I punched a kid twice in fifth grade for trying to see up Gemini Hetherington’s skirt when her twin brother was home sick. The Hetheringtons could get away with things like that if they ever lifted a fist in the first place, but for a Holthausen it was like a criminal offense, and all of the better-neighborhood parents gasped at the news and wondered what went wrong in my development. I sat in the car while the principal spoke to my dad about it. Through the window I heard him warn that I would no sooner be punching Walt Burtons in elementary than pulling a knife on a man for his wallet in adulthood, and that immediate correction was necessary unless he wanted me to wind up in jail with the rest of the scum of Airedale.
While my dad tried to calm the principal down, Gemini Hetherington tiptoed up to the window when her nanny was distracted. At first she signed ‘thank you’ to me through the window. She breathed on the glass and drew a heart on the foggy circle. Then she signed ‘I know you’re not bad,’ and fled at the screeching crow of her nanny. I watched her get in her family’s imported luxury car and pull out of the parking lot. She waved at me from the back window.
I’d always liked Gemini. She taught me sign language and lent me her favorite books. It was a shame, I thought, that her dad pulled her out of public school the next year and had her homeschooled along with her brother, Leopold. Her tutor would never let her sign.
When my dad first reentered the car, he didn’t speak. He put the car in drive and stared forward with a disappointed scowl, the likes of which I’d never seen on him truly. It was always a difficult expression for me to recall, considering my dad was the smiling-man of the neighborhood.
He pulled over at a curb down the street from the school, parked the car and let the AC run. Leaning his elbow on the center console, he turned to me with round, jubilant eyes.
“How many were there?” he chirped inquisitively. “Guys, I mean.”
“Um…just one,” I replied, a little confused. “Walt.”
He pounded the console with a loose fist and grinned. “The Burton kid. I should have known.”
“You’re not mad?” I murmured, averting my gaze.
“I know that you know that I know you, son,” he told me. “I know you wouldn’t just punch someone out of the blue. You were raised better. What did Walt do?”
“He…uh, tried to look up Gem’s skirt,” I answered awkwardly. “In line after lunch recess.”
“Defending a lady,” he sighed softly. “An honorable pursuit. You held your ground. I’m proud of you, son.” He patted me on the shoulder and mussed my hair. “You like the Hetherington girl, don’t you?”
I glanced away shiftily. “Well, yeah…I mean, she’s a friend. She’s nice. But I don’t…like her. I just like her. You know.”
He gave me a knowing look when I turned to face him again. “You dig her. I can see it.”
“Dad,” I mumbled, embarrassed. “Well, it’s just…she’s a Hetherington anyway.”
He shrugged. “I wouldn’t let something like a last name stand in your way. Love is free-thinking nowadays.” Grasping the wheel, he put the car back in drive and pulled out onto the street, headed the direction opposite of home. “I have a few things to wrap up at work. That okay?”
“I get to see in your office?” I gasped. He smiled at me, his cheeks flushed, as they always were. Everyone said he looked like a young Santa Claus.
“Sure, I don’t see why not. It’s technically after-hours in the lab. Plus, I have something to show you.”
“Project BW?” I exclaimed, leaning over the console. “Did you finish it?!”
“Almost,” he promised. “It still needs to go through more test runs before they try it on human candidates. But I think you should see it before all that happens.”
Walking into the lab was like sneaking into a room of top secret files with a stolen key-card. In this case, my key card was my dad, who worked at Live Tomorrow Inc., one of the world’s leading medical research facilities, owned by none other than Mr. Victor Hetherington himself. There were several different departments within working on cure research and bodily substitutes for those in dire need, one of which produced (in cooperation with LabRec, America) the CACRRP—Cancer Annihilation Cell Rehabilitation Radiation Procedure. It was from this that LT Inc. received most of its clout, and my dad, too. Now that the improvement testing for the CACRRP had moved to a smaller maintenance branch, my dad’s personal project became his focus, as well as the interest of the rest of LT Inc., who continually funded him to further his research and invention.
His pursuits had many names—Project BW, Experiment B, Organic Replacement Trialing—it all referred to the same idea, a spark of inspiration he received in a dream, and an incredible plan he realized he had the ability to flesh out and create.
My dad’s office was a mess of equipment, sketch pads, calculators, microscopes, and long tables. If he let me, I would root through it for hours, absorbing his ideas, his motivation. As a kid I’d always been interested in science and engineering, and what little they taught of it in school was never enough to fulfill me. I understood my dad’s code scribbling, his technical terms, his theories and mathematical babblings. I loved his line of work, I loved bringing him to dad day, and I had plans to move into an office at LT Inc. myself, I thought, when I grew up.
He put his keys down on the table closest and told me to hang around while he turned the padlock on the back storage unit. I took in all of his new postings and findings as he closed the door behind him and shuffled around incognito. I readjusted his microscopes to non-use positions and put them away so he wouldn’t get a blue slip telling him not to leave them out where they could get damaged overnight. And I picked through his tools and his small clockwork creations, which he diddled with during lunch breaks. Most of them were wind-up toys which I’d started and he’d finished at work. Some of them were clocks that I made him, and others were moving metal life forms that he made to burn off steam. One of them blinked at me. I smiled and put it away.
He stepped carefully through the door with a large, sturdy safe and placed it gently on the table at the far corner of the room. He pulled up two chairs and beckoned to me, and I obliged without hesitation. The safe, still chilled, resembling an alien pod, took two codes and a fingerprint to open. When all tests had cleared, he carefully opened the door and gingerly pulled a tray from it, which contained a small glass box.
He lifted it out of the tray and held it safely in both hands. “Look in there, Rudolph. Isn’t it beautiful?”
I leaned over the glass too see a clear, nearly invisible, oval-shaped pod. Simple, stable, effective. If I remembered right, he’d had quite a few burst on him before they came close to completion. Some nights I could hear him yelling at himself before he fell asleep. I’d always make him French toast in the morning to cheer him up. And now his greatest accomplishment was finished, technically, and running.
“It’s so tiny,” I remarked, comparing it to the size of my thumb.
“It’s never the appearance that matters, son,” he reminded me wistfully. “It’s small, but it’ll change the world.”
“So when it gets in a person, where do you put it?”
“You could place it anywhere in the body and it will work,” he answered, “but the most effective spot would be the heart. If you plant it under the pericardium, it will react with the organic material around it, trace every vessel from its source and take over for the old system. It will shuttle blood to and from the heart without issue, never allow a drop in blood pressure, eliminate the risk of clotting, strengthen the walls and function of the heart…it’s a miracle.” He sighed and slumped over. “All my hard work…is going to pay off. This tiny seed was all it took. Well, that and the synthetic hemoglobin I’ve engineered to help sustain the system change. But that was an afterthought.”
“Are you still going to call it Biowire?” I inquired, leaning back. He rested the glass container on his knee.
“I wouldn’t dare change it,” he laughed. “No matter what Victor thinks. You came up with it, after all.”
I beamed at him. “What about the blood?”
He shrugged. “I’ll just let them make some fancy acronym for it. It’s not as important to me.” And, after a slight pause and a shift of his jaw, “Rudolph, what would you say to a move?”
He had my instant attention. “What do you mean ‘a move?’ How far?”
“Hear me out,” he explained, leaning forward in anticipation. “When Biowire reaches its final stages and becomes ready for marketing and redistribution…well, how would you feel about going to America?”
“America?” I scoffed, taken aback by the enormous implication. “All the way to America? Why?”
“The license and patent for this entire project and product belongs to me; I’ve just chosen to use LT’s resources and allow them to market it and take some of the profit from it. But you know what’ll happen when they start releasing news—other countries will start asking about it, and bartering for the sharing of technology…and good old Victor will hike up the price. He’s a businessman…an entrepreneur, and I don’t blame him for getting what he can out of medical advances. But at the same time, I don’t think it’s right to put a price tag on something so…”
“Life-changing,” I finished, agreeing with him. “A lot of people need this, right Dad?”
“Well, yes. But I meant…something that was designed for the sake of the common welfare. When he denies access to this product unless a country can pay, let’s say, twenty-five million dollars for permission to its blueprints…that denies millions of people their lives tomorrow. If this were a cure for a non-lethal disease, I wouldn’t mind as much. But this is important to the world. I feel like I owe it to people everywhere to share it free of charge, or at least to America.”
“Won’t Mr. Hetherington be mad at you for passing it out behind his back?” I offered. “He funded it, after all.”
“But he didn’t create it. Victor has more money than he knows what to do with. Compared to the CACRRP, this was relatively low budget. In any case, Victor is a good man. If I explained, I’m sure he would understand the sentiment.”
“Because Mom told you to make Biowire,” I assumed, “because she wanted you to help people like her.”
He nodded and, after putting the glass case back within its safe, placed a hand on the side of my face and gave me a look that only fathers can give…to sons who look nothing like them, but everything like the wife they held dear in memory. My mother had olive skin and black hair. My father was pale and blonde. And I was my mother’s double in little boy form, with startling space-wandering eyes like hers, no pupil to be seen past the iris. “When you think about it,” he whispered, passing his thumb back and forth over my cheek, “medicine was never meant to be sold. It’s like billing people for sheer happenstance. Or demanding pay for their right to see a tomorrow. The value of the human life…should surpass dollar bills.”
“Like paying rent on every breath?” I added. He nodded and applauded my use of creative similes. “Hey, Dad?”
“Do we really have to move to America? Can’t we just visit?” At that time I would have rather stayed in Airedale, where my small number of friends meant more to me than the seedling underbelly possessing the city.
“Well, I don’t know,” he pondered aloud, letting his tone drift dreamily. “I just thought you might like to. It’d be a fresh start.”
“Are you afraid of what Mr. Hetherington will say when you get back?” I assumed, trying to think of other reasons why my dad would want to get so out of the way of Airedale, into the jurisdiction of another country across the sea.
He laughed in quiet undertones and leaned back in his office chair, folding his hands over his stomach. "If I know Victor at all, I should think not. But there are times when he has this look about him…and it makes you wonder if you really do know who he is or what he’ll say. No pulling the wool over your eyes, is there, my boy? We can visit only if you’d like.”
“He’ll probably just get mad a little bit,” I said, unconcerned. “And maybe his feelings will be hurt, and you could give him a gift so there’s no hard feelings. That’s the worst that could happen.”
My dad laughed in his loud, corny way and, once relaxed again, pulled his hair out of its tail and let it touch his shoulders. “You’re right. He knew your mother, too. He would understand.”
He locked his project away and we walked back to the car through a darkened facility, a mysterious place to the rest of Airedale except for us. Returning home that night, we had bedtime tea by the tele and talked over reasons why I should always defend a lady in need, and things I needed to know to be a man.
We never made it to America.
“No, please stop! Don’t touch me! No!”
The girl shot up from her bed and out of her dream like a bolt of lightning. Cold sweat rained down her face, her dark brown hair sticking around her umber eyes. It had been four months since the incident but she still had trouble sleeping through the night. Her nightmares continued to haunt her, sometimes even during her waking hours of life.
“No…” she whispered to herself while tears formed in her eyes.
It had been one of those things people saw on Lifetime TV movies and read about in the newspapers, but never thought would happen to them. Her and her friends had stayed out later than seventeen year olds should, into the one and two o’clock hours of the morning. She was only two blocks away from her home and said she could make it by herself. And for the first block she had done so. But as the first came to an end so did the innocent life she led.
She had wanted to save herself for that special someone; for that someone who’d put a ring onto her finger and tenderly say “I do.” But everything that’s being protected has someone who wants to steal it. And that’s exactly what happened to Emily Swanson. The innocence she’d protected had been stolen. She had been raped.
* * * * *
“Good morning Emily,” her mother said as the sad girl dragged herself into the kitchen. “How did you sleep dear?”
Emily didn’t reply, just sat down quietly at the kitchen table.
“Emily?” her mother asked, looking to her curiously.
“I had another nightmare mom,” the girl said weakly, not looking up from her floral printed placemat.
Her mother gasped. She left her spot at the stove after turning off the gas and walked sympathetically to her daughter. “It’s okay dear.” She rested her hands on her daughter’s shoulders and gave a reassuring squeeze. “You’re safe now.”
“Were you ever raped mom?” the girl asked quietly.
Her mother sighed. “No, dear. I wasn’t. So I don’t know what you’re going through.”
“Then how can you expect me to feel safe when I was violated in such a way?” she asked a little more angrily. “I lost a lot that night. I lost a lot that I can never get back: my security, my trust, my virginity. And you want me to think I’m safe.”
“I know honey. But we just have to be thankful that nothing worse happened. He didn’t get you pregnant, didn’t give you any kind of disease, and he’s locked up now.”
Emily stood quickly from her seat, pushing the chair back into her mother. “You’ll never understand what it‘s like for me.”
Before her mother could reply Emily stormed from the kitchen. She grabbed her bag and left the house, leaving her mother shocked and hurt, staring sadly at the kitchen floor.
The sun was bright and Emily had to squint while her eyes adjusted to the intense light. ‘How can the sun still shine on a world like this?’ She had wondered that every day for long time.
After the attack she’d been too embarrassed to say anything. It was only thanks to her mother’s constant prying in the days after that she finally divulged the incident to her parent. The next step was telling the police, which took even more convincing. It wasn’t until after she’d had seen a doctor and found no signs of that he’d given her HIV or anything else that she agreed to file a police report. Only after a few weeks, when she finally got her period, was she truly able to feel relieved. But relief wasn’t the same as security.
Two and a half months after it had happened, the guy was caught and arrested. He ended up with a three-year prison sentence without bail, meaning that, for the next three years, one out of hundreds of rapists was behind bars. Yeah, Emily felt really safe.
She looked up from her thoughts at hearing a car horn honking and saw a yellow Jeep pulling into the driveway of her parent’s home in the Key’s Light subdivision. She smiled but was still sad as she walked to the car and got into the passenger side.
“What’s wrong?” the driver, a boy with dirty blonde hair and hazel eyes, asked as soon as she had gotten in.
“Why do you ask?” she countered innocently.
“Because I know something’s wrong,” he replied while checking for traffic as he backed out of the driveway.
Emily sighed; defeated, knowing he could tell when something was on her mind. “I had another nightmare last night.”
“That’s not all.” He started down the street toward school.
She sighed again, more heavily this time, and said, “It’s just that mom always acts like everything is okay.”
“It’s not her fault,” the boy said, trying to sound sympathetic. “She doesn’t know what it’s like so you really can’t blame her.”
“Then who should I blame?” Emily asked darkly.
“Well we weren’t dating then so at least you can’t blame me,” he joked.
“But you liked me. If you’d have asked me out before I got raped instead of after maybe I wouldn’t have been.”
“Would you have said yes?”
She didn’t reply, just stared out at the trees zipping by. Lock Road was a peace stretch through the forest, connecting Key’s Light to the little town of Hale, Georgia.
“I’m sorry,” he said after a while. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”
She looked over at him nervously. “Do you ever feel like I’m just using you to make myself feel safe?”
“Not at all,” he replied, focusing his attention on the road. “You’re not are you?”
“Sometimes I feel like I am.”
He laughed. “Then it’s a good thing that you picked me and not some creep.”
She couldn’t help but giggle a bit at that. “You know I don’t like it when you joke at a serious moment.”
“I know, but I don’t want to see you sad.”
“Why are you so good to me?”
He looked over at her as they came to the red light at the end of the forest. “Because I love you silly,” he said with an honest smile. “And if I’m good to you maybe one day you’ll say it back.”
A small smile played its way onto her lips. She couldn’t say that she loved him because she didn’t know if she did. But she was comfortable with him and he always treated her so well. Everyday she grew more and more attached to him. So maybe one day she really would tell him that she loved him too, just not today.
“You’ll just have to wait.” She leaned over and placed a small kiss on his cheek. She’d lost her trust in men four months ago, and so had still never had a real kiss. But she hoped that, when the time came for her first one, Dylan would be the one to give it to her.
* * * * *
“Has he asked you yet?”
“Asked me what?” Emily asked her friend Danielle in the locker room while pulling her gym shirt off.
“To the dance next week,” Danielle said through the wall between them, her tone exasperated.
“Oh, that.” Emily groaned and rolled her eyes while her gym shorts fell to her feet. “No he hasn’t.”
“Do you think he will?”
“Why does it matter?”
“Because, it’s the Sweetheart dance. Next to prom, it’s the most romantic dance of the year. And it’s even on your birthday.”
True, the dance did fall on Emily’s eighteenth birthday and the best present she could get would be for Dylan to ask her to it. But he hadn’t yet.
“Well he is kind of shy,” she told her friend while starting the shower water. “I’m sure he’ll ask me soon. He told me this morning that he loves me.”
She heard a squeal from the next stall, followed by the question, “Did you say it back to him?”
“Because I don’t know if I do. It’s not an easy thing for me to say.”
“Right,” her friend said softly.
“Please don’t be upset,” Emily asked of her. “You would’ve been there if I hadn’t said I’d be okay.”
“I know, but still…” Danielle had been with Emily the night it happened. She was one of the friends Emily had told to not worry about her. And she blamed herself for what had happened. She wished she could’ve been there to help, or that it had been her even, but neither was so.
“You know I don’t blame you,” Emily said after a bit of silence. “And I don’t want you to blame yourself either.”
“I know,” Danielle said.
* * * * *
“So um…” Dylan shyly rubbed the back of his head from the driver side of his Jeep. They were parked in his Emily’s driveway, and she was watching him with a cute smile. “I was wondering… I mean, if you’re not doing anything next Saturday… I know it’s your birthday and maybe you already have plans but… If not then would you…”
“Dylan,” she stopped him, placing a hand on his. “Are you asking me to the Sweetheart dance?”
The boy nodded slightly, a deep blush on his face.
“I’d love to,” she told him happily.
He smiled, a little stunned and relieved. “Great,” was all he could think of to say, making him look like an idiot. “Well… I guess I’ll call you later. Maybe we can do something this weekend.”
“Okay,” she said, kissing him on the cheek. “See you later.”
She smiled at him while climbing down from the Jeep and closing the door. He watched her as she walked up to her door, turning and waving before going inside.
“Is that you Emily?” her mother called.
The girl didn’t respond, just leaned against the door in a dreamy daze. That’s how her mother found her when she walked into the room.
“Oh, you’re home,” she said happily upon seeing her. “I’ve some good news.”
“So do I,” Emily said excitedly, suddenly realizing her mother was in the room with her. “But you first.”
“Emily, your father’s coming home for your birthday next week.”
Emily’s heart sank into her stomach, which then dropped from its place at the news. She hadn’t seen her father in five months. He had been working overseas since then. He hadn’t even come home for her when she was attacked.
“You don’t look happy,” her mother said nervously.
“I’m not,” she agreed. “Why does he have to come home now?”
“He wants to see you on your birthday honey.”
“But he didn’t want to see me when I was raped?”
“He tried to come home then but he couldn’t get away from work.”
“Don’t defend him damn it,” Emily yelled. “You know he always does this. He always runs and hides in his work whenever something bad happens but the minute its Happy Time he just can’t wait to get home and celebrate.”
“Just calm down honey,” her mother tried to say.
“No, I won’t calm down! And I won’t be here. I’m spending the day with Dylan and going with him to the dance that night.”
“You’re spending your birthday out with a boy?” Her mother’s brow furrowed now.
“Dylan’s not just a boy and you know it.”
“That’s not the point,” her mother said, starting to lose her temper now. “You go off at me about how unsafe you feel but now you’re going out to a dance with a boy. Do you know what happens at those dances? And after them?”
“Dylan is different! He cares about me and I’m going to the dance with him. If dad wants to see me he’ll have to wait until I get back and then maybe I’ll see him. But don’t count on it.” She started toward the stairs.
“Come back here, I’m not finished with you,” her mother demanded, reaching out for her.
“Well I’m done with you.” Emily evaded her mother’s grasp and stormed up the stairs into her room, slamming the door behind her. ‘It figures dad would pull something like this,’ she thought angrily as she stripped out of her Hale High white button-up shirt and gray skirt. ‘He always was kind of a coward but I thought he’d at least have the decency to come home when I was attacked.’ She pulled on a pair of tight jeans and threw a black shirt, one of Dylan’s, around her, tying the ends instead of buttoning the front, leaving her mid rift exposed. ‘I thought he could at least not ever show his face to me again.’
She looked herself over in the mirror and tousled her hair a bit. It was a sexy look, one that practically screamed ‘take me’. She’d been wearing something similar on that night four months ago. But right now she didn’t care. Besides, it was the middle of the day and she’d be with someone to keep her safe. She searched the pockets of her school clothes for her cell phone and pulled it out, then dialed Dylan’s number. It rang a few times before the line connected.
“Dylan? Yeah, I need out of here, can you come pick me up? I’ll tell you when you get here… Thanks, I’ll see you soon.”
She hung up the phone and slid it, somewhat trickily, into her tight pocket and before getting up and walking to the window. After a few minutes she saw the Jeep driving up and waved. Dylan waved back, knowing she meant for him to not come to the door, or even to the driveway. She opened the window and stepped out onto the roof, then climbed down the fencing against the house, careful not to step or slip on any of the roses that were woven into the wood. Finally, she jumped down and ran to the car, whose door was already open and waiting for her.
“Thanks for coming,” she said, closing the door.
“No problem,” Dylan replied, driving away from the curb. “You look… nice.”
She smirked at him. “Why don’t you say what you were thinking?”
“You look hot.”
She giggled at how shy, and cute, he was.
“So what happened?”
“Dad’s coming home for my birthday,” she said blankly.
“I’m probably missing something that would answer this question without asking it but why is that upsetting?”
Emily sighed, remembering that they didn’t know each other well back then. “You know my dad’s working overseas.”
“Well, I haven’t seen him since he left five months ago.”
She gave him a stern look that said, “Figure it out you moron.”
He took the look and decided to think a bit until he nodded, thinking he had it. “You haven’t seen him in five months and… it happened four months ago?”
Emily nodded sadly.
“Why wasn’t he there for you?”
“Because that’s how he is,” Emily said while tears pooled in her eyes. “He doesn’t like bad things so whenever one comes up he uses work as an excuse to not be there. I guess he couldn’t handle the fact that his little girl had been force-fucked by a stranger in an alley.”
Dylan cringed, knowing she only used that kind of talk when she was really upset.
“But when she turns eighteen,” she went on, those tears starting trails down either side of her face. “When she goes from being a broken teenager to being a broken woman, then suddenly he can make it. Well I don’t want him to; I don’t ever want to see him again.”
“You’re going to try and defend him aren’t you?” she asked coldly. “Because you’re both men?”
“I’m not going to defend him,” Dylan replied, turning onto a dirt road leading up a hill through the woods. “Man or not, there’s no excuse for not being there when your family, your own child, needs you. And you have every right to be mad at him. But rather than run from it shouldn’t you confront him about it?”
Emily didn’t reply, just stared out at the scenery. She hadn’t realized till now that they hadn’t gone to town and were in the woods somewhere, going to a place that lovers went when they wanted to be alone. Somewhere out past the forest overlooking the quaint village below.
“Why are you so good to me?” she found herself asking.
“Because,” he said as he pulled the Jeep to a halt near a ledge outside the trees. He turned and gave her a sweet, but serious smile. “I love you silly. And if I’m good to you maybe one day you’ll say it back.”
She couldn’t help but smile at him. He always threw that one at her when she was down and it always worked. She scooted closer and leaned against him, snuggling into his chest a little. “You know,” she said softly. “That day just might be getting closer than you think.”
* * * * *
“Come in,” Emily called to the knock at her door as she put in her earrings.
The door opened and her mother stood there in the doorway, her fingers twittling nervously in front of her.
Emily looked up and smiled at the woman. “Hi mom,” she said sweetly.
“You look beautiful honey. I’m happy you came home to get ready.”
Emily finished with her jewelry and then turned to face her mother. “Does it look okay?” she asked, referring to the strapless, deep red dress she wore, complemented by silver earrings and choker with red gemstones set in them.
“You look beautiful,” her mom replied, walking over to her. She reached out and patted down the bun on top of her daughter’s head, making sure everything was in order.
“It’s okay mom,” she said, giggling and batting her hand away.
“I’m just so happy. You’re eighteenth birthday. You’re a real woman today.”
Emily smiled at her.
“And I want you to know I’m proud of you. You went through something horrific. Other people have gone through it and fallen to pieces. For you to still smile and look as beautiful as you do now means you’re not just a woman; you’re a very strong woman.”
A few tears shown in Emily’s eyes, giving her look a certain sparkle that made her all the more beautiful. “Thanks mom,” she said, pulling her mother into an embrace.
“Emily…” her mother said nervously after a moment of the hug.
“He’s downstairs isn’t he?”
Her mother sighed and pulled back a bit. “If you mean your father then… yes.”
Emily’s fists clenched and she hissed in her throat.
“At least come and say hi to him before you go out. He just wants to see you on your birthday.”
“I know,” Emily said through gritted teeth. She took a deep breath, let it out slowly, and nodded.
She let her mother lead her out of the room, down the stairs, and into the living room where a man she hadn’t seen in almost half a year, and didn’t ever want to see again, sat comfortably.
“Hi Emily,” he said, rising from his seat on the couch when she walked in. His bags were still by the front door and he looked like he was just getting settled in.
“Hi daddy,” she said, not looking at him directly.
“You… look beautiful honey.”
“You’re still mad at me, huh?”
Emily didn’t answer, didn’t look at him.
He sighed and rubbed the back of his head. “I guess I don’t blame you. I should’ve been there. Work wouldn’t let me but I should’ve been here for you anyway.”
“Yeah, you should’ve,” she spat, resentment evident in her voice.
Her dad opened his mouth to go on but was stopped by a knock at the front door. He and his daughter continued to stand there while her mother, who was watching the scene nervously, went to answer.
“Oh, hello Dylan,” they could hear her saying. She came back into the room a second later with the boy behind her. A clear container with a deep red rose corsage that had a kiss of white at the tip was in his hands. “Honey, this is Dylan, Emily’s date.”
“Pleased to meet you sir,” the boy said, offering a hand to her father.
“And you too,” her dad said, shaking it. “You’ll take good care of my daughter right?”
“Of course. We’ll be home around… one?”
“I thought the dance ended at eleven thirty?” Emily’s father said.
“It does,” Emily told him. “But we want to be alone and we’ll have to start home by twelve thirty anyway so it’ll only be like an hour.”
Her parents looked at one another, neither fully liking the idea. They both figured that she’d be too terrified to go too far with a boy though and decided it would be okay. Besides, wasn’t it a good thing that she at least felt safe with this boy?
“Make sure you’re phone is on and with you once you leave the dance,” her mother told her.
Emily nodded at her mother’s paranoia.
“Can we take a few pictures by the fireplace first?” her father asked.
“Just a moment,” Dylan said. He opened the container and took out the flower, sliding the band connected to it around his girl’s wrist.
Once it was on the two walked over and stood before the fireplace, switching into different, cute poses while the parents took as many pictures as they could until the couple was thoroughly embarrassed.
“Okay, can we please go now?” Emily finally asked, her face starting to match her dress.
“All right, have a good time you two,” her dad said.
“Thanks dad,” Emily replied, still not looking directly at him but now giving him a half smile. If nothing else it was nice that he’d be there to keep her mom company while she was gone.
“Emily,” her dad said as the couple reached the door.
They stopped and looked back at her parents.
“We love you. I love you. Happy Birthday honey.”
For some, unexplainable reason, Emily finally found herself looking at her father, her anger, at least in this very moment, forgotten. “Thanks daddy,” she said happily.
Her parents smiled as they went out the front door and into the night.
* * * * *
By eleven o’clock Emily was already tired from dancing and ready to go somewhere else for a bit of time alone.
“Just one more slow song?” Dylan begged of her.
She sighed, but smiled at how cute he could be. “All right,” she said, happy that a slow song was just starting.
They walked out onto the dance floor and faced one another. Dylan wrapped his arms around her waist while she wrapped hers around his neck, leaning against his chest. She half-sighed, half-yawned as she rested against him, a soft smile on her face.
“I hope it wasn’t too bold of me,” he said after a while. “But I rented a motel room for after the dance.”
She stopped and looked up at him in a hurt, shocked way.
“Don’t worry. I just thought it might be a more comfortable place to relax together than the Jeep; probably warmer too. I’m not expecting anything. Whatever happens is totally p to you. We don’t even have to go if you don’t want to.”
“Well,” she said, staring at him with a drunken expression, though what she was drunk on was uncertain. “You just might get lucky tonight. It might be nice to do it willingly.”
“And what makes you think it’ll be with me tonight?”
She tightened her grip around his neck and pulled him in closer. “Because,” she said, their lips dangerously close. “I think I love you.”
His eyes widened and he stared at her in some form of disbelief.
“Dylan…” she whispered, biting her lip.
“In the short time we’ve been together… why have you been so good to me?”
He smiled happily at her, hoping what he thought was coming was really coming. “Because I love you silly. And if I’m good to you maybe one day you’ll say it back.”
She hesitated at first, but something about him compelled her to give in to the feelings in her heart. “I love you too Dylan.”
Slowly, tentatively, making sure it was all right, he leaned down and placed a soft kiss on the girl’s lips. Emily’s eyes only slipped shut and she moaned into his mouth, kissing him back in the middle of the dance floor. She’d lived in fear of men, of sex, of love for the past four months. But Dylan, with his cheerful laugh, his kind smile, and his sweet, sweet words, had shined through that fear. She trusted him. And whatever happened in the rest of the night, with this boy, she would be happy to do. Suddenly, she was happy to be in love.