Flash Fiction: Rena and Ethan

(Rena and Ethan’s story originally appeared as flash fiction on Heather’s Nicotine Dolls fan page, OfficialNicotinesDolls. It has been modified for this blog post.)

Based on this Nicotine Dolls original song

Rena’s plans went from “getting a drink with her sister and listening to live music” to a “cataclysmic trip down memory lane” the moment she looked at the stage. She didn’t believe in fate, but even she found it ironic that the shirt she’d pulled from the back of her drawer to wear was the threadbare Thunderstorms at Daybreak tour tee. 

The tee she’d been wearing when the lead singer—and her former best friend—had told her he loved her the night before her wedding. The wedding she’d canceled two hours later, then cut ties with everyone associated with her ex, the drummer.

“Ah, Rena, you okay?” her sister asked, waving her hand in front of her face.

Rena shook her head, not moving her eyes away from the man who had just walked on stage and sat on a stool. The ice in her drink rattled as her hand shook, the glass frozen halfway to her mouth.

Her sister, Kat, turned around, gasped, then looked back at Rena. “Holy shit. Do you want to leave?”

Rena shook her head no once, despite knowing she should leave and never look back. This was the man who destroyed her future with one kiss. The kiss she thought about every night for past eighteen months.

Ethan was here. In front of her. Only six tables away.

She’d known it wasn’t just cold feet, but her wedding dress had been perfect and the venue was where the last three generations of her family had gotten married. The cake was the best thing she’d ever tasted. And her ex, Danny, was a good guy. Surely she could make it work. She’d be an idiot not to try.

But when Ethan had shown up at her apartment looking pale and disheveled, and admitted he didn’t know how to watch her marry someone else, she didn’t try to calm him down or tell him they’d figure it out. She didn’t offer encouragement or advice. Instead, she’d left all rational thought, her plan for her future, and her perfect-on-paper relationship behind and pressed her lips to his.

He hadn’t pushed her away or apologized profusely, but instead wrapped his arms around her and pressed her back against the wall, a moan escaping from his throat. He kissed her like she was air, necessary and irreplaceable. 

Danny’s kisses had been sweet and tender, affectionate and playful. Ethan’s threatened to tear her apart at the seams, her heart pounding so hard that she swore it cracked her ribs. It would’ve explained the aching in her chest. Her skin grew so hot, she was melting from the inside out. Everywhere his hands moved, she felt branded.

A door had slammed down the hall and he’d jumped back. With a whispered “I’m sorry” he’d turned and left. She’d stood in that hall for half an hour, fingers pressed against her lips as if trying to simultaneously keep and erase the memory of his mouth.

She’d canceled the wedding that night, knowing the illusion that she was happy with Danny was forever gone. She had been embarrassed and guilt-ridden because she’d grieved more over the loss of Ethan and her perfect wedding than about Danny’s absence. 

The strum of a guitar pulled Rena back to the present, and she studied the man on stage. His hair was longer, his shoulders broader, but he still closed his eyes when he started playing, tilted his head a little to the left before the lyrics came.

She’d missed him, the random songs they’d make up about bad pizza or wild headlines, the way he’d always ask her opinion on a new riff, or when they’d exchange his notebook filled with lyrics, so she could write her thoughts in the margins. He had always treated her as an integral part of the band, and his life, and she missed being someone special to him. Her entire body felt hallow at the realization that she was just a stranger to him now.

Kat reached over and yanked the glass out of Rena’s hand and set it on the table. “You look like you’re going to pass out. Breathe.”

Rena couldn’t. Not when Ethan’s voice melted through the speakers. 

“Haven’t been kissed in awhile…”

The words hit Rena square in the chest, knocking her back a few inches.

“Haven’t pulled away smiling just to do it again…”

Oxygen. She needed oxygen. All the air had disappeared from the entire bar.

“Run my hands like for miles…”

Her body burned at the memory of how his palms felt under the hem of the shirt as they had skated across her stomach and back.

She wasn’t going to survive this song. A local headline tomorrow would read “Woman Suffocated By Memories At Local Bar” and they’d add an embarrassing photo of her from when she’d tried—and failed—at bangs.

“Up your legs to the place we know it all ends…”

Her cheeks burned as she jolted out of her chair, unable to stay seated, but unable to walk away. Maybe it was her sudden movement, maybe he felt the weight of her as she felt him, but his haunted eyes opened and met hers. He didn’t miss note, didn’t mangle a word, but the tops of cheeks and ears reddened. 

She sucked in a sharp breath, her oxygen-starved lungs desperate for relief. She gripped the edge of the table as he continued singing. He finished the song, played another, even talked with the audience, but his eyes always found hers. It was as if every lyric, every note, was played just for her. 

After the third song, Kat pushed her down into her chair. Rena’s body ached from pressing her arms to her sides, trying to keep herself from flying apart, but she didn’t move—couldn’t move—until he’d set his guitar back in his case and called a thank you to the crowd. 

Then, in the blink of an eye, he was next to her table. He still smelled the same, like cedar on a crisp winter day. She inhaled deeply, her stomach fluttering as his familiarity slammed into her. 

“Rena.” The way his smokey voice said her name held paragraphs, pages of unsaid words.

“Ethan,” she whispered back. 

After a long moment of silence, Kat cleared her throat. “Ethan, good to see you again. You doing solo shows?”

Kat’s words broke the trance and Ethan nodded. Kat swiped a chair from a nearby table and he sat stiffly, eyes darting to Rena every few seconds, as if checking to see she was still there. “Band’s on hiatus and I wanted to start touring again with my own music.”

As they chatted, easing into the surprise reunion, people stopped by the table to chat with Ethan. He was always friendly and welcoming, but Rena noticed his shoulders were getting a little higher every time, the tension building. When Kat stood to leave, Rena didn’t think twice. “Want to come back to my place?”

Ethan looked relieved. “I’ll follow you.”

She drove home in silence, his headlights in her rearview mirror somehow comforting. When they reached her front door, the air was thick with memories. She heard his breath hitch and knew he felt it, too.

Just like he had when he’d come over a hundred times before, he followed her inside, then kicked off his shoes and set them next to hers. She dropped her keys in a bowl and they walked into the kitchen. He grabbed her electric kettle and filled it with water, then set it to heat while she grabbed his preferred tea bag and dropped it into his favorite mug. 

She pressed her lips together and swallowed, her throat tight from how easy they fell back into their routine. She wanted this every day. With him. But she’d already lost him once. She didn’t think she could survive losing him a second time.

She shook her head and focused on pouring water into her own mug. She didn’t even know if he was single, or if he still lived in the area. She kept her head down as she said, “It’s nice to see you.”

“I’ve missed you,” he admitted. She heard his footsteps behind her and then he was only a breath away. He took the kettle out of her hand and set it down, then did the same with her mug.

“I’ve missed you every day,” she managed, the words slicing across her tongue. They were risky, but it would hurt more to keep them inside.

He put his hands on her shoulders and gently turned her around. Her eyes closed at the warmth of his hands, and her knees nearly buckled. She’d been out on a few dates since her break up, but no one else could make her legs feel like jello at a simple touch. 

“Are you seeing anyone?” She shook her head no. “Me neither.” 

His hands went up the side of her neck, one hand cradling her cheek and the other tracing the edge of her jaw. A small sound escaped from her throat. He rested his forehead against hers. 

Her entire body wound tight, as if her skeleton was now a spring. She worried she’d burst from her skin. “How do you feel like this?” she wondered, her hands reaching up and stroking his face, the curve of his lips, and around the back of his neck. 

He laughed, all breath. “I thought I had misremembered how being close to you made me feel. I told myself for a year and a half that it would fade, that our friendship had ran its course.”

Her nose bumped his, their lips so close she could feel his breathe. The space between them was charged with a hundred thunderstorms. “And now?”

“I think friendship is out of the question,” he admitted. She jolted back into the counter, her elbow nearly sending her tea to the floor. He reached out and grabbed her waist, pulling her back to him. “No, no, let me finish.” He kissed the tip of her nose. “I think ONLY friendship is out of the question.”

She wanted to sink into his arms, wanted to fall into him for days, weeks, forever, but his words had cracked their bubble and reality had soaked in. “We haven’t even talked for nearly two years, Ethan. We don’t know each other anymore.”

“I know sunflowers are your favorite flower.” He brushed her hair away from her face, then kissed her forehead. “I know your childhood cat named Muffin used to sleep on top of your head and chew on your hair.” His lips brushed over her left eyelid. “I know you sneak downstairs to open your stocking on Christmas Eve, and steal your clementine from the bottom to eat in bed.” 

Another kiss on her right eyelid. “I know your favorite band was always Nicotine Dolls, no matter how you swore it was us.” His lips lingered on her cheek. “I know you hate having bangs even though you look amazing in every hair style.” He moved to her opposite cheek. “I know that you always order extra ginger with your sushi.” He kissed the corner of her lips. “And I know that I’ve loved you since the moment you quoted my favorite movie when I asked you how you were.”

She pulled back slightly, needing to look into his eyes. He hid nothing as he held her gaze, his entire face soft with emotions. “That was the second thing I said to you, after my name.”

He nodded once. “Rena, I have loved you for four years, six months, and a few days.”

“I know that you don’t like your potatoes touching your other foods,” she said. “That you you have nearly every Disney musical memorized so you can sing them to your nieces and nephews on command. That you wear two pairs of socks in the winter because your feet are always cold. And that you only eat sushi because it makes me happy.” She leaned in close. “And I’ve loved you since you passed me your notebook and asked me what I thought of your new song.”

“That was four years and five months ago.”

She nodded. “Yeah. It was. I wasted a lot of time denying my feelings.”

“Let’s not waste any more. Can I kiss you?”

His words wrapped around her and lifted her six feet off the ground. “Yes. Please.”

His lips lowered to hers and finally, finally, finally, she was home. 

 

The end.

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