Flash Fiction: Ellie & Peter

(Ellie & Peter’s story originally appeared as a serial flash fiction on CharlieGsOutfitRatings Instagram from 2/1/21/21 to 2/5/21 under “Book Vibes.” It has been modified for this blog post.)

Photo credit Mauricio Livio

Ellie couldn’t believe she got stood up again. That was the third time out of five dates. Honestly, that was it. She could take a hint from the universe.

He had looked so good on paper, but if a guy couldn’t even text when he had to bail, forget that. She had checked his social media to make sure it wasn’t an emergency. Unless one counted beer pong during the game an emergency, it was clear based on the post fifteen minutes ago that he forgot.

She texted him. “Pro-tip: Don’t schedule a date during a game. Delete my number.” Then she blocked him. In her mid 30s, she was too old and too wise to put up with someone who disrespected her time.

Her phone vibrated and she smiled when she saw her friend Peter’s name.

 

Peter: How’s the date?

Ellie: 👎🏻

Ellie: stood up. Gonna order the veggie lasagna and eat my feelings

Peter: order 2. be there in 15

Peter: don’t argue

***

Peter couldn’t believe El got stood up again. Why were guys such dicks? He’d never stood up a woman in his life.

Well at least he’d get to have lunch with Ellie. With their work schedules, they didn’t see each other enough. Especially now that they weren’t living in the same apartment complex, which admittedly was his fault. He’d moved in with his girlfriend across town, a decision they instantly both regretted.

Now, he’d need to move again for the second time in six months. They hadn’t made the official announcement that they were breaking up, but he slept on couch and they barely said more to each other than generic pleasantries.

His soon-to-be-ex hadn’t bothered to say happy birthday to him yesterday either.

He shoved down the resentment and pasted on a smile as he walked in the restaurant. It became real when Ellie saw him and jumped to her feet to give him a hug. As she wrapped her arms around his neck, his chest warmed. “Missed you,” he admitted when she released him.

Her eyes were bright as she sat back down. “Same.” She gestured to the basket of bread on the table. “How was your birthday? Tell me everything.”

***

Ellie had to concentrate on unclenching her napkin in her fist. She understood couples didn’t always work out, but how could anyone treat a guy as nice as Peter like some random stranger? “When do you move?”

Her friend stared at his lasagna for a long moment, then speared a carrot and stared at it like it had all the answers. “As soon as I find a roommate who I can tolerate, within my price range. My dumbass agreed to pay for half the rent at the new place until she can find a new roommate.”

Ellie bit the inside of her cheeks to keep from saying what she really wanted to say. “You’re too nice,” she managed.

He shrugged. “Yeah. Well. Lesson learned. Don’t move in with a woman if you’re not sure she’s the one.”

“You didn’t think she was the one?”

He shrugged again. “I didn’t think she wasn’t, but there was just something holding me back.”

Ellie nodded and sighed, then leaned back in her chair. “Listen, I know I’m not the one, but I do have a spare bedroom. You can crash with me until she-who-shall-not-be-named finds a new roommate and then you can find a place you like on your own terms.”

Peter set down his fork and searched her face. She laughed and shifted in her seat. “Why are you looking at me like that?”

He smiled so wide, she had sympathy cheek pain. “Because you’re the best friend in the world.”

***

The sense of dread that kept Peter awake the week before he moved last time was missing when he arrived at Ellie’s with a car full of boxes. He had sold his big furniture when he’d moved and was really glad Ellie had splurged on a real bed for her guest room, as opposed to a futon. His back definitely couldn’t wait forever an actual mattress. Getting old was sometimes shit.

She met him outside with a huge smile, her hair tucked back behind a thick headband, and her face clear of makeup. She clapped her hands together. “Let’s move! We can have you unpacked by dinner.”

He blinked at her. “It took me a week last time.”

She put her hands on her hips. “Do I look like the kind of person who’s going to let cardboard boxes sit around for a week? This isn’t some random hotel, this is your new home.”

Peter smiled at the word “home.” He put his hands up in defense. “Then let’s get unpacking.”

***

Ellie kept them on track, not letting him screw around which was really the best. He hated unpacking and Ellie knew if she gave an inch, he’d take eight miles. When they finally collapsed on the couch at dinner time, with takeout surrounding them, they were completely done.

“See? Doesn’t that feel good?” She prompted.

He smiled and nodded. “Yes. You were right.” He helped clean up dinner, then grabbed his guitar and sat on the bay window’s ledge. “Do you mind if I sing to the plants?”

Ellie laughed. “Be my guest.”

As he played, all the tension left his body. Why was he always surprised how much he loved Ellie’s place—well, their place now? His fingers moved easily over the guitar strings and he closed his eyes. He hadn’t realized how wrong everything had been until this moment, when everything became right. He was going to love it here.

***

Ellie wasn’t sure what she expected when she got home from work on Monday, but it definitely wasn’t what she found. After all, she had never lived with a guy, and her last roommate was a flight attendant and had a very weird sleeping schedule, whenever she made it home at all.

Peter was in a tank top and sweatpants, dancing around to Lizzo, and singing into a large wooden spoon he was cooking with in the kitchen. The smell of garlic and tomatoes alone was enough to make her drool, but she always forgot how ridiculously nice his arms were.

She leaned against the doorway and watched, the smile on her face burning away the crap parts of her day.

When he spotted her, he didn’t stop or look embarrassed, he just shimmied over to her, held out the spoon, and waited for her to sing along. When she didn’t immediately comply, he put one hand on his hip. “Sing, or you don’t get my famous pasta sauce.”

Her eyes widened. She loved his pasta sauce. “Okay, okay!” Despite not being a good singer by any stretch of the imagination, she belted the lyrics into the spoon he was holding.

Sure, she could have taken it from his hand, but she didn’t. And he didn’t move away.

When the song was done, he spun on his heel and went back to the stove. “Go get in your sweats. The new season of baking show is out and we have a date with your tv. Dinner’s in fifteen.”

Her mouth feel open. “I didn’t expect…I mean, you didn’t have to…” but she couldn’t find the words.

He looked over his shoulder at her, and she couldn’t stop herself from glancing at how very nice that shoulder was.

“Ellie, only one of us likes to cook and it’s not you. If I’m making enough for one, why wouldn’t I make enough for two?”

He had a point. “Okay, then. Thank you.” She shook her head. “Your ex was an idiot.”

“Should’ve known it wouldn’t work out when she wouldn’t sing into the spoon.” He smiled and winked at her.

Ellie laughed and then walked into her bedroom, but not before she paused and looked back at him dancing around the kitchen.

***

Peter’s ears were still ringing as tugged his bow tie loose and trudged into the apartment. Who knew that Jonathan Lenowitz’s bat mitzvah would turn out to be even wilder than the singles night he and his band played last weekend? Seriously, if he could bottle an ounce of energy from pre-teens, he’d be the richest man alive.

All he wanted to do was collapse, but he knew he needed to hydrate, eat some thing, and take an ibuprofen or he’d regret life tomorrow.

He set his guitar down then took a step back in shock when a sleepy-eyed Ellie rose from the couch with a soft smile. “Hey you. Good gig?”

He didn’t examine the warmth that spread across his chest. He promptly chose to ignore it. He slid over to the couch and collapsed beside her. “I forget that I’m old until I’m around pre-teens. So tired.”

She laughed. “I know, right?” She pushed herself off the couch, then covered him on the blanket she was using. He wasn’t cold, but it was still warm from her skin and he wanted to keep it close.

He watched her walk to the kitchen and shut his eyes, just to rest them. She nudged him awake a few moments later, handed him a waffle covered in maple cream and strawberries, then set a glass of water and two pain relievers on the coffee table.

“Eat. Then shower. You smell like gym class.”

He stuck his tongue out at her.

***

Having only one bathroom was always going to create tension, especially because it had been years since Ellie had to worry about things like locking the door or making sure no one else was in the bathroom.

Her nine to five in Human Resources was opposite of Peter’s work. As a freelance writer for music magazines and a session guitarist/back up vocalist for local studios, his day was fluid. Especially if he had an evening gig with his cover band.

Her worries that Peter wouldn’t give her enough space to decompress were unfounded; he was busy doing his own thing.

“Hello, Peter?” She called. No answer. She heard him practicing a song in his room but decided to let him be. She wasn’t up for discussing her day yet. She had left work an hour early with headache pounding behind her eyes. She hated firing people and hated it even more when they begged her to reconsider. But compromising an entire project’s security by making a public social media post was non-negotiable. She wished people would remember that the internet was forever.

While sipping on a glass of wine, she stripped out of her perfectly tailored suit and into her robe, then shuffled to the bathroom.

She set her glass down on the counter, stripped off her robe, then spun to the bathtub to turn on the water. And screamed.

Peter was in the bathtub, fully clothed, holding a guitar, and staring at her wide eyed.

And she was naked. Very, very naked.

***

Peter forgot how loud a woman could scream until one did. The scream being Ellie’s as she stood in front of him wearing nothing. He had slapped his hand over his eyes and scrambled to stand. Of course, then his elbow hit the shower handle and cold water sprayed down on him and his guitar. This caused him to scream, stumble out into Ellie, and then they both fell to the ground.

Him soaking wet and her still naked.

He pulled his pillow over his face and groaned. He had to fix this. This would be a funny story someday, but it was too raw and they were too much in each other’s orbit to benefit from space and time. And he absolutely needed to stop thinking about how absolutely amazing she looked nak—NOPE. Peter groaned again. He needed to compartmentalize every image and sound and touch that happened in the bathroom and set the memory on fire.

Because seeing your best friend and roommate naked accidentally was one thing. Remembering it on purpose was another. He had already learned the hard way that being in a relationship with someone you lived with wasn’t a good idea. Wait, relationship? Did he honestly think just because…that happened…that him and Ellie were going to date?

Okay, that was it. He needed out of the apartment today. He grabbed his second—and dry—guitar, then paused at the door to listen. He didn’t hear her.

He peered out. Her bedroom door was closed. Whew. He bolted through the kitchen, grabbed an apple and a granola bar, then ran out the door. He didn’t dare inhale a full breath until he was safely at the park across the street, hidden by trees.

He sat in the shade and fumbled with his guitar, then went back practicing Love Story by Taylor Swift, a request for a wedding later this week. The acoustics were so much better in her shower—honestly, showers and stairwells had the best natural reverb—but at least out here he had sunshine. Maybe it would scrub the image of his best friend from his brain. He smart, funny, caring, beautiful, sexy as hell best friend.

***

Ellie paced furiously around her room, pressing the heels of her hands over her eyes. So what if Peter saw her naked? It was fine. Everyone has bodies and nudity was natural.

He had held her hair back when she puked on her twenty-first birthday. This was far less embarrassing. They just needed to talk about it, get it out of the way. And she just needed to stop remembering how the weight on him on top of—NOPE. NOT GOING THERE.

She shook her head to clear it. Well, there was only one thing to do. And the moment he came back home, they were going to deal with it as adults.

Her legs were aching from pacing by the time she heard the front door open.

She double checked that her sweats were secure and then stormed into the hall. “We need to deal with this!” she demanded.

He froze in the doorway, keys suspended above the dish next to the door. “El, I’m so sorry.”

She held up her hand. “Close the door.”

He kicked the door closed while he put down his keys and guitar case. “What can—“

“You saw me…” she gestured to herself.

He nodded, the top of his ears turning pink.

She crossed her arms and nodded. “I’ll just have to see you naked to make it even.”

He blinked at her. Then he threw his head back and laughed. And just like that, the tension was gone. “I cannot believe you just used my pick up line from college.”

Ellie clapped. “I can’t believe that actually worked on people.” She ran her hand over her face. “Ugh, also lock the door when you’re using the bathtub as a stage next time, huh?”

He pressed his hand to his heart. “Promise.”

She groaned as her cheeks heated. “I’m going to be embarrassed about this for like three days. Then I’ll be fine.”

He walked up to her and placed his hands on her shoulders. “Ellie, you are beautiful inside and out. It was an honor.” He leaned forward and kissed her forehead. “Now stop being weird, let’s order pizza, and I’ll let you kick my ass in Mario Cart.”

She shoved him off and put her hands on her hip. “EXCUSE YOU, SIR. I don’t need you to let me beat you. I’ll kick your ass even when you’re trying so hard you’re praying.”

“Bring it.”

She smiled as she opened the app to order pizza. “Oh hey, how’s your guitar?”

He brushed past her on the way to his room. “Only got a few drops on her, but she needs a retune after the fall.”

Her stomach flipped at the memory of him falling on her. She let out a long breath. Nope. She wasn’t going to think about it.

She was just going to order pizza. Riiight.

***

It was easier to pretend that everything hadn’t changed when her head wasn’t in his lap. She had fallen asleep during their post-Mario Cart movie, a throw pillow between her head and his legs. Every time she shifted, her soft scent of sunshine and shampoo wafted straight to his nose.

His stomach tensed as she released a small breath.

Somehow, everything HAD changed, little by little, since the day he moved in a month ago. Now, he was drowning.

He picked up his phone, not caring that it was after midnight. He opened a text message and clicked on his ex’s name.

Peter: I can’t keep paying half the rent on somewhere I don’t live. I need the money. I’ll pay half of the fee to break the lease

Her: Give me until the end of the month. If I don’t find a roommate, we can break it

He nearly smiled, but he didn’t feel triumphant. He looked down and held his breath as he brushed Ellie’s hair away from her face. Sparks shot up his hand and he made a fist to try and keep them in his palm, then pulled away.

If he was going to try and win her, he needed to move out. He couldn’t go through what happened last time again. He bit his lip and looked around.

But how could he leave this place? It was home. His happy place. Somewhere he was loved and appreciated.

Ellie shifted, her bottom lip jutting out as she made a face at her dream and everything inside him went weightless for a moment. His entire being wanted to kissing her.

He opened the realtor site on this phone.

***

Ellie sat on Peter’s bed as he folded his closet into a series of cardboard boxes. “I can’t believe you’re leaving already.”

He looked over his shoulder at her and smiled. “I’m moving across the street. You’ll see me all the time.”

“It’s not the same.”

He dropped a pair of jeans into the box and sighed. “I know.”

She chewed on her thumb nail for a moment, staring at the pile of clothes. “Do you really want to leave?”

He shook his head. “I need to leave. We can’t play house forever.”

Why did that answer hurt so bad? “It’s because of the naked thing isn’t it?”

He scrubbed his hand on the back of his neck. “Ellie, I—“ his cell rang. He leaned over to check the caller ID and made a face.

Ellie, insatiably curious, glanced at the screen. It was his ex. Her stomach twisted.

“I need to take this,” he admitted.

Ellie scooted off the bed. “Yeah. Okay.” She left room to give him space, closing the door behind her. Her face was hot, her eyes stinging. Why did this feel like rejection when there had been no invitation? Why did it feel like a breakup even though they weren’t together?

Why was Peter moving out like a knife between the ribs?

She fell face down on her bed and closed her eyes, hoping a quick nap would fix whatever was breaking inside her chest.

***

She woke to the sound of Peter’s guitar. The knife between the ribs was back at the realization that in two days, she wouldn’t hear the music from his room anymore. She shoved herself up and skated across the floor to his door. It was cracked opened.

She waited until he saw her and he nodded before pushing through. He was sitting on his bed, reading the tabs off his phone. She sat down on the bed across from him as he played. This had become one of her absolute favorite pastimes over the last several weeks.

His gaze held hers as he coaxed a ballad from his strings. Her heart thudded against her her ribs. The music, his hazel eyes, the soft smell of his cologne all wrapped around her heart and tugged. She leaned forward, the space between them more electric than the moment before a lightning strike.

She needed to kiss him like she needed her next breath.

She didn’t think. She just leaned in and pressed her lips to his.

He leaned back, then stood from the bed, using his guitar as a shield between them. “El…”

***

Oh my god what was he doing? Ellie just KISSED HIM and he was standing here, wielding a guitar between them like he hadn’t been dreaming about her mouth for hours, days, weeks. So what was stopping him?

Oh, right.

He was scared. Terrified they’d screw this up and he would lose her. “El, I just need to think. Don’t freak.”

But it was too late. She bolted from the room and slammed her door, the lock louder than his ragged breathing.

He sat on the edge of his bed and scrubbed his face with his hands.

First things first, he had to make a plan.

What if he stayed? What if he didn’t? What if he walked away from her and all the feelings they felt were just proximity? What if it was more than that?

His heart thudded in his chest and he eyed her closed door. What if she was the one?

He picked up his guitar and got to work.

***

Ellie officially figured out what was more embarrassing that Peter seeing her naked. Surprise kissing him and having him jump away from her? Much worse.

Also she needed to apologize. Kissing him without his consent was utterly horrifying. That she needed to do immediately.

She stood at her door and shook out her hands. “Be an adult,” she told herself. “You literally keep a company running.”

She opened her door, then slinked to Peter’s. She knocked so lightly, she wasn’t sure he heard it at first. The music on the other side paused.

“I…” she cleared her throat. “I wanted to say I’m sorry for kissing you without permission.”

She heard him set down the guitar and walk to the door. It didn’t open. He seemed to instinctively know she needed the barrier between them. “It’s okay. I was just surprised.”

“Okay. Thanks.” She turned around, heat climbing from her chest to her face.”

“Wait, El.”

She stopped.

He cracked open the door. “I got scared. About ruining what we have.”

She pressed her fingers to her lips, trying to hold onto the memory of how they felt against his. She dropped her hand and cleared her throat. “I wouldn’t want to ruin it either.” She took another step, then looked over her shoulder. “Stay,” she begged. “Please?”

***

Peter would never forget the way she said please. As if her heart was breaking. He leaned his head against the door jam and sucked in a shaky breath. “Ellie, if I stay, we need to set some ground rules. We can’t go on like we have been.”

She turned her entire body to face him, her shoulders tense and practically touching her ears. “Okay.” Her response was barely above a whisper.

“First, I’m cooking because I’m tired of lying about yours.”

She grimaced but nodded. “That’s fair. What else?”

He opened the door wider. “Second, I think sometime soon, we will need to discuss our sleeping situation.”

She frowned. “What do you mean?”

“Third, when I said I wouldn’t live with a woman again unless she was the one, I meant it. So you’re just gonna have to come to terms with that.”

She blinked at him and he smiled. His heart was in his throat as he walked backwards and picked up his guitar.

“Fourth,” he continued, “you have to listen to this song I wrote you.”

Her eyes were as wide as her mouth was open, but she sat on the corner of his bed and he played the first chord.

***

Ellie couldn’t quite wrap her head around what was happening. She was sitting on Peter’s bed and he was playing his guitar. Just like they’d been when she’d kissed him. Just like they’d been when he pulled away.

But what was he saying? About sleep? And the one? The day had been too long for her to decipher whatever he was saying without it being spelled out for her in lights.

He started singing. Her body stilled.

“You’re the one I wanna keep

You make my poor heart leap

I want to hold you in my arms as we fall fast asleep…”

Her head swam. He…he was signing…she pressed her hands to her flaming cheeks but couldn’t look away.

“You’re the one for me

Be mine, pretty please?”

He stopped playing and set the guitar down behind him, then pulled her hands away from her face. “Ellie Rose Garrison, I am head over heels in love with you. And if you want me to stay, then I’ll stay. But only if you’re crazy about me too, because if I can’t kiss you every day, I may go insane.”

Her chest burst from the inside, her heart climbing up her throat trying to get to his. “Peter?”

“Yeah?” His hands tightened around hers.

“You better start kissing me now then.”

He let go of her hands, cradled the back of her head, and brought his lips to hers.

[supsystic-social-sharing id="1"]
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments