I didn’t see Milo for a few days after that night. Part of me believed that I had imagined the entire thing, that Milo wasn’t real. It didn’t bother me that much, but when I saw him on the beach, messing around with a few people, I walked over from the seawall. There were four boys. Two had surfboards and were clearly enjoying the waves while Milo and another laid in the sand. They were all bare from the waist up, glowing in the sun. My cheeks filled with pinks and reds as I neared, and thankfully the two standing up motioned to me and Milo turned. He didn’t give me much recognition and simply looked back to his friends, and I felt like a fool for a couple seconds. I took my loss and began to walk off, annoyed, but suddenly I heard him running up to me.
He grabbed my hand and kissed it as my other arm wrapped around my waist, holding myself. I told him that I thought he was going to act as if he didn’t know me. Milo said, “How could I forget you? You’re my Juliet.”
He took me behind the t-shirt shop and kissed me against the brick wall, but I stopped when he reached for my shorts. I told him that he was crazy. He put his arm up, his hand beside my head, his muscles used as somewhat of a distraction. I wasn’t giving in, I didn’t really know what he was going to do anyway. We were in public, Sally could come through the back door anytime. But, he asked if I have ever had a boyfriend, really asking if I have ever done anything. I said I had a boyfriend, but we didn’t do anything like that. I told Milo that he wasn’t good to me, that he controlled me and attacked me. As expected and desired, Milo nurtured me.
We walked together down the beach, past the shops. We came up to the tee-shirt shop and the high chair in the front was empty. The mysterious girl was gone so I told Milo that I wanted to work there. We went inside, and with courage from his presence, I saw Sally—knowing she was the owner from my many purchases—and asked if there was a position open. She said that I had to be eighteen to work there. I told her how much I loved the shop, so she promised to save me a position. Two years seemed like forever, but I took it anyway and told my mother when I got home later that night. I was in an odd situation. I wanted to infuriate her and impress her at the same time.
I enter the familiar house with Kaden clouding my mind. How could he still be here? What if I run into him? What would I say? What would he say? I wonder if he’ll remember me. I know that he’ll remember me. There is no point in trying to convince myself that I am forgettable to him.
Lauren leads me inside like a seeing-eye dog. How can I focus on some party now? By not focusing on anything at all, I suppose. The atmosphere of a teenage party gives the opportunity to recklessly let go as if the world is ending and this is my last time to live. The motto of my generation seems to be: we’re all going to die anyway so what’s the point? I come from a generation of depressed, anxious nobodies with the potential to change the world.
Brandon brushes against me as we make our way through the people who crowd the foyer. I lean away, pushing against Lauren who nudges and shoves her way through. Her purple nails dog into my hands and she finally releases when we reach the kitchen. The counters are coated in empty cups and bottles, careless spills, and alcohol waiting to be drunken. A girl sits up on the counter with a half-full bottle of tequila, continuously refilling hers and her two friends shot glasses. The cool glass sits on her very exposed thighs, and she brightens when she sees us walk in. I know she isn’t excited to see me, but Brandon, the one everyone likes.
“Hey! You came!” She shouts over the muffled music from the living room. Brandon waves and looks around the room before being engulfed by the girl from the bone fire. She comes out of nowhere and attempts to jump on his back. “Yay, Brandon,” she cheers like a child. “I didn’t think you were coming.”
I expected Brandon to have an impressive array of girls falling in love with him, but everywhere I turn there is one smiling and waving and batting their lashes and plumping their lips by chewing on them. I turn to Lauren but she’s waiting as her shot glass is filled by counter-girl, so I take a step back, hoping to ease my way out. Unfortunately, the flow of people behind me bump me right back in, catching Brandon’s attention as I hit his back. “Sorry,” I mumble, not remembering how these things work.
Sadly, the last time I arrived and thrived at one of these, I was drugged out of my mind.
Brandon pulls me forward and I awkwardly smile as a thank you. He stays close which makes my hands sweat, so I move forward instead. “Hey,” I call to Lauren, who’s on her second shot, “I’m going to go out back.”
“I’ll be right there,” she says and turns away, chatting with the counter-girl and her friends who are struggling to stand still.
I slither through Brandon and the beach-girl, walking through the dining room where drinking games are being held to slip out the back door. Obviously, there’s a fire burning in the pit and a few stray people swimming in the pool. The beach can be seen through the palm trees, and I contemplate escaping to the water.
“For a party girl, you seem a little lost.”
I spin around to see Brandon joining me. “You think I’m a party girl?”
He shrugs. “Lauren seems to think so.”
“Well, I’m not. Not anymore.”
Lights strung above our heads give little light, but I can see his face just enough to know that I am standing in dangerous territory. “What about that girl? Where’s she?”
“Who?” He asks, “Lacey? She’s inside.”
I nod and look back to the beach.
“You don’t like me, do you?” He asks, somewhat amused but not really.
I look back with an argument ready to be voiced. “Does it really matter if I don’t? Everyone else likes you. Aren’t they enough?”
“We work together, we see each other almost every day, is it so wrong for me to want to get to know you? I like to befriend people I’m around, but that seems to be a foreign concept to you.”
I bite the inside of my cheek, annoyed. Annoyed because he’s charismatic and intelligent and attractive and I’m jealous of everything he has going for him, that he can’t and never will understand my pain. I wish I could be like him, liked without having to sell my soul. The things I had to do to make friends, hell, just to be accepted into the screwed up society that is the teenage world in this town.
“It is foreign. Sorry,” I mutter, sticking to my routine.
“Emma, I think you’re putting on an act.”
“And what would that be?”
He steps in front of me, making me look at his loved face. “You act like you hate everyone and that everyone hates you. You believe you’re so misunderstood that there’s no point in trying to have a life anymore. And your made-up boyfriend was a terrible lie.”
I swallow. “I have a boyfriend.”
“No, you don’t.”
Fueled, I glare up at him. “Why? Because I’m so bitter and horrible that no one would want to be with me? You know what, don’t worry about knowing me, I’m quitting my job.” I storm off like the pool-jumping lunatic I am and head into the house, finding Lauren leaning against the kitchen counter with the tequila bottle in her hand. I take it and force myself to drink as I power through the endless rooms to the front door. The pungent taste in my mouth makes me want to gag, but I keep the bottle tight in my grasp.
Lauren calls a few times behind me, but I ignore her and pinball my way out of the house, sinking to the road. Infuriating tears wet my cheeks and I swipe them away before the redness comes. I knew this was going to be a bad idea. I should have just stayed laying in the sand behind the house, never getting up, never doing anything.
He calls after me, jogging towards me. I bite on my lip hard enough to draw blood, hoping I do so he can be scared off. The tequila empties down my throat as I take one last swig before tossing the bottle to the grass. “Emma, come on, I’m sorry.”
I turn around swiftly, ready. “Don’t follow me.”
“You’re being dramatic.”
My hands scrunch up into fists. “Then leave me alone. Go away. You won’t have to see me ever again, so don’t worry.”
“Don’t quit your job.”
I say nothing before continuing down the street, wanting him to give up and turn back. As I make my way down the cars parked along the road thin out, but I stay walking in the middle. “Will you just drop the act?”
“There is no act.”
Brandon speeds up, coming next to me. “I know you’re not really like this. I’ve seen you at work when you stare off into the water, or at the bonfire, or when you panicked Saturday. You’re not cold, Emma.”
I halt again. “Why do you care? Because you want to know me? You want to be my friend?” I shake my head. “What if it is an act? What makes you think I’m going to give it up just because you ask?”
“So you’re going to be alone for the rest of your life? You’re going to keep up these little walls you built and never let anyone in?”
“I’ve made the mistake of letting people in. I’ve made it far too many times.”
“So someone broke your heart,” he says, toying with me, prodding me where it hurts. “Everyone has their heart broken at least once. Don’t let it hold you back forever.”
Desperate, I ask again. “Why do you care?”
He glances at the dark sky then back to me, nearing and naturally charming with his entire being. Any of those girls in there would dream of this, being approached by Brandon, being unveiled and dug into by him. His some picture of perfection, physically and mentally so that it exhausts me. He’s the one everyone loves. Everyone wants to be his friend, they want to play volleyball with him, or party with him, or work with him, or date him, have dinner then return home then be taken by him. They want to give their bodies to him, complete surrender.
“You know why I care,” he says softly, making the air thick enough to suffocate in. “I think you’re interesting, and mysterious, and teasing, and beautiful, and painfully stubborn.”
“Please don’t,” I breathe out.
“I know you like me. You don’t want to, but you do.”
I cross my arms, needing to protect myself. “I know guys like you. I know what you’re capable of. If you think I’m giving in, you’re wrong. I’m not making that mistake again. Go ruin one of those other girls because you’re not ruining me. There’s nothing left in me for you to take away. So please, leave me alone. Don’t talk to me ever again.”
I turn away and rush down the street, turning the corner to no longer hear him following me. My skin is hot and my frustration is fighting me. It would have been so easy to give in, to just kiss him and tell him to carry me off into the sunset. To fall in love with him and be that girl again. To be enchanted by his everything and wonder why in the world someone like him is interested in me. To want him, to tease him and drive off to the point by the cliff and give myself to him. The sensation of his skin against mine would haunt me for days, feeling his ghost-touch and dying of deprivation when I’m not with him. But I can’t. It gets worse every time. All it takes is just one more hit for me to come crumbling down.
They’re home, so I knock on the door and wait anxiously until my father opens it. “Did you have a nice time?” He asks.
I nod and slip past him, shooting straight for my room and locking myself in. I fall to the bed and stretch out against the covers, imagining his presence. He’d be standing before me, looking down at me. My heart would be racing relentlessly as it is now. I squeeze my legs together and die from the emptiness around me. I fist the blankets and clench my teeth, hating him. I hate him. I wish he never existed. I wish he wasn’t here to torment me and play with me and make me want him even though we’re complete strangers. It’s unfair. It’s ruthless and cruel and...
Why does it have to be this way? Why can’t I be free of these boys and their manipulation? What did I do to deserve this? Is it because I give in?
I always give in.