Even if Emma has an idea of what still lurks closely beneath the surface, the rest of the party hasn't a clue. We watch a movie together, Beth annihilates Matthew in a game of cards and Eschieve suggests a drinking game, which Emma quickly shuts down. So quick that she doesn't have a solid excuse, and for twenty minutes she endures prying about a possible pregnancy. Combine that and my earlier lie of feeling sick we have a perfect reason to go to bed before the grandfather clock chimes eleven. From the moment of returning inside to heading upstairs, Gabriel doesn't look at me - or if he does, I don't see him doing it.
Had we been at home, I would have locked myself in the bathroom and stood under the scalding streams of the shower endlessly, until my shoulders burned red and the room was filled with nothing but steam. Or maybe Emma would have drawn a bath with me, though I'm not sure if that would have helped much today.
But we're not at home, so instead we take a quick one together and then we sit on the bed together, wrapped in towels with the door locked, while Emma collects stray droplets from my chest and arms.
I don't understand how she is so calm, so collected. Every time I think about what thoughts might be crossing Gabriel's mind, my blood boils. Maybe she's hiding her real thoughts to protect me, to not anger me further; if she spoke any kind of concern regarding Gabriel, I'm not sure what I would do, but I'm pretty sure it doesn't include staying here.
I wish my mind would stop running in circles. Deep down I know that Gabriel spoke the truth, that Emma was right. He's not going to act on it, he feels horrible that these feelings are even there.
The message just doesn't land.
Emma pulls her hands away from my chest when I suddenly raise mine to press the palms into my eyes until I see spots. It quiets the thoughts a little bit, makes them make a little more sense. Not enough.
Her fingers curl around my wrists to pull my hands away from my face. The room, despite being lit only by yellow bulbs on our nightstands, is so suddenly bright it hurts my eyes. She says nothing. She just places my hands in my lap before softly running her thumb just below my eyes, a small smile on her lips.
I should not let this ruin this getaway. It's not fair to him, to Emma, to the rest of our little family.
Family. The word tastes different now, which, again, isn't fair. This will blow over. But what until then?
I close my eyes as I let Emma explore my face, trying not to move - I only do that when she gently pushes me down on my back. From my face she moves down to my neck and shoulders, then my arms and then my chest. Every line gets traced, every mark circled, scars thoughtfully brushed over as I can hear her wonder if she's heard the story or not. Most of them she hasn't, but most of them aren't interesting anyway.
"What's this one?" Her voice is barely above a whisper as she traces the most visible one, a gash that runs from halfway up my shoulder down my arm.
"Glass door incident." I mutter, eyes still closed. "Tripped. Glass doesn't like the body of a seventeen year old boy."
"I bet it doesn't." She laughs lightly, finding the next one on my elbow. "This one?"
"Unfortunate attempt at skateboarding when I was eight."
The game continues, and at some point she stops asking - I feel her fingers, and tell her the story.
"Punched a wall after getting kicked out of law school." For the tiny marks on my knuckles.
"Same glass door incident." For a very faint one on my chest.
"Appendix." For a more obvious one on my stomach.
"How old?"
"Twelve, I think. My mother could still visit me and know what was going on."
That makes her fingers stall for a second, and I am momentarily shocked as well. The words had rolled off my tongue so casually, so naturally, which I don't think has ever happened before. Emma, reading the mood flawlessly, does not dwell on it. Instead she moves on to the next scar, on my leg. It's my biggest one, pale against my skin even with most of my summer tan having disappeared.
"I told you that one." I smile.
"Tell me again." Her fingers follow the ragged shape stretched over my knee, botched by the surgeon in the tiny Austrian village.
"Snowboarding accident." I immediately relent. "Twenty-four, last family vacation before four became three. Fell while on the hardest run, because my cocky ass thought I'd be able to handle it. Luck would have it my knee got very friendly with a very sharp rock." Emma snorts. "Bad enough if you're stationary, but I was on a diagonal. Ripped it open nicely. Aleran had to carry me back to where medics could reach me. Went through hell with the pain, but seeing my brother nearly faint almost made it worth it."
"You're a bit of a dick sometimes, you know that?" She teases, and I chuckle into the darkness.
"I know. But he deserved it."
She doesn't reply; I feel her body weight shift as she moves closer to my head again, and even though I'm expecting it, I still flinch when she touches my most recent scar; the one on my lip, having healed surprisingly well despite its location. "What's that one?" I peek one eye open, and she's smiling down on me. "Tell me. I don't think I was there."
"Oh, but I hope you were, or my explanation is going to get me in a lot of trouble." I close my eyes again. "Because see, I had a very good reason for getting that."
"What was it?"
I shiver when the tip of her fingers brush over my lips, the scent of her soap still on her skin. "I got them protecting the love of my life. I'm not sure if I knew that then, but I know it now. And I'd do it again. I'd let myself be beaten within an inch of death if that meant protecting her."
I only realise how close her face is to mine when I feel her laugh on my forehead, just before she kisses it. "No matter how much I appreciate the sentiment, I'd appreciate it if you didn't."
She lays down next to me, pulling the throw over us since we are on top of the duvet. I end up the little spoon, which suits me just fine, and while we both pretend to fall asleep quickly, I'm quite certain that we both lay awake deep into the night.

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