21. Just Friends

“We can be friends,” Evan said when he returned twenty minutes later.
He sat next to me on the couch and grabbed my hand. The warmth of
his hand sent shivers up my arm. I searched his eyes, wanting to believe
“I mean, we’re already friends, so nothing has to change.” The disappointment
and confusion were replaced by a comforting smile. He appeared
to be sincere. “Okay?”
I had no idea what had happened in that twenty minutes, but he was
not the same as when he left.
“Yeah, okay,” I said slowly. I tried to smile back.
I was so afraid of seeing him in school on Monday, expecting an awkwardness
between us. However, there wasn’t the tension or avoidance
I anticipated. Everything was back to the way it was before the weekend
ever happened – then again... it wasn’t. I noticed his presence so
much more than I had before. Every time he brushed alongside my
arm when we walked down the hal, or leaned in close to whisper to me
in Anatomy, it sent thousands of sparks flying through my body. I
found myself smiling more and caught up in his gaze longer. It was
like I was noticing him for the first time, al over again. But this time, I
knew he noticed me too. Evan sat closer, walked nearer, and looked
longer. He started storing his books in my locker in between classes,
placing his hand on the smal of my back when reaching over me to retrieve
them. These subtle touches would ignite a warmth in my chest,
and release tingles up the back of my neck. He didn’t hold my hand in
school, but he always found a way for the backs of our hands to lightly
touch when we were near enough.
We were engaged in a very intricate dance of touching without touching,
knowing without saying, and feeling without expressing. We were
friends walking along a ledge, a very thin ledge - and I was too caught
up in my heightened awareness of his existence to realize how close
the ledge was to crumbling beneath my feet.
“What’s going on with you?” Sara asked during our ride to school on
Wednesday. I hadn’t told her everything when I returned from Evan’s
that Sunday afternoon. I told her about the dirt bike ride and Jake’s
cal, but I left out the room. I couldn’t bring myself to say the words out
loud, and since we agreed to be just friends, there was no point in saying
them at al.
“What do you mean?”

“You and Evan have been acting realy… different the last couple of
days. Did something happen that you’re not teling me?”
She glanced over at my avoiding eyes and declared, “Something did
happen! Em, did he kiss you? I can’t believe you didn’t tel me!”
“No, Sara, he did not kiss me,” I said emphaticaly.
“Then what? You two are almost too… close, or something. I can tel it’s
not the same. So, what happened?”
“We’re just friends,” I emphasized.
“Did he say something?” she shot out in excitement. I couldn’t conceal
my pink cheeks. “Omigod, that’s it. He finaly told you how he feels
about you. You have to tel me what he said.”
“Sara, it doesn’t matter,” I retorted, getting redder as I remembered
exactly what he said. “We’re only going to be friends, so I’m not going
to talk about it.”
Sara didn’t continue her interrogation, but a knowing smile crept on
her face.
“Is Carol getting out of work early today, too?” Sara asked when we
puled into the parking lot.
“She actualy took the day off so she could go shopping with her mother
and start prepping everything for tomorrow. I guess her sister and her
kids are getting into town tonight, so she wants to be there for that
too.” The thought of Carol in the kitchen cooking was laughable. I
knew she wasn’t going to measurably contribute to the Thanksgiving
meal, but would gladly accept the unearned praise.

“So you can’t go home after school, can you?”
“I think I’m going over Evan’s,” I replied, as casualy as I possibly
“Yeah, and I’m coming with you,” she insisted. I knew there was no
point in arguing with her.
“Sure.” I smiled slightly, trying to hide my disappointment. To my surprise,
Evan seemed perfectly accepting of gaining a chaperone. When
we arrived at his house after a useless half-day of classes, I discovered
why. Alongside his mother’s BMW was a silver Volvo with New York
license plates.
“Your brother?” I concluded.
“He got in late last night.”
The side door opened as it did before, and Vivian exited wiping her
hands on a white apron tied around her waist – evidently she did cook.
She was stunning once again with her hair twisted neatly off of her
face. She wore a ful black skirt that fel below her knees and a pair of
black boots that rose to meet it, along with a tailor fitted white blouse.
Behind her was a tal blond who was obviously her oldest son and the
opposite of Evan in just about every way. Jared had shaggy blond hair
that flipped out at the tops of his ears. His features resembled his
mother’s soft lines and thin lips, with her sparkling blue eyes. Jared
was slightly taler than Evan, with a broader, more muscular build.
“Who’s that?” I heard Sara whisper in my ear as they approached.
“Evan’s mother and brother,” I said quickly.

“Emily, how are you darling?” she asked, giving me the same embrace
but adding a peck on the cheek. I stil had a hard time returning the
gesture due to its brevity.
“It’s nice to see you again, Mrs. Mathews.”
“Vivian, please. We are already acquainted, so we can forego the formalities,”
she insisted, smiling brightly.
“Jared, this is Emma,” Evan declared proudly.
“Hi, I’ve heard a lot about you,” Jared replied, extending his hand. I
gave Evan a brief questioning glance, he responded with a quick rise of
his eyebrows.
“This is my friend, Sara,” I introduced, after she nudged my elbow for
the second time.
“Sara, it’s very nice to meet you. I met your parents. They are wonderful
people,” Vivian welcomed, shaking her hand. Before Jared could
say anything to Sara, Vivian turned to me to ask, “Wil you be staying
for dinner?”
“Mom,” Evan stressed, alarmed by the invitation, “it’s the day before
Thanksgiving. I’m sure Emma needs to get home to her family.”
“Wel, another time then,” she said, ignoring his curtness.
“Of course,” I promised.
“We’re going upstairs to play pool,” Evan announced before his mother
could make any other impromptu invitations. He grabbed my hand
and escorted me to the garage.

“It was nice seeing you again,” I blurted quickly as we passed Vivian.
Sara and Jared folowed behind us.
While Evan turned on the music and got us drinks, and Jared colected
the pool bals on the table, Sara cornered me.
“What was that about?” she demanded. “His mother is practicaly
gushing over you. Not to mention that he’s holding your hand like it’s
the most natural thing in the world. Forget about dating
- are you having a wedding you forgot to invite me to?”
“Sara!” I exclaimed a little too loudly, shocked by her words. Her eyes
widened at my volume, and we both glanced around to make certain
the guys hadn’t overheard.
“Stop being stupid,” I whispered. “I met his mother at the dinner, remember?
And he grabbed my hand to drag me away before she said
anything else that would embarrass him.”
“Whatever you say,” she replied, not convinced.
“You two ready?” Evan caled from the pool table.
Evan and I were a team against Jared and Sara. Throughout the game
we engaged in casual conversation about Cornel, soccer, the upcoming
basketbal season and Thanksgiving plans. I could feel Sara boring
holes through me every time Evan leaned over me with his hand on
my hip, adjusting my angle for the tougher shots. Then again, the searing
heat could have been my heart pressed against my chest.

“So, what’s with mom?” Jared asked when Evan was taking his shot.
Evan waited until he knocked the nine bal into the corner pocket before
he answered.
“You mean downstairs when we got here?” Evan confirmed.
“Yeah, that was strange,” Jared noted.
“Um, actualy, I didn’t get to tel you this either, Emma.” I raised my
eyebrows when he looked over toward me. “I told you that Emma went
to the Jacobs’ with us for dinner last weekend, right?”
“Yeah, and I am so sorry you had to suffer through that,” Jared empathized.
I grinned in acknowledgement, too anxious to hear what
Evan had to share to say anything.
“Wel, it turns out quiet Dr. Eckel likes to gossip,” he looked at me with
a grin. My eyes widened, catching on. “Emma was sitting next to Dr.
Eckel, and I guess he overheard Catherine’s…”
“Pathetic charm,” I interjected. Evan smiled at my choice of words.
“Sara you know about this, right?” Evan assumed. She nodded, trying
to suppress a smile that drew color along Evan’s neck. “Anyway, he
also heard Emma’s not so subtle reactions to some of the things she
“Noticed that, huh?” My face instantly felt warmer.
“I think half the table noticed, but only he knew what it was about
since everyone else was talking. So, when we made our escape, he
happened to be on his way to the restroom and witnessed your gracious

“No way,” I breathed, my mouth open.
“Don’t worry; he thought it was pretty funny. He and my mother survive
these dinners on gossip, so he told her what happened. My mother
can’t stand the Jacobs, including Catherine, and was impressed by
how you subtly put her in her place.”
“She’s impressed with me because I laughed at Catherine Jacobs? That
was not very subtle,” I stated, dumbfounded.
“Wel, you don’t know Catherine. She’s probably stil trying to figure out
why you were laughing at her,” he said with a quick laugh.
“But my mother thinks you showed a lot of restraint, considering.”
His mother must have misinterpreted my rudeness for something
even I didn’t understand.
“Huh,” Jared mused, before taking his shot.
“Are you two going sking this weekend?” I blurted in order to change
the subject.
“Yeah, what are we doing this weekend?” Jared asked, directing his attention
to Evan. “I want to get the snowboards out. We can go up
Saturday and stay the night.”
“Don’t we have plans Sunday?” Evan turned to me for the answer.
“We could go out Friday instead,” Sara quickly threw in. I almost forgot
she was behind me, she’d been so quiet. “Em, you can say you and
I have to work on the Journalism assignment together. You can lie and
tel them it’s due Monday, and since I won’t be around for the rest of

the weekend, Friday is the only day available. Then we can al go out to
a movie or something. Jared, you’re welcome to come too if you want.”
“You’re good with the lying to the parents’ stories, huh?” Jared observed,
sounding impressed.
“I’ve had four years of practice,” she admitted, making me laugh.
“Sure, we can go out Friday,” Evan responded tentatively, looking to
me for approval. I nodded in agreement.
“That sounds good to me,” Jared confirmed.
“Wait, what about Jason?” Evan asked, realizing that he was missing
from the plan.
“Yeah, wel, we won’t be seeing much of Jason anymore,” she
“What happened?” Evan countered.
“Um, he was just so… quiet,” she said with a smile. I knew what she
realy meant and let out a quick laugh.
“He was realy nice,” she backtracked, “but I need a little more… spontaneity.”
She smirked at me.
“Huh, I’m sorry to hear that it didn’t work out,” Evan offered.
“Thanks,” she replied, uncomfortable with the condolence. We played
a few games of pool and a couple rounds of darts before I realized that
I needed to leave, so I could be home before George.
“I’l be right back,” Evan told Jared, grabbing his coat.

“Oh, I’l drive Emma,” Sara told Evan. Evan stopped with one arm in
his sleeve and looked at me, questioning Sara’s offer. I shrugged.
“Okay,” he said reluctantly. “Then I’l see you Friday.”
“I’l cal you to confirm the time,” Sara replied. “It was great to meet you
Jared.” I lingered, not sure if Evan was going to walk us down. Sara
noticed my hesitation and grabbed my hand to drag me down the
“Bye.” I waved before I disappeared.
“You are so ful of shit,” Sara accused when we puled out of the driveway.
My jaw dropped. “If there was any more sexual tension in that
“What?” I interrupted with a laugh. “You are definitely seeing things
that aren’t there.”
“Am I?”
I couldn’t straighten the smile from my lips.
“Yeah, I didn’t think so,” she concluded from my lack of defense.
“Emma, just be careful, okay?”
“I don’t understand you,” I confronted. “You keep saying how cute we
are together and antagonizing me with questions about whether he’s
kissed me – and now that… wel, you’re not reacting the way I thought
you would.”
“I was stupid for teasing you about kissing him. I’m sorry,” she admitted.
“But now that I see your new friendship, I’m realy afraid for you.

If you can’t hide it around me, then Carol is going to destroy you if she
picks up on it.”
“Don’t worry, Sara, nothing’s going to happen.”
I didn’t have to sit on the steps very long before George arrived home.
It was easy to ask him if I could stay over Sara’s on Friday without
Carol around. He agreed to the plan, reminding me I had to be home
first thing on Saturday to do my chores. He had to work for a few
hours on Saturday, so he warned me not to upset Carol while I was
home alone with her. I promised, knowing that just breathing upset
Carol, and there wasn’t anything I could do about that.
I survived Thanksgiving at Janet’s by not existing. I blended into the
background as best as I could. When it came to cleaning up, Carol
glowered at me in expectation of making myself useful, but Janet
wouldn’t hear of it. Carol did everything she could to keep from blowing
up, so I stayed out of her way in the living room, coloring with the
kids while they watched the first Christmas movie of the season.
I drove home with George while Carol and the kids spent more time
with her sister and her two daughters who were visiting from Georgia.
Sara picked me up in the morning so that we’d have the day together
before we went to the movies. She wanted to go to the mal, but I
begged her not to make me suffer through watching her try on a
milion pieces of clothes on the busiest shopping day of the year. She
conceded to my pleading but stil had to get a couple of things done before
we went to lunch.
We stopped by a jeweler, so Sara could buy new earrings, then the
seamstress, to pick up new clothes Sara had tailor fitted, and finaly

Sara splurged on pedicures for the two of us. It was Sara’s idea of the
perfect girl day, minus the clothes shopping. I was just along for the
ride, getting a glimpse of what it was like to be Sara McKinley.
We walked quickly to the house in the cold with flip flops on our
freshly pedi-ed feet. Anna admired my light pink toes and Sara’s contrasting
hot red while we sat and chatted on the couch. She was preparing
a list of recipients for Christmas cards, so she could send them
out the next week. I watched as Sara and her mom discussed their
family and laughed about her dad’s side. I smiled at their connection,
feeling like I was looking through the windows of the ideal family. It
also ached at the same time, knowing how frigid it was on this side of
the window.
“What time are the boys meeting you?” Anna asked.
“We’re going to an early show at six and then probably getting
something to eat. We’l come back here and hang out after,” Sara informed
her mom, and me as wel. This was the first time I was hearing
our plans.
“Sounds great,” Anna replied.
“Let’s go figure out what I’m going to do with you,” Sara said, puling
me off the couch.
I sat on her bed as she sorted through her closet.
“Sara,” I caled nervously. My tone made her stop what she was doing
and step out of the closet so that I had her attention. “I don’t think I
can afford dinner and a movie. I’ve stashed some money, but not
enough to do both.”

I hated having to admit when I couldn’t afford to do the things she had
in mind for us. And she knew I hated when she offered to pay for
things. It was hard enough borrowing her clothes; forget about having
her extend her walet to entertain me.
“Don’t worry about it,” she said nonchalantly. “I have movie passes
that I have to use, so you can save your money for food. The passes include
drinks and popcorn, so it’l work out. I actualy have four, so the
guys wil use them too. Honestly, Em, they’l probably want to pay for
dinner, feeling bad that I’m supplying the movies.”
“Are you sure?”
“Definitely,” she confirmed dismissively. “I have the passes, so we
might as wel use them.” She ducked back into the closet, continuing
her search.
“Do you have any more pink sweaters?” I yeled to Sara when I heard
her groaning in frustration through the open door.
“No more pink sweaters for you,” she holered in return. Then she
poked her head out and said, “I should make you go in sweats actualy.”
I scowled at her.
“But you know I couldn’t do that. I love dressing you up too much,”
she said with a smile. “Oh, I have it. I have this black shirt that wil look
amazing with dark jeans and wedged heels.” She revealed a scooping
black top that looked like it was too smal.
“No heels,” I protested.
“Uh, that’s not going to work,” she groaned. “Wait - what about boots.
They have a thicker heel, so they won’t be so hard to walk in.” I
shrugged in defeat. “Then I’l pul your hair back in a curly ponytail and

you’l be adorable – to go to the movies with your friends.” I picked up
on the sarcasm and stuck my tongue out at her.
My hair bounced in the ponytail as I descended the stairs with Sara.
She had her long locks in a high ponytail as wel and wore a sapphire
blouse that showed off her eyes. She looked like she was going on a
date, despite the supposed casualness of the evening. I met Evan’s eyes
and grinned back when he came into view at the bottom of the stairs.
“Don’t you two look nice,” Carl observed from the sitting room.
“Thanks, Dad,” Sara said, giving him a peck on the cheek and grabbing
our jackets. “We’l be back later.”
Jared’s silver Volvo waited for us in the driveway. Jared opened the
passenger side door for Sara. She was heading toward the back door
with me when the gesture caught her by surprise.
“Oh, thanks,” she said, slipping onto the passenger seat. Evan opened
the back door for me, before he went around to the other side and slid
in next to me. He had my hand in his before we even left the driveway.
My lips curled up at the warmth of his touch. As we drove, the proximity
of our bodies gradualy became closer until the sides of our jeans
were gently touching. I couldn’t say that either of us moved intentionaly,
but there was a gravity that drew us together. My heart murmured
in content.
In attempt to make up for her silence at Evan’s the other day, Sara did
most of the talking, with Jared being her main audience although she
kept turning around to include us. I knew she was doing it to prevent
us from doing anything in the dark of the backseat. Jared was an endearing
captor to Sara’s charm. He laughed at the right time and commented
inteligibly – I was relieved he was with us instead of Jason.

“No more pink sweaters?” Evan whispered while Sara discussed one of
her favorite restaurants in New York, which coincidentaly was one of
Jared’s as wel.
“I’ve been banned,” I whispered in return, nodding toward Sara. He
looked from Sara back to me with his eyebrows puled together. “Don’t
worry about it.”
“Okay.” He shrugged.
“But you stil look great,” he whispered leaning in so that his breath
tickled my ear. He lingered for a second. I knew al I had to do was turn
my head, and he would be right there. I took an even breath, alowing it
to swirl in my head before slowly turning to meet him.
“Does that sound good to you?” Sara turned toward us. I quickly faced
her, and Evan sat back against his seat. She shot me an accusing look.
“Sorry, what did you say?” I asked. Evan gave my hand a tight squeeze
in frustration.
“For dinner,” she emphasized, “is Italian okay?”
“Sure,” Evan agreed.
We puled up to the theater and Sara practicaly puled me out of the car,
putting her arm through mine while forcing us to walk together toward
the entrance. The guys folowed.
“Em, you are in so much trouble,” she whispered. I could only grin in
recognition of the truth.
When the guys found out Sara was taking care of the tickets, they insisted
on paying for dinner – as Sara had predicted. After getting our

drinks and popcorn, we made our way into the crowded theatre to see
the newly released action movie.
I could tel Sara was angling to sit in-between me and Evan, but I
slipped in behind him before she could enter the row – so Sara sat
next to me and Jared was next to Evan. Evan easily found my hand
again once the lights dimmed. I don’t know if I could’ve recaled a
single scene from the overly explosive flick. Not with Evan slowly
brushing his finger tips along the inside of my hand, tracing delicate
circles that made my entire body tingle. Every so often Sara tried to
distract me and pul me toward her with a comment about the action
star and an unrealistic leap, or that he should have been dead within
the first five minutes of the movie. When I leaned in to rest my head
on Evan’s shoulder, she finaly gave up, shaking her head in frustration.
I couldn’t concentrate on anything except for his breath next to
my ear and his cheek against the top of my head as he casualy
breathed me in. The star could’ve died in the first five minutes - I
would have had no idea. When we stood up to leave, my legs were
weak and my head was spinning. Evan kept his hand on my waist,
holding me next to him while we made our way up the crowded aisle. I
placed my hand over his, securing him to me. As soon as we were in
the main hal, Sara caught my arm.
“We’l be right back,” she announced, puling me away from Evan’s
wrap and toward the bathroom.
As soon as we entered, Sara whipped around to face me, demanding,
“What are you doing?” She didn’t pause to let me answer. “If you tel
me one more time that you’re just friends, I’m going to kil you. Do you
want this? Because al you have to do is tel me and I’l leave you alone.
But you were the one who convinced me this couldn’t happen, and
now look at you – you can barely see straight.

“Just think about it clearly for one minute and let me know if you want
more from Evan than just a friendship. Forget about what you’re feeling
– think about it. Think about Carol.”
I shuddered at the mention of her name.
I stood there for a minute, taking in her passionate expression and was
overwhelmed with the situation. I couldn’t think. My body was so mesmerized
by the trance of his touch that my mind wasn’t working. I
couldn’t answer her.
“I don’t know what to do,” I confessed quietly, “but don’t worry about
me Sara; it wil be okay. I promise.”
“You know you can’t promise that.”
I shrugged.
“Do you want me to interfere, so you can decide what to do?”
“Maybe,” I agreed. I recognized her logic, but the swirling in my head
was not alowing the rational thought to penetrate. “But don’t be so invasive,
okay? You and I can sit in the backseat together, but let me sit
next to him in the restaurant, alright?”
“I can do that.”
The guys were waiting for us patiently. I took Evan’s hand and walked
to the parking lot.
“I’m going to sit in back with Sara, okay?” I whispered as we neared
the car.
“Sure,” he said pausing to look at me. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah.” I smiled back, putting him at ease. “It’s a girl thing.”
He raised his eyebrows and nodded to indicate that he understood. I
wished I did.
After a talkative dinner, we headed back to Sara’s, stil in the agreed
upon seating arrangement. I was intoxicated by him as I gazed at the
back of his neatly trimmed hairline and the linear muscles that ran
down his neck to his back. I wasn’t fighting against the pul of him anymore,
and it felt so invigorating. I didn’t want to pretend I didn’t feel
my pulse quicken every time I was near him. I wanted to feel it – I deserved
that much, right?
“Sara, would you be okay with Jared if Evan and I watched a movie in
your room?” I whispered in her ear. Her mouth dropped open, and for
the first time, Sara was speechless.
“Are you sure?” she asked cautiously.
“Yeah, I’m sure.” I smiled, the glow radiating from my cheeks. She
smiled back and whispered, “Okay.” Then quickly added,
“I want details.” I laughed and Evan turned to find out what was so
I looked at him and smiled, biting my lower lip. “Nothing,” I assured
him. Then I heard Sara gasp.
My eyes folowed hers, looking past Evan, and froze, seeing exactly
what had caused her to breathe in so sharply.
“Oh no, Sara… it’s her.” In that one breath, the ledge disintegrated
from under my feet.
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