Porcelain Skin

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Plan In Action

My lungs immediately try to reject the water, but in order to cough I need air in my lungs to exhale, and once again I inhale a lungful of water. In my fight to pull air into my body I don’t realize I’m not going to find oxygen under the water, and the fight for breath continues until it dawns on me that I’m drowning. In my panic, I can’t seem to get my brain to work as I breathe and cough water while struggling for survival.

I turn frantic when I feel a set of arms start tugging on me. I’m tearing and clawing at the arms, hoping that they will lead me upwards to where my life support awaits. I’m yanked abruptly from near death. Someone is holding me tightly while I sputter and gasp. My body struggles to cooperate, and I’m finally able to get in one good cough that launches the liquid from my lungs. I gulp in the air around me.

When I’ve got myself somewhat under control, I notice that I’m being dragged through the water towards the edge of the lake. He must notice that I’ve stopped hacking up my lungs because we stop, and he looks back at me.

I meet Trevor’s troubled green eyes. We stare at each other for a moment and then he pulls me to him. I don’t think before I find myself grabbing onto him and tightly wrapping my arms around his neck. I can feel myself shaking, but feeling his arms tighten around my waist only magnifies my tremor. One of his arms moves up my back and then his hand lightly grips my neck before pulling my head closer to his chest. I instantly tense before pulling myself away from his touch. His hand drops to my shoulder, the other gripping my waist.

We’re right at the edge of the lake where the water is shallow enough that we can both stand easily, but I have no energy to move. Fighting for my life ironically drained the life right out of me. I don’t realize that I’ve started crying until Trevor’s fingers wind themselves into my hair where he lightly massages the back of my head. I don’t pull away this time.

“I’m sorry, Emma,” he murmurs into my hair. “I’m so sorry.”

I struggle to reign in my emotions before pulling back just enough to look at his worried face. My lips tug up into a gentle smile, but I know he can see the terror dancing behind my eyes.

“It... it’s fine,” I stutter out around a hiccup. “You didn’t know my body was going to try and drown itself.” I laugh timidly.

Trevor smiles back tenderly, but it doesn’t quite meet his eyes. I can see the regret and panic hidden beneath his calm exterior. I can understand some panic, but he seems genuinely scared. His grip is tight, and his body solid. He won’t let me go, and I though I’m not complaining in the slightest, I can’t fathom why he’s so worked up.

I suck in a breath as his fingers graze the skin of my stomach. I’m positive that he notices my reaction, but he doesn’t pull away. He watches me for a moment; nearly dazed. He stares, but it’s as if he’s not really seeing. He’s stuck, his mind elsewhere, and I realize that I know this look, because I’ve experienced it far too many times myself.

He’s remembering something.

It only lasts a few seconds, and then the moment is gone. He blinks, narrowing his eyes as his fingers slide further around me, tightening just a bit. It’s not an obvious movement and yet the action is so significant. Our breathing mingles together for a moment before Trevor seems to gain his senses back.

He doesn’t loosen his hold on me completely, but something has changed. The intimacy of the moment has vanished.

“You think you’ll be able to make it back up?” he asks, motioning with his head towards the edge of the lake where the path begins.

I nod a few times, slowly.

“Yeah. I think I’ll be okay.”

Trevor releases his hold on my waist but grabs my arm to keep me steady as we climb our way back to shore.

“You okay down there?” Mike yells and we both glance up to see Lindsey and Mike peering over the edge with concern etched into their brows.

“Yeah,” Trevor responds. “Just had a little scare.”

I chuckle softly, hoping to lighten up the mood even just a little bit, but I’m wondering who was actually scared more: me or Trevor. He doesn’t seem to notice as he helps me over the embankment.

We finally reach the top, and Trevor leads me to my towel, where I gratefully lay down. Lindsey is in full mom mode as she digs through her bag for a bottle of water and a sandwich. I guess she came prepared for a picnic. I don’t hesitate to scarf down the water, which seems odd since I’ve just nearly drowned on the stuff. I can see Mike in the background eyeing me with concern, and I can tell he feels like he should help but doesn’t have a clue what to do. I send him a small smile, which he returns ten-fold—a sure sign of his relief.

Lindsey continues to fuss over me until I’ve had enough and tell her to back off. She just gives me a sly smile, and a wiggle of her eyebrows in Trevor’s direction, before turning towards Mike and grabbing his arm. They both jump into the sea of death below, but her squeals, seconds later, are confirmation that she did not suffer the same fate I did.

I feel a presence beside me, and turn to see Trevor getting himself comfortable on the ground. He has slipped a pair of jeans on, but his shirt is still missing.

I watch him for a moment as he stares out across the lake. He’s hunched over with his elbows resting on his knees and one hand gripping his opposite forearm. He appears so relaxed, but I can see the storm brewing behind his expression. He turns to meet my gaze. If he notices me staring he doesn’t acknowledge it.

“I really am sorry about that,” he says as he uses his free hand to play with a twig. “I was just goofing off and... Wow, that was just so stupid. Sorry.”

“Please, I’m totally fine now,” I assure him. “And I would hate for you to stop goofing off just because of this accident.” I pause for a moment. “I like this side of you,” I admit, somehow feeling much braver after my near-death experience.

He looks at me for a moment, and I can’t read his features. The expression doesn’t last long before he replaces it with a soft smile. His pale eyes twinkle lightly and my body warms drastically. I’d be sweating if I wasn’t still shivering from the cold rush of adrenaline.

“Did I do that to you?” I gasp when my eyes land on a trail of red marks across his arms. There are even a couple that are bleeding. How did I not notice this a moment ago when I was checking him out?

Trevor glances to where I’m looking and rubs a hand over the damaged skin.

“You were fighting for your life,” he says with a crooked smile. “It only makes sense that you’d try climbing me like a tree.”

“I... What? I did what?” I gasp again, as I bury my face in my hands.

I hear him laughing beside me.

“It’s not a big deal,” he explains. “They’re just scratches. I think I’ll live.”

“Gosh. I’m sorry.” I’m mortified but I manage to peek around my hands at him to offer a timid smile.

He chuckles softly, and I’m momentarily incapable of tearing my eyes away from him. He’s already beautiful, but this... When he smiles, really smiles, he’s breathtaking. No man should be allowed to acquire this level of perfection. It’s disgusting and intimidating, and I hate how much it affects me.

I’m sure he is aware that he is attractive, but he never flaunts it. If he ever harbors any vain thoughts he keeps them well hidden, so well hidden, in fact, that you’d almost think that he couldn’t care less about his appearance.

He definitely catches me ogling him this time because he has to regain my attention by tipping his head down to my level and clearing his throat. I snap to attention, and I’m almost positive I’ve got steam bubbling out of my pores as my body ignites with embarrassment.

“So...” he begins, and I’m sure I see a smirk on his face. “You free tonight?”

My heart stutters beneath my chest. What is he asking me? Has that moment finally arrived? Have we jumped from friendship to something a little bit more that quickly?

He must see the turmoil in my eyes because he laughs before going on. “I’m just wondering if you’d want to finish our assignment tonight?”

“Oh,” I respond, trying not to sound too disappointed.

Seriously, I’m such a goner that I’d probably say yes if he proposed at this very moment. Heck, I probably would have said yes a few months ago when he still hated my guts.

“Yeah, I’m free,” I tell him.

We make plans for me to meet him at his place later this evening just as Lindsey and Mike appear from the edge of the path. Mike has Lindsey in a head lock and is rubbing mud into her hair, making her erupt with screams while she elbows him in the ribs.

It’s probably been thirty minutes since I was in the water and I’ve now regained my composure. And, because I do hold a bit of pride, I decide to shove down my fear and take a leap off the edge of the cliff. This time, by choice, not by force. I’m surprised by how easy it is to do it again and again after this, and we spend another few hours at the lake before packing up and heading back to campus.

On our way home Trevor belts out every word to every song that comes on the radio and receives a slap upside the head from Mike when he makes an attempt at falsetto. I can’t help but chuckle, but all the while I’m thinking about how tonight is going to go because I’ve finally decided that I’m ready to put the next step of my plan into action.


“So, Mike, huh?” I say, wiggling my eyebrows at Lindsey who sits across from me on the floor.

We’ve just spent the afternoon together being typical girls. By this, I mean chewing on day-old pizza while watching ‘Neighbors’ on her computer and sipping iced-tea. I’m just hanging in Lindsey’s dorm until I have to meet up with Trevor. I thought it’d be a good way to distract myself, but so far, it’s not working.

“Hmm?” She looks up at me briefly before returning to clipping her toenails.

“Oh, come on,” I groan. “Like it’s not obvious. You two were flirting up a storm at the lake today.”

Lindsey snorts in amusement but doesn’t respond.

“Come on! Out with it!” I bellow sarcastically, using my best proper English accent. She giggles, but I don’t miss how she tries to hide her face from view.

“What?” she finally says when I just continue to watch her, hoping to pull a confession from her with my heated stare. She looks at me before rolling her eyes. I glimpse a mini smile tugging her lips.

“Fine,” she huffs. “Yes, he’s mildly attractive... and extremely entertaining.” She pauses to eye me cautiously. “He asked me out.” She squeals, and I just stare at her for a moment before what she says finally registers.

“Ahhh!” My delayed reaction is completely over the top, and I realize I may have had a bit too much sweet tea at this point.

Lindsey doesn’t seem to notice my exaggerated behavior, as we both scream like young teenagers. I take a bite of my stale pizza before crossing my legs and turning to face her head on. “Okay. Tell me everything,” I encourage.

Her need to release another squeal is obvious, but she contains herself, her eyes dancing as she speaks.

“Well, at the lake, after you and Trevor started chatting,” she wiggles her eyebrows suggestively, and I realize just how often she does that, “Mike and I decided to leave you two in peace. We had a small water fight, and then at one point he put me in a headlock and dunked me underwater. Anyway, we were messing around for a while when he suddenly just asked me, like completely unexpectedly, to go on a date with him. And, of course, I said ‘no’.”

I gape at her.

“What? I wasn’t going to make it that easy on him,” she defends. “I’ve liked the guy for years. Like, since Sophomore year of high school, but we were always just friends. I figured I had to make him suffer a little.” She giggles evilly.

“And...”

“So as soon as we got back to campus, he texted me to meet him.”

“Let me guess... you said no,” I say.

She smiles sheepishly. “I just wanted to see how hard he’d go after me,” she explains.

“Well...” Sweet tea makes me impatient I guess, but that doesn’t stop me. I take another sip as she goes on.

“A few minutes later someone is banging on my door.”

“And it’s him.” I’m about ready to slap myself silly because I keep interrupting, but my mouth can’t help it.

“Yep.”

“And... what happened?”

“Nothing,” she explains as she returns to working on her toes. “He just walked right in, got comfortable on my bed, and started flipping through my Cosmo magazine.”

“And...” I urge.

“Seriously,” she huffs. “You interrupt me one more time and I will throw my toenail clippings at you.”

I zip my lips shut using my fingers, but I lift my brows at her, prompting her to continue.

“Anyway, he started enlightening me on a random person who died from illegal butt injections, and the thirteen emotional stages of dropping your cell phone, and then quizzing me about who my celebrity best friend is... blah blah blah. I’d already read the stupid magazine like three times, so I finally got bored and asked what he wanted. He said he wasn’t moving until I said yes. Long story short - we’ve got a date this Friday night.” She could barely finish her last sentence because she was already squealing... again.

I plug my bleeding ears and fake an exasperated sigh that fades into laughter. “Good. I’m glad,” I tell her with a smile. “He seems cool.”

She’s grinning up at me warmly from where she’s been focused on digging crud out from the corner of her big toenail. For someone so put-together and clean, she sure can be a sicko.

We’ve just finished watching a lip-syncing battle between Jimmy Fallon and Tom Cruise when I glance at the time and realize the moment has arrived. Lindsey notices too and gives me a worried look.

“I should get going,” I tell her, as I roll forward from my back into a sitting position.

“You can do this!” she belts, sounding freakishly like a high school cheerleader.

I stand and she jumps up from her spot on the floor to throw her arms around me. I keep my arms at my side to rub it in just how much I’m dreading what I’m about to do.

“Oh, cheer up, Eeyore,” she tells me. “You’re going to be fine.” Her pep talk is not helping.

I send her a weak wave before grabbing my bag of supplies and throwing it over my slumped shoulders. I sluggishly make my way out her door.

“Hold up!” I hear her yell from behind me.

I’m nearly to the elevators, but I look to see her skipping down the hallway. Lindsey is beautiful, with a tall, slender body that most guys have difficulty not appreciating, but she lacks any athleticism, and it’s evident in her awkward arm-flailing run. I stifle a laugh as she comes to stand in front of me. She eyes me knowingly but ignores my expression.

“Here.” She thrusts her arm out towards me and I look at it.

I’m admiring her gold bracelets when she starts shaking her fist in front of me, causing them to jingle. I realize she’s trying to urge me to take whatever she’s holding. I cup my hand under hers and feel something small, heavy, and cold land in my palm.

“The key,” she explains. I nod before she engulfs me in one more quick hug and stalks away.

I take my time walking across campus, hoping that maybe something will come up that gives me an excuse to pass on our study session. It takes a good ten minutes to reach his apartment since it’s a little ways off of campus, and I inhale a lung-bursting breath before knocking on the door. There’s really no reason to knock because I have a key, but I decide to not take the risk of walking in on him.

I’m a bit confused why he’s having me meet here instead of in Matthews Hall like before, but my wondering is cut short when the door swings open. Crap! No one was supposed to be here!

“Chuck?” I greet awkwardly when I see his familiar face. He smiles widely at me before throwing his arms around my shoulders. I don’t even get a chance to respond before the hug is over and he’s stepping away.

“Long time no see!” he bellows. I barely knew the guy in high school, but he sure is friendly.

“Hi.” I smile, feeling unexpectedly timid compared to his enthusiasm.

“Get in here,” he ushers, and I obey. “No worries. Lindsey already gave me the low-down. Trevor’s room is over there,” he says, pointing to the back corner of the apartment.

“So, he actually lives here?” I ask idiotically. Chuck gives me a quizzical look that urges me to explain. “It’s just that we’ve met up a few times before, and it was always in one of the dorms.”

“Ah,” he says as understanding dawns in his expression. “Yeah, that’s actually Mike’s dorm. Trevor occasionally stays over there since it’s closer to his Psychology class. He can be a bit lazy.” He chuckles.

“Oh.” I guess that makes sense.

I take a slow glance around the apartment and come to the conclusion that this is indeed a guys’ home. The room lacks any sort of homey feel. There are dirty dishes and cups strewn throughout the living room. There’s a garbage bag sitting next to the couch flowing with used pizza boxes, cans, bottles, and orange peels. Guess it makes sense to keep your garbage within reach. That way, you never, ever have to leave the comfort of the couch.

Somehow the amount of garbage strewn throughout the room is equal, if not more, than the amount falling out of the bag. If this is the room that greets their guests then I don’t even want to imagine what the bathroom looks likes. Whisker shavings coating the sink, mysterious hairs plastered to the toilet seat, and soap scum rimming the tub. It’s gag worthy even in my imagination.

“So, Trevor should be back in about...” He takes a moment to pull his phone from his pocket to glance at the time, “seventeen minutes.” He looks back up at me. “That gonna be enough time?”

“Plenty.” I send a warm smile his way. I’m surprised at how easily he’s making this on me. No teasing or questioning. Maybe he doesn’t know the exact reason why I’m here.

“You got my key?” he asks.

It’s the same key Lindsey handed me earlier. I guess she didn’t know that he’d be here.

“Yep.” I hand him the key. “Thanks for your help,” I mutter.

“No problem.” He smiles perceptively. Maybe he does know the details of my plan because he looks suspiciously pleased by my discomfort. “Well, I’ve got a class in a few, so I’m gonna head out.” He winks at me. “Good luck.”

I thank him again and watch him leave the apartment while I stand helplessly in the middle of the room. I’ve only got fifteen minutes left to get things ready, so I grudgingly make my way to his room. I’m shocked when I cross the threshold and stare at the cleanliness that meets me.

“Here we go,” I mutter nervously under my breath.

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