This is a short story i’d written some years ago and submitted a portion of it as part of my coursework for Creative Writing. My teacher said it reminded her of ‘the writer Elizabeth Bowen who wrote great novels like ‘The Heat of the Day”, as well as short stories, (. . .) sounded a little old-fashioned in places, like Jane Eyre.’ I can’t figure out if that is a good or bad thing? Though to be fair, i was going for that old-fashioned sort of vibe with this, particularly in the town of Nirvana where the story opens.

With Almost Home, i wanted to explore how family is more than just the family we are born into. i was pretty young–still am, really–when i wrote it and my writing style has changed quite a bit from what this short story is, and was written. Originally, i wanted to write a sequel to it, as a novella, but then writer’s block hit. But i’m putting it up because i want it somewhere other than just my laptop.

TRIGGER WARNINGS: MENTIONS OF ABUSE, & (SLIGHTLY) SEXUAL CONTENT TOWARDS THE END

Almost Home
Written by SUMAIYA AHMED

Giselle: “What kind of awful place is this?”
Robert:
It’s reality.”

— Enchanted

• • •

HE HADN’T WANTED TO stay in the room, but the pleading of his wife, Meredith, caused him to sigh, grasping hold of her hand reluctantly, wincing as she squeezed tightly, feeling as if all the bones in his hand were about to be crushed, but, he knew, that the pain he felt from her clinging onto him tightly, her hand sweaty and damp, was nothing—absolutely nothing—compared to the agony of pushing out their firstborn child. The quiet murmur of voices in the threshold of the hospital room they were in sounded like a hum of bees, and Jack closed his eyes, exhaling loudly at the whimper that fell from between his wife’s lips, hating that there was nothing he could do to ease her pain, but even still, he shifted, rubbing between her sharp shoulder blades. Her legs, smooth and lightly tanned, were spread, feet planted firmly on the bed, back propped up against a numerous number of white pillows, her ebony black hair sweaty and clinging to her temples, eyes gleaming with unshed tears, teeth gritted as she pushed, clutching Jack’s hand tighter, her other hand bunching the orange—soft, like a sunset orange—blanket in her palm, “god help me,” she murmured quietly, as the midwife glanced up.

“You’re almost there, Mrs. Hudson,” voice soft yet firm. “I can see the baby’s head.”

Jack shifted on his feet, swallowing, his mouth dry as his eyes flickered from his wife to the midwife and the other three nurses that were in the room, wondering how much longer it would take. They had already been in the hospital for over twelve hours, and he wanted his child to come into the world already—he didn’t want Meredith to suffer any longer, but as the seconds wore on, and she panted, sweat glistening on her neck and chest, the hospital gown sticking to her body like second skin, it seemed as if it wouldn’t ever end.

The blood fell onto the snowy white sheets beneath Meredith, that were placed there to keep the midwives from having to change the blanket afterwards, and as the dark head of the baby came out from her mama, drops of red being absorbed into the white sheets, a loud, piercing cry filling the delivery room as one of the nurses cut the placenta and handed the child to her mother, smiling, telling them that they had a beautiful baby girl, and Jack’s eyes filled with tears, a proud, happy grin curving his lips up, as he wrapped an arm around his wife’s shoulders the moment their daughter was placed in her arms, looking at her, as her cries faded and she blinked, startled, surprised and confused at the brightness and harsh lights of the world, taking it all in with fresh eyes. Meredith smiled, tears coursing down her cheeks, running a finger down her daughter’s chubby cheek, over her rose pink lips and took in a shaky breath, pressing a kiss to her daughter’s forehead, joy and elation and love burning through her veins, a fierce protectiveness rising in the depths of her soul like a fire, accumulating inside as she looked at her daughter’s little face, eyes wide and not yet able to focus on the world around her.

“She’s beautiful,” Jack whispered, running his fingers through his daughter’s thick, ebony black hair, his touch feather-light, raising his eyes to meet his wife’s as she lifted her face up, nodding. Pressing a swift, hard kiss to her mouth, Jack rested his forehead against Meredith’s, breathing deeply. “Our little girl,” his voice was low, a whisper, and as he moved back, a small cry reached his ears and freezing, he held his arms out, taking his daughter and holding her close to him, smiling, “You’re gorgeous, Eleanora, you know that?” laughter rang through the tone of his voice as he kissed the tip of her nose, grinning.

“Going to be a heartbreaker, that one,” Dorothy said, peering down at her granddaughter, after sweeping into the room, dressed in a cream coloured maxi dress and a gold watch on her left wrist, her dark brown hair in an elegant French chignon, glints of silver peeking through the strands, pearls hanging along her throat, lips painted a deep crimson pink, and a small smile graced her mouth as she stared at the little girl in her son-in-law’s arms. “Goodness, Meredith, she looks just how you did when you were born.”

In the next two hours, members of their family come visiting, cooing over the new addition and murmuring about how absolutely adorable the child is, and Jack, having repeatedly told himself to keep calm and not punch someone in the face, raised his fingers and rubbed his temples, eyes closed as he inhaled and exhaled, needing a glass of whiskey, grimacing as Cassandra, the woman who lived across their cosy little cottage, talked about baby clothes and whatnot.

Jack hadn’t exactly wanted to have a child, not anytime soon anyway, and Eleanora had been, well, she’d been an accident—they hadn’t planned for her, but truth be told, he had been slightly excited when Meredith told him about the pregnancy. He was dreading it too. But as he opened the front door, flicking on the light, and carrying his daughter in his arms, seeing the joy and excitement and love on Meredith’s face, feeling the irritation and worry fading away as he looked at her, the front door shutting behind them and locking, walking up the stairs and into their bedroom, placing Eleanora down into her crib, eyelashes fluttering and chest rising and falling as she dreamt, hands clenched into little fists and he stood over the crib, watching her.

“Are you okay?” Meredith asked softly, resting a hand on her husband’s arm, leaning her head against his shoulder.

He nodded, “yeah, baby. I’m just . . .” he didn’t finish the sentence, sighing, turning to face her. “C’mon, let’s go to bed,” Jack ended up saying, kissing her on the forehead, inhaling her scent of vanilla, reminding him of cookies.

She nodded, tilting her face up, kissing him lightly, “I love you,” she whispered.

He smiled. “I love you.”

• • •

It was a dull evening, the sun just beginning to set, the pavements glistening with rain and a chilly breeze causing Eleanora Hudson to shiver as she slowly walked down Terrace Avenue, pulling her caramel hued leather jacket closer to her body, swallowing back the bile that rose to her throat at the loud burst of laughter across the street from her—the men stepped out of Brahman’s Pub, the opening of the doors causing loud chatter and boisterous laughter to pour out into the miserable afternoon and shaking her head slightly at the unfamiliarity of the four men that staggered down the street, Eleanora continued walking, wincing at the sharp jolt of pain that ran up her left hip. She stopped, breathing deeply, running a hand through the dark strands of her hair, hating herself for being so small and weak and delicate, even though she was taught to be diminutive and fragile, and slowly, hesitantly, kept up the journey to a house that she no longer considered home—because was home not supposed to be the place where there was warmth and safety? She found none there.

Grimacing at the throbbing ache, she stumbled as the heel of her boots got caught in a crack on the pavement and shook it free, biting her lower lip so as not to cry out, shifting the dark blue plastic bag from her right wrist to clutching it between the fingers, drops of rain pattering onto the bag and as she crossed the street, and turned a corner, the pale yellow-bricked cottage coming into her line of vision and as she walked along the road leading up to her house, she bit her lip hard enough to draw blood and took out the keys from her pocket, hand shaking and inserted it into the keyhole, turning it, opening the front door, freezing as Felicity called out her name.

“Elle!”

Pretend you can’t hear her, she told herself, sucking in a deep breath, as she placed one foot inside her cottage, not turning as Felicity called her again. Oh, my god, she thought, at hearing footsteps coming closer and that irritatingly cheerful voice that constantly asked her if she wanted to hang out, or watch some movies, or hey, Elle, the rest of us are going to the beach, wanna come, and the response was always the same: no. And she didn’t even tell Felicity to call her Elle, either. Heck, nobody called her Elle.

“Hey, Elle—”

For the love of god, Eleanora thought, closing her eyes, shifting, turning around, pulling the door closed behind her as she stood on the porch, the roof keeping the rain from soaking her further, the gold and pink and indigo and violet streaks of sunset fading away, and she looked at Felicity.

“—Mum’s making pasta ravioli tonight and this totally gorgeous chocolate pudding cake, and like, there’s three different ice cream flavours that we have, and two of them are Ben and Jerry’s, but one is Haagan Dasz, right, but it’ll still taste delicious. So, I was just wondering, whether you wanted to, like, join us?” Felicity beamed, a bright yellow, polka dotted umbrella clutched tightly in her hand, shielding her from the rain, eyes bright even in the dreary evening.

Eleanora stared at her, wondering how it was possible for someone to be so damn happy all the time. She shook her head, watching Felicity with wary eyes and took a step away from the girl, her back hitting her front door. Taking in a sharp breath, wincing at the pain, she swallowed. “Uh,” she mumbled, her nails digging into the soft flesh of her palm, leaving behind crescent moon indents, the rain beginning to fall faster, so much heavier than before, thunder booming in the distance, lightning making an appearance seconds later, and lighting up the darkness that had fallen over the sleepy town of Nirvana.

“No. Um, thanks but I’ve already got plans,” she lied, flashing a quick smile that faded away all too quickly, and opened her front door once more, stepping into the dark hallway, breathing out slowly, looking at Felicity, guilt finding its way into the darkest depths of her soul, burning like liquid fire, before shaking her head slightly, moving backwards, her hand clutching the plastic bag and shutting the door with an audible click, closing her eyes as she sent a quick prayer up to the heavens, believing in the higher Power beyond the skies.

Making her way to the kitchen, she put the bottle of milk in the fridge and shoved the plastic bag out of sight, and kicked off her shoes, whimpering in pain at the motion of bending down to lift up her boots. Swallowing, tears blinding her vision, she took in deep breaths, her heart racing as she looked up at the clock, noting that it was just gone six P.M. and her father would be home soon. Biting her lower lip, Eleanora walked up the stairs and into her bedroom, shrugging out of her leather jacket and hanging it by the hook, pulling her hair out of its high ponytail and putting it up into a messy bun, wiping away any evidence of the tears she’d shed, of the darkness that eclipsed her, raw and icy, numbing away all other thought processes and emotion as she went back into the kitchen, preparing dinner for her father and waited. Waited as the seconds ticked on and her eyes rose to the full blown black and white picture of her parents on their wedding day, tears threatening to choke her, a chilling finger running down her spine as the front door opened and slammed shut. Heavy footsteps made their way into the kitchen, a briefcase being tossed onto a black leather chair and her father looked at her, eyes cold, jaw clenched.

“You’ve been crying,” he stated flatly, voice void of any emotion and Eleanora swallowed, fear snaking its way into her veins, surging like liquid mercury, burning within her like the embers of a dying flame that was extinguished and smoke that clouded her vision, turning the world around her grey with all those chaotic nights in which she was at war with her body, making herself a size that fitted perfectly into the hands of the men who wanted her and left her. She made herself small enough to be crushed by them, and in the years following her mother’s death, her father taught her all it was that she knew: how to be small, how to make a meal out of the broken mess of her torn heart for the men who were always hungry, insatiable and never full enough. He taught her how to be ashamed of what she saw in the mirror, the very image of a girl who measured the distance around her waist with a sense of foreboding, brooding reluctance, to say nothing, remain silent, whilst her insides burned with a flame that was slowly dying, fading, and she almost could not breathe without permission.

She didn’t respond, knowing it would only make him angrier, and missing the father she once had, because that man was gone and in his place was left a monster. The drinks had slowly begun to take control of him, and no longer was he the father who’d play games with her and read her bedtime stories, singing her lullabies and tucking her into bed. The father who had once taken her to the theatres every Friday evening and bought her fish and chips every Saturday night, and the father who taught her how to destroy fire and be proud of smoke, to be a queen on the highest throne with a crown of diamonds and her family’s blood like droplets of rubies hanging along her throat had faded, been dragged away, a monster left in his place with every sip of the alcohol that had begun to consume him, binding him in chains and allowing him to slowly, slowly kill himself, taking with him every memory that had once given her comfort.

When, after a few minutes had passed, she still didn’t reply, Jack sighed, looking at her, irritation splaying out across his sharp, angular features, “what’s for dinner?” he asked instead, shrugging out of his black trench coat, settling it over the back of the chair he took a seat on, checking his iPhone as it buzzed with a new message.

Swallowing, Eleanora took in a deep breath, “um, I made chicken and mushroom puff pie.”

He nodded, not bothering to say anything, gaze on the bright screen of his phone. Grabbing a blue ceramic plate, she filled it with a large slice of the pie, serving it with creamy mashed potato and a glass of water, setting it in front of him before moving back, and grabbing a plate for herself. It was quiet between them and as the minutes wore on, the tangible taste of fear could be tasted in the air—it was now the only emotion Eleanora ever felt, that and an aching sadness, an emptiness deep in the pits of her soul, rattling in her bones, evident in the bruises that marked every inch of her skin, the scars a visible sign of the battles she fought and lost, a reminder of the years of pent up frustration and pain, of solitude and abuse, a map of constellations to the universe within her, a galaxy beneath her skin and a whole new world of broken bones and faded dreams, a survivor of war.

The only sound was the ticking of the clock—tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock—and the scraping of knives and forks on their plates and their quiet breathing, the passing of cars outside and the pattering of rain against the window panes. It was a rarity when her father was calm, albeit only a little because it was a known fact (within the pale yellow bricked cottage, that is—ever since her mother’s untimely demise) that her father hated the very sight of his only daughter, and so, she thought that it must have been a good day at work, but she didn’t dare to ask how his day had been.

In the next twenty minutes or so, her father stood up, walking out of the kitchen and into his study, leaving Eleanora to clean up (as per usual), and she sighed, wincing at the pain that shot through her as she stood, knocking against the edge of the table, and washed up, wrapping the tray of pie in cling film and putting it into the fridge before walking upstairs slowly, eyes stinging with tears as every step caused her side to throb and for her to feel sick. Reaching her bedroom, she opened the door, allowing her eyes to adjust to the darkness of her room, the only light peeking in from between her curtains as she wandered over to her bed, sitting down on the middle, taking in a deep, ragged breath as she fought back tears.

Grabbing her phone, she went to the Facebook app, biting her lower lip when she saw that Caleb Moreno, her wonderful ex boyfriend, was in a relationship with Carina Castro. Caleb, the boy she’d given everything to, who she had been with since the middle of year nine up until the summer before college began and he’d broken every promise he’d ever made; leaving her behind to a pack of savage wolves, alone to salvage the mess they’d left behind, a world gone up in flames, but thanks to her father, she had known that men were supposed to be reckless and loud, banging on chests and leaving behind a trail of broken hearts whilst women (mainly Eleanora) were supposed to break bones and destroy themselves trying to fit inside of the men they loved and offer them everything they had, give all their love and get nothing in return.

Breathing out slowly, she shook away the memories of their break up, of the months that followed, the endless hours of physical and emotional abuse from her father, a man who had become violent, forcing her to watch her knees darken in deliberate submission, living for a person who had become unworthy the moment he had unscrewed the lid to the bottle of whiskey.

For a person who was supposed to be her father, he was anything but. And in the years that passed, she understood that there were many different meanings to the word family, and there was more than one type; first, there was one’s own family. The people you were related to by blood, all the descendants of a common ancestor. They were the blood relations and the people you shared chromosomes with. The family of origin.

• • •

“Wow,” Evie said, grinning, the moment her eyes landed on Elle (she had dropped the name Eleanora, choosing to go by Elle, wanting nothing to do with the past she’d left behind the moment she moved into an adorable flat in Westminster, about twenty minutes away from the university where she had chosen to study Law). Laughing, she twirled, catching a glimpse of herself in the full-length mirror as she stepped further out of the changing room, unable to keep the giddy smile from making her cheeks hurt, a grin so wide, so bright, it was enough to rival the sun, her aqua blue eyes glittering, rings of a darker hue surrounding the pupil, reminding one of honeymoon springs, and as she stared at herself in the mirror in the beautiful dress that showed off her curvy physique, revealing the curve of her neck and the sharpness of her collarbones, her skin the colour of cream and roses,  aristocratic cheekbones and a high-bridged nose that she’d inherited from her mother. “You look beautiful,” her friend of four years smiled, standing beside her as they both stared into the mirror.

Elle ran a hand through her hair, putting it up into a high ponytail, turned to look at Evie, catching her lower lip between her teeth and frowned slightly. “Thank you. But even still, I won’t be able to—”

“Shut the hell up, Elle. I’m paying for it.”

“—no, no. God. I can’t let you do that!”

“Why the hell not? It’s not even that much, compared to the dress I bought for myself. You know that. I’m buying it for you and you’re going to shut up and let me. Okay?”

Rolling her eyes, knowing that there was no way she’d be able to win the argument, Elle made a mental note to pay her back and said “okay” in reply, moving back into the changing room, ignoring the sales assistant who was watching them, her hair up in a bun and red lipstick on her lips, diamonds in her ears and a black pencil skirt, white shirt and a black Vera Moda blazer adorning her body, looking rich and elegant, whilst Elle felt as if she was entering a world she didn’t belong in. Evie Gabrielle Montague was of noble blood, her father being a Lord and her mother a Countess and Elle often felt as if she was playing dress up in a world that was far beyond her wildest dreams. But as the sales assistant went to look for a matching pair of heels to go with the dress, she sat on the plush red couch beside Evie, taking a sandwich that was on a heavy, and what she assumed to be real silver, plate, and bit into it.

She felt as if she was out of her league.

“So, we’ll be going to the spa in about thirty minutes, right, and then—”

“Evie, I know, you’ve said it about a million times,” Elle laughed.

Pulling a face, Evie bumped her hip against Elle’s as they stood up, Evie handing over a bunch of fifty pound notes to the cashier after having tried on five different pair of heels, and finding none, as Evie clutched the pale peach silky bag in her hands, they walked out of the store with a constant Closed sign on the door (it was appointments only).

“We’re going to look fabulous,” Evie winked, as the girls slid into the waiting limousine, pouring white wine into two glasses, clinking them together.

“Oh, trust me. I know.”

Three hours, forty five minutes and ninety seconds later, Elle was ninety-nine-point-nine-nine-nine-nine-nine-nine-recurring percent positive that she was going to be sick, and as she stepped out of the sleek black limousine with Evie, ascending the wide marble steps to enter the home that belonged to the Windsor-Scott family, her gaze flicked to the group of four men and two women that they were approaching. A low whistle escaped Tyler Fitzgerald’s mouth as his eyes locked onto Elle, a grin tugging on his full lips.

“Elle, baby, you look absolutely ravishing,” he lifted her hand, kissing the back of it, hazel eyes sparkling with humour as she laughed.

“You don’t look too bad yourself.”

“The trouble one goes to in order to look good for a party.”

She nodded in agreement, glancing around the ballroom. The walls were draped in ivory silk instead of wallpapers, the four chandeliers hanging ten feet above their head, and she exhaled slowly, glancing at Miranda Sanchez, who smiled at her, moving in close, giving her a kiss on the cheeks, lashes casting a shadow on her high cheekbones as she took in Elle’s dress, looking up, lifting her chin slightly.

“Beautiful dress.”

“Thank you.”

The event was a private fundraiser for victims of abuse, and majority of the people in attendance with filthy rich or students at the university that mingled within the little circle of friends that Elle was a part of. Even though she had a large number of friends and was extremely close to Evie, even living with her in the apartment they’d bought, overlooking a bunch of tall, glass buildings and busy streets, she didn’t exactly tell them anything about the life she’d walked away from, the little town that she’d escaped.

There were eight of them in the close knit group: Tyler Fitzgerald, Grayson Walker Kensington, Miranda Sanchez, Milo Ambrose King, Sawyer Harvey-Calthrope, Jacqueline Arden Fairchild, and well, Evie Gabrielle Montague and Eleanora Hudson. Elle had met Evie and Milo in her Immigration Law class, and as they were all already acquainted, she’d been made a part of their group and in the past four years, she’d gone to a number of dances and outings (but even still, she was rather unaccustomed to such luxuries) that she was still recovering from, financially. Her evening job helped to pay for the things she needed and whatnot, such as paying back her tuition fee, and she had inherited quite a lot of money from her mother that was left untouched in her bank account, but she felt safe, knowing that it was there.

“Dance with me?” Grayson asked, holding out his hand.

She raised an eyebrow, tilting her head slightly, the diamond and ruby earrings brushing against her shoulder as she looked at him. “You know I don’t dance,” she replied.

He smirked. “C’mon. Please?”

“What’s in it for me?”

“I’ll buy you that new Michael Kors watch that just came out and some Krispy Kreme doughnuts.”

“The one with the diamonds all over it?”

He nodded, “that’s the one.”

“You’re an idiot, but of course, I already knew that,” she sighed.”Let’s dance, Grayson.”

They blended in with the couples on the dance floor, moving in time as the orchestra played and her heart raced in her chest, like the wings of a trapped bird and as Grayson twirled her around and dipped her, she knew that she was in pieces, scattered around the city and her hometown, like a pile of burnt ashes and a broken skeleton for the one boy who she’d loved and lost, who tricked her into opening up her heart and he’d clawed his way inside before disappearing almost instantly, never giving her a home or the love she so desperately desired, consumed by the sheer need to love and be loved in return, something she knew now was merely an illusion, because love was a thing that was not meant for her and she was nobody’s trophy, nobody’s home and she was only the broken pieces of the person she was meant to be, finding her way through the mist that clouded her sight, blindly reaching out for a dream she thought had faded away like wisps of smoke but was finally realising that it was there. It was there.

And as she breathed in and out slowly, the uneasiness chasing away, taking with it the sickness that had been bubbling in the pit of her stomach, a fear of humiliating herself in front of the lavishly wealthy, laughter tumbling out of her mouth as her eyes rested on Sawyer, who was miming hip thrusting actions and going down on one knee before Jacqueline shoved him with enough force for him to knock into Tyler who turned and punched him in the arm, muttering something quietly. At that moment, Elle felt more ebullient than she had ever felt before, and she laughed.

Family: they weren’t only the people one shared blood with, or the ones you created with someone else—they were the groups of people you moved through while everything else in your life was happening, whether they be friends, lovers or even complete strangers. There was no one person that could become your entire world, and as Elle had come to realise, her family was not just her mother, who was there one minute and gone the next, her father who had been there but became a monster, and in doing that, had left, or Felicity who had tried to be her friend and let her experience something beyond the pain even though Elle had never given her the chance. But it was Evie, who had given her the life she had needed and became a friend, when she didn’t even know the meaning of the word; Tyler, who never failed to make her laugh and gave her hope; Miranda, who never stopped asking questions and was always giving answers; Milo, who thought he needed no one and could do it all alone but was learning that asking for help and reaching out was okay, and Sawyer, Grayson and Jacqueline, who took her in, helped her build a future she always dreamt of, gave her the space she needed and were always there. All of them, together, had become her family, and they were all a part of her, helping her shape  the future she was carving out for herself, and she was slowly learning to let go of everything, fill in the holes that her father and Caleb helped her make, forget the pain and hurt and being able to seek and accept and understand and find help and love and knowing that life was more than just a chapter closing and the story being over. Everything linked together, a chain of events that overlapped and moulded together to help see the bigger picture.

More needed to be done to create something bigger, and she was realising that family didn’t always need to be the people you shared blood with. It was the people who were there regardless, and not just the ones who gave you life.

“God, they’re so immature,” Miranda laughed as they passed her, Grayson spinning Elle around and lifting her up, grinning at the wide-eyed look on her face, before his smile froze in place, his eyes on someone behind her.

“May I cut in?”

Grayson’s hand on her hip froze, fingers digging into her waist, but not hard enough to hurt her. She turned her head, glancing at the man who had spoken, eyes widening as she took him in.

Hair the colour of gold with honeyed strands weaving through the silky locks, long enough to brush the collar of the white shirt he was wearing, hugging his torso, hinting at the abs beneath. A black suit made him look all the more darkly handsome, and the lack of colour other than black and white on his muscular body caused her to take in a sharp breath, eyes trailing down his physique, taking in the gold and onyx cufflinks and the black shoes, before looking back up, lifting her chin slightly, lips curving into an amused smile, hiding the burning lust that coursed through her veins, a wet heat pooling between her thighs, as his slate grey eyes met hers. His eyes, Elle thought, reminded her of rain, of thunderstorms and smoke, of a dangerous predator that stalked its prey, teasing it relentlessly and having no mercy—they were bedroom eyes, framed by thick lashes and glittered darkly, as she stepped away from Grayson and placed her hand in the palm of the man whose name she was unaware of.

He looked lethal and dangerous, powerful in his suit, the gold Rolex and the expensive three piece suit screaming out his wealth and the confidence he exuded was enough to make her weak at the knees, but he had one hand on her waist and the other clutching onto her own, fingers laced together as they moved to the middle of the ballroom floor. Despite the seductive aura he possessed, the look of a man who knew what he wanted and got it, someone who worked hard, played hard, fucked hard, the slightly too long hair hinted at the dangerous qualities lying beneath the uber rich exterior.

With his golden hair and glittering grey eyes, he was the epitome of seductive and absolutely sexy—and the fact that he was holding her in his arms made herfeel powerful, as if the world was at her mercy. She felt sexy and alluring, beautiful and regal, but most of all, she felt alive. They danced with a glittering passion that sent her pulse racing in her throat, her heart pounding, and for her breath to come in short, shallow gasps as he dipped her in a low, deep curve, her torso arching, perfectly aligned with his. Elle wanted to freeze this moment, capture it and keep it forever, the electrifying moment with his chest flush against her own as he supported her weight with just his arms, scintillating smouldering grey—a beautiful, mesmerizing colour that did not cease to steal her breath, bright and sparkling—eyes staring into hers, a slow, knowing smirk dancing on his full lips as they rose back up, never once breaking eye contact. She could feel the other guests watching them, many of them wondering who she was, but with his attention on her, she didn’t care, because the ripple of awareness, of desire and want danced on her skin and dipped low, between her thighs. There was a charge, a reaction that  pulsed through her, white-hot desire coursing through her veins, beating in time to the rhythm of the sultry, romantic music that was being played, that crackled like the dry electricity of a summer storm, heating her blood and a burning sensation of wanting surged through her, blazing like the stars that danced in the obsidian sky.

It was as if every cell in her body had awakened, every nerve ending thrumming with the energy that made her come to life, alive and waiting, for that one magical moment—because the desire, the heat and the longing that had blazed its way through her soul, leaving behind a flame of craving in its absence, threatened to consume her, every part of her body calling out for him and aching for him, wanting him.

For those few short moments, it was as if the whole world had burst into flames, leaving just them behind in the scorching conflagration, in the destruction that had taken place. But it was then, as the music had slowly come to an end, and he’d let her go, with just his fingers intertwined with hers, his eyes staring into hers, as they stood, in the middle of the ballroom, staring at each other, chests rising and falling, breaths fast and heavy, desire clouding their eyes and simmering through their veins like liquid fire, that his lips parted and she swallowed, heart pounding, a butterfly wanting to escape.

“What’s your name?”

“Eleanora, but I go by Elle,” she murmured. “You?”

“Wesley,” he replied in a deep, honeyed drawl that sent heat blossoming under her skin.

She nodded, his name sounding familiar and she repeated in her head, shivers running down her spine as he caressed her lower lip with his thumb, her name falling from between his lips, sounding like magic, weaving its way into her soul, allowing her to taste freedom and in the four years that had passed since she left Nirvana, she’d escaped the cage she’d been trapped in. All the pieces of her were gone, faded away, but she was finding herself, and as Wesley’s hands skimmed down her body, resting on her waist, she felt her cheeks flush, lips parting as she stared into his eyes, not knowing what to say, feeling flustered and shy, as if she were still a teenage girl. His hands, she knew, would not crush her—they would be a resting place and not a cage, and she took in a deep breath, biting her lower lip and watched as his eyes darkened a few shades, lust burning like the embers of a flame and he lifted her hand, pulling her into another dance, dipping her and twirling her.

When, about three minutes later, the dance had come to an end, and dinner was being served, Wesley tugged her over to a table, and she sat beside him, glancing around and seeing Evie, Jacqueline and Miranda standing together, wide grins on their faces. Sawyer came and sat on her other side almost instantly, Jacqueline moving to sit beside him, and with all of her friends around her and the handsome mogul by her side, she felt slightly awed and glanced at Wesley, to find him already looking at her, eyes dark and glittering, a slight smile on his face, a hint of cruelty and aloofness beneath the aristocratic features on the face that would make even angels weep with envy.

“Are you single?” his voice was low, meant only for her ears and she nodded in reply, not trusting herself to speak just yet. As the waiters placed their food in front of them, she stared down at her hands, telling herself to get a grip, he was just a man, but unlike anyone else she’d met, he turned her inside out and she didn’t even know him. Since Caleb, there had been nobody else that she’d had any sort of feelings for—Wesley would be the first to empower the raging emotions of lust and desire in her, smouldering like a rising fire.

His slow smile was lazy and wicked, hinting at the pleasure he would bring, and looking at him, her breath caught in her throat. She imagined raw, hard, primal fucking—sheet clawing, back arching, toe curling, nail raking, screaming, hot, wild fucking, and her cheeks flushed red at the vivid pictures in her mind. “Are you?” Elle found herself asking, trying her best to not think of his naked body on top of hers, pounding into her, naked skin on skin, bodies glistening with sweat, his legs entwined with hers, hand knotting in her hair, pulling, showing his dominance as she screamed his name, rising to the peak of a cliff and—

“Yes, I am,” Wesley laughed, his answer interrupting where her imagination had been leading her and she took a sip of the red wine, breathing in and out, glancing at Sawyer, who smirked at her.

“He’s into you,” the amusement creeping through Sawyer’s tone was unmistakeable and she flushed, shaking her head.

“No. He’s not.”

Rolling her eyes, Miranda pointed at her with a fork, then realising where they were, lowered it, and nodded. “Yes. He is,” and shifted slightly, mouthing the words ‘talk to him‘, causing panic to rise in her and to wash it away, she took another sip of the wine and turned her attention to Wesley, who had been conversing with the man to his right. Feeling her eyes on him, he looked at her, raising an eyebrow, the ghost of a smile playing on his lips, his eyes lowering to her mouth before looking back up.

“So, Wesley,” she said, his name rolling off her tongue like honey, desire pulsing through her. “When you’re not at one of these gatherings, what is it that you do?”

“Ah, well,” he paused, his grin widening. “I own Charleston-Humphrey Enterprises and have a chain of restaurants,” Wesley said, leaning back slightly in his chair, sipping his glass of scotch. Elle widened her eyes, suddenly realising why his name sounded a little familiar. The Charleston-Humphrey Enterprises were a huge deal, and owned a lot of other smaller companies and hotels, cars, casinos, clubs and restaurants. She was a fool to not have realised it sooner. His name was splashed all over the media.

“Oh,” she breathed. “Oh, wow. That’s . . . you’re just, I mean, how?” Stumbling over her words, Elle blushed at the laughter that lighted up his smoke grey eyes, taking in  the dimples flashing as he chuckled, a hand placed on her knee, causing her heart to hammer, her palms to be coated in a light sheen of sweat that she discreetly wiped on the seat she sat upon, and for a shimmer of lust to pulse through her, lightning-quick, but enough to make her move a little closer, looking at him, watching as he swallowed the bite of chicken on the fork.

“Years of blood, sweat and tears.”

She raised her eyebrows, “of course.”

“What about yourself? When you’re not being accosted by bachelors such as myself, what do you do?”

“I’ve studied Law at university and at the moment, I’m working as a waitress in Imperial Cupcake. I have an interview next month in a law firm.”

Wesley stared at her, before smiling slightly. “I see. Why do you want to be a lawyer?”

Elle shrugged, “just wanted to.” She didn’t feel comfortable with him knowing the reason behind her choice, so she chose to not give him a proper answer.

He raised an eyebrow, “you just wanted to?”

“Mhm . . .”

He laughed. “Right. I take it you act impulsively most of the time then?”

“Sometimes,” she smiled.

Just as he opened his mouth to reply, a beautiful blonde called his name and he turned his head, nodding at whatever it was that she was saying and Elle lifted her chin slightly, looking at Jacqueline as she leaned forward, across Sawyer.

“You know, you should flirt with the guy,” Jackie said softly, eyes glimmering with a hint of laughter and a wicked humour as Elle vehemently shook her head.

“He’s out of my league.”

 “Are you kidding me?” Evie asked incredulously, staring at her, jaw dropping open.

Raising an eyebrow, Elle didn’t say anything, instead looking at Wesley, feeling her heart stutter in her chest, a deep longing scorching through her, leaving behind a trail of heat and she exhaled slowly, thinking that a.) Sawyer was wrong because b.) Wesley Charleston-Humphrey was not—because how totally absurd would that be—into her because c.) she wasn’t anything like  the cool, glamorous girls that she saw draped over his arms at a countless number of events. She was awkward and somewhat shy and irrevocably tainted by the past she walked away from, torn apart by the boy she’d fallen in love with and given everything to without waiting to see if he even wanted it, because he’d made her into a hotel, promising her a home but giving her nothing in return of the love she’d given him.

Thirty minutes later, Elle found herself doubting her own thoughts and forgetting all about Caleb Moreno, because she was pressed up against the ivory silk that draped from the ceiling to the floor, a gold bar pressing into her back, out of sight from everyone else, her mouth moving against Wesley’s in a burning, heart-stopping kiss that sent glitter rushing through her, dark and intoxicating, sending her dizzy with the desire to take more, oh so much more, and as she clutched onto the lapels of his shirt, the material bunching in her hands, she swayed, holding onto him as if he were her lifeline. His hands were on her waist, his body pressing up against her. She moaned his name into his mouth and he kissed her harder, a hand moving up her back, pulling her closer, arching up into him, pleasure making her giddy with the feel of his hands and mouth on her, and she becomes undone, lost and boundless, gravity losing all meaning as his hand slides through the slit in the blood red, whisper-thin silk dress that covers her body. Wesley’s hand reached up, squeezing her ass, as she sucked on his lower lip, heart racing, pulse quickening as she felt him, rock hard and pressing against her hot, aching core, through the silk of her dress, that she was suddenly so grateful to be wearing.

“God, you’re so sexy,” he murmured softly, and she laughed, pressing hard kisses against his neck, sucking on the skin, a hum of pleasure escaping her mouth at the low growl that emanated from his chest as her tongue traced nonsensical patterns on his skin. She had never been the kind of girl who made out with complete strangers, but Wesley sent all her thoughts flying out of the window—all logical thinking disappeared the moment he said her name and she found herself bound, helpless against him, needing more, craving his touch like a drug, knowing it would do no good but being unable to say no, and it was him—goddammit, it was Wesley who was holding her centred to the earth at that very moment and as their mouths moved in sync, hands searching and bodies pressed against each other, mere moments away from her dress and his suit falling away, she smiled against his lips, feeling him smiling, and their kiss was clumsy and passionate all at once, because there was nothing more beautiful than knowing someone was so smiling so hard against your lips and kissing you and god, it was beautiful.

Distantly, she heard her phone ringing, that totally embarrassing song (Barbie Girl to be precise), that she had forgotten to change and had made a mental note (about, oh, six months ago) to beat the shit out of Tyler for putting that song as her ringtone, blaring out loudly. Ignoring it and unable to concentrate on anything other than Wesley and his hands and his oh-so wicked mouth on her, Elle moaned, tipping her head back as he kissed her neck, the column of her throat, teeth nipping and sucking on the skin, pressing feather-light kisses against her collarbone and cleavage, before a sound of frustration escaped him and he pulled back, scowling.

“What the fuck is that . . . god, is that your phone ringing?” Amusement and frustration laced through his husky voice and she flushed, desire and embarrassment coursing through her.

She nodded.

Bending down, she picked up her clutch bag from where she’d dropped it onto the floor and didn’t bother looking at the caller I.D. before holding one finger up to Wesley, saying a silent one minute, and answered it.

The words she heard caused her blood to turn to ice and the colour to drain from her face, lust and desire fading away to shock and horror.

“Eleanora? Your dad’s in hospital, honey.”

Posted by:Sumaiya Ahmed

Sumaiya Ahmed is a student, poet and freelance features journalist, aiming to break down the boundaries of cultural stigma and shame attached to mental health and sexuality within the South Asian culture, and bringing marginalised topics to light. She is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of Poised.

6 thoughts on “Almost Home — A Short Story

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