The Secret of Ella and Micha / Chapter 5

Chapter 5


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Micha

There she is, the girl I used to know. It's visible in her green eyes that she's getting turned on. She was always weird like that, the speed, the danger always got her own engine burning. Then I have to slow down and all the fire dissolves. She puts on her seatbelt and mutters something about the Ella I know being gone forever, but I'm calling her out. I have big plans to bring my best friend back, whether she likes it or not.

She's wearing a short skirt and tank top that's tight enough to show off her curves. It's driving me crazy that I can't touch her.

"What happened to the turnout?" she asks as we drive by the spot we use to park at during small town cruising. "It looks like you can't even take the road up to the cove anymore."

"You can if you walk or have four-wheel drive and ramp the hill." The turnout is blocked off by a large fence so that no cars can reach the dirt road that leads to a secluded area near the lake. "They blocked it off after they busted a bunch of people for drug and alcohol possession."

"Anyone I know?" she inquires, feigning indifference.

I thrum my fingers on top of the steering wheel. "Yeah, you're sitting next to one of them. But mine was only for alcohol."

Her friend gasps in the backseat and I catch Ella secretly rolling her eyes.

"What'd you get?" she asks nonchalantly.

"Probation and anger management classes." I return her indifference.

Her head turns toward me. "Anger management classes?"

"I also punched Grantford Davis in the face," I explain. "Pretty hard. Broke his nose and everything."

Her friend gasps again and I wonder how Ella could be friends with her. She seems like a naive princess.

Ella studies me acutely with her beautiful eyes that always give away what she's really thinking. "Why did you punch him?"

"I think you know why." I carry her gaze forcefully.

"I asked him to drive me to the bridge, Micha," she says it like it strangles her. "It wasn't his fault. He was just doing it as a favor."

"He should have never left you there alone." I flip the blinker on, making a turn down a dirt road that leads into a field of tall, dry grass. "Not in that condition. You could barely think straight. In fact, do you even remember anything about that night?"

She fiddles with a band of bracelets on her wrists. "I'm not sure."

"Are you not sure?" I accuse. "Or do you not want to admit it?"

She starts to open her mouth, but then clamps her lips shut, and turns toward the window, dismissing me and the conversation.

Ella

The night I went to the bridge, I had been in a weird funk the entire day. My mom died a few weeks earlier and I couldn't seem to get rid of this vile feeling in my chest and I wanted it to go away. Badly. So I took drastic measures and decided to walk in my mother's footsteps for a night.

My mom wasn't awful. She had her good moments, but had a lot of bad ones too. When she was up, she was great - a lot of fun. At least that's what I thought when I was young. However, when I got older, there was a painful realization that it wasn't normal to go on huge shopping sprees, take off in the middle of the night for a road trip, pretend she could fly...

But the night on the bridge wasn't the worst night I'd ever experienced. It was just the last push to my rapid decline toward the loss of control over my life.

"Ella, where are you?" Micha's voice snaps me out of my own head. "You were dazing off on me there."

We're parked in front of Grady's single-wide trailer located in a field, near a junkyard and an abandoned apartment complex. I unbuckle my seatbelt, climb out of the car, and flip the seat forward to let Lila out.

"No thanks." She shakes her head, cowering back in the seat. "I think I'll wait in here."

"You're much safer inside." Micha points to a crumbling shack in the middle of the field. "That's a crack house over there and trust me, if they see you sitting in here, by yourself, they're going to come over and harass you."

Micha's messing with her, but I let him be because this place isn't that safe of a spot.

Her face pinches and she scrambles out of the car. "Who is this person's house we're at? It's not a drug dealer, is it?"

"No, it's just an old friend." I trade a secret glance with Micha and feelings rush through me like the sun and the wind. Grady was once Micha's stepfather. His mother and Grady were married for a few years and most of our happy childhood memories consist of him, camping, fishing, working on cars. Between the ages of eight and nine life was solid, not broken to pieces.

I meet Micha around the front of the car and when he takes my hand, I don't object. Being here is like traveling through time and it hurts to know that the man who showed me that life can be good is dying.

Lila tugs the bottom of her dress down self-consciously. "Are you sure I'm okay going in here?"

"Relax," I tell her as we reach the rickety front porch. "Grady is a good guy, he just likes living an unmaterialistic lifestyle. He chooses to live in a place like this."

She forces a tense smile. "Alright, I'm relaxing."

Micha squeezes my hand and then knocks on the door. A few knocks later and we let ourselves in. It's like I remember, and it makes me smile because it's comforting. Grady was a big traveler when he was younger and his walls map his destinations; petite nesting dolls from his trip to Russia on a small bookshelf, a painted Bokota mask from Africa hooked to the wall, a large hookah from Nepal sitting on a small fold up table. It overwhelms me and tugs at my memories.

The trailer is small with a narrow kitchen connected to a boxed in living room and the three of us nearly fill up the space.

Micha slides his hand up my arm and draws me to him. "Are you going to be okay?"

I nod, forcing the tears away. Micha kisses my temple and I don't retreat this time, allowing myself one small moment.

"It'll be okay," Micha says. "And I'm here for you."

Time's up.

"Where is he?" I take a deep breath, move away from Micha, and smother the old Ella away. He points over my shoulder. I turn around and my heart drops to my stomach. The medium build, tall man, with bright blue eyes and a head full of hair, has shifted into a frail, skeletal figure, with sunken eyes and his head shaved. His plaid jacket drowns his body and the belt around his jeans has holes added to it.

I hesitate to hug him. "How are you? Are you okay?"

"I'm always okay. You know that. Not even a little cancer can bring me down." He smiles and it's just as bright as it was. Using his cane, he hobbles toward me. I meet him halfway, in front of the tattered leather recliner and give him a gentle hug, afraid I might break him.

"How have you been, my little Ella May?" He steps back to take a look at me. "You look different."

I self-consciously touch my hair. "I changed my looks a little. Thought I could use a change or two."

He shakes his head contemplatively. "No, it's not that. There's something else. You seem sad."

"I'm fine," I deny and not very well. "I feel great."

He offers me a tolerant smile. "You've never been a good liar, you know that. I always knew it was you who broke the vase."

From behind me, Micha nods concurring. "It's her eyes. They show way too much. Although she thinks differently."

"If you knew I broke the vase," I say, "then why didn't you call me out on it?"

Grady laughs and exchanges a look with Micha. "Because the elaborate story you made up won my heart over, I guess. Besides, it was just a vase."

The tension resolves, except with Lila who looks like she doesn't know what to do with herself. She dawdles near the door, fidgeting with her watch and her hair as she glances around the snug trailer.

"Grady, this is Lila," I introduce, motioning her to come closer. "She was my college roommate."

Lila steps forward and gives him a small wave. "It's nice to meet you."

"Same here." Grady nods his head welcomingly and then arches his eyebrows at me. "So college? That's where you ran off to."

"I'm sorry I didn't tell you when I called," I apologize. "I just needed a break. From everything."

"I'm not going to lie and say it didn't hurt a little." He rests his weight on the cane, and his arms and legs look too thin to be moving. "You're like a daughter to me and I thought you trusted me enough to come to me if you were going through something."

His eyes dart to Micha and I wonder if he's told Grady about that night eight months ago on the bridge.

"I need to make a phone call." Micha holds up his phone as he backs for the door. "Lila, why don't you come outside with me?"

Lila gladly obliges and the door swings shut behind them, rocking the house.

Grady collapses into the recliner, sighing with relief. "We need to talk."

Preparing myself for a lecture, I drop into the concaved sofa across from him. "I'm in trouble, aren't I?"

"Do you think you need to be in trouble?" He props his cane against the coffee table.

I pull a throw pillow on my lap and slump back into the couch. "I don't know. It's hard to tell what's right and what's wrong anymore or what's up and what's down even."

He rocks in the recliner. "You've always had a good grasp on what's right and wrong. You just have a hard time admitting that sometimes you choose the wrong."

"I know that." I gesture at myself. "That's why I changed into an Ella who doesn't do any wrong and who can keep control of her life."

"That's not what this is. This is you running from life and you can't control everything. Even if you want to." His words send a chill through my spine.

I pluck at a loose thread on the pillow. "Did Micha tell you about the night before I left... did he tell you what happened - what I did?"

He presses his cracked lips together. "He did."

"So then you understand why I ran away. If I don't change, then I'll turn out like her - I'll turn out just like my mother," I admit aloud for the first time and a weight lifts from my chest, but falls right back on it, seeming ten times heavier. "I'll lose control."

He hunches forward with a sad expression on his exhausted face. "You know I knew your mother really well."

"But only because you always had to come fix everything after she had one of her episodes."

"Sweetie, you're not her. Your mother was sick - she had a mental illness."

"Bipolar Disorder is hereditary," I say quietly. There is a higher chance that I have it just because she had it."

"But it doesn't mean you will." With unsteady legs, he pushes up from the chair and sits down next to me on the sofa. "I think you're so afraid that you'll end up like your mom that you're hiding who you really are, but you can't control everything - no one can."

"But I can try," I mutter and sit up, tossing the pillow off my lap. "You remember what I was like. All the crap I did. The stupid, irresponsible crap. I was a wreck waiting to happen and that night proved it. I almost... I... I almost killed myself."

"No, you didn't. I heard the story and you would have never gone through with it," he says confidently. "You were just trying to sort through some stuff. You still are."

"No, I was going to do it," I tell him, but it's a lie. "My mind may have been hindered, but I remember enough to know that when I climbed on top of that bridge, I was going to jump."

He shakes his head. "Then you don't remember what happened afterward with Micha."

"Yeah, I do." I take a faltering breath. "I kissed him and then left him on the bridge. Then I went home, packed up my stuff, and ran away."

"No, something else happened that night." His forehead scrunches. "Micha took you somewhere else. At least that's what he told me."

I scratch at my wrist, trying to recollect, but the events of that day are hazy. "I don't remember this at all."

"From what I understand you were out of it and pretty upset. Those two are not a good combination. Trust me, I've been there." His fingers seek his cane. "Micha saved you from jumping, but there's more to it than that."

"When you say you've been there, what do you mean exactly?"

"I mean, I've been at the place where it seems like the only way left is down."

I sift through his words. "You know, I came here to see if you're okay, and somehow all we've talked about is me."

"And that's exactly what I need," he says. "I'm sick and tired of everyone wanting to talk about my death."

I open my mouth, but the front door squeaks open. I expect Micha, but a middle-aged woman in black sweat pants and a white t-shirt walks in. Her bleached hair is woven into a braid and she's carrying a large black bag.

She grins at Grady as she shuts the door. "You're being bad again. You know you're not supposed to get out of bed."

Grady rolls his eyes, but his face lights up. "Yep, I've been bad. I guess you'll have to punish me."

I try to ignore their disturbing comments the best that I can, but it's ridiculously awkward.

"Ella, this is Amy." His serious demeanor alleviates as he says her name.

I stand up from the couch to shake hands with Amy, noticing there's no ring on her finger. "Are you his nurse?"

Grady starts to balance to his feet and she moves to help him, but he waves her off. "I got this. I'm not crippled yet. "

She sighs and moves back. "Yes, I'm his nurse and I'm supposed to be taking care of him, but he's a stubborn man and refuses to let me do my job properly."

He growls and then chuckles. Using his cane, he heads toward the hall, his feet dragging along the orange shaggy carpet. "Ella, can you stop by tomorrow? I want to talk to you some more."

"Okay, I'll come back," I promise as he vanishes down the hall. I turn to the nurse. "How bad is he?"

She drops the bag on the counter and unzips it. "What did he tell you?"

"That he has cancer," I tell her as she takes out some baggies from the bag. "But that's all. He doesn't like to open up about himself."

Reaching into her bag, she extracts a handful of prescription bottles. "No, he doesn't, does he?" She shakes a bottle filled with clear liquid. "He has stage four bone cancer."

I nearly fall to the floor. "Stage four, but then that means that..."

"It means that he has a hard, short road ahead of him," she says frankly. "You're Ella Daniels, right? And your father is Raymond Daniels?"

My fingers grasp the fabric of the recliner like it's a lifeline. "Yeah, why?"

"No reason," she says with a shrug. "Grady just talks about you sometimes."

"But you know my father," I state warily.

She zips up her bag and shuffles to the kitchen sink with the medication. "I was the nurse on call the night he was run over."

Because he was drunk out of his mind and decided to ride his bike in the middle of the highway. "So you take care of Grady, here at his home?"

She turns on the faucet and fills up a glass of water. "I'm the home nurse he hired after he decided he didn't want to spend his last months in a hospital bed."

He only has months left? I need to regain control of the spiraling situation. I stumble for the door. "Tell Grady I'll see him tomorrow."

I trip down the steps and nearly eat dirt. Luckily Micha is at the bottom and he drops his phone to catch me.

He steadies me to my feet, his fingers digging into my hips as he looks me over with concern. "Okay, what happened?"

"He's dying," I whisper, staring out at the dry field. "He's really dying."

"I know." Micha holds onto me forcefully, the tips of his fingers touching my bare skin. "I told you this before we came over here."

My lungs restrict oxygen. "I thought when you said it... well, I don't know what I thought, but not this." I wave my hand at the door without looking at it. "Not a nurse. Not a few months left."

His hands move around to my back and he enfolds me against his chest. I rest my head against him, breathing in his comforting scent. I start to ask him what happened that night, but my fear of the truth shushes me. What if it's bad? What if it pushes me over the edge?

"What do you want to do today?" he whispers. "You name it and it's done."

I pull away, blinking back the tears. My gaze travels to Lila sitting in the car, reapplying her lip gloss in the rearview mirror. "I have to take her to the shop and get her on the road."

Against my protest, Micha cups the back of my head, and lures me against him. "You could just ditch her."

I slap his arm. "Since when are you mean to girls?"

"Since they keep complaining about the sheer drabness of the town," he says in a mocking cheerleader voice. "And the bugs. It's ridiculous. Ten minutes out here with her and I want to lead her into the crack house over there and run."

"That's not a crack house and you know it." I shake my head, forcing back a grin. "And I know you better than that. I'm sure you want to get in her pants."

He pauses, and then slowly his hand explores my back and sneaks to my ass. He grabs it, and bows my body into his, firing a heat deep inside my core and fumbling a moan from my lips. For a second, I forget where I am.

"The only thing I want to get in is you," he murmurs in my hair.

I regain control and shove back. "Seriously? You're going to start this? Here of all places."

He swings a hand at the trailer. "Why not? Because of Grady? He'd be happy to finally see us together. He's been saying for years that you and I will end up together."

I cover my ears. "I can't listen to this."

In three long strides, he's in my face, nearly stepping on my toes. "You think that just because you left, it would change how I feel? Well, guess what? You're wrong. I can't help how I feel. I'm still in - "

"Don't say it." I point a finger at him. "Don't you dare, Micha Scott."

He holds up his hands, wide-eyed and derisive. "Oh, now I'm in trouble. You used my last name and everything."

I glance at the car, checking if Lila's eavesdropping, then whirl back and hiss, "You are in trouble. I've been back for less than a day and everything I've worked on concealing is falling apart because of you."

His aqua eyes are a fierce blue. "Good. You're fucking crazy if you think that you can run off and change your identity. This unfeeling, preppy girl thing you got going on," he motions his hand at my tank top, white frilly skirt, and curly hair, "is nothing but bull shit. You can't just change who you are on the outside and expect it to change who you are on the inside."

Anger bubbles through me and I shove him. "You're wrong."

His boots scuff the dirt as he catches his balance and smiles haughtily. "Am I? Because right now that fire I love so much is burning pretty bright." He reaches for my cheek, to touch me -  entice me.

"Micha, this is who I have to be otherwise I can't breathe. Please just leave it alone. That damn fire might exist, but I want it gone." I spin my back to him, praying he'll listen to me for once, because if he keeps it up, sooner or later I won't be able to resist.

But Micha has never backed down on a challenge in his life.


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