I would've thought I'd be up most of the night, unable to sleep, but when I opened my eyes it was midmorning and Sara's bed was empty. I lay under the covers for a while, not sure what the point was of getting up. But I couldn't suppress the need to use the bathroom, so I forced myself out of the bed.
Since I was already there, I decided to shower. I realized I’d never showered after my daytrip with Jonathan or practice last night, and I desperately needed it. I remained hollow as I stood under the water, unable to feel anything stirring inside―not an emotion or a single thought. I was tempted to go back to bed when I came out of the bathroom wrapped in a towel, but Sara had already made it and was lying on top, reading a magazine.
"Hey," she greeted with a smile. "Are you hungry? My mom's making pancakes."
I shrugged and started to dress, not caring if Sara saw my scars―she'd seen them at their worst anyway.
"So, where were you during school yesterday?" she asked casually, keeping her eyes on the magazine as she turned the pages.
"With Jonathan," I admitted softly, my voice hard to find.
This got her attention. "Excuse me? You were with Jonathan? Why... Uh, what did you do?" It wasn't often that Sara had difficulty finding her words.
"We went for a ride on his motorcycle," I told her. She waited, but I didn't continue. There wasn't much more I could say without revealing his secrets, and I couldn't do that.
"What's going on between you two?" she questioned. "Anything I should be worried about?"
"No," I answered simply. "We get along. He understands what I'm going through, that's all."
"What does that mean, what you're going through?" She sounded worried. I suppose I would as well if she said it.
"About Rachel's moods and stuff," I attempted to explain. "We talk. He understands. I mean... he dated Rachel, so he gets it. We've become friends through all of this."
"Okay," Sara contemplated. "I think. Did you explain this to Evan?"
"I didn't get to," I breathed sitting next to her on the bed. "Sara, I totally screwed up. He's so upset with me he wouldn't even see me before he left." The misery of his call stirred in my chest.
"Yeah, I know," she comforted. "He was so freaked when you didn't show up at school yesterday. Then when you didn't answer your phone, I thought he was going to lose it completely. I gave him Rachel's number when he asked, not like she was any help or anything. You really should've called or texted him or something."
"I know," I sulked, feeling ill. "I left my phone in my car. I wish I had called. But I was hoping we'd get to talk, so I could explain. I really never meant to worry him."
"What are you going to do about Rachel?"
I was quiet for a moment. "I can't live with her anymore." My voice cracked slightly, the emotions escaping despite my efforts to bury them.
"I know," Sara agreed, her voice sympathetic. "Want to go to Florida with me this week?"
"I can't," I answered automatically. "I really need to be here for soccer."
"I knew you'd say that, so I talked to my mom and I'm flying down on Thursday with my dad instead of leaving with her on Monday. I want to be here with you."
"Thanks," I smiled faintly. "I want that too." And I did. I needed to be with the one person who wasn't angry with me, and didn't force me to explain every feeling that was coursing through my body.
"Can you tell me about last night a little bit?" she inquired gently. "It was a little confusing, but you were upset, so I decided to wait."
"Who's this lawyer, and what did he tell you?"
I recounted my conversation with Charles Stanley and what he had revealed about my parents and my grandparents, and the trust I'd inherited.
"Wow," Sara mused after I was done. "That's crazy. That must be where Leyla and Jack are, huh? In Florida with your grandmother."
"I think so," I replied with a slight nod.
"Em," Sara began cautiously, "you said that you thought your mom may have attempted suicide. Why would you say that?"
I crossed my arms and bowed my head, picturing her on the couch, barely coherent and confessing what no mother should ever admit, no matter how true. Sharpness cut through my chest just thinking about her spouts of disdain.
Somewhere amongst the slur of words she had mentioned not being the one to leave me with Carol and George. She said Sharon left me. She was in the hospital. She took too many pills. I shared this with Sara along with my deduction that she had overdosed.
"Maybe it was an accident," Sara offered.
I shrugged in contemplation, but I doubted it. My mother was so grief stricken by my father's death, I suspected she may have done it on purpose. I recalled my cutting words to her on the porch, and my eyes stung with shame. Regardless of what she didn't feel for me, I should never have said what I did. I was cruel.
Anna called up to us when the pancakes were ready. I followed Sara downstairs, although I didn't feel much like eating.
I could tell by the way Anna looked at me, full of sympathy and concern, that Sara had told her. I couldn't expect Sara to keep anything from her parents after what had happened last year. I wasn't upset, but I wasn't sure I could talk to Anna about it.
But I also knew she wasn't the type of mother to leave it alone. She waited until after breakfast, when Sara was in the shower. I was sitting in the rec room, aimlessly searching the channels. Anna sat next to me on the couch, and I shut off the television. I waited for her to begin.
"Sometimes people hurt more than they can handle," she soothed, observing me. I had a hard time meeting her eyes. "And sometimes they don't know how to ask for help. They're so caught up in their own pain, they end up hurting everyone around them. I wish you didn’t keep getting hurt."
I didn't respond, but she knew I wouldn't.
"I know you have commitments here and won't be coming to Florida with us. We'll help you get your things next week when we return." Anna placed her hand over mine. It was warm and soft. I tried to smile, but it never truly formed on my lips.
When she left the room, her sentiment kept floating through my head. I thought of Evan and everything I'd put him through. I began to wonder if I was the one being hurt, or the one doing the hurting.
"I want to call him," I told Sara while sitting in the mall restaurant. She had somehow coaxed me into shopping with her. I must have been completely distracted when I said yes.
"It's only been a day," Sara countered. "Give him some more time."
"I just..." I pushed the fries around on my plate, not eating them. "I want to apologize. He won't even have to say he forgives me. I just need him to know how horrible I feel."
"I'm not so sure that's what he's looking for, Emma."
I knew she was right. An apology was just words. Evan wanted me to trust him, to confide in him. That's all he'd ever wanted. He wanted to be the one I turned to when everything was falling apart. He wanted to be... Jonathan.
I had no idea when this happened. When Jonathan became the first person I thought of, the first person I called when everything was miserable and complicated. He was the one I reached out to when I couldn't sleep at night, or couldn't carry Rachel to bed, or when I needed to escape her completely. He knew me in a way that Evan didn't, but in a way that Evan had always wanted to.
"Why does he want to know?" I pondered out loud. "Why does he want to know all the bad things, the things most people pretend not to see? Why does he want to know I hurt, or that my mother's never loved me? It's almost more important to him than knowing I'm safe and happy."
"That's not it at all," Sara countered with a crease between her brows. "Emma, Evan wants to know you and all that makes you, you. The good, the bad and the horrible. He needs to do some fessing up himself and not keep running away when he gets his feelings hurt. But you can't keep him in the dark when everything starts falling apart. You're not protecting him, you know. You're pushing him away."
"I guess I wasn't sure he'd understand," I confessed with a sigh.
"Like Jonathan does?" Sara finished the thought. I nodded. "Give him a chance."
My phone chimed. I looked at the screen and then to Sara with wide eyes.
"Who is it?"
"Rachel," I said, completely stunned. "Should I answer it?" Sara shrugged with a grimace of uncertainty. I missed the call.
She followed up with a text, Where are you?
I showed Sara the text. "She doesn't know you're staying with me?"
"I don't remember if I told her, or she may not remember. But why does she care?"
"I don't know," Sara answered, just as perplexed.
I decided to text back, At Sara's.
I left it at that, and she responded, OK. I shook my head in confusion.
“Okay, enough doom and gloom.” Sara stood up. “We’re going to check out prom dresses,” she declared with a vibrant smile. She observed the dread on my face. “Don't worry. He'll forgive you before prom. Come on. I'll make it fun.”
Sara pulled me from my seat. She excitedly led the way through store after store. She picked out the most obnoxious dresses and modeled them for me, determined to make me laugh. And I did. Exactly as she intended.
Sara jumped on the couch, attempting a split in the air while striking the electric guitar. I knelt on the ground, leaning back with the guitar raised above my head, letting the ear splitting sound reverberate through the amp. The song we were supposed to be playing along to blared over the speakers.
Movement out of the corner of my eye drew my attention, and I turned to find Anna at the top of the stairs, screaming, "Emma!"
I stood and removed the guitar strap from around my neck. Sara noticed my change from rock star to worried girl before catching sight of her mom. She hopped down from the couch and shut off the amp and the music.
My ears were still ringing when Anna announced, "Your mom's on my phone." I froze mid-step. "She's worried about you. My phone's downstairs in my room."
I followed Anna downstairs, glancing back at Sara's concerned face before I disappeared. We entered Anna’s bedroom, where her suitcase lay open on her bed. She'd been interrupted from packing for the trip that she was leaving for in an hour. The cell phone was next to the suitcase.
Anna picked it up and said, "She's right here," to Rachel before handing it to me. She walked past me, closing the bedroom door behind her.
"Hi," I said cautiously.
"Emily?" Rachel confirmed in relief. "Are you okay? I didn't know you were staying all weekend. I haven't heard from you."
My brows crumpled in confusion. "What?"
"Did you tell me you were staying there?" she asked in her nervous rush. "Did I forget? I'm so sorry. I probably forgot."
"What's wrong with you?" I shot out. "Why are you all of a sudden worried about me?"
"Oh," she sighed, sounding disappointed. "Are you still mad at me? I'm so sorry I overreacted on Friday. I shouldn't have thought that you would ever do anything to hurt me. I was upset. Are you really mad?"
I pulled the phone away from my ear and stared at it, completely speechless. Who was this woman? Even if she didn't remember what she’d said to me that night because she was so drunk, she had to have remembered what I said to her―how much I hurt her.
"Emily?" she called out to me.
"I'm here," I answered, devoid of emotion. "I'm staying here this week. It's vacation anyway, so... I'm staying here." I couldn't tell her I was moving out. I wanted to. I meant to. But I didn't.
"Okay." Her voice sounded strained. "Well, I guess I'll see you next week."
"Yeah," I breathed before I hung up, too confounded to say anything else.
"Well," Sara demanded when I appeared at the top of the stairs. I didn't acknowledge her, too baffled by what just happened. "Emma," she urged impatiently, "what did she want?"
"I have no idea," I murmured in a daze. I sat down on the couch next to Sara and told her what happened.
"So she doesn't remember?" Sara questioned skeptically. "I really doubt it, Em. I bet she wants you to think that so you'll move back in again."
"But why would she do that? She doesn't even want me." It didn't make sense, but I'd come to the same conclusion as Sara.
"I have no idea," Sara agreed. "Maybe you should talk to her."
"You mean I should break up with her," I corrected. "I can't believe I need to have the we're over talk with my own mother. How depressing is that?"
"She can't keep hurting you and using you like an emotional punching bag. It's messed up. How many times do you have to forgive her before she destroys you?"
I knew she was right. It was only a matter of time before she got drunk and did something devastating again. I just didn't understand why she kept pulling me back in, making me feel like she wanted me when, during her vodka-induced proclamation, she’d confessed that she wished I was never born.
"I'll come with you," Sara said from beside me. "I'm not going to let you do it alone."
Sara drove us to the house the next evening after my soccer game. I still hadn't figured out what I was going to say when we pulled in behind Rachel’s car.
"You don't have to come in," I told Sara as I slowly unbuckled the seatbelt, my heart beating so fast I couldn't think straight.
"Uh, no," Sara countered adamantly. "I'm coming in with you."
I took long even breaths as I approached the door, trying to remain calm. It was useless. I was a wreck. Sara stayed by my side and opened the screen door for me. The front door was locked, so I used my key to let us in.
We didn't make it very far into the foyer before we both stopped. The house was a disaster. Sara and I scanned from the kitchen to the living room speechlessly. Plastic red cups and glasses were abandoned on just about every surface. Bottles littered the floor, along with bowls of chips and empty boxes of pizza. The stench of stale beer and old pizza made our noses scrunch in disgust. It was ten times worse than Sara's house after the anti-Valentine's party.
"Looks like Rachel had a party," Sara observed, stepping carefully over the cluttered floor and into the living room. "Or two."
"What the hell?" I muttered in disbelief, wondering when this happened. I ran up the stairs, expecting to find her in rare, or not so rare, form in her bedroom―but it was empty. I turned to head back downstairs and my mouth dropped open. "No way."
My door was open and my bed was unmade. "Oh please, no," I shook my head. "I can't believe she let―" I was afraid to finish the sentence.
Sara appeared behind me. "We are so burning those sheets."
"It doesn't matter," I resigned with a heavy breath. "I can't live here anymore."
"Uh, of course not," Sara scolded. "When between the car and entering the house did you decide that you were going to do that?"
"I didn't," I fumbled. "I just―"
"Live in a world of denial," Sara finished sternly. "Em, look around and open your eyes. She's not going to change."
"I know," I breathed, the disappointment heavy in my voice. I sunk down on the top step and pressed my elbows into my knees. The little bit of hope I'd held on to after the conversation with Rachel yesterday had slipped away as soon as I’d opened the door.
"I'm sorry, Em." Sara sat next to me and leaned her shoulder against mine. "I don't mean to be so harsh. I just don't want you to get hurt anymore. She doesn't deserve you."
My eyes welled and I nodded. I knew this was it. We weren't fixable. The disappointment made my chest ache as I swallowed hard. Giving up went against my nature, having never done it before. I could faintly hear the hopeful thoughts forming, that maybe she could change. I pushed them away before they got too loud.
"Let's go," I finally declared, standing with Sara.
The front door opened, and Rachel appeared in the doorway, laughing, with her arm strung around the waist of a guy with blond hair and a large smile.
She looked up to see us. "Uh, I thought you were going to be away this week."
"I am," I said, moving past her with my shoulders pulled back―barely giving her a glance. "I'll be back next week to get my stuff."
"Emily!" she called after me from the porch. "What do you mean? Don't be angry with me. I'll clean up, I promise."
Without looking back, I got into Sara's car. I held it together while Rachel could see me. After we pulled out of the driveway and started down the street, I crumbled in half and cried. I knew I never was, and never would be, who she loved. And whether she deserved me or not, it was still painful to admit.