Chapter 64: Elastic Heart (piano version) - Sia
My first order of business upon returning to SMA was discussing my dilemma with a number of different people. I went to acting professors, classmates, my best friends, but I still couldn’t come to a consensus. I moved onto Art last. I didn’t go to him first because I didn’t want it to look like I was basing my future around him. I had it on good authority that Hollywood was right where he was headed.
“Hey, Babe, how are you?” He greeted me with a kiss.
“Well but conflicted, thus our talk.”
“Let’s go somewhere more private.” He took my hand and led me to his room.
He sat down on the foot of his bed. I remained standing.
“I assume this is about your role.”
“Yes. I had a feeling you had heard.”
“It hurt a little at first, but I decided to be patient. I chose to believe it was because my opinion carries a lot of weight.”
“It does.” I paced.
“Where is your head at?”
“Yale has been my plan for the longest, but acting has always been my dream. Playing a lead role in a drama is not something that comes around everyday.” I spoke with my hands.
“A teen drama.”
“What’s the difference?”
“They have the tendency to be melodramatic. You have the potential to be a serious actress. It is hard to shake characters that are considered trite by the circles that matter.” He rested his elbows on his knees.
“It’d get my foot in the door. Plenty of actors that went on to win Oscars starred in sitcoms and other ‘silly’ shows. This is a role I could make substantial if I play my cards right.”
“That may be the case, but it is too risky. Plenty of shows never make it past the pilot. Even if it does, plenty of criticism will be aimed at you as the lead. Go to Yale.”
I stopped in front of him with my hands on my hips. “You don’t think I’m strong enough.”
“I never said that.”
“But you basically are.”
“I am saying that Yale will give you more time to grow as an artist. Plenty of big timers started out in school and went on to do more than just act; they are the ones that direct, produce, and write too.”
“It would allow me to tighten the purse strings a bit and have an even more impressive resume.”
“Exactly. You’re all about perfecting. Four more years can do a world of good.”
“You’re doing it again.”
“Insinuating that I need time because I’m not ready for the real world.”
“One wrong comment could send you spiraling. I’d hate to see you leave the world of acting forever because you were pushed past your limit.” He explained condescendingly gentle.
“I got upset because my boyfriend didn’t stand up for me. I have heard comments like that my entire life and I fully intend to hear them for the rest of it. I was simply under the impression that those close to me would feel the urge to diffuse it when they could.”
“I said sorry. You said you forgive me, yet you bring it up every time we have a disagreement. I don’t understand what you want from me, Elle.” He raised his voice.
“I want you to support me, for you to look at this as if you were deciding this for yourself. What would you choose?” Up my agitation crept.
He lowered his head and thought to himself. “The job, I guess. The working window can sometimes be limited. For whom and when it is limited is hard to tell. The climate shifts so quickly.” His voice was soft.
“Exactly, but you don’t think I’m up for the challenge. I’m just as good as you, Art!”
“I never said you weren’t. Why did you even come to me? It sounds as though you’ve already made up your mind!” He rose from his bed.
“I wanted another person to bounce ideas off of and your opinion means a lot!”
“Well, I gave mine and you’re not happy about it. When I say nothing, you get upset with me. When I say what I think, you still get upset with me. I can’t win!”
“This wasn’t supposed to become a win or lose scenario! You were just supposed to listen to me!”
“Well, I’m sorry I was honest. I should have patted you on the head and told you you’re pretty!”
My mouth fell agape and tears flooded my eyes. My chest constricted.
His face fell when he realized what he said. “Elle, I am so sorry. I didn’t mean to say –“ He reached out for me.
“But you did.” I picked up my purse and flung open the door.
“I didn’t mean it. I was angry and –“
I charged to the front door without the slightest inkling to turn around.
“Never talk to me again!” I screamed before slamming the door.
I allowed myself to break down once I was in the hallway. I managed to make it upstairs two floors. I knocked on the door with the little strength I had remaining.
I was engulfed into a hug the moment the door was opened. I recognized the cologne to be Ryan’s. I let myself fall into his arms. He helped me to his room. He guided me to his desk chair and shut and locked the door.
“Ellie, tell me what happened.” He was crouching in front of me with his hands on my knees. His voice was soft and concerned.
His kindness made me cry harder.
“I will go downstairs and kick his ass, no questions asked, if you don’t tell me what happened.”
I heaved and shook my head, struggling to catch my breath. He put his hand on the side of my face and forced me to look at him. “Take a long, slow breath in through your nose—“ He coached in asoothvoice. I did as he said. “Hold your breath and count to ‘three’.” I continued to follow his orders. “Exhale slowly through pursed lips.”
I completed the exercise.
“And again. --” He talked me through the exercise until I regained the ability to breathe normally.
“I’m gonna go get you a cup of water.” He left the room.
I shifted my eyes to the linoleum floor. I pulled my sleeves down to my hands and dried my eyes and nose with them.
“Here.” He offered me the glass upon his return.
I accepted it and took slow sips. He sat down on the rug, in front of his bed and me. I put the cup on the desk once I had consumed all the water. I meddled with my hands as I looked at them. “How did you know to do that?”
“Memories from the night of the accident have started coming back to Rae. She has night terrors and panic attacks.”
“And you refused to leave her side, so you learned how to help.” I brought my sleeve to my eyes and dabbed away the moisture.
“It didn’t take much.”
“But it means everything.”
“Tell me what he did.” His demand broke the silence I forced us to endure.
“Did you think I was just asking your opinion about what I was going to do next year to receive praise?” I answered in a roundabout way.
“No. I was a soundboard, all of us were. I stand by my decision. Take the leap. You can defer and go to Yale second semester if it doesn’t work out.”
“I thought you’d choose school first because that’s what you’re doing.”
“I know you. You’re always beating yourself up because you don’t take enough risks. Here’s one worth taking. ”
I timidly looked over at him. “I want to do it.”
“You’re agreeing with me. This is a first.”
I cleared my throat. “You’re always looking out for me. I know you’d never steer me wrong.”
“You’re going to conquer the world. I want to known as one of the ones that helped you build your empire.”
I left the chair. I sat down on the floor beside him. I rested my head on his shoulder. He moved his arm around me.
“You don’t think perfecting is what I value most?”
“I know it’s not. You’re happiest when you forget the idea of perfection exists.”
I nodded and closed my eyes to cry.
He hugged me close and rested his head atop mine. “He doesn’t know you, Ellie.”
“Are you ready to talk about it?” He was sure to wait until I finished crying.
“You can’t go downstairs.”
“I’m not promising that.”
“I don’t want to make this worse than it already is. It’d hurt me.”
“Fine.” He grumbled.
I pulled away from him. I dried my eyes and tucked my hair behind my ears to buy time. “I tried to talk to him. After our talk, I’ve been leaning heavily towards taking the gig. I still wanted to hear his arguments. He said I needed four years at Yale to give my skin time to thicken.” I cleared my throat.
“Sundance was not an indication of your strength.”
“I get that. I tried to argue it, but that’s when he said that he should’ve just patted me on the head and told me that I’m pretty instead of being honest with me.”
He immediately tried to stand up. I grabbed the back of his shirt and yanked him back to his seat.
“He doesn’t get to talk to you like that!” He was angrier than I had ever seen him.
“It’s over, okay? It’s over. I ended it.”
“He knows exactly what that meant. He knew nothing would hurt you more than that, but he still said it.”
“He said he wasn’t thinking.”
He scoffed and rolled his eyes. “That’s bullshit. He wouldn’t have said it if it wasn’t on his mind.”
“Please don’t do anything or tell anyone that will. This already humiliating enough as it is.”
“How is this your fault?”
“I shouldn’t have gotten back together with him. I really shouldn’t have let him get close enough to know how to hurt me like this. I was so stupid this time.”
“No, you --” He sighed. “You thought he was a sheep, as did I. I would have made him stay away from you if I knew he was capable of something like this.” He rubbed my arm.
“He started out as a sheep. I know that for sure. I awakened the wolf within by being too hard on him. I always do.”
“You can’t hold yourself accountable for anyone else’s actions.What do you want to do?”
“Tonight, I want to drink and watch something mindless. I am going to blow off steam and refuse to wallow tomorrow.”
“I can do that.” He stood up utilizing his hands. He went to his closet to get to his stash of alcohol. He grabbed a bottle of tequila.
“Set up my laptop while I get mixers.” He left without ensure I’d do it.
I did it, of course. I wanted to start as soon as possible. I cued up a trashy reality television show. There was no way backstabbing behavior on a deserted island could trigger anything substantial in the emotions department.
He sat down beside me with a jug of orange juice, two cups, and two shotglass.
“We’re going to regret this in the morning.” He made himself comfortable.
“I’m overdue for some questionable decisions.” I unscrewed the cap off of a bottle of tequila.
“There is a difference between questionable decisions and tequila decisions.”
“I guess I’ll be learning all about it tonight.” I poured a little over two shots worth into my cup and poured orange juice over it.
I poured a shot of tequila, drank it, and removed the burn by drinking my mixed drink.
“You’re going to kill us.” He poured the same amount of tequila into his cup and took a shot.
“No one said you have to keep up with me.”
“It’s always implied.” He tapped his cup to mine.
Several drinks in and we were completely trashed. We interacted with the show we were watching, laughing and voicing our thoughts.
“She won that peanut butter. He can’t take it! It’s hers!” I pointed to the computer screen.
“Hazelnut butter. Hazelnut.” He leaned into me, chuckling.
“I would fight you if you took my peanut butter.”
“Hazelnut.” He laughed harder.
“Still.” I giggled. “All mine.”
“Mine. Yum yum.” He rubbed his stomach.
I laughed harder and looked over at him. “Mine.”
He made slurping noises.
“Nooo.” He whined softly with a boyish smile.
He picked up his cup. I stole it, making a big show of drinking it. I poked my tongue out when I was done with it.
“My peanut butter!” He wailed.
I laughed heartily. There was a knock on the door and we both looked at it.
“Shhhhh.” He loudly whispered.
I covered my mouth to giggle.
“I know you’re in there.” Milo accused.
“Nuh uh.” I replied.
Both Ryan and I were unable to keep from laughing, snorting as we huddled together.
“What are you doing?” Milo walked into the room.
“Nothing.” My lip quivered as I tried not to laugh. I failed and Ry was quick to join me.
“Do you need water?”
We both shook our heads.
“I’m getting water.” He left us alone.
“Boo.” I pouted.
“Not over. Keep it going as long as you want.”
“Kay.” I drank the last of my blend of tequila and orange juice.
Milo brought both of us glasses of water and sat them on the ground in front of us.
“Nick said you came in upset, Elle. Do you want me to get Iz?”
“Go.” I waved him away.
“Go away. Happy here.”
“I got her.” Ryan vouched for me.
“Okay, let me know if you change your mind.” Milo shut the door behind himself.
I crawled off the ground and was hit with a wave of vertigo the moment I did. I staggered about to keep my balance as I went to lock the door. I went to the bathroom. I kept my head down as I washed my hands. Even in my drunken state, I knew better than to look at myself. I returned to my spot with a satisfied smile.
“You’re great. You’re really, really great.” I sipped my water.
“So are you.” He took my cup.
“You’re like, you’re like one of my favorite people.”
“And you know me. That’s so weird.” He chuckled as he offered me the cup.
“You’re one of the good ones, secretly.”
“Don’t tell.” He slouched further onto the ground, propping himself up with his elbows.
“I won’t.” I smoothed down his hair from my vantage point.
He had just gotten a haircut. His once carefree coif was snipped at the top and the sides faded away. It was very modern, sleek and sexy.
“What?” He looked up at me. His dimples were faintly visible. I lifted my hand and traced his strong jawline with my fingertips. We shared a moment when I looked into his chocolate eyes. His lips were too alluring to resist after that.
My face gravitated downward and my lips landed on his. I kissed him with minimal thought and without a care in the world. He was right there in the moment with me. He sat up, put his hand on the side of my face and kissed me deeply. Everything melted away as we kissed hard and fast.
“It’s hot in here.” I struggled to catch my breath as he kissed my neck.
“This okay?” He slowly lifted the hem of my shirt.
I nodded and kissed him. He tossed it aside. I removed his shirt and we were back at it. Our chests were pressed together and my legs were on either side of him. He lowered me onto my back. I collided with a cup on my way down.
“Ow.” I whined.
He snorted, hanging his head as he laughed.
“Shut up.” I pulled his face back to mine.
I woke up the next morning in his bed with the mother of all hangovers. My lack of clothing reminded me of my actions and I covered my face with my hand. I scraped together as much dignity as I could and pinned the sheets beneath my arms. I climbed out of bed slowly, pulling the cotton fabric along with me.
“Hey.” Ry’s complaint sounded more like a groan. His hand was used to shield his eyes from the lamplight we disregarded the night before.
I fashioned a dress and used my fingers to fix my hair. “Wake up.” I poked him with my foot as I held the sheet to my body.
He removed his hand and squinted at me. “Why – oh, shit.” He opened his eyes completely and winced the moment he did.
“My thoughts exactly.”
“How did this --?”
“I believe it was lots and lots of tequila, pent up frustration, and a touch of loneliness. Do you use anything? I can’t remember.”
He reached over and opened his nightstand drawer. He lifted out a box, pulled out its contents and counted as I held my breath.
“No.” He scratched the back of his head.
“No?” I crossed my arms.
“You don’t get to be mad at me. We both wanted it as quickly as possible. That’s coming back to me.”
I couldn’t argue with him, recalling it and glimpses of our other activities. I closed my eyes and tried to massage away my headache with my hand.
“Are you on the pill?”
“Yes.” My eyes were still closed.
“That takes a lot of the pressure off.”
“But not all of it.”
“I don’t have anything. All tests crystal clear. What have you been doing with Art?”
“We always used condoms.”
“I’m sure we’ll be fine.”
“You don’t know that.” I sighed and looked at him.
“It happened. We did it. We’ll deal. We’re both eighteen; we don’t have to notify our parents about anything.”
“How can you be so caviller about this? Either scenario would be a very big deal.”
“The odds are so low. They’re basically nonexistent. What’s stress going to do other than postpone your period, which will tell us a lot? So chill and we’ll sort things out things together if something arises.”
I sighed. “Promise?”
“I’m not going anywhere. You’re still my best friend.”
I pursed my lips. “Let’s try our best not to allow things to get weird, to move on, and vow never to tell anyone. It was strictly physical.”
“A tequila mistake between two friends.”
“No more tequila for us.” I began the search for my clothes.
“At least not together. But I must admit we were good at it.”
“Best I’ve ever had. I’m sure it was mutual.” He continued to torment playfully.
“No.” I found my underwear and slipped it on without dropping the sheet.
“Now, now, Ellie. This will just remain between the two of us.”
“I don’t understand it. We were so, so drunk.” I admitted the truth in a huff.
“Art and Scott. That’s it. I loved them. I don’t bed hop. Watch it.” I gave him my full attention.
“Didn’t mean it like that.”
“What’s your partner number?”
“You’ll judge me.”
“Probably. Still spill. It’s my business now.”
“It depends on what you count.”
“Third and all the way.”
“Eight, excluding you.”
“Are you kidding me?”
“This is the first time I didn’t use anything, so lay off.”
“Fine.” I was seated with my back to him as I attached my bra.
“I didn’t love them or you as more than a friend, but you are one of the people I trust most in this world. Can that count for something?”
“And you’re the most beautiful.”
“Watch it.” I went to pick up my other articles of clothing.
“You’ve got a first class body, the sexiest of curves.” He commented as I was bending over to get my shirt.
“You really know how to sweet talk a girl.” I pulled on my shirt.
“What we did was strictly carnal. We’ve already established that.”
“I don’t want to complicate things, okay?”
“Just one more thing. How much better than Art was I?” His smugness was audible.
“I refuse to inflate your ego.”
“That much better? Yikes. And I was drunk. Poor guy.”
I couldn’t resist a cracked smile. “I didn’t say that.”
“You basically did.”
“What happened to forgetting about this until we’re forced to think about it?” I hiked up my jeans.
“I was thinking it’d be nice to have a debriefing of sorts, unload the last of our more than friendly thoughts before you leave. Anything you’d like to share?”
“Absolutely nothing.” I removed a hair tie from my wrist and pulled my hair up into a bun. “Do you think anyone heard us?”
“Doubt it. Milo was probably at Izzie’s. Nick sleeps with earplugs. Finn wears headphones when he’s coding late at night. Adam goes to bed too early to not have been in a deep sleep at the time.”
“Good, but still feel them out to tell for sure.” I scanned the room to make sure I wasn’t forgetting anything.
“I can manage that. Can I have a kiss goodbye?”
“I’m not your whore. Kissing is allowed in this arrangement.” He joked.
I sighed and rolled my eyes as I walked over to him. I put my hand on the side of his face and kissed him, even allowing the use of tongue. “You are infuriating,” Were my parting words.
“You find it fun. We both do.”
“I will kill you if this gets out.” I grabbed my purse on the way out the door.
“Don’t doubt that.” He called after me before flopping back down onto his bed to return to sleep.
The common room and kitchen were barren when I walked out of Ryan’s room. I crept out their suite and left without a trace. My suite was in the same condition his was, all of my roommates fast asleep. Taking a hot shower was my main desire. Thinking became my enemy; I realized I slept with someone mere hours after breaking up with my boyfriend. I scrubbed my skin harder as an attempt to combat the dirtiness I felt, but the effort was futile. The heat of the shower made me feel queasy. I threw up in the toilet, once again regretting my alcohol consumption. I went to the kitchen for water and bread to settle my stomach. I went to sleep the moment I finished consuming them.
I woke up hours later and took care of business instead of wallowing. Art’s words fueled my fire instead of extinguishing it. I called my agent to accept the role and deferred my admittance to Yale.
Moving forward with my life was all that I wanted. I was determined to prove him wrong and I needed to do it for myself. Mistakes will be made; they can be overcome, but never undone. I was able to stomach the idea of making one with my best friend; I knew he’d never throw it back in my face, especially Ry.