The sand and shattered shells press into my feet as I walk back to the marina. With my shoes still hanging from my fingers, bumping against my thighs, I try to collect myself. They knew. Austin, Kaden, probably Lauren as I suspected. They all knew and let me continue on. I know I’ve wished that Lauren never said, “Oh, with who?” But now that it’s the truth, I can’t help but hate her and whoever else for not telling me. As my best friend, I’d hope she’d want the best for me.
I run my bottom lip through my teeth, wanting both to ditch them and scream at them. Scream about how much they’ve let me down, even Kaden who tried to assure me that he’s changed, that he wants to heal things between us. This isn’t the first time they’ve all let me down, though. I can think of another time that put my life in danger.
It was nine o’clock when they left, and now it’s ten thirty. All I can do is sit in the sand and hope they’ll remember that I’m still here, waiting. It was a mistake to reconnect with them. I should have never gone to that party, I should have never run into Lauren.
I peer up at the wall when I hear voices nearing. The group appears and they call down to me, cheering and climbing over the wall, joining me on the beach. I try to calm my racing heart, keep myself together, but when Lauren grabs my hand and pulls me toward them, I yank away and she gives me a confused look. “What’s wrong?” She asks, still in a good mood, smelling of the ocean.
“You knew he was cheating on me, didn’t you?” I accuse, my heart breaking. Her face goes blank. “You all knew Milo was cheating on me, and none of you told me.”
I stare at their faces, my eyes springing from one to the other to Brandon, who doesn’t know what I’m talking about but who looks concerned. Kaden steps forward, Austin behind him. “Where is this coming from?”
“Milo told me. He said that he told you two.” I step up to the brothers. “He told you that he was messing around with other girls behind my back and you did nothing, the person who nurtured me after I found out myself,” I say to Kaden, my eyes watering. “Why didn’t you tell me? If you had feelings for me while I was with him, if you cared about me even a bit, you would have said something. Or did you just want to take advantage of my broken heart once I found out? You wanted to be the one whose arms were open for me, not the one who broke the bad news.”
Kaden nears me, his hands up. I’ve caught him. “Emma, what do you mean Milo told you?”
I roll my eyes. “He’s here. I saw him. We talked while you guys were on the boat.” Kaden and Austin look at each other, taken back. “You wanted to fix things between us, Kaden? Well not anymore. You said you’ve changed but you’ve always been a jerk, even in the beginning.” Fueled by my raging emotions, I get in his face, remembering how we used to be so close all the time, but not like this. “You’ll always be selfish, manipulative. You only saw me as a conquest and once you got it, all you did was push me around like the inconsiderate ass—”
Kaden grabs my arm, yanking me towards him, his fingers pressing deep into my skin. Austin latches onto him and Brandon calls out, stepping in and releasing me. “Why don’t you tell them,” I say, referring to the people who don’t know what he did last summer, people like Brandon. “Why don’t you tell them what you did to me. You can’t blame it on the drugs this time, can you?”
Austin pulls Kaden back, moving him away from me. Brandon and Austin exchange looks and Brandon leads me to the pathway that brings us up to the sidewalk. “Come on,” he says, “we’re leaving.”
I don’t say anything as we walk off of the beach, but I look back at the group. I see Lauren standing, looking at me, regretfully. Brandon and I lose sight of them once we get on the main road, we even walk past the Shirt Shack. I dry my eyes and take a few deep breaths, reconnecting my hand with his. After walking a bit, as we near Jonas’, Brandon asks, “Did he hurt you?”
I move my arm, it still feeling sore where he grabbed me. “I’m fine.”
“You shouldn’t be around him.”
“I know,” I murmur.
“Then why are you?”
I glance up at Brandon, at his pretty face. “Because you’re around him.”
When we reach Jonas’, I walk in while Brandon turns the lights on. I look at my arm again and see red marks where his fingers dug into me.
“Was he always rough with you?” Brandon asks, coming up from behind. We walk into the living room and I settle down on the couch while Brandon remains stiff.
“No. Not always. Not a lot.”
"Emma,” he says, breathing out, leaning back against the couch. “Is that what he did to you last summer? He was hurting you?”
“No, not exactly.”
Brandon moves closer. “I care about you, okay? Please, stay away from him.” He looks to my arm, wanting to see if he left a mark. “He’s done worse, hasn’t he?”
I nod. “I’ll stay away.”
I realize that we’re inching closer and closer, but before we reach the point where we snap together like magnets, I say, “Thank you for helping me back there.”
“I won’t let him hurt you,” he says softly.
Our lips touch gently, his hand snaking up the side of my face, his thumb brushing against my cheek. As we kiss, I feel goosebumps coat my arms and legs along with a shiver up my spine, something crawling up my back. I want to feel his hands there, his arms as he holds me. I want his everything against my everything. I want to be close enough so I can hear his heartbeat.
Our kiss grows deeper, harder, blossoming like a flower only my imagination can conjure. I’m sinking into him, melting against his skin, and to make it worse, he brings me on top of him, his legs in between mine, his hands burning up my thighs as I sit on his lap. I cling to him and gradually let him in, feeling as if parts he’s never seen of me are exposed. The addictive taste satisfies my cravings, my hands on his shoulders, sliding down his solid arms then tugging at his shirt. Suddenly the drug that is his mouth isn’t enough, and I’m determined to get my hands on something stronger, something that will make me tremble even more. An urgency builds up inside of me as my hands glide up his back, hot against his skin, bringing up his shirt. As he explores my mouth, I can’t help but imagine him exploring everywhere else.
He starts moving away, my lips closing as he leaves me. Before I can tell him what I want, the front door opens and Jonas comes through, looking down the hall, right at us on the couch, breathing heavy and on top of each other. I scramble off of Brandon and stand awkwardly as Jonas comes toward us. “Sorry for interrupting,” he says, proud of himself, proud that his talk with me worked. “I’ll be going upstairs in just a second.”
A flood of red surfaces on my face and neck. “I-I should head home. I left without telling anyone. They’re probably worried.”
“I’ll walk you,” Brandon says, getting up.
“No, no that’s okay. I’m fine on my own; it’s just a couple minutes.”
Jonas watches discreetly as if Brandon and I are no longer in front of him, but on a television screen instead. “It’s late, Emma,” Brandon says, “Come on, I’m walking you.”
I wave to Jonas, ignoring his devious smile before following Brandon out. The cooling breeze calms my blush, and we walk side by side down the street, the moonlight causing a subtle glow around us. My lips are still tingling from moments ago, even when we reach my Aunts house. “This is it,” I say, motioning to the dark windows but lit porch.
“Come to the shop in the morning,” Brandon says, “Sally refuses to believe that you really quit.”
“Okay. I will.” The problem that I had at the shop was Brandon, but now that it’s been resolved, hopefully Sally will accept me back, understanding the irrationalities of a teenage girl. “I’ll see you tomorrow then.”
Just as I move to walk away, Brandon reels me back in and our lips lock one last time. His hands bring me against him, planted on my back. It’s brief but ignites me once again. When we pull apart, I struggle to leave, and Brandon doesn’t until I’m inside, closing the door behind me.
“Where were you?”
I look up to find my Aunt and mother sitting in the living room, the T.V. on and displaying some random reality show. They look cozy under throw blankets and comforted by the glasses of wine in their hands.
“I was with Lauren.”
“Why didn’t you say you were going anywhere,” my mother asks, “and why don’t you answer your phone?”
“Sorry, we were busy,” I lie, thinking about just how busy Brandon and I were. “I’m going to bed.”
In the isolation of my dark room, I helplessly fall back against my bed and bask in my colossal want for him. Rolling up in my messy blankets and letting out all that’s built up inside of me, I stretch out like a cat and lay draped like someone completely infatuated, waiting to be ravished. His name is on my lips, and I whisper it out into the air, hoping it will blow out the window and bring him back to me. Brandon. Brandon. Everything about Brandon has my toes curling and my hands fisting the sheets. It’s impossible to fall asleep now after he’s awoken everything inside of me.
I want to be prepared.
Getting up and sneaking out of my room, I quietly slip into the bathroom without triggering the alarm that is my mother and aunt. I close the door and turn on the light, crouching down to the cabinet, taking out my mother’s toiletry pouch. After digging through skin care, tampons, deodorant, and other things, I find the familiar weekly pill container, pink and labeled with each day. I pop open Monday and see four white, small, round pills inside, looking to be unused. “Are they trying for another baby?” I whisper to myself, zipping up the pouch and taking the pills with me, back to my room, not thinking about having a new baby brother or sister.
I store the full container in the pillowcase of one of the decorative pillows, thinking that no one would ever search there for missing birth control.
I don’t want any moment to be ruined by not having anything, and I don’t think my mother is going to miss them. Getting back in bed, I think about Brandon until I tire myself out and fall asleep. In the morning I leave my room and meet my aunt in the kitchen, watching my mother as she grabs her keys and tosses her purse on her arm.
“Where are you going,” I ask, sitting down at the table, knowing Aunt Wendy is making omelets.
“Just to the store. I’m going to pick some stuff up, need anything?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Okay, I’ll be back in an hour or two.”
As my mother leaves, Aunt Wendy turns to me. “Why are you up so early?”
“I’m going to the shop.”
“I thought you quit.”
I shrug. “I’m going to try and get my job back if Sally will let me.”
Aunt Wendy lifts the omelet from the pan onto and plate and sets it down in front of me. “I’m sure she’ll forgive you.”
While getting dressed, I take the pill from the container in the pillowcase and down it with a glass of water from my bedside table. I don’t want to overthink anything, or else I’ll think myself into a pit and return to my hermit self who will never trust anyone again. If I overthink, I’ll lose Brandon.