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Looking around, I could instantly tell that this was not my scene. These were not my people, not my friends. A few of the people I recognized from school, but not many. “Oh, God, how did I end up here? What did I get myself into?” I muttered a silent prayer. Where was Luke?

All around me, couples were sloppily making out; kids were attempting to dance to the blaring hip-hop noise, looking more like epileptics seizing about; people slamming drinks down so fast it made me want to vomit just to think about. I was so out of place, though. With my thin, willowy frame standing at 5”11” and my long, bouncing curls, I was sure to look awkward in any situation. Add desperately trying to blend into a crowd of inebriated peers to whom I’d never spoken; I was the very epitome of an outcast.

“All right, Anabelle. Get a hold of yourself,” I thought as I quickly dodged through the crowd and made my way to the kitchen. I could do this. I could calm down. I could blend in.

I’d never drank before, but there’s always a first time for everything, right? And desperate times most definitely called for desperate measures. Picking up a Solo cup from the counter, I slowly lifted it to my mouth. The bitter, burning taste of vodka mixed with orange juice was almost overwhelming. However, by the third glass, I was feeling pleasantly light headed and care free. By the fourth, I was even starting to dance and talk to people. And by the fifth, I was beyond drunk. I knew this because of how shy I normally am. I don’t talk to people I don’t know. But at that point, I was making friends with everyone. I figured I might as well, since Luke had clearly stood me up.

That was just fine, though. Kyle Preston had certainly taken an interest in me. Although I was only 17, he had graduated a year before and was going on 20. But he had always been very popular and seemed friendly. Surely he was worth talking to.

As time passed, it became clear talking was not what he wanted to do. I found myself switching from the screwdrivers to shots of straight vodka as the conversation started being aimed at sex. This was not okay. I was a virgin; I didn’t know about any of that.

I was drunk. I was very, very drunk. The light headed feeling had changed into dizziness and confusion. As his hand ran up the course of my thigh, I tried to form the words I needed to say. “Don’t do that!” I slurred, but he wasn’t listening. He continued grazing my thigh and rubbing his fingers in slow circles on my back. I was so confused; all I could do was drink more.

Then, his fingers began to slightly rise under the hem of my shirt. What was he doing? The hem of my shirt became the waistband of my jeans; the waistband of my jeans became the top of my underwear. I tried to protest, but he insisted I didn’t know what I was saying. I had no idea what to do.

Suddenly, a loud voice boomed, “Get the hell away from her!” Luke? Had Luke finally come?

But it wasn’t Luke. It was Justin. Justin was 21; I couldn’t figure out why he was there, but then again, I couldn’t figure out much. He grabbed me by the hand and led me outside as I clumsily followed. I couldn’t walk. I could barely stand. After falling face forward and nearly face planting, he scooped me up and led me to his car.

I shouldn’t have been with him. Not when I was so drunk. I could barely contain my emotions sober, let alone completely trashed. I could say anything, and that could only lead to heartbreak and awkwardness.

I shouldn’t have even felt that way about him. It wasn’t fair to him. He’d known me since I was 11; had taken me under his wing and all but adopted me as his “little sister.” He was insanely protective of me, but not for the reasons I longed for. I loved him. I loved him more than anything. But to him, I was just a high school girl who was much too young for love.

I don’t know what made me think I could seduce him. Without comprehending what I was doing, I slowly edged my body toward his. Subtly, I raised my skirt the slightest bit, exposing more of my thighs. He swallowed. Was he nervous? Then, I scooted closer, our faces inches apart, and began to kiss him. I kissed him so fiercely. He groaned, kissing me back; kissing me hard; kissing me as if more were about to come. I’d never felt this before. My entire body was tingling, and part of me wasn’t sure if this was actually happening or if it was an illusion conceived in drunkenness. So quickly that I jumped from being startled, he ended the kiss and pushed me back.

“I can’t do this, Annie. I just can’t,” he said. “This isn’t fair, to me or to you.” I understood. He didn’t want me. I was 17, him 21. I wasn’t sexy to him. I was awkward and shy and plain. I was Anabelle Hyatt.

Tears formed in my eyes and spilled over before I could stop them. Without planning or considering my words, I blurted out, “I love you. I love you so much, Justin. I know I’m only 17, but I’ve loved you since I met you.” I’m sure none of my words came out correctly, though. God, I was a hot mess.

Then I jolted forward, emptying my stomach of anything I had drank or eaten. Great, I ruined his car. I couldn’t believe I’d done that. I was in the middle of apologizing, when I swung open his car door and the upheaval began again. I fell out of the seat and dropped to my hands and knees on the ground, weak from humiliation and vomiting.

Justin stepped out of the car and leaned down next to me. There was something in his eyes; I think it was sympathy. The last thing I wanted was his sympathy. “Don't worry about it,” I said glumly, “That was stupid. You wouldn't want me.” Then he surprised me. As he carefully rubbed his hand on my back, so unlike the way Kyle had just done, I knew he was about to say something I needed to hear. I silently prayed I'd remember his words in the morning.

“Annie, why would you even think that? I didn't stop kissing you because I don't want you,” he said, “I stopped kissing you because I genuinely care about you. I've always cared about you.” I then understood. He cared about me. He was trying to tell me that he loved me like he would his little sister, but nothing else. I was shocked when he continued, “And ever since you were about 15, I realized that I loved you.” That couldn't be true. He had dated other girls. He had never expressed the slightest interest in me. “You're lying!” my fumbled words spilled out, “You would have said something before now.” Ignoring the fact that I was a complete mess, he lifted my head, forcing me to look at him. “No, Annie, I wouldn't have. I was 19 years old. Knowing that I had feelings for you didn't change the fact that you were 15. You were a freshman in high school; dating you wouldn't have been fair, or morally sound. I never told you because I wanted to wait until our relationship could be something real. I never imagined I'd be telling you like this.” I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Justin, the boy I had loved and written off since I was 11, loved me. He loved me. I couldn't begin to comprehend why, but all that mattered was that he did. “Annie,” he began, “I love you more than anything in this world. You are the sweetest, kindest, and most genuine person I have ever known. I want you to know I would give my life to protect you. I love you, Annie.”

At that moment, it didn't matter that I was unbelievably drunk. It didn't matter that I'd been harassed by Kyle. It didn't matter that Luke had stood me up, that I had just vomited in Justin's car, or that I had made a fool of myself at the first party I'd ever gone to. Right then, as I looked into his beautiful and kind eyes, all that mattered was that my Justin, my protector, my love, loved me back. I wrapped my arms around his neck and let myself fall asleep, knowing that tomorrow would bring much more than a killer headache. Tomorrow would mark the first day of forever, as I somehow knew that this wasn't going to be just a fling; this was going to be forever.





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