Ella spent almost every day for the next few weeks talking to Ben. They told each other everything about themselves and were dangerously close to becoming more than friends.
Eventually, having to get on the computer to talk to each other was too much of a hassle, and they were both spending way too much time hiding in their rooms.
Ella’s mom had gotten her a cell phone with an unlimited texting plan, and Ella assumed she’d never use it. But when Ben asked for her phone number so they could text each other, she realized it was a very good present from her mom.
After this, they just began talking more.
Ben was 19 as well, but he was in his sophomore year of college at the University of Illinois. He had lived in Illinois with his family his whole life. He had two sisters, and he had a brother, but he died the year before. Ben would hardly talk to anyone about losing his brother, but talking to Ella about it made him feel better. She was the only person who didn’t make him feel ridiculous for still being sad.
Ben was majoring in psychology; he wanted to be a psychiatrist. Ella often talked to him about her relationship with her mother. She still wasn’t sure how much she wanted Jenna in her life, even though she was putting herself in a pretty permanent position.
Ella couldn’t convince herself to forgive her mom. What she had done to Ella wasn’t fair. She lost most of her life as a kid, and had to grow up way too fast.
Although Ella was very grateful for her mom sending her to college, and buying her a phone, and providing her and Abby with a house that Ella didn’t have to constantly be working to pay off, she was still hesitant about her.
What if she decided to leave a week before Ella was supposed to leave for college? What if she changed her mind and decided not to spend thousands of dollars on Ella’s education?
With Jenna, Ella never knew what to expect. She didn’t expect to come home one day three years ago to a note saying that Jenna was just gone. She didn’t expect her to show up randomly like she did a few months before. Ella most definitely didn’t expect that her mother applied her to the college of her dreams, and the offered to pay for her four years there.
So far, Jenna hadn’t done anything to make Ella doubt her. She was keeping up with the bills, all on her own. She was going to work every day, and cooking dinner every night. She took care of Abby, and she did everything a mother was supposed to. She and Jimmy were trying to make this the perfect family, and they were doing a pretty good job. But Ella was just scared that something could go wrong, or just change suddenly.
Talking to Ben about this helped; he made her see that Jenna was really making an effort, and Ella should try to meet her halfway. It was obvious that he was right, but Ella was still hesitant. She was doing as best as she could, she just needed time.
It was July 5th. Ella was counting down the days until she left for college; 52 more days. She and Ben were getting more and more serious. That day, July 5th, something changed.
Ella couldn’t deny that she had feelings for Ben. But she didn’t know what to do about those feelings. Ben didn’t know who she really was. He didn’t know that she was a year younger than she had said. He didn’t know that she didn’t live in Florida. He didn’t know that she didn’t go to school there, and that she hadn’t even started college yet.
Sometimes, she considered just cutting off all ties from him. She had almost done it a few times; she could just delete his phone number and change hers. It would be that simple.
But for some reason, she couldn’t bring herself to do it. She knew that she owed him more than that, and she didn’t think she would be okay without talking to him every day.
Before Ella could do anything about it, Ben took the matter of their relationship into his own hands. It came out of nowhere and Ella was not expecting it at all. They were talking about something completely irrelevant when he said it.
Ben: I have to tell you something.
Ella’s stomach clenched. The first thing she thought was that he knew. He knew she lied and he hated her. She tried to brace herself for him saying this.
Ella: Okay… what is it?
Ben: I like you…
Ella let out a deep breath as she read this. He didn’t know… and he liked her? What was she supposed to do now? Could she date him? If it didn’t go anywhere, it would save her the humiliation of telling him the truth, even though he deserved it. But what if it did go somewhere? He would eventually want more from her, and she wouldn’t be able to give it to him. She couldn’t give him a picture of herself. She wouldn’t be able to talk on the phone to him, or Skype him, or ever meet him face to face. But it would be really hard to tell him that she didn’t like him, even though she did.
Ella: I like you, too…
She didn’t know if this was the best thing to do, but she couldn’t deny that her feelings for him were too strong to let him slip through her hands.
After this, their relationship changed. They weren’t exactly dating, but the way they talked to each other was different, almost like they were dating. But eventually, Ella realized she was right, and that Ben would want more.
There was now only 24 days until she left for college, it was August 3rd. Ben was starting to get curious, and Ella could tell that they didn’t have much time left together. She had decided that she was going to tell him the truth. She didn’t know when, and she didn’t know what she would say; only that she had to do it. She owed to him to be honest, even though she knew that that would be the end of them.
She wasn’t planning on doing it then, but one day, the guilt got to be too much for her. Ella was almost in tears just thinking about what she was doing to him. She was leading him on, and making him believe that they were going somewhere, when he didn’t even know the basic things about her. She told him that she had to tell him something, and that she was really scared to say it. He got really worried and had to practically beg her to say it. He had no idea what it would be, and she was acting really strange.
Ella: I hate that I have to tell you this. I wish I had never done it, but I did, and now I have to deal with it. I lied. I lied about where I live, how old I am, and what I look like. I never thought that our relationship was going anywhere, and I thought my life was so boring that I just made stuff up. But now the problem is that I’m falling in love with you. I know I’ve led you on, and lied to you about such stupid things. And I know that you most likely won’t want to speak to me after this, but I just thought I owed you the truth so that you can just forget about me and move on.
For the next few hours, they argued back and forth about this. It turned out that Ben had lied too, but only about his age. He wasn’t in his sophomore year of college; he was actually just about to start college, just like Ella. But that was all he lied about; everything else was the truth.
Ella told him the absolute truth about everything. She didn’t leave anything out.
He was really angry at first, but he eventually calmed down. He told her that he was really upset that she didn’t trust him enough to say who she really was. And her saying that she didn’t think their relationship was going anywhere is what hurt him the most.
After a while, he told her that he could forgive her if she promised to never lie to him again. Ella was so happy, she was in tears. She couldn’t believe that they were okay; he still wanted her. She was so sure that this was the end, and she was going to lose him forever. He told her the reason why he forgave her was because he had lied too, so it wasn’t fair if she forgave him, but he didn’t forgive her.
And also, because he was falling in love with her too.
So, their relationship changed, yet again. They were closer than before, because now they weren’t constantly feeling bad about lying to the other.
Now that Ella actually saw them being together as a real possibility, she wanted more. She wanted to talk on the phone, and Skype but she wanted nothing more than to see him face to face.
On August 16th, when there were only 11 days left, Ella realized something. She had gotten so caught up in making up with him that she didn’t bother sending him a picture of what she really looked like. She was very nervous; Ella didn’t understand how beautiful she was. She thought that if she wasn’t blonde and a cheerleader, boys wouldn’t like her.
When she sent it, she had tons of butterflies in her tummy, and she was terrified that Ben wouldn’t think she was pretty.
She was wrong.
When Ben saw her picture, he couldn’t believe how beautiful she was, and that she would want to hide it by pretending she was blonde. He had never particularly liked blondes, but hadn’t ever thought a redhead could be so gorgeous.
He sent her a picture of himself, too. He was very nervous sending it, even though he knew he was a good-looking guy,
Ella was surprised by how he responded to her picture; telling her that she was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. She was even more surprised by his picture. She knew he had dark hair, but that was pretty much all she knew about his looks.
His picture showed just from his shoulders up, which Ella was thankful for. It’s not that she didn’t appreciate a guy with a nice body, just that it was annoying when the only picture a guy would take was one where they were standing in front of the mirror with their shirt off, scowling.
In his picture, he wasn’t smiling, but looking off into the distance, like he didn’t even know someone was taking a picture of him. He had dark brown hair that was somewhat long and curly. His skin was tanned, and he wore a light blue shirt, which just made it look tanner. She could see a necklace around his neck; a dog tag. Ella remembered him telling her about that, the one he and his brother had matching ones of, and after his brother died, he rarely took it off.
The thing that stood out most to Ella in the picture was his eyes. They were a deep green color, similar to hers. But against framed by his dark skin and hair, they stood out so brightly, and Ella could hardly look away from them.
Ella considered this a milestone, and she was happy to pass it. The next one was talking to him on the phone, which wasn’t nearly as scary as she expected it would be when it happened.
They were talking one day, just like normal, when Ella decided to take the next step.
Ella: I wish I could hear your voice…
She said this, hoping that he would catch on and feel the same way. He did.
Ben: Why can’t you?
Ella didn’t know what to say, but a few minutes later, her phone was ringing. She hesitantly answered it, but let out a deep, relieved breath when she heard, “Hi, beautiful.”
His voice was deep, and she found it extremely sexy. She hoped her own voice didn’t shake too much as they spoke.
After they hung up, she checked that off of her imaginary milestone checklist as well.
Another time, when they were talking, Ben did another thing that she wasn’t expecting.
“I wish I could kiss you…” He said, and she bit her lip. Just the thought made her tummy flutter.
“So do I… I can’t wait until you can,” She replied.
“Mm, me too. I can’t wait to feel your soft lips against mine as I hold you close against my body…” Ella was close to tears. She didn’t want to wait. She could hardly stand the anticipation.
“Yeah…” She said, hearing her voice break just slightly as she spoke. She hoped he didn’t hear it, but he did.
“Ella? What’s wrong? What did I say?”
“Nothing… It’s just that I don’t want to wait anymore. I want to see you, and kiss you and hug you. I want to hold your hand. I just want you to be mine.” She tried to steady her voice, not wanting him to hear her cry.
“Ella, I’m already yours. There’s no one that can make me feel the way you do. I want to see you too, and I’m so sorry it makes you sad that I can’t be there right now.”
Ella took a deep breath. “I’m yours, too Ben. I love you…”