(Excerpt from Everyday Love)
“So, spill it,” Heather demanded the next morning in Ella’s office. She waddled uncomfortably to the computer chair and fell into it breathless and rosy-cheeked, rubbing her baby belly of eight months.
“God, Heather! Are you sure the doctor got your delivery date right?” Ella laughed while Heather gave her the finger. “I think your belly grew two inches over night. Maybe there’s a second one in there?” Ella came around her desk with a box and placed it under Heather’s feet. Her ankles were swollen and pink.
“I know, I can barely fit into my fat-girl maternity clothes now.” Heather took in a deep breath and then swooshed air back out through her lips in Lamaze style. She leaned back and pulled the elastic band of her pants over the lower part of her swollen belly, trying to shift her weight so she was comfortable. “Now stop avoiding it. Tell me everything about the house and Mr. Delicious. John said you barely peeped a word when you got in this morning.”
Ella rolled her eyes at the lecture and returned to her work area across the desk from Heather. “Well, the house is irritatingly gorgeous,” she began with distraction in her voice. She pulled an Exacto knife from a drawer and began trimming a photograph. “It’s a huge place, and Joe was right. It’s a total disaster zone inside.”
Heather nodded, waiting for more. When Ella got lost in her photo arrangement, Heather whistled impatiently and flared the nostrils of her pointed nose while raising her eyebrows. Ella sighed at the scornful look that Heather had mastered so well. She smirked, silently feeling sorry for John and their unborn child.
“Um, let’s see,” Ella scratched her forehead and felt the bandage scrape on her skin. “I got cut by a nail in the kitchen and Joe said I should probably get a Tetanus shot.” She held her finger up high for Heather to look over and approve. Heather nodded. “And… I told Joe to finish the work before I sell the house.”
Heather’s eyes opened wide with surprise over the last tidbit of information, but she tried to remain calm. “And why the change of heart?” She picked up a ruler and inspected the numbers on each side.
Ella shrugged her shoulders and looked to her best friend with sad eyes. “I don’t know. I guess Joe’s got a point. It’ll sell for more if I finish it up first. And it’s not going to solve anything if I just try to ignore the place and the whole thing with my father.” Ella picked up a small needle and thread. She began hand stitching some swirls on a small piece of cardstock paper that she‘d later adhere to a layout.
“You do realize you’re sewing paper, right?” Heather asked.
Ella nodded, but didn’t take her eyes off the stitching.
“Normal people don’t sew paper.”
“Normal people don’t have best friends that badger them, either,” Ella shot back with a small grin.
Heather seemed to think this over for a moment, then continued. “So all these years of pretending it didn’t matter have caught up with you, huh?” She tipped her head sideways so she could see into Ella’s eyes.
A frown met Heather‘s gaze, but Ella nodded in agreement. “I really didn’t think it bothered me, but…” She shrugged her shoulders and continued to stitch.
They sat in silence for a moment, Ella pretending to be caught up in her work while Heather waited patiently for Ella to continue. She could see the confusion and frustration on her face, knew how difficult it was for Ella to think about her father.
“Heather, remember how my mom told me to forgive my dad in those last hours I was with her?”
Heather nodded, her eyes soft and supportive now.
“She also said it was her fault. It was her fault that dad left.” Ella sat quiet for a moment, willing the tears to stay away. “I never got to ask her what she meant.”
Heather wiggled her feet off the box and rolled herself from the chair. She stood beside Ella and wrapped strong arms around her shoulders, leaning her chin on the top of Ella’s head. “Whatever it was Ella, it was your mom’s deal, not yours. It wasn’t your fault that your dad left. It was his fault for never coming back to see you.”
Ella shifted in her chair. “What if he tried? What if my mom told him not to come back? I‘ve been angry at him all these years and maybe it wasn‘t all his fault.” She shook her head and felt a deep sadness hitting her chest. Her breathing became raspy as her throat tightened.
“Maybe I could use the house to get to know my father. I never got to know him while he was alive, but maybe I’ll find some answers now.” Her voice shook while she continued. “Or this could turn out to be a complete disaster. Maybe he was a horrible man and I‘ll wish I‘d never tried to figure out who he was. I’m terrified of what I’ll find out now, Heather. Maybe there are things I don’t want to know. Maybe I’m better off just leaving him in the past.” A tear swelled in Ella’s eye and she quickly wiped it away.
“Honey, you‘ll figure this out.” Heather patted Ella’s shoulder with one hand and stroked her hair with the other. Giving up on trying to remain calm, Ella wrapped her arms around Heather and let a few warm tears fall down her cheeks. A quiet sob escaped from her chest with all the fear and anger she felt. They rocked for a minute before Ella began laughing.
“Are you laughing at my big ass? I know you can‘t get your hands all the way back there.” Heather asked, pulling slightly away from Ella.
“No,” Ella hiccupped. “The baby just kicked me in the eye.” She sat back and rubbed her eye softly while laughing. “Are you sure it’s not a boy? It’s got a heck of a kick.” Ella put her hands to Heather’s belly and rubbed.
“Naw, she‘s going to take after me. I was a really good soccer player, remember?” Heather patted Ella’s shoulders and kissed the top of her head. She stood back and smiled wide and proud, but her eyes were still moist with concern for her friend. “You’re alright?” she asked.
“Yeah. It didn’t kick me that hard.”
Heather playfully slapped Ella and leaned against the desk for support. They were quiet for a moment while Ella began adhering paper and photos together.
“So what about Joe?” Heather asked suddenly. She looked shocked at herself for having forgotten about the juicy question.
“What about him?”
“He’s very yummy.”
“Would you stop calling him that?”
“Well he is! Even John thinks so.”
Ella frowned up at Heather. “Your husband checked Joe out?”
Heather threw her hands in the air. “Of course! I’ve got him on husband patrol for you. It’s our mission in life to find you a mate.”
“God, Heather!” Ella barked. “I’m not some Golden Retriever you have to find a mate for! You two make me sound so pathetic. I’ll find the right guy when I’m ready, thank you.”
“Well you‘re very picky, my friend. You toss out every nice guy that comes your way. At the rate you’re going, you’ll be fifty before you find the right one. How can you not be totally attracted to Joe?” Heather was opening Ella’s cupboard now to snoop for chocolate. She pulled the donuts out from yesterday and opened the box with bright eyes.
“Only one, young lady,” Ella warned. “And I never said I don’t find Joe attractive.”
Heather turned quickly to Ella with hopeful eyes, but Ella shook her head fiercely to control her friend’s excitement.
“I’m not interested in getting involved with the guy who’s working on my estranged – and may I remind you, now deceased – father’s house. It’s too complicated, and besides, it’s bad timing. I’m swamped with work and now I have to deal with two houses.” Ella raised a finger when Heather opened her mouth to protest, adding “And I have no time for romance.”
“Fine. So nothing happened?” Heather’s mouth was full of donut again, her words garbled.
“No, not really. No.” She glanced self consciously at Heather who gawked with a wicked grin and frosting spread over her lips.
“I said no! What?” Ella’s cheeks burned, so she quickly turned away from Heather and tried to get back to her work.
Shoving the donuts back in the cupboard, Heather slammed the door shut and leaned over Ella’s desk. “Every little detail, now! You don’t blush that easy for nothing,” she demanded.
Ella threw her hands up in surrender. “There’s nothing to tell! He was just very kind and he has nice strong hands and he fixed my boo boo…” she poked her sore finger into the air with an impish grin.
“And he’s really handsome,” Heather added.
“Really handsome,” Ella agreed.
“Great body.” Ella raised her eyebrows in approval but kept her green eyes on her work.
“Yes, he’s very nice.”
“Heather…” Ella rolled her eyes now and laughed.
“Yeah, you’re right. Not as great as John’s.” Heather’s face twitched with laughter.
Ella laughed in agreement. “I don’t think there’s another man as great as John out there. You got the best one, Heather.”
“Damn right, and he’s all mine. I’d do just about anything for you, my friend, but I’m not sharing him. But you know, there’s a great guy out there for you too, and I’m just trying to help you find him.” Heather crossed her arms over her belly and rested them as she would on a table.
“Don’t you have some pictures you have to go take?” Ella asked.
Glancing at her watch, Heather winked. “Not for ten more minutes. Any more details? You don‘t have to tell me everything, just the good bits.”
Ella shook her head and waved her hands as if to shoo Heather from the room. “Joe and I are nothing more than business associates, and it’s going to stay that way. Now get. I have too much work to do and not enough time as it is.”
Heather scooted from the room with an evil grin, closing the door quietly behind her.