The Prelude of Ella and Micha, Page 8Jessica Sorensen
She fucking touched my lips. Let me kiss her thumb. Let me press my body against hers.
And now she’s on my back.
“Hey, Micha.” Benny gives me the chin nod as I approach some other racers with Ella on my back. She’s been on there for about five minutes and hasn’t shown any signs of wanting to get down.
“Hey, man.” I nod back, noting the strange look he gives me and Ella. The look is fleeting and quickly vanishes, as if he’s been expecting this sort of thing to happen. I saw Ethan and Renee give me the same look, and I’m fucking hoping maybe they’re right.
Something’s changed. I can feel it in the air.
Right as I think that, thunder rumbles from the sky. It’s followed by the drizzle of rain. Everyone starts to scatter for their cars as the raindrops put out the fire and drench everyone’s clothes. Ella holds onto me tightly as I sprint for the car, slipping in the mud and struggling to see straight. I manage to get her in the passenger side safely then get my own ass into the driver’s seat where I turn the engine on and crank up the heat.
“We’re so screwed,” she remarks, staring at the raindrops splattering across the window.
Her damp, auburn hair rests on her shoulders, beads of water trickling down her cheeks and lips. As she slips off her jacket, I relish in the sight of her tank top clinging to her body. I can’t help thinking about how I saw her nipples through that shirt this afternoon and how turned on I was.
“Micha, did you hear me?” she asks, wiping some raindrops from her forehead with the back of her hand.
I shake my head, too drunk to be ashamed of the direction of my gaze. “Not a damn word.”
She laughs, but it’s off pitch. “I asked what we’re going to do. Neither of us are sober enough to drive. And I’m guessing from all the cars still parked that everyone else might be in the same condition.”
I shrug, blinking my focus back to her face. “I guess we’ll have to just chill here until we sober up. I’m not super drunk, so I’ll probably only need an hour or so.”
She presses her lips together, her gaze relentless until she finally clumsily hops over the console and falls into the backseat. “Well, I’m getting comfortable, then. There’s a good chance I’ll end up passing out.”
“Not fair.” I rotate in the seat and watch her stretch her legs out. “How come I have to stay up here?”
“Who said you have to stay up there?” she questions, wringing out her hair.
Taking that as an open invitation, I turn on some music then tumble over the console, probably a little too eagerly, and end up bumping my elbow into her stomach.
“Micha,” she grunts and then laughs as I force her to lean forward and then climb on the seat behind her. “That was probably the most unsmooth I’ve ever seen you act.”
“Yeah, maybe.” I position us so both our legs are stretched out across the seat and my back is against the door. Then I guide her toward me until her back is resting against my chest. “This is nice,” I admit.
“We’ve sat like this before.” She jumps as thunder booms and lightning snaps just outside. “Probably too much … people are starting to think stuff.”
“Oh, yeah?” I comb my fingers through her wet hair. “Like what?”
She shrugs then reclines back and rests her head against my chest. Her ear is very close to my heart, and I worry she’ll hear how rapidly it’s beating. What will she think if she hears it? Does it matter? You were going to tell her anyway. Tell her!
“They think we’re a couple,” she says before I can get a chance to pour my heart out. “Which is a little weird considering you fool around with other people all the time. I mean, what do they think? We have, like, an open relationship or something?”
“I already told you I’ve been chilling on getting laid,” I tell her. When her back goes rigid, I quickly move my hands to her shoulders and gently press my fingertips into her skin, massaging her tense muscles. “Maybe that’s why they think it. Perhaps they think my celibacy is because I’m with you.”
“Well, that’s still insulting.” Her head falls to the side as I continue to shower her muscles with attention.
“And why’s that?”
“Because … it means they think we are having...”
“Sex.” I smash my lips together, trying not to laugh at her slight embarrassment over the subject. The girl can rock out solo in front of a ton of people, but talk about anything sexual, and she grows uneasy.
“Are you laughing at me?” She starts to turn her head, but I move my fingers downward, splaying them across her collarbone, and she sinks into the touch.
“No way.” I rest my forehead on the back of her head. Her hair smells like rain, and I inhale the delicious scent, branding it into my mind, branding this moment into my mind forever. “You smell so good.”
“This feels so good.” She moans, the kind of moan I imagine would leave her lips if I was thrusting inside her.
A low moan escapes my own lips as I battle to remain in control over myself. But I can feel my willpower fraying, about to break.
“Ella, there’s something I need to tell you.” I kiss the back of her head, making a path downward.
“Yeah, me, too … it’s about our pact.” She sighs into me. “Maybe we could go somewhere else.”
“Like where?” I nuzzle my face into her neck. “I’ve always thought California was an awesome place. I mean, I know it’s a little bit more expensive, and we’ll need to probably stick around here a little bit longer to save up, but I like our plan.”
“But what if I told you there was somewhere else I really wanted to go? And soon.”
“Then I’d listen. You know I’ll always listen to you. So what’s up? What plan are you conjuring up in that beautiful head of yours?”
“Well, I got acc—” Her phone vibrates from inside her pocket and cuts her off.
Sighing, she fishes it out then mumbles, “Who the hell is that?” She puts the phone up to her ear. “Hello?” she answers tentatively.
“Ella, where are you?” Her dad’s loud voice can be heard clearly through the cab of the car.
“Um, out and about.” She glances at the clouds in the sky. “Where are you?”
“You need to get home,” he slurs. “You have mom duty. God dammit, Ella, I already told you this. What the fuck is wrong with you?”
“But I …” She touches her numb lips then looks over her shoulder at me. “It might take a while.”
“About an hour,” I whisper, hugging her against me.
“About an hour,” she tells her dad.
“Whatever,” her dad snaps. “Just get your ass home.” With that, he hangs up, and I grit my teeth, pissed that he ruined her night.
“I should have stayed home,” she yawns tiredly, switching her phone to the text screen.
“What are you doing?” I brush her hair from her shoulder and peer over to read what she’s typing.
“Texting my mom.” Her fingers move across the buttons. “Making sure everything’s okay. Hopefully she’ll respond.”
Ella: Mom, r u ok?
It takes a minute before she responds.
Mom: I’m fine.
Ella: Is this mom?
Mom: Of course, baby girl.
The endearing name makes Ella relax.
Ella: I’ll be home soon. Just stay in your room, okay?
Mom: Of course, baby girl. C you soon.
“I need to sober up,” Ella mutters as she stuffs her phone into her pocket.
“I’ll get you home as soon as I can, okay?” I promise her. “You just try to relax.”
“That’s the problem. I’m too relaxed. I never should have gone out tonight.”
“You’re fine,” I whisper, stroking her cheek with my fingers.
She sinks deeply into my touch with a sigh. A few minutes later, her breathing softens as she passes out.
An hour later, I’m sober enough to drive home, and I buckle Ella into the backseat and h
ead down the muddy road toward town. By the time I pull up into her driveway, Ella’s awake yet still completely out of it.
“Wow, that was a short drive home,” she mutters, rubbing her bloodshot eyes then slipping her jacket on.
“It took as long as it always takes.” I hop out of the car, my boots splashing in the puddles, and help her get out of the backseat.
“It still felt really short.” She stretches her arms above her head and yawns. “Hey, it stopped raining. I’m so glad.”
“And why’s that?”
“Because the rain is bad.”
I’d ask her to elaborate more, but she’s pretty incoherent. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if she can’t remember what happened in the car come morning.
She can barely walk, so I help her climb up her tree; otherwise, she’d probably fall and break her neck. But I don’t mind. I actually enjoy it. Helping Ella is my thing, and I want it to be my thing for a very long time.
I need to tell her.
As I’m getting ready to climb back down the tree, she beckons me back to her and throws her arms around my neck. “You’re my hero. You know that?” She kisses my cheek.
I can’t help it. When she turns her head, I kiss her right on her lips. The kiss is soft, innocent, but by the time I pull away, I’ve decided. Tomorrow, I’m going to tell her how I feel.
The night seemed like it was going to turn out okay, even with the rainstorm and my dad ruining it toward the end. Micha gave me a massage. Things got a bit intense, though in a good way, I think. I almost told him about Vegas, almost asked him to come with me. But the vodka got to me, and I fell asleep.
As my eyelids drifted shut, I silently vowed I’d tell Micha tomorrow when I was sober because I’m starting to realize how much I need him.
Then I got home and everything changed in a heartbeat.
I thought, since the rain had stopped, the night would remain all right, that the storm had passed and skipped over me this time.
But the storm was just waiting for me on the inside of my house.
My mother is dead.
My mother took her own life.
And the house is so quiet.
Because my father is gone.
He told me to come home.
Told me I was on mom duty.
Yet I didn’t come back for over an hour.
As I stand in the doorway, staring at the bathroom floor that’s painted red with blood, the soundlessness of the house encompasses me.
Maybe I should make some noise. Break the silence. Break myself.
I think I screamed. Maybe. I’m not sure.
I finally cross the room and check her pulse, but the bathtub water is as thick as red paint, so I already know.
And her skin is unbelievably cold.
Like the chill of the rain.
I blow out the most deafening breath as I walk back to the doorway and call the police with my phone. Then I wait. For what, I’m not sure. Maybe the rain to start up again.
Keep an eye on your mother.
Keep an eye on your mother.
I knew I should have stayed home.
Keep an eye on your mother.
This is all your fault.
Somehow, within the next few minutes, Micha shows up and holds me. I don’t even know how he knows, but he does. He tells me it’s going to be okay, tells me he’ll take care of me.
“No,” is the only reply I can get out.
“This isn’t your fault,” he whispers, hugging me tightly. It’s like he knows what’s going on inside my head, always does.
“Yes, it is,” I say numbly. “It really, really is.”
This is all your fault.
“I don’t deserve to be held, Micha.”
He doesn’t let me go, even when the paramedics show up and take her out of the water. They seal her up in a body bag and wheel her lifeless body out toward the flashing red and blue lights. Then we follow them to the front lawn where I see my dad. He’s standing there, staring at the ambulance, crying, crying, sobbing.
This is all your fault.
I push away from Micha and stumble to my dad. I need to tell him I’m sorry for leaving, for not coming home, for not doing better. For being selfish. But when he looks at me, I already know that no amount of sorrys is ever going to cut it.
“This is all your fault,” he says, sounding more sober than he ever has before.
“I’m sorry,” I whisper, my voice getting lost in the wind.
“Just get in the car,” he snaps with tears in his eyes. “We need to go to the hospital.”
Nodding, I follow him up the driveway with my head hung low, ignoring Micha when he calls out to me.
I can’t look at him.
Look anyone in the eye.
After what I did.
I slide into the driver’s seat, my dad not well enough to drive. Then I follow the ambulance through the neighborhood and toward the bridge that exits the town and leads to the closet hospital.
As we cross over the darkened water, I remember the last time I was here. With my mother.
She said she could fly.
She believed that she was invincible.
But she wasn’t.
All because of me.
2 weeks later…
I wish I could go back to the sprinkler days, those afternoons when Micha and I would run around his front yard, getting wet. Life was so simple back then, so promising. Nothing is promising anymore.
The funeral is unbearable, yet I manage to get through it, even when my brother Dean informs me that he blames me also. After that, I spend most of my days cleaning the house. It’s the only thing I can focus on that doesn’t make my brain feel like it’s going to explode from the guilt. The only time I can fully breathe is when my father is gone; otherwise, he’s at the house and looking at me like I ruined everything.
Because I did.
As I pack up the clutter in my mother’s bedroom, I feel the truth weighing heavily inside me, like I did when they closed the lid of her coffin. Her death is my burden to carry. Forever.
With each of her belongings I put into the box, the weight grows heavier while repetitive questions replay in my head over and over again.
Is that what she wanted when she did it? To get rid of the burden? To leave this all behind? Her belongings? What was she thinking? Could I have stopped her if I was here? I did once before. That day she went down to the bridge. But I wasn’t here this time.
I’m pretty sure I can fly, Ella May. The last words she ever spoke to me flow through my head. She had to be in the same mindset. Why didn’t I see it? Why am I such a bad daughter?
“Why did you think you could fly, Mom?” I whisper as I clutch onto a necklace that once belonged to her. “What went on in that head of yours?”
Setting the necklace down, I place the box on the unmade bed and open the nightstand drawer to take out the pills she once almost overdosed on. She took a few before she slit her wrists the final night she was alive—at least that’s what the medical examiner said.
Not truly understanding why I do it, I pop two of her pills into my mouth and swallow them, feeling the strangest bit closer to her the moment they slip down my throat and settle into my body.
As the pills seep through my bloodstream, I wander down to the kitchen to do the dishes, feeling slightly dizzy. The way the water moves is odd. The air smells weird, too, like grease and smoke.
Is this how she saw the world?
“I’m headed out,” my dad slurs as he staggers into the kitchen.
Elbow deep in pan grease, all I do is nod.
“I might not be h
ome tonight, just so you know.”
I peer over my shoulder at him. “Okay.”
He lingers by the back door while he clumsily slips his jacket on. He hasn’t been sober since the night my mom died, and he has been binge drinking every night at the bar since the funeral.
“Be safe,” I feel the need to say.
He blinks at me like I’ve slapped him. “God, you look so much like her,” he mutters as he reaches for the back door. “It hurts to even look at you anymore.” Then he storms out, slamming the door behind him.
It seems like I should cry, but I think my tear ducts broke the night I found her.
After I finish up the dishes, I trudge up to my room with my father’s words echoing in my mind.
It hurts to even look at you anymore.
I stand in front of the mirror on my wall, wondering if maybe he’s right. I do look so much like her. Leaning forward, I squint at my own eyes that are squinting back at me. For the briefest moment, something painful flashes across my expression.
Of who I am.
My reflection can see it.
What I did.
Panicking, I rip the sheet from the bed and throw it over the mirror, breathing heavily. Is this what everyone sees when they look at me? What I did? What I caused?
“I need to get out of here.” I hurry out of my bedroom, bolt down the stairs, and then outside. I start to jog down the driveway—run, run, run away—when I hear Micha call out my name.
“What are you doing?” he asks over the sound of his boots thudding against the concrete as he jogs after me.
I almost keep going, keep running to the end of the driveway. When I get there, I’ll turn right and go to the bus stop. Then I’ll buy a one-way ticket out of here. Leave everything behind, including myself.
“Baby, did you hear me?” The sadness in his voice stings at my heart and my guilt.
I want to scream at him not to call me baby. I don’t deserve such an endearing name, don’t deserve him. Yet he seems to think the opposite, refusing to leave my side unless I lock myself in the house. Micha knows I’m breaking, and he wants to stop it, but I don’t deserve to stop breaking.