Hunter apologized for what he said the next day. I told him it was okay because I was feeling lonely and wanted to be loved. He bought me an ice cream and we walked along the beach and talked about useless things. He would lick my ice cream and I would blush while pretending I was mad. He would laugh.
Hunter invited me over to his house and told me I was the only person who understood him. I went along with it, but thought he was crazy because we only spoke of school, interests, and his friends, beside our conversation the night before. Hunter made himself very vulnerable to me very quickly. He got emotional as he told me about his father’s death. I was young, I didn’t know what to say, I sat beside him on his bed and tried to soothe him. We ended up kissing some more and he asked me if I even liked him. We bonded over that. I told him that sometimes I wondered if people even wanted to be around me as well. He told me that he wanted to be around me, and I liked that.
I have work again today, and I am getting bored of it very quickly. Brandon keeps trying to be nice to me, and I keep hitting him down like the summer-time grinch I am. He must feel bad for me, that I have no friends and that I’m a horrible person.
Sometime during the work day, a girl comes in to talk to him. She flirts with him as he sits on the counter. She will place her hand on his thigh and play with her hair at the same time. They speak in hushed tones so I can’t really hear what they’re saying from my post, but I don’t really want to. I’ve been curled up on my chair for twenty minutes now. Today may be the slowest day ever. Sally did say that business is calmer on the weekdays and crazy on the weekends, and I believe her.
Brandon walks the girl out when they’re done, and I eye him as they part ways. She was pretty. Tall, thin, redhead, tan, freckled and flirty. Brandon seems to enjoy her. He glances at me and I look away as usual, but this time he makes his way over. “Do you have a boyfriend, Emma?” He asks, and I feel my chest cave in.
He shrugs. “I was just wondering.”
“Well, I do,” I lie.
“What’s his name?”
Which one should I pick? Obviously then one who dented me the most. “Kaden. I don’t think you’d know him though.”
Brandon leans against the chair, his forearm against the arm of the chair. I look down at it. “Is it Kaden Lane?”
My entire body comes to a halt, nothing moving, not even inside of me. “No,” I mutter, “it’s a different Kaden. He doesn’t spend much time down here at the beach.”
“What does he do?”
Why are you so interested? I ask internally. “He’s a... He works for the military. He’s gone a lot.”
“Is he in the Army?”
“Air Force,” I fire back. “Why are you asking so many questions? Don’t you have shirts to press?”
Brandon smiles, and I hate myself for letting the color show on my cheeks. “Why are you always so defensive?”
“Why are you trying so hard to be nice to me? It’s not part of your job. You don’t have to.”
He nods and walks away, and I squeeze my hand into a fist, my nails digging into my palms. Why are you such a bitch, Emma? How about that. My mind wanders while I stay in my seat, wandering to all the reasons why I’m like this.
I think back to the first hit.
Hunter and I were together for an entire month before things started to go south again. It was a solid month full of laughing and kissing and going to the beach. He would buy me bracelets and necklaces with little shells on them because he knew how much I liked them. We dreaded the end of the summer together, but I didn’t talk about it much because he would get upset. He would get upset at many things.
He didn’t like it when I wore black because he believed I looked prettier in color. He didn’t like it when I didn’t text him goodnight or good morning. He didn’t like it when I brought up the future because when I spoke of it, he wasn’t in it. He didn’t like when I wore lipgloss because he couldn’t kiss me. He didn’t like when I would talk about being sad. He didn’t like when I would wear a two-piece swimsuit. He didn’t like my hair up. He didn’t like my pink nail polish. He didn’t like my mascara. He didn’t like my parents because they would control me too much. He didn’t like it when I wouldn’t want to kiss him.
He was my only friend. Hunter was in complete control of me, and by the end of the summer, he wanted to have sex. It was this milestone that he wouldn’t let go.
I told him that I wasn’t sure about it, but he would tell me that I was just nervous because I was my first time. I began to think that if I lost my virginity to anyone, Hunter seemed like the person I would let take it. We became so close. But by the end, I still didn’t feel right about it, and I told him, expecting him to understand but he didn’t. He was angry.
He grabbed me and threw me to the floor. He called me a bitch and many other names before dragging me out of his house and shutting the door in my face. Hunter had bruised my arms in various places. I ran home and sat in the bathtub and cried with the water running so no one would hear me.
* * *
There’s a bonfire on the high part of the beach tonight, and I make my way over. No, it isn’t my usual scene but I told my parents and Aunt that I didn’t want to go out to dinner with them, not expecting silence to eat me alive. Bonfires happen often, anyway. They aren’t some drug-ridden party, but a small event everyone can attend. My Aunt told me about earlier today when I got off of work, and I just happened to remember.
There is a place on the beach where people have set up driftwood to act as benches and tables all surrounding the fire pit. A good amount of people are around it and are nearby in the sand. I sit in the very back and shove my hands in the pocket of my hoodie. There are a few families and couples, but many young kids. I seem to be a median in the age range, but those who are my age aren’t near the fire, they’re doing God knows what by the water.
Children are roasting marshmallows and I watch as a young boy continues to burn them or drop them in the flames over and over. He continues to grab them from the bag without anyone noticing, and I can’t help but smile.
There’s a couple across from me cuddling. They’re young, still in their twenties. Her cheeks are rosy with heat and she leans against him with a blanket wrapped around her. He looks down. She smiles. He gives her a little kiss. I look away. I look far away to my left and see a few people messing around the volleyball net. One of them is Brandon. They aren’t playing, they’re just talking and drinking. I watch as a girl jumps on his back and brings him to the sand, he yells in a this-is-hilarious kind of way, and my shoulders drop. Why must he be so stuffed with life that every time I see him it’s like he’s going to explode? Will there be one day when he’s just normal?
I remember when I was like that, but all of the excitement inside of me wasn’t made organically. Brandon is different. He’s drunk, he’s happy. He’s normal, he’s happy. He’s sad, he’ll probably act happy. I am just so curious, I need to see him in some other state. It doesn’t have to be sad. It can be annoyed or angry or disappointed or scared or anxious or bored or surprised, even horny. Right now, I’m convinced he’s a robot who only feels one emotion.
We make eye contact and I immediately turn away. Internally cursing at myself, I pull my hood up and cover my face. With my bottom lip between my teeth, I bite down hard when I hear, “Emma?”
Already uncovered, I look up and smile. “Oh, hi Brandon.” I’m not sure why I’m smiling, earlier I nearly told him to piss off.
“What are you doing here? I wouldn’t take this as you’re kinda spot.” He sits down beside me, no longer looking drunk, but I can smell it a little.
“I’m just, I don’t know, watching the fire.”
“Is that something you just do? Watch things?” He asks and I give him a confused look. “I mean, you’re always just sitting in that chair looking out at the water.”
“Oh, I guess.”
The girl who jumped on him comes stumbling towards us, not getting very close, though. “Brandon,” she whines. “Come back, we miss you!”
“Already?” He calls.
She nods dramatically and motions for him. “You better go, I think she needs you,” I say and look back at the fire.
“Did I do something to make you hate me?” Brandon asks, catching me off-guard. “Because if I offended you in some way, I’m—”
“I don’t hate you.” I sigh and prepare to nip this in the bud. “I’m just a hateful person.”
“I don’t believe that.”
He looks down at me with those dangerous golden-boy eyes and I wonder, why me? Why is it always me that these boys try to ruin? Haven’t I been through enough? “Well, it’s probably the truth. Sorry you’re stuck working with me, I’ll try to be nicer.”
“Brandon!” The girl calls again. “Brandon!”
He groans and peers over at her and her flailing arms.
“You better go,” I murmur.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, at the shop?”
I nod. “That is where I work.”
He leaves and jogs back to the insane girl and his group of friends, though he’s no longer as energetic. I wonder if I sucked it out of him like some back hole.
Maybe I’m thinking too highly of myself to consider the fact that Brandon could be interested. What makes me better than the failing girl? Nothing. He’s better off with her. I’m sure Brandon doesn’t even like me, he’s just trying to loosen me up so I’m not such a pain to work with. I feel silly now. Stupid. Brandon would want someone like him, and I never want anyone ever again.
But even if there’s the slightest chance that he actually is interested, I know I could never do that to myself again. The universe has been telling me over and over again that love isn’t for me, and now I’m going to sit down and listen. No more hoping, no more believing that the next guy is going to be a good guy. He’s not. That’s just the way it is. Sorry, Emma, but Brandon will just hurt you like Hunter and like Milo and like Kaden. And I’ve also learned that they just get worse. The next heartbreak is worst than the last, and after Kaden, I don’t think I could physically take another.
No more boys. It’s simple yet impossible. No more love. But I’m a teenage girl? You may as well take everything from me then.
Will I be miserable spending the rest of my life watching from the sidelines? Yes. Would I rather die? No, I don’t think so. Death scares me. People have it worse. Some people can’t walk, some can’t hear, or speak or see, and I can’t love. I got off easy. I’m lucky.
I’m not very good at convincing myself today, but that’s alright. Maybe tomorrow I’ll be better.
Brandon is still down by the volleyball net with his friends, but they’ve calmed down now. They’re sitting around in the sand with beer bottles buried along with their feet. He’s leaned against the post, tossing something into the air than catching it while the girl rests her head on his lap. I think about how if he drops whatever that is, that it’ll hit her right in the face, but my mind wipes clean when he catches me looking.
I get up and ditch the bonfire, making my way back to the house. With my eyes watching my feet as I walk down the street, I can’t help but imagine myself in the girls’ place, what it would be like to be normal and to have my head resting on the lap of someone who won’t hurt me. It’s not Brandon specifically, but the action I dream of. I wonder what it would be like to be a normal girl with a normal boy on a normal beach with a normal relationship.
No fighting or hurting or controlling or threatening or cheating or lying, just pure, untainted love.