Heat radiated off the asphalt as Emma shook out her dark Auburn hair with the western breeze. It was going to be another sweltering day in the desert. In most places by August you were preparing for winter, here you were just praying for the summer to end.
Gathering my books I prepared to start my first new day of the school year, I contemplated how I could force myself thru another school year. I smiled at the other students as I passed by them my thoughts taking me back to the past summer I had spent on the Oregon Coast. Just the thought of Oregon put a smile on my face. I had spent the entire summer with my Aunt Hopie and Uncle Randy, helping out at their Bed and Breakfast.
They were two of my most favorite people on the planet and I missed them already. Uncle Randy liked to constantly tease me and Aunt Hopie was more like my best friend than my Aunt. My Mom always joked that her and Aunt Hopie had been separated at birth. I had tried to convince my parents to let me stay for the school year but my Mom was against it.
She was already feeling the effects of her empty nest.
Feeling the sweat drip down my back I couldn’t help but wish for the Ocean breeze misting on my face. I hated being hot. I felt my face scrunching up in a grimace. The same way it always did when I didn’t agree with whatever stood before me. The sweat was soaking all the way thru my clothes; I couldn’t believe it was only 8 in the morning. I used to joke that living in Red Rocks was like living on the face of the Sun. I was sure that it wasn’t natural for it to be this warm this early in the morning.
Oh well, it was just another reminder that I was home. I was interrupted from my reverie by my best friend, Ashley. Her smile was twice the size of mine and there wasn’t a part of it that was forced.
“Emma, I thought you were never going to make it!”
She squealed with a little too much enthusiasm. I was tempted to roll my eyes but I knew better. Ashley had befriended me on our very first morning in preschool. I still remember her walking over to me and handing me her favorite doll. From that moment on we had been connected at the hip as my Dad would say. I was always with her and if by chance we weren’t then she was on the other end of the phone line. My Mom liked to joke that we should just have her move in with us just so she could regain the use of her phone. She giggled running to me. I braced myself, trying to bring my mind back to the present moment.
“I was thinking about how far I could run before anyone would miss me,” I said more to myself then anyone else. Ashley laughed, pulling me from the parking lot.
“Oh, you would be lost without me.”
She loved to tease me. It was one of the lines I could count on coming out of her mouth when there was something she wanted and I wanted to run in the opposite direction.
If she only knew how true it really was?
I liked to keep that part to myself. My eyes hit the ground as we walked up the stairs leading into the building. With each step forward I realized I was getting further and further away from my escape. Walking to class I scanned the kids that passed me. The same faces that I had studied for the past 11 years were easy to recognize. Growing up in a small town I had come to know most of the kids from kindergarten on. I was never comfortable with everyone knowing every detail of my life.
After all there were no secrets in Red Rocks.
Walking in to home room there was a group of kids gathered in a corner talking excitedly to each other. I was left wondering if they were just excited for the first day of school or if something bigger was happening. Nobody noticed Ashley or me entering the room, we sat in two desks next to each other in the back of the class.
This was strange.
Ashley was one of the most popular girls in school. Whatever they were talking about must be big news to have all the boys ignoring her.
Ryan Marks was one of the most popular boys in school. He was over 6 feet tall and muscular he was the superstar quarterback on our football team. He brushed his dark molasses hair from his ice blue eyes. His skin was still perfectly bronzed by the summer sun. His Letterman jacket hung on the back of his chair. He wore a dark navy t-shirt that clung to his muscular frame and perfectly faded jeans.
He was the center of attention at the moment. Ryan was loving every minute of it, he had a crowd of student’s total attention.
“Yah, I heard they are going to be here at the end of the week.”
Apparently this was big news that had everyone so excited. Ryan looked so proud that he was the one to share the news. I was wondering if his t-shirt could hold his ego in. Not wanting to interrupt their conversation I turned to Ashley, she should know what was going on.
She always did.
I turned to Ashley to ask, and before I could get the whole question out she was all too eager to share.
“Mayor Wright’s, nephew and niece are coming to stay for the school year.”
Wow. New move in’s no wonder everyone was excited.
Red Rocks High School had only 200 students, most of who you had known all your life. Knowing that any new student was arriving brought great anticipation and excitement from everyone. The news that there were two coming had everyone wound up.
The girls were already dreaming about what the nephew would be like and the boys were already planning on showing off for the niece. Mr. Cox rapped his ruler on his desk.
“Alright. Alright. Everyone get in their seats.” Any of my thoughts of the new students went out the window with the morning announcements.
The first day dragged on. Every conversation I could see or hear was about the new move-ins. I was grateful that everyone seemed so distracted. I rushed to my car at the sound of the last bell. I couldn’t wait to get away from here.
Jumping into my car at the end of the day brought a momentary relief for me. I had been feeling unsettled for the past couple of months, not even the beauty of the Oregon Coast and my favorite Aunt and Uncle hadn’t been able to shake it out of me.
As I drove through our small town I wondered when I would be able to feel at peace again. I loved looking at all the houses as I drove thru Red Rocks. They had a Spanish feel with stucco fronts and tile roofs. They were back lit by the beauty of the vibrant red mountains in the background.
My house was also Spanish in appearance. It was a two story off-white stucco with dark red roof tiles. The antiqued brick walk way led to two beautiful wooden double doors. My mom always had fresh flowers planted. They always seemed to be in bloom. She had planted a large patch of sunflowers on the edge of the house when I was little. I guess that is why they became my favorite. I loved all the black rod iron detail that went with the house. My favorite part was my balcony. Walking into my house it was quiet as usual. My Dad worked out of town most weeks and my Mom worked 6 days a week with her Realtor business.
My brothers and sister were all older and off starting their own lives and families.
I grabbed a yogurt and one of my favorite books and plopped on the sofa. I was perfectly content to spend all my time in this exact spot. Anyway that I could escape, I jumped at the chance. Now, don’t get me wrong. My life wasn’t bad, there weren’t any tragedies or deep dark secrets. Sometimes I wished that there was something that could explain my confused feelings.
I stretched out and threw back my head enjoying the cool air from the air conditioner. Still feeling my clothes clinging to my body from the heat of the afternoon I jumped up and turned the air down several degrees. I loved to feel the cold air cover my entire body. I wanted to erase every drip of sweat. I would be happy to have it set close to freezing just so I could bundle up in the house. I knew I would have to turn it up before my Mom got home. She hated me turning it down so low.
As if she knew what I had just done, the phone rang, I really didn’t want to talk to anyone I was just enjoying my time by myself. Three beeps later.
“Hi Honey, its Mom there’s some leftover taco salad in the fridge I’m going to be late, sorry hope you had a great first day. I love you.”
I loved my mom, she was a loving, funny, and a wonderful friend when I needed her, but she wasn’t home a lot and I was starting to feel a little lonely. I liked being alone most of the time but there was a part of me that craved more. My family always made me feel loved and wanted but part of me never felt like I belonged.
I was beginning to wonder if my restlessness was due to thoughts about my birth family.
I had always known I was adopted; my family all had blonde hair and blue eyes. I on the other hand had auburn hair and hazel eyes. It wasn’t hard to guess by looking at us. But I had known since I was old enough to understand. My parents had told me how some other mommy had carried me in her belly and when I was born they were the lucky ones to be able to take me home. My parents had told me all my life how special I was and how lucky they were that I was in their family.
I always felt like this was the family I was meant to be in and never had another thought about it until now.
I decided to head into the office and turn on the computer. I wanted to check Facebook and see if my sister had posted any new pictures. As I waited for the computer to warm up I sat staring out the window when my mind suddenly decided on a new distraction.
It was a beautiful day.
I ran up to my room throwing on a green tank top and some black running shorts. I looked at myself in the mirror for a moment. I hadn’t realized just how long my hair had gotten. It now hung down my back just skimming my waist. I grabbed a rubber band and pulled it up in a messy bun. I threw on my tennis shoes and grabbed a note pad. Quickly scribbled a note to my Mom letting her know I would be home before dark and rushed to my car.
One of the things I loved most about living in the Utah desert was the amazing Red Rock Mountains that surrounded me. I drove to my favorite hiking spot; it was near the Snow Canyon sand dunes. I never had to worry about running into anyone and I could just sit there and think. It was the one time I was alright with being hot.
I could have never guessed just how much this hike would change everything for me.
Climbing out of the car I inhaled deeply, smelling the purple desert flowers they were always so fragrant this time of year and in full bloom. I wished I could remember their name. My Dad used to quiz me on the name of the wild flowers on our daily hikes when I was little. I ignored the marked path and started towards my own personal path. The marked path would have been a lot easier but I also knew it held the chance of me running into someone else on the trail. My hikes were the one time I could be all alone and didn’t have to worry about the phone ringing or someone showing up and ruining my quiet.
I loved to feel the rock in my hands and the heat that permeated it. The feel of the rocks reminded me of the game Hot Potato. It was a quick burn on your skin but it didn’t last long. After hiking for about 25 minutes I arrived at my spot. By this point I was covered in sweat. My tank top clung to my every curve and I knew what a mess I must look like. It was just another great reason to hike alone. The rocks gave way to a clearing and a large rock that had formed to look like it was carved in the shape of a throne.
This was my oasis!
Who knew how beautiful sagebrush and red rocks could be? Sitting in my throne was my special sanctuary. I had discovered this place with my Dad when I was just 5 years old and I had been coming here ever since. The first time we found it on one of our many hikes my Dad dubbed me the princess of the desert. The thought always brought a smile to my face. And for the exception of my Dad I had never seen another living soul here. I settled into my makeshift throne and prepared to daydream. With my eyes closed and legs crossed I was in the middle of a deep daydream when I realized someone was talking to me. Blinking I opened my eyes and for a moment I thought I was dreaming.
It took me a moment for my eyes to focus. I was temporary blinded by the sun burning off the heated rocks. My eyes saw one thing and my mind saw another. I wondered if he was a mirage.
I wasn’t sure I what I was seeing was real. In front of me stood the most beautiful boy I had ever seen in my life. He was about 6 feet tall with golden brown hair and the most amazing blue eyes I had ever seen. His skin was bronzed honey color.
He was only wearing running shorts and tennis shoes. His whole body glistened in the sun light with sweat. I couldn’t believe that he was real. He was beautiful. I felt my lungs starting to swell, I had forgotten to breathe. It took me a moment to realize that he had to have said something, a question? He was smiling at me like he was waiting for an answer. The only problem was that the words he had said hadn’t made it to my brain yet. To be perfectly honest I wasn’t quite sure that my brain was really working at this point.
“Hello” was all I could think to say. I blushed deeply my skin matching the crimson rocks around us. His gleaming white teeth got even bigger with his smile. As if I had told the world’s worst joke.
“I’m sorry, I hope I didn’t startle you” he quietly said trying to hide his laughter.
Startle? That was an understatement.
I had never seen him before. I would have remembered someone so stunning. He looked more like a Greek god then the boys my age. He reminded me of Hercules. I was searching for the cloud that he had floated in on.
My heart was making unfamiliar rhythms. It felt like I was running a marathon yet I was frozen in one spot. He stood there waiting and I realized that he must have wanted to know my name.
All I could do was muster “Emma” in a stuttered voice.
“So do you live around here?” he asked being polite, I was certain.
“Yes,” I managed to respond.
His face was flushed red by the heat yet he still looked perfect. Suddenly I was all too aware of my messy appearance. I quickly ran my hand thru my tousled hair, wishing I could be swallowed up in the rocks below me. He must think I was stupid. I couldn’t even speak properly. My mind was running as fast as my legs wanted to. Why couldn’t I think of something cute or smart to say in this moment?
James must have tired of waiting for me to say anything intelligent.
“Well, I’m sorry I disturbed you,” tipping his head toward me and off he ran.
I reached my hand out trying to stop him but the words couldn’t escape my mouth. As I sat there my head was left spinning, I had never seen such piercing blue eyes in my life. My whole body was tingling. I tried to catch my breath. What were the chances of ever seeing him again? It had taken me all these years to see another soul in this spot. But I knew I wanted to see him more than anything I had wanted in awhile.
Did this really just happen? I decided the heat must be getting to me. So I climbed up dusting myself off and proceeded to my car. It was getting dark and I didn’t want to be stuck out in the rocky terrain in the dark, I knew my mom would freak out. She always was a worrier.
The next morning I showered for an extra 15 minutes replaying last night’s meeting. I was starting to think I made the whole thing up. When I arrived at school I forced myself out of my car. I wasn’t thrilled about going thru the motions of another day. Looking around the parking lot I saw a loud commotion going on. There was a large crowd of kids almost in a circle. They were obviously excited and those in the back were on their tiptoes trying to get a good look at who or what was going on in the center of the crowd.
Not wanting to share in the chaos I made my way into homeroom.
I was all too glad to have a moment alone. Normally homeroom was full of kids talking and shouting across the room. Not today, today I was all alone. It wouldn’t be long before the classroom was buzzing with kids about what had happened in the parking lot. Before I knew it the 2nd bell had rang and kids starting piling into class. I was surprised by a large group of students that made their way in together.
There surrounded by too many kids to count, was the most gorgeous girl I had ever laid eyes on. She walked with such grace and beauty, almost like she was floating on air. She was dressed to perfection. She looked like she should be walking a runway instead of walking into my class. I had a feeling that every girl in school would be taking a huge hit on their self-esteem today.
Every eye was on her as she made her way into class.
Ryan was next to her, talking louder than the other boy. Thinking that this would make him the first in her mind I was sure. I highly doubted that any of these normal high school boys could capture her attention for anything other than a good laugh.
She took a seat near the front and the boys fought over the seats next to her. I was sure that there was going to be a wrestling match to the death but in the end, one boy was faster than the others. Cody was lucky enough to be the one next to her. He had a look of triumph that most people wore when they had just scored the winning touchdown at a state finals football game. I was waiting for him to do a victory dance. She looked like she could have cared less, about who was even in the room. I wasn’t sure how she pulled off looking bored but beautiful.
Mr. Cox called us all to attention and asked the new beauty to come to the front of the room.
“Class,” he started “This is Eva Jackson, she is new to our town and school” this was obvious to us all. I knew she would go unnoticed by no one.
“Eva, could you please tell the students a little about yourself?”
Eva made her way to the front of the classroom she turned to face the class. She shifted her weight on her right foot and tossing her hair back over her shoulders. All of the boys were on the tip of their seats. They held their breath while awaiting her melodic voice. I thought girls were the only ones who swooned?
Her hair was to the middle of her back and the most beautiful color of honey. Her skin was flawless with a caramel colored tan. She had beautiful blue eyes that reminded me of the morning sky. She was wearing a red skirt and off-white ruffled tank top made out of silk. I didn’t have to look at the tags to know that they were designer labels. She had on a pair of off-white wedges, her toe nails painted the exact color of her shirt. Silver hoops framed her face and a thin silver chain hung around her neck to finish it off.
“Hello.” She started with a confidant and annoyed edge to her voice, “My brother and I just moved here.”
“I am 17 and love to sing and dance. We just moved from Hawaii and can’t wait to learn more about your little town.” She put a lot of emphasis on the word little, I sure we all seemed like country folk to her. With her beauty and grace I had a feeling that she sang and danced like an angel. A smile danced at the tips of her lips while her eyes touched everyone in the room. Then her eyes landed on me and stayed there for several moments. Her eyes narrowed just a little.
I felt like she was looking at me judging me.
Why would that be?
I figured it must be my insecurities getting the best of me. After all who wouldn’t be insecure around Eva? Mr. Cox thanked Eva and then started in on the morning announcements. I was guessing that she was the Mayor’s niece, knowing that Red Rocks rarely had new move-ins. I would have heard if there more families on their way in.
No wonder all the kids were so excited in the parking lot.
I could just imagine all the boys fawning after her. I knew that there would be more than one fist fight over her in the weeks to come. If her brother was anything like her I was sure he would have a flock of girls following his every move. I could see friendships tried and broken. Some girls had no shame when it came to chasing after boys. At least I wasn’t one of them. After the bell rang it was a repeat of earlier everyone scrambling after Eva trying to steal a moment of her attention. I wasn’t sure who would win Ryan or Cody but I wasn’t going to follow them and find out.
I waited for the rush to slow down and made my way to Math, my least favorite time of the day. If it was more than 4+4 then forget it. I was never very good with numbers, I preferred writing or reading. As I entered Mrs. Stratton’s class, I was dumbstruck!
There sat the most perfect boy, James!