A/N: Serendipity545 mentioned to me that I had 49 stories on my account and I was like, "Seriously? Damn. I've got to write a 50th sometime…and it has to be damned good." So. I wrote this. I happen to like it a lot, and I just hope you guys enjoy it. Thanks so much for always being supportive reviewers and readers. You're all amazing and I honestly wish I could give each of you a hug. I'll settle for writing more and more, if that's alright. ;)
P.S. - Hey, Amanda? If you read this author's note...I really, really hope you like this a lot. After reading Summer Beat, even though CR Ella has nothing to do with your Ella, I couldn't get the idea of writing an Ella fic out of my head. So...I just hope you like it. ;)
And she realizes in that tiny fraction of a moment that it isn't the fear of being alone that keeps her up at night.
During the darkest, most empty, eerily quiet moments of the night, Ella realizes that she doesn't like the fact that her sheets are never stolen, that her skin is never shared, that she can't bear to even look at the empty space beside her. She realizes that even on the hottest days of summer her body feels cold and isolated. What she realizes is that loneliness is her present, and she desperately prays that it isn't her future.
And it's not that she's unattractive or strange, bitchy or cruel. If anything she's just another hopeless romantic at heart waiting for that right person, that one who will be holding her hand when all she wants to do is crumble, to walk through her door and sweep her off her feet.
So Ella just doesn't understand why girls like Mitchie and Tess and Caitlyn refuse to acknowledge the Prince Charmings of their lives. She doesn't understand why they don't want the dream-come-trues and the forever-and-evers. She can't even wrap her head around the fact that Caitlyn turned down Nate's proposal.
"But you love him, don't you?" Ella asked her friend of ten years.
Caitlyn nodded softly and stroked her tears away, glad in the back of her mind that she had gone for the mascara she did. Her heart was hurting and she needed her friends to understand.
"Of course I – I do. I mean, we've been together for so long, but I just – I just. I can't. I can't marry him." She looked away and folded her hands into her lap, absentmindedly stroking her ring finger. To herself, and only for her ears, she murmured, "You stupid little fool. You turned down the only boy who will ever love you. Why?"
But Ella heard and the words made her sad on the inside. There wasn't any way for her to understand, really – Ella had never been with someone for eight years, and she couldn't even imagine being twenty-five and practically married to the first boy to ever have kissed her.
She leaned forward and took Caitlyn's hand in her own. "Hey. You listen to me, okay?"
"You are beautiful and kind and gracious. You drink too much coffee and you're a pain in the ass in the mornings." Her friend laughed and she smiled. "But you've got the biggest damn heart, Gellar. If you're saying no, then you better be damned sure that you're not doing it because your heart's not in it for the long haul. You love him, but you've just got to be honest with yourself, Caity. Are you in love with him?"
Caitlyn blinked and looked at Ella as if she'd never seen her before. At twenty-five Ella was notorious for being slightly ditzy, very fun, and the girl no man was ever allowed to toy with. Their friends wouldn't allow it. But Caitlyn had never heard her friend be so articulate, so sure of what she was saying. Caitlyn had no choice but to listen.
"No," she murmured astonished with herself. "I'm not. Not anymore."
It wasn't exactly the answer Ella was expecting, but she nodded regardless. "Then...all we can do is help you pick up the pieces, babe. And you're going to be okay. You're going to find the one you need, who will love you forever and for always. I promise." She swallowed back the lingering doubt, not for Caitlyn, but for herself.
Caitlyn gave eight years to someone and when a proposal, way past due, finally surfaced...she said no?
A part of her felt angry. Caitlyn caught one of the greatest boys on the planet and he loved her more than he liked most people.
What in the hell made her say no?
Often, Ella thinks back to that moment seven months ago when she let her friend cry on her shoulder, back to when all she wanted to do was slap her friend and tell her to call him and say she changed her mind. She thinks back to that moment and cries in her bedroom, with the curtains closed, and her door locked. Though there is never anyone home with her, she feels as if crying is a weakness she can't afford, because she's already too damn weak as it is.
She's too weak to speak up for herself, too weak to forge her own path, and too weak to open her heart up to someone.
It is on the warmest summer day that she gets the invite.
It's strange to think that such a prestigious camp would hold reunions, but that's what Camp Rock does. And she knew that when she attended years and years ago. She remembered she was leaving with the rest of the campers and seeing how happy the 'graduated' campers looked reconnecting with each other as she drove away...She even tried to count how many laughs, how many smiles, how many hugs were shared. Memories and memories were exposed between the faceless strangers to her, but she couldn't fight the envious feeling. She wanted that. She wanted to fall in step with someone as easily as those people did.
So she turns the manila envelope over in her fingers for hours and hours, frowning, laughing, crying. There are so many things that could go wrong at the reunion. Mitchie and Shane had already divorced. Caitlyn and Nate, luckily, were on speaking terms. They were staying 'friends', apparently. And who the hell knew what was going on with Jason and Tess? One minute they were happy, and the next they were enraged ready to kill each other.
She sighs and she tosses the envelope into the trash. "I don't need it," she murmurs.
But fifteen minutes later she's digging it right back out.
"Maybe I do," she finally settles. "Camp Rock...I hope you're ready for hell to begin."
She calls Tess and Peggy first, her former best friends who had somewhere down the line evaporated into mere acquaintances. The truth was that they didn't have much in common and when they became adults power and popularity meant almost nothing to them. There wasn't much for Tess to hold over their heads anymore, not fame or money. Peggy got that. She couldn't hold her looks over them either. Because Ella outshined her by a mile. They had just let the connection slip away, right until the phone calls became emails and the emails became scarce and short.
"Hello? Margaret speaking."
Ella sighs and sits down slowly. She's in her apartment, packing for the one week reunion. (Because obviously a prestigious 'camp' can't do a mere night. That would just be ridiculous.)
"Hey, Peggy," she says with a small amount of enthusiasm. "How are you doing?"
There's a small pause, as if Ella's friend isn't sure who's on the line with her. "...Ella?"
"Yeah!" she says then, a bit over-enthusiastic. "I was - I just wanted to call and see if you were going to the reunion."
Peggy moves around, that much Ella can tell by the static noise in her ear. "Well, actually I was going to call you tonight and see if you were going...are you?"
"I," she pauses and turns to her almost full suitcase. "Um. Yeah, actually."
"Well, at least there'll be a familiar face then. Do you know if the, uh, rest of the gang is going?" She waits patiently, knowing that she and Ella are treading carefully over the subject of their mutual friends.
"I'm not sure. I haven't called them yet."
"Do you think Shane and Mitchie, that they'll...you think they're going to come?"
"I hope not."
The truth is that Ella doesn't want Mitchie and Shane there because her heart will break for them all over again. She hates that the 'golden couple' as her parents once were, hate each other. And she can't fix it. She can't remedy their situation. She can't make five year-old Zoey disappear from the darkness her parents are creating. She just...can't do a thing.
Peggy doesn't say much for a moment, but then, "Yeah. Well, I guess I'll see you then, Ella."
"Yeah, you too."
The dial tone comes and Ella hangs up in a sort of daze, not believing that she used to have four-hour phone conversations with Peggy, and in three minutes they couldn't share one detail of their lives.
"Well. That wasn't awkward," she says to herself.
By the time she gets on the plane five days after her phone calls she knows that Nate is coming, Caitlyn is not, Jason is away on business, Shane and Mitchie are coming, Tess is blowing off a week of whatever-pop-stars-do, and Peggy, as she already promised, is flying in too.
She gets a seat in first class because, though she considers herself practical, she can't sit in Economy. Not even for two hours.
"Hello, ma'am. Thank you for joining us today. We hope you'll find your flight enjoyable and if you need anything at all just press this button."
Ella turns to the female flight attendant and smiles. "Thank you. I appreciate that."
It is when they take off that Ella realizes where she's going, who she's going to see again. She knows she'll be seeing him again.
And she's not entirely sure she can pretend she's 'okay'.
"Welcome back everyone!"
Ella smiles in the crowd and claps with the hundred or so other campers. It's a wild turnout, and almost everyone showed. She can see Shane and Mitchie standing on opposite sides, very obviously avoiding each other. And Tess is standing in the front, her honey-blond hair sticking out beautifully. And just in the middle of the crowd stands Peggy, smiling and clapping just as loud as she is.
"Alright, alright. Settle down, guys," Brown jokes. "First off, we'd like to say happy tenth! Can you believe it's been that long?" His eyes twinkle and then he nods to the crowd. "Alright, so you guys can choose your own cabins again and we're going to have a hell of a time! So go ahead and find your cabins! Then we're having a few hours to socialize in the mess hall! Hopefully you old blokes still know where that is."
Ella looks around and sees former campers scattering away. She walks slowly, wondering if perhaps Mitchie or Tess will pop up next to her and they'll easily slip into the old friendship she cherishes. She glances to her side and sees Mitchie staring intently at Shane, then she glances to her right and sees Tess talking rapidly on the phone. Peggy is already ahead of her, clearly going towards her old cabin. She follows her lead.
"Hey Peggy," she says when she catches up.
Peggy looks at her and smiles politely, quite honestly not as excited as Ella is. "Hey, girl!"
"You look awesome. I really love your hair," Ella gushes.
Peggy squeezes her arm as they walk up the steps that lead to their old cabin. She stops before the door and turns to face Ella. "I really missed you," she says genuinely. "I miss...the way we were."
Ella stops and hugs her friend, her real friend, tightly. "You don't know how much I've wanted to hear that."
The taller, successful musician hugs back and whispers, "Yes, Ella. Yes I do."
The mess hall is buzzing with excitement as old friends gush out their exciting lives to one another. Some of them lie, others stretch the truth. Most don't care. They're just happy to be in the room of people who can accept the perfection no questions asked. It's refreshing to leave the burdens back home where they belong.
But then Ella sees Nate drinking alone at an empty table, not acknowledging anyone who stops to say hi. Shane and Mitchie are still avoiding each other, but she can't deal with those two right now. That's something she would talk to Mitchie about later. She slips away from Peggy and Tess quietly, promising to be back soon. Without even thinking about it she navigates to the lonesome dreamer and plops down next to him.
"Hey," she says awkwardly. Because she doesn't know what to say to the ex of one of her dearest friends. "Isn't there anyone you want to talk to?" she prompts.
He glances sideways to her and shrugs. "Not really," are the only two words he has to offer.
"Not even me?" she jokes in typical Ella fashion, keeping it lighthearted and quirky.
He just looks at her, but says nothing. He wants her to go away. Ella is the equivalent to sunshine and bunnies. And what he needs right now does not involve Ella and her happy parade of sunshine and bunnies.
"Guess not," she mumbles.
He sighs and sets his half-empty glass down. "Look, Ella, if you can't tell, I'm not really feeling all that great and I'd like to be alone."
She looks at him like he's an idiot and snorts in an un-Ella like fashion. "Oh, shut up, Black."
"I said, 'shut up'. You're boo-hooing and throwing this stupid little pity party, and you know what?"
He groans and shakes his head sarcastically. "No, but there's a part of me that feels like you're about to tell me."
She glares. "If you did want to be alone, like you claim, you wouldn't have come to this 'stupid' reunion. I don't care if you're heart-broken, Black. I don't care if your heart got stomped on or that you never find someone better than Caitlyn ever again."
"Shut up Ella," he says menacingly. "You don't know what the hell you're talking about."
She stands and shoves her chair back in place, angry with him. She wants to slap him so much, but she won't. Because that wouldn't be the right thing to do. "You had eight years of love, you stupid boy. Stop groaning about the fact that it's over. You stopped being in love with Caitlyn the day you realized that you loved the security of not being alone more. You stopped loving her the day you realized that there would always be someone to share your skin with in the middle of the night. So stop it. You don't love her, she doesn't love you. It's over. Move on."
She doesn't realize that by the time she's done the entire hall is quiet. She doesn't realize that Mitchie and Shane are crying and that they're actually holding hands. She doesn't even realize that tears of her own are flowing freely. She screams inwardly and gives Nate one last look before she flees the building.
The clock on the wall reads 12 AM.
And unlike the fairytales that Ella loves so much, there's no one coming after her, there's no one who will long to hold her and stop the hurt.
There's no one.
The reunion is awkward for the rest of the week, at least for the golden gang. Mitchie and Shane, due mostly to Ella's indirect advice, are officially back on, and are willing to give their broken love one more try. Peggy feels bad for her friend, but doesn't know what to say. And Tess? Tess immediately flys out to see Jason, because she misses him terribly and doesn't want to end up like Nate and Caitlyn. She's scared that what Ella said will happen to her, so she's trying to prevent it.
At the moment everyone in the camp is asleep, but Ella can't even close her eyes and try. She stares at the ceiling above and sighs. "What are you doing with your life, Ella?"
Within minutes she's getting up and leaving Peggy behind. She walks around the camp, taking note of how unbelievably eerie it is when there is no music, there is no chipper dancing. She pauses at the lake and kneels down without touching her knees to the mulch that surrounds her.
She jumps and falls onto her butt. "Ow."
Hands help her up and she turns to see the one person she had tried her damned hardest to ignore. "David," she whispers.
He nods to her with his hands still resting on her waist. "Have you been avoiding me?" he asks straightforwardly.
"No," she answers too quickly.
He gives her that look that means he knows she's lying. She closes her eyes and mumbles, "Yes."
"Isn't it obvious, Dave?" she says to him cynically.
"I - I missed you."
She groans angrily and steps back from him. "God, I wish everyone would stop saying that. 'I missed you, Ella.' No one missed me. They avoided me because Ella is always sunshine and happiness. What would she know about life, right? My best friends pretty much forgot my name. You must've forgot my number."
He blushes in the darkness and is grateful she can't see it. "I really wish, I mean, I really wish that I hadn't done...what I did."
"You mean kissing Tess?" she prompts matter-of-factly. "And then lying to me about it? And then breaking up with me for her? Because really, I don't see what you're sorry about. I'm sure that a lot of guys have done that with Tess." She sits down on a nearby rock and folds her head into her hands.
"I guess I just didn't know what I had until I let it go."
"Spare me," she mumbles. "I don't want to hear it, David. It's been ten years and we're supposed to be all adult-ish or whatever."
"But I - I kind of don't want you to leave without doing...this."
And then he kisses her and her toes curl and she's reminded of that drunken feeling of pure happiness.
But does she really want it with David Carlson? Her teenage heartbreaker?
They stay together for a few months before she starts to realize that she doesn't love him, that she probably won't, and that she could really, really do without him. Even when he moves in with her and she promises herself that with time she'll be as crazy over him as she was when it first started, she can't do it.
But as he sleeps next to her and that once empty space is filled with warmth and a body to die over, she realizes in those tiny fractions of a moment that it isn't the fear of being alone that keeps her up at night.
It is the fear of being with someone she doesn't love.
And so she slips into the role her best friend, Caitlyn, once played. And she stays up at night and watches over him.
And hopes he'll leave her first.
One month later her relationship starts to sink, just as Caitlyn sends her the invitation to her wedding with Luke. She smiles because she's happy for her, because Caitlyn deserves to be happy.
She's set to be bridesmaid with Tess, Mitchie as Maid of Honor. She wants to know who will be escorting her, because Caitlyn set the whole shebang up, but she doesn't think too much about it. Instead she fights with David and threatens to move out.
"Why does it matter what I'm doing during the week! God, is nothing I do allowed to stay private anymore!"
He leans over her, his eyes tinted with anger. "I just don't understand why everything's a secret now! You never want to go out with me, you never touch me anymore. What the hell is going on, Ella!?"
"Nothing! Okay? Nothing! God, just leave me alone." She turns away from him, grabs her purse, and slams her way out the door.
Behind her she can hear him screaming with rage but she doesn't care.
She just wants to leave him behind.
After two months of being single, it's time for Caitlyn's wedding. The bride is beautiful, as is the day. And Ella can't help but be happy for Caity and Luke. She does everything she's supposed to, but the one thing she can't get over...is the fact that her escort is none other than Nate Black.
"How could you, I mean, how were you even able to watch the wedding?" she asks him as they dance with the other guests.
"I'm not in love with her anymore," he says to her. He smiles faintly. "You were right all those months ago, Ella. I wasn't in love with Caitlyn. I just...I didn't want to be alone."
She nods. "And what about now? Have you found someone yet?"
"I mean, there's someone I've got a thing for, but she doesn't know it. She wouldn't know it if it was staring her right in the face." He says it so suddenly, so seriously, that it's impossible for Ella not to suck in a deep breath of air.
"Yeah, Ella. I'm talking about you."
It starts slowly at first, because she doesn't want to dive into something and lose it. But slowly, very slowly, she and Nate discover something beautiful and Ella realizes she's never felt anything for anyone the way she feels for Nate. When she's with him she doesn't know that evil exists, she doesn't know anything other than his chocolate eyes and kind smile.
She stays next to him and traces letters into his palm and when she realizes what she's spelled out, she laughs. "How...incredible."
"I think, I mean, I know...Nate." She leans her head against his. "I love you."
"Hey, Ella?" he asks her.
"Do you promise to mean that for the rest of our lives? Together?"
She pauses, and then: "Yes."
And she realizes in that small, tiny moment of bliss that she'll never be afraid of being alone or being with the wrong person again.
Because she has the right person for her. And she loves him. And she needs him. And she wants to share her skin with him for the rest of their lives.
"Hey, Ella?" She looks at him and sees his eyes twinkling. "I love you, too."
A/N: Well, damn. I can't believe I actually spent three days writing this baby. I'm honestly shocked. I've never spent three days writing so many words. *head spins* I hope you enjoyed this in the slightest.