“Oh my God,” Emily squealed, grabbing my hand; Mike rubbed his ear with his finger. “When did this happen?”
“Wow.” She pressed both thumbs to my ruby, becoming seemingly smaller from the shoulders down. “And…what about David?”
“He’s—out of the picture,” Mike said softly, but very politely.
Emily’s eyes screamed her true thoughts. “Well, that’s just, like, so great, Ara. I’m so happy for you two.”
“I’m just gonna…” Mike jerked his thumb toward the stairs and walked a few steps backward before fleeing with the speed of a man in trouble. Oh, wait—he was in trouble!
“Emily?” I closed my bedroom door, then spun around to look at her. “What’s wrong?”
“What have you done?” her voice trembled.
“I already told you, Em.” I sat on the bed, shifting Emily’s jacket out of the way. “David and I broke up. Why are you so surprised?”
“Because, you were supposed to meet again one day, on a windy autumn morning, and fall in love all over again. Not go and marry another man!” She pointed to my door.
She looked at me for a long moment, then threw her hands up in the air. “I don’t know what to say to you, Ara. You know, he loved you. Why should kids or careers or anything stop you from being together?”
“It’s not just the kid thing.”
“Then what else is there?” She sat beside me.
“He…he has things in his life that he doesn’t want me a part of—that I don't want to be a part of.”
I raised a brow at her. “Em, come on, you know David's got secrets.”
Her eyes narrowed. “So, you can't love him if he has secrets?”
“No, it’s not that.” I stood up. “It’s that I can't be with him now I know those secrets.”
She stood too. “Are you kidding me? His inner demons are stopping you from being together?”
“That’s not love then, Ara. It never was.”
“Shut up, Emily. You don’t anything about what I felt for him.”
“Look, I'm sorry.” I dropped my arms to my sides and slumped on the bed. “I'm just tired of people thinking they know my heart.”
“I wasn't saying I did. I just…I just don't get it, you know. You wanted him so bad. I remember you telling me you’d give anything if he’d just ask you out. What changed?”
“What?” I asked, confused, as she reached into her bag and pulled out her phone.
“Ask David what he did that’s so terrible it’s destroyed this magic love I thought you guys had.”
I smiled. “He’ll never answer his phone, Emily. He’s probably got a new number.”
She shrugged, holding her phone to her ear. “It’s ringing.”
I tensed. What if he answered? What then?
I felt my toes edge, turning in preparation to run and snatch the phone.
I tried to force my brow into a dismissive position to hide my obvious confusion at the way she spoke to Jason—like she’d known him for years, or had, at the very least, met him before.
“Just tell me where he is,” she said, then went quiet. “Well, does he know what Ara’s gone and done?”
She bit her lip, ignoring me, then nodded—to herself, I think. “She’s marrying him, Jason.”
I gathered, from the look on her face, that Jason didn't really have a lot to say about it. And why would he?
“Okay.” She shrugged. “He’s your brother.” She hung up the phone and looked at me; I felt like a school kid in big trouble from the principal. “You are the stupidest girl I've ever met.”
“Hey! I am not. I'm just trying to be happy.”
She shook her head, conceit littering her smile. “By living without David?”
“Then that just makes you even dumber than I thought.”
“Look. Stay out of it, Em. It’s my life.”
“And I’m your friend. That means I get to tell you when you’re being a dumb cow!”
“No, Emily, I’m being sensible. I’m doing what any normal, sane teenager should do.”
“That’s the point! Don’t you get it? You’re a teenager. You don’t have to make smart choices.”
“Well, exactly. And I have the freedom to say and do stupid things, because I’m young, Ara. And so are you. And if you let love go now for reasons only an adult would care about, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life.”
“What would you know about regret? You’re the same age as me.”
She looked down at her feet. “I have my regrets.”
“Yeah, well, for me, David won’t be one of them. It’d be worse if I stayed with him.”
“What is wrong with you?” She tossed her phone onto my bed. “Do you need a brain scan or something? It’s David!” She waved flat palms at me. “David freakin Knight, Ara, not just some random guy.”
“Just stop it, Em. Okay!” I thrust my body forward a little, tightly holding back tears. “He’s gone! He’s not coming back, and I don’t want to talk about it!”
“That’s because you know you should have gone with him.”
“What the hell does it matter to you?”
“He was my friend, Ara. I cared about him. And I care about you, too. God only knows why I bother, because you obviously don't care about yourself.”
I shook my head, looking away.
“I'm sorry, okay,” she said. “I just…I’ve never really had close friends before and, I mean, David was my first one. He was the first person that ever understood me.”
“And you—” she continued. “You became my friend because you actually liked me. Not because I was popular or knew all the guys. You actually liked me, Ara, and I don't have any other friends like you and…” Her lip quivered. “He’s gonna take you back to Australia, isn't he?”
“He wants to,” I said, unable to look at her.
“And what then? Then I’ll have no one.”
She swiped her tears and sat on my bed. I sat down beside her.
“I'm sorry, too.” She took my hand. “It’s not my place to interfere, I just—”
“I don’t like how he calls you baby and girl all the time.” Her nose crinkled. “Don’t you find it degrading?”
“Why would I?” I shrugged. “He’s not trying to control me or own me by using a pet name.”
“But you’re not his pet. That’s just the point.”
“And he doesn’t treat me like a pet, either. It’s a term of endearment. I, unlike you, have an appreciation for verbal affection.”
She laughed through her nose. “You sound like David.”
“Yeah. He says stuff like that all the time.” She softened. “Er, well, said.”
I shrugged. “Guess he was starting to rub off on me.”
“It started out as a way to tease me, you know.” I smiled at a distant memory.
“Baby. The way Mike always calls me baby. It started because he was always faster, stronger and smarter than me. No matter how hard I tried, I could never beat him at any game or race or anything. So I’d sulk.” I shrugged again. “He’d always call me a baby, then, after a while, he just started saying it after pretty much everything he said, until one day it changed—there was a warmth behind the word that hadn’t been there before, and I—” I smiled, “—I kinda liked that. It made me feel special.”
“I guess I know what you mean. We kind of let almost anything go when they make us feel special, don’t we?” Em twiddled her fingers in her lap, then exhaled and stood up. “But, let the record show; I don’t like Mike. I don’t think he’s good enough for you.”
“But he is good for me.”
“Are in my world,” I scoffed. “So, anyway, how do you know Jason?”
She stiffened, going a little pale.
“Oh, now you have to tell me,” I said, pointing at her.
She turned away and walked over to my window, heavy, as though gravity gifted her with iron legs.
“It’s nothing, Ara. Really. It was just a summer fling—it ended.” She braved a teary glance at me as I stood beside her.
“Doesn’t mean it didn’t happen,” I said.
The corners of her lips twitched, turning downward. “I was in love with him.”
“Mm-hm.” She grabbed a tissue from my desk and wiped her nose, nodding. “We dated for the summer and then, when it got cold and the fun of the sunshine disappeared, he just left.”
“Left? As in—he moved, or he just didn’t come back?”
“Just gone.” She stood back, wiping her face again.
“Can you hear how fast my heart is beating?” She touched her chest. “That was the first time I’ve heard his voice in nearly a year.”
“So, what, he never even left a note to say where he’d gone?”
“No—that was the worst part. He just didn’t show for our date and stopped answering his phone. I asked David if he knew what was going on, but he said his brother was a player—that I’d just been one of his victims.”
She nodded. “David had a way with words.”
“Yeah, he did,” I said. “Actually, he told me his brother was a bit…malevolent. Why would you be with a guy like that, Em? You’re gorgeous, you can do better.”
She sniffled. “That’s just it; he wasn't like that at all. I don't know what David was talking about, but Jason was really sweet.”
I smiled. Brotherly love. I guess it was the same as me telling everyone Sam was a troll. He wasn’t actually a troll. And I was glad for that—that Jason wasn’t…malevolent. I could never picture David's twin being a creepy, stalking vampire. I tried so many times, but putting the face of David on anything cruel just never fit. “So, is it true they’re identical?”
“That must’ve been hard for you then—after Jason left, you know, being friends with David—always seeing his face.”
“Not really. They were very different people. David was cute, but he had boundaries you couldn't cross. You could never be, like…relaxed with him.”
“I get that.” She gave a soft, distant smile. “I really do. It was the same with Jason and I. People always seemed to avoid him, you know, and I just didn't see what they saw.”
“He was gentle and loving and…” She looked at my bed then. “He jumped through my window on the morning of our six-week anniversary and filled my room with frangipanis, waking me up by running one over my face.” Her fingers traced the memory over her skin. “I loved him, enough that we talked about growing old together and what we’d name our kids.”
I wished I could tell her about the Set laws and vampire migration. She probably blamed herself, deep down inside, for making him leave. “Guys do that,” I said instead. “Summer flings.”
She lifted her hand from the fold of her arms and wiped another tear, nodding. “It just hurt to think we had something special—only to find out it was just a game.”
“Is that what you really believe? That he didn't love you?”
“I never used to believe it—never wanted to. But it has to be the case. You don't just walk out on those you love.”
I shrugged. “Maybe he was like David—maybe he had secrets, too.”
“No. I think they’re both just assholes. I mean, how could David just go and leave like that, too? He saw how broken I was when Jason left—he was the one who picked up the pieces. Surely, he must know what he’s done. Why couldn’t he have just said goodbye—at least to me?”
“Maybe he just thinks it’s better this way.”