I stared at his words, debating replying or just letting his text go unanswered.
It was as if I could hear the deep purr of his voice. I clutched the phone in both hands and held it close to my chest, at war with myself. I wanted to reply. I wanted to pick up the phone and tell him to come over. But I resisted. After a few minutes, the phone vibrated in my hands. I glanced down anxiously, feeling like a thirteen-year-old girl with her first call from a boy.
Shaw: Good-night, Emerson
BY WEDNESDAY SHAW QUIT texting me altogether, and something in me died a little because I knew he wouldn’t anymore. He’d given up. And why shouldn’t he? I’d put up all my walls so that he would do just that.
I went to class, spent every free moment I had at the studio. Ate. Slept. Staying busy helped. Until my mind strayed to him. At night it was impossible not to think of him. Alone in my bed, staring into the dark, I should have dropped into a dead sleep. Instead I thought about him. I thought about how I couldn’t stop thinking about him and how that had never happened to me before.
Jeff from the Java Hut texted me. At eleven thirty on Thursday night. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what he wanted. I read between his simple words and knew he was looking for a hookup.
It would have been easy. Undemanding and straightforward. He was attractive. We’d hooked up before, but now all I could see was Shaw in my mind. Was this how other girls felt when they got themselves all worked up and desperate over a boy? When they let themselves get used and trampled on? No thanks.
On Friday morning, I was walking to the campus bookstore, which happened to be located across the street from the Grapevine. I stared at the restaurant for a moment before moving to the crosswalk. Before I could even consider what I was doing, I was hurrying across the street and diving inside. The delicious aroma of fresh-baked bread greeted me, but I wasn’t interested in food.
To my relief, Beth’s was the first face I spotted, standing behind the hostess’s podium.
“Emerson,” she greeted, her manner as stilted as the last time . . . once I had made it known I was friends with Shaw. “Good to see you again. How many in your party—”
I held up a hand, cutting her off. “I came here to talk to you.”
She blinked, and then glanced around uneasily as if she might call for backup.
“Just hear me out.” I inhaled, determined to do this. I had to do this. For Shaw. “I know you don’t know me, but I—Shaw and I—” Hell, what was I supposed to say? “Shaw’s my friend.” Forget the fact that he had stopped texting and calling me. Shaw was special. He deserved . . . hell, he deserved everything. He deserved better than me. He deserved to have his family in his life.
I could see it all stretching ahead. Beth inviting him to her wedding. Embracing him back into the fold. Maybe he’d fall in love with one of her bridesmaids. A girl named Amy who liked to fish. She’d bait her own hook and they would fish off the dock at his lake. A year from now, he wouldn’t even remember the color of my eyes.
God, I hated Amy.
I swallowed and shoved this imaginary girl from my mind. Moistening my lips, I said in a firm voice, “I care about Shaw.”
It was like a shutter fell over her eyes. “Did he send you—”
“No. No, he would never do that, and if you really knew him, then you would know that.” Something flickered in her eyes. I stepped closer, softening my voice. “I think you do know that. In fact, he’d probably be pissed if he knew I was talking to you.”
She ducked her head and sighed. When she looked back up, moisture glimmered in her eyes. “What do you want from me?”
I’d come this far. I couldn’t stop now. “I can’t even begin to know what you’ve gone through. What you and your family have gone through, but Shaw . . . Shaw’s your family, too. You’re not the only one who lost Adam. Shaw lost him, too. And he blames himself. He feels responsible for Adam being there. You not talking to him, cutting him out of your life . . . he thinks he deserves that. He thinks he deserves to be alone. And you know he doesn’t.”
Beth stared at me, saying nothing.
I stepped back, wiping my damp palm against my thigh. “And that’s all I needed to say.”
I turned and headed for the door.
I stopped and looked over my shoulder. Beth took one step after me, her gaze sharp and penetrating. “He’s not alone anymore. Is he? He has you.”
I stared at her for a moment, waiting for the denial to come hard and swift. But I couldn’t say it. I couldn’t deny her words.
“You care about him,” she added.
Emotion rose up in my throat, making speech impossible. Even if I wanted to respond. Even if I could.
Turning, I pushed through the door and stepped out into the cold.
BY THE TIME FRIDAY night arrived, I was a wreck. I couldn’t stop thinking about Shaw. Seeing Beth had only made it worse. I ached when I remembered his mouth on mine. The way his eyes looked at me. I thought about when he showed me the bike he was building. Because he thought I would appreciate it. Because he cared about my opinion. Every once in a while I pulled out my phone and read the last text from him.
It didn’t help that I spent all my free time putting the finishing touches on his painting, concentrating on the memory of his face. I named it A Winter’s Morning.
The showcase was held in the Student Memorial Center the same as last year. Lots of wall space and room for easels. It was probably more crowded than the year before, which only made sense. We had more students in the art program this year.
I smiled and made nice as Gretchen introduced me to her parents and grandparents. They’d traveled all the way from Colorado to be here. I mingled, but stayed near my work. Professor Martinelli stressed the importance of being available for discussion.
A Winter’s Morning elicited a great deal of attention. This was both gratifying and troubling. It felt like me hanging up there. It wasn’t me, I knew. No, it was worse than that. It was Shaw. How I saw him. How he affected me.
“I’m very proud of you, Emerson.” My face warmed as Professor Martinelli stopped to stand beside me. “Outstanding work. If you don’t mind . . . I have a friend who owns a gallery in Boston. I’d like to show her some of your work.” She pointed at my canvas. “Especially this one.”