"To be honest, I didn't think you had it in you," Ali tells me, surprised and impressed.
"Neither did I," I tell her honestly. I've felt more sure of myself since Eli and I got together, and today I was confident enough to stand up and not take his shit. I'm proud of myself, but I don't feel any less sick about the conversation that Eli and I had upstairs.
"Maybe you should leave," Ali suggests as we turn the corner and near the boy's parents' house. "I'll go with you," she adds.
We've been out walking for about an hour, trying to give Eli and I both space to cool off. I didn't have to fill Marc and Ali in on what happened upstairs. They could hear the whole thing. When I quickly made my way downstairs, and towards the front door, I asked Marc to stay behind as Ali and I went on a walk so that Eli wouldn't be alone. As mad at him as I am right now, I didn't want him to feel like everyone was against him if he decided to come downstairs to an empty house.
"Yeah, I think I should," I agree. "I'm going to go grab my bag from upstairs, then I'll call an Uber," I say as we walk up the front porch.
My heart is racing when I step inside. I'm not sure if Eli has come downstairs yet, and I'm not sure where his mood is at. Most of me doesn't believe what he said about wanting to break up, but there's a little part of me that is scared he was sincere. As much as I don't want to end things with him, I was serious about breaking up with him if he continued to speak to me the way he did today. As much as it would break my heart to not be with Eli anymore, I've learned that my self-respect is too important.
"I'm going to head back to my dorm," I tell Marc when I find him sitting on the couch, watching highlights from a couple of NBA games that were on earlier.
"Are you sure?" He asks as he stands.
I shrug in response. "I think it's for the best. He seems like he needs some space," I tell Marc in reference to his brother.
He nods his head in agreement. "I don't want you to go, but I'm not okay with the way he talked to you," Marc says as he stands from the couch. "I'll grab EJ's keys and drive you back. Ali, you staying or going?" Marc asks.
"I'm going too," Ali says with regret.
"Actually, Marc, I'm going to call an Uber. I don't want Eli to be left alone," I tell my friend. It takes a minute for him to agree, but gives me an appreciative smile when he realizes I'm just looking out for his brother.
"I'll be right back," I tell Marc and Ali as I head towards the stairs. "I'm going to grab my bag."
"Do you want me to get it?" Marc interjects, obviously concerned that my duffle is in the same room as Eli.
I shake my head. "I'm not afraid of him," I tell Marc confidently as I make my way upstairs.
My heart begins to race with every stair I take. I don't know what mood Eli will be in, and judging by the last conversation we had, it's best if I'm in and out of there before any words are exchanged.
I barely open his door as I look inside. Eli is no longer sitting on the bed, but thankfully my bag is still on the floor next to his bathroom. I can hear his shower water running, and I'm glad that Eli is preoccupied so that I can quickly grab my things without being noticed.
As I near my bag, I hear a whimper coming from behind his bathroom door. I furrow my brow in confusion as I press my ear up to his closed door, trying to listen. It's hard to tell with the water running, but I believe I hear a ragged inhale. Not the kind I heard last night when Eli had a panic attack. No, this time, his strained breathing is the result of him crying.
I quietly crack open the bathroom door just enough to peek my head inside, and the sight before me breaks my heart.
The fogged-up shower glass makes it difficult to see properly, but I can still make out Eli's frame. He's sitting on the shower floor, completely naked, with his knees pulled up to his chest and his forehead resting on his crossed arms. He's mostly silent, but his body is ever so slightly shaking from him crying.
"Eli?" I ask quietly and with caution, but he doesn't respond.
I step one foot inside the bathroom, unable to help myself, as I feel the magnetic pull he has on me once again. The closer I get, the larger the pain in my chest becomes. Eli's large muscular body looks so small, hunched in the corner of the shower.