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Underwater a novel, p.15

Underwater: A Novel, page 15


Underwater: A Novel

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  I raise an eyebrow at Evan. “Do the two of you have plans to hang out and surf today?”

  “No. But I’d cancel if we did,” Evan says, ducking into me again.

  I laugh, wrestling myself away. “Taylor’s right there. She’ll see us.”

  “So what? I don’t care if the whole world sees us.”

  “Seriously, Morgan. I’ve seen it all,” Taylor says, sauntering over. “Actually, I’ve done it all.” She waves us away with her hand like we’re as insignificant as spare change in the tip jar at Starbucks. “You guys being happy makes me happy, so carry on.” She sinks onto a chaise longue, leans back, and closes her eyes to the sun, making it easy to study her.

  “Why are you covered in all that gunk?” I ask.

  “Paintball. It’s my new thing.”

  What? Is she serious? I pull myself out of the pool and hover at her feet, dripping water on her toes. “Paintball? Sorry, Taylor, but that is kind of messed up.”

  She shades her face with her hand to look up at me. “Not really. At least with paintball, I have a gun, too.” She smiles, leans back, and shuts her eyes again.

  Evan comes up behind me. We stand. We stare. We drip water onto the pool deck. I lean into him and whisper, “Is she okay?”

  He shrugs. “In her own way, yeah.”

  I look at Taylor, all long limbs, taut muscles, and tan skin. She’s completely oblivious to the fact that I’m trying so hard to figure out this new version of her.

  “I’m going to get a towel,” I finally say. In my hurry to get to the pool, I forgot one.

  “I’ll be right here.” Taylor doesn’t bother to open her eyes or move. “I just came by to say hi, but you guys are clearly busy. I’m good just hanging in the sun until I have to go to the gym. Toss down a trashy celeb mag if you have one.”

  Evan follows me up the stairs and stops me at my door. He leans into me, and I have to grab handfuls of his shirt to keep my balance.

  “So it’s okay that I kissed you?” he asks.

  “Yeah, it’s fine.” I fumble awkwardly, shifting from foot to foot.

  “And I can give the cell phone back to you?”

  I nod.

  “And you’ll answer my texts?”


  He leans down until his lips are so close to my ear that my nerves get zippy. “Thank you,” he whispers.

  He kisses the shell of my ear, and I’m suddenly fully aware that I’m in a wet, clingy bathing suit and Evan isn’t. His fingertips press into the bare skin of my back, pulling me closer to him. I grip the edges of his soaked shirt. I hold on tight. He plants butterfly kisses from my chin to my cheek, stopping at my mouth. He looks at me, his eyes asking me if it’s okay. I nod and kiss him first.

  chapter thirty-four

  By the time my mom gets home, Taylor is long gone, off to some class at the gym to build muscles even bigger than the ones she already has. Since then, Evan and I have gone from not doing homework to doing homework. My mom asks him to stay for dinner. He says yes before she even has all the words out. He seems to like hanging out in our apartment. Maybe it’s because his mom is gone so much. That must suck. I’m by myself most of the time, too, but at least I know I’ll get to have dinner with my mom and Ben at the end of the day.

  My mom makes pasta with pesto sauce and I make a salad. Ben and Evan are in charge of the garlic bread, so some of it comes out charred, but not awful. We eat the way we always do—me on the kitchen side of the counter and my mom and Ben across from me. Evan has his own spot now, too, on the stool between Ben and my calm-down checklist.

  We talk about things that matter and things that don’t. My mom asks Evan if he likes living in Pacific Palms.

  “I don’t hate it,” he says, smiling at me.

  After dinner, we all take parts in Ben’s play and recite them out loud. The performance is in a week and a half, and Ben brought home tickets he made in class. He even brought one for Evan. When he hands it over, Evan leans in to me and whispers, “It can be our first date. The theater. So highbrow.”

  My heart thunders and my stomach churns, but I hold it in. “Maybe,” I say.

  * * *

  After Ben is bathed and tucked into bed, I tell my mom I need to stay up to finish a school assignment. She sighs the sigh of someone who is perpetually tired. She can’t exactly tell me not to do my schoolwork, but I know she wishes our apartment would be settled so she could go to bed in peace. Evan picks up on her mood.

  “We could study at my house,” he suggests. “I mean, would you be able to?”

  My mom looks at me expectantly. Another door opening. Another step forward. Another give. Another take. She wants me to say yes. I don’t want to let her down.

  “Um, sure,” I say.

  Evan grins. My mom visibly decompresses.

  “But not too late. And be quiet when you come home,” she says.

  I grab my school stuff and follow Evan out my front door and in through his. Even though I’m only going five steps from home, I’m jittery. My heart flutters fast and my palms sweat. There’s that twist in my stomach that isn’t quite nausea, but could be. There isn’t a list taped to the wall to help me feel better if I need it. What if I need it? Because this is someone else’s home. This is someone else’s space. It’s not where I spend my days or my moments of panic.

  This is Evan’s.

  This is a place where I assume he lives a life that’s full and rich and vibrant.

  Evan flicks a switch by the front door and the living room lights up. His apartment is the flip-flopped version of mine, which only adds to the off-kilter feel of things. I look around and am surprised there are still moving boxes sitting in the middle of the floor.

  “You haven’t finished unpacking? It’s been two months.”

  He laughs. “What? We’ve unloaded the basics.”

  I check out the boxes emblazoned with bold black letters: COOKBOOKS, CHRISTMAS, ART SUPPLIES. Hobbies and holidays packed into boxes and sealed shut.

  “What can I say? We’re not very organized. And my mom is crazy busy, as you know.” He ticks his head toward the hallway. “This way. I gotta get my book.”

  He switches on the hall light. I follow him past his mom’s fluttery skirts left to dry on hangers in the doorway of the bathroom and some paintings that haven’t yet been hung. I stop to look at them and realize the paintings are portraits like mine. Connor’s paintings. One of Evan. One of his mom. They’re amazing.

  Evan disappears into his room and turns on music while I stand staring. He switches on a song from last year that reminds me of swim practice because our coach would blast it from the speakers on the pool deck while we warmed up. It’s a song I like. It’s a song about good things.

  Evan leans out of the doorway to look for me. “You lost?”

  “Oh, I was just checking out the paintings. They’re Connor’s.”

  He nods.

  “He really was good. I remember that.” I turn away from Evan, studying the empty wall. “Do you want me to help you hang them?”

  “Right now?”

  “Well, yeah. I can help you get organized.” I might be stalling. I’ve hung out in boys’ rooms before, but it’s been a long time.

  “Morgan,” Evan says in a way that makes me look right at him. “Don’t be nervous. It’s just a room. It doesn’t have to be anything more than that. I promise.”

  Even though I spent the whole afternoon kissing Evan’s mouth and pressing my thumbprint against the soft part of his neck between his earlobe and his jaw, I’m relieved to hear him say that his room is just a room. So I move my feet, one in front of the other, until I’m inside.

  It’s instantly clear that Evan’s room is the most lived-in part of the apartment. He’s taped posters to the walls of bands I’ve never heard of and daredevil surfers conquering monstrous waves. Under the window, there’s a computer desk and a clunky-looking laptop with a Surfrider Foundation sticker stuck across the top of it. A mismatch
ed desk chair, piled high with sweatshirts, is turned backward to face the room instead of the desk. The music switches to something lazy, and I turn to find where it’s coming from. I spot his phone plugged into a dock propped on top of a bunch of surf magazines on the shelf underneath a small wooden nightstand. And next to that nightstand, in the middle of the room, is his queen-size bed. It’s immaculately made, the pillows neatly lined up along the headboard.

  “Yep. Just a room,” I say.

  Evan nods. His eyes don’t falter.

  I wander around the cramped space, leaning across his desk to get a closer look at a photograph he has tacked to the bottom corner of his bulletin board. It’s one of those portraits people get done at the mall while wearing matching outfits. It’s a family—a dad, a mom, and two kids, both boys.

  “That’s my dad,” Evan says, leaning over my shoulder to point to the tall guy with dark Hawaiian skin. He looks like Evan with less fluffy hair. Evan draws circles around the mom and the kids with his index finger. “That’s my dad’s new family.”


  I understand then. And I think it might be an even worse rejection than what I feel from my own dad. Evan must feel like he’s second best. I know my mom and Ben and I are second best to my dad’s demons and addictions, but Evan is second best to two other kids. I wrap my arms around his waist, burying my face against his chest to hug him tight.

  “I’m sorry,” I mumble against his shirt.

  “Thanks. I know you know.” He sighs. Resigned. “We should study.”

  “In your room?”

  “Is that cool? I like to play music when I’m working. And as you saw, the rest of the apartment isn’t exactly user-friendly.”

  “Oh. Okay.”

  Evan sits down on the bed. I stand. I stare.

  “Sorry.” He leaps up and tosses the pile of sweatshirts from the desk chair to the floor. “Here.”

  I sit down and the chair sinks low, like one in a hair salon that needs to be pumped back up by the stylist. My knees are practically touching my chest, so I have to fumble with my notebook to spread it out across my lap. It’s awkward and uncomfortable. Evan looks at me, stifling a laugh.

  “I look ridiculous, don’t I?”

  “Not even. It’s cute.”

  “It’s okay.” I stand up with my open notebook across my chest. “We can both sit on the bed.”

  Evan scoots over to make room for me, and I settle down next to him. I open my notebook and start highlighting sentences. He puts on a pair of reading glasses, settles against his pillow, and grips a copy of 1984 between his fingertips. The sight of him in those reading glasses just about does me in. I scoot in closer. He glances up from his book to look at me.

  “Are we moving past the ‘just a room’ thing?” he asks.

  “Kinda. Not completely. Still studying, just closer.”


  Evan looks down at his book again. I can’t help watching him.

  “So you wear reading glasses.” A statement, not a question.

  He rests his book on his chest. “Yeah, why?”

  Because I love them? “No reason.”

  I stifle a hum of satisfaction as Evan tucks my head against his chest and goes back to reading, slowly raking his fingers through my hair. The feel of it makes goose bumps sprout up on my tailbone. He pulls a long strand of my hair apart from the others and wraps it around his thumb.

  I try to concentrate on my notes, but they’re all a big, giant blur. There’s the music and his breathing and his heartbeat. And his reading glasses. I put my notebook down.



  “I need to ask you something.”

  He stops reading again and pulls my hair back, tucking it behind my ear. “Yeah?”

  “Maybe you don’t have a thing for Taylor, but are you sure she doesn’t have a thing for you?”

  He kisses the top of my head. “Never.”

  “So she’s more like your BFF then.”

  Evan laughs, and his chest vibrates against my ear. “She’s not my BFF. Do guys have BFFs?”

  “Well, sure. Wasn’t Connor your BFF?”

  He thinks about that. “He was.”

  I fiddle with the edge of his shirt. “So Taylor could be your BFF. Guys and girls can be BFFs.”

  “But Taylor’s not mine. I just met her at school. She wanted to learn to surf, and it was easy to teach her.” He shrugs. “She told me all about how a bullet grazed her. She got lucky and she knows it. So now she’s trying to be this total badass, but I have a feeling she used to have softer edges. Am I right?”

  “Very. I don’t even recognize the girl who showed up here today.”

  “I don’t think she recognizes you, either.” I recoil, and Evan feels it because he squeezes my shoulder to keep me with him. “I’m not trying to be mean. I’m just saying the same thing I’ve always said: You’re not the only one. You’re not alone.”

  I nod, not sure what to say. I spend so much of my life telling Brenda about that day and how it affected me and how it made me who I am, but I haven’t spent much time thinking about how it affected everyone else. It affected Taylor. It affected Evan. It affected Evan’s aunt and his mom. It affected Chelsea, Brianna, and Sage, and a million other people. That’s what Evan tried to tell me. I don’t own the market on having sucky things happen to me. I’ve thought about all those other people, but in some ways, it was easier not to think about them too much. I’m certainly not the only one who lost something that day. Lots of people lost a lot more.

  “Here’s the thing,” Evan says. “We’re all just getting by, right? And sometimes it’s easier to do that with someone who understands than to try to do it by ourselves.”

  “Oh, so you’re some kind of savior or something?”

  “I didn’t say that. I’m not in the business of saving people. Truthfully? I think I’d suck at it. But I am in the business of surviving, so at least there’s that.”

  He shifts his leg underneath me, and I fear my weight has become unbearable and cut off his circulation. Thankfully, it turns out he’s simply moving to keep me where I am.

  “So I have a question,” he says through the soft light of the room. “And I want you to answer me honestly, okay?”

  “Um, okay. You’re scaring me. Is this like Truth or Dare?”

  “Ha! You wish.”

  “No, you wish.”

  “Actually, I kinda do wish,” he says, squeezing my shoulder with a laugh. “So okay, then, truth: Are you my girlfriend?”

  That’s so not what I was expecting and I go off-kilter a little. “I don’t know, am I?”

  “Do you want to be?”

  “I have to admit I’m a little rusty.”

  He laughs. “That’s okay. I can remind you how it works.”

  “Okay then.”


  I smile. “Yeah.”

  He shifts and I start to sink away from him until he grabs me and pulls me up onto his lap so I’m facing him, my legs draping over each of his thighs. My skirt hangs over our thighs like a blanket.

  “I like it when you say that,” he says, his hand squeezing my hip.


  I inch my mouth closer to his. He nods.

  “Yeah?” I ask again.

  He nods a second time and kisses me.

  * * *

  The music is playing and we’re lost enough in each other to drown out the world, which is probably why neither of us hears Evan’s mom come home until she’s banging around in the kitchen.

  “Evan,” she calls. “I’m home.”

  We pull apart. My cheeks heat. I try to pat down my hair as I scramble off his lap. Evan fumbles to tug his shirt back into place as he heads to the door of his bedroom.

  “Wait. Where are you going?”

  “To say hi to my mom.” He looks at me like, Duh.

  “But she’ll know I’m in here.”


nbsp; He opens the door just as his mom appears in the hallway. She looks surprised but not unhappy to see me hovering behind Evan in his bedroom.

  “There you are. Hi.” She smiles at me, then looks at Evan. “I just wanted to let you know I’m home. Can you turn down the music?”

  “Sure.” Evan opens the door to his room wider so I’m in full view. “Mom, you remember Morgan.”

  “Of course. It’s so nice to see you again, Morgan.”

  “Thanks. You too,” I say. “We’re just doing homework.”

  My words come out really fast, making Evan do a double take. He grins at me. His mom claps her hands together like she just remembered something she has to do.

  “Okay. Well. We’ve got a sink full of dishes, so I’m going to get to it.” She heads back down the hallway and into the kitchen.

  Evan turns to me, stifling a laugh. “Whoa.”

  “Whoa?” I narrow my eyes at him. “It’s not funny.” Evan might think his mom almost walking in on us is no big deal, but I don’t. The panic is already happening. I can feel the hum of it in my head and in my bones. It’s in my stomach and in my heart. I straighten out my T-shirt and grab my notebook. “I need to go. Like, now.” I shove everything into my bag and rush out his bedroom door.

  “What? Why?”

  “Your mom totally knows what we were just doing.”

  “So? She was seventeen once.”

  I try to picture Evan’s mom at seventeen. Did she have the same long hair and triple-pierced ears? Did she know Evan’s dad yet? Did she like school and football games?

  Evan tries to pull me back, but I twist away from him and hurry down the hallway. My flip-flops flap furiously underneath my feet as I dash past the paintings that haven’t been hung and the boxes that haven’t been unpacked. Evan trails behind me, muttering something under his breath. I burst through the screen door and into the night. Outside, the air feels cool against my face, and I know it’s because I’m flushed. Bright red. Mortified.

  “Morgan, stop. It’s okay.”

  The screen door slaps shut behind Evan. He stands still in bare feet, his board shorts slung low around his hips. A loose string from the hem of his thermal shirt trails down his thigh in a curlicue.

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