All in a day
(Part 10 of the Ordinary series)
by EvelynC © January 2005
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Sally was worried.
Dee was feeling guilty.
Jeremy was asking for El.
It was Monday evening and none of them had seen Ella that day. She wasn’t taking calls, she didn’t show at the office and no one knew if they should approach her. Finally, Sally picked up her spare keys and drove to the apartment. She knocked on the door for a good five minutes, each round getting louder until she was pounding on it and the neighbours peeped out.
Just as she was about to use the keys, Sally heard shuffling noises from inside the apartment and the dead bolt sliding out. The door slowly opened to reveal Ella’s unkempt form. She had a hand pressed to one side of her neck, her hair was a mess and so were the clothes she wore. She didn’t even look at Sally before turning round and shuffling away.
“El?” Sally quietly called to the retreating figure, but the entreaty was ignored. She stepped inside the apartment and was shocked by the frigid temperature. Cold wind blew in from the veranda and Sally hurried to tie up the angrily flapping curtains. She slid the glass doors shut, but not before noticing the empty bottle of Glenfiddich outside. El never liked whiskey. Oh dear, Sally thought.
She turned around to see Ella lying on the couch. Her eyes were closed below her forearm, which was draped on her brow. The bags under her eyes were dark and puffy, her clothes were wrinkled and stained, and she smelled stale. Sally quietly filled a glass with water and found some aspirin. She set them on the coffee table and took a seat next to Ella, sighing, she smoothed her friend’s hair. Faced with the silent comfort, Ella’s nostrils flared redder, tears leaked from under the corner of her eyelids and her broken sobs started to escape. Sally gathered the distraught woman into her arms and rocked her gently while she cried.
“Now, you’ll call me as soon as you want to go home, alright?” Sally waited till she got a nod from her passenger. They were nearing Ella’s office after Sally had stayed the night and driven them to work.
They hadn’t talked much, it wasn’t the time for recriminations and Sally knew Ella wasn’t ready to tell all, but she did piece together enough to know what Dee did and with whom. The question why and for how long could only be answered by the absent bitch. Sally felt her ire rising as she saw again the result of Dee’s actions in the haggard appearance of her best friend. If I ever get my hands on her …, she vowed, I’ll kick her where it really hurts.
The apartment was filled with memories that Ella needed to get away from before she could decide what to do. She felt drained and hollow. Her throat was raw from crying and her eyes were gritty and dry. The shower she took this morning made her feel a little more human but she still couldn’t eat the breakfast Sally prepared. She attributed her light headedness to the emotional storm still churning in her guts.
Ella saw Sally’s features darken and her eyes glitter fiercely. On the one hand, she was grateful for her friend’s support but on the other, at moments like these, she was embarrassed to be reminded of her status as the cuckolded lover. She felt some of the anger must surely be meant for her for stupidly going back to Dee after that last time. Her face fell with shame. The pity in Brian’s eyes that day had cut her esteem and she wasn’t strong enough to stand against either Sally’s rage or her disappointment. She couldn’t help feeling that part of it was her own fault somehow.
The sound of a tooting horn behind them ejected Ella from the car. As she hurried across the road, Sally stuck her head out the car window and yelled, “Call me!” That’s what Dee used to say, Ella thought sadly.
The elevator to her office was filled with chirpy people dressed in crisp suits and clashing scents. A woman loudly told the whole lift about her upcoming wedding, another one talked about her children and yet another about her Christmas holidays. It struck Ella that the vacation she had booked with Dee was never going to materialise. Tears blurred her eyes and she had to press a hand over her mouth to stifle the sobs threatening to break free. When the doors opened to her floor, she rushed to the Ladies and locked herself in a stall where she alternated between crying and hyperventilating helplessly.
Her boss and colleagues were sympathetic about the dreadful bout of flu she had contracted. Ella wasn't about to explain the real reason for her lack-lustre appearance, even though she wasn’t closeted she wasn't overtly out either, but she couldn’t bear the gossip and pity that would spread around the office if they knew.
She saw the red light on her desk phone, and for a moment, the flashback to the red flare in Dee’s apartment and the subsequent events crashed on her psyche. She stared at it like it was snapping dragon before slowly punching in the security codes. There were a few messages from Sally, one from Jeremy, some for work and string from Dee. She erased them all. Then, she did the same for the ones on her cell phone.
Jeremy's attention was a surreal development she had to deal with in the midst of her full-blown anxiety. She thought his concern was sweet, for her battered ego it was a lifeline.
"I'm sorry you're not feeling well, El." He said on the phone. "I shouldn't have kept you out that night."
"It wasn't because of you. I must have caught it on the weekend." She assured him.
"Perhaps. Let me know if you need anything - another ride home or the doctor. I can recommend our family GP, he's very good."
"Thanks, Jeremy. I'll be sure to let you know."
Her inbox was sprinkled with concerned emails. She forced herself to read the one from Dee - it didn’t say much, just pleaded for Ella to answer her calls or she would come over. Sally kept up her end by sending follow-up emails throughout the day. Each time the phone rang, Ella jumped in her seat, and when the caller ID showed Dee’s number, she had to clench her fist to hold back from answering. Unfortunately, the light on her voice message bank was an angry beacon she couldn’t escape.
The questions and concerns she had to endure at the office were wearing on her temper. Sadly, Ella realised the lie about her condition came too easily. Had she always been insecure about her sexuality? Her life had taken a serious tumble and she couldn’t talk about it. Around her were friends and colleagues she spent nearly a third of her daily life with and she could not reveal the most important aspect of her life. Ella struggled to carry the burden of her casual veneer and a devastating secret no one cared about. The crumbling ruin of her relationship was the proverbial tree falling in a forest with no one around to see or hear it. Her grief would remain unnoticed, just like her relationship.
By the end of the day, her nerves were stretched so tight she feared she would explode.
Sally drove her home, wisely talking about anything but that woman. She saw that Ella kept pinching the bridge of her nose and rubbing her temples as a sign of stress. After dropping Ella home, Sally rushed out to shop for dinner. When she came back, she saw Ella standing in the bedroom with a pile of items at her feet.
“What’s all this, honey?” Sally bent down and picked up a shirt.
Ella's gaze was fixed on the small heap. “They’re not mine.” She said in a faraway voice. She raised her unseeing, dull eyes. “They were never mine.” Then, Ella walked out of the bedroom.
Sally found a pillowcase and stuffed all the items into it. Outside the room, she found a trail of more things dumped on the carpet, and she silently added them to the bag.
Looking around the apartment, Sally saw that Ella was standing outside on the balcony, her shoulders hunched dejectedly. When she walked closer, she discovered that Ella was shaking. Sally slowly hugged her quietly weeping friend, only to see Ella’s tears fall on a photograph. It was a picture of Dee and Ella taken at their last anniversary.
Continued in Part 11
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