“I started missing you as soon as we said goodbye.”
You’re fat. Fat. Fat. Fat. Emily said to herself as she looked at her reflection in the mirror. Fat. Fat. Fat. Her mind chanted relentlessly.
The last place she’d ever want to be is was a dressing room, but because the party for her mother’s promotion was nearing, she’d had no other choice.
Emily hated parties, even formal ones. Why did they force her to attend? It’d be so much better to be left in peace. She’d lock herself in her room, reading while listening to music, or just having a marathon of her favorite shows. Or why not, rewatching some old volleyball matches, to reminisce the good times, when there was some sort of light in her life.
It seemed all so distant. And yet only four years had passed. Four years. From the summer before her freshman year to this one, which signed her last year not just in school, but also in that horrible town.
She felt inadequate, out of place. Anywhere she went, she felt the same, so the answer was clear: she didn’t belong. Not to that town in any case. There was nothing of that town that relieved her, if anything, everything bore a pitiful memory of the joyous past that was gone forever.
Leaving volleyball had drained out her life, it’d deprived her whole existence of a purpose, and no matter how much she tried, Emily hadn’t been able to find a new one. Or maybe she hadn’t tried at all. Maybe being forced to give up volleyball due to that horrendous injury had been a sign. A sign aimed at telling her, quite simply, that she didn’t belong. That there was no purpose whatsoever to her life, and the people in her life, one in particular, had noticed that way before her.
It didn’t help that the injury had been mostly her fault. She’d overstressed her bones, till they’d cracked: one ace too many, and her knee had given up. Farewell to professional volleyball.
Ironic. Emily said another farewell four years ago. And some would say it was that specific goodbye to shut down the light in her eyes.
Emily sighed, closing her eyes for a moment. It was all forgotten. Everything was fine. After all, those weird emotions she’d felt years ago were misplaced and foolish. It was better they’d faded.
Emily pressed her eyelids, trying not to think of that person. A second brother. At least that he should have been, but he never was. He was so different from Jason, who was always so chilly. But he ... no, he was the kindest person she’d ever met.
Every year, however, when the summer bonfire arrived, the pain roared stronger. She felt always gloomier. That bonfire meant so many things altogether, from the actual end of the warm season, to the kick start to every sport, volleyball included. Normally she’d be retiring with her team, to get ready for the tournament that was to start, but no ... she hadn’t beeing doing that since five years already.
The bonfire signed the end and the beginning of so many things. Hopefully this year it’d be better. Be it only because it was the last one. Then college would call. Finally. Years ago she’d have thought about trying to enter a good volleyball team, but ... well, those times were gone. Now there was to decide what would her major be. A decision that was tougher than ever for someone like Emily who felt so absolutely inapt.
“Everything alright in there?” A voice came to disrupt her thoughts. The shop assistant from the outside. Oh. Right. The clothes she was trying on.
“Yeah, I ... just a minute.” Emily replied, trying hard to buckle the pants. No point, they wouldn’t fit. She’d given the wrong size to the salesgirl, of course they wouldn’t fit. She was too embarrassed to say her true size and since her plump belly was perfectly hidden by her huge sweater, the girl couldn’t say either.
Once back into her comfortable oversize jeans, Emily grabbed all the pairs of pants the salesgirl had offered her, and exited the booth. Giving a fake smile to the girl, she returned all the clothes. “Not my style.” She mumbled, and left the girl there to reach her friend in the dresses department.
Of course Vanessa would shop there, Emily thought. For the rule of compensation, an insecure, overweight mess as she was, could only be best friends with a hot top model like girl like Vanessa, whose big grey eyes were almost legendary in school, opposite to Emily’s dull brown.
They were complete opposite in everything, which at first had made Emily wonder if they’d ever get along, but odds had proven that indeed, opposites attract.
“Found anything?” Vanessa asked as she admired herself in the mirror while trying on a tight red dress. Emily envied her, she was so thin ... boys were always around her, attracted by her undeniable beauty, like bees to honey.
Emily felt always inadequate. She was so dull, so plain, so ... unattractive. Even her name was dull. Vanessa, as a name, reeked of untamed spirit. While Emily ... well, it was so plain. “Nothing I’d like.” She replied, wrinkling her nose, one sign she was lying, which Vanessa caught, but didn’t mention.
“Why don’t you try a sheath dress?” She proposed, swinging her hips to see how the dress passed with her slender figure.
“You know I’m not the kind for dresses.” Emily grumbled.
Vanessa sighed, turning to her friend, hands on her hips. Sometimes this girl could be so stubborn and negative ... “You’re a woman. Every woman’s the kind for dresses.”
Emily rolled her eyes. “Yeah, not me. I’d wear jeans and sweatpants every day if it were up to me.”
Vanessa sighed. “Yet you’d look so amazing ... if only you would try one. Just one.” She played her puppy eyes. “Pretty please?”
Emily gave her a dirty look. “I don’t like dresses.” And wouldn’t find any that would fit you. How could they? You’re so fat. Her treacherous mind soon interjected.
“Uh huh ... well, you need to be elegant for your mother’s party.” Vanessa informer her, to which Emily sighed.
“Don’t remind me of that ...”
Her friend grinned, turning back to the mirror to admire herself and see if that dress fitted. Judging by the looks of the guys sitting on the other side, waiting for their girlfriends, it definitely fitted. Hopefully Jason’s jaw would drop as much as those guys’ ones did. “Oh, I have to instead. Dean will be there too.”
Emily frowned. “Dean?”
Vanessa chuckled. “Don’t act like you don’t know him.”
“The world’s full of Deans.”
“Yeah, but only one owns Miss Emily Robinson’s heart.”
Emily blushed. “I-I don’t feel anything for him ...” She defended, lowering her glance. It was true. She felt nothing for Vanessa’s brother, just found him cute and had made the mistake of telling his sister, who was now convinced her best friend had a huge crush on her brother.
It’d be fair. After all, Vanessa thought, she had a huge crush on Emily’s brother, so why not just exchange the guys? Maybe go on a double date some time ... ah, right. Jason’s fiancée. That was a problem. For now.
He’d proposed to that plain chick only before summer, they hadn’t even set a date yet, so nothing was lost. She could still work her magic. The guy would fall sooner or later. He just didn’t know it yet. It was just a matter of time.
Emily and Dean made an awesome couple according to Vanessa, and she knew all too well her brother was crushed. He kept asking about Emily, Emily here, Emily there ... he was a lovesick puppy at this point. The only problem was ... he was just as shy as Emily, therefore didn’t have the courage to declare.
Vanessa laughed as she put her short jersey dress back on. “Come on, Em ... you’ve been crushing on my brother since I know you.”
Vanessa laughed louder. No, it wasn’t true, well, not exactly, but there was something. Emily always blushed and behaved awkwardly around Dean, it had to mean something, right? Besides, it was about time she got some action.
Vanessa had been trying to take her out of that shell since she met her, but never succeeded. They all shared the same concern, though: Emily had never been really open, but before the injury she’d been slightly more lively, now she seemed so different ...
“I just ... appreciate his looks ...” Emily mumbled, trying to justify herself. She really didn’t like Dean in that sense. Well, she sort of did, but not as much as Vanessa claimed. She just found him cute and funny. That’s all.
“Uh huh ... well, he’ll be at your mom’s party specifically for you.” Her friend informed her and Emily’s eyes bulged out.
Vanessa giggled as they walked through the stacks of clothes. “Well, your mom said we needed a date and you had none, so I just asked Dean to be yours.”
“And why on Earth would you do that?!” Emily barked, freezing in her spot. That was such a horrendous idea!
Vanessa sighed, explaining absentmindedly as she let her fingers skim over a cute satin dress: “Because you like my brother, he likes you back, and I’m tired of you two just playing hard to catch.”
“W-we’re not playing anything ... I don’t like him, he doesn’t like me.” Emily pointed out for the thousandth time.
Her friend huffed, putting down the dress she was looking at as they were walking around the store. “Then how do you explain his always asking about you?”
“H-he asks about me?”
“Yeah, every time I say I’m going out he’s like ‘heading to Em’s? How’s she doing? Will she come over soon? Why hasn’t she been sleeping over lately?’”
Emily snorted, disbelieving. “Yeah, sure ...”
“I wish Jason did the same about me ...” Emily rolled her eyes, letting her fingers slide through dresses as they kept walking. “He’s so hot ...” Vanessa continued.
Emily grimaced. “Vane, please! It’s my brother!”
The blonde girl grinned, glad to have a reaction that wasn’t gloomy. “Not my fault if your brother is hotness personified.”
Emily sighed, rolling her eyes once again. This would never end. Ever since they met in sophomore year and she brought Vanessa home that one time Jason was home, her friend never quit babbling about how hot he was and so on, things that made Emily grimace, for obvious reasons, but Vanessa was determined. And even when before summer he announced he got engaged, she only snorted and claimed he was merely derailing for a bit, he’d see reason soon enough.
“Give it a rest. He’s taken already.” Emily grumbled, but the other snorted.
“Yeah, well, that bitch doesn’t deserve him.”
Emily rolled her eyes, sighing. “He loves her.”
“No ... he loves me. He just doesn’t know it yet.” Vanessa winked.
“There’s something like a nine years gap between you two.” Her friend pointed out. Jason was 27, halfway through his residency, living in Boston with his fiancée, Gwen, who he’d met in college, and he was so in love with her. He’d even proposed, what better sign than that? But Vanessa kept believing the opposite.
“So what? I bet he could teach me a few things...” She claimed, to which Emily grimaced, rebuking her best friend for such sinful thoughts, but the the girl only laughed. “What? You know I’d gladly get intimate with your sexy brother.”
Emily sighed. “Could you just stop it?”
“Why? I hear you blabbing about how cute my brother is all the time.”
Emily blushed. “I just say he’s cute, not that I’d gladly sleep with him.”
“Yeah, but you would, wouldn’t you?” Vanessa kept going, to which Emily turned crimson.
Lowering her glance as she fidgeted, she mumbled, embarrassed: “You know I’m still virgin ...” Another reason to feel ashamed. Pretty much all of her peers had matured in that sense, had had more than one story, yet she ... nothing. Not even one boy that was ever interested in her. Not one kiss. Nothing.
To think that by her age her brother was already a heartbreaker. And her mother had already met her dad. She? Nothing. The only boy that mostly talked to her was Vanessa’s twin brother, and even with him it was awkward. She just couldn’t make herself talk freely.
In this sense, she envied her best friend. Vanessa was always so open, so free, she couldn’t care less about what people thought, but Emily ... she felt like every single word she said would be so heavily judged that it was better not to let it out.
There had been one person that made her feel at ease, but leaving, he’d taken away her self esteem too, even without knowing. He’d taken so much without knowing ... no. No, that was over. She was over those frilly ideas she had when she was 13. Now she was a quasi adult, there was no room for such foolish thoughts.
Vanessa laughed. “Yeah, I bet Dean would be very glad to teach you.” She commented, making her friend grimace once again.
“How can you be so at ease with talking about your brother like this?”
Vanessa shrugged. “I’m not as prude as you are, Em.”
Emily rolled her eyes, deciding to drop the topic, not wanting to discuss her being so inadequate socially.
“So, is Jason coming to the party?” Vanessa asked as they walked, arms entangled, making her friend roll her eyes.
“Of course he is ... with Gwen.”
The honey-blonde girl grumbled under her breath. “Why does he stick with her? She’s a bitch.”
“Told you, he loves her. And she’s no bitch. Gwen is a very sweet girl that loves my brother deeply.”
Vanessa snorted. “Yeah, I bet she cheats on him.”
“How would you know that?” She shrugged, not giving any other explanation other than a “feeling” she had. Not wanting to discuss the foolish crush that wasn’t so much a crush that her best friend on her brother, once they’d reached a bookstore, Emily froze.
“Oh, come on ... you’ve been here only two days ago.” Vanessa complained.
“Just a tiny look ... go ahead, I’ll catch up with you.” Emily bargained, already walking up to the entrance. Books always seemed to be calling her, wherever she was. They just ... summoned her.
Vanessa sighed. “You’ll find me there.” She said, pointing at the underwear shop. Emily nodded, even while planning to remain in the bookstore as much as possible, just to avoid setting foot into the skinny realm.
Once inside the bookstore, she wandered around, stopping at the Classic department first, letting her fingers slide through the piles of books, some of which were old friends, some others would be soon. Books were possibly the sole placebo to her treacherous mind. Every time she had an open book in her hands, even that ravenous demon deep inside her was put to sleep, be it only for a few hours.
She’d barely been there for a couple of minutes that she bumped into someone tall enough to tower over even her that was 5′10".
“Oops ... sorry.” She heard a male voice say.
“It’s okay.” She replied, without even looking up, just too taken by the new arrivals. She had no more room for books, yet she kept buying. If her parents said nothing, it was only because they knew that, if their daughter ever smiled, aside from time to time around Vanessa, it was when she had a book in her hands.
Her heart skipped thousands of beat. Oh, no. No, she was hallucinating. Definitely hallucinating. It couldn’t be ... he was in London. It couldn’t be ... nah, she was certainly hallucinating. Yet she looked up, just to be sure, and the sight nearly had her faint. Gosh, it couldn’t seriously be ... she blinked her eyes several times, trying to tell if she was right or not.
“Oh, my God, Emily!” The dark blonde guy in front of her exclaimed, abruptly wrapping her up in his arms, successfully dazing her.
She could barely breathe. And it wasn’t because of his tight embrace. “H-Hey, Riley ...” Emily tried hard to inhale without him noticing her anxiety.
Riley and her brother had been best friends for a long time, practically, since they were in diapers, or at least that she’d been told. Then Riley left for London, but they remained in contact.
He’d been practically a second son to her parents and ... should have been a second brother to her. Should have. Emily remembered the handsome guy in front of her too well. Even too well.
Once satisfied with that prolonged hug, Riley pulled back, and smiled widely, checking her out from tip to toe. “Wow, you’re all grown up.” He commented. “I remember you like this.” He added, mimicking a child’s height that stopped at his stomach.
Emily smiled, or rather, tried to, just not to give away the wide range of emotions she was feeling. “When did you come back?” She asked, just to say something that had sense,trying hard not to stutter while her heart menaced to bring down her whole ribcage.
“Only yesterday. I’m here till the bonfire. Then I’ll apply for a job in Boston.”
“Oh, so you’re definitely back.” She couldn’t help commenting, and he chuckled, showing his pearly white teeth that dazed every single girl in town.
“Yeah, I missed old Uncle Sam. London girls are so cold ...” Riley mused, and she chuckled, though never looking him straight in the eyes. Into those peculiar forest green eyes whose shade was as much unique as Vanessa’s grey.
“Nowhere’s like home, right?” He asked rhetorically, but she wrinkled her nose, biting her tongue not to say she actually wanted to escape. And she would. Soon enough. His return wouldn’t change anything.
“So, how are you doing? You’re on your senior year, right?” Riley questioned, trying hard to maintain a certain distance. He’d have squeezed the life out of her, for how much he’d missed her, but knowing his Honeybee, she’d have been frightened. “Already decided the college?” Better a formal question, to hide the craving boiling his blood. It’d taken him all he’d got not to run to her the moment his plane had landed.
“Oh, you can aim higher than that.” He claimed. “You’re a smart girl, Emily. Why don’t you try MIT? Or Yale?”
“Well, I’m not sure I’m qualified ...”
He snorted. “Nonsense. They’d be lucky to have you.”
She blushed, so lowered her glance to conceal it. “T-thanks, Riley ...” It felt so weird to say his name out loud after so long ... he smiled, making her heart race as she couldn’t help thinking about how gorgeous he was.
But more than that, he was special. To her at least. He’d been the only one person to truly understand her. Much more than her own brother, for sure. Actually, she’d always preferred Riley’s company to Jason’s.
Yet not even when she was five and he made her ride piggyback on his lap or back was he ever a brother. If anything, he was a special friend. Actually, special friend was the definition Emily had always liked to use in regards to him. Till weird emotions came into view and she started feeling awkward around him.
She’d wanted to talk to him about it, because he was so understanding, he had every answer, surely he’d have known why did her heart flutter every time she saw him, why did she feel shivers down her spine every time he caressed her, why did his cuddles feel so essential to her life, why did his smile light up even her darkest days.
However, before she could ask, Riley announced he’d leave for London, not sure till when. Well, useless to tell him at that point,right?
“Well, I guess I’ll see you tonight.” He said, going to walk past her, feeling dizzy and unable to keep control over his own emotions. If he stayed one minute more, he’d probably burst with joy in front of her. After so many years, seeing the child he’d loved so much, how couldn’t it be overwhelming?
“Tonight?” Emily asked anxiously. Why, she didn’t even know, neither did she want to. Nothing good would come out of indulging in such silly thoughts.
“Yeah, your brother invited me over, so I’m having dinner with you guys tonight.” Riley informed her.
He chuckled. “Yeah, so excited, aren’t you?” He mused sarcastically, and she giggled.
“No, I’m happy to see you, Riley. Really.” Emily admitted truthfully.
He smiled, making her heart flutter as he affectionately pinched her cheek, confirming: “I’m glad to see you too, Honeybee. I’ve missed you.”
She tried her best to keep a normal stance till he was there, but once he’d left, Emily let out all the breaths she’d held back, feeling lightheaded.
Not these thoughts again. It’d been four years. She’d gone past such foolish ideas.
Riley was almost ten years older. He was her brother’s best friend. He’d seen her in diapers. She was, always would be, only his Honeybee. Her thoughts were really silly. As much silly as Vanessa’s hopes on Jason leaving Gwen for her.
Yet Emily found herself sprinting to the exit of the bookshop, and heaving a big sigh as she spotted Riley walking down the street, towards the stairs, hands stuffed in his pockets. Emily closed her eyes, trying hard to calm down her heart.
This is insane. As much as it had been locking herself up in her room and crying her heart out when he left. As much as feeling her heart heavy because she missed him so badly. As much as that fear that now paralyzed her.
Riley was back. And her heart would restart aching. Again. And she was no more a child, she knew what caused those emotions. She just had to push it back till he left for Boston. Then maybe she could save her heart.