They looked so beautiful. Her chest ached. Them was her sister, Amy and her husband, Chris and her brother, Huey and his partner, Daniel. The couples inadvertently found a way to make even the most mundane things agonizing for her. For the umpteenth time, Ella wondered why she still bothered to come out for game nights.
Fucking stop, her exasperated inner voice all but shouted. She raised the glass of juice to her lips and sipped, schooling what she feared was a revealing expression.
Ella was floored and pissed, if she was honest, by how they, with alarming consistency, made what was supposed to be a group activity, some cute and cuddly couples thing. Her brother and his partner seemed incapable of spending the entire evening without touching each other. Her sister and her husband exchanged furtive glances reminiscent of newlyweds. They were pathetic. Pathetic had never looked so enchanting.
Ella was smack-dab at the point of her cycle where the smallest trigger was enough to launch her into waterworks. That was her excuse in any event, and she was sticking with it. Thank you very much.
She’d spent upwards of two hours the previous night watching pet videos online and crying, complete with hiccups and copious snot. It was not in her best interest to remain in the company of these people. They were all seated on cushions around the short wooden table. A game of Scrabble that she was losing was underway. There was no reason to keep hanging around. She always felt like such a loser around them.
Ella stood up before she could talk herself out of it. They all turned to her, and she forced a smile. “Gotta bounce,” she said, hoping her voice conveyed sufficient regret.
Huffs and groans of protest went up. Her brother, it turned out, was the only one who could communicate in words. “Ella, we’re dropping you off. Remember? One round of Kenya @50, then we’re off. I promise.”
Ella turned to him, already feeling her resolve weaken. Huey’s soft voice was her kryptonite. He was the baby of the family and her Achille’s sibling from day one. His knee was touching Eddy’s thigh like they couldn’t bear to be out of touch and that, it appeared, was what she needed to bolster her resolve.
“I just remembered something I have to do. Aki, I’m sorry but I have to go. You guys stay. I’ll call a ride.”
“Ella…” Chris started.
“Aki, for real, I have to go. It’s a work thing that I’d forgotten.” She said, turning to him and cutting him off before he went any further. Chris could be quite convincing. She couldn’t risk it.
He sighed, conceding, “Sawa. But it’s going to suck without you.”
Yeah, right, she thought. He was just being his usual kind self. She smiled for his benefit, then reached for her phone and sling bag. The rest of them stood up, launching the hugs portion of the evening.
Why are you tearing up over casual hugs? Man, she needed to get out of there. Stat.
While she was comparing prices and deciding what app offered the most favourable rates, her sister pulled her aside like she wanted to talk about something in private.
Great! Gossip. Ella thought, following with a new pep in her step. “What’s up?” she asked with barely concealed enthusiasm after Amy closed the kitchen door.
Her sister looked serious. That was definitely not her gossip face.
Ella revised her enthusiasm downwards. “What’s wrong? Is it dad?” Their dad was old and was plagued with illnesses that never seemed to fully heal before another stepped in to take centre stage.
“No,” Amy said, shaking her head. “Chris and I were out last night, and we saw Daniel with some girl cosied up in a corner booth. Everything about their body language was fishy. He’s definitely sleeping with her.”
“What?” Ella asked, shaking her head as if to clear things up.
“Yes,” Amy said, and kept on speaking, saying words that Ella had evidently lost the ability to comprehend.
It was like she was in a state of total internal chaos. Her heart was racing, her ears were ringing, and she felt so hot, she was sure the undersides of her breasts were dripping. Time was simultaneously rushing and crawling.
“Why do you always do this?” she asked, voice tight and clipped in anger.
“What?” Amy asked, confused, her voice a shocked whisper.
“Why can’t you just let me be happy?” Ella asked and was glad to find that when she spoke up, her insides calmed in tandem.
“What are you…? Ella…”
“It’s like whenever I’m happy, that’s your cue to swoop in and ruin it. You always have to be in charge. If it’s not going the way you want it to, then it must be stopped. So because you don’t like Daniel, he’s a bad guy and now a cheater, too.”
Amy barked a harsh, derisive laugh. “You’re not seriously being that girl right now.”
“Typical. Always ready with the judgment, nobody can be right except Amy.” Despite her best efforts, her voice rose and seconds later the kitchen door creaked open, with three concerned faces looking in.
“What’s going on?” Huey asked, looking from one sister to the other.
Ella fell silent. The last thing she wanted was for more people to hear this malicious lie about her boyfriend and, by extension, her.
“Well, the long and short of it is Daniel is cheating and her response to that news is to accuse me of sabotaging her happiness or some other bullshit.” Amy shook her head like it was the dumbest thing she’d ever heard, which infuriated Ella so much, she felt heat flush through her entire body.
Huey, ever the peacemaker, moved to stand in front of Ella, concerned eyes raking over her, hands gentle on her shoulders.
He spoke without turning to Amy. “How do you know?”
“Chris and I saw him at some restaurant in Westy looking suspicious as fuck with some young thing.”
“It really did look suspicious. Their body language was incriminating, to say the least. Screamed cheating.” Chris piped in, voice low as if he was trying to calm the entire situation solely through it.
“You would know,” Ella said under her breath, but loud enough for everyone to hear.
Silence held everyone by the throat. Amy had told her that in confidence and, although her immediate instinct was to apologize, Ella fought hard against it.
Chris’s gaze lifted from the floor and landed on Ella. “Yes.” He nodded. “Still, you should know the only reason we decided to tell you is because that’s what you do when you care about someone. You tell them the truth.”
Then he walked out, with Eddy on his heels, clearly running away from the messy crime scene.
“You’re right, I don’t like him. Because he acts like he’s doing you and this entire family a favour by dating you. That’s some bullshit.“ Amy shook her head when Ella said nothing in response. “Don’t be stupid,” she added with a snort and eye roll, before exiting the room.
“Let me take you home,” Huey said, voice soft and comforting.
Ella shook her head, throat tight with unshed tears.
“I promise we don’t have to talk about it. Please, just let me drop you off. We’re leaving anyway.”
The ride home was excruciating. All Ella seemed capable of doing was replaying her judgmental sister’s ludicrous accusations. That and seeing Chris on her way out. He was seated on the edge of the couch, head in his joined palms, eyes closed as if in prayer. When she got into the living room, he raised his sad eyes to her and gave her the kindest look ever as she walked out like all was forgiven, and he held nothing against her. She did not need that.
She certainly hadn’t done anything to warrant being subjected to whatever Huey and his partner were doing up front. Huey was driving, yet they insisted on giving each other these looks like they were communicating telepathically. Then Eddy would rub Huey’s leg like he was comforting him or something. She was sick of it and was this close to asking them to just drop her off at the next stage. It was reckless if nothing else. Keep your eyes on the damned road, her inner voice yelled, unencumbered by whatever kept her mouth closed. The only thing she was grateful for was the fact that Amy had been nowhere to be seen while she was making her escape from the house. You win some; you lose some.
What will Ella do with this information? Find out what happens next Lonely Eyes Part 2 – Being Couple Goals
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