We walked to the sushi place near the shop. I decided to give in and go with him because all of my decisions lately don’t feel like my own. I feel like every day I wake up as a different person, and every day that person wants different things. Today it’s Brandon, yesterday it was closure, tomorrow is a mystery. I wish I could have my priorities straight because not knowing what I want is exhausting, but when I shyly look up at Brandon across from me now, at our little table in the Four Seasons sushi hole-in-the-wall restaurant, I feel at peace.
There are two other people besides us and the owners, a pair in their late twenties on what I’m assuming is a date. They’re drinking and sharing an array of rolls, ones with seaweed, raw fish, only rice, only vegetables, ones looking both spicy and refreshing. She struggles to use the chopsticks but he helps her, whoever they are.
Brandon and I are at a table against the wall. He let me chose where to sit, and I wanted something to lean on. With my legs crossed on my seat, I use my fingers to pick up my California rolls. Brandon asked if that was all I wanted before ordering something more complicated for himself. I wanted to pay for myself, but he handed them his card before I could even remember the money in my pocket. I don’t like it when people pay for me unless it’s my birthday or something similar, and they feel the need to treat me. I want to slip bills into his pocket when he’s distracted.
It’s hard to have a light conversation after hearing what Kaden had said about me, especially knowing that he said it to Brandon. I know Brandon thinks Kaden is only parties and lies, but his words hit me hard, and there’s nothing Brandon can tell me to cure me of overthinking.
“You want another drink?” Brandon asks, grabbing my attention from the couple across from us.
I look down at my empty bottle of mango tea, not remembering finishing it. “No,” I say, taking another roll from my plate. He gets up and buys me another anyway along with another drink for himself. I know he’s not of age, but he’s drinking Japanese beer, and I wonder how he does it, how he wins everyone over. He places mine in front of me and pops his can open.
He watches me as I open the tea and take a sip. “Do you always get away with everything?” I ask.
“Not everything. If you’re smart about interactions and perceptions, there’s a lot a person can get away with.”
A small smile lifts my cheeks. “So you really do go to Berkeley with Jonas.”
“What? You didn’t think I could get in?”
I shake my head. “No. No, I think you got in and received an,” I think for a second, analyzing him, “an academic scholarship. You enjoy English and literature, but your strong suit is mathematics, which is why you’re probably going for something in the engineering family, right?”
Brandon smiles and shakes his head, amused. “For someone who is so incredibly unreadable, you’re very good at reading people.”
“So I was right?”
“Engineering, yes. But why couldn’t it be an athletic scholarship?”
“You’re not that good at volleyball. Definitely academic.”
After we’re finished, I follow Brandon down to the water. There’s no bonfire tonight, just one or two stray people walking and the sound of the waves. We sit in the sand, our feet almost being touched by the water when it reaches up to us. Brandon looks out and I wrap my arms around my legs, bringing them to my chest, restraining myself.
“Tell me about you. You already know about me,” he says softly, glancing to me.
I don’t know how to tell him that I’m uninteresting, besides what he’s heard from Kaden. I shrug anyway. “I don’t know, I’m not that exciting or prestigious.”
“Come on. Anything.”
I can think of things, but none of them are good things. Isn’t that what I want, though, to scare him off? Or am I giving in and letting myself get heartbroken again? “Um, I collect shells, or I did, not so much anymore. When I was younger I picked up every one I saw. My bedroom at my Aunts house—every surface is covered in them. She won’t get rid of them, she says they remind her of me when I’m gone. But I think they give me luck, so now shells are kind of my thing. My parents would buy expensive, rare ones online for my birthday because they never knew what to get me.” He looks away with a smile. “I know, it’s random.”
“No, I like it.” Brandon’s eyes find mine and I swallow before peering off. “Tell me more.”
"More?” I quickly look back at him. “You said I’m unreadable, but you always seem to know what I want.”
“Well, I heard your stomach growling on the stairs and you drank your tea quickly, so I thought you were thirsty. And you didn’t put the shirt on, and your eyes get all big, and your lips quiver.”
I look away, feeling the color take over my face.
“Why were you with him, Emma?”
I press my lips together, hoping that he wouldn’t bring up Kaden. “I don’t know, because I loved him.”
“You heard what he said.”
“I know. That’s just what happens.”
Brandon’s eyes won’t leave me. “You honestly believe him?” He doesn’t sound accusing but rather sad for me.
“It just makes sense. I always blamed it on them, but maybe it’s been me all along.”
I find myself walking back to Jonas’ with him, anywhere but Kaden’s house. He leaves the topic of my relationship with Kaden alone and everything is nice again. We walk in silence for a few minutes, but Brandon breaks it by saying, “I’m sorry I can’t leave you alone.”
My blouse billows in the breeze, brushing against me. I say, “Don’t.” I know I shouldn’t have, but I did. I want Brandon to be around me, I want him to want to be around me. It’s just heartbreak, right? Right? I just want to be close to him, impossibly close because he drives me wild, he makes my toes curl and my lips quiver. I’ve been holding in this enormous want for him, and all I want to do is show him how bad I have it. “Don’t leave me alone.”
I’m familiar with fast pace. Each year my relationships seem to move faster and faster, but one day seems like lightning. This morning we kissed and now we’re walking into Jonas’ empty house.
“He must be out,” Brandon says, turning on the lights. As he does so, my eyes travel straight out the back door. If I want to be close to him without the pressure, then I’ll do it that way.
I walk straight down the middle, heading for the glass sliding door, gazing outside at the alluring pool. “I want to go swimming,” I call back to him before sliding the door open and walking out, not waiting for a response because either way, I’m going in the pool. Suddenly my billowy blouse feels like a straightjacket.
I hear him inside, coming closer. Like a game, I hurry to the edge and stare down like I once did at my own pool back at home. I hurriedly pull off my blouse and slip my shorts down with a racing heart, a familiar rush. Abandoning them on the pool deck, I turn to the water, already imagining its hands all over me. I glance at the back door, seeing Brandon standing in it, hesitant to join me. I must make absolutely no sense to him, but he could use a break from the norm, I think. “Aren’t you coming with me?” I must make absolutely no sense to myself.
He steps onto the patio and I step in as if I’m jumping into a portal to another world. Won’t you come with me, Brandon? Come explore this new world with me.
The water engulfs me, its arms snake around me and lift me up, wanting me to live. I breathe in and swipe the water from my eyes all to catch Brandon and his beautiful, golden body joining in. Water splashes my back and I turn around to watch him spring up, hair wet, shoulders wet, body hugged by the same arms mine is. A smile flashes on my face and he sees it, he nears me and grabs my hands, pulling me against him. I can’t see anything in the dark waters, only feel. I feel his knee rise up for me to stabilize myself, all to stop my bobbing. It only takes a second until his lips are on mine. My hands wash over his shoulders and latch on as I feel his roam up my sides. This we know. It’s the third time today that I’ve felt oblivious to everything around me, only able to focus on him and his lips and his hands and my own.
I can taste hints of the Japanese beer as he wraps his arms around me tightly. Not able to move away, I too tighten my grip, wanting to soak him in and never forget they way his body feels against mine. Smooth, hard but moving, something ruthless, and I know it’s going to pull me under and never let me go. Never is permanent, but being permanently attached to Brandon seems like a gift. His lips on mine feel like something completely new despite my romantic history, and if I can only kiss one more person, I’m glad it’s him.
The sensation of it all brings an intense wave of pressure in my pelvic region, something I used as a signal to stop in the past. My body is yearning for his, but my body betrays me. We could go all the way, I think. I think it would be an easy decision for us due to our uncontrollable attraction and desire to be together, even if it’s only been a day. A day with Brandon has felt like a month with Kaden or Milo, and if I wasn’t the way I am, I would be naked by now. Just imagining it while we kissed in the back room was nearly enough to convince me, but now that we’re both down to our underwear in Jonas’ pool, my contemplation becomes too genuine.
I slowly pull away, loosening my hold around his neck, letting my hands fall back to his broad shoulders. I turn my head to the side and look at the fire pit behind him, expecting it to spark up and threaten to burn me like a witch. Brandon leaves a single kiss against my cheek before clearing the wet, stray hairs from my face.
“I don’t know who I’m supposed to be,” I murmur, resting my chin on his shoulder, not willing to completely let go of him yet. I don’t remember moving my legs around him, but they are. I cling to him like a child clings to their mother’s leg, wanting only safety and assurance. Tell me that this is what you want, Brandon, then never let me run away again. “The girl who pushes everyone away, the girl who does whatever people tell her to do—”
“Who are you now?” He asks, making my eyes leave the fire pit and find safety in his own.
“The one who acts on her feelings.” Scared that he might kiss me again, I say, “But I don’t want to be that girl anymore.”
“Because you’re so deathly afraid of being hurt again?”
I breathe out, “Yes. It’s not worth it anymore.”
“Then why are you here, Emma?”
My heart aches a little, feeling a pang from his words even though they weren’t meant to hurt me. Why am I here? Why do I do what I do? Because I had a slip-up—this is a slip-up, this entire day. I’ve been depriving myself and it’s led me to binge. I don’t want to admit it, though.
“I don’t know.”
“No, you do know.”
I try to swim away, but he holds me against him, his hands pressing into my back. “What do you want me to say, Brandon? I’m here because you’re just so irresistible? Because I have no self-control? Because—”
“I want you to tell me how you really feel,” he says, more seriously than I would like.
“You said it. I’m afraid of being hurt.” The quiet around us has never sounded louder. “I feel like you’re—I know that you’re going to hurt me, and I’m not going to let you. I’m not going to let you figure me out and convince me to give in.”
“And this is all because of Kaden?”
I shake my head. “No. There were others before him. Others that I gave into despite my past heartbreak. I let them in again and again and all it does is hurt me.”
As I spoke he steadily moved us to the stairs, moving as if any slight hiccup might cause me to spring out of his arms and run away. I feel the large platform in the pool touch my legs and I sit down, water pooling around my waste. Brandon stays in front of me, not sitting beside me. I feel as if I’m about to be scolded, a child in trouble.
“The majority of your relationships are going to come to an end. You don’t want to get into a relationship because you know it’s going to end?”
“I’d be fine with a normal ending. Something mutual, or apologetic, I just don’t get those endings. My relationships end very badly.”
“How did it end with Kaden?”
A blockage comes to my throat.