smelling the scent of her hair, vanilla mixed with something that's only her.

I shut my eyes and for the first time in eight months, I fall into a peaceful sleep.

Ella

I sleep horribly for half the night, tossing and turning, like the princess sleeping on a pea. Only I am far from a princess and the pea is my guilty conscience. I don't know why I feel guilty about blowing off Micha. I've done it breezily for the past eight months. Although, he wasn't living right next door with his sad puppy dog eyes and charming sexiness.

My sleep deprivation only got worse when my dad stumbled into the house in the middle of the night, bumping over cups and bottles, drunk off his ass. Later, I heard him crying in the bathroom my mom died in. It still hurts to hear because his tears are my fault.

Once I fall asleep, I am out and it ends up being the best night's rest I've had in ages. When I wake up in the late afternoon, I feel refreshed and calm. Until I realize why.

Micha is in my bed and has me in his long, lean arms. His body is curved into mine, so every single part of him is touching me. I know it's him by the smell of his cologne mixed with mint and something else that only belongs to Micha. I pretend to be asleep, engulfed in a wonderful dream, refusing to wake up until he leaves.

"I know you're awake," he whispers in my ear. His voice is hoarse and his breath is stale with booze. "So open your eyes and quit avoiding me."

"You know it's illegal to walk into someone's house without permission," I say with my eyes shut. "And sneaking into someone's bed - that's the move of a pervert."

"I didn't walk in. I fell in," he says, amused. I pinch his firm chest and he laughs. "Now there's my feisty girl." He brushes his soft lips across my forehead. "I've missed you, Ella May."

Opening my eyes, I wiggle in his arms. "Please don't start. It's too early."

His eyes are guarded and his hair is a mess. He chuckles lowly, a sound that ripples deep inside my core. "Pretend all you want, pretty girl. You and I know that deep down you're secretly glad to be pressed up to my body." He urges our chests together as he snakes his legs around mine.

My eyelids flutter against his warmth. God, I've missed this so much. Way too much and so has my body, evidently.

"So where did you go?" he asks, crushing my moment of bliss. "To school in Vegas? Because it kind of surprises me. You never really liked school."

My mind snaps back to reality. "I don't want to get into this right now. I just want to have a relaxing summer and then I'm headed back to campus."

He blinks, his eyelashes fluttering against my forehead. The feel of him sends a warm tingle up my thighs and I seal my lips to keep from moaning.

His eyebrows knit. "It's like you've been kidnapped by a bunch of nuns or something."

"Maybe I was," I say submissively. "It wouldn't hurt anyone if I was."

He considers this and an artful smirk curves at his lip. "That's not true. Nuns can't have sex and I still haven't fulfilled my lifelong dream of having sex with you."

I open my mouth, my tongue locked and loaded with an equally perverted comeback, but I bite down, remembering I'm not that kind of a girl anymore. "I need to wake Lila up. She's got a long drive ahead of her."

With one swift roll, he has me pinned down beneath his body and my arms trapped above my head. His aqua eyes search mine and it's like staring at the endless ocean. He sucks on his lip ring, lost in thought. "You're going to tell me, pretty girl," he asserts, tilting his head so his lips are next to my cheek. "You always tell me everything."

"Micha, please...." I despise how breathless I sound. "You know why I left. You were there that night... you saw me... I can't do it again." Anxiety claws up my throat and my muscles tense beneath the weight of his body. "Please let me up. I can't breathe."

He props up on his arms. "You could have talked to me, instead of running away. You know that."

I shake my head. "No, I couldn't. Not that time. That time it was different. You were part of the reason I had to leave."

"Because you kissed me?" he asks, dipping his voice to a husky growl. "Or because I found you that way... that night."

I swallow the giant lump in my throat. The kiss was part of it. It was an earthshattering kiss, one that stole breaths, stopped hearts, and scared the shit out of me because it surfaced feelings I'd never felt before, ones that rendered me helpless.

"I don't want to talk about it. Now get off of me." I wiggle my arms between us and push on his chest.

He sighs and rolls off me. "Fine, don't talk about it, but it doesn't mean you can run away from me again. I'll chase you down this time," he threatens with a wink as he climbs off the bed, and the chain hooked to his studded belt jingles. "Get dressed and meet me out in the driveway. You have to go visit Grady today."

"No, thanks," I decline and tug the blanket over my head. "And I told you last night I have stuff to do today. Besides aren't you hung over from last night? You were pretty wasted."

"Don't do that," he says, aggravated. "Don't pretend like you have some deep insight into me anymore. You've been gone for eight months and a lot has changed."

I'm speechless. "Micha, I... "

"Come on, get out of bed. You're going to see Grady, whether you like it or not." He yanks the blanket off me and tosses it on the floor, so I'm lying there in my plaid shorts and skin-tight tank top with no bra on underneath. He gives me a prolonged once over, with a dark, lustful glint in his eyes and goosebumps sprout all over my skin.

I cover myself with my arms. "I'm not going to Grady's. I just got home and I have things to do."

"He's got cancer, Ella." He backs for the door, tucking his hands into the pockets of his faded jeans. "So get your bratty, split-personality ass out of bed and go see him before you can't."

My arms fall to my sides as I sit up. "Why didn't anyone tell me?"

"If you would have told someone where you were, we would have," he says. "Although, I'm pretty sure your father knew where you were, he just wouldn't tell anyone."

I don't deny it.

"Besides, I told you in the voicemail I left yesterday," he says, glancing at my phone on the desk. "But I'm guessing you haven't listened to that?"

I shake my head. "No, I was too surprised to see your number on the screen."

He bites on his lip ring, something he does when he's nervous. "Yeah, you should probably just delete that. I don't think you're ready for it yet."

My gaze moves to my phone. What the hell is on it? I climb out of bed, arching my back and stretching like a cat. "How bad is Grady?"

He swallows hard. "He's dying, so you need to get dressed and let me take you to see him."

I begin to object, but rethink my initial stupidity. Grady is the one part of my past that I could never run from. At one point, he was like a father to Micha and me. I even called him from Vegas once, although I didn't tell him where I was.

I nod. "Let me get dressed and I'll be out in a second."

"See you in a few." He winks at me and vanishes into the hall, leaving the door wide open behind him.

Lila quickly springs up from the trundle bed, clutching the sheet. "Oh. My. Hell. What was that about? I mean, he crawled in here through the window in the middle of the night, and just climbed into bed with you."

"That's what he does." I open the window letting in the gentle breeze. Loose pieces of my hair dance around the frame of my face. "Oh, no."

Lila stretches her arms above her head. "What's wrong?"

I reluctantly look at her. "I think someone might have confused your car for a canvas."

She jumps out of bed and elbows me out of the way to get a look at the damage done to her beautiful, nearly brand new Mercedes. "My poor baby!"

I pull a skirt and a pink tank top out of my duffel bag. "Get dressed and we'll go check out the damage."

She pouts, looking like she might cry. "I can't drive it home like that. My parents will kill me."

"I know plenty of people who can fix it for you," I say, opening the door. "Or I use to, but I'm sure it's all the same."

She nods and I go to the downstairs bathroom to change, avoiding the upstairs one. I turn on the shower so the mirror will fog up and hide my reflection. I comb my hair until it flips up at the ends naturally. Then I apply a light shade of lip gloss and head out the door, but run into my dad on the stairway.

"When did you get here?" His breath smells like gin and his eyes are red. His cheeks have sunken in over the last eight months and his skin is wrinkled like leather with sores. He's in his late forties, but looks like he's pushing sixty.

"Last night," I tell him, taking his arm and helping him up the stairs. "I was in bed before you got home."

He offers me a pat on the back. "Well, I'm glad to have you home."

"I'm glad to be home," I lie with a smile as we reach the top of the stairs.

He moves his arm away from my hand and rubs the back of his neck. "Do you need anything? Like help carrying in your boxes?"

"I think I can handle it on my own, but thanks." I decline, sticking my arm out as he teeters toward the stairs.

He nods and his eyes drift to the bathroom down the hall. He's probably thinking about how much I look like her. It hurts his eyes, at least that's what he told me the night I went to the bridge.

"I guess I'll talk to you later then. Maybe we could go to dinner or something?" He doesn't leave me time to answer as he zigzags down the hall to his room, slamming the door shut behind him.

My dad started drinking when I was about six, a few months after my mom got diagnosed with a bipolar disorder. His drinking habit wasn't that bad back then. He would spend a few nights at the bar and sometimes on the weekends, but after my mom died, beer and vodka took over both our lives.

When I return to my room, Lila is dressed in a yellow sundress, with her blonde hair curled up and there is a pair of overly large sunglasses concealing her eyes.

"I feel like crap," she declares, putting her hands on her hips.

"This place has that effect on most people." I grab my phone, noting the flashing voicemail as I slip on my flip flops.

We go outside, leaving the smoky air behind and step into the bright sunlight, surrounded by the scenery of rundown homes and apartments. The neighborhood is filled with motorcycle engines revving and far in the distance are the sounds of a lovers' quarrel and Micha is nowhere to be seen.

A long time ago, it felt like home, back when street racing and running wild felt natural, but now I just feel lost.

Lila starts biting at her fingernails as she gapes confoundedly at her car. "It looks worse up close."

I circle her car with my arms folded, assessing the damage. It looks like a fruit basket, only instead of being filled with fruit it's crammed with innuendos and colorful words. I'm on the verge of laughing for some reason. "They got you good."

She shakes her head. "This isn't funny. Do you know how much it's going to cost to fix this?"

Lila's dad is a big shot lawyer over in California. Her parents are always sending her things like clothes, money, cars. She has never worked a day in her life and gave me a hard time for my waitressing job at Applebee's, begging me to take time off to go to parties.

"So what do we do?" She chips at some green paint on the headlight with her fingernail.

I point up the street. "There's an auto body shop not too far from here."

She glances down the road, which is covered in potholes and lined with filthy gutters. "But this is a Mercedes."

"I'm sure painting a car, no matter who the maker is, is all the same."

"But what if they do something to it?"

"Like spray paint it again after they paint it?" I say sarcastically and she scowls. "Sorry. We'll find someone, okay? We can take it to someplace in Alpine. It's a little nicer over there."

"I can't drive it when it looks like this," she complains, motioning at the car. "It's hideous."

"I'll drive it, then," I offer my hand out for her to give me the keys.

"Are you joking?" She pats the hood of her car. "This is my baby. No one drives it but me. You know that."

"I think your baby is in serious need of some plastic surgery." Micha strides off the porch of his house and onto the driveway. He's changed into black jeans, a fitted grey t-shirt, and his blonde hair hangs in his eyes. Using his long legs, he jumps over the chain-linked fence between our yards. "I know the perfect place to get it fixed and it's here in town, so you won't have to drive it so far." He gives Lila a wink. "I'm Micha, by the way."

"Hi, I'm Ella's roommate or old roommate anyway," she says with a warm smile and slides her sunglasses down the brim of her nose. "We're not sure if we're sharing a dorm room next semester."

He presents her with his player grin. "Sharing a room with Ella? That had to be tough." He shoots me a mischievous look, trying to get a rise out of me.

She laughs and returns her glasses over her eyes. "No, she's a pretty great roommate, actually. She cleans and cooks and everything. It's like having my own house maid."

"Ella was always good at that stuff," he agrees, knowing the real reason why. Even before my mom died, she was never good at taking care of the house. I had to learn how to take care of myself at a very young age, otherwise I'd have starved and rotted away in a rat-infested house. "So do you want me to take your car to that shop I was talking about? Like I said, it's really close."

"Yeah, that sounds great." She shuffles her sandals against the concrete. "I'd rather go someplace close."

I mentally roll my eyes. Leave it to Micha. He can get any woman to contradict herself if he wants to.

He swings his arm around my shoulder and kisses me on the forehead. "But I have to take pretty girl over here to see an old friend first."

"Please stop calling me that," I beg. "I've never liked the nickname and you know that. I never even got why you called me it."

"And that's the appeal of it, pretty girl." He tempts me closer to him and caresses my cheek with his lips, giving me a kiss that brings warmth to my skin. "Now are you ready to go see Grady? You can come, too, if you want... is it Lila?"

"Yeah, it's Lila. Lila Summers." She offers her hand and Micha shakes it. "And sure I'll go. This place makes me a little nervous."

"Isn't your family expecting you to be home tonight?" I escape from underneath Micha's arm.

"I'll text them and tell them I'm not leaving until tomorrow." She retrieves her cell phone and scrolls through her contacts. "The car will be done by tomorrow, right?"

"It's hard to say," Micha says. "Ethan is the best, but a little slow."

Her head snaps up and there's delight in her eyes. "Ethan as in Ethan from the party last night? The one with the sexy hair and the really big hands?"

Micha bites down on his lip, stifling a laugh, and flicks me a sideways glance. I can't help but smile.

"Yep, that's the one," he says. "Do you feel better about taking your car to him now?"

"Well, yeah, if you think it's okay?" she checks. "I'm very picky about who works on my car or at least my dad is very picky about who works on it."

"It'll be fine," he assures her with a wink. "I've never disappointed a girl yet."

"Oh yeah?" Lila laughs, glancing at me uneasily, like she's worried she's stepping on my territory.

"So are we going to go or what?" A ping of jealousy pinches inside my chest.

"Yep, let's go, beautiful." Micha leads the way around the fence and up his driveway to the garage.

When I step inside, my mouth falls open. Parked in the middle, between the walls lined with shelves and tools, is a shiny 1969 Chevy Chevelle SS. It's painted in a smoky black with a cherry red racing stripe down the center. "You finally fixed it up?"

He pats the shiny flawless hood, his eyes sparkling with excitement. "I finally got around to it, after talking about it for four years." His eyes find mine, seeking my approval. "So what do you think?"

"It's kind of old." Lila pulls a face at the car. "And really big."

"I thought you liked things big?" Micha teases. I punch him in the arm and he laughs. "Ow, I meant hands. Jeez get your mind out of the gutter."

I roll my eyes. "You did not, you pervert."

He shrugs, his eyes lustrous in the sunlight filtering through the gritty windows. "So what. It got you to lighten up, didn't it?"

"Are we driving it to Grady's?" I opt for a neutral voice.

He slips his keys out of his pocket and tosses them to me. "Yeah, go ahead. It's all yours."

I swiftly shake my head and throw the keys back at him, like they're scorching hot. "No thanks. I don't want to."

He cocks an eyebrow, looking sexy. "What do you mean you don't want to?"

"I mean I don't want to drive it." It nearly kills me to say it. I walk around the front of the car, open the door, and gesture for Lila to get in.

"But it has a blown 572 Big Block in it," he says astounded with the keys hanging loosely from his fingers. "How can you not want to drive it?"

My insides twitch to drive it, but I won't buckle. "It's fine, Micha. I'd rather be the passenger."

"What does that mean? A blown big block or whatever you said?" Lila wonders as she walks to the side of the car. "Wait, are you guys talking cars? El doesn't like cars. In fact, she made us take the bus most of the time when we left campus."

"Oh really?" His tone implies otherwise. "That's news to me."

"It's a waste of gas," I lie, attempting to mask the truth; that I miss it. The rush, the speed, the adrenaline high.

Lila ducks inside the car and into the backseat. I climb into the passenger side and Micha opens the garage door. He revs up the engine, letting it rumble, teasing me, before backing down the driveway.

"I'm starting to think that the Ella you knew isn't the same one as I know." Lila buckles her seatbelt up.

He spins the tires down the road. "I think you might be on to something Lila, because the one I knew loved cars. In fact she used to hang out in the garage all day with the guys while the other girls played with their hair and makeup." He flashes me a dangerous grin. "She used to get all excited when we'd go racing."

No matter how hard I try to hinder myself from getting energized, I can't. Those hot summer nights, flying down the highway, neck and neck with another car, the rush soaring through my body.

Micha trails his finger along my neck and rests it on my pulse. "You're getting excited just thinking about it."

His touch spreads a longing through my body. I swat his hand away, cross my arms, and focus on the window, watching the neighborhood blur by as he cruises over the speed limit. Micha shifts the gears and the engine thunders louder, begging to burn rubber.

"Is it legal to be driving this fast?" Lila asks nervously. We glance back at her and she grips the edge of the leather seat. "It just seems like we're going really fast, especially in a neighborhood."

Micha holds my gaze resolutely as he downshifts and pumps up the rpms. "What do you think? Speed up? Or slow down?"

I want to tell him to slow down, pull on my seatbelt, and look away, but a passion that was dead raves. He throttles the gas pedal, keeping his eyes on mine, venturing me to look away first.

"Um... I don't think this is a good idea." Lila's voice is far away.

The car surges faster down the narrow road and his eyes dare me to tell him to slow down and part of me wants to. Desperately. But as he shoves the shifter into the next gear, going faster and faster, my body pleads to let go.

Suddenly, Lila screams, "Stop sign!"

Micha's eyes sparkle like sunlight reflecting into the ocean. He slams on the brakes, squealing the car to a halt, and throwing us all forward. My hand shoots out and I brace myself from hitting the dashboard.

"Are you crazy?" Lila's voice cracks as she situates back into the seat and realigns her dress over her legs. "What is wrong with you two?"

Micha and I look at each other and my body is burning with a hidden desire that I won't admit exists. My heart beats in my chest, rock steady and alive again. For a second, I'm back in the place I lost.

Then Micha ruins it.

"See, the same old Ella still lives." He grins arrogantly as he drives through the intersection. "She just needed a little push out."

I click the seatbelt locked, proving a point. "No, she doesn't. She's gone forever."

"Try all you want, but I'm bringing her back." He bites his lip, refocusing on the street as he mutters, "I won't let that night ruin you forever."

But it did. It broke me into a million pieces and blew them away in the wind, like crumbled leaves. That night was one of the most incredible nights I've ever had.

Then I quickly plummeted toward rock bottom.


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