Never Close Enough

By: Anie Michaels

Chapter One

Ella



There were certain days one wasn't supposed to spend alone; Holidays, anniversaries, graduations, and most importantly, birthdays. Birthdays had always held special rank with Ella Sinclair, so she found it ironic that here she was driving in what could only be described as hurricane conditions, towards the beach, stifling back sobs, alone, and on her thirtieth birthday. Just hours earlier she had the bad luck typical in her life, to walk in on her boyfriend as he and some chesty brunette were in the middle of some crazy Kama Sutra pose that could only lead Ella to believe that the slut was not only a whorish home-wrecker, but also some crazy yoga instructor for people with no bones. Perfect.

He and Super-Slut were so involved in their activities he probably wouldn't have even noticed he'd been caught except that Ella had backed into a bookshelf as she tried to stumble out of the bedroom, causing all kinds of ruckus as books and knickknacks fell to the floor. His head turned and their eyes met. Ella saw a flash of what she thought was remorse in them, but she didn't recognize anything else about him, as if she were looking at a stranger. She couldn't add it all up in her mind: Kyle? Buried in some other woman? Who was he?

She grabbed the suitcase she had placed by the front door that morning and left before he had a chance to catch her. As she flew down the stairs she could hear him calling her name, but didn't know how to make herself stop, or allow him to see her so embarrassed.

So now it was two hours later and she was still on her way to the beach house they were supposed to be spending the next week at celebrating her birthday. Only she was very much alone and still replaying everything that had happened back at their apartment. What had happened? She knew things weren't perfect with Kyle, but it had never occurred to her that he was cheating. This week was supposed to be their chance to reconnect, to get back the spark that had been slowly dwindling between them. She had been sure that all they needed was some time alone. All the space between them would fade away and they'd get back to the couple they'd been in the beginning. Back when even an inch was too much space between them. Back to nights of snuggling on the couch, watching movies and talking until one of them, usually her, passed out. Back when things were simple.

It was really raining now and sheets of water were pounding her windshield, making it almost impossible to see and definitely not safe to drive in. She took the next exit and came up to a bar with “Tilly's” flashing in neon lights. This was just as good a place as any to take shelter from this terrible rain and she could definitely use a drink. She ran quickly from her car to the wooden doors with handles made of small logs, a rustic touch that signified her proximity to the beach.

Inside there were only a few people scattered throughout the room. Two men were playing pool, a man and woman sat at a table near the juke box, and a few more men were sprinkled at the bar. Ella took a few seconds to shake the water off her coat, hung it on the coat rack near the door, and headed to the bar. The bartender was a woman who looked to be in her mid-sixties with short hair that was once brown, but now was more gray than any other color. When Ella sat down, the woman headed her way.

“Hey there, what can I get for you?”

Ella wasn't a big drinker and always felt a little silly ordering drinks for fear of sounding like an imposter of some sort.

“I will just have a vodka sour, please.”

“Sure thing. Can I see some I.D.?”

“Of course.” Most people liked getting carded, but Ella felt the novelty wore off by twenty-three and it seemed silly now. She handed her I.D. over, hoping she didn't seem annoyed.

“Well, my dear, you're entitled to a birthday drink on the house!” The woman said with a smile on her face. Oh right, her birthday.

“Oh, well, that's nice. I had honestly forgotten about my birthday. Today hasn't gone the way I thought it would,” Ella said while looking down at a coaster she had started spinning on the bar.

“Well, I will go get you that drink and, if you'd like, you can tell me about it. My name's Tilly Masters and I'm a really good listener.”

“Tilly, as in the flashing signs outside Tilly?” Ella asked.

“The one and only. This is my bar and I make the rules, so you get a birthday drink.”

Tilly walked away to make her drink and Ella reached into her purse to find her phone. There were seventeen missed calls and five text messages, all from Kyle. Ella debated for a moment whether she wanted to read any of them or not, but gave in to her curiosity.



**Ella, please come back. Where are you going?**



**Please talk to me! Why won’t you answer your phone?**



**Ella, I'm worried about you. Tiffany doesn't mean anything to me. Answer me!**



**Please call me so we can talk.**



**Ella, at least let me know that you're ok.**



Ella sighed and quickly typed a message out.



** I am safe. I went to the beach. Please stop calling and texting. I need some time. I will call when I am ready to talk.**



“Here's your birthday drink, on the house,” Tilly said as she set the drink down on the coaster Ella had been spinning. “So, tell me what's got you so down on your birthday, Honey.”

Ella looked at Tilly and decided that being a pseudo-shrink to patrons was part of the job description of a bartender, so she spilled. “I came home early from work and found my boyfriend having porno sex with a very limber, woman-jellyfish hybrid.” Ella took a sip of her drink, looked down at her glass, and sighed. “We were supposed to be coming to the beach for my birthday to get away, to reconnect. But when I saw them together I sort of shut down, grabbed my bags and ran.” Ella looked up at Tilly, who stared blankly at her waiting for more information, so she continued.

“It never occurred to me that Kyle could be cheating, that there was a Tiffany out there I should be worried about. I didn't even yell. I said nothing. I almost felt like I had walked in on strangers accidentally. I should be angrier, right? I should be throwing things. I should be ruining his clothes and spray painting his car with four letter words. But I'm just not.”

“Well, honey, what are you feeling?” Tilly asked gently.

Ella took in a deep breath, held it for a second, and let it out loudly.

“I don't know. I guess I'm just sad. I don't know if Kyle was The One,” Ella said with emphasis, “but I certainly wasn't looking for anyone else.” Ella paused and took in a shaky but deep breath. “It hurts to think that he could be with someone other than me and someone so opposite of me.” Ella thought about the chesty brunette. And even though she hadn't taken a thorough look at the woman, she knew Tiffany was everything she wasn't. Busty, brunette, tall, and flexible to boot. Ella was shorter, with blonde hair that came down past her shoulders, and had curves where she should, but they were nothing to get excited about.

“Well, it sounds to me like he didn't know what he had and he doesn't deserve you anyway. Good riddance to bad rubbish,” Tilly said.

The swinging double doors behind the bar suddenly opened, which had both Ella and Tilly turning to look at the man who walked through them.

“There was a leak in the main line to the dishwasher, causing a pressure problem, which is why nothing was getting clean. I patched it, but you might need to get an actual plumber in here to check it out soon, if you don't want it to cause problems again,” he said.

“Thanks, Son. You're a life saver,” Tilly said as she affectionately rubbed his arm. Tilly turned to Ella and said, “This is my son, Porter Masters. He comes around sometimes to fix things that need fixing, like a good son should.”

“Hi. I'm Ella Sinclair,” she said as she reached her hand out to him. He took it and she was surprised at his commanding handshake. Not hard or rough, but firm and purposeful. She looked him in the eyes as he shook her hand and couldn't help but notice how stupidly handsome he was. He was tall with dark hair that wasn't short, but wasn't long, and didn't really have a style. It simply fell where it fell and looked messy on purpose, like he spent much of his time running his fingers through it. Her eyes roamed over his body that wasn’t hidden by the bar. His simple t-shirt was stretched deliciously over the muscles in his arms, and she caught her glare lingering on them longer than it probably should have.

“Nice to meet you,” he said in a way that left her feeling like he was used to his mother introducing him to women at her bar, and that this handshake was one of many he'd been roped into. He turned back to his mother and said, “I'm going to go take a look at the lock on that door in the bathroom before

I leave.”

“Ok, thanks” Tilly replied. He walked toward the small hallway that had a sign above it that said “Restrooms”. Tilly looked back at Ella and said, “Sorry he was so gruff. He's a nice guy; it just takes a while for him to warm up. His daddy died when he was a boy and he took on the “Man of the House” role. I think he grew up a little too fast. But he's the most loyal loving son I could ask for.”

“It’s ok, I'm probably not the best candidate for conversation tonight anyways.” Ella grabbed her purse and put a single on the bar. “I better get out of here if I'm ever going to find my rental. Thanks for listening and thanks for the birthday drink,” she said to Tilly.

“No problem, Honey. Come on back before you leave town. We have a real good lunch menu. And I hope you have a good rest of your birthday,” she said with a smile.

“Thanks, I will try.” Ella got up and headed to the door, pulled on her coat, and headed out into the rain. She jogged the short distance to her car, got in, but when she put the keys in the ignition the car wouldn't start. That was an understatement. The car wouldn't do anything. It didn't even try to start. She looked around and noticed that her headlight knob was still switched on.

“Damn it!”

Ella slumped down until her head thumped against the steering wheel and she tried not to think about why everything had to fall apart at the same time. Tried not to think about how Kyle should be here to help her figure out what is wrong with her car. Tried not to think about how alone she felt at this very moment. She let out the breath she'd been holding and opened her car door to head back into the bar. This time she didn't bother to take her coat off, just headed to the bar, and sat down on the stool she had just vacated. Tilly handed another woman a drink that looked a little too tropical to enjoy while a monsoon raged outside and came back to Ella.

“Ella, what's wrong?”

“Well, my car won’t start. I think I killed the battery. Do you have a phonebook so I can call a tow truck?”

“Oh, I don't think you'll get a tow truck out here for a battery in this weather. There's only two or three in the area, and they will be busy responding to accidents from the rain.”

“Well that's just great,” Ella said.

“Hey Mom, that lock is fixed,” Porter said as he came out of the hallway, heading towards the bar.

“Great, Honey. Thanks. Hey do you have jumper cables in your truck? Ella's battery died.”

“No. I loaned them to Bob the last time he was in here.”

“That's ok, I will just call a cab,” Ella said as she shrugged.

“A cab?” Porter laughed. “There aren't any cabs out here. You'd have better luck hitch-hiking.”

“Ok, well, that's not an option,” Ella replied, a little annoyed that he obviously thought she was out of her element – which she was but he didn't need to be so smug about it.

“No problem,” Tilly said. “Porter was just finishing up here, so he can take you wherever you are going, right Porter?”

Porter stared blankly at his mother for a second, obviously irritated by her offering up his services. “Yea, sure, no problem. Where you headed?”

“I'm staying at a rental in Lincoln City on Elm Street,” Ella said. “But really, it's ok. I'll manage.”

“Well, don’t be so stubborn; you can't walk. It's at least ten miles down the road,” Tilly said. “I would take you myself but I don't close for another few hours. Porter will take you; he doesn't mind.” She smiled sweetly at her son with a look that implied he didn't have a choice.

“Let's get going then,” he said. Ella followed him out the door. She stopped at her black Toyota to grab her bags out of the trunk, just one suitcase and one duffel bag. She noticed he hadn't stopped to wait for her, so he was almost to his truck on the other side of the lot. She picked up her pace and made it to the passenger side just as he was shutting his door. She took a deep breath before she got in and tried to plaster a polite smile onto her face to give the illusion that she was thankful for the ride. She had a feeling that the next few miles in a car with this man would be less than pleasant.





Porter



This was so typical of his mother. She was always volunteering him for projects or favors for friends, especially if the friends were pretty women. It didn't matter to him that Ella was pretty, or even beautiful. He noticed her small frame and how her blue eyes locked on his when they shook hands. He noticed the way she smelled like vanilla, but it didn't matter. He wasn't looking for a relationship; he was never looking for relationships. Sure, he'd had his fair share of women, especially when he was younger, but he'd never felt the need to date anyone seriously. He never felt compelled to be in a relationship and only considered dating the few women he had because he knew his mother desperately wanted him to be married, and she wanted grandbabies. None of the women ever stuck though, and the longest he'd been with one woman recently had been merely a couple months.

“So, what's the address of your rental?” He asked.

“Oh, um, I'm not sure. I will look it up right now.”

Porter rolled his eyes in the dark, knowing she couldn't see him. He saw her fumbling with her phone and tried to hide his annoyance.

“Ok, here we go. It's 2358 Elm St in Lincoln City.”

“Alright, that shouldn't be too hard to find,” he said.

“Thanks for driving me. I'm sure this isn't how you envisioned spending your Friday night.”

“It's no problem. But you should really carry jumper cables with you, so you don't end up stranded.”

“You're right. I shouldn't rely on the kindness of strangers,” she said with a little edge to her voice.

“I guess you're lucky I am a kind stranger and not some lunatic who happened to be at the right place at the right time to take advantage of you,” he snapped.

“Oh, well thank my lucky stars! I do say, you're a regular hero,” she said, her voice oozing with sarcasm. “Look, I've had a pretty rotten day and I don't need you lecturing me. So either take me to my rental, or I can get out and walk the rest of the way.”

Porter thought about arguing further, but decided to save his breath. It was only a few more minutes to her place, and then he could leave her in peace, and it wasn't her fault that his mother was always trying to set him up with women. They traveled in silence the rest of the way, and when they found her place, he pulled into the driveway threw the truck into park.

“Do you need help in with your bags?”

“Um, no. Now, I just have to figure out how to get in.”

“What do you mean? You don't have the keys?”

“No, I don't have the keys. I found this place on the internet and the owners told me in an email that they keep the key hidden on the property. I just have to find that email real quick.”

“Let me get this straight,” Porter said, irritated. “You are traveling alone, without jumper cables, taking rides from strangers, unaware of the address of your rental, and without any keys to get it? Are you out of your mind?!”

“Excuse me?” she gaped at him, pissed off that he would talk to her that way. “I have keys, they are just hidden out there somewhere,” she gestured out the windshield of his truck. “According to this email,” she said, pointing at her phone, “they are under the potted flowers on the back porch.”

Porter said nothing, but opened his door and jumped down from his truck. He stomped through the rain, up the steps of the front porch, and around to the back. A few seconds later he returned and headed towards the front door. He then saw her grab her bags and she met him at the front steps. He opened the door, fumbled around for a light switch, found it and turned it on, but nothing happened. He flipped it up and down a few more times, somehow hoping that it would start working after a few tries.

Porter let out a frustrated growl, “I don't suppose you know how to turn on the electricity, do you?”

“Not exactly,” Ella said hesitantly.

"How can you be so irresponsible to get yourself into this situation to begin with?" Porter nearly shouted.

"Listen," Ella said, turning towards Porter matching his annoyance in her tone, "I didn't plan any of this! Today is my birthday. This was supposed to be my getaway. My boyfriend was supposed to be with me, handling all of these details. It's not my fault that I found him having sex with someone else not four hours ago. He decided to abandon our relationship to have crazy-bendy sex with that slut, and it looked like better sex than we'd ever had together. So tell me how fair that is?” Ella took a deep breath in, seeming to for her next verbal assault. “I am sorry if helping me has been an inconvenience for you or I haven't lived up to some standard of responsible behavior. I was just trying to get away from what seemed to be my life falling apart!" She was breathing heavily, and he could tell she was trying to hold tears back. Seeing her that way shifted something inside of him.

Porter didn't know what to say. She was obviously upset, and he wasn't sure how much of that anger he was responsible for, but he wanted to make it right. He might not be the world's friendliest person, but he wasn't an ass.

"Look, Ella, I am sorry,” he said, running his hand through his damp hair. “I had no idea any of that was going on. I don't know what's wrong with your boyfriend, but he sounds like an idiot if he'd do anything to mess things up with you. And I'm sorry for yelling about the cables and keys. I guess it just bothers me thinking about what could have happened if I hadn't been around."

But that was the strange thing. It did bother him, more than he was comfortable with. He wasn't used to worrying about anyone and he didn't usually go out of his way to help anyone besides his mother. But the idea of some schmoe off the street driving Ella home and helping her into her house made his blood run fast through his veins. For now, he was just glad he had been around when she needed him. “Let’s go inside. You can sit down and I will get the power on for you.”

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