Debut story - feedback is most welcome.
Ch 3 of 4 (Complete)
After a short wait for their food, they finally entered Ellie’s apartment. Immediately the smell of a ripe trash can assailed their nostrils and any positive emotion Ellie felt from their limited contact faded away like the drop of a rock in her stomach. “Ugh, it’s so much worse than I remembered!” Ellie declared dramatically and headed towards her kitchen to deal with the source of the foul stench.
“I’d tell you to wait ‘til after we eat, but that’s pretty bad,” Grace laughed.
The pit in Ellie’s stomach grew even larger and a scowl crossed her face. I knew I shouldn’t have brought her up here.
Grace noticed her rapidly deteriorating demeanor and attempted to recover. “I didn’t mean it like that,” she said, waving both hands dismissively in front of her. “I really don’t mind the mess. And I don’t think it means anything bad about you. And that trash smells bad and we’d probably enjoy our dinner more if it were gone.”
Ellie studied her expression, ultimately deciding to trust her. “Okay, I’m sorry. I’m just really sensitive about this. Honestly it wasn’t always this bad, but I broke up with my boyfriend a few months back and I’ve kind of been in a slump since then. Hence, no social life.”
Grace nodded understandingly. “Why don’t you take the trash down and I’ll crack a window or two. Then I’ll get the food all set up.”
Ellie looked at her confused. “I usually just eat out of the containers. Mainly because I’m lazy, but also because I don’t ever have clean dishes,” her voice trailed off at the end of the sentence.
“Well, tonight you’ll treat yourself with a real plate and fork. I’ll wash some dishes for us while you take the trash out.”
Ellie was going to protest but figured Grace had already made up her mind. She sighed in resignation and took out the trash. She wondered what part of her thought it was a good idea to invite Grace inside. It almost seemed that Grace intentionally didn’t give Ellie much time to respond to her requests, that her pretense of leaving was more of an act. That Grace knew Ellie would be indecisive and knew that when she tried to leave, Ellie would be unable to say no. If this was true, Ellie didn’t mind. She trusted her completely, as nonsensical as that was. She didn’t even mind leaving Grace alone in her apartment.
She opened the door of the apartment relieved. It felt nice to have that out of the way. She moved into the kitchen where Grace was putting the finishing touches on the newly cleaned plates. Grace had also cleared the table in front of the sofa enough for their two plates and two cleaned glasses filled with water. Ellie’s eyes stung with tears and her throat clenched as her body reacted to Grace’s niceness. She tried to turn her face away from Grace so she wouldn’t see.
“There,” Grace said. She placed a final scoop of rice on each plate and held them up. “Looks pretty good, right? I hope so. I would die for a good Chinese restaurant in the neighborhood.”
They walked over to the sofa and began to eat. Ellie asked, “Do you want to watch TV or something? That’s what I usually do during dinner.”
“If we were married and had been together for a long time, I’d say yes.” She cast a sideways glance at Ellie to see if she reacted. Though Ellie tried to keep her face neutral, Grace saw her eyes bug for a moment. “But since we don’t really know each other, let’s keep it off and see what happens.”
Ellie swore Grace’s face had a hint of mischief when she said that last part but wrote it off as Grace being Grace. Ellie hadn’t known her for long, but she had come to recognize that she sometimes said and did off-the-wall things. “Sounds good to me,” Ellie said, her voice cracking slightly out of nervousness. She cleared her throat and asked, “In that case, what made you move here from Indiana?”
Grace looked thoughtful and took a bite of her food, which Ellie assumed was her way of buying time. “It’s a little complicated, I guess. First of all, Indiana’s a shit hole.” Ellie blinked at Grace’s use of the term “shit hole,” due to the face that she hadn’t heard Grace curse up to this point. “It’s flat and covered in cornfields. And no alcohol sales on Sundays.”
“Yikes, that last one’s rough. So, you moved because you couldn’t buy alcohol one day a week?” Ellie teased.
“No, I’m just characterizing the place. I lived in a relatively small town. Where you can’t go anywhere without seeing at least one person you know.” She paused, taking another bite of food.
“I think I have a feeling where this is going,” Ellie said cockily.
Grace’s eyes narrowed playfully. “Alright then, have a go at it. If you guess it, I’ll cook you lunch every day for the next month.”
“Even on the weekends?”
“And if I lose?”
“You have to go out to dinner with me twice a week.”
Ellie’s eyes lit up at the thought of a delicious, home-cooked meal seven days a week. Lord knows she needed it. And the price of losing wasn’t really a loss. She could easily afford two nice dinners a week and she’d get to spend more time with Grace. “I hardly think dinner twice a week is a consequence, but I’ll take that bet.” Ellie’s weird brain took over again and she stuck out her hand to seal the deal. She wanted to feel Grace’s touch again.
“Okay then,” Grace said shaking her hand. “Let’s hear it.” She crossed her arms defensively across her chest.
“Alright. I think you were born in that small town in Indiana. Maybe you went away for college, but you moved back home after you graduated until you found a job. Somewhere preferably not in your hometown. But you ran into a high school sweetheart at the supermarket and fell swiftly and madly in love.” She tried to study Grace’s face but couldn’t divine anything. Madly in love with who? Not wanting to assume too much, she continued, “You got a job in the area and dated him for a year or two before he broke things off. Small town means you probably see him and his family a lot or you’d have random people asking how you’re doing when you’d rather be left alone, so that’s why you left.” Ellie looked proud of herself until Grace chuckled.
“I’ll give you credit, Batman, you were close.” Ellie’s expression fell as she imagined small Tupperware containers with white wings flying off into the distance. “Yes, I was born in a small town in Indiana. Yes, I left for college. Yes, I didn’t plan on staying in Indiana after I graduated. Yes, I ran into my high school sweetheart and we dated for a year and a half before we broke up. And yes, to why I left.”
“But if that’s all true what did I get wrong? I don’t mess around with free food, ya know. That shit’s serious.” Being out of the office was allowing Ellie to loosen up.
Grace placed her plate on the coffee table, took a drink of water, and wiped her mouth on a napkin. She stared hard at Ellie as she said, “My childhood sweetheart wasn’t a guy, Ellie. It was a girl. I’m a lesbian.”
Ellie looked away to process what she was told, pushing her glasses up her nose. Okay, I’m not totally crazy then. There definitely was some sexual tension earlier. On her part. Not mine. But just because she’s gay doesn’t mean that she’s into every girl she sees, right?
While Ellie determined what Grace being a lesbian meant to their friendship, if anything at all, she moved her hair behind both ears and fiddled with the napkin. She was terrified of Ellie’s response. What if she didn’t want to be friends? How awkward would it be working in the same cubicle? And can I blame her for not wanting to be friends after that shit I pulled earlier in the breakroom? She’s probably so creeped out.
Ellie looked at Grace and said, “Damn, I really wanted those lunches. I guess dinner it is then. Like I said, I can’t complain either way.”
Grace looked incredibly relieved. “Thank you,” she whispered, placing her hand on Ellie’s knee. “The other part of the story that you left out,” she squeezed Ellie’s knee to rub in that she had lost the bet, “is that my town was pretty homophobic. I was closeted in high school so what I had with Jessica felt really special. I guess it was really special. Things ended amicably between us. We both realized that our love was centered around our bond as two closeted high school lesbians, not on anything substantial.
"It was still awkward when I’d run into her, and of course we continued to have sex from time to time but dealing with her family was much worse. They hated me. They’d only met me twice, and the first time I was introduced as her ‘friend.’ After she came out to them, they never viewed her the same way, and they blamed me for turning her gay.” Her eyes grew distant and sad as she recalled her difficult past.
“People in town were pretty bad about it too, to both of us. Occasionally someone would call us dykes, but the vibe was usually much subtler than that. Bad looks when you’re shopping, people not feeling comfortable sizing you for a bra. So, it was kind of a lot of things. Getting away from Jessica, from her family, from the homophobia. When this job offered to pay for my moving expenses, I couldn’t turn it down. The city’s just different. You walk down the street and see same-sex couples holding hands and no one pays attention to it. It’s just different. And I’m glad I’m here.” Grace wiped a tear that fell down her face. “God, look at me,” she laughed, wiping away the tear.
Before Ellie could think, she closed the short distance between them and wrapped her arms around Grace. “I would never judge you for being gay.” Her lips brushed Grace’s ear as she spoke. “I think you’re amazing and brave and strong and-” Grace turned her head towards Ellie, their faces only an inch apart. Their breath filled the space between them, timeless, serene.
“Ellie, I...” Grace was at a loss for words. How could she not be while she was staring into the baby blue eyes before her, shimmering with watery emotion? “I’m sorry,” she huffed out. “I shouldn’t have come onto you at work today. I understand if you don’t want to be friends. You don’t have to come to dinner with me,” she added softly. She sharply turned her head away and tried to pull out of Ellie’s embrace.
“Wait,” Ellie choked out, pulling her in closer. She could feel Grace’s heart pound into her chest, and she imagined Grace could feel the same. She pressed against Grace’s face, so their cheeks were flush. They were so close. Grace had never experienced this kind of intimacy before with a woman, and rarely with a man. Especially when compared to Chad. Everything with him felt so distant, like he was always holding something back.
But here, with Grace in her arms, Ellie felt a sense of wholeness. Not that Grace completed her, but that her vulnerability and compassion created a space for herself to be vulnerable and compassionate. And that space felt whole. “You have nothing to apologize for. Of course, I want to get dinner with you. I’d have to be crazy not to.” Their hearts continued to beat a hastened rhythm.
Ellie’s sympathetic words brought Grace to tears. “But I, but I. I came onto you, at work no less, when you’re straight and I didn’t even know you. That seems pretty shitty to me,” she sniffled.
“Did you think I was gay?” Her palm absent-mindedly stroked up and down Grace’s back.
“I couldn’t tell. I thought you might be. That’s why I tried to be so subtle. I thought that if you weren’t into me coming onto you, you just wouldn’t engage. I should’ve asked if you had a boyfriend or something,” she added burying her face in to Ellie’s shoulder.
“Well there you have it. You’re not a seductress, you’re a human trying to deduce someone’s sexual preferences from very little information. Straight people have it so easy. I see a guy and I know he’s probably straight just based on statistics, though bisexual people complicate that, I guess. Makes it harder to tell.” She was rambling out of discomfort. As safe as she felt in Grace’s presence, this was still an entirely new experience for her. “And to be fair I absolutely responded to your-” Ellie’s face grew warm. She finally said it. She was into it.
Terrified that Ellie might change her mind, Grace quickly jumped in: “I knew I wasn’t misreading you.” She adjusted herself so her mouth was touching Ellie’s ear. “You felt it too.”