Confidence is Key
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Chapter Eight: Confidence is Key

H&M was where Jenna had insisted on meeting up. The place was definitely not something Ellie could normally fit into her budget–she had always just bought her clothes at the strip on Main Street–but with all the extra shifts she had been picking up at the Cuisine, she decided to push away her guilt and splurge; she had worked on convincing herself that she deserved a treat for all her hard work. They were casually browsing the formal section and making their usual small talk of Jenna filling Ellie in on her dramatic episode with her son. 

“He really said that to you? Damn...”

“Tell me about it,” Jenna sighed as she was pushing through hangers and went on, “I made sure to ground his ass. HARD. Took all his shit and locked it in my trunk. Told him no more practice with the little  punks who he got caught with.”

Ellie raised her brows and looked toward her “You sticking to your guns this time?”

Jenna snorted,”You sound like my mother. Hell-to-the-yes I am sticking to my guns. I’ve tried playing nice and I always let him off easy. It gets me nowhere. This time is different. He’s never acted like this before, so he’s going to learn the hard way. I don’t know what’s gotten into him. Ever since he started hanging out with the little shits down the road, he’s been so different.”

Ellie frowned and felt guilt flood through her once again. She had never meant to come between Jenna and her family. It was, after all, her fault that Jenna was out so late. 

“Sorry you had to deal with that. I shouldn’t have kept you all night with my problems. Your mom was right–I feel like a bad influence...”

Jenna laughed. “You have nothing to apologize for. It wasn’t your fault my son decided to act like a criminal. You were having a rough night and I wanted to be there for you. Nobody expected this to happen. I just hope he won’t resent me or hate me or call me a bad mom. He can be pissy and be mad at me all he wants, hell, he can even cuss me out, but I don't think I could handle ever hearing him say I'm a bad parent. I feel like a failure as it is–I don't want him to grow up like me. I hope he actually learns from his mistakes rather than hide behind them. “

Ellie showed an empathetic smile, laid her hand on her friend's shoulder and gave Jenna a light squeeze, “He’ll come around, pretty mama. Don’t stress. He’s a teenager just going through a phase.”

Jenna nodded and looked as if she decided not to dwell on it, “Anyways, what held you up today? I sat outside fin the parking lot for nearly fifteen minutes.”

Ellie blushed again and tried not to laugh, “Oh, not a lot. Just trying to be friendly to our very straight neighbors.” Jenna looked at Ellie in shock as she continued, “I made a fool of myself, Jen...” she went on to explain what had happened and Jenna started to laugh until she produced tears.
“Oh my god. That’s hilarious. So, they're brothers huh? And the elder one invited you in? What went down?” she asked with a look of excitement in her eyes.

“Calm down there, Jen. Nothing. He just offered me some lemonade and asked me a bit about myself. Oh! That reminds me–I need to call my boss and see if she’ll interview him.”

Jenna gave her a sneaky grin and winked, “Don’t be surprised if he asks you out. He invited you in and you’re hooking him up with a job? Whew...and he’s a hottie too. Way to go, El.”

Ellie blushed even deeper, “Good God Jenna. I just met the dude. He was just being neighborly.”

Jenna held her hands up in a draw and gave one of her shit-eating grins. “Hey. He didn’t invite me in for lemonade when I went to meet them. His brother tried though. He has to be just a few years older than Toby though. I was flattered but...the age difference is kinda creepy, ya know?”

Ellie chuckled at this and tried to act interested in a dress Jenna was now holding up–a long and flowy floor-length gown–but her thoughts were straying to Cass.  What would she even wear something like that to? She'd stopped going to her family's banquets years ago. It was a bit too fancy for wearing on a night out.

Thinking back to Jenna's words, it HAD been a long time since she even considered trying to date again, not after Ross. Cass was very different from him. He was clearly a gentleman--everything from his wardrobe to his mannerisms spoke for it. He seemed very genuine. Would it be the worst thing if he did ever ask her out?  He didn't seem to have a wife or any children of his own, just a little brother to look after; it was so selfless and something to admire, even.

“Ellie! Snap out of it! Did you hear me?”

Ellie looked up and shook away her thoughts, “I’m sorry, I zoned out. What is it?” Jenna smiled as if she already knew where her friend's mind was. Ellie looked at the new ensemble Jenna was holding up. It was a short lavender dress with a single shoulder strap. “That is gorgeous, Jen!” 

“Go try it on! It would look great with your tone and your hair color.” 

“Oh, on me? I don’t know Jen. It’s a bit much...” Ellie caught the swinging price tag and gave it a look.

Jenna rolled her eyes. “We’re going out this weekend, El. Just try to enjoy it and have some fun. You need to loosen up.”

Ellie snatched the dress, stuck out her tongue in a playful air, and made way to the dressing room. She shimmied into the dress and checked herself out in the mirror. “Wow...” she whispered to herself. It was a very nice dress...borderline sexy. It wasn’t her usual style but she remembered what Jenna had said. She was right–Ellie deserved to cut loose and change things up.  And not to mention, it did make her feel more confident in the way it shaped around her figure.

When she had finished redressing, Ellie walked back out to find that Jenna decided on a short, light blue halter dress. Ellie knew it would complement Jenna's round, bright blue eyes. They made their way to the jewelry store and browsed for some strappy heels before cashing out and heading to their vehicles. Ellie had spent more than usual and had to have Jenna reassure her it was fine to splurge like this. They were happy, all in all with their purchases and parted ways. Jenna was meeting up with Florence for coffee and brunch while Tobias was still in class.

Ellie was driving back home and thought more about what Jenna had said about their new neighbor. She started to revisit her time with Castiel,  or as he requested she call him, Cass. He was indeed a very handsome man–maybe a few years older than her. He had a kind face, he was tall and burlier than Ross had been, and his dark shoulder-length hair looked soft to the touch–she suddenly felt an urge to run her fingers through it. She thought of how he had asked her questions about her job and family; she had given him a little background information on her life, not a lot but enough for now. She didn't need him finding out who her family was in the grand scheme of Pleasantview because she didn't want to be treated differently or have him look at her like she was some upper-crust snob.
She realized she knew absolutely nothing about him other than the fact that he liked to write and cook...and something about living in Twikkii Bay before. She wondered about his family, if he had anybody else besides Nathan. She knew absolutely nothing more...but the voice inside her head made a point, ‘but you could always get to know him better... he’s right across the street and he did say to drop by any time..’
She smiled to herself as she pulled in to her driveway. Ellie, for the first time in a while, felt optimistic for her future. 
She went inside and put her new purchases away. Fozz was following her around as usual. She bent down and gave him a few pats and suddenly remembered that she needed to make a phone call.

She picked up her cell and dialed the number she had memorized by heart. It rang twice before a voice answered on the other side.

“Hey Penny. Is Sandy there?” 

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