I slept when I got home, my skin warm from laying out at the pool. I left with Lauren after talking with Brandon and saying that I’ll meet up with them tonight. It seemed like a nice idea since I’ll see Brandon again, but now I’m regretting it a little. As I lay in bed—knowing I have to shower—I shift back and forth, almost asking myself to accidentally fall back asleep. If I’m asleep I have no control. One hour, that’s all I have until I agreed to meet the ‘gang’ at Kaden’s house which is a mistake all in itself. The last thing I need is to be around Kaden, especially after what Lauren said.
I saw it coming after he tried to talk about us that first night, reminding me of how in love we were. He’s the devil—manipulating, evil, masked. He is not to be trusted.
Maybe I can be alone with Brandon at some point and poison myself some more, because that’s what I’m doing, setting myself up for disappointment. It’s nice though, when we talk, when he talked to me after I changed my clothes even though my panties were on the floor. It made my insides feel weightless. He’s just so, so lovely? He’s a psychical dream and internally wonderful. He knows how to make me squirm, how to make me angry, and how to make me give in. I could watch him do anything and be utterly entertained. Pressing shirts, checking people out, playing volleyball, looking at me. God, his kisses. I can’t handle his—
The sudden ring of my phone makes my heart hurtle forward. Snatching it from under my pillow, I see it’s Lauren. “Hello?”
“Can you please answer your texts.”
“Oh, sorry,” I mumble, thankful that she pulled me from those specific thoughts. “What is it?”
“I just wanted to make sure you’re still coming out with us,” she says. “Kaden’s house in forty minutes, right?”
“Uh, yeah. I’ll be there.”
“Okay. Do you want me to stop by your house? We can walk together.”
Getting out of bed, I walk to the bathroom. “Sure.”
“Okay, I’ll be there in forty. Wear something cute.”
With that she hangs up, not giving me the chance to say no. She knew I would, she was prepared. It’s times like these that I wish I never powered my phone back to life. She also knew to call and confirm, which says something about me but I don’t want to start down that road. Once I begin, I’ll end up under my blankets again but with tears in my eyes and a running nose.
I shower swiftly, cleaning thoroughly with my Aunts beachy-scented body wash. It matches her coconut shampoo and conditioner, so I hope she doesn’t mind, but I’m sure she’d understand. It’s for a boy, Aunt Sandy, an addictive boy that makes me chew on my bottom lip and hug my pillow extra tight at night—like he’s there with me. Sometimes I imagine his ghost hand reaching over me and holding me. For me, nighttime is the loneliest time. I try to convince myself that the isolation is what I truly want, but deep down I yearn for company. I think I’m too young to fall asleep every night with the same guy, though. That’s what married people do, people who are bound to each other, people that last that long, long enough to not tear each other apart. I could last that long but no one will let me.
I dress myself after my perfumed shower, pulling on a pair of shorts and an airy shirt, something that will drag with the breeze. I want to feel the night air’s hands slip up my shirt and brush its fingers against my abdomen, never able to go higher. There’s a bralette underneath, something creamy and lacey, something my mother thought was cute in the store and decided to buy me. I thought it might come in handy when wearing a bra seemed too tight and restricting. Tonight I want to be able to float away with the wind if need be, a quick escape.
My phone vibrates with a text from Lauren, saying she’s outside. I leave my bedroom with my phone in my back pocket and some money if the group stops somewhere to eat. I can’t find my debit card. It’s somewhere in my bags and I simply cannot be bothered. With the birthday money from the many cards given to me, I have no need for it yet.
My mother and my Aunt are sitting in the living room, drinking wine on the coastal furniture, light blues and whites and soft stripes on pillows. “Where are you off to?” My mother asks as I slip on my sandals.
“I’m going out with Lauren. She’s outside waiting for me.” It’s best if I don’t mention Kaden or his house.
“Oh, okay. Are you two getting something to eat? You skipped dinner. I don’t want you going hungry.”
“I’ll tell her. We’ll stop somewhere. Bye.”
The two say ‘bye’ and ‘have a good time’ and I slip out and close the front door behind me. Lauren is standing on the street, and I walk up to her. “Hi,” I mutter, normal things.
“Hey. Cute top, very beachy.”
“That’s sort of my theme tonight.”
We walk side by side, chatting about empty things like college and dreams and boys. She tells me about a guy named Kian who’s going to be here tonight, talking on about her crush and how she’s not sure if he’s into her or not, her words not mine. “He talks to me when we’re around each other, and he bought me ice cream a week ago when a few of us went up to the beach. I don’t know. I catch him looking at me too, but I don’t know if it’s enough to say for sure.”
“Why don’t you just ask him?”
“Oh, come on, Emma. You know I can’t just ask him.”
I suppose even girls like Lauren are afraid of getting their heart broken, even if it’s just small. The embarrassment, the risk, it’s just too much for these poor girls. They know that boys feel the same way about making the first move, but they still expect them to. They will if you’re dealing with a boy like Hunter, or Milo, or Kaden because they know girls flock to them. I’m sure Brandon is the same, but I’m not sure who made the first move between us. He talked to me, but not very suggestively. I stood in the back room with my shirt of, but he walked towards me and kissed me.
We make it to Kaden’s house, or his parent’s vacation house, and I follow behind Lauren. Like Jonas, Kaden’s parents are too busy for most of the summer to be here with him, which I suppose he and his brother enjoy. Parties, illegal drinking, sex, all of the things wholesome parents frown upon is all that he and Austin are free to do.
We walk through the unlocked door and into the living room I remember all too well. This was like the headquarters for our friend group, where everyone showed up or hung around, just walking in whenever. There are two couches and two living chairs around a coffee table, all in front of the television over the fireplace. On the first, brown leather chair is Austin, on the second is Preston, on the first couch directly facing the T.V. is Kailee and Kaden, and on the second couch is Brandon and very quickly Lauren as she dives in. I stand at the edge of the pool, not knowing where to go. There’s a spot on Kaden’s couch and one on Brandon’s. Clearly, Brandon’s is the right choice with Lauren, but seeing him makes my face hot.
Everyone smiles at me, again surprised that I actually showed up, but not so much Brandon. Unfortunately, he knows how badly I want to see him, he can see it on my pink cheeks.
"Emma,” Kailee cheers, “you made it!”
“Here, Emma,” Preston says, getting up from his seat, “sit here.”
I smile and sit down, thankful to Preston as he sits beside Lauren who scoots next to Brandon. Although, I’m facing everyone, and they’re all looking at me. My eyes automatically go to Brandon. “So,” he says, taking it away from me, “what are we doing tonight?”
They talk and I lose focus, not caring what they’re planning to do. As my eyes wander, they mistakingly land on Austin beside me.
“I didn’t think you’d come,” he says, creating a private conversation between us. “You ditched us last time.”
“Oh, yeah. I wasn’t feeling well that night.”
He nods, obviously not believing me. “Kaden scared you off, didn’t he?”
“No. It wasn’t that.” It was, that and Brandon.
“Well, you think you’ll make it through tonight? One night with all of us crazy people? Maybe we can convince you to hang out more often.”
I murmur, “Maybe,” not wanting to sound rude by saying, “that’s not possible.”
The group breaks apart. Lauren and Kailee wander to the kitchen, probably in search of alcohol, and Preston joins them, leaving me, Kaden, Austin, and Brandon in the living room. I get up, saying I have to go to the bathroom. I remember where it is, I remember all of these toxic houses.
“You’ll want to use the bathroom upstairs,” Kaden says, the first words he’s spoken to me tonight. He must know to go slow after last time. “Some girl stood on the toilet and broke the seat off.”
I nod, wondering why exactly a girl was standing on the toilet seat. They must still have parties here then. Upstairs feels heavy, pushing down on my shoulders and making my chest tight. The upstairs bathroom is beside Kaden’s bedroom, which I knew all too well. A part of me wants to peek, but I suppress that part and leave the closed door closed. In the bathroom, I sit on the side of the bathtub, not having to go. I glance at the bottles of soap sitting in the corner through the clear glass. Men’s body wash, shampoo, conditioner, shaving cream, a razor, women’s soap. Beside the sink is a toothbrush, a tube of spearmint toothpaste, a bottle of mouthwash, and another razor. This is Kaden’s bathroom. Austin’s is connected to his bedroom down the hall.
After another minute passes, I get up and peer in the mirror before turning off the light and heading to the stairs. I walk down but stop at the last step once I hear Kaden’s voice right in the hall. A wall separates us, he’s just around the corner.
“—looking at her. She’s addictive, isn’t she? God, I couldn’t stay away from her, but just you wait. Soon you’ll hate her—I did. We all did, and you will too. That’s just how it is with Emma. So I recommend not chasing that one. There’s plenty more, right?”
My throat runs dry.
“Look, I know you two were together,” Brandon, “and I know you’re trying to get her back, but that doesn’t seem like a good idea if you hate her, right?”
He’s playing along with him. I can’t slip out the front door without them seeing me.
I hear Kaden let out a small laugh, “I mean, she’s pretty fucking hot, and she knows what she’s doing. She’s good with her hands, with her mou—”
“I think we’re done talking.”
“Aw, come on, Brandon. She’s just a girl.” There’s a pause. “Fine, suit yourself.”
The sound of footsteps grows quiet down the hall and I sit down on the stairs, numb. With my head against the wall, I feel the need to cry, but I don’t want to cry here and give Kaden the victory.
Is that why they all turned on me, because after a while they just start to hate me? That’s just how it is with me. Only me. Of course only me. But I guess Kaden thinks I’m good enough to keep laying around for a fun time. Disgusting. He’s sickening. He makes me want to climb out of my skin. He makes me want to cut it all off until I’m nothing but bones. I can’t stand it right now, my body, my breasts, my thighs, my ass, my lips, I just want to cut it all off.
My eyes start to water and Brandon comes around the corner, finding me. I bring my hand up to cover my eyes.
“You heard all of that, didn’t you?” I stay quiet. “Come on.”
I look up. “Why, so you can hate me too?”
Brandon ignores me and leans toward me, grabbing my arm and bringing me to my feet. He doesn’t let go as he peers around the corner, checking before rushing us out the front door. I escape his grasp, moving ahead down the path to the road. “You know it’s probably true.”
“That everyone suddenly starts to hate you? I don’t think so, Emma,” he says, catching up to me.
I turn around. “Well, you don’t know everything.”
“You can tell me everything if you like.”
I turn back around, walking onto the road. “I’m going home. Tell them that I got sick or something.”
“No, you’re not. We’re going to go get something to eat.”
I think Brandon can read my mind, my body too. I think that’s going to be very dangerous.