At Jonas’ house, we clean up and Brandon gives me clothes to sleep in. When I leave the bathroom dressed, I enter his room to find it empty. Hearing noises downstairs, I assume he’s just grabbing something, so I sit down on the bed to wait for him. Utterly lost in joy, I fall back and smile and blush and every second that passes, my heart beats faster. Brandon’s going to walk through that door and he’s going to come hold me.
When a figure appears, I perk up, but instead of Brandon, Jonas is standing in the doorway. Yanked back to reality, I scramble up, but before I can speak he asks, “What are you doing?”
Brandon appears right behind him, looking somewhat defeated. “Jonas—”
“No. No more Jonas. You two are a mess.” He looks right at me. “Really, Emma? Really?”
“Please, everything is good right now. Don’t ruin it,” I say.
“I’m sure I won’t have to.”
Hurt, I turn away and sit down on the bed once more. Brandon tries to talk to him, but Jonas leaves down the hall before a full sentence is spoken. “I’m sure he’s just upset that you left him at the bonfire,” Brandon says, closing the door gently.
“I don’t get it. I thought he would be happy to see us together.”
“I’m sure he’ll be fine in the morning. Just let him sleep on it.”
As Brandon closes the shutters and likely locks the window, a phone buzzes from one of the bedside tables. Thinking it’s my mom wondering where I am, I scoot over to the collection of our things—phones, keys, and his wallet. Peering down, I quickly see that it’s Brandon’s phone that went off with a text from Jess. Swallowing, I can’t help but notice it says: I thought we were going to get ice cream—accompanied by a little emoticon with a nervous smile and a drop of sweat on its forehead.
“It’s Jess,” I say, bothered.
Brandon looks to me and sighs. He grabs his phone and taps back an answer before setting his phone down. “You know she’s just a friend.”
Not wanting to be the jealous type any longer, I mutter, “I know,” and lay down on top of the covers.
"Emma,” he breathes out, sitting on the bed.
“I know she’s a friend. We’ve been over this. It’s fine. I don’t mind it.”
Brandon stays quiet, probably expecting me to speak again, say something like: But maybe she shouldn’t text so late. Or: Why were you two getting ice cream, though? But I don’t, I simply get comfortable and glance up at him as he sits against the dark wood headboard.
“I don’t want you to think that I would be intimate with you and then leave to hang out with whoever,” he says.
Letting out a small laugh, I sit up a bit. “Brandon, when I was sixteen I let Milo deflower me after he spent all night trying to get me drunk and flirting with other girls at a party. I-I don’t think you leaving to hang out with friends is going to hurt me.”
“See, Emma, it’s those kinds of stories that make me worry.”
I know what kind of role I’m trying to play—the strong girl who’s been screwed with so many times that nothing fazes her. Peering down to my hands, I shake my head. “I can’t believe I ever compared you to them—thought that you were going to end up hurting me like them. I only let him have it because the other girls at the party were talking about sex. I thought that if I didn’t put out, he would leave. I pretty much handed it to him, and after, he left right away. I just laid in bed, sad, for hours.”
“I get it. Jess is pretty, normal, probably easy to get along with. She really likes you as well.” I stop. “God, I’m doing it, aren’t I? Being jealous.”
Brandon brings me in and we lay down together. “Yes, you are. But please, don’t worry about Jess. You really don’t have to.”
He turns off the light beside us on the bedside table and we submerge ourselves in blackness. As my eyes adjust, I wonder out loud, “Are we making up too fast?”
“I’m not sure,” he says. “But we’ll find out sooner or later.”
In the night, in my dreams, I see a long dock of wooden planks one after the other after the other, and a hanging light clouded with moths. As I walk down the wooden planks, I see deep, inky waters at the end, and it begins to surround the skinny dock, making my stomach churn. The wood seems to bob beneath my feet, throwing me off balance a few times before I reach the end. With the tips of my toes nearly off the last plank, I peer down into the blackness. As a creaking noise sounds behind me, I look back and I see Brandon outstretching his arms, swiftly pushing me in.
When I wake with a heavy heart and trembles in my limbs, I immediately sit up and glance to Brandon asleep beside me. When he sleeps he looks dead—peacefully laying in a coffin with a blank look and quiet prettiness.
“I’m in love with you, aren’t I?” I mumble to myself.
Carefully reaching over him, I grab my phone and answer a text from a few hours ago that my mom sent. It says: I’m assuming you’re at Jonas’ for the night, but please let me know. I text back that I am so she can read it when she gets up in the morning.
Sneaking out of bed then the room then tiptoeing down the stairs, I grab a glass of water from the kitchen and take it to the couch. I sit down and have a sip.
Although I’m so relieved that he’s accepted me back into his life, I can’t stop thinking that this is all happening too fast. The two weeks without him were terrible, but making up in one night—doing what we did—something about it doesn’t feel right. Jonas knows it too. Or maybe this is just the odds turning in my favor. The universe has punished me enough and now it’s letting me go easy. Either way, all I know is that I want to be with Brandon. I want to forget that our stupid two-week hiccup ever happened.
Being with him tonight, in that way, was intense and passionate and I felt impossibly close to him. I’ve never experienced anything remotely close to that and now I can’t stop thinking about it. Feeling him on top of me, breathing on me, inside of me—a warmth extends from my heart to my cheeks.
I look up to the stairs as I hear footsteps padding down. Brandon appears as if he knows what I’ve been thinking about. “You’re still here,” he breathes.
I nod, blushing, squirming, fantasizing, worrying that he’s going to read me like he always does and call me out.
“I just came down for water.”
“I thought you left,” he says, coming down the rest of the stairs, walking over to the couch. “I thought maybe you got in your own head and freaked out about what happened earlier.”
I have been in my head about it, but definitely not in that kind of way. “No. I don’t regret what happened. I actually like what happened.”
Brandon sits down beside me. “I like what happened too.”
“Well, I think we should maybe...”
Holding back little laughs, I manage to get out, “I think we should, you know, do it again sometime.”
Brandon smiles and shakes his head, probably doubting that I would say something so blunt. Embarrassed, but happy, I turn and shove him. He looks at me and says, “I agree,” before kissing me slowly. Brandon scoops me up and I sit comfortably on his lap, pull away, then look down at him. Bringing my hands on either side of his face, I carefully brush my thumbs across his cheeks as if he were a priceless sculpture.
“You’re so handsome, Brandon. You’re so handsome that sometimes it annoys me,” I joke.
“I think your beauty annoys me more than my handsomeness annoys you.”
“Now why do you say that?”
His eyes sparkle as they search my own. “Your image never leaves me. Your beautiful eyes, your beautiful lips, your beautiful everything. You’re always in the back of my mind, taunting me, teasing me, biting your lip. Two weeks without you is a long time, Emma,” he says. “It was a mistake. Okay? I shouldn’t have left you.”
Taken back, I struggle to speak.
“Your father left, and you’re hurting, and I wasn’t there for you.”
“I don’t want you to feel guilty, not after I pushed you and ran off and let everyone down. It was my doing.” Brandon glances off but I bring his eyes back to me, running my hands through his hair and down his neck to his shoulders.
“I left you at that party. Something could have happened to you. I broke up with you. You needed me, and I left you.”
“Please don’t feel guilty.”
“Kaden was there, Emma. He could have hurt you, taken advantage of you.”
“But he didn’t. I’m fine. Nothing happened to me—everything is fine,” I assure him. “Come on. Let’s go back upstairs.”
Before I can get up, Brandon stops me and unexpectedly asks, “What did he do to you, Emma?”
“It was something—”
“I know, it was something bad. He was rough with you, he lied to you, manipulated you, but what did he do? Please, Emma, I’ve been trying to figure it out. All I want is to know how dangerous he is.”
Swallowing, I stand up from his lap and cross my arms over my chest. “Alright,” I give in. “Last summer, Kaden, Austin, Lauren and I would go out on their parents’ boat a lot. At the time, we were really into party favors and—as we did a lot—we took some stuff, some really shitty stuff and walked to the marina to take the boat out. This particular night, Kaden was upset with me. We had gotten into a fight earlier about me supposedly flirting with some other guy.” I pause for a moment, feeling chills stream down my back. “But, while we were walking he brought the fight back up. He was so mad and so high. When we were walking down the dock to get to the boat, he shoved me off. I, uh, hit the side of a sailboat and um, my head hit the metal railing of it. Everything just went black. I don’t know how long I was under for, but Lauren told me that she didn’t notice I was gone until they reach their parents’ boat.
“Kaden had just kept walking with them. Lauren asked where I went and he just said that I fell into the water. Austin was the only sober one, so he ran back and jumped in after me. He said he saw me floating face down.”
I peer up to Brandon from my feet. His head is in his hands. “Austin gave me CPR, and he said that I coughed up a bunch of water. I don’t remember much, but they didn’t take me to the hospital. They agreed to never tell anyone because we were drugged-up, and they didn’t want Kaden to get into trouble.”
I wipe the tears from my cheeks and sigh. “My family doesn’t know. They just think he’s a bad guy who hurt me sometimes and who got me into drugs. Not, um, not many people know.”
Brandon looks up at me, seeming to have many new phrases in his head to describe Kaden. He looks angry—frustrated, mostly. I grab his hand and squeeze. “Came we go upstairs now?”
He nods and follows me up the steps.