Feeling as light as a cloud, Ellie Navarrete was all giggles and airiness when she left to meet Shreya a few mornings later. Thinking about the cause for her delay threatened to leaden her, so she brushed those feelings aside. She floated through the woods with Sunflower in tow, not stopping for anything as she traversed her memorized path.
The beauty of Ianes’ Wall may have been debatable, but on a day like today, Ellie only saw wonder in its torn bricks. Crushed red powder dusted the high grass greens. The overgrowth covered many of its split seams, but their coverage was superficial at best.
Gaps in the dilapidation allowed glimpses into the far side of the forest where the worst of the animals lived, and Ellie would’ve cursed them if she didn’t have company. Said company was leaning against a tree along the dirt trail, wearing her usual deerskin cape, ear-flap hat, and small smile combination.
“Ah, you’re not running over to meet me? I see how it is,” Ellie teased. “Did I keep you waiting too long?”
Sunflower stepped forward. Ellie tugged on her wrist-leash to keep her from wandering. Her dog whined, her ears drooping in that pathetic way they did whenever she didn’t get her way. Ellie hooked an arm around her, and just like that, Sunflower’s ears perked up and her tail wagged so furiously Ellie could hear it whip wind.
“This could’ve been you, but you decided to be Miss Aloof-by-a-Tree, instead,” Ellie said.
“What does missaloof mean?” Shreya asked, still not bothering to move.
“I could tell you, but it’ll cost you.”
“That sounds expenseful.”
“Expensive,” Ellie corrected, “and I could make it a whole lot worse.” She held up her hand and pumped her fingers once, squeezing an invisible something.
Shreya’s eyebrows shot up. Her tiny smirk of a playful smile dropped.
“Or we can forget I even did that.” Ellie forced out a laugh that sounded more like a choke. She let go of Sunflower, and gave her leash enough slack that she could pace around.
Ellie wondered what it would be like to be Sunflower sometimes, to be free of things like shame and embarassment. Dogs never had to worry about making fools of themselves in front of their girlfriends. Actually, from what she knew, they were too simple-minded to grasp romantic love as a concept. They just operated on hormones, pheromones, and whatevermones to get their business done. Animals were weird like that.
“I am not forgetting,” Shreya said. “I am…surprised you would do that with Sunflower watching.”
Sunflower responded to her name with a big “helLO,” the second syllable stressed strongly.
“No, not with her watching. Who would do such a thing?” Ellie asked.
“She’s never seen me kiss anyone.”
“You and I both know that is not true.” Shreya tapped on her bottom lip. “You should come here.”
“I know that look on your face. You’re planning something. Well, let me tell you, I’m not falling for any of your tricks. I’ll have you know I’m a shrewd and discerning young lady. Nothing gets past me,” Ellie said. She tapped on the leather satchel that hung off her shoulder.
Take the bait.
“What is in your bag?” Shreya asked.
Hook, line, and sinker!
“Food, some lock repairing supplies, and maybe some other stuff that only a person who knows what missaloof means can see. I’ll show you if you come here.”
“You should give up.”
“Then, no one will win.”
“Sunflower, stay.” Ellie undid the wrist-leash. She let it fall to the ground, then put her heavy bag over it. “Sunflower, do not touch this.” It wasn’t like her bag was anvil-heavy or anything, but the weight of her command was. As long as nothing spooky happened, Sunflower would remain obedient. “Now, Sunflower, turn left, and sit. Stay. Seriously, stay, or else.”
“Does that mean you’re coming over here?” Shreya asked once Sunflower was in the proper position.
Ellie reached back to unfurl her red cape dramatically. The color may have been a gaudy eyesore, but something about it was keeping Shreya’s attention. Or maybe it was just Ellie’s figure doing all the work in that department. She would’ve resumed her personal training much sooner if she’d known the effect it would’ve had on her girlfriend.
Yeah, sure, the corset she was wearing as part of her undergarments could’ve been to blame, but…but Ellie always liked to give credit where it was due when it came to herself.
“Eyes up here,” she said, pointing to her face.
“My eyes have been level with your face this entire time.”
“It is yours that have not. Do not think I have not noticed,” Shreya said. She copied Ellie’s air-squeezing motion from earlier. “Did you already forget that?”
“Looks like a certain someone hasn’t. Have you been thinking about it this whole time? That’s pretty scandalous of you.”
“It has been less than two minutes.”
“Two minutes full of you being in denial.”
“Two minutes full of you being scared of nothing. I am the one who should be afraid.”
“Yes, you should be. Looking like that, in a forest like this, alone with a girl like me…” Ellie made her way to Shreya as she spoke, stopping at the punctuation marks to build up the anticipation. “Don’t you know that this is no place for someone like you to be? You’re going to be at my mercy, at my whim.” She crossed the distance and stood, practically toe-to-toe with her.
Shreya didn’t waver nor cower. Amusement warmed her blue eyes. “Are you certain of that?”
“Very certain.” Ellie leaned in, and placed her hand on the tree behind Shreya, right by her head. She effectively boxed her in, but the girl in looked less excited-scared (not to be confused with scared-scared, which was definitely not what Ellie wanted Shreya to feel) and more this-is-a-funny-joke-I-can’t-wait-for-the-punchline.
“Am I wrong to think that you are feeling better? You seem like you are back to normal.”
“If you ever thought I was normal, you have a lot to learn.”
“You are not hurting anywhere?”
“Classic Shreya, always stalling whenever she feels the teensy bit shy. I see right through you. You’re smiling like that because you’re nerv—whoa!”
Shreya’s hands gripped Ellie’s waist, and then Ellie was spinning. No, wait, no, she wasn’t. Everything else was spinning. Somehow, the tree was behind her back and Shreya was the one leaning in towards her. A reversal. Ellie had to close her eyes to regain her stability.
“Did I hurt you?” Shreya’s voice came from farther away than Ellie expected. “I am sorry. I got carried away.”
She opened her eyes to see that Shreya was giving her space. “It’s okay. I just got a little dizzy.”
“Do you need to lay down?”
Concern was written all over Shreya, from the slant of her immaculate eyebrows to her huddled posture. And, was she sporting the tiniest bit of a pout, or what? Shreya was looking at Ellie like she was something precious in dire need of gentle care. She looked practically ready to sweep Ellie off of her feet if she requested it. Ellie hated to think of herself as fragile, but if it garnered looks like that, then maybe she could fake it every once and a while.
“I don’t need to lay down unless you’re laying down with me.” The suggestiveness hadn’t been fully intentioned, so when she realized what she said, Ellie’s cheeks burned. “I, um… It’s nice having you all to myself. Feels like we’re finally where we’re supposed to be.”
“Yes, that is true.” Shreya fiddled with one of the strings coming off of her hat.
“How’s your sister? Is her leg okay?” Ellie asked, in a move that would surely dispel the mood. She wanted to hit herself for doing that. “Zinnia swore she did it out of self-defense, but she’s been so weird lately I wouldn’t be surprised if she struck first.”
“Shanti is sticking to her story.”
“Do you believe her?”
“There are many reasons why I never wanted you to meet. I am still sorry that happened.” Shreya mumbled, “and if you need me to help you lay down, I can. I would not want you to get dizzy doing it by yourself.”
Ellie’s heart rate picked up. “Only if you want to, if you think we’re ready for that…” It’d be a lie to say Ellie hadn’t imagined it. Shreya’s weight pinning her down, or the other way around, with Shreya begging for her touch. Ideally, their first time together wouldn’t be happening in some random bed in the woods, but that’s what their situation required.
Damn, it was becoming hard to look at Shreya without her thoughts straying to the negative. Shreya just had to check all of the boxes of what Ellie wanted in a person, didn’t she? Dark hair she’d love to run her hands through if it wasn’t for that hat she insisted on wearing (sometimes Ellie hated that thing), kissable lips that were begging to be met, and blue eyes that played nicely off the color of her gorgeous brown skin. Not to mention her lithe frame. Ellie wanted to thank every star in the sky that Shreya had chosen to wear a tighter top today.
How no one else in Shreya’s community had been interested in her was a complete mystery to Ellie. Maybe woodsdwellers just had poor taste, who knows? Whatever it was, it was their loss, since Shreya was way more than a pretty face and nice body.
Ellie sucked in a breath. Body… She suddenly became acutely aware of how the corset was affecting the shape of hers. It wasn’t like she was completely hopeless, but after meeting Shanti, she definitely knew she was nowhere near what the average woodsdweller looked like.
Her nerves entered her voice, shaking some of her words. “I wouldn’t turn it down, but, um, I…I think we might be missing a couple steps. Don’t you think so?” Ellie asked. “Maybe, in the future, we could lay down together and stuff, but not yet… Let’s wait.”
“We have done it before,” Shreya said.
“Please don’t joke around.” Ellie sighed. This wasn’t the time to pull a language barrier excuse. “You know exactly what you were insinuating. What we were both insinuating. Insinuating, as in, hinting at.” Ellie pushed the tips of her fingers together.
“Sorry, I was seeing how far you would go with that. A joke.” Shreya offered her a smile. “I am not ready, either. There is something I would like to talk to you about first.”
“The thing that happened to you?” Ellie wished she could take the question back. Maybe, then, the joy wouldn’t have vanished from Shreya’s face. Being reminded of terrible things like that without warning tended to do that to people.
“Yes, that. There are some things you have to know. I have been holding them back for long enough. I just…I do not want things to change.” Shreya avoided looking at her.
“I’ve got something to tell you, too.” Ellie didn’t chase her gaze. “I don’t know if it’s as heavy as what you need to say, but I don’t want things to change between us, either. I’m kind of scared to say it. It’ll make you see me differently…and I like the person you think I am. I don’t want to ruin that.”
“I won’t see you differently. There is nothing you can say or admit that would make that true,” Shreya said.
“You say that now.”
Shreya shook her head. “You are going to hate me for what I will say. It is really going to change everything.”
“Absolutely not,” Ellie said. She took a moment to think. “Okay, maybe it could change something, but it’s not going to change my feelings for you. I want to be with you. I don’t care about anything your community’s forced you to do. I know that, deep down, you’re not that kind of person. Seriously, Shreya, at this point, you can’t get rid of me.”
“This could do it.”
“There’s something I need to show you. I brought our diary with me. Wait right here.”
Ellie went to her satchel. Sunflower looked up at her. Ruffling her hand through Sunflower’s hair didn’t do anything to lessen how much her fingers were shaking. Her stomach flipped over and over again. She swallowed thickly, trying to keep everything from coming up. Ellie didn’t remember this being so nervewracking before.
Shreya, you’re going to be the death of me.
She took out the notebook, and flipped it to the page she needed Shreya to see.
“Do you know what a therapist is? They’re someone you go to talk to, to sort out your feelings,” Ellie said as she walked back over to the tree. “I saw one for the first time the other day. Nothing really happened during the appointment. I kind of just sat there flicking lint off of his couch.” She hugged the notebook close, hiding it. “But he told me I should try writing some things down, and I wound up writing this to you.”
“Will he read our notebook?”
“No, no. It’s private. I wouldn’t have used our notebook, but I was reading it at the time, and this thought occured to me, and then I decided to write it down, because you should probably know about it. This is so embarrassing…”
“Show me. You are worrying me.”
“Hold on. Wait. It’s nothing bad, and it has nothing to do with what I want to tell you later. I mean, maybe it does, it’s part of the reason why I feel comfortable enough confessing one of my biggest secrets to you. I’m going to dig deep. It’s going to be gruesome. It’s going to be painful.”
“Ellie, what is in the notebook?” Shreya reached for it.
Ellie turned away so she couldn’t take it. “It’s the reason why I won’t hate you.”
“Let me see.”
“On second thought, I’ll just tear it out. Forget that I said anything.”
“Do not tease me like that.”
“Here!” Ellie shoved it against her chest. She let go of it so fast that Shreya almost dropped it. “You…you don’t have to say it back or anything. I just wanted to let you know, that’s all. Really, I won’t be offended. Everyone does things at their own pace.”
Shreya held the notebook at a reasonable reading distance. Her eyes took in the words, becoming wider as they reached the bottom of the page. For, right there, at the end of it all, was the sentence that Ellie was the most nervous about, the one that would require some sort of response:
I think I’m falling in love with you.
A/N: Two polls this time! Make sure that you vote on both of them.
For last chapter’s poll, we had 4 votes for Ellie deciding to go to another city, 7 votes for her agreeing to therapy, and 3 votes for her requesting space. That’s 14 votes total…a drop from our usual 20+. Because of this and some other reasons, I am going to change our update schedule.
We are returning to weekly updates for the time being. Next chapter will be on Tuesday, February 28th. I’ll make an announcement post about this.
Voting for this chapter will end Friday, February 24th at 11:59 PM EST.
Also, when will Shreya get to learn what missaloof means? 🙁