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Epilogue 10 страница





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~~~~~

 

I was greeted with the same mixed feelings of seeing Evan’s car when I walked down my driveway the next morning. The improbability of Sara forgiving me was sinking in. I was so very cruel; how could I blame her. Besides, why would she want to put up with my insane life anymore? I wasn’t sure how I was still coping.

I knew I’d never be able to confide in Evan the way I did Sara. I was still struggling with allowing him to be as close as he was. I suppose I was selfish to think that Sara would always be there. We came from two completely different worlds, and the reality of these differences was unavoidable. It was only a matter of time.

Evan allowed me to grieve without much intervention. He escorted me through the bustle of the halls to each of my classes, and somehow, I got through the day. The teachers’ incoherent lessons hummed in my ears. The minutes crept, and the hollowness grew. Sometime during the day, Evan disappeared too. I almost didn’t notice until I rounded the corner to my locker and saw him standing in front of it with his back to me.

Evan was talking to someone. He seemed really upset. Then I saw the red hair shaking back and forth. My feet kept me moving forward against my will. I couldn’t hear their voices, but her face looked so sad. Evan’s hands were pleading.

Then I heard, “Sara, please tell me what happened. She’s devastated, and I need to understand why.”

“If she hasn’t told you, then I can’t.”

Her eyes caught mine. I froze a few lockers away, unable to process what was happening. Sara closed her locker and rushed away. Evan slowly turned to acknowledge me. I examined him with narrowed eyes, trying to understand.

“Why did you do that?” I accused, horrified.

“If you only knew what I’ve seen for the past two days, you would have done the same thing.”

I still didn’t understand. His intrusion rocked me, and I needed to get away from him. I turned and dodged my way through the crowd, my books still clutched to my chest.

“Emma, wait,” he pleaded, but he didn’t come after me.

I ducked into the bathroom and found an empty stall. I pressed my back against the partition, remembering Sara’s sad expression. I allowed the tears to burn down my cheeks while the scene replayed in my head. I didn’t know why I wasn’t relieved that she hadn’t told anyone about my situation - maybe because I never thought she would.

As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t be angry with Evan. I didn’t like that he upset Sara, but I knew it wasn’t his fault. He really had no idea what he was walking into. Could I continue to allow him to be a witness to my misery without an explanation? Knowing I wouldn’t ever tell him what came between Sara and me and that I could never confide in him if something were to happen to me again, only left me with one answer. I needed to give him up. I struggled with the decision, but it was something I always knew I’d have to do.

 

 


 

 

15. Relentless

 

 

“It’s nice to see you using such vibrant colors,” Ms. Mier noted as she stood behind me, admiring my painting. “You have always used such deep colors in the past, still with extraordinary results, but this is refreshing. Whatever’s changed, I like it.”

Then she walked on to the next easel. I leaned back and looked at the nearly completed portrait of the fall foliage. Before Ms. Mier approached, I was thinking that the colors were too bright and unrealistic. The paint brush in my hand was coated with a burnt orange, to fade the fiery hues on the canvas. I set the brush down and stared at the colors again. They were blinding to my dull eyes.

 

I continued to stare at the blur of colors until Ms. Mier asked everyone to begin cleaning up. Startled by the sudden movement, I looked around and clumsily began gathering my supplies. I caught Evan standing in the back of the room, by the photography supplies, watching me with concern. I continued cleaning up my unused paints, ignoring him.

“Do you want to study for the Anatomy test with me?” Evan asked when we left the room.

“Uh… no, I can’t,” I stumbled. “I have to work on the paper.”

“I can go with you.”

“No, that’s okay,” I said quickly, barely giving him a glance. “I think I’d rather be alone.”

“Okay,” he said slowly and continued down the hall when I stopped at my locker.

I was forced to look after him, reminding myself that closing him out was the right thing to do. The right thing felt horrible - my eyes followed him until he rounded the corner. My heart ached, and for a second I reconsidered my decision, but I shook it off and opened my locker.

Soccer practice was not only hard physically but emotionally as well. Having to interact with Sara without connecting was torturous. When we weren’t on the field, she remained as far away from me as she could. When we were on the field, she’d only pass to me when she didn’t have any other choice.

“Lauren, would you be able to give me a ride home today?” I asked when we were standing on the sidelines during one of the drills.

“Sure,” she answered without hesitation.

I kept walking alongside Lauren after practice, without looking at Evan as he waited for me by his car. I felt his eyes follow me to her car. I reminded myself again that it was for the best. But it didn’t help.

“Thank you for doing this,” I said to Lauren, ducking into her dark blue Volvo.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I asked Lauren to drive me home. She was very sweet, but she talked non-stop the entire drive. I heard about the homecoming dance and how Sara and Jason won homecoming king and queen, but neither had shown up. I tried to conceal my shock. She assumed I knew why they weren’t there and tried to get me to confess. She obviously hadn’t noticed Sara and I weren’t talking. Why did she think she was driving me home? I played it off and said that I didn’t know either.

Lauren went on about soccer and the upcoming game. She was obviously excited to make it to the championships as captain for her senior year. I was given the details of every college she applied to and how she was having a hard time deciding which she preferred. Did most girls talk this much? I tried to figure out how she breathed in-between each sentence. The topics blurred together like the scenery, and I was almost relieved when she stopped at my house, feeling exhausted after having listened to her.

“Thank you again, Lauren,” I said as I opened the car door.

“If you want a ride home tomorrow, let me know. It was nice talking to you. I feel like we never get to really talk.”

“I may take you up on that,” I said reluctantly, knowing I’d rather walk then ask for another ride.

I tried to make it through the kitchen, but was stopped in my tracks by a stinging pain to my right arm. I winced and turned to find Carol with a metal serving spoon in her hand.

“Who the hell was that?” Carol demanded, obviously very agitated. I looked around and realized George wasn’t here, and from her grip of the spoon, this could not be good for me.

“That was Lauren. She’s one of the team captains,” I tried to explain. I was too nervous that she’d see through my lie if I tried to explain why Sara didn’t drive me, so I left it at that.

“You’re pathetic. If you’re begging for rides and embarrassing me, I will hurt you severely. Sara’s finally seen you for who you are, huh?”

The mention of Sara’s name stung worse than the red mark on my arm. I remained still, looking for any opportunity to back away to my room before this escalated.

That’s when her eyes widened, and the metal spoon walloped the side of my head. I let out a moan and put my hand to my head, backing against the wall.

“You’re fucking disgusting,” she declared, the storm in her eyes brewing, making me fear what was to come. “How dare you come into my house smelling like that.”

I looked down at my practice clothes and released a breath of defeat. I chose not to shower after practice today, so I wouldn’t keep Lauren waiting. Wrong choice.

“Mom,” Jack yelled from upstairs, distracting her. “Is Dad back with the pizza yet?”

She had to shake the fury from her brow before she replied in her best mother tone, “No honey, but he should be here soon. Why don’t you and Leyla get washed up.”

“Get out of my sight before I make you sleep outside,” she snapped. I took advantage of the opportunity to rush to my room.

Upon shutting my door, I dropped my bags and rubbed the small bump on my head, relieved that’s all I walked away with. I was starving but knew I’d have to suffer through it.

I tried to focus on my homework instead. I couldn’t concentrate to save my life, staring at the words as they blurred in front of me. I only faintly recalled the lessons in class to coincide with the assignments, and my notes were a scribble of incoherent words. I jumped at the sound of the knock on the door at ten o’clock - signaling to turn off the lights.

I set the Trigonometry book at the bottom of my closet, and shut off the lights. I waited in bed until I heard two sets of footsteps ascend the stairs. I crept breathlessly out of bed and slipped into the closet, closing the door behind me. My closet was not very wide, which was fine since I didn’t own a lot of clothes, but it was tall and deep. I had plenty of clearance to sit under my clothes without them touching the top of my head. There was a small door at the back of the closet that led into a crawl space where I stored the things that meant the most to me.

That minute space contained the only pictures I had of my parents and memories of a time that was almost too distant to remember. It was certainly a universe away from where I sat now in the confines of a closet. I also stored some of my favorite paintings and athletic awards, along with a small shoe box of letters that my mother sent to me after I’d moved in with George and Carol.

She wrote frequently at the beginning, about nothing of importance, just rambling on paper. After a while, the letters arrived further apart; until finally, they stopped coming altogether about a year and a half ago. I figured she was consumed with her life and couldn’t bother with me. She had always been consumed with her life - that’s why I was in this house and not hers.

I read by the pull-string light bulb suspended above the closet shelf. I referenced the textbook, trying to teach myself what I’d neglected to learn in class. By the time I crept out of my study space, it was after one o’clock in the morning. I collapsed on bed, never changing from my practice clothes. Sleep came quickly, but the dreams kept me twisting.

~~~~~

 

I dragged myself to the bathroom and prepared for another day with little to look forward to, but got ready all the same. I intended to walk to the bus stop, but there he was - relentless. I was determined to keep walking, ignoring his shiny sports car.

As I walked past him, he stepped out of the car and pleaded, “Emma, don’t do this.”

My eyes widened in panic as I glanced from him to the picture window of the house. He saw my look of terror and glanced to the house as well.

“Then get in,” he demanded. With an exasperated sigh, I stomped to his car and slid in. He closed his door and began driving away. I sat stiffly against the leather seat, with my arms crossed around my backpack and my lips pressed together, staring straight ahead.

“Are you sulking?”

Insulted, I glared at him. He produced his amused grin, agitating me more.

“You’re seriously sulking,” he concluded, almost laughing.

“Stop,” I shot back, attempting to be serious. But the more I tried, the harder it was, and I felt my lips curl into a resisted smile. “I am not sulking.”

Evan burst out laughing.

“Enough,” I yelled, but found I was involuntarily smiling.

After he was able to stop laughing , he became too serious.

“Now you have to tell me what’s going on. Why are you avoiding me?”

I remained quiet. I struggled for a rational explanation, so he would respect my decision to cut him out of my life. I couldn’t come up with anything that would make sense to him. Everything I wanted to say would reveal too much. He waited patiently for my response.

“You’re not Sara,” I finally breathed.

“I don’t want to be Sara,” he replied in confusion. “I still don’t understand.”

“I don’t know how to fit you in my world without hurting you too.” The truth in my words revealed more than he’d ever know.

“Don’t worry about hurting me,” he replied calmly. “I like being a part of your world, and I understand that it’s more complicated than you’re willing to share with me. But I’ll respect that, for now.”

He pulled into the parking lot of a drugstore and put the car in park. Evan seemed nervous as he turned to speak to me. He released a quick breath before he spoke. My chest tightened, afraid to hear what he had to say.

“I don’t do this.” His hands gestured between us. My eyes narrowed, trying to interpret his meaning. He exhaled and looked out the windshield. “I don’t stay, and I’m used to that. And I’m always prepared to leave – because I have to eventually.”

He stopped again, frustrated with himself. I sat motionless, absolutely convinced I didn’t want him to continue – but I couldn’t bring myself to ask him to stop.

“I want to stay here,” he finally declared. “It would bother me if I left. I mean, I’ve already unpacked.”

Evan looked at me with a small, uncertain smile. We sat silently, looking at each other for an excruciatingly slow minute – he waited for me to say something. I broke his gaze, flashing my eyes around the car, searching for the right words. Disappointed, Evan looked away, his face turning a hue of red before he continued driving toward the school.

The tension was unbearable in the awkward silence. I was still struggling to say something that would make him give up on me; but every time I went to say it, the words were strangled in my throat. Finally, when he pulled into a parking spot and shut off the car, I looked over at him and said the only thing my heart would allow me to say.

“You should stay,” I encouraged, as a smile crept across my face. Then I quickly added, “But you’ll probably wish you hadn’t when you finally realize I’m not all that interesting.” His eyes sparkled and I watched the tension drain from his face.

As much as I knew it was the right thing to do, I couldn’t continue to push him away. I searched for a logical reason to remain friends with him without finding one. It was a risk having him around, and he could never know the truth - but I wasn’t ready to give him up.

“Did you really unpack?” I asked skeptically as we walked into the school.

“Actually I did – the other night after I got back from dropping you off. I think you guilted me into it.”

I laughed. “So that’s the secret to getting to you – guilt.”

“There are other ways,” he replied with his grin.

About to respond to his taunting, I stopped, realizing where we were. I searched to see if Sara was at her locker from the end of the hall. I let out a defeated sigh when I saw that she wasn’t.

“How do I get her to listen to me?” I murmured, still staring down the hall.

“Maybe you have to make her,” Evan answered before walking away toward his locker.

Crushed with the acceptance that this was going to be another day of avoidance, I slowly sauntered to my locker to prepare for class. I remained hollow, but I was beginning to accept the emptiness as a part of me.

I was able to listen in class and understand the lectures. I walked alongside Evan and heard his words, and even contributed to the conversation. But my eyes still searched for her in the halls, continuously disappointed when she was too far away, or if I didn’t see her at all.

I tried to convince myself to give up on her and accept that I was alone in my truth. That’s when it hit me – the truth. I stopped in the middle of the hall with Evan in mid-sentence. His words faded when he turned back to find me.

“Are you okay?” he asked hesitantly.

“I think I am.” I said each word slowly, contemplating my epiphany - she knew the truth. Evan appeared worried. I turned my attention to him and grinned.

This did not change his look of concern, but he didn’t say anything as we continued to Anatomy. Once class let out, I hurried into the hall, leaving Evan questioning my retreat. I almost ran to my locker, hoping I’d get there in time. I breathed an anxious sigh of relief when I found her still putting her books away in her locker. I moved to intercept her before she could walk away.

Spotting my approach, Sara attempted to escape in the opposite direction. Thankfully, she was alone. I followed after her and before she could exit through the doors leading to the stairs, I bellowed, “That wasn’t me.”

Sara stopped in her tracks when she heard my voice but didn’t turn to face me. I caught up with her and stood behind her, close enough so my words wouldn’t draw attention.

“I know I said some horrible things, Sara, and I will always be sorry for what I said,” I offered in a rush before she could change her mind and keep walking. “But you know that wasn’t me.”

She turned apprehensively, without responding.

“Can we please talk?” I begged. She shrugged and pushed the door open. I followed her down the stairs and out the side door where she sat on the grass beside the school. She rested her arms on her bent knees, staring straight ahead without looking at me.

I slowly sat beside her and let my words float into the air, in hopes that she’d hear them.

“I’m so, so sorry for what I said to you. I wasn’t myself, and I hope you know that. I was hurting, and angry, and unfortunately you were there to receive it. It wasn’t right. But you know that person is not who I am.”

Sara tilted her head to look over at me, so I knew she was starting to understand.

“I don’t get angry. It feels horrible, and I can’t stand to be like that. If I do… If I let her get to me, then she wins. She destroys me along with everything and everyone who’s important to me.

“I let her get to me that day. I was consumed by it. I shouldn’t have said what I did, but I also couldn’t let you tell anyone. I know how easy it would be to end all of this, but I can’t. It’s not just my life I have to think about. Taking Leyla and Jack away from their parents would destroy them, and I can’t be responsible for that. I’m strong enough to handle this. They’re still kids, so I have to put up with it for a little while longer. Do you understand?”

Sara’s eyes brimmed with tears. She looked away so she could wipe them.

“I know I don’t have any right to ask you to be there for me. It’s not the ideal friendship to be involved in, but I know I can get through this if you’re there to help me. You’re the only one who really knows me, and I trust you. I will never ask you to lie for me, and I will never make you be a part of anything you don’t want to. But the thought that you may never talk to me again hurts worse than anything Carol could ever do to me. I don’t want to lose you too.”

My heart stammered at the honesty I spilled at her feet. I had never been this exposed, not even to Sara. I couldn’t take back the words. I couldn’t hide my vulnerability. I knew I meant what I said more than any bitter, hurtful word I spewed in the locker room, and I hoped the truth was enough.

I waited in tense silence. “You haven’t lost me, Em,” she finally whispered. “You’re right, as much as I don’t understand it - you’re not an angry person. Sad and withdrawn, definitely - but not angry; even though you have every right to be.” She paused.

“I knew you didn’t mean what you said. The reason I haven’t been able to face you is because I get so angry when I look at you.” I was confused by her confession. “I hate this woman for hurting you. It makes me so angry I can hardly contain myself, and I don’t like feeling angry either. But you’re right – this is exactly what she wants – to isolate and destroy anything positive you have. We can’t let that happen. I know you’re strong enough to do it without me, but I’m not ready to quit being your friend either.” Her eyes glistened as she offered me a soft smile.

I tried to blink away the wetness in my eyes. Sara stood up and opened her arms to hug me. I stood as well, and I let her without tensing.

She pulled away and smiled, wiping the tears from her cheeks again. “Let’s get one thing straight,” she said looking me in the eye with all seriousness, “if you ever call me a slut again, I will never speak to you. I know what I’m doing, so stay out of it. Got it?”

“Yes, I got it,” I promised sincerely. “I am still really sorry about that.”

“I know,” she replied, grabbing my hand. “And I’m sorry I threatened to expose you. I understand why you’re doing this. I hate it - I’m not going to lie. But I’m here for you, no matter what.”

This time, I hugged her tightly. “Thanks.”

 

 


 

 

16. The Plan

 

 

We walked to the cafeteria together. When we neared the entrance, Sara said, “We have to come up with a plan.”

“What kind of plan?”

“You deserve to be happy. I’ve noticed how much more relaxed you’ve been since Evan’s been a bad influence. So, let’s figure out a way for you to get into college, survive living with your aunt and uncle, and still have fun.”

“That sounds impossible,” I said, shaking my head.

“We’ll be smart about it,” she winked.

“You did not just wink at me.”

“Shut up,” she said, playfully shoving my arm. Thankfully not the arm with the fresh bruise.

When we were seated at the lunch table with our trays of food, Sara continued with her thoughts. It was obvious that she’d given this some attention before today.

“Okay, you and Evan have already started doing what I have in mind. You know, with pushing your “at school time”, and going to the library. I think we can try to expand it to a Friday or Saturday night so you can stay over my house. It will definitely work the nights you have basketball games, but the game will take up most of the night and not give us much time to do anything else. I have to figure out an excuse that they’ll buy to get you out of their house as much I can.”

She was right - I was already stretching the little freedom I had when I claimed to be at school or the library. What was another night? Then I remembered Carol’s suspicious interrogation, sending an icy chill down my spine as the doubt settled in. How was I going to get away with this?

“But Emma,” Sara stated seriously, “if you ever get caught, I will not let her hurt you. I will tell my parents, or call the police, before I allow you to get hurt for my plan. Okay?” From the stern look upon her face, I knew she meant it.

“Okay,” I whispered, knowing I’d never let it happen. “Sara, while we’re talking about that – you have to trust me.” I could tell she didn’t quite understand. “I know what I can handle. Even though it’s not right, it’s the way things are until I can get out of their house. So you have to trust me when I don’t tell you what happens sometimes, okay?”

Sara paused for a moment, absorbing my words. “Emma, always be honest with me.” I connected with her penetrating eyes and nodded slightly – again knowing I wouldn’t.

On our way back up to our lockers, Sara turned to me and asked eagerly, “Are you and Evan officially dating yet?”

I rolled my eyes. “That still will not happen.”

“I don’t understand why not,” she teased.

Sara’s smile got bigger when we found Evan waiting at my locker. He released a smile when he saw Sara walking with me.

“Hi Sara,” he said, still smiling.

“Hi Evan,” she greeted, smiling back.

“Ready for Journalism?” he asked. “Oh, Em, do you think you’ll be able to finish with the paper during class and study period so that maybe we can do something after practice?”

“That’s perfect,” Sara interjected, before I could answer. “Let’s go back to my house and get pizzas and hang out.” She was thrilled to have an accomplice in Operation: Free-Em. She was almost jumping up and down.

Evan took in her over joyous response with pause, having no idea what Sara and I had been discussing during lunch.

“Sara’s trying to come up with a plan to expose me to the world outside of school and my house, and you’re just feeding into it,” I explained.

“That’s always been my plan,” Evan admitted. Sara beamed.

“I hope I know what I’m getting myself into,” I said with a sigh and a roll of my eyes.

“The chance to live a little,” Sara offered, barely able to contain her enthusiasm.

“So you say,” I grumbled. She laughed. I loved having her back.

After practice, Evan and Jason followed us to Sara’s.

While we were in the car, I told Sara, “I’m so sorry you and Jason didn’t go to homecoming. I can only assume it was my fault.”

Sara scoffed, “Don’t even worry about it. I really didn’t want to go and Jason is so shy, he would’ve been mortified to have to wear the crown on stage.” I still felt bad for being the reason she missed out on such a huge moment.

“How was the ride home with Lauren yesterday?” she asked, changing the subject.

“Exhausting,” I sighed, which made Sara laugh. “I didn’t realize anyone could talk so much or so fast.”

“She’s so nice, but yeah, she likes to go on and on about anything and everything.”

Sara’s house was dark when we pulled up.

“My parents went out to dinner again,” she observed with a heavy breath.

The next few hours epitomized everything Sara wanted for me. We ate pizza, listened to music, played video games, and laughed. The laughter filled up the hollow hole, and my heart returned to its proper place in my chest, putting me back together again.

Not wanting to risk it, I decided it was best to leave around nine o’clock. Evan volunteered to drive me home. Sara hugged me good night and said she’d see me in the morning. Evan looked up from putting on his jacket when she said this.

“I liked picking you up,” Evan admitted when we stepped outside. “Although you were less talkative than usual, I actually looked forward to seeing you first thing in the morning.”

“Sorry. You’ll have to be satisfied with seeing me in just about every class instead.”

“It’s good that you and Sara are okay,” he said during the drive to my house. “How’d it happen?”

“I made her listen.” He smiled at my response.

~~~~~

 

The next week continued like the time without Sara was just a hiccup. Sara and I were inseparable again. Evan still walked me to class, but became absent during the second part of the day when I had lunch and study with Sara. I noticed the first couple of days and couldn’t figure out why I was bothered by it.

We did things together as the three of us, and occasionally four when Jason joined after school. Coach let us watch the second half of the guys’ quarter final game on Thursday, which they lost. Evan was crushed, but he recovered when I told him that I wasn’t expected home until nine o’clock.

Weslyn won the soccer game that Friday with a score of four to three. I contributed two of the scores, which was fortunate since three scouts were in attendance. I was assured by Coach Peña that I played well and that I’d be hearing from them. I could only hope.

Sara joined Evan and me that Sunday for our library day. I think she was trying to make up for lost time, which made me happy. But I noticed the surprise on Evan’s face when Sara pulled up behind his car. I don’t know what Evan had initially planned, but once he saw Sara was joining us, he suggested we go back to his place to play pool.

Sara and I were a team and played against Evan. Of course, he still beat us. Despite his initial reaction, Evan didn’t show any signs that he wasn’t happy to have Sara there. While we played, Sara instigated a plan for the following weekend. She figured I’d be able to sleep over at her house on Friday for the championship game, assuming we won the semi-finals on Tuesday. I wasn’t convinced since it was a five o’clock game and wouldn’t warrant me having to stay out past my curfew.

Sara wanted to think of a way for me to stay Saturday as well, so we’d have Saturday and then Sunday day together. Evan glanced at me when she mentioned Sunday, but he didn’t openly object. I let Sara go on with her pretend plans, because I knew it wasn’t going to happen. The only day that had a chance was my usual library visit on Sunday.

Everything changed that night when George told me, “We’re taking the kids skiing next weekend. Janet said you could stay with her.”

My stomach dropped. Janet lived two towns away, and there was no way I would be able to play in the game on Friday, forget about go to the library on Sunday.

“The championship game is Friday night,” I said urgently. Carol glared at me.

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