Home > One True Loves(10)

One True Loves(10)
Taylor Jenkins Reid

“You snooze, you lose,” I said, teasing.

“Rules say if you take the last beer you have to chug it,” he said.

And then, from the crowd, came the word that no teenager holding a Solo cup ever wants to hear.

“Cops!”

Jesse’s head whipped around, looking to confirm that the threat was real, that it wasn’t just a bad joke.

In the far corner of the yard, where the driveway ended, you could just make out the blue and red lights across the grass.

And then there was a whoop.

I looked around, trying to find Olive, but she’d already taken off into the back woods, catching my eye and pointing for me to do the same.

I dropped the cups on the ground, spilling my beer on my feet. And then I felt a hand on my wrist. Jesse was pulling me with him, off in the opposite direction of everyone else. We weren’t going toward the woods in the back; we were headed for the bushes that separated the house from the one next to it.

Everyone was scrambling. What had previously been the controlled type of chaos that rages through a high school kegger became unruly disorder, teenagers running in every direction. It was the closest I’d come to seeing anarchy.

When Jesse and I got to the bushes, he guided me into them first. They were dense and thorny. I could feel the skin on my bare arms and ankles chafing against the tiny sharp blades in every direction.

But the bushes were big enough that Jesse could crawl in next to me and they were dark enough that I felt safe from the police officers. We were far enough away from everyone else that it started to feel quiet—if the background noise of a police siren and heavy running footsteps can ever really be described as quiet.

I could sense Jesse’s body right next to me, could feel his arm as it grazed mine.

“Ow!” he said in a stage whisper.

“What?” I whispered back.

“I think I cut my lip on a thorn.”

A harsh stream of light cascaded over the bushes we were hiding in and I found myself frozen still.

I could hear my own breath, feel my heart beating against the bone of my chest. I was terrified; there was no doubt about it. I was drunk by this point. Not plastered, by any means, but well past a buzz. There was real danger in getting caught: not only my parents’ disappointment, but also the actual threat of being arrested.

That being said, it was impossible to deny the tingle of excitement running through me. It was a rush, to be stifling my own breath as I felt the shadow of a police officer grow closer and closer. It was thrilling to feel adrenaline run through me.

After some time, the coast started to clear. There were no more heavy footsteps, no more flashlights. We heard cars driving away, chattering stop. My ankles had started to itch considerably and I knew I’d been bitten by something or somethings. It was, after all, May in Massachusetts—which meant that every bug in the air was out for blood.

I wasn’t sure when to speak up, when to break the silence.

On the one hand, it seemed like it was safe to come out of the bushes. On the other hand, you never want to be wrong about that.

I heard Jesse whisper my name.

“Emma?” he said softly. “Are you okay?”

I didn’t even know that he knew my name and there he was, saying it as if it were his to say.

“Yeah,” I said. “Maybe a little scraped up but other than that, I’m good. You?”

“Yeah,” he said. “I’m good, too.”

He was quiet for a moment longer and then he said, “I think it’s safe. Are you able to crawl out?”

The way he said it made me think that maybe he’d crawled into the bushes before, that maybe this wasn’t the first time Jesse had been at a party he wasn’t supposed to be at, doing things he wasn’t supposed to be doing.

“Yeah,” I said. “I got it.”

A few awkward army-crawl-like steps forward and I was standing on the grass in front of Jesse Lerner.

His lip was cut and there was a scrape on the top of his forehead. My arms had a few tiny scratches down them. My ankle still itched. I lifted my foot up and saw a few small welts where my pants met the top of my shoes.

It was pitch-dark, the lights in the house all dimmed. Everything was deadly quiet. The only sound either of us could hear was the sound of our own breath and that of the crickets rubbing their wings together, chirping.

I wasn’t sure what we were supposed to do now. How we were supposed to get home.

“C’mon,” Jesse said, and then he took my hand again. Twice in one night, holding hands with Jesse Lerner. I had to remind myself not to take it too personally. “We will walk down the street until we find somebody else who escaped and bum a ride with them.”

“Okay,” I said, willing to follow his lead because I had no better idea. I just wanted to get home quickly so I could call Olive and make sure she was okay and make sure she knew that I was.

And then, there was Sam. He’d been there, in the pool. Where had he gone?

Jesse and I set out down the dark suburban road, headed nowhere in particular, hoping it would lead us somewhere good.

“How come you weren’t swimming?” I asked him once we were a few feet down the road.

Jesse looked at me. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, aren’t you supposed to be the greatest swimmer of all time?”

Jesse laughed. “I don’t know about that.”

“You were written up in the Beacon.”

“Yeah, but I’m not a fish. I do exist outside of the water,” he teased.

I shrugged. “Question still stands, though,” I said. “It was a pool party.”

He was quiet for a moment. I thought maybe the conversation was over, maybe we weren’t supposed to be talking, maybe he didn’t want to talk to me. But once he finally started talking again, I realized that he had been caught up in his own head for a moment, deciding how much to say.

“Do you ever feel like everyone is always telling you who you are?” he asked me. “Like, people are acting as if they know better than you what you’re good at or who you are supposed to be?”

“Yeah,” I said. “I think so.”

“Can I let you in on a very poorly kept secret?” he asked me.

“Yeah.”

“My parents want me to train for the Olympic trials.”

“Ah.” He was right. That was a very poorly kept secret.

“Can I let you in on a better-kept secret?” he asked.

I nodded.

“I hate swimming.”

He was staring forward, putting one foot in front of the other along the road.

“Do your parents know that?” I asked him.

He shook his head. “Nobody does,” he said. “Well, I guess, except for you now.”

At the time, I could not, for the life of me, understand why he told me this, why he trusted me with the truth about his life more than anyone else. I thought it meant that I was special, that maybe he had always felt about me the way I felt about him.

Now, looking back on it, I know it was just the opposite. I was a girl in the background of his life—that’s what made me safe.

“I never really cared much for swimming anyway,” I told him reassuringly. I said it because it was the truth. But there was a large secondary benefit in what I’d said.

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