Chapter 32 - The End
I walk up the beach as if I just survived a shipwreck. I guess in a sense I did. People stare as I trudge through the sand in my drenched clothes—quite aware of how bizarre I look while I am too spaced out to notice myself. After climbing over the wall and embarrassingly walking through town like a castaway, I make my way down the street where my Aunt’s house sits at the end.
I think I realized something as I jumped into the water and left all my worries on the dock. I think I realized that I’m not okay, and not because I drink too much or surround myself with bad people, but because I haven’t been taking care of myself. Popping random pills, fighting with ex-boyfriend’s, constant teetering between ecstatic and utterly empty—it’s torn Emma apart and suddenly I’m not sure who Emma is. Is she a helpless romantic? Is she a writer? Is she a Stanford student? Is she in love?
I chew on my salty lip as the house nears.
The last time I remember being Emma was before all of this, before Hunter, before boys. I’ve let them tear me to pieces and now I must glue myself back together, or at least figure out what pieces look like mine.
There really isn’t much time to do this with the summer ending and school beginning. In a dorm for most of my days, I’m sure I’ll have moments by myself to remember what makes me who I am, though. Or maybe I don’t have to remember. Maybe I have to discover. The end of this summer, my last summer before college, signifies the moment Emma broke. Now with this clean slate, I have room to work and build and remodel.
It’s time I ask for help.
Brandon is sitting on the steps of the porch, watching as I walk towards the house. The sight of him doesn’t make me anxious because I know now that I can’t keep worrying about what I’ve done wrong. My mistakes are evident. I know they exist—they must be understood, learned from, and left behind.
“Emma,” He says. “It’s not what you think.”
“I was hoping you’d say that,” I call as I make my way down the gravel driveway and toward him.
He stands up and meets me halfway. “Jess—she needed me to pretend that we’re together. Her parents aren’t accepting of the kind of person she is. Our parents talk. She’s just trying to figure things out.”
I smile a little. “I wish I figured that out sooner. Would have saved me a lot of worrying.”
Brandon looks over my wet clothes and wears a confused face.
“I was hoping you’d have an explanation because I didn’t want to remember you as another heartbreaker. You’re a good guy, Brandon. Thanks for being a good one. I want to end my series of unfortunate summers with one that proves me wrong.”
“What do you mean, Emma? You’re making it sound like this is the last time you’re ever going to see me.”
I take his hand and lead him back to the steps. We sit beside each other and gaze out at the empty street ahead. “I have to fix myself,” I say. “I mean, there isn’t much left to fix, but I have to find the girl who’s supposed to be inside my body. I’ve let her slowly disappear.”
Brandon clasps his hands together, his body hunched over, his elbows resting on his knees. “We were doing good. I thought we figured everything out. You got Kaden help, you helped Lauren, you—”
“Now I have to help myself.”
“But you aren’t broken, Emma,” he says, looking up at me, moving close. “I know who you are. You’re right here. You’ve been here this whole summer.”
“This isn’t the person I want to be. This person is impulsive and reckless and destructive—”
“We all are. But you, Emma—so what you’re emotional. There’s nothing wrong with feeling a little more than other people. Sure you’ve been hurting, I know, but you always grow from the pain. Every summer you’ve grown.”
“Every summer I’ve become more and more closed-off. I can’t trust people,” I explain, wanting to see myself from his point of view.
“Yes, you’re defensive. That’s understandable considering. But I got through, didn’t I? You’re strong. Your kind of strength comes from betrayal and heartbreak and abandonment—but it’s still strength. You know what you deserve.”
“How do you put up with me?”
Brandon grabs my hands. “You’re exciting. You’re passionate. You live like you’re alive. You’re moody and cold and defensive on the surface, but underneath you are the most genuine person I’ve ever met. Sure, you’ve made mistakes, but you’re always aware that what you’re doing is wrong. You act strange sometimes because you’re feeling strange and you act wild because you want to be free. You say that Emma has been worn down to nothing, but from my eyes, Emma is the epitome of youth. She’s smart and poignant and untamed and bewitching and I love her.”
A breath escapes my lips as his eyes pour into mine.
“If you want to better yourself, then that’s great. I wish you would let more people in so they can see how irresistible you are. I wish you would trust me more because I don’t want to lose you. I wish you wouldn’t run off because you’re afraid to show weakness. If you want to seek help, then let me be there for you. I know you’re scared of people getting too close and leaving. I know. But please, Emma, don’t leave me behind. I watched you as you sat on that lifeguard’s chair, as you watched people on the beach, and all I wanted was to know what’s going on inside that beautiful head of yours. I’d talk to you and you’d cast me aside, but there’s always been something about you that I just can’t let go of.”
A tear trickles from my eye as I laugh. “I was sitting up there watching you. You would go for your break and play volleyball with your friends or swim in the ocean and I thought you were the most perfect person I had ever seen.” I tighten my grip as our hands remain tangled. “Thank you for not letting go.”
Finally, they break apart and his hands reach my face and his fingers weave into my hair. Brandon kisses me as tears fall one by one down my cheeks. “There’s so much I didn’t tell you,” I say against his lips, not wanting to let go.
“Tell me when you want to tell me,” he says.
I stare into his eyes for a moment before wrapping my arms around him. “I have to tell Jess that I’m sorry! I have to see Jonas and Lauren and—”
“I know, just stay for a bit,” he says softly by my ear.
“There will be more,” I say. He pulls away a little to look at my face, to gain more meaning. “There will be more moments like this. We’ll be an hour away. Considering the odds, that’s as good as it gets, right?”
The corners of Brandon’s mouth lift. “Right.”
“Oh, your mom—I forgot that she’s here!”
Brandon thinks to himself for a second and says, “Come meet her.”
I sigh. “Technically I’ve already met her. I’ve already embarrassed myself.”
“Lauren and Jonas and Jess are all at the house as well. Come on,” he says, standing up, “I want her to know who I’ve fallen in love with.”
“But Jess,” I say.
“Don’t worry. My family is more accepting. We’re keeping her secret safe for as long as she wants.”
A warm feeling blossoms in my gut. “Wait,” I say as he starts to walk, “my clothes.”
Brandon comes inside so I can quickly change out of my fishy-smelling clothes. My Aunt and mother are happy to see him and immediately take care of him while I head into my bedroom. Out of all my ridiculous relationships, I’ve never gotten to meet my boyfriend’s mother before. Do I dress nice, or would it be too obvious that I’m trying to impress? Casual, then—shorts and a blouse?
Just as I finish pulling up my jean shorts and buttoning them, there’s a knock at my door. Expecting it to be Brandon, I say, “Come in.”
My mother appears.
“You finally brought him back around,” she says. “I like that boy. I hope you’re going to keep contact.”
“I am. We’re in love,” I tell her.
She nods with a pleasant smile. “They were antidepressants.”
My words clog up in my throat.
My mother stands neatly. “I thought you should know. I’m doing alright—better. You’re Dad, well, that didn’t help, but having you keeps me going.” I listen. “You’re a good girl, Emma. I know I upset you sometimes, but I’m just proud. You’re my greatest accomplishment and you better know that I’d make sure Brandon or any guy knows just how bright you are.”
“I know, Mom. Even though I’m moving away from home, I’ll always be there for you. And I know you’ll always be there for me. Maybe it’s best that Dad’s gone.”
“Maybe,” she says then takes a breath. “Well, he’s waiting out there for you. You better get a move on.”
I smile and hug her before leaving the house with Brandon.
Today is my new beginning. So far, I’ve learned that it’s okay to love, it’s okay to trust, and that being with Brandon, the greatest guy to ever live, makes me feel powerful and capable and lovable. I have a strong and caring family, a bundle of loyal friends, and a partner that I will never give up. Now not everything is perfect—I still want to work on myself to reach a better mental state—but at this moment there is nothing that could dent my happiness.
Together, Brandon and I walk up the path to Jonas’ front door and enter the house. Voices sound from the main room, and I peer up at Brandon with bliss and bravery.
The first face I see is Lauren’s. Relief washes over her. I mouth “I love you.”
Second I see Jonas. His arms are crossed and he must be thinking: finally! He runs a hand through his hair and looks ahead.
Beside Brandon’s mother is Jess. I’m sure she’s expecting me to apologize, which will surely be coming in a minute or two. But something about her face, her expression, that small smile and glimmer in her eye tells me that she’s proud of herself.
Lastly, I see Brandon’s mother. She’s been watching me walk in and to her, I’m sure. Maybe she doesn’t remember me, or maybe she does—either way, I’m going to make sure she knows how in love I am, and how grateful I am for her son. She stands up from the counter stool and looks in my eyes.
With Brandon beside me, settling my restless heart, I say, “Hi, I’m Emma.”
Emma can and does do many things—good, bad, in between—but one thing that she can never do, no matter what, is disappear.
Did you enjoy my story? Please let me know what you think by leaving a review! Thanks, SydneyWrite a Review