I quiver as I pass through the shop doors, hoping that he is busy with customers, but he’s not. A young guy walks past me with a bag in his hand, on his way out. My eyes follow the guy then look forward to find Brandon behind the counter, his hands against the tabletop as he leans forward. Our eyes connect immediately, and I contemplate turning around and running out. Before I can even take a good breath, Brandon starts.
“Emma,” Oh God, please don’t say my name, “why did you run away?”
Suddenly I feel as if I’ve forgotten English. My lips part, but no words come out. Brandon notices my struggle and moves from behind the counter, nearing me. With every step he takes, the panic inside of me intensifies. “Look, I know you’ve got this whole ‘nobody come near me’ thing going on, but I don’t buy it. Stop pushing everyone away. Some people are getting together tonight—join us. Have some fun.”
Just as I realize he’s coming too close, I shoot my hand out and create a barrier between us. This only amuses him, though. And I suddenly want to feel more of him. I can feel his chest rise and fall underneath my palm before his hands take mine off of him, but he doesn’t let go of me. Brandon reels me in and brushes my hair from my face, all while I’m frozen. I could say anything. I could even kiss him again, but instead, the only thing that leaves me is, “It’s your turn for break.”
“Do you really want me to leave?”
Yes. Yes, I really do. No. No, I actually don’t, but you’ll never know that. “You know what I’m going to say.”
He shakes his head. “No, I don’t. You’re very unpredictable, so much so that I just can’t figure you out. I would ask you to be honest with me, but I feel like you can’t be honest with yourself either.”
I yank my hand from his. “Fine. I want you to leave. I want you to leave me alone for the rest of the summer.”
“I don’t think the girl in the back room wants that.”
It doesn’t matter what she wants! “Well, you’re never going to see her again so it doesn’t matter.”
Brandon looks at me as if I’m betting him. He’s hearing: make her come out. Knowing what’s coming, I manage, “Bran—” before he snatches me again and presses his lips to mine. His hands push into my back, making me wish the fabric of my shirt wasn’t there. I want to feel his skin against my skin, his warmth, his liveliness. I want to steal it from him.
It’s slowly changing from structured to desperate, and I just can’t move away. I can’t help but kiss him back and follow him wherever he goes. Suddenly I feel the counter behind me, fearing that I’ll be sitting on it any second. While I can, I sneak my hands up the back of his shirt, remembering the look of him as he lays on the sand. Golden, smooth, muscled, my hands drink him up. My toes curl against my sandals and a pressure grows within me, making me ashamed, making my hands leave his back and touch his chest, ready to push him away. I lose focus. I turn my head to the side and drift off as Brandon’s fingers trickle up my legs, ready to lift me up. “Emma,” he breathes against my cheek, making my legs yearn to squeeze together, making my head spin with a ruthless dizziness.
His kisses pour down my jaw and tickle my neck, and suddenly I find the power to push him away. His eyes are hungry, but I’m not going to be devoured by him, not ever. My chest rises and falls and his does the same, the gentle movements so different from what we were just doing. “I have to go,” I mutter, clutching my bag against me, making my move for the doors. Brandon lets me pass him, but when I hurriedly push through the doors my heart skips a beat. “Sally,” I blurt, nearly running into her.
“Hey, I had to come in to—”
I interrupt her without a second thought. “I quit. I’m sorry, but I just have to leave.” She calls for me as I rush down the sidewalk, but I don’t look back, the guilt is already numbing my fingers.
When I reach my Aunts house I ring the doorbell, too anxiously and twitchy to try and fish my key out and unlock it myself. My mother answers, confused. “Emma? What are you doing home, I thought you get off later today?”
I slip past her. “I quit.”
“What? Why? What happened?”
“I-I can’t talk right now.”
Her questions are muffled by my shut bedroom door and I lock it behind myself, not wanting anyone to see me. She knocks a few times but soon gives up. I hear her footsteps sink into the house, and once they’re completely gone my shoulders fall. I drop my bag to the bed and fall on it myself, curling up in the messy blankets. I need to escape the world right now, I need to refresh my mind and remind myself of all the dangers of boys like Brandon.
God, the way he made me feel—I can’t tell if it was something I want more of or something I shouldn’t be hypnotized by. He lures me in, I’m weak to it, to his charms and looks. Pathetic. I had one job this summer, to not fall into the suffocating arms of another guy. I couldn’t even last a month.
I can still taste him on my lips. The feeling of it lingers. I can still feel the pressure, the want deep within me and it reminds me of Milo and Kaden, the only people I’ve been completely intimate with. To some girls my age, two boys is a lot, to some it’s nothing, and to others, one boy is unheard of—the girl who still remains pure. I wish I was still a virgin, I wish I never knew those addictive sensations that are ruining me now. Sometimes it’s all I can think about. I’ll be sitting behind the counter while Brandon is on break, imagining it with him in my head. But now I can never see him again. He knows I want him, he has all the power, I’d be a caught fish if I returned to him. He’d gut me and cook me and eat me.
I have nowhere to go. Now that I’m no longer safe at work—or my old work now—my Aunts house is the only refuge I have. Lauren and Austin and Kaden, they could be anywhere, and now Brandon is on the list too. People I have to avoid. Especially Kaden now that Lauren told me of his plans to get me back. God, why can’t he learn? What he did—I can’t understand why he wants me back or why he thinks I still have feelings for him. Not after that.
It would be so easy to give into him—Brandon. Maybe it’s worth the moment of satisfaction. Maybe my aching heart is just my payment for passion and sex and company.
My phone vibrates against the floorboards. I get up to retrieve it, mindlessly answering. “Hello?”
“Hey, it’s me.” Lauren. “You never answer texts.”
“Oh, sorry, I’ve been busy today.” Busy being teased by Brandon. “Uh, what’s up?” It feels unnatural to say such things.
“I was just wondering if you wanted to hang out, and before you say no, I just mean you and me, no Kaden or Austin or anyone.”
Not in the mood, I try to find the right words for no. “Actually, I’m having a bit of a rough day, I just quit my job and now—”
“Oh, that sucks. You’ll have to tell me about it. I’ll be there in five.”
Before a word of protest can leave me, the line goes dead. I end the call and drop my arm, thinking about calling her back. Or maybe I need Lauren. She’s pretty much the only somewhat decent thing I have due to my recent job loss. She’s not perfect and not really into the things I’m into anymore, but I’m sure the side of her that’s normal is still in her somewhere. I know who she is around Kaden and them, but I also know the Lauren that used to be my best friend for two years. She meant a lot to me. She was the one person I could talk to.
My mother answers the door when she arrives. She must remember where my room is because I promptly hear a soft knock followed by, “Hey, it’s me.”
I get up from my bed and open the door, determined to find my friend again. “Hi,” I say, letting her in.
“It looks exactly the same,” she says, referencing to the room.
“Uh, yeah. I don’t really change it.”
“You always loved shells. Jeez, I didn’t know there were so many by now. Oh, wait, I have to look.” Lauren peeks into the closet and bends down to where my carvings are. “Hunter, Milo, and I see you added Kaden. One for each summer. So bizarre.”
I sit down on my bed. “Yeah, I know you’re still friends with him so—”
“Don’t worry, I get it. I probably would have done the same.” She peers off then snaps back to me, sitting beside me. “So, you quit your job. Let me guess, was it because of Brandon?”
“Well...I could really use someone to talk to. Like old times?”
She smiles. “I remember. Go ahead, I’m all ears.”
On a limb, I say whatever comes to mind, a pipe about to burst. “You know how my past relationships ended poorly. I just—I think I’m too scared to keep trying. I’m tired of getting my heart broken every time.” Baby steps. “I never know what I do wrong, I don’t know how to change for the better because all of them end so quickly and so abruptly or so hatefully. I feel like history is just repeating itself.”
Realization comes to her. I see it on her face. “So that’s why you’re avoiding everyone. People like Brandon. You really like him, don’t you?”
“I can’t tell you to forget about the past because that’s impossible. I think there’s always going to be the risk, you just have to decide if the guy is worth the shot. If Brandon is who you’re afraid to let in, then decide if the experience is worth the possibility of heartache, and if it’s not, don’t continue with him. But you can’t live your entire life afraid of getting your heart broken. That’s how most relationships end anyway, you’ve just had some really crap ones. I don’t know. It’s all up to you, but I say Brandon seems really sweet and genuine. I wouldn’t hate it if you two were together. He’s probably the best one yet, and I’m saying while being friends with Kaden.”
I sigh. “I know. It just really sucks.” The emotion is rising in me, reaching my throat. “We actually kissed today, before I quit. It was a lot, like not just a peck and now he won’t leave my head. It’s like I let him in and now he won’t leave me alone.”
“Well, what did it tell you?”
I press my lips together, unsure about how honest I should be. “That I’ve been holding everything in. That I really want him. Bad. More than I’ve ever wanted to be with anyone ever.” Very honest, I suppose. “He’s just, he’s so good at making me want him. And he knows it. And now that I’ve given in I just want to forget about the past and show him who I really am. I’ve been cold lately. Distant.”
“I know,” Lauren says, “and it’s sucked. I can see how miserable you’re making yourself. You just need to let go. Just for one night and see how you feel, if you feel better, more like yourself. And I’m not saying let’s go get drunk and hunt the guy down, I’m saying let’s go get ice cream because I’m craving it. We can go to that place we always used to go, you know, down by the water. And we can hang out on the beach like we used to and swim in Jonas’ pool. Remember?”
I remember Jonas. He was a year older than us and his parents had a luxurious beach house with an extravagant pool in the backyard. He was a friend of Kaden and Austin, but him, Lauren, and I used to spend a lot of time together during the day. His pool was a favorite. We used to lay out and listen to the little waterfall or say our deepest confessions in the hot tub at midnight. The three of us got along well. There were no pressures of romance around or drinking or drugs or anything complicated. Jonas is a good memory of this place. “He’s here? This summer? I thought he planned on attending some exclusive summer writing program in New York or something. Isn’t that what he said last year?”
Lauren rolls her eyes. “Jonas? Come on. He’s always changing his mind. One month he wants to be a writer, one he wants to be an actor, the next he’s an aspiring musician. Of course he’s here.”
“How come I haven’t seen him? Was he at that party?”
Lauren shrugs. “I dunno. I saw him last week, though. You know what, he’s doesn’t even know you’re back! Oh my god, he’s going to freak. I meant to tell him but it just slipped my mind. You know what, let’s go get ice cream, I’ll text him and we’ll head over to his beach house for a little reunion. Pack your swimsuit because we’re taking a dip into the good old times.”