Lauren and I walk down the familiar street that leads to Jonas’ house. My heart is light with excitement. Those days by the pool always cheered me up, and right now I could use just that. Music, talking, dancing, sunbathing, swimming, laughing, it was my summer dream. The memories float back to me as we near his place.
“He’s waiting for us in the back,” Lauren says, as enlivened as I am. We make our way up the stone driveway and enter through the back gate. The trickling sounds of the waterfall tickle my ears and I pick up my pace. Everything comes into view and for once this summer, I feel like myself again. My eyes wander to the pool, remembering it’s cool hands all over my body.
“Jonas!” Lauren shouts, dragging me to him. My eyes snap in the direction of her tugging and I see Jonas walking out the back door, animated. He looks the same. The same dark curly hair, the same baby face, the same smell of that cologne he never puts down. I squeeze him hard, trying to squeeze all the goodness back into my head.
“I can’t believe Lauren didn’t tell me you were back,” he says, letting me go only to look me over. “Did you get even more beautiful?”
I blush, needing his nurturing essence to bring me back to life. “Stop it,” I joke, “I missed you like crazy.” I even shove him a bit. “I can’t believe I thought you were at writing school.”
“Oh yeah, I remember when I said that.” He smiles and leads us over to the lounge chairs. He always laid on the middle one, then Lauren to the left and me to the right. We claimed places, we always belonged there. I sit down on mine and fall back.
“I really need this,” I murmur.
“Oh yeah,” Lauren grabs Jonas, “I have to catch you up.”
“Don’t tell me—”
“Yup, there’s a new guy that’s stolen her heart. Will she give in? We have yet to find out.”
I sit up, waving her off. “I don’t wanna talk about that. Let’s talk about happy things, things we used to talk about.”
Lauren chuckles. “We used to talk about your relationship with Kaden, oh, and Jonas’ newest ambition, oh, and Austin! Don’t you guys remember when I liked Austin!”
“Oh God,” Jonas exaggerates, “how could I forget. All the plans we used to make to get you two together... What a waste.”
“No kidding. What a weird phase for me to have. It was so random and he was with someone at the time too.”
“Don’t you remember?” I bring up the story while holding back my laughs. “We tried to break them up. We devised that crazy plan to sabotage their relationship in the hot tub one night at like three in the morning.”
“Oh, I remember that. We broke into my parent’s liquor cabinet and drank all of the cherry vodka.”
“Oh! Or when Lauren grabbed a bottle of cocktail flavoring and drank half of it going on about how good it tastes and that it doesn’t even taste like alcohol!” We erupt in laughter and I fall on to my back, my stomach hurting, hardly able to breathe. “W-We didn’t even know and you were acting all drunk,” I shout and Lauren falls beside me, trying to cover my mouth while laughing herself.
We continue on with stories and laughter, eventually ending up in the pool, floating around and talking about things I never thought I would talk about again.
“The night I lost my virginity? It was with Milo.”
“Oh, I always thought you lost it to Kaden,” Lauren says.
“No. It was with Milo. I didn’t really talk about our sex life much, huh?”
Jonas turns over on his raft. We each have our own. “No. You never wanted to talk about it, anything about you and Milo. I guess it didn’t matter much because you were with Kaden at the time.”
“What about you, Lauren? Care to enlighten us?”
Lauren rolls her eyes then stops suddenly. “You know what, I lied about who I lost it to. I said it was to some kid at my school because I didn’t want things to be weird between us.”
I sit up on my elbows, confused. “What do you mean?” Lauren gives Jonas a look and Jonas makes a face. He knows. “Wait. Tell me.”
“I lost it to Kaden.”
My heart skips a beat. “What?”
“It was before you two got together. It was some stupid drunk mistake kinda deal, but yeah. I lost it to Kaden.”
I blink a few times and lay back down, shielding my face with my arms. “Oh.” Lauren and Kaden were never even a thought I’ve had. I’ve always seen them as just friends. I don’t know why this isn’t sitting well with me, especially since Kaden and I are history, but an odd feeling stays in the pit of my stomach. “It’s weird to think about. I mean, you pushed me to be with him.”
“I thought you guys would be a great couple, and he already was into you,” she explains.
“It didn’t seem weird to you since you slept with him?” I notice Jonas floating away.
“No. Things weren’t awkward between him and me afterward. We just got over it and accepted that it happened. It wasn’t that big of a deal, Emma.”
I let it go for now and nod, giving her a face that says ‘I’m okay, it’s cool, I don’t care.’ She smiles and lays back down, but just as I find myself beginning to relax again, a sound comes from the house. It’s the backdoor sliding open, so we all glance up, but when I do my entire body pulses. Air builds up in my throat and suddenly I can’t breathe. Brandon. Brandon’s here.
“Hey,” he says to us, but aims it at me, the frozen girl. He smiles, I feel myself slipping away, he walks out onto the patio, I feel myself slipping off of the raft. One second I’m suffocating and the next the water is engulfing me. The raft lifts up and I plummet in. The water wakes me up, combs it’s thin fingers through my hair and gropes me. Rushed, I think about staying under, but my body automatically floats up. Giving in, I push myself up from the bottom and spring from the water like an inexperienced mermaid. Drenched with hair sticking to my cheeks, I see Brandon standing at the edge of the pool, looking down at me.
“Are you okay?” Lauren giggles.
I press my lips together, then part them, tasting the chlorine on my tongue, but still, his taste remains from earlier. I mop my hair from my face and clumsily climb out of the pool, hesitant when Brandon reaches to help me out. I take his hand, ignoring my embarrassment all to feel his touch for one more moment. I avoid his eyes and take the towel that happens to be in his hand. A part of me hopes he was looking at my body. The teen-sized bikini I got last summer with Lauren for a pool party, there’s plenty to see. There’s plenty to touch. I want him to touch.
“I forgot to tell you guys,” Jonas speaks up, grabbing my attention. “This is my friend Brandon from Berkeley. He’s staying with me this summer.”
My eyes trail back to Brandon all to see his charming smile. “Oh, we’ve met,” he tells Jonas.
“Oh,” Jonas draws it out, glancing at Lauren and Lauren gives him a look. A specific look saying ‘this is the guy!’ “Oh, oh, uh, what a small town. That’s convenient, now we can skip introductions.”
My cheeks flare up, I try to wipe the heat away with the back of my hand. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” I mumble, turning away from Brandon, wondering if he heard. He can’t have my happy place too. He took the Shirt Shack, he took my friends, but he can have Jonas, not this place.
I’m somewhat surprised when I notice Brandon following me over to my chair. “We need to talk,” he says lowly.
“Really? I think things are pretty cleared up.”
“Cleared up?” He says, stepping in front of me. I look back to Lauren and Jonas to see them pretending not to eavesdrop.
Overwhelmed, I look back to Brandon and his pretty face. “Mm-hmm.”
He flashes his teeth, a smile or smirk or second of pure amusement. He crosses his arms and suddenly I feel more naked than I already am. I can feel the towel dropping from around me. “I don’t think so. You keep running away.”
My eyes dart down to his lips. I know it was an accident, but I also know that Brandon noticed. He notices every little thing. He probably knows how bad I want him to kiss me again right now, right here. The taste on my lips is fading and I want to renew it. My chest hurts from my vibrating heart, and I take a breath to calm it, breaking the short moment of silence between us.
“I, uh, I have to change.”
I gather up my clothes and head inside, remembering exactly where the downstairs bathroom is. Once inside I feel secure, and I peel off my swimsuit and realize my lack of underwear. I stuffed my bra and panties into my bag so they wouldn’t be laying around. I forgot to grab my bag, stupid Brandon was distracting me. I pull on my jean shorts and tug at the crotch, no liking the roughness. Dealing for now, I pull on my tee-shirt and feel uncomfortable over the lack of fabric. It’s not see-through, but it drapes revealingly. I cross my arms over my chest and snatch up my wet suit from the floor before leaving the bathroom. I’ll just grab my bag and quickly come back.
When I walk back outside I find Lauren and Jonas laying on the lounge chairs, no Brandon. Relieved, I grab my bag and head back in, but I see Brandon walking down the main hall toward me before I can escape to the bathroom again.
“Can we talk now?” He says more than asks. I’m sure he’s not expecting me to actually answer with yes or no. I keep my arms crossed over my chest. He goes to say something by my phone starts to ring. I start to zip open my bag but immediately stop. “Is everything okay?”
“Oh, it’s nothing. I’m not going to answer.” The ringing continues and I curse under my breath before turning around, my back to him, and sticking my hand in my bag. I push past my underwear and grab the thing, silencing it, not even looking to see who it was. I turn back around and expect Brandon to continue, but instead, he bends down and straightens back up with my panties in his hands. I feel as if I’d run into a wall. A hard slap strikes my face, and it’s my own recklessness attacking me, but I have no idea how— I swiftly take my underwear and feel the heat return to my cheeks. A part of me wants to cry.
Brandon must notice this too—damn him noticing every idiotic little thing—because he says. “Emma, it’s okay. You don’t have to be embarrassed, it doesn’t bother me.”
My cheeks flush even more. I try to laugh it off but the exposure is becoming too real now. “Y-Yeah it’s uh sorry I—”
He grabs my hand and leads me to the couch. I sit down and he sits beside me, facing me, angled, wanting to figure us out. I grab a pillow and hug it, covering my chest. “Are you going to let me in now?” He asks, straight to the point. “No more defenses. No more running away.”
“You say it like it’s so simple.”
“Because it is. I think you over complicate things. You make it difficult for yourself.”
I glance off. “Because it is more complicated. More so than you think. I can’t just let you in.”
He seems to move closer, but I know he’s sitting still. “Why’s that?”
I can’t say it, not bluntly like that. It’s hard for me to say these things, to word my feelings in a way that makes sense. Brandon raises his eyebrows a little, telling me he’s listening. They move in a curious way, a curious way that also shows a bit of concern.
“I let you in earlier,” I say slowly.
“I know. I really enjoyed that, Emma.”
“That’s a relief,” I murmur, not looking away. Why does he do this to me? I used to be good at this, talking to boys. Now all I can do is say whatever I feel, no thinking it over or repeating pre-thought-of phrases that I know work well. “I, um, I really liked it too.”
I feel like I’m learning to walk. Everything is new again, or at least very different. It’s like pulling teeth when speaking, but I’m easing into it. Lauren would be proud of these steps I’m taking.
“You’re a sweet girl, I don’t know why you have to act so tough,” Brandon says, again seeming to move closer but I’m not sure if he really is.
“You don’t?” I test, taking a larger step, almost slipping.
He looks at me closer. “I can assume but I rather know the truth. I’d hate to misjudge you.”
“Maybe some other time,” I look off but he grabs my hand, bringing my eyes back to him. I still yearn to feel it again, to renew what happened earlier. I bite the inner edge of my bottom lip, remembering all of it. I want to lean in. I want him to grab me again, rough. But before my fantasies can come to life, the back door slides open and Jonas and Lauren peek inside. I have a sudden urge to yell.
“Hey,” Lauren speaks up, “some people are getting together tonight if you guys wanna come. Well, I think you already know, Brandon. But Emma, if you wanna join I’m sure everyone would love that.”
I glance back to Brandon and contemplate if it is worth it. I’d get to see him again, soon, and maybe we could sneak off and refresh the taste.