The tears were pouring down my cheeks as I raced down the stairs, trying to hold in the gusty sobs that were ready to blow.
“Ellie, please!” Adam was suddenly in the stairwell, his footsteps pounding hard behind me.
I ran faster, ignoring his shouts for me to come back and talk to him.
By the time he made it out of the building I was already racing across the street toward a bus that was about to pull off. I got on it and the doors closed behind me. I sagged in relief and glanced absentmindedly at the route number.
I didn’t care where it was going as long as it took me far, far away from the biggest mistake I’d ever made.
*** There had been a few times in my teen years I’d cried myself to sleep. A couple of those times had even been over Adam. But when I was a teenager, like most teenagers, anything remotely negative seemed like the complete and total end of the world. Thankfully that flair for the drama usually disappears as you enter adulthood. It did for me anyway. So when I say I sobbed myself to sleep that night, it was without a sense of faux melodrama. The pain inside of me was real. It was genuine. It was raw.
For a good eight hours I believed that not only had I been given 100% proof positive that Adam Sutherland didn’t love me the way that I loved him, I also believed that I’d ruined us and destroyed one of my favorite things in the whole world —my friendship with him.
I barely slept and woke up early to make myself tea, sitting in my big flat alone and puffy- faced wearing mismatched socks on my feet and a broken crocodile clip in my hair.
A pounding on the front door made me jump and sent hot tea over the rim of my mug and splashing onto my skin. I bit back a curse and placed the mug carefully on the table, scurrying out of the room and into the darkened hall.
“Ellie, open up!” Adam shouted through the thick wood. “Ellie!”
I wanted to talk to him. I wanted to somehow fix things and rewind the clock, but I knew if I let him inside the flat he’d take one look at my face and realize that I, Ellie Nichols Carmichael, was completely and utterly in love with him and that last night had devastated me.
So I didn’t open the door. I leaned against the wall in my hallway and slid down until I was sitting on the cold hardwood floor. I listened as Adam pounded my door and called my name. I listened as my phone rang in my bedroom. I listened as Adam left a message on it. I listened as he walked away… When I woke up I was curled up on the cold floor. I blinked, trying to get my bearings and as I did, everything came flooding back. I didn’t have time to dwell on it, however, because I realized what had woken me up was my phone ringing. I got to my feet with a groan, my back and neck hurting from my awkward sleeping position, and I ran into my room to pick it up. According to the clock on my phone I’d been asleep for just over two hours.
My stomach flipped at the sight of the picture of Adam on my phone. I sucked in a deep breath and answered it.
“Ellie, thank fuck,” he breathed in relief and I could just imagine him tugging at his hair in anxiety. “I came by earlier.”
“I was sleeping. I had more wine last night so I was kind of dead to the world,” I lied.
“Els, I don’t even know where to start. I’m so sorry. God, I’m so sorry.”
“I can’t lose you, Els. I can’t believe I fucked up like this but you have to forgive me. I can’t lose you.”
When he said stuff like that it made it hard to hate him. Worse it made it harder to get over him. But I knew from now on that I really needed to try. And not just say that I was going to try. I had to try. I couldn’t live my life pining after him. So I made my decision to do just that. “Adam, it’s okay,” I promised him softly. “It was a mistake. We got carried away in the moment. And I’m sorry for running out on you. I was just embarrassed, that’s all.”
I heard his heartfelt sigh of relief and attempted to force the sting of tears out of my nose.
“Els, you’ve nothing to be embarrassed about, okay.”
“So…” his voice grew even quieter. “We’re good. We’re still us?”
“We’re still us,” I managed, blinking back tears.
“I don’t want there to be any awkwardness between us.”
“There won’t be. I won’t let there be if you won’t.”
“Good, Sweetheart. Good. We’ll just forget this. It didn’t mean anything.”
I choked back the pain. “Right. It didn’t mean anything.”
“It’s like a car crash,” Adam sighed, scrubbing a hand over his face as he handed me back the diary. “It’s painful reading this from your perspective but I can’t look away.” He pointed to another diary. “I want to know more.”
Not liking the strain etched into his features I shook my head. “Adam, we’re past all this. I didn’t mean for this to be painful. I just thought… well now that I have you I can take a step back and look at the pieces of our history without it hurting. And you know me.” I shrugged.
“The angst of it all seems romantic.” Then I frowned. “But you’re obviously not taking it that way so I’m going to put these away.”
He clamped a large hand down on mine as I moved to lift the diaries. I glanced up at him and he shook his head with a small smile. “It’s painful to read how my stupidity hurt you at the time, but I like being inside your head. I like knowing that while I was struggling with the fact that I had fallen in love with my best friend’s little sister, she loved me back more than I could ever hope to deserve.”
I grinned at him. “One: you deserve it. And two,” I gestured to the diaries, to the story of us, “It is totally romantic, right?”
Adam laughed, shaking his head at my single-minded determination to turn us into a romance novel. “Maybe. But don’t tell anyone I said so. It’ll ruin my reputation.”
I pushed through the diaries looking for the familiar purple leather of the last one. “Baby, you ruined that reputation when you told Braden Carmichael you were in love with me.”
“Cocky bastard knew all along,” Adam muttered unhappily. “Could have saved us a couple of months of worry.”
“You mean,” I found the diary and paged through it, “A couple of months of you being a mercurial pain in my arse.”
“Such a nice way to put it. But let’s not forget I wasn’t the only pain in the arse.”
“All I did was start dating again, and it took me ten months to do it after our little couch scene. You got off easy.” I thrust the diary at him and he took it with a scowl.
“I was staking my claim.”
“No, you were peeing all around your territory without actually staking a claim.”
He chuckled and bent his head over the latest page without responding… because he knew I was bloody right.
Sunday, August 13th I haven’t had time to write anything down for a few days, partly because of studies and partly because my seething anger has been taking up quite a lot of my time. You see, it all started on Friday afternoon when a casual conversation with Nicholas ended in me wanting to strangle Adam… As Joss and I walked toward The Meadows where we were meeting Braden, Adam, Jenna and Ed for a picnic, I considered telling her what I’d discovered about Adam yesterday while I was having coffee with my fellow student and friend, Nicholas. I didn’t get the chance to tell her yesterday because she’d been working at Club 39. I knew Joss would be pissed off for me and I needed that fire, I needed motivation to put Adam at an arm’s length and see how he liked it.
It had taken me and Adam a few months to get past the awkwardness of almost having sex, and even then things weren’t the same. If I thought about it, things hadn’t been the same for a while. I think maybe since the lip brush incident when I was nineteen.
Anyway, I knew obviously that Adam had slept with other girls since he’d had me on his couch and it hurt worse than I could ever explain. The whole incident made it difficult for me to move on and I hadn’t. I hadn’t been on a single date in ten months.
That was all about to change, however. After making a crack to Nicholas about my dry spell he’d told me maybe I’d have better luck getting a date if my friend Adam would stop going around intimidating men out of asking. Surprised and to say the least, confused, by this comment I’d asked him to elaborate only to discover that Nicholas had wanted to ask me out months ago. Knowing how close I was to Braden and Adam, but feeling Adam the safer choice, he’d called Adam and asked him for advice on where to take me out. Adam’s response had been, “Stay away from Ellie or I’ll break your face.”
What the hell was that?
I couldn’t even begin to process how not cool that was. He was warning perfectly nice guys away from me? So he was allowed to manwhore his way through Edinburgh but I wasn’t allowed to go on a single date? I didn’t think so.
I wanted to tell Joss all that. Despite being incredibly secretive about her past, Joss had proven herself straightforward. I needed her to tell me if it was okay or not to play a little dirty with Adam. Honestly, I was just so tired of being the nice girl that he could just walk all over, knowing I’d still love him in the end. His actions had proven that he could be possessive of me, which meant he thought of me as “his” in some small way. Well, I wanted to show him that I wasn’t his. I wouldn’t ever be his unless he decided he wanted more than a one night stand.
All this I wanted to confide in Joss that sunny Saturday as we strolled to The Meadows but Joss was distracted by something so I decided it wasn’t a good time. I was curious whether Joss’s distraction had something to do with Braden. She’d been acting strangely around him, strangely enough for even me to notice during the aftermath of one of my headaches. We’d been book shopping with Hannah when it happened. The headache hit me out of the blue like it had been doing for the last couple of months. It was horrible and usually accompanied by tingling and numbness in my arm. When it passed I was exhausted. In fact, lately my energy levels hadn’t been great. I kept meaning to go to the doctor but every time I got this ominous churning in my gut, and I put it off, promising myself I’d make an appointment the next day.