Ella and her siblings finally had that talk, where they revealed how grief over their mom’s passing had affected each of them from diagnoses, including depression and anxiety, to, in Ella’s case, a desperate need for a partner. Start Ella and Daniel’s story here – Lonely Eyes Part 1: Hello, Chaos!
10 months later
Ella had laughed so much; her sides were sore. They were playing taboo at Amy’s place. They, were the usual suspects plus Olive, who had a rare Friday night available. Game night had grown to include other friends too, but tonight it was just them. Lately, she’d been having so much fun at these hangouts she couldn’t understand what her problem had been before.
The couples still seemed intent on being #Goals but now instead of desperately needing to flee, she basked in the fact that her siblings were happy. If they could find love, maybe so could she, and that was enough. She was cultivating her relationship with hope. Fingers crossed, they would become close companions with time.
Ella had thrown herself into massive self-improvement after the breakup. She’d taken her emergency savings and bought a bike. Staying indoors was driving her nuts, plus spending all day every day sitting was apparently the new cancer. She needed to get out and move a little.
The problem was she hated walking, could not stomach the thought of running, and could not afford a gym membership. Enter biking. She had enjoyed riding as a child and had such pleasant memories. So, she’d started riding early in the morning and in the evening. Those rides provided some much-needed endorphin boosts. She’d also spent that time thinking about what went wrong, red flags she’d ignored, vulnerabilities he’d exploited, and more.
It was one of the most difficult things she’d ever done, but one she was determined to see through to shore up her defences in the event of a similar attack in the future. She didn’t blame herself, but she figured there were things she could do to prevent herself from getting caught up in another abusive relationship. Or at least try.
She’d gotten the idea from an Alcoholics Anonymous recovery pamphlet. Seeing as how she couldn’t afford therapy, self-therapy was the next best thing. Step 4 of 12 was Make a Moral Inventory of Yourself. In her case, she was reflecting on the things that had made her stay, as far as she could tell. Reflecting on her past, including her parents’ toxic relationship, had been difficult as had facing her loneliness and overwhelming grief.
It also didn’t help that she had this propensity to forgive and forget and defaulted to seeing the best in people. In Daniel’s case, she’d known about his abusive childhood and cut him endless slack for it. That had not worked out well for her.
She’d had one conversation with Daniel after the incident. He’d gone looking for her to apologize and freaked out when she was missing from her apartment. He insisted that he’d only lost his cool at Olive’s because she was ignoring him, which was apparently triggering for him. Some leftover unaddressed childhood trauma or something. That, compounded with immense stress at work, had brought a side of him that he insisted was not the real him. Still, she was done. There was too much to forgive, justify, or sweep under a rag.
Ella was done ignoring red flags and wouldn’t settle for someone who wasn’t great to and for her. She’d had to face the fact that she wanted a romantic relationship with someone and try to divorce it from shame. Working through that shame and need had been difficult. She realized she had to try to find happiness and contentment on her own, but that it would not erase that deep-seated desire for intimate male companionship.
She focused on what she could do, which was trying to find some joy in her life as it was. It had started with getting a cat. She couldn’t afford a dog, but she could make a cat work. Her neighbourhood was overflowing with strays, so one rainy day, she rescued a kitten she found mewling in a ditch. She’d seen it a few times and on that day on a whim, ran out and rescued it.
She’d been living with the fiercely independent, occasionally cuddly Pope ever since. Pope was such a pleasant surprise. She didn’t throw a racket every time Ella walked through the door, instead, she’d crawl onto her lap when she least expected it, which it turned out was far more precious. Ella loved her fiercely.
Ella started leaving the house more on bike rides with different riding groups and for hangouts with her siblings, and it had helped. She still had some bad days, but they were nowhere near as frequent or debilitating as before. Ella was far less lonely and a lot happier.
Ella looked at her siblings and their partners, warmth spreading over her. This was good. They were on a refreshment break before one last game. It felt to her like they were all dragging the break out to keep the night from ending. She got it. These days she wanted these nights to go on and on.
Was that the bell?
“Is that your bell?” she asked her sister.
“Yes,” Amy said, getting up.
“What kind of person visits at,” Ella checked her watch, “11:40 p.m?”
Their eyes were all glued to the door as her sister let in the late-night guest. The guy looked familiar, but Ella couldn’t place him, which was no surprise. She was terrible with faces.
Amy handled the introductions. It was the nurse from the dramatic evening of her breakup. Ella looked at Amy and Chris and saw their stupid smiles directed at hers. So, this is where they were at. Her sister and brother-in-law were matchmakings. She turned to her brother, expecting his exasperated look only to find him and Eddy spotting the same dumb smiles. Great. They were all in on it. At least she had Olive. She turned to Olive and found her situating herself on some far-off seat so that Nurse Russell could sit next to Ella. Okay, that was happening.
They enjoyed one final round of Taboo with Russell doing the tallying. This last game would determine the winner and they were too competitive, not to mention too immature to trust each other to keep score. Amy and Chris won, which sucked. They were the worst winners, the kind who gloated endlessly.
At the end of the night, Russell and Ella shared a cab. They were going in the same direction. Her siblings, their partners and Olive were this close to giggling like teenagers and embarrassing not just themselves but her, too. She’d shaken her head at them so much, her neck was beginning to protest. It seemed to have no effect on their childish behaviour.
“I had so much fun tonight. You guys always like that?” Russell asked as they slid into the back of the cab.
“Them? Worse. Me? An angel.” Ella replied with a laugh. She’d had so much fun. She had this laughter bubbling up in her, just itching to get out at the slightest provocation.
“I’d love to see that.” He replied, his own voice light with laughter.
“Then you should stick around.”
“About that.” He swallowed like he needed to brace himself for what was coming next. “Would you like to go out sometime?” He swallowed then added in a rush. “We can do something you like.”
Ella turned to him. He was rubbing his hands over his trousers in what she read as a nervous gesture. She’d been on two dates that had been lacklustre, to say the least, but she was putting herself out there.
“Yeah, I’d be open to that.” She said with a smile. He smiled back at her, and her heart fluttered. Yeah, she’d be very open to that. Thank you very much.
They exchanged phone numbers.
“So, what would you like to do?” He asked.
“We could ride. I love exploring the outdoors on my bike.”
“Motorbike?” He asked with slight apprehension.
She laughed. “Not that cool. Bicycle.”
“You look plenty cool, from where I sit.” He replied with an approving smile.
She found herself biting her lip, to keep herself from blushing. Was she seriously getting turned on by this?
“I do?” she finally asked.
“You do.” He replied with a firm nod.
She laughed. “Well then, let’s hope spending more time in my company does not disabuse you of that view.”
“I don’t see how that could happen.” He answered, shaking his head like the thought was bewildering. Ludicrous even.
She looked away with a smile. This would be fun if nothing else.
They dropped him off first.
“It was a genuine pleasure. Good night, Ella.”
“Good night, Russell.”
Damn, it was a good night.
Three weeks later, their schedules aligned, and they went out riding with a local biking group. She’d had to adjust her speed to accommodate him. He was panting and moaning about the torture she appeared intent on inflicting on him. The problem was, he was doing it in such a humorous, self-deprecating way that she’d been laughing at him the entire way.
“Please tell me your knees are also aflame.” He begged, slouched on his bike, pedalling slowly.
“No, they’re not.” She replied with a laugh. It was the hundredth time he was complaining about his knees being on fire.
“Do you want to stop?” She asked. “You can say yes. I won’t judge you too harshly.”
“We can stop, but only if you promise to believe me when I say that this is not an accurate reflection of my stamina in other more pleasurable situations.”
She was silent, pedalling next to him.
“Come on. I swear it’s the truth. I’ll prove it to you at your earliest convenience.”
She burst out laughing.
“How about this, I’ll believe it when I see it but for now, I’ll take your word, subject to future verification.”
“I’ll take it and verification has never sounded so appealing.” He said pulling over and getting off the bike before letting it drop like he wanted to be as far away from it as possible.
After a few minutes of rest for him, they started strolling while pushing their bikes toward a nearby mall where they could grab something to eat.
“Why’d you even say yes?” Ella asked with a laugh.
“Because I thought you meant normal people riding like at Karura Forest, not some Lance Armstrong challenge.” He answered feigning outrage. “If anything, you tricked me.”
“Wow Russell, accusing me of deception and malintent on our first date. Remind me, why are you single again?”
He opened his eyes a crack, eyeing her with a smile. “Okay, the truth? I said yes cause a pretty girl asked me and I wanted to hang out with her. It’s the good old, tried and tested, I did it for the girl. I bought the bike because of you, and I said yes to this suicidal ride because of you.”
“You’re going to get yourself killed over a pretty girl. Then what will people say at your untimely funeral?”
“There are worse ways to go?”
“Facts. Still, I’m not done with you, so maybe try and stick around a little longer. Don’t just do things ’cause girls ask you.”
“Noted. I have my eye on just this one pretty girl, and I really want to stick around for whatever comes next.”
They exchanged suddenly shy smiles before focusing back on the road and their slow walk. The sun was sweltering and she was sweaty and tired and she couldn’t believe how much fun she was having pushing her bike around and laughing with Russell. She wouldn’t change a thing.
They went on more bike rides, this time taking into account his beginner status and even more dates. Her gloating sister would not shut up about the match she had orchestrated. Amy had stayed in touch with Russell to learn more about handling panic attacks so that she’d be able to help in the event that Huey had another one. She detested the helplessness she’d felt at that moment and was determined to never go through it again. They’d all taken the time to learn and fortunately, Huey was yet to have another one.
Ella and Russell were taking it slow. The last thing she wanted was to rush into things. She liked how things were going. She loved how he could laugh at himself, and didn’t feel this need to prove that he was better than her at anything. He loved the comforting warmth that radiated from her and the passion with which she faced life. Plus, her family and her cat, Pope, approved, which was high praise.
They were getting to know each other over each bike ride, each game night, and each quiet evening, they were able to steal away. Every time she looked at him, heart fluttering over how wonderful things were, she remembered her brother’s words and though she’d never tell him, they’d gotten her through.
“You’ve got to have faith, babe.”
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