I jump up and down as I pull on my black jeans, the bleached wood groaning beneath me. I swipe a shirt from my bag and slip it on, looking down to see the words ‘Moon Swoon’ across my chest in a flower-child font. It looks vintage but it’s not, and the end reaches the button of my jeans which annoys me. I used to think such shirts were flirty because when I’d reach up, the shirt would expose my midriff. Nothing says sexy like a pale, starved stomach.
The sounds of my family preparing to leave put me back on track, so I pull on socks and shove my feet into a pair of dirtied white shoes. The laces used to be white, and now they’re a dull grey. My mother asks me to wash them, but her idea of washing shoes is shoving them in the washer and dryer. I’ve let her ruin too many by now, so these will stay forever dirty unless I become excited enough to scrub them, which is unlikely. Having white shoes is the least important thing on my mind these days.
I jog out of my room and walk past them to the front door, acting as if I don’t see them. “You’re leaving?” My mother asks, shrugging on her jacket. “Be safe. Be home no later than twelve-thirty, okay? Do you have your phone?”
I peek back and nod. “Yeah.” No, I don’t have my phone. It is still laying lifelessly on the dresser.
“Alright. Call if you need me.” I open the door and make a move to leave, but she stops me. “Hey, and no drinking, okay? Nothing bad. I’m trusting you, Emma.”
“I know, I know. I’ll see you guys later.” I walk through and close the door behind me before she can say anything else. Climbing up on the porch fence, I swing my legs over one by one and jump down, squatting behind the hydrangeas. I lean against the house and wait impatiently for them to leave as well. After a minute or two, the three walk onto the porch and lock the door behind them, chatting as they make their way to my Aunts car. I sit in panic as the engine sputters and as they wheels grind against the pebbled driveway until the sounds disappear down the street.
I jump out of the bushes like a horror-movie killer and dash to the front door. How did I not think of this? I yank on the handle a few times before making my way around the house, looking for an open window. I test every one, slapping my hands against the glass and trying to push it up, but they’re locked. Defeat sneaks up behind me as I near the last two.
My heart sparks as I spot the kitchen window cracked open, so I run to it and reach up. It’s too high. I’ll have to find something to stand on. I scavenge the area and end up carrying a chair from the porch to the back of the house. The legs wobble when I place it down on the patchy grass, not balancing well on the slope. I step up anyway and attempt to push the window up more so I can fit through, but to my surprise, it doesn’t budge. Confused, I pull it down and push it up again, using more force. It comes to a halt, and I notice a smooth stick of wood stopping it from the inside. A collection of hushed curses leave my lips and I slam the window down, taking out my frustrations.
Like a terrible tightrope walker, I come crashing to the ground as the chair turns on its side. I hit the ground hard and make no move to get up. No, I’m not actually injured, I can stand up if I want to, but before I realize it, I lose my grasp on myself. My nails dig into the sand and my face scrunches up, tears dribbling down to my ear. My hair is in the grass, my side hurts, and I feel powerless. I bite my lip and flop onto my back, staring up at the star-littered sky. “Really?” I cry softly to whatever is up there. “Really?”
Milo held me as we sat in his car staring out at the water far below us. He smelled mature, fully ripe, a fruit ready to be bitten into. He closed his eyes and threw his head back, his long hair hanging over the seat. I gazed up at him like he was some fallen star. Without looking at me, he said, “Dump your boyfriend.” I told him that I didn’t have a boyfriend. He looked at me then. “You’re all mine, then,” he said.
I smiled and he pulled me closer to him. His muscled arm brought a sense of safety to me which I didn’t know was dangerous until the end. Milo was growing facial hair and striving for the manly look, I thought it was very attractive and again, I was mad at my mother. I knew girls my age did this, we go for the bad ones who anger our parents, we let them drop us off and make sure mother is watching from the window, spying through the blinds. We’ll let him kiss us, we’ll even let him grope a little until mother comes fuming through the door, shouting at the boy to get away from her daughter.
He knows what we’re doing. He smiles and tells us that he’ll see us later. Then he speeds off as mother grabs our arm, dragging us in the house.
I attempted this that night. Milo drove me home, we kissed some more, I glanced at the windows but she wasn’t there. It was hours past my curfew and she wasn’t there. Milo sped up to the house, tires screeching, but she wasn’t there. He told me that he’d be around and I left the car quietly, disappointed that my arm wasn’t being squeezed. Milo sped off and I sat on the porch before realizing that no one was coming for me, so I went inside and climbed into bed.
Looking up at the stars now, I sit up, my tears dried, my side aching, and the chair broken. One of the legs have snapped, so I carry the two pieces back to the front and stand it by the door on its slant. My arms wrap around my body and I hold myself, nursing my side and my heart.
The streets are barren and powered with gravel, and I wander down the middle as if no one exists but me. I yank the bottom of my shirt down, but it doesn’t go down, and I give up. I should have gone out to dinner.
Maybe I shouldn’t have come here at all. Every year my memories of this place grow darker and darker, and my reasons for coming are being suffocated by them. I love my Aunt, I love the beach and the shop, but I can’t help but think of them and all that they did to me, constantly being reminded of my mistakes. Maybe this place isn’t what it used to be. Maybe I should stop pretending that it is.
As I continue to walk along, a car drifts around the corner and causes me to jump back. I run out of the way and follow it with my eyes as it comes to a screeching stop at the end of the street. Annoyed, I huff, watching as the lights flash off and as three people spring out, heading towards one of the few lit-up houses. My brows furrow and I pick up my pace, curious. With my arms crossed, I scan over the many other cars but halt when I realize what I have stumbled onto. The party. It has to be that party. There are only so many young people in town, and half of them seem to be here. I remember this house. I’ve been here before, to parties with—
I look to my right and see a young girl jogging towards me, leaving her group behind as they walk onto the front lawn. “Me?” I question, confused until the street light reaches her face. My shoulders drop. “Lauren.”
A large grin stretches from cheek to cheek and without permission, she pulls me in, squeezing me. “What are you doing back here? You said last year that you weren’t coming anymore. Did your Dad not get the job in Washington?”
“No,” I improvise, remembering the lie I told and nervous over the many others that may cause problems, “he didn’t.”
She pulls away but keeps her hands on me, waiting. “Well? You’re acting like you don’t even know me.”
I swallow, not letting myself be manipulated by her golden skin and salted hair, things that make the boys mindlessly love her. Her chocolate brown eyes watch me with life, with hints of adolescence sprinkled in sparkling flakes. I do know Lauren, I know her very well. I met her when I was with Milo and we stayed friends until Kaden tore me apart. She doesn’t know me, though, she only knows the girl I was before. The mess. The hopeless romantic. The desperate, clingy, drunk, drugged, infatuated, mess.
I smile back and hers rekindles. She laughs and grabs my hand. “You’re going to Micheals party, huh? I mean, I’m not surprised. You’ve always liked a good party. Oh! You have to hang out with me and these people I met. Actually, you already know Taylor, I still mess with him sometimes so I guess we’re friends,” she drags me towards the door so I stop her.
“I wasn’t actually going—”
“Well,” she swings her arm around my shoulder, “now you are. Come on. I have to introduce you to Preston, God he’s hot, completely your type too. He’s a bit of a troublemaker but you’ve always liked that,” Lauren gives me a look, expecting me to laugh at this inside joke she thinks I’m a part of. “Oh, and don’t worry, I heard that Kaden wasn’t going to be here, so you don’t have to hide.”
I immediately stop again, gripping her tightly. “Wait. Wait,” I try to clear my head in an attempt to think straight. “Kaden? What are you talking about? Why would he be here?”
“Did you not hear?” She says carefully.
"Uh, no. Hear what?” She carries on, walking me to the door but I can’t even think about the party right now. “What happened, Lauren? Why would he be here? Kaden doesn’t live here anymore.”
"Well,” she links our arms, my squeezing too much, “he didn’t move.”
My heart drops. My lungs shrivel. My body shakes. My head spins. Everything feels like it’s moving but I have nothing to grab onto but her. “What are you talking about?” I breathe out.
“He didn’t move.” I stop her again, bringing her to a pout. “Emma, the party. Come on.”
I ignore her. “Why didn’t he move?”
“I don’t know. His mom died. His dad didn’t want to leave or something like that.”
“His mom died?” I ponder out loud, looking away. “Wasn’t she in remission?”
“I guess the cancer came back. The funeral was like three months ago, I went with the group, you know. I don’t know, Kaden was pretty torn up. He didn’t talk to anyone but his brother. He just started going out of the house again a few weeks ago. I saw him at the beach and at a few parties. He’s hanging out with everyone again.”
I chew on my lip and unlink our arms. “I can’t be here, I have to go.”
"Emma,” she whines, “come on. He’s not going to be here. We just got reunited, let’s celebrate!”
I shake my head. “I have to go. I, uh, I’ll—”
I freeze suddenly and glare at the ground, cursing myself for ever walking down this street. He calls again, his voice louder and I don’t move until his hand brushes my shoulder. “Brandon,” I smile, looking back to greet him.
“I didn’t think you’d actually show up,” he smiles back, the charming smile, the warning that blinds my eyes. He looks to Lauren.
“This is Lauren,” I introduce, wanting to jump in a pool again. “Lauren, this is Brandon. I work with him.”
Knowing Lauren, she gives a flirtatious smirk. “Oh, I’ve heard of you. You’re everyone’s new favorite.”
“I, uh, I really need to get back. Sorry, I can’t stay,” I mutter to them, inching backward.
Lauren latches onto me. “She’s kidding. Come on. There are so many new people you have to meet. Well, I guess I can check Brandon off of the list for the both of us, but did I tell you about Preston? Ugh, you’re going to love him. He’s such a troublemaker. I’ll get him to talk to you, don’t worry. He plays around a bit, but you’ve always been good at locking them down, huh?”
My face flushes and I avoid making eye-contact with Brandon, feeling many things and one of them is the need to vomit. The music of the party seeps into my skin, giving me the option to drown it all out very quickly, and I consider it. Maybe I’ve been too hard on myself. Maybe one night of being the old me will calm me down.