Ellie started laughing and almost couldn’t stop. The punchline wasn’t that funny but she had needed the release badly. Six months prior, she went to bed and realized she hadn’t thought of Ryker for the entire day. Finally, she hadn’t wakened with her first thought being him. That was a first and she smiled as she closed her eyes knowing she would sleep without dreams, at last.
Tonight, Ellie was fully present, laughing with her best friends and actually present in the right here, right now. She wasn’t pretending to smile and she didn’t dread waking up tomorrow – finally. She no longer thought of tomorrow and that was freeing and fine with her.
Donna and Milly were her besties – forever, she told herself. Together they helped Ellie wade through the loss of her greatest love. With tiny steps and too many nights spent crying on their shoulders, and then crying herself to sleep, she had arrived back at her life and in her right mind. After mourning the loss of self and significant other, she had found her center and herself again. I’m not just breathing now, she congratulated herself. I’m alive!
Ellie sighed happily and scanned the hall for the powder room. She excused herself and took a step when her eyes landed on Ryker entering the celebration.
She froze as he smiled at her, not turning away as she had imagined this moment a year ago. Ellie’s breath caught and suddenly she knew what it felt like to be hit by a stun gun. The room whirled slightly as he walked towards her. Before he could reach her, Ellie spun and bolted for the safety of friends.
“Milly,” she said, lying a hand on her arm, “Milly, I need a moment,” Ellie whispered urgently.
“Sure sweetie, what is it,” Milly asked and then she saw Ryker approaching.
“Is there a back way out of here,” she asked, barely staving off hysteria.
“I understand,” Milly extended her hand to catch Donna’s eye and whispered to Ellie, “Stay put. I’ll handle this,” waving Donna over with a flash of fingers and eyes filled with concern.
Her voice was protective reassurance a moment too late. Tears stung Ellie’s eyes which she riveted to the floor with her hair tumbling forward, hiding her expression. She felt pieces of her falling away as she came silently unglued.
How could he do this to me? Ellie wondered, imagining her bloodied heart splattering onto the linoleum floor. Hasn’t he hurt me badly enough? What the hell is he doing, coming back for more? My suffering wasn’t enough? God help me, he’s come to finish me off.
Ellie peered to see Ryker extend his hand to greet her friends who were plainly blocking his passage.
“Good evening, Millicent,” he said, approaching her.
They reluctantly exchanged hellos and Ryker held his breath. Milly clutched his palm in her fist pulling him close to her lips while Donna closed ranks behind him. Milly whispered venomously into his ear, “What are you doing here, Ryker”?
Donna brought up the rear, jabbing an accusing finger into his back, “Spit it out, disappearing Romeo. Why not try the truth this time,” Donna hissed.
Ryker looked directly into Milly’s eyes for the first time since they’d met, “I really love her,” he whispered, “I need her,” Ryker hesitated.
Ellie stood with her back to them, eavesdropping and peeking over her shoulder when she dared, biting back tears and wishing the floor would open up and swallow her whole.
“Sure you do, just as much as you ever did, you son of a simpleton,” Milly ground out, holding his eyes in her angry stare.
“You need her for what,” Donna said acidly, “A night, a week, long enough to kill her this time”?
“I know you two don’t believe me but I need her to,” Ryker insisted, moving to step around Milly.
Donna caught the back of his collar as Milly fisted his necktie. Donna moved to stand next to her speaking her vengeance softly, “You’ll have to convince us first so go ahead. Try. We dare you,” she spat close enough that Ryker could feel their mutual wrath cloak him.
He glanced beyond them to see Ellie, with her head down and back turned. It was an insecure posture, and it was his fault. He had no desire to bring her more pain than he already had. All he wanted was to hold and comfort her, to win back the trust he had lost so foolishly. Not wanting to inflict a scene on her atop everything else, Ryker acquiesced.
“Okay, he said, squaring his shoulders and taking care not to break eye contact, “Why don’t we find an empty table? I’ll buy us a round and I’m all yours. You two can vent and I’ll answer every question you have. Do your worst. I’m not running.”
It was a boy who let her go, he realized, and I’m going to be the man she deserves, he thought resolutely.
Milly and Donna exchanged an incredulous glance and nodded their agreement. Milly fisted the edge of his sleeve, making sure this wasn’t a rouse. Donna stepped back to whisper quickly to Ellie, “Give us awhile. Go enjoy the party”.
Ellie turned grief-stricken eyes to her and Donna rested a gentle hand on her shoulder, whispering, “Pretense, Ellie. For now, pretend. You can do this”?
Ellie nodded hesitantly and Donna smiled brightly, “Make him jealous as hell, Ellie,” then winked at her and turned away to trap Ryker between Milly and herself.
Sliding into the booth next to him, she warned, “There are no guarantees you can convince us. Hunker down, Ryker. This is going to be a long, hard night and I offer no guarantees you will even survive it”.
Tags: Erotic Romance, Fiction, Friendship, Relationships, Romance, WiP
Part 2: After Burn, Part 2