Watered Down

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Chapter Twenty Eight

My parents and I stayed in a huddle of tears for what felt like ages. None of us spoke, we just held on. I hadn’t noticed how badly I’d missed the smell of my father’s after shave, or the way that my mom always had to fan her face when she was upset for fear that her perfectly done mascara might run.

The crowd around us was still a buzz, and I could hear and see the cameras going off as we embraced. Finally, my mother pulled us apart and lined us up to smile for the photographers, my father to my left and her to my right. The re-united family. “Mrs. Sullivan?” A reporter called out, waving her hand over her head and my mother nodded and waved her over. “Hello, Serena.” The woman with the pasty skin and blonde bob that was so heavily hair sprayed that it didn’t budge a bit as she whipped her head around, and extended her hand. “My name is Sue, and I know you are probably ready to get home, but we just have a few questions for you.” She told me and I nodded.

My mother patted me on the back, and then positioned herself closer to me, making sure she wouldn’t be cut out of the shot. As large as this area was, it was stifling hot with all of the people, and my face was even hotter knowing they were all staring at me. Sue adjusted her blazer and then turned to face the camera man with her. He counted her off silently and she kicked into super smiley and cheery reporter girl. “Hello everyone, I’m Sue Mathis reporting for FOX news, and I am standing here with Serena Sullivan and her family.” She grinned at me. “Serena is the seventeen year old girl who was lost at sea, and presumed dead, almost five months ago, off of the Coast of Paradise Island in the Bahamas while on summer vacation there with her family.” Sue turned to me. “Tell us, Serena, how do you feel finally being home?”

She held the mic out in front of my face and I tried not to look at the spot of red lipstick on the tip from where Sue held it too close to her mouth. “Um, overwhelmed.” I answered honestly.

Sue and my mom both laughed. “Oh, I’m sure.” Sue nodded. “Tell us, what happened out there?”

I knew I’d be asked this. People were going to want to know where I’d been all of this time. “Well, there was a storm when I was out on my family’s boat that day, and I got slung over the railing.” I explained. “I don’t remember a whole lot, but I remember being pulled under, and my dress getting caught on some rocks…I broke free, but then I got hit with another wave and I hit my head really hard on the same rocks.” I nodded to myself.

“Then what happened?” Sue asked, pushing the mic closer.

Well, I was taken by a sea witch and tricked into killing people for months before I kind of ended up falling head over heels for this cursed guy who worked on the island I was cursed to stay by. “Well,” I sighed. “I don’t really remember a whole lot, it’s weird.” I said, twirling my hair around my finger until my mother casually pulled my hand down, making me stop. “I remember waking up on this island and I didn’t remember who I was, so I made friends with some of the islanders who took me in until I suddenly remembered what had happened and who I was.”

“That is just incredible.” She gushed. “Who were these people who rescued you?”

I sighed, my smile when thinking of them was genuine. “Just a couple of fantastic people who showed me love when I needed it, and did everything in their power to help me.”

Sue shook her head in awe. “What an amazing story, Serena.” She smiled. “You must just be so overjoyed to be home.”

“I am.” I smiled. “I’ll certainly miss the friends I made back on the island.”

“What island did you say again?”

“Tinunglo Isle.” I said warily.

Sue nodded her head. “Wow, you drifted quite some time away from Paradise Island.” She said. I smiled at her, ready for this to be over, and thankfully it was. “Wow, just, wow.” She smiled again. “You are one lucky girl, and parents, I know you both must just be over the moon to have her back.”

My mother edged in again. “Oh, you have no idea, Sue.” She smiled cheekily. “We have just been a wreck without her, but I never gave up hope, not once. I always knew she was going to come back to us.” She grinned.

“Yes, we are very pleased to have her home safe and sound.” My father added with a warm, but slightly uncomfortable smile. He wasn’t as into the limelight as mom.

“Well congratulations, and welcome home, Serena.” Sue cheered and the crowd followed suit. “Back to you in the station.” The camera man called cut and Sue turned to shake hands with my mother. “Thanks again for the exclusive, Jackie.” She said. “Don’t forget to set your DVRs at home, this is going to be on national news.”

“Oh, fantastic.” My mother nodded. “Thanks so much, Sue.”

Sue smiled at me again before scurrying off into the crowd. My mom turned to me and smiled, brushing my hair out of my face and behind my shoulders. “I do wish we could have had time to get you some hair and makeup attention before your interview, but oh well, hindsight is 20/20.” She shrugged. “Are you ready to go, dear?”

That was typical mom for you. “Yeah, I am.” I told her, lifting my bag to clutch it tightly under one arm, while my father cleared us a path through the busy terminals and out to the car that was waiting.

“How are you feeling?” My father asked as we all got buckled in.

I smiled at his warm chiseled face. “I’m ok, daddy.” I smiled at him. “Just really tired.”

He nodded his head. “That is what I assumed.” He told me. “Your mother was going to have people over,” As he said it my stomach dropped, but then he smiled and continued. “I know your friends are all eager to see you, but I told them and your mother that you needed your time to settle back in.”

I would have hugged him if he were sitting closer. “Thank you, daddy.”

“Of course, baby girl.”

The rest of the car ride was quiet, aside from the clicking and dinging of my mom’s phone and her audible laughs and smiles back at it.

I had my face practically glued to the window as we passed through the familiar intersections and neighborhoods leading to my house. I was truly itching to get out of the car by the time that we pulled into the driveway, stopping at the gate while the driver keyed in the passcode. We curved up the long drive, stopping in the circular driveway under the large white awning and the driver came around to open our doors.

I hopped out first, practically sprinting up the brick stairs to the large double front doors, pushing them open to see the beautiful foyer, exactly the way it was when we left it. Arched ceilings, marble floors, family portraits on the walls and a little table with an enormous display of white lilies and pink and yellow peonies. I looked up the big spiral marble staircase and waited for my mother and father to come inside.

“Someone is in a hurry.” My mother said when she walked in.

My father closed the door behind them. “Don’t give her a hard time.” He scolded her then turned to look at me. “Do you need anything?” He asked. “You must be famished.”

I wasn’t, but now that he mentioned it. “Sushi?” I asked, eyebrows raised and they both smiled, shaking their heads.

“Well, at least you haven’t changed at all.” My mother shrugged her shoulders.

Her words stung. Of course I have changed, I wanted to snap, but I knew she didn’t mean anything by it. She doesn’t have the faintest idea of what I’ve been through. “If you guys don’t mind, I just want to go lie down.” I said, eyeing the stairs again.

“Of course, dear.” My mother said, already walking through the foyer and into the sitting room to grab her magazine. “We will call you when the food is here.” She said.

I went over to my father and gave him a quick one armed hug, he isn’t huge on physical affection, but he surprised me by holding me just a little longer. “Glad you’re home.” He said, then released me to go join my mother.

I took the stairs two at a time, taking a left at the landing, then three doors down to the right and slowly pushed open my door. It was literally like walking into a time warp. Every single thing was the same, even the red bikini, that I had decided last minute before we left for our trip to ditch, was still laying in the middle of the floor on my plush white rug.

I walked over to the picture board on the wall, running my fingers over all of the glossy pictures of me and all of my friends. Pictures from the beach, winter formal, prom last year, and Gabby Fuller’s annual end of the year house party. All these pointless parties and all of our glassy eyes from drinking too much, stared back at me. What was I doing with my life?

Then there were the pictures that were still a little hard to look at. Asher kissing me on New Year’s Eve, the little beach picnic he’d set up for our third date, and Asher and me at his Aunt’s wedding. I remember feeling like the luckiest girl in the world to be walking into that wedding on the arm of the most handsome and sweet guy in all of LA. Now, I had torn feelings about him too, and that only hurt me worse.

I’ve been wanting to get away from everyone since the second I got off of the plane so that I could call Theon, but I should have guessed that my mom would turn this into a big publicity event. I took my bag with me over to my four poster white bed and climbed up on top of it, opening the bag in my lap. I dug around until I found the phone, and then a little more until I found the t-shirt I had stolen from Theon’s bedroom floor on my way out this morning.

I settled into my thick feather pillows and dialed the number before bringing the shirt up to my face, inhaling deeply and closing my eyes, trying to trick myself into believing that he was here. After three rings, it became even easier when his velvety smooth voice came over the phone. “Serena?”

My eyes watered instantly and my heart tugged. “Hey.” I whispered out.

“Hey,” He said softly. “You home?”

I opened my eyes, looking around my room. “I am.” I told him. “But it doesn’t feel like it.”

“It’ll get easier.”

“I don’t want it to.” I told him. “I want to come back.”

“You can’t.” He replied simply.

I nodded into the shirt. “I know.” I told him. “Doesn’t make it less true.”

“I know.” He said back, a hint of sadness in his voice.

“What are you doing?” I asked him with a smile.

I heard him laugh a little. “I’m lying in my bed.” He chuckled. “I called into work today because I’m missing this spoiled little princess chick something terrible.” I rolled my eyes at him even though he couldn’t see it, I’m sure he knew though. “What are you doing?” He asked

I giggled into the phone, a sound I wasn’t sure I’d ever make again. “I am also lying in my bed, although mine is a lot more comfortable than yours, and I am cuddling up to a t-shirt that I may or may not have taken that smells like this annoying, yet surprisingly adorable, islander guy that I know.”

“I knew when I got home and couldn’t find it that you had lifted it.” He laughed. “Who knew princesses were such kleptomaniacs.” He joked.

I was going to argue with him that I had done it for good reason, but there was a knock on my French doors to my balcony and I nearly jumped out of my skin. I could see Asher’s silhouette behind the thin curtains that covered my doors. I sat up quickly, and shoved Theon’s shirt under my pillow. “Hey, Theon.” I whispered. “I’ve got to go, but I will call you back tonight, ok?” I asked.

“No,” He replied. “Remember, you’re supposed to be giving your new life a real chance, not focusing on me.”

Asher knocked on the door again, this time a little louder. “Ok, fine.” I told Theon. “Tomorrow?”

He sighed. “How about next week?” He countered. “Same day next week?”

I felt like my stomach weighed a thousand pounds while I whispered to Theon with Asher’s shadow pacing just a few feet away from me, and the thought of not talking to him for so long really sucked, and I would have argued it further, but Asher being here kind of forced my hand. “Fine.” I whispered. “You better not forget me in that much time.” I told him and I could hear him laugh, the sound making me think I might just have the strength.

“Of course not.” He said. “I’ll be missing you too much to forget.”

“Alright, I guess I will talk to you then.”

“Bye, princess.”

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