Daniel sat in the tree, looking down at Ella who stood on a swing that hung from a branch. She twisted the ropes around, and back again, over and over. Eric wondered how long it would take for her to get sick from spinning, but Ella showed no sign of stopping.
“I’m bored,” Daniel complained.
“Don’t you normally just sit and read?”
“Isn’t that boring?”
“Not to me.”
“Well, we could go to the candy shop.”
“Nah, I’m not allowed to have candy before supper.”
Ella hopped down from the swing, her bare feet sinking happily into the plush, green grass. “But it’s after supper. It always is.”
“What?” Daniel asked, confused.
“You’re a ‘the glass is half empty’ kind of person, aren’t you?” Ella put her hands on her hips and looked up at her friend with feigned judgement.
“If I knew what you meant by that mouthful, I could answer you.”
“Well, I’m a ‘the glass is half full’ kind of person. So, I say, it’s always after supper.”
“Yes, but... What?” Daniel was still confused. “How is it always after supper?”
“Well, when you get up in the morning, don’t you have breakfast?”
“And then lunch at lunch time?”
“Well, both of those are before supper, aren’t they?”
“So, by your logic, you are never allowed to have candy because it’s always before supper.”
“Huh. I don’t like where this is going,” Daniel decided. He leaned back on the tree, crossing his arms over his chest.
“Or,” Ella continued. “It’s always after supper.”
“Well, you had supper last night, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” Daniel started to perk up.
“Then right now is after supper!”
The young boy considered this for a moment. He had blindly followed Ella into many unknown places, but this sounded like trouble. “I think I’d better ask my dad about that.”
“Can’t you think for yourself, Daniel? It’s logic.”
Daniel thought on this argument for a moment. He felt it was sneaky and flawed, but it did justify him having candy sooner rather than later. “I guess we can go to the candy shop.” Daniel’s feet pressed happily against the side of the tree as he climbed down. Grounded again, the two raced through the yard and to the house where Daniel called inside the screen door. “Mom, Ella and I are going to play in town.”
“Be careful, and be back by supper!”
“I will.” With a mischievous smile, Daniel led Ella to the sidewalk and into town.
The walls inside the candy shop were covered in brightly-colored sweet treats. Daniel couldn’t decide what he would buy with his allowance, but Ella had no such trouble. Her first choice was always a plain chocolate bar.
“That’s what you want?” Daniel asked.
“Don’t you want something special? Something more colorful and more like... candy?”
“No. A chocolate bar is classic. It’s my favorite.”
“Okay,” Daniel sighed as he picked out some brightly colored taffy and paid the cashier.
The two walked slowly through town, enjoying their sugary treats with every step. As they walked, a truck pulled up along the sidewalk beside them.
“Daniel!” a man called from inside the truck.
“Oh no,” Daniel whispered as he shoved the remaining taffy into his pocket.
“What?” Ella asked.
“Daniel,” the call came again.
“Yes, sir,” Daniel stepped up to the passenger window and peaked in.
“Hop in. It should be time for supper.”
“Yes, sir. See ya, Ella.” Daniel climbed into the truck, still unsure whether his dad had seen the candy or if he would even care.
“Would Ella like a ride?”
“No, her mom is at the flower shop, she’s almost there.”
“Daniel, that’s no way to treat a lady.”
With a huff, Daniel pushed open the passenger door and hopped out to invite Ella for the ride. “Would you like a ride to your mom?”
Ella quickly hid her chocolate so Daniel’s dad couldn’t see it. “I’m not supposed to get into cars with strangers.”
“It’s just my dad. You’ve met him before, so has your mom.”
“But I don’t really know him, so he’s still a stranger to me,” she said stubbornly.
“Well…” Daniel was becoming impatient. His dad told him to offer a ride to the very girl who was refusing one. What was a boy to do? “What if you got to know him on the way?”
“Then he’d still be a stranger to my mom.”
“Daniel!” she yelled back. “My mom wouldn’t like it. Besides, she’s right up the road.”
Daniel looked up at his dad, who had heard the whole conversation and thought that his boy couldn’t have found a better influence in any other friend. With no offer of help from his dad, Daniel hung his head as he dug for a solution. “Hey!” He had it. “Would you let him meet me at your mom’s shop and I’ll walk you there?”
“Is that okay, Dad?”
“Don’t take too long, your mother won’t be happy if we’re late for dinner. You know she doesn’t like it when our food gets cold.”
“Okay,” Daniel pushed the door closed and watched the truck pull further down Main Street.
The two friends walked along quietly. When view of Daniel’s dad was blocked by a larger truck that was parallel-parked behind him, Ella broke off a piece of her candy bar and shared it with Daniel. He offered a smile in return and popped it in his mouth. When they reached the flower shop, the friends quickly said their good-byes.
“See ya tomorrow, Ella,” Daniel called as he ran off and climbed back into the truck.
Daniel avoided eye contact with the driver, a bit embarrassed about walking a girl home with his dad watching. Henry was contented as he thought about the two and how close they had become. Ella had certainly made an impact on his son; and a good one at that. As they drove home, Daniel forgot about the candy, but his dad did not.
“So, Daniel,” he said. “Did Ella’s mom say it was okay for her to have candy before supper? Did yours?” One of Henry’s eyebrows curved devilishly.
Daniel looked up with a nervous gulp.
“Relax son. I won’t tell your mom... this time. But know that if she had caught you, you would have been sent to bed without supper.”
They pulled into the driveway and came to a stop. Daniel waited until the engine was silenced and the truck became a space uninhabited by noise or movement, save for a few ticks as the engine settled. Hearing no orders to stay put, Daniel tore off his seat belt and rushed to open the door.
“Hold on there, Champ. Hand over the candy.”
Reluctantly, Daniel pulled the taffy from his pocket, dropping it into his father’s hand. He wanted to save the rest, but knew his dad was doing him a favor because his mom would have found it for sure. Free of all evidence that candy had recently been in his possession, Daniel hopped down from the truck and ran inside for supper. Henry sat back and chuckled as he took a quick bite of sugary sweetness.
“Henry!” he heard his wife call. He looked up to see her watching him from the kitchen window. “That better not be something that will spoil your appetite!”
Hiding the candy in the center console, he jumped out of the car. “What are you talking about, Puddin’ Pie?”
“Don’t try to give me that old ‘puddin’ pie’ nonsense. Come on inside, supper’s on the table and I don’t want to eat it cold.”
A smile crossed his face, product of familiarity and the feeling of home. A moment later, everyone was inside, not daring to disobey very direct orders about dinner time.
Lilly and James were already at the shop preparing for the day when Ella walked in carrying Steve’s box and humming a happy tune.
“What’s with you?” Lilly asked with anxious curiosity. “Have a good night?”
“Had a good morning,” Ella answered.
“Maybe she wasn’t woken up by that crazy squirrel,” James said.
“What crazy squirrel?” Lilly inquired.
“You haven’t met him? He bangs on her window demanding food, and she gives it to him.”
“His name is Charlie,” Ella said happily, ignoring their criticizing stares.
“El, I’m afraid you may need far more help than I had originally thought,” Lilly said.
“What do you mean?” The innocence in Ella’s voice threw Lilly for a spin.
“What do I mean? You can’t feed the squirrels! They do all sorts of damage to houses.”
“I named him. His name is Charlie.”
Lilly stared at her friend for a moment, trying to make sure that what she was hearing was real. “Who does that? Is he your pet now? Names don’t trump instinct.”
“No. And look at you getting all domestic,” Ella teased. “Since when do you know so much about squirrels and houses?”
“Tips from my dad, and I’m proud that I remember them. But, don’t turn this around on me. You’re the one feeding the rabid squirrel population.”
“Ladies,” James interrupted. “We have gone too far off topic. Now, let’s go back to why Ella came in here all sunshine and smiles. Did Steve finally do something nice after all these years?”
“Please tell me did, the last thing we need to do is add another tally mark to his cons list,” Lilly said.
“Stop it. We actually broke up last night.”
Lilly’s mouth dropped. “You did? That’s great! How do you feel!”
“Nice, I appreciate the support.”
“El, we never supported anything more,” James said.
“I know. Oh, he really was awful, wasn’t he? Turns out he was cheating on me.”
“Wow, how did you find out?”
“She called while he was at my place last night. He said it was one of his buddies, but he talked to her in whispers and the things he said were just suspicious. Her name is Jami.”
“Well, thank Jami!” Lilly hugged her friend. “Honey, I’m sorry. I can’t believe you held on for so long.”
“In hindsight, neither can I. But, it’s all over now.”
“No, no. I’m good. This is a box with all of his things. I’m going to drop it off at his place today.”
“Want me to do it?” Lilly asked with excitement.
“No, I want it returned intact. He broke my heart, but that doesn’t mean I am not a decent person.”
“She’s never any fun,” Lilly said to James as she went to work at the counter.
James eyed Ella, her expression, her demeanor. “What are you not telling us?”
“Me? Nothing. Why?”
“You’re leaving something out. You were with Steve for years. Despite what a bastard he was, you know you were crying over him. Why so chipper?”
“I am not chipper.” Ella shrugged her shoulders, trying to disregard the comment.
Lilly laughed, “You came in this morning singing!”
“Fine, you came in humming.”
“Yeah… well… I hum!”
“Oh please,” James said, “you must tell all.”
Ella looked at James as he stared her down with his puppy eyes. “Okay, fine. I have a date tonight.”
“What! So soon?”
“Well… not a date. We’re going out as friends.”
“Wait a minute,” Lilly ran over to join the conversation. “Are you going out with Eric?” Ella couldn’t fight back her smile any longer. Ding! Ding! All eyes turned to the front to find Sarah walking in. “Alright!” Lilly gave James a high-five. “This I can handle.”
“What’s going on?” Sarah asked.
“Our lovely boss has got herself a hot date!” Lilly exclaimed. “Emphasis on hot!”
“Does this mean no more Steve!” Sarah asked, too excitedly.
Ella rolled her eyes and went back to hide in her office, leaving the three stooges to celebrate her breakup.
That night, there was no hanging about. Everyone sped around to close the shop, and as soon as the doors were locked, Ella disappeared. Bursting through her apartment door, she tossed off her shoes and scrambled to get out of her clothes, leaving a trail of them down the hall to her bedroom. Forty-five minutes later, she was ready to go. Knowing this wasn’t to be considered a date, the gown of the evening was a blue and teal floral sundress; perfect for dinner or the park. Simple earrings dangled from each ear, the teal bracelet hugged her wrist, and her usual necklace hung from her neck, the pendant disappearing beneath the top of the dress.
Knock, knock. “Oh my god, that’s him.” Ella took one last look at her reflection in the mirror and ran to the door. “One minute!” she stopped and turned around. “Can’t go without shoes.” Running back to her room she picked out a pair of casual flats. “I’m coming! Don’t go away!” Ella hopped down the hall putting one shoe on, then the other. “Wait, I’m coming!” She pulled a light shawl over her shoulders, snatched up her purse, and threw open the door. “I’m coming! OH!” Ready to run out the door, she nearly ran straight into Eric who was waiting patiently on the other side.
“I heard you… the first time.”
“Oh, you did. Good, that’s good.” She adjusted her shawl and composed herself.
“Ready to go then?” he asked.
“Yeah, sure.” Ella walked passed him and headed down the stairs.
“Don’t you want to lock your door?”
“Oh, right! Thank you. Don’t know what I was thinking.” Shake it off, shake it off, and CALM DOWN!, she thought to herself. Ironically, yelling at herself to calm down did the trick as it turned her mind to wonder how shouting ‘calm down’ could ever actually calm anyone down when the simple act of shouting implies that you are not, in fact, calm.
Outside the house, Eric led Ella to his truck. “I thought we could go to dinner at a place near your shop. I heard it just opened recently.”
“Oh, right… Star Café?”
“Yeah, that’s it.” Eric opened the passenger side door for Ella to get in.
“Well, that’s close, would you mind walking?”
“Uh, no, I guess not.”
“Great!” Ella stepped out of the way allowing Eric to close the door.
The pair walked side by side, both unsure of what to say until Ella finally broke the silence. “You know, I’ve been meaning to stop at the Star Café. They have been ordering a lot of fresh flowers from my shop. I’d like to see where they are placing them.” At Eric’s silence, Ella sought for more to say. “I wonder why they would choose to make the Star Café a restaurant instead of a café.”
“I believe there is a café in the front. The back of the building is the restaurant.”
“Ah-ha, so ‘star’ for the night life, and ‘café’ for the day. Clever.” Silence again, the noise that most bothered Ella. “I wonder what the definition of a café is exactly.”
“I believe it is ‘restaurant.’”
“Oh…” Ella said simply. “Now does that make sense to you, because I always thought that café―”
“You really can’t stand being quiet, can you?”
“In the short time I have known you, you haven’t been able to shut up for a full minute.”
“Well, we haven’t spent very much time together...”
He cast her an accusing look. A memory sparked within him, but the details of it remained just out of reach.
“Okay, fine. I hate the silence. When I was little all my mom and I would do was talk. You know the game where you try to see who can stay quiet the longest?” Eric nodded in response. “We actually had to play that just to give our ears a rest. You know how long we lasted?”
“Four seconds,” they said in unison.
“How did you know that?” she asked.
“Let’s call it an educated guess.”
“Wha―” Ella stopped in her tracks for a moment, but Eric continued walking, a triumphant smirk spread across his face. Finally, she threw her hands up and let them fall to her sides in submission. She caught up to him and they continued their walk to the restaurant.
The buildings in the town were as one. Each one small and packed tightly next to its neighbor, leaving little to no room between each store. Ella admired character and charm the setup brought to the town.
She drew in a deep breath of fresh air and turned her eyes up to look upon the light, blue clouds and twinkling stars above. The soft light of the old fashioned street lamps did little to keep the glow of the full, silver moon at bay. Ella soaked in the night and, as she’s rarely done, allowed herself to settle into the quiet.
Several moments elapsed unnoticed, filled by little more than the sounds of their footsteps against concrete or the occasional passing vehicle. When Ella finally realized how far they had walked without speaking a single word, heat spread into her cheeks. She snuck a glance at Eric. He seemed content, comfortable. It was then that Ella’s own feelings were awakened within her. She was comfortable, she was home. This realization made her cheeks bloom into a rosy red.
Ella felt relief wash over her when they reached the Star Café. Eric held the door, allowing Ella to slip gracefully inside. This single business consumed two adjacent buildings. The café at the front was spread wide from side to side. The counter, closed for the night, stood straight ahead along the back, left wall. Casual, comfortable seating spattered the remaining space. A chess board, checker board, and shelf full of books were available for entertainment.
Flowers were prominently displayed throughout the café and seating areas. Ella was pleased by the arrangements and their light, unintrusive fragrance. Though the cafe was closed for the night, a few patrons remained. One man sat near the bookcase reading a hefty novel. A bunch of teens filled a group of comfy-looking chairs in a conversation area near the front window.
Eric led Ella to the back of the café where the hostess waited patiently. They were promptly escorted through a hall to the back where they would find the other diners. As Ella followed the hostess’ lead, she glanced through a door hidden in the back right corner of the café. Ah, she thought. The kitchen. They continued down a few stone steps, palms gliding down a black, pipe railing, and into the restaurant, which filled the entire backs of the two buildings. The hostess seated them at a small, round table near the center of the room.
Ella admired the atmosphere. The main dining area had tall ceilings that exceeded two stories above their heads. Wide, cone shaped lights hung dimly from long chains, which allowed the candles on each table to provide romantic lighting. The four walls surrounding them were mainly red brick. The longer walls along the sides of the buildings were framed by the brick but smooth in the middle and painted solid, earthy tones: one slate gray, the other an earthy red. The smooth walls were tastefully decorated with paintings created by local artists. The back wall displayed a row of large, stately windows overlooking a still, dark night. The room was full of round tables placed tightly together, with stunningly white tablecloths and modern chairs with wooden seats and backs and black, iron frames. Ella was pleased to see that the many gerbera daisies Star Café had ordered from her were being put to good use. There was a single gerbera in a simple vase at each table, an assortment of colors throughout the room. Around each vase were three small, white tea light candles. Ella looked before her, but no flower was at their table. She hoped one would be delivered soon.
The restaurant felt warm and inviting. The other diners seemed to delight in the comfort of the place. It had a perfect amount of “city feel” in a place full of small town charm. Ella felt this was very romantic for a “friends” dinner. She looked at Eric, who didn’t seem to feel at all out of place because of that. Must be a good sign, she told herself. Ella took one more look around to see the waiters weaving in and out of the tables as if they were in a maze.
“So, where are your folks?” Ella said.
“Well, I was born up in New York, but I don’t remember much of that time. My parents moved out to Washington when I was younger. I stayed close to them before moving here.”
“What?” Eric chuckled.
“Of all the places you could have gone, and with all your friends and family in Washington, what drew you here?”
Eric leaned his arms on the table in front of him. “Warm weather, quiet, hard to find on a map,” he laughed.
Ella chuckled, “Interesting. Does that mean you are hiding from someone?”
Eric thought on this for a moment. “In a matter of speaking, yes.”
“Oh, well can I ask who?”
Eric looked away.
“Too personal? I’m sorry; you don’t have to answer that.”
“No, it’s fine.”
“It’s okay, I don’t need to know,” she smiled and he noticed how gentle her eyes were. Every time they had crossed paths, he felt that she was wildly overwhelming. But the ease he felt with her now made him question all prior assumptions. She was unlike any woman he had known before, although oddly familiar.
“You mention your mom quite often, does she live nearby? Sounds like you two are very close.”
“We are,” Ella placed her hands in her lap and smiled. “I mean, were.”
“Were? My mistake, I―”
“No, I’m fine talking about it. We… were… very close. She passed away a few years ago, unexpectedly.”
“She left me her shop. EllaGant Arrangements,” she said as she flashed her hands as if to showcase her smile.
“So, she opened the shop?”
“Yup, as soon as we got here. It took all the money we had, but oh, she loved it. We both did. I remember her being so happy at work, arranging the flowers, talking with the customers. Many of them still come in today and talk about what a lovely person she was. She was my best friend growing up.”
“Hmm,” he said, deep in thought.
“What?” she asked.
“Nothing. That sounds familiar to me, but I can’t place why. I never had a great relationship with my mother. My dad is quite a guy, though. Do you still have your father?”
“Not in years. He bailed on us both. My mom brought me here when I was young to start a new life. You know… quiet, hard to find on a map,” they both laughed uncomfortably. “I guess you can say she was hiding too. But I love it here; the only thing I really miss is the snow in the winter.”
“Really? The snow? Are you sure you remember what snow is?”
“I take it you’re not an avid skier?”
“No,” he laughed.
“We would spend a lot of time outside in the winter up north. Building igloos and snowmen, having snowball fights. It was fun. But right here is where I spent most of my life.”
“Well, she certainly did a wonderful job raising you on her own. I’m impressed.”
“Thank you, but let’s see if you make it through the night without breaking a leg or something.”
Eric closed his eyes, “I hope you didn’t just jinx me, my business would really suffer with a broken leg.” He was pleased by the song of Ella’s laughter that was ignited by his joke.
The waiter came by and set a vase, complete with a single pink gerbera daisy, in the center of the table. Eric noted how Ella lit up at the sight of the flower. The young man took their orders and left them to return to their conversation.
“So,” he said, abruptly changing the subject. “Steve…”
“Oh, yes. Steve.”
“What were you thinking with that guy?” the question came bluntly.
“Hey, can you blame me?”
“No,” she admitted. “I honestly don’t know what I was thinking. We were together for years and he was always the same. I think I was just trying to fill a void. I met him shortly after I lost my mom.”
Eric took a sip of water, feeling the icy lemon liquid flow down his throat. “What would she have to say about him?”
“She would have told me to dump him a long time ago. Actually, she never would have let me date him to begin with.”
“And you would’ve been okay with that? You’re mother telling you what to do, who to date?”
“Surprisingly, yes. She always had the best advice. I wouldn’t doubt her for a second.”
“What advice would she have offered in his case?”
“She would have told me that life is too short to waste time being treated badly.”
“And she would be right,” he agreed.
“She would also point out that he wouldn’t give me my love and daisies.”
“Love and daisies?”
“Yep. That’s how we used to refer to the guy who would be the love of my life. The daisy is known to symbolize childhood innocence. My mom used to say that she hoped I would find a love of purity and gentleness, much like that of a child, or―a daisy.” She smiled humbly, her eyes sparkling at the memory of her mother. “Besides,” she continued, “gerbera daisies are my favorite.”
“I remember,” Eric said. Ella blushed and revealed her subtle smile. The corners of her mouth framed with soft curves. My smile, Eric thought, claiming the delightful sight as his own.
“So, is the woman you bought those gerberas for going to be jealous about you being here with me tonight?”
“Probably.” He laughed and Ella felt her heart jump at the sound. “Actually, I haven’t shared everything with you.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I came here because of my grandmother.”
“Ahh, so you do have family here. Why so secretive?”
“She’s not doing very well, so I came to spend time with her while I could.”
Ella’s smile turned upside down. “Oh, I’m so sorry.”
“It’s okay. She loves the gerberas, by the way. I think they have become her favorite as well.”
This pleased Ella. “I’m glad she likes them. So, what about the rest of your family? Why haven’t they come?”
“Work, health mostly. They don’t have the freedom to move like I do.”
“Ahh. Well, I think it’s very nice of you to be so thoughtful of your grandmother.”
“Tell me more about her,” Ella leaned forward on her elbows, anxious to learn about this mysterious woman in Eric’s life.
“Oh, you’d love her. She’s a spitfire, and talks just about as much as you do.”
“Ha, I don’t believe it.”
“I know! Somehow, it’s true!”
The two laughed and talked all through appetizers, dinner, dessert, and coffee. They hardly noticed how the hand of the clock spun while they became wraveled in each other’s words. Tables around them cleared, filled with new diners, cleared, and filled again.
Eventually, Ella looked up to see their waiter staring them down. She let out a muffled laugh, “I think we’d better get going. Looks like our waiter doesn’t want to be here all night.”
Eric smiled and waved the waiter over, “Can we get our check, please?”
“Certainly.” The waiter quickly set the prepared book on the table.
Eric was pulling out his wallet and froze when he looked up to see the waiter was still standing over him. He glanced over at Ella who snickered with raised eyebrows and a shrug of her shoulders. Eric pulled the card out and slipped it into the book which the waiter hastily whisked away.
“Eek, better leave a big tip,” Ella commented. “I’m just going to run to the ladies room.” A waiter carrying a tray on his shoulder passed by Ella as she pushed back her chair to stand up. The waiter tripped, sending a bowl of soup into the air, the contents spilling all over a woman sitting at the next table. The waiter, trying to regain his balance, tripped into another table until he finally came to a stop on the floor, but not before pulling a tablecloth and several plates of food right on top of himself.
“Oh!” Ella cried out at seeing this. “Oh, oh no!” she let out another yell as she saw that a fallen candle had set fire to the tablecloth covering the waiter. She quickly ran over, grabbed a glass from a nearby table and dumped it onto the fire which caused an even greater flame to arise. Ella sniffed the glass to find it was vodka. “Oops,” she admitted before snatching up another glass, sniffing it to confirm its contents, and throwing it onto the fire. As she reached for another glass, a gentleman dressed in a black suit sent the icy contents of a fire extinguisher toward the flames.
An alarming stillness interrupted the commotion and quickly occupied the entire restaurant. With the danger extinguished, all eyes settled on Ella. She looked around the room and forced a smile. When her eyes met Eric’s, she said, “At least we made it through dinner.”
“Yes,” he agreed. “But they still have my credit card.”
On the walk home, the two laughed about their night. “Well, that could have gone better.”
“I would say luck was on our side.”
“Oh, would you?” Eric mocked. “Do explain.”
“I mean, the soup that poured all over that woman was chilled artichoke soup which, by the way, I could not hear myself ordering,” she said.
“And what about the fire which destroyed the tablecloth and left a burn mark on the floor?”
“Oh, yeah. I got nothing for you there.”
“And the waiter―who could have been very badly hurt.”
“Ahh, you said could have been hurt, which means he wasn’t.”
“Okay, I’ll give you that one. But you can’t erase the bill the restaurant owner will be sending me for the damages. I only hope that woman covered in soup doesn’t decide to sue. And, for the sake of full disclosure, I will be slipping those bills into your mailbox.”
Ella laughed, and so did Eric. They turned the corner and neared their apartments.
“I had a really great time tonight,” Ella said.
“I did too. This was much better than our first meeting. At least this time I wasn’t the one who got in your way.” Ella laughed at this remark as she leaned slightly in and gave him a flirtatious push. Eric pulled his hands from his pockets. “What? You have to admit, you are like a freight train.”
“I am not like a freight train.”
“I’m serious. When you are in motion, everything else better get out of your way, or else!”
“Tell me I’m wrong!”
They walked up the steps. Eric unlocked the first door and held it open for Ella. She stepped inside and he followed. “Well,” she said. “I had a really great time tonight, thank you.”
“Me too. But I have to say, I don’t feel any more comfortable around you.”
Ella punched his arm, playfully. “Alright, well. Good-night.”
“Good-night,” he replied as he watched her climb the stairs to her apartment. Eric shook his head with a smile. His cell rang, so he stepped back outside into the refreshing air of the warm night.
At the top of the stairs, Ella fumbled for her keys, dropping them on the floor. When she bent down to pick them up, she light escaping through the bottom of the door. She tried the doorknob, it was open. I know I locked the door, she thought. Poking her head inside, Ella scanned the room but didn’t see anyone. She stepped quietly inside and peaked around the corner into the living room. “Oh,” she was startled for a moment before she realized it was Steve. “How did you get in?”
“I have a key.”
“Where have you been, Ella?”
“How do you have a key? I never gave you a key.” Ella spotted Steve’s key chain on the coffee table and quickly snatched it up to remove his option of accessing her home in the future.
Steve grew impatient, slamming his beer on the table and rising from his place on the sofa. His voice grew into an angry shout. “Where have you been, Ella!”
“With a friend.”
“With a boyfriend?”
“A friend who’s a boy,” she came back at him snottily.
“Don’t play games with me, Ella. You’re lying.”
“It wouldn’t matter. We’re broken up. Or did you forget that?” This news seemed to hit Steve as if it were the first time. Ella stared him down and crossed her arms. “Unbelievable. This was a real breakup, Steve. You cheated on me. You can’t take that back.” Just then, Ella noticed that Steve was in the same clothes he was wearing when she last saw him. He hadn’t shaved, and his eyes reflected the consumption of many more drinks than just the beer on the table. “You look awful. What have you been doing with yourself?”
“I don’t have to listen to this,” Steve picked up his keys and walked to the door.
“You need help, Steve, but you’re not going to get it here, so stop coming around!”
“Yeah, fine. You and your boyfriend, whoever he is, won’t have to worry about me!”
“Good, because you and I are over this time. I am never taking you back!”
Steve stormed out of the apartment, slamming the door behind him. Ella checked her hand to be sure she still had both sets of keys before bolting the door shut and sliding in the chain. After pounding her fist against the wooden panel of the door, she stomped into the bathroom and started to draw a hot bath.
Steve stumbled down the stairs, throwing open the glass door that led outside. He stopped and tried to pull himself together-as much as he could-when he noticed Eric. “What? Waiting to see me embarrassed again?” Steve said, disgusted. Eric didn’t respond, he simply turned his back to the drunk and returned to the conversation on his cell phone. “Tsst, whatever,” Steve spat as he wobbled down the lawn steps to the sidewalk where he fell into his car and peeled away.
As the rear lights of Steve’s car shrunk in the distance, Eric decided to end his conversation. “Dad, I have to let you go… Yeah, I’ll call you tomorrow.” Eric hung up and quickly dialed the police. “Yes, hello. I’d like to report a drunk driver…”
Ella and a tub of ice cream were just settling into a steamy bubble bath when she heard a knock at the front door. She rolled her eyes and climbed out of the water. Wrapped in a fuzzy bathrobe, she made her way furiously through the apartment. Throwing the door open she shouted as if she had been storing the words for years and was finally releasing them into the world. “Leave me alone, Steve!” Ella froze in place, staring at the man before her.
“I just wanted to see if you were alright,” Eric said.
Ella didn’t speak. She couldn’t.
“I was outside and ran into Steve…”
“I’m so sorry,” she said, hiding her face in her hands. She shook her head, trying to shake away the embarrassment. “He was here when I got home. I kicked him out and took his key.”
“So, you’re okay? He was stumbling around like a drunken fool.”
“Yes, I’m fine. Thank you.”
“No problem. Let me know if you need anything,” Eric headed down a few steps before turning back around. “Oh, I hope you don’t mind. I called the police and reported him for drunk driving.”
Ella smiled. “Thank you.”
“Good night,” Eric returned to his own apartment leaving Ella relieved and elated.