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“Come on, come on…” I muttered into my phone, holding it between my shoulder and my ear while I tried to find my car keys.
“Hey, you’ve reached Ella – “
“Damnit,” I dialed a different number and after a few rings, the phone clicked.
“Hello? Jackson?” Marisa, Ella’s best friend and roommate answered.
“Marisa, thank God, okay is Ella with you? Have you seen her? Can I talk to her?”
“No, I thought she was with you. Why? What happened?” Something in Marisa’s voice had shifted. There was worry there, and when I already was losing my mind, it didn’t help.
“Okay, we were supposed to have a movie night, right? Well, when I got home from work there was a note,” I foraged around for the note so I could read it word for word. Marisa knew Ella better than anyone and if there was a clue as to what was wrong or where Ella was, Marisa would be the one to find it. “Okay is says, “’Jackson, I’m really sorry. I’m broken.’ What the hell is that supposed to mean, Marisa? Did I hurt her?” There was a sharp intake of breath in the phone and when Marisa spoke again, her voice was shaking.
“Did you tell her you loved her?”
“What? Why would that make her upset – “
“Jackson, shut up, shut up! Did you or did you not tell her you loved her?”
“Yes, I did! I do love her, more than anything.”
“Ella has panic disorder. It basically means she gets chronic panic attacks, but sometimes they hit a lot harder than other times. She has loved you since the moment she met you, and she has been so much better. I know it. You made her better. But as soon as you put your heart on the line for her, she stopped trusting herself. She is paralyzed at the thought of hurting you. She would rather self-destruct than have anything happen to you. We need to find her before she breaks down. I’m heading out to try and find her now.” Marisa’s voice cracked and she was crying softly into the phone. Ella was the light of my life, but she was also the family Marisa had never had.
“I won’t lose her.” I hung up the phone and was out the door within the next 20 seconds. I slammed my key into my car and placed my sweaty hands on the steering wheel. My heart was pounding. I felt like I was going to lose it. If I lost her, there was nothing else for me. She made me better. She was it. And I couldn’t lose that. I was out, driving down the Magnificent Mile before I realized I didn’t know where I was headed. If she loved me like I think she does, and like Marisa thinks she does, then she would go somewhere that meant something to us. But, she had painted the whole city of Chicago for me. Every corner, every little restaurant, every store front, it was all painted Ella. We had been together for just over 7 months now. 7 months was not enough to find out all the little details of her. Just earlier, I had been thinking about how she surprises me every day. Today, I guess it had been Marisa who surprised me. “Think, Jackson, think…” I pulled over into a Barnes and Noble parking lot. My hands gripped my head and I screamed at my own mind.
I looked up at the green sign of Barnes and Noble. Once, Ella had said she wanted to go to the book store. I told her we could walk and she looked at me like I was crazy. She explained to me that when she said book store, she never meant Barnes and Noble, unless she was going on a short run to get a specific book. She said that when she wanted an adventure, she would be at Myopic Books, a resale book store in Wicker Park. That first time at Myopic Books was the first time I realized I had truly fallen in love with her. I had fallen for every detail of her that day. The look in her eye as she moved through the shelves like a cat, winding her way through the fantasies and classics. The smile on her face and she moved her hand gracefully over the binding of each book. The delighted squeal she let out when she found a beat up copy of one of her favorite books. “See, Jackson,” she had said to me, “this book has been loved.” She would then go up to the counter and buy the book, even if she already owned 17 copies of it. She has such a beautiful spirit. Ever since, we have gone there once a week to have an adventure. Then it clicked, that was it. I turned at the next light and raced towards Wicker Park. If there was one place that meant the world to her, it was that book store.
I pulled up in front of the tiny little store. It was closed, but that didn’t mean anything. Ella basically had an all access pass to that store, and nothing would stop her getting her literature fix. But, this is was different. If she had broken, it might be too late. I pushed that thought out of my head as best as I could and then I saw it. Ella’s 1997 cherry red CRV was parked on the corner. I clumsily parked my own car and ran out to it. The cool November wind struck my face. The car was empty. I pivoted and spirited back to the store front. The front door was slightly ajar. My breath quickened and then caught in my throat. Panic of the unknown was rising in me. I was terrified of dark and deserted places. But, I was more terrified of losing her. So I pushed the door open and yelled for her. “Ella! Elle, baby, please, where are you?” I crept slowly into the store. At night, the cramped shelves seemed claustrophobic instead of magical. The books on the shelves seemed to me starring down at me, instead of me searching through them. The uneven flooring had lost its charm. I just needed to find her.
I made my way toward the classic books, her favorite. When I got there, I noticed something. The 3 tattered copies of The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, Ella’s favorite book, that were always there, were missing. Another Ella quote swam into my brain. “Jackson,” she had said, “if you ever need a getaway, do you know where the best place to go is?” I had just shaken my head. “Your favorite book.”
So, here was my proof. Ella was here, and I knew how to find exactly where. Myopic Books may be tight and cramped, but it has so many levels and half-levels and little landings, that just wandering through wasn’t going to be enough and I didn’t know the place like Ella did. She could have a hiding spot I didn’t even know existed. I made my way towards Harry Potter. Those were all missing, too. My heart was beating faster and faster as I ran towards F. Scott Fitzgerald’s private section. Her collection of favorites would not be complete without him.
“Ella!” There was she, sitting on the floor, surrounded by mountains of books, her knees brought up to her chest, her head berried in her chest, her ears covered with her hands. The worst part was I heard her before I saw her. Her shuttering gasps were muffled only by the sound of my own heart beating in my ears. She was rocking back and forward on the floor. I bent down to touch her, to hold her, to tell her everything was going to be okay, but as soon as my hand touched her arm, she froze.
“No, no, no,” she starting whispering. This, more than anything that had happened today, scared me to death. I had no choice. I pried her hands off of her ears, and grabbed her from under her arms. She rose to her feet with my help and finally looked up at me. “Jackson,” was all she said. Her face, so beautiful, was streaked with tears and her eyes had a distant look in them, like maybe she didn’t quite know what was going on or where she was.
“Ella, baby, it’s me. It’s Jackson, okay? We are at the book store. We are going to go home, okay?”
“No, don’t let me in, don’t!” She was suddenly sobbing and she started to fall towards the floor again, but I was ready for her and had her in my arms immediately. “I’m poison, don’t you get it? Even if I don’t mean to be, I can’t do anything about it. Jackson don’t let me in, please, please, please…” her voice floated away and her tears took over.
I looked deep into her chocolaty brown eyes. Her eyes always betrayed her emotions. Anger, sadness, love, joy, determination, they were all there. Like a window to the hurricane in her soul. She was so beautiful. she had a heart shaped mole on her full cheeks.Her chestnut hair which was usually swinging was plastered to her face by her tears.“You are not poison. You are beautiful. You are perfect. You are sweet and smart and sensitive and so unbelievably special. I don’t care if you are a mass murderer, a deranged lunatic, or a bank robber, you are Ella and you are the love of my life. And you can try to push me away, to save me, or whatever you think you are doing, but I will never let you go. Never. I will be the most annoying stalker this world has ever seen. I will follow you around, I’ll sleep outside your apartment door, and I’ll do anything except abandon you.” I was crying now, almost as hard as she had been. She looked at me and for the first time, it seemed like she could see me. Her tears had ceased, and she was looking at me like I was one of the books that lay around her.
She fell into my arms completely, letting me hold her and keep her safe, finally. I started crying hard, smelling her hair and feeling her body respond to my own. She whispered in my ear, “You are my favorite getaway. You are my favorite place to go.”