Ella pulled her shirt over her head, staring at her face in the mirror as it became visible from behind the black fabric that was falling onto her shoulders. Had 34E really been 10 days ago? She felt as if so much life had happened in the time since she made the flight from New York to Portland, since she sat scrunched in her chair next to the overweight man who had made physical the metaphorical suffocation she was experiencing.
From the mirror, the woman she found looking back at her was a different person than the one who had just two weeks ago still worked for Dominic Graham at In Stereo magazine, still lived in that all-white 22nd floor apartment, still in the throws of the fast-paced, high intensity life of Manhattan.
What had changed?
For starters, there was simply far less responsibility for an unemployed 29 year-old that lived in her parents’ attic. Gone were the demands of being the star journalist for one of the nation’s biggest magazines. Her phone was no longer blowing up from bosses with demands and colleagues with questions and agents with the next big band. She went from making decisions that would sit in 15 languages on newsstands in 30 countries, to simply deciding which spices to pull from the pantry around 6pm.
The days of going and going, often from 6am-midnight were clearly over, and Ella was becoming accustomed to her new schedule of noon-4am rather nicely. The clock on the attic wall told her that she’d slept in, even for her new schedule. She had the excuse of being out last night… I mean this morning, until sunrise, so the guilt wasn’t too strong.
She stood, realizing that her outfit, the black Nikes, gray shorts, and black t-shirt, made it appear as if she was headed out to exercise. She pulled her hair back into a ponytail, only solidifying the look, and descended down the stairs.
“Hey, honey.” It was almost 2pm, but the steam from Caroline’s mug said that there must be a fresh pot in the kitchen. “You were up late.”
“Yep,” Ella replied, this conversation beginning like so many during her high school and college years.
Caroline watched as her only child poured the coffee into her favorite mug, the black ceramic that PSU gave every incoming freshman, a daily reminder to whom they’d be paying loans until they were the age that they couldn’t drink coffee at this time of day.
“Your father was a little worried before he left this morning,” Caroline paused, waiting for a reaction that didn’t come. “But then he called me while he was driving to the office and said he heard you… over at Jake’s.”
“Yep.” This time Ella turned and smiled at her mom, the grin saying that she wasn’t trying to avoid the conversation anymore.
“You guys have been spending a lot of time together lately.”
That was a true statement. Ever since the night seven days ago when they shared a family meal on the Copeland’s porch, since Aaron and Jake played music together and bonded over the songs of Chris Stapleton, since Jake and Ella walked through the neighborhood to one of the few coffee shops in this town that stayed open past dusk.
“Is there,” Caroline didn’t quite know how to put it, “you know… is there something there?”
Her mug now filled, Ella followed Caroline through the living room and onto the front porch.
The rain was back. Ella’s first week and a half in Portland had been the sunny warmth that was normally reserved for late July, but on this late-May afternoon, the Pacific Northwest spring appeared to be making a comeback.
So they sat around the kitchen table, under the cover of the rain-pattered roof, the sound of the jazz record on the Admiral the perfect complement to the sound that Ella could only describe as “home.”
At least a minute had passed since Caroline had asked Ella the question back in the kitchen, but they were both satisfied with the silence between them as they took in the sights and sounds of the Southeast Portland afternoon.
“I don’t know,” Ella finally replied from behind her mug. So much had happened this past week, but to put it in words… well, it seemed like not much at all had happened this past week.
Maybe Ella was attempting to find a way to say this, or she might have been simply basking in the nostalgia of sitting on this porch, a rainy afternoon with her mom, a cup of coffee, and Coltrane on the record player.
Ella was snapped out of whatever thought she’d been lost in when her mother spoke, stood, and walked to the edge of the porch.
Was her mom really on a first name basis with the FedEx guy?
“Hello, Mrs. Copeland,” the man at the street replied, rummaging through his truck before carrying four large boxes toward the porch.
“Edward, this is my daughter Ella. Ella, this is Edward.”
“Ah,” he set the package underneath the covered part of the porch, shook the rain off his extremely wet arms, and greeted Ella. “I believe these are for you.”
Who was sending mail here for Ella? She hadn’t changed her address, her driver’s license, or even told anyone where she was headed when she left New York a week and a half ago.
“I was a bit confused,” Edward continued, now speaking to Caroline, “I saw Copeland, but I didn’t recognize the first name. Five years of deliveries, and I had no idea you had a daughter.” His voice almost sounded like he was hurt by the fact he’d just said aloud.
Ella didn’t notice, though. She picked up the first of the four identical boxes and instantly recognized the handwriting… and instantly was terrified about what was inside.
She scoured the porch for an object sharp enough to cut through the tape that was made to keep a large animal out. Finally settling on the corkscrew that had been left from last night’s wine, she sliced her way to the inside.
That same handwriting sat there, on a torn piece of sketch paper, on top of the contents.
Ella, I hope this makes it to you. Things are insane around here, but you…
The next few words were scribbled out, illegible. She kept reading:
Anyway, I know how much these meant to you, so when they were cleaning out your desk, I said they were mine and grabbed them for you. Don’t worry, I didn’t open them. I just figured that regardless of what went down, you deserve to have these back. I hope they point to better times.
Ella moved the note to the side, a stack of journals sitting beneath. She didn’t have to open them. She recognized each, and could tell you the dates and contents of every single one. She pushed the box out of the way and opened the second.
And then the third…
She didn’t even have to open the fourth one.
“What are they, dear?” Caroline cut the deliveryman off mid-sentence while Ella stacked the boxes on her arms and took them through the front door.
“Nothing,” Ella’s voice came through the slamming screen door. “Just some work stuff.”
From the porch, Caroline could hear the groan of the floor as Ella shifted her weight onto the old stairs. Ella skipped the third stair from the top, the one with the creak, and scaled the next flight toward her bedroom.
Down the attic stairs, from the second story to the living room, out onto the porch where Caroline and Edward continued their conversation, through the yard, up the stairs next door, past the names that had been chiseled in the post over a decade ago, through the dense sound of the oak front door, and into the Ikea showroom, Jake sat, the all-weather notebook open on the coffee table in front of him.
The six pages of scribble and scratch weren’t the only evidence of the past eight hours in the house on Ladd Avenue. The logs that Jake had put on the fire after Ella’s 6am departure were still glowing in the backyard fire pit, echoing the song that had come from Jake’s guitar.
The night before had been like so many this past week, Jake milling around the house aimlessly after his daily trek to Heart Coffee, waiting and wondering if the now familiar dense knock of the front door would fill the room.
That knock had come consistently between 7 and 8, when the sun had just begun its game of hide and seek behind the evergreens. If you asked him, Jake would deny the excitement that hit him each time he turned the knob and heard the hinges. He longed for that split second when she became visible on the other side of the oak, that instant when the light from the setting sun highlighted her eyes or her hair or her smile. He was fascinated by the fact that the angle of the sun and the amount of cloud cover accentuated something different each night.
“Hey… wanna hang out?”
The first few nights, he’d acted like he had to think about it, as if he had multiple options to weigh. He’d stand there contemplating while she used her right hand to tuck her bangs behind her ears. But now, seven nights since their first dinner together, he dropped the act.
“Yeah, let’s do it.”
And then they’d be off.
For a man who’d spent most of his time on the same 2.4-mile walk to and from East Burnside during his first three weeks in Portland, he was enjoying the guided tour through the city.
Most nights, they’d walk north on Ladd, get on the bus at Madison & Grand, and head toward a landmark or restaurant that Ella hadn’t visited since her days at PSU. Last night, they went toward City Center on the 15, crossing over the river on Hawthorne before heading north to 11th & Alder.
“So, I haven’t been to this place,” Ella said last night, as they walked between the cars that were parked and the cars that whizzed by on 13th.
Jake noticed that she had no reaction to the lack of sidewalk or the vehicles and bicycles that drove by within arm’s length, so he acted as if this ridiculousness didn’t bug him, either.
They arrived at the restored warehouse and began to scale the stairs toward the entrance.
“My friend Adeline recommended this place… said it’s one of her new favorites. I told you about her, right?”
“Yeah,” he opened the door and followed her inside, waiting to continue until the door shut behind them. “The girl from the porch post.”
“Oh, of course,” she turned and faced him as they stood in line. “You live in her house.”
The lighting in this place was scarce at best. There was a massive machine, right in the middle of the room, which only further solidified the industrial vibe of the place.
“Adeline says that the salads are enormous and awesome, but her husband really likes the fried chicken, bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit.”
“Whoa,” Jake’s eyes widened and his face lit up, causing Ella to giggle. “That sounds alright.”
They ordered, as they’d done most nights this week. In fact, they consistently followed the same pattern when they went out. Find a table (both of them preferred the patio), and then sit and talk and laugh and eat until well after the sun had fallen asleep.
Last night, on the patio of Tilt, the industrial warehouse turned restaurant on 13th Street, they ordered the Caesar salad to start, and then shared the biscuit sandwich that Adeline’s husband had recommended.
“So,” Ella said between bites of the far too big salad, “you were a pastor in Texas?”
“Well,” he replied, not quite finished with his bite, “kind of. I wasn’t the pastor. I was on staff at a church. My title was Music Pastor.”
“So you were in charge of the choir?”
Jake laughed. “No, it wasn’t like that.” He paused for a moment, trying to decide how to explain Bible belt church culture to his neighbor. “We had bands that were, I don’t know, normal? It was pretty much just a rock concert on Sunday morning.”
Ella’s face showed her confusion. “At church?”
“Yeah,” Jake chuckled. “That’s how most churches are these days… at least the ones that aren’t dying, I think.”
“Crazy.” She said it slowly, still trying to visualize a rock concert… on a Sunday morning… in a church. “Is it cool?”
Jake sat for a moment without answering, so Ella rephrased the question.
“I mean, do you like it?”
Ella could see the struggle in Jake as he answered. “I did.”
The neighbors sat in silence and ate their salad, the shop towels that the restaurant used as napkins firmly in their laps as they sat across from each other.
It was Ella who broke the silence.
“How did your church job respond to you and Kira getting a divorce?”
It was odd for Jake to hear Ella use his wife’s name while they sat, over 2,000 miles from the life that he and Kira shared, sharing a sandwich on a perfect Portland evening. It wasn’t that he was ashamed to be sitting across from the girl he’d spent so many hours with these last few days, the girl who he happened to find extremely attractive, more so every time they met. It wasn’t even that he didn’t want this girl to know his mistakes, his shortcomings, his failures. It was simply that he didn’t know what to do with the collision of the two worlds… the world he was living in, and the world that seemed to only exist in his memory.
“Not well,” he finally replied to her question about the church. And with that, she dropped it. If wasn’t that Jake was being standoffish, but something in his voice told her that he was done… that he couldn’t take any more of the conversation.
After dinner, they continued their pattern, walking around whatever neighborhood Ella had led them to, exploring the streets until they found something that looked appealing. Three nights ago, it had been a secondhand shop on Belmont where Ella bought a new to her Panama hat. Last week, it had been a pie shop in the Alberta Arts District. Tonight, the two strolled the part of town that Ella had always envisioned herself living in once her days at Portland State were complete.
“Where to next, Mr. Whitley?”
The comfort between Jake and Ella was out of the ordinary… at least for him. Always an introvert, the tortured artist who would rather spend his days with one or two really good friends, he’d never felt this close to someone this quickly. But then again, life had been far from normal these past few weeks.
“I’ve never been in this part of town before, but a beer sounds nice.”
“Ah, I know just the place.”
Ella took three steps in the direction she wanted him to go, before stopping, turning around, and whipping her head toward him overdramatically, and then cocking it to the side even more dramatically.
“You’ve never been to the Pearl?”
“Wait…” he said. “The Pearl District?”
“Yeah, that’s where we’ve been all night.” She spread her hands to put their surroundings on display.
“My favorite author actually moved from Texas to Portland, and he talks about this place in one of his books.”
As the two walked toward one of Ella’s father’s favorite breweries, Jake’s neck was on a swivel, exploring each and every building as they passed by.
“This place looks different than I imagined. The author, Don, talks about how the Pearl District is a beautiful picture of what life looks like when we’re living it right.” He stopped to see if his audience was still interested. She was. “He talks about all these old buildings and how they’ve been so beautifully restored… abandoned warehouses, reimagined. He says that when we’re at our best, that’s what we’re doing, restoring each other to… I don’t know… something better.”
They were at the brewpub now, and the logo on the corner of the building matched a logo that currently sat in Jake’s refrigerator.
“Do you really believe that stuff?” Ella questioned him as they scoured the menu titled Brewer’s Creations, “the stuff about making things better than they were before?”
She wasn’t asking because she doubted him. On the contrary, her question was born in a fear that he did in fact believe the words of his favorite author. And if he did, if Jake Whitley believed that when we’re living life the way it’s supposed to be lived, that we’ll be a part of restoring it all, then Ella had a problem. Because Ella Jayne Copeland had not left the world better than when she entered it… at least not in New York… not at Dominic Graham’s company… not in the half decade between 9B and 34E.
The pub was loud and crowded. Jake and Ella had taken the last two available seats in the bar, softball teams and hipster bachelor parties filling the room.
“This one has fish in it.”
“What?” That was not the response Ella had expected to her question.
“Fish,” Jake said louder, pointing to a beer on the menu.
Oh, he hadn’t heard her. In a way, she was relieved, so she grabbed the menu from his hands and looked at the fourth drink down on the small yellow page, then laughed.
“Mussels aren’t fish. They’re clams… I think. Well, they’re definitely mollusks.”
“Mollusk? What’s a mollusk?”
“Um…” her smile widened. “It’s… a mussel?”
They both laughed.
“I don’t care what they are. They live in water, and this place makes a beer with them. That’s what I’m gonna get.”
He flagged down the bartender.
“Do you want anything?”
“Is it cool if I just share with you?”
Jake’s smile grew again.
“It tastes like the ocean,” she said after her first sip.
“You don’t like it?”
“No, it’s not that,” she replied, licking her lips as if that might give her a better feel for the flavor. “I actually do like it. It’s almost like I can taste the ocean.”
“Like salt water?”
“No.” She paused to find the words. “Just try it.” She slid the pint down the bar.
“Not bad,” he said after a long gulp.
They passed the glass back and forth a few times until it was empty.
“You ready to head home for the night?”
“Not yet,” Ella said as they stood and walked back out onto 11th Street, which, and Jake was glad for this, actually had a sidewalk. “I wanna show you something.”
Though less consistent than their pattern of dinner on a patio and a walk past dusk, this too had happened multiple times this week. Whether it be a building-sized alleyway mural or a midnight walk out onto the Hawthorne Bridge to see the way the city lit up the Morrison, it was always the best part of Jake’s night.
So he happily followed Ella the half mile north. Past the multi-million dollar condos and Jamison Square and Lovejoy, Ella finally stopped when they’d arrived at an entire empty city block. No building, no parking lot, no food trucks; just a walking path, a pond, and a deck to walk across the water.
“When I was at PSU,” Ella spoke as she and Jake stared together at this little oasis in the middle of the city, “this was my retreat. I’d walk over here when I was feeling overwhelmed by homework or the massive amount of writing I had or finals. I’d simply lie down in the grass, stare at the sky, and tell myself that everything was going to be alright. I’d say that to myself: everything is going to be OK, Ella. You’ll look back and be thankful for the hard times. I’d just repeat that over and over, laying in this grass, until I felt better.”
She paused and looked at Jake, standing to her left.
“No.” Jake’s reply was instant and matter-of-fact. He didn’t think it was crazy at all. He knew exactly what it was like to feel like the weight of the world was going to swallow you whole, drowning you and devouring you at the same time. He looked to his right at the girl who was looking back at him, and he wondered how badly she needed to hear that right now. After what she’d told him at the coffee shop on that first night together, about In Stereo, about New York, about Riley Martin…
So right there in the middle of Tanner Springs Park, Jake shifted his weight from his legs to his hands, leaning back until his body was flat against the grass.
Ella looked down at him, obviously startled by his gesture. But she didn’t speak.
Just like that split second at the front door, Jake wished he could somehow capture this moment, the stars and the lights of the city, the grass tickling the back of his neck, and the girl…
Had the park not been empty, passersby might wonder why there was a man laying in the grass, and a woman standing next to him, staring out at the small pond that fit neatly into this block in the middle of Portland.
Staring up into the midnight sky, the few clouds that momentarily hid a few stars before moving on, Jake began to speak, so softly that Ella could barely hear him from five and a half feet above.
“Everything is going to be OK, Ella. You’ll look back and be thankful for the hard times...”
Ella didn’t move.
“Everything is going to be OK, Ella. You’ll look back and be thankful for the hard times. Everything is going to be OK…”
As Jake continued, his eyes followed Ella, who now shifted her weight to her hands, leaning back until her body was flat against the grass, next to Jake’s.
“…You’ll look back and be thankful for the hard times.”
Jake kept repeating the words, staring at the girl who was staring up at the sky, as he had just a moment ago…
“Everything is going to be OK…”
He watched a single tear fell from her eye and slide past her ear onto the grass. She swallowed hard and blinked, the clasping of her eyelids causing a few more tears to come as he began the mantra again.
Jake slid his right hand across the grass and found Ella’s left. He continued staring at her, and she continued staring at the sky. Their fingers intertwined and just rested on the grass between them as he spoke.
“You’ll look back and be thankful for the hard times…”
Now, in the living room on Ladd Avenue, Jake scribbled away, knowing that he needed this song to get out of him before he slept.
Jake and Ella had made their way back to SE around 2am, spending the rest of the night around the fire in Jake’s back yard, telling stories and simply sitting in the perfection of the night.
Ella had left shortly after the sunrise, and Jake had been at it ever since. The all-weather notebook had been used and abused for the past several hours, sitting by the fire or on the living room table while Jake tried to finish the song he’d started eight days ago.
He was tired, but he couldn’t let go the feeling that if he had any chance of moving on, these thoughts had to be crafted into a melody.
And so he wrote.
After Ella had stretched her arms to the sky, yawned, and told him “good night,” at 6:14am, he ran in, grabbed the Martin auditorium, a sweatshirt, and the notebook.
The early morning hours hadn’t been overly productive for him, so he put the ear buds in his ears, tapped “Play” on You Are My Sunshine, and began his daily trek for coffee.
Jake listened continually to the song that had become so familiar, the soundtrack to his month of May, and as he did, he wondered if he might’ve finally found the secret to getting the song sung. As hard as he’d tried, he hadn’t found what he was looking for in a melody, or even in singing this very song. He couldn’t possibly know if it could be attained as he thought it might a week ago on Ella’s porch… by simply being surrounded by the ones you love while you sing. But maybe this was it. Maybe the song could be sung if it could finally be uttered with finality. If it could be sung by someone who was, in fact, moving on.
The lyrics wouldn’t suggest it: please don’t take my sunshine away, but could Jake hear a resolve in Johnny’s voice that he hadn’t heard yet… something in his tone saying that he knew the sunshine was gone, and it wasn’t coming back?
When Jake arrived at Heart, he was surprised to find that none of the regulars were there. The staff was different, the dreadlocked, bicycle-riding man wasn’t at his normal table, and there was no one manning the roaster.
“Single origin Americano, please.”
Jake wasn’t used to the barista not knowing his order. And it wasn’t just Haleigh, either. All the staff knew him now; the man who came in daily, always ordered the same drink, and scratched his pen to the notebook he always carried.
But here he was, in a familiar place with a bunch of unfamiliar faces.
“You know what,” he grabbed the attention of the barista who was finishing up his drink, “could I get that to go?”
There would be no productive writing here today, so Jake grabbed the white cup, stepped outside, and started the journey back to the house on Ladd. He was at the corner of 20th & Yamhill when he noticed another difference in the day: the sun was beating down on his left side and not his right.
It was still morning. That’s why the staff at Heart was different. He’d never arrived at the black hexagon-shaped tile of the shop’s entryway before noon.
But today, he arrived with the before-work crowd. Jake had only seen 9am once since arriving in the Pacific Northwest, and today it was for good reason. He had a chapter to close, and he knew just the way to do it.
So here he sat, on the barely used sofa in Adeline’s old house, trying to find the right combination of lyric and melody to shut this book.
Jake knew that he couldn’t just say a handful of rote phrases, call it closure, and walk away. So he replayed it all in his head. The little house in Dallas, the Uber driver who seemed more than a bit concerned about the woman sobbing on the porch while Jake, defeated, said, “Airport, please.”
Was he really the one who left? His whole life, watching friends’ parents split, he’d always assumed that they were better than that. He remembered their wedding day, when they’d stood in front of their friends and family and promised forever. He meant the vows he’d said that day. So had she.
But here I am, he thought, sitting in a living room alone, a dozen states away from the house they called home. Am I really that man? Am I really the one who gives up and walks away?
How could Jake possibly put that into words? Could everything he felt fit into four minutes of chords and melody? Probably not, but that’s why he was here, half a day removed from Ella’s departure, still writing away on this one song.
Upstairs in the bedroom, the light was coming in through the sliver in the corner of the curtain, the angle of the light saying that it was the time Jake would normally wake.
He could barely keep his eyes open by the time the final word was on the page. He tossed the pen onto the table, leaned back against the cushion of the couch, let out a deep breath, and decided to give it a run through…
//INSERT SONG HERE//
There was no light coming through the sliver in the curtain when Jake finally awoke. He rolled over, grabbing another pillow to cool the side of his face, and glanced at the alarm clock, which was flashing 12s. He rubbed his eyes and considered staying in bed ‘til morning. He’d fallen asleep a little after 2, and he felt like he could sleep until noon tomorrow... or was it today?
His feet found the cold wood floor, and he walked slowly into the bathroom.
Jake looked into the mirror, and found himself a bit disappointed in the man that was staring back. He hadn’t consciously expected to have an altered physical appearance once his song was complete, but he was disheartened nonetheless.
Once in the kitchen, Jake rued the fact that he didn’t keep coffee, or a way to make it, in this house. Was anywhere open at this hour? What time was it, anyway?
He stepped into the living room to check the plain white wall clock, which was certainly purchased at IKEA.
The sight of the front door to the left of the clock sparked something in Jake.
Oh no, had Ella come over tonight?
In the delirium of a night without sleep and the pursuit of the closing chapter, Jake hadn’t even considered the pattern that he and Ella had established. There wasn’t a spoken agreement, never a see you tomorrow or a same time, same place conversation between the two, but there was no reason to think that she wouldn’t come.
So Jake grabbed his hoodie, threw on a hat, and slammed the door behind him.
“Hi Mrs. Copeland.”
“Hey Jake, come in out of that rain. And remember, it’s Caroline.”
“Oh right,” he said, searching the living room behind her for any sign of Ella.
“Is Ella here?”
Caroline thought for a moment. “I haven’t seen her much today. I think she’s still here, though. You’re more than welcome to go check.”
Jake took a step toward the stairs before realizing that he had no idea where he should check.
“Oh,” Caroline realized it as well. “Up the stairs, to the right, and then up the stairs again.”
Jake shot a thank you over his shoulder as he scaled the stairs.
To the right, and then up again…
The stairs to the attic were a bit of a challenge for Jake. Only half his foot fit on each step, causing him to walk up almost completely sideways, as if he were doing a drill on a football field.
He stopped outside the short door, which reminded him of the Lord of the Rings, and knocked.
The voice was muffled through the wood.
“Hey,” he said, taking in the sight of this unique, makeshift bedroom. Ella was there, sitting cross-legged on the bed with her back to him, deep in whatever she was reading.
“Hey,” he said again, finally causing her to turn around. “Sorry I…”
“Jake!” She shot up off the bed, obviously surprised that it wasn’t one of her parents standing in her doorway. “Oh my god. I’m so sorry. What time is it?”
“Oh my god. I lost track of time. I’ve been sitting up here reading since lunch. I totally meant to come over like normal.”
So she hadn’t come over. Jake hadn’t slept through the dense knock on the front door, because the knock hadn’t come.
“It’s all good. I just,” he stopped, deciding not to divulge the information about his current sleep schedule. “After last night, I just wanted to make sure that you were alright.”
“Thanks,” her smile was genuine, if a bit distracted. “Have a seat.”
Jake looked around the room, which was covered in notebooks. The room’s only chair was taken by two brown boxes, each with journals stuffed to the brim.
Ella noticed the mess, and responded by stacking a few from the bed and clearing a space.
“Here you go.”
She patted the bed next to her.
“My old co-worker from In Stereo, Kristina, grabbed all my writings from the office before they threw all my stuff away,” she said. “There are so many memories in these books. College, the early days in New York… Riley Martin.”
Jake looked around the room; open journals everywhere.
“Do you mind if I…” he picked up the closest book and opened it.
“Go for it.” She surprised herself with the level of comfort she felt with this.
She watched Jake as he read the first page. She assumed that he’d skim a few pages, set it down, and head for the next one. But here he was, camping out on page one.
A quick glance at the cover told Ella that this was a book she’d used during her first year in Manhattan.
She watched his face as he read, and suddenly she felt extremely vulnerable, as if she were reading aloud a personal diary in front of an auditorium.
She couldn’t take the silence any longer.
Jake finished the sentence he was reading and then looked at Ella. “You’re an incredible writer.”
Her face softened, and she placed her hand on top of his.
It wasn’t that she no longer felt vulnerable with her journal in his hands, but she no longer wondered if she could feel safe with her journal in his hands.
They had broken the pattern. This night wasn’t a bus ride or a restaurant or a walk through an unfamiliar neighborhood. No, this night was far more intimate.
The sound of the old Admiral on the front porch could be heard through the open window, and the sweet scent of Aaron’s pipe came in with the wind.
Jake and Ella sat on her bed, each of them reading the writing that had been so dear to the girl who had poured her heart into these pages.
“Man,” he said, flipping the page. “You’re making me feel like I wanna be best friends with Cecil.”
Ella was so glad that she kept a journal. In the years that had passed since the ink had dried on these pages, she’d almost forgotten the homeless man that she sat with every Sunday during those early years.
“Yeah, he was my favorite. I’d bring my MacBook out to the park to get some work done, and he’d stare at the laptop, swearing up and down that it was going to give me cancer or eat my brain or take over the world. I remember one time…”
“No spoilers,” Jake butted in. “I think I’m just getting to the good part.”
After an hour, she’d made it through five more journals, while Jake was still in the middle of the book from the early days in New York.
Ella dropped the notebook on the bed in front of her, stood, and stretched.
“You want some coffee?”
“Ah, that sounds good.” Jake went from studying the writing to studying the author. Her hands extended almost reached the low ceiling. Her navy crew neck sweatshirt stretched with her, causing the slightest bit of skin to show above her gray shorts.
“Be right back,” she smiled at him as he watched her walk out the door and down the steep attic steps.
If Jake hadn’t been certain of his attraction to Ella before tonight, he certainly was now. And not because of her looks. Sure, Jake wouldn’t deny her physical beauty, but the way she put words together was nothing short of amazing. She was an artist in every sense of the word, and he couldn’t get enough of her work.
“Here you go.”
After handing him a brown mug that sported the silhouette of Portland’s Burnside Bridge, she reclaimed her spot next to him on the bed.
He sat down the journal he’d been reading, careful to not spill on such an important piece of this writer’s history.
Without the rustling of paper and conversation, the voice of Glen Hansard coming from the Admiral came into focus.
After a handful of minutes simply sipping their coffee and enjoying the sounds and smells coming from the window, the music of the Admiral and the scent of the falling rain, Jake picked up the journal he’d been reading and examined the cover.
“Have you ever thought about writing a book? For real, you might be the best writer I’ve ever read.”
Comments like these weren’t new to Ella. She’d been praised for her writing skills most of her adult life. The compliments were always welcome, but something seemed significant about sharing this part of herself, a part that seemed all but dead, with Jake.
“Uh, not really.”
Ella shifted her legs out from underneath her, stood, and walked across the room to the bookshelf that was far too full.
“When you’re reading a book,” she continued, “you can always tell if the writer is faking it. I hate not finishing a book, so I end up loathing an author for 200 pages, knowing that they haven’t lived anything nearly interesting enough to keep my attention for ten hours.”
She was running her fingers across the spines of the works on her shelf. Thousands of hours that author had poured their heart and soul into. Jake stood and followed her over to the bookshelf.
“And I, Mr. Whitley, have not yet lived a good enough story to warrant putting it out there, into the ever-increasingly crowded literary world.”
She watched him as his eyes moved from left to right, up and down the over-stuffed shelves.
“Well, I think you’re extremely interesting,” he said without taking his eyes off the books, “but if you’re right, who knows… maybe the story worth telling is just beginning.”
She didn’t take her eyes off him, but he didn’t take his eyes off the spines. He said it with such nonchalance. She was searching for a sign, but he didn’t give one. He simply pulled a notebook from the shelf and began flipping through it.
What did he mean by this: maybe the story worth telling is just beginning? Was he talking about them? Their relationship? Or was he referring to the crap storm that hit the fan across the country two weeks before?
Ella’s internal dialogue was interrupted by his words.
“Ella,” his entire tone had changed. “Why in the hell do you have my notebook?”