Brandon leads me upstairs and into what I remember to be one of the guest bedrooms, but what is now his temporary room. I used to crash here last summer—I used to sleep in the bed that is now his bed. We sit down on it and I don’t feel overwhelmed. Surprisingly, I feel relaxed in here with him. With my legs crossed, I settle and eye him for a moment. “I told you that something bad happened to me.”
“You did, and that worries me, Emma.”
“I told you that my Dad came back. Well, now he’s leaving again, permanently, and for another woman. I overheard my parents fighting about it last night.”
Not expecting me to spill it all in one breath, Brandon looks to be processing everything. His brows furrow and his lips part. “I-I can imagine how you’re feeling right now.”
“It’s hard for me to open up to people, to be vulnerable, but I really care about you, Brandon, and I know you care about me. I feel really lucky that you do, and that we’re together? Are we—I don’t know. But I guess I just wanted to tell you because—you know, I have a crazy, pessimistic outlook on my relationships due to what happened to me in the past, and now that my parents are in this messy situation... I just don’t want to change my mind about us,” my voice gives in, breaking with the emotions jumbled in my head. “I mean, it’s uncanny, isn’t it? My Dad cheats on my mom? It’s like the universe is playing some sick joke on me.”
Brandon moves back against the headboard and I follow. He pulls me close and I cuddle up against him. I suppose instead of trying to talk me out of my funk, he feels it’s best to simply hold me, and I’m thankful for it. We lay together for a bit; Brandon stroking my hair as I trace random nothings along his chest. Thinking about taking his shirt off and tracing against his skin, I blush a little. When I peer up and leave a soft kiss on his jaw, he glances down at me instead of gazing out the window. “Kiss me,” I murmur.
I know how I want it, or how I think I want it. It’s how I wanted all of my other relationships to go, but how they drastically didn’t. After trying to shove each one back on track, after dropping hints to my friends and family, I eventually gave up, especially with Kaden.
We would meet somewhere. I would be walking along the street or along the water with Lauren, and Brandon would tumble into my life out of nowhere. Maybe he’d be playing volleyball with his friends and he’d accidentally hit it to where Lauren and I were sitting in the sand. He’d jog over, all golden and sweaty, smiling, running his hands through his hair while apologizing. And I would blush so hard and so intensely that he couldn’t help but smile again.
We would see each other around town or find out we have mutual friends, which would lead to him asking me out. Maybe we would go to the ice cream place or the boulders or the bonfire, but no matter what, he would drive me home and kiss me goodnight as my mother opens the door and calls for me to come inside. She’d question me, wonder who this boy is and how long I’ve been seeing him. As an attempt to control the situation, she would invite him over for dinner. He’d come even though my parents and Brandon in one room is the last thing I want. He’d come and he’d bring flowers for my mother.
He’d try to win her over.
My father wouldn’t budge. He’d be eyeing him and telling him to keep his distance. There’d be a hushed message at the end of the night—just as I’m saying goodbye to Brandon at the door—my father would say, “You hurt my little girl—” something, something. And Brandon would nod stiffly. And I’d be annoyed but happy, so stupidly happy because the spotlight is on me. The attention I wanted from everyone, from my mother and father, from the guy, from God knows where would be on me. And for once I’d feel protected. For once I wouldn’t be clawing at people to care about me.
Or maybe they do and I’m just so needy that it’s not enough.
And as Brandon leans down, fulfilling my request, the air pouring down my throat grows thick. I should be happy, right? All the love and attention without the fear—this is what I thought I could never have. So why am I shaking? Why is my heart racing? Sure it’s not my perfect scenario, there’s no disproving father and controlling mother, no secret-drive-home kisses, no perfect best friend, no perfect, wholesome girl to play my part, but it’s Brandon, it’s him wanting to be with me. That’s enough.
I remember my first time with Kaden.
Everyone was at his house, hanging out, laughing, taking the little tabs of acid with the colorful cartoons on them. I didn’t want any. I was still nursing a wounded heart, still fresh from Milo tearing it in two. I wanted to wallow in it.
Lauren convinced me to go out, handing me drinks but bummed once I would only take sips. Even though we both knew it was childish, we planned to drink our problems away, but when we were submerged in the atmosphere of careless teens, I wasn’t up for it anymore. Wandering off into the house and wanting to blame my heartache for bad decisions, I ran into Kaden and stared helplessly at him for a moment before falling into his arms. He had been drinking. I acted as though I had been too.
We kissed hungrily then hurried into his bedroom, pulled off our clothes and gazed into each other’s eyes as we did so. Once it was actually happening, I became numb. Cold and lifeless like someone not yet resuscitated after being dragged out of the water. It was dark. I stared out the window. Once it was over, Kaden fell asleep and I snuck out of the house, slipping past Lauren and our friends. I walked home silently in the night, like a ghost with no house to haunt. It didn’t feel complete until I was in my bedroom with the door locked, though, crying softly into the open air.
So now, as Brandon presses his lips against mine, I can’t help but believe that I thrive on depression. It’s something I want—to be sad, to be hurt, to be the victim, to be ignored, to be unprotected in a dangerous world. My dark feelings are the only interesting thing about me, and without them I am nothing. I can try to cry and let my mother hold me, but deep down it feels much more satisfying when I’m failing to gain her attention, sitting in Milo’s car in front of the house, letting him grope me while looking back at the windows, wondering when she might open the door and shout over at me.
It’s what I attract. I attract these troubled boys because I’m troubled. So what about Brandon?
“What’s wrong with you?” I ask against him, causing him to pull back and peer down at me. “There has to be some dark past or psychotic secret that you’re keeping from me.”
“Where’s this coming from?”
“Everyone around me has something wrong with them or with their lives, so what is it? What’s yours? Or are you as perfect as you have me believing?”
“I don’t think I’m perfect, but I also don’t think there is anything drastically wrong with my life,” he says, still not understanding how we went from cuddling and kissing to such questions. “I know there aren’t many trustworthy, good people in your life at the moment, but you don’t have to worry about me being one, okay? I hope you know that there doesn’t have to be something wrong all of the time, and you’re going to get there, Emma. You’re going to get to a point where everything is okay.”
“What do you mean?” He asks.
“What do I do once everything is okay?”
“You enjoy it.”
We lay for a bit longer, but soon I can’t help it.
He watches me as I sit up. Grabbing onto the waistband of Jonas’ sweatpants, shimmying out of them like a butterfly escaping its cocoon. Tossing them to the side, I turn, facing him, and his eyes land on the boxer briefs covering me. “You’re wearing my underwear,” he says.
On my knees, I extend up and look down, my fingers feeling the fabric. “Oh, you can have them back if you like.”
“You’ve been a really good guy, really gentlemanly and patient, not wanting to cross a boundary because you know I’m scared of being hurt and reluctant to trust people, but my problems have never stopped me when it came down to it.” I latch onto the bottom of the sweatshirt and move to take it off, but Brandon stops me. “I’ll say this is what I want if it’ll make you feel better. This is me saying yes. You know, it’s okay, I’m sure, this is what I want, the feeling is mutual, whatever else. Consent.”
“Emma, you just found out that your father is leaving your mother, I don’t think you’re in the right mindset. Maybe this is what you want now, but maybe not tomorrow.”
Sitting back on my ankles, I say, “I’m not a virgin or anything. You don’t have to treat me like one.”
“That’s not my point.”
“What’s the point then? You don’t want me?” Brandon’s face hardens because he knows I’m trying to push buttons that aren’t there. Being the monster that I am, I’m not quick to let it go. “Am I not good enough? Is it my body?”
Getting up from the bed, Brandon heads for the door.
“What? You’re not going to say it?”
“It’s because you’re hurting, Emma,” he says, louder than I expected.
“Well, news flash, Brandon, I’m always hurting! So you can fuck me like this or not at all.”
He shakes his head before leaving and shutting the door behind him. The slam makes me jolt, and I fall back, regretting the direction I took to get what I want. With the other two sex was always an easy topic, but I expected it to be different with Brandon. I never had to desperately blame him, come off as self-conscious, the victim. Sex was easy, it’s what they wanted not what I wanted, right?
Maybe I just want to strip him down bare and steal away all of his happiness for myself, or maybe I want to contaminate him with my darkness, or maybe there’s no difference between the two.