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Something To Hold On To





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You asked why I stayed when I had every reason to leave ~ I stayed for you. I was drawn to you almost instantly without really understanding what was happening. I will always be here for you, Emma.

I thought I caught a glimpse of his blue pickup truck in the bustle of the parking lot—amidst the cars trying to position for spots and bodies not getting out of their way. I stretched my head around a group of guys in letter jackets to get a better view.

"What are you looking at?" Sara asked a few feet ahead of me, stopping when she realized I wasn't beside her. The guys began walking toward the school, and what I thought was his truck was a Tahoe. I released my breath and turned away.

"Nothing," I said, catching up with her.

Sara tightened her eyes skeptically. I tried to smile, but it felt foreign on my face, having not done it very much in the last couple of weeks.

"Do you know what we need?" Her eyes lit up at just the thought.

"What?" I asked, not certain if I should encourage the mischievous glint in her eye.

"We need a senior skip day," she exclaimed as we spotted Evan a few rows ahead of us. He raised his chin in recognition when he saw us and waited for us to reach him.

"But don't we have one in two weeks?"

"That's planned. The entire senior class is skipping that day. What's the fun in that?” Sara scoffed with a shake of her head. "Emma, you're in need of some serious spontaneity. We have to pick a day sooner, to rid of the distractions and just have a good time. A much needed good time."

"I could use that," I sighed. I'd been fighting with more distractions than I could handle, including the Sunday I'd gone to see Jonathan―which I couldn't stop thinking about. Or the text he sent the next day, that I’d read every day since. I was in desperate need to rid myself of that distraction in particular, and clear my head.

"What do you need?" Evan asked overhearing us. He slid his hand in mine.

"A skip day," Sara declared proudly. "Just the four of us!"

"Four?" I questioned.

"Jared," Sara explained. "How about this Friday? It's supposed to be so nice and Jared will be here for Evan's birthday. We'll go to the beach."

"I don't know if it's quite beach weather," Evan returned.

"Who cares," Sara shot back, already beaming from the idea. "We don't have to wear bathing suits. We'll have a picnic and build sand castles and play catch or whatever. Don't try to ruin our skip day, Evan!"

Evan chuckled and held up his free hand in defense. "Okay, Sara. Friday is our skip day. It'll be great."

"Of course it will."

I grinned at her enthusiasm as she almost bounced her way to our lockers. I turned to Evan as he was about to part ways toward his. He bent down and kissed me briefly. "Will you come over after my game today?" he murmured in my ear.

"Sure," I smiled, letting go of his hand and watching him walk away.

I was still relishing the tingle of his breath against my ear when I opened my locker to gather my books.

"I don't think you should wait until prom," Sara mused, eyeing me with a smirk. "The two of you need to have sex more than any two people I know."

"Sara!" I exclaimed, looking around in a panic to see who may have overheard.

"Just sayin'," she smirked again and walked away.

My cheeks flushed, I rolled my eyes and turned back toward my locker.

 

"I'm going to shower," Evan told me as we parked in his driveway. "Where do you want to wait for me?"

"I'll meet you in the barn," I replied, opening the car door. My phone chimed as I reached the steps leading to the rec room. I was about to press the ignore button, as I had for the previous three calls that day. Then it beeped twice indicating the missed call, followed by a text.

Emma, please talk to me. Please.

I stared down at my phone. His plea felt like a weight in my chest. I hadn't stopped thinking about him since I'd left him that day. But I didn't really know what it was I was thinking... or feeling. I kept avoiding him, afraid of what emotions his voice would conjure up. But I couldn't keep doing this to him... or to me.

I sat down on the couch and took a deep breath, listening to the phone ring on the other end.

"Hi," he answered quickly.

"Hi," I returned, my heart beating profusely. "I'm sorry I haven't called."

"I'm sorry I keep calling," he replied. "It's just hard, not hearing from you, especially after talking to you almost every day."

"I know. It's been hard for me too."

"I got a little scared. I thought maybe... maybe you didn't need me anymore. You know, now that Rachel's not around and―"

"Don't say that," I interrupted. "I've wanted to call, to talk to you, but... I didn't know what to say. What you expected me to say."

"Emma, I don't expect anything. I just want you to be honest, that's all." After a pause, my mind trying to understand what he was asking of me, he filled the silence with, "How have you been sleeping?"

I laughed lightly at the question. "Pretty well actually. Maybe you did cure me, or I just don't care anymore. How about you? Is the nightmare gone?"

"It comes back every once in a while."

"So you've been sleeping too," I concluded.

"I wouldn't say that," he countered. "I keep waking up, afraid I missed your call. So... not sleeping that great."

"I'm sorry," I offered again, my voice heavy with guilt.

"It's okay," he dismissed easily. "When can I see you? I think we should... talk. There's so much I need to say to you, and I don't want to do it over the phone."

"Uh," I delayed, a streak of nerves shot through my chest. "I'm not sure." I jumped at the sound of the door closing at the bottom of the stairs. "I should go. Someone's coming."

"Emma," he called to me. I stared at the stairs waiting for Evan to appear, still listening. "I know you're confused right now, but I've missed us, you know, our talks―being able to share what no one else understands. I don't want to lose that, to lose you."

"I don't either," I murmured, watching the stairs. Then I heard the door close again. "And we will talk. I promise. But I should go." I hung up and sunk into the couch, having a hard time catching my breath after hearing his voice. I missed talking to him. But I’d known ever since he kissed me, it wouldn't be the same between us. I never wanted this―for him to feel this way. It scared me.

After everything we'd been through, all the nights sharing and revealing what no one else knew, I couldn't deny that there was something between us. I felt it the first night he stayed up with me. Our horrific lives and recurring nightmares bonded us in a way that was difficult to explain.

But I also believed there was something more to what kept him up at night. Something he couldn't yet face himself. The source of all the fury that waited to be unleashed with the slightest trigger. The thought of it made my pulse race.

I closed my eyes to try to calm my thoughts and push it all away―the intensity in his eyes, the confidence in his words... the touch of his lips.

"Emma?"

I opened my eyes with a start to find Analise in the doorway. I didn't hear her coming up the stairs. Her lips were drawn tight, not her usual bubbly self. I remained frozen, cautious of her serious disposition. From the grim look on her face, I began to wonder if she'd overheard our call. My face flushed with the thought.

"Evan's in the shower," I said, trying to sound composed.

"I know," she replied simply. "I wanted to talk to you."

I held my breath.

"I never told anyone about what I saw, you know," she revealed, taking a few steps into the room but not getting any closer. My eyes flickered in confusion, so she explained, "That night you were hurt. I was at the house, helping Vivian." I nodded, not wanting her to recount the entire story. "That was when I realized how much he loved you."

I swallowed hard and glanced down at my phone. I quickly shoved it in my pocket, as if it were branding my hand with guilt.

"I'd hoped he didn't," she stated flatly. I puckered my lips to ask what she meant, but she didn't let me speak. "You're not the easiest person to like. You're pretty depressing most of the time. I didn't think you deserved him."

Shock bolted through me, not expecting her brutal honesty. I never considered she had it in her. "What's your point, besides letting me know how miserable I am?" I defended coolly.

Analise didn't seem fazed by my tone. "My point is... he loves you. I mean it's obvious to everyone how much he cares for you, but I was hoping he didn't really love you, not like that―not like I saw when he held you that night. Like your pain was his and he would do anything in the world for you, to protect you."

I looked down, biting at my lower lip.

"All I have to say is that he's the most amazing person I've ever met, and I'd give anything for someone to love me like that, so you'd better deserve him, Emma."

I looked up at her with my mouth drawn open, speechless. She turned away and walked downstairs just as the door was opening at the bottom.

"Hi, Analise," Evan acknowledged.

"Hi, Evan," she chirped happily, not a hint of the threatening tone she'd had a few seconds before.

I was still shaking off her words when Evan entered. He tightened his eyes at the sight of my stunned expression and asked, "Is everything okay? Did something happen between you and Analise?"

I shook my head, still recovering from her blow. I tried to smile and finally said, "No, she was just asking how I was feeling."

"Oh, that's nice of her," he replied skeptically. "You're still okay that she and I are friends, right?"

"Of course," I answered lightly, but for the first time, actually meaning it. "She cares about you, and everyone needs a friend looking out for them like that."

Evan drew his brows together like I'd just spoken in a foreign language. "Okay," he said slowly. Then a breathtaking smile spread across his face. "So I have something to show you."

My lips turned up at the excitement flickering in his blue eyes. "What is it?"

"Come with me and find out." He took my hand and pulled me from the couch. I released Analise's words of warning, and Jonathan's words of want, leaving them behind as I followed after Evan.

"Close your eyes," Evan requested.

I scrunched my face, "Do I have to?"

Evan released a breathy laugh. "No, you don't have to."

He held my hand and led me along the back of the house, eagerly awaiting my reaction. I wasn't sure what I was supposed to be seeing until we neared the large oak tree that sat on the edge of the property.

My eyes glistened as a slow smile spread across my face. "Omigod," I breathed.

"I wanted you to have something good to hold on to. Something that would remind you of him, but also let you know that you'll always be here with me."

I smiled wider and turned to him, engulfing him in the tightest hug. "Thank you. I love it," I choked in a gasp of emotion.

I pressed up on my toes to reach him. He breathed into me, his firm lips sliding over my mine making my entire body hum.

Evan pulled away and asked, "Aren't you going to try it?"

"Yes," I answered enthusiastically, turning back to the tree. "Did you make it?" I wrapped my hands around the ropes and pulled my body up onto the board, balancing myself as the seat tilted beneath me.

"I did," he revealed proudly. "Not sure how steady the board is though."

"It's perfect," I glowed, pumping my legs as I leaned back. My healing ribs tweaked uncomfortably as I gained momentum, but I dismissed the tenderness. Nothing was going to keep me from enjoying this moment.

I couldn't release the smile on my face as the branches above me grew closer with each extension of my legs. I closed my eyes and felt the rush of air on my face and the flitter in my stomach as I swung back and forth. My throat closed, and I captured the tears beneath my eyelids. I was so overcome with emotion, my chest felt like it might burst.

I opened my eyes and searched for him when I couldn't find him in front of me. He was leaning against the tree with his arms crossed, watching. A tear rolled over my smiling cheek as his eyes danced with glints of light.

I knew how much he loved me. And I knew I didn't deserve it. But I also knew he was the only one I loved. The only one I would ever love.

 

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