Embrace - Chapter One
“Outside, among your fellows, among strangers, you must preserve appearances, a hundred things you cannot do; but inside, the terrible freedom!”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
Birthdays aren’t my thing.
It’s hard to get too excited about the day that marks the anniversary of your mother’s death. It’s not that I blame myself for her not being here. No one could have known she wouldn’t survive childbirth. It’s not that I miss her either. I mean, I never knew her in the first place. But it is the one day each year that at some point I’ll be forced to ask myself, Was it worth it? Was my life worth taking hers?
I stared out the bus window, avoiding. Steph was blabbering on, something about the perfect dress, completely absorbed in what she was saying. She was relentless when it came to the science of shopping. I could feel her watching me, disappointed with my cheer level. Buildings flashed past through the frame of the smudged glass and I couldn’t help but wish my seventeenth birthday tomorrow would slide by in the same hazy blur.
“Violet Eden!” Steph said sternly, sucking me out of my trance. “We have your dad’s Amex, a green light, and no specified limit.” Her mock rebuke morphed into a devious grin. “What more could a girl want as a birthday present?”
Technically, it was my Amex. My name, my signature. It just happened to be connected to Dad’s account. A by-product of being the only person at home who actually bothered to pay any bills.
I knew Steph wouldn’t understand if I told her I wasn’t in the mood, so I lied. “I can’t go shopping today. I…um…I have a training session.”
She raised her eyebrows at me. For a moment I thought she was going to call me out on my fake alibi. But then she segued onto a topic we seemed to be discussing more and more often as of late.
I shrugged, trying not to let on how much just the mention of Lincoln affected me. Although the training part wasn’t true, I did have plans to see him later on and was already doing my best not to keep a minute-by-minute countdown.
Steph rolled her eyes. “Honestly, one of these days I’m gonna tell him you’d prefer to get all hot and sweaty with him in a different kind of way!” She threw me her bitchy smile—something she usually reserves for other people.
I sat back and let her vent. It was easier that way. Steph didn’t get it and I couldn’t blame her—I’d never told her all of the reasons why training was so important to me. Some things are just too hard to talk about.
“You do realize you’re turning into some kind of sports geek, don’t you? And don’t pretend you actually like them all. I know for a fact that you hate long-distance running.” Steph couldn’t understand how anyone would rather go rock climbing or boxing in place of shopping.
“I get a kick out of training with him,” I said, hoping to put an end to the conversation, even though she wasn’t completely off base about the running. If I didn’t have Lincoln’s butt to stare at the whole time, motivation would be a lot harder to come by.
I busied myself by rummaging through my backpack, which was jammed with all the books they force you to take home on the last day before break. Steph didn’t seem put off.
“It’s like he’s training you for battle or something.” Her eyes lit up. “Hey, maybe he has some underground fight club and he’s grooming you!”
“That’s it, Steph. Definitely.”
I didn’t want to be talking about this, didn’t want to have to admit the round-the-clock desire I had to be with Lincoln. It was like something deep within me found comfort in his presence.
Crushing with the best of ’em, Vi!
Too bad it was a lost cause. It had been that way ever since the moment I’d first met him two years ago. He was a late entry into a self-defense class I’d signed up for. When he was partnered with me, what I thought was going to be another mediocre attempt on my part to get fit and strong became so much more.
I never found out why Lincoln had taken the class. He clearly knew more than the instructor, moving through the exercises with the kind of ease and grace that made it clear he was in another league. After the first couple of weeks, when I was finally able to string more than two words together around him, I asked him why he was there. He shrugged it off, saying it was always good to do a refresher class.
By the end of the three-month course, I was learning more from him than from the instructor, and he offered to give me some kickboxing lessons. Now I get the best of both worlds. I get stronger every day—our list of activities has expanded to include rock climbing, running, even an archery course—and I get to hang out with Lincoln. It’s perfect…almost.
“Well, I guess that means we’re going shopping tomorrow then.” Steph pouted but couldn’t keep it up. She can never stay mad for long.
Unfortunately, she was right. I knew Dad had given her strict instructions, due to my lack of spirit and his lack of know-how, to make sure I had a new dress for my birthday dinner tomorrow night. The clock was ticking—shopping was inevitable.
“I can’t wait,” I said, flashing her a well-practiced fake smile from my birthday repertoire.
As the bus slowed for its next stop, Steph stood up from our seat, three rows from the back. She was convinced only the wannabes sat right at the back, the geeks at the front, and the goths/weirdos right behind them. That left about three rows we could work with, the ones that apparently put us in the not-trying-to-but-can’t-help-being-cool section. The ironic thing was, if judged purely on academic achievements, Steph was the biggest geek I knew. Of course, she never publicized the fact that she was some kind of borderline genius.
She wrapped her narrow frame around the metal pole near the doors, donned her favorite pair of D&G sunglasses, and blew me a kiss. I laughed. Luckily for me, Steph wasn’t only a label girl. For all the designer clothes she paraded around in, she was surprisingly balanced. The fact that she was from a seriously moneyed-up family and was usually wearing something that cost more than my entire wardrobe didn’t adversely affect our friendship. I didn’t overly care for material possessions and she didn’t overly care that I didn’t.
“Do me a favor?” she said, making her way out the door, unfazed by the logjam of kids sardined behind her. “While you’re drooling over Mr. Fantastic, make sure you jab him in the gut a few times for taking up all your free time and depriving me of my bff.”
“Sure thing,” I said, blowing her a kiss back and ignoring the twinge of guilt I felt about lying to my best friend.