6. Different Planet
As we neared the front steps, we spotted Sara and Jason sitting off to
the side, along the stone wal. They were deep in conversation with red
cups in their hands, oblivious to the party happening inside.
“Hey, Sara,” I said as I walked over, breaking her entranced attention.
“Emma, I was waiting for you!” she exclaimed as she jumped up from
the wal and went to hug me, but restrained herself when she saw my
body tense for the embrace.
Sensing Sara wasn’t quite ready to give up her moment with Jason, I
declared, “We’re going in. Find me inside later.”
“Okay.” She replied with a beaming smile that could only mean that I
wasn’t going to see her for awhile.
I was so wrapped up in my anxiety that I didn’t realize Evan had
grabbed my hand upon entering the loud crowded space - not until he
was leading me through the entanglement of bodies. I didn’t pul it
away as we squeezed through the bodies, in fear that I would be stranded
if I let go. Wide-eyes folowed me through the crowd evidently, not
everyone who was here was at the footbal game or had received the
circulating texts.
The house was the typical huge estate that belonged in Weslyn, with
an open floor plan that was conducive to throwing a large party. There
were only two rooms in the front of the house that were encased with
wals - the formal dining room, and another room with a large wooden
door, which appeared to be locked. We squeezed through to the back
of the house where we found the kitchen. The island in the kitchen was
lined with different colored liquor bottles and soda, ending with a
large stack of red plastic cups next to a tap handle.
“Want something to drink?” Evan yeled, stil holding my hand.
“Diet whatever’s fine,” I yeled back.
He left me standing on one side of the bar to get our drinks at the other
end, instantly consumed by the crowd within the few feet it took to
reach the sodas.
“Holy shit! Emma Thomas?!” I heard someone yel from across the
room. I froze, afraid to look. His exclamation caught the attention of a
few other people; they evidently were amongst the few who hadn’t
heard that I was at the party since they couldn’t stop staring at me. I
spotted a guy from my Chemistry class as he fought his way through
the crowd, parting the bodies with his red cup.
“Hi, Ryan.”
“I can’t believe you’re here!” he exclaimed, throwing his arms around
me in a tight embrace with alcohol roling off his breath. Great, he was
drunk. I tensed, unable to react to his breach of my personal space until
he finaly let go.
“Wow, this is so great,” he said with a ridiculous smile on his face. “I
was hoping to see you tonight. I heard you were at the game. Do you
want a drink?”
“Hey, Ryan.” I heard Evan say from behind me. I turned toward him
with a panicked expression, but he didn’t pick up on it. Instead he
handed me one of the cups he was holding.
“Evan!” Ryan holered, in a volume too loud for how close we were
standing to him. He put his arm around me and zealously puled me toward
him, making me spil my drink – he was oblivious.
“Evan, you know Emma Thomas, right? She is the coolest person.”
I gave Evan my wide eyed look of despair - he raised his eyebrows, finaly
getting it.
“Yes, Ryan, I know Emma,” he said, grabbing my hand, and puling me
carefuly away from Ryan. “We actualy came here together.”
Ryan appeared confused and then shocked as he released me.
“You did? Oh, man, I am so sorry. I had no idea.”
“It’s okay,” Evan assured him. “We’re going outside. We’l see you
later.” Evan turned toward the sliding doors that led to the deck.
It was a little less crowded and definitely quieter, leaving the music behind
in the house. We found an empty section of railing and leaned
our backs against it, watching the craziness inside.
“I’m sorry about that,” Evan finaly said, leaning on his forearm to face
me. “I had no idea why you’d given me that look. I didn’t know Ryan
liked you.”
“Neither did I,” I confessed quietly. “Thanks for getting me out of
there. I’m way out of my comfort zone with al of these people.”
“Realy?” Evan shot me a teasing smile. “I don’t think I noticed when
you could barely force yourself through the front door.”
“Okay, so I’m here for Sara,” I admitted with a sigh. “She’s wanted to
ask Jason Stark out since the beginning of the year, and this was the
perfect opportunity. I’m here for moral support.”
“It looks like Sara’s doing just fine without you.” Evan smirked. “I
think you’re the one needing the support.”
I scowled up at him with a mocking smile. “Thanks a lot.”
“Mathews!” a male voice yeled from the door exiting the house.
“Hi, Jake.” Evan greeted the voice with a shake of his hand.
“It’s good to see you,” Jake stated. “No way, is that Emma Thomas?” I
smiled awkwardly and nodded.
“Wait, did you come here together?” he asked, looking at Evan with a
sly grin.
“I brought her here to meet up with Sara,” Evan explained.
“Wow, I can’t believe you’re here.” Jake shook his head while looking
me over. “Can I get you something to drink?”
I raised my cup. “Thanks, I’m al set.”
“Maybe I’l see you inside, and I can refil it for you,” he said, flashing
his teeth. I froze, trying to understand what was going on. I swore I
was on a different planet. And on this planet, people noticed me, and
some noticed me too much. I desperately wanted to be on the other
side of the locked door of the room at the front of the house.
“Did you guys see the fire pit they have around the side of the house?”
“No,” Evan replied.
“It’s pretty cool, you should check it out,” Jake encouraged.
“I’l see you later.” He winked at me before he turned away. I stood
there, stunned.
“Did he realy just wink at me?” I asked, completely astounded.
“I think he did,” Evan confirmed with a smal laugh.
“You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?” I suddenly realized. “I’m so glad I’m
finding more ways to entertain you. This is horrifying for me. I don’t
think you quite get that.”
Evan looked at my distraught face, straightening out his smile.
“I’m sorry, you’re right. I can tel you’re not enjoying this. Let’s go
check out the fire pit; it’s probably less crowded.”
“Evan, you don’t have to stay with me. You should go in the house and
meet people. It looks like the entire junior and senior classes are here.
I’l be fine.” I tried to assure him with one of my forced smiles. He
looked at me doubtingly. I realy did have to work on faking it, didn’t I?
“How about this - I’l walk down to the fire pit with you, and then I’l
make a round inside the house before coming back to check on you?”
“Okay,” I agreed reluctantly. As much as I hated the thought of being
alone at this party, I wasn’t going to ruin Evan’s night by making him
feel obligated to babysit me. I was used to being invisible, and I could
sink into the shadows again – even on this planet.
The deck became more crowded as we moved toward the stairs that
led to the backyard. Evan grabbed my hand to lead me through.
“Evan?!” an excited female voice exclaimed. Although he was stil holding
my hand, we were cut off by a person in-between us, so I couldn’t
see the owner of the overly excited voice. “I’ve been looking for you.”
I squeezed through in time to find Haley Spencer with her arms flung
around Evan’s neck, puling him into her wel-developed body. One
hand was holding me and the other was holding his cup, so the embrace
was not returned. An unwelcome heat turned in my stomach. I
quickly shook off the insecurity and attempted to release his hand -
but he held on tighter and puled me closer. Haley stepped back, keeping
her hands on the back of his neck. “We were just going inside to
get another drink. Join us.” Her eyes met mine, then traced along my
arm. Her eyes tightened when she realized that my hand ended in his.
“Oh,” she said, quickly dropping her hands from his neck. “I didn’t
know you were here with someone.” She eyed me up and down
“Sorry, Haley,” Evan said sympatheticaly, “we were just heading down
to the fire pit.” He puled me a little closer, wrapping his arm around
me. My breathing stopped as I remained immobilized by his side.
“I guess I’l see you later then,” Haley almost sulked. She flipped back
her hair before strutting into the house, folowed by the two aghast
girls who’d been standing next to her.
Evan turned to face me, his hand stil on my back, drawing me in so we
could talk as people squeezed by us. It remained difficult to breathe
while looking up at him, with my heart continuing to pound through
my sweater.
“Stil want to go to the fire pit?”
I nodded with wide eyes.
As he turned to head down the stairs, I missed his hand, and we were
separated. In that brief second, I was aggressively puled in the opposite
direction, with the exclamation, "Emma Thomas! I heard you were
here.” The tug dragged me right into the large frame of Scott Kirkland.
“I can’t believe you came to my party. This is the best night ever,” he
declared in slurred speech. Perfect - he wasn’t just drunk, he was
“Thanks for having me, Scott.” I tried to step back from his strangling
embrace. “It’s a great party.”
He peered down at me with his half closed eyes and breathed heavily
in my face. “Would you go out with me?”
“Um… that’s realy nice of you.” I struggled to find the words while
pushing him away with a little more force. “But…” The panic rose in
my stomach and spread into my chest. I started breathing faster as I
remained trapped against him. I needed to get away from him, but he
didn’t show any signs of releasing me.
“Hey, Scott,” Evan greeted Scott with an overly emphatic pat on the
back. “This is a great party.”
“Thanks, Evan,” he slurred. “Evan, this is Emma Thomas.”
Scott captured me against his body with one arm. I had no idea he was
so big, or strong, for that matter. I almost fit entirely under his arm. I
looked up at Evan in despair, trying to squirm away - I wasn’t making
much headway.
“Yeah, I know,” Evan began.
“Emma and I are going to go to homecoming together,” Scott declared,
interrupting Evan. “Right, Emma?”
I was finaly able to back my way out from under his arm. My face was
bright red, and my hair clung to my cheeks. He lifted his arm in confusion,
searching for me.
Evan took my shaking hand and gently guided me next to him. I tried
to regain my breath, overcome with the sudden need to sit down.
“Emma, I think Sara’s looking for you.” Evan scanned my face in concern.
“Scott, we’l be right back.”
Before Scott could respond, Evan held my hand tightly and led me
down the stairs. My knees buckled slightly, but I recovered and kept
my feet moving beneath me. We went around the corner, and I
colapsed on the stone wal under the deck.
Evan crouched in front of me and looked up, trying to meet my eyes.
“Are you okay? That was crazy. I’m sorry I lost you.”
I took a deep breath and tried to wil my hands to stop shaking. I
couldn’t understand why I was so worked up. Evan gingerly took my
hands in his and looked at me intently, trying to get me to focus on
him. I stared straight ahead, desperately needing to pul myself together.
I barely noticed he was there.
There was something about the crowd, the smel of liquor roling in the
air swirled with cigarette smoke that transported me to another place -
a place I could barely remember, but I had a feeling I didn’t want to return.
There was no space amongst the bodies. No space to breathe or
move without being touched and jostled. The confinement and groping
created a storm that erupted before I knew how to contain it. I
shivered, not wanting to remember what was beginning to stir.
“Emma, look at me,” he soothed. “Are you okay?”
I found his blue eyes and began to focus. My face became hot when I
realized what I must have looked like to him. I tried to stand up, and
he backed up to give me space, but my legs weren’t as ready as my
mind. I wobbled - he caught me by my elbows and puled me into him
to steady me.
I felt his breath against my face when he peered down to examine me.
“Maybe you should sit down again.” But he didn’t move to let me go.
My pulse quickened with the warmth of his body against me as my
hands rested on the hard curves of his chest. I looked up at him, but he
was too close. I panicked and backed away. He let me go easily.
We stood stil for a second, until I finaly said without looking up at
him, “I’m fine, realy.” I was mortified as my quivering body betrayed
me. I must have appeared so pathetic.
“This was probably not the best first party for you,” Evan said gently.
“Maybe you should try something with about ten people before you
jump to a hundred.”
I pressed my lips into a smile and shrugged. He offered a warm smile
in return.
“Do you want to leave?”
“No, you stay,” I encouraged, determined to regain my composure.
“I’m fine. I’m going to sit by the fire.”
We continued to walk around the corner, where a cut stone patio lay
next to the dark silhouette of trees along the perimeter of the property.
In the center sat a stone wal encasing a blazing fire. There were two
dozen chairs around the fire, but only half were occupied. I sat down
in a chair on the opposite side of the smal group, who were talking and
giggling in low voices.
“Evan,” I pleaded, “go have fun. I’l wait here for Sara. Thank you for
bailing me out tonight, but I can take care of myself. I swear.” His
delving eyes tried to read my face, making me wish I could disappear
and erase the whole night. I stared into the fire, unable to bare his silent
“I’l be right back,” he assured me. “I’l find Sara and get us something
to drink, okay?” The careful tone of his voice fueled my embarrassment.
I stil couldn’t look at him as he walked toward the house. I
couldn’t believe I let him see me like this, unable to fend for myself. I
fumed in disgust at my vulnerability. I didn’t want Evan to think I
needed protecting. I puled back my torment and let the numb blanket
envelop me, pushing away the stirred memories, the noise of the
crowd, and the trembling that stil lay beneath the surface. I stared at
the flames licking at the darkness and everything was lost as I sank
deeper into nothingness.
“You know it’s raining, right?” Evan asked from the seat next to me. I
looked around, snapping back from my empty place. I was the only
one sitting in front of the dwindling flames. A steady, cold rain pasted
my hair to my face, causing me to shiver. Evan stared at the few defiant
flames that remained, ignoring the rain while holding his black
camera case.
“Are you going to stop talking to me?” Evan asked quietly. A smile
spread across my face, turning my head toward him.
“No.” I started to laugh.
“What?!” he asked, surprised by my reaction. A half-smile crept across
his face as he tried to get the joke.
“I get accosted by a drunken bear and completely freak out, humiliating
myself, and you‘re afraid I’m not going to talk to you?!”
I laughed again.
Evan smiled lightly, stil not getting the humor in my explanation.
“Why were you humiliated?” Serious once again.
I shrugged - hugging my knees into my chest, trying to suppress the
shivering. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to explain my vulnerability to him.
He waited patiently for me to find the words. I took a deep breath.
“I saw the way you looked at me, and I know how I must have come
across, reacting like that.” I looked down. “I hate that you keep seeing
me at my worst. This realy isn’t me.”
“Emma!” Sara holered from under the deck before Evan could answer.
“You’re crazy. Get out of the rain!”
I suddenly realized I was wearing Sara’s cashmere sweater and
jumped up to join her.
“Sara, I am so sorry. I completely forgot I had your sweater on.”
“I don’t care about the sweater,” she replied. “What are you guys doing
out there? You must be freezing.” Evan joined us under the deck.
“Getting some fresh air,” Evan answered with a smile. He was rubbing
his arms, registering the cold.
“You’re a bad influence on her,” Sara scowled at Evan, which turned
into a smile. She wasn’t good at being mad - probably as bad at it as I
was at delivering my forced smiles.
“Ready to go?” she asked me.
“Where’s Jason?” I asked, not sure if I should be concerned.
“He rode home with one of the footbal players,” she explained with a
twinkle in her eye. I knew I was going to get a good story in the car.
“Let’s walk around the house,” I suggested. “I’d rather not go back
We ran to Sara’s car, trying to avoid being in the rain as much as we
could. When we got in, Sara started the engine and turned on the heat
ful blast. Evan leaned against my door, remaining in the rain while
waiting for me to rol down the window.
He bent down to peer in through the opening. The water ran down his
artisticaly structured face, dripping off the tip of his nose over his shivering
blue lips. My breath escaped me as I took in his steel blue eyes.
“Can I cal you tomorrow?”
“You can’t actualy,” I grimaced. He looked confused. “It’s complicated.
I don’t exactly have phone privileges.” I hated to say it out loud, but I
didn’t want him to think I was rejecting him. The questioning look
didn’t quite leave his eyes, but he tried to respond understandingly,
“Okay, then I’l see you Monday.”
“Yeah, Monday.”
He lingered a second too long, and I couldn’t breathe again.
“Good night,” I finaly exhaled. “Get out of the rain before you freeze to
death.” He stood up and casualy raised his hand to wave as I roled up
the window. He ran back into the house.
“No way! Was he going to kiss you?” Sara shrieked, breaking my
lingering stare. “Emma, I swear if I wasn’t in the car, he would have
kissed you.”
“No, he wouldn’t have,” I dismissed her. My heart colapsed at the
thought of Evan leaning in just a little closer. I shook it off.
“You need to share details,” she demanded as we puled onto the road.
“You first,” I insisted.
Sara didn’t hesitate. The entire ride home, she gushed about her time
with Jason.
It was dark inside her house when we walked in.
“I think we beat my parents home.”
“What time is it?” I asked, having no idea how much time had passed
since we left the house earlier in the evening.
“Eleven thirty.”
It was earlier than I thought. That meant I was only at the party for a
little over an hour. It seemed so much longer. But now that I looked
back at it, I didn’t realy do much. Evan and I didn’t have a real conversation
the whole time we were there. I was too busy trying to avoid being
grappled by drunken idiots.
I got ready for bed and scrubbed at the remaining make-up that the
rain hadn’t already washed away. If I were caught wearing makeup, I
would probably need it to hide what Carol would do to me if she saw
any traces of it.
Last year, Sara had given me a few samples of lipsticks she didn’t
want. I tried them on, but ended up wiping the colors off with a tissue.
When I returned from practice that evening, Carol confronted me with
the tissues removed from the bathroom trash with accusations that I
was trying to sneak around wearing make-up behind her back after
she had already told me it wasn’t alowed. She caled me a whore and
other derogatory names as she squeezed my cheeks together so tightly
in her hand that my teeth ground into the soft tissue until they bled.
So I’d rather have raw skin from scrubbing off the evidence than to
face a second round over the make-up issue.
As we lay in the dark, Sara insisted, “You have to tel me what
happened with you and Evan tonight.”
II had hoped that Sara would be so lost in her night with Jason that
she'd forget al about me, and we could avoid this conversation. No
such luck.
I stared into the darkness above me, not certain where to begin.
“I talked to him,” I confessed. I was quiet for a moment.
“Please don’t make me drag this out of you.”
“I found out he’s from San Francisco and that he may move back if he
doesn’t like it here.” I added, “I can only hope.”
“What do you mean?” She sounded confused. “It looked like you guys
realy connected from where I was sitting - you know, his almost kissing
you.” My cheeks warmed at the mention of the close proximity of
his face to mine when we said good night.
“Sara, I can’t do this,” my voice grew stronger. “I barely talked to him.
He spent most of the night rescuing me from drunken hormonal gorilas.
It was pretty pathetic.
“I don’t want to like him. I don’t want there to be anymore moments
where he may kiss me. I need to stay away from him.”
“I am so confused,” Sara confessed. “I thought we had a plan. And who
was hitting on you? Now I feel bad that I wasn’t there.”
“Don’t,” I said with an edge to my voice. “That’s just it. I don’t want to
be protected or looked after. I should be so much stronger than to
need you or Evan Mathews to stand up for me. I don’t know how I’m
going to be able to look at him on Monday.”
“That’s not what I meant,” Sara said quietly. I heard the hurt in her
voice. “I know you don’t want me protecting you, you’ve made that
clear way before tonight. But I feel bad because I knew how hard tonight
was going to be for you, and from the sounds of it, it was pretty
horrible. I should’ve been there as your friend, that’s al.”
“But it shouldn’t be horrible, Sara. It was just a stupid party, and I
freaked. I could barely function.” I sighed in frustration. I was glad it
was dark so she couldn’t see the tears weling in my eyes. I clenched my
jaw and swalowed the lump in my throat. I took a calming breath to be
rid of the dizzying emotion, while wiping my cheeks dry. Safe again, I
turned away from Sara.
“I’m sorry, Sara,” I said softly. “It’s been a long day, and I’m being ridiculous.
We have to get up early so I can get home to do my chores.
Let’s just get some sleep, okay?”
“Okay,” she whispered.
I was afraid that sleep wouldn’t come easily, but with al that my
psyche had fought throughout the day, I was exhausted.
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