Watered Down

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Chapter Thirty

Theon and I spent the next few hours talking while I laid in my bed, eating my sushi and pretending that he was here with me while we ate. After a while Tally got home and she told me all about her day, and I was super happy when it sounded like things were maybe going a little better for her.

“How about the storms?” I asked Theon when he got back on the phone.

“It’s been really rainy, and a ton of wind so far, but the main part of the storm is supposed to make landfall by tomorrow afternoon.”

“Will you guys stay at your house? Or do you go someplace safer?”

He paused. “I don’t know.” He mumbled. “All the hotels have jacked up their prices because of the demand.”

I nodded my head. “I’d feel better if I knew you guys were safe.” I told him.

“I know.” He muttered. “I will probably end up sending Tally to stay with Ms. Kay.”

“And you?”

“I’ll be fine.”

I shook my head. “Why are men so stubborn?”

“Why are women such worriers?” He laughed lightly. “But honestly, I’m sure the storm is a lot more hype than actual danger.” He told me. “I’ll be fine, and so will Tal.” He paused for a second and we sat quietly, listening to the other breathing. “I should go.” He said finally.

I groaned. “I don’t want you to.”

“I still have a shift tonight at the bar.” He said.

“Fine.” I sighed. “I hope you have a good night.” I closed my eyes and pictured Theon in his work uniform, rushing around the busy bar in his apron with stains down the front and his hair a mess.

“You too.” He replied. “I bet you have lots of plans now that you’re home.”

I laughed sarcastically. “Other than my mom having me ambushed by reporters, all I’ve done since I’ve been back is hangout in my room.”

“Well you need get busy.” He said. “You didn’t go through all you went through just so you could be a lazy bum and hide from the world. Get out there and enjoy it.”

I knew he was right and I could hear in his voice how much he truly meant it. It felt amazing knowing I had someone who really just wanted to see me be happy, no matter what. “I’ll start tomorrow.” I promised. “Today I am just focusing on settling back in.”

“That sounds like a plan.”

“I’ll talk to you tomorrow?”

He sighed. “Let’s really stick to the once a week, ok?”

I didn’t like it, but I agreed anyway. “Talk to you next week then.”

“Have fun.”

“Be safe.”

“Bye, princess.”

Long after the call had ended I still played his voice in my mind over and over.

Around six my father came by my room, giving me back my precious cell phone, still in its pink and white rhinestone and pearl studded case. I took it back to my bed and flipped on my TV on top of my dresser for some background noise. I stared at the black screen for a few minutes, dancing my finger over the power button. I sighed, knowing that once I turn this back on, it is really going to be like I’m stepping back into my old life.

I know how silly it sounds to think of my cell phone as meaning so much, but it really is. Once this is on, I’m back. I’m reconnected with my friends, my social media, my old pictures, my alarms and schedules, everything that made me me.

I bit the bullet, turning it on quickly and closing my eyes while I waited for it to boot up. Practically instantly it began going off with thousands of notifications. My voicemail was full, and all of my social media accounts had little red circles next to them with ungodly long numbers, telling me there were even more messages to be found in them.

I intended to go through it all, but it was too overwhelming. The text messages were from friends, talking about old good times and saying how much they missed me. I only read a little over twenty before I just cleared them all out. I’m not dead. I moved to Facebook next, and I had to laugh when I looked at my wall and saw everyone and their brother had posted on it. Even people that I had literally no idea who they were, but they were boasting about what a special person I was and how much they were going to miss me.

I ignored the messages and notifications and instead went to the status bar.

I’m back from the dead.

I typed out my message and posted it, smiling at my little inside joke.

I exited that and went to go for the voicemails, but I heard a knock on the balcony door.

I hopped off the bed and went to let Asher come back in. “Hello, beautiful.” He grinned, leaning down to kiss me sweetly. I backed up so that he could squeeze by me and I couldn’t stop from swooning a little at the smell of his cologne that I had bought him for Christmas. He had on a tight Nike dry fit grey t-shirt that clung to his newly broadened chest and shoulders, and a pair of Jordan’s basketball shorts.

He went over to the bed, pulling off his backpack, keeping his back to me as he pulled something out of it. I stepped closer and he spun around, a broad grin on his handsome face. He held out the bouquet of yellow peonies for me and I couldn’t help but grin like a sap too. “Thank you.” I gushed, taking them from him and setting them on my dresser so that I could hug him. “You are literally the sweetest.”

He shrugged with a smile. “I’ve been told.” He winked, then looked back to the bed. He pulled out two white bags with grease stains on the bottoms and my stomach growled loudly, making him laugh. “I knew you’d want this.” I almost clapped my hands I was so excited to get a hold of that double stack cheddar cheese burger from Windle’s.

We sat cross-legged on the bed while we ate and I let Asher chatter on about how his practice went and how they have a big rivalry game coming up. It was easy with him, just to fall back into the old routine. Asher is just a happy go lucky kind of guy and it is hard not to be pulled into his light.

When we were done, and my stomach was pleased, he cleared off the bed of the trash, his eyes catching on my phone for a second before he went about what he was doing. “You got it back.” He muttered, looking at me weirdly. “I bet you’ve got all kinds of messages and stuff on that, huh?” He asked as he pulled out a movie from his bag and walked over to my TV to put it in.

I sighed as I looked at my phone, the screen already lighting up with new messages. “That would be an understatement.” I told him. “I’m mostly just deleting everything and starting over.”

He cut off my lights and nodded as he kicked off his sneakers and climbed back onto the bed with me, pulling my cashmere blanket from the foot of my bed up and over our legs. “That’s probably a good idea.” He agreed. “I guess some of it is a little creepy now, since they were all things written to dead you, not you you, if that makes sense.”

I laughed. “Yeah, it does.” I told him and smiled when he put his big arm over my shoulders and pulled me over closer. “I was actually thinking the same thing.”

He kissed the side of my head and then we both looked over at my phone when it started to ring, Eve’s smiling face popping up. “You should answer.” Asher told me with a smile. “I know everyone has really missed you.”

I sighed and pulled it over. “Hello?”

Like I assumed she would, she went off on a breathless assault. “Oh. My. God. Serena!” She squealed. “I cannot believe this is real, we all literally thought we’d never see you again, like it was totally insane. I just saw you on the news, I can’t believe all that happened to you. I was so sad and everyone went to your funeral. This is so surreal!”

I smiled, hearing her voice was nicer than I had thought it would be. “You’re telling me.” I joked. “How are you?”

“How am I?” She said. “Girl, how are you? Are you back home? Have you seen Asher yet? When can I see you?”

“I’m fine.” I told her, hoping it was the truth. “Yes I am home, and Asher is here with me.”

She gasped. “Oh, and how happy are you about that?” She asked. “Your parents must be so happy now too.”

“About me being home?”

“No, silly, about Asher.” She laughed. “But yeah, about you too.”

I furrowed my brows. “Why would they be happy about him?” I asked, then Asher leaned over towards the phone.

“Eve,” He called. “Tell her about Marcy.”

Eve gasped again and then laughed. “Serena, Frank actually hooked up with her.” She giggled.

I couldn’t help but to laugh. “No way.”

“Yes!” She laughed back. “During your big send off party no less.”

“That is terrible.” I laughed. “She must have been so happy.”

“I bet she’s not happy now.” Eve joked.

“She’s not.” Asher called out with a smile.

I looked over at him. “How do you know?” I asked.

“I saw Frank earlier today and he told me he made it clear to her that he was not interested anymore.” He explained, then tightened his grip around my shoulders. “And then I made it clear to him that you wouldn’t be interested in him either, but of course he acted like he had no clue what I was talking about.”

“So what else have I missed?” I asked, and it gave Eve the opening she needed to spill all of the secrets she’d been keeping over the last few months. Eve is a terrible person to tell things to, she can’t stand to keep things to herself, so she is the go to person for the scoop on anyone and everyone.

For a long time Asher listened, patiently waiting to start the movie, while Eve droned on and on about all the latest hookups, breakups, fights, and parties. It was true that I had really missed a lot in my absence. Multiple times I actually dropped my jaw because of the scandalous things she’d tell me. People were really taking senior year to a whole new level, and hearing about it actually made me kind of want to go back to school, even if I wouldn’t get to graduate on time.

Asher ran his hands through my hair tenderly, making me sigh, he knew how much I love having my hair played with. His patience began to wear thin, and he leaned into my ear, gently pulling the lobe into his mouth, sending body aching shivers through me. “Hey, Eve.” I cut her off midsentence. “I have to go, but I will call you tomorrow.”

“You want to do lunch around one?” She asked cheerily. “I can get everyone together.”

“Sure.”

“Sweet!” She cheered. “See ya then, girlie.”

I tossed the phone aside and Asher pulled my face to his, kissing me deeply. I ran my hands up his neck and into his hair and he sighed into me, pulling me closer to his side. Fully giving into Asher, and kissing him with all of me, it was easy to remember exactly why, and just how much I really love him. Asher’s hands were on me, touching me like he’d never touched me before, and I believed him when he whispered how much he missed me and how perfect he thought I was.

The make out session was starting to get heated when there was a knock on my door.

I shoved Asher hard against his chest, knocking him off of the bed and into the floor with a thud and turned over to face my door as it slid open. “Hey, sweet pea.” My dad said as he walked in. “I didn’t want to bother you, but I wanted to talk to you before you went to bed.”

“Sure, dad.” I said with a hot face and racing heart.

“You ok?” He asked when he got closer, and my embarrassment only got worse.

“Yep, uh huh.”

He gave me a strange look, but then dismissed it. “I just wanted you to know how happy I am to have you home.” He told me. “I may not have told you enough before, but I love you darling, and I only want the very best for you.” He nodded his head. “I can’t express to you how much it warms my heart to have you back.”

“Oh, dad.” I said softly. “I missed you, and I love you too.”

He smiled down at me. “I’ll let you get some rest.” He nodded. “Sweet dreams.” He said over his shoulder as he closed the door behind him.

I flipped back over with a smile, trying to contain my laughter as Asher poked his head back up from the side of the bed with a grin to make sure my dad was gone. “That was close.” He chuckled in a whisper. “Now where were we?” He winked, jumping back up on the bed and tickling me through the blanket.

I held my hands over my mouth to keep from making too much noise, then swatted him to make him stop. He smiled wickedly as he leaned down to kiss me again. “I’ll have to go soon.” He whispered against my lips, pressing his body to mine. “Unless there was something else that you wanted to do?” He shrugged innocently and narrowed his eyes at me.

I bit my lip, but shook my head. “Not today.” I told him.

He nodded his head. “My charms are going to wear you down one day, girl.” He laughed, rolling off of me.

“You keep saying that.” I teased, sitting up to smile at him.

He held my chin in his hand and kissed me softly. “I will wait until the end of days for you.” He told me sweetly. “I know a good thing when I’ve got it.”

I shook my head at him. “Why are you so good to me?” I asked.

“Because I love you, duh.” He smiled, his perfect smile.

“I love you too.” I smiled back at him.

He grabbed his bag from the floor, then took out the movie that we never bothered watching and put it away, going for the door. “I’m really happy you’re ok.” He said seriously, his back still turned. “I don’t know what I would have done if you never came back.”

I walked over to him, turning him around and found his face was sad. “I’m back.” I nodded, wanting to make that foreign look disappear from him and for the smile to return.

“I love you.” He sighed. “I missed you so much, and I just…I’m…I just am glad you’re here and everything is ok. I was telling myself every day that I’d see you soon, but I wasn’t ever really sure if that was true or not. I worried it might not have been.” He looked down at my mouth, leaning in to kiss me once quickly. “But, you’re here, and it is even so….” He dropped whatever he was going to say and smiled at me instead, his eyes lighting back up. “I got to get home.” He said lightly. “I’ll see you tomorrow sometime.”

I nodded. “Ok.” I told him, a little of the serious moment still lingering in the air. “I will call you.”

He kissed me then went for the door. “Oh,” He said, turning back. “I got a new number, so I will text you in a while.” He said then went on his way.

Once I was alone again, I shuffled back to bed, picking up my phone again. I cleared out everything, getting rid of all of the little notification bubbles. I replied to some of the newer messages from my friends, and I was actually getting a little excited about lunch tomorrow. When Eve had said she’d get everyone together, she really meant everyone.

I went through the voicemails, deleting them each before even listening to them. I got rid of them all but one. I had a voicemail from Asher, back on his old number, and it was from the day after the big storm knocked me off of that boat. I started to open it, but when I thought about it, I didn’t really want to hear it. Seeing Asher be sad is painful, so I’m sure whatever his message says, it’ll just break my heart, and I don’t want that right now. I still couldn’t bring myself to delete it though. Eventually I know that the curiosity of what he had to say to me after I was dead would get to me.

It was still pretty early, but I cuddled into my bed, yawning deeply. I pulled out Theon’s shirt, noticing the smell was already getting fainter, then I sighed. I pulled out the little black phone, dialing the number.

It rang and rang but he didn’t answer.

I reminded myself that he said he’d be working tonight and I started to push the phone under my pillow but then a message came through.

Theon: Saw you on the news today. I really think we need to just stick to the contact once a week, and that really needs to just be for you and Tal. You and I don’t need to be involved any further, it’ll only make things harder.

My breathing caught in my chest and I had to reread the message twenty times before my shaking fingers could type out a response.

What are you talking about? I want to talk to you and Tally.

His reply was fast, almost like he already had it ready to go.

Theon: It is just better this way.

Tears burned my eyes.

I don’t understand.

Theon: It sure looked like ur boyfriend really loves you, and you love him.

I put the phone down, grabbing my other one instead and I googled my name. The very first thing to come up was a list of videos showing the media coverage from my return home. I clicked on the first one, and it was pretty clear what he had seen.

The video shows me walking off of the plane, and then cuts to me being scooped up and spun around by Asher, him kissing me, then goes on to me and my parents and my interview.

I threw that phone back down and picked up the other again, staring at the screen and trying to come up with something to say in response. After twenty minutes I sighed, putting the phone back under my pillow.

He was right. It isn’t fair to him or to Asher. Just because I realized that, it didn’t stop me from still holding Theon’s shirt close to my face as I settled in and closed my eyes, one tear running down my cheek.

Tomorrow is a new day.

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