Contemporary Romance // Episode Three: The Match – January 7, 2014
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Ella hit the ground with a thud.
“Crap, Ella, are you okay?”
It was a long winter. With the temperature staying below 30 almost everyday since October, they hadn’t been able to play tennis in months. Ella wasn’t keen on the cold at all. The afternoon had warmed up pleasantly and by the time school let out, it reached a modest 64 degrees warm. The lukewarm breeze and clear sky immediately lit up the part of her that shamelessly hawked over any opportunity she had to spend time with Aaron.
She heard the clatter of Aaron’s dropped tennis racket and the sound of his feet pounding on the pavement. Her mouth filled with the taste of copper pennies and – was that sangria? Did she knock a tooth loose? Groaning, she rolled over to lay flat on her back.
“I’m so sorry. I’m so, so sorry,” he repeated as he dropped to the ground next to her and grasped her hand. “So sorry.”
She not only noted the way his face twisted with dismay as he evaluated the cuts on her arm, but that he was specifically avoiding looking at her face. Oh god, she thought without logic or hesitation, I’m disfigured. Her free hand flew up, running over her nose and chin, noting the roughened skin covering her cheek.
The school had four tennis courts all in a row and they preferred the one at the end of the line. The distance offered more privacy, where the two teachers could joke around and cavort without students casting judgment. The absolute last thing they needed was to be the subject of nosy rumors. The hardest part of keeping their relationship professional, and entirely proper, was battling the natural chemistry they possessed. Constant teasing about the matter did neither of them any favors.
“Did I lose an eye?”
His obvious concern and furrowed brow made her heart swell, even more so when worried eyes locked on to hers. “What?”
“Did I lose an eye?” Ella tried to smile charmingly but could only manage a grimace, what with her lip busted and cheeks burning from abrasion.
“Yes,” he said, arching his brow, “both of them. Your pretty face is forever marred.”
“Ha ha.” She wrinkled her nose and batted off Aaron’s hands as he tried to prevent her from exacerbating the swelling by messing with her wounds further. She felt her eyes to be sure that they honestly were in place, as well as her pert nose. Her bow lips swelled and ached. Blood seeped from a small gash on her chin. With a deep breath, followed closely by a raspy cough, she said, “That was a crappy serve.”
Aaron’s jaw dropped. “Really? You’re gonna go there?” Next to fall was her arm, which he let go of with a huff. Despite the nonchalant appearance, his brown eyes continued to look her over for other injuries. “That was a crappy return. And poor form. It’s not supposed to end with you eating cement.”
“I tripped,” she murmured quietly with a pout forming, “because of your crappy serve, Aaron.”
“Are you gonna be okay?” he replied, redirecting. Chewing on his bottom lip, he gingerly pushed blonde tendrils off of her cheek and away from the blood. His fingertips lingered over the raspberry forming on the curve of her jaw and he frowned. Knees scraped, forearms scuffed, face bleeding…she was a little worse for wear than she’d act or admit.
“Yeah, I’m tough. I’m not a pansy like you,” she shot back with a wink. Her injuries ached and she shook, trying to keep herself together despite the burning pain. For a moment, her bottom lip trembled but she was determined to pull herself together.
“About that pansy business-,” Aaron said as he offered her his hand.
“-I got this,” she insisted, shaking her head sharply and pushed his hand away. “I’m good. I-” She let out a hiss as she felt the burn through her hands, mistakenly using them as leverage.
Grumbling, he rolled his eyes. “Should I call the nurse? Oh, wait.”
“Nurse Evans, reporting for duty,” she replied with a salute.
“You can’t take care of yourself,” he said, “and I would know. I’ve seen your apartment.”
“Hey!” Scowling, she swatted at him. “Help me?”
If it were up for comparison, and she was glad it wasn’t, she preferred the way he held her elbow and wrapped an arm around her waist, easing her from the ground. Her way was the mechanically professional method learned in nursing school. She much preferred his cautious way of offering support and gently easing her into place. His was more like…ambling an elderly grandmother. He smelled like old boots and worn leather and she was thankful at once that her face-plant didn’t affect her nose’s ability to let her indulge.
“Steady,” he said quietly as her knees started to go out from beneath her. “Geez, Ella, are you sure you’re okay to move?”
“Yeah,” she replied weakly. Once she was finally firm on her feet, she cleared her throat and slipped from his grasp. Irony would be the name of their timing. From where she stood, she could see the parking lot, which was almost empty. Only a few lingering students stood about in the front lawn, which meant it was almost five o’clock. Which meant…
His cellphone rang.
“See you later,” she mouthed out, then offered him a wry smile.
His shoulders tensed as he sighed and whipped his cell phone out, offering a quiet sorry that he couldn’t stay. “I’ll grab Principal Higgins for you,” he promised as gave her arm, the one that wasn’t hurt, a gentle squeeze.
“Fine, fine,” she mouthed again. Letting out a deep breath, she watched as he hurried off with a quick “Sorry, honey,” into the phone. He offered one last apologetic smile before he rounded the corner of the building.
“It’s okay,” she grumbled, turning her arm to admire her war wounds. His quick departures and necessity to cover for anything he did without his wife’s approval was nothing new. Anything involved with Ella was certainly not on that list. Too pained to run and far too proud to hobble, she gingerly lowered herself back to the ground to wait.
to be continued…