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Waiting for Friday





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"Did I totally screw up last night?" my mother asked as she poured her coffee. "I did. I completely embarrassed you. I was nervous, and I drank too much wine, then told too many stories. I am so sorry, Emily. Tell Evan―"

"Mom, I mean, Rachel." She looked up at me with her lips pressed together. "It was fine. I promise."

"You didn't look fine," she recalled, eyeing me nervously. "You looked mortified."

"I wasn't." I smiled in attempt to make her feel better.

Her nervous guilt got the better of her, so she questioned, "Are you sure?"

I didn't know how else to convince her, so I just nodded.

"I'm sorry I can't make it to your game this afternoon."

"I understand. You have to work."

"Do you mind that I invited myself to Evan's game? Was that a bad idea? I really want to see him play. I was honest about that."

"It's okay," I laughed, wanting her to take a breath before she fell over. "You were great. Really. And I don't mind if you go to his game on Saturday. You can bring Jonathan too, if you want."

Her eyes shifted away from me and fell to her coffee cup.

"What?" I pushed, noticing the pinch between her brows.

"I'm not sure what's going on with him," she murmured. "I think he's keeping something from me." My chest panged to see her so distraught. "Does he say anything to you, you know, when you're up at night?"

I shook my head, not confident that I could answer her. After all, I would be lying.

"What do you talk about?” She asked it like she was being left out of a secret club or something.

"Not much really," I offered. "Sports, commercials, how we wish we could sleep."

"Do you know why he can't sleep?" She watched me closely. I shrugged and looked away. "He doesn't tell me anything. We don't really talk about our pasts. It's good, you know, because it hurts me to think about it, but I wish he could trust me enough to tell me something."

I nodded, my voice paralyzed with guilt. I felt like the worst daughter in the world. I should have told her that he was moving to California. That he had a painful past too that was hard for him to share. I should have let her know that it had nothing to do with her and that he really cared about her. But she'd probably wonder why he was telling me all this and not her. And then I wouldn't know what to sayespecially since I wasn't sure how to explain why I've talked with him about things I've been avoiding with anyone else in my life. So I stayed silent, watching her face twist with uncertainty and doubt.

"When do you see him again?"

"Friday," she answered with a sigh. "I'll ask him about the game then."

"I'm sure it's nothing," I finally said, feeling even more horrible for trying to comfort her with a lie.

"Well, I should go," she acknowledged, looking at the microwave clock. "Text me the score, okay?"

I nodded, and as I watched her walk out of the kitchen, I could feel the heat turning in my gut. I was angry with Jonathan. Angry that he put me in this situation. Angry that my mother was being tormented by his inability to just tell her the truth.

I pulled out my phone and texted him, You have to tell her!

I received a response when I arrived at school, In NYC til Friday―I will, promise!

Friday couldn't come fast enough.

 

"Hey!" I heard when I opened the door that night. "So happy you won!" I found my mother on the couch, curled up with a wine glass in her hand, still in her work clothes.

"Hi," I responded solemnly, dropping my things by the stairs.

"That's an excited face," she noted sarcastically, leaning forward to pick up the wine bottle and empty it into her glass. "Everything okay?"

"Yeah," I replied unconvincingly. I wasn't up for talking about seeing Analise by Evan's side after the game tonight, and how miserable I was that he'd offered to drive her home when I was hoping to spend some time with him. I didn't want to feel this way... jealous. And there wasn't any reason I should. But the rationale didn't relieve the slithering in my stomach every time she looked up at him with her big Bambi eyes. So, I deflected, "How are you doing?"

My mother laughed humorlessly. "I'm fucking great."

She couldn't see my face as I closed my eyes and grit my teeth, picking up the intonation in her voice. She was drunk.

Instead of going to my room to work on my English paper as I had intended, I joined her on the couch, hoping to comfort her enough so she wouldn't keep drinking.

"It was my highest scoring game," I told her, trying to assess just how far over the edge she was. Her head swiveled toward me, rocking slightly. She smiled lazily, the effort pushing her eyes into slits. She was pretty far gone.

"That's awesome, Emily," she praised in her drunken drawl. "I wish I could have seen it." She took a long sip of her wine, keeping her eyes closed for a moment after she'd removed the glass.

"Sorry about this," she gestured to herself. "I didn't have dinner, so it got to me."

I nodded, wanting to take the wine glass out of her hand. Instead, she drained it in two large gulps. I widened my eyes as she tipped her head back, determined to get every last drop.

"I'll take that for you," I offered, holding out my hand.

"Thanks," she smiled, her teeth tinged purple. She handed me the glass and I took it into the kitchen, finding a second empty bottle on the counter. I sighed with a shake of my head and set the glass in the sink.

My phone beeped. Can I come over?

I hesitated, not sure how to tell Evan "no" without it coming across wrong. Trying to get this paper done. See you tomorrow, okay? I looked to the bottle again and pressed Send. I didn't want him to see this. To see her.

Okay, he texted back. I returned the phone to my pocket as I walked back into the living room.

"You must think I'm pathetic," she uttered, her heavy tongue making her words jumbled. She ran her hand across her face, clumsily pushing her hair behind her ear. "That I'm like this over a guy."

"I don't think that," I said calmly. I watched as she breathed in deeply through her nose with her eyes closed, having a hard time forcing them open. "Why don't I help you upstairs to bed?"

"Yeah," she breathed, "getting tired. Should've eaten."

I offered her my hand to help her from the couch. She grabbed onto it and hoisted herself up, swaying slightly. "Whoa, head rush."

I shut everything off―the disappointment, the frustration, the anger―and just focused on getting her up the stairs without wiping out. She crawled into the bed, and I removed her shoes before covering her. She pulled the blankets under her chin and looked up at me guiltily.

"It's not because I like him so much," she offered. "That's not it. I mean I do like him a lot." She took a deep breath, her eyes watering. I swallowed hard, stung by the sadness surfacing in her eyes.

"I don't want to be alone." Her lower lip quivered, and she rolled away from me.

Her words punched me in the chest. Her back shook as she began to cry. I bit my lip and hesitated, tempted to touch her, to try to console her. But I quietly walked out the door, shutting it behind me.

My mother's sobs could be heard through the door. Still incapacitated by her words, I slid down the door frame and hugged my knees into my chest. The anger and disappointment were replaced with heartache. Tears slid down my cheeks as I listened to her cry.

I'd done this before. We'd done this before. I spent most of my childhood listening to her cry. Her cries haunted me, still echoing through my head when I tried to sleep that night.

~~~~~

 

 

"Are you okay?"

"Huh?" I shook out of my stupor to find my locker door wide open and Sara staring at me.

"You've been staring in your locker for forever and haven't touched anything. What's going on?"

"Didn't sleep much," I replied. My mother's cries were still ringing in my head. Half-forgotten memories pulled at me, the nights of tantrums, full of rage and pain―I used to hide under my covers, shaking. I blinked to force myself back into the bustling halls.

"What else is new?" she grinned, bumping me with her shoulder. "Want to sleep over tonight?"

I opened my mouth to say yes, but I didn't. Jonathan wouldn't be back until tomorrow, and I wasn't so sure it was a good idea to leave my mother home alone.

"How about Saturday?" I offered instead.

"Okay." Sara closed her locker and headed to class. I grabbed my books and went to the computer lab, skipping Political Theory to get my English assignment done. The assignment I never touched last night.

I fought through the rest of the day and faked pleasantries with Analise in Art class, wishing the nail assignment was done already so Evan could take back his place next to me.

"Are you staying for Evan's game tonight?" she asked, bright and eager.

I nodded. I didn't bother to ask if she was staying, because I already knew that answer.

"Maybe we can sit together," she chirped happily.

"Maybe," I forced pleasantly, not looking up from aggressively hammering the nail into place.

Her sunshine and rainbows smile was too bright for my emotional hangover. I was afraid I'd have to squint to look at her, so I kept my head down―making it look like I was concentrating on my work. She let me be for the rest of class.

Evan was waiting for me at my locker with his backpack over his shoulder.

"Hi," he said with a smile that shook me from my funk.

"I'm so happy to see your face right now," I sighed, throwing my arms around his ribs and burying my head into his chest. I inhaled and let his clean scent release the tension in my shoulders.

"Uh, okay." He laughed and squeezed me back. "Bad day?"

"Something like that." My face was still pressed into him, muffling my words.

"What are you doing after my game?"

I looked up, my arms still wrapped around him. "I have practice."

"That's right," he remembered. "We're getting something to eat after, and I was hoping you would come."

"Sorry," I offered with a grimace, finally releasing him. "But I'll see you tomorrow night after my game, right?"

"Of course," he smiled. "It's our date. Are you going home first to change, or are you doing that here?"

"I was hoping to shower at home. Is that okay? Or will that make us late?"

"No, that's not a problem. I need to do the same thing anyway. That should give you enough time, don't you think?"

"Yes," I responded, finally finding a reason to smile for the first time all day. "That sounds perfect." It was still all about waiting for Friday―for my date with Evan, and for Jonathan to come home to... tell my mother he was moving to California. But I refused to think about that part. I would deal with the repercussions of his talk with her after my date with Evan.

 

I kept Jill and Sara in between Analise and me during Evan's game. But it was hard to ignore her gleeful yelps whenever he'd block a shot or rebound the ball. Sara cocked her head toward Analise after a particularly enthusiastic round of cheering. She looked to me, about to say something, but I shook my head with a roll of my eyes. Sara laughed, reading my thoughts without a word.

"Are you coming with us for pizza?" Analise asked me as we made our way down the bleachers.

"I have practice," I told her, not thrilled that she was a part of the "we" Evan mentioned.

"Don't worry, I'll be there," Sara gushed in return, her smile a little too forced.

"Oh," Analise replied, her joy faltering slightly, "great."

Sara turned to me behind Analise's back with a wide mimicking smile, "Great."

I laughed and swatted her arm, "Don't be mean."

"Yeah, you're right." She groaned like it was difficult. "I'll be nice, I promise."

Sara was the easiest person in the world to get along with, and most people loved her instantly. But if she didn't like you... she could be vicious. She and I both knew that there was nothing particularly unlikable about Analise, but for some reason, we both found ourselves not exactly fond of her. I was actually kind of relieved that I wasn't the only one to harbor these inexplicable feelings toward the spritely girl who was eternally smiling.

"Evan, you were amazing," Analise praised merrily.

"Thanks," he responded. Finding me behind her, his eyes locked with mine. I squeezed by her and kissed him on the lips, despite the sweat that pressed against my cheeks. He exhaled slowly when I pulled away, "Thanks," he grinned, squeezing my hand.

"I should get ready for practice," I told him. "See you tomorrow?"

"I'll wait for you in the lobby," Analise told him, interrupting us.

"Okay, sure," Evan responded, glancing at her quickly. "I'll be a few minutes, but I'll find you."

I looked from Analise's blonde curls to Evan.

"I drove her," Evan explained, noticing the confusion on my face. I could only nod, afraid of what might spew out of my mouth if I opened it. He leaned down and kissed me again, "I'll see you tomorrow."

When I walked toward the locker room, my phone beeped.

Pathetic me going out with the girls after work. So so sorry about last night. Jonathan's back tomorrow―Yay! Promise to be good tonight!

Yup. Friday couldn't come fast enough.

 


20. No Such Thing as "Normal"

 

Nothing was going to keep me from enjoying every second of our date―nothing. Not Analise and her adorableness, or the fact that she had to sit next to Evan throughout my entire game―yes, I'd noticed. Not the fact that I hadn’t slept last night because I stayed up listening for my mother to come home. And when she finally did, she was staggering and giddy. And not even the fact that I was running late because I left my lights on in the parking lot and Jill had to jump start my car. I was determined to have an amazing night.

I jiggled my key free from the front door and slammed it behind me, barely noticing as I raced up that my mother had left the lights on at the top of the stairs. I flipped off my sneakers and flung them across my room, peeled off my socks and left them on the floor, then threw my sweaty game jersey in the hamper. I was struck with déjà vu―recognizing how similar this felt to the night Evan took me to the concert. All that was missing was Jonathan walking through the door unexpectedly.

I ran to the bathroom in my shorts and a sports bra, pushing open the door and shutting it behind me in one swift motion. And then I stopped in my tracks. Irony punching me in the face…

"Hey?" Jonathan stood in front of me gripping the waistband of his running pants, his dark brown eyes staring at me in shock.

"Uh, sorry," I gaped, instinctively crossing my arms over my chest as I stood immobilized in front of the door. Sweat ran down the side of his face, along the tendons of his thick neck and over the grooves of his broad shoulders and sculpted chest. His face was still flushed and his sweaty t-shirt was crumpled on the bathroom floor. I clamped my mouth shut―it had inadvertently flopped open. "I didn't know you were here."

I quickly turned around and gripped the handle of the door. I had started to open it when Evan called out, "Em? I'm here."

I clicked the door shut. "Shit," I said through clenched teeth, banging my forehead against the frame. "Uh, I'm running late," I hollered through the door. "I'll be down in a little bit."

"Okay," he responded.

I breathed with my head still pressed against the wood, trying to figure out what to do.

"Wow," Jonathan breathed behind me, "this is awkward."

I spun around and glared at him. "You think?"

"So... you have a date?" he asked casually like we weren't standing in front of each other half naked and sweaty.

"Jonathan!" I scolded with wide eyes. "What am I supposed to do? How do I explain you coming out of the bathroom while I'm supposed to be taking a shower?!" I was on the verge of hyperventilating.

"It's okay," Jonathan soothed. But his comical expression lingered. "Just take a shower."

"What?!" I snapped, a little too loudly, then covered my mouth with my hand and listened, praying my voice hadn't carried downstairs. I heard the squeak of the front door and the rattling of the glass when it closed.

"Evan?" my mother acknowledged. "How are you? Where's Emily?"

My eyes couldn't stretch any wider without popping out of my head. Jonathan let out a small laugh, and my mouth dropped open in disbelief.

"She's taking a shower," he told her. "I guess she got held up after the game and she’s running late."

"Emily!" my mother bellowed, the creaks of the stairs drawing closer. "Are you almost done?"

The handle jiggled, and the door started to push open. I thrust my back against it, slamming it in her face.

"Hey!" she cried out.

"Sorry," I grimaced, latching the door so she couldn't open it. "I'm about to get in the shower. Do you need to get in here?"

"I can wait," she told me. "Have you seen Jonathan? He was supposed to be here by now."

I stared across from me as he pressed his mouth into a smile to keep from laughing. I was so annoyed I wanted to throw something at him.

"Uh, no," I replied, "but I didn't really look for him either."

Jonathan couldn't hold back and let out a constrained, breathy laugh.

"Stop!" I mouthed, my brows pulled together in warning. He only smiled wider.

"Okay, well, Evan's waiting for you."

"I know. I'll hurry." I closed my eyes and shook my head, knowing I had no choice. When I heard her walk away, I whispered, "Fine. I'll take a shower, but you have to stand by the door."

"Don't worry," he smirked, "I won't peek."

"Funny," I snapped sarcastically. "We have to switch spots so I can get to the shower. Please don't make this any more awkward than it already is."

In order to exchange places in this closet of a bathroom, I had to shimmy past him, pressed between the bathtub and the sink.

I turned my head to the side, inching past him with my stomach sucked in to avoid touching him. I could feel his hot breath on my neck and inhaled the mix of sweat and a crisp cologne that reminded me of the ocean. His slick skin slid across mine, despite my efforts to be as small as possible.

Jonathan chuckled from above me. I tilted my head up, our faces inches apart. "We have to stop meeting like this," he teased. I pulled past him quickly, my heart racing.

I picked up his damp t-shirt and threw it at him, making him laugh even more. I shook my head in exasperation and stepped into the tub just as Jonathan turned toward the door. I secured the shower curtain and stripped off the rest of my clothes, my heart beating so fast I was still sweating.

I cracked the curtain enough to drop my damp clothes in front of the toilet before turning on the water. It was the fastest shower of my life―and I'd been forced to take some pretty quick showers. I somehow managed to wash my hair and body at the same time.

When I turned off the water, I peeked out from behind the curtain, but Jonathan was gone. The door was closed but the latch was undone. I took a deep breath and grabbed for the towel.

"Jonathan?" my mother's confused voice trailed up the stairs. "You've been here this whole time?"

Realizing I hadn't brought any clothes in the bathroom with me, I took my mother's bathrobe off the hook on the closet door and secured it around me.

"I was using Emily's computer," he explained calmly. He was a very convincing liar, I almost believed him. "I was on a video chat with the office, so I couldn't get off when you came in. Sorry."

Without listening to whether or not my mother bought his story, I opened the door and scurried to my room, catching a quick glimpse of Jonathan watching me out of the corner of my eye. I thought I noticed him grin. My face continued to radiate heat.

"I'm out of the bathroom," I called behind me, shutting my door.

"I'm going to take a shower, okay? I didn't get to after my run," I heard Jonathan tell her from outside my room.

I plugged in my hair dryer and let the hum block it all out―the lying, the hint of suspicion in my mother's tone, the racing beat of my heart that hadn't quite recovered from being stuck in the bathroom with Jonathan.

I could hear music playing downstairs when I turned off the hair dryer, and the water was running in the bathroom. I gathered my hair and pinned it into a bun at the nape of my neck―the only design of Sara's I was able to replicate fairly well. I retrieved the dress from the back of my closet and removed the plastic cover with a smile. I knew this was going to be perfect for our normal date.

I took a deep breath, inspecting myself once more in the full length mirror, swishing the hemline of the red empire dress as I turned side to side. I tried to find the calm that would return the shade of my skin to its natural tone. As long as I didn't see Jonathan before we left, I thought I should be okay.

I finally emerged from my room, somewhat composed. I could hear Evan and my mother talking in the living room where the music was playing. From the sounds of it, she was providing her own version of Storytellers, with animated tales of the bands she'd seen and the insanity that had ensued.

The skirt of the dress brushed against my thighs as my hand slid along the railing. Hearing my footsteps, Evan stepped into the foyer. His eyes lit up, calming me instantly. Then I heard the sound of the door opening behind me. I refused to turn back, fearful of being enveloped in flames.

"You look so beautiful, Emily," my mother sung with a smile on her face.

"Yeah," trickled through the air, barely audible. I'd expected it to come from Evan, but the word drifted down the stairs, and I almost faltered on a step.

Evan reached out, prepared to catch me, but I steadied myself again and offered an embarrassed smile. "Still not the best in heels."

"I won't let you fall," Evan promised, taking my hand when I reached the bottom. I smiled, knowing he wouldn't.

"Hello, you," my mother said excitedly as she scrambled up the stairs toward Jonathan. My cue to get my jacket.

Evan helped put it on, and when I turned to say good-bye, my mother had both arms around Jonathan, holding him tightly like he might float away. He stood, watching us, with his arm casually draped over her shoulders.

"Bye," we both offered. I turned and was out the door before they could respond. I heard my mother say, "Have fun," before Evan shut the door.

“That’s one of my favorite things,” Evan said out of nowhere, backing out of the driveway.

“What’s that?” I questioned, my thoughts replaying my mother’s giddy excitement and Jonathan’s ambivalence. I couldn't help but be worried for her. I fought my way back into the car, with Evan.

“Watching you come down the stairs.” Evan rested his hand on mine, thrusting my heart to life in a whirling flutter.

We drove to a restaurant a few towns over along the waterfront. I practically floated in, tethered by the warmth of Evan's hand. We were seated at a corner table overlooking the water. I was beginning to like "normal dates."

"What happened after the game?" Evan asked after we'd placed our drink orders.

"Oh, I left my lights on and my battery was dead. Jill had to jump start my car. I should have called you to tell you I was late, but I was too focused on getting home to get ready. Sorry about that."

"It's not a problem," Evan assured warmly. "I learned a lot about your mother's concert going experiences while I waited." He let out a quick laugh, but I could only nod―not finding her adventurous life all that amusing, especially when it took place after she'd abandoned me.

The server returned with our drinks and we placed our order. The harmonious notes of a quartet swirled through the air, enveloping the hum of conversation. I could've easily been convinced that we were the only two in the restaurant. The candles’ glow softened the angles of Evan's face and reflected in his eyes. He reached over the table and took my hand, giving it a small squeeze that I felt in my chest.

"You know, I don't know that much about the guys in California," I said, after I was able to form sentences again. "Will you tell me about them?"

Evan smiled at the request. "Sure." He paused for a moment then started with, "Well, there's Brent. He's very... easy to get along with. He thinks he's better with the girls than he is, and always wants the best outcome in every situation.

"Ren is the most laid back guy I've ever met. He lives and breathes surfing, and I'm convinced he'd sleep on the beach on top of his board if he could. He would do anything for anyone, doesn't matter if he knows them or not―if he can help out, he will. I'm lucky to know him.

"Then there's TJ," Evan paused with a smirk, deliberating how to describe him. "He’s a lot to take, but he's always entertaining, and some of the things he gets away with make us laugh for days. But he's still a good friend, regardless of how many times we'd like to throw him in the ocean.

"And that leaves Nate. Nate's my best friend. I trust him with... well, everything. I'd trust him with you if we ever needed to." His eyes connected with mine, and a pang shot through my chest, suddenly realizing what he meant. "That's where we were to going to go. Where we should have gone. His family has a summer place in Santa Barbara that they hardly ever go to, even in the summer. The guys basically take it over after school's out. I'm hoping we can spend at least a week there before you need to be on campus for soccer."

"I'd like that," I replied just as the server set the entrees in front of us. "I wish―"

My words were cut off by, “I will not lower my voice.”

We followed the outburst across the room to find a man in a dark suit arguing with the maître d', who was bent over and speaking lowly to him. The woman across from him darted her eyes around the room in embarrassed apology. She handed the server the check and gathered her purse.

“Come, Roger. It’s time to take me home,” she implored. All movement and conversation ceased, to watch the spectacle.

I turned my back to the couple, empathizing with the woman, who looked like she wanted to crawl under the table. "I guess I'll never understand it," I mused under my breath with a shake of my head.

"What's that?" Evan encouraged.

I lifted my eyes, realizing he'd heard me. "Why people drink, I guess. It just seems to make them stupid. They end up saying something they regret or acting like an idiot. I just don't get it."

"Well, there is such a thing as moderation," Evan offered.

I nodded, recalling seeing Evan drink without acting out of control. "Have you ever been drunk?"

Evan laughed. "Yes. I have. And it's not pretty either. I'm sure I've qualified as the idiot a few too many times."

"Really?" I was surprised by his answer. I couldn't even imagine it.

"It doesn't happen very often. I actually haven't been drunk in a while. I don't really like how it makes me feel, especially the next day. Have you ever had a drink?"

I shook my head. I didn't want to recount the sips I'd taken at the parties my mother threw. I was too young to know better, so as far as I was concerned, they didn't count. "Don't think I ever will. Besides I have no desire to have my face splattered across Facebook doing something humiliating. I already get too much attention.”

Evan let out a short laugh.

“What do you want to do on Sunday?” I asked, changing the subject.

“Want to go hiking?” he offered. “It’s not supposed to be cold, and it’s better to go now while there’s still snow, before it gets muddy.”

“Sure,” I responded. Fresh air and the calm of the woods were the perfect escape from everything and everyone in Weslyn. I just needed to survive the next night’s basketball game, alongside my mother, before I could get there. “I'd like that.”

 

When we returned to Evan’s car after dinner, I offered, "Do you want to go back to my house to watch a movie? I'm pretty sure my mother and Jonathan will be out."

"That sounds perfect," Evan replied.

We stopped at a movie rental machine on our way, and arrived to a dark house as I'd anticipated. Not bothering to change, I just took off my shoes and settled in under Evan's arm. We kept the lights off. The action movie cast a flickering light in the dark room.

Halfway through, we heard a car door shut in the driveway. I glanced at Evan in surprise. "They're back early."

That's when we heard the yelling. I tensed at the sound of my mother's elevated voice, not wanting Evan to see her like this. I could hear Jonathan calling after her.

She rushed through the door. "Then explain it. Go ahead, I want to hear it." She held something in her hand. Evan pulled me closer as my entire body went rigid. "How the fuck did her sweater get in your truck?"

Jonathan stepped in and looked from my mother to us sitting on the couch. That's when it hit me. She was holding the sweater I was certain I'd left at Drew's. "I thought it was yours," he offered lowly, shifting his eyes between me and my mother.

My mother turned toward us, realizing we were watching the entire scene. Her jaw was tight and her eyes enlarged, symptomatic of a full-out fit. I had a split second to evaluate her. If she was drunk, everything was about to explode.

She shook the green sweater at me. "I thought you said you left it at your fucking ex-boyfriend's." It wasn't a question. It was an accusation.

I couldn't move. I had no idea what to say. I could feel Evan looking at me, waiting for me to answer. Jonathan kept his eyes on me as well, attempting to silently apologize. I was still trying to make sense of what was happening, and how he could possibly have my sweater.

"I know there's something going on," my mother glared at us accusingly. "I'm not stupid." When we could only stare at her speechlessly, she screamed, "You can all go to hell!” stomping up the stairs and slamming her door so hard I wouldn't doubt it cracked.

"I'm really sorry," Jonathan offered. "We had... we had a bad night, so she's not thinking clearly."

My chest caved. He told her. He had to have told her he was leaving, and that was why she was so upset. It didn't explain the sweater, but it explained enough. Jonathan disappeared into the kitchen.

"Do you want to go?" Evan asked in my ear. I nodded. We stood and I slipped on my shoes while Evan retrieved our jackets. He held my hand as we walked out the front door.

My chest hurt, and I was having a hard time forming thoughts. As we neared his car, I started to worry. I couldn't tell exactly how drunk my mother was in her tirade, but I knew she was hurt. And when she was hurt...

I stopped. "I can't go."

"What do you mean?" Evan was completely confounded.

"I have to stay," I told him with a grimace. "She's upset, and I need to be here for her."

"She needs to calm down," Evan explained, not following my logic.

"Yeah, you're right. But I need to be here for her when she does."

Evan studied me for a moment. "I don't really know what just went on in there, but it wasn't good. Are you sure you don't just want to give them time to sort it out?"

"She needs me," was all I could think, and I couldn't leave knowing she might get worse in my absence.

"I'll stay with you," he said, squeezing my hand.

"No," I countered, causing him to cock his head. "It's complicated. Besides, you don't need to see this. I'll see you tomorrow, okay?"

Evan didn't say anything. It was obvious he was completely disturbed by the entire scenario, and I knew he didn't want to leave me.

"It'll be fine, I promise," I offered with a faint smile, then attempted to downplay it. "It's a girl thing. She's having boy trouble, so... that's it. She's going to need a girl to talk to, okay?"

Evan took a breath and nodded reluctantly. "Alright. Call me if you need me for anything, okay? Even if it's in the middle of the night and you just need to talk."

I leaned up and kissed him. "I will." I was about to walk away when he pulled me back toward him and kissed me again, gripping me tightly like he was afraid to let me go. "I'll call you, okay?" I whispered, out of breath. He nodded and I walked back toward the house.

I pressed my back against the door when I shut it behind me, staring up at her room in deliberation.

"She's drunk," Jonathan confirmed from the dark of the living room. "She's probably passed out already."

"Great," I grumbled, wanting to slide down to the floor―emotionally drained from my mother's tirade. I pulled off my shoes. "I'm going to bed." I had a thousand questions for him about what had happened tonight, but I was too deflated to talk about it. Whatever happened, it brought out a side in her that was angry and spiteful. A side that made my insides shudder. All I wanted was to shut it out with the blanket pulled up over my head.

"She told me she loved me," Jonathan's voice broke through the stillness. I turned toward him. "She told me she loved me, and I told her I was leaving."

I sunk onto the bottom step, absorbing what he'd just said. He walked over and sat next to me. I continued to stare at the floor.

"She was upset at first. She wanted to know how long I'd kept if from her, if I was just using her. She started drinking... a lot. Then she started to cry." He paused. "When she calmed down, we talked and decided that we still wanted to see each other, and would try it until I had to leave."

I turned toward him. "Why did you do that?" My voice was sharp and angry.

"What do you mean?" His face twisted in confusion.

"You're only making it worse by leading her on," I accused harshly.

"I'm not."

"Yes, you are," I countered in agitation. "Can't you see how messed up she is? You can't give her something and then tell her she can't really have it."

"That's not what's going on," he defended, his voice growing stronger.

I shook my head, then dropped it to my chest.

"I'm sorry, Emma," Jonathan offered softly.

I was too angry to hear him. I stood up and climbed the stairs to my room without looking back. I turned on the light, and my stomach clenched at the sight of my green sweater lying on my bed, cut up and mangled into shreds.

 


Drama

 

 

Jonathan wasn’t around in the morning. Neither was my mother. I was still too upset to face either of them.

My mother returned around noon with a shopping bag in her hand.

"I'm really sorry," she said unable to meet my eyes as she set the shopping bag on the couch next to me. She hesitated a moment, fidgeting with her hands and shifting uncomfortably. Without saying anything more, she turned and went up to her room.

I watched after her until she disappeared, then opened the bag and pulled out a green sweater. It wasn't the same one. But that wasn't the point.

"Thanks," I said from the entrance of her bedroom as she folded clothes from the laundry basket and stuffed them into her drawers.

"Are you mad at me?" She sounded small and fragile.

"No," I returned with a small smile.

"Can I still go to the game tonight?" Her blue eyes were big and sorrowful; her lower lip stuck out in an exaggerated pout.

"Yes," I laughed lightly at her comical expression―reminiscent of a child getting caught for coloring on the walls.

“Great! What are you doing after the game tonight?” My mother asked, her voice suddenly peppy and excited.

“Uh, I’m not sure,” I fumbled, still not used to the quick flip of her moods. “Jill and Casey were talking about going to a party; Sarah’s at Cornell again visiting Jared. But Evan and I haven’t made any commitments.”

I leaned against the door frame.

“You can come in,” my mother encouraged, hanging up her clothes in the closet.

I hadn’t really seen my mother’s room before. It was always dark when I'd entered to help her to bed. It was simply decorated with white curtains hanging on the windows. The leaf patterned comforter splayed across her bed was still rumpled, as if she'd made it by pulling the comforter over the distressed sheets.

A dresser with a mirror sat across from the bed with necklaces dangling from the mirror’s edges. Perfume bottles and rings were scattered on its scratched surface. A framed picture caught my eye.

“I’m not sure what to wear tonight,” she sighed.

“It’s just a basketball game, so jeans work,” I advised, picking up the frame to examine it more closely. It wasn’t a picture at all, but a drawing done in pencil. The shading and detailing were phenomenal. I brought it closer to inspect the strokes of the artist’s work.

“Yeah, but I'm hoping―” She stopped to watch me. I quickly set the portrait down, afraid that I’d upset her by touching her things.

“You can look at it,” she encouraged.

I picked up the frame again and looked from the drawing to her, realizing it was my mother captured in a laugh, done before the stress around her eyes and lines around her mouth had formed. Her happiness was evident. I couldn’t help but smile looking at it.

“You don’t remember that drawing, do you?” she asked, studying me. My eyes twitched, puzzled by her question. “Your father drew that, back before you were born. You used to stare at that picture all the time when you were little.”

“I did?”

“Derek drew pictures for you too. You’d sit at the kitchen table and he’d ask what your favorite part of the day was, and then he’d draw it for you. You had his drawings plastered all over your room. Don’t you remember?”

I scanned the floor, searching my memory, wanting to recall the moments she spoke of. I could hear laughter, and catch a glimpse of his face, but the memories refused to form. I shook my head, knitting my brows together in frustration.

“Do you remember anything?” my mother inquired, her tone was careful. She examined my confused face like she was just as confounded. "You mean you don't... remember... What I went through when... Why you had to go..."

I was unable to follow her cryptic sentences. She shook her head slowly and stared into the distance, or perhaps the past. She closed her eyes and swallowed, then composed herself easily, not a trace of distress left upon her face.

“Want to go out to dinner before the game? It’s at seven, right?”

I couldn't answer for a moment. Completely confused by what I'd just witnessed. “Yes it is. And sure, why not.” I tried to smile but faltered, still disturbed by the sheen in her eyes that she was trying to smile away. I decided not to ask what I should be remembering. Not today.

“I should get some homework done since Evan and I are going hiking tomorrow. Let me know when you’re ready to leave.”

“Okay,” she replied, going back to her closet.

I closed my door and sat on my bed, replaying the stunned look on her face when she realized I couldn't remember anything. I'd never been aware of how little I could recall from my childhood. I was always so determined to focus on my future and getting out of Weslyn. I'd held on to the feelings of being safe and happy for so long. That had always been enough for me. But now, I wanted to remember. Somehow it was important that I figure out what happened in the blank spaces of my life.

I opened my closet and reached for the stack of pictures under my sweatshirts on the shelf. I laid them on my bed and returned to my door to slide the lock in place, concerned how my mother would react if she saw I'd kept the pictures she’d smashed at the bottom of the stairs.

I sat on my bed and slowly flipped through the images. There was a photo of my father holding me right after I was born; another of me on his lap while sitting on the rocking chair, holding a book. I ran my finger along his cheering face, as we kicked a soccer ball back and forth. He looked so happy. We looked so happy. My mother wasn’t in a single picture. I could only assume she was the one taking them.

There were others of the two of them, laughing and obviously in love. I expected to see a wedding picture, but there wasn't one. I figured she'd kept those safe somewhere, or I hoped anyway.

After examining every detail of each photo, I lay back on my bed and shut my eyes. I tried to conjure up an image, begging for the vault to open. But nothing came―not a single moment. I sighed in frustration and slid the photos back under the sweatshirts.

I went downstairs and turned on the television, but my focus kept drifting toward the rocking chair. I did remember the chair―that was something. I thought of the picture of my father reading to me in it, and tried to picture the actual moment. Nothing.

“Ready?”

I jumped, suddenly pulled out of my head. My mother slid her arms in her coat, studying me oddly.

“What are you thinking about?” she asked, trying to read my face.

“Nothing.” I shook my head. Maybe it was better not to remember.

I noted my mother’s choice of a tight denim mini skirt with leggings. She did take my advice to wear jeans, but not quite in the way I’d hoped. Considering her daring attire, I hoped I could convince her to sit in the parents’ section, although that wasn’t exactly a gossip-free zone either.

For dinner, we ended up at a small crowded pub, where college basketball games on the screens incited spontaneous hollers from the patrons.

"I don't know if Jonathan's coming tonight," she told me after ordering a beer from the overly-friendly server. Her face was drawn as she stared at the menu. "I was so awful last night."

"He told me about going to USC in the fall," I consoled. "I'm sure that was hard for you. I know how much you like him."

"I thought I fell for him," she admitted, setting down her menu with a sigh. "I don't know. I'm so confused. A part of me wants to end it and move on since it's going to end anyway. But the other part knows how much I'll miss him, and if I can still be with him for five more months, then why not?" She looked to me in expectation. "What do you think I should do?"

I hesitated, not sure what to say. "Whatever will make you happiest," I finally offered.

"That sounds easier than it is," she sighed. "It's going to hurt either way. I hope he comes tonight. I apologized to him like a million times today. He said he'd try, but he has a project due at work, so he wasn't sure if he could make it.

"And I'm sorry about accusing you of... you know."

I took a sip of my water, hoping we were going to avoid that part of last night.

“It’s just that I know you two get along. I hear you talking and laughing in the middle of the night. Sometimes I think he waits to hear you get up before he goes downstairs―like he doesn't even try to sleep. I know that sounds paranoid and crazy. I mean, you're my daughter, and...”

“He wouldn't do that,” I consoled, freaked by her jealous thoughts. "Besides, we really don't talk about anything interesting, I swear. Maybe you should ask him... you know, about his nightmare."

"I've tried." She paused to let the server set our burgers in front of us. "Does he tell you what it's about?"

I shook my head.

“He’s been distant lately. I think I screwed up and he's not going to want to be with me, not even for the short time before he leaves. I mean, we haven’t had sex in over a week.”

I about choked up the bite of cheeseburger I’d just swallowed.

"Sorry," she grimaced. "That was probably too much information."

"A little," I admitted with a cough.

 

When we arrived at the school Jonathan wasn’t there, as my mother had anticipated. I couldn’t bring myself to ask her to sit away from the students’ section after watching her face drop when she received Jonathan’s text.

“He’s running late,” she muttered, dropping her phone into her purse. “I know he's not coming.”

“Maybe he didn’t get what he needed done for work yet,” I offered, trying to cheer her up. My words bounced right off as if they were never said.

We bought sodas at the concession stand and made our way to the bleachers.

“Hey, Rachel!” a few voices hollered.

“Hi, Mark! Hi, James!” she yelled back with a bright smile, her sullen mood masked instantly.

“You know people?” I questioned in disbelief.

“Where do you think I sit during your games?”

“Oh,” I mouthed, never considering it before. I was shocked when more faces recognized her. She knew more people in my school than I did.

“Hi, Rachel,” Casey burst out, cutting across the bleachers to get to us, with Jill right behind her. “What are you doing here?”

“Watching Evan,” my mother explained. Casey nodded like it made sense.

“Hey, Emma,” Jill greeted, sitting next to Casey, who opted to sit next to my mother. I was starting to feel like a stranger even amongst my friends―who evidently preferred my mother over me.

“Where’s Jonathan?” Jill asked, making my eyes widen.

My mother shrugged evasively, not looking away from the court as they were about to tip the ball. The cheering erupted around us as the ball flew into the air.

She chanted along with the rest of the school, like she was just another student. I was a spectator, not only to the game, but to my mother’s popularity―it was beyond strange.

As the half progressed, she became more boisterous and made remarks that sent those around her into fits of laughter. I grew suspicious as she became more verbal. Something was off. Her popularity grew the more vocal she became. The boys scooted in around her. I would have been nudged out my position next to her if I wasn’t her daughter.

During halftime, my mother disappeared into the bathroom with Casey and Jill. I followed a few minutes later to find her dumping the contents of her flask into their fountain sodas. Her flagrant personality suddenly made sense―I should've known better.

“Casey, you were supposed to lock the door,” Jill scolded with a huff.

“Sorry,” Casey responded guiltily. “But it’s just Emma.”

My mother watched for my reaction. "You're not mad, right?"

I looked from one face to the other as they waited for me to say something. I shook my head and stepped into the first stall without a word. I leaned against the wall and listened as they giggled and Casey gushed about some cute boy sitting behind them.

"Do you want us to wait for you?" my mother called out.

"No, it's okay," I responded, trying to keep my voice steady. My insides were a slithering mess. I couldn't believe I'd caught my mother feeding my friends alcohol so they could get drunk together. I took a breath and tried to clear my head, to think of how to keep this from escalating out of control.

I pulled out my phone and sent Jonathan a text, Are you still coming?

If Jonathan didn’t show up, then I knew my mother would just keep drinking, and the more she drank, the more unpredictable she'd become. This was going to be horrible.

My phone beeped. On my way. There in 15.

I contemplated waiting for him so I wouldn’t have to return to the bleachers alone. In the end, I trudged back to my seat beside my inebriated mother and her giggling clique. I kept glancing over at them, watching as they laughed and gossiped.

Finally, I saw Jonathan along the sideline, scanning the bleachers to find us. My mother stood and waved frantically, making her easy to spot. He climbed the steps closest to me and excused himself across the row. I scooted over so he could sit between me and my mother.

Before he could say anything, she leaned over and kissed him. He pulled back in surprise.

“What?” she snapped as he pulled his brows together.

“Are you drunk?”

She shrugged with a smirk.

“At a high school basketball game? Really, Rachel?” Jonathan didn’t even try to sugarcoat his disapproval.

My mother huffed with a roll of her eyes. “What happened to you? You used to be fun.” She turned her back to him and started cheering along with the girls.

Jonathan turned toward me. “So, what happened?”

I shrugged. “She’s afraid you don't care about her anymore.”

“Why?” he questioned emphatically. “Because I had to work?”

I didn't answer, and sunk further into the bleachers―not sure how to make this whole thing go away.

My mother reached into her purse and took out her mini Altoids tin.

“Are you serious?” Jonathan accused as she popped a pill in her mouth.

“Well, if you’re not going to be any fun, then I need something to make me happy.”

“What was that?” I asked, having seen her pop the little white pills too many times to count, without really knowing what they were. Jonathan only shook his head in disgust.

He observed her silently as she grew more and more enthusiastic, drawing more attention. His jaw set and the tendons in his neck tightened.

About five minutes later he muttered angrily, “I'm sorry, Emma, but I can’t― I can’t do this.” Jonathan stood up and passed by me toward the steps.

“Where are you going?” my mother yelled after him. He didn’t look back. I could only watch after him in shock as he paced down the sideline and out the gym doors.

“Where is he going?” she demanded in a panic.

“I don’t know,” I replied uneasily.

“Make him stop,” she pled, about to cry. “Please, Emma, you have to stop him from leaving.”

She sniffled and her eyes flickered, coated with tears.

“Okay, okay,” I comforted desperately. “I’ll stop him.”

Jill turned toward my mother and her smile changed to a look of concern. "Rachel, what's wrong?"

"Please help her calm down," I begged Jill before I rushed down the steps and out of the gym. Jonathan was nearing the exit when I caught up with him.

“Jonathan!” I called after him. He turned at the sound of my voice. “Where are you going?”

He waited for me to near before he said, “Emma, I can’t do this anymore. I don’t want to be responsible for her every time she gets paranoid and emotional.” He sounded defeated, releasing a heavy breath.

“Please don’t leave,” I begged. “If you do, I am so afraid she’s going to make a huge scene, and I don’t know how to handle that.”

Jonathan hesitated, deciding what to do. My stomach was a mess just thinking about the potential breakdown my mother was on the verge of having in front of the entire school.

“Are you leaving me?” my mother asked from behind us. “I knew you were.”

“Rachel, stop,” Jonathan stated firmly. “Not here.”

“Then where? What does it matter where it happens? I know you don't want to be with me anymore, no matter what you said last night.”

“Mom, let me drive you home,” I urged. “I’ll get our jackets.”

“Don’t call me that,” she snapped, stumbling slightly as she took a few steps toward Jonathan. I remained still, frozen by her harsh tone. Her eyes watered as she took another step in Jonathan’s direction. “Please don’t leave me. I can’t lose you too.”

“Let Emma drive you home,” he requested lowly, glancing toward me to make sure I was still okay with driving her. I nodded slightly. “I’ll meet you there and we’ll talk. Okay?”

“Why can’t I leave with you?” she sulked, starting to sniffle.

“I know you’ll want to talk as soon as we get in the truck, and I can’t. I’ll meet you at the house where we can sit down and talk.” Before she could say another word, he left. Tears started draining from my mother’s eyes. I sighed and tried to remain composed, despite the crushing feeling in my chest.

I texted Jill to hold on to our jackets. I’d get them from her later.

“Come on,” I encouraged softly, not sure if I should touch her or not. “Let’s go.”

She trailed after me to the car. Her legs lazily crossed in front of each other as her balance waivered.

My mother stared out the window the entire ride to the house. I kept my eyes on the road, not wanting to watch her suffer beside me. Jonathan’s truck awaited us in the driveway when I pulled in. I hesitated to get out of the car, watching her stumble up the steps.

I really wanted to leave, to not witness what was about to happen. But I couldn't. I had to be here for her, no matter what happened. I pulled out my phone to text Evan, Had to drive my mother home. Sorry I missed you―call me when you can.

The cool temperature started settling in around me, so I took a deep breath and headed into the house. As soon as I opened the door, I wished I hadn’t.

“This isn’t going to work,” Jonathan told her. “How do you expect me to talk to you if you’re going to continue to drink?”

“Fine,” my mother yelled, throwing the wine glass on the floor, shattering it and spraying red wine all over. “I won’t drink.”

The shattering glass paralyzed me with the door handle still in my grasp.

“Rachel!” Jonathan hollered. “What the hell is wrong with you?”

I quietly shut the door behind me. But I wasn’t quiet enough.

She’s what’s wrong with me,” my mother pointed. My eyes widened as I looked from my mother's finger to Jonathan's disgusted stance, his hands on his hips. I opened my mouth in confusion, not understanding what I'd done to warrant the spiteful look on her face.

“This has nothing to do with Emma, so don’t even start.”

“Why do you keep calling her that?” she snapped. “Her name is Emily. And she's going to take you away too, just like him.” Her words cut into me like slicing barbs. I had no idea where the hostility was coming from, but it was incapacitating. I remained frozen, unable to find the words to soothe her or defend myself.

“You’re not making any sense,” Jonathan argued. “I’m not staying here to listen to this.” Jonathan walked toward the door.

I had nearly made it to the top step when more glass shattered in the kitchen.

“What the fuck, Rachel?!” Jonathan turned quickly at the sound. “You don’t throw a fit every time you don’t get your way.”

“Don’t leave,” she whimpered, followed by the sound of glass crunching.

“Don’t move,” he urged. “You’re stepping on glass.”

Jonathan disappeared into the kitchen and emerged carrying my mother in his arms, her head resting on his chest and her face slicked with tears.

“Will you stay?” she slurred. Jonathan didn’t answer, but continued up the stairs and into her room.

I exhaled, my chest tight from the tension that consumed the house. I considered following after him to help her into bed, but I couldn't bring myself to face her. Instead I crept down the stairs to investigate the mess. I stopped in the doorway, scanning the kitchen with a shake of my head. Trying to avoid the wine that covered most of the floor, I carefully stepped over the shards of broken glass and pieces of the wine bottle. As I reached for the broom, my phone rang.

I pulled it out to see Evan’s name displayed. I took a deep breath before answering, “Hi.”

“Hey. Got your text. Is everything okay?”

“Oh, yeah,” I replied, trying to sound as casual as possible. “My mother and Jonathan got into another fight, so I had to drive her home. She was overly dramatic as usual, so I had to listen to her go off for a while. Sorry I didn’t get to see you after the game.”

“Are you sure you're okay?”

"Yeah, I'm fine. She's about to go to bed now anyway, all talked out." My stomach turned at my lie. “Can I meet you at your place in a little bit? I’d really love to see you.” I wanted nothing more than to be released from the consuming emotions, and being in Evan's arms was exactly what I needed.

“Ah, I um,” Evan stumbled, a few voices hollered in the background as he stalled.

“Are you ready?” I heard a girl ask, sounding closer.

“Just a second,” he answered her. My heart skipped a beat, knowing exactly who she was. “I just, uh, promised Analise that I’d take her to Jeff’s party. It’s her first one and she doesn’t know many people yet. But I can see if she can go with someone else or something. Let me―”

“It's okay.” I tried to sound unaffected, despite the pain twisting in my chest. “You go. I'm pretty tired anyway.”

“Em, are you sure?”

“Yeah, I'm fine,” I said, swallowing against the tightness in my throat, forcing the emotion out of my voice. “It’s been a stupid night, and I’m really exhausted. I’ll see you tomorrow?” My voice shook despite my efforts. I closed my eyes to fend off the tears.

“Okay,” he answered, and before he could say anything else, I hung up the phone. I stood in the middle of the kitchen with the broom in my hand, trying to breathe against the swelling in my chest.

I took a deep breath before opening my eyes, turning everything off until I felt nothing. Then I began sweeping up my mother’s fit.

“Let me help you.”

I turned to find Jonathan in the doorway. I didn’t answer as he filled the mop bucket with soap and water and began wiping the wine that was running down the cabinets. We remained silent while we cleaned.

After bringing the bag of broken glass outside to the trash, I collapsed on the second step in the foyer, covering my face in my hands with my elbows propped on my legs, emotionally drained. Jonathan shut off the kitchen light and sat next to me.

“What’s going to happen now?” I asked without looking up. “Did you end things with her?”

“I wasn’t about to do that in her condition,” he explained lowly. “I’m sorry you had to see any of that. It really wasn’t about you.”

I lifted my head. “I have no idea what happened tonight, but she was so... angry. I think she does blame me, but I don't know what I did.”

Jonathan shook his head in contradiction. “This is between me and Rachel. It has nothing to do with you.”

“But you are going to leave her now, aren't you?” I concluded dryly.

Jonathan was quiet for a moment. “Do you want me to stay?”

My eyes tightened, not sure how to answer. I didn't know exactly what he was asking.

“If I left right now, would it be worse for you... to live here?”

“Don’t worry about me,” I assured him without much conviction. “That wouldn’t be the right reason to stay anyway. It would only be worse in the end, for everyone. She’ll just have to get over you.”

“I’m sorry, Emma,” he offered in a hushed tone.

“Me too,” I breathed. He peered at me with sympathetic eyes, pulling me in. It took me a moment before I was able to break away. “I think I’ve had enough drama tonight, so I’m going to bed.”

“And I should go,” he responded, standing with me. I paused in my ascent when he opened the door.

“Good-bye, Jonathan.”

“I’m not leaving you, Emma,” he assured me. “If you ever need me, I’m here.”

“Thanks,” I answered, exhaustion heavy in my voice. I watched him disappear behind the closed door and continued to my room.

As I pulled the blankets over me, my phone beeped. I’m coming over appeared on the screen.

I’m in bed. I’ll see you in the morning, I typed back.

10am, my house?

OK.

I sunk under the blankets, not looking forward to seeing anyone in the morning―not even Evan.

 

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