28. UNVEILING SECRETS
The small girl looks at me from Ace’s arms and tilts her head to the side as if examining me. She gives me a small, unsure wave and I smile at her. Her eyes sparkle in the glistening sun and her nose is filled with tiny, faint freckles that become more noticeable under the golden rays.
“Hi...” I say and Ace turns to me, giving me a wholehearted smile. He doesn’t say anything. Instead, he watches the interaction between me and this little girl, “What’s your name?” I ask her.
She looks up at Ace, “Who’s she?”
Ace laughs, my favourite sound, “This is Calla,” he tells her. It’s clear to see that they have an undeniable connection. I assume it’s his little sister, there is no way she could be his daughter – the age difference doesn’t add up.
“Calla,” she repeats after him and looks at me. “My name is Ariella but my friends call me Ellie,” she tells me. It’s easy to understand where Ace disappears to every weekend, she’s adorable.
“That’s a pretty name,” I say and she nods looking up at Ace, “What can I call you?” I ask.
She thinks about this for a moment, looking at me with her almond-shaped eyes as if she can see right through my soul, “We can be friends.”
I notice the way Ace’s lips form a smirk and his eyes flicker to mine. Friends, is that what Ace and I still are?
An older woman in her sixties appears in the doorway, “Ace,” she greets him. Her expression is gentle and she smiles, allowing her wrinkles to become more prominent.
“Evelyn, this is Calla... a friend of mine,” he tells the woman and her smile grows wider on her thin, frail lips.
“I see, it’s nice to finally meet you Calla,” she tells me, her voice filled with sincerity.
Finally? Does that mean Ace had talked about me previously or is she just saying this to be polite? I don’t want to think too much into it.
“Likewise,” I tell her, not sure what else to say. Ace hasn’t told me anything about his family but he brought me to meet them, I find myself a little bit out of place.
“I’ll come back around four, dear?” her eyes turn to Ace.
“Yes, I’ll have to be at work at six,” he tells her, placing Ellie down. She instantly comes to my side and I can’t help but smile.
Work? Does he mean he has a fight?
Evelyn nods, “I took out ingredients on the kitchen counter for cookies, Ellie and I were going to make some but she wanted to wait for you.”
“Cookies! We’re making cookies,” Ellie says looking up at me.
“I love cookies,” I tell her and she beams with excitement.
Ellie tugs on my arm and leads me inside while Ace and Evelyn finish up on the porch, “Acy likes you.”
“He only brings girls that he likes here,” she says nonchalantly, bobbing her head from side to side while skipping to the kitchen.
I love her already.
“Hmm really?” I ask with my eyebrows raised. Does he now...
“Yeah like Livvy! I love Livvy. She does my makeup and makes me look pretty,” Ellie tells me and I breathe out a sigh of relief.
The inside of the house is much bigger than I expected. It’s an open plan, the kitchen and living room are almost connected and there are large windows making the place brighter. There are a few pictures on the walls and I stop to take a look.
There’s one with Ellie on Ace’s shoulders, it looks like it was taken not too long ago on the front porch. However, another photo catches my attention and my eyes scan over it. Ellie is holding a massive, purple helium balloon that’s the shape of the number five. Ace is holding Ellie and there’s a woman to the right of Ace. She looks like she’s in her mid-thirties with the same features; dark hair and vivid green-blue eyes. It must be their mom and I wonder where she is.
“That’s my mom,” Ace tells me startling me. I didn’t realise he was watching me.
“Is she… umm…” I don’t know how to ask him if she’s still alive. You would think I would be good at this starting conversation over a dead parent, but I’m not.
“She’s working, she works most weekends,” he tells me and I nod, I’m starting to understand the situation.
“What does she do?”
“She’s a nurse.”
“And Evelyn?” I prompt. I hope he doesn’t think I’m asking too many questions, I’m interested to know more about him. He’s been a closed book since I met him and it’s refreshing to see a different side to him.
“Evelyn lives next door, she’s like family,” he explains.
Ellie climbs onto the barstool behind the kitchen counter and begins to examine the plastic cookie cutters, “I want to make the bunnies,” she says and Ace walks over to her.
I mix the ingredients for the cookie batter and Ellie helps me, she very clever for a five year old and knows the exact method.
Ace isn’t any help, I don’t even think he knows how to make cookies. He’s watching me and Ellie, occasionally placing his floury handprint on the sleeve of my shirt.
“Do you have a fight today?” I whisper while Ellie is too busy mixing the frosting. His eyes narrow but he doesn’t say anything so I’m assuming he does.
“Can I come?” I ask, placing the dirty dishes inside the dishwasher.
“Why not?” I turn around facing him.
“It’s not a safe place, Calla.”
I roll my eyes, “It was fine last time.”
“There’s going to be more people this time,” he tells me.
“Is everyone else going?” I ask, wanting to know specifically if Lexi is going.
He doesn’t answer me, placing the cookie tray into the heated oven.
“You don’t want me to come?”
“I don’t want to be distracted. You distract me,” he tells me, cornering me between his body and the counter. My eyes glance over to Ellie but she’s not paying any attention to us.
“Please?” I ask, running my hand down his chest. “It was hot watching you last time,” I whisper so only he can hear and slightly graze my bottom lip with my teeth.
His eyes narrow, “Fuck, Calla. Why do you have to do that?” he asks frustrated, taking my hand away from him and turning away abruptly.
Someone’s in a mood, I smile to myself.
“Does that mean I can come?”
I drop it for now, but he is an idiot if he thinks I’m not coming.
“Acy is taking me to Bella’s birthday in a week, I have to make her a card,” Ellie tells me when we finish cleaning up.
“We can watch the Lion King, while you do that,” Ace suggests, heading towards the living room.
“Nooo, we watch that every time,” Ellie argues, grabbing an arts and crafts box from the cabinet.
“But it’s the best movie,” he tries to convince her.
“No,” Ellie says and I see the resemblance in the bossiness trait, “Calla can choose.”
I laugh and Ace pouts at Ellie but she’s not having any of it, taking the TV remote off him and handing it to me.
Ace lays on the couch and I sit next to him, while Ellie sits on her beanbag next to us focusing on her card, gluing glitter and feathers on the front. Ace wraps his arm around me, resting it on my leg and I run my fingers over the dark ink that covers his skin.
We watch the movie with Ellie asking what colour she should use. The timer goes off for the cookies and I turn to Ace but realise he’s sleeping. I smile at how calm he looks, not wanting to wake him. I figure he doesn’t sleep much either since he always looks tired.
Ellie and I watch another movie while we wait for the cookies to cool. We decorate them quietly with pink and white frosting, drawing the faces of bunnies. I don’t have younger siblings or even nieces or nephews so I never knew how much fun it is to paint frosting on a stupid cookie, making sure it looks perfect.
Ellie shows me her room, it’s painted pastel purple and the ceiling is filled with silver stars, “They glow in the dark,” she tells me and I’m suddenly envious of a five-year-olds’ room.
“Can you read to me, please?” she asks, handing me a book with dragons on the front cover. Interesting choice, I bet Ace got her into this.
“Sure,” I say.
We lay down in the corner of her room under the canopy with fairy lights and blankets. I spend the next hour reading every book that she asks me to, while she listens without interrupting.
“Can you come to Bella’s birthday party with me and Acy?” she asks me after I finish another book.
“I’d love to, but you will have to ask Ace if it’s okay,” I tell her.
“It’s okay, he likes you.”
When it’s almost four, we go into the living room to check on Ace and he is still out on the couch.
“Ellie, do you have whipped cream?” I ask her and she bobs her head up and down.
I get the whipped cream from the fridge and motion for Ellie to follow me. I place my finger to my lips to tell her to be quiet and she nods with excitement.
I fill Ace’s hands with whipped cream and get a feather from the arts and crafts box that’s on the table.
“Do you want to tickle Acy’s face?” I ask offering her the feather and she takes it, giggling.
“Shh,” I laugh.
I watch her make her way over to Ace and run the feather down his face but he doesn’t budge. Her eyebrows furrow in confusion, just like Ace’s do occasionally, she’s so cute.
“Here, let me try,” I say and Ellie gives me the feather. I trace his face with the feather, remembering every single line like it’s a roadmap to heaven. He looks so peaceful, his full lips parted a little and his dark lashes casting a shadow underneath his eyes. I feel bad for trying to wake him but damn, the boy sleeps like a log.
When he doesn’t move, I stick the feather up his nose and Ellie tries to cover her giggles with her hand. However, that finally seems to do the trick. He groans and his hand shoots up to itch his face, getting the whipped cream all over his nose.
His eyes fly open and Ellie is already in fits of giggles but it gets even louder when Ace tries to wipe his face with the other hand, not realising there’s cream on that one too. I can’t help it, it’s too funny.
“Ellie!” Ace complains, giving her a wolfish grin and getting up.
“I didn’t do it! Acyyy!! It wasn’t me,” she squeals running away from him.
“No? Was it Calla?” He asks her, his eyes settling on me in amusement. Shit.
“Uhh,” Ellie pauses, unsure what to say – not wanting to get me in trouble. I bite my bottom lip and back away slowly.
Ace chases me towards the kitchen and grabs me by the waist pulling me closer to his chest. I don’t fight him, I love playful Ace. I would have never thought he had this side to him but the more I spend time with him, the more I unravel. And the more I like him.
He kisses me softly, making sure that my face is covered with cream and then tickles me, “Stop Acy, it wasn’t her,” Ellie tells him, trying to pull him away from me. He picks her up off the ground and tickles her too. Our laughter fills the space around us.
And in this moment, standing in the middle of Ace’s childhood home, laughing until I can’t breathe anymore – I’m happy. I don’t have to fake a smile or force a laugh because with Ace it just happens. It’s a connection that I can’t explain and it’s moments like these where I wish that I could stop time.