The clatter of silverware against dishes was jarring. Ella wasn’t used to being around so many people. Even when she was free to go wherever she wanted, it was just her and Aunt Suzette most of the time. Her stepsisters, Anna and Drew, never stopped talking either. They were prattling on about how awful the auditions they’d gone to earlier that day had been. Tim ran a hand through his dark hair, doing his best to pretend to be interested, but Ella could see in his eyes he really didn’t care what either of the girls had to say. He was listening because he was being polite.
As soon as there was an opening in the conversation, Tim turned to her. “Ella, how was your day? Did you do anything interesting?”
“Oh, uh, I spent most of the day working on a poster for a new movie.” She took another bite of her chicken, chewing slowly. Her stepmother liked to belittle her for eating too quickly--and too much--which was ridiculous considering how tiny Ella was, but she assumed it was because Teresa wanted to make fun of her in front of her daughters who “ate like birds.”
“What movie is it?” Tim buttered a roll and took a bite, waiting for her to answer.
“It’s called, The Way You Hurt Me,” she replied. “It looks interesting.”
“We should go see it.” He smiled at her, his green eyes twinkling. “I’ve heard it’s supposed to be very good.”
“Oh, you know Ella doesn’t like to go out,” Teresa said, glaring at her from Tim’s far side so he couldn’t see. “It’s funny how someone who doesn’t even like movies spends so much time working on posters for them.” She laughed, and her daughters joined in.
“Doesn’t like movies?” Tim repeated. “Since when? You used to like to go to the movies when we were younger, and every time I visited you in Toulouse we’d go to see a French film.”
“Uh… well… I like French films, but not necessarily American films.”
“You’re such a snob,” Anna said, rolling her eyes.
“It’s not that. I just….”
“We’re going. What are you doing Friday night?”
“Ella has plans Friday,” Teresa said. “Maybe next week.”
Tim looked confused. “What about Saturday?”
“Oh, we can go with you on Friday!” Drew chimed in, batting her eyelashes. “Maybe you can introduce us to some of your famous actor friends.”
“I’ve already introduced you to most of them. Did Jake Wester ever call you?”
Drew went into a pout. “No. And he didn’t give me his number. You should tell him he needs to call your favorite cousin.” Once again, her eyelashes were batting a mile a minute.
Ella wished she could just melt into her chair. Clearly, they’d successfully changed the subject from the topic of her going to the movies with Tim. She hoped he’d let it go because she hated lying to him.
She got her wish, but another uncomfortable topic came up. “Oh, speaking of calling….” He dug around in his pocket for a few moments and pulled out a new cell phone. “Since you haven’t gotten yours fixed yet, I decided to go ahead and get you another one. Here you go, cuz.”
Staring at the phone in his hand, Ella hesitated, not knowing what to do. She fought the urge to look at Teresa, knowing that would just cause him to ask questions. She finally reached out and took it. “Thanks.”
“Sure. I put my number in there, so you’ll have no excuse not to text me now.” He chuckled. “We’ll figure out when we can see the movie.”
Ella smiled at him and nodded but set the phone down next to her plate. There was no way Teresa would let her keep it.
Her stepsisters continued to monopolize the conversation until dinner was over, and they’d finished dessert, which Ella had passed on when Teresa reminded her that she was having trouble fitting in her pants. Tim’s eyebrow knit together for a moment, and he said, “So buy some new ones.” Teresa laughed, as if it were a joke, and Ella assured him she really didn’t want any cake anyway.
“Well, I have to be going now.” Tim pushed his chair back from the table and stood. “Thank you for dinner, Aunt Teresa.”
“Are you going out to the clubs?” Anna asked, biting her lower lip. “We’d love to go with you.”
“No, no, not tonight.” Ella could tell when her cousin was lying. He just didn’t want to take them with him. “I’ll see you all later. Unless of course…” he turned to Ella, “you wanna go see that movie now?”
Forcing a yawn, she said, “Not tonight. I’m too tired. But thanks. We’ll do it soon.”
“Okay.” He hugged her, and then her stepsisters insisted he give them a hug as well. Ella didn’t like the way they were looking at him; they might not be related by blood, but it was still icky.
Once Tim disappeared out the door, Anna and Drew started talking about where they’d go that night, and Teresa turned to Ella. “Phone.” She held her perfectly manicured hand out, palm up.
“It’s still on the table, Mother.”
She pursed her lips together and went to the table. Just as she’d said, it was still sitting by her plate. Teresa picked it up and put it in her pocket, and that was the end of that.
Ella took a deep breath. She could run after Tim right now, shout for him to stop and come back and help her.
Seeing the look in her eyes, Teresa took a step closer so that she was in Ella’s face. “Don’t even think about it, missy. I know what you’re thinking. You wouldn’t survive for ten minutes out there. This isn’t France, doll. This is LA. Besides, I’ll be damned if I’m going to have your father blaming me when you’re found dead in a ditch. Now, get your happy little ass upstairs, and remember I know all calls that go out from that phone and all emails sent to anyone other than your father. Got it?”
“Yes, Mother.” Ella turned and headed upstairs, like an obedient child, before Teresa could see her tears.
Once she was on the other side of the door, she went ahead and clicked the lock into place, knowing Teresa would send one of the servants up to make sure it was locked from the outside in a minute. She rested her head against the door and swiped away her tears. Maybe she would leave with Tim the next time he came over. Something told her Teresa wouldn’t let him come over for a while after this. He’d been too pushy tonight, too insistent.
Ella went over to the twin bed she’d been sleeping on, which was set up in the corner of the attic, and dropped down, avoiding the springs she knew were sharp and sticking out. She stared at the bare wooden beams in the ceiling and wished things were different. She knew she could find a way to get out of this situation if she wanted to, but she wasn’t sure she wanted to be responsible for causing those sorts of problems in her family.
She wiped away a few stray tears and turned on the lamp by the side of her bed. Giving her stepmother the satisfaction of making her cry made her feel even worse. Ella rested her head back on the thin pillow she’d been given and thought about the phone call she’d taken earlier. She bet Rome was out on the town right now, probably at a club, partying with a bunch of pretty girls. She wondered if Tim knew him. Of course, she didn’t even know his last name, so it wasn’t as if she could ask.
Thinking of him made the image of the actor she’d been staring at earlier come to mind. She rolled off of her bed and went over to her computer, shaking the mouse until it came to life. Pulling up the poster from the movie, she zoomed in on his face. He was so handsome and full of life. What was that guy doing right now? She’d like to find out.
Footsteps outside of her door let her know that the servant was checking to make sure the door was locked. “Lights out,” Helen, one of the maids, shouted in a voice almost as stern as Teresa’s. With a sigh, Ella clicked off her monitor and went over to the bed to turn off the light. As soon as she heard the footsteps walking away from the door, she turned it back on. She knew no one would come all the way back up here to see if it was out, and the one small window in this part of the attic faced a side of the house where no one would be this late in the evening.
Ella pulled a sketch pad out from a crack in the wall and a pencil she kept hidden beneath her dresser. With nothing else to do to occupy her time, she began to sketch. Tonight, it was easy to decide what to draw. The handsome man she’d been staring at all day began to come to life on the blank piece of paper. Only this time, Ella drew herself next to him, his arm around her, a smile on each of their faces. Maybe someday she’d get up the courage to leave her prison, and he’d be out there waiting for her.
Lucky Red was loud and crowded, and Rome wished he hadn’t bothered to come out at all. Even after a couple of beers, he wasn’t feeling any more relaxed.“Would you lighten up?” Mark urged him. “Come on, man. Rosa’s looking hot tonight. She keeps smiling at you, and you’ve only got eyes for your beer.”Rome loo
Concentrating on her newest marketing campaign was super hard for Ella when all she wanted to do was stare at the picture of the actor from yesterday’s poster and check her phone. She knew it seemed ridiculous to think that Rome would actually call her back, especially so soon after he had called the first time, but that didn’t make her any less anxious to hear his voice.She had his number from the caller ID. In fact, she’d memorized his number. She couldn’t call him, though. Teresa might not actually do all of the things she threatened to do,
He had waited until almost 4:00 in the afternoon, but now that his audition was over and he had nothing standing in his way, Rome sat down on the edge of his bed and purposely called the number he’d accidentally called the night before. He prayed Ella was working and that she was the one who answered. For all he knew, Sinders had a whole bunch of customer service representatives.“Sinders Cinema Marketing. This is Ella.”
Dinner was almost over, and Ella hadn’t heard a word anyone had said at the table, she’d been so lost in her thoughts. Rome knew who she was. He wanted to meet her. In real life. That was both amazing and terrifying at the same time.Ella wasn’t that pretty. She had been told for most of her life that she looked like her mother, who happened to be a famous model. But she knew now that she hadn’t inherited her mother’s beauty. Her stepmom told her all of the time that she had a witch’s
Rome called Ella every day, sometimes twice a day if he didn’t get to talk to her too long the first time. Some days she had more time to chat than others. Every time he talked to her, he became even more fascinated with the girl. Within days of meeting her, he knew how extraordinarily special she was. He wanted to be with her so badly, but every time he asked her out, she said she was busy.“What about your aunt’s birthday party tonight?” Rome asked Friday afternoon. He’d called her a little earlier than normal because he wanted to see i
Ella hung up the phone and then went over to the dress she’d been working on all week. She had no idea how this would work. If Tim came to get her, and she was locked in the attic, she’d be screwed. Her stepmom would just tell him that she wasn’t there. If he didn’t come to get her, she’d look ridiculous coming to dinner in her dress. But… she didn’t really have a choice. She needed to put it on now in anticipation of her stepmom coming to let her out. Would she just shove her back into the attic and lock the door when she realized Ella intended to go to the party?
In the half-bath, Ella hung the bag Tim had handed her on a hook on the back of the door and unzipped it. She gasped at what she saw hanging there. The gown was gorgeous. A crystal blue color, with lovely gem embellishments all down the bodice, the skirt was full and flowy, and she knew it would look lovely on anyone--even her.Quickly, she took her soup-covered gown off and tossed it in the garbage, thinking there was nothing anyone could do to get that stain out. As carefully as possible, she slipped into the blue gown, which fit her like a glove. He’d even go
Rome stepped out of the shadows once he was certain they were alone. There she was, standing by the fountain, her gown flowing around her, the moonlight casting a silver hue around her dark hair and making her skin glow in a soft light. She had spoken as if she were ordinary, perhaps even ugly, but even with the mask on her face, he could tell that Ella was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen.They’d spoken to each other several times over the phone; he almost felt as if he knew her. Yet, as he approached, the ordinary words that would’ve normall