But you stay there, bobbing on the surface. You never know what it’s like, to take flight and soar, propelled on by something bigger than yourself.
I want that. I want Emerson. And I don’t care how.
I feel the certainty flood through me, as if there was ever any doubt. He’s all that counts in the world to me. College, the future, it’s all just details. There are other schools, other cities.
But there will never be another him.
I find my phone, and with shaking hands, I dial.
“Emerson?” My voice is trembling, but I don’t stop. I have to say it, it’s the only thing I have left.
I take a breath and let it spill out in a rush.
“I love you.”
I stop, hearing the words out loud. It sounds so simple, but it means everything in the world to me. I let out a self-conscious laugh, “I know, it’s wrong to be saying that to your voicemail, but, you need to hear it.” I swallow. “I want to be with you, Emerson. That’s all that matters to me. We’ll figure out the rest together. Just, come to me. I’ll be in my darkroom. I… I don’t want to be alone anymore.”
I hang up, my heart racing.
He could say no. He could keep pushing me away. But somehow, I know that doesn’t matter. I’m not giving up on him, not like everyone else in his life. He thinks I’m going to leave because the rest of them always do, but I won’t. I’m staying right here, as long as it takes.
I’ll make him see, we’re all that matters now.
She loves me.
After everything. After seeing my life laid bare, all the mess, and pain, and twisted shadows that come with it, everything I’ve been ashamed of for so long. I don’t deserve her, I know. She’s seen the worst of me: the brute animal, the demons unleashed. She’s seen it all.
Still, she loves me.
There’s no choice, not a moment of doubt. I don’t stop, even for red lights.
I carefully soak the last photograph in the chemical bath. My hands are shaking, my whole body wound tight with nervous anticipation. I can’t help but glance at my watch again, struggling to make out the time in the dim darkroom light.
As soon as I hung up from Emerson’s voicemail, I took a shower and changed: picking out pretty underwear, and my favorite sundress; lip gloss, and a ponytail. I felt like I was dressing for a date, or graduation, but this is even bigger. I’m on the edge of something, the rest of my life, right now.
Once he’s here, there’ll be no going back.
I try and distract myself with the photos. I lift the final print out of the liquid, and pin it to the line to dry. It’s Emerson, the photo I took during our perfect day together. He’s in the driver’s seat, lounging back, one hand on the wheel. He’s grinning at me, so relaxed and free, I can hardly believe he’s the same guy I saw pummeling that dead-beat dealer, driving his fists into the other man’s face over and over until I thought he’d leave him dead on the ground. My heart broke for him, watching his mom leave, but even more, for the look of grim resignation on Emerson’s face, the betrayal and hurt he would never speak.
I vow to myself, to never let him feel that way again. I can love him, and protect him from the pain. We can heal each other.
I feel a sudden shiver, and I know he’s here, even before the shed door opens and evening light comes flooding in. “Close it, quick!” I cry.
Emerson steps inside and slams it shut.“What’s wrong?”
“The photos,” I check them, and let out a sigh of relief. “It’s OK, the chemicals have set. You have to develop them in total dark,” I explain, “Or else the paper gets exposed, and nothing prints.”
He comes closer to me in the dark, and I catch my breath. The photos distracted me for a moment, but now he’s right in front of me, and everything comes flooding back. All my nerves, and hopes, the love swelling in my chest.
Emerson stops, a step away from me. His body looms in the shadows, dark eyes glittering in the red beam of the safety bulb. “What you said, in your message…” he trails off, “Did you mean it?”
There’s a twist in his voice, full of hope.
I close the distance between us, and place both palms on his chest. I can feel his heart racing through the fabric of his shirt, a wild rhythm that matches my own.
“Yes.” I vow. I look up into his eyes, and feel the sense of pure rightness wash over me. This is exactly where I’m supposed to be. With him.
“I love you.” I say it softly, tracing one hand up to touch his jaw. I run my fingers over his lips, those lips that send me to heaven with the faintest kiss. “I know it seems impossible, but, it’s the only thing that’s real to me. I want you,” I add, my voice sounding calm and sure despite the butterflies in my stomach. “I want everything.”
Emerson’s eyes flash in recognition, but still, he doesn’t move.
“You’re sure?” His voice is hoarse. “Because if we… You can’t take it back.” His body is tight, and full of tension under my hands. All his power, held back, strung out on the most delicate of wires, waiting to be unleashed.
“I don’t want to take it back,” I’m dizzy, inhaling the scent of him. My legs are weak, just from being so close, but I need him to let go, to surrender to the force that is so much bigger than the both of us.
I press closer against him, and Emerson clenches his jaw. “I want to belong to you.” I tell him, clear. “Always.”