Karla gave me a halfway grin and slightly shrugged as she dropped her hand from Lorelai’s and held her pinky out toward me. My emotions began building up from the small gesture, and Karla sighed. “I swear to God, Eleanor, if you start crying, I’m taking my pinky back,” she warned.
“Sorry,” I laughed, wiping at my eyes and hurrying over to the circle. I linked my pinkies with Lorelai and Karla, and we all held on as Greyson spoke.
“From this point on, we work as a unit, okay? We’re a team, and we are there for each other all the time. Through thick and thin. If we fall, we fall together. If we break, we shatter as one. That’s who we are. That’s our promise. Promise?” he asked.
“Promise,” Lorelai replied.
“Promise,” Karla echoed.
Greyson looked toward me with those eyes that healed me, and I released a quiet sigh. “Promise.”
That night after I put Lorelai back to bed, I stopped by Karla’s room, just to check in on her. She was sitting on the edge of her bed, scrubbing her hair dry with such a somber look on her face.
“Hey, you okay?” I asked, knocking lightly on her door and making her look up.
“You’d be surprised at how hard it is to get the smell of fish out of your hair,” she grumbled.
“Karla, what those kids did to you was beyond disturbing. I know your father is going to speak to the principal come morning, but is there anything I can do right now? Anything I can do for you?”
She hesitated a minute before shaking her head. “No. I’m fine.”
“Okay, well, if you need anything just let me know. You have my number, and you can wake me up at any time. I’m here for you.”
Her bottom lip twitched a little. “Thanks, Eleanor.”
“You’re not just faking it because it’s your job, are you? You actually really care about us, huh?”
I laughed. “More than you know. Try to get some sleep.”
“Will do. And Eleanor?”
“Thank you,” she said, running her hand through her hair. “You know, for bringing my dad with you to pick me up. I really needed him there. I needed you both.”
My eyes welled up. “Can I give you a hug?”
“No, probably not,” she flatly replied.
Oh, well, then.
That seemed about right.
“Hey, how are you doing?” I asked, checking in on the final member of the family.
Greyson was sitting on his bed with his hands wrapped tightly around the edge of his mattress. His foot was tapping repeatedly as he stared at the carpeted floor.
He looked up to me with so much emotion in his eyes. “She’s lonely,” he whispered before looking back down at the floor. “She’s lonely, Ellie.”
I sighed walking into his room, closing the bedroom door behind me. His thoughts were probably spinning with everything that happened that night. How could they not be? His daughter was attacked, abused, belittled. All because she was lonely.
I sat beside him and noticed his shoulders were rounded forward.
I knew his looks so well. I knew when he was beating himself up. I knew when the world was too heavy on his shoulders. I knew when he was thinking the worst thoughts. “It’s not your fault, Grey,” I promised, but he tensed up as if he didn’t believe me.
“If I was here, she wouldn’t have been alone. If I hadn’t abandon her, this wouldn’t have happened. If my eyes would’ve stayed on the road…”
He couldn’t slow down his mind. He couldn’t hear anything except his rapid flawed beliefs, so I wasn’t certain any words would help him.
“What do you need from me?” I asked placing a hand of comfort on his leg. “What do you need me to do?”
He turned his head toward me as tears streamed down his face. His lips parted slowly. His voice was so low and broken, I wasn’t certain that I even heard him. “Stay,” he breathed out. “I just need you to stay.”
So, I did exactly that.
We lay down in the bed, facing each other. We weren’t touching, but I swore I felt him. I felt his heartbeats. When he hurt, my heart cried. When he was in pain, my eyes were the ones to weep. That’s how close the two of us were. Our love story was so much more than a romantic tale. Our story was about friendship. About family. About looking out for those who always looked out for you.
His soul was born to be loved by mine.
We fell asleep that night, and whenever he awakened from night terrors, I would be there to soothe him. I held him tightly as he hurt with empathy for his daughter.
I needed him to know it was okay to break. To fall apart. To crash and burn. Then when it came time for him to stand again, if he ever needed a hand, I’d always give him mine.
“Still here, Grey,” I whispered as his head lay against the curve of my neck.
“Daddy, wake up! It’s morning and Grandma always makes us chocolate pancakes on Sunday mornings.” Lorelai walked into my bedroom, yawning. I was exhausted, and could’ve easily slept for a few more hours. But, Lorelai kept talking, and her next words forced me to open my eyes. “Why is Eleanor in your bed, Daddy?”
My eyes shot open and I looked to my left where Eleanor was still sound asleep. My arm was wrapped beneath her body, and when I sat up a bit, she stirred.
“Lorelai, what did I tell you? Just let Dad sl— What the hell?” was muttered, and I knew it wasn’t from Lorelai’s mouth. Karla stood in the doorway behind her little sister, but they both held such different expressions.
Lorelai stood there with wonderment while Karla wore the strongest look of betrayal.
“You and Eleanor?” she breathed out quietly, stunned.
“No, it’s not what it looks like,” I bellowed, yanking my arm from beneath Eleanor’s body. “Eleanor, get up,” I said, nudging her arm.
She stirred a bit more before waking up, and the moment she collected her whereabouts, the moment she saw the girls, panic filled her eyes.
Tears welled in Karla’s eyes and she repeated herself. “Oh, my God! You and Eleanor?!” she hissed, this time pissed. “How could you?” she pressed me. “How could you do that to Mom?” she cried before hurrying off toward her bedroom.
“Shit,” I muttered, standing up from the bed.
Lorelai looked at me with such bewilderment. “What did you do to Mommy, Daddy?” she asked me, scratching her head.
“Nothing, I’ll explain later. Stay here.”
I darted toward Karla’s door, which was already closed, and being blocked by her body. Every time I tried to shove it open, she’d shove it shut. “Go away!” she shouted, and I could hear the heartbreak in her voice.
I laid my fists against the doorframe. “Karla…it’s not what you think,” I tried to promise.
“Oh, so you weren’t just cuddled up in bed with the freaking nanny?!” she hollered.
It was what she thought.
Eleanor walked up, combing her hair behind her ears. She looked at me with a frown, and then lightly knocked on Karla’s door.
“Karla? It’s me, Eleanor.”
“Go away, whore!” she barked.
I parted my lips to discipline Karla’s words, but Eleanor held up her hand, stopping me in my tracks.
She went back to speaking. “Karla, I know what you’re thinking, but—”
“You’re a liar! All you do is lie! You said you really cared about me, but you were just trying to get to my dad. You don’t care about me or Lorelai at all.”
“That’s not true.” Eleanor sighed.
The door swung open and Karla’s face was covered in rolling tears. She crossed her arms and huffed heavily. “Look me in the eyes, then. If you’re not a liar, look me in the eye and tell me that you two haven’t hooked up at all since you started working here.”
Both of our mouths opened, and Karla began shaking more as she pushed her door closed. “Just go away! I hate you both. I hate you. I hate you…”
We both stopped trying to push her door open, because we were guilty. Me more so than Eleanor.
I’d fucked up.
“Maybe you should go for a little bit,” I told Eleanor, unable to look at her, but I could already imagine the hurt that was in her eyes. “We should just give her time to cool off.”
“If it’s okay, I’ll like to wait in the guesthouse for a few hours—just to see if I can talk to her later and explain.”
“Yes, of course.”
Eleanor nodded slowly, and placed a comforting hand on my shoulder, but I still couldn’t turn to see her. “Come get me if you need anything, Grey,” she whispered before walking away.
I lay my hands against the door as my forehead fell against it and I closed my eyes. “I’m sorry, Karla,” I softly spoke. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry…”
“She’s gone,” I breathed out after pounding my fist against the guesthouse front door. Eleanor stood there with a look of concern. My mind was spinning and I hadn’t any tools to slow down the speed at which my thoughts were shooting through my mind. “I just went to check on her, to see if she was ready to talk, and she was gone.”
Eleanor’s eyes widened with worry, which only made me more scared. Her hand landed on my forearm and she released a breath. “Okay, okay. Don’t worry, we’ll find her. So, where would she go? We can go looking for her. What are some of her favorite places?” I asked.
“I don’t know, I don’t know where she would go. She was so upset, she could be anywhere,” I said, pacing back and forth, racing my hands through my hair. “This is all my fault. I did this. I made her run away,” I muttered, falling apart second by second.
I needed Eleanor, because I couldn’t stop myself from being wild. My thoughts were running away from me, and each one that came felt worse than the one before it. I needed her to give me some reassurance that everything would be okay.