“Stil not doing a very good job fading,” his voice said from behind me.
The paintbrush froze in my hand mid-stroke and started shaking. My
heart stopped in my chest. I didn’t know if I could turn around to face
I forced my legs to swing around to the other side of the stool.
“Hi.” He smiled. My heart released a brief flutter.
“Hi,” I whispered, forcing myself to breathe.
“When you weren’t in the caf, I figured you’d either be here or the
I could only nod, searching for my voice.
“What are you doing here?” I forced the words from my mouth. My
question was barely audible since I stil wasn’t breathing properly.
“Looking for you,” he answered with his familiar grin. My heart picked
up its pace, filing my cheeks with a rush of color. Al I could do was
stare into his blue eyes, afraid that if I looked away, he’d be gone.
Please convince me I wasn’t hallucinating.
“Sorry to hear that the basketbal team lost in the semi’s,” he offered
casualy. He’s talking about basketbal? I definitely wasn’t halucinating.
“Thanks,” I said, forcing my lips to resemble a smile. Come on brain,
don’t fail me now – say something!
“Not sure what to say, huh?” He smirked, amused by my inability to
form a cohesive sentence.
“I’m glad I can…” I threw my hands in the air, forgetting that I had a
paintbrush in my grasp, the green paint flung across his grey tshirt. He
looked down at the streak with wide eyes. I held my breath, pressing
my lips together. A stifled laugh escaped from behind my pursed lips.
Then I started laughing harder.
“That’s funny, huh?” I bit my lower lip, stil smiling. “Let’s see if you
think this funny.” He leaned over my table and rubbed blue paint on
his hands. Realizing his intention, I jumped off the stool to escape
“Evan, don’t,” I pleaded.
I rounded the corner toward the dark room when he caught me
around the waist, leaving blue hand prints on my shirt. When he
grabbed me, he didn’t let go. Evan turned me to face him. Stil smiling,
I connected with his blue eyes, unaware he was puling me closer. Just
before I registered what was happening, my heart ignited, fluttering
franticly. My head swirled in a rush. He placed his damp hand on my
cheek and leaned down toward me.
A paralyzing charge flashed through my body when his firm lips
touched mine. I inhaled his clean scent, alowing the tingling to run
through my head. When he slowly puled away, his eyes searched mine
cautiously. I blinked through the buzz, trying to steady myself.
“Emma?” Ms. Mier’s voice rang from around the corner. Evan raised
his eyebrows in surprise then slipped by me, toward the dark room. I
attempted to sober up before responding.
“Hi, Ms. Mier,” my voice cracked, stepping around the corner to meet
her. My face was hot with embarrassment.
“Oh, hi,” she said with a smile of surprise. With the smile stil lingering,
she gathered some papers from her desk. “I needed to get a few things.
Could you please lock up when you leave today?”
“Sure,” I agreed quickly.
She smiled wider.
“That’s a good color on you,” she acknowledged.
My face grew even hotter, if that was possible. I looked down at the
hand prints on my white shirt.
“No, the red I mean.”
My eyes widened. I watched her walk to the door and turn the lock.
Before closing the door behind her, she glanced at me and said, “Tel
Mr. Mathews I said welcome back.”
I nearly fel over. I stood there for a moment, uncertain what to do
next. I decided not to think about it anymore and to do what I should
have done three months ago.
I walked into the dark room. Evan was drying his hands next to the
sink. I closed the door behind me and leaned against it, unable to
move. He threw the paper towel in the basket and looked up, hesitating
for a second.
My chest moved with an exaggerated breath. My heart beat franticaly
against my shirt. He read exactly what I wanted him to in my widened
eyes and stepped toward me. I wrapped my arms around his neck, and
he puled me into him. I stood on my toes, extending myself to find
him. He held me closer as his lips parted, and I felt the warmth of his
breath. My heart released a surge that caught my breath when I felt his
soft tongue. His lips were firm but gentle, pressed against mine in a
slow, breathless rhythm. Tiny sparks flew through my head and down
my spine - my legs trembled beneath me.
I lowered my head to his chest before my legs gave out. He kept his
arms wrapped around me, resting his chin on the top of my head,
while I listened to his accelerated heartbeat and deep breaths. I wiped
an escaped tear from my eye, trying to remember how to breathe.
“That was worth waiting for,” he whispered and then added with sarcasm,
“Missed me, huh?”
I looked up at his perfect smile and replied with a smirk, “I survived.”
I puled away and eyed him suspiciously.
“I stil have friends here.” He shrugged. Just then, the bel rang, declaring
the end of the school day. “What do you want to do? Do you have
to go home?”
“I’m actualy staying over at Sara’s tonight.”
“You are?” Evan confirmed, raising his eyebrows with a deliberate
grin. “Do you think Sara wil mind if I kidnap you for a couple of
hours?” He casualy leaned against the doorway, as I went to the sink
to scrub his handprint from my face. My heart stuttered.
“Um, I think she’l be fine,” I replied, turning to face him.
“What are you thinking?”
“We have to talk. I mean, I couldn’t have asked for a better way to be
welcomed back, but I have some things I need to say before there are
any more misunderstandings.”
I winced. Couldn’t we have left it at the perfect welcome? My stomach
twisted, fearful of what he needed to say. I could only imagine; although
it couldn’t be worse than what I’d been saying to myself since
“So, you’re back?” I confirmed cautiously.
“Yeah,” he grinned. “We’l talk about it.”
“Great,” I huffed, zipping my sweatshirt to conceal the blue hand
prints and smear of green paint.
Evan laughed. “Don’t be so nervous. I’m here, right?” He grabbed my
hand, the warmth from his touch spread up my arm. The hals were
sparsely occupied, since most people had already left. The shocked
eyes of those remaining folowed us as we traced the familiar route to
“Mathews!” a few guys yeled out in recognition. Evan nodded in acknowledgment,
continuing to walk beside me. I think I was as shocked
as everyone else to see him next to me. His firm grasp of my hand was
the only thing keeping me from believing that I was dreaming the entire
“So, he found you,” Sara observed when we neared our lockers. “I was
getting concerned that you threw each other out the window or
something - but I can see that didn’t happen.” She eyed our interlocked
hands with a smal smile.
“We’re going…” I started. “Where are we going?” I looked to Evan for
“We need to talk,” he explained. “So, can I bring her back to your
house in a couple of hours?”
“My parents are going out again. You can stay and hang out with us tonight
if you want. That is if you don’t say anything that’s going to devastate
her more than she’s already been for the past three months.”
Evan’s shoulders shot back as he received the blow. I stared at Sara
with my mouth open, shaking my head in disbelief.
“What?!” she shot back. “I’m just saying…”
“Enough,” I finished, “more than enough!”
I glanced at Evan; he looked pale. I turned to my locker to gather my
books before he could see the truth of her words on my face.
“I’l see you later then?” Sara confirmed in her pleasant voice.
“Sure,” I replied dismissively, stil in shock from her honesty. Sara
walked down the hal, leaving Evan and I alone.
“What did she mean by that?” Evan asked slowly.
“She’s just being ridiculous.” I wanted him to dismiss her words, but
they lingered uncomfortably.
“Huh,” he exhaled. “I guess it wasn’t any better for you here.”
I didn’t understand what he meant and looked to him for translation.
“We’l talk about it,” he assured me. “Ready?”
“Sure,” I said, closing my locker, his assurance filing me with dread.
Evan took my hand again and escorted me to his car. I didn’t say much
during the ride, too consumed with the pending “talk”. I wasn’t completely
surprised when we puled into his empty driveway. I couldn’t
think of another place to give us the privacy we needed for our
I turned to him in the car before he opened his door.
“Can’t I just enjoy that you’re here for one day before we make it
Evan found my plea amusing. Of course he did.
“I need to do this. I’ve had three months to obsess over this conversation,
so I need to say what I have to say.” He flashed a reassuring
smile. “Don’t worry; it’l be better once we talk.”
I wasn’t convinced.
I folowed him into his house. I was confused when he kept walking
down the hal and up the stairs to his room. I hesitated before entering
his bedroom. Evan stood at the end of his neatly made bed, waiting for
“I wanted you to see that I’m realy here.”
I glanced around the room and noticed the shelves were ful of books
and other personal belongings. I didn’t see any taped boxes.
“I’m completely unpacked.”
With that, Evan walked out of the room. I continued to folow him
through the house and into the barn. My stomach was tangled in
nerves when I sat down to face him on the couch. I slid my shoes off
and leaned back against the arm of the couch, resting my chin on my
knees. I hugged my knees to my chest, prepared for whatever it was we
had to talk about.
“What I have to say goes beyond the three months I was gone,” he
began, playing with the seam of the cushion nervously. “I should have
said something the month we weren’t talkng before I left.” He hesitated
and then focused on my eyes. He let out a breath and pressed his
lips together. I waited anxiously, barely breathing.
“I love you.”
My heart pounded loudly, having never been told those three words.
“I didn’t handle things right. I shouldn’t have gotten mad at you like
that, and I’m sorry. I said some things I didn’t mean, and I pushed you
away. I practicaly hand delivered you to Drew Carson, which kiled
I opened my mouth to disagree, but he continued before I could get a
“I know I did, Emma. Don’t feel bad about it. But what was worse than
that was when I was waiting in the hospital, not knowing. I can’t get
the image of you motionless on the gym floor out of my head.”
I shifted my gaze, unable to look into his pained eyes. I mindlessly
picked at my jeans with shaking hands.
“It was the worst moment of my life. And then when you wouldn’t see
me…” Evan paused to take another breath. I glanced up at him, watching
him run his finger along the seam of the couch again. “I knew I’d
realy screwed up. If I couldn’t be there for you… if you didn’t want me
to be there for you, then I couldn’t be here at al. So I left.
“But I couldn’t do it. I’d stil talk to some of the guys, and you’d come
up every once in a while when they talked about what happened over
the weekend. They’d mention they saw you at a party or they’d talk
about basketbal. They knew we were close, so they’d bring you up –
and I wanted to hear about you. Wel…
except for that one time.”
My eyes shot up and my stomach turned. He didn’t look at me.
“Are you over him?”
“Drew?” I confirmed in disbelief.
I released a brief humorless laugh, to his surprise. “Yeah, I’m completely
“Didn’t he end things with you?” Evan questioned, stil perplexed.
“I let people think what they wanted,” I confessed, meeting Evan’s
blue eyes. “Like someone else I know.”
He obviously didn’t understand what I meant.
“I ended things… wel, actualy you did,” I stated, thinking better of it. I
knew Evan stil wasn’t folowing. It was my turn to explain. “It became
obvious I wasn’t over you.”
“So you didn’t…” Evan examined me cautiously, not knowing how to
finish the sentence. My eyes widened in shock, knowing exactly what
he was asking.
“Have sex with him?! No!” I declared, aghast with color rushing to my
“Sorry,” he said with a relieved smile. “I just heard…”
I sighed. “Yeah, along with the rest of the school. That was horrible.”
Evan let out a brief laugh.
“It’s great that you can stil find humor in my social catastrophes,” I
“Sorry. I was just imagining your face when you found out what people
thought you’d done,” he said with a chuckle. “It probably looked a lot
like what I just saw, actualy.”
He let out another quick laugh. I tried to force a scowl, but I was having
a hard time keeping a straight face.
“He wasn’t your fault,” I said softly, suddenly more serious than I
wanted to be. Evan quietly listened. “I was angry. I assumed things. I
thought I saw more than there actualy was between you and Haley…”
“I...” Evan started.
“I know,” I interrupted, “and I’m sorry for ever thinking you were interested
in her. So much wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t… I
thought you hated me.”
Evan’s eyes got wider, alarmed by my words.
“I thought I forced you away when you saw me with Drew. I thought
you couldn’t stand to be near me,” I whispered, fiddling with my jeans
again. “I hated what I’d done, and I was so furious with myself. I could
only imagine what you must have felt. I’m so sorry.” I blinked away the
tears weling in my eyes, recaling how my rage in the bathroom had
continued internaly since that day. Evan slid down the couch, and
drew my bent knees across his lap. He forced me to look into his reflective
“I didn’t hate you,” he stated softly. “I could never hate you.”
He leaned in and gently pressed his lips to mine. It took me a moment
to find my breath after he puled away.
“So what now?” I whispered.
“I’m here, with you… if you want me,” he offered with a soft smile. I
shoved his arm. “What?! I just wanted to be sure.”
“Of course I want you,” I shot back.
“Then there’s just one more thing.” His tone became serious. “I know
that you won’t tel me what happens at home. I was wrong to try to
force you, and I was wrong about what I said to you. You are so much
stronger than I ever thought you were. I get why it’s hard for you to
talk about it. Sara told me that you don’t even talk to her about it most
of the time. But I know…”
I was having a hard time listening to his words. Ice began to build up
in my stomach. I wished he hadn’t brought it up.
“And even if you won’t, or can’t, tel me – I know. I do have to tel you
that I can’t ever sit in a hospital waiting room again.”
“I fel –” I tried to explain.
“Don’t,” Evan urged. “I know. Without you or Sara teling me, I know.
So, even if you can’t tel me the truth, don’t lie. Don’t defend them like
it’s okay. Because it’s not. I won’t let them do that to you again. I’m
just warning you, I’l make you leave with me if I think that…”
“Evan,” I interrupted, “I’m okay. I promise. It’s been pretty tolerable
since that day, actualy. They barely even notice me anymore, and I get
to spend the weekends at Sara’s. It used to be Saturday nights, but it’s
evolved to Fridays as wel. It’s not the same, so don’t talk like that.
He didn’t respond.
“Okay?” I repeated, forcing him to look at me.
“Yeah,” he whispered.
I put my hand on his cheek, wanting him to believe me. He took my
hand in his and kissed my palm, sending shivers up my arm.
“So we’re better?” I confirmed.
A warm smile spread across his face. “Yeah, we’re better.”
Evan leaned toward me again. This time, when he pressed his lips to
mine, he stayed there. He slid me onto his lap as I put my arms around
his neck. My heart convulsed in a flood of flutters, capturing my
breath. His lips slowly slid against mine, parting in a gentle motion. I
felt his hot breath against my lips, the flitter enraptured my head. I positioned
my body to face him, straddling his legs. He puled away and
examined me with a smirk.
“What?!” I exclaimed, shocked by his withdrawal.
“It’s only my first day back.”
I bit my bottom lip with a guilty grin, color flooded my cheeks.
“Yeah,” I breathed, looking down. “Sorry.” I flipped my leg over and
sat on the couch next to him again.
Evan laughed at my embarrassed retreat.
“Stop it,” I sulked, gently kicking his thigh with my foot. “I’ve waited
for forever to kiss you.”
He laughed again. “You just surprised me, that’s al.” He continued to
grin as he looked at his watch.
“We should get to Sara’s before she believes we did push each other
out a window. That reminds me…”
“Don’t,” I begged, not wanting to reflect on Sara’s reference to my devastation.
“Not now, okay?”
“Okay,” he agreed hesitantly, studying me more intently than I was
“What do you want to do tonight?” I asked with bright eyes, trying to
deflect the serious moment. “A movie at Sara’s?”
“Are you going to fal asleep again?”
I was asleep an hour into the movie. I didn’t remember faling asleep,
with Evan laying behind me on the couch, his arm wrapped around my
waist and my hand in his. I was actualy convinced that I was going to
make it through the entire drama when it started.
“I’m right here,” he whispered in confusion.
I shot up at the sound of his voice.
I sat with my feet on the floor, gripping the cushion on either side of
my legs with my heart racing. His hand gently brushed along my back.
“Are you okay?”
“You’re here?” I whispered in relief, squinting to look at him. He examined
my face in concern, gently wiping the tear from my cheek.
“Yeah, I’m here,” he soothed. A pained realization flashed across his
face. “I’m not going anywhere.”
Stil dazed from the abrupt arousal, I stared at him, uncertain if I was
“Come here.” He puled me down to lie on his chest, wrapping his
warm arms around me as I drifted back to sleep.
I awoke the next morning in the same clothes as the night before. I sat
up in a panic.
“Relax,” Sara urged from the bed next to me. “We’re going to see him
tonight. I convinced him to go to a party with us.”
I lay back down with a relieved smile, her words confirming that I
hadn’t been dreaming.
“I don’t remember going to bed,” I pondered.
“You had some help,” Sara explained with a grin. “I couldn’t wake you
when I got home, so he carried you in here.”
My heart thrust to life as the image of Evan carrying me to bed flashed
through my head.
“How was Maggie’s?” I asked Sara, roling on my side to face her.
“Good,” Sara replied dismissively. “So… what happened? I’ve been
waiting for you to wake up for a half hour. I was going to jump on your
bed if you didn’t wake soon. Did he finaly kiss you?”
“Finaly!” she concluded, not needing my confirmation. “How was it?”
“Stop it,” I insisted.
“That good, huh?”
“Would you stop assuming things without my answers,” I demanded
with wide eyes.
“Are you going to answer?”
I smiled, deliberating if I could say it out loud.
“Stop beaming and give me details. You swore a milion years ago that
it never happened if you didn’t tel me.”
She got me there.
“Fine,” I conceded with a sigh, sitting up against the pilow and crossing
my legs. “Yes, we kissed. Actualy I think he kissed me before I
completed a sentence.”
“No way!” Sara exclaimed. “And…”
“I don’t think I can find the right words to describe it,” I said pensively.
“It was better than I could have ever thought possible.”
“Figures,” Sara stated with an exaggerated breath. “It only took you
forever to give in to it. If you’d listened to me, you would have found
out before the soccer season was over.”
“Thanks, Sara,” I shot back sarcasticaly, throwing a pilow at her.
“What was the talk about?” Sara inquired, determined to hear
“Basicaly both of us taking blame for his leaving,” I replied. Then I
continued to sum up the details, not wanting to think about the awkwardness
of the conversation too much.
Sara laughed when I told her how I reacted when he asked about Drew
- and what we didn’t do.
“What is it with the two of you, finding humor in my horror?”
“I guess we both know how you react in awkward situations, and it can
be pretty funny. Sorry.” She smirked. “What’s going to happen now?”
“Wel, we agreed that we’re okay, and he’s staying. We didn’t have the
relationship conversation if that’s what you mean, and honestly, I
don’t think that’s something I need to have with Evan.”
“Because he’s already told you he loves you, right?”
My face reddened as I suppressed a smile.
“Right,” she confirmed.
“So what did you say we were doing tonight?” I asked, interrupting her
from answering her own questions.
“You and I are going shopping today,” she explained. I groaned.
“Stop,. My mother’s given us both gift cards for the mal. I figured it
was time you owned your own pink sweater.”
I grinned in agreement.
“And then we’re going to Alison Bartlett’s party. It’s supposed to be
pretty big, just to warn you.”
“Great,” I grunted, but I was slightly comforted when she confirmed
that Evan was picking us up so that we could al go together.
As Sara was contorting my hair into a loose curly knot at the base of
my neck, I considered, “Sara, you haven’t mentioned an interest in
anyone lately. What’s going on with you?”
“I don’t know,” she remarked with a sigh. “I’m tired of the games, I
guess. I don’t think I’m going to find a guy in our school. That reminds
me, we’re going to New York next weekend. We’re staying with my
cousin at Rutgers and driving to Cornel for the day on Saturday. Coach
caled my parents about meetings for you. So, who knows, maybe I’l
meet a colege guy!”
“We’re what?!” I choked.
“Sorry, I forgot to mention it. Your uncle thinks my parents are coming.
They’re not, so don’t say anything to get caught in a lie.”
I gawked at her in disbelief.
Sara added with a heavy breath before I could even think it,
“Don’t worry. Evan’s meeting us in the city Saturday night. I asked
him last night.”
“I didn’t say anything,” I defended with a smile.
“You didn’t have to,” she said, roling her eyes. “Em, I’m glad Evan’s
back - you know that, right?”
“Yeah,” I replied cautiously, concerned by her tone.
“I want to make sure that you’re going to be okay if Carol and George
“I dated Drew without them finding out,” I stated, not understanding
what she was worried about.
“That was different,” she tried to explain. “It’s harder for you to hide it
when you’re with Evan. It’l be obvious to anyone who sees you that
there’s something going on with you – you’re glowing. So, I need to
know that it’s going to be okay?”
Sara’s nervousness caused me to hesitate before answering. It was going
to be okay, wasn’t it? I had to believe it would be.
“I hope so,” I answered honestly. “Sara, I listened to what you told me
that time at Janet’s, about why you decided to go out with Jared, and I
think I need to do the same thing. I’d rather be with Evan, knowing it
may cause me some stress at home, than to never have this chance to
be with him.”
“It’s different for you,” she responded, stil concerned. “You’re risking a
lot if Carol finds out.”
“I’l survive,” I promised. She didn’t appear satisfied with my answer
but remained silent.
“You’re not going to fight this and make it hard for me, are you?” I
“No,” she said with a warm smile. “I’m happy for you –
honestly. So, let’s go. Let’s let everyone know Evan’s back and that you
two are finally together.”
“Yay,” I groaned, as we walked down the stairs. “That’s exactly what I
want tonight to be about.”