Another knock sounds and I concede that, nope, my visitor is not going away. Inwardly, I shake myself and tug at the hem of the simple light blue dress I still wore from my final day of tenth-grade summer English classes. I inhale and open the door to have a cool blast of San Francisco’s year-round chilly night air tease the loose strands of my long brunette hair that have fallen from the twist at my nape. Thankfully, it also cools my feverishly hot skin. What is wrong with me? How has a journal affected me this intensely?
Without awaiting an invitation, Ella rushes past me in a whiff of vanilla-scented perfume and red bouncing curls.
“There it is,” Ella says, snatching up her journal from the coffee table. “I thought I'd left it here when I came by last night.”
I shut the door, certain my cheeks are flaming again with the knowledge that I now know more about Ella’s sex life than I should. I still don’t know what made me open that journal, what made me keep reading. What makes me, even now, want to read more.
“I hadn’t noticed,” I say, wishing I could pull back the lie the instant it’s issued. I don’t like lies. I’ve known my share of people who’ve told them and I know how damaging they can be. I really don’t like how easily this one slipped from my lips. This is Ella, after all, who in the past year as my neighbor, has become my confidante, the younger sister I’d never had. Together we are the family neither of us have, or rather, neither of us wish to claim. Uncomfortably, I ramble onward, a bad habit brought out by nerves, and guilt, apparently. “Long day of classes,” I add, “and I had piles and piles of paperwork to finish up for the summer. Lucky you got to avoid that this year, though I had some great kids I enjoyed.” I purse my lips and tell myself I’ve said enough, only to find I can’t help but continue, “I only just got home a few minutes ago.”
“Well thank goodness you have some time off now,” Ella says, lifting the journal. “I brought this over last night when we’d planned to watch that chick flick together. I wanted to read you a few of the entries. But then David called, and you know how that went.” Her lips tilted downward, guilt laden in her tone. “I deserted you like a very bad friend.”
David being her hot doctor boyfriend. What David wanted from Ella, he got. Now, I know just how true that is. I study Ella a moment. With her dewy youthful skin, dressed in faded jeans and a purple tee, she looks like one of my students rather than a twenty-five year old teacher herself. “I was tired anyway,” I assure her, but I’m worried she’s over her head with this man ten years her senior. “I needed to get to bed to be ready for today’s classes.”
“Well they’re over now and yay for that.” She indicates the journal. “And I’m so glad to get this back before my date with David tonight.” She wiggles an eyebrow. “Foreplay. David is going to love this. This thing is scorching hot.”
I gape in utter disbelief. “You read him your journal?” I’d never have the courage to read a man such intimate personal thoughts-–especially not about him. “And it’s foreplay?”
Ella frowns. “This isn’t my journal. Remember? I told you last night. It’s from the storage units I bought at that auction at the beginning of summer.”
“Oh,” I say, though I don’t remember Ella saying anything about the journal. In fact, had she, I’m one hundred percent sure I’d remember. “That’s right. The storage auctions you’ve been attending since you got obsessed with that Storage Wars show. I still can’t believe people store their things and then default and let it go to the highest bidder.”
“And yet they do,” Ella says. “And I’m not obsessed.”
I arch a brow.
“Okay, maybe I am,” she concedes, “but I’m going to make more than double what I would have teaching summer school. You should really consider going to the next auction with me. I’ve already turned two of the three units I bought around for big money.” She holds up the journal. “This came from the last unit I bought and it’s the best yet. It has artwork I know is going to sell for big bucks. And so far I’ve found three journals that are absolutely spellbinding. My gosh, I can’t seem to stop reading them. This woman started out like you and I, and somehow got pulled into this dark passionate place that is terrifyingly exciting.”
She’s right, and I can feel that burn in my belly thinking about the words on those pages. I can almost imagine the soft, seductive voice of the woman whispering her story to me. I try to focus on what Ella is saying, but I’m wondering about that woman instead, wondering where she is, who she is.
”Oh my!” Ella exclaims. “You’re blushing. You read the journal, didn’t you?”
I blanch. “What? I…” Suddenly, I can’t talk, and I’m not rambling a nonsensical reply I would normally spurt out. I am so not myself right now and I sink helplessly into an overstuffed brown chair across from Ella, stuck in the trap of my earlier lie. “I…yes. I read it.”
Ella claims a couch cushion, narrowing her green eyes on me. “Did you think I wrote that stuff?”
I cast her a tentative look. “Well…”
“Whoa,” she says, clearly taking my reply, or rather lack of reply, as confirmation. “You thought…” She shakes her head. “I’m speechless. You couldn’t have read the good parts or there’s no way you would think she was me. But you’re sure blushing like you read the good parts.”