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THE SECRET OF ELLA AND MICHA
A rule-breaker with a fiery attitude, Ella always wore her heart on her sleeve. Then she left everything behind to go to college, where she transformed into someone who follows the rules, keeps everything together, and hides all her problems. Now it's summer break and she has nowhere else to go but home. But once ...
THE SECRET OF ELLA AND MICHA
A rule-breaker with a fiery attitude, Ella always wore her heart on her sleeve. Then she left everything behind to go to college, where she transformed into someone who follows the rules, keeps everything together, and hides all her problems. Now it's summer break and she has nowhere else to go but home. But once there, Ella fears that everything she's worked so hard to bury might resurface-especially with Micha living right next door.
Smart, sexy, and confident, Micha can get under Ella's skin like no one else. He knows everything about her, including her darkest secrets. If he tries to tempt the old Ella to return, he will be impossible to resist. But what Ella doesn't realize is that when she left, she took a piece of Micha's heart with her. Now he's determined to win back the girl he lost, no matter what it takes.
8 months later ...
I despise mirrors. Not because I hate my reflection or that I suffer from Eisoptrophobia. Mirrors see straight through my façade. They know who I used to be; a loud spoken, reckless girl, who showed what she felt to the world. There were no secrets with me.
But now secrets define me.
If a reflection revealed what was on the outside, I'd be okay. My long auburn hair goes well with my pale complexion. My legs are extensively long and with heels, I'm taller than most of the guys I know. But I'm comfortable with it. It's what's buried deep inside that frightens me because it's broken, like a shattered mirror.
I tape one of my old sketches over the mirror on the dorm wall. It's almost completely concealed by drawings and obscures all of my reflection except for my green eyes, which are frosted with infinite pain and secrets.
I pull my hair into a messy bun and place my charcoaled pencils into a box on my bed, packing them with my other art supplies.
Lila skips into the room with a cheery smile on her face and a drink in her hand. "Oh my God! Oh my God! I'm so glad it's over."
I pick up a roll of packing tape off the dresser. "Oh my God! Oh my god!" I joke. "What are you drinking?"
She tips the cup at me and winks. "Juice, silly. I'm just really excited to be getting a break. Even if it does mean I have to go home." She tucks strands of her hair behind her ear and tosses a makeup bag into her purse. "Have you seen my perfume?"
I point at the boxes on her bed. "I think you packed them in one of those. Not sure which one, though, since you didn't label them."
She pulls a face at me. "Not all of us can be neat freaks. Honestly, Ella, sometimes I think you have OCD."
I write "Art Supplies" neatly on the box and click the cap back on the sharpie. "I think you might be on to me," I joke.
"Dang it." She smells herself. "I really need it. All this heat is making me sweat." She rips some photos off her dresser mirror and throws them into an open box. "I swear it's like a hundred and ten outside."
"I think it's actually hotter than that." I set my school work in the trash, all marked with A's. Back in High School, I used to be a C student. I hadn't really planned on going to college, but life changes—people change.
Lila narrows her blue eyes at my mirror. "You do know that we're not going to have the same dorm when we come back in the fall, so unless you take all your artwork off, it's just going to be thrown out by the next person."
They're just a bunch of doodles; sketches of haunting eyes, black roses entwined by a bed of thorns, my name woven in an intricate pattern. None of them matter except one: a sketch of an old friend, playing his guitar. I peel that one off, careful not to tear the corners.
"I'll leave them for the next person," I say and add a smile. "They'll have a predecorated room."
"I'm sure the next person will actually want to look in the mirror." She folds up a pink shirt. "Although, I don't know why you want to cover up the mirror. You're not ugly, El."
"It's not about that." I stare at the drawing that captures the intensity in Micha's eyes.
Lila snatches the drawing from my hands, crinkling the edges a little. "One day you're going to have to tell me who this gorgeous guy is."
"He's just some guy I used to know." I steal the drawing back. "But we don't talk anymore."
"What's his name?" She stacks a box next to the door.
I place the drawing into the box and seal it with a strip of tape. "Why?"
She shrugs. "Just wondering."
"His name is Micha." It's the first time I've said his name aloud, since I left home. It hurts, like a rock lodged in my throat. "Micha Scott."
She glances over my shoulder as she piles the rest of her clothes into a box. "There's a lot of passion in that drawing. I just don't see him as being some guy. Is he like an old boyfriend or something?"
I drop my duffel bag, packed with my clothes, next to the door. "No, we never dated."
She eyes me over with doubt. "But you came close to dating? Right?"
"No. I told you we were just friends." But only because I wouldn't let us be anything more. Micha saw too much of me and it scared me too much to let him in all the way.
She twists her strawberry blonde hair into a ponytail and fans her face. "Micha is an interesting name. I think a name really says a lot about a person." She taps her manicured finger on her chin, thoughtfully. "I bet he's hot."
"You make that bet on every guy," I tease, piling my makeup into a bag.
She grins, but there's sadness in her eyes. "Yeah, you're probably right." She sighs. "Will I at least get to see this mysterious Micha—who you've refused to speak about our whole eight months of sharing a dorm together—when I drop you off at your house?"
"I hope not," I mutter and her face sinks. "I'm sorry, but Micha and I ... we didn't leave on a good note and I haven't talked to him since I left for school in August." Micha doesn't even know where I am.
She heaves an overly stuffed pink duffle bag over her shoulder. "That sounds like a perfect story for our twelve hour road trip back home."
"Back home ..." My eyes widen at the empty room that's been my home for the last eight months. I'm not ready to go back home and face everyone I bailed on. Especially Micha. He can see through me better than a mirror.
"Are you okay?" Lila asks with concern.
My lips bend upward into a stiff smile as I stuff my panicked feeling in a box hidden deep inside my heart. "I'm great. Let's go."
We head out the door, with the last of our boxes in our hands. I pat my empty pockets, realizing I forgot my phone.
"Hold on. I think I forgot my phone." Setting my box on the ground, I run back to the room and glance around at the garbage bag, a few empty plastic cups on the bed, and the mirror. "Where is it?" I check under the bed and in the closet.
The soft tune of Pink's "Funhouse" sings underneath the trash bag—my unknown ID ringtone. I pick up the bag and there is my phone with the screen lit up. I scoop it up and my heart stops. It's not an unknown number, just one that was never programmed into my phone when I switched carriers.
"Micha." My hands tremble, unable to answer, yet powerless to silence it.
"Aren't you going to answer that?" Lila enters the room, her face twisted in confusion. "What's up? You look like you just saw a ghost or something."
The phone stops ringing and I tuck it into the back pocket of my shorts. "We should get going. We have a long trip ahead of us."
Lila salutes me. "Yes, ma'am."
She links arms with me and we head out to the parking lot. When we reach the car, my phone beeps.
"Why is Ella Daniels such a common name," Ethan grunts from the computer chair. His legs are kicked up on the desk as he lazily scrolls the internet. "The list is freaking endless, man. I can't even see straight anymore." He rubs his eyes. "Can I take a break?"
Shaking my head, I pace my room with the phone to my ear, kicking the clothes and other shit on my floor out of the way. I'm on hold with the main office at Indiana University, waiting for answers that probably aren't there. But I have to try—I've been trying ever since the day Ella vanished from my life. The day I promised myself that I'd find her no matter what.
"Are you sure her dad doesn't know where she is?" Ethan flops his head back against the headrest of the office chair. "I swear that old man knows more than he's letting on."
"If he does, he's not telling me," I say. "Or his trashed mind has misplaced the information."
Ethan swivels the chair around. "Have you ever considered that maybe she doesn't want to be found?"
"Every single day," I mutter. "Which makes me even more determined to find her."
Ethan refocuses his attention to the computer and continues his search through the endless amount of Ella Daniels in the country. But I'm not even sure if she's still in the country.
The secretary returns to the phone and gives me the answer I was expecting. This isn't the Ella Daniels I'm looking for.
I hang up and throw my phone onto the bed. "God Dammit!"
Ethan glances over his shoulder. "No luck?"
I sink down on my bed and let my head fall into my hands. "It was another dead end."
"Look, I know you miss her and everything," he says, typing on the keyboard. "But you need to get your crap together. All this whining is giving me a headache."
He's right. I shake my pity party off, slip on a black hoodie, and a pair of black boots. "I've got to go down to the shop to pick up a part. You staying or going?"
He drops his feet to the floor and gratefully shoves away from the desk. "Yeah, but can we stop by my house. I need to pick up my drums for tonight's practice. Are you going to that or are you still on strike?"
Pulling my hood over my head, I head for the door. "Nah, I got some stuff to do tonight."
"That's bull." He reaches to shut off the computer screen. "Everyone knows the only reason you don't play anymore is because of Ella. But you need to quit being a pussy and get over her."
"I think I'm going to ..." I smack his hand away from the off button and squint at a picture of a girl on the screen. She has the same dark green eyes and long auburn hair as Ella. But she has on a dress and there isn't any heavy black liner around her eyes. She also looks fake, like she's pretending to be happy. The Ella I knew never pretended.
But it has to be her.
"Dude, what are you doing?" Ethan complains as I snatch my phone off my bed. "I thought we were giving up for the day."
I tap the screen and call information. "Yeah, can I get a number for Ella Daniels in Las Vegas, Nevada." I wait, worried she's not going to be listed.
"She's been down in Vegas." Ethan peers at the photo on the screen of Ella standing next to a girl with blonde hair and blue eyes in front of the UNLV campus. "She looks weird, but kinda hot. So is the girl she's with."
"Yeah, but she's not your type."
"Everyone's my type. Besides, she could be a stripper and that's definitely my type."
The operator comes back on and she gives me a few numbers listed, one of the numbers belongs to a girl living on the campus. I dial that number and walk out into the hall to get some privacy. It rings and rings and rings and then Ella's voice comes on the voicemail. She still sounds the same, only a little unemotional, like she's pretending to be happy, but can't quite get there.
When it beeps, I take a deep breath and pour my heart out to the voicemail.
"I swear to God if we don't find a bathroom soon, I'm going to piss in my pants." Lila bounces up and down in the driver's seat. The air conditioner is turned up as high as it will go and "Shake it Out" by Florence + The Machine plays from the speakers. There's a long road of highway stretched out in front of us, weaving over the hills spotted with trees, sage brush, and the pale pink glow of the sunset.
My cell phone is in my pocket, heavy like it weighs a hundred pounds. "You can always pull over and pee behind a bush." I prop my bare feet up on the dash and pull my white lacy tank top away from my skin to get air flowing. "Besides, we're like five minutes away from the off-ramp."
"I can't hold it for five more minutes." She shoots me a dirty look and squeezes her legs together. "You're not going to think it's so funny when the car smells like piss."
I smother a laugh and search the GPS for the nearest restroom. "There's one right off the exit, but I think it's more of an outhouse."
"Does it have a toilet?"
"Then it works." She makes a sharp swerve, cutting off a silver Honda. The Honda lays on its horn and she turns in her seat to flip him the middle finger. "What a jerk. Doesn't he understand that I have to pee?"
I shake my head. I love Lila to death, but sometimes she can be a little self- centered. It's part of what drew me to her; she was so different from my old friends back in Star Grove.
My phone beeps again for the millionth time, letting me know I have a message waiting for me. Finally, I shut it off.
Lila turns down the music. "You've been acting weird ever since we left. Who called you?"
I shrug, gazing out at the grassy field. "No one I want to talk to right now."
Five minutes later, we pull up to the outhouse at the edge of town. It's more like a shack with rusty metal siding and a faded sign. The field behind it is spotted with corroded cars and trucks and in front of it is a lake.
"Oh thank God!" She claps her hands and parks the car. "I'll be right back." She jumps out and shuffles inside the bathroom.
I climb out of the car and stretch my legs, trying not to look at the lake or the bridge going over it, but my gaze magnetizes toward the level bridge with beams curving overhead and out from the sides. The middle one was where I was standing the night I almost jumped. If I squint one eye and tilt my head, I can spot it.
An old Chevy pickup comes flying down the road, kicking up a cloud of dust. As it nears, my nose twitches because I know who it is and he's one of the last people I want to see. The truck stops just outside the perimeter of the field behind the restrooms. A lanky guy, wearing a tight t-shirt, a snug pair of jeans, and cowboy boots comes strutting out.
Grantford Davis, town pothead, infamous brawl starter, and the guy who dropped me off at the bridge that God awful night eight months ago.
I bang on the bathroom door. "Come on Lila, hurry up."
Grantford looks my way, but there's no recognition in his eyes, which isn't surprising. I've changed since the last time anyone saw me, shedding my gothic clothes, heavy eyeliner, and tough-girl attitude for a more lighter and pleasant look, so I blend in with the crowd.
"You can't rush nature, Ella," Lila hisses through the door. "Now let me pee in peace."
I watch Grantford like a hawk as he rolls a tire across the field toward his pickup.
The bathroom door opens and Lila walks out cringing. "Gross, it was so disgusting in there. I think I might have caught herpes just looking at the toilet." She shivers, wiping her hands on the side of her dress. "And there were no paper towels."
Grantford has disappeared, although his truck is still there.
I grab Lila's arm and tug her toward the car. "We need to go."
Lila elevates her eyebrows questioningly as she tries to keep up with me. "What's wrong with you?"
"Nothing," I say. "There was just this guy over in the field that I really don't want to talk to."
"Is he an old boyfriend?"
"No, not even close...." I trail off as Grantford rounds the bathroom.
There's sweat on his forehead and grass stains on his jeans. "I need to talk to you for a minute."
"Why?" I question, swinging the car door open. Please don't bring up that night. Please.
Lila freezes as she's opening the door and her gaze darts to me. "Ella, what's going on?"
Grantford tucks his hands into his pockets, staring at the hood of the car. "This ain't your car, is it?"
"No, we just stole it and took it for a joy ride." Shit. Ten minutes back and my old attitude is slipping out. "I mean, yes it is—her car anyway." I nod my head at Lila.
"Well, I was just wondering how fast it goes?" He gives me a fox smile that makes me want to gag.
I was never a fan of Grantford. He always had a sleazebag attitude, which was part of the reason why I had him drive me to the bridge that night—he was the only one I knew who would leave me there alone.
I can't help myself. "Probably a lot faster than your pick up over there."
He has a shit-eating grin on his face. "Is that a challenge?"
I shake my head and motion for Lila to get in the car "Nope, that wasn't a challenge. Just a mere observation."
Recollection fills his eyes. "Wait a minute. Do I know you?" Ignoring him, I start to shut the door, but he catches it. "Holy crap! I do know you. You're Ella Daniels." His eyes mosey up my legs, cutoff jeans, lacy white tank top, and land on my eyes lined with frosty pink eyeliner. "You look ... different."
"College will do that to you." I scale up his scuffed cowboy boots, his torn jeans, and stained shirt. "You haven't changed a bit."
Excerpted from The Secret of Ella and Micha by Jessica Sorensen. Copyright © 2014 Jessica Sorensen. Excerpted by permission of Grand Central Publishing.
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