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Trust Me Not
As soon as I was done with class for the day, I hurried towards Ellen’s house. We’d met one afternoon, while she was visiting a cousin on campus, and my daily visits had begun soon after that. Ellen had finished school a few weeks earlier than me this summer; otherwise… I smiled, imagining never ending restfulness doing nothing with Ellen. Unfortunately, my classes lasted until 5:00 most days.
My thoughts were interrupted when “Sexy Back” started playing on my phone. I frowned; that meant Sarah, my girlfriend, was calling. Ellen, of course, had no who I was living with or who was paying for me to become an architect. At first I had attempted to keep Ellen at a safe distance, but that turned out to be impossibly difficult for two reasons. The first was that I didn’t really want to, and the second was that she didn’t want me to either.
Once we overcame that whole awkward obstacle, the only way for us to spend any significant amount of time together was when I was working on projects and blueprints for school. I did a lot of them with partners, and I couldn’t just introduce Ellen as a friend. Part of that – though I wouldn’t have admitted it at first – was because announcing that small claim on Ellen was unreasonably satisfying to me. But another part of that was because letting a girl tag along with me without making a move on her would label me as either a p**** or a wimp. Sighing with disgust, I told myself that that I was too chicken to change anything now.
Resisting the sinking feeling that usually accompanied my beneficiary’s ring tone, I flipped my phone open and answered. “Hey, Sarah what’s up?”
“Chris, I have good news for you,” her voice was rich with confidence. My resolve faltered as my stomach twisted anxiously.
“Really?” It took all of my effort to sound pleased and eager.
“Mhm. I’ll be home tomorrow afternoon. I have a week off. So since you’re going to be done for the summer, I thought we could go somewhere?”
“Wherever you like, Honey. I’ll leave the plans up to you. Make it a surprise, but I’ve got to go. I’m pulling into,” I grasped around my mind for a name and pulled out something familiar, “Sean’s driveway right now.” I’d been working a blueprint for a convention center with him.
“K. Love you,” Sarah called.
I snapped the phone shut, and turned off the engine. Covering my face with my hands I stifled a groan before banging my head into to seat, looking towards the now familiar blue shutters framing yellow curtains inside of Ellen’s room. Nothing less than Ellen’s undeniably enticing black hole of a life force had enough pull me into this situation. The only question that remained was how I would make a decision. Was there really one to make?
Shaking my head I got out of the car. I guess my mind had been made up for months really, but the result didn’t depend on me. I had one more make-it-or-break-it chance. I rang Ellen’s doorbell and returned to the car, waiting to open the passenger door for her.
She walked out of the door, eyes bright with excitement. She was wearing a thin navy tank top that buttoned up the front over a more opaque white one, along with a navy knee-length skirt. Limp black curls rested along her collar bone and shoulders. I planted my feet more firmly in place and waited for her to approach.
"Hey, Babe, how was your day?”
“Boring as ever. Yours?” She stopped an arm’s length away from me. I tried not to smile at the slightly wary, curious expression on her face.
“It was okay.” Pulling her against me, I kissed her, receiving the surprised, but instant reaction I had expected from her. Her skin was soft and cool despite the warm air and the faint blush flooding her. “Better now, though,” I corrected myself before releasing her to open the door. I stepped around the car back to the driver’s side, chuckling at her pleased kitten look.
Normally this would have been enough to make me forget about everything I’d done wrong, but not today. It was the time to own up to my actions and face the consequences, though I might as well have my fun while it lasted. I looked back over at Ellen as I backed out of her driveway, wishing I could memorize every nuance of her face in that one glimpse. It would never be enough. I looked away from her. Tonight would taint Ellen’s certain, unquestioning faith in me.
“So, what are we doing today?”
“We’re going to Sean’s house. We still have a bit of work to do on our designs before next week.”
“Okay. So…” she was going to make one of her amazing, unrelated subject changes, “Are you glad you only have one week left?” The guileless smile boiling with suppressed excitement, tugged at my stomach.
“Mhm.” The reminder of next week further dampened my mood, hindering my ability to sound excited. Sure, getting out of school would be nice, but all of my pleasant, half hopeful thoughts from thirty minutes ago were already fading.
“So.” Ellen always started off with “so” or “anyway” or a combination of the two. “I was thinking that since you would be done with class, we could go to the beach one day?” My heart twisted; she had probably been thinking about this for a while. She probably had an outfit picked out and options for a possible lunch menu prepared. Was I really going to tell her something that would surely ruin her? I couldn’t bear to think of her reaction and shoved the whole problem out of my head.
“That sounds fun.” I replied automatically.
She cast a critical gaze in my direction. I wondered if she was suspicious of the pause. I decided she wasn’t as she trustingly shrugged it aside and picked the subject back up, asking about what day I wanted to go. Thankfully, I was pulling into Sean’s driveway just then and got off the topic with a noncommittal affirmation of her suggested date.
Ellen waited for me as I pulled out the long tubes containing blueprints out of the back, before going to the front door. Her patient gaze made me laugh.
“You never get used to coming to people’s houses with me. I’m sure Sean recognizes you by now, you know.” She stood up on tip toe and kissed me on the cheek. “You silly girl.” Ushering her towards the door, I felt her bubble of soft laughter.
As soon as we got in, Sean and I set to work. The convention center project helped me clear my mind of guilt and anxiety, and soon even Ellen’s presence faded as I became absorbed with balancing measurement and support with aesthetic value.
We were finished by nine o’clock, and I was suddenly reluctant. I talked everyone – Sean’s girlfriend was spending the night– into playing cards. Around one, Ellen started to doze off, and I decided that I should stop putting it off. I’d already kept her out later than ever before.
“Ellen, Babe, wake up,” I whispered in her ear. She sat and shot me an apologetic look. Turning to Sean and his girlfriend, I said, “We better go before she falls asleep again. See you later guys.” I led Ellen back to the car, loaded blue prints back into the trunk, and began preparing what I would tell her. We were turning out of Sean’s neighborhood when I decided that I was just procrastinating, and there was nothing left to think.
“Ellen…” I jumped when she sat up suddenly and groaned. I wondered if the tone of my voice had given everything away. “What?! Did you leave something at Sean’s house?” I wondered aloud as tried to rationalize with myself.
“No.” She shook her head before continuing. “We won’t be able to get into my neighborhood. I don’t know the code for the gate. I can’t call my mom this late…”
“Oh. I see.” I’d forgotten that they shut the gates after eleven on weeknights. They wouldn’t be open again until six or seven the next day. “You could come back with me,” I offered tentatively, mentally berating myself at the same time. I realized I’d been tapping the steering wheel and clenched my fingers shut.
Looking briefly over towards Ellen, I noticed that she was fidgeting with her shirt; I had known the idea would make her nervous. But I also knew that she might just opt for the risk rather than walking straight into a situation that would lead to punishment.
“I might get into trouble…”
I pressed my case, “You will anyway. I can take you back in the morning, when the gates are opened before your parents are awake.”
Ellen continued to play with her shirt and answered without looking up. “I guess so. There’s nothing else we can really do; is there?”
“K.” I was certain we both knew she gave in much too easily. Nevertheless, I did a U-turn, glad that the road was empty. She was quiet the rest of the way, though I could tell she hadn’t fallen asleep again.
When we got in, I led her to my bedroom and dug out a set of sheets and an extra pillow for the couch. “You can have the bed. I’ll be in here if you need anything. I’ll wake you up in the morning.
Mixed emotions flickered across her face briefly before sleepiness settled in. Ellen nodded.
“Thanks,” she called as I pulled the door shut behind me. I was already beginning to regret giving her the option to come back with me. I slumped into the couch, and sent a gloomy stare towards the closed door. Well, it was too late to take my offer to her back now.
I had just tripped over the line into unconsciousness when the doorknob clicked. I lay still until I felt a slight movement at the armrest. After a while she began twirling bits of my hair in her fingers. Her touch was light, not meant to wake me, but I would have felt her presence so near even if I had been asleep. Reaching up, I grabbed her hand, pulling it towards my mouth. I kissed her wrist, then arm, and she climbed onto the couch next to me, settling her small body against mine. She pulled one of my arms around her waist and picked up her idle play with my fingers. She was waiting for me to say or do something. I sat up, frustrated, untangling myself from her. Ellen looked curious, but not alarmed. I couldn’t help but notice that she was unreasonably alluring from this angle. She looked comfortable and drowsy, like a cat curled up in the sun.
“Ellen, you need to stop.” I felt warmth coursing through her body in embarrassment. She pulled herself into a sitting position, making sure we were no longer touching. I felt as if the lights should be on for this encounter, but simply plowed on. “I can’t really be with you. I… There’s something I should have told you before I ever let you feel anything for me.” The words were so much less fluid than in my mental practices. I watched her expression closely, waiting for her reaction.
“Did I do something wrong?” I felt sick; I’d never intended to make her believe that it was in any way her fault.
“No. Please don’t think that. Please try not to hate me. I’m so sorry…” I just picked up random words floating in my head, throwing them at her too defensively.
She must have seen the conflict in my face because she next asked, “What’s wrong?” I heard her tears in her voice. I sighed.
“You know the roommate I told you about?”
Ellen nodded slowly, frowning. “You said he’s never here.”
“She’s my girlfriend. I’ve been living with her since I started college. She’s a stewardess, so she’s never here. She’s been helping me pay for college. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for her. But then I met you, and… I’m sorry.”
The only answer I received was a small “oh” before Ellen stood up unsteadily, backing away from the couch. She looked this way and that in the dark, searching for a way out.
“Please say something, Ellen.” I was up as well, trapping her in my arms, and I was pleading with her. “I love you. More than her.” She probably wouldn’t believe me. Until minutes ago, she hadn’t known there was a “her” to be loved more than. “But I just can’t see you and talk to you and know you don’t know. I’m sorry.”
“Stop apologizing!” We both flinched at the bite in her voice, and I let go of her. “I’m sorry too. I need to sleep. Wake me up in the morning.” Her voice was shaky, though I think she intended to sound snappy, and she stalked into the bedroom without looking back. I heard the door lock and waited to hear the creak of the bed as she climbed in, but I don’t think she did. I stood for a long time, staring at the door then went back to the couch and sat up, unmoving until my cell phone buzzed at five- thirty. Pink slits of light were already inching across the floor hungrily, ready to swallow the room in brightness.
I knocked on the door and was surprised when Ellen pulled it open before I could turn away. I half hoped she would say something, so maybe I could tell from her voice what she was thinking. No sound came from her. Her movements were calm. She didn’t even look at me.
As we parked at the bottom of her driveway, Ellen finally turned to me. She didn’t look as if she’d been crying, but she had suffered something worse than tears. My heart wrenched. I could have cried for her, and it would not have been enough. She just looked at me for a long time, her expression never changing, and I looked back, trying to convey to her how sorry I was, how much I loved her.
She broke the silence abruptly, turning away to open the door. She looked back in before shutting it and waved half-heartedly. “Bye.” There was forgiveness in her voice, along with hurt and sorrow, but there was finality too. The sound convinced me that it was over. I felt compelled to say “Whoops, sorry. I misjudged.” because I could think of nothing more adequate.
I would go back to Sarah, and she would sense the residual feelings from this thing with Ellen, but she would just ignore the signs and treat me like she always did. I turned out of the neighborhood, starting in the direction of my school. The least I could do was make class on time. If I had no other choice than to be with Sarah, then I might as well be respectful to her.
The streets were clogged with morning traffic, and I ended up stuck, waiting for a train to switch tracks. Slowly thoughts like “Maybe I was wrong. Maybe I can settle this a different way. Maybe I gave up too easy,” began to trickle through my mind. I obviously could get through college without Sarah’s help; it was just easier with it. Maybe Ellen really was worth a little work. I could leave Sarah. Even if Ellen didn’t take me back, leaving Sarah would be right. I didn’t love her, not the same way I loved Ellen, and if I couldn’t match that love, then it couldn’t be real.
The plan was coming into place when the gate finally rose and the traffic started moving again. It was so easy to give up Sarah’s empty gifts for Ellen. She had forgiven me, and that was all I could have asked for when I had been unwilling to do what was necessary to have her. But maybe I could ask for her trust again, if I made myself worth trusting.