A Love Story
Ella and I were playing the board game Sorry on my front porch with the bright summer sun painting the street and the planks of the floor a luminous yellow. The sun seemed to brighten Ella's face, turning her brown eyes golden with black specks in them. As usual, I was winning, but Ella was a good sport and wasn't fussy about it. We had a pleasant conversation which made the game and the time spent together enjoyable.
After we finished the game, Ella exclaimed “I don't know how you always win! You must be cheating somehow.“ I quipped back in a joking manner, stating “Don't complain that I always kick your butt. It has nothing to do with cheating or luck. I am just good at it.” “Hmm, you were probably in jail, and are not telling me about it. Inmates play Sorry in jail all the time, don't they?” she questioned me, eyebrows raised.“How am I supposed to know?” I smiled deviously at her. “Maybe you were in jail?”
The slight breeze blew Ella‘s brown hair, and she couldn't manage to keep it out of her face. I found it fascinating, the way she brushed it off of her face. Long hair can be a nuisance sometimes, although popular opinion says it makes women - and men - more attractive most of the time. “What do you want to do tonight?“ Ella asked. “Probably go to the Cyber West Cafe. A nice band is playing there tonight.” I replied.
“Do you know which band?” she asked.“I forgot their name—something about some Adam and an apple.” I mumbled. “Oh, do you mean, “Adam ate the Apple”?” she asked me, giggling. “Yes, that's the one.” I verified. “Haha – what a memory, you must be getting old” Ella implied jokingly. “It’s not that bad. I remember you on good days.” I said with a grin. “Oh. At least that’s something.” she said smiling back.
Ella glanced at the street where a Ford Mustang, with its windows down and music blasting, was passing by. She turned, then winked at me. “They were playing that song by Beastie Boys,” and she sang, ”You have to fight...for your right...to paaaaarty.” We both laughed. “It must mean something. The universe is telling us to go party tonight,” I said. We followed the Mustang with our eyes, which was getting smaller in the distance. Down the street, the music was fading away with it.
Ella asked “So, have you written anything good lately?” “Yes! I wrote a poignant story about a guy who can cure pain but is too big and menacing. People fear him because he is also mentally unstable so he can’t practice his gift.” I disclosed excitedly. “Oh. I think I’ve read about such characters...” Ella bemoaned, not seeming interested at all. “You should write a love story. You never write love stories.” she proposed.
“No, it’s not that I don’t want to, it’s because nothing happens in love stories. They are boring. I mean, what kind of interesting things can happen in a love story?” I pointed out. “I don't know,” said Ella. “Not every story needs to have a twist if that is what you mean. As long as it feels real, it would be fine. I would like to read a realistic love story.” she said, chin up. “I think that for a love story to not have a twist and to still be entertaining, it must be a fantasy. A real one wouldn’t be interesting.” I countered back.
“So, you always like to write about real things - like a big man with a mental disability who can cure pain?” she said sarcastically. “Well, you have a point.” I laughed, then thought for a second, smiled, and added, “Well, maybe I will write a love story some day,” then looked deliberately at Ella. I wanted to write about her. The sun was setting down somewhere beyond the hills in the distance. It was painting the sky in a variety of pink shades, casting a delicate hue with the same color on the ground, on Ella’s face. She was beautiful.
“Are you hungry” Ella changed the topic, shaking me out of my thoughts. “Mhmm, do you want to go get something to eat somewhere?” I asked. “There is no need to squander money. Would you like to cook something here instead?” she suggested. “Sounds good. Can you cook for me?” I asked her playfully. “Uuuuhhhuuu, wow, you have a good imagination. We can both cook. What do you want to make?” she asked.
“We can bake chicken and make a salad. I have lettuce in the fridge.” I offered. We went to the kitchen, and there, in that confined space, we found ourselves often touching each other slightly, subtly, while we cooked ourselves a meal. After we had dinner, Ella leaned back on her chair and said “You over-baked the chicken”. “Why me? We both cooked it.” I asked incredulously. “Not true. I put the spices on. You were supposed to bake it.” she stated, now laughing. “Well, in this case, it is not over-baked. I like it with crispy skin. I see that you finished your serving. It must have been good.” I observed with a smile. “I was hungry, but it was also good,” she admitted.
I became silent. I liked her...and more. I hoped Ella felt the same about me. I guess I must have known by then, but I didn’t. I am bad at judging such things and never ask directly. One might say I am timid and probably immature about these things for my age. I mean, a man in his thirties should know if a woman, friend of his, has more than friendly feelings for him, right? But I seem to not be blessed with that skill - at least not having it in this particular case.
We sat in silence for a while, and at last, I offered after checking my watch - it was eight o’clock, “Do you want to go to Cyber West Cafe?” She responded, nodding her head saying, “Yes, why not? But let me help you with the dishes first.” “Oh, you don't have to.” I quickly stated. “Come on, let’s do them,” she said and got up and went into the house carrying the plates. She washed the dishes, and I dried them. In no time, we were done.
Five minutes later, we were at the Cyber West Cafe. The place was well lit and smelled of scented candles. We ordered a beer and sat on the couch in the small lounge area. A few people were sitting around. Ella seemed to know some of them. A guy, looking a bit like Ben Stiller, took it upon himself to introduce us to the rest of the people sitting on couches around the table by me. Ben Stiller was named John, he was a website coder. Next to him was Phil, a philosopher, Lisa, a budding actress, Zoey, a sociology student, and two other guys whose names I didn’t remember.
“So, what do you think about bangs, Ella?” John asked out of the blue. “What do you mean?” Ella responded, seeming puzzled. “You know, bangs, the hairstyle. Just give me your opinion.” insisted John. “I think that they can completely change the appearance of a person.” Ella said thoughtfully. “Exactly. Well said. Such a small thing – cut some hair off and boom - a complete change!”
“Yes, I know what you mean. I think it's not only about an outer appearance. Things you don’t know about someone can surprise you. Even small things that you’ve missed about a person.” Ella added. “That is right. You might know someone for years and just learn something striking about them suddenly.” said John.” I have been married to my wife for five years, and yesterday, she started kicking the ball around with our daughter. Then I joined, and the real game started. I never knew that my wife could be so competitive.” John said thoughtfully.
“Ella is very competitive,” I interjected, joining the conversation. “No, I am not!” She proclaimed. “When a man feels threatened by a woman, he says she is very competitive. It is a double standard.” Zoey said. “What do you mean?” I turned to her and asked surprisedly. “It's a good thing to be competitive if you are a guy, but it is not if you are a woman,” Zoey added. “I wasn't implying that but I also didn't mean to say anything that would offend you,” I stated. “Both you and John said that the women you were talking about were competitive. As if that was some kind of a bad thing.” Zoey quipped back. “This is not true,” John and I said in unison.
We continued talking for a while. I was sitting in the corner of the table, on the outside, towards the middle of the room. When the live band started playing, I could barely understand anyone talking anymore. The guys I didn't remember the names of were absorbed in a conversation about ATVs and I couldn’t join because I didn’t know anything about those. Ella was talking to John and Zoey. Gradually I dropped out of the conversation, which was fine. I felt a little tired and just enjoyed listening to the music.
I could also observe our small group better. The philosopher was hitting on Lisa, the actress. He was explaining to her that his field of study was human emotions. I thought that he was trying to impress her. Lisa was lovely, about twenty-five-years-old, and he was in his forties. Soon, it seemed that she got bored of him.She didn't seem impressed by his philosophy of emotions so their conversation slowly died out.
Then I heard someone calling Ella’s name. I looked up and a guy was standing by my seat, smiling at her. Ella smiled back at him, said something to John, and then stood up to talk to the guy. He was a handsome fellow with black hair and dark eyes. I watched them hugging, then they started up a conversation. They were obviously feeling quite comfortable, touching each other casually.
I turned around and moved to sit in Ella’s place. John asked me if I played chess, and we talked about it a little. I find it hard to talk about chess without actually playing it. I was also distracted, glancing at Ella and her friend. Zoey, who had gotten up to get a beer, returned and sat next to John. They started a conversation about their acquaintances. Soon they were talking about Ella and her new boyfriend, who I had just seen - Jake was his name.
I felt like I was getting information I was not privy to, so I stood up and walked towards the rear of the room where the band was playing on the stage.. Ella was still talking with her boyfriend. She waved at me. I smiled and passed them by on my way towards the back. The room was full - there were maybe thirty people. I found a seat somewhat in front of the stage.
“Pretty nice band,” I thought after a few songs. I especially liked the saxophone and two singers who complemented each other very well – a guy who was also playing an acoustic guitar and a woman who had a great voice. I listened to several songs and maybe would’ve stayed the whole time, but the music was a bit too loud, so I went back to the front of the room.
On my way, I passed by Ella.She was swinging to the music with her new boyfriend standing next to her. They looked like a couple. They looked more like one when the guy leaned over and kissed Ella. A bomb exploded in my stomach. I needed to get out of the room.
At the front of the room, I saw that some of the members of the group we had been talking to were still there – the two guys whose names I didn't know were now talking about motorcycles. John and Zoey were also there. I sat in the armchair in the opposite corner next to an oversized couch, which was empty.
“Right there where you are, you are away from all conversations. That is the quiet zone.” John remarked, looking over at me. “It is all right. I need some quiet time. Also, in the opposite corner where I was sitting before, I couldn’t hear anything because of the music.” I responded.
On the couch next to me sat Lisa, carrying a glass of beer. “Hi,” I greeted, “What was your name? I didn't catch it.” She responded saying, “It's Lisa. You are Robert, right”? “Yes. So, Lisa, how are you?” I asked, trying to muster a smile. “Miserable. This city creeps on me. And you?” she responded. “You have no idea. You know, once you realize that you can’t get out, delve further in. Someone once said that. So that is what I am doing - delving in the misery.” I stated.
“Well, I am leaving in one month. Leaving this place behind with all of its misery.” Lisa said excitedly. “How come?” I asked. “There are no jobs here. At least not for me. Are you working in the defense industry?” she asked me. I chuckled and said “No. I am working in retail and am taking classes online for nursing. I have another job, as well, data entry.”
“Nursing is a good, stable job. You can work anywhere. My major is neither profitable nor so much in demand.” she responded. “What is it?” I asked curiously. “Theater.” she said quietly, looking down. “Oh, so you want to be an actress? The true artist has a hundred faces, they say. And sometimes she loses herself in the constant transformations.” I noted, trying to amuse her. “Oh, I have come to know what my real face is. I don’t lose it that easily.”
“Have you been in any plays I would know of?” I asked.“I have been in several musicals—some local, small plays. She answered shyly. “So, where are you going to move to?” I asked, just to maintain the conversation. “To New York City. There are going to be more jobs for me there.” she said matter-of-factly. I was silent for a while. Lisa smiled. Was she flirting?
“Do you want to go upstairs? It’s very noisy here.” I asked her. “Alright,” she nodded. We got up. The philosopher had sat next to Lisa, but he couldn't join in on the conversation because of the noise level. We went to the stairs that led to the second floor and started climbing up. In the middle of the stairs, I leaned over and tried to kiss her. She stepped back.
“What's the matter with you?” she asked me. “Nothing. I, I…thought it was the perfect moment to kiss you.” I started to stutter, embarrassed. “Well, I have a boyfriend. Why did you assume that I would want to kiss you?" She chastised me. “I don’t know.” I said, feeling vilified. “Are you trying to pay back your girlfriend downstairs?” I fell silent, then shrugged shoulders and tried to sound nonchalant, “Maybe.”
“It’s silly. You just try to make yourself feel good by making out with someone else instead of Ella. I guess it hurts you - to see them together.” she ascertained. “It feels like someone kicked me in the stomach…” I stated, trailing off. “I am sorry. I can’t help you, though. It was nice talking to you.” She turned and descended the stairs.
“It was nice to meet you,” I said, left hanging in the middle of the stairs. After watching her turn behind the corner, I climbed up to the second floor. There, I sat on a couch in what resembled a living room. I could still hear the music, although quite muffled. I thought about Ella and her boyfriend – where she knew him from and why she hadn’t told me about him. I was feeling too tired and emotionally drained to go downstairs and pretend to be okay enough to introduce myself to the guy. What I mostly wanted to do was to go home and go to bed.
On the wall in front of me, there was an electric light,a mosquito, and moth trap. The insects get attracted by the light and when they touch the lamp, a small spark of electricity kills them. I don’t know why, but the sight of that trap made me very sad. The poor moths were flying towards the light so that they could die. It wasn’t fair. At that moment, I felt like a moth who had gotten shocked, flickering helplessly at the base of the stupid moth trap. For what? For falling head-over-heels for a girl who hadn’t told me she was seeing someone.
To distract myself, I picked up an issue of a local newspaper called The Carousel and started skipping through it. The music kept seeping through the floor from below. Half an hour later, I heard steps coming up the stairs. I didn't have to turn to guess that it was Ella – I knew the sound of her heels.
“What are you doing up here all alone?” she asked. “Just catching up on the local news. How's the show going?” I said trying to sound upbeat. “The band is having a break.” She said. I hadn’t even noticed that the music stopped. “I was wondering where you were. People told me that you went upstairs.” she continued. “Who told you?” I asked her. “Phil – the philosopher of human emotions.” she stated with a half-grin.
“I felt tired from all the conversations and the loud music.” I said, partially telling the truth. “I apologize that I didn't introduce myself to your friend. I just didn't feel very social tonight. Who is he?” I asked while trying to control how fast my heart was beating. “Jake is a classmate. He was supposed to study for an exam tonight. We’re kind of seeing each other...” she said nervously. “Yes, I noticed.” I tried to hide my bitterness but couldn’t. She looked at me thoughtfully and asked, “Are you all right? What’s the matter?”
“Everything is fine. It’s the damn moth trap. It’s getting me all upset. Isn’t it sad - for the poor moths, I mean?” I responded, trying to change the subject. She turned to look at the moth trap and then back at me, “I guess. Such is life. Don’t get upset over such a thing. We are leaving. I didn’t want to go without asking if you would want us to drop you at your house. Jake is driving.”
“Yes, life sucks for moths sometimes. I will stay here for a minute. I will go home after I read some more of the newspaper and drink another beer.” I said, feeling defeated. “All right, Robbie, as you wish. See you sometime this week?” she asked me. “Of course.” I said with a quick smile.
She left. I stared at the moth trap for a few more minutes, then got up off the couch and slowly crossed the room and descended the stairs. The happy hubbub of the cafe was so much at odds with my emotional state that I felt nauseous. I needed to get out. It was a warm, windy night outside. I liked the darkness which enveloped me like a soft blanket. The windows of the Cafe cheerfully lit up the night. “It’s like a fucking moth trap,” I thought, not sure if I meant the cafe, Ella, or love as it is. Anyway, I preferred to dwell in the darkness; that’s where I belonged, far away from the hubbub and the light, where it was safe and didn’t hurt.
Later, lying in my bed while drifting away, quiet, unintrusive thoughts entered my head like light feathers flowing in the wind. I thought of the night, and I could not explain to myself some things. People came and went in my little world. I wondered about their roles and what they meant for me. The sleep started overwhelming me. My last thought was about the kind of story Ella asked me to write about earlier that evening - a love story. Maybe I should write about the events of the past evening. It would make a love story, after all, wouldn’t it?