“Feeling any better?” Sara asked at breakfast the next morning. Her parents had already left for work, so it was just the two of us.
I shook my head, still haunted by the compromising position I’d caught my mother and Jonathan in the night before.
“I don’t know how I’m ever going to look at either of them again,” I groaned. Sara laughed, overly amused by my trauma. “Sara, I saw his ass, his naked ass―on top of my mother! I may seriously need to go back to therapy after seeing that.” I flopped my head onto my folded arms.
“I bet he has an amazing ass,” Sara mused dreamily, the smile consuming her entire face.
I peered up at her, appalled, with my cheeks scarlet. My reaction only made her laugh harder.
“I don’t think I’ve laughed this hard since you tripped in front of those college guys in California.” Sara held her stomach.
“You love seeing me tortured and humiliated,” I sulked. “Great friend you are!”
“Stop,” Sara chuckled, unable to hide her smile. “It is funny, really.”
“Walking in on my mother and her boyfriend, sure, it may be horrifyingly hysterical. But he was supposed break up with her. This is so not good.”
“They made up,” Sara offered with a shrug. “Couples fight and make up all the time. What's the big deal?”
"He's leaving to go to grad school at USC," I explained. "My mother's in love with him."
"Does she know?"
"Yes," I told her, "but she wants to be with him until he leaves."
"Why is that so bad?" It was obvious she didn't understand my concern.
"I'll be gone when he leaves," I continued.
"And you're worried about her being alone?"
I nodded, biting my lip to keep the tears from forming. It ate at me in the pit of my stomach, fearing what my mother would do in her isolated misery. I didn't want her to have to go through it without me.
Sara and I stopped by the house first thing in the morning to pick up my books. Thankfully, the house was empty. I avoided my mother and Jonathan that entire day, staying in my room, out of their sight.
And I thought I'd timed it perfectly when I left for school the next morning, emerging from my room right after my mother had pulled out of the driveway. But as I headed down the stairs, I heard the refrigerator door close and realized Jonathan was still home. I paused in frustration―he was never home when I left for school.
I kept walking down the stairs and straight out the door, shutting it behind me just as I heard him call, “Emma!”
I picked up my pace, not wanting to see him, forget about talk to him. Jonathan stepped out the front door with a coffee in his hand and a laptop bag hanging from his shoulder. He glanced in my direction as I unlocked my car, hesitating slightly. When I avoided eye contact and slipped into my car, he continued to his truck.
I turned the key in the ignition and… nothing happened.
“No way,” I grunted, pumping the gas and turning the key again. The car didn’t even make an attempt to start. I collapsed in my seat, banging my hands on the steering wheel.
Jonathan braked at the end of the driveway. I remained in my car, ignoring him, grumbling profanities under my breath. This was the last thing I needed this morning.
He tapped on my window, forcing me to roll it down. “You okay?”
“No,” I huffed, still unable to look at him. “My car won’t start.”
“I’ll give you a ride,” he responded. “Then I’ll take a look at it later.”
I hesitated, glancing at my watch. I knew Sara and Evan were already on their way to school, and it didn’t make sense to have them come all the way out here to get me.
“Please, just let me drive you to school,” Jonathan requested fervently when I didn’t answer.
“Fine,” I huffed. I opened my car door and slammed it in frustration. I tossed my book bag on the floor of his passenger side before pulling myself up onto the seat. I shut the door and fastened my seatbelt, determined to ignore him.
We drove down the street and out of the neighborhood without a word.
“Can we talk about it?” Jonathan finally pleaded, turning down the radio when the tense silence became too much.
“No,” I snapped. “I definitely do not want to talk about it.”
But after only ten seconds, I turned toward him and practically yelled, “Why are you doing this to her, Jonathan? I don’t understand!”
“I… I know,” he stuttered. “I couldn’t end it. I knew it would make things worse.”
“So you’d rather torture her by making her fall more in love with you so you can dump her right before you leave. That’s real great!” I shot back, my anger rising with each word.
“Emma, please don’t be mad at me,” he begged. “That's not what I want, really. I just… wasn’t ready.”
“Prolonging the inevitable isn't helping her,” I lectured sternly. “It’s torturing her. You can’t protect her forever. You’re coddling her.”
“And you aren’t?” he rebutted, glancing at me out of the corner of his eye. I opened my mouth to defend myself, but nothing came out. In truth, I didn’t really know what he meant. He continued, his voice growing stronger, “Emma, you clean up after her when she throws a fit; you comfort her when she's irresponsible, and the other night she basically accused you of ruining her life. You’re protecting her as much as I am.”
I continued to stare.
“I’m sorry,” he said, his tone softening. “I shouldn't have said that.”
I let his words soak in. He pulled into the parking lot of the school, stopping alongside the walkway that wrapped around the building. Putting the truck in park, he turned toward me. His brown eyes were heavy with apology.
“So how do we fix this?” I questioned glumly. “Besides having sex with her.” The words flew out of my mouth before I could catch them, delivered with a bite that I didn't anticipate.
“Uh,” Jonathan stammered, shock flashing across his eyes. “You should never have seen that. I’m so sorry.”
I clenched my teeth and stared at the floor, more disturbed by his actions than I could rationalize as heat rushed through my chest. “So now what?”
“You're right,” he answered firmly. “I have to end things with her.”
I flipped my eyes toward him, not convinced he meant it.
“Should I still wait until after her birthday?”
I groaned. I hadn’t thought of that. “I don’t know.”
Our eyes connected in deliberation until I realized I was lingering too long and blinked away.
“Thanks for the ride.” I reached down to pick up my backpack and it struck me, “My sweater.”
“Huh?" Jonathan didn't follow.
“What were you doing with my sweater?” I demanded.
Jonathan took in my hardened expression. "I found it on the chair on the front porch when I was leaving for work a while ago. I thought it was Rachel’s. I honestly forgot I had it.”
“Oh,” I replied, my cheeks reddening at my accusatory tone. What was I really insinuating anyway? Maybe all this drama was making me overreact. I reached for the door handle, spotting Evan a few rows away, shutting his car door. I smiled at the sight of him. Then Analise appeared, shutting the passenger door. My heart froze and my smile disappeared.
“Are you okay?” Jonathan asked, noticing the change. I remained motionless, at a loss for words. “Emma?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I choked, gripping the strap to my backpack. I opened the door.
“Emma,” Jonathan beckoned before I could hop down. His eyes held me captive long enough to confess, “She’s not the reason I decided to stay.”
“Emma?” Evan hollered as I was about to ask what he meant. I hesitated for a second, but knew I had to leave.
“Thanks,” I choked, barely able to form words. I hopped down from the truck and shut the door behind me.
As Jonathan drove off, Evan emerged from behind the truck.
His eyes tightened. “Was that Jonathan?” He found my hand and securely laced his fingers through mine.
“My car wouldn’t start,” I explained, trying to ignore Analise on the other side of him.
“Want me to take a look at it later?”
“That’s okay,” I replied. “Jonathan said he would, but thanks.” Evan nodded slightly, his eyes following Jonathan's truck as it pulled onto the street.
“Hi, Emma,” Analise chirped, poking her head around to flash her blinding smile.
“Hi, Analise,” I acknowledged impassively. “Where’s your car?”
“Evan and I are doing some work for Vivian after school, so we thought it made sense for him to drive me,” she announced. As I listened, my feet faltered. Evan clearly saw the stunned expression on my face.
“That’s great,” I replied flatly. Analise went her separate way toward the junior lockers as Evan continued toward mine.
“You’re upset,” Evan noted as soon as Analise was out of earshot.
“No,” I mumbled, not looking at him. “I’m just flustered because of my car.”
“Good morning,” Sara interrupted. “How are you…” Her eyes flipped from me to Evan and she pressed her lips together. “Um… I see that you’re not into mornings. I’ll talk to you later.” She nodded knowingly and took off to class.
I pulled my books from my locker, unable to face Evan without giving away just how much his time with Analise bothered me.
“Em, you don’t have to―”
“I have to go to class,” I uttered, brushing past him quickly. This morning sucked. I just wanted this day to be over, and it had barely begun.
Sara was waiting for me around the corner. “I’m coming over tonight. We're talking about this whole Analise situation.”
“Okay,” I sighed, knowing I needed it.
The day didn’t get any better when Analise plopped her fluffy ass down at our table for lunch. Sara eyed her in disbelief, like she’d trampled over all sorts of boundaries. Sara opened her mouth to say something but I shot her a pleading look and begged in a whisper, “Don’t.”
“You sure?” she confirmed incredulously. I nodded just as Evan sat down between me and Analise.
The awkward silence lingered until Analise broke it with, “This food looks better than Mrs. Timmins dinner last night, huh?” She let out a light laugh. “That was the strangest version of chicken I’ve ever seen. You should have seen it, Emma. I think it was grey. Right, Evan?”
I couldn’t move. I knew Evan was watching me, but I remained still.
“What dinner?” Sara instigated, staring at me, silently begging me to speak up.
“Oh one of those business dinner thingys,” Analise gushed with a nervous laugh, realizing she must have said something wrong.
“What did you think of it?” I asked, feigning curiosity with a strained smile.
Analise hesitated. Probably trying to decide if I was sincere or about to rip her head off. “It was actually pretty nice. Stuart and Vivian are so sweet, so they made it easy. And Evan can talk to anyone and he introduced me to a lot of people, so it wasn’t as bad as I feared it would be. We ended up having a really great time.”
I stood from the table and stormed out of the cafeteria. I’d barely made it to the hall when Evan caught up with me.
“It was just a stupid dinner for my father’s firm,” Evan explained in a rush.
“Yup.” I responded flatly and kept walking, not caring if he was next to me or not. I remained stoic on the outside, but my insides were squirming―I thought I was about to be sick.
“Em, stop,” he begged. “Please, just listen.”
I turned abruptly and provided him my full, cold and distant attention. He drew back when he saw the disconnect in my eyes.
“My mother wanted Laura to meet some potential clients affiliated with my father’s firm,” he explained calmly. “Analise just came along with her mother. It’s not as bad as it sounds.”
I turned and started walking again, choking on the fumes of anger that cut off all logic and rationalization to my head. I could only feel, not think―and I was afraid if I opened my mouth, I would regret anything I said.
“Besides, you hate those dinners,” Evan hollered after me.
I spun around. “So did you,” I bit back and rushed off, leaving him behind.
"Hey, Emma," Jill said from beside my locker as I forcefully pulled the books from the top shelf, grumbling to myself about how I couldn't believe Evan took Analise to a firm dinner. "How's Rachel?"
I whipped my head to the side. It took every ounce of willpower I had not to snap at her. To tell her to mind her own business. But I swallowed the anger and said, "Fine."
"We never told anyone about the drinking," she assured me. Her voice was low, careful not to be overheard. Her words struck me as odd. My eyes twitched, questioning. Her face filled with sympathy.
Then it hit me, Omigod. She thinks my mother's an alcoholic.
"Thanks," I replied quickly, needing to look away as the heat crept across my face.
"We shouldn't have done what we did," she continued. "Casey and me. I'm sorry about that."
"Yeah sure," I muttered, my stomach twisting in knots.
"If you ever need to talk," she offered consolingly, making me want to turn from her and run as fast as I could.
"Yup," I answered shortly. "See you in practice. I have to get to class."
"Oh yeah, sure," she replied uncomfortably, her cheeks slightly pink. I walked away with my head down, so people wouldn't notice how red I was.
I couldn't live in denial any longer, and it took Jill's word of solace to snap me out of it. Despite my mother's assurances that she was fine, she wasn't, and it was time I faced the truth. I wanted to believe her so much that I convinced myself that she only drank to excess when she was upset or sad―and that was okay. That was okay?! What was wrong with me?
"Hi, girls," my mother greeted cheerily from the kitchen when Sara and I arrived after practice.
"Hi, Rachel," Sara returned, setting her bag near the bottom of the stairs and walking into the kitchen. I followed after her, suddenly afraid to face my mother. It was like I was seeing her for the first time―noticing the wine glass next to her on the counter as she cut vegetables. The sight of it made my chest hurt.
She picked up the glass and took a sip. "Are you staying for dinner?"
"I may not be staying long," Sara told her. "I gave Emma a ride home, and we're just going to talk for awhile before I go."
"Oh, okay," my mother responded. "Jonathan went to pick up a new battery for your car."
"Great," I answered numbly. "Well, we'll be upstairs."
"Um, Sara," my mother called as we were about to leave the kitchen. "It's my birthday on Saturday, and I'm having a few friends over. I thought it would be nice if you came over too, you know, for Emma. I think we're just going to play poker and listen to music."
"Sure, that sounds great," Sara agreed.
"Really?" my mother's eyes lit up. "I'm happy you'll be there. I really want it to be fun."
"It will be," Sara assured her. "If you want me to bring anything, or do anything to help, let me know."
"I will," my mother beamed. It became evident to me just how important this party was to her, and with everything going on the last few days, we hadn't really talked much about it. Despite everything, all I really wanted was for her to be happy.
"I think Evan has a poker table we could borrow,” I added.
"That would be amazing," she glowed. "Thanks."
"Sure," I replied with a small smile before following Sara up the stairs. As I entered my room, I texted, Wait til after her birthday. And dont worry about me.
I unzipped my jacket and tossed it on the chair at my desk while Sara shut the door and settled on my bed. My phone beeped, and Jonathan responded with, Okay. But I do, cant help it. My cheeks filled with heat, and I stuffed the phone in my jacket pocket.
“Okay. So, you have to say something to him,” Sara began before I could even sit down. “You have to tell him that he can’t hang out with her anymore.”
I started to worry about what potential disasters awaited us at my mother's party. How Sara and Evan would react at the sight of it. Maybe she'd just get giddy drunk, like she sometimes did, and talk too loud, spewing semi-embarrassing comments. I could live with that.
"Uh, what?" I redirected my focus.
"The invasion of Analise," Sara stressed. "What's going on with you? Have you heard a single word I've said?"
"Yes," I replied. "I need to set boundaries."
"No," she corrected sternly, "Evan needs to set boundaries. He can't have an obsessed girl doting after him all over the place and expect you to be the loving girlfriend who's pretending nothing's happening."
"Right," I agreed without the gusto Sara was looking for. She gawked at me disapprovingly.
“But what if I'm overreacting?” I asked quietly, lying on my bed next to her.
“Overreacting? Um… the whole school is talking about them. They went to a party together last Friday. She’s over at his house all of the time, and he drives her to school. They look more like a―”
"Okay," I interrupted, not needing the detailed visual. "I get it. I'll talk to him."
"Why do I feel like I'm talking you into this?" she questioned in concern. "Do you not remember being blindsided at lunch today? I saw the look on your face when she brought up the dinner."
Just the mention of it made me clench my teeth. "Yes. I'll talk to him."
“Okay. I have to go. My mom's waiting on me for dinner. I’ll see you tomorrow,” Sara said, grabbing her things and opening the door.
Evan appeared at the top of the stairs. Sara stopped short. "Uh, hi, Evan."
"Hi, Sara," he returned. She scooted past him and flashed me a bared teeth, good luck look as she disappeared down the stairs.
Evan remained outside of my room, hesitating at the sight of me.
“Hi,” he said lowly, shutting the door behind him.
“Hi,” I returned, barely audible. I sat against the headboard, pulling a pillow onto my lap.
Evan sat down on the end of my bed―the strain between us suffocated me.
“I should have invited you to the dinner,” Evan began. “I guess I know how much you hate them… but I should have given you the choice.”
“It’s not just the dinner,” I returned, letting out a distraught breath. “You’ve been spending a lot of time with her, and I… I don’t like it. It’s that simple.”
“Em, I don’t see her like that, I swear. She’s like a little sister to me.” He silently pled for me to believe him.
“You may feel that way about her, but Evan, she has a thing for you. You have to know that.”
“I know,” he sighed. “It’s not what I meant to happen. I just wanted to make her feel welcome, being new and everything. I know how hard it can be.”
His words drifted through me and swelled my heart. I knew he meant it, because that’s exactly who he was. “Evan, you’re the most thoughtful person I’ve ever known, and I love you for that. But you need to set boundaries with her.”
“I will,” he agreed, moving closer. “So, did you just say that you still love me?” He teased, continuing to scoot along the bed until he was next to me.
“Yes,” I battled to hide my grin. “Some sunshiny sprite is not―”
“Emma!” Evan balked in surprise.
“Sorry,” I smirked. “She's nice. I just…”
I was interrupted by the warmth of his mouth pressed against mine. And suddenly she wasn’t important anymore. I wrapped my arms around his neck and pulled him toward me, sinking down along my headboard so that I was lying on my back as he pulled the pillow off of my lap.
Evan continued to find my lips, trailing his mouth along my neck and sliding his hand across my stomach to the small of my back, positioning himself over me. I relaxed my knees as he lowered himself onto me, my legs wrapping around him.
Our breathing quickened as our kisses became more frantic. I ran my hands along the tight, lean muscles of his back, gripping the end of his shirt, sliding it up.
My door squeaked open. “Your car’s…”
Evan rolled over quickly to sit. I pushed up, smoothing the back of my hair, staring at Jonathan’s wide eyes and open mouth.
“Sorry, should’ve knocked,” he rushed in a single breath and shut the door.