“It’s nice to see you using such vibrant colors,” Ms. Mier noted as she
stood behind me, admiring my painting. “You have always used such
deep colors in the past, stil with extraordinary results, but this is refreshing.
Whatever’s changed, I like it.”
Then she walked on to the next easel. I leaned back and looked at the
nearly completed portrait of the fal foliage. Before Ms. Mier approached,
I was thinking that the colors were too bright and unrealistic.
The paint brush in my hand was coated with a burnt orange, to fade
the fiery hues on the canvas. I set the brush down and stared at the
colors again. They were blinding to my dul eyes.
I continued to stare at the blur of colors until Ms. Mier asked everyone
to begin cleaning up. Startled by the sudden movement, I looked
around and clumsily began gathering my supplies. I caught Evan
standing in the back of the room, by the photography supplies, watching
me with concern. I continued cleaning up my unused paints, ignoring
“Do you want to study for the Anatomy test with me?” Evan asked
when we left the room.
“Uh… no, I can’t,” I stumbled. “I have to work on the paper.”
“I can go with you.”
“No, that’s okay,” I said quickly, barely giving him a glance. “I think I’d
rather be alone.”
“Okay,” he said slowly and continued down the hal when I stopped at
I was forced to look after him, reminding myself that closing him out
was the right thing to do. The right thing felt horrible - my eyes folowed
him until he rounded the corner. My heart ached, and for a
second I reconsidered my decision, but I shook it off and opened my
Soccer practice was not only hard physicaly but emotionaly as wel.
Having to interact with Sara without connecting was torturous. When
we weren’t on the field, she remained as far away from me as she
could. When we were on the field, she’d only pass to me when she
didn’t have any other choice.
“Lauren, would you be able to give me a ride home today?” I asked
when we were standing on the sidelines during one of the drils.
“Sure,” she answered without hesitation.
I kept walking alongside Lauren after practice, without looking at
Evan as he waited for me by his car. I felt his eyes folow me to her car.
I reminded myself again that it was for the best. But it didn’t help.
“Thank you for doing this,” I said to Lauren, ducking into her dark
I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I asked Lauren to
drive me home. She was very sweet, but she talked nonstop the entire
drive. I heard about the homecoming dance and how Sara and Jason
won homecoming king and queen, but neither had shown up. I tried to
conceal my shock. She assumed I knew why they weren’t there and
tried to get me to confess. She obviously hadn’t noticed Sara and I
weren’t talking. Why did she think she was driving me home? I played
it off and said that I didn’t know either.
Lauren went on about soccer and the upcoming game. She was obviously
excited to make it to the championships as captain for her senior
year. I was given the details of every colege she applied to and how she
was having a hard time deciding which she preferred. Did most girls
talk this much? I tried to figure out how she breathed in-between each
sentence. The topics blurred together like the scenery, and I was almost
relieved when she stopped at my house, feeling exhausted after
having listened to her.
“Thank you again, Lauren,” I said as I opened the car door.
“If you want a ride home tomorrow, let me know. It was nice talking to
you. I feel like we never get to realy talk.”
“I may take you up on that,” I said reluctantly, knowing I’d rather walk
then ask for another ride.
I tried to make it through the kitchen, but was stopped in my tracks by
a stinging pain to my right arm. I winced and turned to find Carol with
a metal serving spoon in her hand.
“Who the hel was that?” Carol demanded, obviously very agitated. I
looked around and realized George wasn’t here, and from her grip of
the spoon, this could not be good for me.
“That was Lauren. She’s one of the team captains,” I tried to explain. I
was too nervous that she’d see through my lie if I tried to explain why
Sara didn’t drive me, so I left it at that.
“You’re pathetic. If you’re begging for rides and embarrassing me, I wil
hurt you severely. Sara’s finaly seen you for who you are, huh?”
The mention of Sara’s name stung worse than the red mark on my
arm. I remained stil, looking for any opportunity to back away to my
room before this escalated.
That’s when her eyes widened, and the metal spoon waloped the side
of my head. I let out a moan and put my hand to my head, backing
against the wal.
“You’re fucking disgusting,” she declared, the storm in her eyes brewing,
making me fear what was to come. “How dare you come into my
house smeling like that.”
I looked down at my practice clothes and released a breath of defeat. I
chose not to shower after practice today, so I wouldn’t keep Lauren
waiting. Wrong choice.
“Mom,” Jack yeled from upstairs, distracting her. “Is Dad back with
the pizza yet?”
She had to shake the fury from her brow before she replied in her best
mother tone, “No honey, but he should be here soon. Why don’t you
and Leyla get washed up.”
“Get out of my sight before I make you sleep outside,” she snapped. I
took advantage of the opportunity to rush to my room. Upon shutting
my door, I dropped my bags and rubbed the smal bump on my head,
relieved that’s al I walked away with. I was starving but knew I’d have
to suffer through it. I tried to focus on my homework instead. I
couldn’t concentrate to save my life, staring at the words as they
blurred in front of me. I only faintly recaled the lessons in class to coincide
with the assignments, and my notes were a scribble of incoherent
words. I jumped at the sound of the knock on the door at ten
o’clock - signaling to turn off the lights.
I set the Trigonometry book at the bottom of my closet, and shut off
the lights. I waited in bed until I heard two sets of footsteps ascend the
stairs. I crept breathlessly out of bed and slipped into the closet, closing
the door behind me. My closet was not very wide, which was fine
since I didn’t own a lot of clothes, but it was tal and deep. I had plenty
of clearance to sit under my clothes without them touching the top of
my head. There was a smal door at the back of the closet that led into a
crawl space where I stored the things that meant the most to me.
That minute space contained the only pictures I had of my parents and
memories of a time that was almost too distant to remember. It was
certainly a universe away from where I sat now in the confines of a
closet. I also stored some of my favorite paintings and athletic awards,
along with a smal shoe box of letters that my mother sent to me after
I’d moved in with George and Carol. She wrote frequently at the beginning,
about nothing of importance, just rambling on paper. After a
while, the letters arrived further apart; until finaly, they stopped coming
altogether about a year and a half ago. I figured she was consumed
with her life and couldn’t bother with me. She had always been consumed
with her life - that’s why I was in this house and not hers.
I read by the pul-string light bulb suspended above the closet shelf. I
referenced the textbook, trying to teach myself what I’d neglected to
learn in class. By the time I crept out of my study space, it was after
one o’clock in the morning. I colapsed on bed, never changing from
my practice clothes. Sleep came quickly, but the dreams kept me
I dragged myself to the bathroom and prepared for another day with
little to look forward to, but got ready al the same. I intended to walk
to the bus stop, but there he was - relentless. I was determined to keep
walking, ignoring his shiny sports car. As I walked past him, he
stepped out of the car and pleaded,
“Emma, don’t do this.”
My eyes widened in panic as I glanced from him to the picture window
of the house. He saw my look of terror and glanced to the house as wel.
“Then get in,” he demanded. With an exasperated sigh, I stomped to
his car and slid in. He closed his door and began driving away. I sat
stiffly against the leather seat, with my arms crossed around my backpack
and my lips pressed together, staring straight ahead.
“Are you sulking?”
Insulted, I glared at him. He produced his amused grin, agitating me
“You’re seriously sulking,” he concluded, almost laughing.
“Stop,” I shot back, attempting to be serious. But the more I tried, the
harder it was, and I felt my lips curl into a resisted smile. “I am not
Evan burst out laughing.
“Enough,” I yeled, but found I was involuntarily smiling. After he was
able to stop laughing , he became too serious.
“Now you have to tel me what’s going on. Why are you avoiding me?”
I remained quiet. I struggled for a rational explanation, so he would
respect my decision to cut him out of my life. I couldn’t come up with
anything that would make sense to him. Everything I wanted to say
would reveal too much. He waited patiently for my response.
“You’re not Sara,” I finaly breathed.
“I don’t want to be Sara,” he replied in confusion. “I stil don’t
“I don’t know how to fit you in my world without hurting you too.” The
truth in my words revealed more than he’d ever know.
“Don’t worry about hurting me,” he replied calmly. “I like being a part
of your world, and I understand that it’s more complicated than you’re
wiling to share with me. But I’l respect that, for now.”
He puled into the parking lot of a drugstore and put the car in park.
Evan seemed nervous as he turned to speak to me. He released a quick
breath before he spoke. My chest tightened, afraid to hear what he had
“I don’t do this.” His hands gestured between us. My eyes narrowed,
trying to interpret his meaning. He exhaled and looked out the windshield.
“I don’t stay, and I’m used to that. And I’m always prepared to
leave – because I have to eventualy.”
He stopped again, frustrated with himself. I sat motionless, absolutely
convinced I didn’t want him to continue – but I couldn’t bring myself
to ask him to stop.
“I want to stay here,” he finaly declared. “It would bother me if I left. I
mean, I’ve already unpacked.”
Evan looked at me with a smal, uncertain smile. We sat silently, looking
at each other for an excruciatingly slow minute – he waited for me
to say something. I broke his gaze, flashing my eyes around the car,
searching for the right words. Disappointed, Evan looked away, his
face turning a hue of red before he continued driving toward the
The tension was unbearable in the awkward silence. I was stil struggling
to say something that would make him give up on me; but every
time I went to say it, the words were strangled in my throat. Finaly,
when he puled into a parking spot and shut off the car, I looked over at
him and said the only thing my heart would alow me to say.
“You should stay,” I encouraged, as a smile crept across my face. Then
I quickly added, “But you’l probably wish you hadn’t when you finaly
realize I’m not al that interesting.” His eyes sparkled and I watched the
tension drain from his face. As much as I knew it was the right thing to
do, I couldn’t continue to push him away. I searched for a logical reason
to remain friends with him without finding one. It was a risk having
him around, and he could never know the truth - but I wasn’t ready to
give him up.
“Did you realy unpack?” I asked skepticaly as we walked into the
“Actualy I did – the other night after I got back from dropping you off.
I think you guilted me into it.”
I laughed. “So that’s the secret to getting to you – guilt.”
“There are other ways,” he replied with his grin.
About to respond to his taunting, I stopped, realizing where we were. I
searched to see if Sara was at her locker from the end of the hal. I let
out a defeated sigh when I saw that she wasn’t.
“How do I get her to listen to me?” I murmured, stil staring down the
“Maybe you have to make her,” Evan answered before walking away
toward his locker.
Crushed with the acceptance that this was going to be another day of
avoidance, I slowly sauntered to my locker to prepare for class. I remained
holow, but I was beginning to accept the emptiness as a part of
I was able to listen in class and understand the lectures. I walked
alongside Evan and heard his words, and even contributed to the conversation.
But my eyes stil searched for her in the hals, continuously
disappointed when she was too far away, or if I didn’t see her at al.
I tried to convince myself to give up on her and accept that I was alone
in my truth. That’s when it hit me – the truth. I stopped in the middle
of the hal with Evan in mid-sentence. His words faded when he turned
back to find me.
“Are you okay?” he asked hesitantly.
“I think I am.” I said each word slowly, contemplating my epiphany -
she knew the truth. Evan appeared worried. I turned my attention to
him and grinned.
This did not change his look of concern, but he didn’t say anything as
we continued to Anatomy. Once class let out, I hurried into the hal,
leaving Evan questioning my retreat. I almost ran to my locker, hoping
I’d get there in time. I breathed an anxious sigh of relief when I found
her stil putting her books away in her locker. I moved to intercept her
before she could walk away.
Spotting my approach, Sara attempted to escape in the opposite direction.
Thankfuly, she was alone. I folowed after her and before she
could exit through the doors leading to the stairs, I belowed, “That
Sara stopped in her tracks when she heard my voice but didn’t turn to
face me. I caught up with her and stood behind her, close enough so
my words wouldn’t draw attention.
“I know I said some horrible things, Sara, and I wil always be sorry for
what I said,” I offered in a rush before she could change her mind and
keep walking. “But you know that wasn’t me.”
She turned apprehensively, without responding.
“Can we please talk?” I begged. She shrugged and pushed the door
open. I folowed her down the stairs and out the side door where she
sat on the grass beside the school. She rested her arms on her bent
knees, staring straight ahead without looking at me. I slowly sat beside
her and let my words float into the air, in hopes that she’d hear them.
“I’m so, so sorry for what I said to you. I wasn’t myself, and I hope you
know that. I was hurting, and angry, and unfortunately you were there
to receive it. It wasn’t right. But you know that person is not who I
Sara tilted her head to look over at me, so I knew she was starting to
“I don’t get angry. It feels horrible, and I can’t stand to be like that. If I
do… If I let her get to me, then she wins. She destroys me along with
everything and everyone who’s important to me.
“I let her get to me that day. I was consumed by it. I shouldn’t have
said what I did, but I also couldn’t let you tel anyone. I know how easy
it would be to end al of this, but I can’t. It’s not just my life I have to
think about. Taking Leyla and Jack away from their parents would
destroy them, and I can’t be responsible for that. I’m strong enough to
handle this. They’re stil kids, so I have to put up with it for a little
while longer. Do you understand?”
Sara’s eyes brimmed with tears. She looked away so she could wipe
“I know I don’t have any right to ask you to be there for me. It’s not the
ideal friendship to be involved in, but I know I can get through this if
you’re there to help me. You’re the only one who realy knows me, and
I trust you. I wil never ask you to lie for me, and I wil never make you
be a part of anything you don’t want to. But the thought that you may
never talk to me again hurts worse than anything Carol could ever do
to me. I don’t want to lose you too.”
My heart stammered at the honesty I spiled at her feet. I had never
been this exposed, not even to Sara. I couldn’t take back the words. I
couldn’t hide my vulnerability. I knew I meant what I said more than
any bitter, hurtful word I spewed in the locker room, and I hoped the
truth was enough.
I waited in tense silence. “You haven’t lost me, Em,” she finaly
whispered. “You’re right, as much as I don’t understand it - you’re not
an angry person. Sad and withdrawn, definitely - but not angry; even
though you have every right to be.” She paused.
“I knew you didn’t mean what you said. The reason I haven’t been able
to face you is because I get so angry when I look at you.”
I was confused by her confession. “I hate this woman for hurting you.
It makes me so angry I can hardly contain myself, and I don’t like feeling
angry either. But you’re right – this is exactly what she wants – to
isolate and destroy anything positive you have. We can’t let that happen.
I know you’re strong enough to do it without me, but I’m not
ready to quit being your friend either.” Her eyes glistened as she
offered me a soft smile.
I tried to blink away the wetness in my eyes. Sara stood up and opened
her arms to hug me. I stood as wel, and I let her without tensing.
She puled away and smiled, wiping the tears from her cheeks again.
“Let’s get one thing straight,” she said looking me in the eye with al
seriousness, “if you ever cal me a slut again, I wil never speak to you. I
know what I’m doing, so stay out of it. Got it?”
“Yes, I got it,” I promised sincerely. “I am stil realy sorry about that.”
“I know,” she replied, grabbing my hand. “And I’m sorry I threatened
to expose you. I understand why you’re doing this. I hate it - I’m not
going to lie. But I’m here for you, no matter what.”
This time, I hugged her tightly. “Thanks.”