Dad is moving out of the house—our actual house—the house where we’ve lived for over ten years, where I went through puberty, where I covered the walls in posters from teen magazines then torn them down, where everything in my room was about Paris, then zebra prints, then suddenly nothing. He’s moving out and mom hasn’t mentioned a thing about it. She’s been hanging out with Aunt Wendy, trying to forget about her husband leaving and taking her couch with him—really trying to forget how another woman will be sitting on it with him.
Wine and margaritas and casual outings with other forty-to-fifty-year-olds—and I’ve been apologizing, making things up to her. Her easy-going attitude has made it easier to get back on my mom’s good side, but she’s going to explode sooner or later.
Reeling myself back in after my break down has been lonely. Jonas is the only friend I’ve talked to in the past two weeks, and I’ve never felt more empty. Sure, I love him, and he’s the most loyal, most amazing friend a person can have, but the emptiness inside stays. I stare out my window in the morning just after sitting up in bed, and I realize that I’ve been staring at the beach for an hour. My mind isn’t quiet, it’s trying to figure out the purpose of everything. Loud whispers about fate and destiny and death swirl around while I stare blankly.
This has been every morning for the past two weeks.
The first week I focused on my mother, and the second, other things. I made sure Jonas knows how much I appreciate him by pouring my heart out and hugging him like a lost child hugs her family. He’s assured me that he’s going to help me get better, but I’m not sure what better is—I think I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be a normal person. And after, I dragged myself to the Shirt Shack. Jonas told me when Brandon wasn’t there, so I went in to face Sally and beg for forgiveness. Two other young kids were working and the sight of them made me feel as if I no longer belong there.
Sally was in the back so the young guy at the register with long, dark hair fetched her for me. When she emerged from the employee-only headquarters, my heart shriveled up. She sighed, frowning a bit.
I knew the only way I could explain myself was to tell the truth, so I did.
I don’t have my job back. I’m sure she wouldn’t give it to me if I asked for it anyway. But, I know my place isn’t there. Finding a new job isn’t high on my list—the summer is almost over, and all I want is to make amends with those who I’ve mindlessly trampled. Even though Sally didn’t hire me back, I know that on some level she understands me, and that’s more than I could have hoped for.
Jonas wants to take me to the bonfire tonight. I immediately agree and change out of the pajamas I’ve been wearing around the house all day. Together, we walk down to the beach, and in the distance, see the roaring fire and a warm glow on the many faces around it. Jonas seems to be acting more gentle towards me, and I don’t mind it. We sit close on a large slice of driftwood, talking about the not-so-good good times.
“Speaking of Lauren,” he says, “have to talked to her?”
“No. She’s tried to text me here and there, but I don’t answer. I muted her messages. She’s just—too much right now. Have you?”
“Not really, no. But I saw her going into that sushi place with some people while I was out with Presley. She looked happy.” I nod, staring into the flames tucked between people sitting in front of us. A comfortable silence settles until Jonas stiffens and contemplates. “I don’t want to freak you out, but Brandon is here.”
My eyes shoot up to the volleyball net, knowing, just knowing that’s where he’d be. My heart comes to a halt as I watch him duck under the net and connect to a group of familiar people like a magnet. I’ve seen these people when I used to watch Brandon from my post at the shop. They’d be scattered around him in the sun as they hung out on the beach—I would be in the shade sitting in my chair, growing pale and desperate. I miss those early days. Having a crush is easy.
I look away when I catch his eyes floating over. Turning my back to him, I face Jonas with a red face. “Is he looking?” I ask.
“Does he know it’s me?”
"I’m pretty sure. But don’t worry about it. He’s not looking anymore, see, no big deal.” Jonas shrugs and faces the fire, hoping that I realize how lame I’m being.
I peak over my shoulder. Brandon isn’t looking, Jonas told me the truth. He’s talking to Jess, that girl that I probably don’t like. Feeling my insides sink, I take a deep breath and look back to find Jonas’ eyes aimed directly in mine. Instead of shaking it off, I can’t help but give into my jealousy. “Do you think they like each other?”
“Maybe,” Jonas says. The gentleness is fading.
My lips roll together. “I should go say hi.”
“So you can wedge yourself between them and try to stop Brandon from falling in love with her? Don’t embarrass yourself, Emma. You’re feeling a lot right now—it’s not time to let it all out, not to him.”
I glance back and chew on my lip, watching them, feeling my heartbeat grow faster and faster. “I don’t want to watch them fall in love while I sit here like an idiot.”
“Then look away.”
Shooting to Jonas, I blurt, “Why are you being so—”
“Because you did this to yourself. Brandon wanted to be with you, he wanted to be there for you but you ruined things. So don’t get all whiny when you see him moving on.”
“I’m sorry, Emma, I just can’t keep babying you. It’s time you move on too.”
“Move on? Move on to what?”
Smiling, I lean forward, nearly giving into the sandy ground. ”Funny.”
“Don’t tell me you’re doing the whole ‘will never love again’ thing again.”
Watching Brandon, I murmur, “I want him, Jonas. No one else but him. And I know our breakup was my fault but—but I need him.”
“No, Emma, you don’t. If you needed him, you wouldn’t have acted all crazy.”
“Maybe I just acted crazy because I wanted him so much.”
“No, no. Come on. Just look away and relax.”
Becoming restless, I suddenly stand up and shove my hands in the pockets of my hoodie. Jonas reaches to pull me back down, but I’m already walking off in the direction of the volleyball net. Like a robot, I walk toward him, having lost control. But, just before I get close enough to catch his attention, I turn directions and head up to the street, wondering if I’ll stop if a car comes. Soon I realize that I’m making my way to the Shirt Shack—oddly enough, I unconsciously grab my keys and find the key to the door still dangling on my keychain. I never gave it back to Sally.
Feeling my phone vibrate, I pull it out and see a text from Jonas. He’s asking me to come back. Instead of returning to the bonfire, I make my way around the building and unlock the back door, slowly pushing the door open and feeling the memories of the back room return to me. Just as I step inside, a hand grabs me.
“What are you doing, Emma?”
Shooting around I see Brandon, but I already knew it was him by his touch. So much wants to burst from my lungs and escape my mouth that my throat clogs up, and I’m not sure what to say first.
“Emma,” he murmurs, “why do you still have a key?”
“Why did you follow me?”
He clenches his jaw and glances off briefly to the side, unable to look at my face. “Just give me the key and go back to Jonas.”
Bringing the key behind my back, I say, “No. Why don’t you just go back to Jess.”
“I don’t know why I thought this was going to be easy,” he mumbles to himself, “you’ve always been difficult.”
“Difficult? I wanted to be left alone, but you went after me. I told you that I couldn’t be with you because you’d break my heart, but you persisted, playing your stupid game of cat and mouse. This is your fault!”
“Things were great between us, but suddenly you changed. I wanted to be there for you, but you ran off.”
“I ran off because you left me in your room alone. You made it seem like you didn’t want to be with me!” I shout, my face growing hot.
He leans close. “You know why I walked out. You had just found out about your father—you were hurting.”
“All I want is for you to want me.”
“I do want you, Emma! I’m not sure how you get it in your head that I don’t!”
“Well...” I stop, unsure. “Well, I...”
Brandon shakes his head and steps back into the open, night air. I watch him as he runs a hand through his blond hair and faces me, looking at me, really looking at me. I want to fall to my knees and cry because everything between us has been knotted up, and I don’t know how to untangle it. I know what I want to do, though. I want to run into his arms and kiss him and feel him against me. I want to tell him how I feel—explain that desperate need I have that yearns for me to be with him.
“I can’t get you out of my head,” he says. “Damn it, Emma, why can’t I stop thinking about you?”
“Brandon,” I call out softly. “When I’m with you, I don’t feel empty anymore. I know I’m a mess, I know I’m difficult and jealous and negative and impossible and an attention-whatever, but I can’t get enough of you. You won’t leave my head, either.” Nearing him, I look up into his eyes.
“You know I want you, Emma.”
Brandon laughs a little. “I want you, but you won’t let me have you.”
Now so close, I whisper, “Have me. I’m right in front of you, telling you that you can have me.”
Brandon’s fingers intertwine with my hair as he brings his lips to mine. Feeling him kiss me once again brings a relief like no other. My body melts against his, wanting to be so close, wanting to be wrapped around him.
Together we find ourselves in the darkness of the back room, the door to the outside locked shut. I breathe in as he pushes inside me, thinking of nothing at all. The loud whispers in my head fall silent. He kisses me softly and no numbness overcomes me. I’m here. Nowhere else, not like it was with them.
My arms wrap around him as the sensations completely take over my brain—my hands run up his back and into his hair. His heavy breathing tickles my ear as he burrows his head into the crook of my neck. Every muscle in my body grows warm. And as he begins to move faster, deeper, I cling to him with my teeth clenched. Finally letting my voice out, my eyes find the ceiling and Brandon’s lips find my jaw.
When it’s over, when he pulls me up from the table, I murmur, “Don’t go.”
Brandon’s gorgeous eyes dig into mine. “I’m not going anywhere, Emma.” He retrieves my few missing clothes from the floor and I slip them back on, hardly taking my gaze from him. “Come on,” he says, “let’s go to the house.”